What’s In A Name?
Controversy over Trevor Ashley and his new adults-only panto has given the performer plenty of material to work with. Garrett Bithell caught up with Ashley in between rehearsals for the show that is now called Little Orphan Trashley.
Back in September, controversy erupted when the Sydney Opera House unveiled publicity for Trevor Ashley’s new adults-only panto, trAnnie. The show’s title and its supposed script were attacked for being transphobic and discriminatory, despite the fact it hadn’t even been written yet. It seems that once a community is riled up, two plus two can quickly equal ten.
The Opera House backed down and changed the show’s title to Little Orphan Trashley, but the story at the centre hasn’t changed. Moreover, tickets are selling like hot cakes: in fact it’s already sold double the number of tickets Ashley’s last panto Fat Swan did in its entire original season.
Written with long-time collaborator, and fellow SX columnist, Phil Scott, ultimately Little Orphan Trashley follows the hard-knock life of ten-year-old orphan ‘Fannie’, who is not yet all woman. She is desperate to have gender reassignment surgery, but first must escape the Sutherland Shire Children’s Orphanage and the clutches of boozy matron and registered sex offender ‘Miss Trannigan’, played by Rhonda Burchmore.
“In the end, the character of Fannie takes her transexuality very seriously – and so do all the other characters on stage,” Ashley says. “The overall sentiment of the show is that it’s okay to be whoever you are. But, yes, we do make jokes about it. However the most hilarious thing is that we hadn’t even written the show when all those people made accusations about its content, and signed that petition. The definition and the synopsis they gave were completely incorrect.
“I saw this great post on Facebook of TV guide where they’d written a synopsis for The Wizard of Oz, and it just said, ‘The Wizard of Oz (1939) 8.30pm: ‘a girl kills and then teams up with three others to kill again’. That’s a valid synopsis if you want to say it like that, but everyone knows that’s not what that film is about.”
If anything, Ashley laughs, the accusations of transphobia have enhanced the show, because the script now deals with the whole outrage head-on. “It’s comedy gold! To get up and ignore the fact this all happened would be dumb, so we don’t!
“People were acting like I’d never met a trannie before! Honestly!”
Also in the stellar cast is Gary Sweet, who plays ‘Daddy Warhorse’, and Rhys Bobridge, who plays Fannie’s trusty ex-sniffer dog, ‘Bullshit’.
“It’s a laugh a minute,” Bobridge tells SX. “Between Trevor and Gary and Rhonda – they’ve all got stories to tell and that sometimes makes our rehearsals a little stretched out! But it’s well worth it and a lot of fun.”
Bobridge believes the magic of Ashley is that he sees the humour in everything. “He doesn’t take himself too seriously and he sees the funny things in life,” he says. “It can be a dire situation, but there is always a punch-line in there somewhere and Trevor will find it!”
Directed by Craig Ilott, with lighting by Matt Marshall and costumes by James Browne, Little Orphan Trashley features songs, audience participation, and more parody than you can poke a stick at. But more than anything, Ashley is thrilled about the company he is keeping onstage.
“The cast is incredible,” he says. “They have such a wonderful sense of humour about themselves, because obviously we make jokes about both Rhonda and Gary in the show. And we’re using all their tricks. Especially Rhonda, who is doing everything you would ever expect Rhonda Burchmore to do in a show, and more. The first day she did her big tap number: amazing!
“Then there’s Gary, who is just such a character and so funny. Having him in the show – the straightest blokey TV actor – just helps the flavour of it. And he’s totally embraced the madness of doing one of my crazy shows.”
[pic] The cast of Little Orphan Trashley ... Rhys Bobridge and Trevor Ashley. Photo: Supplied
Little Orphan Trashley, The Studio at the Sydney Opera House, December 5 – 23. Tickets www.sydneyoperahouse.com.