29 August 2014

Review: Master Class

Master Class 
Left Bauer Productions
23 August 2014
fortyfive downstairs
to 28 August

Today's performance of Master Class at fortyfive downstairs has sold out but if you book now, you might be able to get in before it finishes on Thursday.

Terrance McNally's play Master Class opened on Broadway in 1995. It's based on the series of master classes presented by Maria Callas at the Julliard School in New York in 1971, which were recorded and readily available. The play is fictional, with Callas working with an imagined first soprano, tenor and second soprano. It dilutes and magnifies Callas as a teacher and icon – which is a master class in opera performance in itself – and leaves the class to go into the mind of a woman who was so sure of her reputation but so uncertain of her self.

Maria Mercedes is Callas. She is remarkable. From the second before she walked into the space, the audience were hers. It's easy to copy Callas's mannerisms and look, but this performance is so far beyond anything so basic. As Callas and McNally talk about how to approach and perform a character, our Maria shows how to do it – without revealing as much as a hint of technique or process. Hers is the kind of astonishing performance that leaves the actor and the script invisible, if not forgotten.

The students (Georgia Wilkinson, Robert Barbaro and Anna Louise Cole – and accompanist Cameron Thomas) are amazing young Melbourne singers who already have established careers and could not have been more perfect to represent the standard of singer who deserved a master class with Callas. Each have their moment to sing, but they bring truth and guts to the work with their portrayals of singers facing a woman who has achieved the impossible and who is as likely to tear them to pieces as give them the support to never give up. And they let their characters sing in ways that allows Callas to correct them. I dare any singer to walk away without learning something.

Director Daniel Lammin's last work was The Cutting Boys at La Mama. Written and directed by Lammin, it was about the murder of a young woman and continued his exploration of how young men commit unthinkable violence. And here he is directing a play about an ageing woman and grand opera. Always be prepared to be surprised. As a director, he focussed on letting the text tells its story and led his actors to tell the truth about their characters through their own knowledge and experience.

I was at a matinee yesterday. Not only was it sold out, but received a standing ovation. This doesn't happen every Saturday afternoon at fortyfive downstairs and it was such a wonderful experience to be in an audience who were as committed to the world of the play as the actors were. Mercedes performance is so engaging that there's never a moment when the audience aren't the Julliard students. Callas tells a singer to find the honesty in her performance; this production find the honesty that lets Master Class be so much more than a text-on-stage play.

NOTE: extra matinee this Saturday, but I think it's sold out too. Worth calling and checking.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

Review: Intimacy

Torque Show
14 August 2014
Tower Theatre
to 23 August

Michelle Ryan danced professionally in Australia and overseas. Ten years ago, she was at the peak of her career and was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. She used to dance and had issues with intimacy. She still dances and has issues with intimacy.

Intimacy is dance theatre by Torque Show – a company including artists that Ryan used to dance with – and opens the 2014 Malthouse Helium season with a touching and honest exploration of how illness can change the meanings of intimacy.

With fellow dancer Vincent Crowley, singer Emma Bathgate and director Ingrid Weisfelt, Ryan shares  intimate moments of personal, sexual and romantic awkwardnesses, and those times when you have to ask strangers to give you their seat or help you get dressed.

Members of the audience are made to join in and there are the familiar looks of wanting to help but not knowing how and being terrified of offending in case help isn't wanted. This forced awkward intimacy is darkly funny and carries through to the more personal moments on stage, but it feels like it only scratches the surface. Dating is uncomfortable because dating makes us vulnerable, with or without illness.

A very good friend of mine had MS; I know that walk and the reach for balance. When she was diagnosed, about ten years ago, she said it was like her limbs (and at times her brain) were wrapped in wool, like an ugg boot but tighter. The closest moments for me were Ryan in a sleeping bag trying to get dressed and get around. Its fuzzy soft constriction seems comfortable but makes it so hard to move, physically feel and even hear, speak or see. It may not seem much, but it offers a relatable idea of what those symptoms can feel like. It's easy to relate to the emotional intimacy, but this helped to find how the restriction and frustration of the physical are part of the emotional.

And the strongest and most moving elements piece are the physical and the dance. From Ryan sitting and hiding the impact of MS on her body to her dancing with little balance and skinny limbs that don't want to listen to her thoughts, there's no denial that MS can suck. But her dance – and especially that with tall and muscualr Crowley – is about the irrelevance of the bits that suck and finding the parts of her that still fly.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

28 August 2014

Last chance: The Velveteen Rabbit

The Velveteen Rabbit: A Cabaret Fairytale for Grown Ups
28 August 2014
MUST Theatre, Monash University
to 30 August
Facebook event

Even though The Velveteen Rabbit runs until Saturday, you probably can't see it because it sold out a couple days ago. There might be the odd ticket if you're lucky (or know who to ask), but if you have one for the weekend you can safely be excited. It's gorgeous and loving and you should take a tissue.

Margaret Williams's 1922 children's story The Velveteen Rabbit IS the most lovely story ever written. If you somehow haven't cried while reading this book to yourself or to children, hold off because the cast tell it – and the only thing better than reading a story is having it read to you.

The cabaret show isn't the story of the book, but its story of becoming real and being loved form the base of the work. Directed by first-timer Mama Alto, the cast of 16 (plus their very close production and musical team) Monash uni students tell their stories of being loved and rejected and of finding their way to being their real and confident selves.

And if being a young adult at university isn't about finding out who you are and what you want to be, then what's the point of being there?

(Cough, Christopher Pyne how dare you think that anyone supports the idea of uni becoming an impossible goal. When he was enjoying his free undergrad degree, I was doing one of my own at the same university. One where I hung out in the Drama dept, did plays and didn't care that I nearly failed English because doing plays taught me so much more. I think I can safely say that one of us is more rich, but the other is more interesting.)

Moving throughout the MUST space, the ensemble in personal combinations of gold, white, red and glitter move between two stages and around the room to surround the audience with their stories and love. There's singing, original and known music, and personal stories that are impossible not to relate to.

It's a bit long and some of them won't become professional performers, but it doesn't matter because it's all about ensuring that everyone gets their chance to share their story and support their friends. Of course there are stories that come from a teenage and young adult perspective that mellows as we get older. But let's never forget what it was like to feel heartbreak, loss and love for the first time. I sometimes with I could re-capture that intensity, then I remember what it felt like.

And the look I caught on the face of a 50ish dad when the rabbit gets left outside in garden was unforgettable. You're never too hold to care about a fictional toy.

Monash University Student Theatre gives students a freedom to create what they want to create. Sure, they're not creating work for a large and commercial audience, but if we look at names who are making their mark in our independent and professional stages, a lot of them come from Monash and spent their undergraduate years involved in MUST – if I begin to list names, I won't be forgiven for missing some; you know who you are – where they were able to experiment and make mistakes and find the way to their unique theatrical voices.

Last chance: Thérèse Raquin

Thérèse Raquin
Dirty Pretty Theatre & Theatreworks
sometimes last week
to 30 August

Photo by Lachlan Woods

With a raised stage, red velvetish curtain and promise of an interval, Thérèse Raquin makes Theatre Works feel as old-school proscenium-arch (without the arch) theatre as it can. As the curtain opens, the sense of occasion and the mixed expectations of hooped-frock theatre are immediate.

Thérèse Raquin was the first major novel (1867) by the Paris-based Émile Zola. Zola later wrote a play version and the story has been adapted for many films. Gary Abrahams wrote and directed this adaption of the novel.

Not-long-gone-20 Thérèse (Elizabeth Nabben) is married to her sickly and self-obsessed cousin Camille (Paul Blenheim) after living with him and his aunt (Marta Kaczmarek) since she was a child. They've moved to Paris where old friends (Rhys McConnochie, Edwina Samuels and Oliver Coleman) are found and Camille's friend Laurent (Aaron Walton) becomes Thérèse's special friend. When social and economic circumstances don't allow you to flee, there's only one option for the lovers: kill Camille.

Very influenced by Darwin, Zola's called his writing Naturalism because it's about the control and impact of social and environmental conditions. He said he wrote about temperaments rather than characters and asks if his characters could really choose how they behave given their circumstances.

It's easy to see his stories as unearned and predictable melodrama but remember that when Zola wrote, this type of story was new; we seen it so many times since because these tipping-over-the-top stories reflect a truth that continues to connect.

What makes this production so watchable and enthralling is that Abrahams's writing and direction find the wafter-thin balance in tone that lets the characters be real and recognisable enough to make their own choices (sorry Zola) while still being caught in a world they can't escape from. If the tone slipped even a semi-tone the wrong way, it'd be too much melodrama or too much documentary re-inactment. (It's not really comparable, but it reminded me of the first season of Downton Abbey: pure soap but riveting.)

The note-perfect cast maintain Zola's goal of not making any character stand out and each approach their performance with enough of now and themselves to ensure that their stories feel as real as they can. They're not showing us 1860s Paris, they're taking us to an 1860's Paris that shares our knowledge and sensibilities.

All are supported by a design (Jacob Battista: set, Katie Sfetkidis: lighting) that create a claustrophobic Paris flat that feels both light and gloomy and transforms to a water-filled lake with a touch of simple genius. There's just enough room for Chloe Greaves's hooped skirts, which also ensure that we know it's a production about today. And all are led emotionally by live original music from Christopher De Groot.

Thérèse Raquin is big-story, big-skirted, historical naturalism that never feels caught in the conventions or expectations of big-story, big-skirted, historical naturalism. It finishes on Saturday.

23 August 2014

Review: Glory Box 10th Anniversary

Glory Box
Finucane & Smith
16 August 2014
Melba Spiegeltent, Circus Oz
to 24 August
Facebook event

Ten years ago I saw The Burlesque Hour in the Famous Spiegeltent on St Kilda Road. Moira Finucane, Azaria Universe and Umi Umiumare (and the Town Bikes); I was blown away and I still haven't seen anything like it. Many try, and are bloody wonderful, but they don't find that bit of me that says 'thank you'.

Finucane and Smith's Glory Box, as it was renamed, has toured the world but never misses a home season. This year, it opens the super-gorgeous Melba Spiegeltent in Circus Oz's new home in Collingwood – and it feels like it's come home.

Burlesque and strip. There's always been some female-positive acts, but mostly these performances were (and still are) created to be seen by male eyes and leave the performing woman in the position of an object to be enjoyed by the watcher. Like so many of us, Jackie Smith and Moira Finucane see women through better eyes, so they devised work that that doesn't just subvert that image, but smashes it to pieces and recreates it as something exciting, welcoming and celebratory.

This is burlesque that artists love performing and are doing so to share the experience with their audience.

This is strip that embodies feminism without the need to repress those parts of the feminine that can be ignored, rejected, criticised or fetishised.

This is feminist art that embraces the diversity of the sexual feminine, be she masculine, frilly, wild, angry, sassy, despairing, bejewelled, saucy, sad, prudish, glittery or quiet.

This is art where power and desire have no hint of negativity.

These are people who see nudity without shame or irony.

These are audiences who welcome bodies of all shapes and ages.

Here is subversive, queer, feminist art that didn't give a hoot if you're straight, conservative or "I'm-not-a-feminist-but".

And it's hilarious, sexy and outrageously glorious.

So, thank you!

Over the years, Moira and Jackie have welcomed some of the most amazing guest artists and helped many others to find their voices and their passion. Some are special guests during the season, which makes it hard to choose just one night to go!

Our guests were the magnificent Maude Davey, amazing flyer Roxie Stone, and the seriously sensational Emma J Hawkins whose broken doll strip sums up everything the Glory Box is about.

And every night there's Moira, Yumi, Azaria, Holly Durant and, new to the box, the magnificent songstress and siren Saint Clare.

It's a best of show, so expect favourites including Moira's "I Touch Myself" and Azaria's "Total Eclipse of the Heart": two pieces that they have to keep doing for as long as they can stand.

If somehow over the last ten years you haven't seen this show, there's no more excuses. The sparkling wine at the bar is excellent, it's not that hard to park, it's near tram stops and I promise that you'll leave happy and proud of being exactly who you are.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

20 August 2014

Review: Einstein on the beach 2

Einstein on the beach
State Opera of South Australia
7 August 2014
Her Majesty's Theatre
to 21 August 2014

Photo by Bernard Hull

I didn't know if it were possible to see State Opera of South Australia's Einstein on the beach without comparing it to the original Wilson-Glass-Childs production (which toured to Melbourne in 1992 and 2013: both were sublime), but it was such a different experince that comparisons are irrelevant.

Einstein is the second part of the Philip Glass Trilogy being presented by State Opera (with Akhnaten and Satyagraha). They are the first company to present the trilogy as a cycle and one of a tiny handful of companies that Glass has trusted with his operas.

Leigh Warren, as director and choreographer, approached it as a dance work about Einstein's E=mc2  and the theory of relativity. It's not the sensory overload and 4.5 hour non-stop endurance challenge of the original. With breaks, a meal-length interval (with Adelaide's amazing Gouger St restaurants minutes away), there's time to talk and take it all in and see the wonder of this composition through fresh eyes.

The choreography is a visual interpretation of the music with the 1–12 dancers following different parts, rhythms or structures of the score. As much of it wasn't written as dance music – Glass wrote half of it to accompany Robert Wilson's design and direction, with the knee plays written just for scene changes, and the rest for Lucinda Childs's choreography – Warren's approach allows the audience to see the music come to life through the dance. I know the music very well and heard things I've never heard through watching the dance.

At the same time, the dance is all about Einstein's theory. At the most obvious level, the first half is about mass and the second about light. But, just as the dancers depict the music, they demonstrate the movement of mass and light through space far better than any physics lesson – and show it with a sense of fun and emotion that lets us feel the passion behind the equation.

The choreography starts with or re-visits classical arm or leg positions. Like Einsten's physics and Glass's music, the first-learnt classical rules are always there but are questioned and re-constructed to create something that feels so right and balanced and still completely new.

Photo by Darren Williams

And it all melds with the sound created by Timothy Sexton, the small on-stage Adelaide Art Orchestra and the 16-person State Opera Chorus, who were at times brought into the dance space to become more than sound.

From sounding like one voice to times when all four parts could be heard or a spoken voice was combined with singing voices, the chorus sound exquisite. Working with the dance, Sexton ensures that Glass's music is heard in new ways.

While there's spoken poetry in the text (given to the dancers and allowed to be delightfully funny), the music's lyrics are numbers and solfège. Like classic positions are the beginning of dance, counting and do-re-mi are the first things we learn in music. Everything on the stage begins with first steps and expands to something complex that's unimaginable at the beginning: just like how Einstein's theory changed physics.

Musically, Glass treats voices like instruments; they are sound without personality. But by seeing the singers and having them on the stage with the dancers, there was personality. I can't decide if I loved this or would have preferred the unexpected power of the Wilson emotionless/neutral face that dominates that original production. Seeing the personalities of the individual singers and dancers brings a warmth to the stage, but at the same time something like a singer watching a dancer or counting on their fingers distracts so much more than it should.

There were some initial problems with the amplified sound feeling stuck at the back of the stage and getting lost behind the dancers. This improved throughout the night, but still left it feeling like we were seeing the music through a wall of dance rather than the dance through a wall of music – which might have been the point.

The stage and lighting design were relatively simple and, while supporting everything on the stage with triangles, balance and light, didn't feel like an equal element of the production. I was in the front, so it may be more impressive from further back or in the circle.

Still the biggest disappointment was the number of empty seats and general lack of sense of occassion. Come on Adelaide, you do festivals brilliantly and here's your state opera company being trusted with a masterpiece of 20th century modenist composition. This is something to celebrate and support.

It's nothing like the original Einstein on the beach, but it's nothing less than it. It's a remarkable production that starts with Glass's music to create a work that feels like he wrote it for them, and reminds us to never be scared of seeing any work through new eyes.

There's still a full cycle left of all three operas (if I'd had time, I would have loved to see the others) and I suspect that the third cycle will be the one to see as they as word gets around that it's unmissable.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

18 August 2014

Pledge to Mikelangelo's new album

I met Mikelangelo in Canberra. He got my attention because he was sitting naked in a radio studio.

We moved to Melbourne around the same time and both found ourselves at home.

This glorious man is making a new album about this glorious city and needs some crowdfunding help.

All the details are here: www.pledgemusic.com/projects/mikelangelo

And he's offering some of the best supporter offers ever offered. From dumplings with Mikelangelo to his first guitar or having him MC your event. Seriously, it doesn't get much better.

16 August 2014

Last night of The Container Festival

The Container Festival
Monash University, Clayton
to 16 August

Being crook and being not in Melbourne meant that I couldn't get to The Container Festival until it's second-to-last night.

In its second year, this amazingly fun and original festival is presented by the Monash Uni Student Theatre and Yvonne Virsik is its Artistic Director.

Students and graduates are invited to create any type of performance, on the condition that it fits in a shipping container or other surprising space. The results are intimate and personal and can't be seen anywhere else

Tonight is the Closing Gala Extravaganza with over 20 of the best cabaret, music, comedy, burlesque and theatre acts of the festival. And it's all in the Hub where it's much warmer than outside and there's a bar with good beer and $5 pizzas!

Last night I saw Re-verie: Tom Molyneax's beautiful, creepy and confronting verbatim piece about dreams. If you think your dreams are disturbing, try seeing stangers' dreams come to life when you're shut in a shipping container with such stunning lighting that it's easy to forget that it's safe.

Gale Force

Next was Gale Force Wins!!!: a live game show hosted by Gale Force (the endlessly classy Jack Beeby). We were allowed in a small room for this one. Gale hates KAK and wears a 70s psychedelic jumpsuit better than anyone has dared to. Four contestants are chosen from the audience and then it's nothing like Rock Wiz, Family Feud or Deal or No Deal. My team came second (last) and my favourite game was Celebrity Head, which had nothing to do with guessing celebrity faces.

And Jack is hosting the gala tonight!

The Dig Collective in the Hub

Then it was into the Hub for The Dig Collective  for cabaret, pizza and beer. They said that their "show contains coarse language, unsexy bodies and Scott Morrison being hit by leaks". I couldn't have said it better myself and think that Whack a Mollinson should be played in Canberra.

My night ended with Unease: a burlesque piece that's about every women finding what they think is glamorous and not being scared if it seems weird, gory or unexpected. 

This is a wonderful little festival that creates a sense of excitement and place at Monash Uni and encourages emerging artists to create the kind of work they want to make. And when you make the work you want to make, you find the audience that loves you.

04 August 2014

A moment in yarn

A moment in yarn
Sayraphim Lothian
as part of Craft Victoria's Craft Cubed festival

Craftivist Sayraphim Lothian says A Moment in Yarn is a participatory craft experience; I say it's absolutely beautiful – and when she does it next, you must book your spot.

The experience is simple. You sit down with Sayraphim and she asks you to tell her a happy memory. I told her the story about how I eventually got my cat Flue. She asked me some specific questions and as she started crocheting, we talked about our pets.

A few minutes later, she handed me my finished square. It was immediately something precious to me because in it I could see a story that's mine.

We get so caught up in trying to tell complicated and universally-meaning stories and often wonder why they don't seem to connect.

Here a connection is made instantly and unguarded emotions and a memory are made solid by some scraps of yarn and a short conversation.

It's so beautiful.

So please, the next time Sayraphim does it – venues and events, you can book her – take family and friends. Use your square to start a rug or a use the squares made for your family to make a cushion cover. Whatever you do, you will want to do something special with something that looks like a scrap to anyone else.

Mine is the perfect size to put on top of the tin that holds Flue's ashes.

Her eyes are in the centre, the white bits are her, the middle is the colours of the first collar I bought her, and it's held together by me in black clothes that were always covered in white fur.

02 August 2014

Last chance: Green Screen and Purgatorio

What really must end this weekend is my time with a gastrointestinal virus. I'm excited that I can now get out of bed, but am leaving myself in quarantine until there is no sign of it. It doesn't needs sharing and I'm on my way to becoming an obsessive hand washer.

As I don't write well in the bathroom, some great shows missed out on reviews and they finish this weekend. There's time to see them both. Unless you are sick. Then stay home.

Green Screen
Sans Hotel
finishes Sunday

Nicola Gunn's Green Screen ends the second NEON Festival of Independent Theatre. I can't compare her theatre to anything because Gunn creates work that is like her unconscious explaining her soul.

The more of her work that I see, the less I understand it. And I never want to. I'm scared that if I begin to see how her creations work,  I'll begin to see the trick. Meanwhile, I have no idea how something that begins with a line of toy animals, hummus pasta, a green monster blow-up mattress and gold body paint can say so much and be so personal to someone who has never eaten hummus pasta.

And she's joined by Nat Cursio, Tom Davies, Jonno Katz and Kerith Manderson-Galvin who meet, talk and sing in a community centre that tries to calm with beach-scene wall paper. They are a complete joy.

Green Screen is bitingly cynical but deeply loving and, in a breath, the final moments bring the work's disparate events together to let us know what it's all been about. It's beautiful.

5Pound and Attic Erratic
The Owl and the Pussycat
finishes Saturday

Well, you might not be able to see this because it's sold out. But it can't hurt to call and check.

Melbourne audiences generally like to let a show run for a bit until they see it. This often means that people miss out on great shows by being cautious and waiting to hear if it's worth seeing. Lesson: go early and be among the people making the word of mouth.

Purgatorio is by Chilien-American playwright Ariel Dorfman, who's best known for Death and the Maiden. Here Purgatory is the soulless empty between Heaven and Hell where a Man interrogates a Woman over the murder of her children, and a Woman interrogates a Man about his guilt over his wife's death. It doesn't take long to recognise the Greek myth the stories are from, but it's far more than a reflection on Medea and Jason as Dorfman continues to explore what it takes for humans to do the unthinkable and if there's hope for redemption in a world set on revenge.

Director Celeste Cody finds the endless layers in the script without giving away its secrets, and she uses the tiny space of the Owl and the Pussycat to create a dark and empty world that's neither hellish nor real. And by placing the audience on either side of the room, each side naturally align themselves with Man or Woman.

But Freya Pragt and Jason Cavanagh ensure that the audience's allegiances are never firm. Both performances are riveting, but it's how they work together that makes this script so frighteningly real.

Review: Glengarry Glen Ross

Glengarry Glen Ross
Melbourne Theatre Company
19 July 2014
The Sumner
to 9 August

Photo by Jeff Busby

David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross is many things. It won Mamet the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Drama because it captured a time, place and attitude so remarkably. He re-wrote it as an acclaimed film (1992) and the play's an aspirational piece for actors. Who doesn't want to do a Mamet? But this MTC production fails to capture what makes Mamet so popular.

It's hard to make the anger and social-grasp of Mamet dull, but director Alkinos Tsilimidos manages to make it feel like a soporific mid-afternoon tv movie. It passed the time pleasantly enough, but lacked any spark to make a blaze.

The cast are all terrific actors, but seem to be performing to be watched for their performance rather than working together to tell a story (which has nothing to do with John McTernan coming in at the last minute and still having his script).  They're enjoying the experience of being in the play, but they're not bringing the audience into the world on the stage.

There's no way in for the audience an emotional connection or to find a reason to care. The most empathy comes from Brett Cousins, as the conned Lingk, but the play's not about him; he's there to show what a dick Roma (Alex Dimitriades) is and what a dick Levene (McTernan) can be.

The detail of the design's 1980s office is a welcome distraction, but there's no comment, fun or satire to support the script or help make it about now and us. And it's not like there are no parallels to easily draw about dodgy real estate being sold to people who can't afford it.

If a production isn't a reflection of us and now, why bother?

This was on AussieTheatre.com.