This week, the last week of May, has seen two new productions open at Chapel off Chapel in South Yarra. Both deal with gay culture, and couldn’t be any more different if they tried – in more ways than one.
First up is Supergirly: Return of the Pop Princess. For those who don’t know who Supergirly is, she’s the alter-ego of Lulu McClatchy, and often performs at DT’s Hotel. Basically what she does, and has been doing since the late ’90s in London, is take pop songs and change the lyrics into smart and very funny pisstakes on the performers, their audience and the nature of celebrity in general. No one is safe, and that’s certainly true in this, her first theatre show. Now she has a set – a very glamorous set at that, a co-performer, Bradley Cooper (really it’s Lyall Brooks, but Supergirly thinks he really is Bradley Cooper), about 10 costume changes, and a storyline.
It’s a bit like Supergirly’s hosting her own chat show from her own home, and Bradley is her manservant. They often break out into song, Bradley tells Supergirly’s (mostly) fictional story from a fur-covered story book, and answers the door for her many (imaginary) celebrity guests (all played, of course, by Brooks as well).
Supergirly is wonderfully cheeky, snarky and deluded, and McClatchy and Brooks are more than happy to take the piss out of each other, themselves, the audience, the celebrities they parody – in fact, no one and nothing is safe. This approach gives the whole show a delightfully silly but grounded tone, and works perfectly with the songs and celebrities they target. Some favourites include the Pet Shop Boys, a clever Lady Gaga/Madonna mash-up (complete with some enormously silly back-up dancing from Bradley), a revealing Britney song-off, Lordes, and the Black Eyed Peas ‘Shut Up’, with Bradley providing some very impressive rapping.
If you’re looking for a theme in the show, it’d be exposing the ‘truth’ behind the cult of the celebrity, and takes said celebrities down a peg or two. McClatchy and Brooks are both strong singers, seasoned performer,s and have great comic timing. They know how to bounce off each other and know how far to take a joke, and when to pull back – which is not very often.
Yes, the show could be a bit tighter, but it’s a wonderfully, chaotic, delirious two hours that keeps the audience laughing almost non-stop. And it’s great to see McClatchy’s talents shine in this context so we can really appreciate her skills.
I wish the same could be said for Teleny.
Teleny is a play written by Barry Lowe and directed by Robert Chuter, based on an anonymous late 19th century erotic novel purported to be the work of Oscar Wilde and his circle of friends. Here, however, it’s relocated to 1920’s Paris.
Camille Des Grieux (Tom Byers) attends a piano recital with his mother (Frederique Fouche) and finds himself fascinated by the exotic pianist Rene Teleny (Jackson Raine). The attraction is mutual, but Camille has trouble admitting his desires, but eventually succumbs and falls in love and into a secret relationship with Teleny. Soon the pair are exploring the underground ‘deviant’ world of their closeted and secret sexuality, thanks to the flamboyant Briancourt (Dushan Philips).
Now that’s all well and good – it’s a story that has some relevance and resonance with a 21st century audience, even as an historical record of such matters in less accepting times and societies, but it’s far too long for a play of this kind. It’s also too laboured, too heavy-handed and takes itself too seriously. The first act, at two hours long, is much too long, and moves far too slowly. And unfortunately, the main character, upper class Camille, who narrates his story, is too detached and disaffected, and not a particularly sympathetic character. At times, the dialogue, while clearly emulating the language of the literature of the period, leans towards the melodramatic, and its relocation to the 1920s adds very little, except for some impressive set design and costumes (and lack thereof).
Yes, there is plenty of nudity and simulated sex (of which we are warned before entering the theatre, along with drug use and coarse language), especially in the second act, but its impact and ‘shock value’ is soon lost and replaced by leaden expository dialogue and plot development.
Performances range from wooden (Byers) to brave (Jonathan Duffy in a gender-bending role), strong (Philips) and perplexing (Timothy Hare as a buff Turkish model), and the staging old-fashioned and slightly portentous. A lighter touch that doesn’t take itself too seriously, a brisker pace, less angst, and halving the 210-minute running time would have helped immeasurably. It’s no wonder that a third of the audience left at interval, and those that remained found humour in the uttering of ‘pianist’ and sniggered at the exaggerated and overwrought (anti) climax. Perhaps a warning of the three-and-a-half hour length and ponderous dialogue would have been more helpful.
Which is a shame, because Teleny should have been brave, strong and memorable theatre, but I fear it is the victim of its own excess – much like the characters in the story themselves are.