Terror Australis | Leah Shelton

o.m.f.g. gtfo. I am not okay. This show is not okay. This show is so very n.s.f.w. In fact, it’s an absolute scandal. All of the scandals.

Leah Shelton’s Terror Australis is a regular hootenanny, a free-for-all hoedown, a day at the races in the most expensive VIP box, with cast of thousands of your most revered and scorned Aussie icons. This is the party after the witching hour, when your risqué cousin shows up with pills and poppers.

Leah Shelton is a consummate performer, a highly trained actor who specializes in highly articulated theatre, with a passion for the surreal and the absurd. Every movement is specific and precise, even though we’re on hurtling down a dark and dangerous slope. It’s a heady roller-coaster of emotions, we go up and down at Shelton’s whim. The comedy is impeccable, it’s utterly bad form all the way through, a peculiarly Aussie delight… and yet she never once has to use a tired cliché or a sexist stereotype. The jokes are awful, the kind of awful that has you clutching your companions, ‘She didn’t? SHE DID.’

I can’t tell if I’m utterly delighted or traumatised for life.

She weaves Australian cultural tropes into a decadent web, layer upon layer of pop culture references, famous court cases, books and films that have become legend, beer ads, national scandals, and classic jokes that are (probably) only funny to a home crowd.

The complexity of the script is phenomenal. In a post-show debrief (with a necessary stiff gin), I was wide-eyed to hear how much extra nuance was picked up by my companions.  Even with a good grasp on Aussie pop culture, there was more than I could follow. I don’t even know how one goes about making such a rich piece of theatre. Even the name of the show has a multi-faceted history as the title of horror zines, punk bands, political action groups…

The show notes describe it as grindhouse cabaret, which I take to mean a mash-up between the political titillation of cabaret, and the sex, violence and exploitative aspects of grindhouse film. It is a comedy – of sorts. But some of the scenes are horrific, just the right amount of realism to terrify you from the safety of the stalls. The best comedy takes you halfway there, and lets you do the rest. So does the best horror. Shelton pummels us with banging scenes, feeding on our worst inclinations. I find myself literally holding my breath…

If you’ve ever hitchhiked, played backyard cricket, driven on a rural road with the dangers of wildlife, played goon of fortune, hung your washing on a hills-hoist, or fought a crocodile with your bare hands, this show is for you. Shelton takes would-be-innocent aspects of Australian life and puts a backspin on it that will knock you for six.

In Shelton’s deepest darkest Australia, no one is safe.

Image by Raw Bones

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