Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), May 19 – 22, 2021
Music and Lyrics: Steven Oliver
Director: Isaac Drandic
Cast: Steven Oliver
Images by Daniel Boud
For just over an hour, a gay Black man reigns supreme, in Steven Oliver’s cabaret outing Bigger and Blacker. Entirely live and intimate, Oliver performs self-written songs accumulated over the years, a greatest hits compilation that spans everything from love to politics, that take us from hilarity to devastation.
Much of the presentation is concerned with being on the outside. Marginalised for both his racial and sexual identities, there is no wonder that Oliver is famously funny. Like many whose very existence poses a threat to the hegemony, being comical is a defence, a mode of self-preservation that becomes second nature. In Bigger and Blacker, the artist is characteristically flamboyant, but the underlying gravity of his raison d’etre is always apparent. Through the sensitive eye of director Isaac Drandic, we discover a duality of the persona, whimsical yet dark, and we respond accordingly, sometimes with joy, sometimes with sadness, but most often with a melancholic combination of both.
Oliver’s songs are cleverly written, all of them beautifully melodic and lyrically meaningful, made more poignant by the performer’s sincere introductions for every number. Accompanist Michael Griffiths is his spirited companion, whose inspired musical direction guides us through a multitude of stylistic genres, for a seriously engaging one-person variety extravaganza. From torch song to hip hop, Bigger and Blacker keeps itself fresh and surprising, not a single dull moment permitted.
Brady Watkins’ work on sound design transports us to a sensual world, distinctly lush and enchanting, and coupled with Chloe Ogilvie’s tender lighting, the audience finds itself effortlessly lulled into a temporary theatrical romance. Oliver is dressed by Kevin O’Brien, resplendent in a deep pink tuxedo jacket, determined to steal our hearts.
Identity labels are tiresome, for people who do not have to wrestle with oppression. Those of us who are systematically and habitually excluded, however, learn to embrace that which others have used to define us. What others try to shame us with, we grow to love, and we grow to understand the positively formative power, of everything that is meant to be inferior or contemptible. Oliver talks a lot about being a minority; he is Black, and he is gay, and as we come to realise, is therefore extraordinary.