The evolution of Paul McDermott’s Adelaide Fringe exhibition to a stage show is an odd state of play with mixed results.
This new work was created especially for the 2013 Adelaide Cabaret Festival and incorporates storytelling and song, yet never the twain shall meet despite a definite theme for the night.
The Dark Garden is a state of mind; an inner space where you can work through grief. McDermott describes the stages of grief as Anger, Denial, Bargaining, Cross Dressing and Acceptance. Over the course of 80 minutes or so, he works through each stage, offering two or more songs and a story for each.
The numbers are original. They’re dark, brooding, fabulous ballads, packed with remorse, emotion and poetic beauty. Backed by a fantastic four piece band, led by Stu Hunter, and a stunning string quartet from the Adelaide Art Orchestra, the music varies from sweeping violins to pulsating gothic rhythms.
In contrast to this, the stories are funny, sometimes outrageous, and always incongruous to the music. He entertains with tales of an intelligent goose, 70s porn star Annie Sprinkle, fruit flies and racism. They touch on the relevant stage of grief that they accompany but are shrouded in comedy when all else is not. It’s only his final monologue, about finding ways to hold on to the memories of those we’ve lost, which seems to fit with the mood of the overall piece.
The Dark Garden is a showcase of McDermott’s talents as a comedian, song writer and singer, even though he professes to not being a trained singer. Despite two false starts with songs, he succeeds abundantly in all areas and remains an accomplished entertainer. As a collective piece however, the stories and music of The Dark Garden stand apart, creating a choppy show instead of a smooth journey.
Perhaps that, in itself, is a statement of the mixed emotions one experiences through grief.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Venue: Festival Theatre Stage, Adelaide Festival Centre
Season: 19-20 June 2013
Duration: 80 minutes