It takes a hell of a lot of stage presence to pull of a one-man cabaret musical inspired by Euripides’
The music alone is enough to keep the audience interested, but Workman is also a brilliant storyteller.
Opening with a tipsy precis of the original story of the Bacchae - a repressed and angry king is tricked by the god of wine, resulting in the king being torn limb from limb by a crowd of drunk and horny worshippers - Workman launches into a gripping and witty elaboration on the myth, moving between the three main roles of the God, the King, and his mother and his own wry persona as a storyteller. He flits between characters and voices with ease: soft ballads for the mother, Tom Waits-esque aggression for the king, and a few touches of eyelash-fluttering camp for the God.
This is a performance so entertaining that it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re familiar with the Bacchae, or with Hawksley Workman himself. Harmonizing with himself via recorded loops and stalking across the stage to play drums, recorder, keyboard, guitar, ukulele and more, he’s evidently benefited from a good decade and a half of touring as a singer-songwriter. This show takes things several steps further than a simple solo gig, with a kind of theatricality that is surprisingly difficult to achieve without descending into pantomime.
The poster for The God That Comes does not feel very accurate, given the actual experience of this show. Yes, at some point you’re going to see a man wearing lipstick and a military uniform hat, with a feather boa and a doll hanging around his neck, but that’s really not the focus. The music alone is enough to keep the audience interested, but Workman is also a brilliant storyteller. The only flaw is a handful of gender - and sexuality - related jokes that seem very dated for 2014. With the two most powerful forces in this story being the sly, gender-bending god and the conservative, warlike king, we’re obviously going to see plenty of jokes playing off this dynamic. But at times, it seems more like we’re being invited to laugh at the king because he’s closeted or because he’s wearing women’s clothing, rather than laughing at him because he’s a comically repressed asshole. However, this is just a minor quibble in the greater scheme of things, as Hawksley Workman proves himself to be an astonishingly versatile and energetic performer throughout.