Caroline Nin is part of the exciting cast performing at L’Hôtel, an interactive show transporting you to a Parisian hotel at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. A frequent visitor and often resident of Australia, we had a chat to Caroline Nin about the show, COVID-19, singing and more.
Caroline Nin, are you in France or Australia at the moment?
I’ve been in Australia since November last year.
It was actually Jana Drummond who sent me a message asking « Caroline, are you in Australia?” I said « yes ». She said « we have a project ». It was literally the end of the first week of quarantine that I received the email from Adelaide Cabaret Festival.
It’s really a big thing to be putting on an international festival. We are lucky.
We are really spoiled. Really, we have a lot of luck.
I haven’t done anything since February 2020 in London. Well yes, I did two jazz concerts in Brisbane in February [this year] but they were little concerts – two little glypses like they say. I haven’t performed since last year. This year the two jazz concerts were only in front of 70 people.
I am very excited.
So, what have you done in the past year that you haven’t performed?
I spent 9 months with my Mum in France, in Lille. We did a lot of cooking together in the first lockdown. We put videos on Facebook and they were very, very successful.
In March 2020, I did recipes with 5 ingredients. Very simple. French recipes. A lot of meat but people loved it because it was French, I think.
Where in Australia are you now?
I’m in Townsville.
Because my other half lives in Townsville and we were separated for a year because of COVID and I renewed my permanent visa which had expired.
Ah, I was wondering what the link was with Australia?
I have lived in Sydney since 2011 and with my other half we went to Paris. And in 2020, I was in London, between Paris and London. Because I was working on the cabarets between Paris and London on the cruises. And my other half was here with her family for Christmas and on work missions in January, February, March. In March she said to me “I’m coming back”. And I said “Don’t come back. Stay where you are. We will work it out”. We were separated for 11 months.
So, you were in France that whole time?
All that time. I left London just before the lockdown – the lockdown was starting in 3 days. So, I took the Eurostar which cost me 300 pounds for the ticket!
And afterwards, I wasn’t able to move about. I was granted my visa at the end of 5 months. And I had 4 cancelled flights and I managed to get on a Singapore Airlines flight. It cost a lot of money! About $4000. There were about 20 of us in economy.
So, you’re coming to Adelaide for the show L’Hôtel, which from what I understand is an immersive show. Have you ever performed in an immersive show before?
No. But I have always had participations in my cabarets, audience participation where I slide into the audience.
Like when you were looking for Johnny during your performance at the Adelaide French Festival a few years ago?
Ooh la la. Poor Johnny. It was Dunstan Playhouse. When I did Piaf, it was Milord.
Have you worked with Craig Ilott, director of the show L’Hôtel before?
No, but I am a big fan. A very, very big fan. I saw Hedwig. I haven’t seen his theatre productions. I would really like to see them. I love his world– it’s my thing.
And the other artists in the show, do you know them?
No. I met Brendan, Bri and Lexie during the photo shoot in Sydney. They are the only ones that I have met. And so, I also met Craig and Stewart/Stuart Cousins at that time. We connected straight away.
I had photos with Bri. I’ve crossed Brendan but I’ve followed his career. I like him a lot. I find that he is really good. He had a pop beginning and he has a background in dance and musicals. He is really very interesting. I can’t wait but I don’t know him. So, we are going to rehearse during 10 days and I will really get to know them. I have barely crossed them.
What sort of music will you sing in the performance, if you’re allowed to tell me?
I’d prefer not to say. Without revealing too much, it will of course be French songs. A number of artists, one very well known. So, there you go. Three other artists, of which one is a man known by Australian audiences, a very beautiful singer/songwriter – I am extremely happy to sing his repertoire.
Have you every sung it?
Never. He had a big career in the US.
And then two songs from artists that I like a lot from the 50s-60s. We have arrangements with my London producer, who I’ve worked with for 20 years, with whom I finished my jazz album in quarantine, via zoom.
So, it’s someone who knows me well. We’ve done Adelaide together twice. It’s a songwriter producer. And it’s him who will play the songs which will accompany me at the festival. It’s going to be very personal. Great!
Were you able to choose what songs you would sing or did Craig already have it planned?
No. In fact with Craig, we did zooms to get to know each other and he is aware that for the Anglo-Saxon Australian, English speaking audiences it’s always Edith Piaf.
So, I’ve done a lot of Piaf. So last year, I was meant to do Barbara for the festival. It was cancelled. We had worked on the show for 2 years. We will do it. I know that I will do it.
And I suggested a few songs of Barbara to Craig. I suggested a panel of French artists to Craig. We go from jazz from the 50s to Boris Villant, Serge Gainsbourg, to the 60s with Francois Hardy, Regine, Charles Aznavour.
The big French singers.
Yes, all of the big ones. Voila.
So, he spent the Christmas break listening to the playlist – he said “wow”. We spoke again in January. We decided on 5, and then we removed 2 and then we added one. Because in the beginning we weren’t going to have the big singers and I said, “it’s obligatory!” But, we have a song that no one knows.
It’s good. It changes things. It’s not “La Vie en Rose that is a beautiful song but Australian audiences only know that.
Yes, it would be a shame to include something really obvious. It won’t be “La vie en Rose » and it won’t be “Je ne regrette rien ». That’s for sure.
Were you formally trained in singing?
Yes, I was trained in singing by an opera singer 35 years ago. I was very young.
But you’re only 35 now!
Haha, I was a child. Voila!
She is an extraordinary woman. She is still living in Paris. I re-found her about 5 years ago. She was an opera singer in Paris in the 60s so she must be about 85 and she teaches. She is still giving lessons in diction and voice to the great Parisian theatre actors like Depardieu, Francis Veber.
Ah wow! It must be an honour to work with her.
Yes. She is very, very strict. And when I found her again 5 years ago, and I already had my career international, she broke me!
And so, it’s with her that I learned during 3 years in Paris. And afterwards I honestly learned on the job in England. I left 25 years ago. I did a few internships with singers but they were always opera singers.
Always. So, does opera interest you even though you don’t sing opera in your shows? Is it their talent?
It’s the technique and the seriousness of the work. I love it actually. Because in cabaret we are very free. Vocally, we are very very free. In cabaret, we can really play.
So, it’s serious – the exercises are really hard and intense – we do vocalisations which are a bit boring but they muscle well. I like it a lot. And then I learn songs and I can sing them because no one is watching. But I will never be an opera singer. For me it’s the Rolls Royce. I love it but I could never do it.
A musical family
Have you always sung, even when you were a child?
Small. Always, always. The radio – when there were songs on the radio, I did the harmonies. And yes, I was very musical.
I come from a family of musicians. My paternal grandfather was a violinist. He played in cinemas with silent films. He did the accompaniment to silent films.
I have a cousin who is a cellist, with whom I worked together on Barbara last year. Otherwise, she is in promotional clips. She plays a lot in France.
I have another cousin who is a flutist. I have an ancestor who was head of orchestra in Holland. I have Dutch origins. I haven’t yet done my tree but I know that he was head of orchestra.
It’s a family, on my father’s side which is very, very musical.
And your parents?
No. My mother played violin when she was little. She sings well. But she didn’t pursue it.
And they supported your decision to follow this path?
Yes. They are very cool knowing that it’s not an easy choice. It’s actually quite a difficult life. My father isn’t here anymore but my Mother is. She is very, very proud.
Favourites and dreams
Who’s your favourite singer to sing?
Hmmm… I’d have to choose between 4. I’m going to say Shirley Horn. A big jazz singer. I’d say “Here’s to life”.
I love singing Piaf. Really, I live Piaf when I sing Piaf but my first school is jazz. Obviously, I do cabaret, because there are a lot more possibilities. Being a jazz singer when you’re 20, 25, 30, is difficult. It’s a man’s world. It’s very masculine. It’s something that’s quite passé actually. Now it’s more integrated and we have female jazz singers, who make albums. I discovered cabaret and loved the theatrical side.
So, I love singing Piaf. It’s in my metric. But if I was asked « what do you want to sing?” I would reply “I want to sing a song by Shirley Horne”. I hope that’s not deceiving.
Not at all! And similarly, who is your favourite artist to listen to?
Barbara. Oh. My God.
Favourite Barbara song?
It’s a song which is called “septembre” [Caroline breaks into harmony for me]. It’s a jewel.
Wow. How beautifully you sing even without vocal warm up exercises!
I haven’t sung in a long time either. In any event, Barbara. I would do Barbara. Ebony Bott was so disappointed that we had to cancel last year. The show was going to be great.
When are you going to return to France, Caroline?
I think I will go back in a year in March or April.
I’ve got some work in France that was proposed for next year and in England in London too in the London clubs: Crazy Cocks, Wigmore Hall. All these places where I had started.
Barbara was going to be was to be performed in a dress rehearsal in March because Adelaide was the world premiere. I had booked the club for 2 nights with some friends and I was going to sing Barbara. So, I’m thinking next year.
Yes! Next year has to be much much better! You’ve played around the world. Where is your dream space to perform?
My dream is Carnegie Hall because Piaf made her debuts there.
When she started to be well-known and successful at the Versailles in the little club in Manhattan, she went straight to Carnegie Hall and the Olympia, obviously in Paris. It’s only 3000 seats. That’s nothing!
And with COVID, it would be half that!
They haven’t yet re-opened. They reopen on 29 May. Everything has been closed since March last year.
It must be difficult to not perform for a year.
Yes. I am a little bit nervous; I admit. But I am not alone.
But it’s good to renew yourself. Sometimes it’s good to stop. You can renew your cells, regenerate and come back with something new. When you work all the time, it becomes a little bit automatic. To realise that it’s our DNA and we can’t do it, it’s something we really want to do. People to see each other again, to hug each other. My family suffers a lot. They don’t hug or do the kisses.
We really have been lucky here in Australia. We can only imagine how it has been for others.
You have been very lucky.
And me, I left in November. And that was the 2nd lockdown. We have had a lockdown, two curfews, and they are in a third lockdown from which they will come out at the end of June. It’s very hard.
Why should people come see L’Hôtel?
Coming back to the show, why should people come see L’Hôtel?
Because they are going to be immersed in a fantasy French hotel because with Craig, we were talking about a mix of Royal Monceau, Georges V, and then Lutecia with their secrets. So, he really liked the idea of mixing these hotels that have a lot of history because Paris is an old city and so as the first part the artists are among the audience there will be a lot of energy, movement, it will be very energetic. And then the light will fade and will be really behind the doors.
So, we’ll have the first part, which is imaginary, of what is a hotel. And then we’re going to be behind the doors actually. So, the masks are going to fall off into something much more realistic. So, I think it will be very moving. That is, it’s going to come out of the cabaret side of things where it’s just a fantasy world. I think Craig and Stu really want to show the reality of the souls, of the people in the cast, of what’s going on with the characters actually – the real faces of the character. At least for mine it is but I think for the acrobatic and burlesque performers it’s going to be that too and for Brandon. And Craig is great for that. In Smoke & Mirrors, it was great!
We thank Caroline Nin and Adelaide Cabaret Festival for this interview.
You can see Caroline Nin in L’Hôtel at Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Details below:
WHAT: the show L’Hôtel at Adelaide Cabaret Festival
WHEN: Friday 11 June to Sunday 13 June, Thursday 17 June to Sunday 20 June
WHERE: Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
HOW: Buy your tickets via this link:
HOW MUCH: $150 plus $8.95 booking fees
To know more about Caroline Nin, take a look at her website: www.carolinenin.com
What’s your favourite French song?
You may also like to read our other article about L’Hotel, an interview with the show’s director, Craig Ilott.