Saturday, 8 December 2018

Romeo & Juliet - Theatre Review

What: Romeo & Juliet
When: 6 - 16 December 2018
Where: The Rose Garden, St Kilda Botanical Gardens
Written by: William Shakespeare
Directed by: Jennifer Sarah Dean
Musical direction by: Ben Colley
Performed by: Lucy Best, Benjamin Colley, Matthew Connell, Anthony Craig, Lilliana Dalton, Carly Ellis, Tref Gare, Ayesha Gibson, Joanna Halliday, Emma Jevons, and Hunter Perske, John Reed, Karl Richmond, Paul Robertson, Andy Song, and Emily Thompson
Choreography by: John Reed
Set by: Karli-Rose Laredo
Costumes by: Rhiannon Irving
Karl Richmond, Carly Ellis, and Matthew Connell - photo by Burke Photography
It is summer in Melbourne and time for all our garden Shakespeare companies to draw theatre goers and families out into the waning evening sunlight for magical mystery tours of theatre from our Anglo-patri-colonial past. The first off the blocks this year is Melbourne Shakespeare Company with that romantic old favourite, Romeo & Juliet, which is being performed in the stunning rose garden at the St Kilda Botanical Gardens.

Melbourne Shakespeare Company pay great attention to making sure they are in beautiful surroundings and present beautiful work and Romeo & Juliet fits the brief well. Everything is immaculate from the stage, to the costumes, to the props and the cast are always extremely well rehearsed with great attention to character, physicality (physical comedy is one of the company's fortes) and this year especially, voice work.

Led by director Jennifer Sarah Dean, Melbourne Shakespeare always bring a delightfully old school English feel to their productions and this year she goes a step further, interpreting the story as pantomime complete with a cross dressing female character in the Nurse (Gare). Gare is from the UK as well so his perfect interpretation of this mechanism makes complete sense.

Unfortunately some of the problems with this Romeo & Juliet stem from this very place. Shakespeare is old and outdated (if you get past that patri-colonial anglo-centric myth his plays are timeless and universal) so directors and auteurs have free licence to do absolutely anything with his plays which is why so many companies put on his work rather than approaching modern plays which more accurately speak to our world and the people in it. Turning the romantic tragedy that is Romeo & Juliet into a pantomime is many steps too far though, and the whole conceit falls apart from the point of Mercutio's (Richmond) death.

Whilst the play is potentially a barrel of laughs at the start, the concept of comedy begins on the basic premise that it has a happy ending. We can say a lot about Romeo & Juliet, but that is not one of them. It is also questionable as to whether the time for men to dress as women to create clownish charicatures is well and truly over in the post-truth age.

Another confusing aspect is the costume designs. Irving has once again developed a playful and detailed palate, but the 1920's flapper era was disconnected from the friar cassocks and the nurse outfit. When the show first began I excitedly thought this was going to be a Bonnie & Clyde gangster interpretation. The pantomime thing shook me completely. This is why design and concept are so important and the choices of one can invalidate or cause cognitive dissonance with the other no matter how beautiful.

Regardless, the cast were all at the top of their game and gave a lively rendition. I especially loved the camaraderie of the Montague boys. Song (Balthasar) and Ellis (Benvolio) totally stole the show with their incredible acting, great physical humour, and beautiful and strong singing voices.

Connell (Romeo) and Halliday (Juliet) were a joyfully perfect pair and played a playful interpretation of young love. Unfortunately I wasn't able to see the death scene because of a really strange staging choice which I think Dean and Laredo should reconsider before the season continues much further. It is the climax of the whole play so losing it for most of the audience by this odd placement seems a waste of everyone's time.

The script has been severely dismembered to just the highlights in order to make the show one act and also to fit in the Melbourne Shakespeare Company's trademark song battles and random Luhrmannesque pop song interludes. For the most part the music works and Colley has chosen an intriguingly ecclectic and sometimes outrightly hilarious mix of music to punctuate moments. The greatest triumph of the night is the cast rendition of 'Hallelujah'.

Romeo & Juliet is a feast of beauty and fun. Technically it is a work of perfection. It is really just a string of contradicting artistic decisions which lets it down.

Take along a picnic dinner and remember to take lots of water to stay hydrated. Romeo & Juliet will win your hearts.

3.5 Stars

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Alice's Theorem: A Conceptual Excretion of Thoughts - Comedy Review

What: Alice's Theorem - A Conceptual Excretion of Thoughts
When: 6 - 8 December 2018
Where: Downstairs, The Butterfly Club
Created and performed by: Alice Albon
Directed by: Fiona Scott-Norman
Alice Albon
It's the time of the year when all we want is a good drink and an even better laugh and you will be hard pressed to find any show on at the moment which will make you laugh as often or as hard as Alice's Theorem: A Conceptual Excretion of Thoughts. Sadly it is only on for a couple of days at The Butterfly Club so you have to hurry if you don't want to miss this collection of surprising, witty, and - at times - gross collection of mind droppings.

Alice's Theorem was first created in 2017 and performed in Ballarat (Albon is a Federation Uni graduate). Having sat through this ode to the acceptance of death cataloguing ways to enjoy your death experience I am not surprised to see it reprised and absolutely expect to see it reappear in the future.

Let me begin by saying Albon is the Ever Ready Battery Bunny on steroids. She does not stop moving for a single second and instead of each joke getting a drum kit boom tish, Albon gives a two step into a vogue pose. It is the kind of thing only a cute young woman with not so cute thoughts can get away with and it is pure magic. Some of it is nerves which need to settle down a bit, but as a comedy persona it is fun to watch and has a weird sort of mesmerising hypnosis.

Albon is here to give us a TED talk as the world's leading expert in her field - herself. In particular, Albon wants to talk to us about preparing for death. The way she looks at the world, everything we do is just filling in time until we die - "The one truly communal activity" - and she doesn't understand why people don't plan for it better.

Apart from lying under her death shroud for 20 minutes a day, Albon spends a lot of time thinking about how she wants to die. Her dream death is to be eaten by a shark after punching it in the face. Each to their own I guess...

Albon is tiny but she is no comedy lightweight. Beneath that cute smile and diminutive stature is a razor sharp feminist. She opened my eyes to a great truth when she explained the sexist nature of sharks and how they only ever seem to bite men...

Most of the show is a convoluted  5 step presentation on her theory on how life is analogous to excreting a turd. There are some fun quips and bad puns along the way to make sure we are still paying attention as well as essential life hacks and witty songs to punctuate the moments. Albon is a truly gifted singer and 'You Asked For It' is up there with the great comedy tunes of our time.

Alice's Theorem is a show full of audience engagement opportunities, all of them harmless fun. Have you ever seen an esophagus dance? You will if you come to this show (and so many more images which will be burned onto your retina forever - there are just some things you can't unsee).

I spent a lot of time in Alice's Theorem gasping at the audacity and then laughing my behind off. This show is wrong in so many ways which is what makes it so right and it has been perfectly crafted under the sure hands of cabaret veteran Fiona Scott-Norman.

4 Stars