Review: Colourful turn of phrasing

Sheridan Harbridge as 19th-century French courtesan Marie Duplessis in Songs for the Fallen....
Sheridan Harbridge as 19th-century French courtesan Marie Duplessis in Songs for the Fallen. Photos: Louis Dillon Savage.

Songs For the Fallen
Mayfair Theatre
Monday, October 3

By Elizabeth Bouman

Songs  for the Fallen at the Mayfair Theatre last evening left me with rather mixed feelings. With the stage transformed into a very cluttered 19th-century Parisian boudoir, the audience was treated to an hour and a-half of outrageous 1840s Parisian repartee (directed by Shane Anthony) as Australian cabaret star Sheridan Harbridge interpreted the short, very colourful life of peasant girl Marie Duplessis, who became a popular courtesan and darling of society but died of tuberculosis in 1847, at age 23.

Harbridge has the stamina and strong vocal ability to colour every line of song and text, drawing her audience to experience both the ecstasy of sensual and erotic times, and the heartfelt despair and tragedy of wrecked romances.

Her two sidekicks - Garth Holcombe and Simon Corfield - were excellent, essential to every scene as interpreter/narrator, maid, or the men in a life that traversed fame and fortune to the final penniless gutter.

Very little was left to the imagination and the songs and story-telling were wild and bawdy, often with lewd text and characterisation.

Two audience members were enticed on stage to the large circular bed platform, and Harbridge maintained excellent audience rapport throughout. One madcap highlight was the loud, sexy, frivolous scene where feather pillows burst open, and red glitter was liberally sprinkled on more than one occasion.

Steven Kreamer added percussion and synthesised extras to backing tracks, and accompanied the dialogue with sensitive simple keyboard patterns.

The songs all seemed to have a tedious sameness, French in character and style, of course. Vocal diction in these, as well as the French-accented spoken dialogue, often suffered from rapidity.

On reflection, I can't help thinking my preference would be to read this story as a book - an uncensored version, of course.

Songs for the Fallen, Mayfair Theatre, October 3-5,  8pm.


There are certain performers that are channellers of esprit de temps femme. Sheridan Harbridge is one and Dunedin is better for her visit. Mind you, trouble ahead: next year is 1848 Revolutions, so you should start building barricades now.