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 The Music.