Sunday 30 September 2018

Project Exiles - Theatre Review

What: Project Exiles - The Return Of A Man Called Ulysses
When: 28 - 30 September 2018
Where: MC Showrooms
Written by: Jaime Dorner
Performed by: Georgina Bright, Reuben Daamen, Jaime Dorner, Austen Keating, Pranav Mahesh, Lily Thomson, Roxana Paun Trifan, and Savanna Wegman,
Roxana Puan Trifan, Reuben Daamen, Austen Keating, Savanna Wegman, Lily Thomson and PranavMahesh
Project Exiles: The Return Of A Man Called Ulysses is the inaugural production of Praxi Theatre and is one of the shows rounding out the 2018 Melbourne Fringe Festivals. It is only on for 3 nights at the MC Showrooms in Prahran so blink and you'll miss it which is a huge shame.

Project Exiles: The Return Of A Man Called Ulysses is a play written by Chilean playwright and director Jaime Dorner. A piece of fan fiction riffing off the Odyssey of Homer (Ulysses is the Roman name for the Greek hero Odysseus) Dorner explores many concepts of distance and isolation. Dorner focuses his work on the experience of men in the world and he has captured the eternal perplexity men are put under and put themselves under in an incisive way.

Specifically, Project Exiles focuses on the point when Calypso is forced to release Ulysses and allow him to complete his journey back to his home, his wife, and his son. It is not a real journey this Ulysses (Dorner) is going on however and his son Telemachus (Daamen, Keating, and Mahesh) must go on one as well.

Project Exiles is a psychological journey and to keep the show working in our heads more so than our hearts some characters are played by multiple actors and some actors play multiple roles. This show is a Brechtian feast.

The Praxi team have created an empty landscape and at the farthest distance on each side sit four of the eight performers creating the greatest gulf between to signify the distance the characters must travel. As each scene takes place the actors required float in the centre space desperately trying to connect but somehow always failing to fall just short.

Ulysses begins his journey to be reunited with Penelope (Trifan) and Telemachus but is worried he won't be recognised. Telemachus is in search of his manhood and his father. Three mantras litter the play, creating stumbling blocks for both men as they make their way in the world: "Every man has his war to fight"; "Every man needs a father"; and, "A man must do what he has to do".

Whilst Ulysses' journey is intriguing it is one we all know well. What is intriguing in this script is his insistence on returning to Patria, not Ithica. Dorner is clearly indicating where he is going with this intriguing investigation of masculinity in society and in the family.

The journey of Telemachus is the real point and revelation of the show. Suicide rates for young men are ridiculously high and as a society we struggle to understanding why this is happening. The journey Telemachus undertakes gives great insight. Growing up without his father, trying to explain his masturbation to his mother, experiencing young love and desire, and then trying to rationalise his love and hate for his father Telemachus shows us how complicated this world can be.

Everyone in the world of Project Exiles is an exile. The gods have made Ulysses and Exile, Penelope is exiled from Telemachus because she is not his father, Telemachus is exiled from Ulysses because of the Trojan War. Even Calypso is in exile on her island and Ginny (Thomson, Wegman, and Bright), the homeless young woman Telemachus meets, is exiled from her family. All of them are trying to find their way back home, back to safety, back to love.

All of the performances are fantastic in Project Exiles: The Return Of A Man Called Ulysses. The theatrical tropes are fairly tried and true. Whilst nothing in this production is particularly unique, it is one of the most polished and perfect performances I have attended in a very long time. This ensemble understand the idea of doing simple things extraordinarily well.

I really loved Project Exiles: The Return Of A Man Called Ulysses. From what I can tell by reviews of his first production of the play in 2007, Dorner is working with a team now who have allowed the work to move beyond the first iterations weaknesses so the audience can enjoy the psycho-drama unfolding in front of our eyes and deeply ponder the questions and implications which arise.

4.5 stars

Saturday 29 September 2018

Julia, A Lesbian - Theatre Review

What: Julia, A Lesbian
When: 28 - 30 September 2018
Where: Speakeasy HQ
Created by: Allanah Avalon and Nathalie Kozak
Directed by: Allanah Avalon
Performed by: Nathalie Kozak
Nathalie Kozak
Julia, A Lesbian is one of the shows finishing up the Melbourne Fringe Festival this year. Playing in the main theatre of Speakeasy HQ, it is brought to us by the edgy arts collective Tooth N' Fang.

Julia, A Lesbian has been borne out of a student partnership between Avalon and Kozak who both studied theatre in Abu Dhabi. The show was originally presented there earlier this year with full production on a proscenium stage (see the photo above).

They have brought it down to Australia for Fringe and the challenges have been great indeed. The Speakeasy HQ stage is a small vaudeville set up, so even with less than a third of the props of the original production, the playing space spills onto the floor. Kovak and Avalon have mastered these constraints extremely well I think.

Julia, A Lesbian is touted as a sitcom. I disagree. In fact I don't think it is comedy at all. It is an incisive dramatic investigation of a woman with serious commitment issues. It is funny in parts, but it has a sharp tail with a sting for everyone involved.

Does it matter that Julia is a lesbian? Not really. It does perhaps matter that she is a woman though, as the commentary in the show is about fidelity, commitment and relationships and Julia does not meet the standard social trope of women being desperate for a committed relationship regardless of sexual orientation.

Julia has been in a five year relationship with Sophie and tomorrow they will be moving in together as a couple. Sophie is out of town and Julia is alone and restless and having serious reservations about this next big move. She calls her BFF, her 'boo', Izzy for company but Izzy is at home with her partner.

This leaves Julia alone with a bottle of wine, an empty pizza box and the Tinder app on her phone. She starts swiping through and comes across someone she met the night before. You can guess what happens next.

Julia, A Lesbian is not a ground-breaking piece of theatre and it is not immersive as they have said in their publicity, but there is something about Kozak's ease on stage with allows the audience to relax. Kozak is not afraid of silence and moments of stillness and this makes watching her surprisingly addictive.

Usually when the audience is made to feel like a voyeur it has a sense of the forbidden but with Julia, A Lesbian it seems quite natural. I suspect it is because the smallness of the time frame, the intimacy of the venue, and the complete naturalism of Kozak's performance had a sense of watching TV. In fact I think Julia, A Lesbian would make a great short film.

The hook at the end seems a little disingenuous for me. If Julia really was in such a long term committed relationship why does she still have the Tinder app on her phone after five years and she seems very confident and casual about using it.

I found it hard to believe this was just a simple case of cold feet and this seemed supported when she talks to Izzy and blames her for landing her in this mess. Julia comes across as someone who has led her partner on for years and now she is in too deep. I found it really hard to like Julia but I did think this was an accurate depiction of modern relationship complexities. As a character Julia is totally believable.

Julia, A Lesbian is very, very short, running at around forty minutes but Speakeasy HQ is a great venue with a cocktail bar and a tapas menu which is served to you at your cabaret table. They also have a line up of vaudeville throughout the evening so you can make a night of it in this fantastic neoclassical building (which was the original bank in Melbourne to store all the gold coming in from the gold mining era).

2.5 Stars

Friday 28 September 2018

Willem Richards IRL - Comedy Review

What: Willem Richards IRL
When: 25 - 30 September 2018
Where: The Dock, Courthouse Hotel
Created and performed by: Willem Richards
Willem Richards
Willem Richards is a sketch comedian who has been gracing our Comedy and Fringe Festival stages for a couple of years now. This Fringe Festival he is in the incredibly intimate venue of The Dock at The Courthouse Hotel.

The Dock is possibly the tiniest space I have ever encountered and for a man who likes to work with props - large props - in his comedy routine, it was a very untenable space for Richards. Having said that, he made good use of what little space he had.

Willem Richards IRL is probably not his best work. The ideas were random and transitions were awkward to say the least. Having said that, watching him perform had a warmth, charm and good will which reminded me of when you help your best mate prepare for a performance or a big speech or some such. It was awkward but we were all cheering him along.

Richards had some very funny moments. My favourite was the Thai massage. If you have ever had one you will be able to relate completely to the contortionist antics very cleverly staged by Richards. I had very real belly laughs as I recalled my one (very painful) encounter with this so-called relaxation service.

I was also very impressed with his douchebag hat collection. After a series of douchbag hats, context required hats, and numerous others, he very rightly asks what is happening to our society?

The show goes on to investigate acting techniques and dating, as well as interogating the father/son relationship which seems to be a key theme in all his shows to date. It all ends on a high note with a game show with a dream making prize.

Willem Richards IRL is light-hearted, harmless fun. It is perhaps a show in development rather than a finished product.

2 Stars

Thursday 27 September 2018

Dudebox - Cabaret Review

What: Dudebox
When: 26 - 28 September 2018
Where: Ballroom, The Lithuanian Club
Created and performed by: Beau Heartbreaker, Becky Lou, Lily Fish, Po Po Mo Co, The Travelling Sisters, et al
Beau Heartbreaker
Dudebox is a fun celebration of feminist comedy surrounding the concept of 'the dude'. Playing at The Lithuanian Club as part of this years Melbourne Fringe Festival, a group of like minded comediennes bring us a frolicking gallery of masculinity which will have you laughing from beginning to end.

Not the most technically perfect show you've ever seen, Dudebox is incredibly rich in ideas with a barrel full of gender commentary and feminist question marks which will give you something to think about once all the laughter subsides. Investigating issues around masculinity and femininity, this cohort of comic and clowning colleagues take us on a wild ride which will leave you amused, bemused, bedazzled, and with a feisty pep in your step.

The Travelling Sisters kick it all off by having Darryl, Berwick, and Vince greet the audience. I think there might have been a spark between Vince and I...just saying ;)

The show began with probably the weakest skit of the night with a tribute to Hanson's 'MMMBop'. It is timely because a video has recently been doing the Facebook rounds of Hanson doing a sit down version - revisiting past glories. The skit references their original video and for those of us who remember it, it is really funny, but I am not sure if it will read more generally.

Also, it is lip synced and the syncing is atrocious. My pet peeve though (and this happens in nearly every show I see with lip syncing in Melbourne) is that the music was too soft. Why don't performers understand that for lip syncing the music has to be loud to work? If it isn't, the whole thing just fizzles into looking like a fish out of water gasping for air.

Things improved mightily from there though. Beau Heartbreaker came out and sang to us about the joys of holidaying in caravan parks. I really don't think I will be doing that any time soon.

In an ensemble skit of the finest calibre, perhaps my favourite performance of the night was the hen's party sketch. Fish questions the feminist dialogue around marriage with penis glasses on, and a fireman stripper comes out eventually revealing a chiseled 6-pack and a crop top stating 'I am a feminist'. There is so much more to this fantastic sketch but you have to go to see it. I am not giving any spoilers.

There were more fantastic moments including the construction worker and Fish's best man speech. Po Po Mo Co bring us 'The Blokes' and their outrageous take on Bob Fosse choreography and the whole thing ends with Meatloaf as you never want to see him again.

I really enjoyed seeing these drag caricatures. We have a long (and sometimes sordid) history of seeing men play women on stage and it was fun to see the other side of the coin. What was especially good was that whilst the night was full of gentle fun poking, there was no 'I hate men' commentary. The feminist darts are thrown but they pop balloons, they don't draw blood.

Dudebox is not a perfect show and I think some of it has been pulled together in a hurry, but it is a great laugh, it is timely, and it questions some social systems we still forget to interrogate. It's a late show, but a great way to end a night of Fringe hub forays.

3 Stars

Wednesday 26 September 2018

The Date - Cabaret Review

What: The Date
When: 24 - 30 September 2018
Where: Downstairs, The Butterfly Club
Created by: Dean Robinson
Performed by: Stephanie Lewendon-Lowe, Dean Robinson and Megan Scolyer-Gray
Dean Robinson, Megan Scolyer-Gray and Stephanie Lewendon-Lowe
The Date is back at The Butterfly Club for Melbourne Fringe Festival after a successful season in January. With the same cast (different accompanist) the show is a jaunty and ultimately heart-warming journey through the angst of preparing for a first date.

Set in the traditionally ramshackle bedroom of a single man, The Date explores Justin's (Robinson) nervous preparation for a first date - as we learn later in the show, it is his first on a couple of very important layers. In the olden days your friend used to come around and help you prepare for important moments such as this but with unlimited talk and text plans the modern version involves sending pictures to your friend and speaking to them on speaker phone for an hour as you faff around doing and redoing your hair, etc.

Chrissie (Scolyer-Gray) is the BFF who is having a self-pitying night at home in her pyjamas and supporting Justin through this momentous occassion. She listens to his clothing angst, his meeting angst, his other potential romances angst, and keeps him heading in the right direction. It is when she hangs up things go awry as good and bad exes start popping up until the doorbell rings...

The Date is cute and fun with, for the most part, an unexpected selection of song choices. Yes, 'Let It Go' did come up, but one of the great features of The Date is the song arrangements which were creative and unusual.

Robinson has a lot of versatility as an actor and really does pull at the heart strings with his sincerity when it really matters and the show has a heart breaking/warming ending. There is way to much hair business, though!

You can tell Robinson has had vocal training but whilst his voice is powerful his range is limited and he hasn't chosen songs which show off his strengths, particularly in the last part of the show. To be honest after Chrissie hangs up I kept thinking to myself "stop singing and just go on the goddamn date!" You could easily cut at least two of the songs at the end.

Although Robinson keeps her tucked away in the corner of the stage the real star of The Date is Scolyer-Gray. Even though she never leaves her little nook in her dressing gown her acting is superb and her powerful and skillful singing blows the roof off The Butterfly Club. Robinson and Scolyer-Gray do a number of duets (my favourite was the 'Holding Out For A Hero'/'Gimme Gimme Gimme' medley) and a few solo numbers.

Kudos to Lewendon-Lowe, the accompanist too. She is a powerhouse on the piano and kept the show pacy and dynamic.

The Date is an early show and is a great way to transition from a day at work to a night of Fringe fun and frolics. The Butterfly Club cocktail of the week is the Nana's Nightcap and I can personally attest to it's refreshing delight. Who says 5:15pm is too early to start drinking? With apple slices tucked into the glass that makes it healthy, right?

2.5 Stars

Tuesday 25 September 2018

The Phoenix Rises: The Second Cuming of Juniper Wilde - Cabaret Review

What: The Phoenix Rises - The Second Cuming of Juniper Wilde
When: 20 - 25 September 2018
Where: Errol's
Created and performed by: Alexandra Hines
Alexandra Hines
The Phoenix Rises is the follow up cabaret to Hines' successful Comedy Festival show I.M. Immortal earlier this year. Playing at Errol's it is the next step in Juniper Wilde's (Hines) career which sees her moving from pop icon to New Age transcendental meditation guide.

Juniper Wilde has escaped from an enlightenment camp - a step up from the rehabilitation institutions she was in and out of previously - and found her new purpose in life. Juniper has found peace and centredness and has built a new Vegas megashow of which she is giving us a preview version - a very, very, very, reduced version. "It's a blessing."

The room is filled with smoke and incense (health warning) as the audience enter and are seated and Juniper greets everyone individually, making us feel welcome and relaxed. Then the show begins.

From a cloud of serenity Juniper explodes into a high energy pop number. Juniper Wilde is some sort of hybrid star with elements of Britney, Madonna, and Lady Gaga - she is probably the best elements of them all, complete with wardrobe malfunctions. "It's a blessing."

Playing on the tropes of all the pop-psychology surrounding meditation and wellness, Juniper takes us back - no that's not far enough - to our childhood - no that's not far enough - to being a helpless babe in arms suckling at our mother's teat. Yes, we are all searching for our mother's love and Juniper finds it in the arms of some poor unsuspecting audience member who is destined to don a maternity bra and burp her after feeding.

I heard a guy behind me say "that's hot". I don't understand men at all! "It's a blessing."

There are fun reprises from I.M. Immortal including the brilliant 'Fuck The Partriarchy'. It also turns out Juniper did land a small role in Neighbours and went on to stalk Rob Mills. In an attempt to create a reality TV show, she knocks on his door but as he points out, he knows what a reality TV show is - "I've been on 6 of them" - and this is not reality TV.

The Phoenix Rises is funny and insightful. I did not see I.M. Immortal but from what I have read, I would suggest this show lacks some of the heart and honesty of its predecessor. It runs at a slightly frantic and anxious pace.

There is a lot of audience participation but I have some reservations about audience consent. There doesn't seem to be an opt out although most of what we were asked to do was fairly passive. I also have a bit of a question about cultural appropriation at the end with the use of the feathered headdress but I think it is an artifact from the first show so it does work as a linkage perhaps.

The Phoenix Rises is a fun and frenetic show with some fantastic home truths about the meditation and wellness industry. Oh, and no actual dolphins are eaten in the making of this event. "It's a blessing".

3 Stars

Monday 24 September 2018

Pinky Promise - Theatre Review

What: Pinky Promise
When: 21 - 26 September 2017
Where: LongPlay
Written and directed by: Rebecca Perich
Performed by: Holly Dodd and Emily Joy
Holly Dodd and Emily Joy
I think I just stumbled across the next big name in Australian theatre last night when I saw Pinky Promise at LongPlay. Amazing actors working with great detail and delicacy on one of the most intriguing plays I have seen in a long time and directed to perfection by the playwright, Perich.

Pinky Promise is the story of two sisters, but the tale is told backwards and in a sort of zig zag motion. I was totally enthused by Perich's way of telling this story, giving us little snippets, moving on, and then returning to backfill information. It was an amazing post-truth reminder that there is a difference between what we see with no context and how things change when context is applied.

The play starts by B (Joy) showing A (Dodd) a jewelry receipt she found in her boyfriend's pocket and which she assumes is for an engagement ring. Don't get side tracked though. This is not a romance story. Pinky Promise is a story outlining the depth and complexity of a relationship which starts at birth and develops in moments of celebration, teasing, and despair. 

Can you ever be 100% happy for someone who has hurt you badly? Can you ever completely cut yourself off from someone you shared your secret childhood crush with? Can you ever truly hate someone who made you laugh by farting in your face? Can you every truly forgive someone who abandoned you in a crisis situation?

Growing up is never easy and the home life of A and B is one with some complications many people don't have to live through. In the script Perich does not avoid the tough times just as she allows the audience to fully embrace the moments of great beauty and joy as these two sisters learn about love and loss and...well... life. What she does do is lead us gently where she needs us to go to truly understand these women trying to find what it is to be sisters as adults which is a very different thing to being sisters as children.

Dodd and Joy understand the delicacy and nuance of Perich's writing perfectly, and their relationship is as completely believable as it is complex. One of the things I absolutely adored about their performances was their ability to avoid falling into the almost universal trap of playing their child selves as caricatures. Neither of them overplayed at any point. They aged down but they did not dumb down or fall into stereotypes or parodies.

To add to the exciting writing style and the nuanced acting, also layered in is Perich's incredible skill as a director. LongPlay is not a space with much in the way of facilities. It is a small end stage and I don't think it has 3 phase power and definitely no lighting grid. Perich has cleverly used a few standard lamps and placed them to create wonderful angles and atmosphere, a bit of strobing, and when a wash was needed, we got that too. I was pretty darn impressed, let me tell you!

As well, Perich has created a really strong sound design which is beautifully integrated to the production and enhances the work perfectly. It is rare to see such a complete and well produced piece of work and when gems such as Pinky Promise come along you know you are seeing something incredibly extraordinary.

Sadly, you won't be able to see the show as I saw it because the performers have to go on to other projects. Having said that, Pinky Promise is continuing on for a few more days and being presented as staged readings for the rest of their Fringe season and I still highly recommend you go and see it for the incredible writing and direction alone. I am confident the actors will be great too.

4.5 Stars

Sunday 23 September 2018

Beasts - Theatre Review

What: Beasts
When: 19 - 30 September 2018
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Written by: Juan Radrigan
Directed by: Jaime Wilson-Ramirez
Performed by: Camilo Cortissoz, Alejandra Marin, Natalia Nazir and Samantha Urquijo-Garcia
Design by: The Bridge
Sound by: Abraham Dunovitos
Video and stage management by: Luis Gaitan
Samantha Urquijo-Garcia, Alejandra Marin, and Natalia Nazir
It is always exciting to see the stories of other cultures played on Melbourne stages, and even more so when they have the authenticity of being performed and produced by that same culture. Beasts, which is playing at La Mama Courthouse until the 30th brings us all of that authenticity and satisfaction even though the story is one of great pain and desperation.

An English adaptation of the Chilean play Las Brutas by Juan Radrigan, Beasts is the dramatisation of a real family of three sisters who lived in an intensely remote community in Chile and were found hanged one day in 1974 tied together and hung from a rock with their dogs, their goats slaughtered on the ground below them. No one will ever know what really happened, but there were rumours of ritual suicide and of government interference (it was the era of the Pinochet regime and human rights atrocities were not uncommon at that time).

Radrigan is a writer who focused on the plight of the poor and the disenfranchised. He lived through the poverty and hyper-inflation of the Allende communist regime and then became long term unemployed upon the installation of the Pinochet dictatorship which, despite it's so-called redemption of market forces, was itself experiencing hyper-inflation and heading to a second depression in 1982.  Whilst not in the depths of the recession, Radrigan's Las Brutas hit the stages in 1980 and the tone of hopelessness and endless endemic poverty are very much a mirror of his lived socio-economic history.

Radrigan tries to imagine what those last months and days must have been like for those women. Emerging from a harsh and uncompromising winter, Luciana (Nazir) looks forward to Summer, but as the oldest sister, Justa (Urquijo-Garcia), says "It ain't ever gonna not be Winter". There is a lot about this play which reminds me of Chekhov's Three Sisters, in particular Luciana's yearning to be somewhere else, to have something else, to escape...

The Quispe Cardoza sisters had a remote goat farm at least a couple of days by mule from any form of society. Contact with people is rare and the only real thing to look forward to is the travelling salesman Don Javier (Cotissoz), who comes to their farm to trade with them in the warmer months. Don Javier is a dangerous man though, because he brings hopes and dreams and a modern world of money, governments, and electricity. Luciana sees these as wonders, Justa knows they are threats, and Lucia has no fight left in her anymore.

Wilson-Ramirez has directed Beasts with a heavy air of fatigue. Directorially the suggestion is it is fatigue and hopelessness and an inability to adapt which kills the women. Whilst this creates a powerful piece of theatre, I am not so sure this is the play Radrigan has written.

There is back story to the women's isolation. Whilst there is the contemporary social commentary about poverty and the socio-economic changes Chile was experiencing, these women are so remote they don't know what "Mr Government" is, or what money is, or what electric lighting is despite it being 1974.

The issues influencing these women are much more primal. Their isolation was more than one would expect in this era. It emerges there was a rape and a betrayal by their father's business partner, and it becomes clear - at least from the point of view of Justa (and possibly their father when he was alive) - that withdrawal and isolation is their solution to prevent pain and reduce fear. In the case of these sisters, the isolation they rail against and bemoan is self-inflicted and Don Javier is a mechanism to demonstrate this as he tries to sell them pretty clothes and invites them to a party.

The dangers of peer group pressure also come into play and there are echoes of Lord of the Flies in how Justa uses Lucia to quell and control Luciana into living this lifestyle she does not want. At one point one of the sisters says "We are the beasts" and it is this feral quality I am missing from the production. Even just the slightest hint would help us understand why Luciana, at least, doesn't work harder to engage with the outside world she dreams of. It is not distance which keeps them isolated, it is the will to reach out.

Having said that, Beasts is a magical night of theatre with the ghosts of people long past haunting the stage along with the characters in the play. I really enjoyed the sound design by Gaitan. Some really creative and non-literal choices bring us moments of dissonance which are not in any way out of place, but bring us back to our thinking mind to consider what it is we are seeing and how it is all coming to pass.

Beasts is a somber piece of theatre, but it is a great show which has been very well considered and produced. Beasts is unlike most of what you will see in the Melbourne Fringe Festival this year and I personally welcomed the change and also the depth of story and ideas. I will say there is a content warning and if you have issues with depression make sure you have access to your support network.

4 Stars

Saturday 22 September 2018

Night Terrors - Theatre Review

What: Night Terrors
When: 14 - 30 September 2018
Where: Bluestone Church Arts Space
Written by: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Briony Kidd, Edgar Allan Poe, and Saki
Directed by: Simon J Green
Performed by: Caitlin Mathieson
Design by: Jaz Wickson
Caitlin Matheison
Night Terrors is a spooky night of story telling in the great English tradition. Taking place in the Bluestone Church Art Space in Footscray, Mathieson tells four toe-curling stories which will make your hair stand on end and then giggle to release the tension.

Night Terrors is in its third Melbourne Fringe iteration, with the others taking place in 2014 and 2016. In both previous productions the narrator was concept creator Stefan Taylor, but this year Taylor has stepped aside and Caitlin Mathieson takes over the reins with skill, confidence and a great deal of aplomb.

Each time the show is produced, the stories change a bit. I don't know if it was Taylor or Green who chose this year, but this wonderful quartet of spine-chilling monologues is perfectly suited to the changing of the guard.

Three of the stories told - 'The Tell-tale Heart' by Edgar Allan Poe, 'The Yellow Wallpaper' by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and 'The Open Window' by Saki - are straight from the heyday of the horror genre, the 1800s. Slipped in amongst this pedigree collection is 'The Keepsake', a story written by Tasmanian writer Briony Kidd and it is as sure-footed in tone and effect as all of the others.

Wickson has created the perfect environment for an evening of chilling tales, using the architecture of the old church as the foundation upon which she has layers simple icons such as a chaise longue, tapestry rug, and a dressing screen which is creatively and evocatively used by Green in two of the pieces. Mathieson's costume is equally as well thought out and integrated with just enough in the detail - such as the selection of materials - to place us in a foreign time and place, but with still enough modernity to not allow us to disassociate completely...keeping it real as it were.

A great deal of effort has also been made to make the performance accessible, so they have a monitor which has been mounted on an easel which has the show captioned and presented in sign language. Rather than hanging this technology out as an oddity, the mounting of the screen, putting it in the space, and then incorporating it somewhat into the design shows a stunning and rare commitment to the ideas of accessibility. It also means it is accessible every night, not just on the nights the company can afford to hire an Auslan interpreter.

And don't worry, after a first glance to register it's presence, this level of integration means it is easy to ignore if you don't need it and Mathieson's storytelling skills are more than up to the task of keeping our attention locked on her for the the entire show.

The difference between a nightmare and a night terror is the first is hard to get rid of once you are awake. A night mare lingers in the mind beyond the realm of sleep. Night terrors will cause you to scream, but they won't wake you and once you are awake you will probably not even remember them happening at all. I love the name Night Terrors for this event because it is not designed to cause you to lose sleep.

Instead Night Terrors is an evening which embraces the spooky, but also the absurd. As much as you will be horrified as Gilman's woman becomes the very creature she has been fascinated by, you will also laugh as Saki's young lady plays the ultimate practical joke.

Night Terrors has a sound track and lighting which all work to support every aspect of tension building and suspense. Shadows loom, and silhouettes lurk as Mathieson creeps around the stage burying bodies, locking doors, and innocently drinking tea as the people around her are befuddled and bewildered - and in one case beheaded.

It is well worth the trip to Footscray to see this show and on the 23rd the producers, The X Gene, are putting on a special event so you should probably go twice - once to see this reviewed version of the show and once to check out the Emergence version! This Sunday The X Gene are presenting Night Terrors: Emergence in which they have invited a group of talented female theatre makers to reinterpret the stories their way.

4 Stars

Friday 21 September 2018

Stark. Dark. Albert Park - Theatre Review

What: Stark. Dark. Albert Park
When: 14 - 22 September 2018
Where: Studio Theatre, Gasworks
Concept by: Clare Mendes
Written by: Russell Bywater, Alec Gilbert, Clare Mendes, Mazz Ryan, and Bruce Shearer
Directed by: Elizabeth Walley
Performed by: Emma Cox, Alec Gilbert, Cosima Gilbert, Isabella Gilbert, Kyle Roberts and Mazz Ryan
Cosima and Isabella Gilbert - photo by John Edwards
Monologues are all the rage on Melbourne stages this year it seems, but to be fair, Melbourne Writers' Theatre (MWT) have a long tradition of exploring this performance form. This year, as part of Melbourne Fringe Festival this creative team bring us a wonderful collection of 5 short form monologues celebrating the local area in Dark. Stark. Albert Park.

On a bright, sunny day Mendes took the MWT team to Albert Park for inspiration and then sent them to their writing desks, pen in hand, to explore their ideas and Stark. Dark. Albert Park is the result. Exploring both the history and the personalities which make up the Port Phillip ecology, this collection rambles from past to present and back again and these musings are brought to wonderful life by a troupe of exciting actors which feature (my personal favourites) the Gilbert sisters.

Everyone is great but I have a bit of a fan obsession with Cosima and Isabella and watching them work together in Bywater's 'Happy Little...' as the sisters who came up with the name of Vegemite is a delight on so many levels. Bywater has written a fun, energetic and contemporary piece which looks at why two sisters won fifty pounds in a lucky dip to name this "black/brown, tart, sour sandwich spread" - which was a fortune back then - but then went right back to work on the factory floor and never left home. This sketch is an insightful commentary on female socio-economics of Melbourne in the 1920s. Walley has directed the Gilbert sisters to create a physically and verbally pacey presentation which challenges and displays all of their incredible skills and talents to the highest order.

Walley has used the conceit of snapshotting the history of Albert Park through these monologues but has cleverly used the construct of a giant portrait frame to acknowledge the historical aspects of much of the work. Each performer steps into or out of the frame at some point to acknowledge their place in the 'gallery'. It is a conceit which works well and is kicked off strongly in the first monologue 'Darke's Arts' by Bruce Shearer. In this monologue Roberts embodies the pioneer surveyor W.H. Darke who helped map the Melbourne city streets and who first settled on the "sandy ridge" which was to become Port Melbourne.

Mazz Ryan brings us into the present with 'Teddy Bear' which is a humorous look at dog culture including the trauma's of pet sitting, and the absurdity of dog cafes. Still keeping things fairly current Mendes has written a monologue which ostensibly highlights the fight to get the Grand Prix out of Albert Park. Unfortunately, the issue of bisexuality is conflated with this protest movement and it is a bit confusing as to what the actual connection is. I am not saying there isn't one but I am saying it is not clear in this work. Cox presents 'Invisible Petition' with great skill and a naturalistic performance to admire.

The evening ends on a faaaabulous note with Alec Gilbert portraying his version of Frank Thring in 'The Thring is...' Thring was a huge international star who came from humble beginnings in his little theatre in Middle Park to go on to dominate British stages with his masterful portrayal of Herod in Salome. He then went on to Hollywood to appear as Pontius Pilate in Ben Hur and a number of other epic films of that era including working with the great Cecil B. DeMille before returning to Melbourne.

Gilbert has written a wonderful monologue which starts from the point when Thring is King of Moomba in 1982. The day is ridiculously rainy and as he stands there sodden, Thring recounts his life and how he ended up in this circumstance. Whilst Gilbert does not have the girth of Thring, he certainly has the skills to remind us of the flamboyance and wicked wit Thring was known for. The whole event ends with a nod to Moomba (and perhaps a slight nod to Olivia Newton-John?) as the whole thing ends in a glorious and joyous party.

I really enjoyed Stark. Dark. Albert Park. I loved that it celebrated the community, I loved that it was grounded in history as well as the people culture of the area, and I think it was really well curated and presented. This is the kind of thing MWT do so well for Melbourne and in some ways, this is a great part of what I think our arts should be doing more of. There are only a couple more days to see this, so do make your way down to Gasworks.

3.5 Stars

Make Your Move - Theatre Review

What: Make Your Move
When: 19 - 22 September 2018
Where: Studio Theatre, Gasworks
Concept by: Gemma Flannery
Performed by: Louisa Carpentri, Tara Kennedy, Luke Livermore, Hayley Marlow, and Robyn Mclachlan
Tara Kennedy, Robyn Mclachlan and Hayley Marlow
Make Your Move is a devised piece of theatre created around the idea everyone has a moment or moments in their life when they must make a decision which will alter the course of their lives forever. It is playing at Gasworks as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival for four nights only, so blink and you'll miss it.

Since moving to Melbourne Flannery has taken to teaching devised theatre and has created Make Your Move with a group of people interested in exploring this form in more depth. Working in the mode established by companies such as Frantic Assembly and Forced Entertainment, Flannery gathered this ensemble together and explored the idea as well as the individual skills and talents each performer brings to come up with this intriguing production.

Kennedy and Marlow really shone in the characters they developed. Kennedy stood out as Sarah, the spoilt and narcissistic young woman, and Marlow positively shone as Gidget, the flower selling university drop out and she has fantastic comic instincts. Mclachlan gave a steadying performance as Eve, the woman who is still far too attached to her dead husband. Livermore was probably the least convincing as an alcoholic gaming addict.

These characters find themselves in a game show where they are forced to face the decision they don't want to make. This is a great idea and my one disappointment is so much time is spent setting up these characters, but we don't get to find out what happens once they 'make their move'.

Spattered throughout is a vignette which repeats a major life decision by another pair of characters. This scenario plays in several iterations of indecision. I really loved this idea and eventually the audience gets to join in as noone on stage can decide what to do.

As with a lot of post-truth work, the Brechtian techniques of breaking down the fourth wall and alienating the performance from performing feature strongly in Make Your Move, and the audience leave with a gift and a challenge. Or is it two gifts?

Make Your Move is an intriguing hour of theatre. Gasworks has quite an enticing Fringe program this year so I encourage you to make a night of it. Book in for this show and one or two others on the same night and take a wild ride of ideas and stories.

2.5 Stars

Thursday 20 September 2018

Dog Show - Theatre Review

What: Dog Show
When: 14 - 22 September 2018
Where: The Warehouse, Arts House
Created by: Simone French, Cassandra Fumi, Tom Halls and Alex Roe
Directed by: Cassandra Fumi
Performed by: Simone French, Adam Ibrahim, Cassandra Kumashov and Alex Roe
Alex Roe
Dog Show is a volatile cocktail of canine energy which can normally only be found at a dog show. Riffing along similar lines to the 2000 movie Best In Show, Hotel Now have brought their manic and outrageously hilarious show to this years Melbourne Fringe Festival.

I suspect Tom Halls and Simone French have a bit of a fascination with the year 2000 because the other two works I have seen from Hotel Now also have their roots in that year. Both What's Yours Is Mine and How To Kill The Queen of Pop (a hit of last year's Fringe Festival) referenced that year as well, although this one could be a coincidence...

Dog Show had it's first iteration as part of La Mama's 'Explorations' series in December 2017 and it is exciting to see how the show has developed and evolved over time. A physically intense piece of theatre - how could it not be with a chihuahua, afghan, and whippet as the stars? - this clowning, dance, drag overload hooks you from the pre-performance framing to the very last second of the show leaving you with a huge smile on your face whilst also contemplating some serious questions about animal rights and the mental health of human beings.

Before the show begins Roger (Ibrahim), Benjamin (Roe), and Cara (French) come out and chat with the audience. They introduce themselves and their dogs and pass out cards with instructions to the audience. One of the genius dramaturgies of Dog Show is how they use the audience to build momentum and mania on top of the work the 5 piece drum kit does - played by the phenomenal Kumashov, ringmaster extraordinaire, throughout.

We always hear talk of how pet owners looks surprisingly like their pets and in Dog Show we discover how true this is. Conversely, as the actors are playing both the animals and the owners - switching between at the whim and whip of Kumashov's drums - we also see great commentary on how ridiculously pet owners dress and treat their animals too.

Dog Show is a non-stop energy fest as Cara and her dog Chichi twerk around the arena, Robert and Margareen spice things up with the salsa, and Benjamin and Darby... well, Darby is new to the arena and is a little bit unsettled... but when he remembers to march it is martial indeed! When the owners and the animals take off, it is a maelstrom of sequins, tassels, and studs flying around the stage.

We learn some of the standards for the three breeds as outlined by the American Kennel Club who have set judging standards since 1884. These criteria include length of snout, tail, state of fur, and even temperament. Did you know a chihuahua has to be saucy but not anxious? What does that even mean?

If the dog doesn't measure up, it is the dog's failing. It makes you wonder how we could ever create a world where we don't judge each other when we can't even let animals be what they are? It's not just dogs either. I know this happens with a lot of other animals, horses for example, too. And let's not even talk about child beauty contests...

Despite the heavy undertones, Fumi (director) never lets the fun sag. I admit to having a small crisis of conscience as I was laughing even whilst knowing I abhored the world I was being entertained by.

Don't worry though. After a gruelly and shocking day of parading, poking, prodding, and patronising Chichi, Darby and Margareen get to let their, fur...down and their inner animals emerge. Dogs really are quite simple creatures really and don't want or need a lot out of life.

Dog Show is ensemble performance at its finest. Rather than everyone merging into a homogenous story, a good ensemble allows every performer to shine equally, and Dog Show achieves this beyond just about anything I have seen before.

With all of the great aspects of How To Kill The Queen of Pop, Dog Show takes the skills and talents of Hotel Now even further into the stratosphere and it is so refreshing to see actors who understand the body as a communication tool as strong as the voice.

Laugh, gasp, and join in the madness and merriness of Dog Show. It could very well be one of the best things you see in the Fringe Festival this year!

4.5 Stars

Wednesday 19 September 2018

Fuckboys: The Musical - Musical Review

What: Fuckboys - The Musical
When: 18 - 23 September 2018
Where: Ballroom, The Lithuanian Club
Written and directed by: Savannah Pederson
Composition and music direction by: Nishaa Carson
Performed by: Brittany Bennett, Glenn Lorandeau, Alexander Mrazek, Maeghin Mueller, Savannah Pederson, Erin Robere, Kasea Seabrook and John Sparling
Alexander Mrazek, Kasea Seabrook, Maeghin Meuller, and Savannah Pederson
Fuckboys: The Musical has come all the way from Orlando, Florida to entertain us this year at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Playing in the Ballroom at The Lithuanian Club, the show is a brief scream of frustration about the state of modern romance before settling into a tender homage to love, respect, and facing up to whatever life throws your way.

There are a couple of things Americans do really well and Fuckboys brings us two of their greatest strengths - musicals and ensemble friend comedies. Conceived by Pederson after a bad breakup, Fuckboys centres around a group of 4 female friends who gather once a week for karaoke night at the local bar. This ritual is a little foreign to us in Australia (although there are pubs which thrive on this culture), but North Americans love karaoke which is probably why they are so good at making musicals.

Regardless, we are no strangers to pub culture and the four women cover a wonderful range of stereoptypes. Pederson is heartbroken and drowning her sorrows in bottomless bottles of gin, Mueller plays the wisecracking commitmentphobe, Bennett is the hard core career worman, and Seabrook is the all-American sweetheart.

All four women have had their share of dealings with what they call the 'fuckboy'. The stereotype described, again, doesn't quite fit Australia - I don't know any men under the age of 60 who wear socks with sliders - but it is easy to get the point. Fuckboys lie to get what they want, they don't consider your feelings, they check out other women whilst they are with you, etc. If you are man beware, you will feel very uncomfortable in the first 10 minutes, but if you can get through that you can use the rest of the show to prove to your lady just how wonderful you are by comparing yourself to the heros of the show (Mrazek and Lorandeau). Robere gives us a beautiful cameo to demonstrate a fuckboy, or as we Aussie chicks would call him - a sleaze bag.

Everyone in the show is a great singer and whilst their voices are still in development, there is no pitchiness, they all have great vocal ranges, and there are some really lovely harmonies going on. There is even a surprise song by Mrazek which is as beautiful as the relationship secretly developing between his character (the bartender) and Seabrook's.

Pederson is the real focal point of the show and her acting skills are as accomplished as her writing skills. Drowning her sorrows nightly, she finally receives therapy from a very unlikely source and finds a way to move forward. Meanwhile Bennett finds her life plan knocked off kilter and Meuller is the consumate clown, choofing her way through an Adele fixation.

Pederson and Carson have created a fun show with a wonderful balance of ballads, angry tirades, and upbeat singalongs to create a complex emotional journey through the complex world of being a single woman in the dating world today. Whilst I don't think this particular story can be expanded, I can definitely see the music going on to a bigger project with more support and main stage presentation.

I really enjoyed Fuckboys: The Musical. It has a late time slot (10:30pm) but it is a great way to finish an evening of Hub fringe going. It has the energy to get you going at the start and settles into a really great mindset which is positive and empowering without actually trying to provide a fairytale ending.

3.5 Stars

Tuesday 18 September 2018

Ross And Rachel - Theatre Review

What: Ross and Rachel
When: 18 - 23 September 2018
Where: Theatre Works
Written by: James Fritz
Directed by: Faran Martin
Performed by: Jessica Stanley
Jessica Stanley
Ross and Rachel is a monologue about Ross and...but it's not about... It is a piece of fan fiction which investigates a relationship 10 years on. Playing at Theatre Works this week as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, the play never explicity mentions names and perhaps it is a coincidence he is a professor of dinosaurs...

Despite it's sitcom provenance, content warnings apply. He has a tumor and she is at the end of her rope. Unlike the television show, Ross and Rachel does not have a happy ending. Or does it? It's all a matter of perspective I guess.

Last week, in my review for Alone Outside, I said I do not enjoy just watching people on stage talking - it is not theatrical enough for me - so you may be surprised to here me say there is a lot I liked about this performance despite so many similarities with the other show. On the surface it is a single person on stage with a square white floor and a footstool.

If you look deeper, though, it is evident why this show works so much more successfully. The first and most successful choice by Martin is the decision to play Ross and Rachel in the round. This forces Stanley to keep moving and work hard to create and maintain contact with the audience.

The second difference is the minimalist form of the production matches the non-natural writing so that Stanley becomes a conduit for a torrent of ideas, not the only fragile link. Fritz barely writes a complete sentence in Ross and Rachel. Conversation flits from moment to moment, idea to idea, and character to character with out waiting for all the words to emerge. Ross and Rachel are always together - neither of them have an identity separate from each other - and Fritz explores this idea not only in the characters and their stories, but he echoes it in his fragmented, unfinished interior monologues and dialogue.

It is unfortunate that Faran and Martin have decided to perform the play the same way it was done at Edinburgh Fringe, choosing to not work to differentiate the characters. For me this was the main failing of the show. What it meant was it takes a while to understand the form and I spent a lot of my mental energy during the rest of the show trying to keep track of who was speaking at any point in time. Naturalism has its place, but not in a non-naturally written play.

There are actually many characters in the play and I don't mean to infer Stanley should go to great clownish lengths - although Ross in Friends was a clown character so... A change of voice here, a slight shift in posture or an identifiable mannerism there would have done the trick.

You might think I am being picky, but Ross and Rachel is a fast paced roller coaster ride of ideas, relationship complexities, and difficult life moments all crammed into 60 minutes. I loved the pace, I just would have liked to have a clearer idea of what was going on at times.

Kudos to Stanley. Ross and Rachel is a marathon and not for one single second did I feel she was not in control and she never let us leave the story. I also really loved setting it in the round. Not only did it demand energy and movement and creative decision making with regard to staging, it also made us, the audience, confidentes in this incredibly private and detailed examination of a relationship in deep decay.

Ross and Rachel is perhaps not what you would expect from the title (and I would have enjoyed stronger performance references in the first part of the play), but it is definitely a work dealing with a side of relationships we rarely admit to and has a refreshing honesty which is actually the hallmark of the sitcom Friends. Beneath all the jokes was always the layer of the ugly side of humanity and Fritz has engaged with this completely.

2.5 Stars

Anti Heroine - Cabaret Review

What: Anti Heroine
When: 13 - 18 September 2018
Where: Errol's
Created and performed by: Heather Bloom
Heather Bloom
Anti Heroine is a fun and cheeky spin on comedy cabaret taking being reprised at Errol's as part of this year's Melbourne Fringe Festival. Having debuted at The Butterfly Club in 2107, Heather Bloom gives Melbourne audiences the opportunity to experience her superb singing voice whilst also reminding us of the impressive Disney catalogue of female villains.

We always hear about the Disney princesses, and we do get to meet Elsa from Frozen in some fun pre-performance framing, but the really exciting women of Disney are definitely the evil no-gooders rather than the pretty little do-gooders in pastel frocks and hair down to their ankles. The premise to Anti Heroine is Disney is casting for another Blockbuster and they are having a really hard time finding a villain for their new movie so they are re-auditioning some of the stately women of evil in their past catalogue. Everyone from Cruella de Vil to Maleficent grace the audition stage to have a second chance and prove their relevance to a modern audience.

Fear not, this is not a feminist diatribe of any sort. It is just good old fashioned fun and the story gives us a chance to experience the incredible range, skill and talent of Bloom as a singing artist. The characters are Disney but the music is far more modern, with a good dose of Britney Spears and Taylor Swift.

The cabaret standard 'Creep' does find it's way in to this show but lets face it, it is just one song so it is over in three minutes and you don't have to hear it again... until the next cabaret you attend, of course.The costumes are a lot of fun and the personalities are hilarious. My favourite is the Fairy Godmother from Cinderella who admits she could have (and should have) called in child protection services years before she appeared to create a pumpkin carriage.

Check out Anti Heroine for some light hearted laughter and a good dose of great vocals. Heather Bloom's singing should not be missed.

2.5 Stars

Sunday 16 September 2018

Alone Outside - Theatre Review

What: Alone Outside
When: 14 - 29 September 2018
Where: Studio 2, Arts House
Written by: Liz Newell
Directed by: Lyall Brooks
Composed by: Grace Ferguson
Performed by: Sharon Davis
Sharon Davis - photo by Theresa Harrison
Alone Outside is a long format monologue and is showing in Studio 2 at Arts House as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival. It is the story of a country girl who leaves for the big city by continually finds herself compelled to return home. This visit is a little different from the rest. The stakes are higher and truths emerge.

Alone Outside first premiered as part of 2017 Fringe World in Perth to rave reviews. Lab Kelpie have brought it to Melbourne Fringe, and having recently seen Oil Babies I was expecting great things.

As with Oil Babies, the production elements are immaculately produced. A gleaming white geometric floor with nothing but a single old tractor tyre in the dark void of a black end stage set up. Very visually striking.

This is where the problems begin for me. Newell has written a monologue which is lyrical and literal. Through the words you can see everything from the worn front gate, to the stars in the sky, to the beer on the bar. The world Brooks has created, however, is a minimalist surreality which is slick, sleek, and completely surreal. The only connection between the two worlds is Davis.

Davis is a fabulous actor, but an hour long monologue is a tough thing for anyone to keep engaging and the truth is I was bored after the first half hour and kept looking at my watch for the rest of the time. Part of it is Davis is playing the character on a certain level on disdain. I needed to see the love and life she has for home. For example, wouldn't she love Pancake? Pancake certainly seems to love her! We just needed some glimpses to show us why she keeps coming back.

This is not all a fault of the acting or directing either. I found myself asking why is this theatre at all? It feels more like it should be a short story in a collection of short stories. Of course, this then opens the Pandora's Box of what is theatre? As a Vorticist all I can say is we believe you should choose the most appropriate form for the story and I am not convinced the stage is the most appropriate form for this story.

There are two major twists in the story, but rather than making me gasp in pleased surprise, the first one felt gratuitous to me. I love twists and surprises, but I want to be able to look back on everything I have just seen and think to myself 'Oh yes, it was all there for me to see if only I hadn't been distracted by the red herrings'. I have thought about this deeply and whilst it is true that there is nothing in the earlier part of the story to discredit, there is also nothing in the words or performance which would lead me to ever come to that conclusion on my own.

If you are one of those people who spout the mantra that actors on stage having a conversation is more interesting than fully produced shows you should go ahead and see Alone Outside. It is perfect theatre for you.

I like my theatre to be stimulating to my mind and my senses so for me Alone Outside is hard work. Having said that, it is a high quality production. There is nothing sloppy about Alone Outside. It is unfortunately rare to find productions which pay so much attention to all levels of detail but Lab Kelpie do it with all their work.

1.5 Stars

Saturday 15 September 2018

Sleepover Gurlz - Theatre Review

What: Sleepover Gurlz
When: 15 - 23 September 2018
Where: Private residence, North Fitzroy
Created and performed by: Vidya Rajan and Emma Smith
Sound by: Xanthea O'Connor
Vidya Rajan and Emma Smith
Every girl loves a pyjama party and, let's be honest, every woman loves them too - we have just given in to the idea that grown women don't do that kind of thing. In this sentence lies the kernel of the ideas behind Sleepover Gurlz, which is a semi-interactive/immersive theatre event in this year's Melbourne Fringe Festival.

Created as a seething indictment on the strictures and absurdities placed on women to conform to societal expectations, Rajan and her alter ego Smith take us on a sleepover journey from the magic and excitement of being an 8 year old, to the mania and elasticity required to be a career woman in 2018. As a child we are all so desperate to grow up and when we grow up we just become desperate to survive.

Sleepover Gurlz has their pre-performance framing perfect as the waiting audience sit together creating paper crowns with glitter pens and laughing together. We then move into the bedroom for the sleepover. It is quite amazing how 10 people can fit in this small townhouse bedroom quite comfortably it turns out. We are all given nightgowns (in large sizes thankfully) and we watch as Rajan lies comatose across her messy bed as an endless array of phone messages reels off their demands on her time, attention and money.

With the onset of a haunting sound design by O'Connor we enter the psyche of Rajan as she dreams about her dreams which become nightmares, which become her current nightmare. Sleepover Gurlz is layer upon layer of messages from inside and outside about how to live in the world as a girl/woman and they press on Rajan relentlessly.

Smith slips between being that little voice in Rajan's head giving her advice, egging her on - 'do it!' -and leading her astray. We often talk about people as not trusting themselves and in Sleepover Gurlz the message is how can we trust ourselves when we are not allowed to be ourselves?

In between popcorn scattered all over the bed, fairy lights and Disney princesses Rajan learns her role in life is to have babies and have an A-list high power career. The problem is her vagina smells, she has hair on her body and - well - she's a woman and you can't give good jobs to women. Women are only good for typing, after all.

Smith and Rajan have created a powerful experience and Smith is something of an Energiser bunny with a mania that never ends. She is the epitome of a mind always racing to figure out how to play the game of life.

Sleepover Gurlz is a lot of fun and there are some fantastic moments with the audience and lots of laughter. We all get names (not unlike Blood Is Thicker Than Hummus) and we all become part of their world as we munch on the snacks we bring.

My one concern is the show is so manic from the very beginning and there is a lot going on so it does become a bit exhausting. Luckily this is Fringe and nothing is longer than an hour because, to be honest, I was tired at the end. A little bit more dramaturgy on the story arc would allow the audience to develop a sense of growing anxiety and frustration as Rajan goes on to do ridiculous things to her body and mind to succeed in this world as a woman.

Of course the scariest part of this story is that it is all true and if you are a woman you have probably done all of this yourself. There is something weirdly disconcerting about laughing about how badly you have treated yourself even when you know what is being asked is beyond ridiculous and completely unachievable.

I also had a  bit of trouble keeping track of the role Smith was playing as she seemed to slip between best friend and alter ego. That might have been my own misconceptions but I think more could be done to clarify that.

Sleepover Gurlz doesn't really say anything new, but it is good to keep reflecting back what the experience of being female in the world is for us - especially for those who say we have equality now. It is a great Fringe experience and goes well as an amuse bouche for a night of Fringe going at other venues (a lot like when you meet up at a friend's place to get ready for a night of clubbing). Don't forget to bring snacks!!!

2.5 Stars

Friday 14 September 2018

The Mouse - Theatre Review

What: The Mouse
When: 18 - 23 September 2017
Where: MC Showrooms
Written by: Clancy Fraser
Directed by: Bianca Lyndon
Performed by: Cassandra Bleechmore, Clancy Fraser, and Dominic Westcott
Clancy Fraser and Dominic Westcott
Clancy Fraser is one of Melbourne's most talented stage writers of psychological thrillers and this Fringe she has brought us another gem - The Mouse. The Mouse is showing at The MC Showroom in Prahran until the 23rd. If you like your theatre spooky and nail biting this is the show to see.

I first came across Fraser's work last year with Amnesia and I love the writing in The Mouse just as much. I was thoroughly engaged right up to the very last moment and my mind was constantly second guessing itself as the story unfolded.

The Mouse is a classic Hitchock style thriller investigating the relationship between two sisters. Claire (Fraser) is the more successful of the two and has gone on to get married and run her own business. Beth (Bleechmore) on the other hand, has been living with and caring for their ailing mother and has no job skills to speak of. The mother has died, the will has been read, and everything has been left to Claire. This is where the story begins.

In the days following, Claire and her husband Rob (Westcott) stay to help Beth sort things out. What unfolds are the deep and dark secrets between husband and wife and siblings. Throw in some ominous sleep walking, food allergies, phsychological conditions, and financial distress and The Mouse has all the ingredients for danger from all directions.

The script is a little bit confusing at the start, but once it settles in and we understand the variables, Fraser leads us on a tension building journey which has been competently handled by Lyndon with some great staging choices in a venue with some limitations. My only suggestion is I would have liked a few more red herrings from both the writing and the direction, but I was completely satisfied with what I got. So satisfied I greedily want more, I guess.

Fraser is not only a great writer, she is also an incredibly accomplished actress with a centredness and assurity which leaves the audience feeling confident she will take us where we need to go. My main concern for all the cast really, is they need to work on their projection.

Westcott gives a great performance in the second half of the play as husband Rob, but he is a little loose at the beginning. Lyndon doesn't have much by way of production to help built the suspense and tension so there is a greater burden on the actors. In this play, as the outsider character, Westcott needs to start winding that tension from the very beginning. The unease in the audience builds in syncopation with Rob and every time Westcott relaxed we relaxed as well, which let us off the hook. Never let us off the hook!

I think the potential in the role of Beth was a little beyond Bleechmore at this point in her development as an actor, but she did well as the home staying younger child. Her natural youth and innocence hid many of the character's sins and gave us space to scare ourselves in our own imagination.

If you like Hitchcock films you really are going to have a great time at The Mouse. I really can't wait to see Fraser's next play. She is getting me hooked!

3.5 Stars

Thursday 13 September 2018

Blood Is Thicker Than Hummus - Theatre Review

What: Blood Is Thicker Than Hummus
When: 13 - 23 September 2018
Where: Siteworks
Created by: Pearce Hessling and Catherine Holder
Performed by: Pearce Hessling, Catherine Holder, and Melina Wylie
Pearce Hessling and Catherine Holder - photo by Sarah Steiner
Blood Is Thicker Than Hummus is a fun family affair which will leave you with a big smile on your face. It is an immersive Fringe experience at Siteworks and only 10 people at a time can indulge. Luckily they are doing 2 shows a night!

Holder and Hessling delight in creating intimate personal experiences for their audiences such as Sonder which Holder presented in 2017. Blood Is Thicker Than Hummus is not quite as intimate but perhaps in many ways it is just as personal.

In Blood Is Thicker Than Hummus you are attending a family dinner and you become the family. Eschewing your real identity at the door, you take on the name of a person in the Parker family and as you wait for dinner to be served (think Waiting For Godot), the family drama between twins Patrick and Penelope are played out in your presence with their mother Pamela fanning the flames rather than putting them out.

Over the course of the evening the indoctrination of the children is played out with mantras written on the wall, naughty corners, and a puppet teaching song to keep the siblings in line. None of it works of course and Penelope and Patrick bicker and quibble their way through the hour, challenging each other's beliefs on issues such as mysticism and sustainability, all the while trying to drag their relatives (the audience) on to their side.

All large family dinners are awkward, and this one is on steroids because so much is packed into a short time. I found myself thinking I would love to attend an extended format which allowed the audience to get more involved.

Because of the Fringe time restraints the presentation aspects of the show had to be hurried through. The audience did have time to create relationships and some character, particularly at the start whilst setting the table and helping in the kitchen, but once the 'story' got going it became a more passive affair. Having said that, we were laughing all the way (between awkward pauses where too much information was suddenly dropped like a bomb in the room).

The true genius of Blood Is Thicker Than Hummus is its ability to identify the stressors which tear family apart, but also the glue which holds them together. Opposing ideologies sit alongside Aunty May's ashes on the mantle piece and the evening ends with everyone smiling and laughing in the loungeroom, happy to have come even though bellies are left empty. (My tip: do drink the Kool-Aid but don't eat the peanuts!)

The show has an 80's aesthetic for some reason, but that just makes it more comical and cartoonish. Hessling's Patrick is wonderfully bratty and Wylie is great as the oversharing, incompetent mother. Holder plays the trucculent introvert perfectly but my concern is that type of character in this setting kind of disappears as she becomes this person hiding in the corner playing on her phone. An authentic stereotype but lacking in interactive theatricality perhaps?

Blood Is Thicker Than Hummus is a fun and unique Fringe experience so get yourself down to Siteworks for your own family dinner. You just may want to eat before you arrive... And as I said, I really hope they expand this project in the future as there is so much more scope for the interactive side of the idea.

3.5 Stars

Wednesday 12 September 2018

Two Animals - Theatre Review

What: Two Animals (that don't traditionally get along)
When: 10 - 16 September 2018
Where: Downstairs, The Butterfly Club
Written by: Rian Howlett
Performed by: Jessica Ciancio, Mitchell Holland and Rian Howlett
Mitchell Holland and Jessica Ciancio

Two Animals (that don't traditionally get along) is a punny take on Satre's No Exit, with a super-objective of attempting to overcome racism. It is being played at The Butterfly Club all this week.

A simple technique to help the audience avoid a sense of threat and defensiveness with challenging work is to use puppets, alter-egos, or - in this case - turn the cast into animals. Howlett does this by making his characters a giraffe (Holland) and a penguin (Cianco). The giraffe Harold - no relation - and the penguin Franky - formerly Pingu - have escaped from the zoo and are making their own way in the world now that they are free to do and be what they want.

With his head in the clouds, Harold has become an academic with lots of lofty theoretical ideas and musings. Meanwhile Franky has kept her feet on the ground and has spent her time being  ... a penguin. They meet up waiting in line at a bookshop to buy a new edition of Mein Kampf in which the translator has found new nuances.

Mein Kampf is really more of a pointer to help us understand this work is about racism and doesn't really go beyond the set up. Racism is continually referenced, but to be honest I left feeling the show is more about intolerance generally, and social prejudice rather than actual racism. This could be a problem with the writing because although there was a lot of discussion about how racist each of them were, there was never any real indication of it in their actions or any recollections of significance which made me go 'ooh, that's racist!'

Holland and Ciancio did a great job and Ciancio's penguin was very convincing throughout. Holland's giraffe was less giraffe-like, but his character certainly was the epitome of an out of touch academic. Pitting the practical, no-nonsense penguin with the philosophical giraffe worked well as metaphors for socio-economic positioning, but by giving them this point of difference diluted the red-neck aspects of Franky and turned the effect into one of social privilege rather than race.

There was a brief glimmer of Hitler's 'might makes right' policy when Harold refuses to believe what Franky is telling him and then force feeds her a suspect souvlaki and that's when everything goes a bit wierd. The lights change and suddenly there is the voice of...Gibbler?

As in the world created by Sartre, the two animals find themselves locked in a room with each other and they have to find a way out and they can only do it by working together. Barriers of intolerance and assumption must be overcome if there is any hope of escape.

This all sound very serious but there are a lot of puns and Holland's performance is particularly over the top and comedic. The problem is, just like the character of Harold, this play is all ideas and no substance.

Racism is a harsh and loaded word and there needs to be something firm on which it stands. It is thought turned into action (or inaction) which is harmful to a certain ethnic group of people just because they belong to that group. Howlett tosses the word around a lot in Two Animals but it seems to be just philosophical concepts in this play. Perhaps the giraffe and penguin are just too friendly and get along too well at the start so we don't get an arc in their relationship.

I think we are in different times to Sartre and this kind of pure philosophy has no impact in a post-dramatic world. Where is the pain? Where is the fear? Yes, it is a comedy, but is this parody of children's TV the right format for such a conversation? It might be better as satire where it can connect as well as distract.

Two Animals (that don't traditionally get along) is best served with a couple of cocktails under your belt so you can let go of deep thinking and enjoy these odd creatures fighting over a souvlaki because there are some really good laughs in the show. Luckily, it is at The Butterfly Club where cocktails are the specialty of the house!

2 Stars

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