A night out at the theatre just got a whole lot sweeter with two fabulous productions for the price of one. Emceed by fellow collaborator Benjamin Webb, Country Banana at 107 Redfern is the umbrella title for two separate performances that gives the audience plenty of laughter and tears.
First up, Country Chic starring Jared Gerschwitz is an entertaining cabaret show about his journey from a small farming town in South Australia to the big time in the UK as an out-and-proud bisexual performer, but the yellow-brick-road of success hasn’t always been so easy to follow. As a callow youth feeling out of place in a homogenous environment to his glittering experimental heydays in London, to the ongoing face-palm prejudice and pigeonholing about what it means to be bisexual, Gerschwitz gives the audience a very blue account of his professional and not-so-professional experiences that matches his blue attire from head to toe, including blue eye-shadow, blue nail varnish, blue flannel shirt and blue suede shoes. It isn’t long before he swaps his flannel shirt for sparkles and footwear to stunning 8-inch red pumps which he proudly struts around in to prove he can do it “without that awkward crab walk” that women often struggle with when wearing heels.
Accompanied by consummate pianist Emma Knights, Gerschwitz had the audience hooked with melt-in-your-ears mellifluous bass baritone tunes, so much so that I couldn’t help but be carried away by a bit of casting inspiration. “Have you ever been asked to play Elton John?” I asked tentatively after the show, hoping my question didn’t come across as ignorant after his scathing attack on how many banal and intrusive questions he gets asked about his identity. Gerschwitz graciously deigned to give a thoughtful and charming reply before excusing himself to accept flowers and praise from his waiting fans. He certainly has the charisma and stage presence to portray an icon like Sir Elton John, IMHO. Or John Lennon. Or John Farnham. Or any of the famous Johns, really. He has the voice of understanding, and all that showbiz pizzazz.
Whatever lies in store for his next adventure, casting directors take note – there’s an extraordinary amount of talent in the queer community and Gerschwitz is one to keep tabs on. That boy’s going places.
The second performance of the evening, Banana Crabtree Simon, is a one-man play by British snooker commentator David Hendon. Starring Gavin Maxfield as Alan, this emotionally painful and realistic play about early onset dementia has won numerous accolades for dealing with a delicate subject matter that most of us would prefer to avoid.
It all starts innocuously enough; Alan can’t quite remember which light switch is for the hall and for the main landing. It’s like not knowing where you put your car keys, or momentarily forgetting someone’s name. But Alan’s family isn’t letting it go; they are concerned perhaps a touch too cloyingly that at age 50 he is “becoming forgetful”. Alan’s rising panic at each misstep while being watched, judged, evaluated and assessed feels more and more distressing, while his mind slowly turns to the possibility that there could be something wrong with him.
Directed by Dan Phillips, Maxfield’s performance as Alan is absolutely pitch perfect and sincere; there’s not a note out of place or a moment that doesn’t ring true. We watch the flickering gamut of expressions from frustration, joy, tenderness and sadness as he recalls the memories of his past with varying degrees of emotional weight. His pained trauma of losing his sister, Annie, is evident in the words and heavy silences while he digs his long sturdy fingers in the plush of his chair, gripping it for some release of the tension within.
Accentuating the tension is the sound of the executioner’s drum; Alan is a prisoner, alone and wedged deep into the sofa with only his thoughts and confusing mixture of memories to give him any sense of identity.
Banana Crabtree Simon may seem like a nonsensical jumble of words, but they are references to things Alan must desperately cling to, to prove he isn’t going senile. Alas, as the gradual signs of cognitive decline become all too evident, his mind severed from any sense of reality reverts to the one childhood memory that still shines a light in his soul; the day of his sister’s wake when his father took him to the park to see the sunset over the town, and told him to never forget that he could be anything he wanted to be.
Country Banana is playing at 107 Redfern till 22 April 2023. For tickets and showtimes go to https://107.org.au/event/country-banana-2-in-1-showcase/
Images: supplied by Gavin Maxfield