Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Holy Mothers - Theatre Review

What: Holy Mothers (Dei Prasidentinnen)
When: 20 February - 3 March 2019
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Written by: Werner Schwab
Directed by: Andre Bastian
Composition and video by: Daniel Fenby
Performed by: Alice Bishop, Helen Doig and Uschi Felix
Designed by: Peter Mumford
Lighting by: Stelios Karagiannis
Stage Management by: Millie Levakis-Lucas
Alice Bishopm, Uschi Felix, and Helen Doig
Wow. I feel speechless and I feel confident most people will after seeing the production of Holy Mothers at la Mama Courthouse this week. Unfortunately that wow is not a good one...

I have always wondered, given his magnificent wordplay and poetry, just how people have been able to translate Shakespeare into other languages. Having seen what Meredith Oakes has done with Schwab's writing I have come to realise for some writers, their work cannot be translated.

Schwab's writing is mired in neologisms and linguistic deconstruction. To try and translate a deconstruction of the German language into English is a fool's errand and nothing shows this up more that Holy Mothers. I am rather surprised that, as a German speaker himself, the director (Bastian) did not give the translation a go himself. I suspect it would have been less tedious.

I can't blame the entire tragedy of the evening on Oakes though. Schwab works in the areas of grotesque, black comedy, and post-dramatics. It appears nobody in the creative team or the cast are familiar with these theatrical concepts. Add to that a writer and creative team all made up of men trying to tell a story about women and, well, I am speechless as I said earlier.

In a pretty pink, symmetrical kitchen, three older women sit around a table, drink tea (and then later alcohol) and talk about being poor and their dependence on religion to make everybody's shit not stink. Anybody who has older relatives knows that feacal output becomes an obsession with a lot of aging people and Schwab takes this  - and a biting contempt of catholicism - to absolute extremes in this grotesque piece of German Expressionism.

It seems Bastian is one of those directors who plays the text and not the subtext and this is one of the biggest mistakes of the night. Schwab is credited with reviving German Expressionism which is built upon the idea of blowing up the reality of the external in order to reveal the reality of the internal. By having the blocking and staging and acting so mired in realism it becomes an exhausting chore to look past Schwab's never ending text and see the truths he is trying to reveal .

This production is also not helped by it's snail pace. Comedy of any genre requires pace and energy or it bogs itself down (pun intended). In this production there are pauses Harold Pinter would be proud of and they are littered everywhere. The show is almost two hours long but it felt closer to three for me, and could easily have 20 minutes cut just by picking up the pace.

Comedy also relies on archetypes and whilst I think Mumford did try to address this in his overtly clownish costuming, the director and the actors seemed to work against this idea with all their might in the staging to their own detriment. Felix (Mariedl) did the best job and to be honest, if it wasn't for her work, especially in the second hour, I really would have climbed over everybody to leave. Doig (Erna) almost gets in touch with her OCD character, but Bishop (Grete) misses the mark completely as a desperately emotional woman who never stops believing in a beautiful life.

The women are mired in shitty lives and this concept focuses most viciously on Mariedl who has become a successful bog unblocker who never wears gloves and is happy to put her hands in amongst everyones stinky shit to keep the pipes flowing because it is the work of God.  Schwab's razor sharp commentary comes to the fore when the local priest gets her to clear the blocked toilets at a party where he has hidden 'gifts' for a starving woman living on the edge of survival.

Given the lack of covert post dramatic staging during the majority of the play, the overt actions written in by Schwab right at the very end land like a fish flopping to death on a pier. It is hard for me to tell if that is a failure by the playwright because I lost interest so long ago I was having to force myself to not have a nap. I just knew it signalled the end and praised that horrible God the women were worshipping so avidly in the play.

Holy Mothers is definitely over written and I think it is a stretch to put him in the same basket as Sarah Kane as the director's notes suggest, but I do think the play is interesting - or it could be if anyone in the creative team knew how to read it and stage it. I don't think there is any good solution to the translation problems though. This is one of the problems for playwrights who play with language although sometimes they are some of the best plays written (in their own language...).

1 Star

Monday, 18 February 2019

Creatures of the Deep - Cabaret Review

What: Creatures of the Deep
When: 18 - 23 February 2019
Where: Upstairs, The Butterfly Club
Composed by: Ryan Smith, Sean Sully, and Sarah Wall
Performed by: Jake Edgar, Cat Sanzaro, Ryan Smith, Sean Sully and Sarah Wall
Jake Edgar, Cat Sanzaro, Ryan Smith and Sarah Wall
With the Green Room Award nominations having come out to day there seems to be little left for me to say except that Creatures of the Deep is sensational fun and intelligent and you would be silly to miss it. Winner of the Best Cabaret award in last year's Melbourne Fringe Festival, Creatures of the Deep is having a return season this week at The Butterfly Club as part of the Sustainable Living Festival and it will be hard for you to find a cleverer and funnier night out this week.

Picked For Last Sport has created a marvelous cabaret documentary about the curious wildlife we find under the ocean and around the Great Barrier Reef. A group of unpaid interns (Edgar, Sanzaro, Sully and Wall) join Fat Jacques Cousteau (Smith) down into our briny depths to teach us about our swimming neighbours.

The first thing you need to know is the entire cast are excellent theatre makers and bloody good singers, so along this journey you will not experience the usual cabaret standard of pitchiness. What you will hear is clever (and funny) lyrics, sung by singers who can not only sing melody but can harmonise the shit out of each other! Sanzaro stands out as a vocalist with big things going to happen in her life, but everyone in this ensemble works together and listens to each other.

Oh, and there is not a microphone in sight! I can't tell you how exciting it is to sit in the room and just hear the voices working in the room. Wall and Edgar do need to work on developing some power but I am very pleased they focussed on pitch instead, believe me.

Creatures of the Deep begins with a good old rolling sea shanty as Cousteau launches us on our voyage into the marine life off our coast. After meeting the lonely carnivorous pink jellyfish (Wall) who found her friends very tasty indeed, the crew get together and sing the ballad 'Coral City', ending with the sad fact two thirds of our northern Great Barrier Reef is now dead, bleached coral.  A pregnant male seahorse (Sully) sings a torch song about parenthood, before a school of sharks come and serenade us with an amazing barbershop quartet celebrating how happy life is when you can only go forwards (because if they go backwards they will die...).

I always get excited when I see theatre makers who focus on what is really important to the show and getting them really right. For this troupe it is the singing and a few puppets. I have already mentioned the pink jellyfish, but maybe the scene stealer of the show is the blowfish (although Edgar's pufferfish is pretty darn sexy too!). Smith leads us in a sorrowful dirge about how the poor little (big) blow fish is excluded because he is so ugly and out of proportion when he puffs up. I literally could not stop myself from continually saying 'awww' he was so sweet and pathetic...

The crew go deeper into the ocean and deeper into ideas as they explore the luminescent fish...and then the megatons of plastics littering the ocean. The statistics on the size and scale of the problem are absolutely mind blowing!

Creatures of the Deep has been nominated for Best Ensemble and Best Original Songs in the cabaret discipline of the 2019 Green Room Awards. How often do you get to see what all the fuss is about when you hear a show has been nominated? It is pretty darn rare so get on down to The Butterfly Club and prepare for an hour of fun and belly aching laughter amidst a few cold hard facts about our lifestyle!

5 Stars

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Forgotten Places - Performance Installation Review

What: Forgotten Places: From The Past a Future Begins
When: 13 - 17 February 2019
Where: The Mezzanine, Chapel Off Chapel
Directed by: Jayde Kirchert
Composed by: Imogen Cygler
Performed by: Jordan Barr, Kayla Hamill, Tomas Parrish, Willow Sizer, and Margot Tanjutco
Art designed by: Stu Brown
Costumes by: Aislinn Naughton
Margot Tanjutco
In a world obsessed with dystopian forecasting Citizen Theatre bring us something very, very different in the immersive experience of Forgotten Places: From The Past A Future Begins. You can enter their world of happy ending on The Mezzanine at Chapel Off Chapel and I guarantee you will smile and laugh and feel good for at least one hour of your life as you share this experience with the ensemble.

Forgotten Places began as a community project where residents of Stonnington were invited to take a photography walk with the Citizen Theatre team. Walking down lanes and the 'forgotten' spaces of the district, participants were encouraged to photograph elements of the environment which caught their eye.

Some of the photos were collated for further development and Brown went on to turn those photos into colourful abstractions and then further combine them into larger walls of art which form the architecture of the performance space. You can see in his earlier work that Brown loves bold,  bright colours and abstracted shapes so the outrageously positive and upbeat tone and 'in your face' joy of Forgotten Places comes as no surprise. The intriguing architectures and layers and colours of Stonnington were the perfect palette for him to riff off artistically!

Aislinn Naughton also tends to favour colour blocking and strong geometrics in her design work and her costumes are the perfect compliment to Brown's world. The characters come off as some sort of clown/psychopomp hybrid taking us through a layered garden of hope and possibility. They flit from room to room welcoming, guiding and amusing together and apart but always alongside us and each other.

You might be tempted to think that with all this colour and the gorgeous Play School style song cycles by Cygler that Forgotten Places is a show for children. Whilst it absolutely is perfect for the little ones, there is great depth of content and ideas cleverly devised by the ensemble for the adults too. We are just so used to thinking positivity is for kids and negativity is for grown ups that it would be easy to misread this event.

The world of Forgotten Places is split into four rooms; The Water Room which focusses on movement and dance, The Gift Room which is the home of Cygler on keys and is a place of songs, The Fun Room in which comedy and storytelling abound, and then finally there is The Mirror  Room which is a space of reflection. The program includes a map and a performance order you can choose to plan out for yourself, but Forgotten Places is really a 'build you own' experience, and you can wander from room to room as the mood takes you (or as the performers may guide you).

Forgotten Places is an experience of great beauty. Moments which stand out for me include the three goddesses (Barr, Hamill and Sizer) populating the water tanks with fish in The Water Room - every birth an angelic chorus of joy. Barr's 'Welcome Fruit' skit in The Fun Room was also hilarious and a wonderful commentary on the difficulties of communication and the rewards of patience. It is also a subtle homage to the less fortunate members of the community.

I also adored Parrish's 'Your Name Is' performance in The Fun Room. Again a beautiful combination of welcome and celebration as well as acknowledging members of the community with disability.

As I mentioned earlier some of Cygler's compositions repeat in childlike wonder such as the song 'Come And See This Place I'm In' which cycles with each act and continues the sense of warmth, welcome, belonging and permission. There are deeper moment with the more complex composition n The Gift Room though. As Parrish sang the lyrics 'Where day is dark and dark is bright' I instantly thought of winter skys and then busy nights on Chapel Street.

The Gift Room is an intriguing space as well. Whilst you listen to the songs there are three bowls with little scrolls. One bowl is a gift to you, another is a gift for someone you love who isn't there, and the thirds is a gift to be given to someone you don't know.

Like these little scrolls, Forgotten Places feels like a gift being given. I don't know if I have ever attended a performance which felt so genuinely like a gift for me. This may be why it has such a strong sense of magic about it... Kirchert's skill in interweaving all these ideas and elements into such a complex hour of fun and laughter is genius!

Forgotten Places is an immersive event for every age and here are some pro tips for you to get maximum enjoyment. First, wear shoes which are easy to slip on and off. Trust me, your feet will love you if you let them feel the textures on the floor! Secondly, don't forget to download a QR code reader app on your phone because you can look at how the art work was created and access the song lyrics in the space. The space is accessible and you can take your drinks upstairs with you. Win/Win!!!!

5 Stars



Monday, 11 February 2019

Badass - Cabaret Review

What: Badass
When: 10 February 2019
Where: The Toff In Town
Written and performed by: Tash York
Band: David (drums), Shae (bass), Tim (Keys & backup vocals)
David, Tash York, and Shae
You know a cabaret artist is in the A-league when they no longer needs props and costumes and have a personal back up band. For Tash York that moment has arrived and her new show Badass places her squarely in the big time of the cabaret genre.

I first came across York when she was MC for The After Hours Cabaret Club and right from that first moment I knew she was a talent to be reckoned with. Since then I have seen her show Adulting and, most recently, Petty Bitches with Boo Dwyer and York has gone from strength to strength as a performer and as a story teller.

In Badass York reveals her life goal to become a...well...badass. Beginning with a Micheal Jackson/Moulin Rouge medley York stamps her place on stage immediately and shows us she is not backing down from the fight. Riffing off singers such as Pat Benatar, York combines her sassy and clever ability to rejig lyrics and a pitch perfect voice with a range and power only the best in the business come close to having.

York is a comedian as well as a first class vocalist and Badass really is a laugh a minute. Marvelling at how Disney movies (love them or hate them) always manage to pull a tear from our eyes no matter how well you know the ending, York demonstrates her own talents in crafting an unexpected, yet heartfelt journey for the audience. Coming in hot and strong with her power statement, York journeys through some things which have prevented her from becoming a badass in the past. Things such as her nemesis high school bully, a late blooming bustline, a tomboy lifestyle and a passion for stationary.

After causing us to roll on the floor laughing our arses off, York's tale takes a turn when we meet Nigel - The EX. It is this part of the journey where York learns what a real badass is and if you are lucky she may even sing you a personalised power anthem for you to embrace your own inner badass (make sure you have a favourite dinosaur). The power of the utter honesty and rawness with which York shares herself with the audience is unmatched. Disney be damned! If your eyes don't well up when you hear her tale you are not human.

The universe doesn't know it yet, but York really is one of the best cabaret artists in the business. Whenever you get the chance to see her (she is off to Adelaide soon) take it. It will be a night you won't forget. One worthy of the biggest stages in the world.

5 Stars

Friday, 8 February 2019

As You Like It - Theatre Review

What: As You Like It
When: 8 - 10 February 2019
Where: Alistair Knox Park
Written by: William Shakespeare
Directed and designed by: Meg Deyell
Composed by: Remy Chadwick
Performed by: Matt Bertram, Remy Chadwick, Louise Cocks, Meg Deyell, Tref Gare, David Harris, Shae Kelly, Josiah Lulham, Renee Mackenzie, Christina McLachlan, Dana McMillan, Francesca O'Donnell, and Dean Robinson
Stage managed by: Seinnah Kaylock
Christina McLchlan, Tref Gare, Josiah Lulham, Dana McMillan, and Louise Cocks

Some four hundred years ago in England William Shakespeare wrote three plays and then wrote them over and over again, and, like a virus they have invaded our psyche and we keep putting them on over and over again. For those of you infected, you can see one of the last of this Summer's garden Shakespeares in Eltham this week (and Diamond Creek next week) with In The Park Productions' version of As You Like It.

As these things go, this version of As You Like It has the notably unique characteristic of actually being the play Shakespeare wrote which is refreshing. Deyell has not manipulated the text or language in any noticable way (for better or worse) and the performers give an energetic rendition to one of many plays the Englishman wrote which involves girls dressing up as boys, people living in the forrests, exiled sons or daughters, and happy endings with lots of songs and weddings to finish things off.

The Bard's plays suffer from poor jumps of logic with overt exposition to explain how or why his characters end up being wherever it is they need to be, but As You Like It does have some of his more famous time wasters such as the 'All the world's a stage' speech so it has a sense of odd familiarity despite it's complete lack of connection to here and now in Australia. It being a comedy also gives us permission to overlook his rather random dramaturgy and inherently sexist and racist world view.

Having said all that, many of the actors in this production bring a wealth of skills and talents to bring depth and life to Shakespeare's worn out work. McMillan (Rosalind) and Harris (Adam/Touchstone) in particular, are really spectacular. Lulham (Charles/Jacques) and Cocks (Celia) also bring great energy to the stage and keep the story alive and worth watching.

Chadwick and O'Donnell (Musicians), along with McKenzie (Isabel) are a wonderful comic trio as well as imbuing the production with life through fun and, at times, haunting tunes and harmonies. My favourite buffoon in the piece is Bertram as Corin. Too funny by far!

On the down side, I was surprisingly disappointed with Gare (Frederick/Senior). He is a great actor as we saw in Romeo and Juliet last year, but in this production I felt as if he didn't know what he was supposed to be doing or why he was there.

This leads me to the direction. Deyell has been smart and what she lacks in vision and skill she makes up for in allowing the cast to work to their talents. She moves the cast around the stage cleanly and often that is half the battle.

Unfortunately there is too much playing of the text and not enough playing of the subtext, especially for the smaller roles. When people aren't speaking they are just standing out of the way and watching and (thankfully) listening. It made things a bit visually tedious but kept the story accessible for people who struggle with ye olde English. (I wonder why...?).

Deyell evidently has a strong eye for design though and her revolving triangular panels were highly evocative and made location shifts easy for both the cast and audience. Sleek, shiny grey panels gave way to rusted corrugated iron sheeting as we moved to the forests of Arden. Given the hippy costumes and machine guns I assume the idea was Duke Senior had created some sort of hill billy moonshine operation in the forest. A cute idea and it gave the musical trio a lot of room to play.

Sitting on the yellowed grass, seeing the sparse silver-green trees in the distance and listening to the kookaburras I did find myself wishing I was watching something Australian to go with the environment and the audience. Something riotous like Dimboola perhaps...

Having said that, As You Like It is a fun family event. The cast hand out maraccas and bells to the children at interval for a sing along, there is a playground next to the play space, and an icecream truck for the kids and a coffee truck for the adults. With face painting, a clothing stall, and some real knock your socks off performances, going to As You Like It ticks all the boxes for an end of summer treat.

3.5 Stars



Thursday, 7 February 2019

Q - Theatre Review

What: Q
When: 6 - 10 February 2019
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Written and directed by: Aleksandr Corke
Performed by: Alanah Allen, Aislinn Murray, Ashleigh Gray, Caitlin Duff, Edan Goodall, Max Paton, Reilly Holt, and Wil King
Design by: Nathan Burmeister
Lighting by: Georgie Wolfe
Sound by: Justin Gardam
Aislinn Murray, Max Paton, Alanah Allen, Ashleigh Gray and Edan Goodall
For those who like their drama supernatural with more than a hint of the afterlife, Q is the play for you. Resembling the love child of The Good Place and No Exit, Q will keep you pondering long after the (metaphorical) curtain goes down each night at La Mama Courthouse this week.

Q is a drama in two acts (but no interval) which asks the deceptively simple question 'If life has no purpose and death has no purpose, which is better?' Some of us may think this is not a question we have to ponder but Corke makes the case that regardless of religion - or lack thereof - we all end up in the same place.

You might say (as I did to myself) "I don't believe in any religion. I believe there is no afterlife. I believe when we die it is the end." Corke's proposition, though, is that no belief is correct. If he is right, then the idea that death is where it stops is as faulty as any belief in gods or karma or veganism... It really is enough to make you think again, and as - in my opinion - that is one of the most important things theatre can make you do, I think this play is great.

The first act is about the death of Mr K. (King). He wakes up and is greeted in an antechamber by two bureaucrats (Holt and Gray), who are experiencing something a little unusual. K's file outlining the details of his life won't open and they can't find a key. An inspector (Allen) is brought in and realises the problem is K has been 'seized' too early.

K is given the choice to deal with long lines and unbearable administration to return to his life or, seeings he is already there, just sign a waiver and head off into whatever he believes his afterlife was always intended to be. K chooses to stay, signs all the forms put in front of him and heads off for the good times he always imagined heaven would be.

Begin act 2. K has been told there is just a bit more assessing to be done and then he can head off into the good rewards of a life well-lived so he finds himself in a waiting room with a bunch of other guests clutching their files and sitting in eager anticipation. (Everyone in the play is double cast except King). Well, almost everyone has their file. One very unresponsive and gloomy individual, Peter (Goodall), doesn't seem to have one which is a very curious thing.

One by one we hear their stories of how they ended up there and this is perhaps a section of the play which could easily be edited down a bit. It is great to get to know everyone in the scene and their stories are good, but not all of them move the action along and the stage gets very cluttered. Corke has directed all the bodies in the space well, but it is a bit too much like a game of musical chairs where someone keeps forgetting to turn off the music.

It is Goodall's amazing performance in this scene which keeps it alive and holds the tension. Peter doesn't speak at all and barely moves and, as such, is incredibly powerful. In a way, it is a shame Corke blinks and late in the scene has him move because suddenly he becomes a part of the group and therefore less powerful.

This is important because I suspect the real core of this play is about suicide. When Peter does finally talk, he interogates K about his last moments only to discover K gave up his life voluntarily. This infuriates Peter, who (I think) committed suicide himself when 'The world snaps to black.'

What Corke seems to be saying is if there is no purpose in life, and no purpose in death why not choose to live? Why give your life away? At first this may seem glib, but if you give in to his idea of the afterlife he is making a really good point. Trust me, if Corke's imaginings are true I have finally found a reason to try and live forever!

Q is dense and dark, but oddly humorous and a real thinker! The cast are a great ensemble and Gray, Allen and Goodall really stand out in the crowd. Everyone is good though. The only mild disappointment was Simeon's (Holt) death tale which was perhaps a little too dark and outside the emotional grasp of someone as young as Holt is.

Q is one of the best produced plays I have seen in a long time. Burmeister's set was fabulous with simple solutions which create strong evocations of a shadowy/cloudy world somewhere just outside of understanding. He and Wolfe have worked together well, with the lighting almost pulsing through the translucent set.

The smoke is probably redundant and not well used. Remember that once smoke is in the room it doesn't go away. In this case Wolfe used it for some memory sequences and this began to muddy up the exactitude of the antechamber in the first act.

Gardam's sound design was absolute perfection. His elongated and warped music set the emotional tone of the piece from the very beginning, and from start to finish he never lets the audience off the hook. Gardam's scape had the intriguing property of making the moments of silence incredibly stuffed with meaning and tension.

It really was a joy to see Q. Q is a Monash University student alum production and I constantly find the Monash graduates have an incredibly sophisticated grasp of theatre making beyond most courses in Melbourne at the moment. Whilst everyone else is training their students to go out and make their own ground breaking work, Monash is teaching their students how to make great nuts and bolts theatre as well as developing original ideas. The Monash production dramaturgy is pretty unmatched at the moment.

4.5 Stars