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)

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
11 November 2015
The Sumner, Southbank Theatre
to December 12

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
5 November 2015
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 12 December 2015

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

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
Marcus Westbury, who I don't know, but if he's as smart and funny as the other three, he'll be terrific.

10 November 2015

Last chance: Dracula

Little Ones Theatre
30 October 2015
Theatre Works
to 14 November

Dracula. Amanda McGregor, Kevin Kiernan Molloy, Alexandra Aldrich. Photo by Sarah Walker

This gloriously sexy Dracula shows a much better way to do glittery vampires and it finishes this weekend at Theatre Works.

For the Melbourne Festival, Theatre Works welcomed an almost textless The Bacchae cast with women. Now Little Ones Theatre have created Bram Stoker's Dracula as a live silent movie and cast it with women.

This is Stoker’s story told with a black glitter and blood-red aesthetic that reflects, questions and wildly defies any assumptions of gender, sexuality and queer politics.Little Ones Theatre have one of the most unique voices in Melbourne theatre.

Director Stephen Nicolazzo embraces high-camp without the condescending tone or gender insult that camp laughs often come from.  Inspired by the 1980s but seen through today’s eyes, their worlds are visually arresting, sexually free and always unforgettable.

If you want to experience original texts, read them. Then come to the theatre to see them through someone else's eyes.

Catherine Davies, Brigid Gallacher. Photo by Sarah Walker
 Alexandra Aldrich. Photo by Sarah Walker

Dracula.  Alexandra Aldrich, Janine Watson, Morgan Maguire, Kevin Kiernan Molloy. Photo by Sarah Walker
Dracula. Little Ones Theatre. Kevin Kiernan Molloy. Photo by Sarah Walker

Dracula. Little Ones Theatre. Amanda McGregor, Zoe Boesen. Photo by Sarah Walker

09 November 2015

Review: Seven Deadly Sins

Seven Deadly Sins
Die Sieben Todsunden
Victorian Opera
6 November 2015
Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne

Meow Meow. Photo by Charlie Kinross
Victorian Opera commissioned four young Australian composers to write Seven Deadly Sins, with a sin for each of seven Australian cities. They were inspired by Bertolt Brecht's assigning of sins to USA cities for Die Sieben Todsunden, written in 1932, with Kurt Weill, in Paris, after they had fled Berlin. The new sins were performed by Orchestra Victoria and seven singers, while the inspiring piece and its sins were owned, and sung in the original German, by the extraordinary Meow Meow.

Directed by Cameron Menzies and conducted by Tahu Matheson, the new work celebrates the sins of our cities, as much as the music and text of Julian Langdon, Mark Viggiani, Ian Whitney and Jessica Wells – and the newly-graduated talent of singers Kate Amos, Nathan Lay, Elizabeth Lewis, Emma Muir-Smith, Michael Petruccelli, Cristina Russo and Matthew Tng.

Highlights were Adelaide trying to fight Gluttony and resist its own “awesome appetite” for Frog Cakes, Fruchos, Beestings and Coopers Pale Ale, and Canberra’s Pride leading to the fall of Howard, Rudd, Gillard, Rudd and Abbott. “I won’t say sorry!” says Howard in a Team Australia tracksuit. “I will!” says Rudd in a suit, before Gillard sings like Evita about men in blue ties.

Melbourne’s Greed is John Wren asking if it was power or glory. Sydney’s Lust wants real estate and brunch. Brisbane’s Sloth is too hot to get a beer, Hobart’s Envy can’t win a game show, and Perth’s Anger is a mini-opera about an aging mining tycoon with a “with a witch to the left of me and a bitch to the right of me.”

After the interval, Meow Meow was Anna 1 (the singer) and Anna 2 (the dancer) in Die Sieben Todsunden. With the orchestra and a male quartet (Michael Petruccelli, Carlos E B├írcenas, Nathan Lay and Jeremy Kleeman) as her judging family, it was like there was no distance between the performer and the composer and writer.

Meow Meow is the cabaret persona of Melissa Madden Gray but the genius of Meow is that she’s never anything but real. And to have Meow playing the Annas has got to be like seeing the piece as Weill and Brecht did. As a character she’s vulnerable but unbreakable, and as a performer playing a performer playing a character, she understands every note, syllable and satirical nuance about being a German work, set in the US, created in Paris and performed so many years later in Australia. She’s astonishing.

The only disappointment is that it was a one-night only concert. New Australian work deserves to be seen, heard and loved. The Seven Deadly Sins is funny and welcoming as it sings about the Australian propensity to celebrate and indulge in our sinning. Let’s hope there are plenty of new ways to let the sins be shared.

And what about a season of Brecht/Weill with Meow Meow?

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

25 October 2015

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL: The New York Narratives

New York Narratives
Melbourne Festival & Arts House Melbourne

The New York Narratives mini program within the Melbourne Festival is the beginning of an exchange between New York's PS122 and Melbourne's Arts House.

In 1980, PS122 was an artist squat in an old school in the East Village and is now an international leader of contemporary performance that presents and commissions artists "whose work challenges boundaries of live performance".

Established in 2005 by the Melbourne City Council, Arts House Melbourne is one of Australia's leading presenters and supporters of independent contemporary artists.

Before sending Australian artists to New York next year, Arts House shared 12 PS122 projects – performance, film and installation – with the Melbourne Festival and the ones I saw were the works I think I'll remember the most from this festival.

Bronx Gothic

Bronx Gothic. Photo by Sarah Walker

Okwui Okpokwasili's Bronx Gothic was the first show I saw this festival and it left me struggling for words. This was dance theatre made words feel inadequate to describe the experience of sharing and being trusted with this story.

Okpokwasili begins with her bare back towards the audience in the corner of a room surrounded by white curtains. Her movement is somewhere between a shimmy, an orgasm, a fit and demonic possession. It's controlled but without a hint of tension, and disconcertingly mesmerising. As it's hard to tell if she's in pleasure or pain, the need to see her face and to understand is almost overwhelming.

When she stops – exhausted and sweating – she reads the letters between two 11-year-old girls; one is her. At first, it's a welcoming recognition of discovering sexuality and sex with talk of titties and periods. But it doesn't feel like the opening dance, or the songs and dance that are between the letters. 

As her 11-year-olds talk about hard dicks and the taste of cum, the deeper truth of her story and an understanding of the dance reveals itself. At a very nice, kind-of-elite arts festival full of very nice, kind-of-elite people, we're shown a world where a little girl screams at herself for being an ugly nigger.

Drawing on the gothic tradition of sharing letters and the themes of blood, superstition and unseen horror, Okpokwasili's story of sexual abuse, internalised-hatred and blood left me feeling like my heart had slopped onto the floor.

The Shipment

Young Jean Lee's Theater Company - THE SHIPMENT (5min) from Young Jean Lee on Vimeo.

Young Jean Lee's The Shipment, filmed in Seattle in 2009, was part of the Stage to Screen program (films on screen) that I wish I'd seen all of. Would love to see a similar program in non-festival time.

Young Jean Lee was at the 2012 Melbourne Festival with We're All Gonna Die. I described it as "an "not at all theatrey, a little bit hipstery and likely to make you cry (for yourself, in a good way) and sing" and knew that, given the chance, I'd see anything she made.

Working an African American cast – she's Korean American – , The Shipment attempts to address the black experience in a work that includes in-your-face standup, sketch and a living room drama. The tone's astonishing; move a bit either way and it's racist, offensive shit or soppy, self indulgent shit. But it's neither, which left some of the audience huffing out and some of us crying with laughter.


YOUARENOWHERE. Photo by Sarah Walker

During it's run, Andrew Schneider's YOUARENOWHERE was the Fight Club of shows that could only be talked about among people who had experienced it knock the air out of us.

And I can't ruin it for anyone who will see it in the future. If you have the chance, go.

A what-the-fucking-fuck, jaw-dropping combination of technology, science fiction, physics and the purest of human interaction, it gave me something I hadn't seen before; I can't ask for anything more than that.
Performance Space 122 provides incomparable experiences for audiences by presenting and commissioning artists whose work challenges boundaries of live performance. PS122 is dedicated to supporting the creative risks taken by artists from diverse genres, cultures and perspectives. We are an innovative local, national and international leader in contemporary performance. - See more at: http://www.ps122.org/about/mission/#sthash.ktjYDmBO.dpuf
Performance Space 122 provides incomparable experiences for audiences by presenting and commissioning artists whose work challenges boundaries of live performance. PS122 is dedicated to supporting the creative risks taken by artists from diverse genres, cultures and perspectives. We are an innovative local, national and international leader in contemporary performance. - See more at: http://www.ps122.org/about/mission/#sthash.ktjYDmBO.dpuf

Acting Stranger

Read about Michael Dwyer's big-screen debut in The Age

Acting Stranger is a live art project with Andrew Schnieder wanting to create moments of intimacy between strangers.

Thirty two Melbourne people signed up to learn a scene, turn up in a public place and perform the scene with Schneider  – no rehearsal, no second take – and walk away without speaking. The scenes were filmed with a camera that was hidden in plain sight.

The scenes are available at actingstranger.com  – today only the New York ones are up, but the Melbourne ones are on their way.

The Melbourne ones had one screening at ACMI. The project was originally not going to be filmed, then only seen on the internet – Schneider says that the he's still working on how it works. But to see them one after the other on a huge screen brought a dimension to the project that the creators themselves hadn't seen.

There's something fascinating about watching people who aren't acting but are aware that they are being watched (the non-actor volunteers were always more interesting). And there's something more addictive about watching people who pass through the scene with no awareness of the camera. But what was most amazing was watching Schneider and his co-creator (whose name I've forgotten) as they saw something they filmed over two days, in a strange city, with strangers, while Schneider was performing another piece at night.

from New York with amazing passers by


Griffin Theatre Company & State Theatre Company of South Australia
Presented by Melbourne Festival
24 October 2015
The Sumner
to 25 October

Masquerade. Nathan O'Keeefe Photo by Brett Boardman

Kate Mulvany’s gorgeous adaption of Kit Williams's picture book Masquerade celebrates why picture books and stories are so important to children and why whenever a child asks you to read them a book, you stop what you are doing and read them a book. You’ll never regret that choice.

At today's post-show Q and A, Mulvany talked about how Masquerade was the distraction she needed when she was in hospital with cancer as a child.  She want on to explain how when, as an adult, she finally contacted Williams, she flew to his UK home where he served her rabbit pie and gave her the rights to his book – on the condition that her story be a part of the new story.

Published in 1979, his book is about the Moon (Kate Cheel) sending Jack Hare (Nathan O’Keefe) on a quest to deliver a gold amulet to her love, the Sun (Mikelangelo, in the dazzling role he was born to play). But what made this book insanely popular is that each page is filled with riddles and clues that identify the spot where the real gold amulet was buried. It was found in the early 1980s, but possibly by accident. And the lack of amulet doesn’t make the riddles and clues any more fascinating today.

At the heart of this adaption is the story about Joe (Louis Fontain), a child with cancer, and Tessa (Helen Dalimore), his mum who needs hope  – "Mum, why do you let them do that to me?" – as she shares the book with her son. With original music by Mikelangleo and Pip Branson, performed by the ever-divine Black Sea Gentlemen, their story continues after the last page with an adventure that lets Joe and Tessa help Jack Hare to revist Penny Pockets (Zindzi Okenyo) and the book characters and learn why The Man Who Plays The Music That Makes The World Go Around (Branson) sometimes stops.

With a design by Anna Cordingly that’s inspired by the book but created for the mood and complex delight of this version, direction by Sam Strong and Lee Lewis that never lets the story drop and always keeps hope, this is the sort of theatre that promises children that theatre is wonderful and reminds grown ups that a story about love is always the right choice.

Today (Sunday) is the last day of the Melbourne Festival. It’s been amazing and I can’t think of a better way to end it than to see one of the last two performances of Masquerade.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

23 October 2015

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL: Monkey ... Journey to the West

Monkey ... Journey to the West
Kim Carpenter's Theatre of Image
Melbourne Festival co-commission
22 October 2015
Geelong Performing Arts Centre
to 24 October

Monkey...Journey to the West. Photo by Justin Nicholas

Geelong only feels a long way away when you're in peak hour traffic, otherwise it's an easy drive – or catch the train.

I didn't get into Monkey Magic when it replaced The Goodies on the ABC in the 1980s, but this production has made me fall in love with the story.

If you have kids and want them to see some totally gorgeous theatre, there are three shows left.

My review is in The Age.