Wednesday 25 January 2023

TRANSCENDENCE: Theatre Review

 What: Transcendence
When: 23 - 28 January 2023
Where: The Butterfly Club (Upstairs)
Written and Directed by: Wayne Stellini
Performed by: Kyle Cuthbert, Ivan Koetsveld, Anthony Pontonio, and Michael Robins
Stage Managed by: Fulya Kantarmaci

Michael Robins and Anthony Pontonio

Midsumma Festival is here and Melbourne is full of fun and fabulous things to see and do which are all very glittery and outrageous. Underneath all the celebration and love though, lies a historic and still current narrative of pain and struggle for people to be accepted for who they are and to be allowed to speak/live their truths. Straddling both the pain and the glitter is a little play showing at The Butterfly Club called Transcendence.

Transcendence, written by Wayne Stellini, is the story of a 15 year old young man who is facing perhaps the most critical moment of his life. It begins with a fairly normal and sweet scene between father, Robert, (Michael Robins) and son, William, (Anthony Pontonio). The mother is out of the house and the father has been packing some old things in boxes for storage. This has made him sentimental and he wants to spend some bonding time with his son watching Stallone movies he found whilst packing stuff away. William is sassy, wanting to stay in his room, and Robert is sad and uncomfortable (and ripped!) but nothing seems out of the ordinary.

When Robert leaves the room William goes through the boxes and then the story starts to be revealed as he pulls out a lipstick and a scarf. He plays with the scarf and starts to put on the lipstick but hears his father outside his room and he hurriedly puts them away. This is when we begin to understand what the wall between father and son might be. William's friends arrive and together they reveal the truth about William's life and what looms before him in the guise of Camp Chrysanthemum.

I was excited when I was invited to review Transcendence because I have seen Stellini's work before. In 2020 I saw The Boy I Paid For and all of the things I loved about that show are still true for Transcendence - which proves it wasn't a fluke! Transcendence is full of honesty and authenticity in both the writing and the performances. What is most striking about Stellini's writing and directing is that he is not afraid of the pain and vulnerability and it speaks volumes that his actors are ready and willing to bare the pain and confusion he asks them to expose.

William and his friends Ricky (Kyle Cuthbert) and Felicia (Ivan Koetsveld) provide a spectrum of queer which allows us a window into the complexities of the LGBTQI+ community. It also allows us insight into how family and community feed into the problems and solutions, inclusions and exclusions. It is also a warning to parents who 'mean well' that the picture on the box of reform programs may not be exactly what you are getting. Conversion therapy may be technically illegal, but how many parents are turning a blind eye and pretending they don't know what is happening to the children they send away to 'camp'?

Transcendence is a serious play about serious issues, but it wouldn't be Midsumma if it didn't have some spirit and spangle. I haven't heard Mel & Kim's 'Respectable' in decades but this is the time I enjoyed it the most - and William's dress is to die for! Felicia's dream sequence about the rock hard Robert is also belly-achingly funny.

Stellini's true gift is in allowing us to see that there are no villians. Everyone is just doing the best they can within the story they have chosen for their lives. What is exciting to see is the moment of transcendence for William - the moment he chooses the story he is going to live.

Transcendence does not feel like the full play. I feel like there is an Act 2 and and Act 3 and I really hope I get to see them all one day. If this was a film I would say Transcendence in its current form is the inciting incident and I really want to see the rest of the movie!

4 Stars

Sunday 8 January 2023

MOTHERLOD_^E - Theatre Review

What: MOTHERLOD_^E
When: 4 - 14th January 2023
Where: Theatre Works
Created by: Matilda Gibbs, Belle Hansen, Amelia Newman
Directed by: Belle Hansen
Composition by: Jack Burmeister
Performed by: Brandon Armstrong, Bugs Baschera, Jorje Bently, Xanthe Blaise, Gabriel Cali, Hattie Elliot, Matilda Gibbs, Anna Fujihara, Mila Lawson, Anna Louey, Isabella Patane, Nicola Pohl, Lila Summers-Dixon, and Liam Trumble
Lighting by: Sidney Younger
Cinematography by: Hannah Jennings
Stage Managed by: Brigette Jennings

Jorja Bently, Xanthe Blaise and Gabriel Cali - photo by Daniel Rabin

2023 kicks off with an entertaining bang in Frenzy Theatre's physical theatre creation, MOTHERLOD_^E. being presented at Theatre Works. Are you an old school gamer? Did you move into 'The Sims' neighbourhood? Are you still a resident now? Then buy your ticket and take the virtual/reality ride of the summer with MOTHERLOD_^E.

MOTHERLOD_^E is an amazingly authentic real-life version of 'The Sims'. As you walk into the theatre you will be gob-smacked with the incredibly detailed recreation of a 'The Sims' house. A second later you will be tittering and then laughing out loud at NPCs (Non Player Characters) bustling around in a repetitive loop of activity, exactly like video games do when they are in standby mode until you hit 'play'. The specificity will blow you away, including the bookshelf full of books titled in Simlish ('The Sims' official language). 

I suspect there are no set and costume designer credits for this show because they have literally recreated what already exists. The lighting design (Sidney Younger) is perfection and Jack Burmeister's sound design is full of subtley and detail as we have come to expect from this talented artist.

For those of you who don't know 'The Sims', it is a video game platform which was first released in 2000 and became a worldwide hit in a short space of time. In the game you create characters, decorate their homes, develop their skills, get them jobs, build social relationships etc. I personally blame 'The Sims' for the tragic TV content we now call reality TV!

'The Sims' allows you to live alternative life. It allows you to make yourself into who you wish you were and try living life the way want without all those real-world annoyances and expectations, and it gives you an insight into consequences you may not want to learn the hard way. The real genius of the game is that characters continue to live their lives when you are not online which means you are not totally in control of everything.

The other interesting thing about 'The Sims' is that it is purported to have been a valuable outlet for non-binary and experimental folk to explore other social and sexual identities in what is (was?) a safe environment. It is this important social role which made 'The Sims' an intriguing theatre exploration for Frenzy Theatre Co and if there ever was such a time for a theatrical acknowledgement of 'The Sims', it is now.

One of the mind-blowing aspects of MOTHERLOD_^E is the physical authenticity of the movement of the avatars. This is what physical theatre is about. Every movement, every nuance, every shape/form/encounter, is outrageously authentic to the game - in particular the earlier releases. Their heads bobble, their feet shuffle, their eyes blink, all in that endearing animated way and nobody falters for even a second. They are 'The Sims'. They are not human beings!

Of course, theatre is not about imitation and there is clever meta commentary from the very start. 'The Sims' are live on stage, but the 'real' humans are only ever seen on a screen looking in. Shoo flee! My only regret is that the 'real world' lacks a deeper dramaturgy and script finesse (Amelia Newman). So much more could be done in that other world which could reflect so nicely on what happens on stage.

There is another layer of meta commentary about the game itself too, though, which is intriguing and brings most of the tension, raising the biggest questions about both the game, its safety, and the humans who play. In particular, there are new capabilities in 'The Sims 4' and these do not go unmentioned in MOTHERLOD_^E

One important NPC is Grim Reaper (Nicola Pohl). In early iterations of 'The Sims' characters can and do, die. The Grim Reaper is there to take them to their resting place and can sometimes hang around and cook or play on the computer etc. MOTHERLOD_^E plays with this and many full-lthroated chuckles are brought about by this character. 

There are a surprising number of ways for characters to die in the game and as each release came out, they became easier for players to control and inflict. Eventually even the Grim Reaper must lose control of death in this environment. How can a world which is not safe for the Grim Reaper possibly be safe for human beings?

Despite this dark commentary, MOTHERLOD_^E is intensely funny. It includes 'builder' moments and a 'create your character' montage which is the stuff of belly-laughs. Yes, there is sex in 'The Sims' and we all get to enjoy it along with the game player (Jorja Bently). 

For those who are wondering about the title, motherlode is a cheat in the game which allows you to get 50,000 Simoleons ('The Sims' currency) without earning it. Again, this is beautiful meta commentary about how playing the game is a cheat, allowing us to live lives we haven't earnt.

MOTHERLOD_^E is a whole lot of fun and I can think of very few things better to do this summer then go and have a laugh with Frenzy Theatre Co. at Theatre Works. I hope they do produce another iteration of the show after having explored the dramaturgy of the 'real' people in a bit more depth. So much fun. Go and see it. You won't regret it.

4 Stars.


THE ROOF IS CAVING IN: Theatre Review

WHAT: The Roof Is Caving In WHERE: La Mama Courthouse WHEN: 8 - 19 May 2024 WRITTEN BY: Matilda Gibbs with Jack Burmeister and Belle Hansen ...