Performance review: Devastating Beauty, Motley Bauhaus

Christopher Fieldus performs a one-person cabaret show, telling stories about their personal life punctuated with interpretations of modern songs.

Devastating Beauty isn’t Christopher Fieldus’ first rodeo. The Melbourne-based singer, writer, drag artist and dramaturg has previously performed at Melbourne Fringe, Adelaide Fringe, Sydney Mardi Gras and Midsumma, and as drag alter ego Ms CeCe Rockefeller.

For this show – a return after being staged at Melbourne’s The Butterfly Club in June last year – they lean on a combination of personal stories woven together with cabaret-style performances of songs by artists ranging from The Killers to Celine Dion. Authenticity in storytelling is the name of this game. 

The one-person show, written and performed by Fieldus – sees them shimmying on the intimate cabaret stage at the Motley Bauhaus in Carlton. In suit, platform silver-glitter lace-ups and multicoloured sequined lounge jacket, slicked back hair, moustache and false-eyelashes dipping saucily over their striking gaze – they are a vision of Art Nouveau-inspired beauty: a glammed-up Clark Gable.

Fieldus tells us that as their drag alter ego CeCe Rockefella, they loved the attention – being able to command a stage, and wow onlookers – but they were unfulfilled because they never once told the truth. They tell us this as part of their confessional style of poetic musings between songs – body turning inward, apologetically; voice soft, gaze awkward. This, we are led to believe, is really them. This is their true self, where they can tell ‘the truth’.

It’s a dramatic change from how Fieldus presents when they sing – body arched in powerful rock front person style postures (there’s a bit of a Jarvis Cocker/ Robert Smith thing going on), hands interacting, the incredible vocals glissandi across the breadth of their impressive range, from falsetto highs down to a grounded bass, vocal sobs and dirty growls. Here, they are in their element. A confident singer, a seasoned performer – it’s impressive stuff.

Songs and stories are common fodder for one-person cabaret shows, but here, sadly, the songs are somewhat let down by the stories.

In between songs, Fieldus returns to the music stand, where their script is. They read, letting us into insights about their own life – their move to Australia as a youth from living in Bangkok, coming out, going out and finding a community as a young gay person, hooking up, finding love, being young and all that comes with it. The stories are punctuated by references to Greek mythology – Narcissus and Echo – and Catholic saints, the mythology of their own Catholic upbringing.

The support device of the script and the crutch of the stand prevents us from connecting with Fieldus, just as we might feel at a nervous best man’s speech, and the manner of storytelling is in telling rather than showing. It’s a shame because it gets in the way (when it shouldn’t) of Fieldus’ ability to wring real drama from the performance or shape a story from the fodder of their personal life. 

I wanted so much more – and there is real potential here. 

It seems the show has been self-directed, as there is no director listed, and it’s clear that to bring this show to the next level it needs an outside pair of eyes looking at it with a dramatic vision – to pull the meandering musings into a more dramatically satisfying piece. 

Fieldus is an incredible singer – their voice is exceptional. But I would guard against the lure of ‘authenticity’ being a winning formula for a show. A show is still a show, and a show needs a story. A story needs drama. Whether it is ‘true’ or not, it is still (as it always has and will be) a creative act. 

Reviews are such awful things for young performers to read – particularly when there is so much that goes into writing a show, and all you really need are those stars to chuck on your future performance posters. As someone who has written three shows, I can absolutely advise having an outside pair of eyes in the development of a show is a vital ingredient. 

Read: Theatre review: Bad Feminist, Blue Room Theatre

In the interests of providing some value to Fieldus – I can say that they have a 5-star voice – and the show is worth seeing for this alone.

Devastating Beauty
Motley Bauhaus, Melbourne
Written and performed by Christopher Fieldus
Musical arrangements by Matt Hadgraft

Devastating Beauty will be performed until 11 February 2023, as part of Midsumma Festival.

Kate Mulqueen is an actor, writer, musician and theatre-maker based in Naarm (Melbourne). Instagram: @picklingspirits Facebook: @katemulq Twitter: @katemulqueen