23 October 2017

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL: A Requiem for Cambodia: Bangsokol

A Requiem for Cambodia: Bangsokol
Cambodia Living Arts, Asia TOPA
14 October 2017
Hamer Hall

Photo by Tey Tak Keng

A Requiem for Cambodia: Bangsokol is for the two million who died or were killed during the Khmer Rouge genocide.

At the end of this performance, the audience are given a small orange envelope. It holds a photo. Mine is a black and white image of a young woman and man at the steps of a traditional Cambodian house on stilts. Their combination of Western and Cambodian clothes and their semi-formal pose says 1970s.

I don't know anything more except that they didn't survive the 1970s.

I visited Cambodia in 2010. I fell in love with the country and the people I met and it took me a few days to realise what was so obvious that it was hard to see it: there weren't many people older than I was.

Photo by Tey Tak Keng

Bangsokol is created by two artists who survived the regime: artist and film maker Rithy Pahn and composer Him Sophy. Sopy says: "My generation in Cambodia experienced war – I lost my family, I saw people killed. I don't want this again, for anyone."

With a western chamber orchestra and chorus with Khmer music, this astonishingly beautiful work  combines a requiem for the dead and lost with the Buddhist bangsokol funeral ritual for spirits to find peace.

It creates humanity and hope out of horror that is possibly unimaginable to anyone who hasn't experienced it, and it passes hope and tradition onto the next generation.

I've put my photo of the people I don't know in a frame.

The Khmer Rouge took thousands of photos of  people imprisoned and tortured and killed at the S 21 prison in Phnom Pehn, which is now the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide. Some of these photos were used in Bangsokol. For thousands, the only photographic record of their existence is of them in hell.

To be given photos of Cambodians from those generations when they were happy is a treasured gift.

22 October 2017


A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, Chapter III: 1896–1956

Taylor Mac
13 October 2017
Forum Theatre

Last chance to be a part of thus magnificent experience is TONIGHT at The Wrap.

Taylor Mac. Photo by Sarah Walker

As I'm still grinning inanely or crying uncontrollably from chapters III and IV, here are some more of Sarah Walker's incredible photos.

Taylor Mac & the exhibitionists. Photo by Sarah Walker
Taylor Mac & men who would've been conscripted. Photo by Sarah Walker.
Taylor Mac & the youngest and oldest person at the show. Photo by Sarah Walker
Taylor Mac w Declan Greene & Matt Lutton. Photo by Sarah Walker
Taylor Mac. Photo by Sarah Walker
The burlesque dancers. Photo by Sarah Walker
Taylor Mac . Photo by Sarah Walker
Mama Alto. Photo by Sarah Walker
Taylor Mac & Does someone know this amazing woman's name? Photo by Sarah Walker
Taylor Mac & Matt Ray. Photo by Sarah Walker
Neil Morris & Brent Watkin. Photo by Sarah Walker
Taylor Mac & the straight men. Photo by Sarah Walker
Taylor Mac. Photo by Sarah Walker
Jack Beeby giving birth. Photo by Sarah Walker
Vivs DeConcini (#QueerGRannySquare). Photo by Sarah Walker
Taylor Mac . Photo by Sarah Walker
Taylor Mac . Photo by Sarah Walker
The flee to the suburbs. Photo by Sarah Walker

21 October 2017

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL: Two Jews Walk Into A Theatre

Two Jews Walk Into A Theatre
Brian Lipson and Gideon Obarzanek
19 October 2017
Beckett Theatre
to 22 October

Brian Lipson and Gideon Obarzane. Photo by Sarah Walker

Laurence Lipson and Zenek Obarzanek never met but their sons, actor Brian Lipson and dancer/choreographer Gideon Obarzanek, have worked together making theatre in Melbourne. Last year the fathers met for the first time waiting in the Arts House foyer to see a show their sons had made about the fictional meeting of their fathers. This Melbourne Festival, they are meeting again for the first time on the too-high foyer chairs at the Coopers Malthouse.

Brian's now in his 60s and Gideon's in his 50s. As middle age is the time when you're horrified or thrilled to see more of a parent in yourself than you ever imagined, what better time to become their fathers on stage.

With conversations that are partly improvised, it's a satire about the theatre they have made together, an examination of Australian Jewish identity and a reflection on the father-son relationship.

Children mostly know their parents in a way that no one else can, and this knowledge is mostly formed from interactions and behaviours that no one else sees. The adult children create loving characters in their fathers – even when they are angry and stubborn – but it's their sharing of the moments they never forgot as children that shows the heart of the work.

20 October 2017


Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne Festival
14 October 2017
Malthouse Forecourt
to 22 October

Susie Dee & Nicci Wilks. Photo by Tim Grey

Caravan is ready to hitch itself to the nearest tow-bar and visit festivals around the world, but it's not worth waiting to see if it finds a park at the Malthouse again.

Judy (Susie Dee) and her daughter Donna (Nicci Wilks) live in a caravan. They've stayed in places with views of power lines and bins but home is home and there's hope for 30-something Donna to get an ending that's happier than the ones she gives her Tinder dates. And hope for an ending that isn't her being as happy as Judy is – Judy sees the positive – about spending her last night on earth (again) in the same caravan.

With a bitterly dark humour and fearlessly hilarious performances, their clownish extremes are initially very easy to watch, but clowns are holders of truth. The mother–daughter relationship becomes more uncomfortable – and personal – as it explores the complications of assumed love. There's always love, and the expectation of love, but competitiveness and resentment can distort love and leave it unrecognisable, even when it's as tender as the liver Donna fries up for dinner or as obvious as the enlarged liver that Judy is so very proud of.

Written by Angus Cerini, Patricia Cornelius, Wayne Macauley and Melissa Reeves – srsly, what a team – and co-created by Dee and Wilks, it's development began with four scripts about body organs in a caravan in a Collingwood carpark – when it was 40 degrees.

Outside in the Malthouse Forecourt, it's still October-chilly at night but op shop blankets ensure that the audience are cosy while looking into the too-cosy-for-comfort van.

Their new view of Melbourne still feels like the outer suburbs in the new van that's been re-fitted and designed by Marg Horwell. Starting with a 1970s orange bedspread that's so loud it might start a new retro bedspread trend, every original fitting is filled with details from medications to toy horses, and secrets are hidden in every storage nook and cranny.

While the individual contributions are felt, none outshine the other and create a consistent voice that's been developed by years of artistic collaboration and friendship. Book a blankie now because some of the last shows have booked out.

18 October 2017

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL: Taylor Mac, Chapter II & the G word

A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, Chapter II: 1836–1886

Taylor Mac
13 October 2017
Forum Theatre

Taylor Mac. Hour 7. Photo by Sarah Walker

Taylor Mac's A 24-Decade History of Popular Music Chapter II  included re-enacting the American Civil War, taking the racism out of The Mikado by setting it on Mars, moving all the chairs in the Forum, singing with helium and making even more new best friends. And ping-pong balls; has anyone talked about the ping-pong balls that Melbourne is loving in our own freaky way?

Taylor Mac. Hour 8. Photo by Sarah Walker

Sarah Walker's photos can tell story of Chapter II. She captures the why we're so in love with this show. Look at those smiles!

Hour 11. The balloons were worth catching

But back to Chapter 1. Something happened off stage, while Taylor was flying in a harness: the announcement of the McArthur Foundation Grants, which are incorrectly known as the 'genius' grants. Taylor got one. (As did with playwright Annie Baker, who wrote John that was at the MTC earlier this year.)

Taylor Mac. Hour 9. Photo by Sarah Walker

I first saw Taylor in 2008 in The Be(a)st of Taylor Mac. He had a ukelele, a suitcase full of op-shop drag and a lot of sequins and glitter. He performed to an intimate group at the Famous Spiegeltent next to Arts Centre Melbourne before going to the Feast festival in Adelaide. (Feast was directed by Dan Clarke, who is now working at Arts Centre Melbourne.)

Taylor Mac & Machine Dazzle. Hour 12. Photo by Sarah Walker

I've been a fan ever since, and may have squealed when I found out that the 24-hour show was coming to Melbourne. Judy shared work that started from the personal, ignored aesthetic and acceptable ideas of how to story, and connected with people who may never have thought they would connect with the radical idea of being your authentic self and seeing the world through a different gaze.

Many artists affirm how I see myself and my community. That night with Taylor changed how I saw myself in my community.

I left knowing that drag was could be exciting, embracing and subversive in ways that said 'fuck off' to all ridiculous assumptions of masculinity or femininity. And that it didn't have to insult women.

Taylor Mac, Dandy Minions (including Mama Also in the green wig) & audience (including Richard Watts, Tom Halls & Simone French). Hour 10

And I stopped resisting the Q word. My first memories of "queer" was it being re-appropriated as an insult. Re-re-appropriating queer as positive and inclusive has been bloody marvelous.

Mama Alto – one of Melbourne's Dandy Minions: the magnificent locals helping to make the 24-hour show – explains queer and queering rather wonderfully in this piece in The Music. (Or read it in this issue, which includes some very groovy writers.)

The Civil War. Photo by Sarah Walker

Judy's next trip to Melbourne was The Ziggy Stardust Meets Tiny Tim Songbook or Comparison is Violence. I left knowing that glitter belongs on every face that wants it and my reviews began looking for more positive than negative.

I'm not surprised that the G word is being thrown around.

But the word also dismisses the work it takes to create works of genius.

Jackie Smith & Moira Finucaine. Photo by Sarah Walker

Maybe being open to those ideas that are usually rejected, finding the people who you want to create with – let's not forget that a team of glorious people are part of the 24-hour show –, and ignoring the NO voices* is always an amazing place to start.

Dan Giovannoni as Yum Yum in The Mikado. Photo by Sarah Walker

* including critics; good writers are not always right.


Taylor Mac In Conversation on Saturday at 2.30.

The Wrap: closing night party on Sunday.

Circus Oz Strong Women. Photo by Sarah Walker

Chanon Judson. Photo by Sarah Walker

Musical Director Matt Ray, who is also on stage for 24 hours. Photo by Sarah Walker

17 October 2017

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL: Taylor Mac, Chapter I & #QueerGrannySquares

A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, Chapter 1: 1776–1836

Taylor Mac
11 October 2017
Forum Theatre



Taylor Mac. Hour 1. Photo by Sarah Walker

With a Milky Way of critical stars and superlative quotables, review voices can do little more than add to the glorious noise and love that leaves little room for objectivity when describing Taylor Mac's A 24-Decade History of Popular Music.

One song per year for 240 years over 24 hours. It was performed once over 24 hours last year in New York, but Melbourne gets four shows of six hours. This gives us over a week of being thrilled to count the sleeps until the next show.  

If it somehow hasn't been made clear, by everyone who was at parts I and II, missing parts III and/or IV isn't worth the regret.

One of the many joys I've experienced, so far, was sitting on the stage as one of six people – with Zeb, Dierdre, Daniel, Phil and Julia – who "made things" in respect to the first 30 years of music, that started in 1776. I made #QueerGrannySquares.

About a month ago I crocheted my first #QueerGrannySquare. It was the same week that the not-binding not-votes of survey disgrace started arriving in our letter boxes. I've filled in many government forms and never been so disgusted by one. I still can't get it into my head that our government is so cowardly that they have to ask if we are equal.

Counting down to hour one. I know where I am on the stage.  Photo by Sarah Walker

Reading Facebook on the train one afternoon, I didn't know what to do. I'd seen the "protect my children from the nasty queers" ads, I'd seen the posters that equate having sex with wearing a seat belt – they really aren't doing it right – and I'd been handed pamphlets by Christians who insult every thing that religion and faith stand for; these just made me swear. But this afternoon I saw so many posts from people who were breaking; mostly people who I never thought would break. And if confident, happy and loved people are hurting this much, the damage this vile survey is doing is going to be deep.

I can't stop ignorance, fear and hate, but I can sit on my couch and make rainbows.

Taylor Mac and costume designer Machine Dazzle. Hour 2. Photo by Sarah Walker.

I was inspired by Sayraphim Lothian's live art project A Moment in Yarn. She asked me to tell a happy story and made me a granny square that tells the story of a cat called Flue moving in with me.

The square still sits with Flue's ashes and it still makes me cry; a handmade object can hold a story and a memory so powerfully.

Some of the Dandy Minions. Photo by Sarah Walker

It took me three more years to learn how to crochet (at classie.com.au). I was also inspired by the #PussyHat movement and knitted (I could knit) my first #pussyhat in January on the day of the Women's March in Washington against he whose name I don't need to write. I spent the next couple of months making them for anyone who asked. The cost was do something nice for someone else.

I bought most of the yarn from op shops (charity shops) – every ball had already been used to make someone else's story and the money was going somewhere positive – and some of my favourite moments of this year have been seeing photos of friends and their daughters (and one cat; it was a one off) wearing their hats. Making these hats even rekindled a friendship with someone I knew in kindergarten.

It also connected me with other craftivism projects and it inspired some new #pussyhat knitters. One of them was Daniel.

Daniel didn't tell me that he'd also been chosen to make stuff with Taylor until we both turned up at the theatre with our bags of yarn!

Pre-show on-stage selfie by Daniel Kilby. We were a bit excited.

A few minutes into the show, I whispered to Daniel, "I think I've found my happy place". As an extroverted introvert, there isn't anything much better than being in the best seat, being irrelevant enough to blend in, being surrounded by cool people (the band), only having to interact with one person (a friend) and being able to do something that doesn't involve interacting.

But what was even more amazing was watching the audience. I've been to hundreds –  and hundreds – of shows and I have never seen or felt an audience who were this happy.

And that includes the National Theater of Oklahoma Life and Times: Episodes 1–4  that was so glorious that the friend and I who went together decided that we can't see shows together because it will never be that good again. Bryce, you need to come to Taylor.

Richard Watts being comforted by a stranger. Photo by Sarah Walker

It was more than happy.

Sparklie makes me happy.

Subversion makes me happy.

Deconstructing the heteronormative musical narrative wearing a blindfold makes me happy.

We kept them on for an hour. Photo by Sarah Walker

But Taylor Mac, and everyone his USA company and the Australians who have joined them in Melbourne, have created a space without shame.

Stephen Russell telling his story. Photo by Sarah Walker.

We're dealing with an active campaign that's about creating shame, especially queer shame. It's trying to create shame for being who you are, who you fuck and who you love. It's about making children ashamed before that know who they are. It's about families being shamed for being families. It's disgraceful.

This year, the gorgeous Hannah Gadsby has been talking about the damage done by kind of shame in her show Nanette. It's the best piece of stand up I've seen; it broke me. It's also had all the critical stars and won a pile of awards, but I recommend going to Twitter and reading the responses to its Australian and UK seasons to understand how this piece of theatre is changing lives. There might still be some tickets left for her Hamer Hall shows at the Arts Centre in December. This is the other show that missing isn't worth the regret.

Taylor Mac et al have created a world where this kind of shame doesn't exist.

Taylor Mac. Hour 3. Photo by Sarah Walker.

And even if we're only in that world for a few hours, we're taking its acceptance, love and outrageous kink out of the theatre, into our hearts and our lives. We may not be able to stop ignorance, fear and hate, but we can do everything we can to drown out the shame with as many rainbows as it takes.

Taylor Mac Hour 4. Photo by Sarah Walker

PS. Seeing friends and strangers – on and off the stage – with the squares has also made me so fucking happy that I've cried.

PPS. I have a pile of new mini ones for Wednesday night. If you want one, please just ask.

16 October 2017

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL: All the Sex I've Ever Had

All the Sex I’ve Ever Had
Mamallian Diving Reflex, Darren O’Donnell
12 October 2017
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 15 October

All the Sex I've Ever Had. Photo by Jim Lee

The show that had me crying my heart out at 1am as I tried to write a review.

My review is at The Age/SMH.

And I interviewed the lovely Darren O'Donnell for The Music.

Extra: In 2008, Moses Carr first worked with Mamallian Diving Reflex when they came to Melbourne with the Children's Choice Awards.

07 October 2017

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL: All My Friends Were There

All My Friends Were There
The Guerrilla Museum

7 October
Theatre Works
to 11 October

Everyone I know to who experienced The Guerrilla Museum's two-person-audience show Funeral still talks about it. All My Friends Were There is about another inevitability in most lives – birthdays. And enough people come to every show to make a party.

Literally. We made a flippin' party!

No one knows who's party it's going to be until the show starts. Audiences are sent questionnaires  about their birthday memories and someone, and their memories, are chosen for the day's party.

Today we celebrated Fleur's birthday. I'm not allowed to share the photos because The Guerilla Museum are all about having personal experiences. The guerillas want us to be in the moment and create memories – knowing that they change and are never be exactly like what happened.

I can say there was cake, streamers, vegan snags, booze, pass the parcel and surprsies. But no one gets to enjoy all of it and – like all birthdays – there are moments of "I want to do THAT".

The audience are split into groups and then smaller groups who visit spaces in and around Theatre Works. Each mini experience is about creating the final party, but it's more about evoking personal birthday memories. Knowing the birthday girl actually worked against the experience.

And while the final party is like mainlining glitter, we're still left knowing little about the person we're celebrating.

The experience that will stay with me is filling in the questionnaire, choosing five photos and trying to remember 49 birthdays.

The first question is about our fifth birthday.

I don't remember my fifth birthday. But I remember my grandma letting me choose two presents from the toy shop. I chose a gold-coloured teddy bear – I called him, definitely a him, Golden – and a plastic doll that came in her own matching bag. Gran told me not to take her to school the next day because I'd lose her. I remember being angry that she'd think that; I loved that new doll and wouldn't lose her. I lost her. I don't remember what she looked like, but I realised why I never say "Don't lose ..." to a child; I say "Be careful" or "Keep ... safe".

I remember my fourth birthday because I have a photo of it. I had a cake with pink icing and Yogi Bear chocolates around the side. I remember the cake vividly and the photo (below) proves how wrong memories can be. I had an ice cream cake. And I look pretty happy about it. Maybe the pink cake was from my forgotten fifth?

There was my 25th party in an activist share house where I drunkenly remember asking my brother how he lost his virginity but was too drunk to remember his answer.

There was the unnecessary aging crisis of turning 30. The only person who seemed to get that I wasn't keen on celebrating was a woman I worked with. She was about to turn 40 and facing IVF.  I remember thinking how I'd have my life together by 40 and that ten years is such a long time.

I remembered 38 where I looked at my father's funeral memorial card from ten years earlier. This was the first time I'd looked at the date of his death (he took his own life) and saw that it wasn't the day before my birthday. No one ever checked that I knew; knowing made a difference.

I avoided 40 – turns out I didn't have my life together and ten years is a very short time – and had a last-minute pub lunch. My favourite 40-something birthday was feeding giraffes at Werribbee Zoo, but the best party was the Party For Pets where friends gave a donation to Lort Smith Animal Hospital. We wore animal masks and looked like we were at a really cheap middle-aged swingers party.

I suspect that I'll also avoid 50, but I am going to Sri Lanka a few weeks before my birthday and I want to go on a leopard safari that costs more than the airfare so I might accept presents this one year. #AllIWantForMyBirthdayIsALeopardSafari