Friday 26 April 2019

Slaughterhouse Five - Theatre Review

What: Slaughterhouse Five
When: 24 April - 5 May 2019
Where: Theatre Works
Written and directed by: Fleur Kilpatrick
Performed by: Alanah Allen, Tim Banova, Sam Barson, Alexandras Bartaska, Georgina Bright, Caitlin Duff, Simran Giria, Reilly Holt, Emlyn Sugden, and Talia Zipper
Set by: Jason Lehane
Costumes by: Dil Kaur
Lighting by: John Collopy
Sound by: Justin Gardam

Georgina Bright and Alexandras Bartaska - photo by Sarah Walker
On ANZAC Day 2019 a show opened at Theatre Works which, in my opinion, is probably the most appropriate representation of what that day should be and say and feel rather than almost anything we have done in my lifetime. A stage remediation of Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughterhouse-Five written and directed by Fleur Kilpatrick  and produced by MUST takes over the story of war until 5 May and what it has to say to those of us who have never been involved in one is beyond priceless and also almost beyond comprehension at the same time.

Published in 1969, Vonnegut's novel tells us the story of Billy Pilgrim, a private in the American army in World War II. He is an ordinary person with nothing special about him except he seems to spend his living years more as an oberver than a participant. After the Battle of the Bulge Pilgrim becomes unstuck in time.

He jumps from moment to moment in his life in a non-linear order and along the way he meets an alien race called the Tralfamadorians who believe (in what feels to me to be a very cubist approach) that time is not linear - as Dr Who has told us. All moments exists at the same time and so whilst in this moment someone may be dead, in a lot of other moments they are still very much alive. "So it goes".

It is so tempting to head on into a book review at this point but I must stick to the task at hand and review Kilpatrick's stage play and production Slaughterhouse Five. It will suffice for me to say the book engages with ideas of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, free will, Christianity and the ethics (or absurdity) of war including the fact we send children to fight them and die in them. "So it goes."

The book's post-modern non-linear structure (very Derridan), really lends itself to a theatrical remediation and Kilpatrick's choice to create a modern Epic Theatre piece is pure genius. Vonnegut has already created an alienated protagonist in Pilgrim and the surrounding characters create the dialectic Brecht was so committed to in his work. Add in a heavy helping of absurdism - and what else are Theatres of War but Theatre of the Absurd ? - and, ironically and sadly, Kilpatrick creates a world far more recognisable than any standard theatre canon piece on offer.

War is crazy. War makes no sense. War is random. War is predictable. War is made by people who will never stand on the fields of blood and terror and despair. War sends children to their death. War destroys societies. War is mass destruction. To be in the middle of any part of it is to be in the middle of every part of it. To be involved in war is to break and be broken. Perhaps Vonnegut's most telling line is this: "...if you think death is a terrible thing, then you have not understood a word I've said."

There is so much content and so many ideas in the book it was a brave woman who tackled the story and managed to turn it into just over 2 hours of intriguing theatre - yes, there is an interval. Adopting the Epic style allowed Kilpatrick to retain much of Vonnegut's dark humour whilst our frontal lobes process the deeper philosophical questions and absorb the depths of horror.

Lehane (designer) has created a shifting and sliding world, ever moving around the confused and out of place Pilgrim (Barson). Blackboards on wheels move around him representing the idea of children still in the classroom and scientist working out their calculations and war generals making their battle plans and the strange heiroglyphics of Tralfamadorian books... "So it goes."

One moment Pilgrim is in a forest being saved by soldiers, next he is on his wedding night with his virgin wife, then he is in the middle of a classroom of children/teachers who are being the narrator and telling the story. "So it goes".

This idea of it being the children who fight war, live through war, and die in war is very strong in both the book and the play and if I have one major disappointment it is that it is not quite strong enough in the show. I would have liked Kaur (costumes) to play with that more, especially in the first act. The soldier costumes are almost too real for the tone of the work until the second act when we meet the Trafalmadorians and enter the porn shop when she takes us on wonderful flights of fancy.

I think I would have liked a sense of the costumes being oversized and ill-fitting - as if the cast were playing dress up and war - rather than it being so real. The first act is already so heavily laden with establishing the tone and style of story telling it all starts to feel like a long lecture. A stronger sense of play would perhaps make the ideas hit home even harder and reinforce Kilpatrick's directorial ideas more strongly.

The cast are all great and I loved how they really leaned into the presentational style and trusted it. To have wallowed in representation would have been overkill - literallly! Collopy's lighting is wonderfully stark and oppressive, and his restrained and specific use of smoke was a delight to see.

Perhaps the real star of the show though, is Gardam's sound design. From the very first drone of fighter planes - such an iconic sound of WWII - to the subtle and agile transitioning between space and time, Gardam creates a logic and emotional architecture which is subtle yet powerful.  Having said that, Kilpatrick's use of sound at the very end, created by the actors themselves, is more powerful and telling than perhaps anything I have seen in a very long time. "So it goes."

Kilpatrick's play manages to hold most of the ideas of the book and tell Vonnegut's story with integrity without losing sense or meaning. This is not at all easy given the depth and breadth of his philosophies and concerns. Her very smart and effective direction allows the audience into the meta concepts as well as the narratorial story and rarely leaves us behind. The marriage of Epic Theatre with post-modern text is perfectly placed and both serve to speak to our contemporary concerns and situations and remind us why we need to be so much more vigilant today than we were in the times of the Holocaust.

“It is just an illusion here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone, it is gone forever.”

4 Stars

Thursday 18 April 2019

Spectral: Between Light and Sound - Performance Art Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.5 Stars

Sunday 14 April 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Stars

Saturday 13 April 2019

Three Guards on Manus Island - Comedy Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Stars

Friday 12 April 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.5 stars

Tone Death: A Ghost Musical - Musical Theatre Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.5 Stars

Wednesday 10 April 2019

Paquito - Comedy Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.5 Stars

Tuesday 9 April 2019

The 2007 Wonthaggi Blue Light Disco - Comedy Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.5 Stars

Monday 8 April 2019

Super Amazing Giant Girl - Circus Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.5 Stars

Saturday 6 April 2019

Just Doing It - Comedy Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Stars

Friday 5 April 2019

Pamela's Palace - Theatre Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Stars

Wednesday 3 April 2019

50/50 - Comedy Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.5 Stars

Monday 1 April 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

THE LONG GAME - Theatre Review

WHAT: The Long Game WHEN: 28 - 13 July 2024 WHERE: TW Explosives Factory WRITTEN BY: Sally Faraday DIRECTED BY: Krystalla Pearce SET BY: Dav...