The realities of being a performer is the pervasive knowledge that we are expendable. That there is someone more talented, cleverer, more marketable, a thousand other things that open the door to some and close it to others. When the competition is so high and the work so demanding where do things like injury, illness and disability fit? Lauren Lee Innis-Youren’s show is brave and important because by being so open about her experiences of Crohn’s disease she is raising awareness and, hopefully breaking stigma. It is an honour for the audience to spend an hour with a talented, delightful performer’s artistry and dedication to her craft.
There is a fascinating moment late in the performance which fired up my imagination unlike anything that had come before; she begins to describe finally getting to play Christine in Phantom of the Opera, a role that she credits as inspiring her to become a performer. Instead of gracing us with one of Christine’s songs; she has already graced us with a lovely, lilting Think of me, she instead opts for Music of the Night. It’s a moment of brilliant unity but also subversion of character, song and performer. The character of Christine doesn’t have much agency within the text of Phantom, she sings about both of her major relationships but never about her art. It’s a brilliant choice to liberate her by giving her this song and it’s a beautiful example of where the performer and the character she is portraying merge to reveal something profound about each of them. These are the moments that can make cabaret performances special.
Lauren Lee Innis-Youren is incandescent when she sings, she has a crystalline soprano with keen insight into the emotions and meanings of the music she is bringing to life. She is also charmingly transparent about her nerves which I believe destigmatises the very real effect of stage fright. She alludes to it in her text but is very open about how nerves affected her performance. She is hindered however by how her performance has been structured and the various technical elements. She is obliged to perform all her songs with a backing track and while she has fantastic projection it often feels as though she is competing with the (quite loud) recordings rather than being led by them. If her budget allows, I think future productions would benefit from an accompanist, perhaps editing some of the numbers down to the essential and experimenting with different arrangements. She’s also developing a relationship with her performance space; there are some lovely moments of connection but others where she seems adrift and reverts to pacing the stage and rehearsed gestures that seem forced and don’t serve her performance as effectively as they might. Fascinatingly she also describes a brief career as a singer in a metal band which she attributes to her growth in confidence as a performer. Her one metal song is unfortunately not one of the highlights of the evening and it’s an example of her at her most awkward. Interestingly she’s at her freest during the notoriously difficult Queen of the night, it is during this that she displays the charisma, rebelliousness and spontaneity that her metal number demanded. It made me ponder what a metal arrangement of the aria would sound like.
As a singer she is much more adept at vulnerability than in the telling of her story. I don’t underestimate the challenges of being so open about one’s lived experiences, but I feel this performance needs stronger dramaturgy than it has currently received. She opts not to explore her experiences beyond the briefest of details and perhaps the experiences are still so raw that she felt that she wasn’t ready to go deeper than just acknowledging that they happened. I would have been interested in hearing more about Crohn’s disease itself, the ways in which she’s had to adjust the way she works but to her credit she emphatically stresses the importance of self-care and looking after your body. As it stands currently, I believe that this piece could really shine with some creative dramaturgy and support*.
I have high hopes for Hold my Hummus and Lauren Lee Innis-Youren’s career in Melbourne; I am sure the creative community in Brisbane is already feeling her loss but based on what was demonstrated this evening our city can be proud to have such a brave, resilient artist among our ranks.
Hold my Hummus is playing at the Butterfly Club as part of the Melbourne Cabaret Fringe festival until Saturday 29th of June.
Sidenote; there seems to be a trend of dip centric theatre titles, in the past month I have encountered Blood is thicker than Hummus, hold my hummus and Trio of Dips.
*I couldn’t find accreditation for a director or musical director, my apologies if this is an oversight.