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Review: Cry Baby at Festival Hub - Melbourne Fringe

Review by Thomas Gregory


Note: I swear I wasn’t paid for this review. I wouldn’t even know where to send the invoice.


What does it mean to cry? At the risk of sounding like an amateur speechwriter, I look at the dictionary to see it means “to shed tears, typically as an expression of distress, pain, or sorrow.” I thank those stuffy old academics for the word “typically”, allowing me to say “I cried” at Isabella Perversi’s new show without suggesting that she made me in any way distressed. There was misery, yes, and more autobiographical reflection than I have experienced from her before. But there was also a great amount of comedy, and celebration of the human ability to express emotions in such an explicit and vulnerable way.


Cry Baby is part stand-up, part physical comedy, part puppetry, part multimedia, part…well, almost all the performing arts it could be. Extremely aware of itself, it is the story of creating the story, a risky conceit that can go wrong in the hands of more amateur artists. Those who have perhaps read my other reviews of Perversi, however, will know that she is far from amateur. While previously I have praised her abilities as a writer, tonight she made me eat any negative words I may have ever said about her as a performer. Each flailing of the arms is filled with intention, each tear filled with honesty.


There is such a thing as an overly-polished work that can lose an element of heart. This is not such a work. Be it because it was the most honest of Perversi’s writing, or her willingness to open up slightly to the freedom of improvisation, there is a sense of reality in the show that goes well beyond verisimilitude. I wonder slightly what the show was that reached the audiences at La Mama earlier in the year, and just how much we should praise Fabio Motta, the “outside eye”, for seeing Perversi push herself into perhaps uncomfortable but powerfully emotive places.


To be honest, I am afraid of giving too much away because much of what works comes partly from the element of surprise. A sudden shift from academic discourse to surreal physical comedy, a moving musical number (with an appropriate nod to Peggy Lee) to sock puppets, no moment in this show is a gimmick, but neither is it asking you to forget the previous. They are all linked, often through careful language choices that foreshadow or hark back in the most subtle ways.


I hope that each night during the development of this show, its creator shed her own tears of frustration, crying over each perfect word choice, unsure of the exact time to pause or smile. Any less than a herculean effort to produce such a piece would simply be unfair to all other artists at Fringe as well as in the wider performance community.


Cry Baby is a show that can not be missed.

Image Supplied

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