Brisbane’s The Sui Ensemble have brought immersive theatre to MELT, with the cabaret club inspired La Silhouette. Bringing tales from Brisbane’s queer history to life, audience members participate as club patrons, with (almost) entirely free reign to move and interact as they like throughout the show’s two hour running time.
Will you accept owner George’s invitation to the VIP rooms? Or perhaps you’d like to follow drag queen Bunny to the living quarters, where performers could be assured of a (relatively) safe space to sleep after the show? At any point in the night, you might find yourself facing off with dirty cops with bartenders Citrine and Frida, or getting a lesson in drag king history from club MC Mercury, before the group is brought back together to grab a drink, share stories of what they’ve seen, before collectively watching one of the larger tales unfold.
From lesbian power couple and children’s hospital founders Lilian Cooper and Josephine Bedford, to the tragedy at the Whiskey Au Go Go, Brisbane LGBTQ+ history is on full display here, performed with love, enthusiasm, and (crucially) respect by a young and talented ensemble.
Any immersive experience runs the risk of a lack of audience involvement, but, thankfully, the cast are more than up to the task of keeping things moving while the audience finds its confidence. And though the two hour time limit felt a little more like a guideline (we found ourselves dashing off during the final few minutes to reach our next show, after things ran over), you’ll never once be tempted to check your phone or ask for the time.
La Silhouette is still, of course, rooted in the traditions of the drag and cabaret club scene, so lip syncs, ridiculous games, and general ribaldry abound, but alongside it runs an uneasy undercurrent of politics, drugs, blackmail, and trauma. It’s a showcase of both loving and fighting, of how the darkest forces target the most vulnerable, and, when the cops finally come in to shut us all down and the crowd fights back, a lesson both in allyship and in picking your battles. It’s so indicative of the fraught line our LGBTQ+ communities (both in Brisbane and the world over) have had to walk just to be allowed the same basic freedoms as heterosexual couples, and it’s very hard to walk out of the bowels of the Brisbane Powerhouse not feeling a little changed.