Death in White Linen | High Performance Company As we stand in the foyer of the Fairfax for opening night drinks, a door opens at the far side of the room. Inside we catch a glimpse of another party, a cocktail reception, the details of which we are not privy. Immediately this private party appears infinitely more appealing than our current situation. We all want to be on the inside, and for some, this pursuit of exclusivity and status can become an obsession.

Such is the premise for Michael Dalley’s show Death in White Linen. Presented by the Arts Centre program Full Tilt, it tells the story of Brian Kennedy, a ten pound pom from a working class background, then Barrister and socialite whose rise through the circles of Melbourne’s polite society was strategic and coldly business-like.

Directed by Anna McCrossin-Owen and accompanied by John Thorn, Death in White Linen is presented in a primarily cabaret format. Heralding from the vaudeville band-hall era, Dalley’s campy satirical songs are scattered throughout the first half of the piece, exploring material ripe for commentary, with pre-recorded mid-nineties pop replacing live music towards the end. This format worked best when the music served to further the action, as some songs seemed a little superfluous. Although a number detailing the ‘wacky’ members of the Melbourne University law faculty was a highlight.   

Dalley portrays an array of characters through the course of the performance, from Brian’s status hungry mother, to his trophy wife Suzanne and their two private school educated sons Maximus and Cassius. His distinction between characters is extraordinary and he rarely stumbles as he navigates accent, age and gender. The characters are all obsessed with money, power and status and as their carefully constructed existences begin to crumble, the folly of their vacuous world views are revealed.

Originally presented at La Mama, Death in White Linen seemed to retain the feeling of the smaller venue. The blocking, choreography and lighting design need to expand to fill the larger theatre, as some spaces within the set were under utilised or ignored. The piece also seemed a touch long as the action became mired towards the end, as the material trod familiar paths without presenting any new insights. 

Overall, Death in White Linen is an enjoyable night out and a pertinent reminder of the emptiness of material pursuit.

FULL TILT at the Arts Centre presents High Performance Company’s
by Michael Dalley

Directed by Anna McCrossin-Owen

Venue: the Arts Centre, Fairfax Studio
Season: Tuesday 18 November to Saturday 29 November (Preview: Tuesday 18 November)
Time: Tuesday to Saturday 7:30pm (no show Tuesday 25 November)
Tickets: Full $28, Conc/under 26 $23, Student Rush $15, Groups 6+ & Preview $20
Bookings: or 1300 136 166 or Ticketmaster outlets or the Arts Centre Box Office

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