History is more than textbooks and musty tomes – it is a lived experience that is full of emotions. In that way, an unpolished yet fun musical show can be a good starting point for looking into history. While there were flaws in the performance – it needs some work to tighten itself up – it certainly has the makings of an inspiring take on what is a fundamental part of Australian history: the Macarthur family and the start of the Australian wool industry.
Unfortunately for the writer of the musical, this reviewer happened to study the Rum Rebellion, and has a slightly different take on the events as well as on the character of John Macarthur. Nevertheless, it is a well-researched play, and is, essentially, an excited historian enthusing over one of their favourite people in history. (We have all been there, fear not). That historian is comedian Kit Richards, and the product of that excitement is Wool! A History of the Australian Wool Industry: The Musical.
Music wise the performance was solid. Strong vocals from the singers and the use of the piano, and catchy tunes are all that are really needed to carry a musical, and they made it very engaging. Had this been a regular stand-up comedian the show would have been much more flat – but having music added enough flavour and professionalism so that the other aspects that weren’t as smooth were able to be accommodated by the audience.
Production wise it was well done. It was revealed that this was their first time performing in that space, and so the performer’s ability to use their variety of hats and props was impressive. The prop use really added character, and helped the audience identify who the songs were about, though there could have been more use of the props generally. This can be a problem with single person plays – difficulties in changing characters – but it was handled well, and nothing was overly confusing.
Interesting choice of hats though.
The performance did seem quite underprepared however. Certainly elements of the nervous laughter could be chalked up to first night jitters, but it seemed a bit too rushed and clunky during the spoken sections to be fully attributable to this cause. Although they were improvised, they were more like “overly excited historian tries to explain her passion” rather than the casual ad-libbing of a trained comedic performer. While it something anyone with some form of passion can relate to, it can get old if not handled too well. Fortunately Richards was charming enough to ensure that it didn’t feel embarrassing, and added to the authenticity. Hopefully it is something she polishes up as the shows progress.
Overall, Wool! The Musical is a very unpolished piece of work (as is often the case at Melbourne Fringe), but an entertaining and intellectually engaging one. This is the sort of show that would make history much more accessible to the everyday person on the street, with fun songs and solid research. It’s not a bad way to spend a Friday night.
Wool! A History of the Australian Wool Industry: the Musical is on at the Fringe Hub: Lithuanian Club until 22 September 2018 as part of the Melbourne Fringe. Tickets are available via the Melbourne Fringe website.