14 October 2018

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL: Frogman

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL 2018
Frogman
curious directive
presented with Theatre Works
12 October 2018Theatre Works
to 14 October
www.festival.melbourne
www.curiousdirective.com




Everyone sits in a white plastic chair that let us swivel all the way around; I don't trust anyone who doesn't spin around as soon as they sit down. We're on the four sides of a rectangular stage covered in beige shag carpet, but the virtual reality headset waiting for us is far more interesting. Frogman is theatre made using VR.

But it starts on, and regularly goes back to, the stage – eyes need rests – where 35-year-old Meera (Georgina Strawson) is being questioned about the 1995 disappearance of her classmate Ashleigh. Meera still lives next to the Great Barrier Reef, where its assumed the girl drowned. As the evidence on cassette tapes is played, she remembers the sleepover she was having with her friends on the night divers searched for Ashleigh's body.

UK company curious directive self describes as "theatre through the lens of science". Led by artistic director Jack Lowe, the small company works with new people and organisations on every project, including the Brisbane Powerhouse for the 2017 development of Frogman.

The VR experience takes us into Meera's bedroom, with its beige shag carpet, and into the reef as the divers look for Ashleigh before the coral bloom destroys visibility. The combination of scratchy tape evidence feels perfect with the VR footage that's always a little bit blurry; its not-quite-focus feels like being in the faded memory with her.

The technology is fascinating – I reached out to touch things – and there are times when it takes us deeply into the world, but the story doesn't always take advantage of the technology. When the mystery story hints at magical realism, there's a possibility of diving into a world where children can breath under water and fire coral burns. We don't, and the story may be just as strong if played out only on the stage.

Technology is incredible and this early step into VR in theatre is an exciting beginning.


PS. My set stopped working twice, so I got to see the more fascinating spectacle of a room of people spinning in their chairs and reaching out to people who weren't there.

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL: Prize Fighter

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL 2018
Prize Fighter
La Boite Theatre

in association with Darebin Arts Speakeasy
11 October 2018
Northcote Town Hall
to 21 October
www.festival.melbourne

"Prize Fighter". La Boite

I don't like boxing. I don't get the idea of violence as sport. And watching the cast of Prize Fighter warming up on stage by sparring with local boxers left me in a strange place of being in awe at their fitness and knowing that I could never – even when I was young and fit – defend myself against that kind of strength.

But this isn't a story about boxing.

It's about masculinity and its connection to strength and fighting.

Writer Future D Fidel is 28 and developed  Prize Fighter when he was playwright in residence at La Boite Theatre Company in Brisbane from 2013 to 2015. It opened at the Brisbane Festival in 2015, was performed at Sydney Festival and a novel of the story has  recently been released. Fidel was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DCR) and fled to Tanzania in 1996 after witnessing the death of his parents and being separated from his siblings. He spent eight years in a refugee camp before being accepted into Australia as a refugee. He spent eight years of his childhood in a refugee camp. He now lives in Brisbane with his brother and sister; it took him six years to find his sister.

It's about war.

Foreign wars rarely gets more than a passing comment in our media. Fictional "African" gangs in Melbourne get front page coverage. Pants-on-fire racist bullshit gets talked about while millions of people living in horror isn't an issue. People forced to flee their countries because of violence and horror are spoken and written about like they had a choice. Theatre shows like this get little media coverage, but it's still more than the people whose stories this show is telling.

Its fiction is the story of Congolese refugee of Isa – called Steve "The Killer" to sound more Aussie – who literally fights his memories and experiences as he fights for a championship belt. Its truth is that it's based on Fidel's experiences and those of others who fled as refugees.

The DCR and neighbouring countries has been involved in civil war since 1996. It officially ended in 2003, but the violence continues.

Most of the fighting is over minerals, especially coltan. Most of the world's coltan comes from the DCR. Colton is used in smart phones, lap tops and TVs. I didn't know that until today. I had no idea how much I've benefited from this war I knew so little about.

I also didn't know that 5.4 million people – a quarter of the Australian population – died as a direct result of that war.

It's about child soldiers.

Isa "The Killer" was ten when his family was killed, disappeared and raped. He lived by becoming a soldier. Ten. Ten year old boys are forced to fight.

I took a nine-year-old to Lexicon, a French circus, last weekend. On the way home in the car, he asked me, "If you could change anything in the world, what would it be?". That's much harder to answer than "Can I please have some popcorn?".

Can I start by wanting to give every asylum seeker in Melbourne a day at the circus where the kids have as much popcorn as they can eat.

Prize Fighter is as harrowing as it is stunning. The flashbacks from the boxing ring – the boxing is real – seem an obvious device but director by Todd Macdonald and the cast of six – Pacharo Mzembe (Solomon and Marion) is Isa; Gideon Mzembe, Margi Brown Ash, Marcus Johnson, Ratidzo Mambo and Mandela Mathia play multiple roles – create an almost unbreakable tension that can only be broken with an emotional gut punch that's far stronger than any knock out blow.

It's a story about Australia.

This is our story and the more we see stories like this explored on our stages, in our art and in our media, the more we may begin to understand that they are our stories and we need to do a lot more to create some less traumatic endings.

11 October 2018

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL: Fire Gardens

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL 2018
Fire Gardens
Compagnie Carabosse
Presented with Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria 
10 October 2018
Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria
to 13 October
www.festival.melbourne

Photos by the amazing Sarah Walker 

Fire Gardens. MIAF 2018. Photo by Sarah Walker

If you don't have a ticket to the Fire Gardens, I don't think there's any chance of getting one. It sold out, and the extra tickets sold out. And it's a flaming reminder that families and groups of friends and all sorts of wonderful people want to go to affordable spectacular events at festivals.

Last night, the Botanic Gardens was full of people rugged up in black coats, and this may be the only festival show many buy tickets for. For many of them MIAF 2018 will always be memories of fire in the the gardens This kind of event lets so many people experience the spectacle of art; it's so much more exciting than the Moomba fireworks.

My date for the evening was seven-year-old Isiah who totally accepted that the gardens would be full of fire, and live music, and old radios, and swing chairs, and kinetic sculptures made from old clocks that balance on high wires, and "whirlwinds of fire".

Because you are welcome to get close, we could see how the fires were lit, look at the coal in wire baskets, ask what liquid was being poured into the fire pits (acetone), and wonder how deep the water in the lake is and how they light the sculptures floating in the water (by boat; we saw their boats).

It's creepy and magnificent and coming around a corner to see spheres of fire on the lake makes you remember that we say breathtaking because you stop breathing for a moment.

If you've got a ticket, rug up, wear something that isn't black so that you can see your friends in the dark – it IS dark –, explore, sit, and imagine being in every apocalyptic novel you've loved or sci fi world you've imagined.

As no one can take a good phone photo of fire in the dark, here are some of Sarah Walker's amazing photos.


Fire Gardens. MIAF 2018. Photo by Sarah Walker


Fire Gardens. MIAF 2018. Photo by Sarah Walker

Fire Gardens. MIAF 2018. Photo by Sarah Walker

Fire Gardens. MIAF 2018. Photo by Sarah Walker
Fire Gardens. MIAF 2018. Photo by Sarah Walker

Fire Gardens. MIAF 2018. Photo by Sarah Walker

Fire Gardens. MIAF 2018. Photo by Sarah Walker

Fire Gardens. MIAF 2018. Photo by Sarah Walker

Fire Gardens. MIAF 2018. Photo by Sarah Walker



PS. We unintentionally queue jumped when we were getting chips at the end of the night – and are really sorry.



08 October 2018

06 October 2018

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL: Lagrime di San Pietro

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL 2018
Lagrime di San Pietro
Los Angeles Master Chorale
6 October 2018 
Melbourne Festival
Elisabeth Murdoch Hall , Melbourne Recital Centre
to 7 October
www.festival.melbourne

 

One of my favourite sounds in a theatre is silence. The silence of anticipation that calms the ever-constant brain chatter. The silence that meditation promises. The silence of the full audience between the 21 madrigals in Lagrime di San Pietro was almost as exquisite as the work itself.

The Los Angeles Master Chorale are 21 voices singing 21 seven-part Renaissance madrigals a capella (no instruments). The music was written in 1594 by Orlando di Lasso (1530–1594). He died weeks after finishing the piece and it’s filled with every unfulfilled emotion that he needed to express before his death.

Set to the poetry of Luigi Tansillo (1510–1568), it’s about Saint Peter’s grief when he pretended not to know Jesus on the day of his crucifixion. That’s a lot of complex shame, self-hatred and hope for forgiveness. Would we deny the person we loved most to save ourselves? Could we forgive ourselves or let them forgive us?

Led by conductor Jenny Wong, the singers almost casually wander onto the stage. Their costumes look like they were asked to choose something casual from their home wardrobe.

Then they sing. It’s as close to perfect as imperfect human voices can be. They sing as one. No voice stands out. It’s like each singer sings only to support the 20 others. No part dominates, and the remarkably consistent tone is helped by there always being a male voice singing with the women and a female voice singing with the men.

That alone would have been glorious, but it’s only the beginning.

Director Peter Sellars and artistic director Grant Gershon find the human in what’s so often presented as serious and reverent choral music.

When Sellars directs opera and music, I don’t think he sees a finished product that needs to sound magnificent. He seems to start where the composer started – with an empty page, doubt and a need to find a way to express what they were feeling. Music and art come from same emotions that every one of us has and his work finds the “just like me” in the complexity of music. Find the human connection and the emotion and the music follows.

This chorus of singers move. The movement isn’t dance; it’s relatively simple and often obviously demonstrative, and it doesn’t take long to realise that Danielle Domingue Sumi’s designs are made for each performer and have as many shades of emotional gray as the content being sung.

None are dancers, but they move like they sing; no one stands out, no one seems awkward or out of place. They move with each other while bringing themselves into every moment.

While they are always performing as a group, every note, movement and expression feels personal and that could be why the audience found the clear and soul-calming silence.

Lagrime di San Pietro is extraordinary. There’s one more performance tonight.

04 October 2018

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL: 16 Lovers Lane

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL 2018
16 Lovers Lane
Lindy Morrison, Amanda Brown and too many more to name
6 October 2018
www.festival.melbourne

Cover shots from "16 Lovers Lane" The Go-Betweens


In 1988, my favourite album was 16 Lovers Lane by The Go-Betweens. I played my cassette copy more than New Order's Substance. I also went to every Go-Betweens gig that I could get to; so many pub band rooms.

Thirty years later, I interviewed Lindy and Amanda about this album and what it's like to revisit it all these years later.

On Saturday night, I get to see some of them again in plush seats at the State Theatre.

Here's the interview on The Music.

PS. I also got to sneak in a bit of an interview I did with Grant in 2000.

And here's me in Brisbane in 1988.




10 September 2018

Review: Dark Emu

Dark Emu
Bangarra Dance Theatre 
6 September 2018
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 15 September
artscentremelbourne.com.au
bangarra.com.au


Dark Emu. Bangarra Dance Theatre

Bangarra’s Artistic Director, Stephen Page, reminds us in his program welcome that this is the “only company in Australia with its cultural origins in this land”. Let that sit for a moment. It’s a lot to take in, especially as they formed 29 years ago.

I thought about it at the end of Dark Emu when the Playhouse erupted with rock-star cheers.

Dark Emu opens with a giant blue seed pod. It’s not fluorescent, it’s more the glowing white-blue seen only in a star-filled night away from the city. It might not be a seed pod; maybe a map seen from above or a songline. It fills the stage and it’s from here that humans emerge.

Dark Emu. Black Seeds - Agriculture or Accident? by Bruce Pascoe was released in 2014. (Great interview with him.) I’d love to say that I've read it, but I only heard about it a few weeks ago when friends assumed that I’d read it; I WILL now. It demolishes the false idea that Indigenous Australians were hunter-gatherers before colonisation. It details complex farming practices and a reciprocal connection with the land – look after it; it looks after you. By telling the real history, it shows how our history was and is still re-written to fit post-1788 stories.

A revisionist-history non-fiction book is an unusual inspiration for a dance-theatre piece, but from the opening image, the connection between history and dance and story is so obvious that I wonder what we have to do to get every school-aged child in the country along to this show. It’s hard to change the minds of adults, but the next generations will see our stories though different eyes.

Not that we can’t change older minds. One way to start seeing things differently is to start feeling differently about them. The impact of art is often so hard to describe because it hits us in the feels before the thinks. Facts don’t mean much if you don’t feel emotionally connected to the consequences of those facts. Stunning works of art like this create the emotional link.

There’s narrative and story from Pascoe’s book that’s expanded with a focus on stories from the Yuin nation (south coast NSW). But it’s story without heroes or individuals. It’s about land and people, and destruction and resilience, and a hope and belief that these stories will be heard, shared and listened to. You don’t need to understand the detail of the stories about flies or fire to understand the feeling of massacre and destruction.

The choreography (Daniel Riley, Yolande Brown, Stephen Page and the 18 dancers) starts from and, mostly, stays connected to the earth. With no focus on individual dancers, and no straight lines or precise unison, it feels natural in its complexity. As does the colour in the design (set, Jacob Nash: lighting, Sian James-Holland), and the handmade costumes (Jennifer Irwin), which change with ochre and sweat as each season continues. The world is mostly dark and shadowy greys with fire/blood red, sky/water blue and new-life greens growing from the shadows.

One of the many joys of a Bangarra mainstage work – the company also works with communities and on Country – is how it’s not an option to try and separate one creative element from the rest. The choreography is integral to the designs, music (Steve Francis and others) and dramaturgy (Alana Valentine). And many of the collaborators have been working together since the company formed.

Bangarra may be the most vibrant, powerful and relevant cultural company in Australia and Dark Emu is as vital to our history as the book it started with.

Now, let’s all buy the book (from a local book store) and read it.

06 September 2018

Review: In a Heartbeat

In a Heartbeat
Barking Spider Visual Theatre and La Mama
originally commissioned by Monash Centre for Theatre and Performance
5 September
La Mama Courthouse
to 9 September
lamama.com.au

In a Heartbeat. Barking Spider

Barking Spider Visual Theatre make theatre experiences from memories and stories, and it's impossible to leave a show without finding forgotten memories of your own.

They start with collected personal stories. For In a Heartbeat, the stories were from people living in the dementia unit of a residential aged care facility. Their stories about love and relationships were collected by students from the Monash Centre for Theatre and Performance, who originally developed the piece at university and performed it for the residents of the facility.

Some of the storytellers found the stories familiar, but didn't remember telling them. One story teller was 104-years-old and died before the first performance; his words are some of the last spoken in the show.

It was such a heart-overflowing delight that it had to be seen again.

Knocking on the wooden door at the La Mama Courthouse, you're met by young performers in a 1950's memory of pastels, floral and pearls. Taking us to tables set for tea with bright table cloths and warm tea pots, each host tells stories. It's like a chamber orchestra of voices as each tell the same verbatim stories to each table – which are being played to them through earpieces and are recordings of the original storytellers.

In a Heartbeat is memories of tea cups and homemade biscuits, of silver tea spoons and glass sugar bowls, of gingham and crochet, of being young and being loved, of being old and being loved, of dancing, and of being a particle of love in space.

Now, I wonder if I have the ingredients in my kitchen to make my grandmother's rockcakes.


04 September 2018

Review: Working with Children

Working with Children
Melbourne Theatre Company
Southbank Theatre, The Lawler
1 September 2018
To 29 September
mtc.com.au

Nicola Gunn. Working With Children. Photo by Sarah Walker
My review is in Time Out.