30 March 2017

Review: Trainspotting Live

Trainspotting Live

Andrew Kay and Associates  present a Kings Head and In Your Face production

23 March 2017
to 13 April

Trainspotting Live

I was splashed by a wet condom and had a shite covered naked arse within touching distance.

Choose life.

Choose theatre.

Choose Trainspotting Live.

In 1993, Harry Gibson wrote the stage adaption of Irvine Welsh's 1993 novel about heroine, addiction and AIDS in Edinburgh in the late 1980s. It's said that this adaption inspired Danny Boyle's 1996 film adaption of Trainspotting.

I'm having trouble believing that it's been 21 years since Underworld's "Born Slippy. NUXX" – shouting larger, larger, larger – became an anthem. Being given a glow stick and walking into a dark room pumping with music with people dancing in a way that you could feel though the floor felt so familiar that I'm still wondering why no one offered me a pill.

Not that you need anything to exaggerate In Your Face Theatre's unrelenting in-your-face, get-out-the-way, hey-that's-my-beer-ya-cunt experience of Trainspotting Live.

It's directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher and the founder of In Your Face, 23-year-old Greg Esplin, who also plays Tommy. The Edinburgh-based company don't believe in actor/audience separation and want the audience to forget they are watching a show. They say on their website, "If you want to move out of the way, or move even closer to the action (if you don't mind us breathing down your necks) then feel free, but be warned, you might not want to get too close to some of our characters."

With a packed audience around and in the fortyfivedownstairs basement-level performance space, it's difficult to move out the way, no matter how much you might want to. This is a story about the pish, shite and puke side of addiction, and protagonist Mark Renton does visit the worst toilet in the world and needs to retrieve his suppositories.

It's positioning in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival is curious, but for all its pain, violence and misery, it's directed to let us laugh. As humans, we laugh when everything about a situation isn't funny or we hit rock bottom. It's how we cope when there isn't another emotion left.

Welsh's book is a series of short stories that form a narrative about interacting characters. It's written from different points of view and often phonetically, so that sometimes the only way to understand it is to read it out loud and hear yourself speaking in the kind of bad Scottish accent that would get you beaten up by most of the book's characters. The film moved the story into the 1990s and found its own narrative among the stories. The play – this version is also in the 1990s – takes a narrative approach more similar to the book but has also taken its own path (don't expect to see Diane or Spud).

One of the many absolute joys of the Trainspotting Live is hearing parts of the book verbatim. The narration is shared among the characters who narrate as they participate, so it never feels distancing.

On his website, Welsh talks about seeing the first production in 1994. "Seeing my words performed by actors had a big impact on me ... I was still really reeling from being published and people were on the phone trying to cut film deals. I was thinking: 'it's only my scabby wee book, what the fuck is all the fuss about?' It was when I saw them doing their lines, the whole thing was removed from my head into the world, and I saw it for the first time how others were experiencing it. I felt the power of it for the first time. I walked out there believing that I had actually done something special. I knew it would be a great play."
Trainspotting Live

It is a great play and the cast are the children of those who were part of the Trainspotting generation – they were wee bairns like Dawn. They confront with bleakness, desperation and anger but always lead from the vulnerable fear that really motivates the characters. It's hard to hate someone when you know their abhorrent behaviour is the only choice they understand.

Esplin, Rachael Anderson, Calum Barbour, Chris Dennis, Michael Lockerbie, Erin Marshall and Gavin Ross have been performing this show in the UK and Australia for months and are so tone-perfect tight that they are now the people I picture when I read the book.

So fuckin' book now, ya cunts.

And if language bothers you, here's what Gibson said in an interview in Spike magazine in 2006: "Spotting is everywhere now. In fact language is a big part of Trainspotting’s appeal. People write dissertations about it. The play has 147 cunts. In Edinburgh housing schemes, I explain to people, cunt is a laddish term of endearment. You can say “Y’cunt-ye” to a mate and it’s quite cuddly. You would not call a vagina a cunt; a vagina is (excuse my language) a f*n*y."

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

22 March 2017

MICF reviews 2017

I've been very quiet on here lately. Work has been taking up more time than usual and I don't have the time to review as much as I'd love to. However, I am teaching and I can promise there are lots of terrific journalists excited about writing about theatre in the near future.

So, for the first time in ten festivals, I'm having a quiet(ish) festival. I'm still seeing shows, just not as many as usual. And I'm going to be tweeting instead of reviewing (ok, maybe some Age reviews).

I'm trying to answer every email and I'm sorry if some fall into the cracks in the internet.

It is difficult to get to all the emails. And all the arts writers in Melbourne face the same terrifying wall of emails. A couple of years ago I did  Top Ten Tips to Get  a Comedy Festival Review and here the are again.

Top ten tips to get a Comedy Festival review revisited

1. Make it personal

“Dear reviewer”, “Hey guys”, “To whom it may concern”  says, “I have no idea who you are and don’t read anything you write”. If you don’t know the name of the person you’re contacting, are you sure you want them to come?

Sending cut-and-paste individual emails isn’t much better. I’ve received emails asking me to review for publications I don’t write for and ones where my name has changed during the email.

And if you don’t know the person you’re writing to, introduce yourself. Let us get to know you.

2. Know what you want

Do you want your email to result in an interview, a listing, a review, an opinion piece, a news story, a ticket giveaway, an audition notice …

Tell the writer what you want.
And don’t ask for something that they don't do.

I’ve had complaints that I wasn't at shows I was “invited” to. Sending a media release with no other information is NOT an invitation.

3. Write a good subject line

Don’t write a witty or an obscure subject line, write a good one. A good subject line makes it easy to know what you want (and easy to search for when we need to check something).

For example:

Invitation: Name of show
Review/interview/listing request: Name of show
Reminder: Name of show (I appreciate reminder emails.)
Follow up: Name of show
Images: Name of show

Media release: Name of show? – see point 2

4. Put the information in the body of the email

A beautifully designed pdf is cool, but make sure that the vital info is also in the body of the email. Opening an attachment takes time, is annoying to do on a phone and is one more excuse to move onto the next message.

Plain text also makes it easier to cut and paste so that names are spelt right.

5. Check spelling and grammar

This festival, I want to read ONE – really, just one – email or media release that has been proofread.

Writers do judge you by your ability to use an apostrophe.

6. Do your research

Read the writer and the publication. What do they like seeing and writing about? Do they interview? Do they review? Who else do they write for?

And check if the writer had reviewed the show/artist before. I’ve had invitations to review shows I’ve already seen – and not liked. Google really is your best friend.

7. Who, what, when, where

If the name, time, date and place of the show aren’t on your message, media release, invitation, web page, flyer and everything else about your show, don’t be upset if people don’t turn up.

8. Find the magic time

There’s a time that’s not too early or too late to make contact. It differs for everyone. For me, it’s four to five weeks from opening. Too late and I'm booked up, too early and I'm not ready to commit.

Some writers, especially those with mainstream publications, need longer, but a last-minute request can work, especially during a festival.

The secret to finding the magic time: ask the writer.

9. Follow up

A follow-up email is a great idea.
A second follow-up can work.
A third is a waste of time.

10. Be nice

Over 500 other festival shows want reviews. As do the all the other shows on during March and April. Arts writers love seeing your shows (it’s why we do this, after all) and try to see as many as possible.

But this means that not everything will get a review.

This can be a kindness, or it can be because their brains imploded, the extra day in the week doesn't exist (it takes time to write reviews), they're sick or there wasn’t room to publish.

Never assume the worst, don’t get shitty and be happy with a tweet. And remember that a lot of word-of-mouth really is word-of-mouth.

Review: Faith Healer

Faith Healer
Melbourne Theatre Company

9 March 2017
The Sumner
to 8 April

Paul Blackwell. Faith Healer. Photo by Jeff Busby.

Faith Healer, directed by Judy Davis, at Sydney’s Belvoir last year was so successful that the MTC put it into the Sumner Theatre. While twice as many can see it each night, most can’t experience the intimacy that made it so successful and the production struggles to find its strength in the large space.

Irish playwright Brian Friel’s play of four monologues only lasted for 20 performances on Broadway (with James Mason) in 1979 but has since gone on to scoff at those first reviews and opinions.

In the 1950s, Irish faith healer Francis “The Fantastic” Hardy (Colin Friels) travelled through Wales, Scotland and Ireland with his wife, maybe mistress, Grace (Alison Whyte), and manager-cum-dogsbody Teddy (Paul Blackwell). As their monologues coincide in time, the audience can imagine them together and find their own truths, which sit somewhere between comforting and devastating.

Moving from places including village halls, a desolate roadside, and a pub that’s more of a lounge bar, they remember more about death than healing. And their memories are shaped by the conscious and unconscious tweaks that create a story that can settle in their own psyches, no matter how broken or blackened, and help them make the only choices that feel right for them.

Friels holds his emotion tightly with a heavy physicality that makes Francis feel every movement as pain. Whyte leads with Grace’s heart and shares the emotion that lets us into her thoughts. Blackwell’s Teddy connects with the audience as he also sees the couple from an outsider’s perspective and because he survives by finding the awkward humour that offers much-needed space to breath and reflect.

But while they talk to us, we don’t know who “we” are. We’re not Francis’s “fictions” or “despairing people” wanting to be healed or to give up on hope. Are they talking to judge, jury, friends, strangers or gods? Are we listening to a confession or a yarn?

This is questioned more as most of the audience have little direct connection the stage. Brian Thomson’s design of an empty town hall engulfed by storm clouds (that subtly change colour and mood with Verity Hampson’s lighting) is clearly made for Belvoir. So much that ther’s a Belvoir-shaped thrust staged and a couple dozen of the luckiest punters get to sit on the extra seats around this stage. But while most of the audience were so close in Belvoir, I felt too distanced in the closest third of the seating bank.

If post-show chat is anything to go by, those close and centre had a much more engaging evening, but it left me watching performances and listening to words rather than being so lost in the memories of the characters that their pain was felt.

This was on AussieTheatre.comaussietheatre.com.