The planning for our Sydfest week was fairly complex and more expensive than in past years – usually all I ever did was haul a chair and food to the Symphony Under the Stars. This year, however, the timing of Misanthropology, midnight, forced us to look at staying in the city. And so it happened. A great thing too. We ended staying two nights, so we could simply wobble back to the room after the Symphony Under the Stars.
It was a show that had at its heart the concept that we as human beings are not developing, evolving, moving forward. Instead, we are wallowing in a cultural netherworld. This argument was supported by songs like Eco Lodge (which I still have stuck in my head), songs about self-absorbed cyclists, the creepy concept of a father buying his daughter’s fake breasts and the concept of “stray” women being fair game for footballers in a song that held up Kerry-Anne Kennerley as a symbol of the cultural netherworld.
In Perfect’s argument, we are, as a society, confused about nature and sexuality and how we deal with them. With nature, we seem to want to protect it, but we do that by transferring our overwhelming instinct to dominate nature – in every way possible. In terms of sexuality, the elders of society – fathers, experienced TV personalities – are not dispensing wisdom; instead there are fathers telling their daughters that it is OK to be more sexually desirable through acquisition of artificial breasts and a female TV personality can water down talk of rape by saying that there are “stray” women looking for sex in the early hours of the morning. Amongst the cutting satire and great singing, there is meat in Perfect’s social commentary.
My favourite moment, however, came with Perfect’s response to the type of cultural concepts being created by Barrie Kosky. Its argument was that we as humans have now produced shows that require long commitment to view shows that are self-indulgent, pretentious and devoid of clear meaning to the gathered crowds. And that is Kosky. Here is one example of a Kosky adventure, complete with men wearing dresses. The highlight of the song for me was where we hear Perfect, as Kosky, declare that Europe loves him, as a way of justifying himself in the face of Australian criticism. The song summed up for me just where Kosky sits in the context of Australian culture – as a self-promoting touchstone that attracts funding, praise and adulation for shows that have little to do with Australia or its people; a hostile force that has not but disdain for critics.
With that, Eddie Perfect neatly tied together a few threads of the Sydney Festival for me. His musical performance was excellent and he managed to, along with Paul Kelly, provide a picture of Australia that shows us that we are fairly laconic, lacking in pretention and willing to provide a slightly innocent, strongly moral look at the human experience.
And then, after the show, Eddie stuck around and had a drink with audience members who didn’t have to race home. I can’t imagine John Malkovich or Barrie Kosky doing that.