Friday, 21 November 2008

Death in White Linen, Nov 21, 2008

Death in White Linen
By Michael Dalley, Full Tilt
Where and When: Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre, until Nov 29, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 21, 2008

Michael Dalley has an exceptional facility for writing and performing satirical songs as seen in his previous shows such as Vaudeville X and Intimate Apparel.  The witty and barbed lyrics featured in Death in White Linen are as clever as his earlier shows but, this time, Dalley performs solo – apart from his accompanist, John Thorn, on piano.

Dalley peoples the stage with vividly drawn, very funny characters. He opens with the camp, old, vaudeville show host of the “Shitey Village Cruise Line”. His accent is broad Northern England and his jokes are riddled with innuendo, “how’s your father” dialogue and peppy music hall style songs.

The story line is loose and falls to pieces later in the show but it is simply the washing line upon which are hung the songs and characters that are the features of the show. It focuses on Brian Kennedy, a working class Liverpool upstart whose father, a docker, dies when hit by a crate of good Irish linen.

Brian, after winning a scholarship to an English Catholic Grammar School then emigrating to Australia with his widowed mother, claws his way to the top of the Melbourne social scene, becomes a personal injury barrister and marries money.

Dalley’s depiction of Brian is a scathing portrait of a social climbing lawyer who denies his roots and eliminates all telltale signs of his accent and class. Brian’s wife, Suzanne Angus-Hereford, is big-boned and a rowing fetishist – but filthy rich.

Dalley is more sympathetic to Teresa, Brian’s seamstress mother, who wants only the best for her son. She has some of the best lines including, “He has a face like a farmer’s arse well-slapped”. Brian’s rise in social status is accompanied by witty songs including Observing the Mating Habits of the Bourgeoisie.

Brian’s obsession with the Roman Empire causes him to name his sons Maximus and Cassius. The boys are hilarious upper class twits. Cassius is the resentful loser who cannot hit a cricket ball and Maximus is the bruiser who captains the Grammar School eleven.

This smug prat’s world-view is, “Invest in the trappings of wealth and the substance will come.” He is an inveterate snob, a useless father and an excellent target for Dalley’s caustic satire.

By Kate Herbert

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