Banquet Room, Adelaide Festival Centre 15th June 2023.
The laughs flow freely from the start in this modern musical by Gillian Cosgriff. She is consummately balanced by a cast of three more singers, all with strong voices that easily handle the complex lyrics. Rather than have them playing multiple roles, the four characters are developed well during this show. Well, that is to the point they are left searching for their own further development.
Cosgriff slices and dices relationships with a sharp wit, landing plenty of original jokes about our expectations, desires and doubts. There are many themes woven in: dating, affairs, the monotony of monogamy, life after divorce, etc., while the core plot concerns the decision to have a child – or not. What if you really don’t feel the need?
The melodic tunes complement the wonderful wordplay, with catchy rhythms. The smooth segues between the dialogue and the songs are seamless. The song-crafting reaches a realm of excellence that would make her predecessors like Cole Porter, Gershwin, Webber and Sondheim proud – and yes, they were mostly blokes. It’s refreshing to hear a fully feminine perspective, much like when Nora Ephron took rom-coms to a new level, with heart and soul – and very funny.
Maybe the argy bargy/chit chat is extended longer than necessary occasionally (for a ‘musical’), but this is a work in progress, the result of a week of workshopping the project. And lots of talk is partly the point of this play – when do we decide and take action? We get to witness the messy, raw, organic process of the birth of a musical, and the writer still has decisions to make as to where this goes from here with her new baby. As such the delivery is crisp and spot on.
The titular Fig Tree features prominently, along with its fruit. Like an aphrodisiac or potion, one bite transports you into multiple worlds, the options of all those choices you might make. Again, because this is still early days, the staging could not show these, and sometimes they were simply read through.
The twist is of course, that deciding means eliminating other paths, closing them forever. And our modern lives certainly present us with a plethora of possibilities. One self-development mantra goes, ‘if you don’t decide, someone else will for you.’ This way, indecision is not freedom, it’s a trap.
Cleverly this show keeps us guessing, and leaves all the doors open. Although in a later song they sing in a duet: ‘I need this door to be a wall…’ and it’s all about locks, perhaps so there’s a pause, a chance to actually think and make up one’s mind. The standing ovation was well deserved for this highly entertaining work, already demonstrating huge potential.