Thursday 31 January 2019

Cock - Theatre Review

What: Cock
When: 30 January - 10 February 2019
Where: fortyfivedownstairs
Written by: Mike Bartlett
Directed by: Beng Oh
Performed by: Matthew Connell, Scott Gooding, Shaun Goss and Marissa O'Reilly
Designed by: Emily Collett
Lighting by: Andy Turner
Sound by: Tom Backhaus
Stage Management by: Teri Steer
Matthew Connell and Marissa O'Reilly
For those of you who missed Cock last year (presented by Bakers Dozen), director Beng Oh has remounted it as part of Midsumma through his own company 15 Minutes From Anywhere. Cock is playing until 10 February at fortyfivedownstairs.

Cock was written by British playwright, Mike Bartlett in 2009 and won the the Olivier Award for outstanding achievement on it's first production. It is an interesting play and most of the ideas in the play are very contemporary (exempt for the in-your-face misogyny) and for the most part it talks about how we like to categorise people. Are you gay or are you straight? To be anywhere in between is betrayal of the worst kind.

This is John's (Connell) story which is emphasised by the fact no-one else in the cast has a name. John is anyone though - John Doe for example - and in this cockfight of a play he is pitted in the ring against M[an] (Goss), W[oman] (O'Reilly), and F[ather] (Gooding) in round after round of verbal battle and confrontation as he tries to find himself in a world of black and white with no shades of grey.

John is in a relationship with M. They break up and John discovers he is attracted to W and has a relationship. M tries to win him back and seeks back up from F. And thus begins an hour and a half of non-stop, circular, repetitive conversation which - to be honest - left me wanting to kill them all.

This is not the fault of the actors or the director. Most of the blame falls on the writer. Bartlett has obviously never heard of the concept of dramatic action and, whilst I rail against it as a dominating theory, I confess that Cock reminds me of why I should pay the idea far more respect than I do.

There has been a school of writing (hypernatural) which revels in minutiae and repetition and stays in the same place for far too long. I am reminded of Lauren Langlois' solo in The Complexity of Belonging. She was brilliant but the material was soul-destroyingly repetitious and the quantity of the content was inversely proportional to the quality of the commentary. Cock in  it's entirety is much like this.

Cock is pure dialogue which is something of a teaching trend in the play writing community at the moment. As such it makes a great radio play. It is hypernatural - not my favourite form - and staging instructions insist on an empty ring in which the fight takes place.  Beng Oh has worked hard to honour the playwright's intentions in his directions.

Beng Oh is also, evidently, a student of Viewpoints and the cast move about the stage keeping the teeter board always in balance as required. Unfortunately in such paired back circumstances the tools become apparent and, as with all legerdemain, once you see the trick you no longer feel the magic. Used sparingly, Viewpoints is a powerful technique, but in Cock it goes too far and actually destroys the visceral potential of the cock fights taking place. It removes the raw, the messy, the brokenness of the relationships we are viewing.

Connell in particular, whilst giving an amazing performance, lacked the feral nature of his desperation to understand himself and his resistance to everyone to fit into a label. Goss embodies his energies well as the controlling partner, and O'Reilly is a welcome breath of respite until she, too is drawn into the fighting pit.

Gooding was far too restrained and emotionally removed. He goes in to the pit fight for his son's happiness but at the most feral moment in the play - when they really are all fighting for their lives as they want them to be - everyone is very demurely standing on opposite corners talking respectably across an empty playing space. This moment is the great directorial failure of this play.

So much of this production of Cock sets up massive challenges for itself and tends to handle them with admirable acceptability and moments of brilliance, but the design doesn't help. Earlier I mentioned that the play looks at how black and white our ideas are and how John is searching for his particular shade of grey. Collett has recognised this and represents it in the costuming but she has missed the point. M, F, and W are the black and white, and it is John who is the shade of grey.

Turner has demonstrated a restrained genius with a bright white flood of light with least number of blackouts possible (thankyou!) and as well as feeling like a fighting ring it had the wonderful ambience of this story being looked at under a microscope. Unfortunately between the bland lighting and the gray palette costumes there was nothing for the audience to look at - except each other because it is in the round.

Thus I keep going back to the idea this is a radio play, not a stage play. One of the requirements of stage is you need to provide something to look at. The most interesting thing to see in the room was the audience with their wonderful outfits and in the melting heat we became something of a Dahli painting - panting and sweating and wilting in the airless room.

This brings me onto my soap box. If the audience is uncomfortable they will not fully enter the world of the play. This means, in extreme weather conditions, it is better to have the sound of heating or cooling which becomes a redundant background noise they will tune out. This idea that noise in the auditorium will destroy the play is far more ridiculous than the reality that a body in distress will trigger an escape reflex which you then have to spend the entire time fighting.

Back to the show though. Cock is a great example of just how pared back minimalism can be. If Bartlett's writing was a bit more economical, the show - in particular this production - would be quite phenomenal. There are points in the scenes where the characters go to leave the stage but are drawn back into the conversation only to start repeating themselves. These are the points Bartlett should have edited his work.

I have nothing but absolute awe and amazement at the cast's ability to learn those lines, speak them at that pace, and imbue them with meaning, intention, and recognise every emotional transition. As I said earlier too, I think this conversation about the prejudices of both extremes of the gay/straight spectrum is well placed and extremely important. The ensemble are working with difficult and complex material and can be proud of what they have done with it.

2.5 Stars

Saturday 26 January 2019

Petty Bitches - Cabaret Review

What: Petty Bitches
When: 25 - 26 Januaray 2019
Where: The Butterfly Club
Created and performed by: Boo Dwyer and Tash York

Boo Dwyer and Tash York
So often in life we are told to not sweat the small stuff but Dwyer and York are here to celebrate our ability and need - yes need - to pick at every small detail in their riotous new show, Petty Bitches. These days there are conferences for everything and the Petty Bitch conference has booked The Butterfly Club for 2 days of delicious ranting about all the little things people do to annoy the shit out of us all.

Dwyer and York are 2 of our hottest comedic talents and they have paired up to create the most enjoyable conference you have ever attended. Under the watchful eye of, conference...leader, Katy Petty, Dwyer and York take us through the 5 steps to embrace our inner petty bitch.

As with all good self improvement programs, B.I.T.C.H. is the mnemonic to help keep the process in mind. If only York could remember it...

There are the traditional affirmations which allow the audience to share their inner petty bitch. Mine was counting the items in trolleys ahead of me in the 12 items or less express isle in the supermarket. The B.I.T.C.H program has given me the tools to own this tendency with pride. For some of you it may be the use of apostrophes or ellipses. For others it may be the speed of email replies.

Whatever your petty bitch moments are own them, love them, celebrate them! Most importantly though - let them breathe and multiply.

Both Dwyer and York are amazing and powerful singers as well as comedic geniuses and as they work through hits such as '9 to 5' (upgraded to power petty bitch lyrics for the new century), complete with excellent harmonies and clever lyrics, we experience multilayered moments of joy. My favourite was 'Toxic' which reminds us of all the petty things which are irritating about driving a car and catching public transport. So very, very many irritating moments to petty bitch about...

Perhaps the one moment of the show which did not work for me was the encore but not because of its quality. Dwyer and York perform the most amazing 90's pop montage which is transcendent in its brilliance of construction and performance. The issue is it really doesn't relate to the show and is literally just tacked on the end.

I say it is far too good for that. In order to make the dramaturgy work though, they ought to take a leaf out of the Neil Patrick Harris Academy Awards playbook and perform it at the beginning of the show as the pre-conference, show-stopping entertainment. It is too good to remove and it is far too good to just be an add on.

Unforgettable cabaret moment of the year goes to the Dwyer/York kazoo wars. I honestly never knew a kazoo could actually be musical, never mind being capable of the lyrical feats their kazoos manage!

Tonight is the last night of the Petty Bitch conference in Melbourne before it heads to Adelaide so sign up now and head to The Butterfly Club tonight bitches! (No gender restrictions apply).

3.5 Stars

Thursday 24 January 2019

Flawed____like a b_y - Theatre Review

What: Flawed____like a b_y
When: 23 - 27 January 2019
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Written by: Bj McNeill
Performed by: Bj McNeill, Rebecca Montalti and Mitchell Wilson
Choreographed by: Claudia Subiela Ferre
Sound by: Seb Attebury
Stage managed by: Laura Barnes
Bj McNeill - photo by Darren Black
La Mama opens it's doors this year straight into the arms of the Midsumma Festival. Kicking off the 2019 program is a remount of Flawed____like a b_y written by Bj McNiell, an ex-patriot Sydney-sider who finds alphabet life more inclusive in his heritage country, the UK.

Flawed is a really clever idea. It looks at how a young male can find himself growing up in a world with a set of rules which don't fit. He rebels against all the stereotypes he is taught make him a man.

His mother tells him a man doesn't call another man handsome. He plays rugby to fit in - but doesn't. He goes on a family fishing trip and hates it even though his sister loves it...? This is where I start to disconnect.

I suspect I will get a lot of flak for this review, but here it goes. Firstly, McNeill is an intriguing writer with a poetic edge and a post truth aesthetic but in my view he failed to truly reveal himself and this left me with little little more than an appreciation of the theatre making skills of the team.

I suspect even the rape story is not his. It felt lacking and I have found a review in Miro which suggests to me the story McNeill tells in this version of the show is not his at all, but that of the reviewer in Miro. I have no doubt he has consent to tell the story, but the telling lacked a sense of authenticity for me and I think this may be why. He also embodies a suicide attempt as a physical motif but I failed to really feel the lead up so then I wonder if it is just a piece of beautiful art?

Flawed is beautiful. McNeill has striking features and the aesthetic in the show is black with a little hint of kink and bondage (like huge, pink, fluffy dildos). Ferre's choreography is fun and fluid and McNeill, Montalti and Wilson perform it with excellent timing and sharp attitude.

Flawed is billed as cabaret style and it is. Where, in a cabaret there would be a song there are dances, but in effect the journey is of that form.

And here comes my next critique. This show and this story is McNeill's and in it's current construction the other two performers are merely back up dancers. This cast is not the original, and I did find a clip of the original London show which is far more energetic and generally messier. I suspect it is also more affective than this very glossy, polished work presented in Melbourne. It is billed as experimental but to be honest, in Melbourne it is kind of standard fare theatrically speaking. Better dancing, perhaps?

I also find myself questioning why the show has a cys-female character in it. Montalti's performance is perfect but she doesn't fit the narrative of male gender roles and how to find your place as a man in a fluid spectrum. I found myself wishing McNeill had created a cys-male hetero-normative character to share the space with him and Wilson. The commentary would have been so much more layered and nuanced, and the tension and the stakes would have been so much higher.

There are some great and powerful images in the show. The orgy scene with the dildoes and silly string is brilliant. The Jesus on the Cross image was powerfully done too, if somewhat cliche.

There is a particularly poignant moment when McNeill begins a story speaking with one person in the audience and expands the story to have the 'you' in his writing expand from the singular to the plural. This was perhaps my favourite part of the show.

My quandary with Flawed is not whether it has been difficult for McNeill to find his place as a sexual being and social identity in this world. My reserve comes from the feeling he is using cliches and not telling us the real, painful, important moments of learning in his life.

I also feel there is confusion about what are general teenage angst/not belonging/rebellion moments and what is key to this particular conversation. For example, he doesn't like fishing trips with his family, but his sister does. If his sister is there it doesn't seem to me the excursion is a 'being a man' lesson - especially as she seems to like it.

This kind of story dilutes the real pain and the real family tensions and this is what needs to be revealed to make us care. It is the real and raw moments which motivate us to work to change the world. It is also that real pain and rawness which will make those of us on the 'g__l' side of the equation open up and share our humanity as well.

Flawed____like a b_y is fun and fabulous and I suspect it will have more impact in Adelaide (where it is headed next) than here, because I think the 'you' in the show is more likely to attend in that festival, rather than the already sympathetic Midsumma audiences.

3.5 Stars

Wednesday 23 January 2019

I'll Have What He's Having - Cabaret Review

What: I'll Have What He's Having
When: 22 January - 5 February 2019
Where: Hare and Hyenas
Created and Performed by: Adrian Barila
Accompanies by: Rainer Pollard
Adrian Barila
Midsumma is a festival which explores a spectrum of human pleasures and Barila expands this notion in I'll Have What He's Having at Hares and Hyenas. This one man (plus accompanist - Pollard) cabaret has Barila showing us why he hides his Donna Hay magazines inside gay porn mags.

I'll Have What He's Having was created by Barila in 2015 whilst at Federation Uni and was remounted in 2016. Throughout the show Barila sings his way through his obsessions with desserts and sausage meats, expertly accompanied by Pollard who expands his role to straight man/side kick occassionally for food tastings.

Barila takes us on a crazy ride of 'Afternoon Delights' including an Asian snack lucky dip, creating an Eton Mess along the way. He has even written a book on the art of mastication!

I learnt a new term at this show. Apparently there is a new trend (emerging from Korea?) called the mush bang. It is a fetish involving watching people eat.

Barila takes us on an aural mush bang of his own. For those of you who can't stand it when a colleague eats carrots for lunch, this show may be challenging although I admit I did find listening to someone chew something crunchy quite sensual - but then, I am a soundie...

Barila has a well trained singing voice and his subconscious default of standing in first position with a permanently activated core indicate he is a classically trained dancer - although this is not the show to demonstrate that skill. Unfortunately, choosing to take the stage for what is meant to be an elongated sensory stimulation is not helped by being a white man in a white t-shirt and grey stonewash jeans. It's like being the vanilla in neopolitan icecream - tastes great, but what you really get excited about is the chocolate and strawberry. Barila is good but right now he is the chorus, not the principal.

Barila does really have a passion for food - or sweets at least - and you can check out his food vlog, Barila Bakes, to find the most unusual recipes for doughnuts and Kit Kats. In I'll Have What He's Having he shares this passion with the audience with a good amount of interaction and don't worry, they check for food allergies before the show so you are safe!

I'll Have What He's Having is fully baked and as sweet as pie. One of the great highlights is Barila's Cheezel fingers fan dance!


Tuesday 15 January 2019

Newk! - Theatre Review

What: Newk! (The John Newcombe Story)
When: 14 - 19 January 2019
Where: Upstairs, The Butterfly Club
Written and directed by: Kieran Carroll
Performed by: Damian Callinan

Damian Callinan
Melbourne is all about tennis this fortnight, but not all the action is happening at Melbourne Park. If you pop in to The Butterfly Club for a cocktail (the Newcano is very dry and extremely awesome) you can hear a great Aussie tennis story performed by a great Aussie storyteller as Callinan embodies John Newcombe in Newk! (The John Newcombe Story).

Newcombe now resides in Texas at his tennis ranch for the most part these days so we don't hear much about him in the tennis broadcasts anymore. At one point though he was a powerhouse of Australian tennis. Across his career he won 7 singles championships and 17 doubles championships and has played the likes of Ken Rosewall, Rod Laver, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and the list goes on. His playing career spanned 1963 - 1978, after which he went on to captain the Australian Davis Cup team for five years and is an Australian Living Treasure as well as being inducted in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Carroll's long form monologue encompasses not only Newcombe's professional success, but is also a fun portrait of his private excesses and and a heart warming insight into his personal life as he invites the elite of the tennis community  - old and new - to a backyard barbeque to celebrate his 70th birthday. Newk! is actually an adaptation of a full two act play penned by Carroll in 2014 and I encourage people to have a read (and perhaps stage it?). As much fun as Newk! is, the play digs deeper and we find out a lot more about his wife, Angie and the other people in his life.

Callinan is the perfect choice to play this member of the Australian 70's moustachioed sports elite. To the lay person it is kind of hard to tell the difference between Newcombe, the Chappells, and Barassi...

I don't know anyone who pulls off that dinky di Aussie sportsman persona on stage with as much aunthenticity and respect as Callinan. Callinan loves a larrikin and whilst Australia and Australians are moving on, it is nice to be reminded of those good old days with just enough of a nod to remember why we have moved on.

In Newk! Newcombe is portrayed as a hard playing, hard drinking kinda bloke who only loses when blood is left on the court. Interestingly, Newcombe is renowned for his intense mental focus so when Callinan shows us a heavy binge and talks about how the next morning Newk will be up at 6am for a 5 km hill run before a 5 hour training session it is fascinatingly believable. Not many people can do the one and then the other!

Newcombe made a lot of money from endorsements and whilst, as a child, I only knew tennis players names because they were on the back of cereal boxes, I do remember his advertising classics. Who can forget the toast 'cin cin', or 'avagoodweegend', and who didn't want to sleep on a Miracoil?

Newk! shifts between time much like a tennis game changes lead, and for the most part extremely successfully and with little confusion. I perhaps would have liked Callinan to embrace a more energetic physicality when playing Newk in his prime, but it is not a big issue.

Carroll has paid wonderful attention to detail with props and costumes. Everything from the King Gee shorts, the vintage Slazenger, and the bar lined with Cinzano and Kirks.

Between Callinan's earnest, dry and inclusive performance and Carroll's attention to detail, Newk! is  a wonderful show full of memorabilia and belly laughs. You will remember things you didn't even realize you knew as you travel down one of Australia's iconistic paths. There is no more perfect time than now to pop into The Butterfly Club, down a couple of Newcanoes and have a good laugh with an old friend, John Newcombe, before watching your next match at the Australian Open.

3.5 Stars


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