Friday, 30 March 2018

G'Day Comrade - Comedy Review

What: G'day Comrade
When: 28 - 31 March 2018
Where: Imperial Hotel
Performed by: Gosha Bodryi, Kaychu, Kirill Sietlov, and Gleb Tubushev

Kaychu
Russia is big news at the moment so needless to say there is a lot of great material for expatriated comedians to play around with and I was thrilled to see a show celebrating the old and the new in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year. Whilst the G'day Comrade comedians provided less Dostoyevski than advertised, there was just enough Putinesque paranoia to make this a night at Imperial Hotel full of belly laughs and merriment.

Compare Brodryi got the laughs started and kept the show moving along nicely. All of the comedians are young and developing talents but what they lack in confidence they more than make up for with that beautiful Russian air of danger and intrigue.

Tubushev kicked off the routines with the need to explain why he has a very North American accent. He was almost apologising for not being authentic Russian despite having spent the first 15 years of his life there. His story of immigration is warm and intelligent and his tale of plane drivers (known to most of us as pilots) brought me to tears of laughter as I started imagining my own impending small plane trip to regional Australia.

For me Kaychu was the big hit of the evening. A raw comedy finalist, Kaychu had me in gales of laughter as she looked in wonder at how well we treat our children and how confusing she finds it as a Russian. I was an easy mark though, because she begins at the point of despair over the length of holidays and how this means she has to spend time with her kids. "It's as if you like your children," she muses. I remember as a kid hating the Chirstmas holidays because they were so long. Who wants to spend that much time with the family when you're 10?

Sietlov was the only current Russian resident and professional comedian and it was interesting to see a real, if subtle nervousness when he riffed off an earlier Putin joke. Yes, we are on the opposite end of the planet but it was an intriguing reminder that the danger is very real. Some of Sietlov's humour didn't quite sit well with an Australian audience - in particular his extended AIDS sequence - but for the most part he was extremely funny.

G'day Comrades is a fun night and I really enjoy the Russian aesthetic. The Russian Film Festival is always one of my favourites and who doesn't get off on the melancholia of Chekhov every now and then? They even have Russian language shows scheduled at Speakeasy HQ. 

3 Stars

Thursday, 29 March 2018

The Tales of Witchmen - Theatre Review

What: The Tales of Witchmen
When: 27 March - 1 April 2018
Where: The Butterfly Club
Created and performed by: Oliver Cowen and Kayla Hamill

Oliver Cowen and Kayla Hamill
The Tales of Witchmen is a lighthearted, pantomime romp following the quest of a Knight (Cowen) to kill Witchypoo. Along the way he is - helped? - by a range of intriguing characters played by Hamill and the whole quest takes place in the downstairs venue of The Butterfly Club.

This is a hat comedy. both Cowen and Hamill play a myriad of characters including Cabbage Girl and Owen-Megan The Vegan with an unexpected detour into a Raw Comedy parody where the hapless (and skill-less) comedy Barry Darren takes his turn on stage to be heckled by a heartless MC.

The Tales of Witchmen is very funny and well performed, with Hamill really standing out with her acting diversity across such a range of characters. Perhaps, though, this show would really take off if it was cleaned up and put in a child friendly time slot because this idea and these characters would be a hit on the theatre for children circuit. As adult comedy, the only real humour seems to come for slipping in swearing which is only funny for so long.

I did have a real problem with the first character we meet - The Boy (Hamill). I don't know why, but Hamill has chosen to portray the boy as someone with cognitive limitations and I found that very upsetting as it was pointless and rather insensitive. There was no commentary to support that choice as anything other than to be laughed at and for me this is not acceptable. I should put in a waiver here that my day job is in disability so I am perhaps somewhat more sensitive to these matters than many people might be.

The rest of the characters where fun and well crafted, though, which is why I say The Tales of Witchmen would have a great future as a children's entertainment. It is silly (in a good way), has great characters and fun hat work, and Hamill really embrace the pantomime structure with glee and energy.

2.5 Stars

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

SQUASH! - Live Art Review

What: SQUASH!
When: 17 March 2108
Where: Melbourne City Baths
Created and designed by: Meg Wilson
Composed by: Belinda Gehlert
Performed by: Ashton Malcolm, Dana Miltins, Josephine Were and Meg Wilson
Choreography by: Kiales-Nadine Williams
Lighting by: Alexander Ramsay

Meg Wilson
Live Art, that slipperiest of all performance forms often comes close to the traditional definition of theatre and SQUASH! is the closest it got for me at the Festival of Live Art this year. A durational demonstration of bravado, brashness and bouncing balls off walls, SQUASH! is a performance created by visual artist Meg Wilson and her ensemble in 2017 and brought to Melbourne for the Festival.

Durational performances have become a 'thing' which were made popular in modern times by the UK company Forced Entertainment. Now everyone is doing it. Personally, I am not sure that many of these performances are informed or add to the audience experience over time, but having said that Landing, which was also taking place in the Melbourne City Baths, is a great example of when durational performance is in the glory zone of form meets function.

SQUASH! is a fairly simple concept. Wilson plays squash over a four hour period with a range of contenders who have a variety of skills. Wilson is a world class competitor (in the women's league of course) and has all the attitude and conceit of most world class athletes. Think McEnroe, Rodman, Kygrios, Williams, Woods, etc.

Wilson is at the top of her game and knows she is the best. She knows she is so good she doesn't even really have to try. She has her own dance troupe cheering her every point, calls for champagne on the court and feels quite free to sabotage her opponents. Whenever she wins a game there is fan fare, flashing lights, room thumping music and she has her own promo video. Oh, and she never takes off her sunglasses because they are a status symbol as well.

It is quite amazing Wilson can have such depth of belief in herself in the face of the running commentary (Malcolm) and a clearly biased umpire (Were). Malcolm litters the games with commentary such as "They should call the women's competition the Duluxe Cup because it's as boring as watching paint dry" and "They are demanding equal pay for women in sports but they're doing less work in tennis - it's reverse sexism!" (Fess up, you know you have thought this yourself.)

In terms of this being a durational work I suspect this lies at the heart of the audience experience - to feel the wearing away of the soul as these comments keep being hurled out again and again. It is also intriguing to have them as female voices. It is a long standing tradition whenever men want to say something really sexist in modern times they find a woman to do the speaking for them. Julie Bishop is a great example, or perhaps just about any of the female commentators on morning TV.

I didn't get to see much of SQUASH! but from what I can tell, I got the point which begs the question of why it needed to be durational. I suspect the only real reason is because the veiwing balcony was so small that only a few people could watch at a time. The option was to crowd in and sweat to death, or to watch in shifts. I opted to try the shifts but then I was dealing with the ever pressing knowledge that other people were waiting for us to leave so they could get in.

I will say this was popular and a lot of fun. Swirling lights, thumping tunes, and the tension of real games in action made for good times when you had the chance to see it. Luckily if you came for SQUASH! you could switch in and out of Landing as well, so it was possible to make a full night of it.

I got to see two games in my two and half hours at the Baths. The first was with a novice, Achilles Heel. Wilson was ruthless and the hapless Heels was able to achieve little but watch the ball whiz by.

The second was a seasoned and skilled male player, Squash Spice. During this game the umpire had quite in a tantrum so an audience member was called in to keep score and Wilson was generally outplayed. Of course, by then she had been on the court for an hour and a half, had drunk a certain amount of champagne and danced a few too many victory dances. This was the time when Malcolm really let rip with the commentary about women's sport.

I have mentioned SQUASH! wasn't especially audience friendly but I don't know that I wanted or needed to see more regardless.  The constant sexism and disdain in the commentary was extremely wearing and I have lived enough of my life with the real thing so I wasn't particularly interested in exposing myself to more of it than I needed to for the sake of 'art'.

My reticence, however, is not a reflection on the work. It had bang, it had razzamatazz, it had balls and peaches and flutter flying through the air. SQUASH! is a wild ride and my reaction to it really just proves how on point the piece is.

Wilson and her team have done well, and SQUASH! sits comfortably within their body of live art work which so far comprises Team Trampoline and You Will Only Ever Be Any Good If You Can Run The Marathon. I am sure you can see the theme here...

3.5 Stars


Monday, 19 March 2018

Slippage - Live Art Review

What: Slippage
When: 18 - 25 March 2018
Where: Main Hall Laneway, North Melbourne Town Hall
Created by: Louise Lavarack


The 2018 Festival of Live Art is basically a giant playground for adults. In particular, around Arts House in North Melbourne, there is a plethora of activities - many of them free - which invite the participant to observe and/or partake in the spirit of exploration, joy, and self-actualisation. Some are deeper and heavier than others, but there are plenty of light ones around which are a good in between snack as you wait for the next main course in your event itinerary. Slippage is one of those snacks.

The concept is quite simple really. A bunch of long, brightly coloured (and very light weight) sticks have been loaded into the goods and services laneway beside the Main Hall of North Melbourne Town Hall. Your mission, should you choose to accept, is to play with these sticks.

Using nothing but gravity and our ingenuity, we find ourselves gradually emboldened to hold a stick, look around, and then make a decision where to place it. Eventually something emerges. Is it a structure? It is art? Perhaps more importantly - will it stay up? Gravity tries its best, but on the first Sunday the wind was strong which turned our brief buildings into ephemeral butterflies before becoming a glorious pile of rubble to puzzle and tease at us once more.

Created by Louise Lavarack, Slippage continues her fascination with the poetic potentials of space and to activate our connection with our world. In this instance, working with collaborators Ellen Davis and Cobie Orger, Lavarack is not just inviting us to create ephemeral moments of joy, play, and interaction - she is also choreographing us.

The sticks are long so you have to reach to create and you have to manouver to avoid knocking people and other things. For short people like me, we have to collaborate with those who are height gifted so suddenly a solo routine becomes a pas de deux. Then someone else is needed to brace and a pas de trois is enacted. Amidst these corps routines ripple other dancers, wending between poles and people to find more batons or get a view from a different angle.

The delicacy of the routine, the reliance on gravity, and the necessary subjection to the wind and other elemental forces make the event an incredibly light and fragile experience. Peripheral awareness becomes a survival skill, delicacy of touch becomes the order of the day. Anything to heavy, too fast, or two flippant breaks everything.

Of course, just like building sandcastles by the sea, the very breaking of these structures is a part of the fun. In the demise of the moment is created the potential for new beginnings, new collaborations, new ideas.

The great thing about Slippage is its simplicity and the fact you can just leave and come back to it whenever. Each time you play there will be new kids in the playground and new ideas to become involved in.  I think about double the number of sticks would have been optimal because then it would be possible to play with colour and form density, but I am quite a fan of the line drawing, and it is the veritable fey nature of the insubstantial that perhaps makes this event work best.

2.5 Stars

The Diva Dive - Cabaret Review

What: The Diva Dive
When: 15 - 25 March 2018
Where: Hares & Hyenas
Created by: Moira Finucane and Jackie Smith
Performed by: Mama Alto, Clare St Clare, Maude Davey, Moira Finucane, Kathryn Niesche, and Yumi Umiamare

Moira Finucane
To attend a Finucane & Smith production is to be transported to a land of glory, freedom, and responsibility. It is a world where ugliness is exposed through beauty and truth, and freedom is gained through knowledge of self and others. To enter The Diva Dive at Hares & Hyenas is to open another portal into a transcendental meditation which promises liberation and delight.

The poster says the artists may change each evening as is the tradition of both the company and the genre. Very few places or people offer traditional burlesque in real cabaret format, but at The Diva Dive this is exactly what you will get.

On the night I went the particular smorgasbord of cabaret, drama, and variety consisted of some of Finucane & Smith's longest and most masterful collaboraters. At the centre of it all, of course, was the glorious beast that is Moira Finucane.

The divine Mama Alto and mesmeric Clare St Clare were back singing sublime duets as well as exquisite solo numbers. As their angelic voices combined in the opening number, the heavenly harmonies caused our souls to rise up and be freed from our earthly chains, opening our minds and our hearts to another way of seeing and hearing.  In act two Mama Alto croons 'I'm Kissing You' and as I closed my eyes I really did feel that each note, each word was a caress. St Clare followed up a little later with a powerful rendition of 'Diamonds In The Sky', lifting us up and refreshing the wind beneath our wings. There was much about healing and empowerment in The Diva Dive.

The Diva Dive is something a little out of the ordinary for this remarkable team as the entire show is a collection of new work, or new re-workings, none of which have been rehearsed as a formalised stage presentation, so the evening had a wonderful frisson of the uncertain. Having said that, with the detail and texture of the evening we really would not know this if we hadn't been told.

In the spirit of the evening, Finucane brought us new monologues featuring crows. Crows feature in Leviticus as being a creature unfit for eating. Finucane takes the idea of eating crow and turns it on it's head. As with all her work, she is essentially saying do not let people make you smaller than you are. Do not be humbled, do not be silenced. Speak up and be all that you can be.

Finucane is a master orator (as well as being a scientist, and artiste, and... a diva!) so when she speaks you cannot help but listen. During the course of the evening she reprises her story about the Auks which was the cornerstone of the show The Rapture. This time around it frames the problem of fracking in the Northern Territory and how the Aboriginal people on that land will lose their stories if they lose their water. Finucane doesn't just tell us the story though. She gives us something we can do about it.

This is another cornerstone of all Finucane & Smith works. They are about moving forward, showing another set of choices which can be made, and offering us all the chance to make them.

In this spirit Maude Davey brought us a delicate new and original work. Using song and monologue Davey took us on a three part journey. It began with a heartfelt and plaintive song 'Give Me More'. She then meandered with us through the tale of a tree pruning - so very mundane and yet so very impactful on all of creation. She finishes with the hymnal 'I Have Tried To Be Free'. The power of this piece is devastating exactly because it is so light and ephemeral. Davey is also continuing her explorations of the body in conversation with the text which adds intrigue.

The night is not dark and mournful as my words so far may imply. It is variety and burlesque and in the spirit of the unrehearsed Finucane brings us the fun improvised monologue game. Daring the audience to offer up words which shall confound she cunningly and wittily tells epic stories in three minutes with whatever fodder the audience has gifted.

Niesche, the every helpful monkey, performed a delightful variety act including prestidigitation and mime. As well, rather than the traditional organ grinder, she serenaded us on tuned liquor glasses before farewelling us with handkerchief origami.

The Diva Dive salon was not complete though, until the unforgettable Yumi Umiamare graced us with her elegant tea ceremony. The ceremony is an ancient tradition of purity, cleansing, and sharing. This stunning diva breaks through all of the history of secrecy with a joyous and irreverant burlesque act of superb impropriety. Freeing herself from her corsets she explodes in a hurricane of joyous energy.

To attend any Finucane & Smith event is to experience freedom, love, joy and celebration. The Diva Dive is something extra special because it is so full of the nascent. This group of beautiful and powerful women wrap a warm and nourishing womb around the audience as well as their work and from this incubator something powerful and promising is sent out into the world, healing wounds and washing away pain, always making it better.

Do not miss you chance to realise true freedom. The Diva Dive, like all new born creatures, is only young once and seats are very limited. To miss this show is to have one true regret in your life. Oh, and yes, it has every glittery sparkle and visually breathtaking element Finucane & Smith are internationally renowned for!

5 Stars


Friday, 16 March 2018

Supper Club: Soft Money - Event Review

What: Supper Club: Soft Money
When: 15 March 2017
Facilitated by: Asha Bee Abraham and Dan Koop
Designed by: Georgina Humphries


Arts House has been a big leader in the Melbourne Live Art scene but it is not just about participation and self reflection. Since the first iteration of the Festival of Live Art Arts House has been exploring ways to use art to change people, change communities, and change the world within an active arts paradigm. As part of this, they have regularly engaged in creating experiences which are actually a form of participatory action research and the most current version is their fabulous Supper Club series. I was given the opportunity to attend the Soft Money event and although I have no idea what I was expecting, I know and awful lot more than I did when I turned up - and had a plentiful supply of cuisine provided by The Oriental Tea House. Yum!

Participatory action research is a qualitative process which encourages action in the community using collaboration and following reflection. Don't panic! The Supper Club is not some sort of quasi post graduate education disguised as good food and good fun. It is far more real than that. Far more human. It also has the big difference of not having any reporting requirements or follow up.

Perhaps the best way to think about the Supper Club is along the lines of a formalised progressive salon. You get to meet exciting new people and discuss topics you never thought you would, but possibly hoped would happen. Travelling from table to table your dining companions change and all the conversations are facilitated by people who know their stuff, can answer questions, or can pose curly conundrums for us to consider and debate.

Supper Club: Soft Money revolved around the topics of the ways in which the concept of money as a universal means of exchange exist in our world and what this can mean in our future. There were tables to discuss banking, bartering, lottery, service, cryptocurrency and paying the rent.

It doesn't really matter which table you choose to sit at. You are given take away containers to stock up your food and are encouraged three times to switch tables. There isn't enough time to do all six, although you are encouraged to split up if you are with friends or partners so that you can exchange experiences later.

My journey began in 'Paying the Rent' which was a great focussing point. In this conversation we talked about our fiduciary responsibilities to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. There is a proposal which suggests all immigrant Australians pay an income tax of 1% to our First Nation as a form of rent. The idea is that we lease the land we live on (much like the Crown like's to lease what it considers it's land). This money would be managed by our landlords themselves and would go toward building a future of inspiration and accomplishment rather than just the mere survival they are living with now. I love it. Let's do it!

After this exciting and stimulating conversation I took a chance and moved to 'Cryptocurrency'. I keep hearing about bit coins and the crypto revolution so this seemed like a good time to find out more. In the end I am still in the dark. It's all about creating block chains and democratising the storage of data away from central databases such as banks, governments, hospitals... It sounded to me a bit like what the internet and social networking did for the news dissemination sector (although there is a mathematical validation in cryptocurrency). Don't ask me any more. I don't really get it and whilst our facilitator suggested it is the future, it may not be in my future. One big myth dispelled though, is that there is a finite source. Anyone can create a block chain (sort of) and thus new crypto currency is introduced.

I ended the night at the 'Lottery' table where a psychiatrist led us through a discussion about lotteries. We talked about why people buy lottery tickets and what they are hoping for or dreaming of. We discussed what we would do, and he gave us some data about whether it really does change people's lives. Apparently the $100,000 threshold is where the increased happiness sits. Anything more than that does not increase happiness and the happiness wears off after a few months anyway. So money does buy happiness, it just doesn't last. Also, he explained that people who play lotto for the big win are dreamers. People who play lotto for the small weekly wins are gamblers. An interesting distinction.

By then I had consumed a few glasses of bubbly from the bar (drinks not included) so whilst I did take a plus one, I wasn't able to grill him about the 'Bartering' table until the next day. Of course, this does mean the conversation continued and that is the magic of the Supper Club experiences.

The next one is on the 22nd March and is a topic close to our hearts - Hard Labour. We've all done gigs for 'exposure' or 'skills development' that did not include the payment of cash in return... Book now because I am pretty sure this next one will sell out quickly.

4 Stars

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Worktable - Live Art Review

What: Worktable
When: 14 - 25 March 2018
Where: Main Hall, Arts House
Created by: Kate McIntosh


What is live art? For years I have said I don't have a clue but this year I think I've finally figured it out. Live art is an experience given to the attendee. It is an experience out of the ordinary. Something the person would not normally think to do in a way they would not normally think to do it. The idea is to provoke thought and insight and to just be something different for a small moment in time.Something other than perhaps you normally are both on your own and as a collective. Worktable, part of this year's Festival of Live Art, gives us all of this and more. The idea is so simple I left wondering why this hasn't happened before.

Kate McIntosh is the creator. She has a long history of creating live art experiences and Worktable can stand tall within her portfolio. This is not the first iteration of the event but I am so glad I have had the chance to experience it. Beware though, the experience is addictive so you should book in your return visits right now because you will want to do it again and again and again! (And it's probably better to use her stuff than doing it with your own at home.)

Worktable takes place in four movements. I have to be really careful what I say though because to tell you too much is to give away some of the experience and that would be a bit of a shame. Most of you who know me will be surprised by this comment but on this occasion - at least for the first time through - it is nice to not know too much in advance. (The addiction comes from knowing the journey and wanting to travel it again).

As you can see in the photo above, you begin in an entry foyer with shelves of paraphernalia. This is not junk. Everything is in good condition. It is an installation in and of itself and the first moments of pleasure are just perusing the collection. It seems all the more precious because you are told you will have to pick something and take it completely apart so as you admire the collection you already mourn it's loss.

I had a lot of trouble choosing my item and eventually committed myself to instinct rather than being confused by logic. I was then led into one of four small rooms inside of which is the worktable as advertised. Another collection - this time of saws and hammers, and scissors, and screw drivers, etc - greeted me. Having just signed a personal injury waiver I was pleased to see the safety goggles and gloves, particularly as I kept hearing the violent sounds of smashing and shattering coming from other booths!

Each stage in Worktable is about collections - collections of what is now, collections of destruction, collections of creation, and collections of the new. We take, we break, we make, we partake and how we do it, what we do it with, and how we become involved is entirely our own choice. We make our own journey.

For me I got to work out some feminist rage and process an unpleasant experience with a cockroach. For everyone it will be different. Everyone will be on their own and also part of a community. I use the name Samsara and Worktable is very much an embodiment of this word in it's ancient meaning. Perhaps this is why I feel so drawn to this project...

There is plenty happening at Arts House so when you book, take a look at the rest of the program (some of which I will be reviewing for you over the course of the week) and pick a whole program of experiences while you are there. Don't forget - you are going to want to do Worktable more than once. Believe me! Oh, and it is wonderfully accessible too!!!!

4.5 Stars

Saturday, 10 March 2018

It's Not Easy Being Green - Cabaret Review

What: It's Not Easy Being Green
When: 7 - 11 March 2018
Where: The Butterfly Club
Created by: Katie Visser
Musical direction by: Joseph Daniel jnr
Performed by: Joseph Daniel jnr and Katie Visser

Joseph Daniel jnr and Katie Visser
Cabaret is a wonderful beast because it can be just about anything.  The main requirement is that it forms an intimate relationship between the performer and the audience. Oh, and it usually includes some songs and even more occassionally comedy (although neither of these elements are essential). Visser's show It's Not Easy Being Green at The Butterfly Club has all of these elements and with a voice made for power ballads with the strength and stamina of a full concert in her lungs, just going for the music alone would make this an enjoyable night out.

It's Not Easy Being Green is about Visser's journey to veganism which she pledged to fully three years ago - a brief and unsuccessful attempt at vegetarianism in her youth notwithstanding. Through her travels, Visser tries to demystify the idea of vegans as hippy, intolerant, skinny evangelists. Vegans are human too you know!

At this point I need to admit the disclaimer I am an omnivore (I never understand why people say carnivore, but that's another essay..) and as a Monist I am one of those people who say 'what about the plants?' To understand why I say that you have to go and see the show.

Don't get me wrong. It's Not Easy Being Green is not a sermon or a recruitment drive and the Oreos Visser hands out early in the show (apparently they are supposed to be vegan) make it impossible to get upset about anything anyway.

It's Not Easy Being Green is a gentle explanation of her motivations and experiences (which does not include a weight loss benefit) and gives us a window into domestic bliss despite one person being a vegan and the other an omnivore and the ever echoing question 'where's the meat?' resounding through her house.

Visser is not a stand up comedian but the song choices she and Daniel have made had us rolling in the aisles. From 'Dancing In The Dark' at the start of her journey to 'Heaven is a Place on Earth' when she finally finds a vegan restaurant in Berwick because her suburb of Crimebourne thinks a vegan menu option is french fries.

After pointing out that the fate of the planet depends on how many cows are farting and a few corny puns which made us laugh, not cringe, Visser really hits her vocal stride in Hart's 'Dog and Butterfly'. She follows this with a beautiful (and original) ode to her husband 'Here's To Us Both (You Know When Someone Loves You)'.

Visser is a vegan for all the reasons everyone quotes - environmental, compassion, being cool - but she is also a Netflix binge watcher so she is definitely one of my peeps too! She totally won me over when she broke social convention telling us "You are not what you eat!"

It's Not Easy Being Green is heartwarming, honest, and beautiful. Don't miss it. It's an early show (7pm) so pop in for a cocktail and a giggle before heading out for more serious shenanigans.

3 Stars

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Windows - Theatre Review

Written by: Ayse Bayramoglu
Directed and designed by: Lloyd Jones
Performed by: Sandra Chui, Anna Ellis, Faith Karakas, and Zac Kazepis
Stage Managed by: Laura Barnes

Anna Ellis and Zac Kazepis - Photo by Darren Green
Sometimes the most powerful pieces of theatre can be found in the most unassuming places and Windows, which is now playing at La Mama Theatre, is one of those experiences. Combining the writing of Bayramoglu with the direction of Jones is perhaps one of the most unexpected pairing I have seen in a long time and the evening brought people to tears.

I am not saying the production is perfect...but maybe it is... I can't really say too much because I risk giving a major spoiler and I do not want to do that, but I will do my best to talk about what has me so excited about Windows.

The play itself is a seething, unrelenting mass of despair and hopelessness. Bayramoglu's writing is as unforgiving as life itself. Riffing on the idea of fairytales and seeing the world through rose tinted glasses, two young people (the age is a little confusing but I would guess pre-teen) play the game 'Windows' where one of them would pretend to look out of (or into) a window and see scene and then describe it. 

Esme (Ellis) is poor and abused and Huso (Kazepis) is not. He is in love with her, she is not in love with him. She stinks, he is clean. He can give her things she needs, she won't give him things he wants. Instead she looks for work. This is possibly where the age gets confusing because I don't know at what age children can start working in Turkey (Bayramoglu is Turkish).

The script is dark and powerful and perhaps not surprising, but the impact towards the end was there for all of us to see as Jones (director) had us sitting in a square around the tiny stage space, unable to hide from each other as the truths are revealed. Even as the children are looking through real and imaginary windows we are looking into each others eyes, into the windows of each others souls.

Jones is determined to keep us constantly aware of ourselves and each other throughout this performance and he uses an exciting and intriguing myriad of techniques to do so. If you follow my writing you will have heard me refer to traditional performances spaces as dark prison theatres. The audience has to sit in darkness, in regimented rows looking nowhere but straight forward. You are not allowed to move, or cough, or talk, or fidget, or check your phone because that would be a crime. The basis of this belief is that if everyone's complete and undivided attention is not solely on the stage we won't 'get' the art and the willing suspension of disbelief will be broken.

Brecht said balderdash, I say balderdash, and apparently Jones says balderdash too. I think I'm in love with him!

Whilst entering the space, and with Jones constantly saying "shhh", the audience crunches and chuckles their way to their seats. It is impossible to comply with his instruction then or at any time during the show because the floor is strewn with dried pasta. As soon as a foot moves there is noise. My favourite moment was a delightful irruption of reality when a guide dog started eating the pasta, crunching happily and noisily. And then of course we had the poor owner trying to quieten the dog and keep it in line. It was perfection.

Why it was wonderful rather than disruptive was because Jones had already given the audience permission to be real people in the space. Being quiet and hidden, not existing in the room was not something Jones allowed for one second. As a theatre maker (and someone with a similarly leaning bent) I understood what was happening but I also enjoyed watching and hearing audience members who didn't recognise the artifacts.

What worked the best was that as an audience we actually had to work harder to engage with the story. We had to activate ourselves rather than being passive bystanders who can sit back and disconnect and at the point in the story it was most important, it shone a laser beam with a strength beyond anything I have experienced.

It wasn't just Jones' audience set up which made it work though. He had the actors using hyper-real acting which usually drives me crazy. In this instance though, it acted to force the audience to work harder and to find their own way into the tales being told which is probably why I got to see grown men weep. I doubt if this would have occurred if the audience had been allowed to be passive watchers.

The main bug bear for me is the whole thing is too long. At 2 hours with no interval it could easily have been cut by 30 minutes. Some of it is the direction - there are long breaks in the performance which, whilst essential to the technique, could be shortened - and part of it is the writing (or perhaps the translation?).

Bayramoglu's play seems oddly circuitous and repetitious. I wondered if this was a nod to pre-writing storytelling techniques, but it doesn't work very well and the repetitions aren't clear about providing new information if this is the case.

Also, the text swings wildly between being overtly literal and overtly obscure, sometimes in the same sentence. It left me asking questions about why not be explicit about this when you are being explicit about that? There is a key moment when the obscurity made me angry because I feel theatre is about giving people language to speak about their experiences and Bayramoglu (or the translation) drops the ball big time when it matters most.

I cannot tell you more than I have. You really do have to experience this for yourself. Many of you will hate the very things I love about it, but I doubt if very many of you will ever have seen or heard some of the great ideas in this production of Windows. Beware though, this will hurt. Not every fairytale ends with 'happily ever after'. Does anyone's?

4 stars

Friday, 2 March 2018

Twelfthnight - Theatre Review

What: Twelfthnight
When 2 - 4 March 2018
Where: Victoria Gardens
Written by: William Shakespeare
Directed by: Jennifer Sarah Dean
Musical Direction by: Ben Adams
Performed by: Iopu Auva'a, Nicola Bowman, Saxon Gray, Lelda Kapsis, Johnathan Peck, Mitch Ralston, John Reed, Paul Robertson, Alec Steedman, Bridget Sweeney, Peter Tedford, Chloe Towan, Annabelle Tudor, and Jacqueline Whiting.
Set by: Karli Laredo
Costumes by: Rhiannon Irving
Stage Management by: Natasha Brown

Annabelle Tudor, Nicola Bowman and Peter Tedford - photo by Burke Photography
 For those of you who are feeling a sense of deja vu fear not, this really is the second Twelfthnight production this year and 2018 is a much better year because of it. As I said in my GJ Productions review, Twelfthnight is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays so I was beyond delirious when I found out Melbourne Shakespeare Company were bringing it to us again - in a park! - before the Summer leaves us and Winter drives us all indoors again. (Yes, I do know it isn't his greatest play but it is still one of the funniest romps he wrote).

Melbourne Shakespeare Company have chosen to present Twelfthnight as a full scale pantomime and their clowning skills are more than up to the task. One of the amazing things about this ensemble is everyone in the team is always working to the same standards which means - in a play like this - you get to fully experience all of the texture, wit, and intricacies Shakespeare has built into the characters and the world they inhabit.

The other guarantee you always get with Melbourne Shakespeare Company is they select locations which are gloriously beautiful in their own right and Victoria Gardens in Prahran does not let us down. Lush glass strewn with the first leaves of Autumn provide an amazing atmosphere. The Victoria Gardens has lovely little clearings which allow for a controlled space to work in, and Melbourne Shakespeare Company chose to work with a stone and wood beamed pagoda as a backdrop to create an almost Greek stage set up. It meant the simple act of coloured drapes was all that was needed to set a scene of luxury with an antiquitous feel just right for this gender bending romp.

As you can see in the photo, Irving has gone all out with the costumes. Again, one of the guarantees with this company is you will always delight in the colour and movement of the characters and you will always know which character you are watching. Great for kids but also great for adults such as me who are losing their ability to keep track of all the characters Shakespeare brings us. Perhap,s for me, these costumes lacked the unity of concept usually so strong in Irving's work. Having said that, this production is pantomime so colour and movement are the order of the day and we certainly got a lot of that!

When you see two of the same productions you can't help compare regardless of the time between. There is so much I loved about the Commedia approach of the one in January, but the clowning skills and direction (Dean) of this show stopped just short of acrobatics so the energy was immense.

Viola (Kapsis) and Orsino (Auva'a) totally stole the show - which was hard to do - as they inadvertantly fall in love. What I really adored was Dean allowed us to see the attraction right from the very start. This play does not work with subtly and Dean never made us try and read obscure signals at any time and I can't praise her highly enough for the boldness with which she works. It also gave Viola the space to react with real intention against Whiting's Olivia which made all of the scenes electric and unexpected.

The comedy trio of Maria (Tudor), Sir Toby (Tedford), and Sir Andrew (Ralston) were perhaps not as syncopated as I was expecting and Bowman did not have the vocal strength for Festes. Just as I was about to feel a little disappointed though, up comes another superb comedy trio in the form of Maria (Tudor), Priest (Towan), and Fabian (Sweeney)! A unique grouping but it worked magnificently.

Peck's Malvolio is a clowning masterclass. His physical humour is superb and his attempt to capture a wayward letter brought the house (park) down with laughter as he mounts the pagoda and chases down this will'o'wisp paper with a range of platforms drawing ouches and guffaws from the crowd similtaniously.

My one real complaint is the play seemed to drag out a bit which, for a high energy clowning pantomime, is problematic. The wide playing area meant a lot of time was spent running on and off before the scenes started and, as much as I loved Peck's clowning, the amount of time he spent reading and interpreting the letter after it was caught caused me to lose track of what it actually said. In the end I had to rely on my memory of the play to know there was more than just cross-gartered yellow stockings involved.

This production of Twelfthnight is so much fun and superbly produced. Unfortunately their three week season has been cut short, so you only have this weekend to see it. Take your family - it starts at 7pm and is only an hour and a half long - and have a picnic or pizza and laugh one last time before the seasons change.

3.5 Stars

Thursday, 1 March 2018

The Confessions of Jeremy Perfect - Theatre Review

What: The Confessions of Jeremy Perfect
When: 28 February - 11 March 2018
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Written by: Sandy Fairthorne
Directed by: Judy Ellis
Performed by: Sean Paisley Collins, Simon Finch, Alex McTavish, Eva Justine Torkkola, and Ruby Wall
Set design by: Elisenda Russell
Lighting by: Richard Mclean
Sound by: Jack Stirling
Stage management by: Anne Powell

Eva Justine Torkkola
The Confessions of Jeremy Perfect is a new play by prolific playwright Sandy Fairthorne and is showing for the next two weeks at the La Mama Courthouse. It is a story about breeding and how we do it in 21st century Australia. It is also a play about people with all the complexities, beauty and ugliness which comes with our humanity.

Fairthorne's ouvre is Australian family drama. Her work delights in exploring family dynamics and her wonderful facility with realistic yet clever dialogue helps her to create characters of depth and detail which audiences can't help but delight in.

The Confessions of Jeremy Perfect is the tale of a young couple - Jeremy (Finch) and Rosa (Torkkola) Perfect - who have a newborn child and are in conflict over parenting styles. Jeremy want's to respond every time the baby cries but Rosa is of the 'cry it out' school of rearing and because she is a psychiatrist she would seem to have the academic and professional nous to know the right thing to do.  At the same time though, she is also diagnosing and medicating her husband Jeremy at home which gives the audience a beautifully unsettled space to watch the unfolding drama.

Part of me wonders if this play did not start out being something other than it became because there is so much potential in this opening scene, but most of it just becomes a mechanism rather than the basis of the investigation of the play which is a great opportunity missed I suspect.

An annoying Last Will and Testament has Rosa's sister Annie (McTavish) trapped into living in the same house. Apart from the usual sibling rivalry, Fairthorne has set up McTavish as a non-breeder to balance discussions which will ensue as the family circle grows.

And grow it does as Jeremy's brother Joe (Collins) and his girlfriend Simone (Steele) find themselves homeless and living in the attic. Their dog just died and being around baby Carl makes this young couple decide to get pregnant and the scene is set for a dynamic and compassionate exploration of survival of the species.

The idea is strong and the cast, for the most part, is up to the challenge. McTavish comes straight out of the box with great energy, interpretation and brings the first big laughs in the show. My only regret is I wondered if her character is even needed in the play.  McTavish is so good though, keep the character until the end of the season please!

Finch has an incredibly complex role with Jeremy who is constantly slipping between the influence of pharmaceutical drugs, sanity, and alcohol and manages most of it with great detail and humanity. His character in this complicated set of circumstances raises huge ethical questions for the audience and puts them in a light we rarely contemplate.  The main one being what is domestic abuse?

This leads me to Torkkola, playing his wife. There is so much potential in this role and so much of what happens and our understanding of what happened hinges on the knife edge she walks between reasonable and unreasonable. Unfortunately neither the direction (Ellis) or her acting skills allow her to find that precipice and keep us, the audience teetering and so the pay off at the end - whilst still incredibly powerful - is a really big leap for us. Rosa is just too - well - normal?

I loved Steele's dry and disbelieving delivery of lines and the interloper girlfriend, Simone. Her place as the Everyman at the start points beautifully back at the others before she slips gracefully into the madness of their world herself.

There is so much which is so good about The Confessions of Jeremy Perfect and the writing is delightful and witty but it is much, much too long. The play runs for 1 hr 40 and could easily be cut by 30 minutes. The problem is we know what is going to happen - or at least one aspect of it - and we spend so much time sitting there watching a prolonged set up when all we really want to do is get there and then see what happens next. It really is worth waiting to see what does happen though!

Russell's set was both beautiful and annoying beyond belief. Her eye for photography, colour, and composition are clear as tones of peach, blue, white, and rust intertwine through the costumes and the set dressings. There are 'zones' for the kitchen, the verandah, the bedroom, etc as all good interior designers will tell you there should be.

So what is it which drove me crazy? Down stage centre was dominated by a big, six seater laminex table. Thus the entire play takes place behind it (and way too much time sitting at it...). There is always this table between the actors and the audience so we can't connect fully with the performances. Why would you give the most powerful positions on stage to a piece of static furniture? Why is that not the first thing Ellis changed when rehearsals began?

McLean's fairy lights had a similar effect on me. As soon as I saw them texturing the back wall of the bedroom I spent the rest of the play wondering when they were going to turn on and how anyone could possible use them logically in this real world pregnancy drama. I shall simply say they did turn on... and off, and on, and off, and on... you get the point.

The truth is, these production details only annoyed me because there was so much which was good and enjoyable about the show. With some ruthless but compassionate dramaturgy The Confessions of Jeremy Perfect stands to be great modern play with a long life ahead. Oh, and best stage sex ever!

3 Stars