It takes a brave little theatre to put on a production slap-bang in the middle of the Sydney Festival and its surfeit of high-profile events, when who-knows-how-many Sydneysiders are away for the school holidays. It’s even braver to stage a full-on musical on its tiny stage, without all the technical and other accoutrement that might normally accompany such a venture.
Yes, Darlinghurst is a brave little theatre. Tim Bosanquet has written a suitably histrionic script (seemingly, with roots in a play he wrote a few years back, called City For Sale), which Lucy Egger has furnished with lyrics and music. The lyrics aren’t always, or consistently, ‘shit class’, to paraphrase one of the characters, but they often hit the nail right on the head.
Taking the opening night performance from the very top, the tight three-piece band, comprising musical director Doug Hansell on keyboards and the Derricott brothers; Nic on guitar and Paul on drums. As the audience took its seats, they were laying down some wicked grooves (including a Hendrix riff, just after interval) and proved a robust and reliable backbone all night. Barry French’s set worked well, especially as lit by Jodi Speight, who hit upon some devilish red lighting for certain evil scenes. Amy Campbell kept the choreography simple, manageable and effective and director, Sandra Stockley, has invested what looks like a staggering amount of time and energy into streamlining performances across the board.
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Like Barry French, Sara Browne is nothing if not versatile. Writer, fairy, singer, songwriter, esl teacher and train-driver, she is practically perfect as Joan, cold, arch and ruthless agency principal. I’d the feeling her character might’ve been somewhat inspired by the archetypally appalling Prue and Trude, Toorak templates for the truly terrible.
James Pope wisely saw the light and gave up his day job as a lawyer to starve, meaningfully, as a musical theatre artiste; having played ‘the wild one’, as well as pivotal roles in West Side Story and Rent, he now stoops to playing a naive real estate salesperson, forced into evildoings by his desperation to meet quota. He, too, is ideally cast as Bagley, the wide-eyed, well-meaning innocent, corrupted and contaminated, almost inevitably, by the creeping slime of the industry.
By contrast, Andrew Cutcliffe, as ‘The Closer’, Brett Zarb, is yet another judicious choice. Slick and handsome in his shiny, well-tailored suit, he is the very quintessence and epitome of the slippery, cashed-up professional; devious and debonair.
Chad Richards acquits himself charmingly as the cliched cop, replete with trenchcoat and porkpie hat (or was that in my imagination?). He’s also the rose between two thorns in the chorus. Actually, I think that should be the other way ’round.
The diminutive but dynamic Sophie Webb proves herself yet again as Debbie, an unsophisticated girl with high hopes and ambitions, more than prepared to use everything at her disposal to secure her status and visage via a billboard. She moves especially well and sings that way too.
Catherine McGraffin, hidden behind glasses, is the very definition of dowdy, dumb and whiny. You can’t help but pity her good-heartedness and misplaced affections.
Drew Fairley, whose face will be familiar to many, is Joan’s ex-husband, in his own, failing practice. All his bets are on Bagley, but he’s not confident. He’s downmarket, old-school, coarse, but faithful; a sheep in sheep’s clothing. With his best, broad Aussie affectations, he infects the role with delightful dagginess.
Jenny Lynn pours personality and tends to dominate the stage whenever she’s on it. A powerful performer in all respects, she works the chorus and is especially entertaining as a torch singer; not to mention as the man-eating Mrs Moorecock. Similarly, Amanda Stephens Lee eats the role of the devastatingly droll Mrs Kovitz, making it her own.
Bosanquet and Egger have zeroed in mercilessly on the dreadful disease that is real estate, while maintaining a certain sympathy for their coterie of characters. If there’s an industry long overdue for a complete kicking, it’s this one. (Oh, the stories I could tell. Tall tales, but all too true.) For those of us who’ve been lied to, cheated, gazumped and abused by this underclass, any opportunity for vicarious exorcism, especially in the form of a sharp-shootin’ musical, is warmly welcome. Cut half an hour or so out (I know, for the composer’s it’s like ‘which organ can my baby live without?’) and they’ll really have something with stamina.
Curtain Call rating: A-
The details: Open For Inspection plays the Darlinghurst Theatre until February 13. Tickets on the company website.