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


Sunday, 17 March 2019

Same But Different - Dance Review

What: Same But Different
When: 13 - 23 March 2019
Where: The Stables, Meat Market
Choreographed and performed by: Henrietta Baird, Ngioka Bunda-Heath, Mariaa Randall, and Carly Sheppard
Lighting by: Siobhan Geaney
Sound by: Airileke and Deline Briscoe
AV by: Jody Haines
Photo by Bryony Jackson
Following on from Divercity in 2017, DubailKungkaMiyalk once again brings four First Nation dancers together to examine the synergies and the differences between the dance/stories of varied language groups of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Same But Different showcases four woman from across Australia to tell their stories through dance in a powerful travelling across space, across time, and across experiences in The Stables at Arts House for Dance Massive.

The journey begins with Randall's solo composition called 'Painting The Dance'. With paint dripping down her naked torso she dances her tale. Writhing against the back wall, the paint smears and merges with older paint smears speaking to the cave paintings which have shown us the history of the Indigenous Australians. Randall brings it into the here and now though as she steps forward and smears the paint across her own body to create the shapes and signs she wants us to see. In doing this she reclaims agency over her image and her space.

Invited to begin our travelling, we move into a second space with a small square rostra, a beach painting, and a photograph projected on the wall. In this darker and more intimate space Bunda-Heath reminds of us of a pain which has never (can never?) be healed as we hear another sorry tale of the Stolen Generation in 'Blood Quantum'. Bunda-Heath tells her story, one of a family, of a mother and three children who live outside of town. As she speaks though, she rhythmically repeats an etude of proposed violence which ends with a slap on the floor which becomes more oppressive as time wears on. The children are told to sit still and then 'the importance of the town' drives into their front yard...

We travel on, past an oil painting of a beach with three sets of footprints into a darkness littered with black draped forms hanging from the ceiling. Are they dead bodies? Are they wraiths? In 'Blak Ones' Sheppard never shows us faces, never utters a word. The four women dance to an ominous yet intriguing sound track made up of an intense rythm of voices uttering the word/breath "ha". Draped in black with their heads veiled, the four women dance a song of mourning, a song of anger, a song of action.

Finally we are invited to join the women on a camping trip. We sit in tents around the stage and are included in the yarning circle of the camp site in Baird's 'Stories'. One by one each of the women tell a campfire story. Some are silly, some are funny, all of them are gifted to us before they move into a more esoteric form. All of it is generous and inclusive.

A couple of days ago I reviewed The Perception Experiment and I talked about how they created art on the floor with salt. In Same But Different the four women engage in a similar activity, this time using brightly coloured powders which they ceremoniously pile across the stage before exploding the piles into puffs and then smears to create a melange. I was reminded of the Tibetan mandala ceremonies...

The greatest sense I came away with from Same But Different was an awareness that the past is present, and the present is shaped and informed by the past. The two are one and this is why we can't relegate the past as behind us, and why wounds don't heal easily. The dead live with us and through us and we have to speak with them when we speak with the living.

I also loved the great honoring with which this group made an acknowledgement of country both before and after the show. I know people have been exploring how to do this and if you come and see this show you will understand why it should be done as well as how it can be done in a way which is real, and powerful, and meaningful.

There was more to Same But Different than I have spoken of here. Linking across all the works is some wonderful videography by Haines. The image which sat with me most resonantly was the repetition of two hands reaching towards each other. It really set the tone of offering and openness which permeated across the four steps of our journey.

For me Same But Different is the performance which opened an important door of understanding what it is to be Australian and to take a step closer to being able to hopefully engage more fully with our First Nation People. I don't think I really understood the past as present before and I thank these women for the gift they have given me.

Same But Different is offering this gift to us all so please make sure you take up there offer. Hopefully you will see some of what I saw and the world will never look the same again.

4 Stars

Friday, 15 March 2019

The Belly Dancer - Theatre Review

What: The Belly Dancer
When: 15 - 18 March 2019
Where: The Engine Room
Written by: Jacob Honeychurch Megan J Riedl
Directed by: Alise Amarant
Performed by: Saari Frochot-Chauhan, Elliott Gale, and Marjan Maleki
Choreography by: Saari Frochot-Chauhan
Set by: Alise Amarant and Megan Reidl
Elliott Gale, Saari Frochot-Chauhan, and Marjan Maleki
Ten years after the Cronulla riots erupted in Sydney, Bendigo was rocked by their own alt-right crisis over plans to build a mosque for the Islam community. Three more years have passed and whilst the wounds are healing, the Central Victorian community still lives in the pain and aftermath of the ideological violence of those encounters. The Belly Dancer is an attempt by members of the community to make sense of what has happened, and is being performed in The Engine Room this weekend.

The play itself is a great beginning for what could eventually be a work of importance although right now I don't think it is quite the instrument of healing they perhaps hoped for. It is highly expository and this aspect is highlighted rather than ameliorated by Amarant's direction which makes it feel like a lecture being given by a parent. Regardless of the perceived value or validity of the commentary, it will have the effect of closing down the receptiveness of the audience in it's current form.

Another difficulty is it has conflated family violence with racial violence and in the current iteration implies the alt-right protestors were/are wife beaters. I don't think this is what they were going for. Rather, I think the intention was to say that violence is often a result of fear but intention does not always meet outcome.

I would love to see this play rewritten and produced again at some point after some dramaturgy. Perhaps another character - a friend and cohort of Dave (Gale) - who is forced to help Rubina (Maleki) help Frochot-Chauhan' character. It would also allow the interesting back story of how Dave's controlling behaviour is destroying his work life as well as his personal life.

I guess for me the decision needs to made about whether this play is about the mosque protests or domestic violence. Whilst both types of violence perhaps come from a place of fear (?), it is not the same place and care needs to be taken about conflating the two. This is especially important as Australia now tries to make sense of the shootings in Christchurch this week.

Whilst I did not find the direction particularly inspiring, I did very much enjoy the performances by Gale and Maleki, and I used to belly dance myself so Frochot-Chauhan's dancing touched me deeply - especially the scarf dance.

2 Stars


Thursday, 14 March 2019

Le Dernier Appel/The Last Cry - Dance Review

What: Le Dernier Appel/The Last Cry
When: 14 - 17 March 2019
Where: Cobblestone Pavillion, Meat Market
Directed by: Serge Aime Coulibaly
Choreographed by: Serge Aime Coulibaly and Dalis Pigram
Composed by: Ngaiire, Bree Van Reyk and Nick Wales
Performed by: Amrita Hepi, Stanley Nalo, Krilin Nguyen, Yoan Ouchot, Dalisa Pigram and Miranda Wheen
Set by: Nicolas Mole
Costumes by: Mirabelle Wouters
Lighting by: Matt Marshall
Kilin Nguyen, Dalisa Pigram, Stanley Nalo, Yoan Ouchot, Amrita Hepi and Miranda Wheen - photo by Prudence Upton
Le Dernier Appel/The Last Cry is a blockbuster. It is a battle. It is a battle cry. This last battle cry is ringing across the cobblestones and into the hearts of the world at the Meat Market this week as part of Dance Massive. Watch, listen and then act!

Marrugeku is an Australian indigenous dance company based in the Western top end of Australia. Formed in 1994 to create Mimi, the company has gone from strength to strength wowing audiences with powerful works addressing contemporary conversations about heritage, history and colonisation.

Whilst Marrugeku is a company of contemporary dancers, they appear to have really found their style and mojo in the hip hop tradition. This makes sense. Whilst hip hop is considered to be an American flavoured style of dance there have been descriptions of power moves by indigenous dancers across the globe as far back as 1877.

As well as incorporating breaking, popping and locking into an overall contemporary lyrical dance motif, Marrugeku fully embrace the attitude of hip hop, the heartland of dance battles. Marrugeku challenge us, the audience, to take them on - to see and hear them. They bring it and they bring it hard!

What is it they are bringing in The Last Cry? They bring warning. They bring prophecy. They bring help.

Taking inspiration (and urgency) from the struggles for independence in New Caledonia and linking this to the struggles of indigenous peoples across the Southern Hemisphere - but also across the world as a whole - The Last Cry screams at us to act before it is too late. The world is burning. There is hope, but we must include the wisdoms and learnings of civilisations who grew and developed in the lands taken by European colonists.

There is an intriguing synergy between the New Caledonian situation and the one in Australia. New Caledonia was colonised by the French (perhaps the only thing worse than being colonised by the English...) and it's economy is propped up by mining. The colonisers disenfranchised the native population (the Kanaks) and, even if you accept the current agreements in place to ensure a fair go at independence, have ensured a process which excludes around 35% of the population from voting on that independence. The one true thing history has shown us about colonial powers is they love to rape the land and the people and will create any barrier necessary to avoid freeing either.

The outstandingly talented performers pop, lock, drop and dance their way through the enforced muteness of people who need to be heard. They cry and cry and cry out again. They tear at each other in frustration and despair. They give up, they get up, and they go again and again and again and again.

The one hour show which is Le Dernier Appel/The Last Cry is long but it is also incredibly electrifying. I found my body literally being pulled forward as if drawn by a magnet as the pace and power built in both the incredible sound track created by Wales, Van Reyk and Ngaiire and the defiant and demanding dance created by Coulibaly and Pigram.

As well as the overall affect of a show which viscerally reveals a world burning, there is an ensemble of virtuosic dancers. Everybody was amazing and it is perhaps wrong to pick anyone out but I have to say Nguyen's dropping defies gravity, and Ouchot can pop like nobody's business!

Le Dernier Appel/The Last Cry only has a short season, finishing on Sunday. I beg you not to miss it. It is de bomb!

5 Stars

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

The Difficult Comedown - Dance Review

What: The Difficult Comedown
When: 12 - 16 March 2019
Where: Meat Market
Created and Performed by: Alexandra Harrison and Paea Leach
Design by: Anna Tregloan
Lighting by: Bosco Shaw
Sound by: Marco Cher-Gibard
Paea Leach and Alexandra Harrison - photo by Pippa Samaya
Dance is such a broad concept, and this is what makes it such a flexible and innovative art form - particularly in Australia. Leach and Harrison stretch the concept to breaking point in The Difficult Comedown playing at the Meat Market this week.

I say this pair of creators stretch the dance form because they are working with very slow dramaturgies and Leach, in particular (and as a result of some serious injuries in the past), explores regenerative work and exploring the kinetic energies underlying movement more so than the movement itself. As such, The Difficult Comedown is focused on balance and counterpoint, the two dancers supporting and encouraging and leaning and lifting each other as they meander around the stage. It was almost more of a slowed acrobatics display than what we might traditionally consider dance.

As comes with most modern dance work, the program has some highfalutin descriptions which talk about exploring a post-anthropocene epoch and moving to a time beyond human dominance but to be honest I didn't get any of that. It seemed very much about humans and humanity to me so I didn't get it and I am sorry if I missed something important.  It took me a while but I did link Tregloan's stunning line of white arches down the center of the roof as a reference to bones...

On the other hand, the program also talks about two women 'who don't have to take care of each other  but they do'. This comes through the work very strongly. The show begins with Leach and Harrison taking turns in carrying each other and the work continues in this mode of them working in sync and helping out when they can - from being the stabilising opposing force in a lean to Harrison preparing Leach's costume change whilst she is busy doing something performative.  I found myself thinking about the Hockey concept of lifters and leaners and I really enjoyed the commentary in this work that everyone is a lifter and a leaner and that is how we all move forward... together!

Leach has expanded her practice to include writing and whilst there was not a lot of intelligible language per se, Cher-Gibard's amazing sound track included movements which worked with unintelligible vocalisations somewhat in the style of work done by Ros Warby. And let's talk about the soundtrack. Cher-Gibard has created a work which is primal and elemental. He processes urban sounds to create jungle atmosphere. Perhaps this is the Anthropocene aspect of the work?

For me the problem with The Difficult Comedown is it feels like experimentation which should never have had a performance outcome. I like the explorations but they just don't seem to come together in a cohesive whole. The transitions are clunky and overt and I have no idea what the costumes are about, from start to finish. And there is the ball... And there is the black plastic flutter... I just don't know and because I couldn't make meaning I got bored.

There is some humour in the show. Most if it fell flat because it was hard to connect it to what was happening. One great moment of genius, though is right at the end when the women play a word game which ends suddenly and had me guffawing loudly at the outrageousness and perfect execution of the moment. A great way to end what was not the most satisfying experience of dance.

Pro Tip: Wear slip on shoes because you will be asked to take your shoes off to walk across the dance floor.

1.5 Stars

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

The Perception Experiment - Dance Review

What: The Perception Experiment
When: 12 - 16 March 2019
Where: Rehearsal Room, Arts House
Choreographed by: Madeleine Krenek and Frankie Snowdon
Performed by:  Kelly Beneforti, Madeleine Krenek, Tara Samaya, and Frankie Snowdon,
Costumes by: Frankie Snowdon and Liz Verstappen
Lighting by: Jenny Hector
Sound by: Darcy Davis
Kelly Beneforti, Madeleine Krenek, Tara Samaya, and Frankie Snowden - photo by Pippa Samaya
Dance is the movement of the body in space and time, usually rhythmically (or deliberately arhythmically) and mostly accompanied by sound of some sort. It bypasses oral language to work directly as sensorial stimulus on the brain. This is what GUTS dance bring us in the unspeakably entrancing The Perception Experiment playing at Arts House this week as part of Dance Massive.

In creating The Perception Experiment Krenek and Snowdon ask us to put aside the ego and engage fully with our id. They want us to see, hear, feel, smell, and taste their journey into the heartland of Australia - the desert, the salt lakes, the vast scope of time...

To give up the ego and super-ego is a scary thing - they are the mechanisms which maintain our sense of self and allow us to analyse our world, make sense of it, and keep ourselves safe. The team understand this, and whilst it may create a frisson of hesitation to take off your shoes (I recommend slip ons) and step into pitch black space full of disorienting sound there is nothing to fear. Each person is gently and carefully guided to a spot in the room like a dear friend who is more precious than cut crystal glassware.

The whole show (experience?) is like this. It is inclusive, nurturing, beautiful, and surprisingly safe despite the excitation of all the senses. From the familiars who brush across your feet in the darkness, to the complex and compelling sounds created by Davis which pulse and reverberate through the body, there is great affect without stimulating flight or fight.

Just as we are asked to give up our own sense of self, so do the dancers. When the lights do come up and we are allowed to sit, four faceless grains of salt weft and weave together in the stream of salt pouring from a funnel. This is the moment of their birth and also the moment of the birth of the desert.

The Perception Experiment is something of a creation myth. The grains fly and undulate from their nexus to inhabit the space. They fly and whirl and twist and turn. Dunes are created and then flattened and then created again. We are seated in traverse and having given up our selves as individuals we become a part of the living landscape which looks so barren yet teams with life and connection.

Every moment in The Perception Experiment is absolute beauty. The dance is full of beautiful shapes and shifts, and the music/sound is textured and elemental. Hector's lighting moves with the dancers, revealing, expanding, contracting, all of it designed to breathe with us, live with us.

For me the greatest moment comes when the art (dance) creates art (visual). If the first act of the performance is a creation myth about the land, the second half is a creation myth about connection - although ironically, it is the part of the dance when the dancers become disconnected from each other.

In act 2 Krenek stands alone with two funnels of salt and spins and spins and spins. As she turns, the salt flies in rings around her. The smell teases our nostrils as fine particles tantalise our tongues. Krenek's ability to spin on the spot for so very, very, very long seems almost supernatural and had me thinking about whirling dervishes and the creation of connection to divinity.

Eventually the other three rejoin her and together they dance across the stage strewn with salt. They leave imprints in the salt just as we leave imprints on the earth. The question becomes are you creating beauty in your wake, or destruction? The Perception Experiment ends with beauty but as the audience leave, despite a lot of trying, as they walk across the salt, the picture is defiled. Nothing is forever...

Some people say art must be beautiful. Some people say art must say something, do something, mean something. Some people say art must create change. The Perception Experiment does all of this whilst at the same time being caring and respectful of us all. It is only on for a few days so do make sure you catch it while you can.

4.5 Stars

Saturday, 9 March 2019

The Yellow Wallpaper - Theatre Review

What: The Yellow Wallpaper
When: 6 - 17 March 2019
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Adapted,devised and designed by: Laurence Strangio and Annie Thorold
Performed by: Annie Thorold
Lighting by: Jason Crick
Stage Managed by: Laura Barnes
Annie Thorold - photo by Jack Dixon-Gunn
The Yellow Wallpaper is a gothic horror classic tale written in 1892 by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. A favourite of stage tellings, Strangio and Thorold have chosen to remediate it for the stage once more to coincide with the story being included on the VCE reading list. This time it is a physical theatre presentation taking place at La Mama Courthouse.

The Yellow Wallpaper was a novella written in response to Gilman being ordered to 'perfect' bed rest experiencing what would now be considered post-natal depression. The prescription was complete inactivity including no writing and no walking around. In effect, she was imprisoned in solitary confinement for 3 months. At the end of that time Gilman had had enough, returned to her usual writing and other activities and wrote The Yellow Wallpaper to attempt to change her physician's treatment methods and be done with the 'resting cure' for women.

The story itself centres around a woman with a baby who has been taken to a country estate for a 3 month rest period herself. She is placed in a room of what she describes as a haunted house. There are bars on the window. the bed is bolted down and there are rings around the walls. The room has an odd yellow wallpaper with layered patterns and scratch marks along the lower halves of the wall and the bedposts are gnawed. Her husband shares the room with her at night and her sister-in-law tends the baby and looks after (spies on?) her during the day. The Woman does not have contact with the baby at all.

As time goes by The Woman becomes obsessed with the wallpaper and starts seeing another woman in the weave. This woman seems trapped between the layers of patterns and creeps around as if trying to escape. The Woman's madness grows as she starts identifying with the woman in the wallpaper and she starts seeing the heads of dead women hanging in the pattern as well - other women who had tried to escape the bars of the wallpaper. Whilst the ending is not explicit, it involves a rope, a complete descent into madness, and a fainting husband... Make of that what you will.

I first encountered this story in the Melbourne Fring Festival last year in a show called Night Terrors and I absolutely loved it. As well as being a well crafted psychological horror story it has a strong and modern feminist tone which is why it is an important story to bring forward in current times.

Night Terrors worked on a traditional verbal story telling technique which allowed audiences to infer the truth through the dramatic ironies in the writing. The deliberate under (and counter) statements which seem so safe and secure are seething with truths about the circumstances which are so much more dangerous and horrific because we imagine them in our minds. Just as The Woman sees the woman trapped behind the pattern of the wallpaper, we see the victim trapped behind the niceties and understatement of language and respectability.

Choosing to rework the story as physical theatre is an interesting one because in effect it brings the inferred to the forefront. What is hidden becomes revealed so to speak. Is that more powerful or less? The answer to that depends on the skill of the performer.

In this production the story is narrated by Thorold as a voice over. On stage she is The Woman trapped in the room, occassionally echoing the text, but always shifting and moving in the space. It is a powerful choice which was unfortunately weakened by placing the loudspeakers at the back of the stage. This caused the recording to lose intelligibility as it echoed around the unadorned Courthouse walls and also deprived the audience of a sense of oppression which would have strongly emerged if the speakers were right over our heads.

A wonderful meta-sense of The Woman being an object of microscopic investigation in the same way the woman in the wallpaper was to her would have cascaded through our subconscious in a very uncomfortable way with different speaker placement. Having said that, there was a strong blurring of which woman Thorold actually was regardless. I guess I am saying it just could have been stronger. Especially when matched with Strangio's and Crick's closing down of the space as the story progressed.

The biggest disappointment for me was Thorold's physical work. The Yellow Wallpaper is all about state of mind so I expected physicality which represented mental and emotional breakdown and exhaustion. The show is only aroun 40 minutes, but given the unrelenting tension of the story I expected Thorold to be exhibiting exhaustion by the end. Having literally reached the end of her tether, The Woman is lost and the fight is not just to the end, it is past it. There should have been nothing left if the tank - or at least it should have looked like it for the audience.

Thorold is a very fit, strong and flexible woman and her running around the space, lurking, leaping and generally gadding about was fine at first, but it never broke down. She never loses focus. She never demonstrates confusion or self absorption.

Thorold never stops presenting to us. She is never lost. This is the problem with the show. She never breaks down as does the protagonist. She is never defeated. She is never not in control. And thus the story of The Yellow Wallpaper is never actually told.

1.5 Stars

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Underground - Theatre Review

What: Underground
When: 7 - 9 March 2019
Where: Gasworks Theatre
Written by: Christine Croyden
Directed by: Sara Grenfell
Performed by: Emma Annand, Ezra Bix, Margot Knight, Tori McCann, and Billy Sloane
Designed by: Christina Logan Bell
Lighting by: Shane Grant
Sound by: Ryan Smedley
Stage Managed by: Rachel Nagy
Billy Sloane and Emma Annand
Coinciding with International Women's Day, Gasworks is presenting a 3 day season of a new play which focuses on one of the most infamous - and amazing - people of World War II, Nancy Wake, aka The White Mouse. Underground is a 'hallucinatory review' of Wake's life which leads to some very intriguing commentary on Australian gender politics, although in an indirect way.

Nancy Wake was a resistance fighter in World War II. Nancy Wake was The White Mouse. Nancy Wake was number 1 on the Gestapo's most wanted list. Nancy Wake was the most highly decorated woman internationally after World War II. Nancy Wake was never honoured in her own country for these achievements until 2004 when she received the honour of Companion of the Order of Australia. Nancy Wake was a troublesome woman. That is all I have to say about Australia.

Moving on to the woman herself, Wake found her way to Europe in the 1920's as a journalist and, in fact, one of her first assignment there was to interview Adolf Hitler. Over the years, as a correspondent, Wake got to see the persecution of the Jews first hand and after a particularly brutal event in Vienna she vowed to help any way she could.

Wake married a wealth industrialist and together they joined the French Resistance and used their resources to help Jewish people and allied servicemen escape Paris. Eventually it became to dangerous and Wake escaped to England where she trained as a special agent - rumour has it she was one of the best!

Wake then parachuted back into France and was instrumental in organising troops and resources in preparation for D-Day. Statistically speaking, the number of German deaths compared with the fatalities of the men under her command was a phenomenal feat.

She didn't just give orders though. When necessary it was her hands wrapped around a German neck. To quote one of her commanding officers, Henri Tardivat, "She is the most feminine woman I know, until the fighting starts. Then she is like five men."

After spending time in France and also being asked to write book and lyrics for a musical called The White Mouse, playwright Croyden decided to create this play, Underground. Underground is a retrospective reminiscence by an elderly Wake (Knight) as she is being tended by a carer. It begins with her chatting to her long dead French husband and moves into memory sequences about major events such as parachuting back into France and the universally known bicycle ride story.

Characters flit in and out of view behind black, wispy curtains and the story gently unfolds until the end of the World War II, when we return to our not so frail but definitely aged Wake. Grenfell (director) has created a soft and respectful montage of images and stories and perhaps the best word for this production is gentle. Scenes slip from one to the other with the mood and tempo of the Dietrich songs being soulfully sung by chanteuse Sabine (McCann).

This is perhaps the biggest problem with Underground. The story is one of danger, fear, risk, and great loss but the edge of adrenaline is missing much of the time which tends to allow the audience to drift in and out of the story just as Wake is drifting in and out of her memories. Part of the problem here, too, lies in the realisation at the end we know very little more about Wake then we did when the play started. Nothing is revealed except, perhaps, that this woman is feisty.

Knight's elderly Wake has so much attitude she is great fun to watch without becoming curmudgeonly. In very special moments of the play (like the infamous bike ride) she works side by side with the younger self (Annand) and this technique in particular really helps us see the young woman in the older body and reminds us that all of our seniors have a youth and a story that still live within them.

Everyone in the cast is great, but I was really impressed by Sloane (Denden/Nazi). Both of his characters resonated with an energy, life, and interpretation which went beyond just playing the action. His characters had personality and intention which were one of the few markers in the show which demonstrated stakes and urgency.

I was also incredibly impressed by the design elements of the show. Grenfell has worked with the team well to bring a strong and cohesive vision and tone which will impress people who still have these circumstances in their families living memories.

Grant (lighting) and Smedley (Sound) in particular worked incredibly well to bring to life a shadowy world of shock and obscurity. They really bring the 'cloak and dagger' aspects to the production and nothing was more successful than the shadowing shapes and oppressive sounds they created for the parachute scene.

Underground is a beautiful play and Wake's story is an important one. Unfortunately Croyden has focussed too much on trying to let us see the woman and not enough on helping us see the deeds. Without us understanding the outrages she would have had to pursue we have no need to have her humanised.

Here is the real story: What is it Wake is supposed to have been apologising for across the rest of her life? What is a 'difficult' woman? Why are her motives questioned? Why have we not celebrated her achievements? Why is there no statue in her honour in Australia?

Whilst Underground itself is a little unassuming, the questions it raises for us in modern times in Australia - and especially on International Women's Day - are huge and are resonating across our political sphere every morning right now. Are women kept down because of lack of merit or because they have too much merit...and strength...and skill...? Just how terrified of us are men?

3 Stars

Monday, 4 March 2019

Fast Fashun - Live Art Review

What: Fast Fashun - DIY or Die
When: 2 - 9 March 2019
Where: Testing Grounds, Arts Centre Melbourne
Created and presented by: Sebastian Berto and Tenfingerz

Tenfingerz and Sebastian Berto
Tenfingerz is the doyenne of fashion flavoured live art events in Melbourne and this year she and collaborator Sebastian Berto, in conjunction with Helping Hands, bring a fun and fabulous live art event beyond compare - with a strong social commentary as well, which is what she is all about! Head on down to Testing Grounds this Saturday for Fast Fashun and bring your imagination, best runway walk (and perhaps a travel sewing kit...) and show the world your skills in making trash treasure.

Tenfingerz has been making fashion live art events for years now. I first came across her work in the astonishing Perfect Runway Series events in 2015. The ambition of those two runway events was mind blowing. Whilst Fast Fashun appears to be smaller in scope and scale it is not. There are less lights and infrastructure, but the magnitude of the issues surrounding clothing waste is global and amongst all the fun to be had being your own fashion designer (and model if you want) sits an air of outrage over waste and societal behaviours.

Let's start with the fun because Fast Fashun is the most fun you have probably had since you stopped playing dress ups with your parent's clothes as a kid. Remember when there was always this box of adult clothes and broken jewelry in the corner and you could go over and turn yourself into a princess or a pirate? At Fast Fashun you get to relive all of that joy.

Helping Hands has provided - literally - piles of clothes which have been 'donated' but which are completely unsellable and will just end up in land fill. This means you can go crazy with ripping, stripping, clipping, and fitting and nobody will object. (Oh, and the added bonus is, if you find anything you really want to keep, you can).

Equipment has been provided to help you in creating  your new art wear in the form of blades, pins, hot glue, etc, and on the day I went there was a designer who had brought in her sewing machine for people to use and was at hand to give help and advice. If you have your own favourite scissors or sewing kit and you are serious about your wearable art I recommend you bring them in because a runway is undertaken every hour and you don't want to waste time running around trying to find something to cut with. My own creation became a safety pin pastiche because I was not smart enough to do that. It looked great (IMO), but the inevitable wardrobe malfunction did occur...

You can model your creation yourself or you can bring (or find) someone to model for you. Bringing a team along could mean you get at least one item in every runway show depending on how serious you are about fun and art.

To top the whole thing off, Tenfingerz and Berto are creating a look book of all the wearable art which sashays down the catwalk, and the book will be on sale at the Melbourne Art Book Fair so not only will your creation have a formal VAMFF Melbourne Fashion Festival runway exhibition debut - it could also live on forever in the annals of Melbourne fashion history!

On the more serious note though, there is your source material. Used clothing and accessories are literally dumped in piles around Testing Ground for this event, almost exactly the way they are dumped outside charitable institutions all across Australia. Only around 15% of what is dumped goes on to be resold and the rest goes into landfill.

As you pick through all of the dross to find your diamonds you will understand the frustration of charities as they then have to go to the expense of paying transportation and dumping fees for what people could just throw out in their own trash all paid for by council. These are not donations, they are stripping resources from those organisations trying to help people in need.

Perhaps not intentional, but another strong indictment, is the realisation that we don't have any societal mechanisms to encourage and support recycling of many elements of these clothes. So many zippers and buttons for example could be repurposed and would be if we had some sort of recycling repository for those willing to actually remove them before disposing of their clothing waste.

There is nothing to be said about the amount of plastics and nylons and the implications of that. If you go too far into that wormhole your soul just shrinks as it shrieks in despair...

Okay, so I got a bit maudlin there but trust me, Fast Fashun is an absolute blast. I went on my own and only intended to watch. After the first runway I couldn't wait to try and put something together and I ended up having a great time laughing with others and being given help to become an artiste of this genre.

My great moment of glory was my cat walk. Brave and bold I strutted down the runway like a spanish dancing horse (in my mind anyway) just like Tyra Banks taught us how. And yes, if you buy the look book you very well may discover the true potential of my skills and abilities in this arena!

There is only one more Fast Fashun session this festival (on Saturday) so don't miss out. It is a holler and a hoot and there are, amongst all the wannabes like me, a bunch of amazing creators and designers whose work you will get to see. Strut your stuff and check out everyone else. What more could you possible ask for?

5 Stars