The hugely successful collaboration of Craig Ilott and iOTA on 2010’s Smoke & Mirrors still remains fresh in the mind of many theatregoers, who were fortunate enough to catch it as it made its way through the festival circuit.
This year, Ilott and iOTA have worked to follow up the success of Smoke & Mirrors with their brand new work, B-Girl, currently playing its premiere season at the Sydney Opera House Playhouse.
Few would disagree that iOTA is one of the most highly respected singer-songwriters and cabaret performers in the industry. He’s racked up a swag of accolades from Helpmann awards to ARIA nominations. On stage, his performances are typically bold and commanding, complimented by an impressive and distinct set of pipes. If you caught him in Smoke & Mirrors or during his stint as Frank-N-Furter in the 2008 Australian tour of The Rocky Horror Show, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
In B-Girl, iOTA is Clifford North – an alluring, androgynous seventies pop-rock god. He’s Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust to a tee. But rather than the alter ego of a music artist, North exists only in the mind of B-Girl, played by the electric Blazey Best. A battered woman who struggles through her daily life, B-Girl finds escape by joining North on his rise to a stratospheric perch in the pop-rock world, lauding an icon who exudes the characteristics she wants and, ultimately, needs. She finds herself violently jolted back to a reality, in which she’s regularly the victim of sickening physical assaults by her cowardly partner (impressively performed here by Ashley Lyons).
Through a score comprising 17 tracks, B-Girl comes in and out of North’s world, keeping her audience guessing until the end whether she can find the strength she so admires in her fictional idol to steer herself away from a grim fate.
Best’s performance throughout the piece is focused, convincing, and passionate but measured. There’s never a weak moment in her delivery of B-Girl and she demonstrates impressive vocal prowess in some of the show’s rockier moments.
In North, iOTA and Ilott have crafted a role that serves as the ideal vehicle by which to showcase the cabaret star’s sizeable talents. iOTA’s vocals never waver for a moment, and if you shut your eyes, you’d be forgiven at times for thinking you’d stumbled upon a long-lost cut from ‘The rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust’ while listening to the versatile artist’s slick vocal deliveries. He also demonstrates great physicality as North, though there’s still scope for iOTA to take this aspect of his performance further, to throw himself around the stage in a way that takes his portrayal of the carefree, cavalier, rebellious rockstar to another level. It will be interesting to watch how iOTA’s North may transform throughout the course of the run.
On the whole, the score effectively and entertainingly accompanies the audience through the 80-minute narrative, though some cuts are more memorable than others. Fortunately, the show’s four-piece band, led by Joe Accaria, becomes a great show in itself, providing a mighty wall of a sound for such a small unit. The sound design was right on the money for this space.
It was difficult not to compare B-Girl to another piece in which iOTA’s also taken on the lead role, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The two shows certainly have a strikingly similar feel, and B-Girl perhaps lacks some of the dynamism that’s key to Hedwig’s impact. Having said that, B-Girl is a highly entertaining fresh Australian-made work that showcases some of this country’s excellent theatrical talents and further tries to broaden theatregoer’s expectations as to what constitutes musical theatre. And that can only be a good thing.
B-Girl plays at the Sydney Opera House Playhouse until Sunday 21 June.
Tickets start at $47.20 and can be purchased here