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Songs for the Fallen

Courtesan Marie Duplessis and her gang of bohemians have produced a triumph of indie theatre.
By Jessica Keath
December 12, 2012
By Jessica Keath
December 12, 2012

Songs for the Fallen is one of those excellent finds that gives you faith in human ingenuity. It is one of many artistic imaginings of the life of Marie Duplessis, the 19th-century Parisian courtesan best known as the protagonist of Moulin Rouge. Sheridan Harbridge has devised the original piece with fellow actors Ben Gerrard and Garth Holcombe, director Shane Anthony, and composer/musican Basil Hogios. The team is obviously dynamite together as the result is a hilarious, self-aware piece of sophisticated debauchery.

We enter the dinky Old Fitz Theatre to find designer Michael Hankin has decked it out with a luscious, satin-covered bed of sin in front of a gorgeous red velvet backdrop and theatrical 19th-century music hall facade. There is of course also a fourth wall, but this is taken down pretty quickly, as Harbridge declares to delighted audience member Linda that she's "taken it down and it's not going up again!"

Self-reference in theatre can sometimes be painful and indulgent, but here any references to the show itself are pointed and funny. For example, as Harbridge switches from a French accent to posh Australian, she tells us she simply can't be bothered keeping the French up. Fair enough, she has a lot else keeping her busy. Men, in particular — many men. Gerrard takes the lion's share of playing the gentleman customers, while Holcombe narrates nobly from upstage, translating the words pomme and frites ad infinitum.

This farrago of a show has pop tunes galore, most of which have been composed by Hogios with Harbridge's lyrical input. Using a microphone bound in pink velvet and white satin ribbon, Harbridge bursts into song in many awkward positions and is supported royally by Hogios at his little musical station in the corner. His opening sequence is particularly clever, as he morphs his way seamlessly between baroque interpretations of Nirvana and Blondie on what sounds like an electronic harpsichord.

Like the burlesque master Meow Meow, Harbridge has a gift for being at once vulgar, intelligent, and elegant. It's a rare thing. She and her gang of bohemians have produced a triumph of indie theatre.

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