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Review: The Year I Watched My Mum Die at The Loading Dock by Qtopia Sydney - Pride Fest

Updated: Jun 9

Review by Scott Whitmont

An unexpected and at first somewhat confusing surprise prelude to The Year I Watched My Mum Die, (staged as part of Pride Fest at the recently opened Loading Dock Theatre in Darlinghurst) was the unadvertised appearance onstage of singer/songwriter Alice Terry bedecked in gold and a cowboy hat and boots, strutting to the microphone and announcing that she should be seen as the entrée one was not expecting before the main meal in a restaurant.  “You can choose whether to ask, ‘What the f… is that?’ or you can just add some pepper & salt, dive right in and enjoy the surprise!”  That’s exactly what the amused audience did, laughing along to her three sassy original songs and, no doubt, looking forward to hearing about her own show which, hopefully, will be forthcoming before too long!

But on to the main show…

Spending a year as primary carer for a mother gradually deteriorating and ultimately passing away from the punishing effects of 22 years with Parkinson’s Disease is not a subject one would imagine to inspire a night of musical cabaret and drag performance. However, in the hands of the creative and talented Heldentenor, Damien Noyce, he imparted this heartwarming tale with originality and a stratospheric, nuanced singing prowess.

A Heldentenor (Wikipedia informs us) is an operatic tenor voice known for its endurance, volume and dark timbre. A rare voice type, its middle register is like that of a baritone and is often associated with Wagnerian repertoire. Noyce is clearly blessed with this distinct musical gift. Rarely, I would guess, has it been applied to such a creative and personal family story.

With the more-than-capable support of his clearly experienced solo keyboard accompanist, Kim Gilbert, Noyce regaled the audience with songs interspersed with narrative about the life of his late mother, Robyn, as well as commentary about COVID lockdown, age care in Australia and familial relationships. At the same time, he educated the appreciative crowd with explanations and insights in Parkinson’s and the multiple ways it can cause havoc. (Parkinson’s NSW supported the production, supplying information sheets about the disease for attendees with donation money boxes strategically placed in the foyer for those who wished to assist them in their good work.)

Many of the night’s numbers were touching, original songs ranging in topics from the love of a son, dealing with grief or being disowned by his siblings. (One short, unexpected amusing aria about Damien’s experience with his mother’s bathroom care was simply called “Poo”.)

The audience was further treated to popular and well-known pieces, expertly rearranged to suit Noyce’s operatic voice and powerful tones. His rendition of Puccini’s Nessun Dorma and the finale of Lane & Lerner’s On A Clear Day were particularly memorable.

His costume choice was also strikingly memorable. Perhaps in acknowledgement of his grief and his own Queer identity - and doubtlessly in tribute to his mother, Noyce performed in a black, sparkling and bejewelled evening gown with thick black make-up surrounding his eyes, giving a sort of panda-bear mourning effect.

As if the story of Robyn Noyce’s decline did not already pull at the heartstrings, real footage from her son’s heartfelt eulogy at her 2022 funeral and a montage of pictures spanning her family life had most of the audience reaching for a tissue. That, along with a framed mother & son photo and a few of her possessions sitting on the floor in front of Gilbert’s keyboard, put a face to the story and made it even more powerful. This was clearly more than a simple cabaret/concert.

As sad as the night’s premise may have been, Noyce ensured that it was interspersed with plenty of humour, self-deprecation and moments to laugh – or at least smile – between the tears. As an insight into family love, loss, inspiration and how to move on despite the often-cruel vicissitudes of life, The Year I Watched My Mum Die is a performance triumph and a showcase of an impressive emerging Australian musical talent.

Image Credit: Bojan Bozic


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