QPAC & Organised Pandemonium
April 21 – May 8 2016
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
VELVET is a night club and a state of mind – a fantasy.
– Craig Ilott
VELVET is this year’s best night out so far, especially if you missed it last time, at the Powerhouse during Brisbane Festival last year. It’s a dazzling disco cabaret; a feast for the senses and a wake up call for the soul.
We’re seated at the top of a catwalk stage, with additional seating on either side of it. The Cremorne has become a dance floor, with five giant glitter balls suspended above, flashing, moving, colourful lights on all sides, lots of haze, revolving mirrors and entire walls of light below a balcony boasting yet another wall of flashing lights, and the omnipresent DJ, MD & Percussionist, Joe Accaria.
Inspired by Studio 54, a club famous for its wild parties and hedonism but also ultimately for its culture of acceptance – blind to colour, creed, class, gender, size and sexuality. VELVET is a celebration of that freedom.
– Craig Ilot
An outstanding soundtrack of back to back 70s smash hits (get the original cast recording here) takes us on a journey that is focused on a young man’s hopes and dreams (Brendan Maclean). There’s a whole lot of Pippin about it; Maclean’s character’s gotta’ find his corner of the sky (only his Corner of the Sky is If You Could Read My Mind). He finds it in a flashy, racy late night venue, VELVET.
A stronger storyline may have seen Maclean more explicitly seek a soulmate or a Drag Mother; nevertheless, he appears to find both, sans awkward scenes or dialogue, in the divine Marcia Hines. The story is not much clearer than boy-goes-to-big-city, boy-becomes-confident-with-the-help-of-fairy-godmother-and-a-few-good-men, boy-lives-out-his-wildest-dreams, and nor does it need to be. Those who seek a deeper meaning will find it.
Moments – impressions – have come back to me today, outlasting the high energy of the performers (Choreography Lucas Newland), the glamorous discotheque aesthetic (Design James Browne & Lighting Matthew Marshall), in particular, a moment of real connection between Hines and Maclean, and a later moment of truth, when the boy faces a mirror image of himself in another performer. Does he even recognise his previous conservative self, and how far he’s come? There are enough moments like these to make VELVET the more narrative of the increasingly popular cabaret variety shows.
Indie singer-songwriter, Maclean, is fabulous in this role; brilliant, bold and barely able to contain his excitement, driving the semblance of plot with a full range of facial expressions and a full spectrum of emotion behind them. His energy on stage is infectious and we watch as he stumbles into this strange and exotic new world with grins big enough to match Maclean’s. He’s a phenomenal, full-hearted performer, with the glorious gift of true versatility and not a weak aspect. Like his friend and hero iOTA (with whom Director Craig Ilot has also worked), Maclean wears sequins and feathers well, and can take us from the most flamboyant and colourful camp heights to the most sombre, moving, modern ballad lows. His heartbreaking acoustic rendition of Stayin’ Alive transports us, transforming us. Can you even imagine? No, you can’t. You simply must be in the room for this performance. I feel bereft, and in the same way a heavy metal band has recently repackaged Simon and Garfunkel, this classic disco smash hit will never be heard in the same way again. Ilot has clearly left room for the artists themselves to come to this party, making it a beautifully intimate experience.
Hines sparkles and shines, a true diva, her full, rich, real voice a joy to hear live. She commands the stage as only an enduring star can, and in It’s Raining Men and, with Maclean – it’s fabulous – No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) we hear her full vocal super power, quite extraordinary.
Her backing vocalists are two of the best in the biz and not so much “backing” as “flanking”. Rechelle Mansour and Chaska Halliday are stunning, with the dance and vocal ability to give Beyonce’s girls a run for their money. They could be next year’s Super Bowl half time entertainment, but we’d be foolish to lose them. Turn the Beat Around is a showstopper, showcasing their combined and individual formidable talents.
Mirko Köckenberger is not only the handstand acrobat of the company (he impresses early, undressing upside down on a stack of suitcases) but also, the mirror image and symbolic self to Maclean’s soul-searching, world-seeking character. Another striptease is noticeably absent from this version of the show, according to friends who’d seen the first, but the production is not lacking. If anything, it’s a relief to enjoy a circus cabaret that doesn’t feel the need to go there (anymore). The show is inherently sexy and the slightly risqué (I guess? Perhaps for some of QPAC audiences?) comes in the form of a dangerous, gorgeous bondage aerial sequence featuring Stephen Williams and Emma Goh. They demonstrate strength, grace and a range of S&M options for the, er, high-flyers amongst us.
Craig Reid (AKA The Incredible Hula Boy), offers comic relief – perfect comic timing – and cheeky fun in a perfectly polished hula hoop act to impress even the most discerning circus crowd. Hilarious, he’s a firm favourite with the opening night audience.
There’s nothing to dislike here. VELVET is sensational; the most unashamedly entertaining Spiegeltent show outside of the Spiegeltent. This season will sell out. See it or see it again. You won’t be disappointed.