Theatre Review: Tomfoolery

This cabaret compendium is a well-structured programme of Lehrer’s satirical songs, both famous and obscure.

Presented by Loaded Productions
Reviewed 18 July, 2018

With sparkling lyrics, cleverly entertaining music, and fondly-remembered droll performances of Tom Lehrer himself, Tomfoolery was widely and enthusiastically anticipated.  This cabaret compendium is a well-structured programme of Lehrer’s satirical songs, both famous and obscure.  A great night out for fans of cabaret, satire, Lehrer and theatrical wit.  What could go wrong? Plenty.

Three experienced performers and a genius pianist, Mark Sandon, present this glorious array of satirical bon-bons in Marion’s charming Domain Theatre. The work is unfinished, with melodic lines inaccurate and unfulfilled, little cohesion in acting intention on-stage between the three performers, and a generally lack-lustre air. None of the three performers seemed wholly in command either of the material or the genre. This led to a sad lack of zing in the air, and the death of most attempts at comedic effect.

It takes a lot to ruin Lehrer’s material. Hew Parham yells for the best part of the performance, apparently confusing volume with energy. His phrasing is poor, especially in quieter numbers like Old Dope Peddler.  Sean Weatherly’s granular singing voice is completely over-taxed by the demands of most of the songs in this show.  He is, however, splendid in New Math, which requires rapidly-spoken lyric, and in The Elements, a fast patter song.  Neither song requires subtle interpretation or emotional clarity.  The major problem for Catherine Campbell, the third member of the troupe, is that the lion’s share of her material is set smack in the middle of her upper passagio.  As soon as she puts any pressure on her voice, it shows alarming signs of fragility.   However, on a positive note, Campbell’s articulation is the best of the three singers – a model of clarity.  This was unfortunate in her rendition of The Irish Ballad, a widely-known and much loved Lehrer riff on Hibernian folk songs. Her lack of a consistent and accurate accent was painfully evident.

The director of this show is Nicholas Cannon. It’s hard to know how much he is to blame for the show’s lack of cohesion, stability and joy.  If, however, it was Cannon’s idea to insert jolly Adelaide and Australian references throughout the show, and the odd updated Trumpery, then he must indeed shoulder a fair bit of the blame. Adding gratuitous updates and nods to locale can work for a G & S production – but only if they are witty, apposite and as sharply honed as is W.S. Gilbert’s own writing. The Australian references in this show were ham-fisted and ill-advised. I suspect that whoever decided to insert them lacked trust in the integrity of Lehrer’s comic writing.

And now a word about the Associate Artist, pianist Mark Sandon. From start to finish, he positioned himself with both tempi and dynamic balance precisely where he could be of the greatest assistance to each of the three singers.  His work was consistent, unassuming, professionally elegant and sensitive.

Comedy is demanding work.  It requires precision, mastery and the lightest of touches in order to tickle our funny-bones. This show needs a great deal of work.

Reviewed by Pat. H. Wilson

Venue: Domain Theatre, Marion Cultural Centre, Oaklands Park
Season: 18th – 22nd July, 2018
Tickets:  Full Price:  $38:00  Concession: $35:00
Bookings:   (08) 8375 6855

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