In six weeks, Grace Agnew is quitting this pageant and heading back to the United States where she grew up. Born in Ballarat but growing up in New Jersey, she is an accomplished and well trained performer and wrote and performed this show as her First Farewell Tour to Australia as she moves back overseas. It’s a frankly funny, but sobering comparison of two countries: both founded over the genocide of indigenous people, both full of immigrants who now want to kick out other immigrants. She presents the blunt but honest stories of her life, and of the around 258 million people who did not vote for Donald Trump.
This is a show for the modern young millennials, who have grown up in an ever-changing world. The show is so relatable, and it immediately taps into the racism, fear and extreme reactions to change America and Australia are going through with their governments, economy and high terror alerts.
Agnew is an engaging performer, with a commanding presence, a strong but clear American accent and a wonderful, jazzy voice with an unforgettable vibrato. She doesn’t shy away from the intricacies of life and growing up, or the brutal truth, and delivers an emotional performance about religion and race and the beautiful differences between people.
The show is accompanied by Agnew on piano, or singing a capella and with some use of background music. Featuring well known sing-a-long songs like She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain (definitely the best use of the song I’ve ever heard) and Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag, Agnew’s voice is strongest when singing A Bird in A Gilded Cage unaccompanied.
Direction by Shannen Alyce Quan, a notable Australian performer in her own right, was strong, with a clear vision of how the show and the stories would unfold. Quan also operated lighting and sound for the show, and the lighting used is minimal and doesn’t add a lot to the venue but does give the impression of time passing and subjects changing, with some songs and lighting used as a scene change of sorts.
The set is bare, as a cabaret needs very few physical things to tell a story, but a clever use of cardboard cut out style images are brought out Agnew’s suitcase and hung around the room as she tells a story that relates to each one. A gorilla cut out to talk about her time in The Wizard of Oz, a moon and the poem she wrote for her younger sister, images of male and female symbol cut outs talking about how men, men around my father’s age, said they just found it unfathomable to vote for Hilary and for a women for President: she decorates the room with the colours and shapes of her life, as she unpacks her troubles from the bag and leaves them with us. It’s a little disappointing that she’s reading some of her stories off the cue cards hidden on the back of these, but with so many stories to tell, it’s no wonder there are prompts there hidden for her.
She did say, she may seem vaguely unhinged for choosing arguably the worst time in modern history to move back to the US. I’d wonder why someone as creative and colourful as Agnew would head back at a time like this, but the message she leaves you with at the end of the show is fight back: against sexism, against white washing, against oppression. But I think right now the US needs artists and protesters and innovators and creators to flock back and fight back against the sterilization of a once great nation. She’s the kind of warrior we need across both countries, to lead the charge for equality and for better things.
Catch I’m Quitting the Pageant at The Butterfly Club for a limited season from Wednesday 8 to Sunday 12 February. Tickets at: https://thebutterflyclub.com/show/i-m-quitting-the-pageant