I wish I could do his talent justice with mere words. Or his personality – or his good looks (okay, I’m shallow, but I don’t care!). I will try my utmost though in this post!
With his new autobiographical one man show Simon Burke allows us a glimpse into his rich personality, into his vast career, from his movie beginnings at the early age of 13 (I bowled out my eyes on national television <when he received best actor> and got kicked in the nuts by the older boys next day for it) to his endeavours on stage, be it in dramatic or musical roles. With a twinkle in his eyes he tells us about endless rejections (Once in a Blue Moon) as it “takes 30 years to be an overnight sensation”, he fondly lets us participate in his memories of PlaySchool and with unrepentant glee jazzes up the children’s tune, paying hommage to the toys he had to work with. (The hilarious “Bear” to the tune of Jesus Christ Superstar’s “I don’t know how to love him” … “he’s a bear. he’s just a bear…” has the audience in stitches at the wink of his eye!)
Aided by Daniel Edmonds, his genius musical director, he tells us about not being able to dance, only to proceed with a couple of dance steps that belie his anecdotes of stepping on “the toes of Glenn Close and the stumpy little toes of Dame Judy Dench at the Royal National Theatre!” and a story about his endeavours during La Cage Aux Folles in London – where not only did Joel Grey congratulate him on his portrayal of the long suffering but (too) big hearted Georges but he also was taught a pas de deux with John Barrowman by another Aussie – the Dance Master of the Cagelles – who treated him with indifference at best – until opening night, when the big man finally confessed in a lisping voice that his indifference had been intimidation: “I know you from PlaySchool. You taught me the time!” — “So I taught Hanna from Hamburg, the Dominatrix of the Cagelles, to tell the time. My work here is done!”
But it’s not all fun, fluff and mastery of his lush and strong voice Burke is able to phrase so delicately to suit the gentle notes just as well as the “belters”.
In a five minute monologue out of (“Artsy-Fartsy”- his words, not mine) Three Furies, the life of Francis Bacon – he easily has the audience in breathless silence, and tears, while he tells us about the worm in his brain that feeds off him and shitting a new him out until it is no longer clear which he he is. It is a gut wrenching piece of prose he delivers with passion and skill.
(and it’s not just me – see what blaze had to say about that:
Simon Burke’s Something About Always quite possibly wins the prize for intelligent programming. <…> But by far the most impressive was the ‘Worm’ monologue from the incredible Three Furies. Burke stood there with tears streaming down his face as he recited some of the most gripping lines in theatre.
– I don’t have to tell you of course, that I was crying too.)
On a lighter note” he adds Lena Horne’s Yesterday When I was Young to his repertoire, which he masters with passion and his usual brilliance, then continues with another wonderfully bluesy number of Still Crazy after all these Years (his favorite on his brilliant album which is in its second print already).
One of the many high points for me undoubtedly was Burke’s rendition of Edelweiß – a simple, small song he enriches with his voice (and the story of singing it on a stage transformed into a nazi-festival hall adorned with swastika flags, where Von Trapp is singing a deeply Austrian melody – which could get him killed only enhances the experience) only to lead over with “And I put the Australian in Austria” to Australia For Me, one of the most beautiful songs of love for a nation I have ever heard in my whole life. This song gives me shivers, warms me on a cold day and brightens my life every time I hear it on CD – and it’s so MUCH better live when Simon Burke creates it anew every night, filling it with life and heartbreak and so much emotion.
And that is also one of the things I love so much about Simon Burke.
He stays true to his art. Even in private conversation, one can see the love of his profession shine through everything he does. Almost humbly he vows fans and audience alike with his honesty and his compassion. He does not just see it as his job, he seems to see it as his calling, and quietly enjoys taking you with him on his journey. A journey, he confesses by the end of his show, facing the awkward 13 year old buck toothed boy on the vid wall again, he would take on again, making all the same stupid mistakes, experiencing the same lows and brilliant heights all over again.
A journey that led me to Australia (where I saw no kangaroos! correct that! I finally saw a kangaroo and cuddled a koala) and to new friends in the process.
My gratitude and admiration goes out to Simon Burke – who is indubitably one of the best leading men theatre has right now and who has made it his mission to spoil me rotten on this trip – all my love goes to him and his fabulous talent. If only he could bring his marvellous show (and the cuddle song for Bev!!) to London!