22 March 2019

LAST CHANCE: 33 Variations

33 Variations
Cameron Lukey, Neil Gooding Productions, Helen Ellis
Comedy Theatre
to 24 March

Toby Truslove, Ellen Burstyn, Lisa McCune. "33 Variations". Photo by Lachlan Woods

33 Variations with Oscar-Tony-Emmy-winner Ellen Burstyn finishes on Sunday. Her star power alone is enough to ensure its popularity. And her moving and complex performance proves why it'd be worth seeing her in anything.

There have been plenty of great reviews including Time OutKeith GowThe Age, My Melbourne Arts.

33 Variations by Moises Kaufman (best known for The Laramie Project) was first seen in 2009 on Broadway with Jane Fonda in the central role. Writing for women in their 70s and 80s is awesome.

Musicologist Katherine has an illness that's going to take her life sooner rather than later. But she's not going to stop working and goes to Bonn in Germany to read Beethoven's sketch books (notes about his music and life) and continue to try and understand why he composed 33 variations on a waltz by his publisher, Diabelli. Despite tehir awkward relationship, her daughter (Lisa McCune) and her daughter's new nurse boyfriend (Toby Truslove) travel to Bonn where Katherine has met archivist (Helen Morse) who is happy to help Katherine how ever she can. As Katherine reads the sketches, Beethoven (William McInnes) writes them and deals with his own disability and end of life, his secretary (Andre de Vanny) and Diabelle (Francis Greenslade).

It's about losing the fear of mediocrity and connecting in ways that really matter – no matter the variation. The writing sometimes slips into the melodramatic and predictable but the cast never let it slip into sentimentality and ensure that the emotion is always real.

The worlds are connected by pianist Andrea Katz playing the variations and director Gary Abrahams gently parallels the themes in variations of style ranging from historical drama to magical realism.

This is the sort of production that wouldn't be seen in Melbourne without independent producers like Cameron Lukey, Neil Gooding and Helen Ellis. Commercial companies rarely take risks on works that aren't proven. But trusting in audiences pays off and when we see a commercial production of 33 Variations, remember to thank the indie producers who took that risk.

20 March 2019

Review: The Other Side of 25

The Other Side of 25
bontom: original Australian entertainment
20 March 2019
The Butterfly Club
to 23 March

Becca Hurd

It's too easy to miss exciting new writing in Melbourne, especially when shows have short runs and there isn't much time for word to get around. The Other Side of 25 has just been at Adelaide Fringe and Sydney. It's at the Butterfly Club until Saturday.

Written and performed by Becca Hurd – who has studied acting in the USA and writing at NIDA – it's the story of 27-year-old Amory. She used to write songs to get what she wanted, wanted to go to sex education class rather than Disneyland, knows what she's good at, and became a surrogate for her sister.

With off-stage characters as vivid as Amory herself, it reflects on so much more than pregnancy, choice, motherhood and loss. Hurd's writing captures a voice that might be very close to her own, but she lets Amory be her own self. Her story telling is far more complex than straight-forward monologue and she only tells as much as the audience need to know.

Directed by Ellen Wiltshire and with a deceptively simple design of silver balloons by Emma White, it's a moving story that lets its humour feel natural, doesn't resort to sentimentality and releases its revelation and twist so gently that, even as the narrative jumps around in time, we discover it exactly as Amory does.

And it begins with a song about wearing condoms. Srsly men – wear them!

Maybe, that can come back for Melbourne Fringe.

12 March 2019


Mr. Burns, A Post- Electric Play
Lightening Jar Theatre
New season: 2 to 12 May

Lightening Jar's 012 Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play. Photo by Sarah Walker

Melbourne has been holding out for a production of Anne Washburn's 2012 Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play and, combined with it being on the VCE Drama list, Lighting Jar Theatre's recent season pretty much sold out before it even opened.

So it's eeeeeexcellent news that a return season has been announced at fortyfivedownstairs from 2 to 12 May. As so many people missed out on the first season, the time to book is yesterday. I'd go again, but I don't want anyone else to miss out.

It's a fascinating story about how and why we tell and make stories, how the popular becomes culture, how myth becomes familiar, and how what we know as a certainty changes so quickly.

In the near future, humans finally destroyed themselves. There is no power, a constant fear of nuclear contamination, and the knowledge that most survivors have lost everyone they loved. Around a fire – the design by Sophie Woodward (set and costume), Richard Vabre (lighting) and Russell Goldsmith (sound) creates a remarkable world lit only by fire –, a group, who are together because there is no one else, re-tell a favourite episode of The Simpsons: "Cape Feare". With such a well-known episode, which is a parody of a remake of a film based on a book, the temptation to call out and join in with the telling is almost too much. That is until we realise that we are not in that world with them and new stories, rituals and rules developing, like the post-911 reading of names at memorials.

Seven years later, the group now perform live episodes of The Simpsons, based on memories and lines they've bought from other survivors.

Seventy five years later, new generations tell the story. Remember that there's no power and all that's really survived is memories, trauma and stories.

Director John Kachoyan and music director Andrew Patterson make the familiar feel epic as they unearth layers of cultural understanding and misunderstanding. And they add layers of story and culture – popular and highbrow – that makes this story becomes ours and makes us question all of our stories.

04 March 2019

Review: Jersey Boys

Jersey Boys: the Story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
Dodger Theatricals, Rodney Rigby, TEG Dainty, Josheph G Grano, Pelican Group, Michael Watt, Tommy Mottola
In association with Latituide Link and Anita Waxman
2 March 2019
Regent Theatre
to 14 April

Glaston Toft, Ryan Gonzalez, Thomas McGuane,  Cameron MacDonald. Photo by Jeff Busby

Juke box biography musicals are hit or miss as they try to find the balance between nostalgia, reflection and truth – and fit in as many hits as possible. Jersey Boys is the semi-fictionalised story of the Four Seasons in the 1960s and when it opened on Broadway in 2005, it won, among others, the 2006 Best Musical Tony. It was first seen in Australia in 2009 and won Helpmann awards. This touring show is the third Australian production, and is in line with the current cut-down off-Broadway version.

This was my first time and it's easy to see how extra cast, a more complex stage picture and a bigger band would help in the hugeness of the Regent theatre. I was in Row F stalls on the side and was already too far away to appreciate the intimacy that helps make this show more than just hit songs.

According to Wikipedia (the official site doesn't list all members), there have been 43 seasons, including those still performing with singer Frankie Valli now. Valli has always been part of the group – who had their first hit in 1962 with "Sherry") – and has been recording and performing since 1953. His next tour starts soon. But he'll always been Teen Angel in the film of Grease to some of us.

Structured into four seasons (spring, summer, fall, winter), each of the four men in the group narrate a quarter and share their insight. The three surviving members of the band contributed to the development process.

The first half is a world where all boys are nice – even the gangsters and mob thugs – and girls are pretty or annoying nags; if you're a women in music theatre, this isn't a show you dream to be in. But you can buy a $25 "Big Girls Don't Cry" bib at the merch stand for the babies who think this stuff matters. There's also a "Walk Like A Man" bib.

Act two has more substance as they get older, struggle with relationships, and try to deal with success and agreements that were made over handshakes.

And there's the music by Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe.

If you don't immediately know the the close harmonies of the Four Seasons, have a listen and you'll know why people keep coming back to see this show.

The musical numbers are nearly enough to get the room dancing. It's as close to being in the 1960s and seeing them as is possible. And the cast (Ryan Gonzalez, Cameron MacDonald, Thomas McGuane and Glaston Toft as the four) are, quite rightly, treated like superstars when they are singing.

It's clear why it's a Best Musical show, but without the intimacy of a venue that lets you be close to the action or a knock-it-to-the-moon design, the momentum lags between the hits. But, you'll still leave a bigger fan than your were when you went in.

And here's the 1975 version

28 February 2019

Photos: The Greek Mythological Boat Show

The Greek Mythological Boat Show
SPARC Theatre
21 February 2018
Christ Church, St Kilda
to 23 February

If you had to leave your home, what would you take with you?

The members of SPARC Theatre asked this of themselves and their audiences as they reimagined the Ancient Greek comedy The Birds.

The Greek Mythological Boat Show is a reflection of their own experiences and those of their families, many who came to Melbourne from Greece in the 1950s and 60s. What did they bring with them? What parts of their culture, beliefs, hopes and fears do their children and grandchildren still keep.

SPARC Theatre is a company of diverse performers supported by the Port Phillip council. Many members experience barriers to social and cultural participation, including long-term psychiatric disability and/or acquired brain impairment.

This story started by imagining what would happen if St Kilda were destroyed by Timmy, a bore of a bully fuelled by toxic masculinity, and they had to leave their homes. With birds, songs, personal memories and imagined stories, this new epic tale felt at home in Christ Church in St Kilda – even more so as the church's stained glass and ornate everything were decorated to feel like a family backyard with clotheslines and everyone being welcomed with a Greek biscuit and a cup of tea. Everyone's stories are as important and meaningful as those made into plays or celebrated in stained glass.

Sure, Harry Potter was brilliant, but it didn't come near to the joy of being part of an experience where SPARC members got to tell their stories to family, friends and strangers.

And, like some of the members, I'd also take my pets and extra water.

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

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.


12 February 2019

GIVEAWAY: Jersey Boys

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

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

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.