PORCELAIN PUNCH TRAVELLING MEDICINE SHOW
Fortune Theatre Studio, Dunedin
20/03/2013 - 24/03/2013
Rejoice as you partake in the phenomenon of Porcelain Punch Miracle Cure, the extraordinary elixir of immortality. Curer of incurable conditions, bestower of beauty and extender of the under endowed.
Experience Amazing Acts, Fantastic Feats, Exquisite Oddities and Old Fashioned Integrity. Guaranteed or your money back! Note: Results may vary.
Fortune Theatre Studio
March 20, 21, 22, 23, 24; 10:00pm (20-23), 2:00pm (24)
Performed and created by Emilie Johnston, Madeline Hudson, Luke O’Connor, Christy Flaws and Alex Gellmann
A polished little gem
Review by Terry MacTavish 22nd Mar 2013
The Porcelain Punch Miracle Cure works its magic. The sheer enchantment of this apparently quaintly old-fashioned show, which in fact is extremely polished and sophisticated, will restore your joy in life. Every moment is a delight, and every performer a star. This talented troupe brings back the glory days of vaudeville.
The Fortune Studio houses a tiny stage with velvet curtains, reminiscent of a Punch and Judy show, through which peep shy white-face clowns in neat period costumes, with irresistible gap-toothed smiles.
Master of ceremonies, promising us a cure for snakebite, fleas, BO and infertility, is Luke O’Connor as Sir Leonard Grad, or Lenny, with a fluent sales pitch and absolute command of his material. His character’s task melds most fortuitously with the actor’s task of whipping up enthusiasm and a sense of bonhomie.
Lenny runs the variety show with practised ease, along with cute-as-a-button Ellie May Rose. She is played by Madeline Hudson, a skilled musician, singing charmingly as well as playing mandolin and piano accordion. Like O’Connor she is blessed with a gorgeously expressive face, that has the audience laughing before she has said a word. Together they coax their audience with quick patter and catchy songs to try the miracle product.
The travelling medicine shows, which originated in the Middle Ages but reached their zenith in the days of the Wild West, probably made their money chiefly from the sale of these dubious cure-alls (remember the Dr Good sold by the travelling show in Cher’s Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves?). To attract their customers, though, they entertained with songs and skits and sideshow acts. These acts demand a very specific theatre/circus style and all the actors have it down pat: larger than life, with aspects of clowning and an edge of gentle satire and self-mockery.
Appearing as more than one of these delightful classic sideshow freaks is the versatile Emilie Johnston. Firstly as the more public half of contortionist Molly Minks, she has been cleverly choreographed to appear ludicrously flexible while another actor plays her legs. Later she reappears on her knees in a sailor suit as tiny Shirley Crumble, a cross between Shirley Temple and Dickens’ Infant Prodigy, pining for her first real kiss. As she is subjected to giddy spinning on a turntable, the expression on Johnston’s marvellously rubbery face creates near hysteria in my neighbour.
(On after-thought the paragraph which was to appear here shall be omitted. The orgasmic feather dance you might just like to experience for yourself.)
The Wonder Boy, Alex Gellman, is produced encased in a crate: at first we see only an eye through a gap. He emerges at last, a gawky figure in a red fez, distinguished by comical wide-eyed naivety. After some not entirely successful juggling with apples, which allows for neat byplay with Lenny, who is never ever at a loss, Wonder Boy astonishes with a dazzling display of juggling knives.
Slender Christy Flaws as Little Timmie the Strongman, with elegantly pencilled moustache and subtly padded briefs, is both very funny and weirdly sexy. Her apparent feats of strength actually provide an opportunity for Flaws to showcase her slick hula hoop prowess. I hadn’t immediately realised that Flaws and O’Connor are the actors who made such an impression with the wonderful Bubblewrap and Boxes in 2010. Melbourne is lucky to possess these splendid troupers, but NZ can take some pride in contributing to the circus training of Flaws at least.
Abruptly a man is pulled from the audience to demonstrate the efficacy of Porcelain Punch. His instant response is terrific (“One of the best volunteers we’ve ever had!”) and wildly applauded. Mind you, as these snake oil concoctions contained mostly alcohol, it would indeed have given quite a kick to the unsuspecting customer.
How clever, to both create and satisfy nostalgia for an age most of us never actually knew. Of its type, the Porcelain Punch Travelling Medicine Show is quite perfect, a polished little gem. No miracle, just talent honed by dedicated hard work. You’ll relish every drop and be back for more.
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