31 March 2012

MICF review previews

MICF review: Tina C

MICF 2012
Tina C: Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word
Malthouse, Christopher Green, Julia Holt, MICF
22 March 2012
Beckett Theatre
to 14 April

An Englishman dresses an American woman to present a lecture-cum-corroboree-cum-sing-a-long to white middle class theatre goers.  She doesn't understand that we celebrate the battles we lost, but she knows that Mabo isn'a a dance and thinks it's time she explained Indigenous reconciliation to us. With so many levels of wrong, Tina C may well be the most right thing in town

Melbourne met Tina C in the Speigeltent in 2006 and welcomes her back with open everything. Tina C: Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word is created by the UK's Christopher Green (who we've also seen in Finucane and Smith's Salon De Dance),  but I still have trouble accepting that Tina's not from North America's south.

Gal singer superstar (in her head) Tina loves the soft power of middle-of-the-road country pop, so naturally found an affinity with some of Australia's best country singers and musicians, like Jimmy Little and Bob Randell, and even with the rock of Yothu Yindi. Following Kate Bush's dance steps (remember The Dreaming album), she knows that pretty singers with awesome legs can change the world, and while Rolf Harris played with Kate, Tina is joined by musican James Henry (Deadly Award nominee) and her almost-twin singer Auriel Andrew (Deadly Lifetime Achievement Award winner and a 2011 OAM).

As Andrew sings Randell's "Brown Skin Baby" and tells her own story, Tina rightly cannot understand why our little nation hasn't grasped that white folk are the original boat people. She doesn't care about increasing our white-middle-class guilt; she just wants us to see the bleeding obvious.

Many an academic and drunken dinner party conversation has offered reasons for our blocks in logic, but Tina wonders is it's because Australian Indigenous art isn't easy-to-wear jewellery (like that lovely turquoise Native American stuff) or because they don't make delicious snacks we can buy in specialist delis.

She may have a point. I'm wearing earrings from Indonesia and a scarf from Vietnam as I snack on falafel. Yep, us white folk love indigenous accessories and foreign snacks. So perhaps it's time to follow Tina's example. After all, she wears dot-print hot pants and a knock-off Acubra with as much class as Dame Edna wears sequins.

I can start with my dot-painting handbag.  It was a gift and, even though I love a colourful accessory, it stayed in my cupboard as I was unsure if it's an offensive and condescending appropriation of ancient art or a celebratory integration of culture. Thanks to Tina, it'll be on my arm this week in celebration. I wonder if I can find matching hot pants...

This is the genius of Tina C. Her arguments are so naively off that she unbalances logic and makes us look at something we think we understand from a new angle. There's room for more of Tina's story and a stronger narrative in the show, but nothing can take away from her sparklie heart and the sharp intelligence of her creator.

Phtoto by Lachlan Woods

Appeared on AussieTheatre.com

Review: Beyond the Neck

Beyond the Neck: A Quartet on Loss and Violence
Red Stitch Actors Theatre
15 March 2012
Red Stitch
to 14 April

April 28 1996 may seem a long time ago, but for some it will always be yesterday. We may remember reading their stories and swore we'd remember the names of the 35 people who died so cruelly at Port Arthur, but asked now, only one name comes to mind. Tom Holloway's exquisite and harrowing Beyond the Neck: A Quartet on Loss and Violence is a personal reflection on his visiting Port Arthur and a delicate exploration of the lonely suffering following violent trauma.

Four fictional people visit Port Arthur today. There's a teenager who lost her father in the massacre (Philippa Spicer), a tour guide who was there (Roger Oakley), a young mother on a bus trip (Emmaline Carroll) and a boy on a family drive (Marcus McKenzie). This brave and exciting writing and captures the communal pain of Port Arthur by moving away from the unfathomable enormity of the horror and telling four personal stories that started with violent trauma.

They narrate their stories in a four-part choral-like structure that deceptively offers safe distance, but really allows the hidden emotions to drive the work and seep into our hearts. Like a soprano, alto, tenor, bass score, each have solos and their moments of harmony soar, but it's the disruption of their dissonant notes and changing rhythms that create the tension that demands the pain and relief of resolution.

Director Suzanne Chaundy conducts like a maestro. It's a challenging text that could collapse into sentiment in the wrong hands, but by guiding the cast to hold their emotions close, Chaundy lets the grace notes of humour offer light and understanding without the easy comfort hope or the overwhelming fear of hopelessness.  And the astonishing cast maintain this balance.  Each suffer alone with their secrets, but it's their constant awareness of each other and work as a quartet that makes it so powerful.

The chamber piece is completed with a design trio who create the world and underscore and highlight each story. Dayna Morrissey's set looks like a gallery but makes us see deep into the Tasmanian wilderness, while Philip Mcleod's sound and Richard Vabre's lighting are so integrated with the emotion of the stories that it's easy not to notice how good they are.

Beyond the Neck is beautiful and unmissable theatre told by artists who understand the responsibility of telling such resonating stories and it's so wonderful to see Red Stitch working with Australian writers.

Appeared on AussieTheatre.com

Photo by Jodie Hutchinson

22 March 2012

Review: Zombatland

Arts House & The Suitcase Royale
14 March 2012
North Melbourne Town Hall
to 18 March

Aussie Aussie Aussie loves big things. From Kingston's Big Lobster to Goulburn's Big Merino, we flock to tacky ugly giant critters, but it's taken The Suitcase Royale to show us how much we need a giant zombie wombat to visit in the middle of nowhere.

Indie style meets 70s ozploitation at the Blue Lagoon caravan park. Brothers Mayor and Daryl Grogan are still running the holiday spot and programming its Danish film festival, but they're the only ones left alive after attacks by zombie wombats. When a Stranger arrives with his crumpet gun, it's time to take control and face their demons – and the zombie wombats.

Zombatland is the newest experience from Joseph O'Farrell, Miles O'Neil, Glen Walton and newest Royale Tom Salisbury, on lights. It's not possible to passively watch a Suitcase Royale show. They play live music, acknowledge each other and invite the audience share their wonderful game of pretend, which is so real that you'll never again look at a cuddly wombat without a slight shudder of fear.

Its out of town try-out was the Edinburgh Fringe and there are only a handful of performances in their hometown. This is cruel and unfair. The chaotic joy as they nipple-cripple the zeitgeist deserves to be shared with as many people as possible.

Hundreds of thousands will see the squizillion-dollar animatronic dragons in the sports arena, but only hundreds can share the unbridled awesomeness of father and son zombie wombats made from what looks like a fuzzy beanbag that survived too many teen parties and was dragged out on hard rubbish day by the family dog who refused to sleep on anything so hideous. 

And it possibly was. Cruising hard rubbish collections and haunting op shops, the Royale's aesthetic has developed from creating props, sets, costumes and instruments from found and recycled objects. This loving of the disguarded layers unknown and unspoken stories into their world and lets junk become art.

Zombatland is part of the wonderful Arts House program and is on at the North Melbourne Town Hall until Sunday. Its madness is magnificent and will leave you grinning all day and heading to a bakery for a bright yellow pineapple doughnut.

originally on AussieTheatre.com

Review: Cockroach

St Martins Youth Arts Centre presents Canberra Youth Theatre
10 March 2012
St Martins
to 10 March

Developed by emerging artists at Canberra Youth Theatre in 2011, Cockroach by Sam Holcroft is a confronting and uncensored look into the hearts and minds of young people reaching towards adulthood.

A city very like ours has been at war for a long time and a group of high school students and their young teacher face a future where young men are conscripted (and dying) and women are valued for their reproductive worth. Stuck in biology class detention, they're meant to be learning about evolution and question who is really the fittest to survive.  

With honest performances, a stunning white design made for blood and Sharpie scribblings, and a script written from the heart, what struck me most was its bleak view of the future. We all know that being a grown up doesn't mean that we act grown up or make better choices, but I was surprised to see so little hope.

But this is what drives the story. How does anyone face a future when they don't have hope?

It's disappointing that in a three-night season, the second night had such a small audience. Youth theatre may not have the polish of experience, but it's one of the few ways to really see how young people see the world (and us).

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

13 March 2012

Photo disaster

So, I deleted my blog Picasa album off my phone (bloody auto sync) and one simple tap deleted the album completely. I've LOST all the pics from this blog.

Are there any blogger nerds who can help?

Forums tell me that this is a common problem and I've been reading about other bloggers who can hardly type though the tears.

LESSON: Blogger automatically creates you a Picasa album for all pics. This is only saved online, not on your computer (which is what happens when you save your personal pics to Picasa).

If you have an Android phone and auto sync is on (which is will be because you can't do anything on an andriod phone without your Google account details), the Picasa albums will appear in your gallery.

I thought (and so have others) that deleting such a huge album from the gallery would just delete it from the phone. NUP. With no warning, it deletes it from Picasa and all blog pics disappear. No recovery.

Devastated: yes.

Hating Google: YES. I've never hated them until today.

Only good thing, speaking to a woman from Google Sydney who really felt sorry for me and is going to escalate the concern.

Hope that she can do anything: tiny.

I do have some backups, but still going to have to load them and old ones are going to be tough to find. It's going to take a long time.

If you have pics from your shows and want them back on the review ASAP, send them to me at sometimesmelbourne@hotmail.com and I'll get them up.

Review: The Most Excellent and Lamentable...

The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of  Romeo and Juliet
The Zoey Louise Moonbeam Dawson Shakespeare Company
2 March 2012
to 11 March

Is there anything as all-consuming as first teenage love? We may smile with gooey nostalgia, but remember what that first heart break felt like and how no one understood because no one could love as strongly as you did? Romeo and Juliet is about that kind of teenage love and Zoey Dawson's all-female version lets us see the story from the heart of a teenage girl.

Dawson creates theatre from an authentic and positive female perspective, and her work continues to remind me of what love was, is and always will be like.

As a teenager, I adored Juliet's suicide because it proved the power of great love. As an adult (possibly older than her parents), it's almost impossible to see any romance in such a devastating choice. By telling it from Juliet's perspective, Dawson and her remarkable and delightfully surprising cast (Brigid Gallacher, Carolyn Butler , Devon Lang Wilton, Laura Maitland, Naomi Rukavina and Nikki Shiels) ensure that it can't be seen as a social tragedy out of the young lovers' control.

Gallacher's Juliet is a 13-year-old who still wears flat shoes and has a pastel bedroom decorated with teddy bears. Her vision of sex is sweet kissing and her idea of romance is so absorbing that she can't see beyond her boy in his blue flannel shirt (played by the five other members of the cast). Gallacher's performance creeps into your heart and reminds us that children have the passion to make decisions that can't be un-made and don't always have the experience to know that it will get better. The stunning final scene takes some liberties with the script, but they are such that they may leave the ghost of Shakespeare wishing he could re-write.

While it highlights the teen suicide, violence and sexualization of children aspects of the story (remember that Juliet is 13 and being forced to marry an older man), it doesn't neglect the joy and fun with characterisations that I've not seen and the best wedding scene ever.

Shakespeare didn't write his women with the same complexity as his men, so it's wonderful to see young women rejecting any concepts that woman are virgins/lovers/wives/hags/witches. The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of  Romeo and Juliet is indeed most excellent and I so hope that Zoey Louise Moonbeam Dawson gets her creative teeth into Shakespeare's comedies.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

Review: Stripped

La Mama
7 March 2012
La Mama Theatre
to 18 March

Writer, actor and creator Caroline Lee remains an unmissable force in independent theatre.  Stripped is a solo performance about the nakedness and exposure of death that strips away the pretence of performance to its core of raw emotion.

Working with her long-time collaborator and director Laurence Strangio and lighting designer Paul Jackson, this is Lee's stage adaption of the novel she started when studying Professional Writing at RMIT, and which was serialised in Meanjin and supported by the Marion Eldridge Award and City of Melbourne's arts grants.

Told through interconnecting first-person narratives, it starts as Lillian, a lawyer, is dying from cancer and her sister Sophie, a stripper, faces her own trauma. It's a fascinating adaption that left me wanting to read the novel.

As the writer, Lee's performance comes from such a closeness to her characters that she can concentrate on the subtleties that let her share this deep understanding with the audience, and Strangio shapes the story and brings a physicality that embodies the driving emotion of each scene.

On a coffin-sized light box stage, Lee evokes Melbourne from an inner-city strip club to Chadstone (where no one wants to die). Lit mostly from below, Jackson's lighting exposes the human without the niceties of make up and flattering light (think what you look like with a torch under your face) which continues to bring the internal to the surface.

Yet, for all its heartfelt intelligence and emotional rawness, the text is distracting. Eyes and ears process language so differently and what is exquisite on a page can seem forced on the stage, as we don't need the descriptive adverbs and gorgeous metaphors to create the world or show reaction. There's a moment when a character says "I walked gingerly" and my inner editor grabbed her red pen; telling what we can see takes away from the character and brings too much attention back to the words.

Lee writes stunning words, but stage stories are driven by emotion, and another edit to tighten will free its characters even more, while the words will still shine in print.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

Photo by Pia Johnson

12 March 2012

Review: How To Train Your Dragon

How To Train Your  Dragon: The Arena Spectacular
Global Creatures and Dreamworks
8 March 2012
Hisense Arena

It's impossible to not love a life-sized, fire-breathing, doe-eyed dragon. Surely I could have a small one as a pet?

How To Train Your  Dragon: The Arena Spectacular is based on the Dreamworks 2010 film. Created in Melbourne by the same team who made Walking With Dinosaurs: The Arena Spectacular, its home town is first to see the new spectacle that will spend the next years travelling the world.

If you haven't seen the super-gorgeous computer-animated Dreamworks film, Hiccup the Viking doesn't live up to his dragon-slayer dad's expectations and wants to impress the village by slaughtering a scaly critter, but when he captures his first dragon, he can't bring himself to make the kill and begins to realise that his new friend Toothless and all dragons aren't as monstrous as they believed. When he wins the right to kill a dragon at a festival (and impress his rival slayer and love interest Amber), he's faced with choosing between his smoking new friends or his family and village.

Unlike Dinosaurs, humans clearly cohabit with dragons and the giants are joined by a large cast whose circus skills and flying impress even the most jaded tweens. And who prove that old-school puppetry is as wonderful as any animatronic as an extraordinarily beautiful shadow puppets nearly outshines the giants and some of the most loved critters were hand puppets.

But the stars remain the dragons.  Created by Sonny Tilders and his Creature Technology Company team, the animatronic and puppet creatures are nothing less than sensational, with details like hand-painted skins and blinking and moving eyes that instantly make you ignore any visible technology, and movement so fluid that it's easy to forget that they can't follow you home.

What takes this show beyond a circus ring of spectacular creatures, is the incredible animation by Dan Porta and production design by Peter England. The animation is not like the film, with a hand-drawn and darker feel to it. Projected onto a wall bigger than any screen, the animation creates movement that feels like a whizz-bang computer game rather than a film and works to make the huge audience feel more a part of the action.

Feeling close to the characters and having any subtlety of story is a tough call in spaces made for sport and with such how-do-they-do-that co-stars.  Director Nigel Jamieson is no stranger to massive events, having directed several Commonwealth and Olympic ceremonies, and he uses technology to tell remarkably intimate stories on our main stages (Honour Bound). The How To Train Your Dragon film is a story about Hiccup and his family, the Arena Spectacular, almost by definition, needs to be a story about Toothless and the dragons. Much of the emotion of the story still relies on knowing the film, but it works without that back up and I suspect that changes will continue to be made, so when they saddle up the dragons to leave Melbourne, there won't be any moments when the technology is more interesting than the story.

 How To Train Your Dragon: The Arena Spectacular is as spectacular as it claims to be. If you know little fans of the film, it's worth it. My favourite moment was watching a bank of children waving as Toothless flew to them.  But be warned that the merchandise is ridiculously cute, so be prepared for sulking if you're not willing to buy $30+ toys.

11 March 2012

Chat: The Suitcase Royale

The Suitcase Royale
Arts House
14–18 March 2012


Zombie wombats attack a caravan park. What more do you need to know? Except that Zombatland is the new show by The Suitcase Royale. With wonderfully insane stories, live original music and sets made from found and ‘junkyard’ objects, they have created style so unique that it’s rare to see the Melbourne troupe perform in their home town as festivals all over the world demand their inventive gorgeousness.

AMP has a quick chat to Joseph Neil O’Farrell, Glen Lawerence Walton, Miles Henry O’Neil and new Royale Thomas Salisbury. Zombatland has a very short season at Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, 14–18 March.

 If you’re not scared of zombie wombats, what are you scared of?
“An eight year old with a badge.”

If you lived in a caravan, where would your next stop be?
Heathcote Caravan Park. Best caravan park in Central Victoria. Ask for April, she’ll sort you out.

After so much touring, what’s it like to be home?
It’s great, we get to hang out with our legendary friends and get to enjoy our record collections. Touring is pretty much the best though.

What festival has been the most surprising?
We just played the Perth International Arts Festival. We always knew it was going to be great, but the crowd reaction and turn out just blew us away!

What was your first trash/found prop?
An old gramophone we found out the back of an Italian restaurant.

Where do you find the best junkyard props?
Hard rubbish collection month in Hawthorn.

Where is the best op shop in Melbourne?
Good question, but we will never tell.

What was your best op shop purchase?
On the same day we got a full penguin outfit and miniature motorbike for the penguin to ride on….awesometown!

What do you always buy new (not second hand or found)?
Sandals. Never buy second hand sandals, it’s not natural.

How did the three of you meet?
There is a fourth member now and we all met at Deakin University, or as we like to call it: The Dream Factory.

What was the first album (or possibly CD) that you bought with your own money?
It was a cassingle. “Three Little Pigs” by Green Jelly.

 What song are you embarrassed to know the words to?
“Drops of Jupiter” by TRAIN.

What song will you always dance to?
“Born to Run” by the boss

North or south of the river?
North side for life baby. (Or until the developers kick us out of Northcote.)

Beer or cider?
There is nothing like an ice-cold beer after running from Zombats all day.

Tell me a tour story that should really stay on tour.
There is a long one that took place in the Arizona desert. It involves a coyote cave, being bogged in a river bed, flash flooding and impending death. Lets just say US Border Patrol did get called and we are thankful to be alive. Don’t ever drive out into an unfamiliar desert without a map.

What’s next for The Suitcase Royale?
Very exciting things are in the works. But for now we are pumped to tour Zombatland around Australia for the rest of the year.

This was on AussieTheatre.com

09 March 2012

Review: And the Birds Fell from the Sky

And the Birds Fell from the Sky
Arts House and Il Pixel Rosso
29 February 2012
North Melbourne Town Hall
to 18 March 2012

Only two people at a time and experience Il Pixel Rosso's And the Birds Fell from the Sky. It's described as an immersive video-goggle performance but it feels like dreaming.

In the newly opened (and wonderful) warehouse space at the back of the North Melbourne Town Hall, you're taken to a small room and given new ears and eyes. With ear buds, black-out goggles with their own screen and a voice telling you what to do, there's no choice but complete trust as you become the lead character in a 20-minute trip with three clowns, who may or may not be on your side.

Il Pixel Rosso (Simon Wilkinson and Silvia Mercuriali) are from the UK and Birds is brought to Melbourne as part of the Arts House program run by the City of Melbourne. Local performers are guiding audiences and must have terrific stories about the reactions of people who can't see or hear them.

The experience is both disconcerting and utterly delightful. Like a dream, it jumps to times and places that are unknown yet familiar, and there's an undercurrent of danger, but you know you're totally safe having a personal guide in the unseen space around you. It's remarkably intimate but almost totally anonymous.

Even with performances every 15 minutes, only two people can see this at a time (and don't worry if you're by yourself), so be among the lucky few to experience this unforgettable world and book.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

04 March 2012

Review: Tower Suites

Tower Suites 
Arts House and Ros Warby
25 February 2012
North Melbourne Town Hall
to 26 February

The Arts House 2012 season begins with Tower Suites, the new work by Ros Warby, Margie Medlin and Helen Mountfort.

Arts House is the City of Melbourne's contemporary arts initiative, which "values arts and culture that help create a world where people are actively engaged, aware and empowered to participate, politically and culturally, to make positive change". This results in a supported program of local and international art that encourages risk taking and can too easily be missed in Melbourne's never-stop arts calendar. Rule of thumb, if it's in the Arts House program, it's worth giving a go.

Despite awards and critical love, dancer Warby is better known overseas than in her home town of Melbourne. She's been working for 20 years with designer/film maker Medlin and composer/cellist Montfort (best known for her work with the unforgettable Not Drowning Waving and My Friend the Chocolate Cake).

Their interplay between disciplines continues to create work that makes it almost impossible to separate one from the other. For Tower Suites, they're joined by vocalist Ria Soemardjo with the the balanced trio becoming a stable quartet in a piece, possibly, about finding balance and stability in our relationships with each other and our worlds.

It's not open to an easy reading, but its fluidity and delicate humour reflect the trust and subtlety that develops over such long-time creative relationship.  And it's a simple joy to watch a work that it beautiful for and in itself, without reason or reading, and to be part of an experience that comes from the hearts and minds of its creators without compromise or any sense of censorship.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

Review: Summertime in the Garden of Eden

Summertime in the Garden of Eden
Sisters Grimm
23 February 2012
a shed in Thornbury
to 3 March
facey page

So, as we raved about the wonderfulness of The Wild Duck, the Sisters Grimm were busy in a Thornbury shed and now all I can say about the Duck is that it's OK, but it ain't no Summertime in the Garden of Eden.

Sisters Declan Greene and Ash Flanders are the sparkle and poppers for independent theatre. Joyously atrocious, their creations are so far from the good taste of nice middle class theatre that David Williamson would implode if he ever came to Sisters show.

Flanders isn't able to perform (who knew a Sisters show could survive without his ball acting), leaving Agent Cleave and Mummy Complex free to prove that a lady should always pair a tiny waist with body hair. They are joined by the perfectly cast Genevieve Giuffre, Peter Paltos and Mzz Erin Tasmania and award-winning playwright Declan proves his lighting design is as fine as his direction.

This Eden is a Thornbury shed – no euphamism; it's a corrugated iron shed in a Thornbury backyard complete with a VB promotional fridge, undies on the line, a hideous 70s chaise lounge, a deflated paddling pool and a couple of chooks (who I love as much as Duck's ducks). The atmosphere is so share-house uni party that I wondered why no one was handing me a bong made from a plastic lemonade bottle and was concerned that I'd worn a Laura Ashley dress with a suitable irony.

In a tale of slavery, secrets and sucking, the once-deep (now almost inner-city) north has been transported to a Gone With the Wind-ish deep south with hooped emerald dresses, bearded belles, breasted daddies, fisting, a homage to Buck Angel (don't Google if you're in an open office) and mammy dolls that have been banned from shops since the 80s.

They start with a liberating fuck-you attitude to gender, and grab every fear about political correctness to reveal the dull, hate and ignorance underlying any attitude that refers to "them" and claims "some of my best friends are ...".

To quote new-Melbourneite Amanda Fucking Palmer, "Stop pretending art is hard". The Sisters created this show in three weeks using what they found in a shed. That ain't hard. But art this good is smart, so smart that it hurts to watch.

The sisters are so loved that Summertime was nearly booked out before it opened, but there might be room. If you want to understand why I rant when theatre is dull: see the Sisters.

A version of this review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

Review: The Seed

The Seed
Melbourne Theatre Company
22 February 2012
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 4 April

As a writer takes the "tell your story" advice literally and writes about being a writer, I wonder how much of the abundant dialogue about stories and half-written stories that are looking for a beginning and have no end is a writer trying to tell people what she does or is it begging for another writer to write about their writing.

Actor and writer Kate Mulvany was most recently seen in Melbourne in Bell Shakspeare's wonderful Julius Caesar, where she was as Cassius and the dramaturg; she knows how to tell a story. The Seed is her semi-auto-biographical work that was developed through the 2004 Phillip Parson's Award and has seen productions at Belvoir and in her home town of Geraldton.

This production is the mainstage direction debut of Hayloft's Anne-Louise Sarks (who was also assistant director for the remarkable The Wild Duck currently at Malthouse) and pops local favourites Tony Martin and Max Gilles on stage for us.

Thirty-year-old Rose (Sara Gleeson; played by Mulvany in previous productions) has arrived in Nottingham, UK, with her father (Martin) to see his childhood home and meet his formidable father (Gilles). With a shared birthday, the balloons, mystery boxes and Guy Fawkes night fireworks, help Rose to burst, unwrap and explode the stories of her IRA-supporting grandfather,  her ten-pound-pom and Vietnam conscript father and her childhood cancer.

It's a deeply personal piece about guilt and betrayal and trying to connect to family through secrets and silence, but it seems to be so personal that there isn't enough distance (writing, direction and performance) to take it from a great family tale to a story that will outlive its characters. The story is gentle and loving, but its black humour and inherent humanity are cocooned in a kind of writing that is loved in a novel, but feels over-written and self-indulgent on a stage.  

For a production having everything going for it, the result is disappointing and it might be best to grab a  new Seed from this crop and give it some time in the loving goodness of a dark compost heap before it sprouts again.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

Photo by Jeff Busby

Review: The Wild Duck

The Wild Duck
Malthouse presents a Belvoir production
21 February 2012
Merlyn Theatre
to 17 March

Melbourne's Hayloft Project gang flew their The Wild Duck back to the Malthouse from Belvoir Street with a swag of 2011 awards and the opening night anticipation was palpable.  Riveting in its intimacy, this is the kind of theatre that will ruin lesser productions for you. So book now and read the reviews later, because tickets are disappearing by the minute.

While Ibsen's 19th century naturalism and tragedy is often rejected for its obvious metaphor and an unnatural coincidental melodrama worthy of a daytime soap, re-workings (and re-readings) continue to reveal the genius of his storytelling. In a society where we demand to know the truth, this story asks if it's better to keep truth hidden and leaves its character knowing that if they could make even tiny decisions again, they wouldn't chose the truth.

Writers Simon Stone and Chris Ryan and dramaturg Eamon Flack have tightened it into three acts, stripped it back to reveal its soul and re-worked it to expose the web-like frailty of its world. Writers may cringe, but this re-writing of stories allows us to see that a writer's original words are not what makes us love them; it's story and the reflection of ourselves that takes a work from the admiration of our minds to the illogical love of our hearts.

Stone also directs. The duck and attic forrest metaphors are incorporated so delicately that all we can see is their beauty, and he builds a tension that is almost as unbearable as the truth that's revealed. There's a stop-breathing second when the audience know more than the characters and can see the inevitable end, yet Stone guides the story so we're still left shocked and hoping that someone will make a choice that fixes everything.

Ralph Myers's fish bowl design is initially disconcerting as we watch the glassed-in void like a huge screen TV. But, not only supplying a fourth wall, this remarkable design distances us from the inevitability of the story so much that we're drawn to its emotion, and the use of microphones brings us even closer with the sound of breath between sobs and the squelch of a kiss that makes you reach for tissues.

And none of this would mean much without an astonishing cast.  John Gaden, Anita Hegh, Ewen Leslie, Eloise Mignon, Anthony Phelan and Toby Schmitz's performances start with their on-stage relationships. They let us feel the unspoken actions between them and grasp the thoughts and feelings behind the words they use to hide their truths from each other. This creates an intimacy that makes you almost want to turn away to give them privacy.

This is the kind of performance that draws you in so deeply that even a live duck doesn't distract – a very cute live duck swimming in a perspex pond.

This is my benchmark production for 2012. If you're not creating work with this much passion, intelligence and understanding, why even bother.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Photo by Pia Johnson