The foyer was a cacophony of sound; this show had sold out, and Circa Theatre was packed with diverse groups of people. Families, teenagers, drag queens, grandparents, children, yo-pros and toddlers were among the varied audience for this show. Despite being a show targeted at children, it felt more like a high school reunion for me as I was surrounded by a sea of mid-20 year olds. It seemed that they, too, were coming to connect to something that would have benefited them in childhood.
We entered Circa One which by contrast was calm and cool, with bird calls playing. The set builders Liam Irvine and Jacob Banks created a fantastic pop art 2D set which was perfect for children, with bright colours and hard lines. I was taken aback by how functional this set was; despite being made of cardboard, doors could be used and curtains could be opened, which added to the fun of the show.
Hugo Grrl (George Fowler) is our lovable lead through this journey. He is charismatic, engaging, and relatable as he goes through grand highs and crushing lows. His engagement with the children audience members, in particular, is stunning - every statement from the audience was quickly followed by a follow on joke or a comeback, or incorporated into what he was saying. The supporting performers (Eva Goodnight, Robin Yablind, and The Ever Changing Boy) were well suited for this piece as they brought dynamic energy that matched Hugo Grrl’s. I particularly enjoyed the character Skipper the Snail (Yablind) who is a fabulous French snail. Skipper is expressive, cleverly costumed (thanks to Alannah Martin and Victoria Gridley) in a full snail shell with extended eyes - and teaches us the lesson of patience.
What’s a review of a musical, without talking about the music? Music, composed and designed by Maxwell Apse, is light, poppy and balanced. Piano, drums and tambourine accompanied verses that described different difficulties and lessons Hugo the Gardener was learning. This paired excellently with the energy brought by the performers. I appreciate that for all characters beside Hugo the Gardener, voice overs are used, as it helps create a clear incongruous concept of each character and gender expression. Lip syncing is a significant aspect of drag performance and this is resourcefully incorporated.
One of my favourite parts of this show is the diverse styles of performance. The wordplay of the script and the music lends itself well to Fowler’s style of performing. The dance numbers created worked well to show off the strengths of each performer, with hip hop, contemporary, and even ballet. I note that The Glitter Garden has no choreographer listed; it seems the performers came up with the choreography themselves. Having frequented (and occasionally performed in) drag shows myself, this is quite normal - and in this specific context, flexed the talent of the performers and brought the show back to its core message - it’s okay and good to be different!
To be totally honest, I bloody love this show. It is somewhat of a struggle to think of areas to critique. One area of improvement could be regarding the growth of the garden. The garden goes from being a cute little shoot to a full fledged drag king/queen. I’d have loved to see a scene in the middle where the plants don’t grow “quite right” and Hugo the Gardener learns to let things grow as they are and give them space. One of the performers had a voice over that was at times very difficult to hear - this could have been played louder or more clearly recorded. And finally, Hugo talks about carrots and cabbage being planted, but instead they grew flowers? No explanation was given and I was patiently awaiting a campy glittery cabbage-dragula to pop out of the soil. Needless to say, I was disappointed, however in the universe of children’s musical theatre, does this type of continuity really matter? Ultimately, not really.
What I would have appreciated, though, is less frequent smutty jokes. While yes, the kids wouldn’t have gotten the racier humour, it felt at times over the top. The show is funny as is, with clever puns and engaging characters. It didn’t need as much dirty humour in order to appeal to adults/older queers. I feel like much of the “adult humour” could have been cut, and still had the same amount of impact.
As a queer person myself, I cannot express in words how important and heart warming it was to see a show that felt meant for ME. It didn’t matter that it was written for children. It felt written for people everywhere who are a little bit different, and don’t fit the mold for one reason or another. After the show, there were more than a few people in tears. This show is genuinely moving. It brings what has been for so long considered an “underground” style of performance and brought it to the main stage to do what it does best - bright, glittery storytelling. Drag is always about a persona, or a concept, or an expression, or a story. It lends itself so wonderfully to children's theatre for that exact reason.
The Glitter Garden is a fun, high energy musical number which celebrates queerdom and how being different is something to embrace. While directed towards a younger audience, this show can be enjoyed at any age. Considering the high quality writing, music and acting in this show, it is reasonably priced at $15 per ticket - so please go and support your local artists during these unprecedented times! This show is running at Circa Theatre from 30 September - 10 October 2020. Tickets can be purchased here.