28 December 2018

What Melbourne Loved in 2018, part 12

Latecomers are welcome.

Eugyeene Teh
Theatre Maker and Designer

Eugyeene Teh with fake cat because the real cat didn't feel like a photo sesh.

Favourite moments in 2018
The Bachelor Season 17 Episode 5. Completely mind-blowing, subverted, lots of fun and unsuspectingly profound. Created/written by Morgan Rose. I cancelled a ticket to another show and got the last ticket to this sold-out show – so glad I did!

The Fall at Arts Centre Melbourne. Race politics at its most piercing!

Going Down. I had so much fun at this crazy magnificent show! Catherine Davies was out of control as Natalie Yang, loosely based on playwright Michele Lee. I screamed (on the inside, of course,) at how much I related to this character. Finally! Also a bonus to see director Leticia Cáceres step in to play Naomi Rukavina’s role the night she was ill.

Gloria. Cleverly written, punch-in-the-gut subject matter and very sophisticated.

Moral Panic. Magical!

Kill All Adults. A reading of the shortened version of the epic 8+-hour show about everything right now, by Jean Tong, of course.

Looking forward to in 2019
The Golden Shield. So excited about this show, written by hot new favourite Anchuli Felicia King. Australia is starting to explore the intricacies and wonder of the new world superpower, and it will be scintillating!

SM: The maueve fringe dress (and bag) in Suddenly Last Summer. All the costumes in Suddenly Last Summer. Everything we needed to know about each character.  Just glorious.

Myf Clark
Reviewer, arts administrator, Co-director of Girls on Film

Myf Clark

Favourite moments in 2018
While I didn't see as much theatre as I would've liked to this year (but thank you to Anne-Marie and Keith for offering me tickets!), my fave show was actually seen in Sydney (but  coming back to Melbourne). Two words: Calamity Jane. This show bought me so much joy and happiness and Virginia Gay is an absolute goddess and perfect for this role. I had the joy of sitting on stage for the show and even got to become a character, which I absolutely loved (unlike my sister, who tried to hide herself from the performers). If you haven't seen it yet, get on it now – it's filled with love and laughs.

Looking forward to in 2019
I'm so devastated that I missed Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit yet again, so I'm hoping all the babes do something together again soon! I also loved seeing more female playwrights on stage (and I expect this to continue!) and I can't wait to see my beloved La Mama theatre back up and running again!

SM: I can vouch that she was devastated at missing Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit  – again. She will love this show when she finally sees it. I hope the theatre stars align for Myf and she sees everything she wants to see. (And maybe starts writing again.)

Kerith Manderson-Galvin
Performance maker

Kerith Manderson-Galvin

Favourite moments in 2018
Lydia Lunch. I think I had her as best of another year and she was back this year. I went twice and then got her signature tattooed on me. She's clearly left an impression. (hahaha).

Lisa Salvo's remarkable performance at the recent "On Diamond" single launch. I find her astonishing to watch – delicate and unstoppable.

Carrion by Justin Shoulder at Arts House.

My parents get best actors of the year for their performances in A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney.

Skye Gellman's End Grain. Definitely my favourite for the year. This one comes with a little lesson for reviewers - it received a horrible review which not only misgendered Skye but centred the whole review around that misgendering. Hurtful and lazy and I wish that it had followed with an acknowledgment and an apology. (SM: Damn right there should be an apology!)

And I'd rather talk about the show. Which I loved. I took notes with the plan to write a review so I'm glad I can share them. Notes in my phone say: breathtaking, intelligent, humble. Skye is one of a kind. They perform with sensitivity and humour. Being let in on the magic makes it all the more magical. Attempts at art and life. The possibilities of transformation. Dangerous like life is dangerous. For a moment Skye seems so small and the world seems so large and the whole thing is impossible. Skye is swinging around in mid air, barely holding on but somehow making it through. A human show.

Looking forward to in 2019
I haven't bought tickets but I'd like to go see The Prodigy. They put on a great show. And everything at Dance Massive looks incredible. And MECHA: Festival of Experimental Art.

SM: I didn't see Kerith in 2018. But I love that each year they talk about an artist or two that I didn't know and often see in the next year or so. And they chose photos that capture so much. I'd also like to see a new play by them, soon.

24 December 2018

What I loved in 2018: The Best of Melbourne Theatre

The most loved shows of 2018 from "What Melbourne Loved" are Morgan Rose's  The Bachelor S17 E5 at La Mama and Blackie Blackie Brown at Malthouse.

Others with a few mentions are Calamity Jane at Arts Centre Melbourne, Lorelei by Victorian Opera and Stephanie Lake's Colossus at Arts Centre Melbourne for Melbourne Fringe.

I only saw two of these – both of which have repeat seasons in 2019. I was out of the country for the The Bachelor, I was seeing another section of the Fringe program and didn't have a spare night for Colossus, and I tried to see Lorelei but it just wasn't going to happen that week. So, can we have return seasons of all three, please.

I've had a quiet year and only saw about 140 shows this year (that I remember – don't ask).

It's been another challenging year for independent media and for arts criticism. Arts journalists have less avenues for work than even last year. Most reviews are still written by volunteers, and I'm astounded at how many people assume that indie sites and publications earn anything.

At times, the quest for star ratings and poster quotes seems more important than creating conversations or encouraging good writing – your audiences are smarter than that. The personal "banning" of critics is an eye roll; most of us have been banned from at least one show this year. And there are even less opportunities for emerging writers to be trained.

My wish for 2019 is that all companies, especially the funded ones, really start encouraging all critical responses to their shows. I've got lots of ideas if you want to talk.

Outstanding Artists 2017


Michele Lee for Going Down at Malthouse

Going Down. Photo by Phoebe Powell

Special mention

Mary Ann Butler for Broken by Lab Kelpie at fortyfivedownstairs

Broken by Lab Kelpie


The design team of Blackie Blackie Brown at Malthouse
Elizabeth Gadsby (design),  Oh Yeah Wow (animation and video),Verity Hampson (lighting and projection)Steve Toulmin (composition and sound) and  Emily Johnson (concept artist)

Blackie Blackie Brown. Photo by Phoebe Powell

Special mentions

Bronwyn Pringle (lighting) for Colder at Red Stitch

Eugyeene Teh (set and costumes) for Suddenly Last Summer at Red Stitch

Suddenly Last Summer. Photo by Jodie Hutchinson


Paula Arundell, Brenna Harding, Sophie Ross in The Bleeding Tree at Arts Centre Melbourne

The Bleeding Tree

Special mentions

Nadine Garner in A Little Night Music by Watch This

Virginia Gay in Calamity Jane presented by One Eyed Man Productions, Neglected Mulsicals, Hates Theatre Co and Arts Centre Melbourne at Arts Centre Melbourne

Keep an eye on

Lou Wall –  Romeo is not the only fruit; It's not me, it's LouLou Wall's Drag Race


Declan Green for Blackie Blackie Brown at Malthouse

Special mentions

Susie Dee for Broken by Lab Kelpie at fortyfivedownstairs

Richard Carroll for Calamity Jane presented by One Eyed Man Productions, Neglected Mulsicals, Hates Theatre Co and Arts Centre Melbourne at Arts Centre Melbourne. The balance of satire, irony and love was perfect.

Virginia Gay as Calamity Jane



post. Ich Nibber Dibber. Photo by Jacquie Manning

post are Natalie Rose, Mish Grigor and Zoë Coombs Marr. They formed in Sydney but continue to spend a lot of time in Melbourne. I first saw them in 2009 and have loved seeing their development collectively and as individual artists, even if a Last Tuesday Society appearance is still the first thing I remember. They've appeared in the end-of-year Loveds a lot – cos they are awesome.

Life meant that their bloody wonderful Ich Nibber Dibber at Malthouse didn't get a review from me, but I laughed myself almost sick during it from the moment we saw them floating like angels.


EVERYONE at La Mama because it's been a shit year and everyone has been incredible.

Outstanding Productions 2018


Romeo is not the only fruit  presented by The Furies, Jean Tong and Stephanie-Bowie Liew at MICF

Romeo is not the only fruit

Special mentions

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Michael Cassell in association with Paul Blake & Sony/ATV Music Publishing & Mike Bosner

The Dressmaker - a musical adaption developed at Monash University by the Jeanne Pratt Musical Theatre Artists in Residence Program.

I didn't review this because it's still in development; I can't wait to see what happens to it. If it doesn't get a professional production, there's something wrong.

The Dressmaker - a musica adaption. Photo by Sarah Walker


Virgin Bloody Mary by Nadia Collins at MICF

Nadia Collins. Virgin Bloody Mary

Special mentions

Anna Piper Scott and Sophie Joske in Almost Lesbians by Catface Productions at MICF

Almost Lesbians

Fafenefenoiby II: Return of the Ghost Boy by Neal Portenza and no one else even

Neal Portenza. Photo by Richard Watts

Eric The Third – The One Man Sketch Comedy Show by Vicious Fish Theatre at Melbourne Fringe

Scott Gooding as Eric


Mojo Juju, Native Tongue at Arts Centre Melbourne


All the live art experiences at the Mere Mortals program at Arts House.
Including The Infirmary, Bushland and vigil/wake.


Melbourne Writers Festival
Finally a writers festival that celebrates all types of writing and story telling.


Lagrime di San Pietro by Los Angeles Master Chorale at Melbourne Festival

Lagrime di San Pietro

Prize Fighter by La Boite Theatre with Darebin Arts Speakeasy at Melbourne Festival

Prize Fighter. Photo by Dylan Evans

The Director by Lara Thoms and Scott Turnball at Arts House in the Mere Mortals program

The Director. Lara Thoms and Scott Tuyrnball. Photo by Bryony Jackson


Dark Emu by Bangarra Dance Theatre

Dark Emu. Bangarra Dance Theatre



23 December 2018

What Melbourne Loved in 2018, part 11

Today's the end of the 2018 Loveds and go from the tiniest to the largest stages. Tomorrow I publish my Best Of and my favourite moments are included today. If you missed out, I'll add some more in that nothing week between Xmas and New Year.

Tom Dickins
Co-founder of Crowded

Tom Dickins. Photo by Simone Pulga

Favourite moments in 2018
The MICF awards ceremony this year. We had a number of the shows we were presenting up for nominations including two shows nominated for the Golden Gibbo, Cam Venn (at The Butterfly Club) and Double Denim (at Belleville). When Cam was announced as the winner, I looked over at he and his partner, both in tears of shock and happiness and promptly burst into tears myself. To make the occasion all the sweeter, moments later, Double Denim were announced as the winners of the Director's Choice award for the festival and, if I had stopped crying by that point, I quickly resumed the waterworks. Every year, the comedy festival is a huge commitment of time, effort, creativity, passion, fatigue and (hopefully) laughter. Seeing excellent comedians excel at their craft and be recognised for it this year was a pure delight.

Looking forward to in 2019
As much as it terrifies me, I'm looking forward to the massive challenge of MICF 2019. This year we are involved in 101 productions across 11 stages (some 1080 performances in total). We may keel over from sheer exhaustion, but I'm very proud of our 2019 program across Crowded In The Vaults (including Pilgrim), Belleville, Campari House, Tasma Terrace and The Butterfly Club.

SM: Look at those numbers for next year – 101 productions across 11 stages (some 1080 performances in total)! As a producer, Tom and Crowded are amazing. I don't get near to seeing even half of what he produces, but I'm thrilled every time I see a new artists or a new show that he's trusting on a stage. Melbourne's indie cabaret scene would be far smaller and far less exciting without him.

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie Peard. I didn't take a sneaky selfie at Lone.

Favourite moments in 2018
The first time I saw Mojo Juju sing "Native Tongue" (at RIOT at Arts Centre Melbourne). I went on to see her a couple more times during the year. She's incredible.

Hanging out with Jackson in Lone by The Rabble at Arts House.

Every moment of Calamity Jane. Pure joy.

Making #queercrochet for Hir.

Choosing my MICF shows based on being Melbourne Independent Celebratory and Feminist.

Being chosen for audience participation in Cam Venn's Charles Horse Lays An Egg.

Watching the international response to Hannah Gadsby's Nanette. We called that.

Drinking beer in the pub and taking about funerals with Lara Thoms and Scott Turnball.

The industry joining together to support EJ Norvil and Yael Stone.
We also noticed who wasn't supportive.

Looking forward to in 2019
More support of arts writing at all levels.
More understanding that independent writers are not commercial writers.
Less of the "you're not invited" games.
More welcoming of emerging writers and critics to every show – you can't get good if you don't see work.
More diverse critical voices. (A big yay for Witness for finding diverse voices.)
More understanding that reviewing is more than a poster quote.
More caring more about quality writing rather than about stars and adjectives.

And Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I'm not even going to try and be cool and pretend that I'm not counting down the days.

22 December 2018

What Melbourne Loved in 2018, part 10

Three amazing women today who all work (mostly) in independent theatre.

Emilie Collyer
Playwright, dramaturg and curious human

Emilie Collyer. Photo by Ross Daniels

Favourite moments in 2018
My favourite moment was watching Sheree Stewart's show Pilepileta at Theatre Works as part of Melbourne Fringe. A gut punching and also uplifting piece that was everything Fringe is about for me. New voices. New words. New ways of telling stories.

Other moments that have stayed with me are: Kai Bradley's incredible monologue about violence in Rachel Perks and Bridget Balodis's (double water sign) Moral Panic, Peta Murray's intimate and affecting work vigil/wake at Arts House, the power and devastation of Bighouse Dreaming by Declan Furber Gillick (directed by Mark Wilson), and Janelle Da Silva's unclassifiable and ground breaking show Frankghanistan at the Melbourne comedy festival.

Looking forward to in 2019
The real gems will pop during the year of course. But of things I know about, I am excited to see Queer Lady Magician by Creatrix Tiara. I missed it at Fringe so am thrilled it's having another life at Midsumma. Also looking forward to The Butch Monologues at Theatre Works for Midsumma, Jenny Kemp directing Caryl Churchill's Escaped Alone at Red Stitch and the collaboration between Alison Croggon and The RabbleMy Dearworthy Darling, at Malthouse.

SM: Emilie's play Contest really needs a second season, but what I love this year about Emilie is that she sees lots of shows. She knows so much about indie theatre in Melbourne because she's out there seeing it and supporting it.

Alia Vryens
One half of comedy duo PickUp

Alia Vyrens. Photo by Jamie Breen, Very Serious Photography

Favourite moments in 2018
Jude Perl's I Have a Face really got me in the guts. The show was light and incredibly skilled. Jude's composition is so unusual and delightful... but really it all boiled down to the last song, which really hit me when she sang about being in a group of your friends and still feeling alone.

I don't often cry in theatre, let alone comedy cabaret, but Telia Nevile's Untitled No. 7 was the show I saw right after Jude's, on the same night. It was a fairy tale about the dangers of being cursed with a knowledge that you are special and deserve to be gifted the golden key to success. This also suckered me in the guts... so many of us independent artists are striving, pushing, working, running, climbing to reach this level of 'success' that I'm not sure everyone really understands. Both of these shows, back to back, made me reassess myself a little, and made me desperate for a wine.

 Zoë Coombs Marr's Bossy Bottom. As an aspiring comedian, I'm in awe of what Zoe did with this show. It was clever and funny and crafty and stupid and intelligent and personal and witty and genius. It was everything that I hope to one day make.

Looking forward to in 2019
My favourite types of performance are when genres are smashed together, when comedy is staged and crafted as intelligently as "real" theatre, and moves and impacts you just as much as something serious. I love it when music can play an integral part of the storytelling, and when the laughs make you think about something new. So, I'm mostly looking forward to the fringe stuff in 2019. I don't get excited by a lot of big shows (honestly, I can't afford to see any of it...),  I'm excited by the independent artists working in festivals or doing it on their own, smashing ideas around and making beautiful things inside incredibly limited budgets.

 But if I have to answer in one sentence? I have to be self-serving and say PickUp's, new show –Nerds are Sexy (for MICF at The Butterfly Club) – and the evolution of our long-running music variety night Funny Music Mondays.

SM: This week's Christmas Funny Music Monday was the just fabulous – seeing Sammy J and Randy back at the B Club was special – and my birthday was on a Monday this year. Being a significant age, there was an assumption that I'd do something and I was never going to get to it. So, a free show with awesomely funny people at a club that serves great cocktails was perfect! Funny Music Mondays is back next year.

Jean Tong
Writer, dramaturg

Jean Tong

Favourite moments in 2018
The Fall at Arts Centre Melbourne. Brilliant, heart-wrenching, relevant. It comes with my favourite Q&A moment that saw the audience being told that white people should hang tight and give POC space to ask their questions first... followed by three white ladies taking up the full Q&A time with zero hesitation. SPACE. Who gets to take it up?

Highlights: seeing Prize Fighter multiple times while audio describing the show; getting drunk and watching the baby onstage disrupt/become the performance in Baby Cake; watching an audience full of Potter fans absolutely losing it for Puffs silliest/funniest gags.

Looking forward to in 2019
Watching Anchuli Felicia King take over Melbourne and Sydney theatre, and inevitably the rest of Australia, too.

Truly Madly Britney by Stage Moms; Mama Alto and Maude Davey's Gender EuphoriaThird Nature by Raina Peterson and Govind Pillai; Beast by Krishna Istha – Midsumma 2019 delivering the goods.

Hopefully seeing the sector take responsibility for its abusive power structures. Not just the big names getting (finally) outed, but the directors who condoned that behaviour, the ADs who prioritise box office over the safety of their employees, a hierarchy which disempowers people from being honest out of fear of reprisal, etc.

SM: Watching Jean develop as one of our most exciting new playwrights has been a highlight for me this year. I saw Romeo is not the only fruit, Hungry Ghosts and After Hero (co-writer). An indie, a main stage and a university show. Each one exploring stories and that are missing from our stages.

But listen to what she says about making space for voices. And do it. Making space means that sometimes some of us have to shut up, even if it's about something we want to scream about. Often,  best way to support is to stand aside and let other people speak.

21 December 2018

What Melbourne Loved in 2018, part 9

Today we move from the comedy festival to the the Fringe and celebrate all the opera that's made in Melbourne.

Lou Wall
Lou (lol)

Favourite moments in 2018
Witnessing Natalie Palamides live swallow 17 raw eggs dressed as a chicken in Laid at MICF was probably the best and filthiest piece of theatre I have ever seen – a life highlight. Honourable mentions go to Nakkiah Lui's fierce as fuck Blackie Blackie Brown at Malty, a mind-blowing production of The Fall at Arts Centre Melbourne  and I Wanna Know What Love Is at Chapel off Chapel. And, obv, Virginia Gay as Calamity Jane was everything.

Looking forward to in 2019
Alberto Di Troia's Truly Madly Britney at Theatre Works is 100% going to be the gay christmas my January needs. After seeing a reading of it at MTC's Cybec this year I can't wait for the full production. (Tbh I am in it, but I'm still damn excited to see it from the wings lol). Also keen to see Golden Shields at MTC and finally catch Muriel's Wedding when it makes its way to the superior city.

SM: 2018 has been a pretty amazing year for Lou Wall. I saw her in the return seasons of Romeo is not the only fruit and It's not me, it's Lou at MICF –  she did two different shows most nights! – and the wonderful Lou Wall's Drag Race at Melbourne Fringe. This, too, has to come back; it was the show where she found her voice as an artist – while showing us how some fucked attitudes to gender are going to disappear as the next generations take over our stages. My favourite moment was talking with her about Betty Grumble and her telling me how she took her mum to the show. As I walked away, I realised that I am possibly older than her mum.

Danny Delahunty
Festival Producer, Melbourne Fringe

Danny Delahunty. Photo by Sarah Walker

Favourite moments in 2018
So hard to choose just one! So here are my two. Break Up [We Need To Talk] by New Zealand ensemble Binge Culture. It was a five hour (improvised) durational performance, with five actors playing out an argument that ends a long-term relationship. They rotated between playing either the protagonist, or as part of a four-person chorus of their partner. Beautiful, funny, touching, and very very moreish.

Just as much a standout moment in my year was Bighouse Dreaming. Technically excellent – writing (Declan Furber Gillick), direction (Mark Wilson), performances, vision, execution – it all had it for me. But more than that it was such an incredibly powerful work that knocked me down for days.

Looking forward to in 2019
Ah, it's so early! But from things I've already got tickets to, I'm super looking forward to The Legend of Queen Kong at Arts Centre Melbourne! Oh, and finding out why they had to rip out and rebuild the whole Princess Theatre stage to accommodate special effects in Harry Potter and The Cursed Child! I have tix in the middle of Row E for the second week that cost me as much as a house deposit, so I don't have long to wait!

SM: I sat with Danny for the end of Break Up [We Need To Talk]; I wish I'd seen more of it.

Paul Selar
Opera critic

Paul Selar

Favourite moments in 2018

As far as opera went, a rather well-balanced season of works fired up the local scene. I’m not giving too much away right now because all will be revealed in my humble Twitter evening on 27 December in the Fouth Annual OperaChaser Awards, my fun way of acknowledging the production achievements and breadth of talent across the medium.

Of the government-funded companies, Opera Australia pulled off a riveting little masterpiece for its first foot in the door with Malthouse Theatre for Brian Howard’s Metamorphosis. I haven’t ever experienced the Malthouse feel so capacious and director Tama Matheson brought together an insightful fusion of disturbing drama and discordant soundscape and transformed it into an extraordinary and inquiring theatrical experience.

I also loved director Kasper Holten’s wildly imaginative interpretation of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Opera Australia’s big-budget co-production with London’s Royal Opera. What was so rewarding about this production was how Holten’s hybrid storytelling mixed theatrical illusion with characters reinterpreted as part of the theatre and it still leaves so much to ponder.

As state company Victorian Opera’s appearances on the calendar in Melbourne were thin, it seemed so wasteful that such a seductive and ethereal quality that was created for Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande was all but over in just two performances. A superlative cast, creatives and young musicians from ANAM worked marvellously together to produce a work of exceptionally high standard.

On the independent scene, Melbourne Opera continued to pull off some ambitious and exquisitely staged hard-hitting work. In particular, there’ll be mentions for Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier.

Smaller independent players were less prominent but Gertrude Opera made history in bringing Poul Ruders’s The Handmaid’s Tale to the stage in its Australian premiere. Ruders’s score is a spectacular conglomeration of sonic form and director Linda Thompson gave its disturbing story an absolutely thrilling account in a knockout simple production as part of her inaugural Yarra Valley Opera Festival.

For more, come join me with champagne on Twitter @OperaChaser at 5 pm 27 December for the enjoyment it gives me to announce all.

Looking forward to in 2019
I’m looking forward to everything Melbourne can do in showcasing the art of opera. At least the year will be starting well with more Wagner in February with not one, but two fully staged productions: Melbourne Opera’s The Flying Dutchman and Victorian Opera’s Parsifal. It’s 2020 I’m concerned about. After so much gorgeously produced Wagner works Melbourne has been treated to in the last few years, what will it be like without him?

SM: I see shows vicariously though Paul. He sees work I'll never have the chance to see (os) but I feel like I have when I read his reviews.

20 December 2018

What Melbourne Loved in 2018, part 8

Declan, Joshua and Rohan would make for strange dinner party, but I wouldn't miss it. Today we go from tiny Fringe venues to opera stages, and three more great pics.

Declan Greene
Half o' Sisters Grimm + Resident Artist at Malthouse Theatre

Declan Greene in Hills Hoist and fake Birkenstocks

Favourite moments in 2018

This year was crazy, and I didn’t get to see as much stuff as I normally do – totally missed most of Midsumma, Melbourne Fringe, MIAF. But these three shows below stuck with me, in a really peculiar way, because I’m a playwright and they’re all nearly wordless. IDK why. Maybe it was the glut of contradictory think-pieces in my newsfeed or politicians skull-fucking us with doublespeak, but at some point this year I think I started feeling exhausted by language and its limitations.

Carrion Justin Shoulder at Arts House.
The visual and sonic design of this piece of post-human performance on evolution and adaption was fucking astounding start to finish, with an incredible performance by Justin Shoulder.

The Howling Girls Damien Ricketson and Adena Jacobs at Carriage Works.
Mind-blowing contemporary opera about the effect of trauma on language, performed for the first 20 minutes in near total darkness – and then midway it suddenly detonated into explosive light and non-verbal vocal scoring. When it ended I realised I’d been tensing my whole body for its entire 50-minute duration.

friendships at Hugs&Kisses.
OK this was a music gig so not technically a piece of theatre, but it still felt more complete as a work of live art than a lot of stuff I saw this year. No single moment I can remember as a stand-out. It was one set of unbroken sound and live video-mixing that journeyed from soundscapes of cyborg voices struggling to speak into crushing, mind-melting beats, with fragments of language rising to the surface: ‘was i good’, ‘are u still there’ ‘i forgot where i am’. Video of mutating children in a digital soup giving way to rushing 3-D landscapes. I can’t explain it properly but it took me out of my body, totally transporting.

Also loved Vic Opera's Lorelei a lot, as well as the Next Move double-bill – Nether and Dharawungara – at Chunky Move. Incred.

Looking forward to in 2019
The whole Malthouse 2019 season but especially Zoey Dawson’s amazingly cooked mainstage debut Australian Realness. Krishna Istha’s Beast for Midsumma. Melanie Lane’s Nightdance for Dance Massive. The Very Good Looking Initiative’s incredibly named Poopy Tum Tums at the Comedy Festival. And Ivo Van Hoove’s queer All About Eve on the West End with Gillian Anderson and PJ Harvey, after I find a wealthy benefactor who will fly me over to see it (just putting it into the ether thnxxxxxx). (SM: as long as you bring me as your chaperone.)

SM: Dec directed Blackie Blackie Brown: it's one of those shows that people are going to talk about in the years to come and a lot of us can say, "Yeah, I saw it". It's back next year.

Joshua Ladgrove
Neal Portenza

Joshua Ladgrove

Favourite moments in 2018

Born Prepared: 1980s Brownie GuideMegan McKay at Melbourne Fringe.

Looking forward to in 2019
I'm not sure. I tend to not look too far into the future. I'm hoping for the complete downfall of the Holy Roman Catholic Church and the subsequent musical that follows.

SM: I don't like the star-rating system for shows – read the words – but I take it seriously when I give stars. If I add them up, Josh/Neal have had the most stars from me. Fafenefenoiby II: Return of the Ghost Boy was his last show. But, last shows don't stick for the good ones. As for a moment: I saw Fafenefenoiby twice and it was every time he guessed the names of the audience. Fuck his sophisticated, heart-breaking, fuck-yeah comedy, give me a mind-reading trick every time!

Rohan Shearn
Managing Editor, Australian Arts Review

Rohan Peron

Favourite moments in 2018
Once again, we were spoilt for choice this year as the commercial and independent sector delivered a mixed bag of delights. But three shows have resonated with me this year:

Calamity Jane
Big, bold, brash and brassy, Richard Carroll’s exuberant re-imagining of the 1950’s cult film hits its target in every department. Central to its success is Virginia Gay’s brilliant performance as Calamity Jane. A gift that keeps on giving, it is currently playing a sold out encore season at Arts Centre Melbourne before transferring to the Comedy Theatre in January.

Commissioned by Arts Centre Melbourne as part of the Melbourne Fringe Take Over! initiative, Colossus was excitingly compelling and mesmerising as 50 dancers converged on the Fairfax stage. A surprise hit of the Melbourne Fringe, Stephanie Lake’s work was worthy of a main-stage festival offering.

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
A co-production with the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Opera Australia’s new production by celebrated director Kasper Holten was a grand and extravagant night in the State Theatre. Wagner aficionados were not disappointed with an all-star cast and Mia Stensgaard’s set – that was one of the largest ever seen in Melbourne.

Looking forward to in 2019
Muriel’s Wedding the Musical
Directed by Simon Phillips, a theatrical version of PJ Hogan’s iconic hit film features music and lyrics by Australian award winning songwriters Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall. I was lucky to see MW during its premiere Sydney run in late 2017. With a new cast, it will look absolutely gorgeous in Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s Theatre.

Come From Away
This Tony Award–winning musical tells the true story of the 38 planes and more than 6500 passengers who were unexpectedly forced to land in Gander, Newfoundland in Canada after the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York. Writers David Hein and Irene Sankoff used hundreds of interviews taken from the community in Gander to deliver a powerful message about the kindness of strangers. A terrific all-Australian cast will bring this show to life at the Comedy Theatre in July.

The Lady in the Van
Alan Bennett’s mostly true story of the fascinating relationship between the award-winning British writer and his long-term guest. Starring the effervescent Miriam Margolyes as the eccentric and cantankerous Miss Shepherd – The Lady in the Van will be a great opener for MTC in 2019.

It has been 20 years since the stage adaptation of Tim Winton’s award-winning novel, Cloudstreet has been presented on the Merlyn Stage. Matthew Lutton directs an all-star cast in this epic production that chronicles the lives of two working class families in Perth in –World War II Australia.

SM: Rohan and I don't agree about a lot of shows, but he's still the person I totally trust if I'm not sure if I should see a musical. Or if I need to know anything about any show that's been on in the last 30 to 40 years.  Australian Arts Review is another independent arts media site that keeps covering more shows and artists than any of the mastheads. Maybe 2019 needs to be the year when indie arts media gets the love it deserves.

18 December 2018

What Melbourne Loved in 2018, part 7

Today, we celebrate more indie shows.

Penelope Bartlau
Artistic Director, Barking Spider Visual Theatre
Creative Projects Director, Women's Circus

Penelope Bartlau. Nicked from FB, possibly taken by Jason Lehane.

Favourite moments in 2018
1. MUST's End Transmission: the most insane, intricate set I have ever experienced (go Jason Lehane!) – a spaceship with crystals growing and secret doors and hidden rooms

2. Women's Circus 2018 Cabaret PLACE  because I laughed so hard, gasped and cried.

3. Daniel Lammin's Sneakyville, at fortyfivedownstairs, for what was not revealed and for fabulous, unexpected directorial choices.

4. In a Heartbeat at La Mama, just before Fringe, because audiences had the best time.

Looking forward to in 2019
More unexpected work in weird-arse places.

SM: Goodness, I adored In a Heartbeart. I really did have the best time.

Fleur Kilpatrick
Playwright, director, enthuser 

Fleur Kilpatick and the company of "Terrestrial", State Theatre Company SA
Photo by Kate Pardy

Favourite moments in 2018
It was in The Bachelor Season 17, Episode 5. It was a very quiet moment. The Bachelor had just approached one of the contestants and had 'can I steal you for a second'ed her. They left the stage. In an episode of The Bachelor, the camera would have followed them but, in that theatre, we did not. They were gone and we were left to stare at the other contestants. The ones who weren't picked. And they sat. In silence. One ate a chip. That crunch of the chip on that silent stage, these candidates at love held in stasis: that was my favourite moment.

Looking forward to in 2019
I'm very excited about the programming from Theatre Works, Darebin and, up in the south-east, MLIVE. But, most importantly, I am looking forward to us as a community confronting some demons in 2019 and, hopefully, making our workplaces safer, more respectful and more generous as a result. I'm really hopeful that 2019 will be the year we do away with the idea that there are different sets of rules for creative work places: everyone has the right to feel safe and respected at work. Bring it on.

SM: It's a bit meta, but I love that Fleur's new work Whale has already been mentioned a lot as something people are looking forward to in 2019.

Tim Byrne
Theatre critic, Performing Arts Editor – Time Out Melbourne

Tim Byrne. Photo by Sophie Reid

Favourite moments in 2018
I can pinpoint the precise moment this year because I had a jolting physical reaction to it, as involuntary as it was thrilling. At one point in Stephanie Lake's Colossus the cast of dancers rushed screaming at the audience and the kinetic energy, that sense of the potential and the danger of the human body en masse, felt like a shock of electricity through my own body. It was a terrifying moment, political and primordial at once, and one I'm unlikely to forget.

Looking forward to in 2019
Given that, I can't wait for Stephanie's follow-up work at Malthouse for Dance Massive, Skeleton Tree. It is about grief and the ritual of grieving, and should prove a highlight of the dance calendar. I was very pleased to see Stephen Nicolazzo tackle and triumph with Tennessee Williams's Suddenly Last Summer this year; I'm hoping to see him turn to Joe Orton next, maybe with (hint, hint) Loot or Entertaining Mr Sloane. They'd make a good match, that pair.

SM: I still read Tim's reviews, especially if I totally disagree – oh, I do – or if it's a show I didn't see. I also love that he notices if I'm not around.

17 December 2018

What Melbourne Loved in 2018, part 6

Today, we remember that our theatre community is far more than just the people on stage.

Sarah Walker

Sarah Walker. Photo by Jordon Prosser

Favourite moments in 2018
I photographed three productions by Western Edge Youth Arts this year, and they all totally blew me away. Casts of young people, aged between 12 and 25, almost all from migrant communities, tackled Antigone and Romeo and Juliet with such power, passion, humour and wickedness. I was floored.

There were so many moments just in those three performances: Young Samoan performers stepping in and out of character with whiplash speed to comment on their own experiences of tradition, honour and ceremony. Somali girls agonising over exactly what it felt like to be turned into an object, when unpacking the Montague/Capulet conflict in Romeo and Juliet. Polynices reframed as a young black man enraged by the system and reclaiming power the only way he knew how. A young man playing Creon, soliciting press questions from the audience and answering them more deftly than any real politician I’ve seen.

They were the most exciting, innovative and thrilling performances I saw all year, and they reminded me what theatre can and should be. Huge props to the staff and directors there who are giving so much of themselves to make space for new voices. Terrific stuff.

Looking forward to in 2019
I’ve been working with Fleur Kilpatrick for 10 years, and to be in the room with her and a collection of incredible, intelligent women for the development of Whale has been just so exciting. I can’t wait to be part of giving that show a life next year. I think it’s going to be a real good one.

SM: Sarah and I talked about ghosts for a project she was making; I loved that.

Robert Reid

Robert Reid. An old publicity shot

Favourite moments in 2018
Contest, by Emilie Collyer. Incredible text staged by a fiercely intelligent team. My review at Witness Performance.

Prize Fighter by Future D Fidel, Powerful story, powerful writing, powerful performance, great theatre. See My review at Witness Performance.

Pre-Historic, Elbow Room, great story, great writer, great performances, plucky and spunky and smart and fun. My review at Witness Performance.

My Sister Feather by Olivia Satchel, most human show i saw all year, two performers at their best with two great characters by a great writer. My review at Witness Performance.

The Infirmary, Triage Live Art Collective, dark, light, deep, affecting. My review at Witness Performance.

Calamity Jane. One Eyed Man. Pure joy. My review at Witness Performance.

Looking forward to in 2019
Looking forward to? Dunno. The Cloud Street remount at Malthouse ... my production of The Bacchae at the Courthouse ... big shows I guess ... epic five hour long shows.

SM: I was sitting next to Rob during a Melbourne Festival show. He'd lost his voice and was communicating by writing messages on his phone. At the end of the show, I asked him to tell me his thoughts in an emoji. He nailed it. He still wrote a long and complete review, but that emoji was still perfect.

Carla Donnelly
Critic, podcaster
Across the Aisle

Carla Donnelly

Favourite moments in 2018
2018 saw so many incredible works. My stand outs include Blackie Blackie Brown  – which is essentially the play I never knew I always wanted and could have. Blackie Blackie Brown was an outstanding feat of stage craft; so many things I have never seen on the stage coming together in one riot of unapologetic blackness, super hera-ness and feminism (and death).
The BBB episode.

Sandy Greenwood's performance in Matriarch is one I couldn't stop thinking about for days. In a inter-generational story about exploring cultural identity and trauma, she truly channelled the four women in her family and brought them all into the room with her. Her performance was absolutely mesmerising.

Bighouse Dreaming (Melbourne Fringe killed it this year) was another that stayed on my mind for a long time. An extremely well written and directed play clearly articulating the dehumanisation of Indigenous people in all facets of this colonial world – especially when coming into touch with power. This show (and many others at Fringe) gave me that total wonder of alchemy; how artists can create something from nothing and put it on with very little but deliver works that are so powerful.

Other favourite shows of the year: The Nose by The Bloomshed, Love Song Dedications by Ten Tonne Sparrow, Lone by The Rabble, The Nightingale and the Rose by Little Ones Theatre and The Infirmary by Triage Live Art Collective.

Looking forward to in 2019
Barbara and the Camp Dogs!! The Legend of Queen Kong.

SM: My favourite moment is happening right now as I listen to Across the Aisle. There are so many great discussions about Melbourne theatre. We need to do more to get them all heard far more!

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.

23 December 2018

SM: I really really thought I'd written this. I'm so  sorry.
I loved the return of Eric, Eric the Third, at Melbourne Fringe; it was an absolute highlight. Middle-aged white straight men can do amazing comedy about middle-aged straight white men. And he wrote and performed Robert in Crisis at La Mama. This is genre writing at its best and I still don't want to give anything about this away because it really needs to be developed and seen again.

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 

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.