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