Holden Street Theatres
Until 22 Feb 2020

Review by Lance Jones

Climate Change. Gay Rights. Bushfires. ScoMo. Coal. Climate Change Deniers. Big Business. Josh Belperio is angry, and why wouldn’t he be? The world – “Right Here, Right Now” – is in big trouble, and Josh wants to change things. In fact, he wants us all to change things (starting with the Prime Minister), and his recent attempt at self-confessed improvised cabaret tries to encourage enthusiasm in this regard. Indeed, most shifts in societal attitudes throughout the eons can be traced back to their beginnings of grass-roots bards extolling their message through songs and poetry and in that, Josh follows a well-trodden path of the arts and social justice. He has the perfect platform upon which to deliver his very important message.

Sadly, the message delivery is flawed.

“Right Here, Right Now” started out with a very small gathering entering a performance space no larger than a suburban loungeroom. The close quarters encouraged the audience to feel they were at a social gathering rather than watching a performer behind the fourth wall. The preliminary involvement of the audience, complete with thoughtful “trigger warnings” for the more powerful stuff to come worked well until the audience were asked to admit their political affiliations. The old theatre saying of “never work with children or animals” should be extended to include “Liberal voters”. Poor Josh simply did not know how to respond to the brave conservative who put his hand up. He moved on very quickly and just a little bit awkwardly. Ouch.

The show opened with a “world premiere” of a couple of new songs that did not really sound like they were ready for such an occasion. A song about “dicks” was particularly pre-pubescent in its poor attempt at humour. Add to the mix that the show was unprepared – he admitted to writing one song “that morning”, frequently stumbled over lyrics and delivered some off-key notes – and you have what could have been a wonderful piece of rebellious artistry falling flat.

Yet the wheels did not completely fall off the performance. A very powerful piece of beat poetry that would make Jack Kerouac proud was delivered with passion, rage and – dare I say – some tears from both performer and audience alike. It was a stand-out highlight of what was ultimately a self-indulgent tirade of anger and frustration. I would pay the money to hear that poem on its own. Unfortunately, one must sit through the rest of the performance to hear it.

There were two types of audience members in the room. Those who were there to see the guy who did “Homo v Scomo” on YouTube were not disappointed. Yet, much in the manner of the Pentecostal Prime Minister he viciously attacks, Josh was “preaching to the choir” with these audience members who were generous with their applause. Conversely, several studies of the room also revealed a number of punters with their arms crossed, appearing less comfortable with the offerings.

After about half an hour the constant stereotype bashing became predictably facile. For example, those interested in money and profit are “bad”, a message delivered shortly prior to Josh complaining about how he lost money on his wonderful award winning 2019 production of “30,000 Notes”.

The previous theatrical offerings of Josh Belperio have shown the range and depth of talent that this extraordinary man can bring to the party, yet it seems not to have brought him the closure and joy that he seeks. Perhaps he has overreacted with a show that is too raw, too unpolished and too unrehearsed. Rage is arguably needed in the current times. Political satire and fearless commentary is something we should unequivocally defend in the arts.

Yet, that said, it should still be good theatre. “Right Here, Right Now” had some incredibly moving moments befitting the urgency and importance of the message it seeks to deliver. Regrettably, it got lost amongst the dreadful “dick” humour, derivative parody, poorly executed singing and ill-prepared presentation.

“Right Here, Right Now” is a hurriedly put together piece of theatre. Josh Belperio has previously shown he is capable of so much more.