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Review - Barbara and the Camp Dogs: this was theatre at its best

Above: Elaine Crombie, Ursula Yovich and Troy Jungaji

Barbara and the Camp Dogs

By Ursula Yovich and Alana Valentine

Directed by Leticia Càceres

A Belvoir, in association with Vicki Gordon Music Productions Pty Ltd Production

Presented by Queensland Theatre

Bille Brown Theatre

Montague Street

South Brisbane

Season: May 1-24. Duration: 100 minutes with no interval. Bookings: 1800 356 528 or

This is simply a phenomenal piece of theatre. It is a fresh and original work filled with fun, drama, despair, hope and fabulous music.

Three indigenous actors and a classy three-piece band held the audience members spellbound on opening night as they were taken on a wild ride that had them cheering, screaming with laughter, arm waving and foot stamping, only to be brought into a teary silence as the raw comedy dropped abruptly into dark and heavy drama.

The script was edgy and real and the music simply superb. The acting was top class and the energy frenetic.

On top of that this was a test for the Bille Brown Theatre: would the acoustics handle and an amplified rock band? The answer was: with flying colours. I was on the second row from the front and, with the actors wired up, I could hear every word of the lyrics and dialogue, the band sound mix was perfect and there was not one instance of distortion.

The music was powerful and excellently played by the Camp Dogs with Musical Director Jessica Dunn on bass Guitar, Sorcha Albuquerque on guitar and Michelle Vincent on drums. The two creators worked with Adm Ventoura to pen the impressive line-up of songs, which stretched from thumping rock to blues and moody ballads, all not only fitting the storyline but enhancing it.

The set was an outback pub (I would love to know here the hideous pub carpet came from, it was just perfect) with a few tables and chairs which were occupied by audience members, and the band on a raised platform at the back. It was simple but highly effective.

Ursula Yovich, who along with Alana Valentine co-wrote the script, plays Barbara, the the lead singer of The Camp Dogs. They get a few gigs, but not enough to be fulltime pro. Elaine Crombie plays her cousin Rene who sings in a band at the Casino. Both were raised by Rene’s mother Jill, who had been abandoned by her husband who had disappeared with their son Joseph. As a result Barbara and Rene appear more like sisters, with all the sibling rivalry, grudges and frustrations.

Rene learns that her mother is in hospital in Darwin and, fear8ng the worst, convinces Barbara that they should go and visit her.

The journey to Darwin and Katharine evokes tales of discrimination, cultural and land dispossession, stolen children. It could have been an indigenous soap box lecture, but it wasn’t; it was words from the heart that hit home. After setbacks and traumas the pair reached their destination and there they find brother Joseph (Troy Jungaji Brady) which adds some extra poignancy and the chance for more musical moments with the three of them joining in beautiful song.

The acting of the two women was just sublime, with amazing characterisations and never a fear of using some very salty language at times. On top of that they had perfectly pitched singing voices that adapted readily to every style of music either as solo or magnificence duets.

If there is not a cast CD then here should be for I rate this as one of the best musical theatre scores I have heard for a while.

This was theatre at its best. The cast deserved every second of the tumultuous standing ovation they received.

The funky, moody set.