'So many worlds, so much to do, so little done, such things to be'. (Tennyson)
'Antipodean queen of truly original cabaret' (Curtain Call)
When you watch a show like Naked Dream, you realise how long an hour can be when you're a solo singer-songwriter on stage with a piano and a small opening night crowd.
Sydneysider Rachel Collis maintains her self-belief and energy throughout a set of around 14 varied original songs. She provides just enough in the way of mid-set story telling, without letting patter get in the way of the music.
Rachel Collis - publicity photo
Collis is clearly a talented singer and pianist, with an sharp mind and an eye for the unusual in her subject matter. Some songs, and some songlines in particular, have stuck in my mind 24 hours later. 'Sneaky bastard fate' strikes the Sydneysider who talks down 'jumpers' at The Gap only to find that one of them later goes on a crime spree. A duck with clipped wings who tries to fly inspires the simple but lovely line, 'The closest thing to flying is thinking that you're flying.' Her black humour was all but camouflaged by a jolly musical comedy delivery style as she sang about a (fictitious) cat being minced and sliced into devon.
For me, Collis was at her most enjoyable when singing to a rollicking piano accompaniment. and less so in the moments when she was hunched almost painfully six inches above the piano keys, or employing a sparse chordal accompaniment to her lyrics. She attempted some variety by switching to ukulele for a couple of numbers. Unfortunately the uke keys she chose resulted in too much upper register voice for comfortable listening. It was a relief when she returned to the piano.
If you're hoping for some nudity because of the show's title, you'll be disappointed, though Collis did perform bare-footed. For her, the 'nakedness' comes from exposing herself through her songwriting: what her subject material, lyrics and music reveal about her.
For me, rather than revealing herself, it was as if Collis was hiding herself in her performance. Perhaps it was hair the same colour as the velvet curtain, and a black dress that melted into the silhouettes of patrons in front of me. To be fair, this may have been accidental not deliberate. One moment I was hearing Kate Bush, and the next echoes of Streisand, in delivery and sound. At times it seemed that a young Elle McFeast was on stage, with Libby Gorr tucked away out of sight. At the same time there was a deep and recurring earnestness that meant I could never quite 'get' what this artist was trying to be and do. Perhaps that was her intention, but for me it was ultimately unsatisfying.
Even the camera couldn't capture any real emotion
My underwhelmed reaction may have been to do with how Collis marketed herself. Her publicity blurb calls her a singer-songwriter and comedienne. It says, 'For style, think Tim Minchin, Regina Spektor, or Ben Folds. And none of the above.' Putting the two comments together in my mind, I told my partner we were going to see a female Tim Minchin with a twist. It took until the 'obligatory encore' before I got what I was expecting in the way of clever and humorous numbers, though there were flashes of this on the way through.
My advice? Go along and watch Rachel's show. Go along to enjoy the fabulous 'La B' venue, to support the proprietors who have 81 Fringe gigs scheduled, and, most importantly, to support a hard-working artist with a set of original and varied songs. She has a really good voice, and clearly knows how to tickle the ivories.
The atmospheric venue, La Boheme in Grote St
Instead of expecting comedy however, set your mental frame of reference to a singer-songwriter and all-round entertainer. Treat the occasional laugh as a bonus rather than the main event. And look out for the one-line gems and visual images from Collis' stories that are worth holding in your memory.
Rachel Collis plays La Boheme at 34 Grote St at 6 pm on Sunday 16, Thursday 20 and Sunday 23 Feb. For details and ticketing click here.