04 October 2009

Songs From The 86 Tram

MELBOURNE FRINGE 2009
The Bedroom Philosopher: Songs From The 86 Tram
Justin Heazlewood/ Nan & Pop Records
3 October 2009
Fringe Hub, Lithuanian Club


Songs from the 86 Tram’s capture of Melbourne is so perfect that it should be seen by everyone who has ever caught the 86 tram, everyone who has ever caught any tram in Melbourne and everyone who lives in Melbourne, has visited Melbourne or knows that a tram is neither bus nor train.

From Bundoora to the Docklands, the 86 is a bizarre route that passes through oh-my-god-we-are-nearly-inner-city Preston, the pram belt of Northcote, yay-it’s-still-grungy Smith St, the ‘Paris’ end of Collin’s St (does anyone get that?), the one-day-I-WILL-watch–it DVD store, the CBD and onto the ‘Canberra of the South’, Docklands. There is no better way to understand the diversity and extremes of this wonderful city than a trip on the 86 – and it will only cost $5.80. (As it goes to the mysterious and creepy Zone 2 world, you need the extra expensive ticket or, as I read in The Age, some people have found ways to 'fare evade'.)

Justin Heazlewood’s astute observation delivers a quintessential character from each section of the route, who he can’t have invented, because we’ve all sat too close to them all on a tram. From Gwen, whose sadness made me want to cry, to the new media artist, whose hopeful enthusiasm also made me want to cry, each song or sketch is filled with glorious gags and jokes about our city that hurt because we know they are true.

It’s also the best thing that I’ve seen Heazlewood/The Bedroom Philosopher perform. As a performer he is so much more comfortable and a much stronger performer from behind the mask of a character.

The writer of this show has ‘leapt and bound’ over other musicians to pen what may be the best songs ever written about Melbourne and the performer captures his characters with a delicate accuracy – but they need to team up and fire their director.

This show is bloody good, but it isn’t great. It isn’t what it should be and it won’t be what it deserves to be until Heazlewood trusts that he needs the tough love of an outside eye to get the crap bits off the stage. This show needs a director* who the performer is going to despise so much that during rehearsal he spends his nights blogging at Ihatemyfuckingdirector.com, while the writer is secretly sending flowers and hoping to snog the director at the after party.

I sat in that audience frustrated because – for all the cack-yourself moments – there was too much that took us away from the show and brought us back to Justin. As a performer, the show you want is running in your head, so you can’t see what we see from the audience. Heazelwood is too good a performer and too intelligent a writer to put that much trust in his own directorial instinct.

* Things an insensitive director might say:

• “I laughed so much at the Potter/Malfoy joke that I think I have a small hernia and will not be able to read JK’s novels without thinking of you – but the joke has no place in this show. It’s a joke about you, it’s not about the 86 tram, Melbourne or even about TBP.”
• “If you don’t rehearse in your space and you fuck up on stage, don’t blame the space or draw attention to your lack of rehearsal. It makes you (not TBP) look like a lazy dick.”
• “If I ever see you laughing, or even smirking, at your own jokes before, or after, the audience get them, I will kick you in the nuts.”

More Fringe 2009 reviews.
A version of this review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

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