Feast Festival Review: Brodie John bares his soul in Burlesque by Force at Nexus Arts in Adelaide

On the same day that Australia voted “yes” to marriage equality, Brodie John presented his brave and personal account of childhood sexual abuse.

Dressed in drag and playing to an imaginary audience side stage, we are plunged into an intimate moment of rapture with Brodie as he takes his final bow. He then begins the process of peeling back the layers, both physically and metaphorically. As the makeup is wiped away we learn of his harrowing rape at the hands of a friend, which has left him scarred physically and emotionally.

Projected voices break the narrative into sound bites and Abbey Howlett’s haunting music has a dark effect on the feeling of the play as a whole. As memories swirl in Brodie’s mind, we learn of other dark secrets that haunt him; casual abuse from various people that he trusted and did not expect and attempts at redemption from nuns and social workers.

The connection with the audience is so intense that all eyes are transfixed, even as he breaks the fourth wall and moves amongst the seated audience. Emotion runs high and it appears at one point that he cannot go on any longer. It is both difficult to watch and emotionally stark.

Playwright Marissa Bennett has pulled the thoughts and ideas together to distill every emotion into a chilling portrait of sexual abuse. The intimacy of the Nexus Theatre makes this show one that leaves you reliving it for some time to come.

Stephen Moylan as stage manager has created a simply designed set that allows Brodie to move fluidly around the stage and express his vulnerability and paradoxically his strength. His extended disrobing is barely noticed when compared to the emotional nakedness he displays.

In the current age where stories of historical sexual abuse seem to be becoming more common, this deeply personal story deserves a place. While not easy to watch (it comes with a trigger warning before the show begins), it is rewarding and hopefully sparks conversation around this topic.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Burlesque by Force plays as part of Feast Festival until 18th Nov at Nexus Arts. For tickets and more details, head HERE

The reviewer attended the performance on 15th November. Cover photo by Daniel Purvis.