Velvet has consistently received five-star reviews. It conquered Edinburgh Fringe, Adelaide Fringe twice, Brisbane Festival AND the Sydney Opera House. And still, the concept of a disco-slash-burlesque-slash-circus sounds odd. When you take your seat, your concerns will wash away as your foot starts tapping to the beat.
Velvet is a well-lubricated machine doused in sequins and feathers. The show isn’t traditional theatre, or cabaret, circus, or even burlesque. It’s a true mashup, that on paper seems bizarre but leaves you begging for more – even launching to your feet to boogie at any point in the show. As someone who wasn’t even a thought in the 1970s, unfortunately I don’t get to remember that time, but I do get to dream of what it must have been like.
Brendan Maclean and Marcia Hines head up this talented cast of singers, dancers, acrobats and musicians as a soul-searching young man and a diva queen who opens her arms to him. Hines’ commanding and experienced presence causes raucous cheers upon every appearance and jive. There’s a real maternal connection between her and Maclean, perhaps something that has grown over the course of touring this show.
Just when you think you’ve settled into the flow of Velvet, out come leather-clad aerialists performing stunts in a full BDSM scene. It’s wicked and exhilarating and the only moments of quiet in the audience come in shock or powerful emotion. The stunts are truly breath-taking.
Scotland’s Craig Reid elicits howls of laughter with his “Incredible Hula Boy” act, where Stephen Williams, Mirko Köckenberger and Emma Goh’s aerial, circus and gymnastic performances are magnificent. Rechelle Mansour and Chaska Halliday shine throughout, singing and dancing becoming total disco divas. Musical Director Joe Accaria keeps the party going with suave style as resident DJ, providing the perfect soundtrack full of hits like ‘It’s Raining Men’, ‘Boogie Wonderland’ and ‘Turn the Beat Around’. Truthfully, ‘Boogie Wonderland’ may be the most succinct way to describe Velvet.
There’s virtually no dialogue, so you could be forgiven for assuming Velvet would be a disco concert. However, the way the songs are threaded together tell a story and Maclean’s interaction with Hines takes the show through a journey of self-acceptance and life’s ups and downs. It’s a beautiful thing to tell such a powerful story purely through song. There’s not a bad thing about the show: everything was perfect.
James Browne’s sets and costumes are as dynamic as they are appropriate. Matthew Marshall’s lighting enhances what’s on stage as well as keeping the nightclub vibe for the whole audience. Lucas Newland’s choreography is clean and believable, never seeming out of place. It’s not a massive stage, but the cast never seems crowded. Craig Ilott has every right to be proud of his creation.
In his director’s note, Ilott mentions Velvet is a celebration of the freedom that comes with the type of acceptance that is “blind to colour, creed, class, gender, size and sexuality”. This vision has been realised with the cast and audience revelling in individuality and the beauty that comes with joining a community of authentic people.
A highlight is Maclean’s ukulele cover of Stayin’ Alive. Simply his voice and ukulele break down the largeness of the show for an incredibly moving and raw performance. It’s the quiet and emotional moment; the dark corner of melancholy at a party. It’s the Brendan Maclean that long-term fans of his know and fell in love with: a sincere songwriter with his heart on his sleeve. That identity has meant a long road to get to his success today, but with this standout performance, I sincerely hope audiences will get to see more of Maclean on theatre stages. His experience in dance, acting and music make him a formidable triple threat.
The audience chair-danced and sang their way through the show, reminiscing on days gone by or wishing they’d been there to experience them. The disco inferno of Velvet is a story that deserves to be told, in all its sparkling, disco-ball glory. I left with a sense of longing for a time of naïve freedom, with a sense of nostalgia rife in the air.
Shake your groove thing and head on over to Velvet – you won’t want to miss this one.
Melbourne Season Venue: Merlyn Theatre, The Coopers Malthouse
Season: 23 March – 17 April
Performance Times: Tues – Thurs 7.30pm, Fri 7pm and 9.30pm, Sat 5pm and 8pm, Sun 5pm
Price: Tickets from $56.03*
* An additional transaction fee and/or a credit/debit payment processing fee may apply Performance times and prices are subject to change