Welcome to The Masque
Genevieve Lemon is our unsung National Treasure. There is very little she cannot do. People who know her from TV shows like Prisoner know she is a fine comic talent. If you’ve seen the film Sweetie you’ll see her amazing range as a film actress, and who could forget her great performance on stage in Billy Elliot. So it’s a genuine delight that Riverside Parramatta provides a great venue for the return of cabaret at a time when we are starved of live entertainment and that feeling of connection between audience and performer which cabaret cultivates more than any other performance genre.
This is the perfect setting for Genevieve. She’s in great voice as she takes to the stage, in front of a live audience (suitably distanced), initially dressed as a bag lady forced to wear a plastic bag as a mask. She takes us through a series of masks and wigs and really nails such songs as “Friends”, “Sophisticated Lady”, Joni Mitchell’s “The River” and even slays Sia’s “Chandelier”, a monster song. She’s open and generous with the audience of friends (though too many ‘in-jokes’ exclude the at-home audience), and has a fabulous, easy rapport with Max Lambert - who specialises in this kind of show - though he’s more involved directly than in Queenie Van de Zandt’s excellent Blue of last year. In short Genevieve is a natural and spontaneous delight, and perfect to spend an hour with.
BUT - and it’s a big one - the show itself is a bit of a mess, which is a shame given the many months of lockdown which could have been spent on development. The idea of masks - both literal and metaphorical - is a great one, but it’s barely developed, just thrown away with a line here and there, so it never provides a narrative, or a real hook for the show. Dialogue meanders between podcasts and baking in a stream of consciousness way that is disconnected to the title.
The order of the songs seems to be haphazard, so the show never builds, it relies solely on Lemmon’s charm. With a bit of work on some form of script that pushes the central theme and ties it all together, this could be a little gem. For example the order of the first and last songs, “Friends” and “Going Back to Cabaret”, screams to be reversed. Since this IS Cabaret why not start with the song that explains why you’re going back to it – and then hook that to the fact that in Cabaret you don’t need a mask - what you see is what you get, especially in Gen’s case. Then end with “Friends”, because you’ve made so many new ones during the performance that you’ll never need to wear a mask in front of - as long as we social distance right now. It’s the little things like pace and professionalism that make cabaret APPEAR spontaneous and delightful. I know this is a one off, but there is a little gem hidden in here somewhere and I would love to see it.
Props to Riverside for the open running chat and comments for the audience at home, and to Genevieve for being her usual wonderfully warm and talented self.