FRINGEWORLD 2019: Melba | 4 Stars

Review | Laura Money

If you are looking for a charming little show that will keep you warmly smiling throughout, get yourself down to Lady Beaufort the all-female FRINGEWORLD 2019 venue and watch the delightful play by Dawn Farnham, Melba. The beautiful turn-of-the-century building complete with federation green and rose trimmings compliments the content perfectly – although this is such a wonderful work it could be staged anywhere.

Enter the dressing room of Dame Nellie Melba herself – there are jewell-draped mannequins, a tiny-waisted dress on a hanger, fully stocked bar cart, lamingtons piled high and splendid furniture, fitting for a diva. Melba, played to perfection by Susie Conte is the diva to end all divas – she had so many ‘farewell tours’ it became common vernacular to ‘do a Melba’ (Move over John Farnham!) Conte is every bit the overindulgent, self-absorbed diva, yet she breathes charm into the character. Melba drinks herself to distraction, gorges on lamingtons, laments her failing voice, and provides little tidbits to English author, Beverly Nichols (Liam Longley)  – ghostwiter of Melba’s ‘autobiography.’

Longley and Conte play off each other perfectly – their banter and repartee are at times sharp but there is clearly great affection between the two. Melba is a touching and funny vignette into the trials and tribulations of a diva who is perhaps past her prime but not willing to admit it. She stares in the mirror and sees a throat infection. She shoots at a picture of Caruso because he died before his talent could wane. She stuffs her face with lamingtons and then blames the size of the dress (it’s too small.) Farnham’s writing is impeccable – there’s a witty sequence discussing aptronyms – where the person’s name suits their profession or the like – eg, Dr Larynx being a throat specialist. It’s a nuanced script with clever dialogue and inner musings played out as though one is revealing a little more with each word.

Conte humanises the grand figure of Melba – she is dangerously capricious in her requests and demands, yet childlike and stubborn when doing things behind people’s backs. Conte walks the line between commanding diva and insecure ingenue in her brilliant performance – let’s hope Conte doesn’t make her exit any time soon!

WHEN: 25 January – 10 February 2019 | 8:00pm

WHERE: Lady Beaufort | Beaufort Street Community Centre | MOUNT LAWLEY

INFO: Tickets $25 | Duration  50m | Age Suitability: All (general) | WA ARTIST



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