There can’t be many shows that can lay claim to transforming an ancient Mesopotamian ruler into an unlikely ear-worm but cult cabaret duo Bourgeois & Maurice’s first foray into full length musical theatre has left King Gilgamesh’s name lodged on random repeat in my head now for five days and counting. Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh.
Before Bourgeois & Maurice (George Heyworth and Liv Morris) head back 4,000 years in time, there’s a close encounter of the absurd kind, as they make their big entrance in the guise of aliens come to save us ‘humansexuals’ from imminent extinction. Watching from the comfort of their “cool and obscure” home planet they’ve noticed we’re apparently having a crisis, and arrived here on a mission of mercy.
In search of insight into the human condition, these visitors from outer space treat their audience to a “good, hard, penetrative story” via the world’s earliest surviving work of literature, The Chronicles of Gilgamesh. Or in this case, a glammed-up, re-purposed, fourth-wall-breaking version of it.
With a nod to his modern day equivalents, Gilgamesh is a king who abuses his power, treats his subjects with disdain and exploits the natural world. Via a convoluted tale involving a sacred sexual priestess, a young man raised by gazelles and some time-travelling into the future, this despotic ruler learns lessons about life, love and (science alert) trans-humanism.
Don’t be worrying that you might need a PHD in ancient history or technology to follow this show, any actual real knowledge of the scholarly learning the show ransacks would almost certainly be a disadvantage. Best to just relax back, give in to the poppers that Maurice assures us are pumping through the air and enjoy the camp capers, and most of all, the music.
The 15 new songs that they manage to squeeze into the two hour long show are mostly infectiously upbeat, and rattle through a diverse range of themes – including re-imagining the world as a better place, satirising self-absorbed celebrity, or even celebrating the myriad ways in which humans can fuck!
Bourgeois & Maurice’s lyrics are constantly witty and inventive. ‘Welcome to Today’ which opens the second act crams in lots of delicious detail as it whizzes through 40 centuries of history, with wry social comment and a succession of tongue-twistingly intricate lists.”There’s been tablets, papyrus, paper, screens, hieroglyphics, Cyrillic, emojis and memes…“. A similarly sharp and cutting flavour infuses the dialogue, with an abundance of quick and clever barbs about popular culture and the world we live in.
Julian Smith’s gorgeously glitzy costumes look like they’ve had the show’s budget blown on them. Conversely, if the set and props appear to have been made with tinfoil, cardboard and crayons, that’s because they have – there’s no pretence that this is anything other than make-believe.
Bourgeois & Maurice are never going to do anything as unseemly as break into a sweat, or heaven forbid show any real feelings. So it’s fortunate that they’ve surrounded themselves with a strong collection of performers and musicians (the latter dismissively referred to as ‘The Forgettables’) to do the heavy-lifting. As an ensemble, they can certainly ramp things up when they want to, especially for a big number like future anthem ‘Gay For You‘. Emer Dineen brings a more raw soulful dimension to the musical mix while Lockie Chapman slices through all the artifice with ‘Don’t Want to Get Old‘, a powerfully emotional contemplation of mortality.
Beneath the shiny surfaces and handfuls of glitter there’s some positive messaging about embracing life, respecting others, and the power of love, but nothing too taxing. If anything, it’s all a bit safe. What might be most shocking is that these two doyennes of the ‘alternative performance scene’ almost certainly have the makings of a mainstream theatrical hit on their artfully posed hands.
Performance seen on 5 March 2020.
Images by Drew Forsyth.