Friday 15 October 2021

GRASS - Film Review

 WHAT: Grass

WHEN: 10 - 17 October 2021

WHERE: YouTube


CAMERA: Jack Klien

Annabelle Mitchell

Grass is a Melbourne Digital Fringe show playing on demand via YouTube. It is written and performed by Annabelle Mitchell and takes a look at the power of ambition and drugs and what it means to be a functional addict.

Grass is an intriguing half hour which follows the journey of a woman who grew up feeling invisible. Through a chance encounter at a party she discovered a magic pill which seemed to give her drive and focus a pathway to a shining future.

As I said earlier, Grass is about being a functional addict. Through the power of this pill she wins dux of the school, gets the job of her dreams and advances all the way to the top. The big question behind Grass though is what (or who) has become invisible to her?

Grass is an epic poem. I found myself coming to think of it as a dark Dr Seuss - which is intriguing because I have always found Dr Seuss to be a bit dark himself...The cute and assonant rhymes, the peripatetic narrative, the irregular rhythmic structure, force an uncomfortable liminal space between the child and the adult, the real and the fantasy, the user and the observer.

Grass lends itself well to being filmed and Mitchell has a great rapport with the camera. My only disappointment is the lack of play she and Jack Klein exhibit with the frame. Most of the shots are close up face work but Mitchell is a VCA trained actor. She knows how to use her body to tell stories so some wide angles and physical experiments would have really allowed us to get deeper under the skin of the character.

I also would have liked to see her work with off-camera eyelines sometime to bring intimacy and power to those interior moments in the script. It would have allowed the audience to feel more like a theatrical voyeur rather than a constant sense of being told a story.

This is all just technical stuff though and in a world of eternal lockdown, Grass is a really exciting and disturbing exploration into a side of drug addiction we don't often get shown. In many ways it is quite horrifying as Mitchell describes a world where you work hard and earn your success but are never able to truly enjoy it for more than the briefest of moments. 

We talk about ambition and opportunity all the time, but what is it like to always be looking for the next hill to climb, the next battle to conquer. How can you enjoy your sunny meadow when the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence?

The scary thing Mitchell exposes about being a functional addict is that there is no getting off the roundabout. There is no rock bottom which may shine a light of awareness which leads to getting clean. I find myself asking does it matter that you aren't connected to the world if you don't know your aren't connected? 

I have no answer for that, but this portrait of ambition and addiction made me very sad - partly because I suspect I know a lot of people who do think this is okay. Do they know what they are missing? Do they care? Probably not. And let's be honest, society doesn't value those connections. All we are taught to want is more, more, more. Achieve more, earn more, be more famous... Maybe this is the only way to do it...?

Grass is playing on demand until 10pm on the 17th. I urge you to find a half hour to experience this tale. It will make you think and possibly bring you to examine some of the assumptions we live with.

3.5 Stars

Sunday 1 August 2021

US. - Theatre Review

WHEN: 30 July - 7 August 2021
WRITTEN BY: Morgan Rose
 DIRECTED BY: Katrina Cornwell
DESIGN BY: Emily Collett
SOUND DESIGN BY: Justin Gardam
STAGE MANAGED BY: Jacinta Anderson
PERFORMED BY: Julia Chilcott, Samuel Gaskin, Noray Hosny, Ashanti Joy, Raelah Piata Lascelles, Jackson Reid, Paula Reid,  and Jessy Soliman
Ashanti Joy, Paula Reid, Noray Hosny and Jackson Reid

I always get excited when I see completely independent artists creating on similar themes at the same time. That is when I know there is a zeitgeist occurring. Having watched Us. and The Rapture: The Bathtub Edition within days of each other I know Melbourne is experiencing the zeitgeist of hope.

Hope is a curious creature. It fills us full of so many emotions: excitement, joy, fear, dread, uncertainty, wonder, curiosity... Our bodies course with adrenaline which keeps us alert for danger, but also gives us a shot of dopamine to give us the confidence to take risks. This is the underlying message of both tales.

St Martins Youth Arts Centre, under the incredibly talented eye of director Katrina Cornwell, have brought together the stories and talents of 5 modern families to invite us into their houses and their lives. They share stories of hope, stories of time, stories of change, stories of differences. Morgan Rose has then brought her amazing talents to the fore and woven them together - forwards and backwards across time immemorial - to tell us an epic saga. It is a tale of fear. It is a tale of love. It is a tale of connection. It is a tale of hope.

Us. begins at the dawn of life on earth with Ashanti Joy telling us the story of how a single lonely cell living in the dark suddenly divided and then there were two of them, and they weren't lonely anymore. Things get exciting and just a little bit frenetic until suddenly Julia Chilcott (her mum) knocks on the door complaining about the cat pooping in the sink. More about that later... 

Their conversation ends with Joy telling us her biggest life lesson so far - "You can't really know anything until you learn it." It is the perfect segue to Noray Hosny's house where she teaches Jessy Soliman, her mum, how to cut onions without crying. (I love the little life hacks you can learn through theatre sometimes). Hosny wants a cat but Soliman has a phobia about them. Through the simple act of preparing a meal, Hosny and Soliman tell us the story of the family deciding to migrate from Egypt a few years after the riots of 2010.

One of the very intriguing aspects of Us. is how they seamlessly blend the meta contexts with the micro. World politics blends with cutting an onion. The beginning of life on earth merges with cleaning up cat poop. The back up singer for Kids in The Kitchen (Paula Reid) sorts out her son's sock draw. We learn the story of the migration of the Maori people from Hawaii in 1320 whilst Sam Gaskin and Raelah Piata Lascelles play in a cubby house. 

Us. reminds us that every one of us - as ordinary and small as we might feel (especially in lockdowns) - is an important part of the history and future and story of the world. It reminds us too, that we need to keep our stories and the stories of the people around us alive so that we know where and when and who we are in our darkest and most alone moments.

Watching Us. shows just how far we have come with story making in Zoom as well. This show is probably the first on this platform, that I have seen, which did very complex theatre making without technical failure. I have to assume Justin Gardam has weaved this incredible magic. I just hope he shares the secrets with the rest of us!

The lighting was clever and innovative and all of the families seemed to have embraced various aspects of the technology challenges with creativity and a great sense of fun. Chilcott plays with 2 cameras as she and Joy recreate an experience at the same time as watching the recording of the real thing. In the Reid house Jackson plays the keyboard in his bedroom as his mum Paula sings belting renditions of 'Purple Rain' and 'When Dove's Cry' through a microphone surrounded by fairy lights in the hall. The sound was amazing and boy can she sing! 

Us. is an amazing production which creates a sense of belonging in all of us. Yes. We, the audience, are invited in and included in the stories of these families as we become the next 'after that' in a chain of events going back to the dawn of life on earth.  We are a part of the hope and all of the complexities the performing families have felt, and their families before them. We are subtly reminded that, as we look to our own futures, there will be fear, there will be the unknown, but there will be space and light and potential. All we need is the courage to hold on and keep moving time.

(Oh and there is some ridiculously cute cat videobombing at times too).

5 Stars

Saturday 31 July 2021

THE RAPTURE Art vs Extinction: THE BATHTUB EDITION - Performance Review

WHAT: The Rapture (Art vs Extinction) - The Bathtub Edition
WHEN: 22 July - 5 August 2021
WRITTEN BY: Moira Finucane
COMPOSED BY: Rachel Lewindon
PERFORMED BY: Moira Finucane and Rachel Lewindon
Rachel Lewindon

It seems so fitting that my return to reviewing should feature the latest iteration of Finucane and Smith's The Rapture: Art vs Extinction. This time around it is The Bathtub Edition. Performed live over Zoom, Moira Finucane takes us back to Antarctica and the extinct Auks, exploring synergies with our current global dilemma - pandemic. 

Many live performance artists have resisted embracing remote, digital performance and for good reason. Zoom seems to be the best platform for this application but we are all subject to the vagaries of internet failures and data compression. On the other hand, how many times have actors dropped lines, forgotten props or had costume malfunctions? The show must go on and The Bathtub Edition shows us why.

Nobody thought the pandemic would be a forever thing when it first exploded across the world, but wishy washy politicians and people refusing to stand up (or shut up) for public good means we will never see a world without it. Political point scoring and the modern values of economies over people have dug us deeper into a hole and in Australia that hole has literally manifested into lockdown after lockdown after lockdown.

The Bathtub Edition is not just a restaging of The Rapture or The Rapture II. Finucane and Smith never do repeats although their shows stay in the repertoire for years and years and years. Instead their story telling responds to time and change. Adapting and surviving in a way the Auks were never given the opportunity to do.

The Bathtub Edition begins with a version of the very first monologue of the very first show as Finucane invites us into her room and we are endowed as her people. No... this is not true. The Bathtub Edition begins earlier in the day when Hope & Gin packs are delivered.

This package of indulgence lets us begin a rapturous ritual before entering her salon. It was delightful to get home from work and wash away the day with Hope Soap and then mix a potent blend of Blood Bath Gin complete with decadent and indulgent pomegranate. There is more but I don't want to ruin the surprise ;)

So, as I said before, we begin with the original introduction to the show as Finucane brings us from her front door to her bathroom. Her narrative continues as she immerses herself in rippling water, only her face showing. It is surprising how powerful and evocative this is as she talks about penguins and auks and the first wildlife protection legislation. "I stood where the melting was most dramatic..."

Her segue to our current situation is clever and she talks about a new kind of extinction event - pandemic. The most terrifying moment is when she points to the fact that pandemic has been a factor in 1822, 1922, and now 2022. Referencing the German film Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, which in turn references Dracula, the fear of disease is subtextually amplified by the medium of Zoom and the restrictions we live under to control COVID 19. "You cannot lock history in a room. If you do it will look back at you."

Finucane speaks to social media and the strawman argument of freedom of speech. She cries out that she misses us, she misses Melbourne, she misses glaciers and bemoans the ripples of small cruelties having epic consequences. This is the Catch 22 of an elimination policy in a pandemic.

Do not fear, but be very afraid. "The Angels are coming!" Interspersed with Rachel Lewindon's epic and enveloping compositions played live and with virtuosic talent , Finucane explores the bitter sweetness of penguin parenting - words which resonate as we sip our bitter gin and crunch on the heavenly sweetness of a pomegranate seed... 

Decrying a Melbourne drowning in plague and propoganda, and politicians looking for who to blame, Finucane brings hope and invites us all to participate in a penguin parade. Every penguin on parade equals a tree she will give back to our planet.

This is the true magic and gift of The Rapture series. Finucane and Smith are not just about performance, and they do not rest with just putting ideas out in the world. Their true goal is metanoia and everything they produce is an invitation to join them in making real change in the world. It can be as small as making a penguin which will ignite new life or it may be writing to a politician to speak to change. It may even result in opening hearts and doors to difference.

Finucane and Smith are about helping us to find our own journey towards creating change we want to see and they have found a way to do this which is glamourous and exciting and sexy, but which hides nothing. Their shows are bitter and sweet just like Blood Bath Gin. They intoxicate and they enliven the senses. The Bathtub Edition sits proudly in this heritage. Join them and let them cleanse and indulge your soul as they invite you to cleanse and indulge your body.

3.5 Stars

#SWIFTOK - Cabaret Review

WHAT: #SWIFTOK WHEN: 11 Mar - 21 April 2024 WHERE: The Motley Bauhaus (Cabaret room) WRITTEN AND PERFORMED BY: Dean Robinson Dean Robinson -...