Thursday, 31 October 2019

Thigh Gap - Theatre Review

What: Thigh Gap
When: 30 October - 10 November 2019
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Written by: Jamaica Zuanetti
Directed by: Alice Darling
Performed by: Lauren Mass and Veronica Thomas
Design by: Sophie Woodward
Lighting by: John Collopy and Georgie Wolfe
Sound by: Raya Slavin
Stage Managed by: Jordan Carter
Lauren Mass and Veronica Thomas - photo by Jack Dixon-Gunn
Thigh Gap is a comically absurdist play showing at La Mama Courthouse for the next couple of weeks. Playwright Zuanetti takes us through a string of moments between two flatmates as they negotiate each others' oddities and obsessions within the cocoon of pop culture stereotypes, pop psychology and pop self-help.

Iris (Thomas) is bored, unfocussed and strapped for cash. She gives up her painting studio and brings in a flatmate, Gemma (Mass). It seems as if things will go off the rails from the very first day when Gemma brings a rabbit she never mentioned in the interview and insists on reading Iris' tarot cards even though Iris is a full blown sceptic. Iris never says sorry and Gemma never stops saying sorry.

The two women survive the teething pains and find common ground in the struggle to meet societal demands  of what a woman should be like, act like, and look like.  Iris has man troubles and Gemma is a focussed career woman who deals with work pressures with OCD-like tendencies such as having specific shoes for each day of the week. All hell breaks loose when she can't find her Tuesday shoes!

Zuanetti has created a really good echo of Sartre's No Exit although the first half played a bit too heavily into the comedy genre for my liking. At first I was worried I was going to be sitting through another comedy routine just like the thousands which haunt the comedy festivals and fringe festivals of the world. 

Thankfully the show moves more strongly into the absurd and a nightmare vision emerges of two women trapped in cycle of self abuse they, in theory, could choose to leave but never will - much like Estragon and Vladimir in Beckett's Waiting For Godot. This is scarier though because Iris and Gemma are the Everywoman which means millions of women fall into this self-destructive cycle and will never get themselves out.

Darling's direction helps get us to the horror gently, scene by scene. You really can't see it coming at the beginning and then the axe falls like a hammer at the end. This is really helped by Collopy's and Wolfe's lighting which switches between the ordinary and haunted regularly but not in any way predictable. In a play where most directors would fall into the trap of endless blackouts, this team avoid it and I thank them from the bottom of my heart. Slavin's sound design was also creative and supportive of the ideas in the production although I think there could have been more of it.

Woodward's design is far less successful in my opinion. The set is clever, with all surfaces covered/upholstered in pink yoga mats. Although untidily finished it is clever and works well within the construct of the play. It really resonates in the exercise scene where Gemma is trying to get her arms to look like those of Gwyneth Paltrow because then she will have the life Gwynnie has, right...?

The costuming, however, is appalling. I can live with the incredibly unimaginative black casual attire. Standard blacks are the actor solve all aren't they? The pink evening gowns, though, are atrocious. They should be thrown out and replaced immediately. They do not say what the performance is saying and they look terrible. I mean really, really bad! Seriously, just go to KMart and get anything and it will be better.

As much as I do like Thigh Gap and it is totally up my ally in terms of ideas and content, I will say I wish it had gone a little deeper, The play kind of goes for the easy targets - models, eating disorders, makeup - but it only touches on the truly systemic situations causing the disfunction. These are the symptoms, not the causes. This is what makes the situation Absurdist. You can't cure an illness if you only treat the symptoms. You have to eliminate the cause.

There are some important references. Gemma's work situation shows us clearly how she falls into her OCD and her reliance on mystical predictive devices. It is a lot harder to work out what is going on with Iris. I suspect it is her poverty which causes her to not be able to pursue her art but the script doesn't really let us in on that. All we really know is she is a party girl.

There are fun references (fun meaning scary but true) such as not eating/eating white bread, self-starving, miracle creams which not only moisten your skin but also solve all life's problems, etc. The rabbit is a fun reference to the movie Fatal Attraction but the prop is not used enough as a bunny and is moved around way to much to become other props like a coffee table, etc. It becomes amazingly irritating because of it's size and how it stands out as a big black object in an all pink set. 

At times it is evident they have explored what to do with it too far, such as when Iris is resting her feet on it on the couch. The denouement would be so much more powerful, however, if we got to see a relationship forming between Iris and the rabbit.

Thigh Gap has a lot of laughs and some good, serious conversation. I haven't mentioned it so far, but Mass and Thomas are fantastic actors and they keep us engrossed from start to finish with not a moment of flagging energy or rhythm. It is wonderful to be in the hands of such a capable team, a team you know you can trust to take you on the journey they have promised. (Oh, and the pop video scene will have you falling on the floor laughing!)

3.5 Stars

Friday, 25 October 2019

Othello - Theatre Review

What: Othello
When: 25 - 26 October 2019
Where: The MC Showroom
Written by: William Shakespeare
Directed by: Lenora Locatelli
Performed by: Paul Barry, Claire Duncan, Cadi MacInnes, Roisin O'Neill, Gabrielle Rando, Madeline Rintoul, Nic Stephens, Ismail Taylor-Kamara, and Jett Thomas
Sound by: Sheridan Killingback
Stage managed by: Mitch McDonough

Ismail Taylor-Kamara and Nic Stephens
Beating the Christmas rush, Dionysus Theatre kicks off the summer Shakespeare mania with the dark tale of envy, Othello. This production had a short season in their home on the Peninsula last weekend, and this weekend they have brought their work to The MC Showroom for the rest of us to engage with.

Othello is a late-mid career play by Shakespeare, coming a little after Hamlet and a little before Macbeth. As with so much of Shakespeare's work, he is merely remediating somebody else's story - Un Capitano Moro by Cinthio).

For me this is also probably one of his most coherently constructed works although it is also perhaps the most overtly racist. The outrageous and unapologetic racism is exactly why we shouldn't be staging this play anymore, but the excellent construction is why we should continue to study it as part of the craft and history of theatre making. Personally I don't think the craft outweighs the ideas when deciding to stage a play, but we are still stuck in an anglo-centric, white patriarchy so expect to see it again far too often in times to come as our social system struggles to maintain its supremacy.

Othello is really the story of Iago, a senior soldier in the Venetian army (yes, this is also Shakespeare's trademark cultural appropriation...). Iago hates Othello because 1. Othello is black, 2. Othello outranks him, 3. Othello promoted junior officer Cassio above him. Iago spends the rest of the play plotting and carrying out Othello's utter destruction and happily hurting and killing a lot of other people along the way just because he can. Each step of Iago's puzzle is immaculately placed in this play and as a work of plot construction it is awe inspiring.

In my opinion Othello is also one of Shakespeare's least sexist plays, but my comfort in that was destroyed upon reading Locatelli's (director) program notes. In them she asserts Iago is a woman. Why? Because 'A man would not be capable to orchestrate such a complex plan ...[for]... each character Iago is manipulating.' Thus we find ourselves right back in the middle of the Eve and the apple myth which has been used for centuries to oppress women. Only women are capable of vile acts of deception and betrayal and all the bad mojo of the world falls at our feet. Mea culpa.

The act of changing Iago's gender pronouns in the play ended up having little to no effect in terms of elucidating anything about the story or the character as it turns out (much like MTC's Queen Lear several years ago). Locatelli does not appear to have a vision which either supports or denies Iago as a woman although Shakespeare's dialogue does resist this interpretation, and Stephens was so far outside her acting capabilities at this stage of her career she was unable to imbue the character with anything one might identify as feminine beyond her physical female body.

The truth is, this production of Othello is little more than an off-book staged reading of the play. The actors stand when it is their turn to speak and they sit on the sidelines when they are not in the scene. I was actually quite excited with the possibilities when I walked into the the theatre and saw the set - a series of different sized black boxes randomly set around the stage and a huge red ribbon draped across the floor. The potential was boundless in a play which has so many depths of human character and emotion to be embodied.

Locatelli does have some strong and striking ideas but is not yet at a point where she can incorporate them into the main action of the play. Instead there are random vignettes of great power involving terrifying masks, blinking torches, and marionettes but they are just little photo galleries strewn across the time line of the play at this point. I will say that act 2 was staged and realised much more strongly then act 1 and, if it weren't for Shakespeare's trademark cheesy death scenes, would have been a powerful finish for an otherwise quite tedious night.

Having said all of this, there are some amazing actors in the cast who have instincts which allow us to imagine a production beyond the scope of this director. O'Neill's Rodrigo was passionate, Barry's Cassio was full of energy and eagerness, and Duncan's Montano was cannonball of energy.

I found myself wishing any of these three had been cast as Iago because their connection to their body would have meant we could have traveled the journey of deception the play takes us on. Stephens does all her acting in her head, with her body as stiff as a board. It begged the question who is the puppet - Othello or Iago?

The rest of the cast did a fine job although there was way to much looking down at the floor. Taylor-Kamara's Othello has great moments of strength and power, but he does slide into unperformativeness when his character softens and for some reason Locatelli had him upstaged for pretty much all of act 1.

As much as I don't believe this play should be staged anymore, it is not a play for beginners. There is so much going on: the racism, the workplace politics, the family dramas, the drunkeness, the domestic abuse, the ambition. It is a dramaturgical feast but, as with eating, a director's eyes can be bigger than their belly and such is the case with this production of Othello.

2 Stars

Friday, 18 October 2019

Rebel: A New Musical - Musical Review

What: Rebel: A New Musical
When: 18 - 20 October 2019
Where: The MC Showroom
Book, music and lyrics by: Drew Downing
Directed by: Clary Riven
Musical direction by: Tyson Legg
Performed by: Frank Kerr, Tyson Legg, Peter Nguyen, Aaron Syrjanen and Conrad Tracey
Design by: Betty Auhl
Stage managed by: Janel Gibson
Frank Kerr
Are you a fan of country music? If so, you better mosey on down to The MC Showroom to experience Melbourne's newest musical, Rebel: A New Musical this weekend before it closes!

Beginning it's life as a cabaret show in 2014, Downing recently had a burst of inspiration which has allowed him to expand the story and music into a full two act show. I don't know if purists would call this a real musical because there is no dancing and has a character cast of 1, but it certainly is of the ilk of historical figure musicals which frequent venues such as The Palms at Crown and The Athenaeum.

The story revolves around the life and loves of David (Kerr) who comes to also be known as Rebel. His family hits hard times and moves to Texas to live on his uncle Randy's farm. Yes, this musical is unapologetically targeting the American audience...

Anyway, Randy has a farm hand, Jimmy Ray, and the twinkle in their eyes gives away the true depth of their 'friendship'. It turns out that Rebel has the same inclinations as his uncle and after a violent incidence with his father after coming out Rebel takes the guitar Randy bought him and hits the road for California in search of rock and roll.

There are a lot of references to rock and roll in this show and this might be confusing for some until you realise that rock and roll came from the country and western genre in the 60s. In fact, the time period for this musical is very important and to be honest had me confused until the very end.

To clear things up, the 'concert' Rebel is giving is the day after the Stonewall riots in 1969 and by that time he is in New York City. Therefore, most of the story goes back to a much earlier era - unspecified although we are told it is before "The King" was a thing. Kerr gives an amazing performance and has all of the sexiness and insouciance of Elvis Presley but his youth is a bit confusing in this particular regard.

Homosexuality was most definitely behind closed doors in that era, but Rebel is a surprisingly gentle and beautiful homage to the Daisies and Jimmy Rays of that era. Most of the emotional violence actually comes from the hidden gays as we learn in the power rock anthem 'That's What The Stars Told Me (Hollywood)' in act 2.

I wouldn't say Rebel led a charmed life, but he had more than his fair share of brushes with fame before garnering his own. James Dean, Rock Hudson... need I say more? The most beautiful and touching love story is the one with his sister who he leaves behind on the farm though.

The music is the real strength of this story and if this was America it would get airplay and there would be some huge hits. 'Just Off The Road' and 'Ordinary Cowboy' would be on everybody's tongue and 'Western Bar' would be the iconic pub song for sure. The ballad 'I'm Not Coming Home' is enough to bring tears to your eyes. If 'Jimmy Ray' doesn't become a Joy FM frequent play hit then what the hell is going on Melbourne????

Perhaps the biggest flaw with this show is the beginnings of both acts. They are clumsy and messy and it is a combination of poor direction (Riven) and bad stage management (Gibson). If there is one thing American's know, it is how to make an entrance. If there is one thing this musical doesn't do, it is make an entrance. Also, whilst I love 'Say What You Know', I don't think it is strong enough as an opener.

The show has been on for 3 nights now, and there is a lot of smoke in the room (although it is appropriate and well done for a change), and Kerr's voice is starting to show the strain a bit. Having said that, he is right on pitch for most of it and he is so god damn lovable and sexy I would sit there and watch him and listen to him even if he couldn't sing a note. Believe me, though, this man can sing!

With cabaret seating and a bowl of pretzels at every table, The MC Showroom is the perfect place for this hoe down. Auhl's wooden barn house set and really intelligent use of space is perfect and the band is sublime. Legg's musical direction is superb and you will be completely blown away by Syrjanen on the slide guitar, the banjo, and his very impressive use of the wah wah bar.

For something a bit different and a whole lot of fun get on down to The MC Showroom. Grab an ale and whoop along with your friends for Downing's latest shindig.

4 Stars

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Savannah Bay - Theatre Review

What: Savannah Bay
When: 17 - 27 October 2019
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Written by: Maguerite Duras
Directed by: Laurence Strangio
Performed by: Brenda Palmer and Annie Thorold
Lighting by: Clare Springett
Stage managed by: Julian Adams
Brenda Palmer and Annie Thorold - photo by Jack Dixon Gunn
In a lovely programming curation, La Mama is presenting Duras' Savannah Bay alongside The Disappearing Trilogy for the rest of October. Both plays look at the disappearing actress and in the case of this play, the disappearance comes through time and dementia.

The play gets it's name from a mythical bay in Siam where the lead character (Palmer) supposedly made a film (of the same name) with Henry Fonda. The play is about love and death and connections lost. It is told through the portal of a woman at the end of her life, a point where you can choose to forget but you can't choose what you remember.

Duras was obsessed with broken love and death and spurred by Edith Piaf's Les Mots d'Amour, she has spun a tone poem tale of great passions and great despair, a tale shared by an aging woman and her granddaughter who is forced to watch as the memories wash away like the ebb tide. Memories and connections recede just like the sea waters on the white rock the old lady has become.

The play begins with a young woman (Thorold) visiting an old lady. They share the song and the young woman tries to encourage the older one to share her stories - perhaps desperate to stay connected as the threads of memory fray dangerously. One of the intriguing questions left lingering by this play is does the older woman even want to remember and is it fair to make her do it?

The great strength of Strangio's production (director) is the great affection, delicacy and care with which the younger woman treats the aging diva. Palmer presents a feisty, if failing, old lady, but Thorold's tenderness is a thing of absolute beauty. In a world were we are engaged in a Royal Commission into the care of the elderly, this production of Savannah Bay is a portrait of just how to care for our senior citizens regardless of your relationship to them.

Duras is not a realist writer and this is perhaps the place where this production falls down a wee bit for me. It may be a fault in the translation (Duras wrote in French) but regardless of whether the tone poem is recognised there are some key motifs in her writing which I feel have been ignored.

A savannah is also the word used for a sub-tropical grassy plain with sparse trees, just as sparse as the memories the old lady is able to link together. The text is also repetitious, washing backwards and forwards like the waves in the ocean. The whole thing is made to sit on the stage and in our ears and our minds like an impressionist painting - indistinct yet clearly pointing to something, some moment(s), some time(s). It is no coincidence that Thailand is referred to as Siam despite the script having been written in 1982...

The play also switches between the women in the room, and the women as actors. The line is constantly being blurred between representation and presentation. Again, the 'acting' presence was, for the most part, ignored in favour of keeping us in the here and now. None of these omissions diminish the beauty of this production, but perhaps they deny us the full impact of the pain so abundant in the script? It also would have made the marriage between The Disappearing Trilogy and Savannah Bay so much stronger and more poignant for those who choose to see both works in tandem.

Having said that, this production of Savannah Bay is really beautiful. Palmer is delightfully feisty and sad and contrary in that way that older people become, and Thorold demonstrates such a beautiful depth of love and quiet despair as she tries to hold on to the lady who is slipping away from her.

3 Stars

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

The Disappearing Trilogy - Theatre Review

What: The Disappearing Trilogy
When: 16 - 27 October 2019
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Written and performed by: Suzie Hardgrave
Set and Lighting by: Bronwyn Pringle
Sound by: Chris Wenn
Stage Management by: Teri Steer
Suzie Hardgrave - image by Darren Gill
La Mama is often the place to see practice-led doctoral projects from universities across Melbourne and the latest is a work by Suzie Hardgrave, The Disappearing Trilogy. Investigating the disappearance of the female actor into her roles and out of herself, this dramatic triptych runs until 27 October.

Hardgrave has engaged in an international career as a performer and researcher and is currently completing her doctoral studies at Monash University. Her studies appear to be examining the identity of 'actress' and '...why and how expectations of performance affect the female in Western culture' - if I read the program notes correctly.

The Disappearing Trilogy is a 3-part sequence. The first is spoken narrative and addresses the internal loss of self worth and identity after the actress' show closes with a 1 star review. In the second section Hardgave explores body art as her mode of storytelling as the voice over narrative talks about the pressures of physically meeting industry demands of embodying characters and the notion of the celebrity as identity. The final section involves Hardgrave stepping out of the frame and relating as her true self, but is there any authentic person left under the veneer of the actress?

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this show for me was the writing style. Riffing off poetic stylings of feminist icon Gertrude Stein, Hardgrave has written her text in a cubist style (which is mildly referenced in Pringle's sophisticated and restrained set design). This is particularly true in part 1 of the trilogy as repetition is used as a building block, the text torn apart and reconstructed time and time again to reveal nuance and detail - to build a 360 degree picture of this actress in pain.

My only wish is that there was less. In a 90 minute show, the first hour is this endless, repetitious refrain about a 1 star review and the "after, after, after party". What had the potential to be a incisive commentary on how linked the actor ego is to public reception of the work they are involved in became a self-indulgent, self-pitying quagmire of tedium. Shorten it by 15 minutes and the humour will have a chance to shine through as well as the idea that the show is not the actor and the actor is not the show.

Luckily parts 2 and 3 are a more respectable 15 minutes each and, for the most part, much more effective. I loved the analogy of body art in part 2 with the commentary on the ridiculous lengths the actress goes to in order to become a star. Whilst there are strong references to an abusive agent, in the end I did find myself thinking how self-inflicted all of the pain and confusion of the actress and her identity crisis was. Hardgrave does in fact talk about acting as addiction.

The second act also brought Pringle's aesthetics as a lighting designer back into focus. Part 1 was very stark, although incredibly sophisticated - more in line with designs by Niklas Pajanti. In part 2 though, Pringle brought back her trademark use of colour (without losing sophistication) and in part 3 I was in awe at the hint of surrealism she sneaks into the frame. Except for the ridiculous amount of smoke used throughout the show (which was also aesthetically inappropriate IMO), Pringle managed to create the actor as a gallery portrait with all of the talent and magic of master painters through the ages.

The final section of the trilogy was less successful for me. The actress steps out of her frame, removing the wall between her and the audience. Hardgrave speaks again and this time it is supposed to be real and improvised, but it is quite clear through her delivery that this is as practiced and rehearsed and scripted as the rest of the show. It is a pity really, because if Hardgrave could have found that authenticity of the immediate voice, and with the wonderful interactions of Wenn's sound design, her retreat back into the frame and her self-imposed prison/shield/screen would have been so much more powerful.

I like the meta-ideas in the construction of The Disappearing Trilogy, but I would have liked them to be referenced more strongly in the text. It is hard to be self-referential and not self-indulgent in a one person show and Hardgrave hasn't quite found that line. Some stricter script dramaturgy would help, as would a more 21st century post-truth approach to the work.

2.5 Stars

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Riot - Theatre Review

What: Riot
When: 8 - 12 October 2019
Where: The MC Showroom
Written and directed by: Thomas Ian Doyle
Performed by: Benjamin Brooker, Marisa Matear, Emma Louise Pursey, Gabrielle Reiher, and Mazz Ryan
Sound by: Benjamin Brooker
Emma Louise Pursey and Mazz Ryan
The Owl and Cat has been closed for a while now, but the creative relationship between Thomas Ian Doyle and Gabrielle Reiher continues in their latest project Riot. After a premier season at their old venue in 2017 and a workshop process in Alaska, Riot is back on the Melbourne stage at The MC Showroom albeit for a very short season.

I didn't see the original production so I don't know how the play has evolved, but generally speaking it follows the love catastrophes of a 20 something Millennial and has a parrallel commentary of free for all capitalism. Reiher directed the premier, but this time she is acting in it and Doyle has directed the play himself.

There has been some gender/sex movement in this production due to circumstances as well as Reiher's explorations of playing male characters. The final result is that the lead character, Gin (Matear), is female in this iteration and Kane (Brooker) is male. Whilst the play does hold up with these changes, I suspect the commentary on relationships and community would be more powerful and complex in the original gender casting. Reiher plays Gavin as a man and was completely convincing to my plus one.

The relationships are complex, but I will take a shot at explaining them. Gin has an ex, Janette (Pursey), who is her dope supplier but who doesn't want anything to do with her anymore. Gin works for Kane. Gin meets Gavin, they sleep together and he ends up moving in - she is doing him a favour. It is no surprise to learn later in the play that Gavin doesn't pay for anything...ever. Gin meets Lola (Ryan) and they start getting jiggy with it too.

This seems pretty standard, but there are twists and turns in all of the relationships which will come as much of a surprise as they are illuminating. I'm not one hundred percent clear on the capitalism analogy - how it works in this story - but it is a good mechanism for building urgency as we can relate to current events which have escalated. There is a riot coming!

In some respects this is a brave production and I think some of the actors (Ryan for instance) have been brave and bold in embracing the roles. Doyle and Reiher have always had nudity and simulated sex as part of their artistic statement and Riot brings plenty in an array of forms. Sadly though, I admit I didn't find any of it sexy and I wasn't convinced it moved the story forward.

Having said that, Riot is directed as naturalism so it makes sense to be so explicit in such an ordinary way. Sex is far more often ordinary rather than extraordinary after all...

Underneath all the gimmicks and complexities of Riot is a really strong and positive message. Gin is struggling with the ordinariness of her life and situation. She gets herself into situations and causes harm to the people around her because she cannot face her agency in managing herself.

It is the final scene with Janette which really opens the door of understanding for the audience. This is usually the case with Doyle's plays which is what I love about his writing. In a world which has lived in panic for decades, Doyle tells us how okay it is. All you have to do is be honest and use the management tools now available.

There were a few cast changes in the two weeks prior to opening so performances were a bit sketchy. Pursey dominated the stage, though, and Reiher's performance was detailed (and convincing for those who don't know her). I wasn't entirely convinced most of the cast understood the overarching narrative of the play though. Whilst each scene was detailed, I didn't feel what happened pointed to the next thing about to happen - and yes, it is a trajectory play.

I also got a bit confused about a couple of highly stylised scene changes. They were a disappointment because for the most part the simple staging of four chairs was arranged and rearranged with efficiency and purpose. I was also not convinced by the 'shop window' upstage which revealed the major prop for the next scene in the previous one. It's hard to make that idea work in a minimalist production.

I would really love to see Riot with the original gender/sex casting and a tighter link between the meta-statements and the story of the characters. I do hope the team get past the recent troubles and try again at some point - perhaps with some design support to help draw ideas together.

2 Stars

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Do Not Collect $200 - Live Art Review

What: Do Not Collect $200
When: 9 - 19 October 2019
Where: MUST Space
Created and directed by: Harley Hefford
Head writer: Aleks Corke
Featuring: Zoe Condliffe, Callum Foulkes, Rohini Jaswal, Celina Mack, Lachlan McCormack, Meghan Mitra, and Arianna Walley
Assistant director: Kate Speakman
Set by: Ashleigh Baxter
Costumes by: Kirky Kirkman
Lighting by: Justin Heaton
Sound by: Caitlin Duff
AV by: Eamonn Johnson
Stage managed by: Shannon Brown
Natasha Nosiara and Luna Erica
The world of live art has been a bit quiet in Melbourne lately, but MUST has gone all in with their extravaganza event, Do Not Collect $200. The family favourite game Monopoly has been upsized to a full participation experience and we are the living tokens having experiences, earning money and clout, and living life inside an all capitalist system.

Created originally in 2017 by Magical Mystery Co., Hefford was invited by MUST Artistic Director Yvonne Virsik to recreate the event at Monash University. The original involved apps and roaming, but the programmer was snapped up by Google and this iteration is a slightly more analogue version of the event - but still heaps of fun!

You are attending the product launch of Hasbro's newest iteration of Monopoly - Monopoly Life! The event is kicked off by TV star Marvin (McCormack) and marketing diretor Arkangela (Jaswal). After the obligatory speeches, explanation of the rules, and trantrums, you are invited to start playing the game.

Playing in groups of 5 (BYO or join a table) you get a lucky dip of money and some clout. Just like life, your position on the totem pole is more luck than logic. You can sell clout for money and you can pay money for clout. It all depends on what you think is more important in Monopoly Life!  Pick your token, throw the dice and start your journey around the board.

Unlike traditional monopoly though, you don't collect properties. Instead you land on and buy experiences. Different experiences earn you different amounts of money or clout. You can choose to engage or not, depending on what you think will make you the richest person at the end of the night.

I did not get to do everything of course (I think that is impossible), but some examples of experiences you can have include record a podcast, participate in Survivor, become an artist, be on a jury, etc. Along the way you may also have to pick up random cards including calling the Capitalist Hotline and admitting a money secret, or a Cent card which may earn you money or cost you money. If you go to jail you better make sure your debating skills are up to par or you could be left out in the cold (literally) for a very long time.

Across the evening there is also a book launch by entrepreneur Corei (Foulkes) who has discovered to make a fortune all you have to do is write a book telling everyone else how to make a fortune. He spouts all the facts and figures - but what do they all mean?

As with all capitalist systems there are the front people and then there are the workers who make it all happen. Poor Lena (Mack) works her butt off but people can't even get her name right, and Juliette (Walley) is asked to present an analysis of the feedback from the evening without being given any time to prepare the data. Situation normal really. I did wonder if these young performance makers understood the dark truths which lie beneath their comedy and how much a presage of their own futures they were really foretelling.

The evening is packed full of fun and as with life, you have limited information and must make your choices and hope you get the experience you want. At the end of the game there are winners - the best photo, the most clout, the most money - but you are left to decide if perhaps you are the winner by having the best experience(s)? After all, you really can't take any of it with you...

Do Not Collect $200 is a fun exploration of the complexities and pitfalls of pure capitalism. You also get to decide if you are going to play by the rules, but if you don't then beware of parking inspectors!

The great thing about Do Not Collect $200 is you get to decide your level of participation. Every decision is your decision to make and the night is yours to build as you choose. A fully functioning drinks and snack bar also help the night pass with a lot of laughter and sharing. After all, isn't that what board games are about?

Do Not Collect $200 is a lot of fun and quite well realised. It is an incredibly complex operation taking around thirty people to create and has been realised well. Kirkman's costuming is right on point and the AV (Johnson) is integrated well.

The event has a really nice blend of performance and participation. Perhaps my only complaint is I didn't want to take time out of the game to go to the toilet but I really, really, needed to pee. Eventually nature won, but it was the quickest pit stop I have ever made! Do Not Collect $200 is well worth the trek out to Clayton.

4 Stars

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Rhythm Empire - Dance Review

What: Rhythm Empire
When: 5 October 2019
Where: Irving Hall
Australian Tap Dance Festival Featuring Omar Edwards
2019 has seen the 8th Australian Tap Dance Festival come to Melbourne. A line up of top class Australian tap dancers and international guest artist Omar Edwards came together at the Ministry of Dance to deliver a week of master classes and workshops for all ages and competencies of tap dance. The Festival ended with a gala evening, Rhythm Empire, which celebrated everyone's work over the course of the festival.

You may recall in 2017 I reviewed the 6th Festival's gala night, Rhythm Kaleidoscope. The overall shape of Rhythm Empire is the same although there were distinct differences in style of direction for the dance form. Many of the same faculty were leading workshops and had their moment to shine at the gala concert as well as letting the students celebrate their work and skills through group choreography.

One of the big things I noticed this year was a de-gendering of tap which was exciting. Apart from the senior 'Riverdance' troupe, there was not a mary-jane tap shoe on the stage. Both the guys and the gals were tapping and stomping across the stage with equal power and flair.

There was a big emphasis on 'keeping it real' in this concert. Costuming was only lightly themed with the intention to show tap dance is for the everyday, not the exotic Broadway musical, and with dancers of all ages it was apparent just how democratic this art form is.

Perhaps what was lost was a sense Fred Astaire glamour, but his dance was for romance. The dance on stage in Rhythm Empire was for everybody living every life.

As with Rhythm Kaleidoscope, the montage of styles and applications was perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this gala event. Gary Stocks brought us shuffle tap whilst Thomas Waddleton brought us the jazz impro magic of Louis Armstrong, his voice bringing as much magic as his playfully unpredictable tapping feet.

Moving forward in time Shane Preston gave us the modern age favourite, hip hop tap dance before interval arrived. I should mention many of the dance numbers were backed by the live band which was a great touch.

Act 2 was sharper and more energetic as the stage was taken over by the more advanced tappers. Kicking us off for this session was the acapella number choreographed by Winston Morrison, 'Rhythmutation'. As soon as this dance started we knew tapping was getting serious now.

Well, sort of serious. Bill Simpson came out and played around with the audience in 'Dawn' and Eden Read showed us the funny side of tap burlesque in 'The Busker'.

Some performers brought energy to spare and Emma Wickham brought that and a sassy attitude in 'Little L'. In fact whenever Wickham was on stage she owned it almost as much as did the guest star Omar Edwards.

Americans are always great at teaching us how to own the moment and the spotlight and Edwards gave us all a master class. As soon as he stepped on stage he was a forceful presence in the room. On a stage full of tappers excellently miked up, Edwards puts his vocal mic on the stage and then taps in front of it, blowing all the rest away. Talk about dropping the mic! 

Speaking of Edwards, his choreography brought together tribal and ritual elements expressing the joy of celebration with power and pizzazz. It was his solo piece, 'Love On The Floor', which broke our hearts though. He spoke of his 13 year old mother whose job it was to be a living scarecrow and how slap tap dancing came from her soul. Edwards brought us back to dance as story telling in a post truth age.

Whilst I think this year's gala event didn't have quite the impact of the one in 2017 it is still a wonderful celebration of the flexibility and versatility of tap dance. The love and excitement for the tap dance from shone through the faces of all performers and just to see that creates a magic of it's own.

2 Stars