The Show Must Go On: Review of On/Off
Playing now at the Bordello theatre in the King’s Cross Hotel is Lisa Chappell’s theatre/cabaret fusion On/Off (2013). Set on stage and back stage of a cabaret show, it tells the story of two down and out singers and their mute accompanist. Of the duo, Maddy is an apparent alcoholic recently out of a relationship with her boyfriend, referred to only as Fuck Face; Sara is the trophy wife of some non-descript millionaire, who pursues cabaret as her hobby and sole creative outlet. Twenty minutes before the start of their set Sara discovers that her husband is leaving her, seemingly because of her inability to have children. Simultaneously, and rather coincidentally, Maddy discovers that she is knocked up with Fuck Face’s unwanted off-spring. Nevertheless, the show must go on.
What follows is a set of Jazz and American song book standards, such as Get Happy, Cheek to Cheek and Anything You Can Do. However, this show is different – the performers are coming apart at the seams and manage to make a meal of the songs in turn. Their real accomplishment however is in managing to destroy each tune whilst actually performing them to a high standard (with great comic flare). This is no mean balancing act. The results are both hilarious and entertaining, a real credit to the actors’ talents.
Lisa Chappell plays Maddy Jacobson, the tough though unsurprisingly single performer who possesses a rather crass sense of humour. Maddy lives on the wild side; she enjoys sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, in the midst of being one half of a dead-beat cabaret act. In performance, Chappell demonstrates a wonderful comic sensibility, being completely on the ball during the cabaret numbers (both on and off stage). But she demonstrated even greater skill in producing a poignancy amidst the comedy. She captivated the audience with pure moments of introspection, creating a real layer of humanity that seemed originally missing from Maddy’s gruff personality.
Marissa Dikkenberg played Sara Sommerville, a lonely trophy wife who enjoys her cabaret a little too much. She is the definition of pro-am until the news breaks, acting as the catalyst for her breakdown and the show’s comedy. Dikkenberg did a wonderful job of playing the ‘happy-go-desperate’ wife; she complemented Chappell on stage whilst holding her own comically. Both women sported a powerful singing voice which made it a joy to listen to the old classics. If anything is to be criticised it would have to be the opening sequence, in which both tended to overplay the comedy. This perhaps suggests a need for a closer directorial hand here.
Special mention to Daryl Wallis playing John their pianist – sporting the dark glasses, and remaining both aloof and unresponsive to his co-stars – he was a great keyboard player and it was a real treat to watch the live music.
The show certainly picks up after the opening (more dramatic) scene has been taken care of and the songs are given centre stage. There may be a slight imbalance within the production as a whole – the songs are all done in a humorous and lighthearted way, whilst the plot itself seems to be aiming for something more poignant that never fully materializes. Regardless, the real entertainment lies in the music, the singing and comic business. This alone is reason enough to head into the Cross.
On/Off is playing at the King’s Cross Hotel until the 15th of December. For more information and bookings see: http://www.lisachappell.net/news/