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Step inside the zany world of The Castanet Club

  • 13 July 2021

It's been almost four decades since The Castanet Club made their debut on stage at the rear of the Clarendon Hotel in the early 1980s. What began as a group of local Newcastle friends performing tongue-in-cheek comedy, theatre, music and dance soon turned legendary on the Australian cabaret circuit achieving national and international acclaim.

For the first time since 1991 the iconic gang are back together for a gig of a different kind – as the stars of a new exhibition at Newcastle Museum!

The Castanet Club: an exhibition you can dance to! is a one of a kind experience you don't want to miss...don't just take it from us though! We caught up with Newcastle Museum Curator David Hampton to get the scoop on what you can expect when you step inside the colourful world of The Castanets.

What inspired you to create this exhibition?

In 2016 The Castanet Club's former manager Jodi came to us with an offer to donate the vast archive of material she had kept from her time working with the band. It turned out to be a treasure trove of art, merchandise, and rare copies of original performances. We've been working on the collection for several years now, waiting for the right time to use it to create an exhibition celebrating the colourful, wacky world of the Castanets.

The exhibition is presented using a variety of formats - band posters, photographs, scripts, records, VHS and cassette tapes. Can you tell us more about the design of the exhibition and how it came about?

Just like palaeontologists rebuild dinosaurs from fossils, we've had to reimagine The Castanet Club based on a combination of modern fossils like video tapes and old posters. We wanted to recreate the experience, because that’s what people that were there kept telling us – you had to experience The Castanet Club. To do this, we have called on so many talented people, from our own exhibition staff to the City of Newcastle carpenters, painters and signwriters, and I think most notably, celebrated artists and local living treasure Michael Bell. Michael worked with The Castanet Club originally and helped set the tone and look of the club. He's produced an absolutely beautiful recreation of the original sign, a stage, and generally given the space its Liquorice Allsorts looks.

What can visitors expect from the exhibition – why should they visit?

Expect music, loud costumes, good singing, bad singing, bizarre humour, and a huge amount of pink. We've painted everything pink and it looks glorious. I think people should visit just to see Mikey Robins play the recorder through his nose, but look that’s probably just me.

Can you tell us about some of your favourite pieces from the exhibition, and why?

I really enjoy the share house living room we have built into the space - as a former Cooks Hill share house resident I really relate to the slightly dingy terrace house aesthetic we've managed to capture. We've even got a 1970s TV playing rare footage of the Castanets Round the World bus trip. I'm also a big fan of the costumes, they are a lovely connection to the original performers and the characters they inhabited.   

Is there anything else you'd like to mention?

I would like to thank all the Castanets for trusting us with their objects and stories, and allowing us to share them with the Newcastle community. It’s a pleasure to have found myself working with the dags who do good!

The Castanet Club: an exhibition you can dance to! is on display at Newcastle Museum until the end of October.

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