Monday 29 July 2019

We Three - Theatre Review

What: We Three
When: 25 July - 1 August 2019
Where: Studio Theatre, Gasworks
Written by: Hayley Lawson-Smith
Directed and designed by: Eryn Kimberley
Performed by: Mohan Lakshmipathy, Andrea Mendez, Berk Ozturk, and Paul Wentford
Lighting by: Emma Fox and Tomas Gerasimidis
Sound design by: Mark Dosenko
Stage Managed by: Vivian Siu
Mohan Lakshmipathy, Paul Wentford and Andrea Mendez
Perhaps timed on the calendar a little oddly, a nativity play with a twist is being presented at Gasworks. We Three takes the story of the quest of the three magi from the New Testament and gives it a contemporary post-truth twist.

We Three is written by Lawson-Smith who, in the program notes, talks about having a dissonant connection to Christmas. Through We Three, Lawson-Smith takes the opportunity to recreate the story by removing the privilege of Christianity and bringing these magi down to the level of ordinary people in an extraordinary circumstance.

Traditionally the 'three kings' who welcome the baby Christ into the world with gifts of gold, myrrh, and frankinscence are said to represent the 3 ages of man - aged, mid-life, and youth. Lawson-Smith takes the youth symbolism and stretches it to the extreme making Balthazar (Mendez) a pregnant woman who, like the Mother Mary, is not too far from giving birth to a boy and who is also on a pilgrimage.

Tradition is a bit confused about whether Gaspar (Wentford) or Melchior (Lakshmipathy) is the old man who brings the gold. Lawson-Smith settles the debate by making Gaspar the old man, but leaving Melchior to bring the gold. Cultural diversity in the casting also brings a contemporary depth and resonance.

Lawson-Smith has also created new back stories for the characters. Gaspar is the lover of Herod (Ozturk), Melchior is a drunken prince who tried to kill his father with a butter knife, and Balthazar is the daughter of a high ranking official in Herod's court. There is also another character played by Ozturk - a goatherd who follows the party on their travels.

The play has a lot of moments which reference bible stories. At one point Balthazar washes the feet of Gaspar- but then refuses to do the same for Melchior. The goatherd is often referred to as a shepherd, but he tends goats so I assume that is a reference to Christ the Shepherd, and also the sheep and goats story. And this is where I started to get lost.

Kimberley has directed the show at a very slow pace, with lots of stage business and big pauses, Lawson-Smith, on the other hand, has pared back the dialogue in the script to a level which is just a bit too obscure so I (and my plus one) found it really hard to follow any kind of meta concept or narrative through line. These three people are sent on a quest to find the baby and they do - with a surprising twist at the end - but I struggled to come to any conclusion about what I was supposed to understand or realise or think about at the end.

I do lay the problem at the feet of the direction. One of the important jobs of a director is to provide markers and pointers in the staging to help steer the audience towards understanding. Kimberley has created a neat and clean aesthetic but to me it seemed the actors merely performed the text of the play, not the subtext (if only I could figure out what the subtext is).

In a play which is extremely obscure this becomes fatal for the audience because we need clues to know what point of view is being presented so that we can make our own assessments and judgements and take our own position on the topics raised.They say a play is not complete until it is staged. I don't prescribe to this sentiment, but I do think a play which is not interpreted in performance is not complete.

It is also hard to lay the blame on the cast. They are not inexperienced but there are obvious flaws such as the character of Melchior. His dialogue has been written with brilliance but a key point is that he is a drunkard and a hedonist. Lakshmipathy gives a lively performance but at no point could it be said he seemed drunk despite everyone else talking about it.

His character also gave Kimberley the opportunity to add a level of chaos or nihilism to the narrative to help reinforce and play against the overt and quiet spirituality of this Gaspar and to add a lively Maypole humour to the Donkey Wheel trek, but the opportunity has been missed and the show plods along like their feet in the dunes as they cross the desert.

Both the obscurity in the script and the lack of depth in the direction surprise me because this production team did work with a dramaturg (Vidya Rajan). All I can think is is must have been a very limited relationship because Rajan is not credited in the program, only thanked in the program notes.

Lawson-Smith is a very experienced and talented writer in the field of young adult theatre but can sometimes veer into trying to be too esoteric when creating more mature work. I think another draft of the play just taking a look at clarifying the objective would make it a wonderful modern December play to be staged.

1.5 Stars

Thursday 25 July 2019

Last Words - Theatre Review

What: Last Words
When: 24 July - 4 August 2019
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Written by: Joseph Sherman
Directed by: John Bolton
Composed by: Christopher Marlow Bolton
Performed by: Christopher Marlow Bolton and Joseph Sherman
Set by: Brian Lipson
Lighting by: Emmie Turner
Stage managed by: Emmie Turner
Joseph Sherman
We live in strange times. I keep harking to the current theatrical trend towards surrealism and in Lasts Words at La Mama we go there again - although in a much gentler way than perhaps other shows I have reviewed lately. A show which is, for the main part, a journey towards trying to comprehend Alzheimer's - objectively and subjectively - Sherman weaves a heart warming and heart breaking tale spanning a century and crossing the globe.

Sherman is the grandson of Russian Jewish lineage from the city of Odessa. He is the son of two parents whose lives end in the tragic miasma of Alzheimer's. Sherman is also a doctor as well as a theatre maker.

Last Words is essentially a story told in 3 acts. Act 1 follows the simple oral traditions as Sherman talks, sings and dances his way through stories of great courage. His maternal grandparents were in the lucky 100 000 Jews who escaped the 'forgotten' Odessa Holocaust. The remaining 90 000 where killed in horrific ways. Perhaps one of the saddest moment is when Sherman jokes about them remembering a time when Jews didn't have to carry special papers.

After their return to their home city, his mother (Rita) and father (Misha) meet. His father was at home in the seedy world of graft and black markets, but his mother not quite as much. One of the beautiful features of this part of the story is the details such as his mother pulling down a curtain and making a dress for their first date. The entire first act is a dance between world history, family memoirs, and personal recollections.

The family was allowed to leave Odessa in the Jewish emigration which came out of the USA/USSA SALT I deal in 1971 - also known as the 'Wheat for Jews' deal between Brezhnev and Nixon. I think no other people in the world must be as aware of how the value of a human life fluctuates, like shares on the stock exchange, than the Jewish community.

As Sherman tells the family's migration story and settlement in Melbourne I admit to getting a bit lost over who is who, but then I always get lost with names in most Russian stories so I just settled back and enjoyed the rise and fall of the dance. I got the gist and that is the main point. A turbulent relationship, some fiery years and then a sad descent into dementia was the destiny of the Sherman parents.

In act 2 we meet Dr Sherman. Complete with blackboard and props which light up the good doctor gives a lively lecture on Alzheimer's as a disease. It's history, it's biological mapping and progression, and why it is so hard to combat. I loved this part. Not only because of the good information, but Sherman is the kind of lecturer I always adore - feisty, knowledgeable, and passionate! My one tiny disappointment is I think Grant (lighting) could have gently shifted the architecture for this section to help relieve some of the environmental tedium.

Act 3 brings what some people might call 'real theatre'. Engaging in all the theatrical tropes Sherman is joined on stage by Bolton who plays gentle droning lullabies and takes on Sherman's persona as Sherman becomes his father - lost and confused and down right grumpy. Or is this a portent of Sherman's own destiny?

The black and white gallery of photos Lipson designed, the samovar, the eagles, the jewels, the piano become a labyrinth of detached recollections for the suffering Misha. What was a glorious album of shared memories under Grant's simple open white wash in acts 1 and 2 becomes floating oddities teasing and taunting Sherman elder in his distress as the stage darkens and fractures into corridors and bubbles of light and colour. Sherman junior eventually leaving the piano to help his papa shower and defecate, trying to soothe yet inadvertently creating distress at the same time. If Alzheimer's has touched your life you know of what I am speaking.

Last Words is tri-lingual (English, Russian, and Yiddish) and what this allows is for us to let go at times and just experience a confusion which is nothing like, yet reminiscent of, the experiences of victims of this disease. At times Sherman translates, at times Bolton translates, and then there are moments when no translation is offered - except through performance. It is a waltz. The waltz of three generations.

Last Words is beautiful if, perhaps, a tad too long. Act 1 and 3 could possibly do with some trimming. Having said that, it is such an important work on two levels. The first is the Alzheimers awareness and conversation and the second is the reminder of the times we came through last century and a subtle - and perhaps unintentional - warning to never forget.

Never forget is a phrase which has been commandeered to mean don't forget the sacrifices made by our service men in the World Wars. Last Words reminds us what we must not forget is why those wars were necessary. It also reminded me to work harder to gather my own family history because that too should never be forgotten - by me at least.

Last Words is a beautiful and sorrowful story about the inevitabile fate for 1 out of every 3 people in our community. It also a warning to value and cherish our families, our histories, and to understand there comes a time when the cared for must step up and become the carer. It is a call to arms as well. We need to find out why some people get this disease and others don't. We still don't know anywhere near enough!

4 Stars

Tuesday 23 July 2019

Kevin Peterson's Stand-up Show! - Theatre Review

What: Kevin Peterson's Stand-Up Show!
When: 22 - 27 July 2019
Where: Upstairs, The Butterfly Club
Written and directed by: Max Paton
Composed by: Philip Dallas
Performed by: Stuart Anderson, Catherine Holder, Daniel Hurst, Fraser Mitchell, and Isabella Octigan
Designed by: Jeremy Pryles
Lighting by: John Collopy
Fraser Mitchell and Stuart Anderson - photo by Julia Kaddatz
I had the best surprise of  my life last night when I went to see Kevin Peterson's Stand-Up Show! at The Butterfly Club. Betrayed by the title, I turned up expecting to see a good, but traditional hour of stand up comedy in a town overflowing with such stuff. Instead I was entertained with an hour of fun-filled surrealist theatre which made me laugh in spite of myself.

Kevin Peterson (Mitchell) is a Millennial who is doing a theatre making undergraduate degree. He duly apologises to his parents and mocks his own art, describing  theatre's relationship to the world as akin to "a bedroom to a teenager." This is perhaps the first hint the show is going to be more than meets the eye if you are paying attention.

In fact, if I had been paying proper attention I would have realised a whole lot earlier with the appearane of Peterson's best friend, Ivy (Holder). Still, even if you are not fully cognizant to what is happening don't despair because eventually it will hit you in the as the mind bending takes hold and all objective reality ceases to exist.

Kevin Peterson's Stand-Up Show! is about anxiety. Peterson takes the stage to perform his first stand up show ever and, over the course of the very bad and genetalia obsessed puns, enters a kind of cognitive dissonance as Anxi-tee (Anderson) takes over.

His friends pop in and try to cheer him up and cajole him out of his funk but he sinks deeper and deeper into a riotous horror world of plastic lobsters, humiliating game shows, and floating t-shirts. Surrounded by the fame-filled world of Chris's and a pathological revulsion to Ben Shapiro, Peterson finally admits to needing medical assistance to find his way back to a world which makes some sense.

Perhaps my biggest issue is with the moral of the piece which is "perception is not reality". In a post truth world perception absolutely is reality - as our very recent election cycle has proven. However in a post truth world both objective reality and subjective reality coexist and the challenge for us all (and Peterson in particular) is to find that sweet spot where we can deal with both productively.

Paton has written a play which deals with an important topic and has done so cleverly and with heart. Dallas' sound design really sets the tone, mood and journey though, cleverly augmented by Collopy's lighting design. I admit, this is the best use of the lighting at The  Butterfly Club I think I have ever seen.

The performances are great. The whole cast formed a great ensemble, but I did really enjoy Anderson's insanity, and Octigan has a mesmerising physical precision. Hurst and Holder are absolutely bursting with energy and keep the whirlwind spinning around a hapless Mitchell.

Surrealism seems to really be taking Melbourne by storm and it excites me as much as it raises a niggle of concern. What are we reacting to which makes us want to re-enter an expression of confusion and cognitive dissonance. What is happening in the world which is mirroring this time last century? How afraid should we be?

Back to lighter things though. Kevin Peterson's Stand-Up Show! is a funny and frolicking take on a condition we have probably all experienced at some point - although some worse than others. Regardless of whether your experiences are mild, acute or chronic you will get a laugh and if you have a friend with this problem it may also help you to develop an understanding of what is happening to them. It is a great hour of theatre (and nice and early so you won't be out late in this cold weather).

3.5 Stars

Saturday 20 July 2019

Once Upon A Drag Storytime - Theatre Review

What: Once Upon A Drag Storytime
When: 13 July 2019
Where: Footscray Community Arts Centre Theatre
Created and performed by: Po Po Mo Co
The Blokes
Good friends of Hares and Hyenas book shop, Po Po Mo Co decided to create a show for children for this school holiday period and thus was born Once Upon A Drag Storytime, presented at FCAC. Featuring the reading of three current popular books for toddlers, this queer performance troupe brought queer storytelling to life on stage.

Po Po Mo Co is a short-hand version of post post modern company. If post-modernism is anything goes, then post post modernism is anything goes with a queer bent and a lot of fun for Po Po Mo Co who describe their style as neo-vaudevillian physical theatre.

One set of regular characters in this troupe are The Blokes. Gavin, Keith and Mark make regular appearances on the cabaret circuit. Decked out in lurid 80's male drag, this comedy trio have a ball and (surprisingly) have a good sense of rhythm which they always put on show. I always love their Fosse-esque routines which are full of (?) and blokey bravado.

In Once Upon A Drag Storytime The Blokes have decided to read their three favourite story books and beef them up with some song, dance, and puppetry. The books include Feminist Baby by Loryn Brantz, Julian Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love, King And King by Linda de Haan.

It is at this point we all can agree I was not the target audience for this show - by many decades in fact - but luckily for me the room was filled with little humans from ages 0 and up and I got to watch them laugh and squirm and dance along. They had a great time and The Blokes interacted well with them.

I am guessing if I were a kid I would say this show was 10 hundred out of 10. As an adult, however, I have my reservations. One of my biggest issues (and one which will be very controversial) is I didn't like the first two books.

I have had the opportunity to read many kids books in my life and I do not think Feminist Baby or Julian Is A Mermaid are very well written although I do like their ideas. I couldn't figure out what it was that made this baby a feminist (although I believe there is a range of Feminist Baby comics and books which probably exemplify feminism better) and Julian Is A Mermaid is all pictures and very little story. I really did enjoy King And King though.

After the first book Po Po Mo Co indulge is some black theatre puppetry and three puppet babies mime along to Joan Jett's Bad Reputation. This was my first moment of concern. I found myself wondering about the age appropriateness of the lyrics - and also I wondered about whether the pop references were too old for this audience.

A magical fish light puppet made it's way across stage during Julian and it livened up the room as pages lacking dialogue where flicked past. Obviously the books were too small to be seen by the entire audience, but the puppet walked past the young'uns on the cushions in front and got them excited and invited interaction which was great.

Kieth and Mark acted out King And King and even threw in a Dirty Dancing lift but again, I found myself wondering if that reference is just to old. This was one of the quietest moments for the kids in the audience and I suspect it is because they didn't really understand what was going on.

It was the end of Once Upon A Drag Storytime which really shocked me and had me questioning the age appropriateness of the show though. The show culminates with the appearance of burlesque star Rosy Cheeks. She sings an entire song but let me just point out her lips where not properly placed and I just don't know what this act was meant to be telling the children. It is one thing to familiarise them with queerness, it is a whole other thing to sexualise the proceedings.

Luckily the kids seemed to just recognise a bare bum and laughed. Most of the parents laughed along too - obviously it was a sympathetic audience - but one or two dads in particularl appeared to be struggling to find the funny side in the moment. Perhaps if it was a quicker appearance I would have laughed to but to be honest, it really did feel like the song lasted forever and those lips needed to be a little bit higher. This is all I have to say about that...

I love the ideas behind Once Upon A Drag Storytime, and queer books needs to be included in the general reading material of the entire population. I think on this occassion though, Po Po Mo Co should have tempered their adult aesthetics a bit and they probably need to update their cultural references for an audience this young.

2 Stars

Monday 15 July 2019

The Bacchae (Parts 1 & 2) - Theatre Review

What: The Bacchae (Parts 1 & 2)
When: 10 - 21 July 2019
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Created and directed by: Robert Reid
Musical direction by: Kelly Wilson
Performed by: Zainab Abdul, MelanieBeddie, Casey Bohan, Georgina Bright, Madeleine Brown, Peita Collard, Amanda Dhammanarachchi, Elena Fanaratis, Mia Fine, Jess Gonzalves, Ellen Grimshaw, Caitlin Harry, Jessica Hayden, Eleanor Howlett, Tijen Inmak, Sharon Kershaw, Baria Khan, Carissa Lee, Gillian Lee, Audrey Li, Gemma Livingstone, Tess Luminati, Ellen Ma, Celina Mack, Kerith Sefton, Manderson-Galvin, Bianca Montagner, Roxana Paun-Trifan, Freya Pragt, Yoni Prior, Chelsea Rabl, Xanthe Shamita Sivabaian, Felicity Steele, Alice Stewart, G Ulrich, and Kathryn Yates
Set by: Jason Lehane
Stage Managed by: Caitie Murphy
Chelsea Rabl and Chorus - photo by Aleks Corke
I knew I was in for a long haul when I decided to see both Parts 1 and 2 of The Bacchae at La Mama on the same day but to be honest, I was not expecting it to be the endurance test it was. Framed by the Euripides play of the the same name, Reid has interwoven 20th century American history through the loom built by the Ancient Greeks.

Billed as a "fierce retellling" of partriarchal story telling, around forty women were meant to take centre stage in a Schechnerian performance of reclamation. There is truly a stage full of women, but there is no reclamation in this particular set of performances. These women are merely playing men and telling the stories of men - from Aeschylus (Manderson-Galvin) and Pentheus (Howlett) to Charles Manson (Lee), the SLA and Schechner (Manderson-Galvin) himself.

In theory, and using the deconstructed theatre methods you will most likely associate with companies such as The Wooster Group (the heir to Schechner's The Performance Group), Reid has woven the characters and story lines of famous 20th century acts of revolt - most of which have been led by men but have dragged women (the bacchae to their Dionysus) to their doom. Given the venue - the Courthouse theatre - there was no ability to engage with Schechner's ideas on environmental theatre (which is basically an ethos which says put the audience inside the set), Reid has gone back a few steps and presents The Bacchae as Poor Theatre which the size of the cast probably demands.

One comment I will make is Poor Theatre strips away all of theatre's excesses but it does not mean throw away all sense of aesthetic and unfortunately The Bacchae does exactly that. Barely one synapse seems to have been expended on the concept that everything on stage is a sign or symbol and points to something.

There is blue canvas on the floor and I can only think it is so the Chorus stand out in their theatre school black outfits but I could find no further relevance. There is something to be said for the uniformity of the blacks but this is completely countermanded by the lack of consistency of style or the use (or lack there of) of makeup. I then find myself thinking why bother with the concept of house lights if the show is just a open white wash? I do admit, the boredom and disappointment of this was probably emphasised because I had to endure it over 4 hours (not including the long dinner break between Parts 1 & 2).

Before I go further I want to say I was very impressed with all of the performers. I can't possibly speak to everybody in this review but I can say Howlett was an incredibly strong and powerful Pentheus, Manderson-Galvin had the Schechner hand gestures down pat, Beddie was a fiery Fury, and Lee was an oddly intriguing Manson. All of the chorus - when they had individual lines and cameos - commanded their words and space, and there was almost no flagging of energy from the first moment of Part 1 at 5pm to the final moment of Part 2 close to 11pm regardless of the disparities in acting traning and experience.

As good as they were though, the faults in this work are myriad and fall to both the construction/dramaturgy and the direction. Deconstructed theatre is becoming a bit old hat now and even Schechner himself has said he could see a time when "performance is" will constrict back from the anything goes era he emerged into and helped define. I think we are there now.

Everything about this production seemed outdated to me. The place for Poor Theatre is questionable now with technologies and skills so available and low cost. The shock and awe of juxtaposing old stories with modern events has now been incorporated into modern writing and directing and has much more sophistication and affect than before. Collage is one of those techniques which evolved in the modernist era. It took Post Modernism to bring it to the stage but now we enter the Post Truth era and its time feels like it is done now.

Regardless of style I question why I should even care about the subjects presented in this play. From the Ancient Greeks to the 20th Century Americans - what does this have to do with me today in Australia? Reid's history of writings shows he does have a fascination with America but I really don't care. There is so much of the world and history to choose from - especially our own. Why do we need to rehash Manson and Patty Hearst and the anti-Vietnam protests in Ohio?

The fact that I am asking these questions is less a demonstration of my lack of awareness and more of an indication in the gaping hole in the dramaturgy of The Bacchae. I am a woman. I should care about this play, but I just don't.

Unfortunately Reid's direction doesn't save it either. The pace of the whole four hours plods along like an annoying metronome set to 4/4 time. The collage is stuck together with sticky tape but the ends don't meet and there are a lot of places where someone spilled water on the page and all of the words run into each other so that meaning is lost rather than heightened.

The text is entirely expository. You could be forgiven for thinking The Bacchae is a lecture rather than a play/performance. I have always been a fan of a bit of exposition, but I do like a bit of dramatic action in between. Can you believe I just said that???

Riffing off Schechner's Dionysis in 69, I guess I expected a lot from The Bacchae. It was probably never going to live up to my expectations. What I didn't expect was such a clear illustration of how theatre has moved on from these celebrated techniques of the 20th Century. Just as the source material is foreign and from the past, so are the performance tools used in this production.

2 Stars

Sunday 14 July 2019

Work It: New Manifestos - Event Review

What: Work It - New Manifestos
When: 12 July 2019
Where: Main Hall, Arts House
Presented by: DJ Abyss, Fay Bendrups, Candy Bowers, Simona Castricum, Maude Davey, Emma Edwardes, Jamaica, Jess Knight, Lay the Mystic, Akec Makur Chuot, Alice Pung, and Sheree Stewart
Candy Bowers and DJ Abyss
One of the exciting new innovations Emily Sexton has brought with her brand of programming at Arts House is a public forum for community and artistic manifestos. The first iteration, First Dance, was presented as a low key affair as part of Dance Massive. The success of that event has led to the current presentation of Work It: New Manifestos which was curated and presented by one of our most powerful artists, Bowers.

The list of amazing femme artists and organisers which crossed our stage is an expanded program. What was 8 in the original was 12 in Work It. 12 strong and passionate femme perspectives took centre stage to tell the world what we want and how we are going to get it. What stood before us and spoke to us were voices of freedom and hope. With those voices came a vision and a plan - a plan which will work if only we would make the space for them to happen.

In a program switch which proved to be poignant and potent, the night began with Pilepileta (Stewart), a midwife and performer. Pilepileta had to speak first as she literally had to run to bring a new life into the world and she asked us to make a space for this returning spirit. Before she left she encourages us to engage in a loud and joyous chant of welcome for this newest member of our community.

Bowers then came on stage to welcome us into this space of truth telling. A nature goddess herself, Bowers had ensured the hall was filled with fragrant flowers and encouraged us to partake of their pleasing aroma across the evening - the lavender, the peonies, the silver princesses... Then she brought her power as her list of demands were laid down: 1. If you don't respect my existence, expect my resistance; 2. Women don't owe you shit; 3. Bite my thighs; and finally, 4. Decolonise and moisturise. She left us with the mantra for the evening - "Pain that is not tranformed is always transmitted."

Pung, writer and lawyer, talked to us about how hurtful 15 year old girls can be. You know the ones - they are vegan and believe in climate change, but don't you dare have a mixed race relationship because that is fair game for teasing and harassment! When asked by a young girl when the racism would stop her reply was simple. It probably won't, but you will develop a resistance and you will eventually find your own tribe. "Pain that is not transformed is always transmitted."

Castricum is a musician and architect. Castricum performed her pop dance piece Carry The Weight. Singing to a backing tape and playing the snare the auditorium filled with lyrics such as "Generations - they carry pain, Did you think they have no right to complain?' Li'l Mama (Edwardes), life coach, then powered on to the stage trying to soothe a baby to sleep before launching into an energetic (and almost physically impossible?) dance routine. The t-shirt over her leotards read 'Own Your Power' and own it she did as she did an amazing dance routine - a lot of it standing on her head! "Pain that is not tranformed is always transmitted."

In a programming coup, Bowers invited Bedrups to speak to us about humanitarian initiatives and what hopes and plans she has for how Australia might cope with emergencies - basically by acting like a real community. Bedrups is with the SES and she spoke of her research into emergency control in Peru. The lesson she would like us to learn and process she would like us to adopt is a revolution where emergency management is taken back from the beaurocrats and put back in the hands of the community. Take lessons from initiatives such as Neighbourhood Watch. Have street parties and assign roles to everyone who lives there. Run your own local drills. Identify the people around you who might need a little extra help and work out who will take that on. Keep it fun, keep it light, keep it in the forefront of everyone's mind, keep it in the community. "Pain that is not transformed is always transmitted."

Makur Chuot was one of our pioneer AFLW players and is now one of their Multicultural Development Officers. Makur Chuot spoke about the experience of spending the first 11 years of her life in a refugee camp and the despair and hopelessness which comes of that. She also speaks of her first experience of racism in Australia. It was the moment she first realised "my skin was going to be a problem." Crossing a road a man yelled out to her, "You black sluts...go back to where you came from." There was more but I can't bring myself to write it. I am too ashamed."Pain that is not tranformed is always transmitted."

Jamaica, Sydney-based rapper, then bounded on to the stage and took us lyric by lyric through the meaning of their anthemic song but not before Bowers and DJ Abyss reinterpreted the misogynistic lyrics of a well known rapper, creating a more polite rendering of courtship. One of the points Jamaica was making though, was to find your tribe because when you have a group you are stronger. The song breaks down the daily struggles of being a queer person of colour and the sentiments reflect Bowers' manifesto - "The one's who don't respect you don't get respect back." "Pain that is not tranformed is always transmitted."

Next on stage was Knight and her diminutive stature was no indication of the amount of insight and humour she would bring to us all. Knight talked about the repression of growing up Mormon. She regaled us with the doctrine of a woman's body being a gift to be unwrapped by her husband on the wedding night and how any exploration or enjoyment of before that moment was an untenable sin. As she discovered in her liberated 20s though, "Nobody fucks me like me!" Knight is now an apostate as she long ago came to the realisation that "Everything fun makes God sad." "Pain that is not transformed is always transmitted."

DJ Abyss (3CR) took the opportunity to speak to us through her music selections with lyrics such as "You don't like pussy with power" before the stage was colonised by the powerful essence of Davey. Davey spoke to us as a middle-aged white women who is by default complicit in all the things that are killing our people, our society, and our world. "The world is dying - or is it just me?" Davey talks about her shame in what we have done and her dreams to catch up on all the things she has missed in the mists of colonial living. Things like learning an Aboriginal language for example. Aware of the smaller half of her life left to live and the time running out for catch ups she drives it home with a final "The world is dying - or is it just us?" "Pain that is not transformed is always transmitted."

This evening of wanderers and warriors was brought to a close with Lay the Mystic. Lay brought their lyrical poetry and talked about all the shapes they carry inside their, how they are a hybrid set of stories. They talked abut how "My mothers all gifted me and my body" and asks us not to call them a woman because it mispronounces who they are. The point: "Nobody is ever experiencing one thing at a time." "Pain that is not transformed is always transmitted."

Work It: New Manifestos was an intelligent and exciting night of femme perspective, femme hope, femme despair, and femme vision. Pain was spoken to - the pain of people, of communities, of old ideas. More importantly though, it was a hope for the future and a plan to go with that hope which was the overwhelming message. The other key point was it is time for us to clear the decks because as Pilepileta so poignantly brought into focus "You mob all make space because the next generation is comin'!"

4.5 Stars

Tuesday 9 July 2019

I Hope It's Not Raining In London - Theatre Review

What: I Hope It's Not Raining In London
When: 8 - 13 July 2019
Where: Upstairs, The Butterfly Club
Written by: Nicholas Thoroughgood
Directed by: Riley McLean
Performed by: Daniel Cottier, Cassie Hamilton, Nicholas Thoroughgood, and Zoe Walker
Cassie Hamilton and Nicholas Thoroughgood
It seems playwrights are getting all existential again a century after the first time around. In a world leaning more and more into proto-fascism it is not surprising, I suppose, that artists are once more questioning meaning and purpose in life. The latest - and very worthy - production to worship at the feet of Beckett is I Hope It's Not Raining In London playing at The Butterfly Club this week.

A rash of plays have come onto Melbourne stages over the last year or so which espouse a lineage to the Absurdists of the 20th Century - Q, Two Animals, and most recently Two On The Night Train for example. As the latest entry into this arena, I Hope It's Not Raining In London is one of the more successful attempts and is quite a thrilling hour of theatre.

Unsurprisingly, Thoroughgood found himself inspired by Waiting For Godot, and this play began as a 2-hander. All of the publicity talks about it in this manner - 2 characters, One and Other, who find themselves in a room. They have no memory but boxes keep appearing and they slowing piece together memory fragments as the play progresses. In this regard it is perhaps more of a reference to Act Without Words - except that it has words of course.

The four cast are meant to rotate through the two roles randomly across the season which is quite clever. On opening night in Melbourne Cottier was playing One and Thoroughgood was playing Other. I assume the play has evolved over the course of the tour though, because both Hamilton and Walker performed in cameos of mothers and girlfriend which makes the play more logical but takes it way off track as an absurdist work.

Having said that, in this configuration the casting is gender normative which settles the text and action too firmly in realism. In other rotations, and assuming the text (which has a male gender bias for One and Other and a female bias for the rest of the characters) doesn't change, the whole thing might unsettle into an intriguing world of discognition and curiosity which might be quite intriguing.

In the program notes Thoroughgood talks about his confusion with the existential aspect of Theatre of the Absurd and his confusion about Nihilism versus Existentialism. His intention was to explore both in I Hope It's Not Raining In London. He does, however, also speak of the realism and authenticity of the acting and this is where the style has gone wrong and why it comes across as a realist non-linear narration dressed in an existential overcoat.

An essential element of Theatre of the Absurd is to also question the existentiality of language. Thoroughgood has not played in this arena. He uses proper words, sentence structure and dramatic action and the two main characters find a trajectory rather than just being lost in a loop.

Do not take this detour as any kind of indication that I Hope It's Not Raining In London is not a great piece of theatre. The acting is wonderful overall and Thoroughgood is an incredibly dynamic actor. Between that and McLean's clever and, at times, shocking staging the show becomes confrontingly visceral. Trigger warning: This show contains graphic replications of self-harm! And blood. Lots and lots of (fake) blood.

I Hope It's Not Raining In London is a fascinating tale of two people (men?) who are trying to work out who they are, where they are, and why they are there. Their journeys are at different stages. One has been searching longer than Other, but does his experience help or hinder Other in his quest and does Other's arrival move One further along his path or drag him backwards? These are the questions which can only be answered if you enter the room with them at The Butterfly Club.

4 Stars

Thursday 4 July 2019

The Intriguing Case of The Silent Forest - Theatre Review

What: The Intriguing Case of The Silent Forest
When: 3 - 7 July 2019
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Written and directed by: Matthew Crosby
Performed by: Matthew Crosby, Kathleen Doyle, Eidann Glover, Alana Hoggart, Lorna McLeod, and Rodrigo Calderon Tobar
Set by: Noriko Ikaga

Rodrigo Calderon Tobar and Kathleen Doyle - photo by Oscar Socias

In a situation where there is no false advertising at all, The Intriguing Case of The Silent Forest is, indeed, very intriguing. Playing at La Mama Courthouse for this week only, it is probably best described as an anime/noir fusion. There are only a few tickets left for the final performance though, so book now or miss out on one of the most...intriguing pieces of theatre produced recently.

The ensemble putting on this murder mystery evening call themselves The Thursday Group because they meet on Thursdays to engage with the practice of Suzuki Method of Actor Training. All of the performers in this group have an extensive background in Asian theatre forms generally, and Crosby and Doyle in particular have engaged with the home of this method, SCOT (Suzuki Company of Toga). There is always a lot of interest and curiosity about the Suzuki method and you won't see a better example of how it translates into performance in Melbourne for a very long time I suspect.

I did train with this group for a short while a few years ago now. The Suzuki Method is tough, disciplined, and comes from a deep and strong methodology which literally emerges from your core and is solidly grounded in your feet. This is evidenced in the planar tableaux created throughout Silent Forest.

The Intriguing Case of The Silent Forest is a murder mystery which reveals domestic tragedy. A young girl, Mary (Hoggart), is found dead and Detective Rob (Crosby) is trying to find information about her older sister Josephine (Doyle). What emerges is a tale of sad and horrifying domestic child abuse.

As the play moves forward across around an hour and a half, what is perhaps the most intriguing aspects of this work is its focus on Josephine and the issue of secondary trauma. Most tales of this sort tend to be about the target, but the insight of Silent Forest will start many new conversations around this issue.

Crosby is a very lyrical writer and I think the text indicates he is a phenomenologist. I guess you could say The Intriguing Case of The Silent Forest is well and truly at home within the world of Expressionism - it is subjective, focuses on one main character, and is the world of nightmares and whispers and secrets. Why does Josephine go into the forest? And why is the forest so quiet? Every scene and every word, every description is designed to evoke a visceral response.

I said at the start this play is a kind of anime/noir.  By that I mean it encompasses all of the tropes of both. Noir films always have murder at their base, shadowy aesthetics and ethics, and tropes you can't help but trip over. Anime has cartoonish figures, world ending devastation, and random moments of unexpected humour sometimes with elements that have no apparent functional purpose. As an example of this I am talking about the comic penguin in Neon Genesis Evangelion perhaps. The Intriguing Case of The Silent Forest has all of that and will leave you guessing what it is about and what has been going on until the very last moments.

Those who enjoy stylised theatrical techniques such as Commedia dell'Arte will get a real kick out of this show. At the core of Suzuki character creation process is identifying the characters walk and developing character and tableaux from a technique called statues. The Suzuki method is not as prescribed as Commedia - the characters are found through exploration - but the similarities are clear, with a strong emphasis on what Brecht called gestus.

Suzuki is a presentational style of performance and its clearly Asian aesthetic makes it strange to us, but not impenetrable. Even the lilt and rhythm of character's speech is developed from the core of the actor so that the very normal (and beautiful) words Crosby has written become strange and unsettling whilst also inviting us to lean and listen just that little bit harder.

The Intriguing Case of The Silent Forest is a powerful work created by true masters of their craft. Doyle is mindblowingly fantastic and terrifying and piteous as the lost little girl/monster and Detective Rob (Crosby) is funny yet sincere. He is the Everyman and together we try and work our way through the brambles and bushes of this hidden tale. As happens with all dark and shadowy glades, we do get lost but the rest of the ensemble are the lamps which light our way out of the darkness.

4 Stars

Wednesday 3 July 2019

Bluebeard's Castle - Opera Review

What: Bluebeard's Castle
When: 2 - 10 July 2019
Where: Basement, Mycellium Studios
Composed by: Bela Bartok
Libretto by: Bela Balazs
Directed by: Kate Millett
Conducted by: James Penn
Performed by: Zara Barrett and Adrian Tamburini
Reorchestration by: Kym Dillon
Costumes by: Suzanne Stevens
Lighting by: Jason Bouvaird

Adrian Tamburini and Zara Bennett - photo by Daniel Burke

I love indie opera. I love it more than main stage opera. It is brave and bold and ambitious and comes from a pure love of the art form which is not always true of indie theatre. One of our small indie opera companies, BK Opera, is back with their latest experiment - Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle and is being performed for a few dates in July at Mycellium Studios in Brunswick.

Bluebeard's Castle is the only opera Bartok wrote. It is a grand and ambitious exploration of expressionism. Sadly it was judged to be unperformable so it is rarely staged in anything other than concert presentations.

Based on the french tale Bluebeard written by Charles Perrault in 1697, Balazs - with the assistance of Bartok began writing the libretto several years before the opera was completed in 1912. It has been suggested Bartok wrote it in honour of his first wife of 15 years who he had recently jilted for a young piano student. Given the subject matter, this could very well be Bartok working out some of his guilt.

The story in the opera is a little different than the fairy tale although the themes are essentially very close. Expressionism was emerging as a strong artistic movement in those turbulent European years and opera is a perfect vehicle for an art influence which focuses on a subjective and distorted effect, usually to express negative emotions.

Bluebeard's Castle only has 2 characters - Bluebeard (Tamburini) and Judith (Barrett). It is worth noting that the term 'bluebearding' was commonly known as a man who kills his wives. With such an economical cast you would think this opera would almost be saturating the market. Unfortunately Bartok wrote the music with massive orchestration and there is literally no action on stage - thus being considered unperformable. Having said that, it is short (just over an hour) so with some clever modern staging and technology I don't think those problems are insurmountable.

The great genius of this presentation of Bartok's only opera is the electronic reorchestration of the score by Dillon. The start of the music (after 'The Prologue of The Bard') is quite shocking with it's ethereal inorganic sounds. My plus one mentioned he felt like he was about to watch Flash Gordon which is appropriate because only a few years before composing this opera Bartok had attended the premier of Strauss' Also Zach Zarathustra.

The score seems thin at the beginning, but as the story unfolds it grows and grows until we are consumed by the polytonal movements - one for each of the 7 rooms Judith explores. Much is made of Bartok's use of the minor second (known as the 'blood' music) to register Judith's shock on noticing the beauteous riches of each room are dripping with blood and I think it is even more present in this synthsized orchestration.

Whoever agrees to sing the roles of Bluebeard's Castle are very brave and incredibly competent - they have no choice and nowhere to hide if it goes wrong. Luckily, in the hands of Tamburini and Barrett we are safe. Both are master singers, and both demonstrated a deeply complex internal life as the tragedy unfolds.

Luckily, in the Basement space of the Mycellium Studios, the audience and performers have an intimate connection and we could see the tears as they swelled, the flashes of rage, the yearning for a simple and uncomplicated love. Less fortunately this was not reflected in their bodies or the direction (Millett).

I know the opera is written very static in it's staging but there are tricks which could make it at least have some small variations. The 7 rooms could all have a slightly different point on the horizon. The actors could have some sort of circling to indicate they are coming to another door. There is a glorious backdrop of bedazzled and bejewelled riches across the stage which could be staggered across the depth so that - at least occassionally - the tableaux could shift to give the audience something to excite the eyes.

Bouvaird does his best to create texture and movement in the space, but he is somewhat hamstrung by practicalities. The Basement is one of those spaces with no 3-phase power so there are practical limitations to the lighting. Having said that, Bouvaird has placed lighting trees and birdies in strategic positions around the space which could create angles and architecture. Unfortunately he is using mostly fresnels rather than profiles so he ends up lighting the walls more so than the performers. Their static placement between two columns also unfortunately puts them in the one place he can't hit them with side light.

Bouvaird uses his usual palette of bold colours - particularly orange, red and blue - which bring emotion to the whitewashed basement which gives us something to look at. When lighting opera though, you have to pay attention to what the music is doing. Bartok creates a key plan which travels from F# to C to F# which are allegorical of the amount of light in the castle (and in Bluebeard's life). I would have liked to see some of that come through in the lighting design.

The costuming (Stevens) is problematic. Tamburini has a cartoonish fake blue beard which works with the expressionism of the piece, but Barrett is dressed like a Disney princess? She is also wearing a wig which is not well applied and when the performers are this close to the audience you just can't do that. We see everything. And given that nothing happens and no-one moves it means we see it for every minute of that just over an hour show.

BK Opera like taking on lesser famed opera composers and I really admire Bluebeard's Castle for what it does and for showing Melbourne audiences an opera the major companies are unlikely to ever present. I also think with a few staging tweaks it will be a strong show. I don't think Millett has moved the show away from it's standard themes of the dangers of curiosity, but I do think she has achieved the goal stated in the program of 'focussing on the power dynamics between the couple'. I am less convinced Judith is stripped of her humanity though, and feel Bluebeard has his chance of happiness stolen from him.

Don't take my word for it. Instead, take a risk and decide for yourself. There are a couple more dates at the Mycellium Studios in July and then a proposed remount at Northcote Town Hall in August. Give it a shot. Bluebeard's Castle is very surprising.

2 Stars

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