16 September 2016

Review: Pressure Down

Pressure Down
Hayley Butcher
13 September 2016
The Butterfly Club
to 18 September

Hayley Butcher in Pressure Down

My review is on The Age/SMH.

14 September 2016

Melbourne Fringe 2016

Melbourne Fringe 2016
15 September – 2 October

Andi Snelling in Deja Vu

After reviewing at the last ten Melbourne Fringes, I'm having a break from blog reviews this year. My review brain was oozing out of my ears.

I'm still seeing lots of shows, will have some reviews in The Age and will be tweeting, hopefully in perfect quoteables.

Twitter #melbfringe is such a fun hashtag to hang out at. You get immediate responses to shows, can find out about last-minute ticket offers, and get to join conversations with other fringe-mad people about art, the universe and the best cheap eats near every venue.

I've met some of the absolute coolest people at #melbfringe, who I now know IRL.

And, there are super-cool writers seeing shows for AussieTheatre.com.

I am trying to answer every email; if I missed yours, send it again.

However it is impossible to see every show. It's impossible to see all the shows I really want to see. Then there are the shows that I didn't know I wanted to see until I hear how great they are...

08 September 2016

Review: Imagined Touch

Imagined Touch
Jodee Mundy Collaborations and Arts House
7 Septemebr 2016
Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall
to 11 September

Imagined Touch. Photo by Bryony Jackson

Imagined Touch is "a deafblind live art experience" at Arts House in North Melbourne. Deafblind artists Heather Lawson and Michelle Stevens have been developing this remarkable piece for four years with director Jodee Mundy – everyone in Mundy’s family is Deaf, except for her, so Auslan is her first language.

In 2013, Lawson (who was born Deaf and lost her sight) and Stevens (who was born Blind and lost her hearing) said, “We need to make a theatre show that tells the truth about being Deafblind. We want to share our humour, grief and our profound isolation, to highlight the importance of human touch and tactile communication for Deafblind people”.

The work begins with the two talking with each other and telling the audience, sometimes through interpreters, how they met. As an audience – who can mostly see and hear, or see or hear – it's easy to imagine that they can "feel" our presence and support. And our curiosity. And perhaps a touch of condescending sympathy.

If you have a ticket for the show, maybe read the rest later because it is live art, which means that it doesn't exist without the audience's willing active participation.

We have an impression of the Deafblind, so it's time to feel it. We're given goggles that let us see light, some colour and shadow (and, in my case, the outline of the glasses that I kept on!) and headphones that play music and sound (by Tim Humphrey and Madeleine Flynn) that blocks out how hearing helps us move and position ourselves.

Once they were on, I reached for the hand of the friend I was next to – who was reaching for mine. We've been in countless blacked-out theatres, but this was immediately a new sensation. It was unexpectedly scary, especially as we were not sure what was happening around us. Then she squeezed my hand and could feel her being led away. I was no longer a “we”.

Then a stranger's hand took mine.

I had immediate and complete trust in that hand. I still don't know who it was. Or who any of the hands and arms and bodies I felt were, but one woman drew a smiley face on my hand and I'm sure we both laughed loudly because it was finally something we could understand.

In the third and final part of the show, Heather and Michelle perform. We still may not have any idea of their felt experience – our deafblind experience was a game where it was easy to trust every hand and touch – but we want to know more.

And both artists ensure that our expectations and assumptions are, challenged, dismissed and laughed at.

Imagined Touch – what a heartbreaking title – is shaped into a piece that defies expectations and genuinely tests, disarms and surprises its audience. It shares the lived experience of artists who don’t understand how their audiences experience their work, as their audiences don’t understand how they experience an audience. And, for a while, none of this mattered.

The was on AussieTheatre.com.

07 September 2016

Review: Lilith, The Jungle Girl

Lilith: The Jungle Girl
Neon Next and Sisters Grimm
3 September 2016
The Lawler
to 1 October

Candy Bowers, Genevieve Giuffre in Lilith: The Jungle Girl. Photo by Jeff Busby

My review is in The Age/SMH.

Ash Flanders in Lilith: The Jungle Girl. Photo by Jeff Busby

Review: We Will Rock You

We Will Rock You
John Frost in association with Queen Theatrical Productions, Phil McINtyre Enternainment and Tribeca Theatrical Productions
1 September 2016
Regent Theatre
to 29 October

Brian Mannix in We Will Rock You
My review is in The Age/SMH.

29 July 2016

Review: Conviction

The Zoey Louise Moonbeam Dawson Shakespeare Company
Darebin Arts Speakeasy
24 July 2016
Northcote Town Hall
to 6 August

Ruby Hughes, Caroline Lee, Troy Reid. Conviction. Photo by Pia Johnson

There's a point in self indulgence that's so personal that is becomes universal.

Writer (often director) Zoey Dawson and director (often writer) Declan Greene (The Unspoken Word is "Joe"are back together for Conviction.

Dawson said in her writer's notes:

"When I went to VCA to do my Masters, I was genuinely ready to embrace the real play and stop writing plays about myself. Partly out of concern for my financial future, partly because I thought I was doing theatre "wrong". But mainly because every time I wrote a play about myself, it really seemed to piss people off."

Fortunately, she didn't listen to herself. And has hopefully stopped listening to the pissed-off voices because there are a lot of voices who want to hear her voice – even when it's raw and indulgent, and especially when she's mouthy about women being pushed into the background.

Ruby Hughes. Conviction. Photo by Pia Johnson

Dawson's work is personal and it's the connection to the writer that's the pumping heart of her work. I remember seeing I know there's a lot of noise outside but you have to close your eyes in 2011 with another no-where-near-20-something friend, and we spent the rest of the night talking about how much the show made us remember being in our 20s and having a lot of sex.

Conviction was mostly funded by a Pozible campaign with donations – mostly reflections of how much theatre makers earn – from some of those not-pissed-off voices.

Funded by Melbourne's indie theatre community, Conviction's meta is meta.

Which means...

If you know what it means, I don't need to explain it. If you don't know what it means, it doesn't matter; it's still hilarious – except when it's confronting or scary. If you miss the theatre in-jokes or dark feminist satire, there are plenty of back-up laughs.

In an attempt to not write about herself, Dawson writes an Aussie settler drama-mystery with Caroline Lee, Dushan Phillips and Troy Reid and Ruby Hughes, who's a young woman who thinks she can write a story about herself as a young woman.

It doesn't work: the not writing about herself or the settler drama-mystery. Neither does the contemporary drama or the dystopian future horror. Is there any time when young women write about themselves?

Conviction. Photo by Pia Johnson

As genres smash into each other like some fringe theatre nightmare – made more real by the design by Romanie Harper (design) and Amelia Lever-Davidson (lighting) that reveals its own jokes and surprises – , we get closer to Dawson. Or maybe to Lee, Hughes, Phillips and Reid. We know she's over being expected to write "real" theatre, and also that she has a Gorman top that she never wears and that she once only slept with men with girlfriends.

And as it spirals into being more about Dawson, Conviction gets closer to its audience. Somewhere in her confessions there must be something everyone has done or felt, even if it's just having an endless inner-voice that we wish would shut up.

Greene's direction lets the inner voices run wild, until he yanks them back. The tone-perfect control in the chaos shapes the work into something that reflects the community and city that it made in and promises to reach beyond.

Sounds like real theatre.

25 July 2016

Review: Cain And Abel

Cain and Abel
The Rabble and The Substation
21 July 2016
The Substation
to 30 July

Cain and Abel. The Rabble. Photo by David Paterson

The Rabble don't make easy theatre, but it's an easy choice to see them.

Always starting with a well-known text – Orlando, Frankenstein, The Story of O,  Room of Regret (The Picture of Dorian Grey) – they deconstruct, bring the subtext to the front, and rework the text until it's distilled into something that's somewhat unrecognisable but holds the essence of the work. You don't need to know a text to understand a Rabble work, but when you do, you will have to read it again.

This story is Cain and Abel's; their chosen text is the Christian Bible. Cain was the firstborn of Adam and Eve and killed his brother Abel because God preferred Abel's gifts. There's a lot to unpack in those few verses. This is the text that explains and tries to justify so much of the hatred and violence that we're arguing about everyday on Facebook.

With Dana Miltins, Cain, and Mary Helen Sassman, Abel, they begin by re-imagining it as two sisters and placing the story deep within the implied and actual violence that women experience.

It far from easy to watch, but it's impossible to look away because the astonishing can occur at any time; blink and you could miss Abel putting glitter on her steak-covered eye.

With Kate Davis's design of white, red and silver, there are punching bags the size, weight and feel of humans. The sound when they are beaten is heavy enough to feel. And they bleed. There's a lot of blood. From the watery runny to the thick and clotted that hides its truth in the red.

The red and white belong together and are made more insidious with silver glitter. It's the stuff worn by drag queens and teenagers to make them shine, and it floats from above as a god comes back into the story and director and lighting designer Emma Valente makes it sparkle and change like it's a living swarm, and dares us to gasp at its beauty as it falls on the clots and floods of red.

Cain and Abel. The Rabble. Photo by David Paterson

Sassman and Miltins are remarkable. Working with Valente and Davis for many years, they have created a style of performance that encompasses everything in and around the text, but is internalised and cut back until it's a moment of truth; a moment that's felt as much as it's seen. It's like waking up from a dream that lasted seconds but felt like hours. They confront us and dare us to look away or to laugh at the horrific and to cheer – and maybe forgive – the side we're meant to despise.

Cain and Abel was first seen at Belvoir in Sydney and this second season has been developed at The Substation in Melbourne. The opportunity to develop original works and get them beyond a first season is crucial. Creators need multiple seasons and audiences to change and perfect work. Too much great work gets lost with single seasons and too many astonishing shows, like this, never have the chance to be shared.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

24 July 2016

Review: Retrofuturismus New World

Retrofuturismus New World
Anni and Maude Davey
8 July 2016
to 31 July

Teresa Blake. Photo by Ponch Hawkes
There’s a gap between nostalgia and embracing retro fashions, as there’s a chasm between the future world we want and the one we’re likely to have. This space in between is where Retrofuturismus New World create, dream and play; where they fill the emptiness with feminist performance art that questions itself and dares its audience to enjoy themselves even when they know that every thought and act is political.

Maude and Anni Davey host in gold jumpsuits with retro-future shoulder pads (they will be back), comfy rubber heels and hair buns that show man-buns how to bun. They don’t hide their 50-somethingness and don’t concede to any ideas that women in their 50s shouldn’t be astronauts or cockroaches, or that burlesque, cabaret or circus should adhere to dated ideas and expectations.

They are joined by Anna Lumb, who always brings the unexpected with hoops; Gabi Barton, who leaves everyone wanting to dye their ‘unsightly’ body hair bright yellow; and Teresa Blake, who remembers the phrase “shit a brick”, makes a reverse strip even more questioning, and knows that being naked isn’t always about sex or enticement.

Each bring themselves to their art and love that their work is so much the better by always asking why. They are joined by a guest artist each week, with Kura Puru (13–17 July), Yana Alana (20-24 July) and The Huxleys (27-31) July. But week one was Azaria Universe.

Azaria Universe. Photo by Ponch Hawkes

Universe performed on a single trapeze in frilly retro bikini and elastic bands that cut into her bare body every few centimetres. It must hurt, it exacerbates the fat on her strong and fit body and she smiles because she has to; why would a woman do that to themselves? Maybe ask the women in slimming underwear that doesn’t let them eat, or breathe, and shoes that they take off as soon as they sit down.

Retrofuturismus New World is a space that loves the future image of the past in the likes of Barabella but re-invents the way women are treated in the film. Theirs is a future that’s created by the best of now and one that re-invents any ideas that women are hysterical creatures that should never dare to be themselves.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

16 June 2016


Ash Flanders: Playing to Win
15 June 2016
Chapel off Chapel
to 19 June

Ash Flanders

It's nearly 10 years since I wrote one of my first reviews about a Fringe show with a young graduate called Ash Flanders.

And look where we are now!

My review is on The Age/SMH.

10 June 2016

Review: Il Signor Bruschino

Il Signor Bruschino
Lyric Opera
9 June 2016
Chapel off Chapel
to 12 June

Il Signor Bruschino. Lyric Opera. Photo by Kris Washusen

Like many independent Melbourne companies, Lyric Opera consistently punch above their weight to produce work that deserves the financial support and the audiences that assume that great opera needs huge stages and velvet-covered seats. Their current production of Il Signor Bruschino, Rossini's 1813 operatic farce, is an absolute delight and proves that great opera can be made with little more than terrific singers, great musicians, and creatives who treat the score and text like it's new.

Set in an Italian fashion house, Gaudenzio (Matthew Thomas) has arranged for his daughter Sofia (Rebecca Rashleigh) to marry Bruschino (Cameron Sibly). But she's in love with Florville (Shanul Sharma), the son of Gaudenzio's rival, and Bruschino's father (Bruce Raggat) has had his drunkard son locked in a cafe owned by the easily-bribed Filiberto (Raphael Wong). As Gaudenzio's assistant, Mariana (Genevive Dickson) supports the lovers and local copper (Bernie Leon) unwittingly helps, Florville impersonates Bruschino and shenanigan's ensue.

With the audience on three sides of the stage, the action begins in the overture and Lucy Wilkins's strikingly gorgeous costumes set the tone and define every character before anyone sings. Using bold colours for each character, she draws on Italian couture from the 1940s through to the 1980s to create a look that's timelessly contemporary and outrageously fun.

Director Lara Kerestes (mentored by Suzanne Chaundy) makes excellent use of the open and intimate space to ensure that story drives the action, while the performers and conductor (Pat Miller) ensure that the music drives the characters and the emotion. As the audience are so close to the performers, individual parts and lyrics – it's sung in English – can be heard, and as they move around the stage, perspectives change. This lets the audiences see and hear individual parts and deconstruct how the complex sound of an opera is created.

At under 90 minutes, Il Signor Bruschino is a wonderful introduction to opera. Being beautifully sung and joyfully performed, it's also a welcome reminder that opera doesn't need to feel dated or stuck in the past.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.au.