REVIEW: Sophie Walsh-Harrington is HOT

In search of the sequel to success

By Bradley Storer

After her incredibly successful debut cabaret, The Damsel in Shining Armour (winner of Best Cabaret Adelaide Fringe 2011), Sophie Walsh-Harrington returns to Melbourne with her new show HOT. Crafting a follow-up is a massive task as Sophie herself is obviously aware – the first segment of HOT acts as both a funeral and exorcism of the success of Damsel, Sophie entering in mourning black, greeting individual audience members like attendees at a wake, brandishing her Fringe award in their faces.

Those coming expecting similar fare to Damsel should be forewarned: Sophie continuously informs the audience, via bullhorn, that ‘this is not a cabaret’. Instead we are taken through Sophie’s travails to leave behind her cabaret past and become a ‘serious’ artist, ranging from attempts at monologue, mime and in one particularly hilarious segment, political donkey-themed agitprop anthems. Songs fromartists such as Paloma Faith, Muse and Sia are scattered throughout the show with fragments popping up like bad habits.

Sophie nevertheless retains the goof-ballish but headstrong innocence that made Damsel such a joy, which here keeps the audience on side even as the show takes a more confusing turn. Her vocals have only increased in power, which makes one sad about the relative lack of songs in comparison to her previous work – but in a show which she repeatedly proclaims is not a cabaret, this makes sense.

The show’s major theme is a continuation from Damsel: the attempt to live an authentic life – in this case the struggle of artists to maintain artistic originality and legitimacy in the wake of enormous success. Sophie shamelessly parodies artistic self-indulgence as the show moves into the realm of ‘serious’ theatre. 

The culmination of this endeavour is a lengthy, ‘Animal Farm’-style play. Despite Sophie’s uproarious characterizations and comically expressive physicality, this section began to drag the further it went along – even though this links in with the overall thematic structure of the show, self-indulgence (whether real or simulated) is only funny for so long.

However at the climax of the show, the accumulated superficiality collapses in on itself as if by magic. Sophie seems to rise from the debris of the dissembled show like a phoenix, with a spontaneous rendition of Des’ree’s ‘Kissing You’ so powerful it held the audience completely spellbound. For this alone HOT is worth seeing, reiterating not only Sophie’s incredible skill as a cabaret artist but reassembling what has come before in the show into a true, electrifying moment of artistic rebirth.

HOT stands as a riotous examination of the downsides of creative success, in its own way as cunningly and cleverly structured (if not more so) as its predecessor, and, if the finale is anything to go by, promises even greater achievement and success for Sophie’s future. What is perhaps required is a bigger audience for this show to burn at its brightest.  

HOT plays at La Mama Theatre until March 4, 8:30pm Wed/Sun, 9:30pm Thur-Sat

Directed by Alex Wright, backing tracks performed and engineered by Jason Odle

Tickets: (03) 9347 6142 or www.lamama.com.au

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