31 July 2013

The Container Festival

The Container Festival
Monash University, Clayton
2–20 August

Just when it looks like there might be a week without an arts festival in Melbourne, along comes the inaugural Container Festival presented by MUST, the Monash University Student Theatre association.

From August 2 to 20, a performance hub of shipping containers is being set up at Monash University in Clayton. The containers are performance venues and the MUST theatre is being transformed into a lounge bar.

With over 200 diverse performances and exhibitions including music, dance, theatre, visual art, games, burlesque, poetry and puppetry, the festival is designed to showcase and encourage student and graduate talent, while engaging the university and local community in an interactive and welcoming way.

MUST Artistic Director, Yvonne Virsik says, “It will ignite cultural engagement and expression, foster innovation and provide brilliant and affordable entertainment.”

It’s a bit like a mini Fringe festival, but there are no participation fees for the artists, it’s in one place and tickets are very affordable.

There are lots of FREE events, but the bargain is a $50 Festival Pass that gives you entry to every festival event. Day passes are only $15 or tickets for individual shows range from $2 to $8.

With offerings including one-on-one story telling, an espionage caper game called Dead Drop, 10-minute dance parties, Vietnamese folk takes, a Bingo Bonanza (with “genuine $2-shop quality prizes), performances from the Monash Jazz Orchestra and an intriguing piece called Belgian Roulette where you have to choose between two chocolate brownies (one of which is filled with chili), the Container Festival promises a unique experience for every visitor.

Theatre highlights include a workshop production of Robert Reid’s new work Bacchae Rising and new works by Fleur Kilpatrick and Tom Molyneux.

The festival launches with an opening party on Friday 2 August from 6 pm. Entry is FREE and there will be plenty of chances to meet the artists and have a sneak peak at the performances.

Monash arts graduates and MUST members continue to make an impact on the Melbourne (and Australian) independent and professional arts scene and there’s likely to be a former MUST member in most local companies from writers to performers to general managers.

Playwrights like Declan Greene and Amelia Roper had their first full-length works performed at Monash; local companies Attic Erratic, Quiet Little Fox and A Modern Deception met at Monash; and creators like Sarah Collins, Daniel Lammin, Mark Wilson, Celeste Cody, Tom Pitts, Sarah Walker, Danny Delahunty and Kaitlyn Claire all began their careers in MUST productions.

Events and festivals like this are vital to develop and encourage emerging artists and to give more experienced artists an opportunity to experiment and give new work its first outing.

The Container Festival is a terrific opportunity to see and engage with the next generation of Melbourne artists and performers.

And remember that Clayton campus is only a 20-minute drive from the city and there's parking or  public transport will drop you at the door.

Glitter photo by Sarah Walker.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

29 July 2013

It's a Last Tuesday Tuesday!

Pimp my play: Don's Party
The Last Tuesday Society
30 July 2103 ONLY
Malthouse theatre
Facebook page

Melbourne's Last Tuesday Society are everything that is wonderful and insane about independent theatre in our town.

It's weird, but this month, they are in a grown up theatre, at the Beckett at the Malthouse, for the next in their Pimp My Play series.

How do you pimp a play?
  1. Take a play.
  2. Divide up the scenes amongst the collaborating artists.
  3. Put all the pieces back together in order.
  4. Present theatrical equivalent of Frankenstein to horrified/delighted audience.
And the play is Don's Party.

Don's freaking Party! The play David Williamson wrote in 1971 when he wasn't boring. The play about an election night in 1969 where there was a tiny chance that Labor would win. The play with 70s decor and moustaches before they became retro chic. The play that became a film at a time where nuding up was compulsory and gender politics meant voting like your husband and getting back into the kitchen to put some kabana and Coon on a toothpick and poking it into half a pineapple.

Hosted by Richard Higgins and with performers including Bron Battern, Telia Nevile, Matt Kelly and glorious folk from from The Sister's Grimm, post, The Suitcase Royale and I'm trying to kiss you, it may be the best production of a David Williamson play ever.

And if I were David Williamson, I'd hire a private jet to ensure that I didn't miss it.

Buy your tickets HERE. I've bought mine. There may be some at the door, but is it worth the risk?

Review: Between the Cracks

Between the Cracks
Yana Alana
6 July 2013
to 7 July

How could Between the Cracks slip through my review cracks?! Perhaps because I adored it so much that words are irrelevant. Or because its story is so important that it needs more than a dull quotable about hilarious, positive and sexy politics or how gorgeous the performer is.

Yana Alana started grabbing attention at the 2007 Melbourne Fringe when her outraged feminist poetry and show Bite Me won Best Cabaret and went on to snare some Green Room Awards, rave reviews and sold out shows.

Between the Cracks, which has the best song ever written about anal sex, was first seen at the Midsumma festival and this Cabaret Festival season quickly sold out.  

Yana has dumped her backing band of Pirana's and taken her over-sexed self-involvement to a level that ensures that no one, not even her creator Sarah Ward, can share the attention. Even if the magnificent voice and I-dare-you-to-not-want-to-fuck-me body belong to Sarah, Yana's determined to take every bit of credit and adoring love from her audience.

Naked, except for colbalt blue body paint and a spectacular bedazzling of gems, Yana insists on unblinking attention. Her sexuality is all about her and there's never a question that she'd ever doubt her sexual power.

Yana's nakedness isn't about approval or a statement about body size that doesn't conform to an impossible Barbie shape; it's all about Yana and, for all her negativity, Yana's all about positive sexuality. Even grumpy people can and should have plenty of great sex.

Director Anni Davey, who also directed Maude Davey's My Life in the Nude, gives Yana plenty of space, while ensuring she doesn't lose the love of her adoring fans by keeping the pain behind Yana's anger in reach. Not that she ever lets anyone feel sorry for Yana, because Yana would never allow such condescension.

Yana's fans are so on her side that there's little she can say that isn't supported and cheered. There's little chance of her getting the Bolt, Sanderland and Jones supporters that troll any woman who speaks her mind along to her show, but if you're a woman who's ever wasted too much of her day worried about your body or a judging gaze, or given in and silenced your opinion because you've been accused of playing the gender card or put in the ugly ranting feminist box, Yana will remind you that it's all bullshit and that every woman should believe in a world where they can walk around naked, blue and bedazzled.

Maybe it's this kind of queer eye for the straight girl that's going to help change attitudes that create the need for more and more work like this.

I saw Between the Cracks on its last Saturday night and it was so sold out that reviews were meaningless, but you there are four more chances to see Sarah and Yana in Finucane and Smith's dead-set-wonder Glory Box ParadiseHer next and last performances are 1–4 August. I feel sorry for anyone who misses it.

Photo by Peter Leslie

27 July 2013

Review: White Rabbit, Red Rabbit

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit
Malthouse Theatre
26 July 2013
Beckett Theatre, Malthouse
to 31 July

In fairness to every actor who will perform White Rabbit, Red Rabbit and to every one who will be in an audience of a production, this is spoiler free. But, even still, please only keep reading if you've seen it, performed it or are Nassim Soleimanpour.

Wait, if you're thinking of seeing it, the answer is HELL YES.

When Nassim Soleimanpour was 29, he was living in Iran and didn't have a passport. He wrote White Rabbit, Red Rabbit to feel a sense of freedom.

It's not an especially well-written piece, but it has the audience in its paws from the first moment. A lone actor performs, but they don't see the script until they walk onto the stage, pick it up and start reading.

So you can see why there's an obligation to not write anything about it. Too much of the experience is about the actor discovering each new word at the same time as the audience. For those who saw An Oak Tree in 2008, this has a similar conceit, but the Tree had the writer on stage with the performer.

Like Tree, the actor can't do Rabbit again. And the more it gets performed, the more likely that actors have seen it or know something about it, which will leave them out of the running. Since 2009, it's been translated into many languages and performed all over the world. There's always an empty seat in the front row for Soleimanpour. And he has seen it.

But Rabbit's not about getting distracted by the writer's personal story and the history of the work; it's about discovering the text and story with the actor – and the audience are a vital part of this discovery. How often does an audience know as much as the performer and are as important to the writer as the performer is?

Having audience members who have seen it before will also impact a performance. Not that this will stop people from seeing it again. I'd have happily gone each night to see Rodney Afif, Alison Bell, Alan Brough, Shareena Clanton, Daniela Farinacci, Ming-Zhu Hii, Bert LaBonté, John Leary, Caroline Lee, Brian Lipson, Catherine McClements, Genevieve Morris, Brian Nankervis and Sam Pang perform.

But even if I do go again, it will never compare to the moment-by-moment discovery of the first time.

I saw Alan Brough. I was 82, my purple hat was a red hat and someone had a carrot.

And this is Nassim Soleimanpour's email: nassim.sn@gmail.com.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

26 July 2013

Support abundance

abundance: a fundraising party for independent theatre
Theatre Works, The Rabble, Little Ones Theatre, Daniel Schlusser Ensemble
27 July 2013
Theatre Works

You can support some of the best (and my favourite) indie companies and be part of what promises to be the BEST NIGHT THIS CITY HAS SEEN?

It's a big call, but tomorrow night is abundance, a fundraising shindig to help fund Theatre Works's projects for the second half of 2013.

The Rabble (Orlando, Story of O) and the Daniel Schlusser Ensemble (Menagerie, A Dolls House) are creating NEW works, and the camptacular Psycho Beach Party is heading to the Brisbane Festival.

The super gorgeous Nicola Gunn (Hello my name is) is the MC, Kate Davis (who designs all The Rabble shows) is transforming the venue and guest performers include Ally Fowler and Tottie Goldsmith (Chantoozies – yes I said CHANTOOZIES!).

The goal is to raise $20,000.

Ways to help:
  • buy a ticket ($50/$35)
  • donate extra (or if you can't make it)
  • bid on the silent auction items.
All of which you can do HERE.

Review: Sunday in the Park with George

Sunday in the Park with George
Victorian Opera
20 July 2013
The Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 27 July

Victorian Opera's Sunday in the Park with George is exquisite, and it's heartbreaking that it can only run for a week as so many people will miss this emotionally-perfect production of Stephen Sondheim's most personal work.

Sondheim wrote Sunday in the Park with George after his Merrily We Roll Along (1981) was booed by critics and closed after 16 Broadway performances. Urban legend says that he was ready to quit music theatre to write mystery novels, but writer and director James Lapine persuaded him to return and they were both inspired by a painting by George Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884).

The resulting work by Sondheim and Lapine (who directed the first production) is a passionate and deeply personal exploration about being an artist and the sacrifices that accompany the choice to make art. It won Tonys for its design and the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and the London production won Oliviers, including Best Actor in a Musical for Australia's Philip Quast.

The first act is set in 1884, as George sketches in the park and develops his new style of painting (pointillism or neo-impressionism, that creates its images and colours from the human eye merging its dots of colour). The fictional story is about the people in the painting, including George's mother and his lover, who are both rejected by George in favour of his art. The second act is in the 1980s in America where George's great grandchild, also George, is trying to create and fund his digital work in a world of snobby art critics, and planning to show his interpretation of Seruat's work in Paris on the island depicted in the famous painting.

Alexander Lewis (who studied at WAPPA and is currently in his second year of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program at The Metropolitan Opera in New York) is outstanding as the Georges. Musically, it's like Sondheim wrote for him and emotionally he grasps the conceit of a man who gives up love for art, without ever losing the empathy of his audience. Christina O'Neil (who was also at WAPPA and a new Red Stitch ensemble member in 2013) is his counterpoint as lover Dot (and his grandmother in Act 2). She, too, sings the music like it's hers, but it's the heart and understanding that she brings to Dot that is so engaging.

And they are supported by an ensemble who are each memorable, none lesser than Nancye Hayes, as George's mother, and an Act 2 art critic, whose Act 1 song to George is a masterclass in how to perform Sondheim (warning: bring a tissue).

Conductor Phoebe Briggs understands how Sondheim applied pointillism to music and ensures that the musicians and voices never let one outshine the other. While director Stuart Maunder (whose direction of Sondheim's A Little Night Music for Opera Australia left me cold) ensures that the story is led by the powerful emotions that created it.

But even for nothing else, see it for Anna Cordingley's design. The most famous productions of George won awards for design. Victoria Opera doesn't have a Broadway budget, but Cordingley has created something that's as creative and original as Seruat and Sondheim. The costumes are made with material that's digitally printed with Seraut's colour palettes. This makes them look like they walked out of a new version of the painting and visually unite the two acts in ways that past designs haven't. Her detail is intricate and, even from the circle, it's easy to see that every hat is a finished work of art and her parasols are as beautiful as the music that sings about them. Meanwhile the set uses all of Seraut's known works and her cascade of falling colours is such a simple idea, but genius in how it supports the story and George's art.

After the success of Nixon in China, Victorian Opera are continuing to put Opera Australia to shame with a production that deserves to run for months, if only to show everyone who sees expensive opera and commercial music theatre why reviewers like me complain when they miss the mark.

It finishes on Saturday and its nearly sold out. So book now. And full time students and under 30s can get $30 tickets.

This review is on AussieTheatre.com.

25 July 2013

On Writing: Patricia Cornelius

16 August – 8 September

Patricia Cornelius is a playwright, novelist, film writer, writing teacher and dramaturge, a founding member of Melbourne Workers Theatre, and a mentor to many emerging playwrights.

Her many awards include the 2012 Patrick White Fellowship, the 2011 Victorian and NSW Premier’s literary awards, the 2003 Wal Cherry Award and 10 Australian Writers Guild Awgies.

Her next play is Savages, is at fortyfivedownstairs from 16 August to 8 September. 

Directed by her long-time collaborator Susie Dee, it explores masculinity, misogyny and the dark side of mateship. Here she talks about the inequity of male and female characters, writing for actors and reminds writers to see lots of theatre and read lots of plays.

What made you want to write this play?
I have written a number of plays that take on the issue of gender. Most of them have concentrated on young women but there have been so many dire incidents with groups of men in teams and on tours and on trips in the news that I wanted to take them on. I wanted to make sense of these men individually and in a pack. Many of the real incidents in the news have made an indelible bruise on our national psyche. They were powerful and called out to be explored.

How long did it take you to write it?
I’ve lost sight of how long. It takes such a long time now to get a work on that the process of workshopping and rewrites and tinkering go on for it seems an age.

Savages is a story about men written and directed by woman; do you expect anyone to comment on this?
I do expect some reaction but I can’t be bothered with it really. Men’s business is solely the domain of male artists? Why should it be? I think that male and female artists should look at both genders in their work. Part of the problem with too many plays is that female characters are poorly represented and all playwrights need to address this inequity.

You’ve worked a lot with director Susie Dee? Tell us something about working with her?
Who wins if you disagree?
Susie Dee is a fine director and she’s also a friend. The friendship means we’ve had the luxury of talking about theatre for decades. We argue of course but we agree about the essential elements that make great theatre. We both love actors and she is great at enabling them to take the material into terrific and powerful and funny territory. She likes text and can make it sing. She’s unafraid of going deep and will try everything to make a scene work. Neither of us is sentimental which means we like to cut to the chase.

Can you remember when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
I resisted being a writer for a long time. I tried to be a good actor and never got over feeling too afraid. I always wanted to make good theatre and it took me awhile to be satisfied with the plays I wrote. Now I don’t think about it anymore. It’s like I paid my dues. Wrote some early and inspired gems, wrote some stodgy numbers, experimented as much as I could, wrote mostly what I wanted to write and always wanted to say something, something strong enough to feel like a punch in the guts.

How many plays have you written? How many have been produced?
Is there an unproduced one that you’d love to see on stage?I’ve written about 30 plays. There is only one work, an opera titled Cunning written in collaboration with the wonderful composer Irine Vela, which has never been produced. It’s a huge work and it’s got something grand about it. It’s about resistance and what one does to survive: perfect operatic material.

Tell us a story about being part of the Melbourne Workers Theatre?
Performing in the first play State of Defence by Andrew Bovell on the back of a semi-trailer on a building site that was to become the Melbourne Tennis Centre, a hundred or so rowdy building workers looking on and me thinking, shit, they’re going to eat us alive.

What other writing do you do? 
I write prose and film scripts. I’m working with Decade films on a project called Dust. And I’m working up to write my second novel, an adaptation of my play Love.

What playwright do you read when you need inspiration?
I read a lot of plays. I read Australian playwrights as much as possible. I don’t read them so much for inspiration but I do often come away inspired. I read them because I want to know what they are writing about and how they are writing them. You learn heaps about your craft.

Apart from plays, what else do you love reading?
I read fiction.

Any hints to overcome writer’s block?
Walk. Long walks on your own.

What was the title of your first play?

Do you ever hand write or is everything on screen?
I do both. I write notes in a writing book and use them to elaborate on the computer. Sometimes I take off then because the next step becomes suddenly clear.

How does it feel when you’re sitting in a theatre audience watching one of your plays?
It’s the most torturous experience and one I keep repeating. It takes many sittings before I can truly look at the work and be relaxed about it. Actually I’m never relaxed about it. It is something similar to someone driving you in a fast racing car and they take corners so sharply you are pounded against the door and every now and then it seems the driver has lost control and the car spins or lifts up on two wheels or turns over but then it rights itself once again and drives on.

Do you have a writing routine?
I sit at my computer most days, but I think I have a very scatty routing. It’s not always about the discipline of sitting at your desk and writing for a particular number of hours, although that is finally what one needs to do to get the play actually written. Once I’m into a play, I find myself taking my characters everywhere with me. We spend quite a lot of time in bed. I’m constantly placing them in a situation or in a discussion or getting inside their mind, looking for the way I can make them speak.

Are you an early-morning or a late-night writer?
I’m an anytime of the day writer.

Who do you go to for feedback about your writing?
I ask a small number of fellow playwrights and their responses are always invaluable. I also have a couple of directors who I get to read my work. And then there are friends – some friends who have read my work since I began to write and who have nothing to do with the theatre but have great politics and understanding of how the world works.

What’s one of your favourite quotes about writing?
"When I am writing a play I am sometimes frustrated by how stupid I am, and wish I were some sort of philosopher historian playwright, who could make sense of it all, explain it all, like a Freud or a Marx or a mother or a father or a god. But I have realised there are advantages to stupidity. And even though I have not quite lost the desire to make sense of the world, I have become more cynical about it, and watchful of stories or characters or images that comfortably reduce the world, rather than acknowledge its complexity." Melissa Reeves (Melbourne playwright)

Do you think actors and directors should be able to change something you’ve written? (Is the playwright always right?)
I think a new play will always have room to change and actors and directors will find better solutions to problems in rehearsal and to not go with these would be madness. I think if the work is being changed in a fundamental way and has become more a blue print for another work then the director has no faith in the original and has another agenda. I think go find another play. Part of making a play live on stage is committing to it, remembering why you chose it in the first place.

What advice can you give to emerging playwrights?
Read plays. And, don’t get stuck with a play in endless workshops and readings. Get it on as soon as you can. Find people who want to put on plays, form a company, find a space, do it, then do the next one.

What do you love most about writing for the stage?
There are so many elements to consider when writing for the theatre, but writing for actors is a fabulous thing. Giving actors enough, to do, to say, to think about, to transform is what I love the best.

Do you read your reviews?
Yes, of course I read them. Theatre criticism is important and can and should be elucidating. I’ve learnt things from critics. I don’t pretend I haven’t felt hurt and misunderstood but mostly playwrights want to know what a critic thinks.

What’s your advice on taking criticism?
I think all you can do is take it on. If it’s negative don’t be disheartened. One thing to remember is word of mouth is more powerful.

You’ve won many awards, which one meant the most?
The Australian Writer’s Guild awards (Awgies) have meant the most to me. They are awards that have been selected by your peers and I’ve always felt especially proud to receive them.

As a creator, you have to hand your characters over to actors so that they can live. When has an actor made one of your characters into something more than you imagined?
It’s a symbiotic relationship between the playwright and actor. The writing has to give enough and the actor has to take it and make sense of it and fly with it. I’m constantly thrilled and amazed and surprised how an actor can take my words and own them and allow them to unleash emotions and ideas that I wasn’t conscious were hidden there.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

24 July 2013

Review: Ubu Roi

Ubu Roi
5 Pound Theatre
18 July 2013
The Owl and the Pussycat
to 27 July

Ubu Roi is a mess. A filthy, mud-spluttered, cover-me-with-plastic glorious mess.

Founded in late 2010, the 5Pound theatre ensemble are making their mark in Melbourne. Based at The Owl and the Pussycat in Richmond – once a single front workers cottage – they present plays that they love, which have so far ranged from The Blue Room to Pygmalion.

Director and Co-Artistic Director of 5 Pound, Jason Cavanagh, loves Absurdism.  He directed Ionesco's Rhinoceros last year and was thrilled to get into the 1896 script by Alfred Jarry that's said to be the inspiration of the mid-20th century style and had it's French audience rioting at its first performance.

Papa Ubu (let's call him Kevin) wants to be King. He's a greedy man whose childish behaviour destroys everything he tries to control in a world with snot and poo jokes that would put a poo-obsessed four-year-old to shame.

So Cavanagh fills the stage with reeking mud and with Mattea Davies's faded grotesque glory design, Tim Wotherspoon's dripping sound and Doug Montgomery's lighting the space is so viserally vile that I was glad I'd worn wellies. Mud is flung as underwear and excess body hair turn to brown and the front row pull their plastic covers over their to protect themselves from political shit fight that's played out before them.

Ubu Roi is a text that's read (or read about) more than it's performed, but seeing it is much more fun than reading it. Cavanagh grasps the wholeness of the story (it's very loosely based on the Scottish play), but the ending feels empty. And, while he lets his delightfully hilarious cast (Nicholas Dubberley, Amy Jones, Susannah Frith, Andi Snelling, Colin Craig and Antony Okill) revel in the mucky humour, there are times when they seem to be enjoying it a bit too much. The moments when they step away from charater and the ridiculous world to pull the plastic safety curtain across are perfect, but they need to decide if the world they are slipping and sliding in is real and dangerous or a playground for buffoonery.

As the mire gets stinkier by the day, Ubu Roi is going to fester until its grossness is squirmingly irresistible. So cover up and watch safely as 5Pound refuse to be safe and dull.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

22 July 2013

July review previews

Review: Glory Box Paradise

Glory Box Paradise
Finucane and Smith
13 July 2013
to 11 August

"Art is fueled by passion, liquor and unrealistic expectations." Welcome to Glory Box Paradise and the ninth year of Moira Finucane and Jackie Smith's subversive and celebratory burlesque where the passion is as potent as any cocktail and unrealistic expectations are turned into exquisite beauty.

Is there anything left to be said about Finucane and Smith's Burlesque Hour shows? I've run out of passionate adjectives to shout about how damn amazing this work continues to be.

Nine years ago, the first Burlesque Hour performed to an in-the-know audience at fortyfivedownstairs and later in the Speigeltent. I'd heard about it and bought a ticket for the tent. Here was something we hadn't seen before and so wanted to see so much more of.

Over 125,000 people have seen versions of The Burlesque Hour – that's more than a full MCG. Artists have come and gone and come back, it's had 50 sell-out seasons all over the world, won awards and collected multi-wordgasm reviews from critics who only disagree about the the degree of superlative.

There's a lot of burlesque in theatres and clubs, but no one is doing anything like this. So what makes this burlesque so different?

Rarely do naked women on display make other women feel good about themselves. Whether it's designed to attract a straight male gaze (that really doesn't attract all straight men) or simply because it's rare for women to publicly de-robe unless they fit an image that was created by applying good lighting, a flattering position and Photoshop.

In her current show, My Life in the Nude at La Mama (finishing this weekend), Maude Davey, who has appeared in many Burlesque Hour shows, talks about her realisation that burlesque is about declaring that you are beautiful are worthy of the audience's gaze.

"I am beautiful and worthy of your gaze" is a magnificent beginning for the many women (and men) doing weekend burlesque classes and sewing sequins on undies for their graduation show, but Glory Box Paradise leaps beyond this premise.

On a Finucane and Smith stage, nakedness has nothing to do with a boring flash of boob. With bodies that don't conform to young, spray-tanned, waxed, enhanced and starved images of female naked perfection, there's never doubt that the women performing know their own beauty – and they don't give a hoot if anyone thinks differently.

There are well over 20, 30 and 40. They have body fat and muscle and scars and marks that declare their bodies as so much more than something to gaze upon. (Moira even refuses to uses a hair straightener and goes frizzy!) And they perform work that's as sexy and powerful as it gets.

These are women who are sexual but are never sexualised. Women whose sexual power has nothing to do with control. Women whose sex lives are shameless. Women who don't support any image or idea that going to repress, disapprove or hurt.  And this may be why every act is greeted with cheers.

The gaze of anyone is welcome, but this is performance that's not about earning the approval of the watcher, but about celebrating the performer and her view of the world. A view that's positive instead of critical and one that joyfully leans to the queer side of the spectrum while welcoming anyone who sits anywhere else.

And if you think you've seen it all before, this year is mostly new material, with a couple of old favourites.

Yumi Umiumare is back with genre re-defining punk Butoh, and dancer Holly Durant joined by new performer Lily Paskas. Melbourne favourite Jess Love (The Candy Butchers) is living in London these days, but is back home with some amazing and hilariously off-centre hoop and skipping routines. She also comes with Ursula Martinez. Ursula continues to treat with her disappearing red hanky and her sex change quick change number with Jess is pure joy (with a hint of raunchy goodness).

New to the Box is Sarah Ward and her alter ego Yana Alana. Yana's naked blue real-women-look-like-this gorgeousness thrilled audiences last week in her own show Between the Cracks, but Yana's lets Sarah out to play. In a mesmerising hologram silver corset, her duet of "Candy" with Moira's drag king is a highlight. The only one who nearly overshadows Sarah is Yana, whose cat-suited song about cats has left me singing "pussy wussy wussy" to my cat.

And there's Moira. There's no one like her. As an artist she creates work that is so from her heart and self that no one will ever be able to recreate it. It's gutsy and lusty and masculine and feminine and  refuses to be anything that isn't Moira Finucane.

Photos by Carla Gottgens.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

20 July 2013

Mini review: This is beautiful

This is beautiful
The Public Studio
19 July 2013
Tower Theatre, Malthouse Theatre
to 3 August

This is beautiful is the second work in Malthouse's independent theatre program, Helium. As performance art, it never claims to be theatre.

There are three screens, a large fruit and flower display, and three black lumps from which three dress-clad performers appear and ask questions about beauty.

I describe theatre and art as beautiful a lot. This work made me want to define what I think is beautiful.

Beautiful art:
  • is created from your heart more than your head
  • tells me something I didn't know about you
  • reveals something that lets me connect with you and your view of the world
  • is created by people who know their audience is smarter than they are
  • asks questions beyond the obvious
  • shares and celebrates.

Beauty has little connection with aesthetic choice.

This is beautiful is many things, but I didn't think it was beautiful.

15 July 2013

Review: Gypsy

The Production Company
10 July 2013
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 14 July

Caroline O'Connor stars as Rose in Gypsy. Is there anything else you need to know! If you've seen Connor perform, you know you have to see her; if you haven't seen her, you've probably been told that you have to see her; if you have no idea who she is, have a google and you'll know you have to see her.

Caroline O'Connor is an old-style, belt it out with heart and guts super star and the State Theatre erupted for her last night.

Gypsy is the story of stage mother Rose, whose life is managing and creating the vaudeville act performed by her daughters Baby June and Louise. Abandoned by her own mother and three husbands, Rose holds on to what she loves most, refusing to marry the man who adores her (Herbie) and not noticing how much June wants to leave. When June abandons her family, Rose focuses on the less-talented Louise, finally convincing her to perform in a burlesque show. It's loosely based on the memoir of the 30s famous stripper Gypsy Rose Lee (called Louise).

Gypsy (Jule Styne, music; Arthur Laurents, book; Stephen Sondheim, lyrics) was first seen on Broadway from 1959 to 1961 with Ethel Merman as Rose. It was nominated for a pile of Tonys, but didn't win any. Revivals made up for this. Other famous Roses include Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters and Patti Lupone, and not to forget Rosalind Russell and Bette Midler in screen versions. Rose is the role that women of a certain age look forward to playing, written in a time when women of a certain age were loved and adored and written for.

O'Connor might have her name above the title, but the rest of the cast as just as super and starry. Matt Hetherington nearly grounds Rose as sensible and love-struck Herbie, Gemma-Ashley Kaplan brings guts to Baby June and Christina Tan transforms from downtrodden Louise to powerful Gypsy. And not to forget the scene-stealing cast of young performers, and Chloe Dallimore, Nicki Wendt and Ann Wood as the three strippers who show Louise that you gotta have a gimmick.

And the design team of Adam Gardnir (set), Tim Chappel (costume) and, Paul Jackson and Robert Cuddon (lights) create a stage that feels and looks as great as a multi-billion dollar show with a background of twinkling stars for the nostalgia-inspired back drops and the gorgeous, extra fun era-inspired costumes.

Now in their 15th year, The Production Company continue to produce the musicals that we'd never see from commercial or professional companies. With limited resources and rehearsal time, they give us the old-style shows we've only ever seen on film or ones that haven't been produced in Australia. They are more than concert versions, but less than a full production, but always made with a love of the work that makes them soar.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

Photo by Belinda Strodder

13 July 2013

Mini review: The Sovereign Wife

NEON Festival of Independent Theatre
The Sovereign Wife
Sisters Grimm
12 July 2013
The Lawler
to 21 July

Australian epic theatre? Cloudstreet, When the rain stops falling and Secret River can get fucked because The Sovereign Wife is the definitive piece of Australian theatre.

It's about an Irish woman's struggle to find herself and a community in gold-rush Victoria. If it were an 80s epic tv mini series, it would star Sigrid Thornton. It doesn't.

On 12 July 2013, the Sisters Grimm opened at the Melbourne Theatre Company. It was already selling well, but was sold out by lunchtime on 13 July. When too much of our world is trying to pull us back to conservative, straight, repressive and vanilla-essence boring, this is a sign that the world IS changing for the better.

Declan Greene and Ash Flander's Sisters Grimm have sold out their debut MTC season!

The most middle-class, middle-aged elitist company in town have a sold out a show by the queerest, trashiest, filthiest, camp-punk company in town.

Even if the Sydney Theatre Company grabbed them earlier this year, the last time Melbourne saw a Sister's show, it was in a backyard shed (Summertime in the Garden of Eden) and the ones before that were in the freezing cement car park of the Collingwood public housing flats (Little Mercy, Cellblock Booty). It felt wrong going to a Sisters' show in theatre clothes and knowing that the interval wine was going to come in a glass.

And last night, while the nice theatre goers politely clapped The Crucible in the big MTC theatre, the downstairs studio erupted in a standing, stomping and squealing ovation for a show that insults everyone and subverts so many genders, races, sexualities, body shapes, cultures, sub-cultures and bloody Aussie icons that I'm not going to ruin a second of it for those lucky enough to have tickets.

Greene, Flanders and their glorious company's fingers are so on the zeitgeist that the zeitgeist is screaming in multi-orgasmic bliss and begging to have a moment to recompose itself.

 The Sovereign Wife is beautiful, and atrocious, and sexy as all fuck. It's almost too smart for it's own good and the cast need a new lot of adjectives to describe their fuck-you-aussie-aussie-aussie awesomeness. So put the MTC box office number on your phone now because there might be an extra show and when the announcement comes, the MTC switchboard will explode.

PS: I loved When the rain stops falling and will never forget the look Declan Greene gave me when he realised that I wasn't joking when I said so.

Photo by Theresa K Harrison

This won't be on AT, but I hope to write a complex and arty discussion some time this week.

12 July 2013

Magic Festival reviews

In 2008, The Australian Institute of Magic founded The Melbourne Magic Festival. There are 40 shows at this year's festival, at the Northcote Town Hall, and many are sold out.

Who doesn't love magic and I've never seen this town hall so crowded with happy punters.

During the day, there are plenty of school-holiday shows and at night there are family shows and ones just for adults.

The full program is at melbournemagicfestival.com.

(And yes, some serious wand waving needs to be done to make the website easier to use.)

Beat the Cheat
Nicholas J Johnson and Ben McKenzie
11 July
Northcote Town Hall
to 13 July

Giant dice, a community chest full of secrets and a board game big enough to walk on! Cool.

BUT to win, you have to beat Nicholas J Johnson, Australia's honest conman, magician and self-confessed dirty rotten cheat. It's not as impossible as it seems, especially as host Ben Mackenzie (who can quote the Dungeon and Dragons rule books) might be on your side.

The audience is split into two (I was on the Not Red team) and individuals play for the team (I would have volunteered if Scrabble, Mastermind or Mousetrap had come up). There are dozens of games that are chosen by the air toss of giant dice and Nick knows the rules for every one – and how to bend them.

With magic, games and nerdiness, Beat the Cheat is more fun than Star Wars Angry Birds or a Hungry Hungry Hippos marathon. And it reminds us that games are so much better when you play with real people instead of a screen. Who wants to come around and play Monopoly?

PS. The Not Red team lost by one point because a Red team member realised that it would be ridiculous to not cheat.

In Dreams
Tim Ellis
11 July
Northcote Town Hall
to 13 July

Magic shows are often put in their own category that brings up images of RSL clubs, kids parties and men in capes with awkward young women in sequins. A trip to the Melbourne Magic Festival will banish such regressive and dull thoughts (or at least restricted them to RSL clubs), because this festival is full of magicians and artists who are letting the hat rabbits run free and taking illusion to far more interesting places.

Tim Ellis is the Artistic Director of the Melbourne Magic Festival, he's won prestigious magic awards and is presenting two of his own shows at the festival.

If you're s a grown up who's stopped believing in magic, his 9 pm show, In Dreams, could change your mind.

In Dreams is about unrequited love and never giving up. Ellis is silent and bare foot as he tells a simple and heartwarming story about being in love and losing that love. He uses the same tricks that are seen in most shows, but adds original twists and their place in the story is more important than the illusion.

The result is a personal and moving story of heartbreak and hope told though flawless magic and the kind of love that defies illusion.

Make your parents disappear
Luke Hocking and Alex da la Rambelje
9 July 2013
Northcote Town Hall
to 12 July

It's tough to argue with a 5-year-old, but I have no reason to disagree with my theatre companion, Ella, who thought the best bit of Make your parents disappear was when they "went outside for no reason", but generally thought it was "really good".

So good that she convinced her mum that she needed their magic book so she could learn some tricks at home and impressed me all afternoon by pulling a plastic pink ring out of my ear.

Magic rocks! Luke and Alex are best-known for their adult shows as two thirds of A Modern Deception, but once they were in grade 5 and grade 3 at magic school and didn't want to go to bed when their mum told them to. They know some tricks, but need something spectacular to keep them out of bed. Luckily the audience suggest that they could make their parents disappear!

As the kids (3–10) sit on the ground and the groan ups sit on chairs, Alex and Luke need help from the audience to do their tricks – and they tend to attract an extremely talented audience – without forgetting that those up the back need to be entertained and are usually determined to see how a trick is done. With these two, they might start believing that it really is magic.

Make your parents disappear is super fun and magictacular. I'd go so far to disagree with Ella and say that it's "really, really good".

The Lucian Swift Chronicles: A tale of magic in Melbourne
Barking Spider Visual Theatre
6 July 2013
Northcote Town Hall
to 6 July

The Flinders Street Station lost and found room used to be in the clock tower. Here collected bags, boxes, brollies and cases that were lost by travellers coming to and leaving Melbourne. Some were united with their owners and some were left to collect dust, unable to tell their story because their person was missing.

A young woman looks through the lost and found treaures. We don't know if she's looking for something she lost, but she finds an old case that belonged to Lucian Swift, the Gentleman Trickster. Trying on his tails and top hat, she discovers his secrets and releases some of his stories that were lost and hidden for so many years.

With alchemy akin to ice cream and sprinkles, magician Jo Clyne worked with director Penelope Bartlau and members of Barking Spider to create this captivating show that combines magic with story and sends love back though Melbourne's history.

It's festival run was short, but let's hope that we see it again – and how amazing would it be to see it performed in Flinders Street Station.

PS. Until seeing this show, it hadn't occurred to me just how many magicians are men and was told how difficult it is to buy magic props for women. Hmmm.  To help fix this balance, I've already taken a 5-year-old girl to see a show and she's promised to show me a trick the next time I see her.

Lucien photos by Sarah Walker

11 July 2013

Review: Everybody's got something to hide

Everybody's got something to hide (except for me and my monkey)
Melissa Langton, Libby O'Donovan and Mark Jones
5 July 2013
Village Melbourne, Ormond Hall
to 5 July

An art deco dance hall, red wine, hot chips and music by The Beatles performed by three uber-delightful cabaret performers: it doesn't get much better. And I finally got to some of Melbourne's Cabaret Festival.

Melissa Langton, Libby O'Donovan and Mark Jones are three of Australia's favourites with a diversity of experience between them that ranges from innumerable sold-out shows to music theatre stages and composing and musical direction. They're pretty cool.

Melbourne only got one chance to see the show they've been touring around they country: Everybody's got something to hide (except for me and my monkey): The Lennon & McCartney Songbook.

And got to see it in the divine deco Ormond Hall with its iron lace balcony railing, gold and lush brown velvet curtains and a mood that makes it feel like it's 1946 and we're about to start booming some babies. Shame that it's not used for more shows.

Their show's all music by The Beatles, so it's pretty hard to go wrong and there's no one in the audience who doesn't know every song they perform and every song in the huge (and read by Libby) list of missed ones. Although in a remote town they upset a local who stormed out declaring "this isn't rock and roll!". It's not. It's a cabaret-style medley of the songs arranged in unexpected, witty and just-plain-gorgeous ways – and a yodelling version of "Ob la di, Ob la da".

All of which is still a bit odd for music that was pure anti-establishment rebellion from young men in their 20s. Their 20s! John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote music that's still loved, covered and worshipped 50-odd years later when they in their 20s! (And I look forward to the Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails cabaret lounge shows.)

There was a year in the 70s when ABBA were the most popular thing in Australia. I was 8–9 and nothing could convince me that they weren't the best band in the history of all bands and of all future bands. And given my record collection consisted of some stories on tape, Mark Holden, ONJ and some nursery rhymes, who could dare argue with me. So my father gave me his double cassettes (in a cardboard box case) of the Blue and Red albums (I wasn't allowed to touch the records). I listened to these tapes endlessly and changed my mind about ABBA. My father didn't give me much, but he gave me The Beatles and that's pretty cool.

What's missing from Everybody's got something to hide is personal connections to the music and the band. The closest it gets is Mark saying that they wrote great music, but none tell us why they love this music, why they chose the songs, who their favourite Beatle is (better than any psyc test for explaining personality: I'm John) or why they've loved taking this show and this music to venues all over Australia – and do they care that it's not rock and roll. The show's as adorable as a labradoodle and a kitten snoozing in the sun, but there's an empty space begging for their stories about The Beatles; otherwise – for all its musical prowess – it's kind of reducing this music to the lounge music that it was never written to be.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

10 July 2013

Mini review: Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies
US-A-UM and Malthouse Theatre
7 July 2013
The Tower, Malthouse Theatre
to 14 July

An adaption of William Golding's 1954 novel Lord of the Flies open's Malthouse Theatre's Helium program: five new works by independent artists. Flies is the debut for US-A-UM, who are based in Sydney and founded by director Kip Williams and producers Samuel J Hagen and Kate McBride.

The season's sold out, so hold tight to your tickets or kill a beast to secure one.

Set in a private boarding school, genteel furniture (design by Michael Hankin) becomes the island the children are stranded on and is soon as menacing and unknown as the dark forest and as exposed as the open beach.

The boys are played by young women, who keep the male names and behave like young teenagers who have been torn away from their homes and believe they might be the only people left alive. It's not women playing men and any assumptions about gender disappear in moments. And having gone to a private girls school, I recognised everything.

It's a stunning reading of the book. It grasps Golding's tone and turns it up to deafening, while bringing a sense of right-now attitudes and questions, and telling it in ways that only theatre can.

And the cast are sensational: Alexandra Aldrich, Zoe Boesen, Cat Davies, Michele Durman, Stacey Duckworth, Emma Griffin, Fiona Pepper, Contessa Treffone and Eloise Winestock.  It's impossible to name one above the other as their performances are so consistent and they work as an ensemble who wouldn't consider elevating one performance above an other.

If you can't find a ticket, best to book for the four other Helium shows, and there are only a handful of tickets left for the final MTC NEON show, Sisters Grimm's The Sovereign Wife.

07 July 2013

Mini review: Persona

Fraught Outfit and Malthouse Theatre
5 July 2013
Beckett Theatre
to 14 July

I missed Persona last year. I came to regret this, but a consistent rule of reviewing is that you will miss the show you should see. It sold out its Theatre Works season, won a pile of Green Room Awards and I heard, "Did you see Persona?" too many times to dare miss its return at Malthouse.

I hadn't seen the Ingmar Bergman film that it's based on, but YouTube shows me how much it honours the film while being something that could only be told in a theatre. It's one of those works where direction (Adena Jacobs), design (Dayna Morrissey, set and costume; Danny Pettingill, lighting; Russell Goldsmith, sound) and performance (Meredith Penman, Karen Sibbing and Daniel Schlusser) are inseparable and the audience are as immersed in the process as the creators

It's bloody good.

And it deserves much more than a hurried response, so please read Alison Croggon's Theatre Notes review. She's since seen this season as well and says it's just as wonderful.

05 July 2013

Review: The Crucible

The Crucible
27 June 2013
Southbank Theatre, The Sumner
to 3 August

Arthur Miller's The Crucible was my favourite play when I was 17 and, along with Lillian Hellman, Miller was my favourite playwright. This play made me read the rest of his work and so many more by mid-twentieth-century American writers. It opened the door to an astonishing and powerful library. But it's been over a quarter of a century since I read it, so, yesterday, I grabbed my high school copy (which tells me I wrote an essay about its fire symbolism) and read it again.

It's definitely a product of his time. First performed in 1954, Miller wrote a play about the seventeenth century witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts, as a response to US Senator Mcarthy's communist trials in the 1950s, which were especially devastating to writers, performers and anyone connected to the evil liberal arts. In high school, we learnt that this was an allegory, a damn fine one.

Still, as I read it, I was struck by just how relevant and powerful a production could be today in Australia. It's a world where women (and their supporters) are attacked, trialled and killed for no reason other than their gender. They are trialled by middle-aged men who base their findings on a belief in a big male god and on their certain belief that young women must be possessed by the big male devil because they surely couldn't be behaving like scared children. The Crucible or Ditch the Witch or Grow up Lindsay. Or, it's a world where women – especially young women – are harlots or angels; a world where a middle-aged man possibly rapes his teenage servant (subtextually, it can go rape or consent) in a barn, who is then fired by the man's wife (ensuring she can't get work) and later declared a whore by the man who certainly took her virginity and treated her like crap.  Maybe the MTC's production isn't just a star vehicle for Diver Dan from Seachange?

With the text still very fresh in my mind, I was excited about this production.

My excitement lasted seconds.

I think director Sam Strong made a bad sit com about the Salem witch hunts (as a star vehicle for Diver Dan in the worst wig ever put on a stage) by ensuring that any faith, belief or hope is a joke.

But that's just me hazarding a guess. So, what about some facts? Well, there were a lot of giggles on opening night – and some guffaws. There are some jokes in the play, but it's not funny. On the page, the scene where Diver Dan declares "whore" and the teenage girls ensure his arrest are chilling; they got the biggest laughs of the night.


No one in that stage world believes in the god they profess to believe in. Every character in The Crucible acts from their belief in God AND Satan and their fear of eternal suffering. Even the non-believers believe to some extent; belief is the rule that governs this world. They believe in the same way that Senator McCarthy believed that communists were real and could destroy America. They believe it like we believe the sun will set tonight and that Myki is a force of evil.

A play about god and belief can never make sense in a stage world that's godless. I think that's why we laughed so much.

Or it could be the odd acting choices. Act 1 takes place in a girl's bedroom. Depending on the charaters' knowledge, this child is either very ill, terrified or possessed by the devil, but the unconscious child is ignored by everyone around her, unless she's being spoken to or examined. Eleven people pass through the room and 10 of them treat the child – who is either very ill, terrified or possessed by the devil – like she's a beige rug on the bed. No wonder we laughed when the good Reverend Hale asked for help in case she flew away. The eleventh character, Rebecca Nurse, was the only one who looked at the child with any semblance of care and tried to cover the girl's naked legs.

But would I have liked this production when I was 17? Maybe.

After all, Dale Ferguson's design of a pure white building in a hostile black world is stunning and made more so with Paul Jackson's lighting that creates a parallel shadow play. And Julia Blake (Rebecca Nurse), Sarah Ogden (Mary Warren), Anita Hegh (Elizabeth Proctor), John McTernan (Giles Corey) and Grant Cartwright (Reverand Hale and only after the interval) get close to overcoming their direction and bringing real life and pain to their characters. And Diver Dan? David Wenham's as authentic and engaging as his wig.

If this were part of an education season, I would have said it's a dull and oddly literal interpretation of a play that deserves better, but this is a $59 for under 30s and a $99 tickets for students on Saturday night ($115 for people not continuing or having completed their education) and you can see the kick-arse dancing monkey for that or take your family to Circus Oz or see the MTC's other work, Solomon and Marion. If I'd spent $59 to see this as a 17-year-old (or around $100 as a grown up), I would have hated the MTC for letting me down so much.

Photo by Jeff Busby.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

Mini review: The Penelopiad

The Penelopiad
Stork Theatre
30 June 2013
La Mama Courthouse
to 7 July

Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale and so much more) wrote The Penelopiad as a novel in 2005 and it was soon adapted for theatre.

Homer's Odessy tells the tale from Odysseus point of view and Penelope is the pretty little thing waiting at home. Attwood tells it from Penelope's point of view, with the bonus of telling it from after death, when she has the benefit of hindsight. It retains its "read me" origins, but seeing it performed is almost like having the author read it to you, in all the voices that she imagined.

Stork Theatre's production is selling out because it's terrific.

They've decreased the 12 maids to three and it's set in a spirit world cabaret club where the maids (Andi Snelling, Mia Landgren, Jane Barry) play all the parts as Penelope (Carolyn Bock) tells us what it was really like back in Ithaca while her husband went to save Helen, built a big wooden horse and was tempted by all sorts on the way home.

04 July 2013

Review: My Life in the Nude

My Life in The Nude
La Mama
3 July 2013
La Mama Theatre
to 21 July

Maude Davey's My Life in the Nude is beautiful, moving and affirming and I'm thrilled to see her cunt any time.

And I love that she says cunt and uses "cunt" as a positive, gorgeous and sexy word, not the worst thing you can call anyone.

Maude's 50 this year and has spent the last 25 years performing naked, among many other wonderful things. It started when she won a Ms Wicked (lesbian BDSM) competition in the the late 80s and continued creating subversive and exciting acts that eventually moved from the queer clubs (I remember wearing tights in the 90s to hide the fact that I DID shave my legs) to travelling the world with Finucane & Smith's The Burlesque Hour.

How I'd love to see the face of 25-year-old Maude being told that she'd still be pulling a strawberry out of her cunt in her 40s to tables full of very nice middle-class people from Toorak, who paid a nice chunk of cash to see her and toast her with posh fizz. I took a friend to The Burlesque Hour one year and she hated it for that exact reason. She said she'd seen the Ms Wicked shows and to see the same act in a nice theatre being politely applauded by the same people who it was created to diss was too wrong.

I didn't see Ms Wicked (I was in Perth in the early 90s), so The Burlesque Hour has been the closest I can get – and I've loved every naked moment.

This show is all about Maude's naked moments, most of which have nothing to do with being nude.

In the intimacy of La Mama, on a vagina-inspired stage, she performs her favourite and best-known pieces, and talks about what it's been like to appear naked on stage.  The "You're so brave" comments used to be greeted with the inner response of "Am I that hideous?" and some of her stories (and those from other people who perform naked) are as sad as they are positive. No matter how much we intellectualise and believe that "Every one is beautiful and worthy of our gaze", the "Am I that hideous?" negative voice is very strong.

Maude's retiring her naked pieces and this show is the last chance to see them again, or for the first time. If you haven't seen them: this is Melbourne theatre, queer and burlesque history, so you really have to see her cunt. And it's a chance to cheer everything positive and exciting that subversive burlesque has given us, everything that's beautiful about naked bodies (especially those of middle-aged women; we don't look like we did at 20, but we're so much more interesting and fun now), the joy of looking at naked people and to give a well-deserved ovation to every exciting and positive cunt.

And each night is a special guest. Last night, it was the super-delightful and hooptastic Anna Lumb.

The show's directed by Maude's sister Anni, and for the best nude double you may ever see, she's also directing Yana Alana's Between the Cracks at 45downstairs until Sunday. Book here.

And one more thing I love about Maude.

A few years ago, I took a 20-something writer to see The Burlesque Hour. This young woman was, and always is, very happy to see naked women and has enjoyed the naked company of many women. During one of Maude's pieces, she tapped me on the arm and whispered, "bush". It took me a couple more "bushes" to get it. This is someone who has seen and adored many vaginas, but was genuinely shocked at Maude's pubic hair. I knew that there were plenty of women removing their down-there hair, but until that moment had no idea that people in their 20s are disgusted by pubes – even the radical leftie feminist lesbians!

So, on behalf of all of us who refuse to submit and prefer a bit of softness and mystery, thank you for your bush.

Mini review: Light Within Darkness

Light Within Darkness
La Mama
30 June 2013
La Mama Theatre
to 30 June

Sitting in the always-welcoming La Mama courtyard before the show, a seemingly grumpy dude in an orange shirt and well-grown grey beard tells two people off for talking when he is. Once he has everyone's attention, he asks if any of us "feel sad, politically impotent or the world is not working for you".


He goes on to tell us that this is normal and reminds us there are remedies outside of the pharmaceutical industry.

This is Lloyd Jones and he devised, designed and directed Light Within Darkness in collaboration with a 20-member ensemble and the contribution of many more in a process that began last year.

This isn't neat and tidy scripted narrative theatre. It's an experience that changes each night and for every member of the audience.

Starting with a frustrated anger about the medicalisation of normal (if troubled) emotional and physical conditions and the quick-fix diagnoses and dispensing of anti-depressants and the like, it's a show that starts in a far-too- familiar waiting room with numbers and magazines, slides into a Last-Supper tableau of frightening normality and continues to play with and stress that it's ok to not feel perky every day; that it's ok to feel, even if the feeling isn't nice.

As someone who received a quick fix diagnosis of depression and didn't believe it, I was with this show from its premise. Turned out, my diagnosis was incorrect; I had most of the symptoms of "here's a script to make your brain better", but they indicated a different illness. I now take one of those drugs, but am so glad that I refused the initial script because it would have made me feel worse.

Photo by Rick Evertsz

02 July 2013

Review: Story of O

NEON Festival of Independent Theatre
Story of O
The Rabble
28 June 2013
The Lawler
to 7 July

Carousel ponies, huffy walk-outs and a personal trigger warning when you pick up your ticket: The Rabble have adapted the Story of O for the MTC's sensational Neon season.  It's confronting and confirming and I loved it so much that it hurt a bit to watch.

I love The Rabble's work with the kind of love that defies any attempt at a star rating. In preparation for their version of Story of O by Pauline Réage, I read the book; the reading was less painful than O's preparation at Roissy, but I didn't enjoy it and had no idea what to expect on the stage.

In 1954, Anne Declos was a successful 47-year-old journalist and novelist when she wrote this tale as a gift to her boss and male lover, who fancied the writing of the Marquis de Sade. Despite winning the prestigious French literary prize, Prix des Deux Magots, she didn't publicly reveal herself as the author until 40 years after it was published.

It's ostensibly about a young woman's complete submission to secure her lover. A submission that includes being unable to cross her legs, multiple penetration by anonymous men (without any hint of lube, condoms or a moment to catch a breath to scream a non-existent safe word), whipping, branding and her ultimate exposure (considered almost too shocking at the time) is the waxing off of her pubic hair. And that's before it gets really de-humanising.

Without beginning an argument about BDSM, O gets no sexual pleasure from her submission. It's not about her; it's about her doing it for him, even when he's not around to witness and even when she realises that he doesn't want her. And it's narrated by a distanced and anonymous voice, whose gentle – almost prudish – prose leaves it as erotic as a Jehovah's Witness magazine. If pornography is meant to arouse, there's something much more to this book than its reputation, and its popularity may rest on how its distanced narration and calm description puts responsibility on the reader to imagine what O feels.

Co-creators Kate Davis and Emma Valente make us see how O feels.

And see it in ways far removed from the novel – but this doesn't matter as they only use a handful of words from the text, which it is as accurate as it needs to be and as creative as it should be.

As co-artistic directors of The Rabble, Davis designed and Valente directed, but it's difficult to sense a clear differentiation. With exquisite beauty and understanding, they've taken this fantasy tale about submission out of the imagination of its readers, queered it up, reversed some genders, whirled it around, put it in close up and thrust it back at us with such bold confidence that we understand how it's impossible to say no.

Aesthetically, the 60s French polo necks, jaunty stripes and elastic garters are given a nod, but O's world isn't wealthy Parisian chateaus. At first, it's a girly dream with merry-go-round ponies and pink flowers scattered on the floor. But horses are beasts to ride and poles are used to tie horses up. And even with its flung ribbons, party hats and ice cream, all is not as pretty as it looks.

The cast are as desirous and pleasing as the world they play in. Gary Abrahams is Rene (O's lover), Jane Montgomery Griffiths is Sir Stephen (who is given O by Rene), Pier Cathew is Anne-Marie (the older lesbian who brands O for Sir Stephen), Dana Miltins is Jacqueline (loved by O and wanted by Rene) and Emily Milledge is Nathalie (Jaqueline's teenage sister who just wants to be like O). None of these relationships are spoken on the stage, but each take their character from the book and let them live in this through-the-looking glass world where everything about their book behaviour is questioned.

Milledge's Nathalie is especially moving and as Miltin's seven-month pregnant belly is ignored by Jacqueline, it's gold-clad roundness says more about the sexual portrayal of pregnant women than words could dare.

Which leaves Mary Helen Sassman as O. Her performance transcends any depiction of O that has gone before. She's scared, hurt, excited and – this is the twist – lets O say "No" and choose to keep going. She keeps going towards boredom, acceptance and far more hurt without ever revealing if O's own desires are met. Sassman's performance is already being described as fearless, but I say it's honest. It's so uncompromisingly honest that I think the walk-outs are because she makes them feel everything that O feels, which is far more confronting than the sex and violence shown.

So far, people have walked out. This is wonderful. How often does theatre create a response so powerful that people are brave enough to walk out when their exit is seen by the audience and the performers? On the night I went, the walk-outs were men and I wanted to run after them and tell them to go back in and really look at the stage, because this is how women are seen. If it's so shocking or offensive to leave when everyone on stage is fully clothed, the sex and violence are clearly faked and when kitchen and domestic appliances are the offending objects, perhaps a sense of the true offence can be felt.

If you want to run, ask why and remember the gift is for those who stay and laugh or cringe or cry or wonder if they should be feeling as good as they do.

Story of O is theatre like no one else dares to make.

Photos by Guy Little

This will also appear on AussieTheatre.com in a couple of days