[WORLD PREMIERE ~ AUS ~ IF YOU LOVE… TO REMINISCE]
The Famous Spiegeltent, Sat 8 Jun.
“Can’t even review! What’s this then, slut?”
Steven Oliver is a very funny man. He is a very funny Aboriginal man. He is a very funny Aboriginal man who is fabulously out as a gay person.
Five years ago when the TV series Black Comedy first aired on the ABC, it was a breath of fresh air – original, confronting, gasp for air funny. For Indigenous viewers, they were finally getting to see their mob on TV, representing First Nations Peoples in a way previously unseen. And for the broader ‘white fella’ audience, we were put in the intriguing and sometime uncomfortable position of trying to work out if we were even allowed to laugh at these jokes. They held up some uncomfortable perspectives about the way white Anglo-Saxons have treated Indigenous people for hundreds of years, while making laser-precision, piss-yourself funny sketch comedy.
So many stand-out performers and comedic creations: the ‘Call The Cops’ woman, Nakkiah Lui’s children’s television presenter, the magnificently inappropriate cultural appropriation of Brooke Satchwell’s ‘deadly’ speech. But none more so than Steven Oliver whose straight talking Aboriginal Help Line Black On Track left me gasping for air more than not. But the biggest break away characters were The Tiddas.
Tiddas is an Aboriginal term meaning ‘women who are like sisters’, but has taken on a double meaning for men who are gay. Along with Aaron Fa’Aoso, Oliver had a recurring camp-off on various topics: ‘Can’t even dance’, ‘Can’t even shop’, etc., to which each claim was met with “What’s this then, slut?” The skirmishes escalated over two seasons and morphed in to a hilarious romance. If you haven’t seen Black Comedy, y’know, you really should, it’s really important and it is very funny.
The world premiere of Steven Oliver’s solo show Bigger And Blacker is taking place in The Famous Spiegeltent, a beautiful and atmospheric venue. One disadvantage of having the debut start at 3pm, is that the afternoon sun is blasting through the windows (beautiful as they may be) and blinding much of the audience for much of the performance. People are squinting, shading their eyes or popping on their ‘sunnies’ to be able to see Oliver in his impressive tuxedo.
With Michael Griffiths on piano, their “Can’t even sing your opening number” call out, is really the only concession to his most popular creation. Not to say there is none of the ‘fababoriginal’ of that onscreen creation, because it’s in every molecule of this hilarious, moving and often surprising Cabaret debut. There may have been some in the audience that have seen some of his spoken word/poetry pieces on YouTube, but certainly there were many this afternoon who had not.
And he can sing. And dance! Opening with the excellent Minority, a song about being ‘a minority in a minority’, and followed by a song about partying at his favourite gay club The Manhole, he is not beyond being suggestively filthy without ever hitting offensive. Surprisingly he talks about not wanting to be involved in the second series of Black Comedy and being coerced into doing it, even though he wasn’t comfortable at all.
Getting a bit famous had it drawbacks, too, and it changed him and the people around him in ways that didn’t make him happy and took the joy out of life, when he should have been enjoying it the most. Using the example of not being able to go and dance with his friends in a club, because people would start filming or asking for selfies.
These stories are heartfelt, sad and poignant. Searching for love is harder too, in person or on-line, and he reminds us several times he is still single, but this makes for great songs about love and loss. Foolish, My Heart Is Saying and You Make Me Fee…l are all excellent classic songs of love and loss and Just Like Smoke is a stand out for me. It’s not all introspection though: Piece Of Mind features a machine gun fast political rap and some moonwalking. Shake Your Ass, about the love of dancing, is joyous and inspiring.
He talks (and sings) about mental health in Are You Okay? Some Day Some Place is about finding your comfort zone and the audience sing-a-long on his empowerment number You’re Powerful was exactly that.
Tonight is opening night and he forgets to announce that this was his last song, negating the need to leave the stage and return for the encore. The performance of I Am A Black Fella at the show’s end inspires a much-deserved standing ovation.
Far from just a ‘What’s This Then Slut?’ Steven Oliver delivers a complex, multi-faceted and often frenetic performance full of poignancy, laughter, talent and love. It’s a triumph.
Steven Oliver ~ Bigger And Blacker continues at The Famous Spiegeltent, Adelaide Festival Centre, from 7pm until Sun 9 Jun.
Book at BASS on 131 246 and adelaidecabaretfestival.com.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.