Review: Valerie, Auckland Live International Cabaret Season, Basement Theatre

By Janet McAllister

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Robin Kelly (pictured) has crafted an exceptionally well-written exploration of his family's history of mental illness.
Robin Kelly (pictured) has crafted an exceptionally well-written exploration of his family's history of mental illness.

If you like your cabaret wonderfully intense and moving, go and experience Valerie, Robin Kelly's exceptionally well-written exploration of his family's history of mental illness. Anecdotes from Kelly's grandparents' marriage are interspersed with matter-of-fact explanations of "the genetics of complex diseases" to heart-rending effect.

In its musical portrayal of a family relationship, Valerie is a bit like a pared-back Daffodils, but it's very real and immediate: Kelly indicates he's not sure he wants children because his depression might be hereditary. Both the depictions of living with someone with paranoia and of experiencing depression are relatable; Kelly talks of finding an absence where his self used to be.

Produced by Last Tapes, some of the show's potency lies in the contrast between this genuine emotion and the formal storytelling. There's nothing histrionic here, instead the passion soars in the numerous original songs ("lonely as the wail of the dingo"), sung powerfully by Cherie Moore, expertly accompanied by Kelly on piano and Tom Broome on drums.

Moore's performance as the titular Valerie commands attention.

Directed by Benjamin Henson with dramaturgy by Kate Prior and Paul McLaney, the show includes great touches of theatrical novelty and sound-scaping - as well as sympathetic lighting by Brad Gledhill - to keep interest tightly focussed for the full 75 minutes. Beautifully polished, striking, recommended - and only $25.

Also part of the Auckland Live International Cabaret Season is Suits: baggy stand-up and smooth singing from the irrepressible Jessie Cassin, accompanied by a slightly haphazard live band. They play at 6:30pm but really it's a late night show. Cassin is flirtatious and her topics are salty ("speaking of self-love..."). Her singing voice is attractive and the songs well chosen, from the likes of TLC, Foreigner and Iggy Azalea. We could have heard more from the other three onstage - Claire Cowan, Hariet Ellis and Katie Evringham - but no matter. Loose and charming. Have a drink or three to warm up.

What: Valerie
Where & when: Basement Theatre, until October 8
What: Suits
Where & when: Basement Theatre, until Saturday

- NZ Herald

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