Belvoir St Theatre, May 22


It hits you most at the end, with a view from Belvoir’s stage of the massed empty seats. The lights being switched off is such an eloquent statement of the plight; of the hole in our lives, and especially in the lives of everyone involved in mounting shows and concerts. One can only wonder aloud why this trickle of financial support for the sector comes so late. Was it ideology, callousness or deafness? What is it that decision-makers don’t get about the arts being the community’s soul? Or does the fact that you can’t quantify the community’s soul on a ledger make it redundant?

Esther Hannaford, Photo: Brett Boardman. Top: Barbara andn the Camp Dogs (Brett Boardman).

This was Belvoir’s first foray out of the COVID ditch; having a peep at the possibility of performing, and letting the world have a peep back. Socially isolated artists sang songs from nine Belvoir shows spanning 13 years, with Virginia Gay playing MC, as well as opening proceedings by revisiting the title role of Calamity Jane and the glorious Black Hills of Dakota, joined by Laura Bunting.

If the performances were uneven, the spirit burned with universal brightness. Approaches varied from sitting in mufti staring at a laptop camera, to costumes and scene changes as elaborate as a video clip. The range of material was equally broad, with Xavier Samuel’s stylish version of the witty Outta the Bag (or The Cat Rap) from Lally Katz’s The Cat, for instance, being followed by Paula Arundell delving back to 2003’s memorable The Threepenny Opera. Her extreme close-up face was half-lit and slightly distorted, and her gripping Mack the Knife was stripped back to its intended disturbing menace.

Mike McLeish. Photo supplied.

James Majoos and Ayesha Madon’s Don’t Exist from Fangirls was all class and imagination, the veneer of fun masking a sadder undercurrent. Esther Hannaford was accompanied by Brent Hill in two songs from Mr Burns, her compelling performance enhanced by such visual flair as an eye-catching set cobbled together from milk-crates and candles.

Mike McLeish revisited the titular role in the much loved Keating! The Musical, singing Light on the Hill, and finally Ursula Yovich and three  colleagues sang Let in the Love from Barbara and the Camp Dogs, their immediacy, urgency, potency and conviction compounded by having the 50-minute show’s best sound.

Donations to Belvoir will currently be matched by an anonymous philanthropist.