Until 22 July
Drove into the city on Tuesday night to review a solo cabaret for the very first time at the famous cabaret venue The Butterfly Club, a one woman show called A Voice For Villains. When it comes to fairytales and literature in general, we are usually advised to take many things into account and two such cautions are that there are two sides to every story and that one should not to judge a book by its cover. The cabaret that was A Voice For Villains built itself upon both of these sayings as it dived in deep to the root of some of the greatest storybook villains in history and asked what if they got to tell their side of these classic tales and got to find their own happy ending after ever after. It may not be the first time this avenue has been explored as musicals like Wicked and Six and movies like Maleficent and Cruella have similarly expanded on this idea in the past, but it was the first time I had seen the concept on a more intimate level and in a metaphorical sense, up close and personal. Brilliant premises like these tend to be done either phenomenally or atrociously without any in between the two and I believe that A Voice For Villains falls into the former category as it gave an all new meaning to fractured fairytales and connected with the audience like no other exploration of this sort has done before.
The three principle creatives involved with A Voice For Villains were highly unique individuals as it was the first show I’ve seen with an all non-binary team and each of them had the opportunity to shine a light on their many talents in an empowering night that garnered them all titles of monarchy. First, we had Lui Lethbridge who directed the spectacle and their minimalistic yet majestic creative vision managed to set the scene in a fashion reminiscent of TED Talks and Anonymous meetings. This process established the purpose of the cabaret very early on as Lethbridge’s direction got the crowd to look closer at the characters we’ve been taught to despise since childhood, allowing us to visualise each respective story in our own way without having a picture painted scene by scene to decide their outcome for us. There is an old saying and I’ve never been the biggest fan of this one when they say that less is more but Lethbridge’s direction was one of the first examples of this method I’ve seen in theatre done right as it gave the cabaret its most magical and meaningful elements. Instead of a musical director, A Voice For Villains featured a sole accompanist on keys in the form of Lara O’Brien and every lyric and every melody heard throughout the night sounded sweeter with their delicate fingers casting a beautiful enchantment on our ears. O’Brien demonstrated their mastery on the piano by playing compositions from Andrew Lippa to Stephen Sondheim flawlessly enough to get the audience feeling every emotion in the book and influence our mood with each change in the story. No heavy theatrics were required for O’Brien to deliver a sensual and stimulating musical performance that held us spellbound in the palm of her hands from the first to the final note, adding to the plot’s overall bittersweet beauty.
While both of these lovely humans worked tirelessly to present the piece in their respective fields, it was all completed by the evening’s host performer and creator Stevie McKeon, who was instrumental in forming each story in a relatable manner to cement the ultimate audience bond. Whether they were sharing accounts of a formerly impoverished stepmother attempting to instill hard working values, a reluctant, closeted queen desperate to escape abuse and blackmail or a betrayed enchantress influenced to raise her one true love’s child as her own after being robbed of the chance, McKeon opened up many doors to discover the human element in characters dismissed as evil by the men who adapted their narratives, the real life origins of each main tale and the effect the protagonists have had on each antagonist’s legacy. Every portrayal saw McKeon bare their soul to the crowd so convincingly, it was as if they were recalling their own personal journey of what made them who they are today and resulted in a realistically raw performance that was resilient and resourceful and could influence an all new generation of women or anatomically female individuals to write their own destiny without literary prejudice.
A Voice For Villains gave a voice to not only the “villains” but to entire communities of people considered outcasts by the hetereonormative world we live in, whether they are female, queer, disabled, etcetera. Shows that highlight the importance of values such as getting to know and understand one another through the act of listening and accepting who you are warts and all are something our community needs more of and if this is what these three talented creatives are capable of bringing to life in a cabaret production, then imagine the impact they can have in a full blown play or musical. I eagerly anticipate what they all have to offer Melbourne’s amateur theatre circuit in their next endeavour as they continue to shape the future of theatre in the midst of the representation renaissance. Special shoutout to everyone associated with A Voice For Villains and if you love cabarets or The Butterfly Club, make sure you get your tickets while their season is in full swing, support the artists and support local theatre. Congratulations on such a fantastic start to your run, never lose your voice and continue looking closer.
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