Monday, 30 September 2019

Jofus and The Plank - Comedy Review

What: Jofus and The Plank
When: 24- 29 September 2019
Where: The Burrow
Created and performed by: Lily Fish
Directed by: Lily Fish and Kimberley Twiner
Lily Fish
Straight out of all the great schools of clowning steps Jofus, a clown character created and performed by Lily Fish. The odd little love child of Harlequin and the Umbilical Brothers, and following in the tradition of Mr Bean, Jofus takes us on an adventurous new tale about The Big Bad Wolf with The Plank as the only ally.

The tale of Jofus and The Plank begins with the expectation of a visit from Uncle Kevin. A very excited Jofus makes a batch of short bread cookies. Uncle Kevin rings to tell Jofus he will be late, but the smell of the cookies permeates the air and comes to the nostrils of a very hungry Big Bad Wolf.

Thus begins an adventure tale told through mime, sound, half muttered words, and The Plank. When The Big Bad Wolf enters the kitchen Jofus jumps out of the (unusually high) kitchen window and plummets down the side of a very tall building. With the intervention of a very prolific egg-laying bird and a balloon Jofus desperately tries to elude The Wolf but it all comes down to a final showdown. Will Jofus defeat The Wolf or will Jofus become dinner?

Fish has as wealth of classical clowning training and experience and for Jofus she leans heavily into the Commedia traditions. Add to that some exemplary mime skills and The Plank becomes an extraordinary vehicle to embody the journey. It is a phone, the windows of the building, a balloon string, The Wolf's slavering tongue, the smell of biscuits wafting in the air or the stench of The Big Bad Wolf's breath and more!

There is no fourth wall to break in Jofus and The Plank. Jofus is telling us a story and speaks to us directly as both narration and narrator. Jofus is as aware of us as we are aware of Jofus. In fact some of the funniest moments are when Jofus steps out of the story to speak to us. The telephone conversation with costume designer Jofus about the ill-fitting pants is hilarious.

Unfortunately this is the part which seems to have left the children in the audience lost and restless.the gags about the paucity of Fringe production was completely over their heads and possibly went a bit too long. In fact, my major criticism of the work would be that there are many moments which indulge themselves too long.

Jofus is constantly acknowledging audience laughter and when it comes Jofus just keeps dropping in and out of the moment wanting more. It makes the show lose momentum. The idea works, but only for a finite amount of time.

Jofus and The Plank was co-devised by Po Po Mo Co partner in crime, Kimberley Twiner, and is a wonderful example of the art of clowning in the modern (or post post modern) era. Fish's skills are brilliant and with a little less induglence this show will wow the festival stages of the world if given the chance.

4 Stars

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Just Us Girls - Theatre Review

What: Just Us Girls
When: 21 - 29 September 2019
Where: Music Room, Trades Hall
Created and performed by: Ellen Grimshaw and Alice Stewart
Directed by: Milly Cooper and Sarah Vickery
Lighting and sound by: Justin Gardam
Alice Stewart and Ellen Grimshaw
The Music Room at Trades Hall is being occupied by strong female performance makers this week with the show Just Us Girls. This is basically a VCA Masters programs takeover as directors and writers from the writing and directing program dominate the stage with overwhelming messages of female oppression and a plea for empowerment.

The publicity blurb speaks to Just Us Girls being an absurdist work but that is not really correct. It is more accurately a post truth surrealist journey using performance body art (in the footsteps of the work of Maria Abramovic). Coupled with Grimshaw's stream of consciousness text, the show barely takes a moment to breath as it powers through a patriarchy which has no idea what it is to be a woman.

An Alien (Grimshaw) arrives on this planet and meets Dick Shirt (Stewart) and spends the next hour trying to find out what a girl [please insert the word woman wherever you feel you need to feel like an adult] is. Dick Shirt has absolutely no idea, citing examples which include potatoes and a couch amongst other objects, but then asserting quite vehemently there is only one type of girl.

There are moments of real genius in the writing including the 'sorry' aria and a trip to a restaurant where the Alien is invited to choose rape cake from the menu. Amongst all of the physicality and dance these are the moments when the show has true heart, as Grimshaw emerges from her charicature to tell us her experiences of rape are in the multiples and not just the one extraordinary event the media and culture like to tell us will only ever happen to a woman.

In a world where noodles are microwaves it is these explosive moments of truth which keep us glued to what is happening. My one reservation is that in telling us Feminism is really just equality (an oversimplification, but point taken), and where the idea of women being diverse and right in front of men's noses, I do worry about the monochromatic depiction of the 'man' in the show. In speaking against misogyny has the team crossed the line themselves into the abyss of misandry?

The physicality of Just Us Girls is intensely energising, but just as the performers get exhausted by the end, so too are the audience a bit worn out. Luckily this Fringe sized chunk of theatre is just the right size to sustain the work the audience need to do to keep up.

I would have liked more use of the AV. If you are going to use technology you really should use it consistently to ensure it really feels like a part of the show. I feel this would really amp up the show by giving the audience a few more keyholes into some of the more obscure shifts, especially in the second half.

As theatre, Just Us Girls is energetic and full of a truly righteous fury and yearning. It just needs to be careful not to be guilty of the same crime it is accusing the patriarchy of and thus falling into their stereotype.

4 Stars

Aurora - Circus Review

What: Aurora
When: 18 September - 6 October 2019
Where: Royal Botanic Gardens
Directed by: Kate Fryer
Performed by: Sam Aldham, Matthew Brown, Jeremy Hopkins, Spenser Inwood, Adam Malone, Selene Messinis, Jillibalu Riley, Tara Silcock, and Shani Stephens
Costumes by: Harriet Oxley
Lighting by: Jenny Hector
Projection by: Rhian Hinkley
Stage Managed by: Sienna Dillon
Sam Aldham, Jillibalu Riley, Josie Wardrope, Matthew Brown, Shani Stephens, and Jeremy Hopkins - photo by Mark Turner
The Circus Oz big top is back and with it comes all the fun and frolicking which is synonymous with this company. Reinforcing it's natural world themes, the Royal Botanic Gardens is host to this season of their latest new work, Aurora.

Reveling in the joy of being in their own natural habitat (the big top), the circus troupe engage with the story of extinction which is on everybody's mind at the moment.  Over one hundred thousand people marched in the streets of Melbourne this week about this issue, Finucane and Smith are roaring the message out at fortyfivedownstairs with The Rapture Chapter II, and at The Butterfly Club Picked Last For Sport have been telling the tale of Creatures Lost.

In Aurora, Circus Oz are taking a slightly more light hearted stance and the acrobats celebrate what is gorgeous and adorable about our ice cap populations with just enough of a hint of the coming doom to remind us of what we are in danger of losing if we don't act now. Penguins frolick (with more than a little touch of Happy Feet influence), a polar bear (Silcock) cavorts, and albatrosses glide their way through life barely noticing - and definitely not understanding - what this approaching mob of humans are doing to their world.

The show starts with a fun loving colony of Adelie penguins clowning around before performing a  traditional and yet ever so exciting trapeze routine. I feel pretty sure these penguinos are blood relatives of the Amigos who befriended Mumble... The penguinos come back and play several times across the evening. My favourite was the portly one (Riley), and after an amazing whip routine I kind of became enamoured with the kinky one (Malone) too.

Next we get to meet the polar bear. Silcock - as well as being a wonderful foot juggler and excellent balancer - is a fantastic singer and as she moves in to her new Antartic digs, suitcase in hand, the story really starts to get going. She plays with the penguins - juggling one all topsy turvy with her feet (my favourite puppet act ever!) before she joins in and plays with the colony of penguins. Sadly, she is a bit bigger and heavier than the penguinos and the ice is getting thin so when she jumps in on the fun, the ice cracks and everyone falls in. Luckily the penguinos are a happy go lucky bunch so all is forgiven and it is time to play again.

At this point I need to mention the wonderful use of projection (Hinkley) throughout the show. The visuals are projected directly onto the stage floor and tell the meta story about polar melts, black ice, and ever changing environments. Fryer (Director) and Hinkley have created magic in the way images and performers work together to create a living ecosystem for the story they are telling.

The night is full of excellent circus skills, seamless and energetic transitions, and things I have never seen before all swirling in a lively vortex over some deep and serious undercurrents. All the while the poor janitor (Aldham) is trying to clean up the mess but the goal posts keep moving. His rope routine, trying to cleanup plastic bags and netting, is exciting with a terrifying twist at the end!

I won't tell you everything that happens because you need to go and enjoy this show for yourself. I will say I am always in awe of the Washington trapeze and Malone does things which should not be humanly possible in it. If I hadn't seen it for myself I would never have believed anyone could have this much of a sense of balance.

Malone again, the hula hoop routine was stunning. I am not sure I have ever seen a man do the hula hoops and it was absolutely intriguing to see how the different point of balance and removal of the need to be sexy makes this apparatus so powerful. With little hints of Cyr Wheel choreography it was thoroughly gripping (pun intended).  Of course, then the projections starting playing hide and seek with the poor janitor so that the entire troupe had to come out and help him clean up the hula mess...

Brown's straps routine is fantastic and Stephens' hand balancing is elegant beyond words. Oh, and I have never seen the Chinese Pole done the way Inwood and Stephens did it. I was blown away! I should mention Inwood is filling in whilst troupe regular, Josie Wardrope, recovers from a performance injury sustained the day before opening. All of this is held together and propelled forward by the musical stylings of two amazing musicians - Hopkins and Messinis.

I think what I love most about Aurora is it's return to playful, family circus. The last couple of shows I have been to - Rock Bang and Wunderage - have been incredible, but very much stepping into art house territory. Aurora is a show the entire family can enjoy and laugh at and then take home to talk about in a bit more detail.

Don't miss this chance to celebrate the big top with Circus Oz again. Everyone will leave Aurora with a huge smile on their face and plenty to chat about afterwards. Sometimes it is nice to have a serious message told a bit tongue in cheek and this is a great show to start the extinction talk with the young ones in a way which isn't scary or threatening. Oh, and the show is heaps of fun for the adults too!

5 Stars!

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

A Day In The Life - Cabaret Review

What: A Day In The Life
When: 27 - 29 September 2019
Where: Wonderland Spiegeltent, The Paddock - Federation Square
Written by: Bridget a’Beckett and Julia Davis
Performed by: Bridget a’Beckett , Julia Davis, and Sharni Page
Choreography by: Jessica Enes
Costumes by: Kim Simon
Sharni Page, Bridget A'Beckett, and Julia Davis
Melbourne Fringe Festival is not just about grown ups. There is a lot of stuff out there for the little ones and Wonderland Speigeltent (behind ArtPlay at Federation Square) is bringing a whole program of fun including the Musical Sprouts show A Day In The Life.

Yella (A'Beckett), Blueno (Davis), and Reddy (Page) sing their way through some of life's greatest challenges such as brushing your teeth, cleaning your bedroom, and going to the toilet. With the help of the other kids in the audience, Yella learns these life skills and along they way they teach the children some basic music knowledge.

Musical Sprouts are committed to creating theatre for children with really high music performance values. They are amazing singers and musicians with classical training and throughout their songs they create glorious harmonies which literally brought beatific smiles to the faces of the very young ones in the audience at the preview. Not just visiting the world of canto bello, the trio take the audience through a brief tour of jazz, rock and pop and a little bit of looping for some percussive fun.

Some parts of the show are more successful than others. The toilet training sequence doesn't really work because Yella leaves the stage to do it. Having said that the 'Toothbrush Tappy' song really does get the feet tapping and the kids can get up on stage to help Yella learn how to brush her teeth and the feminist anthem 'I Can Do That' is rousing.

The costumes are colourful and I loved the flower set piece at the back. A'Beckett is cute and energetic as Yella and Davis is suitably mature and a bit grumpy as Blueno. My one suggestion would be that Page needs to find a bit more character definition within this trio.

A Day In The Life is fun and beautiful and has that rare quality of being for the really, really little kids - the toddlers rather than the preschoolers. They really do appreciate the music and the performers are gentle and caring with their rambunctious audience. Because it is behind Art Play, the kids can go and play after (or before) the show too!

3 Stars


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