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
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

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.




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