13 December 2017

What Melbourne Loved in 2017, part 9

This is your last week to get your moments included. Today we hear from Richard Watts, Sharon Davis and Ash Flanders.

Richard Watts
Professional pontificator, ArtsHub/3RRR

Lee Zachariah's photo for Richard Watts's 50th this year

Favourite moments in 2017
It’s been a memorable and fascinating year; one in which compassion, connection and community were the dominant themes of the works which resonated with me the most.

Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette remains the single most perfect and important piece of art I saw this year; a work that weaponised comedy by turning the art form against itself, ratchetting up the tension by depriving us of punch lines and in doing so letting us not just see but experience the damage inflicted by homophobia. Heartbreaking, brilliant and important – I don’t know how Hannah keeps performing it, and I hope she has a mental health professional on speed-dial to talk with after each and every show.

A 24-Decade History of Popular Music performed by Taylor Mac and friends was an epic, life-affirming celebration of queerness at a time when my community most needed succour and hope. Taylor gave it to us in spades – and so much more besides. I won’t go on at length about how magic and marvellous this four-part work was – it’s already had a lot of love in What Melbourne Loved this year – but I will thank the Melbourne Festival team once more for allowing us to experience this glittering gem of a show.

The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family at Perth Festival is another highlight; I’ve never seen realism done with such subtly, such truthful finesse, and such impact. Three plays performed back to back; the American family in miniature; a tri-part work about class, politics and feminism that was fresh and electrifying and never once didactic or hectoring; the best stage drama I’ve witnessed in 2017.

Attractor at Asia TOPA was my favourite dance work of the year, alongside several other brilliant contenders. Take a bow, Bunny (another Asia TOPA event); Restless Dance Theatre’s Intimate Space at Adelaide Festival; Nicola Gunn’s Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster and Nick Power’s Between Tiny Cities (both at Dance Massive) – A cross-cultural collaboration, an ecstatic celebration, a skilled blending of creative voices, a triumph.

Honourable mentions: All the Sex I’ve Ever Had at Melbourne Festival, another work in which a palpable sense of community built in the theatre as the work progressed; Kate Mulvany’s mercurial and moving Richard 3 for Bell Shakespeare; Wot? No Fish!! at Adelaide Festival, a deceptively simple work with so much heart, and Richard Gadd’s honest, confessional and experimental comedy at MICF, Money See, Monkey Do. And so much more…

Looking forward to in 2018
It’s probably cheating to say everything, isn’t it? There’s so much I’m hanging out to see next year: Daniel Clarke directing Taylor Mac’s Hir at Red Stitch; Daniel Lammin directing Tommy Murphy’s Strangers in Between at fortyfivedownstairs; Brian Lucas giving voice to Wilde’s De Profundis at Gasworks… and that’s just during Midsumma!

I’m especially excited to see not one but two mainstage works – finally! – by Patricia Cornelius in 2018, though I don’t know if I’ll get to both: her adaptation of Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba at MTC, directed by Leticia C├íceres and a new, original work, In the Club at State Theatre Company South Australia, directed by Geordie Brookman.

I’m also hanging out for Jada Alberts’s Brothers Wreck at the Malthouse; Albert Belz’s Astroman and Jean Tong’s Hungry Ghosts, both at the MTC; Gravity and Other Myths’s intimate, brilliant circus work A Simple Space and Griffin Theatre’s long-awaited production of Angus Cerini’s The Bleeding Tree, both at Arts Centre Melbourne, and so much more.

Most importantly I’m looking forward to more new voices; more works by new artists; more works from artists from diverse backgrounds telling stories that when we hear them we’ll be like, “Why haven’t we heard this before?!”. Bring on 2018

Richard & Daniel at Taylor Mac. Photo by Sarah Walker
Me & Richard during Purple Rain. Photo by Daniel Kilby

SM: Watching "Purple Rain" together at Taylor Mac. And the look on Richard's face during the interval of The Book of Mormon.

Sharon Davis
Sharon Davis. Photo by Cricket @ Cricket Studio

Favourite moments in 2017
Hands down, the stage lift during the storm in Away at The Malthouse. I have never felt that kind of pure excitement and adrenaline in the theatre before. It was just magic and it made me feel like a little kid again. I loved the rest of that show too. It took me by surprise which is remarkable for a piece so familiar. It had the intensity of purpose that you often get with a new work while still feeling like a dignified “classic”. I don’t know what I mean by that except that that is how it made me feel.

Of course Melbourne is rich with so much theatre to feast on but my other highlights include:

Nanette by Hannah Gadsby. Her challenge to the idea that artists must be tortured to be of value lingers with me.

Britney Spears: The Cabaret. I know it’s been kicking around for years but I’m one of those people that hadn’t seen it until this year at Chapel. Holy shit, Christie Whelan-Browne is an absolute knockout. Jaw stayed on the floor. If she does it again, don’t think, just go.

The Happy Prince. I always really get a kick out of Stephen Nicolazzo‘s work but this piece came in like a little bird and carried my heart away with such tenderness and humour that I just had to sit a few moments at the end and gather myself. Just beautiful.

Red Stitch really knocked it out of the park for me with Incognito by Nick Payne. I love plays and I love watching actors deliver complex ideas while revealing meaning through human connection, intention and emotion. It’s such an epic play and I still don’t know how they managed to fit it into that space but it worked and it was like jazz and science had a love child.

And finally, Songs for a Weary Throat. An incredible team of artists made this piece epic and beautiful. There was so much danger in the way the performers moved and played. The space was chaotic and broken and full of, seemingly, actual danger. Yet what stuck me most was the absolute trust and care that shone through with every movement, look,and exchange that took place between the performers. It reminded me that theatre doesn’t have to be a competition of endurance, aggression,or trauma for it to be high impact for the audience.

Looking forward to in 2018
A safe, supportive, and respectful work space for EVERYONE.

I can’t wait to see what Stephen Nicolazzo does with Abigail’s Party for MTC. Also really looking forward to seeing one of my favourite directors, Kirsten Von Bibra, take on Venus in Fur for Lightening Jar Theatre at 45 Downstairs.

SM: Sharon directed Spencer, one of my favourite new works of this year.

Ash Flanders

Ash Flanders. I let him choose his own pic.

Favourite moments in 2017
Number one has to be Declan Greene performing the monologue “Conserve water, drink piss” for me at Blondies earlier this week. It’s a found monologue from an Eagle Leather email. I hope it gets picked up.

But in terms of actual things, like anyone with a die hard love of grooviness, I am now a devout member of the church of Betty Grumble. Getting to witness Love and Anger was like getting a front row seat to a tornado where everyone fought to be pulled in. Emma Maye has the potential to be a worldwide ecosexual terrorist of the highest order if smart gate-keepers can open their eyes, hearts and orifices.

Other standout moments include: Peter Paltos delivering the incredible monologue Dan Giovannoni wrote in Merciless Gods; The Listies deservedly selling out their Edinburgh season; marveling at the plot mechanics of Declan’s Faggots or The Homosexuals; the insanity of Phil Dunning’s House of Pigs; and any time I got to witness Nick Coyle be the icon, legend and lunatic he is.

Personally I am very grateful for the opportunity to tour a work overseas and also make a dream come true by finally having an all-lady band help Dave, Stephen and I take Playing to Win to the heights I dreamed it could get to – big thanks to Daniel Clarke and The Arts Centre. I’m beyond thrilled to see The Rabble getting the respect they deserve. Oh I also got to improvise with living legends Nicola Gunn, Mish Grigor and Marcus McKenzie and I’m hoping someday we share the idiotic fruits of that endeavour.

Looking forward to in 2018
Apart from taking over the world myself (any day now), I’m looking forward to witnessing other people do the same. Ich Nibber Dibber sounds like manna from heaven, Melancholia sounds like the end of the world (finally!), and both Accidental Death of a Anarchist and The House of Bernarda Alba have me convinced that people finally realised Bessie Holland should be in everything. Oh and what’s the other show... oh that’s right, only the GREATEST PLAY EVER WRITTEN – Abigail's Party! I’ve never wanted to be Eryn Jean Norvill more – and should she somehow be unable to play the part I’m already word perfect. Just. In. Case.

SM: I can't get past that Ms F is looking forward to main-stage shows next year. Oh how far we have come! But it has to be reading the reactions to Lilith the Jungle Girl in Edinburgh and Ms L getting to Amsterdam.

What am I doing on Xmas Eve? Seeing Ash in Nothing at Hares and Hyenas. He's the tangerine in my stocking. He's back with Stephen Nicolazzo and Dave Barclay for the fourth time, following Negative Energy, Special Victim, and Playing to Win. Details here. You can also go on Sunday 17.

part 8
part 7
part 6
part 5
part 4
part 3
part 2
part 1

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