19 October 2018

Melbourne Festival: A Ghost in My Suitcase

A Ghost in My Suitcase
Barking Gecko Theatre
18 October 2018
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 21 October

"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.


Song For A Weary Throat

Presented with Arts Centre Melbourne
13 October 2018
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 14 October

"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


curious directive
presented with Theatre Works
12 October 2018Theatre Works
to 14 October

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.


Prize Fighter
La Boite Theatre

in association with Darebin Arts Speakeasy
11 October 2018
Northcote Town Hall
to 21 October

"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.

11 October 2018


Fire Gardens
Compagnie Carabosse
Presented with Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria 
10 October 2018
Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria
to 13 October

Photos by the amazing Sarah Walker 

Fire Gardens. MIAF 2018. Photo by Sarah Walker

If you don't have a ticket to the Fire Gardens, I don't think there's any chance of getting one. It sold out, and the extra tickets sold out. And it's a flaming reminder that families and groups of friends and all sorts of wonderful people want to go to affordable spectacular events at festivals.

Last night, the Botanic Gardens was full of people rugged up in black coats, and this may be the only festival show many buy tickets for. For many of them MIAF 2018 will always be memories of fire in the the gardens. This kind of event lets so many people experience the spectacle of art; it's so much more exciting than the Moomba fireworks.

My date for the evening was seven-year-old Isiah who totally accepted that the gardens would be full of fire, and live music, and old radios, and swing chairs, and kinetic sculptures made from old clocks that balance on high wires, and "whirlwinds of fire".

Because you are welcome to get close, we could see how the fires were lit, look at the coal in wire baskets, ask what liquid was being poured into the fire pits (acetone), and wonder how deep the water in the lake is and how they light the sculptures floating in the water (by boat; we saw their boats).

It's creepy and magnificent and coming around a corner to see spheres of fire on the lake makes you remember that we say breathtaking because you stop breathing for a moment.

If you've got a ticket, rug up, wear something that isn't black so that you can see your friends in the dark – it IS dark –, explore, sit, and imagine being in every apocalyptic novel you've loved or sci fi world you've imagined.

As no one can take a good phone photo of fire in the dark, here are some of Sarah Walker's amazing photos.

Fire Gardens. MIAF 2018. Photo by Sarah Walker

Fire Gardens. MIAF 2018. Photo by Sarah Walker

Fire Gardens. MIAF 2018. Photo by Sarah Walker

Fire Gardens. MIAF 2018. Photo by Sarah Walker
Fire Gardens. MIAF 2018. Photo by Sarah Walker

Fire Gardens. MIAF 2018. Photo by Sarah Walker

Fire Gardens. MIAF 2018. Photo by Sarah Walker

Fire Gardens. MIAF 2018. Photo by Sarah Walker

Fire Gardens. MIAF 2018. Photo by Sarah Walker

PS. We unintentionally queue jumped when we were getting chips at the end of the night – and are really sorry.

08 October 2018

06 October 2018

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL: Lagrime di San Pietro

Lagrime di San Pietro
Los Angeles Master Chorale
6 October 2018 
Melbourne Festival
Elisabeth Murdoch Hall , Melbourne Recital Centre
to 7 October


One of my favourite sounds in a theatre is silence. The silence of anticipation that calms the ever-constant brain chatter. The silence that meditation promises. The silence of the full audience between the 21 madrigals in Lagrime di San Pietro was almost as exquisite as the work itself.

The Los Angeles Master Chorale are 21 voices singing 21 seven-part Renaissance madrigals a capella (no instruments). The music was written in 1594 by Orlando di Lasso (1530–1594). He died weeks after finishing the piece and it’s filled with every unfulfilled emotion that he needed to express before his death.

Set to the poetry of Luigi Tansillo (1510–1568), it’s about Saint Peter’s grief when he pretended not to know Jesus on the day of his crucifixion. That’s a lot of complex shame, self-hatred and hope for forgiveness. Would we deny the person we loved most to save ourselves? Could we forgive ourselves or let them forgive us?

Led by conductor Jenny Wong, the singers almost casually wander onto the stage. Their costumes look like they were asked to choose something casual from their home wardrobe.

Then they sing. It’s as close to perfect as imperfect human voices can be. They sing as one. No voice stands out. It’s like each singer sings only to support the 20 others. No part dominates, and the remarkably consistent tone is helped by there always being a male voice singing with the women and a female voice singing with the men.

That alone would have been glorious, but it’s only the beginning.

Director Peter Sellars and artistic director Grant Gershon find the human in what’s so often presented as serious and reverent choral music.

When Sellars directs opera and music, I don’t think he sees a finished product that needs to sound magnificent. He seems to start where the composer started – with an empty page, doubt and a need to find a way to express what they were feeling. Music and art come from same emotions that every one of us has and his work finds the “just like me” in the complexity of music. Find the human connection and the emotion and the music follows.

This chorus of singers move. The movement isn’t dance; it’s relatively simple and often obviously demonstrative, and it doesn’t take long to realise that Danielle Domingue Sumi’s designs are made for each performer and have as many shades of emotional gray as the content being sung.

None are dancers, but they move like they sing; no one stands out, no one seems awkward or out of place. They move with each other while bringing themselves into every moment.

While they are always performing as a group, every note, movement and expression feels personal and that could be why the audience found the clear and soul-calming silence.

Lagrime di San Pietro is extraordinary. There’s one more performance tonight.

04 October 2018


16 Lovers Lane
Lindy Morrison, Amanda Brown and too many more to name
6 October 2018

Cover shots from "16 Lovers Lane" The Go-Betweens

In 1988, my favourite album was 16 Lovers Lane by The Go-Betweens. I played my cassette copy more than New Order's Substance. I also went to every Go-Betweens gig that I could get to; so many pub band rooms.

Thirty years later, I interviewed Lindy and Amanda about this album and what it's like to revisit it all these years later.

On Saturday night, I get to see some of them again in plush seats at the State Theatre.

Here's the interview on The Music.

PS. I also got to sneak in a bit of an interview I did with Grant in 2000.

And here's me in Brisbane in 1988.