Torte e Mort: Songs of Cake and Death

Christopher Fieldus

Shirking the ornaments of period language and affected accent, this Antoinette bites down on the contemporary tongue.
Torte e Mort: Songs of Cake and Death

Photo by Kate Pardey 

Pins, thorax, and whipped cream wig intact, Marie Antoinette appears, decked out in an eighteenth-century French court dress seemingly designed after Sofia Coppola’s shoe-shopping candy-flipping imagination. Channeling the kewpie doll, La Catrina, long-antecedent First Wives’ Club member, Regency Barbie and Jacob Marley, Anya Anastasia presents Madame Déficit as a spoilt and sullied debutante.

Proceeding down the nave of her audience, she is led, by her drummer and a lady’s maid dropping rose petals, up the steps to her platform: a plainly decorated altar, featuring drum kit, bell tassel fringed keyboard, and the guillotine, looming comfortably behind, its frame burning mandarin red under a purple iris wash, with a hacksaw in place of its blade.

Taking her position behind the keyboard, she bursts into a manic spate of camp playfulness with her opening number, 'You can lose your head in so many ways...'

Ensconced in the pit of Melba Spiegeltent, we bear witness to a strange and lurid summoning. Raising her champagne coupe, she asks 'shall we start with spirits?' and makes a toast to her death day: 'Let’s relive it again. Let’s relive it again. Let’s relive it - ' and the drink is forced down her throat by the drummer, who has pulled on an executioner’s hood and now pronounces the 'glug glug glug.'

What follows is a systematic deconstruction of Antoinette, with Anastasia playing the woman herself, the woman as body, the woman as head, her own estate auctioneer and a self-loathing she-devil, with gleefully absurd interludes as a colourful Diá de Muertos skeleton under blacklight.

Multidextrous executioner-come-percussionist Bec Matthews drives an incessant beat, with tambor, duck whistle, hacksaw, xylophone among the miscellany of instruments balanced across the beating drums. Across the stage, stiff, silent and lingering in the wings, is her faithful lady’s maid, performing Madame’s lightning quick costume changes behind the scenes, and faithfully providing harmonies.

With a singing voice located somewhere between Charli XCX and Kate Miller-Heidke, and a predilection for the Spektoresque staccato, Anastasia’s original repertoire seamlessly blends calypso, blues and pageant march; her lyrics dovetail the crass and camp with an acutely morbid abandon as she holds forth Antoinette’s wealth, her designer wardrobe, her gluttony, waste and wanton.

In a number arranged à la ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man…,’ the lyrics go, 'I’m gonna drink champagne and party till I’m dead ... Live beyond my means, buy it all on credit ... If the sun is burning hot I’ll buy a bigger umbrella … I’ll be working on my tan sitting in a sauna in the embers.'

Shirking the ornaments of period language and affected accent, this Antoinette bites down hard on the contemporary tongue, lending a peculiarly Australian vulgarity to her performance, and twisting the meaning of ‘luxury’ back around to its Old French usage, meaning lasciviousness and sinful self-indulgence.

Having unearthed and autopsied Antoinette, Anya Anastasia leaves her, once again, in pieces, discarding the persona just as she asks her audience to discard the parts of Madame Royale presently discovered in ourselves and in those who govern us.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Torte e Mort: Songs of Cake and Death

Written and performed by Anya Anastasia
Directed by Sarah Ward (Yana Alana) and Sue Broadway
Live percussion by Bec Matthews

Melba Spiegeltent
16 - 20 September 2015 at 8.30pm

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

About the author

Christopher Fieldus is a theatre critic and dramaturg