Why you should see Barbara and the Camp Dogs

In eight days, I’ve seen the Bell Shakespeare production of Merchant of Venice, Muriel’s Wedding the Musical and, at its first preview, Barbara and the Camp Dogs.

This is just about my entire intake of theatre for 2017 — although first thing this morning, I also booked tickets for High Fidelity.

I went to see Muriel’s Wedding with a heart full of hardness and within ten minutes, softened. So much love and fun and everyone happy.

Barbara is a musical, but not like that. When Belvoir emailed me the survey about the production this morning, it asked if I LOVED it.

It was hard, so hard, challenging, gripping, confronting — but most of all — utterly absorbing.

And it was a preview in much better shape than any other preview I’ve ever seen.

Elaine Crombie as Rene in pink top, and Ursula Yovich as Barbara in mustard top with black wings. Also on stage is the band, Jessica Dunn, bass guitar, Michelle Vincent, drums and Debbie Yap, guitar.

There is no way I’m going to give away the plot because I have a ‘no spoilers’ rule in anything I write — but it’s the story of two Indigenous sisters and their relationship to each other and to their mother. It’s also about so much loss, my heart broke in nearly every scene.

NOT every scene. This is a musical and whenever I think about musicals, I think happy thoughts.
This music is not happy thoughts, it is throbbing, brooding, beating, runs like blood through the entire production.

Two women wrote this tragedy. The first is Ursula Yovich, who, as Barbara, also led the performance with belting emotion and vocals for two solid hours. The other writer, Alana Valentine, may be *slightly* annoyed I’m describing this as a tragedy but as she was my bridesmaid in 1983, I feel as if I can be frank. Between Ursula and Alana, it took six years and worth every day of the wait. And Elaine Crombie, as René , Barbara’s cousin, has the voice of a lion.

When I go again, I’ll choose to sit on the stage. It’s set up like a pub with live music. I’ll take my beer, sit at a table and watch the all-woman band. By then, I will have played the soundtrack I bought last night a few hundred times and I’ll be able to sing along. Thank god for musicians, music writers, producers, wranglers, directors, so many of them here, Vicki Gordon, Alana Valentine, Ursula Yovich, Adm Ventoura, Jessica Dunn, Michelle Vincent and Debbie Yap .

And I will still be utterly transfixed by the scene where Barbara recounts what happens to her in the back of the paddy wagon. I will cry most of the way through. Book and you can join me.