Many speculations emerged after the famous five-hour dinner of Lady Gaga and Julian Assange in 2012. None were as funny as this.
Lady Gaga visited Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in October 2012. That much is a fact. Brilliantly ridiculous, a paparazzo's wet dream of a moment between two of the most recognisable faces (and hair-dos) on earth. Many hypotheticals were thrown around about what these two chatted about over their five-hour dinner. None of them were as funny as this.
William Hannagan's writing is superb. The script is cleverly wordy, interesting and often very, very funny. Hannigan's 'what-if' scenario sees Gaga arrive at the Ecuadorian Embassy to bust Assange out and run to freedom together. Primped, adored, emotionally (and sometimes physically) supported by an entourage of dancers, Gaga is a whirlwind barely contained by Assange's simmering frustration. The premise that the two characters share a sexually transmitted disease, and the fear of a sex tape being leaked from a recent rendezvous in Reykjavik is a little thin. However, it does allow for some fantastic one-liners from Gaga, hints at the 'creepy stalker' side of Assange's public image, and builds a camaraderie between the two that is strong and quite believable.
The story is littered with references to each character's individual 'brand', and revolves around themes of celebrity, ego and hypocrisy. Gaga and Assange lambast each other without reserve. The real juice of the story - the true dark connection between these two people as revealed during the trial of Bradley Manning - is left to the end of the piece, effectively grounding this piece in reality, rather than letting it float away as pure camp eccentricity.
Jennifer Reed absolutely shines as Gaga. Her ballsy, caricatured portrayal is totally over-the-top, which of course makes it uncannily accurate. Her vocal ability (dare I say it) outshines the Lady tenfold, and she mimics the drama of Gaga's performances perfectly. In contrast, Chris Runciman's Assange is fairly unlikeable, a balance of nerdiness and thinly-veiled rage. Runciman's anger is punctuated by moments one could almost class under the ‘daggy dad’ category, making him a great straight man in this double act.
The vast, bare warehouse space at Second Story Studios in Collingwood, where the show is now running as part of Midsumma festival, is the perfect setting for this piece. The minimal set is busily filled by Gaga's characteristically 'Haus' items - ridiculous hats, glasses, calculator shoes... and draped with her dutiful dancers, who echo Gaga's ever-changing mood with great humour.
What really makes this piece sparkle is the music. Brilliantly written, both lyrically and musically, the songs would not feel out of place on a genuine Gaga album, particularly the track 'Trebuchet', which moves from bouncy club track to fist-pumping anthem and back again. Gaga v Assange nails the public personas of these two intriguing characters while digging a little deeper and opening a window to the real darkness that brought them together.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Gaga v Assange
Writer and composer: William Hannagan
Cast: Jennifer Reed, Chris Runciman
Second Story Studios, Collingwood
16-25 January (not Monday/Tuesday)