Evie May is a charming and emotional backstage tale, which, notwithstanding its period setting, has currency and relatability.
Amanda Harrison, Loren Hunter and Bishanyia Vincent. Photo by Nik Damianakis.
The cast is high above, and turned away toward an imagined audience. This is the last night of ‘The Tiv’ and they are taking their final bows. One figure breaks back to turn to the actual House. This is Evie and her story, teased out by her Dresser Col and borne on nostalgia, will play out as an era ends and a theatre bares all. Evie May is a charming and emotional backstage tale, which, notwithstanding its period setting, has currency and relatability.
Physically, the Tivoli Theatre was in Castlereagh Street but the Tivoli Circuit took vaudeville, showgirls, overseas acts and headliner appeal all over the country from the 1910s to the 60s. It is an American act that captures the attention of Evelyn May Murphy, as she was then, who has sneaked in to big city Perth to see a show. Evie and Evelyn will share the space to tell one fictional story, the excellence of this production begins in that conceit. A modern take on a past of living memory this is a new work, from Hugo Chiarella and Naomi Livingstone which thrives on and engages with a contemporary sensibility.
Bishanyia Vincent and Loren Hunter. Photo Nik Damianakis.
Told through a series of flashbacks, some of which allow those who remember to wallow: ‘Oh Baby Be Nice’ has all the old moves, Evie May has lyrics, themes and perspectives that ring with #timesup. And Director Kate Champion has a choreographic sense of image to bring the shared role into alignment: the elder sometimes standing behind the younger to express a sentiment or expressively alone watching in a spotlight glare or from dim shadows.
Amanda Harrison is in command from that first turn. Her Evie increasingly brittle as tamped down memory is shaken by the decisions of Loren Hunter’s equally superbly rendered Evelyn. Events will carapace the star in glamour and Harrison and Hunter have a shared sturdiness, a square shouldered carriage that underscores their secrets. Vocally their blend is delicious and when they are joined by the delightful performance of Bishanyia Vincent as June, the show lovingly reflects a female energy and shared oppression.
This is also an accomplished male cast whose playful and truthful work foregrounds the humanity and complexity of Evie’s background. Most of them play multiple roles with clear delineation, some lovely comic moments and consummate singing and acting. If the number of songs, especially the reprises and repeats, may need trimming, the various events are evoked with a variety of styles and an heroic use of guitar in the orchestration under the hand of Stephen Kreamer.
Tim Draxl and Loren Hunter. Photo Nik Damianakis.
As befits a women’s story, Evie May is a meticulously constructed production. Anna Gardiner’s design is simplicity itself with a stripped black platform and set of multi-use stairs, bare makeup table and overflowing costume rack. With marvellous detail. Long gowns with ease of movement in the slightly higher front giving the implied sweep of a train and shoes and jewels to match. Other creative aspects carry the same subtle intricacy and theatricality. From the 60s swatch of green eyeshadow to the exciting animation early in the show, the design and tech gently travel the character and the narrative. With text responsive lighting, look for the black and white of early television, and a splendidly designed audio mix, the production has the seamless finesse which allows uninhibited absorption in the music of Evie’s struggle to recover from the past to a wholeness of being and self-acceptance.
Evie May ends in a bareness of space, an echo chamber of those limited choices that empowered a modern movement. This is an entertaining, crafted, timely and relevant work.
4 ½ stars ★★★★☆
Book & Lyrics by Hugo Chiarella, Music & Lyrics by Naomi Livingston
Presented by Hayes Theatre Co and New Musicals Australia
Director: Kate Champion
Musical Director: Steven Kreamer
Musical Supervisor: Max Lambert
Designer: Anna Gardiner
Lighting Designer: Sian James-Holland
Sound Designer: Nate Edmondson
Starring: Amanda Harrison, Loren Hunter, Keegan Joyce, Tim Draxl, Jo Turner, Bishanyia Vincent