Nancy Denis is on fire!

Nancy Denis sings about life, love and voluptuousness at the Eternity Playhouse. Photo: Akil Ahamat.

Review: Nancy Denis & Her Band in Concert, Eternity Playhouse, Wednesday, 12 May, 2021. Reviewed by arts and entertainment editor, Rita Bratovich.

In Haitian Creole, when someone asks “Sak pasé?” (which loosely translates as “How’s it going?”) you would conventionally respond “M’ap boulé”, which generally means “I’m fine” but literally translates as “I’m burning”. That latter literal translation describes Nancy Denis in her full, irreverent glory.

Denis and her small ensemble played a selection of songs from her memoir-styled play, M’ap Boule, as well as some outliers, in the first of a four-night gig at Eternity Playhouse last night Wednesday, 12 May 12).  

The venue had converted the bar and restaurant area into an L-shaped cabaret club, replete with intimate tables and chairs, jar-candle lighting and brisk roaming waiters delivering drinks and snacks. 

The band was situated at the corner of the “L” in a tight huddle that still left enough room for Denis to do some robust shimmying and twerking. Musicians included a drummer and double bass player, and featured Denis’ musical director (and brother) Hilton Denis on keyboards and song composer Carl St. Jacques on viola. 

Friends, fans, and family (including Denis’ mother) helped warm up the room, charging the air with electric expectation well before Denis walked into the purple glow of the spotlight. 

The simple, improvised stage did not allow for a dramatic entry, but Denis made one anyway, with a filter-free honesty, effusive personality, wicked sense of humour (with vocabulary to match!) and a voice of epic proportions. 

Viola player/composer, Carl St Jacques with Nancy Denis. Photo: Akil Ahamat/supplied

Her songs were interspersed with poems, each one a fireball of emotion, attitude, and observation, conveying Denis’ visceral yet intellectual response to her experience of the world – and its experience of her. 

Born in Australia of Haitian descent, Denis spoke/sang of cultural clashes, racism, shameful histories – but also shared genuinely funny stories about her teen rebellion, growing up in the ‘burbs, mum-daughter battles and her disillusion with the Australian dream. 

She delivered each song with full commitment: the humorous ones with slap-stick antics; the raunchy ones with plenty of sass and spice; and the poignant ones with riveting power and emotion. Her lyrics are smart and witty, set to distinctive melodies created by violinist, Carl St. Jacques. 

The band was tight and impressive, and seemed to be having as much fun behind the singer as the audience was having in front of her. 

It’s a short set but well worth the night out. 

Nancy Denis & Her Band in Concert plays the Eternity Playhouse, 39 Burton St, Darlinghurst at 7.30pm nightly until Saturday, 15 May. For tickets ($45 per person for table for two (minimum) + booking fee) and further info, visit www.darlinghursttheatre.com/nancydenis.