31 January 2014

MIDSUMMA: Two Short Plays

Two Short Plays
Ladymullet Productions
23 January 2014
Brunswick Arts Space
to 25 January

Melbourne writers Belinda Bannerman and Kathryn Goldie recently formed Ladymullet Productions and for their Midsumma debut, each wrote a short play. Their three-night season of Two Short Plays sold out, but there's talk of a Fringe season, which would be terrific because both deserve to be seen by many more people than could squeeze into the Brunswick Arts Space on those very hot summer nights

The L Wing, by Bannerman, is set in a not-too-distant-future lesbian retirement home where 60-something resident Sal (Kim Givens) meets new resident Andrea (Natasha Broadstock) and recognises her as her long-lost love Andi, even if Andrea doesn't remember Sal – yet.

With heart-felt performances by the cast (also Jane Menz and Hannah Smallman), it's a rom com that pushes all the right buttons of love and hope, but has enough darkness in the comedy to keep it grounded and to ask if honesty is best if deception keeps everyone happy.

Love Triangle, 1919, by Goldie, starts as a simple love story between governess Flora (Stephania Pountney) and stablehand Edward (Hayley Lawson-Smith), but Flora's once-potential boyfriend, Joe (Tom Carmody) returns from the war and threatens to reveal the secret that Joe trusts will tear the lovers apart. It's no secret to the audience that Edward is a woman, but the story's tension and hope lie in not knowing how Flora will react if and when she finds out or how far Edward will go to keep the secret.

Goldie's writing lets all three tell their version of the story, and, by placing the audience throughout the space, Christine Husband's direction lets the jumps in time and space feel natural and intimate as the three move among and speak to the assembled crowd. This is writing that lets its performance space enhance the telling and, by doing so, lets the audience get closer to the hearts of the characters.

Ladymullet Productions say that they want to make great theatre and film, and what's going to get them there is continuing to tell the stories that they want to tell.

27 January 2014

MIDSUMMA: Lay of the Land

Lay of the Land
19 January 2014
Theatre Works
24 and 25 January 2014

Performance artist Tim Miller is from LA, he lived in New York for a while and spent some recent time at Monash Uni here in Melbourne. He's been performing and writing since the early 80s. His solo performances, published books and workshops explore identity as a gay man and since 1999 his political and creative focus has been on highlighting the inequality and injustices faced by same sex couples in the US.

Lowlights of Tim's story include having his National Endowment for the Arts Solo Performer Fellowship overturned, under political pressure because of the gay themes in his work, and he and his Australian-born partner's 19-year battle facing the US immigration bureaucracy as a same sex couple. Highlights include getting married on the day that same sex marriage became legal in New York City.

Lay of the Land is the part of his story about wanting to get married and he shares moments that defined his views on marriage, from wanting to marry his best friend when he was nine to facing pick up trucks with gun racks at a Pride march and sitting in a Qantas plane wondering if the thousands they spent on an immigration lawyer will get partner, Alistair, through immigration when they land.

It's a work about love that's shaped by anger and frustration. When the love dominates – like wondering why we all still pull in our bellies in bed – it's easy to find the shared experiences, but often the anger dominates the performance and works to alienate rather than welcome its audience.

From re-inacting his conception from the sperm's POV, his actively exaggerated writing tells wonderful nearly-true stories (go to see what happens when protesters are locked up over the weekend), but it's not always easy to be let into his world; a world that also seems to welcome, love and accept him in more ways that it rejects him.

At the end of the piece, he spoke to the audience as Tim, dropping the intense persona of Tim the performer, and it was so easy to like him and want to to know his story. I enjoyed performer Tim's writing and his story needs to be heard way beyond the supportive Midsumma crowd, but it's the not-so-performing Tim who's far more interesting.

It's also this guy who's running Queering the Body workshops this week at Theatre Works that are culminating with a group devised performance on Sunday 26 January at 5 pm. And there's a Q&A after Friday night's performance of Lay of the Land.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream
The Australian Shakespeare Company
17 January 2014
Royal Botanic Gardens
to 15 March 2014

Director Glenn Elston and the Australian Shakespeare Company have been performing in gardens all over the country since 1987. Their first production of A Midsummer Night's Dream was in 1988 and they are celebrating 25 years of Shakespeare Under the Stars with a new production in Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens.

These outdoor shows are all about being in a garden and indulging in a midsummer night's picnic with friends and strangers as bats fly overhead and a story is told. A story with cute-as-a-button fairies, an abundance of entendre and pun, and easy audience participation. It's not capital S Shakespeare; it's sharing one of Bill's favourite yarns with a few cuts and a few extras for extra fun.

With a design that uses the garden's trees, gorgeous costumes and a delightful (mostly) young cast, it's a perfect first Shakespeare for kids or friends who think that Shakespeare is dull or too hard to understand.

From a family outing you'll want to make a tradition to a first date that'll guarantee a starlight kiss, a night in the park doesn't get much better than this. Just remember to bring a picnic rug (although chairs are available to hire), an umbrella (because it is Melbourne), enough fizz to last two and a half hours and some extra money to buy an ice cream.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

24 January 2014

MIDSUMMA: The Worst of Scottee

The Worst of Scottee
19 January 2014
Theatre Works
to 25 January 2014

There's only four more chances to see The Worst of Scottee at Theatre Works this week. Please take one of those chances because it's a show that lets you happily laugh along at its self-effacing dark humour as it sneaks up to punch you in the gut.

There's a rare kind of silence in a theatre. The silence where there's no wiggling or searching for mints in pockets, no sneaky phone checks or whispers. It's a silence that has everyone in the audience so involved with the story on the stage that even breathing is too much of a distraction.

In this case, it's created by a fat guy with melting make up who's in a photo booth, singing karaoke style and telling us about some of the times that he was at his worst, like telling his friends that his ex-girlfriend-cum-best-friend had committed suicide when she was alive, well and happy.

Scottee's 28 and from the UK where he's currently an associate artist at Duckie and at the Roundhouse and does a weekly BBC radio show. He's also well known as the creator of Hamburger Queen, a talent show for fat people.

The Worst of Scottee is about growing up poor, gay and fat. It's his first solo show (he prefers directing) and has won him and director Chris Goode rave reviews and the Total Theatre Award in Edinburgh in 2013.

With an internal video showing a close up of his face, the photo booth is more a confessional but, even with video interviews from people affected by his worst moments, Scottee doesn't ask for forgiveness. His telling is theatrical and, even though his stories are about his willingness to tell unforgivable porkies, his onstage honesty is never questioned.

It's intimate and distancing and filled with a hurt that intentionally oozes out of every sentence, even though its never mentioned and written to create loving, if somewhat unsettling, laughs. And it's so easy to laugh along with him because who didn't do things they shouldn't have when they were teenagers. 

But as his worst stories get comfortable, he kicks the seat out from under us. 

This is a remarkably beautiful and painfully hilarious piece of theatre that left me numb. And for all its theatrical and emotional manipulation, I believe every word of it.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

22 January 2014

Mini review: Death Threats (and Other Forms of Flattery)

Death Threats (and Other Forms of Flattery)
Darebin Arts's Speakeasy
21 January 2014
Northcote Town Hall
to 22 January 2014

Since their first trip down under in 2007, New York's Wau Wau Sisters have been welcomed back with open legs, ticket sales and a growing legion of dedicated fans, except in Brisbane where they got death threats and the audience had to pass through a metal detector before their first drink. One knife and Bible were found.

Death Threats (and Other Forms of Flattery) showcases the content that attracted the most hate. Yes, conservative Christian right wingers will always think that Reject Shop glittery nail polish stigmata is more offensive than threatening to stab someone for laughing at hypocrisy. Right on!

It's easy to laugh at the ridiculousness of it – more so at the plus side of being upgraded to a five-star hotel, having body guards and given alias names – and making a new show about it is a sure way to laugh away any power that the god-fearer created.

And even more on the plus side is that Wau Wau fans get to see some of their favourite numbers and Wau Wau virgins can see what the fuss is all about.

And there's only one more chance to see them: TONIGHT! 

If you find nudity, sexuality, glitter, underwear and wondering what it would be like to fuck Jesus offensive, bring your notepad and poison pen, but don't be surprised if you leave converted to the side that worships gold body paint.

And get excited because Adrienne Wau Wau is bringing her Edinburgh Festival hit, Asking For It: a One-Lady Rape about Comedy, to the Melbourne Comedy Festival.

January review preveiws

MIDSUMMA: The Vaudevillians

The Vaudevillians
presented by Strut & Fret
15 January 2014
The Greyhound Hotel
to 19 January

The Greyhound Hotel is air conditioned, dark and has a huge bar with cold beer. And it's easy to park. As Melbourne is sweltering in the 40s, there's not much more you need to know except that The Vaudevillians is hotter than a plastic car steering wheel and cooler than a pool bar serving endless frozen margaritas.

The Vaudevillians are Kitty Witless (Jinkx Monsoon) and her husband Dr Dan Von Dandy (Major Scales). In the 1920s, they were a hit in speakeasies and burlesque stages, but on a tour to Antarctica they were frozen in an avalanche until global warming thawed them out. (The irony of opening in Australia during an insane heat wave isn't lost on them.) But on thawing, they discovered that their original songs had been stolen by pop artists and have come back to reclaim their music as it is meant to sound like.

From "Girls just want to have fun" (about the Suffragette movement) to "I will survive" (the opening number to A Doll's House 2: Electric Boogaloo), there isn't a hint of a dull moment as they sing, dance and fight while reminiscing about a time when coke was cheap and going poly with Kurt Weill was mandatory.

I have to confess that I haven't seen RuPaul's Drag Race (yet), so S5 winner Jinkx was an absolute surprise. She's heaven – assuming that heaven is delightfully filthy, glam and hilarious. Jinkx channels so many glorious famous women, but is completely her unique self with a vocal range as wide as her splits and comic timing you can set your watch to.

And she's joined by the oh-so-fine dandy Major Scales, who really does make a fez look cool and is the perfect balance to his coked-up Kitty.

As my computer is in a room without air con, my melting brain can't find enough raving words, but I'd go again even if the air con was broken. This is drag that's as smart as it is hilarious and Melbourne will have to put its wig back on the shelf if it isn't the hit of Midsumma.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

19 January 2014

Review: Big Bad Wolf

Big Bad Wolf
Windmill Theatre, MTC
11 January 2014
Southbank Theatre, The Lawler
to 25 January

On the way to Big Bad Wolf, five-year-old Ella and I talked about what we thought it was going to be about. She thought there'd be huffing and puffing and little pigs, I thought there'd be nannas and little red hoods, and we were both worried that it might be a little bit scary.

Turns out that we were both a bit right and wrong. Wolfy (Patrick Graham) loves peoples, doesn't eat other animals and would really like some friends. He meets a friendly flea, but there's over achiever Heidi Hood (Emma Hawkins) and her wolf alarm to contend with and his wolf mum (Kate Cheel, who's also the narrator, a TV and the puppeteer) isn't keen on her boy's love of making up poems and befriending wolf-hating peoples.

With twists on traditional tales, this new story about friendship (by Matthew Whittet and Adelaide's Windmill Theatre) is utterly enchanting and the grown ups loved it as much as the kids who let them come with them.

Or, as Ella said to me when we finished clapping, "Actually, that was a very good movie. No, story. What is it?" "A play." Big Bad Wolf is a perfect first play. It's even a teeny tiny bit scary, but only for a moment.

And to read the best reviews, there's a tree in the foyer with lots of blank leaves for little critics to write and draw on. There are drawings of Wolfy and the likes of "thanks for the show", "awesome", "Wolftastic" and "I thingk Wolfy was the best". I thingk so, too.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

16 January 2014

MIDSUMMA: Thank you for being a friend

Thank you for being a friend
Matthew Management and Neil Gooding
9 January 2014
Theatre Works
to 18 January

Thank you for being a friend is a loving tribute to the 1980s sitcom The Golden Girls performed with puppets. If you're already singing the theme song and getting your box set off the DVD shelf, you know you have to see this.

If you haven't seen the show, you probably won't get it and it'll help to see a couple of episodes if you're going on a Midsumma date. If you think it's a boring show about old ladies, know that it was written by the guy who wrote Arrested Development. And if you love Bea Arthur and Rue McClanahan, you must find the 70s sitcom Maude (made in a time when women in their 40s were allowed to have grey hair, wear baggy clothes and still have a lot of sex).

But back to the theatre. With a criss-cross cane lounge, a lanai and a cheesecake, the design instantly feels like we're in a TV studio for a live recording and it takes less than a blink to accept the puppets and their character-perfect actors as Rose, Blanche, Dorothy and Sophia.

And, even with some updates like  mobile phones and Blanche's discovery of 50 Shades of Grey and mobile phones, it feels like a new (if much longer) episode – complete with TV adds from the 1980s that tempted pockets of the audience to sing along. In this episode, one of Blanche's sons is having a child with a surrogate and everyone except Blanche accepts that he's gay, and there's a mix up on date night.

It may not question anything new but grasps everything that made The Golden Girls so popular, from Dorothy's resemblance to a drag queen to Rose's St Olaf stories, Blache's posing and Sophia's bitchy one liners and its willingness to discuss important social issues under the guise of sweet ladies chatting over cheesecake.

And, of course, you can walk up Acland Street for cheesecake and a chat after the show.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

Review: Grease

John Frost et al
5 January 2013
Her Majesty's Theatre
to 16 March

When I was 10, Grease was my word. I knew the film soundtrack album inside out before I saw the film (at the cinema), my school-friend group called ourselves the Pink Ladies and I still have a crush on John Travolta. Sitting with other 40-something woman with similar memories, the enthusiasm of nostalgia did a lot to up our enjoyment.

First seen in the UK, this production, with its shiny new Australian cast, has been to Brisbane and Sydney on its way to Melbourne.

Touring has left it as slick as Danny's quiff and as tight as Sandy's black cat suit, and the cast seem to love every moment.

With the costumes that joyfully exaggerate the 50s style, a design of posters from the 50s and lots of fluro lights, and an onstage band who are having as much fun as the cast, there's so much that should make this Grease zoom.

But something's missing. The show coasts and doesn't pick up after its audience-sing-along opening with Auntie Val and the fabulousness of the opening and "Summer Loving".

The direction feels like it jumps from concert-perfect number to number, losing the story and dumping the emotion along the way. Grease isn't a tear-jerking Sondheim, but it is a story about teenage love, the pressure to fit in and the ultimate triumph of friendship. There are reasons that this show, created in the 1970s, resonates so much with fans and to tone down its grit and conflict breaks the heart of Grease.

As in many bought-in productions, the terrific cast don't seem to be allowed to bring themselves or too much guts to their roles. Lucy Maunder is the exception as Rizzo and the supporting Pink Ladies and T-Birds each shine in their solo numbers, but no one is unforgettable and Danny (Rob Mills) and Sandy (Gretel Scarlett) don't seem to actually fancy each other.

And there's the odd need for celebrity guest stars in commercial shows. (Does it really sell more tickets?) Val Lehman as Miss Lynch is a hoot, for those who get the Prisoner jokes; Todd McKenny enjoys himself a bit too much as Teen Angel, with Boy from Oz jokes; no one knows what Anthony Callea is doing for his one-song appearance as Johnny Casino; and Bert Newton as the young, sexually-irresistible DJ Vince Fontaine is so ridiculous that its absurdity almost works. But, as with most of the show, it was always Val, Todd, Anthony and Bert, never characters.

This Grease is a celebration of the memories and nostalgia of Grease rather than a production to remember or one to define it for a new audience.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

03 January 2014

Issimo profiles

To see what a some of Melbourne's most loved theatre people are looking forward to in 2014, please check out issimomag.com.