Saturday 11 June 2016

The Orchid and The Crow - Cabaret Review

What: The Orchid and The Crow
When: February 11-22
Where: Tower Theatre, Malthouse
Created and performed by: Daniel Tobias
Directed by: Christian Leavesley
Composition by:  Daniel Tobias, Clare Bartholomew, John Thorn, and Jherek Bischoff
Dramaturgy by: Casey Bennetto

The Orchid and The Crow is a one man tragi-comedy being performed by Daniel Tobias in the Tower Theatre.  The season ends on Sunday, so drop everything and hurry down to see it.

Tobias is one half of the comedy duo Die Roten Punkte and, although she is not performing in this show, the other half of the duo – Clare Bartholomew – was involved with writing the music.  This partnership has a long history of comedy success and this show is no exception. Tobias is currently undertaking the Malthouse Artist in Residence programme in 2015 and presents The Orchid and The Crow as part of the programme, although the project has actually been about two years in the making.

The Orchid and The Crow is an autobiographical account of Tobias’ experience of testicular cancer, and how he dealt with it emotionally.  This sounds like very heavy material, but it has been framed beautifully and sensitively with outrageous humour and religious commentary.  It is incredibly touching, but also belly achingly funny for the most part.

The show begins with Tobias trying to explain what an atheist Jew is – words that don’t seem to go together.  This is important because the show revolves around the question of beliefs.  He describes growing up in an atheist Jewish household.  The family eat bacon in secret, and celebrate Christmas because his dad really loves
Santa Claus, but they also still undertake the traditional Jewish customs such as circumcision for boys and celebrating Passover to remain a part of the community.

Tobias explains how circumcision became important to Jews through an hilarious comic ballad where God tells Abraham to cut off his foreskin to “show me you love me” and then exhorts him to cut off everyone else’s as well because it becomes a bit of an obsession for God.

The Orchid and The Crow then journeys down family holidays, the revelation that Santa isn’t real, and the annual celebrations of the Passover.  Tobias fills the show with enough real historical facts to keep us listening and learning as we laugh.  For example, I did not know that there was never any such thing as a Brontosaurus.

All of this part of the show is delivered on microphone much like a traditional stand up comedy routine.  The energy and drive is in that vein, and all the songs right up to and including the diagnosis song are delivered in this style.  The diagnosis song is so masterful in its structure and delivery and I was just mesmerised.

Leavesley (the director) showed a subtle cleverness at this point by having Tobias put the microphone away when he goes into the hospital.  The comedy doesn’t stop, but it is more gentle, and interwoven with pain and fear as Tobias goes through the chemotherapy process.  Reverting to natural voice drew us in and made the whole experience more personal and accessible.

During the chemotherapy, Tobias is told about Lance Armstrong’s battle with cancer, and Armstrong becomes Tobias’ new God.  He worships Armstrong as he sees him winning two, three, Tour de Frances – a true man of miracles.

There is a stunning moment as Tobias sings an aria about his operation in Italian.  The words are translated in an AV projection and there is a beautiful animation of an orchid and a crow.  The orchid in the show title refers to the bulb at the base of the plant, and its resemblance to male genital anatomy.

As I mentioned at the beginning, this show is about belief and the loss of faith.  In the larger scheme of things eventually Lance Armstrong is debunked as a drug cheat and joins the list of fallen idols Tobias is collecting.  This show is a comedy, however, and so Tobias’ reaction is an upbeat one which demonstrates an interesting perspective.

The Orchid and The Crow is a wonderful show, with a wide range of emotional dynamics which have been incredibly well balanced.  The music is delightful and witty, and the pathos is beautifully counterbalanced with humour.  Tobias demonstrates a wonderful level of insight and intelligence and just plain good fun. 

Leavesley has directed the show with precision and a strong eye for detail and subtlety.  It is a truly wonderful and fulfilling evening of theatre.  Don’t miss it!

4.5 Stars

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