Review: The Ballad of Backbone Joe

02:55, Mar 06 2014
Backbone ballad
KNOCKOUT HUMOUR: The Suitcase Royale, from left, Glen Walton, Joseph O'Carroll and Miles O'Neil, who incorporate old junk into their sets.

The Suitcase Royale: The Ballad of Backbone Joe

James Cabaret, March 5

Reviewed by Colin Morris

Like some dark and mischievous Brecht play, The Ballad Of Backbone Joe reveals itself like the thin layers of an onion being peeled slowly with faux menace, guile and nod-nod, wink- wink moments.

For it contains murder, a rigged boxing match, daring stunts, five musical interludes, snazzy jazz, sound effects, in jokes, in fact Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

You know you are in the presence of three extraordinary talents when things go wrong, (and they often did) the improvisation takes over so that you're not sure if it's part of the act or not.


Having to keep to a strict schedule because of the recorded sound effects, music and dialogue parts, things quickly descended into pure farce with the audience lapping up every in-joke, innuendo (I loved the Hey Joe joke) and on-the-job repairs (was that a skeleton with a dinosaur head whose jaw fell off?).

If I guess right it was some time in the Australia of the 1950 that the story was set, though someone mentioned 1978 - but it didn't matter. Along the way it turned into classic crime noir and the overtones of Raymond Chandler mixed with Kerouac dialogue and sleazy after-hours jazz which in turn was sinister and hilarious all at the same time. At times I found myself cat-calling as if it were a pantomime, but then you had the feeling the actors loved this banter.

Oh! I just remembered the abattoir and the hotel, the monster phone, the suitcase that turned into a car, the devilish murderer who got his comeuppance and was thrown into the river three times before shouting "OK. I'm done". Sometimes theatre can take you by the scruff of the neck and make you throw out all conventional wisdom. Such was the talent of our three intrepid heroes.

It's a different show tomorrow night ,so buy a ticket, take a friend (or two), forget your troubles and have a great night. I did.

The Dominion Post