Returning to the Melbourne stage for a limited season, Lady Diamond is back! Simon Morrison-Baldwin’s 7-foot chanteuse graces The Butterfly Club with her latest tale, corps(e).
corps(e) is described as melding drag, spoken word and song, in an exploration of gender, secrets, poisonings and plots. corps(e) continues Morrison-Baldwin’s exploration of the performative nature of gender. "As a drag performer and a gender studies graduate I like challenging notions that we have about ourselves that we are somehow fixed or immutable," says Morrison-Baldwin. "Le Chevalier d’Eon was an avid reader and had a large collection of early feminist writings, and in some senses s\he created a life that challenged traditional notions – here was a woman who was successful in politics, was a published author and also a decorated veteran of the 7-year war. Yet its almost 300 years later, and women are still fighting for equality."
The work began with Morrison-Baldwin's desire to find a home for some exisrting songs and monologues whose framework did not seem gimmicky and contrived. "About a year ago, I happened to read a news article about the National Portrait Gallery of London buying its first painting of a ‘transvestite’ and instantly became fascinated with d’Eon," explains Morrison-Baldwin. "Many elements of d’Eon’s life resonated with me (not least of which the cross-dressing) – the literary appetite for study, the thwarted ambition. D’Eon’s biography also reads like a gripping spy thriller: espionage, national secrets, codes, hidden documents, plots, poison, and assassination attempts – its all there!"
Morrison-Baldwin is a VCA graduate most recently seen during the Melbourne International Comedy Fest as the Narra-tor of the live superhero radio play Bullet. He continues to carve out a niche as a drag performer, performing as Lady Bracknell (Rough & Tumble; Adelaide Fringe), a 7” Mother of three fighting the H factor (The Joy Before Thinking; Theatreworks) and perhaps the piece de resistance work: the portrayal of the sadistic lesbian prison Matron of Cellblock Booty (Sixxters Grimm) but it is his graduating piece at VCA 2005, that he lists as his most challenging work to date. It is Berkoff's downtrodden Mum of which he speaks: "The piece was directed by the wonderful John Bolton. Not only is the language of East this semi-Shakespearean muscular prose, but the play is almost vaudevillian in its use of popular song and montage mashed together with monologues. The most challenging aspect for me is that ‘Mum’ is on a completely different tempo to the other 4 performers – during her scenes she’s in this kind of valium haze, where her responses seem to come from somewhere far away, or they’re like a pop-culture stream of consciousness – a radio picking up snippets and static. We remounted it at the Carlton Courthouse in 2006 and then at the Seymour Centre in 2008 and by then I was beginning to feel the emotional toll of living this isolated, half-dead character night after night. We were just really lucky to get that special alchemy where the right cast and text and director come together; everyone loved doing the show, it was a true ensemble piece. Berkoff wrote ‘Mum’ to be played by a man, so I was grateful to have the opportunity to kind of “do what I do best” and show myself not just as a (camp or show) drag performer, but a serious drag actor."
corps(e) is written and performed by Morrison-Baldwin but he is also his own producer which could prove quite a challenge indeed. "After my last solo show I swore I’d never do one by myself again, but I guess I’m a glutton for punishment," he says. "A little too much time is spent on the admin side of things: emails, budgets, schedules, posters, etc. – that I often feel there’s not room in my head left over for the creative stuff. But it’s all in there, bubbling away. There is a silver lining though – being a solo performer I never have to worry about the cast not showing up!"
Morrison-Baldwin specilaizes as a drag perofmmer but admits it's not somehting he had nay choice baout. "I don’t think I ever ‘decided’," he syas. "My mum has pictures of me in my “dance skirt” from when I was very young and I was always interested in acting because it gave you the opportunity to dress up and transform. Around my 18th birthday, when I came out, I started dressing in drag to go to parties or nightclubs and wearing make-up and nail polish and 5 different kinds of glitter! I think in part it was a reaction against 5 years of an all-boys private school – suddenly in university there’s no uniform, no one forcing you to go to class, or PE – and all these sub-cultures are so much more visible – there’s goths and sci-fi geeks and theatre nerds and green left weekly kids. Plus (and forgive me for getting into gender theory) but I was reading people like Judith Butler for the first time and it was like “there’s this whole other space I can explore” – that in-between area where you’re obviously a man (I almost always have a beard) but also beautiful and ‘feminine’."
corps(e) premiers early next month but, says Morrison-Baldwin, its really just a starting point "I think the real form of the show isn’t clear until you get in front of the audience and see what works and what doesn’t. The luxury of cabaret is that it’s an inherently fluid format, so you’re able to tinker with it during the season. So, yeah, corps(e) will have a life beyond Melbourne Fringe – possibly at Midsumma or in the Garden of Unearthly Delights for the Adelaide Fringe."
Morrison-Baldwin's hope is to firstly do justice to d’Eon: "S\he had such an interesting life and yet no-one really knows about it in this day and age, so I’ve taken great pains to be historically accurate as much as possible (without becoming ‘Wikipedia live’!)" Secondly, his hope os for the audinece to had a good time! "I want them to be moved and entertained and feel like they’re getting their money’s worth."
October 1 – 6