BATS Theatre
May 27-June 6 | Reviewed by Helen Sims

Charm Is Not Enough marks the fourth devised offering from Babyshads and is consistent with their quirky, multi-faceted style. They explore their overtly political topics though monologue, dance and song. This time around multimedia technology also plays a big part in the show, and the costumes and set have been upgraded from their previous efforts. The result is an entertaining and varied show and represents a significant progression for the devising technique of the company, although I do still think the ‘Shads have way to go before they fully synthesise their politics with their art.

Upon entering BATS, painted entirely white for the show, we see a elaborately made up, horned figure dressed in black, sitting regally atop an archway. It emerges that this figure is Death (Milo Haigh), and the archway is her legs, through which mortals must pass when they die. Death is bored and although she scorns weak mortals; she wants to die. Haigh, as the strongest singer of the group, delivers some striking numbers, although more thought should have been given to miking her given that she remains the back of the stage for the entirety of the performance.

Below Death, on the stage floor, one side of the stage is occupied by a large patchwork teapot. The other side has a large pile of silver shoes and other trinkets which sparkle under the light, topped with a rainbow hued flag. A bare-chested Gay Man (Jake Preval) waves the flag for his sexual orientation from the silver shoe mountain; a pretty, blonde Fascinating Woman (Sherilee Kahui) pops up from the teapot after a fight over burned bras. The bras are pulled back into the teapot. The sexual and feminist revolutions are over, but these characters are still searching for an identity, despite being firmly and inescapably anchored to symbols. Again, they do not move from their set pieces throughout the show. This adds the dimension of an art installation to the show.

The fixed position of the three main actors would quickly become visually uninteresting if it wasn’t for the excellent chorus. Dressed entirely in white, the three chorus members (Jaci Gwaliasi, Tessa Martin and Patrick Powdrell) initially seem like androids, although they assume a variety of roles over the course of the show. They perform several dance and vocal numbers, and expose and provoke the main characters. Again, at times volume and clarity is an issue – I was sitting in the second row and couldn’t pick up all of the lyrics. Also on stage are white-clad two musicians (Takumi Motokawa and Ben Woods).

Although the devisers have obviously done their homework, the play too often strays into polemic and didactic, especially in the monologues of the Fascinating Woman. The inspiration of Theatre Militias’ productions, especially last year’s Sensible Susan and the Queen’s Merkin, is obvious, but Babyshads as a company have not managed to tread the line between political preaching and artistic expression quite as successfully yet. There were time when I felt like I was being ranted at from a soapbox. However, there were other times when pointed humour was used to devastatingly good effect.

The result is a somewhat uneven show overall. It does represent a step up in their devising technique, and the technical aspects are excellent. However, the show was a little ‘undercooked’ in terms of fulfilling its premise. While it looks like the performers have had a blast during the devising process, it doesn’t necessarily translate to a stimulating experience for the audience. Despite moments of excellence, the show too often veered in the direction of inaccessible self indulgence for my liking.