31 August 2015

Review: Betrayal

Betrayal
MTC presents the State Theatre Company of SA production
29 August 2015
The Sumner
to 3 October
mtc.com.au


Betrayal. MTC. Photo by Shane Reid

Following seasons in Adelaide and Canberra, Geordie Brookman’s production of Harold Pinter’s 1978 play Betrayal has opened at the MTC. Inspired by the writer’s own relationships, it’s a remarkable exploration of betrayal from the irrelevant to the heartbreaking, and the personal to the professional.

It opens with Emma (Alison Bell) and Jerry (Nathan O’Keefe) meeting at a bar after their extra marital relationship had ended and she reveals that her marriage to Jerry’s best friend Robert (Mark Saturno) is over. Told in reverse chronological order (mostly), it leaves the audience knowing more than the characters do, so instead of asking “what happens next?”, they can ask “why did they behave like that?”. And without the need for exposition, the writer and characters are able to be completely in the moment and free to be silent.

...

The full review is on AussieTheatre.com and will be published here in a few days.

29 August 2015

Review: Antigone

Antigone
Malthouse Theatre
25 August 2015
Merlyn Theatre
to 13 September
malthousetheatre.com.au

Antigone. Emily Milledge. Photo by Pia Johnson

In a desolate concrete yard where the only hint of humanity is a prefab building on stilts, a naked young body is dumped on the ground. Malthouse Theatre's Antigone starts with the Classic story, but it's not Sophocles's Antigone but an Antigone for now that's set in an isolated world where political power is its own reward and where there are no gods to blame or bow to, and no public chorus to witness and comment.

...

The full review is on AussieTheatre.com and will be published here in a few days.

27 August 2015

Eleven tips to get a Melbourne Fringe review

Melbourne Fringe
16 September – 4 October 2015
melbournefringe.com.au



In March, I wrote "10 Tips to get a Comedy Festival review".

They are the same for Fringe, except there are only 400 shows wanting attention.

Bonus Fringe tip

Include a link to your page on the Fringe website.




26 August 2015

Mini review: Picnic

Picnic 
Kage
21 August 2015
fortyfivedownstairs
to 30 August
kage.com.au

Photo by Jeff Busby

Fortyfivedownstairs is dark and feels like it's underground even though the downstairs theatre is still at street level. It's here that dance-theatre company Kage invite us to co-founder Gerald Van Dyck's Picnic. 

It's a picnic with its own kind of darkness, but its more enticing than a bbq with burning onions and sizzling snags (he had me at vego sausages), and made with as much love as your aunt's potato salad.

Conceived, choreographed and performed by Van Dyck, it's impossible to leave without considering him a friend. With a script by Marieke Hardy and music by Alisdair Macindoe, he shares his picnic story with dance, a live video and a bit of magic.

As the audience are welcomed to join in – and a highlight of the show is created by the audience –  it's easy to forget that this delightfully affable man began this picnic alone.

The gentle charm of Picnic feels as familiar as its packet of posh chips, but its heart comes from keeping its secret close and letting the audience bring whatever they want, or need, to make the story and their picnic complete.

Interview: Daniel Lammin on Masterclass

Masterclass
1–13 September
fortyfivedownstairs.com


Maria Mercedes in the Sydney season of Masterclass. Photo by Clare Hawley 

The 2014 Melbourne Green Room Award–winning production of Master Class by Terrance McNallyhas finished its Sydney Hayes Theatre season and is returning to Melbourne’s fortyfivedownstairs on 1 September. Before heading beginning rehearsals, Lammin spoke to me about how they first approached the work, what it was like to be so successful, and how they’re approaching the remount.

The production won Maria Mercedes a Best Performer award and Daniel Lammin his first nomination as Best Director.

The play opened on Broadway in 1995. It’s fiction, but is inspired by a series of recorded master classes that Callas presented at Julliard in New York in 1971 when she was 54.

By then, she had experienced the best and the worst that fame and talent bring; from being the icon and La Divina to being judged on her weight and relationships. Lammin said, “she touched the divine, looked into the heart of the universe and heard what it sounded like, and no one comes back from that unscathed.”

She died of a heart attack in 1977 and is still iconised.

Daniel Lammin. Photo by Sarah Walker

How do you approach a re-mount knowing the expectations that follow such a successful first season?

My philosophy returning to Master Class was to regard the original season as unfinished. When I last spoke to Maria about the remount, both of us agreed that we had further to go with it, both in terms of her performance and with the production in general. Master Class is a deceptively dense play; its characterisation of Callas is enormous and the supporting characters are far more complex than they first appear.

Even with all the accolades and responses we got last year, we still wanted to go back and keep digging deeper.

How we approach that comes down to our own expectations of this new season. Not only will we be bringing a year’s worth of pondering and gained knowledge to it, but we also have two new cast members (Blake Bowden and Teresa Duddy), which basically means a completely new second act.
Because my original approach was to use the experiences of the original singers to inform their performances and interpretations of their characters, these new cast members will bring a whole new energy to the show and push myself and the rest of the cast into new territory. It’ll prevent us from resting on our laurels because there will be new dynamics and voices in the room that are totally unlike the original singers. The last thing I want them to do is imitate what was done before; I’m far more interested in what they have to bring.

That said, it is daunting and a little terrifying coming back to it given how well the first season went.
I’m still a young emerging director, so its success was overwhelming for me, and I’m a little nervous that I won’t be able to recapture whatever lightning in a bottle we got last year in our state of panic and passion in getting it on in the first place.

I don’t want to let down the audience, the cast and crew or the original production.

What gives me the drive with returning to Master Class though is that I’m not interested in repeating myself or just rehashing what we did before. Of course, we want to remount it because it was successful and people wanted to see it again (or at all), but artistically I had no interest in pulling it out of the box and plonking it on stage.

The play addresses so many things I feel very passionately and personally about – the role of art in a society, the sacrifices it requires, how unforgiving it is, the role of women in the arts, a celebration of the powerful women who brought me up and my Mediterranean heritage – and I didn’t feel at all satisfied that I’d said what I needed to say clearly enough. 

I want it to be just as fresh and dangerous, and to continue to push the play, the cast and the audience even further. If we’re going to do it again, I want to work the show and myself even harder than before.

Photo by Clare Hawley

Not being an opera singer, how did you work with the singers to integrate their first-hand experience of master classes and the needs of the piece?

In past productions, the singers in Master Class had usually been played by musical theatre actors. One of the things the producer Cameron Lukey was determined to do was use actual opera singers who could perform the arias with their necessary power. Not only did I see this as a creatively exciting decision, but also a tremendous resource for me to use in developing and rehearsing the show.

I’m a naturally inquisitive person, so when it came to approaching the opera, I just let that part of my personality take over for a bit. I have a passionate love of classical music, but my knowledge of opera is limited, so I started by just sitting and chatting with each of the singers about themselves. Why did they become an opera singer? What is their relationship with their career? How did they feel about their industry and its internal politics?

This led to talking about their own experiences of master classes, both as observers and performers. I would note down every little detail, from where they would stand in relation to the master running the class to the usual mistakes people would make.

We also discussed the differences between their experiences and the play itself. This was the stuff we used and referenced on the floor, throwing in tidbits to add to the realism of the piece.

This also meant that, rather than imposing anything on the singers (none of whom in the original production had ever acted in a play before), we were making their characters and performances more personal. I was also lucky to have Lukey, who trained as an opera singer, who was able to clarify and educate me on the more technical side of opera.

I wasn’t interested in making a piece of theatre with Callas as the absolute centre of attention. I wanted every character to be as rich and full as her, and knew that my best resource was the singers themselves.

As a director, I use the personality of the actor to help them find and inform their character; especially in this case where I was a novice entering their world. I wanted to be respectful of this industry and the people working in it, and to give the singers the opportunity to share not just their love of opera, but the impossibly hard work and dedication that goes into it.

I wanted Master Class to be as much a celebration of them as it was of Callas.

Photo by Clare Hawley
Did you (and Maria) listen to the recorded Callas master classes or did you approach it as a piece of writing?

Maria and I both took different approaches in our preparation for the show. Maria buried herself in research, reading countless books and biographies of Callas, while I decided to keep my research to a minimum and focus directly on the play text itself.

I broke it right down dramaturgically, right down to its punctuation, and studied the structure of the play and the rhythms of Callas’s dialogue. This meant that Maria would bring her mountains of knowledge into the room and allow that to inform her performance and I concerned myself with the technical side, never allowing her to put a pause or a comma wrong. I felt that was far more useful, so we had a balance of biographical knowledge and dramaturgical understanding of the play itself.

What became our greatest resource though were the recordings of Callas, particularly those specified for use in the play.

What set Callas apart was the unrelenting honesty with which she sang, less interested with technical skill than with expressing truth. That’s why her voice is so powerful, because her soul is in her singing, and this was a big clue for us to unlocking the ideas in McNally’s text. We also had hours of recordings from the actual master classes the play was inspired by, so we could listen to how Callas approached the students. It’s not verbatim in any way, but it was an interesting document to complement our understanding of the play.

Photo by Clare Hawley
How did you work with your Maria to become a Maria that was both Callas and Mercedes?

One of the rules I imposed on the show was that we weren’t doing what I called “the gay fantasia of Maria Callas” or anything that revealed in any melodrama or camp. She’s such an icon and a caricature, but I wasn’t interested in that, and I didn’t think the play itself was either.
We were far more interested in the soul of this woman than of doing a convincing imitation. We never talked about recreating her mannerisms or voice. We let the text itself and the given circumstances of Callas’s background inform us.

Like the singers, I also used Mercedes herself as a resource, drawing on her Greek background and her own experiences as a performer. It was very important to us both that we preserved Callas’s Greek heritage, because she’s rarely played in productions of Master Class by a Greek actor. It also helped that my family background is partly Maltese, so we both understood what it meant to be Mediterranean, so her put-downs and blunt comments weren’t about being a bitch but about that wonderful bluntness that Mediterranean women have.

We also spoke a lot about women in positions of power, the sexual politics between men and women and how threatening Callas would have been to the patriarchal opera world of the time.

Her uncompromising position as both an artist and a woman had an enormous effect on her professionally and romantically. This is where I thought Master Class was quite a violent and disturbing play, and Maria totally embraced that, so that in her monologues at the end of each act we went for something more visceral and uncomfortable. We wanted people to walk away from Master Class not with a set of quippy facts they could rattle off, but a deep understanding of the soul of this woman; one both immense and totally broken.

I have this driving need in being a theatre maker. With everything I do, I’m trying to hear the sound of the universe. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I want to hear the forces at work around us in all their beauty and their violence, and theatre is the tool that my inquisitive mind chooses to use to try and hear it. Callas was one of those people who actually heard it, and you know this from listening to her sing.


She touched the divine, looked into the heart of the universe and heard what it sounded like, and no one comes back from that unscathed. For Maria and I, we want the audience to catch a glimpse of that, a woman caught in a awe-inspiring and terrible ecstasy that has made her divine and ripped her apart.

It’s an impossible task to set ourselves, but it was what we saw when we read the play and listened to Callas sing, and that’s what we wanted to give the audience.


This was on AussieTheatre.com.

23 August 2015

Review: A Social Service

A Social Service
Malthouse Theatre
18 August 2015
Beckett Theatre
to 29 August
malthousetheatre.com.au

David Woods & Nicola Gunn. Photo by Pia Johnson

Separately and together, Nicola Gunn and David Woods makes a rare type of theatre that genuinely challenges ideas and opinions. In A Social Service at Malthouse Theatre, they find a line between reality and satire that's so sharp that a slip either side could result in serious injury.

A Social Service is about a semi-fictional artist (Gunn) who wants to affect change in a public housing estate and is confronted with the failure of the system that funds her and by her own attitudes towards change, art and the people she thinks want and need changing. Made by artists who couldn't do the site-specific community-involved piece they wanted to do – so they had to make the work in a theatre – it's self awareness is like the endless advertising image that has a picture of itself with a  picture of itself and so on. But somewhere in this spiral, the image changes and the downward momentum is reversed.

On the estate, "Nicola" meets a young woman (a changing cast from the Uprising Theatre collective for young people; I saw Isabel Mure, whose calmness and timing contrasted wonderfully with Gunn) making mosaic benches with the residents, and a series of men (Woods) who are wittingly and unwittingly trying to stop Nicola's project. Based on the creators' research of public housing in Melbourne and overseas, its story is so close to many truths – especially those about public art being used to take away public space – that the estate has to be fictional, even as it sits firmly in Melbourne.

I saw this on the post-show Time to Talk (Q&A) night and that the discussion was about public housing and how public housing tenants are treated. Here's a piece of fascinating theatre that brings up so many questions about process and performance, but the audience wanted to talk about the issues it discussed. (Apart from the woman who couldn't hear the dialogue; Woods's response to tell her to sit closer and be involved was perfect.) The work almost despairs about the hope of change through art, but it is resulting in a conversation about people and issues rather than one about the short-lived product that was made.

If only everyone who needs to hear this conversation this along would come along.

According to the Victorian Department of Human Services, there are nearly 35,000 people (that's just less than half a full MCG) on the the public housing wait list. In a state of nearly six million, surely an extra 35,000 homes isn't a hard ask; it's a relatively small number, but 35,000 too many.

For all the passion it evokes, A Social Service is far from polemic theatre;  it's hilarious and never sways from its story to make a point. If there's proof that comedy is just telling the truth, this is it. Gunn and Woods start with their own truths (as artists who want to make socially relevant art) and bring in the truths of people and communities they've met. The laughs are from self-recognition, and the people to worry about are those who don't laugh and can't see themselves somewhere on that stage.

This was on Aussietheatre.com.

18 August 2015

I WON A LUIS BADGE

Lessons With Luis
youtube.com.lessonswithluis

I've wanted a Luis badge for a LONG time, since the first time I saw Lessons With Luis.

I asked for one, but Luis doesn't pander to media requests and the only way I was going to get one was by winning one.

And I did!

Look what arrived in my mail today.





Not only is there a badge, of a happy meerkat with a screwdriver fixing his unicycle, but there's a bonus badge that says "RaD!" (cos I am), a picture of a panther, cat stickers and a signed photo of Luis! #BestDayEver

If you want to win a Luis badge and be as RaD as me, keep an eye on Luis's Facebook page.

I tried to take a photo of my cat Molly with the badge, but cats don't like having their photos taken with meerkats.





13 August 2015

The Container Festival: Bedtime Stories for Girls, Blessed and The Wiggle

The Container Festival
MUST
31 July to 15 August
Monash University, Clayton Campus

Guest blogger Chris Edwards

The Container Festival

 I’ve seen some damn good theatre lately.

MUST’s Container Festival been in full swing for just over a week and I’ve been spending a lot of time in tiny performance spaces forgetting about the cold thanks to the excellent art in front of me. So much time, in fact, that finding the time to write up my thoughts on these shows has been difficult, to say the least.

But, without further ado, here are some of the best shows that I’ve been lucky enough to get to, and with two nights of performances left, do try and get out to Clayton to see what all of the artists have on offer.

Bedtime Stories for Girls
By Genevieve Atkins
Directed by Jessica McLaughlin Cafferty

Possibly my favourite show of the festival, this is a shockingly honest and brutal deconstruction of the hierarchies and cruelties of young female relationships – and it’s also terrifyingly hilarious. The writing is the hero here, as Atkins’s biting wit and sharp satire brings to mind Amy Schumer or a David Mamet who’s more-feminist and less-douchebag, and sustains what might have just been a sketch-length concept to half an hour without showing any signs of strain.

Bedtime Stories for Girls

The direction and performances are just as striking, with Imogen Walsh and Hayley Foster particularly standing out as the bitchiest of the four girls, though all four (including Aislinn Murray and Emily Stokes) have excellent chemistry and comic timing. This is an angry shout of a play, viciously attacking the way in which this society teaches young women to fear their own bodies and hate each other. Go see it, and definitely watch out for whatever this team makes next.

Blessed
A play reading
By Fleur Kilpatrick
Directed by Danny Delahunty

If you’ve read my previous post then you’ve already heard me wax rhapsodic about Fleur Kilpatrick’s writing, so I’ll try to keep this brief:  I loved it. In a pared back reading, with just performers Olivia Monticcuolo and Kevin Kiernan-Molloy onstage, the beauty of Kilpatrick’s words shone through. The poetry of her dialogue, the simplicity and skill of the performers, and her ability to hone in on the specificity of a character through how comfortable they are or aren’t with their own poetry, make the script a pleasure to experience.

Plus there’s something particularly impressive in the fact that Kilpatrick has written a play that is both about religion and full of a potent rage, but not one that’s directed at that religion. To say anymore would be to delve into spoiler territory, but suffice it to say that this rage is more directed at a society in which the gap between the rich and the poor keeps growing bigger and bigger and nobody seems to care anymore. I will definitely be seeing whatever full production this text receives at the beginning of next year.

The Wiggle: A One Man Tribute to the Best Band of the Nineties
Created and performed by Jordan Broadway



This show is just pure fun. Jordan Broadway embodies everyone’s favourite group of colour-coded children’s entertainers in a 25-minute nostalgia-based contact high. I sat in an audience of 40-plus adults who all sang and danced along as Broadway’s crystal clear voice perfectly covered such classics as "Hot Potato" and "Big Red Car". 

If you don't have a particular connection to The Wiggles, then this may not be the show for you, but if you do, prepare to feel like a little kid again. I don't think I've purely enjoyed any other show from this year's festival quite as much as I did this one, and that's saying something.


I'll be posting more reviews over the next few days, but do make sure you make the trek out to Clayton tonight and tomorrow night for the last two nights of regular performances before Saturday's Closing Night Gala. There have been some truly great shows this year, and I'm looking forward to telling you about some more of them!

SM: I'm back in Melbourne and heading out on Friday.

Review: The Bleeding Tree

The Bleeding Tree
Griffin Theatre Company
10 August 2015
SBW Stables Theatre
to 5 September
griffintheatre.com.au

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

The Bleeding Tree won Angus Cerini the 2014 Griffin Award for New Australian Playwriting and its premiere production is running at Griffin's Stables Theatre in Sydney. This is theatre made with passion, guts and the conviction that change is not only possible but inevitable.

It opens as a woman (Paula Arundell) and her daughters (Shari Sebbens and Airlie Dodds) stand next to the body of the husband, father and monster they just killed. Their world (designed by Renee Mulder) is filthy, sand-encrusted, floral wall paper that looks like it's folded with knife-edge cuts and immediately feels like a forgotten Australian town in the middle of god-knows-where. As soon as they open their mouths, it's hard to remember to breath for the next hour.

This is shattering theatre that grips your heart in a vice that doesn't let go until the final syllable.

Cerini's writing is somewhere between genius and freak. It's damaged and violent and bloody and so fucking beautiful that it's like listening to music for the first time and wondering how noise can reach your soul like that.

Sounding like a ballad that recreates the idea of rhythm; it's almost begging to be a libretto. There's not a syllable out of place as each line defies the expected beat and creates one that catches the ear and refuses to be anything other than perfect.

And that's just the language.

Filled with images that are unforgettably gruesome but exquisitely just, it's a story that never gives away its next turn and could slip from hope to despair in a moment as the townsfolk discover that the man's been killed.

But astonishing writing is only the beginning of this production.

Arundel, Sebbens and Dodds bring character and history and a wholeness to the script that makes the women so real that it's hard to accept that they're fiction.

Dodds lets us see the rat-eaten, maggot-infested body through her eyes and brings the doubt of a young woman who tries to hope that her father acted out of love. Sebbens never doubts but is revolted and broken enough to be the one who could carry on the violence – her saying "hit her" nearly broke me. And Arundell cuts our hearts so many times that her breaking-point speech – about how everyone knew it was happening – speaks for every woman and child who has lived in fear and been beaten, raped and abused.

Directed by Griffin's Artistic Director Lee Lewis, The Bleeding Tree is so complete that it's hard to differentiate the creative contributions. Without preaching or lecturing, it – literally – rips open the bleeding guts of domestic violence and imagines a world where this is unacceptable.

It's unmissable.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

03 August 2015

The Container Festival: interview Fleur Kilpatrick

Blessed
A play reading
The Container Festival
MUST
3 August (tonight)
Monash University, Clayton Campus

Guest blogger Chris Edwards


Fleur Kilpatrick, serious playwright

Tonight, I'm not missing the reading of Fleur Kilpatrick’s Blessed. I’ve been looking forward to this since getting a sneak peek at the script earlier this year. Fleur’s show Braves was my favourite piece from the first Container Festival back in 2013. (SM: mine too.)  Her writing finds the poetic in the mundane and the specificity of character in the act of storytelling. I’m excited.


Last week Fleur generously took a few minutes out of her ever-so-slightly hectic schedule (she currently has Yours the Face  at Theatre Works as part of the Flight Festival, and is in rehearsal for two other shows, one as director and one as playwright, both of which will appear in this year’s Melbourne Fringe) to talk about Blessed and The Container Festival.

Chris: Where did Blessed come from? What was the impetus?

Fleur: The very first impetus was a song by a band called Elbow, and specifically just this line – Jesus is a Rochdale girl, forty-four CDs, got a house that you can smoke in – and just this image of this holy being with a house that you can smoke in was actually the jumping off point. But it very quickly became about poverty and about escape… and about the budget. Early last year the budget came out, the first Abbott government budget, and it just really struck me that not only is the gap between rich and poor getting bigger, no one gives a fuck anymore? They’re just like “Yeah that’s a thing, some people are really rich and some people are really poor, that’s Australia now!”

So when that happened that became a real focussing point for me for Blessed, this sense that there’s other people living a suburb over, and they know we’re here, but they don’t give a fuck. Yeah I think that was the starting point.

C: So then how did that, going from the budget to this tale of poverty and…

F: Sometimes you’re really lucky and the characters walk in and just start talking, and these two did. So I say it started from that song, it literally started in an exercise that myself and some playwrights were doing where we’d play a song and then have five minutes to write based on a thought that came to us. And I heard that line, imagined a couple where one of them is turning into an angel in this shitty house, and then I just wrote the first scene almost in its entirety, almost exactly as it now stands. So the fact that the characters came along so easily, and were so vibrant from the beginning really really helped and that’s rare. And I am so grateful to them for that in a way, because a lot of plays you have to fight for, but this one, it was just… honey. Onto the page. For a good eight hours on that first day, and I ended up with the first three scenes. Which are pretty much what they were when I wrote them that day. I now understand what they mean, in a way that I didn’t then… that felt like such a gift, just like ‘Here we’ll give you this one’.

C: So then, why The Container Festival?

F: I think the festival is wonderful. I think there’s something really beautiful about creating work in tiny spaces, something that’s very much about you and your audience and the relationship between you and your audience. And the Monash community means a lot to me, and has been incredibly supportive of me and my work, and so the idea of getting to share this new thing eight months before the rest of Melbourne will see it was really lovely. 

C: Do you still consider it a work in progress? Because it does have the forum after it as well-

F: The forum isn’t so much about me getting feedback, it’s a bit more about us talking about the process of what it’s like working on new writing as a director and writer team. Which makes me feel like an arrogant dickhead to be like “I’m not gonna get anything out of this” because I’m sure I will and I’m sure people will give me feedback that will mean a lot, but it’s not my main aim. My main aim is just to hear it with these voices and to let Danny [Delahunty; the director] play and to share it with this community in this forum that I really love.