‘Brisbaret’ // Sophie Banister and Thien Pham

‘Brisbaret’ was energising.

The energy emanating from ‘Brisbaret’ variety show hosts Sophie Banister and Thien Pham was infectious as they opened with whispers over Pham’s lively keyboard: “Brisbane…Brisbane…” then sang, “It’s time for the Brisbane cabaret!”

The dimly lit Good Chat Comedy Club, tucked away in the basement of Caxton Street’s Fritzenberger, was sparsely decorated with few technical bells and whistles. The classic red velvet curtain was hung to signal “this is a comedy club” and a monitor displayed the ‘Brisbaret’ logo, as well as an interactive game of Kahoot to open the second half. The hosts doubled as production crew, shifting the mic stands, keyboard, chairs and amp to accommodate the show’s five acts. Each act had 10 minutes to “do their thing” in the spotlight.

And there was quite a range of “things” on display during the March event: a cello and guitar duo; a comedian who performed a song for the “first time in five years”; a drag and burlesque performer; a “theatrical clown” and a freestyle rapper. The evening was loosely International Women’s Day-themed, with references to female empowerment in the comedian’s material and an audience suggestion for the freestyle rapper, plus featured as the trivia theme of the Kahoot game.

Created by 25-year-old Banister in September 2020, ‘Brisbaret’ takes place on the second Tuesday of every month and offers a “true variety” platform for local performers. The acts are a mix of established and up-and-coming, with many trying new material on the extremely supportive crowd.

“I came up with the idea when I was overseas in New York doing these variety nights; I knew there were great ones in town, but I wanted to start my own so [Pham and I] could keep doing our own music and create space for other artists.”

Pham adds the ‘Brisbaret’ vibe is casual.

“It’s not a competition,” he explained. “We try to foster that community, where it’s just like: we’re here, we’re more than happy to let people perform. It’s just a bonus that we get to be silly in between.”

Pham, 24, was a gregarious accompanist unafraid to hilariously promote his talent for playing funerals in one of the hosts’ musical interludes between acts. 

He was paired with the charismatic and vocally gifted Banister on recommendation from her singing teacher when her regular accompanist couldn’t make a gig in 2017, and it must have been meant to be. 

Their chemistry sizzled throughout musical numbers about filming ‘Inspector Gadget 2’ along the “brown snake” that is the Brisbane river; an ‘Under Pressure’ parody about a “dude bro” harassing “lonely bitches”; and a duet featuring Pham on guitar and Banister on fiddle, reminding Brisbanites: “You can drive the right speed when it’s raining.” 

The acoustics were good and microphones were well-balanced and clear throughout the show, with backing tracks used seamlessly for the burlesque dancer, “magician” and rapper. 

Banister and Pham did a great job fostering a supportive atmosphere for the March event. The 30-or-so audience members clapped and cheered with equal enthusiasm for every act.

The first was Le Nuvole, featuring beautiful tones from cellist Emma and guitarist Mircha, who charmed the audience with their three original songs. With themes related to children, their first argument as a couple, and a camping holiday enjoying sunsets by the sea, the audience could imagine themselves in Portugal, sipping sangria along to the soothing music. 

Next came comedian Francesca, whose references to ‘Kim Possible’ and sad, Indie-pop girls certainly resonated with many in the crowd. The young comic’s beautiful voice shone in performing ‘Killer’ as Pham accompanied her on the keyboard. 

The next two acts contrasted with the pensive tunes and melancholic singing of the first. Drag and burlesque performer Thalia Novela stripped down to nipple pasties and a G-string while brandishing bright orange ribbon-fans to the beat of Beyonce; self-described theatrical clown Calum Johnston was reminiscent of a jolly Mr. Bean character, decked out in a white shirt and red suspenders as he expressively performed his “magic hamster” routine, a true exercise in suspension of disbelief.

The highlight of the night was Jordan Schulte, who said his lockdown hobby was to learn how to freestyle rap. Schulte then bantered with the audience, soliciting topics for his performance and ending up with daddy issues, earrings, female empowerment, Scotland and a plane crash. His ability to seamlessly and confidently tie this mish-mash together while injecting his sense of humour was a true delight for the audience, ending the evening on a high note.

‘Brisbaret’ would make a great Tuesday night out for adults young and old who enjoy a well-paced variety show format with tons of audience interaction. It was a truly energising experience to feel the absolute love of performance from these young hosts and their guests and to be part of a crowd encouraging them to fearlessly pursue their talents in entertaining Brisbane arts lovers.

Sophie summed up the experience nicely in reflecting on her time with Upright Citizens Brigade in New York, made possible after she won one of Brisbane City Council’s Lord Mayor’s Young and Emerging Artists Fellowships in 2018.

“It’s amazing over there that there’s so much space for everyone to perform; that really was quite cool to me. And I feel like there’s some of that energy here in Brisbane, and we just want to contribute to it.”

‘Brisbaret’ runs on the second Tuesday of each month at Good Chat Comedy Club in the basement of Fritzenberger Caxton Street. For more information, visit host Sophie Banister’s website or the Brisbaret Instagram page here.

Related Articles