Sunday, February 12, 2017

Theatre: BEATING THE ODDS ★★★½

The Hayley Stewart Story
The Voodoo Lounge
until 18 Feb 
It’s a sweet position to be in. Hayley Stewart, the proprietor of The Voodoo Lounge (“Setting the Standard in Adult Entertainment”) believes she has a story worth telling. She certainly has the means to do it – her cast are on the payroll and, to a large extent, pre-rehearsed, and if ever there was a site-specific setting, this is it.
The good news is that she’s made a pretty good fist of it. There are more than enough of the things she and her crew are experienced at to satisfy her existing audience (I’m not the person to ask about the quality of that work, but I suspect it was up there).
And while her lack of experience in the things she doesn’t customarily stage showed at times, she has the intelligence not to try too much or push too hard.
And she does have quite the story.  

The Perth demimonde mightn’t be much to write home about, but Stewart’s been in the thick of it. Arriving in the smoke from Wagin (I suspect they haven’t replaced the Big Ram with a statue of her yet) at the end of the '90s, little more than a baby, she was quickly into the strip scene that, along with bands, kept Perth’s neighbourhood pubs ticking along nicely with lots of cheap, accessible entertainment options.
Sex and rock ‘n’ roll bring out the worst in some people, though, and Stewart saw first hand the pressure the wowser element in the community and the corridors of power put on their purveyors. (For the sake of full disclosure, I did too, as a manager and promoter of some of the big pub bands of that era). There’s no doubt that the purging of the suburbs in the ‘80s and ‘90s left Perth duller, more expensive and more dangerous than it was when wickedness was out and about in the pubs!
It was Damned Whores and God’s Police, Anne Summers’ 1975 exposé of that dichotomy in society, that awakened the still very young Stewart to the politics behind her profession, and she’s not afraid to speak out about it.
She also absorbed a fair bit of mysticism, particularly from Greek mythology, and she’s on shakier ground here; although I can accept there might be a shared mystery among strippers and dancers, a sort of Masonic secret society with the Bacchanal and Dionysius as its iconography, it doesn’t read particularly clearly on stage.
Stewart is kind to her girls (who are all gorgeous and sweet) and her men (who – with one exception – have hearts of gold and are deeply misunderstood by polite society).
As she tells it, Stewart has had a fair bit of serendipity in her life (the reality, I suspect, might be a little less rosy), culminating in a fortunate meeting that delivered the shell of the notorious old Il Trovatore gambling den on James Street to her.
Which is where she, and we, are tonight.
If those walls could speak, what tales they might tell. Hopefully Hayley Stewart, encouraged by this very interesting and promising beginning, will return next Fringe to tell us more of them.

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