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  • Chris O'Rourke

Dublin Fringe Festival 2023: Only An Octave Apart


Only An Octave Apart. Image by Ellie Kurttz

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Keep it pretty. Keep it shallow. Keep it moving. Truths to live by for torch song chanteuse Justin Vivian Bond. Co-creator of Only An Octave Apart. A charming, musical two-hander in which cabaret and opera collide courtesy of co-creator and countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo. History repeating itself. The Gate following one musical with yet another musical. Dublin Fringe Festival, as in 2022, kicking off proceedings with yet another cabaret. Yet where THISISPOPBABY’S joyous Wake was last year’s fresh, subversive, adrenalin rush, Only An Octave Apart is cute and cozy. Like curling up with a cup of cocoa and a cuddly Chihuahua. A cabaret whose central subversion lies in it bordering on being wholesome.


In a nutshell, Only An Octave Apart is old school kitsch. Bond and Costanzo taking to the stage in pointed, complimentary dresses; Costanzo’s as black as sin, Bond’s as scarlet as a scandal. Designer Jonathan Anderson’s superb costumes providing most of what’s pretty. Some back story about their first meeting at New York’s lauded Joes Pub soon gives way to friendly rivalry, songs of varying quality, and a scattering of seriously funny comic touches. The result an often sublime cocktail in which Costanzo’s immaculate countertenor provides the ice cool, operatic gin, with Bond’s deeper, earthy vocals supplying the cabaret warmed tequila. The heady, harmonious mix sublime at times, at others sounding like a couple of drunk regulars at Marie’s Crisis. Following set-ups as fake as their smiles, a wide ranging musical selection includes songs by Purcell, Dido, Freddie Mercury and David Bowie, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, serving up a box of musical chocolates. Several being delicious, some not as poetically sweet. All ably supported by live musicians onstage. Under director and co-creator, Zack Winokur, kitsch spills everywhere, from melodramatic movements to Carlos Soto’s tacky set. Cheap stage lights and glitzy blue curtains echoing the shabby cabaret of Torch Song Trilogy. In which Costanzo sings like an angel. Indeed, Costanzo could sing the terms and conditions of a smartphone and you’d put it on repeat.

Only An Octave Apart. Image by Ellie Kurttz

If Costanzo is the show’s singing star, Bond is the show’s superstar. Channelling Mae West’s wit, hair like Rita Hayworth, and the spirit of Barbara Stanwyck, Bond knows old style glamour never goes out of style. Knows it’s all about the face; channeling black and white movie icons from Veronica Lake to Vera Lynn. Even so, visually it resembles a mother and child double act while, musically, the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia from Laurel and Hardy’s Way Out West haunts the high-low musical conceit. In which songs from many revered transcestors are offset by Bond’s razor sharp witticisms. Superb when they land, yet having too many lean spells in between.


As the end nears, a brief anecdote about a gig in North Carolina reminds you why queered performances are utterly essential. But it ain’t just what you do, or why, which are important, it’s also about the way that you do it. Keeping it pretty, shallow and moving only gets you so far. Especially as others have been there before and moved on to prettier and shallower things. A glitzed, kitsch pastiche of opera and cabaret, Only An Octave Apart isn’t wild, fresh, or radical. It’s retro cabaret in the era of the drag brunch. Perhaps because of that, Bond and Costanzo are that little bit adorable. Ensuring Only An Octave Apart is delightfully entertaining. Can I get an A-them to go with that? And maybe a top up of marshmallows to go with the cocoa.

Only An Octave Apart, created by Justin Vivian Bond, Anthony Roth Costanzo and Zack Winokur, presented by The Gate Theatre and Dublin Fringe Festival, runs until September 10.


For more information visit The Gate Theatre and Dublin Fringe Festival 2023

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