30 September 2009

Ghostboy with Golden Virtues in 'Exit'

Ghostboy with Golden Virtues
26 September 2009
Fringe Hub, Lithuanian Club

(the re-mix)

If you take a date to Ghostboy with Golden Virtues, I promise you will be naked together by the end of the evening. But there are only two chances left.

It hurts to sit and watch performers present their hearts, desires and sexual kinks to a mere handful of besotted punters. Ghostboy with Golden Virtues (GBGV) have only two more shows left in our town (Swallow and Exit) and our Fringe goers are missing them. This is not only unfair to them but also heartbreaking for everyone who doesn’t see them.

Their attitude is punk, but their musicianship supreme and their lyrics awaken deep desires that leave us blushing with recognition. GBGV are from Brisbane, so they already have to fight for respect in our southern climes, but remember that the city that produced Joh (why was I the only person who laughed at that reference?), also produced the likes of Ed Kueper and The Go-Betweens; perhaps the constant temperature lets music mature to perfection.

With a seduction technique somewhere between flirting with an angel and squeezing into latex for a swingers party in Frankston, Ghostboy and his stage lovers don’t believe that audiences are just there to watch. Breaking this barrier is confronting before it’s liberating, so it’s best to jump in and enjoy early because one day ‘Your smile will fade, your skin will wrinkle and no one will love you’.

Melbourne Fringe supporters are fickle. We know what we like and we like to see what we know. Next door to GBGV, hundreds of grinning, fizz-swilling Last Tuesday Society fans were spilling out of the Fringe Club. I only left because I trusted the recommendation I had to see GBGV. Given the chance, everyone who was at the club, or wanted to be at the club, would fall head-over-arse in longing lust with this group.

GBGV are Melbourne’s type. There’s the too beautiful goth girl violinist; the hotter-than-Marilyn (Monroe, not Manson) platinum blonde guitarist and singer; the silent masked gimp bass player; curvy dancers; oddly handsome musicians; and an unshaven, bald headed, divinely tattooed enigmatic lead singer who wears a black tulle petticoat and a fascinator far better than any Spring Cup goer. Melbourne, you know you want them.

Given the chance, this town would fancy GBGV so much that we would try to extradite them, but instead of holding them to our loving bosoms, taking them to laneway bars and hand feeding them canapés recommended by Matt Preston (and then shagging them senseless), we’re standing them up like a bad internet date.

Ghostboy with Golden Virtues reminds us what art can be and what it’s really all about. We love a serious mind seduction, but we’d give it all up for a fuck. And I don’t mean that tedious, it’s-1am-and-we’re-not-asleep-and-the-DVD-has-finished sex, but the uninhibited kind that leaves you groaning and tingling with the understanding that love and wildness and passion can exist together.

More 2009 Fringe reviews.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Ghost Boy with Golden Virtues

Exit and Swallow
Ghost Boy with Golden Virtues
29 September 2009
Fringe Hub, Lithuanium Club

It’s too late and I’m too tired to write the arty farty review just now, but there are only two more chances to see Ghost Boy with Golden Virtues (and I’ll do the serious writerly bit as soon as I can).

I saw Exit tonight. Swallow is on tomorrow and Exit is on again on Thursday. 10 pm at the Lithuanian Club.

I saw it based on a review that is hopefully in today’s Inpress and I second everything it says. I doubted that I would ‘fall in dirty love’ with everyone one the stage – but I did – and I got a lap dance from an enigmatic boy in a black tulle skirt!

It hurts to sit and watch a stage full of people working their hearts and souls out for a handful of people. A few hundred metres away the Fringe Club was packed with hundreds of Last Tuesday Society fans. Every person there would fall in obsessive lust GBGV, but they don’t know about them.

Melbourne likes seeing what it knows. Lord knows I’m one of those people. So a show that this city would love so much that we would try to extradite them from their Brisbane home, are performing to empty seats. Instead of embracing them in our loving arms, taking them to a hidden bar and feeding them in a restaurant recommended by Matt Preston (and wanting to shag them senseless), we’re standing them up like a bad internet date.

Admittedly their publicity hasn’t been good, but don’t we all want to believe that good shows will find the audience they deserve. They’re not running long enough for word of mouth to get around, so juggle your shows for Wednesday and Thursday and put this one on your list.

Any comparison is lame and doesn’t do Ghost Boy himself justice, but think along the lines of a high-art Hedwig with a lot more punk and a lot sexier. (And understand that I have a deep love and unnatural passion for Hedwig and The Angry Inch).

Ghost Boy with Golden Virtues reminds us what art can be and what it’s all about. We love having our minds woken up, but we’d give it all up for sex . And not tedious, it’s-1am-and-we’re-not-asleep-and-the-DVD-has-finished sex, but the uninhibited kind that makes you understand that love and wildness and passion can exist together – and leaves you smiling for weeks.

If you take a date to this show, I can promise you that you will be naked together by the end of the evening.

29 September 2009

Never thought I'd be saying this...

...I love Hugh Jackman.

Our Hugh had an on stage hissy over a mobile phone.

This should be allowed to happen in every show.  The fear of embarrassment will get people to turn the noise makers off.

28 September 2009

The Hamlet Apocalypse

The Hamlet Apocalypse

The Danger Ensemble and Anniene Stockton
26 September 2009
La Mama Theatre

I don’t want to call favourites on the opening weekend of the Fringe, but The Hamlet Apocalypse proves that the experience of theatre can be something we can’t explain and something that defies mere words.

Six actors are spending the night before the end if their world rehearsing a play. There could be no other choice than that one with a play within the play, where everyone dies and that forces the cast to contemplate that they are soon not to be.

Under the taut direction of Steven Mitchell Wright, The Danger Ensemble (who have been gallivanting the globe with Amanda Palmer) have devised a telling of Hamlet that captures the soul of this greatest of great works and intertwines it with a story so personal and intense that I had to remind myself to breathe.

Developed using a disciplined mix of the Japanese Butho and Suzuki (Tadashi) techniques, this telling is about emotion and essence. Although we hear moments of Shakespeare’s perfect text (yes I love Hamlet), the words are almost meaningless, as the emotion and the heart of the story is expressed physically. I’ve seen many Hamlets, but this is the first time I’ve gasped at the finality of ‘To be or not to be’. These storytelling techniques let us feel the emotion of a story in our hearts before our brains catch up and think about the words. Shakespeare might well have abandoned words had there been a Butoh troupe in Stratford.

As the evening heads towards its climax, the line between their Denmark and their reality blurs and melds. Hamlet has to reject Ophelia, but Lloyd loves Tora; Polonius has lost a daughter, but Peta knows that she will never have children.

The six face their end together but alone and perhaps they hope that there is a Horatio in the audience to tell their tale and a Fortinbras to bear them away with honour.

The intimacy of La Mama intensifies experience of The Hamlet Apocalypse, so make the most of this season before this contemplative and shiny find is grabbed by festivals everywhere.

More 2009 Fringe reviews.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

27 September 2009

While I’m Away

While I’m Away
Telia Nevile
25 September 2009
Fringe Hub, Lithuanian Club

Telia Nevile continues to bring something unusual, intimate and unexpectedly delightful to the Fringe. This year she is working solo, with a slide show, in the While I’m Away.

As the Poet Laureate of the wonderful Last Tuesday Society, Telia has spent recent months re-introducing us to poetry. As we learn in primary school English: poems rhyme, use metaphors, create images and reveal the heart and soul of the lovelorn poet (because it’s not possible to be a poet and not be seeking, pining for, or have recently lost our favourite emotion).

With the heart and fashion sense of a Beatnik and the soul of her nanna, Telia the poet is awkward in herself, but confident of her poems. She doesn’t care when her rhymes trip over the beat or her metre runs amok, because it’s all about taking us on a tour bus that travels her life-long quest for love, be it her teenage longings in ‘Blue Light Disco/Green Light Love’ or her mild erotic fantasies involving bitterly cold ski slopes.

Telia’s world is subtle and delicate, filled with intricate details that create a complex and intelligent world that supports the naïve hope of her character and spills into the hearts of her audience creating the kind of laughter that tickles your heart and feels as good as a cup of tea and a homemade lamington.

As seems to afflict many first night performers, Telia also needs to trust that her character is adorable enough to sustain the show, because glimpses of the artist behind the character take too long to recover from

While I’m Away is only here for a week, so there’s not many tours left. As it’s less than an hour, it’s a perfect accompaniment to anything else you are seeing at the North Melbourne Fringe hub. (And stay in the same venue to see Welcome to the Jungle directly after.)

More 2009 Fringe reviews.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Photo by Jon Arnold

26 September 2009

A Black Joy

A Black Joy

24 September 2009

A Black Joy is very funny, very dark and may be the gayest* thing Declan Greene has written. As all fellow-lovers of Greene's high-camp-punk shockers know, that's saying something!

While A Black Joy's original characters grab our addiction to pop culture by the toes and dangle it out of a hotel window over a pool of snapping crocodiles and paparazzi, it is more disturbing and much nastier than his Sisters Gimm work and reveals a maturity and understanding that is going to make an indelible mark on theatrical writing of the 2010s.

 With 200 kg, bed-ridden John Candy (Tom Considine) central on the stage, we are drawn into a world desperate for love, but replacing it with celebrity, control, fear and violence. Dakota Fanning (Miriam Glaser) cannot recover from losing her fame as a childhood leukemia suffer; Bette Davis (Carole Patullo) can't support her daughter, but fries John Candy's bread in butter; Diane Keating (Anne Browning) strengthens up to fight her lesbian cleaner; Joseph Cotton (Chris Bunworth) save the whales to hide his love of torture; Megan Twycross's character makes us feel for the Parises and Britneys we love to hate, and Corey Haim (Ash Flanders) finds real love at a Nazi rally at a supermarket. And, until now, I never knew how much I'd wanted to see Ash as a teenage virgin neo-Nazi with a Texta’d tattoo.

With such potential to tip over the edge of taste, reason and sense, the perfect cast never let their overdone, over-the-top characters be anything less than human, and director Susie Dee deftly controls the mood from outrageous hilarity to a gritty dark climax that unexpectedly grabs you so deep in your guts that the only release is uncomfortable laughter.

A Black Joy isn’t comfortable (boring) theatre. Like a brand new pair of six-inch-heel, patent leather, knee high boots, it hurts so much that your toes bleed – but looks so amazing and makes you feel so fine that nothing will make you even glance at your comfortable flat maryjanes. See this show.

*Before the hate mail begins and we drown in a discussion about semiotics, linguistics, offensive language and the true definition of g-a-y, just go and see this play and you'll understand exactly what Dec meant when he wrote it and what I mean when I quote it. Yes, it's still a controversial combination of letters; in fact, I think gay is the new cunt. As cunt is bandied about with gay abandon in our festival shows and dinner parties, the language-Nazis (I wonder if I can join) have grabbed gay by the balls because they don't like how its cultural meaning continues to change. But let's leave the worthy discussion for another day.

More 2009 Fringe reviews.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Welcome to the Jungle

Welcome to the Jungle
Bron Batten and The Last Tuesday Society
25 September 2009
Fringe Hub, Lithuanian Club

In Welcome to the Jungle, Bron Batten’s irresistible petting zoo of lovesick critters could convert the most devoted carnivores to veganism.

Over the last couple of years, Bron has introduced an original menagerie of stand up animals who spilt their tales of love and longing at Last Tuesday Society gatherings (of which Bron is the co-founder). Welcome to the Jungle takes her favourites and lets them free in their first full-length show.

The result is more fun than Facebook’s Farmville (I’d like some more horses if anyone out there could gift me one) and embraces anthropomorphism like a crazy cat lady. From Petra the swan who fell in love with a paddleboat to the deformed two-legged panto horse, each heartfelt story evokes our own tender, broken, fulfilled or hopeful quests for love. And you just want to take them home and give them a bowl of food and a pat on the tummy; yes – even the whale.

The stories are tied together with a voice over narrative and slide show. I’d love to see this part of the show develop a definite life of its own. It’s a bit too ‘filler while I get changed’ at the moment and could be a parallel story that is just as funny and wonderful as the animal monologues. It didn’t establish what we were watching, and seemed to change from Attenboroughy doco, to reality TV show to wildlife show, which should have been hosted by Rebecca Gibney. The potential for this part of the show is endless and deserves as much attention as the gorgeous beasties.

For Jungle’s abundance of laughs, I was unsure about who we were laughing at. With Cherry the duck, were we laughing at our ourselves and empathising over lost loves, laughing at Cherry cos she’s a sad old slapper, laughing at Bron the character who is using her animal creations to put her own lovelessness on stage, or laughing at Bron the performer who is hiding behind all those levels? The animals were all committed in their characters, but Bron moved between her stage self and her real self, which can be uncomfortable for an audience, and makes it too easy to make fun of and laugh at the animals – who are much stronger when we laugh with them.

The Melbourne Fringe carves its much-needed place among other open access festivals because it’s small enough for performers to really experiment and give shows a first run. Welcome to the Jungle is still a bit raw, but some raw is good for us – and it’s much better than over-cooked.

PS – On your way to see Welcome to the Jungle, mosey through the DJ’s perfume floor and get a splash CK’s ‘Obsession’ for Mr Splashy Pants. You can scrub it off later.

More 2009 Fringe reviews.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

23 September 2009

The Cat’s Paw

The Cat's Paw
Hoy Polloy

Carlton Courthouse
20 September 2009

Independent company Hoy Polloy continue to produce scripts that funded companies bypass and seek new, challenging writing by local playwrights. Currently at the Courthouse is The Cat's Paw, Christine Croyden's response to her observation of prostitution in Melbourne, particularly illegal street hooking in St Kilda.

Croyden has seen first-hand the worst side of the sex industry from working as a nurse in the Alfred hospital emergency department and running creative writing classes at the Sacred Heart Mission for women wanting to exit the industry. The Cat's Paw is not an examination of the legal sex industry; it restricts itself to the lives of girls who deal with gutter crawlers.

Croyden is angry and frustrated from seeing the violence, the desolation and the destruction of this world. It’s one thing driving past a young girl on the street and respecting her choice and another seeing her in an emergency room after being gang-raped and stabbed.

This anger is very clear in her writing, but within the dismal lives of these women, Croyden weaves the comfort and beauty of seeing that angels and our dead still watch the world - even if they can’t help.

Content aside, I want to see Croyden trust her characters more. Trust that they will show us what we need to know, rather than putting the 'right words' into their mouths. At times, I could hear the writer's voice rather than the character's voice. A teenager saying "the younger you are the harder it is to leave" doesn't feel real, while her excuses for not leaving scream the same conclusion. A woman telling us about the relief she feels after cutting, is not as powerful as her showing us how she cuts and how she feels after. Subtext is so loud on a stage, that it doesn’t need highlighting.

All else aside, the north or south side of the river debate is never far from any inner-city conversation. I live south: next to Saint Kilda (go Saints). I caught the 67 tram home from this show, along with girls heading to work the streets who look like they haven't eaten in month or been loved in their life. I walk down Carlisle or Grey street to go to brunch, the farmers market or the Prince. I know the points where the syringes and the used condoms stop littering the sidewalk. This is the world of The Cat's Paw and I didn't recognise any of it. The image of Grey Street covered in snow is stunning, but it depended on the audience knowing that street. I didn't see or hear anything on the stage that described or evoked Saint Kilda or Grey Street. I'm not sure if was just the standard depiction of grungy, dirty hooker land or if that is how 'northerners' really see the 'south'.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Mourning Becomes Electra

Mourning Becomes Electra
MUST (Monash University Student Theatre)
22 September 2009, opening night
Monash University Student Theatre, Clayton

I generally try to avoid instant coffee, worthy Aussie films and student theatre. Well, I must say that last night MUST (Monash University Student Theatre) proved me wrong on one count – and it wasn’t the ‘coffee’ they offered at interval.

It’s rare to see a production of Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra. Influenced by Chekhov, Ibsen and Strindberg, O’Neill brought Realism and a United States vernacular to the American stage. Deeply embedded in a post-Civil War American culture, five hours long and based on a Classical Greek Tragedy (Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy), it’s one of those great plays we tend to read rather than see.

But, plays are written to be performed, so an opportunity to see this Electra should be grasped if you enjoy Realism (the early-20th century kind), the Electra story or love seeing the works that have shaped western contemporary theatre. And O’Neill did re-tell one of the great stories. The tale of Electra and her dysfunctional family is just as powerful 2500 years later, is responsible for the naming of Freudian complexes and should be compulsory reading for anyone who has ever wanted their mum out of the way.

Director (MUST Artistic Director) Yvonne Virsik doesn’t dwell on what is American about the work, but pares it back to what is universal. Be it the background of the Civil or the Trojan War, this is a story about guilt, disgust and the cost of love. She also cut over an hour from the script, without losing any of its impact.

The simple design also does away with the Greek columns and family portraits asked for in the script and replaces them with an imposing door, a powerfully macabre set of death masks, and touches of ornate furniture. MUST prove how even the most limited of resources can create design that supports, tells and strengthens the story.

With a cast at the beginning of their careers, it would be unfair to expect Blanchett-like subtleties and Nevin-esque technique. Virsik lets her cast work to their strengths, but confines them within a definite structure, tone and style. This balances the uneven experience of the young cast and lets them concentrate on telling us the story. By letting the story and the script lead, issues with technique or skill become irrelevant. Each member of this disciplined cast creates the emotion required for each scene, which lets the story unfold and connect with the audience.

The Melbourne Fringe opens this week with an abundance of theatre options, but don’t let this one pass unnoticed.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

22 September 2009

One Night the Moon

One Night the Moon
Malthouse Theatre
16 September 2009
Merlyn Theatre, CUB Malthouse

Yesterday I read a Facebook status that said “one night the moon sucked the big one’. It’s not quite the phrase I’d use (in print), but you can’t deny its honesty or the passion and disappointment behind its expression. This show bored the bejesus out of my FB friend and her spontaneous review may be more honest than any of those written by us who willingly give our wordy opinions.

I had been looking forward to One Night the Moon, Malthouse’s stage adaption of the 2001 musically told film. It isn’t a perfect film, but its naïve charm, fable-like story and gut-wrenching sense of despair make it memorable.

In 1932, a young girl disappears from her settler homestead. Her distraught parents reject the help of the ‘blackfella’ tracker and Dad organises a grid search with his fellow settlers, while Mum eventually (and secretly) seeks the tracker’s help.

Director Wesley Enoch and his team naturally wanted to re-tell this story for the theatre and they created a world far removed from the screen world. The beautiful opening, with a smoking ceremony, shadow puppets and a how-cool-was-that burning of painting whetted our anticipation for something amazing.

There were some lovely moments, but it didn’t capture the heart or emotion of the film. In their determination to tell the story differently, this version loses the story.

It’s a story about loss and grief that destroys the lives of those left behind. As an audience, we didn’t have the option to fully experience that loss, because we were never given a sense of Emily, the child who goes missing.

“One night the moon came a wandering by”: this gentle lyrical lullaby by Paul Kelly is still in my head from seeing the film eight years ago. With daughter, mother and father singing it together, it established the heart of the story and set the audience up for the loss. On stage, this song accompanied the stunning opening – which was wonderful – but it denied us a sense of Emily. She was sung by an offstage and clearly adult voice and her only presence was a tiny shadow silhouette. We didn’t see the love between the parents and their child. Of course, we can assume it (and their reactions let us imply that they loved her), but we also know there are stories of parents who don’t love their children or of children who run away for good reason. On a more basic story-telling level, without a sense of Emily at the beginning, the audience can never believe that she will return. The telling of this story needs that hope or there is no story to tell. And a pillow wrapped in a blanket does not create an illusion of a child; all it does is distract.

Emily is the heart of the story, and its soul is the land. The emotionally honest songs of Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody scream the importance of place, land and space: “This land is mine/This land is me” (which was ironically sung inside). On the empty stage, I felt no sense of space, of heat, cold, land, danger, home or comfort – or any differentiation between the settler’s ‘owned’ land or the tracker's land.

So, again, I’m looking at Anna Cordingley’s design. Yes, it is remarkably beautiful. Yes, it is intelligent. Yes, it shows that she has an original and unique vision. But, again, it distracts from the story and its telling. Even someone as strong as Mark Seymour belting out an anguished song is diminished by a projection of giant hands playing with sand – with the added distraction of wanting to watch the person sculpting the sand. And there are famous paintings. If I hadn’t read the program (with all its explanations), I wouldn’t have had a clue that some of the visuals were from famous paintings of the Grampians (or even that the story had been moved to the Grampians). So, how did they help tell the story? They confused me about where we were and where lost Emily was, and they reinforced an artificial sense of land and space.

One Night the Moon is an Australian story. It’s our story. Our stories know that the white invasion of this country caused unimaginable suffering. We know that white pricks were vile to the Indigenous owners of our county – and still are. But we can tell a much better story than white guy bad/black guy good. We can tell gutsy stories about complex people.

The settler’s child is missing. Given his knowledge and his experience, he makes the best decision he possibly can and organises the grid search. Sure, he is a racist bastard, but racism is ignorance and fear and, as humans, we know that we are scared of things we don’t understand. He doesn’t refuse the tracker’s help because the guy is black. He refuses his help because he believes he is doing the best thing possible to find his child.

If faced with the same situation, I’m sure that many of us would make that same decision today. It’s not such a black and white issue.

Oh, and yeah – I too was bored and disappointed.

This review originally appeared on AussieThearte.com.
Photo by Jeff Busby

Mark Seymour wrote a terrific essay about playing Jim. I so wish I had seen all of this thought and opinion on the stage.

It's not directly relevant, but here's someone else who also sculpts sand.

16 September 2009

God of Carnage

God of Carnage
Melbourne Theatre Company
15 September 2009
Playhouse, The Arts Centre

God of Carnage holds an IKEA mirror up to the MTC audience and leaves them squirming with recognition and wetting themselves with laughter – or was that just me?

St Martin’s protagonists are in their teens and 20s, Red Stitch’s in their 20s and 30s, Malthouse’s in their 30s and 40s and the Melbourne Theatre Company will always have theatre for people who are surprised when they realise how old they really are.

Two couples meet to resolve a playground incident involving their respective sons, a stick and some dental damage. Naturally, the women wear shoes that cost as much as the dentist bill in question, and espresso and clafoutis are served.

Making fun of the upper-middle class, middle age, marriage, men versus women, and what parents really think of their children is easy. God of Carnage does all of this; however, satire without recognition is as bad as making fun of a deaf kid behind her back – it’s easy, nasty and likely to lose you friends. Playwright Yasmina Reza has an international hit because she ensures that she never makes fun of ‘them’; it’s always ‘us’ and it’s always the stuff we hate to admit!

Reza is France’s best-known playwright who, like Moliere before her, uses farce to show the masks, the absurdity and the humanity of the people who love her work. Structurally it is a blue print for a perfect farce, with ever-changing allegiances, status and opinions, but it’s her grasp of character and her observation of society that is winning this work awards and fans on Broadway, the West End and state-supported theatre companies all over the place.

As it’s difficult to imagine that Reza didn’t write this on a laptop in Church Street, Brighton, much must also be said of the English translation by Christopher Hampton (whose credits include the screenplays for The Quiet American and Atonement), as well as the universality of Raza’s themes.

With a faultless cast (Pamela Rabe, Geoff Morrell, Hugo Weaving and Natasha Herbert), director Peter Evans (who also directed Moliere’s The Hypocrite for the MTC last year) ensures that we are never distanced enough to make fun of these people. It would easy to laugh at this world, but it wouldn’t hurt so much (in the good way) if we didn’t see ourselves, our friends and our families up there.

My inner voice drooled over Annette’s shoes, wondered if I could wear a fringe as well as Veronique, knew I would have taken the clafoutis out of the fridge in time and wanted to offer advice about how to remove vomit from books (I don’t want to explain). I’m far from being a Toorak ‘wealth manager’, but I knew every person, every opinion and every passive and blatant aggressive reaction on that stage.

There’s much written about God of Carnage being an astute reflection about changing attitudes towards violence in society, especially towards children (hands up who hasn’t read The Slap). Of course, there is a serious side to the work, but if that’s what you’re raving about, perhaps you need to glace at the mirror.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Photo by Earl Carter.

14 September 2009

The Rites of Evil

The Rites of Evil

Red Stitch Actors Theatre
4 September 2009
Red Stitch

In a recent interview, playwright (and actor) Travis Cotton said that mediocrity is the toughest challenge he faces in his work. Fortunately, there is nothing mediocre in his latest creation, The Rites of Evil, or in Red Stitch’s production of it.

Red Stitch thrive on presenting th contemporary playwrights that would usually miss be Australian stages. This lets us see incredible scripts from the UK, the USA and, in this case, Australia. The Rites of Evil is Travis Cotton fourth work and its complexity, dark absurdity and outright guts place it very comfortably in the company’s program.

If you’re not in your 30s or 40s, you could miss the subtleties of The Rites of Evil, but they add an extra dimension of enjoyment for those of us who remember why we avoid Nestle and Coke products and may even support Easter’s rites of evil theory. When Easter and Xavier are released from an undefined institution, they form a forced friendship that, for all its dysfunction, may be the only real thing in their lives – if their parole officer, Bronwyn, lets them meet.

Travis Cotton has created a world that lets us laugh, hope and hurt at the same time, but it’s the vision of Director Alex Menglet that brings the world to life. Menglet controls the elevated-mood and the Absurd aspects of the script, creating a balance of hope and menace that keeps the audience engaged in the emotion of the story and not distracted by the gorgeous grace notes of the Tamagotchi, the Nazi boots and the bizarre on-stage mix of old and older technology (exquisitely designed by Peter Mumford).

The contrast of Tim Potter’s, Johnny Carr’s and Erin Dewar’s performances is like mixing plaid with polka dots and paisley. The combination should overpower and frustrate our aesthetics but, as anyone with a patchwork quilt will testify, the combination creates a more intense and oddly satisfying effect. Each are clown-like in their approach but raw in their emotion, and their heightened performances magnifies the reality of their situation and increases impact of their downfall.

The Rites of Evil is Red Stitch’s Melbourne Fringe show, so it’s a terrific chance to get into the Fringe early and start the annual celebration of Melbourne’s independent theatre.

More 2009 Fringe reviews.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

03 September 2009

2006 Melbourne Fringe reviews

My 2006 Melbourne Fringe reviews are now all up. Some of these haven't been online for a very long time and one or two were never published.

It's hard to believe that it's been three years since Christina Cass and I grabbed our notebooks and started writing madly. (I'll ask the lovely Christina if I can put her reviews up here as well.)

With the 2009 Fringe not long away, it's been a lot of  fun to remember all those shows and see how so many of the companies and artists have developed since then. Members of Penny Machinations are now seen in interior theatre, The Last Tuesday Society and the List Operators; The Caravan of Love are as gorgeous and wrong as they ever were; My Darling Patricia are going from strength to strength; Bojana Novakovic is still amazing; Rod Quantock will never go away; and theatre in decay are still questioning everything about theatre.

En Trance

En Trance
Yumi Umiumare
Malthouse Theatre

27 August 2009
Tower Theatre, CUB Malthouse

En Trance is a gut-felt provocation of passion and emotion that re-defines our understanding of Butoh. If you’re already amazed by Yumi Umiumare’s extraordinary burlesque cabaret, her first solo show cannot be missed.

As words are almost redundant in a Butoh performance, it’s difficult to find enough of them to capture the experience. Perhaps it’s best not to try and understand, because it’s not about conscious thoughts and intellect. Leave logic at the door and just watch, listen and experience it with your instinct and those parts of you that make you feel without understanding why. The performers know what they have created; the audience are there to feel the results.

En Trance is a Butoh-inspired solo work where Umiumare’s extreme and controlled physicality flows from sublime to grotesque and from human to alien, as she takes us from the perceived chaos of a Tokyo street to the apparent serenity of an Australian river, and leaves us caught between unexplained joy and hints of despair.

Now established as a contemporary art form, Butoh developed in Japan in the 1950s and 1960s as a rejection of western ballet traditions and a subversion of traditional Japanese performance. My only experience of a Butoh class was in the 1980s where Nigel Kellaway made us stomp (‘toh’ means stomp in Japanese) for hours and reduce a Greek tragedy scene into a moment to repeat and re-create. Butoh doesn’t remove unnecessary expression, rather it takes the whole and distils it into something so pure and potent that it would be unpalatable if swallowed in one gulp. I was crap at it, but left beginning to understand how a performer’s physical connection to a space, a text and an experience can create that unexplainable visceral reaction for their audience.

Umiumare’s performance is physically and emotionally astonishing, and enhanced by a team of co-creators (Bambang Nurcahyadi – digital painting, Naomo Ota – design, Ian Kitney – sound , David Anderson – costume, Kerry Ireland – lighting and Moira Finucane – dramaturgy) whose individual perfection never distracts.

The only distracting element is sight line problems, so make sure you get in early and sit in the middle section.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Photo by Jeff Busby.

01 September 2009

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