If ever there was such thing as a postmodern fairytale, this would be it.
In an unsettlingly hilarious and captivatingly ominous production, Electric Loneliness takes us on a voyage of broken dreams, seaside shanties and 80s synth-inspired reimagined classics as two very unique and original stories unfold beside one another. Following the story of Octavia, the wannabe showgirl with her dreams for the stage but a fondness for the drink, and the Lonely Man who desperately wanted to grow his crops in a bleak world, we venture two stories that loosely but specifically follow a phenomenally intricate progression: people searching for purpose in a home by the sea, and, in the face of defeat, develop a sudden and unbelievable physical mutation that brings a fleeting confidence until they eventually spiral into their self-saboteurs deeper than ever before. In a mysterious and mesmerising journey, our performers bring to life what could almost seem an allegory of failing coping mechanisms in depression, presented over a soundscape of crooning standards and an improvised jazz piano balladeering behind them like the tides of time themselves.
Written, directed and performed by Melbourne cabaret geniuses Alexandra Aldrich, Joachim Coghlan and Owen James with their very own company Night Creatures, their debut of Electric Loneliness is incredibly well-structured and -executed. Through waves of vaudeville and swells of swing, the creatives give story to their own Postmodern Jukebox showcase featuring famous numbers from artists such as Daft Punk, Cole Porter and Amy Winehouse. These twin tales seem to live in the same world yet worlds apart, performed almost as two separate cabarets that interject each other and carry each other along in each other’s thematic concerns and emotional contours. Although very individual of each other, their interlocked progression – despite Octavia’s leaps back and forth in her timeframe against the Lonely Man’s linear timeline – becomes a convention of itself. The fantastical story is so large and outspoken that the emotional subtleties explored feel incredibly real, an achievement only accessible to the pros of the scene.
As mentioned, Owen James’ arrangements and improvisations keep the show afloat on the deep sea themes of isolation and broken connections. James becomes an icon with his random interjections of speech-like backing vocals and a rap section that shows off his many musical talents. Allowing the individual voices to shine with appropriate numbers (both thematically and vocally), the vaudevillian jazz approach with elements of swing and ragtime proves consistent and conducive. Aldrich’s voice is soft and sultry with an unmatched grasp on dynamics, proving to everyone that altos are the real stars this time round. Coghlan resonates off the walls with his big brassy baritone bellow and grounded presence; however, it is worth him stepping back from the microphone an inch to let Aldrich be heard during their duets. Despite that, this trio is a fierce force.
The technical designs behind the show were also simple but incredibly effective. With a fourth microphone waiting to be used, the anticipation pays off eventually: The Lonely Man whips it out as he becomes a little creature from his story, taking his voice and replaying it the octave higher to the audience in a charming moment of humour. The lighting also proved effective with its three separate narrowed fresnels on the three individual performers, lighting them up when it was their turn for storytime. With moments of endearing comedy and intelligence, the only flaw in these designs was the imbalance between the levels onstage and some janky lighting transitions.
The aesthetic of the show matched the material, with a simple set and elegant costumes fitting the underwater theme. Behind our two vocalists stood giant blue seashell kiddy pools, becoming the backs of their seats. Concaved away from us and with the rims bedazzled with fairylights, our performers each had their little nook that did not let them be lost on the stage nor become too overshadowing. With this minimalist approach, we get what we need to stay engaged. Octavia dons her beautiful 20s gown convincingly in all of her mannerisms and gestures; her reveal of her eight legs is the most iconic moment, snatching away her skirt front and playing with each leg friskily in a side-splitting number. The Lonely Man has on his hat and overalls, seeming a simple country bumpkin; his reveal involved the donning of a large coat that was ornamented with light bulbs of different shapes and sizes. Both Octavia’s legs and The Lonely Man’s coat became their own characters as they both lit up on the stage – literally.
With so many rehashes of ancient folktales out there, it is really refreshing to finally experience something completely new, completely unreal, completely relatable and completely abstract. Sometimes the house by the sea is not the calypso dream we were expecting, and to submerge ourselves into that dream is the equivalent of drowning ourselves in our own hopes, seeing the sun blurrily through the waters but never able to break the surface.