Madame Nightshade's Poison Garden

5 stars

Anna Thomson, founding member of PO PO MO CO and formidable powerhouse of queer clowning, delivers a masterpiece of modern grotesque comedy in Madame Nightshade’s Poison Garden.

Flipping effortlessly between creep and whimsy, Thomson explores the themes of consumption culture, actively subverting the Disney Princess archetype as she goes.

Image courtesy of Theresa Harrison

Image courtesy of Theresa Harrison

Using a circular structure to glorious effect, Thomson portrays the inevitable decay and corruption of our world.

The cackling, nightmarish visage of the character on stage is perhaps the most terrifying host of Gardening Australia that there never was. A court jester for the modern age, the blend of traditional clowning aesthetic with unique, compost-heap accentuation is visually impressive from the moment we are introduced.

Having transformed the stark stage of the Blue Room Theatre into a gothic fairytale garden with intelligently wrought stage dressing, of which nothing goes to waste, Thomson creates an immersive experience for the audience.

Hers is a physical comedy of micro-gestures as opposed to large flourishes. Thomson's ability to contort her face into a wide range of bouffon-style expressions, combined with a comparatively restrained application of physical comedy, expertly captures the crowd's attention.

Madam Nightshade’s Poison Garden is a fantastically paced show. The seemingly endless sequence of tonal shifts, moving from dreamy sections to rambunctious and madcap scenes, ensures that it never drags or feels dull.

The food theme in this riotously messy performance constantly bubbles away, occasionally boiling over with hilarious results. Variably subtle and sledge-hammer explicit messaging is delivered in a dark, anarchic, dystopian setting that’s mesmerising to observe.

Thomson plays off and with the audience with grace and expertise that ensures we are still laughing, or at least pleasantly grimacing, even when things get disturbing. It’s a rotten feast for the audience and one that we devour until we are sick.