On a cluttered stage dressed to evoke the attic of a childhood home with heavy emphasis on dress-ups Chasland brings his personal experiences of growing up to life. Family members and childhood friends and milestones are conjured up from the family photograph album. Memories, from delightful to tragic, are recalled in revealing detail, with pragmatic and frequently self-deprecating wit.
But it's when Chasland evokes the music and singers of his youth that his brilliance shines forth. Through seemingly dozens of spot-on impersonations and evocations, from Kate Bush to Judy Garland to John Rowles, Chasland uses his magnificent voice with skill and delicacy. From Elvis's rich baritone to Eartha Kitt's sensually strangulated tones to the mellow flutterings of Edith Piaff he stuns the audience again and again.
But it's more than vocal impersonations. Chasland adds movement and expression, with a minimum of props, to recreate his idols, presenting them with unerring accuracy and the occasional caustic, but fond, barb. Such as Janis Joplin, half stoned and half drunk, sucking on a fag as she lurches through a number. His Barbra Streisand is perhaps the most challenging evocation, twisting and turning through parody, savage wit and homage. And those eyes! Streisand's eyes alone are almost worth the price of admission.
But underlying the stunning evocations is a human story of frailty and self-exploration. From the schoolyard bully to a grandmother whose faith in, and encouragement of, her grandchild never falter, Chasland's life and the people who have influenced him are remembered, sometimes with less than warmth but never with bitterness. His coming out in rural Wairarapa is heart-warming. His disenchantment and despair in London after which he took inspiration from Judy Garland Liza Minnelli and disappeared into a haze of alcohol, drugs and homosexual boyfriends are disarmingly frank.
For almost an hour and a half Chasland never stops, never falters. In quick succession his life story, his passions, dreams and recoveries are laid out with honesty, wit and not a shred of self-pity.
It's a well-crafted show, though on opening night the sound technician ran the some of the early backing tracks at dance-party volume. But that's a quibble.
Go see Impostar: Who do you think you are. It's moving, hilarious, brilliant and very, very gay.
- Jay Bennie