Review: Em Rusciano Difficult Woman at Adelaide Festival Centre

Emma Bedford

This darling of Adelaide commercial radio Em Rusciano can sing, of that there is no doubt.
Review: Em Rusciano Difficult Woman at Adelaide Festival Centre

Em Rusciano. Supplied.

At 8pm in Adelaide’s Festival Theatre as one of the headline acts of Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Em Rusciano busts out onto stage in a magenta crushed velvet cat suit, at one end there are polka dot, mesh-polyester, lantern-sleeves and at the other, black knee-high stretch fabric boots. She’s loud, unapologetic and swears like a sailor right through the first song. It’s such rollicking good fun from the get-go that Rusciano reprises the opening number for the benefit of the (plentiful) latecomers and the clatter and hum of the show continues on in this vein; tight musical numbers featuring Rusciano, accompanied by her three remarkable female back-up vocalists and ‘my band’, an 18 piece comprising seasoned musicians that have played alongside John Farnham.


It’s a two-hour show with lashings of glitter and sparkle, from Rusciano’s diamante encrusted microphone and stand, to her post-interval costume change into a structured red dress, possibly made from the over-size skin of a hairless animal, rolled in glitter.

Rusciano’s style is playful and frank, it’s not really stand up but she’s shocking and funny at first, leading us on a winding journey, a commentary on being a female in the public eye in this modern age, and her musical influences. Her lines are by turns cutting and inspiring 'I want to scorch the earth in front of me so my daughters have a clear path', or her thoughts on her aging idol Madonna’s beauty routine of putting  'albino seal-sperm from Narnia on her face'.

This darling of Adelaide commercial radio Em Rusciano can sing, of that there is no doubt. We’re treated to dialogue sprinkled with hits drawn from her favourite’s – Beyoncé, Donner Summer, Madonna, Tina Arena, John Farnham and Stevie Wonder. She belts out these offerings with control and versatility at her fingertips.

She goes on to talk about life growing up as a second generation immigrant ('Tina Arena is my fairy wog-mother'), we meet her parents, at first anecdotally and then, as they are in the audience, she welcomes them onstage stage to dance, rather uncomfortably, to Stevie Wonder’s 'Do I do'.

Billed as a ‘riotous celebration of lady-bosses’ there is the occasional inspirational gem 'Men build and women decorate’ she says ‘I’m not difficult I’m just f---ing sick of decorating' but we’re mostly subjected to a narcissistic girl-rant. She draws attention to her own flaws, asking us if we can see her caesarean scar or her post-baby lumpy-tummy whilst wearing her cat suit. After interval she’s splits her dress at the zip and bares her arse several times to show us the extent of the damage, flicking up the back of her rhinoceros ball-gown.

Post-interval, the show’s banter stops pretending to reference difficult women in general and becomes more about how being a woman is difficult, only it’s not ‘hear-me-roar’ womanhood, it’s the picket fence, 2.4 children kind of womanhood of previous generations, celebrating of a special brand of dumbed down ‘feminism’ that finds us cheering at homilies about married life 'my husband who I hate and love in equal measure' and clapping in solidarity about a loads of stinking washing. Rusciano has been drinking Rose from the bottle throughout the show, endearing at first until she hunkers down to slurp up a spill from the stage floor.

The show ceases being endearing and volatile, becoming increasingly egocentrically vacuous. '…This is my home and you are my crew. Thank you. My husband was like, thank goodness you’ll have a stage to stand on.'

There’s a lot going on here, the songs are great, the insecurities are rampant and her mantra, she tells us is 'Be kind to everyone. Don’t take s---. (Everyone’s a c---).'

She wants to leave us feeling Em-powered. Hers is a voice from the land of commercial radio, roaring as a woman perhaps, but at pre-approved decibel levels and as an expression of middle-class values.

2 stars ★★

Em Rusciano Difficult Woman
Musical Direction by Chong Lim
Adelaide Festival Centre’s Festival Theatre
9 June 2018

Adelaide Cabaret Festival
8-23 June 2018

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

Emma Bedford is a writer, professional audio describer, and general life enthusiast. Emma is also a production manager for theatre, festivals and major events.