Summed up in one word, Eddie Perfect’s Vivid White is weird. Wonderfully, delightfully weird, but nonetheless peculiar. A satire about real estate and the Australian obsession with home ownership, this is a musical comedy ploughing it’s own stylistic furrow.
Focussing on two couples with an extended history, who both enter the housing market at the same time, Perfect lampoons the stigma attached to reaching adulthood and taking ‘too long’ to purchase property and the often ridiculous lengths we’ll go to in order to keep up with our home-owning peers. When Liz (Verity Hunt-Ballard) surprisingly reaches the end of a roll of Glad-Wrap in her sticky-drawered kitchen, she becomes possessed by an oddly named disembodied voice who propels her and her partner Ben (Brent Hill) to stop renting and start owning. As they find the house of their dreams, they discover that their rivals in buying the property are Ben’s former satirical comedy partner, Evan (Ben Mingay) and his wife Cynthia (Christina O’Neill). With the help of bloodthirsty buyer’s advocate Brenda (Virginia Gay), Evan and Cynthia win the auction and the split in the two couples’ friendship becomes even wider as the societal divide between renters and owners in the wider world spins out of control.
You would have to be completely deaf, dumb and blind to be an Australian over 30 and not have experienced social pressures to get into the housing market, regardless of whether you’ve ignored them or taken your first step on the property ladder. So Perfect’s script offers an easy entrée for audiences to empathise and identify with the characters. Likewise, Perfect has always had a knack for creating catchy, instantly familiar tunes and skewering subjects with witty lyrics, both traits on ample show here.
Much like Perfect’s own cabaret performances, the characters in this story often accompany themselves as their band kit slides on stage mid-scene and they take their positions behind guitars, keyboards and drums, sometimes to provide backing for one character to take centre stage, or at others to perform like a Partridge Family-esque band. Structurally, this choice from director Dean Bryant has created a production that is neither fish nor fowl. The ‘meta’ nature of having two characters that are satirical comedians combined with the constant breaking out of action onto band platforms with the removal of all other settings means it really feels more like a satirical revue is what’s on offer here, rather than a play with songs – at least in the first act. Further, Perfect’s songs often don’t propel the story along, rather they just pastiche another aspect of the struggles for and tribulations of home ownership, meaning this show also can’t accurately be described as a musical. Then the second act comes along and suddenly the story comes into focus, the songs feel connected to the storytelling (with the exception of a wonderfully fun opening number about bin night), and the fates of the core characters are emphasised rather than the wide spread of related issues touched upon in act one. Even though this more cohesive style spins wildly to an outrageously off-the-wall conclusion, it all works much better than the bitsy approach of the first half.
Performances across the board are excellent, and it’s wonderful to see a bunch of both current and future musical theatre greats treading the MTC boards, with the ensemble being filled out by second year Music Theatre students from the Victorian College of the Arts. Special recognition must go to the inimitable Virginia Gay who gives an absolute tour de force performance, as both the vicious buyer’s advocate and the mysterious Güüs, a role that allows her to exercise her in-demand vocal stylings to maximum effect. Verity Hunt-Ballard is delightfully desperate as hipster wannabe homeowner Liz, and is the perfect foil for Christina O’Neill’s callous and status obsessed social climber Cynthia.
As former comedy partners, Ben Mingay and Brent Hill are a perfect match, notwithstanding Tim Chappel’s anachronistic costuming. Mingay naturally embodies the matured businessman and provider Evan, who has moved on from the past, while Brent Hill’s Ben remains mired in their history and possibilities of satire to influence critical thinking. A favourite of the music theatre stage, Hill usually seems more at ease than he does here, but that doesn’t hinder excellent vocals and on point dance moves. In a wide variety of supporting roles, Keegan Joyce and Gillian Cosgriff are both wonderful.
Vivid White may be eccentric and entirely unconventional but it is terrifically bizarre in all the right ways and the MTC should be congratulated on bravely trusting Perfect to produce something new and exciting. It doesn’t work on every level, but how many new pieces of theatre do, on their first outing? As we enter the silly season, this production will bring new definition to the term for those who embrace its whacky tale and provide ready delight for those with an appetite for realty-based satire and music theatre inspired tunes.