This has been quite the year for Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre.
Based in Southbank’s entertainment district, the popular organisation’s creative offerings for 2016 included ‘Edward II’, ’Every Brilliant Thing’, ‘Gonzo’, ‘Picnic At Hanging Rock’, and ‘The Glass Menagerie’.
Therefore, it seems more than apt that the venue should close out their vastly diverse season with a loud and bawdy bang. Written by Nakkiah Liu, ‘Blaque Showgirls’ may be just that piece.
Liu is an award – winning playwright and actor. She is also a co – writer and star of the hit ABC television sketch series, ‘Black Comedy’. Cheeky and fast – paced, ‘Black Comedy’ is ground – breaking in that it targets national political issues and social mores squarely through indigenous eyes.
As Liu herself admitted in a recent television interview, she has no filter. Being told by the makers to write whatever she wanted, Liu laughed, before adding that she went a bit nuts with the results.
Similar in mood and structure to classic landmark ABC comedies like ‘Australia: You’re Standing In It’, ‘The D Generation, and ‘The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide To Knife Fighting’, fans of ‘Black Comedy’ will recognise that playful irreverence in ‘Blaque Showgirls’. However, for uninitiated punters considering the Malthouse production, ‘Black Comedy’ is available as individual segments on YouTube and makes an excellent primer.
‘Blaque Showgirls’ is loosely based on one of the most notorious motion picture flops of all time. Set in glitzy Las Vegas, ‘Showgirls’ (1995) was a big – budget $45 million affair.
Directed by Paul Verhoeven (who helmed such blockbusters as ‘Robo Cop’, ‘Total Recall’ and ‘Basic Instinct’), the film starred Elizabeth Berkley, Kyle MacLachlan and Gina Gerhson. Looking behind the scenes at the world of strippers and exotic dancers, the movie had lashings of nudity, graphic language and sexual violence. However, coupled with a restrictive, adults – only rating and poor critical feedback, it quickly died at the box office.
Revised word of mouth over time, particularly from the likes of Quentin Tarantino, softened its bad reputation. Audiences since have reconsidered the picture, today granting it the noteworthy grind house – status it rightfully deserves.
At the same time, Australia experienced a cinematic resurgence with success stories like ‘Strictly Ballroom’, ‘The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Dessert’, and ‘Muriel’s Wedding’. Gone forever, were the historical frock and bonnet dramas of yesteryear. Quirky and defiant, this particular trio caught such interest with local viewers in that we never studied ourselves in quite the same way again.
Though each of these movies may have shared a tongue – in – cheek exterior, at their core they were also productions with a positive message and a big heart. Meaning, love who you are and be true to yourself. ‘Blaque Showgirls’ sits very much in this realm, using broad comedy to address serious issues like racial stereotypes and cultural identity.
With a running time of ninety minutes, the linear narrative is packed full of originality and interest. Further, the tightly – knit cast of four make sure that very few sacred cows are left unscathed.
Bessie Holland (as Ginny Jones), Elaine Crombie (Chandon Connors), Emi Canavan (Molly) and Guy Simon (Kyle MacLachlan / True Love Interest) bounce off each other with focussed energy and fearless aplomb. Clear direction by Sarah Giles highlights that as a team, the quartet shares natural timing and a wicked sense of irony.
Without giving too much away, some of the show’s best shtick includes:
-a burlesque inspired emu dance – off.
-some girl – on – girl fighting which would do the cable series, ‘Wentworth’, proud.
-Guy Simon’s back and forth switcheroo between his two characters.
-Canavan and Holland working tandem in a dodgy gentlemen’s club.
Choreographic movement (by Ben Graetz & Sermsah Bin Saad) is appropriately cheese-tastic, keeping in line with the story’s motivating arc.
Dramaturgy is by Declane Greene with contributing support from Louise Gough.
The box set by Eugyeene Teh is clean and multi – purpose, cleverly designed to keep the show fluid at all times. Teh is also responsible for the spirited costuming, potentially influenced by ‘The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Dessert’, ‘Muriel’s Wedding’, and Bob Mackie.
Lighting design by Paul Jackson, combined with composition & sound design by Jed Palmer, keeps the tone breezy and fun.
Lisa Osborn’s stage management (with assistance from Matlida Woodroofe) matches the actors’ ebb and flow.
If you’re in the mood for pantomime with an adults – only bent, ‘Blaque Showgirls’ plays until December 4.