20 October 2014

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL review previews


My Lovers' Bones
Brown Cab Productions
15 October 2014
Footscray Community Arts Centre
to 18 October

Kirk Page. Photo by Deryk McAlpin

My Lovers' Bones is another premiere Australian work developed for and supported by the Melbourne Festival. Created by independent company Brown Cab Productions, it's a fascinating story of a man running through city streets being chased by a malevolent force that's not giving up.


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

City of Dreams launch
14 October 2014
Foxtel Festival Hub
to 16 October

Mikelangelo isn't from Melbourne and spends a lot of time travelling the world, but – like many of us – he fell in hopeless love with this city and made it his home. Last night, surrounded by friends who collaborated and friends who swooned and cheered, he launched his new album City of Dreams, a love song to "Where I feel safe and where I feel loved". 


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

Complexity of Belonging
Melbourne Festival, Chunky Move, Melbourne Theatre Company & Brisbane Festival
9 October 2014
Sumner Theatre
to 25 October

Photo by Jeff Busby

Melbourne Festival, the Brisbane Festival and Melbourne Theatre Company have coordinated to support the creation of Complexity of Belonging. It's the type of work that international arts festivals are terrific at developing.


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


Dewey Dell
12 October 2014
Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall
to 14 October

Photo by Wolfgang Silveri

So, there's a Japanese samurai going all Noh, a Pink Power Ranger, the offspring triplets of a Telly Tubby and the Michelin Man, a bird (that I called Dick Face), and an inflatable starfish. Dewey Dell's art-dance-theatre Marzo is weird. Really weird. Awesomely, fabulously, I-don't-know-what-I-just-experienced weird!

Dewey Dell were formed in Italy in 2007 by Agata Castellucci, Demitrio Castellucci, Teodora Castellucci and Eugenio Resta. They now spend a lot of time at festivals all over the world. They created Marzo with Japanese director Kuro Tanio and costume designer Yuichi Yokoyama.

The process started as a story, but it isn't on stage. The story is distilled to emotion; emotion that's made into something bigger with brain-pounding design, music, choreography and performance that work as one to ensure that what's cohesive on the stage can be anything the audience want it to be.

There are surtitles, but they distract and really don't help. However if you want to find the embryo of this marvel, it's set on a crater of a distant planet where the life could be microscopic or giant; the thousands and thousands of years it takes their light to reach Earth, means that they could have already evolved into something unrecognisable or have been obliterated from the universe. Maybe. It's also about war and fertility. I think.

It really doesn't matter what it's about. Marzo is pure experience and an interpretation of a reflection on human reaction to conflict is as cool as wondering why the dick-face bird is attacking the power ranger.

It's intense, confusing and a like drinking a pint of undiluted red cordial and trying to stay still.

I know that some have hated it, and it's close to that line that makes me wonder how or why it was made – but I couldn't stop watching and I know that I'm going to be disappointed if I don't see the inflatable telly-tubby-shagged-michelin-man triplets again.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

FESTIVAL: Have I No Mouth

Have I No Mouth
11 October 2014
Merlyn Theatre, Coopers Malthouse
to 13 October

Photo by Jeremy Abrahams

Have I No Mouth is extraordinary theatre. I was on the verge of tears for most of it, but it took me somewhere beautiful.

Co-writers and directors Feidlim Cannon and Gary Keenan are co-artistic directors of the Dublin-based company Brokentalkers, which they were among the founders of in 2001. Wanting to explore new forms that challenge everything about text-based theatre, the company creates what they call Live Performance, a collaborative process drawing from skills and experiences beyond theatre.

In Have I No Mouth, Cannon is joined by his mother (Ann Cannon) and their psychotherapist (Erich Keller). Ann and Erich aren't theatre makers.

Feidlim and Ann saw the psychotherapist together and individually to work through their ongoing grief and pain over the death of brother and son baby Sean when he was 15 hours old and Feidlim was 6, and the death of father and husband Sean when Feidlim was in his early 20s. Ann and Sean met when they were 15 and 16.

On his practice's website, Erich Keller describes how he forms a bond with clients to develop "hopeful and creative ways" to reconcile difficulties. The on-stage therapy, including counselling, dream work, object work, re-inactment and surrogacy, is taken out of consulting room and made theatrical. Young Feidlim and his brother are life-size cut out photos. Ann talks to her young son. Feidlim dances. Erich becomes the father who visits in dreams.

They share how they found a way through the insanity, anger and farce – let's not forget the funny moments – of grief. Ann is a believing Christian and is now a colour therapist and practices Reiki (which is part of the stage ritual and telling), Feidlim made a piece of theatre that's taken him and his mum around the world. Neither advocate any way to heal and, for all its unflinching honesty, it's presented with a distance that allows for empathy without judgement.

It's a work about grief, but it's ultimately a story about Feidlim and Ann and the mother–son relationship and dynamic. It's written into the work but is so palpable on the stage that there's no question that either would ruin the "play" without hesitation if the other weren't feeling safe.

It also leaves us with so many questions. We might want to know what happened when Feidlim asked his mum to make a piece of theatre on their holiday to Spain, how they convinced the Erich to be involved, what happened with the legal case over Sean's misdiagnosis, how the other brother is going, or why we never see a photo of Sean – but none of this is part of this story, and none of our business. The unanswered and unspoken questions remind us that it is a piece of theatre, and that stories in theatre are rarely verbatim truth.

Have I No Mouth is harrowing and astonishing in its deeply human sharing of grief, but its catharsis is so real that it becomes a sharing of joy and hope.

PS. I think this is an unmissable piece, but last night I told two friends not to see it as their current experiences are too close.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

16 October 2014

FESTIVAL: Carrousel Des Moutons

Carrousel Des Moutons
D'irque & Fen
10 October 2014
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 12 October

Photo by Fabien Debrabander

Belgium duo Dirk Can Boxelaere and Fien Van Herwegen – who met in 2005 when circus performer Dirk broke his leg and used his down time to have piano lessons from Fien – won hearts and fans on their first trip to Melbourne in 2013 with Oh Suivant!.  Carrousel Des Moutons is even more gorgeous.

Dirk's in his stripy pjs and is ready to sleep, but Fien's playing her piano, her flying piano! With extraordinary balance, tumbling, juggling and love-filled clowing, Dirk's struggle for bed-time overcomes gravity, Fien's original music, and a gasping and squealing audience (and that's just the grown ups) to finally settle and be able to count des moutons (sheep) – and the carousel of sheep is so lovely and surprising that I'm it'll make me smile and relax the next time insomnia strikes.

Here's circus-theatre made for children that never condescends to it's younger audience, while never forgetting the oldies.  It's a pure enchantment and, while the Festival is only two days old, it's my highlight so far.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

FESTIVAL: Cirkopolis

Cirque Éloize
10 October 2014
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 12 October

Cirque Éloize are from Montreal – a city with an international circus school and that's home companies including Cirque du Soliel and 7 Doigts De La Main – and have performed in 440 cities in over 40 countries. They're met with joy, cheers and awards where ever they go and Cirkopolis lives up to the spectacle and how-can-they-do-that expected of this company.

Visually based on Fritz Lang's 1927 film Metrolpolis, it's set in a grey world where grey-coated people are as human as the machines around them. Its striking animated back wall (Robert Massicotte and Alexis Laurence) of factories and cog-driven machines is enhanced by a lighting design (Nicholas Descoteux) that lets performers and the animation become one.

And with choreographed perfection, physically astonishing performers, and a heart-warming premise that people will always find ways to be themselves and find colour in the grey, there's little to say that it's not wonderful. But this may be it's downfall.

I have a soft spot for this company because their Rain was the first review I wrote for AussieTheatre in 2006 (sorry Creative Director's program notes, it's not the first time they've been to Melbourne). Rain questioned the role of contemporary circus in theatres and answered its own questions by being emotionally compelling and technically wow.

Cirkopolis is outstanding circus that I thoroughly enjoyed, but it feels like a show that's made to tour and never ruffle a feather. It's traditional trick-based circus where the men are strong, the clown's a wuss and the women giggle in pretty dresses and are thrown about by the men in suits. It's not questioning or pushing circus art beyond the expected.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

12 October 2014

Guest review: The City They Burned

The City They Burned
Attic Erratic
22 September 2014

Review by Kevin Turner

Photo by Sarah Walker

The City They Burned was sold out and then some by the time I saw it. It was a hugely successful season for Attic Erratic that’s all done now and tickets were rare as hens teeth when it was on, so there's not much point encouraging people to see it. But the performances raised a lot of questions and discussion points, as seen on social and other media; so, let's dive into that.

It tells the story of Lot and the city of Sodom. Being thousands of years old, let's not be cagey about spoilers. Split into two incredibly distinct acts, Fleur Kilpatrick's text focuses on, the judgement of the city by Inspectors (angels) in the first act, and the life of Lot and his family after the destruction of the city in the second act. But it wasn't just the text that created the difference between acts, there was also a challenging shift in form. Here was where I most struggled.

The first act was a masterpiece of immersion and direction. Set in a dinner party, the audience were thrown straight into the action and, with barely any warning, were employees of the factory city of Sodom. Its fate was intrinsically tied to our own. It took a moment for that to sink in, but by the time the audience realised what was happening and how culpable they were in it then it was too late. Their city had been condemned and they had stood by; they hadn't merely watched, they had mingled and chatted while Lot and his cronies desperately tried to sway the Inspectors from their decision.

Here, credit for the fantastic orchestration of form goes to director Danny Delahunty. The organised chaos within which the audience found themselves was the perfect blend of immersion and distance, of safety and risk. It was a thrill to be a part of and left me wanting more.

The performances were also engaging, particularly from the secondary characters. Dave Lamb's Isaac and Brendan McCallum's Abaddon were particular standouts here. McCallum's Abaddon was a perfect foil for Lot (Scott Gooding). He established a genial and warm relationship but maintained the strong presence and motives of the working everyman. Lamb's Isaac existed in the background and did so beautifully. I found myself constantly drawn to him; a commanding presence in the work and one who never forgot that he could be being watched at any moment.

After the excitement that was the first act, the second was jarring. Now the audience found themselves in a seating bank, watching what appeared to be a straight play/family drama – admittedly one set in a cave following the levelling of the family's city and the turning of their friends into pillars of salt. This act was technically solid but after the rampant madness of the first, it was difficult to engage.

It felt like two separate plays/adaptations of the same source material. The text also started to more clearly show itself in the second act. No longer hiding itself behind the stellar direction, Kilpatrick's, admittedly exquisitely beautiful words, floundered in performance. There was too much poetry in the work, too much beauty and it cheapened the story of the family on stage. The second act was a disappointing end to a show that was so exciting during the first.

Despite that end, The City They Burned is a work to be immensely proud of. A huge congratulations to all involved and a massive thank you for the introduction to watermelon, prosciutto and feta, it really is "just one of those combinations".

My review.

11 October 2014

Review: Once

Melbourne Theatre Company &
John Frost, Barbara Broccoli, John N Hart Jr, Patrick Milling Smith, Frederick Zollo
4 October 2014
Princess Theatre

Photo by Jeff Busby

In 2006, Once was a tiny indie movie that went on to win an Oscar for best song and became a Broadway musical that won a pile of Tonys, including Best Musical, a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album, and some Oliviers. The Australian version of this production opened in Melbourne on Saturday and, as the ovation still echoes through the city, it's on track to being the musical of the year.

If you've never fallen in love with a musical, Once could be the one to charm your pants off.

With a story that starts and leads with characters as real as your friends and family, it ignores music theatre expectations of expensive spectacle, glittery sets and predictable story to create a show made from guts, heart and passion.

Set in Dublin, a "guy" is ready to give up on his music and fix vacuums when a "girl" hears him play and spends the next five days reminding him of the love and feelings that created his music in the first place. Gathering friends and a bank manager with a heart, a band is formed and the recording studio is booked.

Led by Tom Parsons and Madeleine Jones, the cast is a mix of well-known and on-their-way-to-being-well-known faces. Greg Stone and Susan-Ann Walker ground the story as a still-grieving dad and a mum wanting her daughter to be happy, Amy Lehpamer and Brent Hill bring lightness and laughs, and there isn't anyone in the cast who isn't unforgettable.

The Tony-winning design (Bob Crowley, who also designed the Mary Poppins that toured Australia) is an Irish bar decorated with framed mirrors that catch faces and bodies to make any part of the stage its own framable moment. None of the story takes place in a bar, but it's the traditional home of craic and music, and the audience are welcome on stage before the show and during interval. If you've ever wondered what a theatre looks like from up there, this is your chance.

The original music (by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, from the film) is the kind of gentle-sad-indie pop-rock that's best enjoyed with a pint of the black stuff on a date, and is played by the cast of 12 who rarely leave the stage. With no separation between musicians, singers and actors, director John Tiffany (who also won a Tony) ensures that there's no chance for the music, lyrics and action to be separated from the characters and their story (John Carney wrote the film; Enda Walsh wrote the book and won a Tony).

And while the music's endlessly singable and the cast are captivating, it's the story that catches your heart unaware.

Once isn't enough.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

08 October 2014

FRINGE part 9: Live Art

Dances with Woodwose
Klara Kelvy
A Day Like Every Other
Mattie Young and Georgia Mill
Fringe Hub, North Melbourne Town Hall, The Warren
3 October 2014
to 4 October 2014

With a spare hour on Friday night, it was time to finally experience some Live Art. Next year, I'm doing Live Art on the first weekend.

One adventure lasted for a few short and wonderful minutes and the other finished on Sunday afternoon.

Live Art is about being part of an experience that refuses to draw a line between artist and audience. Often one-on-one, a Live Art experience is hard to share because it can be so personal. No matter how beautiful and meaning it is to the person participating, it means little to anyone else: that's what makes Live Art so lovely.

Dances with Woodwose

In the corner of The Warren bar was a door guarded by two creatures. One fur-clad critter promised to look after my beer and my bag and asked me to take of my shoes, shut my eyes and walk forward.

It was here, in a small secret forest that a blue-furred Woodwose asked me to dance and made me realise that all I wanted to do was to sleep for hours on a blanket under a tree on a sunny day where I protected from the outside world by a huge fence. If we'd danced earlier in the festival, I might have wanted to run the African plains or kiss a blue whale.

Something unusual above my eyeline

This full 24-hour-plus-day experience started with a short chat in a tiny room where there were two arm chairs, a pot of tea and an Anzac bicky. The chat was about what I was doing the next day; a day that started included a trip to my local Farmer's Market, a meeting in North Melbourne and the opening night of Once.

No wonder all my subconscious wanted to do was sleep under a tree.

My day like every other started in my bed in next morning with an SMS with instructions to look straight ahead and write a three-line poem about what I saw.

She likes to sit on my belly when I wake up. I like it too.
But there’s always the fear that she’ll stand on a nipple when she jumps up;
nothing hurts like a cat standing on a nipple.

Not-quite-awake text poetry isn't my genre.

More SMS messages arrived throughout the day with tasks that included taking photos, drawings, SMS-sized writing and a map of everywhere I'd walked.

I finished the walking map on Sunday afternoon because I saw the message in the lost hour when the clocks changed and picking up a pen was too hard.

The experience finished when I was sent a password and a link to the A Day Like Any Other Tumblr that included all of my contributions.

It wasn't art to change to world, but it was mine and I loved it.

05 October 2014

Review: Carrie, The Musical

Carrie: The Musical
Ghost Light in association with Moving Light
25 September 2014
Chapel off Chapel
to 12 October

New Melbourne company Ghost Light have made a loud and proud declaration by debuting with the infamous flop Carrie: The Musical. And given that we haven't seen a production of it in Melbourne, it's a clever choice. Who doesn't want to see a show that's known as one of the worst musicals to open on Broadway?

The Royal Shakespeare Company premiered Carrie: The Musical in 1988; Les Miserables had been such a success for them that another musical was an obvious choice. It didn't do well. But it was Carrie and being based on the well-known 1976 film, which was based on Stephen King's runaway success debut novel, it got a lot of financial support and opened on Broadway in 1988. It didn't do well, closing after five performances. However, it has gone on to earn a cult status for being atrocious.

Carrie is a teenager who has been abused by her over-loving and god-fearing mother. She's an outsider at high school and her school life goes to hell when she freaks out about getting her first period and thinking that she's dying. Her mum makes things worse, but a teacher helps out and Carrie finds out that she has a friend among the mean girls. But she doesn't count on one particularly mean girl's need for revenge and the mean girl doesn't know about Carrie's trauma-induced telekinesis.

It's known as a horror story that explores the damage caused by fundamentalist religion and questions the power of young women and the existence of the fundamentalist god.

The musical's about finding friends, standing up to bullies and being yourself. Which is great – in High School Musical.

It's a dud. Musically dull, lyrically bland, Carrie feels like it was created by people who have seen musicals and replicated the outline without any detail. It's superficial and doesn't try to explore the guts and horror that created the story.

No wonder it's so popular! It's fun to watch something really bad and laugh at it.

But this production doesn't invite the laughs. It's played so straight that the opening night audience didn't have permission to laugh. It opens with earnest performances and cheesy choreography, which nails the tone that would free up the giggles, but the earnestness seems genuine. I hope that the floating Jesus picture on a string and the magical slamming locker doors are meant to be funny in their tacky obviousness, but I'm more afraid that they are serious.

But don't stop yourself from seeing it. After all, how often do you get the chance to see of Carrie: The Musical. And it has Chelsea Gibb as Carrie's mum and Emily Milledge as Carrie.

When these two are on the stage, the story comes alive.

Gibb plays the mother as a deeply traumatised women and creates an empathy and genuine feeling that overcomes her inane lyrics and the past images of the mother as a one-dimensional sadistic bitch.

And there's Emily Milledge. In an astonishing performance, she finds more in Carrie than this musical deserves. From the moment she opens her mouth, there's no doubt that she's going to bring us through the horror. As she's shown in her work with independent theatre The Rabble (Story of ORoom of Regret and Frankenstein), a can't-stop-watching performance comes from within the performer and has little to do with the words and story they are given. She shows us Carrie's inner hell and makes us dread the pig blood rather than looking forward to the most famous and gruesome scene in the story.

Without these two, it's just a confusingly straight production of an outrageously bad work, but the combination ensures that it's going to do well.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

02 October 2014

Fringe part 8

My goal is 30 Fringe shows. I'm close. I've seen more than I've written about because time, brain imploding and exhausted.

Elbow Room and Speakeasy
1 October 2014
Northcote Town Hall
to October 5

Prehistoric made me want to take drugs, see bands and scream at middle aged people like me. It's hands down a highlight of this Fringe.

Already seen at the recent Brisbane Festival, director and writer Marcel Dorney's work looks at the 1970s Brisbane punk band scene through the magnified lens of now. We're reminded by the actors – who weren't even born in the 70s – that this was a time before history began, before what we had for breakfast was photographed and recorded, and when music recordings had to be physically found and bought.

It's hard to remember that Queensland was considered a police state in the 1970s and early 80s. The super conservative Bjelke-Petersen government were corrupt and the police were unaccountable and violent. Kids in bands were beaten up for being kids in bands and community station ZZZ was the heart of rebellion. I remember going to Brisbane in 1988 and pot was still buried and hidden in the back yard so that it could never be found in the house. 

It was also a time that created some amazing bands. Imagine 1970s and 80s music without the The Saints or The Go-Betweens!

But this work is so much more than nostalgia. By jumping in and out of 1979 and now, it creates a palpable memory of being 19 and 20 and being angry, lost and voiceless, and of finding friends and finding power, hope and a voice in music.

With a powerful cast (Kathryn Marquet, Sarah McLeod, John Russell and Reuben Witsenhuysen) from Brisbane, the 35-year gap between then and now disappears and it'll make you want to watch Watership Down stonned.

And Ed Keupper is playing at the Melbourne Festival on Saturday 25 October! He formed The Saints in Brisbane, who released Prehistoric Sounds in 1977, and is the Ed who left the band in the conversation about this album in Prehistoric.  I first saw him in 1989 in a club in Perth.

1 October 2014
Long Play
to 5 October

It's time, comrades. It's time to remember the "It's Time" campaign and Gough Whitlam's program for a country with free education, universal healthcare and equal rights. I grew up thinking that this was the baseline for any Australian government. It's devastating to know that today we have a government and opposition that are making us hurtle backwards to a time when this 1972 campaign seems progressive and impossible. Can anyone imagine the current Labor party running a campaign like that?

Gough is a 30-minute visit to Prime Minister Whitlam's office some time after his dismissal as PM by Governor-General John Kerr on 11 November 1975. It's a great little history lesson, but an audience who are happy to pay $30 dollars for a short show about Gough Whitlam probably already know much more about the dismissal than is on the stage.

It's a dramatised lecture more than a piece of theatrical storytelling. Theatre allows us to question and imagine and ask "what if?". I wanted to see something about Gough that I didn't know or had never imagined. I wanted to see something that reflected on now and let us cheer more than just the memory of a man.

It's also time to remember that the villain of this story, Malcolm Fraser, is now a hero of the small l liberal left. Fraser was so horrified by the Howard government's policies that he resigned from the party he once led and is one of the most vocal and articulate critics of Abbott and mates. I recently went to see Fraser talk about his new book. The room was filled with middle aged, middle class liberal lefties. Fraser has become a hero to those who cursed his name. Listening to him talk about current politics, all I could think was if they won't listen to the hero of their own party, what hope do we have of making them listen to us?

After Ever After
2 October 2014
Fringe Hub, North Melbourne Town Hall, Rehearsal Room
to 4 October 2014

Rama Nicholas's After Ever After grim Grimms may be the funniest fairy tale ever.

Nicholas knows that the original tales recorded by the Brothers Grimm are far from the happy-ever-after blah blah of today's bedtime stories, so she's written the ultimate sequel that's feminist, filthy and sexy.

Set in a post-happily-ever-after village, Red Riding Hood is in ninga training in preparation for Wolfie's release from gaol, Snow White's daughter is chatting with the mirror that tells the truth, Rapunzel's up the duff again, and Hansel's got really fat and trying to woo Red.

As a solo work, Nicholas plays all 20 characters without a hitch – and there are songs to make every Disney Princess reclaim her power and march into the world demanding so much more than a dull fuck with a dull prince.

Some of these were on AussieTheatre.com.