fringe: tommy bradson - pirate rhapsody, mermaid requiem

pirate rhapsody, mermaid requiemI'm not sure whether Tommy Bradson is getting enough therapy... or if his show, Pirate Rhapsody, Mermaid Requiem IS his therapy...

But either way, it's a very loud, very profane, very vulgar, very odd and very bisected show.

And I'm not completely sure if I mean that in a good way or not.

I couldn't help compare the show with Kim Smith from last year's Cabaret Festival... both acts have a highly theatrical façade, but whereas Smith always felt like he was completely in control of both the façade, Bradson tends to feel very out of control.

The first half of the show is the Pirate Rhapsody. Tommy is already on stage in full pirate gear as the show opens, fake wooden leg and all... and glares at everyone as they file in and take their seats. Actually he wavers between glaring and big, overly wide, crazy eyes... well, eye... he is wearing the patch. And then he seems surprised that nobody wants to sit in the first row.

And my advice for the whole show is that unless you enjoy audience participation, don't sit in the first three or four rows and don't sit near the aisle. I'm just saying, especially since I ended up with my face pressed against bare pirate stomach at one point (not an unpleasant experience though).

The pirate character is a cross between a drunk, angry rockstar and a... well, a crazy, drunk Irishman I guess... his speech is occasionally difficult to understand, especially some of the lyrics to some of the songs when he gets to yelling (and to be honest, I'm not completely sure why he even needed a microphone and speakers in there, the venue is so small it could easily have been done "unplugged").

After the pirate storms off stage, and actually completely out of the venue (again, it's the size thing), we watched a little pre-recorded piece on a small monitor on top of the speaker stack that featured both the pirate and mermaid in a backstage dressing room, as though they were two different people.

When the Mermaid Requiem begins, out she comes complete with big blue sequinned tail, a red wig and an empty brassiere, and seems much more calm and less prone to four letter outbursts than the pirate... but the longer she's up there the more manic she becomes.

To be honest, I preferred the mermaid to the pirate... while she ends up just about as manic, she seems less volatile somehow.

And the finale is incredibly weird... the mermaid dies (possibly of a broken heart or a lack of love, I'm really not sure) and flops onto the stage and Tommy never gets up to take his bow... the two musicians (who are both excellent) who are with him take their bows, but the audience is left in the somewhat unsettling position of filing out and leaving this (clearly breathing but playing dead) body on the stage.

Very, very, very peculiar.

All of which says a lot about the theatrics around the act, but in essence it's a cabaret act, so I really should talk about the singing.

As a singer, Bradson is quite good, although a lot of the theatrics get in the way of the performance at times I think... and as I said before, sometimes it's hard to tell what he's actually singing.

But if I'm being completely honest, it's not really the singing that is staying with me... I don't think I could recall a single song from the whole show... and I'm not sure that's a good thing.

It's all a little too raw and unhinged for my liking.

Current Mood:


Anonymous said...

You can either eat my soul as I hand it to you, or spit it out. I'm not gonna give you what you think you want. I'm gonna give you what you deserve.

awill said...

Dear Yani,

I am going to disagree whole-heartedly with your review, while fully appreciating the fact you both view theater and review it - always a double plus! So, thank you.

Additionally, I'm completely aware that it is always easier to leave a comment than it is to craft the original that creates the inspiration. Especially since you, like most of us in the arts, are unlikely to gain any kind of monetary benefit from the endeavor.

Also, any audience's experience is sacrosanct, I believe, so if you did not enjoy the show to the same degree as me, fair enough and good on ya.

Having said that, I have two quibbles with just one portion of your piece.

Quibble 1: I'm never a fan of a review that gives away all of the narrative's moments/actions/high points etc., particularly the ending. Especially considering you called the finale 'peculiar'x3, it would have been kinder to leave out the blow-by-blow details, just in-case one of your readers might have found it extraordinarily innovative, surprising and/or moving to discover it for themselves? Or, in other words, 'Spoilers, Sweetie...'

Quibble 2: Harping on the same comment, I do wonder whether you are familiar with the original tale according to Hans Christian Andersen. If not, let me assure you: I found Bradson's alter-egos to be shocking, uncomfortable and confronting, while clearly delivering a tour-de-force of acting/singing prowess. What he does and to the degree of fearlessness I experienced the other night ain't easy.

I fully understand that an audience might even feel cheated by the fact we couldn't applaud him and make a nice, tidy end of the experience so that we can wander away and sample someone-else's festival/fringe/cabaret wares.

For me, however and my view of the 'peculiar' final moments: the 'exits' of both his characters are verbatim Andersen. Both the sailor and the siren give us a visceral, real-time experience/demonstration of exactly what their choices lead them to do - be it fleeing as a coward, or choosing death. And I felt just as gutted at the end of this event as at the end of reading the original. Which, I believe, was the point.

And I'm still musing about the experience, so I guess that says something...

Feel free, of course, to disagree.


yani said...

Thanks for your feedback Awill.

Normally I'm very stringent about spoilers (more so when it comes to movies), but the way the show ended was so integral to my reaction to it that I don't feel like it wouldn't have been right to leave it out.

And honestly, this was my gut reaction to the show, and at the time I didn't even think about spoilers.

I really don't want to spend much more thought on the show since it wasn't an experience I want to revisit, however I will say that I'm often bothered by the notion of "oh, if you know X, then..." when it comes to theatre.

I don't want to have to know the back story or the history or even to know a performers back catalogue to enjoy a particular show. I should be able to pay my money, sit down and enjoy only what is presented to me. Yes, if I happen to know X or Y then the experience will be richer, but not knowing that shouldn't diminish my enjoyment.

But I will agree with you that I also found Bradson's portrayal uncomfortable. However that isn't a positive to me. I would much prefer to be moved (to laughter, to tears, to anger) than to be made to feel uncomfortable.

Awill said...

And thank you so much for recommenting, Yani - that's just beyond cool.

Since you saw this performance five months ago and I saw it two nights ago, this conversation is actually quite unfair - I didn't register the date of your review when I responded first. The entire production may well have developed and morphed away from what it was you experienced, for that matter, and we may be talking about two quite different events - so I apologise for that.

I fully 'get' your suggestion that to rely on an assumption of agreed cultural narratives/references is unfair to an audience. I could argue that most if not all productions have some assumptions of cultural knowledge/capital but it all still comes down to the fact that I quite enjoy being discomfited, puzzled and certainly challenged in a theater, which may well explain the divergence of our opinions.

I do have one question, though... Why be more stringent about spoilers when it comes to movies? That one's got me puzzled...

Cheers and thanks again,

yani said...

Like I said, the revealing of "spoilers" in this case wasn't intentional, I just never thought about it when I was writing the review.

Anonymous said...

I really never, never do this. Really. But... "Normally I'm very stringent about spoilers (more so when it comes to movies)". Taking the actual show out of the equation, I really have to ask, "Why be more stringent about spoilers when it comes to movies?"

And I really did agonize about this one and was tempted to just send a generic 'ta for the reply' (which may be generic but is fully heart-felt...I promise)

Awill said...

eep... that was Awill above... I hit either shift, return or both at the same time... Sheesh!


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