Exhibition provides window into Newcastle’s creative past and present

02 Jul 2021

It’s been almost four decades since members The Castanet Club first graced the stage at the back of the Clarendon Hotel with their irreverent mix of comedy, theatre, music and dance.

Now, for the first time since 1991, the iconic Newcastle ensemble are getting the band back together for a very different gig – as the stars of a new exhibition at Newcastle Museum.

Castanet Club: an exhibition you can dance to (if you were allowed) will transport audiences back to the 1980s through a kaleidoscope of band posters, photographs, scripts, records, VHS and cassette tapes.

Newcastle Museum Director Julie Baird said Newcastle is known as an incubator for the arts, theatre, music and comedy.

“Newcastle is a creative and innovative community with a vibrant cultural history and an amazing depth of talent within its performing and visual arts sector,” Ms Baird said.

“Exhibitions such as this provide a vehicle through which we can share our stories, explore our identity and celebrate the collaborative nature of the city’s creative and performing artists.

“The Castanet Club began as a group of friends living, studying and working in Newcastle in the early 1980s and went on to become a legend of the Australian cabaret circuit, gaining national and international acclaim.

“This exhibition uses items from the Museum’s own collection, which were donated by former Castanet manager Jodi Shields, and includes additional memorabilia borrowed from members of the band, as well as a new artwork by acclaimed local artist Michael Bell, who created the original pop-art aesthetic of the Castanets.

“The story of the Castanet Club will also be brought to life through a newly commissioned film by Stories of Our Town filmmakers Glenn Dormand (Chit Chat von Loopin Stab) and Tony Whittaker, while art curator Therese Kenyon and artist Stephen Clarke will use the exhibition to launch their new book celebrating the remarkable history of the group.

The free exhibition was supported by the Create NSW Triennial Program Grant.

Castanet Club: an exhibition you can dance to (if you were allowed) will open at Newcastle Museum on 11 July and will run through to 31 October.

For more information visit https://newcastlemuseum.com.au/exhibitions/special-exhibitions

Fast Facts – The Castanet Club

  • The Castanet Club was formed by a diverse group of friends living in Newcastle, including drama students, visual artists, amateur musicians, a payroll clerk, an industrial chemist and a typesetter.
  • They began performing at Newcastle’s Clarendon Hotel in 1982, with up to 12 people on stage during performances acting out various regular comic personas.
  • The Castanet Club gained national and international recognition for their off-beat blend of music, dance, and comedy, touring Australia, winning the best of the Adelaide Fringe award and performing at Edinburgh’s famous comedy festival.
  • Many of the band’s members have since established high profile and successful careers in the arts including comedians Stephen Abbott (Triple J breakfast – “Sandman”) and Mikey Robins (Triple J breakfast host, co-host of Good News Week), actor Glenn Butcher (Full Frontal, Fisk), writer/director Warren Coleman (Oscar-winning movie Happy Feet), writer-performer Russell Cheek (stage play Who Am I? based on his experiences winning Sale of the Century), radio personality and podcaster Maynard (Triple J), and children’s TV presenter Angela Moore and pianist Penny Biggins (Play School).
  • Leading director of theatre, opera and film, Neil Armfield, made a film about The Castanet Club in 1990.
  • The band stopped performing in 1991.