Sweet, Sour and Saucy (Barbara and Barry)
Judith Wright Centre, Performance Space
February 5 – 7
It is radio 21.11 EAD and experts on love Barry and Barbara (played by real life husband and wife duo Tnee Dyer and Melissa Western) are set to solve the world’s love woes through talkback radio and songs of a yesteryear. With a shortage of callers, the duo themselves assumes a variety of pretend over-the-top caller personas to which they can respond with either sweet or saucy songs, along with agony aunt-style advice.
Barry’s sometimes sexist suggestions provide much of the comic fodder, in reaction from his feisty co-star and audience members alike, and also allow the show to operate on a variety of levels. However, a feminist discourse is probably the furthest thing from the minds of the super-ocker sweeties. And ocker they are; the pair shows a detailed attention to the cadence and rhythm of speech and seem perfectly placed in the nostalgic stage surrounds of dial telephone and Renee and Renato record props. They are deliciously Australian, albeit of a bygone era, much like the opening strains of the Aeroplane Jelly and Mr Sheen radio ads that signpost its unique 1950s kitsch atmosphere. And that is why we love them.
The quirky dating advice continues after intermission, but moves instead to the audience. What might otherwise be intimidating audience interaction is actually a quite lovely exploration of what makes relationships work, including a surprise recommitment ceremony. Indeed, despite the sometimes suggestive content, this is a show of good clean 1950s fun… literally: the obscure music making includes enthusiastic use of a washing board. Regardless of mode, however, the show is bursting with songs and while the musical repertoire of largely jazz and blues is sometimes obscure, it is still appealing, with songs like ‘Hard-hearted Hannah’ superbly showcasing Western’s vocal talent.
As impressive as the couple’s harmonious vocals are, cabaret is about more than just voices; it is about lyrics and, in particular, highlighting these to personal experience. As Barbara, Western brings songs to life, from the peppy ‘Lovin’ Spree’ to the sultry ‘In the Dark’. She is a multitalented, sharing an impressively physical performance that includes straight faced spoon playing and tempoed tap dancing. And although she is the soul of the show, Dyer’s contribution should not be discredited; his comic timing is spot on and the high quality of musicianship is certainly showcased in Act Two.
When a show really soars, the feeling can be euphoric – everyone in the audience feels like they have just participated in something wonderful. And when “Sweet, Sour and Saucy” ends, the fact that so many people linger in shared conversation about their enjoyment, is affirmation of exactly this. This is a warm and witty show that rises from the sentimental shenanigans of its Act One wireless format to become so much more. For amusing characterisation, hilarious banter (both on-stage and with the audience) and sensational songs, “Sweet, Sour and Saucy” is an absolute delight.