Presented by Adelaide Festival Centre
Reviewed 21 June, 2019
Beneath the simple village merriment derived from watching one bloke shove another bloke around there lies a complex world. The show starts with iOTA (singer, songwriter, composer and actor) and Russell Leonard (singer, dancer, actor, acrobat and choreographer) standing mute and blank-faced front and centre of the stage. Both wear short white towelling dressing gowns. In a long silent exchange of movement between the white-faced iOTA wearing a stark black skullcap and the black leather gimp-masked Leonard, the premise of the show is set. With each movement accompanied by comic percussion sound effects, mime establishes their relationship, its likely trajectory, and the underlying ambiguity of everything. Slap is the dominant clown and Tickle is his Gimp. Using the visual shorthand of BDSM, the masked and leather-harnessed Tickle thus becomes victim of Slap’s capricious will, butt of his jokes, the literal fall guy, the uncomplaining servant.
iOTA (who used to be called Sean Hape) has worked with Leonard and director Melissa Cantwell to craft a multilayered audio-visual allegory. It’s huge fun on the surface, but the deeper you dig, the more rewarding is its thoughtful commentary on relationships, society and power.
It should be remembered that iOTA has form; his performances in Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Smoke and Mirrors earned him two of his four Helpmann’s.
The show is structured as old-style variety, with iOTA presenting a range of zany characters with which Leonard’s gimp reacts. We meet Sirena – Mistress of the Sea, who looks like a German fetish mistress trapped in a tennis net. We meet raucous Wayno Braino, mindreader extraordinaire, filled with ratbag energy and clad in a repurposed ocelot doona cover decorated with stellar motifs. Eva the Diva is a mature aspiring leading lady; her huge white faux fox-fur stole, blonde curly wig and heels turn her into Showbiz Barbie. There’s also a melancholy frog, a Wolf-Man (bastard child of Nick Cave and Tom Waits), and Hugo the Snake Charmer, who doesn’t quite. In everything, Leonard’s gimp is attendant, attempting to help, often where none is required, and needing to be noticed and accepted. The beauty of their interdependent relationship lies quietly at the base of everything.
Each character, created on-stage, sings a song. iOTA, who wrote all the songs, sings with musical skill, an extraordinary vocal technique, hugely varied timbres, and the very best articulation you’ll hear in town. He cares about the weight of each word, and the task it does. There’s an 11-piece jazz band which helps to create the warmth and idiosyncratic artistry of this piece. Although the Musical Director takes a bow with the two performers, he is never named. Neither are any of the musicians. There’s a strong case here for at least a humble piece of paper on each theatre seat, listing all who have had a creative input.
Near the end of the piece, the ever-present gimp disappears. He re-enters, mask-less, and dances the strongest, most elegant, heart-breaking solo. It is a tribute to the ferocity and truthfulness of iOTA’s vision that both the joyous entertainment and the pathos coexist with integrity.
Reviewed by Pat. H. Wilson
Rating out of 5: 5 stars. – Wise and wacky
Venue: Adelaide Festival Centre – Dunstan Playhouse
Season: 21st – 22nd June, 2019
Duration: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Tickets: $54.90 – $69.90