“The queen of Highgate Hill,” Tigerlil opens for the Birdmann with The Unrehearsal, a show that revels in the art of practised incompetence. Tiger Lil falls, spins, tangles and trips with perfect comic timing through a series of routines: whip-cracking, hooping, and puppetry. Tigerlil is always a pleasure to watch; however, each segment of The Unrehearsal feels overlong — if only by a little. From hooping to hoop skirts, she brings us to her stunning finale: a dextrous, devilish puppet climbs the skeleton of her undergarment to the boneyard tune of Waits and Burroughs’ “‘T’ain’t No Sin”.
We refresh our wine glasses and it’s time for the Birdmann’s Events of Momentous Timing. Billed as a one-man mystery, we join the Birdmann — in tails, tie, and tight black pants, with a plastic bag sticking out of one pocket — as he awakens from unconsciousness. Just how did our hero find himself handcuffed to an ironing board, holding one gorgeous black stiletto?
The show follows a loose narrative through several events that help the Birdmann recreate that fateful night of the blackout. His mannerisms — simultaneously awkward and suave, and indeed birdlike — are the key to his comedy. The Birdmann shifts between cabaret-style one-liners (in the Aussie-noir tradition of Paul McDermott, Flacco and friends) and comedic circus feats. He defines this stylistic divide by dragging his plinth — the ironing board — to and from stage right.
It’s hard to take your eyes off the Birdmann. There isn’t exactly one word to describe him — and even the ones I’ve had to settle for don’t quite suffice. He has an eerie command of the surreal, but combined with that, an endearing — almost heartrending — dorky lonesomeness. As an example, this singular artist manages to have us screeching with laughter as he serenades and face-mashes a cupcake — his favourite comfort food and dietary supplement — but he tugs at our heartstrings too.
I won’t spoil the show for those yet to see it. The Birdmann’s mysteries are better unravelled in person. But he brings together a tenuous narrative with surprising cohesion and concludes with what can only be described as a stage spectacular worthy of Cher.
The Events of Momentous Timing, supported by Tigerlil, ran at the Judith Wright Centre from 23 to 24 March 2013.