Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), 13 May – 11 Jun, 2022
Book & Lyrics: Daniel Cullen
Music: Daniel Cullen, James Cullen
Director: Sheridan Harbridge
Cast: Zoe Ioannou, Genevieve Lemon, Luke Leong-Tay, Noni McCallum, Terry Serio, Justin Smith, Aaron Tsindos, Bishanyia Vincent
Images by Phil Erbacher
Due to extenuating circumstances, city girl Rose is forced to return to her hometown, where her father Des runs a flagging business, providing entertainment to locals through wrestling events that have seen better days. Daniel and James Cullen’s Dubbo Championship Wrestling is exactly as you would expect it; a humorous take on country life that explores our cultural cringe, as a people obsessed with the idea of never being sophisticated enough, but are ultimately full of heart.
That structural conceit may be as tired as Des’ team of misfit employees, but juxtaposing wrestling with musical theatre, is undoubtedly a stroke of genius. Director Sheridan Harbridge creates, from the extravagance of both art forms, ample moments of spectacle, and of slapstick, for a show memorable for its unapologetic brashness. Musical direction by Glenn Moorhouse takes inspiration from classic Australian rock music, and combines it with Broadway conventions, to form a soundscape that is relentlessly energetic.
Set design by Ella Butler adapts the stage to manufacture a surprisingly expansive accommodation, for a generously sized wrestling ring, on which most of the action takes place. Butler’s costumes are appropriately loud and comedic, and effective in giving immediate visual definition to each of the show’s characters. Lights by Trent Suidgeest work overtime to provide vibrancy and exuberance. They elevate Des’ poverty-stricken Dubbo Dome, to something altogether more fabulous and edifying.
Tim Dashwood’s accomplishments as fight director, along with Ellen Simpson’s choreography, form a crucial part of Dubbo Championship Wrestling‘s uniqueness. Movement is fundamental to any work of theatre, but to witness the re-creation of fantastical sequences of high camp brawling, set to live singing, is quite a thrill.
Performer Zoe Ioannou is a superb lead as Rose, with strong vocals that convey precisely the inner spirit of the young rebel, but more importantly, it is Ioannou’s singularly impressive physical discipline that truly sets her apart, as she executes every dance step and fight move to incredible perfection. Terry Serio is convincing as the battered and bruised Des, allowing us to empathise with his idealistic plight. Rose’s mother Cheryl is played by Bishanyia Vincent, who brings valuable dramatic intensity and emotional authenticity, to a production that tends to venture very far into caricature territory. Especially noteworthy is the hilarious Aaron Tsindos, simply irrepressible as Perfect Ten Ken, fully relishing in the world of absurdity that these people inhabit.
As a species, we are endlessly amused with the kinds of aspirations that other people hold. Often we are deprecating of what other people wish to achieve with their lives, wondering why they are not more like us. Certainly there are some ambitions that are more noble than others, but in Dubbo Championship Wrestling we see that the fighting spirit that each person is able to gather from within, is quite a marvel. Des and his cohort may not wish to change the world, but the ferocity with which they dedicate energy to their passions, is endlessly inspiring.