Friday, July 14, 2023




Written and directed by Tracy Bourne. Featuring Moya Simpson with John Black at the piano and Jonathan “Jonesy” Jones  on percussion Designer Nyx Matthews. Lighting designer James Tighe. Sound designer Ben Marston. Lighting operatot John Carberry. Poster design. Mel Stanger (The Changesmiths). Assistants: Emma English. Liliane Alblas. The Main Hall. Ainslie Arts Centre. July 12-15 2023

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

How does an ageing entertainer cope with the fears that lurk in the shadow behind the façade? Do they sing the songs of yesteryear? Do they tell jokes, impersonating WC Fields or recounting corny punchlines? Do they panic as they feel the loss of control, the longing for the sureness of youth and the  memory of times past? Finale, written and directed by Tracy Bourne is a tale of pathos as the entertainer (Moya Simpson) clings to a talent that recalls a past glory now fading in the final years. In her first solo show, Simpson exhibits an emotional depth that affirms her strength as an actor. Canberra audiences are only too aware of her abilities as a singer, on show again in this dramatic performance, but it is the first time that we have seen her attempt to perform an hour long show conceived and written by Tracy Bourne in the main hall of the Ainslie Arts Centre.

Percussionist Jonathan "Jonesy" Jones and Moya Simpson in FINALE

The audience enters before a stage cluttered with bric a brac, remnants of a past with all the trappings of an opportunity shop. The collection too is a trove of used and discarded items,  Dressed in a green penitentiary styled tracksuit that one might find in an institution , Simpson welcomes the audience, thanks them for coming and offers them free glasses of bubbly.

The tone of the show is set with a plaintive rendition, unaccompanied of the Bee Gees’ I Started a Joke. But the tick tock of the clock is a timely reminder of fleeting time and the entertainer changes into an opshop silver lame dress to recall her career as a singer . An unsuspecting audience member (John Black) is dragged up to play the piano while John “Jonesy” Jones grabs an assorted collection of unlikely items to create an imaginative percussion accompaniment. With a heavy tone of cynicism Simpson sways to Peggy Lees’ Is That All There Is? Not quite. Simpson demonstrates her versatility, at times with a twangy Hank Williams song, I’ll never get out of this world alive  or Tom Waits’ God’s Away on Business and Nick Cave’s  and Mick Harvey’s Mercy Seat. It is the raw vulnerability of emotional truth that Simpson can evoke in her song. At the end of her show she reaches the nirvana of resignation. Her solace is in her song as she invites her audience to celebrate life in song with the Amanda Palmer’s Sing. This is her final evocation of the triumph over fear of the fading years and of the critics of her song. Simpson finishes her performance with a note of defiant hope. As a final act of resilience Simpson conducts her audience in uplifting choral unison. Many are members of Simpson’s choirs and they join in her final  chorus, before bursting into applause. The singer is among friends.

It is the variety of Simpson’s songlist and the versatility of her voice that makes me want to see her in a tightly constructed drama. Finale is at times loosely connected and exposing the weaknesses of a devised work that has not been directed tightly enough. Costume changes behind a screen hold up the flow of the work and some of the material and stage business appears unnecessary. At one point the entire audience is asked to move to the other side of the hall where insufficient seats have been set up, leaving some members standing. The continuity of the show suffers and Simpson must work harder to restore the focus. It is to her credit that her character’s emotional strength is powerful enough to engage her audience..

All in all though, Finale gives Simpson the opportunity to extend and exhibit her talent in her own one woman show and for an audience to enjoy Canberra’s own doyen celebrate song’s healing power.