Tuesday 8 November 2022

MADWOMEN MONOLOGUES - Theatre Review

 WHAT: Madwomen Monologues (2022)

WHEN: 7 - 12 November 2022

WHERE: The Butterfly Club - Upstairs

WRITTEN BY:  Claire Bowen, Bridgette Burton, Cerise de Gelder, Dana Leslie Goldstein, Dana Hall, Louise Hopewell, Alison Knight, Sharmini Kumar, Katrina Mathers, Jessica Rijs, Kate Rotherham, and Seon Williams

DIRECTED BY: Nadia Andary, Chris Boek, Natasha Boyd, Lore Burns, Emma Drysdale, Gemma Flannery, Bruce Langdon, Lucy Norton, Adele Shelley, Patrick Slee, Carl Whiteside, and Seon Williams

PERFORMED BY: Nadia Andary, Carolyn Dawes, Gemma Flannery, Isabella Gilbert, Benji Groenewegen, El Kiley, Bridgette Kucher, Melanie Madrigali, Katrina Mathers, Tenielle Thompson, and Seon Williams

Melanie Madrigali - Photo courtesy of Baggage Productions

It has been 12 years since Baggage Productions birthed the Madwomen Monologues and despite all that has happened in that time (and hasn't there been a lot!) the concept and outcomes are still top notch. This year the Madwomen Monologues are back on the stage at The Butterfly Club running across 2 programs. This means you can split them up to accommodate life or just take one big gulp and see both programs in one night with fun cocktails in between (my recommendation).

The main rule for the Madwomen Monologues is that they must be written by women. This doesn't make it an exclusive space as men can direct or perform, but there is a feel of safety and the sacred because, as with all good writing, those women writers are writing what they know - which is what it is to be a woman IRL. It may surprise people to hear there is not a push-up bra, corset, or fishnet stocking in sight. What is in abundance is a bevy of strong, resilient, authentic womanhood - both in the stories told and the story telling.

There are 12 monologues in total spread over 2 programs of just under an hour. Beyond that, I would hesitate to guess at any curatorial impost over the programs. I had this idea that I would pick a best written, best acted, best directed from each program for this review but the truth is that the quality of all of it is so high it is impossible to make those judgements. 

What this means is that both programs are quality theatre making. What is perhaps of more interest to me is that the Madwomen Monologues follow on from a feeling I got during the Melbourne Fringe Festival this year. My sense is that the lockdowns have had a great impact on the theatre scene in Melbourne and there is a strong regard to theatre being anchored in telling stories - important stories, good stories, entertaining stories. Our digital lockdown lives seems to have reminded us that communication and sharing is what we need to sustain us. That is what is important. Not all the other nonsense and frou frou.

I am not splitting each program into separate commentary because it would serve no purpose. The 2 programs really only exist to make the work as a whole into consumable, bite size portions. Across both programs is a wonderful array of heart breaking, poignant, and hilarious content.

Amidst tales of cancer, depression, and agoraphobia you will also find stories about first kisses, the worshipping of coffee, and cakes. You will enjoy the biggest belly laughs of the year and then shed tears of sorrow and frustration. What you won't do is feel objectified or disregarded or silenced.

I said I wouldn't pick out favourites, but I do want to pick out a Most Valuable Player. It was a tough field but Seon Williams wins the award for absolute excellence in writing ('Feel It'), directing ('Dark Matter Speaks'), and performing ('Poets Don't Know How To Give Head').

Melbourne Fringe is over and we are not quite into the crazy Xmas musicals time of year. Take this opportunity to see some real treasures shine, and some important stories being told. Oh, and keep your ears open for 'Anzia, A Fiction' (written by Dana Leslie Goldstein). It has some important resonances for the times in which we live.

4 stars

Thursday 20 October 2022

IN THE HOUSE OF THE SUN - Theatre Review

 WHAT: In The House Of The Sun

WHEN: 18 - 22 October 2022

WHERE: Queen Victoria Women's Centre

WRITTEN & PERFORMED BY: Rebecca Perich

DIRECTED BY: Margaret Mills

CHOREOGRAPHED BY: Jessica MacCallum Cruz

Rebecca Perich

I thought I knew a lot about Greek mythology. I have read both the Illiad and the Odyssey. I have read or seen most of the major Ancient Greek plays still trotting around the globe. I studied Antigone and have written Athena. I know how choruses and masks work. I am an educated woman with a solid grounding in the literary classics. Or so I thought. Watching In The House Of The Sun last night I came to realise I know nothing. I know the words on all the pieces of paper but as is true of all Western history, I only know the stories as told by men.

Inspired by Jennifer Saint's Ariadne, Rebecca Perich has decided to present a dance theatre (tanztheatre) experience of what life would have been like for Ariadne and all that she witnessed and experienced. What she has created is a remarkably visceral retelling which gently steamrolls from sweetness, to saccharine, to shit.

We meet Ariadne at around 15 years old. By then her mother has become something remote and ineffective through the abuse of her father King Minos. This was revenge for her affair with the bull and the birth of her first child - the creature we all know as the Minotaur. Ariadne dances around the palace and tells bedtime stories to her little sister, Phaedra. In sweet, gentle tones Ariadne soothes her with horrifying tales of how her brother was locked away and trained to eat flesh and drink blood...

Music is an experience which elicits emotion directly to the brain/body. Dance is the expression of that emotion directly from the brain/body. Perich's gentle, lyrical voice is belied by the agonising paroxysms of her body in powerful dance interludes. Jessica MacCallum Cruz's choreography gets to the core of the subtext and shows us what is really going on for Ariadne. I only wish there had been more of it.

Ariadne blooms into her womanly awareness with the arrival of Theseus and thus her women's journey begins with all the excitement, wonder, lust, pain and betrayal we all must endure. Her maidenhead is taken, her wishes are ignored, and her hopes and dreams are dashed. We all know how the story ends. Ariadne is abandoned on the isle of Nexos and there her story ends.

What sets In the House Of The Sun out of the ordinary is Perich's superior grasp of form and content. The narrative is cleverly constructed. I don't know if Perich follows Homer's dactylic hexameter faithfully, but she definitely slips in and out of an epic poetic structure across the story telling which is as powerful as the dance interludes.

Margaret Mills (director) has crafted the use of the space and lighting masterfully. This could easily be a show with a small woman drowning in a large room with a few basic lights. Sometimes, though, you don't need more than a half dozen lights to have huge impact if you have timing and tempo right and you have a clear vision of what is happening in each moment of a show.

There are some problems with the production. There is some call and response moments in the show but the response comes from somebody (Mills?) behind the audience. Whoever it is, they are not 'acting' and it seemed like they were always late which really messed with the artistic intent of those moments in my opinion. I also thought there might have been a bit too much repetition and pauses as Ariadne paces in circles. I don't want anything in the show to be sped up per se, but I do feel it could be shortened by about ten minutes by just tightening up the looseness of the performance as a whole.

I also really have to give a shout out to best venue choice ever! In The House Of The Sun is being presented at the Queen Victoria Women's Centre and just walking through the doors into what was the first Melbourne Women's Hospital is so evocative. The art displays and signage, which are all about empowering women through our treacherous life journeys, seep into the soul before we even meet Ariadne.

Perich has me totally hooked on her work. In 2018 I saw her show Pinky Promise and was captured by her unique and insightful story telling. In The House Of The Sun is very different and yet the nuance and detail of Perich's story telling is in everything she does. I can't wait for her next show, The Old Man And The Mouse, at La Mama later this year!

4 Stars

Tuesday 18 October 2022

2 PROUD 2 PREJUDICED: An Austen-tatious Cabaret - Cabaret Review

 WHAT: 2 Proud 2 Prejudiced: An Austen-tatious Cabaret

WHEN: 10 - 23 October 2022

WHERE: The Butterfly Club (Upstairs)/Digital Fringe

CREATED BY: Picked Last For Sport

PERFORMED BY: Sarah Edgar, Freya Long, Ryan Smith, Sean Sully, and Melissa Viola (with a special guest appearance by Colin Firth).

Sean Sully, Freya Long, Ryan Smith, Sarah Edgar, and Melissa Viola - photo by Emma Thomas

I once got in trouble with my year 9 English teacher for comparing the novels of Jane Austen to the Mills & Boon book empire. I never found out whether she was upset that I considered Austen's writing to not be literature or if she thought I was calling Mills & Boon books literature. I truly loved Mills & Boon books at the time, so it was not meant to be an insult. I am older and wiser now, but I still stand by my comment.

I have read Austen's entire collection and I agree with the Universe. Pride and Prejudice is the best and yes, I identified with Lizzie just like I identified with Jo in Little Women. The reason I mention the Louisa May Alcott story is because the way Picked Last For Sport have presented this spirited and abridged retelling of Pride and Prejudice - 2 Proud 2 Prejudiced - could easily sit as Amy's dramatic contributions to long evenings at home in counterpoint to Jo's dastardly tales. Sisters, love, betrayal, coming of age - both are writ from a similar cloth.

I really love what Picked Last for Sport do. They have this amazing cabaret formula which looks like they just grabbed a bunch of props from the shed and are putting on an improvisation in front of you. This friendly, casual style is belied by the intense theatrecraft and musicianship of the team.

2 Proud 2 Prejudiced: An Austen-tatious Cabaret is a pretty foolproof subject for a Melbourne Fringe Festival cabaret but it is funny, witty, and pacey and what more can you ask in Fringe season? The show begins with Sarah Edgar coming forward demurely, in period costume to sing a gentle ode to the great novelist. Then the other four barge in and the frivolity of the night begins with a lively rendition of 'The Bennett Sisters' to introduce the characters. Each sister has a verse telling us a bit about her personality - all except Kitty (Ryan Smith), who has no personality. The men in drag stamp the pantomime tone over the rest of the proceedings.

2 Proud 2 Prejudiced is a hat show. The cast warn that everyone plays multiple characters, and it will be a challenge to keep up. It really does help if you already know the story, especially because the best gems of the night are the commentary which is what we all thought as we read the book. There is delicious fun in hearing it said out loud though. So many delicious characters to make fun of and so many social mores we would never dream of these days (like marrying your cousin).

All of the music and lyrics are original creations and delivered with an amused, naughty satire that keeps the audience laughing from beginning to end. It is an exhausting hour but in all of the good ways!

Everyone is great in the show, and embody their characters beautifully (even Colin Firth as Mr Darcy). I want to give a special shout out to Sean Sully's interpretation of the dour Mary, and Edgar's Lady Catherine de Bourgh. The song 'Status' is a true glory. I also really enjoyed Freya Long's base guitar as accompaniment to Sully on the piano it gave a humorous gravitas to moments of ridiculous tension in the story. 

I also applaud the flip chart. It deserves a nomination as the best prop in Fringe 2022.

Sadly, it is true the live season for 2 Proud 2 Prejudiced: An Austen-tatious Cabaret has ended. Great news though! It is still available to view through Digital Fringe. Snap up your tickets and sit back in comfort with your favourite beverage. Get comfortable for an hour of non-stop laughter and a wonderful version of your favourite romantic comedy!

4.5 Stars

Tuesday 11 October 2022

TATTLE TALES - Theatre Review

 WHAT: Tattle Tales

WHEN: 7 - 15 October 2022

WHERE: Bard's Apothecary

CREATED & PERFORMED BY: Davey Seagle

LIGHTING & SOUND BY: Sophie Parker

COSTUMES BY: Alloquois Callaway-Hoilman

STAGE MANAGED BY: Natalie Baghoumian

Davey Seagle - photo by Aaron Cornelius

The mysterious, the arcane, the magical - Melbournians love this stuff. We also love improvisation and games and storytelling in all it's different forms. This year's Melbourne Fringe Festival entry, Tattle Tales brings all of this and more as Davey Seagle draws us in to a den of secrets and sorcery at Bard's Apothecary.

Tattle Tales is an interactive event which celebrates the ancient tradition of people gathering and sharing stories. The venue, Bard's Apothecary, is perfect pre-performance framing and allows you to grab your mead of choice before you descend a narrow staircase into a cavern below, gently lit with fairy lights. Ambient music fills the room. Sitting quietly, directly ahead, is Seagle with archaic face markings, a necklace made of bones, and a table covered in mystical items and incense. Settle in and immerse yourself in the world about to be created.

Seagle is the guide for the evening's adventures, but the audience are the actors. Audience members are selected to pick cards from a Tarot deck and from here they are invited to fill out the details of who they are. All choices and guidance in Tattle Tales come from the Tarot and the participants gradually fill out details such as the composition, technology level, and items in the world they are about to create. From these decisions the story of the night emerges.

I am not going to talk much more about the show because it will be yours to develop. Suffice to say I ended the evening as a lichen covered tree with a bouquet of Frangipani growing painfully out of my neck. Karma! One thing I will say is that Sophie Parker's music completely sets the mood and changes the mood at a whim and keeps us enveloped in the world we are creating adding tension and beauty to every moment. 

Seagle's deep, sonorous vocal tone also draws us into the story and keeps us entranced. He acts as guide, master of ceremonies, and guardian of us and the story throughout the evening. This is a safe space regardless of the cliffs you may choose to jump off.

If you are the kind of person who likes games like 'Murder' you will love Tattle Tales. My only criticism is that the experience can slow down a bit too much if decisions are made too slowly. On the night I went we were grouped which meant we had to consult with each other about decisions which really interrupted the rhythm of the story telling. Quick, brave decisions would make this show a truly out of this world experience.

3.5 Stars


Friday 30 September 2022

MEASURE OF A MOMENT - Theatre Review

 WHAT: Measure of a Moment

WHEN: 28 September - 2 October 2022

WHERE: La Mama Courthouse

WRITTEN BY: Charles Mercovich

DIRECTED BY: Robert Johnson

COMPOSED BY: Louis Ajani

SET BY: Riley Tapp

COSTUMES BY: Amy Oakes and Emily Busch

PERFORMED BY: Jordan Chodziesner, Liliana Dalton, Claire Duncan, Asher Griffith-Jones, Carissa McPherson, Darren Mort, Abigail Pettigrew, and Luke Toniolo

STAGE MANAGED BY: Jemma Law

Asher Griffith-Jones and Jordan Chodziesner - photo by Cameron Grant

People think making theatre is easy. People think writing plays is just another writing style. People think anyone can act. It takes plays like Measure of a Moment - now playing at La Mama Courthouse - to show us how fallacious those thoughts are.

Measure of a Moment is set in the 1890s in Melbourne and follows the misfortunes of a young lad named Connor (Jordan Chodziesner) as he deals with career disappointment and the temptations of vice. It is a cautionary tale about the dangers of gambling and the pitfalls of peer pressure. Across the course of a misspent youth it also tries to echo the social and technological advances of the turn of the century. In many ways this is the play's biggest problem - it tries to do too much.

Playwright Charles Mercovich is strongly influenced by Marcus Clarke's For The Term of His Natural Life and tries to echo the episodic structure of the book as well as more overt acknowledgements including the appearance of the ghost of Clarke (Darren Mort) at the end of the play. The trouble is, there is not enough information in the play. It is hard to keep track of who the characters are or who they are talking about. 

The program notes refer to dramaturgical support but there is no acknowledgement in the credits. Regardless, the project needs some proper dramaturgy and it is extremely disappointing that director Robert Johnson hasn't taken a stronger hand to help let the audience into this work. One of the roles of a director is to draw out the themes of a play and make sure all of the signifiers help point in the direction intended. After all, is a message a message if nobody knows what it is? Johnson's failures in this regard are rife throughout Measure of a Moment.

The visual impact of the Riley Tapp's set is powerful when you first walk in, and it is a design which keeps on giving as it morphs across the evening to put us in different places and times in Connor's life. Unfortunately it is solidly grounded in a settler aesthetic with warm woods and cloths rather than echoing the themes of automation and disconnection that come from vice and industrialisation which are constantly referred to in the play. 

Luckily, Tim Bosner's excellent lighting design helps lift us out of the ordinary and into the non-natural writing style created by Mercovich. This leads to my next criticism of the direction. The language in the play and the structure of it are not naturalistic so why are the actors playing naturalism? The exception is Liliana Dalton who plays a wonderfully evocative Bagman who would have done William Shakespeare proud. Suffice to say the costumes ground us even more firmly in the past rather than a looming future. They are nice but inform us of nothing.

The actors do a solid job of difficult material but there are a lot of times in Measure of a Moment when I think they really don't know what they are saying or what their role is in the story telling. Not their fault. The script is confusing and the director has obviously not supported them enough to find character arcs. 

The play misses important information and becomes needlessly bogged down in pointless acts of art. As an example I cite the final two songs. Asher Griffith-Jones is a phenomenal singer and a wonderful actor but apart from thinking there is some attempt at mimicking Bertolt Brecht I have no idea what those songs do for the story.

I am not going to lie. I wanted to walk out by around the last 15 minutes of the show. I had no sense of the story and I didn't care about the characters. There was little of visual interest to stimlate by that point and I could not tell by anything I was seeing or hearing whether the play was ever destined to end. This wasn't helped by the fact that nobody - not even the venue - knew there was an interval which led to an overall mistrust of just how long the play really was. I am going to lay this one at the feet of Jemma Law, the stage manager. I can't even work out in my head how the venue was not advised of that information

1.5 Stars.

Thursday 29 September 2022

WHALEBONE - Theatre Review

 WHAT: Whalebone

WHEN: 22 - 24 September 2022

WHERE: Theatreworks

CREATED AND PERFORMED BY: Jens Altheimer

Jens Altheimer

We all know how important stories are, and we know that history repeats when we don't keep track of our stories. In Whalebone Jens Altheimer aims to pass on the ideas of remembering and recycling to our younger, computer literate, high consumption next generation.

Altheimer is a Lecoq trained clown who brings a delightful dodderiness to his collection curator character. He is also a self-proclaimed tinkerer which is witnessed by the odd and amazing collection of trinkets and apparatus peppering the stage space. The junkyard/steampunk stories repository sits in juxtaposition to the swirling, geometric AV fractals projected onto a huge screen behind him.

With a premise similar to The Bureau of Magical Things, Altheimer has created a depository (or library) which retains the history embedded into the souls of everyday objects. He places objects like swimming caps in a contraption which scans and extrudes the life of that object so far, and stores it in his digital databank. He then takes said object and recycles it to create amazingly outrageous new devices.

One day an object just appears and he meets the first AI (artificial intelligence). Being an old school collector Altheimer resists the AI's demands for the password to the databank until it is attacked by malware and he needs all the help he can get. Of course, like all of us, he has trouble remembering the password and he must solve a complex puzzle he created to remember the password.

Altheimer has long experience with shows and installations for children and he ticks all the boxes. The most important one is getting the audience participating right from the beginning and keeping them involved to the very end - including the Q&A which is not your ordinary type of Q&A. He keeps the magic alive from beginning to end.

There is so much to love about Whalebone. The contraptions are creative and hilarious, he has paid excellent attention to the AV which is completely interactive across the whole show. 

Perhaps the most fun and beautiful thing is that he leans on science based magic. A master of kinetic energy, he powers machines with pedal power and has 'stories' flying around using air pressure and surface tension. The room is full of magic but there is no doubt for a single second that science and physics are the wizard's wand making it all happen.

It is exciting to see a quality children's show which isn't all about primary colours and oversized moulded plastic. If I had a criticism it would be that Altheimer himself might be erring slightly on the side of being too doddery and could lift the pace a fraction. Having said that, there are a lot of moving parts to this show so maybe a little caution is called for because in a show like Whalebone everything has to work - and it does, which is the true miracle! I also wonder if there couldn't be a little attention paid to explaining why remembering is important just to create a context.

The true measure of any show is the conversations which take place afterwards and I heard some great discussions. One boy was debating what is good AI and what is bad AI. I heard another parent explaining the show as a cautionary tale to her little girl. I would place bets on every one of the children in the audience going home and insisting their parents let them try juggling balloons with the hairdryer! 

If Whalebone comes to a theatre near you this is the kind of show your kids will love. It is full of junk, fantastical objects, artificial intelligence, drama, thrills, puzzle solving - and a couple of kids even get a bit of exercise as they help provide the peddle power to get the gadgets going!

4 Stars


Friday 9 September 2022

THE LIGHTHOUSE - Opera Review

 WHAT: The Lighthouse

WHEN: 8-10 September 2022

WHERE: Brunswick Mechanics Institute

WRITTEN & COMPOSED BY: Peter Maxwell Davies

DIRECTED BY: Kate Millett

CONDUCTED BY: Evan Lawson

DESIGNED BY: Casey Harper-Wood

LIGHTING BY: Gabriel Bethune

SOUND BY: Jack Burmeister

PERFORMED BY: Sung Won Choi, Jonathan Rumsan, Henry Shaw, Daniel Sinfield, Phoebe Smithies

Henry Shaw, Jonathan Rumsam, Daniel Sinfield, Sung Won Choi, and Evan Lawson

Winter is officially over but we Melburnians know it will be months before it really warms up again. As such, this is the perfect time of year for thrillers and BK Opera has brought us the perfect feast of thrills and frights to revel in on these dark, cold nights. The Lighthouse, a chamber opera by the late Peter Maxwell Davies written in 1979, is being performed at Brunswick Mechanics Institute and will chill you to the bones despite the warmth and comfort of the theatre you are sitting in.

The Lighthouse is a chamber opera based on a horror story which was based on a true account of three lighthouse keepers in Scotland who went missing without a trace. It is an opera in 2 acts. The first - titled 'The Lighthouse' - has the crew of the relief ship recounting their arduous sea journey to deliver provisions and the mystery of the disappeared lighthouse keepers. This part of the opera is very straight narrative story telling with little melodic relief although there is some excitement in the rats sequence.

It is the second act where the real magic happens though. 'The Cry of The Beast' puts us in the lighthouse on the night the three men disappear and give us a window into the madness and chaos which might have made up their final evening. And then there is the cherry on top - the coda. This is the stuff nightmares are made of!

When you are a man alone on an isolated rock, surrounded by deadly seas and in the company of two other men who were strangers when the adventure first began, strange things happen in your heart and mind. Sandy (Daniel Sinfield), Blazes (Jonathan Rumsam), and Arthur (Henry Shaw) spend what will be their last night on this earth eating oatcakes and tea, because all other provisions long ran out, desperate for the relief ship to arrive and terrified by the rising storm.

Sinfield's light tenor brings a sweet romanticism to his solo aria, and Rumsam is just delightful as he gads about the stage with a banjo telling a torrid tale of a mispent and inglorious youth. Shaw is suitably imposing with his developing bass-baritone voice as he rains down an evangelistic zeal worthy of the Crusades. Preaching about the fatted calf, it is no surprise that radical Christianity brings about the doom about to descend on them all.

These young singers are still developing their stage craft and Evan Lawson does an excellent job of guiding them strongly through a very complex musical journey whilst creating exquisite dynamics and details in the playing by Sung Won Choi (piano) and Phoebe Smithies (french horn). I admit to loving the horn work. The chamber opera is written for 6 instruments, but what is achieved with piano and horn (and banjo) along with a clever and powerful sound design (Jack Burmeister) gives all the body needed and more than enough chills. The horn is not just an instrument in this production of The Lighthouse - it is another character.

Kate Millett has directed this production with clever restraint, not getting in the way of the singers or Lawson, but creating a very clear concept and intention which has been ably realised by Casey Harper-Wood. In fact, as you enter the theatre the set creates a definite sense of wow and a curiosity on how the show will work. An imperfect hexagon of mirrored panels evidently represent the lighthouse and Gabriel Bethune's lighting lets us inside and textures the space effectively. 

My only regret is the panels prevented the sound waves of the voices from filling the room and affecting our bodies. Thus we did lose some of the visceral possibilities of the show. Perhaps having at least one of the panels (maybe the one facing the repetiteur) as a scrim rather than a solid would have allowed us to appreciate being in the room with the singers. Instead, I found myself feeling a bit like I was watching TV. 

I really can't praise and recommend The Lighthouse enough. It has a sadly short season, but go out and see it this weekend if you can. If you have never been to opera this is the opera to go and see to wet your feet - just don't step too close to the cliff edge or you may descend into the madness which befell these poor men!

4 Stars

Monday 5 September 2022

DEBUT - Comedy Review

 WHAT: Debut

WHEN: 27 August 2022

WHERE: The MC Showroom

WRITTEN AND PERFORMED BY: Daisy Webb

Daisy Webb

Theatre venues and performers all over Melbourne are trying to catch up on all the cancelled shows from 2020 and 2021. For some it is not about having a 'season', but rather about allowing all the work and love they put into the creative process having it's moment in the spotlight - literally. Daisy Webb's show Debut is one of those lost treasures and got it's moment in Queer Comedy Week at the MC Showroom for one night only.

Webb is a transgender woman and takes us through some of the awkward and uncomfortable moments as she transitions. She also has a podcast with her partner called The Daisy Diaries which explores this journey between them.

As a cis woman I always enjoy hearing transition stories because I learn a lot about my assumptions about gender, and it is usually a really interesting look at the nature versus nurture question. There might also be some generational ignorance to pepper my understanding too. 

For example, I was listening to Webb talk about her breasts and I found myself thinking it sounded a lot like those dodgy Hollywood 'a man finds himself in a woman's body' crappy comedies. I am not saying Webb wasn't funny, it was more that the tone was one which I had always ascribed to the 'men's jokes about women's bodies' category. On the other hand, I guess for Webb they really are a fun new toy...? I am probably just jealous because, as she said, her boobs will always be 30 years younger than she is.

As with all good comedy Webb does hit some home truths which make us take a look at ourselves. For example she jokes about cis women constantly saying "welcome to being a woman" when she complains about something. Webb observes that it doesn't feel very welcoming. I find myself thinking cis women are just surprised that a trans woman would choose to go from a position of social/economic/political privilege to one of disempowerment. That is the point though, isn't it? It is not a choice at all.

When Webb is talking about her topic her material is strong and funny. Sadly, for some strange reason, she has decided to fill the show out with a lot of not great puns and random jokes. Thus, it is an hour long and slightly tiresome, whereas it could be a wonderful and hilarious 40 minutes of quality performance. 

My advice would be to avoid going for the cheap laugh. Tell the story and trust that  it and yourself is enough. I am glad Debut got it's time on stage and I look forward to, what I hope will be, another iteration.

2.5 Stars

Saturday 27 August 2022

PROTEIN - Comedy Review

 WHAT: Protein

WHEN: 25 - 27 August 2022

WHERE: MC Showroom

WRITTEN AND PERFORMED BY: Darby James

DIRECTED BY: Clary Riven

Darby James

You know what it's like. That day when nothing goes right and everything you touch, see or hear turns into a catastrophe which just keeps piling onto the trauma you are experiencing. Darby James certainly knows what days like that feel like and he tells us all about it in his comedy show Protein at MC Showroom this week.

James has a residency with MC Showroom, hosting a Monday night musical comedy show every week through to December, so it is not surprising to see this show forming a part of the venue's first curated program for 2022. Having said that, Protein stands on it's own two feet as a solid show worthy of audiences. It had me thinking of the work Hannah Gadsby does and that could very well be the highest praise I can give an emerging comedian.

The premise is a simple one. Charlie (James) is a millenial gay man going through an existential crisis as he emerges from lock down, loses his house mate, loses his motivation, loses his fish, and loses his keys. And those are the easy things!

On the night this story begins Charlie has decided to give up pornography and now has to figure out how to fill his time. Desperately searching for real connections he uses the Tinder app but finds himself constantly downloading and then deleting the Grindr app much like the bird which keeps flying into the window where he works. 

One definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expect different results (Einstein). Charlie knows this but Protein is the perfect example of how hard the universe works against us in order to prevent us from breaking the cycle. This is why we laugh along with Charlie as life keeps slapping him across the head, but underneath there is also a little twinge of sadness in the realisation this happens to us all. I had a month long dose of it just a month or so ago. We laugh in hindsight, but it is not very funny when you're right in the middle of calamity.

James has a velvety delivery style, gentle and seductive, and I think he would benefit in grasping it as a point of difference in his shows and thinking about that aesthetically. It is very Tony Armstrong in it's impact and could be used to great benefit if James harnesses it effectively.

Having said that, on the night I saw Protein it ended up being a problem because the show, in it's current form, needs to climax and James isn't quite getting there for the punch at the end. It is disappointing that Clary Riven (director) hasn't helped him reach that height because this comedy show has some really important messages and the big one at the end - there is always someone worse off than you - needs to pop to keep it comedic and stop the whole show from ending on a sad note. 

Protein is funny and I laughed a lot despite the slightly missed opportunity at the end. The technical aspects of the show - recorded voices interacting with the performer - work well which is a surprise because this sort of thing usually fails big time and makes most cabaret and comedy shows fall in a heap. 

What is more interesting, perhaps, is the realisation I had the next day which is grasping the plight of the Millenials. Protein tells us the story of a generation who are more willing to put themselves in risky situations through apps and a shallow social scenes rather than go to their parents for help. It also demonstrates the lack of real, deep, connected friendships. 

I am pro social media but Protein is a strong warning about making sure you find ways to truly connect with people around you. Make friendships you can lean on. As funny as this show is, I found myself holding my breath as Charlie headed closer and closer to high risk situations. Charlie was lucky but I can't help wondering how many people have been in this situation and not got off so lightly.

3 Stars

Saturday 6 August 2022

THE MARVELLOUS LIFE OF CARLO GATTI - Theatre Review

 WHAT: The Marvellous Life of Carlo Gatti

WHEN: 3 - 13 August 2022

WHERE: Theatreworks - Explosives Factory

WRITTEN BY: Cassandra-Elli Yiannacou

DIRECTED BY: Chris Hosking

PERFORMED BY: Connor Dariol, Hayley Edwards, El Kiley, and Shamita Siva

Connor Dariol, El Kiley, and Shamita Siva - photo by Sarah J Clarke

Let's start with trigger warnings which neither the production team nor venue thought were needed for The Marvellous Life of Carlo Gatti. If you feel you need support after seeing this play please contact Beyond Blue or Lifeline. Next, let's advise that the new Theatreworks venue, Explosives Factory, is not accessible (not even for abled bodied people who are fully sighted  if you count the first step and also the rostra design for the seating bank). There is no stage manager credited which is probably why I just had to do this. Now that we are all safe, I will get on with the review.

Cassandra-Elli Yiannacou is an emerging writer who appears to have a fascination with suicide, based on this work and her published play Loose Teeth. I don't know if this is because she has been touched by this but I felt in The Marvellous Life of Carlo Gatti this obsession is almost careless.

So a ghost (Connor Dariol), a psychologist (Shamita Siva), and a scientist (El Kiley) walk into a bar... Sorry, wrong play. But seriously, The Marvellous Life of Carlo Gatti is a science fiction phsychological thriller. It is full of piano playing pigeons and space whales and something called quantum time. You will learn a lot of fun, geeky science facts in this play - including that 42 is a coding space holder (this one is for Douglas Adams fans). Too much? Maybe. I did tune out at the last scientific monologue which might explain why I don't remember what it was about...

The premise of The Marvellous Life of Carlo Gatti is that a physicist in the 80's who is trying to crack the quantum time equation dies before they get it done. A 19th century pianist ghost tries to change that by bringing the physicist into the same space/time moment as a phsychologist 4o years in the future on the roof of the building they both live(d) in. The thing which allows this to happen is a universal harmonic of loneliness (they will explain this in the play). 

As the play progresses we discover it is a Groundhog Day type story. The Ghost tells us at the start that 'Humanity has a plan', but that it doesn't care about us. This story is for all those people who think they have free will and determine their life outcomes. This story is for all those people who believe in fate, destiny, kismet.

I actually really enjoyed the play and I think Yiannacou is a great writer but there are dramaturgical issues - which is weird because there are two credited dramaturgs! The play is billed at 90 minutes but the run time on opening was almost 2 hours. It should be a 90 minute play. This would be easy to achieve and would create greater audience satisfaction. 

First, some of the science stuff can be edited - especially that last scientific monologue which I zoned out of (sorry, but I can't give more informationt than that). The big change though would be to cut the final 'act'. Strangely, the play bookends about 3/4 of the way in, and then there is a coda. The natural end is a tad cliche but it feels right. The coda only serves to give an unfulfilled hope. This is a dangerous part of the play given it's content. If they want us to viscerally feel disillusion it succeeds but that is a very dangerous sword to wield if you don't have the infrastructure to back that up. 

That final act does give some new information but nothing about it is important to the story. We do get a bit more back story for the Ghost and the Psychologist but none of that materially increases insight. Also, I love a good tilt at subverting expectations but in this case the potential damage is not worth the experiment. No risk assessment or safety plan has even been considered in developing this work.

I will say the performances are great. I felt the cast really ought to be older, but the actors were wonderful and did good, strong work with material that has a depth which is beyond their life experiences so far. I especially love the simplicity and subtlety of Hayley Edwards' performance as a patient of the psychologist. This character is notionally smaller than the other three but is so important to grounding the show to our space/time continuum.

Be careful when you see The Marvellous Life of Carlo Gatti (the title will be explained). It is a good play and extremely well produced but take precautions because it is not a safe space.

3 Stars

Sunday 31 July 2022

MAYA DRIVE - Theatre Review

 WHAT: Maya Drive

WHERE: La Mama HQ

WHEN: July 27 - August 7 2022

WRITTEN BY: Milton

DIRECTED BY: Jonathan Shaw

COSTUMES BY: Jane Hyland

LIGHTING & STAGE MANAGEMENT BY: Chuck Martin

PERFORMED BY: Stella Economou, Cassiel Garward, Emma Jo McKay, Tom Pickering, Lily Thomson, Matthew Richard Walsh, 

Matthew Richard Walsh, Lily Thomson, Cassiel Garward - photo by Darren Gill

Maya Drive is the intriguing new play at La Mama HQ. Focusing around issues of mental health, it is a planetary swirl of family, friends, myth, and legend. 

This is the second show by Milton (playwright) to be performed at La Mama. Based on reviews of the previous work - Chronic - I suggest Maya Drive shows a much greater focus and control. It has the added bonus of exposing a playwright who understands words and dialogue have an art of their own - separate but inseparable from discourse and chatter. Milton has written a play in which the words are visceral and musical and harsh and pleading.

Swirling around the stories of Gilgamesh and the Mayan Calendar 'end of days' panic of 2012, Milton traces Ben's (Garward) struggle to stay in the present and stay connected to the people around him. We watch the demise of his relationship with Cori (Economou), and his struggle to maintain his support network - his brother Cam (Pickering), and his dad Ray (Walsh). This is complicated because of the family history with mental health which includes the death of his mother Helen (Cooper) when he is a young child. Milton manages to round this off with the colatoral damage in Cam's relationship with Shelley (McKay).

The play starts strongly with a David Lynch style psychological thriller vibe. Ben wakes up confused, gets in his car and drives. As he drives he starts to fall asleep but a guardian angel appears and gently wakes him up over and over again. This scene is so simple and elegant and there are several movement sequences throughout the show which echo a kind of astral connection/guidance. (According to the program the characters are also called Taurus, Aquarius, Leo, Aries, Scorpio, etc.). The others aren't as powerful, and are too long, but they manage to hold the tension... until the final scene which totters on the edge parody. Luckily it ends just in time to prevent falling into pure Terry Pratchett.

The play itself has been finely crafted . Ben wanders through his relationships, lost in time and space and waking up at intervals not knowing where he is or how he got there. A particularly poignant moment occurs when his father tells him to look for his hands before descending into his own mental traumas.

What lets the show down is the direction (Shaw) and costumes (Hyland). I was shocked to discover Hyland is an experienced designer. All I have to say to her is NO! Go back, read the play, and figure out who these characters are and what they are doing in the structure of the play.

Shaw, on the other hand, is a novice director. That this is his directorial debut is evident in the performances. For the most part, the actors are great and understand what they are doing, but their performances are all pitched at different levels as if they are all in different plays (or, in some cases, on the set of Neighbours).

Economou is playing in a Commedia show, whereas Garward is apparently on a TV set where his acting doesn't have to extend into his body. In my opinion Pickering and Thomson are the only two who have pitched their performances on point. McKay is good, but again, the director hasn't helped her understand the play starts at the end of her story, not at the beginning. Nothing that happens to Shelley is new information. Shelley is not discovering Ben has a problem - she has been dealing with it for years and this night is the inciting incident which heralds the doom of her hopes and dreams, the end of her relationship with Cam.

In the end though, none of this matters because Milton's play is complex and intriguing. It explores how non-linear the human mind can be and is a tale as epic as that of the story of Gilgamesh. Ben is in a constant battle between myth and reality and myth is very seductive indeed. He struggles to understand his world and his place in it. 

The true gift Milton gives us is in Maya Drive is the understanding that this is not one battle which will be fought and won. Rather it is a lifelong war and every time Ben chooses living in the air over "living in myth" he has won a hill. Milton also doesn't even pretend to try and tell us how long Ben can keep going. This is a story which doesn't end until it does.

3.5 Stars

Thursday 21 July 2022

FUTURE.JOY.CLUB - Cabaret Review

 WHAT: FUTURE.JOY.CLUB

WHEN: 7 July - 7 August 2022

WHERE: LaTrobe Ballroom, Sofitel Hotel

ALCHEMISED BY: Moira Finucane and Jackie Smith

PERFORMED BY: Govind Pillai, Iva Rosebud, Jazida, Lois Onley, Mama Alto, Moira Finucane, Rachel Lewindon, Sophie Koh

Moira Finucane - Photo by Jodie Hutchison

Book now! Book now! Book now! There is still time to see FUTURE.JOY.CLUB and this is exactly the show your soul needs right now. Emerging from a litany of lockdowns Finucane and Smith Unlimited have gifted us with this glorious show of pure love, pure life, and pure laughter. They are the harbingers of the future, the harbingers of joy, the harbingers of our restored humanity.

Known for their amazing and spectacular costumes, Moira Finucane starts the show in her jammies. Why not? We just spent 2 years learning that PJs are not just for bedtime. Whilst this single statement is somewhat ironic and suitably surprising, it also speaks to what FUTURE.JOY.CLUB is about. This is a show which acknowledges the past and brings us all LAUGHING.CHEERING.CRYING into a future full of possibilities. Why wouldn't the comfort of pyjamas be a part of that future too?

FUTURE.JOY.CLUB takes Finucane and Smith back to their roots, reveling in the sexy fun and frivolity of burlesque. The objective is to bring joy to the audience and, in a way, give us permission to mix and mingle and just enjoy everything about being around other human beings. And yes, sex is one of those things. Who else is going to tell you to your face that sex is OK and you should go and do lots of it - with consent of course!

Finucane and Smith have a way of tackling complex ideas wrapped up in packages of glitter and spangle and whilst FUTURE.JOY.CLUB is less oratorical than more recent presentations they do not let us down. In this iteration the point is you can do anything you want again - but do it with consent. This amazing ensemble of performers then spend the rest of the night showing us how to indulge and debauch all within a frame of consent. Freedom only comes with consent.

This is a show designed to make the audience holler and whoop with rousing song and titillating dance but one of the things I did notice is most of the hollering and whooping seemed to come from women and I found myself pondering how men find a way to fully express themselves in lust in the modern 'politically correct' era. I have come to realise that Finucane and Smith provide the answer to this very modern dilemma in FUTURE.JOY.CLUB - and the answer is consent. It is so simple you will kick yourself for not realising it sooner. 

Have your fun, men. Enjoy whatever you most enjoy here at FUTURE.JOY.CLUB because in here they consent. Do you swoon over the classical beauty of the female form? Jazida consents to your admiration and approbation. Does a young male God appeal to your desires? Govind Pillai is here to send you to the moon and back with his bling and booty out there to be enjoyed. Are you up for some cross-gender tomfoolery? Well Iva Rosebud lets it all hang out - and such an intriguing use of gaffer tape too!

The other important aspect of Finucane and Smith shows is they are visceral and appeal to all senses. From the first sip of the welcome cocktail to the final invitation to get up and dance, all of your mind and body are engaged. You don't just see or hear a Finucane and Smith show. You taste it. You feel it. You smell it. It touches both your heart and your brain. It gives everything, all we have to do is consent to receiving .

The journey of FUTURE.JOY.CLUB takes us back so we can move forward. Finucane takes us back to when a female stripper struggled to get respect as an artist (about 4 years ago, can you believe it?) and shows us what a true Very Important Person looks like. Lois Onley takes us back to our tragic shame of stolen generations and black deaths in custody and show us the depth of the pain through her glorious jazz/blues style to help us think differently and, hopefully, start acting differently. Indi artists Sophie Koh takes us back to the roots of her first language and shows us how many languages can make one most beautiful song. [Sidenote: You have never heard 'Creep' until you have heard this version by Koh].

Mama Alto belts out the anthem 'I Will Survive' reminding us of what we've been through, before reminding us of the gift we have in re-emergence with a soul-tingling rendition of 'The First Time Every I Saw Your Face'. The outrageously talented Rachel Lewindon plays the piano with all the virtuosity we remember before stepping out onto the catwalk and claiming her space as a star, singing her own new song and rocking the house down!

So much future. So much joy. So much club. Yes - we even get to dance the Macarena! This is the show we all need to experience to open the door to our brave new world. This is the show which will start the newness in the right direction. This is a show which can change the world - your world - but you have to see it NOW. It is a show in a moment and the moment is now. Book now! Book now! Book now!

4.5 Stars



Wednesday 20 July 2022

LATE, LATE AT NIGHT - Cabaret Review

 WHAT: Late, Late At Night

WHEN: 10 July, 2022

WHERE: MEMO Music Hall

WRITTEN BY: Kieran Carroll

DIRECTED BY: Robert Johnson

PERFORMED BY: Jackson Carroll

Jackson Carroll - photo by Thomasin McCuaig

The lockdowns are over and we are becoming brave enough to congregate in groups and share the experience of live entertainment. Theatre has dragged itself out of the primordial sludge it was flung into in 2020 and many a new and exciting project has hatched. For Kieran Carroll (writer) this is a new personality based cabaret to add to his stable of like products. Having had a bit of a COVID erratic regional tour, I got to see the show for a one-off performance at the MEMO Music Hall

I am familiar with Kieran Carroll's previous works Newk! and Dahlin'! It's The Jeanne Little Show. I was mildly surprised to hear the new project was about Rick Springfield but I was a huge fan when he was at his peak and I would literally crawl through gravel to hear 'Don't Talk To Strangers' again.

The show's title comes from Springfield's autobiography of the same name The book (and the cabaret) takes us through Springfield's itinerate childhood, the onset of mental health issues, his stop/start music career, his years at general hospital and the very typical post fame spiral which seems to happen to all white male pop-stars. That sounds a bit harsh and I guess it is, but it is hard for me to be more sympathetic based on this show. I will explain what I mean shortly, but I can preface the conversation by telling you this one man cabaret is 2 acts and 2 hours long. 

Playing the role of Springfield is budding indie music star Jackson Carroll. The casting is superb. Jackson Carroll (no relation to Kieran Carroll), has the looks, the energy, and the voice to pull this off. Or would have if the show wasn't 2 acts and 2 hours long. By the time I saw the show Jackson Carroll's vocal chords were intensely overworked which made the show pitchy and you could hear the strain. 

This is where my biggest criticism lies - the length of the show. Whilst based on the autobiography, what Kieran Carroll has forgotten is you don't have to fill a theatre show with random minutia. Late, Late At Night is not so much a theatrical cabaret. It is more of a verbatim reduction of the book. In all honesty, if you cut all but the last 10 minutes of act 1 and cut a good 10 - 20 minutes of act 2 we would have a corker of a show and I would actually probably remember that I really liked Springfield. This would be kind to the audience, Jackson Carroll, and Rick Springfield.

The strongest part of the show - and the reason the audience has come - is the music. I had actually forgotten Springfield gave us 'I've Done Everything For You' and I was nearly bouncing out of my seat when Jackson Carroll picked up the guitar and played that song at the end of Act 1. Keep that! Start the show with that! 

There are a few other tunes of his that I recognised from his early career but the truth is I was prepared to sit through anything as long as I got to hear 'Don't Talk To Strangers'. I did start to panic at one point that it wouldn't come, but it did and I will be forever grateful. And yes, of course 'Jessie's Girl' was there.

In the end though, Robert Johnson (director) and Kieran Carroll need to sit down and do some serious editing for this show to have an extended life. It needs to be shorter and it needs to give us a reason to care. Whilst the mental health stuff is addressed I was personally not comfortable with how it was portrayed - very trite and reductive which is annoying because that is the only way the audience will find a reason to care about a young white dude who got every dream fulfilled and then screwed around and lost it. 

Both the writer and director need to remember that theatre is emotional and visceral and not every moment in a person's life is interesting. Late, Late At Night is lacking the art of theatre making despite being full of content. In the meantime, Jackson Carroll needs to be very careful to look after his voice because permanent damage is not out of the question here.

2 Stars



Monday 14 March 2022

THE DESTROYER - Cabaret Review

WHAT: The Destroyer

WHEN: 10 - 13 March 2022

WHERE: Arts Projects Australia Gallery

WRITTEN BY: Jackie Smith

DIRECTED BY: Moira Finucane

COMPOSED BY: Rachel Lewindon

PERFORMED BY: Maude Davey, Piera Dennerstein, Jazida, Caroline Lee, and Raina Peterson

Maude Davey - image by Sarah Walker

You know Melbourne is back in business when Finucane and Smith bring their craft, talent, and ensemble back to the live stage. On 10 March 2022 Melbourne was back and we know that because The Destroyer hit the 'stage' at Arts Project Australia Gallery.

Finucane and Smith worked hard during the endless lockdowns to keep their version of theatre alive. As each attempt to stage a show was interrupted, Jackie Smith kept writing and Moira Finucane kept performing. Whilst Finucane was presenting bathtub editions of The Rapture, Smith dug deep into her psyche - our psyche - and created three new monologues which form the backbone of this edition of a new cabaret selection.

The show begins with the unparalleled Maude Davey performing 'The Destroyer Iconic'. Riffing off our mythological mothers of monsters - Eve, Echidna, and Pandora - Smith has Davey constantly apologising for biting the apple and opening the box. 

As all the times I have said I am sorry for things I don't even know I did wrong echo through my head, Davey teases us. Should she play it safe? Should Eve bite the apple? Should Pandora go home and watch TV where it is safe, or open the mystery box and see what might spew out to contaminate the world? Will she be good or will she be brave? If you know any of the work of these amazing women, you know the answer to these questions already!

Underlying the elegant feminism of her gold gown sits the primal beating drums of Rachel Lewindon's composition and each iteration of "I'm sorry" arouses an outburst of tribal, frenetic dancing by Davey. Because this is what Finucane and Smith do. 

They know that angels play with demons and God and Lucifer are the two sides of the one coin. You cannot have one without the other. You cannot have the saint without the sinner. You cannot have beauty without ugly. You cannot have polite without profane. This is the great truth of humanity. We are all, we are everything, we are everyone.

Not all cabaret is thematic, but for The Destroyer Finucane and Lewindon have worked to create a journey from the primal to the prim across the evening. If I have one criticism is that I just wanted more.

Moving us from creation into human evolution Raina Peterson brings their beautiful and unique combination of classical Indian dance styles to the stage. They flick and slither and stalk the stage, jungle sounds alerting them to the dance and destruction of Davey just visible from the corner of our eyes.

Moving into the religious age, Jazida performs 'St Uncumber'. In this piece Smith combines the stories of Irish St Brigid, Swedish St Bridget, and the mythical St Uncumber. All, arguably, where married against their will, and all found escape through their faith in god. 

Casting the ultra glamorous and sexy burlesque dancer Jazida within the stories of these impoverished saints has the power of Brecht's dialectics and echoes the presence of both the sinner and the saint. Having said that, Finucane and Smith are all about non-binary and their inclusion of these different states of being is an act of inclusion, not exclusion. It is an act of love for the whole human. 

When Jazida brings out the bearded fan for a hint of a fan dance as she plays out her crucifixion, Finucane brings it all together by asking us to consider is this Jesus or St Uncumber? Are they the same? Again, my observation is I would have loved more fan dance but it is worth noting this cabaret is work still in development because of COVID disruptions.

The angelic voice of incomparable soprano Piera Dennerstein rises and fills the room, accompanied by the ensemble chorus as they gather at the base of the cross as it is lowered. Having created delicious ambiguity Finucane has Caroline Lee emerge to tell us story of 'The Good Daughter', a friend of Jesus.

Completing the circle of this evening of cabaret, Martha (sister of Mary and Lazarus), complains about her lot. Martha chose home and TV rather than the mystery box - apart from 2 wild, wild weeks which will titillate and thrill every prudish bone in your body! 

Her sister, however, bit the apple and as Jesus tells us in Luke 10:41-42, "Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." It begs the question - do the rewards really go to the meek and obedient? Did Eve really make a mistake in biting the apple? Is knowledge and experience ever anything to apologise for? Lee radiates as Martha and the gin soaked evening ended with an orgiastic eruption of dance from cast and audience alike - as it always does with Finucane and Smith. 

The Destoyer is still a work in progress but it is the best kind of unfinished. All I wanted was more. More sound design, more dance, more opera - more, more, more, more, more! I can't wait to see how this project grows and develops. How powerful it shall be.

4 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 -...