Thursday, 29 December 2016

Allied - Film Review

What:  Allied
Release Date: 26 December
Featuring: Marion Cottilard and Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard
Allied is a World War II Romance of the style we have not seen come out of Hollywood since the middle of the last century. Featuring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, this movie strongly references the 1942 classic Casablanca.

The story is based around two spies - Max Vatan (Pitt) and Marianne Beausejour (Cotillard) - who find themselves working together on an operation in Casablanca and posing as husband and wife. Everything about these opening scenes are unabashedly referential to the 1942 movie, from the cinematography, the colour grading which references film noir, and the second unit cinematography. Lacking subtlety, but highly referential is the dust storm surrounding the spies as they break protocol and have sex because they may die the next day.

Pitt and Cotillard also base their characters on Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Unfortunately, Pitt's version of reserve lacks the depth and complexity Bogart manages and there is no chemistry between Pitt and Cotillard, although Cotillard works hard to soften Pitt's robotic performance. Director Robert Zemeckis has gone so far as to film Cottillard with the same luminescence Curtiz used for Bergman and Cottilard does live up to her predecessor's magic.

Vatan and Beausejour survive their assassination task and Vatan asks Beausejour to come to England and be his wife. She says yes. This moment stands out as the most unbelievable of the film. I just couldn't make myself believe they were in love. In fact, I had a hard time believing there was any real danger but that may be because I have been spoiled by the realism of war films since the 170's - Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Saving Private Ryan, etc.

The film moves into more comfortable territory once the couple are in London. Pitt does relax a little but I spent a lot of time during the movie wondering if Pitt was trying to set himself up as the next James Bond. Zemeckis has cleverly situated the character of Vatan as a Canadian secondment to the British Army to explain Pitt's American accent.

Whilst I had a lot of trouble believing in the start of the movie, curiously I found myself thoroughly engaged by the second half. Cotillard has the most amazing eyes which the audience can drown in and she uses them to devastating effect, never letting us know whether she is a double agent or just what she appears to be. It reminded me of Bergman's comment about not knowing which character she was supposed to truly be in love with in Casablanca.

The Casablanca references abound, including a wonderfully oblique nod to the 'Marseillaise' scene in the 1942 movie. The ending for Allied has a similar impact to Casablanca as the realities of what needs to happen force an impasse with only one solution. The flip of sacrifice from the older movie is an inspired choice and one which brings the movie into a modern aesthetic. 

I confess I cried. Allied is unapologetically romantic and pushes all the right buttons. The nostalgia of the approach seems to give the audience permission to indulge in the pathos in a manner we are not as comfortable with these days. An old world story told in old world ways - it kind of works.

Apparently, the idea for this story came from a 'true' story told to Stephen Knight (original script writer) when he was 21. The story may be true but the movie does not work because of that. It works because it is pure romantic fantasy untainted by modern realism or cynicism.

Despite Pitt's performance there is enough here to make this a fine film to watch and a brilliant one to take older relatives to as a festive gift. Want to calm the waters with mother's-in-law or grandparents? This is the perfect way to head into the holiday family festivities.

4 Stars

Sunday, 11 December 2016

The Burly Q Club - Cabaret Review

What: The Burley Q Club
When: 3-17 December 
Where: Greyhound Hotel


Sina King - photo courtesy of Encore PR

The Burly Q Club is an exciting new burlesque/dinner theatre experience produced by Miss Burlesque Australia 2011, Sina King. The show is currently being presented at the Greyhound Hotel in St Kilda and is a raunchy and rollicking recap of the fun and feathers of the heyday of American burlesque.

Burlesque began in the mid 1800's in Britain as a lower class form of comedy revue. A century later and across the oceans Americans added the art of strip tease to the line up to compete with the emerging movie industry for entertainment dollars. By the 1960's burlesque - or burly Q as is was fondly called - was a dying art form.

Dying but not dead yet, a resurgence of burlesque has emerged over the last two decades, the most prominent advocate probably being the luscious 
Dita von Teese.

Australia has never let burlesque die out completely - probably because of the essence of humour and satire which is essential to the full burlesque experience and whilst burlesque used to be associated with comedy, in modern times it has allied itself with the circus arts. Artists such as Moira Finucane lead the way internationally with the show (now approaching it's 13th year) Glory Box

The Burly Q Club is Sina King's latest creation and as dinner theatre it focuses more on the titillation aspect of burlesque with all of the acts incorporating strip tease in some form or another. Circus also features with one of the best aerial hoop acts (Miss Kopalova) I have ever seen. Morphing into a rhythmic gymnatics routine we are amazed to discover "what you can do with a bowling ball" as the MC breathlessly puts it.

Aurora Kirth, compere extraordinaire, brings much of the humour (with a little hint of dominatrix) to the proceedings in the form of Leila, the "multi-accentual" grand dame of undiscoverable European provenance. Leila keeps the crowd in line and in laughter as we journey through the garden of Eden on an exploration of temptation, indulgence, and acrobatics.

Sina King brings the magic of the medicine woman as she plays with a (real) snake in her jungle of temptation, and Zelia Rose brings some tribal "black honey" into the mix - her bananas swaying madly as she proudly reveals her talents.

Things get very hot and heavy, with just a touch of BDSM as Bray Beunrostro and Miss Kopalova explore sexual power in a mind blowing acrobatics routine. This act will leave images never to be forgotten.

Hannie Helsdon brings back the comedy with a cheeky Barbie doll hula hoop routine, and as a little something for the women Rowan Thomas does a strip tease on the Cyr Wheel. Ah, men and their toys...

This is a dinner event, so Leila gives the audience some breaks as the three course meal is served encouraging us to "take a moment to fan down your groin" before once again reminding us "Love is in the air. Reach out and fondle it."

The Burly Q Club is a sexy, awe inspiring night complete with some of the most accomplished burlesque and circus artists I have seen. Magnificently curated it is a wonderful cabaret performance with ostrich feathers and booby tassels galore. As Leila tells us, "Strangers you arrive and lovers you shall leave."

5 Stars

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Professor Rosi Braidotti - Event Review

What: Professor Rosi Braidotti
When: 9 December 2016
Where: Victorian College of the Arts

Rosi Braidotti - all photos by Samsara

One of the great secrets of every university town is the public lectures available to the community. University of Melbourne is a well-spring of current thinking and ideas and they run an ongoing series of free public lectures on everything from the physics of entropy through to the randomness of chance and probability.

Last night I attended an incredibly inspiring lecture by world renowned philosopher Professor Rosi Braidotti. Braidotti is currently a professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, and is a pioneer in European Women's Studies.

Speaking in Federation Hall at the Victorian College of the Arts, Braidotti addressed the question of what it is to be a feminist in a post-human age. Braidotti is an incredibly lively and engaging speaker and it was impossible to not get caught up in her indignation of the past, frustration in the present, and enthusiasm for the future.

Braidotti grounded this presentation in the works of Foucault and Deleuze, but the true foundation of the talk centred around the ideas underlying the philosophies of Baruch Spinoza. Spinoza laid the groundwork for the Age of Enlightenment with his monistic concept of humanity, the universe and God as well as his belief in the future of mankind being determinist rather than an act of free will.

Beginning with the presentation of Leonardo da Vinci's drawing of the Vitruvian Man, Braidotti condemned the idea of this image being a representation of humanity and thereby, the universal. She asked the question "If this is human and I am not this [white male], than am I human?" She took this idea even further, asking can a concept of universal be represented by female or - an even bigger leap - can the concept of universal be represented by other than human?

One of the intriguing insights raised by Braidotti was the amount of money being poured into future studies in Europe. In particular, she talked about the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University and how it is investigating ways to augment biological humanity to help us keep up with the computers and machines we are inventing which outstrip our own unenhanced capabilities.

As such, questions about the usefulness of the concept of other are raised. In a world where humans require augmentation and we are attempting to build moral algorithms into our unmanned killing machines is there really any difference between human and machine, living and non-living, or human and alt-speciies.

Spinoza and Braidotti share the monistic viewpoint and Braidotti is careful to remind us that being part of the whole does not mean we are the same. On the other hand, being different is not about being other. In a post-Brexit, pre-Trump world where the 'other' (such as refugees) are considered disposable these ideas are really important to think about and consider.

These public lectures are a wonderful way to expand our thinking. For example, one of the important observations raised by Braidotti is how it appears the 21st century seems to be a reliving of the 17th century. As such, another Age of Enlightenment is bound to reemerge, unfortunately just not in our lifetime.

Public lectures are a great alternative to movies and sports and gets your brain working in ways it is not used to. They also provide excellent fodder for dinner party conversations and lively debates among friends. And they're free.

To find out what other intriguing and exciting lectures are on offer click HERE.

Monday, 5 December 2016

The Tempest - Theatre Review

What: The Tempest
When: 2 - 11 December
Where: St Kilda Botanical Gardens
Written by: William Shakespeare
Directed by: Jennifer Sarah Dean
Musical Direction by: Ben Adams
Choreographed by: Camilla Cream
Performed by: Madeline Dunkley, Carly Ellis, Andrew Isles, May Jasper, Khisraw Jones, Victoria Mantynen, Jonathan Peck, Hunter Perske, Emma Louise Pursey, Mitch Ralston, John Reed, Paul Robertson, Charles Sturgeon, Jessica Tanner, and Lara Vocisano,
Costumes by: Rhiannon Irving
Stage Managed by: Gin Rosse

Photo courtesy of Melbourne Shakespeare Company
Summer fun with garden productions of Shakespeare has begun and the newest company in the line up, Melbourne Shakespeare Company, are kicking off the season with a laugh packed romp through The Tempest. Hidden away in the beautiful St Kilda Botanical Gardens the shipwrecked souls from Milan sing and swig and bemuse and beguile their way through an hour and a half of enchantment and intrigue.

Watching this production was the first time I ever realised The Tempest is a comedy. Every production and remediation I have ever seen has been dark and gloomy and heavy. Watching the Melbourne Shakespeare Company prance and gesticulate their way through this tale seemed so right and natural, and had me wondering why it is not done more often by companies such as the Australian Shakespeare Company, It has all the fun and frolick of A Midsummer Night's Dream with somewhat more intelligibility!

The Tempest is a play about intrigue, betrayal, magic and love - and it begins with a shipwreck. What more could you want for a fantasy garden tale told in the early sunset hours?

Whilst the original play only has one female part - Miranda (played by Ellis) - Melbourne Shakespeare Company are presenting the play with almost equal numbers of men and women. I don't think this is a political statement as only minimal gender changes have been made to the script. I think it is more just a reflection of our times. It certainly does not hurt the play to do this. Pursey has all the power and gravitas Prospero needs, and Jasper (Stephano) is a very convincing comic drunkard indeed.

The men hold their own though and you will find it hard to find a funnier Trinculo than the one played by Peck. Ralston's Caliban is also excellent with a physicality which adds a great dynamic to the tableaus developed by Dean.

The Tempest is one of Shakespeare's most musical plays - a truth born out by the 46 or so operas which have been inspired by the play. This version indulges in the music without restraint, bringing a litany of pop medleys to amuse and delight. Some of them are a bit too long, but every song choice is amusing, which is completely in tune with the tone of the play. There is a lot of singing in this show and it gets quite pitchy, but there is no reinforcement so there is not much that can be done for that. A pitch pipe would help...

All of the design elements are fantastic. The costumes are truly fabulous, and Irving's work with Prospero and the Ariels is divine. Irving's background is in musicals and this shows in the dynamics and synergies she has created across the costumes of the entire ensemble.

Did you notice I said 'the Ariels'? There is not one, not two...but three of them! It is a really wonderful choice. Apart from echoing Shakespeares use of feminine triads (Macbeth, King Lear, etc), the number 3 is significant in The Tempest including the fact that the whole experience on the island is said to take place over only three hours. Whilst not quite a chorus in the Greek sense, it does allow Ariel to have greater agency in the large playing area and works with the idea of them as spirits of the island who are changeable and changing.

It also allows some fun individual interactions with other cast members and solves a myriad of complexities. It also gives them a strange connection to the natural world of the gardens themselves as they disappear into the surrounding foliage and then reappear at will, their movements echoing the swaying of the branches above.

Dean demonstrates a strong sense of visual aesthetics and knows how to move a large cast around a big space. This is a very physical production and whilst there are a lot of moments when timing is perfect, there are some group moments which are sloppy. Given the scope of this production and the fact they are a new ensemble this is not surprising though. As they work together more, they will develop the syncopation they are evidently aiming at.

Whilst patchy in parts this production of The Tempest is clever and a lot of fun. It is truly family friendly, being accessible to children but still weighted enough for adults to have fun.

3.5 Stars




Friday, 2 December 2016

Mr Phase - Theatre Review

What: Mr Phase
When: 1-3 December
Where: La Mama Theatre
Written by: Christopher Brown
Performed by: Christopher Brown and Solomon Brown

Mr Phase 2002 - photo by Tao Weis
Mr Phase is showing at La Mama Theatre as part of their current Explorations series. You may have a dim memory of this work prodding at your brain and you would be right to think you have seen it before - or a version of it at least.

Christopher Brown first developed Mr Phase in 2002 with the Next Wave Festival and then presented it in 2003 as part of the Melbourne International Festival. Over a decade later he has decided the world has shifted enough to bring Mr Phase out of the closet and take another MRI for a health check.

The Explorations platform at La Mama is not about finished work. It is about artists developing ideas and exploring concepts and showcasing work which they may go on to sculpt into fully formed performances.

You might think this is not the right place for a pre-existing work, but as with all health checks, whilst Mr Phase has the 2003 version to look back on, the current state of health is a completely independent examination requiring a new set of images and a new diagnostic analysis. 2016 is a very different world from that at the turn of the century, and we are being bombarded with 'the smearing accumulation of disparate, unconnected and disconnected experiences...' as the program tells us.

Why do I keep making medical references, I hear you asking. MR Phase is the term used in medicine which refers to an MRI imaging technique which looks at the flow of fluids through the body. As you probably know, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a high contrast technique which allows radiologists to see extraordinary detail in the internal organs of the body and is the favoured tool for diagnosing neurological cancers. It generally detects fat and water - a detail reflected in the costumes of the show - white and blue.

I don't want this review to become some sort of crazy physics lesson, but to truly understand what Christopher Brown is doing, there are some ideas you need to know. A phase is a distinct stage in a process of change, and these stages can be simultaneous, or overlap. They can also be sympathetic (in phase) or contradictory (out of phase). You may have heard of this in terms of sound and music of which there is a lot of in this show - DJ turn table, sampling, playback, live microphones, etc.

MR phase is the use of spin to create a 4 dimensional image (the fourth dimension being time) to detect the velocity of change. MR phase captures two images at the same time and separates them to explore their unique identities and how they work upon each other. This is the limit of my understanding of this technique so I hope it is enough to make the rest of what I say make sense.

In Mr Phase Christopher Brown begins by playing records on a turntable with a sampler on top - it is a dj set up. He is half dancing around wrapped in a huge white terry toweling bath robe with a red light stuck in his mouth and a huge visor over his eyes. This suggests he is about to reveal something, something hidden, a form of nudity, something deep inside.

It is a very modern image but then out of nowhere he changes the record and we get Pachelbel's Canon in D major, the robe comes of and there he is in a blue polyester sweat suit reminiscent of the 70's. This is the beginnings of an exploration of the influences which have worked on him over time. As the show progresses we see the influences of targeted marketing, and the randomness of information overload working on a soul of odd generosity.

Mr Phase is hilarious. It is something more than stand up comedy, yet something slightly less than dramatic monologue. It is participatory, yet not immersive. It is natural,yet not naturalism. Christopher Brown spins discs, and Solomon Brown spins Christopher (when not playing a mean bass guitar), and both are surrounded by spin as the show goes on.

There is a gentleness and generosity to Mr Phase which is surprising - especially given the content. The audience are invited to slip into something 'more comfortable', and a communion of crackers joins the audience in a moment of gentle worship to the great gods of spin - the advertising gurus.

This iteration of Mr Phase is still in development but the bones are interesting and a strong and engaging piece of unique and thoughtful theatre is about to emerge. Transitions are complicated and unclear at this point, yet the ideas are clear and the points already hit home. I can't wait to see this show fully redeveloped.

4 Stars


Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name - Theatre Review

What: The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name
Where: The Owl and Cat Theatre
When: 28 November - 16 December
Written by: Thomas Ian Doyle
Directed by: Sarah Vickery
Performed by: Toby Rice, Gabrielle Savrone, and Fiona Scarlett

Fiona Scarlett and Toby Rice - photo courtesy of The Owl and Cat Theatre

The Love That Dare Not Speak It's Name is Doyle's latest project and is the first of a series of three planned presentations which form 'The Upstairs Trilogy'. It is the beginning of something like a theatrical mini series and as with all good 'first episodes', this one is engaging, intriguing and left me eager to see part two.

The Owl and Cat is an intimate theatre - not unusual in Melbourne. What is unusual is that the creatives truly understand what this means for the theatre which is presented in that building. Not only that, but this depth of understanding means that they have been able to utilize and understand the spaces available throughout the building and use each of them to create perfect theatrical experiences which explore not only topics of interest, but also the site of the experience as part of the conversation. 

Bordello was the ultimate example of how they can use the entire building as a single, simultaneous performance experience. I thought in Bordello I had seen all of their available spaces, but last night I was introduced to a new one - a garret it you like - and it was magical.

The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name is a voyeuristic experience. The audience watch the happenings inside a seedy motel room as a dystopian future as the spirit of the people inside is slowly sapped by outrageous social policy and discrimination.

The year is 2022. In 2021 the Australian government passed the Homosexual Practices Act which requires LGBTI people to undergo 'treatment'. In 2022 a census is taken and one of the questions asks for your sexual identity. In light of the recent new law, how do you answer? Do you lie? Do you tell the truth?

Saffy and Bell have holed up in a dingy, dusty, decrepit room at the Kensington Hotel as they try and work through the consequences of their choices. Each had to face these question alone on census night but now they are trying to find a future together. As they discover though, the question never goes away and the longer they try and hide, the more the pressure builds to come out into the open until it literally becomes a life and death situation.

The intimacy of the venue and the voyeuristic nature of this work means that it has a filmic quality to it which defies our expectations of live theatre. The actors have carefully gauged their performances to allow for that and Vickery has managed their use of such a tiny space with creativity, flare, and nuance.

Savrone and Scarlett have developed a lovely intimacy and produce a brave and detailed performances we don't see enough of. There is  a lot of nudity but it has the rare quality of being appropriate and necessary for the story telling rather than being a sensationalist exhibition for audience titillation.

Rice plays Bell's brother Terrence. His brooding presence intrudes on the womens' haven again and again, constantly reminding them they have not dealt with anything, reminding them they are not living, reminding them they must eventually emerge from their cocoon. He is their confident, their saviour, and their oppressor all in one.

I was particularly struck by this piece because of the furor which surrounded our recent census about the new information it requested. In a world being once more overrun by dictatorships the ideas of this work (which are very reminiscent of Orwell's 1984 in tone and content) are not as far-fetched as we might wish. My only reservation is that the play implies that sexual identity is chemical matter and I think we have reached a point of understanding that it is so much more than that. If it could be 'corrected' by medication alone, I suspect this law would have been passed a long time ago.

I feel confident in saying you will not see anything like this play anywhere else in Melbourne at the moment. As someone who tends to not like realism in theatre on the whole, I found The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name to be revealing and change my opinion which is refreshing!  This play is a great story told with mastery and performed with skill and intelligence.

4 Stars

Thursday, 24 November 2016

What's Yours Is Mine - Theatre Review

What: What's Yours Is Mine
Where: The Butterfly Club
When: 22 Nov - 4 Dec
Directed by: Yvonne Virsik
Performed by: Hayden Burke, Simone French, and Tom Halls
Designed by: Owen Phillips
Stage Managed by: Anastasia Ryan

Hayden Burke, Simone French and Tom Halls - photo by Theresa Harrison

What's Yours Is Mine is a hilarious show being presented at The Butterfly Club as part of the Poppyseed Festival. Not quite agit-prop, not quite drama, not quite sketch comedy, this devised show is a mix of side-splitting laughter and pierced through the heart social commentary. It is angry, it is loving, it is self-deriding, and it is 'not to be missed' theatre.

Are you following the Australian dream? Can you see it? Can you feel it? Can you taste it? Do you even know what it looks like anymore? These are the questions constantly being interrogated in What's Yours Is Mine.

You may remember Syd, Millie, and Olly from the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Well, they have come together for a reunion and have decided to take a road trip into the red heart of this Lucky Country. As they set off on this adventure, Team Australia find out what is to be Australian and to 'live the dream' in 2016.

Appearing as a bright shining light (not the one you follow when you are dying...or is it?) they reach for it each in their own unique ways. In a hilarious slo-mo movement montage their battle to outrace each other begins like something very similar to the zombie scene in Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' video.

The show looks at everything - indigenous issues, LGBTI issues, the environment, feminism, wealth, politics, immigration, etc.  Normally I would say it covers too much but this show is so perfectly crafted it demonstrates how every single one of these issues works on us all every moment of every day.

The big issue, however, is ownership. One of the essential aspects of our country's dream is ownership - ownership of property, ownership of animals, ownership of people, ownership of ideas, and ownership of land. One of the most wonderful moments in the show is when we all get our very own piece of land to own and hold. You will get your very own first hand experience of what it is to live this aspect of the Australian dream.

The big point of the show is looking at how reality is always a distortion of the aspiration. Or perhaps the aspiration is a distortion of reality. What really happens when you get that dream? What does it look like? What does it feel like? What do you become as you live it? Is it a comfortable fit? Does it mold to you or do you mold to it? Also - who's dream is it really?

A few moments don't quite work. 'Olly, Olly, Olly. Oi. Oi. Oi' is one of the cracker skits of the night, but many of the TV game show segments fall flat. This is not so much because of the content. I just think game shows don't resonate anymore because they have become their own parody. (You can't tell me Grant Denyer isn't taking the piss every night...). Then again, on some meta level this speaks to the themes as well.

French's quest for beauty, fame, and the male gaze is a painful moment in a sea of laughs, as is Burke's end of life decision. Hall's portrayal as the gay friend is so honest and yet so castigating it stings... like a friendly slap on the face to wake us up.

French, Burke, and Halls are VCA theatre graduates, and are exactly what the theatre course has been training their actors to become over the last few years. The three of them work together to devise shows and be independent artists. All graduating in the same year they have formed their own company, Hotel Now, and they produce their own work such as What's Yours Is Mine whilst also maintaining independent acting careers. All of them have the energy and precision and the kind of risk taking we have come to associate with VCA graduates.

What's Yours Is Mine is a must see and a hilarious night out. This show will get you in the right head space for summer and drag you out of your winter blues in a brilliant flash of golds, reds, greens, and blues. What could be more Australian than that?

4.5 Stars.


Friday, 18 November 2016

Australian International Tattoo Expo - Event Review

WHAT: Australian International Tattoo Expo
WHERE: Melbourne Exhibition Centre
WHEN: 18 - 20 November

PYROHEX - Photo by Sarah Ernst
The Australian International Tattoo Expo is on at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre and it is full of unexpected surprises and brilliant body art. Aisles and aisles of tattoo artists from around the world are displaying their designs, their style, and doing live tattooing all day long across the three days of the Expo. To make the event even more exciting, performance artists take the stage throughout the event to astound the crowd. There are competitions and roast pork rolls...the list goes on!

I admit to not being a body art afficionado - there is not a drop of ink on me except where my pen leaked in my shirt pocket. What I do know is art and let me tell you, these tattooist are true artists. Yes, there is an overabundance of skulls and proportionally distorted women, religious iconography and roses. Beyond that though, there is true art.

I was not expecting to see surrealism, impressionism, or abstract expressionism. I was not expecting styles and techniques replicating water colours, anime, and graphic design. Oh alright, I was expecting anime... There are amazing examples of 3D techniques and tattoo designs which are layered and art in conversation with itself. All of a sudden I understand the body as art gallery.

The show truly was international, with a lot of Asian representatives including Korea, Thailand and Japan. Do you like block colour, black and white, or delicate and nuanced shading? You will find the artist for you here. Plan your tattoo holiday here, or you can get some ink on the spot.

There are also tattoo artists who specialise in scar and disfigurement applications. Ian at the Tatsup booth is very friendly and informative. There have been some news reports about carcinogens in tattoo ink. He explained that if you use a reputable tattoo establishment they only use the best inks which are safe, and ALWAYS get the advice of your doctor if you have medical concerns as well as the instructions of your tattoo artist with regard to after-procedure care.

Whilst wandering the stalls I also caught the amazing  Pyrohex who are a pyro-fire-aerial performance group based in London. Awe and amazement along with excellent pole technique make this troupe a blast to watch. There are also a range of other live acts across the weekend including Girls of Ink and Pin Up Pageant as well as competitions galore.

Go along, have some fun, and get some ink if you're in the mood. This event is body art heaven. Check it out!

Thursday, 17 November 2016

The Removalists - Theatre Review

WHAT: The Removalists
WHERE: Metanoia at The Brunswick Mechanics Institute
WHEN: 17 - 27 November
Written by: David Williamson
Directed by: Lara Kerestes
Performed by: Brendan Barnett, Emma Cox, Josiah Lulham, Hannah Monson, and Patrick Durnan Silva
Design by: Daniel Moulds
Lighting by: Jake Jobling
Sound by: Tom Backhaus & Russel Goldsmith
Stage Management by: Allyson Bong


David Williamson's very early play The Removalists is the latest offering by inspiring young theatre group Baker's Dozen. This play (written in 1971) was one of the early works which formed part of a movement to bring an authentically Australian voice and lived experience to what had been an English dominated arena up to that point. The scary thing about Baker's Dozen staging this show is how relevant the themes and behaviors still are.

Watching this play I kept thinking about David Mamet which is really no surprise as both Davids were emerging in their cultures with a very similar aesthetic and intent at that point in time. Whilst Mamet's American Buffalo was written a few years later (1975) there are many ideas about power and violence which are strongly paralleled across both works.

On the surface, The Removalists is a play about power and control. It straddles the range of Australian society, exposing the universality of our interactions within the work force, within families, across social class, and across general interpersonal interactions. Everybody in the play is striving to be the person on top and is treading on the people around them to get there. You might consider this a bleak portrait of society...it is certainly a merciless one and, I think, a really accurate one as well - but I am a cynic.

Violence is the key to this struggle for power and in the second act it is revealed Kenny (Barnett) was a boxer. There is a lot of actual and implied violence in this play and boxing is a great analogy for the interactions between all of the characters as they try to manipulate and coerce and inculcate the people around them. Whilst I am a bit bored with the 'white box' school of design and it all seemed a bit pristine to me, I did like Mould's reference to the boxing ring floating in sea of blackness.

This also echoed the secondary commentary of the play which is about watching, watchfulness, and seeing. The story revolves around two policemen - Simmond (Lulham) and Ross (Silva). The police used to be called watchmen and their role is to watch over the community, see trouble, and keep the peace. Right from the first moments of the play Williamson makes sure we understand that seeing trouble is the last thing Simmonds wants to do and his intention is to make the new recruit as blind as he is. The arrival of Fiona (Monson) and Kate (Cox) force him to lift his eyelids if only for the briefest moment in time and that is when trouble enters.

Kerestes direction brings little enlightenment but there is a glimmer of insight in her use of a looping TV montage of civil unrest, misogyny, and community violence playing on the TV for the first half of the play. Williamson wrote The Removalists in a time of social awakening and the protest era. An important part of his commentary in this work is the active engagement of blindness to avoid seeing anything which might interfere with the status quo and make us question our lifestyles. My only problem with what Kerestes has done is that the images play throughout the first act and it is completely distracting and does not add to the story at this particular point in the show. It works beautifully as pre-performance framing and in the second act though.

The acting is quite good. Lulham is always reliable, but for me it was Barnett who lifted the whole show into a dynamic and engaging realm. Overall, I think a bit more script and character analysis would have helped everyone. There are a lot of script cues regarding characterisation which seem to have been missed or ignored. For example Kate is supposed to be a seductive nymphomaniac but is played like a cold fish. A film of The Removalists was made in 1975 and I can't help feeling that the cast have taken a lot of their interpretation cues from it which is disappointing because there is so much more in this play and it means the ugly humour is missed. In fact, I wanted everything to be a whole lot uglier - especially Simmonds!

The sound and lighting are great and support the work well and I like the bravery of the ensemble in not shying away from the violence. The lasts moments of the play embody everything that has happened so far in a spectacular explosion and release. Despite only having four sessions with the cast Stage Combat Consultant Joey Lai demonstrates an understanding of this play which the rest of the company need to pay attention to.

Williamson has kind of gone out of flavour recently but this production of The Removalists reminds us why he has become one of our most iconic Australian playwrights. The play is masterfully constructed and Kerestes has produced a good, solid staging. I encourage everybody to see it because it is important and it is good!

3.5 Stars

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Choice - Theatre Review

WHAT: Choice
WHERE: The Owl and Cat Theatre
WHEN: 14 - 25 November
Devised by: Carolyn Dawes and Fiona Scarlett
Directed by: Carolyn Dawes
Performed by: Gemma Flannery, Clancy Fraser, Victoria Haslam, Ben Santamaria, Fiona Scarlett,  and Ryan Silwinski
Sound by: Mybro

Photo by Emmanuell Aroney

Choice is the play which kicks off The Owl and Cat's new season, 'Still'. Choice is an immersive work which investigates the lived experiences of people connected with abortion. Using verbatim techniques and placing the audience in amongst the confused and searching souls makes this theatrical experience much more intimate than most, but it is the tone and treatment of such a controversial topic which makes Choice stand out as one of this years great pieces of theatre.

We are all sitting in a waiting room. It is not a cold, sterile room but it is a waiting room none the less. We sit beside other people already waiting - watching them flick through magazines, shuffle around, and generally exhibit a sense of disquiet and impatience. We become a part of this montage as we choose our seats and settle in to wait with them. A sound which is not quite a ticking clock yet not quite a heartbeat fills the space. None of us feel inclined to speak. The water cooler stares at us, daring us to break from the crowd to quench our thirst. No one does.

Fraser breaks the silence and leads the conversation - the whole event is a conversation really - with her tale of accidental pregnancy. Flannery cuts in next. Here is where we are reminded this is verbatim work. There is something really magical which happens with verbatim when it is someone of a different age or gender reciting the words of a real person. It somehow brings home the event as a witnessing of lived experience as well as story telling. There is an ultimate truth and universality in the lie of the person speaking as if they were the other.

There are many ways to use verbatim. People are generally most familiar with the headphone verbatim technique used by Roslyn Oades. Dawes and Scarlett chose a different route. They sourced recorded and written lived experiences and have blended these stories together in a tightly woven tale which exposes an unresolved social experience of complexity and confusion. 

Half the cast are reciting from audio recordings mirrors of a truth and rigor in their performance. The other half worked off written responses and have been invited by Dawes to explore that in a more traditional manner. It is not obvious to us who used which technique which demonstrates Dawes' masterful handling of the material, the actors and the mis-en-scene. There are moments which could easily have fallen into melodrama but Dawes has kept a tight rein on what is a hugely emotional topic. 

I think a sign of the great success of this show is around half way through I stopped feeling like I was in a waiting room and instead felt as if I was in a support group. The stories move away from those women who have had abortions to the people around them - the partner, the brother, the best friend. I have lived experience of people who have had abortion - apparently one in three women have - so I felt I was in a room where the sharing of this phenomena was safe and honest, painful and liberating, important and put in perspective.

Choice does not preach. It does not take a moral stance. It asks questions. Questions like how did you feel at the time? How did the people around you react? How did you react? What was good? What was bad? Why did you make your decision? What do you think now? Perhaps one of the most intriguing stories was the one told by Haslam about an abortion which took place just after abortion was legalised in New Zealand.

The art of the verbatim technique is in the editing and Dawes and Scarlett have crafted a beautiful tableau. Stories interact and intertwine with each other, just as the issue interacts and intertwines with society. Dawes has also demonstrated a real artistry with the use of lighting. Spotlights everywhere but every story is told just outside of them. Not quite in the shadows but never fully being in the light - much like the topic and experience itself. 

The sound design is also perfect. This show is proof that you don't need a lot to create a perfect piece of theatre. You just need to make sure what you do is precise and deliberate and thoughtful.

Choice is a piece of theatre nobody should miss. It is also a great example of the care and attention The Owl and Cat are putting into the curation and realisation of their shows. The quality control is first rate and this is the show to see if you want to know how it's done.

5 Stars

Friday, 11 November 2016

The Carnival of Lost Souls - Circus Review

WHAT: The Carnival of Lost Souls
WHERE: Melba Spiegeltent
WHEN: 11 - 12 November
Written by: Graham Coupland
Artistic Direction by: Terrence O'Connell
Choreography by: Yvette Lee
Performed by: Circus Trick Tease, Graham Coupland, Anthony Craig, Madotti & Vegas, Lucy Maunder, This Side Up, and Hannah Trott
Costumes by: Clockwork Butterfly
Lighting by: Jason Bovaird
Music by: Platonic

The Carnival of Lost Souls is a new production on the Spiegeltent circuit and has all of the style and panache we have come to expect from these offerings. It is not circus, it is not a magic show, it is not a concert. It is all of these and more. It is Carnival!

As the deathly pale figures emerge into the space in their 19th century garb, the ghostly apparitions made me think of All Hallow's Eve just gone. These lost souls, caught between being and not being are called to gather in this place by the ring master and search for that which they are grieving by reenacting their melancholy over and over again - trapped forever in a non-reality of play and despair.

The Carnival of Lost Souls is Noir from beginning to end. The pace is ponderous, yet spookily light as we watch the clown try to win his love again and again and again - never to succeed, never to be released. Highly choreographed tableaux frame these souls like photographs in an album before releasing them momentarily so they can continue in their quest for salvation, only to recapture them in an unforgiving frame.

The highlight for me was the finale which has all the shock and awe you could ever expect to experience in group acrobatics. I have never seen a human skipping rope before and I am not sure my heart could take it if I ever did again!

The aerialist, Trott, was also absolutely amazing. Her beauty and grace on the hoop was breathtaking and who doesn't enjoy a great silks routine? This Side Up do a fantastic hand balancing routine, showing wonderful strength and unison work. Their chair routine was fun and fabulous as well.

Circus Trick Tease bring the carnivalesque to The Carnival of Lost Souls with feats of levitation and legerdemain which we don't often see anymore. Whilst the prestidigitaton is still a bit rusty in parts, it is great fun and if you are addicted to LOL cats you will go crazy with 'awwww shucks' at one point.

My only hesitation with this show is I felt there were too many songs (although Maunder and Craig are magnificent singers), and they all started to sound the same after a while with no differentiation in pace or mood. The choreography during the songs became tedious and interfered with the action of the show as well. It was great to set the mood, and the odd reprise was good, but the first half of the show was really drawn out. Two less songs at the beginning would be great and some carnival during the songs would be better than the choreography. This could be a great opportunity for some smaller balance work or magic to occur. Craig and Kurth really need to engage more with the Carnival as well I feel, although Maunder was a last minute replacement due to illness which may have something to do with this problem. I also don't think it was choreographed for an in-the-round venue...

I am probably being too picky though. The whole night was a wonderful traverse through the netherworld of the unascended. The costumes were magnificent and Bovaird's lighting gave the whole show that wonderful shadowy underrealm feel needed to set the mood and give the Carnival texture.

The Carnival of Lost Souls is a wonderful and unique Spiegeltent experience. Prepare to laugh and enjoy the gloomiest night of your life!

3.5 Stars

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Inferno - Film Review

What: Inferno
Directed by: Ron Howard
Cast Includes: Ben Foster, Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Irrfan Khan, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Omar Sy, and Ana Ularu

Inferno is the third movie installment of the Dan Brown books centred around the character of Professor Robert Langdon (Hanks) - the previous installments including The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. In my opinion this is the least successful of the three movies both in terms of content and cinematography.

I usually don't begin by talking about the mechanical aspects of entertainment, but with this film the cinematographic techniques employed by Howard are central to both its construct and themes. In many ways, this is one of the cleverest constructions I have seen in film making. The themes of the story and the book work around the question of illusion and understanding, and Howard has chosen to construct the film around the very modern concept of the affective turn. Modern philosophy questions our relationship to the representational and questions the relationship between the real and the virtual world. Following on from the theories of phenomenology, affect is about exciting visceral responses which inform us about our world as non-representational knowledge. In other words we feel it, we don't think it.

To engage feeling over thought, Howard has tried to immerse our senses in the confusion Langdon feels by cutting scenes in a temporally ad hoc continuum, blurring images, shifting the colour palette out of the realistic and condensing and elongating time. He uses sound to excite and surprise and muffle and amplify. These techniques are masterfully applied, but in the end they obfuscate the journey for the audience rather than allowing the mind to engage in the puzzle.

Let's face it, you read a Dan Brown book, or see a Dan Brown film because you want to solve a puzzle. Audiences who follow Dan Brown are the same ones who follow National Treasure and Tom Clancy stories. These people want to engage their intellect and want permission to feel smart at the end. By disengaging the frontal cortex Howard has alienated the very audience he has courted with choice of material.

Having said that, Inferno is not Dan Brown's best effort either. It lacks the accessibility of content and complexity of puzzle solving which made The Da Vinci Code so exhilerating. Angels and Demons also failed to excite the intellect to the same level, but for me Inferno falls even shorter.

Interestingly, there are layers to Howard's film which would have added to the intellectual intrigue had the film been more accessible. Inferno rests on Dante Allighieri's epic poem Commedia (The Divine Comedy as it is now known). Inferno is the first of three stages - Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. Inferno is Dante's journey through hell, Purgatorio is the place for repentant souls, and Paradiso is heaven. Although titled Inferno, Langdon metaphorically travels through all the spheres in this story.

Time is a hugely important construct for Dante's journey, and Brown has cleverly brought in the more modern concept of the Doomsday Clock as an allegory. The Doomsday Clock was created in 1947 to measure how close the world was to nuclear annihilation. It has more recently been co-opted as a measure of how close humanity is to extinction through global warming and overpopulation.

The premise is that billionaire bioscientist Zobrist (Foster) is in a panic and places the clock at 1 second to midnight. As such he poses the moral dilemma - is it better to kill half the population to save the rest or allow all of humanity to die? He makes his choice and sets events in motion.

Many layers of activity are in play as Foster enacts his plans. The World Health Organisation (WHO) try and stop him and Langdon tries to figure out who are the good guys, who are the bad guys, and how to save the world. Layer after layer after layer of sin and repentance are stripped bare as Langdon (as Dante) travels this convoluted path.

One of the great strengths of the story, if not the film, is the unanswerable moral question of who is doing the right thing. Is Zobrist right? Is WHO right? Who do we follow?

One of the disappointments in the film involves Howard changing the ending. As with all Hollywood product there has to be a happy ending, and there has to be good guys and bad guys so Hanks saves the world as we know he will. The book is not so clear cut however, and follows Dante's own questioning of good and evil. The outcome is more surprising - and more realistic and terrifying.

There are wonderful little nods to Dante including his enchantment with Beatrice and her journey with him through Paradiso. Langdon and Elizabeth Sinskey (Knudsen) mirror the courtly love of the real Dante and Beatrice, and the temperance discovered in Paradiso. In simple terms, Zobrist represents the punishment and indulgence of Inferno and Dr Brooks (Jones) embodies the Purgatorio as a love with improper ends. I really enjoyed Khan's portrayal of Sims as the repentant soul. Khan is great in anything of course...

In the end, I think it is probably better to read the book than see the movie. You won't get what you came to see in the cinema and whilst I applaud what Howard has done as a movie innovator, it won't satisfy any fans of the author, the actors, or even of Howard himself because it is so different to everything else done before. This is one of those instances where innovation is detrimental to the project.

2 Stars

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Scotch & Soda - Circus Review

What: Scotch & Soda
Where: Wonderland Spiegeltent
When: 12-23 October
Performed by: Company 2 and The Uncanny Carnival Band

Photo courtesy of Encore PR

Is that a sporan under your kilt or are you just pleased to see me? You are guaranteed to have some of the best fun you've had in your life finding out the answer to this question and more when you go and see Scotch & Soda at Wonderland Spiegeltent.

Scotch & Soda is a circus experience which has been created with an irresistible sense of fun and it has more shock and awe and delight than finding out who shot JR. It is an hour and a half of non-stop, rollicking silliness and virtuosity delivered with the insouciance and unpredictability of a rowdy night in a whisky bar in Louisiana during Mardi Gras.

Technically you can get up at any point to get a drink throughout the show but I confess I couldn't bare to take my eyes off the stage for long enough to take advantage of the real bar. This is a big statement because those who know me understand scotch whiskey and I have a long and loving association and it takes a lot to keep us apart. My advice is to buy a couple of drinks before the start so you don't have to get up...

I am glad I chose the show over the drink though, because I would hate to have missed even a second of what is one of the most original circus shows I have seen in a long time. Company 2 have joined forces with the Uncanny Carnival Band for this night of hypnotic bar room jazz and death defying feats of strength and daring, but to be honest they work so well and seamlessly together it is as if they have always been partners.

One of the things I truly loved about this show was exactly this synergy and the parataxis of the elements. The musicians understand the form and intrinsic intention of circus as well as the circus artists and - apart from being some of the best jazz musicians I have heard - the way the playing and the music are arranged and integrated into the performance meant I was as entranced by the double bass as I was by the aerial trapeze. Given that I spent the entire show switching between open mouthed surprise, gut wrenching laughter, and awe struck amazement this is really saying something about everyone involved.

The originality of the work was also amazing. The show was full of things I haven't seen before. It is really hard for me to pick out anything because it was all so good but if you think you know Chinese Pole you will be in for a big surprise!

Just like a drunk night with friends, the show is full of hilarious oneupmanship, intriguing adventures in the outhouse, the revelation of undergarments which should never see the light of day, and relationship dramas of the most unexpected sort! Prepare to laugh and scream and gasp and hoot along with the performers as they draw you into their night of revelry and mania.

Scotch & Soda really is some of the most fun you will have and it will remind you of why people used to run away with the circus in the good old days. I wanted to run away with this bunch by the end. Whiskey, Jazz, and non-stop feats of amazement. Who could ask for more?

5 Stars

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Waiting For Waiting For Godot - Theatre Review

What: Waiting For Waiting For Godot
Where: Kindred Studios
When: 29 September - 2 October
Written by: Nicholas Lah
Directed by: Gabrielle Savrone
Performed by: Salman Arif, , Nichola Jayne, Nicholas Lah, and Izzy Sumers

Izzy Sumers and Nicholas Lah - image courtesy of Nicholas Lah

Waiting for Waiting for Godot is a new play written by Lah and being performed as part of this year's Melbourne Fringe Festival. It is being presented at Kindred Studios in Footscray, which is a wonderful choice because of the unusual height of that stage which had the possibility to echo the scope and scale of libraries across time, and the existential properties of the mind.

Of course, none of this matters because Waiting for Waiting for Godot has absolutely nothing to do with Beckett, or existentialism, or... well anything of significance really. It is a play about a man trying find a copy of the Beckett and supposedly being thwarted at every turn. 

Except that is not true. In the third scene his friend calls to say she has the book and he can come over to  pick it up. Of course, if that had happened there would be no play. It should have happened.

Lah apparently wrote this play after a few days of frustration trying to get a copy of the Beckett from a library. The publicity says 'don't worry if you haven't read it, neither has the playwright'. It shows. 

Apart from the inherent misrepresentation of using Waiting for Godot in the title, perhaps if Lah was better at researching he would have realised a play by this name already exists. In 2013 Dave Hanson's Waiting for Waiting for Godot appeared in the New York Fringe and at the same time as Lah's play was being staged, a production of the Hanson play was being performed in England. I wish I had gone to England.

Waiting for Waiting for Godot is apparently Lah's first full length play, but I think he might be a bit confused about what a full length play actually is. The show barely lasts forty very long minutes, but it also seems to just stop - mainly because there is just not enough content. 

Savrone has fleshed the ending out with a nightmarish dance scene with a blow up doll - an homage to a psychotic episode to give the play some lift and depth, but at the end I literally had to ask another audience member if it was over. I was glad the answer was yes. In Savrone's defense, she did take over the project after Lah's original director pulled out.

This play has no content, poor character detail, and really appalling dialogue. The actors do their best to create some sort of dynamic but only Jayne seems to have the experience to work with such poor material, and everyone is hampered by Lah's inability to act. Perhaps if he had the foresight to stay off the stage he would have seen the problems with the script during rehearsal...

Savrone has worked hard to give this show life, but this whole venture is a dead man walking. Savrone does try to develop archetypes and physicality with the actors which helped keep me awake but I did question the decision to not use Jayne in the final psychosis scene when Lah dances with the dummy. It would have provided some humour and suggest some kind of cognitive thought if she was able to react within this nightmare.

I was also disappointed Savrone used the book shelves to close off that magnificent stage when it was so evocative of a great chasm - psychic or real. I suspect working in the smaller space of The Owl and Cat has developed her instincts to create intimate theatre which means she missed the opportunity to open this play up. A large space can be daunting.

I really have nothing good to say about Lah's work on either the page or the stage. Jayne has skills and Savrone almost manages to save the show to at least a vestige of watchability, but in the end trimming your mum's toenails would be more exciting than seeing this show.

0 stars

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Deja Vu - Dance Review

What:  Deja Vu
Where:  The Meeting Room, Artshouse
When: 16 - 25 September
Devised and Performed by: Andi Snelling
Directed by: Danielle Cresp
Costume by: Victoria Haslam
Sound by: Caleb Garfinkel

PHOTO COURTESY OF ANDI SNELLING

Deja Vu is the latest new work by creative team Andi Snelling and Danielle Cresp. Their first foray into collaboration was the hit show #DearDiary although this is their first non-text based production. Deja Vu is a natural progression for both these artists. Both Snelling and Cresp come from a dance background and Cresp has been teaching Snelling a form of physical theatre called Action Theatre. 

Action Theatre is a combination of mime and dance (which is clearly evident in the show) and was supposedly created by American performer Ruth Zaporah. It is one of those 'new' acting methods that Americans love to hybridize and then patent as some new approach to performance so they can take a place in history - and make money from unsuspecting performers. This probably sounds a bit cynical and I am sure the great mime artists and dancers of previous centuries are not turning in their graves whenever Zaporah claims invention. To get back on track, though, Cresp is an 'authorised' teacher of Action Theatre and Deja Vu embodies the practices and teachings of this method. 

Snelling is an amazing physical performer and her strength, flexibility, control and agility shine through in this performance. Unfortunately, it is not enough to hold the work together.

I worry about the current trend of people making shows based on some vague (and often quite small) idea and this is one of those shows. The idea came from a bike accident Snelling had and the sense of deja vu she purportedly had an hour earlier. This comes through in the opening sequence and whilst it was not anything I haven't seen before, Snelling's emergence on stage was well crafted with strong visual imagery and creative potential. This opening sequence was intriguing and even, dare I say, exciting?

Unfortunately this fell away all too quickly. Part of the problem is that there is no coherence to the piece, but more importantly the direction and sound design were appalling. After that initial sequence which held such promise, the rest of the performance was like attending an end of year dance school concert. Each piece of music was discreet with long pauses in between so that Snelling could reset and move into a new style and commentary. The breaks were overlong and every time they happened the audience was able to disconnect with the work. I actually began to wonder if I would know when the show was over the pauses was so long. Thank goodness they book ended the performance with a reprise of the opening sequence so it was obvious.

Add that to a lack of coherent journey and Deja Vu just became a time filler. In fact, about half way through this is what I started thinking. Most of this show felt as though it was created to get it up to the 45 minutes considered acceptable for a stand alone work.

There may be a case to be made that the work did not require a journey or narrative as such, but with so many gaps and so much of Snelling's time spent on stage just being her standing and looking at the audience or waiting for a sound cue it doesn't even meet the standards of being visceral or phenomenological, and it didn't have enough attitude to be Expressionist.

There were good moments and, in part, it was possible to see the influence of Forced Entertainment. In particular this was event in the chalkboard scene. At the end of this scene the final words left on the board were 'been seen'. I know that referred to the idea of deja vu, but for me it represented the whole show. I have seen all of it before elsewhere. Even the marionette scene - which was really very good - is something which has it's roots in #DearDiary.

Snelling is an amazing performer, and I have remarked on her skills before in the review I did of The Insomnia Project, but she needs to work with a collaborator of more depth and skill to get the most out of her talents and projects. Whilst I can't reccommend this show, I will say keep an eye out for Snelling because we will be seeing a lot more of her in the future.

2 Stars.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

She Dances - Circus Review

What: She Dances
Where: The Meatmarket - The Rabbit Hole
When: 15-18 September
Devised and Performed by: Dawn Pascoe

PHOTO COURTESY OF ENCORE PR

Melbourne is a city which absolutely thrives on circus arts. The home of companies such as Circus Oz and The Women's Circus just to name two of over 30 local troupes and the home of NICA, it takes a brave and accomplished artist to bring a new circus act to our audiences. Dawn Pascoe (Artistic Director of Perth company Natural Wings) is just such a soul and when I say she brings it, I mean she brings it!

Pascoe has brought her solo show She Dances to the Melbourne Fringe Festival this year. In the show she combines lyrical dance, clowning, diabolo, and aerial trapeze and the precision and mastery of all of those skills is evident in every moment she is on stage (or in the audience, as it turns out...). The extensions in her body lines demonstrate a rigorous classical dance training background, the muscle contours across her body show her strength, and the agility of her face is up with the best of Le Coq or Commedia artistes.

Circus artists have a tradition of avoiding narrative, but Pascoe faces it head on and perfectly matches the ideas in She Dances with her performance skills. There are a couple of different 'stories' on the internet about this show (it has been performed elsewhere) - one about a bridesmaid, another about finding your passion. You don't need to know any of them to enjoy the story. It is essentially the metaphor of the lifecycle of the butterfly. The feminist in me chose to interpret the piece as a release from the constraints of cultural expectations, but really any interpretation of metamorphosis will apply to this show.

We meet the clown first as Pascoe creeps onto the stage guiltily carrying a chocolate cake, looking suspiciously as though she has come home very, very late (or early) from a hard core night of partying. Her character is flawed and loveable, especially when she shares some cake in the audience. Pascoe journeys through a tale of tension between grace and imperfection, a struggle we can all relate to. 

Perhaps the weakest part of the show is the diabolo routine - not through any lack of skill, but it really is one of the least dazzling of the juggling apparatus so the energy of the show falls at this point. There was also a little too much exploration of the trapeze before she engaged with it for me. This is a staple technique for dancers with props but we are probably past the point in history when that exploration is exciting in itself. I kind of just wanted her to jump on and start doing stuff. 

When Pascoe did begin the trapeze work it was hilarious and challenging. I am by no means a circus aficionado, but she did some things I have never seen before and I love a show which gives me that.

She Dances is sweet, and fun with an important fable running through. The audience laughed - at times uproarously - and we were all spell bound by the beauty and fluidity of Pascoes shapes, lines, and grace. Fringe can be a hit and miss affair, but She Dances is definitely an experience which will make you smile.

4 Stars

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Edmund. The Beginning. - Theatre Review

What: Edmund. The Beginning
When: 10 – 22 November
Where: Arts House, Rehearsal Room
Written and Performed by: Brian Lipsom
Directed by: Peter Evans and Susie Dee
Costumes by: Brian Lipsom and Mel Page
Stage Management by: Hayley Fox



No-one can deny for a single moment that Brian Lipsom is not one of the most accomplished actors in Australia at the moment, and in his show Edmund. The Beginning we discover that he is a phenomenal wordsmith (or witsmith), with formidable performance making skills as well.  Edmund. The Beginning is being performed at Arts House in the Rehearsal Room.  Be warned, the show has a strict lockout. No latecomers!

Edmund. The Beginning is one of the densest works I have come across and yet it does not collapse under its own weight which is a phenomenal achievement.  This piece of theatre is not for the lay audient.  To have any means of entering it you really need to have a background in English literature and English theatre history. Without these, the layers and nuances and depths and complexities of Lipsom’s witticisms will be impenetrable. I feel I have a good foundation in these areas but I would not for a single moment assume I grasped anywhere near everything included and referenced.

In many ways, this is Lipsom’s intentions.  When Lipsom finally begins speaking (which is not the beginning of the performance and does not contain the beginnings of the witticisms which have already commenced through his costume and entrance and demeanour) we think he is himself, but it is revealed that he has taken on the persona of Daniel Brand.  Who Daniel Brand is, and how he fits into the construct of this work is revealed over time – yet never completely.

Brand/Lipsom talks about Thomas Hardy’s last novel Jude the Obscure and in reference to the book, anoints himself ‘Daniel the Obscurer’.  He explains the pun on the word obscurer and its multiple levels of meaning and as the performance unfolds it becomes clear that Lipsom’s intention is to be clearly unclear for all definitions throughout.

It is also revealed (ambiguously) that the structure is essentially a great witticism as well.  Towards the end Lipsom talks about the show being an horary, but throughout – in his costume, in the episodes and how they are put together – he is evidently playing with the word orary (and possibly oratory). He also plays with the idea of the word mobile and oh so many others, it is hard to keep up.

The content of the work is superbly suited for Lipsom, with his classical English theatrical training shown at its best both in terms of content and also his personal performance strengths.  I love hearing classical English actors orate.  Nobody trains the actors voice the way the English do and it is always a pleasure to hear a master of his craft in this field perform.

Unfortunately, the utter anglo-centricity of Edmund. The Beginning is the very thing that makes it impenetrable and ultimately meaningless for me.  It has no meaning or context within Australian society today.

Woven into the threads of the work is Lipsom’s own story of being a young boy swept away by Pinter, and his removal to Australia later in life.  He draws linkages between Shakespeare’s younger brother Edmund, Pinter’s son Daniel, and Sylvia Plath’s daughter Frieda (also an ex-pat now living in Australia) and himself. 

I didn’t understand the corollaries, nor the purpose for them.  If I had to guess I would say it is depression, or ‘gloom’ to which Lipsom refers at the end. Certainly I always find Thomas Hardy’s writing impenetrable because of its gloominess. Pinter became estranged from his son and Plath committed suicide so there is a definite linkage of gloom there.  Also, Plath’s legacy of confessional poetry influences the work heavily – another link.

My problem is it was just too hard.  I could congratulate myself and say I am better than everyone else because I ‘got’ much of it, but the truth is I don’t understand art that is not accessible or doesn’t appear to want to affect people.  I like the idea that this piece is for the highly skilled and specialised because sometimes we all need brain food, but I also need to be left questioning or examining something to really appreciate what I have seen.

Lipsom states in the work that in ‘his’ opinion art should be unexpected and inevitable.  For me the inevitability is missing – unless his whole point is that we all die... which is not unexpected.  I guess after sitting through it and working my brain at maximum, I just felt like I was left without anything in return.

Apart from very elaborate costuming and some somewhat ungainly props, Lipsom avoided technical theatrical elements. If it wasn’t for the costumery I would have called this Poor Theatre. The natural light entering the room (and a bit of overhead lighting as the sun went down) were all that was necessary, and his mobile phone created the sound source for playback moments (one of his non-verbal witticisms at work).

My favourite moment was when the sun was just dipping below the horizon and we sat in darkness and quiet in the room with Lipsom speaking in a gentle, hypnotic tone.  There was a grace and restfulness about this moment which was absolutely essential in the maelstrom of the detailed and complex performance.

Every actor in Melbourne should see Edmund. The Beginning and every English literature scholar as well.  It is a brilliant piece of theatre. I would not recommend it for the general public though. Not because they are too dumb to get it. More because it is a highly specialised piece and it could be detrimental to the lay person’s relationship with live theatre if they get lost right from the beginning (a very real possibility) – something none of us want to occur.


4 Stars