Calpurnia Descending | Malthouse TheatreLeft – Ash Flanders and Paul Capsis. Photo – Michele Aboud

Malthouse Theatre’s last production for the year is a cracker with Paul Capsis bringing every iota of diva theatricality to the stage as Beverly Dumont, the now decayed but once beloved star of the stage in Calpurnia Descending. Sisters Grimm, the creators of Calpurnia Descending, is the truly fabulous team of Ash Flanders and Declan Greene who have become a force of nature in Australia’s theatre world, thrilling audiences with their subversive queer gender-deconstructionist and hilarious theatrical spectacles. Set in the 1930s, Calpurnia Descending references Hollywood classics such as All About Eve and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, films where the power of feminine glamour is wielded ruthlessly, where stories of sometimes fatal female competitiveness are underlined by a poignant awareness of the ephemerality of beauty and the ugly truths behind the construction of image.

Violet St Clair (performed by the damn fine Ash Flanders) is the small town girl determined to become a Broadway star in the role of Calpurnia (the innocent wife of Julius Caesar.) St Clair will inevitably replace the former star Dumont but not without escalating scenes of jealousy and betrayal along with thickenings of plot. Capsis is perfect as the blown rose Dumont, with every gesture and one-liner delivered with presence. Sandy Gore plays the jaded producer Silvestri with heft and Peter Paltos is hilariously touching as the up and coming star struck director.

Calpurnia Descending mourns the disappearance of true glamour and mystery (both of drag and of the stage and the silver screen) and pays homage to the time when stars were elusive, when the formidable females behind their public images remained private and unknowable. Their allure was unattainable. The madness of modern times, when everyone aspires to stardom via advertising and social media here becomes a particular kind of hallucinatory hell and takes the production in a startlingly different direction with the use of projection and animation (by Matthew Gingold and Matt Greenwold).

Wondrously over the top. Poignant. Insane. Impact. Nostalgia. Deconstruction. Disillusionment. Fragility. Power. Grandiosity. Falsity. Entertainment. Hilarity.

Say no more, except to note how the final scene where Capsis revives the old drag tradition of taking off his wig and costume at end of show to unmask the illusion and expose his character’s vulnerability, is unforgettable.


Malthouse Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company present
CALPURNIA DESCENDING
by Sisters Grimm | created by Ash Flanders & Declan Greene

Director Declan Greene

Venue: Merlyn Theatre | 113 Sturt Street, Southbank VIC
Dates: 12 November - 30 November
Tickets: $30 – $60
Bookings: malthousetheatre.com.au/whats-on/calpurnia-descending