The Phantum: Evil Sucks
Written and directed by Zac Gillam
University Dramatic Society
Dolphin Theatre, UWA
Reviewed: Friday 18th October by Craig Edwards
The promotional material for this show read something along the lines of "Purple lycra, Seven piece rock band, awesome fight scenes...why wouldn't you go?". For those who aren't quite clued in, Zac Gillam's latest theatrical outing is an adaptation of the comic strip "Phantom: the ghost who walks" - not Phantom of the Opera - and a parody at that. Admittedly, I was somewhat apprehensive prior to seeing this show - partially because it is by mostly the same team that worked on last year's hilarious UDS version of Monkey Magic, and I was unsure as to whether they could top that effort with a show that I predicted would run along the same basic formula.
Upon the drawing of the curtains, it was obvious that the rest of the audience did not share my apprehension - by the time the first sounds were heard bellowing from the drum-kits around the theatre the audience was already cheering for the entrance of the lycra-clad lead. And rightly so - the opening musical number was a treat, both deliciously funny and musically energetic. As was the rest of the show - Zac Gillam has managed to put together a sometimes clever, sometimes lowbrow spoof whilst staying faithful to the characters and traditions ('for those who came in late...') of the original comic strip. The plot outline is fairly standard stuff - the Phantom has to save the world from the evil pirates and scheming scientists (again). This time, however, he must also save his marriage, now on the rocks as Dana, his empowered UN inspector wife, is leaving him after too many years of being neglected in favour of (the somewhat henpecked) Phantom's day-job of fighting evil dictators.
The performances were strong - obviously in the sense of hilarious comic acting, rather than Citizen Kane style drama. Being a spoof of a comic, there is a lot of hamming going on in this play - but all in a self-knowing manner that suits the genre. Brendon Fisher, as the Phantom, played a surprisingly 'straight-man' role, maintaining a dead-pan performance of the hen-pecked, simplistic-thinking but noble hero amongst the crazy characters that fill the rest of the show. Foremost of these is Jamie McNamara as the evil, and exceedingly camp 'Lord Gingivitis Sing'. I've had the pleasure of watching Jamie mature as an actor over the past few years, and whilst it pains me to expand the man's ego, his performances have improved in leaps every time. In this play he undoubtedly stole the show, with barely a pause in the laughs whenever he was on stage. Ben Tredrea and Cat Commander, as President Rusty Tutu and Dana respectively, also had numerous comic moments. As is often the case in these shows, however, the villians had the best material to work with - and the evil trio of Jamie, Richie Flanagan (Dr Zee) and Teresa Jakovich (Ms Filling) camped it up brillantly. Special mention should also go to the four actors playing the Roughnecks (Zac Gillam, Jason Roe, Javier Pereira and Will Manning), and in particular the (De Niro-style) taxi driver (Mike Lewis) for getting a great deal of humour out of not so many lines.
As for the promised fight scenes? The lead and a number of the cast were experienced Kung Fu practitioners, and whilst I'm not sure that readers of the Phantom comics pictured their hero to be quite so 'Jet Li' in his approach to bashing heads, the fight scenes are a leap above anything I've scene on stage before. There were a few moments where you could tell that a flying kick didn't actually connect, but these were well and truly outweighed by the surprise of seeing movie-style acrobatics in a stage-play, combining flying double-head-kicks with three stooges buffoonery. One of my greater disappointments was the lack of stage-time given to the martial arts and dance-trained Roughnecks in the latter half of the piece - whilst they were a little more hesisitant in their dialogue than the other performers, their physical comedy pieces were delightful.
Congradulations should also go to the seven piece rock band that provided the accompaniment for the various musical pieces strewn through-out the show. A note should be made, however, that whilst the show bill itself as a 'rock musical', it isn't Phantom of the Opera - the songs generally function as spoofs and the dances are mainly set-piece gags. That isn't to say the music wasn't good - just that the emphasis was less on piercing falsettos and bellowing tenors, but rather on humour, funk guitar riffs and rock-music quality singing. The most notable exception to this, however, would be the far too rare vocal displays of Jamie McNamara and Teresa Jakovich.
In all, Zac has again done justice to a well-loved piece of popular culture. There were a few minor flaws, for instance a couple of the actors took a few lines to 'warm in' their vocal projection, and at times the various Phantom poses adopted by Brendon would cause the odd line to be muffled. Also, whilst the vast majority of gags hit the spot, there were a couple of self-referential jokes that didn't manage to seamlessly fit in to the overall style of the play. Finally, if you're not into sillyness in theatre, and you hated Zac Gillam's version of Monkey Magic, then you'd probably be better off avoiding this in favour of a more 'serious' artrage show. Nevertheless, the fact that by the end of the show the crowd was clapping along (unprompted) to the final songs and cheering in a manner more often seen at a rock gig gives a pretty good indication of the show's enjoyment-factor. Congradulations to UDS for both producing a show that is extremely funny, and also for attracting a lot of comic-loving audience members who would ordinarily never consider going to watch a stage-play.
HIVE (Her Infinite Variety Ensemble) presents
By April De Angelis, by arrangement with Origin Theatrical on behalf of Samuel French, Ltd.
Directed by Helen Doig
Starring Rhoda Lopez as Nell Gwyn and Angelique Malcolm as Mary Betterton, Claire Munday as Doll Common, Tiffany Barton as Elizabeth Farley and Summer Williams as Rebecca Marshall