23 April 2017

Review: Joan

The Rabble
22 April 2017
Theatre Works
to 30 April

Dana Miltins. Joan. Photo by David Paterson

Damn you, The Rabble. Just when I think I can’t love you any more, you go and make Joan.

I felt burnt alive and risen from the ashes.

Joan. Joan D’Arc. Saint Joan.

A young woman. Whispered to by saints. Virgin. Sinner. God’s holy soldier.

She became a hero, a saint, an aspiration for young women that they too can be strong and be destroyed. She’s a great audition pieces in the play by a man written three years after she was canonised.

She was burnt alive. She was 19.

Starting with a darkness that only Emma Valente’s lighting and Kate Davis’s design can find, shapes – women? a woman? young women? – move into light or are found in the darkness. It could be the holy light above or a light to run from. With projections in front of and behind the stage, it hints of a black and white movie but is nothing like a black and white movie as the sound of breath and bodies falling to their knees asks if their kneeling is choice.

After light, they move through explorations of body, fire and voice. And to make such mesmerising imagery sound so clinical, intelligent and “artistic” is unfair.

Founded by Valente and Davis, The Rabble’s process starts with design and develops through improvisation. Text and texts are vital to their process but is one of the last things on the stage. We watch more than we hear, and when the women are finally given voices, their words are fiercer, brighter and more blistering that the fire – that fire! –  that came before.

It’s hard to think when watching this work. It’s seems so clear but every moment is filled with ideas and discussions that are too complex to be reduced to words.

Luisa Hastings Edge, Emily Milledge, Dana Miltins and Nikki Sheils are Joan. Each is extraordinary and together they confront the expectations of Joan and her story, and question why pain, strength and faith are considered virtues for a woman, let alone a child.

At times, it’s like getting into Joan's soul and feeling with her. But it’s more confrontational when we’re distanced and see ourselves judging her as a Saint or Sinner and putting both on a pedestal that burns with the bundles of wooden faggots stacked around her.

The Rabble create astonishing independent theatre with an independent budget. I'm thrilled to be able to see them in small rooms, but it's beyond my understanding why festivals around the world aren't begging for work like this to be in their programs.

22 April 2017

Review: Richard III

Richard 3
Bell Shakespeare
21 April 2017
Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio
to 7 May

Richard 3. Kate Mulvany & Meredith Penman. Photo by Prudence Upton.

Being in the depths of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, I was calling Richard 3, by Bell Shakespeare, Chick Dick 3 because Kate Mulvany plays Richard. But no more throw away jokes about having seen a lot of Dicks because this production’s found so much that’s new, relevant and fascinating.

Yes it’s ANOTHER work about white men and power and what they do attain and keep power. But Peter Evans direction and Mulvany’s dramaturgy have shaped it to give the women a presence that’s rare in this story. Having the cast always on the stage, the constant gaze of the women ­– who are often no more than wife, mother, womb or irrelevant – is always felt.

And they know they live in a world where Richard knows that his power over them is unquestioned.

Anna Cordingley’s design of too-shiny golds with brown and orange brocades could be a Toorak mansion or an inner city restricted-entry club, but left me feeling like we were in London in the 1930s and Edward VIII was about to abdicate and change the power dynamic in his society because the woman he loved was considered scum.

It’s a production that explores gender, but Mulvany’s gender is irrelevant from the moment she turns around on the stage and we see Richard. In a black suit with short hair and dark eyebrows, he’s small and looks younger than he is. His scoliosis (and hers) is a constant source of pain that he tries to dismiss as irrelevant but he can’t sit or move without being forced to feel his difference.

With his soliloquies, Richard brings the audience into his confidence and makes us complicit in his choices. He keeps us in his gaze when no one else on stage is aware they are being watched. He needs us to know that he chose to be the villain, but every interaction shows us that his villainy comes from far more than his conscious choice.

It’s impossible to stop watching him and Mulvany’s remarkable and powerful performance keeps us with Richard so we see the world through his pain and anger. She makes us care about this man whose behaviour is abhorrent.

So yeah, see Kate’s Dick.

This review is on AussieTheatre.com.

20 April 2017

Gush: Nanette

Hannah Gadsby
5 April 2017 
Melbourne Town Hall
to 23 April

Hannah Gadsby

It's been strange not writing a lot this festival. Working is good, sleeping is good and not getting festival flu is a bonus. But even though tweets are terrific and Age reviews are cool for sharing the love and getting some thoughts into the world, there are so many shows that deserve more than a star rating or a quotable.

So I've been having more in-person conversations this year. Remember when IRL was a thing? I've been giving it a go. Sure, it stops me sitting at my computer in my undies eating toast and telling the cat that she's beautiful, but maybe there's a plus side to that.

For one thing, it takes away the sarcasm and anger filter of the internet and lets me have conversations with people I like.

The show I've heard talked about, and talked about, the most – every day – this comedy festival is Hannah Gadsby's Nanette.

I have said stuff about about Hannah before but this year she's making us talk to each other – about things that matter.

The word "genius" is being thrown around a lot. But fuck that. Genius implies that it's somehow easy to create and perform; that it doesn't take countless hours to get one minute right; that it doesn't hurt to create work like this.

Nanette broke me.

Broke me in ways that make me want it to tour for years so that the world can see it, but more in ways that make me want it to never have to be performed again.

As a piece of writing, it pulls stand-up comedy to shreds.

Hannah does stand-up. She understands the power of laughter and how it can connect and liberate us.

And how it can hurt and break us.

Think of a time when someone made fun of you and laughed at you. Does it still hurt?

She exposes the innate creepiness about being in a room laughing at people or letting people laugh at you – and the comfort we find in that laughter.

By discussing how to create and break tension, she's steps ahead of her audience. The build from the gently annoying powdered-coffee barista Nanette to Hannah's mum's story coming full circle to tension that can't be broken is so structurally powerful that the only thing that stopped my writer brain from orgasming was every emotion trying to cope.

With her 'trademark' self-deprecating humour (writers, don't use those words), Hannah invites people to laugh at her, and Nanette questions the nature of doing this. Laughter can be so connecting and loving, but what's the cost?

She talks about understanding the power of shame, especially childhood shame. How it can be stronger than our own understanding and how it fights love without us noticing.

Her bigger story is about living in a society that lets people tells us that the Safe Schools program is indoctrination; how we are surrounded by grown up humans who support the shaming of children.

And how women are still shamed for thinking and speaking and simply being, let alone for being their authentic selves. She tells a short story about her being perceived as a straight white man and the change in attitude when that perception changed. The payoff was a perfect observational joke, but it comes from truth that sucks.

No wonder we filter our connections to the world with sarcasm and anger.

Hannah's story is so personal that it's not my place to share it, but by being so personal she lets everyone find the personal connection that's usually lost when a story is made safe for everyone.

Reviewers are often dismissed for being personal. I've heard that I'm an ignorant cunt for writing about something as bland as looking for a female point of view on the stage. (I don't read comments after a "she had her period" was LIKED by people who had asked me to write about them.) Last year, a festival artist told her audience how she didn't like my 4.5 star review because I mentioned how old I was. "It's all about the reviewer," she said. And still used my quotable.

And I'll be told that I'm wrong for not being distanced and objective about Nanette.

Fuck that.

This show made me feel – some feelings that I didn't want to have and some that are brilliant. It made me see my world through different eyes. It made me see myself differently.

That's everything.

That's art.

Another new show has been announced for 29 April at the Comedy Theatre. Tickets go on sale on Monday at Ticketmaster.

12 April 2017

Review: P.O.R.T.E.N.Z.A

Dr Professor Neal Portenza
7 April 2017
Melbourne Town Hall, Backstage Room
to 23 April

Dr Professor Neal Portenza

I was far too scared to tell Gary Portenza that I like fruit and nut chocolate.

My review is on The Age.

Review: Cake in the Rain

Laura Davis
Cake in the Rain
8 April 2017
Fort Delta
to 22 April

Laura Davis. Cake in the Rain

Stand-up comedy can and should be this personal and powerful.

My review is in The Age.

08 April 2017

Review: The Lucky Ones

Rama Nicholas
The Lucky Ones
5 April 2017
Malthouse, The Tower
to 23 April

Rama Nicholas

My review is on The Age/SMH.

Review: How to be a Middle Aged Woman

Jenny Eclair

How to be Middle Aged Woman (Without Going Insane)
31 March 2017
Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio
to 16 April

Jenny Eclair

 My review is on The Age/SMH.

Review: Clittery Glittery

Fringe Wives Club
Clittery Glittery
31 March 2017
Greek Centre, Parthenon
to 22 April

Fringe Wives Club. Clittery Glittery

Loved this so much that I'm knitting them a #pussyhat each.

My review is on The Age/SMH.

30 March 2017

Review: Trainspotting Live

Trainspotting Live

Andrew Kay and Associates  present a
23 March 2017
to 13 April

Trainspotting Live

I was splashed by a wet condom and had a shite covered naked arse within touching distance.

Choose life.

Choose theatre.

Choose Trainspotting Live.

In 1993, Harry Gibson wrote the stage adaption of Irvine Welsh's 1993 novel about heroine, addiction and AIDS in Edinburgh in the late 1980s. It's said that this adaption inspired Danny Boyle's 1996 film adaption of Trainspotting.

I'm having trouble believing that it's been 21 years since Underworld's "Born Slippy. NUXX" – shouting larger, larger, larger – became an anthem. Being given a glow stick and walking into a dark room pumping with music with people dancing in a way that you could feel though the floor felt so familiar that I'm still wondering why no one offered me a pill.

Not that you need anything to exaggerate In Your Face Theatre's unrelenting in-your-face, get-out-the-way, hey-that's-my-beer-ya-cunt experience of Trainspotting Live.

It's directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher and the founder of In Your Face, 23-year-old Greg Esplin, who also plays Tommy. The Edinburgh-based company don't believe in actor/audience separation and want the audience to forget they are watching a show. They say on their website, "If you want to move out of the way, or move even closer to the action (if you don't mind us breathing down your necks) then feel free, but be warned, you might not want to get too close to some of our characters."

With a packed audience around and in the fortyfivedownstairs basement-level performance space, it's difficult to move out the way, no matter how much you might want to. This is a story about the pish, shite and puke side of addiction, and protagonist Mark Renton does visit the worst toilet in the world and needs to retrieve his suppositories.

It's positioning in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival is curious, but for all its pain, violence and misery, it's directed to let us laugh. As humans, we laugh when everything about a situation isn't funny or we hit rock bottom. It's how we cope when there isn't another emotion left.

Welsh's book is a series of short stories that form a narrative about interacting characters. It's written from different points of view and often phonetically, so that sometimes the only way to understand it is to read it out loud and hear yourself speaking in the kind of bad Scottish accent that would get you beaten up by most of the book's characters. The film moved the story into the 1990s and found its own narrative among the stories. The play – this version is also in the 1990s – takes a narrative approach more similar to the book but has also taken its own path (don't expect to see Diane or Spud).

One of the many absolute joys of the Trainspotting Live is hearing parts of the book verbatim. The narration is shared among the characters who narrate as they participate, so it never feels distancing.

On his website, Welsh talks about seeing the first production in 1994. "Seeing my words performed by actors had a big impact on me ... I was still really reeling from being published and people were on the phone trying to cut film deals. I was thinking: 'it's only my scabby wee book, what the fuck is all the fuss about?' It was when I saw them doing their lines, the whole thing was removed from my head into the world, and I saw it for the first time how others were experiencing it. I felt the power of it for the first time. I walked out there believing that I had actually done something special. I knew it would be a great play."
Trainspotting Live

It is a great play and the cast are the children of those who were part of the Trainspotting generation – they were wee bairns like Dawn. They confront with bleakness, desperation and anger but always lead from the vulnerable fear that really motivates the characters. It's hard to hate someone when you know their abhorrent behaviour is the only choice they understand.

Esplin, Rachael Anderson, Calum Barbour, Chris Dennis, Michael Lockerbie, Erin Marshall and Gavin Ross have been performing this show in the UK and Australia for months and are so tone-perfect tight that they are now the people I picture when I read the book.

So fuckin' book now, ya cunts.

And if language bothers you, here's what Gibson said in an interview in Spike magazine in 2006: "Spotting is everywhere now. In fact language is a big part of Trainspotting’s appeal. People write dissertations about it. The play has 147 cunts. In Edinburgh housing schemes, I explain to people, cunt is a laddish term of endearment. You can say “Y’cunt-ye” to a mate and it’s quite cuddly. You would not call a vagina a cunt; a vagina is (excuse my language) a f*n*y."

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

22 March 2017

MICF reviews 2017

I've been very quiet on here lately. Work has been taking up more time than usual and I don't have the time to review as much as I'd love to. However, I am teaching and I can promise there are lots of terrific journalists excited about writing about theatre in the near future.

So, for the first time in ten festivals, I'm having a quiet(ish) festival. I'm still seeing shows, just not as many as usual. And I'm going to be tweeting instead of reviewing (ok, maybe some Age reviews).

I'm trying to answer every email and I'm sorry if some fall into the cracks in the internet.

It is difficult to get to all the emails. And all the arts writers in Melbourne face the same terrifying wall of emails. A couple of years ago I did  Top Ten Tips to Get  a Comedy Festival Review and here the are again.

Top ten tips to get a Comedy Festival review revisited

1. Make it personal

“Dear reviewer”, “Hey guys”, “To whom it may concern”  says, “I have no idea who you are and don’t read anything you write”. If you don’t know the name of the person you’re contacting, are you sure you want them to come?

Sending cut-and-paste individual emails isn’t much better. I’ve received emails asking me to review for publications I don’t write for and ones where my name has changed during the email.

And if you don’t know the person you’re writing to, introduce yourself. Let us get to know you.

2. Know what you want

Do you want your email to result in an interview, a listing, a review, an opinion piece, a news story, a ticket giveaway, an audition notice …

Tell the writer what you want.
And don’t ask for something that they don't do.

I’ve had complaints that I wasn't at shows I was “invited” to. Sending a media release with no other information is NOT an invitation.

3. Write a good subject line

Don’t write a witty or an obscure subject line, write a good one. A good subject line makes it easy to know what you want (and easy to search for when we need to check something).

For example:

Invitation: Name of show
Review/interview/listing request: Name of show
Reminder: Name of show (I appreciate reminder emails.)
Follow up: Name of show
Images: Name of show

Media release: Name of show? – see point 2

4. Put the information in the body of the email

A beautifully designed pdf is cool, but make sure that the vital info is also in the body of the email. Opening an attachment takes time, is annoying to do on a phone and is one more excuse to move onto the next message.

Plain text also makes it easier to cut and paste so that names are spelt right.

5. Check spelling and grammar

This festival, I want to read ONE – really, just one – email or media release that has been proofread.

Writers do judge you by your ability to use an apostrophe.

6. Do your research

Read the writer and the publication. What do they like seeing and writing about? Do they interview? Do they review? Who else do they write for?

And check if the writer had reviewed the show/artist before. I’ve had invitations to review shows I’ve already seen – and not liked. Google really is your best friend.

7. Who, what, when, where

If the name, time, date and place of the show aren’t on your message, media release, invitation, web page, flyer and everything else about your show, don’t be upset if people don’t turn up.

8. Find the magic time

There’s a time that’s not too early or too late to make contact. It differs for everyone. For me, it’s four to five weeks from opening. Too late and I'm booked up, too early and I'm not ready to commit.

Some writers, especially those with mainstream publications, need longer, but a last-minute request can work, especially during a festival.

The secret to finding the magic time: ask the writer.

9. Follow up

A follow-up email is a great idea.
A second follow-up can work.
A third is a waste of time.

10. Be nice

Over 500 other festival shows want reviews. As do the all the other shows on during March and April. Arts writers love seeing your shows (it’s why we do this, after all) and try to see as many as possible.

But this means that not everything will get a review.

This can be a kindness, or it can be because their brains imploded, the extra day in the week doesn't exist (it takes time to write reviews), they're sick or there wasn’t room to publish.

Never assume the worst, don’t get shitty and be happy with a tweet. And remember that a lot of word-of-mouth really is word-of-mouth.