|Christie Whelan-Browne as Liz in Vigil|
Vigil by Steve Vizard.
Music composed by Joe Chindamo. Directed by Andy Packer. The Space Theatre. Adelaide Festival Centre. World Premiere. Commissioned by the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. June 11 and 12. 2017.
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
In a cabaret festival programme that headlines international sensations, Alan Cumming and jazz icon, Dianna Reeves, it is pleasing to note the inclusion of a new and original Australian musical. Vigil with book and lyrics by Steve Vizard and music composed by leading Australian jazz pianist Joe Chindamo is being given its World Premiere at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival
It is a poignant glimpse at the complex and often troubled relationship between a daughter and her mother. Liz (Catherine Whelan- Browne) has arrived at the bed of her dying mother at Christmas Eve. She has flown in from overseas after an eleven month absence to find her mother confined to a hospital bed and unable to communicate. Writer, Steve Vizard’s one woman musical is a sensitive and honest confessional, peeling away the façade and confronting the unuttered truths of a daughter’s private anguish. Alone at her mother’s bedside, Liz looks back on her life through a photoboard, created by her sister. It is a moment of bitter reflection, a plea to absolve her God-given gift of guilt. Resentment swells as she realizes that she features in only nine of the thirty seven photos and the painful realization of unresolved issues (One More Breath), flashes back through the years to the nine year old girl in Sleeping Beauty (Pretty Little Thing) , a sister’s envy, the sleazy barbecues in the back yard (Barbecue of Love), her marriage break up with Nick, the love of her life, (When You Tie A Knot), the tragic loss of their baby boy and her mother’s departure to live with her lesbian lover, Jill, her need to express her feelings (I Confess), and her longing for answers and the desire to be recognized for who she is (Here I Am Mum).
Vizard’s plot is disarmingly real, his character unambiguously honest, compelled to truly express her feelings and look in vain for reassurance from a silent figure in the bed. Alone on stage, Whelan-Browne conjures the people of her life – her favoured sister, Amelia and precocious niece, Giselle, her dreaded Aunt Frieda, her ex husband and their lost child, and dreams to be accepted by those whose judgements bring her pain. It is a bitter sweet tale, performed with touching honesty by a singer whose purity of heart floats upon the sensation of her songs. Composer Joe Chimado’s melodies recall the emotional power of Sondheim, though more gently at the strings of Zoe Black’s violin, and with the intimacy of an off-Broadway musical, destined for glittering success upon the bigger stages of the world. Slingsby director, Andy Packer, directs with gentle sensitivity, allowing Whelan-Browne’s extraordinarily natural talent to shine.
Vigil is a new work, still in need of development. Has the audience witnessed a meeting in the mind, confirmed by a phone call at the end that comes too late to realize Liz’s desires to set matters right? It is a dramatic device still clouded with some dramaturgical confusion. Is the forged cheque necessary and is the hearing aid a comic touch or bitter irony? New works need time to evolve, and Vizard’s musical is no exception. At the Adelaide Cabaret Festival it is still perhaps too long, but it is a poignant, ironically funny and pertinent new Australian work. Whelan-Browne combines a beautiful, expressive voice with a natural emotional honesty that keeps her character engagingly real. This is a musical not to be missed for Whelan-Browne’s performance alone as well as Chimado’s tuneful, heartfelt melodies. It deserves a wider audience and and greater acclaim. When the opportunity arises be sure not to miss this new Australian work or Whelan-Browne’s performance. She affirms her place as a shining star of the Australian music theatre stage.