April 24, 2015

Burlesque centrestage in the moving tale of Joseph and Josephine


Madame : The Story of Joseph Farrugia
Creators/directors Ross Ganf, Ingrid Weisfelt and Vincent Crowley
Vitalstatistix, with State Theatre Company and Torque Show.
Burnside Ballroom, Portrush Road, Adelaide.
April 22. Tickets $ 25 – $ 35.
Bookings: BASS 131 246,
Until May 2.
Duration : 70 minutes.

When Torque Show director, Ross Ganf, first interviewed Joseph Farrugia, owner-manager of Adelaide’s Crazy Horse burlesque club, he wanted to make a show about the strip industry. “I was fascinated by the sale of fantasy as a theatrical conceit between a client and a dancer.” But almost immediately he realized that his project was not going to be a collage of the skin trade, but a study of Joseph himself.

Here was the mother lode. An Egyptian refugee from the Nasser regime, Farrugia came to Australia as a schoolboy, determined to make his way, and quietly fearless in his assertion of his sexual transgression. Ganf’s interviews, conducted over four years, provide rich material for this absorbing verbatim dance theatre work.

Shrewd, articulate, reserved but astonishingly candid, Joseph and his extravagant stage alter ego, Madame Josephine, embody the transformative paradoxes of theatre, as well as the resistant satire, gender power reversals and emotional poignancy of burlesque. Joseph also charts the near extinction of glitzy variety as the Crazy Horse Revue morphs, in a mere decade, from risqué glamour to the grindhouse table dancing and “hardcore gymnastics” of 1990’s porn.

Set and lighting designer, Geoff Cobham has decked the spacious Burnside Ballroom with strips of gold foil and the large video projection screen on the stage resembles a backstage mirror surrounded by coloured bulbs.
The three excellent performers briskly move the narrative between them like a baton. The representations are fluid and interchangeable; Trevor Stuart presents older Joseph, the bookkeeper and stage manager, Chris Scherer vividly recreates the socially discrepant schoolboy determined, like Scarlett O’Hara, to amount to something, and Kialea-Nadine Williams brings extraordinary presence to the imperious, provocative and coquettish Madame Josephine.

Directed by former Meryl Tankard dancers, Ingrid Weisfelt and Vincemt Crowley, the movement is intriguingly mannered and stylized. Exaggerated hand gestures accompany the naturalistic narrative, often one performer lip-syncs another – in the case of Williams, re-gendering her with a deeper male voice. Each of these strategies shifts the audience off its axis, dislodging expectations and creating a warp in the documentary realism.

Madame is also a terrific entertainment. Boisterous and gaudy at times, reflective and moving at others. The production makes no bones about the intrinsic sexism of the Crazy Horse but doesn’t editorialise either. Joseph and Josephine are allowed to speak for themselves. Joseph describes his chorus girls as little bees making him honey. His shows, he insists, were lavish and tasteful. He himself “battered” his body with hormone treatments for nearly 20 years. But, he declares on behalf of all theatre, “I looked fabulous onstage.”

Murray Bramwell

“Burlesque centrestage in the moving tale of Joseph and Josephine”, The Australian, April 24, 2015, p.14.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment