Review by Miranda Michalowski
Frances is the only openly gay student at Harrow College, a prestigious Sydney boy's private school - and although you might think that his predicament is a tragedy, according to him, it’s actually an opportunity.
That’s because Frances knows everybody’s business. He knows that the school principal shipped his lesbian daughter off to boarding school in Singapore. He knows that his friend Axel’s mother has an unfortunate accent that makes her son’s name sound like “asshole”. Frances has got his hands in the dirty laundry of the entire student body, and he’s not afraid to air it out.
This is the premise of William Duke’s one-man show ‘Killing Mr Barber’, playing at the Sydney Fringe Festival, from the 30th of August-3rd of September.
Duke is a skilled performer and has a genuine knack for comedy. The contents of this show clearly come from a vast well of lived experience with Sydney's private school-boy culture. A play about secrets and gossip also works particularly well in the intimate space of ‘The Boom Boom Room’, as it makes the audience feel as though we’re in Frances’ inner circle - and what a circle to be in!
The style and structure of the show feel akin to a work of standup comedy, as Frances weaves between juicy anecdotes, with some genuinely excellent punchlines. The thread that ties these segments together is the mystery of what Frances said (or did?) at a party last Saturday night - a night he seems to have forgotten. While there isn’t much in the way of a broader narrative arc, we are offered an intimate insight into Frances’ inner world. What we bear witness to is the gap between who this young boy pretends to be, and how he genuinely feels.
We come to realise that Frances’ inclination to mock and gossip doesn’t come from a place of malice - but from needing to avoid becoming the butt of the joke, as the only openly gay kid in such a hyper-masculine environment. It is a moving perspective, although I craved a little more from the story.
The minimalist set consists simply of a stool on the stage, and lighting is used to good dramatic effect. The production element that didn’t work for me was the use of voice-overs to represent the presence of other characters. I felt that if Duke had physically performed these roles, it would have added more range and intrigue to his performance.
Overall, ‘Killing Mr Barber’ is an enjoyable solo show that marks the arrival of an impressive new comedic voice on the Sydney theatre scene. Duke should be commended for his efforts, and I look forward to seeing where he goes from here.