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Buyer Cellar, at Ensemble Theatre

Ben Gerrard in full force, in Barbra's basement shopping mall

I went along to see Buyer Cellar at the wonderful Ensemble Theatre in Kirribilli recently, and as I don’t like to read up too much on what I am about to see (in order to form my own opinion rather than have someone else’s in my head) I had no idea that it was a one-man play, brilliantly performed by actor/comedian Ben Gerrard.

If you haven’t come across Gerrard, he was cast as the neurotic, endearing nerd ‘Toby’ in ABC1’s 2012 sitcom, Outland, and he was in Wolf Creek 2 and popular TV shows, Jack Irish and A Place To Call Home. Cabaret fans might recognise him from the sensational Songs For The Fallen, which became a hit at many major festivals around Australia. 

Sorry Gerrard, back to the real star of the show: Barbra Streisand.

“Instead of just storing my things in the basement, I can make a street of shops and display them,” Barbra Streisand once told reporters. What followed that comment was a parade of features online and in print about Barbra's ostentatious turn-of-the-century-style  shopping mall in her basement, which includes a collectibles/antique store, a doll’s shop, an antique clothing store, a sweet shop and a gift-wrapping room.

Playwright Jonathan Tolins (from Brooklyn, just like Barbra) took this fascinating concept more than a few steps further, imagining that one of the most famous actor/singers ever had someone employed to man her street of stores, so that she could pop down whenever she felt the urge, for a spot of shopping or to admire her precious possessions.  

What this led to is a hilarious one-man tour de force where Gerrard plays five characters: the glamorous, mysterious Barbra, her husband, the shop attendant (who gradually warms to the legendary actress, then, like everyone else, falls for her), his boyfriend (also enamoured with Barbra) and Barbra’s lady in waiting.

The 90-minute play’s ups, downs and roundabouts keep the audience belted into a rollercoaster of emotions, each act played by Gerrard bursting at the seams with human coping mechanisms and the things that take us up and bring us down: arrogance, frailty, insecurity, love, jealousy and the idea that we all, whether we’re Barbra or not, find it hard to let go of the past, and the many ‘things’ that we convince ourselves make us who we are.

After the curtains dropped, outside in the theatre’s bar there was a common thread of incredulity and the thought I was left with was voiced many times: “How did Gerrard just make it through 90 minutes of lines, for five characters, and not skip a beat?”

And to top it off, he wore the same outfit, dressed casually as the shop attendant, and yet he managed to make the audience feel as though Barbra had actually graced the stage, breezing in and out of her legendary shopping mall.