Review By Lisa Lanzi
Once again, daring to venture away from the predictable, more ‘famous’ Fringe arenas yields GOLD. Stitch in Time: A Knitting Cabaret is a total delight with a world renown performer, tucked away in Flinders Street at The Jade - an attractive cabaret venue.
Canadian visitor Melanie Gall is both an engaging raconteur and superb singer. Their soaring vocals transport you from sweet, melodic ballad territory to full opera quality to husky/sexy cabaret, sprinkled here and there with a tender vibrato. Articulation, pitch and expression are all beyond excellent and make you want more after the hour is up. This performer has training and a career biography to admire and with only backing tracks and a slide show, brings to the fore a history of knitting, and knitting songs, in wartime. Albeit, the backing tracks are recorded by Gall’s own jazz colleagues from New York, and provide appropriate and beautiful support. I would dearly love to see this show with live band and a better sound system - if only finances would permit.
This gem of a cabaret boasts an original and charming premise: lost knitting songs of WWI and WWII from Canada, Britain, America, Europe and Australia. The songs are bookended with funny, sweet, and sometimes bizarre stories and folklore about their origins, the composers, or the rather gendered (sometimes suggestive) nature of the lyrics, as Gall was quick to highlight. The amount of research and time required to prepare this cabaret would have been considerable but the result is worth it and delivers way more enthralling information than I can recount here.
Costumed in vintage dress and wrap with her own, very fetching version of a replica ‘knitting hat’, including strategically placed knitting needles, Gall tells us that there are more than one hundred knitting songs in existence. We also hear of serendipitous moments where audience members around the world or internet groups have delivered extra information or tunes or images, all of which add texture and authenticity to the narrative. One such story hails from Queensland and tells of Jim Simpson, now 101 years old. His mother had taught him to knit as a child then as a prisoner of war in Europe, Jim gathered (by many means) enough yarn to knit himself a blanket - there is even a photograph of the man and his project to complete the tale.
The performer jokingly tells of their slight obsession with this cabaret adventure and that possibly, this is why she is single. Admitting that she “comes clean” on first dates about being a knitter herself, Gall tells us the three questions that often follow along plus her hilarious responses to: “Would you knit me a sweater?”, “How many cats do you have?”, and “You remind me of my grandmother”. On a more serious side, the show contains fascinating information on knitters who worked for the resistance in Europe, and Englishwoman Phyllis “Pippa” Latour Doyle. Perfectly fluent in French, she trained to become a British spy inside occupied France then parachuted in darkness, behind enemy lines, with the communication code encrypted in a length of silk yarn worn as a hair ribbon. Doyle cycled across occupied France carrying her knitting in her basket, reporting on the position and movements of the Germans. She recorded her discoveries, purling and stitching in the coded messages and then transmitting the information via radio from various locations as she was able.
The songs themselves are catchy and fairly patriotic sounding. Some are written by famous folk like Glen Miller, or Harry Von Tilzer (famed for Bird In A Gilded Cage), or others who frequented Tin Pan Alley in Manhattan or its equivalent, Denmark Street off Tottenham Court Road in London, looking for fame and fortune. Iconic lines abound like: “I’m knitting a singlet for Cecil”, “The pretty little mitt that Kitty knit”, or “I wonder who’s knitting for me?”.
This artist is performing two more Fringe shows in addition to Stitch in Time: A Knitting Cabaret: We'll Meet Again: A Vera Lynn Cabaret and A Toast to Prohibition. So talented and deserving of audience - support the independents!