Review By Lisa Lanzi
Trigger warning : this review mentions mental health issues and statistics. There is support out there - please seek help if you need it.
In 2020-21 the Australian Bureau of Statistics conducted the first cohort of a National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing, a component of the wider Intergenerational Health and Mental Health Study. One in five (20%) Australians aged 16-34 years experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress, more than twice the rate of those aged 65-85 years (9%). More comprehensive statistics will be released in June 2022.
When you look in more detail at the performing arts, issues of mental health are magnified. Entertainment Assist released a report in 2016 and these statistics don’t even take into account the further stressors of the Covid years since 2020. This report covers sleep disorders, bullying, finances, and more but these two points are key : The most common mental health diagnoses reported … is depression followed by anxiety; 44% of industry workers have moderate to severe anxiety - this is 10 times higher than the general population; The levels of depression symptoms are five times higher than general population scores.
I had the pleasure of being in the audience for Two Dumb Blondes’ Does It Please You during its first award-winning iteration in 2021. It has since been revised and refined and the talents of the cast are further honed and even more captivating. Taylor Nobes is the creator, director, producer and central player and her original work examines expectation and opinion, self and outside judgement, with humour and deep pathos. Each time a performer steps onto a stage, the weight of their past is right there with them and that baggage may be huge. This work highlights the impact of fragile mental health and the burden so many of us carry about ‘being good enough’ as well as questioning the need to conform to any pre-conceived ideals.
Now, I want you to understand that this show is anything but morbid! The energy of the cast ricochets around the black box theatre space and touches the audience through words, song and dance. There is laughter aplenty and moments that go straight to your heart such as a line that is spoken, and later sung by Nobes in one of her original songs: “the darkness has found me, and it’s calling me home”. Nobes’ vocals are simply outstanding ranging from heart-wrenching gentle, melodic phrasing to full on Broadway belt; her song writing is of the highest calibre but this performer equally and effortlessly embraces comedy, drama and movement as the hour-long piece develops. Through a series of original monologues as a version of herself and other characters, this actor encompasses all the themes in this theatre work using excellent comedic timing, dramatic textual repetition and some well-placed expletives.
Two dancers also shine in Does It Please You?. Kate Burgess and Hanna Instrell - Walker, both recent graduates from Adelaide College of the Arts, are powerful movers with superb technique (and executing stunning contemporary floor work) and also co-choreographers. However, it is their presence and passion that draws you into the work, sometimes ironic, sometimes seductive or simply an in-your-face ‘look at me’ challenge, and the space seems to shrink with the intensity of their well-conceived sequences. To their credit both female actors, Taylor Nobes and Mikayla Rudd, blend seamlessly when they join the two trained dancers at times.
Co-founder of Two Dumb Blondes Mikayla Rudd is a more subdued presence in the work but she is an enthralling performer and her characters help stitch the scenes together and it is impossible to look away as she struts, poses, dances and strides about the stage. Via their company Nobes and Rudd have admirable creative goals “focussed on creating and producing authentic and vulnerable theatre that breaks stereotypes and subverts peoples’ expectations by challenging stigmatized topics”. These two young artists also feel that “the audience is paramount in any space and aim to create an atmosphere that gives the audience the power to think and feel freely”. There is no doubt that the audience was deeply involved in this show and were easily engaged by the actors addressing them directly at times in the intimate space.
Samuel Lau is another multi-talented artist who is making a name for himself in some fascinating collaborative performance ventures around Adelaide as well as on TV and film. As well as playing keys (he is a classically trained pianist and trombonist) and accompanying Nobes songs, Lau performs one unforgettable scene as a nervous, apologetic auditionee who is exhorted/bullied over and over by Nobes’ velvet-suited, arrogant impresario character to “try it again, only bigger and WITH the accent”. The climax here sees Lau entering into a ludicrously exaggerated Asian accent and performing highly athletic martial arts influenced movement. The audience is laughing uproariously but the sad irony of racial stereotyping is not lost on us.
Does It Please You? The Final Saga is a work that will provoke audiences to ponder our industry and the culture of demand. It is a must-see and gives a hopeful insight into the bright future of South Australian original theatre and physical theatre if we can manage to keep these exceptional artists here, and employed. Go. See and experience the wild ride and support emerging talent.