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troublemag | May 8, 2021

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What Happened on the Way to the Opera

What Happened on the Way to the Opera

(Because the show itself was not really worth writing about)

by Robert Ruckus

My companion for the night finally arrives to greet myself and the cool glass of Pimm’s – a farewell to the quickly diminishing summer that has graced us so generously in 2018 – waiting for him on the table. According to my rapidly dying phone I count about two point five-ish hours until we arrive at this show.

BK Opera’s Pirates of Penzance – Not your grandmother’s G&S (Adults Only).

“Fuck, that’s a mouthful!” I am laughed at as I take a far too enthusiastic gulp with ice and fruit and booze making me blowfish my cheeks out while attempting to maintain whatever demeanour I was previously lacking anyway, failing the entire time and instead swirling shit about my mouth hole like a tobacco chewing cowboy. Spit-oo-n(ahh).


Pirates of Penzance – also known as ‘The Slave of Duty’ – is a comedy opera from the late 1800s, written by Gilbert & Sullivan. It was later turned/revived into a musical theatre show, Pirates, by Joseph Papp.

We muse over the impending show’s concept by name alone.

“I don’t know, maybe dudes in their boxer shorts being overenthusiastic appreciators of being on stage? I will make a bet there is at least one, there is always one hidden away in every show and, i secretly love it.”

“But, singing opera? … speaking opera?”

“That’s musical theatre.”

Apparently there is a difference.

So, to paraphrase a little here, Opera is – “you’re at a house party and someone starts to vomit on a beautiful rug and everyone begins to watch and then they flay their heads about in ecstatic reprieve as their internal fluids cover those surrounding them. They convulse and quiver at the pieces of vomit touching their faces and open mouths, beginning to spasmodically vomit themselves, contributing to this orgy of fetid mass just collecting itself in a ritualistic and uncontrollable rage. Heads fly about and hair is quickly stung with the stink and stench of this mouth hole orgy. The carpet is just mud and everything is a mess and … It’s fucking beautiful, but tragic,” Erik explains.

“So, what about musical theatre?” I ponder loudly back.

“That’s just some cunt vomiting on your favourite rug at your house party, and there’s only ten friends, and that is your favourite rug and it’s fucking gross but all you can do is stand there and hold their hair back and think ‘bitch get off my rug! But it’s just … traaggiicc.”

*we begin to shake jazz hands about in the air spectacularly*



I hit a passer by with my enthusiasm, spitting my drink gleefully with the contact but awkwardly looking in her direction as I spray her convoy with mist. The rocky shores come crashing all around me as they make eyes to my misdemeanour. I am almost naked in my despair, smiling, gawking, reaching for napkins. No – she beckons with her head – the damage is done and I have yet to pass the first act, or even walk through the door.

I go to fumble words out, my internal monologue screaming like the Major-General’s Song in a gibberishly upbeat and enthusiastic manner, never knowing I knew this particular track until Erik points out that The Simpsons probably introduced me to its genius. Instead I stay quiet and look, smiling, eyes rolling in my head to suggest internal madness as the now spit covered convoy and its leading lady continue past to (hopefully) a better night ahead.

Erik looks at me then requests that I whip my hair as if I have just been slapped. I concede.

“You fucking deserved that slap,” he says sternly.

We should move onwards I decide. I have embarrassed myself a little too much, although unabashedly, my clothing and pride still intact as if I walk from the stage followed by a teleprompter.

We walk to catch a train. I hit up Erik about what low burlesque would imply. It’s in the imprending show’s description, after all.

“Just think low-ball,” my knowledgeable companion confides. “Since people seem to think burlesque is just K-Mart underwear, stockings and an occasional whip or coat removal, so low burlesque would be like doing an awkward striptease in your bedroom on a Tinder date …

“Or like wearing sequinned underpants, making fauxmo-erotic gestures that perhaps come across as fauxmophobic instead, and people singing out of tune or out of sync. But hats, lots of hats and wigs and maybe fishnets. And, since it is oopeeraa, don’t forget cackling old ladies in the wings ‘Oh-hohing’ or ‘Ah-hahing’ or singing like seagulls with laughter while twiddling their funky glasses.”


That actually sounds kind of entertaining I ponder on the train Footscray-bound, as people shift awkwardly in their seats while a lone man sways, conducting Tai-Chi-esque moves to his own reflection in the dark glass of the train doors. He parries and sways, hands in motion as if shaking hands with an invisible enemy, then politely pushing them out of the moving train.

BING! It stops as if each station is an Act, the longest being around ten minutes. The stranger opens the door for the incoming passengers. They avoid his strange smell or gleaning eyes (I am unsure which is more offputting) and seat themselves, before becoming transfixed on his motions as the rest of us are, sitting in captivated silence, the perfect audience. Held quietly in the bizarre-ness of this moment in time, together.

Someone laughs, but they are just looking at their phone.

It’s almost like Gogglebox exclaims Erik smugly. “A show about watching people watch stuff strikes me as absurdly meta, terrible, peculiar, addictive, and even partially intelligent if you can get people to pay you to make it. Reality watching reality outside of reality.”

I get the experiment for free on public transport so I wonder why I would pay for it?

“Some people just want a show, regardless of whether it is below their pay bracket,” says Erik.

We walk into the venue and grab a beer before swiftly sneaking out for a cigarette. On the way out I spot tea and … BISCUITS!


BK Opera’s Pirates of Penzance – Not your grandmother’s G&S was part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and played three shows (29, 30 & 31 March 2018) at Kindred Studios, 3 Harris Street, Yarraville (VIC). For full cast list see Thanks to BK Opera for the tix.