Moya-Simpson-in-Finale-photo-by-Shelley-HiggsIt’s rarely, if ever, a good idea for an author to direct their own work. Primarily because the director’s role is to translate the author’s vision for the audience and eliminate impediments likely to distract the audience from the journey the author has set for them.

It is clear that a lot of time and talent has been lavished on this production, but whatever Tracy Bourne, the author, was trying to say with her play, it seems to have been lost among the surfeit of distracting embellishments felt necessary by Tracy Bourne, the director.

Although promoted as “a wild and funny dream – cabaret about love, death and telling the truth”, the actuality felt like a harrowing play with music, about the mental breakdown of an apparently successful, cabaret Performer, who appears to suffer this breakdown while trying to perform her cabaret act.

In the course of her breakdown the Performer continually embarrasses her colleagues, Pianist (John Black) and Percussion (Jonathan “Jonesy” Jones), as well as her audience, by continually interrupting them and insisting that they perform menial tasks for her.

Songs are usually chosen to inform the action, but from the way they’re performed in this show, it’s never clear if the songs sung by the Performer are meant to be part of her act, or a comment on her mental state.

The show begins with a song by the Gibbs brothers, I Started a Joke then followed by a deliberately poorly performed version of Leiber and Stoller’s Is That All There Is? The presumption created that these songs were part of the Performer’s repertoire.

But then the song choices got darker. I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive (Fred Rose and Hank Williams), Tom Wait’s satirical, God’s Away on Business, and Morris Bailey Jnr’s Go to Hell suggesting that these were clues to the Performers mental state.

Further confusion was created when for some unexplained reason the Performer harangued the audience into reluctantly moving to the other side of the room, to watch while she appears to slip into dementia singing, I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free (Taylor and Dallas), and The Mercy Seat (Nick Cave and Mick Harvey).

But then she recovers and bravely determined to finish her show on an optimistic note, bursts into Amanda Palmer’s Sing, demanding that the audience join her in singing the chorus. Recognising that they’re unlikely to be released unless they humour her, they complied, some even managing an ovation.

While it seemed an interesting choice to cast Moya Simpson, one of the regions most accomplished cabaret performers, as the Performer, Simpson has built up a such a formidable personal following over the years, that when the director incorporated many of Simpson’s mannerisms into the character of the Performer, it became difficult to differentiate between the actor and the character.

So while admiring Simpson’s brave attempt to create a believable character, her efforts were consistently thwarted by curious directorial decisions, unflattering costumes and generally messy design making it difficult to accept the premise that the Performer had ever been a successful cabaret artist.

So far from being a wild and funny dream, Finale became a rather sad and dispiriting experience.

Ainslie Arts Centre, Ainslie Avenue, Canberra
Performance: Thursday 13 July 2023
Season continues to 15 July 2023
Information and Bookings:

Image: Moya Simpson in Finale – photo by Shelley Higgs

Review: Bill Stephens OAM