An Imposter – Basement Theatre: August 29, 2023

An Imposter is a song cycle and melodrama by Ron Gallipoli, at the Basement Theatre. It may begin as melodrama, but ends as something entirely more penetrating.

Driven along by singing, subtitles, and a tight and inventive three-piece band, this is not High School Musical. It is, explains creator Gallipoli with almost a straight face, “an operetta.”

An Imposter“I liked the idea of writing something that might technically be a musical,” he says, “but that has dark, intimate, mysterious and pessimistic qualities instead of big casts and razzle-dazzle and the Hollywood kind of emotional profile.” So, exploring a Wikipedia piece on Jacques Offenbach, he decided he was writing an operetta. Perhaps the only operetta based on a perverse psychotherapy session.

Dark, intimate and mysterious it truly is. We begin in a confrontational three-handed therapy session in which a daughter proclaims her mother to be an Imposter. And it all spirals out from there.

Our three protagonists may be there against their will (all of them?) But how seriously should we take the hints that something larger, more threatening, is going on?

An ImposterPerformed in development last year as a performance-art piece, last night’s opening saw a packed audience fill the small Basement Theatre — on a Tuesday night! They were rewarded with compelling performances by the three actors/singers: Billie Fee fleshing out the unwilling (or insightful?) teenage daughter; I.E. Crazy playing to perfection her slightly gin-soaked mother (or is she?); and Sam Bradford (aka writer Ron Gallipoli) giving us a therapist that no patient would really describe as their ideal.

And what was driving them all there?

Backing them up on stage were three artful musicians (Hermione Johnson, GHW, and Chris O’Connor) embroidering Gallipoli’s songs so An Imposterinventively they sometimes threatened to take over our attention altogether. Not that anyone minded — it was so well done, and all in support of the themes: Themes of repression, judgement of bad behaviour and behaviour under pressure — and who controls whom (and how) — all bubble under and threaten to explode, all set to the increasingly claustrophobic music.

For 10 years, Gallipoli’s music is said to have “walked the line between the political and ‘tropical-industrial.” This, maybe, gives us both. (Is that a clue?)

Clearly intended to take over too was an antique overhead projector shining slightly archaic surtitles on a large screen — suggesting some technology stagnation, perhaps, and reinforcing too that the lyrics here are driving the story. It works as scene-setting, but sometimes distracts from the acting. (Always a problem with surtitles even in mainstream opera, audience eyes too often so fixed on the screen above or below the stage that they miss the fine acting being delivered on it.)

An Imposter

So … was it a musical, performance art, or operetta? Frankly, why does it matter: it is great theatre performed by a cast who make a hard job easy: inhabiting their characters and advancing the story on a small stage while singing into and clutching a large microphone. That both Gallipoli/Bradford and I.E. Crazy are musicians and performance artists themselves, with accomplished albums to their names, makes this easier than it looks. They are entirely believable, drawing us into the story’s web.

Come see them on this small stage. They are there until 2 September.

Theatre Peter.

Click here to view a photo gallery from An Imposter:

An Imposter

29 August – 2 September
Basement Theatre
Tāmaki Makaurau

Choose what you pay: $8 – $100

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