There is a song from the Broadway musical, La Cage Aux Folles, which states “I am what I am”. It sums Joseph Farrugia up perfectly – he is what he is. Farrugia IS an Adelaide identity; and though some may not know his name, almost all Adelaidians know of his establishment – Hindley Street’s Crazy Horse Revue/Madame Josephine’s strip club. What Adelaide Bride/Groom-to-be hasn’t had their Hens/Bucks night there? Up til late March this year, Farrugia was the owner/manager and star performer, Madame Josephine herself.
Madame explores the man behind the woman and the woman behind the man. Josephine helped shy, retiring Joseph say and act out fantasies and erotic dreams for others, that he had difficulty expressing.
Joshua Tyler, Ross Ganf and Roslyn Oades give us a script that is clever, funny and poignant – and seems to mirror the man himself. Farrugia has been broken down into what amounts to three personalities portrayed by three agile and highly talented performers: his self as he is today (Trevor Stuart); his younger self (Chris Scherer); and his notable Drag Queen persona, Madame Josephine (Kialea-Nadine Williams).
Stuart bears an uncanny resemblance to Farrugia and has his reticent, uncertain, stumbling speech patterns down perfectly; Scherer is physical theatre personified, using his entire body beautifully to express feelings; and Williams has a hypnotic charm about her that absolutely captivates (and is a touch Victor/Victoriaish – a woman playing a man playing a woman).
Though only 75 minutes in length, the text manages to cram in information, thoughts and events from Farrugia’s life smoothly, succinctly and thoughtfully; such things as background on the club, his somewhat uneasy relationship with his lover, Jim; and the infamous court case surrounding him and his surrogate son, Blake. In this short period of time, one manages to come away with feelings for this iconoclast of Adelaide (if maybe not a hundred per cent understanding of him).
Given three writers and three directors, Ganf, Ingrid Weisfelt and Vincent Crowley, one might be forgiven if they expect inconsistency and, perhaps, confusion. This is most definitely not the case: this production is concise, polished and beautifully theatrical.
In helping to maintain the air of theatricality, set and lighting designer Geoff Cobham must be congratulated. He has managed brilliantly to achieve the seemingly impossible: turning that bastion of conservatism, Burnside Town Hall (the Ballroom, at least) into a glitzy strip club to be proud of.
Madame is different and a bit outrageous, but those things made Farrugia who he is and make this production what it is – enthralling.
Reviewed by Brian Godfrey
Your Twitter: @briangods
Venue: Burnside Ballroom, cnr Greenhill and Portrush Roads, Tusmore
Season: 22 April – 2 May 2015
Duration: 75 mins
Tickets: $25.00 – $35.00