Tommy Bradson – Sweet Sixteen or The Birthday Party Massacre [FringeTIX]
Better Bradley Productions @ The Garden of Unearthly Delights – The Campanile
8:45pm, Fri 15 Feb 2013
The crowd is looking pretty thin – which is to say, it’s looking like just me – and through the trees I can see lightning sparking in the distance; it feels like there could be rain. The Gardeners managing the Campanile seem to be getting the short end of the opening-night organisational stick, but they manage to conjure a sense of calmness from their lack of control, as flapping tents are tied down and venues secured.
The crowd swells to a whopping seven (including the two women who engaged me in shoe discussion – an easy way to get me talking, as they discovered), and when we’re let in The Campanile we encounter a table set up for a party: there’s bowls of cheese balls and packets of chips and cups and party poppers and hats and paper plates all laid out. Behind the table, on the stage, sat the band: keys, guitar, and the cutest drummer since Caroline Corr (alright… since Scandal‘s Rina Suzuki, though that’s a more obscure reference). And then out comes Tommy Bradson, garishly performing the role of June, mother of Lula… the girl for whom we are gathered at this party.
June is loud and brash and talks at a hundred words per second; with opening night acoustics and my wonky ears, it’s a bit hard to figure out exactly what’s going on at first, and before I knew it I was sitting at one end of the table, embodying Lula’s Uncle Dick, whose wife had just left him for a man of ethnic persuasion. I’m encouraged to practise my “surprise!” for Lula’s entrance in between June’s rapid-fire exposition; she soon leaves, however, and (as Bradson dips the mike while departing to avoid feedback) she is replaced by her (second? third?) husband, Gary: Lula’s step-father, emasculated but proud of his pork.
Gary is replaced by Lula’s boyfriend, who serenades one of the party-goers; there’s six seats at the party table, and one by one Bradson fills the places with other members of the audience, giving them roles in the family – the (uncharitably assigned) grandmother, Lula’s best friend, and a cousin and her new boyfriend. Bradson had written parts for six guests, but with seven in the audience he provided an extra seat and ad libbed some extra material. Lula herself finally appears (after another of Bradson’s costume changes), and we all yell “surprise!” and play the part; it’s a lot of fun, but Lula herself feels to be the weakest of the characters.
This performance of The Birthday Party Massacre really suffered from opening-night rust – the tech constantly needed prompting for audio insertions, and there were frequent dead bits when Bradson was off-stage and the band had finished playing their tune. But, with the entire audience sitting around the same table (sharing cheap wine and ultra-light beers from the inflatable tropical-island esky), we had tons of fun amongst ourselves – whether it was daring each other to eat the cheese bits, putting a party hat on the baby, or seeing how many party poppers we could arm ourselves with. And, to be honest, for the first twenty minutes I was convinced that this show was the product of a singular vision that I could not comprehend… but, by the end of the performance, I’d been won over.
Sweet Sixteen or The Birthday Party Massacre is a really fun piece of rock cabaret, performed by a flamboyant singer and a great band – but I say that having seen most of it from (essentially) the stage; I’ve no idea how entertaining it would have been for the majority in a full house. But it’s pretty hard to think negative thoughts about a show that had seven strangers unabashedly murdering a rendition of You Can’t Always Get What You Want to close out the show; suffice to say I had a blast.