Saturday 29 February 2020

Dragon Ladies Don't Weep - Theatre Review

What: Dragon Ladies Don't Weep
When: 28 February 2020
Where: Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne
Directed by: Tamara Saulwick
Composed by: Erik Griswold
Performed by: Margaret Leng Tan
Videography by: Nick Roux
Costumes by: Yuan Zhiying
Lighting by: Andy Lim
Margaret Leng Tan - photo by Pia Johnson

Asia TOPA has created a glorious week for me and it was topped of with the amazing Margaret Leng Tan performing her story at the Playhouse in Dragon Ladies Don't Weep. Partnering with Chambermade, Tan and her long time music collaborator, Erik Griswold, took us through a personal journey of music, mental health, and magic.

A significant proportion of the show was dedicated to Tan's relationship with John Cage and his compositions but make no mistake, Tan is significant in her own right both in the incredible artistry of her performance skills but also for such notable ground breaking moments as being the first woman to ever receive a doctorate from the internationally famous Julliard School. As significant as Cage was in Tan's musical development and explorations, she was also one of the artists who helped him to continue to compose and innovate past his ability to play and is now considered one of the foremost authorities on Cage in performance.

The story of Dragon Ladies Don't Weep begins when Tan is just a little girl with a counting problem. Discovering that music and counting are natural partners was a catalytic moment for Tan. Lucky for her, she made this discovery in a time when minimalist music was crescendoing in popular culture (think Nyman, Glass, etc) and so her version of OCD really did find a home which would be advantageous rather than self sabotaging.

For those who don't know, Minimalism in music is about using only the smalles number of phrases or notes and using them in a repetitive pattern, usually with slowly ascending chords. Minimalist music points to itself rather than Romanticism - which I have been talking about a lot lately - which tells a story. There is more to it than that, but I am not here to give a music lesson (and am not qualified to do so). It is the love of Minimalism music which is one of the threads which binds Leng's musical connection composer Erik Griswold.

What does Minimalism have to do with Cage I hear you ask? Nothing. But this is another point of synergy between Tan and Griswold. Cage is known for being the originator of making non traditional instruments worthy of the great concert halls of the world. Cage invented the prepared piano (the act of placing objects in a piano to change the sound/tuning of the strings). He wrote Suite For Toy Piano which was a seminal work which helped define the rest of Tan's musical life. He played the piano like a percussion instrument and allowed musicians to explore it in ways nobody ever had before. You haven't seen anything until you see Tan bow the strings like dental floss!

Dragon Ladies Don't Weep is not so much Tan's chronological life journey. It is more an ode to her development as an artist and the man who helped her find freedom to explore the things which excite her. Tan refers to herself as a "child of cage" and she can be seen playing just about anything and turning that sound into great art. In the show a toddler's toy phone sits beside her mobile phone and her toy piano and somehow Griswold has composed a funny and exhillerating concerto which is played with glorious artistry by a musician who is still well inside her prime despite being what we euphemistically call  a senior citizen.

The idea of a prepared piano is to make the instrument sound like a full orchestra and with some brilliant composition, playing, and four ordinary bolts Griswold and Tan manage to make her grand piano develop a beautiful Chinese flavour which is enchanting in the piece 'Dragon Lady Calling' and creates a sonic gestalt throughout the entire show.

Dragon Ladies Don't Weep is not a recital though, and what brings it into theatrical performance is Tan's wit and honesty as she tells us stories of success, but also failure. She quotes Beckett early on  with "Fail again. Fail better." and talks about her lack of awareness, and how accidents are as much a part of the fabric of her life as is intention. This itself mirrors Cage's interest in chance-control in music.

The visual interpretation of Tan's world is realised by some exquisite video imagery by Nick Roux. Refusing to take a literal approach, he too follows the precepts of minimalism to augment Tan's memory and thought processes with geometry and slow motion and careful architectural texturing. I get goose pimples when all the artists on a team are working in the same mode and this is exactly what is happening in Dragon Ladies Don't Weep, including gentle and restrained lighting (Lim) and masterfully non-intrusive direction (Saulwick).

Sadly, Dragon Ladies Don't Weep was only on in Melbourne for one night so if you weren't there yesterday you have missed it. The good news is there are 3 performances coming up at the Opera House so you can head up to Sydney in March to see it before it heads to Singapore.

5 Stars

Friday 28 February 2020

Hades Fading (Hades Memudar) - Theatre Review

What: Hades Fading (Hades Memudar)
When: 27 February - 1 March 2020
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Written and directed by: Sandra Fiona Long
Music direction by: Ria Soemardjo
Performed by: Rinrin Candraresmi, Sisca Guzheng Harp, Heliana Sinaga, Ria Soemadjo, Wawan Sofwan, Dasep Sumardjani, and Godi Suwarna,
Set by: Emily Barrie and Deden Jalaludin Bulqini
Costumes by: Emily Barrie
Lighting by: Aji Sangiaji
Stage Management by: Dasep Sumardjani
Heliana Sinaga and Rinrin Candraresmi - photo by Muhammad Sa'iquddin
We often talk about theatre as being a beautiful art form and in Hades Fading (Hades Memudar) we get to see this truth at the pinnacle of possibilities. They say that beauty is only skin deep, and if you want to know if someone is truly beautiful you must look into their soul and judge their deeds. Hades Fading is the Platonic exemplar of beauty and is showing for the briefest of moments at La Mama Courthouse as part of AsiaTOPA.

An Australian/Indonesian co-production, Long (writer/director) has collaborated with Mainteater in Bandung to explore the ancient Greek realm of Hades through the story of Eurydice (Sinaga). Eurydice was the wife of Orpheus (Sofwan). She died on her wedding day and her husband - a musician of supernatural sweetness with the talent to be able to persuade anyone with his music - descends into the Underworld to try and get her back.

Hades (Suwarna), brother to Zeus and ruler of the Underworld, was not an evil god. He was, however focused on maintaining balance in the world with a heartless lack of discrimination. Nobody was allowed to leave Hades and return to live above because the world would become overcrowded. An interesting conversation to have in light of our efforts to live longer and the growing world population, perhaps? But I digress...

Orpheus decides to try and get Eurydice back regardless and charms Hades wife, Persephone (Candraresmi), who then persuades her husband to let Eurydice go. There was only one condition - Orpheus was not allowed to look back until they were both safe above ground. Typically, he could not trust his wife to arrive, he looked back and she was lost to the living forevermore.

In Long's version of the tale we hear the tale from Eurydice's perspective and I was quite intrigued by her musings as the couple start to ascend. It made me think about how many young brides rush into marriage - in this case enchanted by glorious song and music - and are left to ponder how much they don't know after the vows have been said.

On this point Barrie's costume designs are brilliant. Eurydice is dressed in an ornately laced wedding dress of pure white. In Western culture it is the sign of purity and marriage, in Indonesia it is the colour of mourning. All the characters wear white in this dreadful, dark Underworld.

The true messages underlying Hades Fading are much deeper though. Eurydice finds herself slipping in and out of forgetfulness. She is mired in the shredded remnants of a library and is frantically riffling through old books trying to remember who she is.

For Eurydice the books are how we remember and in a world of commentary about fake news she brings us starkly to the realisation that all of history is fake news. As she researches, this young bride discovers the texts are contradictory. Was her mother a water nymph, a wood nymph, a flower nymph, etc? None of the texts agree and her confusion is overwhelming.

Persephone joins her and tells her about the state of the world above. The seas are bubbling cauldrons of plastic, mountains of concrete, and the humans are no more. Eurydice realises her symptoms are a part of the disappearance of gods because there is nobody left to believe in them - an old tale but Hades Fading takes an interesting turn as we then slip into the story of Orpheus.

As ephemeral and delicate and earnest as Sinaga is, Sofwan is powerful and hilarious as the self-annointed rock star.  Sofwan is as seductive in his humuor as Orpheus was reputed to be through his music.

One of the impressive things about Hades Fading (Hades Memudar) is Long's ability to manage the pace and modality of the performance, and the structure has a definite symphonic arrangement. This is not surprising because all of Long's work is intrinsically meshed between text, sound and music. Pair her up with the incredible Soemardjo and what has resulted is a sonic piece of theatre filled with sounds, music, and rhythms which transcend the show into an aesthete's dream. All of the instrumentation is Asian and, in fact, the show begins with Harp luring us in like the Pied Piper and the children of Hamelin (or Orpheus and his young lovers as tales would have it...) with a gourd flute.

The show is bilingual and I mean this in a really composite context. Yes, the spoken language of the show is a constant shift between Bahasa and English - sometimes even in the middle of a sentence. The world of Hades is a maze of scrims (it has been ages since I have seen scrim used!) and the surtitles are projected through those layers, pushing back through time just as the story does.

Hades Fading (Hades Memudar) is breathtakingly  beautiful and incredibly haunting as it speaks to forgetting the past and losing the lessons of old, inevitably heading to a future without human life. The cast constantly find themselves asking what language they are using, caught in a maelstrom of spoken word, music, and visual messaging. It makes me think of all the possibilities and information available in a globalised world which we are ignoring. Indirectly it also made me think of our recent bushfires and the offers of our Aboriginal peoples to teach us how to care for and manage this land and our reluctance to hear them.

Hades Fading (Hades Memudar) is a dream. It is a beautiful dream. It is a nightmare. It is funny, it is hope, it is despair, it is a warning. It is art.

5 Stars

Thursday 27 February 2020

Are You Ready To Take The Law Into Your Own Hands? - Theatre Review

What: Are You Ready To Take The Law Into Your Own Hands?
When: 26 - 29 February 2020
Where: Main Hall, Arts House
Written by: David Finnigan
Directed by: J Kanicoche
Performed by: , Blanche Buhia,  Bunny Cadag,Claudia Enriquez, David Finnigan, J Kanicoche, KIKI House of Dévine, Ji-ann Lachica, Claudia Enriquez, Efren Pamilacan, Brandon Relucio and Adrienne Vergara
Video by: Joyce Garcia
Sound design by: J Laspuna
Lighting by: Roman Cruz Jr
Stage Managed by: Sigmund Pecho
photo by Sarah Walker
Are you ready to see theatre of the scope and scale we rarely make in this city anymore? Are you ready to sit inside a whirl of energy and movement and exciting political polemic? Are you ready to be dazzled by technology and good, fun silliness? Are you ready to be afraid? Are You Ready To Take The Law Into Your Own Hands? Then come on down to Arts House and immerse yourself in Sipat Lawin's newest live cinematic experience. Hurry though. It's only on until Saturday sadly.

People talk about their theatrical endeavours being experimental, but if you really want to see experimental work you really need to check out Are You Ready...? Is it film? Is it live theatre? Is it dance? Is it cabaret? Is it bilingual? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. But this show is not political... 

Set in their motherland, The Phillipines, the Sipat Lawin ensemble have created a live action thriller movie which follows the hunt for kidnapped pop idol Gracielle V (Buhia). In a land overflowing with beauty contests and where celebrity politicians are in plague proportions, an event of this nature aught to bring out the Police in droves. But this show is not political...

When the powers that be choose to deny the kidnapping happened it is up to a teenage vlogger, Selina (Lachica), her activist older sister (Enriquez), and a rogue police woman (Vergara) to track the singer down and free her. They are chased by the Police through the streets of Manila in a jeepney, gate crash a beauty contest, find themselves in a rap and dance battle, swim the river and cross a cemetery as they follow the tracking hacking provided by Huawei technology. But this show is not political...

An hilarious high action romp, Are You Ready To Take The Law Into Your Own Hands? does not stop there. Enjoying a Brechtian meta-platform, the live film is framed by a film festival where Finnigan (writer) interviews Kanicoche (director) about the film. This interview and some other sequences interrupt the videography (Garcia) on the 3 big screens (the performance area forms a kind of horseshoe). But this show is not political...

One of the many meta-commentaries in the show examined through form and content is the question about whether there is any difference between life and art. This live filming mirrors the archetype of Selina as a modern youth who never puts her phone down and uploads every moment of her life to the internet. It also brings us to question why do we give power to celebrity and how much of this is responsible for the real fake news which is the stories politicians spin witout any basis of fact or reality? I'm not mentioning any names...Scomo,Tump... But this show is not political...

Underneath all the flash and dazzle and outrageous costumes there are significant pointers which speak to a community in crisis. Since 2016 Fillipinos have had Presidential permission to shoot and kill suspected drug criminals extra-judicially. Think about that. No process or protections to allow a chance to prove innocence. It is like "I don't like the look of you. You are poor and dirty. You must be a drug criminal. You are dead." That's one way to enact gentrification I suppose. But this show is not political...

The older sister, the activist, shows us how much folly there is in believing politicians. Senator Malaine Gutierrez (Cadag) - a character whose story very strongly resembles that of Leila de Lima - speaks out vocally against the government's policies on this matter, but as with all idols she has feet of clay. But this show is not political...

The really important question Sipat Lawin is asking is who is responsible for making the change you want to see? Is it politicians? Is it the police? Is it the activists? Or is it you - the 15 year old with a social media profile and voice more powerful than you can yet understand? But this show is not political...

Why are you waiting for someone else to fix things. Get out and be heard. There is a saying which goes 'the world is run by the people who turn up'. Sipat Lawin want you to turn up! But this show is not political...

I loved all the production elements of the play, but there were some big costume malfunctions which really shouldn't have happened. I assume there was a dress rehearsal and they are easy fixes. It was disappointing and gave it a slight air of being amateur which is not actually the case. I hope they deal with those moments rather than ignoring them.

Are You Ready To Take The Law Into Your Own Hands? is only 90 minutes but it did feel a bit longer than that. Partly because there is so much going on as the cast run around between the three staging areas, the scenes clipping together like film edits in the cinema. 

It is also partly because there are some pauses in the action as cultural information is provided. This is done well and doesn't let the humour drop, but it does interrupt the flow in a way a film wouldn't. It is fine because this isn't Hollywood. You will find it's corollary much more strongly with Bollywood!

Perhaps if this work was something other than the magnificent beast it is, I would say it tries to cover too much in it's satire, but it just works so I say viva Sipat Lawin! Sipat Lawin's work is historically boundary destroying, demanding audiences understand there is no line between art, life and politics. They are one and the same thing. They also take responsibility for modelling behaviours and the change they want to see. I think I just became a Sipat Lawin groupie! But this show is not political...

If you love Bollywood you will love this show. If you are missing the glitz and glam of Midsumma you will love this show. If you are a Brecht devotee you will love this show. If you think movies are all that, you will love this show. The only people who won't like Are You Ready To Take The Law Into Your Own Hands? are the powers that be which is why you MUST see it! But this show is not political...

4.5 Stars

Wednesday 26 February 2020

Grass - Theatre Review

What: Grass
When: 24 - 27 February 2020
Where: Downstairs, The Butterfly Club
Written by: Yvonne Martin
Performed by: Stephanie Daniel and Sarah Oldmeadow
Sarah Oldmeadow and Stephanie Daniel
Grass is one of the new theatre pieces taking part in The Butterfly Club's new One Act Play Festival. It is an examination of how friendship is hard work once you leave the hothouse of education and start making independent decisions and choices.

There are no programs for shows at The Butterfly Club so I may end up making assumptions which are not correct here because my Google stalking skills are a bit fallible. From what I can gather though, Grass is Martin's first play. If this is true, it is a very, very good effort. The structure is good and the character development good. The only thing it lacks is action...which is a bit of a problem for theatre I admit.

I have mentioned this before, but I don't think 2 people talking on stage is inherently interesting no matter how engaging the conversation is. Theatre is a visual medium so there needs to be something to look at. I also think if, as an actor, you find yourself sitting down for more than half the play you need to explore your skills directory, but I will talk about that later.

First I want to talk about the story. Oldmeadow plays a stay at home mother of 2 children. Daniel is a child free modern woman living a life of independence and without obligation. These characters met in college (I think?) and became firm friends over a Eurovision drinking game.

After graduation though, they made significantly different life choices and after Oldmeadow's character had her first child, Daniel's character felt invisible. Over time they both started turning to other people instead of each other for love and support. They are meeting up after several years of absence and the play investigates how they come to terms with who they were, who they are, and who they want to be.

Grass is perhaps a slight misnomer for the play because I don't think either of these women envy the life choices of the other. The grass isn't greener on the other side for either of them, it is more that both resent the idea that they were ghosted by the other and are struggling with misconceptions of what happened and why.

I don't like the way mothers and child free women are pitted against each other in our culture, and I also don't like how mothers groups are portrayed as bitchy and competitive. I have a sneaking suspicion these are tropes propogated by the patriarchy to make women distrustful of each other.

Sadly, Grass does feed into this narrative. As a child free woman I have found my friends which are mothers have been very inclusive, and their mothers groups have been essential for maintaining their sanity and also knowledge sharing.

If we disregard my personal opinions though, Grass is a well structured play. It works in flashback mode and focuses on key ocurrances which show the trajectory of the friendship and how the two women find themselves so estranged. The tension, pace and climax build beautifully and would probably make a better short film than a piece of theatre.

Daniel and Oldmeadow have excellent acting skills although it is more head based than body based. Daniel in particular, has incredibly expressive eyes which would be perfect for the camera!

Or perhaps the lack of physical dynamism is the restriction of the play and the staging? Once again I find myself at a theatre show where a table has centre stage. What is so interesting about that table which makes it earn the most powerful position? There has been some attempts to break the frame with Oldmeadow and Daniel sitting on the front edge of the stage for intimate moments but that just cuts them off from anyone sitting towards the back of the room.

There are some logic problems too. For some reason, in the two monologue scenes the other woman leaves the stage, but this makes no sense. They are still in the cafe - it is just a step outside of reality and into the minds of the women. A tried but true simple freeze for the other actor would make the piece flow more freely by a good 100%.

I try to avoid commenting on production if there is no design team but I am going to complain about the sound in this show. For some unknown reason they have soft music playing in the background for the whole show. It is soooooooooooo annoying. I assume it is because the women are in a cafe, but it keeps playing through the flashbacks and interior monologues too! I really had to continually fight myself to not stand up and ask the tech to please turn it off.

Remember, your sound design has to point to the same things as the play is pointing too. If you are being diagetic then you need to be consistent and accurate. I will stop their, although I would suggest the team go into a cafe some time and listen to what is actually played.

I feel like it sounds as if I am panning Grass, but I am not really. I am just saying it is not good theatre yet. It needs a director and a designer to bring a 3 dimensional life to the staging. However this is far more than simply an off book staged reading. Oldmeadow and Daniel are certainly worth watching as an excellent examples of character work and script analysis.

2.5 Stars

Tuesday 25 February 2020

Chook - Theatre Review

What: Chook
When: 24 - 27 February 2020
Where: Upstairs, The Butterfly Club
Created and performed by: Ava Campbell, Claire Bird, Kaine Hansen, William Strom, Dominic Weintraub, Hugo Williams
Kaine Hansen, Claire Bird, and Hugo Williams
Chook is one of the first lot of shows kicking off the inaugural One Act Play Festival at The Butterfly Club this year. Created by a freshly minted set of VCA graduates, Company 19, Chook is a frenetic action thriller about the relationship between humans and chickens, much in the style of Planet of The Apes but with a lot more laughs.

The VCA school of theatre has always had the tradition of naming graduate groups by the year they graduate. The idea/hope was that those groups of students - after three years of intensive undergraduate training - would go forth and create theatre companies. It worked sometimes.

Of course, this concept began when production, acting and theatre making were all one school. So, for example, I am Company 97 (and Company 16, sort of, but that's a vaguer connection). The bigger concept crumbled once Production divorced Theatre (although a success story for a while was Hayloft Project). It all became even more ambiguous when theatre making disappeared in favour of the autonomous actor.

The Theatre School kept up the tradition however and there have been some very successful outcomes including Hotel Now. In fact, Chook reminds me very strongly of Hotel Now's Dog Show and What's Yours Is Mine although Chook is not quite as sophisticated...yet.

The Wheel of Life (Samsara...) keeps turning though, and Company 19 are the first graduating class from the recently reinstated undergraduate theatre making stream. By the looks of Chook, the emphasis of the training still sits very heavily in acting over dramaturgy but there are nuggets of very powerful possibilities in Chook if the group continue to dig into the idea with perhaps a bit more rigor.

It is billed as an experimental work, but really all collaborative theatre falls under that category as a technicality. I would be more likely to consider multi-media or cross-form work experimental. Having said that, Chook is a fast-paced piece of physical theatre performed by a team who have acting skills only VCA graduates emerge with. Their knowledge of how to use the body to tell stories is outstanding and they still have that energy, sense of fun, and connectedness which comes from being recent graduates. It all comes through in the work.

Underpinning Chook is the Orwellian idea of animals revolting against humans. Rather than retell the story of Animal Farm though, Company 19 have chosen to focus on one animal - the chook.

I kind of want to disregard the introduction and the first scene because they are just set up to gain cheap laughs and don't have much narrative logic. The Perfect Match game show premise is so overused now it doesn't have any flesh left on it's bones and I found myself wondering if anyone under the age of 40 even really gets that trope? We are in the age of The Bachelor and Love Island now so I think we can put those old style game shows in their grave now.

Once the show moves on though, things pick up quickly and Chook gets very dark (in a comedic way) very fast indeed! It starts with a cooking show on how to cook chicken for kebabs and for roasting. A chook (Bird) comes out and teaches us how to paralyse a bird but ends up accidently paralysing herself. The next thing we see is her being pre-baked and then stuffed into another chook (Williams) to make a ch-chicken. This is where the rebellion begins.

Chook doesn't enter into any particular political debate beyond that point, but instead uses manic clowning techniques to tell a science fiction tale about evolution. Having made a h-human in retaliation (Campbell and Weintraub), the chooks learn to use human technology.

Along the way they develop human behaviours as well. Eventually they begin to create art and through interpretive dance we learn about the rise of the Chook civilisation.

I loved the central concept of Chook and how the clowning is used to blacken this dark, dark tale. The boundless energy which is Company 19 is totally infectious and I like how they are not afraid to go wherever their scary minds take them. What I would like to see is a greater commitment to dramaturgy. I don't think they actually trusted that this show would work and it comes out in the shortcuts they have taken.

They probably need to slow a bit of the physical stuff down too. Yes, the audience full of VCA comrades got it because they have been in classes with them, but some of the clever detail work goes by so fast I don't think an uninitiated audience will catch it all and it really is too good to miss.

I strongly recommend going to see Chook. It is high energy, quite hilarious, and has an enchanting darkness which actually made me shudder because it became so visceral in my mind.

3.5 Stars

Monday 24 February 2020

Salome - Opera Review

What: Salome
When: 22 - 27 February 2020
Where: Palais Theatre
Composed by: Richard Strauss
Libretto by: Oscar Wilde, translated by Hedwig Lachmann, and reduced by Richard Strauss
Conducted by: Richard Mills
Directed by: Cameron Menzies
Featuring: James Egglestone, Liane Keegan, Vida Mikneviciute, Dimity Shepherd, Ian Storey, and Daniel Sumegi
Choreography by: Elizabeth Hill-Cooper
Set by: Christina Smith
Costumes by: Anna Cordingly
Lighting by: Gavan Swift
Stage managed by: Whitney MacNamara
Vida Mikneviclute - photo by Craig Fuller
There are few operas which carry the infamy and outrage which litters the history of the story of Salome. It is also a rare beast in that is it only 90 minutes long. Most definitely an opera created before it's time, Strauss' Salome is being presented by Victorian Opera for 3 performances only at the Palais Theatre and closes on the 27th.

Strauss is a composer of the late Romantic era. For those of you who think that was so long ago think again. The Romantics were music makers from the mid 1800's to the early 1900's. In fact, you could argue we are still in the Romantic era because most of the famous film scores still use the principle of music as narrative.

When you go and see Salome you will instantly find your mind drawn to composers of the ilk of John Williams (Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter etc). Thus, musically speaking, even the youngest of audiences will feel at home.

Assigning a librettist for this opera is tricky though. It is generally listed as Hedwig Lachmann but he only translated the play written by Oscar Wilde from the original French to German. In truth it is neither of these because by the time Strauss stripped it down by at least half, it resembles little but the barest outlines of Wilde's play.

I know this is hard for many people to understand, but a playwright uses language the same way a composer uses instruments. An analogy would be if I decided to use the music from Salome and remove all the repeats in the lietmotifs. (Strauss works groups of three throughout the score). On the other hand, this is very much how modern film works - in a show, don't tell and let the music do the heavy lifting kind of way.

Sadly, I think Menzies (director) didn't live up to his side of the bargain, but I will get onto that in a moment. Firstly I want to talk about the magnificent job done by Mills (conductor).

Salome is an opera with lush orchestration and one of the most exciting moments is to walk into the gorgeous theatre and see the orchestra swell beyond the pit walls and into the auditorium. Percussion and horns seep into the edges of the audience just as Jochanaan's blood seeps from his head at the end.

Orchestra Victoria do what they always do and under the sure and confident guidance of Mills the musical world of Salome embraces the audience and doesn't let go until after the final note. This opera has sometimes been called a tone poem and if you close your eyes during the show you will be swept into a world of beauty, despair and thrilling, edge of your seat horror.

In a European sense, the staging was also quite grandiose. Smith (set designer) has created an aged and ancient, run down theatre-like environment and this is complemented by Swift's lighting which streams through cracked windows and broken roofing. Cordingly (costumes) has also created a palette of old theatrical icons embodied by the cast who are characters of theatre long past.

It is all very impressive, but with regard to how any of this relates to the story of Salome, all I could do was spend a lot of the night silently asking "why?" Menzies does provide a very long winded explanation in the program but to be honest, I don't think his ambitions equal what has been produced and I saw nothing which made me feel the story was being brought '...forward to the ongoing themes moving into the 21st century. '

I could go into a full-on polemic about this dramatic interpretation but suffice to say it was lost on me and my plus one. Based on some veiled comments in other reviews, it was not very well recieved by others as well. I will say you can get a bit of a clue the show isn't working as a '...warning to the world...' when the audience are laughing. Herod (Storey) as the ghost of the Cowardly Lion from Wizard of Oz really is a step too far to take seriously although the analogy is obvious.

My great moment of disappointment was that the team had not found a way for the audience to see Jochanaan (Sumegi) in his dire imprisonment, although that may have to do with the dissonance between text and the stature of Sumegi. Regardless, it was impossible to feel a connection to someone singing off stage most of the time.

Menzies' stilted and disconnected blocking doesn't help either. I found myself wondering if he had set a rule for Sumegi and Mikneviciute (Salome) along the lines of "always stay as far away as you possibly can from each other whenever you are both on stage." Regardless, there was no tension between them and the whole scene was comedic (which is why the audience laughed).

My great moment of despair was the 'Dance of the Seven Veils'. Or should I say what dance? Hill-Cooper, choreographer, tried to be clever and make Salome's dance pathetic - a commentary on the idea that no matter how bad she was, Herod adored her so much he would think it was beautiful.

Perhaps Mikneviciute is not a dancer. Fair enough. But then don't dress her as a cabaret fan dancer. Also we needed to be let into Herod's fantasy through some sort of ghost dancer because otherwise his revelation of her true ugliness at the end becomes underwhelming. Especially with little text to support these big, complex moments.

I did enjoy the severed head. In a post True Blood era, I think the company could go even further though and have blood streaming down Salome's body!

Luckily, in opera, music is king, and just as wonderful as the orchestra is, so are the principal cast. The Palais is not the best venue for opera accoustically, and yet the key characters cut through with their powerful and dynamic vocals. Mikneviciute was wonderful and carried both the range and the dynamics through to the very last note. Storey was dominant as Herod and Sumegi managed to sound clear and present even though he was offstage.

In what is left of his script - and even in the structure of the story as a whole - Wilde's subversive and abrogating ideas and aesthetics about people still manage to come through in the opera Salome. He investigates the human insanity of worship and adoration. He links the worthy with the unworthy, leaving neither of them complimented.

How far does Jochanaan go in his worship of a god he can never see? To what levels of perfidy will Narraboth (Egglestone) descend for a woman he only sees ride by behind a veil? Are their any limits to what Herod will do for some attention from his daughter? What lengths will Salome go to in order to be desired by every man she comes into contact with? In a selfie-obsessed world, these questions are even more prominent today than they were a century ago!

3 Stars

Thursday 20 February 2020

Clara: Sex, Love and Classical Music

What: Clara - Sex, Love and Classical Music
When: 18 - 23 February 2020
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Written and performed by: Elena Mazzon
Directed by: Catriona Kerridge
Lighting by: Paul Reisenberger
Elena Mazzon - photo by Sav Schulman
Clara: Sex Love and Classical Music is a show Mazzon created in 2018 in anticipation of the bicentenary of the birth of pianist and composer Clara Schumann. It is a feminist interpretation of what restricted a woman of such talent from achieving the place in history afforded her husband Robert in a gentle and witty retelling of her life.

Clara Schumann was a virtuistic pianist during the Romantic era and was the peer of people such as Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Franz Liszt... and the list goes on. More than their match on the piano, she also dabbled in composition although - as Mazzon shows us - her life as wife of male composer and mother of 7 children, it was just not possible for her to develop her compositional skills. Especially when her husband forbade her to play whilst he was composing because it interfered with his creativity...

Whilst there is a moderate body of work which shows she had talents as a composer, what most people don't understand is she was the rock star of her era. A child prodigy who started touring at the age of 9, Clara Schumann basically invented the concept of playing recitals by memory -  now a common expectation - and, in fact, really made the piano recital the popular performance mode which has dominated so much of musical presentation since her death.

Sadly, you won't hear any of this in the show Clara: Sex, Love and Classical Music because despite Mazzon's feminist approach, all she really does is continue the patriarchal framing of women in history by the men surrounding them rather than the achievements themselves. As with all the films and other retellings of Clara's life, Mazzon focusses on the controversial marriage to Robert Schumann (against her domineering father's wishes and the subject of a court case), and her unconsummated love affair with Brahms. The great irony of a patriarchal history is embedded in the reality that it was Clara's skill and popularity which really allowed Robert's and Bach's music to be heard and therefore recognised - a truism all women know and can relate to.

As a tale of love and historic oppression, Clara is still quite a telling and insightful show though. What Mazzon does well is show exactly how having children is an immediate impediment to a woman's career - something we know is true even in the 21st century. There is also the intriguing truth that 3 weeks of Clara going on a concert tour earned the household more money than a year of Robert's composing and editing. I also loved the honesty of the Brahm's love story and how important it was in a pre-contraception era for a woman to avoid sex.

I don't know if this is a recent addition to the show, but there is a striking moment of unity of art and politics as Clara berates an orchestra she is conducting because Robert fell ill. She references how she can see how unaccustomed the men are to a women being there because of the lack of female toilet facilities. Give the recent sports rorts in our federal political arena this tiny moment of witty observation echoed resoundingly around the room. Don't think of that as ancient history either, because I know in the early eighties (1980's that is) women were still being denied employment because workplaces did not have female toilet facilities!

Mazzon's performance is lively and delicate at the same time. I was a bit confused about her constant air of nerves though (beyond the opening conceipt which is hilarious). Clara was a strong woman raised by a demanding father, mother to 7 children and the major bread winner in her family. Portraying her as a delicate flower seems odd and is not really in harmony with her music which is darker and perhaps more risk taking than that of her husband's.

The dramaturgy is not the best. Time shifts around. That doesn't bother me, but the narrative logic of the shifts is slightly opaque. There is also some tedious repetition. I really only needed to hear about Robert's repression of playing while he composes once. Not three times in a work which sits at around an hour long.

I also really wanted the story to be more connected to the music and I just wanted more music generally. The Romantic era is about music being connected to narrative and there are moments when it works well in Clara - such as the use of variations as a means of communication between the Schumann's when they are banned from contact. Beyond that though, the linkages are weak and the music seems more of a performance requirement. I suspect this is a problem with the direction because Mazzon rarely played and spoke. The story telling and the music felt somewhat disconnected. Kerridge needed to work harder to have those two modes blend I feel.

Clara: Sex, Love and Classical Music is a solid piece of theatre with a lot of laughs built in. It definitely lets us inside the world of Clara Schumann as a woman even though it doesn't really speak to her impact on music and her true place in history. A better piano would make the music speak a bit louder in the work (metaphorically speaking) but we all know how expensive having a piano in any show is (with the cost of hire, transportation and tuning) so congratulations on making this work in an independent context. It is definitely a show which benefits from intimacy and would have shone in glory in the old La Mama theatre.

3 Stars

Thursday 13 February 2020

Unsuckle - Theatre Review

What: Unsuckle
When: 11 - 16 February 2020
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Created and performed by: Josiah Lulham, Isabella Vadiveloo, and Harriet Wallace-Mead
Design by: Freya Allen
Lighting by: Kit Cunneen
Sound by: Jess Keeffe
AV by: Isabella Vadiveloo
Stage managed by: Christa Jonathan
Josiah Lulham and Harriet Wallace-Mead

Thought provoking, timely, exciting - all words which aptly and yet inadequately describe the physical theatre presentation Unsuckle which is playing at La Mama Courthouse this week. A dystopian conundrum which looks at motherhood through the ages and into the future, Unsuckle takes us through generations - through eons - and lands us hard in the here and now, forcing us to really consider our future in the midst of climate emergency.

The trio of Lulham, Vadiveloo, and Wallace-Mead have been working alongside each other for many years with a shared history with DIG Collective as well as other projects. Last year they came together to present a creative developement called If Needed, Repeat as part of La Mama Explorations. In 2020 they have taken that seed and planted a tree which has far-reaching branches both backward and forwards in time.

The show begins with Lulham and Wallace-Mead literally planting seeds in a geometrically perfect square of soil in the exact centre of a perfect white square. They are not actors. Everyone on stage is who they are, but they are most certainly story-telling in the oldest and perhaps the most powerful method known to man, lyrically blended with one of the more recent performance modes.

Perfection breaks down as gaps in genealogical memory and knowledge appear. Wallace-Mead has a much stronger grasp of her heritage than Lulham, but even she can only go back around 3 generations with detail. This becomes juxtaposed in a most telling way when Vadiveloo break the performance later in the show - but I will save this moment for later in the review.

Unsuckle is physical theatre so it does not rely on vocal narrative and this set up is broken down very quickly as the two actors explore physical etudes triggered by the topic through body art. Most of it is fairly literal and the pace forms a metronomic rhythm which marks the passing of time.

This does not last too long though and one of the most exciting things about Unsuckle is it's endless array of tangents and events. One of the least exciting things is the transitions. They are always marked by the pair going into the far left corner to get a new prop or costume or put something away. That little cluster of objects does look lovely in a photographic sense for the start of the play, but lacks flexibility in performance and if Unsuckle goes on to a further life (as I hope it will) I think Allen could reconsider this aspect of the design and work it through to a better outcome with the team.

One of the things I am most enthusiastic about with Unsuckle is the complex and detailed dramaturgy which has gone into the construction of the work. Linkages on the theme of motherhood traverse history and culture, fact and myth, reality and hope.

 Lulham is man - the man's place in the conversation, the man's place in community, the man as active participant and honoring bystander. Wallace-Mead manages to degender the concept of mother to make it humanity inclusive rather than just being a gender issue. She makes space for man in motherhood. Vadiveloo gives us pause in the traditional able anglo lens to discuss intercultural ancestry and living intersectionality which is epitomised by the problematic body.

The stuff of myth and legend is personalised in the here and now. Through ancient western mythology we find ourselves right here in Australia, with the uniqueness of what we have in nature, in community, and in person.

As deep, and sometimes dire, as Unsuckle is, it is potted with humour through the subtle and masterful use of AV (Vadiveloo).  I am particularly impressed with how she manages to not allow the imagery in the film work to dominate the imagery of the performance.

Keeffe's magnificent sound design takes us everywhere we need to go - from the melody of love and life through to the eruptions of despair and disaster. Cunneen's lighting does what it needs to do as well.

I was, perhaps, not astoundingly inspired by the first half hour of the show but then the true originality of the work kicks in and I was taken on a fascinating and wild ride I never expected but am so glad I got to experience. I am not giving any spoilers because I really want your curiosity to be peaked so that you go and see Unsuckle for yourself. Inspiration is yours for the taking this week at La Mama Courthouse.

4.5 Stars

Friday 7 February 2020

Rehearsal For Death - Dance Review

What: Rehearsal For Death
When: 6 - 9 February 2020
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Created and performed by: Rebekah Stewart and Sophie Thompson
Lighting and stage management by: Jordan Carter
Rebekah Stewart and Sophie Thompson - photo by Mischa Baka

You may recall in 2018 the Melbourne arts scene was rather obsessed with the question of death - what it is, how we approach it, how we deal with it, and many other permutations on the theme. Death is always a favourite topic though, and Rehearsal For Death, playing this week at La Mama Courthouse, is the latest iteration on the theme.

Rehearsal For Death is a contemporary dance work which gets its genesis from the gothic/surrealist photographic portraiture of Francesca Woodman. Woodman shot in black and white and investigated life amidst decay and had an extremely strong femme erotica edge to her work. Whilst not having lived long enough to ever see success (she killed herself at 22), her photos have developed a posthumous fame.

Stewart and Thomson are dancers who seem to be at opposite ends of their artistry. Stewart is a well-established mulit-disciplinary artist who works with visual mediums as well as her body as art scape. Thomson is an emerging dancer who is yet to make her mark on the industry.

This gulf is evident in their dance styles, with Stewart being strong and animated every second, her body sinuous and energetic across the whole journey. Stewart, on the other hand, has still to develop that full body awareness - the kind which zings right through to finger tips and toes. On the other hand, she does bring an air of that physical ennui which envelops youth today which brings an intriguingly different reference point to the story of Woodman and her youthful depression. This aspect of her performance really becomes powerful in the nightclub scene!

Both dancers have high level dance skills and are well versed in the tropes of contemporary dance and this comes through in the compositional construction of Rehearsal For Death. I am just not sure that the dance actually speaks to the content. It feels a little bit form over function for me, which means the art gets lost in the craft.

In the program notes the women call the show their '...memento mori... a reminder that you will die'. There are certainly strong references to death across the work - the car crash, Thomson's body strewn in a casket, Stewart's replica of the photo of Woodman staring at a black body silhoutte on the floor. The subject of death is not at issue here, it is more a question of what the 'rehearsal' aspect of the work is.

I would have like stronger references to the actual style of Woodman's work. The erotica is completely ignored although there is so much scope there, especially with auto-erotica. Woodman was also fascinated with mirrors and whilst I am happy they didn't go so far as to have a mirror on the stage, I felt the duet could have/should have referenced that. Instead it just looked like a tick box section for a vocational dance class.

I want to go back to the night club scene. For me, this was a glorious moment of brilliance. It spoke so loudly to the banality, repetition, and loss of joy in life as we march inexorably to our demise. Amidst it's strident message of doom though, humour breaks through and releases us, for just a moment, to laugh at ourselves and remember there is joy in life.

There is a spoken section of the dance but it adds nothing to the experience in either the story telling or the art. It is part of a meta construct - rehearsal for death, rehearsal for performance - that tired old horse. It is a sad dip in the show not only because of its derivative nature, but also because neither of the dancers have evidently ever trained their vocal chords in the way they have trained the rest of their body.

This is so common with contemporary dance which includes voice. Why use a part of your body you haven't trained in performance? This is actually a complaint I have about many modern actors I might add... The vocal chords are a muscle. Learn how to use them!

Rehearsal For Death is an intriguing nugget but it is not ready yet - mostly because it needs stronger dramaturgy and production. Unfortunately the Courthouse lighting grid is not really capable of dance lighting and if you are going to reference photography in your work you really do need an agile lighting set up and design. Carter (lighting) does a good job with the resources she has - especially in the second half of the show - but Rehearsal For Death needs more to really work.

I think there is a lot of potential in Rehearsal For Death. It's just needs to be braver and bolder and probably needs some resources invested in the aesthetics of the piece. The sound track is amazing, by the way!

2.5 Stars

Thursday 6 February 2020

Belinda Hanne Reid: Love, Rorem - Cabaret Review

What: Belinda Hanne Reid - Love, Rorem
When: 5 - 6 February 2020
Where: fortyfivedownstairs
Created by: Belinda Hanne Reid
Performed by: Coady Green and Belinda Hanne Reid
Coady Green and Belinda Hanne Reid
There really is something for everybody in this year's Midsumma Festival and for those who like their cabaret with a classical air Belinda Hanne Reid is taking us on an art song journey through the life and times of American composer Ned Rorem. Love, Rorem is only on for one more night at fortyfivedownstairs though, so grab your significant other and experience the laughter and loss of a man who's life had as much colour and movement as his music.

Reid is a very versatile and well trained singer which is good because Rorem's art songs are incredible difficult to sing. Kudos to Green as well, because if the songs are difficult to sing, they must be challenging to play as well and he did so without a single noticeable slip and with much heartfelt nuance across the entire program.

What is art song I hear you ask? Art songs are generally poems or writings which are a single voice accompanied by piano and written in the classical tradition rather than the more populist strophic form we hear on the radio all the time.

Reid has compiled a collection of Rorem's songs to create a song cycle accompanying readings of his journal publications which traverse the most exciting years of the composer's life. This is a man who certainly did have an exciting and extremely scandalous life indeed!

The story begins with his years in Paris as a ridiculously handsome gay man enjoying liberties which were most definitely kept in the dark in the 50's and 60's. I should mention we know almost everything there is to know about Rorem because he is a keen diarist and has been publishing them since 1966.

That pile of books you see Green hiding behind in the photo above is the collection Rorem has published. Phenomenal, yes? The first one was a best seller almost immediately because of it's scandalous nature. Rorem went into great detail and named names when writing about his love affairs.

His writings are full of that arrogance which only the very beautiful people have about loving and being loved and yet his wit and self-insightful musing make the observations and reminiscences sweet because they truly do come from his intensely romantic heart. Rorem is not a man afraid to feel the emotions and poetry of his life and share them with us with authenticity.

Reid tells Rorem's story with his own words. All of the spoken text is excerpts from his diaries lovingly curated to show his humour, mischievous nature, deep and true ideas on love, and experiences of great loss which span the second half of the 20th century.

Beginning in Paris he leads a life of fun and flirting and Reid brings us the detail in the modernist work of 'Early In The Morning' which celebrates the poem by Robert Hillyer. It is an intriguing counterpoint Rorem enjoys exploring in his music - a classical form with modernist text.

We hear about his great passion for Paulo from Milan before returning to New York - where he still lives now at the grand age of 94! His interpretation of Paul Goodman's 'The Lordly Hudson' is an ode to his homeland with just the slight hint of wistfulness for the end of his life abroad.

The story travels through the purchase of his home, the great love of his life, and the tragedies of the 80's and 90's when there was no means of combatting AIDS and the list of the fallen in his life grows and grows.

The intimate portrait Reid gifts us with, of Rorem having to watch it devastate the man he loves beyond measure, is heart-rendingly beautiful. The full magnitude of his losses comes through with his arrangement of Stephen Foster's 'Jeanie With The Light Brown Hair' after the death of his mother.

Art song is not easy for those of us inculcated in the strophic tradition to listen to, but it is worth the effort to experience it for the sheer beauty and grandeur. I suspect there were only 2 performances because the show is very hard work vocally although Reid copes extremely well, with only the occassional hints of vocal stress and fatigue.

On the other hand, Reid is a truly fabulous actor and has us laughing and crying as she totally imbeds herself in Rorem's words and life so that it is impossible to distinguish the storyteller from the story itself. An hour is an excellent length for this show and the dramaturgy is perfect. Hopefully it will be remounted but for now, tonight is your only chance to have this glorious experience.

4 Stars

Wednesday 5 February 2020

Leopard Print Loincloth - Theatre Review

What: Leopard Print Loincloth
When: 4 - 8 February 2020
Where: Theatre Works
Written by: Jake Stewart
Directed by: Dominic Weintraub
Performed by: Joel Beasley, Eamon Dunphy, Ben Goss, Max Greenham, Luey Kemp-Mykyta, and Rhys Wilson
Ben Goss and Eamon Dunphy
Leopard Print Loincloth was nominated as a top pick of Midsumma Festival by Arts Review. Doing the late shift at Theatre Works, the show is on at 9pm until the end of this week.

Leopard Print Loincloth, for me, is a great lesson in how what you are expecting to see affects your experience of a piece of theatre. I came expecting a dynamic exploration of Australian masculinity, with some insight into toxic masculinity which is how the publicity explained the show. I was sorely disappointed.

My plus one came to see nude male bodies and some gay story telling. He went home with a smile on his face.

Is Leopard Print Loincloth a play? Perhaps in the broadest sense of the word - meaning it is a group of men playing pre-written text in a theatre. The show is fragmented bursts of male on male encounters, all of them ending up with sexual and/or romantic outcomes of various sorts.

There is a reference at the start of the play about Cubism. Perhaps Stewart (playwright) was attempting a cubist approach to his writing, but to be honest this feels more like a jigsaw puzzle which has only been started and has small clumps of part of the picture.

To be cubist means to see all three dimension of a thing or idea. This fails to be cubist about masculinity because it is all through the gay lens looking at gay relationships. It is fine for that to be what it is, but that is not what they told the audience to expect (except in the Joy interview perhaps).

I can't tell you who many of the characters are in Leopard Print Loincloth because names are rarely mentioned and the construct is a series of random sketches. There are some great moments though. I loved the scene in Act 1 with the boy looking at the men in the park and also the schoolboy scene which opens Act 2. Yes, there are 2 acts with an interval so expect to finish at 11pm assuming the show starts on time.

The play is staged in traverse but it is a shared venue so I assume this is part of the requirement for the earlier work which they have agreed on. Sadly, it does not help Leopard Print Loincloth because so many of the scenes are intimate moments between men trying to connect with each other and the current Theatre Works layout makes the venue feel like an aircraft hangar.

In addition to that, Weintraub (director) has the men almost always standing on opposite ends of the traverse so they  are having to project across a vast gulf. This may be a metaphor about the chasm which spans the inner space of modern relationships, but it is overused and just makes the whole show lose authenticity.

I don't think Weintraub is experienced enough as a director to work in this configuration. His main solution to the traverse is to place the scenes right at the far ends which means half the audience are always straining their neck to see around people to watch the show. His other go to is to have one person on each half but not moving. I really wish he had seen Just A Boy, Standing In Front Of A Girl to understand how to use a traverse dynamically.

The actors are fantastic despite a script so meta it has no actual play inside. Kemp-Mykyta really stood out as an actor who makes every moment on stage something engaging even when he is being a supernumary. Having said that, all the guys were fantastic to watch and had physical dynamism.

Sadly, and probably because of the script and direction, there was not a lot of character differention. It felt like they were telling the same story over and over. Meet, feel uncomfortable, kiss - then rinse and repeat.

There is no production support listed anywhere, which makes sense because there was little in the way of any kind of design aesthetic. I get the whole minimalism thing, but an eye to style wouldn't go astray. I assume the venue tech did the lighting with support from the other show. It was good but there was a highly overused and annoying smoke machine.

I haven't seen as much smoke in a venue since The Disappearing Trilogy and it was as pointless this time as it was then although for different reasons. The haze just kept rising to the ceiling and because it was moving and the actors weren't all that much, it became more interesting to watch the haze swirling in the light beams near the ceiling. It is worth remembering everything on stage is a signifier and points to something. Why on earth do you want to point to the lighting grid?

I admit to a bit of anger with this production. They have received support from The Office For Women and I assume this is because the show was touted to be an investigation into toxic masculinity which would perhaps provide insight for women into this phenomenon. There is little (except the school boy scene) which points to anything of interest to women.

I am also rather bored with indulgent gay theatre which just focuses on sex. The least interesting or important thing about the LGBTQIA+ community is who they are sleeping with.

In many ways this show reminded me of the self indulgence of Ballet Lab's Kingdom from 2016. The Sydney Morning Herald wrote of that show, 'As Kingdom stretches well past an hour, it gets increasingly difficult to forgive... for the excesses and self-indulgences in this work...' I feel the same about Leopard Print Loincloth.

Yes, it has been important to see the LGBTQIA+ community are just ordinary people falling in and out of love and in and out of sex. What I want to start seeing more of is why and how this is creating disempowerment and discrimination so that we can address those issues.

You can and will have a good time with Leopard Print Loincloth as long as you only want to see gay boys working out how to be together in a meaningful way - and getting their kit off quite a few times! The frame Stewart uses about making theatre is disingenuous but the show is full of drama school exercises which make fellow drama school audience members laugh as an in joke, so you might get a kick out of those too I suppose...

Mental health warning: There is a ladder in the space trying to be everything but a ladder.

2 Stars

Sunday 2 February 2020

Adrifting Through The Vomit Generation - Theatre Review

What: Adrifting Through The Vomit Generation
When: 23 January - 6 February 2020
Where: The Kew Courthouse
Written by: Michael Gray Griffith
Performed by: Rebecca Ann Bentley, Rohanna Hayes, Angelique Malcom, and Yvonne Matthew
Rohanna Hayes, Rebecca Ann Bentley, and Yvonne Matthew
Adrifting Through The Vomit Generation. A powerful yet somewhat uncomfortable title for what is a powerful, yet somewhat uncomfortable play. By that I mean the play is incisive, insightful and erupts in a soggy mess at our feet showing us all what we have been eating lately. It's only on for a few more days at The Kew Courthouse so grab your tickets now while you still have the chance.

Adrifting Through The Vomit Generation is a story which centres around 3 generations of women. Diane (Hayes) is about to lose her house because she just lost her job as a cleaner. Her boarder and best friend Magnolia (Malcolm) is not helping because she is 2 months behind in her rent, and her 25 year old daughter Taylor (Bentley) is unemployed and uninterested in changing that status.

Diane is so desperate she decides to demand that her indecently rich mother, Margaret (Matthew), hand over her inheritence. She can't just ask for help from her mum because the answer has always been "no" and is undoubtedly the response she will get this time too. She is right, but not for the reasons she expects!

Griffith has written an emotionally taught and terrifying play which tells the truth about female poverty and disenfranchisement. I think he meant to write a comedy but Adrifting Through The Vomit Generation is too close to the truth for that to work although there are a whole lot of hilarious moments if you understand the absurdity and desperation of poverty. Comedy needs exaggeration and hyperbole. This play is just too real.

Having said that, there are absurdities. The story of Margaret's enlightenment and voluntary poverty is as ridiculous as it is frustrating and played with a perfect innocence by Matthew. The arrogance of indentured wealth leads her to a folly which provides her with no safety net - something the rest of the characters know only too well. I did enjoy the moment she comes to that realisation at the same time as the horror of what has just happened was settling into the bottom of my gut.

Coldwave artist Dimitar Voev, who created the cult band New Generation in 1982, wrote the lyrics 'We are the New Generation forever/with eyes bleeding from pain and torment/we know that there is no compensaton/and we vomit over hope for better days.' In the end this play is all about vomiting over hope for better days.

I should mention this is not where the title comes from - not directly at least. Margaret's new mission in life is to drive around Australia and clean up the beaches clogged with litter washed up from the sea. Her epiphany came after a false cancer scare and finding a piece of plastic washed up on the beach with the words 'we are the vomit generation' written on them.

Adrifting Through The Vomit Generation looks at what potential women - particularly women over the age of 40 - have to secure an income in order to find safety and stability (which, for Diane, is home ownership). Diane has slid down the employment ladder from a stable job to casual cleaning, to being a part of the competitive gig market, and finally being sacked because she wouldn't work for below award wages.

Magnolia was a rich man's wife but when he died all he left her were lies and debt and no job skills. She can't even get a job as a waitress.

Taylor has a Master's degree in photography but there is no viable photography industry left because everyone can take their own great pictures now. She isn't even prepared to try and get a menial job even though she is only 25.

Margaret has come to set them free, but not in the way anyone expects. I mentioned Coldwave earlier, but what is that? Coldwave was a split off faction of Punk which understood that revolt needed to be anti-systemic and were called gravediggers because their intention was to bury the old system. It was the movement which dominated the post-socialist era in eastern Europe, but Griffith's play points to the reality that this is the only way real change can occur for the 'economic refugees' we are creating in our own society - older women.

As I said earlier, Adrifting Through The Vomit Generation is a funny play but not a comedy and I think Griffith tries a bit to hard in the writing to make it so. The humour generally comes through the characters of Margaret and Magnolia and to that end both Malcolm and Matthew do an excellent job of playing their charicatures and getting the laugh.

Hayes and Bentley, on the other hand, have serious content and they have no choice but to be realistic - which they do with immense skill. It is impossible for them to hide the pain and difficulty they find themselves in. Bentley's is a particularly intriguing journey but I wonder if the gender of either Taylor or Magnolia were changed whether we would be quite as accepting of the outcomes Griffith has given them.

There is a natural ending in the play which is powerful and dramatic, and would leave the audiences going home in shock to ruminate over the just how far a person can fall in their life. (Griffith uses the metaphor of falling across the play). His efforts to make this a comedy lead him to continue the story and whilst the real ending provides a light hearted release, it did dispel some of the power of the messages within.

Regardless, this is a strong, important, and quite funny play. It is a part of our society we don't want to see or deal with - perhaps because there is no neon lit ism in it. There actually is an ism but it has wrinkles underneath the makeup. Come and see how tightly you are holding on to a system which doesn't work for anyone.

 4 Stars

LA BELLE EPOQUE - Theatre Review

WHAT: La Belle Epoque WHEN: 10 - 20 July 2024 WHERE: Theatreworks (Acland St) WRITTEN BY: Future D. Fidel DIRECTED BY: Budi Miller DESIGN BY...