The Ballad of Backbone Joe

The Ballad of Backbone JoeAs the season of The Ballad of Backbone Joe sold out, I’m thrilled to know that more and more of Melbourne are lining up for the fabulous madness and unexpected beauty of The Suitcase Royale.

With the beliefs of anarchists and the souls of poets, this
Melbourne-based trio (Joseph O’Farrell, Miles O’Neil and Glen Walton) recycle junk, pop culture and their love of old film to tell stories like no one else could dream of.

Ballad is homage to film noir, but imagine the Marx Brothers staring instead of Humphrey Bogart. Detective Von Trapp from Sandringham is given a letter by woman with legs “just like cigarettes … long, thin and white” and heads to a small town to deliver it to her husband, boxer Backbone Joe, who has no memory of the night he last saw his wife.

The gorgeous stage world is created from cardboard, ropes and venetian blinds from a hard rubbish collection, but looks like a forgotten black and white film that was delicately hand coloured frame by frame with shades of sepia and traces of red. A suitcase is transformed into the best car ever put on a stage, a cardboard skeleton almost steals the show and all is accompanied by live music – also played by the three performers.

Much of Suitcase’s appeal is that they love performing as much as we love watching them. They happily break out of character and improvise, without compromising the poignancy or tension of their story. It will be interesting to see if this can be maintained as they move into bigger theatres, are given their own telly show and become ridiculously famous.

The original music from The Ballad of Backbone Joe is on The Suitcase Royale’s debut CD, which is being launched on 10 September at the East Brunswick Club. See for ticket details – if they haven’t already sold out.

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

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