Unless you have the bank account of a Murdoch, Palmer or Reinhart, there’s a certain kind of dread most of us feel when an email/SMS arrives alerting us to a MyGov message. That creeping suspicion that the Australian Taxation Office wants an unreasonable whack of funds you might not have to hand.
Which is why the biggest laugh of the night, when burlesque circus act Le Freak took to the Trades Hall ballroom stage, came when one of these instant anxiety-inducing missives popped up on the giant screen behind the performers, accompanied by the piercing strings shriek of a particular classic horror movie’s unforgettable score.
It’s a neat audio-visual joke paired to perfection with a running gag about the oddly staccato music of Australian government bodies and the interminable wait to get through to an NDIS operator that also flashes up from time to time.
Le Freak is a sharply fun show about the many banal ways starving artists and people with disabilities are failed in this country. Except queerer, with more puppet ferrets and walking on literal broken glass than usual. A mash-up of exploitation movies, cabaret, circus and the lycra-clad performative hijinks of wrestling, Le Freak is led by a revolving cavalcade of stars.
The night we reviewed, the fabulous quartet included magnificently named drag clown Themme Fatale, a dab hand at remaining unpunctured by a bed of nails, and the wowzas sword-swallowing prowess of Elle Diablo. Former Paralympic swimmer turned prime hula hoop-swirler Sarah Birdgirl smashes assumptions about her legal blindness while whip-cracking party starter Bella de Jac knows how to work the room. Oh, and then there’s the aforementioned ferret, a real scene-stealer.
Troopers, one and all, they admirably powered on when technical issues silenced most of their mics. No mean feat, given the pounding club music accompanying this high-energy show that satirises what it takes to thrive in the arts when funds are short, and the hoops to leap through to get support are onerous. Clearly, they’re fighters.
If the storytelling isn’t quite as tight as it could be this early in the Melbourne Fringe run, there’s still plenty to love. That fear of MyGov pings and strung-out NDIS wait times is a spot-on through-line, bolstered by a staunch unionist message of artist solidarity. There’s also a grand piss-take of corporate pinkwashing, of middle management types wanting pats on the back for showing up to Midsumma while squashing the gloriously out-there elements of queer liberation. The sort who talk up bare minimum lip service accessibility while talking over performers with disability.
These sassy sideswipes are relayed via amusingly awful video call interruptions by box-ticking suited shills (Elle Diablo and Themme Fatale in a different kind of drag) appearing on the big screen, who mangle the use of "slay" and mispronounce the rainbow alphabet acronym, with the latter faux pas mooshing into a genuinely hysterical highlight of the night.
Le Freak is a riot against conformity that reclaims the freak show as a powerful call for genuine inclusion while delivering a real good time, all for way less money than dastardly MyGov probably wants.