30 July 2011

Artist Cards and Discounts

The Melbourne International Arts Festival launched its 2011 program last week.

One of the many fabulous things about this festival is that it isn't just for people who can afford the $100+ tickets. Take advantage and book early, so that you'll have enough cash to buy fizz during the interval.


  • $25 tickets for students and backpackers, these are limited, so book early
  • Early bird discount package (until 31 August)
  • Matinee package ($30 tickets!)
  • Local Artist Card discounts

Applications are now open for Artists Cards.

29 July 2011

Writers Festival

Melbourne Writers Festival
25 August – 4 September

The Melbourne Writers Festival program was released today (hooray) and there are at least two sessions and one workshop that theatre lovers should put in their diaries.

New Indie Theatre

Saturday 28 August

Alison Croggon (Theatre Notes), Angus CeriniDeclan Greene and Anne-Louise Sarks

Saturday 3 September

Playwrights reading their work, including Daniel Keene, Lally Katz, Angus Cerini, Robert Reid, Peta Brady, Katy Warner and Declan Greene.

Sunday 4 September

With Lally Katz!

Pics courtesy of MWF. Top to bottom: Dec, Angus, Rob, Lally

28 July 2011

5 tickets left for J.A.T.O

As Melbourne theatre-goers prove how much we are thrilled to support new writing, fresh ideas and artists prepared to take risks, there are only five tickets left for MKA's season of J.A.T.O.

Call them NOW, but it might already be too late.

RE Ross Playwright's Awards

I often hear playwrights complain that they are not supported and that, despite their obvious talent, they can't break into the "scene". What?!

Melbourne finds so many ways to support and encourage writers. From La Mama to MKA, there are independent companies all over town who are screaming for good new writing and there are awards and prizes from our more formal and government funded institutions.

Tonight, the winners of the R E Ross Trust Playwrights Script Development Awards are celebrating at the State Library.

SM is especially thrilled to see that Jane Miller and Jane Montgomery Griffiths are among the four winners.

27 July 2011


I'm happy to admit when I'm wrong and judgemental.

A hipster did NOT steal my hat.

The lovely people at the theatre found it and tucked it safely away for me. We are now reunited.

So, I apologise to the hipsters.

Hipsters are fashion aware people with awesome moral compasses who lead artistic trends.

And they would never wear 501s when a tight pair of skinny jeans suits everyone.

OR...my hat wasn't ironic enough for a hipster!

Now, Facey tells me that some people still don't know what a hipster is (and not just people from Adelaide). Melbourne playwright Kathryn Goldie would like to help clear up any confusion.

                                              Hipster                                    Me

Review: The best (and worst) of Queenie van de Zandt

The best (and worst) of Queenie van de Zandt
The Incubator
24 July 2011

Queenie Van de Zandt isn't famous. Given she's worked on our stages for years, been nominated for awards and appeared with Georgie on All Saints, her ability to walk about anonymously lies somewhere between a surprise and a disappointment. But we really have to be thrilled, because she may not have created this gorgeous and funny cabaret had her career been different.

The best (and worst) of is Queenie's reflection on over 20 years in the biz. Starting with a montage of photos from performances since 1978 (she was 8), she takes us through her highlights, and time has given her permission to laugh at, and even love, some of the lows she's faced.

There were shocking hair cuts, producers threatening that she'd never work again, wonderfully fucked up auditions and a tendency to audition for roles that were never for her:  She didn't get waify Fantine, but covered Mme Thénardier, and the lack of dance skills really did stop her getting Meg Giry and Anita. Fortunately persistence does pay off and she's consistently worked ever since. She even survived Eureka.

Anyone who saw her in iOTA and Craig Ilots' Smoke and Mirrors knows that Queenie's rich voice can silence a room and this intimate show gives her the opportunity to sing the kind of songs that that character performers tend to miss out on, but voices like hers deserve. And there's an album called "Amazon Woman" if you want more.

Her songs are wonderful, but what makes you totally love her are her pants-wetting stories. (It's not a metaphor, and the pants wetting is nowhere near the most embarrassing story.) Queenie offers a hilarious peek into the world behind the curtains and reminds us that sometimes the better stories are not the rehearsed and scripted ones we get tickets for.

The Melbourne Cabaret Festival is in its second year at the South Melbourne Town Hall and ran for less than a week. The best (and worst) of Queenie Van de Zandt only had three performances, but it will appear again and next time it's around, don't hesitate because it's the kind of warm and loving show that you leave feeling better than when you went in.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com

This was projected onto the South Melbourne Town Hall each night. Totally wonderful.

Review: Die Winterreise

Die Winterreise
Malthouse Theatre and Thinice
22 July 2011
Merlyn Thearte, CUB Malthouse
to 31 July 2011

I understand why Schubert purists are not enamored by Die Winterreise, but I'm a Schubert virgin, so was more than happy to go with the flow and the snow of this gorgeous meditation about the loneliness, guilt and sorrow of ageing.

Malthouse Theatre has again paired with Matthew Lutton's Thinice company from Perth  (The Trial) and bring together a creative dream-team to re-imagine the song cycle that Franz Schubert wrote a year before he died at 31 (in 1828).

Die Winterreise was based around the poems of Wilhelm Müller, who also died in his early 30s (in 1827). He and Schubert achieved their fame posthumously. Director Lutton, who has yet to hit the 30s danger zone and already enjoying artistic recognition, says that when he first listened to the cycle "the music aroused recollections in me I found difficult and painful to articulate". His finished work is a glimpse into the thoughts of a young man sharing the angst of his fellow-artists.

An old man (George Shevtsov) cooks a meal alone in his one-roomed flat. Listening to a Shubert recording, he faces his memories and his younger selves as they appear as a singer (Paul Capsis), dancer (James O'Hara) and pianist (Alistair Spence).

It's at times obvious, but its artistry turns even the more clichéd moments into something genuine, painful and beautiful. Chrissie Parrot's choreography, Adam Gardnir's design and Paul Jackson's lighting bring the multiple layers of this work out of the music and onto the stage. With such visceral visuals, the emotional impact of Die Winterreise is there without the music.

But this is a piece of music and it's far from a Schubert chamber concert. Sound designer Kelly Ryall and arranger Spence have deconstructed the music so that isn't so much an arrangement of Die Winterreise, but a complex sampling that lets us hear the beauty of the music, but forces the focus onto the stage story rather than the story in the score.

As a piece for voice, cabaret-favourite Paul Capsis was a curious choice, and a wonderful one.  With the help of music supervisor Iain Grandage, Capsis has let go of his show mask and by being more subtle in his performance, he's found a rounder and fuller voice that brings him so much closer to the hearts of his audience. I'm looking forward to seeing how he brings this into his cabaret shows.

The work ends with a monologue, written by Tom Holloway, which gives it an unexpected and defining narrative. Although it's beautifully sad, and Shevtsov's performance is heart breaking, it takes away the personal images and stories the audience were creating for themselves.

Die Winterreise is already dividing opinion, which is always a good reason to see something and decide for yourself.

This review appeared on  AussieTheatre.com

23 July 2011

A hipster stole my hat

Many wild acrylics have died to support my taste in fashion.

I love minkish, not-zebra, purple rabbit and any faux-fur fabric that looks like it never came from a happy living critter. I especially like it on hats.

Being chilly (and loving hats), I wore one of my favourites to the theatre last night. Being a city-fringe opening night, the audience was filled with reviewers after a free drink, actors without gigs and hipsters.

There are more hipsters at inner-city Melbourne independent theatre shows than at Marios or even at MIFF.  I remember a night at Red Stitch where there wasn't an ironic-scarf-free outfit in the house.

The hipster ratio was especially high last night. I know that because I was playing my new favourite foyer game: Hipster, fashion victim or cool? (Let me know if you want your personal result.)

There were far too many ironic fluffy jackets, cardigans, little-girl hair bows, stripey tights, ties that grandpa wore to work, 'really?' facial hair, faded denim, hoodies, scarfs, scarfs and scarfs.

I know that my hats can be worn with a sense of irony. I know that because hipsters have caught my eye, glanced at whatever Penguin classic I was reading and nodded like they knew I was listening to The Go-Betweens on my iPod touch.  But there's no irony in my taste.  My formative years are the 80s, so my eyes light up at the sight of cheap taffeta and shoulder pads. (My mother still comments on my past clothing combination choices, but she lives in Adelaide...) I'm really more fashion victim than cool.

Anyway, after grabbing my free drink and sandwich, I realised my hat was missing! It wasn't in row C, no usher had handed it in and I couldn't see it waiting lost and lonely on the floor.

So there is only one possible conclusion: A hipster stole my hat.

And they will be wearing it ironically with a knock off Alana Hill lacy frock, a genuine Crumpler bag and pair of two-tone Fluevog shoes. Or Levi 501s if the thief is a hispter chick.

Here is the only picture of the hat I could find. It is presented in ironic-sepia and worn with demim and a living cat.
If you see any hipster wearing a cheap-looking felt and not-bear hat with a hint of white cat fur, please slap them and get it back for me. In return, I'll let you share my free drinks at an opening night of your choice.

If the hipster protests, remind them that it's a cheap Jendi hat that I bought it in Canberra. Nothing ironic can be bought in Canberra.

Review: Anything Goes

Anything Goes
The Production Company
20 July 2011
State Theatre, the Arts Centre
to 24 July

"In olden days, a glimpse of..." You know the rest, and the only thing stopping the audience from singing along to The Production Company's Anything Goes was that we wouldn't have heard the wow-em-dead cast inject freshness and glittery life into every number of Cole Porter's favourite musical.

Anything Goes is 1930s Broadway. Before Sondheim made us cry and musicals became boutique, there were dames with long legs, sailors with full flasks, matrons with big hats, criminals with violin cases and delightful plots full of de-lovely conveniences, disguises and shenanigans.

Which doesn't make it especially easy to present to savy contemporary audiences, especially when the plot celebrates alcoholism, women are graded on how they fill a girdle and resolves with a the kind of racial stereotyping that is far more shocking than any glimpse of stocking. Oh, I can see the eyes rolling and hear the cries of "political correctness gone mad". Anything Goes is a product of it's time, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't look at it with the sensibilities of our time.

Luckily, directors Andrew Hallsworth and Dean Bryant (whose direction  of MTCs recent Next to Normal was so beautiful) appreciate the issues and find a balance between homage, indulgence and satire that creates a hoot of a show that even the most jaded among us have to love.

They ham up the nostalgic glitz, remind us that things like celebrity-mad media never change, and let the audience and the cast have fun with the not-so-pc moments

And having a cast that deserve to run for a year doesn't hurt. Amanda Harrison's sassy Reno tops Ms Merman's, Todd McKenney's Lord Evelyn left even a vego like me wanting more ham, Christy Sullivan (Natalie in Next to Normal) shows that an ingenue called Hope can be more than a floaty dress,  and  Christie Whelan's (Erma),  Alex Rathgeber (Billy), Wayne Scott Kermond (Moonface), Anne Wood (Evangeline), John O'May (Elisha) and the whole ensemble give us the kick that we don't get from champagne.

The Production Company are the nearest thing we have to a time machine to take us back to old-school Broadway. The budgets are tight, but with people like Adam Gardnir creating gorgeous sets from nothing and a team willing to create with their hearts for the love a show, it's not wonder that Anything Goes is the rat's pyjamas.

This review was on AussieTheatre.com

Photo: Jeff Busby


Review: J.A.T.O

14 July
MKA Pop up Theatre
to 30 July

If you've ever sat in an unlit cement car park at midnight with only over-brewed black coffee and unripe lemons to eat, your night was still lighter and less-bitter than the voice of writer Vedrana Klepica.  And there's no one in town who would bring us such a playwright, apart from than MKA.

MKA's fourth playwright for the year is Klepica. She's from Croatia and met Melbourne's Declan Greene at a playwriting conference in Cairns. Dec says that she didn't like Cairns. I suspect that she didn't like the pleasantness. With a work about pigeons with fucked up legs, jokes about fags and invalids and not washing away the clotted blood of a violently lost pregnancy, I imagine that the fat touristy happiness of tropical Australia was too much for her.

Fortunately she let Declan be the dramaturge for MKA's production of her J.A.T.O. Narratively the story needs some tightening, but her voice and her characters are so deliciously dark that plot can be damned.

J.A.T.O are an obscure European pop group who arrive in Zagrab at the same time as a dignitary. There are security officers to ensure the safety of the official and a local has on her best slutty dress to pick up the bartender, or better, at the gig.

This isn't angry Agitprop eastern European theatre that celebrates the just way forward. Rather it's a reflection of a generation who are so frustrated and angry that they have to laugh because there's not much left to do.

Director Tanya Dickson has recently graduated from VCA and brings the fullness that is missing in the script by making the conflicting layers of bleakness and comedy blend like dark sea salt chocolate. This contradiction of flavours is supported superbly by the designers. David Samuel makes the stage a giant sandpit for play, but surrounds it with black curtains and Chloe Greaves' costumes dip the heads and shoulders of the characters into a grey that makes them look like their heads are in a black and white movie.

And, again, MKA are letting us see some of the best recent graduates in their casts. This won't be the first time I write about Stefan Bramble, Rory Kelly, Cate Wolswinkel, Tristan M Watson, Janine Watson and Tom Dent.

MKA's 2011 season 1 is drawing to a close. They have no funding or formal support, but in a few months they've marked their place in Melbourne's independent theatre scene and shown us some of the most exciting new writing and emerging artists around.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com

22 July 2011

Review: Meow Meow at TBH

Meow Meow at The Burlesque Hour LOVES Melbourne
Finucane & Smith
21 July 2011
45 downstairs
Meow to 31 July
TBH to 14 August

With my new (unconsciously) Meow Meow inspired hair, I felt a bit fan-girly at last night's The Burlesque Hour LOVES Melbourne. So if you see me wearing too much glitter eyeshadow, you'll know who I'm honouring, but if you see me dancing semi-naked by the water wall at the National Gallery, it's a homage to Moria.

Finucane & Smith's Burlesque Hour  is the blissful, if fit-inducing, antidote to any winter blues. Damn it, it's the antidote to pretty much anything negative and should be compulsory for teenagers and anyone who still thinks that having a body like a Photoshopped model is a way to happiness, and for anyone who has leered at a woman.

With a list of Melbourne-legend special guests that makes choosing which night to go almost impossible, the only solution is to go more than once. If you go before July 31, there's Meow Meow.

The magnificent and obsessive Meow Meow was performing at the Apollo Theatre in London a month ago. For the next two weeks, Melbourne gets lucky as she's purring, hissing and shedding sequins in Flinders Lane.

David Bowie has declared that he never misses Meow. And there's a long line of us ready to push the divine starman aside for a blinding glimpse of this Weimar alley cat.

Like a prowling feral, you know that Meow wants to curl up on a loving lap in front of fire, but the only thing she knows is that sharp claws and loud noise keep her safe. Behind her drag-queen glitter and sequins is a woman so determined to find perfect love that she'll demand a hug from a stranger, but will probably poke out their eye because they dare to be less than perfect and will want to disappoint her like everyone does.

With clear logic that wanting to kiss her means that you think she's pretty, which means that you want to fuck her, which means that you'll never leave, Meow wins endless hearts, but she will never let anyone close enough to realise that she's loved. Neither will she ever let her exquisite voice (or Melissa Madden Gray) get in the way or distract from the singular focus of Meow's deliciously distorted need for love.

Meow is the type of cabaret artist who makes up for any night of theatrical dullness we've endured. Not that there's a moment of dullness with Moira, Maude, Harriet, Holly and Sosina at The Burlesque Hour.

A version of this review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

21 July 2011

Review: Crossed

Platform Youth Theatre, Appetite and La Mama Theatre
11 June 2011
Courthouse Thearte

Platform Youth Theatre creates theatre about the issues their young members feel strongly about. Chris Summers wrote Crossed after a teenage boy was shot by police at a Northcote skate park. The work centres on a fictionalised event and confronts the reverberation of violence and pain that such an unthinkable, but too real, event causes.

The mood is set by the design team (Kat Chan, set and costume; Lisa Mibus, lighting; Pete Goodwin, sound) who turn the room to 'landscape' and use the horizontal space to give a sense of distance and ultimately of magnified intimacy, which is made stronger with some of the best sound design I've heard in this venue.

The story is told by five people who witnessed the violent event.  They have nothing in common, but crossed paths on the day.  Each represent their own section of society and their stories bravely confront their own stereotypes, preconceptions and contradictions.

Director (Matt Scholten) and cast (Prag Bhatia, Stefan Bramble, Nick Linehan, Jenny Lovell and Ioan Roberts) bring an honest and angry energy to the stage. This is supported by an unexpected and connecting empathy to their initially-unsympathetic characters, as each take a snapshot of stereotype and peel away the layers to show how wrong initial perceptions can be.  Their anger is sustained throughout the show, but a bit more light and shade will make the passion stronger and give each character an even greater range.

Summers, who is still in his early 20s, captures the angry, disconnected and confused souls of his characters, who speak without censorship or fear. The device of having each speaking to a different person creates a subtle tension in the audience as we have to keep shifting our individual perspectives of the characters and what happened.

When the off-stage confessors appear in the second half, this tension drops, especially as this half doesn't reveal anything new from the strong first half. Summers has to trust that his subtext is already clear and strong, and that audiences really can use their imaginations to fill in the empty spaces. What we imagine might not be exactly what the writer intended, but it will be something just as powerful.

Platform Youth Theatre continue to make  "awesome and unique theatre that topples notions of what ‘youth’ or what ‘community’ theatre is". This is a company who help to create our thearte artists and the kind of grown ups who will always strive to make our communities better.

This review originally appeared on AussieThearte.com.

Review: A Golem Story

A Golem Story
Malthouse Theatre
17 June 2011
Merlyn Theatre

I don't want a year without a new play by Lally Katz. Until now, her addictive black writing has usually left me in tears of laughter, but she has bounded into new ground with A Golem Story: an exquisite exploration about the place of God and the sacred in our lives.

In Prague in 1580, Ahava (Yael Stone) wakes up in a Synagogue with a disjointed memory of her dead husband and believes his Dybbuk (spirit) has passed into her. The Rabbi  (Katz favourite, Brian Lipson) invites her to stay, but his student Amos (Dan Speilman) fears her, especially when the Rabbi asks her to help make a Golem that can protect the local Jews and stop local children from being killed.  Meanwhile, the Christian guard (Greg Stone) will go to any length to prove that the blood of Christ is enough for him, but his Emperor (Mark Jones) is willing to share an apple with Jew.

Drawing on Jewish culture and with live music led by Cantor Michel Laloum, director Michael Kantor reveals his heart and soul in this work. I've often felt distanced by Kantor's work, where I could see the intent and the creativity, but never felt for the world or the characters. God sits in the heart of this world. Each character sees him/her/it as something different, but each yearns for the deep comfort that sacred beliefs bring. It's not a Jew versus Christian tale, but it uses these two great faiths to let us examine where we'd be if the space filled by what we hold scared became empty.

The outstanding cast clearly draw on their own beliefs to bring the contractions of fear and faith, secular and sacred, and God and human to each character, who are all struggling to make decisions that will bring God closer to their lives.

Designers Anna Cordingley (costume and set) and Paul Jackson (lighting) create this world with a combination of the warm darkness of 16th century Prague and the coldness of clean contemporary light. I've found Cordingley's designs distracting in the past, but her distinct sense of detail and remarkable aesthetic support every element of the script and I can't imagine one without the other. Jackson's use of burning candles and electric light is stunning and his light-only Golem evokes a fascinating contradiction of fear and love. I know I say it every time, but there isn't a lighting designer in this town who comes near to Jackson.

A Golem Story retains Katz's gorgeously unique voice, but it doesn't rely on humour to create emotion. By losing the comfortable buffer of laughs, her characters are left more emotionally vulnerable and we have no choice but to feel with them. This is beautiful, emotive writing and evidence that this wonderful writer is going to be one of our unforgettable playwrights.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

06 July 2011

Review: The Horror Face

The Horror Face
23 June 2011
MKA Pop Up Theatre
to 9 July

MKA co-founder Glyn Roberts needed to create a company that would champion his writing and let us see his magnificently warped view of the too-close-for-comfort future. The Horror Face has the best lion ever on a stage and play three of season one 2011 proves again that MKA are a shot of adrenalin into the heart of Melbourne's independent theatre.

To prepare for your drugs, you have to put on a disposable lab coat to enter the Pop Up Theatre, where the plastic walls make it feel like Dexter has prepared another kill room, and the only comfort is that at least one of us must survive to tell the tale... if the downstairs door isn't locked. Designer David Samuel is the morphine that takes away the pain of dull design.

And Robert's fearless writing is the amphetamines that force his audience to pay wide-eyed attention to his dystopian world where humans will connect if it's the last think they do. His language dances and trips with the likes of "Armageddon again" and his offstage images are more disturbingly hilarious than the ones on stage. It's more cohesive than his dark Christmas story This is set in the future and this time he's letting the characters lead the action, rather than relying on the surreal and shocking world.

With director Felix Ching Ching Ho balancing the uppers and downers with a tone that rolls from prophetic to confronting, Soren Jensen, Annie Last, Brendan McCallum and Matt Young grab their multiple roles by their delicate bits and ensure that there's only just enough time to draw a breath in between laughs. But in such small room, don't let the audience know how much you're loving this performance. When we glimpse the actor behind the character, their struggle and confusion becomes less powerful.

MKA's The Horror Face is selling out most nights, but if you book now you've got until the end of the week to join the MKA cheer squad. And you'll get to see a gay android and Andrew the lion puppet, who may well be my new favourite performer; Aslan sucks in comparison.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com

05 July 2011

Review: Turns

Christine Dunstan Productions
29 July 2011
Playhouse, the Arts Centre
to 9 July
then to Qld and WA

The chance to see legends Reg Livermore or Nancye Hayes is a good enough excuse to see anything, so having them both on stage  is more than enough reason to see Turns, especially as it is also written and directed by Reg.

I first saw Reg in one of the Betty Blokk Buster shows in the 1980s. I'm pretty sure this was my first taste of satirical and off-colour drag and, even if I really was too young to get most of it, it pretty much set my standard and my taste. For that, and for Barnum, he will always be one of my favourites. And the always-wonderful Nancye is a performer who loves and respects her audiences so much that she never has a moment on the stage when you're not completely with her.

Described as a music hall of the mind, Turns blends a nostalgic and loving look at vaudeville and "he's behind you" panto with a dark understanding of how our minds create new truths to deal with our realities.

Marjorie (Hayes) tells us how she was once the belle of the Sydney stage, but she now lives in a lonely North Sydney flat with her long-suffering son Alistair (Livermore) and dreams of having her coffin drawn by two dozen pantomine horses. Their tale is told through two monologues as each tell us their stories, as they see them.

Marjorie's language of non-stop malapropisms and puns is worthy of The Bard himself, whose spirit must be jealous that he wrote too early to use the likes of FJ Holden Uteruses and "as God is my wireless." And her complex and heart-breakingly demented mind is realised in Matthew Aberline's exquisite costumes that are full of humour and colour and confusion.

Gently guided by director Tom Healy, both performers show us the pain and frustrations of these unforgettable characters, and they temper the sadness with the type of humour that lets us cope with anything that life unfairly throws at us. If we can't laugh, what hope do we have?

Their story is beautiful and sad and so needs to be told, but its telling lacks the dramatic momentum so needed on a stage. By telling their stories separately, we miss the opportunities to see the tension and painful drama between them.  So much of what Alistair confesses to us was already clear from Marjorie's story, so there aren't enough of those heart-dropping moments of revelation.

Turns is an original, darkly funny and brave work that lets two of our greatest stars remind us why that are so great, but I'd so love to see it with a re-write that brings the two of them together so we could see more of the painful memories of the love that keeps them together.

This review originally appeared on AussieThearte.com

01 July 2011

Review: The Joy of Text

The Joy of Text
15 June 2011
Fairfax Studio, the Arts Centre
to 23 July

As if I'm not going to love a work that opens with someone looking for their Fowler's*, literally reminds us that satire is meant to be funny and references the Electra story, the Demidenko debacle and the disturbing semiotics of Prince Caspian. The text of Robert Reid's The Joy of Text is indeed a joy and I loved it all the more for its over-educated, middle-class (sorry Rob) literary references and its grammar pedantness.

It's also a disturbing reflection on the contextualisation of sexual consent. In a society where grown and wealthy men are deemed powerless against teenage girls and our informed media would rather a story about a vindictive slut than a clear explanation of statutory rape, the sexual consent of children (who are not small adults) is still something we need to discuss. And Reid may be the only person who could have me laughing about it.

Danny (James Bell) is a too-smart-for-his-own-good student who is willing to confront his teachers (Louise Siversen and Peter Houghton), especially when he's asked to read a controversial book that he suspects is written by Ami (Helen Christinson), the cute young literature teacher who has indicated that she appreciates his brain.

Aidan Fennessy is one of the best comedy directors in our town, but focusing on the easy giggles in Joy takes away from its strength.  It is a piece founded on humour, but the grammar wit, Helen Garner references and delightfully perfect sentences are the grace notes and the breathing space to the dark and confronting humour that drives it. By embracing the blackness of the humour, Siversen's performance is the highlight of the evening and comes closest to the dangerous tone that defines all of Reid's work.

Reid is asking us to laugh at the possible rape of two school children. This is an issue of distorted power and status, but the status and power relationships are missing on the stage.  Students and teachers don't interact like mates, neither do principals and their staff.  So, even though it's fun to watch Houghton's very funny buffounish principal, it undermines the intent of the work by creating a comfortable buffer between us and the content.  By playing the easy laughs, we're never concerned for Danny's or Ami's well being, because the damage and the stakes are minimised.

No matter what, it's wonderful to see the work of a local independent playwright on a mainstream stage. The co-founder of theatre in decay has written more plays than many people have seen.  I first saw Rob perform one of his works many years ago in an outside courtyard in Canberra. A handful of people shared the experience and all knew that this was someone whose theatre demands attention.

The Joy of Text is just as angry as his decay work, but it's less personal, less ranty, far funnier and his characters are less damaged. This personal distance is vital to create work that broad commercial audiences are going to love, but I'd love to see his next work be a bit more dangerous and to come a bit more from the heart.

* dictionary of Modern English Usage

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com