Monday, 16 September 2019

Let MEOWT! - Theatre Review

What: Let MEOWT!
When: 12 - 17 September 2019
Where: Rattlesnake Saloon
Created and performed by: Catherine Holder and Laura Moran
Catherine Holder and Laura Moran
There is a crazy Fringe venue on downtown Lygon Street called the Rattlesnake Saloon which is straight out of a Spaghetti Western, and in the dance hall room at the the back is a secret stash of Melbourne Fringe performances taking place. The one I saw last night was the cute and funny Let MEOWT!

I have been a fan of Holder's work for a while. Experiences she has created, such as Sonder and Blood Is Thicker Than Hummus, are clever, interactive and enriching. Let MEOWT! sees Holder creating a more traditional fourth wall type of show with Moran - although it is fair to say this is still not what anyone would call 'standard'.

Holder and Moran play two cats - Cinnamon and Pepper respectively. Born from the same litter and growing up with the same human slave (who they call Mother) Cinnamon is the runt and the very self important Pepper spends every moment of her life making sure she knows it.

Cinnamon is fun-loving, curious, and perhaps not the brightest bulb in the Christmas tree. Pepper, on the other hand, is sleek and neurotic and ever so condescending.

One day they find themselves locked in the bathroom. Not through any malice on the part of Mother. It's just that Cinnamon was napping in the laundry basket and Pepper was on the window sill enjoying the view when the door was closed. The next 45 minutes of the show involves watching the two of them tearing the bathroom and each other apart as they desperately try to escape their own Satrian hell in order to find food (it's been a whole 5 minutes since they last ate) and a litter tray.

Let MEOWT! is Fringe heaven for the cat lovers of Melbourne. Holder and Moran have evidently spent a lot of time watching cats and have so many of their mannerisms and peculiarities down pat.

Perhaps the one thing I missed was a more fluid articulation of their spines. Cat's almost seem like they don't have a back bone and Holder and Moran were definitely 2 legged creatures standing tall and straight. I also couldn't figure out why they spent the whole time looking at the ceiling rather than the audience. I would have connected much more strongly with the performance if they had just looked at me...

In terms of Fringe programming, I think Holder and Moran have misunderstood their audience. Although it has some wonderfully dark aspects, Let MEOWT! is really more of a kids show and would have been a sell out in an earlier time slot and a child friendly venue. As a show for adults it lacks depth and body.

Having said that, cat lovers love cats - all cats - any cats - so take a day off watching feline memes on social media and head down to the Rattlesnake Saloon tonight for your last chance to see what these furry creatures get up to when Mother's back is turned. You will even get some handy hints about applying mascara!

2.5 Stars

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Standing Strong: Mudburra Man - Music Review

What: Standing Strong: Mudburra Man Album Launch
When: 15 September 2019
Where: fortyfivedownstairs
Featuring: Ray Dimakarri Dixon

Moira Finucane, Mama Alto, Ray Dimakarri Dixon and Pierra Dennerstein - photo by Jodie Hutchinson
Last night, riding on the waves of Finucane and Smith's extraordinary show The Rapture Chapter II: Art vs Extinction, Ray Dimakarri Dixon launched his new album Standing Strong: Mudburra Man. The album is a collection of 8 wonderfully arranged and produced songs speaking to the struggles the Mudburra people are dealing with in the Northern Territory. It is a love song, a dirge, a call to arms. Most of all it is a collection of sublime beauty.

Standing Strong is the result of a year long collaboration with Finucane and Smith. Whilst working on another project, Moira Finucane met Eleanor Dixon who them went on to introduce her to her father Ray. Father and daughter have been performing together for years as the group Rayella but when Finucane heard him sing 'Goodby Song' in his language her world changed and she pledged to help him produce Standing Strong - not quite realising just how much work was involved...

At the same time Finucane and Smith were developing The Rapture Chapter II and they realised Ray Dixon's passion in fighting fracking in the Northern Territory and working to save his language which is only spoken by 50 people now were all a part of the picture they were trying to show. Dixon's seminal song 'Nkgurra Marla' (meaning protector of home) became a centerpiece of the cabaret as well as being the perfect springboard to getting Dixon's music and message out into the world.

At it's simplest, Dixon's deep and sonorous voice, accompanied by an acoustic guitar are enough to cause your heart to resonate with the rhythms of Australia. When you add in the incredible talents of the 20 amazing artists who have collaborated to create this album, the music ascends to the sound of a people and planet crying out to be heard.

Collaborators of this album include: 
Ed Bates - pedal steel (Mudburra Man)
Joe Camilleri - saxophone, pedal steel arrangement (Mudburra Man)
Clare St Clare - backing vocals
Aidan Fergusson - electric guitar
Ben Keene - bass, percussion, string arrangements
Mama Alto - backing vocals
John McAll - piano, organ, melodica  & percussion
Darrin Verhagen - cello, flute, keyboard, arrangements

At the launch we had the pleasure of hearing several songs from the album including 'Yulu Wumara' and the stoic title song 'Barlawa Kurdij Karrdi'. 'Yulu Wumara' (Fracking Song) speaks to the truth that 85% of the Northern Territory is currently holds a fracking license or is under application for one. Extinction is in progress and through music Dixon is doing something about it.

The launch ended with Dixon performing the song which changed Finucane's world. Swaying to the mournful tune of 'Goodby Song' I felt my world change too.

The album is sung in a combination of Mudburra and English. For me there is always something magical hearing people sing in their own language. There is a fullness and gentleness and nuance which cannot be replicated. Dixon's Mudburra words speak to your heart even if you don't understand everything he says.

You can purchase a copy of the CD through music@moirafinucane More information HERE

4.5 Stars

The Rapture Chapter II: Art VS Extinction - Cabaret Review

What: The Rapture Chapter II: Art vs Extinction
When: 4 - 29 September 2019
Where: fortyfivedownstairs
Written by: Moira Finucane
Directed by: Moira Finucane and Jackie Smith
Performed by: Pierra Dennerstein, Ray Dimarrkari Dixon, Moira Finucane, Rachel Lewindon, and Mama Alto
Lighting by: Jenny Hector
Moira Finucane - photo by Jodie Hutchinson
 In 2017 Finucane and Smith told us that The Rapture was here. They beckoned us to look around and act immediately. It is 2019 and we have done nothing at all. The Doomsday Clock is still at 2 minutes to midnight and Moira Finucane is back. In The Rapture Chapter II: Art vs Extinction she is telling us there is no more time to waste and she is not wasting any time doing it.

We are back in the ice chapel of 2017 and Finucane enters as the fully annointed Snow Queen regalia after her tour of the Antarctica. What she found there, however, has released an urgency which eschews such frippery and throughout the show she strips away the layers of society, of manners, and of performance because now it is time to speak from the soul. From human to human. Our lives depend upon it.

I said we are running out of time, but Finucane's most important message is that there is still time. There is time for things to get better. There is time for things to get worse. I found myself wishing she could/would do this show in Parliament House in Canberra so that our leaders would finally hear and listen.

There are few niceties in Chapter II. It is dark and it is searing. You know the world is in trouble when Finucane, goddess of love, stands bare chested roaring a warning against waking terrible monsters. Under the biggest glacier in the world there lies deep secrets and lots and lots of bones. In the same way you do not want to wake a vicious dog, a crying baby or an angry man do you really think it is wise to melt this glacier and add 17 meters to the height of our oceans? How many bones will be under water then?

One of the genius elements of Finucane's work is her ability to connect dots and see pictures holistically. Do you really think the rate of death of women in non-warring countries is a coincidence? Do you think the fact that 85% of the Northern Territory is licensed for fracking or under application for such a license is a coincidence? Do you think it is a coincidence the Koala is on the edge of extinction? Do you think it is a coincidence there are only 50 people alive who still speak the language of the Mudburra people?

Finucane has called in the big guns for this exhortation. Having raised her voice as loudly as she can and quoted as many facts and figures as the brain can humanly hold it is time for the land to speak for itself. Yes, the angelic choir of Mama Alto and Dennerstein are still with her, joking and cajoling about the importance of Krill amongst other things but now we need to hear an even older and wiser voice.

To do this, Finucane has brought us Dixon. Dixon teaches us the words nkgurra marla - meaning protector of country, guardian of home - and then sings us this song in language. Nothing reaches into the soul more strongly than hearing First Nations songs sung in language. We don't need to know the words. We can feel the power and authenticity resonating through the sounds.

We need to hear his voice. We need to hear their voice. We need a Makarrata.

In play writing we are told we can't be too expositional because modern audiences don't like being told what to do, what to think. This is just another way to silence voices of concern and dissent. Finucane is a strong woman and in a post truth age she is honoring the movement of truth telling. Ironically, she does wrap up her honest and urgent words in glorious works of art. Costumes, set, music, all of the staging choices are divinity made corporeal.

The Rapture Chapter II: Art vs Extinction is terrifying. The horror lies in the truth that the outcomes lie in our very own hands. It is just as  Finucane's choir sings to us - 'The bigger the stone, the deeper the ripple'.

The situation is urgent and time is speeding up. If you do not act now, if you do not vote for 'the better' politician (so what if none of them are actually good?) now, if you do not plant a tree now, if you do not help someone drowning on the karaoke stage now, if you do not explode your love now what can our future possibly be except more bones at the bottom of an ocean floor?

I know there is a lot of theatre to see in Melbourne this month, but you must make time for The Rapture Chapter II: Art vs Extinction. You must make time for survival.

4.5 Stars

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Batmania Bus Tour - Theatre Review

What: Batmania Bus Tour
When: 11 - 21 September 2019
Where: St Kilda
Written and performed by: Elliott Gee, Raymond Martini, Indiah Mone, and Vidya Rajan
Costumes by: Honor Wolff

Vidya Rajan
One thing we know about Melbourne because of all the plaques and street signs and monuments is a dude called John Batman was one of the white people who got here first. His legacy is the kind of gift that keeps on giving and The Very Good Looking Initiative invite you to a township named after his lordship just as he always wanted - Batmania! Batmania is having it's very own Expo this year at Theatre Works, and for the truly adventurous there is also a Batmania Bus Tour.

I got to go on the bus tour and I can honestly say I saw a completely different side of the town I used to know as St Kilda. What side did I see? I have no idea, but I laughed so much I choked along the way.

The Batmania Expo and Bus Tour are anti-theatre horror comedies. What does this mean? Who knows? What I can tell you is that the experience takes you on a ride and spits in the face of expectation.

As all good bus tours do, the passengers are treated to a Batmanian tourism video highlighting the achievements of the community, their cultural distinctions, and some important local safety warnings. Zimpy means hungry and if you call something a gull it can be a compliment or an insult for example.

The most important information you will get however, is the local EHS warnings. The rules are simple. 1. Do not touch the sand. 2. If you touch the sand, do not touch your face. Like all normal people we - and the tour guides - forget or ignore the warnings almost as soon as they are spoken. If you are addicted to zombie stories you are going to love the Batmania Bus Tour.

Gee is the mullet wearing bus driver who is forced to work with new tour guides (Rajan and Martini) who have done the locals out of a job. The tour guides have only been in Batmania for 3 weeks yet are quite good at describing local attractions despite not aving had the chance to experience them yet. There is one little detail they forgot... Sight seeing bus tours don't work so well in the dead of night...

It all starts innocently enough with plenty of photo stops of unlit edifices and exhortations to marvel at the abundance of avian architecture to be found in Batmania. Things begin to fall off the rails after an unscheduled toilet stop however, and the tour descends into chaos from that point on.

The tour is a lot of fun and the bus - although not quite what is shown in the video - is comfortable and just like all bus tours, nobody can see anything because you are either on the wrong side of the bus, or the view is obscured (by this little thing called night in this case).

It is the journey of the tour staff which become the point of interest in the Bus Tour. The ideas are strong and funny. Perhaps my main concern is the very site line difficulties for tourists are true for the performance. I couldn't see much more than glimpses of what was happening.

I got the gist of it, and I saw enough to understand and laugh, but I felt disconnected for much of the end of the tour. Having said that, I was comfortable and warm and quite enjoyed hearing the random laughter around the bus as people each saw snippets of different moments in the show. Perhaps this is the anti-theatre aesthetic the company are striving for?

I also think they could tighten up the ideas. There were longish gaps between each step in the process and they could be filled with more suggestive material such as when the air-conditioning was broached.

The Bus Tour starts on Fitzroy street but ends at the Expo in Theatre Works just in time for the big finale. Everything about the project is tongue in cheek and fabulous with just enough political and social barbs to make us feel content.

Go and visit Batmania. It is worth it. You can take in the accessible Expo or go on the Bus Tour. Either way you are going to end this unique experience laughing. In fact - do both!

3.5 Stars

Side A - Theatre Review

What: Side A
When: 15 - 29 September 2019
Where: Toy Library, Trades Hall
Written and performed by: Amanda Santuccione
Amanda Santuccione
I first came across Santuccione two years ago in her debut solo show Twenty Minutes To Nine. Since then she has gone on to hone her performance skills and this year she brings another surprisingly personal and powerful story to the audiences at Trades Hall in Side A.

The power in Santuccione's work is the well spring of authenticity and lived experience with which she gifts the audience in every performance. It also lies in her ability to not shy away from the pain, but to sit in it long enough for us to feel it and then move us forward to the strength and wisdom which comes from getting to the other side.

Side A is perhaps a lighter piece overall, with the first half being almost a stand up comedy routine. This show, though, is built in 2 acts and whilst the first half has tiny hints of what is to come the power of the second act comes as a complete surprise.

Side A begins with a wander down memory lane. Feeding into our current retro obsession Santuccione takes us back to the days when mix tapes were real acts of love. A time when making one meant hours listening to the radio for the precise moment the song you wanted was played. A time when all you needed was some sticky tape to overwrite any cassette. A time when DJ's where judged on how rarely they talked over the music. Those were the days...

For Santuccione this was also a time of growth into adulthood and sexuality. She lets us laugh our way through her crazy experiences of a first date, a first kiss, a first walkman, a first sexual assault...

Santuccione was a precocious child as her Sunday School teacher can attest to and in act 2 things get more serious as she explores family and peer expectations for a single, straight female. We take teenage sexuality so for granted now but do girls really all want to get fingered at the age of 13, or lose their virginity by 16? Some do, some don't, but shouldn't it be up to us rather than our community?

In act 2 Santuccione soars as a spoken word beat poet and the power and glory of her pieces 'I See You' and 'Friend' will tear you apart. People say words have power. Santuccione's words most certainly do.

Side A is a surprising show. It is hilarious and soul searing all in the same experience. Spend an evening at Trades Hall and kick the night off with this wonderful work of art.

3.5 Stars

Monday, 9 September 2019

The Subtle Art Of Online Dating - Cabaret Review

What: The Subtle Art of Online Dating
When: 9 - 15 September 2019
Where: Upstairs, The Butterfly Club
Written by: Katie O'Connor
Directed by: Kate Tomkins
Performed by: Nerida Hannah, Katie O'Connor, Maddie Roberts and Bonnie Ryan-Rowe
Bonnie Ryan-Rowe, Katie O'Connor, Nerida Hannah and Maddie Roberts
Because we just can't get enough of it, this year's Fringe Festival brings us another painful yet funny stab at the vagaries and absurdities of romance by app in O'Connors new show. The Subtle Art Of Online Dating is playing upstairs at The Butterfly Club this week.

The topic is not new, but it appears to be endlessly fascinating. Hasn't dating always been a key source of hilarity throughout history? In the tradition of shows such as Ghosted, Tinder Tales and Fuckboys: The Musical, The Subtle Art Of Online Dating pokes fun of and thrusts swords into our current obsession with trying to find love through pure strangers rather than risk getting to know the people around us.

I have to say I don't think The Subtle Art of Online Dating brings much in the form of original material or new perspectives. What it does do, however, is highlight the powerful performance skills of the cast. This team of theatre makers are cohorts from Federation University and all of them demonstrate strong technical skills as actors and also demonstrate Tomkins' skill with use of space - particularly in such a small venue. I rarely enjoy shows which use the auditorium aisle, but this is possibly the first time I have thought it to be done well.

The Subtle Art of Online Dating has an in-yer-face quality which seems to be the rage at the moment in Melbourne, but I wonder if that is actually the great weakness of the work. The four actors come out singing a song (flatly...) about being bitches. It is loud and aggressive and comes from the idea of reclaiming insult words. I personally do not think this is the way to regain respect or dignity - or language - but it is one of those things people do the wrong way for all the right reasons I guess.

A little more softness and vulnerability would make this a much more powerful piece because, despite it's claims to the contrary, The Subtle Art of Online Dating is not a comedy. It is a very sad tale of pain and confusion. In order to amp up the comic, the team have had to resort to obnoxiousness and braggadocia which becomes very confronting. Because of this, I found myself caring very little despite the excellent stage craft on display.

The one exception for me was Hannah's portrayal of the lonely, chocolate addicted young woman who finds happiness in glitter adorned appliances... Hannah also plays the piano which allows the team to segue into song and dance for that real cabaret vibe. I take her warnings about Hinge very seriously too!

The Subtle Art of Online Dating is fun, and a good way to round off a night of show going at The Butterfly Club. It is also informative. I had no idea there were so many dating apps on the market now!

2.5 Stars