Saturday, 28 April 2018

Personal - Theatre Review

What: Personal
When: 24 - 29 April 2018
Where: Arts House
Created and performed by: Jodee Mundy
Directed by: Merophie Carr
Design by: Jen Hector
Sound by: Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey
Video by: Rhian Hinkley

Jodee Mundy - photo by Bryony Jackson
The world is changing. Australia is changing. One of the great aspirations of our emerging NDIS is to evolve into a society which allows people with disability to live their lives as fully and independently as a human being. This means working and playing. This means dreaming and achieving. This means every space is a space for everybody. In Personal at Arts House Jodee Mundy shows us how to make the stage and audience spaces just such a world.

Whilst not having a disability herself, Mundy grew up as the only hearing person in a family of five. Even now, days later, I have trouble getting my head around the extraordinariness of growing up with parents and two brothers who can't hear. Mundy tells us she did not even realise/understand that the rest of her family was deaf until she was 5 years old. She was separated from her mother in KMart and despite the staff doing all the right things being reunited was a long and traumatic experience because (of course) her mother could not hear the announcements.

This was the light bulb moment for little Jodee and this is also the point when her life became something seriously other than normal - whatever that is - as she began to take on speaking and hearing duties for the family, especially on the telephone. It is not unusual for children who have disabled parents to grow up quicker than we would wish for them. In Mundy's case having to translate very adult conversations was very confusing and at times frightening.

Whilst Mundy doesn't dwell on this overly long, it becomes apparent as the performance progresses that there are scars. They are scars, though, which are smoothed and oiled by the intense love evident across the family.

Mundy does not allow us to linger on the painful moments which come with this oddly isolated childhood and she never wallows for a moment. Conversely she is a talented humourist and mime and I found myself laughing out loud a surprising amount of times as Mundy let us into the absurdity of her world. It is important to say we got to laugh with her, not at her.

Hinkley has created some fantastic animations as we explore nightmares which have a touch of Where The Wild Things Are about them, and there is even a little bit of Family Guy going on at one point. The video sequences are projected on 6 large boxes which Mundy moves around the stage. The images were sometimes separate and sometimes integrated, and often at unexpected angles and places. I enjoyed the Brady Bunch tribute which was one of the most beautiful moments - a moment when Mundy serenaded her family. I wanted to look around and find the projector set up to understand how it was being done, but I couldn't bare to tear my eyes away from the stage which is a testament to how good the performance was.

Another intriguing aspect of this show was it's dual language structure. I was especially excited to see that it was the Auslan which was privileged. One of Mundy's expressed intentions as an artist is to use 'art to redefine and skew the notions of inclusiveness' and to look for a future 'beyond inclusion'. The academics will probably call the next era Post-Inclusion.

In Personal Mundy succeeds beautifully. It is us, the hearing audience who have essentially been invited into a Deaf space and whilst it is fully inclusive, it is a shared space where we are not privileged.

It is also a sharing space but not a voyueristic one. The program refers to people's voyeuristic apetite to delve into how the deaf live their lives, and whilst Mundy gives a nod and some answers she sets boundaries. We catch glimpses of other people but Mundy stops at being too explicit and is careful to tell her story and not the story of those around her. It is her Personal story.

There absolutely is sound throughout the show and Flynn and Humphrey have created a complex soundscape. Mundy allow us to hear it and plays with sound all the way through, but what is really revealed is how sound is received. For deaf people sound is mostly experienced through the eyes or through physical sensation such as the low bass beat of techno, or using lights to indicate a ringing doorbell, etc. It is touch and sight and in some ways this makes sound bigger. As a live sound technician I used to always imagine the waves bouncing around the room. For deaf people it really does.

At this point I need to confess on the night I went there were some serious technical problems with the sound and video. It was not enough to make me unsatisfied with my evening and I still enjoyed the show immensely and laughed a lot, but it is enough to make me envious of those who will see/hear the complete show.

I also found the moving of boxes became tedious in the extreme. I understand it and, let's face it, every show which uses boxes ends up moving them around far too much. It is just the nature of the beast I suppose.

Told in a picaresque style and with a bathetic narrative, Personal will not give you every answer you ever wanted about what it is to be a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults). What it does is give you insight into one person's story whilst highlighting some universal issues, experiences, and prejudices. It is funny, sad, scary, and beautiful. It is also another brilliant example of post-truth theatre and post-inclusion theatre. The future is here and it is Personal.

4 Stars

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Alexis Dubus Versus The World - Comedy Review

What: Alexis Dubus Versus The World
When: 10 - 22 April 2018
Where: Hairy Little Sister
Created and performed by: Alexis Dubus

Alexis Dubus
Alexis Dubus is a very funny man. He is a man of many talents, many accents and many words and we get the exquisite and unusual experience of being able to enjoy a great deal of them because he has brought us two very funny shows this Comedy Festival season. My last review was of his hilarious alter ego's show - Marcel Lucont's Whine List and here I am about to regale you with the intelligent humour of his spoken word routine called Alexis Dubus Versus The World playing at Hairy Little Sista.

Dubus calls Alexis Dubus Versus The World a spoken word show because it kind of breaks all of the comedy category tropes. It is a little bit stand up, a little bit pantomime, a little bit cabaret, a little bit punny, and he even throws in a little bit of burlesque just to shake the apple from the tree. All of it definitely falls into the category of spoken word though because all of it contains...well...words.

As fine a comedian as Dubus is (and he is very fine indeed!), he is also an accomplished wordsmith. Swinging effortlessly and unexpectedly between high Shakespeare to gutter trash you are expected to listen well to get the full joy and hilarity out of his work. At times his vocabulary exceeded that of the audience but for those of us who knew what homophonic means, there were wonderful nuggets of gold to embrace intellectually.

Dubus' performance included a lot of wonderful poetry as all good spoken word shows do and he is not afraid of the rhyming couplet, using rhythm and accents to make the predictable leap into hilarious and beyond. It is not possible for me to say I had a favourite poem but I intend to visit Wookie Hole if I ever get back to England and I will probably avoid getting a massage next time I am at the Singapore airport.

Some of the poetry moved into the territory of music and his observations about bananas has a definite reek of the Fresh Prince about it. There was also a very strong Monty Python influence to some of his music which is always a winner of course.

Alexis Dubus Versus The World is an eclectic mix of content but all of it is incredibly satisfying. Dubus was last here four years ago. In that time he has managed to get married and his foolproof advice on how to propose is certainly unique but, as he says, in his experience it has a 100% success rate.

We are really lucky he has chosen to return and even luckier he has brought us two iterations of his fantastic comic mind. See both shows in tandem. You won't regret it.

3 Stars

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Marcel Lucont's Whine List - Comedy Review

What: Marcel Lucont's Whine List
When: 10 - 22 April
Where: Beckett Theatre, Coopers Malthouse
Created and performed by: Alexis Dubus

Marcel Lucont
Marcel Lucont's Whine List is a kind of humour which definitely appeals to people who watch the world in despairing wonder - people like me. Lucont (Dubus) is playing in The Beckett Theatre at Coopers Malthouse for the next two weeks of the Comedy Festival and I really recommend it.

Lucont has a fine stand up routine, disdainfully and yet elegantly delivering observations about the curious things he encounters as he travels around the world. If you watched Tonightly with Tom Ballard a week ago you would have seen Lucont do a guest appearance. In that segment he comments on the intriguing way each state welcomes it's guests on the signage. He is completely mystified and miffed that only people named Vic are welcome in Melbourne.

The true genius of his show though, lies not in his stories, but the stories he elicits from the hapless audience. Before we entered we were asked to fill out a questionnaire where were asked for our worst day at work, worst amorous encounter, and worst overseas experience.

I often talk about the issue of consent in relation to audience participation and Lucont deals with the problem perfectly. When the audience is given the form they are warned Lucont will choose the ones he likes best to use in the show. Ergo, if you fill in the form you are giving implied consent to be engaged as a participant. It is too late after the fact to act all coy and reticent so be warned.

The body of Marcel Lucont's Whine List lies in his selection of responses and his languid and unrelenting interrogations to find out more.  The truth is, he really doesn't have to do much to make the audience laugh. It is quite eye opening to see just how wrong some people's life go.

On opening night it was also very illuminating with regard to college life in Melbourne. Have you heard of the 7 Wonders? It is 7 places in the University (I won't mention which University) couples should have sex whilst being a student. Here's a hint - there is a lawn and a tower...

It is the patronising air of gallic superiority which makes Lucont's show work. Dubus is an Englishmen, and we all know about the rivalry between the French and the English. Lucont is a construction of all the great prejudices about the French - their arrogance, love of wine , and always being right.

I have to admit despite the arrogance, Lucont's insouciance and fake accent are still outrageously sexy. What is it about the French? Even faux French people have it!

The format does get a bit repetitive, but the variety of idiotic and outrageous situations people have found themselves in means the laughs just keep coming. Between categories Lucont also graces us with some of the best responses across the course of his travels in the UK and even without the interrogation they are stand alone hilarious. Oh, the things people get up to!

Marcel Lucont's Whine List is a late show, but the Malthouse has food and drink caravans and festoon lighting out in the courtyard as well as their usual offerings indoors. Go along, have some dinner and perhaps a couple of glasses of wine, and then take in a lovely red to sip along with Lucont as he gets you looking at the world through a slightly more jaded set of eyes than our own. Don't spill the wine laughing though!

4 Stars

Friday, 6 April 2018

Massive Bitch - Comedy Review

What: Massive Bitch
When: 2 - 8 April 2018
Where: The Butterfly Club
Written and performed by: Chelsea Zeller
Directed by: Samuel Russo

Chelsea Zeller
I first came across Zeller in last year's Comedy Festival when she wowed me with her performance in High Achievers. I was very excited to find out she was back for this year's festival with Massive Bitch at The Butterfly Club.

Zeller didn't disappoint. As I commented in the High Achievers review, Zeller has an amazing ability to perform multiple characters without a single misstep. She totally understands the connection between voice, body and character and in Massive Bitch she once again demonstrates her world class skill playing somewhere around ten characters in this TV talk show parody.

Massive Bitch is satire in the vein of ABC's Get Krack!n although Zeller's work is not farce. Perhaps a closer pairing can be found in Chamber Made Opera's production Crossing Live in 2007.

The story is the taping of the 50th episode of a morning show and the last one for Victoria the 'bitch' producer who expects a promotion and the ability to move on. Victoria uses controversy to win the rating's war and takes credit for advising Sonia Kruger to admit to be honest about her opinion of Muslim immigrants would make good TV. Victoria spirals between patronising, obsequious, and a raging bull to get this episode on air, but the more she pushes, the more things spiral out of control.

The supporting characters are fantastic, with the laconic camera man, John, getting the show started, a fun parody of Scary Spice in the Jenny Craig ads, an astrally disfunctional psychic guest, and Hugh - a cohost who gets his very own Tootsie moment littering the stage. Zeller switches between them all with mastery, commitment, and a delicate understanding of who they all are and why they are there. Well almost.

Where the show falls down is in the dramaturgy. Zeller wrote this piece herself this time, and whilst her acting is phenomenal, she needs to work on story structure and the proportional weight of characters. Oh, and titles too. I hate the title of this show and would never have come if not invited for that reason alone, but then I would have missed some fabulous ideas and brilliant acting.

Victoria is the 'massive bitch' in question but she really doesn't get a lot of stage time in this manic morning show filming schedule. Because of that, we don't get to really understand why she is a bitch (to me it just looked like a frustrating day - but then I have been called a massive bitch many times too...). This only really matters because Zeller has created a beautiful and touching and quite unexpected ending - but it kind of comes out of nowhere and as an audience member it jars rather than being satisfying.

Russo's direction did not impress me much. Last year in High Achievers the transformation between characters was aided with jackets and other acoutrements. This year they have forgone any costuming or props (except a stool). This is fine because Zeller is skilled enough to do all the work herself without even the hint of confusion or vagueness.

Sadly, Russo did not trust her enough so he has incorporated the 'turn away from the audience so they know there is a new character' technique which really gets in the way and becomes very tedious - much like theatre productions which use blackouts between every scene. Some of the transitions are cleverly handled but as the pace picks up they become more functional and obvious and irritating - and completely unnecessary.

Zeller never disappoints as a performer. She creates clear, clever and hilarious characters. The rest will come.

2.5 Stars