Sweet Charity, Canberra Theatre Centre*

12 Feb

* I attended Sweet Charity as a guest of the Canberra Theatre Centre.

As the light dims in the Playhouse, the Girls, Girls, Girls sign shines as bright and red as the short dresses on the ‘taxi dancers’ flirting before us. And in the first five minutes, we learn everything about the character of Charity Hope Valentine (Verity Hunt-Ballard) – sweet Charity: her ‘temporary’ career as a dance hall hostess (a murky world of being available for men without working in a brothel) leaves her matter-of-fact; her hopefulness makes her gullible; her desperation leaves her clingy and vulnerable – with rather horrific outcomes.

Charity has no qualifications and no clerical skills, but wants an office job. Her dance hall hostess career mires her from future relationships.  When there’s some genuine interest in her, she tries to pay for the interest with her body. This combination of circumstances leads to her being locked in a lift with a nervous, proper man and the fates seem to finally have aligned. Hopefully.

If the storyline seems very simple, it is. And, to draw a crude comparison with Grease, the spunky musical numbers mask messages which might sit as uncomfortably with you as they did with me as I left the venue. Make no mistake: this isn’t an uplifting story.

But the performances. WOW.

The set is bare bones. Apart from the sign it’s largely dominated by a band right on stage, some hanging closets, some chairs, and two wheeled mirrors – reflective on one side, and semi-transparent on the other. That’s largely it. And apart from scenes involving a lake, I’m easily transported to the inside of a train, a ferris wheel, a lift, and the dance hall thanks to the actors’ simple, effective behaviours. It’s very, very clever, and the lack of set distractions means the strong musical numbers are even stronger.

Hunt-Ballard plays such a highly nuanced character so well from scene to scene to scene (not surprisingly, the entire show revolves around her – making her performance even more compelling and thrilling). She’s beautifully complemented by Martin Crewes and Debora Krizak who each assume several characters seamlessly (and very quickly between scene changes). The scenes with Charity’s dance hall friends are the best. Glorious in their stomping strength; heart-wrenching in the vacant expressions, the depressing pragmatism.

You won’t leave the theatre motivated or inspired, but you will be impressed.

Date: Wednesday, 11 February 2014

Cost: I attended as a guest of Canberra Theatre Centre; costs range from $59-89

Want more? Buy tickets here.

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