30 September 2008

Nothing Extraordinary Ever Happens in Toowoomba. (Ever).

Nothing Extraordinary Ever Happens in Toowoomba. (Ever).
Tapped Into Productions
September 27 2008
Festival Hub, Lithuanian Club

I don’t care how many ordinary shows I see during this Fringe, because the extraordinary Nothing Extraordinary Ever Happens in Toowoomba. (Ever) makes up for them all.

Every once in a while you come across a script that makes your heart sing. This is one of those. Sarah Collins has created characters that you can’t help but love, in a world so vivid with detail that it’s hard to believe you didn’t see the Jump Rope for Heart display yourself.

Kevin-John’s conception was part-miracle and home-schooling may not have been the best decision his mother made. Following the incidents with putty and the letter D, Kevin-John is sent to the remedial class at the local school. Not being in the ‘normal’ school also has its challenges, but he meets Wren and is forced to discover his own greatness.

The love Collins has for her characters and her home town shines though the script. It would be so easy to laugh at the likes of Carousel Pony, Maryann and Crazy Nanny, but this writer shows all of their faults, flaws and mistakes without cynicism, so we always laugh with them – and we laugh a lot.

Her writing structure is exquisite. Each character’s journey is complete and all are encircled by the surprising action of Kevin-John’s mother, Julie. Collins tells the story from unexpected and changing points of view, reveals information at exactly the right time, and completes the world with irresistible details like fluffy knickies, Woolies flowers (which cost the price people pay for care when no one else is giving it), and the smell of disinfectant and vegemite.

What is also extraordinary about this work is that it’s a monologue, performed by the writer.

What is even more extraordinary is that it is the first script Sarah Collins has written.

It seems that nearly every time I’m astounded by a new script, Yvonne Virsik is directing it. In the hands of someone less capable, the beauty of Toowoomba could so easily have been misplaced. Virsik brings out the emotional essence a script. She finds empathy and the hidden understanding of the characters, but always lets the audience discover it for themselves.

Collins isn’t an experienced actor, but Virsik ably guides her performance; balancing the humour with poignancy, contrasting the light with the dark, and knowing when to let the script speak for itself and when to let the characters shine.

As if I can’t find enough good about this show, let me also add that the use of props and design is as good as the rest of it. The plastic tiaras, the Noddy egg cup and skipping rope are nostalgic and far more evocative and mysterious than their ordinariness suggests.

I think it’s clear that I liked Nothing Extraordinary Ever Happens in Toowoomba. (Ever). If you want to see a beautiful, authentic story told perfectly – see this show. Or just go because every member of the audience gets a handmade macaroni bracelet. I’m still wearing mine.

This review originally appeared on AussieThearte.com.

The List Operators

The List Operators
Festival Hub

Eleven reasons to see The List Operators

1. Finally, a show that explains and discusses linguistic theory and the relationship between the signifier and the signified.

2. Really crappy t-shirts that may, or may not, be referencing Flight of the Conchords.

3. A chance to win a prize.

4. If you have never seen the film The Bodyguard, the plot is summarised – so you will never have to see it.

5. You may discover if Matt and/or Richard would shag you.

6. The opportunity to cathartically and publically apologise to someone you once wronged.

7. Juicy fruit puns.

8. Jesus on a ping-pong bat. Oh, Yeah!

9. Learning and applying the phrase ‘swimsuit area’.

10. You can get a present that could help you with Number 3 if you arrive 75 minutes early and also see Nothing Extraordinary Ever Happens in Toowoomba. (Ever.) in the same venue. This show is nothing like The List Operators, but the writing, performance and direction are totally grouse – and you get that helpful present.

11. The List Operators is refreshingly original, surprising and bloody funny. With immaculate comic timing, Matt Kelly and Richard Higgins deftly balance character and personality, as they try to camouflage their intelligence with some really bad props.

Five reasons not to see The List Operators

1. You may discover that Matt and/or Richard would shag you.

2. If you have seen the film ‘The Bodyguard’, you could publically humiliate yourself by quickly recognising the plot.

3. You are recovering from recent abdominal surgery and your doctor has advised you not to laugh in case you burst your stitches.

4. It’s so good, it might sell out.

5. If you find yourself sitting near the front, on the left side of the room,  you will see Matt’s arse crack.


Malthouse Theatre and Sydney Opera House
6 September 2008
CUB Malthouse, Merlyn Theatre

What a time for cabaret in this town! The ever-wonderful Burlesque Hour is still running, The Tiger Lillies were scary and wonderful, and now Meow Meow returns to her hometown in Vamp.

David Bowie describes Meow Meow as one of “certain artists you just never miss.” I’m kinda chuffed that have a conversation starter for the time I meet Dave, as I also believe that Meow should never be missed.

Meow has pounced, hissed, purred and sold out in the Spiegeltent; she’s performed at more international festivals than I can list; she’s better known in Shanghai, New York and various European capitals than her hometown; and collaborated with the likes of the Dresden Dolls and John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch).

Vamp was commissioned by Malthouse Theatre and Sydney Opera House, so Meow could work with local wonders including Iain Grandage (composition), Michael Kantor (direction), Anna Tregloan (design), Shaun Parker (choreography) and Paul Jackson (lighting). While Vamp is every moment Meow’s show, the depth and completeness of the piece come from the collaboration.

Vamp was inspired by by Wilde’s Salome. Meow describes it as the “dual empowerment and disempowerment of the body and its sensual or ridiculous dance”. She understands the ridiculousness, but continues to participate and craves the attention. She lets us see that the wild and sexy goddess is really just a bored and lonely woman in a skin coloured body suit and some stick on pasties, but she continues to be amazed at her own stage beauty. This vamp knows how absurd she is, but wants to believe the image. She alternatively criticises her audience, but forces some to hold her close (literally) and help create the facade. To the audience participation men – what was so difficult about the “shape of a swastika” request?

Meow herself is a parody of a parody that takes us so uncomfortably close to the truth that laughter is the only possible release. Perhaps we will all get our ’15 Minutes of Femme’ one day - but do we want it?

The memorable, the incredible and the best stage characters have an independent life, far removed from their creators, while their creators are so much more than their one character. As Dame Edna is to Barry Humphries, Meow Meow is to Melissa Madden Gray.

Gray could grace any musical theatre, opera or dance stage in the world, while earning a fine living from singing on morning chat shows and posing for women’s magazine lifestyle features. We (David Bowie and me) are so grateful that she has chosen a path that is far more dangerous and extraordinary. She creates on the edge, takes risks and chooses creative and original over safe and predictable.

Gray’s outstanding technique, skill, passion and determination clearly support Meow, but Meow is far too self-centred to let Gray share her limelight. Gray doesn’t even get a mention in the program, and Meow herself drinks fizzy wine at the after show party.

Early in the show, Meow tells the audience “You may not be moved, but you will be touched.” This performance touches you and stays with you. Meow is tantalising, seductive and very bendy, but arouses our latent intelligence. Vamp is the real deal. Don’t regret missing it.
This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

27 September 2008

MelBorn08: Playspotting

Melborn 08: Playspotting
Melbourne Writers' Theatre
27 September 2008
Carlton Courthouse

The Melbourne Writers’ Theatre is a wonderful organisation dedicated to developing, promoting and showcasing Australian script writing. Following the success of the 2007 MelBorn short play festival, I was looking forward to MelBorn08: Playspotting.

Playspotting is 12 short plays, selected from 138 entries, featuring 11 directors and 15 actors. With such a large group of creatives, the quality and standard are always going to vary, and this years’ crop ranged from outstanding to woeful.

Jane Miller’s A Cup of Sugar was my highlight of the evening. Every time I see something she writes, I’m engaged and moved. Miller reveals extraordinary stories in ordinary lives, creates authentic, empathetic characters, and forces them to make unthinkable decisions and choices.  In this work, her characters have no choice but to tell heartbreaking lies that we can see staying with them for ever.

What made this work stand above the rest is that I cared about her characters and their stories. In so many other Playspotting plays, the characters were simply a means for the author to tell us a joke, preach an opinion or show off their knowledge. This resulted in too many clichéd, one-dimensional or simply forgettable characters – including an over-representation of poor, downtrodden, misunderstood artist protagonists.

There were some amazing, original and insightful ideas in all the scripts. The writing talent is obvious, but some were trying so hard to be original that that forgot to tell a story or just weren’t ready to be performed. Many felt like early drafts, and I have to wonder if the MWT work shopping and feedback processes are vigorous (or honest) enough.

At three hours, MelBorn08: Playspotting is a long haul, twelve stories are a lot to think about and – despite appreciating the work of every artist involved – I was disappointed in the result.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

26 September 2008


interior thearte
26 September 2008
Festival Club, Arts House

Forget the rides at the Melbourne show, and jump on the Zoetrope at the Fringe Club.

Zoetrope is an experience, not just a performance. Creator Telia Nevile is determined to make audiences a much more integral and interactive part of the theatrical experience, because “the give and take of energy and emotion is what gives theatre its incredible buzz.”

Closed into a white picket fence enclose, her audience have to chat, communicate and move – just to fit everyone in.

Nevile and dancer Emily Amisano jump into the ride and the trip begins. Inspired by the smallest moments in daily life, they present identifiable glimpses of love, banality, boredom, passion and crudity – each tripping and effortlessly blending into each other.

As the performance happens outside of the enclosure, the assembled group juggle positions and taller folk happily squat and move, so that everyone can see the Zoetrope whimsy. The reactions of the assembled audience, and curious onlookers, are as much a part of the show as are the performers. “It’s exciting to make a show that pushes you as a maker and a performer, and it’s wonderful to watch how the audience reacts to it each night,” says Neville.

Now, it is possible to watch Zoetrope for free in the Fringe Club - but it’s like watching a roller coaster – you have no idea what it feels like unless you give it a go.

It’s only $5 for a spin (as much as beer) - and you’ll come away with a pretty cool better buzz, without any risk of hangover.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

The Undressing Room

The Undressing Room 
Heavens to Betsy productions
26 September 2008
Fringe Hub, Lithuanian Club 

I’ve seen Imogen Kelly’s work around the traps and always loved it. She grabs burlesque and strip by the tender bits and twists it into something fabulous, ironic and subversive. The Undressing Room is her first full-length, solo show, which somehow manages to turn burlesque and strip in something a bit self indulgent and boring.

The individual strips that Kelly performs within the show are as spectacularly brilliant as they always are, and there are some wonderful jokes - but they mean nothing in the context of the piece. When a character is built around a series of sketches, the sketches need to reflect, support or contradict that character. Instead of seeing moments of understanding, empathy and love, I was just left asking ‘why’?

The Undressing Room is screaming out for a director, a writer or at least some critical outside eye to say ‘No’. I don’t care about the abundance of technical hitches that plagued opening night – in fact, they actually helped by breaking the tension and allowing the audience to comfortably laugh AT something. I do care that this show lacks structure, character, story and premise.

The concept seems to be that we are watching the performer behind the stripper - indeed a fabulous and intriguing start. In her dressing room Kelly’s character chats to an off-stage voice. They discuss the age-old question of what to call her girl bits. She has to reject ‘muff’, as these days strippers have to shave and ‘it’ is no longer fluffy. So ‘clacker’ to ‘husband hole’ are offered, with no real conclusion reached (and the opportunity for a fringe/minge joke was ignored).

We finally find out that the off-stage voice is her ego (at one stage, I thought it was her vagina) – which she eventually kills – I’m not sure why – but her ego disappears in a Psychoesque shower scene. Nonetheless, even though she is ego free, nothing about her performances seems to change.

I couldn’t figure out if this character likes her job. Does she enjoy the power of stripping, does she resent it, is she all exhibitionist, does she find it sexual, or is it just something she does to achieve her goal of being seen naked by one million people? As an audience, it’s very difficult to support her strip performances if we’re worried that the character hates what she is doing, or doesn’t have any concept of the politics of what she is doing.

If Kelly performed as herself, I’m sure it would be much clearer – as she does understand the things that her character seems to have missed. When Kelly let the character go, there was a much better connection with the audience and these moments were much more enjoyable.

The best thing about a Fringe festival is seeing the work artists really want to make and sharing in their experiments, discoveries and risks.  Kelly is a bloody great performer with amazing material. I’m sure that The Undressing Room will tighten up as the season continues, but it needs a lot of work before it becomes the show it can (and I’m sure will) be.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

Andrew McClelland's Somewhat Accurate History of Pirates

Andrew McClelland's Somewhat Accurate History of Pirates (1550–2017)
Australian Comedy Management
26 September 2008
Festival Hub, Lithuanian Club

 Ahhh … now that I’ve realised that Andrew McClelland's Somewhat Accurate History of Pirates (1550–2017) is a return season of a 2003 show, I’m much more comfortable with it. For one thing, it proves just how far McClelland has come as a performer and writer, and I changed my opinion from ‘Argh! - walk the plank ya scurvy tossser‘ to ‘Arrrr, yee be a fine and amusing lad’.

Pirates is presented as a “lecture” about the history of piracy, specifically the pirates of the Caribbean (and not a Johnny Depp in sight!) The information is more year 8 project than honours thesis, but it appears as somewhat accurate as the title suggests. (And I will proudly file my Bachelor of Piratology with my other well-used academic qualifications.)

McClelland is one of the most likable comedians around, and his Mix Tape is one of my favourite stand up shows in recentish times. Much of his success is based on him being a delightfully likeable nerd. Pirates is presented by a likeable-but-not-quite-as-likeable professor, who becomes much more likeable when McClelland drops the character and takes over. It’s a very dodgy character performance, but the professor needed McClelland’s intervention when the show lagged. The character created distance, while Andrew created intimacy.

As a return show, McClelland spent his time enjoying the visit to his past and soaking in the obvious love from his very full audience. He also seemed determined to include every possible joke, which slowed the pace down considerably and resulted in a very rushed conclusion. 

It was kind of nice to see where McClelland came from, Pirates was fun, but it’s no where near as good as his recent work, and I’m very glad that he’s sailed into more complex waters.

This review appeared on AussieThearte.com

25 September 2008

Mysteries of the Convent '08

Mysteries of the Convent '08 
Peepshow Inc
25 September 2008
Abbotsfod Convent

I know I shouldn’t be calling favourites this early in the festival, but it’s going to take something special to top Mysteries of the Convent '08.

All tours should be as fun and inspiring as Peepshow Inc’s tour of the Abbotsford Convent.  Being greeted with a mug of mulled wine and wandering this stunning complex at night is worth the ticket alone, but the delightfully incompetent and perfectly hilarious tour guide (created by Robyn McMicking) is an unforgettable bonus. She reveals the special features of the convent, like the lead light window of a man in a robe with a staff and a sheep – she doesn’t know who he is.

As the tour explores the buildings, they glimpse, watch and are met by ghosts and memories of the convent’s first occupants. Director and creator Melinda Hetzel worked with the cast to create a unique experience that combines a deep respect for the history of the place, with a dark poignancy and a loving, whimsical and often unexpected humour.

Puppetry, movement, live music and projection effortlessly meld with the spaces to create vignettes and that are as close to perfect as possible. By allowing the images to speak for themselves, Hetzel’s direction lets the unsaid be as strong as the said, and creates complexity within the simplicity of the story.  Oil drop projections, a nun with a cello, Geelong religious icons and ‘The Vatican Rag’ ensure laughter, but this absurdity and incongruity result in a beauty and warmth that is irresistible.

Peepshow Inc takes us out of the theatre into a world made theatrical. Mysteries of the Convent '08 is gorgeous, delicate and inspiring. Make time to see this show, and remember to wear your flat shoes and bring a jacket.

This review appeared on AussieThearte.com

18 September 2008

The Rocky Horror Show

The Rocky Horror Show
Dainty Consolidated Entertainment, Ambassador Theatre Group 
18 September 2008

Word on the street was that iOTA is the best Frank N Furter ever. That’s some pretty big, stiletto, patent boots to fill. Last night Melbourne got to see if what all the fuss was about, as The Rocky Horror Show opened in the less-sunny capital.

Let me take you (if I may) back to 1980. The Time Warp was a contender on the Countdown Top Ten, with Ashes to Ashes as its main competition for the number one spot. It was close, but Richard O’Brien beat David Bowie. So that means it’s about 28 years since I discovered and fell in love with The Rocky Horror Show. I’ve seen many Franks since then. (I am too young to have seen Reg Livermore though.) Frank remains an original, intriguing and unforgettable character. When he’s played right, every member of the audience wants him; when he’s played wrong, he’s a boring and offensive parody. I expected a lot from iOTA, not only from hearsay about this performance, but because his original music is rarely off my iPOD play lists.  Did he live up to expectation, comparison and hope?

Oh, yes! iOTA is a goddam super star. It’s hard to describe the difference between a very good performer and a great one, until you see one of the greats. iOTA is one of the great ones. He doesn’t perform Frank – he is Frank.  He owns the room and no matter how amazing the rest of the cast are, they almost pale in comparison.

This cast is indeed fabulous. The ensemble is as tight as a corset and their skill, talent, dedication and enthusiasm are undeniable. But has Gale Edwards directed a great production?

This Rocky plays with the rhythm and melody of the music, the design has been described as a bit too ‘Bratz dolls’, and the characterisations are slightly different from the well-known expectations. I didn’t like all of the choices, but this production offers something new and reveals unexpected and original moments, like the "Don’t Dream It" cock chariot that is simply going to be adored or hated.

However, to get an opinion different from my own, I went with a friend who had never seen a Rocky (not even the film). He didn’t get what the fuss was about and said that he had no idea why the audience where whooping and cheering. After some intense questioning, he admitted that he didn’t understand what was going on.

From the biggest arena to the tiniest theatre, success comes down to understanding the characters and following their journey. The Rocky Horror Show is a surprising and original story about unique characters who all grow, act and change. This production relies heavily on an assumption that the audience knows what’s going on. The rushed first act doesn’t allow time to create or discover an empathy with or understanding of the brilliant characters.

After some thought, my friend also said, “It’s like watching a technically amazing band performing covers. You can’t fault it, but it just doesn’t feel right.”

Despite everything that is terrific about this Rocky Horror Show, in it’s determination to be a Rocky that we haven’t seen, it loses the essence of what made this show so great when it all began.

But iOTA is the best Frank ever. If you love the show, see this Frank.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

12 September 2008

The Real Thring

The Real Thring
Hoy Polloy and Triple R
12 September 2008
Triple R Performance Space

If you believe the legend, Frank Thring was outrageous, offensive and remarkably talented. For once, the legend is very close to the truth. Hoy Polloy’s premiere of Barry Dickins’s The Real Thring explores this legend (and his urban legends) here in the city where Thring created himself.

If you were born after 1970, you may not know Frank Thring. I remember him from his appearances on Blankety Blanks – which are now on DVD or U-Tube. Also, check U-Tube for a rather interesting Thring interview on Tonight Live. By the 1980s Thring was someone we laughed at, but in the 1950s he was performing Shakespeare, Shaw and Brecht in the West End, with co-stars including Laurence Oliver and Vivien Leigh. Moving to Hollywood his film appearances included Pontius Pilate in Ben-Hur (“loved Bad, hated Her”) and Herod in King of Kings. Thring was a rising star when he returned to his home town of Melbourne. Here he regularly appeared on stage, but was best known for his many voiceovers (he was the Continental Soup voice), for being a regular villain on Skippy the Bush Kangaroo and film appearances that included Alvin Purple Rides Again and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. He also hit the height of Melbourne sainthood by being crowned King of Moomba in 1982.

It isn’t clear why Thring decided to return to Melbourne. Was it just big fish (and Frank was a very big fish) in a small pond? Back home Thring was an original Fitzroyal; at a time when a terrace near Brunswick St was crossing over from working class to bohemian. He was very close to the city theatres, the Collingwood brothels and the RRR radio studio – all of which he loved and frequented with equal passion.

In The Real Thring, Thring is neither alive nor dead, but thinks he may be dreaming that he’s alive. He admits he “made narcissm feel like anonymity” and wishes that he “hadn’t tried to be so fantastic”. This leaves a memory of a sad and terribly lonely man who hid behind sarcasm, outfits of camp black and bling, and a joy in shocking anyone. The Real Thring doesn’t really consider that this was simply Frank. Certainly, it was a façade, but we all choose facades that are very close to our real selves.

Dickins’s script is quite remarkable. It is written with a dexterous rhythm and witty rhyme (St Pauls/balls, monster/imposter, severe/queer) that force you to listen. The wonderful words do get in the way of story though. It feels like there’s an assumption that we already know Thring’s story. On opening night, this was certainly the case, but I’m not sure how it will sit with less familiar audiences.

The Real Thring is also a loving tribute to the world of Melbourne theatre that was. Name-dropping Lawler, Hopgood and Carillo will always get a well-deserved snicker of recognition; however, there were so many names that are, sadly, no longer recognized. I want to know about Fred and Joan who lived in Kooyong Road.

Finally, it takes a fine performer to present such a difficult script. Michael F Cahill is such a performer. Filling a toga that big is a big ask. Cahill’s performance works, because he captures the essence of Thring, without trying to be Frank. He presents so much more than shock and bling, without ever making us feel sorry for him. Luckily he doesn’t force us to love or care about him too much either, as a sympathetic Thring would have been too far from the truth

As a celebration and exploration of a personality and a time that is slipping away from memory, The Real Thring is a glorious achievement. The script and this performance may not translate out of Melbourne (it may not even work on the South side of the Yarra), but the language and the character will ensure that it’s a script we see again some day.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com