AU ABROAD

Adelaide Fringe Festival Review: VELVET - Garden of Unearthly Delights (18.02.15)


Photo: Sam Oster

The stage is set. The catwalk has been shined. A lone hoop dangles enticingly overhead. As the crowd filters in, banging disco music is being played and it's soon made evident that the premiere of VELVET is not going to be a stoic affair. Making its world debut at the Adelaide Fringe this year, a great cast of performers under the direction of Craig Ilott generate an exhilarating atmosphere which pays homage to the disco age; it's glamourous and it's racy, the singers walk the line of innocence and hedonism and the acrobatics are something to be seen.

The soundtrack is fantastic, with the likes of Bee Gees, Candi Staton and The Weather Girls all getting their moment in the spotlight through some great performances of their iconic songs from the era. In terms of a narrative presence, while it is subtle, you can definitely catch on to what is happening; Brendan Maclean's character stumbles into this disco, another world to this wide-eyed man, and throughout VELVET he experiences the whole shebang; from the sequins to the sexual intensity, the character discovers who he wants to be and becomes part of this alluring crew.

The presence of Marcia Hines in this production is an obvious drawcard for many in the venue tonight and no doubt will be for the rest of VELVET's run at the Fringe and beyond. The legendary performer is dressed in gold magnificence and as she belts out every note, strutting her way up and down the catwalk, her smile gleams and people in all different rows holler and wave out to the diva, who reciprocates the love. We're all dancing in our seats not long into the performance and, being sat front row like I was, it was hard not to stare up at the performers, especially Hines, like gawking schoolkids as they'd float, dance and strut by, some giving a sly wink on their way while others would straight up beam.

New Orleans' burlesque queen Perle Noire makes her impact early on in the show; oozing sass and a ferocity that can only come from performing the shows she's now renowned for the world over, the 'Mahogany Queen of Burlesque' is seductive and takes no prisoners. La Soirée's Stephen Williams, Emma Goh and Mirko Köckenberger are wonderful as core performers, if you will; there's beauty, sensuality, humour and in various parts, downright sexiness within their performances, you'll be hard pressed to avoid looking at what's going on onstage. As Williams performs some daring aerial choreography to the tune of "It's Raining Men", the crowd is all over the place, left fanning themselves and laughing out of excitement. And that's not even the most lip-biting part.

Maclean, whether he's singing with Hines or cutting a lone figure on the stage alone, shines in VELVET. A born performer, Maclean portrays wide-eyed awe brilliantly and then, in the snap of the fingers, can just as easily emerge in a peacock styled jumpsuit - complete with feathers - and crush the crowd with fierceness. Watching him opposite Hines, the smile that crosses his face each time she connects with him is more than just part of his character; his enthusiasm for being on stage, much less being on stage with a vocalist such as Hines, is indeed genuine and it's great to see. This chameleon nature is specifically highlighted in Maclean's haunting version of "Stayin' Alive", where he's sat on the stage, bare-chested, singing almost forlornly as his ukulele is the only music to fill the room. The only lighting at this stage shines down on him and in that moment, nobody knows whether or not to be in an arrested silence, or to sing along once they recognise the chorus - so we do both.

Extra props must be awarded to designer James Browne and choreographer Lucas Newland; VELVET is a feast for the visual-driven lovers of cabaret, theatre, song and dance and without these two, some crucial elements of what gels the show together would most certainly be lacking. VELVET shows at The Vagabond in the Garden of Unearthly Delights for the rest of the Adelaide Fringe Festival season - head to the Boogie Wonderland and get lost in it yourselves.

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For tickets and more information about VELVET, head to http://www.adelaidefringe.com.au/fringetix/velvet/