Eff ’n’ ell … what a show!

Paul McDermott, Verushka Darling, Daniel Edmonds, Catherine Alcorn (L-R). Photo: John McCrae/supplied.

Friday Night Live debuted as a virtual show during lockdown, but now it’s set to go from URL to IRL – and FNL, that’s great, writes Rita Bratovich.

In June this year, a crew of intrepid, resourceful entertainers put together a variety-style production and live-streamed it from Paddington Town Hall. That was the first iteration of Friday Night Live. Now that the pandemic shackles are slowly being removed from society, that same team has decided to rebirth the show as FNL … Alive and Unlocked! on a real stage with a real audience. 

The irrepressible Catherine Alcorn and the irreverent Paul McDermott will return to host a talent-packed short season of comedy/cabaret/come-what-may. 

“What we’ve put together and who we’ve put together is an amazing cast of individual stars in their own right who will be working as a collective but also have their solo moments to shine on stage too,” Alcorn tells the Sentinel

The calibre of artists is impressive and each will showcase their own wares as well as being part of an ensemble. The incredible voices alternating limelight and backing vocals include Prinnie Stevens, Ursula Yovich, iOTA, Darren Percival, Hans and Alcorn. McDermott has spent lockdown writing a batch of new songs and he’ll be premiering them for FNL … Alive and Unlocked!  

There will be a healthy dose of much needed humour: elite comedy duo Wendy Harmer and Jean Kitson will reprise popular characters from a golden era of Australian TV; screen and stage star Ben Mingay will debut his newly crafted alter ego; while comedian and marriage celebrant Marney McQueen will be involved in some hilarious shape or form. 

Still to be announced is an A-list of contemporary comic and musical icons who will round out the program and demographic appeal of the event.

Embedded special guest, resident goddess and proxy for all things magnificent, Verushka Darling will once again share (read: dominate) the stage alongside Alcorn and McDermott.

As a madam of multi-tasking, Verushka will manage social media engagement, present her own segment ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’, run Verushka’s Bar, and deliver scalpel sharp one-liners – all while maintaining poise and just the right amount of condescension. 

“She’s just one of the smartest, wittiest, kindest, cleverest artists out there,” gushes Alcorn, who has worked with Verushka in various settings for over ten years.

“We just adore each other and love working together and feed off each other so well, and it’s such a joy to work with her.”

Paul McDermott, Verushka Darling, Catherine Alcorn (L-R). Photo: John McCrae/supplied.

FNL … Alive and Unlocked! will be performed in a Covid-safe environment in front of a limited seat house, as well as being streamed live under the experienced direction of TV legend Ted Robinson.

Augmenting live shows with digital services is likely to become a fixture in the entertainment industry in the aftermath of the pandemic.

“That’s another opportunity to build audiences further afield and globally,” says Alcorn, pointing out the advantages of integrating live-streaming. She recently performed at TEDx Sydney, in a session delivered completely online. 

“I was performing to a massive wall of faces, it was basically a massive wall of Zoom squares with people from all over the world tuning in.”

But no matter how advanced technology gets, it will never replace the thrill and energy of live performance. 

“The majority of the work I do as a theatre performer and a cabaret artist relies entirely on an audience reaction,” explains Alcorn.

“Audiences who choose to come to the theatre are choosing to be with you for the evening, so there is that exchange.”

Verushka, who has established herself as one of the country’s pre-eminent drag queens, echoes the sentiment. 

“Essentially, performance, especially my kind of performance, is a communication with the audience, whether it be a lecture, a standard performance number, dancing, talking, a comedy routine -– it is a conversation.”

Along with most people in the performance industry, Verushka lost all her work and income at the beginning of March this year and has had to do some smart stiletto pivoting to survive.

“I’ve just been swerving, as they say.”

She has ridden out the pandemic wave by producing video art talks for the Art Gallery of NSW, giving corporate Zoom sessions and other digital offerings. She’ll be managing social media during the live-streamed FNL shows and believes this kind of hybrid delivery is here to stay. 

“This show really is … an old-fashioned variety show for new-fashioned times,” says Verushka, agreeing with Alcorn that nothing beats a live audience. 

“Those nights when you’re on fire and the audience is on fire and you both go up in a bonfire together are just quite amazing.”

FNL … Alive and Unlocked! is part of Sydney Festival and will be one of Sydney’s first live events in 2021. 

“I really just implore people to come down,” says Alcorn. “Dust themselves off, pick themselves up and come down for what’s going to be a really great night.

“It’s going to be a chance to forget about 2020 and immerse yourself in some laughs and some fantastic music, some incredible musicians and just come and have a great night out.”

FNL … Alive and Unlocked! will play Riverside Theatres, cnr Church & Market Streets. Parramatta, from Tuesday, 5 January to Saturday, 9 January. For further info, visit FNLtheshow.com. Tickets ($49.90 to $89.90 plus transaction fees) are available from riversideparramatta.com.au and sydneyfestival.org.au.

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