Presented as part of a mental health cabaret double bill, Scarred for Life is a one-man show penned and performed by Adelaide native Josh Belperio, a young man with a traumatic experience under his belt and the song writing skills with which to vent it.
Belperio starts his story by explaining that he had always been awkward as a kid and prone to rushing things at his own physical peril. Through the process of conveying several amusing anecdotes that provide examples of his childhood clumsiness, he quickly brings the audience along with him. What he lacks in physical grace he makes up for with sparkling charm and he easily gains a quick rapport with the crowd, despite the fact they’ve been subjected to wearing bright red hairnets, as they entered ‘the operating theatre’.
Self-diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum, Belperio visits a therapist who recommends physical activity as a way to manage his anxiety. This leads him to riding a bicycle for exercise, which when combined with his natural tendency towards accidents sees him come a cropper that at first doesn’t seem significant, but quickly leads to a life or death operation.
At the time he was riding, he was on his way to a development meeting where he would present his work on a new musical – a project that had also been experiencing setbacks. So Scarred for Life is not the first song writing Belperio has done and this is evident in his skilful use of lyrics to add humour to his storytelling. That being said, his tendency to play every note of the lyrical melody in the accompaniment does become a little tiring, so it’s a welcome relief that when he writes more passionately, rhapsodising his boyfriend (and producer of the show) Matt, his accompaniment follows its own path and the lyrics sit more elegantly.
Belperio himself says that his challenges are no different to those that everyone has to face, so it’s difficult to reconcile why he dramatizes them so heavily in this work. His musical accompaniment to the story of his bike accident is intensely dramatic and later in the show he sensationalises the title subject, before appropriating events like the Bourke Street Mall tragedy and the Orlando Nightclub shooting as his own pain. Without trying to diminish someone else’s trauma, it feels like the self-aggrandisement of a privileged young white guy who’s problems are pretty small for the scale at which he portrays them. Yes, he has had a terrible experience and we empathise with his difficult recovery from the shock and ordeal, but in this format and presentation style, it sits awkwardly for those without a personal connection to the performer.
There’s no doubt Belperio has the skill to find a career for himself in the musical theatre world and I look forward to seeing his work in the future, but without some serious dramaturgical assistance, this show will remain more personal therapy than entertainment for folks who aren’t his friends or family.