26 October 2009

Liza with a zee

Liza: Australian Tour 2009
25 October
Rod Laver Arena


For all the shows I've seen in the last month or so, this is the one that had me crying.

Uncontrollable tears that made a black farce of the lashings of mascara I applied (along with divine decadence green nail polish, darling) as a tiny symbol of my worship of Liza.

I sat in a sports stadium crying as an oldish woman, who really has lost her voice, growled some old show tunes!

I teared-up when she waked onto the stage, blubbed when she sang  "What makes a man a man?" and there was snot for "Maybe this time". Yes, I am a gay man in a straight woman's body. The boys wearing matching pink sequined waistcoats were butcher than me tonight.

So where's all my too-educated, analysis of this show? Where's my sophisticated criticism of her story telling or her technique?

There is none. I love Liza Minnelli and so did the thousands of other people who joined me to stand and cheer.

What is it about that Liza makes me look past the faults that a young man in his grandmother's fox fur stole was happy to tell me about during the interval?  (And, yes, I was still the most limp wristed one in  the conversation.)

Liza is a goddam, fucking legend superstar who understands that song is story; that grasping the emotion and the soul of a song will win an audience more than a pitch perfect performance.

And I know the person crying tonight was my inner tween. The me who watched Cabaret at an age when she knew little about the Holocaust, let alone abortion, syphilis and bisexuality - but still knew that that was the world she wanted to live in. A world that tells us stories about people and places that make us care, make us cry, make us sing and make us still love green nail polish 30-odd years later.

24 October 2009

Final MIAF 2009 thoughts

MIAF 2009
A Reflection. Nah, it's a rant.


 It's the last Saturday evening of the 2009 Melbourne International Arts Festival and I'm willingly sitting at home at my computer in my trackie daks. Something just isn't right.

This afternoon I saw my last MIAF event, Peter Greenaway's Leonardo's Last Supper, and I liked it.

I don't know what anyone else thought about it though. In fact, I’m not too sure what anyone else (apart from a couple of my friends) thought about this festival, because we're not talking about it. And by ‘we’, I mean Melbourne’s artists, art fanciers and festival junkies (those of us in the age, income, interest and education bracket known as the ‘festival demographic). This year I'm not hearing the opinions and thoughts of all these other like-minded souls. Or drinking with them.

Brett Sheehy holds the artistic reins of the festival for this year and the next. Having hung out (and worked) at arts festivals for many years, I try not to compare Artistic Directors. Each have their own vision and bring us bloody amazing stuff*.

Brett, for letting me see Peeping Tom's Le Salon, thank you, thank you, thank you –  but where's our festival gone? Why aren't we talking? Why isn't this program inspiring us to create? Why doesn’t this festival feel like ours?

Don't get me wrong, the shows I’ve seen has been terrific, but I haven't taken a single risk, I haven't seen anything that has made me re-think how I feel about theatre and I haven't seen anything that I've hated.

Over the four years that Kristy Edmunds created the program, each year had all of these element, with programs that gave us perfected masterpieces and brand new work, and still left room for creativity, which means giving artists the freedom to experiment and perhaps make mistakes.  Her programs gave me a new perspective about why we 'consume' and make art. I found arts forms I had never seen, I discovered artists who changed how I think and I even began to understand and love contemporary dance!

And, more importantly, I’ve seen how these programs have influenced the art created in Melbourne, and not just the local work created for the festival. Forced Entertainment’s Bloody Mess tentacles are still tickling our independent artists and I'm always glimpsing a Lone Twin shadow.

But tonight I'm not line dancing with strangers in silence outside of the Malthouse, I’m not wondering how many pink drinks until I’m brave enough to talk to someone like Robert Wilson without gushing like a school girl, I’m not wishing that I hadn’t left my program on a table after I’d written review notes that included ‘utter wank’, and ‘who the fuck let these people on a stage’ (I now only write notes in a note book) and I’m not taking a risk and seeing someone I had never heard of. I’m at home and there might even be a good movie on the telly.

If this were last year, I would have left The Last Supper and headed to the Artists Lounge, where I would have ordered a soy latte and a small sultana scroll as I chatted to the barista about the show and they told me what they thought about it. I would have found a quiet corner and typed up a rave about Greenaway and what a pretentious wanker he is and how I love him for being a pretentious wanker and mentioned that no matter what crap he makes, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover is so wonderful that nothing else matters. While doing so, I might have discussed with someone I knew and someone I hadn't met before the nature of contemporary Christianity and our how we do or don't value visual art. Then I would have sat outside in the sun, ordered a fizzy pink grapefruit juice while Simon changed my mind and gave me another Festival cocktail, before going to the box office and buying a ticket for whatever show I somehow hadn't seen yet. Seen the art. Then gone back to the lounge, met friends, ordered food, made new friends and despaired that this wonderful event is over for another year.

Seeing the art is such a small part of the experience. Just seeing a show is like sex without the compliments and a cocktail beforehand or a cuddle, a chat and a late night pizza after. I'm not saying that this year's art is like paying a prostitute, but it's feeling like a commodity again. It's something people pay for because it's 'quality'; it's 'Art'. It’s not something that includes those outside of the ‘demographic’, it’s not making us think too hard and it's not giving us the space or the content to make us talk.


*So why couldn't the Adelaide Festival board have trusted Peter Sellars? I know it's been years and it's forgotten – but this may be my only chance to rant.

AND, in case Media Watch are watching, I was one of the lucky folk to work for the 2005 festival. It was a great job, but also the job that made me realise that I didn't want to be an arts manager anymore; that a knack with budgets, a frightening knowledge of risk and an ability to write a tight contract may be worthwhile and admirable skills but they weren't what I was about and were turning me into an uninteresting and miserable person. So now I sit in classes with people half my age and am learning how to write. (I still do bits of the other stuff, but it's no longer what I am.)

Peter Greenaway's Leonardo's Last Supper

MIAF 2009
Peter Greenaway's Leonardo's Last Supper
Melbourne International Arts Festival
24 October 2009
North Melbourne Town Hall


For $10 Peter Greenaway's Leonardo's Last Supper is worth heading to the North Melbourne Town Hall for, and it’s on for another couple of weeks, so there's still time to see it.

It’s a copy of that painting made famous by The Da Vinci Code with some whizz-bang, super-cool lighting FX and the compulsory Nyman-like music. I think it's meant to make us realise that the works of these masters are masterpieces and that the best way to appreciate them is to look at them for a long time until the story and the mastery is revealed. The postcard you get at the gallery shop will never compete with the original...

It's shorter than Greenaway's films, but just as pretentious and arty, so I dug it.

Here's a pretty cool interview with PG talking about cultural arrogance and bringing this incredible experiment to Melbourne.

Le Salon

MIAF 2009
Le Salon
Peeping Tom
Melbourne International Arts Festival
23 October 2009
the Arts Centre, Playhouse


Saturday 24 October

Peeping Tom’s Le Salon is another amazing show from Belgium. It’s my pick of the 2009 Melbourne International Arts Festival and may yet be my favourite show of the year.

Physical theatre never sounds as arty as dance, but Peeping Tom have melded theatre with music and dance to create something original, intimate and almost excruciatingly personal.

With themes and glimpses of loss and decline in the most ‘normal’ of lives, it maintains a throat-tightening sense of melancholy, whilst offering a parallel sense of dark humour and even hope. From an old man’s botched suicide to the woman who may have lost her baby to a woman who has lost her sexuality, Le Salon is like spying on your friends and seeing their deepest hidden fears and secrets – and remembering why we all leave some things unsaid.

And the dance. Oh my. I’ve not seen anything like it. At times, it seemed inhuman, like broken bodies forced into unnatural positions by malevolent gods, but it was fluid and as controlled as the most prima of ballerinas. And it showed how unnecessary words are. The visceral reaction was as potent as re-living the times when I’d felt or witnessed such despair, fear and loss.

This short season claims to be the last performances of Le Salon, as Peeping Tom develop each new work based on their last. It hurts to know that this won’t be seen for years to come, but how wonderful to know that something new is being created from it. And please bring it to Australia – or I’m coming to Belgium to see it.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com.



Friday 23 October

Festivals rely on careful program reading and planning. With such short runs (and a significant lack of communal Artists Lounges), shows are over by the time those vital word of mouth recommendations get around. So, perhaps its up to word of blog to rave about Le Salon.

2pm and 8pm tomorrow (Saturday 24) are the last two performaces (ever) of this amazing piece of physical theatre. I'm quite devastated that they won't be performing it again, but ecstatic knowing that they will create something else; even if I do have to go to Beligium to see it.

It is hands down my favourite show of the festival (sorry Apocalypse Bear, you've been bumped) and may be my show of the year.

Watching Peeping Tom felt like spying on your friends and seeing them expose those deep, dark fears and secrets that we all keep hidden, and remembering why some things are best left unsaid.

And it's told in a way that just has to be seen. I have never seen dance like this. Almost inhuman in it's expression, the dancers are like broken bodies that still have complete control. The strength and fluidity and originality had me sitting on the edge of my seat, simply gobsmaked.

Arty review will be up tomorrow. But, if you trust anything I've ever said about theatre - SEE THIS.

18 October 2009

Pornography

MIAF 2009
Pornography
Melbourne International Arts Festival and
Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg
17 October 2009


If Avenue Q left us with no doubt that the internet is for porn, be assured that the theatre is for Pornography.

Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg’s production of UK playwright Simon Stephens’s Pornography is set in London in July 2005. The city had just won the Olympic bid, Coldplay are so popular that some folk want to kick them in the teeth and some Englishmen are going to get onto public transport with bags of explosives.

It’s only been four years and already I can’t remember the details of the London bombings, let alone who played at Live 8. Pornography is firmly placed in UK social memory, but having the performance in German (with surtitles) distances us enough to concentrate on the story without needing to place ourselves back in July 2005.

With the superficial euphoria about an event that is still in the future and a cultural obsession with a rock concert as the background, seven unrelated stories are told in the lead up to the shattering day. Each are about momentary joy and being forced to break personal boundaries that reveal the obscenity, cruelty, loneliness and sadness that the previous happy had obscured. If you go along hoping for some hot nude action, it may be best to think about what we mean when we use the word pornography.

The content and story are enough to draw us in, but Director Sebastian Nübling and designers Muriel Gerstner and Jean-Marc Desbonnets tell this story though the phenomana of theatre. I wish I’d been brave enough to stop reading the surtitles and just watch.

The cast remain on stage, themselves watching and sometimes participating in the individual stories, while building or destroying a massive image of Brueghel’s Tower of Babel. Made from tiles, it’s part mosaic, but more recogniseable as a pixelated screen image that needs a slight squint or distance to reveal its clarity and hide its black hole imperfections and its grid order. We know that tower fell, we know London fell, but we want so much for the comfort of a completed, beautiful image.

This is wanky theatre at it’s best, worthy of much satisfying indulgence.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

And Melbournites, TODAY (Sunday 18)  is your last chance to see Pornography.

And you can get into the Rumpus Room for free today if you have a festival ticket for Saturday or Sunday.  It's not our beloved Artists Lounge, but it still looks kind of cool.

17 October 2009

Bittersweet

MELBOURNE FRINGE 2009
Bittersweet

8 October 2009
Meat Market


Bittersweet enjoyed a short season of sold out shows at the Fringe’s wonderful circus ‘tent’ at the Meat Market. Created by Last Tuesday Society regulars, the eager crowds were ready for something very different.

Set in a strip club in the “seedy side of town where it’s always 4.30 in the morning”, Richard Higgins is the DJ who narrates the tale that ends with the destruction of the club. With a singer who only sings when the club is shut, the sweet country girl who just wants to hoop dance, a band who never leave and a drunk whose stuck to his chair, Bittersweet is on it’s way to being a late-night cult favourite.

But it feels like a Last Tuesday night in a bigger venue. Story and characters are what hold this kind of show together, with the skill of the performers used to tell the story. For all their skill, each piece took us away from the characters and made us focus on the performers, which was emphasised by Higgins dropping his dark, seedy (and fascinating) DJ character, slipping into his MC character (or even himself) and asking us to cheer – and the performers dropping out of character to bow! If you want us to care about the people in this sad, lonely place, don’t remind us that it’s all just pretendies and we are really there to see you look hot and show off a bit.

The characters felt tacked on to the performer’s existing acts, rather than integral to them. Simoncee Page-Jones’, Dragon Lilly hides behind enough glitter make up and feathers to dress a Les Girls troupe, but we don’t get a glimpse of why. She sings ‘Send in the Clowns’, but misses the emotion of the song to be a vocal gymnast. This one would have hit us in the heart if she had let Lilly drop her mask and sing from her heart. Stephen Williams was hands down the performer of the night, but his effortless skill needed a character who belonged in that club. Anna Lumb is adorable on stage, but I wasn’t sure if she was playing one or two characters.

Bittersweet is a nice cabaret show, but it’s not a theatre show yet. The story needs work and the group ‘happy ending’ isn’t earned - and I have no idea what the tacked on dance was. Was it meant to show us that two people survived and found love or something that didn’t fit in anywhere else?

The spine and structure are there, but Bittersweet needs (and deserves) the help of a writer and a director to balance out the flavours and remove the saccharine aftertaste.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

More 2009 Fringe reviews.

The Dictionary of Imaginary Places

MIAF 2009
The Dictionary of Imaginary Places
The Store Room and Melbourne International Arts Festival
16 October 2009
Meat Market


Tonight’s television news showed the CCTV footage of a child’s pram blowing under a Melbourne train, with the baby still inside. The baby wasn’t hurt, but anyone who saw the footage will never let a child out of their grasp at a train station again. Melbourne may be known for its iconic trams, but more of us catch trains.

Director Anna Tregloan and sound designer J David Franze spent over a year sitting on trains recording conversations and the resulting The Dictionary of Imaginary Places uses the direct transcripts of these overheard conversations and turns them into something remarkably surprising, unexpectedly funny and curiously beautiful.

The Dictionary of Imaginary Places has been created through The Store Room Theatre’s Artistic Associate program, which allows artists a three-year tenure to develop work. If is the first result of this process, I’m looking forward to more.

Tregloan is best known for her stunning theatre design (it’s no secret that I think her designs are wonderful), but when she creates her own work, she shows us the core artist that controls her.

Like Black (2007), The Dictionary of Imaginary Places combines performance art with design, but this time she doesn’t deconstruct an existing narrative, but starts with the most disparate mass of words.

The conversations people have on trains are mundane. They are filtered because they can be heard, but unfiltered because people assume that no one is listening. In this dictionary, these stolen words mean nothing or everything. The words are just sounds and glimpses of what could be. They don’t belong to the characters or the space and tell their own stories away from what we are witnessing, and Franze’s sound design ensures that we also hear them in unexpected ways.

Rows of train-like seats fill the tunnel-like cavern of the Meat Market and four passengers (Heather Bolton, Christopher Brown, Rita Kalnejais and James Wardlow) recreate what the overheard conversations could have been like. Well, make that what you could never have imagined them to be like. Unless you close your eyes and imagine a red-gowned women stuffing MX’s in her dress to give her a large arse or a jazz hands dancer in a blue sequined jacket prancing among the old coffee cups.

The Dictionary of Imaginary Places is a view of Melbourne that could be imagined by none other that the creators, but still resonates with us who live on train lines, and even those who can only imagine the joys of public transport.

And Anna continues to put the most glorious of gorgeous shoes on display, but that’s just my obsession.


This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

16 October 2009

When the Rain Stops Falling

MIAF 2009
When the Rain Stops Falling

Melbourne Theatre Company, Melbourne International Arts Festival, Brink Productions
12 October 2009
Sumner Theatre


When the Rain Stops Falling is already on it’s way to becoming one of those rare productions that will resonate way beyond its seasons and future theatre goers will wish that they were there.

A production opened in London in May this year and another heads to Broadway in March next year. You have the chance to see the original cast and company that created it. If you still talk about seeing or missing Cloudstreet (I missed it) or Nichloas Nickleby (I saw it), you must not miss this opportunity.

When the Rain Stops Falling is for anyone who yearns for someone’s eyes to light up when they enter a room, or known that love is abhorrent, or broken the heart of someone they loved because it was kinder than destroying their soul, or survived, or been broken, or wished for courage, or believed in redemption.

Our commercial theatre companies have a different raison d’être to our independent wonders. They have to please a very large, somewhat conservative audience who are happy to pay a reasonable price for a nice night out. So, sometimes, the rest of us don’t love the fare our big stages give their audiences. If you’re one of those who avoid the MTC, cast aside all preconceptions and see When the Rain Stops Falling (and the Apocalypse Bear Trilogy) this festival.

It might help to know that it was created by Adelaide’s Brink Productions for the 2008 Adelaide Festival of Arts, and it makes me wonder if perhaps the best theatre in this country is being created in the town I no longer live in.

Andrew Bovell (who wrote, among other things, Lantana) let director Chris Drummond coax him back to writing for theatre. Drummond describes Brink’s approach to creation as, “We ask the artists to come with nothing prepared: to come with minimal research, with no preconceptions, no decisions and no solutions ready.” This allows for unexpected symbiotic relationships to develop between creators. Drummond continues that this “requires both confidence in your fellow artist and, more importantly, it requires a deep sense of self-confidence in your own capacity and a lack of ego – both essential qualities for this kind of work.”

The resulting play is ostensibly simple, but is layered with connections and depth and symbolism that no one artist could create on their own. Bovell’s script is beautiful, but its magic realism and non-sequential plot might be almost obvious without Quentin Grant’s music or Hossein Valamanesh’s design.

Neil Pigot will long be remembered for his performance, which at first seems mundane, but draws us into the heart of both his characters. Anna Lise Phillips leaves the audience free to cry, and Paul Blackwell, Michaela Cantwell, Kay Jamieson, Carmel Johnson, Kris McQuade and Yalin Ozucelik are equally as astonishing. They prove that when actors are involved in the creative process and given complex characters who are motivated by their hearts, it is a profession and a craft that can change people.

I don’t want to discuss the story, the plot or the characters. The process of discovery is too lovely and too painful to be pre-empted. Just give it time and trust that the early confusion and repetition will pay off.

Photo by Jeff Busby.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Check out Andrew Bovell talking about writing with courage, as part of the What I Wrote series of DVDs.  

We miss the artists lounge

MIAF 2009
No Artists Bar

We're limping into week two of Melbourne's capital A arty festival. There's been some amazing shows. Has anyone really noticed?

Why aren't we out every night drinking cocktails, scoffing nachos and loudly discussing the theme of disconnection inherent in the bodysuit of a dancer from some country we couldn't place on a map - but now want to live in?

Where's the buzz, the discussion, the excitement and the opportunity to snog dancers from countries we can't place on maps?

Sure it was a bit elitist and a bit wanky, but so are we. The people who go to the Melbourne International Arts Festival loved that arty farty, snobby space where we could get great coffee, cheap cocktails, posh plonk and dishes that included tofu and cous cous.

We loved talking about the Art we saw and running off (artist card in hand) to get tickets to a show that some stranger told us was unmisasable.

I loved sitting with my lap top and a glass of something fizzy, writing reviews as I chatted to people I'd never met, who would tell me what they thought (and often sway my opinion).

And I loved seeing my friends; those people who also spend too much time indoors or at computers, but always come out for a festival.

OK, there's a club in the Forum. But it costs money to get in, it's more than a two-minute walk from the theatres, there's no outside overlooking the river*, there is loud music playing** and that is the place we go to during the FILM festival.

We want the Artists Lounge back.

I've just recieved an invitation to join a Facebook group wanting the same. In recent festivals we went in early for dinner, stayed out late to drink and spent as much time as we could in the Artists Lounge. It was better than home. It was better than our favourite inner-city bar. It was a welcoming oasis of overly intelligent arty poshness. This year we're going home to play on Facebook.

*Where saintly non-smokers can sit with their pariah smoker mates.
**Who may well be great bands, but you can't chat and listen.

Look Mummy I’m Dancing

MIAF 2009
Look Mummy I’m Dancing
Melbourne International Arts Festival and Vanessa/Swanlake
14 October 2009
the Arts Centre, Fairfax Studio


Vanessa Van Durme assures us that, despite her frustration about how men treat women in supermarkets, she isn’t another one of those bitter chicks with penis envy, because she never liked hers and left it in Morocco in 1975.

Created in Ghent, a Belgium city that seems to specialise in making amazing theatre, Look Mummy I’m Dancing is Vanessa’s monologue (which she can perform in four languages) that has toured Europe and the USA.

Very personal, beautifully sad and selectively honest, she reflects on her 60 years and questions if she made the right decision to undergo a sex change operation and choose to make her soul, mind and genitals reflect the same gender. She describes some very traumatic and confronting experiences that accompanied her ‘disorder’ and her choices, but there wasn’t a moment when I thought that she ever regretted her choice, and I’m still not sure if she’s happy.

Vanessa’s story is captivating and I’d happily listen to her for hours or sit down and have a chat about silky petticoats and big cocks, but Look Mummy I’m Dancing is being presented in our international arts festival and, well, I like my arts festivals to show me something that I haven’t seen before.

Theatrically there is nothing spectacular or unique about a woman talking on a sparsely decorated stage. Dramatically, I would have liked to see more of the other characters (the only one I felt we nearly knew was Fatimah the nurse who told Vanessa that she had a lovely little pussy) and more about Vanessa’s relationships with these people.

And, throughout the show, I couldn’t help wondering if any of us would have been there if she was a 60-year-old woman born with a vagina talking about her life – or if she would have been able to create a show in the first place. I admit that my inner-voyeur went along because of curiosity (and a love of gory operation stories); my inner-intellect adored the discussion of gender identification as distinct from sexuality; my ego wished that my tits looked that good; my inner-feminist rolled her eyes when Vanessa told us that the gone penis was large enough for the doctor removing it to be impressed; but my story loving, theatre-snobby, opinion-blabbing self wanted to see something with more balls.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

11 October 2009

Apocalypse Bear Trilogy

MIAF 2009
Apocalypse Bear Trilogy
MTC and Melbourne International Arts Festival
Friday 9 October 2009
The MTC Theatre, Lawler Studio


If there is any reason why open access festivals, like the Fringe, and independent companies and venues need as much support as we can muster, it is the Apocalypse Bear Trilogy.

Stuck Pigs Squealing have become one of independent Melbourne’s favourite companies and have worked to be presentd by our biggest professional company and earn their much-deserved place in our International Arts Festival.

Lally Katz’s Apocalypse Bear emerged from the woods as a commission for White Whale’s 2007 Melburnalia. The short piece started as a tale about living in far Kew and the congenial and terrifying bear instantly became one of my favourite bears (alongside Pooh, Paddington, the sneezing baby panda on YouTube and friends of mine who drink at the Laird).

Katz is also on my list of bloody-amazing-writers-who-every-other-writer-needs-to-see. The trilogy (The Fag of Zagreb, Back to the Cafeteria and At Last) is about instincts and emotion and the dark, dangerous woods that are as close as one tram stop away, and is so well written that you can’t see the skill for the words. Katz knows that people never say what they mean and creates world of subtext so powerful and raw that a conversation about putting the bins out is as menacing and moving as theatre can be.

It’s not just the writing, the design team of Mel Page (set and costume), Richard Vabre (lighting) and Jethro Woodward (sound) bring this script into the theatre and with co-directors (and performers) Luke Mullins and Brian Lipson, they build tension so gently that we’re only aware of it when it’s released and we realise we’ve been holding our breath.

Mullins and Katherine Tonkin (who were astonishing in SPS’s The Eisteddfod) grasp Katz’s writing like it comes from their hearts. It would be so easy to miss the darkness or the hope that is hidden in Lally’s strange world, but they capture every nuance and never let Sonia or Jeremy act like anything isn’t exactly how it should be. And, for all the wonderful characters Lipson has brought us, he was born to be The Apocalypse Bear.

Reviewing is nothing but subjective opinion, but in mine, The Apocalypse Bear Trilogy is best piece of theatre I’ve seen this year.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.


More adventures of The Apocalypse Bear:
Episode # 1 and Episode # 2.

Occupied

MELBOURNE FRINGE 2009
Occupied

RAG Theatre
(supported by the City of Port Phillip)

10 October 2009
Theatre Works


It's a strange feeling to see a stage that looks too much like how my brain feels, and love a show that made me laugh so honestly at my own life.

RAG Theatre’s Occupied is for everyone who has ever endured a day in an office.

Cheap desks, IKEA bins, old computers (with holographic smiley face stickers), coffee cups, attempts at recycling, folders, and chairs that spin create a design that makes the clutter look almost beautiful; if it wasn’t for the clutter.

Starting slowly and ritualistically, five ‘workers’ (Carla Mitterlehner, Marjetka McMahon, Jo Sloggett, Melissa Tauber and Fur Wale) remind us that our worship of money is what makes us enter offices – places that thrive on unnecessary chaos, but ultimately chip away at our souls though boredom.

Under the steady direction of Scott Gooding, Occupied was devised by the current RAG Theatre ensemble (RAG was formed in 1993) though workshops. The resulting series of vignettes about the ‘madness’ of offices, strip away the pretence of these environments and let us laugh at their absurdity.

“You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps.” There isn’t a workplace where this sign doesn’t appear – and everyone hates it because it’s true. The repetition of this cliché and the examples of the madness that the office life leads to were so familiar and so ridiculous at the same time. Who hasn’t moved the stuff on someone’s desk to bug them or tried to do yoga in their chair?

There’s little dialogue, because work conversations are all the same and don’t say much anyway. The official ones are filled with ‘buts’ that blame other people (with some of the best outrageous excuses ever), while the casual chats are filled with untruths and a touch of crudity.

Occupied’s honest and hilariously accurate depiction of boredom sent me back to every job where I stamped my fingernails, wore an envelope as a hat, looked around the room through a postal tube telescope, built a folder house for my desk toy (that was there to cheer me up), wondered what those bitches were talking about behind my back or just wanted to climb under my desk and cry.

RAG Theatre, you are my type of people – thank you for reminding me why I never want to work in an office again.

More 2009 Fringe reviews.
 
This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com

10 October 2009

DOS or DUO

MELBOURNE FRINGE 2009
DOS or DUO
Stuart Christie and Kane Petersen
10 October 2009
Meat Market

As there is a transport god whom I have somehow displeased (this god really had it in for me today), I missed DOS or DUO.

However I snuck in near the end and saw a bright pink papier mache pig, a mighty impressive double rope routine and an audience who were laughing, cheering and wanting to see more. I think I missed something pretty terrific and hope that Stuart and Kane do it all again sometime.

MelBorn09

MELBOURNE FRINGE 2009
MelBorn09
Melbourne Writers' Thearte
BOObook Theatre
7 October 2009
Carlton Courthouse

The Melbourne Writers’ Theatre have presented eight short play festivals. MelBorn was established as their Fringe showcase in 2007 and two years later...well, unless something changes, I'm not going to MelBorn2010.

Four short plays were chosen for MelBorn09, but the night still went for over two hours and I contemplated doing a runner in the interval. In over 25 years of choosing what I see in theatres, I've completed such an act once. (It was in 1999 and I left a show to see Robert Forster and Grant McLennan performing together as The Go Betweens for the first time since 1988.) I don't leave during intervals because you never know what piece of magic you might miss and the artists who created it don’t deserve such disrespect

So, I returned to my seat and wondered if perhaps I was expecting too much, if I was becoming one of those reviewers who only sees bad, who criticises for the sake of criticism and loathes all artists. My own notebook assured me that I’m still fond of theatre. Back home, I re-read my reviews of MelBorn 07 and 08. I can vividly remember the atmosphere, the evocative design, the theming, the terrific writing, the engaging performances and intelligent direction of 07. I also remember why I only mentioned one writer in 08. I don't understand how a season can slide from something that showed such an understanding and love of theatre to something that I wanted to run from.

Writers know that the first draft of anything is shit. It's full of clichés, the plot clunks along like a bike with a flat tire and a broken chain (and uses hideous metaphors), you repeat yourself, the dialogue sounds like aliens trying to learn your language and there's no hint of subtext. You just vomit out ideas and then start the drafting and feedback process. And you make sure you delete that first draft in case anyone ever reads it.

Or submit it for MelBorn.

There were great characters, beautiful ideas and highly creative and original stories hidden on that stage, but none of these scripts were ready. And the writing was more solid than the design, the direction or the performances.

However, there was something after interval that I won't forget; something that held most of the audience's attention. The noxious smell of a burning gel is hard to miss, especially when the floor light responsible is smoking and most of the room is keeping an eye on it in case an emergency exit is required. Any professional stage manager and lighting operator would have dimmed that light, and any professional actor wouldn't have given a toss that the lighting state wasn't what they rehearsed. Putting that room in a situation that has the slightest potential to turn bad is unacceptable - but at least it created some tension.

More 2009 Fringe reviews.
 
This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com

09 October 2009

Daniel Kitson and Colleauges

MELBOURNE FRINGE 2009
Daniel Kitson and Colleagues

8 October 2009, and into 9 October
Fringe Hub, Lithuanian Club

As this isn't an offical 'media' review, I can be concise and say:

Daniel Kitson and Colleagues was fucking awesome. Laughed in ways I'd forgotten I could laugh in. How and why it wasn't sold out is beyond me. Sucked in to everyone who missed out.

Longer Fringe 2009 reviews.

07 October 2009

And The Little One Said

MELBOURNE FRINGE 2009
And The Little One Said

Jess Love
The Candy Butchers
3 October 2009
Fringe Hub, North Melbourne Town Hall


Although we may be used to seeing Jess Love flying above our heads, it's lovely to see her playing on the ground in her first solo show: And The Little One Said.

Ready for a night of rhymes and tales, Jess is clad in pink and tulle, but, like finding a bloody tooth in your fairy floss, her 'toys' don't want to play nice and her playground hides some nasty secrets.

Delightfully quirky and gorgeously gruesome, Jess's collection of fractured fairy tales and games-gone-wrong pervert her sweetness until she accepts the madness and dares the blood to flow.

If you loved Jess in The Candy Butchers and her guest appearances in The Burlesque Hour, you'll be just as thrilled with the hoop, skating and tumbling of And The Little One Said. And she obeys one of my favourite rules of circus: if you see a roofing nail, you know where it has to go.

More 2009 Fringe reviews.

MIAF Reviews: 2006-2008

MIAF 2008 reviews
That Night Follows Day
Romeo and Juliet
Appetite
Book of Longing
An Oak Tree
El Automovil Gris
Two Faced Bastard
Kitten
The Navigator

MIAF 2007 reviews
European House
Half Life
The Temptation of Saint Anthony
The Tell Tale Heart
Sizwe Banzi is Dead

MIAF 2006 reviews
Peepshow
Now That Communism Is Dead My Life Feels Empty
I La Galigo
Voyage
Of All The People In All The World: Pacific Rim
insen
Tragedia Endogonidia BR.#04 Brussels
Ethel's Greatest Hits
Ngapartji Ngapartji
blessing the boats
Blind Date

04 October 2009

Songs From The 86 Tram

MELBOURNE FRINGE 2009
The Bedroom Philosopher: Songs From The 86 Tram
Justin Heazlewood/ Nan & Pop Records
3 October 2009
Fringe Hub, Lithuanian Club


Songs from the 86 Tram’s capture of Melbourne is so perfect that it should be seen by everyone who has ever caught the 86 tram, everyone who has ever caught any tram in Melbourne and everyone who lives in Melbourne, has visited Melbourne or knows that a tram is neither bus nor train.

From Bundoora to the Docklands, the 86 is a bizarre route that passes through oh-my-god-we-are-nearly-inner-city Preston, the pram belt of Northcote, yay-it’s-still-grungy Smith St, the ‘Paris’ end of Collin’s St (does anyone get that?), the one-day-I-WILL-watch–it DVD store, the CBD and onto the ‘Canberra of the South’, Docklands. There is no better way to understand the diversity and extremes of this wonderful city than a trip on the 86 – and it will only cost $5.80. (As it goes to the mysterious and creepy Zone 2 world, you need the extra expensive ticket or, as I read in The Age, some people have found ways to 'fare evade'.)

Justin Heazlewood’s astute observation delivers a quintessential character from each section of the route, who he can’t have invented, because we’ve all sat too close to them all on a tram. From Gwen, whose sadness made me want to cry, to the new media artist, whose hopeful enthusiasm also made me want to cry, each song or sketch is filled with glorious gags and jokes about our city that hurt because we know they are true.

It’s also the best thing that I’ve seen Heazlewood/The Bedroom Philosopher perform. As a performer he is so much more comfortable and a much stronger performer from behind the mask of a character.

The writer of this show has ‘leapt and bound’ over other musicians to pen what may be the best songs ever written about Melbourne and the performer captures his characters with a delicate accuracy – but they need to team up and fire their director.

This show is bloody good, but it isn’t great. It isn’t what it should be and it won’t be what it deserves to be until Heazlewood trusts that he needs the tough love of an outside eye to get the crap bits off the stage. This show needs a director* who the performer is going to despise so much that during rehearsal he spends his nights blogging at Ihatemyfuckingdirector.com, while the writer is secretly sending flowers and hoping to snog the director at the after party.

I sat in that audience frustrated because – for all the cack-yourself moments – there was too much that took us away from the show and brought us back to Justin. As a performer, the show you want is running in your head, so you can’t see what we see from the audience. Heazelwood is too good a performer and too intelligent a writer to put that much trust in his own directorial instinct.

* Things an insensitive director might say:

• “I laughed so much at the Potter/Malfoy joke that I think I have a small hernia and will not be able to read JK’s novels without thinking of you – but the joke has no place in this show. It’s a joke about you, it’s not about the 86 tram, Melbourne or even about TBP.”
• “If you don’t rehearse in your space and you fuck up on stage, don’t blame the space or draw attention to your lack of rehearsal. It makes you (not TBP) look like a lazy dick.”
• “If I ever see you laughing, or even smirking, at your own jokes before, or after, the audience get them, I will kick you in the nuts.”

More Fringe 2009 reviews.
A version of this review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Pure Kunst

MELBOURNE FRINGE 2009
Pure Kunst
The Caravan of Love
3 October 2009
Fringe Hub, Lithuanian Club


If you’re unsure of the meaning of ‘bootylicious’, grab your ‘front bottom’ and make a late night visit to the Caravan of Love because Destiny’s Child’s kunst doesn’t compare to the gorgeous Caravan kunst – and this time they're searching for purity

For five years this luscious and hard working ménage a quatre have shimmied and writhed their way around festivals, (making regular stops at The Last Tuesday society), defiling all in their path and leaving all in their wake with very big smiles. They also know that, even though we take our sex lives very seriously, sex is really the strangest and funniest thing that we get up to, so there’s always room for a bit of perfect imperfection.

Nothing is sacred to the Caravan. Little Red Riding Hood, top 40 obsession and fan dancing are all lampooned, and the luckiest audience members even get a juicy bite of the action.

With Madame Eva’s heart-stopping voice, Vruska toe-bleeding avante guarde pointe, Elsie’s now-I-get-why-blokes-are-fond-of-this-art-form pole dancing and Kartie’s too-wrong Barbie obsession, their skill and love of kunst (it’s a German word – look it up if you’re horrified at my poor spelling) is enough to satisfy anyone in a kunst drought.

I did, however, miss a visit to their homeland of Snowmanlandia and would have liked to see more interaction between the characters. It felt like their was an assumption that we already know their stories, but I’d hear them again and Caravan virgins could feel left out, because seduction is always better if we know a bit about the people leaving us moist.

More Fringe 2009 reviews.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com

Terrific interview with the COL.

03 October 2009

Chatting on The Outland Institute

Last week I had a lovely chat on Joy 94.9 with Daniel, who was pretending to be John, from The Outland Institute (every Friday from 12.00 to 2.00). Here's the podcast (episode 12).

John Richards also had a lovely chat with some terrific Fringe artists on episode 13. But have a listen to them all if you like literature, film, tv, theatre, crimes against pop or Almost Fabulous people who should have been gay icons, but somehow stayed in the shadows.

Or have a read of The Outland Institute blog. As radio hadn't been invented last year, I had to write about the 2008 Fringe.

02 October 2009

Dead River

MELBOURNE FRINGE 2009
Dead River
Pregnant Goldfish Productions
30 September 2009
The Store Room


It’s been three years since Kate McLennan’s The Debutante Diaries won Fringe awards, headed off to Edinburgh and left us holding our breath for more. In Dead River, McLennan teams up again with director Fiona Harris and fellow Debutante devotees will be thrilled.

Dead River is also set in rural Victoria, but it’s a more complex story told by six-year-old Janie (the delightful Emma Leonard), who is joined by her family and Dead River residents, played by McLennan, Brett Swain and Helen McFarlane. Janie and her sister Rachel love their adventurous life in Dead River and can’t see the poverty and gambling that are causing problems at home and with the neighbours, even when they find the murdered body of an RSPCA inspector in their forest.

A more complex story than Debutante, Dead River deftly juxtaposes childhood innocence with the jaded acceptance and anger of the adult world. There are a few moments of confusion and some obvious plotting choices, but they will smooth out as audiences react and the script develops.

Ultimately, McLennan creates characters who are hard to forget and refuse to let anyone not love them. Even when we’re wiping away tears of laughter, we see the truth in the worst of them, recognise a bit of ourselves and understand them far better than they understand themselves.

If you’ve had enough Fringe cynicism, blackness and nude fire twirling, the hope and warmth of Dead River will set you back on track. (And see it with Donna and Damo to multiply the feelgoodness of the evening.)

More 2009 Fringe reviews.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

OTHER REVIEW SITES

If we all had the same opinion it would be a very boring world!

Let me know of other sites to add to the list.

AussieTheatre.com is your first stop

Buzzcuts
Theatrenotes
theatARGH
Man About Town
The Groggy Squirrel
apenimento
Sparkonline
Australian Stage Online
Theatre Alive
Arts Hub

01 October 2009

Lorraine’s Hair and Face

MELBOURNE FRINGE 2009
Lorraine’s Hair and Face
Bella Union
29 September 2009
Trades Hall, Old Council Chambers


How we love laughing at bogans, bad coifs and atrocious coffee, so what better place to set an Aussie musical than an outer-suburb hair salon? Being a bit ‘obsessed by hairs’ myself, I booked in for a cut-price special and cup of International Roast* at Lorraine’s Hair and Face.

Andrea Powell, Scott Brennan and Geraldine Hickey are co-owners and creators of Lorraine’s. Powell’s Lorraine runs the salon with an ironing tong fist and her long-time assistant Jade hasn’t been paid in years. When local beauty guru, Pam Panache, books in for a treatment, the tide seems to be turning and Lorraine may even outshine her rival, Joyce from Price Cuts.

From Major Jizz to a courtesy finger, the word play has the subtlety of a diamante g-string pulled over the fold of a bulging muffin top, but as Lorraine buys her biscuits at Aldi**, any class would just seem out of place.

Powell and Brennan are always funny, but Hickey stands back and steals the show. With immaculate timing and a deep understanding of joke, she makes the audience love her downtrodden Jade, so we’re with her on every laugh. We’re laughing at the other characters, who, as hilariously grotesque as they are, could be approached with a touch more love to create the recognition and empathy that leads to belly laughs.

Being preview night, there was room for a bit of tidying up at the salon, but the improvised interaction between the performers (rather than the characters) added to the fun. The songs are a hoot, but it’s not really a musical, as the singing could easily disappear without distracting from the story. However, I’d love to see the musical side of Lorraine’s develop and leave us singing our way out into Lygon Street, grateful that espresso and biscotti are within reach.

*I didn’t really drink any International Roast, or any instant ‘coffee’ for that matter.
** I don’t like food from Aldi either.

And here's what John Richards wrote about the next season.

More 2009 Fringe reviews.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Home Economics

MELBOURNE FRINGE 2009
Home Economics
Little Ones Theatre
30 September 2009
The Storeroom


I’m consulting my gay-o-meter to confirm, but I think that Home Economics, Declan Greene's second Fringe work, may be gayer than his wrong and black wonder A Black Joy. Dec is taking a very big bite of the Fringe this year and making us open up wide to fit all of his writerly goodness in.

Home Economics is as gross as theatre can get. And, even though I did watch quite a bit of it through squinted eyes (I have a strange phobia regarding runny food), I loved its spluttered chocolate, meat smeared, onion biting, cock-sucking indulgence.

Inspired by a series of photographs, Home Economics is a series of explorations that presents all carnal desires as food. Real food. There’s metaphor in the writing, but a full Coles trolley is dripped, spat, thrown and squirted over the actors (who are all pretty amazing) and the stage.

From a gay private school teacher who knows he has to hate boys to keep his job, to the fellatio-giving lesbian novelist who finds intimacy with a telemarketer, or the girl not sure if she’s enjoying the group sex or being pack raped, Greene refuse to shy away from the baser, confronting elements of our society and our psyches. And it poses the age-old question of whether sperm is indeed vegan friendly.

Home Economics isn’t as finely crafted as A Black Joy, and I can hear Greene’s own voice coming through some of his characters, but if you’ve seen one you have to see the other. Together they show the depth, the development and the depravity of this remarkably sick young writer.

More 2009 Fringe reviews.

This review originally appeared on AussieThearte.com.

Donna and Damo

MELBOURNE FRINGE 2009
Donna and Damo
Sarah Collins and Justin Kennedy
30 September 2009
Fringe Hub, Lithuanian Club

Can true love flourish without a pash? Or even a bit of under-the-jumper action? Neither Donna nor Damo care for that stuff and, even though I’m now hopelessly in love with both of them, I can’t imagine more than perhaps going on a nice picnic together or sharing a pizza as we watch the Logis.

My favourite show from the 2008 Fringe was Sarah Collins’s extraordinarily beautiful Nothing Extraordinary Ever Happens in Toowoomba. (Ever). This year she has teamed up with Justin Kennedy to write and perform Donna and Damo, and it is just as gorgeous.

Donna is a telemarketer for a glamour photographer travelling through country Victoria, and she’s given up fudge so she can look great when she watches the 2006 Academy Award ceremony with her film blogging boyfriend, Trevor. Damo finds Donna’s work place because someone thought that ‘glamor’ is acceptable spelling, but says he’ll accept ‘photographfix’ if it’s a pun and only if photos are actually fixed. Damo understands the need to fix broken things.

Women whose downfall is chewy chocolaty goodness, blogging critics who take their own opinions too seriously and a freelance spell checker who is offended by any breach of the law of English language: I love this play.

Too close to home content aside, Donna and Damo is exquisite writing. The delightful originality of Collins’s voice (and Kennedy’s) is so lovely that there’s a small part of me seething with jealousy. This is writing that puts story first, refuses to let a bad plot moment exist and has created characters so original and complete that you’d swear you’d met them.

Swapping between direct narrative and their collection of characters, Collins and Kennedy are as irresistible as their creations. Kennedy just has to trust that they really are reaching the hearts of their audience and let his misfits dance.

Delicately directed by Jason Lehane, and with what has to be the best use of an overhead projector ever, Donna and Damo will leave your heart so warm that you won’t have to worry about another Melbourne cold snap.

More 2009 Fringe reviews.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

The List Operators for Kids

MELBOURNE FRINGE 2009
The List Operators for Kids
Matt Kelly and Richard Higgins
30 September 2009
Fringe Hub, Lithuanian Club


Jumper? Check. Moustache? Check. The List Operators for Kids is bum burping its way through the Fringe kids program and after this hour, your children may burn their High-4-Wiggles DVDs in protest against sanitised, nice kid’s entertainment.

TLO have given us groan ups some serious giggles with their witty discussions about semiotics and their Santa visual gag, but this is the audience they really deserve; this is the crowd that let Matt and Rich reveal their true selves.

Anyone who has spent more than three seconds with anyone who still calls animation ‘cartoons’ and prefers wascally wabbits to anime porn, knows that there are really only four very funny things: farts, poo, rude words and men pretending to be old ladies. And how could I disagree.

Luckily, this show has an abundance of all four (and I am glad that some of my favourite rude words didn’t make an appearance). TLO4K never doubts that kids are smarter than adults and, at times, play near the edge. And their audience love every second of it. And I mean the adults as well. 

Take every child you know to see The List Operators for Kids. If you don’t have access to any little tackers to take along, kidnap some. Or cut your legs off, pull out your old Scooby Doo t-shirt and find a grown up willing to take you.

Riley (5) sat with me and, although he had a bit of trouble reading the signs on the stage and he wasn’t chosen to work the computer, it didn’t really matter because his favourite bit was the Ninga Nan.

More 2009 Fringe reviews.

The review originally appeared on AussieThearte.com.

2007 Melbourne Fringe reviews

Here are my AussieTheatre 2007 Melbourne Fringe Reviews.

A Record or an OBE
Pick Ups
The Outrageous Beverly Parker
Testosterone
I Love You Bro
Was it a Cat I Saw
MelBorn
Cake

2006 MELBOURNE FRINGE
2008 MELBOURNE FRINGE
2009 MELBOURNE FRINGE

2008 Melbourne Fringe reviews

Here are the AussieTheatre 2008 Fringe reviews.

2006 MELBOURNE FRINGE
2007 MELBOURNE FRINGE
2009 MELBOURNE FRINGE