29 February 2012

And the Birds Fell from the Sky

And the Birds Fell from the Sky
Arts House and Il Pixel Rosso
29 February 2012
North Melbourne Town Hall
to 18 March 2012

Very quickly.

It's a 20-minute show and only two people can see it at a time.

You're given new ears and new eyes and there's no choice but full immersion as you become the lead character in an experience that feels so close to dreaming that you may really have to pinch yourself.

It's both disconcerting and utterly delightful.

And only TWO people can see it at a time, so book now.

(Arty comment and discussion will follow, but it's nearly time for Outland on ABC1, written by SM guest writer John Richards.)

And, speaking of shows that are so fabulous that you can't get to see them,  Summertime in the Garden of Eden is so sold out that the Sisters have put on an extra show and released standing-in-the-shed room.

26 February 2012

What a week! previews

This week was an endless cause of frustration for theatre goers. It seemed like everything was opening on the same night and the National Play Festival was at Malthouse.

I simply had to pretend the play festival didn't exist to deal with my disappointment about not being there. It's the same attitude I'm taking to the opening weekend of the Adelaide Fringe.

But not that there wasn't enough on here to keep the most jaded of theatre-goers happy; and I don't just mean Brynne.

Here are some previews.

Review: The Fallen Tree

The Fallen Tree
La Mama
15 February
La Mama Theatre
to 4 March

I heard about the 2009 Black Saturday fires from Facebook while enjoying coconut pie in green and rainy Ubud, Bali. I couldn't have be more removed from the winds and oven-hot dryness, but was back in Canberra on a similar day in 2003 when I had packed a box of photos, wasn't letting the cats outside and was ringing friends who lived near the suburb of Duffy. Everyone I know survived, but a few evacuated, one had the fire stop at his front door and one family watched their house disappear in minutes. The stories from bush fires strike the spot in our soul that knows fear and integrating these stories into our culture is such a part of our community recovery.

Christine Croyden wrote The Fallen Tree in response to Black Saturday as "an attempt to make sense of something that made no sense". Director Wayne Pearn and designer Alice Bishop use the tiny black space of La Mama to evoke a visceral sense of a destroyed and blackened world.  The green isn't there yet, but the smell of eucalyptus promises that recovery is slow, but inevitable.

It's the story of Hannah (Libby Gott), whose world was gutted before the recent fire, and her neighbour Claire (Bridgette Burton), who needed the searing heat to reveal a truth she'd refused to see about Hannah's step father (Jonathon Dyer).  As the fire becomes metaphor, it becomes a story of trauma and abuse and possible revenge.

What I love about Croyden is that she writes directly from her heart with an undiluted passion and anger; however, this passion can get in the way of her stories. Wanting to explain the whole picture leaves characters speaking so honestly that there's no sense of subtext and, as an audience, we're left without doubt or question.

When I think about great stories, the ones I remember are those that lead to discussions or arguments about what really happened.. More doubt could make the climax of The Fallen Tree much stronger. Doubt about who is right and even about what happened would force the audiences to question, discuss and argue about what each is certain is the truth.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

24 February 2012

Brynne does MKA

There's been whispers and wild guesses galore all week about who the secret special guest performer was going to be at tonight's MKA show at Theatre works.

No one knew. Really. When secrets have to be kept, they are. And I can't resist an invitation to a secret.

Tonight's production of Tinkertown witnessed the acting debut of Brynne Edelsten.



She played a very small part, but Brynne knows there's no such thing as small parts, so we may have been part of the beginning of something special.

It was a once off, so when you see Tinkertown (which is wonderful), you'll just have to imagine. And then watch it on the reality show about her.

20 February 2012

Review: Tribes

Melbourne Theatre Company
9 February 2012
Sumner Theatre
to 14 March

Heartfelt and honest performances from a wonderful cast are reason enough to see the MTC's Tribes.

With three extravert, attention-seeking adult children living with their over-achieving parents, there's rarely a quiet moment in this house. Dad (Brian Lipson) is a writer and a never-wrong academic, Mum (Sarah Peirse) is trying to write a detective novel, daughter (Julia Grace) is trying to be an opera singer and son 1 (David Paterson) is working on a thesis. It'd be a bohemian middle class paradise, if it weren't for the constant arguing. The only one who misses out on a daily tiff is son 2, Billy, (Luke Watts), who's deaf.

When Billy meets Sylvia (Alison Bell), his view of his family and his place in our hearing-centric society changes. Sylvia has deaf parents and was brought up with Sign as her first language. She works for a deaf events company and is gradually losing her hearing and her connection to the non-deaf world. As Billy learns Sign and meets a community he'd avoid in an attempt to be normal, he sees how much he has missed and how much his deafness is seen as the centre of his personality.

The dynamic and internal-rules of family life are captured perfectly and it's an awkward joy to watch them argue over the likes of orange juice or if it's Wagner or Terry Pratchett. Lipson and Peirse are especially irresistible as a couple who show their deep love through fighting, and Bell brings the inner hell and dilemma of her character into every moment of Sylvia's smiling politeness.

British writer Nina Raine's script soars when we're caught in the emotions and dilemmas of these complex people, but, as Billy and Sylvia force change, the metaphorical and literal deafness begins to dominate and the author's voice butts in to lecture.

Sign is as complex as any other language, the Deaf community is as hierarchical and inbred as the thearte community and society generally isn't brilliant at dealing with people with different abilities. While loving that often un-spoken issues are the base of a story, but they'd be as clear without the rhetoric and ongoing metaphors, which would let the story and its characters more free to grab us by our hearts.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Photo by Jeff Busby

19 February 2012

Review: Two by Two

Two by Two
Litte Ones Theatre
11 February 2011
fortyfive downstairs
to 19 February

As it's Saint Valentine's Day week, it's a commercial glut of glittery hearts and factory roses as we're told to face the future as the gods intended: as a wholesome twosome. Blah to that; celebrate instead by going to fortyfive downstairs to see Little One's Theatre's  Two by Two.

It's raining; it's been raining for so long that Carl (Gary Abrahams) and Jack (Paul Blenheim) can see the huge boat from their high-rise city apartment window. Jack's packing supplies and listening to the radio for unlikely evacuation news.  As a painter, Jack's ticket to board is at the end of the queue, but Carl's a doctor – someone with useful post-ammageddon skills. Both know why they're not staring in this episode of The Love Boat,  especially as their boy/girl couple neighbours went days ago. But there's hope when Duckie (Zahra Newman), a patient of Carl's, turns up with a baby and is desperate to board.

Darkly funny and unexpectedly confronting,  Two by Two was developed at NIDA and won the 2011 Malcolm Robertson Prize (for awesome writing).

Although clearly a very personal piece, writer Dan Giovannoni puts story and character first and seasons with the personal, political and metaphorical. There's no waving the garish equality flag (no one's questioning their legal and social coupling); instead, his writing forces us to go beyond the superficial question and ask what we'd really do in the same situation. Would we, as a society and as individuals, let a same-sex couple onto the last boat instead of a mummy, daddy and baby? When it comes down to survival, how many flag-wavers would stop saying "yes"and abandon the rainbow until the storm was over. And who else would be left behind? I'm 40-something, single and a writer; so, I'd be in my swimmers and dog-paddling to meet some of my friends at the floating cocktail bar.

Working with a design that leaves us craving sun and fluffy towels (Emma Kingsbury, set and costume; Nate Edmondson, sound) and a cast who let us love their characters through their faults, director Stephen Nicolazzo (Negative Energy Inc) creates a mood that spatters hope among the inevitable despair. It's a story about making impossible choices, what we have to lose to be safe, and he ensures that we're always asking if there is a better or at least another choice.

Nicolazzo's Little Ones Theatre develops and presents new Australian plays and "work that allows you to love ferociously, abandon yourself and let your heart explode".  Working in Melbourne and Sydney, they premiered the likes of Declan Greene's Home Economics and promise to keep questioning and confronting with the kind of passion and intelligence that wakes up our hearts and makes us thrilled to go the theatre.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

17 February 2012

Review: Good People

Good People
Red Stitch Actors Theatre
5 February 2012
Red Stitch
to 3 March

Good People was nominated for Best Play at the 2011 Tony's.  It's damn good writing by David Lindsay-Abaire, and the Australian premiere by Red Stitch made me remember why this company is so damn good.

Margie (Andrea Swifte) lives in "Southie", a poor Boston neighbourhood where she's just been fired from her job at a dollar store by the son of an old friend (Rory Kelly). With a disabled adult daughter, a cow of landlady (Olga Makeeva) and no jobs around because of the recession, she's running out of choices, until she meets her teenage boyfriend (Dion Mills), who's now a wealthy doctor and married to a younger woman. He got out of Southie, so maybe he can help.

Lindsay-Abaire's script is full of screaming subtext and as allegiances change, it surprises as it holds onto its secrets. His characters are not nice people. Each struggles with happiness and is faced with wondering if life really could have been different.

Director Kaarin Fairfax grasps the tone perfectly by ensuring that the dark humour hurts. It's too easy to laugh at people who are answer "How's the wine?" with "How the fuck should I know", but the success of this production is that we're allowed to the see her desperation and understand why Margie behaves in ways that may be unthinkable to someone who can afford a theatre ticket and the time to indulge in such a middle-class pastime. There's a moment when a cheap trinket is broken and she yells, "I paid for that" and at once there's nothing funny about breaking something ugly and worthless. Fairfax ensures that the story and characters are more important than the performances, which allows us to be in this world without judgement.

Nonetheless, Good People is peopled by exceptionally good people. Andrea Swifte never lets us feel sorry for Margie, and Jane Montgomery Griffiths as Margie's mutton-as-lamb mate and Alexandria Steffensen as the new young wife bring understanding and complexity to characters that could easily be jokes.

Good People is a terrific start to Red Stitch's 2012 season.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

14 February 2012

Review: A Chorus Line

A Chorus Line
Tim Lawson
7 February 2012
Her Majesty's Theatre
to 10 March

1975's A Chorus Line is one of my favourite shows. I can sing along to every number, I blubbed during Every Little Step, the 2006 documentary about its Broadway revival, and I'm happy to admit that I love the often-knocked 1985 film version. After all, this is the musical that won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and it took Cats to knock it off the longest-running Broadway show pedestal. It oozes heart and passion and guts and is for everyone who has worked so hard to get what they want and still missed out.

On an empty Broadway stage, a cattle call audition is down to 17; there are only eight spots to fill. Rather than keep dancing, the director asks the dancers to stop performing and tell him something about themselves, and he has to deal with having an ex-lover in the line.

This touring production is the first professional Line in Australia since 1993, so the first time for many to experience why this show is so loved. Like all professional Lines, it's pretty much what was seen in 1975 with the same design and the original production's direction and choreography has been restaged by Baayork Lee (the first Connie).  It's a warm nostalgic connection knowing that 37 years later, we're sharing the same show.

One reason I like seeing shows during a run and not on opening night is to feel how a paying audience responds; and the response on the night I went was, "Meh". Forget what reviewers and friends say, the best way to see how a performance is working is to sit in the audience.

So why isn't this show leaving us stomping and crying and booking return tickets? The story remains beautiful, the characters are still so real that we know them and the chorey feels a bit 70s but is still some of the best around.  With such a young cast, there's a lack of experience, but there's no questioning why anyone was cast. There are moments of imperfect singing, too-performed lines and counting steps, but that's part of live theatre.

What's missing is that spark of originality that transforms a show from a good copy of another production to something that has it's own life and soul. It feels like it's trying so hard to be A Chorus Line that the unique and subtle connections to character and the wholeness of story are getting lost, leaving it feeling too much like a concert version of the show.

This was especially obvious in the climax; the selection of the cast. This is the moment when half the characters have their hearts and dreams broken and the other half get what they want. By now, each member of the audience should know these people and cheer and break with their favourites. But it was was such a flat moment that only picked up energy for the dancing finale. And, I would have chosen differently.  A Chorus Line soars when the chosen eight are the ones who deserve it the MOST; no matter how wonderful the others are.

The Melbourne season has just been extended, so there are plenty of people who want to see this wonderful show. I hope that each run will help it to pick up the depth that it needs because everyone in it and everyone who sees it deserves so much more than "Meh".

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

10 February 2012

Review: Yes, Prime Minister

Yes, Prime Minister
Andrew Guild, Simon Bryce and Tim Woods
2 February 2011
Comedy Theatre
to 4 March

As a QandA watcher, of course I love the terribly witty and glorious British telly series Yes Minister and Yes PM. And now we have of the new stage version by the series writers Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, with Philip Quast (one of my favourites). Could this be commercial theatre with intelligence and guts?

PM Jim Hacker (Mark Owen-Taylor) is still in office, civil servants Sir Humphrey (Quast) and Bernard (John Lloyd Fillinghan) are still with him and there's a new woman on board to be the voice of compassion and reason if the blokes get a bit too fuddy duddy – and she wears short skirts and must be a genius to have reached such a position at her age.

It's late night and the PM is hoping to sign an oil pipeline deal with Kumranistan (don't want to offend a real country) that'll please Europe and leave Hacker a politcial legend and Sir Humphrey with an even better-paid job. But there's a problem, the Kumranistan Foreign Minister has asked Bernard for a deal-breaker favour.

So it's hi-jinks, one-liners and long clever speeches that get applause (good actoring is learning lines; I feel so bad for not applauding every time I hear a Shakespeare soliloquy), as our heros solve the problem about how to find an underage-looking school girl who's willing to have sex with the Foreign Minister.

There's some loose discussion around age of consent that makes it non-pedo and it's assured that he wants a non-virgin so that he does't ruin her life. However, I'm a prude and think that procuring a child to have sex with an adult isn't OK, even with jokes about horizontal diplomacy and 'debate' about the girl's life already being miserable and by doing this she at least gets paid and all of Europe benefits.

Putting aside the pimping and mild racism (he's a foreigner with different standards), our gang's dilemma is naughtier than that allowed on the box, but written to be inoffensive, leaving its audience without a side to cheer for. Story without hero or real choice; I've done more interesting tax returns. If the Foreign Minister wanted something more benign (maybe a safe illegal drug), we would be free to cheer them on and want a complex and absurd plan to make it work out. Or if he'd asked for something so offensive (I'll leave that up to you) that every member of the audience says, "NO", we'd have an issue to cheer for and there'd be an opportunity for genuine satire.

Perhaps if the production and direction did more than reflect the idea that commercial audiences are happy with a slip on a banana peel and a funny face, we'd have a better view of the script and even feel the dilemma and guilt of realising your own hypocrisy.

If you're thinking of going, might be better to buy the box set of the series and say No to this Prime Minister.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com