Sydney Fringe – Dance with De Vil

Brendan Hay and Jared Jekyll’s new cabaret, Dance with De Vil, tells the secret story of the son of everyone’s favourite fur-loving, puppy-hunting villainess, Cruella de Vil. This might be the untold story behind 101 Dalmatians, but it sure ain’t Disney.

Dance with De Vil - image by Kurt Sneddon
Dance with De Vil – image by Kurt Sneddon

Cruello de Vil has spent his entire life locked in the dungeons of Hell Hall, quietly preparing to make his debut in high society and be appointed the King of fashion empire ‘House of de Vil’. Cruello is in the middle of his first world tour (i.e. a tour where he only plays first world countries) when he gives a revealing interview about his life. What comes out of the interview is a little bit hilarious, a little bit twisted and maybe just a little bit touching.

Played by Hay, Cruello is equal parts playboy, high camp comedian, sultry torch singer and bawdy balladeer. Hay is a charismatic performer and completely transforms into the character. While his vocals get a little lost in some of the more energetic numbers, when he’s on the money like he is with a tender rendition of ‘All The Things You Are’, he sounds glorious. The opening medley of Ke$ha is perhaps a little less convincing musically, but still a lot of fun.

Hay is well supported by his Hench(wo)men, played by Kristina McNamara and Mikayla Williams, who and dance fantastically and provide some vocal grunt. Musical Director Benjamin Kiehne brings the eclectic score to life on a baby grand.

There are plenty of great ideas and hilarious one-liners, but the character, like the show itself, lacks focus. Hay and Jekyll haven’t clearly defined exactly what the root of Cruello’s comedy is – is it his casual cruelty? His vanity? His misunderstandings of the world outside Hell Hall? His overtly sexual nature? It could be any of these – in fact, it could be all of these at once, but the comedy needs to be substantially sharpened and come from a more solid base. He’s also not quite as creepy as you might hope.

But being the first outing of the character and the first outing of the show, it’s completely understandable that the focus would be missing. There’s plenty of potential and plenty to enjoy, like an all-too-literal performance of Bachelor Girl’s ‘Buses and Trains’ (“Mother never warned me about the dangers of public transport!”). When Hay and Jekyll work out what works and what doesn’t, the show could become something very special.

Sydney Fringe Festival is all about shows like Dance with De Vil. Shows with intriguing new concepts that are crying out for an audience. With any luck, the remaining performances will give Hay and Jekyll the chance to realise the buckets of potential lying deep within Cruello de Vil. He’s definitely a character to look out for.

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