Friday, 27 January 2017

Take A Seat - Theatre Review

What: Take A Seat
When: 25 - 29 January
Where: The Butterfly Club
Written and Directed by: Kieran Gould-Dowen
Performed by: Mursal Ahmadi, Alexander Gavioli, Kotryna Gesait, Jaya Jamieson, Adrian Quintarelli, Emily Scerri, and Ryan Stewart.
Dramaturgy by: Ange Arabatzis

Take A Seat
Ryan Stewart, Adrian Quintarelli, Alexander Gavioli, Kotryna Gesait, Emily Scerri, and Jaya Jamieson
Take A Seat is the new play by a rather prolific young theatre maker and writer, Kieran Gould-Dowen, which is playing on the downstairs stage at The Butterfly Club. A story about an array of people who are waiting for final judgement, this is a surprisingly positive story - or set of stories - and is a play people with a religious bent will love.

This play is very ambitious, covering an vast range of fatal circumstances. I am not sure if Gould-Dowen was somehow trying to process a personal experience when he wrote this but the play could use a bit of whittling to allow a more personal connection for the actors and audience.

Having said that, the play covers everything from suicide, and natural death to car accidents and violent gang rape so I guess there is something for everyone. Gould-Dowen also touches on racial issues, inter-religious tensions and anti-gay sentiments. Phew! Do you see what I mean about their may be too much going on? The play is only an hour long after all...

Something I find myself saying quite a bit is that it is rarely a good idea for a playwright to direct their own work. Not because playwrights can't direct. It is just that there is a automatic response to fix problems with the script through acting and technical devices which means they don't give themselves the space to critically examine what they have created and therefore develop as a writer.

The other problem is that Take A Seat does not demonstrate Gould-Dowen's skill as a director either. The stage at The Butterfly Club is small and Take A Seat has a cast of seven, so a creative use of stage space was always going to be a priority. 

For some reason Gould-Dowen has chosen to fill the stage with chairs - more chairs than actors - so there is nowhere for anyone to go. Because of this the entire hour is a long game of musical chairs, but with more chairs than players there is no tension, there are no obstacles to challenge the performers.

The acting was okay and I particularly enjoyed Kotryna Gesait as Sophia and Mursal Ahmadias Nasra. Alexander Gavioli has a real presence on stage and did most of the work in keeping the energy up. He has real talent and played the American soldier who died in Afghanistan with commitment. What he needs to do now is find a way to express the vulnerability which lies under the bluster and then there will be no stopping him.

One of the most poignant moments in the show is a reunion between a father and son played by Adrian Quintarelli and Ryan Stewart respectively. Unfortunately niether of them truly embody their characters and there is nothing in the writing to give Stewart any kind of presence or purpose to being on stage so that whole scenario falls apart. 

I have often wondered if you can write a positive drama for stage and this is what Gould-Dowen has attempted with Take A Seat. The idea is a good one but it does tend to fall into trite platitudes once the characters have told their stories.

Take A Seat does have strong potential with some pruning, refining, and more in-depth exploration of key characters. If you want to see something positive and uplifting - particularly if you are deathly with a mortality issue - come and see this play. It may make you cry, but you will leave feeling positive about things at the end.

Warning: This show contains strong traces of God.

2.5 Stars

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Glory Box: Lucky 13! - Cabaret Review

What: Glory Box: Lucky 13!
When: 24 - 29 January
Where: Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne
Performed by: Rhonda Burchmore, Moira Finucane, Kamahi Djordan King, Yeshe Maherete, Mark McLauchlan, Rocky Stone, and Azaria Universe

Holly Durant
Once again Finucane and Smith bring us the next iteration of Glory Box: Lucky 13! playing at the Fairfax Studio as part of the Midsumma Festival. Along with Finucane and Smith regulars, each night the show is overflowing with special guests of world renown so you can go every night of the season and have a completely unique and inspiring evening of entertainment. What a great idea!

Glory Box is a show designed to celebrate who and what we are as individuals and as human beings. It is about destroying stereotypes and celebrating the unique and unexpected. A female naked body is meant to be sultry and beckoning, but wait until you see Universe in 'Pearls'. A woman is supposed to be hair free in these modern times but you will laugh your way through Durant's Cousin It style dance. Durant was also mind blowing as the butterfly whose wings are torn away.

On opening night we had the stunning Rhonda Burchmore who made us laugh with her Broadway classic, but 'Wrecking Ball' was hugely surprising and powerful. We were also privileged to experience the mind-blowing acrobatics of pole artiste Mark McLaughlan.

I loved everyone in the show, but for me the night sang in the presence of Rocky Stone. I have seen her Molly Bashful act before in La Revolucion but you can never see this one too many times. My heart really leapt and sang during her aerial act though. Combining tissu moves with aerial hoop Stone used a wide guage rope which allowed her to create a noose for the hoop acrobatics and then twist, knot and drop her way through a tissu routine. Talk about increasing productivity!

Universe's aerial trapeze act right at the start also opened my heart and allowed me space to breath as she destroyed her silhouette with tight bindings coiled around her body creating lumps and bumps where our camera dominated age does not allow women to have them. These bindings cut into her flesh as she contorted and flew on the trapeze creating waves of empathetic pain for the audience. This act was powerful in it's simplicity of concept and condemnation combined with the beauty and strength of her acrobatics.

The beautiful Constantina Bush (who I first came across in Blak Cabaret) joined in the digs and ditties with a completely unique and unexpectedly sexy version of 'Fire'.  Her alter ego King also joined us in the second act and brought a solemnity and pride to the occassion as he sang Kucha Edwards 'Is That What We Deserve'. This was a poignant reminder of where we are and who we are as we prepare for our Australia Day activities.

Of course, the whole event was a satellite around the glowing sun of Moira Finucane who brought us all the favourites. Finucane approaches burlesque from it's traditional roots, combining comedy with politics and adding in a strong dose of the more modern strip tease. She does it all really. Let me just say you have never really seen someone eat a meet pie until you see Finucane eat one!

Glory Box: Lucky 13! is absolutely chock-a-block full of amazing, unexpected, and inspiring performances by the world's best performance artists. The show is a true celebration of our humanity and oneness unlike the celebrations on the 26th. Buy your tickets now because this season is short!

4.5 Stars

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Kooza - Circus Review

What: Kooza
When: 20 January - 26 March 2017
Where: Flemington Racecourse
Written and directed by: David Shiner
Composed by: Jean-Francois Cote
Choreography by: Clarence Ford
Performed by: Irina Akimova, Ninjin Altankhuyag, Miguel Berlanga, Marie-Eve Bisson, Yao Deng Bo, Andrei Butar, Paul Butlerm Talita De Lima,  Fernando Diaz, Roberto Quiros Dominguez, Vincente Quiros Dominguez, Alexander Eliseev, Peter Fand, Aaron Felske, Michael Garner, Alessandra Gonzalez, Egor Grachev, Jimmy Ibarra, Sunderiya Jargalsaikhan, Kevin Johnson, Alexander Kashlev, Laura Kmetko, Fritz Kraai, Sunderiya Jargalsaikhan, Alexey Lozgachev, Bayarmunkh Munkhbayasgalan, Carl Murr, Vladimir Panfilov, Elizaveta Parmenova, Denis Pirogov, Ghislain Ramage, Lisa Marie Ramey, Brayhan Sanchez, Flouber Sanchez, Sergey Semavin, Yury Shavro, Ronald Solis, Marina Tikhonenko, Olga Tutynina, Mike Tyus, Andrey Vostrikov, and Vladislav Zolotarev
Set by: Stephane Roy
Costumes by: Marie-Chantal Vaillancourt
Lighting by: Martin Labrecque

Charivari and Trickster - Photo by: Matt Beard Costumes: Marie-Chantale Vaillancourt ©2012 Cirque du Soleil 
Kooza is  a classic Cirque du Soleil show which has been around since 2007 and now it is in Australia. Under the Grand Chapiteau at Flemington Racecourse acrobats and clowns fly, leap, jump, skip and dance through the night as they celebrate the idea of circus in a box.

There is only the loosest of narratives in this show which focuses on the idea of the Innocent who lets the Trickster out of the box after which all sorts of circus hijinks take place. The focus of this show is on fun and spectacle, with  a strong theme of duality. You will notice as the show progresses that many acts and parts of acts are performed in pairs - the contortionists, the unicycle, the High Wire, and even the counter-jumpers in the teeterboard work in pairs.

The Trickster is a strong character who brings order and keeps things moving along however it is the clowns who dominate most of the time on stage between acts. This is probably because the writer and director (Shiner) is a clown. These clowns, though, are not funny. Taking archetypes based heavily in Commedia there is a darknesss to them which is unsettling and unfunny.

In particular I was not impressed with the audience participation sections which, in the first one involved female objectification and physical mauling, and in the second was an attempt to embarrass. I was really glad the man selected had some physical acuity which caused the 'clowning' to fall flat. This style of clowning does not resonate in Australia and, whilst it has a long tradition in the world of performance, is an element of the past which should be left behind.

The acrobats on the other hand were phenomenal from start to finish. After a drawn out beginning which included very banal dance choreography by Ford, the show finally kicked into gear with what, for me, was one of the phenomenal highlights of the show - the contortionists (Jargalsaikhan and Altankhuyag). The strength, flexibility and control demonstrated by these women was jaw dropping.

This pair was followed immediately by Bisson who performed one of the most blistering aerial hoop acts I have ever seen. It almost felt she was spinning and twisting and rising and falling at the speed of light.

Part of the amazing experience of circus is watching apparatus being erected and Kooza does not try to hide any of the mechanics of the show. Even the major set element, the Bataclan, reveals the backstage although it replicates the role of proscenium arch and works as the bandstand as well.

The Bataclan (designed by Roy) is a magnificent piece of architecture encompassing the Middle Asian aesthetic echoed in Vaillancourt's Charivari costumes. All of the costumes were stunning, but I felt there were too many influences going on which were unconnected. This is something I felt about the whole show generally.

I had a wonderful night, though, with lots of gasps of awe. The sword fight on the high wire was fun and breathtaking and I always love the Wheel of Death. I also have to say this wheel is one of the most beautiful pieces of apparatus I have ever seen!

The show climaxes with the teeterboard and what a climax it was. These acrobats not only somersault over 9 meters in the air, but they do it on tall metal stilts! The images still resonate in my mind.

I do think I expect a lot from Cirque du Soleil and it is because they always bring a lot to their shows. Kooza is probably not the best show in their repertoire but it is still a mighty fine extravaganza and a great show for the kids because it is light and fun and there is a very naughty dog running around causing havoc as well.

For tickets click HERE. Kooza will be opening in Perth on April 12.

4 Stars

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Legends In Concert - Music Review

What: Legends In Concert
When: 18 - 20 January
Where: The Palms At Crown
Performers: J.C. Brando, Damien Brantley, David Brighton, Kimberly Goltry, Kevin Mills, Frank Moore, and Kelly Smith

Legends In Concert
Everything 80s is hot again and to celebrate The Palms at Crown has brought Legends In Concert back to Melbourne after a 17 year absence. Madonna, Prince, Micheal Jackson, David Bowie, and a couple of ring-ins (Adele and Elvis Presley) take our minds off the scorching summer heat to bring us some of the favourite songs we grew up and with all the iconic moves we learnt on the dance floor.

2016 was a difficult year for the music industry and many great artists were lost to us, so it was wonderful to have the evening kicked off with the one and only Prince (Moore). 'Purple Rain' nearly brought the house down and I was jumping out of my seat with 'Little Red Corvette' and '1999'.

A new addition to the Legends In Concert line up is Olivia Newton-John (Smith) and you could have heard a pin drop during 'I Honestly Love You' everybody was so entranced. David Bowie (Brighton) ended the first half of the show in brilliant style with amazing costumes and moves from the back up dancers.

Everything about this show is glitzy and stylish with amazing attention to detail. The costumes are mind boggling, the impersonations absolutely spot on, and the back up band is smokin' with skills we can only dream of.

The second act had some of the biggest names in music pop history but I confess my favourite was Madonna (Gotling). This won't surprise anybody who knows me, but what may be surprising is why Gotling impressed me so much. Most of the performers sang the music as recorded - which was fantastic and what we all wanted and expected. Gotling, on the other hand, was Madonna in concert.

I am sure there are all sorts of copyright issues involved with this but as a result (for those of us who are true fans of Mads) we got one of the most original and high energy segments of the night. Not only did Gotling have the moves and music down - including the artistry with which Madonna changes and arranges her songs in concert - but she even had Madonna's breathing idiosyncrasies and altered live vocal tuning down pat! It was masterful and unexpected and lifted the whole event out of the ordinary.

Having said that, Mills' Elvis had a bit of this going on as well, and Brando as Adele was positively celestial. Not only does she have the vocal replication down to perfection but her transitions between Adele the amazing singer, to Adele the cheeky Tottenham girl still in awe of her success was cognitive dissonance at it most exhilerating.

I don't know whether to be proud or embarrassed I knew nearly every song by heart but regardless, this was a fun night which left both me and my Gen Y plus one screaming, whooping, and bouncing around in our seats the whole night. Legends In Concert is only in Melbourne for three nights so get your tickets now because this is some of the most fun you will have this summer.

5 Stars

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

A Night At The Musicals - Cabaret Review

What: A Night At The Musicals
When: 18 - 22 January
Where: Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne
Performed by: Le Gateau Chocolat and Jonny Woo

Le Gateau Chocolat
You may think 'you've seen one musicals cabaret, you've seen them all' but nothing could be further from the truth with A Night At The Musicals now playing in the Fairfax Studio for Midsumma Festival. Le Gateau Chocolat and Jonny Woo have created an evening of experiences which are fun, intelligent and fall on the floor funny which brought the house down last night and had people jumping out of their seats to give them an ovation.

There were a few tried and true numbers, but most of the evening consisted of very surprising choices performed in unexpected ways. Rather than just being a 'best of' type of show, Chocolat and Woo have put together a clever commentary (I wouldn't call it parody), playfully poking loving fun at the tropes of musical performances common across the globe.

Beginning with a prelude to match any of the grand operas and which leaves the audience guessing, the pair work their way through Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Chess, and Frozen to name only a few. Playing with the songs themselves, performances, and even staging elements - wait till you see how cheeky production gets - the audience are taken through a gamut of hijinks, high kicks, and high emotions.

As all of us girls know, fashion is never a competition (yeah, right!), but I have to say Le Gateau Chocolat won the best gowns of the evening award leaving Jonny Woo to petulantly concede and hide in the shadows. His sparkles and spangles and fringing and frou frou perfectly matched his mellifluous baritone voice which gave 'Let It Go' an oddly nuanced and touching edge, ending with theatrics Bonnie Tyler would be proud of.

Not to be outdone, Woo plays the entire cast of Les Miserables in a feat of theatrical genius. His vibrant tenor created beautiful harmonies between the two of them and my favourite moment of the evening was their totally straight duet 'I Know Him So Well'.

I absolutely loved this show and I realised one of the reasons I was having a good time is that despite all the drag and the touch of camp, this is one female impersonation show which does not demean or deride femininity, something which bugs me in the cabaret industry at large. Chocolat and Woo understand that it is enough to 'be', it doesn't have to be forced. As such, we could all sit back and enjoy their art and laugh with them rather than feeling attacked.

I had no idea what to expect before I went to see A Night At The Musicals but this show is a gift. If you are a musicals fanatic you will probably get even more laughs out if it than I did, but you only have to have been alive in a populated area to still get heaps of laughs from a genre which sometimes feels like it is wrapping it's tentacles around the theatre industry.

A slightly sleepy start hides the true impact A Night At The Musicals has as it unfolds and draws forth titters which grow into gales of laughter. I did not want the show to end. If this an indication of what we are going to see this Midsumma we are in for a cracker of a Festival!

4.5 Stars

Friday, 6 January 2017

Room On The Broom - Theatre Review

What: Room On The Broom
When: 4 - 15 January
Where: The Playhouse Theatre
Directed by: Olivia Jacobs
Music and Lyrics by: John Fiber, Robin Price, and Andy Shaw
Performed by: Crystal Hegedis, Nat Jobe, Andreas Lohmeyer, and Chandel Rose
Puppets by: Yvonne Stone
Design by: Morgan Large
Lighting by: James Whiteside

Nat Jobe, Crystal Hegedis, and Chandel Rose

Room On The Broom is the hit children's show playing at the Arts Centre Melbourne this January. The show is a theatre adaptation of the book of the same name written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler.

Room On The Broom has been a massive success since it was published in 2001. In 2012 it was adapted into a 3D short film and now it is a stage play. If you go to the website there are also online games and activity books for purchase. 

Written by the same creators who gave us The Gruffalo, Room On The Broom is chock full of endearing characters, and enough thrills and surprises to keep even the most unsettled child entertained.

Part puppetry, part acting, part musical, Room On The Broom follows the fortune of a kind hearted witch (Crystal Hegedis) who sets out to defeat a terrifying dragon (Andreas Lohmeyer). Along the way she picks up a cat (Chandel Rose), a dog and a frog (Nat Jobe), and a bird (Lohmeyer). There is only so much a broomstick can take, however, and when this one breaks the troubles begin.

The puppets, created by Yvonne Stone, are totally adorable - especially the dog - and the frog is a real ladies man... er... toad? As gorgeous as these puppets are though, it is Rose as the cat who really steals the show. With all the superior attitude of our real feline friends, Rose spits at the dog and swipes at the bird petulantly as the broom strains under more and more passengers.

The songs are catchy and the performers are young and energetic. There is just enough audience interaction although I think the kids would love a bit more. Overall though, Olivia Jacobs' direction is clever, detailed and at times surprising, keeping the young audience on the edge of their seats until the very end. There is also a joke or two for the adults.

At just under an hour, Room On The Broom is just the right length. Also, if the children bring a box, there are facilities for them to make their own dream world at the Arts Centre before the show.

4 Stars