27 October 2014

FESTIVAL: When the mountain changed its clothing

When the mountain changed its clothing
Vocal Theatre Carmina Slovenica & Heiner Goebbals
23 October 2014
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 26 October

Photo by Wonge Bergmann

"If you liked that show, I'm going to push you under a tram." It could only be said in Melbourne, at an arts festival. It was said to me at the end of When the mountain changed its clothing.

I liked it.

Others didn't.

My favourite bit was the cutting open of teddy bears to make clouds. And the throat singing choir of teenagers in coloured and patterned gum boots.

German composer and director Heiner Goebbals makes a form of music theatre that's made to be an experience. Much closer to performance art than narrative theatre, he creates a strange and beautiful base for the audience to layer their own interpretation and emotions onto. 

He was last at a Melbourne Festival with Stiflers Dinge in 2010. Without performers, stripped upright pianos were played by mechanical arms in a leafless and pond-filled forest. They moved, sound came from everywhere and there was lots of dry ice. It was mesmerising and weird and left people smiling without knowing why.

When the mountain changed its clothing has performers. Forty teenage girls and young women from Vocal Theatre Carmina Slovenica: a girls ensemble, directed by Karmina Silec, that searches for and explores new forms of music and vocal techniques. Their singing is exquisite. And their movement is as disciplined as their music. There isn't a step or note out of place. While each is dressed individually, they work as one and none would dare to stand out. It's also a bit creepy.

Without a safe or easy narrative, scenes have themes and as they build on each other, the intent of the previous scenes becomes clearer. The music and text is a mish-mash – music includes Schonberg, traditional Slovenian music and new work by Goebbals;  text includes Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Ian McEwan, Gertrude Stein and an excerpt from a tv show – that somehow sounds like it belongs together.

There's logic and complete understanding of the work on the stage – it's easy to see it's about transitions – but seeing the understanding isn't as easy. And this is how Goebbals's work soars or plummets.

I saw it as a middle-aged look at teenage girls and how they have been, and continue to be, represented in literature and the arts. The choir of teens show attempts at capturing the experience of being between child and adult; a time when a girl thinks they are one thing while the world sees them as the other. A time when innocence means more than child or adult understands.

There's an early scene when the girls sit in a line at the front of the stage and silently = look at the audience. A middle-aged man two-people along from me whispered, "Show us your tits". I wish I'd reached over and slapped him. I saw children in t-shirts and jeans. He saw tits. I hated him. I hope he reads this and for one fraction of a second feels what it must be like as a girl to have a man old enough to be your grandfather say that to you.

The girls and young women on stage are controlled, but there's rebellion in the creepy consistency. I saw a show that celebrated the strength and power of young women and laughs at anyone who dares to only see tits.

It's today's $25 SwiftTix offer. For $25 it's worth the risk to see what your feel at the end. Meanwhile, I'm staying a few metres away from tram lines.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

23 October 2014

FESTIVAL: My Lovers' Bones

My Lovers' Bones
Brown Cab Productions
15 October 2014
Footscray Community Arts Centre
to 18 October

Kirk Page. Photo by Deryk McAlpin

My Lovers' Bones is another premiere Australian work developed for and supported by the Melbourne Festival. Created by independent company Brown Cab Productions, it's a fascinating story of a man running through city streets being chased by a malevolent force that's not giving up.

This force could be his past, his self, a woman he once loved or a bunyip that's lived in the city since the time before cities were imagined.

Directed by Margaret Harvey (founder of Brown Cab with her brother John Harvey), it explores how Indigenous myth and Dreaming are a part of the land we share and creep into our beliefs and lives even if we don't understand how or why. And it reminds that ancient stories from indigenous people and elders all over the world come from a place of truth.

As the running man, Kirk Page's performance is mesmerising. He captures a world where he wants to think the fear is in his head but knows in his soul that it's real. His confusion and terror is made more palpable a stunning sound (Anna Liebzeit) and lighting (Lisa Mibus) design that creates a world that's floating between the seen and unseen; between safety and horror.

At less than an hour, its concise telling doesn't dwell on anything superfluous, but, while it's beautiful to watch, some of the show's heart is caught on the stage and hasn't found its way out of the creators's heads and into the audience's hearts. As a story about a bunyip, it needs to be felt in the gut more than understood in the head.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

FESTIVAL: Complexity of Belonging

Complexity of Belonging
Melbourne Festival, Chunky Move, Melbourne Theatre Company & Brisbane Festival
9 October 2014
Sumner Theatre
to 25 October

Photo by Jeff Busby

Melbourne Festival, the Brisbane Festival and Melbourne Theatre Company have coordinated to support the creation of Complexity of Belonging. It's the type of work that international arts festivals are terrific at developing.

Falk Richter, writer and director from Schaubühne Berlin (a favourite at recent Melbourne Festivals) and Anouk van Dijk, now the Artistic Director of Melbourne's Chunky Move, have previously worked together in the Europe and have developed this piece with an Australian cast that's premiered in Melbourne and will tour Europe next year.

Working with nine actors and dancers, it's a collaboration where the performers contributed stories that result in semi-fictional hyper-real versions of themselves on stage. The stories are about finding a way to belong when you're not feeling a part of your tribe. Looking at Australian culture from an outside – mostly European – eye they include the aesthetics of being a performer, looking or not looking white, not understanding Aussie culture, finding a perfect man, keeping love alive, coming out, religion, Indigenous identification and the despair of having a partner who doesn't go down on you.

A magnificent seamless curved cyc of an Australian desert makes the stage feels vast. With live projections onto a screen happening concurrently with dance and monologues, this vastness makes the stories feel somehow connected to a greater whole and isolated.

This contradiction continues throughout the production and varies in its success.

At times everything works together and results in the kind of emotional and technical mind-meld that we hope for every time we sit in a theatre. As performers speak, van Dijk's mesmerising choreography is like the uncontrolled always-falling-or-climbing inner-chatter that we try to keep hidden from the world, and the screen captures and magnifies the emotions and reactions that are rarely spoken.

Then there are times when the content and the text verges on the banal and #middleclasswhine, especially when the hyper-realised personas are clearly in fictional worlds, and the authenticity is strained. The joy of this piece depends on how the stories are so believable and connectable. They are allowed to fly with the support of the dance, design and great performances, but when the momentum gives out, there's too much room to crash.

And still, I wonder if this in itself isn't part of what makes the rest of it work. There is a lot of banality in finding ways to feel like you belong. I want to see what Complexity of Belonging becomes with feedback of stage time. It may already be a very different show from opening night.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

FESTIVAL: Mikelangelo, City of Dreams

City of Dreams launch
14 October 2014
Foxtel Festival Hub
to 16 October

Photo by Tom Chuma
Mikelangelo isn't from Melbourne and spends a lot of time travelling the world, but – like many of us – he fell in hopeless love with this city and made it his home. Last night, surrounded by friends who collaborated and friends who swooned and cheered, he launched his new album City of Dreams, a love song to "Where I feel safe and where I feel loved".

And where better to launch a love song to Melbourne than in the  Festival Hub on the banks of the Yarra.

With his voice deeper and hotter than hell, the album's more gentle and less character-driven than his Tin Star or Black Sea Gentlemen music. While Black Sea Mikelangelo explodes with yearning testosterone and pomade, Melbourne Mikelangelo strolls through the city streets, often hand-in-hand with Clare St Clare, and sees that everything around him is bloody beautiful.

There's still a rockabilly influence, but Miles Brown has convinced him that a theramin and synthesizer are as sexy as a well-worn guitar, and his guest vocalists, including St Clare, bring a balancing lightness to his irresistible darkness.

The album's wonderful but it was its Pledge Music crowd funding campaign that created the extra love to make it something that won't be forgotten – and it wasn't just the money.

His pledge rewards are personal and offer unrepeatable experiences like Mikelangelo meeting you in Edinburgh Gardens to shine your shoes, taking you to his barber, serenading your grandmother, taking you to Piedimonte's to discover if you can get a cappuccino upstairs, or MCing your event. And some of his favourite suits are up for grabs.

Campiagn updates included photos of thrilled mums, hand-inked cd covers, the newly quiffed and men full of dumplings. Plus personalised messages to every pledger and a bonus EP for us who live so south that we can listen while we feel the white sand of Sandringham beach on bare feet.

At last look, his powder-blue suit is gone but the "Name your baby" reward is still available. And there are two more performances of the City of Dreams album at the Festival Hub tonight (Wednesday) and tomorrow. Be prepared to float home in he afterglow.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.


Circa & Debussy String Quartet
17 October 2014
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 19 October

The experience of watching Circa continues to leave me a babbling mess of words that don't come near to describing how they make me feel.

Opus, which was co-comissioned by the Melbourne Festival and premiered in France in 2013, was developed by Circa's choreographer and director Yaron Lifschitz, the Circa ensemble – it's the first show to feature all of the ensemble – and the world-renowned Debussy String Quartet, who are based in Lyon, France.

Lifschitz doesn't so much as meld dance and circus, but flings them together in ways that force both to a height where failure means certain death and success means flight into the unknown. His performers fly at velocities that usually need seat belts.

The music is live, with the quartet playing Adagio for Strings and String Quartets 11, 8 and 5 by twentieth century Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. The composer's world was filled with war and death, so his music is a bleak and angry look at humanity that's beautiful because it reaches the parts of us that hope for a better world.

The quartet are positioned to be danced and moved around. For all the intent to make the live music as vital as the dance, they remain separate. Maybe watching bodies at the limit of human strength and flexibility is so amazing that men playing at the limit of human skill and concentration can't compare. This is also felt in the clash between music etiquette (clap in the silence when the music is over) and circus etiquette (clap at the end of a trick). Circus wins and the insult of cheering and treating a live quartet – who are playing music about horror and fear – as background music adds a somewhat frustrating dynamic to the experience.

But the urge to cheer is difficult to overcome as what seems physically impossible is repeatedly proven to be possible.

The choreography is the embodied emotion of Shostakovich's music. It's the sense of control in what can look like chaos. People cling together and explode apart; they climb and balance or fall and are caught; and they repeatedly collapse and keep get up in ways that defy belief.

It's dangerous movement and for all the logic that reminds that everyone is safe, there's a thrill in knowing that the line between being caught and being broken is wafter thin.

Opus finishes on Sunday. It's jaw-dropping, heart-stopping wonderful.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

20 October 2014

Review: Happy People in concert

Happy People in concert
18 October 2014
Chapel off Chapel
to 19 October

Photo by James Terry

Melbourne had the first look at Matthew Lee Robinson's musical Happy People on the weekend.

Its first workshop performance was in Melbourne in 2010 and since then Robinson, a WAPPA graduate, received a Churchill Fellowship to go to the USA to study composition, lyric and book writing under the mentorship of Stephen Schwartz – who wrote Wicked. With more development in the US and dramaturgical input by Schwartz, Happy People is ready to come home.

Inspired by the Australian children's tv program Hi-5, it's about an American kids-tv foursome, the man inside their elephant friend, and their manager. They've been smiling and wearing bright colours for ten years and the cracks are beginning to show. Sunny (Sun Park, who was in Hi-5) and Bobby (Bobby Fox) were married but can barely be in the same room as each other;  Benny (Tom Sharah) is auditioning for a boy band; Sally (Gretel Scarlett) stuck at 25 and isn't keep to turn 30; while Jeff (Bert LaBonté) has had enough of being an elephant, is in love with Sally and is secretly developing his own show with Sunny and hoping for manager (Robyn Arthur) to support them. Everyone's had enough of being happy, until their final tour is announced.

Directed by Chris Parker, the concert version shows that Happy People needs to get onto a stage (with this cast, please) to work out the final kinks. The book feels like it needs some Act 2 complications to raise the stakes and really threaten the relationships, but it's hard to tell when the action's so condensed.

Otherwise, it's ready to go with music that's asking to be sung along to, witty lyrics and a story's that gets behind the endless smiles of kids tv. Let's just hope that we get to see it in Australia (maybe with some Australian content) before the US grabs it and makes us wait.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.


Dewey Dell
12 October 2014
Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall
to 14 October

Photo by Wolfgang Silveri

So, there's a Japanese samurai going all Noh, a Pink Power Ranger, the offspring triplets of a Telly Tubby and the Michelin Man, a bird (that I called Dick Face), and an inflatable starfish. Dewey Dell's art-dance-theatre Marzo is weird. Really weird. Awesomely, fabulously, I-don't-know-what-I-just-experienced weird!

Dewey Dell were formed in Italy in 2007 by Agata Castellucci, Demitrio Castellucci, Teodora Castellucci and Eugenio Resta. They now spend a lot of time at festivals all over the world. They created Marzo with Japanese director Kuro Tanio and costume designer Yuichi Yokoyama.

The process started as a story, but it isn't on stage. The story is distilled to emotion; emotion that's made into something bigger with brain-pounding design, music, choreography and performance that work as one to ensure that what's cohesive on the stage can be anything the audience want it to be.

There are surtitles, but they distract and really don't help. However if you want to find the embryo of this marvel, it's set on a crater of a distant planet where the life could be microscopic or giant; the thousands and thousands of years it takes their light to reach Earth, means that they could have already evolved into something unrecognisable or have been obliterated from the universe. Maybe. It's also about war and fertility. I think.

It really doesn't matter what it's about. Marzo is pure experience and an interpretation of a reflection on human reaction to conflict is as cool as wondering why the dick-face bird is attacking the power ranger.

It's intense, confusing and a like drinking a pint of undiluted red cordial and trying to stay still.

I know that some have hated it, and it's close to that line that makes me wonder how or why it was made – but I couldn't stop watching and I know that I'm going to be disappointed if I don't see the inflatable telly-tubby-shagged-michelin-man triplets again.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

FESTIVAL: Have I No Mouth

Have I No Mouth
11 October 2014
Merlyn Theatre, Coopers Malthouse
to 13 October

Photo by Jeremy Abrahams

Have I No Mouth is extraordinary theatre. I was on the verge of tears for most of it, but it took me somewhere beautiful.

Co-writers and directors Feidlim Cannon and Gary Keenan are co-artistic directors of the Dublin-based company Brokentalkers, which they were among the founders of in 2001. Wanting to explore new forms that challenge everything about text-based theatre, the company creates what they call Live Performance, a collaborative process drawing from skills and experiences beyond theatre.

In Have I No Mouth, Cannon is joined by his mother (Ann Cannon) and their psychotherapist (Erich Keller). Ann and Erich aren't theatre makers.

Feidlim and Ann saw the psychotherapist together and individually to work through their ongoing grief and pain over the death of brother and son baby Sean when he was 15 hours old and Feidlim was 6, and the death of father and husband Sean when Feidlim was in his early 20s. Ann and Sean met when they were 15 and 16.

On his practice's website, Erich Keller describes how he forms a bond with clients to develop "hopeful and creative ways" to reconcile difficulties. The on-stage therapy, including counselling, dream work, object work, re-inactment and surrogacy, is taken out of the consulting room and made theatrical. Young Feidlim and his brother are life-size cut out photos. Ann talks to her young son. Feidlim dances. Erich becomes the father who visits in dreams.

They share how they found a way through the insanity, anger and farce – let's not forget the funny moments – of grief. Ann is a believing Christian and is now a colour therapist and practices Reiki (which is part of the stage ritual and telling), Feidlim made a piece of theatre that's taken him and his mum around the world. Neither advocate any way to heal and, for all its unflinching honesty, it's presented with a distance that allows for empathy without judgement.

It's a work about grief, but it's ultimately a story about Feidlim and Ann and the mother–son relationship and dynamic. It's written into the work but is so palpable on the stage that there's no question that either would ruin the "play" without hesitation if the other weren't feeling safe.

It also leaves us with so many questions. We might want to know what happened when Feidlim asked his mum to make a piece of theatre on their holiday to Spain, how they convinced the Erich to be involved, what happened with the legal case over Sean's misdiagnosis, how the other brother is going, or why we never see a photo of Sean – but none of this is part of this story, and none of our business. The unanswered and unspoken questions remind us that it is a piece of theatre, and that stories in theatre are rarely verbatim truth.

Have I No Mouth is harrowing and astonishing in its deeply human sharing of grief, but its catharsis is so real that it becomes a sharing of joy and hope.

PS. I think this is an unmissable piece, but last night I told two friends not to see it as their current experiences are too close.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

16 October 2014

FESTIVAL: Carrousel Des Moutons

Carrousel Des Moutons
D'irque & Fen
10 October 2014
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 12 October

Photo by Fabien Debrabander

Belgium duo Dirk Can Boxelaere and Fien Van Herwegen – who met in 2005 when circus performer Dirk broke his leg and used his down time to have piano lessons from Fien – won hearts and fans on their first trip to Melbourne in 2013 with Oh Suivant!.  Carrousel Des Moutons is even more gorgeous.

Dirk's in his stripy pjs and is ready to sleep, but Fien's playing her piano, her flying piano! With extraordinary balance, tumbling, juggling and love-filled clowing, Dirk's struggle for bed-time overcomes gravity, Fien's original music, and a gasping and squealing audience (and that's just the grown ups) to finally settle and be able to count des moutons (sheep) – and the carousel of sheep is so lovely and surprising that I'm it'll make me smile and relax the next time insomnia strikes.

Here's circus-theatre made for children that never condescends to it's younger audience, while never forgetting the oldies.  It's a pure enchantment and, while the Festival is only two days old, it's my highlight so far.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

FESTIVAL: Cirkopolis

Cirque Éloize
10 October 2014
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 12 October

Cirque Éloize are from Montreal – a city with an international circus school and is home to companies including Cirque du Soliel and 7 Doigts De La Main – and have performed in 440 cities in over 40 countries. They're met with joy, cheers and awards where ever they go and Cirkopolis lives up to the spectacle and how-can-they-do-that expected of this company.

Visually based on Fritz Lang's 1927 film Metrolpolis, it's set in a grey world where grey-coated people are as human as the machines around them. Its striking animated back wall (Robert Massicotte and Alexis Laurence) of factories and cog-driven machines is enhanced by a lighting design (Nicholas Descoteux) that lets performers and the animation become one.

And with choreographed perfection, physically astonishing performers, and a heart-warming premise that people will always find ways to be themselves and find colour in the grey, there's little to say that it's not wonderful. But this may be it's downfall.

I have a soft spot for this company because their Rain was the first review I wrote for AussieTheatre in 2006 (sorry Creative Director's program notes, it's not the first time they've been to Melbourne). Rain questioned the role of contemporary circus in theatres and answered its own questions by being emotionally compelling and technically wow.

Cirkopolis is outstanding circus that I thoroughly enjoyed, but it feels like a show that's made to tour and never ruffle a feather. It's traditional trick-based circus where the men are strong, the clown's a wuss and the women giggle in pretty dresses and are thrown about by the men in suits. It's not questioning or pushing circus art beyond the expected.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

12 October 2014

Guest review: The City They Burned

The City They Burned
Attic Erratic
22 September 2014

Review by Kevin Turner

Photo by Sarah Walker

The City They Burned was sold out and then some by the time I saw it. It was a hugely successful season for Attic Erratic that’s all done now and tickets were rare as hens teeth when it was on, so there's not much point encouraging people to see it. But the performances raised a lot of questions and discussion points, as seen on social and other media; so, let's dive into that.

It tells the story of Lot and the city of Sodom. Being thousands of years old, let's not be cagey about spoilers. Split into two incredibly distinct acts, Fleur Kilpatrick's text focuses on, the judgement of the city by Inspectors (angels) in the first act, and the life of Lot and his family after the destruction of the city in the second act. But it wasn't just the text that created the difference between acts, there was also a challenging shift in form. Here was where I most struggled.

The first act was a masterpiece of immersion and direction. Set in a dinner party, the audience were thrown straight into the action and, with barely any warning, were employees of the factory city of Sodom. Its fate was intrinsically tied to our own. It took a moment for that to sink in, but by the time the audience realised what was happening and how culpable they were in it then it was too late. Their city had been condemned and they had stood by; they hadn't merely watched, they had mingled and chatted while Lot and his cronies desperately tried to sway the Inspectors from their decision.

Here, credit for the fantastic orchestration of form goes to director Danny Delahunty. The organised chaos within which the audience found themselves was the perfect blend of immersion and distance, of safety and risk. It was a thrill to be a part of and left me wanting more.

The performances were also engaging, particularly from the secondary characters. Dave Lamb's Isaac and Brendan McCallum's Abaddon were particular standouts here. McCallum's Abaddon was a perfect foil for Lot (Scott Gooding). He established a genial and warm relationship but maintained the strong presence and motives of the working everyman. Lamb's Isaac existed in the background and did so beautifully. I found myself constantly drawn to him; a commanding presence in the work and one who never forgot that he could be being watched at any moment.

After the excitement that was the first act, the second was jarring. Now the audience found themselves in a seating bank, watching what appeared to be a straight play/family drama – admittedly one set in a cave following the levelling of the family's city and the turning of their friends into pillars of salt. This act was technically solid but after the rampant madness of the first, it was difficult to engage.

It felt like two separate plays/adaptations of the same source material. The text also started to more clearly show itself in the second act. No longer hiding itself behind the stellar direction, Kilpatrick's, admittedly exquisitely beautiful words, floundered in performance. There was too much poetry in the work, too much beauty and it cheapened the story of the family on stage. The second act was a disappointing end to a show that was so exciting during the first.

Despite that end, The City They Burned is a work to be immensely proud of. A huge congratulations to all involved and a massive thank you for the introduction to watermelon, prosciutto and feta, it really is "just one of those combinations".

My review.

11 October 2014

Review: Once

Melbourne Theatre Company &
John Frost, Barbara Broccoli, John N Hart Jr, Patrick Milling Smith, Frederick Zollo
4 October 2014
Princess Theatre

Photo by Jeff Busby

In 2006, Once was a tiny indie movie that went on to win an Oscar for best song and became a Broadway musical that won a pile of Tonys, including Best Musical, a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album, and some Oliviers. The Australian version of this production opened in Melbourne on Saturday and, as the ovation still echoes through the city, it's on track to being the musical of the year.

If you've never fallen in love with a musical, Once could be the one to charm your pants off.

With a story that starts and leads with characters as real as your friends and family, it ignores music theatre expectations of expensive spectacle, glittery sets and predictable story to create a show made from guts, heart and passion.

Set in Dublin, a "guy" is ready to give up on his music and fix vacuums when a "girl" hears him play and spends the next five days reminding him of the love and feelings that created his music in the first place. Gathering friends and a bank manager with a heart, a band is formed and the recording studio is booked.

Led by Tom Parsons and Madeleine Jones, the cast is a mix of well-known and on-their-way-to-being-well-known faces. Greg Stone and Susan-Ann Walker ground the story as a still-grieving dad and a mum wanting her daughter to be happy, Amy Lehpamer and Brent Hill bring lightness and laughs, and there isn't anyone in the cast who isn't unforgettable.

The Tony-winning design (Bob Crowley, who also designed the Mary Poppins that toured Australia) is an Irish bar decorated with framed mirrors that catch faces and bodies to make any part of the stage its own framable moment. None of the story takes place in a bar, but it's the traditional home of craic and music, and the audience are welcome on stage before the show and during interval. If you've ever wondered what a theatre looks like from up there, this is your chance.

The original music (by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, from the film) is the kind of gentle-sad-indie pop-rock that's best enjoyed with a pint of the black stuff on a date, and is played by the cast of 12 who rarely leave the stage. With no separation between musicians, singers and actors, director John Tiffany (who also won a Tony) ensures that there's no chance for the music, lyrics and action to be separated from the characters and their story (John Carney wrote the film; Enda Walsh wrote the book and won a Tony).

And while the music's endlessly singable and the cast are captivating, it's the story that catches your heart unaware.

Once isn't enough.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

08 October 2014

FRINGE part 9: Live Art

Dances with Woodwose
Klara Kelvy
A Day Like Every Other
Mattie Young and Georgia Mill
Fringe Hub, North Melbourne Town Hall, The Warren
3 October 2014
to 4 October 2014

With a spare hour on Friday night, it was time to finally experience some Live Art. Next year, I'm doing Live Art on the first weekend.

One adventure lasted for a few short and wonderful minutes and the other finished on Sunday afternoon.

Live Art is about being part of an experience that refuses to draw a line between artist and audience. Often one-on-one, a Live Art experience is hard to share because it can be so personal. No matter how beautiful and meaning it is to the person participating, it means little to anyone else: that's what makes Live Art so lovely.

Dances with Woodwose

In the corner of The Warren bar was a door guarded by two creatures. One fur-clad critter promised to look after my beer and my bag and asked me to take of my shoes, shut my eyes and walk forward.

It was here, in a small secret forest that a blue-furred Woodwose asked me to dance and made me realise that all I wanted to do was to sleep for hours on a blanket under a tree on a sunny day where I protected from the outside world by a huge fence. If we'd danced earlier in the festival, I might have wanted to run the African plains or kiss a blue whale.

Something unusual above my eyeline

This full 24-hour-plus-day experience started with a short chat in a tiny room where there were two arm chairs, a pot of tea and an Anzac bicky. The chat was about what I was doing the next day; a day that started included a trip to my local Farmer's Market, a meeting in North Melbourne and the opening night of Once.

No wonder all my subconscious wanted to do was sleep under a tree.

My day like every other started in my bed in next morning with an SMS with instructions to look straight ahead and write a three-line poem about what I saw.

She likes to sit on my belly when I wake up. I like it too.
But there’s always the fear that she’ll stand on a nipple when she jumps up;
nothing hurts like a cat standing on a nipple.

Not-quite-awake text poetry isn't my genre.

More SMS messages arrived throughout the day with tasks that included taking photos, drawings, SMS-sized writing and a map of everywhere I'd walked.

I finished the walking map on Sunday afternoon because I saw the message in the lost hour when the clocks changed and picking up a pen was too hard.

The experience finished when I was sent a password and a link to the A Day Like Any Other Tumblr that included all of my contributions.

It wasn't art to change to world, but it was mine and I loved it.

05 October 2014

Review: Carrie, The Musical

Carrie: The Musical
Ghost Light in association with Moving Light
25 September 2014
Chapel off Chapel
to 12 October

New Melbourne company Ghost Light have made a loud and proud declaration by debuting with the infamous flop Carrie: The Musical. And given that we haven't seen a production of it in Melbourne, it's a clever choice. Who doesn't want to see a show that's known as one of the worst musicals to open on Broadway?

The Royal Shakespeare Company premiered Carrie: The Musical in 1988; Les Miserables had been such a success for them that another musical was an obvious choice. It didn't do well. But it was Carrie and being based on the well-known 1976 film, which was based on Stephen King's runaway success debut novel, it got a lot of financial support and opened on Broadway in 1988. It didn't do well, closing after five performances. However, it has gone on to earn a cult status for being atrocious.

Carrie is a teenager who has been abused by her over-loving and god-fearing mother. She's an outsider at high school and her school life goes to hell when she freaks out about getting her first period and thinking that she's dying. Her mum makes things worse, but a teacher helps out and Carrie finds out that she has a friend among the mean girls. But she doesn't count on one particularly mean girl's need for revenge and the mean girl doesn't know about Carrie's trauma-induced telekinesis.

It's known as a horror story that explores the damage caused by fundamentalist religion and questions the power of young women and the existence of the fundamentalist god.

The musical's about finding friends, standing up to bullies and being yourself. Which is great – in High School Musical.

It's a dud. Musically dull, lyrically bland, Carrie feels like it was created by people who have seen musicals and replicated the outline without any detail. It's superficial and doesn't try to explore the guts and horror that created the story.

No wonder it's so popular! It's fun to watch something really bad and laugh at it.

But this production doesn't invite the laughs. It's played so straight that the opening night audience didn't have permission to laugh. It opens with earnest performances and cheesy choreography, which nails the tone that would free up the giggles, but the earnestness seems genuine. I hope that the floating Jesus picture on a string and the magical slamming locker doors are meant to be funny in their tacky obviousness, but I'm more afraid that they are serious.

But don't stop yourself from seeing it. After all, how often do you get the chance to see of Carrie: The Musical. And it has Chelsea Gibb as Carrie's mum and Emily Milledge as Carrie.

When these two are on the stage, the story comes alive.

Gibb plays the mother as a deeply traumatised women and creates an empathy and genuine feeling that overcomes her inane lyrics and the past images of the mother as a one-dimensional sadistic bitch.

And there's Emily Milledge. In an astonishing performance, she finds more in Carrie than this musical deserves. From the moment she opens her mouth, there's no doubt that she's going to bring us through the horror. As she's shown in her work with independent theatre The Rabble (Story of ORoom of Regret and Frankenstein), a can't-stop-watching performance comes from within the performer and has little to do with the words and story they are given. She shows us Carrie's inner hell and makes us dread the pig blood rather than looking forward to the most famous and gruesome scene in the story.

Without these two, it's just a confusingly straight production of an outrageously bad work, but the combination ensures that it's going to do well.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

02 October 2014

Fringe part 8

My goal is 30 Fringe shows. I'm close. I've seen more than I've written about because time, brain imploding and exhausted.

Elbow Room and Speakeasy
1 October 2014
Northcote Town Hall
to October 5

Prehistoric made me want to take drugs, see bands and scream at middle aged people like me. It's hands down a highlight of this Fringe.

Already seen at the recent Brisbane Festival, director and writer Marcel Dorney's work looks at the 1970s Brisbane punk band scene through the magnified lens of now. We're reminded by the actors – who weren't even born in the 70s – that this was a time before history began, before what we had for breakfast was photographed and recorded, and when music recordings had to be physically found and bought.

It's hard to remember that Queensland was considered a police state in the 1970s and early 80s. The super conservative Bjelke-Petersen government were corrupt and the police were unaccountable and violent. Kids in bands were beaten up for being kids in bands and community station ZZZ was the heart of rebellion. I remember going to Brisbane in 1988 and pot was still buried and hidden in the back yard so that it could never be found in the house. 

It was also a time that created some amazing bands. Imagine 1970s and 80s music without the The Saints or The Go-Betweens!

But this work is so much more than nostalgia. By jumping in and out of 1979 and now, it creates a palpable memory of being 19 and 20 and being angry, lost and voiceless, and of finding friends and finding power, hope and a voice in music.

With a powerful cast (Kathryn Marquet, Sarah McLeod, John Russell and Reuben Witsenhuysen) from Brisbane, the 35-year gap between then and now disappears and it'll make you want to watch Watership Down stonned.

And Ed Keupper is playing at the Melbourne Festival on Saturday 25 October! He formed The Saints in Brisbane, who released Prehistoric Sounds in 1977, and is the Ed who left the band in the conversation about this album in Prehistoric.  I first saw him in 1989 in a club in Perth.

1 October 2014
Long Play
to 5 October

It's time, comrades. It's time to remember the "It's Time" campaign and Gough Whitlam's program for a country with free education, universal healthcare and equal rights. I grew up thinking that this was the baseline for any Australian government. It's devastating to know that today we have a government and opposition that are making us hurtle backwards to a time when this 1972 campaign seems progressive and impossible. Can anyone imagine the current Labor party running a campaign like that?

Gough is a 30-minute visit to Prime Minister Whitlam's office some time after his dismissal as PM by Governor-General John Kerr on 11 November 1975. It's a great little history lesson, but an audience who are happy to pay $30 dollars for a short show about Gough Whitlam probably already know much more about the dismissal than is on the stage.

It's a dramatised lecture more than a piece of theatrical storytelling. Theatre allows us to question and imagine and ask "what if?". I wanted to see something about Gough that I didn't know or had never imagined. I wanted to see something that reflected on now and let us cheer more than just the memory of a man.

It's also time to remember that the villain of this story, Malcolm Fraser, is now a hero of the small l liberal left. Fraser was so horrified by the Howard government's policies that he resigned from the party he once led and is one of the most vocal and articulate critics of Abbott and mates. I recently went to see Fraser talk about his new book. The room was filled with middle aged, middle class liberal lefties. Fraser has become a hero to those who cursed his name. Listening to him talk about current politics, all I could think was if they won't listen to the hero of their own party, what hope do we have of making them listen to us?

After Ever After
2 October 2014
Fringe Hub, North Melbourne Town Hall, Rehearsal Room
to 4 October 2014

Rama Nicholas's After Ever After grim Grimms may be the funniest fairy tale ever.

Nicholas knows that the original tales recorded by the Brothers Grimm are far from the happy-ever-after blah blah of today's bedtime stories, so she's written the ultimate sequel that's feminist, filthy and sexy.

Set in a post-happily-ever-after village, Red Riding Hood is in ninga training in preparation for Wolfie's release from gaol, Snow White's daughter is chatting with the mirror that tells the truth, Rapunzel's up the duff again, and Hansel's got really fat and trying to woo Red.

As a solo work, Nicholas plays all 20 characters without a hitch – and there are songs to make every Disney Princess reclaim her power and march into the world demanding so much more than a dull fuck with a dull prince.

Some of these were on AussieTheatre.com.

01 October 2014

Review: The Riders

The Riders
Victorian Opera & Malthouse Theatre
23 September 2014
Merlyn Theatre, Coopers Malthouse
to 4 October

Photo by Jeff Busby

Victorian Opera and Malthouse Theatre have created a new mainstage Australian opera. How exciting! And it's an adaption of Tim Winton's The Riders, a dream-fit for opera. This is worth being excited about.

The Riders is a personal and affecting story with a scope that's beyond the reach of its characters. Aussie bloke-man Scully yearns for hot sandy beaches but searches his past in Europe for something more than what he wants. As the line between imagery and reality is blurred, it's never clear if it's all happening in Scully's head or if he's lost in the mythology of the horses and riders who follow him.

Scully is renovating a cottage in Ireland for his pregnant wife, Jennifer, and daughter, Billie, who went back to Freemantle to sell their house. When Billie arrives at the airport alone and traumatised into silence, Scully takes his child and searches for Jennifer in the places they recently stayed in Europe.

Alison Croggon (libretto) and Iain Grandage (music) haven't translated the book for the stage – which belongs in the pages it was written for – but have found a vision of the story that condenses Scully's arc, gives a voice and presence to the book-invisible Jennifer, and leaves only three minor characters for the chorus of three.

Croggon's libretto combines grabs of the poetic text and so-Winton symbolism of the book with a poetry of her own that muses on Winton's subtext and, by having Jennifer on stage and letting the audience know more than Scully, lets the drive of the work be Scully's anguish and his spiralling down rather than about the unanswered questions of Jennifer's disappearance.

Grandage's music lives in the emotions of the characters. From hints of liturgical music to bird songs, galloping riders and the ever-building storm, we can hear their hearts and are drawn into the psyches of people who make dissonant decisions on their quest for harmony. And Richard Mills (conductor) creates a sound balance between stage and pit that lets the singers shine and fills the space in ways that question why we don't see more opera in the Merlyn.

Marion Potts's direction focuses on Scully's immediate story. Working with Dale Ferguson's design of manly wooden saw horses that contrast with Jennifer's world of clean light and soulless airports, it allows for a powerful connection to Scully and Billie, but it also lets Scully's journey to hell feel safe and controlled and there isn't a palpable fear for the child he drags down with him.

In being so connected to Scully, it also seems to underplay its epic and the mythological elements. I could see The Riders in the libretto but despite the constant "horses", The Riders presence isn't clear on the stage. In a similar way, a sense of place is missing. For an Australian story that's set in Ireland, Greece and Paris, the sounds and heat of Fremantle are what make the northern hemisphere ruins and cathedrals so foreign to Scully.

Barry Ryan (Nixon in last year's wonderful Nixon in China) is Scully. He's not as young and scruffy as the Scully readers might expect, but any expectations disappear in moments as he shows the contradictions and torment of man who has to lose everything before he can begin to see a future. The broken-family trio is completed with Jessica Aszodi, Jennifer, and Isabela Calderon, Billie, who bring an honesty to their characters that creates a hope that everyone can be happy, even though we know that their time together has to end.

Jerzy Kozlowski, David Rogers-Smith and Dimity Shepherd are the remarkable chorus who let Grandage play with a trio of voices that demand to be listened to while they watch and comment and become the people Scully needs to find.

The Riders is an exciting and important new piece of Australian opera and theatre. It's grand and intimate and positions Australian opera as something that's uniquely ours without letting go of the traditions and cultures that have brought us to this point. I'd love to see it in a major festival and hope that it returns with new interpretations from opera companies in Australia and all over the world.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.