On paper this sounded like a good fit for the Hayes Theatre – a two woman musical about the notorious 20th century female criminals Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh, who ran rival gangs in the streets of East Sydney, near where the performance is taking place.
Between them they committed a long shopping list of crimes including slashing a man in a barber shop, selling sly grog, running brothels and selling cocaine.
They spent time in jail for various deeds but managed to avoid long stints in the clink. Tilly once shot a man and was charged with attempted manslaughter, but she got off because they later got married and he refused to testify.
The two stars did some very heavy lifting in this production. Both Amelia Cormack (as Tilly) and Debora Krizak (as Kate) gave sparkling performances and deserved the highest praise for making the most out of the musical which was being staged only for the second time.
Remarkably Razorhurst was commissioned by a small professional theatre company in New Jersey. Whilst a musical about gangsters is not a new idea in America, the gender and nationality of the criminals would have been a curiosity in the US.
The structure of the musical was episodic - with the characters flashing back to events in their notorious lives. They looked sensational - Tilly with glorious curls, whilst Kate was suitably bruised and brooding. The setting was a saloon bar filled with a pianist, period lamplights, striking moody lighting and occasional flashes of red.
The production opened with a promising tune - The Worst Women in Sydney – which was reprised regularly. Sadly the musical did not offer much light to the shade. It took a full fifty minutes for some humour to dampen the desert of squabbling, scowling and threats with razor blades.
By then it was too late to rescue what was becoming a grim night.
Despite the valiant efforts of the actors there weren’t enough good tunes, or insights, to make this production live up to the potential of the story.
Photographer: John McRae