Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Clara: Sex, Love and Classical Music

What: Clara - Sex, Love and Classical Music
When: 18 - 23 February 2020
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Written and performed by: Elena Mazzon
Directed by: Catriona Kerridge
Lighting by: Paul Reisenberger
Elena Mazzon - photo by Sav Schulman
Clara: Sex Love and Classical Music is a show Mazzon created in 2018 in anticipation of the bicentenary of the birth of pianist and composer Clara Schumann. It is a feminist interpretation of what restricted a woman of such talent from achieving the place in history afforded her husband Robert in a gentle and witty retelling of her life.

Clara Schumann was a virtuistic pianist during the Romantic era and was the peer of people such as Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Franz Liszt... and the list goes on. More than their match on the piano, she also dabbled in composition although - as Mazzon shows us - her life as wife of male composer and mother of 7 children, it was just not possible for her to develop her compositional skills. Especially when her husband forbade her to play whilst he was composing because it interfered with his creativity...

Whilst there is a moderate body of work which shows she had talents as a composer, what most people don't understand is she was the rock star of her era. A child prodigy who started touring at the age of 9, Clara Schumann basically invented the concept of playing recitals by memory -  now a common expectation - and, in fact, really made the piano recital the popular performance mode which has dominated so much of musical presentation since her death.

Sadly, you won't hear any of this in the show Clara: Sex, Love and Classical Music because despite Mazzon's feminist approach, all she really does is continue the patriarchal framing of women in history by the men surrounding them rather than the achievements themselves. As with all the films and other retellings of Clara's life, Mazzon focusses on the controversial marriage to Robert Schumann (against her domineering father's wishes and the subject of a court case), and her unconsummated love affair with Brahms. The great irony of a patriarchal history is embedded in the reality that it was Clara's skill and popularity which really allowed Robert's and Bach's music to be heard and therefore recognised - a truism all women know and can relate to.

As a tale of love and historic oppression, Clara is still quite a telling and insightful show though. What Mazzon does well is show exactly how having children is an immediate impediment to a woman's career - something we know is true even in the 21st century. There is also the intriguing truth that 3 weeks of Clara going on a concert tour earned the household more money than a year of Robert's composing and editing. I also loved the honesty of the Brahm's love story and how important it was in a pre-contraception era for a woman to avoid sex.

I don't know if this is a recent addition to the show, but there is a striking moment of unity of art and politics as Clara berates an orchestra she is conducting because Robert fell ill. She references how she can see how unaccustomed the men are to a women being there because of the lack of female toilet facilities. Give the recent sports rorts in our federal political arena this tiny moment of witty observation echoed resoundingly around the room. Don't think of that as ancient history either, because I know in the early eighties (1980's that is) women were still being denied employment because workplaces did not have female toilet facilities!

Mazzon's performance is lively and delicate at the same time. I was a bit confused about her constant air of nerves though (beyond the opening conceipt which is hilarious). Clara was a strong woman raised by a demanding father, mother to 7 children and the major bread winner in her family. Portraying her as a delicate flower seems odd and is not really in harmony with her music which is darker and perhaps more risk taking than that of her husband's.

The dramaturgy is not the best. Time shifts around. That doesn't bother me, but the narrative logic of the shifts is slightly opaque. There is also some tedious repetition. I really only needed to hear about Robert's repression of playing while he composes once. Not three times in a work which sits at around an hour long.

I also really wanted the story to be more connected to the music and I just wanted more music generally. The Romantic era is about music being connected to narrative and there are moments when it works well in Clara - such as the use of variations as a means of communication between the Schumann's when they are banned from contact. Beyond that though, the linkages are weak and the music seems more of a performance requirement. I suspect this is a problem with the direction because Mazzon rarely played and spoke. The story telling and the music felt somewhat disconnected. Kerridge needed to work harder to have those two modes blend I feel.

Clara: Sex, Love and Classical Music is a solid piece of theatre with a lot of laughs built in. It definitely lets us inside the world of Clara Schumann as a woman even though it doesn't really speak to her impact on music and her true place in history. A better piano would make the music speak a bit louder in the work (metaphorically speaking) but we all know how expensive having a piano in any show is (with the cost of hire, transportation and tuning) so congratulations on making this work in an independent context. It is definitely a show which benefits from intimacy and would have shone in glory in the old La Mama theatre.

3 Stars


Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Unsuckle - Theatre Review

What: Unsuckle
When: 11 - 16 February 2020
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Created and performed by: Josiah Lulham, Isabella Vadiveloo, and Harriet Wallace-Mead
Design by: Freya Allen
Lighting by: Kit Cunneen
Sound by: Jess Keeffe
AV by: Isabella Vadiveloo
Stage managed by: Christa Jonathan
Josiah Lulham and Harriet Wallace-Mead

Thought provoking, timely, exciting - all words which aptly and yet inadequately describe the physical theatre presentation Unsuckle which is playing at La Mama Courthouse this week. A dystopian conundrum which looks at motherhood through the ages and into the future, Unsuckle takes us through generations - through eons - and lands us hard in the here and now, forcing us to really consider our future in the midst of climate emergency.

The trio of Lulham, Vadiveloo, and Wallace-Mead have been working alongside each other for many years with a shared history with DIG Collective as well as other projects. Last year they came together to present a creative developement called If Needed, Repeat as part of La Mama Explorations. In 2020 they have taken that seed and planted a tree which has far-reaching branches both backward and forwards in time.

The show begins with Lulham and Wallace-Mead literally planting seeds in a geometrically perfect square of soil in the exact centre of a perfect white square. They are not actors. Everyone on stage is who they are, but they are most certainly story-telling in the oldest and perhaps the most powerful method known to man, lyrically blended with one of the more recent performance modes.

Perfection breaks down as gaps in genealogical memory and knowledge appear. Wallace-Mead has a much stronger grasp of her heritage than Lulham, but even she can only go back around 3 generations with detail. This becomes juxtaposed in a most telling way when Vadiveloo break the performance later in the show - but I will save this moment for later in the review.

Unsuckle is physical theatre so it does not rely on vocal narrative and this set up is broken down very quickly as the two actors explore physical etudes triggered by the topic through body art. Most of it is fairly literal and the pace forms a metronomic rhythm which marks the passing of time.

This does not last too long though and one of the most exciting things about Unsuckle is it's endless array of tangents and events. One of the least exciting things is the transitions. They are always marked by the pair going into the far left corner to get a new prop or costume or put something away. That little cluster of objects does look lovely in a photographic sense for the start of the play, but lacks flexibility in performance and if Unsuckle goes on to a further life (as I hope it will) I think Allen could reconsider this aspect of the design and work it through to a better outcome with the team.

One of the things I am most enthusiastic about with Unsuckle is the complex and detailed dramaturgy which has gone into the construction of the work. Linkages on the theme of motherhood traverse history and culture, fact and myth, reality and hope.

 Lulham is man - the man's place in the conversation, the man's place in community, the man as active participant and honoring bystander. Wallace-Mead manages to degender the concept of mother to make it humanity inclusive rather than just being a gender issue. She makes space for man in motherhood. Vadiveloo gives us pause in the traditional able anglo lens to discuss intercultural ancestry and living intersectionality which is epitomised by the problematic body.

The stuff of myth and legend is personalised in the here and now. Through ancient western mythology we find ourselves right here in Australia, with the uniqueness of what we have in nature, in community, and in person.

As deep, and sometimes dire, as Unsuckle is, it is potted with humour through the subtle and masterful use of AV (Vadiveloo).  I am particularly impressed with how she manages to not allow the imagery in the film work to dominate the imagery of the performance.

Keeffe's magnificent sound design takes us everywhere we need to go - from the melody of love and life through to the eruptions of despair and disaster. Cunneen's lighting does what it needs to do as well.

I was, perhaps, not astoundingly inspired by the first half hour of the show but then the true originality of the work kicks in and I was taken on a fascinating and wild ride I never expected but am so glad I got to experience. I am not giving any spoilers because I really want your curiosity to be peaked so that you go and see Unsuckle for yourself. Inspiration is yours for the taking this week at La Mama Courthouse.

4.5 Stars

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Rehearsal For Death - Dance Review

What: Rehearsal For Death
When: 6 - 9 February 2020
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Created and performed by: Rebekah Stewart and Sophie Thompson
Lighting and stage management by: Jordan Carter
Rebekah Stewart and Sophie Thompson - photo by Mischa Baka

You may recall in 2018 the Melbourne arts scene was rather obsessed with the question of death - what it is, how we approach it, how we deal with it, and many other permutations on the theme. Death is always a favourite topic though, and Rehearsal For Death, playing this week at La Mama Courthouse, is the latest iteration on the theme.

Rehearsal For Death is a contemporary dance work which gets its genesis from the gothic/surrealist photographic portraiture of Francesca Woodman. Woodman shot in black and white and investigated life amidst decay and had an extremely strong femme erotica edge to her work. Whilst not having lived long enough to ever see success (she killed herself at 22), her photos have developed a posthumous fame.

Stewart and Thomson are dancers who seem to be at opposite ends of their artistry. Stewart is a well-established mulit-disciplinary artist who works with visual mediums as well as her body as art scape. Thomson is an emerging dancer who is yet to make her mark on the industry.

This gulf is evident in their dance styles, with Stewart being strong and animated every second, her body sinuous and energetic across the whole journey. Stewart, on the other hand, has still to develop that full body awareness - the kind which zings right through to finger tips and toes. On the other hand, she does bring an air of that physical ennui which envelops youth today which brings an intriguingly different reference point to the story of Woodman and her youthful depression. This aspect of her performance really becomes powerful in the nightclub scene!

Both dancers have high level dance skills and are well versed in the tropes of contemporary dance and this comes through in the compositional construction of Rehearsal For Death. I am just not sure that the dance actually speaks to the content. It feels a little bit form over function for me, which means the art gets lost in the craft.

In the program notes the women call the show their '...memento mori... a reminder that you will die'. There are certainly strong references to death across the work - the car crash, Thomson's body strewn in a casket, Stewart's replica of the photo of Woodman staring at a black body silhoutte on the floor. The subject of death is not at issue here, it is more a question of what the 'rehearsal' aspect of the work is.

I would have like stronger references to the actual style of Woodman's work. The erotica is completely ignored although there is so much scope there, especially with auto-erotica. Woodman was also fascinated with mirrors and whilst I am happy they didn't go so far as to have a mirror on the stage, I felt the duet could have/should have referenced that. Instead it just looked like a tick box section for a vocational dance class.

I want to go back to the night club scene. For me, this was a glorious moment of brilliance. It spoke so loudly to the banality, repetition, and loss of joy in life as we march inexorably to our demise. Amidst it's strident message of doom though, humour breaks through and releases us, for just a moment, to laugh at ourselves and remember there is joy in life.

There is a spoken section of the dance but it adds nothing to the experience in either the story telling or the art. It is part of a meta construct - rehearsal for death, rehearsal for performance - that tired old horse. It is a sad dip in the show not only because of its derivative nature, but also because neither of the dancers have evidently ever trained their vocal chords in the way they have trained the rest of their body.

This is so common with contemporary dance which includes voice. Why use a part of your body you haven't trained in performance? This is actually a complaint I have about many modern actors I might add... The vocal chords are a muscle. Learn how to use them!

Rehearsal For Death is an intriguing nugget but it is not ready yet - mostly because it needs stronger dramaturgy and production. Unfortunately the Courthouse lighting grid is not really capable of dance lighting and if you are going to reference photography in your work you really do need an agile lighting set up and design. Carter (lighting) does a good job with the resources she has - especially in the second half of the show - but Rehearsal For Death needs more to really work.

I think there is a lot of potential in Rehearsal For Death. It's just needs to be braver and bolder and probably needs some resources invested in the aesthetics of the piece. The sound track is amazing, by the way!

2.5 Stars

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Belinda Hanne Reid: Love, Rorem - Cabaret Review

What: Belinda Hanne Reid - Love, Rorem
When: 5 - 6 February 2020
Where: fortyfivedownstairs
Created by: Belinda Hanne Reid
Performed by: Coady Green and Belinda Hanne Reid
Coady Green and Belinda Hanne Reid
There really is something for everybody in this year's Midsumma Festival and for those who like their cabaret with a classical air Belinda Hanne Reid is taking us on an art song journey through the life and times of American composer Ned Rorem. Love, Rorem is only on for one more night at fortyfivedownstairs though, so grab your significant other and experience the laughter and loss of a man who's life had as much colour and movement as his music.

Reid is a very versatile and well trained singer which is good because Rorem's art songs are incredible difficult to sing. Kudos to Green as well, because if the songs are difficult to sing, they must be challenging to play as well and he did so without a single noticeable slip and with much heartfelt nuance across the entire program.

What is art song I hear you ask? Art songs are generally poems or writings which are a single voice accompanied by piano and written in the classical tradition rather than the more populist strophic form we hear on the radio all the time.

Reid has compiled a collection of Rorem's songs to create a song cycle accompanying readings of his journal publications which traverse the most exciting years of the composer's life. This is a man who certainly did have an exciting and extremely scandalous life indeed!

The story begins with his years in Paris as a ridiculously handsome gay man enjoying liberties which were most definitely kept in the dark in the 50's and 60's. I should mention we know almost everything there is to know about Rorem because he is a keen diarist and has been publishing them since 1966.

That pile of books you see Green hiding behind in the photo above is the collection Rorem has published. Phenomenal, yes? The first one was a best seller almost immediately because of it's scandalous nature. Rorem went into great detail and named names when writing about his love affairs.

His writings are full of that arrogance which only the very beautiful people have about loving and being loved and yet his wit and self-insightful musing make the observations and reminiscences sweet because they truly do come from his intensely romantic heart. Rorem is not a man afraid to feel the emotions and poetry of his life and share them with us with authenticity.

Reid tells Rorem's story with his own words. All of the spoken text is excerpts from his diaries lovingly curated to show his humour, mischievous nature, deep and true ideas on love, and experiences of great loss which span the second half of the 20th century.

Beginning in Paris he leads a life of fun and flirting and Reid brings us the detail in the modernist work of 'Early In The Morning' which celebrates the poem by Robert Hillyer. It is an intriguing counterpoint Rorem enjoys exploring in his music - a classical form with modernist text.

We hear about his great passion for Paulo from Milan before returning to New York - where he still lives now at the grand age of 94! His interpretation of Paul Goodman's 'The Lordly Hudson' is an ode to his homeland with just the slight hint of wistfulness for the end of his life abroad.

The story travels through the purchase of his home, the great love of his life, and the tragedies of the 80's and 90's when there was no means of combatting AIDS and the list of the fallen in his life grows and grows.

The intimate portrait Reid gifts us with, of Rorem having to watch it devastate the man he loves beyond measure, is heart-rendingly beautiful. The full magnitude of his losses comes through with his arrangement of Stephen Foster's 'Jeanie With The Light Brown Hair' after the death of his mother.

Art song is not easy for those of us inculcated in the strophic tradition to listen to, but it is worth the effort to experience it for the sheer beauty and grandeur. I suspect there were only 2 performances because the show is very hard work vocally although Reid copes extremely well, with only the occassional hints of vocal stress and fatigue.

On the other hand, Reid is a truly fabulous actor and has us laughing and crying as she totally imbeds herself in Rorem's words and life so that it is impossible to distinguish the storyteller from the story itself. An hour is an excellent length for this show and the dramaturgy is perfect. Hopefully it will be remounted but for now, tonight is your only chance to have this glorious experience.

4 Stars

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Leopard Print Loincloth - Theatre Review

What: Leopard Print Loincloth
When: 4 - 8 February 2020
Where: Theatre Works
Written by: Jake Stewart
Directed by: Dominic Weintraub
Performed by: Joel Beasley, Eamon Dunphy, Ben Goss, Max Greenham, Luey Kemp-Mykyta, and Rhys Wilson
Ben Goss and Eamon Dunphy
Leopard Print Loincloth was nominated as a top pick of Midsumma Festival by Arts Review. Doing the late shift at Theatre Works, the show is on at 9pm until the end of this week.

Leopard Print Loincloth, for me, is a great lesson in how what you are expecting to see affects your experience of a piece of theatre. I came expecting a dynamic exploration of Australian masculinity, with some insight into toxic masculinity which is how the publicity explained the show. I was sorely disappointed.

My plus one came to see nude male bodies and some gay story telling. He went home with a smile on his face.

Is Leopard Print Loincloth a play? Perhaps in the broadest sense of the word - meaning it is a group of men playing pre-written text in a theatre. The show is fragmented bursts of male on male encounters, all of them ending up with sexual and/or romantic outcomes of various sorts.

There is a reference at the start of the play about Cubism. Perhaps Stewart (playwright) was attempting a cubist approach to his writing, but to be honest this feels more like a jigsaw puzzle which has only been started and has small clumps of part of the picture.

To be cubist means to see all three dimension of a thing or idea. This fails to be cubist about masculinity because it is all through the gay lens looking at gay relationships. It is fine for that to be what it is, but that is not what they told the audience to expect (except in the Joy interview perhaps).

I can't tell you who many of the characters are in Leopard Print Loincloth because names are rarely mentioned and the construct is a series of random sketches. There are some great moments though. I loved the scene in Act 1 with the boy looking at the men in the park and also the schoolboy scene which opens Act 2. Yes, there are 2 acts with an interval so expect to finish at 11pm assuming the show starts on time.

The play is staged in traverse but it is a shared venue so I assume this is part of the requirement for the earlier work which they have agreed on. Sadly, it does not help Leopard Print Loincloth because so many of the scenes are intimate moments between men trying to connect with each other and the current Theatre Works layout makes the venue feel like an aircraft hangar.

In addition to that, Weintraub (director) has the men almost always standing on opposite ends of the traverse so they  are having to project across a vast gulf. This may be a metaphor about the chasm which spans the inner space of modern relationships, but it is overused and just makes the whole show lose authenticity.

I don't think Weintraub is experienced enough as a director to work in this configuration. His main solution to the traverse is to place the scenes right at the far ends which means half the audience are always straining their neck to see around people to watch the show. His other go to is to have one person on each half but not moving. I really wish he had seen Just A Boy, Standing In Front Of A Girl to understand how to use a traverse dynamically.

The actors are fantastic despite a script so meta it has no actual play inside. Kemp-Mykyta really stood out as an actor who makes every moment on stage something engaging even when he is being a supernumary. Having said that, all the guys were fantastic to watch and had physical dynamism.

Sadly, and probably because of the script and direction, there was not a lot of character differention. It felt like they were telling the same story over and over. Meet, feel uncomfortable, kiss - then rinse and repeat.

There is no production support listed anywhere, which makes sense because there was little in the way of any kind of design aesthetic. I get the whole minimalism thing, but an eye to style wouldn't go astray. I assume the venue tech did the lighting with support from the other show. It was good but there was a highly overused and annoying smoke machine.

I haven't seen as much smoke in a venue since The Disappearing Trilogy and it was as pointless this time as it was then although for different reasons. The haze just kept rising to the ceiling and because it was moving and the actors weren't all that much, it became more interesting to watch the haze swirling in the light beams near the ceiling. It is worth remembering everything on stage is a signifier and points to something. Why on earth do you want to point to the lighting grid?

I admit to a bit of anger with this production. They have received support from The Office For Women and I assume this is because the show was touted to be an investigation into toxic masculinity which would perhaps provide insight for women into this phenomenon. There is little (except the school boy scene) which points to anything of interest to women.

I am also rather bored with indulgent gay theatre which just focuses on sex. The least interesting or important thing about the LGBTQIA+ community is who they are sleeping with.

In many ways this show reminded me of the self indulgence of Ballet Lab's Kingdom from 2016. The Sydney Morning Herald wrote of that show, 'As Kingdom stretches well past an hour, it gets increasingly difficult to forgive... for the excesses and self-indulgences in this work...' I feel the same about Leopard Print Loincloth.

Yes, it has been important to see the LGBTQIA+ community are just ordinary people falling in and out of love and in and out of sex. What I want to start seeing more of is why and how this is creating disempowerment and discrimination so that we can address those issues.

You can and will have a good time with Leopard Print Loincloth as long as you only want to see gay boys working out how to be together in a meaningful way - and getting their kit off quite a few times! The frame Stewart uses about making theatre is disingenuous but the show is full of drama school exercises which make fellow drama school audience members laugh as an in joke, so you might get a kick out of those too I suppose...

Mental health warning: There is a ladder in the space trying to be everything but a ladder.

2 Stars

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Adrifting Through The Vomit Generation - Theatre Review

What: Adrifting Through The Vomit Generation
When: 23 January - 6 February 2020
Where: The Kew Courthouse
Written by: Michael Gray Griffith
Performed by: Rebecca Ann Bentley, Rohanna Hayes, Angelique Malcom, and Yvonne Matthew
Rohanna Hayes, Rebecca Ann Bentley, and Yvonne Matthew
Adrifting Through The Vomit Generation. A powerful yet somewhat uncomfortable title for what is a powerful, yet somewhat uncomfortable play. By that I mean the play is incisive, insightful and erupts in a soggy mess at our feet showing us all what we have been eating lately. It's only on for a few more days at The Kew Courthouse so grab your tickets now while you still have the chance.

Adrifting Through The Vomit Generation is a story which centres around 3 generations of women. Diane (Hayes) is about to lose her house because she just lost her job as a cleaner. Her boarder and best friend Magnolia (Malcolm) is not helping because she is 2 months behind in her rent, and her 25 year old daughter Taylor (Bentley) is unemployed and uninterested in changing that status.

Diane is so desperate she decides to demand that her indecently rich mother, Margaret (Matthew), hand over her inheritence. She can't just ask for help from her mum because the answer has always been "no" and is undoubtedly the response she will get this time too. She is right, but not for the reasons she expects!

Griffith has written an emotionally taught and terrifying play which tells the truth about female poverty and disenfranchisement. I think he meant to write a comedy but Adrifting Through The Vomit Generation is too close to the truth for that to work although there are a whole lot of hilarious moments if you understand the absurdity and desperation of poverty. Comedy needs exaggeration and hyperbole. This play is just too real.

Having said that, there are absurdities. The story of Margaret's enlightenment and voluntary poverty is as ridiculous as it is frustrating and played with a perfect innocence by Matthew. The arrogance of indentured wealth leads her to a folly which provides her with no safety net - something the rest of the characters know only too well. I did enjoy the moment she comes to that realisation at the same time as the horror of what has just happened was settling into the bottom of my gut.

Coldwave artist Dimitar Voev, who created the cult band New Generation in 1982, wrote the lyrics 'We are the New Generation forever/with eyes bleeding from pain and torment/we know that there is no compensaton/and we vomit over hope for better days.' In the end this play is all about vomiting over hope for better days.

I should mention this is not where the title comes from - not directly at least. Margaret's new mission in life is to drive around Australia and clean up the beaches clogged with litter washed up from the sea. Her epiphany came after a false cancer scare and finding a piece of plastic washed up on the beach with the words 'we are the vomit generation' written on them.

Adrifting Through The Vomit Generation looks at what potential women - particularly women over the age of 40 - have to secure an income in order to find safety and stability (which, for Diane, is home ownership). Diane has slid down the employment ladder from a stable job to casual cleaning, to being a part of the competitive gig market, and finally being sacked because she wouldn't work for below award wages.

Magnolia was a rich man's wife but when he died all he left her were lies and debt and no job skills. She can't even get a job as a waitress.

Taylor has a Master's degree in photography but there is no viable photography industry left because everyone can take their own great pictures now. She isn't even prepared to try and get a menial job even though she is only 25.

Margaret has come to set them free, but not in the way anyone expects. I mentioned Coldwave earlier, but what is that? Coldwave was a split off faction of Punk which understood that revolt needed to be anti-systemic and were called gravediggers because their intention was to bury the old system. It was the movement which dominated the post-socialist era in eastern Europe, but Griffith's play points to the reality that this is the only way real change can occur for the 'economic refugees' we are creating in our own society - older women.

As I said earlier, Adrifting Through The Vomit Generation is a funny play but not a comedy and I think Griffith tries a bit to hard in the writing to make it so. The humour generally comes through the characters of Margaret and Magnolia and to that end both Malcolm and Matthew do an excellent job of playing their charicatures and getting the laugh.

Hayes and Bentley, on the other hand, have serious content and they have no choice but to be realistic - which they do with immense skill. It is impossible for them to hide the pain and difficulty they find themselves in. Bentley's is a particularly intriguing journey but I wonder if the gender of either Taylor or Magnolia were changed whether we would be quite as accepting of the outcomes Griffith has given them.

There is a natural ending in the play which is powerful and dramatic, and would leave the audiences going home in shock to ruminate over the just how far a person can fall in their life. (Griffith uses the metaphor of falling across the play). His efforts to make this a comedy lead him to continue the story and whilst the real ending provides a light hearted release, it did dispel some of the power of the messages within.

Regardless, this is a strong, important, and quite funny play. It is a part of our society we don't want to see or deal with - perhaps because there is no neon lit ism in it. There actually is an ism but it has wrinkles underneath the makeup. Come and see how tightly you are holding on to a system which doesn't work for anyone.

 4 Stars

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Homophonic! - Music Review

What: Homophonic!
When: 30 January - 1 February 2020
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Directed by: Miranda Hill
Compositions by: Stephen de Filippo, Naima Fine Fine, Christina Green, Wally Gunn, Laura Kaminsky, Pauline Oliveros, Cole Porter, and Sean Shepherd
Texts by: Candy Royalle and Maria Zajkowski
Performed by: Spencer Chapman, Natasha Conrau, Laila Engle, Jenny George, Pheobe Green, Karen Heath, Robin Henry, Miranda Hill, Stephen Hodgson, Eleanor Jackson, Zachary Johnston, Lachlan McDonald, Katherine Norman, Ben Opie, Robin Parkin, Katherine Philp, Dan Richardson, Alex Ritter, Thea Rossen, and Leonie Thomson
Lighting by: Joy Lee
Sound by: Alice Bennett and Joy Lee
Stage managed by: Alice Bennett
Laila Engle and Katherine Philp
On a hot summer night in Melbourne one of the best things you can do is head down to the air conditioned La Mama Courthouse and experience the amazing music which comprises Homophonic! 2020. A fun and fiesty collection of original music performed by some of Melbourne's best musicians and The Consort of Melbourne, Homophonic! will take you to places you never even knew you wanted to go.

The term classical music is a tricky one because it can connote music from the Classical Period which makes us think of old and outdated styles and impulses. The term is used in a much broader modality these days though, which is why it is still possible to play and compose classical music and yet still be completely modern and with the times.

In its broadest definition classical music refers to notation, orchestration, and instrumentation. Classical music uses formal music notation in the form of bars and staffs, etc. It is music which is very complex in regard to time signatures, multiple instrumentation, and movements. It is also music which is played with - but not always comprising completely of - ancient instruments such as violins, flutes, clarinets, drums, etc.

As well as celebrating LGBTQIA+ musical composition, performance, and history, Miranda Hill has curated a wonderful program of music which celebrates...music itself. Homophonic! allows the audience to join in this journey of beauty, discovery, and fun in a relaxed and joyous atmosphere.

As we entered the theatre, the afternoon was settling into the mellow lighting which is the start of dusk and the evening's program appropriately began with Kaminsky's 'Twilight Settings' and 'Evening Song'. The music includes the swelling of soprano vocals as the day dies but gives rise to new activity as the creatures of the night rouse and celebrate the rising of the moon.

Christina Green composed music to one of the late Candy Royalle's poems which now appear in the posthumously published book of her work, A Trillion Tiny Awakenings. Royalle regularly accompanied her work to music and Green's homage to accompany the poem
'Edge Sky Itself' is a beautiful and moving work.

Recognising the history of the land on which the performance is taking place, Homophonic! includes a beautiful duet for cello and base clarinet composed by local composer Naima Fine Fine. 'Stonemaker' is a beautiful, meditative work and 6 lucky audience members are invited to stage to rest their heads between the instruments and experience a sound bath. Sound is vibrations in space and I can only imagine how glorious it must feel to have those lovely long low end sound waves massage the ears and the brain in that way! And who knew a base clarinet could mimic the sounds of a digeridoo??!

Hill is aware of the importance of creating community through inclusion and participation, and she invites everybody who wants to, to come on stage and participate in Oliveros' 'Tuning Meditation'. Don't be afraid. It is not about singing. It is about listening to each other and to the self. Closing your eyes and following your body's vocal instincts is amazingly refreshing. Do give it a try.

Act 2 is a marvelous journey into the comic. Stephen de Filippo's 'Star Picc' is the best scifi flick you will never see! Travel on a journey through an amplified piccolo, a base drum, and range of the craziest sound FX with Laila Engle. I loved it and couldn't stop laughing as well as being overawed by the craft in composition and performance. Homophonic! is touring all 5 state Pride festivals this year, and although the rest of the program is different, 'Star Picc' will feature in all of them. Why wouldn't you?

The program moves into the more traditional arena again before ending with some classic Cole Porter in a hilarious arrangement which includes the entire ensemble. As brilliant as the entire thing is, the show is stolen in one single line by Eleanor Jackson. It brought the house down!

Tonight's show is sold out but there are still a few tickets left for the two shows on Saturday. And remember, the matinee is a relaxed performance so everyone can enjoy the magic of Homophonic!

5 Stars

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Dahlin'! It's The Jeanne Little Show - Theatre Review

What: Dahlin'! It's The Jeanne Little Show
When: 27 January - 8 February 2020
Where: Downstairs, The Butterfly Club
Written and directed by: Kieran Carroll
Performed by: Caroline Ferguson
Design by: Tracy Hogan
Caroline Ferguson
Long before Lady Gaga shot to fashion fame with the help of her Haus of Gaga, Australia had Jeanne Little doing it all on her own, and long before Gaga wore the meat dress, Little was wearing the Toast Dress and showing off her Bangers and Mash millinery. The true monarch of cut-price couture and the high queen of outrageous fashion, the life and times of this all Australian icon has been brought to the stage at The Butterfly Club by writer Kieran Carroll and actor Caroline Ferguson in Dahlin'! It's The Jeanne Little Show.

Jeanne Little is the kind of celebrity once encountered is never to be forgotten. There are a lot of try hards, but what made Little so amazing is she was the real deal. If you ever heard her talk you could never forget her voice - with those overly elongated sounds and that deep strine and, of course, her catchphrase "Ooh Aah, dahling!" Unlike many wannabes though, this was just Little speaking the way she always spoke.

And then there was her amazing fashion. Again, this was real. She was a designer and seamstress and made all those incredible outfits she is so famous for herself. Between the clothes and the voice Little packed an entertainment punch. As the London Evening News wrote after her appearance on Parkinson, 'What a woman! With her in the house you wouldn't want a TV.'

Little's rise to fame was accidental. She was running a boutique and had made her own maternity clothes. A guest pulled out of The Mike Walsh show with no notice and after a quick bit of research by the producers, Little was called in on the spot. She was so amazing they gave her a permanent segment and thus the fairytale begins.

Little took to TV like a duck to water, but the show had little to no budget for this segment so Little became a genius at creating haute couture items out of everyday materials. She is known for her amazing gowns made out of rubbish bags and other plastics and her edible hat range for example.

She was deeply connected to the Sydney gay scene through her husband Barry, and I am sure her popularity there was also to do with her amazing drag queen style. Who says women can't be drag queens?!

One of the nice touches in this show is the presence of a lovingly made replica of an iconic orange plastic gown (pictured above) created by Hogan. I wasn't as convinced by the rest of the costumes but did give a little cheer and nudge to my plus one when the Sydney Opera House collar came out. Who can forget her amazing collars? I also spent an inordinate amount of time admiring the feather arm bands and wondering if I could make something like that for myself...

Ferguson is very credible as Little. I think there were some nerves in this performance and my one piece of advice is to go hard. You cannot overplay Jeanne Little, you can only underplay her and this did happen a bit in the show. Carroll (writer/director) needs to give Ferguson permission to laugh harder, elongate every second vowel and just have fun. This was the magic of Jeanne Little. Every moment of her public existence was a celebration of the energy of life. This show needs to embrace that energy just as Little did.

The script is fun, and captures all of the key moments we remember of Little's life. Her highs and some of her lows. As much fun as Little had, there were and are also some challenges. The hardest hit of all is the Alzheimer's she developed in 2009.

Her daughter Katie has written a book - memoir - about her mother's life. Catch A Falling Star is mentioned in the show and in one of the many touching moments Ferguson tells us about Little's relationship with her daughter and her husband. It is worth noting Little is still alive, but for her daughter there are two women - the Jeanne Little we all remember who is gone, and the woman who is here now but doesn't remember anything.

In the script Carroll uses the onset of Alzheimer's as the frame for the show, and it is there right from the very start. I think this is a bit of a mistake because I don't know how many people are actually aware of this condition. I know I just assumed she had died.

The way it is currently handled it comes across more as though Ferguson can't remember her lines - at least until we are able to work out it is a dramatic device being used. I think the show would be stronger if the conditioned developed as the show goes on rather than bringing it in right from the start. I think it would be more impactful and heartrending for us to experience it the way the family had to.

Dahlin'! It's The Jeanne Little Show covers all the big moments and reminds us she was a star in her own right once her performing wheels got going. Not only being a TV personality in The Mike Walsh Show and Beauties and The Beast, Little toured one woman stage shows for more than a decade and in this show we get to imagine how amazing she would have been.

Dahlin'! It's The Jeanne Little Show has some of the same problems as Carroll's other show touring this year, Newk! It hits all the Australian iconic catch phrases and moment of glory, but still lacks a depth of insight into herself, her thinking, her emotional dynamic. It tells the story of Jeanne Little, but doesn't quite tell her story about herself and, perhaps because I am a woman, I kind of wanted some of that insight.

Having said that, this is a show which is going to go off like a bomb in RSL's and town halls around the country I reckon. There are a couple of songs, a privacy screen I was plotting to take home with me, and a creditable array of wigs and frou frou to laugh at and admire. Check out the show and have one more laugh with the incredible Jeanne Little.

3 Stars