Hartstone-Kitney Productions
Black Box Theatre - Adelaide Botanic Garden
Until 14 Mar 2021

Review by Sarah Westgarth

Adelaide is so lucky to have Joanne Hartstone. Not only is she a dynamic performer who consistently produces original works, but she also heads, along with Tom Kitney, a company responsible for hosting and producing a slate of shows during the festival season. And with this Fringe looking a little different this year, it’s so exciting that Hartstone-Kitney Productions have once again curated a collection of theatre and cabaret to enjoy in the picturesque Botanic Gardens.

Included in their program is Hartstone’s new one-woman show, ‘The Reichstag is Burning’, following on from her successful seasons of ‘That Daring Australian Girl’ and ‘The Girl Who Jumped Off the Hollywood Sign.’ As projections of text and images describe the rise of the Nazi Party and Adolf Hitler’s seizure of power, Hartstone—as the soulful and irreverent cabaret singer Iris London—performs a repertoire of reworked modern tunes that reflect the political and social tensions of the time. It’s a cracker of a concept, and while it doesn’t always live up to its potential, it is a production with a bold and clear vision that is presented as a visual and musical collage about fascism, censorship, and reflecting on history.

An assured and magnetic presence, Hartstone commits fully to every moment onstage. While the show ostensibly has a setting in a German nightclub in the 1930s, Iris London exists a little beyond time and place, acting as more of an outside commentator than a grounded character. This allows the show to make a point about the role of artists during times of political upheaval, especially when the arts are under attack. It also means there is enough of a disconnect to allow for the rewritten pop songs to work. What suffers a little is the emotional connection to Iris London as a person really living through this time. I would have loved to hear more from her beyond the music, and understand her story at a deeper level, which would have created more of an affecting experience during key moments.

The musical direction by Emma Knights is excellent. The arrangements are perfectly in keeping with the tone and aesthetics of the period being presented, and always reflect the intended mood. Hartstone’s sultry and dulcet vocals are used well, jumping from playful to haunting as the numbers change. While the shift in tone can sometimes be jarring, it does add an element of light and shade to a show that generally maintains the same pace and rhythm throughout.

What lifts it all is the production design by Tom Kitney. Lighting, projection, and smoke are used to underpin both the historical events and London’s perspective on them, weaponizing simplicity to great effect. Every decision is carefully considered, and combined with the superb costumes that Hartstone dons, some truly spectacular visuals are created. The use of images is at times a bit heavy-handed in the point they are making, but when everything comes together and works, it really is something to behold.

While not everything lands as intended, ‘The Reichstag is Burning’ has a commitment to its vision that few shows have. There aren’t any particularly fresh insights into the events preceding World War II presented here, but the show serves as a fitting ode to the artist who keeps on singing the truth even as the world burns.

Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)