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.

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