Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Spectral: Between Light and Sound - Performance Art Review

What: Spectral: Between Light and Sound
When: 17 - 18 April 2019
Where: Main Hall, Arts House
Salt created by Hanna Chetwin and composed by Rohan Drape
Opaquing created by Hanna Chetwin and composed by James Rushford
Solid (Loud) Matter created and performed by: Kusum Normoyle
Single Origin created by: Robin Fox
Single Origin
I suspect ever since physics determined that sound was actually vibrations in space people have been fascinated by its possibilities as a pseudo physical object in space as much as the aural reception in our brains which facilitate emotional and communicative relationships with the world around us. Similarly, upon the discovery that light has a shape, it's architectural applications have been avidly explored - thus the invention of film and, more recently, laser. At Arts House this week we find a haven from Comedy Festival mania with the 'Spectral' exhibition which includes a curated range of exhibitions and two nights of performance art exploring the potentials for stimulation of our two far senses - sight and hearing.

'Spectral' is only on for one more night (tonight) and the program is a little bit different with Jannah Quill's Sight taking place rather than the film works by Chetwin. Quill is working with solar panels as instruments so that should certainly be a unique experience which sadly, I can't speak to. As we all know though, everything can be a sound source so the question is 'what are you going to do with it?'

What I saw last night was the two pieces - Salt and Opaquing - by Chetwin. Chetwin is an experimental film maker and has been working with expanded 16mm film. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term expanded film, it basically means going beyond the projected surface and having the audience experience include information/effects in the room with them. Much like the film version of surround sound but much more layered, textural and interspatial.

In the case of Chetwin's work, the expanded film experience includes the 16mm projectors (multiple) in the middle of the space and a live orchestral banda in the space as well. 16mm projectors are extremely loud so the rhythm of their mechanical sounds also form part of the sound scape in the room. The projections on the screen are the light in the room as are the beams from the projector creating an effect not dissimilar to static lasers.

Chetwin uses filmed images and overlays them with photographed images of the filmed images creating artifacts and interactive converstation both within each film and also between the multiple projections (in Salt there are 2 projectors and in Opaquing there are 3). The compositions reflect this by being more textural than musical and the choice of percussion and violin amongst the ensemble mean the sounds can be as pleasant or dissonant as the artist requires within this conversation. The instruments are also reinforced and so they can be split and sent from many sources around the room.

Things which impressed me the most about Chetwin's work was the dance between the projectors and the colour grading. Not all projectors projected all the time so the blank spaces became as interested as the images which were there. Salt was coloured graded into sepias and greys whereas Opaquing was all about black and white and primary colours - a place of unreality perhaps.

The artifacts flickered across the screen in time with the click, click, click of the projectors so I found myself wondering what the composition was doing for the experience. For me that was never really resolved. The sound did not take me on any kind of significant journey and the footage was rather repetitive in tone so in the end I felt both events were too long. I personally found myself wondering what I was supposed to be feeling and my plus one commented he felt like he was watching a film in year 9 science class. Harsh but true.

After a short break we experienced Normoyle's Solid (Loud) Matter. Pro tip: Use the ear plugs handed out at the start of the evening - you will need them for both Normoyle's work and Fox's!

Normoyle works with distortion and feedback and literally filling the space with sound - very, very loud sound. The kind of sound which vibrates through your body in an intensely visceral way. Your hearing will be damaged if you don't use the ear plugs, but also, you won't truly experience the physical aspect of her creations without them. If you brain is cringing in pain from the assault on your ear drums it won't have time to process the feeling of you lungs and intestines moving in very strange ways. Don't worry though, the brown note effect is a myth so you won't have any unfortunate accidents. What you might end up with is a slightly queasy tummy. Again, not a big problem because Normoyle is smart enough to make her work short and sharp. It affects, it disturbs and then it is over.

The same cannot be said for Fox's Single Origin and my plus one had to leave towards the end because he was feeling quite nauseous. Fox is a laser artist and in particular shot to theatrical fame through his work with Chunky Move including the much celebrated Mortal Engine.

Single Origin is described as a concerto for a laser beam. Fox has taken his RGB Laser Show and distilled the colour dance down to a single beam allowing him to introduce white. The musical composition dips it's toe into the trance/dance without stepping all the way in. It might have gone a bit too far though because with all the haze and laser work I found it very odd that the audience were calmly sitting on the floor, almost not moving at all, transfixed by the laser beam much like vortex hypnotisms in 60's TV shows such as Get Smart and The Avengers. Meanwhile I could count on one hand the number of people who turned around to watch the actual patterns and designs being created on the opposite wall.

In Single Origin Fox is experimenting with creating synesthesia - where we see light as sound and hear sound as light. I don't know if that was achieved but I did come to understand more fully that the triggering of trance comes from a rhythmic overwhelming of the far senses, regardless.

In this case I think it was the laser. I have done my fair share of clubbing in my time but the sound was just way too loud. I saw people clutching at their ears to block the sound (I assume they were the ones who bravely thought they could handle it). The rest of us wore the ear plugs but then I find myself thinking what is the point of a composition you can't safely listen to.

Normoyle and Fox also had me wondering about the ethical aspects of their art. It is not an exaggeration to say Solid and Single Origin are very real assaults on our bodies and cannot be experienced without causing harm unless protective measures are taken. Yes, attendance is voluntary but I suspect like me, many people in the room did not really know what they were going to experience so then has consent really occurred? To say something is loud is not the same as saying something is so loud it will cause physical distress and damage. Something to think about perhaps...

Having said that, I am as fascinated by the physical and spatial possibilities of these two ephemeral phenomena - lighting and sound - and I certainly had some of my intellectual interest appeased. With the exception of Solid though, I felt all of the performances were too long and repetitive and ultimately unfulfilling.

2.5 Stars


Saturday, 13 April 2019

Two Wrongs Don't Make a Play, Right? - Comedy Review

What: Two Wrongs Don't Make a Play, Right?
When: 13 - 14 April 2019
Where: Mission Persons, Nicholas Building
Written and performed by: James JG Gordon and Lucy Seale
James JG Gordon and Lucy Seale
Comedy, at its very heart, is a simple beast. All it really requires is juxtaposition and/or hyperbole and an audience who can read those mechanisms. In Two Wrongs Don't Make a Play, Right? Gordon and Seale strip the performance elements bare and instead fill Missing Persons with straight forward sketch comedy of the thinking kind.

Missing Persons itself is not a theatre. It is a multidisciplinary arts space with gallery style track lighting and, for the Comedy Festival, is filled with rows of trestle benches. The stage is the end of the room without any benches. Simple, pared down and evidence that the Festival is so massive any and every available space is needed to house all the comedy flooding the city this month.

Missing Persons is a naked room and what it requires from performers is skill and craft in the ability to make people laugh. Gordon and Seale bring bucket loads of that with their pared back sketch comedy and contagiously energetic stage presence.

Seale is a playwright and Gordon is a sketch comedian (who has to run straight over from The Butterfly Club after his performance in Three Guards on Manus Island). They have been working as a comedy team for a few years now and their simpatico shines through in this night of honest and hilarious comedy.

The conceit underlying the show is Gordon and Seale have developed unreconcilable differences within their partnership and are undergoing a legal separation. Due to a Festival administration error and the inability of either of them to adhere to week day custody agreements they find themselves booked in to perform in the same venue at the same time.

They decide to declare detente and perform together for one last time as an alternative to continuing their fued in stage whispered asides but Seale wants to put on a play and Gordon wants to do stand up. The compromise is sketch comedy, but now they have to agree on what the sketches are...

This meta tale is fun but the real comedy gold is in the sketches - both in the detail of each sketch and also in their ability to echo ideas throughout seemingly unrelated scenarios. You won't find much better (or funnier) ideas on how the answer to feminism is global warming. For all you grammar Nazis out there, Bruce the vampire is your soul mate but don't risk splitting an infinitive!

The way to my heart came at the end as Seale talks turkey about The Bard whilst admitting another Henry is on the way to pay the bills. Meanwhile Gordon is complaining about playing Anne because "being a woman sucks".

More often than not the K.I.S.S. principal is the key to success and Gordon and Seale prove the point in Two Wrongs Don't Make a Play, Right? When the content is this good all you need is an audience!

Pro tip: Book on line because there are no door sale tickets.

4 Stars

Friday, 12 April 2019

Three Guards on Manus Island - Comedy Review

What: Three Guards on Manus Island
When: 8 - 14 April 2019
Where: Downstairs, The Butterfly Club
Directed by: Jacob Sacher
Performed by: Josh Cake, James Gordon, and Sandy Whittem
Josh Cake, Sandy Whittem, and James Gordon
Do you like a bit of bondage? Do you like a bit of science with your comedy? Do you like your punchlines to come by surprise? Do you like your comedy to mean something and say something? Do you like to laugh out loud? This is what you will get with Three Guards on Manus Island at The Butterfly Club this week.

The title may be off putting. You might wonder how on earth such a tragic and shameful situation as our Australian response to refugeeism is and wonder how anybody could possibly joke about it. If you think these things this is exactly why you should come and see Three Guards on Manus Island.

Oh, and if you are a fan of a bit of bondage you will really get a kick out of being the inmates who have been forced to miss dinner in order to watch the revue rehearsals for the guards' musical show. There will be silence as you enter! You will sit where you are told! You will leave quietly and in and orderly fashion when it's over! And no, you will not get food or medical attention!

What you will get is a riotous and intelligent array of sketch comedy which runs the risk of leaving some people behind. For those who know who Schrodinger and Pavlov are, and for those who are familiar with Beethoven and Billy Joel this is a night when all your learning and culture pay off with belly laughs.

Don't get me wrong. Three Guards on Manus Island is not elitist. There is a talking seagull for goodness sake. Yes, she only eats chips from Grill'd (it's the oregano which makes them great), but that's not privilege, it's good taste!

In a world where every piece of music sounds like 'The Piano Man' and cowboys are exposed as horse boys, Sacher leads Cake, Whittem and Gordon on a riotous romp through absurdity and privilege with painfully funny flashbacks to the situation in PNG. 'The Identity Song' cuts through the irony of persecuted groups reclaiming their epithets and there is a first aid kit for guards with paper cuts but the inmates better not expect any medical attention!

Three Guards on Manus Island is seriously funny comedy about a serious issue and the team back it up by committing to send all profits to the Refugee Action Collective. Let's make it a barrel full of money by selling out their last two shows. It's win/win because you get great comedy and refugees get help.

4 Stars

Thursday, 11 April 2019

The Book of Snorin': Sleep Apnea The Musical - Cabaret Review

What: The Book of Snorin' - Sleep Apnea The Musical
When: 9 - 14 April 2019
Where: The Charles Dickens Tavern
Written and performed by: Stew Walker
Stew Walker
Perhaps the only place in the world you would pay money to see a grown man walking around in flannelette pyjamas and fluffy slipper is the Comedy Festival. Any other time your instincts would probably be to call emergency services. In the basement of The Charles Dickens Tavern you can relax though, because it is just Walker giving us his hilarious take on the noisy world of snoring and sleepless nights in his show The Book of Snorin' - Sleep Apnea The Musical.

Walker has sleep apnea and in The Book of Snorin' he chronicles his attempts to save his marriage (and his life) through song and a healthy dose of self deprecation. A clever lyricist with the ability to pun on request, Walker sings us through the hour in what is probably more accurately described as a song cycle rather than a musical, bringing us lots of laughs along the way.

Sometimes the best comedy is based on serious issues and sleep apnea is a very serious issue. Not all snoring is indicative of this condition but it is a major symptom. The difference is sleep apnea is the momentary cessation of breathing which really can lead to death.

Having said that, the testing and management of the condition has a world of absurdity attached and Walker celebrates all of the silliness with us. Everything from sleep testing (which, if you have ever had it done, you well know is one of the greatest oxymorons in the world), to jaw realignment, to the use of CPAP machines, are examined under his punny plectrum and nothing is too sacred to joke about.

Having been banished from the bedroom by his wife ('Bungalo Blues'), Walker tries many things to manage his snoring beginning with losing weight. He quickly discovers 'I'm Too Lazy' and decides to cough up  the cash for more interventionist techniques.

Around one person in every ten Australians are thought to experience sleep apnea and so it is no surprise Walker finds himself strumming on his guitar and singing about walking around in a world being taken over by 'Zombies'. In fact, as he points out at the start, if anyone in the audience falls asleep he can be quite confident it is not a reflection on his show!

Walker is not a natural performer, but he is a clever lyricist with an artful take on comedy. There is also the beautiful confluence of events which means a condition known as the Pickwickian disease - because it was first mentioned by Charles Dickens in The Pickwick Papers - is the subject of a show now being performed in The Pickwick Room of The Charles Dickens Tavern!

The Book of Snorin' - Sleep Apnea The Musical is a lot of fun and The Charles Dickens tavern is a wonderful little drinking hole with lots of ambience. If you snore yourself, Walker will help you not feel alone in the world and if you live with a snorer you will learn what to do to help them and maybe save their life. All the while you will be laughing. Oh, and as Walker reveals, Karma can really kick you in the behind...

2.5 stars

Tone Death: A Ghost Musical - Musical Theatre Review

What: Tone Death: A Ghost Musical
When: 8 - 21 April 2019
Where: Upstairs, The Butterfly Club
Written by: Dylan Marshall
Composed by: Earl Marrows
Performed by: Gina Dickson, Darcy Myring, Alice Pryor, Jorja Polglase, and Ursula Searle
Choreography by: Diane Pereira
Costumes by: Dil Kaur
Technical design by: Georgie Wolfe
Stage Managed by: Sophie Ashkanasy
Darcy Myrin, Ursula Searole, Gina Dickson, and Alice Pryor - photo by Julia Kaddatz
Following up on their 2018 offering Pining For Affection, the musical theatre writing team Dylan Marshall and Earl Marrows bring their latest creation to The Butterfly Club for the Comedy Festival. Based on the very punny conceit of a comedian dying on stage (literally), Tone Death: A Ghost Musical is an all singing, all dancing otherworldly foray into the history of The Butterfly Club.

Doomed to forever haunt the stages of The Butterfly Club Mary (Pryor), Beth (Searle), and Jeffries (Dickson) tolerate each other despite constantly getting on each others' nerves. After all, what choice do they have? Beth also has a very annoying habit of being annoyingly cheerful and turning every moment into the opportunity for a group singalong.

Along comes Hugh (Myring). Hugh is a (not very good) comedian and at the same time as his jokes are dying on stage, so does his body when his heart gives out after being heckled by the ghosts.

A simple enough story, right? Well it doesn't stop there. The ghosts themselves are being haunted by some sort of Banshee creature (Polglase) who is responsible for them not being able to pass on to the other side. Once this is all established the rest of the hour is filled with Hugh finding out the truth and everyone banding together to try and overcome their fate.

Tone Death is a fun hour which is lifted beyond the ordinary by great lyrics, rousing composition, and the most incredible harmonies which are almost angelic in tone and quality. The songs are fast and funny and my main concern is that the actors really need to focus on articulation so that they audience doesn't lose track. Most of the information for the show comes through the lyrics so we really do need to comprehend every word in a pacy and clever collection of lyrics.

The show itself is kind of light weight but what else do you expect in a 50 minute musical?  Regardless, it looks good and sounds great so you are pretty much guaranteed to enjoy the evening.

As much as I loved Marshall's lyrics - the song outlining the history of The Butterfly Club is a blast - I think the book is rather weak which is a bit of a pity. Pereira's choreography is a bit ambitious for the size of the stage but she gives us a good indication of what she could be capable of with more resources. Kaur's costumes are also detailed and clever although Searle seems to stand somewhat outside the overall general aesthetic for some reason which isn't really made clear.

Speaking of standing out, Polglase was a real surprise. There is something about her style, singing and acting which is strongly reminiscent of Casey Donovan. I look forward to seeing where she takes her talents in the future.

Tone Death: A Ghost Musical is fun and demonstrates a lot of potential talent. It is a great end to the working day and even more enjoyable with a cocktail from The Butterfly Club bar.

3.5 Stars

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Paquito - Comedy Review

What: Paquito
When: 8 - 21 April 2019
Where: Tasma Terrace
Written and performed by: Charisa Bossinakis
Charisa Bossinakis
It's sometimes hard to say exactly why some comedians click at stand up comedy but there is no doubt for some of them just standing on stage and telling their stories is the funniest entertainment around. Bossinakis is one of those people. In her show Paquito, which is playing at Tasma Terrace this Comedy Festival, Bossinakis is as entrancing as she is outspoken.

Bossinakis works with observational humour and the thing she is observing is her life and how she interacts with it. Her take on the world in which she is interacting is insightful, pithy and 100% disenchanted millenial. She might look like a porcelain doll on the outside, but she is all red-blooded living and loving woman on the inside - a woman way to smart to shatter and one not afraid to live life to the fullest!

The show begins with Bossinakis telling us about her gay best friend and how the touching rule is different with them. She then moves on to the discovery of Zumba and how those very exercise cults which are supposed to make us happier with our bodies are actually responsible for making us aware of flaws which are not really a thing. When this taut, fit, healthy woman shows us her armpit vagina the message lands like a meteor. An hilarious meteor...

Eventually we get into the real meat and potatoes of the show Paquito. Paquito is a Spanish phrase meaning small Mexican or cute small girl...or a type of burrito but that is not really relevant to this story... It is also a name derivation from Francisco but I will get into that later.

Australians who travel always come back and ooh and aah about how travel broadens their outlook on life. When put on the spot though, how many of us can actually say exactly what changed? Bossinakis' friend can - it has something to do with how he now drinks his chai tea...

Deciding to experience this illuminating outcome for herself, Bossinakis decided to tour the Americas with a friend. Having heard this story my travel tip is never tour with a friend dumber than you!

Cuba was quite the experience for these two paquitos and along the way the meet Paquito - or is it Paco - or Percutio - or... Moving on, Paquito is a salsa dancer and would like to take the women to his studio and dance with them. Is that a gun in his pocket or is he just pleased to see them? The only way you will find out is to go and see the show.

What makes Bossinakis stand out as a comic is the beautiful and razor sharp asides she throws out so fast if you blink you will miss them. These are the home truths behind every story she tells. My only suggestion would be that more time could be spent fleshing out some of the ideas so that the jokes land like thunder rather than the lightning they currently are. It would also mean less actual content would be needed which might be less exhausting for both her and the audience.

3.5 Stars

Monday, 8 April 2019

The 2007 Wonthaggi Blue Light Disco - Comedy Review

What: The 2007 Wonthaggi Blue Light Disco
When: 8 - 21 April 2019
Where: The Archive Room, Trades Hall
Written by: Jordan Barr and Josh Gardiner
Performed by: Jordan Barr, Alex Cooper, and Kayla Hamill
Alex Cooper, Kayla Hamill and Jordan Barr
The Melbourne Fringe Festival can often feel a bit like a testing ground for the Comedy Festival, with many comedy acts in the former making the leap into the latter the following year. The 2007 Wonthaggi Blue Light Disco playing at Trades Hall is one of those shows and in this case it has found its natural home.

The 2007 Wonthaggi Blue Light Disco is a celebration of teenage archetypes and Barr and Gardiner have managed to tread that very fine line between finding the funny without being insulting or demeaning. Most of the sketches focus on time and locations surrounding the disco such as the toilets and meet ups outside the venue.

The only time we really find ourselves inside the hall is during the audience participation dance scenes. Here is my (first?) trigger warning for the show. You will see the Nutbush danced. At least, I think some would call it dancing...?

The show starts with a rousing musical routine by the Police supervisors (Cooper and Barr) before we get into the serious business of teens trying to sneak alcohol onto the grounds and the supervisors consuming their confiscated haul. It is 2007 so Team Edward appear on the scene and you won't believe what they do with Zooper Doopers!!!!

The spine of the show centres around a romance between Frenchie (Cooper) and Jason (Barr) who are trying to negotiate their way towards sex. The genders are inverted which allows a slightly more barbed commentary whilst amplifying the humour as well.

Jason is a tad sexually confused which he covers up by pressuring Frenchie to have sex whilst also being hindered with a penis prone to unexpected erections. His best...friend... (Hamill) enjoys sending dick picks.

Frenchie lives her life through a fantasy lens, dreaming of sex with a vampire but too afraid to do it with a real boy. Her best friend Jen (Hamill) joins her on her flights of fancy whilst also being the only thing keeping up her self esteem. There is no piece of theatre stronger than Jen's Shakespearean soliloquy towards the end on womanhood.

If you saw the show last year pop along and see it again because it is a bit different. The puppet is gone (which I get the impression is a good thing).

The 2007 Wonthaggi Blue Light Disco is a lot of fun. It is an early show, starting at 6:30pm, and is a great way to destress from work before digging into a night of comedy laughs at Trades Hall.

3.5 Stars

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Super Amazing Giant Girl - Circus Review

What: Super Amazing Giant Girl
When: 6 - 21 April 219
Where: Lower Hall, Melbourne Town Hall
Originally created by: Anna Lumb and Gabi Barton
Adapted and performed by: Anna Lumb and Jez Davies
Jez Davies and Anna Lumb
First a disclaimer. Super Amazing Giant Girl is a show for kids aged 4 -10 so I am not really the right demographic. A fun anthology of circus tricks loosely connected by a story about a girl who grows to 50 feet high and has trouble fitting in, it is playing the Comedy Festival throughout the school holidays.

Lumb originally created this show in 2016 with Barton and since then it has gone on to tour successfully around Australia at all sorts of festivals and venues. The show currently being performed is an adaptation of the original with Davies taking over from Barton as Normal Person (not to scale).

Davies is himself an accomplished circus artist but with a different range of skills so inevitably the show has had to change. Where Barton is a dancer and hand balancer, Davies is a juggler. Both are great comedians and Davies has a lot of experience in children's theatre so on paper there is no deficit, just change.

Lumb is the core performer and in this tale of a girl too big for the world she gets to show off her amazing hula hoop skills, some contortion and roller skate dancing of the most amazing kind. As well as being super cute and super friendly (and super giant), Lumb shows us that pretty girls can be as gross as boys including fart jokes and showing us all a mouthful of half eaten banana.

Whilst I maintain my disclaimer about not being the target audience, I will say I was in a room surrounded by little ones who were and I paid them great attention. Thus, I have to say this iteration of the show did not really resonate with them and I found them to be somewhat confused for most of the show.

Some of the problems are dramaturgical and some can be laid squarely at the feet of the festival. Let's get the festival whipping out of the way first, shall I? To begin, Lumb's microphone was nowhere near loud enough to capture and hold a room full of younguns. Secondly (and most heinously!) Lumb teched the show on a wooden floor, but turned up to perform on a carpeted floor.

Why does this matter do you ask? Have you ever tried roller skating on carpet? Also, Lumb does the very tricky act of walking across bottles at one point. Anyone who has ever done this kind of balance work can tell you the floor needs to be solid and stable. That supposedly insignificant layer of carpet makes the floor unstable and the balancing act impossible. Eventually Lumb did give up after falling off a number of times, but the risk of injury is incredibly high. Sadly, even though the bottles can go, the rollerskating is an important part of the act and Lumb has been hamstrung by this carpet. The show is still good but it has lost some important wow factor.

Now onto the dramaturgy. One of the roles Davies plays is narrator and the other is props manipulator before coming out as Normal Person (not to scale). Unfortunately he starts off making announcements off stage so they are just a voice over. From the very beginning the kids looked confused. I think this kind of disembodied talking requires a far higher level of cognitive function then children have in this age range. Especially if you are giving instructions.

Add to that, until Davies comes out in character, all of his work is hidden behind the set - city towers painted on cardboard boxes. In my opinion he should have come out as narrator and playmate right from the beginning so the children could relate to him, kind of like the way it's done in Play School. Davies has a wonderfully comic Sean Hayes air and a mobile clowning face and this would mean he could have the kids eating out of his hands right from the very first moment.

I also think the show needs a stronger story. Kids love stories and whilst adults are too cool for exposition, this is what children are used to. Even as an adult I really didn't follow what was going on.

There were moments of great fun for the kids. Participating in the hail storm was an outrageous lark and they became very excited when the hazard tape was being set up. Everybody oohed and aahed at Lumb's big finale hula hoop routine of course! Davies does a fun juggling routine and is hilarious as the TV reporter telling us about the catastrophe taking place in the city.

The show has only just opened, and I suspect Lumb and Davies will do a bit more adapting now that they know the situation with the stage so I do think Super Amazing Giant Girl will be a great show to put in the school holidays activity planner now that the growing pains have been faced.

2.5 Stars


Friday, 5 April 2019

Just Doing It - Comedy Review

What: Just Doing It
When: 28 March - 21 April 2019*
Where: Evatt Room, Trades Hall
Written and performed by: Emily Tresidder
Emily Tresidder
Emily Tresidder has been doing stand up comedy since 2015 with great success and she is back with us in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year. Bringing us her new show Just Doing It, Tresidder brings a stage full of personality and humour to Trades Hall.

Just Doing It is a bit of departure for Tresidder. Her past shows have generally revolved around a theme and had a standard narrative arc. This year though, Tresidder has taken a stream of consciousness approach and weaves a meandering path from work life to family life to ... well...  life in general.

Whilst this is a riskier road because it requires every joke to hit the mark rather than letting anticipation do some of the work with the audience, it also means there is a raw honesty to Tresidder's story telling which brings out a darkness which is seductive and puts us all on her side in a journey which sometimes insists sides be taken.

Tresidder daylights as a shoe sales person. She sells very expensive shoes to women who drive Range Rovers. You know who they are... After revealing her most profitable sales technique Tresidder goes on to wow the audience with her super power of being able to guess shoe sizes to the half size (European). Pro tip: get a pedicure and wear your nicest shoes!

And don't worry men, you aren't excluded. You won't believe how her super power works on you!

Speaking of men, Tresidder leads us into a darker world - the world of bad dads. Yes, she has one and he went and bought a second bride. It is in this part of the tale Tresidder reveals her vulnerability and whilst her stories are funny, the pain is evident.

Sadly there are so many bad dad stories it gets a bit hard to laugh. Maybe we should be doing something about that as a society rather than laughing? It is hard to see how young men can learn to be who they want to be when we are so accepting of the poor role models they have had.

Moving on though! Tresidder does not dwell in this space, but goes on to happier places and the unreserved laughter re-emerges.

Tresidder has a gift for story selling. She is animated and engaging and she has this great trick of turning the audience reaction back on itself and it is almost as if we spend as much time laughing at ourselves as we do laughing with her.

The biggest problem of the night is really the Evatt Room. I hate that room. It has poor air flow and over the course of a long night of comedy shows the air quality becomes really bad. Luckily however, Tresidder's show is an early one so the room is still quite habitable for Just Doing It.

Tressider has great skills as a stand up comedienne and you are guaranteed laughs no matter what. Just Doing It is a riskier show for her, but it is still a lot of fun for us so get on down to Trades Hall and kick off a full night of comedy with this show.

3 Stars

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Pamela's Palace - Theatre Review

What: Pamela's Palace
When: 27 March - 6 April 2019
Where: The 86
Concept by: Donna Gray
Devised and performed by: Katie Grace Cooper, Donna Gray and Ayesha Tansey
Directed by: Mella Faye
Donna Gray and Ayesha Tansey - photo by Alison Pollard-Mansergh
In a Comedy Festival full of stand up comics and cabaret The 86 brings us a pure delight with the full theatrical (and highly interactive) comedy Pamela's Palace. With world class clowning and dance moves you haven't seen since the 80's, Pamela's Palace is a riotous romp and they take the audience with them every step (or snip...) of the way!

Pamela's Palace is an old school hairdressing salon run by very old...school Pamela (Gray). With the talents of her employees, stylist Tiffany (Cooper) and apprentice Bronwyn (Tansey), Pamela has managed to reach the finals for Salon of The Year. The only thing standing in her way is rival salon The Cutting Edge...and herself...and Tiffany...and Bronwyn...

Tiffany is having an affair with the lead stylist at the opposition salon, Bronwyn is desperate to be allowed to progress to cutting hair, and Pamela is so far behind the times even Plato is more hip to the jive than she is! Bronwyn is sent as a mole to get her hair cut and find out what Cutting Edge are doing, Tiffany is recruited as a spy for her boyfriend, and Pamela's solution is to turn the Palace into the Acropolis and her staff into Xena clones.

All the while customers (the audience) are coming in to have their hair done. Don't worry though, they don't hurt a hair on anybody's head...well, maybe one hair on somebody's head...and if you sit in the front row you will get wet but it is all part of the fun.

Pamela's Palace is a fast paced romp. The performers have had excellent guidance in their physical clowning and choreography from Stephen Harper and Aitor Basauri and there are even a couple of original songs by Sam Halmarack.

Faye (director) and the team are masters of comedy and even the fake irruptions of reality are so well crafted they are almost indistinguishable from the real ones. With dance moves to die for - think running man, the robot and other classic dance gems - and excellent technique and timing, the women at Pamela's Palace had me practically rolling on the floor in gales of laughter.

The show is only on for a couple more nights and is almost sold out so you need to get in quick to catch it and I really do recommend you catch it. The performances are excellent and the detail in the costumes and props is remarkable and it is just a rollicking good time. Book now or you will miss one of the Comedy Festival's best offerings.

5 Stars

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

50/50 - Comedy Review

What: 50/50
When: 3 - 21 April 2019
Where: The Boardroom, Victoria Hotel
Written and performed by: Michael Shafar
Michael Shafar
We often talk about how funny, wierd, absurd life is and it is true. And sometimes the funniest comedy routines are the ones which come from the heart and tell it like it is. This is what you get when you see Shafar's show 50/50 at the Victoria Hotel.

Shafar was diagnosed with testicular cancer (stage 3) in 2017 which is where the title for this show comes from, because in stage 3 you have 50/50 chance of survival. After chemotheraphy and 5 surgeries (including the loss of a testicle) he is now cancer free and eager to make us all see the funny side. And believe me, this man can turn 50 lung tumors into unrelenting belly laughs. Now that is a gift!

Somewhat quiet spoken and with a sincerity we all wish our politicians had, Shafar takes us through ultrasounds of his ball sacks ('so when is the baby due?') and preserving sperm before chemotherapy. How can we not crack up in fits of laughter as he describes the awkwardness of his mum coming along to support him?

For me the funniest jokes were about his responses to the question about whether the experience has changed him. Perhaps this is a dark humour only people who have experienced a life and death situation can appreciate, but I was almost on the floor giggling at his observations.

Shafar had most of his treatment at the Cabrini hospital (and he is raising funds for them as part of this comedy tour). Cabrini hospital is this weird hybrid of being a Catholic hospital in which all the staff and patients appear to be Jewish. Needless to say there is a world of humour in that situation alone!

Once crowned the ninth best speller in Australia, Shafar is possibly one of the funniest people here now. His shows are selling out so you had better book soon or you will miss out. Be warned though, this is as dark as it is funny and there is a 50/50 chance you will either be offended or uncomfortable with some of the content. This is what makes it so good!

4.5 Stars

Sunday, 31 March 2019

No Flirting - Comedy Review

What: No Flirting
When: 28 March - 21 April 2019
Where: Archive Room, Trades Hall
Written and performed by: Alex Ward
Alex Ward
No Flirting is a show which actually gives you what it advertises. Alex Ward will not flirt throughout her Comedy Festival stand up routine at Trades Hall.

Ward has been a comedian for around five years now and is a writer on The Project so it is not unreasonable to have high expectations. I am not sure they will be satisfied. Having said that the show does have a lot of laughs and, if not uproariously funny, it is definitely down home feel good.

No Flirting does not explore political issues or social justice. It is just Ward talking about some absurdities in her daily life and exploring notions in that hyperbolic way comedians do.

The show starts well with her telling us about her very recent doomed flight to Brisbane for the festival. Suffice to say she is lucky to have arrived. I laughed a lot and settled in for a fun hour but then out came the dog...

Ward identifies as the mother of a small dog named Kyle. She loves that dog. Even we, the audience gave a loud "Awwww" when we saw his picture. Ward loves her dog so much she lost track when she saw his picture too.

I wish I could say this was the set up for some punchy humour but most of the rest of the show was cute stories about Kyle, a rather far fetched jealousy tale revolving around her girlfriend, and the trauma of sharing her dad's bathwater as a child.

The night was cute and gentle and I suspect an older audience might enjoy it, but I didn't find it edgy or relevant so as the night went on my laughter died. I should mention Ward has crafted a perfect template for a stand up routine and hit all the construction markers. It is more that because the material wasn't engaging for me I saw the architecture instead. It doesn't help that Ward does nothing with her appearance to engage us either.

I found myself (perhaps harshly) thinking of this show as middle class white privilege on display. Ward's boringly preppy ensemble was backed up by her stories about kissing girls in school.

Ward apparently went to a single sex school which, to me, indicates a private education. This becomes apparent with her assumption we all say goodbye to the opposite sex in the high school years.

In the dad water story she talks about getting roll ups in her lunch box every day. A nice score if you can get it!

The other (unintended?) give away was her story about her mom wanting to score ecstasy through her. Any lower class mother would know exactly where to score for herself!

The other tip is in the jealousy story when her girlfriend said she was selling the spare 42" TV they had been keeping in their closet... Still, nobody says comedy can't be classist. I am just not in her social strata so it was hard for me to relate.

The biggest disappointment was the coup d'etat joke. When she pulled out the tag line I didn't understand what she said and I never understood every time she said it even after I had figured it out by context. I am not saying comedians need perfect enunciation but you have to make a tag line clear. So here is my pro tip when you check out the show for yourself - when she says "Shatnet" Ward is actually saying shat in it. It will all make sense when you're there, trust me.

Ward has a good, if unassuming stage presence, and she crafts her comic journey well. I just would have liked material which actually spoke to me and that I felt I could care about. It probably doesn't help I am a cat person...

No Flirting is low key so it is a great inbetweener if you do a full night of Comedy at Trades Hall. Oh, and if you too identify as a mother to your dog you will fall crazy in love with Kyle.

2.5 Stars

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Game Boys Cinematic Universe - Comedy Review

What: Game Boys Cinematic Universe
When: 28 March - 7 April 2019
Where: Games Room, ACMI
Created and performed by: Eden Porter and Josh Porter
Eden Porter and Josh Porter
The Melbourne Comedy Festival is always jam packed with the good, the bad, and the ugly and I am so excited to tell you that Game Boys Cinematic Universe, playing at ACMI, is good. It's bloody good!

We've all been through the hype about 3D movies. Well, brothers Eden and Josh take us to the next level and bring us a 4D interactive Hollywood experience with all the bells and whistles...and controversies!

The Porter brothers have been creating comedy shows together since 2016 and in 2017 won the Golden Gibbo. Avid gamers, in the past their work has revolved around gaming and inviting their audiences to help them level up. This year the brothers step out of the virtual worlds of gaming and into the imaginary worlds of Hollywood.

In Game Boys Cinematic Universe, the pair take us on a backlot tour of Game Boys Studio. During the tour we experience auditions, foley creation, game shows, and even a 5D sensorially immersive theme park ride for one lucky audience member.

As you can probably tell by what I just said, there is an abundance of audience interaction but don't worry, it is all good fun and the brothers are experts at keeping up the pace and making the show move forward.  What makes it even more hilarious is they are having as much fun as we are and it really feels as if we are all just good mates meeting up for a good time.

Normally, when comedians laugh that much it ends up with the show halting or falling off the rails but the Porter brothers are skilled and experienced and the show never falters and some of the timing is just breath taking. There was one unexpected prop gag which was so well orchestrated with the video technology the entire room gasped in surprise and awe before doubling over in belly bouncing laughter.

As I mentioned earlier, the Porters work with 4D imagery. Whilst in a perfect world the screen would be bigger, the actual video craft they display in their video design and editing is masterful. What makes it above and beyond is how well the men have integrated their live performance with the footage so that not only does it share the space with them, but their presence in the room is at times just an extension of the footage being watched.

You may say you have seen this before, but the skill level is up there with the best and whilst I was thrown by Blue Heelers being on a Hollywood film lot, their stunt special involving a bank heist was brilliant. Only surpassed by the real life Jurassic Park theme ride.

Whether you are auditioning for an ad, participating in a game show, being a gossip reporter or a foley engineer, everyone gets a chance to have a great time in Game Boys Cinematic Universe. I suspect this is going to be a sell out season to book your tickets quick. You really don't want to miss this ride.

4.5 Stars

Friday, 29 March 2019

Moments - Dance Review

What: Moments
When: 28 - 30 March 2019
Where: Studio Theatre, Gasworks
Choreographed by: Madeline Pratt
Musical direction by: Antoinette Davis
Performed by: Joanna Bakker, Rachel Beard, Morgan Dooley-Axup, Logan Hodgetts, Olivia Lucas, Michaela Pace, Annie Parish, Nicola Pohl, Sam Rash, Cynthia Sacco
Lighting by: Jack Wilkinson
Michaela Page
Melbourne is a city obsessed with experimental and avant-garde dance so it is a delightful surprise to come across a full scale dance production in the more pop dance mode of lyrical contemporary and for it to be strong rather than twee. If you head to Gasworks tonight (because it is only on for one more night) for Moments you too will have the chance to see this suprising - if still a little rough - gem.

Pratt (choreographer) is a classically trained dancer and teacher as well as having completed the Federation University musical theatre course which means she is also well versed in jazz, tap, etc. With such a broad spectrum of traditional dance forms at her finger tips, in Moments Pratt puts them all together with her theatre training to create what I found myself thinking of as a dance opera.

Pratt draws from ballet, jazz and tap whilst leaning most heavily into lyrical contemporary to tell her story, and with the help of physical theatre director Ebony McGeady weaves a complex and mature narrative on life being as series of moments which stay with us as we travel through them.

Moments is a celebration but it is also a cautionary tale and a cry of despair. 9 young dancers weave around each other in crowds, minding their own business until an accidental bump leads to love and loss. Moment by moment, dancer by dancer, sometimes as duets, sometimes as whole group events, we see love, lust, awkwardness, betrayal, death, and so much more.

The show shies away from none of it. I was wondering if it would become too full but Pratt has crafted this show to surprise and it takes us on a journey full of laughter and tears, romance and despair...and pain. So much pain. The #metoo segement is powerful story telling indeed.

One of the beautiful aspects of Pratt's choreography is, in such a complex work with such a literal narrative design, she manages to highlight each dancer whilst maintaining a strong sense of ensemble. The dancers are young and still developing core strength and they all need to work on their extensions, but Moments allows each of them a spotlight with significant solos and pas de deux and pas de trois passages.

The Studio Theater is small for an ensemble of this size (plus an upright piano and a drum kit) and the seating isn't raked enough for us to see the chalked messages and drawings on the floor which was a shame. I would love to see this restaged in the main theatre where the dancers have an opportunity to truly fly in their leaps, and not have to worry quite so much about traffic management.

This would also allow the audience to fully experience the ideas of all these moments being carried with them across their journey through life. Dressed in simple black attire, the smudges of chalk which accumulate as they dance through time and space become a powerful statement as they settle into stillness and speak their truths later in the piece.

I want to give a brief shout out to Davis' musical direction too. A really lovely selection of indie pop swirls around in a mosaic of recordings and live performances. Moments has no clear lines. Pohl steps out of the dancing to play the ukelele and sing a torch song at one point and when musician Bakker steps out from behind the piano in #metoo the ensemble really is complete.

I had a little chuckle after the show when I heard someone in the audience say in a surprised voice "I really liked that". You will like it too so head on down to Gasworks tonight. Sell the show out so they are encouraged to give it the space it needs in a restaging!

4 Stars


Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Like To Play Pretend? - Comedy Review

What: Like To Play Pretend?
When: 27 March - 7 April 2019
Where: The Tickle Pot, Rozzi's
Written and performed by: Willem Richards
Willem Richards
Yes, the Melbourne Comedy Festival has started for 2019 so it is time to strap yourself in for some riotous acts and some not so funny moments. For me the Festival began with a revisit to Willem Richards at the Tickle Pot in Like To Play Pretend?

I first came across Richards in last year's Fringe Festival in Willem Richards IRL. He is incredibly likeable and had some very funny sketch ideas but I thought the show was under rehearsed. This year I was excited to have the opportunity to see him full flight. I was disappointed.

Richard's style of sketch humour hasn't changed, and his hallmark use of props is the same. He even revisited two of my favourite sketches from the Fringe show - the thai massage sketch and the douche bag hat sketch.

This year he has some fantastically strong ideas as well which is exciting. We start the show with Richards inviting us to meditate our stress away. As we close our eyes and relax, we are invited to focus on persons who induce stress - and then a gruesome blood bath unfolds!

I also adored the Unfucker. The Unfucker is attending a construction industry job interview and his job is to unfuck the things which have gotten fucked. His girlfriend tells him he is one of those things which is now fucked so he seeks his own unfucker, a psychologist, to get unfucked. His journey leads him to discover Marie Kondo and his socks have never been the same...

There are other interesting ideas which have not been fully fleshed out but which have potential such as the club DJ and the morning tea idea, but they still need further development. The weakest moments are when Richards uses voice overs. The recordings aren't clear so I found myself not being able to understand what was said and I feel I missed a lot of jokes.

I am not a fan of stand up comedians using voice overs. It rarely works and it messes with the energy. There has to be other ways to do what they are trying to do which isn't so...fake?

The greatest disappointment of the evening for me though was that this show feels as under rehearsed as his last show. In IRL I gave Richards the benefit of the doubt. In Like To Play Pretend? I am not feeling so generous.

Sometimes the difference between a top class comedian and a bottom of the pack comic is the polish and finesse with which they do their work. Even allowing for opening night jitters Richard's transitions are still clunky and he isn't displaying the confidence needed to make us believe a very funny joke has been made.

I don't really know what the title is referring to but I think Richards needs to take his own advice - pretend he is funny and then he will be. The material is strong and original but he needs to sell it.

2 Stars

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Nightdance - Dance Review

What: Nightdance
When: 21 - 24 March 2019
Where: Cobblestone Pavilion, Meat Market
Choreographed by: Melanie Lane
Composition by: Chris Clark
Performed by: Benjamin Hancock, Melanie Lane, Gregory Lorenzutti, Ryan Ritchie, Sidney Saayman, and Lilian Steiner
Lighting by: Bosco Shaw
Lilian Steiner Melanie Lane, Ryan Ritchie and Gregory Lorenzutti - photo by Bryony Jackson
Taking us down a surreal wormhole into the sensual and sexy atmosphere of underground European nightclubs, Nightdance is a visceral journey into another realm. First presented by Arts House in 2017, we have been given the opportunity to re-indulge in this year's Dance Massive festival and it is a gift which keeps on giving.

The brainchild of choreographer Lane, she has gathered together some of the most intriguing and adventurous masters of their art to create a dream scape of bodies, light and sound/music which celebrates, blurs and denies the lines between watcher and watched, entertainer and the entertained. In concert with a stunning soundscape (Clark), bodies and light ebb and flow, throb and pulse across the stage and around each other. Passion is always just a heart beat away. The orgy is always the potential but Nightdance is only the promise. It is up to us to finish - if we dare!

Nightdance begins in what appears to be a very traditional contemporary dance set up. Three bodies (Steiner, Lorenzutti, and Lane) in a sparsely lit space. They start to move...slowly...as if awakening from a long sleep. They come together as if huddling for warmth and comfort. And then the show starts.

The lights come up - a fascinating grid of downlights which work in a never ending array of combinations - and the three dancers power across the stage in a spray of performance intention and power. The next twenty minutes is a study in movement history. Controlled, powerful, and hypnotic each of them weave their way individually and yet in concert through styles such as muscleman, capoiera, Indonesian dance, and many more. Shaw creates random black outs which give us the sensation of photographs being taken which amps up the sense of the dancers being the subject of a voyeuristic gaze, creating a visual interpretation of music 'breaks' which ease the hypnotic potential much like how club music works but inverting the paradigm.

Just when boredom might set in for the audience there is a change. The dancers begin to pay more attention to each other. They watch each other in enjoyment, the pleasure becoming something they must share with themselves. Just as the sexual tension begins to emerge another shift.

This becomes the pattern for the evening's entertainment. A constant shift between entertaining us, being entertained by each other, and entertaining the self.

As I said earlier, Nightdance is a nightclub and it includes all of the fabulous elements. Apart from a brilliant trance dance scene with throbbing lights, the shadow play of which once more steals the performers attentions, there is an array of guest artists who wend their way dreamily through this surreal landscape - half there, half not there.

Co-creator Hancock takes our breath away as they explore an earlier incarnation, Partially Here. Decked out head to foot (including covered face) in a gold body suit they explore the body as object, constantly organising and reorganising their body as a shape to be admired in that very burlesque mode until again, they become obsessed with enjoying the self and slipping out of the frame.

Ritchie slips into the frame like a modern day Tony Bennett, emerging from the audience like all nightclub singers. Dressed in a white tux but sounding more like Tom Waites, Ritchie meanders around the stage, crooning in a fashion which sounds something like a 45 rpm record being played at 33 rpm. There is a large spotlight for him which he ignores. He has backup dancers (Steiner and Lane) but their rythmic clicks deny their obsession with Lorenzutti who has become a dark caped figure of menace and intrigue. Ritchie dissolves away as the dream moves forward.

The other guest is Saayman who comes into the trance dance scene as a human lazer show. Part Robocop, part exotic male dancer, Saayman blasts his lazers around the stage and auditorium before becoming transfixed himself and descending into a narcissistic hole of self addiction.

Nightdance is a dream, but the dream is real and the dream is us. There is always a line and we cross it all the time, and then cross it again and again and again. The question always hanging in the air is can we come back or will we step over it one day never to return?

Every element of Nightdance is perfectly concieved and perfectly executed. The dancers have a beauty and control of their bodies which is mesmerizing and every creative contributor is demonstrating work at the peak of their powers. Do not miss this show!

5 Stars

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

You Animal, You - Dance Review

What: You Animal, You
When: 19 - 24 March 2019
Where: Main Hall, Arts House
Written by: Danielle Micich and Heather Mitchell
Directed by: Danielle Micich
Composed by: Kelly Ryall
Performed by: Ghenoa Gela, Raghav Handa, Lauren Langlois, Hayley McElhinney, and Jack Riley
Lighting by: Damien Cooper
Stage Managed by: Brooke Kiss
Lauren Langlois, Jack Riley, Raghav Handa and Hayley McElhinney - photo by Pia Johnson
Sometimes the advertising for a product is not the thing you end up getting. This is far too often true in the Australian performaning arts industry because concept pitches which have to be formed for funding and presenter applications often have to be done before the work is ever crystalised. You Animal, You which is being presented at Arts House this week for Dance Massive is one of those shows.

Based on the publicity blurb I was expecting a feral, visceral Lord Of The Flies style affair but instead a got a very cerebral Waiting For Godot/The Complexity Of Belonging hybrid. To be honest, once I understood what I was in for across the (just over) hour long show, I was quite happy to settle in to a highly abstracted Beckett style production about power shifts and ladder climbing.

I was not as pleased with the parallels which were forming for me with The Complexity of Belonging. I was not a huge fan of that particular MTC/Chunky Move production and for similar reasons - some rather uncomfortable meta politics at play in the works. Enough about other shows though. Let's dig into what Force Majeure have given us.

You Animal, You is an investigation of socio-political heirarchies and what it takes to get to 'the top of the ladder'. Yes, there is a ladder, a real ladder which is wheeled around, climbed, danced with, etc. I hated that ladder. In a highly abstracted work to see such a literal prop being so dominant was annoying (and lazy?).

One of my biggest criticisms of You Animal, You is the apparent reluctance of Micich (director) to do what all directors must do and 'kill your darlings'. I will note, based on reviews I have read from the Sydney presentation there have been some significant changes to the work for the Melbourne season but I don't think any of those changes have solved the problems of focus and clarity, or creating a stronger connection to the stated intention of the piece.

The overarching conceit is potentially intriguing and conflates family politics with social politics. There is a dominant matriarch Mum (McElhinney) who has a son, Boy (Riley) and a daughter, Girl (Langlois). Boy is naturally gifted and is second on the ladder (after Mum). Girl sits third and then their is Bottomfeeder (Handa). They compete in a series of games which Mum changes at random just as she changes the rules and conditions of play at random to keep everyone off balance and in motion ensuring her place at the top.

You Animal, You is a dance theatre work layered in micro and macro politics which does make it exciting. I also think in dance casting cannot be blind and the bodies of the people engaging in the story telling informs how we, the audience, read the messages.

Within this frame I loved the racial politics of You Animal, You as it speaks to our current Australian situation towards ethnicity. Handa as Bottomfeeder speaks loudly to how we treat non-white Australians. Bottomfeeder out performs everyone included the annointed heir, Boy. Because Bottomfeeder will always out perform Boy, Mum keeps changing the situation and the goal posts to distract Bottomfeeder so that Boy will always win.

Mum is the master of the carrot and the stick approach of control. Intriguingly, this aspect of the conversation behind You Animal, You reminded me of the current controversy in the USA where rich parents have been indicted for paying the way for their children to enter elite colleges. How timely is that?

I also loved the interventions of Yellow (Gela). As a Torres Strait Islander, Gela's interventions to support Girl to survive Mum speak strongly of how we need to look outside our own white tribe to see if there are better, kinder, stronger ways to live with each other. Her solo dance down the centre of the arena style space is fierce and had me thinking back to Le Dernier Appel/The Last Cry.

The politics which had me angry and lost was that of the female. Mum, as the woman in control is a total bitch. Mum also never lets Girl compete on an even playing field. When others are blind folded, she is not, etc. I felt the rage I feel whenever our right wing politicians make comments about how women aren't natural leaders and you can't have quotas because that would deny promotion based on merit.

Girl doesn't seem to want to even want to play the game, and then is never allowed to compete fully and fairly. It is even harder to watch when it is women doing this to women and in You Animal, You the statements which seem to emerge around both Mum and Girl seem to embed all of the negative female stereotypes. Gela is the only counteractive force but must she be the sole saviour for all of humanity?

I wish I could tell you the significance of the colour yellow in You Animal, You but to be honest it is unclear to me. Mum is in a gold dress (not torn and tattered like the Sydney production which is a shame), and Gela is called yellow because that was her competition colour when she played in the games previously apparently (I only know this from reviews of previous iteration). The flutter spewed across the stage is yellow too.

In colour theory yellow can represent happiness, warmth, divinity, and caution. Across the world yellow has symboliseed courage (Japan), adult movies (China), insanity (Russia), death (Mexico), treason (Spain), Judaism (Germany), and cowardice (USA). I was unable to pin down how You Animal, You was using the colour except in one small piece of text which states "The number 4 is yellow." It feels significant to point out there were only ever a maximum 4 performers on stage at any point in time.

The text element of the show involved random monologues written by Mitchell (who played Mum in Sydney) and Micich. Micich was playing with the concept of syneasthesia and perhaps the most intriguing monologue was spoken by Girl about colours looking like numbers, food tasting like sensations, and smells being like sounds, etc. Some of the writing tries too hard, but it is intriguing.

Overall You Animal, You has been set up to represent an arena spectacular and Cooper's lighting does all the heavy lifting in this regard. A simple circular rig of moving lights create the architecture of the outer and inner arenas whilst Ryall's magnificent soundscape keeps movement, energy and complexity in what is, in places, a thin piece of theatre which is just a tad too slow.

The dancing from all of the performers is masterful and everyone does get to showcase their skills. Given that most of the team are themselves choreographers it goes without saying they have all been involved in the creation of this work and it is a collaborative achievement. It is just a shame that a reworking has not strengthened the work and the creators need to consider whether they are looking at the right things and perhaps changed the wrong things? I would love to have been a fly on the wall for the conversations with dramaturg Sarah Goode...

It is not often I find myself saying I liked a show and also didn't like a show. Perhaps the fact I can separate those ideas out is why the show doesn't quite work as it could and should.

2.5 Stars

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Biladurang - Live Art Review

What: Biladurang
When: 19 - 24 March 2019
Where: Sofitel Melbourne
Created and performed by: Joel Bray
Composed by: Kate Carr
Joel Bray - photo by Pippa Samaya
I love hotel rooms and I love live performance which thinks and feels and makes me do the same. In Biladurang at the Sofitel Melbourne Bray gave me a hour and a half of what I consider to be the best things in life (plus a touch of the bubbly to get us in the mood...) Let's face it, who hasn't always dreamed of being invited to a hotel room party with all it's potentials for ups, downs, outrages and intimicies?

22 random people (us) have been invited up to Bray's hotel room. The room looks like there has already been a bit of a wild party in motion and it seems as if Bray doesn't want to be alone even though the other guests have left. Eager to be a good host, he has hotel dressing gowns for us all to don, welcomes us all individually in a futile attempt to remember our names, and rearranges the furniture to make sure we are all comfortable and have a good seat.

Of course, 22 people are a lot of bodies, so he enlists help from us to do things like hand out the robes, pour champagne, turn lights on and off and other random and unexpected tasks. This is the first indication that we are not just an observing audience. We are here, in this world with him for however long this party (?) lasts.

To be in a hotel room is a very intimate thing. For those of us who have experienced extended stays they are oddly impersonal whilst also becoming your safe space - your home away from home - for as long as you are there and until you can make it back to your real home. By bringing total strangers into this oddly liminal residence, Bray is also beginning the journey into his life as a 'white' Wiradjuri man.

The conceit begins with Bray explaining he is newly single. This tells us everything we need to know about why we are about to experience a stream of consciousness journey which travels the bounds of times and realities - from the dreaming to quantum physics, from Orange to Narrm, from boyhood to manhood, from the bed to the bath, from him to us and beyond.

As we all know, great loss (be it love, career, home) is always a catalyst for us to look at who we are, how we got here, and where we belong. Bray begins this exploration in nothing more than a pair of tighty whities and an open dressing gown, the shutters on the windows are closed which gave Bray permission to be more open. Writhing around as if his skin doesn't quite fit right, Joel talks about his father who says his totem animal is the sand goanna although with so much language and history lost to the Wiraduri it is impossible to know if that is true. Regardless, Bray's spasming and writhing mimic the shapes and tempo of this iconic Australian reptile.

Bray is a dancer and his work in what is such an intimate space filled with so much furniture (and people) is surprisingly dense and impeccably executed. Not just relying on his ability to tell stories with his body though, Bray also speaks to us with his words. He tells us the story of Biladurang the platypus. Stolen and raped repeatedly by the water rat until she fell pregnant, she eventually escaped but could not return home because firstly, it was her fault for wandering too far from home and secondly because her babies - hybrid children - could not survive in the climate of her native home. As Bray builds the dense analogies which alone give us so much to think about, his body struggles to find its place and space and form in which he would be comfortable to share himself with us.

Biladurang is moving, funny, personal and interpersonal. Making us laugh Bray takes us through the agonising efforts to access gay porn in a small town and then the pleasure and pain of ecstatic masturbations. A land creature, at one point he leaves us to find solace in a bubble bath and we watch on CCTV as he emerges to rest on the edge of worlds before girding his loins (literally) with bubbles. Thus armoured he returns and asks one of us to roll him a smoke before beginning an almost post-coital rambling.

This is where Carr's sound track really starts to dominate. A dripping tap exciting an urge to action which is never satisfied later merged into ambient music as Bray continues to interrogate how he got here, his body splayed at the end of the bed as if exhausted.

At this point the performance turns to us. Bray dresses and then doles out hotel toiletries before offering hand massages with the fragrant hotel body lotion. Kneeling at people's feet, he asks about their heritage and it is surprising, rewarding, and astounding the stories which emerge in the space of a gentle tenderness. I think it is the human connection which causes people's truths to leak out just as Bray's truths have leaked out for us all.

Bray's work is always very sight specific and whilst it has met all of those conditions magnificently so far, he takes it one step further. After a very lovely slow dance, in our very own choreographed cannon Bray has us open the shutters to reveal what has to be one of the most magnificent views of  Melbourne to continue his story of being between worlds, between realities, as he overlays Narrm's history too.

Biladurang is an hour and a half of souls meeting souls. It is safe sharing of the most personal and intriguing kind and is one of those rare pieces of art which allows us to share our humanity as we explore the paths of how such a diverse group of people could find themselves in the same place and the same time struggling to make a community. Oh, and I think I am finally beginning to understand what a songline is which is a great gift indeed.

5 Stars

Monday, 18 March 2019

First Dance - Event Review

What: First Dance
When: 18 March 2019
Where: The Supper Room, Arts House
Stories and performances by: Adolfo Aranjuez, Ash Flanders, Danny Katz, Brodie Lancaster, wāni Le Frère, S.J Norman, Raina Peterson, Niharika Senapati
Raina Peterson
One of the important things Arts House has been doing for a long time now is acknowledging and acting on the importance of conversation around and about art as well as being a vehicle for the creation thereof. The leadership has changed and so it is reasonable to assume focuses and emphases for the organisation will change. With the incoming of Emily Sexton, the ideas and conversations surrounding art creation remain a priority and with this, her first Dance Massive festival,  Sexton has partnered with The Wheeler Centre to bring us First Dance.

First Dance sees 8 artists of various disciplines gather to respond to the provocation of the title. Each have 10 minutes to tell their story their way. An incredible and excitingly diverse group of writers, performers and dancers have been curated and every 10 minute story is shockingly and exhileratingly different and yet surprisingly relatable. 


How can the stories of all of these people be speaking to my experience of life? I don't know, but somehow they did. Perhaps it is because all of them gave us the gift of the personal and the honest. They allowed their souls to speak and move which allowed ours to hear and see. Many of the stories were funny, but some where serious and even heart rending.


Senapati was the first to present her piece called 'Dedication to Magic and Silliness'. In her introduction she told us she would be "just a human wiggling in front of other humans" and she was right. Her jiggling, however, showed a beautiful and fun story of a girl growing up in dance. From those silly jigglings as a toddler, through ballet training, to contemporary dance Senapati weaves back and forth across time making us laugh at artlessness and pause in awe of perfection almost in the very same moment.


Katz was up next. In 'Boogie Wonderland' he had us belly laughing through his recollections of his first school dance. "She was using dance and fun in the same sentence!...Dance feels like something you should do in private, like going to the toilet." Katz manages to remind us all of our teenage awkwardness as well as a burgeoning sense of self realisation as, after embarassing himself completely in front of a girl he remembers his dad's advice and discovers why dancing is fun.


Lancaster followed with another teenage nightmare. The teenage clubbing scene. Riffing off the meme 'dance like noone is watching' Brodie points out that "it is impossible to think about dance without considering our bodies". As she makes us laugh in shared pain at the mistakes made in preparing for that ever elusive slow dance with a boy - and the let down of the experience when it finally happens - Brodie reminds us that in small towns everybody is watching all the time. Her point, in the end, is "The greatest lie perpetuated is there are people who don't care what anyone else thinks". The Hollywood chick flicks are a lie. Dance like everyone is watching!


Peterson told us about their experience as a 5 year old about to dance their first Diwali festival in regional Victoria in 'Green'. In a beautiful outfit made by their mother (because Indian clothes weren't available) Peterson joined the celebrations and through the dance becomes the birthplace for and the radiation of green. Despite a violent childhood Peterson discovered "From dance I can grow all beauty from my hand."


Bouncing up on stage next was Aranjuez. Aranjuez's art is a "collision of poetry and dance" but tonight after a brief introduction he gave us his first dance about him. At another festival not too long ago it was brought to his attention that his art has revolved around love and as such is always about others. As a response he let us see his "first dance for me". Popping and locking across the stage it became clear what the difference was. You could see a focus and attention on self. It has something to do with the hands. Rather than reaching out, they explored and celebrated and framed Aranjuez, not the world outside of him...


A deceptively understated Flanders came on stage next to take us through the signature events and moves which made him believe he was a dancer...and then understand he wasn't. Flanders had us laughing unmercifully as he meandered through the running man, the hand jive, and a time step not even he would repeat in public in '5, 6, 7, 8!'. With the learning of the running man at an Arabian Nights dance ("...because it is the 80s and noone questions the optics...") he discovers his super power - "The power to make people look at you". Thus begins a journey to musical theatre school and 2 years working at a theatre restaurant in a job he had sworn years earlier he would never do. And thus he shares with us the sad truth the reality of life will inevitably put us where we never wanted or imagined we would be. It is just one of those humbling life lessons we have to go through to grow up I guess.


The tone of the evening took a more serious tone when Le Frère took over the stage with his poem 'Grandma'. Le Frère is a New Zealander whose family had emigrated from the Congo. His poem talks about the time he had the opportunity to reconnect with his grandparents. He did not speak their language but his grandmother loved to dance and so she tried to connect with him in that way. As sad and beautiful as that is, he then reveals she had Parkinsons. For a person so embodied with the need to dance this is a tragedy almost to great to imagine. Le Frère's story was so poignant it really did bring a tear to my eyes.


The evening ended with Norman reading us the first 700 words of the first chapter of her new book 'Codex Extasis' which explores "The ecstatic body and the radical potentials". As Norman says, "I write because my body must be heard." She believes any movement a body makes can rightfully be called dance and that all dance is a potential for revolt. For Norman "Dancing bodies are the great library..." of human experience and that there is no first dance and there is no last. I admit, I can't wait to read the book when it is published.


I really loved the format and curation of First Dance and hope this is something which will continue across the Arts House programming. Because there are no long speeches and no MC (the performers just jump on stage one after the other) it feels short and sharp and the approaches in practice and ideas is exciting. The diversity of the content matched the diversity of the artists and it is one of those rare moments in public arenas when we really do get to see who actually lives in Australia, what their lived experiences are, and where current thinking lies.


4.5 Stars