Tuesday, 21 November 2006

Babes in the Wood, Malthouse, Nov 21, 2006

 Babes in the Wood by Tom Wright
By Malthouse Theatre

Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, Nov 21 until Dec 2, 2006

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Babes in the Wood, directed by Michael Kantor, is a chaotic blend of Victorian pantomime, political satire and new cabaret. 

It may have lost some of its surprises since its premier in 2003 but it succeeds as entertainment despite, or perhaps because of, its shambolic nature.

This remount has some new jokes and one entirely new audacious scene that leave the audience gasping. You might think that Steve Irwin (Eddie Perfect) and a chorus of stingrays singing a satirical ditty called, Die Doing The Thing You Love about the sting of love piercing your heart might be simply bad taste.  Strangely, it is a celebration of Irwin’s joy in his work. Its barbed (sorry!) criticism is directed at Germaine Greer - who will talk herself to death.

Babes is a play within a play within Australia’s history. An old-style travelling theatre tours to grim, remote towns performing Babes in the Wood in rough marquees out the back of grotty pubs. The complicated internal sexual politics of the actors keep interrupting the play.

Max Gillies relishes his role as the tipsy old actor playing panto dame, Auntie Avaricia, a vicious, greedy old cow. Auntie sends her servants Boingle (Julie Forsyth), an immoral kangaroo, and Flapgherkin (Francis Greenslade), a dim-witted emu, to murder her recently orphaned, newly wealthy niece, Ruby (Caroline Craig) and nephew (Lucy Taylor).

The pretty darlings are lost in the Australian bush but Auntie’s do-gooding daughter, Phyllis (Diana Emry), enlists her reluctant beau, Jack (Perfect), to rescue them.

The show is littered with anachronisms, historical fact and fiction, topical political references, bushfires, drought, mythical cities and a hashish-riddled dreamscape of old Baghdad.

Contemporary characters and songs hurl themselves into the Victorian melodrama. Gillies’ John Howard impersonation is impeccable, Perfect sings a mad version of Hello This Is Joanie and Emry’s rendition of Nutbush City Limits as Amanda Vanstone is outrageous.

There is a cameo of a creeping, shrouded terrorist, plenty of references to White Australia and the “Unaustralians” and a very funny Rumsfeldian reference to “unknown knowns”.

The original songs (music by Ian Grandage) are a highlight including, We Liked It Better the Way It Was, They Hate Us Because We Are Good and the finale, There Was Something Here. Eddie Perfect is a master of the cabaret song but the entire cast sells a song with verve and Grandage is versatile on numerous instruments.

Babes is a romp worth seeing.

By Kate Herbert

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