The Tasmanian Babes Fiasco

(Brisbane Arts Theatre)


When the most normal scene in a play is a bunch of stoned housemates breaking into a house to steal back their own possessions, you know it’s not going to be a run-of-the-mill offering.

Sequel to He Died With A Felafel In His Hand, The Tasmanian Babes Fiasco is also originally a book by John Birmingham, and both have been adapted for the stage by Simon Bedak.

Natalie Bochenski, who directed Felafel in 2009, has returned for the sequel, a production as rip-snorting, psychedelic and chaotic as the original.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around a group of housemates in a typically grungy sharehouse in suburban Brisbane. It is the only house left in a block marked for development, and the developers, a couple of megalomaniacal fetishists, have concocted a suitably villainous plan to evict the unwitting tenants, whereby they employ a gay narcissist to rob the house so the housemates will default on their rent.

Of course, the plot doesn’t really matter other than as a vehicle to cram as many jokes about sex, drugs and abject living conditions as possible into two hours. The result is a free-wheeling, often surreal romp that brings to mind an episode of The Young Ones cranked up to eleven.

The characters run the gamut of Generation X stereotypes, with the dazzling constellation of hippies, slackers, bogans, militant lesbians and anarchists grounded somewhat by the main character, JB, who acts as a sort of constantly stoned observer to the weirdness surrounding him.

But one of the great charms of The Tasmanian Babes Fiasco is that despite its schizophrenic nature, its heart lies firmly in Brisbane. The script makes extensive references to south-east Queensland landmarks and institutions, as well as making fun of our southern neighbours.

In addition, Bedak has updated the 1997 book for the new millennium, and the play references cultural touchstones as fresh as the Apple iPad and Beyoncé’s Single Ladies.

Whether this works or not in a setting which is so quintessentially nineties and with characters who are so clearly 20-something Generation Xers is debatable, but it does provide some accessibility for younger audiences who might well be lost with more out-of-date references.

At times it is an incredibly ambitious production, with its large cast, frenetic music and lighting cues, and fantastically varied costuming, including sailor suits, bear costumes, and a fine selection of op-shop glam.

Nevertheless, most of the time the centre holds due to the cast’s enthusiasm and the sheer energy of the production, and despite its shortfalls in the plot department, The Tasmanian Babes Fiasco is so chock full of gags, familiar references and ribald humour that it is utterly impossible to dislike.

(Playing until 9th May.)

— Anthony Gough
(Performance seen: Wed 7th April 2010)