There is something wicked and subversive about storybook villains rising and trying to rewrite their fate. That’s the premise of the world premiere musical Villainy. Druzilla (Olivia Charalambous), one of Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters, who bemoans the fact that she is always walked over, is hosting a party. Mind you, the atmosphere is hardly festive. In the house are several nefarious characters, who – like her – are frustrated and barely treading water because life as a villain isn’t what is used to be. They bicker and long to free themselves from their collective funk.
Amongst them are Eve (Chelsea Gibbs), the evil queen from Snow White, and her sidekick, Captain James Hook (Anton Berezin), the main antagonist in Peter Pan. Vlad (Tod Strike) is the aristocratic, blood sucking Dracula, while the torn figure of Dr Henry Jekyll and Mr Edward Hyde (Karlis Zaid) looms large. To complete the sextet is Madame Therese Defarge (Meg Hoult), obsessed with revenge in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Then, unexpectedly, into the fray walks a schoolgirl with attitude, Lily (Alessandra Merlo), who has an axe to grind with her English teacher.
Lily has no clue how she got to where she is, but one moment she was in detention and the next in amongst these historic evil doers. At first, she thinks the whole thing is a prank … that she has found herself in the middle of a fancy dress party (after all, the outfits are a giveaway). One thing is certain, despite the villains’ best efforts to instil fear into Lily, she is not intimidated. In fact, far from it. As things turn out, Lily just may be their ticket out of the public domain, where they are trapped. As to the key, could it be modern technology?
Put simply, Villainy is an anarchic hoot. Book, music and lyrics are by Craig Christie, music arrangements and orchestrations by Craig Bryant and direction from Tim Paige. Resplendent with bad language, the musical is chock full of fun and folly, including a surfeit of pithy one liners. I greatly enjoyed many of the original songs. Melodically, they are ear pleasing, whether sung solo, as duets or chorus numbers.
The vocal standouts in the first act are undoubtedly Chelsea Gibbs and Anton Berezin, who dominate. Her strong, rich and rounded tones and his mellifluous timbre are outstanding. I also loved the freshness and sass that Alessandro Merlo introduced when she fell down the rabbit hole midway through Act I. Act II is an opportunity for Olivia Charalambous, Tod Strike and Meg Hoult to showcase what they are made of and they don’t let us down. Big numbers and big voices … all. What is evident throughout, too, is Jekyll and Hyde’s existential angst, as milked for all it is worth by Karlis Zaid.
A smattering of simple props – a large armchair, a saw, a magic mirror and apple, and a glass, alongside red wine in a decanter – on a bare stage set the scene. The costuming, which I referenced earlier, is evocative. The lighting is a feature. Beams of light, from behind, as well as in front of the characters, highlight their “look at me” moments and elevate the spectacle. That is the work of Jason Bovaird and Moving Light Productions. With sound design by Marcello Lo Ricco, Villainy has a good vibe. It is entertaining, humorous and delightfully silly. Through Lily, it champions female empowerment.
I thought that the production – which had so many imposing, audience embracing songs throughout – could have ended with a more rousing number. I speak of what could be termed a showstopper, which would leave those attending on a high. Still, Villainy has a great deal going for it and is playing at The MC Showroom until 12th November, 2023.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Songs of the Northern River (The MC Showroom) – theatre review
- Cabaret (Athenaeum) – theatre review
- Driftwood: The Musical (Chapel off Chapel) – theatre review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.