Will Hannagan’s AFFLUENZA (MIDSUMMA 2015)

By Alanah Parkin

Since 1989, Melbourne’s Midsumma Festival has provided weeks of invigorating entertainment to hundreds of thousands of arts enthusiasts each year. 2015’s lineup has yet to disappoint, once again embracing the city’s queer culture by showcasing a plethora of exciting new visual art, theatre, music, comedy and cabaret.

Following a successful stint at the New York Musical Theatre Festival, cabaret hot-shot Will Hannagan returns to Melbourne to debut his brand new show at Midsumma. An intimate piece that’s both hilarious and heartbreaking, Hannagan’s AFFLUENZAis perfectly suited to the snug performance space at The Butterfly Club. It’s apparent from the moment we walk in to the darkened venue – complete with disco ball dangling from the ceiling – that we’re in for a delightful night. Hannagan makes use of the entire theatre -stage, aisle and tech desk in what is a thrilling and audience-inclusive adventure. His writing is divine, an effortless blend of witty and empowering, and is complemented by a brilliantly risqué electro-pop score.

Particularly charming about AFFLUENZA is the way in which the audience becomes a part of its deliciously scandalous plot. We are the viewers of Shades of Beige with Robbie Sinclair, eagerly anticipating the launch of former child-star Will Hannagan’s new album and subsequent return to media attention. One unsuspecting audience member becomes Hannagan’s lover and is approached, sat upon and serenaded in one of many amusing and memorable moments in this all-round unforgettable production.

In a contrastingly sinister twist, we’re thrust “behind the scenes” of Robbie Sinclair’s clichéd Hollywood talk show. Here, Will and Robbie drop their fake American accents and become “themselves” as they attempt to falsify Will’s life story, the goal being to accumulate mass media attention. Shocking and devastating tales of drugs, love, lust and murder begin to surface and this initially light-hearted piece suddenly develops into an insightful social commentary, reflecting upon the frightening extremes to which people will go in order to achieve fame.

The two-man cast consists of Will Hannagan and Robert Ten Eyck, who plays exceptionally flamboyant talk show host Robbie Sinclair with great finesse. He’s careful not to upstage Hannagan, and it’s his excellent chemistry with the star that makes him the quintessential supporting player. Hannagan is remarkable, his soulful vocals uniting effortlessly with intelligent lyrics in an array of songs that range from fun to beautifully evocative.

Unfortunately, at times it’s difficult to understand Hannagan’s lyrics on account of poor microphone quality and an overbearing sound system, but his smooth tone and effortless falsetto more than make up for this. Also sometimes disappointing is the production’s lighting. While the design itself is befitting of AFFLUENZA’s minimalistic performance style, the venue is unable to achieve full blackout, obliterating the illusion of scene changes that would otherwise have been quite poignant. It’s a bit of an anticlimax, but on the whole AFFLUENZA is a treat – a highly engaging, thought-provoking and unconventional evening at the theatre.