30 March 2014


MICF 2014
Isabel and Rachel
27 March 2014
Tuxedo Cat
to 8 April

Isabel and Rachel's EDGE! won Best Comedy at the 2013 Melbourne Fringe and they won Audience Favourite at Melbourne's 2013 Short and Sweet Theatre. EDGE! has since been to the Perth and Adelaide Fringes and is back home at the Tuxedo Cat so that everyone who couldn't get a ticket at the Fringe can see what the fuss was about.

Just book now, in case it sells out again.

Stella is 11. She had a viral hit on YouTube when she was 8 and her mum is trying to make her a star – even if she's in LA and talking to her daughter on the phone. It's one thing to sing about clouds and marshmallows, but it's time Stella grows up and becomes like other famous internet stars.

It was strange to see it the day after seeing a real life Stella in Bryony Kimmings's Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model performed with her real-life 11-year-old niece and addressing the reality of everything about Stella.

Isabel and Rachel are a fresh, original and adorable new voice who are sprinkling glitter and light on the frustrations and ironies of girls and young women aspiring to be famous for being famous.

I also wrote about this show on AussieTheatre.com.

28 March 2014

MICF: Justin Hamilton

MICF 2014
Johnny Loves Mary Forever 1994
Justin Hamilton
24 March 2014
The Toff (but the show's at the Victoria Hotel)
to 19 April

In 2012, Hamo waved goodbye to stand up.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

He did 155 gigs in 2013 – some in Afghanistan, instead of doing the 2013 festivals – and gig 40 for 2014 was the Melbourne's first chance to see his new show, Johnny Loves Mary Forever 1994, that he premiered at the 2014 Adelaide Fringe.

I'd still love him to lock himself away from stages and write, but this show wouldn't exist if he'd done that and, to be fair, he writes about EVERY gig he does on his blog (justinhamilton.com.au). Blog writing so counts – and he was very happy with gig 40, "... it felt just right."

And it was. I joked on Twitter that it was my favourite show of the festival. I wasn't joking; it's going to take a lot to beat this.

Johnny Loves Mary Forever 1994 starts with a smooth-concrete sidewalk in quiet suburban Adelaide and moves to a war zone in Afghanistan where the military cars can survive anything except a suicide bomber.

As always with his work, it's personal and exposing but told with enough distance to let his audience put themselves in his shoes and imagine what they would have or have done at similar times. I haven't been in a war zone, but I recognised the conflicting and confronting emotions of seeing a woman who has nothing trying to sell a necklace, and I remember my little brother walking through wet concrete walking home after I'd been picked up from kindy. The council replaced that block.

It's not traditional stand up or theatrical monologue. He's found something in between that's flexible and works so well for him that it's hard to imagine him doing anything else. (I felt something similar to, the first time I saw Daniel Kitson perform.)

It's so beautifully written that I want to read it, but it wouldn't compare to the experience of Justin telling his story.  He's gut-aching, mind-whirling, unforgettable funny and never to be missed.

I also talk about this show on AussieTheatre.com.

Review: Neighbourhood Watch

Neighbourhood Watch
MTC presents the Belvoir production
20 March 2014
The Sumner
to 26 April

Any one who saw Lally Katz's super-gorgeous Stories I Want to Tell You in Person heard about her writing of Neighbourhood Watch, and will be thrilled that the MTC have brought us that Belvoir production. Like most of Lally's work, it's personal, dreamy and so dark that that you're never sure if you're wiping away tears of heartaching recognition or life-affirming love.

Neighbourhood Watch is about neighbours, friends and death and all the things we do to avoid or confront both.

It's set in the year of Kevin 07: a far-too-quickly-lost time of hope. Howard lost his seat and his government, a woman was Deputy PM, a rock star was Minister for the Environment, Kyoto was signed, our Indigenous people were finally apologised to, and we all got $1000 to buy some treats to keep the economy going. Today, such hope feels like fiction.

It was also the year that Lally moved to Far Kew and met Anna, her 80+ Hungarian neighbour who became her best friend, and the year that Robyn Nevin asked Lally to write her a "tough and funny" character. When the Nevin asks, you write – and result is the story of grieving Catherine (Megan Holloway) meeting her neighbour Ana (Nevin), whose lifetime of grief is as guarded as her big-dog protected front gate.

The combination of Robyn and Ana is as good as it gets. Katz captures the unique second-language rhythm and Nevin perfects it in a performance that lets you love Ana in an instant. Ana's Englishisms and missing social niceties are hilarious, but Nevin assures that we are always on her side, even when she is making painful choices, and that Ana is never made fun of. It's such a remarkable performance that it might be impossible to see the play and not consider real-life Anna a friend.

Simon Stone's confident direction is an enhancing and comfortable fit with the writing; he's able to bring Katz's work to a commercial stage without losing her delightfully awkward tone or any of the love that she pours into her characters, while letting them find their place in the world beyond the text.

With Dale Ferguson's almost bare stage design, made intimate with Damien Cooper's lighting, there's enough space to feel the reach of the drama, but Kew is missing. It's easy for a Melbourne audience to understand the subtleties of the suburb – so much of Katz's work starts with and evokes a sense of place that leaves residents homesick –  but its greyness doesn't share the green of the trees, the manicured lawns, Leo's, the High Street tram or getting stuck on Princess Street trying to cut across to the Eastern Freeway. Having said that, I could see it all, so perhaps the wheelie bins were more than enough.

Lally Katz's writing grabbed me from the first time I saw a short play about the Apocalypse Bear in Kew. There have been ups and downs, but at her best her writing is felt in our hearts before our brains have time to think it all through. Neighbourhood Watch is Katz at her absolute best.

But the real world isn't at its best.  Lally wrote a piece for The Age on 1 March: Anna has cut her off and isn't speaking to her. In Stories, Lally talked about real-life Anna seeing the play in Sydney and the thought of it being in Melbourne without her being there is unthinkable – and, more importantly, it's too sad to think that she might not know how much this play has made us love her.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

23 March 2014

Review: The Judas Kiss

The Judas Kiss
Mockingbird Theatre
15 March 2014
Theatre Works
to 22 March

Mockingbird Theatre continue to give us memorable text-on-stage productions of the plays that we wish we'd seen the original productions of, and give performers the chance to play roles that they've dreamed of. At Theatre Works this week, they're giving us The Judas Kiss: David Hare's imagining of the behind-doors conversations in a hotel before Wilde's arrest for gross indecency and in Naples after his release from gaol and not long before his impoverised death.

The first production, 1998, Sir David (The Blue Room, Via Dolorosa, The Hours) described as "deeply unsatisfactory" in a 2013 interview in The Guardian. He said it went "off kilter " as he "wanted to smash every cliche about Wilde" and by casting "Ireland's most famous heterosexual as Wilde, we were possibly trying to sail away from stereotypes a little too far". Liam Neeson was Wilde and Tom Hollander was his lover and downfall Bosie, Sir Alfred Douglas.  No matter how off kilter, I wish I'd seen it.

In 1999, Belvoir toured Neil Armfield's production in Australia (with Billie Brown as Wilde) and Armfield went to London in 2012 to direct a much more successful UK version (with Rupert Everett as Wilde).

Mockingbird's founder, Chris Baldock, is our Wilde. At first, I wanted him to stop being an idealised impression of witty Wilde – to be more off kilter – but as Wilde let his public persona drop behind the closed hotel doors, Baldock's performance developed into something far more complex and fascinating. It's clearly a role he's always wanted to play and his years of preparation are felt on the stage.

The rest of the cast (Nigel Langley, Oliver Coleman, Zak Zavod, Laurent Murtagh, Soren Jensen and Nores Cerfeda) all bring a personal understanding and empathy to their characters, which makes for heartfelt – if, at times, uneven – performances. And all occasionally stumble over the naturalism problem of how to stand and listen or disappear into the background.

Also not helping is a set that looks like a suburban amateur company's period-drama set used since the 1950s and finally left out for hard rubbish. Resources, demands of the text and the spacious Theatre Works stage are all understood, but it's a distraction and undermines the quality of the rest of the production.

Still, director Jason Cavanagh, with assistant director Celeste Cody, bring a world that's true to the (long) text while creating a curiosity about Wilde and a wish that he'd made different choices. I'd like to have seen more of the love between Wilde and Bosie as, in this play, it's this love (destructive, obsessive or unseen by anyone but the two of them) that governs all of Wilde's decisions and it would help to support his choices rather than wanting him to slap Bosie and run off with Robbie. And given the play opens with a nude and lusty boy-girl sex scene, there's an expectation that sex is going to play a much bigger part in the story.

The Judas Kiss has its off kilter moments, but they don't knock it too far off balance and, as the chances of seeing this play in the near future are slim, it's well worth seeing.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

21 March 2014

Review: The Long Pigs

The Long Pigs
14 March 2014
fortyfive downstairs
to 23 March

Coulrophobia: fear of clowns. If you've never been scared of clowns and their silly red noses, you will be by the end of The Long Pigs.

Rejected and broken by their own kind, the three long pigs (from the Melanesian Pidgin for "human flesh") are so bitterly dark and absurdly hilarious that you'll never be able to look at a fake red nose again without breaking out in a sweat or gagging.

Clare Bartholomew (Circus Oz, Die Roten Punkte and lots more), Derek Ives (Rock 'n' Roll Circus, The Candy Butchers and lots more) and Nicci Wilks (La Fura Del Baus, CIRCA and lots more) are the three pigs: This, That and The Other Pig. They're filthy and play in a rank mire of intimidation, mistrust and can't-wash-it-off evil.

With ever-wonderful director Susie Dee, these traditionally-trained clowns put their hands down the throats of glittery-rainbow red-nosed clowns, turn them inside out and cut their guts out from the outside – with a blunt rusty knife.

And with the design team of Anna Tregloan (set and costumes), Andy Turner (lights) and Jethro Wooward (composition and sound) turning fortyfive downstairs into the cesspit factory where the clowns-gone-bad prepare and perform, the only thing more frightening than the clowns is the temptation to join them and roll around with them in the blood.

Be tempted. The macabre doesn't get more gloriously funny.

This was on AussieTheatre.

Photo by Ponch Hawkes

Review: Empire

13 March 2014
Rooftop, Crown Casino
closing TBC

ANOTHER circus show in a Speigeltent... Surely we've seen it all? Hell, no! Empire captures everything that makes the intimacy of these mirrored tents so special and combines it with acts so originally dazzling, jaw-dropping dangerous and blush-inducing hilarious that it re-ignights the most jaded love for circus and burlesque.

Empire originated in New York and remains a love song to the city. It's been touring Australia for over a year and is back in Melbourne for a second run. It's slick and rehearsed to a milli-second, but still feels as fresh and exciting as an opening week.

How it really stands out from similar shows is that each act is choreographed and created for its three-metre diameter circular stage. The stage is teeny, but that's merely a challenge for the likes of roller skaters Denis Petaov and Mariia Beseimbetova, who are so swear-out-loud fast and dangerous that the front rows prepare to flee the impending crash – that never happens.

From host's Oscar and Fanny (Jonathan Taylor and Anne Goldmann) V I Penis to Memet Bilgin's room-silencing driftwood balance, the mix of music, spectacle, sex and how-is-that-even-possible athleticism never allows for a moment of distraction. Throw in a drink and rooftop views over the city and Empire is as shiny and brilliant as a night out can be.

My only disappointment is the forced extended exit through the casino (complete with 'free' $10 to bet with). The only way to avoid it is to be under 18. Choice is a fine thing and there's no secret that the Crown is a casino, but to go from genuine joy and sparkle to false hope and glaring fluorescence isn't a choice I'd make.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

15 March 2014

Review: The Government Inspector

The Government Inspector
Malthouse Theatre and Belvoir
5 March 2014
Merlyn Theatre
to 23 March

Robert Menzies nervously faces the audience dressed as a priest. He explains how the night's performance of The Government Inspector was meant to be The Philadelphia Story but it's not and it's also not The Government Inspector. Confusing? Nah.

When Malthouse and Belvoir announced their 2014 seasons, Simon Stone was going to direct The Philadelphia Story. Woo hoo! Wonderful play re-created by the guy who made Chekov and Ibsen rock and who can do no wrong (and was even forgiven the hiccough with the rights over Death of a Salesman).

Then just as everything was ready to roll, the Philly rights were refused. What! It's out of copyright; it's way more than 70 years since writer Philip Barry wrote it. But it turns out that Ellen Barry was the co-author and retains the copyright. But how the heck can anyone know that if she's not credited as a co-author on the scripts or any writing about the play? This debarcle is all made very clear over the night.

Google, can I see a pdf of The Philadelphia Story play script, please? Ellen Barry is not credited as the author – anywhere!  But it's clear on the imprint page that Ellen S. Barry owns the copyright until 2039 and there's the the usual licensing fees blah blah blah.

Oh copyright blah blah blah is just rich people getting richer off poor artists. Until someone uses your work and doesn't pay you.

If it was a publicity stunt, it's brave and brilliant. If it's a stuff up, the result is insane and brilliant.

So back to Rob trying to explain what happened, but it's easier to just go back three weeks and see what happened when the Philly cast (Rob, Fayssal Bazzi, Mitchell Butel, Gareth Davies, Zarah Newman, Eryn-Jean Norvill and Greg Stone) were backstage and heard the news. Zarah didn't want to take the dress off, Mitchell was on the phone to Play School, Gareth wanted a snack and Simon buggered off.

But of course he didn't, and with Emily Barclay at the ready to write and Ralph Myers ready to create a set to reveal laughs, Simon and his cast went mighty meta and created a play that plays with the absurdity and reality about faking it in the theatre – while riffing off The Government Inspector by Gogol (totally public domain), which is about a stranger being mistaken for someone important and the stranger making the most of his impostering.

The actors are all exaggerated versions of the worst bits of themselves – which shows how wonderful each one of them is – and as genres are thrown into the farce, it gets more farcical and more hilarious by the minute.

Unless you think too hard. It's best not to and to enjoy every in-joke and laugh at ourselves as theatre goers, rather than wondering if the indulgence on the stage is laughing at us.

There's nothing at all wrong with self indulgence. Who doesn't love getting expensive ice cream rather than home brand. But here Simon's bought every flavour of the best stuff, added freshly whipped cream, chocolate sauce, salted caramel praline, edible gold leaf and hand-crafted sugar sprinkles carved in his likeness.

It's so outrageously full on and delicious that it can't be resisted.

But you know that you can only get away with such a creation once.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

Photo by Pia Johnson

14 March 2014

Mini review: Orphanage of the Animals

Orphanage of the Animals
La Mama
9 March 2014
La Mama Theatre
to 16 March

I found Orphanage of the Animals an alienating experience and I know that my reaction is far from what the creators intended.

It started because I don't read programs before seeing a show. If a show needs to explain itself to its audience, it's not working on the stage. Orphanage is an exploration of style that's more emotional dreamscape than narrative, and it made more sense after I read the program.

It's about child abuse in different forms and uses older adult actors to play the ghosts of the abused children who jump from scene to scene, from memory to memory, and retreat into animal personas when the memories are too intense and painful.

The writer/director, Karen Corbett (co-directed by Catherine Samsury), says that she combined "Australian Expressionism and political Magic Realist theatre of Latin America" and is inspired by the Holocaust research of Bracha Ettinger. I don't know about Ettinger's work (Google tells me she's a visual artists concerned with gender and psychoanalysis) and can see the influence of Magic Realism and Expression (Australian or not) but, as a whole, it remains a work 'influenced by' rather than something of its own.

There are moments of fascinating beauty – especially those with the onstage chorus of three, music composed by Nela Trifkovic, who control the mood and tension – and all the performances (Corbett, Jasper Bagg, Susan Bracewell, Russell Walsh and Francesca Waters) are heartfelt and honest, but it felt so concerned with creating a style that it didn't fully consider what the work feels like from the outside looking in.

I love shows where the audience have to work to find their own meaning and resonance, but we need clues. Audiences first look for story, for connections and relationships, and how all the pieces on the stage fit together to make a whole. Orphanage of the Animals makes complete sense to its creators, but the rules of the world aren't shared with the audience, which leaves it a frustrating experience if you don't know what's going on before the going into the theatre.

If you're seeing it this weekend, read the program and don't try to find a bigger story for the five people on the stage; knowing this might make it a very different experience from mine.

09 March 2014

Mini review: The Family Tree

The Family Tree
La Mama
8 March 2014
La Mama Theatre
to 16 March

I saw The Family Tree by accident. By incompetence really. I turned up at 8.30 for a 6.30 show. And one of the many wonderful things about La Mama is that there's usually something to see if you just turn up.

Alicia Easteal is a performer, director, creator and genuine delight. Her solo show is her story about growing up as a member of The Family (not THAT one, the other hippy one), and she has her audience from the moment she takes off her jacket to reveal a t-shirt with Cult Member written on it.

From there, she simply tells her story, shows some photos and shares the likes of school reports. And who doesn't want to hear about the life of baby born in a 70s hippy commune (in Camberwell) where men were called gods, women were called goddesses and marijuana was the pain relief of choice for birth.

She's honest with the downsides of a community afflicted with addiction problems, but refuses to shy away from the positives and joy of being brought up with a non-blood family who still welcome her all over the world and were there for her when she needed them.

It's also a reminder that the hippy movement was something so much more than the fashions it created.

Theatrically, the outside eye of a director could help to shape the drama, but that's for the future. Right now, The Family Tree is fascinating and Alicia's telling is open and engaging and continues to prove that the best stories are true.

Alicia's pitching trailer for My Family's Cult Reunion. From her website, aliciaeasteal.com.

Mini review: Broken

4 March 2014
Long Play
to 5 March 2014

Often the only way to get your work produced is to do it yourself. Writer and director Tommy Doyle has done so with his play Broken, which ran for three nights and five performances in North Fitzroy.

One of the best ways to become a better theatre maker is to get your work onto stages and listen to the feedback of people other than friends and family. The role of friends and family is to always be encouraging, and that's a great role to have.

Broken is created by and about 24-year-olds and it really reminded me of being 24, an age where you tend to really get into sex and into get really angry about the world.

As a new work, it shines in its genuine enthusiasm and passion for theatre, and in its ability to create a mood and a set with little more than six IKEA lamps and a clever use of the cast on a tiny stage.

As a new work, it suffers from trying to be far too much and not knowing what to leave off the stage. Its mix of styles is inconsistent and confusing; the story can't decide if it's a murder mystery, a story about couples, a tale of internet dating or a commentary on society; and characters get lost when they discuss issues rather than talk to each other.

Much of what is told on the stage is backstory or already clear in the subtext. If you can say it with fewer words or in less time, do so. Trust that audiences can and will know what's going on because they are always as smart, if not smarter, than the creators.

There's a terrific and original noir-style murder mystery, with some original and delightfully nasty characters, hidden in the script. It might just need the tough love of a dramaturg or editor to set it free and help it towards its next incarnation.

07 March 2014

Review: Cherry, Cherry

Cherry, Cherry: A Dining Room Tale
A is for Atlas
28 February 2014
Neda's house in Northcote
to 16 March 2014

Neda Rahmani tells stories about her family. Her stories aren't extraordinary. Good stories rarely are. But they are honest and open and share the good times and the bad.

What is extraordinary is that she tells her stories in her home around a dinner table that's filled with strangers and friends who have come along for a night of theatre. Cherry, Cherry was first experienced in 2011 and if, like me, you missed it and heard that it was unmissable, book today and hope there's a a spare seat or two.

Neda was born in Iran and grew up in Melbourne. Her father is Persian and her mother is Maritian. She asks her guests if her voice sounds Australian. It does. She's a performer and percussionist and lives in the Northcote house her parents bought. It's a great home with a kitchen made for having guests and a garden that grows a lot of the food she shares with guests. The last time she held this dinner in Melbourne, she lived in a loft in Thornbury. She's also hosted dinners in other suburbs and in Sydney, Canberra and Perth.

The guests (there's no audience here) are welcomed by the A is for Atlas team, who conceived this experience, help cook, serve drinks and ensure that no one is left awkwardly in a corner. From pre-dinner drinks to a delicious meal of lentils, rice, vegies and salad (the only animal is prawn, which is easily refused), and after dinner coffee and biscuits, Neda talks to her guests.

She talks about having a father who wasn't able to be close to his children, she shares a recipe for lemon chilli (that left me tearing up in all the good ways), she says how she was scared to wear her usual short costume at the Speigeltent because she was meeting a cousin, she talks about some of her relative's reactions to her not being married to her partner, she shows us Iranian and Mauritian drums that look identical but in one country women can't touch them, she shows us what she does with sick bags on planes, she hands around photos and a knitted alligator puppet, and she sings, plays and dances.

Her stories are not extraordinary. They are as ordinary as yours or mine, and that's what makes the night such an extraordinary experience.

The barriers are dismantled and any concept of theatre or performance disappears as easily as the first drink. It's about sharing and talking and finding connections that we didn't know existed.

Being an opening night, I recognised faces but I sat next to a retired couple who had read about Cherry, Cherry in The Age and booked their tickets because it looked different and fun. They told me that they hate going to the theatre if they know what it's going to be like and don't see the point if you don't want to talk about it afterwards, and tell your friends to go so that you can talk about it with them. They also drove from the coast for the experience and were thrilled that they'd done so.

Who needs reviews when you have an audience like this.

Come to dinner. You will feel welcome and you will meet and talk to people you didn't know. How often do you leave a theatre foyer having made new friends?

There are dinners next weekend and, if you're in Sydney, Neda's coming to the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre in August.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.