By Laura Heuston
A return to comedy! This is the perfect way to get back into queer theatre after a 6 month drought, and what better a day to do so then on Bisexual Visibility Day. Run by people who (in usual times) do QueerStories, this show is live-streamed with a “live studio audience” that maintains social distancing. This new set up of course lends a different vibe to the performance, in addition to going through covid-safe practises, we got the exciting tension of being counted down to the streamings beginning. I think the audience got a little too nervous to give the appropriate cheer upon opening, but those anxieties were soon alleviated by the fantastic performances.
Our host, Maeve Marsden delightfully opens the show with her pink ensemble that matches the set, and an impressive set of pipes. She may have been singing to herself these past 6 months, but this practise certainly seems to have paid off. The question is, shall she go for the musical theatre theme, or the queer theme? We get a mashup of classic musical theatre and gay anthems as she wrestles with this question, with the audiences singing along by the fourth song (“All By Myself”, naturally). We settle on the queer theme, but don’t worry, the music is in no way gone.
The first guest is the irreverent Nina Oyama, one of two bisexual women to perform, as appropriate on our holy day. Managing to dance on the line between filthy and charming, Nina takes us through tales of being ghosted by an Instagram perv for being too disgusting, and “not looking Asian enough” according to some people who I think may need to get their manners and eyes checked. Vomit tampons make a grossly convincing appearance as a cleaning utensil, illustrating one of my favourite aspects of comedy- we get to laugh, but we also get to think. Have I been wasting my time with paper towels when feminine hygiene products are so much more efficient? More on that post testing.
Victoria Zerbst is next, taking us on the long and heartfelt journey of debating whether to text her ex-girlfriend. Zerbst’s comedic voice reminds the audience of reading a classic novel, with her sarcastic and intellectual wit being reminiscent of reading Jane Austen, but with way more gay jokes (as appropriate). As Australian comics, it’s impossible to resist the influence of Hannah Gadsby too, and Zerbst uses her comedy to explore intensely personal emotions and nostalgia. We did have notes on stage for this performance, which often detracts from the entertainment, but Zerbst is aware of this and so makes a show of tossing the pages aside dramatically as we progress. The music has also returned, as a huge part of this ex-messaging debate centers around Roy Orbison’s “I Drove All Night”, which was the partnership’s song. We go through the problematic aspects of the lyrics- don’t worry, we’re not cancelling a dead guy- but then reclaim the song from the patriarchy by applying it to the bisexual woman who now gets to make the massive, traffic-impeding, bridge blocking gesture that the guys get to do in all the hetero movies. Zerbsts’ vocals are also terrific, as are her boots, and if I had to offer one critique it would be that this is by far the longest set of the show. Nevertheless, it is massively entertaining.
Rapper and director Jamaica Moana could not be at the performance that night, however they sent through two videos that were incredibly different in vibe, but equally entertaining. The first video, directed and starring Moana, is a conceptual art piece that takes inspiration from the four elements, and features stunning costume pieces. The second is one of Jamaica’s rap videos, and while it is of considerably lower visual quality, the song is fantastic and really demonstrates the artist’s range of talent. I would love to see them live at some point, as I think their attitude would translate brilliantly to the live format, however this was a great substitute and it was lovely to engage with film in the middle of the in person performers.
Brendan Maclean is next, and he certainly earns the crown that he found backstage and donned for the performance. He’s a singer-songwriter known for his ukulele talent, and now, for writing an absolutely ripping breakup song for a certain well-known Australian comedian. I won’t say who, not for fear of defamation, but so you have to go to the show to find out. We have our third demonstration of vocals that have absolutely survived the lockdown, as Maclean presents us with his 'sad gay white boy persona', which is of course just as endearing but much funnier than the 'sad straight white boy' that saturates the media. He also dresses way better than these guys - the crown is the tip of a delightful iceberg and there are no fake ripped t-shirts to be seen here.
Finally, Jojo Zaho closes the night with her moving performance that pays tribute to her Indigenous heritage. Known for her politically focused drag, Jojo stuns with a gorgeous red black and yellow dress that hides a poignant reveal, and her visual mastery allows her to perform a slow and reflective piece without the tricks we see so often in drag. Don’t get me wrong, the athleticism of these performers is wondrous, but watching Jojo slowly but powerfully make her way through “Colours of the Wind” demonstrates the difficulty of such an undertaking, and she communicates her message without a hint of hesitation.
Running until September 26th, I highly recommend making the effort to check out this show for the genuineness of the performances and the relief of at last getting to see artists back at work. You can watch it on the livestream if you’d rather not sit in an audience, however the Old 505 makes sure that distance is maintained if you’d like to go in person. I personally felt refreshed as a person after seeing this show, and it’s a feeling I would recommend everyone seek out. Hopefully we can see more of this calibre of show in the coming months, as there is no doubt that Sydney (and the rest of the world) is in dire need of artistic engagement that goes deeper than pre-recorded streaming services. There’s nothing quite like a live show, and going without them for so long as absolutely proved that.