Why He's Embracing His Inner Carnie In 'Velvet'

10 March 2016 | 2:06 pm | Danielle O'Donohue

"It's the only show in the cabaret world that has a thumping bass line."

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Brendan Maclean has long been in touch with his inner carnie. "My first ever job was as a clown at Luna Park Sydney. I was a stilt walker," Maclean says. "I started juggling and being a clown on the street. I didn't want to be near the kids, 'cause kids are gross, so I got on stilts and was two metres away from them. I'm a pretty terrible actor, to be honest, but what I am good at doing is being fabulous. I was doing that before I was even doing the triple j stuff."

For a while Maclean was living the live of an indie musician and part-time actor, releasing singles such as Stupid, Beat Me To It and Cold & Happy and appearing on the screen in The Great Gatsby. Now playing the everyman MC of late night extravaganza Velvet, Maclean is happy to be embracing the carnie life once more. "I guess the carnie spirit was always within me. I had stuffed it away to be indie and cool. I had to find [Velvet director] Craig Ilott to let it back out again."

"I didn't want to be near the kids, 'cause kids are gross, so I got on stilts and was two metres away from them."

Velvet takes the audience back to a time when platform boots were the footwear of choice, sparkly glamour was the order of the day and Australians were boogie-ing their hearts out to a disco soundtrack that featured quite a lot of Marcia Hines, who incidentally is another of the stars of Velvet. Maclean and Hines perform alongside acrobats, aerialists, a muscle man and a hula boy. "It's the only show in the cabaret world that has a thumping bass line," Maclean says. "It's nice to come into a theatre and immediately you're hit with fun and happiness and glory."

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Already audiences from the Sydney Opera House to Edinburgh Fringe have caught Velvet fever. In just over a year the team has clocked up over 150 shows — Maclean says there are some audience members who come to the show prepared to relive their younger dancefloor glory days, and even more importantly, they dress for the occasion. "Some [outfits] are a bit more revealing than you want but that's ok. I feel like Velvet is their opportunity to go to their closet and go 'Ah, I haven't whipped this one out in a couple of decades.' They absolutely get into it. It is a show for the audience. It's not too introspective. The narrative isn't too complicated. It's a celebration of people discovering their fabulous side."

Considering Maclean is already well versed in some of the carnival life's more physical talents, such as juggling and stilt-walking it was probably inevitable that director Ilott would float the idea of Maclean trying his hand at something even more daring that walking around two metres taller than normal. "I don't want to give anything away," Maclean says with sly giggle.

"They were just like, 'Do you want to give something a try?' And I asked, 'Can I really hurt myself?' 'Yeah.' 'Then definitely.'" It was in the first rehearsal that I remember seeing the director look up and then look at me with his finger pressed against his lips thinking, 'Hmmm, maybe I could...' And now I love it."