31 May 2010

Review: King Lear

King Lear
Bell Shakespeare
28 May 2010
Playhouse, The Arts Centre

Walking across Prince's Bridge after King Lear, I overheard a couple discussing Edgar and Edmund. How brilliant is that? Bell Shakespeare's production told the story so well that people were leaving the theatre talking about the characters, not the actors.

It's hard to believe that it was 20 years since John Bell established a company dedicated to our Bard and are celebrating with a national tour of King Lear, with the company's namesake playing the king for the third time in his career.

Director Marion Potts (soon to be Artistic Director of Malthouse Theatre) makes character a priority and ensures that every heightened syllable brings the audience closer to the truth and madness  by allowing each performer to develop a very personal interpretation of their character. Jane Montgomery Griffiths's Goneril is especially fascinating, Peter Carroll's Fool is how I will think of this Fool from now on and Bell's Lear is clearly the from-the-heart interpretation Bell has always wanted to show.

Supporting the cast, story flows from Dale Ferguson's understated stage design and his "robes and furred gowns" unashamedly declare power and status.  Act One is accompanied by Bree van Reyk's on-stage percussion punctuating the language, building the tension and becoming such an integral guide in the world that characters freely add their own emphasis and beats; it's removal in Act Two leaves a world searching for guidance.

Bell Shakespeare grace our main stages and also work consistently to bring the Bard's tales to "all Australians, no matter who or where they are". With school programs,  a regional teacher's scholarship and remarkable programs like the Hearts in a Row (HIAR) partnership with The Big Issue, this company refuse to think that Shakepeare is just for fizz-swilling toffs.

Edgar closes King Lear with a reminder to bloggers and reviewers:  "Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say." I say that this is the kind of Shakespeare that I love.

This review appears on AussieThearte.com

18 May 2010

Wanna hear a nigger joke?

You know when you call someone up on racism and they lecture you for not having a sense of humour and call you a boring, pc-gone-mad wowser who just needs to get a life and learn to laugh?

This morning, Facebook has assured me that I'm not the only person who this happens to, as many of my friends are linking to this story about five good Aussie blokes in the Northern Territory who shared a couple of tinnies as mates, went for a drive (the driver was a good citizen and wasn't drunk) and kicked an Aborginal man to death for a giggle. The Chief Justice delivering the "justice" ensured they received the smallest sentence possible and wrote them character references.

Anyone slapping their thigh and shaking their head at these funny antics? Perhaps we need a telly program called Funniest Home Boong Bashing Videos or a kick-ass (oops I didn't mean that) TV justice programs where the audience get to vote if the defendants are guilty or should win a gift basket?

The other popular link today was to last night's episode of Media Watch.

I'll embed the video as soon as I figure out how - in the meantime, here's the link to the segment and here's the transcript.

I don't listen to 3AW, so I have to be grateful to those who do to let us know what some people think is bonza stuff to say. Neil Mitchell wants Catherine Deveny damned, but that's pretty mild compared to refusing to speak to a Muslim woman and ranting with the logic and intelligence of a dried dog turd.

The man whose rants were so embraced by the 3AW talk back crowd is very well known in theatre circles and respected for his public stance against homophobia. He doesn't like me because I wrote a fairly mild review about one of his shows. I didn't mention John Michael Howson's name in the review, so that googling for him wouldn't bring up public criticism  of a man who had worked so long and hard in our industry. I didn't hear the community radio interview where he responded to my review, but it was reported that he declared those type of reviewers "pretentious assholes".

Hey, I'm proud to be a pretentious asshole if it means I don't have anything to do with people like him.

17 May 2010

Review: Moth

Malthouse Theatre and Arena Theatre
16 May 2010
The Tower, CUB Malthouse

If the teenagers on Glee leave you wondering why your high school memories aren't so perky and choreographed, Malthouse and Arena theatre's Moth is the perfect antidote.

Declan Greene continues to fascinate and seduce Melbourne theatre goers by consistently surprising us with unexpected stories. Moth is far removed from his uber-high-camp Sisters Grimm work, darker than his 2009 Fringe hit A Black Joy and more grounded in reality than his 2009 MTC Young Artist commission  Pretty Baby.  But it's still filled with authentic characters dragged in from the limits of social acceptability,  gooey visceral imagery,  odd pop culture references, absurd reality bluring and a dark dark humour that leaves you almost hating yourself for laughing.

Sebastian (the perfect Dylan Young) is too weird to ever be accepted and clinging onto the equally-desparate friendship of Claryssa (the equally-perfect Sarah Ogden), the emo wicca chick who has let herself become too weird to ever be accepted. These are the kids who no one ever sat next to at school, whose parents have no idea that their babies are in so much pain that they won't recover, and who leave me so glad that I was a teenager before the internet and its mass humiliation.

With a story of bullying too familiar to teens on the outer and too vile for many grown ups to even comprehend, Greene plunges into the fractured minds and perceptions of these souls and takes us to a surreal world where Jesus and Saint Sebastian have chosen a misfit to warn the world of its pending destruction and two young people scream for rescue and forgiveness.

Greene writes difficult material that could easily be lost in a moosh of preachy compassion or over-arty pretence, but the Arena creative team of Chris Kohn (director), Jonathon Oxlade (design), Rachel Burke (lighting) and Jethro Woodward (composition) are at one with their writer and create a world where the morphing of time, space and character is natural, expected and so beautiful that you understand why moths fly to blinding light.

Like young writer Polly Strenham's teens in That Face, currently at Red Stitch, Greene (who is an old fart compared to Strenham) writes teenagers who aren't silly or pretty or full of impossible dreams, and force their audience to understand their extreme, illogical and exaggerated reactions and feelings to the world they are growing into. Greene leaves us relieved to have grown up and embarrassed to know that we still don't want to be friends with a Sebastian or a Claryssa.

Moth is rightly selling out, so book now so that your not among those who wish they had seen it

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com.

Photo: Jeff Busby

10 May 2010

NEWSFLASH [title of show]

Original Broadway cast members at [title of show]

Composer and original Broadway Jeff JEFF BOWEN, original Broadway Heidi
HEIDI BLICKENSTAFF  and original director MICHAEL BERRESSE (Zach in recent revival of A Chorus Line on Broadway) will be in the audience of a special matinee performance of the Australasian premiere of [title of show], a performance added to the season:
Saturday 15 May at 2:00pm
The show will be followed by a Q&A forum with the Australian and Broadway companies on stage together, to share their experiences of working on this show and answer your questions directly!

09 May 2010

Review: That Face

That Face 
Red Stitch Actors Theatre
30 April 2010
Red Stitch

That Face is the show I'm going to be comparing everything else to for the rest of the year.

UK writer Polly Stenham was 19 when she wrote That Face. Within a year it was leaving Royal Court audiences gob smacked and transferred to The Duke of York Theatre in the West End. It's appearing in major company programs all over the world and Melbourne can thank our theatre gods that Red Stitch secured it for us.

With a balance of black comedy and gut-kick emotion, Strenham's world sits on a precipice of uncomfortable familiarity letting its audience fall into its depths and crawl out reeling.

Teenage Mia turns to her brother Henry for help after an incident with Valium and an initiation at her boarding school, but Henry has already dropped out of school to look after their alcoholic mother and only the thought of their wealthy and absent father returning can kick him into action, or the attention of Mia's friend Izzy.

With unfair choices and impossible dilemmas, Strenham's debut work belies her age dramatically and emotionally. Her adults are seen through the eyes of her teenagers, which reveals the raw impact of their behaviour on their children without forcing blame. Mother Martha nods to her Whose Afraid of Virgina Wolf namesake and surpasses Albee's Martha with her out of control controlling behaviour. And Strenham brings a refreshing authenticity to her teenage characters that lets them feel deeply and irrationally without the condescending tone often implied by more "mature" writers.

The Red Stitch creative team capture the truth and heart of this remarkable scriptSarah Giles direction sustains a propelling tension that allows moments of relief without ever letting the underlying questions fade or allowing the extreme characters to control the pace or focus.  Claude Marcos's design feels at one with the direction and uses the small Red Stitch stage to it's full advantage by making the dominating bed a sunken level and adding a carpet wall that brings its own welcome wit.

Tim Potter as Henry was selected for Red Stitch's first Graduate Programme in 2008 and is already one of Melbourne's most astonishing actors. Matt Smith (the new Dr Who) was the original Henry and Potter should soon be as well known and respected. Lauren Henderson (Mia) and Lucy Honigan (Izzy) bring a rare clarity and depth to their teen girls.  Dion Mills (Hugh) gives the strongest performance I've seen from him and Sarah Sutherland's Martha is as complex as the character's addiction and her scenes with Potter are reason enough to see That Face.

Red Stitch quietly put our larger companies to shame. See That Face for an an adrenaline shot to remind you that theatre can and should be this bloody brilliant.

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com.

08 May 2010

Review: [title of show]

[title of show]
5 May 2010

Melbourne company Magnormos are presenting the first international production of the meta-hit [title of show]. With four chairs and a keyboard, this work has re-invigorated the idea of independent original Broadway musicals and given hope to countless 'nobodies', and the Australian production is guaranteed to make you fall in love with musical theatre all over again.

In [title of show]
, Hunter Bell (character and creator) says he is striving for something that makes people want to pay attention. And he found it.  Hunter and fellow-nobody/friend Jeff Bowen decided to enter the inaugural New York Music Theatre Festival in 2004, but the application deadline was three weeks away. So they grabbed their friends Heidi and Susan and wrote a show about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical.

If you don't know the story, I don't want to ruin it for you. So get to Theatreworks for this can't-stop-smiling-as-you-watch-it production and see what can happen when artists trust that tiny voice inside of them that is kicking the shins of at the vampires of self-doubt.

[title of show]
 is self-referential – in a Judy and Micky meet Seinfeld at a meta-fiction book club way – but its freshness and original voice force it to leave self-indulgence behind. Not that the creators haven't indulged in a bit of self-gratification ... but it doesn't matter if you don't get the Aspects of Love joke or recognise the CATS ring tone or haven't even heard of most of the shows in the song about flop musicals – these are the bonus laughs for musical theatre buffs.

These creators indeed know and love musical theatre. They know it has moments of fluff and foggy dream sequences. They know the endless auditions, the factory-mentality of big shows and the countless performers who want someone to pay attention to them.  And they love the quirks and high kicks, while understanding that it's substance, content and guts that sustain the great shows far more than tulle frocks and high Cs.

[title of show]
 is full of gorgeous fluff, but it also questions art and the quest for fame, exposes raw self-doubt and explores the consequences of success – and has a song about filling in forms! Is it any wonder I loved it?

Re-creating a Broadway success with a story firmly planted in New York culture could have been dangerous, but director, and Magnormos founder, Aaron Joyner has captured the joy and hope of the original show and injected it with a spirit that could keep it running for months. Shame they only have two weeks.

And the cast are as perfect as a cast can be. It's too easy to forget that 
[title of show] isn't about David Spencer (Jeff), Michael Lindner (Hunter), Lara Thew (Susan), Laura Fitzpatrick (Heidi) and Sophie Thomas (musical director/Mary). Make the most of seeing these folk on a small stage while you can. (David and Michael were recently in Priscilla and Michael is about to start rehearsals for Mary Poppins.)

If you sit and watch this show saying "why didn't I do that?" – well why don't you? If there's something in you screaming to get out, let it. Just please don't try and copy
[title of show], because it'll never be this original again. Take some sage advice and know it's better to be nine people's favourite thing, rather than 100 people's ninth favourite thing.

NOTE: There's a show on MONDAY night for everyone who is performing in all the other shows on in town.

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com.

Tim Minchin's latest

If you are offended by language...you don't have to press play. Our Tim thinks there are far worse things to be offended by.

06 May 2010

What to see this weekend?

If you have two free nights this weekend, book in both of these. One will make you weep and the other make you sing.

That Face
Red Stitch
until 29 May

Astonishing script, stunning direction and a cast who will make you cry. It's the best thing I've seen Red Stitch do (and I like everything they do). After again being disappointed by the MTC, this show reminded me what it was like to sit on the edge of my seat close to tears.

[title of show]
until 15 April

It's so meta it makes Seinfeld look like The Brady Bunch. This is the Australian premiere and the first production of [tos] with a new cast - and they (and the show) are fabulous.  If you've ever hated musical theatre, this'll make you fall in love with it all over again.

Full reviews soon.

05 May 2010

Review: Richard III

Richard III
Melbourne Theatre Company
29 April 2010
Sumner Theatre

If you don't love Shakespeare...well you probably won't admit it cos he's the greatest playwright ever and it's on par with saying you think The Beatles and Beethoven are crap. So the MTC crowd will toast Richard III with a bottle of Grange they've had since the 70s, even if it tastes like mould and vinegar.

I love our favourite Bard because his stories are brilliant. He writes about damaged souls facing impossible choices, tells some delightfully crude jokes and has a fine way with Queen Elizabeth 1's English. But let's not forget that his writing is dense and bloody difficult to read. Who didn't groan when they had to wade though a Shakespeare at high school and just read the Cliffs notes? I still go straight to Wiki for a plot summary when I see a bard tale because it's rare to really understand what's going on up on that stage (even in the plays I know well).

I don't give a hoot how good the individual performances are (at this professional level, I expect every performance to be awesome) or how clever the design is or how witty the contemporary references are if the story on that stage is muddled.

Richard III doesn't have an especially complicated plot: Bloke with short-man/cripple complex wants respect/fear/love/power, so he bumps off everyone standing between him and the crown. The story comes alive with a curse from his mum and the unescapable and hideous propositions he offers to the women in his life. 

Simon Phillips's
 Richard  is chock full of original moments and bonus funny stage business. The West Wing corridors of power are instantly recognisable, the multiple death penalty chamber and the Guantanamo orange suits are poignant, the Messenger/text message joke is champagne worthy, and I don't mind that bad-guy Richard looks a bit like Hitler and good-guy Richmond could be a Barak Obama stand in.  But none of this helps tell the story.

With Shakespeare the story has to be the most important thing. No words were spoken in the best 
Hamlet I've seen. My favourite Romeo and Juliet wasn't in English. The creators have studied the text and know it well, but they have to assume that each audience is coming to it fresh. The glorious words are the body and guts of the script, but they are a gross mess without a spine to keep them in order.

Richard III is about power and this version was set in a centre of contemporary power, but doesn't play with the appeal of power. (Something done perfectly in The West Wing). Men (in this story they are men) gain an aura of fear/allure/appeal when they are in positions of extreme power.  Even their immediate underlings and once-equal friends fall under this spell. How many young women washed their dresses after a visit with Clinton? In what world would Little Johnny have respect if he didn't have power? Even the mad monk is getting it. But Richard didn't. It's not like Shakespeare didn't put it in the script. This change of status and power has to be seen in the reaction of every person who comes near him. We shouldn't need the limp and hump to know who the most powerful bloke on that stage is.

Not to say it wasn't a fine limp – Ewen Leslie will be rightly remembered for this Richard, but I'll remember this production for its mass of be-suited middle-aged, middle-class sameness. 

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com.

Deveny V Wowsers

Catherine Deveny sacked for tweets

If it were possible, I'd spend all of today writing a very long and angry tirade about what is wrong with the decision to fire Dev from The Aged.

Let alone begin to analyse the ignorance of some of the supporting comments on The Aged site, Twitter and countless blogs. None which come near to Neil Mitchell, who said on radio that she should be damned. Damned, Neil Mitchell? She should be damned?

I didn't read her tweets from the Logies - but The Aged has printed most for us all to enjoy.  They fired her for writing them because they offended the readership, but printed them in case their readership hadn't yet read them. Makes complete sense.

I read the Bindi one (it's been reprinted enough) as a belief that dressing a little girl up like an eager to please wannabe starlett is slightly obscene and that perhaps bringing an 11-year-old to the industry's biggest piss up is an odd decision.

If the charmers on The Footy Show made a joke about Bindi's buds and her looking like she's nearly ready to date (read blow) Collingwood recruits, it'd be reported as a jolly good joke and  followed by whinging about feminists with hairy armpits who have no sense of humour and nothing better to do than complain because they can't get a root.

Sometimes it's embarrassing to be part of an educated society that has no sense of humour and seems incapable of seeing its own appalling behaviour.

So, last night I be-friended Catherine on Facebook. It's a tiny gesture, but she deserves every bit of support possible, and I'm beginning to feel more comfortable in my world again. The outpouring of support on her page, the wonderful comments on The Aged site and Twitter, and everyone else who is blogging their shock into cyberspace (especially those who don't like her writing) is a reminder that there is enough decency out there to overcome the wowsers.

PS: It's no secret that I am a fan of Catherine's writing. And I haven't shaved my armpits this week.

AND her return season of God is Bullshit opens tonight at Trades Hall. Should be an interesting season.

Justin Hamilton's great blog on the same.
The Crikey one is also fabulous.