28 October 2010

Guest Review: Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher

Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher
The William May Corporation
24 October 2010

Review by Josephine Giles

Tell your friends you have seen Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking and chances are they will want to know about the piles of cocaine that reputedly dotted the Star Wars trilogy sets. But Fisher, who will forever be defined by her portrayal of Princess Leia in those block-buster movies, offers much more in this show than a string of sordid anecdotes of celebrity drug abuse.

By the end of Wishful Drinking you will probably not know a lot more detail about the life your new besty Carrie than you have read in the tabloids or seen on talk shows.  We all know she was born of Hollywood royalty Debby Reynolds and Eddy Fisher; that she struggled with addictions to various substances after her early stardom in the Star Wars movies; that she was in a tumultuous relationship with, then married, then divorced the singer-songwriter Paul Simon; that she wrote a number of bestselling novels - one of which, Postcards From The Edge was made into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Shirley Maclaine; and that she has become somewhat of a pin-up girl for bi-polar disorder, the illness she has wrestled with for many years, but that has provided the fodder for some of her best writing.

What you will come away with, however, is an appreciation of Carrie’s significant talent as an actress and writer as she fleshes out the above in a highly entertaining oral memoir / slide night.  Arriving on stage singing “Happy Days Are Here Again”, tossing glitter into the audience, Carrie kicks off her shoes and settles into her cosy lounge room of a set which is dominated by a centrally placed large screen.   Demonstrating skills borrowed from the best stand-ups, she establishes an early intimacy with her audience with a hilarious question and answer session about sudden death and she soon has us well and truly warmed upped. 

Once it’s established that we’re all best friends, Carrie, with the assistance of projections, leads us through the story of her life, loves and illness.  From her statement “If my life wasn’t funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable”, we learn that Carrie has not just the capacity, but the necessity to laugh at her life. So for all the considerable wit with numerous LOL moments - plus the pleasure of being entertained by someone we have all known for so long - we end up with admiration for Carrie’s capacity to endure, and create some sort of sense out of, a chaotic life lived out under the spotlight.

Carrie’s delivery is conversational and seemingly off the cuff, but this is merely evidence of her understated virtuosity. This is a tightly scripted show, polished through productions across America since 2006. The recipient of various awards for solo performance, Wishful Drinking is the work of a gifted storyteller.

At one point Fisher describes her show as narcissistic and audience pleasing, which it is, but I hate to think of where our entertainment industry would be if that description were grounds for disqualification. Carrie Fisher’s intense self-awareness adds a depth to the traditional comedic style of self-deprecation, and her intelligence and warmth shine and engage. 

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com

25 October 2010

Review: Seven Songs to Leave Behind

MIAF 2010
Seven Songs to Leave Behind
Melbourne International Arts Festival
23 October 2010
Sidney Myer Music Bowl

I've been to my share of festival closings, but MIAF have set a new benchmark with Seven Songs to Leave Behind. What a concept and what a night!

Each artist was invited to think about what what songs they want to leave behind and offered the song that made them go "this is what I am", one they wish they'd written, one from Leonard Cohen (it saved them trying to pick which one his they could fit into another category), a song to share, two of their own and one to leave behind. And they had Orchestra Victoria, the Black Arm Band and their fellow artists waiting to join them.

The unforgettable velvety roughness of Gurrumul Yunupingu opened a night of joy and unexpected treats where everyone on the stage was as thrilled to be part of it as the audience were to be there, and  this festival finally felt like it was made to be shared and enjoyed.

Coveted songs brought surprises like Sinead O'Connor screaming L7's "Shit List", Leah Flanagan, Ursula Yovich and the Black Arm Band pouring their hearts into Paul Simon's "Boy in the Bubble" and  Ricky Lee Jones (in an Orchestra Victoria beanie) belting out Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise".

Other unforgettable moments include Ricky Lee singing "Somewhere" (from West Side Story) with the recorded voice of Archie Roach, who couldn't be there because he's in hospital, the amazing Lou Bennet singing with her "niece" Sinead, Shellie Morris's "Swept Away", every moment of Meshell Ndegeocello and John Cale closing the night with Cohen's "Halleluja" – with everyone joining in.

And I only went so I could see John Cale, who continues to redefine cool.

Seven Songs to Leave Behind is one of those concerts that will stay with everyone who was there. It was a night where art overthrew entertainment, where collaboration created moments that will never be repeated and 8500 people stood and cheered because they knew that they were part of something amazing.

This review appears on AussieThearte.com

22 October 2010

Review: Tomorrow, in a year

MIAF 2010
Tomorrow, in a year
Hotel Pro Forma
Melbourne International Arts Festival
20 October 2010
the Arts Centre, State Theatre
to 23 October

I hated the first 20 or so minutes of Tomorrow, in a year. Hate is a strong word, but I just didn't get why I was there. Not long after, I didn't want this extraordinary and beautiful art to end. Somewhere along the way it all made complete sense and my brain and my heart worked together to be captivated in a way that will make me resent theatre that doesn't leave me feeling so alive and inspired.

There's been little controversy at this year's festival. Sure, people have liked and disliked shows, but none have provoked such extremes as the first two performances of Tomorrow, in a year. Words like pretentious, banal and "like a Monty Python satire" have been tweeted with abandon; while at the bar after the show all I heard were superlatives like astonishing and sublime. My own tweet was: Fuck me wow.

Danish company Hotel Pro Forma worked with Swedish electronic music wonders The Knife to create what's being called electro pop opera. I know how influential and amazing The Knife are because I talked with a self-confessed entertain-me-now, young and gorgeous gen Y after the show. The Knife's music brought her to her first opera and her fifth theatre experience. She got it. It's not just for the pretentious types who have seen hundreds of theatre shows.

Atmospheric electronic sounds and recorded natural sounds combine with three disparate voices – remarkable operatic soprano (Kristina Wahlin), electro-pop (Jonathon Johansson) and actor/singer (Laerke Winther) – that are enhanced, manipulated and allowed to sound like themselves. As the music develops its complexity and structure, the effect is like the first time you realise that caramel and salt belong together or you fall in love with someone who's not your type.

Inspired by Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, Hotel Pro Forma explore his wonder, confusion and awe of the natural world that us humans had barely begun to appreciate. This wonder changed the way humanity sees itself. At a time when creationism is still being taught to children and climate change skeptics are slowing our political and personal reactions (and taking up far too much of our media space), perhaps we need to be reminded of the complexity, indescribable beauty and adaptive qualities of our world.

But Darwin was just a man and suffered loss and experienced love like the rest of us. Humanity is brought into the world with a gentle narrative about the death of his daughter. When the libretto changes from it's poetic descriptions of nature to "We have lost the joy of the household", the work moves from an exploration of beauty to something human and emotional and reminds us how we too can and will adapt when our lives change without our consent. 

The design of a giant light box, back projections and laser light at first seems at odds with the descriptions of entombed animal carcasses and the costumes reminded me far too much of Blakes 7 (80s BBC sci fi), but it didn't take long to understand the contradictions. The dancers, who looked like they belong at a rave dedicated to The Knife, moved like seaweed dancing "upon the moving mountain of foam" or like plant cells multiplying and reaching to the sunlight, and the design moved to reveal its workings (and satisfy our curiosity) and become something new.

If the music had been live, the experience would be lifted to a new level – that's me just wanting more icing on the cake – but it's frustrating that the design didn't incorporate the surtitles  (that were always going to be there) into the stage picture. After The Blue Dragon's recent mid-titles, I never want sur- or sub-titles to pull my attention away from the stage again.

There's two more performances or Tomorrow, in a year. It's probably best that you don't trust to us who write, tweet or drunkenly slur our opinions at the Curve bar and discover for yourself what you think about it.

This review appears on AussieThearte.com 

Photo by Claudi Thyrrestrup

If you've bought your ticket, don't watch this as it gives away some wonderful moments (Hotel Pro Forma put it on YouTube, so it's not filmed by some twat in an audience) – but if you're umming and erring, it might help you decide if it's your kind of show.

If you're like me, you'll want to go here and get the soundtrack.

21 October 2010

GBGV are in town

At the 2009 Fringe I developed a healthy crush on everyone in Brisbane-based Ghost Boy With Golden Virtues.

I saw Exit and swore I'd see them every chance I could. It was one of my favourite shows of the year.

And here's the review from Inpress.

Well, they are in Melbourne on Friday and Saturday. I'm at MIAF shows both nights...can't complain, but I know they won't be anywhere near as sexy.

If you missed them last year...here's all the info. Take someone you fancy.

20 October 2010

MIAF highlight

Tomorrow in a Year

Finally a show that made me want to buy drinks and talk to strangers about such an exquisite piece of art.

Review will come, but it's hands down my MIAF highlight and I'd see it again if I didn't have shows on every other night this week.

I hated the first 20–30 minutes – really hated it – then it all made sense and I didn't want it to end.

Booking details here. It's on until Saturday.

19 October 2010

Review: The Beckett Trilogy

MIAF 2010
The Beckett Trilogy
Gare St Lazare Players Ireland
Melbourne International Arts Festival
15 October 2010
the Arts Centre, Playhouse

Three hours, one man, one writer – Go! Some people didn't make it, but so what; everyone else was spellbound.

I am embarassed to admit that The Beckett Trilogy: Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable has sat unread in my bookshelf for many years. Some of Beckett's plays sit nearby, but this trilogy of novels with their long dense text that rarely gives the breath of paragraph break, sat untouched with its unbroken virgin spine. Within a few moments of Coner Lovett walking onto the stage, I knew I was going to read Samuel Beckett's novels.

Coner Lovett has performed 19 Beckett roles in 24 Beckett productions in theatres all over the world and my raving opinion can only agree with every rave review that I've read. He has performed in the plays, but found his reason to be on stage when he developed performances of the novels.

Guided by director Judy Hegarty Lovett, he brings voice to these novels; a voice so authentic that I heard it again as soon as I opened a page of Malloy. He brings the space and hesitation and nuance to the text and gives it a life so vivid that his will be Beckett's voice in my head from now on.

The performance is an empty stage, where a baldish man in variations of a black overcoat with brown scuffed shoes stands, with his feet turned out, in three spotlight variations. With nothing to distract, the details of how he stands or the mirrored hand gestures in each piece become vital and beautiful. And the text...I had no idea Beckett was so funny and so bleak (and I thought I loved Beckett before.) I left with images like a parrot saying "Fuck the son of a bitch" and green tea with saccharine and powdered milk, and the voice of a man hoping that he finds death a change.

There were times in Malone Dies where I drifted (possibly because it was in the third person, so not quite as personal), but it didn't matter, as it was so easy to just watch Coner perform, and even coming back to the text half way, it's so rich and evocative that missing a bit of plot didn't hurt.

I've seen some terrific shows this festival, but I think The Beckett Trilogy is the one I'll remember.

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com

Photo by Roz Kavanagh

17 October 2010

Review: Jack Charles V The Crown

MIAF 2010
Jack Charles V The Crown
Ilbijerri Theatre Company
Melbourne International Arts Festival
13 October 2010
the Arts Centre, Fairfax Studio
to 17 October

Jack Charles V The Crown opens with a film of Jack injecting himself with heroin. His isn't a story with secrets.  Nor is it about addiction and relief. It's a story about hope and understanding told with heart and cheekiness. It's Jack's story, and now it's ours.

As the film is shown, Jack sits at pottery wheel making a vase. He ran the pottery shop at the Castlemaine Gaol, where he learnt to teach, and he reminds us that clay is land and that Bunjil the eagle made humanity from clay. It's also a story about identity and belonging.

Although he appeared on our screens and stages in the 70s, Jack Charles become best known after the documentary Bastardy was released in cinemas and shown on the ABC. I was at the first Melbourne International Film Festival screening in 2008 and where I was reminded how that medium of storytelling can change lives and attitudes. 

With director Rachael Maza Long and writer John Romeril helping to bring his story into the personal world of the theatre, Jack tells stories not included in Bastardy and the impact of being in the public eye. After the film, people talked to him on the streets and photos and friends appeared from his childhood, including the daughter of workers from the Box Hill Boys Home who was Jack's inseparable friend 56 years ago.

In the boys home, Jack grew up thinking that the Queen was his mum and had no link with his Aboriginal family until, as a teenager, he took a tram to the corner of Gertrude and Brunswick streets, was recognised and sat in a pub talking to people who knew where he was from. This act led to his first incarceration as his foster mother didn't approve and Jack was sent to the young offenders home.

Jack reminds his audience that to feel vulnerable is a terrible thing and, as a stolen person, he apologises to the people he stole from.  Jack was stolen from his mother when he was four months old. As a society we talk about the stolen generation with reverent tones, but it doesn't take long to hear voices saying that that it's time we got over it. Babies were ripped from arms of their mothers. I don't know how that pain can ever heal. Many of those babies are still with us and maybe the tiny way we can help is by listening to their stories and making their stories part of all our lives.

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com.

Photo by Bindi Cole

13 October 2010

Review: Magpie Blues

MIAF 2010
Magpie Blues
Ursula Yovich
Melbourne International Arts Festival
12 October 2010
the Forum Theatre
to 13 October

In Magpie Blues, singer and storyteller Ursula Yovich fills the Forum theatre with her voice and her heart.

With a four-piece band, her smooth soul voice and open soul bring life to song choices that are a bit classic fm radio, but it does mean that her audience (including myself) know them and can safely hum along. There's safety and comfort in her song choices, but she doesn't hold back with her story.

A magpie is a black and white gorgeous singing bird and Ursula's totem animal. Brought up in Darwin, she's a self-proclaimed Serborigine with an Arnhem Land mother and Serbian father. Ursula didn't think there was anything different about this until she was placed in an ESL class in primary school because she spoke English with a Serbian accent. Between songs she tells evocative stories like fossicking for gold in Humpty Doo and only finding old Coke cans, singing Bony M songs with her mum in Burada, one of the Maningrida family of languages, and receiving letters from her Serbian grandmother with the handprints of her cousins.

It wasn't a straight road from singing in her bedroom to winning Helpmann Awards. Her mum left when she and her siblings were young and much of the second half of the show is about Ursula's re-connection with her Aboriginal culture, prompted when she was called a white fella in Maningrida, where she was born.  Speaking three languages, Ursuala knows how quickly connection to language can be lost and how this is connected to loss of culture.

Having experienced far too many young deaths in her immediate family, Ursula openly and bravely talks about the suicide of her young niece and how there is no stronger sign of damaged culture than young people killing themselves. An old Maningrida aunty told her that is didn't used to be like this, that young people used to be proud of their strong culture.

Guided by director Wesley Enoch, Ursula reminds us how important it is to tell our stories; those from our childhood living rooms and those of our most far-reaching families. Without these real and lived stories, memories and cultures will continue to disappear and we become a much lesser society for that.

This review appears on AussieThearte.com

Photo by Peter Collie

Kunst is back

If you're not MIAFing tonight or you're suffering from Fringe festival withdrawals, you might need some Kunst.

Kunst ist Scheisse puts on its stilettos and kicks off its new monthly program at 24 Moons in ACDC Lane.

The cocktails are scrumptious and you'll see some of Melbourne's best cabaret/burlesque/comedy/bizarre/wonderful artists doing stuff you might not see anywhere else.

Tonight's line up includes Matt Kelly, David Quirk, The Caravan of Love, Miss Elleneous and Magic Tony.  All you need to know is on their Facebook page.


Photo by Max Milne

12 October 2010

Review: Oh Well Never Mind Bye

Oh Well Never Mind Bye
Red Stitch Actors Theatre
10 October  2010
Red Stitch Theatre
to 6 November

Red Stitch Actors Theatre rock and I don't want to hear a bad word against this innovative company that brings us scripts that we'd never see otherwise and has been the training ground for some of the best actors in town. So ... I'm going to give myself a really dirty look when I've finished this.

Oh Well Never Mind Bye left me angry, not at the world for being such a bad place or because it ran long and I missed a show I wanted to see at La Mama, but because I'd spent nearly two hours searching for something other than good performances and a great design.

For me, it felt like a long angry rant by a young enlightened artist who knows so much about the world that they have to grab that mirror Brecht spoke about and hold it up to the complacent middle class noses of everyone else who can't see their bleeding obvious noses.

With overly-written, overly-clever dialogue that sounds like someone has spent hours imagining what nasty journalists might sound like and a directional tone that places everyone as a total cunt from the get go, I wondered if it was meant to be a black satirical comedy – but no one was laughing and the good journo was getting serious. I'm still hoping it is comedy, but ... the only thing that got a giggle from the audience when I went was a cutsie pink pen.

It's set in a newspaper office in London after the 2005 tube bombings when an innocent man was shot by the police when he was misidentified as a suspected terrorist. There's struggle over using AP feed or finding out the truth,  and the money-grabbing selfish owners of the paper have a clear influence. Of course being in Australia we'd never see such journalistic atrocities. Yes that hurt to write even in jest. So why preach to the choir?

It gets worse when the hard-done-by journo (whose performance is as good as hers always is) went off to the middle east and tries to submit a story about an Arab boy being shot.  If you're going to discuss Palestine and Israel you have to really know what you're talking about. In Via Dolorosa, David Hare made my heart cry with confusion and understanding while showing me sides of the picture that I hadn't considered. Oh Well Never Mind Bye felt like it was researched on Wikipedia. I've read better researched and expressed stories in Green Left Weekly and The Australian writes with more understanding about The Greens.

There is a well-plotted story in there, but felt as contrived as the story one of them writes about the man fiddling with his bag at the tube station.  If you want to talk about politics and how bad professionals are at their jobs, write a pamphlet, run for office or blog. If you want to change our hearts in the theatre, tell us a story about people.

This review appears on AussieThearte.com

Cameron Woodhead loved this for The Age and his blog. It seems like it got the laughs that were so missing when I went.  Best way to decide is to see it for yourself.

...but I live in Adelaide!

If you're in Adelaide at the moment and feeling a bit jealous of Melbourne's abundance of arts festivals...

Well, you know yours are bigger...

AND Micky D (whose observational humour and poo jokes make snot come out of me) has decided that he wants to make Adelaide as hip as New York or London. Well, at least on Wednesday nights

Micky D moved back to Adelaide for love (or possibly the Coopers on tap), so he's making sure that comedians get a fair go in the town that too many people laugh at. 

Project Wednesday: Codename Rhino isn't your average open mic night.

Mickey says, "Think Fight Club for comedians. Minus the first rule...and the fighting." 

If you want to give stand up a go, practice your material or just get more time on a stage, get to the Rhino Room on Wednesday nights.

Everyone is welcome but you have to bring 3 paying guests and follow some rules.

1. 7.30 sign up
2. No favourtism
3. Respect rules one and two.
4. 5 to 7 minutes MAX. 5 min lights flash,  6 mins bell , 7 and a half mins = lights down.
5. Have fun.

Audiences...be  prepared for anything.

Mickey D is the supportive host and start time is 8 pm each Wednesday.

11 October 2010


MIAF shows are already dividing audiences. Isn't this great?

I love that I can sit in the same theatre with other people and we all see completely different shows.

And I love that I can read what other people think not long after we emerge from the phone dead-zone of the Arts Centre or when people like me remember to turn their phones back on.

Three weeks ago, I was a Twitter virgin. And now...well you know the analogy.

I've even leant how to use # tags. #melbfest is of course my favourite this week.


PS. If I ever read a tweet that was sent during a show, I'll be leading the posse that finds you and flushes your precious iPhone (cos it would be someone with an iPhone) down the nearest loo. 

PPS. I don't have an iPhone and my snarky comment about iPhone users is based on a severe case of iPhone envy.

10 October 2010

Review: Intimacy

MIAF 2010
Malthouse Theatre
Melbourne International Arts Festival
Ranters Theartre
7 October 2010
CUB Malthouse, Beckett Thearte
to 23 October

With so many international shows in town for the festival, it could be easy to miss the local shows in the MIAF program. If you're a local, book your tickets for Intimacy now to let the arty bliss continue post festival, and if you're visiting, consider forgoing the big stuff for this locally made perfect piece of imperfect life.

Ranters Theatre's Intimacy opens with actor Paul Lum telling us that he lives by St Kilda beach and one night went down to the streets and introduced himself to people because he wanted to talk. Playing with ideas of documentary and truth, director Adriano Cortese says that "the most interesting connections occur between people who don't know each other" and how it's sometimes easy to reveal your true self to a stranger.

These fascinating connections take place in Anna Tregloan's design of rocks in a blue curtained world that captures the feeling of sitting at St Kilda beach or on the rocks approaching Elwood (one of my favourite spots) without forcing the recognition of needing to know where these rocks are.

Lum sits and talks to people like roller coster–obsessed Russell, a street performing Bird Man and Tanya from Carnegie who can't sleep, all played by Patrick Moffat and Beth Buchanan. As each gently uncover the type of fears they would never reveal to friends and loved ones, the audience are drawn closer and closer to a too-familiar world of  hidden inner judgement. The intricate detail and of each story is so revealing that it's hard to imagine that it's not verbatim accounts of real meetings rather than a rigorously written, structured and rehearsed process.

For all its theatricality – including some of the best atrocious singing and dancing –  the Ranters style of performance is so intimate that its almost like eaves dropping. Raimondo Cortese's dialogue doesn't sound like learned lines or improvisation. It sounds like people talking, with all of our pauses and agreements that mean no more than we are still in the conversation or just letting the other person talk. It sounds so natural that its poetic.

As people talk, the others listen. It's rare to see actors really listen to each other on stage; listen to what the other is saying and meaning, not just listening for a cue. Some of the most beautiful moments were just watching these remarkable actors being silent.

When I saw Ranters Holiday in 2008, I didn't completely get what they were doing and felt like I was watching a curious process. But I was completely drawn into Intimacy because I could see me in this world of people that are nothing like me.

Ranters are now one of my favourites and how often do you leave a show thinking about the most extreme thing you've done for love, not worrying that everyone is judging everything about you or deciding to start masturbating with more heart and feeling.

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com

Photo by Jeff Busby

Review: Carnival of Mysteries

MIAF 2010
Carnival of Mysteries
Finucane & Smith
9 October 2010
the Arts Centre, Playhouse
to 30 October

There may be a handful of tickets still available for Carnival of Mysteries, but not for long. If you have yours, don't let them out of your sight because people like me will cast morals aside and plot to steal them so that they don't miss or can have another wondrous visit to the best carnival ever.

Using such a definitive phrase is never good for objective reviewing, but Moira Finucane & Jackie Smith create worlds so wonderful that it hurts to leave them.

45downstairs has been exquisitely transformed by the Sisters Hayes into a nostalgic but timeless world of sideshow and cocktail bar where there's room to sit with a drink, play a parlour game and watch the bar stage for surprises like Azaria Universe's butterfly dance or the special guest appearances like singer Lois Olney. 

But your ticket was exchanged for a stash of the illegal carnival tender, which lets you buy entry into the mysteries of the tiny sideshow rooms or the hand-painted carnival tent for intimate and very personal performances by Finucane & Smith's favourite artists. 

Focussed on themes of innocence, passion, mercy, forgiveness and love, these shows are as voyeuristic and confronting as they are personal and liberating. This carnival celebrates all that is wrong with our perceptions of beauty and art, and questions all our notions of right and wrong. It's a world that welcomes the out of place and leaves everyone feeling like they are in a world where they can and will find love, passion and acceptance. And, of course, it's all a bit naughty and very funny.

The only disappointment is not being able to see every secret and mystery. I saw Sosinia Wogayehu's too sexy ball juggling, Maude Davey's glorious library discussion of her grandmother's implied cunt, Brian Lucas's monstrous gigolo, and Moira's Ice Queen and her gothic horror librarian.  All were wonderful, but it wasn't enough. I missed treats like Carolyn Lee writing me a letter, Derek Ives not being hanged and Paul Codeiro being the handsomest dancer ever born. And so much more that I'm only just seeing in my keeping-for-ever carnival passport.

The Carnival of Mysteries is the hottest ticket in town and as this first carnival fades into legendary status, those who missed out will claim to have been there.  So, do what ever you can to be among those who really were there. And, as it's on in a street that has ACDC and Dame Edna lane, I say we remember the Mysteries and re-name and the alley at the back of 45downstairs Finucane & Smith Lane.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

photo by Jodi Hutchinson

Review: Stiflers Dinge

MIAF 2010
Stiflers Dinge
Melbourne International Arts Festival 
Heiner Goebbels
8 October 2010
CUB Malthouse, Merlyn Thearte
to 12 October

Stiflers Dinge (Stifler's Things) is one of the reasons we must always have wonderful arty farty festivals. It's art created for the sake of simply being beautiful and mesmerising. It's art that leaves its meaning and relevance up to its audience and it finishes on Tuesday.

Deconstructing Heiner Goebells' strange and wonderful world of theatre without people will never do it justice. It's an experience that doesn't scream the creator's intent or make you think about anything that isn't the important to your own world.

Five pianos are stripped of their cases and played by programmed Meccano-like arms or hidden electronics. They sit in a world with leafless trees that looks like the backyard shed of an obsessed-musican or a forest so beautiful that I want to live in it. With moving platforms, screens, projections and pools that are sprinkled with sand and filled with water, images have a life that changes, moves and surprises as music, sounds and voices are heard from different places.

Goebbels sources include indigenous songs from Papua New Guinea, JS Bach, an interview with Malcolm X, the side panel of a fifteeth-century chest and the relatively unknown writings of Adalbert Stifter. Out of context, this cacophony of sounds and contradictory images has no place other than the study of a mad obsessed artist, but they are blended to create something that makes them seem created for each other.

Goebbels says that this amazing thing was created to "raise questions" and "share experiences". It's easy to find messages as he lets us (or forces us) to focus on music, sound or art from a different perspective – like exploring the minutiae of a painting that takes it from a forest devoid of life to one filled with animals to a blood-thirsy hunt  – but the messages are just for you. The genius of Stiflers Dinge is that you take whatever you want from it.

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com.

Review: The Blue Dragon

MIAF 2010
The Blue Dragon
Melbourne International Arts Festival 
Robert LePage
9 October 2010
the Arts Centre, Playhouse
to 12 October

The Blue Dragon was my first experience of Canadian theatrical-legend Robert LePage's  thearte. Twitter tells me that it's not his best work and that I should be disappointed. I wasn't. I see a lot of works about middle-age, middle-class angst and disappointment in Melbourne and this is one of few that felt real enough to make me care.

The technical mastery and visual wonder of Dragon has been and will be raved about by others. Splitting the stage horizontally, allowed for scene changes as tight as a brilliantly edited film, locations as intimate as an apartment and as vast as the Shanghai skyline and, being a multi-language script, placed subtitles as midtitles at eye level; leaving the audience able to read and watch at the same time. I barely noticed when I wasn't hearing English.

From the opening description of the perfect squares of Chinese calligraphy, metaphor and symbolism are the dominant language of The Blue Dragon – that lurks in the thunder and storms that rarely leave the skies. China is represented by ancient dance, cultural revolution, crowded cities and art made from mobile phone photos, while the west and Canada are as obvious as a bottle of maple syrup and a stuffed moose.

With a design whose influence will be seen in our theatres over the next year, overt symbolism, a long time line and placement in a country "on the cutting edge of history", Dragon positions itself as an epic tale, but its story and characters never meet these expectations. 

Fifty-year-old Pierre (Henri Chassé) left Canada 20 years ago to study art in China (LePage told this story in The Dragon Trilogy in 1985) and is living in an artists complex in Shanghai. Claire (Marie Michaud) is an old-flame and in China to adopt a baby. She doesn't want to re-kindle the love and knows that, at 46, her young advertising work colleagues look at her "like a black and white tv". Xiao Ling (Tai Wei Foo) is a young Chinese artist supported by Pierre and sharing his bed. In a country where the word dissident can ruin your life, she creates art that shows her own "authentic emotion". 

With the adoption failing, Claire befriending Xiao Ling while not knowing about her relationship with Pierre, Xiao Ling's unwanted pregnancy and Pierre revealing that the blue dragon is his mood not a colour, the story would be at home in a soap or one of those terrible plays about middle class, middle age angst.

And this is what I loved about it. These characters never live up to the expectations of their worlds, themselves, each other or us. Out of place and judgemental, they make selfish decisions, never really communicate and feel lost and miserable as they realise that their lives are not what they imagined. Pierre even admits that he's a bourgeois artists holding onto artistic ideals but never making art. We want them to be better, to fulfil our expectations of this astonishingly relevant and symbolic world, but they act like frustratingly ordinary people; perhaps like people we know, perhaps like us.

LePage shows us a theatrical world that deserves heros, but he gives us ordinary and infuses the melodrama with a self-mocking humour like a Chinese KFC ad that looks like a movie, a cultural revolution soldier jumping on the back of Pierre's bicycle, a Chairman Mao cap with a red maple leaf and discussions about pandaplomacy. This is a world that even heros would fail in and is pushed to an ending that I thought perfect.

It's rare for a Robert LePage work to be in the antipodes and there's only three more chances to see it (including today at 6 pm). You might be disappointed, but you might not.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

photo by Yancik Macdonald

09 October 2010

Review: Hairspray

Dainty Consolidated Entertainment and Roadshow Live
2 October 2010
Princess Theatre

As a chubby chick with big hair who has been known to rant about the obscenity of racism and has a fondness for 80s queer cinema, Hairspray is my kind of show. Kind of.

Based on the 1988 John Waters film (staring Divine, Debbie Harry, Sonny Bono and Go Ricki Go Ricki Lake),  Hairspray won Tony's in 2003 and John Travolta filled Divine's cups in the film version of the musical.  The much-anticipated Australian version is all new and conceived and directed by David Atkins. All are set in 1962 Balitmore where fat chick Tracy Turnblad wants to dance on the teen hit The Corny Collins Show and doesn't know why every day can't be Negro Day on the tv program. With an obese mum who's scared to leave the house, a school that doesn't get her, a skinny blonde rival called Amber and a segregated fearful town, Tracy has some obstacles to overcome.

From the opening giant screen showing black and white delights like the duck and cover nuclear war turtle and the Flintstones advertising fags, there's no doubt that the world we're about to play in is going to be something unexpected, but nothing can fully prepare you for the design.

Cast and crew had their lips sewn shut during rehearsal because it is so spectacular. It's rare to see something totally new and this design of moving LCD screens with animated pictures is so mind-blowing that it takes a while for your eyes to finish orgasming and accept that this is how good it's going to be all night.  It's like being thrown into your favourite cartoon (or game) with the colour turned to the top of the dial. It made me regret wearing black. (And we get fined for that in Melbourne.)

To match the visual joy, choreographer Jason Coleman proves why every So You Think You Can Dance contestant should listen to everything he says. This is the kind of dance that lets you forget its technical prowess and makes you want to dance; and he has a cast who know how to turn movement into joy.

Since Waters discovered Lake, unknowns have been cast as Tracy. Twenty-two-year-old Jaz Flowers is Melbourne's find and she takes about 30 seconds to win every heart in the audience.  This Tracy is so full of love that her naivety that there's nothing wrong with being fat, ugly, black, male, female or even skinny and white is so genuine that you have to believe that's its true. Even so, I'd still like to see a smidge of doubt and anger to really make her decisions shine because they come from a place that isn't so back and white.

The rest of the cast are just as awesome and the casting choices are sensational, including Renee Armstong (Amber), Ester Hannaford (Tracy's bff Penny), Scott Irwin (Corny Collins), Cle Morgan (Motormouth Maybelle) and Grant Piro (Tracy's dad Wilbur).

In the original film Tracy's mum Edna was played by 42-year-old Glenn Milstead, who went by the name Divine. Divine played men and women throughout his career and died in his sleep a week after Hairspray was released. All Ednas since have been played men. Our Edna is Trevor Ashley and his Edna is winning as many hearts as Tracy. What struck me though about his knock-em-dead performance is that he plays Edna as a drag queen. Edna is not a drag queen; she is a woman. There's a noticeable difference between a man being a queen and a man playing a woman. Drag queens tend to be characters we laugh at. Edna is funny, but (as Divine and Travolta knew) she never deserves to be laughed at.

For all the marvellousness of Hairspray, there were elements that didn't tickle my heart.

If you think musical theatre is a lesser art designed for feel good, middle ground, please everyone and don't rock the boat entertainment, then Hairspray IS the feel good, bring Nanna and the kids show of the year. But I don't think musical theatre is a lesser art. I watch it the same way I watch the artiest show at the Melbourne International Arts Festival or the tiniest Fringe festival show. I enjoy a show based on how it makes me feel.

John Waters described his film as "a satire on two of the most dreaded genres: the teen flick and the message movie." Our Hairspray has become both and so loses much of the guts and power that it could have. This Tracy's too nice to spit at cops, no one is called a mullato and no white girl is poked with an electrified stick because she hung out with black folk. These scenes come from the satirical version, but by smoothing off the sharp edges and giving the musical a big happy ending without the underlying darkness that pushes the plot, Hairspray's message can become almost irrelevant.

It's lovely to think that Penny and Seaweed are going to be happy for ever because racism disappeared in 1962, but everyone who watches Hairspray knows that the same type of ignorance still exists today. The over-the-topness of Waters' satire made this clear, but the musical shows it as a world that has been made good. This never feels right in a show that has photos of Martin Luther King and 1960s race protests. Nor does it feel right that some of the "black" ensemble looked like they were assisted by make-up.

I know that thearte is a world of make believe and pretendies. I know that CATS couldn't be cast with real cats and that no real trains could be found for Starlight Express because they can't rollerskate or hold a tune, but there's something that feels so wrong about seeing blacked-up folk in a show about racism. Did we learn nothing from Harry Connick Jr's hissy on Hey Hey? If we lived in a theartrical world where people were regularly whited-up because they were the best person for the part then perhaps this wouldn't be an issue.

There is so much wonderful about Hairspray that discussions about racism and satire and intent can become meaningless. It's a great show, but what was once a brave, angry, funny and queer story has become quaint.

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com.

08 October 2010

MIAF opens tonight

Melbourne International Arts Festival
Opening Celebrations

The Melbourne International Arts festival opens tonight and everyone can enjoy a sensational performance of aerial choreography and live music for free.

MIAF traditionally includes free performances. The opening night celebrations have become so popular that they now run for three nights.

From tonight to Sunday, grab friends, family and a picnic and get to Alexandra Gardens (south side of the Yarra) for K@osmos from  Grupo Puja!, world renowned for combining theatre, circus, dance, aerial, sport, architecture, engineering, multimedia and music.

Details are here.

07 October 2010

Reviewing the reviewers

The lovely Justin Hamilton wrote this blog about reviewing reviewers a while back.

I've seen a few of Hammo's shows and reviewed Idiot Man Child and Goodbye Ruby Tuesday. I think he's one of the smartest writers on the comedy circuit. But I won't hold back if he ever does a naff show.

Review: Livin' The Dream

Livin' The Dream
5 October 2010
Meeting Room,  Fringe hub
to 9 October

I had no idea that I had lived someone's dream. Back in 1988, little Kate McLennan would so have hated me because I went to Expo 88.

In Livin the Dream, Kate McLennan and Fiona Harris open their hearts and embarrassing pasts to explore what it means to live your dreams. With vision boards (you've watched Oprah and know what they are), family pics,  a blackboard and videos of their comedian friends, Kate and Fiona sit down to a cup of tea and talk about the dreams they achieved and their total fails.

Fiona directed Kate in the award-winning and bloody marvellous  The Debutante Diaries in 2006 and in last year's  Dead River. It's so wonderful to see this duo being themselves and I can't say enough good about them. Except that it's great to see them joined by director Roz Hammond. Roz is already one of the best comedy actors around and twists stand up and theatre into a structure that makes the show feel like a chat in the living room with your best friends, while being as therapeutic as a year in expensive therapy.

The stories we love the most aren't devised by overly-clever writers (who all secretly admire the Da Vinci Code for its plotting), but are the day-to-day things that really happened. Real stories are the ones that our hearts love, even if our brain tells us to love the clever plotting.

By listening to Fiona and Kate read their childhood literature (I would buy the picture book about the baby chook being flushed down the toilet), show pictures of their not-as-hot-as-they-are-now teen years and reveal some big relationship scars, everyone in the audience can re-live their own remarkably similar experiences.

I know I wasn't the only person inanely grinning with recognition. Being neither blonde nor hot, I too aspired to be the achievable Jan in Grease (and it solved my lack of dancing/singing skill), discovered at 15 that getting off your face was totally the best way to talk to boys, used the phrase "get on" (what one did when "talking" to boys), liked The Pirate Movie and have spent time following and staying with men who had made it clear that I wasn't the one.

But at least I didn't talk to trees and can remember the name of my first with-tongues kiss.

Dreams are what get us out of bed to face each day, so don't consider missing Livin' the Dream

And Kate, Expo was great, even if I didn't see any of the Young Talent Team and was busy trying to impress a boy who didn't fancy me. 

This review appears on AussieThearte.com (without my Expo 88 pass).

Review: Miles O'Neil's World Around Us

Miles O'Neil's World Around Us
5 October 2010
The Loft,  Fringe hub
to 9 October

Miles O'Neil is best known as one of the marvelous Suitcase Royale trio. His first solo show, World Around Us, is a gentle and atmospheric hour about found stories that opens with the most beautiful self-confession about pornography.  But don't worry, it's not a dirty story.

Miles found a box of super 8 film in an op shop. Watching old home movies is almost as voyeuristic as peeping at your neighbours or reading a lost diary. Projected onto the traditional bed sheet screen, we search for recognition in the places and the people. We place them by clothes (70s bathers), places (the 80s Jaws shark at the Universal Lot in LA) and images remembered from childhood (TAA and Ansett planes).

We know they were made when film was precious. Every person filmed is someone loved and we have to wonder how these films were thrown away. Were they lovingly transferred to VHS and are now on the iPods of the children in them, or accidentally thrown out and someone has searched and cried because they lost these images of their loved ones (and many performing sea mammals).

Miles watched these films a lot and as we watch, like a silent movie accompanist, he sings and plays instruments that he found in strange places, as the nearly-lost hypnotic sound of a film projector opens and closes each number. The songs aren't about the films and their stories. Seeped in nostalgia, they reflect the lost mood of the films from the hope and love that made them to the melancholy of the times and people now lost or forgotten.

Between the songs Miles tells us stories: stories that he also found. He found them in taxis, outside the Black Box theatre and on a bench by St Pauls. They are stories about older men who shared their own tales and gave this young man some advice. Miles never judges the advice or the tellers; he just reads us their stories about life and hope and loss. (He doesn't need me to tell him to stop reading and start telling. I hope the papers will be gone by the end of the week, because every second that his connection with his audience is lost is too much like disappointment.)

World Around Us is still rough and needs some more runs, but I loved it even more for it's unreadiness because we got to see the real Miles on the stage as he tried out some moments (keep Neil Diamond), jokes and overcame his nerves. This is such a rough diamond of a show that it would be sad to see it slick and shiny.

Like a Drambie, a cuddle and comfy couch, it's a perfect end to a night at the Fringe.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com.