Dark and deadly carnival
By Christine Moffat
Bella de Freak is half carnival freak show, half murder-mystery, set in the early 1930’s in the fictional country of Scalvadoor. This dark hybrid of a play begins by introducing the onstage identities of an interesting collection of characters, ranging from the darkly humorous clairvoyant Lucinda The Wise (Odette Crisp); to the chained, slobbering, and genuinely disturbing Wolf Man (Jack Goodwin).
By setting a drama about human relationships at a 1930’s traveling carnival, writer and co-director Nikki Develyn shows a real knack for creating a great premise. The first half is the ‘freak show’, with each character performing their act. Co-director James Seamark’s performance as Ringmaster Jack Jr moves expertly from amusing to attractive to creepy in just a few lines, and provides a strong backbone for the first half of the play.
The young cast creates a realistic carnival show, with fantastic singing from both Monica McDonald (as Bonnie Sinclair) and Nichola Jayne (as Margie Hope). Jack Goodwin is endearing in his second role of Nathan the Bold, the show’s comic relief strong man. Writer Develyn played Madam Eve, a flighty nature-lover and spiritualist: her French accent was unfortunately patchy, and distracted from an otherwise solid performance. Jacob Ryan Machin was the stand-out act as Jayco the creepy clown: the energy and menace of his song is amazing.
The second half of the play involves behind the scenes intrigue surrounding the sudden death of Jack Snr, the previous ringmaster. It contained numerous very short scenes changing over in the same set. It became confusing and difficult to understand where the action was supposed to be occurring, and to keep track of the plot. Unfortunately this was a much weaker section of the play, and it felt as if the energy was sapped from the show and the audience.
When the play also ran an hour over time, it seemed mainly due to the constant scene change overs, and prompted this reviewer to consider the entire structure of the work. Perhaps if more of the stage was used, separate areas could be set up to establish clearer zones for each character’s trailer. Moreover, if the two halves of the play could be combined, with backstage scenes being interspersed with the carnival show, it would potentially keep the energy, whilst also speeding up the mechanics of the staging.
These problems aside, Amber LOLipop is a fresh, unique theatre company pursuing good ideas with great energy and deserve to be supported while they experiment and grow.
Bella Du Freak was performed from Oct 17 – 19, 2013 at the Malthouse Theatre, 113 Sturt St Southbank.