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



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