30 June 2011

SM is catching up

It's been one of those times when other people have needed my typing hands, so the back log of reviews is long...

This weekend is catch up time, I promise. (Which means I see nothing until then!)

23 June 2011

Review: The Burlesque Hour LOVES Melbourne

The Burlesque Hour LOVES Melbourne
Finucane & Smith
18 June 2011
to 14 August

From obscure subversive cabaret (loved by people like me) to Melbourne cultural institution (loved by people who go to the MTC), what hasn't been said about the insane gorgeousness of Finucane & Smith's The Burlesque Hour?

For all its new found, middle class popularity, TBH retains its subversive soul and it's still impossible not to leave feeling positive and excited about your age, your body and your overall sexiness, even if you sometimes keep it hidden.

The Burlesque Hour LOVES Melbourne nearly as much as Melbourne loves TBH.  It's missing some of the darker elements from past shows (and Azaria and Yumi), but this perfumed pink paper love letter is still written in fresh blood and addressed to the city where this now world famous show started.

This year Moira brings her favourite exquisite grotesque pieces and a new purple number that will leave you wet in all the right places. There's the wonderfully wild (and pro-hair) Sosina Wogayehu, Holly Durant and Harriet Ritchie, and Maude Davey continues to elegantly re-define rock. If you don't know, the correct response is "No way, get fucked, fuck off"

And as a special sparklie gift, there are a collection of weekly OMFG Melbourne special guest legends, including some of my absolute favourites like Die Rotten Punkte (how will Otto cope?), theatre goddess  Pamela Rabe, rock goddess Deborah Conway (please sing "Man Overboard") and Meow Meow, the one burlesque artist who could make Moira seem repressed.

But for the opening weekend, there was Rhonda Burchmore. Now, I would usually consider Rhonda to be the antithesis of everything TBH celebrates about performance, women and sexuality. But, dammit, she made me laugh and I enjoyed the story about Micky Rooney's cock and her troubles with her fanny bird. But how awesome would it have been to see her drop the Rhonda mask and show us something completely unexpected and real. Next time Rhonda...

It's no secret that I think Finucane & Smith are one of the best things in this amazing world ofMelbourne theatre. Their work celebrates all who dare to refuses to conform, as it defies any attempt of genre definition and questions our perceptions and expectations of theatre and burlesque and life.

If you haven't seen it, there is no excuse good enough to miss it again.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com

Review: The Subconscious Cometh

The Subconscious Cometh
Baggage Productions
21 June 2011
Trades Hall

One of my biggest fears is finding out what my subconscious is really up to and Baggage Productions have a whole night of short plays and monologues that bring these fears (and some bonus phobias) to gorgeous, thought-provoking life.

Bridgette Burton and Christina Costigan formed Baggage in 2000 because they were sick of there not being enough decent roles for women. This is still one of the most ridiculous ironies about thearte and performance and thank the goddesses that companies like this address it.

The Subconscious Cometh is a collaborative piece with works by Costigan and Burton, directed by Burton, Steve Gome, Wayne Pearn and Shannon Woollard, and performed by Costigan, Tiffany Davis, James Deeth, Kelly Nash and Dan Walls. Working together, this talented team have created a themed and cohesive night that is more than few steps above other recent short play seasons.    

Highlights include Spirit Guy (Burton, Woollard, Deeth and Walls) that asks if watching your ex with their new naked beau is considered stalking if you're a ghost, The Changeling monologue (Costigan, Pearn, Walls) that delicately looks at the impact of mental illness on the father of a suffer, the highly original scene changes and a hilariously unforgettable ending.

Neither writer is afraid to tackle subjects that are close to them and, combined with their terrific understanding of drama and structure, they create a warm and close empathy with their audience. And they love the characters they create. What might take their writing to a new level is to hold onto that love, but to let even worse things happen to their characters. Up the stakes even higher to make your audience fear for the well being and safety of the people they too now love and the resolutions will be even stronger.

Independent theatre like this is created from the hearts of the people making it. It's not perfect, but it's this kind of experimentation and the opportunity for creators to get themselves and their work seen by an audience that creates artists that we want to see again and again.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com

Review: Negative Energy Inc

Negative Energy Inc
Ash Flanders
19 June 2011
Hares & Hyenas Cafe Bookshop
LAST SHOW this Sunday,  26 June

Ash Flanders asked me not to review his first solo show because it was his first solo show, but he should know by now that you don't always get what you ask for in this "industry".

Why, why, why, why, why hasn't anyone useful discovered Ash?

I'm not asking this, he is. (I've already discovered him and written things about him that his mum likes to read.)

Sisters Grimm co-founder and star of Dracula's theatre restaurant (don't scoff; there are very few performers with full time jobs that let them wear that much make up and prance about in front of a full house every night), has struggled with forging a career in an industry that has a 1% chance of success, so he may as well share his pain with the people who want him to succeed.

Ash knows how important it is to bring the world down with him and Negative Energy Inc takes us from his teenage years at Christian Camp on a bed with a vinyl mattress, to the taste of stardom and rampant free sex of the Edinburgh Fringe, to the discovery that his publicity photo is simply too gay.

Melding stand up with show tune, this is one of the first times we've been allowed glimpses of the real  Ash (OK, apart from Connie in Cell Block Booty) and this honesty brings a whole new dimension to his performance. This show will get even better when he really lets the mask come off. The stand ups that we come back to again and again are the ones who show us their hearts, and this is bloody hard stuff for people who want a career pretending to be other people.

In the meantime, Ash was born to be the horsewoman from Judge Judy and is so fucking funny that you may be inspired to see him at Drac's. And you get to wander around the super-gorgeous Hares and Hyenas bookshop, look at books that you don't find in Readings and discuss how many pics you think have been photoshopped. And the lovely Dave Barclay adds some alternative eye candy. 

There's one performance left. I know comparing performers is naff, but if you love the likes of Taylor Mac, John Cameron Mitchell and iOTA, you'll love Ash Flanders. Don't regret missing a dose of this wonderful negativity.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com

22 June 2011

Last Chance THIS WEEK

How dare I complain that I don't have time to review because I'm out seeing great shows!  These two finish this week and are well worth missing an episode of Masterchef for.

As is everything from last week's don't miss list.

Negative Energy Inc
Ash Flanders
19 June 2011
Hares & Hyenas Cafe Bookshop
LAST SHOW this Sunday,  26 June

Ash Flanders asked me not to review his first solo show because it was his first solo show, but he should know by now that you don't always get what you ask for in this "industry".

Why, why, why, why, why hasn't anyone useful discovered Ash?

I'm not asking this, he is. (I've already discovered him and written things about him that his mum likes to read.)

The full review appears on AussieTheatre.com and will be published here in a day or two.

The Subconscious Cometh
Baggage Productions
21 June 2011
Trades Hall
to 25 June

One of my biggest fears is finding out what my subconscious is really up to and Baggage Productions have a whole night of short plays and monologues that bring these fears (and some bonus phobias) to gorgeous, thought-provoking life.

Bridgette Burton and Christina Costigan formed Baggage in 2000 because they were sick of there not being enough decent roles from women. This is still one of the most ridiculous ironies about thearte and performance and thank the goddesses that companies like this address it.

The full review appears on AussieTheatre.com and will be published here in a day or two.


The this week's Melbourne legend at The Burlesque Hour LOVES Melbourne is my 80s rock hero Deborah Conway.

Catwalk seats are already sold out, but the view further back is just as shocking!


20 June 2011

Review: The Bearskinner

The Bearskinner
Theatre Works presents the The Duck House production
16 June 2011
Theatre Works (be early because the current tram and road work is a bitch)
to 3 July

Starting with a picture book version of The Brothers Grimm tale The Bearskinner, Perth ensembles The Duck House and The Wet Weather Ensemble re-created the story by pretending they were "other, funnier and magical things".  The result is a strikingly original, mesmerisingly beautiful and gorgeously dark and funny interpretation of this lesser-known tale.

Three muses live in a forest of Christmas pines and op shop delights.  Here an ex-soldier makes a deal with the devil (camply clad in a patterned cord jacket and sparkly party-hat horns) to have endless wealth if he skins a bear and promises to wear the fur, not wash and not fall in love for seven years. It might have been easy, but the devil likes to win so much that he'll lead his prey to love.

An advantage of living in relatively small and isolated city, is that Perth artists don't have the same freedom to compare their work and this often results in highly original processes and a very different way of looking at performance and art. This is, after all,  the city that produced artists as unique (and now world famous) as Shaun Tan, Tim Minchin and Tim Winton. I spent time in Perth (Arts Management at WAPPA) many years ago and was regularly struck by the original and unrestricted approach of its independent arts scene.

The Duck House and associates (Gita Bezard, Alissa Claessens, St John Cowcher, Fran Middleton, Ian Sinclair, Marc Osborne, Sarah McKellar and Karen Cook) are mostly young graduates from Edith Cowan University's Contemporary Performance course.  Director and producer Kathryn Osborne describes their process as "backing our intuition, striking out amidst a fog of uncertainty, and knowing that the talent in the room will lead us home with a show in our own hands."

The Bearskinner is a work that didn't say no and freely experimented with not making sense, but it makes complete sense and would never have got to this absurd clarity without such a free process. They are influenced by Sheffield-based group Forced Entertainment (one of my favourites), but their work is less forced and more loving. If this is their early work,  I hope they stay together for 25 years like Forced Entertainment.

And let's hope that they cross the Nullarbor again to remind us to work through that fog of creative uncertainty.

PS: Proof read your program notes: The Brother's Grimm is the grimm that belongs to the brothers.

This review originally appeared on AussieThearte.com

18 June 2011

See everything this week!

What a week for theatre? I'd be write lots of rave reviews, if I wasn't seeing shows every night.

Melbourne playwrights are rocking...

The Joy of Text
Robert Reid's mainstage debut is full of discussions about grammar and semiotics and he may be  the only person who could leave me laughing about possible statutory rape.

A Golem Story
Malthouse Theatre
Lally Katz is writing at an astonishingly new level with a moving and heart-awaking work about the space that God once filled.

Malthouse Theatre
I haven't seen the return season of Declan Greene's beautiful and creepy piece about belonging, but I loved it to pieces last year.

Platform Youth Theatre, La Mama and Appetite
Chris Summers took the police shooting of a teenager in Northcote as the beginnings of this lovely work about the unimaginable impact of random violence. (Last day tomorrow.)

And then there are Perth artists...

The Bear Skinner
The Duck House and Theatreworks
A highly original, mesmerisingly beautiful and gorgeously funny re-working of a Grimms fairytale.

And now, I'm off to The Burlesque Hour LOVES Melbourne, which is sure to be as fucking awesome as as ever.

17 June 2011

Review: Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing
Bell Shakespeare 
10 June 2011
Playhouse, the Arts Centre
to 25 June

Ring the bells and make much ado about this Much Ado because nothing is better than a pun-filled night of cruel deeds, fake death and unrequited lust.

Big Willy loved a double meaning and if he'd been in London in the 1960s, I'm sure he would have moonlighted as a Carry On writer. If you've ever thought that the old Bill is a bit stuffy, Bell Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing will set you straight, and leave you suitably bent.

Much Ado is one of the comedies. It's the one where the reluctant lovers Benedick (Toby Schmitz) and Betrice (Blazey Best) are duped into fancying the hell out of each other, as schmaltzy lovers Claudio (Sean Hawkins) and Hero (Alexandra Fisher) nearly break up when a really mean deception goes to plan. It's about ladies sighing no more because men are deceivers ever and reminds us that a hey nonny nonny will always feel better than a sulk.

The cast mix of experienced and less experienced actors creates a fresh and authentic balance of endless energy that will ensure that anyone not in love with Shakespeare will be by the final applause.

Schmitz lets the audience be Bendick's best friend with soliloquies that make you want to share a flagon of cider with him and talk all night, and he's matched by Best's firey and compassionate Beatrice.  Bell Shakespeare favourites Arky Michael and Robert Alexander delight every moment they are on stage, while Sean O'Shea's Don John re-defines the nasty jealous uncle and Max Gilles's malaproping Dogberry shows just how much life is left in the old dog and ensures that auspicious persons will always suspect his age and place.

Then there's Stephen Curtis's design, which is part-Fellini, part-Brunswick-end-of-Lygon-Street and leaves you wanting to hug your lover from the back of a Vespa before an endless night of home made antipasto, Chianti and exhausting passion. Or at least re-embrace high-waisted pants, hair curlers and swirly net petticoats.

Directed by John Bell, this Much Ado About Nothing is an utter joy that brings every joke and every dilemma and tear out of this complex and very funny story. It left me wanting more and I think that I want "Press me to death with wit" on my gravestone.

This review originally appeared on AussieThearte.com

PS: If you're in London, David Tennant and Catherine Tate are up to  Much Ado

14 June 2011

Review: Princess Dramas

Princess Dramas
Red Stitch Actors Thearte
11 June 2011
Red Stitch
to 2 July

According to the director's notes, "Plot, character and any other category we might expect from plays that celebrate the uncontested integrity of a subject based on free will, are long gone."  So, if you like plays without plot, character and any other category we might expect from plays, then get to Red Stitch for Princess Dramas.  But don't you dare scoff if others use their free will to disappear at interval because they crave conflict and drama and story.

German writer Elfriede Jelinek won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2004 for her "musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that, with extraordinary linguistic zeal, reveal the absurdity of society's clich├ęs and their subjugating power." (Thank you Wikipedia.) Her writing is complex and actively tries to disorient the listener with a seemingly unending barrage. I heard some fascinating observations, but it's such a wall of noise.

Peter Mumford's design and Olga Makeeva's costumes add welcome distraction and humour; when isn't a giant stuffed vagina funny? Andre Bastian's direction understands the work like no watcher ever can and actively injects lightness and absurdity to the idea-heavy text.  It's a hoot to see Red Stitch favourites Dion Mills as Snow White and Andrea Swifte as Sleeping Beauty, and guest actor Melodie Reynolds performance as Jacqui O is memorable and as compelling as this work could ever be.

For all its admirable bits, including a thigh slapping funny ending, I have no idea who this show was speaking to. The first question any writer asks is "who is your audience?". The first feedback most writers get is the same. One of the reasons the MTC is full every night is because they know exactly who they are speaking to (I know it isn't me). I felt like this show wanted me to admire its smartness, rather than being something I'm meant to take into my heart and enjoy.

There are libraries full of astonishingly intelligent books that are never read, film festivals are programmed with super-clever films that are never seen, and there must be thousands of unread uber-smart-ass blogs.  Intelligent doesn't mean engaging or moving or interesting.

The third part of Princess Dramas has some jokes about women coming on their own. I hope they were masturbation jokes, but it was hard to tell. Regardless, I'm going with the theme. Masturbation is no doubt one of the great pleasures in life, but no matter how good it feels and how technically proficient the masturbator is, is it interesting to any one else? This is the kind of show that reminds me why some people don't like theatre and why some shows are called wank.

The review originally appeared on AussieThearte.com

Review: 22 Short Plays

22 Short Plays
9 June 2011
MKA Pop-Up Thearte, Prahran
to 16 June

MKA are officially my favourite company this year. With no funding, a diabolical sense of it's-ok-to-be-wrong and a middle-finger salute to boring theatre, their battle with a local council made them stronger and, at only months old, they have established themselves as one of those Melbourne companies who have to be seen.

MKA call themselves the theatre of new writing and already have the support of some of our best playwrights.  Founded by Tobias Manderson-Galvin and Glyn Roberts, they finally have a home above the Prahran Mission in the still-groovy Windsor end of Chapel Street, and rarely has an office been so gorgeously transformed into a theatre.

22 Short Plays is by David Finnigan. With a sketch structure that is far funnier than any sketch show, Finnigan embraces the perception of gen-Y apathy and mixes it with a distorted look at the blandness of a society ruled by commercialism. And there's a great cum joke, a near-perfect conversation with God and who wouldn't watch a sitcom called Sad Threesomes!

Narratively, there's room for some more coherency and some editing would punch up some of the jokes that are a bit flat – but such minor quibbles are nothing at this stage of development. This is bloody funny stuff and I'll be in line to see Finnigan's next work.

The on-stage coherency comes from Manderson-Galvin's in-your-face direction, which ensures character and contrast in every sketch and knows how to make the most of the individual talents on the stage (Conner Gallacher, Paul Blenheim and Ellen Grimshaw).

He also has a strange obsession with ELO. Don't get me wrong, I thought ELO rocked when I was a pre-teen, and when they did "Xanadu" with our Livvy, the excitement of my favourite musical talents combining with a movie about roller skates and an angel was almost too much. Now, I just feel old now because ELO have become ironic.

Another MKA name to keep an eye on is resident designer David Samuel.  Not long out of VCA, his design of Honey Bunny's Sagittarian Full Moon Finale stood out at Midsumma and he's establishing his his love-of-symbols style with MKA.

If we're to support and maintain a challenging, positive and brave theatre community, we need companies like MKA.

This review first appeared on AussieThearte.com

13 June 2011

Rob or Lally?

And even more SM favourites are opening this week.

thearte in decay's Robert Reid has assured SM that he hasn't written a "it's so hard being wealthy and middle classes" play for his main stage MTC debut. (However, I'd love to see the reaction of his friends if he did...)

With Aidan Fennessy directing, and Peter Houghton and Louise Siversen in the cast, The Joy of Text promises to balance out the blandness of any other MTC shows.

And, down the road, Malthouse are opening Lally Katz's new work, A Golem Story, on the same night.

Our two funded companies are opening new works by popular and loved independent Melbourne writers on the SAME NIGHT!

I know I'm not the only person who wants to be at both and support both amazing writers.

12 June 2011

Negative Energy for the Queens' long weekend

Negative Energy Inc
Ash Flanders, angry homosexulist
Declan Greene, award-winning playwright

SM favourite (yes, reviewers are allowed to have favourites) Ash Flanders is devoting June to ranting.

There will be no review*, as I don't want to be responsible for any defamation case brought against any star of Dracula's theatre restaurant. Not that you need my approval to see anything.

But it's a good bet that this Sisters Grimm founder and the star of I Love You 'Bro will offend everyone who comes along.
"Watch what happens when a chronic narcissist with a deluded sense of talent attempts to take the stage. Ash will hold you hostage – not with great storytelling, wit or charisma – but by simply locking the doors!"
Details here.

And, as June is Sisters Grimm solo month, don't forget that co-founder (and equal favourite) Declan Greene's Moth is having a return season at the Matlhouse from 15 to 25 June. 

It sold out last year, so book now so you don't miss one of those shows that people were talking about in a good way!

* That was a lie

Forest of Dreams on telly

Sammy J and Health McIvor finger the zeitgeist every time they get together.

Sammy J in the Forest of Dreams made me fall in hopeless love with Terry the Squirrel and ensured that I see these fine artists whenever I can cos they are so fucking funny.

If you have the Comedy Channel on your television, be home on Friday 24 June (and record it for those times you need a good cheering up).

09 June 2011

Review: The Gift

The Gift
Melbourne Theatre Company
2 June 2011
Sumner Theatre
to 9 July 2011

We must thank playwrights who show just how hard it is to be wealthy, middle aged and white. It can't be easy, especially when nasty povo commy bloggers create sites like White Whine or Stuff White People Like. How dare they make fun of things they don't understand. It must be really horrible seeing satire on your iPad2. So it's wonderful that the MTC is there to assure their subscribers that it's OK; it really is OK to be better at spending than making money.

The Gift is another poor rich us story. Dammit, they have feelings too!

The design is so similar to last year's production of David Williamson's Let the Sunshine that I had to check that I hadn't been duped into another night with our national treasure. The characters weren't too different either, but the relief of Joanna Murray-Smith's fresh wit took away the fear.

Sadie and Ed are at a very expensive resort for their 25th anniversary gesture. Naturally, there are jokes about firing their personal butler and when will hotels learn that people don't like paying $9 for a box of mini-bar of Pringles. I find it so much easier to stay in cockroach-infested hostels just to avoid this kind of stress. Anyway, they meet Chloe and Martin, a hip young artists couple who won their getaway in a competition. Away from home, sculling posh wine and mojitos (really?) and clearly attracted to each other...

No swinging isn't middle class enough for them. They talk about the value of art (it's good) and take a boat trip.  And yes there's a literal storm to strengthen the metaphorical one. Actually the program blurb tells you everything that happens in Act 1 (why?), so Act 2 is about firing all those early foreshadowed empty wombs.

There's quite a moral dilemma presented, but not explored. In Act 1, the rich couple talk about watching other people and making up stories. The Gift feels like watching without being involved.  The observation is astute – we recognise these people – but don't know them enough to care what choices they make or feel any relevance to our lives (apart from the Pringles).

Richard Piper, Heather Bolton, Matt Dytynski and Elizabeth Debicki are all terrific performers and Murray-Smith's gorgeous wit shines, but I don't care what happens to these people. So if you see a post on White Whine saying, "My free theatre ticket didn't make me care as much as Masterchef does", you'll know who it's from.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com

Photo by Jeff Busby

05 June 2011

Review: The Mikado

The Mikado
Opera Australia
17 May 2011
the State Theatre, the Arts Centre

What is it about Gilbert and Sullivan? I try and scoff at the dated humour and chorus of ancient schoolgirls, but it's impossible not to enjoy a song about a snickersnee. And, dare I say, Opera Australia's current production of The Mikado is slightly better than my high school production in 1984.

Based on a UK production directed Christopher Renshaw, Stuart Maunder directs a fun and joyful Town of Titipu. It pays respect to the G&S traditions (like the fans and re-writing Ko-Kos list) and makes sure that it's as English as Liberty prints and baked beans on toast.

Tim Goodchild's gloriously satirical design clads the gentlemen of Japan in kimonos with bowler hats, brief cases and fans made from The Times and the little maids in satchels instead of obis and their pastel kimonos with lace and hearts are so girly that they make a Hello Kitty dress look butch.

The Mikado remains the most popular of these uniquely English operettas. It's the not-at-all-racist one about the man condemned to death for flirting, who seeks redemption in the love of a teenage schoolgirl, if only she hadn't caught the eye of a travelling musician. And it's not at all pervy when each respectable gentleman is paired with a schoolgirl.

It's best not to read too closely into the story and just enjoy Gilbert's rarely-equalled word play and absurd story and give in to tapping your foot to Sullivan's tunes. Most of the rest of the audience are tapping away anyway.

This is G&S that never loses the love in its parody as Nanki-Poo (Kanen Breen) prances and leaps, Katisha (Jacqueline Dark) snarls in emerald green and high heels and Ko-Ko (an inspired choice in musical theatre favourite Mitchell Butel) wheezes and schemes.

The Mikado is as wonderfully daggy as ever and has assured its place as a favourite for another 100 or so years.

* Ok, the only thing good about ours was that we really were schoolgirls "18 and under".

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com

Photo by Jeff Busby

02 June 2011

City of Literature and Cheesecake

We all know that Melbourne writers are classier than any others. After all, how many other cities are an Unesco City of Literature?*

If Unesco hadn't already given our city this honour, they would have after hearing Ash Flanders' contribution to The Emerging Writers' Festival.

Be warned, you may never be able to watch The Golden Girls again...or eat cheesecake.

*Edinburgh, Dublin and Iwoa City