Although he has directed several celebrated films, including the cult classic Shortbus, and Rabbit Hole, which earned Nicole Kidman an Academy Award nomination for her performance, with another Kidman flick, How to Talk to Girls at Parties, about to be released, it is clearly his rock-punk creation, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the film he wrote, directed and starred in, and its Broadway iteration which garnered him two Tony Awards, that is closest to his heart.
Most of his cabaret show, The Origin of Love, was devoted to stories about the creation of Hedwig, together with songs from the show, and musings as his character Hedwig, with very little reference to his other body of work. Wearing the Hedwig wig, and an extraordinary piece of wearable art created by Erik Bergin, Mitchell made his entrance to the strains of Advance Australia Fair.
Unfortunately he miss-timed this entrance, which seemed to unsettle him. He also appeared uncomfortable in his costume, most of which he discarded, piece by piece, as the performance progressed. Unusually, he read from a script positioned beside the microphone, which he appeared to be editing as he went, throwing unwanted pages casually over his shoulder.
Some local references and philosophical musings peppered the scripted sections, and from time to time he broke away from the script to share an apparently spontaneous comment with the audience. He frequently assured his audience that he was excited to be in their presence, but his body-language signaled otherwise. Perhaps it was nerves, this being the first performance of the show since the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, with appearances at the Sydney Opera House, Hamer Hall in Melbourne, and QPAC in Brisbane still to come.
Whatever the reason, it was hard to escape the feeling that despite flashes of forced exuberance, the show felt as if it were drifting perilously. Even Amber Martin and the bemused backing band, led by Andrew Worboys, appeared caught off-guard when Mitchell introduced songs in a different order than they had obviously expected.
No surprise that Mitchell has a fine voice, and an engaging stage presence. He certainly seemed most comfortable singing songs from Hedwig and the Angry Inch. His renditions of Tear Me Down, Sugar Daddy, The Long Grift, Wicked Little Town and Midnight Radio, all had the expected stamp of authenticity.
However, there was no escaping that feeling that perhaps he had out-grown these songs and the cliché rock’n roll cavorting required for their presentation, and would have been much happier simply sitting on the front of the stage, singing and sharing stories with the audience.
About three quarters into the show he threw the script away, and with it, any semblance of structure, so that show became a rather forced, and surprisingly conservative, rock ‘n roll concert, which though enjoyable, was not quite as long, as polished or as anarchic as some fans seem to have been expecting.
John Cameron Mitchell: The Origin of Love
The Playhouse – Canberra Theatre Centre, London Circuit, Canberra
Performance: Wednesday 4 July 2018
Image: John Cameron Mitchell – photo by Matthew Placek
Review: Bill Stephens OAM