24 April 2015

Anzac Day and Black Diggers

NGV, St Kilda Road

There are two performances of Black Diggers on Anzac Day. I hope that there isn't an empty seat in the house because these are stories that should be told on Anzac Day and need to become part of the greater Anzac story.

I saw it on Wednesday night. Walking back to cars, a friend and I stopped to look at the Anzac Day projections on the walls of the NGV. The size alone demands attention but it was pictures of graves and lists of names that made us watch. We talked about how neither of us have a (known) family connection to the First World War, or an ANZAC, and we talked about stories and who can or should tell them.

Then I remembered by great aunt. I can tell something of her story.

As a child in the 1970s and 80s, I didn't think twice about the old aunt who talked about "her boys", marched in the Anzac Day march and gave me a velvet uniform button that I kept because I thought it was pretty and have passed from jewellery box to jewellery box ever since. I remember we'd turn on the tv to watch her in the march because we might see her on telly, not because of why she was marching. I don't think anyone from our family went with her.

She never married or had children and was the definition of a grumpy and opinionated spinster aunt. She had an opinion about everything and everyone and was happy to share it loudly. She died slowly in her 90s and dementia stole her memories. I wish I'd listened more when I had the chance. I know there would have been many opinions in her memories that I didn't like, but I still wish I knew more.

She was a nurse, a lieutenant, in the Second World War. She was nearly 30 when she enlisted in 1941 and served in Egypt and Papua New Guinea. She would have seen things that she'd never have had the opportunity to see and things that no one should ever have to see. She would've had respect and freedom for the first time in her life and I suspect that there was sex and drinking and everything that was frowned upon and shocking when she returned to the straight jacket of life in conservative Adelaide.

No wonder she was always a bit angry.

Black Diggers
Queensland Theatre Company, Sydney Festival
22 April 2015
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 26 April

Black Diggers. Photo by Jamie Williams

The National Gallery of Victoria is next to Arts Centre Melbourne. At night, the gallery's long grey brick walls share an Anzac story in a series of projections. It's beautiful and huge and well worth spending some time watching. Until Sunday, there's another Anzac story being shared in the Arts Centre. Black Diggers is beautiful, human and affecting theatre that tells some of the Anzac stories that must never be lost in the grey.

The projections include paintings of the First World War, photos of the war, mass graves and stone and poppy memorials to the lost – memorials that are a short walk from the NGV. One of most powerful is a photo of Anzac Cove: a small bay with a nice beach that's flanked by cliffs that'd leave you prepared to swim out rather than climb. It tells an all encompassing story that's so important in Australia that it has a public holiday to remember it (and a brilliant biscuit).

NGV, St Kilda Road

Black Diggers tells some of the stories that are lost in the encompassing hugeness of the Anzac story.
Developed by the Queensland Theatre Company and supported by the Sydney Festival, it's on a too-short tour around the country.

In 1914, Australia's population was less than five million (not much more than Melbourne's 100 years later). During the war, 416, 809 men enlisted; 1300 of those men (400 from Melbourne) were Indigenous. Many had family who could remember a time before the European invasion, they weren't citizens and it was difficult to enlist when you weren't at least "substantially European". But they were also young men who couldn't resist the adventure of a lifetime and the promise of being paid.

Told by nine men, young and Elders, this story starts in the early 1900s and moves through enlistment  the war, their return and their legacy. The stories are based on real people and experiences but have been fictionalised to tell the bigger story and connect to a truth that's greater than the personal.

The bunker design (Stephen Curtis) has with an eternal flame or campfire burning in a tin barrel and black walls covered with unreadable white graffiti. As those who have gone before tried to make their mark and tell their story, the men in Black Diggers use white ash to paint names, dates and places.

Directed by Wesley Enoch and written by Tom Wright, the stories don't judge or preach; they just tell. They tell us the heartbreaking and shameful and the uplifting and hopeful. And by sharing them with us, these stories become more than the stories of those black Diggers, they become our stories.

There are two performances of Black Diggers on Anzac Day, this Saturday. I hope that there isn't an empty seat.

This was on  AussieTheatre.com .

21 April 2015

32nd Annual Green Room Awards

Last night the Green Room Association announced Melbourne's 2014 winners.

The worst thing about reading these lists is seeing all the shows I'd wish I'd seen, like Eugene Onegin and Patyegarang, but it's wonderful to see so many shows (I saw more than I reviewed) and artists that I love getting the trophies.

The Green Rooms are decided by volunteer panels who see as many shows as they can during the year, meet regularly and passionately fight it out just as regularly.

I've been on the GRIT (Green Room Independent Theatre) panel for the last two years and have seen  the obsessive knowledge and absolute love of theatre that all panel members have.

Ash Flanders, Special Victim


Eurosmash: Die Roten Punkte

Geraldine Quinn: All Out Of Pride and MDMA: Modern Day Maiden Aunt

Ash Flanders: Special Victim

Musical Direction
Jane Patterson: Ginger & Tonic’s Desperate & Dateless

Original Songs
Andrew Strano and Loclan Mackenzie-Spencer: Nailed It!

Outstanding Contribution to Cabaret
Ali McGregor: Ali McGregor’s Late-Nite Variety-Nite Night

Contemporary and Experimental Performance

Outstanding Work by an Emerging Artist
Fluvial: Matthias Schack-Arnott, Next Wave, Speak Percussion

Outstanding Contemporary Circus
A Simple Space: Gravity and Other Myths, Darebin Arts’ Speakeasy

Curatorial Contribution to Contemporary Performance
Going Nowhere: Arts House

Outstanding Contemporary and Experimental Performance
Reach Out Touch Faith: Sarah Rodigari in collaboration with Joshua Sofaer,
Going Nowhere, Arts House

Geoffrey Milne Memorial Award
Margaret Cameron

Complexity of Belonging. Photo by Jeff Busby


Shirley McKechnie Award for Choreography
Shaun Parker: Am I (Shaun Parker & Company)

Concept and Realisation
Lilian Steiner: Noise Quartet Meditation (Lilian Steiner)
James Batchelor: Island (James Batchelor)

Cast of Patyegarang: Bangarra Dance Theatre

Female Dancer
Lauren Langlois: Complexity of Belonging (Melbourne Theatre Company, Chunky Move)

Male Dancer
Waangenga Blanco: Patyegarang (Bangarra Dance Theatre)

Music, Sound Design and Performance
Alisdair Macindoe: Princess (Benjamin Hancock, Chunky Move)

Visual Design
Jack Hancock (Costume) and Bosco Shaw (Lighting): Princess (Benjamin Benjamin Hancock, Chunky Move Move)

My Lovers' Bones. Photo by Deryk McAlpin

Independent Theatre

The Trouble With Harry: MKA, Darebin Arts’ Speakeasy, Melbourne Festival

Costume Design
Chloe Greaves: Body of work

Alyson Campbell: The Trouble With Harry (MKA, Darebin Arts’ Speakeasy, Melbourne Festival)

Cast of I Heart John McEnroe: Clare Watson, Uninvited Guests, Theatre Works

Female Performer
Maria Mercedes: Master Class (Left Bauer Productions, fortyfivedownstairs)

Male Performer
Angus Cerini: Resplendence (Angus Cerini/Doubltap, Neon Festival of Independent Theatre)

Lighting Design
Lisa Mibus: My Lovers’ Bones (Brown Cab Productions, Footscray Community Arts Centre, Melbourne Festival)

Sound Design and Composition
Jesse Cox, Luke Mynott and Joff Bush: Wael Zuaiter: Unknown (Theatre Works, Next Wave)

Marcel Dorney: Prehistoric (Elbow Room, Darebin Arts’ Speakeasy, Melbourne Fringe)

The King & I. Photo by Oliver Toth

Music Theatre

Actor In A Leading Role
Hayden Tee: Les Misérables (Cameron Mackintosh)
Tom Parsons: Once (Barbara Broccoli, John N. Hart Jr, Patrick Milling Smith, Frederick Zollo, Brian Carmody, Michael G Wilson, Orin Wolf, John Frost, New York Theatre Workshop, Melbourne Theatre Company)

Actress In A Leading Role
Madeleine Jones: Once (Barbara Broccoli, John N Hart Jr, Patrick Milling Smith, Frederick Zollo, Brian Carmody, Michael G Wilson, Orin Wolf, John Frost, New York Theatre Workshop, Melbourne Theatre Company)

Actor In A Supporting Role
Adrian Li Donni: Pacific Overtures (Watch This, Auspicious Projects, Theatre Works)

Actress In A Supporting Role
Yong Ying Woo: The King And I (John Frost, Opera Australia)

The cast of Once (Barbara Broccoli, John N Hart Jr, Patrick Milling Smith, Frederick Zollo, Brian Carmody, Michael G Wilson, Orin Wolf, John Frost, New York Theatre Workshop, Melbourne Theatre Company)

John Tiffany: Once (Barbara Broccoli, John N Hart Jr, Patrick Milling Smith, Frederick Zollo, Brian Carmody, Michael G Wilson, Orin Wolf, John Frost, New York Theatre Workshop, Melbourne Theatre Company)

Betty Pounder Award for Choreography
Jerome Robbins and Susan Kikuchi: The King And I  (John Frost, Opera Australia)

Musical Direction
Martin Lowe and Kellie Dickerson: Once (Barbara Broccoli, John N Hart Jr, Patrick Milling Smith, Frederick Zollo, Brian Carmody, Michael G Wilson, Orin Wolf, John Frost, New York Theatre Workshop, Melbourne Theatre Company

Sound Design
Clive Goodwin: Once (Barbara Broccoli, John N Hart Jr, Patrick Milling Smith, Frederick Zollo, Brian Carmody, Michael G Wilson, Orin Wolf, John Frost, New York Theatre Workshop, Melbourne Theatre Company)

Costume and Set Design
Roger Kirk (Costume) and Brian Thomson (Set): The King And I  (John Frost, Opera Australia)

Lighting Design
Natasha Katz: Once (Barbara Broccoli, John N Hart Jr, Patrick Milling Smith, Frederick Zollo, Brian Carmody, Michael G Wilson, Orin Wolf, John Frost, New York Theatre Workshop, Melbourne Theatre Company)

Once (Barbara Broccoli, John N Hart Jr, Patrick Milling Smith, Frederick Zollo, Brian Carmody, Michael G Wilson, Orin Wolf, John Frost, New York Theatre Workshop, Melbourne Theatre Company)

The Riders. Photo by Jeff Busby

Kasper Holten: Eugene Onegin (Opera Australia)

Eugene Onegin: Opera Australia

Guillaume Tourniaire: Eugene Onegin (Opera Australia)

Female Lead
Nicole Car: Tatyana in Eugene Onegin (Opera Australia)

Female In A Supporting Role
Dominica Matthews: Madame Larina in Eugene Onegin (Opera Australia)

Male Lead
Barry Ryan: Scully in The Riders ((Victorian Opera, Malthouse Theatre)

Male In A Supporting Role
Daniel Sumegi: Sparafucile in Rigoletto (Opera Australia)

Mia Stensgaard (Set), Katrina Lindsay (Costume), Wolfgang Goebbel (Lighting): Eugene Onegin (Opera Australia)

New Australian Opera
The Riders (Victorian Opera, Malthouse Theatre)

Night on Bald Mountain. Photo by Pia Johnson

Theatre Companies

Writing/Adaptation for the Australian Stage
Roslyn Oades and Collaborators: Hello, Goodbye & Happy Birthday (Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne Festival)

Female Actor
Melita Jurisic: Miriam Sword in Night On Bald Mountain (Malthouse Theatre)

Male Actor
Andre de Vanny: Ray in Glory Dazed (Red Stitch Actors Theatre)

The Cast of Henry V (Bell Shakespeare)

Lighting Design
Paul Jackson: Body of work

Audio Visual Design and Animation
Matthew Gingold (Audio Visual Design) and Matt Greenwood (Animation):
Calpurnia Descending (Sisters Grimm, Malthouse Theatre, Sydney Theatre Company)

Set and Costume Design
Dale Ferguson: Night On Bald Mountain  (Malthouse Theatre)

Sound Design and Composition
Pete Goodwin (The Sweats): Yellow Moon (Melbourne Theatre Company)

Kirsten Von Bibra: Grounded (Red Stitch Actors Theatre)

Henry V: (Bell Shakespeare)

Special Awards

Outstanding Contribution to Choreographic Development
Next Move: Chunky Move

Technical Achievement Award
Maruska Blyszczak

Lifetime Achievement Award
Nance Grant

20 April 2015

Green Room Awards announced tonight

The 32nd Annual Green Room Association announces the 2014 award winners at a ceremony at the Comedy Theatre tonight.

Recognising outstanding achievements in Melbourne theatre, 60 awards decided by panels of peers will be awarded for Cabaret, Contemporary and Experimental Performance, Dance, Independent Theatre, Music Theatre, Opera and Theatre Companies.

The award winners will be published on AussieTheatre at 10.31 pm (Melbourne time) tonight.

Tickets are still available for the 7.00 pm ceremony and can be bought at the door (but make sure you're early.)

16 April 2015

MICF 2015 Award Nominations

I know how many brilliant shows I've seen this festival and only one of them is up for an award. Knowing how flipping amazing that one is, I hate myself for missing the rest.
I also have Festival Flu and am too full of green to leave the house; so, please see an extra show for me and Tweet about it. There are four nights left. Go hard.
2015 Melbourne Comedy Festival Barry Award Nominations
Luisa Omielan: What Would Beyonce Do?!
This is the only nominated show I've seen. It's hilarious and harrowing and has been selling out.

Best Newcomer Award Nominations 
Heidi O'Loughlin
Golden Gibbo Nominees (best indie production)
Laura Davis: Ghost Machine
I saw her at the Melbourne Fringe last year and absolutely loved her. Really regretting missing her new show.

Review: Meme Girls

Meme Girls
Malthouse Theatre
9 April 2015
Beckett Theatre
to 2 May

Meme Girls. Art Simone & Ash Flanders. Photo by Pia Johnson

YouTube is only ten years old. Like Facebook and Twitter, it's already hard to imagine life without it. And enough people have now grown up thinking that opening your life and your secrets to the world isn't strange. Meme Girls at Malthouse Theatre is about searching for identity by confiding to strangers on the internet.

Created by Stephen Nicolazzo, Ash Flanders and Marion Potts, the idea came from Flanders's 2011–12 solo show that was directed by Nicolazzo, Negative Energy Inc. For all its self-questioning and stories about his mum, Heather, and boyfriend, Daniel, the piece was unexpectedly defined by his performance of the Horse Woman from the tv show Judge Judy.

It was astonishing. Flanders captured the heartbreak of the woman and found the pin-head spot of balance where poignancy and parody meet to create something that transcends both.

This was a drag verbatim performance of a nobody talking to a camera that doesn't care about the death of her horses!

Meme Girls is more of this and then far more.

While it's not easy to distract from Flanders when he's on a stage, the design by Eugyeene Teh (set and costume) and Katie Sfetkidis (lighting) is equally as captivating and beautiful. Part–rabbit hole, part Bond-film opening sequence, part–da Vinci Vitruvian Man, it's pure theatre and nothing like a tiny YouTube screen.

And Teh continues his exquisite use of monochrome design: this year, it's aqua. Except Flanders who wears a white pair of tails, and his assistant, drag queen stage kitty Art Simon, in nose-bleed heels and a black corset that shows off an enviable chest.  

All with a re-mixed pop soundtrack by THE SWEATS where Flanders uses those years of fronting an 80s cover band to great use; his "Confide in Me" puts Kylie to utter shame.

But in this world, Flanders isn't Kylie, he's women from You Tube.

Meme Girls.  Ash Flanders & Art Simone. Photo by Pia Johnson 

He's women who have used this anonymous-not-anonymous platform to confide in the comfort of strangers and open themselves to endless abuse. From an atrocious singer who didn't make it though the American Idol auditions to a 68-year-old woman who's about to become homeless, their confessions and their genuine pain are fascinating. And even if we don't actively troll them, we've shared their videos and laughed at them. 

And this is where Meme Girls is unique. Whereby in Negative Energy, Flanders used the Horse Woman to talk about himself, in Meme Girls it's more like the woman are using him. Even though it's a showcase work, it's not about Ash. And even while it's far more about Nicolazzo and his vision, aesthetic and obsessions, the woman still control the mood and heart of the piece.

It's easy to laugh at the Meme Girls and it's easy to bask in the glorious camp-cum-high-art vision on the stage (and Ash), but it's impossible to forget the world where it comes from and to be left wondering if we're the mean girls.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

15 April 2015

MICF: Joel Creasy

The Hurricane
Joel Creasey
5 April 2015
to 19 April

Joel Creseay

Each year I try and see one of the big-venue, they're-on-the-telly shows. I liked Joel Creasey on I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here (go ahead, judge me – I loved it) and was curious to see how he’d turn his burst of popular fame and the fiction of reality television into a festival show.

Hurricane is just a name to justify the festival-standard snore about having to name his show before he wrote it. And the room laughed at the joke and at the snarky twink character telling it.

Telly fame lets you play to 300-seat rooms when you're 24; rooms filled with people who wet themselves at the mention of Mad Maureen McCormick. Yes, he talks about being in the jungle and I don’t think there was anyone there who hadn’t seen I’m a Celebrity.

And they went nuts for the a bit about middle-aged ugly male comedians who perform in suburban pubs and make non-PC jokes. Jokes about gay sex (you can get poo on your dick), about gay clubs (Poof Doof, what a funny name) and fatties (no one likes ugly people), with bonus casual misogyny of lesbian jokes (they build the podium the gay boys dance on).

But these are Joel’s jokes.

Sure, comedy is subjective, but – laugh or not – it comes down to "who are we laughing at?" and "what's the common or shared expereince". This audience were laughing at the performer, they weren't laughing with him. The laughs may sound the same, but when you’re sitting among them, they feel horrible and nothing like the supportive of tribal recognition. And the shared experience between him and his audience? Laughing at gays, lesbians, nutters and fatties.

This was also discussed on AussieTheatre.com.

13 April 2015

MICF: Justin Hamilton 2015

Justin Hamilton
1 April 2015
Melbourne Town Hall, Lunch Room
to 19 April

Justin Hamilton

I try to never miss Justin Hamilton. Mixing stand-up with scripted storytelling, he’s written and performed some of the most memorable and publish-them-because-they-are-so-well-written Comedy Festival shows I’ve seen.

He’s been performing comedy since the 1990s and, according to justinhamilton.com.au, did 188 gigs last year and, on 9 April, was up to 90 this year. 90! There had only been 99 days of this year on 9 April. He'd have done more if he wasn't dealing with a festival flu that makes me want to make him a mug of Sleepy Time tea with raw honey and share the pile of cold and flu tablets I'm scoffing to make it to the end of the festival. And I take nights off!

On his days off, he records the very popular podcast Can you take this photo please?

If you want to learn about writing comedy, listen to this. As Dan Savage is to sex, Justin Hamilton is to comedy.

After last year’s extraordinary Johnny Loves Mary Forever 1994 (you can listen to three versions of it – with discussion – on the podcast) about going to Afghanistan to entertain the Australian troops, this year’s Snacks is less harrowing and more comforting.

It’s more traditional stand-up as he meets his audience at the door, talks to them from the small stage – in a makeshift room that’s nearer the executive car park than the spectacular Town Hall – and happily goes off on tangents, which still come back to theme and to snacks and chocolate.

Being part of the Snacks audience is like being with a room of friends as the common experiences about over thinking, being happy about growing older, being excited about being nerd, and never saying no to snacks ripple through the room.

This was also discussed on AussieTheatre.com.

MICF: Innes Lloyd

Men of Your Dreams
Innes Lloyd
5 April 2015
The Grand Mecure Hotel, Downstairs Lounge
to 5 April

David Innes & Rob Lloyd

Innes Lloyd was the third producer of the Doctor Who in the 1960s. Google told me that as I was looking for the comedy festival page for this these two. No wonder David Innes and Rob Lloyd had to start working together.

But this show isn't about Doctor Who.

Men of Your Dreams is about dreams.

Those dreams we can't control.

These brothers have different sleep problems, which may be connected to when they lost their other brother when he was a young. They discuss sleep theory, list common dreams (I often get the dead people ones – and dead pets), and look at sleep in films like The Matrix and Nightmare on Elm Street, but the highlight is their re-enactment of audience member's night mares. And with subconsciouses giving us dinosaurs, a murdering father and exploding cars, it's cheaper than therapy and lots more fun.

While they were trying to squeeze too much into an hour, I really hope Men of Your Dreams comes back because there are endless dreams that need interpreting and endless people who want to know more about the bliss and horror of sleep.

I saw this on it's last night, but you can still see Rob Lloyd Vs The Monsters.

12 April 2015

MICF: The 3 Mikados

The 3 Mikados
11 April 2015
The Famous Spiegletent at Arts Centre Melbourne
to 19 April

Colin Lane & David Collins, The 3 Mikados

Gilbert and Sullivan: words that evoke love, fear or a confusing mix of both. Late nineteenth century operetta may be fun to perform (I went with two friends who were also in our school production in the 80s – with shameful slanty-eye makeup), but it can be taken far too seriously. But then, how many other late nineteenth century writing teams are still popular today?

The 3 Mikados knows why G&S are still loved and popular. Great parody can only be made if you love and understand your target, and director Russell Fletcher (Spontaneous Broadway and lots more) knows The Mikado inside out.

Colin Lane (Lano and Woodley, Ready Steady Cook), David Collins (The Umbilical Brothers) and Ester Hannaford (King Kong, Hairspray, Four Larks) are the only performers and promise that they can play all the parts. They do.

From improvised banter about how atrocious their performances are to other-genre versions of songs to slipping into performances that re-define how good G&S can be (go for Hannaford singing Katisha's solo), it takes a stale form and makes it fresh, surprising and hilarious.

You'll get more jokes if you know the work (if you love, or ever loved, G&S, missing it isn't an option) but there's enough to make it stand alone – and you will want to see a full production once you've had a taste.

A little list of stars.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

MICF: Beau Heartbreaker

Beau Heartbreaker
Selina Jenkins
10 April 2015
Melbourne Town Hall, Backstage Room
to 19 April

Selina Jenkins as Beau Heartbreaker

Lots of new crushes this festival and guitar-playing, yarn-spinning Beau Heartbreaker is the newest.

I'd never say that a country farmer boy is my type, but Beau is just so gosh darn lovely that it's impossible not to adore him.

Under the impressive beard (he's confused that he can now walk down Brunswick Street and not feel out of place with his beard and a flannie shirt) is Selina Jenkins. Whereby drag can be used to humiliate the opposite sex, she uses the gender inversion with absolute love and lets Beau tell a greater truth that relates to everyone. And it lets him add an impressive and unexpected soprano to his songs.

Beau tells us about life on a dairy farm and his trip riding horses through Mongolia. It's on this trip that he realises that he has to tell his parents, who love him dearly, something so important, and unchangeable, about himself that he's scared that they might not love him any more.

Beau Heartbreaker's humour is gentle and subtle with a twist that grabs your heart as much as it makes you snort with laughter.

As many stars as seen from the middle of his dairy farm on a clear night.

MICF: The Narelles

The Narelles
Token Events, Triple R
3 April 2015
Trades Hall, New Ballroom
to 19 April

Alan Brough & Casey Benetto

Alan Brough wasn't living in Australia in 1988, but he still formed a Melbourne garage band with Casey Benetto. The Narelles celebrate their 27th fictional year at Trades Hall in The Narelles.

If you went to any gig in the late 80s and the 90s, then the reunion gigs from the early 2000s, you've been to a Narelles gig.

Both on lead vocals, bass and guitar (with a stage shy drummer), they reminisce about the gigs, the albums and the times that their audience remember vividly, even if we weren't there.

It opens with a bass riff that made me think I was 17 (make that 18) at the Tivoli in Adelaide (where the carpet was always sticky and the glasses of moselle always over full) to a Nick Cave tribute song that was more paranoid than being at the Big Day Out with too many cookies (where Nick sang "The Weeping Song" and Iggy Pop got his cock out), The Narelles capture the tone and heart of live indie/alternative/not-shit-pop music between 1987 and now.

And they do it far better than any JJJ Top 100 count down.

All the stars in their eyes that never faded.

09 April 2015

MICF: Jonestown

Guinea Pigs
1 April 2015
Portland Hotel
to 19 April

Jonestown: Sarah Jones & Nicholas J Johnson

Sarah Jones and Nicholas J Johnson are Jonestown (it's funny every time). In Guinea Pigs, they are trapped in a lo-tech, hi-laugh sci-fi experiment that tests their friendship and takes the double act not quite to the final frontier but surely where no one has been before.

Their debut show, Pajama Party, was nominated for the 2014 Golden Gibbo (best MICF indie production) and they were helped with a Moosehead Award (a grant for "mental and overly ambitious" comedy) to make this show.

Captured by a mystery nutter/genius, Sarah and Nick have known each since from high school and, with the help of the audience, re-visit their school and university days to figure out how they found themselves in an unescapable box in an unescapable box of a theatre in the Portland Hotel.

The straight–stooge (Nick–Sarah) double act is comedy where every laugh relies on the other person to make it work. Adding story, mystery and shadow puppetry (yes!) to sketch and stand-up, the chemistry between these two is as cool as a bicarb and vinegar volcano, and as illogically exciting as opening a bottle of fizz that might have been rolling around the floor of a car.

Because I said it on Twitter, so it must be true: A heap of stars.

05 April 2015

MICF: Trygve Wakenshaw

Trygve Wakenshaw
29 March 2015
The Tuxedo Cat
to 19 April

Trygve Wakenshaw

Trygve Wakenshaw is another performer whom I've heard nothing but great about, and I wasn't going to miss him this year.

He's from New Zealand and now lives in London. He was nominated for a Barry and a Golden Gibbo Award at last year's Comedy Festival and has brought us a new show called Nautilus.

It's still a work in progress (maybe), so changes to suit each audience. When I went, it was a bit too long and needed a tighten, but this didn't make it any less impossible to stop watching. It made me really want to see his other shows and anything else he does.

Wakenshaw's a physical comedian. Ok, he's a mime. And if the M word leaves you with show-trauma memories that you don't want to re-live, he'll banish them and leave you wanting an I HEART MIME sticker.

Dressed in pink, ribbed, high-waist leggings and a green jumper with added white tassells, he opens the show sinking into a black plastic bin; the line between genius and WTAF is slim.

There isn't a narrative, but there are stories about fish and sea critters, one about the massive logic gap in Rapunzel, and some that leave the audiences looking away from the grossness that isn't there. And it's all tied together with a character who becomes more intriguingly irresistible with each voiceless moment.

A long row of star fish: the nice ones, not the ones eating the Great Barrier Reef.

PS:  Trig-vee (thank you his website)

There's a version of this on aussietheatre.com.au.

MICF: Dr Professor Neal Portenza

Catchy Show Title
Dr. Professor Neal Portenza
3 April 2015
Melbourne Town Hall, Backstage Room
to 19 April

Dr Professor Neal Portenza

I love Dr Professor Neal Portenza.

Not in a stalky way or anything like that.

But then who can resist a man whose badly-applied blush is the same 1950s-lipstick-red as his beret?

And I love Maria and Vanessa – and even Stavros.

Joshua Ladgrove does character comedy. He does a way-cool Jesus, but it's Dr Professor Neal Portenza who deserves his own chocolate festival.

It's hard to describe a Dr Professor Neal show, and description could scare people away.

It is likely you will be scared in a Dr Professor Neal show, or at least feel a bit nervy – so get a free hug at the beginning. But remember how brilliant it feels when you've confronted your fears, like your fears about performers leaving the stage. And ask the FOH staff for your fashion bracelet because, even though it's beautiful, you will want it to throw it away at some stage.

While the old school stand-ups are dribbling out the same jokes we've heard for ever, Dr Professor Neal and co are part of a generation of performers who are embracing everything about clowning and turning it into something that's contemporary and exciting and completely their own.

One star: one fucking exploding supernova star.

There's a version of this on aussietheatre.com.au.


Tessa Waters
28 March 2015
Melbourne Town Hall, Lunch Room
to 19 April


The MICF bar was high and tingly when WOMANz grabbed my tits and gave me a snog. That's one way to get a good review, but being amazingly awesome helps as well.

Tessa Waters is WOMANz. After wow-ing the Edinburgh Fringe, she won Most Outstanding Comedy at the 2014 Melbourne Fringe and has been exciting people at festivals all over the country in 2015.

In a bedazzzled body suit and black tights that understand that big hair means having big hair everywhere (she talks about it; many of us bonded), she's part Oestrogen Goddess but more a woman who knows herself and knows that her self was meant to dance.

She dances when she feels happy, confused, sexy or just over it. If you want to understand what "dance like no one is watching" really means, see WOMANz. And if you're not crumping by the end, it's because you cracked a rib laughing.

Waters's combination of character, clown and physical theatre says more about gender and self-acceptance than the feminist section in Readings. Blending madcap with sophistication, it's comedy that makes feeling positive about yourself the only way to feel.

As many stars as sequins on her ART pants.

There's a version of this on aussietheatre.com.au.

03 April 2015

MICF: Fake It 'Til You Make It

Fake it 'Til You Make It
Bryony Kimmings and Tim Grayburn & Theatre Works
19 March 2015
Theatre Works
5 April

Tim Grayburn & Bryony Kimmings

While, I'm writing about Hannah Gadsby's mis-diagnosis of depression, it's impossible not to talk about Tim Grayburn's diagnosis of clinical depression and the astonishing Fake It 'Til You Make It that finishes at Theatre Works on Sunday.

It's been difficult to get a seat for this one because the consistent raves about its Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth seasons have been consistent raves.

So I'm not writing a review of the production. Please read all the others, starting with Jane Howard's in The Guardian.

Melbourne's indie arts scene fell in love with Kimmings last year when she brought us Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model (my favourite show of 2014) and Sex Idiot (my favourite audience participation of any show).

In her performance art, she shares her life and experiences to make connections with people who have had similar experiences. You don't see one of her shows and leave thinking about Bryony, you leave thinking about yourself. This is what makes her work so powerful.

She made Fake It 'Til You Make It with her partner Tim Grayburn. He's wasn't a performance artist or any type of performer but quit his job in marketing to make this show with Bryony, which premiered at the Perth Fringe earlier this year.

It's about their falling in soppy get-a-room love, her finding out about his illness, what they did next, and how they continue to deal with being in love and everything that goes with it.

I didn't write about the show because I didn't know where to start. I knew/know too many people with diagnosed and undiagnosed depression who suicided or have thought of suiciding.

I also know people who found the help they needed and have helped others.

I've also seen a lot of work about depression. Why this one should be compulsory is because it makes the connection between this illness – this common and treatable illness – and how it makes the person think about death.

Like a symptom of the common cold is a cough, a symptom of clinical depression is thoughts of death. It's what this illness does to brains and, like a cough, it can be treated.

I have a friend who when he was really sick, made sure that his partner had the keys to the box where his medication was locked away. This person loved their life and knew that their illness made them think about death. He found a way to create time when those thoughts came; time that made acting on those thoughts very difficult and enough time to deal with the symptoms.

If Fake It 'Til You Make It can make even one person make the connection between depression and thoughts of death, between illness and symptom, maybe they will also get the time they need.

It finishes on Sunday and there are still tickets available, especially for Saturday.

MICF: Avenue Q

Avenue Q
Trifle Theatre Company
28 March 2015
Chapel off Chapel
to 11 April

Trifle Theatre Company

Avenue Q is Trifle Theatre Company's first show. It's already sold out, so it sucks to be you if you didn't book a ticket.

There's not much left to say when there are no seats left, except to hold on tight to your tickets, know that you made the right choice and be excited for independent music theatre in Melbourne.

Avenue Q won the Tony for Best Musical in 2004. By Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty, it's set on a Sesame Street–like street in New York, but the muppet-like rod and hand puppets have their performers visible, and songs like "The Internet is for Porn", "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" and "I'm not Wearing Underwear Today" ensure that it's not for pre-schoolers.

A lot of the jokes are caught back in the early noughties when the internet at home was new and Gary Coleman (What-you-talking-about-Willis?) was still alive (he's a character in the show) but missing the odd reference doesn't make it any less wonderfully funny or delightfully filthy.

The secret to Avenue Q is tone. It has to be as intimate, innocent and loving as Sesame Street and as filthy as the porn that Trekkie Monster loves so much. Director Stephen Wheat and the cast nail it.

The closeness of being in the small Chapel off Chapel theatre leaves little to the imagination, so puppets and performers (including Jordan Pollard, Zuleika Khan, Leah Lim, Michael Lindner, Kathleen Amarant, Brett Fisher, Imogen Moore and Jeff van de Zandt) can add the subtle or obvious that makes the sexy more sexy and the slutty more wonderful – as they let us know that there is no where else they would rather be than on that stage and ensure that it's impossible not to fall in love with everyone: furry, fluffy or smooth.

Produced by Sarah Golding (who also plays Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut) and Andy McDougall (who made the brilliant puppets and plays Nicky and Trekkie Monster), this new company, while running as a co-op, are hoping to develop an indie theatre that can pay equity wages. With such a successful first production, they may well be a company that sticks around and shows some of the commercial shows what great music theatre should be.

Let's hope for a return season because they deserve it and everyone who missed out deserves to see it.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

MICF: Hannah Gadsby, Donkey

Hannah Gadsby
a Token Event
29 March 2015
Melbourne Town Hall, Supper Room
to 19 April

Hannah Gadsby

A few days after seeing Hannah Gadsby's Donkey, I'm still thinking about it. The dishes that I didn't do before going out to see her are still there, and I'm still in awe of how she finds the spot where wanting to cry becomes needing to laugh so deeply that it makes you feels better about something you hate about yourself.

When I first saw Hannah, she was doing palindrome jokes about her brother Kayak and showing us where she lived on her map of Tasmania – I loved her. Over time, her work has become more personal and she's told stories that have reached the hearts of everyone who sees her.

She says at the beginning of Donkey that's she's always amazed to see a room full of people wanting to see her. People want to see her because she lets us share her experiences and discover that no matter how different we are, that we have far more in common then we ever thought.

For me, it was the dishes. Today, I'm writing rather than doing them. I WILL do them at the end of this review. I have a plan. I have done them in the last 19 days (Hannah's record) but I know I've gone longer. And it was the last-minute panic-cum-do-something-fundamentally-useless-and-time-consuming before catching a plane. Hannah once decided to pair her socks up rather than pack. I recently spent a couple hours trying to fix my printer when I didn't need to print anything because all the details were on my phone. The printer's still not fixed and I paid for extra baggage rather than pack properly.

The donkey in her show is Hannah. It starts when she hates the barista at her nearest coffee shop. She keeps going because it's the nearest. He's the type of person who, she knows, thinks he's better than she is. He's a dressage horse, she's a donkey. It's about feeling so out-of-step with the rest of the world that it's easier to stay inside with mounting dishes. And it's about her finding out that her diagnosis of depression was wrong.

So was mine. The symptoms of depression are broad but specific. If you have the broad symptoms, please have a professional check the specific.

It's also a show about winning and getting things right and knowing that of course a unicorn will love a donkey, because donkies are gorgeous and loving and so much more fun than a smarmy horse.

All of this is rolled up into a tightly written, beautifully structured piece that lets stage Hannah bring enough of real Hannah with her and leave them both safe and loved.

Hannah Gadsby is simply one of the best stand-up comedians around.

Now I'm going to go and do some dishes.

There's also a version of this on aussietheatre.com.au.

02 April 2015


Bucket's List
to 5 April

In 2010 Justin Kennedy and Sarah Collins got engaged on stage during run of their MICF show Donna and Damo.

They went on to make Bucket's List that premiered at the last year's Melbourne Fringe.

I loved it and saw it twice.

It's since been to New Zealand and is enjoying a return season at the Northcote Town Hall for MICF until Sunday.

But there's someone who hasn't seen it.

Sarah Collins was inspired to write Bucket's List when she met this guy when she was the photographer at a wedding (Love Katie + Sarah). Although new to the work, he wasn't the usual 20ish wedding DJ and his day job was a bucket salesman. He said that being a DJ was his dream job and when his wife saw an add for wedding DJs on Seek, she said that he should apply. He did.

All Sarah had was this photo that she took at the wedding and she's been trying to find him.

This happened on Tuesday night.

(Sorry you have to click to Facebook, but Facebook isn't playing nice with embed code and Sarah's internet isn't letting it upload to YouTube and technology is failing us.)

PS: in the background is the other wonder that Sarah and Justin's made last year and she's clearly trying to steal the attention.

Review: Endgame

26 March 2015
The Sumner
to 25 April

Julie Forsyth & Rhys McConnochie. Photo by Jeff Busby

There's a double page in the program for the MTC's Endgame titled "explantion". It's about modernism, Absurdism and finding meaning in Samuel Beckett's writing. It's great for post-show conversations but it doesn't talk about the possibility of losing yourself in Beckett's world and not giving a toss about meaning.

For me, the joy of a Beckett stage is being lost in a WTF time and space with people for whom this is every day. There's a rhythm – a music – to his writing that moves his audiences through the text without having to stop to understand and interpret. This rhythm is easy to see in a script and it's a loss to anyone who doesn't let it beat on the stage.

The Endgame world is described as "grey light". Here Clov (Luke Mullins), who can't sit, is servant to Hamm (Colin Friels), who can't walk or see, and spends every day in a chair in the centre of the space. To his right are two large cans or bins where Nagg (Rhys McConnochie) and Nell (Julie Forsyth), Hamm's parents who have no legs, live. They talk about death and endings while knowing that the inevitable release may be too far away to offer much hope.

But it's not bleak, and being free to laugh is what makes it light and fun.

The essential grey light is created by designer Callum Mortum and lighting designer Paul Jackson (and not forgetting Eugyeene Teh's costumes). There's a literal fourth wall of grey cement slabs that disappears in the opening of perfect black out (and may those who chose that moment to deal with their phones, get parking tickets before the week is out); there's nothing like velvet of pure dark to guide us into the unknown.

The bare world is a bunker made of concrete slabs, and, even as it asks questions and offers answers from future apocalypse to last century's wars, we never know why or how or when. The passing of a day is in the lighting that's only black and white. The changes are imperceptible until the grey is darker or a shadow has moved. As the night draws in, the stage looks like it's pulling away from the audience and could be turned off with the flick of a remote control.

Sam Strong directs a cast who know Beckett and, at their best, bring a complex understanding to their characters that lets the audience find that rhythm. Mullins and Forsyth especially find the humanity and loss in the subtext, while still letting Clov and Nell be clowns.

But there are moments of indulgence that makes it all about the actors. This breaks the rhythm and takes us back to looking for an explanation rather being happily lost in the pulse of grey light.

This was on AussieTheatre.com