Basing a show around your own life story is a well-worn ploy for stand-up comedians. It’s a somewhat more risky path for a cabaret artist however. Some are able to source songs which express their feelings and approximate their experiences.
Many singer/songwriters discover how to successfully write affecting songs to describe their emotions and perform them on stage. Amelia Ryan substitutes her own lyrics for those of well-known songs for her autobiographical cabaret which she has been presenting around Australia, in Edinburgh and New York since 2011.
Arriving on stage, wrapped in a large towel, Ryan co-opts two audience members to hold each end of the towel to provide a screen to mask her change into jeans and tee-shirt. Referring to herself as the bimbo from Bombo (the town in which she grew up), she performed a succession of songs for which she substituted her own lyrics to tell the story of her life, or as she referred to it, “the mess that was my 20’s”.
It’s certainly been an eventful life, growing up in a family that included a gay father, his transgender partner and a mother whose noisy love-making she listened to through the walls of their adjoining bedrooms.
Mark Knofler’s Private Dancer became the story of her experiences working as a stripper, (or “crappy lappy”), to pay for her studies at the VCA. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s My Favourite Things became My Piece of Shit Car to tell how she crashed her brown Mazda 626. An attack of Urinary Tract Infection while touring with Theatre in Education provided the inspiration for I Left My Mike On To Pee.
Had her lyrics been cleverly crafted, these songs might have been amusing. But for the most part they were uninspired and clumsily shoe-horned into the tunes. Shrill patter, delivered in a charmless stand-up style, and irrelevant, time-wasting business coercing embarrassed audience “volunteers” on to the stage to become unwilling props for a parodied version of Kander and Ebb’s Cell Block Tango proved so distracting that many of the lyrics became unintelligible, making it difficult to care about her predicaments.
Only a couple of ballads occurring late in the program, hinted at why this show had been successful in winning awards at the 2012 Sydney Fringe, the 2012 Australian Cabaret showcase, and the 2014 Adelaide Fringe.
Amelia Ryan is A Storm in a D Cup
Teatro Vivaldi – ANU Arts Centre, University Avenue, Canberra
Performance: Saturday 14 May 2016
Image: Amelia Ryan
Review: Bill Stephens