Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Deck the Hall

Deck the Hall by Scott Radburn.  Christmas Morning Melodies, presented by Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council.  Performed by Scott and Cheryl Radburn, at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, 20 December 2016, 10.30am.

Reviewed by Frank McKone

Live theatre is only good when real communication happens between performer and audience.  Scott Radburn was all communication, as magician, as joke-teller, as dancer (even with a 3-month-old new hip), as straight singer of every style from Engelbert Humperdink to Luciano Pavarotti, and even in character as the dead Pavorotti’s previously unknown grotty brother – who amazed by demonstrating how (after talking to Heaven on Skype) one’s body inevitably expands as one sings like Luciano.

Bringing his wife on stage to sing and tap-dance (his only actual wife, despite an apocryphal story, which at least one audience member I spoke to believed, about his ‘first’ wife) added to our feeling that we – while standing for Advance Australia Fair, or singing along, clapping and waving to the rhythm of all sorts of popular songs from the 1950s onwards, or laughing at old-time non-politically-correct jokes – were in touch with real people thoroughly enjoying entertaining us. 

I checked with them later and found that the seemingly wild story of how Scott proposed marriage to Cheryl on stage when she was Queen Guinevere in Camelot, was true.  He was unrecognisable, even by Cheryl, appearing hidden in a costume as the Jester, asking for the Queen’s hand in marriage via a favourite love-song.  It stopped the show (it was at curtain call), and the wedding on stage was followed by an all-night party.  You only have to do a few web searches to realise that Scott is a comic at heart, as I saw when the jokes continued to flow in the foyer to and from many members of the audience who came up to congratulate and buy a CD.

As a critic, of course, I love to pigeonhole shows, but I found myself challenged by this free flowing performance.  Then I remembered a recent show at The Q, An Evening with Groucho performed by Frank Ferrante.  There was an actor re-creating a comic from the old days of ‘variety’ shows; here in Scott Radburn, we have the original comic himself. 

Here was live theatre indeed, where Scott checks out the ‘demographic’ of the audience (most like me around or even well past Shakespeare’s three score years and ten), has a half-hour check on his laptop with The Q’s technicians just before the show goes on, is checking the time as he’s performing and from the stage cueing in the ‘maestro’ on the sound deck in the biobox, with instructions like ‘skip to cue 13’ as he realises the ad-libbing with the audience has taken more time than planned.  (The maestro, by the way, performed spot-on.)

To me, it was Bertolt Brecht for real – no hiding of the theatrical tricks of the trade – just here we are performing for you.  And it all worked, even when, as Scott admitted to me, a joke went flat and he covered by pouring another splash of water into a rubbish bin from his impossibly continually filling bucket.  Shows you how magic sleight of hand can divert our attention: even this critic only remembered the joke had gone flat when we talked about the ‘business’ an hour after the show.

And in conversation I saw the qualities of all good actors skilled in self-awareness which enables them to act outwards to their audience at the same time as checking inwardly how things are developing, and adjusting as they go – yet without skipping a beat in the music of communication.  Maybe this sounds a bit esoteric and over-the-top for a light-hearted Morning Melody – but this is what makes the song worth singing.

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