22 December 2016

What I loved in 2016, The best of Melbourne theatre

Tenth list and still no trophy, cheque or print-at-home certificate for the winners.

I sit on judging panels that have very specific criteria, but the criteria for this list remains simple: What did I love the most? And I've now added: Would I (did I) see it again?

The most popular show on from the What Melbourne Loved series was Backstage in Biscuitland. Tourettes Hero, we'd love you to visit us again.

Outstanding Artists 2016

WRITING


The Listies: Prince of Skidmark. Photo by Prudence Upton

Declan Greene and The Listies for Hamlet: Prince of Skidmark, Sydney Theatre Company
(Melbourne season please.)

Special mentions

David Finnigan for Kill Climate Deniers at Melbourne Fringe and the script

Sammy J for Hero Complex at Melbourne International Comedy Festival

DESIGN


Blaque Showgirls. Photo by Pia Johnson

Andrew Bailey (set) for Lungs at MTC

Paul Jackson (lighting) for Picnic at Hanging Rock at Malthouse

Eugyeene Teh (set and costume) for Blaque Showgirls at Malthouse

Special mentions

The Making Space team (Bronwyn Pringle, Melanie Liertz, Pippa Bainbridge,
Jack Beeby, Chris Molyneux and Rachel Edward )(whole space) for Beneath and Beyond at La Mama

Kate Davis (design) and Emma Valente (lighting) for Cain and Abel by The Rabble at The Substation


PERFORMANCE


Wit. Photo by Pia Johnson

Jane Montomery Griffiths in Wit by The Artisan Collective in conjunction with fortyfivedownstairs

Special mentions

Awakening. Photo by Nura Sheidaee

The cast of Awakening by MUST: Nicola Dupree, Samantha Hafey-Bagg, Eamonn Johnson, James Malcher, Sam Porter and Imogen Walsh.

The cast of Lilith, the Jungle Girl by Sisters Grimm at MTC: Ash Flanders, Candy Bowers, Genevieve Giuffre.


DIRECTION

Straight White Men.  Photo by Jeff Busby

Sarah Giles for Straight White Men at MTC and Blaque Showgirls at Malthouse

Special mentions

Daniel Lammin for Awakening by MUST

Daniel Clarke for Rust and Bone at La Mama


BEST FESTIVAL

FOLA: the Festival of Live Art

including Arts House ticketHotel Obsucuraand Portraits in Motion at Theatre Works.


EVERYTHING THEY DO ROCKS


Jason Lehane and Yvonne Virsik

MUST: Monash University Student Theatre

Every time I see a MUST production, I'm thrilled that I went. Yvonne Virsik (Artistic Director) and Jason Lehane (Technical Manager) help students to create the kind of theatre that blows me away every time. It's work made with an intelligence and a freedom that doesn't restrict ideas and regularly creates work so original and unique that I wonder why it hasn't been done before.

I only saw three shows this year – Noises Off, Slaughterhouse Five and Awakening. Each explored form and told story in ways that made the exploration of form invisible.

If you're one of those people who I tell to see shows, you know that MUST comes up a lot. So, what about making 2017 the year that you get out to Clayton? (It's really not that far.)

And so many artists and creators who are making their mark on Melbourne (a few have contributed moments) are from Monash and got their start at MUST.  Fleur Kilpatrick, Sarah Walker, Daniel Lammin, Mark Wilson, Mama Alto, Jack Beeby, Sarah Collins, Danny Delahunty, James Jackson, Kevin Turner, Anna Nalpantidis, Elizabeth Brennan, Tom Halls, Trelawney Edgar, Jake Stewart, Mark Crees, Bek Berger, Piper Huynh, Hayley Toth, Andrew Westle, Tom Middleditch. (I'm going to add to this list as more names are given to me.)

Slaughterhouse Five

Outstanding Productions 2016

CABARET


Leah Shelton in Terror Australis

Terror Australis by Leah Shelton (Polytoxic) at Melbourne Fringe

Special mentions

Mother's Ruin. Maeve Marsden & Libby Wood

Mothers Ruin: A Cabaret about Gin by Maeve Marsden and Libby Wood at the Butterfly Club

Briefs by The Briefs Factory at Arts Centre Melbourne

Princesstuous by Isabella Valette at the Butterfly Club, Melbourne International Comedy Festival


COMMERCIAL SHOW

Matilda, Royal Shakespeare Company and all the producers listed here


MUSICAL


Matilda, Royal Shakespeare Company and all the producers listed here


COMEDY
Dave and Zoe Coombs Marr. Trigger Warning

Trigger Warning by Zoe Coombs Marr at Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Special mentions

Rama Nichols. Mary Weather's Monsters

Mary Weather's Monsters by Rama Nichols at Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Marco. Polo. by Laura Davis at Melbourne International Comedy Festival (and Melbourne Fringe)

CIRCUS

Notorious Strumpet and Dangerous Girl by Jess Love at Melbourne Fringe


OPERA
Il Signor Bruschino. Lyric Opera

Il Signor Bruschino by Lyric Opera

LIVE ART


Small Time Criminals players


Small Time Criminals by Pop up Playground

There's still time to play this live action game that closes (after a year) in February. It was so much fun. But it's not easy.

Listen to my co-robbers Richard and Fleur on RRR discussing our perfectly brilliant night. It starts at 2.34. (Fleur, I was giggling cos I was having so much fun! And because I was really shit at turning off my torch and had to hide my light from the terrifying guard, who never found me hiding under the table.)

Between Two Lines by Anna Nalpantidis with Elizabeth Brennan at Melbourne Fringe 


BEST OF THE BEST

Awakening by MUST

Every Brilliant Thing

Every Brilliant Thing by Paines Plough and Pentabus at Malthouse

Matilda, Royal Shakespeare Company and all the producers listed here

Trigger Warning by Zoe Coombs Marr at MICF


MY FAVOURITE SHOW OF 2016


Backstage in Biscuit Land. Jess Mabel Jones and Jessica Thom. . Photo by Jonathan Birch

Backstage in Biscuitland by Tourettes Hero at Melbourne Festival

hedgehog

2015

21 December 2016

What Melbourne loved in 2016, part 15

All that's left is me. Tomorrow I'll publish my 2016 list of the shows I loved, but it's time for some moments.

This year marked 10 years of me reviewing. I had a month off to breathe.

I only saw 165 (or 20+ more if I count events with multiple performances) shows this year. There were also less reviews but a lot more tweets. And I was teaching arts journalism; meeting and reading young writers who want to write about the arts is as good as it gets. It's been a shitty year for arts writers, but there are plenty of voices who are going to be there and demand that they are heard. And I love teaching.

Selfie. Not giving a single fuck in Ubud in November.

Plus a special thanks to Faster Pussycat Productions for the new logo.

SM's favourite moments in Melbourne theatre in 2016: Having this series welcomed back after a year off was awesome. Getting the emails and messages and talking to people about it IRL reminded me that we are a strong and active community.

Like so many others, I was a bit over it this year: funding cuts, Fairfax cuts, creative and writing tertiary courses being branded "lifestyle choices", far too many people still excluded from having a voice on main stages, boring conservative mainstage programs, and criticism of that dullness being ignored. The arguments I began to have in the 1980s are still happening; it's fucking depressing.

Then in the last couple of weeks I saw:

  • Blaque Showgirls at Malthouse. An Indigenous fuck you to every condescending, well-meaning and earnest statement about acceptance and respect. Laughed until I cried.
  • Burning Doors by Belarus Free Theatre at Arts Centre Melbourne. Some people are using theatre to save lives and change their world. Some people risk so much more than a couple of dull hours to go to the theatre.
  • Hot Brown Honey at Arts Centre Melbourne. Standing screaming ovation for rejecting everything that denies women and especially women of colour a voice. 
  • Briefs at Arts Centre Melbourne. The other side of the Hot Brown Honey coin. What this show said about gender and masculinity needs to be bottled and drunk by everyone who tells someone to "man up".

Maybe there's a lot of hope for our main stages in 2017.

And throw in Moira Finucane telling a room of cheering people that "Art does change culture and it does change lives", at a fundraiser where Finucane and Smith raised enough money to create the kind of art that does change lives.

Going to Coranderrk to see Coranderrk and hearing the voices that spoke there 135 years ago.

Being totally relaxed lying in bath in the Embiggen Books window for Between Two Lines at Melbourne Fringe (Anna Nalpantidis with Elizabeth Brennan).

Coranderrk at Coranderrk
Between Two  Lines

iOTA singing "Life on Mars" at the Melbourne Festival Bowie concert.

Watching children cut Cameron Woodhead's hair at Haircuts by Children at Melbourne Festival.

Cameron Woodhead at Haircuts by Kids

Having no idea what was funny at Two Dogs at the Melbourne Festival.

The moment when Joshua Ladgrove decided that Neal Portenza couldn't do his scripted show when there were only nine people in the audience and The Age reviewer was in the front row. 

Watching a stage of naked women dancing in Nic Green's Trilogy at Arts House.

The Harry Potter and the Cursed Child reading that wasn't a reading because it was just a group of friends hanging out and reading out loud. (Thanks Ben McKenzie.)

Getting a bag of "FUCK YOU" candy hearts at Dion in the Melbourne Fringe.

Dion
The best way to read a play
















The whole audience breathing in together when the black world became white, and again when the white world dropped to reveal Hamer Hall in Back to Back's Lady Eats Apple at Melbourne Festival.

Dancing in an industrial fridge in a hotel dressing gown as Otto and Astrid sang "Ich Bin Nicht Ein Roboter" at the Finucane and Smith Christmas Cocktail party.

Otto and Astrid


Robbing a bank with Richard Watts and Fleur Kilpatrick at Pop up Playground's Small Time Criminals.


Fleur Kilpatrick, me, Kevin Turner, Richard Watts at Small Time Criminals

Running late to see Pound It, walking down the stairs and wondering who that amazing voice could be coming out of – then seeing Bridget Everett and knowing that I was going to love every second of her show.

Every tweet from Candy Bowers.

Hanging out in Ai Weiwei's cat room for kids at the National Gallery of Victoria at 6.30 am during White Night.

Ai Weiwei's cats at NGV


What SM is looking forward to in 2017: Whatever it brings, everything else that everyone else has said, and The Book of Mormon.

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20 December 2016

What Melbourne Loved in 2016, part 14

Today we hear from actor and singer Petra Elliot and two of the biggest supporters advocates for the arts in Melbourne: arts writers Myron My and Rohan Shearn.

Myron My
reviewer, best dressed of all the reviewers


Myron My

MM's favourite moments in Melbourne theatre in 2016: Rather than talk about shows I loved, I really want to talk about shows that made me feel things that I don't normally feel or thoughts I had not considered before. To begin with, Backstage in Biscuitland really made me think about how we all need to work towards inclusivity in the arts, and not just performers or theatre makers, but as audience members as well. Similarly, Jodee Mundy and Deafblind artists Heather Lawson and Michelle Stevens's Imagined Touch had a strong response from me in terms of how we view disability, both in society and within the arts and a great lesson in reminding us that going to a performance doesn’t necessarily mean watching it or hearing it. 

Also at Arts House was Melanie Jame Wolf's Mira Fuchs, a feminist work on how women's bodies are seen and used within the context of stripping, Wolf herself having been a stripper for eight years. It's the first piece of a trilogy so I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of this. During the Fringe festival, The Honeytrap's immersive show, The Maze put me in the mind of a woman walking home alone at night while simultaneously being in the shoes of a man following her. The performance made me acutely aware of the concerns and worries women face on a regular basis and left me feeling vulnerable and ashamed, but in a good way. 

I also have to give a special mention to Joshua Ladgrove and his brilliant creation of Neal Portenza. I've seen him perform three times this year and each time, no matter what was going on in my life, his antics on stage always made me forget about everything and gave me permission to laugh a hell of a lot and to allow myself to just enjoy the moment. 

What MM is looking forward to in 2017: I have already purchased my subscription to the Malthouse Theatre and will be purchasing one to Theatre Works shortly. Both their seasons look amazing and I can't wait to get to see them all. Also looking forward to Little Ones Theatre's Merciless Gods and Stephen Nicolazzo's direction of The Moors for Red Stitch. And pretty much everything that will be on at Arts House. Oh, and to try and break this year’s record of 172 shows!


Myron's top-10-plus of 2016: myronmy.me

SM: No one sees as many Fringe shows as Myron does. He might see more than Fringe staff. He's one of the biggest advocates and ongoing supporters of independent artists (and especially cabaret) in town. He's the reviewer I read to find out about artists I haven't heard of (and he was a great source of "do I need to see x" during Fringe). But my moments with Myron are not about theatre: He loves Survivor – the tribe has spoken – more than I do. He knows the contestants names, he streams it before free-to-air. He should be on the Australian version; he applied but the producers were stupid and didn't choose him. I can share my love for this show with him and he makes me feel like I'm just a fan rather than an obsessive Survivor nerd.

Petra Elliot
actor, singer




PE's favourite moments in Melbourne theatre in 2016: My friend invited me to visit her one Wednesday evening, but as I was already slated to go to fortyfivedownstairs that evening to see The Artisan Collective's Wit, I arranged to have brunch with her on Saturday morning instead.

That night I sat in the audience of Wit, marvelling at Jane Montgomery Griffiths in the lead role. Her performance was incredible, and I sat there with the tears she had evoked streaming unashamedly down my cheeks – I made absolutely no attempt to conceal them. The set design, direction, and supporting cast were just as impressive, creating a space in which I felt safe to just feel. It was one of the most dynamic and unforgettable pieces of work I'd seen in a while.

Perhaps though, there is another reason this work has stayed with me. That Saturday brunch brought with it news that my friend had found out she herself had cancer (which she had wanted to tell me that Wednesday, the night I saw the show). Experiencing Wit became that much more powerful – I suddenly had an even stronger tie to the work – and I can only imagine how much of a mess I would have been in the audience if the order of events had been reversed.

For me this is often the best theatre. Work in which you are able to do more than just witness, but experience, and truly immerse yourself.

Don't get me wrong, I of course love feel-good theatre and, on a lighter note, I turn my mind to the incredible cabaret I've seen in 2016. Special mentions to Cabaret Festival highlights Alice Tovey  in Personal Messiah, and Karlis Zaid, Mark Jones and Aurora Kurth for Australian Horror Story (with direction by Stephen Gates). Incredible performances, stunning original songs and musical arrangements, shining a light on the darker side of our society while still being incredibly entertaining. Mother's Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin was another highlight and is everything I love about cabaret: dynamic voices singing in killer harmony, a fascinating narrative on a topic you'd never have expected, and stunning re-arrangements of well chosen songs that progress the story and evoke all of the feels.

Double Indemnity at MTC was also a particular favourite. The performances were delightful, and how good was that set!

What PE is looking forward to in 2017: Like most people, I'm excited by the seasons of Theatre Works and the Malthouse, and I love what the Butterfly Club are doing with their curated seasons. I'll also be spending a few weeks in Adelaide for Fringe with The Mighty Little Puppet Show and Petrasexual (2014 review), and I'm super excited to get immersed in Mad March and see as much as I can.

petraelliott.com

SM: I've seen Petra this year, but I haven't seen her perform this year – not by choice – but I have watched her in part the tv show Sonningsburg that I'm going to watch all of before the year is out (it's all on YouTube). Favourite moment though was her getting 3D printed clitorises for her season of Petrasexual.

Myron at the Butterfly Club with Petra's clitoris


Rohan Shearn
Managing Editor, Australian Arts Review

Rohan Shearn. Photo by Alexander Evans

RS's favourite moments in Melbourne theatre in 2016:We were spoilt for choice this year as the commercial and independent sector delivered a mixed bag of delights.

Capturing the Australian vernacular of the 50s, Ladies in Black was a divine Australian musical adaptation of Madeleine St John’s popular 1993 novel, The Women in Black.  Matilda, featuring Tim Minchin’s witty lyrics, was everything a musical should be – it made you laugh and cry, and brought out the inner-child in us all. Special mention goes to Jacqueline Dark, and her rousing rendition of "Climb Ev’ry Mountain" in The Sound of Music – simply stunning.

Not to be outdone, the independently produced Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story was hauntingly intelligent, while Blue Saint Productions presented a beautifully crafted production of Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World. Both productions were presented at Chapel Off Chapel.

The Melbourne Festival also delivered two of the most heart-warming performances of the year: Jess Thom was unpredictable and enlightening in Backstage in Biscuitland  while the National Theatre of Scotland’s Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour was pitch perfect in its delivery.

Drama wise, Paul Capsis delivered an exquisite performance in Resident Alien at fortyfivedownstairs, Daniel Clarke delivered an in-your-face exploration of masculinity with Caleb Lewis’s  Rust and Bone at the La Mama Courthouse, and the Belarus Free Theatre presented the confrontingly brilliant Burning Doors at Arts Centre Melbourne.

What RS is looking forward to in 2017: Musicals will be well represented again in 2017. It may have taken awhile to get here, but The Book of Mormon make its Australian premiere in February. It may have missed out on some nomination gongs at the Sydney Theatre Awards, Aladdin will take us to a ‘whole new world’ in this spectacular rendition of a modern Disney classic at Her Majesty’s Theatre in April. The Ladies in Black take up residence at The Regent for a return season, and Watch This continue their Sondheim journey with Merrily We Roll Along at the Southbank Theatre. Also, expect announcements on Dream Lover – The Bobby Darin Musical, and a new Australian production of Evita.

SM: Rohan is another amazing advocate and arts writer who sees everything, especially music theatre and cabaret. If I want to know anything about a musical, he's my source. I can't pick a favourite moment because I'm happy to see him every time I see him in a foyer, which is at most opening nights.

artsreview.com.au

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19 December 2016

What Melbourne loved in 2016, part 13

The "Lovies" will be ending this week, but if you send me some today, I'll make sure they get in.

Today we hear from Mama Alto and the Opera Chaser, Paul Selar.

Mama Alto
diva (in the most magnificent sense of the word)

Mama Alto. Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

MA's favourite moments in Melbourne theatre in 2016: Hot Brown Honey, at Arts Centre Melbourne, was affirming, daring, excoriating, exciting, irreverent, holy and empowering. It was joyous and emotional for me to see – for a change – so many people of colour, not just on stage but in the audience, too. This show, and the direct expressions of these artists, is a complete revelation. And it provided words to live by: "Moisturise, decolonise… stand up, speak up, rise up, make noise!".

Between Two Lines (Anna Nalpantidis with Elizabeth Brennan), at Embiggen Books,was my absolute pick of the Melbourne Fringe. Intimacy, stillness, presence, tenderness and the astoundingly profound depth of a one-on-one live art experience: the esoteric and curious ritual of bibliotherapy in a bath tub, and the feeling of balancing in an enormous snow globe, floating like a bubble in a precarious world.

Retrofuturismus (Maude Davies, Anni Davies and ensemble) at fortyfivedownstairs, which was equal parts shocking, tender, insightful, powerful and interrogative. A collision of the then, the now, and the yet to come, posing questions and explorations of environmental catastrophe, history repeating, queer possibilities, feminist futures and human nature.

Lisa Fischer at the Melbourne Recital Centre gave us the magic of unadulterated storytelling, with utter focus, dedication, talent, skill and sheer musical honesty. Lisa Fischer pours forth a fluid, breathtaking, all-encompassing and limitless voice with a warmth and generosity of storytelling, empathy and healing that is crystalline and rare.

Honourable mentions:
Blaque Showgirls (Nakkiah Lui and company) at Malthouse: a damning, hilarious, uncomfortable, layered spectacle of the state of this nation.

Lilith, the Jungle Girl (Sisters Grimm) at MTC Neon: a nuanced, raucous and provocative exploration of colonisation, culture, gender and the body.

Meow Meow's The Little Mermaid at The Malthouse: there are no words for the scintillating, glimmering madness of this diva’s unleashed psyche.

Frock Hudson FURRlesque at the Melba Spiegeltent: in the midst of a queer circus of silliness, humour, glamour and camp, Dean Arcuri in a glorious state of disarray delivered a poignant, raw, honest, tragically beautiful, emotional and heartbreaking sung rendition of "Will You Still Love Me When I’m No Longer Young And Beautiful" that spoke volumes about what it means to be queer and in love today.

The Color Purple (StageArt) at Chapel off Chapel: a stunning and passionate rendition of this Broadway icon-in-the-making, with a star turn by Thando Sikwila as Shug Avery. "It takes a grain of love to build a mighty tree – even the smallest voice can make a harmony."

Vanishing Act (Candace Miles and Rosie Clynes) at The Butterfly Club for Melbourne Fringe: a fabulous and unique cabaret journey through life with influences as diverse as Weimar, Grace Jones, Klaus Nomi, Kander and Ebb, and more, but syncretically combined to create a postmodern mishmash spectacle.

Lastly, powerful, eccentric, (rightfully) unashamed, (rightfully) unapologetic,authentic voices from women in cabaret comedy, two highlights of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival: the irrepressible local legend Geraldine Quinn in a brilliant retrospective revue Could You Repeat That at Malthouse, and emerging feminist rabble rousers Pink Flappy Bits in their eponymous shows.

What MA is looking forward to in 2017: Particularly, Pamela Rabe in The Testament of Mary, DisColourNation’s second iteration of The Unbearable Whiteness of Being, and the new Jackie Smith play directed by Moira Finucane, The Exotic Lives of Lola Montez.

And more generally, anything involving the extraordinary talents and stories of people of colour, people experiencing disability, queer people, trans and gender diverse people, non-binary people and women.

mamaalto.com


SM: The Adulteress (Melbourne Fringe) was cool and delightfully camp, but my Mama highlight was last week at Finucane and Smith's Christmas Cocktail party. There were many magnificent performances that captivated the sold-out, overflowing room, but one left the room silent: Mama Alto. One captivating song and the room exploded with pure love.

Paul Selar
Opera Chaser

Paul Selar selfie

OC's favourite moments in Melbourne theatre in 2016: In my three decades of opera-going that I'm now calling OperaChasing and the piles of opera programs I'm not sure what to do with, 2016 will remain special: 95 opera productions in 21 cities. The memories of many may wilt as they hopefully nourish the heart and soul but others presumably will have everlasting immediacy.

In Melbourne, I love seeing how the operatic pulse beats and I'm always wishing more people would taste what's on offer, from the smell-of-an-oily-rag budget productions to the polished bells and whistles of the hugely funded national opera company. One thing for certain is that the smell of an oily rag is often at least as overwhelmingly affecting and rewarding as any high-end work performed to the more toffee-nosed culture that sticks to opera's heals.

Melbourne staged no less than 24 opera productions in 2016. Adding Gertrude Opera's Nagambie Lakes Opera Festival, a little weekend outing for city dwellers to combine wine and opera, the number swells to 32. Ok, part of that diverse program included three "nano" operas around 15 minutes in length each, but how their succinct attack still penetrates. Apart from the bacchanalian-steered opening night dinner and gorgeously sung operatic arias, Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti directed by Greg Eldridge and The Scottish Opera, a new gripping, shortened and stylised meshing of Verdi's Macbeth in an 80-minute work directed and designed by Luke Leonard still resonate.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the return of Opera Australia's Ring Cycle directed by Neil Armfield surprised me how much more arresting it was than its 2013 premiere (possibly due to that wilted memory). Elements of the everyday, mixed with the symbolic and surreal accompanying detailed characterisation and the year's most extraordinary singing and music-making, came together in a work of astounding beauty. Thank the gods it wasn't staged earlier in the year. I was so emotionally pummelled that immersing in anything outside The Ring seemed completely mundane.

Of the four, I had to see Die Walküre and Götterdämmerung again, and not just because of the allure of the double-dotted diacritics. Let's hope the cycle returns to Melbourne in 2019 so that it can be ticked off many more bucket lists.

But take note Opera Australia. More double-dotted Wagnerian repertoire got a magnificent outing by independently funded Melbourne Opera with Tannhäuser. This was a huge achievement that saw the company take a bold risk while making opera look right at home in the iconic Regent Theatre. Wagner's recurring theme of redemption resonated with glorious singing, expert orchestral support and director Suzanne Chaundy and her creative team's compelling staging portraying the contrast between one world of societal strictures and another of sexual pleasures. Perhaps Melbourne does have the initiative and resources to call itself a Wagnerian city after all. Is there any dream this city can't dream without making it a reality?

Victorian Opera's innovative arm muscled up once again under Artistic Director Richard Mills's tireless efforts in giving a fresh approach to the art. Directed by Emil Wolk, Laughter and Tears saw Mills's powerful reimagining of Leoncavallo's great tragic one-act opera, Pagliacci – the tears – came with a prologue made up of a pastiche of Baroque and Renaissance music imbued with comic abandon and contextual contrast – the laughter. Integrated circus arts handsomely illuminated the stage for one of the company's most compelling recent works that saw opera return to another splendid venue, the Palais Theatre. Certainly a work worthy of revival.

Finally, little Lyric Opera of Melbourne delivered an exquisite three-season adventure headed by the succulently staged, mojito-driven and rarely seen operatic version of Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana by Aussie composer Malcolm Williamson. The musical richness of the score – brilliantly sung by many of Melbourne's young artists – the witty libretto and the directorial flesh Suzanne Chaundy gave to this festering black comedy (performed to an audience not much larger than 150), reflects the knack Artistic Director Pat Miller has in unearthing varied and exciting works.

Much further afield, controversial Catalan director Calixto Bieito's dark, thought-provoking interpretation of Fromental Halévy's rarely seen 1835 La Juive (The Jewess) at the Bavarian State Opera stood out for its subtlety and strength. Musically and vocally outstanding, it remains for me the year's most powerfully relevant work highlighting the oneness and differences in humanity, the instilled fear of the other as a threat, and of intolerances we harbour but can't see. Much food for modern thought.


Finally, for those interested in the many great contributions made to the art of opera in 2016, I'm running a one-hour Twitter night for The 2nd Annual OperaChaser Awards and Commendations via @OperaChaser between Christmas and New Year. I've given only a little away so come join in and have a drink to find out more to celebrate our artists with me.

What OC is looking forward to in 2017: If you think opera isn't your thing, maybe 2017 might change that. Bizet's ever-popular Carmen comes to town in a new production from Opera Australia so that could do the trick but I saw it in Sydney earlier this year and it's Cuban-set concoction needed a deal of attention I hope it gets by May. Two works at the top of my list are Opera Australia's King Roger – a 1924 work by Polish composer Karol Szymanowski and a co-production with London's Royal Opera House – and Melbourne Opera's second outing at the Regent Theatre for hours and hours of more Wagner with Lohengrin.

Rarely do we see Czech composer Leoš Janácek’s powerful works so Victorian Opera's Cunning Little Vixen, his poignant reflection on the cycle of life, shouldn't be missed either. Make sure you add Tom Waits and William S Burroughs's allegory of addiction, The Black Rider, to the list as well. It's a co-production with Malthouse Theatre starring Paul Capsis with Meow Meow and Kanen Breen.

Lyric Opera of Melbourne will no doubt enchant with a contemporary work by female composer Rachel Portman, The Little Prince. Based on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's delightful 1943 book, it premiered at Houston Grand Opera in 2003 with Teddy Tabu Rhodes in the role of the Pilot.

Finally, on the international front, for something quirky amongst so much impressive work that'll be impossible to see, there's a new comic opera based on that botched restoration of a fresco of Jesus likened to a hedgehog. Written by two Americans, librettist Andrew Flack and composer Paul Fowler, Behold the Man will premiere in a fully staged production in the town of Borja where everyone's laughing at how a town's misfortune turned with just a few well-intended brushstrokes. That I'd love to see.

operachaser.blogspot.com.au

SM: I didn't see as much opera as I wanted to this year, but Paul makes sure that I see some. His blog is great; no one else writes about just opera – let alone about opera all over the world. I learn so much about opera by reading his reviews and tweets.

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16 December 2016

What Melbourne loved in 2016, part 12

Today's wonderful people – Bron Batten, John Kachoyan and Myf Clark – are published a bit late today because of many amazing moments at Finucane and Smith's cocktail fundraiser last night. One being, Moira reminding a room full of very generous people that "Art does change culture and it does change lives". Let's remember that.

Bron Batten
theatre-maker, performer, producer, Grand Designs enthusiast


Bron Batten. Photo by Theresa Harrison

BB's favourite moments in Melbourne theatre in 2016: Can I say something I was involved in? Oh well, I'm going to anyway! Working with 90-plus women of all sizes and ages on Nic Green and Laura Bradshaw's production of Trilogy at Arts House was a wonderful honour. Experiencing the openness, trust, tears and humour we shared whilst exposing ourselves (literally and metaphorically) was breathtaking and a total privilege, as was working with Nic and Laura. Plus I'm pretty sure that everyone I've ever known or worked with in Melbourne has now seen me naked so that dream where you go to work in the nude now holds no terror.

Backstage in Biscuit Land generated some really difficult discussions about inclusion and cultural access that I thought were really important and made me question my own attitudes towards who and what dictates those terms. Jess's spontaneous tics were the kind of brilliant, inherent improvisational element that is the reason why I go to live performance.

Of course Zoe Coombs Marr's brilliant and disgusting creation Dave should get a mention and I know it was in Sydney but The Listies Hamlet: Prince of Skidmark was loaded with ridiculous jokes and completely amazing in its ability to get tiny children screaming with excitement about Shakespeare.

What BB is looking forward to in 2017: I think The Malthouse has some really interesting programming and I'm sure the whole Dance Massive program will have me inspired whilst at the same time moaning about my complete loss of flexibility.

SM: I knew that Bron's work in Trilogy was my favourite moment* of hers before I read this. It's a show that changes lives by making the bit of our brain that-believes-all-the-controlling-bullshit-about-how-women-should-look realise that it's bullshit. (I still sing Jerusalem when I'm naked.)

* Even though her Onstage Dating may well be one of my favourite shows of all time. I saw it twice and would happily have seen it every time.

John Kachoyan
director,  dad

John Kachoyan

JK's favourite moments in Melbourne theatre in 2016:  Duncan Macmillan’s Every Brilliant Thing; a piece I’ve seen grow from a little showing in London. I really loved Edward II at Malthouse, Jane Montgomery Griffiths heartbreaking, towering and utterly brilliant performance in Wit, and Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour was my Melbourne Festival highlight.

Outside of shows,  some of the small moments of community have been amazing for me. Chats in foyers, excitement over works to come and celebrating success in others – a maturity and calm in the face of such crisis. And it's more a movement than a moment, but the rise and rise of amazing creative women into positions of influence, care and creativity in all aspects of our theatre landscape; long may it continue.

And the birth of my son August, who's made me ask more than ever "Who do I make work for?".

Things I wish I saw and hope to see again; Mark Wilson rounding out his Shakespearean trilogy with Anti-Hamlet, Picnic At Hanging Rock and LabKelpie's A Prudent Man by Katy Warner with the gorgeous Lyall Brooks.

What JK is looking forward to in 2017: So many shows! Desert by Morgan Rose at Red Stitch - Morgan is a brilliant writer and I cant wait to see her next play, Daniel Lammin’s Awakening remount at fortyfivedownstairs, Fraught Outfit’s The Book of Exodus - Part I and Part II (a double treat after the mesmeric, challenging Bacchae), Christopher Hampton’s version of Florian Zeller’s The Father at MTC and Kate Mulvany’s Richard III for Bell Shakespeare is sure to be stunning.

Also! Go and see The Listies Ruin Xmas. (SM: At Malthouse: finishes this weekend. I'm going tomorrow.)

SM: On Facebook, one of John's friends quoted him talking about his awe and love for his partner after she gave birth. That was cool. And his direction of Elegy: he let the audience feel safe until they realised they were so involved with the story that it was almost personal.

Myf Clark
reviewer, arts worker, co-director of Girls on Film festival


Myf Clarke

MC's favourite moments in Melbourne theatre in 2016:  Highlights for me were either supremely intimate and/or made me cry.

On the intimate side, I was completely taken by Dion and Menage (both in Melbourne Fringe). I ended up being the only audience member for Dion the night I went, as the other two didn't show up, and it was a truly breathtaking and eerie experience. While Menage (performed in a cafe and bedroom for an audience of two) was one of the most thought-provoking shows I saw this year.

Meanwhile, I ended up in tears watching Blaaq Catt by Maurial Spearim and 186,000 by Kerith Manderson-Galvin within 10 minutes of each show starting. (SM: 186,000 finishes tomorrow, 17 December.) Both shows broke my heart and made me think in different ways and I am so glad that I can now carry these shows in my heart.

On a lighter note, I discovered the joy that is artists like Maeve Marsden and Tom Dickens. Between Jagged Little Singalong and Romeo and Juliet, I relived two of my all-time favourite albums and left with the biggest grin on my face and the sorest of throats from singing along to every single song (I really am a 90's child!).

I also discovered this year that I actually quite like stand-up comedy (as long as it's not performed by a famous male comedian). Lauren Bok, Grant Buse and Tegan Higginbotham were my first shows of MICF this year and all three left me on an absolute high!

What MC is looking forward to in 2017: The funding cuts of this past year were incredibly devastating, notably for me in regards to Platform Youth Theatre (which I joined at the tender age of 17 as a performer and then worked for years later) shutting down. I'm hoping that 2017 sees new and emerging talent step up and make their art known by all, no matter what our funding bodies put us and them through.

I'm also incredibly excited to see what La Mama Theatre puts on (as I am every year), while the Theatre Works program for next year has really caught my attention. I also honestly believe that Patricia Cornelius should have a show in every season of every theatre company all of the time.

SM: I've loved reading Myf's reviews this year, especially when I read one and instantly wanted to see the show.

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15 December 2016

What Melbourne loved in 2016, part 11

Today's group of wonderful people are reviewer Tim Byrne, playwright Katy Warner and Neddwellyn Jones from La Mama.

And another day in which I regret missing Animal (to be fair, I wasn't in the country). This show has to have another season.

Tim Byrne
arts writer, reviewer

Tim Byrne. Photo by Chris Boyd

TB's favourite moments in Melbourne theatre in 2016: The best assumptions to burst are the ones you hold about yourself. This year I burst an assumption I’ve held all my life: that I’m not really into traditional ballet. Australian Ballet’s first ever production of Nijinsky was undoubtedly superb, an intense and sustained masterpiece, but my most treasured moment in a theatre this year was under the spell of the Houston Ballet as they performed an impeccably danced, utterly rousing, muscular and deeply moving Romeo and Juliet. It was thrilling, and opened me to a form I’d dismissed as fusty and moribund.

What TB is looking forward to in 2017: I’ve been hopelessly slack with tracking upcoming programs, but I am off to Adelaide to see Thomas Ostermeier’s Richard III, which should prove interesting, given his electric Hedda Gabler here a couple of years ago for Melbourne Festival. But mostly I’m hoping to discover a new and unexpected love, something that opens me to forms I’ve never considered. Because that’s really the point of art, isn’t it?

SM: Tim's another reviewer who sees so much more than he's able to write about. I read his reviews even when I haven't seen the show.because they are a great read and they always show me something about the show or artist that I hadn't seen before. But my favourite moment with Tim this year was his talk with Stan Grant (about his book Talking to my Country) on a stupidly hot and still February night in a church hall in Albert Park. The room was fringed with boxes of second-hand stuff for a fete and Tim asked the perfect questions to let Stan tell his story.

Katy Warner
playwright

Katy Warner

KW's favourite moments in Melbourne theatre in 2016: I think I was hidden in a bubble of first drafts and deadlines this year and did not get to see as much as I wanted. I could name a couple of favourite missed moments. Like Animal. I am kicking myself for missing Animal.

This year I was fortunate enough to catch Jack Charles vs. The Crown after missing it the first time around. Uncle Jack makes it all look so effortless. What an incredible human. This was poignant, vital storytelling.

Loved Gonzo for its form, risk and performances. Plus, the discussions it generated in the foyer, and at work the next day.

OUR land people stories from Bangarra Dance Theatre. Jasmin Sheppard's choreography and David Page's music for MACQ was incredibly powerful.

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour (Melbourne Festival) made me laugh and cry and sing and I just adored it.

Blaque Showgirls created some unforgettable moments, costumes, performances – satire at its best.

What KW is looking forward to in 2017: An Austrian-esque swing to the left across the world.

And pretty much everything in the Malthouse and Theatre Works seasons, the Yirramboi First Nations Arts Festival, the new Australian writing on show at Red Stitch Theatre and, for families at Arts Centre Melbourne, Luke Kerridge's Bambert's Book of Lost Stories (just the trailer makes me teary).

katywarner.com

SM: Katy wrote and directed A Prudent Man at Melbourne Fringe. There's plenty of easy and average satire about elected right-wing politicians around; what made this stand out was how it made the audience begin to not like but listen to, and even care, about a selfish conservative middle-aged straight white man in a suit. This is another show that I really hope gets a return season.

PS: Maxim Boon sent me a message yesterday because he couldn't believe he'd not mentioned A Prudent Man in part 10; it's been added.


Neddwellyn Jones 
La Mama Theatre


Neddwellyn Jones 

NJ's favourite moments in Melbourne theatre in 2016: The moment that stayed with me the most in 2016, was in the minutes following the opening of Animal (influx) at Theatre Works in November.

Following one of the most powerful and affecting productions of the year, we all joined in for three heavy rounds of applause. None of us in the audience, all fairly seasoned theatregoers, seemed to want to stop clapping. When we finally did, we sat there, as a group, united in silence and awe at what had just unfolded. No one dared to speak for at least a minute, and it felt like an eternity before anyone left their seat... and it felt like a reaction that came as close as it could to doing the work justice.

What NJ is looking forward to in 2017: In 2017, I cannot wait to check out the inaugural Asia TOPA Festival in February and March, which will provide an unprecedented opportunity for Melbourne audiences to celebrate the rich and wonderful contemporary arts and culture on offer from our close neighbours in Asia.

La Mama’s 50th Anniversary will also provide undeniable highlights, the stand-out being a month long festival in July with some of Australia’s most talented and celebrated writers, directors, designers and performers returning "home".

And lastly - if someone out there is listening to the word on the street  and were to program Angus Cerini’s The Bleeding Tree for a Melbourne season, I dare say the chances of it being included in this same column in 12 months time would be extremely high!

SM: Another easy one: Every time Nedd changes ticket dates for me or squeezes me into a show on very short notice.

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14 December 2016

What Melbourne loved in 2016, part 10

Today we here from two independent reviewers: Maxim Boon and Simon Parris.

Remember that you don't have to write a lot – a sentence can say as much as an essay – and that your reflections, memories and wishes don't have to be about a specific show or performance. It could be an overheard comment in an interval, a thought the next day or anything that gave you that jolt that says "this is why we do this".

Simon Parris
reviewer

Simon Parris

SP's favourite moments in Melbourne theatre in 2016: I’m going to mention something from each of the performance styles that I review.

A handful of musicals with my all time favourite scores were produced by independent companies this year. StageArt presented a scaled down version of Tony-winner Titanic, which I reviewed then paid to see again twice; Tyran Parke’s direction for Storeyboard Entertainment’s Follies was so incisive that I paid to return the day the after opening; Life Like Company finally gave Melbourne a chance to see divine 2005 Broadway musical The Light in the Piazza (another return visit); and Manilla Street Productions assembled a wonderful cast with a 30-piece orchestra for a one-night concert of Nine.

While there were many excellent independent opera productions in 2017, the quality of The Ring Cycle cannot be surpassed. It may seem a cliché to pick something as eternally popular as this, but Neil Armfield’s concept and direction is brilliant in its simplicity, the Australian singers were wonderful, and the handful of international singers were extraordinary. The camaraderie amongst audience members was really special.

The local ballet audience was electrified when The Australian Ballet went against the grain with Nijinsky, a thrilling abstract work in which Vaslav Nijinsky’s contribution to ballet was explored through the lens of his decaying metal health.

What SP is looking forward to in 2017: StageArt’s Australian premiere of Tony-winner Memphis will be a welcome addition to the sea of safe musical revivals and family fare. And I am pleased to see that the new Australian musical Ladies in Black is having a commercial tour. Melbourne Opera will compete their excellent Tudor Queens trilogy with Roberto Devereux. The Australian Ballet’s local premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is sure to be a blockbuster.

simonparrismaninchair.com

SM: I think I see a lot of music theatre, but Simon sees everything. (I didn't see any musicals on his best list and I regret it.) He loves music theatre, opera and ballet and his passion comes through in his positive, honest and detailed reviews. He's also always excited to be at a show and he reads other reviewers. I really appreciate his comments (often compliments) on Twitter and in person. (Writer secret: it's nice to know that we are read.)

Maxim Boon
arts writer, reviewer


Maxim Boon

MB's favourite moments in Melbourne theatre in 2016: Doing a (not so) little audit of all the bloody wonderful things I've had the good fortune to see this year has been a real tonic. 2016 is a year many people will be happy to see the back of, myself included, but this exercise has definitely added a silver lining to the big, black, intolerant, fact-free clouds that the past 12 months have stirred up.

Witling down a list of favourites has been hard, so forgive the indulgence of citing so many top moments.

As I’ve scanned my memory for the shows that touched me the most this year, one stands head and shoulders above the rest: Wit at fortyfivedownstairs. Margaret Edson's Pulitzer-worthy text about an academic dying of cancer is, of course, an excellent springboard, but the triumph of the Artisan Collective’s production is predominantly thanks to the utterly transcendent performance of Jane Montgomery Griffiths. Words feel inadequate to properly summarise the power of that extraordinary night of theatre, but suffice to say, I have rarely felt as profoundly altered as I did walking out after this show. I was with my husband Toby and as we stepped out onto Flinders Street, neither one of us could talk,because we knew if either of us uttered a single syllable we would both have broken and unravelled. We hugged for a minute or two and summoned an Uber. Even thinking about it now is pushing me dangerously close to sobbing onto my keyboard. Jane, if you ever happen to read this, I cannot thank you enough.

I’m a passionate believer that Indigenous narratives must be a vital presence in our theatres, as it brings First Nation stories into an environment that is largely skewed white and socioeconomically privileged. Three shows this year were particularly striking for the way in which they galvanised the duality of the contemporary Indigenous experience, which simultaneously reacts to the zeitgeist while anchored to historical injustice. Ilbijerri Theatre's presentation of Jacob Boehme’s frank yet affirming exploration of being black, gay and HIV-positive in Australia, Blood On The Dance Floor, offered a view of Aboriginal life that is rarely seen, articulated in a way that was powerfully and beautifully realised. Nakkiah Lui’s Blaque Showgirls and hip-hop cabaret Hot Brown Honey both told defiant and gloriously shameless stories of what it means to be a woman of colour in a society that still clings to colonial ideals.

On the smallest scale, some great solo shows graced Melbourne's stages this year. Lab Kelpie's production of Douglas Rintoul's Elegy, based on interviews of gay men living in insurgency held Iraq, was not only a slick and resourceful staging (especially the excellent sound design by Russell Goldsmith), but also a potently affecting performance by Nick Simpson-Deeks; I left feeling shaken and ashamed and enlightened. The always masterful Susie Dee’s production of Harry Melling's Peddling, featuring an astonishingly committed performance by Darcy Brown, was a gut-punch of a show; superb storytelling executed fearlessly. Brilliant Brit playwright Duncan Macmillan’s Every Brilliant Thing, co-written and performed by Jonny Donahoe, made me laugh all the way through and sob all the way home, the kind of production that busts you open with that bittersweet joyful sorrow that only theatre can tap.

Feminist theatre, another area of the art form I feel passionately protective of, also enjoyed some excellent turns this year. Nic Green and Laura Bradshaw's Trilogy, offered probing, eccentric, gloriously irascible and occasionally naked perspectives on feminist philosophies in a show that is as potent and relevant today as it was when the pair first staged it ten years ago. Patricia Cornelius’s Shit, revived at fortyfivedownstairs following its sold-out debut season, was a brutal, bold, touching, confronting and thought provoking instigation. That Cornelius's work is so rarely recognised by Australia's major state theatre companies is, for lack of better words, fucking maddening.

Finally, this year’s Poppy Seed Theatre Festival showed why emerging theatre-makers must be championed in a space where they can flex their creative muscles, make mistakes, try things out and hone their craft. From this year’s excellent quartet of works, Three Birds Theatre's LadyCake and Riot Stage's F. were impressively accomplished in their thinking and execution, despite being fledgling works made on shoestring budgets.

Honourable Mentions

Paul Capsis in Resident Alien: a superbly observed study of Quentin while retaining the ineffable fabulousness of Capsis.
Belarus Free Theatre, Burning Doors: a model for any and all political theatre-makers.
Dance North, If____Was____ :  a nifty concept with genuinely breathtaking results.
Malthouse Theatre, Picnic At Hanging Rock: Matt Lutton may not always be the theatre-maker we want, but he is definitely the theatre-maker we need.
Vic Theatre Company, 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: face-aching grins guaranteed.
NTS/Melbourne Festival, Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour: Cum-filled submarine; need I say more?

PS: Maxim forgot this one.
On the smallest scale, some great solo shows graced Melbourne’s stages this year. Leading the pack was the world premiere season of Katy Warner’s incisively observed A Prudent Man, at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Featuring a faultless Lyall Brooks as a right-wing politician negotiating a public scandal, both the writing and the performance were nothing short of forensic in capturing this political archetype with such pin-sharp accuracy.

What MB is looking forward to in 2017: Malthouse Theatre's 2017 season makes me feel physically giddy. It's innovative, it's unapologetic in its motives, it's bolshy and it's proudly nonconformist. While MTC cements its reputation as the most cynically pandering presenter in Victoria, Malthouse continues to ensure Melbourne's more discerning theatre lovers are sated. I am especially excited about Lutton's new adaptation of The Elephant Man, as I am, to be blunt, a big ol' Matt Lutton fan boy and have adored both adaptations from this year’' season.

Fortyfivedownstairs will also present plenty to get excited about next season, especially Trainspotting Live and Ben Gerrard in I Am My Own Wife, both early on in the year.

SM: Reviewers often deal with restricted word counts, so it's nice to write as much has you want. And Maxim generally writes longer reviewers that are detailed discussion rather than a pull quote and star rating. This great discussion reminded me of a few brilliant shows that I saw but didn't review and made me regret missing a couple more.

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