Presented by Adelaide Festival Centre
Reviewed 15 June 2016
Short, fast, loud and seriously sexy, Songs for the Fallen, directed by Shane Anthony, is a glorious ode to one of the most famous lovers in history: the fabled Lady of the Camellias and inspiration for Nicole Kidman’s character in Moulin Rouge, Marie Duplessis.
Duplessis only lived a short life, dying at the age of 23 from tuberculosis… but what a life it was! Born to poor parents, she was left to fend for herself in Paris at the age of 14. Not many years later, Duplessis found her talent as a beauty, becoming a courtesan to many of the cities wealthiest bachelors. Her life from then on was one of champagne, fiery affairs and reckless spending. After falling in love with Alexandre Dumas, who would later write a novel in her honour, her health swiftly deteriorated.
Writer and performer Sheridan Harbridge brings Duplessis back to life through her bubbling, eccentric performance (albeit with a bit more of an Australian accent than she would have had). Harbridge has seemingly crafted the role she was born to play. It’s a portrayal of Duplessis that’s not-too-serious, even a bit ridiculous, but one that makes Songs for the Fallen what it is. For the length of the performance, the world revolves around her. Her charm, energy and vocal talent basically fill the auditorium, and her unabashed sensuality is sure to make even more people fall in love with her.
But at the same time as all this frivolity is going on, there is a deep and thoughtful undercurrent beneath the show. Harbridge’s Duplessis is constantly asking for the moral of the story, searching for meaning in the great party of life. To help answer the question, she breaks through the fourth wall and rides the line between two different time-lines. Some outrageous audience interaction might not answer her existential crisis, but it certainly gets people laughing. There’s just the right amount of hilarity and casualness here to sweeten the serious drama.
Joining her on stage are Ben Gerrard (as a host of characters and lovers) and Garth Holcombe (as Dumas and narrator). Both men are fairly similar in stature, looks and even air, but both also deliver unique qualities and their own eccentricities to the performance. Steven Kreamer delivers amazingly diverse musical accompaniment, hiding behind a foley desk for most the show but almost completely controlling the mood of the scenes.
Though the cast constantly reiterate the low-budget nature of the show, it seems that they’ve managed to produce Duplessis’ story with the level of glamour she deserves. Through liberal use of red glitter, duck feathers and other sparkling props, the expensive world of a Parisian courtesan is recreated on stage.
Songs for the Fallen is a charming, fearless and decadent performance that you’ll want to dive right into. Moulin Rouge ain’t got nothing on the “real” story.
Reviewed by James Rudd
Rating (out of 5): 4
Venue: Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Street
Season: 15-16 June 2016
Duration: 1 hour 30 mins
Tickets: $33.90 – $49.90
Bookings: Book online through the Adelaide Cabaret Festival website or phone BASS on 131 246