23 February 2019

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Sonia Friedman Productions, Colin Callender and Harry Potter Theatrical Productions
17 February 2019 (industry show)
Princess Theatre
harrypottertheplay.com/au/


The Australian company of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Photo by Matt Murphy

"Just read the 'kin' books, A-M."

That was my introduction to the world of Harry Potter in 2001. A friend handed me the books because she was horrified that I hadn't read any of the four. Being in our 30s, we were allowed to swear. By the end of the first chapter, I was equally horrified that I'd been quick to dismiss a children's book about a kid wizard at a posh boarding school. I got the next three books on the day they were released. And haven't devoured any books so quickly since.

It's still overwhelming to try and understand the global cultural impact of JK Rowling's Harry Potter series: 500+million copies sold, translated into 80 languages, best-selling book series ever. That's before the films, theme parks and JK's awesomeness on Twitter.

It's so much that I'm pretty sure that no review needs to explain anything about Harry, Ron and Hermione's years at Hogwarts. Even muggles know about them.

I wasn't convinced about the 19-years-later epilogue to book seven because it took away the readers' imagined futures for these loved characters. And I already felt a bit sorry for Harry and Ginny's kids who had to live up to being the children of the too-famous Boy-Who-Lived and being named after their dad's dead hero parents. Which seems light compared to the burden given to Albus Severus, the middle child, who's being sent off to wizard school named after two wizards who saved his dad and changed the world not very long before he was born.

The Australian company of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Photo by Matt Murphy

It's here that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child begins. And I take back every thought I had about not publishing the epilogue.

This new theatre story opened in London in July 2016. It's since opened on Broadway and the Australian production is the third. All are breaking theatre sales records, have won/will win piles of awards and are likely to run for so long that slowly saving up to buy a ticket is an option.

This new story begins as soon as you arrive at the theatre. The Princess has been refurbished for this show. It's now pretty much Hogwarts with dragon gargoyles, hand-painted walls and bespoke carpet. It's bloody gorgeous. And there are new comfy seats and backstage work that future shows are going to be grateful for.

But we're here for the story and are back on Platform 9 3/4 with the Potters and the Granger-Weasley's sending their children off to Hogwarts. As first years Albus and Rose Granger-Weasley are no-choice-cos-cousins friends, there's a bit of apprehension that this is going to be the kids re-living their parents' adventures story.

It's not.

Rowling, script writer John Thorne and director John Tiffany know that fans who have grown up with these stories deserve new paths.

#KeepTheSecrets is all over social media, on badges given to the audience at at the end of each part, supported by JK and is as effective as any spell. I'm pretty sure the spell extends to the published script because I'd forgotten most of it since I read it.

I'm keeping the secrets.

I'm happy to have very long discussions in person though.

William McKenna and Sean Rees-Wemyss . Photo by Matt Murphy

There's so much unexpected joy in the on-stage twists and revelations – even the heartbreaking ones – that it'd be heartless to deny any fan those experiences. Even the program has spoiler alerts and warns readers when to stop reading.

It's not a secret that Albus (Sean Rees-Wemyss) befriends Scorpius Malfoy (William McKenna) and that the Sorting Hat makes a decision that will make people re-think their own house choices. Or that they muck about with time.

Fans will continue to debate whether it's canon. Most accept it's a story by JK, so it's now part of the world – even if it changes the consistency of a few million works of fan fiction. (Warning young cast members: you will be getting fan fiction written about you. It may be creepy.)

The script has moments of awkward exposition and favours the sentimental with an over-earnest belief in the power of love and friendship, but its tone is so like the books that minor flaws make no difference to the overall enjoyment of the story. They might stand out more if you don't know the world or appreciate that there are references and bonuses for fans in everything.

The new adventure brings in new characters but continues to explore the ongoing impact of Harry's traumatic childhood; he has some issues with being a dad. And it develops the characters of Ginny (Lucy Goleby) and Draco (Tom Wren) from love interest and enemy to adults who still spend way too much time dealing with Harry Potter (Gareth Reeves). Draco also has some daddy issues to deal with. Hermione (Paula Arundell) and Ron (Gyton Grantley) are, of course, also in the mix and it's no surprise that Hermione is a super success, that she and Ron are still in love, and that Ron is a pretty good dad.

Many other favourite Potter characters are welcomed back with squeals of love (or fear that is still love), but the story is led by Albus and Scorpius, whose trio is completed when they befriend a young witch called Delphi (Madeleine Jones) and set out to correct a wrong doing.

As in their own world, the new characters have to stand out amongst those who are already known, and one of the many delights of this production is how quickly Albus and Scorpius become as loved as the rest. Possibly because Albus is the child Harry deserves and that Scorpius is the child that Draco could have been had be been allowed to be enthusiastic and awkward – and been loved by his dad. And also because Rees-Wemyss and McKenna's bring complexity and questions to their performances.

The new characters have the freedom of being themselves, while the established ones have has 20-odd years of expectations from millions of fans weighing on them. Instead of trying to satisfy everyone, the cast (widely chosen from tv, funded theatre, indie theatre, music theatre and cabaret) seem to bring their own experiences of this world into their characters – even those who weren't born when the first books were released.

Some characterisations may be different from how readers have imagined them, but every one – from Harry to the unnamed Hogwarts students – reaches into the fandom and brings connection and understanding and a delightful mix up of expectations. All are wonderful, but keep an eye out for Debra Lawrance, Gillian Cosgriff and Soren Jensen.

The Australian company of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Photo by Matt Murphy

Regardless of the ongoing passionate discussions of canon and consistency, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was written as a theatre story and is told by theatre magic.

The design (Christine Jones) also begins in a train station where suit cases become train carriages but the most astonishing scenes are created by audience imaginations filling in the empty spaces. Some of the most emotionally significant scenes are created as simply as cast members moving a staircase.

There's never an attempt to hide the magic of being on stage. There's where's-your-nose sleight-of-hand magic alongside astounding black light work and misdirection. As an audience, we're able to imagine how the tricks work, except those that must be real magic because WOW!

There's so much WOW!
WOW! that never had to deal with budget constraints.
Heart-stopping, brain-bending, do-it-again WOW!, which is as much part of #KeepTheSecrets as the story.

I loved Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. 

As a fan, I want everyone else who loves this world to be able to see it.

But so many people will miss out on this experience because going to the theatre is expensive. It'd cost me a month's rent to take my niece and nephew. If I won the Friday Forty lottery, I'd have to make an impossible choice as to who gets to see it. I'm not denying the costs of creating such a show and keeping it running but there must be ways to welcome more people into the theatre.

Sponsors, government, producers, how can this be an experience that welcomes everyone?

As critics have no bias,  I knitted a Gryffindor-Slytherin-Hufflepuff-Ravenclaw scarf to wear to the show.

22 February 2019

Video: Feminist Fuckboi

Fringe Wives Club
Feminist Fuckboi


Fringe Wives Club. Tessa Waters, Victoria Falconer-Pritchard, Rowena Hutson


The Fringe Wives are at the Adelaide Fringe and will be back in Melbourne for MICF.

Enjoy.


12 February 2019

GIVEAWAY: Jersey Boys

Jersey Boys
Dodger Theatricals, Rodney Rigby and TEG-Dainty
Regent Theatre
from 23 February
jerseyboys.com.au

Cameron MacDonald, Bernard Angel, Thomas McGuane, Glaston Toft. Photo by Brian Geach

The multi-award winning musical Jersey Boys is based on the career of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons.

To win a double pass for the show on
Thursday 28 February at 7 pm

Email with I WANT TO GO TO JERSEY BOYS in the subject.

We will pick a winner at random.

Entries close at midnight on Thursday 21 February (or very early morning on Friday 22).

11 February 2019

WORKSHOP: How to get media attention during MICF

How to get media attention during MICF 
Anne-Marie Peard and The Butterfly Club
Wednesday 20 February
The Butterfly Club
Book here



How DO you get media attention during a festival?

Star-ratings aren't the only way to let people know your show is awesome.

I'm running an interactive workshop in conjunction with The Butterfly Club about how independent shows can work with media  – especially independent media – during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

This three-hour workshop will include:

  • Discussing your experiences with media – good, bad and meh. 
  • What you want from media – is it really just a review? 
  • Types of media in Melbourne and how the MICF publicity system works. 
  • Identifying the media who can help your show. 
  • Identifying what type of media coverage you want. 
  • How to successfully contact and work with media. 
  • How to make coverage benefit your show.

Discussions will range from getting masthead coverage to using social media and there will be plenty of time for questions.

Tickets are $50 each.
Book at www.eventfinda.com.au

09 February 2019

Review: Barbara and the Camp Dogs

Barbara and the Camp Dogs
Malthouse presents a Belvoir production
9 February 2010
Merlyn Theatre
to 3 March
malthousetheatre.com.au/


Elaine Crombie and Ursula Yovic. Photo by Brett Boardman

The back wall of the theatre is a huge board with "The Camp Dogs" chalked over partially rubbed-out memories of bands past. The floor is covered with the kind of carpet only found in pub band rooms and old hotels; its waves of bright orange could look like song lines after a few beers. Singers Barbara and Rene are older than their three-piece band and are still rocking their looks from the 80s. Welcome to Barbara and the Camp Dogs. Prepare to dance. Or cry.

Barbara (Ursula Yovich) and her cousin Rene (Elaine Crombie) were brought up by the same mum in Katherine in the Northern Territory. They're older than they want to think they are, frustrate the hell out of each other, and live in Sydney doing whatever gigs they can. Pub sessions don't pay the rent, neither does busking. Barbara doesn't approve of Rene doing girl-band covers at the casino and is still angry that an Aboriginal woman singing is considered "world music",  but is happy to be dodgy when they really need money. When their mum's in hospital in Darwin, Rene convinces Barbara that it's time to go back home.

Crossing the red desert from southern city to the top-end is a well-used Aussie story trope; crossing our continent is impossible to forget. Watching from a plane, Barbara knows that her unwanted journey home is going to be longer and more personal and painful than she fears.

The comfort and easy early laughs of the pub band room fade in the top-end heat where the wound that Barbara tries to hide begins to bleed. Abandonment and being treated like you don't matter doesn't heal with a Band Aid and some Dettol. And she knows it's far more than just her soul that's breaking as cops, lonely roads and cheap wine casks remind her that she lives in a country founded on theft.

Leticia Caceres's direction lets the story about Barbara and Rene move from one about watching strangers to one that it's easy to see your own life in, even if your life is so distant from Barbara and Rene's that you don't know anyone like them.

The use of song – there's a whole other rave review about the music and Yovich and Crombie's singing) – can seem like a break in the action, but music and song make us feel before we realise it. The music (Yovich, Alana Valentine, who co-wrote the script with Yovich, and Adm Ventoura) creates the emotion that starts with the whooping fun of the pub and moves deep into our shared stories, which hurt as much as they celebrate.

Stephen Curtis's design is every inner-city pub we've drunk in while the script takes us to places inner-city pub drinkers rarely visit. And, as always, Chloe Greaves's costumes let us know so much about the characters who are stuck in a time when perhaps they felt best about themselves.

Barbara and the Camp Dogs is urgent and vital theatre. It's about the deep personal loss that screams for family and belonging, and about understanding that our contemporary Australian stories all begin with that theft and the intergenerational trauma that too many people think is in the past.

08 February 2019

MIDSUMMA: Michael and the Mascs

MIDSUMMA
Michael and The Mascs: My Vanity Project
Michael Lindner and The Mascs
6 February 2019
Gasworks Arts Park
to 9 February
midsumma.org.au

Michael Lindner

It's not a review rather than a bells-on recommendation for a show that finishes on Saturday.

Michael Linder has been working in musicals and cabaret all over the place since the early 90s, but he's never done a gig.

So it's time to grab a four-piece masc band and fix that. It's also time to sing the songs that he grew up listening to – 1950s and 60s women – and to celebrate the 1970s and 80s kid who pretended to be Ann Margret and Sleeping Beauty, and has never stopped loving Cyndi Lauper.

It's awesome to see artists settle into their true voices and know that making the art that feels right for you is always going to reach the hearts of your audiences.

PS. If you're a Grace of My Heart fan, you have to go.

Crowdfunding: MICF Safety House Guide

Safety House Guide
Melbourne International Comedy Festival




With about 600 shows registered for the 2019 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, it can be difficult to find the shows that speak to you. And it's not always about being the kind of comedy you like; it's about seeing the kind of comedy that makes you feel safe, seen and heard.

The FREE Safety House Guide is independently-published to help people find shows they will love, and for shows to reach the audiences that will love them. It was a very welcome addition to to 2018 festival, is about to hit the streets in Adelaide for the Fringe, and needs our help to be part of this year's comedy festival.

Its creator is Lisa-Skye Goodes. She has performed at and created many shows for festivals and knows how it can be uncomfortable and humiliating to go to a show where you feel like the punchline of a joke.

She says, "Live performance should be for everyone. The Safety House Guide empowers audiences to find the right shows for them, and offers performers the chance to find the right audiences for their material... The Safety House Guide is for acts and audiences that truly believe in inclusivity.

You can help by donating to at the Pozible campaign.  There are some terrific rewards, including tickets to shows.

07 February 2019

MIDSUMMA: Become The One

MIDSUMMA
Become The One
Lab Kelpie and Gasworks Arts Park
1 February 2019
Gasworks Arts Park
to 9 February 2019

Chris Asimos, Henry Strand. Photo by Jodie Hutchinson

Lab Kelpie produce new Australian writing. It's a challenge to get a funded company to risk new Australian work, so thank the theatre gods for independent companies like this who continue to create the kind of great writing that funded companies will produce in the future – after the risks have been taken.

Their new work for Midsumma is Become The One. It's the first full-length script from Lab Kelpie co-founder Adam Fawcett, which was developed after it won the 2018 Midsumma Playtime Staged Readings Event. There are many issues this play explores, but Fawcett says that so much of it is being the play he wishes he'd seen as a teenager.

Noah (Henry Strand) cleans houses. His agency has sent him to the swanky apartment of a well-known AFL player, Tom (Chris Asimos), who's up for up for the Brownlow.  Noah isn't impressed by fame and celebrity, is younger than Tom, and wears the pink and sparklie clothes that Tom wouldn't dare even look at. The urst is quickly broken and, against the odds, their relationship looks like it might last beyond the first weeks.

But Tom is a public figure and even when he tries to shut it out, footy is his life. His apartment is private but the design (by the team) is all lush green turf; he can't not be a part of this game that gives him so much and that he loves.

In a perfect world, we wouldn't need works about coming out because it's not an issue. In a perfect world, professional sportsmen* wouldn't need to deny and hide any hint of sexuality that isn't manly hetero with a huge cock and muscles from eating nothing but protein.

But in our world, AFL players aren't gay. Yeah. Sure. Noah understands why Tom keeps their relationship a secret. He doesn't like it – it's pretty shitty being a secret –, but he knows that he and Tom live in different worlds and that Tom's would collapse if Noah were part of it.

Or maybe it wouldn't. It only takes one man to break the silence.

Director Lyall Brooks, the other co-founder of the company, and the cast let the relationship and love feel genuine and natural while always acknowledging that it will never be what either wants it to be. What price are they willing to pay for this level of happiness?

The AFL player story is immediately familiar to Melbourne – even if you don't follow AFL, it's hard not to know a bit about it and the passion of the fandom – but its themes and ideas reach way beyond the specifics of our city. Being the first – the one – isn't a choice that anyone makes easily.

Become The One only runs for a week and finishes on the weekend. It's a work that I look forward to seeing again because we need more writing like this from companies like this. And as it is the play Fawcett wishes he saw when he was a teenager, there will be someone who sees it and remembers it when they deal with the complexities of being yourself in a world doesn't seem to want you.

*The women in sport are more ok with this.

05 February 2019

MIDSUMMA: Cock

MIDSUMMA
Cock

15 Minutes from Anywhere
30 January 2019
fortyfivedownstairs
to 10 February
fortyfivedownstairs.com



UK playwright and tv writer Mike Bartlett wrote this play in 2009 and it's been on stages ever since. Its content about gender and sexuality already felt a bit dated at the time but it's not what Cock is about.

John (Matthew Connell) is the only named character. He's in his early 20s and living with his sorta-serious boyfriend (Shaun Goss). On what seems like a regular break, he meets and shags a woman (Marissa O'Reilly) and they like each other. The boyfriend is upset, more so because she's a woman. The boyfriend's dad (Scott Gooding) is also confused and is an active fighter in his son's corner.

Designer Emily Collett uses the pillars in fortyfivedownstairs to create an intimate in-the-round space. This creates the feeling of a boxing ring – especially on a far-too-hot summer night – and the instinct to cheer for a winner. And it forces the audience to look at each other as much as the action. It's much easier to pick a side when you can get your cues from the rest of the room and know who to cheer for.

What makes the script continue to be fascinating – even when the characters get a bit ranty – is that there isn't a hero to cheer for. As John can't make a decision, neither can the audience. Seeing John with both lovers lets us see him lie and do his best to protect everyone, mostly himself. In his mind, he has to make a choice and, as much as he wants someone to make it for him, no one gives him that easy way out.

Watching each relationship spa, there are so many more questions asked than the characters ask themselves. Some answers are obvious from the outside; who doesn't think they know the solution to other peoples' relationships?  If it were rom-com destined love, it'd be a cinch to choose. But the cast make sure that their characters don't see the bigger picture; they don't romanticise them or let them see beyond their own wants and needs.

While the characters are almost unsympathetic, director Beng Oh (co-founder of indie company 15 Minutes from Anywhere) keeps the action so close to each character's unknown emotional truth that, even if we don't easily like them, it's easy to find empathy and sympathy for them. And, as the tension builds, it becomes just as emotionally difficult to decide what we want them to do.

Or, of course you want Cock for Midsumma!


The MTC production from 2014.

31 January 2019

MIDSUMMA: The Butch Monologues

MIDSUMMA
The Butch Monologues
Theatre Works and Stage Mom
28 January 2019
Theatre Works
to 3 February
theatreworks.org.au

Melbourne cast of The Butch Monologues

I'm still getting my heart around The Butch Monologues.

Butches, masculine women, transmen and gender rebels tell the collected stories of others who identify as butch. There are about 50 short stories in each performance. They have been collected since 2013 by director Julie McNamara (Mac) and writer Laura Bridgeman (Doc), and are from the UK, Europe, USA and Caribbean. Some from Australia will be added after their visits to Melbourne and to Sydney.

They are stories we don't see on our stages, on our tvs, in our books. And if we do, they are peeping in from the edges of the story and rarely seen saving the day or are being fought over for love.

Each city it comes to has a new cast and no one tells their own story. Melbourne sees Fiona Jones, Anne Harris (Dan), Quinn Eades, Jax Jacki Brown and Jacques De Vere, along with Mac and Doc. And there's nothing hotter than people being their authentic selves.

I've said the word "butch" more in the last few days than I've ever said it because it used to be such an insult. In the late 1980s, "butch" was so insulting that butch women were called "trucks" in the club I went to every Sunday night – wearing short shirts, brogues and long hair. Butch women were othered within a community that claimed to be inclusive. We were little shits.

Bridgeman – who has set a new standard for well-dressed even by Melbourne standards – was also around in the 1980s and says in her introduction to the script that she was scared it was going to be "a collection of rage".

Many stories do come from rage, anger and shame, but they are full of humour and a lot of love, especially as they witness how gender expression continues to change – and stay the same.

And the more stories that are told, the more they are not stories of otherness. Ashamed to wear the clothes you love in public? Stayed in a relationship for every wrong reason? Been embarrassed at the gym? Kept secrets from your family? Denied yourself love because you're not meant to like that type of person? One of the many frustrations of being on the edges looking in is knowing that your stories are pretty much the same as those about the people dancing in the centre.

The stories in The Butch Monologues are real, but they're not told verbatim. While their natural voices are kept, the writing is structured and styled to be as poetic as it is natural. Bridgeman's writing and McNamara's direction ensure that the heart of each story is heard, sometimes most loudly in the silent subtext. And while each new show includes different stories, they are ordered and chosen to tell a much bigger story about identity and ultimately inclusiveness.

This ongoing process of collecting experiences and five people reading stories on a stage creates community among people who may never have known they were all together. I hope it has a chance to come back to Melbourne and be seen more widely.

And I will never look at the IKEA logo without thinking of fisting again.