If you haven’t been to the Butterfly Club before, it is a delightful experience just walking through the door. Evidently a converted shop and residence, this Victorian structure is adorned throughout with all manner of curios and kitsch, creating the feel of an eccentric cave celebrating the pop and trash of the 20th Century. I can’t say if the two short plays with music which I enjoyed there last night were indicative of their usual offerings, but if so it seems an endearingly eclectic venue worthy of some return visits.

'Black' Jack Horner - LIVE! and Daisy's Kitchen | The Butterfly Club In “Black” Jack Horner – LIVE! it may be a little hard for younger generations to imagine a time when the occupation of “lounge singer” was not synonymous with a sense of old-fashioned sleaze under a thin veneer of schmaltz. It is not an impression that the performers of this amusing short are making any attempt to dispel.

On the contrary, this show runs with the cliché, and to good effect, presenting an ambiguously 1960s singer on the downward spiral, the titular “Black” Jack Horner. Jack may have been something of a success once upon a time (he alludes to having sung with Liza Minnelli, although this could be B.S.), but he is definitely in career freefall now. Feuding with his piano man Benny and ditched by his female support act, Jack now finds himself partnered with a less than stellar replacement in Georgie, a rather heavy chanteuse who won’t stand for his guff.

Taking his cue from Dean Martin and other beverage-enhanced singers, Jack consumes many tumblers of scotch during his set (and was hardly sober to begin with), and before long is abusing his fellow musicians with cruel yet clumsy barbs – that  is, when he’s not leering at every woman in the audience, not least of whom being Benny’s fiancée. Pretty soon, things start getting… unpleasant.

All of this would be enough for a short act in and of itself, but an added layer to the whole affair is that the show is completely built around nursery rhymes. All the swinging tunes they sing are paired with the lyrics of Mother Goose’s repertoire, and even the two main characters themselves are named from such verses: Jack Horner (sits in the corner) and Georgie (Porgie, pudding and pie).

If this has a deeper meaning besides producing the often very funny disjunction between children’s rhymes and lounge singing I can’t say, but it certainly works as a curious backdrop for the escalating farce of these sniping characters. One thing is for sure, you’ll never think of Old Mother Hubbard or Little Miss Muffet the same way again.

Elliot Cyngler as Jack is suitably reptilian, looking something of a cross between Mike McLeish’s Paul Keating and a hypothetical Adam Sandler attempting to channel Dean Martin. It is a very funny performance of an altogether unlikeable character. Christine Moffat as Georgie has a more difficult role, as her girth (and choice of dress size) are the target of much teasing for which you inevitably feel sympathy, and yet she comes across as an unpleasant and pathetic character regardless, much like her drunken co-star. Moffat carries this alternately corny and bitchy role well. Cameron Thomas does a nicely understated turn as Benny, the harried and least dysfunctional member of the trio, mostly trying to keep the show together but increasingly fed up with his performers’ antics.

While this play quite happily skirts around the edges of farce, the evening’s following show has more of a message.

Daisys KitchenDaisy’s Kitchen also deals with the musical styles of the postwar era, using it to tell a short story about the cast of a bland domestic radio drama of the same name. Having begun in the late 1950s, the show seeks to reinforce “Father Knows Best” values via its heroine Daisy, the perfect housewife who lives only to stand by her man.

But now it’s the early ‘60s and the times, they are a-changing. As star Daisy (Emma Wyndham) and the two other young women who play her children (Erin Wilson and Diana Tarr, also serving as back-up singers) are finding themselves dissatisfied with peddling the happy housewife line that the series’ writers and station boss keep providing them.

Once again filling the role of in-story (studio) audience, we are party to them pre-recording their latest episode, including many songs both on and off-air. To illustrate their unrest, the scripted songs – such as “(Love is) The Tender Trap” – that emphasise ‘50s domesticity and female subservience, are contrasted with their own choices with more emancipated themes, such as “Unchain My Heart” and “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”.

With plenty of charm and a light touch, Daisy’s Kitchen is an interesting depiction of the times, assuming that it is simply intended as a period-piece and not as breaking news for the postfeminist crowd that missed the message. If so, it would seem too gentle to provide any revelation.

This show is engaging and has a charismatic quintet of performers (also including Trevor Jones, playing the “Dad” actor and pianist, and an unidentified young woman portraying the episode’s director) capably led by Wyndham. The singing, while not belted out with quite the vigour of the satirical fare of the earlier piece, includes some very enjoyable renditions of great classics of the era.

The only weakness of the show lies in its dialogue sequences, with both script and acting seeming to stumble to achieve the naturalism they are reaching for. Which isn’t to say that the admittedly thin plot or message are not well expressed – on the contrary, they are conveyed very well indeed in the much more effective nonverbal acting that takes place while the radio script is being read, and especially during the songs themselves, in both cases adding a subtext or subversion to the surface message. This works far more effectively than the direct dialogue, making it seem almost unnecessary by comparison. It is a fun, affirming show that would work just as well without so much of this extra linking material.

The Butterfly Club is an endearing venue with some interesting shows on offer. With enough time for a meal in between and toe-tapping pieces like “Black” Jack Horner – LIVE! and Daisy’s Kitchen to enjoy, you could easily make a jolly evening out of combining both shows as an impromptu double bill.

Sexual Teapot Productions presents
‘Black’ Jack Horner – LIVE!

Venue: The Butterfly Club | 204 Bank Street, South Melbourne
Dates: Thursday 26 February to Sunday 1 March (four performances)
Times: 7.00 pm Thu – Sat, 6.00 pm Sunday
Tickets: $22 full / $17 concession and for groups of 8 or more
Bookings: www.thebutterflyclub.com

Emma Wyndham in
Daisy’s Kitchen

Venue: The Butterfly Club | 204 Bank Street, South Melbourne
Dates: Thursday 26 to Saturday 28 February (three performances)
Times: 9.00 pm
Tickets: $22 full / $17 concession and for groups of 8 or more
Bookings: www.thebutterflyclub.com

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