22 January 2016

Review: Elegy

MIDSUMMA
Elegy
Lab Kelpie and Gasworks Arts Park
21 January 2016
Gasworks Studio Theatre
to 6 February
midsumma.org.au

Nick Simpson-Deeks in "Elegy". Photo by Sarah Walker

I'm away for most of Midsumma, but managed to squeeze this one in.

My review is in The Age.

Daniel Kilby is reviewing more of Midsumma on AussieTheatre.com.

20 January 2016

Event: Independent Convergence 2016

Independent Convergence 2016
Friday 29 January 2016
MPavilion



What does 2016 hold for your creative practice?

That's the question leading Independent Convergence, a FREE (yes FREE) day-long symposium where independent artists, thinkers, makers and creators are invited to get together and talk about everything.

Following the success of the first event last May (led by Bek Berger, Dan Koop and Kieran Swann), this year's is all about exploring the realities of being an independent artist in Australia

Led by Dan Koop and Esther Anatolitis said: "Let’s start the year together. Let’s take an entire day’s critical reflection on practice. Let’s examine our personal and our public commitments to the work of being an independent artist. Let’s hear how artists at different stages of their practice are orienting themselves to that practice. And let’s be honest about our ambitions, our challenges, our risks and our desires."

What an amazing and inspiring way to start the year.

The Facebook event is here.

Or RSVP here.

I'd love to be there, but I'll be on holiday.

06 January 2016

Review: Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs

Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs
5 January 2015
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 7 January
artscentremelbourne.com.au



Well that was a great start to the year. There may be some singles left, always worth a try.

My review is on the SMH/Age.

PS. His reading of the audio book of Not My Father's Son is the way to read it.

(If you're going, save this for after the show.)

30 December 2015

Review: Georgy Girl –The Seekers musical

Georgy Girl –The Seekers musical
Richard East, Dennis Smith, Sue Farrelly
22 December 2015
Her Majesty's Theatre
georgygirlthemusical.com

Georgy Girl –The Seekers musical. Photo by Jeff Busby

The most moving part of Georgy Girl –The Seekers musical is a film of the audience watching The Seekers at Melbourne’s Myer Music Bowl in 1967. There were about 200 000 people, around a tenth of the city’s population and still the most people to ever attend a concert in Australia. The film showed young men without shirts in newspaper hats next to middle-aged women in their Sunday best; all totally in love with a Melbourne-formed folk-pop quartet who had such insane success in the UK that they pushed The Rolling Stones and The Beatles off number one spot in the charts.

It’s easy to let the love of The Seekers and their unmatched sound influence the enjoyment of this new musical, which is lost somewhere between a juke box musical and bio show.
The close harmony of this group is captured perfectly by the music team – Stephen Amos, arrangements; Julian Spink, sound design; the orchestra; and Pippa Grandison (Judith), Phillip Lowe (Keith), Mike McLeish (Bruce) and Glaston Toft (Athol) as the quartet – and their concert numbers feel so close to seeing The Seekers in the 1960s that I’d love to see them perform at the Music Bowl.

But great moments don’t make a great musical and this new work suffers from an underdeveloped book and a confusing tone.

The mixed feelings start with a practical set, that looks like it was made of rejected grey office dividers, clashing with costumes that turn up on the paisley and colour of the grooviest of the late 1960s. They seem part satire and part celebration without settling on either. This is also reflected in the choreography and the direction, which never satirises the group but appears to laugh at the society that made and loved them.

Georgy Girl –The Seekers musical. Photo by Jeff Busby


The book (by Judith’s brother in law) starts with an absolute love of this group and this love may be its downfall. It links facts through a narrator (whose presence makes sense after the interval) or projections, and throws in obvious jokes without ever finding a story or even questioning the image they presented on their album covers.

Facts about record sales aren’t story and this show doesn’t let us see the people behind the success, understand the impact of this success or what it is was about this group that made them so loved. Let alone reflecting on what is it about Australian society today that makes us want to hear and celebrate The Seekers again?

Georgy Girl –The Seekers musical. Photo by Jeff Busby

The limited focus is on Judith and her ongoing “what will I wear?” and “I’m too fat” jokes almost dismiss her skill and talent. There’s so little about the men that they are the one who slept around, the one who rang his mum, and the one who wanted to play Albert Hall.

It almost begs to be compared to the remarkable Melbourne-made Flowerchildren: The Mamas and Papas Story. The recreation of the music was glorious but the show left it’s audience unable to hear that music again without thinking about the people who made it.

Georgy Girl – The Seekers musical left me wanting so much more than the title-song earworm.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

23 December 2015

What I loved in 2015: The Best of Melbourne Theatre

Wow, the pile of January invites is already intimidating. But I can't eat fruit cake and drink fizz until I decide what shows I loved the most this year.

Over 200 shows to choose from and I still missed that many again that I wish I'd seen. Melbourne, you really are most excellent in so many ways. (And if you could fix Punt Road, I'd be more likely to venture over to the north side to see even more shows.)

Apologies for not running the What Melbourne Loved series this year. Although it is my favourite series on this blog... Let's come back next year.

Choosing winners has been unreasonably difficult this year. To save my own sanity (how could I not mention X!), there are more special mentions than usual.

A few past winners are on the list again  – Declan Greene and Paul Jackson have won the most over the years – but there are exciting new names, some oldies who I can't believe haven't made it before, and a couple awards for stuff that wasn't in Melbourne. And it hopefully demonstrates that "no review" doesn't mean a show wasn't amazing.


Outstanding Artists 2015

WRITING


Shit. Nicci Wilkes, Peta Brady and Sarah Ward. Photo by Sebastian Bourges

Patricia Cornelius for Shit Dee & Cornelius, MTC NEON

Angus Cerini for The Bleeding Tree, Griffin Theatre Company (Sydney)

Special mentions

Declan Greene for I Am a Miracle, Malthouse

Penelope Bartlau for Psychopomp & Seething, Barking Spider Visual Theatre & MUST at La Mama

DESIGN


Love and Information. Photo by Pia Johnson

Paul Jackson (lighting) for Love and Information, Malthouse.
(And how amazing was the James Turrell exhibition in Canberra! And the installation at Mona.)

Ryan. Photo by Sarah Walker

Nathan Burnmeister (design), Brendan Jellie (lighting) and Raya Slavin (sound) for Ryan at La Mama

Special mention


Psychopomp. Photo by Sarah Walker

Bronwyn Pringle (lighting) for Songbirds and Angels at La Mama

Jason Lehane (design) for Psychopomp & Seething, Barking Spider Visual Theatre & Must at La Mama.


PERFORMANCE



L'Amante Aglaise. Jillian Murray & Robert Medrum 

Jillian Murray
and Robert Medrum in L'Amante Anglaise at La Mama

Die Sieben Todsunden. Meow Meow. Photo by Charlie Kinross


Meow Meow in Die Sieben TodsundenVictorian Opera

Special mentions

Shari Sebbens, Paula Arundell, Airlie Dodds in The Bleeding Tree, Griffin Theatre Company 

Nicci Wilkes, Peta Brady and Sarah Ward in Shit Dee & Cornelius, MTC NEON

Steve Gome in Johan Padan and the Discovery of the Americas, Hoy Polloy at 45 Downstairs

Emily Milledge in Antigone, Malthouse


DIRECTION

Susie Dee for Shit Dee & Cornelius, MTC NEON

Peter Sellars for Desdemona Melbourne Festival, UnionPay International

Special mention

Daniel Lammin for Ryan at La Mama

Beng Oh for The Yellow Wave, 15 Minutes from Anywhere at The Butterfly Club

BEST FESTIVAL




Dark Mofo (Hobart)

Special mention

The Container Festival, MUST


EVERYTHING THEY DO ROCKS

The Listies


The Listies. Matt Kelly & Rich Higgins

No one makes me laugh like The Listies (Matt Kelly and Richard Higgins). The happiest audiences I have ever sat in have been at Listies' shows. They are so brilliant that I couldn't find enough stars, if I had to do so.

The Listies Ruin Christmas at Malthouse left me in pain. I tried to get my theatre date for the night, Lun (7), to give me some quotes but when I asked him what were his favourite bits, he could only narrow it down to "All of it". And "Where's Matt?".

They let kids be excited about being naughty and make sure they are always in on the joke. Even though there are plenty of laughs for the accompanying groan ups, the kids are never left out or talked down to. If they were around when I was 8, I would have cut their photo out of a magazine and glued it to my wall. (I really did glue a magazine photo of Mark Holden to my wall once; Mum wasn't impressed.)

This year they also released Ickypedia, which is the funniest book in the history of books. Really. Funniest book ever! (And I have read Good Omens and Monty Python's Big Red Book.)

Special mention

Nicola Gunn/SANS HOTEL


Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster. Nicola Gunn. Photo by Sarah Walker

Nicola Gunn's theatre is astonishing. It's work that somehow takes you out of your brain and into a place that's all feeling, while your brain is working in the background repairing broken thought patterns and creating better ones.

This year we saw A Social Service at Malthouse and the Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster at Arts House Melbourne.

Outstanding Productions 2014

CABARET


The Orchid & the Crow. Daniel Tobias. Photo byAndrew Wuttke


The Orchid & the Crow, Daniel Tobias and team, Button Eye Productions


Special mention

Changeling, Camille O'Sullivan at Arts Centre Melbourne

COMMERCIAL SHOW
I liked some, but none were a favourite.


MUSICAL


Sweet Charity. Photo by Jeff Busby


Sweet Charity
Luckiest Productions, Neil Gooding Productions, Tinderbox Productions, Arts Centre Melbourne

Special mention

In The Heights, StageArt

Avenue Q, Trifle Theatre Company

COMEDY


Womanz. Tessa Walters

Womanz, Tessa Walters

Special mentions

Catchy Show Title, Dr. Professor Neal Portenza

Beau Heartbreaker, Selina Jenkins

Donkey, Hannah Gadsby

Ghost Machine, Laura Davis

DANCE


32 Rue Vandenbranden. Photo by Herman Sorgeloos

32 Rue Vandenbranden, Peeping Tom; Melbourne Festival


OPERA


Fly Away Peter. Photo by Zan Wimberly

Fly Away Peter, Sydney Chamber Orchestra, Arts Centre Melbourne, Melbourne Festival

Special mention

The Rabbits, Melbourne Festival, Arts Centre Melbourne, Opera Australia, Barking Gecko, West Australian Opera, Perth International Arts Festival


LIVE ART


The Ministry. Photo by Anna Nalpantidis

The Ministry, MUST, Kin Collective


BEST OF THE BEST

Fag/Stag, The Last Great Hunt

Shit, Dee & Cornelius; MTC NEON

The Bleeding Tree. Shari Sebbens, Paula Arundell, Airlie Dodds. Photo by Brett Boardman

The Bleeding Tree, Griffin Theatre Company (Sydney)

Bronx Gothic, Okwui Okpokewasili; Melbourne Festival, PS122, Arts House Melbourne

YOUARENOWHEREAndrew Schneider; Melbourne Festival, PS122, Arts House Melbourne



MY FAVOURITE SHOW OF 2015


Oedipus Schmeodipus Zoe Coombs Marr & Mish Grigor

Odeipus Schmoedipus by post at Arts House Melbourne


30 November 2015

The 24-Hour Experience: Ballarat

The 24-Hour Experience: Ballarat
21–22 November 2015
24hourexperience.com.au

The nine who made it through all 24 hours.

Can it really be more than a week since the amazing 24-Hour Experience in Ballarat? I promise to share some more pics of the amazing 24 hours soon.

In the meantime, here's my piece in The Age.

2014 part 1
2014 part 2
2014 part 3
2014 part 4
2014 part 5

18 November 2015

Review: The Marriage of Figaro

The Marriage of Figaro
Opera Australia
12 November 2015
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 28 November (selected dates)
opera.org.au

The Marriage of Figaro. Opera Australia
Opera Australia's absolutely splendid The Marriage of Figaro is in Melbourne until the end of November. Premiering in 1786, Mozart's comic opera about infidelity and forgiveness remains one of his most-loved works.

Despite the difficult acoustics of the State Theatre, conductor Anthony Legge creates an exceptional balance between the pit, the stage and Siro Battaglin's fortepiano that accompanies the recitative. With a light touch, if feels like Mozart's "too many notes" are heard through fresh ears and the mix especially celebrates Mozart's love of the sound of human voices and the magic that occurs when they sing together.

And all are glorious voices to hear. Andrew Jones's Figaro contrasts with the delight of Taryn Fiebig's Susanna. Shane Lowrencev's Count is all power and bass, and Jane Ede's Countess Almaviva silences the room when she sings in despair about her marriage.

Jenni Tiramani's gorgeous aqua blue, peache and yellow design uses techniques from the 1700s to make the costumes and her set – which reveals its absolute beauty in the final act in the pine grove –takes advantage of the full height of the theatre. David Finn's magnificent lighting takes full  advantage of the set. With a story set in one day, the lighting creates the sense of moving time and changing moods as it opens with morning light that's hard to believe isn't from an open window and ends in a gradual fade from dust to darkness and candle light.

With eavesdropping servants and an active chorus who each bring a sense of character, Sir David McVicar's direction (revived by Andy Morton for Melbourne) lets the singers find a comedic truth and honesty in their characters; although, overall the production feels confined by its form. There are moments of stereotyped character comedy when the chances to trust the honesty, lust or hurt truth of the characters could make the laughs come from a less easy but far stronger place.

It's a celebration of Mozart and a loving re-creation of The Marriage of Figaro, but there's nothing on the stage that says why Opera Australia are telling this story. There's no reflection about us and now. In the 1990s Peter Sellars directed a famous production of this opera (filmed for television) set in Trump Towers in Manhattan. Still sung in Italian, it felt almost obvious to set it in the obscene wealth of the USA at the time. There's nothing keeping this story in the 1700s. Rich people still think they can control poor people, people still fall in love and lust and lie and beg forgiveness. This is a story that ultimately leaves all of its characters equal, despite money and status and power, so why leave it stuck over 200 years ago in a far away country.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.


12 November 2015

Review: The Last Man Standing

The Last Man Standing
MTC
11 November 2015
The Sumner, Southbank Theatre
to December 12
mtc.com.au

The Last Man Standing. Peter Carroll & William McInnes.  Photo by Jeff Busby

My review is in The Age.

11 November 2015

Review: Buyer and Cellar

Buyer and Cellar
MTC
5 November 2015
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 12 December 2015
mtc.com.au

Ash Flanders. Photo by Jeff Busby

Barbra Streisand has a replica of a shopping mall in the basement of her super mansion in Malibu. She uses it to keep her collection of dolls, clothes and pretty stuff. This is true. I didn’t know that, and am surprised that Brooklyn-based playwright Jonathon Tolins is the only person who’s been inspired to write about it.

Buyer and Cellar started when Tolins joked about what it must be like to work in her private mall. The result is a solo show about out-of-work actor Alex who loses his job at Disneyland and finds himself the only staff in Bab’s rabbit hole. With the actor playing Alex also playing his cynical boyfriend Barry, Barbra’s bitter long-time staffer, and the diva herself, the playwright oddly begins by telling the audience that none of it is true – except the hoard.

It’s a strange play that at first seems stuck on a one-note Barbara obsession – and when the “People” dress comes out, that note sounds amazing as the audience gasp in unison. But it develops into something far more curious as Alex possibly befriends his boss and has to choose between lying on a perfect couch in her too-perfect world or a duller real life with Barry.

If Alex were in any other tight t-shirt than the ever-watchable, consistently-glorious Ash Flanders’s, I’d wonder what it was doing on an Australian mainstage program, instead of packing in the Midsumma crowds at the Greyhound.

In a work that could easily be as outrageous as an amyl-fuelled Barbra drag queen at 3 am, director Gary Abrahams has pulled everything back to a point where its moments of high-camp glory, snarky bitching, and bonkers-Babs-buying-her-own-dolly feel real.

It could easily be a parody of Barbra fandom, gay men, drag queens, and anyone who’s sung “Don’t rain on my parade” and made a giant muff joke. But it’s not.

Everything that squeals Barbra is still there, but it’s muted enough to let us see the people who love the “People” dress. Even Adam Gardnir’s spiral-staircase, sunken living room, pop-out wardrobe design (beautifully lit by Rachel Burke) is restrained in its campness; his “People” dress is beautiful.

Maybe that’s also the appeal of Barbra herself. She knows how to work hard, how to make her work feel real, and when to stop adding beads to a dress so that it’s closer to classy than crass.

Instead of satirising her, Buyer and Cellar have listened, watched and found the path that knows that being laughed at isn’t the same as being loved for being who you are.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

Your Turn 5

Your Turn 5
Pop Up Playground
19 November 2015
Bella Union
popupplayground.com.au




Game shows are awesome. Live game shows are more awesome. Live game shows where the audience join in are even more awesome again. Live game shows with audience participation hosted by Ben McKenzie are the awesomest.  Live game shows with audience participation hosted by Ben McKenzie where Melbourne clever-pants people make fools of themselves made by the Pop up Playground team? Invent your own superlative!

And be at the Bella Union on Thursday 19 November from 6.30 for Your Turn 5. Info here.

If you weren't at Your Turn 3, you missed the wonderful Ming-Zhu Hii and me win bronze. (Highlights above.)

On paper, we look like a winning team, but either we aren't as nerdy as we thought we were or are the sort of people who need a quiet room and thinking time. My personal highlight was not remembering that the fourth Young One was Vyvyan, making a toy diorama of Terminator 2 thinking it was Terminator – which Ming-Zhu still guessed correctly – and our team effort of not being able to pinpoint Washington on a map despite knowing that between us we could answer obscure plot questions about The West Wing and House of Cards.

You can also watch Ming-Zhu in The Ex-PM on ABC.

Your Turn 5 guests are:

Richard Watts from RRR's Smart Arts and Arts Hub
Yvonne Virsik from Monash Uni Student Theatre
Sarah Jones from shows like Jonestown
and
Marcus Westbury, who I don't know, but if he's as smart and funny as the other three, he'll be terrific.