17 October 2009

Bittersweet

MELBOURNE FRINGE 2009
Bittersweet

8 October 2009
Meat Market


Bittersweet enjoyed a short season of sold out shows at the Fringe’s wonderful circus ‘tent’ at the Meat Market. Created by Last Tuesday Society regulars, the eager crowds were ready for something very different.

Set in a strip club in the “seedy side of town where it’s always 4.30 in the morning”, Richard Higgins is the DJ who narrates the tale that ends with the destruction of the club. With a singer who only sings when the club is shut, the sweet country girl who just wants to hoop dance, a band who never leave and a drunk whose stuck to his chair, Bittersweet is on it’s way to being a late-night cult favourite.

But it feels like a Last Tuesday night in a bigger venue. Story and characters are what hold this kind of show together, with the skill of the performers used to tell the story. For all their skill, each piece took us away from the characters and made us focus on the performers, which was emphasised by Higgins dropping his dark, seedy (and fascinating) DJ character, slipping into his MC character (or even himself) and asking us to cheer – and the performers dropping out of character to bow! If you want us to care about the people in this sad, lonely place, don’t remind us that it’s all just pretendies and we are really there to see you look hot and show off a bit.

The characters felt tacked on to the performer’s existing acts, rather than integral to them. Simoncee Page-Jones’, Dragon Lilly hides behind enough glitter make up and feathers to dress a Les Girls troupe, but we don’t get a glimpse of why. She sings ‘Send in the Clowns’, but misses the emotion of the song to be a vocal gymnast. This one would have hit us in the heart if she had let Lilly drop her mask and sing from her heart. Stephen Williams was hands down the performer of the night, but his effortless skill needed a character who belonged in that club. Anna Lumb is adorable on stage, but I wasn’t sure if she was playing one or two characters.

Bittersweet is a nice cabaret show, but it’s not a theatre show yet. The story needs work and the group ‘happy ending’ isn’t earned - and I have no idea what the tacked on dance was. Was it meant to show us that two people survived and found love or something that didn’t fit in anywhere else?

The spine and structure are there, but Bittersweet needs (and deserves) the help of a writer and a director to balance out the flavours and remove the saccharine aftertaste.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

More 2009 Fringe reviews.

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