Friday 25 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.

Saturday 19 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!

Friday 18 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 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

Wednesday 16 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

Saturday 12 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

THE LONG GAME - Theatre Review

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