Madame: The Story of Joseph Farrugia

Madame The Story of Joseph Farrugia 2015State Theatre Company & Vitalstatistix. Burnside Town Hall. 21 Apr 2015


Who tips the scales? Ross Ganf for being creative catalyst to this show or Trevor Stuart for his embodiment of Joseph Farrugia aka Madame Josephine? Both deserve awards.


Madame is an extremely unusual piece of bio theatre. It documents the man who founded the famous old Crazy Horse strip joint up those stairs in Hindley Street.


Ganf spent several years interviewing Farrugia about the evolution of the club through the years from feathers to lap dance and also about his own sexuality and personal life. An impressive team moulded his findings into this Torque Show production with State Theatre and Vitalstatistix. Joshua Tyler worked on text with Roslyn Oades and Ingrid Weisfeldt, and Vincent Crowley worked together with him on creation and direction with Emma Webb from Vitals in the mix as well. It's a complex list of credits to be found in the most appallingly-designed, pale-text program.


The old Burnside Ballroom, glittering from its balcony with long golden fringes, is a wonderful venue. It is laid out cabaret style with white cloth tables a la Crazy Horse revue tradition and a high catwalk dominates the centre of the stage. 


Hereon, three performers depict Farrugia, perhaps a little confusingly separating him into aspects of the flamboyant Madame Josephine persona and the less exciting business persona of Joseph. In a very strange casting choice, Kialea-Nadine Williams performs as Madame Josephine. She is a powerful, athletic ADT dancer - an astonishing performer. But any similarity with Josephine is beyond remote and it leaves many audience members scratching their heads.


Chris Scherer with his long-haired androgynous appearance plays the young Egyptian emigrant Joseph, oh so touchingly, albeit some of the high physicality which engenders humour is a bit startling.  Scherer projects many strong and interesting facets of the character and phases of Ferrugia. He is a pleasure to watch. But it is Trevor Stuart who takes and makes the show. His is a softly, softly tour-de-force performance. From stammering insecurities to rumbustious defiance, he portrays a character who not only is still alive but is right there in the room. Yet Stuart makes him his own.


At the very end, as the three Josephines strut out to My Way, it is he who draws the eye and arouses the emotion. Funnily enough, once in full drag on stage, he could be Shirley McLaine. 


Madame is an interesting show. There's some drag show-style mime, best accomplished by Williams; there's lots of narrative; there's some high-kicking and calisthenics and a spot of terrific point work; there's some camp waspishness; there's loud music; some video projection; plus lots of two piece gym outfits.  In spite of all that there is a strange absence of glamor. It is a strip world stripped bare.  


But one supposes that is the point.


Samela Harris


When: 21 Apr to 2 May

Where: Burnside Ballroom