Powerful and polished cabaret wows Winter Fest

Valerie lingers on your mind long after you’ve left the theatre.

In fact, so striking is this three-person cabaret that it wouldn’t be at all surprising if we are still thinking about it in years to come. Every time we pause to consider our own genetics, every time we talk about mental illness, or every time we wonder what our children will inherit from us.

Valerie, presented by Last Tapes Theatre Company, is a masterpiece. A masterpiece of creativity, a masterpiece of innovation, and most importantly a masterpiece of storytelling.

At times haunting, at times sensual, and at all times beautiful, co-creators Robin Kelly, Cherie Moore and Tom Broome have created a piece of art that is everything you want from a cabaret, and more.

Musically, this love letter to Robin’s grandmother has moments of being like a dark lullaby, evoking memories from performances by Camille O’Sullivan, Nick Cave, and even at brief times, Pink Floyd. It soars on the strength of Cherie’s powerful voice, and the musical innovation of Robin and Tom.

Theatrically, this confronting and magnetic creation has moments of pure genius, using bare backs as flow charts and even projector screens in a nod to the weight of the past we always carry with us.

Skillfully Valerie also uses a progression of audio leads dumped around the neck of Robin to show how the weight of mental illness can make even the simplest of everyday things like thinking and talking much, much harder. A microphone that violently moves from side to side continues this metaphor, while expert lighting seems to isolate Robin on stage as he struggles with his symptoms and the increasing number of hurdles mental illness puts in his way.

The language of Valerie is poetic, evoking hazy images that could be memories and bringing to the surface niggling emotions you forgot were swirling inside your head.

That poetic and lyrical language deliberately jars against the more structured scientific language used to explain the interesting elements of genetics, DNA and even RNA. The fight against those two linguistic styles almost represents the delicate relationship and indeed the struggle between nature and nurture. And as Robin says, nature loads the gun and nurture pulls the trigger.

And then we are hit so deeply with the power and absolute vulnerability that is Robin’s monologue. What a remarkable and unapologetically honest climax for this story. It is powerfully poignant and leaves many people in the audience moved so much that they are crying.

Valerie is a remarkable and outstandingly original creation. It really is no surprise that it is a multi-award winning cabaret that has been a hit with international audiences.

No doubt many of these audience members will remember this show for years to come.

  • Winter Fest 2019 is on at the TSB Showplace 15 – 25 August. Tickets are on sale now www.winterfest.co.nz.   

Friday August 16
TSB Showplace
Reviewed by Taryn Utiger