Aussie cabaret star Anya Anastasia holds up a mirror to Western culture

This article is from 2018

Off with their heads

Anya Anastasia and Gareth Chin

Her new contemporary cabaret Fringe, The Executioners, show gets political as it takes a satirical swipe at the troubled world we live in

In late 19th-century Paris and early 20th-century Berlin, where the artists and radicals of the day converged on venues that were home to subversive performance and risque satire, cabaret was not only escapism, it was a mode of dissent; a way to relay messages of protest and challenge notions of conformity.

Following in that tradition, Australian cabaret queen Anya Anastasia takes the responsibility of her craft seriously, using her music, comedy and razor-sharp wit to scrutinise the harsh realities of modern life. Her latest creation, The Executioners, sees her rip into the fabric of our digitally enhanced, 21st-century world to provoke conversations on where we as a society currently stand.

'I'm calling it a satirical millennial neo-cabaret,' she explains when asked about the show, 'and it evolved from my belief that cabaret has a responsibility to comment on how the world is changing and evolving and on new ethical questions coming up. I see that in my role as both a cabaret performer and as a comedian and I started writing this show off the back of things like Trump getting elected and Brexit. And here in Australia, we're facing similar things where individuals are feeling overwhelmed by the scale of global issues and the minimal influence that we feel that we have on the momentum of where the world is going.'

The character that Anastasia has created for The Executioners is self-reflective but also holds a mirror up to Western culture. 'I started noticing my own embarrassing habits. I know I'm a product of this generation where I'm completely obsessed with my phone, I completely do have the belief that pictures of my brunch are what other people want to see and that I'm important in my own little social media universe. And I thought it was really funny that at a time where I feel like everyone is listening to what we're having to say, it's also a time where on a greater scale we're not really being listened to.'

Off with their heads

With this in mind, Anastasia is acutely aware of her personal duty as a performer and artist, especially in 2018. 'I've always been a believer in my responsibility as an artist,' she notes, 'and I guess my last show is a world apart from where I am now. The whole concept is very different this year and that comes from this increasing awareness of that responsibility.'

Earlier this year, Anastasia was announced as the South Australia and Adelaide Cultural Ambassador in Edinburgh for 2018, extending this idea of responsibility beyond ethics. An accolade that comes with financial and marketing support from the South Australian Government, Anastasia is both an unexpected candidate and yet the ideal ambassador.

'This year they have selected my show and me as an artist because they saw the show as one with a voice that they wanted to be heard and me as an artist that they were proud of as an export. And it's something I do naturally anyway; I can't tell people enough how much I love the Adelaide Fringe and how thriving the South Australian arts scene is but now they've just gone and made it official for me and it's my job to tell you that now!'

'The Executioners is an interesting choice because it is a very contemporary show,' she continues, 'it gets political, it's challenging, it puts a lot of fresh ideas out there so it's an interesting show for a government to back but I think that there's a lot to be said for the South Australian Government that they really do get behind contemporary ideas and thinkers and embrace the eccentric as well.'

The Executioners is full of energy and sass as Anastasia tears through an arsenal of original songs alongside her musical-partner-in-crime Gareth Chin. With her passion for the artform and strong drive to entertain and assess, it's entirely understandable why her show would be chosen. But as Anastasia admits, she really didn't have any particular expectations going in.

'To be honest, this year, I had no idea that this show was going to have such a future. I got it out and I wrote it really quickly because I just wanted to make a comment on some of the things that were driving me mad at the time. I had no intention of carrying it any further. But what happened was that audiences just felt this urgency of getting behind it and sharing it. We got this award and the stars just aligned for us to keep doing this show.'

With the conversation having started in Adelaide, it is set to continue in Edinburgh as audiences get a taste of the fresh, multi-dimensional and hyper show that is The Executioners. And Anastasia can't wait to make her return to the city. 'I mean I'm certainly addicted,' she says. 'I love the Edinburgh Fringe, I love the performer networks but also how wonderfully enthusiastic the audiences are.'

Since the success of her last hit show Rogue Romantic, it is clear that Anastasia has taken a step back and really examined how to use her art to engage on a wider level. 'I don't think I could have done it in any other genre, but my developmental phase for [The Executioners] was extremely experimental. I was doing cabaret nights in a small intimate venue and I was literally appointing people in the audience to be a director every night and asking questions like "are we taking this too far?", "do you agree with this?", "is there anything else that's concerning you?". So it really evolved as a conversation and I think that's the amazing power and strength of cabaret.'

Modern cabaret may remain a space for creativity and imagination, but the more recent resurgence in cabaret as a vehicle for the dissection and dissemination of political ideology harks back to the origins of the artform. Anya Anastasia exemplifies this connection, but her work is also the definition of where contemporary cabaret currently is and where it is headed: fiercely entertaining, gloriously sardonic and packed full of astute observations and formidable questions about the world we live in.

Anya Anastasia: The Executioners, Gilded Balloon Teviot, 4–26 Aug (not 13), 8pm, £11–£13 (£10–£12). Previews 1–3 Aug, £8.

Anya Anastasia: The Executioners

Anya Anastasia Award-winning musical-comedy maverick Anya Anastasia brandishes her razor-sharp satirical wit, gleefully attacking and dismembering perils of the modern world. Alongside musical partner-in-crime, Gareth Chin, she stalks the 21st-century landscape launching thrilling attacks on ecological screwups, techno…