Review By Bradley Ward
Take a moment to imagine your ideal drag/burlesque show. What would that show have? Surely lip syncing and choreography, as well as some scintillating outfits and cheeky costume changes. If they are experienced performers then you’d probably expect a bit of humour to be mixed in, with some audience banter or participation if they are particularly talented. If it is a professional level show then you’d expect cohesive lighting and sound design, a series of fun props, a display of special skills by the performers, and a few unexpected twists. Your ideal drag/burlesque show would probably have you feel like a part of an experience or community, and not just an isolated audience member. If that sounds accurate, then I am pleased to inform you that Yummy Unleashed is your ideal drag/burlesque show.
Hailing from Melbourne, the creatives behind Yummy Unleashed are not shy when it comes to singing their own praises, with the advertising mentioning their numerous awards that include ‘Best Production’ at the 2018 Green Room Awards and ‘Best Cabaret’ at Fringe World 2019. After seeing the show, it’s honestly surprising they don’t have more awards. Yummy Unleashed is polished to a high shine, perfectly curating its setlist of diverse performances to ensure the audience is constantly kept on their toes and entertained. The choreography is tight, the costumes stunning, and the lighting and sound perfectly matched to each individual performance. There are some shows which by their very nature promise spectacle, and Yummy Unleashed fulfills this promise. Pole dancing, a flaming sword, giant slices of bread and a live magic show, these performers use everything in their repertoire to entertain. What sets this show apart from others of its kind though is its attention to detail, pouring as much care and effort into the small features as they do the large. A neon “Open” sign hung on the wall during a scene taking place in a massage parlour brought multiple laughs, and a decision during a performance of “Beautiful People” by Marilyn Manson to drain the stage of all colour proved quite shocking and distressing. It can be the little details that make the difference between a good and great show, and Yummy Unleashed has all the little details perfected.
Of course, no amount of spectacle in the world can compensate for underwhelming performers. Thankfully, this is not an issue for the immensely talented cast of Yummy Unleashed. Each of the performers (Valerie Hex, Hannie Helsden, Jandruze, Zelia Rose, and Benjamin Hancock) are masters of their craft and each bring their own unique flavour of drag and/or burlesque to the stage. While each of them showed enough talent over the course of the night to easily carry a show on their own, special mention goes to Valerie Hex who served as the emcee for the evening. Her quick wit and ability to work an audience kept everyone laughing, snapping and “yass queening” through the entire evening. She became the perfect transitionary material between acts that were often varying wildly in content, energy or form.
Considering the incredible quality of the show and its performers, it is unfortunate to say that I walked away feeling somewhat uncomfortable with the entire experience. The Seymour Centre has served as the home of Mardi Gras for the two weeks leading up to the parade, and has programmed a phenomenal line-up of artists and performers who have presented subversive, thoughtful and challenging works that have championed inclusivity and provided a stage for those voices in the queer community that still struggle to find representation in film and television. It was therefore uncomfortable to walk out of Yummy Unleashed – which in many ways represents the thin-and-pretty, media friendly, merchandisable vision of queer performance that previous Mardi Gras shows like Fuck Fabulous were protesting against – knowing that it gets the final word for the Mardi Gras 2020 program. The Sydney Mardi Gras is one of the biggest events of its kind in the world, and when shaping its official theatrical program, one should consider the final image you are leaving people with. Should you leave your audience with a message of complete inclusivity, told by people of all identities? Or should you leave your audience with the message that queer performance will continue with business as usual?
However, all of this is a result of its placement within a greater line-up of acts and should reflect more upon the curators of the Mardi Gras program than the creatives behind Yummy Unleashed themselves. Considering the show in isolation, there are almost no faults to speak of and is well worth the cost of admission. Yummy Unleashed may not be the only show of its kind in Australia, but it may very well be the best. Any show that can have members of the audience voguing in their seats is guaranteed to be a good time.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.