31 July 2012

Review: Triangle

25 July
MKA Pop Up Theatre, North Melbourne
to 4 August

Lesbian vampires. Do I need to say more?

Lesbian vampires in North Fitzroy.

A play with lesbian vampires, set in North Fitzroy, performed in an empty North Melbourne (really Kensington) warehouse by MKA. What more could you want?

And there is more. There's Piedimontes (the greatest worst supermarket), Chopper, Vince Colosimo, 4WDs that have never been as far as St Kilda, the guy who sells The Big Issue, the gardens where many a virginity has been lost and a soy-latte-addicted baby called Finnigan.

I love that theatre like this exists.

I love that its writing has been workshopped and developed and tightened,  and that it's creepy and beautiful and blood thirsty, and that its humour lets us laugh at our selves and inner-city community.  (Even if I transposed it to the Carlisle Street Coles in East St Kilda.)

I love that director Tanya Dickson (JATO) finds the theatre in the story's structure and works so closely with the design team.

I love that designer Eugyeene Teh has made another corner of this warehouse inseparable from this work and that he uses carpet squares. I love that Rob Sowinski's lighting and Russell Goldsmith's sound are such a part of the story telling.

I love that actors Elizabeth Nabben and Janine Watson found the dead hearts and bleeding souls of their characters and didn't let us dismiss their recognisable cliched outer selves.

Triangle is not going to be the work that takes writer Glyn Roberts (Horror Face) to the world (yet), but who cares when the world for many is that North Fitzroy triangle and it's captured with a mixture of cynicism and love that's as welcome as a marked-down fruit bun wrapped in plastic from Piedi's when you're really hungry and want to save your change for a pear cider later in the evening.

I love that Melbourne theatre is so much more than the ongoing big-worded tiff about Queen Lear and that The Triangle was so much better than staying in with a pizza and watching the Masterchef final, which is what I so nearly did.

You may now go and re-watch The Hunger and wonder why straight men think so much about lesbian vampires.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

Photo by Sarah Walker

28 July 2012

Must for THIS weekend

This is a Door
Pop up Playground, Theatre Works
27 July 2012
Theatre Works
to 29 July

There are rumours that Cameron Woodhead and I tried to exchange a pash last night.

I'm not confirming or denying anything because what happens at Play Club, stays at Play Club.

But I know that it was the most fun I've had in a theatre and I want to go back and do it all again.

Pop Up Playground are Robert Reid (serious playwright), Sayraphim Lothian (public art guru) and  Ben McKenzie (uber geek). They've been playing about town for the last few months and This is a Door is an unmissable chance to join in with a weekend of games and play at Theatre Works.

It's time to run away from the computer and play with real people. Turn off your phone and play with real friends. Just join in and play.

The playground is Theatre Works space that's decked out as a carnival. Games Master Ben welcomed everyone in a top hat, tails and Dr-Who-as-owls t-shirt and introduced the Game Runners who will guide and help and tickle you if you're not laughing*.

Some games are easy, some involve thinking and strategising, some are cooperative and us competitive types are well catered for.

And if you need a break or just want to watch, there are craft tables. Craft tables!

I want craft tables at every theatre now.  We could make stuff while waiting for friends to arrive, craft is more fun than drinking at interval and how better to express your true feelings about a show than through craft. In fact, no more wordy dull reviews. Can someone just sit us down at a craft table at the end of an opening night (with a glass of wine, of course) and let our inner-children show what we really think. Forget the blog, maybe I should just have a theatre scrapbook.

But back to the games. Last night I got to ruin a gay wedding, pitched a big watermelon tourist attraction, was second runner-up for Prom Queen (and if I'd listened more carefully to the rules, I would have made it!), was turned into a zombie and ingeniously initiated into a cult.

And that was only a taste of the games on offer. I missed the intrigue of London's Burning (I was at the craft table) and so wanted to play the one with glow sticks and fluro vests and the one with balloons.

Today's 11.00 session has already started,
But there's 1.30, 6.30 and 9.00
Or tomorrow (Sunday)  there are 11.00, 1.30 sessions and Playful Salon (arty discussion of games and playing) at 3.30.

As grown ups, we sometimes forget how much fun it is to play and how much better we feel when we have real fun with real people.

All the details are here. I promise you'll love it. And if you know someone who really needs to smile and laugh, buy them a a ticket as well.

* This also may or may not be true.

25 July 2012

Chat: Xavier O’Shannessy, La Mama

La Mama Courthouse
1 August – 19 September 2012

“I see their faces. They don’t care if ya surf. They don’t care if ya work with them. To them, you’re a stinkin’ terrorist.”
Unaustralia by Reg Cribb is a story about a devout Muslim teenager who loves to surf. When his brother fights with life guards, a too-familiar racial battle begins on an Australian-dream beach.

Cribb won the Patrick White Playwrights’ Award in 2001 and was shortlisted for the QLD Premier’s Literary Award for his play The Return, which he adapted into the AFI nominated film, Last Train to Freo. His 2003 play Last Cab to Darwin won the QLD Premier’s Literary Award, the Patrick White Playwrights’ Award, the WA Premier’s Award and the WA Equity Award for Best New Script.

Melbourne actor Xavier O’Shannessy is making his La Mama debut in Unaustralia. He says, “I wonder when we, as a country, will wake up and accept that – like every modern nation built on the displacement of an indigenous population and subsequent waves of migration – we face complex and ever present racial tensions. When will we stop sweeping our racism, bigotry and discontent under the carpet at every opportunity and covering it with half-truths about our so called tolerant, welcoming and progressive past?”

Do you remember the first show you saw at La Mama?
No but I do remember being blown away by the intimacy of the experience.

What is one of your favourite shows you’ve seen at La Mama?
The Hamlet Machine.

What La Mama show do you wish you’d seen?
Most of the ones that I’ve missed.

What do you love about working at La Mama?
This is my first time.

What do you love most about this show?
Playing a second-generation seventeen-year-old Lebanese-Australian rapper. It’s a huge adjustment and really bloody fun.

Where is the best coffee in Carlton?
Carlton Esspresso, or is it called DOC? Or are they two different places?

Who would you love to see in your audience one night?
Full houses would be nice.

Is there anyone you don’t want to see in the audience?
It would be pretty intimidating to look out and see any second-generation Lebanese-Australian rappers in the audience.

What do you like to do after a performance?
I don’t like feeling too full on stage so I don’t eat a lot leading up to a show. But I’m constantly hungry, it’s a catch 22. So, after a show, I get home, curl up in bed and gorge. Probably not very healthy.

What was your first time on a stage?
I’m pretty sure it was my primary school concert called Frame, from what I can remember, it was a redux of Fame the Musical but with lots of picture frames.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?
It depends on the show. Some times I just rock up, do my vocal warm up and head on stage. Other times I spend ages preparing. I try not to get too neurotic though.

What’s some great theatre advice you’ve used?
Don’t try. Either do it, or don’t do it.

What punishment do you think is fit for audience members who don’t turn their phones off during performances?
They should have to sit through every terrible school musical ever made, end to end.

What’s your favourite gelati flavour?
Please don’t make me choose. I can’t deal with choice.

What role/character do you really want to play one day?
One that gives me cause to quit my day job.

Matinees: love or loathe?
Eh, they’re not so bad.

Do you read reviews?
I’ve not had any. Are you offering to write one? Thanks!

Do you know of any secret parking spots near the theatres (although it’s such a short walk from the Melbourne uni tram stop on Swanston Street, so driving isn’t necessary)?
I suppose I should point out just how accessible La Mama is via public transport. This was the point of the question, right?

What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
You know, I’ve picked some real lemons lately. But I have this compulsive thing where I have to finish every book that I start. It can make bed time pretty frustrating. That said, Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson was interesting.

What question do you wish I’d asked?
Would you like me to give you $1415?

How would you answer it?
Yes, but don’t give it to me directly, donate it to our Pozible campaign. Here is the link.

This was on AussieTheatre.com

19 July 2012

Review: Queen Lear

Queen Lear
12 July 2012
Sumner Theatre
to 18 August

Queen Lear was always going to be a bitch to review.

Men and women are different beasts who adore and loathe each other because we see the world in slightly different ways. Shakespeare's women aren't as richly fascinating as his men, so the gender swap isn't that unusual (Kate Mulvany's recent Cassius comes to mind), but to do so successfully means that every relationship to Lear has to change in subtle ways that together change the story.

It's here that Rachel McDonald, as dramaturg and director, is most successful. Too often the on-stage relationships in Shakespeare are ignored for the sake of original character, but McDonald's Lear is led by the changing status and relationships that are often much clearer that her story.

The relationship between mother Lear (Robyn Nevin) and daughters Reagan (Belinda McClory) and Goneril (Genevieve Picot) starts with the bitter angry resentment that comes from not being loved enough by the person who's meant to love you the most. It's personal and touching and a father could not make Goneril cry in quite the same way. (I haven't mentioned youngest daughter Cordelia because I have no idea what was going on with her and gave up trying to understand.) The most unexpectedly moving relationship is between Kent (Robert Menzies) and Lear as Kent tries to protect and respect his Queen, and Greg Stone brings a surprising depth to his wheelchair-bound Albany by focussing on how his relationship with his wife Goneril changes.

Niklas Pajanti's lighting is exquisite in its creation of the void-like world and its momentary glimpses of characters as they came in and out of the dark. It made the stage look beautiful and intriguing and helps make sense of a design (Tracy Grant Lord) that baffles.

The stage has depth and levels that are beautiful to look at, but offer a confusing world. Maybe the hanging chains bound them to the gods; perhaps Edgar's bike and naked shower were his last hints of freedom – but why was there a giant phallus that grew and shrank and ejaculated pretty fools in white nighties?

McDonald's program notes say, "It is like a science-fiction world ... simultaneously ancient, contemporary and retro." This explains why the costumes were a bit Bride of Frankenstein meets Blake's Seven and Mad Men, but by drawing on so many aesthetics, Lear's world is merely a mish-mash of ideas that distract – often comically – from the telling of the story. It may be a stronger telling with just the costumes and the lighting.

But no matter what, it's Lear we go to see.

Robyn Nevin was always going to be Lear like no other. And she is. The night opens magnificently with a woman with undisputed power. She loves being Queen and the accompanying parties and gorgeous frocks; she never considers that her power will change when she splits the property between the kids. As the two elder daughters learnt how to behave from their mum,  everything is taken from mum and her anger mixes with dementia as she fights to maintain her mask and keep the hurting old lady hidden.  Her fool is placed in her head and appears as versions of her daughters who help create her lucidity in the madness; if only they didn't keep popping out of the giant penis.

For all the oddness of Queen Lear, when Queen Robyn is on stage, the rest makes more sense.

Photo by Jeff Busby

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

NOW, head to TheatreNotes to read what everyone else has to say.

And Alison's reaction to Julian Meyrick's rant about the evils of the blogosphere.

(If the links hit paywall: Google.)

16 July 2012

Review: Almost With You

Almost With You
La Mama and Little Theatre Company
9 July 2012
La Mama Theatre
to 22 July

Almost With You opens with music from The Clash and a 40-something-chick having to change her sex position because her knees hurt and the two of them end up talking about tax, back pain and pilates instead of doing it. I was so there.

Lisa (Fiona Macleod) is 45. She's a successful journalist writing a feature about older first-time parents, including her best friend (Helen Hopkins) who became a mum at 46 and her accountant (Raj Sidhu) who became a dad at 48. Lisa hasn't joined the baby or marriage club and knows she has to face what she lost when she was 20 if she's ever going to stop feeling empty and broken.

Elizabeth Colmen's play about grief and survival is clearly very personal and her story is honest and affecting, but the writer is so close to the material that there are few moments of the objective distance that turns a complex and real experience into a moving and embracing stage story.

The characters are a bit too good to ring true and speak to each other without subtext. This honesty from characters creates dialogue that feels unnatural because it leaves no room for the audience to interpret and create meaning – and no one is ever that honest when they speak to people they love and/or are trying to impress.  Meanwhile, the secret/twist and every implication for Lisa is clear from the scene when we meet her brother (Luke O'Sullivan) and so much of what follows tells what's already known.

Kaarin Fairfax's direction respects and loves Coleman's story but, like the writing, this doesn't leave enough space for the audience. Moments of dark humour are lost and everyone is just too damn likeable. The cast are all as lovely as their characters, and Macleod especially brings the missing complexity into her engaging performance, which is what draws us through the story and makes the awkward ending almost moving.

And then there's the nostalgic music from the 80s and I automatically love anything that references The Go-Betweens. There's a terrific scene with 80s punk dancing that works so much to show character and attitude, but the nostalgia mostly serves to mark the time and too many of the jokes and reference are meaningless to anyone who didn't have great taste in music in the 80s. If you don't know that Steve Kilby wrote "Almost With You" in 1982 and the video was set at a seance,  how can the connections be made?

Almost With You is created from the kind of grief that reaches our hearts and the sort of healing that creates hope, but these emotions are having trouble resonating because the work is so close to the writer that there's no room for anyone else.

This review was on AussieTheatre.com

Fiona Macleod had a chat about the show.

09 July 2012

Review: Briwyant

Malthouse Theatre, Performance Space
5 July 2012
Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse
to 14 July

Before mine, I really liked Chris Boyd's review in The Aussie.

Director Vicki Van Hout didn't like it.  And so it's time for another one of those artist response that leave publicists smiling.

Really?  REALLY?

The one consistency in theatre is that no one in the audience will ever the same thing that the creator envisions in their head. Sometimes audiences see more than creators ever imagined; sometimes, they have no idea what's going on. But never is it the audience's fault that they can't see into a creator's head. 

Chris's review gives such an accurate sense of the work and his description of the dance is spot on. I don't understand howVan Hout read it as something so negative. 

My review

Briwyant begins with the sound of a story wanting to be told.  As it searches for the Dreaming in an urban world and looks for the songlines that still connect us all to country, this is contemporary Australian dance at its most compelling.

Director, choreographer and Wirradjerri woman Vicki Van Hout was brought up in Dapto in NSW, spent time in an infamous Woolloomooloo artist squat, studied dance at the National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association (NAISDA) College, trained in New York and moved back to Australia to perform with Bangarra in the mid 90s.

Working collaboratively with her dancers and creative team, Briwyant's stories start with images that perpetuate Indigenous culture.  Inspired by the Yolngu word bir’yun, which describes the crosshatch shimmering on a painting's surface, like a dot painting, some of Van Hout's meanings are obvious, while others are hidden or only clear with a learnt understanding. None of which makes her choreography and images any less beautiful or intriguing.

With remarkable dancers (Henrietta Baird, Raghav Handa, Rosealee Pearson, Beau Smith and Melinda Tyquin), Van Hout's distinct choreography melds traditional Indigenous movement with a New York-inspired post modern fluidity. This result is grounded and precise, but unpredictable and always surprising. As is the soundtrack where silence, live narration (Van Hout) and the dancer's voices are as important as the music.

With playing cards as the dots creating a river through the land, colourful sarongs, live footage filmed in Van Hout's grandmother's country and lighting (Neil Simpson) that makes the stage look and feel like another map and uses the contemporary magic of shadows and static to change how the dancers are seen, the design is so integral to the dance and dancers that it's impossible not to understand the link between country and people.

I saw Briwyant's as a work about finding connection. It's meaning isn't always clear, but dance like this is visceral and its story reaches our guts in ways that words fail. 

This review was on AussieTheatre.com

Photo by Jeff Busby

Review: sex.violence.blood.gore

30 June 2012
MKA Pop Up Theatre, North Melbourne
to 14 July

sex.violence.blood.gore is all flushed-flesh pink and delicate ivory lace, which makes it even sexier and gorier and gorgeous. First performed in Singapore in 1999 in a basement in secret, Melbourne's first production is in a secret warehouse in North Melbourne and, like all wonderful Melbourne secrets, you need a map to find it and may miss out because the word has already got around.

Malay-Muslim writer Alfian bin Sa'at was born in in Singapore in 1977 and with likes of the giraffe spot, Whitney-singing angels with plastic-covered wings, the problems of organ-donation racism and tiger blow jobs, it's easy to know why he's referred to as Singapore's "enfant terrible".

sex.violence.blood.gore is five short works connected by content that's sexy, violent, bloody and/or gorey, but start with sexual repression and are firmly placed in a country that deals with conflicts about religion, the aftermath of being a British colony and invaded by Japan, and defining its own identity between Malaysia and Indonesia. (I admit that my first reaction to Singapore was to look up the recipe for a Singapore Sling.)

With content so connected to the writer and his home, it could so easily be a curious, worthy and distancing work about queer South East Asia, but director Stephen Nicolazzo  (Home EconomicsTwo by TwoNegative Energy Inc) would never allow that.

He breaks down any sense of "them" with a glorious young cast of five women (Genevieve Giuffre, Catherine Davies, Whitney Boyd, Amy-Scott Smith, Zoe Boesen and Caitlin Adams) and one man (Matt Furlani) who freely play against their gender and ethnicity.  And Eugyeene Teh (designer) puts them in a pink world framed by body parts and net curtains and clads them in off-white underwear that teeters between repressive uncomfortable and irresistibly hot.

By taking it so out of its context, Nicolazzo lets the heart of this work speak and ensures that it's for and about everyone who sees it. This is what theatre is about. I see so many wonderfully written, beautifully performed works that are so terribly dull because they don't make this kind of connection with their audience.

And, of course, there's only one company in town that would bring us this type of theatre. sex.violence.blood.gore is the second show of MKA's winter season. Miss it and you'll regret it. And to ensure that you don't miss it, BOOK.

And, if you missed MKA's The Economist last year, there are TWO more shows before they go to Edinburgh on 20 and 21 July.

Photos by Sarah Walker

This review was on AussieTheatre.com

Read Cameron's wordgasm review that left me impotent.

02 July 2012

Review: The Butcher Shop Revue

The Butcher Shop Revue (Redux)
Badass Productions
15 June
Red Bennies

As winter forces some of us into thermal underwear, others are happy to warm us up by getting their gear off. From the exquisite subversion of The Glory Box (The Burlesque Hour) at 45downstairs to the many classes where middle age women realise just how hot they are, Melbourne may soon deserve number plates with "The Burlesque State", and  The Badass Burlesque Company are a saucy new company to keep an eye on.

The Butcher Shop Revue had a short season at The Butterfly Club that led to a night that had Red Bennies filled to over flowing.

Giving a big hug, with some appropriate inappropriate touching, to the traditions of burlesque and vaudeville, a Badass show starts with innunendo-inclined MC Dirk von Danjer, who's clad in ok-if you're-in-a-car-accident white underwear and braces, and there's a scrumptious feast of acts including torch song singers, circus, ariels and a selection of men and women who get their kit off.

With a mix of naughty, nice and hooly-dooley!, what defines a Badass performer is that every act has a sense of the performers sexual self at its centre. This has nothing to do with exposing flesh and celebrates the awesome sexiness of everyone.

It's hard to pick favourites but Honey B Goode hilariously rejects expectations of "nice girl" strip, Nathan Smith subverts gender assumptions (his footy strip should be the warm up for every ball-devoted Grand Final) and it was an unexpected treat to see song and dance man Reuben K back in town. Reuben's been a-wow-ing them in the UK, but is back for a visit and to fly over the crowds to sing "Space Oddity".

The Butcher Shop Revue is far more than a series of strips. Grabbing (and probably goosing) some of the best acts in town, Badass are developing shows that love the feathers and sequins of burlesque, but makes sure that the excitement starts in our heads. Tightening themes and directing for an overall picture will take them further along the from variety to theatre show, if that's what they want to do, but if you fancy a bit of burlesque, their next show is The Brass Bear Cabaret at the Melbourne Cabaret Festival.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

01 July 2012

Chat: Fiona Macleod, La Mama

Almost With You
La Mama
4 – 22 July 2012


Almost With You is a story of love and loss from Elizabeth Coleman (Secret Bridesmaids’ Business) from The Little Theatre Company. With an 80s soundtrack including The Church, The Jam and Simple Minds, it opens at La Mama on 4 July.

Director Kaarin Fairfax (Good People) says, “It’s not often I read a play and feel so moved by the characters and the journey on which they travel… Almost With You is for me a highly creative and sensitive piece of writing that will join ranks with Elizabeth’s earlier successes to become part of Australian theatre history and a great classic work.”

Actor Fiona Macleod (Construction of the Human Heart, The City) talks to Anne-Marie Peard about working at La Mama and performing Almost with You.

What three words best describe your show?
Intriguing, funny, affecting.

Do you remember the first show you saw at La Mama?
I don’t remember the show, but I remember the experience.  Sitting there, amongst the brick and near the open fire, thinking “what have I been DOING all these years??”

What is one of your favourite shows you’ve seen at La Mama?
Angus Cerini’s play Save for Crying.

What La Mama show do you wish you’d seen?
So, so many…

What do you love about working at La Mama?
The cosiness of the entire space – the theatre, courtyard, upstairs, the support of the team there, the sense of being a part of Melbourne’s theatre history, the sense of community and integrity that permeates the brick walls.

What do you love most about this show? 
The rollercoaster journey that my character goes on – I won’t have a second to stop and think.  The story propels me forward, with force.  And the fact that it’s funny, as well as heart-wrenchingly sad.

Where is the best coffee in Carlton?
I’d hate to play favourites, but Brunetti’s is just so close.

Who would you love to see in your audience one night?
My extended family who live in Scotland.

Is there anyone you don’t want to see in the audience?
Yes, but I’m not going to say as it would spark controversy.

What do you like to do after a performance?
Drink red wine and talk to friends.

What was your first time on a stage?
It was either the school play in first form where I played Jane in Pride and Prejudice, or in a church hall doing a dance to “Downunder’ by  Men at Work.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I try not to have too many as I think they can become compulsive, but I do like to do a physical and vocal warm up – sing perhaps, breathe, and do something to connect with my co-actors.

What’s some great theatre advice you’ve used? 
Trust yourself, don’t forget to listen, and a new one from my director on this show, Kaarin Fairfax – get the thought right and the behaviour will look after itself.

What punishment do you think is fit for audience members who don’t turn their phones off during performances?
The psychic wrath of the other audience members is usually punishment enough, but perhaps they should be made to buy the cast a drink after the show?

What’s your favourite gelati flavour?
Probably lemon.

What role/character do you really want to play one day?
I’m not sure but I’ll know it when it comes.

Matinees: love or loathe?
Loathe, generally.

Do you read reviews?
I do as curiosity gets the better of me, but I think if you are going to believe the good, you have to believe the bad, or take all of them with a grain of salt.  It’s probably best not to though, until after the season.

Do you know of any secret parking spots near the theatres (although it’s such a short walk from the Melbourne uni tram stop on Swanston Street, so driving isn’t necessary)? 
I always have luck in the four hour ones down on that square (don’t know the address sorry – McCarthur Place?)

What’s the best book you’ve read recently? 
The Privileges by Jonathan Dee.

What question do you wish I’d asked?
What are your hopes for this show?

How would you answer it?
That it affects people, and that it has many more lives.

This was on AussieTheatre.com