29 May 2014

Reveiw: Ugly Mugs

Ugly Mugs
Malthouse Theatre and Griffin Theatre Company
20 May 2014
Beckett Theatre
to 7 June

Melbourne-based writer and performer Peta Brady is also an outreach worker who knows how people fall through the cracks of society and are left to fend for themselves. She's seen the violence, hatred and despair, and the hope. Ugly Mugs is a glimpse of this world that is too easy to look away from.

When a St Kilda resident was violently murdered last year, the media barely raised an eyebrow because she was a sex worker. Her family, friends and life beyond her work were dismissed as irrelevant. I didn't live very far away from her; I might have sat next to her on the tram, but I didn't recognise her.

Ugly mugs lists, updated and distributed by sex workers, describe aggressive and violent clients. Ugly Mugs is the interwoven stories of a sex worker who met one such mug and of a teenage boy who was the last person to see a young woman before she disappeared.

The first story takes place in the forensic morgue where the dead woman (Brady) talks with the doctor performing her autopsy (Steve Le Marquand). The second takes place in the park where the teenagers (Harry Borland and Sara West) met and at the boy's home with his mother (also played by Brady).

A few weeks ago, I went to Melbourne's forensic morgue. It was the 4 am show of The 24-Hour Experience that was part of FOLA (Festival of Live Art). The morgue is a short walk from the Malthouse theatre. As an art experience, we saw the Homicide Room where she would have been taken. The sight of a woman on a stainless steel medical trolley was enough to see her in that sterile room filled with hoses and knives, and as she spoke it was enough to also be walking along streets in St Kilda where street workers are as accepted as lost tourists looking for Acland Street cakes.

Yeah, it's too easy to look away.

Played out on a rough grey asphalt floor (design by Michael Hankin) that begs for bloody scrapes and scars, Ugly Mugs is emotionally raw theatre that invites us to look at our communities a little more closely, without preaching that we must. Dramatically, the second story isn't as tight as the first and having Brady as the murdered woman and the mother leads to some initial confusion, but neither takes away from the impact or heartfelt truth of the work.

As the "Australian writers don't get supported on our main stages" conversation has been active this week, Ugly Mugs is proof that wonderful Australian writing is thriving.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

23 May 2014

Review: Wicked

Matt Platt, David Stone, Universal Pictures, The Araca Group, John B Platt, John Frost
10 May 2014
The Regent
to October

Photo by Belinda Strodder
Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman's phenomenally successful Wicked opened on Broadway in 2003 and is still running. This production has won piles of awards, has been reproduced all over the world, including Australia in 2008–11, and is back in Melbourne, before touring to Sydney and Brisbane.

With 11 years of international reviews, there's nothing that hasn't been said about the story of the friendship between the Glinda and Elphaba. If you somehow don't know, Wicked is the Wizard of Oz story told from a different perspective and based on a book by Gregory Maguire.

It opens with Glinda the Good Witch descending into Oz in her bubble and confirming that green Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, has been melted by some human throwing water on her. Then someone asks Glinda if it's true that she was once friends with the wicked one. Of course they were, and the next couple of glorious hours is their story, which starts way before Dorothy and Toto arrive in Oz and continues until after the ruby slippers have been clicked.

It's full of Wizard of Oz references (book and film) and ensures that you can't see or read it again without this extra knowledge.

This production is superb. It's as fresh and exciting as if it's brand new and is impossible to fault. If I'd seen this show as a child, I think I would have self-combused with a combination of heart-break and utter joy. If you know children who like theatre, music and stories, Wicked is an experience like they haven't imagined yet.

And there were still plenty of grown ups crying and cheering and telling me how many times they'd seen it.

Then there's the Australian cast. The energy and excitement of the ensemble fill the enormous Regent (it is a huge theatre); Emily Cascarino (Nessarose), Edward Grey (Boq), Maggie Kirkpatrick (Madame Morrible) and Steve Danielsen (Fiyero) bring enough of themselves to the roles to make them unique and heartfelt; and Reg Livermore as the Wizard captures the greed and broken heart of the man behind the gold mask and makes him so human that his villainy is understood.

But Wicked can only fly if its witches take off. And they soar. Jemma Rix (Elphaba) and Lucy Durack (Glinda) are superstars. Rix's voice goes straight to your heart and Durack's has a clarity and tone that brings emotion to every note, but what makes them so unforgettable is that they make Elphaba and Glinda totally their own and ensure that every choice that they make is supported, clear and real. In a story of magic and unknown powers, it's this reality that brings us into the hearts of the characters and lets us feel for them, no matter how unreal their world is.

Commercial producers don't always get it right in Australia when they bring us the big shows, but Wicked is as glorious, funny and heart-pumping as any theatre I've seen.

Now, if they can just find a way and the will to give people and families who can't afford hundreds of dollars the chance to see this show.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

17 May 2014

Last chance: The Safe House and Dolores

I caught a couple of late-season shows this week that finish this weekend. You can still see both: The Safe House tonight and Dolores tomorrow afternoon.

Q44 Theatre Company
14 May 2014
550 Swan Street, Burnley
to 18 May

Dolores is from new company Q44, an ensemble of nine actors.

They've created a wonderful new theatre space on Swan Street in Burnley and are letting Melbourne know they are here with a work by New York writer Edward Allan Baker.

Set in Brooklyn in the 1970s, it's the story of two sisters whose lives have always been controlled by violence. It's an actor's dream to play parts like this, and Nicole Melloy and Gabriella Rose-Carter embrace its intense naturalism with the kind of understanding and heart that let's us be flies on the wall in the kitchen.

The Safe House
3rd Room Theatrical
16 May 2014
Owl and the Pussycat
to 17 May

Another newish company is 3rd Room Theatrical who are performing The Safe House, down the road from Dolores, at the gorgeous Owl and the Pussycat in Richmond.

This new work by Tim Wotherspoon, who performs it with Lily Constantine and Rhys McConnochie, is a low-tech sci fi, lost-in-time mystery-comedy that makes it's audience think and re-think their theories and conclusions every minute.

We're in a room with Josie, Alan and Sid. They might be spies or time travellers or sick. Sid might be or might have been a her. It might be the 1980s or the future or today. And no one knows if it's safe. With tone-perfect performances, The Safe House is mind-fuckingly funny and always a step ahead of its audience.

They've had some intimate audiences, so it would be amazing to see them adding in extra seats and filling up tonight.

Review: Night on Bald Mountain

Night on Bald Mountain
Malthouse Theatre
8 May 2014
Merlyn Theatre
to 25 May

There's the moment when you walk into a theatre and get the first look of the world you're going to be playing in. And all fear of the play that Patrick White himself called "a dishonest play" flew when faced with a real bald mountain.

Dale Ferguson's design for Night on Bald Mountain is a roof-to-floor and wall-to-wall terraced mountain made of plywood with secret doors opening into endless black and secret goats for instant joy. With Paul Jackson's always-glorious lighting, we're taken from dawn to dawn on the mountain and into a house that wants to be part of a landscape that it doesn't belong in.

Neil Armfield, a close friend of White who directed many of his plays, once said in Meanjin that White's plays "only work in wonderful productions. Patrick knew this, and that is why he was so selective about his directors. And it’s not a case of bad writing needing to be rescued, or papered over; rather the plays present great challenges that need to be overcome."

Photo by Pia Johnson

Matthw Lutton directs this Mountain. He was a child when White died in 1990, so never saw the author-approved productions, yet his vision of this 50-year-old work finds a completeness in the difficult-to-perform play.

With its goat-lady chorus of one, an older couple who never found each other, a young couple who never have a chance to find each other, and outsiders who want to but can't escape the mountain, it's a psychological piece about character. But Lutton doesn't let this constant exploration dominate and his movement around and through the imposing mountain creates a pace that drives the story, lets the comedy come freely, and creates a tension that lets us hope for an ending that isn't pre-destined by the mountain's slippery paths and crevices.

Actors love White because there is so much in discover in his characters and his language. This cast – and it's worth seeing if only for the cast – approach their characters in ways that result in different styles of performance, and this somehow adds to the complexity without ruining the overall flavour. Nikki Sheils's sunny naturalism, Julie Forsyth's Brechtian distance and Melita Jurisic's anguished almost-expressionism should clash, but the combination of unique performer and character bring a closeness to the characters while still maintaining the distance that allows us to see the wholeness of the work.

This push-and-pull is supported by David Franzke's sound that mixes amplified and natural sound – and Ida Duelund Hansen's live music – to bring us into mountain and its people or leave us safely watching from afar.

It's a production that brings a very-now theatre aesthetic to a work that could easily get stuck in the 60s, and ultimately lets us see the writing of Patrick White though fresh eyes.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

The tribute piece by Neil Armfield in Meanjin.

16 May 2014

Review: another The Government Inspector

The Government Inspector
15 May 2014
MUST Theatre at Monash Uni, Clayton
to 24 May
Facebook event

When Simon Stone re-worked Nikoli Gogol's Not-The Government Inspector earlier in the year, the MUST (Monash University Student Theatre) mob were a bit miffed, or maybe excited, because they were planning their own re-working of the 1936 play.

Theirs is nothing like Stone's. While that Inspector was a reflection of audience and the type of theatre commercial audiences like to see, MUST's is a reflection of society and the type of theatre that indie creators want to make.

The satirical Russian play is about corrupt officials in a small town expecting a visit by a government inspector. They mistake a visitor for the inspector and the visitor proceeds to enjoy the special treatment and bribes.

Director James Jackson (who's doing Honours at Monash) developed the re-working with his cast (Akhila Epa, Alex Beyer, Amanda Giannarus, Chloe Smith, Emily Stokes, Sam Nix, Shamita Sivabalan and Verity Norbury).

And it's far from a text-on-stage production.

In a wire cage, the performers are in full length overalls that could place them in any prison or workplace. There's the threat of torture and no one's really in control. Then Gogol calls in because he's not happy with the beginning, so it's time to bring out the feathered fans and a party box of coloured balls.

There's reference to the original text, but it's just the starting point to find the issues its creators are concerned and angry about. And with Putin's politics sending Russia backwards, there's plenty to choose from that is just as relevant to us, especially in this horror-Budget week where Australian politics are hurtling backwards as well.

From the mesmerisingly bleak to a Putin dance that would get them arrested in Russia, this Inspector plays with time and endurance and leaves its audience questioning everything they see. There's plenty of nods to theatre styles and makers, but Jackson is finding his own theatrical voice and it's one that's sure to make its presence felt in years to come.

And it's worth seeing even if only to compare to Stone's.

11 May 2014


2 May 2014
Tower Theatre, Malthouse
to 11 May

SEEThrough grasps some truths about the awkward bond of heterosexual men and was created with  passion and honesty, but it isn't ready for the stage.

And with significant development support from Next Wave, Ilbijerri, the Performance Space and Malthouse, it should have been more ready.

Performed and devised by Colin Kinchela and Gavin Walters, it's about the bond between an Aboriginal man and a white man who grew up in a small town. It looks at sacred male spaces and the intimate rituals of male bonding, but doesn't move beyond the known and obvious.

There are attention-grabbing moments in the script, but the meaning of a work isn't just its words. It's what you say in every other element of a production that lets words live and connect or dribble away unnoticed. With awkward staging that bounced around the wide and empty black space like a tennis match and performances that didn't feel safe or open, the text wasn't supported.

But I hope that SEEThrough isn't shelved and dismissed after this production because not ready isn't the same as not good.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

10 May 2014

NEXT WAVE: Wael Zuaiter, Unknown

Wael Zuaiter: Unknown
Creative Nonfiction and Theatre Works
30 April 2014
Theatre Works
to 11 May

Illustration by Matt Huynh

The storytelling in Wael Zuaiter: Unknown is exquisite. Compelling and original, it uncovers truth and doubt but focuses on a personal story, because people may not listen to opinion but they do listen to story.

Jesse Cox makes radio documentaries but wanted to tell his Aunt Janet's story differently. He sits at a desk and talks. With cinema-screen-size hand-drawn animation, audio recordings, photos, and live music that almost breathes with Jesse, his unpretentious and gentle telling leaves the structure unseen and draws its audience into a story that's far more complex than its romantic beginnings suggest.

In 1972, Australian painter Janet venn Brown was living in Rome in a tiny flat with an amazing view of the Vatican. When she first arrived in the city, she met Palestinian translator Wael Zuaiter and they had been engaged for seven years on 16 October 1972 when he spent the day on her balcony working on his loved Italian translation of 1001 Nights and later left to go home.

At his door, he was shot and killed.

His was the first assassination by Israel's Mossad for his connection with the Black September group who held Israeli athletes hostage at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games and killed them.

Jesse tells Janet's version of Wael and shares his own research, which included trips to Palestine, Israel and Rome. He wanted to find out the truth. . He finds many truths, and if the heart of this story is his love for his Aunt, the guts is the questions that remain.

Wael Zuaiter: Unknown is political and historical but is connected to us and to now by a personal link that ensures its politics and history won't be forgotten.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

Very Quickly: A Wake, Kids Killing Kids

A Wake: Kids Killing Kids
Too Many Weapons and The Sipat Lawin Ensemble
10 May 2014
Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall
to 11 May

Very quickly

There are only two performances left of A Wake: Kids Killing Kids. 

At last year's Melbourne Fringe, we saw and we argued about Kids Killing Kids, the story of four young writers and their experience of writing an unexpected cult hit in Manila that was criticised as much for its violence as it was praised by its thousands of obsessed fans.

This version includes five members of The Sipat Lawin Ensemble, the company who created and performed that show in Manila, including the director, performers and the production manager.

A Wake begins with the same writers' story, but this time it's the people who were performing Battalia Royale in Manila take over and tell their side.

If you loved the Fringe show, you cannot even consider missing this.

If you hated the Fringe show (and I know people who really did), I really think that you should see this.

And here's a wonderful interview and reflection from Fleur on School For Birds.

09 May 2014

Review: Rocky Horror Show 2014

Rocky Horror Show
Ambassador Theatre Group & John Frost
26 April 2014
Comedy Theatre
to 13 June 2014

Having toured the UK for a year to celebrate Rocky's 40th birthday, the Australian-cast version have snapped on their fishnets in Melbourne.

It was great when it all began. So I've been told.

In the 1970s, the Rocky Horror Show was this raw subversive show that shocked mainstream theatre and found an unexpected and long-running connection with an audience who were just as raw and wild. It wasn't long after opening in London and the US, that this weird rock and roll show about a transvestite alien ran at midnight in an old cinema in a dodgy part of Glebe in Sydney. It was rough and unpredictable and, just by going, you declared that you were part of the generation ready to tell stuffy old Australia to get real and loosen up.

I know it's impossible to see that Rocky, or even one that's anything like it, but it doesn't stop me wanting to.

The current production is so far from those first ones that it's hard to even see them as the same work.

When Erika Heynatz's Usherette opens with a simply sung "Science Fiction" in front of a ripped curtain, the tone hints that it's going to be something that goes back to the roots of the show.

But it doesn't. No fishnets have holes, no makeup runs, the blood is offstage and everything is shiny sparkly and glittery clean. It's just so nice! And with an audience of lovely people who are able to buy expensive tickets and wear their best frocks and buy Rocky-branded phone covers and nail polish from the merchandise stand, it's as subversive as the big red hands in the Coles ads.

Which isn't to say it isn't good. And as a slick commercial professional production of Rocky Horror Show, it may be as good as it's ever going to be.

The design pays loving homage to the past productions (and the film) but, with the likes of a taxidermied dodo and its own curtain-call costumes, it has an originality that lets it stand alone. The cast are all ridiculously beautiful, there's no hint of a missed step or note, and each obviously love being in this show and bring something new to their so-well-known characters. Throw in a live band and a lighting design that's reminds us that it's a rock show and it's hard to fault.

And maybe that's the problem. The show's played like everyone knows exactly what's going to happen. There are no surprises. Maybe there are no surprises left? It finds its own moments (thanks Vaso), but it's such a reflection and celebration of 41 years of Rocky that it's never given the chance to be or find itself.

Which also leaves us watching the super-lovely Christie and Tim instead of Brad and Janet. And Erika, Kristian, Tony, Ashlea, Brendan and Nichols are all bloody marvellous, but none find a new truth or bring a reality to their characters that lets us care when things go bad for them.

But every Rocky is remembered for its Frank N Furter.

Since 1992, Craig McLachlan has been Frank a few times in Australia and the UK. He's hilarious and sexy and adorable, and milks every laugh he can – even before they come – then milks some more. I can't decide if his over-playing to the audience is endearing or needs to be stopped. At first it felt out of place, but he wins everyone over with his repetition and constant wink to the audience that it's all a big joke.

It may be unfair to compare Craig's Frank to Reg Livermore's 1974 Frank, especially being based on hearsay, photos and the Australian-cast recording, but Reg said this:

"My advice to any prospective Frank is this: if you're remotely concerned about whether the audience thinks you're really like that, if you care at all what an audience thinks about you personally, you'd be well advised to take off the corset and head home. Frank is like that; he's worse, and must be played that way. Frank is the fearless embodiment of all that's unspeakable, let alone the unnatural; his antics encourage many laughs, but first and foremost he presents real and terrible threat. Never forget, the audience must be wary of him, they should never take their eyes off him, and if they do it's at their peril."

Now that's a Frank and a Rocky Horror Show I'd love to see.

This was on AussieTheatre.com

Photo by Jeff Busby.

08 May 2014

NEXT WAVE: Madonna Arms

Madonna Arms
I'm Trying To Kiss You 
7 May 2014
Arts House, Meat Market

Photo by Sarah Walker

Shows don't speak to everyone, but I thought that Madonna Arms would be one for me.

I'm Trying To Kiss You's last show captured the experience of 20-something love and friendship so beautifully and this one is about women and body image, food and fitness with 80s sci-fi references, pop-culture jabs and drag kings. Sign me up!

But I don't know what this show is trying to say.

It had some moments about salads and chips and strength, and I laughed at the big cock, but it seemed so focussed on its own big picture and what it looked like (and I don't think they were trying for the ultimate irony) that its content got lost in the razzle dazzle and support underwear.

I saw it without my review hat on, so I recommend Jane Howard's review on The Guardian. 

PS. When you start late on purpose during a festival, you know that other shows lose some of their audience.

07 May 2014

FOLA: Make the call

Make the Call
26 April 2014
St Kilda, near Theatre Works

It started sitting on a bench waiting for a phone call.

It ended sitting in a park with a kangaroo.

It was brilliant.

Click on the pic to see it big.

NEXT WAVE: The Dokboki Box

The Dokboki Box
Younghee Park, M'ck McKeague and Nathan Stoneham
6 May 2014
River Walk by Federation Square
to 11 May

The Dokboki Box happens in a pop-up orange tent between Federation Square and the Yarra and it's a bright flash of welcoming happy.

It's easy to feel uncomfortable in a small audience (only 15 tickets per show) – especially when the seats are plastic stools – but the warm and genuine welcome into the cold tent quickly banishes any awkwardness. We're given little warm rugs and offered Korean beer or wine and it's not long before everyone is talking. And the stools spin!

While Younghee Park cooks Korean street food (dokboki and odeng), she tells us how it's her grandmother's recipe and tells a story about her family, her attempts at finding love and about feeding hungry people in Seoul. With such a small audience, it's impossible to not become a part of the story and the line between performers and audience blurs into friendship.

The message is a bit earnest, but it doesn't diminish the atmosphere of welcoming loveliness as Younghee's story is as happily shared as the food she makes for us. And granny's recipe for Queen Dokbuki (vego) is delicious. I had seconds.

Interview: Richard O'Brien

With everyone having seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show film, how do you convince them to see another live production? I asked its creator, Richard O’Brien, when he was in Melbourne on his way to play the Narrator in the Adelaide season of the current touring show.

“It’s fast and sexy and snappy and it’s live. You can’t beat the live experience. It’s like the difference between real sex and porno. You can’t beat the real. So I’m told!”

Craig McLachlan, Richard O’Brien and Brendan Irving. Photo by Jeff Busby

The Rocky Horror Show opened at the Royal Court Theatre in London in June 1973. They had no idea what they were starting! Last year, Rocky turned 40 and a new UK production celebrated with a year-long tour and the Australian cast version – with Craig McLachlan as Frank N Furter – opened in January in Brisbane. It opens this week in Melbourne.

 “The Time Warp” in 1980

My now signed 45 from 1980

At 71 O’Brien still looks like Riff Raff (the character he played in the original production and the film) but less pervy and unnervingly charming. He put down his glass of wine, took my hand and casually sung “Ahh, Anne-Marie”.

Richard O’Brien sung my name! My 1980’s teen self can die happy.

In 1980 Australia, teen life revolved around the top 10 on Sunday night’s Countdown. Being a just-teen, I was an expert in all things chart related but was unsure about “Ashes to Ashes” beating “The Time Warp” to number one. Having just discovered Rocky and Bowie, I was torn.

Being too young to have seen Reg Livermore’s 1970s Frank in Australia, it was the film that brought me into the Rocky world; a world that was so different from my conservative church-school life in conservative Adelaide.

Here was a world where difference was celebrated, a world where men in heels and fishnets were as sexy as all go get, masculinity and femininity weren’t assumptions of gender, and sex was fun. And fun and funny is what O’Brien still wants this show to be.

The Rocky Horror Show, 1973, Royal Court Theatre, photo Douglas Jeffery

“It was never ever ever meant to be a sex show. It was never ever meant to titillate in that sense. In fact, I hate when it starts to get into that area. We have had productions where Frank and the bedroom scenes start to move into a different ground and I get … No, it’s got to be always funny, not salacious and rude. That’s not what it’s about and I don’t want it to ever be like that.”

Rocky is clearly still a work that he loves and, quite rightly, has a protective ownership of. He’s still involved in the granting of production rights and told me that Australian amateur rights aren’t going to be released in the near future.

Forty years on, it’s still THE show that everyone wants to perform and we talked about what it is about Rocky that let it reach so beyond its intent and to have been, and still is, so loved in Australia.

“It’s interesting isn’t it? I think Australia was a fairly repressed society – not in a fascistic way or totalitarian way – but it was just part of the fabric of Australian mentality.

“We might have said we were open and outgoing and all the rest of it, but the truth of the matter is that ocker mentality seems to strike about 70 percent of the Australian male population – and still does to this day.

“That 30 percent of genial, nice, ordinary middleclassless (his wonderful word) human beings, like ourselves, make up the big swell of Australians, but inside that 30 percent was a strong church element who saw Rocky as a bit, you know, ‘mm-mmm’ and, of course, there was the homophobic kind of thing that runs through them. But put that together with the ocker and put Rocky into that society and you have something that is quite volatile and consequently very entertaining.

“It’s against itself and in spite of themselves and somehow or other it works terribly well inside these kinds of societies.”

Tim Maddren, Christie Whelan Browne and Craig McLachlan. Photo by Jeff Busby

He said as an aside that when they went to Amsterdam the show was “a damp squib”. “What were we bringing them? They take drugs, do rock and roll and have sex with men like that all the time.”

The film

It was in the USA, in cities similar to Australia’s, that the 1975 Rocky Horror Picture Show found its popularity – after initially flopping – and developed its midnight-screening, dress-up, act-out cult status that transferred the ownership of the film firmly to its audience.

The midnight screenings started in 1976 at the Waverly Theatre in Greenwich Village, New York – the 1980 film Fame includes a screening at the Waverly – and at about the same time in Austin, Texas. Austin is a university town and O’Brien said how university students in the US were among the first to pick up the film as their own.

Richard O’Brien & Patricia Quinn. “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”

“It was the disaffected youth and the lost and awkward kids who wanted to be in show business but didn’t know how. They could join their little club and dress up and be these people each night and they didn’t have to worry too much because the films rolling on relentlessly, so it doesn’t matter if they trip up. It’s all included in the fun and they were very much making it their own.”

O’Brien also admits to not being as enthused about the film.

“Well, the film is good, but it’s slow. When I first watched it, we didn’t pick up the cues. It’s not soporific but has a kind of dream-like somnolence quality that I find rather disappointing in a way.”

But as it found its place and its fans, the slowness found its purpose as he was often asked (and said in his best mid-American accent), “Did you make the gaps between the lines so you we could say our lines?”.

He always answers, “Yes”.

Shock Treatment

After the film’s unexpected success, O’Brien wrote another film: 1981’s Shock Treatment.

Bringing back Rocky’s Australian director, Jim Sharman, and designer Brian Thomson (who won a Tony for his design for The King and I that’s just opened in Brisbane), Shocky followed Brad and Janet’s story once they were married back in Denton. It featured O’Brien, Patricia Quinn (original and film Magenta), Nell Campbell (original and film Columbia) and included Barry Humphries and Ruby Wax.

It also flopped.

It was about people living in a tv studio where the prize was celebrity and fame. This was unheard of in 1981.

Richard O’Brien & Patricia Quinn. “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”

“We predicted the ‘wanna be’ generation, which the Spice Girls kind of exemplified when they came along. That’s exactly what we were talking about. And then Big Brother came along and they go into the house and are living in a world of TV. And then The Truman Show. We were 25 years ahead of that and not necessarily even attempting to view the future.”

So what about a remake or a stage version that puts it in the now?

“I think it’s deeply flawed through the story line and I don’t know what to do about that. I think the soundtrack’s cool and certain journeys are good, but I think it needs somebody else to sit down with it.

“In the last 20 years I’ve been asked at least 10 times – generally by well-intentioned young people. If somebody were there with a fine brain and a track record …”

Or maybe it’s time to have another look at the film (cough, YouTube if you can’t find the DVD).

"Shock Treatment"

The Time Warp of 2014

It’s nice to think that Australia was a different place in the 1980s. I know that Rocky Horror, live and film, had a huge influence on its fans from that time and I like to think that we grew into adulthood without a lot of the prejudices that continue to shock us today. (It also made me see everything Sharman directed at the SA State Theatre Co – and discover Shakespeare – and made me read John Wyndham to find out what a “Triffid that spits poison and kills” was.)

But all these years on, we seem to have found ourselves in a politically regressive time warp where ockerism and conservatism are combining to force us to leap to the right and hurtle backwards. Perhaps we really do need another dose of Rocky.

As O’Brien said, “It’s an antidote to all those pre-conceived ideas and preconceptions of what the world should be about and it has a liberating joyous feeling.”

“And we must never remember that all those guys out being butch are still putting on a pair of fish nets occasionally.”

 This was on AussieTheatre.com com.

06 May 2014

Review: Knives in Hens

Knives in Hens
1 May 2014
MUST Theatre at Monash University
to 10 May

Photo by Debbie Yew

Each time I see something created my MUST (Monash University Student Theatre), I tell myself that I must see more of what they do. So many ex-MUSTers are making their mark in Melbourne's independent and professional theatres that it's so worth going back to the source and seeing the artists who are going to be getting our attention very soon.

And with the Bachelor of Performing Arts getting a kick in the guts at Monash University, MUST is the only way for some students to get practical experience. I just have to think how much I learnt in my student theatre days to remember the importance of university-supported/funded student theatre.

Knives in Hens by Scottish writer David Harrower was first performed in 1997 in the UK and has since become one of the most performed Scottish plays. It was last seen in Melbourne in 2009 in a production, by Malthouse and State Theatre of South Australian, that I think ultimately let the script down by focussing on design and performance. (Here's my review but the best discussion happened on Theatre Notes.)

Directed by Yvonne Virsik, this production approaches the script with a delicate hand and an understanding that shows why it's so loved. By ensuring that its deceptively simple story (a love triangle in village not far from industrial change) drives the action, the poetry of its dense language is accessible. With story being clear, the audience are free to listen to the language and find their own meaning in its layers.

Yvonne continues to get beautiful performances out of young actors (Emily O'Conner, Edan Goodall and Jonny Dutaillis) and guides the students in the creation of a work that reflects their experience and interpretation of this play.

Monash Uni is out at Clayton, but it's not a long drive and there's plenty of parking. Or there's a bus to the door. The tickets are affordable and you will see excellent theatre.

PS. I didn't write about the last MUST show, Psychopomp and Drench, but its was stunning.

Next up at MUST is The Government Inspector (15–24 May).

NEXT WAVE review previews


And for some absolutely brilliant coverage of the festival, subscribe to Jane Howard's NEXT WAVE newsletter.

05 May 2014

The 24-Hour Experience, part 5

24-Hour Experience
29–30 March 2014

I went home after the morgue. I sent a goodnight tweet to those still going at 7 am and woke up at midday as they were starting the final picnic.

I went home because I was meant to be at Comedy Festival shows that night. I didn't make them and I wish that I'd gone though. I don't know if I would have made it, but I know I missed some great stuff.

Here are Ali Alexander's pics.

Would I do it again? Hell yes!

Finally, there were lots of artists involved in creating the Experience and all the 24 works. Please visit 24hourexperience.com.au to see who they were. And, on behalf of all of us who loved this experience, the final thank you must go to the volunteers who looked after us. 

Hour #18 The Culture of Forgetting 5 am

Hour #19 Inheritance 6 am

Hour #20 A Day And A Night 7 am

Hour #21 Confessional 8 am

Hour #22 Random Choir of Mutual Wonder 9 am

Hour #23 How TV Makes Our Lives Exciting 10 am

Hour #24  Tell Me What You're Really Thinking 11 am

Hour #25 Picnic 12 pm

These three did all 24+ hours without a break. 

03 May 2014

The 24-Hour Experience, part 4

24-Hour Experience
29–30 March 2014

The lead up to 1 am gave us time to lie on bean bags and seats in the Federation Square atrium, be grateful for chocolate and wish we'd nicked some wine from dinner. It was good for us who were getting sleepy, but was a bit of a downer for the new starters. My favourite bit was a teenage girl, who was out for drinks, asking me what drugs we were taking to do this. She didn't believe that it was just chocolate and adrenalin.

But it was nearly time for an underground adventure that promised a hardhat and the use of torches because we were going to something called The Trench!

Hour #14 Under the City 1 am

Photo by Ali Alexander

The sound and video installation in the "trench" was beautiful. It was about drains through the city  – water and sewerage – and the people who work in them. The calming soundscape of water echoed and bounced off the walls of the large concrete room, but it wasn't a trench. It was a large room, a couple of flights of stairs down where we didn't get hardhats or need our torches. It's so wrong to be disappointed by something that was really good, but we were tired and excited about going into an underground trench. 

Hour #15 Beaufort Wind Lounge 2 am

This was a two-parter. While half of the group went into a wind tunnel installation in BMW Edge (no pics, but it was very lovely), the others sat in bean bags and were served green tea and Japanese treats.

The tea ceremony didn't start well because we upset the artists by moving all of their placed-for-the-piece-to-work bean bags. But we moved them back and understood that they they were in small groups so that everyone could have a very beautiful and intimate sung tea-pouring ceremony. Which then proceeded to prove that the world is split into two groups: those who like squidgy, flaccid, sweet-but-savoury Japanese desserts (like me) and those who don't (I had an extra one to make up for them).

And 2 am may be the strangest hour. Adrenalin is both running out and kicking in. It's an hour for activity and laughter rather than gentle contemplation. 

Hour #16 Theatre Is My S(k)in 3 am

No pics for this one. We were crowded into one of the gallery spaces in the atrium and listened to an artist who has worked as a stripper and lap dancer. 

Her story was genuine and fascinating, but there seemed a sense of disbelief that no one was terribly shocked by it. The time of night was spot on but, even though I understand putting it in a posh art space, the story didn't connect to the space.

But we got whiskey. And I have never enjoyed a whiskey more than I did then.

Hour #17 The Rest is Silence 4 am

This was what we'd been waiting for. 4am. It was time to go the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine and the Donor Tissue Bank. We were walking through the back streets of Southbank to go to a morgue!

This was the event that drew the most people to the Experience with more people joining us on four-hour tickets. The staff who met us there were astonished at how many people turned up.

Out of respect to the place, we were asked to make it no-photo zone.

This wasn't a performance. The staff who work there ran through what they do when a body comes into the Homicide Room (this is where crime and accident victims are brought), then took us through the Tissue Donor Bank (where human tissue is collected and stored).

For all the marvellous concepts and artists and everything else wonderful about this experience, this was my highlight.

It was just like a crime TV show, but so much better. We stood behind a glass wall looking into the room where bodies are assessed and post mortems are carried out. The staff wear wellies, it's sterile like an operating theatre but there are lots of knives and hoses.

The staff wheeled in an empty gurney and assessed the 'body'. This included a forensic pathologist coming in after being at the opera and another member of staff calling the family to ask about tissue donation. It wasn't gruesome and there was never a moment when the 'body' wasn't treated with respect. 

Next we had to put on the sterile gowns, shower caps and booties (putting the booties on at 4.30 am was a real test) and it was into the Tissue Donor Bank where we saw frozen skin and powdered bone and were allowed to ask anything.

Even though I have tissue donor ticked on my drivers license, I had no idea what it meant. While organ donation has to come from a live (brain dead) patient, tissue (skin, heart valves and bone) can be collected up to 24 hours after death.

Burns patients need hundreds of skin grafts. People having orthopedic surgery need extra bone. Heart valves go to people having heart surgery.

If any of my family and friends ever have to wonder, I am a donor. I have no concerns about what happens to my body after I die and hope that it can be put to as many good uses as possible. 

Some of us stayed longer and talked to the staff about their experience of working there and of having a large group of enthusiastic and over-tired arts-goers coming to see them at 4 am. They also asked us about our experience and best answer was: "I expected it to be about death, but it was all about life".

01 May 2014

GIVEAWAYS for Next Wave at ArtsHouse

16 April – 11 May

Melbourne's biennial Next Wave festival was established in 1984 and continues to support and develop emerging artists to experiment, risk, create and share new work. It's the festival that challenges expectations and questions what art is and what it can be. This year, they are responding to the theme "New Grand Narrative".

The team at ArtsHouse are so excited about the shows they've helped develop for the festival that they have giveaways for Sometimes Melbourne readers.

These three shows that explore our bodies, especially how they are used in performance and are often seen as something separate from the person who inhabits the body.

Madonna Arms
I'm Trying to Kiss You

I'm Trying to Kiss You were one of my favourite companies in 2011 with I know there's a lot of noise outside but you have to close your eyes, an extraordinary and moving a piece about young women and relationships.

Madonna Arms is a sci-fi exploration of the ways that the obsession for fitness and weight loss fill the psyche of women.

To WIN a double pass to Madonna Arms
Saturday 3 May, 8.00 pm at Meat Market
email info@starling.com.au
with SM Madonna Arms as the subject
and include your name and phone number

Personal Mythologies
Shian Law

Personal Mythologies is a large-scale dance and performance immersive installation. It questions the power and relationships between performers and audience by inviting participation from its audience.  Wear comfy clothes and shoes and be prepared cloak all personal items before you join in.

To WIN a double pass to Personal Mythologies
Saturday 3 May,7.30 pm at North Melbourne Town Hall
with SM Personal Mythologies as the subject
and include your name and phone number

Natalie Abbott

MAXIMUM is a dancer and a bodybuilder: two highly-trained professionals who will push themselves beyond exhaustion to test the boundaries between dance and sport and reveal the full potential of the human body.

To WIN a double pass to MAXIMUM
Saturday 3 May, 6.45 pm at Meat Market
with SM Maximum as the subject
and include your name and phone number

The competition closes at 4.00 pm on Friday 2 May and winners will be notified by email.

And while you're at Arts House (North Melbourne Town Hall and The Meat Market) remember that  eeing just one show per night in a festival just isn't right. Other Arts House works include:

The Club 3.0
New Heroes

This isn't a play. Inspired by Fight Club, it uses the premise of violence to explore their generation's attitude to political change. Twelve people from the audience will be invited to participate in controlled fight scenes.

Das Boot
Ester Stuart and Oscar Perry

A weekend-long visual-art-project-cum-boot sale.

A Wake: Kids Killing Kids
Sipat Lawin and Too Many Weapons

KKK part 2! This is the Next Wave show that I'm most looking forward to. Following their sold-out and still-being-argued-about season of Kids Killing Kids at the 2013 Melbourne Fringe, the Too Many Weapons Collective are joined this time by Sipat Lawin to look at what happened after the 2013 show.