Close this search box.

Ode To Isaiah Walsh @ The Old Fitz

Ode to Isaiah Walsh begins with a death. Nobody’s grieving, however. It’s 4am in a Manhattan high-rise, and word’s been caught that ageing pop star, SINGER, has turned up dead in his penthouse apartment. An overdose, it seems, according to the cop who found him lying in a pool of his own vomit and tipped off his management team to make a dime. SINGER’s lawyer, manager, publicist and coffee boy have gathered in a meeting room to manage this shit-show – to figure out what happens to a commercial empire when the man at the centre of it drops dead. None of them says much about SINGER himself, who we can only figure was a kind of shape-shifting, glam-rock star in the tradition of Bowie, given to a constant habit for personae and disguise. He was found dead, someone says, with no wig and no makeup. This was, we learn, so rare an occasion that those first to the scene barely recognised him.

Ode – playing as part of the Old Fitz Theatre’s Late Night program until June 28th – is a clever examination of the notion of performance, in art and in life both. As it turns out, SINGER is alive – spotted buying croissants in Soho just as management are about to lose their minds. But something has changed. SINGER has had a revelation. Genuine artist that he is, he no longer wants the performance, the personae, the terrible daily labour of performing the commodity that SINGER himself has become. There was a man in his penthouse last night, and he did wind up dead. His name was Isaiah Walsh, and SINGER tries to explain that this was a real artist, a musician of a kind he clearly feels he hasn’t been in years. Isaiah’s talent, his tragic death, the heartless response of his heartless management – all of it leads SINGER to announce a final reinvention. From this day forward, he will only be himself.

I admit this is a premise I wasn’t into at first. Ageing star straining against the confines of show business and celebrity, eeking to recover his authentic voice. It’s a little clichéd, I thought in the play’s first hour, and also a little naîve – as if any art-making can precede the market for that art, and as if any selfhood we hold claim to is not, in some way, performed. But writer Ben Chapple turns this on itself brilliantly in the play’s final stretch. Where we think we’ve been watching SINGER cast off the performance in search of his realer self, we realise we’ve seen something totally different – multiple performances, shifting identities, a blurring of the real and staged. I won’t spoil the play’s ending, but its ironies are truly clever. Chapple has gone for something Butler-esque in his depiction of performativity, identity and gender here, and it suits both the rapid-fire pace of his script and the play’s queer themes (we’re told early on that SINGER has, within the bounds of legality, fucked “every kind of person in Europe”, and there’s a strain between he and his actress wife that also tips us off to his fluid sexuality). All of us are performing ourselves, all the time, Ode concludes. Art itself is a performance. There’s no identity that precedes the persona, and one consequence of this is that no one’s selfhood, and no one’s art, is any realer than any other’s.

The performances in Ode are stellar, as is the whole creative team’s use of the relatively small space at the Old Fitz. The stage is cleaved down the middle: corporate meeting room on one side, SINGER’s penthouse on the other. We see him shift between these spaces until divisions between real and faked, private and public, dissolve at the play’s end. The lighting design by Victor Kalka is particularly great in these final moments – SINGER looks right at the audience, spotlighted red, and sings what we know to be his biggest pop hit before the stage goes dark. Is this the real him, finally? It might as well be. Ode gives little purchase to ideas of authenticity in the end, and the results are tender, funny and cynical all at once.

Review by Grace Roodenrys 



Subscribe to our Bi-Weekly Newstetter

Sign up for our bi-weekly newsletter to receive updates and stay informed about art and cultural events around Sydney. – it’s free!

Want More?

Get exclusive access to free giveaways and double passes to cinema and theatre events across Sydney. 

Scroll to Top