An absurd and humorous play, with a premise so bizarre it just might work, ridiculous amounts of
cross dressing, and cool and fun folk music to bob your head to. The Top Secret Violin Case should
have been quite a funny and fulfilling show. Sadly, it didn’t quite reach the lofty heights it aspired to,
despite individual elements all heroically battling to stand up as fantastic in and of themselves.
Sadly, as one of the characters says: “This country is a metaphor for itself!” – only in this case the
play is a metaphor for itself, and the metaphor is that it felt closer to a university comedy production
than a slick comedy show that it aspires to be.Which is a shame, because so much of this play should have worked better than it did.
Let us first examine the positive aspects, for there were many. Firstly, when it wasn’t overly forced
or poorly delivered, the jokes were genuinely funny. Perhaps they had a friendly audience, but many
of the jokes – especially the live and seemingly improvised lines or movements – were genuinely
funny and had laughter all round.
Romanian folk music has a certain energy about it, and this performance was redeemingly able to channel that in spades. From melancholy to sinister, joyous to frustrated, the instruments and instrumentalists (who were also the actors) all put a lot of effort into their craft here, and the tunes were catchy and had some audience members almost dancing in their seats at times. Had this been a simple musical number without any plot it would have been a stronger show.
Thirdly, there were some interesting artistic decisions. Using the musical instruments for sound
effects in the show, good themes around being free to be who you are, and the cross-dressing all
made for genuinely innovative showmanship.
Alas, we must now turn our attention to the things that dragged the play down from the lofty
heights of solid comedy. Firstly, although many of the jokes were hilarious, there were also a lot
(especially the pre-recorded jokes) which came across as overly stilted and pre-scripted, leaving a
stale feeling and a few polite chuckles behind them. Anecdotally, this author has seen several
disastrous performances that were let down by pre-recorded lines and although nothing went
wrong, the changes in pace, and inability of the pre-recorded voices to engage meant that the actors
onstage were forced to perform rigidly, which invariably took some of the humour away.
Secondly was the acting. Whilst they were all fine in and of themselves, it is apparent that the
performers are all much more accomplished musicians than actors. The decision to have the
performers play their instruments at the same time as acting clearly distracted them from delivering
lines, and the ability to deliver excellent music came at the cost of very strong acting. Perhaps a bit
more time rehearsing could have given confidence to the performers, or perhaps having actors not
perform whilst performing would have been wiser.
All these factors – and the fact that some of the content felt very unsubtle and almost ad-hoc in its
approach – essentially gave the play a feeling that it was closer to a university production rather
than a standard Melbourne performance. A shame, because the numerous positive elements of the
play should have made up for its shortcomings, but in this case, The Top Secret Violin Case is
unfortunately one of those plays that was let down too much by its flaws.