31 May 2012

Review: Naked Boys Singing

Naked Boys Singing
Jonathan Worsley
8 May 2012
Beckett Theatre, Malthouse

Yes, it was.

I wondered about the artistic nature of the show as I wondered why the program didn't come with a packet of lube (black and white arty shots of nude boys without a hint of bios, show history or artistic notes). But this show has been running on Off-Broadway for 12 years, so I was still expecting plenty of ironic cheek.

Naked Boys Singing starts when a twink in the audience doesn't turn off grindr – then the show starts. The young lad pops onto the stage and joins the other boys who have a sing about looking for a perfect boyfriend and wondering if being objectified is wrong. Then they get their gear off. Hooray! But we all know that it's not what it looks like, but what you do with it that leaves us satisfied.

There's songs about getting an erection, a cooking one about beating one's meat and a number about a perky little porn star with his dream job. These songs have no relationship to each other and there's no hint of story or the characters that we met (and liked) in the first number, because this is a night all about being in the nuddy.

Except it's not really. I was expecting commentary on the diversity of male bodies, reflections on the beauty of male bodies, a celebration of difference or, heaven forbid, commentary about how young men feel ugly if they don't live up to porn-ready standards. I was left wanting with content so soft.

I like penises to be creative and interesting and not leave me a bit bored.

It's not even a show about cock. But having said that, it was very well cast for it's diversity of penis, but they were all on waxed, tanned, groomed and, I suspect, dehydrated (to get that muscle definition) bodies. Diversity is great, as long as everyone still looks porn ready and slightly pre-pubescent.

Still – as someone from the last generation to have pubes – I got an educational eyeful of complete wax. And say the same thing that I say to women: Why do you want to look like a child?  Opps, I'm heading down the political and feminist ranty path and there's no place for that in a show about nude men.  Maybe men don't have the same body image issues that women do and gay men must be totally fine being compared to porn-ready young bodies.

This is a just a harmless little (medium/bigish/cut/uncut) show about young men parading about in the all-together for the pleasure of older men.  It's all consensual and it's ART, so what's the problem!  Let me even apply the standard sexism test to prove it's fine: swap genders and see if it's still cool. A show with naked young women with porn-ready bodies dancing around for the pleasure of older men. Nothing icky about that.

Naked Boys Singing has been a huge Off-Broadway hit and reached a relatively broad audience that included women.  The down under version is aimed at a niche male audience, but to pull it off successfully and place it in the theatre space it's playing, it needs strong direction that spurts the irony that builds in the songs, a hard sense of character and a cast with voices as firm as their talent.

If not, it's just naked boys (they are not even called men) showing their goolies for money.

28 May 2012

May review previews

Review: 100% Melbourne

100% Melbourne
Rimini Protokoll
Melbourne Town Hall
4 May

With only three performances and a non-performer cast of 100, 100% Melbourne is already one of those were-you-there? and why-didn’t-I-know-about-this? events that a mere description cannot do justice to.
The project started with one Melburnian, who works with population stats for the City of Melbourne. He had 24 hours to recruit the next person, who had 24 hours to recruit the next until the chain finished at 100 with a woman forced to flee Bosnia-Herzegovina. Each person in the chain had to meet demographic criteria (like age, gender, area you live, marital status, family composition, area of birth); so, each person represents 1% of the city, about 41,000 people. It was easy at the beginning of the chain, but got harder once most of the spots were filled.
With support from Arts Victoria, The Goethe Institute and the Hebbel Theatre Berlin, the City of Melbourne and Berlin-based trio Rimini Protokoll created a curious, fascinating and surprisingly moving piece of raw reality theatre that comforts and shocks in its revelations about our city’s wonderful people
As number one, Anton Griffith introduced the project, introduced the second percent and the giant circular stage began to revolve. One hundred people held a treasured object and told us a tiny something about themselves and their story. As we met number 100, Senada Bosnic Ekic, the circle was complete and I was wiping away tears. Sometimes all we have in life is our story and it’s an honour to glimpse what 100 people choose as their story and see the pride or trepidation they tell it with.
But the fun and the stories had only just began. Spending a lot of time in theatres, my reflection of Melbourne is rather limited and these 100 people show how tiny inner-city, arty Melbourne really is. With a projection of the circle above the stage, the 100 moved into groups to answer the demographic questions (each asked by one of the group) and, as an audience member, I was immediately struck by some of the assumptions I made. One of my favourite moments was asking who came here by boat: three older men from Europe.
As the questions moved from demographics to attitudes, opinions and beliefs, more prejudices and assumptions were laid bare – along with those of the people on stage.
With questions like who has been a victim of violence, believes in the death penalty, has suffered from depression, has seen ghosts, has committed an act of violence, has the job they dreamed of, thinks there are racists on the stage, has been in gaol, each story grew in complexity and opinions about a person’s likability or they-represent-me changed in an an instant. Do that many people really believe in the death penalty?
When asked to name their favourite (non-family) Australian, I was surprised at the number of politicians written down, which included a Julia Gillard and at least three Kevin Rudds. I don’t think I saw an Abbott, but I may have been distracted by the Dame Edna and the Matthew Newton.
The genius of 100% Melbourne is how it forces the audience to answer the questions themselves. Would we be happy/brave/stupid enough to answer them in front of strangers, let alone in front of family and friends?
In about 90 minutes, this work created an intimacy with and a rare understanding of 100 strangers. I left knowing who I’d like to know and who I’d be polite to before moving away. Who really represents is has little to do with where they live, their age or cultural background; it’s about how we think. And there are people who think differently to me!
100% Melbourne was a wonderful and moving night in the Melbourne Town Hall that for a short time unified a very diverse group of people. If you missed it, try and get a copy of the gorgeous book (yay Tom Cho) that came with the performance. I wished I’d bought extra copies for friends who are having babies this year. Filled with Melbourne stats and profiles of the 100, it’s a snapshot of now and design alone assures that it’s a keeper. Mine’s in my living room to share with visitors.
This review was on AussieTheatre.com

17 May 2012

Catch up...

Dear everyone wondering where their review is,

Soon. I promise. All I need is some time (or my rent paid for the next month).

04 May 2012

PLEASE SEE 100% Melbourne

100% Melbourne
Rimini Protokoll
Melbourne Town Hall
4 May
to 6 May

Details here

I have to be up early tomorrow and won't have a chance to sit and write until after the weekend. 100% Melbourne demands a substantial reflection that I can't begin when I'm tired and haven't had the chance to read the wonderful book that comes with the show.

All I can say is SEE THIS. PLEASE. You'll not regret a moment. I was grinning inanely and crying (and trying to hide that I was crying).

There are 100 people who represent Melbourne. They are not actors. I don't know any of them! They start as statistics and gently reveal their lives through stories, treasured objects and answers to questions.

Continually surprising, it comforts and shocks as it reveals the hopes, beliefs and prejudices of the 100. But its genius is how we have no choice but to define our own statistics and wonder if we'd be brave, or stupid, enough to answer some of those questions in front of family and strangers.

But based on some of tonight's stats and revelations, here are some of mine:

I'm 43. I'm not sure what happened to the last decade.
I'm single and childless. I'm only ok with one of these.
I'm 170cm, 83kg and straight, the last time I checked.
I was born and brought up in Adelaide. And I'm as white and middle class as an Adelaidian can be. I've also lived in Sydney, Perth and Canberra.
I've lived in inner Melbourne (the south side) since 2003. I never want to move and don't know what I'm going to do when the owner's building plans are approved and I'm evicted.
I'm a freelance writer. I didn't take writing seriously until my late 30s.
I earn a lot less than when I was an arts manager/producer/director/marketer. I'm so sick of worrying about money, but I don't regret my decision to change what I did to earn money. I've also met many wonderful people who are also writers.
My greatest treasure is my cat Flue. I never understood pet people until I had my own pets. She is old and sick and that breaks my heart. I also love my other cat, Molly.
I'm writing a young adult book called Stupid and Contagious. It's funny. I have draft concept of a TV series called The Hanged Man. It's also funny and a bit creepy.  I don't like the title. I started a film called Damask. Like most first attempts, it's atrocious, but it proves to me that my writing has improved.  I haven't written any new fiction since November. This worries me.
I write good copy and will write ANYTHING if you pay me or pay my rent for me.
I have no desire to write FOR theatre, only about it.
I try not to dance or cry in public.
I didn't leave Australia until I was 40.
I believe in life after death.
I don't believe in a god.
I've seen ghosts.
I spend a LOT of time alone.
I've done things I'd like to forget.
I like Kevin Rudd.
I've lied.
I'm not living the life I dreamed of, but I'm living a life I like.

Review: Far Away

Far Away
SaySix Theatre and Lil Artists
25 April
45 Downstairs
to 13 May

If I need Wikipedia to explain ANYTHING, I suspect that there's something wrong – especially when it's a piece of theatre.

SaySix Theatre and Lil Artists are presenting Caryl Churchill's Far Away at 45 Downstairs. Written in 1999, this is its first Melbourne production and takes it from a rolling English countryside to a thick and expansive Aussie rainforest.

Young Joan (in an honest and natural performance by 10-year-old Skylah Cox) is staying with her aunt (Caroline Lee) and uncle. After being woken by a human scream and investigating, her aunt tries to hide the truth before bringing the child into their secret.  Next Joan is an adult (Suzannah MacDonald) and starting her first job as a milliner, where she wins the attention of fellow-worker Todd (Paul Ashcroft) and begins to question why the hats are destroyed after the parades.

Churchill's a writer whose personal and political politics are embodied in her writing, so don't expect a clear and compelling story to pull you through. Her off-kilter world rejects logic and everything is at war; even nature is at war with itself. This is where Wiki helped me. I thought she was absurdly playing with language by using animal names; nup, the elephants are elephants. I liked it when I thought they were metaphorical word play...

The internet tells me this is an astonishing play, but this production isn't sharing the astonishing. Dystopian absurdist post-modern writing is cool, but theatrical story-telling has to get out of the intellectual heads of its creators and into the hearts of its audience. The design is evocative, the hats are gorgeous and the performances bring us so close to caring and being involved, but it doesn't take us into its own unique world.  I can see what Churchill was saying about the apathy of society and nightmare of war, but I don't know what SaySix and Lil Artists are saying about us, our society, now or me.

This review was on AussieTheatre.com

Review: Stockholm

Red Stitch Actors Theatre
29 April 2012
Red Stitch
to 26 May

Stockholm continues Red Stitch's not-to-be-missed 2012 season. Why I know that it's is bloody great theatre: After the show, I sat with my friend and we talked about how it related to our lives.

We didn't talk about the quality of the post-show wine or about the performances or the design (all great). We talked personally and exposed issues in our own relationships that we'd normally hide. The ability to  reflect on your own life may be the line between entertainment and art; it's certainly the line between being glad I went to the theatre rather than staying home to watch The Voice.

Todd and Kali are young and gorgeous and have enviable sex . They gutted their house to create a love nest that they never have to leave and ignore phone calls from Todd's mother. Loving Ingmar Bergman films, they are planning a trip to Stockholm and are practicing their Ikea-Sweedish, as Todd prepares a perfect dinner and Kali checks his phone for messages.

Blending third person description with naturalism, UK writer Bryony Lavery's beautiful script creates the distance and denial that exists in a destructive co-dependent relationship. The desire to be in the relationship and to be happy overwhelms that voice that knows it has to end but wonders if perhaps the awful bits are the price for the wonderful parts and is silenced by the "attraction of true remorse".

Director Tanya Gerstle understands the eponymous syndrome and creates an uneasy mood as intense as their sex life.  With levels and spaces created by Peter Mumford (design) and Richard Vabre (lighting), the tiny stage feels both isolated and cavernous, and allows Todd and Kali to move and hide what they need to from the other.

Gerstle also lets Brett Cousins and Lusia Hastings-Edge find their own truth in their characters. It's this kind of honest acting that lets an audience find their own truths on the stage. The relationship they create stage is erotic and natural and fearful, which comes from a remarkable trust between the performers. They let us understand why they behave like they do, don't let us take sides and almost draw us into the destruction by wanting them to be work it out.

I'm so over leaving theatres and not caring about what I just saw, but I keep going back because once in a while, you get a show like this.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Photo by Jodie Hutchinson

02 May 2012

Review: Australia Day

Australia Day
Melbourne Theatre Company and Sydney Theatre Company
26 April 2012
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 26 May

Jonathan Biggins's Australia Day is as Aussie-Aussie-Aussie as a CWA lamington and as comforting as wrapping a sausage (animal or soy) in white bread and adding tomato sauce.

The MTC pack us into the 4WD for a day trip to generic-regional Coriole where the Australia Day Committee are planning the annual celebration on the oval. There's Brian (Geoff Morrell), Mayor and running for Liberal pre-selection;  Robert (David James),  Brian's best mate and next in line to be Mayor; Wally (Peter Kowitz), a local builder who calls a spade a spade; Marie (Valerie Bader), the CWA rep who loves her grandkids; Helen (Alison Whyte), a sea changer, Birkenstock-wearing, single mum Greens council member; and Chester (Kaeng Chan), an ABV (Australian born Vietnamese) primary school teacher.

These are folk who say "get a wiggle on" and "what's eating you". We know them so well (even if we haven't met anyone like them) and the planning meetings are so real that they send shivers of recognition through anyone who has sat on a committee or spent hours dealing with the public liability nightmare that the sausage sizzle has become.

Written after his experience as a Australia Day Ambassador (unrecognised by everyone in the towns he visited), Biggins's capture of small town (or any) politics is spot on. His characters are created from love and a begrudging respect, and there can't be anyone who doesn't recognise this type of event with its cricket match, karate display, vintage Datsun 180bs and backed up porta loos.  The result is the kind of genuine and hearty laughs that come from seeing our world and knowing that we're part of it

This world never disappoints our expectations – or question them.  The Greens chick is a 40ish chick who insists on a welcome to country, thinks a snag sizzle is culturally offensive, rides a bike and questions the Indigenous voice in the the local dance school's Godwana display. Pudgy, bearded Wally is a wally who doesn't care that he's called a racist and a misogynist by the Greens bitch. And there's jokes about a middle-age, small-business owning man not being able to get Liberal pre-selection; jokes about Chester being Chinese (Vietnam is like China's New Zealand he explains) and Marie gets in a tizz when she thinks she might get to make a cake for former First Lady Jeanette Howard.

It may challenge a dude like Wally who think an Asian face in a country town is an unusual site, but that's not the people who see Australia Day in a posh city theatre.

Don't think that I didn't enjoy it. I did. It's harmless entertainment and will rightly be one of the most popular shows this season, but like a lamington, it's mostly white and light and forgotten a few minutes later rather than savoured, remembered and thought about for days after.

This review was on AussieTheatre.com.

Photo by Jeff Busby.