Review: Future. Joy. Club., Finucane & Smith
The theater of the occasion begins with a selfie seat at the foot of the stairs: floral garlands, a red backdrop, and a teal throne with hand mirror ball. We all post on our social media before we even get in.
Then it’s up the stairs to the red carpet and a delightfully dinky ticket box – also draped in red – flanked by cast members and ushers who greet us like long-lost friends and guide us to our tables in the dark, candlelit room.
At one end, a beautiful arched stage has been erected with a gold backdrop, red sash curtains, candelabra-style lights and a walkway into the auditorium where more cast members mingle.
Every other night it would be the La Trobe ballroom at the Sofitel Melbourne hotel at the Paris end of Collins Street. Tonight is Finucane & Smith’s Future. Joy. Club.
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Dedication to the public
Performer/writer/director Moira Finucane and writer/director Jackie Smith first joined forces as Finucane & Smith to present The Burlesque Hour in 2004.
Their work values slapstick, vaudeville and variety entertainment, injecting sharp, witty and often confrontational political and social provocations, bringing together an exceptionally talented and diverse family of performers.
The line between this show and this one is marked by many works in places as different as 45 Downstairs, the Spiegeltent at Luna Park and the Hares & Hyenas bookstore.
At the heart of each of their productions is the company’s dedication to the experience of each member of its audience, a generosity of spirit that is even more evident in Future. Joy. Club.
Re-engaging with the audience’s experience – especially one as visceral as this – is at the heart of Finucane’s opening monologue highlighted by the marvelous Rachel Lewindon on grand piano playing a version of Willkommen from Cabaret, evoking a era somewhere between silent films and 1940s Hollywood nightclubs.
Finucane reminds us of what we have all shared over the past two years and reaffirms that we must never forget how central our artists are to our culture and our humanity.
Mama Alto brings us a haunting take on Roberta Flack’s hit The First Time I Saw Your Face. Indie pop singer-songwriter Sophie Koh’s rendition of Radiohead’s Creep is hypnotic.
Jazida – a captivating stripper, fan dancer and fire performer – offers a remarkable integrated light show for her fans. Indian classical dancer Govind Pillai’s graceful and elegant body movements epitomize the term “boylesque”.
Statuesque in a red satin dress, “tradie by day, drag queen by night,” Iva Rosebud strips down to a gold corset, then a strip of black duct tape, then nothing at all. Soulful jazz and blues singer Ngarluma Lois Olney and guitarist Dave Johnson complete the evening with a languid rendition of George Gershwin’s Summertime.
Even the stage manager for this show is entertaining, mostly handled by Monkey (aka acrobat Kathryn Niesche, with a poseable tail) who walks around the stage getting on and cleaning up – but she’s not the only one. The show’s precision mechanics are also shared by all of the cast members.
When writing about theater like this, we tend to start a sentence with the words “the highlight of the evening was…”. No such sentence would be appropriate here. No performance surpasses another, in this finely traced progression through emotions.
At one point, the room is in tears as Olney sings a song inspired by the deaths of his brothers in custody. The next moment there is laughter and applause as Finucane invents an improvised story created from the prompts of the audience (in this case, the words nadir, darling and manifest) against the three minutes of sand flowing in an hourglass held by Mama Alto.
Coming. Joy. Club. is a celebration of body, voice, diversity, fluidity, inclusion, what happens when we all come together to share the experience of performance.
In the program, Finucane is credited as “club entertainer and chief alchemist”. That’s an apt description. The chemistry of this family of artists, designers, and technicians promotes an optimism about how we can be better with each other in how we are in the world. It creates joy more than the sum of its parts.
Perhaps the positivity and optimism radiating from this show could be the future we all embrace.
The joy, however, is firmly in the present.
Coming. Joy. Club. is at the Sofitel Melbourne on Collins until August 7.
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