I entered Adventures With a Brazilian without knowing much about Bossa Nova. All I knew was that it was a popular type of Brazilian music from before my time. It’s a testament then to the performance of Shelley Dunstone and the music of Emma Knights that I found myself enjoying something so foreign to me, and learning a lot in the process.
Adventures with a Brazilian is the surreal story of Shelley (Dunstone) who catches an elevator in Sydney and arrives on a beach in 1960s Rio de Janeiro. There she meets her inspiration and heartthrob, Tom Jobim, one of the most prominent Bossa Nova artists ever. Shelley and Tom ‘make beautiful music together’ (yes, the innuendo is rife) for a time, before Shelley finds herself back in Sydney. She dedicates her life to Bossa Nova music immediately, even though the majority now consider the style nothing more than ‘elevator music’. Dunstone alternates between monologue and renditions of Jobim’s songs, accompanied by the skilled piano playing of Emma Knights, to convey the story. This worked well, and although the transitions were not seamless, the crowd never lost interest.
Dunstone never explicitly explains Bossa Nova, letting her performance explain instead. Knights’ music aids in this and, by the end, even those of us who have never listened to the style before begin to understand why it was so popular. Perhaps the most popular Bossa Nova song, ‘Girl from Ipanema’, received a great response from the crowd when Dunstone invited them to sing, proving that many still appreciate Jobim’s songs. There were laughs throughout and even a few whistles after Dunstone sang ‘Chansong’ in pyjamas. She engaged with the tightly packed audience well and was definitely having a good time doing what she loves.
Despite her obvious passion for the style, when Dunstone came to the high notes she faltered a little. Because of the intimacy with the crowd, these mistakes were uncomfortable. She also appeared a little rigid during the first few songs. More movement and dance would have suited the sensual music. The rest of her singing however, was wonderful and clear. Despite the limited space and tech in the venue, theatre technician Geoff Crowther managed to add to the atmosphere of the performance with neat effects, ambient sounds and moody lighting. The stage was undecorated, allowing the music and monologues free reign to create a world in the audience’s collective head. The use of props was also minimal but effective, such as when Dunstone donned a hat to completely change into Jobim.
La Bohème itself was well suited to the performance. Although it is hardly Rio, the atmosphere in the venue matched the sultry, romantic and fun tone of the show. The noisy street outside caused a few distractions, but the show continued on regardless.
Even though Bossa Nova may be a bit dated now, that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy shows like Adventures with a Brazilian. As Dunstone says, ‘there’s nothing like elevator music to give you a lift.’
Reviewed by James Rudd
Venue: La Bohème 36 Grote St Adelaide
Season: 2 June – 13 June
Duration: 1 hour
Bookings: Book online at the Cabaret Fringe Festival website or tickets available at the door if not sold out