By Karyn Hodgkinson
Cabaret Night Fever takes us on a roller-coaster ride involving aspects of MJ Wilson’s own life as well as popular culture. The strength of this show is its utter absurdity. We are carried along by a stream of consciousness – a constant crazy association of ideas, including word associations that just make us laugh. The madness is delivered with complete commitment by MJ Wilson – commitment to what he is saying and to the songs. You don’t need a highly trained voice to sell a song but sell the songs he does, most of the time.
This is brave work. Wilson seems to leap from one topic to another at will. But somehow, the discordant images connect – in a way that gives us a picture of who he is, and what he has been through.
Wilson tells us that much planning and rehearsal went into this work and we can believe it. The complex soundscape involving music, sound effects and the backing recordings to his songs, is all precisely timed with Wilson’s spoken performance. The operator who manages the sound as well as the props, has a demanding job. Wilson addresses him briefly during the performance, something he could do more often. In true Brechtian tradition however, those of us who sit on the prompt side of the performance space, can see the operator clearly throughout.
As a performance artist and maker, MJ Wilson is well qualified and has created a number of works. Many have that sense of the absurd, which I hope he always nurtures.
In Cabaret Night Fever, he assures us early in the piece that ‘life is good – very relaxed’ but we suspect Wilson is trying to persuade himself and us. He uses the recurring motifs of his ‘psychologists’, ‘love’ and ‘horses’ to elaborate on his world, which includes politics. He shows us his amusing art piece, a sculpture based on the politician, Peter Dutton, which he created as an expression of his disdain of Dutton’s political views and actions. Then suddenly we are treated to a delightful word play such as ‘Hindu, huru, guru, Pikachu’, of dubious connection to anything.
His lengthy and sexy rendition of Olivia Newton-John’s Let’s Get Physical with a blow-up prop, became amusing, but it took a while to get there. After which Wilson’s conclusion that it is difficult to keep someone ‘pumped up’ was both funny and poignant, a clever double entendre for the sexual act as well as the fleeting nature of relationships. We are then shown a variety of actual pumps for the purpose. I enjoyed the cheapest $10 pump, which was also the noisiest.
Perhaps the most moving moment was Wilson’s question to Siri as to whether he is ‘ever going to find love’. Siri gives encouraging but standard answers in her familiar Australian accent – ‘I think you’re pretty great’. A ‘Russian folk song’ is found, complete with the picture of a notorious Russian leader riding a horse, shirtless. Was this Siri’s idea of a good love match for Wilson? If so, he gives the blow up prop to the Russian leader instead. He finishes with his ‘new’ psychologist’s advice to not give up, to be determined and take his place ‘in that queue’, hilariously referring to the line-up for the deli at Coles. But the best piece of wisdom that Wilson gets is from a book. It tells him that all we really need in life is . . . well you’ll have to find out.
So despite the hilarity, we can draw together threads of frustration and pathos in Wilson’s life that many of us can relate to, and this is our reward.
Cabaret Night Fever is an insane yet touching experience in the theatre. Treat yourself.