28 January 2011

Review: Spring Awakening

Spring Awakening
The Young Australia Broadway Chorus and Matthew Henderson
27 January 2011
National Theatre, St Kilda
to 5 February

Spring Awakening was the big winner at the 2007 Tony Awards and the Young Australia Broadway Chorus (YABC) are giving Melbourne its first look at the show that made teen idols of its cast and made the New York Times declare that "Broadway may never be the same again".

Based on a banned and censored German play from 1891, it's about a group of teenagers learning about sex and desire in a world and a time that our contemporary sensibilities call oppressive. With masturbation, sex, homosexuality and suicide, it is as relevant as any teen story ever was and reminds us that being 17 really can be a bitch. What helps this story scream to us today is that creators Steven Sater (book and lyrics) and Duncan Sheik (music) infused it with music and lyrics as angry and passionate as the souls on the stage.  Songs in musicals show us the inner world of the character, so it's natural and perfect for these already-wounded young adults to sing "You're Fucked" and dance like their great great great great great grandchildren will.

The choreography, design and direction reflect the original production and it's easy to see why Spring Awakening has been such a hit.  The band show how amazing the score is and let the singers be at their best. However, there seems to be a problem with the mix as lyrics were getting lost in the cavernous National Theatre, which made following the details of the story difficult to follow.

The teenage cast, most whom already have significant experience in YABC productions, bring such authentic passion and experience to the stage that you'd swear it was created for them. The principals own their roles and each bring a bit of themselves into the story to make the emotion and connection stronger.  The ensemble,  who remain on stage for most of the show, are professional and supportive and create the atmosphere to carry the story forward.

There's no doubt that many of these performers will be on our stages for a very long time and will remember this Spring Awakening as one of the shows that made them love musical theatre.

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com

Preview video by YABC cast

Broadway cast at the Tonys

27 January 2011

Review: Two Weeks With The Queen

Two Weeks With The Queen
Black Apple Theatre
25 January 2011
Northcote Town Hall
to 30 January

Two Weeks With The Queen was written for children, which doesn't stop grown ups being moved by this beautiful story, and Black Apple Theatre's production for Midsumma reminds us why well told stories can reach our hearts and change how we see the world.

On a hot Aussie Christmas Day, Colin wishes he had a microscope instead of new shoes and his little sister Lou has grabbed all the attention by being rushed to hospital. Colin knows the doctors are being slack when they say they can't help her, so Colin agrees to go and stay with his Aunt and Uncle in London so that he can ask the Queen to send her doctor to help out. Breaking into Buckingham Palace doesn't work, but Colin meets rainbow-wearing Ted outside the cancer hospital in London. Ted is the first adult Colin knows who isn't afraid to say cancer and he knows the best doctors because his friend has been in the hospital for a long time.

Mary Morris's play is based on Morris Gleitzman's 1990 novel. It was a time when long haul flights always went though Melbourne and Singapore, the grim reaper challenged sexual behaviour and made of scared of a little-understood disease.

Childhood cancer, HIV/AIDS and terminal illness aren't a barrel of giggles, especially when you're watching someone you love die, but director Cheyney Caddy ensures that Colin's story is told with the kind of love and humour that helps us get through such times. As heart breaking as some moments are (bring tissues), it's an uplifting and positive story about ordinary people, like us, who overcome fear to be there for the people they love.

Led by Tom Barton as Colin, the cast bring the same love and enthusiasm to the stage and balance the fun with the poignancy. All but Tom play a selection of characters and each has a memorable hero moment when their someone ordinary acts selflessly.

Daniel Harvey's witty design of cardboard boxes, giant stamps and brown wrapped packages solves the problem of multiple locations with ease and the hideous patriotic jumpers, fluro shoe laces, doc martins and Ken Done scarves nostalgically set the time without being overwhelming.

I first saw Two Weeks With the Queen in the early 90s at a time when I'd recently lost a friend to cancer and another to AIDS. From people being afraid to say cancer to the fear of men with HIV, I knew Colin's world even though my world was nothing like it. Black Apple's production let me remember both friends with love.

The children in the audience when I was there adored Colin's adventure because (like the best families) it's full of hope, love and support – as well as attention-grabbing siblings, strange cousins and moments where it just doesn't seem fair. The short season finishes on Sunday, so please grab your families and loved ones and see it together.

This review appears on AussieThearte.com

24 January 2011

Review: Carnegie 18 part 2

Carnegie 18
Curtains and Contact
Full Tilt
22 January 2011
to 25 January

Carnegie 18 is four music theatre projects given the opportunity to develop by the Arts Centre's wonderful Full Tilt program. I missed the two program one shows, and if they were anywhere near as creative, original and bloody awesome as program two, I missed out.

Curtains (produced by Maakan Productions) offers the fantasy-come-true cast of Meow Meow, Mikelangelo, Yana Alana and Tina del Twist. Don't expect Melissa, Mikel, Sarah* and Wes; the twisted concept of David Chisholm's creation is delusional characters playing delusional characters.

Telling the somewhat irrelevant story of the 30th anniversary revival concert of the musical Revival with an understudy,  a faded diva and a murder, the characters get to play characters and sing well out of their usual scope. Highlights include Tina singing the torch song intended for Meow (who had to phone and video in her performance; disappointing, but there are few others who are so good that even a video is worth going to see), Yana singing about being famous (and her ongoing reactions to Tina),  Mikelangelo playing Billy Shakepeare singing about The Empty Space and Mikelangelo and Tina's duet as executioners.

The joy of this show lies in knowing the characters who are playing the Curtains characters and at times it's difficult to see the line between the written and the somewhat improvised work. In the post-show Q and A Chisholm said that he hopes to see many different casts, like a UK version with characters from Tracey Ullman and Julia Davies.

Curtains is the third in a cycle of five long form works that Chisholm aims to be completed and presented by the end of 2013 and presented in its entirety.

Contact is Angus Grant's chamber opera about netball, composed for eight sopranos and guy called Bevan.

I'm sure people raised their eyebrows at the idea of a ballroom dancing show that NIDA students developed in the 80s. Strictly Ballroom went to bigger stages and film, becoming an Australian cultural signpost. And who didn't love it!

Contact should be heading on the same zeitgeist-defining path.

The Rangers netball team are from "a suburb not far away" and their finals chances are looking dim as their Goal Shooter has left the team, maybe because "nice boys have sperm too". All isn't lost because  alternative Daisy has moved out from the inner city and her shooting is as cool as her look, but there's no trophy yet as coach Bev is having issues with her past and with her Wing Defence daughter Wendy and Wendy's twin Bevan is dating Goal Attack Gayle.

With a libretto (by Grant and Kate Schmitt) that lets suburban vernacular like "quick sticks" and "I was in with a shot" sound like poetry, a score that will  make school kids pin pictures of sopranos on their lockers, and choreography (by Julia Sutherland) that captures the boredom of drills and the precision of a match without ever looking like a drill or a match, this is a show that bends all the rules to make the a definitive Aussie chamber opera.

And the young cast are no less than perfect.

Contact captures our unique obsession with netball (it's not just women) with plenty of implied jokes for players who understand that it sucks to be WD and that GAs and GSs bitch like first and second sopranos, but the humour is never limited for those in the know.  It's a tale of passion, sport, family, rejection, secrets, love and life in the suburbs that grabbed the hearts and imaginations of everyone in the audience.

Contact has only played a quarter and it will be an unforgivable obstruction if we don't see the full match.

Talk was that program 2 was sold out, but there are limited seats available for the last show on 25 January.

Applications for the 2012 Carnegie 18 series close on 27 May.

* I've seen Sarah's stuff, but never in a review capacity. Sista She were brilliant and Yana Alana and her Parana's should not be missed.

This review appears on AussieThearte.com

22 January 2011

Review: Court in the Act

Court in the Act
(The Case of the Crown v Someone in the Audience)
Rod Quantock, National Trust of Australia (Vic), the Old Melbourne Goal, Justice Experience
19 January 2011
The Old City Watch House
until 11 February

Melbourne's theaterati know that this week a Melbourne-born, 60-something famous boomer writer has been criticised by dumb arse reviewers for creating jaded and dull theatre. It isn't Rod Quantock. If David Williamson made me snooze, Captain Snooze himself woke me up and reminded me that writers do love and trust the intelligence of their audience, that satire should always make me cringe at my own prejudices and that polite twitters can never compare to uncontrollable belly laughs. 

If Rod's doing a show, I want to see it.  And I'm in a very long queue of people wanting to do the same.   

Court in the Act isn't written and as an audience you will be more than a passive bum on a seat. Your bum will start on a wooden bench in a prison cell with some strangers' bums. It could be a cell where Chopper sat or where Ronald Ryan wondered if anyone will even remember his name. If you were arrested in Melbourne before 1994, it may feel too familiar.

The City Watch House closed in 1994 and his been kept the same so that the public can explore. Quantock has done shows, including Coming Clean, in the Watch House and if you've been to one, no one's going to stop you trying to get locked in with him again.

Back in the cell, your cell mates choose a crime and a criminal. When you're let out, it's off to the exercise yard to vote for the best and the winning cases are tried in the Old Magistrates Court – the court where Ned Kelly was sentenced to death. On our night, there was at least one lawyer who had worked professionally in this room and he continued his work nobly defending Colin who stole a famous banana bread recipe. The next case involved insurance fraud, murder and removing sandbags from a flood levee. 

As Rod is only one person, the roles of defendant, defence lawyer, court artist, judge, clerk, jury and witnesses are all chosen from the audience. Eager ones can jump in early, others will be chosen by the eager ones and you don't dare throw away your entry raffle ticket.

If audience participation scares the bejesus out of you so much that you'd rather risk Don Parties On and On and On, know that Rod doesn't pick on anyone who can't cope and never leaves anyone stuck for words or embarrassed – unless they bring it on themselves.

I've never been to a Rod Quantock show and seen anyone look grumpy. I can't guarantee you'll love Court in the Act, but I'll think you're a bit odd if you don't. Book for yourself and all your friends. If it were my birthday, I'd make it my party outing and it could be the best date show ever, because you'll know if you share the same sense of humour and discover if they've ever been arrested or like wearing handcuffs.

This review appears on AussieThearte.com

Photos courtesy of court artist A Alexander's new iPhone.

21 January 2011

Awesome Fundraisers


Sydney's Evapor-Aid sold out in 24 hours and raised over $7000 for the Queensland flood victims and now it's Melbourne's turn.

Promising a massive night of dry humour and saturation of flood puns, some of Melbourne's favourite comedians are going to build a levee of laughter (they said that...) to raise money for sRed Cross Victoria and the QLD Premier's Flood Relief Appeal.

Book early to beat the inundation to see Tom Gleeson, Lehmo, Dave Thornton, Dan Ilic, Felicity Ward, Laurence Mooney, Michael Chamberlain, Kate McLennan, Dave Bushell, Tommy Dassalo, Danny McGinlay, Melbourne Improv Allsatrs, Xavier Michelides, Karl Chandler, Matt Kenneally, Anyone For Tennis, The List Operators and Geraldine Hickey.

Sunday 23 January
7.30 pm
The Corner Hotel, Richmond
Book at www.cornerhotel.com

Short & Girly

Short & Girly a chance to see Melbourne's most gorgeous and ridiculously funny women and Support the Victorian AIDS council.

Hosted by the ever-wonderful Julia Zemiro, the line up includes Fiona O'Loughlin, Cal Wilson, Denise Scott, Kate McLennan, Rachel Berger,Geraldine Quinn,Geraldine Hickey and Zara Swindells-Grose. And it's produced by the lovely Janet A McLeod.

Saturday 12 February
7.30 pm
National Thearte, St Kilda
Book at www.ticketek.com

Review: Tango Femme

Tango Femme
La Mama and Wishing Well Productions
18 January 2011
Carlton Courthouse
to 6 February

La Mama opened its Midsumma festival program with Tango Femme, a creation so full of heart and passion that's impossible to leave without adding a ball change or spin to your walk.

Helen has finally accepted her femme side and runs the Golden Apple dance studio where her same-sex group would love to win an upcoming competition, but they lack dancers and Helen's almost had enough of her students not being good enough.

Blended with gorgeous dance numbers that slap the face of convention and celebrate the intimacy, precision and skill of formal dance, the direction shines with stylised over-the-top scenes, but loses momentum in the more serious moments when the mixed experience of the cast is more obvious.

The strength of the script lies in its complex and recognisable characters who never resort to stereotype, even if two of them don't do much. There's a terrific story in there, but it gets lost in the discussions about it being OK to be butch or femme or ballroom dancing reflecting the patriarchy or lesbians like Gertrude Stein and kd Lang who like to wear trousers. Is there anyone at a Midsumma festival play at La Mama who needs convincing? It was far more interesting when the talk turned to more controversial issues like drag kings looking like 12-year-olds in backwards baseball caps.

For all it's celebration and heart, the script would benefit from more guts. Everyone is so nice that any conflict is quickly resolved with a discussion, an apology and a hug, leaving the story no where to go.  Drama fizzles without conflict. We want to see people make stupid choices, we want to take sides and cringe at the times we behaved like that. Leave being kind and understanding to real life; make everything as difficult as possible in our stories.

Tango Femme isn't quite Strictly Ballroom (which was an amazing NIDA-created play before it was a film), but it's two-stepping in the right direction.

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com

14 January 2011

Review: Don Parties On

Don Parties On
13 January 2011
Playhouse, the Arts Centre
to 12 February 2011

David Williamson was my favourite playwright when I was 14 and I got an A+ for my Don's Party English essay. Suspecting that my teen taste may have been naive, I re-read the script and still recoiled with embarrassing recognition and nostalgia at the perfect snapshot of the generation who raised me. I love Don's Party. I'm not alone and 40-odd years later Williamson has given us Don Parties On.

I was a toddler when Don's Party was written; the same age as the offstage baby Richard. Discovering the play in 1980s Adelaide, I was far from 1970s Melbourne, but I knew Don and Kath and their guests. They were the young, university-educated middle-class generation who supported the left to rebel against their parents and felt entitled to their easy education and well-paid jobs. From their casual misogyny to the excitement of home made pizzas, this was the last generation we now call Baby Boomers and the generation whose free sex created gen X ... and in 2010 they still have friends over on election night.

Don (Garry McDonald) and Kath (Tracy Mann) are still together in their tastefully renovated house in Lower Plenty, Mal (Robert Grubb) and Jenny (Sue Jones) got divorced, Cooley (Frankie J Holden) is now a Liberal voter and married to newcomer Helen (Diane Craig), Mack is dead and there's name dropping of Evan, Kerry, Jody, Simon and Susan.

There are few surprises. They've all followed the path they were set on in 1969 and the biggest laughs came from Kath doing her PHD at Deakin (is anyone not tertiary educated in Melbourne weeing themselves?), the three men singing Creedence Clearwater Revival and the three women wanting to listen to Maxine McKew criticise the ALP when she lost her seat.

I still recognise these people, especially Jenny and her preaching to 42-year-old Richard and liberal Liberal Helen supporting Medicins Sans Frontiers and buying goats for Africa, but I don't believe them.  They have elements of people I know, but each is little more than a cliche.

But these are fictional people and "Don" tells his friends that his fictional accounts of them (he finally had a book published) were never meant to offend and that all writers borrow and exaggerate from life. If this is exaggeration, Williamson must know some very dull people. The 70s swinging stories didn't even make them interesting.

The perfectly chosen boomer cast all brought more to their characters than they were given, but the "young" ones were less successful. Playing a stereotype (even if it's written) gives an audience nothing to relate to. Instead of seeing ourselves and caring, we're left grateful that we are not like them.

Naturally I looked to Richard (Darren Gilshenan). He's 42 and thinks he's 30 (so do I), but behaves like a brat who needs his mummy to give him an overnight flu tablet to calm him down. The original offstage baby Richard was more authentic. He and his 30-year-old lover (Nikki Shiels) are poor caricatures of selfish people whose only purpose is to be laughed at. Which was ironic, as Jenny tells us how her generation feels such passion for their children.

Structurally the new party is a reflection of the old with enough exposition and self-references to excite my inner-14-year-old and make my 42-year-old self want to attack the script with a red pen. One chips and twisties joke was plenty and who cares about dentist Evan if he's not part of this story.

And as gen Y nightmare granddaughter Belle (Georgia Flood) screams, "Just because there's a vampire in the movie, doesn't make it a vampire movie", just because every ABC political celebrity and well known politician is mentioned doesn't make it a political play or a social reflection of our society.

The political satire was restricted to name dropping (including enough Nick Minchins to convince Nick Minchin that he's important) and comments about the faceless assigns of the ALP and the irrational fear of boat people. Combined with sound bites from the ABC's 2010 Election Night coverage, it felt like the kind of political lecture a new Australian should listen to in order to pass their are-you-bonza-enough-to-be-one-of-us test.

I just don't get it. I know we get more conservative and complacent in middle age, but we don't get dumber. I secretly hoped that Don Parties On would be David Williamson's finger to all of us who have scoffed at his post-Emerald City writing, but then I'm just a 42-year-old who recently asked her mum for a Panadeine Forte because she had a bad headache. And out of nostalgia, curiosity and a love of play written in the early 70s,  I would have gone to see it no matter what any review said.

Photo: Jeff Busby
This appears on AussieTheatre.com

The first review was this one on Crikey.
Arts Hub
Theatre Notes
The Age

Don's Party film trailer

Midsumma [tos] treat

For everyone who loved [title of show] last year, Magnormos and the tossers have a Midsumma treat at the Butterfly Club.

After two seasons playing four nobodies from New York, the original Australian cast want to tell their own stories.

In I am playing me, they share backstage stories and celebrate each other's talents through favourite [title of show] numbers and highlight songs from their own careers.

I am playing me is at the Butterfly Club on 18 and 19 January.

Bookings: www.thebutterflyclub.com

11 January 2011

Spiegel Magic

How much did we miss having Famous Spiegeltent in Melbourne last year?

Well, the wait is nearly over as the Arts Centre is hosting The Famous Spiegel Garden from 12 February to 24 April.

Highlights include:

Smoke and Mirrors with the enigmatic and divine iOTA

Dead Men Tell a Thousand Tales with the equally enigmatic Mikelangelo and his irresistible Black Sea Gentlemen

The Wau Wau Sisters' Last Supper with the gorgeous and so wrong WW sisters

Die Roten Punkte's Kunst Rock, which was my favourite cabaret show of 2010

And shows from legends like Ed Keupper, My Friend the Chocolate Cake, Renee Geyer, The Gadflys, Ali McGregor and Paul Capsis.

10 January 2011

Melbourne White People Like David Williamson

I might have to hand in my membership card of the leftie middle age, middle class, over educated, inner city club.

Whilst checking how many new cliches on Stuff White People Like I ticked off (106/134 on the full list), I had to be smug about #43: white people like plays. We really do. I'm so white I sat in front of John Safran* at the MTC last week. And I'm so white that I thought the political satire on display wasn't ironic (#50) enough. My friends agreed, as we wished the free beer was an organic microbrew (#23).

Like the rest of pale play-loving Melbourne, I'm gearing up for the premiere of David Williamson's Don Parties On this week, so went to my bookcase to retrieve my copy of Don's Party.

I can't find it.

This is like not finding a little plastic sushi (#42) soy sauce fish in a Melbourne white person's recycle bin (#64).

I must have a Don's Party. In my collected-in-the-80s bookcase there are other Williamsons, some Buzos and the Lawler trilogy.  Of course there's also a slab of Albees, books by Martin Esslin and David Hare's autobiography (a later addition). Moving away from the drama shelf there's Zen and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance alongside Tom Robbins, Hunter S Thomson, Thomas Pynchon and Jeanette Winterson. (The Pynchons remain unread.) And books about Marxism, Bhuddism and Post Modernism.

It's just not possible that this did-a-BA-in-the-80s bookshelf does not have a red and white Currency Press copy of the seminal play written about Australian middle-class politics.

If I don't read it before the opening night of Don Parties On, how can I empathise with the dismay of the ageing jaded lefties or laugh at Williamson referencing Williamson or be at all disappointed and offended (#101) by his new work by comparing it to his early brilliance?

Perhaps I accidentally put it in the bookshelf devoted to writing (#21) and grammar (#99) books...

#101 Being Offended

*If you missed Christian Lander, the creator of SWPL, talking to John Safran at the Wheeler Centre, click here.

PS. Problem solved by the St Kilda library. I also borrowed a Michel Gondry (#68) film that I hadn't seen and bought some organic, fair-trade coffee (#1).

09 January 2011

Review: Not Quite Out of the Woods

Not Quite Out of the Woods: The Wharf Revue
MTC presents an STC production
7 January 2011
Sumner Theatre
to 29 January 2011

Three leftie boomers from Sydney
Best known for being on TV
Came down to Melbs with their revue
To laugh at our pollies, old and new.

One boomer made Pyne and Oakes tree puns
Two boomers laughed at Amanda V's bum
Three boomers scoffed at Don Watson
And they sang G and Sullivan...

Jonathon Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott and written and performed the popular Wharf Revue since 2000 and are widely known for their stage and TV show Three Men and A Baby Grand. Their theatre, opera and TV pedigrees are long enough to use 6 point font on the program and they have been joined by Amanda Bishop to play the girl parts.

If (unlike me) you can't sing along to The Mikado and quote Don Watson, don't remember Bill Hayden or watch QandA and Media Watch,  you'll miss the intricacies of the wit, but you won't miss the jokes.

As it should be, many giggles are about our newest Prime Minister. The one who looks like a woman. The one who isn't keen on a threesome with the three independents, who are in a bed together. The ranga who might not have red pubes. The one who humiliated Kevin07 because he was rolled by a sheila. The one without a willy. The amount of jokes about our PM's gender outweighed those about her politics. Imagine the uproar if Mrs Slocombe and her pussy had been made floor supervisor at Grace Brothers and you'll be on the same level. None of which makes Bishop's Gillard anything less than a highlight of the evening.

There are other women to lampoon and Amanda Vandstone and Julie Bishop are always deserving targets. I've thought it was because their politics and opinions reek of self-interest, lack empathy and fail to reflect the society they were elected to serve. Nup. We laugh at Julie because she has that weird eye thing and at Amanda because she's fat, and in Italy living "La Dolce Big Eater. Apparently she's also a racist bitch and refers to dagos and wops.

But it's not just unattractive righty women who get the boot. There's Michelle Grattan and her big glasses and Annabel Crabb with her big hair. If you don't read their political coverage and opinion, don't worry because you'll recognise them from the telly and that's all you need to laugh.

So many jokes were based on physical recognition and a political/social knowledge on par with a channel 10 news update. Bob H likes a tipple, Bob B likes a man date, Mark L is bitter, Sarah P is right wing,  Germans are still Nazis (lucky denial rhymes with Seig Heil), hippies and poofs like whales, and it's a cack to call the Japanese yellow bastards if it's in reference to whaling and sung to Gilbert and Sullivan.

Or am I just up on my high horse and siding with the humourless gen X gays, foreigners and feminists who take everything personally and wouldn't know a joke if it fell out of their Holiday Season cracker?

What I don't understand was who Not Quite Out of the Woods was speaking to. Surely it's more than wealthy baby boomers who support private education and arts funding and would never discuss politics or religion at a dinner party?  Political satire makes me cry with laughter when it laughs at me. The Don Watson's Party sketch hit the mark with jokes about the intelligentsia who still go to David Williamson plays, remember a time when the Labor party meant something to them and are stuck talking to themselves. It may be elitist humour, but at least it's laughing at people who buy theatre tickets instead of chicks, fats, gays and slanty-eyes.

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com