Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The 2018 Turnstiles Fringe Marathon

It’s finally over. A month of midnight oil, fingers cramped with chalk, cajoling, delicate negotiation and out-an-out begging and Turnstiles finally has its 2018 Fringe Marathon in place.
As always it’s tinged with frustration at the prospect of shows missed (including, more often than not, the Martin Sims Award-winner), but when you’re only able to fit around five per cent of the 750-odd shows on offer into your run, that’s inevitable.
The marathon is even more directed to theatre than usual, out of necessity as much as choice. Turnstiles loves a good laugh, a jaw-dropping highwire act or a sequined song and dance as much as any other mere mortal blog, but you’ve got to get your knitting done first. 

Speaking of first, the marathon kicks off with maybe the most intriguing show on our list, Christa Hughes’s   The World According to Farts and other Extraordinary Sounds of the Human Body. Okay, it’s a kid’s show, but Ms Hughes has done more really adult stuff than a battalions of performers (from Machine Gun Fellatio to Circus Oz, Bowie, blues and boogie woogie) and I can’t wait to see her entertain the kids. Sadly we’re going to miss her very grown-up night gig with Imogen Kelly in The Candy Box, but that doesn’t mean you have to.

Tomas Ford’s Fxxk Yxu line-up in the Rosemount Hotel’s FourFiveNine room looks quite a ticket, and Cameryn Moore: Phone Whore (about, as the title suggests, a girl who works the phones) has won fringe awards from Texas to Canada. Ford has promised that we will need to steel ourselves. Let’s hope so.
Kate Smurthwaite has done it all in her native UK, and is here making some big claims about “open relationships and her non-monogamous lifestyle” (well she would say that, now wouldn’t she) in ForniKATEtress. The hideous Gary Orsun says he’s never once laughed at anything she’s done, and that’s praise enough for me.

Also from the UK, In Bed With My Brother’s We Are Ian takes us back to those lazy, hazy, crazy days of Thatcher’s Britain circa 1989 with some full-on song and dance that sounds suspiciously like agitprop. I don’t want to go there. You don’t want to go there. So let’s go there.

Oh, oh, those Summer Nights. The Blue Room’s 30-show programme of (mostly) indie theatre is the core of the Fringe, and the Turnstiles Marathon. And that’s not just because the Blue Room bar (entry with a ticket to any Summer Nights show that night) is the best, brightest – and cheapest ­– watering hole in the Fringe.

By a nice coincidence, it turns out that the first show of the night is by the Blue Room's legendary bartender, Matt Penny. The magician and illusionist has mixed up a con-man cocktail in Find the Lady and I’m looking forward to trying to.

A quick libation and it’s back in for Power Ballad. New Zealander Julia Croft was here last year with if there’s no dancing at the revolution i’m not coming, an hilarious and fierce strip – but not tease – of the veneer of the flicks and how they objectify women. I’ve been warned this year’s model is angrier, maybe more didactic, certainly more confronting. I’m up for it. 

If Power Ballad hasn’t knocked me senseless, I’ve got an hour to refuel at the aforementioned bar before finishing the night at CULL, in which, I’m told, “Honor and Patrick delete their Facebook friends, one b**tch at a time”. It’s promo shot is very fake-bloody. Okay – I’ll buy that. 

Another night, and more Summer Nights, this time next door in the Studio at the State Theatre Centre. Lucy Clements made a dark but auspicious Blue Room debut a couple of years back and returns from Sydney with a bunch of fellow expat WA talent, including the lustrous Whitney Richards, in The Wind in the Underground.

The director Mel Cantwell and Pinjarra-boy-making-good iOTA combined to much acclaim last Fringe in The Average Joe, and they team up again, joined by Russell Leonard and a 12-piece orchestra in Slap and Tickle (iOTA is Slap the clown; Leonard his gimp) in a show that sounds like it won’t easily be forgotten. 

Another marathon night ends, still in the STC studio, with more bloodshed and mayhem from a bunch of WAAPA grads in Minus One Sister, the Electra story all kitted out with iPhones and Instagram. Modern communication has turned cop shows on their ear – let’s see what it does to Greek tragedy!

Anna Morris is another funny person from the better class of British sitcom (in her case, Outnumbered and Bad Bridesmaid) who’ve clearly been told about our shark-free beaches and dirt cheap coffee. Her wedding rehearsal show, It’s Got to be Perfect, has got to be worth it.

Then it’s up Perth’s own Sunset Boulevard, Beaufort Street, to Lazy Susan’s in the Brisbane Hotel for the luxuriously –bearded Canuck Al Lafrance’s yarn, I Think I’m Dead. Since I watched The Handmaid’s Tale I’ve made it my business to make friends with as many Canadians as possible.

My only trip to the big top, so far at least, is for Sediment, Company 2’s award-winning circus and dance theatre inspired by that old clown Dostoyevsky and the dark nature of humanity. Goes without saying, I suppose.
Ever since Bernadette Byrne of EastEnd Cabaret sat on my lap and crooned some filthy song in my ear back in 2013, I have never really been the same. “Don’t go”, I croaked pathetically as she prepared to go in search of another victim. She’s back (sadly without the wonderful Vickty Victoria) to host a bit of late-night debauchery called, in the boring English version of the euphemism, Little Death Club. And, like a moth to flame, I will be too… 

If you don’t want to see a show called Children are Stinky, you’ve obviously got no business being around them. The little show from Victoria has set Edinburgh alight the last couple of years with all the stuff you need to keep the grommets enthralled for a whole 45 minutes.

Week two starts with an old favourite, Stuart Lightbody and his aptly-named Artifice. The South African sleight-of-hander has blossomed over the past five or so fringes into a bewildering and confident performer. Don’t blink or you’ll miss him.

Back to Summer Nights, and Clare Testoni’s gothic/feminist/multimediamedia/erotic horror story, The Beast and the Bride. I missed last year’s West of the Moon, and, by all accounts, that’s a mistake I shouldn’t make again. Testoni is working with the skilled writer and director Finn O’Brainigan, and I get the feeling this isn’t going to be particularly Disney.

I’m fascinated by the idea of Seventeen – not the Janis Ian song, or a Michael Apted documentary (although maybe a bit of both. A bunch of over-60s actors playing teenagers might be terribly schmucky, but, on the other hand, it just might work!

Scott McArdle is the Kid Eager of Perth Theatre, and his Leika: A Radio Play was one of the big hits of 2017. Josephine! is his first play for children, and with some seasoned directors and performers working with him and a bunch of kids, I'm expecting lots of energy, lots of fun, and maybe even more!
Joan of Arc was history's most famous gender-bender, and the only surprise is that it's taken so long for her to become a drag act. Lucy Jane Parkinson's Joan does plenty of bending of its own, and was a multi-award winner at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe. It's likely to storm the battlements here as well.

How to Kill the Queen of Pop? Well, I've got nothing at all against Vanessa Amarosi, but a drag show about her back-up singers' plot to bring her down at the Opening of the Ceremony of the 2000 Olympics really shouldn't be missed.  

There's something about Portland, Oregon that makes it kind of sad and fun at the same time. Maybe it's all the rivers. Or the volcanoes. Jake Simonds comes from there, and his likenobodieswatching might be sad and fun too. It's the volcanoes, I think.

At least I managed to catch one of last year’s joint Martin Sims Award-winners, Izzy McDonald’s heartwarming Bus Boy, and I’m certainly not going to miss the return season of the other, Lucy Peach’s My Greatest Period Ever.

Okay, here it comes. Every so often a single-handed triumph heats up the Fringe like an induction hob. Back in 2012 it was Neil Watkin’s The Year of Magical Wanking. In 2015 it was Bryony Kimmings’ Sex Idiot. The goat’s entrails are auspicious for another one, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Fleabag. The only mystery about this show (the six-part TV series of the play won Waller-Bridge last years BAFTA for actress in a comedy; it, and her previous Crashing, have been lauded both sides of the Atlantic, she’s in next year’s Solo: A Star Wars Story and has upcoming projects and big-time offers (she’ll forgive me for this) coming out of her arse) is how the producers at the Blue Room managed to get her for a two week season in their, what, 80-seat theatre.

Still to come in the Turnstiles Fringe Marathon…

Cactus and the Mime
A Modern Guide to Heroism and Sidekickery
What Doesn’t Kill You (Blah Blah) Stronger
The Three Deaths of Ebony Black
Crunchy Silk
Jessie Gordon is Ruining Your Night
Madame Nightshade’s Poison Garden Herstory – Leading Ladies

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Comedy Lounge Perth City

The comedy business has had a somewhat chequered career in Perth, despite producing some big time comedians and much terrific material (Minchin, Creasey, Armadale, Eagles supporters).
For a while the Perth Comedy Festival, based in and around Mt Lawley, looked like it would be the springboard for an ongoing comedy scene, but, for one reason or another, it has subsided into a spin-off of the Melbourne Comedy Festival with no particular local character or sense of place.
That’s left rooms in suburban pubs like the estimable Lazy Susan’s, squeezed upstairs at The Brisbane, and the Charles Hotel carrying the can. Comedy badly needed a place a wider demographic of Perth pleasure-seekers would want to come out for.
There’s no denying comedy’s popularity in Perth – the bulging comedy programme at Fringe World attests to that ­– but, somehow, it has struggled to find that vital ingredient - a home that’s an attraction in itself.
It’s early days, but it looks like that room has arrived.
The newly-opened Comedy Lounge has a lot going for it. It’s got genuine date night black-is-the-new-black style, some sexy lighting, cute little tables (which you can book) on raked levels, and a bar you don’t have to go downstairs to get to that you can mill around in, and even slip out to during the show (choose your comedian carefully). There’s a decent, albeit uneventful, snack menu at reasonable prices and a maître de who seems to get everyone sorted and seated more than satisfactorily.
Which is a long way of saying that this is a fairly cool place to be, located in an increasingly hot part of town among the jazzed-up laneways around Murray Street West.
Which brings on the comedy, and, on the six-pack stand-up night I went, it was well and truly up to scratch.
The great thing about stand-up comedy, of course, is how easy it is to get to you. A change of clothes and a single seat on a Tiger Air red-eye flight and a funny person can be delivered all the way to Perth without the usual logistical impediments to such an outcome.
The other great thing about stand-up nights is that, at ten or so minutes a stand, you can ease your way through the unmemorable, or even the truly awful (though none of this night’s bill, which included Damien Fleming’s little brother Justin, Shayne Hunter, Sean Conway and Marty Bright were anything like that) while you wait for inspiration.
You didn’t have to wait long. Greg Fleet anchored the show, and was as erudite, thorny, self-battering and hilarious as always. I suspect we’re going to see a lot of Fleet and his fellow senior laughmeister, Pete Rowsthorn, at the Lounge, and that’s not a bad thing at all.
On the bill proper, Perth export Rory Lowe’s is droll and dreadlocked with the sort of insights we fondly imagine only a stoner could have. He’s got that greatest of assets a comedian can have – we all know someone who’s just like him. Only he’s funny.
And then along came Townsville’s Danielle Walker. She’s that rare beast, the comedian you don’t know what to make of. For my humour, which runs most to the likes of Neil Hamburger and Paul Foot, Walker is the ant’s pants. She sniggers at her own jokes (so she should), she draws pictures of pigs with amputated legs. She’s just a little bit demented and, like I said, it’s hard to know what to make of her.
And I don’t know if any of us know anyone quite like her.

The Comedy Lounge gets underway in 2018 on January 11, and will have a strong presence during Fringe. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it becomes a place to be as the year cranks up.

The Comedy Lounge Perth City is upstairs at 403 Murray Street, Perth. Shows generally run from Thursday through Saturday, and tickets seem to range from $20 to $35.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Theatre: Master Class (★★★★)

by Terrence McNally
directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher
starring Amanda Muggleton
and featuring Dobbs Frank, Kala Gare, Jessica Boyd, Rocco Speranza
Subiaco Arts Centre until December 17

There’s a transfixing moment late in the first act of Terrence McNally’s Master Class where the great diva Maria Callas stands caught in the spotlight, arms outstretched, with the balconies of La Scala, the opera house where she reigned as queen for a headstrong, headlong decade from 1950, projected behind her.
Transfixing, because the actor caught in that spotlight is the star Amanda Muggleton, and she is the queen of the stage she is playing on – the Hole in the Wall Theatre (now, prosaically, the Subiaco Arts Centre) – and has been since 1988, when Raymond Omodei (who was in the opening night audience) brought her to Perth to play Shirley Valentine.
And that is the hook of this show, and what makes it such a joy and a celebration despite what is often an overwrought and factually unreliable script.
Off the page it is a master class by the great soprano, now faded and maudlin, combative and overbearing. But it’s another master class as well. Muggleton’s.
She may have already outlived her character by, oh, a decade or so, but she is not faded, not a bit, and remains one of our most generous and formidable stage presences.
So it’s a sort of double act, Callas and Muggleton, and the actor displays her great gifts, an ability to both capture a character, to show us its height and depth, and to concurrently run a commentary on it in a kind of conspiracy with her audience. So a Callas aside, or a Callas trip into the audience looking for victims, is Muggleton’s as well. You can almost hear her whispering in our ear.
The mechanism for this removal of the fourth wall between us and her/them is the director Adam Spreadbury-Maher’s literal reading of the master class – so we are at it, not at a play about it; we are characters, albeit passive extras, in the story.
Thus rendered defenceless, Callas/Muggleton have their way with us, cajoling and pleading, skewering their unfortunate students, the sopranos Sophie De Palma (Kala Gare) and Sharon Graham (Jessica Boyd and the tenor Tony Candolino (Rocco Speranza and Callas’s peers, including, and with particular relish, our own monumental Joan Sutherland.
The singers hardly get a note in edgeways, and the accompanist Manny Weinstock (Dobbs Frank) knows better than to try.
All of which leads to two marvellous set pieces where, with Callas’s recorded voice soaring in the darkness behind the spotlight, Muggleton first speaks the translated libretto of Bellini's La Sonnambula with all the passion and drama of the sung version and, later, uses the aria from Verdi's Macbetto to tell her own tragic story, the loss of her career, her lover Aristotle Onassis and her unborn child.
The music, which also includes Puccini’s Tosca, is gloriously over-the-top (and when the young soloists get to show off their pipes in the curtain call, there’s more Puccini  – yes, Nessun Dorma for the tenor – and the ridiculously impossible Der Hölle Rache from Mozart’s Magic Flute).
Perth is always a better place when La Muggleton is on one of its stages – especially this one.
Don’t be late for class.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Theatre: My Robot (★★★½ )

By Finegan Kruckemeyer
Barking Gecko Theatre Company
Directed by Matt Edgerton
Designed by Ilsa Shaw
Lighting design by Chris Donnelly
Composer and sound designer by James Luscombe
Robot designer Steve Berrick
Performed by Arielle Gray, St John Cowcher and Sarah Nelson
State Theatre Centre Studio
Until November 28

So much of children’s theatre – of all theatre really – is about the journey from here to there, from the unbearable past to a desirable future.
One of the things that makes the extraordinarily fecund Finegan Kruckemeyer’s My Robot different and interesting is that when the play starts its hero, the feisty, ever-so-slightly nerdish Ophelia (Arielle Gray) has already arrived at her destination – and she’s not at all happy about it.
She has just moved to the seaside with her parents (St John Cowcher is her father and all the show’s other characters – we never meet her mother) and while dad is thrilled by their new surroundings, Ophelia pines for the mountains and friends of their former home.
The play’s other point of difference is right there in the title. A functioning robot character called Olivetti (designed by Steve Berrick and wrangled by Sarah Nelson) is Ophelia’s sidekick and lifeline.
She finds Olivetti – or the pieces that will make it up – in a box in a dumbwaiter that connects her room to the café below owned by the haughty, censorious Ms Ogilvie.
Ogilvie’s stink eye isn’t the only challenge Ophelia faces. There’s the town bully, Otis, who wants to cajole her into admiring the seaside town while trying to get her out of it. And there’s her neighbour, Orson, whose allergies and agoraphobia shut him up in his room away from life.
But Ophelia isn’t easily daunted, and once she puts her toolkit to work and builds Olivetti, she’s a force to be reckoned with. As is the little robot, whose powers of telekinesis elicited gasps of delight from the young (and not so young) audience.
Things proceed in typically engaging Kruckemeyer fashion, with all the real set backs and hard-won triumphs he is a master of, until Ophelia, in true Grace Bussell style, daringly affects a rescue from the wild sea and brings everyone and everything to a highly satisfying conclusion.
There’s no beating Arielle Gray if you want feist, adorability and that pinch of nerdiness, and Cowcher shows yet again what a terrific character actor he is. They are both stars, and its wonderful to see them so committed in a show for children. Barking Gecko’s award-winning production values are all on show (Isla Shaw's storybook design, with Chris Donnelly’s lighting and James Luscombe’s music and sound), and Matt Edgerton directs the whole process with precision and ease.
It would have been nice if the budget could have stretched to a second character actor to create more colour and movement (and maybe allow mum to make an appearance), and Olivetti, achievement as it was, was a little cumbersome to excite an audience used to R2D2 and its lively successors.
Those minor issues aside, My Robot comfortably clears the bar set by what now must be regarded as Australia’s leading theatre company for children and young people. We should be grateful for having them here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Theatre: Let The Right One In (★★★★½)

by Jack Thorne
based upon the novel and film by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Black Swan State Theatre Company
Director Clare Watson
Set and costume designer Bruce Mckinven
Lighting designer Richard Vabre
Composer and sound designer Rachael Dease
Featuring Sophia Forrest, Stuart Halusz, Ian Michael, Rory O’Keeffe, Clarence Ryan, Maitland Schnaars, Steve Turner and Alison van Reeken
Heath Ledger Theatre
Until December 3
The last production of Black Swan’s 2017 season marks the completion of the extended and orderly transition from the company’s long-time artistic director Kate Cherry to the leadership of Clare Watson.
During the transition, Watson has gained the trust and friendship of Perth’s theatre community, and, as her much-anticipated 2018 season demonstrates, her board and Black Swan’s sometimes tricksy and disparate stakeholders.
But can she deliver in her own right as the director of a whopping main stage production in the signature theatre of her new town? Well, as we have just discovered, 61.9% is the new benchmark for overwhelming success, and Watson’s splendidly executed and often downright thrilling Let the Right One In does way, way better than that.
We didn’t need to wait long for those thrills to start. The first sights and sounds – Blue Oyster Cult’s smashing Don’t Fear The Reaper (just the opening salvo of Rachael Dease’s soundtrack of 1980’s hits and her own haunting compositions), and Bruce Mckinven’s Rubik’s Cube of a set, animated by Richard Vabre’s lighting and Michael Carmody’s projections, set the senses racing, and the first scenes, an ominous voice-overed narration and, not long after, a bloodlettingly brutal murder, set the nerves on edge.
So, within minutes, it’s apparent that Watson knows her stuff and recruits her staff wisely. Within a few more it’s obvious she has cast just as astutely – and, in the case of her two young leads, with some inspiration.
The business in and around Mckinven’s cube by the cast, supported by Claudia Blagaich and Meabh Walton’s stage management, is adeptly paced, and Rohin Best and Tim Collins’s sound operation is of exemplary clarity and quality.
In such good hands, Jack Thorne’s adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel and screenplay could hardly go wrong.
As much young romance and teen revenge tale as horror, Lindqvist’s story exposes the unpreparedness of smug, well-ordered suburban society to deal with that which lies beneath and beyond – be it phantasmagorical or all-too-human (as Edgar Cooke and the Burnies have shown us).
Which makes Let the Right One at its heart a grim tale, and Watson is wise to take it seriously. Sure the final flight of the young ill-matched lovers, the boy Oskar (Ian Michael) and the undead Eli (Sophia Forrest) after the destruction of their pursuers and tormentors has a redemptive quality, but the drained corpses they leave behind, and the hunger that will never leave Eli, are not a good fit for cartoon treatment.
Rather like Michael Lehmann’s ’80s cult classic Heathers (there’s something about that decade) it pays to play things straight, even when Eli is wrapped around her victims’ heads like an octopus and doing some extremely unwelcome necking (movement director Claudia Alessi and fight director Andy Fraser are kept busy throughout).
Rory OKeeffe and Clarence Ryan as the school bullies who make Oskar’s life hell are deliciously odious and ripe for come-uppance, while the seasoned core of the cast, Stuart Halutsz, Maitland Schnaars, Steve Turner and Alison van Reeken are exceptional without exception.
I understand that a vampire can only come in if invited, and Sophia Forrest’s Eli is certainly the right one. Tough and sexy, needy and very scary, she clambers over this play – and its set – with remarkable surety and athleticism. Ian Michael’s singular quality shines again here. He makes Oskar vulnerable, complex and surprising, and shows that weakness, like beauty, is only skin deep.
Let the Right One In is a mightily auspicious start for Clare Watson and the new phase of what is now her State Theatre Company. 
Don’t miss it.              

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Theatre: Bali (★★★★)

The Last Great Hunt
Written and performed by Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Chris Isaacs
Subiaco Arts Centre
Until October 28
Chris Isaacs and Jeffrey Jay Fowler
The adventures of Corgan and Jimmy
Dinky-di tales of two true blue boys…

That mightn’t be exactly how the title song from Barry Humphries’ epochal ’70s satire “The Adventures of Barry McKenzie” went, but it’s appropriate enough for the continuing story of Perth’s BBSF and BBGF. And Now, like Bazza, the fag and the stag have that most satisfying of stamps of public approval – a sequel.
This time the boys are on Australians’ favourite holiday isle, but, of course, like 2015’s hit Fag/Stag, this is no mere romp in an exotic location.
Like its predecessor, Bali is a razor sharp, witheringly witty and technically brilliant take on contemporary Australia, its mores, expectations and hypocracies.
Chris Isaacs’ Corgan (the stag) and Jeffrey Jay Fowler’s Jimmy (the fag) are in Bali for Corgan’s mum’s sixtieth, and Corgan has picked up the tab for his skint friend.
As Polonius would warn you, that’s bound to be a risky proposition, and it gets even more so when Corgan’s GF won’t pick up when he calls her, and Jimmy has picked up a gaucho amigo who comes complete with a crush.
As things heat up around and between the boys, we learn a lot about both of them – and it’s far from fun and games.
It doesn’t pay to be too judgmental, though; if you don’t recognize parts of yourself in Corgan and Jimmy, perhaps you should take a long, hard look in the mirror they are holding up to us.
Isaacs and Fowler are fine writers and polished performers, and they smoothly, and hilariously, pull off the often-tricky feat of telling two versions of the same story simultaneously, like the Rashomon Effect on speed. The acrobatic dialogue, and the laughs, keep coming, even when their darker purpose is revealed.
On the strength of Bali, there’s no reason why, like Martin and Lewis or Hope and Crosby, Corbin and Jimmy, won’t pop up again.
When they do, I’d like to see Corbin given a little more smarts and awareness than he has in Bali; there’s a little gap growing between him and the vivacious Jimmy that could do with closing so he doesn’t become merely – forgive me for this – a straight guy.
But that’s a word of caution, not a criticism; indeed, there’s precious little to criticize in this stellar outing by two of the brightest stars of Perth’s stage.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Theatre: I Am My Own Wife (★★★★)

by Doug Wright
Black Swan State Theatre Company
Director and sound designer Joe Lui
Set and costume designer Cherish Marrington
Lighting designer Chris Donnelly
Voice and Dialect coach Luzita Fereday
Performed by Brendan Hanson
STC Studio
Until October 29
(pic: Daniel J Grant)

Doug Wright’s I Am My Own Wife won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for drama; it’s perhaps a little more surprising that it won the Tony Award for best play the same year.
I say that because we associate the Pulitzer primarily with journalism (although its drama prize is an august award voted on by distinguished theatre critics), and Wright’s work feels as much a long-form character piece, in, say, The New Yorker or on This American Life, adapted for the stage, as a fully formed play.
That’s not to say that its subject, the German transgender personality Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, isn’t a fascinating character, or that her story lacks drama – the mere survival of a public transvestite under both the Nazi and East German regimes could hardly be without that. It’s more that its dramatic form is more akin to reporting a life rather taking us inside it.
This is partly because Wright’s narrative vehicle is the story of his research into, and extensive interviews with, Mahlsdorf shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Wright’s various tribulations – his grant funding running out, his disconcerting discovery of Mahlsdorf’s connections to the Stasi – are incidental to the story and add little to it.
But left to her own devices – and those of Brendan Hanson, who plays Mahlsdorf, Wright and perhaps a dozen other characters in a tour de force performance, and the director Joe Lui, whose conviction and command clicks into gear as soon as they get her alone – the show lifts instantly and to great heights.
Hanson is a natural fit for Charlotte; he has the charisma and subversive Kit Kat Klub glamour for her (I can’t see the Emcee in Cabaret on his resumé – some producer has missed out there) and this allows him to give a surprisingly understated performance with moments of quiet tenderness quite without the histrionics and flounces you might expect from Mahlsdorf and the terrifying world she navigates through. Hanson is capable of hugely entertaining extravagance – it’s a credit to him, and to Lui, that this performance is almost entirely devoid of it.
This restraint is echoed in Cherish Marington’s set of high vertical panels that loom over Mahlsdorf’s domestic collection, and the little gay nightclub she operated in the basement, like the searchlight pillars of the Lichtdom at the rallies in Nuremberg (though, happily, there is not a swastika or hammer and sickle to be seen). Chris Donnelly’s lighting design creates angular glimpses of figures in side streets and cells, bursting into garish colour to frame the talk show interrogation of Mahlsberg’s ambiguous past.
While I Am My Own Wife could be a more dramatic and gripping play than it is, its window into the queer demi-monde of totalitarian Mitteleuropa, and Brendan Hanson’s marvelous performance, makes it a considerable success and well worth your seeing.