Sunny Leunig offers his guide to unhappiness in the hope that we’ll give a “thumbs up for melancholy, yearning and a deeper relationship to the world”. There’s merit in the idea of an exploration of the less-jolly side of life and I wanted to like this show a lot more than I did. Unfortunately, the meandering tale of Leunig’s kindred spirit, Cousin Marco, and his influence on Sunny’s life became a challenge to follow and ultimately promised more than it delivered.
Leunig begins by explaining that he’s a magospher – the greatest and only magospher in the world – a magician who only does tricks that have some sort of meaning. After introducing his musical accompanist and assistant Sad Sack Sara, it’s a slow start as they wait for missing sidekick Jono Burns. The references to the absent Jono continue for so long it seems he may not actually exist but he finally arrives, bringing some much-needed energy to the performance.
Philosophical musings from Sartre, Nietzsche, Camus and others are sprinkled throughout the story of Sunny’s personal journey, bookending a series of illusions. The show moves quite quickly from one idea to the next and because the connections between the philosophy and the magic are not always as clear as they could be, the tricks have less impact than they deserve. In the “box of doom”, Sara is severed at the waist but there is little suspense. A game of “Which hand?” with a helper from the audience is more successful and at this point it feels as if we’re back on track.
The trio initially rally some audience participation with the chorus of the show’s theme tune (“life is miserable”), but it feels a bit forced and by the third time round it’s definitely a struggle. There are some genuinely touching moments. Home movies of the young Sunny and Marco are engaging and there are several delicate, whimsical animations and musical interludes which are welcome but frustratingly truncated. The obvious talents of all three performers are underused, with quick glimpses of Sara Retallick’s sublime voice and Leunig’s guitar skills almost a teaser of what might have been. I was left longing for some more of these too-brief moments of connection.
Despite the gloomy subject matter, some worthwhile messages emerge. There may always be a cloud in every silver lining, but even if we can’t outrun unhappiness we can find a way through it by accepting sadness as part of the repertoire of human emotion. In this case, though, the examined life fell just short of the usual high-quality Cabaret Festival fare.
More Adelaide Cabaret Festival reviews
Review: Hans – Like a German
Review: Idina Menzel
Review: Puta Madre Brothers
Review: Compositions – A Musical Close-Up
Review: Class of Cabaret
Review: Sugartits – so wrong yet so right
Review: Meow Meow paces and purrs
Review: The cabaret charisma of Capsis
Review: Surrender to the Strangeness of Rramp
Review: Cassandra Wilson
Review: Chaplin: A Life in Concert
Review: Tom Burlinson’s salute to swing
Review: Mojo Juju
Review: Molly Ringwald
Review: Variety Gala
Review: Shane Warne the Musical
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