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The Age/ The Sydney Morning Herald: Evolution, Revolution & The Mail Order Bride – review

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See article in its original context here by Cameron Woodhead for The Age & The Sydney Morning Herald.

Reviewer rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Zulya Kamalova
45 Downstairs, Until February 16

This intriguing cabaret-style solo show, deftly woven through short monologue and song, captures aspects of three different women caught in the tide of Russian history.

There’s the communist revolutionary Inessa Armand, who became Lenin’s mistress, agitated for the rights of women and tragically died young; a mail-order bride called Eva, revelling for a while in fairytale riches which can’t disguise the demeaning reality of her existence; and a semi-mythological figure, an incarnation of natural forces.

Evolution, Revolution and the Mail Order Bride is an excellent showcase for Zulya Kamalova’s voice. The Russian-born singer has a naturally dramatic sound that can skip effortlessly from ethereal ambient harmonies to the seedy glamour of jazz-inspired numbers. She’s an extraordinary vocal talent, backed here by piano, trumpet and cello.

The text isn’t as strong, and despite sound direction from Maude Davey, Kamalova’s relative inexperience as an actor is obvious.

This isn’t to say that the words lack theatrical potential; it’s a dramaturgically and thematically sophisticated piece which embodies certain double-binds that can shape women’s lives in disturbing ways. It achieves a rich interplay between the small world of the personal and the huge forces – of communism, patriarchy, or exploitation of the environment – which shape the experience of it.

Kamalova’s acting, however, can let the conception down. She has an intense (and perhaps too self-aware) stage presence, but not the technique to channel the emotional complexity required for the characters to really thrive.

Theatrically, it might have a way to go, but it’s worth seeing for Kamalova’s music alone.

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