Stirling Community Theatre
Until 17 Mar 2018

Review by Sarah Westgarth

Dressed in short overalls and playing “When You Wish Upon a Star” on a small music box, David Salter opens his show with a sense of detached whimsy, a tone that defines the regressive journey that is “Make Believe.” Salter is one of Adelaide’s most versatile and engaging performers, and his talents are on full display here, combining comedy, music, magic, and even ventriloquism, into this hilarious cabaret that deserves a packed house every night.

“Make Believe” is a children’s show for adults; Salter explores primary school memories, abandoned dreams, and the tragedy of growing up, in between performing a variety of children’s songs, all arranged to take on a new, darker edge. The show is a nostalgia-laden romp, as Salter seeks to fulfil his childhood goal of becoming a Play School presenter, while still pointing out the disturbing implications of the Disney princess narrative. He paints the perfect picture of the suburban Australian adolescence, affectionately recalling his first Wiggles concert, the trauma of learning about the birds and the bees, and getting the whole crowd in on singing a classic Peter Combe number. Kid’s entertainment isn’t just used as a punching bag though; even when Salter is poking fun, he’s doing so with genuine affection.

The script is tight, witty and deeply personal, and only enhanced by Salter’s timing and facial reactions, often to himself. He is a natural comedian, and is effortlessly charming even in his more crass jokes. Contemporary politics, personal memories, and artistic criticism are all seamlessly woven together, transitioning into the spectacular musical numbers. Salter’s abilities as a musician and singer are all on-show, as he puts his own spin on the songs we all remember fondly, and makes them feel original. He manages to be reminiscent of both old-school cabaret performers and a Sesame Street character, utilising his chameleon-like voice and the clever arrangements to brilliant effect.

The show does target a particular demographic, particularly those who grew up in the nineties and are now entering their thirties and wondering how they got there. There are a few references that will be lost on some, but for those for which it all hits home, it’s a pitch-perfect tribute to the good old days. There were a few technical glitches on opening night, which Salter handled with the confidence of a true pro, but hopefully these will be smoothed out.

Self-deprecating, reflective, and hysterically funny, “Make Believe” is a gem of the Fringe. While mostly presented for laughs (which it delivers in spades), there’s also a heartfelt message about listening to our inner child, and taking on those important lessons that we were taught early on, like sharing and being kind. There’s an inherent sadness to growing up that Salter captures here, not shying away from the darkness and the joy and the mess that is our childhood. Don’t let the location or late start time deter you – David Salter is never someone you should miss seeing on stage, and this is no exception.

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)