Bob, Sweat and Tears

Sydney Theatre, February 27

Bob Downe (aka Mark Trevorrow). Photo: Suzanna Shubeck

Bob Downe (aka Mark Trevorrow). Photo: Suzanna Shubeck

Given a rock star welcome by a decidedly eclectic audience, Bob Downe shimmied onto stage in all his camp, synthetic glory looking as young and gloriously cheesy as ever.

The self-styled Prince of Polyester has been flashing his dazzling pearly whites at audiences for decades now. Over the years, Bob (the sublimely funny alter ego of Mark Trevorrow) has become as iconic a comic creation as Dame Edna, yet despite the passing of time his act feels as fresh and funny as ever.

But Bob is here to tell you that all this time he has been living a lie. His latest show Bob, Sweat and Tears revolves around the shock revelation that Bob is actually straight – something he has discovered with the help of a therapist. So it’s goodbye to songs like “I Am What I Am” and “Two Little Boys” (“too gay”) and hello to a newly manned-up Bob, sitting with legs splayed rather than crossed.

As you might imagine Bob’s idea of straight wouldn’t cut it with too many macho blokes. His dress sense remains unaltered for starters. He opens the show in cream safari suit, neckerchief and white shoes plus trademark platinum wig, then changes into a natty, striped three-piece suit for the second act.

Forever on the prowl, pulling off jaunty little moves that wouldn’t look out of place on Thunderbirds, his snappy sense of humour remains as mischievous as ever too, laced with topical barbs (Sydney’s new liquor lockout laws, Rolf Harris etc).

His patter in Bob, Sweat and Tears is genuinely funny as are his send-ups of a wonderful selection of 30-plus pop and rock classics from the 1960s and 70s including “Leader of the Gang”, “Sweet Caroline”, “Spinning Wheel” and “24 Hours from Tulsa” (or Lithgow). What’s more, he can really sing.

He is joined by a series of guests including Gretel Killeen as Mona Loud, the mother of Bob’s love child Cory Bernardi over whom they are fighting a custody battle (neither want him). With a fag hanging out of the corner of her mouth and a bored demeanour, Killeen is extremely funny in one of the highlights of the evening.

There are also appearances by drag queen Cindy Pastel (aka Ritchie Finger), Jane Markey as Bob’s mum Ida Downe and Shauna Jensen.

Performing in Sydney as part of the Mardi Gras, Bob was backed by a three-piece band called The Full Catastrophe – John Thorn (keyboards), Sam Leske (guitar) and Holly Thomas (drums).  ­The first act rocketed past but mid-way into the second act, the show lost a little momentum and started to feel over extended. I could happily have done without the sketch with Bob’s mother Ida, for example, and I can’t help feeling that it would have worked better without an interval.

A few cuts would sharpen the show, sending us home on a wave of hilarity rather than feeling that we’ve come down from the ride before it was quite over. Heaps of fun, nonetheless.

Bob, Sweat and Tears plays at the Arts Theatre, Adelaide as part of the Adelaide Fringe, March 5 – 15, and at Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre, March 28 – April 20.

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Random Musical & Horrible Histories: Awful Egyptians – review

Sydney Opera House, July 4

Scott Brennan, Gillian Cosgriff and Rik Brown in Random Musical

Scott Brennan, Gillian Cosgriff and Rik Brown in Random Musical

As part of its July school holidays program the Sydney Opera House is presenting three shows – two of which I caught up with in the one day: Random Musical for ages 5+ and Horrible Histories: Awful Egyptians for ages 6+.

It’s always so much more fun going to children’s theatre with a child, but with no littlie to take, a friend/colleague and I rocked our inner infant for the day.

We started with Random Musical, which was utterly charming: a lo-fi delight that had us both laughing our way through the hour-long show.

Once seated, the children are asked to write their name and a word beginning with the same letter on a piece of paper which is then collected by the performers.

The cast of four “randomaniacs” – Scott Brennan, Rik Brown, Gillian Cosgriff and Rebecca De Unamuno, with John Thorn on piano – then create a musical on the spot inspired by some of those words.

The first song That’s Pretty Random, which provides a framework in order to mention as many of the suggestions as possible (a lovely way to involve many of the children), was presumably written in advance. But from there on it’s all free-wheeling.

Our musical was called The Zany Ostrich (thanks, Zach and Olivia), about a rare, pink-feathered bird who really wants to be a penguin. Meanwhile, an evil explorer – “the strangely named Georgia” – wants to capture the ostrich and turn her into a feather boa.

The quick-witted cast did a superb job, not only conjuring plot and lyrics on the spot but singing spontaneously in various musical styles initiated by Thorn from English Musical Hall to rap.

Brown, in particular, as the explorer, came up with some incredibly funny lyrics that included an exploding snake (which later became an integral part of the plot) and had them rhyming effortlessly into the bargain. He also fired off some brilliant one-liners.

But all were excellent. Brennan did a lovely job as MC to get things going, De Unamuno was the sweetest penguin imaginable and Cosgriff made a great ostrich.

The children embraced any opportunity for audience involvement. Getting them to supply a few more sound effects might be a good idea to keep the youngest really engaged. But props to all involved. A great little show.

A scene from Horrible Histories.

A scene from Horrible Histories.

Horrible Histories: Awful Egyptians is a wildly different experience. It belongs to a phenomenon (which has passed me by as my children are too old) spear-headed by Terry Deary’s hugely popular books, which have spawned live shows and a BBC TV series.

This production is performed by the British-based Birmingham Stage Company. To the uninitiated it’s a weird mix of historical fact, broad British humour in a pantomime vein, with slapstick, lots of terribly corny jokes, hammy acting and lashings of gore (think rubber intestines and other body parts being flung freely). But the buzzy audience couldn’t have been more excited.

The plot involves an archaeologist and his dorky assistant who try to steal a statue of Ramesses II from a museum. Together with a schoolgirl on a guided tour, they conjure up the spirit of Ramesses himself who explains all about Egyptian history including the pyramids, mummies, Tutankhamun and the afterlife.

Running two hours it feels far too long for the material, though the second act features some pretty speccy 3D effects.

However, the audience seemed to be having an absolute ball. What’s more, demand is so great that the Sydney season quickly sold out so an extra show has been added on Saturday July 13.

Random Musical runs until July 14. Horrible Histories also closes in Sydney on July 14 then plays at Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s Theatre, July 19 – 21.