Presented by Zuleika Khan
Reviewed 28th February 2017
Zulieka Khan (“call me Zule – like ‘Julie’ with a Z”) uses her professional experiences as a Division 1 Registered Nurse to fashion a funny, lively, intelligent and thoughtful cabaret show about nurses, nursing, sick people and caring for yourself. She begins the show in a costume which satirises the cliché of ‘sexy nurse’ – skin-tight white bustier with red piping, form-fitting back-laced skirt, high-heeled red stilettos and white cap. Her opening song, sung to the tune of “I’m a woman, W.O.M.A.N”, Leiber & Stoller’s anthem in praise of busy women, is wittily rewritten as “I’m a Triage N.U.R.S.E.”. The text is dense, funny, well-crafted, and smart on multiple levels. We relax – it’s going to be fun.
Khan has an excellent sense of her audience, using comic timing to fine effect. The show has a feeling of ease and looseness to it, entirely at odds with the precision and care with which it would have been rehearsed. It’s no surprise to find that “Additional material and direction” is by Sally Bourne; the show bears her trademark excellence.
Now, about the songs – after “I’m a woman, W.O.M.A.N”, delivered in bluesy red-hot-momma style, we get a brisk reading of Cole Porter’s “The Physician”, with pure legit tone to the fore. There’s a delicious re-write of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5”; it becomes a catalogue of the trials of night shift, entitled “Working 10 to 6”. There’s that torchy old standby, “Fever”, and a hilarious reworking of Sesame Street’s “Rubber duckie”, addressed to a surgical implement, and containing concepts best omitted from a family-friendly website. Khan manages to perform this diverse playlist with an impressively flexible, wide-ranging, gorgeously nuanced voice. She’s a fine singer/actor, with her strongest skills in the jazz idiom.
One of the most successful songs was “He was my boyfriend”, a rambling, vehement rave which she does in the character of Kathy, a chronic alcoholic patient. It’s a great Brecht/Weill sound, reminiscent of “Barbara-song” from “Threepenny”. It’s both vocally secure and fearlessly energetic. Her accompanist, Emma Knights (introduced as “My receptionist, Miss Emma), never misses a beat all night. She’s the heartbeat of the show.
Lack of adequate funding for health care in Australia is inevitably part of Khan’s comedic stock-in-trade. While extracting laughs from bulk billing, insufficient beds and staff shortages, she still manages to remind us that nurses care deeply about their patients’ health, and are continually frustrated and distressed by their inability to help patients at the level they know is needed. There are times in the show when Khan presents sincere and heartfelt messages about caring for others while trying to look after herself as well. Yet the comedy never flags.
A footnote: The show I saw was a preview. Neither the sound tech. nor the lighting tech. provided the seamless support demanded by Khan’s work. She soldiered on through missed sound and light cues, inexplicable blackouts, and the odd bit of feedback, yet never failed to entertain, keeping her audience and her story front and centre.
Reviewed by Pat. H. Wilson
Rating out of 5: 5
Venue: Cathedral Room at LIVE on 5, Adelaide Oval
Season: 28th February – 5th March
Duration: 65 minutes
Tickets: $38 – $43.00