Man of the Year (Melbourne Fringe) – theatre review

Jason Cavanaugh is a man on a mission in his latest incarnation, Man of the Year – delivering grand and memorable speeches from noteworthy figures and connecting these to mankind’s propensity to commit violent acts. As he is doing so, passionate, wide-eyed and eloquent, he is constantly interrupted by a calm voice of reason (Sharon Davis) – someone we hear but never see. She asks him to clarify aspects of the addresses she feels aren’t clear and questions why he is doing what he is doing. That leads to moments of hilarity and exasperation as he is often interrupted mid sentence.

man-of-the-year-02  Jesus, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Paul Keating, Julia Gillard, Saddam Hussein, Hitler, Martin Luther King Junior and women’s rights advocate Susan B. Anthony all get a guernsey. Arguably his most memorable persona is that of the Nazi dictator. He takes Hitler’s words and delivers them in German because, as Cavanagh, puts it they have greatest impact when spoken in Hitler’s native tongue. I can certainly attest to that. It is a chilling portrayal.

Cavanagh – in character as “the messenger” – also professes violent thoughts of his own, threatening to hold the audience to ransom unless we vote for him to be Person of the Year. All this pours of out him while he is dressed in black tails, a white business shirt, a navy based blue bow tie sporting a pattern of red diamonds and white dots, pyjama bottoms and slippers. What does it all mean? I am not at all sure, but Cavanagh is a perceptive writer and an excellent and compelling performer, who seems to be able to solicit audience reaction at will.

man-of-the-year-01Here he commands a vice-like grip for near on an hour as precious words tumble from his mouth like ripe fruit – to be savoured. Indeed, they leave us satiated. Cavanaugh says the inspiration for the play, which took him two months to write, came from Hitler being named Man of the Year by Time magazine. “They justified it by saying he was the most influential person that year, for better or worse. I just got obsessed with those words – ‘for better or worse’. A World War, a genocide gets brushed over.”

So, his idea was to explore the world as it is and was through great oratory, to explore the wealth of prose … and then he introduced a few twists. Great concept. Well executed. Job done! Man of the Year is playing at the Lithuanian Club (44 Errol Street, North Melbourne) until 23rd September as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival.

Alex First