Theatre Review: Vigil filled to the brim with character and passion (Art Centre Melbourne until 8th July)

Even though it is billed as a cabaret, Vigil is something that is far from that label. This one-person show – commissioned by the Adelaide Cabaret Festival – is filled with songs and interludes that weave through its story. While cabaret is traditionally seen as something jovial, Vigil cannot lay claim to this. It is much more than that, displayed by a huge emotional ride, dipping up and down in a fantastical way.

Christie Whelan Browne plays Liz, a woman who seems distant from her family. She comes on stage and shares intimate words with her frail, ill mother, who is never seen in the performance. These words give us a relationship that is burdened with hardships, forgiveness and a dash of emotional confusion. The stories which Liz tells through song and speech paints a portrait of a woman dealing with the hardships that are life.

We get a glance into a mirror from Liz. A reflection on life through song. A look at all that could go wrong in life: fear, blame and so many other dark sentiments get a look in, which tense up the room in this heightened, aware way.

The production is funny and light-heartedly warm as we get to know Liz. Browne giving a buzzed voice in songs about inappropriate discussions at BBQ’s and giving a delicious sweet voice for a song where she impersonates Audrey Hepburn. But it is in the last third of this show that intensely brakes the heartstrings. Revelations of personal failures through song make the room feel so still and precious, something that can only be special for a cabaret.

Christie Whelan Browne in Vigil

The play dwells on Liz as we see her trying to grapple with the relationships that surround her mother as well. We get glimpses into what makes people do what they do in life too, while delivered with a simple musical trio backing Browne, lead by acclaimed pianist Joe Chindamo.

Vigil also does an amazing job of showing how much grief can trap a person, something that a vivid comedic writer like Steve Vizard can only create. The only small gripe is that Vigil could have benefited with a few aspects of Liz’s life that don’t really add anything to the relationship between Liz and her mother.

In any case, this is a startling piece from Vizard, which is yet another addition to his creative repertoire. While he has been known to be voracious and bombastic with his comedic style, Vigil shows he is also an intimate writer, which translates beautifully on stage, care of Browne’s beautiful voice and diverse character.

Vigil is performing at Arts Centre Melbourne’s Fairfax Room until July 8th. More info can be found HERE. The reviewer attended the performance on July 5th.

Photo Credit: Claudio Raschella