Bigger & Blacker (Steven Oliver)
La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre
March 8 – 27
“Bigger & Blacker” begins with its star, Steven Oliver’s iconic line from ABC’s “Black Comedy”. It is appropriate, given that the Cloncurry-born writer and actor is probably best-known for his sketch performances in the fast-paced, provocative and bold foray into race relations, however, as his autobiographical comedy cabaret shows, there is much more to this self-proclaimed faboriginal descendant of the Kuku-Yalanji, Waanyi, Gangalidda, Woppaburra, Bundjalung and Biripi peoples.
The double-marginalisation of being a minority within a minority gives Oliver clear fodder for a content, especially in early sections, during which he combines comedy and contemplation with saucy stories, however, the show, which is currently playing at La Boite before touring nationally is equal parts cheeky and charming in his commanding showmanship and also touching in its emotional honestly as he talks about kinship, connection and affection for his mob, and poignant in his candid reflection on the downside of fame.
Music, like life, is a journey Oliver explains to the audience as he contextualises the cabaret’s creation through songs about his lived experiences, written over many years. And this is exactly what the show is as we are taken on not so much a narrative, but an insightful emotional trip through Oliver’s life since he performed in first professional acting gig in Brisbane in the early 1990s. The original songs showcase hiss talent as a songwriter, filled as they are with clever lyrics and rhymes, especially in the expected risqué numbers. Indeed, Oliver is a multi-talented songwriter and, consequently, the original score of the cabaret’s compilation runs from the perky pop to urban rap to lilting lullabies advertised in its descriptor.
With a disco ball, tap routine, rap and ass shaking (there’s even a song about it), there are plenty of opportunities for Oliver to showcase his infectious energy. This is enhanced by the banter between him and his on-stage companion musician, Musical Director and Helpmann-Award winning cabaret star in his own right, Michael Griffiths, (who also provides back-up vocals and harmonies), meaning that you’re guaranteed a night full of hip-swinging, maraca moments and clap along celebration of storytelling and song.
Humour comes not only from the cabaret’s songs, but Oliver’s very funny bridging conversations with the audience, explaining, for example the linguistic flexibility of the semi-jovial term gammin as lead in to a quieter, affecting number on guitar, ‘Get Me’. Through heartfelt moments like this, the audience is given highlights, initially unexpected in their personal emotion, as Oliver explains how starring in a hit comedy show can lead to great sadness. Similarly, songs like ‘You Make Me Feel’ and ‘Just Like Smoke’ offer lovely declarations of love and reflections on rejection that balance nicely with the unashamedly faberet initially sections.
“Bigger & Blacker” certainly takes its audience to some interesting, unexpected places, including revelation of why we were hearing Whitney Houston amongst its pre-show songs. And when its variety of musical styles takes us to the melodic ‘Are You Okay’ and powerful encore spoken word call to action, ‘I’m a Blackfella’, opening night audience members are soon leaping to their feet in acclamation.
Photos c/o – Morgan Roberts Photography