Naughty cabaret theatre that breaks all the thought-police rules.
Image: Claire Healy.
The old W.C Fields’ chestnut: ‘Never work with children or animals,’ needed an additional clause for the opening night of Impure Thoughts that added: ‘never work in freak monsoonal climate-change rain.’ It doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but you get the general idea. Because Claire Healy’s one-woman cabaret show at Melba Spiegeltent was an absolute hoot in so many ways but it suffered a near fatal blow from being literally drowned out by torrential rain.
Whilst Healy scored top marks for perseverance; we all know ‘the show must go on’. The audience requested that the volume be turned up – but the whole sound desk mixing, technical support for the artist was a bit of an epic fail. Which was a damned shame because the thing you needed to do most with Impure Thoughts was hear her self-styled ‘Cry Me A River’ modern Berlin cabaret lyrics and motifs that Healy so lovingly plumbed and penned from her own personal cache of ‘Six Martini’s And A Broken Heart To Go’. It was highly frustrating not be able to hear all her clever word plays and notable musical skills in full.
Healy shook up the cabaret form using the central theme of letting all of our impure thoughts run free. There were songs about Facebook messaging us to remind us how to ‘look good’ for a picture postcard FB post that includes five foods you ‘should not eat’. There were instructions on how not to date a man who is seriously mixed up followed by sad laments on the passionate affairs of the heart that were so beautifully serious in tone and suitably blue. Healy’s witty bon mots, and ironic twists and turn fantasy tributes – referencing The Big Banana and ‘turning her on’ – were both raunchy and fun. Ballads about Byron Bay Jesus freaks, her unsatisfying life in customer service, and the perils of having a ‘bicycle face’ were abrasively sarcastic and on pointe.
There’s something of Karen from Will and Grace in Healy’s style and a little bit of German cabaret legend Ute Lemper as well. There’s also a sweetness and certain coy, shy girl underneath all the brassiness when she revealed her slow-burn vulnerability. Healy would be belting out a powerful tune one minute, and the next she’d be asking an audience member to help her take off her shoe in a coquettish twist on the contemporary damsel in distress. She’d also belt out a number about the best kinds of nasty and poke fun at the vagaries of Instagram and there was a lot of content on ‘how to look good’ even when it was essentially being dissed. But melodrama was the rule overall here, rather than the exception.
Healy’s voice was octave cut or two above some of the best. Her band of all female musicians were suitably ramshackle but all consummate performers in their own right. I would have liked to see Healy involve them a bit more in the same way Yana Alana quips regular asides to the girls in her band. The French horn player was terrific but there were a few points during the early numbers when the musicians all seemed to be running their own race and needed to synchronise better.
For her part, Healy sits at a Roland keyboard and plays like pro but by far the best treat of the night was when she took up her piano accordion. She took her gin-swilling audience chosen assistant with her as she sampled the crowd’s answers to: “I’ve Never…”. This drinking game was the absolute highlight of the night and a very clever working over sideshow antics. She could work on her overall stage presence by linking all the disparate parts of the show with smoother transitions; and her performance persona needed much stronger anchoring at times. But Healy played one of the hardest gigs that I can recall with an unrelenting heckler in the form of all that rain. She can only have better odds next time.
3 ½ stars out of 5
Impure Thoughts presented by Hot Mess Productions
Created and Starring: Claire Healy
Melba Spiegeltent: 35 Johnson St, Collingwood
First published on
What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level