31 August 2011

MELBOURNE FRINGE HINTS 3: Families are the Best Material

Families, we can run, but they'll always find us, especially if we run back to them or ask them to be in our Fringe show...

"Last year Kate broke up with her boyfriend and moved home to her Mum and Dad's." That's in the Fringe guide; I'm not gossiping.

In 2006, Melbourne fell in love with Kate when The Debutante Diaries won a whole heap of awards and made us want to wear white frilly frocks. In last Fringe's gorgeous Livin' The Dream, Kate broke away from fiction because her own life was as funny as her creations. This year we find out what happened when she had enough of living with her parents and ran to New York.

Bron Batten is best known as the co-creator of the super dooper Last Tuesday Society and her unforgettable animal impersonations.

So what do her parents think about their daughter who dresses up in a sleeping bag and pretends to be a whale?

To answer everything, Bron and her parents have devised this show and there's 27 years of material to explore. 

Bring your olds.

30 August 2011


Or: I fancy people who watch Dr Who and can spell

Mark Butler

Melbourne writer and fellow word nerd Narrelle M Harris told me that I have to see this show. She saw it during the comedy festival.

Without any details, I know that it's for me, because a misplaced apostrophe can ruin a relationship for me. I forgive typos and hurried tweets (and make many myself), but if you don't know the difference between its and it's, I have to wonder what other basics you don't know.

Who, Me
Vicious Fish
, Milke

I'm one of those very cool people who watches Dr Who*, so my not-so-inner-nerd can't wait to see what Rob Lloyd and Scott Gooding do with their Doctor obsessions; obsessions that make my love of our Time Lord seem like a vague interest.

These men were obsessed since they were teenagers. That's a long time before Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat re-created the series.  These are men who had VHS tapes of old episodes, bookshelves full of Dr Who paperbacks, can list companions in order of sexiness without having to think too hard and have favourite doctor outfits in their wardrobes.

They also create terrific theatre about their obsessions with popular culture and fictional charcters. Last year saw an exploration of Sherlock Homes in A Study in Scarlet (A Study of) and there was a re-imagining of The Goodies in A Record or an OBE with Shaolin Punk in 2007.

*  a Who tragic

Let's Kill Hitler is on the ABC this weekend!

29 August 2011


Finding shows in the Fringe Guide is one of the more difficult tasks facing Melbourne theatre lovers.

There's nothing wrong with grabbing a handful of M&Ms, throwing them on the diary page and seeing all the shows that a red choc landed on.

But, as I read through the guide, facey invites and emails, there are shows that grab my attention and I'll putting up some themed Fringe suggestions with links to their Fringe page.

I'm Trying To Kiss You

I haven't seen this company, but I've heard some pretty good things about them. 

The all-female collective is diving in and joyfully examining contemporary sexism, gender politics and constructed identity. Before anyone dares roll their eyes and screams that we live in a gender-equal society, please remember that women are still under represented as directors and leaders in commercial and funded theatre, and that there is a generation of young women who are willing to subject themselves to pain and unnecessary surgery to make their vaginas look like they belong on a Barbie doll. And don't get me started on the word "actress". 

Their show with a very long title has also been mentored by the Melbourne Fringe Outside Eye program.

And, as a bonus,  their performance space is a grotty Fitzroy sharehouse.

For all these reasons, I'm going to see it.

Daniel Kilby

Daniel is presenting his first solo show ever. This is one of the wonderful things about Fringe festivals: emerging artists can use the umbrella support of the festival to get seen and show us their stuff.

Some of them will be awesome. Some will learn a lot of lessons. But none can become our favourites unless they get in front of an audience.

Daniel's show is about those coping mechanisms we develop in high school that still form the basis of our ongoing personality disorders. We all have them. (I don't dance in public because some bitch laughed at my dancing in my year 9 fashion parade.)

It's been many years since Daniel was at high school, but he still has to figure out how much of his education was a lie. Are there really nine planets in our solar system and does being gay make him inherently evil? 

There's also some songs, pianist Trevor Jones and a subtle Dr Who reference.

And you'll get to hang at out that the very hip Long Play bar and performance space in North Fitzroy.

Review: The Aliens

The Aliens
Red Stitch Actors Theatre
27 August 2011
Red Stitch
to 24 September

On realising that The Aliens was another work about young disillusioned American youth on July the fourth, I was as disillusioned as a disillusioned American youth who has realised that the American Dream is a crock. But it didn't last, as this is a fascinating and beautiful study of young men drifting from love and home.

American writer Annie Baker is only just 30 and has already won significant awards for her plays Body Awareness and Circle Mirror Transformation (which is on at the MTC this month). The Aliens is her third major work and was nominated for an Obie (the Off-Broardway Theatre awards given by The Village Voice – the Off-Broadway Tonys).

All three are set in a fictional Vermont town called Shirley. Shirley's fiction enables her to easily transform into any city. Even with northern hemisphere accents and references, it was no stretch to see the same world a short walk from Red Stitch's theatre, in any direction.

Heartbroken novelist Jasper (Brett Cousins) and shroom-loving college drop out KJ (Brett Ludeman) spend their days in a filthy alley behind a new-age cafe. Their comfortable silence is strangely comfortable to watch and the intrusion of high school student Evan (David Harrison), who works part time in the cafe before going to Jewish band camp, lets them talk about their band with many names, Bukowski's poems, their respective genius minds and their attempts at reaching to women for comfort.

Baker's gentle writing lets us observe and accept without judgement.  Her exposition is such a part of their conversation that is goes unnoticed and her story is so subtle that the impact of its climax is unexpected, especially as director Nadia Tass is unafraid of the silence and lets her actors use the time to create men we know and recognise.

This is writing needs time to settle into the hearts of its audience, but its sparseness creates a world that is far more familiar than alien.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Photo by David Parker

Theatre Works Selected Works closes 2 September

Applications for the Theatre Works Selected Works program close on 2 September.

This terrific program offers support to independent artists and companies the opportunity to develop a work and mount a full season with significantly reduced upfront costs.

Info at www.theatreworks.org.au/ourworks

26 August 2011

Melbourne Fringe Launch

You have 19 days to see 230 shows.

Hayley Butcher and Telia Nevile at the Fringe Program Launch 
(pic courtesy Melbourne Fringe)

I think we should have a reality TV show that challenges contestants to see everything in a Fringe program.

I'd watch it.

The Melbourne Fringe program is launched. The guide's on the streets, the web page is live and the app is downloadable.

This year's feast of independent arts runs from 21 September to 9 October, which means that there's less than a month to choose what you're going to see or to get your show ready.

I haven't chosen my shows yet*, so suggestions are welcome.

*Except for FUGLY, cos I am beautiful and Who Mecos I'm a nerd.

FUGLY: Sixxters Grimm will make you beautiful, if it kills you.

Who, Me.  

25 August 2011

Still time to register for TOTIPOTENT

There's still places available for TOTIPOTENT: A National Theatre Summit for Young and Emerging Artists.

Presented by and held at  the wonderful St Martin's Youth Arts Centre on Friday 2 and Saturday 3 September, this FREE (yes, it's FREE) event is an incredible opportunity for emerging artists to have their say in the future of our industry, see new work and meet some of the young moovers and groovers (like Matthew Lutton).

Less young moovers and groovers are also very welcome.

Melbourne Writers Festival opens today

The Melbourne Writers Festival opens today.

Join 400 writers from all over the world.

Talks, debates (who knows what will happen at QANDA live), screenings, workshops, the festival bookshop and a late night club.

If you love thearte and writing, I hope that you love reading. Reading is the one thing that can actually get me away from playing Angry Birds.

If you don't...PLEASE grab a book (I'm happy for it to be download) and remember what it's like to let your brain really get involved with the entertainment process.

If you're one of those writers who doesn't read (I know you exist because I keep meeting you), the best way that you can be a better writer is to read. Read books, scripts, newspapers, magazines, blogs, essays, poems, graphic novels and birthday cards. See how other people make letters into words and make those words fly.

And meet other word nerds at MWF.

Review: An Actor Prepares

An Actor Prepares: The Songs of Love and Grief
Eagle's Nest Theatre
21 August 2011
Broken Mirror Studio
27 and 28 August

Nela Trifkovic has created a musical adaption of Eagles Nest's An Actor Prepares. Now subtitled The Songs of Love and Grief, the adapted work is an emotional reflection of the original that discovers new depths of sorrow and grief and more moments of lightness and humour.

Nela Trifkovic has performed the piece with its writer James Adler. She also performed it by herself in New York and has now made a musical adaption of the work, which Adler wrote in 2001 as a very personal response to Australia's sending of troupes to Afghanistan. Adler has freely let go of his script to direct this fascinating new version.

With the familiar white costumes and empty stage of previous versions, the new text uses poems by Garcia Lorca and Trifkovic's own challenging, haunting and ultimately beautiful compositions. The actor preparing is now a musician, Trifkovic, who is joined by singer David Howell.  His soft falsetto and gentle stillness and her guttural depths and striking kaberet-style bitter humour contrast so vividly that the unusual combination of voices and styles becomes so much more exciting than any predictable and blandly safe harmony.

With images like "children with guns doing what a child cannot do" to thoughts contemplating "the presence of god in pirate movies", it hypnotically takes the audiences to unexpected emotional extremes which creates diverse individual responses. While the original scripted version is about sharing in the actor/bomber's horror, this one lets the audience find their own personal journey in the music.

Although ultimately reminding us that people use bombs to be heard, The Songs of Love and Grief leaves us images of love that rouse our hearts and a sense of hope that we must be more than a world that's "painting nightmares in our children's dreams".

There are two more performances of An Actor Prepares: The Songs of Love and Grief this weekend. If you liked any of the previous versions, this is something so different that you really should compare, and if you didn't like the previous versions (Samela Harris, I'm talking to you), this may change your mind.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

24 August 2011

Review: A Solitary Choice

A Solitary Choice
Theatre Works and Michael Allen
5 August 2011
Theatre Works

A Solitary Choice is about the can't-go-back decision to continue a pregnancy. For all its politicisation, academic writing, screaming marches and protest banners, it's never a choice that other people's arguments can make clear, and the offstage/unborn child in Sheila Duncan's monologue ensures that whatever the mother decides, she can never make the right choice.

Preachy theatres bores the bejesus out of me. If you want to change people's opinions about issues, write a pamphlet or run for government. If you want to reach people's hearts and let them understand another person's life, write a story and create people who believe and reject those ideals that drive you.

A Solitary Choice isn't about its subject matter.  Ruth's marriage is dull, her unexpected affair was fiery, her son needs loving and there's money and work and pets and how can anyone find the time to make a rational and clear decision.

Tamara Lee's performance brings us so close to Ruth that everyone watching has to try and make that same choice. This takes away the judgement that everyone's personal opinions or belief immediately bring to the subject and leaves us lost in her joy and pain.

With new Creative Producer Daniel Clarke, Theatre Works continues to show us that terrific theatre is made in places other than Melbourne. Duncan, Lee and director Michael Allen are based in Adelaide and this production had won accolades in their town and raves at the Edinburgh festival.

This show only ran for a few nights, so was easy to miss. The lesson is to just see whatever Theatre Works have programmed.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

Review: Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet
Bell Shakespeare
School version
9 August 2011
The National Theatre

Romeo and Juliet is a story about horny teenagers who make stupid decisions and the adults around them who don't realise that teenagers will make stupid decisions. It's an awesome story that would earn an "it's complicated" as a Facebook relationship status.

One of the many wonderful things about Bell Shakespeare is that they bring these glorious and complex stories to as many people as possible. Their schools program continues to excite young Bard fans and their web site is filled with resources, links and opportunities for teachers to create as much enthusiasm and love for Shakespeare as teens have for writers like JK Rowling and John Marsden.  But, unlike novels, plays are just words if they're not performed and Bell's young school troupe are show what all those words mean.

Directed by Damien Ryan, this abridged version is performed by a delightful cast of eight who bring fun, enthusiasm and understanding to the text, but the cutting decisions seem to have been based on retaining well-known scenes and showing language, rather than focusing on story and creating teenagers that teenagers care about.

The cutting is vital for time (and usually does no harm), but by losing some of the final scenes when characters could make choices that would make everything work out, the momentum and the hope is lost, which leaves the ending flat.  R&J should always end in silence or blubbing, even when we know the outcome.

I saw R&J with a few hundred well-behaved teens; I know what they thought of it. I've sat in cinemas with  teen audiences gripped by Harry Potter; I've seen teen audiences hang on every word that John Marsden says. If a teen audience (or any audience) is displaying signs of boredom, something isn't working.

I was a teenager when I first read R&J, saw it performed (thank you SA STC) and watched a couple movie versions. It's a play about teenagers in love. In the 80s, I loved it like I loved John Hughes films. There's no reason for any audience to not get it, unless the story isn't clear and the characters are not like teenagers.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

21 August 2011

Review: Namatjira

Malthouse Thearte and Big hART
12 August 2011
Merlyn Theatre
to 28 August

Grandchildren of Albert Namatjira asked Big hART to share the story of their grandfather.

Big hART created Ngapartji Ngapartji, one of my highlights of MIAF 2007, the story of Pitjantjatara performer Trevor Jamieson's family and the devastating impact of the Maralinga bomb tests on Arrernte country in Mparntwe (Alice Springs). For such a horrendous story, the telling overflowed with the kind of love, understanding, joy, pain and sharing that defines amazing theatre.

Namatjira is as wonderful and is by far my favourite show this year.

Most of us recognise Namatjira's unique watercolours of the MacDonnell Ranges. By painting how country looked, instead of its meaning, Namatjira's windows into country adorned many suburban walls in the 1940s and 50s, are gallery protected today and decorate as many Aussie, Aussie, Aussie place mats as Ken Done's. But Done still gets cheques for his designs; Namatjira desperately sold the copyright to his because he needed money.

Namatjira is the story beyond the history book declaration of Australia's first official Aboriginal citizen, the highway naming in Canberra and the commemorative stamps. From a Lutheran mission, where translations of hymns left Jesus being tracked to kill, to meeting a girl called The Queen, Albert changed his name, fell in love, had children, learned to paint with digger Rex Battarbee, supported an extended family of 600 and faced frustrations that his citizenship and fame couldn't overcome.

Directed by Scott Rankin and Wayne Blair, the collaborative telling involves Namatjira's grandchildren and relatives, composer Genevieve Lacy and Big hART's master storyteller Jameison is joined by the too delightful (and ridiculously funny) Derik Lynch.

In a world where we continually define ourselves by our social groups and standings, it's a joy to laugh at our attempts to not define ourselves and share a story that should be far better known. Namatjira is not to be missed; your heart will thank you for going.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

12 August 2011

Review: Rising Water

Rising Water
Melbourne Theatre Company and Black Swan State Theatre Company
The Playhouse, the Arts Centre
9 August 2011
to 10 September

I love Tim Winton's books. His writing reminds me why I will happily miss watching people on a stage if I can sit on the couch with some cushions, my cats and a lot of words in a book.

Black Swan from Perth and our own MTC have produced Winton's first play, Rising Water (Cloudstreet was an adaption of his book). If you love Winton's novels, the writing and the sound of the text is familiar and, at first, comforting – but theatre writing is a very different beast from prose and there's already a lot of debate about whether Winton has caught and freed, or squished and barbequed this beast.

Like much of Winton's works, Rising Water is about loners and the ocean. Baxter (John Howard), Col (Geoff Kelso) and Jackie (Alison Whyte) have run to the edge of Australia and are living on their boats in a Freemantle marina, when a pissed British tourist turns up with her huge backpack, tiny shorts and observation that Perth is the whitest place in the world. Which it is.

Christina Smith's design brings us so close to the Freeo docks that I felt a pang of nostalgia for the Freeo markets and coffee that tastes a bit like the sea. The three boats float and rock on the stage as black as the still night ocean and it's almost a shock to realise that it's not water.

But the stunning realism is corroded by the forced symbolism of the text (the mysterious row boat boy, needing to drown to live, the mast that can't get an erection...) and characters who say so much, but don't let us see much beyond our first impression. It may make me cry if I read it, but our ears don't read and hearing this text is a struggle, especially as we can see so much of what it's saying.

See it for the cast and the design, but please don't think that Rising Water represents Tim Winton's writing and make sure you read something like Breath.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

11 August 2011

Review: Special

La Mama and The Rabble
7 August 2011
La Mama Courthouse
to 21 August

The Rabble explore the aesthetics of theatre with a focus on process and theme. Their shows are not easy to read stories and their style could leave you engrossed or cold and mumbling about missing Masterchef for this.

In a mould-green world surrounded by crepe streamers the colour of toilet paper, Goldie rides her exercise bike while Special lies on a hill of soil wearing a stretchy hot pink dress and a North American Indian head dress. And it gets stranger.

From a concept by director Emma Valente and Mary Helen Sassman, Special is ostensively about mothers and daughters. Goldie (Liz Jones – who it's always wonderful to see on the stage rather than the office) isn't thrilled that her daughter, Special (Sassman), is pregnant (as is Sassman).  Special's not too thrilled with Goldie either, but has some more important issues to face before her special day, if Goldie doesn't demand all the attention.

There's little story to follow, rather it's a disturbingly funny peek into the warped emotions and unconscious drivers of the pair. With its lack of logic, distorted aesthetics and was-Freud-really-right moments of parental resent, it's like watching a dream. And, like waking,  you leave with the your conscious memory trying to put pieces together that will never fit.

I admit that I had moments when I had no idea what was going on or what it all meant, but it was beautiful and fascinating and I'm so glad that we have a theatre culture that lets this kind of art flourish.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com

09 August 2011

Review: My Romantic History

My Romantic History
Red Stitch Actors Theatre
7 August 2011
Red Stitch
to 13 August

"If you haven't met someone by the time you graduate, you're going to marry some cunt from your work." So, freelancers have no hope, but how wonderful to see Red Stitch putting their audience on their stage.

My Romantic History is about the accidental workplace affair of Amy and Tom, who are in the dangerous single and 30ish zone. Come one, we've all been there.  You had nine drinks with "colleagues" because you didn't have anything better to do and after all he wasn't a "retard or a rapist" and he was captivated by the beauty of your tits. Then you got a bit stalky because he didn't declare undying love the morning after, even though you don't really like him and the only reason you think you had sex is because you're weren't wearing knickers. Textbook romance. Unless you're reading this from the house you own with someone you met at uni and have been acting like an adult since you were 18. But then you probably don't have time to go to the theatre because you're at home looking after kids you love, having dinner parties with other happy couples and exploring swinger web sites.

One of my favourite TV shows in my 20s was Thirtysomething. I shook my head at how these grownups could be so fucked up and knew that I'd never be like them. Now, at the other side of 30ish, I marvel at how totally together those fictional people were. There are many reasons why we love watching stories about not-perfect relationships.

Scottish playwright D C Jackson creates shut-up-that's-my-life empathy by showing how both sides see the object of their non-desire. The woman is a desperate freak in his eyes; he's a boring loser to her. It's a bit like When Harry Met Sally without the glamour of New York or the as-if! romantic gestures. But it's just as funny.

Ngaire Dawn Fair (Sasha) is the ideal hippy counterpoint to Zoe Boesen's confused Amy, and Tim Potter captures all perspectives of Tom with the kind of love and understanding that continues to make him an actor who should always be seen.

Peter Mumford's too-gorgeous toilety design ensures that we never see this affair with romantic-coloured specs. After all, if these two work out, there's hope for anyone who's desperate, or drunk. Meanwhile, David Whiteley's direction lets our sympathies change so much that it's impossible to take his or her side, so we have to like them both and wish that we could step in and help them make the best decisions. But if they made the best decisions, he wouldn't end up seeing his ex when he's covered in puke, she wouldn't be confessing to the bitch from work and we wouldn't have half as much fun watching.

My Romantic History is the sort of writing that brings its audience into the story because it's so close to home. The genuine laughter comes from recognition. Sometimes the secret of comedy is simply telling the truth. There's a week left. See it, unless your love life has been perfect.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheate.com

Photo by Jodie Hutchinson