“I once said to me mum that had it not been for the Brit School, I’d have been a teen mum. She said to me, ‘no babes, it’s cos you was fat and ginger what saved you’”
Irrepressible Adele. She’s always been good for a soundbite. Except that quote wasn’t said by Adele at all – not last night, at any rate. It was cabaret powerhouse Naomi Price channelling Adele, in the little red company’s production of Rumour Has It. Opening its fourth return season in Brisbane, it was a fabulous homecoming for both the show and its leading lady Price, who is returning to ‘normal’ life after coming to national attention during this year’s The Voice Australia.
Rumour Has It tracks the story of Adele Laurie Blue Adkins, from performing for her mother in the lounge room as a child to appearing before a crowd of thousands at Royal Albert Hall just a decade later.
There are few celebrities who rise as suddenly, and capture society as quickly, as Adele did. But then there are few teenaged performers who could simultaneously appear on chat shows saying “fuck” every five seconds, and flip the bird at record label exes during award shows, while writing searing love songs so beautiful that middle aged men were routinely brought to tears at her arena concerts. Onstage she was glamourous, confident and mind-bendingly gifted for someone so young, immediately compared to legends Etta James, Dusty Springfield, Ella Fitzgerald et al. Offstage she was a mouthy loose cannon who overshared her personal life, laughed at her sudden fame, spoke with a broad cockney accent and openly joked about her weight and dramatic love life. She was an anomaly, her influence quickly seen throughout the music and fashion industries as established performers began covering her hits and professing their admiration, and girls everywhere decided beehives and heavy eye makeup were the way of the future. At her peak, when radio stations were flogging her songs to death and every magazine had her on their cover, she had the talent and charisma to sustain it. It was as though she had arrived a fully formed, and very modern, cultural icon.
This extraordinary level of fame was a turning point not only for Adele, but for Price and her co-director at the little red company, Adam Brunes, who saw potential in the story of the girl from Tottenham and set about writing a cabaret act that showed off both Price’s vocal ability and her comedic timing. It was only a short parody skit, maybe fifteen minutes, but it proved to Price and Brunes that the idea had legs, and Rumour Has It began to take shape.
Today, Rumour Has It has evolved into two hours of brilliant cabaret, a showcase for some of the best contemporary performers in this country. Naomi Price is still front and centre inhabiting the role of Adele, but now supported by a four piece band and trio of backup singers, she is able to push her performance into another realm. There is even greater confidence this time around, which is perhaps the result of her recent television experience, but is just as likely the result of being happy back in Adele’s skin. What Price does with the character isn’t an impression so much as an embodiment, to the extent that it’s hard to know how much of the script is anecdotes from Adele’s own mouth, and how much is improvised by Price while on stage. Either way, she nails Adele’s unique spirit completely.
Rumour Has It is the last of Queensland Theatre Company’s Diva Series, a run of actress-driven shows commissioned by QTC that has been a feature of 2015’s programming. This year’s offerings have been a little patchy, with amazing highs (The 7 Stages of Grieving, Home, Grounded) and one serious stinker (Happy Days, ironically). Rumour Has It, originally scheduled for July this year until Price’s television commitments interfered, is a great way to end the series – full of heart, genuine laughs and incredible talent. Brisbane had to wait a little while to see it this time; now that it’s here, don’t miss it. I thought I was at the point where Adele songs made my ears bleed, but Rumour Has It proves there’s life in the old girl yet!
Rumour Has It
Bille Brown Studio until 17 October