Melbourne Cabaret Fringe: Ljubicica – Wild Violet

Ljubicica-Wild-Violet Josipa DraismaLjubicica (Lyu-bi-chit-za), the Croatian wild violet, is a beloved symbol of rural Croatian life for Ivica, a small child growing up sometime early in the reign of Tito, first President of Yugoslavia. Her story of migration to Australia in Ljubicica — Wild Violet is based on that of the real Ivica, mother of lead performer Josipa Draisma.

The promotional material for Ljubicica, creates anticipation of a sombre tale of hardship. Surprisingly, there’s more diverse emotions than I expected in this very well-performed cabaret, written and directed by Melita Rowston (seen recently in 6 Degrees of Ned Kelly at various Australian Fringes). In fact, because of its shared theme and quality, Ljubicica could be thought of as a lower-budget version of Taxithi – that’s Croatian and played more for laughs.

The basis for the story comes to us from Rowston’s discussions with mother Ivica. Generally the tale is quite well put together, and the songs are appropriately placed in the storytelling. However, the script could do more to share insider knowledge and inform us on the background conditions. I didn’t have a clear idea of when the action was taking place.

To those of us with little specific knowledge of Tito, his role in the formation of the socialist “second Yugoslavia”, and what followed, we can’t appreciate what it was like to live there. As a result, we can only guess at the reasons for the migration of Ivica’s father, which costs the piece some dramatic impetus.

Another matter that could be refined is the marking of which point of view is being used to tell the story. We started on this well. After a little introduction, Draisma tied a floral scarf around her waist, and proceeded to tell Ivica’s story. However, at some times in the telling, Draisma took a break from Mum’s story to have an interlude from her own viewpoint.

Finally, the scarf was shed and Draisma provided our conclusion. A little more thought on the use of the scarf device would guide the audience more smoothly into and out of Ivica’s experience. This would eliminate a slightly jarring need to work out who is speaking to us at times.

These matters are pretty minor, and I mention them because by buffing out some distractions, Ljubicica might forge a stronger connection with its audience. I suspect this would result in more reward for its stirring musical performances. And they are very good performances. In her confident rendition of the Gypsy tunes, Draisma’s voice evokes her family’s coastal village origins, embodying the grit of the soil and the restlessness of the waves. She also shows a talent for recreating a child-like state.

In a supporting role, sister Mara Knezevic enhances songs with harmonies, as well as adding a manic energy to some of the pair’s more humorous moments. Michael O’Donnell on violin and viola with Crystal Moloney on accordion, flute and guitar provide a recognisable Gypsy sound that ranges from the soulful to the playful, in a quality selection of musical offerings.

I often feel quite disappointed for the performers when a worthwhile show has a smallish audience, as happened on this review night. Ljubicica Wild Violet is an often amusing and uplifting tale that deserves support from lovers of cabaret or music. The Cabaret Fringe finishes this weekend (Sunday 26 June), so if you haven’t been to anything yet, think about this: Ivica came to Australia by boat, can’t you manage to get to The Butterfly Club?

Melbourne Cabaret Fringe:  Ljubicica – Wild Violet
The Butterfly Club, 5 Carson Place, Melbourne
Performance: Wednesday 22 June 2016 – 8:30pm
Season continues to Saturday 25 June 2016
Bookings: www.melbournecabaret.com or www.thebutterflyclub.com

For more information, visit: www.josipadraisma.com for details.

Image: Josipa Draisma in Ljubicica – Wild Violet

Review: Jason Whyte

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