Twists & Turns: Matthew Mitcham
De Parel Spiegeltent
"This mind of mine is a dangerous neighbourhood and we don't want to go there alone."
REVIEW STEPHEN BEVIS
"This mind of mine is a dangerous neighbourhood and we don't want to go there alone." It's a few minutes into Twists and Turns, the debut show of Matthew Mitcham, and the 2008 Olympic gold medallist is calling for back-up for his flying leap into his autobiographical cabaret of songs and stories.
He had begun solo, armed with just a ukulele and a pleasingly fine chanteur's voice for his en Francais rendition of Pink Martini's Sympathique. For those attracted by the novelty of seeing a sporting star having a crack at singing on stage, it was a very promising start.
Reinforcements come in the splendid form of music director Jeremy Brennan on the piano and the show's co-creator and writer Rhys Morgan, aka cabaret star Spanky.
For the purposes of helping the diving champion tell his tale of world sporting triumph and self-destructive inner torment, Spanky is a one-man Greek chorus in drag.
He adds great theatrical and musical flair as an escort through Mitcham's childhood with his single mum in Brisbane - in Dorothy Street, Camp Hill and born on Mardi Gras weekend; how could our hero not be gay?
As with his recent book Twists and Turns, which lends this show its name, Mitcham lays bare a story of a lonely, gay, bookish boy driven to achieve perfection in the pursuit of acceptance.
He self-medicated his depression with drugs, drink and decadence, detoxing ahead of competitions and only temporarily keeping the black dog at bay until finding peace with his partner Lachlan.
There were peaks among the troughs and the show's overall light and upbeat mood reflects this for most of the journey.
Mitcham is a likable and engaging performer who gets physical by wheeling in a trampoline for some acrobatic moves (he was a world junior trampoline champ before becoming a diver) and re-enacting a hair-raising handstand as if at the top of the 10m platform.
His dive for gold in Beijing is beautifully played out with slow balletic gestures and a sweet rendition of the Cave-Pisek tune Little Water Song.
The music overall, borrowed from sources as wide as Erik Satie, Irving Berlin and Philip Glass to Alanis Morrisette and Spice Girls, is largely apposite and well-woven into the narrative.
Mitcham's interpretations of New Order's True Faith, Too Much by the Spice Girls (his favourite was "Sporty" Mel C) and Go or Go Ahead by Rufus Wainwright were highlights.
Directed by Nigel Turner-Carroll, this show is brand new and created with the intention of touring internationally. Unsurprisingly, there are pacing and presentation weaknesses to iron out. Time, repetition and more stage confidence will take care of most of them.
The early start time of 6pm certainly muted the lighting effects with the sun shining through the Spiegeltent's stained-glass windows.
But then again, the early slot allows Mitcham to maintain his rigorous dive training schedule ahead of the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Perhaps there will be another gold medal to be captured in Glasgow and he'll have to add another segment to his show if he takes it to the Edinburgh Fringe after that.