30 January 2008

Coles Girls

Coles Girls
Michael Lindner and David Gauci
24 January2008
Northcote Town Hall

Cole’s Girls is laugh ‘til it hurts stuff. Sometimes it hurts because it’s just so wrong, sometimes it hurts because it’s little bit close to home and sometimes it hurts because you haven’t had time to draw a breath between jokes. Satirical, crude and just damn hilarious; these cheap drag scrags are as special as the Boxing Day sales with an unlimited credit card.

Meet Leesa Allopecia and Lysa Nads. Leesa knows she’s large framed, but why should she care when she works with her best friend and has the achievable dream of stroking Johns Wood’s Logie. Lysa yearns for a pearl necklace that doesn’t wipe away and is worried about the possible consequences of waking up one morning in a sperm donor clinic. Their jobs aren’t glamorous, but they have each other and the ongoing inspiration of Lisa Mclune. Like Lisa their careers started with a supermarket. Lisa went on to Aussie TV fame after being the advertising face of Coles. Leesa and Lysa are still scanning at the checkout, but they have dreams and Aussie TV is always looking for new reality show contestants.

Nothing is sacred in this show. Good satire reflects a thorough knowledge of your targets. These girls know Cole Porter, musical theatre, supermarkets, outer suburbs, Centrelink, reality TV, lost Aussie soaps and everything that is, was and ever shall be the cult of being an Aussie starlet (and there are one or two gay references).

If you don’t remember Arcade or Chances, there’s a generous combination of wit, word play and innuendo to keep anyone smiling. Now add the music of Cole Porter, a pianist and a couple of dancers. Cole’s Girls may be the definitive Bogan musical. Naturally “Love For Sale” opens the show. Cole may be cringing from beyond with what they’ve done to the lyrics, but I’m sure he’s wishing he could have had this much fun.

Under the muff, hole and 69 jokes Michael Lindner and David Gauci have developed an original, local and relevant work. What takes Cole’s Girls beyond a series of drag sketches is the complex characters, drama and well structured and balanced story (Yes, I am actually sticking to my belief that these things matter. I just hope I’m not being too sophisticated for the readers…..)

It’s hard not to compare Cole’s Girls to Little Britain. It’s by no means derivative of the British sketch show, but if you love the Britain boys, you shouldn’t miss the Cole’s girls. I’m not sure why men dressing up as women can be so funny (as it can also be pretty offensive). Perhaps it’s because there is more distance between the actor and the character. Would Dame Edna be so fabulous if Barry was really Betty?

Drag aside; the humour works because the characters aren’t that far from reality. Take away the jokes and the extremity and what’s left is a world that is raw, honest and a bit sad. This is what makes great humour so good. David Brent, Basil Fawlty, Eddy and Patsy, Kath and Kim. If we didn’t know people just like them, they would never be so funny. If we didn’t see just a bit of ourselves in Leesa and Lysa, we may not laugh so hard.

This is Cole’s Girls second Melbourne season. It’s now much tighter and deserves to be seen widely. And the closing line is as brilliant as the film it references.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

11 January 2008

SHOUT! – The Legend of the Wild One

SHOUT! – The Legend of the Wild One
11 January 2008
The State Theatre, The Arts Centre

If this is down and dirty, sweaty and sexy rock and roll, I don’t know what all the fuss is about.

SHOUT! – The Legend of the Wild One is nostalgic and fun. Seeing Mark Holden, Colleen Hewitt, Glenn Shorrock and John Paul Young is equally as nostalgic and fun. The design is sassy and satirical, the choreography authentic and addictive, and the ensemble cast are one of the best around. But it isn’t wild, it isn’t sexy and it really doesn’t show what was so unique and captivating about Johnny O’ Keefe. This production is more Rock and Roll Eisteddfod than genuine rock’n’ roll. 

The writing is where this production is falling down. It’s rose (pink really – lots of pink) coloured nostalgia, rather than story. The dialogue is mostly exposition, a bit of explanation and the rest is joke. There’s pouffe jokes, a salmon mornay joke, a Lorraine Crap joke and a charming splattering of 50s racism (which teeters somewhere between boring and offensive). It’s assumed that the audience knows everything about JOK already. 

 The disappointment, determination and degradation of JOK’s life is perfect material for a musical. His fight for fame in Australia, his continual battle with drugs and alcohol, the car crash, his overseas failure, his battle with mental illness, his failed marriage, his gradual comeback and final happiness. It’s all briefly touched on, but never used to create poignancy or real emotion.  His come back is shown as his parents watch it on TV. 

 We don’t see the darkness. We don’t see the deterioration, the addiction and the pain. A quick scene in a straight jacket doesn’t even begin to hint at what he went though. His wife mentioning to his parents that he’s taking drugs does nothing to show us his addiction. His bag of marijuana was used only as a joke. This man believed he was Jesus Christ – why on earth wasn’t this real and dramatic material used to its full potential? 

 I think the writers were trying to show us JOK through the eyes of his wife and parents. So we saw a loved person with minimal faults. This story is about nice little Johnny and his very nice parents. He was a bit naughty, but that’s about it. He sure as hell isn’t presented as wild and revolutionary. Faults and mistakes make drama. Namby pamby characters are not interesting. I wanted SHOUT! to show us what JOK went through and why he was, and still is, one of our greatest. 

 With a restructure, more of a focus on character, story and personal journey and a greater exploration of the dark side of JOK, this could be a bloody terrific show. The music, cast, look and feel are all there (the encore alone is worth going for), but it isn’t reaching the emotion level it should and it's making rock and roll seem just a bit blah. 

 This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com.