Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Much Ado About Nothing - Theatre Review

What: Much Ado About Nothing
When: 2-17 December 2017
Where: St Kilda Botanical Gardens
Written by: William Shakespeare
Directed by: Jennifer Sarah Dean
Musical Direction by: Ben Adams
Choreography by: John Reed
Performed by: Syd Brisbane, Nicola Bowman, May Jasper, Khisraw Jones-Shukoor, Dion Kaliviotis, Lelda Kapsis, Jonathon Lawrence, Ella Lawry, Jacob Machin, Madeleine Mason, Fabio Motta, Johnathan Peck, Hunter, Perske, John Reed, Paul Robertson, Bridget Sweeney, and Annabelle Tudor.
Set by: Alia Syed
Costumes by: Rhiannon Irving
Stage Management by: Lauren Rosato

Annabelle Tudor and Lelda Kapsis - photo by Burke Photography
It has been a long time since I have seen such an energised, exciting, and engaging Shakespeare but Melbourne Shakespeare has finally brought the Bard back to life. Their production of Much Ado About Nothing, being presented at the St Kilda Botanical Gardens, is one of the best pieces of theatre I have seen in a long time.

This laugh-a-minute pantomimic romp doesn't stop from beginning to end. Luckily it is a generally young cast because they need all the energy of youth to keep up with the speed of light entrances and exits! Of course Melbourne's iconic patriarch of the stage, Syd Brisbane (Leonato), manages to keep up with nary a misstep or hiccough to interrupt his stride.

Much Ado About Nothing is a tale of disception, love, and misinformation. Benedick (Fabio Motta) and Beatrice (Annabelle Tudor) are in love but refuse to admit it to themselves and the world. There are hints of The Taming Of The Shrew in this relationship. On the other hand Claudio (Jacob Machin) and Hero (Madeleine Mason) are in love but through the stirring of rumours, call off their wedding. As with all Shakespeare's love stories, though, all's well that ends well... (pardon the pun).

Jennifer Sarah Dean (director) and Ben Adams (Musical Director) have given this energetic romp a modern edge by making Don Pedro (Khisraw Jones-Shukoor) a music producer and having the cast engage in singing battles in the tradition of hip hop battles. There is not a lot of tampering with the script to make it fit this conceipt but occasionally it does come across as slightly forced.  To be honest this is true of nearly every contemporary adaptation though, and this troupe do it way better than most.

The play is performed in the rose terraces at the St Kilda Botanical Gardens and Rhiannon Irving (Costumes) has celebrated the location with stunning impact in her magnificent costuming which made the whole event feel very English tea party, strawberries and cream. Alia Syed (Set) also shows impeccable restraint in her set decisions, and also a wonderful attention to detail with the elements present.

Dean demonstrates a brilliant understanding of comedy in this production and with such a large cast and such a full script I was really impressed with how she kept the detail in the high jinks and slap stick from beginning to end with no lulls or dips. The impulsive energy inherent in the text is embodied by everyone on stage in every moment and whilst the play has some adult themes (such as cuckolding) this is beyond child friendly - it is kidtastic!

Motta, Lelda Kapsis (Antonia), and Nicola Bowman (Margaret) steal the show a bit but only because what they are doing is so evidently embedded in their soul. This is not a slight on any of the others because this is some of the best ensemble work I have ever seen.

Adding to the humour is the great stings by John Reed (choreographer). The homage to Bob Fosse was an act of complete genius and is probably the stage moment of the year.

I can say nothing else except this is completely unmissable. You will not see a better Shakespeare production for many years to come so get on down and see it while you can. It is only on til mid December. You will find it hard to ever have more fun with a piece of theatre ever!

5 Stars

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Lost: 5 - Theatre Review

What: Lost: 5
When: 22 November - 3 December
Where: Irene Mitchell Studio, St Martin's Youth Theatre
Written by: Daniel Keene
Directed by: Michele McNamara
Performed by: Pearce Hessling, Fleur Murphy, Kiniesha Nottle, Stephanie Pick, and Marty Rhone
Lighting by: Jason Bovaird and Maddy Search
Sound by: MBRYO

Stephanie Pick
The works of one of Melbourne's great playwrights, Daniel Keene, is not seen on our stages as much as it used to be so there is a sublime joy in experiencing his poetic and evocative storytelling in Lost: 5 presented as part of the 2017 Poppyseed Festival season. Presented by Ilumi-Nation Theatre (the same team who brought us 4.48 Psychosis earlier in the year), the show is a journey through the dignity and complexity of our lost homeless ones.

Michele McNamara has selected 5 of Keene's monologues and interwoven them to try and create a complex tableau of the invisible people in our world. It is always tricky to present a range of monologues as a complete piece of theatre and Lost: 5 comes as close to working as I have seen achieved in a while. The styles and assortment of monologues selected have an enticing texture and the performances are very, very good. For the most part the dramaturgy is good too.

For me the biggest flaw was the choice of 'The Rain' as the connecting through line. The piece is highly repetitive and this works when it is a whole because the poetic structure is strong. Once you split it apart though, the rhythm fails and meaning becomes obscure.  'Two Shanks', on the other hand - which was also split into two segments - stands strong and proud. It is hard to say why one worked and the other didn't.

Part of the answer may lie in the performances. There is a saying in performance - start strong and end strong and it doesn't matter what happens in the middle. Lost: 5 seems to do the opposite. Fleur Murphy gives a heartfelt performance, but it is incredibly naturalistic and almost too ordinary for the incredible complexity of this wonderful woman who is drowning in the detritus of kindness. The calmness of her performance sets a mood and pace which the rest of the cast work hard to overcome. And yes, I am going to say it - you do not use stage makeup to age your face in an intimate theatre.

Stephanie Pick is up to the challenge though, and the humour and pathos of the beautiful story of a babe found in a bin punches through even my cynical exterior and her exploration of the rhythm in the writing is mesmerising. Kiniesha Nottle breaks the sombre mood with her feisty portrayal of 'Getting Shelter'. The language of this monologue is highly stylised and brought to mind the children's speech patterns in Beyond Thunderdome. Nottle's energetic use of the stage was some sort of Beckett/Shakespearean blend which created this amazing sense of the underclasses being a place somewhere in Middle Earth.

The show settles into a slightly more predictable pace as Pearce Hessling shows us his pet in 'A Foundling' and Marty Rhone tells us his story in 'Kaddish'. Rhone's performance was a masterpiece of structure and delicacy as he tells the story of his lost love and as he rages in pain, we rage with him.

The reason the show doesn't quite hold together is because the mise en scene is confused. It is meant to be a scape reminiscent of Flinder Street but it is really a mish mash of items which are meant to signify park benches and street corners but they have not been assembled in any logic and they are inconsistent in their symbology. The biggest mistake is the hotel room for 'Kaddish' though. One of the first lines in the monologue is that "she didn't want to die in a room like this" but I couldn't help thinking the room looked fine. It had an ensemble mattress, a wooden side table and a sitting chair. The poverty being discussed is missing in everything including Rhone's costume.

There is a definite style to Ilumi-Nation's work and Jason Bovaird's angular, shard-like lighting is a great metaphor for these lost people in our society and how they disappear in the cracks and are only ever briefly seen. It would have been great if it could have gotten darker more often because the blocking cried our for spots rather than washes.

MBRYO has created a gentle yet evocative scape full of the complexity and dignity of the stories being portrayed, yet full of industrial sounds keeping us centred in a cold, industrialised, urban society. Bovaird's architectural enhancement of the exposed performance space worked in tandem to disassociate these characters from our warmer world of love and comfort.

Ilumi-Nation has also developed the motif of putting MBRYO on stage which seems to insinuate the presence of the writer. Whilst I love this idea as a post-truth symbology, it does not work as effectively as it did for their previous performance. There was one moment late in the play when Murphy crosses worlds with him. More of this would have developed this idea to a more integrated level.

Lost: 5 is a wonderful collection of writing and the performances were complex and sincere. As beautiful as all this was I admit to wondering why it was being performed right here, right now though. This is possibly the biggest issue for me. The show comes across as a showcase rather than a piece of theatre with intention. Having said that, it is beautiful and I would recommend seeing Keene's work any time you can.

3 Stars

Monday, 6 November 2017

Birdcage Thursdays - Theatre Review

What: Birdcage Thursdays
When: 2 November - 12 November 2017
Where: fortyfivedownstairs
Written by: Sandra Fiona Long
Directed by: Caitlin Dullard
Performed by: Sophia Constantine, Sandra Fiona Long, and Genevieve Picot
Set by: Joanne Mott
Lighting by: Rebecca Etchell
Sound by: Raya Slavin

Sophia Constantine and Genevieve Picot
Theatre is being kicked and dragged into the 21st century by original thinkers and people (mainly women in my opinion...) who are eschewing the standard tropes of narrative dominated story telling, moving beyond affective performance making devices, and going straight to the heart of experiences with what I like to call post-truth theatre. Sandra Fiona Long is one of these intrepid trail blazers and tales such as Birdcage Thursdays, playing at fortyfivedownstairs this week, which embody script and performance as equal partners is leading the charge.

Long's writing is deceptive in that, on the page, they appear finely crafted hyper-realistic portraitures without the obvious driving energies of 'dramatic action'. I always say when you look at a play you have to understand who wrote it and Birdcage Thursdays is the perfect example. Long is a writer, performer, director and you have to understand that as she crafts the play she is imagining a world so much greater than dialogue and all you have to do is see this play to understand the fullness and exquisite craftsmanship Long brings to the theatre form.

Birdcage Thursdays does have narrative. It is the tale of a woman who has boxed herself into her retirement complex just as life has boxed her in to an endless retirement of craft projects and hobbies. She is on the verge of being kicked out because of her tendency to overcompensate, self-indulge, and hoard and her over-achieving daughter has to 'sort' her mother out. This is not a self-less tale. If the mother is kicked out it is the daughter who will have to deal with the consequences, and the mother must - on at least some level - know this is her mechanism for getting attention. Neverless it is a real problem, there is real threat, and the consequences impact the lowest and most significant level of Maslow's Hierarchy of Need.

Throw into the mix a cockatiel whose mating partner is dead just as Helene's (Genevieve Picot) husband is dead, and who is fated to live out it's final years trapped in a cage alone just as Helene is trapped in amongst her boxes, and you have the ingredients for a story mired in pathos if handled by anyone of less skill than Long. Switching between the alienation of using numbers instead of character names, giving every character a name, and also having a narrator/chorus/co-participant this play breaks all the boundaries to get at the real, totally subjective, often absurd heart of these intense family dynamics and circumstances.

In order to realise writing of this type of newness and boldness it is important for the director to really understand the artist. Caitlin Dullard has known and worked with Long over many years including as Long's assistant director at DVA Theatre. The trust and collaboration is evident as some truly unexpected and yet powerful performance choices have been made. In particular the style of oration for the Narrator resembles a 45rpm record being played at 33rpm. This is a bold choice because traditionally the narrator is objectified and non-partisan. As well as commenting on the warping of time in moments of intense personal experience, the Narrator (Long) also sees and communicates with Helene. They are both (all three) taking this journey together, telling this story supported by each other, and experiencing these moments as human beings sharing this world.

The rapport and connection between Picot and Long is so intensely beautiful it almost makes your heart want to stop beating. The moments are brief, but the sense of togetherness and support is as essential to the tale as any of the more overt blocking or dialogue.

Sophia Constantine is a wonderfully energetic foil to Picot's stillness. Constantly circling the stage she is as much the reason for her mother's fort as she is earnestly trying to help her mother escape it. Constantine doesn't quite match the other two in character nuance, but her physicality is key to the work and as the cockatiel she is mesmerising.

What really lifts Birdcage Thursdays into a whole other stratosphere though, is the work between Long and Raya Slavin. Being a vocalist herself, Long has worked with Slavin to make the voice a part of the aural architecture of the world. Using spoken world, humming, sound processing, and composition the soundscape of this adventure adds layers of texture, truth, and unreality to the finely wrought architecture of the characters.

Birdcage Thursdays is beautifully majestic. It is work of now, not of yesterday. If you only understand realism and/or post-dramatics you will not appreciate this play. If you are able to even glimpse the era of post-truth you will understand and a new sense of the world will open up to you. It is personal, experiential, real, and fiction all at the same time. Are you ready for it?

4.5 Stars

Thursday, 2 November 2017

The Comic Psychic - Comedy Review

What: The Comic Psychic - Are You There Michael Jackson?
Where: The Butterfly Club
When: 1-5 November 2017
Performed by: Bernadette Mirabelli

Bernadette Mirabelli
We often talk about seeing and hearing diverse voices on stage, but after watching The Comic Psychic it occurred to me that there is one voice we see and hear little of - the middle age immigrant woman. Laughing along with Bernadette Mirabelli's puns and pop culture humour I had the best 45 minutes in a long time at The Butterfly Club last night.

I have spoken before about how much I enjoy evenings of 'dad humour' comedy - how gentle they are as you cackle benignly with the corny joke heard a million times before. With The Comic Psychic I realised I had missed the wry, dry wit of the mum/grandma keenly observing life in a self-deprecating manner and working her way through a bottle of gin or vodka.

For our psychic Madame Elbac, the choice was vodka. Her five vegetables a day are the brands of potato which make up the contents of her tumbler and she is not going to let her repetiteur Herbie (or Herpes as she prefers to call him) judge her for it.

Elbac is cable backwards, and Madame Elbac is a conduit between the spirit world and our material world. Elbac has cleared the kitchen table of dishes, replacing them with a crystal ball and she has decided to touch base with Michael Jackson and check in on him. Unfortunately her communications highway is as effective as our NBN so we meet a few other Micheal's along the way.

With an eagerness boardering on naivette, a powerful singing voice, a no-nonsense awareness of the world, and an accent which will instantly remind of bright sunny kitchens with yummy food in the oven The Comic Psychic doesn't break new ground but ut had me laughing all the way through. The tone of the show is relaxed and inclusive and with a cocktail in hand you can't go wrong with this one.

2.5 Stars


Friday, 27 October 2017

Tchekov At The House Of Special Purpose - Theatre Review

What: Tchekov At The House Of Special Purpose
When: 25 October - 5 November 2017
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Written by: R. Johns
Directed by: Alex Menglet
Performed by: Maria Paula Afanador, Alice Blatt, Carolyn Bock, Milijana Cancar, Jim Daly, Greg Fryer, Huw Jennings, Adam May, Asleen Mauthoor, Meg Spencer, Peter Stratford, and Yvette Turner.
Set by: Peter Mumford
Costume by: Michael Mumford
Lighting by: Shane Grant
Sound and Stage Management by: Millie Levakis-Lucas

Maria Paula Afandor and Huw Jennings
There was a time, a time long ago, when the world was different. It was a world full of beautiful objects and great despair. Something had to change. Something had to be lost. And so we kept what we couldn't live without and gave up the beautiful object. Tchekov At The House Of Special Purpose playing now at La Mama Courthouse marks that moment the deed was done. The Romanovs of Russia were executed and an uglier and yet far more dynamic (if confused) world was released.

Ipatiev House was the last residence of Tsar Nicholas II and his family. Ironically this residence had the same name as the Monastery where the Romanov dynasty ascended to the the throne. And thus the circle was complete. It is a shame this wasn't referenced in the play because it would have given the work  a meta frame which it desperately needs.

Instead the play focuses on the final moments of their life, the experience of diminishment and social change the focus rather than any hint of cause or consequence. It is a singular moment in time when what was has become petrified and the only way to move it is to destroy it.

Ipatiev House became designated as 'The House Of Special Purpose' for the Ural branch of the Communist Party. We know now what that purpose was. It must be horrific to know you will die but know not when. The Tsar (Daly)  and his wife Alexandra (Bock) must undoubtedly have known they would not leave this place alive, but what of their four daughters?

Olga (Batt), Tatiana (Spencer), Maria (Turner), and of course Anastasia (Mauthoor) were only young women. For them the dream of a future had to be kept alive.

This is how we come to Tchekov. Johns likens the four daughters to The Three Sisters in Tchekov's world. Rather than harking back to an idealised memory of Moscow, these girls cannot let go of their trinkets of privilege - none of them can. So while they starve and freeze and gather layers of dust and grime over their royal bodies Tatiana insists they rehearse the Tchekov play. Just asTchekov's Olga, Maria, and Irina never return to Moscow, this play will never be performed and the Romanov girls will never return to the world.

Johns does a magnificent job of blending and matching much of the Tchekovian style to her play. Some beautiful character detail between the three older Romanovs to the Tchekov's sisters takes place, with Anastasia matched to the character of Andrei. There was a Romanov son but Johns chooses to leave him out except through references - probably because there was not place in the conceit because of the extra (and most famous) daughter.

The family cook and doctor were incarcerated with them which was a perfect link to Tchekov, and the Soviet guards round out this fan fiction play. With this cast Johns is able to play with Tchekov's style and structure as well as his melancholy - although for me it fell more into a Gorky-esque tone as the script lacks the humour and absurdity Tchekov brought to his play(s).

This is where Menglet hits his stride as director. Menglet brings the authenticity to this play. His cultural aesthetic understands where the humour in the pathos is - a facet of Tchekov so often overlooked in western post-Stanislavski theatre making. He can see the absurd and is not afraid to face it because without it we cannot understand why and how these people can stay alive.

On the flip side though, at times the additions of dance and play he inserted really get in the way and stand out as not connected to the writing. Of course, this is always the tension when a story is told which is not your own. For me the problem is in the play. This Russian tale is not John's story and Menglet is trying to layer in truth. It works enough to make the play beautiful but does not innately meld.

Menglet doesn't do everything right though. There is another play written in England in 2009 of very similar name and exact topic. That play was criticised for having no meta-purpose and Johns' play fairs no better. Menglet tries to layer in issues of equality but there is no content to work with so these forays end up dangling dangerously in the breeze.

Usually I would just say it doesn't work but in his efforts Menglet makes a horrific mistake in casting. Fryer is one of the best actors to ever have graced our stages and he does a magnificent job with the material he is given but at one point I was silently screaming at the play to not do what it was about to do. Cast as the unwaveringly loyal Cook, Fryer is placed in a position where the only non-white actor in the cast is the loyal servant and then to make matters worse he is stripped and covered with white flour! I still have a hollow feeling thinking about it. If this was perspectivised in any way it would be different, but for me this was a horrific thing to do without more care and intention in modern Australia.

Aside from this tragic error, overall it is a fine cast who work well as an ensemble. Daly and Brock match each other well in their despair and insanity. I was strongly reminded of the parents in Pride And Prejudice - the retreating, idealised father and the neurotic mother. The sisters are a beautiful group of "porcelain dolls" trapped between childhood and the realities of being an adult.

In the program Menglet talks about how important it was to have the guards portrayed by two strong women. Again, there is nothing in the script to support or deny a gender commentary  so it is a decision which neither adds nor detracts from the story. I do note that the doctor (Stratford) spends the entire show in a wheelchair so this could have been a great opportunity for a disabled actor...

Whilst I cannot endorse Tchekov At The House Of Special Purpose because of the casting, it is stunning as a piece of theatrical beauty. The conceit behind the writing works, Menglet's aesthetic brings beauty and the production elements (especially Mumford's dresses for the girls) support the story completely.

2.5 Stars

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Small Acts Of Love - Cabaret Review

What: Small Acts Of Love
When: 19 - 22 October 2017
Where: The Butterfly Club
Written by: Fiona Scarlett
Directed by: Sarah Vickery
Performed by: Angus Grey and Fiona Scarlett

Fiona Scarlett
I seem to have been following Fiona Scarlett's career quite by accident over the last few years and I have to say it has been a pleasure every step of the way. Beginning in 2015 with impressive vocals in Insomnia at La Mama, our paths crossed several times at The Owl and Cat Theatre where I was blown away by her acting. In Small Acts Of Love I got to see her combine drama and song in this wonderfully depressing cabaret about love shortening our life expectancy.

With the fey elegance of Leslie Caron, the presence and power of Shirley MacLaine, and the mesmeric vocals of Edith Piaf when Scarlett told us love kills I couldn't wait for the tale to unfold. Starting the show ensconced on a throne, ukulele in hand, and crooning 'Burning Ring Of Fire' it was anyone's guess where the show was heading. Scarlett cleared it up quickly though with the simple statement "Love kills".

Learning from the experiences of historical greats such as Tristan and Isolde, and Romeo and Juliet Scarlett concisely makes her argument. She also laments her incorrigible habit of ending romances amicably which is great for her life expectancy but not much help to a method actor.

Never fear though, because Scarlett has a plan. In the absence of any significant enough real painful breakups, Scarlett has decided to use the world of song to journey through a variety of pain and unrequited love in the hope she can shortcut her way to truth in acting. Accompanied by Angus Grey on the piano - repetiteur extraordinaire and very funny mime as well - Scarlett puts down the uke and everything starts to look very cabaret predictable. Sometimes, though, the cabaret form can blow you away. These times are when the artist truly has all the skills to bring the audience with her.

Scarlett has created a range of characters and one of my favourites is her French amore. Donning a beret and splayed across a bentwood chair she launches into 'Jezebel' - in French!!! The whole performance left me speechless and in no doubt about the awesome abilities of this Melbourne performer.

Switching between French and English a few times Scarlett explores the devastations, betrayals, frustrations, and humour of the trials and tribulations encountered when love comes to its end. I constantly found myself torn between closing my eyes and listening to the song and watching Scarlett perform. I didn't want to miss any of the experience!

Riffing off the concept of the Eternity Snake towards the end Scarlett turns down the lights, and bares her soul drawing tears from the audience with her words and with her song. Small Acts Of Love is a wonderful carpet ride which laughs at painful truths and shows us we are not alone. We are all part of a never ending line of people who have loved and lost...and died...

4.5 Stars

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

The Melbourne Monologues - Theatre Review

What: The Melbourne Monologues
When: 17 - 22 October 2017
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Written by: Louise Baxter, Katie Lee, Anita Sanders, Bruce Shearer, Adele Shelly and Carmen Saarelaht
Directed by Elizabeth Walley
Performed by: Alec Gilbert, Cosima Gilbert, Celia Handscombe, Ruth Katerelos, Jack McGorlick, and Karissa Taylor
Lighting by: Adelaide Harney
Stage Management by: Mazz Ryan

Karissa Taylor in 'The Bystander is the Gatekeeper' - photo by John Edwards
Melbourne Writers Theatre(MWT) was the founding company at La Mama Courthouse and it is great to see both the company and its relationship with the venue live on with their annual season of The Melbourne Monologues. Presenting six monologues written by local artists, this season follows their short play season Six Degrees In Melbourne.

MWT is committed to supporting and developing Melbourne writers and whilst they rarely fully produce plays, public presentations of these kinds are essential building blocks in the craft of storytelling. Taking advantage of this opportunity in 2017 are six exciting writers with varying styles and a range of intriguing explorations.

Kicking of the night was Katie Lee's 'To Understand' performed by Ruth Katerelos. 'To Understand' sees Katerelos trying to come to terms with death a mere 48 days after the loss. Anyone who has experienced such a loss knows that 48 days is merely the beginning. This monologue is intriguing because most writers either look at the issue from the immediate perspective or with a greater distance of time. What Lee presents in this monologue is the anguish as meaning is sought where there is no meaning. Understanding is sought where none will be coming. The quote of the night for me comes from this work: "Hope exists when you are trapped." Katerelos was suitably somber but to give the piece more life she needs to find the restlessness and discomfort in the grief processing.

Stage stalwart Alec Gilbert was next with Carmen Saarelaht's 'No Feet'. This is a dangerous monologue and only an actor with the incredible depth, range, and understanding of Gilbert could deliver it and tread respectfully over the minefields inherent in the work. Trying to explain and contextualise body dismorphia, Saarelaht dares to consider it along with transgender issues. It is through Gilbert's ability to find the truth of the pain and then let the audience in to understand that this monologue reaches the realms of enlightenment.

The MWT seasons have been a bit of a Gilbert Fest this year, but this only means good things for audiences. Hot off the heels of a great performance in Six Degrees In Melbourne Cosima Gilbert is back to bring us Adele Shelley's 'Girls' School Delight's'. At only 14 years of age herself, Gilbert was a shoe in to play A, B, C, and D in this high school romp. Exploring the personalities of 4 teenage girls in the class room this monologue is hilarious if somewhat cliché. The teenage girl as a clown is prominent in our society as we saw in How To Kill The Queen of Pop. I was disappointed to not see more depth to the portrayal and Gilbert needs to find more definition between B and D, but the piece is a phenomenal achievement and the audience showed their appreciation.

In stark contract we see saw Jack McGorlick portray a young apprentice in Bruce Shearer's 'Garry' delivered with great earnestness and respect. Ironically, I felt McGorlick needed to explore the character's paranoia more to bring out comic elements.

The next monologue was a piece I admit I just didn't understand. Anita Sander's 'The Bystander is the Gatekeeper' was completely over my head, set as it was in the world of computer programing and hacking. A morality tale about standing aside and not speaking out and wonderfully performed by Karissa Taylor, I just don't know enough about coding to understand the work.

Ending the night was 'Fairy Dust' by Louise Baxter. Performed with great delicacy by Celia Handscombe this beautiful monologue was a perfect ending to an enchanted evening - complete with a final spray of flutter!

The Melbourne Monologues was a wonderful evening. What a monologue gives us over a full play is the understanding that life is all perspective. Nothing exemplifies this more than 'No Feet'.

3 Stars

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Rhythmic Kaleidoscope - Dance Review

What: Rhythmic Kaleidoscope
When: 6 October 2017
Where: Irving Hall

Imogen Moore and Joe Meldrum
This year is the 6th year for the Australian Tap Dance Festival (ATDF) and Melbourne has been immersed in a week of tap dancing and shoe shuffling workshops and residencies. All of the energy and achievements were highlighted this weekend at their gala event Rhythmic Kaleidoscope.

ATDF is the only festival of it's kind in Australasian so our most successful national and international dancers eagerly take up the opportunity to undertake residencies and run workshops under its umbrella. Local dancers get to indulge in experiences which broaden their skills and expand their understanding of the art form.

The great thing about tap dance is its incredible democracy. It is not a dance form which suffers gender definition. You do not have to be super slim, super supple, or super strong. It lives outside the strict pedagogies of most other dance forms - although it requires just as much rigour and technique! It is also a form which can be danced at 6 years of age as well as 60. And, as we saw in Rhythmic Kaleidoscope, it is a dance form which is inclusive and can mutate with times.

After all, what is tap? It is using the body (mostly the feet) to create aural percussion. Tap dance is about sound and rhythm foremost so it takes a keen ear as well as amazing muscle control and isolation.

Because Rhythmic Kaleidoscope was the festival showcase, the overall skill and talents of the performers was a bit patchy as workshop participants demonstrated skills they had been working on over the week, but when the visiting artists did their solo pieces it became clear that we were seeing some of the world's best on this tiny stage in Armadale.

The evening was cleverly curated with the first act focussing on the tradition and applications of tap in film and music videos, such as 'A Fine Romance' and 'Smooth Criminal'.  The second part of the evening - the most powerful section - was about where the artform is going and hints at the possibilities yet to be foreseen.

Shane Preston kicked off the soloists and he showed us the suave art of the Gene Kelly's days. It was a lovely laconic tilt to the greats of the golden days of Hollywood. Darren Disney was one of the original 'Tap Dogs' but as he danced it was actually 'Lord Of The Dance' which came to mind for me. That is perhaps not as odd as it sounds as Dein Perry and Michael Flatley were contemporaries.

Thomas Egan is a contemporary 'Tap Dog' and he totally blew my mind with his ability to control the tempo of his tapping. Speeding up and slowing down with perfect rhythm you could see he was listening to what he was creating as much as he was feeling and dancing it.

The second act was a celebration of improvisation and all the ways tap dance can be used to create art and we had some of the world's greatest tap artists here to demonstrate. Thomas Waddleton calls himself "music maker, tap dancer, and story teller" and tonight he showed us what he means. Coming out on stage with a banjo, he took a seat and sang an improvised song about confessions before getting up and exploring the rhythms and sounds he could make with his feet. Echo had been set on the tap mics and it was as if Waddleton was live sampling his tap and building rhythm upon rhythm.

Nathaniel Hancock and Ritchie Miller got the juices flowing with a exhilarating duet. Ah, those 'Tap Dogs'!

There is no denying, though, the performer of the evening was the exquisite and transcendent Roxane Butterfly. Her tapping is pure art. Opening with a contemporary performance including AV montage Butterfly showed us that tap dance can be slap dance if you take off your shoes and it is just as amazing and a holds a fascinating set of harmonics and resonances - not dissimilar to playing a hand drum. She then dances a more traditional and graceful duet with Ruben James on piano before heading into a durational duel with Newton Peres on the slap board.

Tap Dance has a lot in common with Hip Hop in that it is inclusive and it's strong jazz links give it the ability to be completely individual whilst also being part of a communal whole. In fact, the hybrid tap/hip hop 'Hit 'Em High' choreographed by Brianna Taylor showed just how modern tap dance is.

Experiencing tap dance is a unique experience because you feel the rhythms created by the dancer and travel a physical journey with them. If you think 'Anything Goes' is the height of the art form just wait until you see everything else it can be under the exploration of great artists such as Egan and Butterfly!

2.5 Stars

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Echo - Theatre Review

What: Echo
When: 27 September - 1 October 2017
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Written and performed by: Amber Hart and Christie Rohr
Lighting by: Julian Adams

Christie Rohr
The newest entrant in the conversation of being female in Australia at the moment is Echo, playing at La Mama Courthouse. A show hovering somewhere between testimonial and social cliche it is the rawness of knowing these experiences are real for Christie Rohr and Amber Hart which lifts it out of the banal.

These two women have been friends for years. Both have a long and diverse performance making background spanning decades (although they really don't look that old!). They have the rather unusual bond of both experienced unplanned pregnancy and both deciding to keep the child.

Hart starts us off, talking about the experience of choice. To have or not to have, that is the question. None of the conundrums are new. Ever since free love and contraception became the norm women have been struggling with these questions and coming to a range of diverse conclusions. Whilst Hart adds nothing new to the conversation it is important for us all to understand that nothing has been resolved and every time pregnancy occurs, these questions must be struggled through. It never gets easier and it never can get easier.

Rohr echoes Hart's dilemma but her story goes much, much deeper and brings up the issue of abuse. What happens when the birthing question is influenced and manipulated by an abuser?

Rohr is intensely honest to the point of extreme pain for her and the audience. She does not shy away from her culpability but she also stands strong in the belief she has done the best she can.

Again, this story is far too common. In Rohr's tale though, we can make change. We can act to change circumstances. We can work harder to recognise abuse and refuse to tolerate it. We can remove the mythology young women are raised with which says we must have a man no matter what and any many who will stick around is better than no man at all.

Everything we know about social health proves this wrong and it is time we started teaching young girls and women of their intrinsic worth so that men cannot get away with this behaviour and women won't join in the game as if it was normal and okay. Let's break the generational cycle and let the children born of these circumstances know there is a different choice.

The ideas in Echo are strong and the staging ticks a lot of acceptable boxes. Adam's lighting works well and lifts some moments out of the ordinary although there were some scenes when actors were completely unlit which confused me.  Av is used especially effectively and anyone who has taken out an intervention order will fee the impact of what Rohr does with this.

The biggest problem with this show is pace. What in Rohr's performance seems restrained and measured comes across like a 45 vinyl single playing at 33 & 1/3 in Hart's scenes.

Echo is not a bad night of theatre but it does lack dynamics and needs more development on it's meta-statement. I don't know if this particular play has much more forward momentum but I will be interested to see what this pair come up with next.

2 Stars

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Virgin Bloody Mary - Theatre Review

What: Virgin Bloody Mary
When: 22 - 26 September 2017
Where: Errol's Cafe
Created and performed by: Nadia Collins

Nadia Collins
It's not often I get hit by a spit ball as I enter a theatre. In fact, it has never happened - until now. Nadia Collins sets the tone for this humanist look at what it is to live up to/be the Virgin Mary from the moment we enter the theatre in this fun-filled yet terrifying romp through the life and times of the religious archetype of the perfect woman in Virgin Bloody Mary.

Collins' Mary begins her incarnation as a mischievous but obedient young girl, angelic yet playful. Invoking the innocence of an angel with her rosary beads and halo Mary puts down her straw and spit balls to welcome everyone into the theatre with the communion of bread and wine which quickly gets out of hand as she extends the offering to cheese, crackers, celery, cucumbers, etc.

Frantically eager to please, Collins develops a frenetic energy as her eagerness to do the right thing gets majorly out of control. This is our first hint of where the evening is going to head. With a phone instruction from God to be fruitful and multiply, Mary finds herself confused between devil sperm and holy sperm. What could possibly go wrong?

Collins is a mime artist and Virgin Bloody Mary is a complex and interactive show which demonstrates her mime and clowning skills to their full extent. Collins shows just how impossible it is to live with the consequences of an immaculate conception and to live up the an angelic benchmark using only her body - which is being used and abused by a violent patriarchy. With a stage (and body) covered with blood and strewn with a broken baby doll and a detroyed rosary which has turned into an instrument of death and destruction, a confused and bereft Mary turns to her God at the end and says 'oops'.

This all sounds very serious, but Collin's feminist take on the maternal archetype is hilarious. Framed by an earnest attempt to be good and do God's bidding it is impossible to not laugh at her desperate attempts - until the shivers kick in when you realise she was doomed to fail from the very beginning. In the business world there is this idea of 'setting people up to succeed'. Collins clearly demonstrate the female archetypes set women up to fail.

Collins has great skill but is still in development. It is hard enough getting and audience to understand how to interact when a performer speaks. For Collins the task is ten times harder in mime. She does it well and most times the intention is understood eventually, but it is this side of her craft which still needs to be explored.

Having said that, I don't know when I had such a fulfilling night of theatre. It had huge laughs. It had food and wine (yes we all get to indulge), and it had great ideas and important commentary. If you get the chance to see Virgin Bloody Mary don't miss it. Just be prepared for the unexpected. After all, I never dreamed I would be the father of demon spawn and yet...

3.5 Stars

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Bookcrastinators Anonymous - Cabaret Review

What: Brookcrastinators Anonymous
When: 21 - 26 September 2017
Where: Errol's & Co.
Written by: Jacqueline Whiting
Directed by: Eidann Glover
Musical Direction by: David McNamara
Composition by: Ryan Smedley
Performed by: Eidann Glover and Jacqueline Whiting

Jacqueline Whiting

In Bookcrastinators Anonymous I have found my soul home. Like me, Whiting has not finished a book in two years. Recognising a need greater than her own, she has owned up to her social obligations and started a support group for us lost souls and we meet in the upstairs venue at Errol's Café at The Melbourne Fringe.

Like any good novel, Bookcrastinators Anonymous is a epic tale. The hero is us, the grail is to finish a book, and the obstacles are everything which gets in our way including badly written novels, authors who die before finishing their series', and longings for a simpler time.

Wrapped in a dressing gown, hair still damp from the shower and lots of blankets and pillows around to snuggle into,  Whiting tries to create an inviting environment as we enter although there is some trepidation as Glover goes around putting name tags on us all. Somehow, the word anonymous loses its meaning once we all wear our name...

Unlike so many interactive shows though, this is as threatening as anything gets. Noone throws things at us or manhandles us unlike other performances which insist on imposing on the audience. We do get opportunities to speak our truths but the questioning stops as soon as it hits a roadblock rather than trying to plunder through. After all, you have to bottom out for yourself before you can begin the path to recovery!

After trying to make us comfortable by starting the show with a song you might expect to hear leading into story time on Play School we discover that perhaps one of Whiting's biggest obstacles is her sidekick, Glover. Glover is a 'film person' and completely lacking an empathetic awareness of the pain and confusion a true bibliophile suffers at the idea of an unfinished book.

Whiting is a bit of a fantasy nut (as am I) and she talks about what it is which makes a book so engrossing as a child. Do you remember those books you couldn't put down and which caused your mum to send out a search party to find you after three days? Whiting was lost in worlds of brave heroines and magic trials. It wasn't the characters going on the journey. In her dreams it was Jacqueline The Brave and the song 'Daggers and Arrows' is one of the great anthems of the show.

A brief visit to the misery which is the reading of Fifty Shades of Grey lead us to the second great musical number of the show, 'Chick Lit'. The Grey novels were supposed to be female erotica but Whiting lets everyone into the secret all young girls know. The way to really get wet is through romance novels which contain a surprising amount of very intriguing description and innuendo - and have the benefit of being well written as any truly competitive iterary genre has.

Brookcrastinators Anonymous is a show full of laughs, truths, and interactive games. It is feel good fun which, for me, was so accurate in describing my love/hate relationships with books and being in a room with others with the same affliction was positively uncanny. By the pre-show reading is The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger. Good luck with that!

Whiting's singing is a bit pitchy although I suspect some of that was first night nerves because she developed more vocal confidence as the show moved forward. It doesn't matter because it kind of adds to the 'we are all just fellow flawed human beings' sense which comes with support groups.

The best way to enjoy this evening is to bring up a pre-show drink from the café, admit to yourself all the books you have yet to read, and then after the show head downstairs for dinner and talk through your book horror stories with your mates. Pain is always easier to bare when it is shared, which is what Bookcrastinators Anonymous is all about.

3 Stars

How To Kill The Queen Of Pop - Theatre Review

What: How To Kill The Queen Of Pop
When: 15 - 30 September 2017
Where: Studio 1, Arts House
Written by: Tom Halls, Adam Ibrahim and Samuel Russo
Performed by: Simone French, Tom Halls, Adam Ibrahim and Samuel Russo
Costumes by: Penny D'Aloia
Sound by: Jo Buchan
Makeup by: Samantha Pearce

Samuel French, Tom Halls, and Adam Ibrahim
How To Kill The Queen Of Pop is a hilarious queer reimagining of some behind the scenes happenings during the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Playing until the end of the month at Arts House this clowning romp and roasting of our very own girl-next-door pop diva, Vanessa Amorosi, won't give you a minute to breathe as you laugh the night away.

I suspect French and Halls have a secret obsession with the 2000 Olympics because last year I saw them at The Butterfly Club doing another farcical satire around the Olympic mascots in What's Yours Is Mine. This time around, Halls has pinned his eagle eyed gaze on Australia's least glam pop star ever and the team spend the hour long show having wonderful drag fun with how down home and unassuming Amorosi was in the beginning.

The show begins with video footage of a street interview Amorosi did where a reporter caught her coming out of the stadium after an opening games rehearsal. She was wearing the least glamorous tracksuit in the history of the world and bangs (a fringe) long before they became chic. Her first mega hit 'Absolutely Everybody' was rocking everyone's world and was to be a part of the opening ceremony.

Enter Tami (Russo), Tiffanee (Halls), and Tulfah (Ibrahim). These three fashion icons, also known as the T-Boners, are school chums of Amorosi and let her join the group. They fancy themselves as a super diva singing group but everything changes when Amorosi dumps them for a solo chance in the spotlight. How To Kill The Queen Of Pop is glitter infused revenge porn which travels at a cracking paste which can only lead to a train wreck of stadium proportions.

These four performers have established a constant career of working together in various combinations since training at VCA and the precision with which they perform shows just how in sync they are. How To Kill The Queen Of Pop is clowning of the highest calibre and sets a new standard for the art form.

My only reservations about the show is the portrayal of the female. When the show started I thought I was in for a fun and fantastic trans romp and was all set to go. I realised a little while in though, that the men were not playing trans or drag - they were playing actual women/girls - and that's when I started having reservations.

Yes, I get the clowning and don't deny they did it well but I found myself wondering about the privilege on display with regard to portraying women in this manner. Why? What is being revealed? Does what is being portrayed move us forward as a society or backwards? Does the freedom of the queer voice on stage come at the detriment of the female on stage?

Having said that, I confess to having laughed the night away and was surrounded by a room full of zealous audience members. It has been a long time since I have been in a theatre space where the audience were actually willing to express their response to the show in a way everyone could see and hear. It was almost more exciting than an ANZAC Day football match!

The topic might be aging but the fun is as lively as ever and queer theatre is hot right now. I dare you to try and not sing along to Amorosi's earworm anthems as the show progresses...and I am seriously getting one of those little crop sweaters Tami and Tulfah are wearing!

4.5 Stars

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Sonder - Event Review

What: Sonder
When: 19 - 24 September 2017
Where: No Vacancy Gallery Project Space, Federation Square
Created and guided by: Catherine Holder

Catherine Holder
The Melbourne Fringe Festival motto is 'everything is art'. We could debate that forever (and have been) but when events such as Sonder come along it is enough to make even the most sceptical consider changing their position. Taking place in the No Vacancy Gallery Project Space in The Atrium at Federation Square, this 15 minute escape is a massage for the soul anybody can slip into their day.

Holder has created an environment which immediately shifts us into a relaxing spa experience. Completely interactive and highly sensorial the waft of incense will be immediately recognisable to anyone who has indulged in a Swedish massage or facial experience. Combine that with  a soft white environment draped with netting, voile and chiffons and a box office receptionist in day spa attire and I could feel myself slipping into a relaxed mode expecting to be coddled and tended and beautified. My expectations were met, but not how I thought they would be.

Being truly interactive means we have to participate, but the point of Sonder is to explore 'notions of comfort, connection, vulnerability and the everyday'. The genius of the space Holder has given us is we get to create our own safe space any way we want before we are asked to connect.

Connection is a scary word - especially when it is with a stranger. Holder cleverly breaks down the barriers one by one over fifteen minutes until our guards come down and we allow ourselves to truly relax for one short moment in the day. As a result we get to truly see and be seen which is one of the most surprisingly refreshing experiences I have ever had.

Sonder runs as one-on-one sessions which last 15 minutes throughout the day for the lunch crowd and after work sojourn. Cheaper than a massage and far more effective, this experience will impact you for hours and give you back the energy you need to finish off the work day or head out to a long night of Melbourne Fringe Festival.

Seriously, pop in. You will not regret Sonder and because it is an exclusive experience it is one others will be jealous of when you tell them about it. Sonder means the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. In Holder's Sonder she acknowledges this, sees it, and shares your vivid and complex life for one brief and intimate moment in a busy world. My only regret is I didn't want it to end...and yet it was just enough!

5 Stars

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Twenty Minutes To Nine - Theatre Review

What: Twenty Minutes To Nine
When: 13 - 21 September 2017
Where: The Dock, Courthouse Hotel
Written and performed by: Amanda Santuccione

Amanda Santuccione
Every so often I come across a show which is so simple and so honest it is positively magnificent. Twenty Minutes To Nine is that moment, that show. Playing (so very appropriatey) in the smallest room in the world you can only catch this show - if there is room - for two more nights in The Dock at the Courthouse Hotel.

The Dock is a bedroom in the hotel, and whilst there is no bed in there at the moment, the ambience is perfectly suited to the intimate and honest story telling Santuccione is about to share. Santucionne is here to tell us the story of loss, the story of love.

It may be fair to say she has experienced more than the average Joe and especially more suicide than you might think possible. Rather than raging and blaming though, Santuccione talks about experiencing death in such an honest and adult fashion.

It is her experiences. She does not project onto any else. She does not talk about things she does not know or has not experienced. More importantly, she opens up her inner self and shows us what is real for her - the things that resonate and why, the things she remembers and why, the things she has forgotten although she doesn't know why.

Twenty Minutes To Nine is not just a reminiscence. Having been touched by the unspeakable death, suicide, Santuccione says in her press release "I am wanting to make it ok, I am starting the conversation because it is important to talk about it." She achieves her goal with beauty, pain, and pathos.

Santuccione is not just a great story teller. She is also a beat poet and intersperses the monologue with spoken word art. Her pieces on feeling feminine and what ifs resonate deep in the soul and left me breathless. I was also especially astounded with how seamlessly they merged in and out of the monologue. All of sudden we find ourselves in a rhythmic arrow pointing directly at the point she is making, the pain she is feeling, and the wisdom of sages as she processes her world.

People talk all the time about how great theatre does not need bells and whistles. Rarely do pared back shows actually exemplify this truth, but Santuccione does it. It is the raw honest, openness and garnered wisdom which makes this show phenomenal. There is not much time left, but don't miss it.

4 Stars

Friday, 15 September 2017

Erotic Intelligence For Dummies - Comedy Review

What: Erotic Intelligence For Dummies
When: 15 - 22 September 2017
Where: Arts House Underground
Written and performed by: Helen Cassidy

Helen Cassidy
With the yes vote underway in Australia the timing couldn't be better for Cassidy's hilarious and generous show Erotic Intelligence For Dummies which is in this year's Melbourne Fringe Festival. We often talk of intimate venues and cosy audiences but there is nothing more intimate or cosy than  getting under the covers with everyone in the room.

Arts House Underground has been set up as a wonderful true cabaret venue complete with bar. For a small venue it has a generous stage. Arts House really has managed to create a venue which is relaxing and set up for a kind of interactive fun which Cassidy provides in spades.

The Mother Of Bears, Cassidy begins with the tale of her favourite toy as a child, Koala. We get to meet Koala but not before we are introduced to the Koala impersonator. Both are devilish creatures who have dedicated their lives to bringing Cassidy pleasure.

The gist of the show is a meander through the animal kingdom to look at mating rituals and examine the fluidity of nature. Bonobo monkeys demonstrate an unexpected same sex tendency, and it would be inappropriate in the daylight hours for me to speak in detail about the copulative talents of the snake world.

Cassidy is completely immersive in her performance and she gives everyone chances to give or receive pleasure in her presence. For the most part the intention is group love, but to ease us into the idea The Bachelor meets Perfect Match in a game show contest after which you will never consider folding socks to be a mundane chore again!

It is a rare skill to keep an audience laughing and woot-wooing for an hour but Cassidy's fantastic skill as a clown and generosity of intention engage from beginning to end. Erotic Intelligence For Dummies has it all with puppets, endless costume changes, competition, songs, dancing, and even a live birth.

Are you L? G? B? T? Q? I? Are you asexual? Are you a swinger? Are you a unicorn? Hey, perhaps you are just plain old hetero? It doesn't matter. This show is for everyone and about everyone. If you ever wanted to belong to a group, this is the one to join.

4.5 Stars

(Ed's note: VOTE YES!)




Thursday, 14 September 2017

Diary Of A Power Pussy - Cabaret Review

What: Diary Of A Power Pussy
When: 14 - 17 September 2017
Where: The Butterfly Club
Performed by: Laydee Bombay, Michael Chalk, Sophie deLightful, Xena Electric and Scarlett Rose

Sophie deLightlul and Michael Chalk - photo by Ange Leggas
If you haven't yet come across the power and beauty of cabaret artist Sophie deLightful don't miss this chance to laugh and play with a songstress of world class vocal talent and a sense of humour which will warm you to your cockles. Perfectly situated at The Butterfly Club, I can't recommend Diary Of A Power Pussy highly enough as a way to end your Fringe filled evenings this September.

In a way I feel the title of the show is an unfortunate barrier but don't be put off. Yes, deLightful is a feminist but what does that really mean? For deLightful being a 'power pussy' is not gender defined. She uses the term to talk about a softer perspective in a world filled with too much penis. The only wood in this show is the piano as Chalk accompanies the lustrous and powerful crooning deLightful brings to us.

If Diary Of A Power Pussy was just a solo concert for deLightful that would be reward enough but her background is burlesque and circus and so at times the stage is taken over by exciting performance artists to thrill and delight. Light manipulators Zia Electric and Scarlet Rose light up the stage in unusual and exciting ways.

Electric brings and other worldly quality to a pair of wildly careening neon pink dildos and Rose demonstrates a new twist to using the quarterstaff. With lights on either end, the staff twirls through the air and across her body in ways you won't think possible. Both performers leave you mesmerized and amazed.

The body of the show, though, belongs to delightful. Playing with the idea she is letting us into her secret diary she cheekily uses poetry to segue into music classics. From 'I've Put A Spell On You' (she recommends checking with your doctor...), to lounge versions of Britney Spears' 'Circus', deLightful croons with a torch song voice worthy of the great lounge bars of Yore.

I first came across deLightful at and event called Frisky Whiskey and even now I can't believe I haven't heard about her before. Her voice has a timber and power reminiscent of Janis Joplin, but with a smoothness and beauty worthy of Adele. With Diary Of A Power Pussy I struggled between wanting to close my eyes and just lose myself in the glory of her singing, and wanting to keep them open because deLightful is a fun and engaging stage performer you can't take your eyes off.

The show did have to come to an end though and Laydee Bombay took to the stage to bring us her best impression of a Stepford Wife. Her rapier physical humour reminded us why power pussies are necessary. Everything about where women have been and where we still have to go was encapsulated in this fun and frightening five minute segment before we stepped back out into the cold night.

There really is no better way to end a long night of Melbourne Fringe Festival frolics. Head down to The Butterfly Club, grab a cocktail or two or three or four...then sit back and laugh and relax at the end of a long day with Diary Of A Power Pussy.

4 Stars

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

4.48 Psychosis - Theatre Review

What: 4.48 Psychosis
When: 12-16 September 2017
Where: Gasworks Arts Park
Written by: Sarah Kane
Directed by: Michelle McNamara
Composed by: MBRYO
Performed by: Andy Aisbett, Matt Brown, Pearce Hessling, Catherine Holder, Stephanie Pick and Laila Thaker.
Lighting by: Jason Bovaird
Stage Manaaged by: Lauren Thuys

Laila Thaker, Stephanie Pick, Catherine Holder, Andy Aisbett and Pearce Hessling
Melbourne has totally fallen in love with Sarah Kane. This Melbourne Fringe Festival we see another production of 4.48 Psychosis (my third over the last 5 years) and next year Blasted is being stage at the Malthouse. If you are new to the powerful writing by this English post-dramatic playwright you need to hurry on down to Gasworks this week because Illumi-Nation brings us a production worthy of Kane's writing this Fringe.

I have often complained about directors not paying attention to the style and intention of playwrights' work but McNamara and her team have committed themselves to the Expressionist power of true post-dramatics in this production and it pays off. Visually confronting, dynamically performed, and with a sound track from MBRYO (Brown) which sends chills up the spine, this is an evening of theatre which really allows us to feel as though we have experienced something important.

Sarah Kane originally considered herself an Expressionist poet but came to feel the form was too restrictive. She totally astounded the theatre world with her debut play Blasted (1997) and went on to confound them with four more plays before this one, her final play before suicide, which debuted in 2000. 4.48 Psychosis eschews most theatrical conventions and takes us back to her poetic roots. There are no specified characters or location. Instead the play is written in 24 segments. The language careens from naturalistic to highly abstracted to poetic and every variation in between and outside those boxes. What Kane achieves is a psychological portrait of an experience of depression - in particular a journey of medical intervention.

McNamara began this project at the start of 2017 as part of her Masters degree. 4.48 Psychosis was a vehicle for her to explore directing using post-dramatic techniques. Whilst we might consider post-dramatics a bit old hat now, in this production we get a theatrical experience of true impact as form follows form and thus allows function to be achieved. It was so refreshing (and, of course, disturbing) to be able to truly delve into the world Kane had created with authenticity and power. If you read my reviews regularly you may remember by last experience of this play was not a happy one so I thank you Illumi-Nation for restoring my faith and trust.

The stage is stripped back with small pockets of potential in the great chasm of the Gasworks main stage. Bovaird's architectural lighting and games of perspective and geometry emphasis the abyss at times, and at other times irises the space down to claustrophobic yet isolated moments of potential connection. This undulation of space and relationship reinforces the struggles of the actors to conform and 'normalise'.

McNamara chose to use 5 actors on the face of it, but in reality there are six as - in a Brechtian nod - Brown operates his magnificent sound composition and design. His quiet presence, never fully lit, evokes so many extra layers which only enhance the questions and impact of the play. Is he Kane writing the play as it is occurring? Is he a doctor going over the files of the patient? Is he a puppet master performing experiments on disempowered subjects? Perhaps he is all of this and more. Perhaps he is less?

The actors portray only 2 characters. There is the doctor (Hessling) and the patient who is played by all the others. You might think this technique might lead us to the wrong diagnosis. It doesn't. There is never any real hint of multiple personality disorder. This production is clearly about experiences of depression. What McNamara has done by fragmenting the character is to mirror the fragmentation of the play and prevent us from totally identify with the character whilst still being able to empathise with his/her experiences. When they break apart and work alone they become a world of people in pain. When then work together in various combinations they become the confusion of trying to understand why they don't fit the world and the world doesn't fit them.

The real strength of this production of 4.48 Psychosis is by honouring Kane they avoid the trap of saying this is what depression is always and for everybody. They remove the myth of 'truth'. It is an experience, it is many experiences, but it is not every experience.

I feel so lucky to have been able to kick off my 2017 Melbourne Fringe with a show this good. It is only on this week so snap up your tickets and don't miss it.

4.5 Stars

Monday, 11 September 2017

Godot: The Wait is Over - Theatre Review

What: Godot: The Wait Is Over
When: 7 - 17 September 2017
Where La Mama Courthouse
Written by: Ian Robinson
Directed by Ezy D
Performed by: Ezekiel Day, Cherian Jacob, Rebecca Morton, and Suhasini Seelin

Cherian Jacob, Ezekiel Day, Rebecca Morton, and Suhasini Seelin



Ah Beckett. A playwright who continually befuddles, bewilders, beguiles, and bewitches theatre makers everywhere. Everybody want to direct him, act in him, and adapt him. The thing no one seems to want to do is produce him as written. Godot: The Wait Is Over is a child of Beckett's Waiting For Godot and is playing at La Mama Courthouse until 17th September.

To be fair Godot: The Wait Is Over is a fan fiction sequel, not an adaptation, so I shall restrain my usual tirade about people not trusting playwrights blah, blah, blah.  Instead I shall acknowledge Robeinson's play as the massive complement it is whilst also acknowledging he could not have set himself a harder task if he tried.

The sire Waiting For Godot is an existential angst play usually classified as Theatre of The Absurd although I would tend to call it surrealist. Estragon (Day) and Vladimir (Jacob) sit in wait of an unknown yet expected Godot (Morton). Enter Lucky (Morton), Pozzo (Seelin), and The Boy (Seelin). After some explorations of power Beckett has the pair continue on their treadmill of waiting always looking for the easy way out but never actually willing to do what it takes to change the status quo.

Robinson's play has all the elements of the play and, perhaps slavishly, follows the form and structure of it's forebear. As well as the players we also have the boot, the tree and even the rope makes a guest appearance in the set. Instead of questions about purpose and intent however, Robinson has the cast addressing very modern issues such as the environment, the eternal questions about whether there is a god and if there is, is God female? He also appears to play with issues of disability...?

Unfortunately what Robinson does not achieve with Godot: The Wait Is Over is a continuation of Beckett's conversation about knowing and not knowing. Beckett had just emerged from the second World War and a long association with James Joyce. The one great truth he had come to was the thought that he knew nothing and he continually questions whether there is anything to actually know in all of his subsequent work.

What makes Waiting For Godot great is it is a tangled ball of questions and the dangers of stagnation whilst lost in confusion. Godot: The Wait Is Over, on the other hand, seems to have filled itself with a whole bunch of answers. Whereas in the Beckett Estragon and Vladimir are lost in an limbo of uncertaintly, in the Robinson they come across instead as a pair who are wilfully obtuse. Perhaps that is Robinson's intention. Unfortunately the consequence is that whilst the Beckett results in unending consequent conversation and query, Robinson leaves us nothing more to talk about.

Having said all that, the commitment to form in the play is very impressive but I did feel the second act ended up strangling itself in the form. It really did begin to feel the playwright had 'segments' to fill which caused the play to lose any sense of purpose and intent. It also speaks to much to the question of God. Beckett is clear Godot is not God but Robinson seems to either not be aware of this or to have chosen to ignore it. (He also wrote this to include women as a reaction to Beckett's angst about this but in the end it is not an especially relevant inclusion except in the Godot scene - a pointless feminist statement at best).

The production itself has been directed beautifully by Ezy D (Day). Day has a wonderful eye for staging and physicality and he allows the cast to explore themselves and their bodies in the space well. What it does lack is pace and vocal dynamic. We again find ourselves in the trap of playing non-realist theatre in a realist form. When will Melbourne theatre learn?

The acting is very good and I did find myself very engaged by Seelin. Day also had a steady gravitas which suits Estragon well. Jacob was a good although he really needed to exhibit more restlessness as counterpoint and for some reason he kept playing directly to the audience. Morton and Seelin were a good pair but no one seemed to pay attention to the script. Robinson clearly says Pozzo can't see where he/she is going and Lucky can't move without being pushed. Neither statement proved to be true - which might have been exciting if the entire world created was full of such contradictions...

Godot: The Wait Is Over is certainly a better offshoot than the last one I saw (Waiting For Waiting For Godot) and it has a certain attraction for fans of the Beckett. In the end though, what is mesmerizing and confounding about the original cannot be found in its ancestor. Playwrights are not philosophers anymore and nothing exemplifies this quite like Godot: The Wait Is Over.

2 Stars

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Asylum - Theatre Review

What: Asylum
When: 30 August - 16 September 2017
Where: The Owl and Cat Theatre
Written by: Nicholas Walker Herbert
Directed by: Catherine Holder
Performed by: James Di-Michele, Rachel Kamath, Sonia Marcon, Steven Oktaras, and Cesar Pichardo
Sound by: Mbryo

Steven Oktaras and Cesar Pichardo
Asylum is a new play by American playwright Herbert. Directed by emerging actress and director (and newest member of The Owl and Cat team) Catherine Holder, this play is a psychological thriller which asked the question who are the mad people - the inmates or the keepers?

This production has good bones and most of the problems are in the script rather than the performance. Asylum looks at institutional mental health care. Ben (Oktaras) and Katie (Kamath) are patients who are under the care of Dr Grey (Marcon) and her assistant Tom (Pichardo). Ben is catatonic and Katie is haunted by the ghost of Chris (Di-Michele).

These elements provide great raw material in Asylum but the play suffers from not knowing what it is trying to do. As I watched it I was reminded of the American schlock horror series Blood Drive where the inmates have taken over the asylum. Whereas Blood Drive admits its fantasy, Asylum sits too grounded in realism. This then gives me another dilemma in that the mental health tropes are rooted in the early 20th century. The ideas of medicating people into a semi-comatose state and the use of lobotomy as a management procedure are very out of date - not to mention the fact we resist institutionalising unless it is absolutely unavoidable.

Asylum makes no concession to modern mental health care which is why the realist style concerns me. Unless Herbert is a Scientologist - in which case the obtuse bias makes sense - it seems rather reckless to write something so obviously poorly researched. Having said that, Holder and Mbryo have worked hard to notch up the atmosphere of the classic thriller and this does help to eschew the false premises of the play.

The actors are all great. Kamath in particular is intriguing and really portrays the lability of grief and confusion well. Oktaras and Pichardo do good work with poorly developed characters. I liked what Di-Michele did with the ghost and Marcon was delightfully terrifying as she shifted from too sweet to too angry.  Herbert has Dr Grey constantly repeating the words she is being driven to a 'fatal exhaustion' but in the end he goes too far so the outcomes are not unexpected.

Holder has made some really fantastic directorial choices. Her set plays with ideas reminiscent of American Horror Story and her treatment of Katie's story is excellent. Perhaps the one thing the whole team needs to remember is that not every word in a script has equal weight and people are not always talking directly to another person. This kind of nuance will evolve as these young and very talented artists develop their skill and experience.

We don't do horror on stage that often. I really recommend going along to Asylum because there is something about getting close up and personal with the tension which is quite exhilarating. Just try not to get too grumpy about the misrepresentations in the play...

3 Stars