Review: Babes In The Woods – Australian Purity Defil’d (Don’t Look Away Theatre Company)

dontlookawayVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Dec 13, 2016 – Jan 21, 2017
Playwright: Phil Rouse
Music: Phillipe Klaus
Director: Phil Rouse
Cast: Annie Byron, Gabriel Fancourt, Sean Hawkins, Alex Malone, Eliza Reilly, Ildiko Susany
Image by Ross Waldron

Theatre review
It is Christmas time, and in Australia, we go absolutely bonkers. Phil Rouse’s pantomime take on Babes In The Woods is a wild, wacky jaunt that marks the end of 2016, celebratory in tone but fiercely castigating of our ever-frustrating sociopolitical climate. If the show is a summation of the way we were, these 12 months are, once again, nothing to be proud of.

Rouse’s production however, is a triumph. Exuberant, inventive, poignant, and very funny, his creation is both frivolous and meaningful, targeting issues that concern us all, but always in the right shade of humour, no matter how dark the subject. The big and brash style of presentation allows the worst of our behaviour to be put on display, all in the name of comedy, but its need to keep things frothy can seem to diminish the severity and gravity of what is being discussed. Nevertheless, it is an admirable effort that does not forget the downtrodden, as we indulge in the unrestrained merriment and mirth characteristic of our silly season.

Phillipe Klaus’ spirited work as composer and musical director keeps the show structured and cohesive. Not all performers are impressive with their singing, but Eliza Reilly is delightfully memorable as the powerfully voiced Angel of White Privilege, allowing white children Australia-wide to act recklessly, and delivering more than a few laughs to her captive audience. Sean Hawkins is hilarious and shameless as Jack the himbo lumberjack, flexing muscles, both comedic and anatomic, to get us going. It is a remarkable cast, infectiously enthusiastic and impressive with their uninhibited creativity and imagination.

The final musical number in Babes In The Woods lampoons the lip service we often pay to the less fortunate. It makes fun of the $50 we might give to charity each month for absolution from the first-world evils that we commit. Theatre is a powerful medium, but it can also be ineffectual. Our art should always aim to do more, but if catharsis is the best we can manage on the night, there needs to be an accompanying sense of enlightenment that would take us to brighter days. A happy new year is incumbent upon how much we are able to learn from yesterday, so that tomorrow can be made better.