07 December 2016

What Melbourne loved in 2016, part 5

While too much of the commercial theatre in Melbourne is regressive, boring and blah, there are amazing Melbourne companies and venues that make progressive, inclusive, challenging and mind-blowing theatre. Today we here from Scott Price from Back to Back theatre, Angharad Wynne-Jones from Arts House and Cameron Lukey from fortyfivedownstairs.

(Opps. In part 4  What Daniel Lammin is looking forward to didn't make it up yesterday, but it's there now.)

Scott Price
Member of the Back to Back Theatre ensemble since 2007, #autismpride

Scott Price. Photo by Jeff Busby

SP's favourite moment in Melbourne theatre in 2016: Sarah Mainwaring's show Duality Ok at La Mama has actually been my favourite piece in 2016. It was just a great piece of theatre and I just enjoyed it immensely. It was great to see Sarah perform outside Back to Back. I didn’t give a standing ovation, but it was a pretty good piece of theatre. If the others did it, I would have too. Sarah was just in casual clothes, and it was just the way that she spoke about her life, I don’t know how to describe it. We went with Simon Laherty, Alice Nash and Nikki Watson and we all thought it was good.

The Rabble’s Cain and Abel was good too, pretty full on and in your face and MTC’s Straight White Men with Luke Ryan I liked too.

What SP is looking forward to in Melbourne theatre in 2017: Nothing basically comes to mind just at the moment, but I haven’t quite looked into it yet, haven’t had the chance. But I really enjoy comedy shows and the Melbourne Fringe and look forward to seeing more of that stuff next year.

SM: Scott's performance of God/god in the remarkable Lady Eats Apple is one that will stay with me for a long time. As communities and societies, we make assumptions about our gods and Scott challenged every one of those assumptions.

Angharad Wynne-Jones
Artistic Director, Arts House

Angharad Wynne-Jones. Photo by Pier Carthew

AWJ's favourite moment in Melbourne theatre in 2016: While I love the energy and risk in the experience of a work that has come to realisation in performance, I also really enjoy seeing works in development; work in development allows you to see the issues the artist is resolving, the pathways they might go down, the edits they might make.

This year I've had the opportunity to see Lz Dunn's work Aeon (premiering in March 2017 in Dance Massive) in a number of different places as she's developed it through the support of the Mobile States consortia. As a process of collaboration and co-commissioning with colleagues across the country, facilitated by Performing Lines, this has been an incredibly rewarding and enlivening experience. Running  and walking across the meadow in Royal Park (one of the traditional meeting places of the Kulin Nations and one of my most favourite places in Melbourne) with other test audience members was one of those times (of which there are so many working with the phenomenal artists that we do) that I felt so happy and honoured to be working at Arts House, with artists who are fiercely committed, deeply talented and determinedly experimental.

What AWJ is looking forward to in Melbourne theatre in 2017: Oh so much! It's liking asking a parent to pick a favourite child … impossible. So, a couple at least are two new festivals: the gargantuan Asia TOPA that will change forever how Australia’s sees itself as part of Asia and gives us at Arts House the opportunity to  present two works from Japan. We are presenting the incredible chelfitsch with a beautiful, haunting contemplation on love and loss with Time's Journey Through a Room. We also welcome Hamanaka Company with Kagerou – Study of Translating Performance, a lyrical investigation into what it is to document disaster. Both works filled with the reverberations of life in Japan of post Fukishima, which resonate deeply with our Antipodean experience of the climate change emergency. And then Yirramboi, Melbourne’s First Nations festival creatively directed by Jacob Boheme, is a chance for us to work with First Nations artist  Emily Johnson who with Shore,  a quartet of community visioning, volunteering, storytelling and performance works  models  new ways and forms of collective imaging. A necessity now more than ever.

SM: 2017 is the year I will try even harder to see everything at Arts House. Sometimes we get so caught up with complaining about the boring regressive commercial theatre in Melbourne that we forget that Arts House is doing everything wonderful with progressive, exciting, inclusive, challenging, personal theatre. My favourites this year were a night at FOLA and Nic Green's Trilogy – another bloody amazing show that didn't get a review. Here was so much work that challenged the ridiculous perfection that is expected of women's bodies; so much work that let people leave and walk around in the world feeling good about the bodies that they have – and stop those conscious and unconscious judgments we make based on appearance.

But my favourite moment was seeing the photo Angharad chose. A photo that looks like the person and lets her true amazingness be seen without makeup and the insane need to Photoshop out every "imperfection". Thank you Pier Carthew for taking photos like this. Every time I open a program and see headshots of smooth faces that make them look computer-generated and barely resemble themselves, I wonder who took the photo, who chose the photo and why the person designing the program didn't question it. There's nothing wrong with looking like yourself.

Cameron Lukey
Development Manager and Executive Producer, fortyfivedownstairs

Cameron Lukey. Photo by Sarah Walker

CL's favourite moment in Melbourne theatre in 2016: I went to the closing night of Daniel Lammin's show Awakening at Trades Hall. I knew it had been a labour of love, and having worked with Daniel on Master Class,  knew how much time and effort he pours into every show he works on. It was funny, charming, insightful, and ultimately, very moving. I left feeling I'd seen someone really leave a piece of themselves on the stage. We're bringing it to fortyfivedownstairs next May for a return season, which is very exciting. I think it will have a great life in our space.

From a personal perspective (and I'm completely biased) it was also a thrill to watch Paul Capsis transform himself into Quentin Crisp in Resident Alien. I had been witness to his process, but watching him in front of an audience for the first time was pretty special. I forgot I had seen it dozens of times in rehearsal because his relationship with his audience is so unique.

What CL is looking forward to in Melbourne theatre in 2017: I think it would be a bit Sophie's Choice to have to choose a show at fortyfivedownstairs, so outside of fortyfive, I'm looking forward to The Testament of Mary with Pamela Rabe at the Malthouse and Cabaret, which opens at the Athenaeum in April, with Capsis as the Emcee. That just seems like dream casting for both shows.

SM: My favourite is easily reading the email Cameron sent me yesterday after I'd said in part 4 how much I wanted to see a return season of Daniel Lammin's Awakening. He told me how fortyfivedownstairs are doing that season and gently hinted that he'd sent me an email* with that very info over a week ago. And fortyfivedownstairs giving Shit another season.

The first half of next year's fortyfivedownstairs season is unmissable. Not only for Awakening (I'm so happy to see this devastatingly wonderful work get another season), but there's another season of L’amante anglaise and I'm putting I am My Own Wife and Trainspotting in my diary now.

*As I say a lot: if I don't respond, it's likely that I haven't read it because it's lost in the deluge, flagged to read later or I just didn't see it.

06 December 2016

What Melbourne loved in 2016, part 4

Today's moments are from three men whose theatre voices are bold, challenging and totally their own: Daniel Lammin, Stephen Nicolazzo and David Finnigan. We're going to see a lot more of their work of in the years to come

Daniel Lammin
director, writer, obsessive collector

Daniel Lammin's 30th birthday present-to-self selfie

DL's favourite moment in Melbourne theatre in 2016: No piece of theatre this year hit me with as much force as Picnic at Hanging Rock. The book is my favourite Australian book and the film is my favourite Australian film, both having had an enormous impact on me growing up. I also love the work that Matt Lutton, Tom Wright, Zoë Atkinson and Paul Jackson have done together in the past, so consequently my expectations were enormous. The result though exceeded my expectations beyond my wildest dreams. The production captured the concerns of Lindsay’s story, the sexual repression of young women and the Australian landscape’s rejection of us as an invading force, and crafted it into an impressive work of art in its own right, pulsing from Matt’s rigorous direction, Zoë and Paul’s remarkable design, the cast’s tremendous performances and Tom’s diabolical, awe-inspiring text.

It also understood the most misunderstood aspect of the story, that at its heart it is a work of horror, one that crawls under your skin and festers there for the rest of your life.

Watching Picnic was one of the most exhilarating experiences I've ever had in the theatre, both because of what was happening on the stage and what was happening in the audience, a mass of people battered and thrown by the uncompromising force of what they were seeing, jumping and screaming and gasping in unison. The teenager sitting next to me literally jumped out of his chair at a moment of sublime theatrical horror, and sat on the edge of his seat for the rest of the night. It was a perfectly executed theatrical event, one that shows tremendous respect for its source material but with the imagination and rigour to be a great work of art on its own. It left me breathless, exhilarated, disturbed, in awe and in tears, and like the book and film before it, left an enormous and life-changing impact on me and my work as a theatre maker. I confidently rank it as one of the best pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen.

What DL is looking forward to in Melbourne theatre in 2017: Unsurprisingly, I’m incredibly excited to see how the same team approach The Elephant Man. It’s a beautiful story but a theatrically complicated one, and if they apply the same rigour to this one that they applied to Picnic, it could be something really special. I also can’t wait to catch CULL during the Comedy Festival (I missed it during the Fringe and regretted it enormously), and to see what She Said Theatre does next – their work is just getting better and better, and continues to be some of the most important being made.

SM: Daniel wrote and directed Awakening for MUST (performed at Trades Hall). It was an adaption of Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind (not the musical also based on it) and was one of the most moving and gut-punching pieces of theatre I saw this year. Another MUST show that nowhere near enough people saw. I really hope that someone gives this show another season because it's heartbreaking to think that it won't be seen again – with the same cast please.

Brilliant update: Awakenings has been picked up by the super-wonderful fortyfivedownstairs, so put 10–21 May in your diary now. Book here.

And while you're there, look at the at what else is coming there next year. What a season!

Stephen Nicolazzo
director,  Little Ones Theatre; likes Madonna 

SN's favourite moment in Melbourne theatre in 2016: Hands down, my favourite moments in Melbourne theatre in 2016 were: Cain and Abel (The Rabble ), Gonzo (St Martin’s/Malthouse) and Terror Australis (Leah Shelton at Melbourne Fringe). These works were brave, beautiful, and furious. They were focussed on the craft of visual story telling and the presentation of complex political perspectives in cheeky, adventurous and moving ways.

All were born from Australia’s most courageous female artists: Emma Valente, Kate Davis, Clare Watson and the divine Leah Shelton, and all were a formally adventurous master class in contemporary theatre practice. Finally, each of these works had exquisite craft on display, which to me is an integral part of theatre making. They didn’t bend the rules simply to provoke. They bent them to explore craft and courage.

This is what I want in my theatre. My personal moment of 2016 was getting to tour Dangerous Liaisons for the last time. It has been two years since Dangerous opened at MTC Neon, and it has grown substantially since then, blossomed into a work that I am extremely proud of. It is so rare to develop a work after its initial presentation and in the case of this one, it has been such a unique gift to refine, reassess, and nuance. So very grateful to all of the festivals and presenters who took a risk on our huge mother fucker of a show and to the audiences across the country who have fallen in love with it.

What SN is looking forward to in Melbourne theatre in 2017: The Theatre Works 2017 season. CAN.NOT.WAIT.

SM: I'll see any theatre Stephen makes, but I missed the return of Dangerous Ls and I missed the Madonna night that he programmed for Melbourne Fringe – but I loved lying in bed and watching the pics and videos of it on Twitter.

If you want to support Little Ones Theatre's Midsumma show, donate here.

David Finnigan

Georgie McAusley and David Finnigan. Photo by Sarah Walker

DF's favourite moment in Melbourne theatre in 2016: This might not be the moment, but I found myself really, really sinking into Nat Randall's The Second Woman performance at Next Wave. I went along intending to stay for a few minutes, found myself there for an hour or two at least. It was weirdly satisfying, so many dimensions to it, but it was sitting afterwards with Jane Howard while she unpacked it for me, that was the real lightbulb moment. I dug that. Maybe that's the combination: good artwork, good analysis, good chats with good humans. That's all you need.

What DF is looking forward to in Melbourne theatre in 2017: I'm looking forward to the major companies retreating further out of touch, the existing funding structures coming apart at the seams and the whole system continuing its histrionic slow-motion collapse, so we can hurry up and see what weird alternatives emerge out of the edges.

SM: I loved seeing Kill Climate Deniers at the Melbourne Fringe, but my moment was reading the play. I was sitting in a cafe in Avalon on Sydney's north coast (which is exactly like the awesome web series Avalon Now, made by real estate site) eating a huge salad with purple cabbage, kale and every super food – while listening to a woman ask why they didn't have a quinoa salad (nuts weren't good enough protein for her) – then being recommended a chocolate cake that was pretty much melted dark chocolate and dates. It was like I was living in the world of Kill Climate Deniers; I WAS in the world of Kill Climate Deniers – and willingly being part of it.

(PS: I love being sent new scripts to read.)

part 1
part 2
part 3

05 December 2016

What Melbourne loved in 2016, part 3

Today we hear from playwrights Fluer Kilpatrick and Keith Gow, and Circus Oz's Rob Tannion.

Fleur Kilpatrick
playwright, director, beagle lover

Fleur Kilpatrick by Jack G Kennedy

FK's favourite moment in Melbourne theatre in 2016: My highlight for the year was Trilogy by Nic Green at Arts House. It managed to be the single most joyful thing I'd seen on stage in a long time, whilst talking about extremely damaging discrimination faced by women for over a century. As a female artist, it posed a wonderful question: how do we talk about the victimisation of our gender without talking about ourselves as victims?

Trilogy was a celebration of the strength, humour and power of women as both individuals and as a community. I left feeling stronger – feeling my cup replenished – and feeling immensely grateful for the women who came before me and changed what it means to be a woman today. Plus, dozens of amazing naked ladies dancing like mad on stage. It was impossible not to beam like an idiot.

My favourite mainstage work was Picnic at Hanging Rock, an outstanding new adaption of an Australian novel. A particular highlight for me was sitting in an audience full of school students during Picnic. Before the show, a girl next to me said to the boy she was with, "I would rather watch eight hours of footage of a public toilet". They then proceeded to scream, gasp and be completely engaged by the work for the entire 85 minutes. At the end, the boy turned to the girl and said, "Oh my heart", as I quietly punched the air next to them and celebrated the transformative powers of live theatre.

My favourite moment of new writing was Kill Climate Deniers by David Finnigin. David stood on stage in a bar and read his entire, ridiculous script, performing every character (all female) and describing terrorists abseiling down from the roof of Parliament House. The audience sat cross-legged on the floor of the bar, laughed and cheered on the story of a federal environment minister with nothing to lose and a killer playlist of house music from 1988 to 1993.

In the midst of the laugher, there was also the totally fascinating story of David's father, a climate scientist, trying to learn how to talk to the media back in the 1980s, when climate scientists suddenly became people the media wanted to talk to and undermine. This was the perfect version of this work. I'm so glad that David went in this beautiful, anarchic direction with the show, rather than placing it on a more conventional theatre stage with a cast and design elements. Plus, the night ended with the dance party I didn't know I needed.

What FK is looking forward to in Melbourne theatre in 2017: I have the privilege of seeing a lot of readings of new work so, rather than talk about things that are programmed for 2017, I want to make mention of a kick-arse script that I really want to see programmed soon! Jessica Bellamy’s The One About the Two Rabbis, which we read in her living room over cheese and dip. Including the playwright, only four people were present and we loved every second of it. Religion meets time travel as Jess explores the religious stories and traditions that still have an impact on the lives of young Jewish women today. I want to see this staged! Someone please make this happen for me!

SM: Fleur adapted and directed Kurt Vonnegut Jnr's Slaughterhouse Five for MUST (Monash University Student Theatre). It's another great show that didn't get a review and wasn't seen by nearly enough people (although it filled the MUST space). What I loved the most about it was how much the student performers and creators took ownership of the content and its story. I remember rolling my eyes when I saw that it was over two hours long, but by interval I was so involved that I would happily have stayed for another couple of hours. 

If you haven't seen a MUST production, please make it a goal for next year.

Keith Gow
playwright, reviewer

Keith Gow. Photo by Keith Gow

KG's favourite moment in Melbourne theatre in 2016: I am not a performer and I don’t harbour that desire at all, but I’ve spent a lot of time on stage this year and a lot of time immersed in shows where I’ve ostensibly been part of the action. Immersive theatre and audience participation can be a tricky business; pick the wrong audience member and you can sink the good will your show has built up to that point.

I spent time on stage with Meow Meow and Chris Ryan in The Little Mermaid at the Malthouse. I wrestled with Adrienne Truscott as she wrestled with her critics in One Trick Pony!

As for immersive theatre, I was quite taken by the one-person-audience experience of The Maze during Melbourne Fringe; following a woman around the dark streets of North Melbourne was troubling in the way theatre should strive to be. I was also part of a two-person audience for Menage and a three-person audience for Dion.

I think theatre should embrace things only theatre can do. Yes, we can sit in the dark and watch figures under a proscenium, but sometimes that feels no different to watching a film. Some of the audience interaction I experienced was uncomfortable, in a bad way. But some of it was thrilling and, by extension, unforgettable.

What KG is looking forward to in Melbourne theatre in 2017: The Malthouse Theatre. I’m always keen to check out the mainstage company’s news seasons from across Australia, once they start revealing them in August. I’m often envious of Sydneysiders and their Belvoir seasons. And their Griffin seasons. I didn’t make it to Sydney once this year, but I will next year.

That said, I’m mostly excited for the Malthouse. I’m excited by everything they have on offer, even though I’m sure there will be some shows that I won’t get along with.

How can I choose between new work from Declan Greene or Nicola Gunn or Tom Wright and Matthew Lutton’s Elephant Man? I can’t and you can’t make me. I’m looking forward to spending a lot of time at the Malthouse and in the Malthouse foyer after.

SM: One night during Melbourne Fringe, I waved and called out to Keith from my car as he was at the tram stop and he didn't react. I watched him walk down the street and not react to anything: he was seeing/experiencing The Maze and was so involved that he couldn't be distracted. It was also pretty damn cool to see his first tv script on live to air TV (Sonnisburg on Ch 31).

Rob Tannion 
Circus Oz Artistic Director

Rob Tannion. Photo by Tania Jovanovic

RT's favourite moment in Melbourne theatre in 2016: I have two very clear moments which defined Melbourne theatre in 2016. The first was seeing Patricia Cornelius’s Shit, at fortyfivedownstairs, directed by the amazing Susie Dee. An outstanding, raw and potent Australian production with an outstanding cast of Nicci Wilks, Sarah Ward and Peta Brady. It blew me out of the water, and still haunts me.

The second moment was during the Circus Oz Big Top season in July at Birrarung Marr. We were contacted via Facebook by a good samaritan to see if we could offer tickets up to a seriously ill 4 year old Indy, and her family. It was Indy’s dream to come to the circus, and being able to make that a reality for her was priceless. Her visit and reaction underlined why we are in the arts and the power it has to positively touch lives.

What RT is looking forward to in Melbourne theatre in 2017: I am really looking forward to the smorgasborg of festivals that Melbourne has on offer: Midsumma, Asia TOPA, Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Yirramboi, Melbourne Fringe and Melbourne Festival… They are like cultural stepping stones crossing my year… I just wish I had the time and money to see everything. Definitely will not miss The Encounter by Complicite in early February at the Malthouse. They are a UK physical theatre company very close to my heart who always pushes boundaries.

SM: I don't know Rob (yet) but every Circus Oz opening night in Birrurung Marr is one of my favourite nights. I love this company; their politics, passion and heart are the voice of Australian theatre that I want to see, in a big top or on the poshest of stages. Circus Oz question the status quo and show what stages, workshops and admin offices can be like when barriers are kicked out of the way and boring choices are rejected.

part 1
part 2

02 December 2016

What Melbourne loved in 2016, part 2

There have been a couple of significant international events this year when people thought that their contribution didn't count. The best way to get Melbourne's arts community telling us what they loved, is to do yours and then tag, poke and remind your favourite artists/creators/writers that you want to hear their favourites.

What was your favourite moment in Melbourne theatre in 2016?
It could be a show, a performance, an overheard comment in an interval, a thought the next day or anything that gave you that jolt that says "this is why we do this".

What are you looking forward to in Melbourne theatre in 2017?
It could be something that is programmed to happen or something that you wish for.

Email your answers and attach your favourite photo of you and credit the photographer.

Today we hear from a writer-performer, an editor and a lighting designer.

Isabel Angus
comedian, writer

Isabel Angus (as Penny Parsins) feeling happy about Melbourne theatre. Photo by Hannah Cantwell. 

IA's favourite moment in Melbourne theatre in 2016: I have seen such amazing performances in Melbourne this year: Zoe Coombs Marr's Trigger Warning at MICF, Sixxters Grimm's Lilith The Jungle Girl, Zoe Dawson's Conviction, The Listies Ruin Christmas (SM note: which hasn't opened yet, but we both know that it will be awesome) and so many more unique, hilarious and captivating shows.

However, my hands-down favourite theatre moment would have to be watching Backstage in Biscuitland at Melbourne Festival. My mind was literally burst open, not only by the show itself, but also by the discussion that followed afterwards about relaxed and inclusive theatre and breaking down traditional barriers and preconceived expectations surrounding theatre.

What IA is looking forward to in Melbourne theatre in 2017: Seeing even more weird and interesting things, hearing from diverse voices and experiencing unique ways of making performance. I'd like to witness the barriers between what is and isn't traditionally considered theatre, continually challenged and expanded.

SM: Isabel's Bliss at Melbourne Fringe was one of my many favourite comedies this year. She had me from the moment she left chips for the audience and took them away! But my favourite moment was finding The Jono Show on YouTube and watching a lot of them when I was meant to be writing reviews.

Brendan Jellie
lighting designer and operator

Brendan Jellie

BJ's favourite moment in Melbourne theatre in 2016:  In terms of theatre it was a tremendous year for me. I landed work with Adelaide Fringe Festival and stepped up a rung to supervising tech at one of my venues and fulfilled a dream of teching LX for the Melbourne Fringe Club at Arts House. But there are two shows that I remember the most.

Pursued by Bear's First Date was a hoot. It came at a time when I was down and disenfranchised by theatre and the world, having seen and worked on a bunch of heavy-themed productions. First Date was so light-hearted, it was put together really well with some hilarious moments. I particularly loved the way they transformed the Chapel (at Chapel off Chapel) into a working cafe for the pre-show and had the band subtly dispersed through the cafe. It reignited the creative side of my brain; instead of working to create isolation on stage, this was a show of "let's have fun with this" and it made me wish I'd been a part of it.

The other memorable moment was GoD (Gentlemen of Deceipt) at the Sydney Opera House. It had all the elements of a great story: five friends staying in a two-bedroom Airbnb, early starts and late nights and the surrealism of working at the most famous venue in the country. 

The crazy thing? Once we'd signed everything and we'd bumped in and were rehearsing for the show, I thought, "this is just like every other venue, just everything works"; it was really satisfying. The world is good, but maybe just in pockets :).

SM: A couple weeks ago at the Malthouse, Brendan tapped me on the shoulder to make sure that I turned around to see 70's-and-80's-rock-legend Ross Wilson dancing to Madonna with a handful of 40-something women. I'm so glad I saw that.

Katie Purvis
editor, Joy 94.9 presenter, occasional reviewer

Katie Purvis

KP's favourite moment in Melbourne theatre in 2016: Hard to beat Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs (Arts Centre Melbourne) right at the beginning of January – it set the bar for 2016, and what a high, saucy, wickedly funny bar it was. His storytelling, choice of songs, charm and easy rapport with the audience were wonderful to behold.

Other shows that came close to or got over the bar for me were:

  • Ladies in Black (MTC) – a show for which the word 'delightful' was invented.
  • Liza's Back! (Is Broken) (Arts Centre Melbourne) – in which Trevor Ashley delivered his best and most accomplished solo show yet.
  • Matilda (Princess Theatre) – I loved this dark, funny, brilliantly staged show so much that I saw it twice even though I couldn’t really afford it.
  • Mother's Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin (Butterfly Club) – a superbly performed and extremely funny and educational show featuring Maeve Marsden and Libby Wood from Lady Sings It Better, and musical director Jeremy Brennan.
  • Switzerland (MTC) – Joanna Murray-Smith's suspenseful play imagining the author Patricia Highsmith (played by Sarah Peirse) devoured by her own Ripley character (Eamon Farren) was marvellously spiky.
  • Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour (Melbourne Festival) – raucous, joyous and unapologetically feminist.

What KP is looking forward to in Melbourne theatre in 2017:  I can't wait to see what Dolly Diamond gives us in her role as new artistic director of the Melbourne Cabaret Festival.

At MTC, I'm looking forward to Lally Katz's Minnie and Liraz, directed by Anne-Louise Sarks and starring Virginia Gay, Nancye Hayes, Sue Jones and John Leary. And I’m hoping that Life Like Company stages another piece of music theatre that continues their record of excellent productions, and that they keep putting women in charge (for 2016's The Light in the Piazza, the director, musical director and choreographer were all women).

SM: Every time Katie sends me a message late at night because she's seen a typo on a review. I love her so much for that.

part 1

01 December 2016

What Melbourne loved in 2016, part 1

2016 has certainly been a year.

It's been a tough year for artists, theatre makers, administrators, producers, publicists,  journalists and arts writers. We've gone on strike, we've written angry letters and protested and still experienced, made and talked about some of the most amazing theatre that's been seen and made in Melbourne.

Not every show gets written about, but getting a review/interview/feature/tweet isn't necessarily a reflection on a show. Great ones get missed; meh ones get words.

So let's spend the next couple of weeks remembering what we loved and remembering that it's going to take a lot more to dull the hearts and minds of people who make and see theatre.

Sarah Walker
photographer extraordinaire

Sarah Walker  in front of her award-winning photo of Dash. Photo by Mike Greaney

SW favourite moment in Melbourne theatre in 2016: I had two, one full of joy, one full of anxiety.

Jess Thom's Backstage in Biscuitland at Melbourne Festival was such a revelation.

I heard her chatting to Richard Watts on RRR a few days prior, ticcing "Biscuit! Hedgehog! Beans!" between words, and my initial reaction was a sense of very visceral, physical anxiety. Something about the uncontrollable nature of Tourette's made my body freak out. So getting to spend an hour with Jess's incredible brain and wiggly body was such a brilliant experience, because so swiftly, the experience of seeing her tics settled into the texture of her performance, and only the surprise and joy of certain flights of verbal fantasy remained in the space. Jess yelling "Wind! You’re a 19th century fuck up!" had me in absolute hysterics, and her grace and humour and refusal to be victimised was fierce and badass. What a lady.

Also in Melbourne Festival, I was one of the Benefactors choosing how to spend $300 in The Money.

The group floated a heap of ideas, from the thoughtful – supporting disadvantaged kids in a local school – to the ridiculous – suspend the money from a helium balloon and just let it go. With 20 minutes to go, a man bought in to the Benefactor table, thanked the person who'd bought his ticket and the woman who'd just given him 20 bucks so he could speak to us, and made his case: he was homeless, his tent, backpack and sleeping bag had been stolen, and the money would make a huge difference to his life. My two friends and I said, "Well, I mean, it's perfect. It's local, immediate, we know who we're impacting – and it takes guts to stand here and ask this. Absolutely."

But the group didn’t vote to give him the money. One man accused him of being an actor. Another didn't believe that he'd spend it on the items he'd listed. This table of left wing people sat around arguing about a man who'd come to ask for our help, and they talked about him like he wasn't even there. The suspicion and presumptions and callousness at that table will never leave me. The show ended in a flurry of disagreement. The money rolled over. The man walked out. And I was just so, so enraged and ashamed and horrified. I suppose that's what theatre should be. It should make you feel. But it didn't feel good. It felt mean and cruel and impotent. If you can't help someone right in front of you when they’re asking for it, when can you?

What SW is looking forward to in Melbourne theatre in 2017: Oh my god: The Black Rider. I just so badly want that show to be the most anarchic, brutal, chaotic, brilliant and overwhelming spectacle that I’ve ever seen. I want to walk out with fire in my veins. So, you know. No pressure.

The photo by Sarah Walker that she sent me because it was a favourite one that she took.  I'm pretty sure the show, Kill Climate Deniers, will make an appearance soon. 

SM: One of my favourite things about the favourites is that I could re-name it Photo by Sarah Walker (of course). Danny and Penelope (below) both captioned their photos "Photo by Sarah Walker (of course)". Sarah's style is so recognisable and emotionally palpable; she captures the heart of the person she's photographing, and brings life to the stillness of a production shot. It's hard to imagine Melbourne's theatre scene without photos by Sarah Walker.

Danny Delahunty
director, ticketing manager, suave dresser

Danny Delahunty. Photo by Sarah Walker (of course)

DD's favourite moment in Melbourne theatre in 2016: I saw some pretty great shows this year but, wow, The Echo of the Shadow at Melbourne Festival. This is what live performance should be.

Every sense I knew I had (and some I was discovering for the first time) was stimulated. I followed my own story down the rabbit hole and didn't look back. I erased my footprints in the sand; I giggled as my shadow was tickled; I ate strawberries dipped in melted chocolate, lay tucked up in bed as a story was quietly read to me; and had a woman lay an egg in my hand, only to feel it crumble between my fingers as her legs snapped shut. And as I sat drinking spiced tea served from an upturned boat on an isolated beach somewhere underneath ACMI. I wrote about time and our personal relationship to moments in our lives, and left it in a wicker bowl for the ghosts and shadows to read.

Every page of my story was captured in a book that filled up as I journeyed through this strange land: a drip of melted chocolate, a few grains of sand, the smell of my shadow, shards of eggshell. .. and all I need to do to relive the extraordinary sensory experience any time I want, is flick through that book page by page.

What DD is looking forward to in Melbourne theatre in 2017: It's too early to tell for sure, because based on the trend of Fringe this year, I've no doubt we will continue to see some absolutely amazing immersive performances born. But from what has been programmed that I know of? Most looking forward to The Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets by Malthouse and Victoria Opera. I absolutely love that album.

"When it gets too hot for comfort / And you can't get an ice cream cone / 'Tain't no sin to take off your skin / And dance around in your bones"

SM: Danny recently directed Blessed at the Poppy Seed festival. It opened on the day Trump was elected and the audience were ...  I don't know ... we didn't understand the world that night. But this play brought us into a world that saw the horror of life and made a change based on love (or illness or god). And, as a community, we relaxed, had a drink and stopped ranting on Facebook for a few hours.

Penelope Bartlau
storyteller, creator, grower of garlic

Penelope Bartlau. Photo by Sarah Walker (of course)

PB's favourite moment in Melbourne theatre in 2016: Can I have two? Is that allowed?
Let’s say yes…

Melbourne Festival: The Echo of the Shadow by Teatro de los Sentidos.

Oh I know I know it's an international work, but there were a handful of Melburnians cast into this extraordinary experience. The experience? One at a time, each audience member is lead into a dark labyrinth. Inspired by the story of Hans Christian Anderson in which a journeyman lost their shadow, you become the journeyman. Every sense is attended to as you vanish into an incredible and beautiful underworld. You are attended to by gentle hands, fed a chocolate-coated strawberry, you crush an egg on someone’s thigh, and are laid down on a bed for one, in a boat, and gently rocked as you listen to the water, waves and wind. Travelling this labyrinth, this story, was one of the most singular, gentle, breathtaking and moving events I have ever encountered.

Tremor by Ashley Dyer. This work, a true hybrid of design, sound and dance, is one of the most progressive and adventurous pieces of new theatre I have seen. The set, designed by Jason Lehane, was a musical instrument made up of blades of metal – a field of blades, embedded into moving platforms. The sound designer, Nigel Brown, played the set to manipulate sound throughout the piece, as three dancers navigated their perilous environment.

I’m also really happy for Jodee Mundy, that her work Imagined Touch has been such a success.

Ok – 2.5.

What PB is looking forward to in Melbourne theatre in 2017: I am looking forward to seeing what Whitenight Ballarat promises – and hope it will be something fresh and other than Whitenight Melbourne. I am looking forward to working on The Sound of Cancer, a science-arts collaboration that explores the disease with the aim of demystifying it. I always look forward to Next Wave too.

SM: One of my favourite experiences this year was House of Dreams by Penelope and Jason Lehane. It was also one of those ones that didn't get a review.  The Johnson Collection in East Melbourne was the home and is the legacy of antique dealer and collector William Robert Johnson. House of Dreams was an immersions where every room of the house was filled with Johnson's mementos but told the stories of Penelope's dreams. Dreams which could have been Johnson's dreams and felt so familiar as our collective dreams. Some rooms I wanted to move into, others creeped me out a bit...

29 November 2016

Reminder: What Melbourne Loved 2016

It's time to send your favourite to me. Really. I don't have enough for a series yet.

10 November 2016

So, yesterday happened and the lump in the world's heart is palpable.

Blessed, Matt Hickey, Olivia Monticcicolo. Phtoto by Sarah Walker

I went to the theatre and saw Blessed, a gorgeously dark and loving play by Attic Erratic (written by Fleur Kilpatrick, directed by Danny Delahunty). It's about finding the holy in unexpected places and people, which is where god always knew it was hidden. For an hour, a room full of people could be in a world that wasn't yesterday's world. It felt good.

At the party after, which was celebrating the launch of the second Poppy Seed Festival, I watched Ross Wilson (Daddy Cool, Mondo Rock) sing a song I remember pashing to as teenager and then he danced to a Madonna song with a group of 40-something women. And the world felt right for a while.

There's been a loud call to bring "What Melbourne Loved" back and today is an excellent day to remind ourselves of the power and anger and the hope and healing of theatre and art.

To take part, email me your answers to:

What was your favourite moment in Melbourne theatre in 2016?
It could be a show, a performance, an overheard comment in an interval, a thought the next day or anything that gave you that jolt that says "this is why we do this".

I know some of you like to write a lot, but try to keep it succinct, because there's a second questions this year.

What are you looking forward to in Melbourne theatre in 2017?
It could be something that is programmed to happen or something that you wish for.

Also send me your favourite photo of you and credit the photographer if you can.

I've just read though the past years and, dammit, we've got so many amazing people working, living and passing through this city. I can't wait to start reading and sharing. They'll start in December.

If you haven't contributed before, please do.

And please get a lot to me by the end of November. I'll keep going in December until we run out, but I need a lot to get us started. If you see something amazing after you've done yours, we can update.


12 November 2016

Review: The Odd Couple

The Odd Couple
Melbourne Theatre Company
12 November 2016
The Sumner
to 17 December

Shaun Micallef, Michala Banas, Christie Whelan Browne, Francis Greenslade. Photo by Jeff Busby

“Is she pregnant? No just fat.” Boom-boom. It’s such a good week to remind us that women are best kept pretty or pregnant.

The Odd Couple is the MTC’s end-of-year already-close-enough-to-sold-out cash-cow show with Shaun Micallef as Felix, the neat-freak cow, and Francis Greenslade, as Oscar the messy bull.

The Neil Simon play opened on Broadway in 1965 and became better known by its 1968 film and the 1970’s spin-off TV series. It’s about middle-aged straight white men with comfortable incomes, and based on the absurdity that two men could live together as a couple. When Felix’s marriage breaks up, he moves in with his lonely divorced mate Oscar in his New York appartment. To make it easy to understand the ha-ha, Felix likes doing girl things like looking nice, cooking and cleaning.

And even though this feminine side creates chuckles, it’s still stronger than the women in the play. The two onstage woman talk about taking off their clothes in front of the fridge when they are hot – silly girls – but they are very pretty and their impact on the story is minimal. There are more offstage women: wives and ex-wives who annoy the men by calling on poker night (there are four poker buddies) and are complained about, laughed at and lied to.

Sure, it was written at a time when nasty women didn’t get involved in politics or write much about peecee theatre – but why bring it back? Neil Simon is a terrific writer, but would he write this now?

There’s more to the script than easy jokes, but it’s hard to see much exploration of it. There’s plenty to reflect on about men who have been broken by the end of their marriages, but Micallef crying like a buffoon and mugging does little more than resemble emotion.

It’s as hard to see irony, reflection or self awareness on the stage. Apart from the face-slap irony that Micallef and Greenslade have created some of the sharpest political satire on television. And that it’s presented by the same company that recently gave us Straight White Men, which ripped the privileged dead heart out of plays like this, and Lilith the Jungle Girl, which put a queer heart back into anyone who has never seen themselves represented on a commercial stage.

Is The Odd Couple the commercial price for these shows? But why this show? There are lots of commercial, funny, successful, money-making plays that these actors could have done. There are plays that don’t have a cast of six middle aged white men and two pretty young women.

If it’s just harmless escapism for the subscribers, who are these people who want to escape to a world that’s dominated by middle-aged straight white men who laugh about how they deceive and trick women, and think that “Chinese” food is exotic? Are they really the people who subscribe?

At least there wasn’t a pussy-grabbing gag. But maybe that would have said something about us and now.

This was on AussieTheatre.com..

07 November 2016

Food reviews

I wrote these for Issimo magazine in 2014–15*. They're no longer online and menus and prices will have changed, but they still all great places to find a vegetarian treat in a non-vego menu.

*A long-ago time when food trucks were a novelty.

48 Glen Eira Road, Ripponlea (near Ripponlea train station)

Spout is the sort of cafe that locals want to keep to themselves.

The staff are delightful, the strong house-blend coffee’s ground per cup and consistently warrants a second, the serves are generous, everything (including a daily muffin) is made in the open kitchen, and there’s always a surprisingly unique vegetarian choice.

Citrus black beans with Meredith feta and quinoa bread 
$15.50 plus $3 for a perfectly poached egg

The Middle Eastern style beans have a welcome hint of crunch from being soaked – not tinned – and the limey tang adds a freshness that instantly removes any memories of floury bean dishes. Combined with creamy oil-dressed feta, a silky egg (recommended by staff) and a flaky-yet-dense bread (that’s even gluten free), it’s a treat to go back for.


Shanghai Street
146 Little Bourke Street (they now have shops all over, including a great one in Windsor)

If you think Melbourne foodies argue about the best lattes, wait until you ask about the best dumplings!

Vegetarians always have fewer choices but, containing the search to Chinatown in the city, Shanghai Street’s vegetable dumplings are the consistent winner.

Fried vegetable dumpling 

Made in an open kitchen (no frozen dumplings here), the serve of 15 is enough for the hungriest dumplarian and each is so plump that it’s impossible to eat one in a mouthful.

With your table-made soy, vinegar and chilli dipping sauce, the steamed ones are addictive, but when a dumpling is so amply filled with the greenest of greens, with a hint of tofu and chewy wood fungus, there’s no guilt in indulging in the fried – just let them cool down before biting in.

Borsch, Vodka & Tears 
173 Chapel Street, Windsor

It’s easy to get lost in the menu pages dedicated to vodkas, but the name of this favourite Windsor restaurant insists on soup as well. And the tears are those of joy to find vegetarian dishes among the goulashes.

Vegetarian Polish borsch with porcini mushroom uszka 
$14.50 (or $11.50 for lunch)

Unlike some borsches, it’s a clear broth. Served in hand-painted bowls, its purple is like the last glimpse of a pink sunset in a darkening blue sky. It’s sweet like the beetroot it’s made with but balanced with a lemony tang, which all comes together with a dunking of light rye bread – never skimping on the butter! Then there’s the real indulgence: three hand-made uszka dumplings with an earthy porcini filling that turn this soup into the one I want for my last meal.


Taco Truck
Various. Today’s dish on High Street, Northcote

Forget food vans that only offer soggy chips for vegos because Melbourne’s food trucks have made lining up on the footpath and eating on a patch of grass a gourmet delight.

There are two Taco Trucks touring the inner suburbs. It’s not super cheap or fast, but every meal is made to order, is served by happy staff and redefines dated ideas about Mexican takeaway. And there’s always a vegetarian taco.

Taco plate with house-made corn chips and guacamole 
Potato taco with jalapeno ricotta, slaw and salsa verde

Take a large first bite to include the crisp salad and mildly spiced cheese before feeling the crack of the deep fried taco with its chewy and soft potato filling. For heat fans, there are sauces and always upsize with corn chips and fresh guacamole, which tastes like it’s straight from an avocado tree.

Taco Truck Facebook page

Magic Cuisine
Centro Shopping Centre, Box Hill. In the fresh food market.

If there’s anything disappointing about vegetarian eating in Melbourne, it’s steamed buns. Sweet custard and red bean buns are plentiful, but savoury ones are harder to find.

Magic Cuisine, in the Box Hill shopping centre, offers pre-packaged Malaysian-style marinated goodies, coloured jellies for drinks, and three steamed buns: pork, veggie and red bean.

Veggie Bun 
$2.00 each

Made in the kitchen you can see, each bun comes fresh from a steamer. The dense white bread is warm and soft and filled with a mix of mushroom, black fungus, bean curd and bok choy that, without spice or sauce to distract, surprises with its mix of flavours and textures – and instantly made me feel like I was in Kuala Lumpur.

Being palm size, each bun is a substantial snack, but you’ll need extras to take home.


Supper Inn
15 Celestial Lane, Melbourne

If you haven’t had a three-course meal at Supper Inn at 1.30am, you’re not a Melbournian.

It’s at the top of a dark stairwell, at the end of a small dark lane that’s filled with bins. First-timers think you’re joking or trying to murder them. But it’s always full and I’ve never been there after midnight when there wasn’t a table of people in football scarfs, even when there hadn’t been a match.

The wood panelled décor, menu (and maybe the staff) haven’t changed much since it opened in the 80s and the Cantonese menu hasn’t always welcomed vegetarians, but there’s one dish that’s made it to the main menu.

Deep fried eggplant, beancurd and beans with spicy salt and chilli

The eggplant is melt in your mouth, the bean curd’s slightly chewy and the beans still have crunch  – and it’s batter coated, deep fried and covered with chilli, spring onions and a spicy salt. The quality isn’t consistent, but at its best, you’ll have to order a second serve because everyone wants more.

Tuck Shop Take Away
273 Hawthorn Road, Caulfield

Take Away’s owners have, between them, worked at Fat Duck (yes, Heston’s), Attica and Vue de Monde. Now they’ve revamped a sad corner milk bar into a cooler-than-school-ever-was Tuck Shop where they flip burgers.

If the steady lunch crowd and extended waiting time is anything to go by, their burgers must be flipping brilliant. But my test is the veggie option.

Veggie Wedgie with Cuts

First, always order cuts (chips). Hand cut and triple cooked, they are greasy and salty and make you remember what chips are meant to taste like.

The Veggie is served exactly like its non-veg counterpart, but with a pink lentil, brown rice and beetroot patty. The patty is missing some chew factor, but it’s not what makes this treat memorable. From the butter-grilled, sesame-sprinkled brioche bun to the crunchy iceberg lettuce, it looks like the memory of childhood burgers. And with pickles, a very special mayo-tomato-mustard sauce and melting bright yellow cheese, it tastes even better than it looks.

Tuck Shop Facebook page

Naked for Satan: Naked in the Sky
285 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy

A visit to Naked for Satan is already such a quintessential Melbourne experience that it’s hard to believe it’s only four-years-old.

Resist the plates of pintxos at ground level (next time) and find the lift to the rooftop, where the views stretch from the city to the Dandenongs to the balconies of nearby apartments.

The bar menu has about 15 tapas treats, plus cheeses, sweets and heaven-blessed house-made vodkas. The vegetarian offerings are limited, but irresistible.

Mushroom Parfait with onion jam, smoked almonds and radish

Never has a square of grey been so moorish. Intensely mushroomy, it’s also so creamy that it’s best to not think about the butter in it. And there’s plenty of crunchy bread to experiment with to find your unforgettable combination of parfait, sweet onion jam, smoky almond and fresh salad.


All photos by A-M Peard

31 October 2016

Review: Uprising

Monash Centre for Theatre and Performance
28 October 2016
Tower, Malthouse Theatre
to 5 November

My review is at The Age/SMH.

Matilda leaving Melbourne


Matilda’s last Melbourne performance is November 11. If you haven’t seen it, well that’s not right. And as Matilda says, “If that’s not right. You have to put it right!”.

And do it soon because there aren’t many seats left.

Royal Shakespeare Company. Matilda The Musical. Photo by Manuel Harlan

Update: it's sold out, but try for singles.

It’s a gloriously wonderful piece of theatre that left me in tears on its opening night in March. I’m going to try and see it again (tickets now bought), even if just because I’ve only seen one of the four casts of children.

This award-winning show is what happens when everything in the development of a show and everything on the stage is about telling a story, rather than about selling tickets with razzle dazzle and assumptions about what audiences want.

Dennis Kelly’s book captures the tone of Roald Dahl’s book and makes it live on the stage, without feeling like a book. It’s honest to the source, but is totally original and always lets the extreme and outrageous characters be seen as real people who make choices and aren’t just evil and wrong or good and right.

Rob Horwell’s design of books and blocks makes the stage world as imaginative as any world a child creates when they play, and his costumes evoke memories for the audience without forcing the story into a specific time.

Peter Darlin’s choreography is like a re-invention of play and dance; it’s how we dance and play in our heads when we think no one is watching.

Matthew Warchus’s direction ensures that every part of this amazing show is telling the same story.

And a guy from Western Australia wrote the music and lyrics.

Tim Minchin is as close to genius as Stephen Sondheim is. He finds rhyme where it shouldn’t exist without letting the word-fun distract from the meaning of the songs. His music’s full of joy without hiding the melancholy that underscores all feelings all happiness. A consistent audience favourite  is “When I grow up”. It’s about the excitement of growing up, the frustration of not being grown up, and the understanding that being grown up isn’t as wonderful as we imagine it to be. It’s the kind of song that wrings your heart as it makes you  smile.

The cast and ensemble are simply brilliant and everyone ensures that even the smallest role is as important as Matilda, the little girl who lets kids know that even when they don’t get the love they deserve that they can change their stories and be heroes.

Matilda is everything great musical theatre can be.

And if you do miss it in Melbourne, there are short seasons in Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.

This was on AussieTheatre.com