Trevor Ashley is undoubtedly an icon of Australian show business. Not only has his impact on the cabaret and drag scene been somewhat incomparable, but he has achieved success in larger, commercial musicals as well over his vast career. His latest on stage venture, Fat Swan, has been playing successful seasons at Melbourne’s Spiegeltent and in Sydney throughout 2012, and now returns to Melbourne for another run in the Arts Centre’s Fairfax Studio. If you have seen the advertisements scattered throughout Melbourne’s CBD, you will know that Fat Swan has been inspired by the 2011 Darren Aronofsky film ‘Black Swan’. However, unlike the psychological thriller the film was, Fat Swan promises to parody all the clichés found in dance films and have audiences in hysterics. “I guess the film was
innately theatrical. It was also f**king ridiculous. I think that Black Swan itself had a lot of similarities to films like The Red Shoes, and Showgirls, more than a real psycho-thriller. So when we created Fat Swan, it was trying to make fun of it, and other “star to be makes it” sort of films.”
Trevor has created the piece alongside long term collaborator Phil Scott, who he worked on his early show ‘Pop Princess’ with. “Phil and I have been friends for a hundred years, so we always get together and laugh. Working on shows like this make us bring out the best (and similarly the worst) humor in each other. Both of us always try and push the envelope, so the combo is deadly! It’s done like a book musical, only with unoriginal songs. The main difference is that the whole thing is played like it is Children’s theatre – which is an odd juxtaposition considering the subject matter…”
Fat Swan’s main character, Natalie Portly, is a ballet dancer suffering body dysmorphia. Not unlike the character in the film, Natalie’s experiences become more and more ridiculous and corrupt as the show goes on, and Ashley has remained determined to let no physical boundary stand in the way of him playing an anorexic female ballerina. “Natalie has been fun to play… she starts out as completely innocent, and as the other characters corrupt her more, she goes nuts. I had always planned on attending some dance classes to get more into character, but I never got around to it. I even thought about a body double for a while – but I think my raw enthusiasm makes up for my lack of ability… almost.”
Ashley co-stars in Fat Swan alongside Helpmann winner Genevieve Lemon who plays his overprotective dance mother, as well as Brendan Moar and Danielle Barnes. “They’re all old friends, so getting together with them at rehearsal – well, we almost get nothing done cause we sit around and gossip. I especially love Gen Lemon, who was a hero of mine when I saw her growing up, and never thought that she’d ever be starring in one of my own shows.”
After the success of the Sydney season, Ashley reflects on what has made Fat Swan so positively recieved by audiences. “I think it’s done so well because it’s an out and out laugh fest. You can’t come to the show and not enjoy it! It’s also completely un-PC which I think is a huge selling point to people. Even at the Spiegel in Melbourne where our audience were mainly straight couples over 50 – they got right into it and had a ball. In terms of selling it in the first place: I think that a strong image is how you get the word out there. I’m just looking forward to bringing the show as it was originally envisaged to Melbourne, as when we were in the Spiegel, we couldn’t bring the set or anything. So even if people had seen it before, this will be a new experience with the full set and costumes.”
Fat Swan will be playing from September 26th until October 6th at the Fairfax Studio, with tickets priced at $55. Anyone under the age of 18 will not be permitted.
“It truly doesn’t have a moment of serious in it. It’s completely ridiculous from beginning to end. It’s a great show to come and see and just have a flat out laugh. Just leave the kids at home!”