Friday, July 14, 2023

Finale by Tracy Bourne


Finale by Tracy Bourne. Presented by Tracy Bourne and Arts Capital with the support of the ACT Government at Ainslie Arts Centre, July 12-15, 2023.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
July 13

Creative Team:
Performer: Moya Simpson
Pianist: John Black
Percussionist: Jonathan “Jonesy” Jones
Director: Tracy Bourne
Designer: Nyx Matthews
Lighting Designer: James Tighe
Sound Design: Ben Marston
Lighting Operator: John Carberry
Poster Design: Mel Stanger (The Changesmiths)
Assistants: Emma English, Liliane Alblas

Songs, in order of appearance are:
I started a joke (1968) Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb
Is that all there is? (1966) Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
I’ll never get out of this world alive (1952) Fred Rose and Hank Williams
God’s away on Business (2002) Tom Waits
Go to hell (1967) Morris Bailey, Jr
I wish I knew how it would feel to be free (1963) Billy Taylor and Dick Dallas
The Mercy Seat (1994) Nick Cave and Mick Harvey
Sing (2006) Amanda Palmer

I was quite drawn in by this elderly woman, about my own age (82) constantly fussing about forgetting what she knew she had planned to do next, apologising to us profusely because she wanted to keep us happy.

Standing back a little, having seen Shortis & Simpson since their first political cabaret show Shortis & Curlies (John Shortis, Moya Simpson, Andrew Bissett, June 1996) at the then Queanbeyan School of Arts Café, I saw Moya’s solo singing, dancing, and acting (in a standup comedian sort of way) as the central performer in a 90 minute show, as a development which gave her the opportunity to successfully pull together her range of voice and characterisation skills in a concentrated work.

Yet in the end ‘the play’s the thing’, as Hamlet said.  Approaching my own finale not too far away, I have some mixed feelings about Finale.  This is not surprising when you read the writer’s note (in the QR Code on-line Program):

Finale is about the uncertainty and the joy of live performance. It’s also about ageing, working out what you want to say, and carrying on even when it feels as if everything is falling apart. In Finale, the performer does her best to keep the show rolling along. She brings out all of her best songs and dances, but nothing goes right. She persists, as we all do, with a fragile mix of hope and denial – until she can no longer avoid her inevitable finale.

The structure of the drama is not so much like a play with a clear line of direction, but more like an exploration of an amorphous collection of bits and pieces – in fact rather like a drama workshop in the vein of the group improvisations I once used as a teaching device, where students would respond to a beginning stimulus, being ‘themselves’ creating ‘characters’ with stories and motivations – leading to a ‘warm-down’ and group oral reflection on what happened and what they felt they learned.

Was I watching and responding to Moya Simpson?  Or an un-named character, who kept slipping into other roles – an artist who wasn’t a ‘regular type of artist’, back to ‘Moya’ finding someone to play the piano and drums, singing songs in character, and ‘Moya’ again rearranging the audience out of their seats and onto the stage; and ending as a character in palliative care, clearly about to die, who morphs back into ‘Moya’ getting us to sing because it’s the only thing left to do.

Though I sang along, not too ostentatiously, I thought afterwards of being Bottom facing up to the Fairies:

…But I
will not stir from this place, do what they can:
I will walk up and down here, and I will sing,
That they shall hear I am not afraid.  [Sings]

And then there were the songs ‘Moya’ chose to sing, in the accents of the composers, full of social criticism and political attack – like God’s away on Business which sounds very like Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill.  Was this Tracy Bourne challenging the conventions of art?  I can go along with that.

So, theatrically Finale is a bit messy, which some may appreciate as ‘experimental’, but others may just find disturbing, as I discovered in conversations on the night.  

Anyway, I guess Moya’s performance leaves me not afraid to keep singing while I can.