16 June 2016

CABARET FESTIVAL: Playing to Win

MELBOURNE CABARET FESTIVAL
Ash Flanders: Playing to Win
15 June 2016
Chapel off Chapel
to 19 June
melbournecabaret.com

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
http://www.lyricopera.com.au

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.



27 May 2016

Review: Resident Alien

Resident Alien
Cameron Lukey presents
26 May 2016
fortyfivedownstairs
to 12 June
fortyfivedownstairs.com

Paul Capsis. Photo by Sarah Walker

My review is in The Age/SMH.

Review: Singin' in the rain

Singin' in the rain
Lunchbox Theatrical Productions,avid Atkins Enterprises, Michael Cssell Group, Dainty Group
14 May 2016
Her Majesty's Theatre
to 2 July
singin.com.au

Singin' in the Rain. Photo by Jeff Busby

The success of Singing in the Rain' is its mix of homage, iconic film moment re-creation – it really rains! – and a sprinkle of surprising original moments.

Jonathan Church's UK production moved from The Chichester Festival Theatre to the West End in 2012 and was a hit. Church is also the new Artistic Director of the Sydney Theatre Company and – even though this is a re-mount – it's a good opportunity to see what might be in store for Sydney.

It's a theatre musical based on the 1952 Hollywood musical film set in Hollywood in the 1920s when talkies are introduced. Silent stars Don Lockwood (Adam Garcia) and Lina Lamont (Erika Heynatz) are in trouble because Lina doesn't sound as smooth as she looks, so Lockwood and his best friend Cosmo (Jack Chambers) scheme to dub her voice with that of Lockwood's new love Kathy (Gretel Scarlett).

It has been taken off the screen and made to feel like it belongs on a stage. Andrew Wright's choreography winks at the 1920s, embraces the ensemble identity of screen musicals from the 40s and 50s, but feels new; Simon Higlett's design has fun with the 1920s while showing how the same styles could be worn today; the newly-filmed screen scenes feel like being in the cinema in the 1920s; and the rain is so spectacular that the front rows are supplied with plastic ponchos.

The ensemble are a consistent treat and Scarlett, Heynatz and Chambers bring enough joy to their characters to let them love being who they are. They are rarely matched by Garcia, who shows little more than the Lockwood's superficiality.

There's plenty to love about this expensive production. Resources create spectacle, but it doesn't bring a contemporary or even a fresh vision to the story.

The old men slap women's bottoms and expect – and get – a laugh, the women are cast based on height and size, the men are cast based on height and size, the puddles left by the rain are deeper than the characters; and the inevitable happy ending is based on a woman being a bitch. For everything that's wonderful about it, it still feels as dated and dull as its pie-in-the-face gag.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.au.

22 May 2016

Review: After the Flood by Mikelangelo & the BSG

After the Flood
Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen
7 May 2016
mikelangelo.net.au

Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen. Photo by  Tim Chmielewski  


Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen may have formed in Canberra 15 years ago, but their histories and song lines reach back in time and across continents.

After the Flood is their fourth album. Influenced by a residency in Cooma with Big hART, they tell their stories about coming to Australia from Europe in the 1950s, living in Cooma and working on the Snowy Mountains Scheme.

Today, Cooma is a stop before the snow fields, but there’s still the avenue of 27 flags representing the nationalities of the people who worked on the scheme. And it’s not difficult to imagine a town of 24-hour music and dance that balanced the back-breaking, life-risking work of tunneling through the mountains and bringing power to a nation. And I know why the best road-trip pie I’ve had was in Cooma.

The gentlemen, who share lead vocals on this album, find the hearts and souls of the migrants and refugees who made a home in mountains so far from where they were born. And they bring the music that travelled with them to find a new space for their extraordinary blend of polka, waltz, ballad, and rock and roll that always has room for an accordion or musical saw.

In Melbourne, the album launched in the lavish gold time-warp of the Thornbury Theatre; a venue that could have been built and decorated by the gentlemen in another time line.

Always in character, but never distanced from their audience, their mix of cabaret and theatre is a genre that’s owned and defined by this group.

While After the Flood brings a time and place to visceral life, the tour has a second act with the favourite songs that won the lust and wonder of their dedicated fans and unleashes the unpredictable passion of the magnificent Mikelangelo.

17 May 2016

Review & PS: Straight White Men

TheStraight White Men
MTC
12 May 2016
Fairfax Studio
to 18 June
mtc.com.au

Straight White Men. John Gaden and Hamish Michael. Photo by Jeff Busby

There's a PS after the clip.

"What would you be willing to give up to make a difference in the world?"

Young Jean Lee wrote Straight White Men because a three-act naturalistic play about straight white men was the last thing the Korean-American, New York–based, avant-garde playwright and theatre maker wanted to write.

The result is an extraordinary exploration of privilege that starts with four men who are so self aware of their privilege that they question their own self awareness of their privilege.

The "last show" motivation has been a relative constant in Lee's work. In 2012, the Melbourne Festival brought us her We're All Going to Die, in which the non-singer, inexperienced performer fronted a band in a cabaret show about personal loss and death. She had the audience clapping along in a crying and smiling mess as we sang "We're all gonna die". Last year's festival screened a filmed performance of her work The Shipment about being black in the USA, in which some audience members huffed out of the cinema without trying to understand why some of us were laughing so much that it hurt.

In Straight White Men, brothers Jake (Luke Ryan) and Drew (Hamish Michael) are back home for Christmas with their older brother Matt (Gareth Reeves) and dad, Ed, (John Gaden). Their mum is dead, but her presence remains in the likes of Monopoly game re-made as Privilege – donate $50 to the local gay and lesbian support group.

Jake knows that his success at work is because he's a SWM, Matt insists he's happy being a temp at community centre because he's useful, and Drew knows how much therapy and talking have helped him. They sing satirical racist show tunes, want to wear Christmas eve pjs, and stop to ask the brother who's crying if he's sick, hurt or wants to talk.

What lovely men.

So why is their behaviour so funny?

They are what so many people say they/we want our straight white men to be. Yet when we're given men like that, we laugh at them.

Director Sarah Giles, designer Eugyeene Teh – who includes touches like the home-made clay phallic sculpture and Jake's full-compression running clothes coordinated with multi-pocketted running shorts – and the cast nail Lee's tone. The best satire is played as straight as it can be, without any self-aware winks to the audience.

Those winks are left to the glorious Candy Bowers, who welcomes the audience as a DJ – listen to what she plays – and is the woman of colour who watches and tweaks the men's world. Her constant presence reminds us that it's not about the men on stage; it's about everything that they are expected to be and about every one who laughs when they are not what we expect.

Like the playwright, she reminds us that we should be laughing at this world because we're part of it. We laugh because maybe we should feel as conflicted as they do when they're faced with giving up anything to help smash the system that has given them so much.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.au.

Have a listen to Candy Bowers and Hamish Michael talking to Richard Watts on RRR Smart Arts. They start about 1:40. 



PS

I've read the tweets and the reviews about the plot and I don't understand why so many people can't see what this play is about.

It's not about straight white men.

If David Williamson wrote a piece called Queer Coloured Women, would anyone think it was really about queer coloured women?

Yet when a woman of colour writes a show called Straight White Men, so many people assume she's written a play about SWM. They don't see the very obvious clues on the stage – or even ask the even more obvious questions.

Excuse me while I attempt to mansplain.

The plot – the one that doesn't tie up nicely or feel quite right – is a complicated and genius joke. It's satirising the three-act psychoanalytic American plays, which tend to be about SWM.

The characters are part of the satire; they'd bleed irony if they were cut open.

When straight white men (or any variation of) write queer coloured women (or any variation of), the characters/situations/resolutions don't always feel real. At the extremes there's the black maid with a heart of gold (who isn't far from the noble savage), the Asian stranger who offers spiritual advice, the sassy gay best friend, the woman who sacrifices everything for her man.

We see these characters all the time. We hate them.

They are idealised and too perfect, or drawn from ignorance and not bothering to understand, or too afraid to show fault. They are "other".

Young Jean Lee wrote her straight white men like this.

They are idealised. They care about their Christmas tree, they ask each other about their feelings, they wear clothes that match. They may pretend to be SWM, but they aren't like any SWM I know.

She's written SWM as ridiculously as SWM write QCW.

Maybe it's hard to notice the huge cock on the mantle piece, but it's impossible to miss that a queer black woman welcomes you to the theatre, watches the show, interacts with the performers, and controls the scene changes. How are so many people missing that this is HER world? It's her perspective. She's in charge. She has the authority.

Is this idea that a QCW is in control of the SWM so out of the understanding of our theatre conventions that even when it's obvious, it's rejected?

Review: Dogfight

Dogfight
Doorstep Arts
6 May 2016
Chapel off Chapel
to 16 May
doorsteparts.com

Dogfight

Independent company Doorstep Arts from Geelong and are known for their productions of musicals. They've brought Dogfight to Chapel off Chapel. Based on a 1991 film, the musical version (Ben Pasek, Justin Paul, Peter Duchan) was first seen in New York 2012.

It's 1963 and marines Eddie and his mates have a day in San Francisco, before going to Vietnam to become heroes, and take part in the traditional Dogfight – a competition to see who can find the ugliest date for a dance.

So we get to see the fat, the "Indian" in her plaits and fringed dress, the frumpy, the big nosed, the be-spectacled, the old, the dim witted, and the one who's clearly a man: all the uglies. This is a fascinating topic to look at – I remember boys from high school having competitions like this and I'm sure they still do – but what disturbed me was seeing how ugly was portrayed on stage.  Watching women perform as "ugly" women is ugly. Why fall into the stereotypes unless you believe they are true?

Act 2 comes together more solidly as Eddie (Alex Woodward) tries to apologise and make it up to teenage Rose (Olivia Charalambous), the girl he chose, while his mates get tattoos and try to rape a prostitute. It's not hard to guess the rest. Nothing in the story is surprising.

Woodward and Charalambous's performances are genuine and honest and both find something to make us care in a book that offers little. But the production doesn't offer a real sense of place or time, despite a Golden Gate Bridge and some hippy costumes, or bring the content into now.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.au.

13 May 2016

Sixty two

The Australia Council lifted the organisational funding embargo today instead of Monday. Sixty two companies have lost their organisational funding.

Read about it here on ArtsHub.

Look that list.

It's only a fraction of it.

And, as our major dailies have slashed arts writing, the outrage, heartbreak and small-minded ignorance that has led to that decision isn't being shared much beyond the communities that it affects.

Remember when we all wrote letters to the senate about the cuts to the Oz Co budget. Did anyone who made those decisions read them?

How many jobs are lost?

How many jobs won't exist in the next years?

If it made any sense...

All I'm reading on Facebook is sadness. Today, they broke us.

But we still have tomorrow.

And the opportunity to vote them out. Oz Co money is federal money. We have an election in July.


#IStandWithTheArts on Twitter.






12 May 2016

Cuts, cuts, cuts

I'm trying to catch up on reviews, but am distracted by FB and Twitter being full of rumours (until Monday's OzCo embargo) of arts companies losing funding, and people furious about the Fairfax cuts that have slashed arts coverage at The Age.

Nearly four weeks ago, arts coverage at The Age was halved. I was worried by how few people noticed. #FairGoFairfax

Freelancers were told before it happened. There are a lot of us. I wonder if those making the cuts even read the work of the many freelancers who have lost work.

And, of course, there are the staff members who have been moved around or made redundant.

It sucks on every level.

Who wants to read a newspaper (printed or online) that isn't created by experienced writers and editors?

And it's not just that people have lost work – as one of them, it sucks  –, but it's also the loss of a diversity of voices and opportunities for small and independent companies and artists to get coverage.

Why review a show that a few hundred people see when it costs nothing to link to a story about a celebrity that more people will read?

Have a look at today's online front page. A few weeks ago, the three featured arts stories were likely to have been reviews of local shows; today it's Game of Thrones, Woody Allen (ugh) and Angry Birds.

Thursdays are good arts days in print, but there isn't a single theatre review or story in today's paper.

So what can we do?

If you're an artist, creator or company that has benefitted from coverage in The Age, let Fairfax know what that coverage has meant to you and the impact that it's had. Even if it's just a "thanks" tweet.

If you read arts coverage in The Age, let Fairfax know that you want to read about the arts in Melbourne.

Tweet, Facebook, email, sky write.

Let The Age know that you want to read about the arts that are made in this city.


And remember that it's not the Arts Editor who has made these cuts.



Review: Little Shop Of Horrors

Little Shop Of Horrors
Luckiest Productions & Tinderbox Productions
5 May 2016
The Comedy Theatre
to 22 May, then touring
littleshoptour.com.au

Esther Hannaford, Brent Hill, Audrey II

The only down side of the Little Shop of Horrors Melbourne season is that it's only three weeks.

The sci-fi schlock musical by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken (who went onto Disney fame) about a blood-loving plant changing the fate of miserable florist shop workers Seymour and Audrey was inspired by a 1960 film, opened off-Broadway in 1982, and a film of the musical was made in 1986. This version blew Sydney away at the Hayes Theatre earlier in the year and is touring Australia.

The same team that created Sweet Charity at Hayes – Dean Bryant (direction), Andrew Hallsworth (choreography), Andrew Worboys (musical direction), Owen Phillips (design), Ross Graham (lights) and Tim Chappel (costumes) – cut back all dead ideas and preconceptions to grows a fresh, exciting and bloody brilliant version that makes it feel like it were written for now.

Totally over the top, it embraces the ridiculousness and the darkness of the story and by doing so, lets it find its own truth and makes the characters so real that the opening-night audience exploded at the end of "Suddenly Seymour", the show's shmaltzy love song.

Working with Erth Visual & Physical's magnificent, terrifying and all genital inflatable Audrey II plant, Phillips and Chappel's set and costumes are inspired by the 60s but not stuck in the past. They take us from a tiny black and white telly world – complete with Lee Lin Chin – to blooming, 3D, who-turned-up-the-contrast colour.

And everyone in the cast (Brent Hill, Esther Hannaford, Tyler Coppin, Scott Johnson, Josie Lane, Chloe Zuel, Angelique Cassimatis, Dash Kruck, Kuki Topoki) makes the characters so much their own that comparisons to anyone who has gone before them are impossible.

Anyone who says that “audiences” want to see the same old safe musicals that they’ve always seen needs to see what happens when a show is stripped back to book and music, and new creators are allowed to see what they can make from it.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.au.