Blue Mountains Theatre, February 8
In fact there was an intermission, slicing the four hours in half. Otherwise it was one woman’s voice, piano and ukulele, leading us through the secret doors of her life: the ones behind which hide the memories most people try to forget. And this soul-baring, heart-baring, abortion-baring and life-baring had a cumulative effect.
Amanda Palmer’s finest song, the gripping 10 minutes of The Ride, was the first encore, and worth the wait. Over a fairground 3/4 accompaniment she sang of the potential to be frightened into submission, and never actually live. “It’s just a ride,” she told us. “The alternative’s nothingness, might as well give it a try.”
And that’s what she brought to the show: a daring. Who else is crazy enough to do a one-person four-hour show of wincingly personal stories laced with songs? Bruce Springsteen’s slightly shorter Springsteen on Broadway was one of Palmer’s inspirations, and while Springsteen is a finer songwriter, Palmer certainly pulled it off.
If some material was delivered with more vocal and pianistic brutalism than the songs desired, she had, at her best, access to the master-switch between laughter and sadness, and in her stories she was almost a Hamlet figure: a jumble of intelligence, wit, desolation and resilience, wracked by indecision. She lacked, however, the Prince’s keen articulation: as funny, moving, engaging and courageously candid as her stories were, they could have been told with more concision. But hell, you got to share the life of an intriguing, warm-hearted, talented stranger; one who possesses a fine voice that she seldom fully exploited, because, well, that might be a bit like showing off. And Palmer wants theatricality (crowned by striking lighting), but not show-biz.
The surprises ranged from My Favourite Things to Beds Are Burning – which is a fair old distance, like having influences as diverse as the Cure, Lou Reed, Jacques Brel and Nick Cave. But only Palmer could do this, and ultimately it was about sharing, compassion and empowerment.