30 September 2013

FRINGE: Homage to Uncertainty

Homage to Uncertainty
29 September 2013
Fringe Hub, Rehearsal Room
to 5 October

Emma Beech's Homage to Uncertainty won the Melbourne Fringe Tour Ready Award at the Adelaide Fringe. On her web site, Emma says that the the Homage team are "VERY happy to be taking this work to Melbourne". On behalf of Melbourne, we are VERY happy to be seeing it this gorgeous show. 

With stories she's collected and those of her own, Emma charms her audience from the moment she crawls onto to stage. Her stories are about how we live the big moments of our lives in the tiny moments and how we all spend so much time not doing what we look like we're doing. (Yes, I'm playing Candy Crush with my "I'm reading an important email" look on my face.)

With a subtle but conscious theatricality that creates enough distance to remind us that Emma isn't really our new best friend (but I could be wrong), her story is honest and as real as it needs to be to reach into our hearts.

This is gentle, smart and lovely theatre that's created to share an experience with its audience, rather than simply tell a story.

I suggest making this a double with They Saw a Thylacine (on in the same room before hand) and don't think twice about staying for the triple and seeing Black Faggot (also in the same room) afterwards.

FRINGE: Kids Killing Kids

Kids Killing Kids
MKA and Q Theatre Company
20 September 2013
Fringe Hub, The Warehouse
to 3 October

I thought Kids Killing Kids was astonishing; the friend I saw it with was astonished that I even applauded at the end.  We're not the only people experiencing such a chasm of differing opinion about this show that's pushing buttons and forcing a discussion that extends way beyond the smugness of "is it good theatre?".

This is the last show MKA founder Glyn Roberts is producing for the company – he's off to Brisbane to be share his awesomeness – and he's left us with a work that epitomises so much about why he and Tobias Manderson-Galvin founded MKA.

With an overhead projector, a slide carousel, milk crates and a laptop projector, it's a theatre documentary. It's not verbatim or polemic theatre, it's four young Aussie writers (Sam Burns-Warr, David Finnigan, Georgie McAuley and Jordan Prosser) telling us their story of working in Manila with a community theatre company and inadvertently writing a cult play that has thousands of fans and very vocal critics, including the UN Subcommittee for the Victims of Torture and members of the cast.

It begins with an offering of dried mango and pictures of the four at high school in Canberra in the early 2000s. By 2011, they were in Melbourne and packed their backpacks for a month in Manila to work with the Sipat Lawin Ensemble.

The experience of being in a huge Asian city is always a jolt after the space, road rules and general niceness of even the biggest Australian cities. They settled into the routine of odd coffee, Spam for breakfast and hilarious t-shirts, but were still distanced tourists who didn't think twice about taking KFC into a Buddhist monastery. For the sake of all things sacred, don't eat that shit!

But they were there to make theatre and as they became friends with the company members, they argued art and culture into the night and wrote a script adaption of the pulp Japanese novel, Battalia Royale, which is about a class of school children who are forced to kill each other – kids killing kids. (And the internet tells me that the author of The Hunger Games claims to have never read it.)

They handed the script over and came home, thinking they'd never see Battalia Royale again and were much more excited about the experience of being in the Philipines.

But it was performed. The first night to 250 people, the second to 450, the third to 950 – already more than will be able to see this show during the Fringe. The fan response was extreme and thrilling for the playwrights, who experienced it through Facebook, emails and fan blogs filled with fan fiction and kids showing off the fake blood they got on their clothes when they saw it.  Then the critical backlash began.

It's now that this show starts creating the conversation that's becoming so much bigger than the questions it asks.

Four young white privileged 20-somethings wrote a play about children killing each other, set in a country that they didn't know very much about (hell, my first thought was Imelda and her shoes and I couldn't remember when Marcos was disposed). When the criticism started – and a UN subcommittee claiming that you've done bad is very different from a grumpy critic saying they thought you could do better – they learnt a lot more about the country that has a history of violence, including the ongoing arming of children, that most tourists and visitors will never know about or care to find out about.

What I love the most about this work was that it is always these four people telling their story. The politics is complex and confronting, but they share enough for the audience to begin to understand the context, but not enough to overwhelm. Or to really understand it. They leave it up to the audience to decide if we want to go home and read more.

I was curious about the country that I have never been to, but I wanted to know what happened to these four. I wanted to know their story and hear their voices. After all, they are the people in the room with us and they had given us dried fruit.

As writers, they told it with a mixture of honesty and distance, created a structure and likely bent the truth to make the story better.  Their story kept asking "and then what?" and they underscored it with a dilemma that has more questions than solutions.

Did they make a successful piece of art that should be celebrated or a piece of crap that continues to do harm?

They don't answer this. And imply many more questions about violence, the western eye looking at the Philipines, their own skills, what the hell they were doing there in the first place, and whether they should have done or still do anything to address the criticism. Again, they don't answer these questions, but the audience do.

It's these answers that are making this one of the most talked about shows this festival. And this is the success of Kids Killing Kids.

So many shows are forgotten by the time the first post-show drink is ordered; this one is resulting in arguments and discussions and anger and elation. Any work that does this is damn good theatre.

My friend – who looked at me like all sense of morality had left me – thought it was bragging and boring and that they took no sense of responsibility for the sexualised violence that was being celebrated by the thousands of young fans. She thought they learnt nothing from the experience and that they should have taken responsibility rather than celebrated the experience with us.

I hope that they left all the questions so open so that we could have these discussions. What is on the stage is their story and I was fascinated by it. Their ultimate reaction was to make another piece of theatre, and I'll be there for the next version, when they tell us about what it was like to have their new work about their old work dissected by friends, peers and the audiences who love and support independent theatre.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

FRINGE: Unsex Me

Unsex Me
29 September 2013
Fringe Hub, Lithuanian Club, Son of Loft
to 5 October

I was one of lucky ones who had a ticket to see Unsex Me last night. On its second night of its seven-night run, there were about as many people turned away at the door as were squeezed into the very intimate theatre.  

It was also a show that left me in the Lithuanian Club bar drinking Krupnikas in a conversation about gender, art, sex, the safety of the theatre space, safe sex, drag, homosexuality, penetration, ATM, child abuse and pain that ultimately left me knowing that I really don't want to understand why I love this show so much and wondering what kind of sick fuck am I for seeing it a second time.

Earlier in the year I saw a run of this show before it went to the Adelaide Fringe and I ended up squealing in the foetal position on a brown velvet armchair. Last night, I was on a plastic chair squeezed between friends and at an eye-level angle to its writer and performer – Mark Wilson (the guy with the chicken in the recent sold-out-with-extra-shows Mein Kampf ) – that left me knowing things about him that I'm not sure that I should know.  

Actress (and this is the only time I will ever use the ridiculous feminised version of actor) Mark Wilson is being interviewed about his recent Academy Award, his relationship with Australia's best-looking actor dude, and what it's like to play Lady Macbeth with your partner as Macbeth and your Aussie-legend dad as director. Mark's drag is immaculate, but there are some physical hints that he's a man.

And that's all I can describe because anything further will get me near the top of Google search page that really isn't my readers.

It is sexually explicit.*

It is glorious.

It's confronting and depraved and created with a mix of joy and pain that leaves you hurting from laughter because it's so freaking funny and because it's so cruel that it takes you beyond any sense of shock or empathy into a space where the only choice is laughter or burying your head in your hands and hoping to wake up safely in front of your TV in time for Packed to the Rafters.

Wilson equally thrills and horrifies as the line between self-mockery and soul-bearing truth is too hard to find, which leaves it as theatre that's impossible to walk away from and forget.

There are only five performances left and the venue is small. It's not worth taking your chances at the door, so book now and make sure you include time for a post-show debrief and a shot or two of Krupnikas (the Lithuanian honey liqueur).

*I don't want to give anything away, but if you like your theatre nice, there are plenty of other gorgeous Fringe shows to see.

29 September 2013

FRINGE: A Chekhov Triptych

A Chekhov Triptych
Speakeasy and Family of Strangers
27 September 2013
Northcote Town Hall
to 5 October

One of the many things I'm loving about this year's Fringe is the number of full houses. There wasn't a spare seat at A Chekhov Triptych, which shows that it's one to book for.

The Dangers of Tobacco, The Bear and Swan Song are an ideal selection of Chekhov's short plays. Directed by Brigid Gallacher (whose performance of Juliet in The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of  Romeo and Juliet was a favourite of mine in 2012), each reminds how funny his writing is and how these stories resonate as much today as they did in the late 19th century. 

Being set at the approximate time of writing and using existing translations (with some of the actor's own words to make it feel better), this work is also a terrific book end to Simon Stone's recent Cherry Orchard at the MTC.

With a wonderful three-peice band playing and singing between the pieces, a consistently strong cast, who turn the quiet naturalism off to share the humour, and a design that appreciates a red-velvet curtain, this triptych honours the writer while sharing the voices and opinions of its creators. It's great stuff.

28 September 2013

FRINGE: Everything All The Time

Everything All The Time
27 September 2013
Hill of Content bookshop
to 3 October

Ghosts in a bookshop! Yes!

Everything All The Time is the first play by performance poet Sean M Whelan. It's about Patience and Tully, who may or may not be dead, depending on what choices the ghosts of their past and present can convince them to make.

It's performed on the first floor of the Hill of Content bookshop and there's something so cosy and safe about being surrounded by books and a quietness that can't even be broken by a drunken Friday night Bourke Street. 

At first sighting, the ghosts are in a traditional white sheet, which is sweet and funny, but its dagginess distracts from the tone of the text and the performances by reminding us that it can't possibly be real.

But, sheets aside, it's a delicate and touching script that's full of heart and written with a poeticism that charms and feels so at home in a bookshop that I don't want to see it performed anywhere else (except a library).

It's also selling out, so it's one to book for.

27 September 2013

FRINGE: Stranger

21 September 2013
Fringe Hub, The Rehearsal Room
to 27 September

Geraldine Quinn's Stranger is a solo musical that has as much guts, joy, poignancy and talent as a stage full of Tony winners. 

With inspiration from David Bowie, 70s rock musicals, glam rock and those rock anthems that no one writes anymore (where is the 'Bohemium Rhapsody' of the 2000s?), The Stranger is about an alien creature who comes to earth and discovers what it's like to be human. 

The lycra-clad, super-glam silvery stranger says that she is smarter, sexier and better looking than us humans. She is totally correct. And she can sing. Bloody hell, can she sing!

All written by Geraldine, it's a story that runs the gauntlet of unexpected emotion – I knew I'd laugh, but didn't expect to want to cry – and has its audience engrossed. 

Last chance to see it is TONIGHT.

FRINGE: Wolf Creek the Musical

Wolf Creek, the Musical
21 September 2013
Fringe Hub, Lithuanian Club,The Loft
to 5 October

I love horror films. Scare the bejesus out me and I'm oddly happy. I was very excited to see Wolf Creek, the film, but it was a bit dull and so keen on being genre that it forgot to tell a story and even the brilliant outback mass murdering psycho wasn't enough to save it.

But this film was made so that this musical could be made. 

Wolf Creek, the Musical is officially my new favourite musical. 

Made with a budget that wouldn't buy a gold class ticket to see the film, it's parody at its best. It's offensive, wrong on every level, atrociously performed, has a song that made me hide my face in my hands because I couldn't believe what had just been sung, and it left me aching from laughing.

It's complete wrongness is so perfectly right that I want to see it again. 

This is the late night Fringe show that slashes all the right veins and may leave you lying in the dirt unable to move. If you've seen Wolf Creek, this is unmissable. If you haven't, it's still gloriously hilarious and you'll go home and watch the film.

26 September 2013

FRINGE: Run Girl Run

Run Girl Run
Grit Theatre
22 September 3013
Fringe Hub, Rehearsal Room
to 27 September

Three treadmills, three actors, 50 minutes.

They stay on the treadmills. They get dressed and undressed on the moving treadmills. They speed up until they are running.

With conversations that felt so natural that I wasn't sure if it was tight script or tight improvisation, it's a work that's ultimately about gender and all the ridiculous stuff that's assumed about it and too often acquired by or forced onto folk. Their extremes are a bit closer to stereotype than archetype, but this didn't take anything away from its momentum and pace.

It's performed on treadmills! It's all momentum and pace. Throw in the building tension and fear that someone is going to fall and smash their pretty face into a bloody mess and Run Girl Run is theatre that leaves you breathless.

FRINGE: Viet Kieu

Viet Kieu
25 September 3013
The Butterfly Club
to 6 October (Wednesdy and Sunday only)

Diana Nguyen is so genuinely delightful that I enjoyed every moment of Viet Kieu.

A Viet Kieu is an overseas Vietnamese. Diana's mum came to Australia as a refugee in 1975. Diana grew up in Springvale (Melbourne's little Vietnam) and this show's about Diana's ongoing struggle to be accepted as Vietnamese or Australian, which started when she visited Vietnam as a 12-year-old and was treated as fat and exotic, and continues with her being cast as a prostitute, refugee or drug dealer.

My biggest concern with a show like this is that it’s preaching to the choir. The choir who seem to have all been to Vietnam, as proven by the twitter of recognition with Diana's story about crossing the road by the Bến Thành market in Saigon, or, at least, all know how to say Pho. (Does anyone know of a good vego Pho in Melbourne?) I don't think there's anyone who sees a show called Viet Kieu at a Fringe festival is going to disagree about Australia being a total dick to refugees. 

There’s a lot of great material to work with and I’d really like to see it developed into something with a bit more bite; something that actually nips at us who shop in Springvale because we "love the food" and try to order from the Vietnamese side of a menu.  

It needs to find its bigger story and tell more of Diana's stories but in the meantime, it's funny and gorgeous and it's impossible not to adore Diana Nguyen.

22 September 2013

FRINGE: Songs for Europe

Songs for Europe
Shaolin Punk
21 September 2013
Broken Mirror Productions
to 29 September

Nul points at Eurovision. If you think a one-star review is humiliating, imagine getting 0 stars when the people around you got over 100 for also singing a cheesy song, with a perfect key change, while wearing a fabulous gown as millions of people watch you on the telly. Songs for Europe isn't about the fabulous hair and endless glitter of Eurovision; it's two stories about people who love the contest, but wish that it wasn't part of their lives.

The first play, by John Richards, is an imagined back-stage encounter with a woman who didn't get a single point. Years later, she is still performing, and is tracked down by a British journalist who is trying to interview all of the nul pointers.  Full of heart, it's a work that has a spike under every joke, gently questions its audience far more than the singer, and remembers that there are real people behind our wittiest mocking.

The second play, by Lee Zachiriah, is about a group of revolutionaries on the eve of the 1974 Portuguese Revoution. Waiting in a cafe, they listen to the radio waiting for the signal to storm the streets: a Eurovision song. One is more passionate about the song contest than the pending revolt, but all have to change their plans when a stranger orders a muscatel and possibly knows what they are waiting for.

Both are full of Eurovision facts and the blend of real and fiction is flawless enough to ensure that those who see it will be adding these stories to their own Eurovision memories, but the hugeness and glitz of their Eurovision background needs to be brought more onto the stage and into the world. 

Songs for Europe is on tonight and next week. The performers (Marta Kaczmarek, Nick Colla, Angus Brown, Noah Moon, Jack Beeby, Chris Broadstock and Petra Elliott) are consistently terrific and the writing surprises at every turn. At Broken Mirror in Brunswick (off Blyth St near the Mediterranean Wholesalers car park for anyone trying to find it with Apple or Google maps), it's away from the buzz of the Hub, but there's a bar, comfy couches and the chances of meeting someone who loves Eurovision as much as you do is pretty high. 

21 September 2013

FRINGE: They Saw a Thylacine

They Saw a Thylacine
20 September 2013
Fringe Hub, Rehearsal Room, North Melbourne Town Hall
to 5 October

Two stories about women who have done something that I will never be able to do: they saw a thylacine.  I loved They Saw A Thylacine as much as I love thylacines.

Some time in the 1930s the last one was killed in Tasmania. A marsupial (you know, with a pouch) dog with tiger-like stripes. How can anyone not love that?

Written and performed by Sarah Hamilton and Justine Campbell, it's the imagined stories of two women who saw the last of the thylacines. One tracks a creature to sell it to a zoo, one lives in a zoo where a female thylacine is in a cage.

With writing that kept the audience silent and spell bound, each story takes us into a world where a thylacine is almost within patting distance – and I'm making it sound like an extinction rant. It's nothing like that (apart from a bit at the end that isn't needed because the subtext and design have been screaming it).

Told from within a cage where the human specimens have fruit, water and dry ice, the design creates the context and two thylacine skulls say everything that needs to be said, which leaves the women free to tell their tales. With pitch-perfect performances, Sarah and Justine tell perfectly structured stories that never lose tension, are as funny as they are heartbreaking, and sound just like their characters. 

With a touch of poetic lyricism, their stories are gently brought into the world of theatre and given the freedom to roam and play and imagine an ending where they can stretch out and sleep safely in front of a fire after a meal of roast possum.


Present Tense
20 September 2013
Fringe Hub, Upstairs at Errol's
to 5 October

A Sauvy B Sunrise is sauvignon blanc, orange juice and raspberry cordial. Zoe Macdonald (who was the best friend in the wonderful Margaret Fulton: Queen of the Dessert) is every character in her show and far more top shelf than the cocktail that I shouldn't judge so harshly before giving it a go.

FOMO is the fear of missing out and from the studio of the Mellow FM radio station, our Sauvy B drinking host has a creamy smooth voice like a Baileys on ice and welcomes the guests and callers to the "Let's be honest" hour.  From a New York researcher to a swearing suburbanite (yes, I mean bogan), there's talk of pubes and vajazzling and a reminder that it's called a vagina, but it all comes back to the one thing they all coincidentally have in common: Zoe Macdonald.

With a fear of ageing, questioning of sexuality and the usual am I too fat and hairy questions, we finally meet the real Zoe, and these moments of reality made me want to see more of her and less of her zany (and wonderfully performed) characters.

I also shared an eye roll with my date as she discussed the fear of turning 30 and turning into a cat lady. Then I remembered my own 30 freak out (and my 40 one), but getting my first cat at 31 was one of the best things I've ever done.

Devised by Zoe and directed by Bryce Ives and Nathan Gilkes (the Margaret Fulton team), FOMO is an hilariously honest look at the Zoe's life and a reminder that the only thing that makes us miss out is the fear that we may miss out.

20 September 2013


19 September
The Owl and the Pussycat
to 22 September

Eight is a showcase for the performers and creators, who are graduates of the University of Ballarat, Arts Academy. They learnt that the only way to get work to is to make your own work and this production is an ideal work to show what these actors can do.

The script is UK writer Ella Hickson's first play that was acclaimed at the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe. It's eight confession monologues by eight unconnected people. I'm not sure what it says to its Melbourne audience, but it showcases the talent of the impressive group of actors.

The highlight of the show as watching how all eight worked together and used the small and cramped stage to create the atmosphere and focus for each monologue (the group self-directed). It feels wrong to highlight some performers over others, as all were good, but I'll be keeping eye on Meg Spencer and Phillipa Spicer (who was in Red Stitch's Beyond the Neck in 2012). Both showed us the heart of their characters, which was so different from what the character shows to the world, and let the character (rather than the actor) tell the story.

And please hang around after Eight and see Bushpig. 

FRINGE: Kissing Booth

Kissing Booth
19 September 2013
The Owl and the Pussycat
to 29 September

Kissing Booth is very influenced by TV romantic sit coms. There's witty banter and jaded 20-somethings, but it's biggest problem is that it takes nearly two hours to tell a 26-minute episode.

Three 20-somethings set up a kissing booth on the street for a uni project. Along comes a faultless and spunky young man who all three (men and women) fall instantly in love with. Who will he choose? And the kissing booth is never heard of or thematically referenced again. 

There's a lovely story and some good and funny writing hidden in this over-written script, but there's too much stage time devoted to telling us what we've known from the opening scene and repeating jokes. And all rom coms (telly, film or stage) have one rule that must be obeyed: Compelling reasons for the lovers to be together (make us care so much that it hurts) and ensuring that the world and their own flaws keep them apart. I have no idea which coupling we were meant to be rooting for. 

There's also an odd mix of on-stage styles and dead stage time that takes away from the story and reminds us that we're watching actors, rather than caring for characters. And the melodrama of the ending isn't earned. Drama isn't dramatic things happening

Fringes exist to encourage emerging creators and Kissing Booth shows a heap of talent that's going to be around for a while, but it didn't speak to me and is still setting into its run.

However, running 20 minutes over time is unforgivable in a Fringe. It shows a disrespect to the audiences (who might miss another show because of the over run or not have time to eat or wee before their next show), to the other companies who don't get the bump in and settle in time they deserve, and to the venue that's hosting you. 

FRINGE: Bushpig

19 September 2013
The Owl and the Pussycat
to 28 September

I know it's day one, but Bushpig is already a highlight.

Just don't go along expecting a show about slutty bogans.

Bushpig lives near a forrest in the town of Funnel with her dad and dreams of being IN the television. And her dreams may come true when her frightening Aunt Vivienne gives her enough money to go the Big Smoke to become a star.

Writer and performer Hannah Malarski tells the story and plays all the delightfully odd characters. With a writer's voice that is so her own, she slips effortlessly between third person narrative and first person here-and-now and interacts so gorgeously with her audience that it feels like being tucked into bed and being read your favourite story by your favourite eccentric aunt.

The humour is dark and there's a sinister undertone that keeps the tension high, but it's told with such love and understanding that it's an utter delight to spend time in Bushpig's world.

I love this kind of story telling (and it reminded me of Sarah Collin's 2008/11's Nothing Extraordinary Ever Happens in Toowoomba (Ever)).

19 September 2013

Where to see the Melbourne Fringe?


The Fringe starts for me tonight and I'm not going to the Hub, I'm going to the Owl and the Pussycat in Richmond.

  Bushpig at the Owl and the Pussycat

The first stop of any Fringe festival is its Hub: the place where there are lots of venues, shows, bars and people. The Melbourne Fringe Hub is in and around the North Melbourne Town Hall. If you only have one or two nights to enjoy the festival, it's the place to go. And there's also plenty of free stuff on at The Hub if you're short of cash.

But there are lots of other venues and Fringe gems so often gleam in the most unexpected places.

It's not at all unexpected that The Owl and the Pussycat in Richmond have programmed a fascinating Fringe program. They have six shows running that include from Edinburgh and Adelaide Fringe hits and new work.

Check out their program here and remember that the easiest way to get to them is to catch a train to Richmond station and it's a 30-second walk from the Swan St exit to their door.

Other venues include ridiculously gorgeous Butterfly Club in the city (remember that it moved from South Melbourne). Here's their Fringe program, which has shows like Famoucity by Lessons with Luis.
The Butterfly Club

I saw this during the comedy festival (review) and fell in mad platonic love with its brilliant atrociousness and love of cats. And, as I stressed to comedy fest shows, "If you want to be as good as Luis, Len and Luelin, you need to sing more songs about cats, write more stories about cats and make cat badges".

 In case you can't find the Butterfly Club, Luis drew a map.

Mini review: La Traviata

La Traviata
Melbourne Opera 
15 September 2013
The Athaneum
to 22 September
and on 11 October ar the Alexander Theatre at Monash Uni

As it's 200 years since Guiseppe Verdi was born, opera companies of all sizes are celebrating and Melbourne Opera have re-mounted their successful production of his most popular (and possibly the most well-known) opera, La Traviata.

It was also my weekend of seeing companies who normally bypass my radar.

Melbourne Opera were founded in 2002 with a vision to provide opportunities to emerging singers, make opera accessible (affordable) and bring it to the wider community. Their financial support comes mostly from a very long list of donors and sponsors and their very-full audiences.

This is their third Traviata: a love story between Violetta, a Parisienne socialite, and Alfredo, the man who wins her flighty heart. All is good and sexy (but unmarried and shocking) until Alfredo's butts in and tells Violetta that the relationship too scandalous. To save her love, Violetta lies to Alfredo and things get nasty at another big party.  And Violetta has TB and it's getting worse.

With minimal resources, minimal rehearsal time and a dedication to giving everyone a go, this is an opera for people who know and love the work.  It's also produced for the people on the stage, with a double cast and a huge chorus, so that everyone gets a go.

All of this means that it's not the slickest or most original show in town. The costumes don't match, the chorus have to squeeze in to get on stage and some of the principals are more interested in singing the role than acting it.

But none of this really takes away from it.

It's a Traviata that's made from a passion for the work and this overcomes so much that it's pretty much sold out for the rest of its season

As it's sung in English, it's also an affordable introduction to opera and might be terrific preparation for Victorian Opera's 2014 La Traviata.

18 September 2013

What to see at the Melbourne Fringe?


Hey, it's the first day of the Melbourne Fringe.

Woo hoo.

But don't look to people like me to tell you what to see, because I ALWAYS miss amazing shows.

Here's the Fringe page or there's a program booklet sitting in every cafe in the city.

Take a punt and see a show that grabs you're attention, has a great title, is on near your house or is  starting in 10 minutes.

Just see shows.

Fringes are open access festivals, so anyone can register and be in the program. This means that the quality ranges from I-can't-believe-I-get-to-see this to I-can't-believe-I-sat-through this.

It also means that the work is the stuff that artists and creators WANT to make. It's a chance to experiment and to find that audience that sees the world through the same eyes.

I'm planning to see my fair share. Not sure how much I can review, but I will be Tweeting (@SometimesMelb) and re-tweeting all the hints to amazing stuff.

Having said that...

If you're out and about tonight, it's the first night of Lisa-Skye's late night live chat show called Art, Sex and Snacks.

I first saw Lisa-Skye in the Comedy Festival with her show Songs My Parents Taught Me. I loved it. She's delightfully filthy, has amazing dress sense and makes me feel like an an old fuddy duddy for going back to a single hair colour and not wearing glitter every day. If you missed it, it's on again at the Fringe – and starting tonight. Details here.

But back to the chat show. It's at the Tuxedo Cat and one of her first guests is John Richards, who sometimes wears less glitter that Lisa-Skye.  I suspect that the conversation will be just like the publicity photo: all about cake, cream, glace cherries and how to fill a condom with glitter.

John wrote Outland (on the ABC last year), is a Dr Who Splendid Chap and has written a show about Eurovision for the Fringe called Songs for Europe. Details here.

Let me just sing, "My lovely horse".  If you now hate me because you know you'll be singing it for the rest of the day, Songs For Europe is for you.

AND it features Jack Beeby, whose Bunny Hutch was a highlight of the recent Container Festival.

Here's a taste of Lisa.

15 September 2013

Review: The 39 Steps

The 39 Steps
Hit Productions
14 September
Whitehouse  Centre
to 13 November: tour dates and places

Yesterday I went to Nunawading to see Hit Production's The 39 Steps. The only other times I've been to Nunawading was driving though on the way to winery concerts in the Yarra Valley.

Hit Productions aren't trying to win awards or entice wordy arguments between the snobby critics. Instead, they produce popular shows with terrific casts for audiences who want enjoy going to the theatre and having an ice cream at interval. And they've been doing it since 1993. A quick look at their Facebook page shows actors like John Wood, Jackie Weaver, Lisa McCune and Amanda Muggleton. Hit know their audience and give them what they want.

This is the stage version of the 1939 film version of the 1914 novel. Written by Patrick Barlow, it won the 2007 Olivier Award for Best New Comedy (the UK's top theatre award). In Melbourne, the MTC gave us an Australian cast in the same production in 2008. It was an absolute hoot.

As is this production. With a pinch of the resources of the funded companies, their focus is on the script and the cast, but they still manage to create endless visual jokes with not much more than a pair of ladders and what could be rummaged from an op shop.

The 39 Steps is a spoof of spy films that's made from an obsessive love of early spy films. If you've seen a black and white thriller, you'll recognise the bumbling coppers, breathy femme fatales and upper class morons. If you've missed this world of film, you'll be laughing as much as everyone else and want to see the inspiring film ASAP.

Many of the laughs come from containing the show to cast of four. Mike Smith is the dashing hero in the wrong place at the right time, Anna Burgess is all the women he falls for, and Sam Haft and Michael Lindner are everyone else – and it's a cast of over 100.

It's a super fun and endlessly delightful production of a terrific show, but what I loved most were the audience.

On a Saturday afternoon in the burbs – on the same day that three local footy finals were being played next door – 400 people came to the theatre and loved every moment of the experience and the show.

There was no cynicism and no comparisons that weren't positive. They laughed at every joke (who know plastic fish were THAT funny) and talked during the interval about how much they loved it – and everyone (really) bought an ice cream.

I was the youngest person by about 100 years, the only one in black and the only one updating my Facebook page before the lights went down, but it's impossible to not love this crowd. After the show, a man with a belt not far below his nipples came up to a member of the cast and thanked him. He said that he has a bad back and was only going to stay until interval, but that he was enjoying himself so much that he stayed. It doesn't get much better than that.

So, it may be time to start seeing what's goes on out of our inner city circle of theatres. And for shows to start thinking about grabbing their share of this enthusiastic crowd. More people saw The 39 Steps yesterday than will see a single La Mama show. And when it finishes its tour to 23 regional theatres in Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales and Queensland, more people will see – and adore it – than see a Malthouse or most MTC shows. That's a lot of people.

And, just so Melbourne fans doesn't have to travel, there are four performances at The Atheneum 26, 27 and 28 September.  And the Ath sells choc tops.

09 September 2013

Mini review: Salome

Little Ones Theatre and Malthouse Theatre
30 August 2013
The Tower, Malthouse theatre
to 14 September

"Dance for me, Salome!" Never has Oscar Wilde been so gay – and he was in prison for sodomy and gross indecency when his play Salome was first performed in 1896.

Little Ones Thearte's HELUIM-season production of Wilde's Salome is so gloriously indecent that if it were performed in the 1890s, cast, producers, audience and passers by would be in the cells with Oscar.

According to the Bible, Herod wanted to see his step daughter, Salome, dance and promised her anything in exchange. She asked for the head of John the Bapsist. Wilde wrote his version of this story in French in 1891 and it was published in 1893. There were plans for a 1892 London season, but it was illegal to portray Bible characters, so its first performance was in Paris.

Wilde wrote Salome as a tragedy, but director Stephen Nicolazzo starts with its sexuality and moral ambiguity. It is, after all, a story about a virgin who wants the lust of a saint, and a king who wants his stepdaughter's virginity.

Surrounded by an Oz-emerald-green curtain, Salome rejoices in a mid-1980s aesthetic (gorgeous costumes by Tessa Leigh Wolffenbuttel Pitt and Eugyeene Teh; set by Teh), where the new romantics questioned gender on MTV, Madonna made pearls and lace cool, and David Lynch freaked out late-night film-goers; pass the oxygen, please.

With traditions and expectations abandoned, Salome is a man in a handmade matador costume, John the Baptist is a woman in a disco-ball bikini, Herod and Herodias drag up, and the soldiers and heralds are magnificently fabulous. It's a world where gender is everything but means nothing, and sexuality is everything until love and jealousy take hold.

Stephen Nicolazzo has found a remarkable and unique voice as a director. Following Psycho Beach Party (that's heading to the Brisbane Festival) and sex.violence. blood. gore, his high-camp, bold aesthetic defines his view of queer culture without rejection or criticism. His world is filthy without shame and welcomes everyone who celebrates difference and lets their heart make their choices.

And he has a a group of actors who have quickly established themselves among independent theatre's A-list. Paul Blenheim, Genevieve Giuffre, Alexandra Aldrich, Nick Pelomis, Peter Paltos, Zoe Boesen, Tom Dent are so sexy and so funny that it's impossible to decide which one you fancy the most.

Salome is glorious and hilarious and so damn smart that missing it isn't an option.

This was on AussieTheatre.com

03 September 2013

Review: Columbine

31 August 2013
MUST Theatre, Monash University, Clayton
to 6 September

With so much unmissable on in Melbourne this week, it's easy to pass on a student production out at Monash Uni in Clayton. But if you can get a ticket, Columbine is a stunning, moving and highly original piece of verbatim theatre that needs to have a long life beyond this week.

Verbatim theatre uses the recorded words of people who were involved in a situation. One of the most well known is The Laramie Project that's based on interviews conducted by the performers.

Columbine is about the school shooting in Columbine, Colarado, USA, on April 20 1999. Director Daniel Lammin (Short and Sweet 2013 Best Director, Best Production) and his the company have spent months researching and developing this work. The amount of official and unofficial material available is endless – it takes seconds to find the school's CCTV footage of the shootings – and the task of deciding what stories to tell could be overwhelming.

But they've incorporated the overwhelming into the script and brought their own confused voices into the work by using conversations they had in the casting and development process.

The cast of 11 act as chorus, complete with music from the 90s including an unforgettable version of NIN's "Closer", and individually recite chosen stories including 911 calls, media reports, police reports, interviews with students, and videos made by the two shooters detailing their plans. The shooter's voices among those of the dead and devastated is confronting and disturbing, but vital to the piece's story and power.

At times, the telling is confusing, especially when voices are lost under noise and when cast sit on the edge of the stage and tell stories to only the handful of people who can hear them. This is frustrating, but stresses how impossible it is to ever know the whole story. Silence and stillness are kept for those stories that can't be ignored, like an interview with the 18-year-old who bought their guns, a soul-breaking interview with the parent of one of the shooters, and words from Columbine survivors to those of the 2012 Newtown shooting.

Columbine is not an attempt to explain what happened that day – it's beyond understanding – but an attempt to separate the urban legends from the truth and an attempt for the creators to understand its ripples of pain and shame.

Being developed in a university, its library and classroom context is never far from the heart of its makers, but there's a constant question hanging over the piece. The Monash students talk about the Port Arthur massacre, but there's no mention of October 2002, when a student opened fire in a building metres from the theatre at Monash. Two men were killed and five people were injured. There may be very good reasons why this isn't included, but the question still hangs.

With only a few shows left, Columbine is so close to sold out that getting tickets is impossible. So what's vital is that it gets another production.  This is a show that deserves the next step of development and the wider community deserve to see this remarkable work.

Photo by Alex Dye