By Naomi Hamer
“They say times are hard for dreamers but they won’t be hard for me” croons Nyssa Milligan in the opening of her first cabaret, the aptly titled Times are hard for Dreamers. And while we know the realities of performing in the arts can be incredibly taxing, seeing Milligan’s charm first hand makes me excited to see what the future has in store for her and her shimmering and sequined top.
Times are hard for Dreamers, Milligan assures us is her personal journey of discovering she is a dreamer. From her humble beginnings growing up the daughter of a dairy farmer in Cundle Plains, north of Taree on the mid north coast of New South Wales, to her first night out stumbling across a karaoke bar in Kings Cross with her housemates at eighteen, Milligan demonstrates the breadth of her vocal ability and skill. Not only can she show off her musical theatre chops but she has classical training and an operatic background, thanks to her mum’s love of Brahms when she was growing up. Singing the national anthem in front of her school assembly was another highlight that Milligan details. Her dreaming tendencies especially apparent when she talks about dreaming of a talent scout hearing her voice and giving her Nikki Webster’s starring role from the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games opening ceremony. A dream we all shared, am I right? Instead a nervous teacher gave her a copy of Advance Australia Fair’s lyrics to refresh her memory (“Australians all eat ostriches for we are young and free”).
Beyond her infectious smile that could light up the entire room, it would be remiss of me not to mention the importance of audience participation in the show. At the mention of those words you can almost hear a penny drop as the audience exhale. What are we going to be expected to do? Thankfully, no one is required to leave the comfort of their seats. It starts off small with Milligan telling us to excuse her “millennial moment” as she takes selfies with the audience from the stage and then as a guise to finding the “4G reception she had a minute ago”. Suddenly - no one is safe - or at least not the audience members in the front or ends of the rows. All this while barely missing a beat as she continues to sing. After testing the waters, Milligan takes it up a notch and we are encouraged to moo like the cows she grew up with on her family’s farm to help her to reach a high note. The mooing doesn’t seem to be quite the trick though so we are offered some black and white cow hats to wear and encouraged to take selfies with the hats. It’s a moment of silly and innocent fun.
Another notable moment that Milligan picks up on like many performers before her is the absurdity of what makes a great pop song. Creating a mashup of pop songs that repeat their names and use sounds as lyrics “Oh na-na, what’s my name… all the single ladies, oh-oh-oh…” In a similar vein to many artists including the Axis of Awesome who are famous for their mashup of popular songs that all use the same 4 chord structure. The absurdity is not lost on the audience as she hams it up with a pair of crazy sunglasses and exaggerated dance moves. The show ending to Nyssa putting on a pair of her best cowgirl boots to a rousing rendition of These boots are made for walking. A special mention goes to Robert Bertram who accompanies Milligan on the piano. It is Bertram and Milligan’s rapport which is crucial to the show’s success.
Times are hard for Dreamers showcases Nyssa Milligan’s maturity beyond her years and the sort of fresh naivety that can only come from someone early in their career. In saying that, this is a strong debut performance that gives us a strong sense of what makes Milligan the very image of a thoroughly modern performer.
Times are hard for Dreamers is at Sydney Fringe Festival, Wednesday 25 September 7.30pm, The Newsagency.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.