Agent Cleave is a very sexy glam-punk-pirate/bondage-slave/film-noir-private-dick/femme-fatale/mermaid/Spanish-Jesus in Show Stopper, returned to Melbourne for a limited run at Howler, as part of Midsumma Festival.
As the lights dim, an opening video montage of found footage of glam rockers, intermittently spliced with graphic visions of homosexual pornography plays over an empty stage. Set to an aural cacophony of wailing sirens and thrashing guitars, this opening sequence sets the pace for the evening: a shifting journey through fragmented vignettes of androgyny, punk rock and sex.
As a performer, Cleave is a delicious cocktail of antitheses, deftly treading the line between traditional notions of masculine and feminine, glamour and filth, submission and dominance – and all the while oozing sex appeal. This constant interplay of opposites generates some powerful energy and Cleave has no trouble filling the space and entrancing his baying audience as he shifts from swaggering sex pirate, to masochist lounge-singer, to freak-show mermaid.
Cleave, probably best known for his prowess as a burlesque performer, delivers a solid performance throughout; however, the fractured format of the show is problematic. With so many character and costume changes and with no cohesive narrative or conceptual through-line to unify it all, the show feels disjointed, and as it flits from vignette to vignette, it runs the risk of appearing self-indulgent or alienating audience members searching for a larger meaning.
With a voice course enough to clean blood off asphalt, Cleave commands quite an impressive vocal ability, despite a few ill-considered song choices that don’t quite fit his range. The band (Kieran John Brooks, Pete Barry and Jonny Badlove) provide solid backing, despite occasionally drowning out some of Cleave’s skilfully written monologue, which is a real shame.
Regardless of this, Cleave’s flawless, juggernaut charisma effortlessly carries the bulk of the show from song to song and character to character, and with the help of a few very cleverly utilised video sequences, it’s a solid evening’s entertainment.