Matt Mitcham makes a splash at Melbourne Cabaret Festival
Olympic gold medal winner Matthew Mitcham dives into the world of cabaret – but is it that much different? He chats with Tim Hunter about ukuleles, Speedos, role models and depression.
On his way home from an early morning of training for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games in July and August, the 26-year-old diver and gold medallist Matthew Mitcham is happy to chat about his new show based on his autobiography, Twists and Turns, which features in the Melbourne Cabaret Festival in June. From diving to performing and back again seems like a big leap – or is it?
“They’re both types of performing, and I’ve always been a performer,” says Mitcham;“bit of a show pony – I know, shock horror – so it wasn’t that big a leap for me. When I’m diving, the bigger the stage, the better I tend to compete, because I thrive on that adrenalin.”
It was a number of videos Mitcham posted on YouTube of himself playing the ukulele during the 2012 London Olympics that got the ball rolling. They soon developed into a cabaret act at the Slide Lounge in Sydney, and from there, the Melbourne Cabaret Festival suggested he adapted his autobiography into a cabaret show, which debuted at the Perth Fringe World Festival in February this year, where it won the Best Cabaret award.
One of Mitcham’s most admirable qualities is his honesty and openness, whether it’s about his sexuality or his dark days with drugs and depression, and doing this show certainly doesn’t shy away from that.
“Doing the show has been a wonderful part of my recovery. I’m not naïve to think I’ll never suffer from depression again. I’ve had two big periods of depression in my life, from 14 to 18, and then from 21 to 23. At 18, I was ripped out of depression and I thought I would never have it again, so I didn’t address any of those underlying causes. That stuff doesn’t go away; it lies dormant, waiting for the opportunity to manifest itself.
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“I suffered unnecessarily for so long because I felt so much shame about my depression, and I didn’t want to reach out. But second time round, hitting rock bottom I had to reach out, and I found that incredibly helpful. Part of the reason why I’m so frank and candid about it is because I want to help people. When I was a teenager and looking for literature about depression, it was all written by older people going through their midlife crises, and I didn’t really relate to it. So I thought I’m still pretty young, and a very large number of teenagers suffer depression, and if I can still be relevant to them, then telling my story can be helpful for them. The philosophy behind being so open was that the potential benefit for others outweighs the potential detriment to myself, and that’s why I shared everything.”
Being a role model isn’t a problem for Mitcham. In fact, he has a very pragmatic view of it. “I was thinking about role models this morning because of Geoff Huegill (swimmer and Olympic medal winner at the 2000 Sydney Olympics who was recently charged with possession of cocaine), and some of the comments that people make online are shaming him for that behaviour, condemning him because he’s meant to be a role model. These people think that role models have to be perfect, and they’re just setting themselves up for disappointment, because nobody is perfect, that’s an unrealistic ideal. I think a role model is someone who makes mistakes, but deals with them graciously.”
In case you’re wondering, yes, Mitcham’s ukulele will feature in the show, and so will his Speedos. “I play the ukulele in three songs, and the rest are accompanied by piano and a bit of tambourine. And in part of the show, I do a sequence of the dive in Beijing, and that lends itself to me being in my Speedos. They’re part of my uniform, and I only get out in them for this one sequence, and it’s relevant and appropriate and not smutty. I’m not doing it to objectify myself.”
And as for being objectified by others, Mitcham isn’t worried. “Sometimes because it’s a cabaret, some people will whoop and holler, and I’m okay with that, but it then turns just as quickly into the gravitas of that moment before my dive in Beijing,” he says, quite matter-of-factly. “I get the eye candy thing, and I understand it, and I do it to other sports stars with amazing bodies. It’s just part of the world of fandom, and I’m a part of it, so it’s totally cool.”
So, with attending uni, competing in the Commonwealth Games, and touring Twists and Turns around Australia during 2014, does he have any other plans for the year? “No, I don’t think so; that’s enough for now.”
Matthew Mitcham’s Twists and Turns, June20-22, Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran, melbournecabaret.com