REVIEW: Vampire Lesbians of Sodom by Charles Busch – Little Ones Theatre

In long ago Sodom, two muscular guards fight and flirt, while keeping an eye out for something the Succubus can feast upon – a vestal virgin. Soon they find one, who begs for her life and tries to sacrifice her virginity to save herself from being food. But the Succubus must feed and so she does.

Hollywood, 1920. The Succubus now lives as La Condesa, Madga Legerdemain, who is a silent movie star. But a rival has appeared on the scene, a grande dame of the New York stage – Madeleine Andrews. Who is she? Where has she come from? A showdown for the ages is promised. 

If the first scene was classic sword & sandals, we’re now deep into an era of screen divas and All About Eve with ancient bloodsuckers at the centre.

Ten years ago, Little Ones Theatre burst onto the Melbourne stage with another play by Charles Busch, Psycho Beach Party. It was such a bold debut – queer, hilarious, wild and perhaps only rivalled by Sisters Grimm at the time for making dazzling, trashy and purely theatrical piss-takes of out-dated genres or camp classics. They were immediately a theatre company to watch.

Over the years, the company has evolved. They created three beautifully-wrought adaptations of Oscar Wilde stories (Salome, The Happy Prince, The Nightingale and the Rose) and collaborated with Red Stitch a couple of times on The Moors and Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer, a striking adaptation which wrestled with the text – bringing out the camp and shining a light on a piece that could be considered well out-of-date, if not in the hands of these thoughtful theatremakers.

Their adaptation of Merciless Gods – based on a series of short stories by Christos Tsiolkas – had two runs in Melbourne and a season at Griffin Theatre in Sydney. That collaboration has lead most recently to Little Ones' director, Stephen Nicolazzo, directing a ballsy modernised production of Tsiolkas’ Loaded at the Malthouse this year.

The key creatives of Little Ones also brought to the stage an absolutely bonkers production of Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party in 2018 – which ruffled a lot of feathers but, for me, was one of the boldest productions at Melbourne Theatre Company for years before or since.

So yes, choosing to keep an eye on Little Ones for the last ten years has paid off handsomely. The Melbourne theatre scene and its ecology have been richer for having them here.

Vampire Lesbians of Sodom is a full-circle swan-song for the company. They’ve gone back to Busch and their ultra-camp roots and they’ve brought along an ensemble that is a mix of actors who have been there all along and actor friends they’ve made along the way.

The text is full of ridiculous jokes and smart observations about life, death and living as an ageing actress in Hollywood. The expected tropes of vampires, lesbians and sodomites are paraded before our very eyes to shock and delight. The cast is gorgeous and barely-clothed, because how could a queer show about vampires be populated by anything else?

What can I say about a statuesque Jennifer Vuletic with plastic fangs? Artemis Ioannides stalking the Succubus throughout history, trying to bring down her vampiric sire in numerous humiliating ways? Zoe Boesen’s chest hair? Brigid Gallacher’s turn as a melodramatic actress? Tom Dent and John Marc Desengano playing guards at the start and Vegas showboys by the end? Ash Flanders in pants? It’s a true cornucopia of thesbian talents to bring this work to wicked life.

Nathan Burmeister’s Set and Costume are cheeky in the best possible way. Daniel Nixon and Danni Esposito’s sound design and composition get us an keep us in a disco-dancing mood throughout. Katie Sfetkidis’ lighting is playful in a way that fully embraces the genre tropes we’re here to see pulled apart from our enjoyment. This production is a fast-paced festival of queer on a grand scale. 

Ringmaster and visionary director, Stephen Nicolazzo (recently appointed as the new Artistic Director of Brink Productions in Adelaide – Melbourne’s loss and their very big gain), pulls together a show that goes to the roots of who Little Ones are, while having absolute fun with everything. The theatre company may have evolved over the years, but there’s nothing wrong with taking everything you’ve learned and putting it into a show that’s just pure ridiculous joy.

The future of independent theatre in Melbourne is in flux, as always. The dominant companies of a decade ago have all moved up or moved on – very few having the opportunity to take a last lap-of-honour before disappearing into the ether. This is not the last we’ll see from the people of Little Ones, whose work is now baked into the mainstage companies of this city and beyond, but this is a hell of a send-off for them as a group.

Vampire Lesbians of Sodom is selling very quickly and its second and final week will sell out. It’s silly, it’s sexy and funny-as-fuck. Don’t miss it. It will be a while until we look upon its like again.

- Keith Gow, Theatre First

The final Little Ones show is playing at Fortyfive Downstairs until December 3rd.

Photos: Sarah Walker