Sharp as a wet towel snap and very salty indeed, Stephen Nicolazzo's new production of Psycho Beach Party is an hilarious and grinningly manic take on New York-based Charles Busch's camp favourite from 1987. The story follows would-be beachbum Chicklet, whose only dream is to surf the waves of Malibu, and also maybe to rule the world as an omnipotent dominatrix.
Busch's satire on surf movies and psychological thrillers, which in other hands might have seemed a little dated, is made brand new by Nicolazzo's slick direction and an enthusiastic cast, led by local trash diva and occasional high-brow actor Ash Flanders.
It's slightly unusual that Flanders is the only one in drag, but it's a decision that works well, centring not only the story but also the whole camp-for-camp's-sake aesthetic around his impressive razzle. The rest of the cast are uniformly strong, all revelling in Busch's parody of Hollywood histrionics. The whole thing sparkles with confidence, joy and something like the mischievous spirit that must have animated the original.
The set by Owen Phillips and costumes by Eugyeen Teh and Tessa Leigh work brilliantly, though who knows how many synthetic leopards lost their lives in all that plush lining. Instead of a beach, Phillips large three-door facade suggests a kind of bordello. This not only gives much needed structure to Theatre Works' sometimes difficult barn-like space, but also allows Nicolazzo to rapidly bring his cast on and off, keeping the whole silly story rolling along at great pace, like any good party should.
It's an winning start to the year for Theatre Works, who have two more shows lined up as part of this year's Midsumma Festival -- Here Lies Henry and Dead Ones.
Director Stephen Nicolazzo interviews star Ash Flanders about frocking up for the role of teenage tomboy Chicklet in Charles Busch's zany camp classic
Hi Ash. God! You look beautiful today.
[Tossing back his hair] Thank you. It’s Herbal Essences. And oestrogen shots.
Cool. Well put down the syringe for a second and tell us – how does it feel playing a character with multiple personalities in Psycho Beach Party?
It’s a dream for any actress… ask Sally Field. It’s a great way to show the extent of my bag of tricks… I mean, range.
Is there any serious reason why the character Chicklet has multiple personality disorder?
Yeah. It ties into the way these surfer films of the ’60s and ’70s presented people in a very one-dimensional way. Chicklet is a real person trying to navigate this phoney world of the beach where all you can really do is be young, healthy, attractive and fun. In order to operate in this place, she’s had to splinter herself.
But of course this play is a comedy – don’t get too serious on it, hep-cat.
Is the show sexy?
The show is very sexy. The biggest problem I have playing a girl in this show is the fact I have a raging boner just from looking at everyone else.
Is the cross-gender element a comment on sexuality?
I think so. It’s not only Chicklet that is cross-gendered – a lot of the characters exist in a grey area gender-wise because we’re also tackling with the way gender roles were so prescriptive back in those movies. You know, that all-American performative aspect of healthy young hetero love.
What it’s saying is that this world is inherently flawed because it was never real to begin with. This ideal is a phoney one. And as soon as you put a grenade like a cross-gendered Chicklet into this world, you start to see things different.
OK, but beyond the gender politics, there’s actual gay characters in the show too. How do you think that is handled?
I think it’s handled really well. You could have the gay characters be straight and you would definitely still see the queer bent of this piece. What I think is so great about alternative or queer theatre is that it celebrates the outsider. Not in a Lady Gaga way exactly.
And you don’t have to be queer to enjoy it. You just have to be switched on and interesting and up for a tit-party at the beach. You need to be ready for a good time. You might wake up the next morning with sand crabs, and a girl’s bikini on, and you don’t know what happened and you’re bleeding in various places, but you feel great. That’s what this show is about.
Of course there are many layers to the piece and like any good piece of art, it can be read in lots of different ways, but when we boil it down it is a PSYCHO. BEACH. PARTY. It’s there in the title and it’s all yours to enjoy. So put on some leopard print…
And some Reef coconut oil…!
Snort a line of glass shards…
Watusi down to Theatre Works…
And get messy at our party!
Over 18s only.