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In Flagrante
Co-producers: MaryJane O'Reilly, Phil O'Reilly, Peter Styles
Choreographer: Mary Jane O'Reilly

at Theatre Royal, Nelson
From 27 Nov 2012 to 28 Nov 2012
[1 hour 15 mins]

Reviewed by Janet Whittington, 29 Nov 2012

Just before the start of the Nelson performance of MaryJane O'Reilly's In Flagrante, the capacity crowd chats noisily, excitedly. Cabaret-style tables set up in front of the permanent seating is most uncommon for our Theatre Royal. At half-time, that excited buzz is muted, and at the beginning of the second half, despite the power of the show, several seats are left empty. And I wonder why.

Perhaps it has something to do with the difference between the classic style of burlesque - elaborate costumes decorated with pretty feathers and sequins, carefully coiffed hairdos, and a certain coquettishness in performance -  and the very contemporary style now being performed in New Zealand cities?  Perhaps the section of our audience who departed at half time had expected the former, and was put outside their comfort zone by what was presented? I guess we will never know.

The dictionary I looked it up in describes it as: “...a humorous and provocative stage show featuring slapstick humor, comic skits, bawdy songs, striptease acts, and scantily clad female chorus…” And that is what O'Reilly delivers although you may debate about the degree of striptease, as they were mostly scantily clad throughout the show. But although it evokes the requisite emotions and themes, her neo-burlesque evokes the edgy, uncomfortable side of sex – sex as power and women as chattels, and involves shocking contemporary elements  - darker deviant sex; a dominatrix, whips, leather, animals, disgust, spite, power.

Some unprepared patrons leave. Most stay. We are all in the deep end. It is uncomfortable for women to sit through.

On the lighter side, burlesque humour is most prevalent, with two skits featuring Molly McDowall and Megan Hughes. Both parody the 1950's take on the perfect housewife and home baker, accompanied by the sanitized trite text of the time, delivered teasingly, and evocatively and humorously misconstruing every meaning. Licking my fingers next time I bake will never be the same again!

Still the war of dominance scores every try. Blindfold' with Maria Munkowits straining at the reins of her controller Megan Hughes impresses and is the stand out piece in this respect. And just before half time, the magician's assistant scores a pivotal goal. Amanda Mcfarlane is delightful, prancing around on stage, in “The Great ex Redondo”. The assistant finally has the stage to herself, pulling rabbits out of hats – and Redondo's severed head. I get it!

The mood lifts in the second half. The wit rises readily from the dancers. We laugh and cheer them through to the Cancan, dresses firmly clenched in their teeth, eyes glaring at us, the frayed denim shorts visible underneath.

O'Reilly does not aim for a Spielberg/Disney delivery which pleases everyone all of the time, and her burlesque blurs the borders which differentiate “artistic” from “exotic” dance. Consequently, a mind-shift is required, and if you find this kind of experience disturbing, this performance is probably not for you.

On the other hand, our appreciative audience enjoyed the fun of the titillation, the skill of the physicality of the moves, and the dancer's skill in expression as they pieced together the story on stage. Facial and body expression is the main feature of the second half. The performers flourished character and opinion throughout. This contrasted sharply with the austere first half where they had deadpan expression or the faces covered with masks or strapped with bridles.  I was prepared for the blurred genre and therefore not disturbed, and am still enjoying it the next day.

Last, I must compliment O'Reilly on her choice of music. Super cool Austrian lounge group Waldeck's album 'Ballroom Stories'. I need a copy of that album now. It is the icing on this cake that makes it whole.

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