15 November 2018

Review: Bushland

Mere Mortals – a series of works exploring death and dying
Arts House

Bushland
French & Mottershead
Arts House, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria
9 November 2018
Royal Botanic Gardens
Saturday 2 and Sunday 3 December
artshouse.com.au



Dying, dreaming and decaying.

Bushland takes place in the Royal Botanic Garden. It begins by wearing headphones and lying alone in a welcoming bed of dead leaves looking up at a canopy of green leaves – which will soon die, fall, decay and become part of the soil that feeds new leaves.

As would your body if you died alone under a tree.

Bushland is an adaption of a four-work series called Afterlife by Rebecca French and Andrew Mottershead from the UK. With the assistance of forensic anthropologists, ecologists and conservators, it describes in delicious detail the decomposition of a body in different environments. In this case, in the Australian bush.

A gentle meditative voice being played describes what would happen to your body if you died under that tree. The flies would be the first to notice.

It's sounds gruesome, but it's not. Maybe parts of it are, but I found it fascinating and comforting. And very relaxing.

I'm now re-thinking if I still want to be cremated, one day.

It's only one for two days and only a small group can experience it at one time, so booking is highly recommended.

12 November 2018

Review: School of Rock, The Musical

School of Rock, The Musical
GWB Entertainment and S&CO
in association with KHAM Inc
by arrangement with The Really Useful Group Limited
9 November 2018
Her Majesty's Theatre
to 3 February 2019, the non to Sydney and Brisbane
schoolofrockthemusical.com

School of Rock, the Musical. Brent Hill

I'm all for "sticking it to the Man" and treating children with respect and letting them rock in a total killer of a finale, but don't make me try and say that Andrew Lloyd Webber rocks. School of Rock, The Musical rocks about as much as an Andrew Lloyd The Man Webber musical.

The trend to bring popular films (School of Rock the film was released in 2003) to the musical stages isn't going anywhere. Sometimes the musical version captures the heart of the film and expands on character and theme to make something bigger, different and amazing, like The Lion King and Legally Blonde. Others strip away what makes a film work, forget why characters are loved, tries to put a film story structure onto a stage and adds a soundtrack that doesn't add much. Why watch a live version of a film we can watch at home? The shows that dig deep into the success of the original story and make it something new are the ones that rock.

School of Rock's a heap of safe fun; the film joke about ALW has even stayed. It's the story of Dewey Finn, a slack aging rocker who scams his way into a substitute teacher job at a posh school, because he needs the moolah, and forms a band with his primary school students. The musical looks like the film – without the stage dives – and Brent Hill is terrific as Jack Black. Dewey was created for Black and it would be kinda wonderful to see what actors can do with the role rather than being like Black.

The adult roles are diluted to ideas of characters with the likes of uptight angry girlfriend, angry dad who spends too much time at work, and teacher so dull I can't remember them. But there are great moments like "You're in the Band" when Dewey gets his class motivated and "Where did the Rock Go" that finally lets Amy Lepalmer take off her glasses – all repressed strict head teachers wear glasses – and remember that she can rock.

Grown ups aside, the child cast of students kick enough ass to make up for any dullness; a lot of the show is spent waiting for scenes with the kids. As does the the choreography (originally by JoAnne M Hunter) that never tries to make the kids move like adults and lets them dance like totally rocking kids. There are three casts of Melbourne kids – who all play their own instruments – and there will be people who go back to see all three.

School of Rock, The Musical doesn't "Stick It To The Man" rather than give him(s) another diamond-encrusted stick to lean on but maybe the totally-rock kids in the show and those who see the it (even the cheap seats are expensive, so that's few) will start listening to the bands mentioned (not played) and learn what rock really is.


PS. As Julian Downtown Abbey Fellowes adapted the film script for the book, I now want a Downton Abbey musical so much. So much.

PPS. The screen writer of the film (and film Ned) is Mike White, who is on the current American season of Survivor. #TeamMike

Review: While You Sleep

Mere Mortals – a series of works exploring death and dying
Arts House

While You Sleep
Sal Cooper and Kate Neal
7 November 2018
Arts House Melbourne
to 11 November
artshouse.com.au


While You Sleep. Photo by Byrony Jackson

After dying came dreaming.

While You Sleep is as comforting, confusing and nightmarish as dreams.

I wonder if we all dream in the same ways. We can describe our dreams, but our descriptions never get near to what they are like, and our conscious brain does such a good job of making sure we forget what we go through when we sleep.

Co-creators Sal Cooper (animation, visual art) and Kate Neal (music and sound design) use the complex order of a musical fugue structure (I've put an explanatory video at the end of this) to explore the idea of the psychological fugue state, which is often called dissociative or reversible amnesia.

The clash of counterpoint and comfort of harmony in the music (strong quartet, piano and electronics) are supported by hand-made animation videos that feel natural to the music even when the subject matter doesn't from what's on the stage.

The quartet move with their instruments like a chorus or roll on wheeled-chairs, while screens show animations that range from the pianist playing a library of book to a horse being lifted with a crane. On the day after the Melbourne Cup when another horse was killed during the race, this image felt frighteningly spot on.

I don't remember all of what I saw because I was l finding my own way though the images and sounds. Which all brings it back to dreams and their illogical logic, conflicting images and confusing comfort.

It only had a very short season, but will hopefully be seen again.


11 November 2018

Review: The Infirmary

Mere Mortals – a series of works exploring death and dying
Arts House

The Infirmary
Triage Live Art Collective
7 November 2018
Arts House
to 18 November
artshouse.com.au

The Infirmary. Triage Live Art Collective. Photo by Bryony Jackson

Dying, dreaming and decaying.

The first week of Arts House's Mere Mortals series was far more relaxing than it sounds.

Live art is personal experience. The work cannot exist without your active participation and its meaning belongs only to you.

The Infirmary begins with a triage conversation between each patient (10 per session) and a doctor/artist. It ends dressed in a hospital gown in a hospital bed where you have no control and can hear the beeping of a heart rate monitor slow down...

Or, we all know that it's impossible to be in a hospital bed without a cup of tea and a biccy.

Let by creator Katerina Kokkinos-Kennedy (Hotel Obscura), this experience is an opportunity to get close to an ending or a death. While you're in a bed in the blindfolded dark, and listening to voices on headphones, the only option is trust. Complete trust: physically, mental and spiritual.

In a work about death and dying, the need to trust that the artists aren't going to scar or scare is as strong as the need to be physically safe as your bed is wheeled away from your private room where you know where you are, and where your glasses are...

As it confronts death, each experience may be too personal to share. But I left relaxed. So relaxed that I'd forgotten many of the voices I'd heard as I was immersed in a world of light and sound. And movement and touch and a theatrical reveal so glorious that I would have cheered were I not so happy to be bed bound, silent and unable to move.



04 November 2018

Review: Astroman

Astroman
Melbourne Theatre Company
2 November 2018
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 8 December
mtc.com.au


Callen Tassone & Kamil Ellis. "Astroman", MTC. Photo by Jeff Busby.

I've been singing "Eye of the Tiger" all weekend and am trying to change my earworm to the much cooler "Tainted Love". Astroman is set in 1984. Geelong, in 1984.

Playwright Albert Belz knows Astroman is his love letter to the 1980s and the decade he was a teenager and he wrote this story about a Maori family living in coastal Aotearoa (New Zealand). He moved New Zealand to Geelong in 2011 and, after later moving to Melbourne, relocated the story to the place that welcomed him to Australia. I'm sure he's a Cats supporter for life.

There's also a production of the play currently running at The Court Theatre in New Zealand. In a better arts funded and supported world, they could swap venues and let us all see both productions.

Teenagers Jiembra, Jimmy, (Kamil Ellis) and his twin brother Sonny (Callen Tassone) have just turned 13. The got a Walkman, a Rubik's cube, which Jimmy solves easily, and a BMX bike that no cop would believe "an abo owns". It's mostly a loving reflection of the mid-80s in towns away from the big cities. In this memory world, Sonny can proudly wear the Aboriginal flag on his sleeveless denim jacket and not get beaten up, but no one's forgetting that it wasn't all breakdancing, take away Kentucky Fried Chicken and acid-wash jeans.

But it was all arcade video games. This amazing new technology let anyone kill aliens and pretend you were in Star War, Star Trek or Battlestar Gallactica. They also broke barriers of class, age and gender as everyone played them, be it at the local fish and chip shop or the arcade. If you has a 20-cent-piece in your pocket, you could play.

The brothers have recently moved from Townsville and live at their auntie's house with their mum (Elaine Crombie) and sister (Tahlee Fereday); Jimmy says their dad is away training to be the first Austronaught, Australian astronaught. They spend as much time as they can at the Astrocade playing games. Here, arcade owner Mr Palvis (Tony Nikolakopoulos) takes a liking to the boys, but they have their rival MJ (Nicholas Denton) to contend with.

What follows is as cool as seeing The Karate Kid for the first time. Director Sarah Goodes and Associate Director Tony Briggs (he wrote The Sapphires) know their 1980s culture, as does designer Jonathon Oxlade. There's a "world championship" competition with far more than a high score at stake, montages, dance sequences, an awkwardly placed gun, opposites-are-really-the-same romances, and a convenient solution that doesn't feel earned. Yeah, just like so many 80s movies and sit coms.

And, like those stories, the characters make up for any problems and let the metaphors of "seeing the patterns" and "making the most of your last life" resonate. It's an absolute joy to be part of this family for the night. When they sat down for dinner, I'm sure I wasn't the only person who wanted to be balanced on a plastic stool around the table and be the first to take the lid off the orange casserole dish.

But I have no idea how I know the words to "(Hey You) The Rock Steady Crew"; I didn't even like it in 1984.

19 October 2018

Melbourne Festival: A Ghost in My Suitcase

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL 2018
A Ghost in My Suitcase
Barking Gecko Theatre
18 October 2018
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 21 October
www.festival.melbourne

"A Ghost in My Suitcase". Barking Gecko Theatre

I've worked in the arts for ever because in the 1970 and 80s, my family took me to shows at festivals in Adelaide; some weren't for kids. There's been some wonderful shows and experiences that kids and enjoy with their grown ups this festival – the Lexicon circus, Fire Gardens or the delightfully creepy (and affordable) 1000 Doors – with the highlight being the premiere of Barking Gecko's A Ghost in My Suitcase.

The Perth based company make exquisite theatre for children that never excludes adults. One of my favourite shows last year was their Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories at Arts Centre Melbourne and I loved The Rabbits at MIAF 2015.

Playwright Vanessa Bates adapted Gabrielle Wang's novel, which won the 2009 Aurealis Award for Best Children’s Novel.

Celeste (Alice Keohavong) is 12 and arrives at the Shanghai airport where she's met by Por Por (Amanda Ma), her mother's mother. Celeste's mum has recently died and Celeste has left her little brother and French dad in Australia to take for mum's ashes back to the Isle of Clouds in China where her mum was born. Things don't go well when she meets Ting Ting (Yilin Kong), her grandmother's adopted daughter, but that's not as weird as finding out that Por Por is a ghost catcher. Or that Celeste might have the same ghost catching skills that are passed down maternal lines and that she'll need them when they go back to the family home.

The combination of projection – from the crowds of Shanghai to a boat ride through a rural village – puppetry (design, Zoe Atkinson; lighting, Matthew Marshall), live action and martial arts brings the story to life in a recognisable world where fantasy and the super natural feel natural and real.

Co-directors Ching Ching Ho and Barking Gecko's Artistic Director Matt Edgerton always find the heart of the story and its characters and make sure that the story of grief and letting go leads even when there are angry ghosts to fight and lives are in danger. It’s a little bit scary but so full of love and loving characters that the scary is fun.

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL: Song For A Weary Throat

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL 2018
Song For A Weary Throat

Rawcus
Presented with Arts Centre Melbourne
13 October 2018
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 14 October
www.festival.melbourne
rawcus.org.au

"Song For a Weary Throat". Rawcus


Rawcus Theatre’s Song For A Weary Throat was missed by too many of us last year and it's wonderful to have indie theatre like this brought back for us by Arts Centre Melbourne and Melbourne Festival. Too many amazing indie shows are never seen again after short runs.

People gather in what looks like the post-apocalyptic remains of a country-town community hall that was once set up for a dance (design, Emily Barrie; lighting, Richard Vabre). The chairs are breaking and the room is filled with dust and crunchy dead leaves, but everyone still comes. It’s what people do.

There’s noise (sound designer Jethro Woodward) but rarely voices, except for the remarkable Invenio Singers (Gian Slater, Josh Kyle and Louisa Rankin). The three voices create a live soundtrack that  feels like pure emotion. Like the weary throats that can’t speak anymore because no one listened, their singing isn’t what we expect from songs of joy or despair, but are sounds that are trying anything to be heard again.

It’s never clear – and doesn’t matter – when or where we are; what matters is that this group of people are together after a traumatic even. Some don’t want to be there, some don’t know what to do and some keep hoping because, even if no one will dance with you, when people are together, there’s always a way forward and dancing alone isn’t so bad.

Led by artistic director Kate Sulan, Song For A Weary Throat was developed and performed by an ensemble of 15 performers with and without disabilities.  Its exploration of trauma is personal without ever being specific, which makes it easy to put our experiences onto the stage and to feel the effects of trauma and to ultimately find hope and joy among the chaos.

Rawcas were formed in 2001 and continue to be supported by the Port Phillip Council – never forget how much local councils fund and support the creation of art.

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.

08 July 2018

Review: Lone

Lone
The Rabble and St Martins
8 June 2018
Arts House
to 17 June
artshouse.com.au

Lone. The Rabble and St Martins. Photo by Pier Carthew

My review is on ArtsHub.

20 April 2018

MICF: Bossy Bottom

Bossy Bottom
Zoe Coombs Marr
4 April 2018
Melbourne Town Hall, Powder Room
to 22 April
comedyfestival.com.au/

Zoe Coombs Marr

I'm sure that Bossy Bottom will be sold out this weekend. I also suspect that most people who read this blog have already seen it.

We know that Zoe Coombs Marr is one of the best. I'll see anything she does because her shows leave my brain hurting as much as my jaw does from laughing.

Bossy Bottom is far from Dave and the BarryAward–winning Trigger Warning but it's everything – and so much more – that Zoe's next show should be.

There are plenty of stars and reviews out there and I know that writing a not-a-review for an artist who made a show about shit reviewers isn't the best idea, but I've run out of time and have to get to Bendigo for a wedding.

You know if you have see Bossy Bottom, you don't need me to tell you.


MICF: Almost Lesbians

Almost Lesbians
Catface Productions
8 April 2018
Imperial Hotel, Stella Room
to 8 April 
comedyfestival.com.au


Anna Piper Scott, Sophie Joske

I so want Almost Lesbians to win the Golden Gibbo award for "awesome comedy that cares more about what it's doing rather than pleasing the masses". To be fair, I haven't seen all of the nominated shows, so my opinion isn't that credible. But they so want to win it; so much that they made a show that tried to include everything that award winners have in their shows.

I didn't see Anna Piper Scott and Sophie Joskeshow until their last night. They are from Perth but they will be back (they'd better be back!) and I can say that they are both now honorary Melbourners – cos we love them.

Anna is the straight m... Fuck...  I mean ...  Yes, we need to keep changing our dated, dull and restrictive language.

Sophie is the enthusiastic bouncy puppy, Anna is the older cat who's happy to swipe when the bounciness gets to much.

They subvert expectations about comedy duos as much as they subvert and confront mainstream expectations about queer women – and queer expectations about queer women. Being an "almost" is as much about being on the margins of the queer community as it is about being queer on the margins of the world that pushes people to the margins.

They both have girlfriends, so they should be easy to put in a queer box. (Sorry; it's my only box pun this festival.) But as Anna is trans and Sophie is bi, they deal with being misgendered, told their not gay – or straight – enough and being asked the sort of questions that aren't any of the business of a stranger, friend or close family member. We all know Sophie's "heterosexual Hannah" character far too well (if we haven't unintentionally been her).

Almost Lesbians isn't about being almost a lesbian, it's about being your authentic self and challenging every comment, glance or attitude that thinks you're not wonderfully perfect exactly how you are.

And they are perfectly fabulous exactly how they are.

19 April 2018

MICF: Ghost Machine

Ghost Machine
Laura Davis

4 April 2018
Butterfly Club
comedyfestival.com.au

Ghost Machine

This isn't a review, it's a directive.

If you somehow haven't seen Laura Davis perform, what do I have to do to convince you? I've done the stars,  adjectives and quoteables.

She's moving to the UK in a couple of weeks, so this really might be your last chance because I think the UK is going to love her and keep her and give her so much work that the next time she's back here, it's because she's famous.

I first saw her at the Melbourne Fringe in 2013 (I think). I saw her because the venue tech thought I'd really like her work. They were right.

Since then, every new show she's done has not only seen her develop as a writer and observer of the world, but she's questioned stand-up and confronted so many of the expectations of women performing in this industry.

Ghost Machine blew me away a bit when I saw it in 2015. What must a performer be going through to decided to make themselves unseen on the stage? 

I interviewed Laura for The Music earlier in the year. This quote didn't make it. We were talking about women in comedy.

"Imagine how much female comics love comedy when you're quite often turning up to a dig where it's dangerous for you to physically get to it late at night. You probably don't have many mates on the lineup because it's an all male lineup, and you know that you won't be included in the sort of social collateral that comes with it. You probably won't be given the choice spot on the lineup, you'll be paid a little bit less and then you've got a scary walk home after. You deal with all the punters who tell you that women aren't funny and that you've got great tits and you just need to shut up – and multiply that by a career, with so many women. Not that everybody has that experience every night, but it's always something that I've tried to point out to people. Imagine how much you like doing this and care about this. I'm passionate about this as an art form. But there's no way you would choose it. Spending all my early 20s in a scary bar with scary man doing weird gigs; that's a real choice but feels like it goes hand in hand with passion for the art form."


It is getting better, but we still know stories of women being treated atrociously in the industry and too many women have stories about being asked to show their tits. We're getting better, but we still have a way to go.



18 April 2018

MICF: Queen Bitch

Queen Bitch
Geraldine Quinn
13 April 2018
Merlyn Theatre, Coopers Malthouse
to 22 April
comedyfestival.com.au

Geraldine Quinn

Geraldine Quinn is so damn Melbourne that seeing her shows should be compulsory when you first move here. Knowing the difference between McKinnon, Noble Park North and Brunswick really will help anyone understand how we tick. And everyone knows that we learn best though song.

I would so watch a TV show called Quinn's Melbourne.

They should also be compulsory for everyone who never comes to the south, east or south-east side of the city. And for everyone who lives on the south, east or south-east side of the city, because it's nice to see our often-forgotten cultures the stage.

Her shows should mostly be compulsory because she's one of the best music cabaret performers around and captures the heart of our town by showing us hers.

Queen Bitch is more personal than some of her previous shows. It's sometimes easier, and safer, to hide behind a big voice and bigger attitude, but revealing the person underneath the make up and the shiny outfits brings her so much closer to her audience.

She starts with our Livvy, roller skates and Xanadu and jumps to being in her 40s and life unraveling so quickly there's not much left to save even if she can grab the end of the yarn. But it's also about taking chances and finding that love can be an awesome bitch.

And she's joined by wonderful musicians Xani Kolac and Roderick Cairns.

MICF: Completely Improvised Shakespeare

Completely Improvised Shakespeare
Soothplayers

8 April 2018
Hare Hole
to 22 April 2018
comedyfestival.com.au

Completely Improvised Shakespeare

This festival may have  changed my opinion about improv shows. Improv really has changed a lot since the 1980s.

And I don't understand why Melbourne's Soothplayers aren't a crowd-hanging-from-the-rafters cult.

Sure, improvising a new Shakespeare play based only on a title (we had The Mermaid of the Jungle) seems a bit nerdy, but...

OK, it is totally nerdy, but you are reading a nerdy theatre blog.

So, you're probably also going to loveth every Shakespeare joke and marveleth at how a group of six actors (and one musician) create a never-to-be-repeated story in front of your eyes.

They also do Completely Improvised Potter.



MICF: Days of Our Hives

Days of our Hives
Alanta Colley
12 April 2018
Belleville
to 22 April
comedyfestival.com.au

Alanta Colley

Listen to the buzz about this one. Beelieve me.

Sorry. I tried not to pun because Alanta Colley isn't a pun fan. But they drip like...

Colley works in pubic health, education and international development. She also knows a lot about bees and has her own backyard hive in Northcote.

Days of our Hives is her story about her bees – I had no idea that so few bees make honey – and about how it takes a community to look after them.

Some of the most delightfully engaging stand-up is simple story telling. Not that there's anything simple about chasing a swarm of bees down an urban street with Italian nonnas, grumpy bee-poo-hating neighbours and old factories to contend with.

If I didn't live in a rented flat, I would so have a hive of bees, and I don't care if honey is bee vomit.

MICF: Po Po Mo Co

Nosfer-ARSE-tu
Po Po Mo Co
12 April 2018
Trades Hall, The Archive Room
to 22 April
comedyfestival.com.au

Po Po Mo Co



Melbourne's Po Po Mo Co take queer clowning so far over the rainbow that the rainbow looks dull in comparison.

With a pink-sequinned curtain, spooky villagers and bum puppets*,  the indie troupe re-imagine the famous 1922 German Expressionist film as a sexed-up panto, and ensure that "She/he/they is behind you!" never gets old.

With host nurse Regina (who qualified from the make-everything-sexy Halloween university), Nosfer-ARSE-tu is all cheek as a wealthy doctor leaves his wife to travel to a mysterious castle to pursue the truth that lies in his heart, and his arse. And don't worry, the wife gets to do some deep exploring of her own.

Po Po Mo Co are super camp, super queer and so outrageously post-postmodern that they defy description.


*Even if Betty Grumble does it better.

13 April 2018

MICF: Love and Anger

Love and Anger
Betty Grumble
Coopers Malthouse, Merlyn Theatre
11 April 2018
To 22 April
comedyfestival.com.au

Love and Anger: Betty Grumble

My review is in Time Out.

The subtext of the review is:

Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. CUNT. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt! Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt... Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt? Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Cunt. Yes. YES. YES!


10 April 2018

MICF: Empowerful

Cindy Salmon: Empowerful
Hayley Tantau
ACMI, Games Room
7 April 2018
To 22 April
comedyfestival.com.au

Cindy Salmon

Another woman smashing the patricarchy and MICF.

My review is in Time Out.

09 April 2018

35th Green Room Awards

Green Room Awards
9 April 2018
Comedy Theatre
greenroom.org.au

Tonight the 35th Green Room Award winners were announced in a ceremony at the Comedy Thearte; the nominees were announced in February.

The Green Room Awards are Melbourne’s only peer-assesssed performing arts industry awards.

Cabaret

YUMMY

Artiste: Gillian Cosgriff  for 8 Songs in 8 Weeks (Gillian Cosgriff, The Butterfly Club as part of MICF)

Ensemble: YUMMY, Valerie Hex, Karen From Finance, Tanzer, James Andrews, Beni Lola, Hannie Heldsen, Benjamin Hancock and Zelia Rose (YUMMY, Melba Spiegeltent as part of MICF)

Writing: Gillian Cosgriff  for 8 Songs in 8 Weeks(Gillian Cosgriff, The Butterfly Club as part of MICF)

Original Songs: Jude Perl for Roommates: The Musical and Let's Hang Out (Hot Mess Productions, The Butterfly Club, The Coopers Malthouse as part of MICF)

Musical Direction: Mark Jones for Cyrens (Melissa Langton, Amanda Harrison and Chelsea Gibb, Chapel Off Chapel as part of Melbourne Cabaret Festival)

Production: YUMMY (YUMMY, Melba Spiegeltent as part of MICF)

Outstanding Contribution To Cabaret: Ron and Margaret Dobell

Contemporary and Experimental Performance

 

Performer or Ensemble: wãni Le Frère in Tales of an Afronaut (Arts House)

Sound Performance: Between 8 and 9 (Chengdu Teahouse Project) (Chamber Made Opera and Sichuan Conservatory of Music, co-presented by Castlemaine State Festival and Melbourne Recital Centre for Asia TOPA)

Design: Emily Barrie, Michael Carmody, Jethro Woodward and Richard Vabre for For The Ones Who Walk Away (Nadja Kostich and St Martins)

Curatorial Contribution: Asia TOPA, Asia-Pacific Triennial of Performing Arts

Curatorial Contribution: Yirramboi, First Nations Arts Festival

Contemporary Circus: Chasing Smoke. Natano Fa'anana, Director (Circus Oz/BLAKflip)

Community Collaboration: All The Queens Men Body of Work,  Congress, The Coming Back Out Ball and Fun Run.

Puppetry: Life is a Carousel (Sanctum Theatre and Magic Lantern Studio)

Work for Young Audiences: Junk (Flying Fruit Fly Circus)

Production: We All Know What's Happening (Samara Hersch and Lara Thoms)

Dance


Female Performer: Lilian Steiner for Body of Work

Male Performer: Kimball Wong for Be Your Self (Australian Dance Theatre)

Ensemble, Duo or Trio: Split (Lucy Guerin Inc)

Visual Design: Fausto Brusamolino, Boris Morris Bagattini, Clare Britton, Victoria Hunt, Annemaree Dalziel and Justine Shih Pearson  for TANGI WAI...The Cry of Water (Victoria Hunt)

Music Composition and Sound Design: Senyawa (Rully Shabara and Wukir Suryadi) for Attractor (Dancenorth and Lucy Guerin Inc.)

Shirley McKechnie Award for Choreography: Lucy Guerin for Split (Lucy Guerin Inc)

Concept and Realisation: Split (Lucy Guerin Inc)

Independent Theatre


Meciless Gods. Sapidah Kian

Performer: Dushan Philips for Angels in America (Cameron Lukey and Dirty Pretty Theatre in association with fortyfivedownstairs)

Performer: Jennifer Vuletic for Merciless Gods (Little Ones Theatre in association with Darebin Arts Speakeasy)

Ensemble: Song For a Weary Throat (Rawcus in association with Theatre Works)

Lighting Design: Amelia Lever-Davidson for Looking Glass (New Working Group in association fortyfivedownstairs)

Set and Costume Design: Eugyeene Teh for The Happy Prince (Little Ones Theatre in association with La Mama)

Music Composition and Sound Design: Jethro Woodward and Gian Slater for Song For a Weary Throat (Rawcus in association with Theatre Works)

Writing: Dan Giovannoni after Christos Tsiolkas for Merciless Gods (Little Ones Theatre in association with Darebin Arts Speakeasy)

Direction: Stephen Nicolazzo for The Happy Prince (Little Ones Theatre in association with La Mama)

Production: Song For a Weary Throat (Rawcus in association with Theatre Works)

Music Theatre


Female Lead: Christie Whelan Browne for Vigil (Arts Centre Melbourne)

Male Lead: Charles Edwards for My Fair Lady (Opera Australia and John Frost)

Female in a Supporting Role: Robyn Nevin for My Fair Lady (Opera Australia and John Frost)

Male in a Supporting Role: Reg Livermore for My Fair Lady (Opera Australia and Frost)

Lighting Design: Natasha Katz for Aladdin The Musical (Disney Theatrical Productions)

Set Design: Bob Crowley for Aladdin The Musicall (Disney Theatrical Productions)

Costume Design: Gregg Barnes for Aladdin The Musical (Disney Theatrical Productions)

Sound Design: Michael Waters for My Fair Lady (Opera Australia and John Frost)

Music Direction/Supervision: Guy Simpson for My Fair Lady (Opera Australia and Frost)

Betty Pounder Award for Excellence in Choreography: Casey Nicholaw for Aladdin The Musical (Disney Theatrical Productions)

Direction: Gary Young for Hello Dolly! (The Production Company)

Direction: Tyran Parke for Ordinary Days (Pursued by Bear)

Production: Aladdin The Musical (Disney Theatrical Productions)

Opera


Female Lead: Lorina Gore for King Roger (Opera Australia)

Male Lead: Michael Honeyman for King Roger (Opera Australia)

Female in a Supporting Role: Dominica Matthews for Cavalleria Rusticana (Opera Australia)

Male in a Supporting Role: James Egglestone for King Roger (Opera Australia)

Conductor: Andrea Molino for King Roger (Opera Australia)

Lighting Design: Jon Clark for King Roger (Opera Australia)

Set and Costume Design: Steffen Aarfing for King Rogerr (Opera Australia)

Direction: Damiano Michieletto for Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci (Opera Australia)

Production: King Roger (Opera Australia)


Theatre Companies


Wild Bore. Adrienne Truscott

Female Performer: Kate Mulvany for Richard III (Bell Shakespeare)

Male Performer: Paul Blackwell for Faith Healer (Melbourne Theatre Company and Belvoir)

Ensemble: Wild Bore (Malthouse Theatre)

Lighting Design: Paul Jackson for Away (Malthouse Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company) and
Testament of Mary (Malthouse Theatre)

Set and Costume Design: Dale Ferguson for Away (Malthouse Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company)

Music Composition and Sound Design: J. David Franzke for Away (Malthouse Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company)

New Writing/Adaptation for the Australian Stage: Nathan Maynard for The Season (Tasmania Performs)

Direction: Isaac Drandic for The Season (Tasmania Performs)

Production: The Season (Tasmania Performs)


Geoffrey Milne Memorial Award: Candy Bowers

Technical Achievement Award proudly sponsored by ARUP: Jethro Woodward

Lifetime Achievement Award: Sue Giles

Disclosure: I've was on the Independent Theatre Panel in 2017.

MICF: Fafenefenoiby II

Fafenefenoiby II: Return of the Ghost Boy
Neal Portenza

Neal Portenza and no one else even
7 April 2018
Melbourne Town Hall, Backstage Room
to 22 April
comedyfestival.com.au

Neal Portenza. Front row photo by Richard Watts

My review in Time Out.

We will never forget the Portenza years.

Fuck mediocrity.

08 April 2018

MICF: At Least I Have a Cat!

At Least I Have a Cat!
Nadine Sparks 
7 April 2018
Fad Gallery
to 8 April
comedyfestival.com.au

Nadine Sparks

Nadine Sparks is in her 40s, is single and lives alone with her old grumpy obsessive tortie cat? Why would I want to see that?

Sure she also shops at Aldi and City Chic, but Molly and I are both older and we live further down the Nepean. Totally different...

Sparks does old-school, this-is-me, like-it-or-lump-it stand-up. There are plenty of jokes, lots of laughing at herself, and she doesn't care about not being "PC" (although she may want to consider why she thinks that).

As with much of this type of stand-up, there's the potential to go deeper and tell a bigger story, but   her audience love her. Especially those who can relate to not being where they thought they were going to be in life by their 40s. Remember when 40 seemed so old?


She hates selfies
We share our critic's face