The Most Entertaining Theatrical Production in Years? Really?
Hidden Sydney - The Glittering Mile
The World Bar, Kings Cross until October 8
Concept by Olivia Ansell and Wendy Richards
Directed by Lucas Jervies
Photos by Jamie Williams and Ron Lee
Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP
In the world of the Theatre, we are occasionally exposed to a production so special and so innovative and so entertaining that even an experienced, cynical, hard-to-please theatre reviewer can’t help but be eminently impressed, fascinated and enthralled.
Hidden Sydney - The Glittering Mile has just opened at The World Bar, Mansion Lane, Kings Cross.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, The Cross was a colourful, intriguing, bohemian melting pot that was inhabited by a plethora of eccentric and interesting individuals. After decades of notoriety, most of these truly unique characters returned to their maker by the end of the 1970s.
The attendees, or more accurately, participants in the show, gather to be briefed in Mansion Lane, a back alley in which violence could easily take place and definitely would have. We are then led into a dressing room in Les Girls, Australia’s first most famous all-male cabaret show. Back in the day, the performers were known as “female-impersonators”, and Carlotta was their queen.
We all go to a “viewing room” in which a brothel madam addresses us all as she would brief her working girls before a client comes in to make his selection. Lauren Clair almost convinced me that I was a prostitute and felt deprived when the police inspector didn’t choose me.
Then there’s Bea Miles (died in 1973), a notorious yet highly intelligent Kings Cross eccentric who once caught a taxi to Perth and back at a cost of 600 pounds, and that was only one her exploits. Some of her other antics resulted her being arrested on 195 occasions. Virginia Gay superbly embodies Bea’s fun-loving, uninhibited and quirky nature and she daubs us with a smear of make-up to remind us to have fun.
Roie (Rosaleen) Norton, “The Witch of The Cross” (died in 1979) was famous for her art and notorious for her sex rituals and her relationship with English classical music composer and conductor, Sir Eugene Goossens. We enter her bedroom and witness a taste of her work through a choreographically challenging bed-top piece performed by Fiona Jopp.
Another of The Cross’ memorable identities was Juanita Nielsen, the heiress to the Mark Foys retail empire who was posthumously successful in stopping property developer Frank Theeman from tearing down rows of terrace houses to construct massive apartment complexes. On July 4, 1975, Nielsen went to an appointment at the Carousel Club and was never seen again. The song, “Don’t Cry For Me Juanita” is a highlight of the scene.
A nostalgic tour of The Cross wouldn’t be complete without a trip to a nightclub that was located in the Chevron Hilton Hotel in Macleay Street opposite the Sheraton Hotel where The Beatles stayed. The Silver Spade Room, Australia’s first upmarket nightclub, hosted such performers as Tony Bennett, Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck, Sammy Davis Jnr, Liza Minnelli, Dione Warwick, Shirley Bassey and many others.
We enter a small version of the venue and see the familiar silver backdrop. In a 1960s dinner suit, Rob Mills enters singing Sinatra songs with an Australian accent in the style of Norman Erskine, a wharfie-turned-singer who worked extensively throughout Australia and the U.S. and was a friend of Sinatra. He introduces Bobby Darin who sings and does impressions of Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson. Grant Galea is astounding in this role.
As the drug and alcohol-affected Judy Garland, Christa Hughes’ enthusiastic performance showcases her comedic side as well as her substantial musical talent.
Other personalities of the era mentioned in Hidden Sydney are Tommy Leonetti (died in 1979), Silver Spade Room and Latin Quarter owner and talent promoter Sammy Lee (died in 1975), Jim Anderson, “Bumper” Farrell and Abe Saffron.
It’s appropriate that Hidden Sydney is staged on four levels in the building that was formerly a brothel named “The Nevada”, and it seems that all of the rooms remain basically unchanged from its 1970s heyday.
I haven’t before witnessed and participated in, as an audience member, a production of this kind. Hidden Sydney is fresh, innovative, was extremely well conceived, produced and directed, and the talent in this production is outstanding.
Having the audiences traveling to each scene can cause logistical issues, and on opening night, everything ran smoothly.
The song, “You find this ugly, I find it lovely” encapsulates all that is Kings Cross, and each of the characters projects the dreams, hopes, and a certain resignation and sense of belonging to Australia’s most famous and infamous strip of real estate.
If you expect to be seated for the entire performance, or if you don’t like stairs, or if audience participation is beneath you, this production is not for you.
However, if you are open to a very different theatrical experience and are prepared to be thoroughly entertained and take a trip down memory lane that couldn’t be more Australian, then Hidden Sydney has the be on your list. For total enjoyment, it’s in the top 15 of productions I’ve reviewed in the past 30 years and unreservedly recommend it. There is a multitude of offerings in Sydney theatre at the moment, but I intend to see Hidden Sydney again at least once before the run finishes on October 8. It’s that good.
Ron Lee with Carlotta and Lord Mayor Clover Moore