Alan Cumming On Trauma, Getting Older And The Flexibility Of Cabaret

Written by Jesse Chaffey
Category: Arts Published: Tuesday, 22 June 2021 17:14

It's only natural to think of Alan Cumming when you hear the word 'cabaret'.

The Scottish performer, comedian, writer and activist has made his mark on stage, page and screen throughout a very full career – whether it's playing all the roles in a production of 'Macbeth', working alongside the Spice Girls in their film, penning a memoir about his experiences growing up with an abusive father, or, in his most recent venture, filling the post of Artistic Director for Australia's own Adelaide Cabaret Festival.

In Alan's new live show, 'Alan Cumming Is Not Acting His Age', this master of the art of performing will turn his attention to something we all have in common – ageing.

“It's sort of an old-fashioned cabaret – it's basically just me, and a band, I sing songs, I tell stories, all on the theme of ageing, what is age-appropriate, stuff like that,” Alan puts concisely. “It's just musing, hopefully amusingly, on the topic of getting older.”

“I'm 56, and it's an interesting thing because I have a lot of friends who I'm old enough to be their father and I'm at an interesting stage where I feel connected to them and feel like I can relate to them – it's a two-way street, we learn from each other, I'm like their daddy and I feel I've got wisdom.

“I think it's important to have young people in your life as well as people of your own age. I'm really fascinated by it. Everyone during the pandemic had a lot of time to think about stuff and mull over it.”



Speaking of the pandemic, at the time of our chat, Alan's in quarantine in Adelaide, getting ready to, shall we say, artistically direct Adelaide Cabaret Festival – where he'll also be premiering this new evening of story and song to close the celebrations before taking it across Australia.

“I love that within this one form, there's people up there [on stage] talking to you – not pretending you're not there like in a play,” Alan says of cabaret. “The directness of it. And the possibility of so many different genres and emotions within one form. As long as you do it well and you keep attention, you can do anything.”

The bright, alluring lights of performing have attracted Alan for most of his life – before he'd even left drama school he'd made his professional theatre, film and television debuts which, as he recounts, laughing, made him “triply hated” by his fellow drama school peers. But it seems taking these opportunities as they came truly kicked things off for Alan.

Then, on top of being adored for the commitment he brings to playing characters, Alan's devotion to activism and philanthropy – born from a deep-seated concern for others less fortunate than him – is unwavering, and completely detached from any success he's received throughout his life.

“I'd be shouting my mouth off even if I didn't have the platform that I do now. It's not about me being famous, it's just about the fact that I think that's who I am, I'm just that kind of person, I think it's important.”



It's the old 'lemons into lemonade' adage – Alan has successfully used the canvas of a dark childhood to paint a picture made up of extraordinarily bright colours and strokes, saying that the key to moving forward is accepting the things that have happened to you instead of pretending they don't exist.

“I had a crazy, violent past, blah blah blah, but everyone's got sh.t in their past. We all have to just realise it's never going to go away, but also cut yourself some slack,” he says.

The endless possibilities of cabaret mean slack can be cut in large, wholesome chunks. 'Alan Cumming Is Not Acting His Age' will be a celebration of the looseness and carefree nature of the form, as well as a performance which doesn't shy away from the inevitability and ceaselessness of getting older.

But, Alan says, age doesn't need to be seen as a thing of negativity.

“The thing I'm really finding is that it's about me saying, you know what, ageing is pretty good. How about we think of ageing as a positive thing instead of a negative? And actually, you don't have to stop dancing and start playing golf and going to bed at 10:30.

“You can do whatever you like. I think the great thing about getting older is that you give less of a f...! That's something I'm proposing should be done more often.”

Alan Cumming's headline tour kicks off in Brisbane before heading around the country. Tickets are on sale now via Frontier Touring.

This story originally appeared on our sister site, scenestr.

Alan Cumming Australia Tour Dates

26 June – Adelaide Festival Theatre (Adelaide Cabaret Festival)
30 June – Queensland Performing Arts Centre (Brisbane)
1 July – Enmore Theatre (Sydney)
4 July – Home Of The Arts (Gold Coast)
9 July – Riverside Theatre (Perth)
10 July – Plenary (Melbourne)

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