31 March 2019

MICF: Hannah Gadsby – Douglas

Hannah Gadsby
A Token event
Arts Centre Melbourne, Hamer Hall (moving to Playhouse)
28 March 2019
To 7 April

Douglas, Hannah Gadsby

My review is in Time Out.

MICF: Hans – Like a German

Hans – Like a German
29 March 2019
Beckett Theatre, Coopers Malthouse
to 7 April

Hans. Like a German

A German(ish) man wearing thigh-high fishnets, all the sequins from Spotlight and a Bavarian hat with extra purple plumes plays an accordion and sings Yothu Yindi's "Treaty"

What more do you need to know.

Hans knows his favourite things – and "raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens" is so much better with a strangling Kurt Weil twist.

Hans is Like a German. A German from Berlin (possibly a suburb of Adelaide) who can't decide if he loves Madonna puns more than The Sound of Music. And why should anyone have to make such an unthinkable choice.

Too much is never too much for Hans.

Nor for his sold-out audience, who were singing along from the first song and knew the words to all the songs from the 1980s (except the 16-year-old who came with her mum). Some even knew that he'd been on America's Got Talent and were eager to hear some of the feedback he got from confused Americans who genuinely thought that he's not German.

Hans proudly admits he's as tasteless as vodka, but vodka can sure make for a great night out.

30 March 2019

MICF: The Worst Little Warehouse in London

The Worst Little Warehouse in LondonLala Barlow and Robbie Smith 
Joe C Brown and The Butterfly Club
29 March
The Butterfly Club
to 31 March

Lala Barlow, Robbie Smith 

Couple Lala Barlow and Robbie Smith left Melbourne in 2016 to live in London. Maybe they'd be discovered and perform on the West End, maybe they'd get a tiny room in a converted share warehouse and live with people far more fascinating than anything on the West End. And write a cabaret musical about it.

Lucky for us they went with option two.

The Worst Little Warehouse in London was loved in Edinburgh and Adelaide fringes. And rightly so; it's an absolute joy. Sure they use some Aussies-in-the-UK cliches but their original approach makes even a joke about London rain feel fresh.

With a keyboard centre stage and the ideal amount of props to represent each housemate, Lala and Robbie combine famous musicals music (try and name them all!) and original material to take us into the warehouse with them and their new bathroom baskets.

The story is more character than narrative, which is exactly what it should be. Each of the 12 housemates is created with the kind of love that overcomes the most terrifying of housemate behaviour, be it the poo that covers the bathroom, using up all the internet by streaming a sex show, or writing performance poetry. And it's hard not to love them too, as we are always laughing with and not at them. Ok, mostly laughing with them.

The keyboard looks awkward at first but it quickly becomes the third player on stage as they play it together, dance with it and let it be as versatile as a share-house carton of beer. Their transitions between housemates are seemlessly clumsy and the choreography to have all 12 housemates on stage at once has to be seen. And there's space to ad lib and talk to the audience; it's their story after all.

The Worst Little Warehouse in London only has a short run at MICF. They are sold out tonight, but there are seats for the last show tomorrow (Sunday).

I'm sure it will be back, but it'd be wonderful to see their last show sold out as well.

And hand around for the next show in the space: Onstage Dating – which should also be sold out.

27 March 2019

Review: Muriel's Wedding

Muriel's Wedding: The Musical
Global Creatures in association with Sydney Theatre Company
23 March 2019
Her Majesty's Theatre
to 16 June

"Muriel's Wedding". Melbourne. Photo by Jeff Busby

A new Australian musical. A phrase full of so much hope and an equal amount of fear; goodness, we've seen some duds. A musical adaption of a film. A phrase full of ... yep, we've seen them, too.  Muriel's Wedding: The Musical is both and, as Muriel and Rhonda would say, it's fucking amazing, and, legit, one of the coolest shows I've seen.

And it's ours. It feels like us, looks like us, bloody sounds like us and might be the show that runs all over the world.

In 1994, PJ Hogan's film Muriel's Wedding was an unexpected hit. If you haven't seen it, you should because a lot of the love for this musical comes from knowing, loving and referencing the film. Future productions may be able to step away from the source, but not yet.

With Hogan adapting his film script and working closely with director Simon Phillips and all the collaborators, it's far from a stage version of the film. It updates the story – you know it – to today with sad and lonely Sunshine-coaster millennial Muriel being as obsessed with social media as she is with ABBA. It expands some characters, especially Betty (Muriel's mum) and Brice (Muriel's first pash) and changes enough to make it a story about now; although, it would be even cooler to lose the 1990's race jokes and have a few less fat jokes.

Most importantly, it takes the story off the subtle screen, where silence, close ups and subtext bring us into character's heads, and into a world that lets us in with song and theatricality. Here, ABBA are out of Muriel's imagination and in her life as guardian angels, who don't always know what's best for her; Brice climbs to the top of Sydney to send a text; and Betty can dance as she makes her heart breaking choice.

"Muriel's Wedding". Melbourne. Photo by Jeff Busby

The first welcome into the world is Gabriela Tylesova's design. The stage is solid-block bright colours that let the action focus to a bedroom and expand to a city – the Sydney Harbour Bridge has never looked better on a stage. And it's framed with a proscenium of fuchsia-pink leaves and petals that could be tongues, scattered with mobile phones to share Insta pics.

While the stage is blocks of colour, the costumes are full of detail so intricate that the only the person who can see it all is the person wearing it. Each design – there are about 360 costumes – starts with character and immediately lets the audience know everything about them. You might not be able to see the detail of her unique shoes  – her shoe designs! –, but you'll never be distracted because everyone is wearing scuffed black show shoes.

Every costume is perfectly a bit too much. Think 1980s Ken Done tea towels and 2010s Lisa Gorman dresses – but with much cooler detail and the colour and pattern turned up. The bridal frocks all have two, or 20, too many frills; the florals are a bit too floral; the boardies would look too much on an end-of-year team trip to Bali – even the 1970s ABBA jump suits are a bit too white. They are all magnificent.

The genius choice though was Kate Miller-Heidke (I loved her music for The Rabbits and let's not forget that she's the representing Australia in this year's Eurovision) and Keir Nuttall for the music and lyrics. (They are also partners in real life and their first baby was born during the workshop process).

Their music doesn't try to to sound like a musical. Here, music and songs don't tell the story, they take us into the hearts of the characters. In theatre, in life, in our showers and cars, we sing what we can't say, and in great musicals, every song brings us closer to the characters' truths. The Porpoise Spit girls sound like the commercial pop they love, Muriel is the heightened emotion of 80s ABBA without the succinctness of their lyrics, Nuttall describes Muriel's father Bill as sounding like a "Rolling Stones tribute act playing in the Twin Towns casino" – and he does! Because the songs start with character, it always feels natural when they sing and the music never pulls the show away from the story.

"Muriel's Wedding". Melbourne. Photo by Jeff Busby

Throw in lyrics that are better than over hearing conversations on trains, ABBA songs by ABBA,  Miller-Heidke bringing in extra for sopranos to shine, and the bonus of Andrew Hallsworth's choreography that's equally as school disco as it is slick, and, well, I'm happy that my current ear worm is a song called "Sydney".

There's plenty being written about the awesomeness of the cast and they are all spot on. With a mostly new cast from the original Sydney Theatre Company show, the production is open to personal interpretations. Our new Muriel (Natalie Abbott) and Rhonda (Stefanie Jones) are already so different from the original cast (the soundtrack is free on Spotify) that it's going to be easy to want to see every cast change over the years. Everyone is bonza, but highlights include Pippa Grandison (who was Porpoise Spit Nicole in the film) as Betty, and Christie Whelan Brown as wonderful queen bitch Tania.

Muriel's Wedding is spectacular but never relies on spectacle. It's as daggy as a backyard engagement party, but as complex as trying to describe the perfect pavlova. It's as Aussie as pineapple on pizza (the best), beetroot in a burger (also the best) and hot chips eaten at sunset at the beach with seagulls stalking you for left overs.

26 March 2019

MICF: Interview, Bron Batten

Onstage Dating: Bron Batten
The Butterfly Club
26 March – 7 April
The Butterfly Club

Bron Batten and date in "Onstage Dating". Photo by Theresa Harrison

MICF doesn't officially open until tomorrow, but some shows are getting an early start. You can already get a festival's worth of shows at the Butterfly Club – and a great cocktail to go with every one of them.

Bron Batten will hit date 100 during her festival season of Onstage Dating. It's one of my favourite shows for so many reasons.

Bron and I had an interview date for ArtsHub.

23 March 2019

Review: Dance Nation

Dance Nation
Red Stitch Actors Theatre
17 March 2019
Red Stitch
to 14 April

"Dance Nation". Red Stitch. Photo by Teresa Noble

You'll probably never hear a 10-, 11-, 12-, 13-year-old call themselves "prepubescent". It's a word so distant from the experience of being that age that it rarely escapes from text books. It's a time when you feel like a child and look like an adult or feel like an adult and look like a child. And get treated in ways that are embarrassing, inappropriate or ick either way. Dance Nation is about girls in this in-between age, as seen through the memories of women in their 20s to 60s.

USA playwright and actor Clare Barron had her first play produced in 2013 and has since won some significant awards. Dance Nation is her seventh work and this Red Stitch production is its Australian premiere.

It's set in a local USA dance school that's desperate to get to nationals (finals). Their dance teacher (Brett Cousins) knows that their sailor routine isn't up to scratch, so he's developing a work for his six-girl- one-boy troupe about Gandhi. Oh, yes, it's as ridiculous a dance as it sounds, and is made even more wonderful with Holly Durant's choreography, which solves the problem of the tiny stage, and Adrienne Chisholm's glitz-on-a-pocket-money budget gold design and ballet-mom costumes.

All the pre-teens are played by adults (Caroline Lee, Zoe Boesen, Casey Filips, Hannah Fredericksen, Natalie Samsu, Tario Manvondo, Georgina Naidu and Shayne Francis, who also plays all the moms) and all bring the experience of knowing that the adult life you imagine at 12 isn't the life you live. None of which makes the confusion of personal competition contradicting personal friendship less confusing. Or makes the realisation that your body's changing in ways that will keep you on stages or get you off stages, and that your choice may be irrelevant. Or that you will be sexualised or not sexualised no matter what. And that doesn't stop once you're a teenager, adult, older adult or older-still adult.

Maude Davey's direction has the style of a daggy suburban dance competition with a core of sophistication and experience that's inspired by the emerging power girls find at that age. This is power that girls are often told to suppress, but we'd all rather learn the routine that lets all women hold onto that power and ignore anyone who says it's wrong.

22 March 2019

LAST CHANCE: 33 Variations

33 Variations
Cameron Lukey, Neil Gooding Productions, Helen Ellis
Comedy Theatre
to 24 March

Toby Truslove, Ellen Burstyn, Lisa McCune. "33 Variations". Photo by Lachlan Woods

33 Variations with Oscar-Tony-Emmy-winner Ellen Burstyn finishes on Sunday. Her star power alone is enough to ensure its popularity. And her moving and complex performance proves why it'd be worth seeing her in anything.

There have been plenty of great reviews including Time OutKeith GowThe Age, My Melbourne Arts.

33 Variations by Moises Kaufman (best known for The Laramie Project) was first seen in 2009 on Broadway with Jane Fonda in the central role. Writing for women in their 70s and 80s is awesome.

Musicologist Katherine has an illness that's going to take her life sooner rather than later. But she's not going to stop working and goes to Bonn in Germany to read Beethoven's sketch books (notes about his music and life) and continue to try and understand why he composed 33 variations on a waltz by his publisher, Diabelli. Despite tehir awkward relationship, her daughter (Lisa McCune) and her daughter's new nurse boyfriend (Toby Truslove) travel to Bonn where Katherine has met archivist (Helen Morse) who is happy to help Katherine how ever she can. As Katherine reads the sketches, Beethoven (William McInnes) writes them and deals with his own disability and end of life, his secretary (Andre de Vanny) and Diabelle (Francis Greenslade).

It's about losing the fear of mediocrity and connecting in ways that really matter – no matter the variation. The writing sometimes slips into the melodramatic and predictable but the cast never let it slip into sentimentality and ensure that the emotion is always real.

The worlds are connected by pianist Andrea Katz playing the variations and director Gary Abrahams gently parallels the themes in variations of style ranging from historical drama to magical realism.

This is the sort of production that wouldn't be seen in Melbourne without independent producers like Cameron Lukey, Neil Gooding and Helen Ellis. Commercial companies rarely take risks on works that aren't proven. But trusting in audiences pays off and when we see a commercial production of 33 Variations, remember to thank the indie producers who took that risk.

20 March 2019

Review: The Other Side of 25

The Other Side of 25
bontom: original Australian entertainment
20 March 2019
The Butterfly Club
to 23 March

Becca Hurd

It's too easy to miss exciting new writing in Melbourne, especially when shows have short runs and there isn't much time for word to get around. The Other Side of 25 has just been at Adelaide Fringe and Sydney. It's at the Butterfly Club until Saturday.

Written and performed by Becca Hurd – who has studied acting in the USA and writing at NIDA – it's the story of 27-year-old Amory. She used to write songs to get what she wanted, wanted to go to sex education class rather than Disneyland, knows what she's good at, and became a surrogate for her sister.

With off-stage characters as vivid as Amory herself, it reflects on so much more than pregnancy, choice, motherhood and loss. Hurd's writing captures a voice that might be very close to her own, but she lets Amory be her own self. Her story telling is far more complex than straight-forward monologue and she only tells as much as the audience need to know.

Directed by Ellen Wiltshire and with a deceptively simple design of silver balloons by Emma White, it's a moving story that lets its humour feel natural, doesn't resort to sentimentality and releases its revelation and twist so gently that, even as the narrative jumps around in time, we discover it exactly as Amory does.

And it begins with a song about wearing condoms. Srsly men – wear them!

Maybe, that can come back for Melbourne Fringe.

12 March 2019


Mr. Burns, A Post- Electric Play
Lightening Jar Theatre
New season: 2 to 12 May

Lightening Jar's 012 Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play. Photo by Sarah Walker

Melbourne has been holding out for a production of Anne Washburn's 2012 Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play and, combined with it being on the VCE Drama list, Lighting Jar Theatre's recent season pretty much sold out before it even opened.

So it's eeeeeexcellent news that a return season has been announced at fortyfivedownstairs from 2 to 12 May. As so many people missed out on the first season, the time to book is yesterday. I'd go again, but I don't want anyone else to miss out.

It's a fascinating story about how and why we tell and make stories, how the popular becomes culture, how myth becomes familiar, and how what we know as a certainty changes so quickly.

In the near future, humans finally destroyed themselves. There is no power, a constant fear of nuclear contamination, and the knowledge that most survivors have lost everyone they loved. Around a fire – the design by Sophie Woodward (set and costume), Richard Vabre (lighting) and Russell Goldsmith (sound) creates a remarkable world lit only by fire –, a group, who are together because there is no one else, re-tell a favourite episode of The Simpsons: "Cape Feare". With such a well-known episode, which is a parody of a remake of a film based on a book, the temptation to call out and join in with the telling is almost too much. That is until we realise that we are not in that world with them and new stories, rituals and rules developing, like the post-911 reading of names at memorials.

Seven years later, the group now perform live episodes of The Simpsons, based on memories and lines they've bought from other survivors.

Seventy five years later, new generations tell the story. Remember that there's no power and all that's really survived is memories, trauma and stories.

Director John Kachoyan and music director Andrew Patterson make the familiar feel epic as they unearth layers of cultural understanding and misunderstanding. And they add layers of story and culture – popular and highbrow – that makes this story becomes ours and makes us question all of our stories.

04 March 2019

Review: Jersey Boys

Jersey Boys: the Story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
Dodger Theatricals, Rodney Rigby, TEG Dainty, Josheph G Grano, Pelican Group, Michael Watt, Tommy Mottola
In association with Latituide Link and Anita Waxman
2 March 2019
Regent Theatre
to 14 April

Glaston Toft, Ryan Gonzalez, Thomas McGuane,  Cameron MacDonald. Photo by Jeff Busby

Juke box biography musicals are hit or miss as they try to find the balance between nostalgia, reflection and truth – and fit in as many hits as possible. Jersey Boys is the semi-fictionalised story of the Four Seasons in the 1960s and when it opened on Broadway in 2005, it won, among others, the 2006 Best Musical Tony. It was first seen in Australia in 2009 and won Helpmann awards. This touring show is the third Australian production, and is in line with the current cut-down off-Broadway version.

This was my first time and it's easy to see how extra cast, a more complex stage picture and a bigger band would help in the hugeness of the Regent theatre. I was in Row F stalls on the side and was already too far away to appreciate the intimacy that helps make this show more than just hit songs.

According to Wikipedia (the official site doesn't list all members), there have been 43 seasons, including those still performing with singer Frankie Valli now. Valli has always been part of the group – who had their first hit in 1962 with "Sherry") – and has been recording and performing since 1953. His next tour starts soon. But he'll always been Teen Angel in the film of Grease to some of us.

Structured into four seasons (spring, summer, fall, winter), each of the four men in the group narrate a quarter and share their insight. The three surviving members of the band contributed to the development process.

The first half is a world where all boys are nice – even the gangsters and mob thugs – and girls are pretty or annoying nags; if you're a women in music theatre, this isn't a show you dream to be in. But you can buy a $25 "Big Girls Don't Cry" bib at the merch stand for the babies who think this stuff matters. There's also a "Walk Like A Man" bib.

Act two has more substance as they get older, struggle with relationships, and try to deal with success and agreements that were made over handshakes.

And there's the music by Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe.

If you don't immediately know the the close harmonies of the Four Seasons, have a listen and you'll know why people keep coming back to see this show.

The musical numbers are nearly enough to get the room dancing. It's as close to being in the 1960s and seeing them as is possible. And the cast (Ryan Gonzalez, Cameron MacDonald, Thomas McGuane and Glaston Toft as the four) are, quite rightly, treated like superstars when they are singing.

It's clear why it's a Best Musical show, but without the intimacy of a venue that lets you be close to the action or a knock-it-to-the-moon design, the momentum lags between the hits. But, you'll still leave a bigger fan than your were when you went in.

And here's the 1975 version