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Synth Pop Reflection on the Power and Pain of Celebrity

“I haven’t even been to bed yet muthafuckas”

The Butterfly Club, Melbourne
Written by Will Hannagan
Performed by Will Hannagan & Robbie Ten Eyck
Original Music: Will Hannagan & Thibaud Mateos
Season: Jan 22-Feb 8, 2015
Reviewed: Feb 1, 2015


Cabaret enfant terrible Will Hannagan debuts his new cabaret ‘Affluenza’ at the Butterfly Club as part of this year’s Midsumma Festival. His entrance in avant garde transparent plastic trench-coat couture sets the tone of the piece beautifully.

From the top of the show the stage is set for a Frost-Nixon scale showdown between recovering former child star William Hannagan and talk show host Robbie St Clair. 

The show plays out on the set of ‘Shades of Beige with Robbie St Clair’ - a parody of the tv talk show format that gives a nod to the ‘Between Two Ferns’ webseries.

Hannagan is desperately seeking a comeback and St Clair (played by Robbie Ten Eyck) is hoping this tell all interview will help lift his tired tv show’s ratings. He has returned post-rehab from his self exiled ‘London Years’ where he lost everything. “I lost my family, my funds, my career.”

Through his original synth pop songs Hannagan reflects on the power and pain of celebrity. He has captured the style perfectly and his brooding baritone voice perfectly suits the intelligent yet catchy moody and disaffected lyrics. 

Will has cowritten the songs with Thibaud Mateos and the tracks are Eurovision-ready, with pulsating beats and hypnotic synth work. The Butterfly Club is known for it’s pared back production and the venue’s sound system probably doesn’t do the music the justice it deserves. At times it’s hard to know where Will’s voice should sit within the mix - at times it gets lost within the track and at others it sits so far in front that he doesn’t have the full support of the accompaniment.

Affluenza deconstructs itself as the talk show sequences dissolve into ‘Real Robbie’ and ‘Real Will’ speaking candidly to each other when the cameras aren’t rolling. The relationship between the two is the most fascinating aspect of the show. The constant swinging back and forth between competitiveness and camaraderie is captivating, as is the rapid-fire pace of their scripted dialogue and the pace of the gags and innuendo. 

In this setting and staging the songs run a little long, the end of most of them could be lovingly trimmed. Where the repeated choruses and outros would work well within a music video or in a club, they slow the pace of the show.

Hannagan and Ten Eyck’s performances are wonderful in Affluenza. Their comic timing is strong and dissolves into a rich pathos as the show develops. The original songs are clever - the lyrics intelligent in some places and perfectly puerile pop in others. The musical staging of the songs could be re-considered to bring them to a more heightened hyper reality - perhaps in a venue that had the production specs to match.

Related link: Simple Two-Question Survey for Cabaret Artists

If you are passionate about cabaret - join the Cabaret Confessional Community here. 

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