Review: Divas in hit and miss

Jinkx Monsoon in The Vaudevillians. Picture: Nic Ellis/The West Australian

By Tiffany Barton
Four-and-a-half stars

The Stables

The Vaudevillians with Jinkx Monsoon
Two-and-a-half stars


Night one of the Fringe and already a surprise hit and an even more surprising miss. Though one is a tiny local production and the other a well-travelled American act, they both revolve around divas.

In Tiffany Barton's small triumph of that name, the diva is June, a faded opera singer living out a scratchy, frustrated retirement with her costumes, her wigs, her pills and her lurid memories. Barton's inspiration was a friend of her family, a real-life diva, and her play has a great grounding in reality, no matter how wild and hairy it gets (this, like many of the Fringe shows you will read about here over the next month, comes with an adult content warning).

It's also beautifully constructed. So June first gets your undivided attention, then lets you into her story, wins your sympathy and sets you up for an absolute zinger of a climax, a seemingly inevitable ending that doesn't so much fail as get rejected outright; an affirmation of life, with all its heartbreak, darkness and obscenity, as powerful and beautiful as you'll get anywhere.

Barton is simply great as June. She nails her pungent Brooklyn accent, her fragile swagger and her tempestuousness perfectly. She has an impeccable collaborator in Helen Doig, a director with all of Barton's courage but a commitment to clean, clear speech and action that keeps June's unruly story firmly on the straight and narrow.

Jerick Hoffer's celebrated character Jinkx Monsoon is every bit a diva and far and away the most convincing and authentically talented drag artist I've ever seen. With the gifted Major Scales (Richard Andriessen) alongside her, they're Kitty Witless and Dr Dan Von Dandy The Vaudevillians, and they're a killer husband-and-wife act coming direct to you from the 1920s.

That's the brilliant conceit of the show. Frozen for 90 years under an Antarctic blizzard (don't ask) and thawed by global warming, The Vaudevillians are back with their long-forgotten repertoire of songs that have since been stolen by artists who are as diverse as Madonna and DJ Kool.

It's a fantastic set-up for two fantastic performers but it ended up leaving me as cold as, well, that Antarctic blizzard.

It's just too long, at nearly 100 minutes way too long, and it gets lost in its backstory, the marital squabbles of its performers, and bogged down in some interminable set-ups - a visit to Berlin for Brecht/Weill's Alabama Song and an excruciating ramble through Ibsen's A Doll's House to arrive, only just appropriately, at Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive.

Which, unlike Diva, The Vaudevillians finally fails to do.