21 December 2017

What I loved in 2017: the best of Melbourne theatre

I can finally share this. I chose them before the "loveds" and before other final judging of the year and I am always thrilled when I see the same shows on lists and memories.

The Sometimes Melbourne popular winner this year – the absolutely most-loved show of the year – is easily Hannah Gadsby's Nanette.

Hannah Gadsby

We're still talking about it. (What Melbourne Loved parts 1–10) I haven't stopped talking about it. But go to Twitter and search for Hannah's name to see just how much this show has meant to people. It shared a truth that needed to be shared, even when it's not the same truth for everyone.

I'm still caught between looking at it as a piece of exquisite writing that takes stand up, turns it on itself and creates something new and vital that's everything that stand-up comedy isn't, and wanting Hannah to never perform it again.

Wild Bore also got a lot of well-deserved love (even if I wasn't cunty enough to be quoted) and those of us who saw Taylor Mac know that we may never recover.

Surprisingly, the shows we're most looking forward to are at the MTC! And it's not because we're becoming dull but because we're going to see Patricia Cornelius's new work The House of Bernarda Alba and Stephen Nicolazzo directing Abigail's Party. And Jean Tong's Hungry Ghosts.

Outstanding Artists 2017


Katy Warner for Spencer, Lab Kelpie

Spencer, Lab Kelpie. Lyall Brooks, Jamieson Caldwell, Fiona Harris, Jane Clifton. Photo by Pier Carthew

Special mentions

Daniel Kitson and Gavin Osborn for Stories for the Starlit Sky at MICF

Stella Reid, Jane Yonge​, Oliver Morse and Thomas Lambert for The Basement Tapes at Melbourne Fringe


Dale Ferguson (set and costume), Paul Jackson (lighting) and J David Franzke (sound) for Away, Malthouse

Away, Malthouse. Photo by Pia Johnson

Special mentions

Christina Logan Bell for The Japanese Princess by Lyric Opera 

Dann Barber (set and costume), Rob Sowinski and Bryn Cullen (lighting) for Angels in America, Cameron Lukey and Dirty Pretty Theatre in association with fortyfivedownstairs

Angels in America, fortyfivedownstairs


Kate Mulvany as Richard III in Richard III, Bell Shakespeare

Richard III, Bell Shakespeare. Kate Mulvany and Meredith Penman. Photo by Prudence Upton

Special mentions

Melita Jurisic as Genevieve in John, Melbourne Theatre Company

The cast of Black Rider, Malthouse and Victorian Opera at Melbourne Festival

The cast of Trainspotting Live at MICF


Matthew Lutton for Away, Malthouse, and Black Rider, Malthouse and Victorian Opera at Melbourne Festival

Black Rider, Malthouse and Victorian Opera. Photo by Pia Johnson

Special mentions

Sarah Goodes for John, Melbourne Theatre Company

Bridget Balodis for Desert 6.29pm, Red Stitch Actors Theatre


Little Ones Theatre
Stephen Nicolazzo , Eugyeene Teh, Katie Sfetkidis and everyone who works with them

Stephen, Eugyeene and Katie. Little Ones Theatre

The Happy Prince at La Mama, The Moors for Red Stitch, and Merciless Gods at Northcote Town Hall and Griffin (Sydney). It's been a pretty amazing year for them and the team's first show for 2018 is Abigail's Party at MTC and the company's The Nightingale and the Rose, the second in their Oscar Wilde Trilogy, is at Theatre Works in June. CAN NOT WAIT.

The Happy Prince. Janine Watson and Catherine Davies. Photo by Pia Johnson

Outstanding Productions 2017


Clittery Glittery by Fringe Wives Club (Rowena Hutson, Victoria Falconer-Pritchard and Tessa Waters) at MICF.

Clittery Glittery. Victoria Falconer-Pritchard, Tessa Waters and Rowena Hutson.

Special mention
Betty Grumble: Sex Clown Saves The World at Melbourne Fringe


John, Melbourne Theatre Company


The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon

Special mention

Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit by Jean Tong at Poppyseed Festival.
If this doesn't get some development and second season, there is something wrong.

24/12 Update: All is good because it has a season at Malthouse in March. Book here.

Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit. Margot Tanjutco and Louisa Wall


Nautilus by Trygve Wakenshaw at MICF

Trygve Wakenshaw

Special mentions
Monkey See, Monkey Do by Richard Gadd at MICF

The Travelling Sisters at MICF


La Voix Humaine by BK Opera at Melbourne Fringe

The Maze by Kasey Gambling at Melbourne Fringe


Joan by The Rabble
Joan. The Rabble. Dana Miltins. Photo by David Paterson

The Book of Mormon
Black Rider, Malthouse and Victorian Opera at Melbourne Festival

Betty Grumble: Love and Anger at the Butterfly Club

Betty Grumble: Love and Anger


This year, I saw two shows that I have thought about every day since. Every day.
I've spent ages trying to separate these two and it's impossible. There wasn't a moment when anything came near to the experience of seeing Nanette, until Taylor Mac started talking about the homophobic shaming of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and finished 23 hours later dressed in a glittery, pink vulva and I couldn't stop crying.

Nanette by Hannah Gadsby at MICF and Arts Centre Melbourne

Hannah Gadsby. It's such a great pic that it can be here again.

A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, Taylor Mac, Pomegranate Arts and Nature's Darlings at Melbourne Festival

Taylor Mac. Photo by Sarah Walker.

I'm told that I expect too much of theatre. "People just want to be entertained". As Hannah said in the early version of Nanette, we have animal videos for that.

Maybe art can't change the world, but it can change people. I've seen the impact of both of these works. Both have changed how I see myself, my friends, my community and my world. Both have strengthened and created communities.

Hannah, in jeans and a jacket by herself, and Taylor, in most of the world's bright and shiny and the support of many equally-fabulous cast and crew, are incomparable – but both are their absolute real selves on stage and their work comes from the same place.

Hannah talks about the impact of being shamed by society, community, friends and family, and ultimately yourself. She talks about the insidious power of shame and her work finds the heavy hidden shame that sits in so many of us, even if we didn't know it was there.

She shares how people, especially women, put themselves down when they talk, write, perform, exist. We kick ourselves, so that you don't have to kick and reject us first.

Taylor knows communities and people who know shame, who have hidden their authentic selves out of safety or fear. Judy's work confronts the utter absurdity of this shame and creates a world where shame doesn't exist. People living at the edges of society are placed in its centre – and loved and celebrated. I had never seen a work place women, especially queer women, so in the centre of the world.

I have seen people change from seeing these shows. I saw a lot of anger, but I also saw smiles I have never seen and tears that let go of years of pain. They are the most humane pieces of theatre I have experienced.

And I'm going to keep wanting more of the same.

I don't know if Taylor and Hannah have seen each other's shows, but this HAS TO HAPPEN.