Truly Madly Britney is a queer, pop-culture odyssey that takes camp subversion to the extreme. It’s deliriously, expansively un-PC and often in appalling taste.
So if you’re offended at the drop of a hat – and who could deny we’re living through a golden age of umbrage – you should give it a miss, though it will be your loss. The hilarity of such blatantly “wrong” comedy is one way, after all, of purging easy grievance.
Long-term partners Adam (Nick Clark) and Steve (Adam Garner) have left suburban Melbourne to go on a Britney Spears pilgrimage. They retrace the pop star’s 2007 meltdown through the streets of Los Angeles, hoping it will bring them closer.
Steve’s wild obsession with Britney comes from a place familiar to some gay men: she was a bulwark against homophobia and soothed him through teen angst. But his boyfriend doesn’t share his enthusiasm, and that stokes increasing resentment between them.
The quest to meet Britney takes some bizarre turns. For a start, their Airbnb host Chad (Alex Thew) is a closeted far-right Christian with a gun, who’s madder for Britney than even Steve.
And when they meet Judy (Louisa Wall), a narcissistic mother with a pistol fetish, and her terminally ill gay son Kevin (Karl Richmond), Machiavellian schemes to steal their backstage passes result in a gruesome climax.
Alberto di Troia’s play reminded me strongly of the early work of Ash Flanders and Declan Greene with Sisters Grimm, and of the “trash” cinema of John Waters. It leaves no sacred cow uncooked, chows down the meat and then revels in vomiting it back up.
Much taboo subject matter is explored. There’s a dying 14-year-old boy desperate to be “deflowered” by a grown man – perhaps inspired by a similar episode in Petronius’ Satyricon.
And the central relationship is arguably psychologically and emotionally abusive (contrasted with another gay couple who are into kinky cosplay and who, despite their fetish, remain a model of mutual respect and informed consent).
Expect orgies of onstage emesis and gun violence, hideous cruelties and lampoons of every sort, and a cast that goes to town with over-the-top grotesque, forcing you to laugh even when you’d rather not.
Hannah Fallowfield directs the bright young ensemble with outrageous verve (Wall, Macri, Richmond and Thew stand out, in particular, as comedic stars of the future), and if there’s a criticism, it’s the retreat into sentimentality at the very end. That seems a cop-out, a genuflection to the dead emotion and cliche of mainstream theatre that goes against the grain of its genuinely subversive intent.
Read more about Truly Madly Britney here.
Review written by CAMERON WOODHEAD & originally published at The Age.