23 August 2017

How to Fringe 2017: Jessica Moody

Jessica Moody
I wear too many hats. Director, producer, teaching artist, consultant

The Vagina Monologues
Deafferent Theatre
September 23–30
Arts House – Studio 1

SM: I saw Deafferent's Black is the Colour last year and can't wait to see what they do this year.

Jessica Moody

If you could invite anyone to your show (and you knew they would come), who would it be?
Mark Twain
Julie Andrews
Nyle DiMarco

Melbourne Fringe in three words.
Chaotic, magical and loving.

A favourite Melbourne Fringe memory.
Last year, one of the Melbourne Fringe staff, Dan Koop, shared his ‘best memory’. He was running around in his attempt to be at two places at once. He emerged in the foyer of the Arts House where a Deafferent Theatre production had just finished, and the audience was making their way out. The foyer was quiet, but loud with the flurry of Auslan-users sharing their recent theatrical experience to each other. Dan stilled and recognised the power of the theatre, and its ability to bring people together. When he shared the story, I got goosebumps (and maybe misty eyes, too).

Your experience as an independent artist being part of the Melbourne Fringe.
The experience never really ‘independent’ in the sense that I have a strong team with me as it takes a village to produce a show. Additionally, the familiar faces of Melbourne Fringe (staff and participants) make it feel like one big, crazy family. Deafferent Theatre’s first production was with Melbourne Fringe. We approached the Fringe team with the idea of starting Deafferent Theatre, and they were our cheerleaders all the way. To have access to a wealth of talent and knowledge at Melbourne Fringe, the fall is softer when you make mistakes (they will happen). The successes are sweeter too, as we share them with our extended art family.

SM: Independent theatre also means non-commercial, non-funded, self-producing. Maybe we need a better word?

What makes the Melbourne Fringe unique?
Melbourne Fringe is a mixture of guts, glory and heart. It's a great reminder of the goodness and possibilities of art, especially through trying recent times.

Five shows/events that you will not miss at the 2017 Melbourne Fringe.
Alice Tovey: Mansplaining
The Children’s Party
Church, curated by Mama Alto
Crimson Tide
The Vagina Monologues (of course!)

22 August 2017

How to Fringe 2017: Sayraphim Lothian

Sayraphim Lothian
Public artist, craftivist and now host of MonsterThinks on YouTube, a channel for the curious and enthusiastic looking at the humanities, art, history, craft and creative resistance.

Speaking Bunting
A drop in community crafting workshop as part of the Art in Public Places festival.
15 17, 22 24 September

Art as a Game Changer: Art for a Cause or a Cause for Art?
A panel presented by Arts and Culture, Maribynong
19 September
Basement Theatre, Footscray Community Arts Centre

SM: Every time I go to an experience run by Sayraphim, I leave happy.

Sayraphim Lothian. Selfie

If you could invite anyone to your event (and you knew they would come), who would it be?
Mirka Mora, because I'd love to chat to her about her mythology, her work, her dolls, her life at Heide and beyond and pretty much everything else.

The Melbourne Fringe in three words.
Hectic Art Shenanigans

A favourite Melbourne Fringe memory.
Sitting downstairs in the Fringe Club being given a tiny bundle of twigs as a brooch after seeing a beautiful little show called The Hyde a few years ago. Small, interactive and gifted craft at the end. Perfect!

What is your experience as an independent artist being part of the Melbourne Fringe?
Both my shows are being produced by local councils this year, but in previous years, being an independent (often solo) artist is hard. It's hard to organise everything, make everything, get everything ready, get everyone organised if there are others participating, it's damn hard work. But opening night, seeing it all come together, that's pretty amazing. To stand and watch and think – hey, I made this happen. It didn’t exist and now, through the blood sweat and tears of dedicated, unpaid artists, this thing now exists in the world. That's pretty freaking cool.

This is a shout out to all the artists in the fringe this year. You guys have worked DAMN hard and much props to you!

What makes the Melbourne Fringe unique?
Where else are you going to see so many artists presenting so many great works at the same time without ranging far and wide or traveling to other cities?

Your advice for choosing what to see in the Melbourne Fringe?
Pick a genre you like and go see something you know nothing about, something that doesn’t have anyone in it you know. Cause sometimes you strike gold, and sometimes you'll see something that will have you talking about it for days afterwards and sometimes you'll be exposed to new ideas, or new ways of approaching a subject or an art form or a way of making a show.

And that's always interesting.

Do you think there’s a better system than star ratings for reviews?
I think the stars should be replaced with various sizes of glitter.

Five shows/events you will not miss at the 2017 Melbourne Fringe.
Diaspora by Josephine Fagan
Big Book of Conspiracies. The world is ending, let's rock... by Robert Reid and Rohan Voigt 
Love and Luck Podcast Preview hosted by Lisa-Skye (with a pay it forward ticketing option)  
Lady Bunny in Trans-Jester

21 August 2017

How to Fringe 2017: Mama Alto

Mama Alto
I am a jazz singer, cabaret artiste and gender transcendent diva, as well as a community activist. I produce and perform my own projects, as well as collaborating with others including legendary burlesque production house Finucane & Smith, dandy music theatre duo Darwent & Gray, and presenting and curating platforms and opportunities for other artists wherever possible.

As always, I am involved in a ridiculous amount of Fringe goodness!

SM: If you've seen and heard Mama Alto, you don't need anyone to tell you how magnificent they are. Bloody glorious. My first experience of them was directing a cabaret of The Velveteen Rabbit at MUST.

Mama Alto. Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

Mama Alto presents

17 & 24 September
Lithuanian Club, Main Theatre

27 September
Arts House, Festival Club

Other appearances

Erotic Bedtime Stories for Adults
15 & 29 September
Passionfruit, The Sensuality Shop

16 September
Fringe Hub: Arts House - Festival Club

18–23 September
Rose Chong Costumes

Seen & Heard
25 September
The Butterfly Club

28 September
The Melba Spiegeltent

If you could invite anyone to your show (and you knew they would come), who would it be?
Church: The late, great Maya Angelou. And I’d ask her to do one of our sermons!

Transcendent: Any and every trans and gender diverse person who has been made to feel that they don’t belong, that they are not beautiful, that they are not valid, that they are less than human. Because this night says: They are. You are. We are!

The Melbourne Fringe in three words.
Independent. Artists. Unleashed.

A favourite Melbourne Fringe memory.
Now this is a tough question. It’s hard to pick just one, but here goes. One year at 90’s night in the Fringe Club I was part of the line-up – guest artists singing hits of the 90’s with the Talei Wolfgramm and Phil Ceberano band – and I had been matched with the TLC classic “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls.” We did so many sound and light checks during the day to make sure the whole evening would go off without a hitch, so I thought I knew exactly what was happening and when. On the night, Fraser Martin – a tech wizard and genius – surprised me with a waterfall curtain of bubbles from hidden bubble machines during the final chorus, on the word “waterfalls” – it was magical! The audience were giggling, I was giggling, and it created a wonder and delight that many of us had not felt since childhood.

What is your experience as an independent artist being part of the Melbourne Fringe?
I started at the Fringe six years ago with my first independent show, and I was a complete unknown. The platform, skills, lessons, exposure, advice, and experience of that first project – from both the Fringe and the fabulous Butterfly Club team – formed a foundation stone for my arts practice and career. Since then I’ve done so much, but still return to Melbourne Fringe because it is such a fabulous place to make art. My experience of the Melbourne Fringe as an independent artist has been one of nurturing and growth, as well as one of a marvellous place to return home to.

What makes the Melbourne Fringe unique?
Perhaps this is a cliche, but the incredible people. The level of dedication, energy, support and love that the small but amazing staff pour into this festival makes a world of difference. The enthusiasm and skills of the masses of volunteers creates an atmosphere of welcome, fun, warmth, and safety. There’s an attention to detail at a very human level that both artists and audiences respond to, and it’s certainly not something that all festivals manage to foster.

What’s your advice for choosing what to see in the Melbourne Fringe?
Support your friends and colleagues and contemporaries – and support someone you’ve never heard of before. Support an art form or genre you adore – and support something you never even knew existed. Cherish small independent venues. And try to bundle several shows into one night – venue hop around a precinct!

Do you think there’s a better system than star ratings for reviews? 
I recommend reflective, long form writing that acknowledges its own subjectivity, makes thematic or analytical connections, and documents what has transpired - speaking from, and to, the heart and the mind.

Five shows/events you will not miss at the 2017 Melbourne Fringe.
Myriad Collective presents TRANSTRAVAGANZA
The Exotic Lives of Lola Montez
The Vagina Monologues  
Apocalypse in Blak presented by the Koorie Heritage Trust
Bed Reckoning

How to Fringe 2017: Ruby Hughes

Ruby Hughes aka Ophelia Sol
Performance artist and actor

The Birth of the Unicorn Mermaid
25 September – 1 October
The Butterfly Club

SM: Ruby was terrific in Conviction last year, which is enough to convince me to see her new show.

Ophelia Sol. Photo by Benn Olsen

If you could invite anyone to your show (and you knew they would come), who would it be?
Katy Perry because I believe she would appreciate the costumes and the concept

The Melbourne Fringe in three words.
Entertaining Lucking-dip Adventure

A favourite Melbourne Fringe memory.
Marring myself and my audience in 24 different shows performed over one weekend in the 2014 Melbourne Fringe. Seeing people leave the show with a little plastic ring on their finger beaming so much self love!

Your experience as an independent artist being part of the Melbourne Fringe?
This is my third year performing at Melbourne Fringe. It's such a fantastic platform for independent emerging artists. The team at Fringe are incredibly helpful and host such an important event that allows all art forms to be celebrated in a supportive and encouraging environment. It's a one month long celebration of art and I love being involved.

What makes the Melbourne Fringe unique?
Melbourne has so many wonderful hidden spots, I love Fringe because it brings to life all these little venues you would have never expected to see a performance in.

Advice for choosing what to see in the Melbourne Fringe.
I like to think it's a bit similar to picking a winning horse in the Melbourne Cup. You must like the name of the horse and its number and the colour/pattern of the jockey's shirt. If it ticks all three boxes, it's your horse. I apply the same method to sorting through the Melbourne Fringe program.

Do you think there’s a better system than star ratings for reviews?
Always follow your heart, in everything in life and especially when choosing a Melbourne Fringe show; if it doesn't pay off its okay because at least you followed your heart. Stars don't always mean it's a winner

Five shows/events you won't miss at the 2017 Melbourne Fringe.
How To Kill The Queen Of Pop
KillJoy: Destroy the Fantasy
Becky Lou: Seen & Heard
Fringe Wives Club: Glittery Clittery: a conSENSUAL party

20 August 2017

How to Fringe 2017: The Travelling Sisters

The Travelling Sisters: Laura Trenerry, Ell Sachs and Lucy Fox
A comedy trio

The Travelling Sisters: NOO SHO
15–23 September
The Loft in the Lithuanian Club
Plus an accessible matinee performance on 23 September at Arts House – Underground

SM: I saw them at the comedy festival a couple of years ago. Loved 'em.

The Travelling Sisters. Photo by Dani Cabs

If you could invite anyone to your show (and you knew they would come), who would it be?
Oh gosh. Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French. The Mighty Boosh team. The ladies from Baroness Von Sketch. Although they would probably make us all way too nervous and it would be a disaster.

The Melbourne Fringe in three words.
Our first time!

What makes the Melbourne Fringe unique?
We’ve never been part of a festival that seems to focus so heavily on new work and experimentation, which is really exciting.

Advice for choosing what to see in the Melbourne Fringe.
If the blurb and the image give you something to dream around or make you feel a little silly or fun, see it!

Is there a better system than star ratings for reviews? 
Oh it’s so hard to know isn’t it. Maybe potatoes instead of stars?

Five shows/events you won't miss at the 2017 Melbourne Fringe.
Po Po Mo Co: Recreation & Leisure
Tessa Waters: Volcano
Josh Glanc: Karma Karma Karma Karma Karma Chamedian
Stuart Bowden: When Our Molecules Meet Again* Let’s Hope They Remember What to Do *Probably In Space
Fringe Wives Club: Glittery Clittery: a conSENSUAL party

18 August 2017

How to Melbourne Fringe 2017

How to Fringe 2017
Melbourne Fringe
14 September – 1 October

Fringe Furniture

Last week, the 2017 Melbourne Fringe program launched with a loud declaration of "Everything is Art – for 2.5 weeks".

Fringe is our biggest celebration of independent art and remains unique as an open-access festival that encourages and celebrates new independent work. This festival is the one where you'll see the shows that go on to tour the world, and the ones that will be remembered for only existing for a few hours. You can see work by established artists trying something new alongside artists who are doing their first show or exhibiting their first work in public.

But you will not be able to get to all 440 events. You can try – many have before you – but part of festivals is missing something you wish you'd seen, and seeing something you wish you hadn't.

To help us make some choices, a new SM series called How to Fringe 2017 will start next week.

We'll hear from Fringe artists and from members of Melbourne's arts community, especially those who did their first shows at this festival. They'll talk about independent art in Melbourne and share some stories about being in or going to the Fringe.

And everyone will share the five Fringe shows/events they will not miss. Find a couple of artists that you love and you've got ten unmissable Fringe experiences to add to your list.

If you want to be featured, send me a message and I'll send you the questions.

16 August 2017

Review: The Real and Imagined History of The Elephant Man

The Real and Imagined History of The Elephant Man
Malthouse Thearte
9 August 2017
Beckett Theatre
to 27 August

Daniel Monks. The Real and Imagined History of The Elephant Man. Photo by Pia Johnson

My first experience of Joseph Merrick's story was in 1980 with David Lynch's film The Elephant Man, on the big screen. I may have been too young to deal emotionally with the initial fear – and eventual love – created by Lynch, but it carved the story of the young man who few could see as human into my memory. Unlike the well-known stories of Merrick that run the gauntlet of extreme emotion and see Merrick with pity, director Matt Lutton and writer Tom Wright take us into Merrick's imagined thoughts in The Real and Imagined History of The Elephant Man at Malthouse.

The production begins in 1880s England with the audience being welcomed behind a giant sideshow curtain to gawp for the cost of our ticket. Once we're complicit freak gawpers, Merrick’s story is told chronologically from his impoverished childhood to circus exhibit to the questioned sanctuary of a hospital. Based on what is known about his life, each scene gets closer to his imagined thoughts until we're with Merrick and looking back at ourselves.

Daniel Monks performance as Merrick finds a personal and intriguing space where he lets the audience know that he knows he’s being looked at because he is an actor with a physical disability. Performing without prosthetics, Merrick’s “cauliflower squeezing into pigskin” growths are imagined and there’s much more power in his wearing and final rejection of his “gentleman’s” suit. It’s cool to be different as long as you’re trying to be the same as everyone else.

Marg Horwell's costume design stresses the sameness of Merrick’s world and her set (with Paul Jackson’s consistently-remarkable lighting) initially feels Lynchian with a wide-screen frame that opens in black and white. But any comfortable and safe idea of a flat and distanced world is dismissed when the smoke and fog of industrialisation can’t be controlled and makes the audience part of the world.

Having all other characters performed by women (Paula Arundell, Julie Forsyth, Emma J Hawkins and Sophie Ross) parallels the question about how we tell and remember stories though different eyes. So much of Merrick’s story is known because it was told by Frederick Treves, the doctor who brought him to the hospital. Treves isn't part of this story; this time it’s Merrick’s story.

Yet for all it’s visual power and emotional punch, the production is dramatically inconsistent and at times feels like it’s caught trying to reflect on perceptions of disability rather than exploring the imagined life of the man whose skeleton is still on display and is mostly remembered because of his moniker.

06 August 2017

Review: Looking Glass

Looking Glass
New Working Group
3 August 2017
to 13 August

Peter Houghton Daniella Farinacci. Looking Glass. Photo by Pier Carthew

One of the many things I love about Louris van de Geer's writing is that she forces her audience question everything they see on the stage, and that any story chosen by the audience can be far from from what the playwright and creators intended.

He new work Looking Glass is presented by the New Working Group, a network of 11 independent Melbourne writers, directors and designers, and received development funding from the Australia Council, Creative Victoria and the Angior Family Foundation.

Marcus (Daniel O'Neill, who alternates with Thomas Taylor) is about nine; a time when you're not a child or a teenager and are testing independence and the limits of family love. One day he lies face down on the floor and won't get up. His parents (Daniela Farinacci and Peter Houghton) turn to outside help in the form of tall and mysterious Josh Price, who could be the doctor trying to save them, every person they meet or everyone they wish they met.

It can be seen as a standard family-psychology story – van de Geer is inspired by Charles Cooley's 1902  looking glass theory about how we develop our sense of self based on how we see ourselves reflected through others – but nothing about this production is that simple.

The story is grounded by director Susie Dee creating a strong familial connection with the family. There's a genuine warmth between the characters and the audience, even if they are struggling to find that warmth or connection, or the reflection of it, in their lives.

The counterpoint to this familiarity is the design by Kate Davis (set and costume) and Amelia Lever-Davidson (lighting) that never lets know where we are. A white floor is boxed in by heavy yellow plastic curtains – somewhere between sunshine and urine yellow – that define a room but don't fully conceal what's going on outside it' walls and allow anyone to enter or exit from any spot. The colours and mood change from a clinical clean whiteness, which could be hospital or prison, to underground dark black and reds that change any idea of yellow. It could a family home as easily as a dystopian future, an afterlife, a dream or anything we want, or need, to see reflected on the stage.

I chose my narrative early on and it worked for me – I thought the child was dead or had never been born – but there are many other interpretations of the story that are as logical and obvious.

Looking Glass is complex and fascinating theatre because it holds onto its answers tightly while creating the connection and emotion that begs for answers.

02 August 2017

Mini-review: You're Not Alone

You're Not Alone
In Between Time, Soho Theatre, Malthouse

2 August 2017
Beckett Theatre
to 13 August

Kim Nobel. You're Not Alone. Photo by Geraint Lewis

I went to You're Not Alone at Malthouse without any research and I'm not hitting Google yet because tonight's post-show conversations were about whether this black-comedy documentary-theatre is genuine.

Kim Noble's from the UK and has been touring this solo show for a couple of years. If it's fiction and we were taken for a complete ride, I think it's genius because he created a character that left me searching for a reason to like him, and grabbing at reasons to love him because he's a self-indulgent knob who thinks he's far more interesting than he is.

If it's authentic, it left me searching for a reason to love him and grabbing at reasons to like him because he may well be a self-indulgent knob who thinks he's far more interesting than he is. But some of the filmed moments with his sick dad let his mask drop and that was enough to question if stage Kim is the man he presents himself as.

As does the technical direction and the step-perfect audience interaction.

But I believed his pretending to work at IKEA.

What I love is that – right now – I don't know where this works sits on that spectrum between fiction and biography. I don't know where I want it to sit on that spectrum. And I don't want to know where it sits on the spectrum because it's that ignorance that's making me question what I saw.

Perhaps Kim made secret videos of his neighbours, stalked a supermarket worker and stole his undies, record other neighbours having sex, put his dead cat in the freezer, and convinced men to meet him for sex because they thought he was woman called Sarah. Or perhaps it's all theatre and his lovely girlfriend is waiting for him to come home.

Review: Merciless Gods

Merciless Gods
Little Ones Theatre and Darebin Arts Speakeasy 
28 July 2017
Northcote Town Hall
to 5 August

Jennifer Vuletic. Merciless Gods. Photo by Sarah Walker

Yesterday there were only a handful of tickets available for Little Ones Theatre's Merciless Gods at the Northcote Town Hall, so they've snuck in an extra matinee on Saturday (August 5). Book now because otherwise you will have to go to Sydney to see it at Griffin in November. Really, it's that good.

Director Stephen Nicolazzo approached Melbourne-based author Christos Tsiolkas to adapt his series of short stories, Merciless Gods (released in 2014 but is a collection of older work), he said yes, and long-time Little One's collaborator Dan Giovannini wrote the script.

So much of the strength of Little Ones Theatre's work comes from an ongoing collaboration with a core group of artists. And, as an arts writer, it's been pretty amazing to watch this group of artists find each other and develop over the years. One of the many reasons to see new work and emerging artists is that rare opportunity to see how original voices develop in on our stages.

As all good Melbourians have read at least one of Tsiolkas's books (The Slap, Dead Europe, Head On), there's an immediate familiarity with Merciless Gods – the first story onstage story about five middle class friends could be easily re-cast from the audience. The work feels like being inside one of Tsiolkas's books, but what makes this adaption so remarkable is that it's nothing like reading Tsiolkas on the page.

There's no attempt to recreate the sense of place in his books. Tsiolkas evokes and uses place so effectively in his writing. Northcote, Brighton and Moorabin in The Slap could be no other suburbs, but as a reader you don't need to know where you are to understand the attitudes that define the area. On stage, place is mentioned but it's only seen through the design by Eugyeene Teh (set and costume) and Kate Sfetkidis (lighting).

With a colbolt blue wedge that literally stabs into the audience from a red curtain that's somewhere between blood red and fuck-me lipstick-red (Teh's use of colour to create emotion is always incredible), the eight worlds/stories place the audience as those merciless gods who watch and may want the unthinkable to take place in front of their passive gaze.

Instead of being comfortable in place, ranging from suburban backyard to a gay sauna, Giovannini's script lets us into the hearts and heads of the characters. There's no sitting back and letting environment control actions and this lets these stories find a humanity in people who are often ignored or seen as defective or inhumane humans.

These stories are about characters and people who are rarely seen on our stages and in our stories, or  those who are invisible or ignored in our lives. Along with the queer and Australian immigrant stories expected from Tsiolkas, are people whose circumstances or behaviours leave them fading or invisible. There's a middle aged woman dealing with her teenage son beginning to treat her like she's nothing, an older women watching male gay porn, a man in prison for a violent crime, a man who's chosen to end his life surrounded by his family.

Each are stories that confront – it's difficult to feel for someone whose behviour makes us want to ignore or hate them – but the production doesn't try to shock. Shock lets us distance ourself from characters. By finding common emotions and thoughts – we know the pain of grief, the irrationality of wanting revenge, the blindness of love –, it's much harder to say "that would never be me or mine".

All of which could fall apart if the cast (Sapidah Kian, Peter Paltos, Paul Blenheim, Brigid Gallacher, Charles Purcell and the incredible Jennifer Vuletic) didn't bring themselves to their characters. Again, they don't let the abhorrent or simply annoying behaviours of their characters create distance, and all find a personal connection with character that lets the audience find their own connection.

It's this connection that Nicolozzo ensures is always on the stage and this disturbs far more than anything the characters do. It's easy to connect with lovely people; it's confronting to connect with – and easily laugh with – people who you'd never look at in the street or are happy to pretend don't exist.

23 July 2017

Mini review: The Book of Revelations

The Book of Revelations
Black Hole Theatre
21 July 2017
to 30 July

The Book of Revelations. Alison Richards. Photo by Sarah Walker

The Book of Revelations was first seen at La Mama in 2013 and has developed into in an interactive installation, in the much larger at fortyfivedownstairs, that invites its audience to experience the confusion, fear and disarming beauty of dementia. What do you do when people in family photos have become shadows or mirrors?

Directed by Nancy Black, who has worked with a team of visual and sound artists, it's a 45-minute immersion that people can enter and leave at any time; it runs on a loop that doesn't have a beginning or end.

Wearing headphones that give an alternate voice offering options to explain what where seeing or feeling, it's easy to follow Ada (writer/performer Alison Richards) who sings and hides though moments of clarity and confusion. But make time (or stay for a second cycle) to explore the space and see the memories hidden in the kitchen cabinet or projected onto the walls.

The room is filled with Ada's memories. Some are recognisable and easy to understand, while others are made corporeal with video, sound, light and puppetry. No memories are safe as it's never clear if their delicacy comes from reality or is the beginning of a descent into something terrifying.

With projections of doilies (does everyone really fill their life with doilies as they age?), floating tea cups, and a soundscape that could be in your head or in the room, it's never clear if we're in Ada's mind with or as her or if we're parts of her distorted memories. This leaves us never able to be fully immersed in her confusion, which might be the point of the experience – being aware that you're not aware of the truth.

16 July 2017

Review: Noises Off

Noises Off
Melbourne Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre
12 July 2017
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 12 August

Nicki Wendt, Louise Siversen, Ray Chong Nee, Libby Munro, Simon Burke. Photo by Stephen Henry

In Michael Frayn's Noises Off, the satire is as sharp as its farce is infuriating and it celebrates English sex romps as much as it loves the people who made them. It won the 1982 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy and its original and revival Broadway productions (1984, 2001, 2015) scored Tony nominations. It's a safe programming choice, as it pretty much guarantees full house, and this MTC and Queensland Theatre production is very safe.

Noises Off is about a UK touring production of a 1970's UK sex-romp where Arabs in sheets are a hoot and the women are semi-naked and young, sex-deprived and middle aged, or batty and crones. The tour, funded by one of the actors as her retirement fund, starts badly in Act 1 when the dress rehearsal is a disaster. Act 2 is seen from backstage at a matinee performance when the onstage interpersonal relationships are stronger than those of the cast, and Act 3 is what the show has become by the end of the season.

It's still set in the 1980s, which makes for some nostalgic costumes but doesn't reference anything about Australia or our theatre. How good would it have been to up the meta by having a 2017 company performing a 2017 company performing a safe 1982 farce and questioning all of the questionable on-stage choices and wondering why they're producing a 1982 British play? This lack of relevance makes the plodding pace of Act one seem even slower as the obvious jokes are over explained and the not-really-important plot of the play-within-the-play is made to feel important.

Acts two and three find the natural rhythm of the work, especially as the slapstick and physical humour are hilariously choreographed and the terrific cast nail the tone. There are plenty of laughs but there isn't equal focus on how the characters' lives are falling apart as much as their production is. When the actor-characters, who are playing stereotyped characters, have "theatre" personas that are closer to stereotype than archetype, there isn't room for the contrast and counterpoint that adds complex stakes and a dose of reality to the farce about a farce.

Funded companies have the time and resources to explore texts and question what we see on our stages. This Noises Off will do well because it's Noises Off, but it doesn't question why it was chosen in the first place or add anything new to the work or the genre. It's skim milk with a level spoon of Milo when it could be an outrageous iced chocolate made with free-trade couverture and freshly churned ice cream that's too outrageous to finish.

15 July 2017

Guest review: Send Nudes

Send Nudes
Kissing Booth
4 July 2017
The Butterfly Club
to 9 July

Guest reviewer: Jack Beeby 

James Hardy

James Hardy lays bare an autobiographical tragicomedy of fleeting sexual and romantic misadventures in Send Nudes at The Butterfly Club.

Hardy, a  20-something Melbournian is struggling to find meaningful fulfillment as he jumps between the daily drudgery of his hospitality job, his fledgling artistic career and the respective bedrooms of his various romantic partners. As the show traverses between different scenes of Hardy’s life, we meet a medley of supporting characters, from James’s long-suffering housemate to an all-singing all-dancing Mormon and a selection of Hardy’s squeezes (all played by co-creator Jake Stewart).

On the surface, Send Nudes is a very familiar cabaret show: a performer details a series of humoresque intimate exploits to a soundtrack of catchy pop and musical theatre bangers. It tells the story quite well, with charm, charisma and strong musical performances from both leads and accompanist Luke McShane.

What sets this show so refreshingly apart from so many others, however, is the unique flourish of style and wit with which it is executed. Stewart is already becoming well-known for his talent for rich, culturally aware observational comedy writing and, coupled with Hardy, the duo create something that is uproariously funny, intimately personal and, most importantly, theatrically relevant.

The show betrays an informed academic awareness of theatrical convention, both technically and culturally, which it utilises and subverts to exceptional effect. The show is relentlessly self-loathing and makes no apologies for its eviscerating critique of contemporary cabaret as “the gangrenous foot that’s been killing theatre for decades”. It lambasts the fact that it itself is yet another show about the tragicomical arena of sex and dating; it criticises its choice of songs and its adherence to and subversion of convention; and even questions the value of Hardy (a tall, slim, blonde, vaguely symmetrical, white, cis man from a middle class upbringing) as a viable ‘sexual underdog’.

For all the show’s frankness and candour, there are a few very brief moments where the text strays into the poetic, which honestly feels a little at odds with the tone and the performances of the rest of the show.

The show zooms along, jumping from scene to scene – each situated with deliciously clumsy, pseudo-Brechtian signposting – but is reigned in by Lindsay Templeton’s expert directorial hand, which provides enough texture to offset the pacing and allow the audience space enough to breathe.

Hardy is new to cabaret and is evidently still finding his stride but with an authentic vulnerability to his performance and a powerful tenor voice, he is undoubtedly one to keep an eye on. Stewart is also exceptional, showcasing his considerable wit and dexterity and a strong command of his own musical performances.

Send Nudes is an intelligent and creative unpacking of what it means to not quite know who you are – a perfect allegory for both the na├»ve foibles of youth and the bastard-child art form that calls itself cabaret.

14 July 2017

Mini review: Paris

Paris - A Rock Odyssey (A tribute to Jon English)
Music Theatre Melbourne in association with Stella Entertainment
13 July 2017
Melbourne Recital Centre
to 15 July 2017

Paris. Jordon Mahar, Brian Mannix, Jack Oriley

With only four performances, the concert version of Paris at Melbourne Recital Centre runs until Saturday. As a tribute to the late Jon English, it's made with the kind of love that proves what an experience Paris could, and should, have been.

When the recording of Jon English and David Mackay's rock opera Paris was released in 1990, there was hope of a full-scale show. When English released the amateur rights in the 2000s, there were some small scale productions, and it remains popular with schools, but it may never be seen as it was envisioned.

Telling the story of the Trojan War (Troy and the giant horse) around the love story of Paris and Helen, it requires a huge cast and a design that can encompass a bloody war, raging oceans and a giant horse. Who doesn't want to see that!

Musically and structurally, it's also a product of the 1980s and – like many of the shows we loved at the time – its story cliches, lyric rhymes and 80's-tv-soundtrack chords struggle to sit with contemporary expectations of music theatre.

But none of that matters, especially if you remember the 1980s as well as most of the audience did.
And none of which make this concert version anything less than wonderful.

With a large chorus and a knock-em-dead cast including Mattthew Manahan (Paris), Madeleine Featherby (Helen), Kerrie Anne Greenland (Cassandra) and Mark Dickinson (Menelaus), it's easy to see the show that was in English's mind when he wrote it.

Throw in some some bonus 80s and 90s rock casting with John Waters (Ulysses), Tim Freedman (Agamemnon) and a scene stealing Brian Mannix (Sinon) and it's even easier to imagine a time when hair was big, grunge and electronica were new, and the words 'rock' and 'opera' still belonged together.

Musically, it still packs a punch (I'm surprised at how much I'm still singing today) and dramatically, it finds the emotion, dilemma and tension that take it from 'we know this one' to 'what's-going-to-happen?'.

Maybe, it shouldn't be the show that never happened? It needs some development and to be brought into now, but it could be amazing.

And if you still miss Jon English, you don't need me to tell you to go.

13 July 2017

Mini review: Do Not Collect $200

Do Not Collect $200
11 July 2017
24 Moons Bar
to 14 July
Facebook event page

Do Not Collect $200 opened on Tuesday night and there's already a black market developing to get hold of sold-out tickets. Capitalism, you always find a way...

Developed from an original idea by Harley Hefford, Do Not Collect $200 is a live and immersive  game of Monopoly.

And it's so much fun!

In the darkness of the 24 Moons club in Northcote, groups sit around tables with modified Monopoly boards and play like they play on a holiday – do we ever play Monopoly when we're not on a holiday? Roll the dice, move your piece (a lolly; don't eat it) and hope to land well.

There are physical chance cards that can send you to the bank for a bonus, but the properties you buy are tickets to interactive performances and experiences created by the team of over 30, including SM favourites like Isabel Angus and James Jackson. 

The one-on-one and small-group experiences are about our relationships to money and a reminder that this game was originally made to criticise and question capitalism – until players embraced the greed.

You might score and buy a trip to the exculsive Club 2050 (the blue Mayfair square) or get sent to Centrelink. Both are recommend, but there are so many I missed and it's easy to want to go back to experience it all.

The game is designed to take away any concerns about playing with strangers (yay for rules) but what takes it to a level of awesome is the app – developed by Adam Whiteside –  that manages the experience.

Players download the app (that's easy to access on a website) to their phones and are given a personal code on entry. The app manages your banking (the rent flows in) and when you physically land on a square on the board, you click the corresponding square on the app and follow the instructions. You can buy or rent  or are sent to the likes of Relationship Counselling or Jail. When it's your turn to go to an experience, the app gives you a message complete with directions to the performance space.

The app is brilliant is ready to be used for what could easily become an ongoing event with new experiences in new places.

And unlike the official game rules, there are opportunities to break the system and do some good.

Meanwhile, keep an eye one the Facebook page for news about tickets and hold onto any that you have.

12 July 2017

Guest review: Pisca

Melbourne Cabaret Festival
2 July 2017
Chapel Off Chapelmelbournecabaret.com
to 2 July

Guest reviewer: Jack Beeby


Cameron Taylor is Pisca, a hapless gosling with a golden voice who has been charming the pants off Chapel Off Chapel as part of this year’s Melbourne Cabaret Festival shows in development series.

Pisca is the whimsical tale of a freshly hatched baby bird (Taylor) who, suddenly finding themself alone and must navigate a brand new and unfamiliar world. On their adventures, they discover the strange world of night time, revel in the colourful brilliance of spring, learn to fend for and feed themself, attempt (with varying success) to make friends, and evade the persistent looming threat of an unseen hunter.

Though Pisca is largely mute, save for an occasional plaintive quack, at the turn of a beat they croon and warble their way through a thoughtful selection of pop songs and jazz standards that lend a contemporary relatability to the narrative.

The relatively straightforward plot is nicely embellished with a few well-chosen and wittily executed side narratives, including the backstory of Pisca’s ill-fated parents (told through some less-than-conventional sock puppetry) and Pisca’s very physical encounter with a mightily formidable drop of water.

Stripped of spoken text, Taylor’s use of clowning and physical comedy is well crafted and captivating to behold. Their talent for conveying story without verbal language is strong and Pisca’s central character quickly impresses on the audience and proves to be heart-wrenchingly endearing.

Throughout the show, Taylor extends a number of gentle invitations for audience participation, from warbling a rendition of The Beatles’s "Black Bird", from the seating bank in pitch darkness, to literally fishing an audience member from the crowd and preparing them to be cooked and eaten.

The show’s design (also by Taylor) situates us in the simplistically evocative and playful world of storybook nostalgia. The set pieces – a nest, a tree and an awful lot of flowers – are largely used as conceptual signposts, and most of the actual world building is done through Taylor’s thoughtful gesture and clever lighting.

Almost every element is perfectly blended to create a whimsical world of simplistic beauty and charm. Taylor’s command and subversion of theatrical convention, along with the creation of a character that I’m sure will prove timelessly endearing, make Pisca a gorgeously entertaining show.

11 July 2017

Review: The Rapture

The Rapture
Finucane & Smith
1 July 2017
to 15 July

Moira Finucane

The Rapture is a new work by Finucane & Smith – do I need to say more – and a community of artists who continue to create space where art offers hope and audiences dance.

It’s mostly a solo work by Moira Finucane; solo that’s only possible with the support and contribution of many, including a Mama Alto, Clare St Clare, Shirley Cattunar and Miss Chief on the stage, and music by Darrin Verhagen and Ben Keene. And Jackie Smith.

In the hazy underground of fortyfivedownstairs, there’s a catwalk that rejects any thought that imperfect isn’t exquisite. Here, Moira channels every god and devil that’s ever been worshipped or dismissed as she explores the love and despair that makes humans search for more than what we think we are. Then in a blink, she’s the person maybe only seen at home when no one is looking. Never assume that the divine are more than human.

Here naked means nothing more than naked and cheap tomato sauce from the supermarket is as much art as the hand-sewn costumes and original music created from hours of frustration and joy.

Moira’s performance is uncensored – no, that’s not the right word. So much of what we see in theatre is created for others: for subscribers, critics, ticket buyers, boards, bosses and funding bodies. And if it fails to thrill, the “fors” are blamed for not getting it or daring to be bored or disconnected.

Moira’s performance is self-indulgent – that’s not it either. Self indulgence on a stage doesn’t welcome an audience and brings little more than pleasure to the self-pleasuring artist.

Self indulgence and self censorship are for self. This work is deeply personal, but if it were all for herself, it wouldn’t connect and there wouldn’t a growing community of audiences (all over the world, now) who know they are as much a part of the experience as the artists who create it.

The Rapture comes from the very personal and reaches to places that are unknown but familiar. Even if you haven’t been in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles and swung between despair and ecstasy at the human capacity to grieve and to treasure, you know what it’s like to think what you’d give up if you had to. Even if you can’t see structural oppression, even if you cringe at imperfection, even if you don't love polar bears, there's a place where thought falls away and we connect – even if you have no idea why.

We know when we're struggling and we usually know why. The Rapture gives us no excuse not to hope. It doesn't get much better than that.

04 July 2017

Review: Merrily We Roll Along

Merrily We Roll Along
Watch This
30 June 2017
The Lawler, Southbank Theatre
to 15 July

Nelson Gardner, Nicole Melloy & Lyall Brooks. Merrily We Roll Along. Photo by Jodie Hutchinson

My review is on themusic.com.au

27 June 2017

Review: Model Citizens

Model Citizens
Circus Oz
22 June 2017
The Big Top in Birrarung Marr
to 16 July

Model citizens. Circus Oz. Photo by Rob Blackburn

I always leave a Circus Oz show feeling happy, remembering that the world is full of amazing people and knowing that I have to remember this when the boring dickheads seem to be in control.

Model Citizens is Artistic Director Rob Tannion's first major show with the company. He's taken everything that's loved about the company's ratbag attitude and rejection of social conformity and sent it spinning to a new level of theatricality and artistic cohesion. 

With a mostly-new troupe of simply amazing performers, this new work questions the idea and rules of being an Australian. Are we role models or all-the-same models that look and think like we're told to? What are the rules of getting through each day?

Some of the content is obvious – like a pink mohawk being questioned by the blue and white majority – but perhaps we need to be reminded that everyone is welcome here and we can do with some help in letting anyone who doesn't feel welcome know that we're trying to change the attitudes of the boring dickheads.

Michael Baxter's design (and Laurel Frank's costumes; Laurel is a founding member of the circus) distorts perspective. With a magnificent colour palette of 1950's blue, the design re-works and re-imagines traditional circus apparatus to look like oversized and distorted household objects – like the irons and safety pins that all belong in model homes.

Highlights include a glorious multiple slack-rope with violin routine, a credit card balance stack, and group aerial work that never ceases to amaze. And what show isn't made better with a song about a Weber barbie?

The Circus Oz world is a pretty amazing place to visit. Here anyone can be as strong and/or as pretty as they like, everyone is welcome and live music always makes everything better. Every rule about the world outside of the big top is questioned but once you're in, it's a place where support is met with support and everyone can fly because they trust and welcome everyone else.

Maybe the rules aren't that complicated after all.

24 June 2017

Guest review: The Very Worst of The Tiger Lillies

The Very Worst of The Tiger Lillies
Memo Music Hall
18 June 2017
one night stand

Guest reviewer: Jack Beeby 

SM: I had a holiday (Japan is simply the best and I discovered Takarazuka Revue, who have ruined music theatre for me as much as Tokyo trains have ruined public transport), and Jack Beeby saw The Tiger Lillies while they were in town for one night. I remember how much I loved them the first time I saw them (and still do) and was a teeny bit jealous.

The Tiger Lillies

JB: The Tiger Lillies, international peddlers of peril, returned to Australia for the briefest of tours, including a one-night stop at St Kilda’s Memo Music Hall, to showcase the most sordid morsels of their 28-year canon in The Very Worst of The Tigerlillies.

For those who are yet to be indoctrinated into the band’s modest yet impassioned throng of followers, The Tigerlillies (in their current incarnation) are Adrian Stout, Jonas Golland and Martyn Jacques. Together they wrangle an impressive array of instruments, including a double bass, saw, guitar, theremin (Stout), customised drum kit (Golland), home-made electric ukulele, piano, and a sparkly green piano accordion (Jacques). Fuelled by Balkan-inspired time signatures and fiercely shrill vocals, these musical miscreants dispense a unique brand of grotesque punk cabaret, which has earned them a global cult following.

Through their songs, The Tiger Lillies almost exclusively conjure stories of human suffering and vice, often laced with macabre cautionary morals and told with visceral imagery that is most definitely not for the weak of stomach. Although the sadistic content and unflinchingly vivid depiction of these tales will certainly prove to be confronting for some, the group’s thoughtful composition, musical skill and theatrical delivery imbues each piece with an artistry that is wholly captivating.

The first act of The Very Worst solidly situates itself in the bygone world of ill-fated European carnivals, of ethically-barren sailors and transients, opium dens and brothels. Within this landscape, the group spin tales of desperation and devilry, of victims of extreme abuse and the perpetrators of horrific crimes. The content of this first act does not vary an awful lot. The pervasive energy of the set is slow and subdued and, while each story is its own work of narrative art, words like ‘corpse’, ‘whore’, ‘pimp’, ‘beat’ and ‘drugs’ are recycled from song to song with an almost tiresome regularity. With so much content to draw on from their 28-year catalogue, I found the lack of texture in this first set a little disappointing.

When the band return for the second act, we are treated to a selection of their more high-energy morality fables about religion, mortality and the bleak disaster of the human experience – songs that showcase the aggressive nihilistic passion and fierce musical punch for which they are so beloved and notorious.

Together, the three band members are a gaunt and gruesome visual spectacle. Their uniform of white grease paint and conventionally gentlemanly attire casts them as a chorus of grotesque phantoms, who find playful nuance in their strong individual characterisation – Stout is seedy and skeletal as he lurches over his upright bass; Golland is endearingly mournful as the group’s pallid percussionist; and Jacques is some kind of demonic clown, unleashing a howling falsetto that somehow manages to take over his entire elastic face.

While overall the energy of this performance seems a little more subdued than those of bygone decades, The Tiger Lillies’ deft musical skill and masterful talent for rich and evocative storytelling remains one of contemporary cabaret’s most wicked delights.

PS from SM: I still want "Getting Old" played at my funeral.

27 May 2017

Review: Spring Awakening

Spring Awakening
20 May 2017
Chapel off Chapel
to 10 June

Spring Awakening. Photo by Belinda Strodder
Melbourne’s had the opportunity to see two adaptions of Frank Wedekind's 1891 play Spring Awakening this month. Stage Art’s production of the 2006 musical – which won eight Tonys, including Best Musical – is the better known and opened at Chapel off Chapel on the weekend that Daniel Lammin’s powerful Awakening closed its second season to critical love and full houses at fortyfivedownstairs.

The original play, sub-titled "A children's tragedy", was censored and banned for its confrontation of teenage sex, sexual ignorance, rape, abortion, abuse, suicide, depression and the failure of adults to educate and love the children in their care. It’s still performed because it still feels far too like now.

With its indie rock sound track, the musical, by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, continues to develop a near cult following as it strips away the pretence of happy-ending music theatre. It talks as much to teenagers, who recognise a world where they are denied knowledge and power, as to the adults who let this happen.

Immediately striking for those familiar with the music is director Robbie Carmellotti’s change “from nineties rock to a modern music festival sound”. While letting the singers shine, it brings a new and more gentle perspective to the show and removes some of the anger and desperation of its expected rock.

Already less angry, the tone is set early with an inconsistent mix of humour and unearned emotional outpourings that tell the audience what should be felt rather than showing characters who feel. Hanschen doesn’t need to be high camp to like men, but, at least, the Hogan’s Heroes “I see nu-think” accents are more ridiculous than offensive.

There's humour in Spring Awakening, but the content is serious and too many laughs come from the melodrama of extreme emotion or from laughing at issues of sexual ignorance, violence and depression.

After Awakening, I have to discuss the end of Act 1 where teenagers Wendla and Melchior have unplanned sex in a barn and its dramaturgical choices range from rape to loving sex. The musical's book leaves room for interpretation; however, it also establishes that the 14-year-old girl knows nothing about sex and the 14-year-old boy thinks he knows everything about sex. Consent isn't possible – even if the characters think it’s romance. Awakening confronted with rape. It ripped the hearts of its audience by continuing to explore the aftermath from both points of view and reflected on every teen-rape story that includes “but he’s such a good young man”, “what about his reputation?” and “what did she expect to happen?”.

This sex is played as seduction, supported by the cast surrounding the couple with fairy lights. Act 2 opens where Act 1 ends, except she's naked; he's not. The teenage child with no experience or knowledge of sex is presented as a sexualised (implied post-orgasm) adult with all the control and power that accompany that knowledge and experience. In case there's any doubt, she lovingly holds his hand when she sings about guilt and confusion. Which makes for a much easier resolution for the hero Melchior.

Many choose to create a less-confronting Spring Awakening, but the choice to be safe supports the very issues that this powerful piece of theatre is trying to change.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

24 May 2017

Review: Minnie and Liraz

Minnie and Liraz
Melbourne Theatre Company
22 May 2017
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 24 June

Minnie & Liraz. Virginia Gay, Rhys McConnochie, Nancye Hayes. Photo by Jeff Busby

One of the many things I love about Lally Katz's writing is that it really doesn't matter when a new show doesn't quite hit the mark. Often new writing needs to get on a stage and be seen before it really finds what it's meant to be and Minnie and Liraz, MTC, needs some time on (and off) the stage to find its stride.

The 90-something Cohens, Minnie (Nancye Hayes) and Morris (Rhys McConnochie), have been married for 70ish years and are living in an expensive, bland and peach-coloured retirement home in Caulfield (that doesn't feel like Caulfield). When Minnie's bridge partner dies, Liraz (Sue Jones) is  determined to take her place. The Cohens don't like aggressively loud Liraz, but she does have a single 36-year-old grandson (Peter Paltos) who might be perfect for their single 38-year-old granddaughter (Virginia Gay) – grandchildren would be worth the price of Liraz in the family. And for a lot of the night, the story plays out how it's expected to – but this is a Lally Katz play, so it's easy to reject the peach-coloured view of the world before getting too comfortable.

Katz writes from her life and the Cohens are based on her own grandparents and, perhaps, her own experience of finding someone who's your-kind-of-awesome in your late 30s. At her best, Katz's characters are created from such a place of love and understanding that it's impossible to see them as fiction.

Minnie and Liraz is at its most delightful when it explores character. With loving and detailed performances and direction (Anne-Louise Sarks) that focus on character, the love for these people  drive it far more than its story.

However, as the romance trajectory and the death of at least one oldies is inevitable, the plot and climax feel forced – no matter how funny – and there's a lot of awkward exposition that bring us back to watching the construct of the play rather than being in the world with these people. Much of the exposition is through Norma (Georgina Naidu). She's the staff member who knows her residents too well but always feels like the outsider or a convenience, like her running a memoir class that lets Morris tells the story that  tells everything about him but doesn't sit in the narrative.

Minnie and Liraz often feels as peachy safe as its decor and design. But does anybody really like peach? Lets hope we get the chance to see the much darker and tighter work that it will become.

23 May 2017

Review: My Fair Lady

My Fair Lady
Opera Australia and John Frost
16 May 2017
Regent Theatre
to 27 July

My Fair Lady. Photo by Belinda Strodder

"Words, words, words!
I'm so sick of words
I get words all day through."

This was always my favourite song from Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady. Even with misguided teen romance-goggles, I appreciated Eliza's frustration with being told what to do, think and say. Show her! Show me! Show us!

Which is hard to do in a theatre that doesn't let most of the audience connect with the show.

Opera Australia and John Frost have re-creacted the original 60-year-old iconic Broadway production. To bring some relevance (and bonus music-theatre nerd squee points), it was directed by Dame Julie Andrews, the first Eliza Doolittle.

And it is a glorious re-creation of a magnificent production. Those Cecil Beaton costumes! That Oliver Smith set! The Ascott Opening Race!

Based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play Pygmalion, the story of the flower seller Eliza being taught how to be a "lady" by the pompous Professor Henry Higgins is well known. And as long as those romance-goggles don't interfere with the idea of the very young woman falling for the much older man who treats her like scum and really doesn't respect or like the women in his life, it's an insightful reflection of the gender, class and social power that, sadly, rings as true today as it did 100 years ago.

What makes this production more than a re-creation is that contemporary opinions have shaped the performances.

Robyn Nevin as Mrs Higgins, Henry's mother, and Deirdre Rubenstein as Mrs Pearce, Henry's housekeeper, bring strength and power to the women who know how their social positions are controlled by others. Reg Livermore's Alfred Doolittle and Tony Llewellyn-Jones's Colonel Pickering balance of clowning with the understanding of men who are beginning to lose their social power with age.

Charles Edwards (my Downton Abbey fan-heart smiled) lets Henry see his own absurdity, even if he refuses to budge. Edwards performance is excellent, but it is strange that there isn't a middle aged, English-speaking actor in Australia who would have been just as terrific.

Which leaves Anna O'Byrne as Eliza. She's wonderful. She ensures that Eliza's choice to go to Higgins is far more than an attempt to escape poverty, and lets her heart break when she realises that her education may have left her with less than what she started with.

But if you're sitting anywhere other than the first  rows of this huge theatre, it's difficult to appreciate what makes this more than a re-creation. It wasn't designed or directed for the Regent Theatre. It's visually magnificent and grand but its emotional power relies on performances and people. Even with such strong performances, I don't know how  Eliza feels in the final scene – I was too far away; even in good seats – which is the moment that makes or breaks a contemporary My Fair Lady.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

20 May 2017

I'm scared to review: Wild Bore

Wild Bore
Malthouse Theatre
18 May 2017
Beckett Theatre
to 4 June

Wild Bore. Zoe Coombs Marr. Photo by Tim Grey

Wild Bore. noun
1. Those who talk out of their arse, dribble shit and don't understand dramaturgical intent.
2. Theatre reviewer.

It's also Zoe Coombs Marr, Ursula Martinez and Adrienne Truscott's response to critical responses to their own work, and that of others. Opening to a critical contingent of two at Malthouse on Thursday, its verbatim(ish) mash-up of memorable reviews is as much a celebration of arts writing as it is a hilarious damnation of us who write those so-wanted-but-so-hated reviews.

Readers of reviews and critical writing in Melbourne will recognise some of the quoted voices.

But I'm not cunty enough to have been quoted.*

I don't know how I feel about that.

It's really nice to be quoted.

There are plenty of theatre makers who think I'm a bitch. I've seen the letters about my ignorance and know about the quest to get me banned. Most of these criticisms of the critic have been over writing about women's voices, women's points-of-view and how women are presented on stages.

I should have said feminist (bitch).

Wild Bore is mostly about people who write about women with a gaze that makes women feel so fucking special.

It's why these performers continue to make theatre that also encourages critical responses that use less-quotable words like gender, privilege, diversity and gaze. And why that writing can get a bit sweary because we're fucking over having to explain why we're fucking over it.

Remember when Jane Montgomery Griffiths wrote a response to reviews on ArtsHub that questioned a gender bias in reviews about her interpretation of Antigone (Malthouse, 2015)? Grab a snack and go deep into the comments – some are in the show – and know that the ones that were going on in a not-so-public sphere were funnier, smarter and bitchier. Some of us do censor our public voices.

Wild Bore. Ursula Martinez Photo by Tim Grey

This work – which they've been developing in their three home continents while performing their own shows – naturally focuses on the negative reviews and the failure (perceived or willful) of the writers to understand (or accept) the intent of the works.

With their best cheeks forward – the talking-out-of-the-arse imagery is clear –, each discuss reviews of their work that didn't get chosen for their pull quote of adoring adjectives or appropriate number of stars. Having seen the shows discussed, it was confronting to hear only the negative voices.

As artists and creators, do you really listen to those voices? Are the positive, researched, sat-up-until-4am-trying-to-get-the-words-right, you-made-me-feel-and-care reviews dismissed by the negative?

Of course, it makes far better theatre to use the negative voices – and the Wild Bore performances as described by the reviews may be worth the pain of those bad reviews. But it highlights why the bad bad reviews are encouraged, and why the responsibility of a reviewer's voice isn't necessarily considered.

Negative, bitchy reviews with memorable metaphors get read. They get shared. They get clicks. They encourage engagement and conversation. And so writers are encouraged, and often paid, to write more reviews like that.

It's awesome to be read.

It's brilliant to get paid to write.

Arts writers are writers. WE LOVE BEING READ.

Verbose metaphors get read.

Can anyone who read Byron Bache's corn-in-the-poo quote ever forget it? The show (The Crucible, MTC 2013) may have been forgotten, but not that quote. It got him regular paid work; the dream of most arts writers. But despite him continuing with some excellent writing and critical comment, he might only be remembered as the corn-in-the-poo quote critic. Arts writers understand irony.

Those gloriously hideous reviews are read.

They not only get read more than the positive ones, they get a bloody wonderful feminist theatre show made out of them.

 And, shhh, Krishna Istha.

Wild Bore. Adrienne Truscott & Zoe Coombs Marr. Photo by Tim Grey

*Or nice enough to be in nice quotes on the web page.

Time to Talk with The Guardian, 23 May after the 7 pm performance, Van Badham joins the cast to talk about their encounters with critics.

Monash Meets Malthouse, 27 May at 5 pm at  Jane Montgomery Griffiths, Alison Croggon, Cameron Woodhead, Richard Watts and Fleur Kilpatrick join the cast to discuss artists responding to critics.

The reviews

Maxim Boon: themusic.com.au

Alison Croggon: The Monthly

Cameron Woodhead: The Age

Rose Johnstone: Time Out

Keith Gow: keithgow.com

Kate Herbert: Herald Sun