Review of Bombay to Beijing

Written and performed by Russell McGilton,
North Melbourne Festival Hub, Lithuanian Club,
September 23, until Friday.
Running time: 55 minutes

Reviewed by Helen Razer, The Age, 29th September 2005

Fuelled by sunny dreams and tropical hallucinations, our tour guide pedals furiously through an hour of illness, heartbreak and the sort of smutty travelogue you just ain’t gonna find in Lonely Planet.

McGilton recalls South East Asia from behind the handlebars of a high-end touring cycle. Mercifully, he does not crash headlong into the wreck of racism. Steering away from cheap gags about the strangeness of “foreigners” he aims instead for some genuine comic insights into cultural difference.

Bombay’s truly splendid moments, however, do not come in the form of jokes and wry travel annotations. When McGilton evokes his exhaustion and frailty and shows us his inner wuss, he is at his best. McGilton’s artful weakness is the show’s true strength.

With the weary vulnerability of a long-haul tourist, our host lets us in on a little secret: travel does not make you a better person. It just helps you to more courageously face your own failings.

McGilton’s courage is likely to flourish throughout the course of his season. On this opening night, he tended to hurtle through some beautiful and sensitive writing which would be better practised at a lower gear.

Bombay to Beijing constitutes a superb ride through the self which can only evolve as Russell pauses for breath. This show is funny, engaging and pleasantly feverish.

Hairline Review

Gareth Braddick, Edinburgh Festival 2008

Bombay to Beijing by Bicycle is a strange, amusing one man show that baffles as much as it delights. If we are to believe Russel McGilton’s allegedly true story, his cycling journey was undertaken simply to create the alliteration necessary for this show.

Separating fact from fiction is an impossible mission, as McGilton’s raving account is filled with caricature and an overwhelming sense of drama. The story pours forth from his mouth and other orifices as he enacts (throwing himself about the stage) the various bodily malfunctions that he suffered throughout his troubled trip. In fact, it is difficult to tell whether McGilton left his hospital bed at all, as the entire drama gives the impression of a feverish nightmare brought on by malaria.

Through the madness come lucid moments of wit and some very creative drama. McGilton embodies all of the characters in his tale, including a book on fire, which he brilliantly mimes by having his feet represent foot notes and his spine the spine of the book. Equally amusing are the recurring characters who help explore his inner journey, such as a sergeant major type, his dead father, a recent girlfriend and a seasoned female traveler with a very dubious accent.

For those expecting a quiet afternoon hearing about a man’s travels would probably be best to stay well clear of this act. This is a loud, frantic hour that couldn’t be any more in-your-face. But if you adventure into the venue, a rude and sometimes nude McGilton will have you laughing as the Westerners’ illusions about the mystical East are shattered in spectacular style, saddle up.