If you are looking for a charming little show that will keep you warmly smiling throughout, get yourself down to Lady Beaufort the all-female FRINGEWORLD 2019 venue and watch the delightful play by Dawn Farnham, Melba.
The beautiful turn-of-the-century building complete with federation green and rose trimmings compliments the content perfectly – although this is such a wonderful work it could be staged anywhere.
Enter the dressing room of Dame Nellie Melba herself – there are jewell-draped mannequins, a tiny-waisted dress on a hanger, fully stocked bar cart, lamingtons piled high and splendid furniture, fitting for a diva. Melba, played to perfection by Susie
Conte is the diva to end all divas – she had so many ‘farewell tours’ it became common vernacular to ‘do a Melba’ (Move over John Farnham!) Conte is every bit the overindulgent, self-absorbed diva, yet she breathes charm into the character. Melba drinks herself to distraction, gorges on lamingtons, laments her failing voice, and provides little tidbits to English author, Beverly Nichols (Liam Longley) – ghostwRiter of Melba’s ‘autobiography.’
Longley and Conte play off each other perfectly – their banter and repartee are at times sharp but there is clearly great affection between the two. Melba is a touching and funny vignette into the trials and tribulations of a diva who is perhaps past her prime but not willing to admit it. She stares in the mirror and sees a throat infection. She shoots at a picture of Caruso because he died before his talent could wane. She stuffs her face with lamingtons and then blames the size of the dress (it’s too small.)
Farnham’s writing is impeccable – there’s a witty sequence discussing aptronyms – where the person’s name suits their profession or the like – eg, Dr Larynx being a throat specialist. It’s a nuanced script with clever dialogue and inner musings played out as though one is revealing a little more with each word.
Conte humanises the grand figure of Melba – she is dangerously capricious in her requests and demands, yet childlike and stubborn when doing things behind people’s backs. Conte walks the line between commanding diva and insecure ingenue in her brilliant performance – let’s hope Conte doesn’t make her exit any time soon!
January 30, 2019
FringeWorld 2019 4 Stars
January 30, 2019Stage Whispers
Review | Kimberley Shaw
Dame Nellie Melba became infamous for her many farewell tours. This production by Tempest Theatre for Lady Beaufort, as part of Fringe World, is set in an Australian dressing room, before one of Melba’s farewell performances.
The grand dame is very nicely played by director Susie Conte, whose Melba is temperamental, narcissistic and bossy, but also very likeable. Melba is said to have a wonderful presence, and Susie Conte captures this feeling well. She is joined onstage by an excellent Liam Longley as her companion and secretary Beverley Nichols, who is attempting to ghost write Melba’s autobiography ‘Melodies and Memories’ - a device that allows for some lovely moments of humour as Melba reminisces. Isobel Ferguson is a good dramatic foil as singer and young woman in distress (or so she claims), Yvonne Dupont.
The venue is extremely intimate, with a lovely atmosphere and you will feel that you are in Melba’s dressing room with her. Very nicely costumed and with a set that defies the expectation for the turnover of shows in this venue, this short show is a little treasure.
While “Doing a Melba” became a byword for the wrong reasons, I suggest that you “do a Melba” and catch this show during Fringe World.
February 3, 2019
FringeWorld 2019 3 Stars
February 3 2019Isolated Nation
Review | Sharmaine Tan
Nellie Melba, famous Australian opera singer of the late 20s, was the very first Australian that was acknowledged worldwide as a classical musician. Melba, produced by Tempest Theatre, is a short theatrical piece that portrays one of her many final farewells - so many that the sarcastic expression ‘doing a Melba’ came to exist.
Directed by Susie Conte and written by Dawn Farnham, Melba is a heartfelt, intimate performance. Held at Lady Beaufort, the audience is placed barely a foot away from the performers, who are not elevated or on a stage. Rather, they are on the same level as the audience, making the show seem much more than a mere interpretation of the characters and more “real”, as if we are eavesdropping on conversations that really did happen.
From pearl necklaces, right through to vintage fur shawls, the set consisted of a range of props that helped create the illusion of being in a dressing room in the 20s. A plate of lamingtons act as a subtle, yet sweet reference to Melba’s Australian background.
Throughout the show, it was clear that although small, the cast was very talented and well-suited to each of their roles. Susie Conte expertly portrays Nellie Melba, presenting the perfect amount of sassy and spoilt - exactly what you’d expect from a world famous diva. It was easy to believe that Conte was truly an internationally acclaimed soprano - her acting appeared so effortless and natural that at times, it was truly easy to forget that she was playing a role. Her dedicated private secretary, Beverly is convincingly played by Liam Longley, who’s comedic execution made the audience laugh again and again. Yvonne Dupont, a fake wannabe star, is skilfully portrayed by Isobel Ferguson.
Together, the three were able to make the audience truly understand Melba’s reluctance to let go, the difficulty of accepting reality and the sadness of saying goodbye.
Witty and honest, Melba is expertly presented by a small but talented cast. Those who are a fan of intimate theatre will enjoy the watch, however, don’t go if you’re expecting fireworks to go off with a bang. The show very much highlights the acting talent of the cast, rather than using fancy lights and sound to provide audience enjoyment.