21 September 2019

Review: The Living Room

MELBOURNE FRINGE
The Living Room
Amrita Dhaliwal and Gemma Soldati
17 September 2019
The Butterfly Club, upstairs
To 22 September
melbournefringe.com.au


Amrita Dhaliwal and Gemma Soldati. "The Living Room"

My review in in Time Out.

(I loved it.)

Interview: Bron Batten background for Waterloo

MELBOURNE FRINGE
Waterloo
Bron Batten
Brunswick Mechanics Institute - Theatre
to 25 September
melbournefringe.com.au

Bron Batten

This isn't a review of Bron Batten's Melbourne Fringe show Waterloo. One is coming.

It's an interview I did with her in March about her show Onstage Dating. She talks about her "next show" in this interview. Waterloo is the next show.

It was originally published on ArtsHub.  (Give it a read there as well.)

Bron Batten. "Onstage Dating". Photo by Theresa Harrison

I find a hidden Melbourne bar with Google Maps. It’s empty in the mid-afternoon, but there are booths for snuggling, small tables for hand holding and a balcony with flattering natural light. “Are you meeting someone?” the bartender asks as I’m looking at my phone messages. “Yes”. I hope he thinks I was on a nothing-better-to-do-this-afternoon Tinder date.

I’m not. I’m meeting performance artist Bron Batten, but she does buys me a beer.

Her show Onstage Dating is playing at The Butterfly Club during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. We meet at a bar where she’s gone on dates. It’s a great choice. Above the main city street, it’s easy to forget the tourists and takeaway food below – especially as the trams ding-ding and the pale green plane trees give shade and, for once, hold tight to their balls of hay fever fluff.

“Let’s talk about dating,” I start.

She sighs, “What do you want to know?” I know that sigh. It’s the sigh of a 30-something who’s been on a lot of dates.

Batten’s been on 85 onstage dates at festivals and theatres in Australia, New Zealand and the UK. She developed this show when she was granted the Australia Council Cite Des Arts Internationale residency in Paris in 2015. “All that bread, wine and cheese – I had such a terrible time,” she says.

She also went on “about 60” in-real-life dates in Paris; all internet procured. I ask if it was just research. “It was always two birds, one stone,” she says. “I’d never really dated before. I’d always just met people through friends or at the end of the night at the pub.”

The resulting show premiered at the 2016 Festival of Live Art in Melbourne. Batten’s known for work that finds a delightfully awkward and super-smart balance between reality and performance art. She was a founder of The Last Tuesday Society – a much-missed monthly subversive bo-ho performance-comedy-cum-cabaret night – where I remember her singing “Red Headed Woman” naked after Julia Gillard was ousted as prime minister and choreographing a jazz ballet nativity play. She began to get more attention with a show called Sweet Child of Mine, which she performed with her father. It started by asking her country-town parents (she’s one of six siblings) if they really understood why she danced a chicken abortion in an empty swimming pool at university.

In Onstage Dating, her co-performer is a date chosen from the audience. She describes it as “a romantic comedy with weird performance art bits.”

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

I saw her first date/show and it’s that and more. It’s every hope and fear you have while dating with the bonus of connecting with other people who make that same dating sigh. Or laugh. Or eye roll. And there’s a sexy bee suit and an apple.

She explains that “it’s not just about online dating. It’s about the vulnerability of meeting someone for the first time. Or the vulnerability to say, I want romance or sex or partnership or companionship … I wanted to capture the expectations and stress of meeting a stranger for a date.”

It’s also about becoming invested in the date. Even knowing that their romance is almost certain not to happen, audiences want the date to go well. We want a happy ending. At least I do.

Batten rolls her eyes when I tell her that I still want to watch a stranger fall for her on stage.

She then tells me she’s been on two second dates following shows.

Neither resulted in a third date.

I can understand if she’s getting cynical about it all until I ask what struck her the most about going on those 60 IRL dates. She says, “hopefulness”.

Theatrically the show captures the hope and vulnerability of showing up and not knowing what to expect. “I don't know what they're going to be like. Are they going to be nice to me? Are they going to be a dick? Are they going to be sweet? What's going to happen? So that feeling that happens in real life is still in the show and the audience recognises that.”

She also has a story about meeting someone on those IRL dates but “that’s the next show”.

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

On stage, she’s dated straight, queer, single and partnered men and women, but she thinks that it’s become more about how men behave with women than about the vulnerability of dating.

Her audiences are often mostly women and “there’s a sense of recognition when we share the bad behaviour.” But “it’s not a show that accuses men. It gives them space to be better. It’s just really disappointing when they fuck that up.”

She tells the story of one who fucked up.

“He was very tall, a Disney-prince-type dude with a blue linen shirt, beige pants and boat shoes with no socks – you know that guy. Really tall. Not terribly smart. He came with a whole bunch of friends and I was sort of playing to the friends. I realised that he wasn't very clever, and he sort of clocked that I was making a bit of fun of him. When we were playing Twister [spoiler, her dates play Twister with her], my eyes were at crotch level and he hit me in the face with his cock – on stage. Like a little thrust. Like a little kind of reminder about ‘Hey I’m in charge; know your place’. Like it was it was deliberate smacking me in the face with his dick and I had to make a decision at that point about what to do as a performer and also as a woman.

“Do I call him out? Do I risk turning the audience?

“I am so shocked as well, but I didn't know what to do. So, I let it go. Let’s just get to the end of the show.

“And then, when I took him to the couch and got him to take his shoes off, underneath his oh-so-casual boat shoes he was wearing tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiny little sockets.”

She says the audience snorted with laughter as much as I did at this revelation.

“I was like ‘What are those Michael?’ And I was like ‘I’ve got you, I’ve fucking got you’.

“I did a couple of minutes on his socks. ‘I’m going to tell stories about you.’ The audience were pissing themselves and then he turned. He got really angry and I thought of that Margaret Atwood quote that women are afraid men will kill them and men are afraid women will laugh at them.

“I ridiculed him publicly and that was the worst thing that I could ever do. To my kind of shame, I spent the rest of the show trying to get him back on board because performatively, you know …”

There have been others who behave badly. Like the one in country NSW who acted like he “didn't want to be anywhere near me and the audience were laughing at that, saying ‘ha ha ha’ isn’t that funny when he acts rudely towards this woman”.

“By the end of that tour, I was like: all the guy has to do to win the show is to be a basic human being. Just be basically humanly decent. To not be a dick. You know the joke about a male feminist who walks into a bar because it was set so low. All you have to do is to be a nice human being and it’s amazing how many times the participant fails.

“That’s when I started to realise that this was about more than dating. It was about men’s behaviour in public on dates, in private taking up space … weather they’re ok being in my space or weather they try and claim it back aggressively or by trying to neg me or by trying to make jokes at my expense or at the show’s expense because they’re uncomfortable.

“For a lot of men that’s a very unfamiliar feeling to be in the space and to not know what’s going on, to not feel in charge of it and to not feel entitled to be the centre of it.”

Maybe I don’t want any of these men to fall in love with her. My fantasy of the wonderful story now as flat as the dregs of my beer.

I ask what she does do in real life when it happens?

“Umm … I don't know.

“I’d like to say like to say that I always call them on it, but I don’t. But I think as I get older I’m getting better at it. Calling out shit behaviour is really hard. It’s the hardest.”

I ask why she thinks we still put up with bad behaviour. I’m older than she is and I still put up with it.

We’ve “got this patriarchal structure that tells us that we're wrong all the time and that we're hysterical or we get what we deserve. The ultimate goal in life is to find a partner, right, so you have to suffer whatever. There is a myriad of answers: societal, structural, personal.

“Because it is hard to value yourself.”

We know why we sigh. So, I ask how many men “win” at the show.

“Between 85 and 90 percent.” A much better hit rate than I expected.

“I want them to win. The show’s not about humiliating, it’s the opposite; I always want to make the guy the hero.” She explains how the audience usually clock very early if “the guy’s a jerk” and they mostly don’t let him get away with it.

“I had a guy in Edinburgh who was a big masculine kind of ‘hey’ type dude. Very basic.” He had 80 people boo him for trying to humiliate her. “He was really shocked … so, I was like ‘Give him a go’ and I said to him, ‘See, in the biz, this is what we call turning the crowd.’ … and he spent the rest of the show trying to make up the ground that he’d lost.”

So even the dud dates can come around.

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

As we keep talking about dating and the show, she has more positive than negative stories.
Like the “bloke-y tech” who told her that he’d been thinking about the show and how he and his friends talk about and interact with women.

And the guy who talked very lovingly about his mum on stage without knowing that a friend was recording it. And his mum saw it.

And her receiving “this incredible letter” from a date who said, “I didn’t intend to talk about that on stage, but you made me feel so safe and it’s really shifted something in me and I feel like I’ve let it go so thank you for giving me that opportunity”.

And one of Batten’s friend’s telling her that the show inspired her to date again.

And Batten telling me how she can have an opinion of someone and how quickly it changes. “It only takes 40 minutes for them to open up and say things and be silly and construct this kind of fantasy with me.”

I ask if she’s still dating in real life. She laughs with the sigh this time. “That connection is so rare, and people keep looking for it.”

Which is one reason why Onstage Dating is still popular and touring. We keep looking. The two of us share meeting stories we’ve seen. She has a friend who fell in love with the first person they chatted to online, and one who saw someone in the crowd from the stage. I’d recently been to a wedding of a friend who met his husband on a train on a holiday. It happens. Wonderful stories happen.

I still want it to happen for me. And for Bron. I want to tell the story about seeing two strangers falling in love on stage in a performance art show about dating. Or hear about a couple who went on their first date to this show or went by themselves and started talking to the stranger they sat next to.

“Maybe this time, Anne-Marie. Maybe this time,” says Batten as she gets up to leave.

And we should have left together so that the bartender had a good story to tell about the mid-afternoon Tinder date he watched.

16 September 2019

Review: Polygamy, Polygayou

MELBOURNE FRINGE 
Polygamy, Polygayou 
Alice Tovey, Charity Werk, Margot Tanjutco, Hayley Tantau
14 September 2019
Fringe Hub: Trades Hall – Old Ballroom
To 20 September
melbournefringe.com.au

Alice Tovey, Charity Werk, Margot Tanjutco. Polygamy, Polygayou. Photo by Ling Duong

My review is in Time Out


Hayley Tantau Polygamy, Polygayou. Photo by Ling Duong

Alice Tovey, Charity Werk, Margot Tanjutco. Polygamy, Polygayou. Photo by Ling Duong


Review: The Rapture Chapter II

MELBOURNE FRINGE
The Rapture Chapter II: Art Vs Extinction
Finucane & Smith

7 September 2019
fortyfivedownstairs
To 29 September
fortyfivedownstairs.com
melbournefringe.com.au

Moira Finucane. Photo by Jodie Hutcinson

05 September 2019

Reviews: The Festival of Bryant (The Other Place & Disinhibition)

The Other Place
Theatre Works and Before Shot
29 August 2019
Theatre Works
to 8 September
theatreworks.org.au

"The Other Place" by Theatre Works

Disinhibition
MUST
31 August 2019
MUST Space, Monash University Clayton campus
to 7 September
msa.monash.edu/events/disinhibition/

"Disinhibition" by MUST. Photo by Aleks Corke


Melbourne playwright Christopher Bryant had two new shows open last week: The Other Place at Theatre Works and Disinhibition at MUST.

This is a rare opportunity to not only see two new works by the same author but to see how different director, casts and creators approach his writing.

The Other Place, directed by Jessica Dick, is a meta theatrical imagining of the lives of two women who nudged the dullness in theatre in the 1970s by creating alternative venues for contemporary voices.

Buzz Goodbody was the first female director at The Royal Shakespeare in London and was the instigator and founding associate director of The Other Place, the RSC's black box studio theatre formed to present small-scale experimental works. Her direction was praised by audiences and critics, especially for King Lear and Hamlet. Betty Burstall formed La Mama here in Melbourne in 1967 and fought to keep the small experimental theatre space open in the 1970s.  La Mama remains one of the most influential theatre spaces in Australia. And still serves free tea and coffee, like Burstall introduced.

Written like it could be performed in either venue, Bryant explores the women's imagined inner thoughts by playing with the styles of theatre they worked with, ranging from Elizabethan to Post Modern. It's filled with the theatre jokes but comes back to the importance of theatre being a safe place if your community isn't welcoming. Both women faced conservative governments and attitudes; if only their stories were something from the past.

The cast of five women all play Buzz and Betty, each with more of their own personality than that of the women they didn't know. This makes it feel intimate and helps connect with the actors – who have all found their personal connection to one or the other women – but it's not as easy to really discover the characters. The women never met despite their similar goals, but one of the most emotionally engaging scenes is when they meet at a fictionalised tv interview. Letting them interact gives the work a story that's more than just a celebration of their lives.

Goodyear died by suicided in 1975; Burstall died in 2013. I learnt a lot about both of them. Sometimes we need to remember that known names were people who never believed they'd be people who playwrights would write about.

Dishinibition, directed by Yvonne Virsik, is far more about contemporary reality as it explores the unreality of social media where a puppy pic can lead to the unimaginable.

George is Boyance is on Tumbler; he really doesn't like the persona he's become. Flick is Flick.Eats on Instagram; she gets vegan takeaway and pretends she made it. Tay is an acronym for Totally About You on Twitter; she's an imagined artificial intelligence bot programmed to interact with influencers like George and Flick. Tay is the only one who believes that her net self is real; perhaps  intelligence can overcome its artifice.

I don't have as many followers as any of them.

Like The Other Place, the cast, who are all students at Monash, play multiple roles and it takes time to put the jigsaw together of how early scenes fit in. But as characters stay with the same actors in Dishinibition, it's easier to find the experiences to connect with – even if it's with the bot.

Its strength lies with a cast who can only imagine what life was like before the internet and understand the positive and negatives about communicating with people you may never really know or meet. And they instinctively understand that our social media personalities are mask and performance. Bringing this concept onto the stage feels as natural as checking Facebook (I'm showing my age).

Virsik lets them find their personal connection to the work while giving the overall structure a tighter shell that lets the ideas dance like gifs without distracting from the narrative progression.

If you have to choose which play to see during The Festival of Bryant, Dishinibition is stronger and feels so much like now that it may be written about in the future as a play that captured the period before we really understood the impact of AI. And MUST continues to be the Melbourne theatre secret that develops some of our most successful theatre makers  – Bryant was at MUST – and makes theatre with students that is nothing like student theatre.

But also see The Other Place because this is Melbourne and imagining theatre here without La Mama isn't possible.




02 September 2019

Opportunity to see: Helping Hands

Helping Hands
A-tistic
La Mama Courthouse
7–10 August
lamama.com.au
a-tistic.com.au




Helping Hands is the fourth work by A-tistic and it had a three-day run at La Mama in August. For everyone who saw it, we know how lucky we were. For the rest, it's available as a captioned video stream until 13 September.

Get your ticket here.
(https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/video-ticket-watch-helping-hands-2019-from-home-tickets-70885844469)

This independent company make theatre that looks at theatre stories and stages through neurodivergent experiences. They know that many existing and potential audiences and theatre makers want or need different ways of experiencing theatre. They highlight how many people are kept out of this world that claims to be so open and accepting. They highlight how many people are kept out of a lot of things.

A-tistic began at MUST (Monash University Student Theatre) in 2014 with a show called Them Aspies. It was about the experience of being on the autism spectrum and created and performed by a group of neurodiverse students. Its success led to a second season and its story and process led to the formation of a company and three original new works: Pinocchio Restrung (Melbourne Fringe,  2016), Alexithymia (Poppyseed  Festival,  2017) and Helping Hands. I've seen them all.

Their work is about the experience of living in a neurodiverse world, our world. They share experiences but are not educational pieces about being neurodivergent. Decribing their technique as Spectrum Theatre, they create theatre in ways that put the experience of austism first – in their development and rehearsal processes, on the stage and in the theatre or however else you can or want to see the work.

Watch it because it may open up new ways of seeing and including your audiences and creatives, or for no other reason than it's good theatre and didn't have the opportunity for a long run.

Here's the program.

Here's a preview.


29 August 2019

Review: Robert Wilson performs John Cages Lecture On Nothing.

Supersense Festival
Robert Wilson performs John Cages Lecture On Nothing
Arts Centre Melbourne
24 August 2019
Playhouse
to 24 August
artscentremelbourne.com.au

"Robert Wilson performs John Cages Lecture On Nothing" Photo by Lucie Jansch

Robert Wilson performs John Cages Lecture On Nothing.

He sure does. He's been doing so since 2012 and did it twice in Melbourne on Saturday.

I nearly missed it as I was stuck in the White Night crowds: thousands of people looking at pretty lights and pictures on buildings and hoping for adventure on the traffic-free city streets. They might struggle with a show about the art of nothing. I was with them for a while. Where is the art in nothing?

The stage is contained by blue-white light and filled with banners written in upper case hand-painted black letters. They look like sentences, but they are mostly just words. These words become very familiar over the next hour or so. The floor is covered with scrunched up balls of paper that are so evenly spread that someone must know exactly how many balls per square metre of stage. Wilson, now in his 70s, sits at a desk. Wearing a white linen shirt and pants and white make up, he looks like a character in a Robert Wilson show. Another man, with black and white make up, stands on a level above Wilson's right under a screen and there's a bed to Wilson's left to complete the diagonal line. Their precise movement is easy to miss and the music is less than screeching but heading to an overbearing squeal of two notes.

John Cage (1912-92) was an American composer and theorist. The most-common way into discovering him is in his 1952 composition 4' 33". Played or performed on any instrument, it's four minutes and 33 seconds of silence; I first saw it performed on a toy piano. It's the kind of acclaimed genius that makes people scoff at minimalist theatre and love the pretty of White Night adventures. But it's still performed – a lot. Without Cage, we may not have the likes of Phillip Glass, John Adams, Terry Riley, Michael Nyman, Henryk G√≥recki or any of the background music I used to play at dinner parties.

Lecture on Nothing (1959) is written like a  piece of music, there are pauses and repetition.
       and repetition.       
       and repetition.
It's as much form as it's about form, and as much performance as it's about performance. It floats in that strange space that understands the art as it claims to be ephemeral.

There are plenty of lectures about the lecture, which was published in book – but this is a performance.

Robert Wilson (b 1941) is a theatre director and artists who is best known for Einstein on the Beach, his collaboration with composer Phillip Glass and choreographer Lucinda Childs. First seen in 1976, it's a show that lives up to its own legend. We've been privileged in Melbourne to have seen Einstein twice and had Wilson's works feature at Melbourne festivals.

When the music/noise stops, Wilson is alone on the stage. He takes a page from the pile of pages in front of him. It's a very large pile. As it takes a couple minutes to read each page, there's a ripple of fear that the 70-minute running time was a lie. Art can lie. Is he really going to read it, like the title says?

It's odd to have to listen to Robert Wilson theatre. So much of his work is about unspoken communication. Maybe the words really matter this time? Maybe.

But soon he's talking about structure and I'm there.

When I teach, new writers roll their eyes when I tell them that the secret to writing is structure, and that talent, creativity  are the maple-flavoured dust on the icing on the cake layered with word play and metaphor. Structure's my way into understanding and letting go of any understanding about this nothing.

Robert Wilson performs John Cages Lecture On Nothing is as earnestly serious as it's disrespectfully funny. Some people scurry out – I wonder what they expected? – some laugh and others nod in understanding as the refrain of "More and more I have the feeling that we are getting nowhere" becomes profound and totally ridiculous.

If you dig the work of Wilson and Cage, you were probably there and you'll see it again if you get the chance.

24 August 2019

Review: Australian Realness

Australian Realness
Malthouse Theatre
22 August 2019
Merlyn Theatre
to 8 September

"Australian Realness" Photo by Pia Johnson

In 2011, someone* told me to see a play in a terrace in Fitzroy during the Melbourne Fringe and I was blown away at the original voices and capture of what it was like to be 20ish woman. One of the creators of I know there's a lot of noise outside but you have to close your eyes was Zoey Dawson. I think I've seen all of her significant plays since then; some (like Conviction and The Unspoken Word is Joe) have blown me away at their original voice and capture of what it's like to a theatre person in Melbourne.

Australian Realness is Dawson's first mainstage show at Malthouse. It begins as the kind of lets-laugh-very-gently-at-our-middle-class-selves-without-being-mean naturalistic comedy. It's set in 1997 and the blue-checked couch, Country Road dress, box of Moet, artichokes and hand-made wind chimes (design by Romanie Harper) are so recognisable that many of the audience will be pricing it in their heads and don't need the references to know it's in North Fitzroy. Goodness, it's so silly-us-in-the-90s-with-our-lovely-houses-reading-that-Tim-Winton-book-about-the-disabled-boy that it could be in that bigger theatre down the road.

But it's not that kind of play.

The family are mum, Linda Cropper; dad, Greg Stone; pregnant daughter, Emily Goddard; coke-head investor son, Andre De Vanny; and daughter's girlfriend from Coburg who is about to lose her job at the wharfs, Chanella Marci. The constant sound (James Paul sound design) of building new apartments next door threatens to ruin family Christmas, but there are secrets that are more dangerous.

It's really not this kind of play.

One secret is that the family money is running out, because no one is buying books or seeing puppet shows any more, and that the shed has been leased to a family of people from the suburbs; doubled by three of the cast. This fag-smoking mum wears a glitter reindeer t-shirt from K-Mart and this dad bonds with wharfy girlfriend because they are the only people who get that the blissful "I can hear the cockies at Merri Creek" silence from the building work stopping next door means that people have lost their jobs.

Bogans V what-Yuppies-grew-into. Australian cities and class. Did people living in huge-houses-near-good-schools know what was happening at the Melbourne wharfs in the late 90s and early 2000s?

When the classes clash, the so-familiar comedy twists into an Aussie sitcom complete with laugh track, talking to the audience and characters that are easy to laugh at because they are not us. And "they" don't go to the theatre, so they won't see it. It's easier to laugh than admit to fear.

And it's not that play either.

It's a what-if terrified imagining that the working class revolution happened. Or a dystopic time-shifting fantasy. Or a blood-soaked urban gothic horror dream. Or a jolt into now with a consensual live-art exhibition and cereal-milk pannacotta Masterchef jokes.

Last week, I was unsure about another play by a young writer on a mainstage because tried to be too many things at one. This is similar, but is more successful because it changes tones tightly and every genre within the genre would be great by itself. Director Janice Muller ensures that the absurdly outrageous shifts in tone and story are surprising but feel so right in the theatre. The walls can come down in the theatre; we never have to imagine that we are really there. And Goddard remains the same character who was asleep on the couch at the beginning, ensuring there's always someone to consistently care about.

Australian Realness is far more than a safe poke at those who go to the theatre and make fun of bogans. It's a far sharper poke and no one knows the safe word to make it stop.

* Possibly Declan Greene, who has since worked with Zoey as a director and as dramaturg on Australian Realness.

Review: Golden Shield

Golden Shield
Melbourne Theatre Company
16 August 2019
Southbank Theatre, The Sumner
to 14 September
mtc.com.au

"Golden Shield" photo by Jeff Busby.


15 August 2019

Review: Sunday in the Park with George

Sunday in the Park With George
Watch This
10 August 2019
Whitehourse Centre
to 10 August 2019
Geelong: 15–17 August
gpac.org.au
Melbourne: 21–24 August
mtc.com.au

Nick Simpson-Deeks, Vidya Makin. "Sunday in the Psrk with George".. Photo by Jodi Hutchinson

"White. A blank page or canvas."

The cliche of an artist opening a work of art by contemplating a space of nothing should feel as condescending as it is – but it doesn't. Bloody Sondheim; even his most indulgent work feels real.

Sunday in the Park with George is Stephen Sondheim's 1985 personal plea for theatre-goers to understand the process and importance of art. It's the sixth show Melbourne-based independent Sondheim-only company Watch This have brought us and one that looks at the work with their own perspective.

The original production starred Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters, with the book by James Lapine. It won Tonys and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and is especially well known because it was filmed and released on home video (it's easy to find in YouTube; it's awesome). It was the show that Sondheim was never going to make because he declared he was quitting theatre following the heartbreak-cum-disaster of his Merrily We Roll Along, which closed after 16 Broadway performances in 1981. (If you haven't seen the documentary Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened, it's on Netflix; it's also awesome.)

Sunday is an imagination of artist George Seurat in the two years he was painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884) in Paris, and his great grandchild George's reimagining of the work 100 years later with the super-cool computerised art of the 1980s.

It's a work that can feel difficult to sink into. In act one, the stories and characters have limited connections; there are discussions about pointillism, colour and art theory; and the protagonist is difficult to like as he connects more with a dog in the park than with his mother or his pregnant lover and model, Dot.

But even the best-worst name pun ever – his painting is a series of dots – is overcome as the act ends with an ensemble number that's as affecting as anything Sondheim has written. It brings all the disparate elements together musically and dramatically with a demonstration of "order, design, tension, composition, balance, light and harmony" that can't explain why it pokes emotions that you may not have known were there.

With a orchestra of four – four! –, Ned Wright-Smith's musical direction and Dominic Woodhead's orchestration focus on the transcending dissonance to harmony and supporting the singers to find the emotion inherent in every note.

Watch This don't have the resources to create the sort of design that productions of Sunday are known for, but Sarah Tulloch's design (with Rob Sowinski's lighting) looks at sections of the painting as it develops and has lots of fun with the 1980's version. And Rhiannon Irving's costumes let the characters feel like they really did come off the painting as the fabric is also coloured with dots.

Directors Dean Drieberg and Sonya Suares ensure that character leads everything on the stage and that the performers let the characters feel personal. This production isn't a deconstruction of a man able to spend his days making art that he thinks will change the world. It's not about the finished piece. It's about what he leaves out of the canvas (score/book/review), what he changes, and what he distorts to fit his idea of perfection.

Representation is far more than being peeved because your image is out of proportion.

The gaze of an artist rarely reflects reality.

As George's model, Dot is as much inspiration to him as she is irrelevant. He might love her but is far more passionate about her standing still or letting him finish that darn hat. Vidya Makan shows how easy it was for George to choose her, but she is confident enough to know that she can't get lost in her love for George. She doesn't resort to spite and knows that she's making the best choices for her, even if they hurt.

However, a production of this musical rests with George and George, who are played by the same person. The Georges aren't easy men to like unless you love them. Nick Simpson-Deek's George is personal. He holds George 1's emotions so close that George barely knows they are there and George 2 is tightly wound and determined but open to being so much more. As he holds back the emotions, his performance shines as he lets the music and song show everything that George 1 would never say and what George 2 learns to express.

We sing what we can't say; that's how great musicals work. When George and Dot sing, we see who they really are; we see the flecks of light and dark. And parasols.

Watch This don't make us stand in the middle of the gallery and look at the work of a "genuis". This Sunday in the Park with George moves us to the corners and behind the crowds where the view isn't as clear and perfect. It's a production for us and for now.

They open tonight in Geelong and this weekend might be your only chance to see it because their Melbourne season is all but sold out because Sondheim fans know not to miss it.