Heaven Help Us – Keith Bosler offers up a guilty little pleasure. (Theatre review)
Heaven Help Us
Keith Bosler, playwright, performer and all round funny guy, takes advantage of a thematically familiar plot to playfully wise-crack in Heaven Help Us, which at its heart is nothing more than a fun night at the theatre unapologetically staged in a time when artsy lefties are feeling a little downhearted due to the political climate. It’s a night of fun (remember fun?) a light-hearted take on an old chestnut filled with thinly veiled lamentations about Australia’s new-found uber neo-conservatism, in a very intimate, cheeky setting, padded out with excellent performances and wise Wilde-ish wit.
The Archangel Michael has been watching the world for the last two thousand years as God, feeling he owed his family a break, has taken a holiday confident the death of his son has finally placed humanity back on track. Michael, in God’s absence, has struggled to keep humanity out of the clutches of Lucifer, and in his despair, organised a sex change to align himself with the more wholesome side of humanity. God comes back to find his “science experiment” in a mess, his archangel now a female and the Devil in control.
However, God being who God is, hasn’t lost faith in humanity just yet. He wants to give them all another chance – especially after he promised there wouldn’t be another flood – so he strikes up a deal with the Devil for the soul of a lawyer, one Luke Allcock (fabulous name) who is given a certain time frame in which to find love. Michaela (previously Michael) decides to take on human form to help Luke find his soul, while the Devil provides his daughter, Naamah to ensure Luke doesn’t lose the power of his name. What ensues is a battle for the soul of a man, with all of humanity at stake.
It may be a tad familiar, but one doesn’t see Heaven Help Us for the plot. It’s the subtleties, the asides, the comic absurdities and the great performances that draw the relaxed entertainment style. The Bordello Theatre at the Kings Cross hotel is an intimate room, small velveteen covered cafe tables nestled in the dark where the bar commands more attention than the stage. It’s an iconic setting, secretive in a way, lush and lavish together, the perfect spot for a group of theatre lovers to giggle over wily Tony Abbot one-liners and misogynistic lawyer jokes. Keith Bosler has written and directed this warm performance and gathered a stellar cast for the cozy atmosphere of the space, so that in many ways, a conspiratorial air hangs over the show, as if the entire experience were a delicious well-kept left-wing secret.
And the performances are excellent, everyone on top of their game and having a lot of fun with the show. David Woodland, always good, is a fabulous Devil, seductively OTT in his lace up faux leather, matching his talent for oozing sex appeal that he seems to bring to each of his performances (or is it just me?). He delivers Bosler’s great lines carefully and cleverly, most of the tongue-twisters end up his, tumbling out playful and clear. He is posited against the great Lyn Pierse as God and some of the best moments are when the two of them riff off each other, Pierse’s God being a patient, witty performance, commanding the stage in oversized shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. She performs Bosler’s words on a slow burn which works well, so that God develops throughout the play, a nice point of difference from Woodlands in-your-face Devil. The work between these two fine actors is one of the primary reasons to see the show, Pierse being such a well crafted talent, so its a little bit of Sydney theatre-watchers porn to see the pair engaged in some clever word play so close to the audience.
Between the pair is Orlena Steele-Prior as Michaela, the archangel turned human, who manages to perfectly hold her own despite the serenity and sweetness that could have her soften into the background, but never does. She is a commanding presence and she takes the stage compellingly when she arrives, bringing strength to her gentle character. Tai Scrivener is the lawyer Luke, and again, it’s the strong performance he puts in, taking full advantage of Bosler’s stereotyping to have a lot of fun that brings a familiar character to life. He plays Luke large, which adds strength to his being batted about between the forces of good and evil. Scrivener also brings a subtlety to his characters transformation, so that when he imagines himself in control, he is very different to when he recognises he is more of a puppet on a string. He is pulled to and fro by his masculinity between two women, Michaela and Emma Galliano as Naamah, who openly loves playing the seductress sent from hell to tempt. Galliano embodies her character’s sex appeal and confidence, strutting about the stage looking like perfect lawyer bait. Nick Radinoff rounds out the cast and carries one of the shows few real surprises on his capable shoulders, having as much fun with his character Jarrod and the witty lines Bosler supplies him.
Keith Bosler is a strong Australian voice that reminds us theatre doesn’t always have to be heavy, complex or universal. Sometimes it can just be fun, its sole purpose a little oasis of deliciousness specifically tailored to a certain time and a certain place. Heaven Help Us is just such a show, well written, beautifully performed, and completely enjoyable.