Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Rockabye, MTC, August 12, 2011 ***

By Joanna Murray-Smith, Melbourne Theatre Company
Sumner Theatre, MTC, until Sept 20, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 12, 2009
 Published in Herald Sun on Aug 18, 2009

ROCKABYE, by Joanna Murray-Smith, bounds on stage as a broad comedy about a pop diva whose career stalled after her number one album in the 80s. Now she is only a star in Minsk but her new album may relaunch her career.

The laughs come thick and fast in the first half in Simon Phillips’ slick and peppy production. Murray-Smith’s rapid dialogue is peppered with gags, social commentary and pop culture references. She creates vivid, hilarious parodies of Sidney, the insecure, ageing rock star (Nicki Wendt), her trashy, Cockney agent (Richard Piper) and her drug-addled, ex-rocker boyfriend (Daniel Frederiksen).

Sidney harangues her patient, young assistant, Julia (Kate Atkinson). She anxiously meets with Layla, her African adoption agent (Zahra Newman), then faces Tobias (Pacharo Mzembe) a brash, young, successful African-English rock journalist who interviews her on his TV show.

About 75 minutes into her rowdy story, the tone becomes darker after Sidney’s plans to adopt an African baby go awry. This gear change jars. After establishing the rollicking comedy, it is difficult to view these caricatures as fully rounded characters and to sympathise with their emotional challenges in the second half. The jokes undercut the issues.

The narrative feels contrived and the political debate between Zahra and Tobias is didactic although the story and themes are certainly relevant in our world. Sidney’s biological clock is a ticking time bomb. As a public personality, her private life can never be private. Murray-Smith addresses the desperate craving of a 40-something woman for a child but confronts us with the socio-political complexities of foreign adoptions.

What right does the wealthy West have to commandeer a nation’s children and remove them from their culture? On the other hand, will these children have a better life with a loving family and opportunities? The references to Angelina Jolie and Madonna are obvious.

Wendt embodies the vibrating anxiety and self-centredness of Sidney and effectively balances comedy and drama. Atkinson is charming as Julia providing stillness in this stormy world. Piper and Frederiksen create very funny characters and Mzembe and Newman are capable as vehicles for the social argument.

Brian Thomson’s design of massive, Warhol-style images of Sidney’s face creates a dramatic, colourful stage and Philip Lethlean’s lighting is strong and evocative. Peter Farnan’s original music channels Chrissie Amphlett from the 80s.

By Kate Herbert

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