Emma Clair Ford @ La Bohème
4:30pm, Sat 10 Mar 2012
After remembering her name from nominations for Best Cabaret in 2011’s Fringe Awards, a cheeky matinée guaranteed that Emma Clair Ford saw me squeezing into La Bohème this Saturday arvo. Of course, matinées and La Bohème kinda feel like strangers – they’re almost at odds with each other, and it’s as if the venue doesn’t really know what to do with sunlight. But it’s a nearly full house, the weather’s moderated enough to afford a glass of red, and I’m looking forward to see what Ms Ford has to offer.
What she brings to the table is a largely autobiographical tale in which she recounts the significant events of her (relatively) short life so far. The early years are really endearing, as Ford paints a beautiful picture of the forest in which her family spent her younger years, and of the learning experience from releasing her beloved pet rabbit back into the wild – rather than make its quick death a dubious and potentially tasteless episode, she finds a way to craft a bittersweet narrative through that chapter of her life.
Growing up, there’s all the blossoming and heartbreak that’s associated with young womanhood, then the travel and having her eyes opened by The World. Throughout, Ford is constantly second-guessing herself, and struggling to figure out what makes her special; how she will make her mark.
But, having seen her perform, it’s pretty easy to see what makes Emma Clair Ford special: she’s a wonderful stage presence, at once open and giving and mysterious and cheeky. Despite the somewhat familiar life-until-now core of the show, the manner in which she weaves the narrative through the verses and choruses of her songs (in particular, Six Months in a Leaky Boat and The Boy in the Bubble) is a real delight.
And her singing… gorgeous. Clear, unfettered tones sweep you away, and her storytelling manner is spot-on. Pacing, volume variation, everything. Ford also had lovely piano accompaniment, consciously softening when she drops into narration; but I reckon I missed the best that her lighting would’ve conveyed. In the dark of night, I think the right lighting cues could’ve added a bit to the theatre of her production, but as La Bohème battled with the afternoon sun some of the effects were lost.
But that’s totally my fault for trying to squeeze in the matinée. And it most certainly didn’t take anything away from the performance: Ford is, most definitely, an incredibly talented cabaret artist, and I’m pretty bloody certain I’ll be grabbing a night-time session next time she’s in town… I reckon her combination of story and song will be magical on an inky evening.