Review: Vampire Lesbians Of Sodom (Brevity Theatre)

brevityVenue: Kings Cross Hotel (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 25 – Mar 7, 2015
Playwright: Charles Busch
Director: Samantha Young
Actors: Jamie Collette, Skyler Ellis, Nick Gell, Pollyanna Nowicki, Olivia O’Flynn, Eliza Reilly

Theatre review

Queer culture and art are intrinsically anarchic. They are concerned with destabilising the status quo, not just for the things we talk about, but also for the ways in which they are discussed. Charles Busch’s Vampire Lesbians Of Sodom is a comedy that imagines an absurd narrative, and places it in an absurdist theatrical structure. There are rules to making a show work, and while they are not entirely disregarded in Busch’s writing, there is a thorough subversion of conventions that results in a highly unusual text that not only makes us laugh, but also encourages a more enlightened and evolved way of looking at social dynamics.

Adding to the already decadent flavour of Busch’s script, is a burlesque sensibility brought on by the incorporation of Musical Director Matthew Predny’s original compositions. The songs are sharp-witted and rousing, helping to propel our glee to dizzying euphoric heights. Also wonderful is Benjamin Brockman’s lighting design, successfully transforming a very ordinary venue into a theatre buzzing with a sordid and libidinous fecundity.

Central to the show’s themes is a playful but resolutely emancipated view of gender and sexuality, and emanating from that, a kind of paradigm that challenges the heteronormative imperative that affects every life. Director Samantha Young does exemplary work with the comedy as well as the politics of the piece. Part John Waters and part Mel Brooks, she brings a powerful and specific sense of humour that will prove to be curiously amusing to some, and uproarious for others. There is an intense and adventurous spirit that seeks to explore the limits of performance, philosophy and taste, conjuring a night of wild entertainment that pushes the right buttons.

The cast of six is cheeky and exuberant, with a unified comedic tone that truly delights, although it must be noted that each impressive player is given ample space to showcase their distinct and considerable talents. Eliza Reilly as Madeleine Astarte is sure-footed and engaging, adding an unexpected polish to the very bawdy material. Her Mae West-style delivery of punch lines is charming and effective, and the actor displays a natural flair for timing that endears herself to the audience with seemingly little effort. Astarte’s arch nemesis La Condessa is played by Nicholas Gell, whose very energetic and extravagant performance never feels out of place no matter how over the top he pitches it. It is a rare opportunity to witness an actor be completely ridiculous, and enthralling us with the hammiest presentation one can possibly imagine.

Edgy theatre is easier to dream up than to actualise (especially in conservative spaces like the Sydney theatre scene), but this version of Vampire Lesbians Of Sodom is certainly mad, bad, and dangerous to know. There will be some who find it too frivolous, and yet others who think it too gruff, but this is not a show that aims to please everyone, for it knows its crowd, and caters only for its own kind.