Arrrh, it’s pirate cabaret!
And can I just say before going any further what a relief it is to see a pirate who is not modelled on, inspired by or in any other way shamelessly copied from Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. OK, now I’ve got that off my dead man’s chest, let’s get to the show maties and this one is an absolute corker.
Tommy Bradson is a cabaret artist whose home port is rumoured to be in Sydney and with Pirate Rhapsody, Mermaid Requiem he displays his remarkable talent as a performer. Taking the stage with an eye patch and peg leg, he sings shanties of uncommon beauty about piratical topics – these mostly involving various deeds of debauchery. Never has shagging a drunk strumpet in the back of a tavern seemed so soulful.
In between, he addresses the audience, delivering speeches that fall into some wild no-man’s land between story-telling, poetry, standup and pure rant. All delivered in a thick Irish accent which, it has to be said is a great accent for ranting. Words rush from him like a surging tide, shifting from snippets of a dark fairytale about the high seas to tirades against contemporary life to general slamming of the universe. He is elegantly vulgar and ferociously poetic, his tragicomedic soliloquies containing both filth and splendour, both dark humour and raw emotion, raging with nihilism.
In the fairytale, his pirate’s beloved is a mermaid he plucked from the surf. Bradson plays her too, in drag and with a New York accent. She is depicted as a washed up (excuse the pun) cabaret diva, and Bradson performs her both with biting humour and with more nuance and pathos than you might expect from a man dressed as a mermaid.
Pirate Rhapsody, Mermaid Requiem is not entirely a one-man show – Bradson is accompanied on stage by a two piece shanty band – and the use of live music lifts the emotional intensity another notch. Bradson’s voice, as pirate or mermaid, goes straight to your heart, while his outrageous lyrics will do dirty things to your mind. He works the crowd extremely well, with audience interaction an organic part of the show.
The combined impact of this multi-faceted act almost defies description. It’s like a gravestone with an hilarious epitaph and a marble angel striking a rude pose on top, a clashing of contradictions that leaves you deeply affected but not sure whether you should be amused or heartbroken. It will make you laugh and it will make you think. At some points, it’ll make you recoil, but it’ll reel you straight back in like a hooked fish. Above all, it will make you feel, strongly, even if you can’t quite identify the emotion. There’s only one way to say it – it’ll shiver your timbers.
By Nick Spunde, for AUSTRALIAN STAGE
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