27 December 2017

What Melbourne Loved in 2017, part 11

Because last minute.

Andrew Westle
Finished his Phd
Delving into Dance podcast
Andrew Westle

Favourite moments in 2017
A year that was tarnished by the inauguration of DT (SM: He self-googles; we don't want him here by searching for his name) and the divisiveness of his politics of hate. The same year we saw the expensive and divisive postal vote and the increased focus of gender inequities in the creative industries, alongside the increased reporting of sexual abuse. 2017 is the year that appears to mark a precipice. A call for action; what is the trajectory we have set ourselves?

There were three works that answered the call, all significant departures from the path our political leaders appear to want to take us and complicating the status quo. They have marked me in distinct and significant ways. They have all changed me!

Hannah Gadsby, Nanette.
What the fuck! This was just a phenomenal performance. I was blessed to see the return season. One microphone and one enormous Hamer Hall stage, a stage too often reserved for "high art". A stunning juxtaposition for the critique of high art outlined during the show. Ask Hannah what she thinks of Picasso… and rightly so. The show was perfectly structured and bravely performed. The unresolved tension at the end was palpable. A call for action. I turned to Bec Reid with the knot in my chest as we looked for the words: “WHOW!” What else can be said?

Taylor Mac, A 24-Decade History of Popular Music
24-Decade, like Nanette, was a provocation and a call to action. The audience were implicated as part of the mode of delivery. Generally, I loath audience participation and seek to hide from any invitation to participate. But for a radical faerie realness ritual sacrifice, I was there! The audience participation felt so natural as inclusion as part of the mode of performance and the nature of its creation.

Vote one Taylor for President. The performance models what it would be like if we had a leader that valued the diversity of voices, including queers, women and people of colour.

It was unapologetically queer in its politics. A protest. A celebration. A radical faerie realness ritual sacrifice. It was everything and more. A temporary community that reflected my politics and my love of what and who humans can be.

Jonathan Holloway said to me on the first night that the work would change the city (a huge call, I though at the time). BUT YES! Not a single person couldn’t have been changed. Personally, Taylor gave value to my queer politic in a way that doesn’t often feature in theatre of a generic LGBTIQ nature.

Not a day that has passed without reflection upon Taylor’s show. From slow dancing with strangers to the validation of anonymous cock sucking! Machine Dazzle, Tiger and the whole crew! Incredible!

All the Queens Men, The Coming Back Out Ball
The vision of Tristan Meecham, The Coming Back Out Ball paid homage to our LGBTI Elders. While involved in the ball as the maître d', I can say without bias this was the best night of my life. An artistic intervention based on research that literally changed peoples lives. The project embraced and celebrated our elders, with a room of over 500 people full of love and joy.

I was embraced by a lesbian who was in tears of joy saying, “This is the best night of my life". It is the first time I have been recognised as a lesbian and an elder.” I spoke to a 68-year-old trans woman who used the ball as her post-op debutante. Then there was a couple who were celebrating their 26th Anniversary. This was a truly safe and celebratory space, with a three course meal for all the Elders and amazinging performances from the likes of Robyn Archer, Deborah Cheetham and Toni Lalich.

The Ball embraced everything wonderful about inclusion and community!

Honorable mentions: Attractor at Asia TOPA; Angels in America; Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster, Nicola Gunn; Do Not Collect $200; Gabrielle Nankivell’s Wildebeest for Sydney Dance Company; All the Sex I've Ever Had; Melanie Lane’s Nightdance; and Wild Bore.

Looking forward to in 2018
In 2018 I will be spending significant time in the UK, so really looking forward to the experience the new and unknown. Seeking works that profile a diversity of voices, the queer, the unique and works that engage their audiences in re-imagining the world we could inhabit.

Cathy Hunt
Director, dramaturg

Cathy Hunt
Favourite moments in 2017
The Happy Prince
Little Ones Theatre, La Mama.  In this almost unbearably delicate production, the series of encounters and gradual entwining of the hopelessly selfish prince even in her compassion and the beautiful reckless generous obliviousness of the roller-skating swallow with his tiny strength which he gives up accidentally. As they began to see each other they disintegrate and that love was devastating.

The Encounter, Complicite, Malthouse. It stopped, shifted and altered time when I was within it, a huge feat and one that made the world sit differently afterwards. Despite the vastly British framing, familiar if effective storytelling tricks to make us trust, a huge interior journey became possible.

Free Admission, Ursula Martinez, Arts Centre Melbourne. Ursula brought in and broke down (by constructing) a wall! She freely admitted through a "Sometimes I..." structure drawing from the free association much that isn’t usually allowed to enter into theatrical or our mental space. Potent, unique and challenging.

Passenger, Footscray Community Arts Centre and Arts Centre. Not so much for what happened on the bus, but for the incremental inroads this work made into the real world beyond. How the uninspiring Docklands we drove through became part of the audience’s imaginative terrain. The pleasure of spotting strange characters, a Clint Eastwood-esque figure on horseback, and the way it shifted our relation to overlooked, ordinary over-developed urban spaces, has stayed with me.

Book of Exodus part 1 and part 2, Fraught Outfit, Theatre Works. Navigated the weight of time, of history, of cultural destiny with first two children then a whole band trying to find their way through the dark desert. From a slow journey through (part 1) a white world of futile foam with discoveries like a gingerbread house through (part 2) into a shadowy black space shining with gold and a lamplike sun in which childhood objects like sleeping bags and scooters alternated with displays of power and detachment that were never held onto too tightly, but slipped through young fingers like uncomprehended ash. The final moment of the babies having a bacchanal, suckling and the deus ex machina descent of Euygeene Teh’s incredible gold-breasted milk-dispensing contraption was unparalleled.

Queen of Wolves, Nick Coyle, Hares and Hyenas. An Act of indomitable mental and imaginative fortitude in which Nick Coyle embodies Frances Glass, a determined governess-type charged to restore a haunted house to a semblance of order. I marvelled as I felt so many things. The Hares and Hyenas wallpaper became the peeling veneer of a cobwebby mansion. The cello-playing frenzy and channelling of a louche Southern former mistress of the house was unfathomably funny. A seriously glorious work of theatre with crazy high production values. Must see! Crying out for another season.

Merciless Gods, Little Ones Theatre, Darebin Speakeasy. This work transported me into the dark subterranean places of our unbridled uncensored feelings and was so intense and violent in parts, yet terribly tender in others. The drive to display and dramatise what surges underneath even apparently ordinary moments and relationships masquerading as familial, the unabashed blatancy of the project and its incredible realisation by the ensemble and the whole team made for compelling theatre. The palette of reds and the spatial design like a tongue sticking out between the seating banks seemed like the only possible setting for this act of collective calling up of the spirit of a whole decade.

One of the Good Ones, Cope St Indigenous Arts Collective, Metanoia. I delighted in this ambivalently nostalgic retro-ridiculous offering with a set made from outmoded technology, that asked the audience to read the work on multiple levels. With their child self believing a hairdryer was a blaster, with their adult self who was nostalgic for the time when it was possible to believe a hairdryer was a blaster and with their current self noticing colonial triggers (such as music from the bicentennial) while being made aware of the racist tropes invoked (like "one of the good ones"). Smart writing and hilarious performances. By setting this struggle in space, in the future, the audience drew their own parallels about Aboriginal heroism in the struggle for sovereignty in a hostile (solar) system.

The Chairs,  Jenny Kemp, designed by Dale Ferguson, La Mama. Like dwelling at the bottom of the sea, living in a lighthouse, being part of an elaborate ritual in which a couple attempt to work out how to extricate themselves from life, re-capture and experience each other’s affection, by instituting space between them, in preparation for saying goodbye to everything. That moment of Jillian Murray and Robert Meldrum progressing up separate staircases nearly obliterated me. Unbearably powerful!

Ash Flanders is Nothing,  Hares and Hyenas. Kaleidoscopic collision nigh impossible to encapsulate. A bit like dwelling within a cabana made of Muriel’s Wedding, your childhood sense of The Neverending Story as tragedy and a reflux-like experiencing of Ash Flanders’/one’s own less than ideal life. All generously given to you on a slightly chipped but really lavish platter with full flourish. Consummate performance by an ascerbically insightful marvel making a Christmas sacrifice of his own bravado for your delight.

Looking forward to in 2018
Good Muslim Boy, Melancholia, Blasted (Australian premiere!) at Malthouse, and the return of Belarus Free Theatre.

The Nightingale and the Rose by Little Ones and Dybbuks by Samara Hersch and Chambermade - both at Theatreworks

Hungry Ghosts by Jean Tong at MTC and much much more on and off stages.

Yvonne Virsik
Artsistic Director, MUST

Yvonne Virsik

Favourite moments in 2017

Susie Dee and Nicci Wilks doing their best to adjust to a sudden (devlishly angular) rainstorm during a performance of Caravan – adjusting their caravan/set, trying to stay in character but not– gloriously entertainingly live.

Brilliant, hilarious and insightful women taking about where we are at in The Festival of Questions,  especially "The Handmaid's Tale WTF",  Wheeler Centre, Melbourne Festival.

Bizarrely serendipitous programming one night at The MUST Cabaret Festival: a dramatic duet of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" performed in German followed a few minutes later by an equally dramatic solo version in Russian, then the hosts joining in with their English version and...

Great sport Tim enduring black goo poured over his head again and again in pursuit of the "great promo shot" for Frankensteinxx at MUST.

The razor-sharp choreographic flourishes in How to Kill the Queen of Pop, Hotel Now.

Turning around suddenly in response to the 360 degree soundscape of The Encounter at Malthouse.

The moments of humble, shared humanity between those on the stage, those in the audience and those on and off in All the Sex I've Ever Had, Melbourne Festival.

People's unreserved joy at experiencing Taylor Mac, of whom I only got a little first hand, but an enormous amount vicariously.

The incredibly dramatic, fiery, epic-action-movie-like scene changes in MTC's Macbeth.

The wondrous final image of Angels in America Part 1: the inventive canvas-curtained set dropped down to reveal a beautifully glowing hand-painted stained glass effect.

The stunning images of Exodus, Part I and Part II, Fraught Outfit at Theatre Works.

Glimpses of Joan, just caught by light, The Rabble at Theatre Works.

The focused fleeting images of In Plan, Melbourne Festival.

The Nose in The Nose, Bloomshed at Melbourne  Fringe.

Some surprises:
The shifts in tone in Hannah Gadsby's Nanette and Kaitlyn Rogers's Can I Get an Amen. They both totally succeeded in keeping us with them, through all their heart wrenching terrain. (Ok, so by the time I saw Nanette, it wasn't a surprise, but the power of the experience of was.)

Realising it wasn't just a genius marketing ploy in Wild Bore at Malthouse.

Realising it wasn't just my niece enjoying As You Like It at the Pop Up Globe from The Groundlings area.

The sometimes jarring, sometimes fluid relationship between movement and text in Nicola Gun's incredible work Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster.

Discoveries – why have some of these taken me so long?
Trygve Wakenshaw in Nautilus – A fluid rubbery joy.
The Travelling Sisters – looking forward to more.
Rama Nichols – she's just so good.
Seeing Joe Fisher juggle for the first time at The MUST Cabaret Festival–  not a form I generally go crazy over, but the electric tension he brings to his performances is something else.

Show I loved (but, as always, there are so many):
Angels in America at fortyfivedownstairs, directed by Gary Abrahams I think has affected me the most. I've always loved the texts but what a privilege to experience them brought to life with such theatrical ingenuity, extraordinary performances and searing humanity. One of my favourite moments of the whole year is returning for Part Two, scanning the audience and catching the eyes of familiar faces from the night before, full of excitement at continuing our epic journey together.

What I'm looking forward to in 2018
Melancholia at Malthouse. The film has stayed just under my skin since I saw it and I've always thought it would make a fascinating piece of theatre. With Declan Greene and Matt Lutton as creators, I tingle at the possibilities.

I only saw a bit of Taylor Mac, but will be keeping an eye out for judy's work all over the world. Determined to also check Mac out as a playwright, I bought a copy of Hir afterwards and am now looking forward to Daniel Clarke's Production at Red Stitch very soon.

Generally, I'm looking forward to more surprises, more diversity in programming and in the breadth of artists engaged, which does seem to be growing. Bring on the surprises, the discoveries and the sheer theatrical joy!

part 10
part 9
part 8
part 7
part 6
part 5
part 4
part 3
part 2
part 1

21 December 2017

What I loved in 2017: the best of Melbourne theatre

I can finally share this. I chose them before the "loveds" and before other final judging of the year and I am always thrilled when I see the same shows on lists and memories.

The Sometimes Melbourne popular winner this year – the absolutely most-loved show of the year – is easily Hannah Gadsby's Nanette.

Hannah Gadsby

We're still talking about it. (What Melbourne Loved parts 1–10) I haven't stopped talking about it. But go to Twitter and search for Hannah's name to see just how much this show has meant to people. It shared a truth that needed to be shared, even when it's not the same truth for everyone.

I'm still caught between looking at it as a piece of exquisite writing that takes stand up, turns it on itself and creates something new and vital that's everything that stand-up comedy isn't, and wanting Hannah to never perform it again.

Wild Bore also got a lot of well-deserved love (even if I wasn't cunty enough to be quoted) and those of us who saw Taylor Mac know that we may never recover.

Surprisingly, the shows we're most looking forward to are at the MTC! And it's not because we're becoming dull but because we're going to see Patricia Cornelius's new work The House of Bernarda Alba and Stephen Nicolazzo directing Abigail's Party. And Jean Tong's Hungry Ghosts.

Outstanding Artists 2017


Katy Warner for Spencer, Lab Kelpie

Spencer, Lab Kelpie. Lyall Brooks, Jamieson Caldwell, Fiona Harris, Jane Clifton. Photo by Pier Carthew

Special mentions

Daniel Kitson and Gavin Osborn for Stories for the Starlit Sky at MICF

Stella Reid, Jane Yonge​, Oliver Morse and Thomas Lambert for The Basement Tapes at Melbourne Fringe


Dale Ferguson (set and costume), Paul Jackson (lighting) and J David Franzke (sound) for Away, Malthouse

Away, Malthouse. Photo by Pia Johnson

Special mentions

Christina Logan Bell for The Japanese Princess by Lyric Opera 

Dann Barber (set and costume), Rob Sowinski and Bryn Cullen (lighting) for Angels in America, Cameron Lukey and Dirty Pretty Theatre in association with fortyfivedownstairs

Angels in America, fortyfivedownstairs


Kate Mulvany as Richard III in Richard III, Bell Shakespeare

Richard III, Bell Shakespeare. Kate Mulvany and Meredith Penman. Photo by Prudence Upton

Special mentions

Melita Jurisic as Genevieve in John, Melbourne Theatre Company

The cast of Black Rider, Malthouse and Victorian Opera at Melbourne Festival

The cast of Trainspotting Live at MICF


Matthew Lutton for Away, Malthouse, and Black Rider, Malthouse and Victorian Opera at Melbourne Festival

Black Rider, Malthouse and Victorian Opera. Photo by Pia Johnson

Special mentions

Sarah Goodes for John, Melbourne Theatre Company

Bridget Balodis for Desert 6.29pm, Red Stitch Actors Theatre


Little Ones Theatre
Stephen Nicolazzo , Eugyeene Teh, Katie Sfetkidis and everyone who works with them

Stephen, Eugyeene and Katie. Little Ones Theatre

The Happy Prince at La Mama, The Moors for Red Stitch, and Merciless Gods at Northcote Town Hall and Griffin (Sydney). It's been a pretty amazing year for them and the team's first show for 2018 is Abigail's Party at MTC and the company's The Nightingale and the Rose, the second in their Oscar Wilde Trilogy, is at Theatre Works in June. CAN NOT WAIT.

The Happy Prince. Janine Watson and Catherine Davies. Photo by Pia Johnson

Outstanding Productions 2017


Clittery Glittery by Fringe Wives Club (Rowena Hutson, Victoria Falconer-Pritchard and Tessa Waters) at MICF.

Clittery Glittery. Victoria Falconer-Pritchard, Tessa Waters and Rowena Hutson.

Special mention
Betty Grumble: Sex Clown Saves The World at Melbourne Fringe


John, Melbourne Theatre Company


The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon

Special mention

Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit by Jean Tong at Poppyseed Festival.
If this doesn't get some development and second season, there is something wrong.

24/12 Update: All is good because it has a season at Malthouse in March. Book here.

Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit. Margot Tanjutco and Louisa Wall


Nautilus by Trygve Wakenshaw at MICF

Trygve Wakenshaw

Special mentions
Monkey See, Monkey Do by Richard Gadd at MICF

The Travelling Sisters at MICF


La Voix Humaine by BK Opera at Melbourne Fringe

The Maze by Kasey Gambling at Melbourne Fringe


Joan by The Rabble
Joan. The Rabble. Dana Miltins. Photo by David Paterson

The Book of Mormon
Black Rider, Malthouse and Victorian Opera at Melbourne Festival

Betty Grumble: Love and Anger at the Butterfly Club

Betty Grumble: Love and Anger


This year, I saw two shows that I have thought about every day since. Every day.
I've spent ages trying to separate these two and it's impossible. There wasn't a moment when anything came near to the experience of seeing Nanette, until Taylor Mac started talking about the homophobic shaming of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and finished 23 hours later dressed in a glittery, pink vulva and I couldn't stop crying.

Nanette by Hannah Gadsby at MICF and Arts Centre Melbourne

Hannah Gadsby. It's such a great pic that it can be here again.

A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, Taylor Mac, Pomegranate Arts and Nature's Darlings at Melbourne Festival

Taylor Mac. Photo by Sarah Walker.

I'm told that I expect too much of theatre. "People just want to be entertained". As Hannah said in the early version of Nanette, we have animal videos for that.

Maybe art can't change the world, but it can change people. I've seen the impact of both of these works. Both have changed how I see myself, my friends, my community and my world. Both have strengthened and created communities.

Hannah, in jeans and a jacket by herself, and Taylor, in most of the world's bright and shiny and the support of many equally-fabulous cast and crew, are incomparable – but both are their absolute real selves on stage and their work comes from the same place.

Hannah talks about the impact of being shamed by society, community, friends and family, and ultimately yourself. She talks about the insidious power of shame and her work finds the heavy hidden shame that sits in so many of us, even if we didn't know it was there.

She shares how people, especially women, put themselves down when they talk, write, perform, exist. We kick ourselves, so that you don't have to kick and reject us first.

Taylor knows communities and people who know shame, who have hidden their authentic selves out of safety or fear. Judy's work confronts the utter absurdity of this shame and creates a world where shame doesn't exist. People living at the edges of society are placed in its centre – and loved and celebrated. I had never seen a work place women, especially queer women, so in the centre of the world.

I have seen people change from seeing these shows. I saw a lot of anger, but I also saw smiles I have never seen and tears that let go of years of pain. They are the most humane pieces of theatre I have experienced.

And I'm going to keep wanting more of the same.

I don't know if Taylor and Hannah have seen each other's shows, but this HAS TO HAPPEN.


20 December 2017

What Melbourne Loved in 2017, part 10

Today is the last day of the loveds and the SM Best Of 2017 will be published tomorrow. In part 10, Andi talks about being an audience member this year, Rohan talks about music theatre and I find the moments that made me so glad that I didn't stay home and watch TV.

Andi Snelling

Andi Snelling

Favourite moments in 2017
2017 has been a unique theatre year for me. I haven’t been on stage the entire year (due to illness), which is the longest time I’ve been off the boards since I was four years old. It’s been a mixture of silent longing and inspiring observation. It’s the first time I’ve really sat back in the hum of the audience and truly taken art in as a temporarily non-practising artist. Three shows in particular grabbed my heart and pumped it for me.

My absolute favourite show was Trygve Wakenshaw’s Nautilus, which I saw in The Spiegeltent at MICF. His buckle-bodied spoof on all humanity’s absurdity had me snort-laughing and light-bulbing equally. I recall him so expertly setting the audience up with fond attachment to an established character or concept, then with great glee and trickery, smashing it before our eyes. His cheeky way of standing beside himself (sometimes literally) in order to highlight our hypocrisy, our injustice and our hope was mimed genius. As a fellow lover of physical expression, I was so uplifted by Trygve’s performance that I wanted to cartwheel myself straight into a rehearsal room right then and there and start conjuring the world with my body.

Another powerhouse show for me was Angel by Henry Naylor performed by Avital Lvova, at Holden Street Theatres at Adelaide Fringe. This was deadly theatre: a one-woman action blockbuster that had you holding your breath and begging for mercy as if you were its sniper heroine scrambling through the charred streets of Mosel. She gave a knockout performance and despite the stage being dressed only with a keg, I swore I could see, taste and feel the bullets flying in that way you do at a 3D cinema, dodging the not-really-there objects. Tears are springing up in my eyes just recalling the tragedy.

I can’t talk about theatre in 2017 without mentioning Wild Bore at the Malthouse Theatre. Of course I loved it. I laughed hard and took my brain to the gym. It was meta theatre that out-meta’ed itself and left you with visual metaphors which only your most trippy of dreams would normally be capable of. I loved how it stretched an idea well beyond its elasticity, then snapped it back in ways you didn't see coming. Witnessing Adrienne Truscott, Zoe Coombes-Marr and Ursula Martinez truly doing exactly what the fuck they wanted to be doing was super empowering. To their credit, they held themselves just as accountable as they did their critics. And all for a very apparent reason.

Other special performance moments for me include: seeing Sinead O’Connor sing half of "Nothing Compares" only to stop and declare, “I am now done with this song”, and the feminist punch-fest Hot Brown Honey that had me dancing and roaring in my seat as if I were back in my early 20s at a student protest.

Looking forward to in 2018
Who knows what 2018 will hold, but I feel great anticipation…

SM: I'd like to see Andi back on stage next year. Illness sucks. To do that, she needs some help. You can help here.

Rohan Shearn
Arts publisher and writer
Australian Arts Review

Rohan Shearn

Favourite moments in 2017
Once again, we were spoilt for choice this year as the commercial and independent sector delivered a mixed bag of delights.

The Book of Mormon kicked off the year in a riotous display of politically incorrect joy at the Princess Theatre, closely followed by Aladdin at Her Majesty’s Theatre, which was not only spectacular,but featured two outstanding performances: former Hi-5er Ainsley Melham as Aladdin, and Michael James Scott as the Genie.

Two Australian musicals made my favourites:
Ladies in Black – the musical adaptation of Madeleine St John’s popular 1993 novel, The Women in Black, made a welcome return to Melbourne; this time at the Regent Theatre.
Muriel’s Wedding  – the musical adaptation of the classic Australian film made its premiere at the Roslyn Packer Theatre in Sydney, featuring Maggie McKenna in her professional debut as Muriel Heslop. Both shows were directed by Simon Phillips.

My Fair Lady dazzled audiences at the Regent Theatre in the Dame Julie Andrews recreated 1950s classic by Lerner and Loewe featuring Anna O’Byrne as Eliza Doolittle, Charles Edwards as Professor Higgins and Reg Livermore as Alfred P Doolittle; and The Production Company surprised us all and with its production of Brigadoon, also by Lerner and Loewe.

Not to be outdone, StageArt presented their best production to date with David Bryan and Joe DiPietro’s four-time  2010 Tony Award-winning Memphis The Musical; and Music Theatre Melbourne delivered a highly charged, sentimental production of Paris – A Rock Odyssey by the late Jon English.

However, it is Taylor Mac and the A 24-Decade History of Popular Music who will leave a lasting legacy on all of those who attended judy's 2017 Melbourne Festival performances.

Looking forward to in 2018 
Dream Lover – The Bobby Darin Musical,  opening at Arts Centre Melbourne later this month featuring the ever consummate David Campbell.

Priscilla: Queen of the Desert returning to the Regent Theatre as part of its 10th anniversary outing in late January.

The critically acclaimed American Idiot rocking the Comedy Theatre from late February.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical featuring the stunning Esther Hannaford at Her Majesty’s Theatre in February; Andrew Lloyd Webber’s London Palladium production of The Wizard of Oz heading at Regent in May; and Mamma Mia! heads at the Princess Theatre in July.

Look out for Virginia Gay’s star-turn as Calamity Jane at Arts Centre Melbourne in March; Maury Yeston’s Nine makes a welcome return to Melbourne courtesy of StageArt in October; and I hope we will get to see Hayes Theatre Co’s production of Stephen Sondheim Assassins, the previously mentioned Muriel’s Wedding, and Evita sometime in 2018 or in 2019.

SM: If I want gossip (and I do,) Rohan is my first stop. I'd be so bored in intervals if he wasn't there to drink a glass of fizz with.

Anne-Marie Peard
Arts writer

The moment I hit peak cat women. A photo of a photo of me and my cats (still have one of them) at the
Gotokuji cat temple a couple of train rides out of Tokyo.

My Best Of 2017 will be published tomorrow.

Favourite moments in 2017
The first "Hello" in The Book of Mormon and knowing that it was going to be everything and more.

The Rabble's Joan when the women fell into the squares of light.

Malthouse's Away when the world changed.

Following Moira Finucane around the NGV in The Intimate 8.

Squealing at a flying condom in Trainspotting.

The costumes in Glittery Clittery.

Laughing myself sick at Trygve Wakensahaw's Nautilus. He was a chicken and a cat and a sheep! I had no idea I was all about mime; I had no idea mime could be so damning. 

Still feeling physically ill during the last scenes of Awakening.

Mary Helen Sassman and Emma Valente committing like no one has ever committed before in The Rabble's one-off Sick, Sick.

Realising that I wasn't going to get a return ticket to Takarazuka Revue (The Scarlet Pimpernel) in Tokyo and a stranger giving me a ticket. She didn't speak English and I don't speak Japanese, but she knew how happy I was to get that ticket and she has theatre karma for life. If you're going to Japan, book for them when you book your flight. It's an all-female company and I still don't know if it's the queerest (including Taylor Mac) or the straightest company I've ever seen.

Betty Grumble making pussy prints in Love and Anger.

Being given a photo in an orange envelope at A Requiem for Cambodia.

Just before Taylor Mac's A 24-Decade History of Popular Music began, I wondered if it could ever be what I imagined it could be. It was so much more.
Trying to sing and cry in the last hour of Taylor Mac.
Most All of the hours in between those moments.

The moment Hannah Gadsby turned Nanette onto itself and the bottom falling out of my heart.

Looking forward to in 2018
I'll start with Hir, Abigail's Party and The House of Bernarda Alba.

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

13 December 2017

What Melbourne Loved in 2017, part 9

This is your last week to get your moments included. Today we hear from Richard Watts, Sharon Davis and Ash Flanders.

Richard Watts
Professional pontificator, ArtsHub/3RRR

Lee Zachariah's photo for Richard Watts's 50th this year

Favourite moments in 2017
It’s been a memorable and fascinating year; one in which compassion, connection and community were the dominant themes of the works which resonated with me the most.

Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette remains the single most perfect and important piece of art I saw this year; a work that weaponised comedy by turning the art form against itself, ratchetting up the tension by depriving us of punch lines and in doing so letting us not just see but experience the damage inflicted by homophobia. Heartbreaking, brilliant and important – I don’t know how Hannah keeps performing it, and I hope she has a mental health professional on speed-dial to talk with after each and every show.

A 24-Decade History of Popular Music performed by Taylor Mac and friends was an epic, life-affirming celebration of queerness at a time when my community most needed succour and hope. Taylor gave it to us in spades – and so much more besides. I won’t go on at length about how magic and marvellous this four-part work was – it’s already had a lot of love in What Melbourne Loved this year – but I will thank the Melbourne Festival team once more for allowing us to experience this glittering gem of a show.

The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family at Perth Festival is another highlight; I’ve never seen realism done with such subtly, such truthful finesse, and such impact. Three plays performed back to back; the American family in miniature; a tri-part work about class, politics and feminism that was fresh and electrifying and never once didactic or hectoring; the best stage drama I’ve witnessed in 2017.

Attractor at Asia TOPA was my favourite dance work of the year, alongside several other brilliant contenders. Take a bow, Bunny (another Asia TOPA event); Restless Dance Theatre’s Intimate Space at Adelaide Festival; Nicola Gunn’s Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster and Nick Power’s Between Tiny Cities (both at Dance Massive) – A cross-cultural collaboration, an ecstatic celebration, a skilled blending of creative voices, a triumph.

Honourable mentions: All the Sex I’ve Ever Had at Melbourne Festival, another work in which a palpable sense of community built in the theatre as the work progressed; Kate Mulvany’s mercurial and moving Richard 3 for Bell Shakespeare; Wot? No Fish!! at Adelaide Festival, a deceptively simple work with so much heart, and Richard Gadd’s honest, confessional and experimental comedy at MICF, Money See, Monkey Do. And so much more…

Looking forward to in 2018
It’s probably cheating to say everything, isn’t it? There’s so much I’m hanging out to see next year: Daniel Clarke directing Taylor Mac’s Hir at Red Stitch; Daniel Lammin directing Tommy Murphy’s Strangers in Between at fortyfivedownstairs; Brian Lucas giving voice to Wilde’s De Profundis at Gasworks… and that’s just during Midsumma!

I’m especially excited to see not one but two mainstage works – finally! – by Patricia Cornelius in 2018, though I don’t know if I’ll get to both: her adaptation of Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba at MTC, directed by Leticia Cáceres and a new, original work, In the Club at State Theatre Company South Australia, directed by Geordie Brookman.

I’m also hanging out for Jada Alberts’s Brothers Wreck at the Malthouse; Albert Belz’s Astroman and Jean Tong’s Hungry Ghosts, both at the MTC; Gravity and Other Myths’s intimate, brilliant circus work A Simple Space and Griffin Theatre’s long-awaited production of Angus Cerini’s The Bleeding Tree, both at Arts Centre Melbourne, and so much more.

Most importantly I’m looking forward to more new voices; more works by new artists; more works from artists from diverse backgrounds telling stories that when we hear them we’ll be like, “Why haven’t we heard this before?!”. Bring on 2018

Richard & Daniel at Taylor Mac. Photo by Sarah Walker
Me & Richard during Purple Rain. Photo by Daniel Kilby

SM: Watching "Purple Rain" together at Taylor Mac. And the look on Richard's face during the interval of The Book of Mormon.

Sharon Davis
Sharon Davis. Photo by Cricket @ Cricket Studio

Favourite moments in 2017
Hands down, the stage lift during the storm in Away at The Malthouse. I have never felt that kind of pure excitement and adrenaline in the theatre before. It was just magic and it made me feel like a little kid again. I loved the rest of that show too. It took me by surprise which is remarkable for a piece so familiar. It had the intensity of purpose that you often get with a new work while still feeling like a dignified “classic”. I don’t know what I mean by that except that that is how it made me feel.

Of course Melbourne is rich with so much theatre to feast on but my other highlights include:

Nanette by Hannah Gadsby. Her challenge to the idea that artists must be tortured to be of value lingers with me.

Britney Spears: The Cabaret. I know it’s been kicking around for years but I’m one of those people that hadn’t seen it until this year at Chapel. Holy shit, Christie Whelan-Browne is an absolute knockout. Jaw stayed on the floor. If she does it again, don’t think, just go.

The Happy Prince. I always really get a kick out of Stephen Nicolazzo‘s work but this piece came in like a little bird and carried my heart away with such tenderness and humour that I just had to sit a few moments at the end and gather myself. Just beautiful.

Red Stitch really knocked it out of the park for me with Incognito by Nick Payne. I love plays and I love watching actors deliver complex ideas while revealing meaning through human connection, intention and emotion. It’s such an epic play and I still don’t know how they managed to fit it into that space but it worked and it was like jazz and science had a love child.

And finally, Songs for a Weary Throat. An incredible team of artists made this piece epic and beautiful. There was so much danger in the way the performers moved and played. The space was chaotic and broken and full of, seemingly, actual danger. Yet what stuck me most was the absolute trust and care that shone through with every movement, look,and exchange that took place between the performers. It reminded me that theatre doesn’t have to be a competition of endurance, aggression,or trauma for it to be high impact for the audience.

Looking forward to in 2018
A safe, supportive, and respectful work space for EVERYONE.

I can’t wait to see what Stephen Nicolazzo does with Abigail’s Party for MTC. Also really looking forward to seeing one of my favourite directors, Kirsten Von Bibra, take on Venus in Fur for Lightening Jar Theatre at 45 Downstairs.

SM: Sharon directed Spencer, one of my favourite new works of this year.

Ash Flanders

Ash Flanders. I let him choose his own pic.

Favourite moments in 2017
Number one has to be Declan Greene performing the monologue “Conserve water, drink piss” for me at Blondies earlier this week. It’s a found monologue from an Eagle Leather email. I hope it gets picked up.

But in terms of actual things, like anyone with a die hard love of grooviness, I am now a devout member of the church of Betty Grumble. Getting to witness Love and Anger was like getting a front row seat to a tornado where everyone fought to be pulled in. Emma Maye has the potential to be a worldwide ecosexual terrorist of the highest order if smart gate-keepers can open their eyes, hearts and orifices.

Other standout moments include: Peter Paltos delivering the incredible monologue Dan Giovannoni wrote in Merciless Gods; The Listies deservedly selling out their Edinburgh season; marveling at the plot mechanics of Declan’s Faggots or The Homosexuals; the insanity of Phil Dunning’s House of Pigs; and any time I got to witness Nick Coyle be the icon, legend and lunatic he is.

Personally I am very grateful for the opportunity to tour a work overseas and also make a dream come true by finally having an all-lady band help Dave, Stephen and I take Playing to Win to the heights I dreamed it could get to – big thanks to Daniel Clarke and The Arts Centre. I’m beyond thrilled to see The Rabble getting the respect they deserve. Oh I also got to improvise with living legends Nicola Gunn, Mish Grigor and Marcus McKenzie and I’m hoping someday we share the idiotic fruits of that endeavour.

Looking forward to in 2018
Apart from taking over the world myself (any day now), I’m looking forward to witnessing other people do the same. Ich Nibber Dibber sounds like manna from heaven, Melancholia sounds like the end of the world (finally!), and both Accidental Death of a Anarchist and The House of Bernarda Alba have me convinced that people finally realised Bessie Holland should be in everything. Oh and what’s the other show... oh that’s right, only the GREATEST PLAY EVER WRITTEN – Abigail's Party! I’ve never wanted to be Eryn Jean Norvill more – and should she somehow be unable to play the part I’m already word perfect. Just. In. Case.

SM: I can't get past that Ms F is looking forward to main-stage shows next year. Oh how far we have come! But it has to be reading the reactions to Lilith the Jungle Girl in Edinburgh and Ms L getting to Amsterdam.

What am I doing on Xmas Eve? Seeing Ash in Nothing at Hares and Hyenas. He's the tangerine in my stocking. He's back with Stephen Nicolazzo and Dave Barclay for the fourth time, following Negative Energy, Special Victim, and Playing to Win. Details here. You can also go on Sunday 17.

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05 December 2017

What Melbourne Loved in 2017, part 8

Today we have three awesome indie theatre makers whose work I haven't seen this year.

Bron Batten
Theatre-maker, Producer and Performer

Bron Batten in Onstage Dating. Photo by John Leonard

Favourite moments in 2017
I haven't seen much this year because I've been touring so much (#humblebrag) but I did manage to catch a few great pieces that really touched and stayed with me.

I too wish to jump on the Nanette bandwagon and state what a remarkable piece of performance it is. Hannah Gadsby's restrained yet furious and impassioned plea for tolerance and acceptance is inspiring both in its sophistication and emotion as well as its hilarity. Nanette is a perfect example of how truly simple, artful and devastating stand-up can be when undertaken by a master performer, and I have no doubt her 'retirement' will be hampered by that fact that this work will tour for years.

I forgot to mention this last year, but as it toured again this year, I'll include Nat Randall's The Second Woman. This work is completely brilliant, compelling, funny, emotional and addictive and I'm so so glad it has more well-deserved presentations lined up for 2018.

I saw Powerballad by New Zealand performers and theatre makers Julia Croft and Nisha Madhan in Edinburgh and the show then toured to Melbourne Fringe. I made a brief cameo in the work over several nights in Scotland (#humblebrag), which allowed me to see how Julia sensitively crafted her excellent performance in response to the audience. A surreal and at times absurd response to the dominant structures of language, Powerballad also managed to be funny, self-aware and include karaoke – which are all wins in my book.

Angels in America at fortyfivedownstairs was a compelling and artful staging of a classic text and I managed to watch all six hours without getting bored  – much to the disbelief of its director Gary Abrahams. And a recent addition to this list was Romeo is Not The Only Fruit as part of Poppy Seed Festival. I really, really loved this show and it totally deserves to become Australia's answer to Alison Bechdel's Fun Home.

Looking forward to in 2018
As for next year, I'm looking forward to Ich Nibber Dibber from post and Bryony Kimmings's A Pacifists Guide to the War on Cancer, both on at The Malthouse. Kimmings's Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model is perhaps one of my favourite shows ever, so I'm really excited to see this new work.

SM: Goodness, I haven't seen Bron perform this year! But, to be fair, she was Onstage Dating all over the place (and that's still one of my favourite shows ever). I do remember sitting with her at a Comedy Festival show and laughing very loudly and wondering if I'd laughed that loudly at one of her shows and feeling the need to explain that sometimes I don't laugh loudly because I'm listening.

Emilie Collyer
Playwright, writer  
Emilie Collyer. Photo by Ross Daniels

Favourite moments in 2017
I first want to acknowledge that the theatre made this year in Naarm/Melbourne was made on the lands of the Kulin Nation. This always was and always will be Aboriginal land. Sovereignty was never ceded and it’s time for a treaty.

I loved a lot and a lot has already been loved. I kind of love/hate lists because #inclusion/exclusion issues. But I love this series because it provides a multitude of voices and reminds us we are all capable of more than one kind of loving and of the kind of great big beautiful polyamorous adventure that is theatre in Melbourne. So these are things that have lingered with me well into the morning-after glow this year. Strap in. I have a lot to say.

All the new writing because, well, that’s my jam so I DO mean all of it. Standouts were Rashma N Kalsie’s Melbourne Talem, Natesha Somasundaram’s Jeremy and Lucas Buy a Fucking House, Amelia Newman’s Younger and Smaller and Alexithymia (Citizen Theatre and A_Tistic, by Tom Middleditch). There were all worlds I loved being in and can’t wait for more from these writers.

The students I worked with at Melbourne and Deakin unis who are making thoughtful, considered, powerful, often feminist, queer and radical work. I was particularly impressed by the ensemble work at Deakin and being in a room as these young theatre makers grappled with the art form and had such respectful debates about the work and really collaborated deep and hard. The bomb.

Huge shout out to Little Ones Theatre. Three massive shows this year and every one of them brought something remarkable to audiences from the shiny beauty of The Happy Prince to the hilarious and stylish-to-die-for The Moors and the epicly-ambitious Merciless Gods. Dark and delicious, The Moors, I reckon, was my favourite play of the year.

All at ArtsHouse: Excerpts from the Past by KwaZulu-Natal artist Sethembile Msezane took my breath away with its clarity and power. The panel Art and Action: Displacing Whiteness in the Arts hosted by Tania Cañas started conversations we need more of, putting voices front and centre who need bigger and louder public platforms. As did Tribunal (PYT, Fairfield).

Emily Tomlins’s arms (Niche).

Nisha Joseph’s G-MA’s erotic food preparation instructions (Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit).

Dan Clarke’s Kiln Program at Arts Centre Melbourne that gave space to such a range of makers, writers and imaginers. In particular Black Girl Magic (Melbourne) featuring Kween  and, curated by Sista Zai. I was sitting next to a young Muslim woman watching this fabulous show and she asked if I had been to the Arts Centre very often. I said yes and she said it was her first time. And she looked supremely happy and confident to be there. That event had made it her space. As it should be.

So huge props to all the wonderful people smashing down barriers of who owns cultural spaces. This includes Kate Hood’s company Raspberry Ripple and the first of their play reading series (Love Child by Joanna Murray-Smith) with casts that include both actors with disabilities and those without present Australian plays.

In a year where I needed to fill my own well I did some wonderful workshops. With Jane Bodie (Kiln), Candy Bowers (Kiln), The Rabble (MTC), Inua Ellamns (Arts Centre). The generosity of these makers in sharing their knowledge and their approaches to craft was phenomenal.

And the work that held me in the most unique theatrical space of the year was Fraught Outfit’s Book of Exodus Part 2. That incredible poetic, dream-like place. It also reminded me of the privilege of seeing a company work over several years around a theatrical and visual theme. This piece seemed to me like such a clear crystallisation of what Fraught Outfit has been exploring in their Innocence Trilogy and that design by Eugyeene Teh. Good lord!

Looking forward to in 2018
Well a lot of the indie seasons haven’t been announced yet and I know that’s where my juiciest anticipated works will be and I know some awesome things are coming from stellar people like Petra Kalive, Rachel Perks, Bridget Balodis and Mary Anne Butler.

I’m also looking forward to seeing a Melbourne season of The Drover’s Wife; if not in 2018, then the not too distant future.

Of the mainstage seasons, most excited about Jean Tong’s Hungry Ghosts, Patricia Cornelius’s The House of Bernarda Alba, Michele Lee’s Going Down and Nakkiah Lui’s Blackie Blackie Brown: The Traditional Owner of Death.

SM: I'm looking forward to some new stage work by Emilie next yea, but I've really enjoyed reading some of her other published work this year, including this piece in The Lifted Brow.

Kerith Manderson-Glavin 
Performance maker

Kerith Manderson-Galvin

Favourite moments in 2017
You're Not Alone. It surprised me and I surprised myself; I went in ready to be horrified and prepared to walk out. Instead, I saw it twice. Both times I found it hard to leave the Malthouse afterwards. I wanted to stay there and think and talk and think more. I loved it for so many reasons but I loved that it really felt like it needed an audience – which is the point of performance, right? It was alive. 

Oh my god, I loved it so much I wish I could see it again. I emailed Malthouse thanking them – I just remembered that, hahaha what a weird thing to do. Wow. I just loved it. I love it. Wow.

Patti Smith. I sense my experience of Patti Smith was similar to the experience of *the big show everyone keeps talking about*. The first note she sang the whole of Hamer Hall gasped and held their breath. I am certain we all experienced the same journey that night and that's a remarkable power. Religious. I held my friend's hand and we cried at the same time and laughed at the time and at the end we were exhausted and had to go home and then for a bit I couldn't listen to Patti Smith because it made me feel too many feelings.

Also. Nick Cave, 10 000 Gestures (in Paris – la dee ddaaaa), Bacchae – Prelude to a Purge (in Berlin – oh Berlin you were my favourite performance of 2017). And every night I got to perform with my brother in The Eternity Of The World and I felt so completely safe for every chaotic second

Looking forward to in 2018
I really like Nicola Gunn's headshot on the MTC website. It appears they have cropped the image for Working with Children and then made it black and white and used it as a headshot. She looks very beautiful. Wait, maybe they are different photos? In the headshot, she has on a black scivvy. (I really think she has an exquisite brain and talent.)

I'd like to go see The Wooster Group show in Sydney Festival (The Town Hall Affair) because it feels like something I should like to see. Maybe I will.

SM: Did I really not see anything of Kerith's this year? So, I'm going with that she might seriously like cats more than I do.

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02 December 2017

What Melbourne Loved in 2017, part 7

"Let's do this! Let's be ambitious in everything we do!",  Joseph O'Farrell (Jof)

Let's all listen to Jof.

Eugyeene Teh

Eugyeene Teh. There aren't enough words to describe how much I love this photo.

Favourite moments in 2017
Melbourne theatre is very quickly being redefined by culturally diverse works, primarily from the independent sector. 2017 saw a major shift in how the theatre community and its audience perceive theatre that is not white. The effect of this has been exponential – inclusivity of artists and audience, being able to have dialogues about contemporary ideas with the previously muted others, and mutual respect and understanding in an effort to achieve equality and camaraderie across various intersectional communities. Suddenly, these works have weight, urgency and value. It’s about time, and it’s all very sexy!

Many of Melbourne’s strongest theatre in 2017 have come from bold diverse voices, including;

Romeo is Not the Only Fruit, a lesbian musical satire written and directed by Jean Tong, with predominantly Asian cast and creatives mostly from DisColourNation. Besides the fact that they opened on the night that Australia voted ‘Yes’ to marriage equality, this team defied common perception that great theatre can only be created by white-male-led teams.

In Between Two at Melbourne Festival, which allowed two Asian-Australian hip-hop artists, Joel Ma and James Mangohig to tell their stories and derive great empathy from a Melbourne Festival audience, simply by being beautiful humans.

Exquisite: An Evening with Mama Alto, which was exactly what it says on the tin. Her vocal prowess is only surpassed by her strong, poised resounding voice that fearlessly leads the way for intersectional communities of queer people of colour, among countless others. A role model who needs to be taken seriously by us all.

Under Siege at Melbourne Festival, created by Yang Liping with designer Tim Yip, is a spectacular exhibition of the historic battle Gaixia, with a focus on warlord Xiang Yu’s heartbreaking relationship with his concubine, Yu Ji, an elegant Chinese boy.

Merciless Gods allowed us to plunge headlong into the heady worlds of the perceived ‘others,’ redefining the term ‘Australian,’ challenging white values and honouring those of the shunned. It shows us that beauty lies in the souls of everyone, regardless of race, gender or their beliefs.

Asia TOPA, Stephen Armstrong’s new festival which reminded us that Asian culture is beautiful, intelligent, diverse and powerful.

Looking forward to in 2018
In 2018, I am excited about to Jean Tong’s Hungry Ghosts, directed by Petra Kalive with Emina Ashman, Jing-Xuan Chan and Bernard Sam; Michele Lee’s Going Down with Catherine Davies, Josh Price, Naomi Rukavina and Jenny Wu; Little Ones Theatre’s The Nightingale and the Rose directed by Stephen Nicolazzo with Jennifer Vuletic, Brigid Gallacher and Yuchen Wang; and The House of Bernada Alba by Patricia Cornelius, directed by Leticia Cáceres with Peta Brady, Julie Forsythe, Bessie Holland, Melita Jurisic and Candy Bowers, Candy Bowers, Candy Bowers!!!

SM: Every design of Eugyeene's is my favourite. Highlights of this year include creating a proscenium arch in La Mama in The Happy Prince, the amazing moss green of The Moors at Red Stitch, and the stage stabbing into the darkness of Merciless Gods.

Isabel Angus
Comedian, writer, performer

Isabel Angus

Favourite moments in 2017
Probably watching three bums talking into microphones in Wild Bore at the Mathouse Theatre.

Looking forward to in 2018
Having less FOMO by actually going to more theatre shows all year round - because there is actually always something on and more people should go! Also, delving deep into MICF 2018.

SM: I missed Isabel's kids show at Fringe,  so it's her being one of the wonderful team who created Do Not Collect $200. I look forward to a new show from her soon.

Joseph O’Farrell (JOF) and Sam Halmarack
Community development artists
Their new show, We are Lightning!, premieres at Arts House in December

Joseph O’Farrell (JOF) & Sam Halmarack. Photo by Sam McGlip

Favourite moments in 2017
JOF:  I was lucky enough to see Elbow Room's Niche at Northcote Town Hall on my first day back in Melbourne. To see an ambitious work of scale by an independent theatre company was REALLY exciting and inspiring.

I was also lucky to tour with Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey to UK and EU this year where I saw them open their work 5 Short Blasts in two different cities on the same weekend.

Let’s do this! Let’s be ambitious in everything we do!

SH: We recently saw Cracker La Touf play. They’re a young band that we first worked with as part of our new show’s development in 2016. To watch them play and be complete rock stars blew me away!

Looking forward to in 2018
JOF: Next Wave. I LOVE this festival and its approach to a more inclusive and progressive arts sector. Can’t wait to see what the team have been working on.

SH: I am from London, so I’ll leave town after the show and not sure when I’ll be back, which is a really sad realisation. I love this city.

I’m really looking forward to touring We Are Lightning! to Mayfest in Bristol. It’s one of my favourite festivals and I can’t wait to share this crazy show with the city

SM: I didn't see JOF or Sam perform this year, but Sam's last show in Melbourne was one of my favourite moments from 2014, and the last Suitcase Royale show I saw JOF in, Zombatland, won my Favourite Comedy in 2012. So, I'm totally looking forward to We Are Lightening!.

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