21 April 2010

Review: The Grenade

The Grenade
Melbourne Theatre Company
15 April 2010
Playhouse, the Arts Centre

What does a wealthy middle class family do when a grenade appears in their open plan living space? Luckily, the dad is a lobbyist who specialises in crisis management and it turns out to be more of a metaphorical grenade that ignites deeper fears about family love and security being in danger. If The Grenade were an episode of Packed to the Rafters, it’d rate through the roof.
Tony McNamara’s work is about fear, especially the fears invented by the comfortable middle class. We read forwarded emails about plastic water bottles causing breast cancer, but don’t think twice about the impact of driving to the supermarket to buy water in a bottle.  The easier our lives, the more we worry. 

The script is shaped to perfection, filled with tippity-top wit ("Broken eggs: you've raped chickens"), winning crowd pleasers ("Hi, I'm Randy") and a plot that jogs along like an Olympic pace setter. McNamara's original characters are plucked from the southern bank of the Yarra and have funny names like Busby (who is nothing like Berkely) and Wheat (who favours an "Abe Lincoln meets Gatsby" look). There's even a hot ex-nun who is writing a romantic erotic novel with a muscle-bound spunk called Randy, a sardonic and judgmental baby who may be evil and a teenage girl who wants to lose her virginity.

And with a cast like Garry McDonald and Mitchell Butel, giggles are unavoidable...and these are all the sort of things we say when we were bored.

The MTC rightly love a good play that it's subscribers can relate to. The Grenade is bit like a Melbourne God Of Carnage (by Yasmina Reza) from their 2009 program, and they share director Peter Evans. Both are about the same tribe, set in an expensive apartment and have jokes about posh imported food. But where God of Carnage laughed with "us", The Grenade is laughing at "them" with humour that is is approaching (but not reaching) parody. By putting a mocking wedge between the audience and the stage, it feels unauthentic (a stainless steel fridge does not equal authenticity) and misses the opportunity for the audience to attach emotionally and feel anything for this family.

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com.

15 April 2010

Review: Elizabeth - Almost By Chance A Woman

Elizabeth - Almost By Chance A Woman
Malthouse Theatre
7 April 2010
Merlyn Theatre, CUB Malthouse

If the Shakespearean malepropism "sporty bras of foreplay"* leaves you dabbing your eyes with your long white handkerchief, then get ye to Elizabeth - Almost By Chance A Woman.

Elizabeth is directed by Micahel Kantor. I love how Kantor has developed the Malthouse Theatre program. We've felt the impact of having artists and a dramaturge in residence, the Tower program has let many independent companies reach much wider audience and we've seen brilliant artists from all over. Of course, folk have whinged (some as they have free plonk at the opening night party), but sometimes it's just because they aren't part of the program.

I just wish I could connect and feel something when Kantor directs. His theatrical voice is distinct and bold and totally his. As an over-analyiser, I can always see the intent and the thought behind his work, but I don't go to the theatre (or read a book or watch TV) to admire technique. I go to wake up my heart and be taken somewhere amazing with people who make me feel and care.

Every artist in the Elizabeth team has been let free to create at the peak of their skill and imagination. Anna Cordingley's design is (as always) so exquisitely detailed that your eyes have to orgasm to take it all in; Louise Fox and Luke Devenish have written a gloriously bawdy script, filled with Aussie slang and cunt jokes that must have Dario Fo laughing from the heavens and wishing that "Mary Scrag of Scotts" would work in his original Italian; Billy Brown gets to wear a frock and swear like an old drag queen in a bitchy mood after a dozen midori and lemonades (and be Shakespeare); and the super cast get to wear amazing frocks and have a sing song.

Everyone is having a total ball and loving themselves sick as the audience are hypnotised by the bright pink tights, work to recognise the songs that were written in the later reign of Elizabeth II, and wish they had a boutique pale ale to scull every time that Billy said something about vaginas. Elizabeth leaves us so busy admiring all the very clever pretty that the story almost disappears. And there's a kick-ass story up there about a dying woman who is losing control of her mind and her personal life and her kingdom, while being harassed by Shakespeare.

Julie Forsyth as Elizabeth is so amazing that she keeps bringing the audience back. She understands the tone of Kantor's direction and uses all of its extravagance to make her monarch someone memorable.  But her performance doesn't feel completely supported by the rest of the show, apart from Paul Jackson's lighting that brings emotional light and shade to the stage when it's lacking.

No matter how good something is by itself, it is doing bad if it distracts the audience, who, after all,  are who the production is for. If pink tights are so memorable that it's all we look at in the scene, bring out the flesh coloured ones. If "clitty cheese" is making us laugh at Billy's smirk and and not at Donna's manipulation of her queen, the connection with the characters is lost. "Neverending Story" was so beautiful that I want a mini-windup version to put on my mantlepiece, but I have no idea what purpose it served in the story, as it created a faux-nostalgic emotion that wasn't for the suffering souls being played on the stage.

There's an old fashionista trick that says, before you leave the house turn around in front of the mirror and the first thing you see – take it off. There's a well used self-editing trick that says, highlight the phrases and words that you know are brilliant writerly writing – then cut them. If something is distracting from the story, a director should take it away.

Elizabeth has too much wonderful in it to be so emotionally unrewarding.

*Fortinbras of Norway, but I know you all got it!

This review appears on AussieThearte.com.

11 April 2010

Workshop Opportunities at addFEST

MUST (Monash University Student Theatre) is running addFEST (Artistic Development Festival) from 12 April 1 to 1 May.

Workshops include Short Film Making, Acting for Film and TV, Bollywood Dancing, Puppetry, Stage Combat, Singing, Shakespeare, Close Hand Magic, Juggling, Lighting Design, Set Design, Production
Management, Producing, Stage Management, Trash Theatre with Sisters' Grimm, Dance, Directing, Bouffon, Playwrighting, Mask Making, Accents, Photography, Voice, Object Theatre and Devising New Work.

For a ridiculously cheap fee ($3 to $15), you can work with SometimesMelbourne favourites like Penelope Bartlau, Jason Lehane and the Sisters Grimm.

Download the brochure here.

10 April 2010

Review: A Rare Sight

A Rare Sight
Maeve Higgins and Nick Coyle
9 April 2010
The Black Box

I got and totally enjoyed A Rare Sight, but my fondness for quirky character-based comedy is no secret, so I can see why this show is polarising opinions.

Forget that the show has changed since the program blurb was written and that some reviewers have shown off their bagging skills; if (like me) you love shows like Donna and Damo, Monster of The Deep 3D, Kunst Rock and Dos or Duo, you may adore A Rare Sight.

Maeve Higgins and Nick Coyle are a twin brother and sister team (even more disfunctional than Die Rotten Punkte playing next door to them) who want to offer "an alternative to all the humour that is going around" and share their tips about how to live your best life and love your best love. They don't have any solid experience in love or life, but they have done some research by watching telly and have a whiteboard and some useless coms headphones to help.

Their lessons in the universal problems of finding a spouse, getting a job and finding out if an alien is in your spouse are gorgeously and absurdly funny and their performances are so endearing that it's easy to forgive what isn't working. Nevertheless, for all it's goodness and funniness, A Rare Sight hasn't found its rhythm and is missing its mark because it isn't sure where the goal post is and hasn't decided what it wants the audience to feel for these wonderfully original characters.

There are hints about these lost souls' past, but I wanted to know how they got to this point. The back story of them doing ads as kids is currently serving as a joke or two, rather than helping us understand how these odd siblings came to be giving bad lectures.  There's so much gorgeous material to be discovered (yes, I mean written) and shared that will help the audience to love and care about them and want to buy them drinks after the show.

As it's a theatre show, using more of that stuff that theatre does so well will help to bring it to life. It's still  relying too much on the written words and the performances. Both of which are vital, but a design that helps us understand where we are, more odd props and the outside eye and extra creativity of a director that will help take it to where it deserves to be.

I so hope that this isn't the end of A Rare Sight. It's just not cooked yet, but the ingredients are some of best around, so they shouldn't go to waste.

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com.

09 April 2010

Review: Kunst Rock

Kunst Rock: Die Roten Punkte
Full Tilt and Button Eye Productions
8 April 2010
Fairfax Studio, the Arts Centre

It was almost too perfect to see Die Roten Punkte's  Kunst Rock on the same day that Malcolm McLaren left us to manage a great gig in the sky and have a quiet shandy with Sid and Nancy.

It's been said that punk is attitude, not art, but don't say that to McLaren fans and certainly not to fans of the greatest post-punk punk rock group from Berlin, M-Elbourne: Die Roten Punkte, who are back in "the artiest city in the world" with their new kunsty album and show.

One always asks why when brothers and sisters form a band, but Astrid and Otto Rot are no Karen and Richard. Their relationship is as co-dependant and dubious as a young Donnie and Marie, but their TV series song would be "I'm a little bit vegan, I'm a little bit drunken slut" and they sell albums to more than pre-teen girls (yes, I watched the D&M show) and post-senile nannas. And a lot of questions get answered about the Rot siblings upbringing in their 13-minute mini-rock opera.  If we could have live flames in the theatre, we would have been waving our cigarette lighters.

Like Hedwig and Spinal Tap, the creators behind the characters are invisible, as this rock prince and princess are too real to ever be doubted. They re-invent rock cliches so they almost feel new and play a night of parody so perfect that it's nearly impossible to not buy a banana house or a t-shirt in the foyer and slip your underwear to whichever member of the duo you fancy.

With their new ninja roadie and the most-awesome-ever inflatable,  Die Roten Punkte have moved from intimate venues to the artiness of the Arts Centre (thank you Full Tilt) and if they keep on like this, we may soon be resenting them for playing a sports arena.

Kunst Rock is for anyone with a punk soul or a hidden collection of Donnie and Marie albums... and Malcolm would have loved them.

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com.

It's Grimm

06 April 2010

Review: Dos or Duo

Dos or Duo
Stuart Christie and Kane Petersen
6 April 2010

The Comedy Festival is happening all over our wonderful city, so leave the metro-hub and see what's happening a few tram stops away. First stop is the Gasworks Arts Park for the the uber-delightful and super-gorgeous Dos or Duo.

Dos or Duo won hearts at the Melbourne Fringe, was nominated for awards at the Adelaide Fringe and delights everyone who sees it.  There's nothing quite like sitting in an audience who are all loving what they are watching.

Circus and theatre can be the best and the worst of bedfellows.  Luckily Stuart Christie and Kane Petersen had sage advice that recommended a beginning/middle/end structure, never looking beyond the fourth wall and a reason to jump.  It's ironic and kooky and full of jokes for theatre nerds, circus freaks and anyone who loves pirates.

Contemporary theatrey circus often favours nude bits and grown-up jokes, but Dos and Duo is one that kids and the easily offended can happily come to. There's one joke with an M rating, but innocent viewers won't be laughing at the same thing that the depraved ones are.

Non-stop laughs aside, this show has ridiculously fit blokes doing the physically impossible. Christie and Kane's rope aerials combine gracious and slow with heart-jumping drops and swashbuckling swinging, which are as eye-popping as their tumbling and acrobalance.

To bring us their bloody amazing aerial work, they need to perform in a theatre (there's no poking this show into a closet at the Town Hall), so you have to go to Gasworks to see them. There's plenty of parking, the bar is open and public transport leaves from outside the Town Hall (tram 1 from Swanston St to stop 31). There's no excuse not to go.

These two are too good to miss.

This review appears on AussieThearte.com.

05 April 2010

Reviewing The Age

The only thing performers hate more than Public Liability Insurance is reviews. But they love that insurance when a claim is made and...

According to Facebook, one popular performer around town (whom I have showered with praise and begged to do better) isn't keen on The Age reviews this festival and neither is this blogger who has decided to review the reviews.

So anyone up for reviewing the review of the reviews?  You have to file it before 9am (sleep is irrelevant), you only have 150 words and have to follow The Age style guide.

04 April 2010

Guest Review: I Coulda Been A Sailor

I Coulda Been a Sailor
Nelly Thomas
1 April 2010
Melbourne Town Hall

Guest Reviewer John Richards (from Boxcutters and The Outland Institute)

If things had been slightly different, Nelly Thomas could have been a sailor. Or a manager of a fast-food chicken franchise. Or a BMX champion... Like all of us, Thomas has had many roles in life, with many roads and options that she did and didn’t take. I Coulda Been A Sailor is essentially an onstage biography that will connect with anyone who ever wondered where they were going in life.
Thomas has a warm, engaging delivery that feels like chatting with a friend. Her life story becomes fascinating through her skill in connecting to the audience and her deft turn of phrase. I Coulda Been A Sailor also incorporates an effective theatrical device in the re-enactment of certain moments with award-winning performer Kate McLennan (Debutante Diaries, Beaconsfield: The Musical, Dogstar). Incidentally, McLennan is already on stage when the audience enters and I’m sure I’m not the only one who assumed I was in the wrong room.
It’s been great to see so many comedians really working on their shows this year, rather than the “good enough” approach of previous years (the attitude that says “I’ve got a title and 15 minutes of on-subject material, the rest I’ll fill with recent stand-up and Lara Bingle jokes”. Sadly, we do still see a fair bit of this, which is both lazy and contemptuous of the audience).  Thomas has obviously spent a lot of time honing this show – there are no dead patches or extraneous material and the show is fluid and tightly paced.
Comedy is often about recognition, so I should point out that my childhood was alarmingly similar to Thomas – we both grew up in small country towns in WA, and Thomas’s observation that in 17 years she never once saw anyone go in or out of the local library rang true to me. And for the more Mediawatch-minded I should also disclose that Nelly Thomas and I are both alternate hosts of the Boxcutters podcast, although this was only the second time we’d ever been in the same room.
Nelly Thomas is rehearsed, confident, and extremely funny. I Coulda Been A Sailor will make you consider all the choices you’ve made in your own life and hopefully – like Thomas – you’ll come out happy with where you are.
 Nelly Thomas coulda been a sailor. Luckily for us she became a comedian. See this show.

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com.

AussieTheatre Reviews

There are heaps more Comedy Fest reviews on the AussieTheatre review page.

Review: Alzheimer's The Musical: A Night to Remember

Alzheimer's The Musical: A Night to Remember
Prospect Productions
1 April 2010
Chapel Off Chapel

Had enough of a Comedy Fest full of gen Ys whinging about everything or gen Xs telling you that we are right, have always been right and will always be right? Then it's off to Rod Quantock and Denise Scott for you and don't miss Alzheimer's The Musical.
"To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable."    Oscar Wilde
I'm with Oscar, and I think I'm in line behind Maureen Sherlock, Lyn Shakepeare and Carole Yelland. This terrific trio aren't ready for the nursing home yet, but they are of "an age" where g-strings are no longer an underwear option and 40-somethings give up seats for them on the tram (the gen Ys sure as hell don't), so it's time to start exploring how fun life can be when knee highs are easier than pantyhose and slippers can be worn in public. 

From the opening number, "I'm Living in my Seventies" (even better for those alive in the 70s), to the obligatory matching shoes and colostomy bag joke, there are plenty of gags about bowls and bowels, but it's the jokes about pelvic floor muscles, the granny sex chat and the best-ever balloon models about reproductive organs that have all ages squirming with laughter. 

The story is minimal (and not at all about Alzheimer's), but there is room for some poignant moments that remind us that losing your loved ones, friends and health isn't necessarily a barrel of monkeys. 

If you remember buying cookies at David Jones, had a Mickey Mouse watch or have trouble remembering the minuet  (I can barely remember the men I fucked ... boom boom), forgo the young ones ranting in the city, grab all your boomer relatives and friends and get on the tram to Chapel off Chapel for mutton dressed as mutton and a hip replacement hop that'll make you glad that we can age disgracefully. 

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com.

Review: Monster of the Deep 3D

Monster of the Deep 3D
Claudia O'Doherty
3 April 2010
Melbourne Town Hall

From it's pre-show distraction card to the most awesome of all awesome virtual technologies, Monster of the Deep 3D spits on any whizzbang IMAX film.

Claudia O'Doherty is the only surviving inhabitant of Aquaplex, a top-secret,underwater complex built from a mix of 70s paranoia and international cooperation. A child of a brainiac and a hunk, she was born in this pressurised world and didn't see land until an unfortunate explosion.

Like any isolated cultish civilisation, Aquaplex developed it's own social customs that have left Claudia slightly unable to adjust to the strangeness of sharing a land word with billions, but she's determined to share her world with the curious folk who come to her presentation.

Her low-tech presentation is as cute as a kitten, as bitter-sweet as a dark chocolate rabbit and as fun as playing with a kitten after eating all of your Easter chocolate in one sitting and washing it down with a litre of red cordial. It's also one of the most original character-pieces I've seen this festival.

O'Doherty plays Claudia's innocence so well that it's almost too easy to forget that she's a character and it doesn't take long to start loving her flip charts and home made models. Many an audience member commented on the effort it took to make her props, but this would pale compared to the time it took to craft the script. Claudia may be naive, but O'Doherty has crafted a script full of surprises, ironies and unforgettable stories that gently reveal their complexities and leave you wanting more.

I think this show is gorgeous, but not all reviewers have agreed and I can see why some don't like it. It's a gentle character piece that forces your brain to join in the fun and fill in some of the blank spaces. If you know this isn't your kind of show, see something that is - or maybe take a risk and give it a go anyway.

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com.

03 April 2010

Review: Circus Trick Tease

Circus Trick Tease
31 March 2010
Trades Hall

With a mixture of slap stick, innuendo and some of the best duo and trio acrobalance around, Circus Trick Tease continue to show that fabulous circus is much more then spectacular handstands and leopard print unitards.

Welcome to the vivacious Miss Tinkle's circus. She can do the spits and has a sexual appetite worthy of the greatest lover, but her fellow performers aren't always in her obsessive control. Her sensitive new age strong man keeps picking up hussies in the audience and has cast his eye to their new strong and silent clown.

Shannon Mc Gurgan, Malia Walsh and Farhad Ahadi's Circus Trick Tease appeared at the 2008 Melbourne Fringe and this upstaging, jealous and swinging trio have been welcomed and loved at many festivals since.

With characters that could carry the show without their jaw-dropping tricks, it's a bit naughty but never offends and leaves its audience with ridiculous smiles from start to finish.

If you've seen them before, you'll love it again and everyone else get in now before they head overseas.

2008 Melbourne Fringe review.

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com

02 April 2010

Review: Sammy J and Randy in Ricketts Lane

Sammy J and Randy in Ricketts Lane
27 March 2010
Victoria Hotel

Even though Damo really proposed to Donna this week, Sammy J and Randy in Ricketts Lane affirms that Sammy J and Randy are still my favourite Comedy Festival couple.
Sammy J and Randy (puppeteer wonder Heath McIvor) are always terrific in their solo shows but like sparklie foil and chocolate eggs (not Nestle because of that baby thing in Africa – thanks for reminding us Sammy J) they belong together.

In Ricketts Lane, they are best friends and housemates . Sammy is a lowly underpaid shit-kicking lawyer-cum-pole dancer and Randy is divorced and in need of some quick money. When Sammy finally has a career-making tax fraud case...you know the rest.

But you will be always be surprised. J and McIvor are the most original duo on our comedy stage, who deserve every whoop and squeal that comes from their ever-growing young and gorgeous audience (and the rest of us who won’t miss anything they do).

I’d rave more, but John Richards was also throwing his underwear at the stage and had this to say about the boys:

Sammy J is amazing. Randy is amazing. Heath McIvor is amazing. The songs? Amazing. And the comedy! Amazing. In a word – amazing.

If you liked Sammy J In The Forest Of Dreams you must see this. If you like puppets you must see this. If you like songs about sleep, jokes about scrabble or Barack Obama audio cookery books, you must see this.

Honestly, JUST GO.

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com.

Review: God is Bullshit: That's the Good News

God is Bullshit: That's the Good News
Catherine Deveny
31 March 2010
Trades Hall

It's unlikely you'll be sitting next to a Christian at Catherine Deveny's God is Bullshit, but you will find those who watched Dawkins V Fielding on Q&A and still have their jaws on the ground.

Deveny was brought up so Catholic that even their windscreen wipers didn't have rubbers and she happily ticked Catholic on her census forms, until reverting to atheism at 38. She didn't have a crisis of faith or remembered being fingered by a priest; she started telling her children about their family's faith and saw glaring consistency issues and a morality that went against too much of what she believed.

Her born again atheism comes with the passion of someone struck on the head by the bloody obvious, who is happy to scream to the world that she was wrong. Like ex-smokers, there is none as willing to talk about their reversion as one who used to believe. (As an ex-animal-eater, I know that desire to preach.) Given the age, intelligence and education of her audience, Dev is preaching to the choir, but who doesn't like hearing their beliefs affirmed?

I haven't read the Christian Bible properly, but I do read Deveny's columns religiously. (Don't tell her that I meet with friends on Sundays and we read her book and sing.) Her columns are one of the few reasons left to read The Age and her writing, attitude and ability to insult knobheads continue to inspire me. And,  just like her, I don't believe everything she writes either.

It's odd how people believe that written in print stuff must be true. Just between us, writers sometimes bend the truth to tell a better story or make a point ... and ... some even make stuff up! Gospel truth really means that you can write anything and someone will believe you. Religious writings really have a lot to answer for.

Like Ms D, I went to a religious school, but we were Anglicans – who are kind of like Catholics, but without the guilt and the virgin fetish, and we were allowed to be alter chicks (I was), use condoms (I do) and lithurgical dance was optional (I didn't).  I also won a series of Religious Education prizes. It wasn't because I wanted Jesus to make me a sunbeam; it was because I'd win a book voucher if I drew good pictures of camels, needles and burning bushes. The book vouchers were for the university bookshop, so I was able to use my faux-faith bounty to further my mind.

Even with its abundance of contradictions, Christianity doesn't offend me. Some of my best friends ... Really. Faith gives many people comfort and hope and perhaps a belief in miracles is better than a belief in alcohol or Tony Abbott. (According to the gospel according to Facebook, one of my friends believes in TA. Never say terrific people, can't have odd beliefs.)

Avoiding the obvious arguments of sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and war mongering, think of all the fabulous stories that would never have been without religious guilt, faith or characters. Neil Gaimen and Terry Pratchett might have had to write a book about earthworms.

And Christianity lets me be god-damned lazy when it comes to language. Jesus may have been a top bloke, but he's useful with an explanation mark. Without the phrase "Oh my fucking god", I would have had to yell "Oh dear, this gets the adrenalin flowing" when I had the bejesus scared out of me on the bungy ride at Moomba. Without our Judeo-Christian morality, perhaps fuck wouldn't be a swear word and no one would blink at cunt, gay and anal because we'd live in a society where sex and sexuality were accepted.

Which leaves the most convincing pro-Christian argument. I let Saint Catherine stamp "God is Bullshit" on my wrist so that I could touch her robes and because she was giving us an Easter egg with our stamp. Chocolate shaped like an egg and wrapped in shiny foil is brilliant. And without egg-shaped chocolate, we may not have the more-wonderful rabbit/bilby-shaped chocolate. I know Easter was a pagen spring festival long before the Christians hijacked it - but dammit, the Christians made it popular thus ensuring that choccy goodness fills our supermarket shelves from the day after Christmas. I can live without religion, but if it meant no more Haighs chocolate bilbies or Lindt rabbits, well I just don't want to think about it.

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com.