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Review: Schapelle, Schapelle

Hits and misses at Manning Bar.

Seemingly against all odds, Schapelle Corby remains one of the most enduring and polarising cultural icons of Australian history. Schapelle, Schapelle takes audiences back to an early 2000s Australia in which Mark Latham was still a Labor minister, Missy Higgins topped charts, and I was watching the Wiggles.

Whether or not Corby knowingly committed the crime for which she spent nine years in Kerobokan prison remains a point of contention within public discourse. Schapelle, Schapelle does not take a position on the question of Corby’s guilt, and focuses instead on the public perspective on the story.

Through its fictionalised ‘Channel 19’ news outlet, the show casts the Australian news media as its antagonists, placing heavy emphasis on their invasive treatment and dehumanising representations of the Corby family. In between sharp one-liners comparing the ABC to the Kremlin and musical numbers likening journalistic success to a Faustian bargain, Schapelle, Schapelle makes a statement about the lack of journalistic integrity with which the case was met. 

The concept of a Schapelle Corby musical is one familiar to Manning Bar, which was also the home of Schapelle! The Musical’s three-night run in 2014, starring Vic Zerbst, Lane Sainty, and Alisha Aitken-Radburn. The notion of a musical about a Queensland-born beauty school dropout imprisoned in Bali on drug trafficking charges sounds like it has infinite comedic potential. In spite of this potential, I wondered at times if Schapelle, Schapelle was chasing a comedic concept it didn’t know how to deliver. The show exists within a duality of pointing the finger at the media for their handling of the Corby family, while simultaneously relying on an oft-uncharitable representation of the family for laughs. 

A three-foot wall of XXXX Gold cans lined the Manning Bar stage, with the band set up behind. 

The set was filled with humorous nods to the story including a weed throne (yeah, a weed throne), and an abundance of boogie boards. The musical numbers were delivered through impressive performances by the cast and band. Schapelle, Schapelle, in its strong technical and musical execution, is not a production which leaves punters boogie bored.

The first half of Schapelle, Schapelle paints, with very broad strokes, the Corbys as an archetypal ocker ‘bogan’ family – the sex-pest brother, the diva sister, the settled, divorced parents, and Schapelle. The eponymous character, played by Kelsi Boyden, was perhaps the subject of the least caricature and mockery. The show’s comedic treatment of the Corbys rarely extends beyond jabs punching down at a working class family, their working class-ness often forming the butt and entirety of the joke. 

In spite of its occasionally repetitive and one-tone satirical style, Schapelle, Schapelle, is not an unfunny production by any means. There is delight to be found in watching the squabbles and blundering incompetence of the Channel 19 journalists. A hallucinatory sequence involving Julia Gillard and Lindy Chamberlain providing an incarcerated Schapelle with emotional support is as hilarious as it is absurd.

On the whole, to take Schapelle, Schapelle too seriously is to do oneself a disservice. It is lively, self-aware in its low-brow, hip-thrusting humour, and a thoroughly enjoyable affair if you choose to embrace it as such. 

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