12 December 2018

What Melbourne Loved in 2018, part 5

One of the many things I love about this series is making headshots optional. I love a bit of Photoshop, but photos that look like you rather than a silicone RealDoll are always better. Today's were chosen by the writers; they are perfect.

Scott Gooding
Renaissance Man

Scott Gooding trying to look like a middle aged white bloke.
Photo by Hotel - Underground Cinema

Favourite moments in 2018
First and foremost this year was Trustees at Malthouse as part of Melbourne Festival. Honest, brutal, thought provoking and funny as fuck. There are few times that theatre stops me in my tracks and I must remember to breathe, but, boy howdy, was this the show. The dissection of class, race and gender in current Australia was always handled with honesty and a daring that I rarely see now days. Also that the cast were of an age to be angry and articulate gave me hope that we all don't start to get old and complacent as theatre makers in this country. There was a true outlandish laugh at Natasha Herbert unpacking her white privilege – "I some time feel like I'm part of the problem" – and with perfect timing Tammy Anderson responded deadpan with "You are".

Fucking glorious!!! Honorable shout outs to Next Wave and the mad, joyous festival that it was. Angus Cerini's Bleeding Tree; MTC's Abigail's Party, House of Bernardo Alba and The Children; La Mama with Four Larks and Essential Theatre's Enter Ophelia, Blasted at Malthouse, and La Mama at BMI with Bachelor S17 E5. Looking at that list, some might think I have issues...

Looking forward to in 2019
Am keen on Malthouse's program for next year. Especially as I will get a chance to see Blackie Blackie Brown, which I missed this year.


Katie Purvis
Book editor, radio presenter, theatre-goer


Katie Purvis.

Favourite moments in 2018

I saw Calamity Jane at the Fairfax in March, and nothing surpassed it for the rest of the year. I was enchanted by the playing with gender roles, the fabulous performances (both the acting and the music), the intimate staging, the whole-hearted embrace of the audience by the performers (and vice versa), the side-splitting hilarity of it all, and above all the performance of Virginia Gay in the title role.

Honourable mentions to Muriel's Wedding (in Sydney, with the original cast); Queen + Adam Lambert for the best arena concert I have ever seen; The Children by Lucy Kirkwood at MTC, which stayed in my head for weeks; Magda Szubanski's mock funeral at Melbourne Writers' Festival, an event that was stuffed full of love; and the city embracing my footy team with art and other celebrations when they made the AFL finals for the first time in 12 years.

Looking forward to in 2019
I'm looking forward to seeing Melbourne Theatre Company continue to showcase strong women on stage and behind the scenes; to catching Barbara and the Camp Dogs at the Malthouse; and to discovering more great local musicians to play on my radio show and go see live.

SM: Listen to Miss Chatelaine on Joy on Sunday mornings. Katie's a terrific interviewer. I usually only hear the end of the show, which is why I love that it's also a podcast.

Katie always finds a typo that I've missed. I love this. She's a great editor. She was the editor and outside-eye reader for the #IStandWithEJ piece I did for ArtsHub. Once she'd had a look, took out one sentence and made me fix some clarity, I knew it was ready to be filed. When writers work with other people, our writing gets better.

Sarah Collins 
Writer/performer 

Sarah Collins. Photo by Christopher Downs. 

Favourite moments in 2018

STC’s Muriel’s Wedding. I haven’t seen an entire audience jump in their collective seats the moment a show opens like we did here. The force from stage, my god. Then I cried so much in the second song in, "The Bouquet", that I could not make out the stage. Like, SOLD dudes. You’re totally blurry! You win! But then we need to talk about Christie Whelan Browne as Tania Degano. What witchcraft casting. The friend I saw the show with called me yesterday -– we’re now 11 months on from seeing it – and we were still talking about her performance. Then, of course ,the musical genius of Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall, whose collective years of people-watching in Queensland have contributed to some of the most memorable lines ever sung in an Australian musical. “The men, are men, we dress like proper men ... they can do a heap of push ups”. YOU ARE SPEAKING MY LANGUAGE. And Maggie McKenna’s Muriel? Forget Gaga. This was my Star Is Born moment for 2018.

Looking forward to in 2019
Muriel’s Wedding in Melbourne. Duh!

SM: We haven't seen a new work from Sarah for a while – kids take up time – but I had many favourite moments when she and her family discovered Japan. My late-night Facebooking was filled with photos that made me want to get on a plane. Then I just got jealous. Many great stories, but the Hello Kitty Shinkansen not turning up is my favourite. It was like she'd written it herself. Ask her to tell the story.

11 December 2018

What Melbourne Loved in 2018, part 4

It's more trickle than flood this year. Here's the form; tell us about those theatre and art moments in 2018 that made you happy.

Today, we keep celebrating independent makers and companies, and celebrate all those challenges to boring assumptions made about art, makers and audiences.

Sonya Suares
Artistic Director, Watch This

Sonya Suares in Contest. 
(I was a GS in my primary school church team; I wasn't good.)

Favourite moments in 2018
Both of mine were sitting in the Beckett Theatre this year: tears running down my face as Dalara Williams performed the inciting monologue in Blackie Blackie Brown and nearly wetting myself moments later, just as I did during Michelle Lee’s Going Down.

If I am permitted a moment that is not simply as an disinterested audient, then I must say truthfully watching Nadine Garner nail "Send in the Clowns" at every performance of A Little Night Music during the run was one of the highlights of my year. I mean, Every. Single. Time.

Looking forward to in 2019
I'm looking forward to sending everyone I know to the return season Blackie Blackie Brown and, because I'm a big boffin/child-of-the-90s, to seeing Shakespeare in Love. Or you know, being in it if Simon Phillips decides to give me a spin!

And personally, I'm looking forward to performing Fleur Kilpatrick's Max Afford award-winning play Whale with a group of incredible womens. It's gonna be a ripper.

SM: Sonya is the driving force behind Watch This. Putting on musicals is expensive and difficult. Putting on Sondheim musicals multiplies the difficulty considerably. Watch This do it, anyway.  Without Watch This, we would see far less Sondheim in Melbourne. Without them we wouldn't see some some of out best performers in Sondheim musicals. If I had a magic funding wand, Watch This would get the money they need to become an ongoing professional company. As for my favourite moment with Sonya this year, it's her moving and powerful performance in Contest by Emilie Collyer.

Vidya Makan & Nick Simpson-Deeks in next year's Watch This show.
Co-directed by Sonya with Dean Drieberg.
Sondheim fans don’t need a title.


Mama Alto
Jazz singer, cabaret artiste and gender transcendent diva


Mama Also. Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

Favourite moments in 2018
Mojo Juju's "Native Tongue". One of the most important new Australian works right now and, I suspect, for many years to come. Revelatory, extraordinary, damning, tender, groundbreaking, truth telling and part of a highly necessary reckoning of the national identity.

Honourable mentions. Willow Sizer's theatrical cabaret Death of a Demi Diva was a revelation. She gave a tour-de-force performance that set the hairs on the back of my neck on edge. Paul Capsis as Quentin Crisp in Resident Alien (return season). Magnificent, eccentric, and in many ways so close to home for all of our inner anxieties, foibles and paranoias.

Honourable mentions for things I saw interstate (naughty, I know). The View Upstairs (Hayes Theatre, Sydney) and An Evening with Constantina Bush (Spirit Festival, Adelaide).

Looking forward to in 2019
I'm eagerly keeping my eye on new works and projects from leading thinkers, powerful performers and those who speak back to imbalance. Anything and everything from Candy Bowers, Jean Tong, and Yana Alana. Midsumma 2019's theatre, cabaret and burlesque offerings look extraordinary. And, as always, I anticipate with relish the as yet unannounced surprises that will pop up underground in salons, dens, cabarets and dives across Melbourne. What delights await us at Hares & Hyenas, The Butterfly Club, The Melba Spiegeltent, and where else?

SM: Every moment with Mama Also is the best. She's exquisite. I think my favourite moment was sending interstate friends along to a show she was performing at. When they got back, all they could do was tell about this amazing performer called Mama Alto.

Booking my ticket for The Seventh Annual Mama Alto Holiday Special now. Join us.

Chris Wenn
Noise maker and overthinker


Chris Wenn. Photo by Ezekiel Rodofili

Favourite moments in 2018
There's no single moment that excited me quite as much as the feeling that we've reached a tipping point of invention and fertility within the independent sector . There was such an incredible amount and range of work presented by independent artists and companies in 2019. There was tremendous work to see from new, emerging,and established creators, and from sectors of our community that have gone unrecognised for too long. In the world outside of the major performing arts companies, we have had to build a level of resilience and self-sufficiency that can stand against the inconstancy of grant schemes. The Brandis 'reforms' and Fifield 'restoration' have only proved that we are, and always will be, a target for cuts and culture war. I am immensely proud of the way our community supports each other: through fundraising, crowdfunding, donations of time and material and effort, and a myriad other ways. Can't stop, won't stop.

Looking forward to in 2019
I'm looking forward to more work! More work by and for children and young people, more work by and for Indigenous people, more work by and for queer and non-binary people, more work by and for migrants and non-English speaking audiences. I want to see more work that challenges conventions and assumptions and what it means to make and witness art. I want to see work that reflects the strength and diversity of this global city, that engages audiences in new ways, that deploys technology and creativity in new spaces and old.

SM: Sound designers are such an important part of a design team and we don't talk about them any where near enough. Next year, I will listen to shows more. Chris was part of an amazing design team for Colder at Red Stitch. I mentioned the stage and the lighting designer and not Chris – but as I think back on the show, I can still hear it.

06 December 2018

What Melbourne Loved in 2018, part 3

It's time to hear from regulars Ash and Daniel L. And a first time visit from Jane Miller, who's been written about on SM from the very early days.

Ash Flanders
a festival of dangerous ideas dressed in stained pyjamas

Ash Flanders/Norman Bates. Selfie. 

Favourite moments in 2018
Getting to see Abigail's Party on the mainstage – the biggest stage MTC has – was my favourite night at the theatre this year. Stephen Nicolazzo took an older (although to me, it's canon) play now largely associated with community theatre and reminded me why it was still relevant. There's nothing more timeless than people trying to impress each other in order to feel more than what they are (but enough about the arts scene, LOLZ). Getting to hear lines I know off by heart was one kind of thrill, but hearing something new in them – as well as crafting detailed relationships between these seemingly broad characters – left me gobsmacked. That lady is anything but Nicolazy.

Other non-lazy ladies who blew my mind were POST with Ich Nibber Dibber. I don't envy the task of studying and transcribing your younger self, but the result was captivating. On a structural level the piece was a damn impressive feat of storytelling, but while it made me laugh (probably the most of any show this year), it also made me feel a lot of feeeeelings, none of which I'll share because I don't know you. I think like a lot of work I really dig it took something seemingly disposable – the offcuts of unstructured chats over ten years – and made something incredibly HIGH ART BUT ALSO CLOWNY from it.

I also got to witness an unforgettable moment at the end of the Malthouse season of Blackie Blackie Brown. Seconds before the show concluded, an audience member took a turn and was sick in the seating bank forcing the whole show to stop, because those are the sort of happy accidents that tended to happen with this show. I also cut my hand open with a machete in Sydney. We were determined to say goodbye to this beast properly, so Dalara Williams delivered her final monologue from the foyer. But the timing worked out so that midway through her monologue audiences began coming out of Melancholia... because. of course. Dalara's voice managed to silence the entire Malthouse foyer, and both audiences stood silently to witness it. The words Nakkiah had written – about a brighter Aboriginal future and the struggles still ahead – never felt more powerful than in that moment. I had the distinct feeling of being in a 'star-making' moment and I'm sure everyone else felt the same about me seeing as I'd set Dalara up for her monologue by playing a seven-year-old boy – a role I'd been gunning for since day one of rehearsal.

Looking forward to in 2019
Naturally I'm looking forward to working with a bunch of talented folks in The Temple at Malthouse (join usssssss....). I'm also a little thrilled we have Ellen Burstyn to gawk at when she acts her pants off in 33 Variations – which I assume is about the many TIGHT POLITE SMILES she has for homosexuals bothering her incessantly about The Exorcist. I'm also crossing my fingers for more plays from the GONE WRONG universe.

SM: Sure Blackie Blackie Brown was just the best, but then came PELICANette: the link should take you to the Google doc.


Daniel Lammin
Director
Engaged means presents!

Favourite moments in 2018
For me, it has to be The Bachelor S17 E5. I think I may have gotten the last ticket because I kept putting it off. The idea of staging an episode of a reality TV show sounded trite to me, and I had no desire to watch a bunch of self-satisfied artists put an episode on stage just for us to laugh knowingly at it and feel superior to it. But when I realised it was the work of Morgan Rose and Katrina Cornwell, I leapt at my computer and frantically booked. Morgan and Kat are maybe my favourite theatre makers in Melbourne. Their work is always so stirring and thrilling and presented with such generosity (especially their Riot Stage work), but The Bachelor surpassed my suddenly high expectations. It was beyond a clever concept, beyond parody. It was profound, hilarious, disturbing, moving, infuriating and epic. It treated its subject with such respect as it pulled its gender and racial politics apart, and in the process the gender and racial politics of our own world. This was theatre immediate and vital, insanely imaginative and rigorous in a way so little work is anymore. Morgan, Kat and their team presented a series of questions, provocations and conundrums, but you didn’t hear the questions, you felt them deeply, and Kat’s direction is some of the best I’ve seen in Melbourne in a long time. I left afterwards giddy at its audacity and generosity. Anyone else would have made it a joke, but they made it something bigger, deeper and grander than anyone on that show would ever have imagined their pursuit of Love could be.

Looking forward to in 2019
Obviously anything that Kat and Morgan do, which is also linked to the work of another artist I love. We finally get to see a staging of Fleur Kilpatrick’s Whale thanks to MAPA with Kat directing, and it just sounds so incredibly audacious! I’m also very excited for Fleur’s production of Slaughterhouse Five coming back, a co-pro with Monash Uni Student Theatre (MUST) and Theatre Works. The original production was incredible, and the work Fleur created with the students was often extraordinary. I can’t wait to see it again!

SM: I love Daniel's ongoing exploration of men and violence and where we go so wrong to create societies where violence develops: Sneakyville at fortyfivedownstairs (written by Christopher Bryant) started with Charles Manson, but was so much more.

But my favourite show of his this year was After Hero by the Monash Centre for Theatre and Performance at Malthouse. He works with emerging actors (students makes it sound like they aren't ready; they are) to create performances that come from places that mean something to the performers. This creates a passion on the stage that is so easy to connect to.

And it's very exciting that he's going to be continuing to work with students in his new position as producer at Monash Centre for Theatre and Performance.

I also use a film review he wrote when I teach film criticism. It's an example of personal subjective writing and it ALWAYS gets students talking and thinking about how to be more personal in their own writing.

Jane Miller
Playwright
15 Minutes from Anywhere


Jane Miller


Favourite moments in 2018

I didn’t see as much theatre in 2018 as I would like to have. Highlights for me were Blasted at Malthouse. It’s obviously not an easy text but Sarah Kane’s writing is stunning, confronting and visceral. Everything about Anne-Louise Sarks’s production was pitched perfectly. Blasted forced me to appreciate the privilege inherent in my own discomfort.

Something completely different was Puffs at The Alexander Theatre. I’ve only read three Harry Potter novels  – SM: What!? – so I probably didn’t get as much from the humour as true aficionados, but it was fun, clever and the performances were excellent.

The evocative and intelligent Fallen by She Said Theatre at fortyfivedownstairs made me acutely aware of the powder keg of frustration underneath an incredibly repressed fa├žade. I love She Said Theatre’s work.

Perhaps my favourite show of the year was Morgan Rose and Katrina Cornwell’s The Bachelor S17 E5. By using the transcript of an episode of The Bachelor, they made a show that was both hilarious and disturbing. Their production choices and beautiful cast revealed the darker subtext at the underbelly of reality television. It was brilliant and I’d love to see it have another run.

Looking forward to in 2019
Solaris at he Malthouse and Arbus and West at the MTC. I will be keeping my eyes open for the exciting things coming up a Red Stitch, Darebin, fortyfivedownstairs, Theatre Works and from my favourite independent artists.

My creative partner-in-crime Beng Oh has a return of his excellent production of Mike Bartlett’s play Cock coming to fortyfivedownstairs for Midsumma, which is very exciting.

Perhaps the thing I’m most looking forward to is seeing the amazing team at La Mama continue to thrive and renew despite the heartbreak they experienced during 2018. Their determination and support of artists is a wonderful thing to experience any year.

SM: Jane has been one of my favourite local writers since she stood out in Short and Sweets many years ago. Her plays grasp how characters have to make choices and that those choices should be impossible. Her characters are us; we know these people and she always ensures that we remember them because we're making those impossible choices with them. Her Just A Boy Standing in Front of a Girl  at La Mama in October surprised me at every turn. It began by ensuring that the audience had to think about gender and perspective from the moment we sat in our gender-specific seats, and continued to question what decisions in the story were based on gender. Great stuff.

02 December 2018

What Melbourne Loved in 2018, part 2

As moments come in, I don't try and find themes and connections, but they usually happen anyway. Today, one favourite was programmed by another. And there's discussion about the importance of diversity on our stages, and about indie artists and shows on main stages.

Daniel Clarke
Arts Centre Melbourne
Creative Producer, Theatre and Contemporary Performance

Dan and Donnie

Favourite moments in 2018

Blackie Blackie Brown at Malthouse was one of the most exciting examples of contemporary Australian theatre that I have seen. I sat there completely gripped and amazed by what I was seeing on stage. The direction, writing, performances and stunning AV design all came together to produce an electrifying political work that I hope gets to travel around the globe. Developed over years, this work clearly demonstrates the importance of investment in visionary artists to take the time they need to develop a new work.

Bighouse Dreaming was a devastating and urgent work. It shattered me. I first saw Declan Furber-Gillick perform at Decolonising Stories, an event produced by Arts Centre Melbourne, curated by Candy Bowers. I knew in that moment that here was an extraordinary talent. I vividly remember sitting in the Fairfax foyer watching his performance soexcited that I had been introduced to an artist with such an original, powerful, political and poetic voice. When I saw his work Bighouse Dreaming, directed with exquisite restraint by Mark Wilson during Melbourne Fringe, I knew that here we had someone who would make a major contribution to our culture. Was already doing it. This work needs to be seen far and wide. In schools, in the mainstream, as a tool for urgent change in the correctional services. Much respect to all cast and creatives and Mechanics Institute and Melbourne Fringe for supporting the work.

Looking forward to in 2019
Can’t wait to see Barbara and the Camp Dogs at Malthouse, Deer Woman and Counting and Cracking at Sydney Festival, Emily Sexton’s first year at Arts House, and Bryce Ives’s first year at Theatre Works. And Kylie Minogue, of course, and Queen Kong at Arts Centre Melbourne. In Adelaide, I can’t wait to finally see Bitch Dyke Faghag Whore by Penny Arcade and explore David Sefton’s brilliant Royal Croquet Club Program as part of Adelaide Fringe. Oh and Hannah Norris’s Afteryou, with her Mum, is going to be very special.

SM: Dan has continued the  amazing programming and development work he did at Theatre Works at Arts Centre Melbourne. Not only are we seeing some of the best indie theatre from around the world  at the Arts Centre – the Big World, Up Close program was amazing – , but there are also developments, workshops, discussions and plans that are bringing some of our best independent and emerging performers and creators onto main stages. As this happens, our main-stages become far more exciting places to visit.

PS. I saw Bitch Dyke Faghag Whore in the early 90s.

Monique Grbec
Awesome
Reviewer

From Facebook

Favourite moments in 2018
Matriarch at Melbourne Fringe, a Stolen Generations story of reconnection, and Taha from Big World, Up Close at Arts Centre Melbourne

Looking forward to in 2019
More diverse stories.

SM: Monique is one of the awesome new reviewers at Witness. We met at a show set in the 1980s and bonded over knowing every song that was used.


Christopher Bryant
Playwright and academic

Christopher Bryant. Photo by Lisa Maree Williams


Favourite moments in 2018
I didn't see as much as I wanted to this year, partly for money reasons and partly because this year has just been hectic – but two moments vie for my attention.  The first is the ending of Nicola Gunn's Working With Children. I know it was considered divisive (that wonderful catch-cry of theatre that can't be summed up easily enough), but I found myself enthralled by her words and movement, her humour and her dissemination of philosophy throughout. The moment in particular was the end: she sets up a series of strange childlike contraptions that create a shadowy mosaic... and then leaves. It took the audience I was in about five minutes as they went through the process of sitting in silence, waiting for Gunn to return,  realising something was 'wrong', and finally realising they'd been duped and the show was over. It was outrageous and I loved it.

The second was the growing disquiet of Lottie in the Late Afternoon by Amelia Roper  at fortyfivedownstairs. What started as an all-too familiar narrative about old friends reconnecting on a vacation slowly filled up with dark humour and just a touch of existential dread.  I can't get the feeling of being in that audience out of my head: as audience grew more and more uncomfortable while also never quite being sure *why* they were uncomfortable.

Looking forward to in 2019
So much and, as always, my brain seems to have forgotten anything specific, but that's the great thing about Melbourne – there's always so much to see! I am keen for Golden Shield by Anchuli Felicia King at MTC (she's doing so well, and I'm so excited to finally see one of her works). and MUST's adaptation of Slaughterhouse Five at Theatre Works (I saw it at Monash but it's just so great to see quality student work getting a second life).

SM: I didn't see any of Christopher's work this year – to be fair, he was OS a fair but – so my favourite moment has to be his Facebook panic when he realised the international flight he was booked on left at the end of the day not the next day, as he thought. He made the flight. I felt ill when I read it.

UPDATE: I saw Sneakyville that he wrote! How could I forget that! It was about Charles Manson and explored why people love and are obsessed with the worst of people.

28 November 2018

What Melbourne Loved in 2018, part 1

This is my favourite end-of-year tradition. Melbourne's theatre community talks about what they  loved this year. We hear from critics, directors, actors, writers, designers and people who simply see a LOT of theatre.

This series reminds us how much reviews and criticism are just small part of the reaction to a show. Shows that didn't get great reviews are still loved and shows that got piles of those darn stars can be forgotten.  It also reminds us – yes publicists, I'm talking to you – that discussion and writing continue long after a season finishes.

We start with two SM regulars and a first timer.

I was going to wait until 1 December but Stephen talks so wonderfully about The Director, which is still on this week. I also adored this show.

Everyone is welcome to contribute. Your memories and moments don't have to have been something you saw on a stage, and sometimes one sentence is all you need.

Here's the Google form to write your contribution.

Stephen Nicolazzo
Director
Little Ones Theatre

Steven Nicolazzo

Favourite moments in 2018

My favourite moment in Melbourne theatre happened just last night (now last week) at Lara Thoms's The Director (Arts House). This work was a deftly handled and emotionally liberating exploration of the ritual of death and inescapable grief. It was told with such openness that catharsis seemed to take place not just for the audience but for the performers as well. It was like a strange and intimate conjuring of grief and joy that no one saw coming. Experiencing a work that made notions of your own mortality both humorous and heart-breaking in a room full of your peers and strangers, unexpectedly struck a chord so deep within me I didn't think I could access such emotion. It was an astonishing thing. I am so pleased to have experienced The Director and grateful to the artists who created it. Its performance that while serious in some of its content, still had the smarts to laugh at it self and the thing some of us (including me) fear the most. I just found it so refreshing and absorbing as a result.

The other brilliant moment of 2018 was Joel Bray’s work Dharawungara as part of Chunky Move's Next Move 11. It was spectacular: a stunning, clever and moving rite of passage mixing story telling, dance and visual theatre. Designed by the glorious Kate Davis (of The Rabble) and with live score by Naretha Williams, this piece was a special one. New form, humour, and queer aesthetics all rolled into one piece. It was a divine and holy experience.

I also truly admired and love love love LOVED everything about Going Down by Michelle Lee (especially Catherine Davies's performance and the entire ensemble. It was just the funniest, brightest, smartest piece of theatre of the year!).

Other truly brilliant, touching and inspiring works were: Moral Panic (Rachel Perks and Bridget Balodis), Lone (The Rabble), Prehistoric (Elbow Room) and Samara Herch and Chambermade Opera's Dybbuks.

Looking forward to in 2019
I am looking forward to Dance Massive the most. I always find this festival so friggen inspiring. I'm also excited to see whatever is happening at Darebin Arts and Jennifer Vuletic's performance in Arbus and West at MTC. Golden Shield looks really interesting too!

SM: I first saw a Little Ones Theatre show in 2009. If I can, I'll keep seeing every show Stephen creates with his company, even if I don't gush every time. Stephen's had an up and down year with the critics. My favourite of his works this year was Suddenly Last Summer at Red Stitch, which I saw it on the last weekend. He queered a queer text; it was glorious. And great news that his Merciless Gods gets a return season at Arts Centre Melbourne in 2019.

Keith Gow
Playwright and critic
           
Keith Gow. Selfie

Favourite moments in 2018
Before I talk about what happened on stage, let me first give a shout out to Witness Performance – a new outlet for discussing theatre in Melbourne (and to a lesser extent, Australia), both critically and historically. Witness has brought Alison Croggon back to regularly writing about theatre and also given a platform to First Nation’s critic Clarissa Lee, as well as welcoming other new critics from diverse backgrounds throughout the year. As other avenues for critical writing shrink, Witness is putting out long form, thoughtful critical reactions to theatre that is vital for robust discussion, as well as being a strong historical record. Admittedly, I am slightly biased, having written for Witness a few times this year, as well as having Rob Reid review my Fringe show there.

On stage, I will have seen over 100 shows by the time this year is finished. I saw amazing work all over Melbourne this year. From Hir at Red Stitch to Abigail’s Party at MTC to Blackie Blackie Brown at Malthouse to Prize Fighter at Northcote Town Hall to Songs for a Weary Throat at Arts Centre Melbourne to The Mission at Arts House to Sleepover Gurlz in a bedroom in Fitzroy to Sneakyville at 45 Downstairs to The Nightingale and the Rose at Theatre Works.

Perhaps the absolute highlight of the year was Angus Cerini’s The Bleeding Tree. After two sell-out seasons in Sydney (at Griffin and STC), I’m so grateful that Arts Centre Melbourne programmed this show. It's a stunning work about family violence and its aftermath. Exquisite writing, extraordinary performances. Bracing, upsetting and poetic.

And to bring things full circle, one of the great things Witness has been doing this year is hosting Live Nights after certain shows for audience members to discuss what they have seen. The Bleeding Tree was one of their Live Night events. As a critic, sometimes I need to sit with a show for a while to know what to say. I’m so glad to have had an outlet to discuss this show right after I saw it, because it was so good and we all had so much to discuss. I think I loved the show more after the discussion, even though there were definitely elements that needed examination – and hearing other people’s points of view had me considering things I hadn’t thought about. Great show, great post-show discussion.

Looking forward to in 2019
I’m looking forward to what Bryce Ives does at Theatre Works. I’m looking forward to hearing more about La Mama rising from the ashes of its devastating fire this year. I’m excited for lots of things the Malthouse are doing like Wake in Fright and Solaris and Australian Realness. And I’m glad Little Ones’s Merciless Gods is returning  at Arts Centre Melbourne.

SM: I always like Keith's reviews and have loved reading his writing for Witness this year. He brings a playwright's perspective to his criticism and isn't afraid to let his writing be a work of art in itself.

Andrea McCannon
Actor

Andrea McCannon. Photo by Alex Vaughan

Favourite moments in 2018
I think my favourite show has been The Bachelor S17 E5, presented by La Mama at the Brunswick Mechanics Insitute. It was a hilarious and unexpectedly moving verbatim rendition of an episode of the USA version of the reality TV show The Bachelor with a really interesting cast. It took something of no substance and made it say so much. My favourite moment was when the ditched drag queen de-frocked and unpacked their suitcase full of rose petals. It was beautiful and heartbreaking. I loved it.

I also want to say that the resilience of the La Mama team and the strength of their community has been totally inspiring this year.

Looking forward to in 2019
Lightning Jar Theatre are mounting Mr Burns: A Post Electric Play at 45 Downstairs in February and I’m so excited for this production. Their previous two shows, Stupid Fucking Bird and Venus in Furs, were brilliantly performed and they’ve assembled a wonderful cast for this show. It’s such a fantastic script – funny and affecting and so bloody clever. I can’t wait to see what they do with it.

SM: I've seen Andrea in more shows than I've written about seeing her in. This year, I saw her in the last performance of Just A Boy Standing in Front of a Girl by 15 Minutes from Anywhere (another one of my favourite indie companies). Hopefully this is a show that will also get a return season, with the same cast.

2017

2016

2014
2013
2012

25 November 2018

Contribute: What Melbourne Loved in 2018

It's time for the those end-of-year best-of lists.

The Director. It's on at ArtsHouse this week. It's great! Photo by Bryony Jackson

Here at SM, we celebrate more than star ratings and adjectives and out-of-context quotes.

We share those moments that made us remember why we love theatre. We share our love for artists, creatives, writers, companies, makers, those who work behind the scenes, and all those everyone who make the theatre industry in Melbourne so damn awesome.

Everyone is welcome to contribute. I can promise you that people want to read about the shows, artists and moments you loved.

And, as I've had a quiet writing year, readers need all of your voices to build that archive of shows from 2018. (I might poke some of you so that I can write something about work of yours that I saw and wasn't able to write about.)

Last year, our most loved show was Nanette by Hannah Gadsby. This year, as she performed it in the UK and the USA and it was released on Netflix, the rest of the world agreed with us. Time has just declared it the best stand up show of 2018. SM readers knew this.

As always, all you have to do is answer these questions and send a photo that you like.

And if you want to hear from someone, ask them.

What was your favourite moment in Melbourne theatre in 2018? 

What are you looking forward to in Melbourne theatre in 2019?

To make it even easier this year, here's a Google form.

Or you can email.

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23 November 2018

Interview: The Director

The Director
Part of the Mere Mortals series at Arts House
Lara Thoms, artist
Scott Turnbull, funeral director

on until 2 December
artshouse.com.au

The Director. Lara Thoms, Scott Turnbull, Photo by Bryony Jackson

A funeral director, a site-specific performance artist and a journalist walk into a bar…

It’s not the set up for a joke, but there’s been lot of laughing and unexpected joy at Arts House this month with the Mere Mortals program about death and dying.

So far, live art experiences have included dying in a hospital bed in The Infirmary, talking about end-of-life choices and going to a wake in vigil/wake, and lying under a tree listening to a description of how a body decomposes in Bushland (which also runs on 1 and 2 December – book; it's so cool).

This week, the wonderful Ridiculusmus present a show called Die! Die! Die! Old People Die! and there's the premier of a new work called The Director, created and performed by a funeral director and a theatre director.

I interviewed Scott Turnball and Lara Thoms, who will be co-artistic director of Aphids next year, for The Age.

The first thing Scott Turnbull asked me was if I'd brought beer to the interview. No. So, naturally, we went to the pub and talked about death and funerals. And laughed, a lot.


Opinion: #IStandWithEJ

 #IStandWithEJ

EJ's headshot

I wrote this for ArtsHub a couple weeks ago. It's been read more than any review I've written.

Everything about this case and this situation is deplorable, except the support for EJ that's coming from the theatre industry.

The response shows just how important it is that we keep talking about harassment in our theatre and arts work places.

The stories that get written about barely scrape the surface of those that get talked about between friends.

It has to stop.

Know that if it's happening to you, you will be believed and supported. Even if everyone else in the room thinks it's ok, it's not. It's never ok.

Review: Rock Bang

Rock Bang: A Circus Rock Opera
Circus Oz in collaboration with Otto & Astrid
15 November
Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse
circusoz.com
to 25 November

Rock Bang: A Circus ROck Opera. Otto & Astrid. Circus Oz

A version of this was in The Age.


Rock-huge speakers. A rock-black stage. A tiny rock-red drum kit. Get ready to “Make some noise, Mel-BAWN!” because Rock Bang is the circus rock opera we’ve been waiting for.

Otto are Astrid are a brother and sister indie punk-rock duo from 1990’s Berlin. They’ve toured as Die Roten Punkte (The Red Dots) since 2006 and are in Australia so much that it’s rumoured they are as Melbourne as Circus Oz.

Their fans don’t believe any such rumours and understand that, this time, the true story is they when they were performing in Azerbaijan – where the 2012 Eurovision party is still happening – they met the Circus Oz tour, fell asleep in some crates and woke up in Wagga Wagga. With a new circus family, there was only one thing to do: write some more songs and tell their epic story with a circus show within a rock concert. If only there were a double album to go along with it!

Their fairy-tale begins in rural Germany. They keep their rock make up and red lip stick but Otto wears shorts and Astrid has pony tails. And they have six acrobats and four musicians (including music-theatre-rock-wonder Casey Bennetto) to create their world and bring their songs to life.

As their tale fractures when Otto and Astrid’s parents are killed in an accident – there was a train, or maybe a lion – unicycles ride tracks, punk acrobats become relatives and friends, stunt Astrids tumble, and a gold angel straight out of that 1987 Wim Wenders’ film flies.

Their clowning and satire is so rock, so punk and so real that it’s impossible to even think that Otto and Astrid didn’t see the Berlin wall fall in 1989 or form the band after seeing Bowie in 1990 and finding toy instruments at a primary school.

With earworm hits like "Ich Bin Nicht Ein Roboter (I Am A Lion)" – now with a troupe of silver dancing robot lions! – success was easy. But Otto doesn’t understand Astrid’s love of sex and drugs because he just wants rock and roll, stability, and a straight edge vegan girl who’s into hard-core punk.

Otto and Astrid could win Eurovision, make CBGB re-open, and inspire a real an-arch-y. Or keep reminding us that rock’s really about love, red lipstick and flying in silver spaceship above a crowd of fans. And banging with a circus who know how to rock.

15 November 2018

Review: Bushland

Mere Mortals – a series of works exploring death and dying
Arts House

Bushland
French & Mottershead
Arts House, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria
9 November 2018
Royal Botanic Gardens
Saturday 2 and Sunday 3 December
artshouse.com.au



Dying, dreaming and decaying.

Bushland takes place in the Royal Botanic Garden. It begins by wearing headphones and lying alone in a welcoming bed of dead leaves looking up at a canopy of green leaves – which will soon die, fall, decay and become part of the soil that feeds new leaves.

As would your body if you died alone under a tree.

Bushland is an adaption of a four-work series called Afterlife by Rebecca French and Andrew Mottershead from the UK. With the assistance of forensic anthropologists, ecologists and conservators, it describes in delicious detail the decomposition of a body in different environments. In this case, in the Australian bush.

A gentle meditative voice being played describes what would happen to your body if you died under that tree. The flies would be the first to notice and begin to lay eggs.

It's sounds gruesome, but it's not. Maybe parts of it are, but I found it fascinating and comforting. And very relaxing.

I'm now re-thinking if I still want to be cremated, one day.

It's only on for two days and only a small group can experience it at one time, so booking is highly recommended.

12 November 2018

Review: School of Rock, The Musical

School of Rock, The Musical
GWB Entertainment and S&CO
in association with KHAM Inc
by arrangement with The Really Useful Group Limited
9 November 2018
Her Majesty's Theatre
to 3 February 2019, the non to Sydney and Brisbane
schoolofrockthemusical.com

School of Rock, the Musical. Brent Hill

I'm all for "sticking it to the Man" and treating children with respect and letting them rock in a total killer of a finale, but don't make me try and say that Andrew Lloyd Webber rocks. School of Rock, The Musical rocks about as much as an Andrew Lloyd The Man Webber musical.

The trend to bring popular films (School of Rock the film was released in 2003) to the musical stages isn't going anywhere. Sometimes the musical version captures the heart of the film and expands on character and theme to make something bigger, different and amazing, like The Lion King and Legally Blonde. Others strip away what makes a film work, forget why characters are loved, tries to put a film story structure onto a stage and adds a soundtrack that doesn't add much. Why watch a live version of a film we can watch at home? The shows that dig deep into the success of the original story and make it something new are the ones that rock.

School of Rock's a heap of safe fun; the film joke about ALW has even stayed. It's the story of Dewey Finn, a slack aging rocker who scams his way into a substitute teacher job at a posh school, because he needs the moolah, and forms a band with his primary school students. The musical looks like the film – without the stage dives – and Brent Hill is terrific as Jack Black. Dewey was created for Black and it would be kinda wonderful to see what actors can do with the role rather than being like Black.

The adult roles are diluted to ideas of characters with the likes of uptight angry girlfriend, angry dad who spends too much time at work, and teacher so dull I can't remember them. But there are great moments like "You're in the Band" when Dewey gets his class motivated and "Where did the Rock Go" that finally lets Amy Lepalmer take off her glasses – all repressed strict head teachers wear glasses – and remember that she can rock.

Grown ups aside, the child cast of students kick enough ass to make up for any dullness; a lot of the show is spent waiting for scenes with the kids. As does the the choreography (originally by JoAnne M Hunter) that never tries to make the kids move like adults and lets them dance like totally rocking kids. There are three casts of Melbourne kids – who all play their own instruments – and there will be people who go back to see all three.

School of Rock, The Musical doesn't "Stick It To The Man" rather than give him(s) another diamond-encrusted stick to lean on but maybe the totally-rock kids in the show and those who see the it (even the cheap seats are expensive, so that's few) will start listening to the bands mentioned (not played) and learn what rock really is.


PS. As Julian Downtown Abbey Fellowes adapted the film script for the book, I now want a Downton Abbey musical so much. So much.

PPS. The screen writer of the film (and film Ned) is Mike White, who is on the current American season of Survivor. #TeamMike

Review: While You Sleep

Mere Mortals – a series of works exploring death and dying
Arts House

While You Sleep
Sal Cooper and Kate Neal
7 November 2018
Arts House Melbourne
to 11 November
artshouse.com.au


While You Sleep. Photo by Byrony Jackson

After dying came dreaming.

While You Sleep is as comforting, confusing and nightmarish as dreams.

I wonder if we all dream in the same ways. We can describe our dreams, but our descriptions never get near to what they are like, and our conscious brain does such a good job of making sure we forget what we go through when we sleep.

Co-creators Sal Cooper (animation, visual art) and Kate Neal (music and sound design) use the complex order of a musical fugue structure (I've put an explanatory video at the end of this) to explore the idea of the psychological fugue state, which is often called dissociative or reversible amnesia.

The clash of counterpoint and comfort of harmony in the music (strong quartet, piano and electronics) are supported by hand-made animation videos that feel natural to the music even when the subject matter doesn't from what's on the stage.

The quartet move with their instruments like a chorus or roll on wheeled-chairs, while screens show animations that range from the pianist playing a library of book to a horse being lifted with a crane. On the day after the Melbourne Cup when another horse was killed during the race, this image felt frighteningly spot on.

I don't remember all of what I saw because I was l finding my own way though the images and sounds. Which all brings it back to dreams and their illogical logic, conflicting images and confusing comfort.

It only had a very short season, but will hopefully be seen again.


11 November 2018

Review: The Infirmary

Mere Mortals – a series of works exploring death and dying
Arts House

The Infirmary
Triage Live Art Collective
7 November 2018
Arts House
to 18 November
artshouse.com.au

The Infirmary. Triage Live Art Collective. Photo by Bryony Jackson

Dying, dreaming and decaying.

The first week of Arts House's Mere Mortals series was far more relaxing than it sounds.

Live art is personal experience. The work cannot exist without your active participation and its meaning belongs only to you.

The Infirmary begins with a triage conversation between each patient (10 per session) and a doctor/artist. It ends dressed in a hospital gown in a hospital bed where you have no control and can hear the beeping of a heart rate monitor slow down...

Or, we all know that it's impossible to be in a hospital bed without a cup of tea and a biccy.

Let by creator Katerina Kokkinos-Kennedy (Hotel Obscura), this experience is an opportunity to get close to an ending or a death. While you're in a bed in the blindfolded dark, and listening to voices on headphones, the only option is trust. Complete trust: physically, mental and spiritual.

In a work about death and dying, the need to trust that the artists aren't going to scar or scare is as strong as the need to be physically safe as your bed is wheeled away from your private room where you know where you are, and where your glasses are...

As it confronts death, each experience may be too personal to share. But I left relaxed. So relaxed that I'd forgotten many of the voices I'd heard as I was immersed in a world of light and sound. And movement and touch and a theatrical reveal so glorious that I would have cheered were I not so happy to be bed bound, silent and unable to move.



04 November 2018

Review: Astroman

Astroman
Melbourne Theatre Company
2 November 2018
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 8 December
mtc.com.au


Callen Tassone & Kamil Ellis. "Astroman", MTC. Photo by Jeff Busby.

I've been singing "Eye of the Tiger" all weekend and am trying to change my earworm to the much cooler "Tainted Love". Astroman is set in 1984. Geelong, in 1984.

Playwright Albert Belz knows Astroman is his love letter to the 1980s and the decade he was a teenager and he wrote this story about a Maori family living in coastal Aotearoa (New Zealand). He moved New Zealand to Geelong in 2011 and, after later moving to Melbourne, relocated the story to the place that welcomed him to Australia. I'm sure he's a Cats supporter for life.

There's also a production of the play currently running at The Court Theatre in New Zealand. In a better arts funded and supported world, they could swap venues and let us all see both productions.

Teenagers Jiembra, Jimmy, (Kamil Ellis) and his twin brother Sonny (Callen Tassone) have just turned 13. The got a Walkman, a Rubik's cube, which Jimmy solves easily, and a BMX bike that no cop would believe "an abo owns". It's mostly a loving reflection of the mid-80s in towns away from the big cities. In this memory world, Sonny can proudly wear the Aboriginal flag on his sleeveless denim jacket and not get beaten up, but no one's forgetting that it wasn't all breakdancing, take away Kentucky Fried Chicken and acid-wash jeans.

But it was all arcade video games. This amazing new technology let anyone kill aliens and pretend you were in Star War, Star Trek or Battlestar Gallactica. They also broke barriers of class, age and gender as everyone played them, be it at the local fish and chip shop or the arcade. If you has a 20-cent-piece in your pocket, you could play.

The brothers have recently moved from Townsville and live at their auntie's house with their mum (Elaine Crombie) and sister (Tahlee Fereday); Jimmy says their dad is away training to be the first Austronaught, Australian astronaught. They spend as much time as they can at the Astrocade playing games. Here, arcade owner Mr Palvis (Tony Nikolakopoulos) takes a liking to the boys, but they have their rival MJ (Nicholas Denton) to contend with.

What follows is as cool as seeing The Karate Kid for the first time. Director Sarah Goodes and Associate Director Tony Briggs (he wrote The Sapphires) know their 1980s culture, as does designer Jonathon Oxlade. There's a "world championship" competition with far more than a high score at stake, montages, dance sequences, an awkwardly placed gun, opposites-are-really-the-same romances, and a convenient solution that doesn't feel earned. Yeah, just like so many 80s movies and sit coms.

And, like those stories, the characters make up for any problems and let the metaphors of "seeing the patterns" and "making the most of your last life" resonate. It's an absolute joy to be part of this family for the night. When they sat down for dinner, I'm sure I wasn't the only person who wanted to be balanced on a plastic stool around the table and be the first to take the lid off the orange casserole dish.

But I have no idea how I know the words to "(Hey You) The Rock Steady Crew"; I didn't even like it in 1984.

19 October 2018

Melbourne Festival: A Ghost in My Suitcase

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL 2018
A Ghost in My Suitcase
Barking Gecko Theatre
18 October 2018
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 21 October
www.festival.melbourne

"A Ghost in My Suitcase". Barking Gecko Theatre

I've worked in the arts for ever because in the 1970 and 80s, my family took me to shows at festivals in Adelaide; some weren't for kids. There's been some wonderful shows and experiences that kids and enjoy with their grown ups this festival – the Lexicon circus, Fire Gardens or the delightfully creepy (and affordable) 1000 Doors – with the highlight being the premiere of Barking Gecko's A Ghost in My Suitcase.

The Perth based company make exquisite theatre for children that never excludes adults. One of my favourite shows last year was their Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories at Arts Centre Melbourne and I loved The Rabbits at MIAF 2015.

Playwright Vanessa Bates adapted Gabrielle Wang's novel, which won the 2009 Aurealis Award for Best Children’s Novel.

Celeste (Alice Keohavong) is 12 and arrives at the Shanghai airport where she's met by Por Por (Amanda Ma), her mother's mother. Celeste's mum has recently died and Celeste has left her little brother and French dad in Australia to take for mum's ashes back to the Isle of Clouds in China where her mum was born. Things don't go well when she meets Ting Ting (Yilin Kong), her grandmother's adopted daughter, but that's not as weird as finding out that Por Por is a ghost catcher. Or that Celeste might have the same ghost catching skills that are passed down maternal lines and that she'll need them when they go back to the family home.

The combination of projection – from the crowds of Shanghai to a boat ride through a rural village – puppetry (design, Zoe Atkinson; lighting, Matthew Marshall), live action and martial arts brings the story to life in a recognisable world where fantasy and the super natural feel natural and real.

Co-directors Ching Ching Ho and Barking Gecko's Artistic Director Matt Edgerton always find the heart of the story and its characters and make sure that the story of grief and letting go leads even when there are angry ghosts to fight and lives are in danger. It’s a little bit scary but so full of love and loving characters that the scary is fun.

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL: Song For A Weary Throat

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL 2018
Song For A Weary Throat

Rawcus
Presented with Arts Centre Melbourne
13 October 2018
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 14 October
www.festival.melbourne
rawcus.org.au

"Song For a Weary Throat". Rawcus


Rawcus Theatre’s Song For A Weary Throat was missed by too many of us last year and it's wonderful to have indie theatre like this brought back for us by Arts Centre Melbourne and Melbourne Festival. Too many amazing indie shows are never seen again after short runs.

People gather in what looks like the post-apocalyptic remains of a country-town community hall that was once set up for a dance (design, Emily Barrie; lighting, Richard Vabre). The chairs are breaking and the room is filled with dust and crunchy dead leaves, but everyone still comes. It’s what people do.

There’s noise (sound designer Jethro Woodward) but rarely voices, except for the remarkable Invenio Singers (Gian Slater, Josh Kyle and Louisa Rankin). The three voices create a live soundtrack that  feels like pure emotion. Like the weary throats that can’t speak anymore because no one listened, their singing isn’t what we expect from songs of joy or despair, but are sounds that are trying anything to be heard again.

It’s never clear – and doesn’t matter – when or where we are; what matters is that this group of people are together after a traumatic even. Some don’t want to be there, some don’t know what to do and some keep hoping because, even if no one will dance with you, when people are together, there’s always a way forward and dancing alone isn’t so bad.

Led by artistic director Kate Sulan, Song For A Weary Throat was developed and performed by an ensemble of 15 performers with and without disabilities.  Its exploration of trauma is personal without ever being specific, which makes it easy to put our experiences onto the stage and to feel the effects of trauma and to ultimately find hope and joy among the chaos.

Rawcas were formed in 2001 and continue to be supported by the Port Phillip Council – never forget how much local councils fund and support the creation of art.

14 October 2018

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL: Frogman

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL 2018
Frogman
curious directive
presented with Theatre Works
12 October 2018Theatre Works
to 14 October
www.festival.melbourne
www.curiousdirective.com




Everyone sits in a white plastic chair that let us swivel all the way around; I don't trust anyone who doesn't spin around as soon as they sit down. We're on the four sides of a rectangular stage covered in beige shag carpet, but the virtual reality headset waiting for us is far more interesting. Frogman is theatre made using VR.

But it starts on, and regularly goes back to, the stage – eyes need rests – where 35-year-old Meera (Georgina Strawson) is being questioned about the 1995 disappearance of her classmate Ashleigh. Meera still lives next to the Great Barrier Reef, where its assumed the girl drowned. As the evidence on cassette tapes is played, she remembers the sleepover she was having with her friends on the night divers searched for Ashleigh's body.

UK company curious directive self describes as "theatre through the lens of science". Led by artistic director Jack Lowe, the small company works with new people and organisations on every project, including the Brisbane Powerhouse for the 2017 development of Frogman.

The VR experience takes us into Meera's bedroom, with its beige shag carpet, and into the reef as the divers look for Ashleigh before the coral bloom destroys visibility. The combination of scratchy tape evidence feels perfect with the VR footage that's always a little bit blurry; its not-quite-focus feels like being in the faded memory with her.

The technology is fascinating – I reached out to touch things – and there are times when it takes us deeply into the world, but the story doesn't always take advantage of the technology. When the mystery story hints at magical realism, there's a possibility of diving into a world where children can breath under water and fire coral burns. We don't, and the story may be just as strong if played out only on the stage.

Technology is incredible and this early step into VR in theatre is an exciting beginning.


PS. My set stopped working twice, so I got to see the more fascinating spectacle of a room of people spinning in their chairs and reaching out to people who weren't there.

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL: Prize Fighter

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL 2018
Prize Fighter
La Boite Theatre

in association with Darebin Arts Speakeasy
11 October 2018
Northcote Town Hall
to 21 October
www.festival.melbourne

"Prize Fighter". La Boite

I don't like boxing. I don't get the idea of violence as sport. And watching the cast of Prize Fighter warming up on stage by sparring with local boxers left me in a strange place of being in awe at their fitness and knowing that I could never – even when I was young and fit – defend myself against that kind of strength.

But this isn't a story about boxing.

It's about masculinity and its connection to strength and fighting.

Writer Future D Fidel is 28 and developed  Prize Fighter when he was playwright in residence at La Boite Theatre Company in Brisbane from 2013 to 2015. It opened at the Brisbane Festival in 2015, was performed at Sydney Festival and a novel of the story has  recently been released. Fidel was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DCR) and fled to Tanzania in 1996 after witnessing the death of his parents and being separated from his siblings. He spent eight years in a refugee camp before being accepted into Australia as a refugee. He spent eight years of his childhood in a refugee camp. He now lives in Brisbane with his brother and sister; it took him six years to find his sister.

It's about war.

Foreign wars rarely gets more than a passing comment in our media. Fictional "African" gangs in Melbourne get front page coverage. Pants-on-fire racist bullshit gets talked about while millions of people living in horror isn't an issue. People forced to flee their countries because of violence and horror are spoken and written about like they had a choice. Theatre shows like this get little media coverage, but it's still more than the people whose stories this show is telling.

Its fiction is the story of Congolese refugee of Isa – called Steve "The Killer" to sound more Aussie – who literally fights his memories and experiences as he fights for a championship belt. Its truth is that it's based on Fidel's experiences and those of others who fled as refugees.

The DCR and neighbouring countries has been involved in civil war since 1996. It officially ended in 2003, but the violence continues.

Most of the fighting is over minerals, especially coltan. Most of the world's coltan comes from the DCR. Colton is used in smart phones, lap tops and TVs. I didn't know that until today. I had no idea how much I've benefited from this war I knew so little about.

I also didn't know that 5.4 million people – a quarter of the Australian population – died as a direct result of that war.

It's about child soldiers.

Isa "The Killer" was ten when his family was killed, disappeared and raped. He lived by becoming a soldier. Ten. Ten year old boys are forced to fight.

I took a nine-year-old to Lexicon, a French circus, last weekend. On the way home in the car, he asked me, "If you could change anything in the world, what would it be?". That's much harder to answer than "Can I please have some popcorn?".

Can I start by wanting to give every asylum seeker in Melbourne a day at the circus where the kids have as much popcorn as they can eat.

Prize Fighter is as harrowing as it is stunning. The flashbacks from the boxing ring – the boxing is real – seem an obvious device but director by Todd Macdonald and the cast of six – Pacharo Mzembe (Solomon and Marion) is Isa; Gideon Mzembe, Margi Brown Ash, Marcus Johnson, Ratidzo Mambo and Mandela Mathia play multiple roles – create an almost unbreakable tension that can only be broken with an emotional gut punch that's far stronger than any knock out blow.

It's a story about Australia.

This is our story and the more we see stories like this explored on our stages, in our art and in our media, the more we may begin to understand that they are our stories and we need to do a lot more to create some less traumatic endings.