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Four songs from Sydney Festival's gin cabaret Mother's Ruin – with matched cocktails

By Elly Baxter

One of Time Out Sydney's most anticipated shows at Sydney Festival combines several of our favourite things: booze, cabaret, comedy and music – from Nina Simone to Billy Joel to Amy Winehouse. It’s called Mother’s Ruin, and it’s the brainchild of gin blogger Elly Baxter (aka the Ginstress) and Maeve Marsden and Libby Wood of comedy cabaret troupe Lady Sings it Better.

To whet your appetite, here are four songs featured in Mother’s Ruin, matched by Elly with gin cocktails. Warning: gin is not called "mother’s ruin" for nothing.

The song: ‘Gin House Blues’ by Nina Simone
The drink: Bee’s Knees

During the 1920s alcohol was prohibited in the US; you don’t have to use your imagination to know how well that went – Boardwalk Empire, if nothing else, re-popularised the legendary period of black-market profiteering that ensued.

The gin in this era was not the tasty, craft distilled, sippable gin of today, it was rough and ready, concocted in bathtubs and basements. The main objective of the cocktails of the era was to mask the terrible taste of the poor quality booze.

Bee’s Knees disguises the taste of this nasty gin with honey and lemon juice, so when the joint is raided you could throw down your gin and leg it.

The song: 'Two Ladies' (music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb) from the musical/film Cabaret.
The drink: Hanky Panky

My favourite two ladies of cocktails were Ada ‘Coley’ Coleman and Ruth ‘Kitty’ Burgess who tended the American Bar in The Savoy Hotel until 1925. Although they worked together for more than 20 years, Kitty and Coley were so competitive that they were sworn rivals, and legend has it they refused to speak to each other for most of that time. They ran the bar back-to-back.

Coley is still a well-known cocktail creator, and it’s suggested that Kitty was furious that Coley would not share her recipes. Her best known recipe was the Hanky Panky, created for the West End actor Sir Charles Hawtrey. He wanted something with a bit of punch, she served him up gin and red vermouth with a splash Fernet Branca – and he declared ‘that’s the real hanky panky’.

The song: 'Mama Knows Best' by Jessie J
The drink: Gimlet

If your mother is like mine, she most certainly knows best, and she’s very worried about the spate of scurvy cases in Sydney. You can hand on heart tell your mama you are doing your bit to keep scurvy at bay with a daily gimlet. This delicious gin cocktail made with fresh lime juice and sugar, or Rose’s Lime cordial, was designed by Surgeon General Sir Thomas Gimelette in the 1860s to be served to British navy officers at sea to prevent scurvy, but is now served in any self respecting small bar by a man with a beard and a denim apron.

The song: ‘Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole’ by Martha Wainwright
The drink: The Aviation

You’ve been dumped by the love of your life. You’ve been drowning your sorrows all night. It’s 4am, and nothing good happens after 4 am. You want your mouth to feel as bad as your heart. You order The Aviation, the only truly terrible gin cocktail. I’d tell you what’s in it, but then you might make it and I can’t have that on my conscience. Let’s just say it uses creme de violette and tastes like potpourri. Hold your nose and drink to that bloody motherfucking arsehole.

Mother's Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin opens Jan 11 at the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent within the Sydney Festival village in Hyde Park. Check out our hit list of the best shows at Sydney Festival 2017.

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