Review by Dom Wolfram

Brunch Ballads was performed at the butterfly club in Melbourne’s CBD. A very hip venue loaded with kitsch decoration, moody lighting and signage asserting that it is intended as a safe space for all. The performance space itself was intimate with a small stage. I attended on a Wednesday, the 4th of May 2022. 

Jem Sherwill, the composer was present throughout sitting at the piano stage right. 

The general theme throughout was that a performer dressed in a brunch food costume would come on stage and perform a number dripping with puns relevant to their food. I wouldn’t be sold on the premise alone but the merits of this show were in the execution. 

Each costume was, in my opinion, a work of art. Having not downloaded the program, I found myself wondering how exactly they had been designed and crafted and by whom (Tori Adams). The bread, bagel and French toast characters all had to precariously navigate on and off stage as the access was narrow and the costumes wide. At one point during the performance I watched, the French toast costume suffered a snapped shoulder strap which the performer (Samira Reason) only incorporated into the number. Samira also needed to take a little extra time to start one song, presumably because she was overcome with amusement about what she was about to perform. It was easy to laugh along with these little snags, which really only complimented the overall tone. 

The lighting and sound tech were minimalist and unintrusive, with only 1 prop as I remember and an onstage lantern which was used just the right amount (Rid bhatt).

Musically there was enough variety in the melodies that the numbers didn’t feel too similar to one another despite using similar structure and humour. It was musical without being desperate to sound groundbreaking which can often be an issue with new musical performance art. The vocal lines allowed the performers to utilise a decent range of registers and have some big dramatic moments but there wasn’t a push for every song to be a vocal exercise. 

I had to admire the composure of the 2 costume wearing performers. For me it was impossible not to notice how exposed they were, all alone on stage singing a somewhat ridiculous song in a somewhat ridiculous outfit, with so much relying on their individual work. Harrison Clarke dealt well with the prolonged performances as a petulant cup of coffee and stale piece of bread, not allowing the continuing low mood of these characters to become a dull performance. Performers often feel comfortable being on stage as long as it’s not their solo part where all the focus is on them, in this case it was solos all the way through. Lots of words to remember and jokes to deliver correctly and no other performer to draw attention away from any imperfections. On the other hand, Jem is presenting a full production of his own writing, sitting in the corner in full view of the audience as they drink in his work. Clearly for everyone on stage, a thick skin was required as well as the ability to laugh off anything that doesn’t go according to plan. 

My favourite thing about the musical was that several of the joke numbers touched gently on serious matters such as dietary guilt, food waste, factory farming, and addiction, not to mention the economy. On two occasions, the performers left the stage, leaving Jem to sing a song of his own. These songs had a more sincere tone and were from the perspective of a human being rather than a food. I felt with these short moments there was an effective contrast from the more goofy numbers which allowed these songs to be taken more seriously, although they weren’t terribly serious songs. 

Overall the product was an entertaining and amusing experience which varied the mood but left everyone singing along and smiling at the end. I’m excited to see what Jem and this group of artists will do next.

Images courtesy of Brunch Ballads