Cabaret gives performers license to tell personal stories. This is certainly the case for Daniel Tobias in his much-toured solo show The Orchid and the Crow. This 2015 Green Room Award winner for Cabaret (Writing) tells his story of what happened after a diagnosis of stage four testicular cancer; “stage five is death”.
An inner-city atheist musician, Tobias revealed how disease redirected his life and expectations. There’s no pity party going on here though. Good music and doses of timely comedy make this a positive and enormously enjoyable show.
We might expect The Orchid and the Crow to be a quality outing on seeing those involved in the production. Songs are by the award-winning writers for Die Roten Punkte; Tobias, Clare Bartholomew, and John Thorne. These range from in-your-face Rock as you would expect of this lineage, to something more like a show tune you could imagine Mel Brooks writing.
The efforts of Dramaturg, Casey Bennetto (Keating! The Musical) and Script Consultant, comedian from the more caliginous end of stand-up David Quirke, give just enough depth on the condition and the demands of its treatment so we are clear on the severity of the situation. The piece never lingered here long enough to become maudlin, with some surprising revelations used to lighten the mood.
Director Christian Leavesley guides the work lightly across the trials of a treatment cycle. Hospital scenes sometimes became musical comedic relief, as our subject shows himself to be an awkwardly goofy human when not being in his musical front-man comfort zone. Scenes when Tobias constructs his own framework for bargaining with a higher power achieve a memorably uncommon balance between the dramatic and the comedic.
Maybe I would have liked a little introduction to Tobias’ adulthood pre-diagnosis to better appreciate how his philosophy of life changed through his cancer experience. And, maybe the Crow of the title might be something of a contrivance. I make these comments because I’m trying really hard to not be a total fanboy about this work. From his cheeky charm in musician mode to his quiet humility when talking about his family history, Tobias is a compelling figure in a well-told tale.
The Orchid and the Crow is a rare type of show, one that makes you want to sit and bask in what you have just experienced. Modern treatments frequently give patients a second chance. Audiences get this much less often when it comes to seeing independent productions. Grab this one with both hands.
Creator / Performer: Daniel Tobias Director: Christian Leavesley Dramaturg: Casey Bennetto Script consultant: David Quirk Script Editor: Nicola Gunn Songs: Daniel Tobias and Clare Bartholomew with John Thorn, Jherek Bischoff, Casey Bennetto Back up vocals: Talei Wolfgramm Violin: Ernie Gruner Sound production: Ben Hense Lighting design: Lisa Mibus Props: Tirese Ballard Choreography: Bec Reid Illustrations: Sarah Beetson Animation: Darcy McFall
The Orchid and the Crow
Theatre Works, 14 Acland Street, St. Kilda
Performance: Wednesday 4 May 2016 – 8.00pm
Season continues to 15 May 2016
Bookings: (03) 9534 3388 or online at: www.theatreworks.org.au
Image: Daniel Tobias in The Orchid and the Crow – photo by Andrew Wuttke
Review: Jason Whyte