Review: Future. Joy. Club., Finucane & Smith
The theatre of the occasion starts with a selfie-seat at the foot of the staircase: floral garlands, red backcloth and a teal throne complete with hand-held mirror ball. We’re all posting on our socials even before we enter.
Then it is up the stairs to the red carpet and a delightfully dinky ticket box – also draped in red – flanked by cast members and ushers who greet us like long lost friends and guide us to our tables in the dim, candlelit room.
At one end, a beautiful proscenium arch stage has been erected with a gold backdrop, red sashed curtains, candelabra-style lights and a catwalk thrusting into the auditorium where more members of the cast are mingling.
On any other night, this would be the La Trobe Ballroom in the Sofitel Melbourne Hotel at the Paris end of Collins Street. Tonight, it is Finucane & Smith’s Future. Joy. Club.
Dedication to the audience
Performer/writer/director Moira Finucane and writer/director Jackie Smith first joined forces as Finucane & Smith to present The Burlesque Hour in 2004.
Their work valorizes burlesque, vaudeville and variety entertainment, injecting them with sharp, witty and often confrontational political and social provocations, drawing together an exceptionally talented and diverse family of performing artists.
The line between that show and this is marked by numerous works in venues as wildly different as 45 Downstairs, the Spiegeltent at Luna Park, and the Hares & Hyenas bookshop.
At the heart of each of their productions is the company’s dedication to the experience of each member of their audience, a generosity of spirit even more evident in Future. Joy. Club.
Re-engaging with the audience experience – especially one as visceral as this – is at the heart of Finucane’s opening monologue, underscored by the wonderful Rachel Lewindon at the grand piano playing a version of Cabaret’s “Willkommen,” evoking an era somewhere between silent movies and 1940s Hollywood nightclubs.
Finucane reminds us of what we’ve all shared over the past two years and reaffirms we must never forget how central to our culture and humanity our artists are.
Mama Alto gives us a haunting version of the Roberta Flack hit “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” Indie-pop singer-songwriter Sophie Koh’s interpretation of Radiohead’s “Creep” is hypnotic.
Jazida – a captivating stripteaser, fan dancer and fire artist – delivers a remarkable lightshow embedded in her fans. The graceful, elegant gestural movements of classical Indian dancer Govind Pillai embody the term “boylesque”.
Statuesque in a red satin gown, “tradie by day, drag queen by night” Iva Rosebud strips back to a gold corset, then a strip of black tape, then nothing at all. Soulful Ngarluma jazz and blues singer Lois Olney and guitarist Dave Johnson round out the night with a languid rendition of George Gershwin’s “Summertime.”
Even the stage management of this show is entertaining, predominantly handled by Monkey (aka acrobat Kathryn Niesche, complete with articulated tail) who scoots around the stage setting up and clearing away – but she’s not alone. The precision mechanics of the show are equally shared by all members of the cast.
There’s a tendency when writing about theatre like this to start a sentence with the words “the highlight of the night was …”. No such sentence would be appropriate here. No one performance outshines another, in this finely plotted progression through emotions.
In one moment the room is in tears as Olney sings a song inspired by her brothers’ deaths in custody. The next moment, there is laughter and applause as Finucane invents an extemporized story created from audience prompts (in this case the words nadir, darling and manifesto) against the three minutes of sand flowing in an egg timer held by Mama Alto.
Future. Joy. Club. is a celebration of the body, of the voice, of diversity, of fluidity, of inclusion, of what happens when we all come together to share the performance experience.
In the program, Finucane is credited as “club host and chief alchemiser.” It is an apt description. The alchemy of this family of artists, designers and technicians promotes an optimism for how we can be better with each other in the way we are in the world. It creates a joy more than the sum of its parts.
Perhaps the positivity and optimism exuding from this show could be the future we all embrace.
The joy, however, is firmly in the present.
Future. Joy. Club. is at the Sofitel Melbourne on Collins until August 7.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.