29 December 2013

What Finucaine & Smith loved in 2013, a New Year present

The ever-exquisite Moira Finucane and Jackie Smith wanted to include their favourite moments of 2013, but were worried that they hadn't seen much theatre in Melbourne this year, so they given everyone who reads Sometimes Melbourne, a New Year's gift of their Ten Moments of Revelation.
We remember again why Melbourne is one of the most creative universes in the world, why the passion and energy and commitment of artists, and artisans, and people who run all kinds of incredible theatrical venues spaces and ventures, create some of the most exciting art in the world.
(I'm very excited by part 8.)

From ten years ago when Mary Lou said "Yes" to staging The Burlesque Hour at fortyfive downstairs, to Moira and Jackie saying "Sure" when someone wants to try something new, the last ten years of Finucane & Smith have resulted in some of the sexiest, sassiest, angriest, saddest, most outraged, most painful and most celebratory live art.

They took the negativity away from burlesque and made it an outrageously wonderful feminist celebration of women and men and love and everything else that should be celebrated far more than it is.

A while ago, I suggested that the lane way behind fortyfivedownstairs is re-named Finucaine & Smith Lane. Who do we have to hassle at the City of Melbourne to make this happen?

But over to Jackie and Moira.

Finucane & Smith travelled most of 2013. We were in Brighton, London, Paris, Buenos Aires and a few other assorted locales of glamour like Brisbane and Canberra, so we didn’t get to see much Melbourne theatre other than that which we created, but we did have some incredible revelatory moments with the art and artists of Melbourne. We have picked ten moments of New Revelation, many from artists we worked with for the first time this year, that will live in our memories for many years to come.

1. Afternoon, November, our little lo fi studio.
James Welsby comes in. We have never worked with him before. I'd met him in Tasmania a year ago, when Moira was talking about creating new work to some artists and the Finucane & Smith salon adventure approach to artistic risk taking, where we try out new work and new artistes and new collaborations: high risk art in low risk, lo-fi, low overheads salons. Well, James said he’d like to be in our next salon, and Moira said, "Sure". One year later he comes over in the afternoon, and shows us three fantastic short dance works, and then says, "I have a fourth I made it up this morning. It’s a kind of a sexy star wars dance that combines bump-n-grind, with a very lo-fi star wars costume and Ozzy Osbourne." Two months later it’s an uncontrollable hit.

2. Afternoon, October, the home of Kathryn Niesche, circus luminary of Appetite and Club Swing fame.
She wants to show us a Dutch Street organ her dad made. Handmade, handpainted, complete with Wurlitzer rolls. We love it. She has an idea about being an organ grinders monkey. She has Prince song "Organ grinder". We say, "Sure!" She gets the organ into Hares and Hyenas book shop, it’s very heavy. Two nights later she is rocking it out with her heritage organ in a monkey costume with her own personal grinders played by Lily Paskas and, yes, James Welsby. We were thrilled and her dad would have been proud.

3. Evening, February.
Everyone knows how extraordinary Vika and Linda Bulla are. But this is Vika Bull as a New Revelation. Vika Bull in the Etta James story. Every song jaw dropping. We cried. We gasped. Our jaws are still dropped many months later. She rocks in a way that is hard to describe.

4. Evening, August.
Moira is doing Iggy Pop’s "Candy" in jeans and no shirt, Iggy style, Vika and Linda Bull dressed in blue Supremes evening dresses, style on style, singing the Candy part. What an honour. What an honour. It rocked in a way that’s hard to describe.

=4. Morning, March. We have been commissioned to create the opening night event for Moomba, which we call Boom Boom Moomba. Disco seemed very important. So we created a red hot disco mama with Sarah Ward. She says, "I am not going to play a disco diva, I am going to be one." And so she proceeds to become the diva with the fever. Then she says to Jackie, "I am not going to ham it up, I will play it straight." Well anyone in Buenos Aires in October this year or Melbourne in July or on the banks of the Yarra on that hot March night would know that Sarah Ward playing it straight looks like a 1metre high white afro wig, spades of blue eye shadow, a costume that looks like an edible mirror ball, back up dancers, wild eyes, wild voice and sunglasses on the back of her head. Nice.

5. Hares & Hyena Bookshop, Late Afternoon, November.
Sarah Doogs McDougall, about 6 foot of pure larrikin circus talent walks in. She has mixed up the day and the act and comes with her hoops, but we already have a hoop act. Never mind. Can she do something on the bar we ask? Sure! She goes home and makes up a plate juggling, bottle juggling, tea towel juggling calf-eyed, sexy-silly-super-clumsy routine about a waiter being in love, and comes back the following night. She’s a hit. We call it Dumb Waiter. Look for it in the circus hall of fame.

6. Early Evening, June.
Jade Leanord, a beautiful young jazz diva, has given us a CD. We find it under a pile of dishes a few months later, and invite her to come and join us in Glory Box for a night. So she’s on the piano doing the most beautiful rendition of "Over the Rainbow", but the piano is offstage and ground level, so she needs just a tiny gentle visual support to draw the audience into her world. So one hour later, we have Ursula Martinez, of the red hanky strip fame, and Jess Love, of Candy Butchers fame, slowly processing down the catwalk, with animal heads on, holding hands, while Jess walks on champagne bottles, and they both end side of stage looking at Jade on the piano. Magic.

7. A very cold night, July.
Maude Davey. Not new to us, not new to Melbourne. But here is a new insight into her own particular genius, a celebration of what makes her such a special and irreplicable artist. And it all starts with her greeting us, in the rain, in a faux fur tippet, high heels and nothing else. And it only builds from there. Maude Davey. My Life in the Nude.

8. Morning, February.
Holly Durant is a most beautiful dancer. Last year we discovered she had a beautiful voice. This year we discovered she could act. She is a drunken agent’s assistant, bringing booze to two famous stars –played by two famous actresses Pamela Rabe and Caroline Lee – who have collapsed on a luxury hotel bed on Melbourne Cup Day. We are workshopping Jackie Smith’s New Play "The Star" on the 49th floor at Sofitel Melbourne On Collins. Holly walks into rehearsal in a skin-tight chequered race dress, with fluorescent patent-yellow, 6-inch heels and a hideous fascinator and proceeds to fall all over Pamela and reel around the room, singing snippets from earnest new original musicals.  She just ‘wanted to get into character’. Gold.

9. Evening, February, Fortyfivedownstairs, turn 10.
And we remember the first time we ever went in there. We wanted to create The Burlesque Hour but no one, and we mean no one, except John Paxinos, and a few fabulous funders, was interested. I sat across from Mary Lou Jelbart, with her wonderful voice, and keen artistic sensibilities, and she looked at me carefully and said, "Yes I have seen you." Pause. "You are remarkable." Pause. "Yes". And that was it. She didn’t need to know more. And ten years later we bring the Glory Box, as it’s now known around the world, back to fortyfivedownstairs every winter. And from Angus Cerini to Patricia Cornelius, from kamahi Djordon King to Sarah Ward she is still saying Yes. Yes.

10. Afternoon, October.
We are about to go to Buenos Aires to become the first Australian company ever to be invited to Latin America’s most prestigious international arts festival (no pressure) the Festival Internacional de Buenos Aires, but first we need to drop in at a little queer bookshop where we did our first ever cabaret, The Salon. Hares & Hyenas. Nearly 20 years ago. The stage was a door on milk crates, it was byo cushion to sit on the floor, Hares & Hyenas gave the punters bubbly (to help with the floor). A sell out. So here we are, planning a return to the bookshop! As soon as we got back from Latin America! (One month of wildly experimental art, new artists, new ideas, new acts every night!). And we are looking at lights. Everything looks amazing … almost too amazing. Then we discover the wallpaper the lights are playing off is original Florence Broadhurst! That’s why it looks like a film. And they open their home up for the performers to warm up. And they prepare us special Chinese tea so we can keep our energy up. And when we come back from our triumph in Buenos Aires – where they called Moira, La Diosa, (The Goddess) and compared Glory Box to Beckett, Ionesco and Artaud, and where Moira delivered her first ever monologues in Spanish (We knew it was going to be okay when the kitchen staff stopped working to listen during the tech) – and we come home to have one of the most creative months of our recent lives.

And finally, our own special Christmas gift: seeing Jennifer Zea, Venezuelan Soul Diva – who flew to Australia just to perform for us for one night – astound people with her extraordinary and massive voice, and her Latin Soul, in the velvet and luxurious surrounds of Sofitel Melbourne On Collins as she lifted their beautiful roof!

And we say, Gracias.

23 December 2013

What I loved 2013: the Best of Melbourne Theatre

I was determined to see more than 100 shows this year and on my rough count I made it to 187. (If I count Life and Times as three shows, I get to 190; and if I count all the short plays, I can bluff a 250+!)

And I still missed too many!

Over December, we've heard what 51 people from Melbourne's theatre community loved in 2013, but here are my What I Loved awards.

There's still nothing shiny to take away.

As always, my criteria is simply what I loved the most; what shows and artists I remembered beyond the final applause.

Some were easy picks, while others were impossible to choose between and there are shows that I can't believe didn't make my own list!

Outstanding Artists 2013


Patricia Cornelius for Savages, fortyfivedownstairs

Patricia Cornelius
Special mentions

May Jasper for Not a very good story, La Mama

Lally Katz for Stories I want to tell you in person, Malthouse Theatre, Belvoir

Sarah Hamilton and Justine Campbell for They saw a thylacine, Melbourne Fringe


Sunday in the Park with George

Anna Cordingley for Sunday in the Park with George, Victoria Opera
Kate Davis for Story of O, The Rabble at NEON

Special mention

Eugyeene Teh, design; Russell Goldsmith, sound;  Rob Sowinski, lighting for Palace of the End, Theatre Works


Richard Vabre for night maybe, Stuck Pigs Squealing, Theatre Works


The Sovereign Wife

Hannah Norris for Palace of the End, Theatre Works
Mary Helen Sassman for Story of O, The Rabble at NEON
Ash Flanders for The Sovereign Wife, Sisters Grimm at NEON
The cast of Death in the Family, Ward Theatre Company

Special mentions
(or who to watch out for, because wow!)

Peter Paltos
Emily Milledge
Emily Tomlins
Genevieve Giuffre 


Palace of the End

Leticia Caceres for Constellations, MTC (and a special mention for The Tall Man, La Mama)
Emma Valente for Story of O, The Rabble at NEON

Special mentions

Daniel Clarke for Palace of the End, Theatre Works

Daniel Lammin for Columbine, MUST

Stephen Nicolazzo for Psycho Beach Party


Summertime in the Garden of Eden

Marg Horwell for her astonishing design for Constellations, MTC; By their own hands, The Hayloft Project at NEON; Savages, fortyfivedownstairs; and Summertime in the garden of Eden, Sisters Grimm and Theatre Works.

Marg consistently bring a visual narrative that's far beyond what the writers could ever have imagined, but makes the world look like it could never have been anything else. 

Story of O

The Rabble for  Story of O at NEON, and  Room of Regret, Theatre Works at Melbourne Festival.

I've run out of words to describe this company. I love them to pieces. All I know is that there's nothing on a Rabble stage that feels out of place. For a company with such a complex improvisational development process, they let process be process and only bring what's absolutely necessary to the stage.

Outstanding Productions 2012


Between the Cracks

Between the Cracks, Yana Alana at Melbourne Cabaret Festival

Special mention

Stranger, Geraldine Quinn at Melbourne Fringe. 


Constellations, MTC
War Horse, National Theatre of Great Britain and Global Creatures in association with Arts Centre Melbourne


Flowerchildren: The Mamas and Papas Story

Sunday in the Park with George, Victorian Opera
Flowerchildren: The Mamas and Papas Story, Magnormos

Special mention

Wolf Creek, the Musical, at Melbourne Fringe


Happiness is a bedside table

Happiness is a bedside table, Hannah Gadsby at Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Special mentions

Slutmonster and friends

Slutmonster and Friends at Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Famoucity!, Lessons with Luis at at Melbourne International Comedy Festival


Conversation Piece, Lucy Guerin Inc, Belvoir and Arts House


Nixon in China

Nixon in China, Victorian Opera

And the Melbourne Ring Cycle was very cool, even the not-for-review dress rehearsals.


The Rape of Lucrece

The Rape of Lucrece, Royal Shakespeare Company, Arts Projects Australia

Einstein on the Beach, Arts Centre Melbourne, Pomegranate Arts

Story of O, The Rabble at NEON

The Sovereign Wife, Sisters Grimm at NEON

Kids Killing Kids, MKA and Q Theatre Company at Melbourne Fringe


Life and Times: Episodes 1–4National Theater of Oklahoma at Melbourne Festival

20 December 2013

Guest rave: The Book of Everything

The Book of Everything
MTC, Belvoir, Theatre of Image
20 December 2013
Southbank Theatre, The Sumner
to 22 December

I got this message from Sarah Walker:
"I'm changing my favourite moment of 2013 to Julie Forsyth leaning onto the stage in The Book of Everything, holding a branch, and saying gleefully, 'I've always wanted to play a tree!'
I don't think you've seen this show and you must. Really, A-M. YOU MUST."
You don't ignore a message like that. I only just got in, but there are performances tomorrow and Sunday.

Sarah then wrote this about it. My review is "what she said".

I know that it's the crazy end of the year, and you're probably really busy this week, but if you possibly can, get to the MTC and see The Book of Everything. It's stunning. (And isn't it a wonderful time for Melbourne theatre when I can yell at you to go see an MTC show? Amazing).

It's beautiful and hilarious and heartbreaking and scary and silly and all the things that theatre should be. I cried. I cried a lot. I cried at Julie Forsyth being a child, and dancing, and talking for longer than about three lines. And I spent the whole last ten minutes holding my breath to avoid sobbing out loud, because the man next to me was a bit scared by my tears.

It's so joyous and sad at the same time. It captures so perfectly the moment when children realise that adults aren't happy and wonder why. It's saccharine without being sickly, which is a damn hard thing to achieve. And they throw enough serious darkness in to make you feel uncomfortable for the parents there with kids, which is excellent.

 IT'S SO GOOD. Please try to see it. Truly.

19 December 2013

What Melbourne loved in 2013, part 17

That's it! 51 members of Melbourne's theatre community have shared their 2013 favourite moments, shows and people.

The last very-loved three are Mary Helen Sassman, Glyn Roberts and Richard Watts.

(And there might be a bonus next week.)

What Melbourne loved the most in 2013

The Sovereign Wife, Sisters Grimm, NEON
Summertime in the Garden of Eden, Sisters Grimm, Theatre Works
They saw a thylacine, Sarah Hamilton and Justine Campbell, Melbourne Fringe
Story of O, The Rabble, NEON
Kids Killing Kids, MKA, Melbourne Fringe
M+M, Daniel Schlusser Ensemble, Theatre Works, Melbourne Fringe

But the MTC's NEON Festival of Independent Theatre is the undisputed winner.

There's still no award statue, no cash prize and I'm in my pjs as I announce the winners, but there are quotables and every show and person mentioned knows that Melbourne really loved you in 2013. 

Mary Helen Sassman

MARY HELEN: I have felt a bubbling undercurrent – sometimes champagne all fizzy pop and sometimes simmering soup all hearty – this year, as though something special is happening to our little industry. We have seen courage and risk-taking robustly applauded.

As a performer, my scariest, most formative and now favourite moment was while performing in The Rabble's Story of O, where scores of audience walked out mid-performance; some loudly exclaiming their disdain as they left. I inherently aim to please – or so I had thought – so was challenged, but ultimately it felt dangerous and honest.

Also this year I have been working at what Chris Boyd has called "Headquarters": La Mama Theatre. What I love most about that place is that it feels like home to so many ridiculously talented people and companies.

My favourite moments there and elsewhere:

A stunning and dark tale in Angela Betzien's The Tall Man. Director Leticia Caceres created an eerie and raw world with some seriously good Brisbane-bred actors Hayden Spencer and Louise Brehmer.

Super Discount (Back to Back Theatre) was super awesome.

Menagerie (NEON, Daniel Schlusser Ensemble) thrilled me. I am now and forever unfulfilled if there are less than three simultaneous climaxes at any one time on stage.

SM: MH's performance in Story of O left me reeling (and I lost count of the climaxes). 

It's almost impossible to get into the head of the O in the book. Mary Helen got into O's head and did what the book doesn't: showed us what this women felt. It's when actors bring more than the writer created to a character that they become so real that we are willing to forget that we're watching an actor.

Glyn Roberts
was Co-Creative-Director, MKA
is Program Manager, La Boite Theatre Company (Brisbane)

GLYN: Well. 2013 was for me one of the most hectic years of my life; although, not the busiest. That was 2011–12: those heady years where we built cutting-edge performances spaces out of eggshells and barley sugar.

My favorite show was The Rabble's Story of O, but that has been talked about quite a bit here. And I finally caught Arthur's Cut Snake, a show that is "performance" at it's simplest and most effective. Such a lovely thing.

My favorite moments in theatre this year were more the symptoms of shows. Watching a Year 10 class from the Gold Coast lose their shit while watching The Economist at the World Theatre Festival in Brisbane or, in Brisbane again for the Brisbane Festival, having MKA's production of The Unspoken Word is 'Joe' programmed alongside so many friends and colleagues from Melbourne.

It was a sign that something was beginning and ending simultaneously. Change was afoot, not to mention the emergence of a curious culture of sharing and communication between Melbourne and Brisbane, cheekily going on behind Sydney's back.

The most telling moments were the white hot fury that MKA's Kids Killing Kids could, on any given night, insight and the bacchaenalian thrill that it would inspire in the hearts of others.

The same went for Mark Wilson's Unsex Me, which divided audiences with many to this day still unable to control the volume of their voice when the piece is mentioned (which is excellent).

Both shows represented my swan song as a Creative Director of MKA and both were shows that forced those that saw them to lay their cards on the table. These pieces not only polarised members of the audience but exposed who they were ideologically, aesthetically, sexually, culturally and artistically. It was these moments where theatre managed to expose people's essence and foundations and had them leaving the theatre raw and alive both livid and joyful.

As Elie Wiesel said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.” If we avoid indifference from here on in then I think we will be set to have a good 2014.

SM: I was going to talk more about Kids Killing Kids and a bit about Group Show (what a bunch of writers!), but I'm going with:

 "If we avoid indifference from here on in then I think we will be set to have a good 2014."

Let's all take that in to 2014.

Richard Watts
writer, broadcaster, the guy who sees more shows than anyone and should be given a present by Melbourne's independent artists for all the amazing support he gives

Ho and Ho

RICHARD:  Between all the performance delights that Melbourne had to offer, as well as the biennial Castlemaine State Festival, the World Theatre Forum at Brisbane Powerhouse, and a truly spellbinding performance by Pantha Du Prince and the Bell Laboratory in Barcelona (hands down my favourite performance of the year in any artform), 2013 has been an excellent year. Congratulations to everyone who made and staged work this year – you’ve been amazing, and I can’t wait to see what you’ll create in 2014.

This year got off to an excellent start with Psycho Beach Party at Theatre Works, a camp feast of satire and leopard print, beautifully performed and designed and excellently directed and performed.

I also adored the MTC’s Constellations, a heartbreakingly beautiful exploration of love across parallel worlds by UK playwright Nick Payne starring Alison Bell and Leon Ford; Gob Squad’s Kitchen (You Never Had it So Good) at the World Theatre Festival, which featured some of the best integration of technology and the audience I’ve ever seen on stage; and, at the same festival, I Heart Alice Heart I by Irish company HotForTheatre, the single most romantic production I saw all year – I was sobbing happy tears by the end of the play, and I certainly wasn’t the only one.

Coming back to Melbourne, I was amazed and delighted by Brisbane circus company Casus and their show Knee Deep at the Famous Spiegeltent (a venue I’ll miss in 2014), an intimate display of physical skill that playfully subverted gender norms, and I laughed uproariously at the Indigenous fairy tale Wulamanayuwi and the Seven Pamanui at the Castlemaine State Festival. I also shrieked with mirth at Lucy Hopkin’s superb solo clown act Le Foulard at Tuxedo Cat and at the return season of the wonderfully rude and hugely entertaining  Slutmonster and Friends. at Northcote Town Hall during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Windmill Theatre’s School Dance was wonderful too – its awkward geek heroes really resonated with me, reminding me of my Dungeons & Dragons-playing high school days – as was Simon Keck’s hilarious play about suicide, Nob Happy Sock at the Imperial Hotel, though in a very different way.

I missed some of the MTC’s NEON season due to a trip to Spain but I was very taken by The Hayloft Project’s exploration of myth and theatrical form, By Their Own Hands, and, seemingly like everyone else in Melbourne, was thrilled and delighted by Sisters Grimm’s subversive, playful, confrontation and brilliant The Sovereign Wife.

Back at Theatre Works I saw one of the most riveting performances of the year in The Palace of the End – overall a very strong production, with an absolutely riveting performance by Robert Meldrum, who I couldn’t take my eyes off. Simply astounding.

On the other side of town at La Mama I was equally enthralled by Maude Davey’s My Life in the Nude, a classic encapsulation of the adage "the personal is political" in cabaret form, while the equally powerful The Bloody Chamber at the Malthouse, skilfully adapted by Van Badham and directed by Matthew Lutton, not only made me see Alison Whyte in a new light, but gave me a new appreciation for the feminist fairy tales of Angela Carter. Great stuff.

I finally caught up with sci-fi puppet epic The Omega Quest at Revolt in Kensington; cheered Geraldine Quinn’s excellent Sunglasses at Night: The 80s Apocalypse Sing Along Cabaret at the Butterfly Club; was made to empathise with beastly men thanks to Patricia Cornelius's superb Savages at fortyfivedownstairs; gasped in wonder at Richard Vabre’s absolutely exquisite lighting for Stuck Pigs Squealing’s night maybe at Theatre Works;  delighted in a bite-sized range of contemporary and traditional dance styles in Nat Cursio’s Private Dances II at Northcote Town Hall; was taken aback and enthralled by Branch Nebula’s Whelping Box at Arts House Meat Market; and adored Elbow Room’s Fewer Emergencies at the Owl and the Pussycat.

Then it was Fringe time. The controlled simplicity of They saw a thylacine and the judicious blend of comedy and heartbreak in Black Faggot thrilled me; Wolf Creek, The Musical revelled in its low-fi silliness, as did Dr Professor Neal Portenza’s Love Muffins; I was taken aback and thrilled by Mark Wilson’s committed performance in MKA’s Unsex Me, while Big One Little One’s live art piece Confetti was one of the most exhilarating and life-affirming works of the year.

Next came the Melbourne Festival, where my highlights were Nicola Gunn’s post-modern masterpiece In Spite of Myself and Belarus Free Theatre’s electrifying piece of agit-prop Minsk, 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker.

After the madness of Fringe and the Festival, where I saw 40 shows in 40 days, I collapsed a little, though I still had time to see Malia Walsh and company’s circus-puppetry-dance hybrid Arabella at the La Mama Courthouse, which was superb, as was Sisters Grimm’s remounted, gender-fucking Summertime in the Garden of Eden at Theatre Works.

This was meant to be a brief summation of just some of the year’s highlights – not all of them. Oops. Damn, it’s been an excellent year!

SM: Damn, it has been an excellent year! And Richard has seen most of the shows.

Richard's another one of those people whom I trust if they tell me to see something. Without his recommendation, I wouldn't have seen Slutmonster and Friends. And, to not have seen this fuzzy-pink, giant-cocked slut of a monster is too sad a thought to contemplate. I sat with Richard at Slutmonster and Wolf Creek and, I've said it before, but it's wonderful to be with people who laugh (and cry; Dr Who) at the same things I do.

18 December 2013

What Melbourne loved in 2013, part Tobias

Some described their favourite moments of 2013 with a mere few sentences, but MKA's Tobias Manderson-Galvin has seen too much long-form theatre this year.

Tobias Manderson-Galvin
Creative Director, MKA

TOBI: Professor Lenore Mandeson gave the opening keynote address at the Australian Theatre Forum (in Canberra) with her colleague, futurist Kristin Alford. It had nothing explicitly to do with theatre and it was wonderful to think about theatre in relation to something else/everything else. One of the highlights was Lenore riffing on Brecht's Threepenny Opera and miming swinging a plastic bag of shit above her head and then throwing said pretend bag in our general direction as a part of her description of conditions in South African slums, but really as a part of a bigger critique of the culture we're more directly a part of.

Also turning up each day to the forum and discovering she and I had worn matching outfits yet again, a sort of superficial confirmation of the synchronicity in having my medical anthropologist mother as the headline act at a peak industry event in my current field. It was like bring your son to work day, which was actually lots of days. If anyone ever wants to know about Giddens or Weber, I've been going to lectures since I was six months old.

Being Dead (Don Quixote) was my favourite show this year, hands down no questions asked. It was Kerith Manderson-Galvin's reworking of a classic book she didn't read via Kathy Acker's reworking of the same text (who knows if she read it or not).

Kerith spearheaded the work but Soma Garner and Amy Lever-Davidson pulled off some design coups. It was only on for two nights in a university, so if you missed it well ok I guess you didn't have much of a chance – but when it returns, make sure you get a ticket or you will be missing one of the most genuinely accomplished works of queer theatre made in years.

I don't know if Kerith'd call it that, but it was that. I've noticed that 2013 was a big year (maybe the last few years even) for calling shows 'queer' or 'feminist' or 'theatre', whether they were any of these things or not. I think this is all them.

A Supple Beauty. When asked, Kerith (from Part 4) also mentioned this as one of her favourite moments and even though Mark (from Part 8) didn't, I'm sure he thought it. MKA went to the Adelaide Fringe and didn't really have the best time audience wise. (We took three shows, one averaged an audience of perhaps 25 a night and the others averaged three to four). So, when I saw there was an anarchic, cabaret/variety night at 3.00 in the afternoon on a Saturday, we were first in line to get on the bill.

The night before the performance Alexis Dubus (aka Marcel Lucont), a burlesque darling (who wishes to remain unnamed) and me were thrown out of the Fringe Club for taking our clothes off on the dance floor to Nelly's "Hot in Here" (a DJ coincidence, as we were getting naked anyway in an effort to promote the event). On the day of the show, Mark Wilson, Kerith and I performed totally naked, save for a leather belt I kept on, and we deconstructed the only State Theatre Company of South Australia show we saw all year.

Kerith did a death scene that went for about 20 minutes. Mark performed a harrowing edited version of the Beethoven inspired Tolstoy novella The Kreutzer Sonata re-written by himself, and I played Chris Brown and Rihanna songs. And why not. Then we spent about six minutes doing a Q&A with ourselves and drinking bottled water. Apologies for not inviting you Geordie Brookman, but, fair warning, we'll be back.

Einstein on the BeachI saw it two nights in a row. First night, apologies to Andrew Fuhrmann who I went with, I was fidgety and bored. I wanted to be a hero, so I didn't take a break in its 4.5 hours and had a less than great time. Yet, slit my wrists and draw a hot bath, I went back the next night and only left the room for four minutes – because that's how long it takes to take the piss you planned in advance and they know that bit is a little less interesting – but when I realised I'd mistimed and the first ballet had started, I raced back to my seat because this show is in a league (albeit a sort of vintage museum league) of its own. I spent weeks singing "Knee Play 3".

Life and Times. Not only being there, but that they made all the burgers for the audience themselves and we all watched it and it took like 10 hours and Kerith didn't go to her 10-year high school reunion so she could see it (and she went to the most elite girls school in Victoria, not me I went to a public school and even that I got expelled from and then went to another public school, but enough) and Lenore asked Kerith and I to dinner with her and Pat Galvin and also invited Nature Theatre's Pavol and Kelly and wait, omg, I haven't even started telling you about how I got four free VIP tickets and went to a Limp Bizkit concert and got soft tissue damage, tearing my cartilage and ligaments around my spine, sternum and ribs from moshing like I was 17/partying like it was 1999/doing it all for the nookie and that Fred Durst was like "nice jacket dude'" to me and I break danced while I was crowd surfing!!! As in: on people's heads!!! And how when MKA took The Economist to Brisbane Powerhouse for World Theatre Festival there was a girl who came late one night and stood in the back row and was wearing what seemed to be a Norwegian flag as a skirt and she was the perfect image of what I always imagined the lead lady role would be (though it's always been played inimitably by Marcus McKenzie) and then I met her by chance in the basement of the theatre and she had the same name as the character and Kerith didn't believe she even existed and thought maybe I was having another episode but we're friends on Facebook now, so that's as real as it get. And then, oh, working with Shian Law on Psycho for Balletlab was the start of a dream come true – my return to ballet which isn't really theatre, is it?  and this is about theatre isn't it? And also you know Katie Noonan, well she's beautiful isn't she? Have you ever seen her perform? And then there was that time – no I – but maybe that's not what's important now but I don't want to leave anything out in this at all. Not one bit.

SUN from Melbourne Festival was really my favourite theatrical work of 2013. Metal. A dance corps. A pastoral setting. I hadn't seen Political Mother (the companies previous work), so ok some say that was better, whatever, I don't know, this was fuckiing excellent.

And an honourable mention to when Kerith and I snuck into the ska gig at the Festival Club (The Caribs et al) and, to a song called "No More" in which the refrain was "I''ll cry no more tears for you/over you" (or something), the guitarist (about 80 years old) cried throughout. Kerith still isn't sure what ska is and though she does know who Reel Big Fish are, this was a moment of classic half a century old music and a moving performance.

What Tobi is looking forward to in 2014 at issimomag.com.

SM: My moment: proofing/editing the above.

17 December 2013

What Melbourne loved in 2013, part 15

What Melbourne loved is nearly over.

But today's a goody with a crooner Mikelangelo, critic Chris Boyd an writer Fleur Kilpatrick.

Artist, Entertainer, Impresario

Mikelangelo: My favourite moment in 2013 was being asked to be Santa at the PBS Switched on Twistmas last weekend at Bella Union. They said you can go without the beard and comb your hair into your best quiff, then gave me the most lush velvet santa suit one could imagine. I never had any particular desire to be Santa, but posing for photos with a bevy of excitable men and women over the course of the evening truly did put me in the spirit for Christmas.

Often the best theatre is that which is found in life, and I certainly got theatre au naturale in spades on that velvet evening.

What Mikelangelo is looking forward to in 2014 at issimomag.com.

SM: Could it really be a year in which I wasn't serenaded by Mikel? Come on 2013, that's not good enough. But we crossed paths in the Arts Centre one afternoon. He was at a Melbourne Music Week conference, I was at the Melbourne  Ring Cycle. Such music extremes, but all in the one place and all loved – and neither of us could consider reaching a Wagnerian high C.

Chris Boyd

CHRIS: Favourite theatre moment. Hmm. Most of mine have already been mentioned. (You know who you are!)

I think it was Jane Howard (from Part 2) who said that the shows that blow your mind – that leave you not knowing what you think – rarely end up in posterity’s junk pile.  They usually turn out to be highlights of your year, of your life. My Melbourne Festival was ruined (in a good way) by one the first festival shows I saw.

M+M was like a supernova that made everything that followed invisible. It shut me down like one of those unkillable little SvcHst.exe files that hog 99% of cpu time when you’re on a deadline.

Room of Regret caused a similar kind of flash-blindness, but in a single evening. It started with a tiny supernova and most of what followed was barely visible. I liked being veiled, especially in a show with audience participation. And I’m pretty good with the role playing thing. So, when I ended up in a confessional-sized room with an equally veiled actor, I played my part ... even though I felt like a Big Brother inmate, sure that everything I did was visible in the dark! Anyway, my anonymous lover for a minute or two turned out to be Emily Milledge (from Part 13), who gave one of the most sustained, most raw and intense performance I saw this year.

But my fave moment of the year came in the dying scene of Das Rheingold, the first opera in the Melbourne Ring Cycle. When the squad of rainbow showgirls pranced on with their feather wings for the finale, I recognised Benjamin Hancock in the front ranks. I doubt than many noticed there was a cuckoo in the nest. When I emailed Opera Australia just to check it was Ben, they politely denied it. Mocked the suggestion even with a “we're pretty sure all the showgirls are girls”.  You know, “brackets, dickhead, close brackets”. It looked like the denial was going to be the story.  (I got a groveling apology a day or two later.) Anyway, I felt weirdly proud: for Ben, for director Neil Armfield, for Opera Australia.

I loved loved loved what the Sisters Grimm did with the gender- and race-blind casting in The Sovereign Wife too. It helped them reach the highest and most dizzying euphoric peak of 2013.

SM: The hard-core reviewers see a lot of each other. If I'm at an opening night and Chris isn't there, I wonder what I'm missing.

I'm often in awe of newspaper reviewers because they usually have to file hours after seeing a show. To be awake at 3 am (after opening night drinks) is a skill; to be articulate and intelligent and not make typos, swear or confess undying lust to a performer is an art.

Chris has been reviewing since the 80s. That's longer than some of the people he now reviews have been alive. And  every one of those shows is stored somewhere in his memory.

I read his reviews (The Australian), especially for shows I haven't seen. In relatively few words, he consistently gives an evocative picture of the work and an honest opinion, and tends to throw in an obscure fact that helps to understand the piece or a metaphor that the artists will be quoting for years. (I mean, "M+M was like a supernova that made everything that followed invisible."!)

He inspires me to write better, or at least to not settle for the obvious adjective.

He also fights for independent theatre to get mainstream reviews.

Fleur Kilpatrick
writer, director

FLEUR: A highlight for me was MTC’s NEON Festival. It wasn’t even about the individual shows (although Schlusser’s Menagerie had me hyperventilating). Rather, it was about seeing the MTC really embrace what it is that makes our hometown so vibrant and unique. It was truly affirming and, regardless of the recent controversy, I was so, so proud of our community.

Giving standing ovations was another highlight. They feel so good. I gave four this year and each time it was such a joyful celebration. I love loving theatre. I love telling people how much I love their theatre. This year I stood for Matilda (in London), Einstein on the Beach, The Shadow King (Malthouse) and Sun (Melbourne Festival). These were all big shows. They urged me to leap out of my seat. The sheer scale demanded my entire height.

But there was other shows I loved no less that I had to love quietly. I had to sit with them. Tommy Bradson’s Sweet Sixteen or The Birthday Party Massacre, They saw a thylacine and Jon Bennett’s My Dad’s Deaths all left their mark on me. A reading of Patrick McCarthy’s Grief and the Lullaby also made the cut. The actors stood with scripts in hand and I was still shaking with sobs. I can’t wait to see Patrick’s work grow.

Personally, 2013 has been an incredible year for me. Returning to university to work with Raimondo Cortese and Rob Reid has thrilled me and has helped me find my voice not only as a playwright but as an arts writer. I’ve so very much enjoyed writing about theatre not as a reviewer but as an artist responding to the work I love with consideration and relish.

SM: Read Fleur's blog. Bookmark it and go back to it a lot. It's called School for Birds. It's passionate and her arts writing is an artist responding to what she loves.

When I feel my own writing slipping into formula, Fleur's writing reminds me to be passionate and to show that I care about what's happening on a stage – even when the pieces didn't fit together for the artists who made it.

She reminds us all to go into every show wondering what it's going to give us, wondering if it's going to be one of those shows that changes your life, and, at the very least, respecting the people who created it for you.

Her own theatre writing is pretty cool, too. My favourite moment was the look on her face when I said that she's one of the few people who can over write and I love for doing so. I could see her brain trying to figure out if it was a compliment or an insult. It was a compliment.