31 March 2018

MICF: Virgin Bloody Mary

Virgin Bloody Mary
Nadia Collins

30 March 2018
The Butterfly Club
to 8 April

Virgin Bloody Mary. Nadia Collins

Why has no one told me about this show?

Mary's white dress is complemented with a large wooden rosary and crucifix – it is Easter after all  –  and she has a sparklie halo, so we know who's already on her side.

And they have her phone number.

Without giving it away, Mary finds herself with child. The Nativity is, after all, one of the best known stories and artists have been responding to it since it was first published. I believe I played a fine Mary in my kindergarten nativity play*.

Virgin Bloody Mary is feminist, sacrilegious, smart-as, divinely-filthy, you-can't-go-there, physical clowning that earns every "OMFG!".

Maybe there is a bit of sacred in everyone? Maybe women are way cooler than religious texts describe them? Maybe it's really time to get over the whole virgin or whore thing?

I'm surprised Nadia Collins hasn't earned herself some protesters. But, we know who's on her side.

Book me in for the Christmas Eve show now. And please make sure there isn't a spare seat on Easter Sunday.

*Don't bring children to this one.

30 March 2018

MICF: Duets with Myself

Duets With Myself
Charlotte Kerr
30 March 2018
Butterfly Club
to 1 April

Charlotte Kerr

There's a 5.30 slot at The Butterfly Club. It's perfect for after work or for starting early and seeing five shows a night. I'm not doing five a night, but I'll cheer on anyone who does.

It's also a great time for shows that are finding their feet and their audience. See new work. Support emerging artists. It takes time to get amazing and the only way shows get better is by getting in front of audiences.

I don't believe anyone who says they don't talk to themself. How else do you have an intelligent conversation? How else do you get the criticism that you think you deserve? No one is as mean to us as we are to ourselves.

Charlotte wants to sing with Charlotte – who wouldn't? – but Charlotte doesn't want anything to do with Charlotte because Charlotte keeps nagging her. Luckily Charlotte also listens to Charlotte – sometimes.

Charlotte Kerr also has to trust that she's fascinating enough as Charlotte and to trust that an audience want to hear her sing. The space between character and performer was a bit fuzzy, but neither needed to be worried; a quiet audience can really be enjoying themselves.

MICF: Grace

Katie Reddin-Clancy
29 March 2018
Butterfly Club
to 1 April

Grace. Katie Reddin-Clancy

Alfie and Grace were a successful vaudeville double act, but Alfie has realised that it's time to be Zora, and Grace is challenged by sharing the stage with anther women instead of a man.

Katie Reddin-Clancy is from London and creates characters who work or worked at the theatre where Alfie and Grace are meant to headline. The show feels like it belongs downstairs the Butterfly Club with mirrors offering different reflections and dark corners for ghosts of forgotten shows to hide in.

Each character explores aspects of gender and mental health, and their personal stories create the world around Zora, the character we most want to meet.

There's a lot of important issues being discussed and shared, but the fascinating story about Zora, especially Grace's relationship with Zora, gets a bit lost in the discussion.

MICF: Romeo is not the only fruit

Romeo is not the only fruit
The Furies, Jean Tong & Stephanie-Bowie Liew
29 March 2018
Beckett Theatre
to 8 April

Nisha Joseph, Louisa Wall, Pallavi Waghmode, Sasha Cheryllyn Chong, Margot Tanjutco

It's going to be hard to get tickets for Romeo is not the only fruit next week. So, book now. I know it's very early to call the must-see show of the festival, but if you miss this, you won't know why the rest of us are singing a song called "Fuck you".

Writer and director Jean Tong had me at the Jeanette Winterson reference.

This secures a certain section of the audience, but there's also atrocious reality tv shows (The Spinsterette), dumplings, soy sauce fish, vagina mime, more intersectional references than there are types of dumplings in Melbourne, and a chorus called the Incompetent Dead Lesbians. And sequins.

First seen – and loved – last year at the Butterfly Club as part of the Poppyseed Festival, Romeo is not the only fruit has developed in Fame-size leaps and has already been seen by more people than its first run. It proves how important small stages and and small festivals are for developing new work; shows need to be seen before they can take over the world. And it proves that seeing independent and new work at any festival sometimes gives you bragging rights of seeing first productions.

Juliet (Margot Tanjutco) lives in fairish Verona with her mother and grandmother, and has an unseen  interfering chorus of guardian angels (Nisha Joseph, Pallavi Waghmode, Sasha Cheryllyn Chong). Mum and G-Ma want Juliet to breed the next generation and encourage her to accept a nice boy, even if he can't cook rice, and to give up her dream of being a pilot and flying into the high blue. When tall, blue-eyed Darcy (Louisa Wall) moves into the street, Juliet invites her home to dinner. G-Ma welomes Darcy by offering white bread and butter (white people are unusual in Verona; "We are so not racist" may push Avenue Q's "Everyone's a little bit racist" off the top of the best-music-theatre-songs-about-racism list) but the angels don't care about the food because they know what happens in popular culture when two women fall in love...

They die. The lesbians always die.

"Why, why, why, do the lesbians always die?". (Can we please have the soundtrack album with James Gales's music and Tong's lyrics.)

This show tears open the love tropes of mainstream stories. Especially the one that difficult lovers – like queer women – are conveniently removed by death. Darcy's already lost a couple of girlfriends and the angels met their deaths by daring to be in love. One angel has a quilt remembering all the dead pop-culture lesbians – she's filled one side and the other is almost full.

Do these star-crossed lovers overcome canons of expectation? And poison?

That'd be telling.

Does Romeo is not the only fruit subvert every boring expectation of love stories to be the most joyous fuck you to everything that deserves a fuck you?


28 March 2018

MICF: The Aspie Hour

MICF 2018
The Aspie Hour
28 March 2018
The Butterfly Club
to 5 April

The Aspie Hour. Sophie Smyth and Ryan Smedley

Sophie Smyth and Ryan Smedley are recent graduates from Federation University's Arts Academy. They became friends because they are obsessed with music theatre .


I dare you to tell Ryan that the 1981 version Merrily We Roll Along wasn't a hit* or find an inconsistency with Sophie's replica Dorothy costume.

I lost count of the musical references in their hour-long show. I even lost count of the Sondheim references. They put the likes of me to utter shame. I'm a mere Sondheim fan in comparison.

They are so obsessed that they've created a musical cabaret about being obsessed, going to New York (each by themself) to indulge in said-obsession (and to snog a stranger), and how being obsessed is kinda great. Ryan sings his stories, Sophie structures a musical around hers – with interval. Her "how to lose a guy" song is the one to beat for my favourite song of the festival.

Both also have Asperger's Syndrome and The Aspie Hour is also about seeing the neurotypical world though different eyes. And how to feel the world though the complex non-verbal emotional communication of people like Sondheim.

It's an absolute delight that shows how telling your story in the way you want to tell it is always the way to an audience's heart.

You don't even have to know who Sondheim is to love it.

*It wasn't.

MICF: The Music comedy festival edition

MICF 2018

We're counting down to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and getting some sleep in while we can.

If you haven't picked up a paper copy of The Music's MICF edition – look at that cover! – you can read it here on issu.com.

I interviewed Tessa Waters, Laura Davis and Showko, and there are a pile of great interviews with  SM favourites like Zoe Coombs Marr, Jean Tong, DeAnne Smith and Neal Portenza. And lots of others. If the festival guide is a bit daunting – bloody terrifying – start here and get to know the performers from more than just a blurb.

Review: Abigail's Party

Abigail's Party
22 March 2018
Southbank Theatre, The Sumner
to 21April

Katherine Tonkin, Dan Frederiksen, Pip Edwards, Benjamin Rigby, Zoe Boesen Photo by Jeff Busby

What happens when the intense character-led  naturalism of writer-director Mike Leigh meets the stylisation and aesthetic-led inspiration of director Stephen Nicolazzo? How do you queer Leigh?

Leigh's works are developed through intense improvisation and research by the actors and creative team. In some of his films, the actors don't meet each other until they the camera is there. Abigail's Party was developed over ten weeks in 1977; it was meant to be a short and forgotten season at Hamstead Theatre because Leigh had moved onto making films. (Life is Sweet is my favourite.) The short run was extended and the only reason it was subsequently made for BBC television rather than transferring to the West End was because Alison Steadman (who played central-character Beverly) and Leigh were expecting their first baby and there was no way that anyone else as going to step into the role.

Thirty-something Beverly and her husband, Laurence, are having their new younger neighbours Angela and Tony over for after-dinner drinks. Divorced single mum Susan also lives on the street and has been invited  because her teenager daughter, Abigail, is having a party. It's nice to have the neighbours around for a G&T with ice and lemon, a cheesey-pineapple nibble, and a bit of Demis Roussos on the record player.

The MTC loves a play about middle-class middle-aged suburbia and it's easy to find the connection to 1977 suburban Essex where Thatcher's conservatism is about to be welcomed and despised. Here, it's more important that your neighbours see that you're doing well, with posh beer and a new car, than actually getting to know you. Does that ever change?

Leigh's work is all about what's hidden and what we don't say to each other, even though it controls every thought and action.

It's so ready for a queer makeover and to be explored from a very different perspective.

So why does this production feel stifled?

The first thing that strikes about Anna Cordingley's design is that it looks like a Eugyeene Teh design – he designed the costumes – with it's monochromatic spaces and curtains. The central living room is magnificently orange with shag pile carpet, impossibly-large sunken steps, an over-sized room divider (which I'd love for my living room) and a magnificent array of 1970s op-shop finds. It's surrounded by three other hints of rooms that are perfect in the opening scene and sit almost begging to be used for the rest of the night. By placing the world in a box – a world best known as a boxed TV version –  the fourth wall is dropped so firmly that it's difficult to reach in and feel a part of it.

Teh's costumes are more complex. They are a redesign of the late 70s with a sequinned jumpsuit, tiny mini Cheongsam (cultural appropriation isn't new), a whiter than white suit, hide-everything black pants, facial hair that came back, hot-roller curls, and slept-in-plaits-to-get-this-amazing crimpy frizz. It's not a recreation of the time, but an idea of what it looks like through today's eyes and ideas.

As the 70s-cum-now look is turned up to wow and seen at from the outside, the performances and direction start with style and brings the characters into the aesthetic. This technique has been gloriously effective in Little Ones's works like Psycho Beach Party, Dracula and Dangerous Liaisons, but Abigail feels stuck between styles.

Behind the naturalism wall, the camped-up style seems forced with its drink spilling and slipping off couches. While it's clearly beginning to question and subvert the manners and repression of the time, it's not bringing the audience into the world and letting us see it though new eyes. It's laughing at them, not at us.

So much of what we've come to expect from this company (although it's not a Little Ones Theatre show) feels like it's been held back. It has the aesthetic without the gutsy camp structure to support it. We're at Beverly's when we expected to be at Abigail's where everything is rejected, questioned and recreated.

22 March 2018

Review: Colder

Red Stitch Actors Theatre
18 March 2018
Red Stitch
to 8 April

Colder. Ben Pfeiffer, Caroline Lee, Brigid Galllacher. Photo by Teresa Noble

When Robyn turns away to look in her bag, her eight-year-old son disappears at Disneyland and the happiest place in the world becomes an unknown world of almost unimaginable fear. He's eventually found. When he's 33, David disappears again.

Lachlan Philpott's 2008 Colder reconnects the writer with director Alyson Campbell, this time at Red Stitch. They work with their creative team to let form tell story. Their The Trouble with Harry (Melbourne Festival 2014) took us into the heads of the characters with audience headphones and a design that made the hugeness of the Northcote Town Hall feel intimate. But in the intimacy of the Red Stitch space, Colder feels distanced.

Before a word is spoken, Bethany J Fellows's design takes us away from a known world. Made of planks of wood, the back wall curves into the floor, letting the characters climb but always slip. It has a retro sci-fi vibe with unknown black edges blending into the white where it's hard to hide – but everyone does.

Bronwyn Pringle's lighting completes the design and makes the small stage look and feel like the unknown universe the characters are lost in, especially as the light behind the cracks could break through at any moment. In a work that changes place and time, the lighting lets two characters dance in a dark club in a pink glow while another (in reaching distance) stands in sunlight.

We're clearly in the character's heads and there's no room for the literal.

The literal is in the text. There's a lot of literal description. Two physical narrators or the characters themselves tell us where we are, what we're seeing and what they are doing; the intimacy is broken by creating distance. The repetition and explanation of the imagery (sealing life in easy-to-find Tupperware, life isn't a parade, being 33) becomes a distraction. There's so much already showing us the connections – especially the actors – that the repetition feels obvious and cliched.

We're told what we should be seeing, thinking and feeling. This doesn't leave space to feel or connect. We're told what's happening but aren't allowed into the hearts of the characters. Perhaps that's the point – no one really knows each other and we never really connect – but it left me ... trying not to quote the title.

17 March 2018

Review: FOLA, Unknown Neighbours

Unknown Neighbours
Ranters Theatre, Creative VaQi, Theatre Works
15 March 2018
St Kilda
to 18 March

Soo-Yeon Sung . Photo by Andrew Bott

Developed by Melbourne's Ranters Theatre and Seoul's Creative VaQi over four years, Unknown Neighbours is somewhere between a walking meditation and sticky-beaking in stranger's houses and a stranger's head.

Four actors, from both companies, stayed in a house when the owners were away and were left to create. The experience begins at one of the houses; you get the address when you book.

In an Acland Street house – one that no one I know could ever afford – Korean actor Soo-Yeon Sung uses a hand-help projector to Google translate her thoughts about the house, the woman who owns it and how the plants in the garden know that they are loved.

While the house is clean and decluttered enough to be ready for an open real estate inspection, it's hard to hide personality. Still, the heart of the experience is about getting to know Soo-Yeon far more than getting to know who lives there. (Our group  knew that we had the people who lived in the house with us, which made the option of snooping and discovering awkward.)

And this is only part one work.

Next, we followed the performer down one of those streets that's so old-school St Kilda that it's possible to forget just how many chain stores are now open in the malled-up part of Acland Street or that renting here is now so expensive that the groovy people have moved to the burbs. There's the Secret Life of Us exterior block, 1940's deco apartments with round windows and dark staircases, 1970's brick boxes that are hideous on the outside and gloriously huge on the inside, and slick new buildings that blend so well that you have to actively notice them. Or it's walking to the next venue. Or stomping along and feeling a bit sad because you moved to the burbs.

So much of this work is the choice to make your own story. Or listen to the people around you; the things I heard about an actor!

The four house-groups meet in the park by the adventure playground that St Kilda people know about – that's now safe and less adventury. As the sun sets, we can see buildings built in the nineteenth century, and five performers ( I don't know how they were shared among the houses) gather in front of a tent.

There's a guitar, wind chimes and a dog.

I repeat, there's a dog.

On the way back to Theatre Works – there is a lot of walking –, a little girl waves from the window of a 1970s brick box. She seems shocked that only a couple people notice her.

After a quick trip through Anglican church built in the 1850s, it's time to sit in the theatre and watch as the pieces of the last couple of hours float into place and. And the dog totally stole the show.

16 March 2018

Guest response: A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer

 A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer
Complicite and Malthouse Theatre

8 March 2018
Merlyn Theatre
to 18 March 2018

A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer. Photo by Mark Douet

Guest writer: Andi Snelling

SM: I cried in Bryony Kimmings's  A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer; felt-tears-fall-onto-my-arm cry. It's a gut-kick emotional show that has led to having some amazing personal conversations about how we create art about illness and how we respond to work about illness.

Kimmings is from the UK and is well-known, and well-loved, by Melbourne audiences having brought us Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model, Sex Idiot and Fake it 'til you make it.

It's possibly impossible not to have a personal connection to the ideas, frustration and raw emotion of the work. I started writing about my personal stories about cancer and it became very long. I'm not unique; the audience connection to the work is strong and immediate.

With a sequin-bedazzled cast, it begins as Kimmings's story about being commissioned to make art – a musical, naturally – about other peoples' illnesses. She finds a gendered mess of language, misinformation and naff fiction – that also makes me cry – and people who are so sick of being sick, and all the expectations that come along with being sick.

When Lara Veitch, who's not an actor, comes into the narratives and onto the stage, it becomes more personal and less hypothetical. And when Kimmings son gets sick, the distance between creator and topic no longer exists.

Here are Maxim's and Tim's reviews, but I want to share response by Andi Snelling. She wrote at 3.17 am.  Here's the link to her MyCause page.

AS: 3.17am has me playing that familiar Lyme game: WTF is that sensation and where is it coming from? Crawling, vibrating, squeezing sensations warming my heart area and machine gun rounds firing off in my right ear in a fireworks display of tinnitus which can be both heard and felt. My throat is dry and ticklish with the acidic taste of reflux because I broke my consume-nothing-after-8 pm rule because my granny o'clock dinner routine got interrupted by a 5 pm theatre show  A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer.

The show is pacing up my mind's corridor, tearing up the carpet and ceiling of my bedroom as the blur of my sickness-dreams comes into sudden sharp focus. The show was an ambitious rabbit hole dive which I loved on paper; a (rightly so) trendy, edgy, feminist artist facing cancer bravely from within whilst fuck you-ing patriarchal power as starkly as the white medical gown we will all wear one day. But it didn't work for me on a creative level somehow. And I wonder if that even matters because it did work for me on the level which it set out to be: a guide. Even when – especially when – it reveals there is no guide.

I was moved but didn't sob as I had expected to. This does not mean anything, other than I clearly had expectations which have little use in art. I felt my own thought struggles around my illness reflected – the pressure for positivity, the brave face bullshit, the cycling of mortality fears and total "normalcy", the "it's-easier-to-pretend-it's-okay" facade, the anger at isolation, the futility of reaching out to disappearing friends, the devastation when your relationship sledgehammers your heart in its hour of need. All of that. And more. I don't even have cancer, but I do have an illness as dangerous as cancer, yet without the voice that cancer has.

And so, the show hovers with me as 4 am approaches, just as art should. A helicopter churns the sky outside and at first, I have to double-check it's really there and not inside me because it can be with Lyme. My heart, like so many nights of late, pounds away, thudding parts of my body with its palpitations, giving me the fear of death and reminding me that I am alive. In the black of the night. Just like the black of the stage.

15 March 2018

Review: FOLA, Worktable

Festival of Live Art
14 March 2018
Arts House
to 25 March

It's the third biennial Festival of Live Art (FOLA) with events at curated by Arts House, Theatre Works and  Footscray Community Arts Centre, and new event partners West Space, Temperance Hall and The Substation.

I love live art. It's hard to define. For me it is art where the audience create the work with the artist and the experience is more personal than collective. It's about breaking down that wall between artist and participant, and maybe out a little bit about yourself in the process.

Live art can be as challenging as it is welcoming. I've been naked, I've walked the St Kilda and stuck labels on strangers, I've got into bed with Yana Alana, I've been in a bath in a shop window, I've danced with strangers – I'm down with the live art experiences. But I'm not twerking, wearing a onsie or hugging a stranger – which cut out a chunk of the week one program for me. That thing about finding out things about yourself...

The Arts House program isn't as busy as in past years. There's a new bar to hang out in – and they sell toasties – but aren't smaller shows or exhibitions to experience while waiting for your next show. This leaves it feeling a bit empty. So much of live art is sharing your personal experience with other people.

Kate McIntosh

Worktable is a live and growing installation that each participant helps to create. The creation starts with the choice to destroy. I want to do it again. And again.

The initial experience is individual and private, but it expands to include people who are there with you and all those who have been through before.

And, even if you try not to notice, it'll show you so much about yourself.

Step one: Choose an object from shelves that look like an outer-suburban op shop. There's crockery, handbags, toys, typewriters, books and even a packet of cigarettes (not from an op shop). You choose your object based on knowing you will be taking it apart.

I chose a film camera. It was from the 70s or 80s and I would never have been able to afford it.

Step two: Go alone into a room with your object. This is where you know why you signed a release before starting because there's tool-lovers wet dream laid out and begging to be used. Teeny screwdrivers, a vice, hammers and enough safety equipment to know that you CAN smash and not bleed.

But I wasn't going to smash – I could hear people smashing in other rooms. I started finding every tiny screw and undoing it. This went on for a while and I needed the vice to hold it still as I found the cogs and wheels and connection that I could see and understand.

But this was so well made that 20 minutes in, I still had no idea how the focus-puller worked.

It was then that I looked at the choice of hammers, chose the rubber mallet, put on some goggles and  smashed it. Tried to smash it. This camera wasn't coming apart. I put it in the vice and broke a pair of pliers trying to pull it open. I used a metal hammer and made indentations in the wooden work surface because this beast still wouldn't yield its secrets.

And before I could keep going, it was time to move into the next space with my box of broken bits.

Step three: Put your object down, choose another box of broken, sit at a fully-stocked craft table – I love a craft table – and put it back together in any way that you want.

I found a smashed gold and orange tea pot. I chose it because I'd looked at it outside and knew that I couldn't break it because I might have bought it if I'd seen it at the op shop.

I sat at a table by myself and tried to put this broken-beyond-repair, no-longer-wanted, cheaply-made, not-at-all-significant, maybe-once-loved object back together. Maybe I should do the hugging a stranger one, wearing a onsie?

I gave up on glue and used sticky tape (and because the glue was getting mixed with the smear of my blood that I didn't notice until I was trying to put white sides together).

Other people made new objects from their chosen pieces. There was an amazing pink head piece – "It's very Machine Dazzle" someone said; we all got the reference – and a doll made from a paint brush. People sat together and chatted as they made something new.

I only got up and talked because I had to be at another show and couldn't stay any longer. If I wasn't time restricted, I wouldn't have left until I'd somehow stuck that tea pot back together.

Step four: place your new object with all the others that have been made earlier.

08 March 2018

Review: A Little Night Music

A Little Night Music
Watch This

1 March 2018
The National Thearte
to 3 March

A Little Night Music. Nadine Garner & JOhn O'May. Photo by Jodi Hutchison

Independent company Watch This are working their way though all the Sondheim musicals for us and if they could get some more financial support – musicals are expensive to put on – they'd be able to do them all and start again. We're not going stop wanting to see Sondheim shows. The only thing holding this company back is resources.

A Little Night Music had a very short run in Geelong and the so-gorgeous 1920s National Theatre in St Kilda, and finishes this weekend with a sold-out run at the Whitehouse Centre in Nunawading. How exciting to see shows moving out of the inner-city circle of theatres and reaching new audiences.

Nadine Garner's role defining performance as Desiree – "Send in the Clowns" – is unforgettable. She captures being middle aged and beginning to fade into invisibility, but still feeling 20 and searching for a slither hope in the jaded outlook she's developed to cope. Combined with exceptional musical direction and vocals, it's a production that should be welcomed back, after some time and development

Inspired by an Ingmar Bergman film, A Little Night Music opened on Broadway in 1973 and won Tonys. Set in Sweden in a summer where the sun doesn't set and offer the relief and darkness of night, it's about the frustration and infuriation of love, sex and relationships – "love's disgusting, love's insane".

If you've seen, or are planning to see, the utterly exquisite National Theatre production of Follies, that still has some screenings at the Nova, Sondheim wrote A Little Night Music after Follies. Both have incredible roles for women, especially older women, and relationships – sexual, romantic and familial –  that are so complex that multiple viewings only reveal more complexity.

Music director Daniele Buatti creates a strong layered sound from the orchestra of five (despite having a problematic sound mix in the National) and lets individual voices shine and bring their own twist and sound to the music. How good would it be if they had the resources to record?

But there's a gap between the music and the direction and characters. The direction moves people around the large stage more than letting the relationships between characters control the action. While each performer brings originality and understanding, especially in the songs, the characters, and the world they are in, aren't consistent. The relationship space between them isn't filled with subtext and all the contradictory feelings that they don't tell each other; it's confusing to desperately want to shag someone you hate, or maybe love, or should never even think about.

And this is where support and money is so needed. There's too much amazing work in this production to focus on the elements that distract because they were limited.

The design suffered from feeling a bit too "community theatre" – and could have been more neutral than Spotlight bargain – but this show needs time in the rehearsal room to develop consistency and the tension that lets the audience get drawn into the world and question if what they see is what's actually going in.