30 April 2008

Venus & Adonis

Venus & Adonis
Malthouse Theatre Company and  Bell Shakespeare
20 April 2008
CUB Malthouse, Beckett Theatre

“She’s love, she loves, and yet she is not loved.” When Shakespeare wrote his poetic interpretation of the Venus & Adonis myth, he knew that thousands of years had not changed the dilemma of being a woman who loves. Malthouse Theatre and Bell Shakespeare continue to explore the nature of this myth in an original, complex and resonating production.

As humans, we are forever drawn to myth and tales that have existed since the first stories were told. How we tell them changes, but the eternal nature of human emotion and experience repeats though each generation of storytellers. Director Marion Potts and dramaturge Maryanne Lynch use the Bard’s interpretation to re-tell the Venus myth. What they have brought into our contemporary theatre is an intricate and powerful exploration of women and love. In a timeless hotel room, in the forest of a city, woman remains an untouchable goddess, a filthy whore and every powerful and powerless incarnation in between.

There is no Adonis on the stage. We, as audience, take on this role. We watch, are seduced by and reject the advances of Venus, played by, the perfectly cast, Susan Prior and Melissa Madden Grey. Our rejection is figurative as both are outstanding and it’s only theatrical convention that stops the audience from leaping up to join them. I’d watch Melissa Madden Grey cross the road. The amazing Meow Meow aside, Madden Grey’s range has taken her effortlessly from The Production Company to Pina Bausch Tanztheater. Can she do Shakespeare? Of course she can, and does it in a way that makes us want to keep watching and listening. Susan Prior contrasts and complements Madden Grey. Their performances seamlessly merge and separate as each new level of Venus is exposed.

In fear of repeating myself, the Malthouse design team keep getting everything right. Anna Tregloan’s set and costume encapsulate the complexity and timelessness of the myth, and the conflicting restriction and freedom of the women. Paul Jackson’s lighting continues to support and emphasise every emotion on the stage and David Franzke’s sound brings a remarkable element to the production, as the amplification almost turns us into voyeurs, rather than invited watchers. And he lets us hear Andrée Greenwell’s equally perfect composition.

Each element of this production is stunning, but as a whole there seems to be something missing. I found myself admiring the micro, because I wasn’t completely engaged by the macro. I’m not sure why. Perhaps I was trying too hard to interpret and understand, rather than just enjoy.

Venus & Adonis is original and captivating. Like all myth, we don’t really need to consciously understand it to get the full emotional benefit. Enjoy this work by letting the images seep into your unconscious and see what feelings and memories or your own appear.
This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

The Arrival

The Arrival
Spare Parts Thearte
30 April 2008
Fairfax Studio, the Arts Centre

Spare Parts Puppet Theatre began developing their adaptation of Sean Tan’s The Arrival at the same time as Tan was finishing his award-winning graphic novel of the same name. This parallel production is mesmerising and beautiful. The complexity of the book is simplified, but it stays true to Tan’s remarkable story about immigration.  

The emotions and confusion surrounding immigration resonate deeply when we live in a country where so many of us came from somewhere else. What makes this story so powerful is its universal emotional reach. The Arrival is not just about coming to a new strange land; it’s about being an outsider, learning to communicate and searching for friendship and acceptance.

Like the book, Spare Parts’ production communicates without words. Three puppeteers/performers work with the puppet characters. At first it feels strange to see blue, yellow and any colour after the blacks, whites, greys and sepias of Tan’s illustrations, but the colour brings a new level of characterisation, communication and interpretation to the incredible creatures.

The most unique and astonishing aspect of this production is Michael Barlow’s animation. Still and moving images are projected onto the white set. Tan’s still illustration is already so alive that even the thought of movement is superfluous. Barlow chose few images and simplified them to make them move. His animation evokes the mood, intensity and ultimate freedom of the book, and makes the movement feel fluid and natural. We see the dragon tails undulating though the city and the animated time passing flower is stunning.

The Arrival was developed for schools and school groups are the ones lucky enough to see it. As the reach of its emotion is so wide, it is disappointing that there weren’t public sessions, so that the many Shaun Tan fans, and lovers of theatre, could share this gorgeous work.
This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

Olllie and the Minotaur

Olllie and the Minotaur
and 9minds
29 April 2008
fortyfive downstairs

Ollie and the Minotaur is as good as theatre gets. Intricately crafted writing, powerful direction and remarkable performances prove that the fourth wall and naturalism is still a force to be reckoned with.

Local independent company 9minds worked with Adelaide independent company floogle to bring floogle’s recent Adelaide Fringe production to Melbourne. I’m from Adelaide. I know there is great stuff hidden among the churches and pints of Coopers. Like a latte from Lucia’s or a Rockford’s Basket Press Shiraz, this is the kind of theatre that makes the good stuff pale in comparison.

Ollie and the Minotaur starts as a Sex in the Cityesque look at three nearly 30 Saturn-returners, who have left the city for a weekend at the beach house. As the G and Ts and lolly snakes come out, so do the usual problems of finding your good looking date is wearing a g-string, the desire to fuck without being “his fuck” and reminiscing on a past that we suspect isn’t quite as rosy as the stories tell. The comedy is natural and easy, blending story, joke and the most wonderful pair of ‘90s pants.

As mystery, secrets and doubt emerge; director Sarah John gently moves the mood from carefree and comfortable to edge of the seat tense. There are many perfect moments in this production, but the final scene is one that will long be remembered by those who see it.

Why do we tell lies to protect the people we love? Why do we lie to ourselves? If the fantasy world of our lies makes us happy, should we tear it down? Duncan Green is clearly an astonishing young playwright who explores deeply resonating themes. His content and characters are authentic. He gives each character a dilemma with far reaching consequences, forcing them to react and change in unexpected ways. No one is left even resembling the person they were at the beginning. Some would argue that a final act seems to be missing, but this work ends at exactly the right moment.

The ensemble of Wendy Bos, Adriana Bonaccurso and Sarah Brokensha are all remarkable. There is no sense of technique, no acting or awareness of being watched. It feels almost filmic, but much more intimate, as the audience are only as comfortable as the characters we are watching. Brokensha’s Bec is especially moving, as she tries to stop the avalanche of truth that is plummeting into her life.

Each week I find myself saying that the amazing theatre in this city is hidden in small venues and seen by a handful of the lucky ones. There’s still plenty of time to be among the lucky ones and see Ollie and the Minotaur and let’s hope that floogle visit us again very soon.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

20 April 2008

Oasis, Oasis

Oasis, Oasis
Adam J A Cass
17 April 2008

Some people can chose the right words, then put them in an order that makes your insides stir. Adam Cass writes beautifully. And he understands how to use beautifully arranged words to create engaging and moving theatre. Oasis, Oasis is his most recent work. This production deserves to be seen and loved.

Before the show even begins, the audience move into an intimate, warm and gentle atmosphere. Creating this in the large, and potentially distracting, space at fortyfive downstairs is an achievement. Lighting (Lisa Mibus), design (Amy Feiner) and live music (Amanda Medica and Andrew Crosbie) combine to maintain this sense of welcome throughout even the darkest moments of the piece.

Have you ever watched someone cry on train and looked away? Or found yourself crying on a train? There’s a strange freedom of being totally anonymous in a crowded, public place. What would happen if someone was brave enough to ask if you’re OK? Then followed you off the train?

Cass finds the poetic and the theatric in unexpected places. This story is set in a crowded peak hour train, busy city streets and the top of a high building. Yet we never hear the noise or feel the crowded frustration. We are clearly in the lonely minds and empty hearts of the two characters.

There’s nothing original about Maude and Penelope. They have the same problems seen on daily TV soap. But they are authentic and alive because we recognize ourselves in them. This quite remarkable writing exposes the universal (and/or the archetypal) in their ordinary existence and ordinary problems. There’s nothing unique about heartbreak, loneliness and despised jobs, but we care about these characters because we recognise the feeling of pointless grief and our inability to escape from its hurt.

At the same time, these women face genuine problems. They act and they change. With a subtle, constant tension of mystery and confusion, Cass confronts our expectations by making us doubt their truth, doubt their sanity and even doubt their reality. His language is gorgeous, but the words would collapse without the intricate and strong supporting structure.

Past and present effortlessly merge, as the inner thoughts and outer actions of the women. It’s like lava lamp. The heavy purple of the past sits within the fluid blue present. They never mix, always change and create a much more enchanting whole together. Luckily, Cass writes better metaphors than I do. His imagery is distinct and heavy, but it’s so natural for grief to dance in his world.

There’s also a lot of comedy in this script, but it’s getting lost. I found the same thing in his last work I Love You Bro The humour is deliciously dark. A 75% bitter-sweet dark chocolate isn’t as widely loved as a caramel filled bear-like-marsupial-shaped chocolate, but it’s sophisticated taste goes a long way and it’s really much better for you. There seems a resistance to laugh out loud at this type of humour. Jokes don’t have to have a punch line and laughter pause.

Cass also directed Oasis Oasis. When a writer directs their own work, it offers a rare chance to really see the playwright’s vision and intent. His direction is nearly as beautiful as his writing. His knowledge of his own work gives a clarity and depth to every element of the production. The vision is supported through the design, the performers know their characters, the pace is superb and the music is as close to perfect as live music can be in a play. However, one day, I would really like to see how a more distant and less attached director sees this script. Sometimes a stranger can see so much more in a piece of writing than the author intended.

Sarah Hamilton and Katie Astrinakis clearly love this work. It is a joy to see actors loving their characters and sharing the vision of the director and writer. Both performances need to settle though. I could see too much acting and technique. This will change as the run continues and they trust that their rich performances and the magic words are reaching the audience.

Oasis, Oasis captures of the loop of loneliness, failed relationships and hated jobs is almost sublime, yet it lets us soar out of the misery into a place where happiness is possible. This is beautiful, beautiful theatre.

Independent theatre makers usually don’t receive funding or subsidy or cash from any source than the box office. Adam Cass is performing a “one-off-one-night-only-one-one-man-show” called The Tom Rescue Monologue as a fundraiser to get I Love you Bro to the ‘08 Edinburgh Fringe. It’s on Sunday 20 April at 8pm, also at fortyfivedownstairs. Entry is by donation.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

10 April 2008

The 39 Steps

The 39 Steps
10 April 2008
The Playhouse, the Arts Centre

The MTC's production of The 39 Steps is satire mixed with slapstick and a dash of irony – all blended as one hilarious spoof.

This 39 Steps is an adaptation of the Alfred Hitchcock 1939 film, which was an adaptation of the 1914 John Buchan novel. Patrick Barlow’s stage version won the 2007 Oliver Award for Best New Comedy. The production was so good, that the MTC brought director Maria Aitken to Melbourne to direct our version. 

So how do you make the cinematic theatrical? Well, you must know your Hitchcock and every convention of spy thrillers and noir mysteries. Then you put them on a stage. Of course, this show is spoof, so it only takes an image, an effect or a hint to let the audience know what it is referencing. Strobes, fog and fine mime all contribute to this leg slapping evening.

The story is non-stop, expected coincidence and improbable escape. These images may seem cliché, but this was the genre that created those clichés, so they feel remarkably fresh. The 39 Steps works because it pays homage to Hitchcock. Without the context of the film, it would probably just be a lot of fun. Within its context, it’s hilarious. (As the MTC audience appear to be such anglophiles, no one will be left wondering what the joke is all about.)

Marcus Graham is a natural choice for Richard Hannay - suave, charming and able to play the straight clown to perfection. The more I see Graham in comic roles, the more I like him. He is ably joined by Helen Christinson as his femme fatales. She also proves that sexy, seductive and funny can be in the same package. Grant Piro and Tony Taylor play everyone else. They’re not quite as sexy as the other two, unless you think very funny is sexy. Clowning is an art that can be quite overwhelming on a stage. These two have an abundance of characters that could so easily steal every scene.  Instead, they generously share the laughs, as they aptly balance character and clown with plot and story.

If you are a Hitchcock fan, The 39 Steps is a must. You may find yourself rolling in the aisles as you look for his guest appearance and count the film references. If not, don’t worry, as it’s thoroughly enjoyable regardless. 

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

02 April 2008

My Year Without Sex

My Year Without Sex
2 April 2008
Northcote Town Hall 

There is a lot to admire about My Year Without Sex. There’s a lot to enjoy as well, but it doesn’t come together as an engaging story.

Any show with a giant pink suitcase design has to be worth a look. And who knew a giant prop could hold so many gingham and faux antique secrets! The simple and very clever set and costume design brings a whimsical and intriguing mood to the work.

Jessica Gerger’s top notch performance is what holds this show together. She plays all the characters – even when they’re interacting with each other. Keep an eye out for this woman. She is a relaxed and able clown who lovingly creates the oddest of folk and let’s the audience see the best of them. Gerger knows her craft and it’s a joy to watch her perform.

The script was developed from characters and scenarios developed by Gerger and director Beverly Blankenship (who is also her mum). The unfortunately sexless Mrs Tickletext is based on a 17th century fictional Mr Tickletext. Granger and Blankenship gave nine other writers (including Aphra Behn) free licence to write any scene they wished in any style. The results were arranged, manipulated and sorted into the final script.

The multiple voices and concepts are very clear. Perhaps too clear. The piece is more a series of strangely connected sketches, rather than Mrs T’s journey. This makes the character and her holiday very confusing. There are some great moments and terrific jokes. I loved the Jewish Museum and the purple gingham and floral stuffed crucifix, but these gems don’t present a consistent character. From the beginning I couldn’t figure out why this out-of-her-time woman was on a tour in the first place, let alone why she left it and what made her keep going rather than just return home to Pemberton? She is horrified by meeting prostitutes in one scene, but grabs a joint in the next. She can’t believe that her companion doesn’t wear a brassiere, has no understanding of a g-string is, but was happily playing in a gay German sex club and (for reasons totally unknown) had a collection of drugs in her bum.

And then there’s the title. There’s one early scene that has her having sex with her, now passed, husband. This was well written, perfectly performed and showed us so much character - but that’s about it for relevant sex. There’s a beautiful reveal near the end, but why this women is obsessed with sex (or her lack of it) isn’t clear and her behaviour and choices don’t seem to relate back to it either.

This is a work where the process is outshining the product. The character is original and fabulous (I want to see more of her), Granger’s performance is a winner, but the final product is confusing to the point of frustrating.

This review appeared onAussieThearte.com