The Object Lesson

Sydney Town Hall, January 7


Geoff Sobelle in the Sydney Town Hall. Photo: Nic Walker, Sydney Morning Herald

Geoff Sobelle’s absurdist performance installation The Object Lesson is by turns intriguing, whimsical, gently amusing, infuriating, tedious and utterly magical.

First staged by the American actor and illusionist in Philadelphia in 2013, with direction by David Neumann, set design by Steven Dufala, lighting by Christopher Kuhl and sound by Nick Kourtides, it won the top prize at the 2014 Edinburgh Festival Fringe and had a successful New York season later that year. Now it’s here as part of the Sydney Festival.

Entering the main ballroom at the Sydney Town Hall, you find yourself in a newly created space framed by towering walls of cardboard boxes, many of them labelled, while other boxes are scattered around the room. Filled with all kinds of stuff – toys, clothes, lamps and bric-a-brac – you are invited to rifle through them as a prologue to the main act.

When Sobelle first presented The Object Lesson, he was moving house and put his own belongings into the boxes. Here, they have come from op shops and donations.

Gradually, the audience finds somewhere to sit, some choosing the stage, others perching on boxes marked “sit on me”. Then Sobelle emerges from the crowd in well-worn brown suit and bare feet and begins unpacking furniture from boxes to form a small room with carpet, big leather armchair, plant and an old-fashioned gramophone, which isn’t quite what it seems.

Using a small tape machine, he records seemingly random comments, which then become a fairly aimless two-way conversation on a phone. Scrambling up the mountain of boxes, he extracts a letter, recalling a student holiday in France, and some traffic lights, which feature in a rambling story. He shares bread and wine. He gets two audience members to go through their wallets. My friend and colleague Diana Simmonds was one of those chosen on opening night and injected some wry humour into her account. Read Diana’s review here:

While some in the audience seemed fascinated, to me it all felt fairly random, a little boring, and kind of pointless. Maybe that was the point. But I have to admit it was trying my patience.

And then Sobelle does a wonderful thing with ice skates, salad and a lady plucked from the audience. I don’t want to give too much away but from there, I was hooked.

The final sequence is magical, quite literally, as Sobelle takes us on a journey from cradle to grave, pulling all manner of things from an apparently bottomless box that looked empty when he set it on the stool.

It’s an extraordinary coup de theatre. Finally, with a mountain of life’s detritus tossed onto the floor in front of him, the lights go out and we are left to ponder the stuff we accumulate, how much of it we actually need, the memories that objects hold for us, and whether/when/how to let things go. As Sobelle says: “there’s a thin line between vintage and crap.”

The Object Lesson is almost completely sold out. However, an extra performance on Sunday January 10 at 8pm is now on sale: or 1300 856 876

Go Your Own Way, the Story of Christine McVie: review

Slide Lounge, June 27

Catherine Alcorn with Marty Hailey and Tamika Stanton. Photo: Kurt Sneddon

Catherine Alcorn with Marty Hailey and Tamika Stanton. Photo: Kurt Sneddon

Catherine Alcorn made her mark on the Australian cabaret scene with her debut show The Divine Miss Bette, in which she stepped into Bette Midler’s shoes.

Now, for her second offering, Go Your Own Way, the Story of Christine McVie, she takes on “the other woman” in Fleetwood Mac.

Christine McVie is nowhere near as colourful a character as Midler, which gives the show’s writer Diana Simmonds less to play with. The English-born singer/songwriter is apparently living a quiet life in her homeland with her beloved dogs and by all accounts is perfectly happy not to be part of Fleetwood Mac’s current reunion tour – though she herself has said little about it publicly.

There was the tumultuous time the band went through when recording Rumours, during which Christine and husband John McVie were breaking up as were Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, which is naturally dealt with, and a relationship with Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson.

But overall there’s not a great deal of drama to McVie’s story. Simmonds (who was brought in late) takes a fairly straightforward, chronological approach to the narrative but laces it with some nice, deadpan, throw-away humour and some of the lingo from the 60s and 70s to give it some spice.

She also gives voice to Nicks at one point via backing vocalist Tamika Stanton – an effective device that might perhaps be worth exploring a little more.

Musically, the show is a cracker. The set list of songs (all written or co-written by McVie with the exception of Go Your Own Way by Buckingham) is fantastic: The Chain, Little Lies, As Long as You Follow, Say You Love Me, Over My Head, Don’t Stop, You Make Loving Fun, Oh Daddy, Everywhere, Songbird and, course, Go Your Own Way.

The enduring popularity of Fleetwood Mac’s music (given a boost in 2011 when Glee covered six tracks from Rumours) means that the show will have great appeal to Mac fans and indeed anyone who likes that period of music.

What’s more, Alcorn sings it superbly – arguably better than McVie herself. She has a rich, powerful voice, which she uses with sensitivity and skill, and a big, warm stage presence.

Starting the show in the present day, she removes a tailored jacket, loosens her hair and dons a mauve, fringed and sequined kimono-like jacket to take us back to the start of Christine Perfect’s (as she was born) career, adopting a light English accent and a slightly lower register than normal for the dialogue. A number of rugs thrown onto the stage help lend the space something of a hippie feel.

Alcorn is backed by a terrific three-piece band led by musical director Isaac Hayward on keyboard, with Marty Hailey on guitar and Nick Cecire on drums. Stanton and Hayward provide strong backing vocals.

Having debuted at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival and then performed it at the Melbourne Cabaret Festival, Alcorn will presumably now go her own way with the show – and if she has half the success she has had with The Divine Miss Bette, she’s onto a good thing.

Meanwhile, The Divine Miss Bette has a season at Sydney’s Glen Street Theatre in Belrose from July 23 – 28.