Some performers are so playful, surprising, or damned funny that you’ll go to some trouble to see them whenever they pop up. Sarah Ward is one such talent, and her surprise hosting of the 2023 Melbourne Fringe launch tipped us off about her return. This is in the new experimental cabaret work Testing, Testing. One, Two. with collaborator Bec Matthews.
Whilst we might know Ward’s creations like the egotistical Yana Alana (lead singer of Tha Paranas), or of Queen Kong’s interstellar adventures, we often know far less about those behind the scenes. From her instruments, waiting under an old-style TV test pattern for Ward to appear and start the show, Matthews knows a bit about this, and shared some amusingly dry asides.
The thread connecting scenes might have been a little subtle if you’d been immersing yourself in, say, a Smashed Arvo. However, the gist here is that we can’t know if an idea works unless we put it to the test and let others see it. This might come with an amount of risk.
Ward has taken some risks in her time, and we had a summary of highlights here. Somehow I missed the era of the ScoMo “bum puppet”.
Given the ongoing failings of various governments, we expect various types of people, including artists, to play a role in holding our elected officials to account. That Ward’s critiques on social media should be scrubbed, along with anything ever produced by Yana Alana, without explanation, is quite shocking. It seems that when our democratic freedoms are tested, some voices are allowed to keep talking any amount of rubbish, whilst others are silenced.
Although there were heavy themes here, amongst her gifts, Ward doesn’t take herself too seriously, so light relief tended to arrive when needed. For example, Ward is fortunate to have Matthews on hand to pull her back from the brink of cabaret clichés.
There were other times when Ward and Matthews undercut our expectations, producing some laugh out loud moments. They were assisted in this by suitable scenes on a video screen. There was also snappy banter, eye-catching costumes (or a lack of them), and the kind of satirical songs with vocal grunt that Ward’s fans would hope for.
Audiences only had two chances to see this successful test of a new work. This is unfortunate, as surely more punters would have appreciated seeing it. Hopefully there will be other chances in the near future.
Also, congratulations to the So Soiree Garden for taking their own risks and assembling a diverse programme of provocative cabaret stalwarts and emerging talents.
Testing, Testing. One, Two.
The Ukiyo – Grattan Gardens, Corner Grattan and Greville Streets, Prahran
Performance: Sunday 22 October 2023
Season: 19 & 22 October 2023 (ended)
Image: Bec Matthews and Sarah Ward (supplied)
Review: Jason Whyte