The Mad and Ugly Show
Brisbane Powerhouse & Cocoloco
Brisbane Powerhouse Turbine Studio
December 17 – 20 2015
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
Cocoloco believes in poetry, cinema, tennis, laughter, sex over lunch, lunch over sex, parties, dinners, oysters, red wine, sashimi, fresh orange juice, marmite, vegemite, Lenny Bruce, Radio 4, dolphins, volcanoes, Malcolm Lowry, surfing, Idiot Wind, lavatorial humour, crop rotation, dressing up, the art gallery cafe, karaoke, Lumiere & Son, Eric Dolphy, Incident at Owl Creek, fondue, Noam Chomsky, Sisyphus, Bob Dobbs, Zippy, schadenfreude, nudes descending staircases, authenticity, appropriation, synchronicity, serendipity, sunrise, the specific, the general, Buster Keaton, Samuel Beckett and more…
The Mad and Ugly Show comes to Wonderland from the UK, and also Brisbane Festival (2009) and regular appearances at Woodford Folk Festival. You may know real life couple Trevor Stuart and Helen Statman as Alice and Alice, a creepy, pasty faced pair dressed in matching blue frocks, white bloomers and petticoats, and grimy blonde wigs, from the streets of Woodfordia, where they roam hand in hand, quoting in perfect unison obscure children’s rhymes. They behave as if they’d been locked in an attic for a decade rather than having had tea down a rabbit hole for a day and frequently scare actual children. The first time I stood in front of them they actually scared me.
The Alices are the most unnerving, atypical street entertainment of Woodford Folk Festival, probably of many festivals, and likely to be the strangest opening act of any of the shows at Wonderland.
Following the delivery of their classic childhood rhymes and handclaps that remind me of Benjamin Schostakowski’s diabolically funny A Tribute Of Sorts, Stuart returns not as an Alice but as a madman, wearing a grubby straight jacket and utilising the only available appendage to drag a Buddha on a skateboard through the obstacle course of cabaret seating. This performance piece shows serious commitment from the actor to his art but could be considered the token “art for art’s sake”, a surprising inclusion because its meaning is unclear and it’s not overly amusing or entertaining beyond its initial shock. I hear the discomfort of the young guys sitting behind us and realise it’s the first of a number of moments from which the more squeamish among us will elect to look away. The tone of the evening has been set!
Statman returns to the stage as a whinging, whining guttersnipe lower class bogan who gives birth on stage to a doll and offers to fry up the placenta for us, which comes neatly, conveniently packaged, unlike the tattered rant she delivers about the difficulties of rearing a child. The piece ends abruptly and without a smooth or easy transition into the next. Perhaps its intentional, anything to unnerve us and all that stuff. How very postmodern…
In another sketch, as a superbly studied Hitler, annoyed at the discovery of so many Hitler parodies on YouTube, Stuart plays piano across a baby harp seal as he uses a blunt object to slowly and methodically, in between bits of witty oratory, bludgeon it to death. Its teeth are shattered and its blood pools beneath its body and begins to soak into the white linen tablecloth.
Another shocking scene involves Stuart’s take on a bonafide mind reader wearing a tall red fez containing the brain he’ll consume, spoonful by spoonful, as he slowly descends into the most disturbing madness you will have seen enacted live. Having enjoyed Stuart’s beautifully drawn portrayal of Henry in La Boite’s Cosi, I was sickened by this graphic demonstration of how a mind can literally turn to mush and leave its owner in a ranting, raving, blubbering and eventually, catatonic state. As I watched I reacted violently, experiencing real physical revulsion to the consumption of the “brain” but also by Stuart’s devastating portrayal of a man beyond anybody’s reach. If you can stomach it, this brilliantly executed, perfectly measured and manipulated performance is the highlight of an intriguing and incredibly challenging evening.
Unless of course you love a good British pair of narcissistic cocks in the style of Little Britain, holding a jovial porn parody chat over their unzipped trousers and pissing into the pint glasses they’ve set down moments before on the stage in front of them. These two are the Alans (Alan and Alan), and they get the last laugh.
This is not the sort of theatre we’re accustomed to seeing on a regular basis in Brisbane, and when, towards the end of the show, we’re presented with photos of Cocoloco’s many European and special festival appearances (hello, David Berthold!), we see some more of the avant-garde involving, for example, the wearing of colourful clocks or cacti on heads. There are times when these inclusions make the show feel a little too kitsch but the live elements of this performance make up for the lack of exciting AV.
We see elements of Monty Python, Buster Keaton and The Goons, and yet something so original, so quirky, so oddball… My preferred act is still the haunting Alice and Alice but in seeing such a cross section of Cocoloco’s macabre and mysterious comedy, I have new admiration for the pair. Like The Kransky Sisters, this darker, quirkier style of cabaret/performance art might not be everybody’s favourite theatrical form but it’s one that should be experienced. It challenges popular culture, and on a more personal level, our minds and stomachs and long-held beliefs. But look, it’s not The Sound of Music.
Regardless of whether or not you enjoy their show, there’s no denying that Stuart and Statman are completely off the wall, weird and wonderfully talented!
The Mad and Ugly Show is sometimes strange and vile but always intriguing, subversive, brilliant theatre.