06 December 2018

What Melbourne Loved in 2018, part 3

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

Ash Flanders
a festival of dangerous ideas dressed in stained pyjamas

Ash Flanders/Norman Bates. Selfie. 

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel Lammin
Engaged means presents!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jane Miller
15 Minutes from Anywhere

Jane Miller

Favourite moments in 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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