What happens when a cabaret anarchist, a contemporary clown and a queer-feminist dramaturg get together to make theatre? Madame Nightshade’s Poison Garden is the answer. “The show is an absurd, comedic look at the madness of the world we live in today,” explains Madame Nightshade producer and performer Anna Thomson. A shape-shifting, other-worldly creature named Beatrice takes the form of the titular character, a princess-like assassin, to unearth some of the nasty little secrets we keep buried in our own backyards. Anna promises “grotesque glamour, vegetable manipulation and mess,” which is enough to pique our interest!
Anna (the contemporary clown) is a member of physical comedy troupe PO PO MO CO (Post Post Modern Comedy). She was inspired by two characters she created for the troupe and then had an opportunity to develop these characters on stage in an experimental setting. In 2016, Melbourne’s La Mama Theatre chose Madame Nightshade’s Poison Garden in its early form to be a part of their program Explorations, which gives theatre makers the space to try something new. Fast forward to 2018 and Madame Nightshade is still around, making her Fringe World debut on 20 February.
For Madame Nightshade’s Poison Garden, Anna works with her housemate Jade Hayes (queer-feminist dramaturg), a multi-disciplary artist who Anna credits with “tireless hours of work, inspiration, guidance and mentorship,” qualities that have been instrumental in the show coming together. She approached Maude Davey as co-director with Sarah Ward (cabaret anarchist). What’s a cabaret anarchist? “A singer/songwriter who is as mad as hell with the way the world is being run and doesn’t shy away from telling it how is it,” Anna enlightens me. “One of Sarah’s favourite sayings is: ‘Will Never Be A National Treasure,’ which I love! She is a gutsy, political powerhouse who doesn’t compromise her messages, but who is exceptionally talented and dedicated to her craft at the same time. Totally inspiring!”
This work tackles issues of environmentalism through its creation of a dystopic Eden. This might sound dark and serious (it is) but at the same time it’s a comedy about vegetables. According to Anna, comedy is the main language that she speaks: “I’m a clown through and through.” Choosing comedy as the vehicle through which to tackle serious issues makes the most sense to Anna: “I think that when we get political slogans yelled at us enough people just shut off,” she argues. “Comedy allows you to slip your messages in more subtly, especially when combined with the absurd.”
Anna’s comedy is created through a queer, feminist lens, and Madame Nightshade is no exception. “In creating a show about the ‘poisonous’ things in the world we choose to hide I couldn’t avoid looking at pressing issues like the environment, capitalism and gender.” But she also warns us to be prepared for her non-didactic theatre. “The whole show is ridiculous,” she laughs, “so you make of it what you will!”
Plants embody both the beauty and aggressive sides of nature. For Anna, poison ivy is the most menacing of them all “but I’m also pretty terrified of anything that could resemble the plant from The Little Shop of Horrors!” she states, referring to theatre’s most famous plant. But when it comes to her favourite flora, beauty wins out. “My dad is an avid gardener and he always has a lot of roses growing. It must sound clichéd, but it’s probably more nostalgia than anything. Oh and Asiatic lilies – they are so beautiful!” she gushes.
Next up, Anna is heading to Adelaide to join the rest of the PO PO MO CO crew to perform their newest work Nos-fer-ARSE-tu, a cheeky adult pantomime. But before that, you can catch her in Madame Nightshade’s Poison Garden at the Blue Room Theatre from 20-24 February as part of Fringe World. Tickets are available here.
Images by Theresa Harrison, courtesy of the Blue Room Theatre.