22 December 2014

What I loved in 2014: The Best of Melbourne Theatre

I saw over 230 shows this year, closer to 250 if I count all the Live Art performances.

These are the ones that I loved the most.

And I still missed too many. (When all the 'best of' lists are put together at the end of the year, remember that great shows might have not been seen.)

Along with writing, there's been judging, mentoring, editing and teaching this year – and I'm mostly looking forward to doing more teaching and mentoring next year because we need more arts writers, thinker, arguers and advocates.

Outstanding Artists 2014


Jesse Cox for Wael Zuaiter: Unknown, Creative Nonfiction and Theatre Works at Next Wave.

Jesss Cox in Wael Zuaiter: Unknown. Photo by Sarah Walker
Special mentions

Tim Wothersooon for The Safe House, 3rd Room Theatrical at The Owl and the Pussycat.

Fleur Kilpatrick for The City They Burned, Attic Erratic at Melbourne FringeMelbourne


Dale Ferguson (set) for Night on Bald Mountain, Malthouse

Paul Jackson (lighting) for Night on Bald Mountain, Malthouse

Night on Bald Mountain

Harriet Oxley (costume) for Into the Woods, Victoria Opera

Chloe Greaves (costume) for The Bitter Tears of Petra Von KantDirty Pretty Theatre and Theatre Works


Kate Cole for Grounded, Red Stitch

Kate Cole in Grounded

Angus Cerini for Resplendence, MTC NEON

Special mentions

Maria Mercedes for Masterclass, fortyfivedownstairs

Aliro Zavarce for The Book of Loco, Malthouse

Kate Cole, Brett Cousins and Emily Milledge for Out of the Water, Red Stitch


Declan Greene for Calpurnia Descending, Sisters Grimm Malthouse

Calpurnia Descending

Special mentions

Danny Delahunty for The City They Burned, Attic Erratic at Melbourne Fringe

Daniel Lammin for Masterclass, fortyfivedownstairs

Outstanding Productions 2014


The Von Muiznieks Family Hoedown for Melbourne Cabaret Festival at The Butterfly Club

The Von Muiznieks Family Hoedown

Special mention

Sunglasses at night: The 80s apocalypse sing along cabaretGeraldine Quinn for Melbourne Cabaret Festival at Chapel off Chapel


OnceMelbourne Theatre Company & John Frost, Barbara Broccoli, John N Hart Jr, Patrick Milling Smith, Frederick Zollo


Into the Woods, Victoria Opera

Into the Woods


Dr Professor Neal Portenza Performs his Own Autopsy Live on Stage. One Night Only. (Obviously). Josh Ladgrove at Melbourne International Comedy Festival at Tuxedo Cat

Dr Professor Neal Portenza Performs his Own Autopsy Live on Stage. One Night Only. (Obviously).

More Tape, The Boy With Tape On His Face at Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Special mentions

Single White Slut, Tim Key at Melbourne International Comedy Festival

After Ever After, Rama Nicholas at Melbourne Fringe


The Riders, Victorian Opera & Malthouse Theatre

The Riders. Photo by Jeff Busby


S, Circa for Darebin Arts Speakeasy

Special mentions

The Long Pigs, fortyfivedownstairs

Carrousel Des Moutons, D'irque & Fen, Explosive Media at Melbourne Festival


A moment in yarn, Sayraphim Lothian at Craft Victoria's Craft Cubed festival

Very special mention

Sayraphim and Rob's wedding at The Village

A wedding. Photo by Sarah Walker


The Worst of Scottee, Theatre Works at Midsumma

Sex Idiot, Bryony Kimmings, Theatre Works at Melbourne International Comedy Festival

The City They Burned, Attic Erratic at Melbourne Fringe

The City They Burned. Photo by Sarah Walker

The Bookbinder, Trick of the Light Theatre at Melbourne Fringe

Have I No Mouth, Brokentalkers at Melbourne Festival

Have I No Moith


Credible Likeable Superstar Role ModelBryony Kimmings, Theatre Works

Bryony and Taylor in Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model

20 December 2014

What Melbourne loved in 2014, part 9

And with Bon Batten, Rhys Auteri and me, it's time to farewell Melbourne's favourite moments for 2014.

What I Loved in 2014 will be up on Monday.

Bron Batten
I don't know how to describe what she does, but it's fucking awesome

Bron: There was heaps of stuff I loved this year (contrary to the popular belief that I hate everything), Green Screen as a part of Neon, Oedipus Schmoedipus at Belvoir, Calpurnia Descending  at The Malthouse and Have I No Mouth at the Melbourne Festival.

Credible, Likeable, Superstar, Role model at Theatre Works was bloody astounding and I left the show feeling like I'd been kicked in the chest. Touching, funny, real and relevant.

Other good stuff was Tessa Waters's Womanz, Trygve Wakenshaw’s Kraken at Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Dr Professor Neal Portenza makes me laugh a lot and watching Adrienne Truscott's Asking for It and Zoe Coombs Marr's remount of Dave kicking the comedy world in the balls.

And witnessing a small, balding David Sedaris sell out Hamer Hall by literally reading from an A4 piece of paper made me really happy because you just can't predict what people are going to like.

SM: There was the anaconda at Last Tuesday Society's YouTube Comment Orchestra, the look on her face when I told her that I liked Marzo, but it has to be the moment in the Use Your Illusion (NO, not "that" moment) when we realised that the hypnotist was an actor.

Rhys Auteri
writer, musician, possum

Rhys: I wrote a first draft of this and it was far too long, going into too many shows – even after seeing under 50 shows for the year, my lowest attendance for many years. As such, I’ve heard of at least half a dozen shows that sounded like I missed something special, but oh well.

Sisters Grimm’s Calpurnia Descending  again made me suspect that they write their scripts in bold and underline, possibly scrawled in lipstick and adorned with stickers. Hilarious and razor sharp, clever, it indulged in its own delightful vacuity to find surprising moments of emotion and revelation. Its use of live video and other media was brilliantly executed and helped the Sisters Grimm continue to develop the theatricality of their work to match their pointed writing and perfectly over-pitched performances. The image of Paul Capsis climbing a staircase to nowhere, draped in a green screen of lost possibilities was mesmerising.

My highlight of the Melbourne Festival was Circa’s fantastic Opus. Their ability to transform the skills of circus into a touching and vast language of dance was revelatory and brought an array of new ideas to an ancient craft. There were lots of tumbles and lifting and jumping, but these spectacles of strength were presented not for their own sake but pitted towards a higher visual aesthetic of movement. Basically I felt pretty fat and unfit after watching this – I’m not entirely sure this wasn’t their whole plan.

Nicola Gunn once again delighted with Green Screen – playful, engaging, maddening, confusing and crystal clear all at once. Gunn is fearless in her exploration and use of theatrical language to say what cannot be put merely into words. A teacher of mine once commented that great theatre was like a dream, an intense unforgettable experience that nonetheless proves difficult to explain to those who were not present. The image of Gunn riding a slowly deflating thrown of air mattresses seemed at once courageous, ridiculous and omnipotent.

I was fortunate enough to catch Jono Wants a Wife at the Fringe. It was an unassuming piece that really delivered. Jonathan Burns’s confessional solo piece gave a rare glimpse of the vulnerable male journeying from awkward adolescence to heartbreak and often self-loathing – romantic, inept, confused, ashamed and predatory. The woman I saw it with found it a revelatory insight into the male of the species:  “I didn’t realise that men think like that” (or something to that effect). It was a brave, warts-and-all performance, perfect “poor theatre” storytelling.

Melbourne favourites Blue Grassy Knoll premiered their new score to Buster Keaton’s The General. Their ability to transform the crowd into a raucous mess of cheers and boos transport you back to the days and spirit of silent cinema. If you think you might like to get into Keaton – this is the way to do it.

And finally, I caught a few hours of the 52 hours straight improfest that was Little Soap on the Prairie. This completely improvised durational saga featured fantastic character work and storytelling that ran the gamut from absurd and silly to heartbreaking and poignant. It’s easy to dismiss a work like this as somehow “lesser” than similar durational works by “serious” theatre groups like Lone Twin, Forced Entertainment or Nature Theatre of Oklahoma. But this was not merely an exercise of self-indulgent theatre games. The ability of the performers to plumb the depths of fascinating characters, while creating an epic and engaging story was pretty magical. I will always remember the murder of Constance (played by Jenny Lovell) in the final hours of the show. As her murderer crept towards her – hands outstretched to make a gun - you could sense the tension in the performers and the audience. There were actual gasps as the murderer shouted ‘bang, bang’ and pulled the trigger. This moment was about as simple as playing on stage gets, yet it was one of the most powerful things I witnessed this year.

Other shows I loved this year included Therese Raquin, Applespiel Make a Band and Take on the Recording Industry, The Government Inspector, Neighbourhood Watch, Single White Slut, Sex Idiot and Marzo.

SM: The first time the possum hissed in Bucket's List.

Anne-Marie Peard

Photo by Sarah Collins

A-M: Some of my favourite moments this year were in Live Art experiences. There was the small group experience of Yana Alana snuggling into my chest, with six of us on her bed, in In Bed With Yana Alana; asking a stranger if I could stick a label on her and take her photo in Take the Call;  the unexpected joy of making a band with Sam Halmarack & the Miserablites; and writing a very bad poem in bed with my cat for A Day Like Every Other.

But the one I'll never forget is The Rest is Silence: the 4 am encounter at The 24-Hour Experience. I wasn't well and I was so close to going home at 5 pm, but I wanted to go to the forensic morgue. There were no actors: it was just the staff running through what they do when a body comes into the Homicide Room (crime and accident victims) and then showing us how they harvest tissue. And the staff then sat and talked to some of us – at 5 am – about their jobs. It was the most real, fascinating and honest encounter I had seeing arts events this year.

17 December 2014

What Melbourne loved in 2014, part 8

It's an international edition as Karin Muiznieks, Alex da La Rambelje and Yvonne Virsik go travelling.

Karin Muiznieks
cabaret performer and songwriter

Karin: I was invited by a friend to be an extra in a "cabaret video" he was filming. Turns out it was the promotional trailer for the 2014 Adelaide Cabaret Festival. The trailer was being shot in Melbourne, using an entirely Melbourne cast,crew and scenery and heavily featuring artists who live and work in Melbourne. They said that Melbourne had "the right feel" for cabaret. It made me feel kinda triumphant and sad at the same time. It showed me that everybody secretly knows in their hearts that Melbourne is the true centre of cabaret in this country, and yet we are still scrambling to receive the funding and support that other states take for granted.

Why bother shipping out to Adelaide when the soul of cabaret is in Melbourne? I bust my arse to break even here, so I'm also shipping out. See you in 2015, Melbourne. Hopefully, the government and sponsoring bodies will realise what jewels they have in our local scene and not force performers out of town if they want to earn a living.

SM: The Von Muiznieks Family Hoedown was such a surprise. I don't know what I expected, but it surpassed all expectations and created new ones. I laughed myself sick, saw my first bass ukelele and can't believe that they're not being invited to perform everywhere.

Alex da La Rambelje

Alex: My top five theatre experiences in 2014:

5. Max and Ivan, The Reunion (Melbourne International Comedy Festival)

Sharp, hilarious and rich with narrative complexities, Max and Ivan's follow up MICF show was my stand out pick from the festival this year. The guys inhabited a myriad of living and breathing characters, and managed to create some moments of genuine pathos at the end. It's always awesome seeing a high-concept theatre/comedy show at the Comedy Festival.

4. Matilda (RSC)

Joyous fun. It felt totally fresh. The musical numbers flowed organically from the narrative, and when the audience started cheering I realised I was watching damn good writing. Melbourne, just you wait.

3. Monsieur Butterfly (Edinburgh Fringe)

This high-concept stand up show had me standing up in anticipation at the final moment. Alex Horne constructed an intricately woven machine of a show that was embodied in the actual, impossibly complex, tangible machine he constructed on the stage. Using balloons, VHS tapes, pool cues, bowling balls, a potato on a zip-line and lots of other randomly drawn common-or-garden items, he created a machine just like the one he’d always wanted to create in his childhood. 

2. Elephant Room (Edinburgh Fringe)

I went to Edinburgh Fringe with the intention of seeing as many magic shows as I could (I clocked up over 10). This show was a standout – a surreal trip that brought magic and theatre together more seamlessly than I have ever seen. The world of the piece was the Elephant Room, a bizarre limbo land inhabited by three "shadows of magic personalities", who seemed to be reliving former glories that belonged to no particular set time or place. The show elevated common conjuring routines above the mundane and set them in a world that was able to frame the illusions as truly magical.

1. Derren Brown, Infamous (Glasgow Theatre)

I’ve spent the last ten years periodically pouring over every live recording, tv special and written word Derren Brown has offered. Seeing him live was a thrill. He truly commanded the stage. I realised how the skillful, dangerous and ballsy performance techniques I had perceived in his recorded work were in every way real. The man is a god.

SM: I watched him do close up card tricks determined to figure it it out. I couldn't. I know how it's done and I can't see him do it.

Yvonne Virsik
director, Artistic Director MUST

Yvonne: I was lucky enough to start the year in New York and saw loads of shows there, but except for Sleep No More and a great King Lear featuring Frank Langella at BAM – I don’t like the play much, but this was simply and exquisitely staged with a galloping pace – my highlights for 2014 have all been in Australia.

Tonelgroep Amsterdam's Roman Tragedies at The Adelaide Festival was a brilliant experience: three “Shakespeares”, extraordinary performances from powerful actors, a set you could move around on and order drinks from and tongue-in-cheek text via an LED screen announcing how long till the next major character died.

At the Melbourne Festival, I found Roslyn Oades’s Hello, Goodbye and Happy Birthday (Malthouse) playful, life-affirming and profoundly affecting, my only quibble the lack of diversity of expression in the 18 year old “stories” chosen.  And One Step at a Time like This’s Since I Suppose  was a rare and rich experience.

Opus from Circa left me enthralled when a lot of the circus pieces disappointed – not just the music and bodies doing extraordinary things, but the intimacy, humanness and moments of real meaning.

Red Stitch’s Grounded was remarkable in all elements. I found the style fascinating – a touch heightened and gestural – but somehow all the more real and engaging for it. Beautiful work from Kate Cole and Kirsten Von Bibra is surely one of our most underrated directors.

The Defence by Chris Dunstan at MKA’s HYPRTXT Festival was brilliant, bold and uncomfortable, playing with gender dynamics and abuse of power, as did Mark Wilson and Olivia Monticciolo’s Richard II (MKA at Melbourne Fringe) – immediacy to gasp for.

The Good Person of Szechuan at Malthouse Theatre was a delight – alive, cheeky, and chaotic, yet surprisingly clear.

Masterclass with Maria Mercedes at forttfivedownstairs was directed by Daniel Lammin with glorious clarity as was his work The Cutting Boys at La Mama.

In Thérèse Raquin at Theatre Works, Gary Abrahams orchestrated an inexorable build in tension. Some of my favourite moments were Thérèse struggling with her hoop skirt with increasing ferocity in the small apartment.

The City They Burned (Attic Erratic) by Fleur Kilpatrick and directed by Danny Delahunty was wonderfully shaped and horrifying. Violence begets violence has never been as palpably realised for me as when the daughters turned on their father in act two.

Other 2014 memorable theatrical moments include:

Bryony Kimmings handing around cups for people to discreetly trim their pubes into during Sex Idiot.

Realising I had learnt a lot about the experience of being on The Autism Spectrum from the student-created Them Aspies in the MUST Season, and having a bit of a cry at my immense pride in their achievement.

Lloyd Jones impassioned introduction and running amok in When the Cream Sinks to the Bottom at La Mama – “Did he really just do that?!”

Experiencing the beautiful, raw but caressing honesty of Jess Gonsalvez’s Naked at the MUST Container Festival.

The cheer when Sarah Hamilton and Justine Campbell‘s They Saw a Thylacine was announced as part of the 2015 Malthouse Season.

The hoot-inducing moments and technical acrobatics of Calpurnia Descending (Sisters Grimm at Malthouse).

Hanging out with the brilliant participants in The MTC Women Director’s Program.

That’s a fair bit, I know and there are heaps I haven’t mentioned. These are just some of my memorable moments and experiences from over 150 shows in 2014.

SM: Yvonne really tried to donate some pubes to Bryony but it was difficult in jeans. I'd forgotten about that; lucky she mentioned it.

I'm blown away every time I see a MUST (Monash University Student Theatre) show. Student unions are brilliant things and the thought of them disappearing as tertiary education becomes all about money is too depressing. My MUST highlight was getting to meet next year's lot at #NotDramaCamp. I'm excited about the theatre they are going to make.

15 December 2014

What Melbourne loved in 2014, part 7

Richard Watts, Cassanda Fumi and Tobias Manderson-Galvin share their favourite shows today.

Richard Watts
arts journalist

Richard: At the start of 2014, I made a vow to myself to cease constantly and consistently burning the candle at both ends. Consequently I’ve only seen 112 live performances across various genres this year (so far – there’s another few to try and squeeze in before Christmas!) but I’ve also avoided the debilitating, lingering lurgies that had regularly laid me up for weeks at a time the last few years running.

Consequently, despite missing out on some apparently excellent productions as a result of pulling things back a notch (e.g. The Rabble’s Frankenstein and Grounded at Red Stitch), I still managed to see some mad, magnificent and moving productions in 2014. Here are the highlights of the year that was:

From Adelaide, Gravity and Other Myths staged the single best circus production I’ve seen all year at Northcote Town Hall, as part of the City of Darebin’s Speakeasy program. A Simple Space wasn’t just exhilarating, intimate and a bravura demonstration of fine-tuned human physicality, it was also a glorious display of circus as art, and an evolution of that form that was the perfect counterbalance to the corporate Euro-pudding blandness of juggernauts like Cirque du Soleil.

Also at Northcote Town Hall, Elbow Room’s Prehistoric lit up my synapses and set my heart racing like no other show in 2014. Infused with a punk sensibility, it was vibrant and alive, it was also a knowing, insightful and carefully crafted work that managed to be simultaneously nostalgic and utterly of the moment; everything that indie theatre should be, and more.

Bryony Kimmings’s Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model at Theatre Works was not only a continued demonstration of producer Dan Clarke’s astute eye for programming the brightest and best, but also a marvellous, insightful, deeply moving and empowering exploration of life in our modern world. Without doubt the most affecting production I saw this year.

Finally, my single best show of the year: Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s Roman Tragedies at Adelaide Festival. Six hours of Shakespeare in Dutch, with English surtitles. Going into this show I was full of dread. Coming out of it, I was envious of those audience members who would be experiencing it in the following days, and would have killed a Liberal Party politician to see it again. Exquisite acting, a thunderous and dramatic live score, inspired direction by Ivo van Hove, and intelligent and nuanced use of multimedia and social media – as well as giving the audience the opportunity to not only move around the auditorium at regular intervals but to actually take to the stage – made this one of the most memorable productions I have any seen anywhere in my 47 years. Fuck it was good. If it ever comes to Melbourne – or anywhere else in Australia for that matter – DO NOT MISS IT.

Honourable mentions: The Worst of Scottee at Theatre Works; Bryony Kimmings’s Sex Idiot at Melbourne International Comedy Festival; Trygve Wakenshaw’s Kraken at Melbourne International Comedy Festival; Ray Chong Nee’s performances in The Motion of Light in Water and Jumpers for Goalposts; Caroline Lee and Maude Davey in MKA’s The Trouble with Harry, and Lachlan Philpott’s beautiful, poetic script; Carousel Des Moutons at Melbourne Festival; Big hArt’s Hipbone Sticking Out at Melbourne Festival; and Sisters Grimm’s Calpurnia Descending at the Malthouse.

SM: Richard’s been hosting Smart Arts on RRR for ten years: that’s a lot of pretty amazing moments. I can’t imagine Melbourne’s theatre and arts scene without Smart Arts. Richard always asks great questions and from his choice of music to his guests, he’s one of the greatest advocates and supporters of independent theatre, music, artists and creators in Melbourne. Buy him a drink when you see him.

Cassandra Fumi
arts editor, theatre maker

Photo by Sarah Walker

Cass: When I think of 2014 it's green! Green Screen was the standout work for me. I loved the delicateness and vulnerability of this piece. It was a Nicola Gunn show unlike other Nicola Gunn shows, but then oh so much a Nicola Gunn show (does that make sense?).

I also loved Bron Batten’s Use Your Illusion that was part of Field Theory. I thought it was a clever, engaging piece. My presence as an audience member was really needed, not only to be hypnotised but also to go on a journey with Batten. Oh yeah, I totes bought into the hypnosis thang.

I also adored Calpurnia Descending; the dancing rat made me laugh. Ugly laugh. Like Dawson’s ugly cry. This work made me think, whilst having a great, entertaining time at the theatre. I also went to Katy Perry a few nights later and – yes, yes! – Katy also had a rat on stage. The gift that keeps giving.

SM: I so nearly had a Live Art moment with Cass at the Melbourne Fringe, but it turned into a very individual live art moment because I missed her by seconds. (Bloody burger that took forever that I ate  as I ran to be on time – and it wasn’t even nice.)

Tobias Manderson-Galvin

Tobi: My best top 5:

5) Perth's Fringe World. That was a really great fringe festival. It may be the best in the world right now. Supportive core staff, varied curated and non-curated spaces, selection of hub areas, a real cool artist bar, great audiences, beautiful design. I can't give this festival a better rap. It is the best. Fuck you Adelaide and Melbourne, do we need to call an ambulance – and any other Australian fringe you don’t really exist, get over it.

4) Luke Devine's The Land Than Time Forgot (Melbourne Fringe, Hares & Hyenas). Luke in nothing but a black tee, white 'away' shorts, and holding a hot pink notebook, tells the story of growing up in Tasmania. This better happen again. If you missed it. Whooo boy. You missed it.

3) Inventing a festival with MKA massive and primarily Mr John Kachoyan. Calling it HYPRTXT. It having almost nothing to do with the internet. Doing a show in it that also didn’t really have anything to do with the internet. My new pal John Kachoyan reading in the show on the final night. JK also doing a reading of his solo show. Just everyone involved in all of that. Like Jenn Taylor. Like people from the Gong. A playwright from Finland. All of you/them!

2) Kerith Manderson-Galvin's commissioned work for Union House Theatre Don’t Bring LuLu. I went more than once. I gather that for a while there people thought Kerith was a pseudonym I'd made up, but she's actually my sister. I think for a while there, people thought she was my sister but she's also herself and that's a thing too. But she is my sister too, so obvs i'll deck you if you don't like her shows. And this was a great show. Really a show more than a play. There has not been another script like it. Not here not anywhere. If you haven’t read it, you should find a way. It better have another life. Meanwhile i guess you could just see Being Dead (Don Quixote), her next show in Midsumma in January.

1) Big thanks to Stephen Armstrong and the Arts Centre who were part of hosting IETM/Asian Satelite Meeting and Lab in Melbourne.

Also a special mention of something bad/good so far: my podcast with Kerith has only had two episodes because a bunch of data got deleted and then I was without internet for weeks/also without a credit card for a month and a half and lost my account. So anyway.... Jolly Good Radio returns sometime when I'm rich and the gods smile upon us.

SM: Every moment with Tobias is a moment, but my favourite was watching his mum watch him in his Thank You Thank You Love (HYPRTXT).

13 December 2014

What Melbourne loved in 2014, part 6

Today, it's Penelope Bartlau, Declan Greene and Sarah Collins with discussion about how ongoing funding makes conservative theatre, why some audience member's should be removed from the world, and why Google should shut down when cat guardians try and diagnose their pet's non-existent illnesses.

Penelope Bartlau
director, writer, creator Barking Spider Theatre

Penelope: Theatre moment knockout this year has to be Punch Drunk’s Sleep No More (New York City). I wish I could have my max-highlight from something in Melbourne because there is SO much going on in this city; we have such remarkable and vital theatre here.

I know plenty have talked about Punch Drunk's  Sleep No More – and justifiably. Why is it so compelling? Because it’s utterly unpredictable, it’s a completely individual experience as it’s virtually impossible for any two audience members to take the same passage and see the same things. I was determined to understand the dramaturgy – and not be disappointed. 

The backstory: they took Macbeth and cut it up and laid out the rawest pieces of the story for us to experience. It’s set in an old hotel – in the Speakeasy period, but it’s not like any hotel you’ve ever been to. Hotels are designed for guest ease and smooth navigation. They took an old hotel and reinvented it into a dreamscape. There are no stage left or right entrances or exits in a dream; so-too it is with Sleep No More.

The work is designed to be, in part, cyclical – by knotting one part of the narrative to the next in a way that is deeply poetic, and all the more so as it was told without dialogue. For example, Lady Macbeth’s dance of persuasion morphed into her “take my milk for gall” scene, to Macbeth’s return after the murders – the first time around – and then this was repeated, added to and completed a second time around by merging directly to her mad “out damn spot” scene. 

To follow any of the action, you had to make an immediate decision about which character to follow – if any, and if you could keep up. You could easily take a misdirection and lose a character, and end up in Burnham Wood encroaching on Dunsenane, or stumble upon someone burying a foetus in a graveyard, or simply get lost. 

It seems no irony to me, that I pursued narrative – given my role as an artistic director and writer, and my set/lighting designer husband Jason Lehane was absorbed primarily in the installations/set – that we had totally different experiences. We came out, compared notes and all the conversations we tracked around the show were “did you see this?” or “did you encounter that?”. Sleep No More is a masterpiece.

Regarding theatre in general in Melbourne, the most dynamic work is – as always – coming out of individuals and from smaller groups, productions and companies. 

I met a guy who knows a thing or two about theatre in New York, and my ears are resonating with his philosophy on funding. It’s no real news to hear it, but he says “Ongoing funding makes artists risk adverse” – heard it here before. But this is resonating especially now in light of the Australia Council six-year organisational funding that is in the offing for 2015. If it’s true – and I think it is – that everything is based on economics, then this six-year strategy is born of deeply conservative economic drivers. Bring on the ecology, and let us “little guys” flourish and make more work, everywhere. The big trees are going to grow bigger and cast greater shadows across the forest floor: the floor dwellers have to become even more inventive, more subversive and louder artistically and politically – if we are to not only survive but thrive.

SM: Penelope's Barking Spider Theatre created an amazing experience in the State Library that started with the Press Dress worn by Matilda Butters to a fancy dress ball in 1866. It explored how Melbourne society saw women and Chinese immigrants in the 1860s and tied it all to now with moving (and moving) explorations of fashion, ethnicity and bodies. It was all so beautiful, but my favourite moment was standing in the State Library Dome room – which was full of people studying and Facebooking – knowing that in any moment their peace would be broken by loud drums.

Declan Greene
playwright, director Sisters Grimm

Declan: For me: 2014 was all about the grrlz.

It started with post’s Oedipus Schmoedipus at Belvoir: a playful satire of the recent adaptation trend – and the dead, straight, white men that continue to colonise our cultural imagination. Coming off Belvoir’s 2013 season, it was conceptually brilliant site-specific theatre. Watching some 20 unrehearsed volunteers dressed in mismatched bed sheets as ‘ghosts’ – while attempting to replicate terrible dance moves off a video monitor – was one of the most joyful experiences I’ve ever had in a theatre. And summoning this mass elation from the idea of death was fkn genius.

(Speaking of death: I wish it upon the scowling piece of shit who sat next to me in that audience and radiated hatred at the stage. You are 80% of everything that is wrong with theatre in this country.)

I was obsessed with I’m Trying to Kiss You’s Madonna Arms at Next Wave. The production was fantastic – but as a piece of writing. I thought it was the most inventive, brilliant text I’ve seen onstage this year: a wild, bruising journey through female representation in popular culture. And very, very, very, very funny.

The journey in Nicola Gunn’s Green Screen was also remarkable. I admired its emotional bravery; the way it used irony, sarcasm and anger to pry open a very recent grief, onstage, every night. It can’t have been easy to do.

Also The Rabble’s Frankenstein. Also Adena Jacobs’ adaptation of Hedda Gabler. Also Fleur Kilpatrick’s The City That Burned. Also Diamanda Galás’ work-in-progress Das Fieberspital at DARK MOFO. Also Emma McManus’ Carly & Troy Do A Doll’s House at Adelaide Fringe. Also... fuck, I dunno. There was a lot.

There were boys who did some very kool stuff too: Matt Lutton’s epic, unsettling take on Patrick White’s Night on Bald Mountain (Julie Forsythe and Melita Jurisic’s ‘drinking’ scene was probably the finest acting I’ve ever seen onstage), Meng Jinghui’s batshit crayyy take on The Good Person of Szechuan, Angus Cerini’s Resplendence, Jackson Davis’s Jackson! Le Diner est Pret! for Woodcourt Art Theatre...

But yeah. To quote Jim O’Rourke ===>

SM: Calpurnia Descending. Yeah, yeah our Dec’s a fucking amazing playwright, but the first thing that I really noticed about him was his direction (many years ago in a car park). He knows how to take a piece to the knife edge of offence or shock, dangle it over the edge and pull it back at the exact second and turn it into something that’s close to profound, or just filthy.

Sarah Collins
playwright, photographer

Sarah: I feel really bad because I'm going to give an answer so simplistic it will SHOCK. It will be like when Kerith Manderson-Galvin talked about loving Miley, but dull. 

I'm pissed off I am not naming a show that is more original, less well-funded and not even moderately steeped in metropolitan Melbourne theatre controversy. 

You guys know I aim to be controversial with every fibre of my being, always. I never intended for this to be my answer. Never forget that I am a girl who got scalped tickets off ebay to be second row at The Seekers concert. Never forget about the feathers I ruffled when I stood up during Georgy Girl and blocked the view of the 80-year-olds behind me. The term controversial doesn't even cut it. 

My point is, I have barely seen a thing and I feel bad because the one show I did see that I LOVED was such a good piece of HAPPY FLUFFY THEATRE and I know I should have something here involving Paul Capsis, but I just don't, and I blame it on things happening that I can't control. (Like today, one of my cat's pupils is bigger than the other. No other theatre lovers wake up to this kind of insanity daily. It means you guys all get to go out and see the great stuff and I have to stay home googling "uneven pupil dilation + potential feline brain injury + home remedies"). 

So with that out of the way, you cannot judge me when I say:

My highlight was Beautiful the Carole King musical on Broadway.

It was amazing. It was happy. It was hilarious. It was jaw-dropping. It was so so smart and everything most contemporary musicals aren't. Just watch this and tell me you don't feel some tingles. 

Judith D 4eva.

SM: I’ve checked my cat’s pupils. All is good. She was napping in prep for her late-morning sleep, but I couldn’t let her snooze knowing that her pupils may be unevenly dilated.

Sarah wrote the very gorgeous Bucket’s List and introduced "bucketlingus" to our vernacular, but my favourite moment was seeing Facebook explode when she "accidentally" announced her pregnancy on national television (The Project) while being interviewed about Hanson (yes, Hanson) .

11 December 2014

What Melbourne loved in 2014, part 5

Today, we're hearing from other reviewers: Jane Howard, Myf Clark and Kevin Turner, and Jane gives us the three words that all reviewers should have o a sticky note stuck on their computer "passionate, detailed, intelligent".

Jane Howard

Self portrait with dog by Jane Howard

Jane: Since this blog is filled with moments in the theatre, I’ve picked one that came after the theatre. Jordan Beth Vincent’s review of HEX for DanceTabs is the sort of criticism I aspire to write: passionate, detailed, intelligent.

It’s impossible to succinctly summarise her review. She looks at the difficulty galleries and art critics had confronting work about HIV/AIDS in the late 80s and early 90s; she makes us consider how different contemporary dance would be today if so many dancers and choreographers hadn’t died from the disease; she looks over the history Welsby and his collaborators used to create the work; she shows incredible knowledge of the independent dance scene in Melbourne; and, of course, she takes us through the piece itself with a precise dance vocabulary.

I’m very lucky to be constantly learning from and inspired by other critics in Australia and internationally, but it’s the Melbourne critics I keep coming back too. Through their work, I am given an understanding of a cultural scene I am all to often watching from afar, but most importantly I learn more about my craft – while having wonderful friends in them, too.

This piece, in particular, inspired me to work harder. Jordan had a much larger word-count than I did for the production, but even then I couldn’t have begun to write a review as detailed and knowledgeable as hers. One day, I will. In the meantime, I’m very glad there are critics like her I can look up to.

SM: We have a pretty fine group of arts writers and critics in Melbourne and I'm not the only one who considers Jane one of ours. She's passionate and articulate and she cares, and she reads reviews from all over the place. She showed me this review site, which makes me smile so much that the only reason I didn't steal the idea is that it's one of the first review sites I show students and emerging writers when we talk about finding your voice. As for a favourite moment: It was in Adelaide where we had brunch at Lucias and I almost forgot that I haven't known Jane for years.

Myf Clark

Myf: My favourite show of the year was definitely Bucket’s List in Melbourne Fringe. Written by Sarah Collins and directed by Yvonne Virsik, this beautiful and touching production had me run through the gamut of emotions and I was definitely struggling to hold back tears by the end of the show. I honestly can’t wait to see what Sarah creates next.

The MTC Neon season once again was a highlight of the year. Seeing so many people I know be involved made my day, especially Kerith Manderson-Galvin. I will see everything Kerith is in because she is amazing. A particular image stuck in my mind was the breathtaking sight of Nicola Gunn slowly coming down from the tower of mattresses in the terrific Green Screen, while it was fantastic to see Angus Cerini on the stage again, after so many years, in Resplendence.

Workwise, I loved watching the first year students from my work perform in their end of year showcase With You, Alone at Theatre Works. The last scene was just a sublime and magical moment filled with blue lights, slow dancing and a beautiful rendition of Nat King Cole’s “Smile”. Simple and stunning

Other highlights of the year included experiencing Adelaide Fringe for the first time, seeing Juliette Burton’s wonderful When I Grow Up twice at MICF (because once just wasn’t enough!), having a gleeful squeal at the Buffy references in Keith Gow’s terrific Who Are You Supposed to Be?, feeling incredibly proud of Sarah Hamilton and Justine Campbell’s They Saw a Thylacine (my 2013 theatre highlight!) being programmed into the 2015 Malthouse program.

And finally getting to put many faces to names of people I’ve previously only know from online, include Anne-Marie herself! To sum up, 2014 gave me some of the most beautiful and touching pieces of theatre that I’ve ever seen (and many hilarious nights out). Bring on 2015!

SM: Myf and I had followed each other on Twitter and finally met during the Fringe, I think it was after a conversation about the ever wonderfulness of Buffy and our love of Bucket's List. 

Kevin Turner
reviewer, theatre maker

Kevin: I really had no idea what to say when I asked myself what my favourite moments of 2014 theatre were. But when I thought about it, moments started to clarify. They centred around getting caught up in the action. Audiences sweeping the performance up and carting it to heights it could never have otherwise achieved.

The first occurred during True Romans All, a pervasive street game inspired by Julius Caesar. Pop-Up Playground, Melbourne's resident makers of awesome situations, worked in conjunction with Bell Shakespeare to bring the Romans of Shakespeare's play to the streets of Melbourne.

I was lucky enough to be one of the facilitators assisting the company in making sure that the players had the best possible experience. Three quarters of the way through every run through, there came the point where the members of the audience I supervised were brought to meet the man himself: Julius Caesar. No matter the group, high school students or adults, the moment became charged with power, and from that moment on even the least interested audience member got caught up in the action.

From that moment onwards there was no controlling the audience. They made their way to Treasury Gardens with a sense of desperation. They made up chants like "Spqr we know who our leaders are hail Ceasar" and "Hey Caesar your so fine, your so fine you blow my mind. Hail Ceasar". In that moment every actor got caught up in the flow, even as the objective facilitator I was positive we were going to win and Caesar would survive. It was magical and it was powerful and it was terrifying. It was exactly the awesome situation Pop-Up promise to deliver.

The second moment of audiences sweeping a performance away came earlier in the year during the Fresh Air Festival. Pop-Up Playground and Serious Business together created one of the flagship games of the festival: Spirits Walk. Players travelled around Melbourne communing with "Spirits" and acquiring tokens that were used to create a mask that let them infiltrate and take part in the spirits walk. A parade through Federation Square, where we hollered and hooted, danced and jigged. It was one of the most magical moments I have ever been a part of. Helped also by it being the first Pop-Up Playground game I got to play not having had anything to do with its creation.

On the main stage my love was split between two shows. The Good Person of Szechwan at the Malthouse was batshit, bugfuck insane and gave no apologies for the madness we witnessed on stage. It was refreshing and joyous. I sat there with a giggle on my lips and a grin on my face.

Finally I got to see Once, one of my favourite stories/movies to come out of my home country. My response to this was simple, I was so happy I cried. I think that say's it all.

SM: As Kevin's review editor, I've had the joy of seeing his writing and his critical eye develop over the last year as he's found his voice. And he puts up with me telling him to use less words, kill adjectives and trust his subtext. As for a moment: him showing me what he did to Rob and Sayraphim's (from Pop up Playground) car after their wedding/performance/live-art/celebration.

09 December 2014

What Melbourne loved in 2014, part 4

Today Fleur Kilpatrick, Soren Jensen and Kerith Manderon-Galvin talk about moments of human connection. If that connection isn't there, what's the point of making and going to see theatre?

Fleur Kilpatrick
playwright, blogger, mentor

Photo by Matto Lucas

Fleur: Melbourne theatre is in a really great place right now. On a regular basis I find myself dumbstruck, standing in awe in a theatre foyer, words inadequate to describe what I’ve seen. I saw over 80 shows this year. Here are some of my personal highpoints:

Red Stitch’s Grounded. I wrote of it at the time that it was “outstanding storytelling that immerses us so deeply in one person’s world view that it changes our own”. But I also wrote of the very personal impact this show had on me: “Sitting there and hearing of the brown people made grey by the drone’s cameras, made body-parts by their blasts, and I was acutely aware – although no one would know it to look at me – that these people looked just like my beloved grandmother… I knew this and it tore me to pieces. In showing how America de-humanises both its own and my grandmother’s people, Grounded found humanity for both”.

There was exceptional new writing to be found in Melbourne and Fringe was full of it: Marcel Dorney’s Prehistoric made me want to riot. It was the best possible mix of rage, heart, comedy and music and my heart felt like it was exploding in my chest.

Also during Fringe I saw Emilie Collyer’s Once Were Pirates and Mark Wilson and Olivia Monticciolo’s Richard II (on the same day so that was a total overload of amazingness).

Emilie’s work somehow found a way to present the dilemmas of being “the modern male” through a story about pirates marooned in Northcote: after centuries and centuries in which physical dominance and brutality have been a man’s most desirable attribute, how does one suppress that violence and find their own self-worth in their suit and tie?

Richard II was perhaps the most politically challenging and defiant work I saw all year. I wrote at the time about how proud I was of Mark and Olivia, who “grabbed Shakespeare’s text with their teeth and dragged it into our ugly present. This is independent theatre at its best: vicious, dangerous, entertaining, hilarious and completely of this moment in time”.

But the work that I’ll carry with me into the future, cradled most tenderly to my chest was Roslyn Oades’s Hello, Goodbye, Happy Birthday. I didn’t write about it at the time and still sort of don’t want to. My experience felt too private. Aside from just being utterly swept up by the storytelling and performances, this was one of those shows that changed my perception of what theatre can be: how delicately it can make its point and how tenderly it can give voice to a community.

Thanks Melbourne. I love you.

SM: Fleur wrote The City They Burned. She wasn't there the night I saw it; I wish she had been so that she could've seen that my reaction was deep in my guts and very real. This is also the show I've argued about – professionally and personally – the most about this year. I saw it push known and refuse-to-acknowlegde buttons as it got reactions from "best thing I've seen" to "some things should never be written". I think that's what we want from theatre. I'd rather someone hate a show than think "meh"; at least they felt something real.

And we both mentored at MUST camp. Drama camp was awesome.

And School for Birds, always.

Soren Jensen

Soren: With a new little one taking up much of our time, I missed more of the good stuff than I got to see this year. But made it along to a few standouts.

Hard to go past the end of year Calpurnia Descending. Powerful cast, hilarious, subversive and the technical elements of the live movie staging of Act 2 blew my mind the more I thought about it. Irreverent, fun and with a deeply-touching final image.

Also the powerful work from MKA with Richard II was very memorable. Intelligent political satire with two compelling performances, and a strip tease from Mark Wilson as Julia Gillard that made me angry, until I realised how not far off the point it was of our treatment of our first female PM. It was topical, with the right balance of classical text and modern satire.

But my favourite moments this year came from when the fourth wall was dropped in some of the things I experienced in theatre this year:

Mark in Richard II dropping all performance and addressing the audience with “They remember Whitlam”

Pop Up Playground's True Romans All, which threw you into the story of Julius Caesar, making you choose a side and meet the characters, and your choices determined the final outcome of the attempted assassination.

Mockingbird’s Quills, which led the audience straight into the asylum of the “lunatics”, which I had the pleasure to observe as assistant director

And finally, the experience of The City They Burned, which fully immersed the audience in the world of Sodom, making them present, validated and, in the end, complicate in the action that was unfolding.

I found with all of these, when the question is asked what can theatre offer in a modern interactive and expanding world of technology, that I could remember these moments of direct human connection between audience and performer, to the point where the audience could influence and help shape what was being experienced in that particular performance and say “This”.

SM: As a performer in The City They Burned, Soren did get to see my reaction, and was responsible for some of it. Soren is an actor who consistently creates characters from the inside out. I don't see his acting. As the cast of City interacted with the audience, there was a moment when I was hiding on a staircase in case someone asked me to dance. Soren's character was someone I wouldn't normally chat to at a party and when he came towards me, I had no where to hide, so had to give in and do what I was asked to. All we did was move to another part of the room. He also saved my theatre date by moving her to a less-confronting spot.

Kerith Manderson-Galvin
playwright, performer

It's much easier for me to think of my worst moments in theatre of 2014. That time I thought a show was a comedy and it wasn't. The time I thought the show I was in didn't exist. The times I was hurt by shows and times when I hurt myself because of my inability to sit still and just enjoy something.

The best moments are:

5) I took myself on a solo date to see Miley Cyrus. I wore Sally Hansen Airbrush Fake Tan and drank pink champagne and danced in new shoes next to teenagers. Miley was funny and fearless and clever and so was the show. She tried to get all the girls in the audience to kiss each other and I cried of happiness. Then she sang "Wrecking Ball" and I cried because that song is really moving and I had a difficult break up last year where I listened to Miley on repeat. When I left the show a young girl yelled out "Lady Gaga" and she was talking about me.

4) During the Melbourne Fringe I went on an OK Cupid date with someone I didn't really want to meet to see a show I didn't really want to see. I cancelled on the date. Then I uncancelled. On the way I got in a fight with someone on the street who then started following me. But I couldn't be happier I went. The show was Post-Mortem and I loved every moment of it. It was gentle and touching and sad and sweet and other words to describe a show with no words. I wish everyone could've seen it. I hope they do it again and more. It took me in to another world and I am so thankful for it. It was untouched and original and genuine. The date turned out to be pretty lovely too although he's a bit of a jerk really. I think he doesn't really like me as a person.

3) Crazy Horse Paris. I went to Crazy Horse in Paris. It was life affirming and probably my favourite thing I have ever seen ever.  There’s also Crazy Horse on Elizabeth Street. I went to the cinema there the other night. I really like it there.

2) Everything about Tobi Manderson-Galvin. Thank You, Thank You Love was exceptional and his best work to date as an actor/writer/director. My favourite Tobi moment is being in Bundanon and looking at wombats and writing songs together. We wrote a really good song about the internet being broken and then replaced the word internet with the name Antoinette: "Antoinette, why are you broken again?" My second favourite Tobi moment of 2014 is when we both went to Live Art Camp and I was terrified the entire time and kept crying but he looked after me. We played a getting to know you game on one of the days. We had to say what we couldn't live with out and I said, "my brother".

1) The Facebook message sent to me by someone in Melbourne Theatre Land telling me I *used* to be a pleasant and likeable girl. I cried for a long time but it's now my favourite thing that has happened all year. If you come and see Being Dead (Don Quixote) chances are that message will have made it in to the show. A woman never has to be pleasant.

**Honourable mention to the other night when I went to a show and asked my date if my hair was as long as the actor's on stage. My date said my hair is longer. That makes me really happy.

SM: Fuck pleasant and likeable. Actually, who wants to fuck pleasant and likeable? I love that Kerith always pulls me up if she thinks I'm being an old fuddy duddy. She made me look at Miley differently. And I love that she sat next to me when I saw her play Don't Bring LuLu at Melbourne Uni Union House Theatre. So often arts writers sit alone or, at least, not next to the artists who created the work we're watching. I love watching people watch their own work.

But my moment was her sending me the picture of her being a wombat because I would have chosen that very photo from all of her Facebook pics.

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