Fringe Review: Tommy Bradson’s Sweet Sixteen or the Birthday Party Massacre

by Jane


How best to write about a show in which you were pulled up on stage for? Of course, it radically changes the way you perceive the show: vast chunks of it get sieved through thoughts preoccupied with “what is my face doing” and “will I be asked to strip naked.” Even when these sections are over, and you’re back down in the relative safety of your seat, the rest of the show becomes somewhat blurrier.

It’s not quite a feeling of adrenalin. Or, maybe it is, an uncomfortable adrenalin you don’t know how to place. “Did I really just do that?” you think, when, of course, you didn’t really just do anything at all, but stand on stage and over-think every action you could possibly do with your body and try desperately not to laugh – from nerves, more than anything else – while a young man in white stage makeup and panda eyes of blue eye shadow stares into your face, and speaks of that time you striped naked in front of him, diving into the clear pool water under the moonlit sky and he found himself in love with you, and then he sings.

In Tommy Bradson’s Sweet Sixteen or the Birthday Party Massacre we’ve been gathered for Lula Whitlam’s surprise sixteenth birthday party. In the Campanile Tent at the Garden of Unearthly Delights, the audience starts the night looking upon the birthday table at the foot of the stage. By the end of the night, more than half the audience surrounds the table  – Bradson brought us up in a collection of uncles, cousins, and friends. The lolly bananas, party hats, and party poppers are shared freely, as several of us crack open a beer.

Bradson slowly introduces us to Lula, first through her mother, then her father, then her boyfriend. The jokes they crack are often crude and almost exclusively uncomfortable – the discomfort only heightened by the familial setting the audience is asked to take on around the party table. A persona of politeness is assumed. A relationship established between you and these people, you feel your judgment must now come through sideways eye glances and giggles of disbelief – there is no reason to provoke a family brawl.

And yet through these jokes, often vulgar and best and highly offensive at worst, Bradson is surprisingly charming. Or do I just think that because he told me he was in love with me?

Accompanied with a band led by the boredest looking keyboardist in Adelaide show business, Matthew Carey, Bradson croons his way through old rock songs, constantly playing with that balance of holding his audience in the palm of one hand, and slightly repelling them with the other.

At the end of the show, Happy Birthday! wished to Lula, we’re released into the night air. Somewhat giddy on birthday party excitement, and reliving those moments on stage now only seen through a haze. Everyone loves a birthday party, and despite the odds, the Whitlam’s throw a good one.

Tommy Bradson’s Sweet Sixteen or the Birthday Party Massacre. The Campanile, The Garden of Unearthly Delights, for the Adelaide Fringe, until March 17. More information and tickets.