October 9, 2016
A frisson of electricity flickered around the newest incarnation of the Spiegeltent in anticipation of Saturday night’s performance. The poster child for the Arts Festival, this sell out show promised to be a riotous celebration of life, and did not disappoint. From the moment writer and leading lady Sheridan Harbridge took to the stage she fully possessed it. In her words, she wrested the fourth wall from the audience and was not about to give it back.
Critical Stages expertly weave the tale of the life and death of 19th century Parisian courtesan Marie Duplessis, from her humble beginnings as Alphonse, impoverished migrant, escaping the brutish reality of her abusive family, to the height of her influence, consorting with the greats of literature, music and nobility, to her final breaths, succumbing to consumption in a puff of red glitter and champagne.
Having announced her intention to thoroughly mess with the audience, Harbridge proceeded to barrel through boundaries with a vibrant cultural mash up of humour song and dance that gave way to the surprisingly touching at times. She was energetically supported by Simon Cornfield and Garth Holcombe, who played fast and loose with gender and sexuality in their portrayal of the varied and colourful characters that surrounded Marie in life and death. It was a show that did not so much blur the lines of high and low art, as scribble all over them, obliquely referring to, among many, Nietzche and Oscar Wilde, Beyonce and Radiohead.
A word must be spared for the sumptuous and intimate space that was created on stage, and for the luxurious and sensuous costumes and props that elevated the performance to a truly immersive experience. But the real star of the show was Harbridge’s voice, both literally and figuratively. Provocative and authentic she flies in the face of judgement, leaving the audience breathless with laughter and awe.