The night is cauldron hot, the air hissing with rumours and uncertainties. Voices penetrate the dark, prophesying an end to liberty. Ignore them. Be reassured by the clink of Cognac tumblers and the hum, like a Greek chorus chanting Hong Kong's mantra for stability: 'Money.' In a nightclub, a theatrically made-up man appears from behind a black curtain. He smiles wickedly and whispers: 'Hell-O! You have worries? There are no problems here. In here, life is beautiful. The girls are beautiful. Even the orchestra is beautiful.' He adds: 'Welcome to Greg Derham's Hong Kong fin de siecle fantasy - a stylish, intimate, party-your-cares-away cabaret.' Derham, whom Hong Kong's glitterati and party animals have embraced since his arrival in the territory four years ago, is pondering a new venture. His current business, House of Siren, stage manages extravagant private and corporate parties. He can provide the dancers, the costumes, the props, the magicians, the drag queens . . . not always drag queens, but whatever is outrageous or spectacular, or just different enough to make a party more memorable. Derham, at the age of 28, sighs in a world-weary way and says he is almost partied out. After spending the day with clients who want their parties to be 'completely lavish', he will slip on his entertainer's stilettos for the evening and go out in drag to add a little lustre to a Chinese party. 'I'd just as soon be at home watching a good video,' he says, anticipating the night. For the fact is, he has done this many times before and now wants a new creative challenge. The notion of a cabaret club, incorporating much of what he has done previously, is his latest passion. Derham's family has a history of living out the last years in cities straddling the final moments before change. His grandmother was White Russian and escaped Vladivostok to Shanghai just before the Bolshevik Revolution. His mother, born in Shanghai, fled on the eve of the Japanese invasion. Derham himself grew up in an Australian country town, Bendigo, which saw more colourful days as the centre of gold rush fever. He was nurtured on family stories of more glamorous worlds and escaped the comparative drabness of life in a gold-dry town watching Marilyn Monroe shimmy for Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot. 'Without your romantic notions you're not left with much in the modern world,' sighs Derham, fluffing out a shirt he designed from metres of glimmering fabrics for a Havana theme extravaganza. He came to Hong Kong with romantic notions, inspired by his mother's memories of the gay times she had known here before the war. He served his apprenticeship in Melbourne where he worked nightclubs with a stand-up comedy and drag act while spending his days learning the fashion trade with a designer. But his early character act, Babette who predicted the 1990s, did not predict he would find himself living in Hong Kong in the mid-90s with a profitable business. He thinks the time is ripe for his cabaret club: he has experience in the entertainment business and argues there is nowhere in Hong Kong you can rely on for a night's dazzling, quality entertainment amid the surprising decor he envisages. 'It would have a sumptuous, rococo feel,' he muses, 'with 50s and 60s overtones so it's not too baroque. I'd like it to be completely versatile so it could change completely from one night to the next. You wouldn't know what to expect.' In a city where no one knows what to expect, this will match the mood. His leaning towards the glitzy is not out of character with Hong Kong. He may even be tapping out the right tune to appeal to a certain type of businessman from China. Does Derham think there is any similarity between Hong Kong's party scene and the frenetic escapist atmosphere which infected other great cities at the moment of change? 'There's an underground party scene here that the social editors don't see. That's more exciting, interesting and decadent than anything most people know about,' he says, refusing to elaborate. At the same time, people tend to be cautious about how they spend their money. 'It's a bit like people are holding their breath,' he says. All the big briefs he is getting from clients are for 1997. 'I expect that next year the whole thing will take off like a blasting rocket.' He would like his cabaret club to be up and dancing by the beginning of the year. But he has a long way to go before it becomes a reality. Not everyone thinks such a club is appropriate or workable, and he has to find a partner with experience in the food and beverage business to invest in an untested market. Jan McKenzie, proprietor of FABS (Food and Beverage Solutions), believes customers will love it. 'The Chinese people are looking for entertainment and they like glitz and glamour. You can see it in the sort of films they flock to see. But there's the whole financial side which might make a cabaret club unfeasible. 'To cover rents in Hong Kong, you've got to turn tables around two or three times in a night. You can't do that if people are glued to their seat watching a show.' One veteran party-thrower in Hong Kong doubts that a cabaret club will be viable. 'Hong Kong has the same sort of interests as the rest of Asia. I don't think the approaching change of sovereignty has anything to do with it. It's not as though people are dancing themselves into a frenzy,' he says. 'Greg has managed to break a barrier with what he does. But entertainment is a hard thing to sell here. People quite happily pay $800 or $900 on a charity ball or a product launch, but you're hard pressed to get them to pay $100 for entertainment. They expect it to be free.' Tommy Fong, vice-chairman of the Lan Kwai Fong Association, is less pessimistic about a cabaret venue. 'I had that plan before - but no money. I was thinking it should be located in a remote area, so people who made the effort to travel would be prepared to sit for some time,' he says. But the reality of Hong Kong night life, he points out, is that people tend to go from bar to bar. 'If you're talking about something like the Lido in Paris, which I consider decadent, I think that's too big and grand to be sustainable in Hong Kong,' says Roger Vanhoeven, owner of Quo Quo restaurant. 'But if it is small and fun and unexpected, like venues in New York, I think you could build up a regular clientele. It could be a nice addition to the club scene.'