The Rocks Bizarre. Clever name for a festival that takes place around The Rocks Markets, every Friday night throughout this and next month. Few things could be more bizarre than Uta Uber Kool Ja's hotel room soirees, staged high above the cobblestone streets in a room with a view, at the Old Sydney Holiday Inn.
Uta's a celebrity, so we don't meet her right away. We're collected from the foyer by her confidante, George, a man who resembles a less hirsute Freddie Mercury, in eighties-style hot pink jacket and sporting an expensive retro haircut. George explains that Uta is in a bad way, after a bad day. He suggests we, her Army Of Love and antidote for loneliness (her vision and mission is to rid the world of it), will need to offer her everything she asks for, which may require intimate touching. Happily, many a sparkling wine cork is popped to get us in the mood and instil us with the requisite Dutch courage. As in Theatresports, we're encouraged to embrace every offer with a resounding 'yes!', while reassured we won't be asked to do anything we don't want. Mmm.
Uta is a modern-day Marlene Dietrich, of sorts (despite her Gold Coast upbringing). She has a thick bob of of bottle-blonde hair, underpinned by dark roots, long lashes, a characterful curve to her nose and legs as long as a piece of string. A long, long piece of string. Or very shapely giraffe, perhaps. But I digress. She wears her insecurities on her sleeve. She may not have known us long, but she confides, confesses and reveals. We learn of her failure to gain admission to acting school. Her subsequent career as a Lido dancer, in Paris. Her parallel existence as an adult film star behind the Iron Curtain. Her Latvian connection. We're shown a clip of her hit song, Savage Chien, as well as being treated to a live (if mimed) rendition of the remix, after a costume change from an elegant black party frock to Lady Gagaesque regalia. She is, indeed, the world's foremost almost-was.
This, of course, wasn't the official launch of her single. That took place earlier in the evening, at a place on Oxford Street (her publicist's idea). Regrettably, noone attended. Noone. This was the after-party.
Uta is an award-winning fringe performer and this concept is definitely authentically fringe. The subversive notion of staging a series of parties, in which complete strangers become fast friends, dancing together, venturing retorts, ripostes and one-liners, climbing into bed together, and so on, all this taking place in a classy, city-fringe hotel with million-dollar views of the harbour across to the Opera House, is tasty. Better yet, Uta's 'I vuntu bee alone' disposition, rubbing up against her more extroverted side, pays sad homage to a host of femme and homme fatales, from Marilyn to Michael (Hutchence, who happened to feature in a game of 'celebrity head'). And her sensitive sidekick, George, by turns bitch-slapper and comforter, is as much a part of the action as her. But despite their best efforts to keep the momentum, interest and energy generated by the experiment, that promises to reinvent itself with each and every crowd, what becomes obvious is the lack of any real script to fall back on if and when that momentum lags and flags. Costume changes help, but aren't enough to sustain it, nor are the interjections of the partygoers which, almost inevitably tend towards the inane.
Uta would seem to have more potential than is being exploited. While this format is undeniably immersive and a potent study of divahood, it misses too many opportunities for further revelations about the pitfalls of the celebrity trajectory. Moreover, Uta's rather sudden lapse of character, like Superman reverting to mild-mannered Clark Kent is, in a way, disappointing: it seems a shame to surrender her secret (that she is Georgina Symes, not a superstar). While it is generous to be offered this confidence, the fourth wall crashing down seems unnecessary. Uta is more powerful as herself.
Uber kool fun if you like dress-ups, or dress-offs, but Uta could be so much more. Despite her striking stature, maybe she's still growing. Ja?
Uta Uber Kool Ja
Venue: The Rocks Village Bizarre
Dates: Every Friday 2 Nov – 21 Dec, 2012
Times: 6.30pm – 10pm
Further details: www.therocks.com