From the outside looking in, the life of an elite athlete may appear glamorous and exciting. Sports stars are documented travelling the world, experiencing the high life and mingling with important people in exotic locations.
The reality is often the exact opposite.
Countless years are spent in training, maintaining a strict diet and keeping pace with a gruelling and unforgiving schedule.
Pursuing an Olympic dream also means pushing one’s body beyond its limits on a daily basis, learning dangerous new skills, sometimes at the risk of permanent injury.
Having already visited other capital cities around Australia, it is easy to see why Matthew Mitcham’s debut show was the hot ticket in the lead up to the 2014 Melbourne Cabaret Festival.
Named after his 2012 best – selling autobiography, Twists and Turns is to Mitcham as the hit musical, The Boy From Oz is to iconic Australian entertainer, Peter Allen.
Potentially the most original and personal cabaret act on this or any year’s schedule, Twists and Turns tells Mitcham’s story to date in 75 thrilling minutes.
Articulate, charming, funny, refreshingly honest and always in the moment, Mitcham was completely at home in front of the supportive, capacity audience at Chapel off Chapel.
There were four big revelations this reviewer was certainly not expecting.
Firstly, the man can really sing.
An eclectic yet considered set list of more than a dozen songs dot the powerful narrative. These include ‘Symphathique’ by Pink Martini, ‘Has Anybody Seen My Gal?’ by Henderson, Lewis and Young, ‘Perfect’ by Alanis Morrisette, ‘Too Much’ by The Spice Girls, ‘Blue Skies’ by Irving Berlin, and ‘You Get What You Give’ by the New Radicals.
Secondly, he can also play the ukulele. Self taught while he was recovering from a serious back injury three years ago, it is something that has quickly become Mitcham’s quirky trademark.
Thirdly, years before Mitcham earned diving gold in Beijing, he trained hard in another elite sport. Declaring that it was his first love, the curtains parted to reveal a huge trampoline behind him.
Mitcham proceeded to recreate the performance that won him a junior world title. A cross between gymnastics, acrobatics and circus tumbling, to watch him trampoline was impressive stuff indeed.
Co – creation and direction by Nigel Turner Carroll (one of the stars from the recent Thank You For Being A Friend) kept the pace sharp, clear and linear.
Jeremy Brennan (from Jersey Boys) provided musical direction, slick piano accompaniment, vocal support and the story’s news announced narrative.
In a stroke of genius, the New Zealand drag performer, Spanky (Rhys Morgan) played devil’s advocate.
This versatile artist was everything from vocal support, dance partner, mother, and imaginary best friend. As Mitcham himself said at the top of the show, “To be inside my head is a dangerous place.”
Which lead to the show’s final divulgement.
In striving for perfection, Mitcham was plagued for years by self -doubt, sexual identity, and crippling panic attacks. The show took a darker turn when the artist confessed that he had used drugs to handle that pressure.
Fortunately in recovery, learning this secret cemented Mitcham’s place as a role model and a survivor. It was a powerful moment for everyone.
Mitcham is currently in training for next month’s Commonwealth Games in Glascow, Scotland. Beyond that, there are plans to tour Twists and Turns around the world.
At only 26 years of age, this driven young man appears to know exactly who he is and what he wants from life. In spite (or perhaps, because) of a challenging upbringing, Mitcham was destined to be a performer.
It was exciting to see that journey unfold first hand.