Vaudeville alive

Noel Purdon

Sue Broadway, Jeff Turpin

Sue Broadway, Jeff Turpin

Having already revealed her circus talents in the Lunar Tent at the Garden of Earthly Delights, Sue Broadway, one of the founding members of the internationally celebrated Circus Oz, now takes us back through the generations of her vaudeville family. The show is part tribute and part parody. As her great-great-aunt Elsie used to say: “A mistake is an opportunity.” There are lots of those, and lots of manifestations of the versatile ancestor appearing as the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and tripling as Miss Muffet, the spider and the tuffet.

Elsie, Australia’s own Lola Montez, shone during the Gold Rush days of Bendigo, and in a variety of tights, boots and unusual corsetry, Broadway makes her entrances and strikes an attitude. Here we have an elaborately laced Black Swan drowning in her crinoline to the strains of Tchaikovsky, only to emerge from a tent metamorphosed into a saucy little beach-belle. Jeff Turpin plays straight man, or in this case horse, to her increasingly outrageous antics. She balances peacock feathers on her nose, makes her belly do awful things and starts the juggling acts and ‘object manipulations’ which are the show’s core.

But it’s when she strides on as a horned Valkyrie with a few additions from Oxford Street that schoolchildren, sober matrons and scribbling critics howl with laughter, a collective fit only increased by the appearance of Jeff in similar gear styled for gents. Together they make wicked music on their steel naughty bits, Sue teasingly tickling a tin breast to make it chime, and Jeff innocently experimenting with the number of cones he can remove from his phallus until they fly though the air and get a good juggling. The combination of Mozart and Fellini produces lovely echoes of Papageno and Giulietta degli Spiriti. It also reminds us just how vital the tradition of music hall has been. The stage set, a lush little affair of red velvet curtains and peacock feathers, readily adapts into a screen on which other great vaudevilleans strut their stuff. George Wallace does his celebrated falling dance. Roy Rene crashes Society. Little Tich performs his marvellous leaning routines, and Broadway demonstrates how he did it with his special shoes. Slides of her own family on the road also blazon out the trademark name, besides alluding gently to personal pains and cute little mothers with bobbed hair.

The penultimate act is a tearjerker from another dimension, where primly costumed housewives pour themselves tea from pots, saucers and cups on the head, predictably ending up with brown liquid pouring in a fountain-effect over the face. The slightly miffed performer consoled herself by taking no chances with the sugar bowl. I’d say she got in at least 2 lumps before politely offering iced vovos to the audience. The WOW FINISH deserved its name, with both performers animating the whole stage with spinning plates, flying clubs, magic dishes and their pure Variety.

Sue Broadway & Jeff Turpin, Eccentric Acts, The Union, The Hub, Adelaide Fringe 2002, February 22 – March 16

RealTime issue #48 April-May 2002 pg. 8

© Noel Purdon; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2002