They say Trevor Ashley's one of the busiest men in show business, and with good reason. Since making his professional debut
back in 1998 at the Sydney Cabaret Convention, Ashley's been going strong. With performances in the late 20th century in Hairspray as Edna Turnblad and in a previous run of Fat Swan, he's back this year with long-time collaborator Phil Scott for a crack at the Black Swan parody – strictly for adults.
Could you tell us about how you first came up with the idea of Fat Swan?
I'd been thinking about doing a panto-style show for quite a while and I had just been looking for the right show or idea to parody. A friend of mine saw the film of Black Swan in London before it came out in Australia and he said it was better than Showgirls: that it'd make such a good show and that I should play the lead role. I went to see it and I giggled the whole way through. All I could think was that this would be hilarious – if I actually did this I wouldn't have to change a lot. So that's kind of where it came from.
I take it then that you thought the original film was a bit macabre, or amusingly macabre? What are your thoughts on the original film?
I just thought it was so ridiculous how crazy it was and how [Portman] was going insane as the movie went on. I thought 'this is so weird', and having the little ballerina. It was the archetype, really, that we've seen in so many different young-girl-makes-good films. So it was fairly simple to see how it would work. It's very serious.
I know you've had this show in Sydney before?
We've done Sydney and Melbourne.
What were the audience reactions like?
It's always been crazy, they love it, it's just flat-out and you come and laugh yourself silly for two hours. No hidden meaning, no message, just fun.
Is this your first panto so far?
Yeah, this is my first time in this style.
Because you've largely been in cabaret before, haven't you?
Yeah, and musical theatre.
What has the transition been like?
It's fine: it's sort of like an overblown cabaret anyway. I'm really enjoying it: I'm glad that it's been such a hit every time we've done it.
Do you know where you want to take it?
It just keeps going and we hope that next year it'll make it to London, that's the plan.
And in addition to that, you have an SBS show in the works – The Very Trevor Ashley Show?
Yes – it's been filmed and finished, we're just waiting for an on-air date now.
So would you be incorporating any skits from your past shows into that? What can we expect?
Yes, sort of. There'll be moments you'll not remember from other shows that I've done, but it's very much based upon what I've done in my career previously. There are bits and pieces and jokes reused.
Taking it back to Fat Swan for a moment, I take it you've worked with Phil Scott before?
Yeah, we've worked together a lot – almost ten years now with different projects. I think he's the most incredible writer and no-one writes better for me than he does.
So it's like he understands your humour, it's fairly personalised?
He writes very much for his voice: I can always write what he reads. I mean, we write a lot of stuff together, but anything he sends me – it's always right.
What's the whole process been like so far; have there been any difficulties with the cast, anything particularly interesting happen?
No, you know, we've had one cast who did the original Sydney and Melbourne run. Brenda Moore stayed with us but now we've got Genevieve Lemon (playing Portly's mother) and Danielle Barnes who did the Sydney return and the Melbourne return. Then we go back to the original cast for Brisbane in November. It's a bit crazy; it's all over the shop.
In terms of characterisation, what are the main differences between your take upon Natalie Portman's character – Natalie Portly – and the original?
Well I cover two ideas within the show – that I'm not only playing a character, but I'm also the narrator and the panto dame at the same time, so I'm sort of doing two jobs at the same time. It's odd because I'm as unknowing as she is [Portman in the original film/his take on Portly], but I have to be knowing as well to know what's happening around me and comment on it to the audience. It's fun to play.
In playing a female role, are there any particular concessions you need to make? Is there anything you need to do to shape up for that character, any training?
No, not really. In fact, the less training the better generally. With that role, it's just silly and only important that I commit to it. Obviously there's padding and a wonderful wig that makes me look like I've got long hair: you know those kinds of things. It takes me a while to get into that outfit, but you know, I basically have to look as bad as I possibly can in that white leotard.
And when you're acting as a ballerina, do you find that your views towards ballet change accordingly – like how the views towards the pressure and so forth, are depicted in the film?
I think they work so hard to do all those company dances; they're really quite extraordinary and I don't attempt at any point to go through what they have to go through. But it's been very funny because Swan Lake with the Aussie Ballet is next door in the State Theatre, and of course down in the Arts Centre all the dressing room corridors are connected so I'm sharing the corridor with the actual ballerinas, which I find hysterical.
So you have this guy going around in a tutu and then the actual dancers.
Yep! We both did our shows last night, so that was fun.
Now I know you've mentioned that it's a bit of a pisstake before, but is there any serious note you want your audience to take away?
No – nothing at all. I want them to have a good night.
So if you had to sell Fat Swan, how would you convince viewers to come watch this?
I guess if you just enjoy a laugh and filthy adult material you'd probably absolutely adore it, it's one of those shows you don't bring the kids to.
Showqueen Productions in association with Working Management present
by Phil Scott
Venue: Fairfax Studio| Arts Centre Melbourne
Dates: Until October 6, 2012