Sunday 26 August 2018

Hard Boiled Bush Noir - Theatre Review

What: Hard Boiled Bush Noir
When: 27 August - 2 September 2018
Where: Irene Mitchell Studio, St Martins Theatre
Written by: Shane Grant
Directed by: Iris Gillard
Performed by: Adam Mattaliano and Miles Paras
Set and Costumes by: Lara Week
Lighting by: Niklas Pajanti
Miles Paras
There is something course, rough, mean and gritty about the Australian outback psyche and Hard Boiled Bush Noir brings all of that paranoia and panick to our stages in a triptych of tales written by Shane Grant. Playing at St Martins Theatre in South Yarra, the chills you get watching this will not be coming from the cold winter nights, they will come from deep in your gut as you wait for these three stark and striking tales to unfold.

Grant is a story teller in a style we don't see a lot of anymore. If you ever lived anywhere in rural Australia, you have probably sat around a campfire at night and listened to or spun a yarn and cowered in terror of the shadows moving in the dark of night. This is how Grant writes.

A fan of the long monologue form, Grant weaves stories as epic in content as Beowulf, yet with all the minutiae of modernism. In an era of show, don't tell Grant takes us back to a time when we listened and let our imaginations create horrors far greater than any set, costume, or actor could ever bring us on the stage.

Grant brings us three outback tales. The first is a piece of fan fiction from James. M. Cain's short story 'The Baby In The Icebox'. Called 'The Rooster That Thought It Was A Roo'. This tale brings us the fever of Wolf Creek with the brutality of Romper Stomper and sets the tone for an evening of nightmares. In the monologue format we listen as Crusty (Mattaliano) is driven mad - but is it really the rooster's fault? Mattaliano is Commedia trained - it italy - and the liveliness of his features tell us everything we need to know about Crusty just as he tells us everything we need to know about everyone else.

The second two short plays are completely new works. 'The Camel Story' is a suspense thriller which begins with a surprise date and takes a serious turn for the worse. This is probably the weakest of the three although conceptually it is very intriguing. I think it needs to be longer - a full length play on it's own. This would allow for some character development and give the audience a journey to go on just as the characters go on their road trip.

I think it is also directorially weakest, with the actors sitting in a car for most of it and I don't feel Mattaliano really knew what to do with his character, The Sarge. To be honest I thought he was a chauffer or rich playboy for quite a while until Paras called him Sarge. The costuming also gave no clue at all which was annoying. There are some strong ideas in the staging but Gilliard needs to take a step back and think about what the story is about. If Grant takes the opportunity to expand the script it will help a lot too.

The evening ends on a great note with 'The Crocodile Story'. I don't think you can get more dinkum than a tale like this. A beautiful woman sits in a bar and you ask her if you can buy her a drink... Women will love this one and men will shrink in terror.

Grant's meandering and relentless way of weaving a story matches Gaillard's fascination with the human psyche and she is careful to create a world for the actors which allows them to engage the audience but also keep them listening. Grant's writing requires concentration and many directors would be eager to over produce because of the vividness of his imagery, but Gaillard demonstrates her understanding of what Grant is doing and does not get in the way of it being done.

Pajanti's lighting is simple and stark, again another great foil for the writing. Coming from all angles (a touch of Vorticism perhaps?) he keeps the lighting clean and white. There is colour - reds and blues - but rather than saturating the stage with them, he tints the open white to create mood rather than moments and works with hard lines and shadows bringing forefront once again the understanding images in our imagination can be the most terrifying thing of all.

This is the second show I have seen this week designed by Week (the other being Mothermorphosis). Using the same aesthetic she has created an outback canvas of red dust and looming landscape with pockets of minutiae which reflects Grant's style beautifully. Starting with a yard full of car parts and milk crates just like we would see at any country servo, there is plenty of business to keep Mattaliano busy as he weaves his first tale whilst slowly working towards the second.

This is clever and whilst I usually rail against business, it works in a kind of meditative way here because we get lulled into a mesmeric trance as we realise we don't have to focus on what we see. We have to focus on what we hear. It would have been great if the changes between the three pieces were managed as well. They are too long and aggravating and there is not enough of a shift to feel as an audience member I got a payoff in the pause.

Get your winter chills in a different way and head down to St Martins Theatre for a ripper night of Hard Boiled Bush Noir. It's dinky di and a rip snorter. And don't offer to buy her a drink...

4 Stars

Friday 24 August 2018

May Contain Traces Of Reading - Comedy Review

What: May Contain Traces Of Reading
When: 20 - 25 August 2018
Where: The Butterfly Club
Created and performed by: Mitchell E Roberts

Mitchell E Roberts
I am on a roll this week. Two nights in a row I have managed to see the best and funniest shows in Melbourne right now. First was Mothermorphosis and now it's May Contain Traces Of Reading at The Butterfly Club. Comedian Mitchell E Roberts introduces us to his alter ego Robert Mitchell and we spend the rest of the hour down the rabbit hole of non-stop laughs as we navigate the trips and spills of a life lived without uttering a single word.

Did she just say what I think she said? Yes indeed! Not a single word is spoken by Mitchell throughout the show but don't get me wrong - he never shuts up!

Brecht would have been proud of this comedian as he waves placards and cue cards at us with precise comedic timing constantly spurred on (and riled up) by his computer side-kick Captain Mac Sparrow. Self-taught with the great classical training manual Stand-Up Comedy For Dummies, Mitchell ticks off all the elements that go into perfect stand-up including first joke and last joke, interaction, relatability, and - most importantly - how to deal with hecklers. Who says you need to be able to hear to respond to a heckler? A burn is a burn regardless of whether it is on point or not.

A man with an competitive side which has doomed him to live without spoken words, Mitchell takes us through the pitfalls (and bonuses) of navigating hospitality work and heartbreak when you can't hear those around you and have to communicate with writing. What I learnt is it can be a real bonus as a bartender, but first dates are impossible. I also learnt computers can be really sassy if you don't keep them in line!

It takes a moment for the audience to realise there will be silence. We are not very comfortable with silence coming from stage it turns out, but Mitchell is quick to teach us that we are the noise source and I think one of the things which makes this show work so well is we have to respond and react or we are the ones left feeling lost and alone.

Here's the trick. The more you get into it, the more fun you will have. You are not on your own though. Mitchell conducts the audience like a maestro and each of us brings our own instruments including clapping, laughing, cheering, and yes - even a bit of singing (we all love The Angels, right).

Mitchell is also a master of impressions and his Britney Spears impression will leave you rolling on the floor laughing. Quoting Voltaire, Mitchell spends the show measuring where he sits on the scale of being a God or being a comedian. Perhaps he is both.

I laughed from top to bottom with this show. It's an early one so finish up at work, head down to The Butterfly Club for a warm mulled wine (sooooooo good), enjoy some of the best comedy you will see this winter, and then head out or head home for a cosy night in front of the heater with a warm belly and a warm heart.

5 Stars

Thursday 23 August 2018

Mothermorphosis - Theatre Review

What: Mothermorphosis
When: 22 August - 2 September 2018
Where: La Mama - Trades Hall
Written and performed by: Liz Skitch
Directed by: Maude Davey
Set by: Lara Week
Lighting by: Richard Vabre
Sound by: Chris Wenn
Stage Managed by: Brittany Coombs
Liz Skitch
Slowly but surely the world is scratching and clawing its way to honesty and every day women are making progress towards being able to speak their truth - which is not always roses, birthday cakes, and talcum powder. Sometimes it is, but the roses lose their petals, the cake ends up on the floor and the talcum powder - well I probably shouldn't talk about where that ends up... Mothermorphosis, the new comedy by Liz Skitch is a giant leap into this acceptance of imperfection and heading to La Mama Trades Hall this week is a great way to fend off the winter freeze.

There are many shows about motherhood - Mum's The Word and Motherhood: The Musical spring to mind without much effort. Everyone is debunking the myths and laughing while they're at it. There is something very special about Mothermorphosis though, and I think it is because Skitch has written a show which embraces the humour and ridiculousness of motherhood, but also retains the pathos and humanity.

Mothermorphosis is not about pointing to pregnancy and motherhood and saying 'look, here is a creature that is an object and can therefore be objectified and designified.' Instead, Skitch has collected a set of experiences, morphed them with her own life and she shows the touching, confusing, exhausting, and exhilerating experience which comes to all mothers as they lose their identity and become 'The mother of...'

Mothermorphosis was a project which was 'birthed' in 2015 when Skitch became a mother herself. Intriguingly there was a book published that same year, with the same title and the same concept of asking a group of mothers about their experiences. It doesn't say in the program whether this project was influenced by Dux's work, but the parallels are too blinding to suggest it is mere coincidence.

Skitch has a long and esteemed career as a comedy artist and what is evident in Mothermorphosis is how delicately she has crafted her clowning skills so that there is almost no definable line between realism and presentation although when you think back over the show you know it was all there to be seen.

Bringing in Davey as the director was a stroke of genius because the seamless interweaving of the absurd, comic and real in the script and performance is a perfect compliment to Davey's love of surrealism, disruption, immersion and interaction. Both women work to expose the harsh and the ugly, but they both do it with love, honour and respect...and a heavy dose of belly aching hilarity with hits you from the very beginning right through to the very end.

How often do you see a show which makes you want to give a standing ovation every 5 minutes because of the absolute genius on display? Very rarely indeed! Davey and Wenn have created some of the most incredible impact moments with the sound and Davey is not afraid to explore kitsch. Add to that her love of disrupting moments with movement sequences which are automatic content of the best kind and at one point we ended up watching a pastiche not disimilar to Fantasia.

Can I get you a Vegemite sandwich? How about some pumpkin soup? Do you want to take a selfie? Let's give clicks to the Stage Manager. There are so many ways Skitch engages and engages with the audience in gently intrusive yet respectful and uplifting ways. There is no fourth wall in Mothermorphosis (except for the chicken).

Week has created a textured landscape which references the surrrealism of Davey's ideas and Vabre has a knack with domestic light sources which give the space depth, height, and personality - very similar to lighting for photography. His talents also mirror Skitch's and Davey's with an amazing ability to seemlessly blend shifts so subtle you don't notice them through to great shocking moments that give a burst of adrenaline.

Perhaps one of the things we don't tend to see about the mothers in our lives is that moment they stop being themselves and become a child's appendage. Mothermorphosis is a celebration and warning about that moment. We see the moment Lizi disappears and becomes Molly's Mum. We hear about how Donny (the partner) likes Lizi better but has to live with Molly's Mum. And in an artful circle of life conceit, Lizi's Mum appears next to the chicken to tell her story too.

Mixed in amongst Skitch's experience are testimonials which have been taken from the research she did with other mothers so there is an undeniable universality and authenticity about Mothermorphosis. Oh, and I won't give too much away, but not only is the fourth wall removed. The entire theatre is removed at one beautiful moment in the show.

There are so many meta layers in Mothermorphosis you will enjoy peeling them away as the show unfolds. This show is a real hoot and real to boot. Don't miss it!

5 Stars

Saturday 18 August 2018

Nightsongs - Music Review

What: Nightsongs
When: 16 - 19 August 2018
Where: La Mama - Trades Hall
Composed by: Natasha Moszenin
Performed by: Jai Luke, Natasha Moszenin, Claire Nicholls, and Lara Vocisano
Lighting by: Kate Kelly
Claire Nicholls, Jai Luke, and Lara Vocisano - photo by Dan A'Vard
Nightsongs is a song cycle which is in its fourth iteration at La Mama - Trades Hall (the alternate venue whilst a new way forward is being created by the La Mama team after the tragic fire). Playing for only four nights, this time Moszenin has eschewed the theatrical elements and is presenting the piece in concert as a meditative experience on the difficulties of sleep in the modern age.

I first came across this project in it's second iteration as a fully produced show called The Insomnia Project at La Mama Courthouse and I loved it as my review clearly stated. Weaving the tales of four sleepless souls and the strategies they try to employ to engage in sleep was very relatable and egged us on to laugh at ourselves in our agonies of insomnia as well as opening up the closed doors of night to show we are not alone in our struggles.

The music has developed and progressed as Moszenin continues to explore minor key arrangements, unsettling sevenths, and decending scales, much of it disrupted intriguingly with her jazz aesthetic. She has also taken the opportunity to work with lyricists Leo Taylor, Charles Mercovich, Antonietta Morbillo and Antonella Salvestro on a couple of numbers which works really well.

The opening number 'From The Shadows' (Taylor/Moszenin) is sophisticated and beautiful and brought to mind Starlight Express for me for some reason. Similarly, 'Too Many Nights' had a certain Puccini-esque beauty which was mesmerizing and beautifully sung by Nicholls and Vocisano.

I have to admit I did not enjoy this concert version as much as the theatrical production but this was mostly because without the visuals it was impossible to really experience the contiguities of the situations between the characters, or even discern who the characters were. This may only be a problem because my history with the work told me there were characters and there was just enough dialogue between songs to make me believe these story lines still existed.

As a concert, it also lacked some interpretive layers and so, whilst the music is still masterful in using descending scales and working with the emotional dialectics of rhythm and tone to create a visceral response subverting logic, the meditative focus on anxiety provided little relief for the audience which - like a night when you just can't get to sleep - made it feel somewhat longer than the one hour show actually is. Having said that, I think I just also said it is a really successful experiment!

There are some cracking moments of humour, and songs such as 'It Don't Bother Me', 'Five Years' and 'Detox Queen' break up the night and are delivered with flare and energy by the cast. Luke in particular is the centre pole of charicature in the comic moments with a face so lively and engaging I thought it was going to play the fourth original character all by itself! 'Five Years' has been edited down over time which made me a bit sad because it is my favourite moment from The Insomnia Project and I really was looking forward to hearing it again and felt a bit cheated when it was over so quickly.

Moszenin's lyrics work well in the humorous songs because her words are so literal. This doesn't work quite so well in the gentler numbers because the spoken rythm of the plosives tends to contrast with the longer, flowing musical notes and clever harmonies. Articulation choices by the singers can help, but when you contrast it to Taylor's lyrics, for example, you can hear the difference in form and construct. Having said that, English is always a difficult language for song and opera has centuries of English translations which prove how hard it is to make sound musical...

It is exciting to see an artist continue to work on a project and develop it over time. Slow dramaturgies are becoming a regular part of the arsenal of Melbourne performance makers and it is projects like Nightsongs which helps us understand what the process does for a work.

3 Stars

Saturday 11 August 2018

Oil Babies - Theatre Review

What: Oil Babies
When: 8 - 18 August 2018
Where: Northcote Town Hall
Written and directed by: Petra Kalive
Performed by: Kali Hulme, Jodie Le Vesconte, and Fiona Macleod
Set by: Andrew Bailey
Costumes by: Harriet Oxley
Lighting by: Lisa Mibus
Sound by: Darius Kedros
Fiona Macleod and Jodie Le Vesconte - photo by Lachlan Woods
If you want to see a show which will make you think and feel in spades head down to Northcote Town Hall for Oil Babies. A new work written and directed by Petra Kalive and produced by Lab Kelpie, Oil Babies brings together all of our existential angst about extinction theories, continuation of the species, and the biological clock ticking away in womens' DNA within a lyrical dystopia of love, confusion and despair.

Having unexpectedly fallen pregnant herself, Kalive began to ponder and reassess what it would mean for her and the planet to bring another child into the world. In the script (which you can buy at the box office) P (Hulme) talks about 'Adding more little consumers to the planet.' Meanwhile X (Le Vesconte) and C (Macleod) plan their future - a vision which has unexpectedly changed from a picture of 2 to a picture of 3.

Essentially, Oil Babies is a post-truth study of pressure. Starting with the Dinosaur extinction theory, Kalive debunks the myths about what happened when the meteor hit the earth and reveals what really happened. Millions of tiny shards of flaming glass gas falling down on the earth - 'A furnace of glass rain'. How is glass created? Under great pressure.

How do we know this is what happened? Because if we dig down in the layers of the earth there is 'This one grey line. It represents the day that asteroid hit.' The pressure of layers and layers of empty dirt pushing down on that line is a testament to it's suddeness - 'Within an hour or two.' If the dinosaurs had looked up at the stars they would have see it coming.

At this point the play transitions to contemporary times. P and C are in a loving, lesbian relationship and lie looking up at the stars and quoting Oscar Wilde. Suddenly C drops a bomb - she wants to have a baby. This had never been included in their partner plan and the play wrestles with coming to terms with the idea as individuals, a couple, and as part of a species which has created it's own extinction event through the development of plastics. The pressures of being a woman, keeping fit, saving the planet, and reproducing all bear down.

This is where the title settles in. Plastics are created through polymerisation, or the extreme heating of monomer molecules to create groupings - much like the act of heat and pressure on gas to create glass or diamonds. One of the fun dramaturgies in the work is one type of polymer is a trimer, which is a set of three monomers combining, and recombining. These trimers can also cycle and re-cycle to form tetramers (4) and so on. It is no coincidence the cast of three use spin bikes in the telling of this story - as well, of course, as the illusion to the human race and going nowhere. Also, PCX is the acronym for a type of phenolic polymer plastic sheet created under high pressure.

Kalive's hypothesis about the meteor not causing the original extinction event is the conceit upon which the hypothesis of plastics lies in the show, and it's contribution to the extinction of the human race through the uncontrolled prevalence of microplastics. It was not the creation of plastic which has caused the problem - it is the unexpected side effects, detritus, and environmental inter-connectedness which is the problem. Yes you need plastics for your computer's motherboard, but the e-waste ends up in the water and the fish consume the microplastics instead of food and they die off, or produce food up the predator/prey ladder which is lacking in nutrition, etc.

And just like what happened with the dinosaurs, once the exstinction event is initiated, it cannot be reversed. In this regard the play is quite bleak. Riding on their spin bikes in the gym, P and X and C talk about their efforts to recycle but find themselves constantly returning to a state of despair, crying out 'What more can I do?'

Oil Babies is created for women to perform and it is a play where gender is central to the meaning and intention of this work, as well as integral to its phenomenal impact. Juxtaposing artificial insemination with extinction with parthenogenesis is genius. We watch biological clocks ticking down in competition with the extinction clock - both applying opposing forces of pressure.

Kalive asks questions about a mother's aspirations for her child contiguous with an overwhelming understanding that we are destroying ourselves so there is no future, just like the dinosaurs. Do you want to bring a child into that? Do you want to add another human to the virus contributing to that very same catastrophe?

As well as being a play with an amazing array of intelligent and heart wrenching questions and interogations, Oil Babies is a really beautiful and lyrical play. Taking a minimalist post-dramatic approach Macleod, Le Vesconte and Hulme twine, intertwine and untwine continually in this trimer of physics, history and humanity.

The relationship between Macleod and Le Vesconte is tender and tortured as they struggle to understand what is happening between them. Hulme on the other hand, has a kind of Everyman role. Perhaps my one disappointment was the character of P is not directorially integrated well. There are times Hulme is just kind of pushed out of the scene, sitting with her back to the audience or having  to leave the stage.

To help us wend our way through the maze of ideas and emotional dynamics Kedros has created a fabulously layered soundscape which carries all the nuances of the written text. Add to that the phenomenally evocative lighting by Mibus and in Oil Babies you have a play which is a transitioning portrait as well as a social interogation. The bleakness and beauty of the frame reflects the bleakness and the beauty of the performances. Bailey's set design creates a textured architecture for Mibus to work with - a landscape which is timeless yet spreads on into infinity.

For me, Oil Babies is the hit show this winter. Intelligent, gentle, horrific, terrifying, and a work of great love and humanity.

4.5 Stars

Saturday 4 August 2018

The 3 Musketeers - Theatre Review

What: The 3 Musketeers
When: 1 - 11 August 2018
Where: Bluestone Church Arts Space
Adapted and Directed by: Natasha Broadstock
Performed by: Lore Burns, Craig Cremin, Joti Gore, Victoria Haslam, Scott Jackson, James Malcher, Angelique Malcolm,  and Lucy Norton
Costumes by: Romy Sweetnam
Lighting by: John Collopy
Sound by: Patrick Slee

Craig Cremin - photo by Michael Foxington
The 3 Musketeers is a swashbuckling night of swagger and swank taking place at the Bluestone Church Arts Space in Footscray. A stage adaptation of the epic novel by Alexandre Dumas, the show sets out to take the chill out of winter with galloping sword fights, gorgeous gowns, and gallant knights of yore.

The story of The 3 Musketeers - Dumas' musketeers that is - is the story of young D'Artagnan who sets out to join the King's Guard and manages to bumble everything. In spite of himself, and with the burning desire to right wrongs and save the world, he hooks up with three real Musketeers. Together, over the course of 67 chapters, they manage to right wrongs, seek revenge and save the world... well France, at least.

A 'Boys Own' adventure, it is a tale of camaraderie, love, loss, revenge and justice. The men are all lusty, the woman are all luscious, and the nobles are all lost souls. It is a tale of loyalty, despair, and coming into one's manhood.

Unfortunately, Broadstock's adaptation never reaches these heights although there are a lot of fun sword fights and great costumes. Sweetnam really does all the heavy lifting to set this play up and keep us watching. Her textured, layered, deconstructions give us all the glory of the French 17th century court whilst also bringing us into the 21st century with a floordrobe chic which is totally portrait worthy.

Broadstock gives us the key events but she never really tells us the story of D'Artagnan (Burns). Partly because the script is unwieldy, and partly through some unfortunate casting choices. Before I go any further I should mention on the night I attended Gore was ill and Broadstock stood in and played Athos. Regardless of anything I say about the writing and directing, I will testify to the fact that she is a magnificent actor and I really didn't care that Gore wasn't there. I didn't feel I was left wanting anything more from her fabulously looming, broody Athos.

One of the big trumpets in the promotion of the play was that is was cast gender blind. I disagree. This cast was certainly gender bent, but if it was gender blind then the roles would have been cast based on acting skill and ability and they just weren't. Burns does not have the vocal ability to carry such a key lead role and in a space as live as the Bluestone is, her voice just got lost. I truly believe I did not hear at least 80% of her lines.

Luckily I realised quite early that I could rely on my memory of the 1993 film to keep me up with what was happening with a lot of help from Porthos (Jackson) who was narrating. And here's a hint for budding directors - do not put songs in your show if you don't have singers. Please!!!!!

Jackson is an actor with the energy, stage presence and ability to work an audience to rival Syd Brisbane. Anybody who knows theatre knows those are mighty big shoes to fill, but he does it. Jackson is also trained in stage combat and was the fight coordinator for this show. The sword fights themselves are fun and feisty and are part of what makes it worth sticking around for the whole two acts.

The play is way too long. It is in two acts and lasts around 2 and a half hours with interval. Not starting until 8pm, this makes is a very late winter night and the pay off at the end just isn't worth it. Whilst I am not a fan of the tyranny of dramatic action, and I quite like the narrator construct in this case because it harks back to a different, older story-telling aesthetic I really think Broadstock should have found time in the 17 years between writing and production to run the script past a dramaturg.

Directorially the play is a mish mash of styles, careening wildly between melodrama, farce, satire, film noir, greek tragedy and - most oddly - lyrical interpretive dance? When it all got too much for me (pretty much the whole second act) I just focused on the costumes and the fight scenes. I told you they were good didn't I?

Moving past the bad casting of D'Artagnan and the appalling interpretation of Constance (Malcher), there are some amazing performances in The 3 Musketeers. Cremin, who plays Milady, pretty much steals the show. In this instance, the gender bending works and Cremin reveals much about Milady which we may never have noticed had she been played by a woman. This is the power behind gender blind casting when you get it right. Similar praise can be placed on Norton as Rochefort, and Malcolm's Aramis is compelling as well.

Broadstock's idea of bringing classic yarns to the stage is a great concept for long, cold Melbourne winters but she needs to work with people who know how to craft a script. This was an incredibly ambitious project. I don't know many trained and experienced writers who would be willing to tackle Dumas on their own.

Despite what sounds like a slightly gloomy review, I admit I didn't ever feel like walking out. There is a lot going on and this production of The 3 Musketeers is definitely heavy on spectacle. As Aristotle tells us, spectacle can save a production. Between Cremin, Jackson, Broadstock (the actor), Norton, Malcolm, and Sweetnam The 3 Musketeers is quite watchable. Just bone up on the plot before you go...

2 Stars


WHAT: The Roof Is Caving In WHERE: La Mama Courthouse WHEN: 8 - 19 May 2024 WRITTEN BY: Matilda Gibbs with Jack Burmeister and Belle Hansen ...