A Melbourne based writer who is a travel junkie, dedicated foodie and emerging photographer.
The cabaret of broken dreams
The Broken Mill is playing at Chapel off Chapel as part of the Melbourne Cabaret Festival. Like many recent productions in Melbourne, the show has been impacted by changing restrictions on audience numbers resulting from COVID. However, that didn't deter a keen audience from seeing last night's show. And I very much doubt any member of the audience would have been disappointed. The Broken Mill is an absolute cracker of a show.
The Broken Mill, currently playing at Chapel off Chapel. Image from the Picked Last For Sport Facebook page.
Drawing from Moulin Rouge for inspiration, this new show, created by production company Picked Last for Sport, and presented by a talented ensemble of La Trobe University Alumni, deserves much praise.
The full ensemble on stage. From left, Mr Pitiful (Ryan Smith), Birdie (Emily Teague-Hall), Jeanie (Cat Sanzaro), Mama (Sarah Wall), Marcus (Cole McKenna) and Mary (Jake Matricardi).
The setting for the show is a cabaret theatre, presided over by Mama. Mama cares for her troupe as though they are her own children. There are Marcus and Mary, who perform an act as co-joined twins, clown Mr Pitiful, singer/dancer Birdie, and singer/fortune teller Jeanie.
Marcus and Mary (Cole McKenna and Jake Matricardi), foreground
Mr Pitiful (Ryan Smith) with Birdie (Emily Deague-Hall)
While Mama seems to initially infer she has the best interests of her troupe at heart, it slowly emerges that is far from the case. She will do anything to make sure the show goes on, including plying her charges with generous amounts of 'the green fairy' - absinthe - which reputedly had a hallucinogenic quality. The troupe is effectively held prisoner in the mill, drugged to the point of acceptance of their lot in life. Whenever the lights go up, they know they need to be there, ready to perform the next show.
Slowly, however, the cracks start to appear, with two performers expressing their displeasure, and plotting to 'escape'. Meanwhile, Jeanie is having increasingly strong visions of smoke and fire, and worries about their future. In a vision, Mama's past is revealed to Jeanie. Mama needs to act quickly to ensure her own safety.
Jeanie (Cat Sanzaro), Marcus (Cole McKenna) and Mama (Sarah Wall) (at rear)
While this show ran for one hour, I walked out of the theatre feeling like I'd just been through the roller coaster ride of a full-length musical production. It has a strong plot, and is action-packed with pathos and drama. While Moulin Rouge is credited as an influence, I would suggest there's an overlay of Cabaret, perhaps even a dash of Les Miserables in terms of the elements of repression and uprising.
There's great character development during the show, and relationships between characters that also gently build along the way. It's clever and mature scripting.
It takes a strong cast and musical backing to successfully pull it off - and that's exactly what I observed in this production.
The strong musical element to this show is another feature. There are no fewer than 12 original songs, performed live on stage by four musicians who do an amazing job. Kudos to Sean Sully (keyboard), Isobel Caldwell (bass), Freya Long (guitar) and James Wingard (drums). Some of the songs had toe-tapping familiarity, even though it was the first time we'd heard them. Others were memorably haunting.
There were standout musical performances from Cat Sanzaro as Jeanie and Sarah Wall as Mama. Cat's singing was strong and consistent throughout, where the impact of Sarah's voice strengthened as the true nature of her character revealed itself through the show. Cat and Sarah's duet Dagger to the Heart was goosebump-inducing.
There is so much to commend this show that I unhesitatingly give it five stars. I can only hope it is staged again in the not too distant future, as it deserves to play to wider audiences.