All feels right in the world as Reuben Kaye returns to the Edinburgh Fringe with The Butch Is Back! and his festival staple The Kaye Hole. The Australian cabaret icon is backed by a live band as he delivers his take on countless pop hits packing each with a breath-taking showmanship. Packing the show with rapid fire gags dripping in acerbic wit, biting social commentary and a heartfelt monologue on his coming out story, Reuben is a revelation throughout this ninety minute cabaret extravaganza.
Reuben takes us on his journey through the pandemic – delving into the unknowns of performing in regional Australia as borders were closed – before tracing back into his own heartfelt coming out story. Capturing the steely resolve of his parents and experiences of being an outsider to his peers, the performer delves into coming to terms with his own queerness and the knock-on response of sharing this with his parents. Packing in biting critiques of backwards social and political reversion, Reuben is a flaming torch in a world of growing right wing darkness.
Bursting through the Assembly Roxy doors Reuben introduces himself in a mash-up of Janelle Monae’s Pink and The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil. The performer introduces himself as an ‘Icon, Philanthropist, and answer to the question can I still be a Proud Boy if I’m covered in last night’s shame?’ He’s a fearsome musical presence with powerhouse vocals and oodles of charisma, layering his high-paced intro with a plethora of delightfully bad taste jokes. It’s not long before the performer’s politically savvy musings come into play, delving into the reasons we deserved the car crash years of the pandemic – topped off with a hilarious line about pugs.
Reuben has his finger on the pulse of the political sphere in the UK with Sunak and Truss coming under fire, whilst also going on to tackle the growing influence of the Hillsong Church across the globe. The latter leads to a wonderfully lewd anecdote about people now worshipping in the church-purchased Melbourne Festival Hall, previously the site of sweat-soaked gay sex parties. Whilst there are laughs, The Butch is Back! refreshingly highlights the concerning fusion of church and state and growing influence conservative organisations wield worldwide.
Reuben delights in sharing the bawdy and outlandish, his infectious enthusiasm glowing as he delivers a tale of an Auslan sign language interpreter faced with the challenge of translating one of his gags centred on the term ‘cream-pie.’ The performer delivers his gags at a rapid-fire rate, the intelligent raconteur giving just enough time to for jokes to land before slapping his audience with the next. It’s a comedic assault on the senses in the best way imaginable as our minds delve from gags centred around the Catholic Church, the male Argentinian water polo team, farmers and Turkish vets providing discount colonoscopies. There is some well-pitched audience interaction such as the consensual straddling of front-row viewers – and although Reuben is a powerhouse presence on the stage with a razor-sharp intellect and wit, he makes his audience feel welcome, comfortable and in a safe pair of hands.
Further musical numbers are perfectly soundtracked by a live on-stage band, bringing further cabaret flair to takes on Reba McEntire’s Fancy and a mash-up featuring Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made for Walkin‘, Stormzy’s Big For Your Boots, and Geri Halliwell’s Scream If You Wanna Go Faster.
Amidst the pointed humour and cabaret excellence, The Butch Is Back! packs an emotional narrative thread in Reuben’s personal observations regarding his own experiences of coming out. Capturing his relationship with his father who encouraged the performer to immerse himself in art and culture in his childhood to a disappointing response to his coming out, provides a sense of poignancy and emotional depth to the piece. There are wider notes of coming out on our own terms in a society that is so quick to label that strike a real emotive chord here, with underlying themes of celebrating queerness shine through the production.
Reuben is a cabaret sensation packing The Butch Is Back! with a myriad of powerhouse humour, musical numbers brimming with finesse and showmanship, and touching notes about defiantly living our truth in a world that so often tells us to suppress it.
Reuben Kaye: The Butch Is Back! runs until the 28th of August at the Assembly Checkpoint. Get your tickets here.
Lead photo: Jax Moussa