Silence, shadows and subtitles

The Poor Slob and the Good Fairy (Lola The Vamp)

Sip Café

May 15 – 17

lola me

“A show incorporating a 2007 Cannes silent film based on a genuine 1899 Parisian Cabaret script, interspersed with live burlesque” … “The Poor Slob and the Good Fairy” almost promises a poetic experience of artform mix that can typify festival programming.

And it is a promise that is reinforced as audience members wait for the show sitting comfortably in the Sip Café, surrounded by some smooth sounds that could just have easily have been coming from a gramophone. The scene was set … and stayed set for a further 30 minutes as we waited for a group of latecomers (who never did show).

After much anticipation, the story begins with the screening of Lola The Vamp’s silent film of Alphonse Allais’ 1899 Parisian cabaret script. The film is sepia-like, subtitled and very authentic, down even to its jumpiness and, accompanied as it is with evocative era music, it is easy to forget that it was made to debut at the Canne Film Festival in 2007 (it was adapted into a stage show soon after).

Its story tells the tale of a Poor Slob, a singing waiter and an absinthe fountain. The Poor Slob encounters and makes a wish to the mercurial Absinthe Fairy, who then appears to wilfully interrupt the film with her live burlesque acts. As the fairy, internationally-famous burlesque star and vintage beauty Lola The Vamp is certainly a performer with pedigree. Her productions have been festival headliners at venues such as The Big Day Out, Woodford Folk Festival, Spiegeltent, Edinburgh Fringe, and countless others, and she was the first Australian to appear at the Burlesque Hall of Fame (Las Vegas). She has even supported Nick Cave on tour. And like a trouper she perseveres through the trail of technical issues that trouble the performance, putting her own sexy spin on the burlesque form.

The burlesque is wicked and a little bit naughty and it’s always great to see an artform with such long and varied history being brought out of the shadows. Except, in this instance it wasn’t. The grand total of two dances were both from within almost darkness due to a lack of performer lighting, apart from the stopped silent movie on screen behind. The same was true too, for the final French cabaret song snippet. Although it serves as a show highlight (as its only musical number), its lack of lighting allowed for limited appreciation of the aesthetic of Lola’s costume and stopped the song from serving as the show’s crescendo.

I realise that there is fine line between wacky and avant-garde and to my mind, this is probably still on the wrong side of it. This is not through lack of an innovative concept, but execution issues and the need for further development towards a more polished piece of work. Sure, great art will always be relevant, but without sustained audience engagement, there is a limit to the extent to which this can be conveyed. And it didn’t help that audiences were advertised a 90 minute show that was, in fact, over in half an hour.

You can also follow my Anywhere Theatre Festival reviews c/o the Festival website.

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