Wednesday 19 April 2023

EARNESTLY SAID THAN DONE: Theatre Review

WHAT: Earnestly Said Than Done
WHEN: 17 - 23 April 2023
WHERE: The Motley Bauhaus Black Box
WRITTEN AND PERFORMED BY: Nick Robertson and Rowan Thambar
Nick Robertson and Rowan Thanbar - photo by Tony Dymock

At the start of the month I wrote about a clever pair of stand up comedians who decided to share a bill - Gay Horseplay - the result of which was an hour of sharp comedy with no fill. Earnestly Said Than Done is another shared bill in the same style and is playing at The Motley Bauhaus Black Box for this last week of the Melbourne Comedy Festival.

Earnestly Said Than Done is a collaboration between two emerging comedians - Rowan Thambar and Nick Robertson. Thambar is well on the way to building a strong career and writes comedy for The Project. Nick is more of an 'around the traps' comedian, with a several years of stage performance behind him.

Thambar opens the show with tales of how his family history is kind of like the OG of MAFS. Leaning into his Sri Lankan heritage, Thambar's comedy pokes loving fun at his grand parents' arranged marriage, before moving on to his own parents and some of their sweet but funny cultural dissonances. You can definitely hear the 'voice' of The Project in Thambar's writing and delivery. He is very funny but I think the material is still really new and he hasn't quite identified all the punch lines. Thambar has just closed another show in the Festival so he may not have had time to fully immerse himself in this show.

Robertson is so physically different to Thambar you get a laugh before anything happens. Where Thambar is a tall and imposing, slightly balding man of colour, Robertson is a tiny white man with the most outrageous head of curly untamed flame red locks. This first chuckle is followed by many more as Robertson tells us about his ill-fated trip to Scotland.

Prior. Preparation. Prevents. Piss. Poor. Performance. An adage we have all heard and one Robertson's mum keeps trying to drill into his head. I think he has probably finally learnt his lesson now though, as you will discover when he tells his story. 

People always say comedians make the best comedy out of the reality of their own lives. Both comedians do this, and it is this honesty which makes their sets work. Robertson's story though, hides an experience of great trauma and, much like the truths Hannah Gadsby brings to her work, it is that pain escaping the constraints of the well scripted comedy show which reveals Robertson's raw humanity.

Earnestly Said Than Done is a bit rough but full of comedic gems. There are a range of great shows at The Motley Bauhaus and my recommendation is to make an evening out of it. See Earnestly Said Than Done as one plate in a multi-course dinner, with some spicy margaritas in between. Now that is living!

2.5 Stars

Sunday 16 April 2023

MS BEIGE BROWN GOES BEYOND: Theatre Review

WHAT: Ms Beige Brown Goes Beyond
WHEN: 13 - 22 April 2023
WHERE: Queen Victoria Women's Centre (Wayi Djerring)
WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY: Cathy Hunt
SOUND BY: Jess Keefee
LIGHTING BY: Natalya Shield
PERFORMED BY: Yvette De Ravin Turner, Chris Flemming, Cathy Hunt, Shannon Loughnane, Tom Schmocker, 

Yvette De Ravin Turner, Cathy Hunt, and Tom Schmocker - photo by Darren Gill

If spoken word and indie theatre had a love child, the result would be Ms Beige Brown Goes Beyond which is currently being performed at the Queen Victoria Women's Centre as part of the Melbourne Comedy Festival. In a semi-surrealist adventure, "Australia's foremost feminist performance poet..." takes on Centrelink and applies for a community grant in a desperate effort to maintain her integrity as an artist, but also pay her bills.

Ms Beige Brown is a character created and performed by Cathy Hunt and has been haunting poetry and spoken word spaces for years. She has her own YouTube channel and a documentary about a period of writers block she experienced, which has done the festival circuit as well. Brown has been disrupting the masculine ouvre for a long time now.

In her documentary Brown describes her poetry thusly, "I take a word and find a stowaway and then... I shipwreck that word". Indeed, in the poetry she recites in Ms Beige Brown Goes Beyond there are many shipwrecked words, cleverly scuttled through the interogation of rhyme. Brown also says, "I take the non-sensical pronouncement to... dismember the big phallus." In this show there are two big phalli - Centrelink job search and the arts grant application processes across our great nation. Brown doesn't just dismember them. She spears them, guts them, and then shreds them as this comely, non-descript woman wields her words to point out the dehuminising, the insincere, and the ridiculousness of both.

The show starts with an unimposing woman - reminiscent of Jessica Fletcher - fumbling her way to front of stage to present a spoken word piece about grocery shopping. As the opening poem expands it's lungs we discover Foucalt in the fruit and vegetable aisle and Derrida in the dairy section. We realise this alliterative rambler might just be very funny AND have something unseriously serious to say.

Using the Derridesque deconstruction of language through alliteration, rhyme and non-reason, Brown castigates the power structures in Australia which actively work to drown artistic endeavour and bury artists in sustainability and ontological rapscallionry. Foucault would be proud of how skilfully Brown reveals and revolts againt the social control imposed by these structures and processes. She implores us all to open our minds and our hearts and our orifices to look at the true essence of the artist and to honour and value them. Don't be fooled by systems and processes and scores which are all designed to defeat rather than uplift.

As good/bad as Brown's poetry is, the point could not be made as strongly without the wonderful characters Hunt has created around Brown in this process. Shannon Loughnane (Ruben) almost steals the show as the well-intentioned job search consultant. Their saccharine friendliness hides a totalitarian obsession with procedure and an obdurate commitment to tick boxes. They make the term sustainable arts practice resonate with a loathesome quality aptly echoed in the brief hints through lighting (Natalya Shield) and sound (Jess Keeffe) that Ruben is actually the Devil incarnate.

Yvette De Ravin Turner also brings the laughs with her depiction of Jangela, the Morebin Council functionary who's lack of interest in the arts and lack of understanding that these grants processes are people's lives at stake is hilarious - or would be, if it wasn't so true. She also plays a few other characters, with a particularly outrageous cameo as one of a pair of European sock puppeteers.

The other puppeteer, Tom Schmocker, plays a range of smaller cameos. One of my favourite is as the durational performance artist railing against the tyranny of time and Tik Tok.

Ms Brown Beige Goes Beyond is so very funny. Everybody will get a laugh, but if you have ever been in the Centrelink job search system, applied for a grant, or - for even a second - considered yourself an artist of any kind you will be belly-laughing your way through the hour of this show.

4 Stars

Friday 14 April 2023

ADULTS ONLY MAGIC SHOW: Circus Review

WHAT: Adults Only Magic Show
WHEN: 13 - 23 April 2023
WHERE: Arts Centre Melbourne (The Famous Spiegeltent)
CREATED BY: Sam Hume and Justin Williams
PERFORMED BY: Sam Hume, Magnus Danger Magnus, and Justin Williams

Sam Hume and Justin Williams - Photo Supplied

Roll up! Roll up! Grab and drink and prepare for the funniest naughty night in town at the 2023 Melbourne Comedy Festival. Adults Only Magic Show is one of three offerings by Showmen Productions this year. This is the one you DON'T bring your kids to.

Adults Only Magic Show is possibly one of the most fun shows in Melbourne right now. It is packed full of wonderful legerdemain and prestidigitation and, more importantly, this is a show full of humour (and a couple of dangly bits).

Hume and Williams have been performing amazing magic together for ten years. In the beginning they did the whole Houdini shebang. Their shows were full of props and costumes and all the water tanks and coffins you would historically have associated with magicians. Then the house burnt down.

Picking each other up from the soot and ashes, the pair shook off the embers, lifted their chins and started all over again. The lessons they have learnt along the way are the very things which make Adults Only Magic Show so great.

There are still props and costumes but what these guys have worked out is the real magic of the show is the craziness that the audience brings. Adults Only Magic Show is full of slight of hand and misdirection as members of the audience are brought up on stage and hornswoggled before our very eyes. The fun comes because every trick involves an audience member and there is no controlling what is going to happen when you bring random people on stage and ask an audience to make the decisions.

DON'T PANIC! Hume and Williams are just a fun pair of guys who like a laugh WITH us not AT us. In fact, they seem to often find themselves laughing at how they have been confounded by the audience rather than the other way around. They are very much the butt of their own jokes.

Speaking of butts, we do get to see a lot of  Williams' tooshy. He has a fondness for a certain gold jock strap which we see a lot of. Whilst there is maximum exposure of all the performers, Williams and Hume are from the Gypsy Rose Lee school of titillation. Magnus Danger Magnus on the other hand... I will stop drooling now ;)

I admit, I can't speak too highly of the comedic talents of Magnus. He takes the role of MC and magician's assistant and brings the house down with laughter whether he is speaking or just walking across the stage. 

Adults Only Magic Show is a late show (9:45pm) and is the perfect ending to any night out. You will laugh from start to finish, expel a whole lot of oohs and aahs, and might even blush once or twice along the way.

4.5 Stars

Wednesday 12 April 2023

GRIM: Theatre Review

WHAT: Grim
WHEN: 10 - 22 April 2023
WHERE: The Motley Bauhaus
WRITTEN AND PERFORMED BY: Ellen Grimshaw
DIRECTED BY: Kimberley Twiner
AV BY: Chris Hocking and Matt Osborne 
LIGHTING & SOUND BY: Kelli-Anne Kimber
Ellen Grimshaw - photo supplied

After watching Grim at The Motley Bauhaus I realise a new theatrical genre needs to be created. I am calling it astrobouffesque. 

Ellen Grimshaw loves to use the conceit of alienation to help us look at the absurdity of humanity through humour, rapier sharp wit, and poignant satire. I first experienced Grimshaw's energetic explosions of observation at the 2019 Melbourne Fringe in Just Us Girls. Grimshaw brings all of those fireworks but perhaps hits the target with more impact in 2023.

Grim is the story of an alien who has been kicked out of their spaceship and hurtled right into the offices of a casting agency. Whilst being completely bewildered, the agency mistakes them for an actor and starts auditioning them for a range of commercials. What ensues is a hilarious montage of audition experiences that can only be drawn from real life absurdities. In the process Grim tries to learn the language and, even more unlikely, tries to figure out what people want from them.

Eventually Grim escapes and contacts their mum, who happens to be happily imbibing in a lot of alcohol in LA. Grim wants to be rescued and mum is coming as per a pre-arranged rendezvous but in the meantime her best advice for Grim is to be likeable. Have you ever noticed how hard it is to be liked in this world? Especially if you are female? Grim is here to show us and it is not always just sweetness and smiles!

Through physical bouffonry - well facilitated by the skilful direction of Kimberley Twiner - and the help of projected translation text, Grim maneuvers their way through social media, job search, and the audience. The chaos clowning favoured by dramaturg Vidya Rajan can also be seen in Grimshaw's performance. If you have a phobia about audience interaction this is not the show for you!

Liked, likable, loved - Grim will do anything to be just that. The hilarity and the tragedy of Grim is where and how far this takes them. Grim's journey is interrupted by our TV fave Guy Pearce (voice over) as he works his own 'normal' jobs to earn money between gigs and moans about CGI taking work from actors. 

Speaking of animation, a big shout out to Chris Hocking and Matt Osborne. The video contents is dynamic and highly interactive. Kellie-Anne Kimber's understanding of colour theory in the lighting is masterful. Tim Rutty's costume design is effective too. To be honest, everything about the show is great. My one concern is I think it is perhaps 5-10 minutes too long. It starts to get a bit too random for my taste at one point in the show, I admit.

The ultimate question Grim asks is how far do we have to go to be liked by the world, our friends, our family? I remember doing dance and calisthenics as a girl and the great emphasis and constant remonstrances about remembering to smile as my body contorted into painful shapes and moved to beats way too fast for my slow twitch muscles to follow. Grim is all about how 'nice' girls have to be and later, in a world dominated by cameras, how much of ourselves we have to give over in order to be taken into the fold. The fold of friends, the fold of employers, the fold of family. 

I suspect the story of Grim's mum comes from something very real. The catchphrase of the 21st century is "find your people" but what if the ones you think are your people suddenly kick you out? If your old people don't want you, how do you find new people? Grim doesn't have answers - or maybe not the ones you want. On the other hand, Grim is real and sharp and hilarious. 

3.5 Stars

Friday 7 April 2023

PEAR-SHAPED: Theatre Review

WHAT: Pear-Shaped
WHEN: 5 - 15 April 2023
WHERE: Theatre Works
WRITTEN BY: Miranda Middleton and Ziggy Resnick
DIRECTED BY:  Miranda Middleton
DESIGNED BY: Grace Deacon
COMPOSITION BY: Oliver Beard
LIGHTING AND AV BY: Aron Murray
PERFORMED BY: Ziggy Resnick and Luisa Scrofani
STAGE MANAGED BY: Gin Rosse
Ziggy Resnick and Luisa Scrofani - photo by Angel Leggas

Magical realism, surrealism... what the hell is the difference? There is one, but it probably doesn't matter. This is the question I found playing in my mind after watching Pear-Shaped at Theatre Works last night. (This play is surrealism just for the record).

With Pear-Shaped, writers Miranda Middleton and Ziggy Resnick have masterfully interwoven Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland with an age-old human story of deep pain and confusion. This story is one known by so many people through their youth - across all generations. It is a story of eating disorders and the carnage they create on family and social relationships. This is a serious topic because the end can be death, but also what about the lives lived before we get to that extreme point?

Kayla (Luisa Scrofani) and Frankie (Resnick) are sisters. Shifting randomly across time we watch them play dress-ups together and grow up together with a lovely closeness and bond. The earliest memory is dressing up to play Alice in Wonderland with dresses made by their Safta (grandmother). Kayla, the older sister, plays Alice and Frankie just has the supporting role of Sister who fell asleep on the river bank. We watch as this becomes the story played out throughout their lives.

The play starts with Frankie in real time trying to come up with a design concept for her graduating university play - Alice in Wonderland. The director is pressuring her for design concepts and her mother keeps calling her about her sister, wanting her to go and visit. Kayla is in a clinic for eating disorders. She has anorexia. Frankie decides she needs to trawl through the old dress up box for design inspiration. Rummaging through clothes and props Frankie drops down her own rabbit hole of memories.

Flipping in and out of growing up and dropping in and out of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland comes the revelatory link between the constant eating Alice engages in to change her body size and shape - to get into the garden, to get out of the White Rabbit's house, the hookah smoking caterpillar and his mushroom, the Mad Hatter's tea party, etc - and Kayla's eating disorders. 

Pear-Shaped is told from the sister's point of view though so what we are really seeing is the pain and grief of a girl/woman who feels unseen and who has essentially lost a sister, but one which just won't go away. A sister who also won't (or can't) come back. 

Frankie has given up hope, but the people around her haven't and as she digs deep into Carroll's text she looks for unanswerable clues to understand her sister and her life. Why is a raven like a writing desk? Lewis Carroll never tells us, but that doesn't mean we can't work it out...does it?

Resnick and Scrofani do a magnificent job with this show. It takes so much skill to perform this kind of material, but they both handle it well. Perhaps their youth prevents them from reaching the emotional depths possible in the work but we get the point so it doesn't matter. Scrofani plays every character who is not Frankie and manages the load with aplomb. I especially like her as the director and Safta. I am not as convinced about the portrayal of the mother as a breezy almond latte drinking nagger. I suspect there is more pain and fatigue to reveal in this character.

This leads me to Middleton's direction. Pear-Shaped is a bit of a NIDA fest and it shows in the polished production. Middleton wields the arts of her creative team with command and gloss. Grace Deacon's design is beautiful, as are so many of the props. My favourite is the glove boa for the caterpillar...or maybe it is the realisation of the Cheshire Cat puppet revealed one body part at a time? Cameron Steen's (ASM) puppetry and hand cameos are perfection by the way! Aron Murray's lighting and impressive AV design are what really take us to Wonderland though. Oliver Beard's sound design compliments it all.

As beautiful as Pear-Shaped is, and as cohesive as the concept and performance are, I did find myself a tad irritated by the depiction of Frankie as a designer. The only hints of this in her real time real world are a very twee mood board and a scrap book we never really see. I feel there was a whole lot of opportunity to make the chaos and experimentation of early-stage design inform Frankie's mental state if only they were willing to get a little bit messy.

Having said that, this production would be at home in any professional main stage theatre in Australia. It reaches those standards in writing, performance and production. I admit to feeling a sense of relief to be at a show with this level of top-class creativity and professionalism. This synergy is so rare when you don't have all of the resources those main stage companies have at their fingertips.

When you see Pear-Shaped you will see a world class production. More importantly you will see a story of great pain and great confusion. Amongst all of the sadness and loss though, perhaps Lewis Carroll can lead us to a point of hope? We will never know if we don't peer into the rabbit hole ourselves.

4.5 Stars

Monday 3 April 2023

GAY HORSEPLAY: Theatre Review

WHAT: Gay Horseplay
WHEN: 28 March - 9 April
WHERE: Storyville
WRITTEN AND PERFORMED BY: Carmelo Costa and Jaxson Garni

Jaxson Garni

We all know the best way to get through life is KISS. This is the secret magic of stand up comedy. When it is done skilfully and with confidence the audience is taken on a ride of laughter which cancels out all of the hassles of the day they have just lived for. Gay Horseplay, being performed at Storyville as part of the Melbourne Comedy Festival, is exactly that type of show.

Gay Horseplay is, in it's simplest form, two friends and comedians who are sharing a split bill. Each man knocks our socks off with a hilarious 25 minutes of humour - supposedly about life as gay men, but really this is just life for all of us.

Carmelo Costa is perhaps the more experienced performer and he opens the show. His humour is a touch more risque. Whilst I wouldn't recommend this for minors, the adults of the world can get a lot of cheeky laughs and a 'no way!' moment or two which will leave you doubling over with laughter. It is naughty but not offensive - although there is a bit of fisting going on...

Jaxson Garni comes on next. Whilst his style is a little more low key, the humour is even more relatable to everyone. We all commiserated with him on the tragedy of WWC card photos. I ended up confessing mine looked much like a Rorshach blot. Garni coaches children about bullying and much of his material sits around why, on paper, this might not look like the right thing for him to do. Garni connects with the audience with such intensity you feel like you are in a conversation, and a very fun one at that.

Going with the split bill is genius for these two comedians. It means you can do short, sharp sets and can share the admin pain and costs of being in the Festival. It is a win for both the artists and the audience. 

If I had to compare these guys to anyone specifically I would say if you like Tom Gleeson and don't mind a bit of queer with your humour, you will love Gay Horseplay. Oh, and a shout out to the venue. Storyville is amazing (except for all the stairs).

4.5 Stars

Saturday 1 April 2023

STINKING HOT TRASH: Theatre Review

WHAT: Stinking Hot Trash
WHEN: 29 March - 8 April 2023
WHERE: The MC Showroom (Theatrette)
WRITTEN AND PERFORMED BY: Isabelle Carney
DIRECTED BY: Samuel Buckley and Will Hall
AV BY: Gabe Micallef

Isabelle Carney - photo by Cornershop Comedy

Yep. The Melbourne Comedy Festival is back for 2023and Melbourne stages are filled with comedy in all it's fabulous forms. Stinking Hot Trash is one of the crazier offerings playing in the Theatrette at The MC Showroom this week.

Stinking Hot Trash is a comedic incarnation created by Isabelle Carney. Carney was part of the writers room for Mad As Hell and the absurdist aesthetic defined by Shaun Micallef shows across the course of the evening. Stinking Hot Trash is a bit more random and unformed and perhaps leans more closely to the Aunty Donna style of comedy.

In Stinking Hot Trash Carney doesn't let us into the baggage she carries around. She is here to tell us about all the garbage in her life. Across the hour Carney takes us from sketch to sketch showing us a world which doesn't make sense. 

It begins with TV show parodies such as 'House Porn' where a Nordic model takes us around her mansion. She particularly likes a chair she bought because it 'speaks' to her. In fact it really does speak to us all. It is a very scary chair which will reappear and join a support group for killers!

We also get to meet Beefheart, a brave dog who - in the Lassie style - will join in the hunt for Jessikah who left her coffee at the cafe. I really did love the film noir detective sketch which led us all on a search for this missing women. Funny and engaging.

I wanted to like this show and found myself having several explosions of unexpected laughter which is exactly how absurdism works. I am not convinced the show holds together though. Some leaps are just too far and whilst I like when a comedian takes a moment to reveal a truth about themselves, I found Carney's jump to her experience with leukemia jarring. 

This leads me to my big problem with Stinking Hot Trash. The transitions. The shift from sketch to sketch was just awkward and caused the entire energy of the show to fall flat. I left the room thinking the show was completely under rehearsed and it is unclear to me how a show with two directors (Samuel Buckley and Will Hall) can be so poorly prepared and structured. There was a dramaturg too! What were these people doing?

The video content (Gabe Micallef) of the show is fantastic. The scenography is good and the editing is top class.

I notice that almost everybody involved in this project have a screen background and this might explain the weakness of Stinking Hot Trash as a stage show. You can't do a slow fade to the next skit on stage. There is no way to edit out the uncertain pauses and you can't move content around in post to create rhythm and intention. In live theatre this has to be done in the rehearsal room. Yes, even stand up comedy needs rehearsal.

Carney has a strong grasp of absurdist comedy and undoubtedly will make an impact in comedy on screen. I am not as convinced of her future as a live performer without stronger support in theatre making.

Stinking Hot Trash is a great training piece for the whole team, but I don't think this is ready to go on stage. There are some real comic gems in this show though and I do look forward to seeing Carney and her team in the future, once they have had time to work out the performance elements of live theatre.

2 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 -...