Ash Flanders is confessedly one confused performer as he struggles to stay optimistic in a society and industry that like to chew people up before spitting them out in an instant. Presented as part of this year's Midsumma Festival, Playing To Win has Flanders - in a wonderful kitten leotard - holding his cabaret audience hostage as he recalls the lowlights and the lower-lights of being in said industry, resulting in an evening of great songs and engaging storytelling.
For the most part, Flanders draws on his own personal experiences with fame
and success - including a tragically hilarious story involving Ashton
Kutcher and Brittany Murphy - but he also looks at the idolisation of
reality TV star celebrities, particularly those who are famous for no
discernible reasons. His send-up of Gina Liano's "Gina" perfume ad is a
great touch in emphasising his frustrations of slipping down the black
hole of failure.
Admirably supported by musical director Dave Barclay and band Artistic Difference, Flanders has a select choice of songs that are used cleverly to colour and characterise his stories, including memorable performances of "Ride Like The Wind" by Christopher Cross and "Where Does My Heart Beat Now" by Celine Dion. The final song of the night (which is better as a surprise) succeeds in bringing his story full circle and includes some brilliant audience interactions.
Flanders does give his all in Playing To Win, and while it is full of satisfying sarcasm and cheeky comedy, there is an emotional aspect to his storytelling and a genuine openness in what he shares with us. In one way, his humour can be see as a defence mechanism, further highlighting his vulnerability. While Flanders might "only" be performing in the smallest venue at the Arts Centre, he is definitely destined for bigger things and bigger rooms, and Playing To Win is profound evidence of that.
Playing To Win was performed at Arts Centre Melbourne between 27 - 29 January 2017.
* Original review appeared on Theatre Press on 30 January 2017