27 November 2007


29 November2007
Her Majesty’s Theatre

If your aunt eats elderberries and you giggle at every shrubbery you see… well you know how much you will love Spamalot. This musical won the Best Musical Tony in 1995 because it’s damn good. The Australian production lives up to all expectations and should be farting in Melbourne’s general direction for a long while.
Spamalot was written by Eric Idle and is as good as everything else he wrote for Python. It’s “lovingly ripped off” from the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Idle has left in the best bits, removed the bits that would be boring on stage and got rid of the bits that made us cringe (sorry lads – there’s no spanking – but there is a reference). He’s melded characters to create much more of a journey and story for the knights. For example after Dennis is found by Arthur in the mud, he is convinced to join the quest. “Kneel Galahad” “It’s Dennis”. Idle satirises and references all of Monty Python from Finland to suspenders and a bra, and Patsy gets to sing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” - without having to be crucified.

If you love Python, you’ll get every joke. But don’t worry if you don’t. The reason Monty Python and the Holy Grail has become one of the most quoted films, is because it’s one of the most original and inspired comedies ever written. “I’m not dead yet” is now a song, but remains one of the best jokes ever written. The French taunting is even funny when performed by drunk engineer undergraduates in the uni bar; so its side splitting when performed by professionals. Jokes like the cute little rabbit and the cow are still absurdly ridiculous, even if their success is based on knowledge of the film.

The stroke of genius was letting Mike Nichols direct. He certainly knows how to direct film and television (The Graduate, The Birdcage, Working Girl, Regarding Henry, Angels in America to name a few). Nichols gift as a director is to totally emerge the viewer into the world and lives of his characters. He takes the very, very funny Idle script and fleshes out the knights, so we come to love them as more than just “the bloke playing Michael Palin”. I suspect it’s Nichols who also brought in the abundance of musical theatre references. In his hands Spamalot has become a lampoon of all musicals - not just a hilarious musical.

Most of the new jokes are based on musicals. Phantom, West Side Story, Fiddler, Funny Girl, Rocky Horror, Boy From Oz, Les Mis (Eponine appears as a French person) are all there. And there’s more than one Aussie reference for our version. “You Won’t Succeed” is written just for Broadway. It’s about not being able to put on a musical without Jews. This kills every performance in Manhattan, but the Australian audience were not as comfortable laughing at the Jew jokes as they were at the French.

The Australian cast are all pretty close to perfect. Lucinda Shaw is the stand out as The Lady of the Lake. It’s a tough role. It was written to include a female in the all male story and much of the musical theatre satire rests with her. Lucinda excels. Her comic timing is only matched by her voice. Mark Conaghan (Prince Herbert), Jason Langley (brave Sir Robin), Ben Lewis (Dennis Galahad) and Derek Metzger (Patsy) are all memorable and have taken the roles beyond the film characters. Stephen Hall is wonderful as Lancelot, but has to stop pretending to be John Cleese. Billie Brown leads the knights as Arthur. Billie doesn’t match the vocal ability of the rest of the cast, which is especially noticeable in the duets, and he hasn’t completely embraced the character yet. Arthur is the serious one. Billie plays it like he’s the one in on the whole joke. We need to laugh more AT Arthur, rather than with him.

Spamalot already has repeat visitors and groupies at the theatre each night. (Idle spotting was very popular this week.) It’s going to settle for a long sold out run. There’s at least one seat that is sold out every performance until February. You’ll have to ask someone who has seen the show, as I don’t dare say anything more in print.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

14 November 2007

OK, So That Bit Was Easy

Tonight I watched the new great Aussie quiz show - “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader”. Turns out I am. I knew what word is an amalgamation of web and log. I just don’t do it. (The contestant was a 20 something student welfare officer. He had no idea what a blog was and was rightly beaten by a group of far-too-cheery nine year olds.)

Feelings of intellectual superiority aside, it prompted me to finally get around to this. I write. I study writing. I sometimes get published. So, it's blog time.

I read some, envy some, ignore most, but it’s time to stake out my own little patch of cyber space. Ten minutes ago I was among the blogless. Fifteen minutes ago I wasn't sure where to start. Turns out this blog thing is really quite easy.

How To Have Your Own Blog 1. Go to blogs you read and use the same site they do.
Seriously - that's how easy it is. I’m here -that's how easy it is. And no longer can I scoff at the geekiness of those who type their lives into the web.

OK, now what………….. Perhaps I was still on a high from realising that I was way smarter than a fifth grader. And I do have a chapter of a novel I’m dying to re-write. And I did write nearly 800 words of a review tonight. So lets save the creativity for times when there is anyone other than me reading this.

10 November 2007

Spontaneous Broadway

Spontaneous Broadway
10 November 2007
The Speigeltent

The plots, characters and tunes improvised in Spontaneous Broadway are more engaging, original and downright hilarious than most popular musicals.
I’ve been singing “Chickens Dream Too” all weekend. It was an unknown ballad until Saturday afternoon - when Dame Helen Highwater created it. Spontaneous Broadway is improvised musical theatre.
Thank God You’re Here gives telly fans an idea of what impro is about. But compared to Spontaneous Broadway, the TV impro is like paddling in a pool with floaties compared to a swimming Bass Straight in a winter storm, tied to five other people. There are no costumes, supporting cast or film editor to make you look clever on stage.
Spontaneous Broadway are the totally fabulous Genevieve Morris, Geoff Paine, Julia Zemiro, Ross Daniels, Russell Fletcher and pianist extraordinaire John Thorn. They play characters plucked from every community musical group – each aspiring to me so much more than they ever will be. In character, they work with audience suggestions and improvise a song from the potential musical.
The audience vote for their favourite and then the whole cast improvise the entire musical. “Port Phillip: the Musical” won, due to its unforgettable romantic duet “Dredge My Bay”. Ok - “Port Phillip: the Musical” won, due to the innuendo as its lesbian leads sang “Dredge My Bay”. Relevant, local, environmental and sexual politics – what more could you possibly want!
This is an absolute must for musical fans. Parody only succeeds when the performers intimately know and love a genre. This group know their musicals, but its appeal is much broader. See it for the skill of the impro or just because you will be assured an afternoon of non-stop laughter.
Spontaneous Broadway is at The Famous Spiegeltent on Saturday 17 and 24 November. As it was standing room only this week, booking is recommended.
PS – I have to mention Chad Bradley, just so he gets a mention in at least one review.
This review originally appeared on AussieThearte.com.

09 November 2007


White Whale Theatre
9 November 2007

White Whale Theatre commissioned three of our best playwrights and two of our most outstanding new fiction writers to each write a short play about Melbourne. White Whale is independent, unfunded and with a creative core not even thinking about turning 30 for while. Why can’t our flagship companies think of (or support) such a brilliant and obvious idea as Melburnalia?

One of the many joys of this city is the subtle and obvious cultural differences between our suburbs. White Whale’s production explores this through ordinary lives. “Bohemians to bogans” – that’s our Melbourne. A couple of the works captured the essence of place perfectly, while others fell into stereotypes. But the journey was better than what you could do on a two zone daily Metlink ticket.

Tee O’Neil starts our trip with The Queen of Ringwood. If we don’t already know, it’s made clear that Ringwood is full of bogans. (That’s westies to anyone from NSW). They are bogans with ambition though. Gary wants to eat at the local Italian restaurant and pay, instead of doing a runner. Terry wants to eat in Italy. Engaging and original, but could have been any outer 'burb.

Many, many people are currently reading Kate Holden’s novel In My Skin: a Memoir. Waiting It Out is her first work for the stage. She portrays the feel of lost bohemian St Kilda beautifully. It was almost like having a cappuccino and spanikopita in The Galleon - before the new owners. However, what is irresistible in a novel, doesn’t always work on a stage. With some work on dialogue and creating action, I’m sure Holden will create some unforgettable theatre in the future. The charters and concept are there, but nothing seems to actually happen to them.

The Fag from Zagrab is Lally Katz’s contribution about Far Kew. She nails Kew. Jeremy couldn’t have be from Toorak or Camberwell or even mid Hawthorn. He is Kew – obnoxious, polite, demanding and unsure of what life is like a tram stop or two down the line. He dreams of being a guest on Rove and Jonathan Wood’s performance is the best of the evening. As this is a Katz work, the other character is The Apocalypse Bear (Gareth Yuen’s performance is also a delight). I wouldn’t be surprised if the end of the world does begin in Kew. It may be the least obvious piece of the night, but it’s the most balanced, the most interesting and would easily stand alone outside of its contex

From Kew to Footscary. There’s no direct and easy route by public transport and driving is annoying, unless you take Citylink. So Kew residents just go to Richmond for their Asian takeaway. However Alice Pung is clearly the writer to take us to Footscray. Her first novel, Unpolished Gem, is making many 2007 best seller lists. She doesn’t take us to the markets, train station or two dollar stores – but to the Footscray library. Gretchen, a Melbourne Uni arts student, comes to help Riah with her homework - so she can lean about a side of life she doesn’t know about. As with Holden, Pung needs to work on her dialogue and action, but she created authentic characters and let one of them make a decision.

Ross Mueller takes us to an inner city laneway for a latte in (Becoming) Greg Stone. Last week I reviewed a Mueller play and pretentiously wrote about pretentious references and bizarre self-referencing. Let me just say “ditto”. This time I had to Google Greg Stone. And yes I have seen him perform – but nothing in this play jogged my memory. This was also the one work that doesn’t reflect the essence of the area or the people who frequent it. Robyn is Windsor trying to be South Yarra. Natasha is Clifton Hill trying to be Fitzroy. Neither are inner city Melbourne. And Greg Stone, the waiter, would be serving coffee on High St – not on our beloved Degraves St. It is, nonetheless, very funny and original. It’s not Muller at his best, but I’ll keep seeing his works until I start loving them again.

I had very high expectations of Melburnalia and was a bit disappointed. The scripts feel like the stuff you write in writer’s class to impress your class mates with your wit. They all need another draft. The direction needs a much more varied pace and there’s a tendency to present the characters as types, rather than individuals. The cross overs are absolutely fabulous though.

At the end of the day, I don’t think it matters that my expectations weren’t met. This young company are producing original, inventive and intelligent theatre, and they have the support of our best writers. So let’s hope we see more and more of them.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com

06 November 2007

The Wau Wau Sisters

The Wau Wau Sisters in
12 Steps to Redemption!!
Or God Save The Wau Wau Sisters!!
6 November 2007
The Famous Spiegeltent

The Wau Wau Sisters are truly at home in the Spiegeltent. The Wau Wau Sisters in 12 Steps to Redemption!! Or God Save The Wau Wau Sisters!! parody all things circus, cabaret and burlesque; whilst embracing each genre in their taught, tight and totally to die for thighs.
They open with an acrobalance/strip to the 70s soft rock anthem “Sister Christian”. It’s sublime in its blasphemy. Character, content and superior skill combines to create superb burlesque. I was ready for something as good as our own The Burlesque Hour.

The Wau Wau’s are astonishingly awesome acrobats and brilliantly bawdy burlesque beauties. But their comedy writing isn’t ready for alliteration. It’s by no means bad. It’s just not as good as the other elements of the show. Lyrics like “I’ll cut the cocaine if you cut the cheese” aren’t as compelling as catholic school girls with stigmata.

I thought they were different characters from scene to scene – until they pointed out it was a through narrative of their life. The characters are original and very funny, but not consistent and are regularly visited by the performers own characters. The “real” Tanya and Adrienne that appear are actually more intriguing and interesting than their fictional selves. I would have liked to see more of them.

Part of their act is being the ditzy girls who don’t understand all that “bullshit” about transitions and timing. Nonetheless their transitions are original, fun and a little bit frightening for audiences who fear participation. And their bad timing is simply perfect.

Their transition from born again country singers (and yes there was the expected “count” joke) to 80s coke fed popsters is wonderful. As is the Duran Duran “Rio” routine which follows. Is there anything better than black humour in bright spotted bikinis? Like the opening, this routine was so much more powerful than their comedy interactions.

See the Wau Wau Sisters just for the opening, Rio and their amazing double trapeze routine. It’s a lot of fun, but it is a series of characters and routines that is developing into a show. It may need a director and a writer to tone the narrative and the characters as tight as their biceps, and make the comedy/skill balance as steady as their one minute handstands.

Photo by Sara Brown

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com and on GayDestination.net.au.

04 November 2007

Topping and Butch

Topping and Butch
4 November 2007
The Famous Spiegeltent

Sadly, Melbourne only had a two night stand with Topping and Butch, but they will be defiling Adelaide for a couple of weeks at the Feast Festival. I laughed ‘til I cried and left feeling so much better than when I went in. This is bloody good stuff. No wonder they sold out at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Michael Topping and Andrew Simmons are Topping and Butch. Simmons has a singing voice as delectable and smooth as his body. Topping is a fat old queen.

This comic duo doesn’t need a straight man. Barely clad in red leather, they carry on the British tradition of high camp and combine it with immediate satire, sharp observation, a touch of innuendo and a bucket load of good old fashioned smut. Alright, there’s a lot of innuendo and double entendre. Come to think of it, there’s a lot of single entendre - and let’s hear it for the return of the beaver joke.

But “clip your nails” and frottage jokes are not going to sustain a show. Their material is so up to date - if you missed today’s news you might not understand it. They only arrived in Melbourne yesterday and have already mastered an Elsternwick Jewish joke. Kerry Ann gets a look in, as do Ben Cousins and Cameron. Their Johnny and Kevin material is as observant as any local comedian and - please - a bottle of champagne for pulling off a Julia Gillard wanking joke.

For the less politically interested, they play with pop hits and, what gay cabaret is complete without, musical theatre satire. Pull down the barricades to hear Les Vegetables - about Aubergine the fat and Courgette the slim - and Chess is so much better with "I Know Him Too Well" – where Topping plays a predatory old queen and Butch takes the part of a young straight male. Straight men, if you want to see how straight women really see you - watch a gay man satirising you.

Yes, us girls love Topping and Butch and they love us right back. They embrace the well known fact that the natural accompaniment to a straight woman is a gay man. "Fag Hag" (think "Down Town") may well be my favourite song of the year.

Their material is very good, but they are not master satirists. The strength of this show is the genuine lovability of the characters. They make their audience feel totally comfortable. Even the self confessed Liberal voters were made to feel welcome as the lesbians, straight men, gay men and the one bi-sexual asylum seeker.

Topping and Butch are inoffensive in their outrageousness, but they never tone down their material to create comfort. They are always embracing diversity and ensure that their outrageousness is always a celebration.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com and appeared on GayDestination.net.au