14 December 2016

What Melbourne loved in 2016, part 10

Today we here from two independent reviewers: Maxim Boon and Simon Parris.

Remember that you don't have to write a lot – a sentence can say as much as an essay – and that your reflections, memories and wishes don't have to be about a specific show or performance. It could be an overheard comment in an interval, a thought the next day or anything that gave you that jolt that says "this is why we do this".

Simon Parris

Simon Parris

SP's favourite moments in Melbourne theatre in 2016: I’m going to mention something from each of the performance styles that I review.

A handful of musicals with my all time favourite scores were produced by independent companies this year. StageArt presented a scaled down version of Tony-winner Titanic, which I reviewed then paid to see again twice; Tyran Parke’s direction for Storeyboard Entertainment’s Follies was so incisive that I paid to return the day the after opening; Life Like Company finally gave Melbourne a chance to see divine 2005 Broadway musical The Light in the Piazza (another return visit); and Manilla Street Productions assembled a wonderful cast with a 30-piece orchestra for a one-night concert of Nine.

While there were many excellent independent opera productions in 2017, the quality of The Ring Cycle cannot be surpassed. It may seem a cliché to pick something as eternally popular as this, but Neil Armfield’s concept and direction is brilliant in its simplicity, the Australian singers were wonderful, and the handful of international singers were extraordinary. The camaraderie amongst audience members was really special.

The local ballet audience was electrified when The Australian Ballet went against the grain with Nijinsky, a thrilling abstract work in which Vaslav Nijinsky’s contribution to ballet was explored through the lens of his decaying metal health.

What SP is looking forward to in 2017: StageArt’s Australian premiere of Tony-winner Memphis will be a welcome addition to the sea of safe musical revivals and family fare. And I am pleased to see that the new Australian musical Ladies in Black is having a commercial tour. Melbourne Opera will compete their excellent Tudor Queens trilogy with Roberto Devereux. The Australian Ballet’s local premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is sure to be a blockbuster.


SM: I think I see a lot of music theatre, but Simon sees everything. (I didn't see any musicals on his best list and I regret it.) He loves music theatre, opera and ballet and his passion comes through in his positive, honest and detailed reviews. He's also always excited to be at a show and he reads other reviewers. I really appreciate his comments (often compliments) on Twitter and in person. (Writer secret: it's nice to know that we are read.)

Maxim Boon
arts writer, reviewer

Maxim Boon

MB's favourite moments in Melbourne theatre in 2016: Doing a (not so) little audit of all the bloody wonderful things I've had the good fortune to see this year has been a real tonic. 2016 is a year many people will be happy to see the back of, myself included, but this exercise has definitely added a silver lining to the big, black, intolerant, fact-free clouds that the past 12 months have stirred up.

Witling down a list of favourites has been hard, so forgive the indulgence of citing so many top moments.

As I’ve scanned my memory for the shows that touched me the most this year, one stands head and shoulders above the rest: Wit at fortyfivedownstairs. Margaret Edson's Pulitzer-worthy text about an academic dying of cancer is, of course, an excellent springboard, but the triumph of the Artisan Collective’s production is predominantly thanks to the utterly transcendent performance of Jane Montgomery Griffiths. Words feel inadequate to properly summarise the power of that extraordinary night of theatre, but suffice to say, I have rarely felt as profoundly altered as I did walking out after this show. I was with my husband Toby and as we stepped out onto Flinders Street, neither one of us could talk,because we knew if either of us uttered a single syllable we would both have broken and unravelled. We hugged for a minute or two and summoned an Uber. Even thinking about it now is pushing me dangerously close to sobbing onto my keyboard. Jane, if you ever happen to read this, I cannot thank you enough.

I’m a passionate believer that Indigenous narratives must be a vital presence in our theatres, as it brings First Nation stories into an environment that is largely skewed white and socioeconomically privileged. Three shows this year were particularly striking for the way in which they galvanised the duality of the contemporary Indigenous experience, which simultaneously reacts to the zeitgeist while anchored to historical injustice. Ilbijerri Theatre's presentation of Jacob Boehme’s frank yet affirming exploration of being black, gay and HIV-positive in Australia, Blood On The Dance Floor, offered a view of Aboriginal life that is rarely seen, articulated in a way that was powerfully and beautifully realised. Nakkiah Lui’s Blaque Showgirls and hip-hop cabaret Hot Brown Honey both told defiant and gloriously shameless stories of what it means to be a woman of colour in a society that still clings to colonial ideals.

On the smallest scale, some great solo shows graced Melbourne's stages this year. Lab Kelpie's production of Douglas Rintoul's Elegy, based on interviews of gay men living in insurgency held Iraq, was not only a slick and resourceful staging (especially the excellent sound design by Russell Goldsmith), but also a potently affecting performance by Nick Simpson-Deeks; I left feeling shaken and ashamed and enlightened. The always masterful Susie Dee’s production of Harry Melling's Peddling, featuring an astonishingly committed performance by Darcy Brown, was a gut-punch of a show; superb storytelling executed fearlessly. Brilliant Brit playwright Duncan Macmillan’s Every Brilliant Thing, co-written and performed by Jonny Donahoe, made me laugh all the way through and sob all the way home, the kind of production that busts you open with that bittersweet joyful sorrow that only theatre can tap.

Feminist theatre, another area of the art form I feel passionately protective of, also enjoyed some excellent turns this year. Nic Green and Laura Bradshaw's Trilogy, offered probing, eccentric, gloriously irascible and occasionally naked perspectives on feminist philosophies in a show that is as potent and relevant today as it was when the pair first staged it ten years ago. Patricia Cornelius’s Shit, revived at fortyfivedownstairs following its sold-out debut season, was a brutal, bold, touching, confronting and thought provoking instigation. That Cornelius's work is so rarely recognised by Australia's major state theatre companies is, for lack of better words, fucking maddening.

Finally, this year’s Poppy Seed Theatre Festival showed why emerging theatre-makers must be championed in a space where they can flex their creative muscles, make mistakes, try things out and hone their craft. From this year’s excellent quartet of works, Three Birds Theatre's LadyCake and Riot Stage's F. were impressively accomplished in their thinking and execution, despite being fledgling works made on shoestring budgets.

Honourable Mentions

Paul Capsis in Resident Alien: a superbly observed study of Quentin while retaining the ineffable fabulousness of Capsis.
Belarus Free Theatre, Burning Doors: a model for any and all political theatre-makers.
Dance North, If____Was____ :  a nifty concept with genuinely breathtaking results.
Malthouse Theatre, Picnic At Hanging Rock: Matt Lutton may not always be the theatre-maker we want, but he is definitely the theatre-maker we need.
Vic Theatre Company, 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: face-aching grins guaranteed.
NTS/Melbourne Festival, Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour: Cum-filled submarine; need I say more?

PS: Maxim forgot this one.
On the smallest scale, some great solo shows graced Melbourne’s stages this year. Leading the pack was the world premiere season of Katy Warner’s incisively observed A Prudent Man, at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Featuring a faultless Lyall Brooks as a right-wing politician negotiating a public scandal, both the writing and the performance were nothing short of forensic in capturing this political archetype with such pin-sharp accuracy.

What MB is looking forward to in 2017: Malthouse Theatre's 2017 season makes me feel physically giddy. It's innovative, it's unapologetic in its motives, it's bolshy and it's proudly nonconformist. While MTC cements its reputation as the most cynically pandering presenter in Victoria, Malthouse continues to ensure Melbourne's more discerning theatre lovers are sated. I am especially excited about Lutton's new adaptation of The Elephant Man, as I am, to be blunt, a big ol' Matt Lutton fan boy and have adored both adaptations from this year’' season.

Fortyfivedownstairs will also present plenty to get excited about next season, especially Trainspotting Live and Ben Gerrard in I Am My Own Wife, both early on in the year.

SM: Reviewers often deal with restricted word counts, so it's nice to write as much has you want. And Maxim generally writes longer reviewers that are detailed discussion rather than a pull quote and star rating. This great discussion reminded me of a few brilliant shows that I saw but didn't review and made me regret missing a couple more.

part 1
part 2
part 3
part 4
part 5
part 6
part 7
part 8
part 9

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