What Rhymes with Cars and Girls by Aidan Fennessy and Tim Rogers

What Rhymes with Cars and Girls is a wonderful collaboration between two very talented Australian artists and proves to be an extremely entertaining evening of song and story. This production will charm the pants off you!

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Writer, Aidan Fennessy, successfully manages to marry his touching script with the music of Tim Rogers whose album gives the play its title. The music is earthy and soulful and lyrics are poetic, vernacular and unpretentious. For ninety minutes the audience remains enthralled by the story of Johnno (Johnny Carr) and Tash (Sophie Ross). Tash is a bolshy, determined singer fronting a band doing the run of pub gigs. She meets Johnno when he delivers her a pizza, a pizza she has no money to pay for. After trying some cheeky flirting following her demand that he remove his scooter helmet, cupid’s arrow strikes. They become an energetic, passionate and sexy couple and indulge in all the delights of that first flush of love. But this flush dissipates. They soon have to face having little money and difficulties within their families plus the pitfalls of social class divisions.

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It is very much a tale of ‘the course of true love never did run smooth’ but it is a mightily refreshing take on this well-known plotline. Meeting and falling in love is the easy part; it is staying together through thick and thin that makes good relationships and Fennessy’s script adheres to this sentiment with some elegant writing that is beautifully lyrical.

Both actors use excellent physicality, they cover all corners of the stage – dancing, stalking, climbing and sprawling – and they display their characters’ genuine affection for each other. Ross’ singing voice is very easy on the ear. Her voice suits Rogers’ songs that range from a Swing sounding vibe to a more folksy outback sound. Carr exudes warmth and masculine charm and the audience is smitten by him from the outset. Johnno is not much good many things but one thing he does do well is keep fish. This skill helps him out at one time or another during the course of the story. Going along with the play’s aquarium theme, Ross performs like a lithe and beguiling mermaid on stage and Carr, a calm but vulnerable seahorse, the two of them doing their level best to navigate the highs and lows of life in inner Sydney.

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Fennessy recounts that, after listening to Tim Rogers’ album which was produced in 1999, he had one of those moments when he thought this would be perfect as a musical and he set himself to work at bringing the album to life on stage.

And it does come to life, showcasing Rogers’ lyrics and music. The songs reflect and enhance the emotions felt and explored by lovers. Rogers is probably best known as the vocalist and guitarist for the 90s rock band You Am I. Since those heavy rock days, he has produced solo albums and has composed music for stage as well as branching into acting and writing.

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Rogers sits alongside two other musicians on stage throughout the entire performance. It’s a lovely construct as if a bunch of pub musicians trailing and commenting on the lives of these two lovers, Greek chorus style. They set the right mood for each scene and it’s like musical respite after the some intense dialogue and the unhappy moments within the story line. Ben Franz plays the double bass and Xani Kolac plays the violin. The three complement and enhance the acting on stage with style and vigour.

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It is the intensity of the acting between Ross and Carr that really makes this piece move. Carr graduated from the VCA a year ago and Ross made her MTC debut in Cock last year so it is great to see such youth on the MTC main stage. It was a well-deserved standing ovation on opening night.

What Rhymes with Cars and Girls

By Aidan Fennessy, music and lyrics by Tim Rogers.

Melbourne Theatre Company

4 stars.

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