Buyer and Cellar

By Jonathan Tolins. Ensemble Theatre, Sydney. Director: Susanna Dowling. 6 October – 12 November 2017

Photo : Prudence Upton

Ben Gerrard steps nimbly into this delightfully camp character created by Jonathan Tolins, tickling the funny bone of the audience with rolling eyes, fluttering eyelids, throwaway gestures … and immaculate timing.

It’s not easy to sustain the undivided attention of an audience on your own for ninety minutes, but Gerrard makes it seem effortless. He skilfully draws everyone into his performance, making such direct audience contact that you almost swear he meant specifically to catch your eye.

He owns Charles Davis ‘pretty-in-pink’ set as confidently as he owns the character of Alex More, an out-of-work actor employed to look after Barbra Streisand’s cellar emporium of costumes, dolls and a Gift Shoppe (which he pronounces as ‘shoppie’ to the continual delight of some of the opening night audience!).

His initial glee in the job is just beginning to fade when the lady herself ventures down and begins to wrangle with him over the price of a doll. Thus begins a relationship that gives Gerrard the opportunity to move from More to Streisand in a series of amusing conversations that embrace much of the personal publicity that has dogged the popular actor/singer.

Impressions of conversations with Barry, his boyfriend and Streisand’s vigilant housekeeper-secretary, Sharon – both adroit and amusingly sharp – only add to the intricacy of this performance, cleverly directed by Susanna Dowling.

A one-hander as complicated as this would tax the energy of a lesser performer but Gerrard’s momentum never wavers. His performance is light, vivacious, cheeky and impeccably paced. The standing ovation from his peers on opening night was a testament to his expertise and his professionalism.

This in yet another ‘coup’ for Gerrard – as will be a reprise of his acclaimed I Am My Own Wife which goes back on tour next year.