30 November 2019

What Melbourne Loved in 2019, part 2

Today, we hear from some of those artists whose work creates, develops and supports other art and performance in Melbourne.

Here's the form to write your contribution; you get to chose your own photo.

Keith Gow
Playwright and critic

Some actor & Keith Gow in London. Hello, sweetie.

Favourite moments in 2019.
I was so pleased to see my friend Andi Snelling back on stage in Happy-Go-Wrong telling a deeply personal story about invisible illness, without it feeling at all indulgent – and making an utterly mesmerising, moving piece of theatre.

Some really excellent theatre at Malthouse this year, with Underground Railroad Game, Barbara and the Camp Dogs, My Dearworthy Darling and Australian Realness being utterly superb.

I saw three Arthur Miller plays this year (!), two in London – a bland production of All My Sons and an astonishing mixed-race production of Death of a Salesman – but the best one was by the Melbourne Theatre Company, in its A View from the Bridge.

And some solid, exciting work at Red Stitch this year, too, with Control, Dance Nation and Pomona as the real stand-outs.

Looking forward to in 2020. 
Grey Arias, Do Not Go Gentle... and Loaded at Malthouse. Home I'm Darling and Fun Home at MTC. Orlando directed by Stephen Nicolazzo at Red Stitch.

SM:Keith is another independent writer who writes about shows because he loves them and wants to support our arts community. His reviews are honest and beautifully written. Read him; I sure do. And he supports other writers by reading everyone else's reviews.

Danny Delahunty
Producer of festivals, Lover of art

Danny Delahunty. Photo by Sarah Walker

Favourite moments in 2019.
2019 was a really great year for amazing theatre, particularly in the independent sector. If I put aside my shining conflict of interest with Melbourne Fringe, my favourite moment that has stuck with me is Queen Kong. Everything about it was excellent, but the big thing for me was how progressed the concept of integrated access was in the work (most noticeably with the Auslan elements, which were a core part of the creative work itself and not just an addendum tacked on at the end). It was just such a great example of what can be done to make a work accessible without that accessibility feeling clinical and separate from the creative elements.

I also have to mention the absolutely stunning stagecraft and production wizardry in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. For such a dire script, the fact that this show was nothing less of spectacular is a testament to all involved. Yeah, I know, budget budget budget and the fact that you could have funded 10,000 indie theatre productions on a fraction of their operational costs, but ... to see a piece of theatre that literally rebuilt the internals of a heritage venue from the ground on up in order to fully come alive felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I also really appreciate the capacity of this show to introduce a heap of young 'uns to theatre for the first time in a context that's a bit more interesting for them than Year 7 trips to Uncle Vanya at MTC.

Looking forward to in 2020. 
The Asia TOPA program looks great, with my top pick being Metal (Lucy Guerin Inc collaborating with an Indonesian heavy metal choir – it's perfect.) I'm also really looking forward to Le Gateau Chocolat and Adrienne Truscott's Great Arias at Malthouse. Past that, I'm not sure what else it on its way in the indie circuit... usually I read through the "What Melbourne Loved" answers and put together my calendar from that, haha*!

SM: Danny and the team at Melbourne Fringe created a whole new amazing arts venue at Trades Hall! A new arts hub filled with so many performances spaces**. The Melbourne Fringe 2019 brought Trades Hall back to life. As unions struggle and our dear leaders try to portray the idea of people working together to stop exploitation and greed*** as dangerous, it was wonderful to see so many people back in the space created by Melbourne's workers unions. So many people getting together to see so many people creating art that show us our communities and beliefs through different eyes, that shows what the world should be and what it could be if we don't see those different perspectives.

* That's how I choose my shows.
** He may not have slept in September.
*** Join your union.

Emily Sexton
Arts House artistic director

Emily Sexton. Photo by Sarah Walker

Favourite moments in 2019.
Walking into the opening night of the Yirramboi festival at the Meat Market was a revelation. I had never seen the space so transformed and so beautiful, and the performers that night were incredible: Deborah Cheetham, Sermsah Bin Saad, Monica Jasmine McDonald, Allara Briggs Pattison, The Merindas, Soju Gang. It was very memorable and a clear indication of First Nations artists in Victoria going from strength to strength.

I loved the double-bill that saw Vicki Van Hout’s plenty serious Talk Talk alongside the premiere of Joel Bray’s Daddy. It was so interesting to see these multi-generational Wiradjuri artists intersect – their stories, their form and craft, their humour.

Looking forward to in 2020. 
I was lucky to see The Mysterious Lai Teck in Yokohama in February as part of TPAM and it is a fascinating, literary show that left me much to contemplate about the nature of translation, the power of oral histories and the flaws of written archives;  it is coming to Melbourne as part of Asia TOPA.

Can I plug my own stuff? I’m going to plug my own stuff. I’m super excited by the local and international premieres happening in Arts House’s Season 1 in 2020 – did someone say Filipino action thriller musical? We have also announced a new project: Bleed – a biennial live event in the everyday digital. We have joined forces with Campbelltown Arts Centre to explore the relationship between the live and digital experience. From URL to IRL and back again, this is art that meets you where you already are: online, hyper-connected and endlessly networked. As digital increasingly seeps into our communities, identities and culture, we are working with artists who seek to make visible the shifts in power that result. The project will explore different models of sharing art, and in the process celebrate the spaces contemporary art is claiming within a digital public sphere. It will encourage different modes of listening, watching and playing, while still asking the question: where, when and how do we come together? The first edition starts in June at Arts House, Campbelltown Arts Centre, online, in the flesh and in your pocket. 

SM: Every time I see a show at Arts House, I tell myself that I should see more shows at Arts House. (Sometimes, the only thing wrong with Melbourne is how long it takes to get from one side of the city to the other for a 7 pm show.) It's a place where artists are free to make the work that they want and need to make without the pressure of box office and stars. It's a place where work develops and experiments and questions why we do this.

27 November 2019

What Melbourne Loved in 2019, part 1

What Melbourne Loved officially starts in December, but let's get started now. OK, this is a reminder to write your contributions. Fill in this form.

And what better way to start than with three of my favourite people, artists and creators who all put perspectives, concepts, point of views, writing and artists that are STILL dismissed or ignored on our stages. This is why we keep coming back to theatre.

Stephen Nicolazzo 
Little Ones Theatre

Stephen Nicolazzo

Favourite moments in 2019.
The works that really stayed with me this year were a combination of fierce feminist performance art, dance and fiery theatricality. My all-time favourite moment of 2019 was Bitch on Heat by Leah Shelton at Theatre Works. It was pure genius: violent, sexy, disturbing, visually arresting and genre bending. One of the most glorious examples of how heightened physical performance can touch the soul, be critical and have a vital and unique pulse. I have not stopped thinking about it.

Other works that shook me were Antony Hamilton’s sensual, expressionistic masterpiece Token Armies for Chunky Move and the Melbourne International Arts  Festival, The Rabble's poignant and darkly humorous Unwoman, Bron Batten’s deeply confessional and arresting Waterloo at Melbourne FringeAdena Jacobs’s horrifying and nightmarish Titus Andronicus at Bell Shakespeare, and two shows in New York (which I know are not Melbourne but too good not to mention!): Heidi Schreck’s deeply moving political meditation What The Constitution Means to Me directed by Oliver Butler, and Jacquiline Novak’s feminist manifesto about giving head, Get On Your Knees at Cherry Lane Theatre.

A personal highlight was meeting camp and queer theatre legend Charles Busch (writer of Psycho Beach Party) in New York City and getting the chance to spend a day with him talking about queer theatre history, the significance of comedy and his run in with Paul McCartney. I also had the pleasure of attending the 2019 Director’s Lab at Lincoln Centre Theatre. It gave me a new love and appreciation of Melbourne theatre and all of the vital and exciting work we create. Also, directing the INCREDIBLE Joel Bray in his work Daddy, which was presented as part of Yirramboi Festival, Liveworks and Brisbane Festival. AND FINALLY, getting to reunite The Happy Prince team after two and a half years at Griffin Theatre Companyin Sydney. Truly nourishing.

Oh! And getting to do Merciless Gods at Arts Centre Melbourne was the single greatest theatrical experience of my life?!

Looking forward to in 2020.
Asia TOPA's presentation of The Seen and Unseen, Jenny Kemp's production of Anatomy of a Suicide at Red Stitch, Paul Capsis and Michael Kantor's Go To Hell at Malthouse, K-Box at Malthouse, Triple X at Queensland Theatre/STC, and anything at Arts House, Dance House and the many exciting shows and events for Asia TOPA and the new Melbourne Festival.

SM: Stephen convinced me to go ahead with this again this year. As I see everything he does, I'd already seen the work he got to remount this year, except Daddy. I tried both seasons and sometimes it's not possible. But there is another chance next year.

Mama Alto
Jazz singer, cabaret artiste and gender-transcendent diva

Mama Alto. Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

Favourite moments in 2019.
I loved seeing the virtuosic piano performances of Andrea Katz deftly incorporated into the Cameron Lukey and Gary Abrahams's vision of 33 Variations.

I loved the absolute triumph of Queen Kong during Midsumma: Sarah Ward and her incredible band, with fully integrated Auslan with interpreter Kirri Dangerfield and Deaf interdisciplinary artist Asphyxia, on a journey through the cosmos and the interior universe of the human psyche, confronting so many of our contemporary issues through glam rock cabaret. And that powerhouse voice!

Looking forward to in 2020.
I am looking forward to hopefully seeing even more; one of the hardest things, for me, about working in the arts is that sometimes you miss out on seeing things because you're also doing a show!

SM: The absolute gut-felt joy of Gender Euphoria at Midsumma will be a life-long favourite moment. Then multiplying that again at Gender Euphoria at the Melbourne International Arts Festival. I feel better about life just by thinking about it again. As a critic, I get dismissed for criticising shows that dismiss how they perpetuate fucked-up and hurtful ideas about gender, race and sexuality (last week, I saw an opera that still has people onstage in unnecessary slanty-eye make up). So when artists like Mama and Maude Davey and producers like Daniel Clarke make and support shows that show us how the world should be, our community shares a sigh of relief. Is it really so hard to think about the impact your art has on your audience? Of course, it is easier to not invite people who might not shower you with meaningless stars and to encourage an audience who all look and think alike.

But nothing was quite as good as the look on Mama's face when she arrived at her surprise-birthday-party-cum-intimate-performance-spectacular, organised by Creatrix Tiara. 

Robert Reid
Playwright, game maker, critic

Robert Reid. Photo by Sarah Walker

Favourite moments in 2019.
MDLSX by Motus at Arts House.  Okay, I guess if I had to pick one thing, then it would actually be this because this is the first thing I think of every time I think of filling in this form. Incredible solo performance, and incredible use of tech, sound, light, story, meta narrative.  Hard, fast, brutal, honest, smart... yeah, MDLSX was my fave, I guess.

BUT, Barbara and the Camp Dogs at Malthouse comes a close second. Terrific night in the theatre; never felt for a moment the show didn't care if I was there or not; told the story we need to keep hearing; not a dry eye in the house; rock and roll theatre.

If they were they only things I'd seen all year, I'd have been pretty happy.

Looking forward to in 2020. 
I dunno, it's so hard to look forward to things at the moment. I'll be happy just to see who survives into 2020. What I'd like to be looking forward to is a restructuring of the funding models and an increase in budgetary allowance for the arts... Is that so much to hope for?

There is at least one show I'm looking forward to next year. Sipat Lawin is coming out with are you ready to take the law into your own hands. I am going the hell to that, I can tell you.

SM: I'm pretty chuffed that Witness is still going, but it's too easy to choose my favourite Rob moment this year: The Bacchae. Produced by MUST at La Mama, written (over many years) and directed by Rob, and with a huge cast of the most amazing women and female-identifying performers, it was an epic afternoon and evening of theatre that put women in the centre of the stories and found the point of views that are too often ignored, even when women are the story.



18 November 2019

Contribute: What Melbourne Loved in 2019

I asked Facebook if Melbourne wanted this again. The response guaranteed enough contributions.

I love this series because for a short time we can forget the artist V critic bullshit. We can forget the lust for stars and the dismissing of anything that dares to question what we see on our stages. We hear from the theatre community and remember that we are a community. And I can talk about shows and artists that didn't get reviews but still got a lot of love.

(And we get to see the photo competition between Ash Flanders, Eugyeene Teh and Kerith Manderson-Galvin.)

We share those moments that made us remember why we love theatre. We share our love for artists, creatives, writers, companies, makers, those who work behind the scenes, and all those everyone who make the theatre industry in Melbourne so damn awesome.

Everyone is welcome to contribute. Please don't wait for me to invite you.

And if you want to hear from someone, send them this info.

As always, all you have to do is answer these questions and send a photo that you like.

What was your favourite moment in Melbourne theatre in 2019? 

What are you looking forward to in Melbourne theatre in 220?

Here's a Google form.

Or you can email sometimesmelbourne at hotmail dot com.



Review: Oil

Red Stitch Actors Theatre
17 November 2019
Cromwell Road Theatre
to 15 December

Daniela Farinacci. "Oil". Photo by John Lloyd Fillingham

Oil by UK writer Ella Hickson takes place between 1889 and 2051. Fossil fuels (coal, petroleum, natural gas) began to be used in the late 1800s and it's predicted to take about 250 years for humans to use all of the fossil fuels on earth. It will take millions of years for our fossilised bodies to make more.

But Red Stitch's Australian premiere of this 2016 play is far more than a history lesson, social commentary or plea for us to treat our world better.

While it moves from Cornwell and Hamstead in the UK to Tehran and Bagdad in Iran, with visits from Libya and China, its emotional spine and connection to the audience is the relationship between a mother and her daughter. Daniela Farinacci and Hannah Fredericksen are both mesmerising as consistent characters who age as each act moves in time and place. Their story of choice, sacrifice, loneliness and the line between control and love is gripping as it finds its space in the parallel story about humanity. If only we could always choose to have light, warmth and freedom.

Red Stitch have opened a new theatre in South Yarra in an old Anglican church hall. It's bigger than their St Kilda theatre and gives the space needed to share an epic story, especially as its age asks how many other stories have been told in this place. The church next door was built about 150 years ago so would have been lit by candles.

The script is layered and structurally balanced in ways that ask even more questions as its brings attention to the writing. Director Ella Caldwell adds more layers and questions with a consistently strong cast (Jennifer Vuletic, Darcy Brown, Jing-Xuan Chan, Matthew Whitty, Justin Hosking, Charlie Cousins, Krisraw Jones-Shukoor, Nicole Nabout) who let the epic nature of the work tell the story; characters create the world rather than letting the world create the characters.

Some of the most striking performances can't easily be seen. The only time the full cast is on stage is in act one in a farm lit by candles. Candles don't create much light. Clare Springett's lighting (working with Greg Clarke's set and Chloe Greaves character-defining costumes) is the character that influences every choice in Oil and makes the telling extraordinary.

It's so easy to dismiss how much we depend on the light and warmth created by fossil fuels, as it's so easy to know why we choose light and warmth. And to question it all in an old dark hall is riveting.

15 November 2019

Not a review: The Audition

The Audition
Outer Urban Projects and La Mama
14 November 2019
La Mama Courthouse
to 24 November

"The Audition" Peter Paltos, Sahra Davioudi. Photo by Darren Gill

Last night, the door prize at La Mama was a copy of No friend but the mountains by Behrouz Boochani‎. Where I was standing, there were murmurs of "the guy on Manus from Iran" and everyone wanted it. After all, we were at the opening night of The Audition, a new multi-writer work by Outer Urban Projects about the experiences of asylum seekers and immigrants in Australia.

This book won the 2019 Victorian Prize for Literature. This is Australia's richest literary prize; it's one writers aspire to win. Boochani is a Kurdish refugee from Iran. He has wasn't at the ceremony when he won because he was still incarcerated on Manus Island. The book was written by text messages; the same way he written for The Guardian in recent years. (Links are to Guardian stories.)

Directed by Irine Vela, The Audition project has been developed by working with and sharing stories with artists who are also asylum seekers. With contributions from writers Patricia Cornelius, Tes Lyssiotis, Sahra Davioudi, Christos Tsiolkas, Melissa Reeves, Milad Norouzi and Wahibe Moussa, it's a not-miss before it even gets seen.

There are theatre in-jokes as it compares the power imbalance of the theatre audition process to how immigrants have to audition to be "good Aussies", and personal confessions and stories that affirm that so much of Australia's attitude and government response to refugees and asylum seekers is racist and ignorant and the cause of so so much suffering.

While each has it's own strength and emotional drive, the theme feels forced at times and the strength and power of the writing varies, as do the performances; the writers Davioudi and Norouzi also perform and are joined by Mary Sitarenos, Peter Paltos and Vahideh Eisaei.

None of which takes away from why this project is on our stage. But I left wondering how a work like this reaches anyone who doesn't already believe everything it's saying.

Then this happened last night.

Behrouz Boochani‎ is free because of a writers festival in New Zealand. A writers festival.

So, let's keep telling, writing, reading and seeing stories, even if no attitudes change, because telling stories is how the world will get better. Telling stories is how creative minds find solutions to horror and work towards humanity. Telling stories – even if no one except the inner-city leftie woke read the book – is how Behrouz Boochani is finally FINALLY out of the hell that Australians put him in.

From this story.