30 November 2015

The 24-Hour Experience: Ballarat

The 24-Hour Experience: Ballarat
21–22 November 2015

The nine who made it through all 24 hours.

Can it really be more than a week since the amazing 24-Hour Experience in Ballarat? I promise to share some more pics of the amazing 24 hours soon.

In the meantime, here's my piece in The Age.

2014 part 1
2014 part 2
2014 part 3
2014 part 4
2014 part 5

18 November 2015

Review: The Marriage of Figaro

The Marriage of Figaro
Opera Australia
12 November 2015
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 28 November (selected dates)

The Marriage of Figaro. Opera Australia
Opera Australia's absolutely splendid The Marriage of Figaro is in Melbourne until the end of November. Premiering in 1786, Mozart's comic opera about infidelity and forgiveness remains one of his most-loved works.

Despite the difficult acoustics of the State Theatre, conductor Anthony Legge creates an exceptional balance between the pit, the stage and Siro Battaglin's fortepiano that accompanies the recitative. With a light touch, if feels like Mozart's "too many notes" are heard through fresh ears and the mix especially celebrates Mozart's love of the sound of human voices and the magic that occurs when they sing together.

And all are glorious voices to hear. Andrew Jones's Figaro contrasts with the delight of Taryn Fiebig's Susanna. Shane Lowrencev's Count is all power and bass, and Jane Ede's Countess Almaviva silences the room when she sings in despair about her marriage.

Jenni Tiramani's gorgeous aqua blue, peache and yellow design uses techniques from the 1700s to make the costumes and her set – which reveals its absolute beauty in the final act in the pine grove –takes advantage of the full height of the theatre. David Finn's magnificent lighting takes full  advantage of the set. With a story set in one day, the lighting creates the sense of moving time and changing moods as it opens with morning light that's hard to believe isn't from an open window and ends in a gradual fade from dust to darkness and candle light.

With eavesdropping servants and an active chorus who each bring a sense of character, Sir David McVicar's direction (revived by Andy Morton for Melbourne) lets the singers find a comedic truth and honesty in their characters; although, overall the production feels confined by its form. There are moments of stereotyped character comedy when the chances to trust the honesty, lust or hurt truth of the characters could make the laughs come from a less easy but far stronger place.

It's a celebration of Mozart and a loving re-creation of The Marriage of Figaro, but there's nothing on the stage that says why Opera Australia are telling this story. There's no reflection about us and now. In the 1990s Peter Sellars directed a famous production of this opera (filmed for television) set in Trump Towers in Manhattan. Still sung in Italian, it felt almost obvious to set it in the obscene wealth of the USA at the time. There's nothing keeping this story in the 1700s. Rich people still think they can control poor people, people still fall in love and lust and lie and beg forgiveness. This is a story that ultimately leaves all of its characters equal, despite money and status and power, so why leave it stuck over 200 years ago in a far away country.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

12 November 2015

Review: The Last Man Standing

The Last Man Standing
11 November 2015
The Sumner, Southbank Theatre
to December 12

The Last Man Standing. Peter Carroll & William McInnes.  Photo by Jeff Busby

My review is in The Age.

11 November 2015

Review: Buyer and Cellar

Buyer and Cellar
5 November 2015
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 12 December 2015

Ash Flanders. Photo by Jeff Busby

Barbra Streisand has a replica of a shopping mall in the basement of her super mansion in Malibu. She uses it to keep her collection of dolls, clothes and pretty stuff. This is true. I didn’t know that, and am surprised that Brooklyn-based playwright Jonathon Tolins is the only person who’s been inspired to write about it.

Buyer and Cellar started when Tolins joked about what it must be like to work in her private mall. The result is a solo show about out-of-work actor Alex who loses his job at Disneyland and finds himself the only staff in Bab’s rabbit hole. With the actor playing Alex also playing his cynical boyfriend Barry, Barbra’s bitter long-time staffer, and the diva herself, the playwright oddly begins by telling the audience that none of it is true – except the hoard.

It’s a strange play that at first seems stuck on a one-note Barbara obsession – and when the “People” dress comes out, that note sounds amazing as the audience gasp in unison. But it develops into something far more curious as Alex possibly befriends his boss and has to choose between lying on a perfect couch in her too-perfect world or a duller real life with Barry.

If Alex were in any other tight t-shirt than the ever-watchable, consistently-glorious Ash Flanders’s, I’d wonder what it was doing on an Australian mainstage program, instead of packing in the Midsumma crowds at the Greyhound.

In a work that could easily be as outrageous as an amyl-fuelled Barbra drag queen at 3 am, director Gary Abrahams has pulled everything back to a point where its moments of high-camp glory, snarky bitching, and bonkers-Babs-buying-her-own-dolly feel real.

It could easily be a parody of Barbra fandom, gay men, drag queens, and anyone who’s sung “Don’t rain on my parade” and made a giant muff joke. But it’s not.

Everything that squeals Barbra is still there, but it’s muted enough to let us see the people who love the “People” dress. Even Adam Gardnir’s spiral-staircase, sunken living room, pop-out wardrobe design (beautifully lit by Rachel Burke) is restrained in its campness; his “People” dress is beautiful.

Maybe that’s also the appeal of Barbra herself. She knows how to work hard, how to make her work feel real, and when to stop adding beads to a dress so that it’s closer to classy than crass.

Instead of satirising her, Buyer and Cellar have listened, watched and found the path that knows that being laughed at isn’t the same as being loved for being who you are.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

Your Turn 5

Your Turn 5
Pop Up Playground
19 November 2015
Bella Union

Game shows are awesome. Live game shows are more awesome. Live game shows where the audience join in are even more awesome again. Live game shows with audience participation hosted by Ben McKenzie are the awesomest.  Live game shows with audience participation hosted by Ben McKenzie where Melbourne clever-pants people make fools of themselves made by the Pop up Playground team? Invent your own superlative!

And be at the Bella Union on Thursday 19 November from 6.30 for Your Turn 5. Info here.

If you weren't at Your Turn 3, you missed the wonderful Ming-Zhu Hii and me win bronze. (Highlights above.)

On paper, we look like a winning team, but either we aren't as nerdy as we thought we were or are the sort of people who need a quiet room and thinking time. My personal highlight was not remembering that the fourth Young One was Vyvyan, making a toy diorama of Terminator 2 thinking it was Terminator – which Ming-Zhu still guessed correctly – and our team effort of not being able to pinpoint Washington on a map despite knowing that between us we could answer obscure plot questions about The West Wing and House of Cards.

You can also watch Ming-Zhu in The Ex-PM on ABC.

Your Turn 5 guests are:

Richard Watts from RRR's Smart Arts and Arts Hub
Yvonne Virsik from Monash Uni Student Theatre
Sarah Jones from shows like Jonestown
Marcus Westbury, who I don't know, but if he's as smart and funny as the other three, he'll be terrific.

10 November 2015

Last chance: Dracula

Little Ones Theatre
30 October 2015
Theatre Works
to 14 November

Dracula. Amanda McGregor, Kevin Kiernan Molloy, Alexandra Aldrich. Photo by Sarah Walker

This gloriously sexy Dracula shows a much better way to do glittery vampires and it finishes this weekend at Theatre Works.

For the Melbourne Festival, Theatre Works welcomed an almost textless The Bacchae cast with women. Now Little Ones Theatre have created Bram Stoker's Dracula as a live silent movie and cast it with women.

This is Stoker’s story told with a black glitter and blood-red aesthetic that reflects, questions and wildly defies any assumptions of gender, sexuality and queer politics.Little Ones Theatre have one of the most unique voices in Melbourne theatre.

Director Stephen Nicolazzo embraces high-camp without the condescending tone or gender insult that camp laughs often come from.  Inspired by the 1980s but seen through today’s eyes, their worlds are visually arresting, sexually free and always unforgettable.

If you want to experience original texts, read them. Then come to the theatre to see them through someone else's eyes.

Catherine Davies, Brigid Gallacher. Photo by Sarah Walker
 Alexandra Aldrich. Photo by Sarah Walker

Dracula.  Alexandra Aldrich, Janine Watson, Morgan Maguire, Kevin Kiernan Molloy. Photo by Sarah Walker
Dracula. Little Ones Theatre. Kevin Kiernan Molloy. Photo by Sarah Walker

Dracula. Little Ones Theatre. Amanda McGregor, Zoe Boesen. Photo by Sarah Walker

09 November 2015

Review: Seven Deadly Sins

Seven Deadly Sins
Die Sieben Todsunden
Victorian Opera
6 November 2015
Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne

Meow Meow. Photo by Charlie Kinross
Victorian Opera commissioned four young Australian composers to write Seven Deadly Sins, with a sin for each of seven Australian cities. They were inspired by Bertolt Brecht's assigning of sins to USA cities for Die Sieben Todsunden, written in 1932, with Kurt Weill, in Paris, after they had fled Berlin. The new sins were performed by Orchestra Victoria and seven singers, while the inspiring piece and its sins were owned, and sung in the original German, by the extraordinary Meow Meow.

Directed by Cameron Menzies and conducted by Tahu Matheson, the new work celebrates the sins of our cities, as much as the music and text of Julian Langdon, Mark Viggiani, Ian Whitney and Jessica Wells – and the newly-graduated talent of singers Kate Amos, Nathan Lay, Elizabeth Lewis, Emma Muir-Smith, Michael Petruccelli, Cristina Russo and Matthew Tng.

Highlights were Adelaide trying to fight Gluttony and resist its own “awesome appetite” for Frog Cakes, Fruchos, Beestings and Coopers Pale Ale, and Canberra’s Pride leading to the fall of Howard, Rudd, Gillard, Rudd and Abbott. “I won’t say sorry!” says Howard in a Team Australia tracksuit. “I will!” says Rudd in a suit, before Gillard sings like Evita about men in blue ties.

Melbourne’s Greed is John Wren asking if it was power or glory. Sydney’s Lust wants real estate and brunch. Brisbane’s Sloth is too hot to get a beer, Hobart’s Envy can’t win a game show, and Perth’s Anger is a mini-opera about an aging mining tycoon with a “with a witch to the left of me and a bitch to the right of me.”

After the interval, Meow Meow was Anna 1 (the singer) and Anna 2 (the dancer) in Die Sieben Todsunden. With the orchestra and a male quartet (Michael Petruccelli, Carlos E Bárcenas, Nathan Lay and Jeremy Kleeman) as her judging family, it was like there was no distance between the performer and the composer and writer.

Meow Meow is the cabaret persona of Melissa Madden Gray but the genius of Meow is that she’s never anything but real. And to have Meow playing the Annas has got to be like seeing the piece as Weill and Brecht did. As a character she’s vulnerable but unbreakable, and as a performer playing a performer playing a character, she understands every note, syllable and satirical nuance about being a German work, set in the US, created in Paris and performed so many years later in Australia. She’s astonishing.

The only disappointment is that it was a one-night only concert. New Australian work deserves to be seen, heard and loved. The Seven Deadly Sins is funny and welcoming as it sings about the Australian propensity to celebrate and indulge in our sinning. Let’s hope there are plenty of new ways to let the sins be shared.

And what about a season of Brecht/Weill with Meow Meow?

This was on AussieTheatre.com.