We are not unamused

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 March, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 March, 1993, 12:00am

CABARET A Talent to Amuse: John Michael Swinbank, Fringe Club, March 17-20.

POKING fun at himself in his lively tribute to Noel Coward, cabaret entertainer John Michael Swinbank quipped ''If Noel Coward were alive today, he would roll over in his grave''. Such comments rolled off the acerbic tongue of the Perth-based alter ego of Noel Coward.

The largely expatriate audience responded heartily to Swinbank's revamped show which was premiered in the same theatre three years ago. Although not large, the crowd welcomed Swinbank and pianist Marie Sermon.

Dressed in black dinner jacket, a red carnation jauntily set in the buttonhole, Swinbank began the show with the popular There Are Bad Times Just Around The Corner to a round of sniggers and guffaws. The song seemed apt for the recession-ridden unstable times. Coward's lyric ''can't see democracy and don't care'' particularly seemed relevant to the territory.

Swinbank was so comfortable as Coward's companion, that the line between Cowardisms and Swinbank patter was difficult to distinguish. His twisted platitudes and cliches could have easily come from the deceased entertainer.

Mad Dogs and Englishmen went down well, as would be expected, while the taunting Why Must the Show Go On? saw Swinbank come to life. After the interval, Swinbank returned as an inebriated Coward, and launched into a rousing rendition of I've Been to a Marvellous Party, Alice Is At It Again, The Stately Homes of England and I Wonder What Happened To Him all received their fair share of applause.

But it was the send-up of Cole Porter's Let's Do It that stole the show. Swinbank's modern stanzas were so glibly included that it took time to register that they were not the original lyrics. There was barely a political leader or member of the Royal Family who did not receive the Swinbank ''treatment''. Reagan took forever to do it, Prince Charles and Camilla did it by telephone, and even Thatcher was supposed to do it.

He ended with a cutting version of Don't Put Your Daughter On the Stage, Mrs Worthington as he pleaded with her through clenched teeth and with stony-faced expressions. Called back for an encore, he gave a brief and touching rendition of I'll See You Again, Coward's signature tune.