24 June 2017

Guest review: The Very Worst of The Tiger Lillies

The Very Worst of The Tiger LilliesMemo Music Hall
18 June 2017
one night stand

Guest reviewer: Jack Beeby 

SM: I had a holiday (Japan is simply the best and I discovered Takarazuka Revue, who have ruined music theatre for me as much as Tokyo trains have ruined public transport), and Jack Beeby saw The Tiger Lillies while they were in town for one night. I remember how much I loved them the first time I saw them (and still do) and was a teeny bit jealous.

The Tiger Lillies

JB: The Tiger Lillies, international peddlers of peril, returned to Australia for the briefest of tours, including a one-night stop at St Kilda’s Memo Music Hall, to showcase the most sordid morsels of their 28-year canon in The Very Worst of The Tigerlillies.

For those who are yet to be indoctrinated into the band’s modest yet impassioned throng of followers, The Tigerlillies (in their current incarnation) are Adrian Stout, Jonas Golland and Martyn Jacques. Together they wrangle an impressive array of instruments, including a double bass, saw, guitar, theremin (Stout), customised drum kit (Golland), home-made electric ukulele, piano, and a sparkly green piano accordion (Jacques). Fuelled by Balkan-inspired time signatures and fiercely shrill vocals, these musical miscreants dispense a unique brand of grotesque punk cabaret, which has earned them a global cult following.

Through their songs, The Tiger Lillies almost exclusively conjure stories of human suffering and vice, often laced with macabre cautionary morals and told with visceral imagery that is most definitely not for the weak of stomach. Although the sadistic content and unflinchingly vivid depiction of these tales will certainly prove to be confronting for some, the group’s thoughtful composition, musical skill and theatrical delivery imbues each piece with an artistry that is wholly captivating.

The first act of The Very Worst solidly situates itself in the bygone world of ill-fated European carnivals, of ethically-barren sailors and transients, opium dens and brothels. Within this landscape, the group spin tales of desperation and devilry, of victims of extreme abuse and the perpetrators of horrific crimes. The content of this first act does not vary an awful lot. The pervasive energy of the set is slow and subdued and, while each story is its own work of narrative art, words like ‘corpse’, ‘whore’, ‘pimp’, ‘beat’ and ‘drugs’ are recycled from song to song with an almost tiresome regularity. With so much content to draw on from their 28-year catalogue, I found the lack of texture in this first set a little disappointing.

When the band return for the second act, we are treated to a selection of their more high-energy morality fables about religion, mortality and the bleak disaster of the human experience – songs that showcase the aggressive nihilistic passion and fierce musical punch for which they are so beloved and notorious.

Together, the three band members are a gaunt and gruesome visual spectacle. Their uniform of white grease paint and conventionally gentlemanly attire casts them as a chorus of grotesque phantoms, who find playful nuance in their strong individual characterisation – Stout is seedy and skeletal as he lurches over his upright bass; Golland is endearingly mournful as the group’s pallid percussionist; and Jacques is some kind of demonic clown, unleashing a howling falsetto that somehow manages to take over his entire elastic face.

While overall the energy of this performance seems a little more subdued than those of bygone decades, The Tiger Lillies’ deft musical skill and masterful talent for rich and evocative storytelling remains one of contemporary cabaret’s most wicked delights.

PS from SM: I still want "Getting Old" played at my funeral.

27 May 2017

Review: Spring Awakening

Spring Awakening
20 May 2017
Chapel off Chapel
to 10 June

Spring Awakening. Photo by Belinda Strodder
Melbourne’s had the opportunity to see two adaptions of Frank Wedekind's 1891 play Spring Awakening this month. Stage Art’s production of the 2006 musical – which won eight Tonys, including Best Musical – is the better known and opened at Chapel off Chapel on the weekend that Daniel Lammin’s powerful Awakening closed its second season to critical love and full houses at fortyfivedownstairs.

The original play, sub-titled "A children's tragedy", was censored and banned for its confrontation of teenage sex, sexual ignorance, rape, abortion, abuse, suicide, depression and the failure of adults to educate and love the children in their care. It’s still performed because it still feels far too like now.

With its indie rock sound track, the musical, by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, continues to develop a near cult following as it strips away the pretence of happy-ending music theatre. It talks as much to teenagers, who recognise a world where they are denied knowledge and power, as to the adults who let this happen.

Immediately striking for those familiar with the music is director Robbie Carmellotti’s change “from nineties rock to a modern music festival sound”. While letting the singers shine, it brings a new and more gentle perspective to the show and removes some of the anger and desperation of its expected rock.

Already less angry, the tone is set early with an inconsistent mix of humour and unearned emotional outpourings that tell the audience what should be felt rather than showing characters who feel. Hanschen doesn’t need to be high camp to like men, but, at least, the Hogan’s Heroes “I see nu-think” accents are more ridiculous than offensive.

There's humour in Spring Awakening, but the content is serious and too many laughs come from the melodrama of extreme emotion or from laughing at issues of sexual ignorance, violence and depression.

After Awakening, I have to discuss the end of Act 1 where teenagers Wendla and Melchior have unplanned sex in a barn and its dramaturgical choices range from rape to loving sex. The musical's book leaves room for interpretation; however, it also establishes that the 14-year-old girl knows nothing about sex and the 14-year-old boy thinks he knows everything about sex. Consent isn't possible – even if the characters think it’s romance. Awakening confronted with rape. It ripped the hearts of its audience by continuing to explore the aftermath from both points of view and reflected on every teen-rape story that includes “but he’s such a good young man”, “what about his reputation?” and “what did she expect to happen?”.

This sex is played as seduction, supported by the cast surrounding the couple with fairy lights. Act 2 opens where Act 1 ends, except she's naked; he's not. The teenage child with no experience or knowledge of sex is presented as a sexualised (implied post-orgasm) adult with all the control and power that accompany that knowledge and experience. In case there's any doubt, she lovingly holds his hand when she sings about guilt and confusion. Which makes for a much easier resolution for the hero Melchior.

Many choose to create a less-confronting Spring Awakening, but the choice to be safe supports the very issues that this powerful piece of theatre is trying to change.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

24 May 2017

Review: Minnie and Liraz

Minnie and Liraz
Melbourne Theatre Company
22 May 2017
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 24 June

Minnie & Liraz. Virginia Gay, Rhys McConnochie, Nancye Hayes. Photo by Jeff Busby

One of the many things I love about Lally Katz's writing is that it really doesn't matter when a new show doesn't quite hit the mark. Often new writing needs to get on a stage and be seen before it really finds what it's meant to be and Minnie and Liraz, MTC, needs some time on (and off) the stage to find its stride.

The 90-something Cohens, Minnie (Nancye Hayes) and Morris (Rhys McConnochie), have been married for 70ish years and are living in an expensive, bland and peach-coloured retirement home in Caulfield (that doesn't feel like Caulfield). When Minnie's bridge partner dies, Liraz (Sue Jones) is  determined to take her place. The Cohens don't like aggressively loud Liraz, but she does have a single 36-year-old grandson (Peter Paltos) who might be perfect for their single 38-year-old granddaughter (Virginia Gay) – grandchildren would be worth the price of Liraz in the family. And for a lot of the night, the story plays out how it's expected to – but this is a Lally Katz play, so it's easy to reject the peach-coloured view of the world before getting too comfortable.

Katz writes from her life and the Cohens are based on her own grandparents and, perhaps, her own experience of finding someone who's your-kind-of-awesome in your late 30s. At her best, Katz's characters are created from such a place of love and understanding that it's impossible to see them as fiction.

Minnie and Liraz is at its most delightful when it explores character. With loving and detailed performances and direction (Anne-Louise Sarks) that focus on character, the love for these people  drive it far more than its story.

However, as the romance trajectory and the death of at least one oldies is inevitable, the plot and climax feel forced – no matter how funny – and there's a lot of awkward exposition that bring us back to watching the construct of the play rather than being in the world with these people. Much of the exposition is through Norma (Georgina Naidu). She's the staff member who knows her residents too well but always feels like the outsider or a convenience, like her running a memoir class that lets Morris tells the story that  tells everything about him but doesn't sit in the narrative.

Minnie and Liraz often feels as peachy safe as its decor and design. But does anybody really like peach? Lets hope we get the chance to see the much darker and tighter work that it will become.

23 May 2017

Review: My Fair Lady

My Fair Lady
Opera Australia and John Frost
16 May 2017
Regent Theatre
to 27 July

My Fair Lady. Photo by Belinda Strodder

"Words, words, words!
I'm so sick of words
I get words all day through."

This was always my favourite song from Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady. Even with misguided teen romance-goggles, I appreciated Eliza's frustration with being told what to do, think and say. Show her! Show me! Show us!

Which is hard to do in a theatre that doesn't let most of the audience connect with the show.

Opera Australia and John Frost have re-creacted the original 60-year-old iconic Broadway production. To bring some relevance (and bonus music-theatre nerd squee points), it was directed by Dame Julie Andrews, the first Eliza Doolittle.

And it is a glorious re-creation of a magnificent production. Those Cecil Beaton costumes! That Oliver Smith set! The Ascott Opening Race!

Based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play Pygmalion, the story of the flower seller Eliza being taught how to be a "lady" by the pompous Professor Henry Higgins is well known. And as long as those romance-goggles don't interfere with the idea of the very young woman falling for the much older man who treats her like scum and really doesn't respect or like the women in his life, it's an insightful reflection of the gender, class and social power that, sadly, rings as true today as it did 100 years ago.

What makes this production more than a re-creation is that contemporary opinions have shaped the performances.

Robyn Nevin as Mrs Higgins, Henry's mother, and Deirdre Rubenstein as Mrs Pearce, Henry's housekeeper, bring strength and power to the women who know how their social positions are controlled by others. Reg Livermore's Alfred Doolittle and Tony Llewellyn-Jones's Colonel Pickering balance of clowning with the understanding of men who are beginning to lose their social power with age.

Charles Edwards (my Downton Abbey fan-heart smiled) lets Henry see his own absurdity, even if he refuses to budge. Edwards performance is excellent, but it is strange that there isn't a middle aged, English-speaking actor in Australia who would have been just as terrific.

Which leaves Anna O'Byrne as Eliza. She's wonderful. She ensures that Eliza's choice to go to Higgins is far more than an attempt to escape poverty, and lets her heart break when she realises that her education may have left her with less than what she started with.

But if you're sitting anywhere other than the first  rows of this huge theatre, it's difficult to appreciate what makes this more than a re-creation. It wasn't designed or directed for the Regent Theatre. It's visually magnificent and grand but its emotional power relies on performances and people. Even with such strong performances, I don't know how  Eliza feels in the final scene – I was too far away; even in good seats – which is the moment that makes or breaks a contemporary My Fair Lady.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

20 May 2017

I'm scared to review: Wild Bore

Wild Bore
Malthouse Theatre
18 May 2017
Beckett Theatre
to 4 June

Wild Bore. Zoe Coombs Marr. Photo by Tim Grey

Wild Bore. noun
1. Those who talk out of their arse, dribble shit and don't understand dramaturgical intent.
2. Theatre reviewer.

It's also Zoe Coombs Marr, Ursula Martinez and Adrienne Truscott's response to critical responses to their own work, and that of others. Opening to a critical contingent of two at Malthouse on Thursday, its verbatim(ish) mash-up of memorable reviews is as much a celebration of arts writing as it is a hilarious damnation of us who write those so-wanted-but-so-hated reviews.

Readers of reviews and critical writing in Melbourne will recognise some of the quoted voices.

But I'm not cunty enough to have been quoted.*

I don't know how I feel about that.

It's really nice to be quoted.

There are plenty of theatre makers who think I'm a bitch. I've seen the letters about my ignorance and know about the quest to get me banned. Most of these criticisms of the critic have been over writing about women's voices, women's points-of-view and how women are presented on stages.

I should have said feminist (bitch).

Wild Bore is mostly about people who write about women with a gaze that makes women feel so fucking special.

It's why these performers continue to make theatre that also encourages critical responses that use less-quotable words like gender, privilege, diversity and gaze. And why that writing can get a bit sweary because we're fucking over having to explain why we're fucking over it.

Remember when Jane Montgomery Griffiths wrote a response to reviews on ArtsHub that questioned a gender bias in reviews about her interpretation of Antigone (Malthouse, 2015)? Grab a snack and go deep into the comments – some are in the show – and know that the ones that were going on in a not-so-public sphere were funnier, smarter and bitchier. Some of us do censor our public voices.

Wild Bore. Ursula Martinez Photo by Tim Grey

This work – which they've been developing in their three home continents while performing their own shows – naturally focuses on the negative reviews and the failure (perceived or willful) of the writers to understand (or accept) the intent of the works.

With their best cheeks forward – the talking-out-of-the-arse imagery is clear –, each discuss reviews of their work that didn't get chosen for their pull quote of adoring adjectives or appropriate number of stars. Having seen the shows discussed, it was confronting to hear only the negative voices.

As artists and creators, do you really listen to those voices? Are the positive, researched, sat-up-until-4am-trying-to-get-the-words-right, you-made-me-feel-and-care reviews dismissed by the negative?

Of course, it makes far better theatre to use the negative voices – and the Wild Bore performances as described by the reviews may be worth the pain of those bad reviews. But it highlights why the bad bad reviews are encouraged, and why the responsibility of a reviewer's voice isn't necessarily considered.

Negative, bitchy reviews with memorable metaphors get read. They get shared. They get clicks. They encourage engagement and conversation. And so writers are encouraged, and often paid, to write more reviews like that.

It's awesome to be read.

It's brilliant to get paid to write.

Arts writers are writers. WE LOVE BEING READ.

Verbose metaphors get read.

Can anyone who read Byron Bache's corn-in-the-poo quote ever forget it? The show (The Crucible, MTC 2013) may have been forgotten, but not that quote. It got him regular paid work; the dream of most arts writers. But despite him continuing with some excellent writing and critical comment, he might only be remembered as the corn-in-the-poo quote critic. Arts writers understand irony.

Those gloriously hideous reviews are read.

They not only get read more than the positive ones, they get a bloody wonderful feminist theatre show made out of them.

 And, shhh, Krishna Istha.

Wild Bore. Adrienne Truscott & Zoe Coombs Marr. Photo by Tim Grey

*Or nice enough to be in nice quotes on the web page.

Time to Talk with The Guardian, 23 May after the 7 pm performance, Van Badham joins the cast to talk about their encounters with critics.

Monash Meets Malthouse, 27 May at 5 pm at  Jane Montgomery Griffiths, Alison Croggon, Cameron Woodhead, Richard Watts and Fleur Kilpatrick join the cast to discuss artists responding to critics.

The reviews

Maxim Boon: themusic.com.au

Alison Croggon: The Monthly

Cameron Woodhead: The Age

Rose Johnstone: Time Out

Keith Gow: keithgow.com

Kate Herbert: Herald Sun

16 May 2017

Review: Spencer

Lab Kelpie
12 May 2017
Chapel off Chapel
to 28 May

Spencer. Lyall Brooks, Jamieson Caldwell, Fiona Harris, Jane Clifton. Photo by Pier Carthew

Independent company Lab Kelpie (Adam Fawcett and Lyall Brooks) have been quietly finding their space in Melbourne's theatre community with Fat Pig, Super Girly, Elergy and A Prudent Man. Discussing concerns, especially about the social power, and presenting characters that are too often ignored on our stages, they continue to bring us some of the most exciting new writing around.

Following the success of Katy Warner's one-act A Prudent Man at the 2016 Melbourne Fringe (performed by Brooks, heading to New York in November and back in Melbourne the same week), Spencer is her new full-length work. If this production – cast, design, direction, Lyall's undies – doesn't get picked up by bigger stages and/or tours the country, there's something wrong.

Going back to the family home makes the most grown-up of us behave with the emotional maturity of an 8-year-old wanting to play with a tired puppy.

Scott (Jameison Caldwell) is the younger brother of Ben (Brooks) and Jules (Fiona Harris). In his 20s, he still lives at home with his mum Marilyn (Jane Clifton), but he's the most successful in the family because he plays professional AFL. Ben's always there to offer advice, even if his own footy career didn't work out, and because he's had to move back in the family home. They are soon joined by 30-something big sister Jules who needs her old room again. Still, everyone is excited because Scott's two-year-old son, Spencer, is visiting for the first time. He may not have been around for his first couple of years, but he's family and is already considered more family than their father Ian (Roger Oakley) who hasn't seen his adult children since they were children.

Warner has captured an authentic and loving Australian suburban voice. It's confronting – we don't sound like that! Yes we do – and so familiar that it's easy to find the awkward comfort of laughing at ourselves.

Warner's characters are written from the inside out. They are so easy to laugh at, but they are always recognisably real and the reasons for their decisions and behaviour are always painfully clear.

This emotional undercurrent is supported with Sharon Davis's tight direction that lets the rhythm build and fall naturally and ensures a consistent tone that never lets the performances or the script fall into a world where we're laughing at them and not at ourselves.

And there's a lot of laughing – it's squeak-out-loud hilarious. With timing that reads the audience perfectly, each performer brings a touch of clown but they all start with the heart and humanity of their characters. They do and say the most horrible things, and we still love them like family.

Bryn Cullen's costumes of K-Mart chic uggies, too-bright colours and clothes-we-only-wear-around-the-house add to the comedy without feeling unnatural. And while the design (Cullen and Rob Sowinski) of faux-wood panels with cheaply-framed family photos, furniture and a stereo that were new (or off the side of the road) in the 1990s, and a green vinyl kitchen chair (that I want) are slightly exaggerated and full of visual surprises. It shows us everything about this family and still feels like we've all lived there.

Even though we may not know Marilyn, Ian, Jules, Ben and Scott, they are our families. They are the frustration and  resentment, the in-jokes that aren't funny to anyone else – Coco Pops are now ruined –, the behaviour that's only accepted if you share a bond that can't be broken, and the love that makes all the bad feel worse and still forgives everything.

Warner's script should be published and this production left me feel as good as watching The Castle or Kath and Kim. It's hilarious and it hurts in all the right places because it's us.

PS. I only tweeted about A Prudent Man and Super Girly: they were both ace.

14 May 2017

Review: Awakening

and fortyfivedownstairs
11 May 2017
to 21 May

MUST, Awakening. Photo by Theresa Harrison

Spoiler alert: the last paragraph discusses the ending. 

MUST's production of Awakening was one of my favourite shows in 2016.  It gave me a fist-size ball of pain under my heart but ultimately left me so happy that young theatre makers are confronting the bullshit that surrounds them and are showing us that we can and will overcome the trauma and pain that threaten to define us. Thankfully, fortyfivedownstairs also saw what a remarkable work it was and have given it a second season.

Written and directed by Daniel Lammin, it’s a response to Frank Wedekind's 1891 play Spring Awakening. The story is often sub-titled "A children's tragedy" and was censored and banned for many years as it confronts sex, masturbation, rape, abortion, abuse, depression, suicide, religious hypocrisy and adults’ failure to educate, love and look after the children in their care. It's also known because of the Tony-winning 2006 musical adaption (Stage Art's production begins on 19 May).

Lammin has removed some characters and, with a cast of six, focuses on the stories of 14-year-old Wendla and Melchior. Sharing the roles – the three women play Wendla and the three men play Melchior – takes away the easy-to-distance focus of one character's decisions and lets us see, and feel, far more complex points of view.

It also lets us get closer to the cast: Nicola Dupree, Samantha Hafey-Bagg, Eamonn Johnson, James Malcher, Sam Porter and Imogen Walsh. Each had moments that broke my heart and each find the emotional truth in all the characters they play, often showing a side of the story that's easy to reject or forget, or too painful to confront.

The first half remains in the 1890s and while it reaches to now with music and experience, its story of sexual repression is so infuriatingly familiar that it's impossible to dismiss the fear that we're not getting better as a society.

After the gut-punch anger of Act 1, the second half does bring the story into now and confronts our complicity of living in a world that still allows children and teenagers to be so hurt.

Lammin and his cast were developing the piece when Safe Schools was being attacked last year. I don't have the words to describe the unthinkable selfish ignorance of anyone who wants to shame a child, and to see children being shamed by our government, media, schools and community leaders is the shame my generation of adults will have to live with. It's almost a follow up to Hannah Gadsby's astonishing Nanette at MICF. It's easy to talk about protecting children, but these are the children and they are still hurting and being hurt in ways that are unacceptable.

While the last scenes are relentless in their pain and their search for hope and explanation, the story doesn't end with shame and anger. The original ending is easy to predict because young men still take their own lives and it's a standard story move to remove a young woman who is raped and inconveniences everyone around her.

This Awakening rejects that and changes Wendla's story. It gives her power and strength and everything that is taken away from her in the emotive and too-often-repeated story.

It still left me with a ball of pain under my heart, but as long as we keep telling stories like this, we will overcome the ignorance and we will get better as a society.

13 May 2017

Review: Cabaret

David M Hawkins
1 May 2017
The Athenaeum
to 27 May

David M Hawkins's production of Cabaret may be as pretty as Sally Bowles's green nail polish, but the only person who loved the green was Sally* and we know her manicure was cheap and chipped.

After a mixed reaction to the Sydney season (now referred to as the preview season), Hawkins brought in director Gale Edwards to sort out the Melbourne season. With Paul Capsis as the Emcee, Kate Fitzpatrick as Fraulein Schneider and Chelsea Gibb as Sally, hopes were high.

Based on a short story Christopher Isherwood wrote in Berlin in the 1930s, Cabaret is seen through the eyes of American Clifford Bradshaw who arrives in Berlin and meets English cabaret singer Sally. The stage version surprises those who expect the 1972 film adaption by Bob Fosse, but the different characters and songs are always a welcome surprise.

Set in and around the seedy Kit Kat Klub as the truth of the Nazi's power is being realised, any new Cabaret defines itself with its design. And while the stage design with a wooden floor with footlights suggests a trip to Weimar Berlin – and is gorgeously accentuated by the plush velvet and fading decadence of the nineteenth-century Athenaeum theatre – the costume design doesn't declare a time or place. Spotlessly clean and very sequinny (and oddly, not sexy), they don't seem to have been developed from or for character and stress that the approaching hell, that we know this world is about to descend into, is a facade that's as authentic as a Cabaret-themed dinner party.

The likes of a giant Hitler mask, some slick swastikas and goose-stepping chorey (which might be trying to be a nod to Fosse) remove the strength of the work's moral ambiguity and the direction doesn't let the dramatic tension of the loss of hope lead the story.

The direction seems focussed on scenes rather than the bigger picture and story. Choices like bringing Cliff into Kit Kat Klub numbers take away his strength as the observer who can see that it's about to collapse and that he has to leave. Making Jewish shop keeper Herr Shultz the Jewish gorilla in "If you could see her" takes away any hope for his fate. And giving Sally an "I will listen" line in Frauline Schneider's "What would you do" diminishes the older woman's desperate plea to find any way to let herself marry and be happy – let alone that Sally's story is that she doesn't listen.

Capsis is, of course, the ideal choice as the Emcee, but his role on the stage is confusing. Neither benevolent or indulgent, he's left side stage as observer more than a participant. Gibb lets Sally's fear and vulnerability show but, like Capsis, is restricted by the production that doesn't seem to want to be more than pretty. I'd love to see them both – and the rest of the cast – in a different production.

And enough has already been said about the technical difficulties on opening night.

* and me; I still wear emerald green nail polish thanks to Liza.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

23 April 2017

Review: Joan

The Rabble
22 April 2017
Theatre Works
to 30 April

Dana Miltins. Joan. Photo by David Paterson

Damn you, The Rabble. Just when I think I can’t love you any more, you go and make Joan.

I felt burnt alive and risen from the ashes.

Joan. Joan D’Arc. Saint Joan.

A young woman. Whispered to by saints. Virgin. Sinner. God’s holy soldier.

She became a hero, a saint, an aspiration for young women that they too can be strong and be destroyed. She’s a great audition pieces in the play by a man written three years after she was canonised.

She was burnt alive. She was 19.

Starting with a darkness that only Emma Valente’s lighting and Kate Davis’s design can find, shapes – women? a woman? young women? – move into light or are found in the darkness. It could be the holy light above or a light to run from. With projections in front of and behind the stage, it hints of a black and white movie but is nothing like a black and white movie as the sound of breath and bodies falling to their knees asks if their kneeling is choice.

After light, they move through explorations of body, fire and voice. And to make such mesmerising imagery sound so clinical, intelligent and “artistic” is unfair.

Founded by Valente and Davis, The Rabble’s process starts with design and develops through improvisation. Text and texts are vital to their process but is one of the last things on the stage. We watch more than we hear, and when the women are finally given voices, their words are fiercer, brighter and more blistering that the fire – that fire! –  that came before.

It’s hard to think when watching this work. It’s seems so clear but every moment is filled with ideas and discussions that are too complex to be reduced to words.

Luisa Hastings Edge, Emily Milledge, Dana Miltins and Nikki Sheils are Joan. Each is extraordinary and together they confront the expectations of Joan and her story, and question why pain, strength and faith are considered virtues for a woman, let alone a child.

At times, it’s like getting into Joan's soul and feeling with her. But it’s more confrontational when we’re distanced and see ourselves judging her as a Saint or Sinner and putting both on a pedestal that burns with the bundles of wooden faggots stacked around her.

The Rabble create astonishing independent theatre with an independent budget. I'm thrilled to be able to see them in small rooms, but it's beyond my understanding why festivals around the world aren't begging for work like this to be in their programs.

22 April 2017

Review: Richard III

Richard 3
Bell Shakespeare
21 April 2017
Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio
to 7 May

Richard 3. Kate Mulvany & Meredith Penman. Photo by Prudence Upton.

Being in the depths of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, I was calling Richard 3, by Bell Shakespeare, Chick Dick 3 because Kate Mulvany plays Richard. But no more throw away jokes about having seen a lot of Dicks because this production’s found so much that’s new, relevant and fascinating.

Yes it’s ANOTHER work about white men and power and what they do attain and keep power. But Peter Evans direction and Mulvany’s dramaturgy have shaped it to give the women a presence that’s rare in this story. Having the cast always on the stage, the constant gaze of the women ­– who are often no more than wife, mother, womb or irrelevant – is always felt.

And they know they live in a world where Richard knows that his power over them is unquestioned.

Anna Cordingley’s design of too-shiny golds with brown and orange brocades could be a Toorak mansion or an inner city restricted-entry club, but left me feeling like we were in London in the 1930s and Edward VIII was about to abdicate and change the power dynamic in his society because the woman he loved was considered scum.

It’s a production that explores gender, but Mulvany’s gender is irrelevant from the moment she turns around on the stage and we see Richard. In a black suit with short hair and dark eyebrows, he’s small and looks younger than he is. His scoliosis (and hers) is a constant source of pain that he tries to dismiss as irrelevant but he can’t sit or move without being forced to feel his difference.

With his soliloquies, Richard brings the audience into his confidence and makes us complicit in his choices. He keeps us in his gaze when no one else on stage is aware they are being watched. He needs us to know that he chose to be the villain, but every interaction shows us that his villainy comes from far more than his conscious choice.

It’s impossible to stop watching him and Mulvany’s remarkable and powerful performance keeps us with Richard so we see the world through his pain and anger. She makes us care about this man whose behaviour is abhorrent.

So yeah, see Kate’s Dick.

This review is on AussieTheatre.com.

20 April 2017

Gush: Nanette

Hannah Gadsby
5 April 2017 
Melbourne Town Hall
to 23 April

Hannah Gadsby

It's been strange not writing a lot this festival. Working is good, sleeping is good and not getting festival flu is a bonus. But even though tweets are terrific and Age reviews are cool for sharing the love and getting some thoughts into the world, there are so many shows that deserve more than a star rating or a quotable.

So I've been having more in-person conversations this year. Remember when IRL was a thing? I've been giving it a go. Sure, it stops me sitting at my computer in my undies eating toast and telling the cat that she's beautiful, but maybe there's a plus side to that.

For one thing, it takes away the sarcasm and anger filter of the internet and lets me have conversations with people I like.

The show I've heard talked about, and talked about, the most – every day – this comedy festival is Hannah Gadsby's Nanette.

I have said stuff about about Hannah before but this year she's making us talk to each other – about things that matter.

The word "genius" is being thrown around a lot. But fuck that. Genius implies that it's somehow easy to create and perform; that it doesn't take countless hours to get one minute right; that it doesn't hurt to create work like this.

Nanette broke me.

Broke me in ways that make me want it to tour for years so that the world can see it, but more in ways that make me want it to never have to be performed again.

As a piece of writing, it pulls stand-up comedy to shreds.

Hannah does stand-up. She understands the power of laughter and how it can connect and liberate us.

And how it can hurt and break us.

Think of a time when someone made fun of you and laughed at you. Does it still hurt?

She exposes the innate creepiness about being in a room laughing at people or letting people laugh at you – and the comfort we find in that laughter.

By discussing how to create and break tension, she's steps ahead of her audience. The build from the gently annoying powdered-coffee barista Nanette to Hannah's mum's story coming full circle to tension that can't be broken is so structurally powerful that the only thing that stopped my writer brain from orgasming was every emotion trying to cope.

With her 'trademark' self-deprecating humour (writers, don't use those words), Hannah invites people to laugh at her, and Nanette questions the nature of doing this. Laughter can be so connecting and loving, but what's the cost?

She talks about understanding the power of shame, especially childhood shame. How it can be stronger than our own understanding and how it fights love without us noticing.

Her bigger story is about living in a society that lets people tells us that the Safe Schools program is indoctrination; how we are surrounded by grown up humans who support the shaming of children.

And how women are still shamed for thinking and speaking and simply being, let alone for being their authentic selves. She tells a short story about her being perceived as a straight white man and the change in attitude when that perception changed. The payoff was a perfect observational joke, but it comes from truth that sucks.

No wonder we filter our connections to the world with sarcasm and anger.

Hannah's story is so personal that it's not my place to share it, but by being so personal she lets everyone find the personal connection that's usually lost when a story is made safe for everyone.

Reviewers are often dismissed for being personal. I've heard that I'm an ignorant cunt for writing about something as bland as looking for a female point of view on the stage. (I don't read comments after a "she had her period" was LIKED by people who had asked me to write about them.) Last year, a festival artist told her audience how she didn't like my 4.5 star review because I mentioned how old I was. "It's all about the reviewer," she said. And still used my quotable.

And I'll be told that I'm wrong for not being distanced and objective about Nanette.

Fuck that.

This show made me feel – some feelings that I didn't want to have and some that are brilliant. It made me see my world through different eyes. It made me see myself differently.

That's everything.

That's art.

Another new show has been announced for 29 April at the Comedy Theatre. Tickets go on sale on Monday at Ticketmaster.

12 April 2017

Review: P.O.R.T.E.N.Z.A

Dr Professor Neal Portenza
7 April 2017
Melbourne Town Hall, Backstage Room
to 23 April

Dr Professor Neal Portenza

I was far too scared to tell Gary Portenza that I like fruit and nut chocolate.

My review is on The Age.

Review: Cake in the Rain

Laura Davis
Cake in the Rain
8 April 2017
Fort Delta
to 22 April

Laura Davis. Cake in the Rain

Stand-up comedy can and should be this personal and powerful.

My review is in The Age.

08 April 2017

Review: The Lucky Ones

Rama Nicholas
The Lucky Ones
5 April 2017
Malthouse, The Tower
to 23 April

Rama Nicholas

My review is on The Age/SMH.

Review: How to be a Middle Aged Woman

Jenny Eclair

How to be Middle Aged Woman (Without Going Insane)
31 March 2017
Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio
to 16 April

Jenny Eclair

 My review is on The Age/SMH.

Review: Clittery Glittery

Fringe Wives Club
Clittery Glittery
31 March 2017
Greek Centre, Parthenon
to 22 April

Fringe Wives Club. Clittery Glittery

Loved this so much that I'm knitting them a #pussyhat each.

My review is on The Age/SMH.

30 March 2017

Review: Trainspotting Live

Trainspotting Live

Andrew Kay and Associates  present a
23 March 2017
to 13 April

Trainspotting Live

I was splashed by a wet condom and had a shite covered naked arse within touching distance.

Choose life.

Choose theatre.

Choose Trainspotting Live.

In 1993, Harry Gibson wrote the stage adaption of Irvine Welsh's 1993 novel about heroine, addiction and AIDS in Edinburgh in the late 1980s. It's said that this adaption inspired Danny Boyle's 1996 film adaption of Trainspotting.

I'm having trouble believing that it's been 21 years since Underworld's "Born Slippy. NUXX" – shouting larger, larger, larger – became an anthem. Being given a glow stick and walking into a dark room pumping with music with people dancing in a way that you could feel though the floor felt so familiar that I'm still wondering why no one offered me a pill.

Not that you need anything to exaggerate In Your Face Theatre's unrelenting in-your-face, get-out-the-way, hey-that's-my-beer-ya-cunt experience of Trainspotting Live.

It's directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher and the founder of In Your Face, 23-year-old Greg Esplin, who also plays Tommy. The Edinburgh-based company don't believe in actor/audience separation and want the audience to forget they are watching a show. They say on their website, "If you want to move out of the way, or move even closer to the action (if you don't mind us breathing down your necks) then feel free, but be warned, you might not want to get too close to some of our characters."

With a packed audience around and in the fortyfivedownstairs basement-level performance space, it's difficult to move out the way, no matter how much you might want to. This is a story about the pish, shite and puke side of addiction, and protagonist Mark Renton does visit the worst toilet in the world and needs to retrieve his suppositories.

It's positioning in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival is curious, but for all its pain, violence and misery, it's directed to let us laugh. As humans, we laugh when everything about a situation isn't funny or we hit rock bottom. It's how we cope when there isn't another emotion left.

Welsh's book is a series of short stories that form a narrative about interacting characters. It's written from different points of view and often phonetically, so that sometimes the only way to understand it is to read it out loud and hear yourself speaking in the kind of bad Scottish accent that would get you beaten up by most of the book's characters. The film moved the story into the 1990s and found its own narrative among the stories. The play – this version is also in the 1990s – takes a narrative approach more similar to the book but has also taken its own path (don't expect to see Diane or Spud).

One of the many absolute joys of the Trainspotting Live is hearing parts of the book verbatim. The narration is shared among the characters who narrate as they participate, so it never feels distancing.

On his website, Welsh talks about seeing the first production in 1994. "Seeing my words performed by actors had a big impact on me ... I was still really reeling from being published and people were on the phone trying to cut film deals. I was thinking: 'it's only my scabby wee book, what the fuck is all the fuss about?' It was when I saw them doing their lines, the whole thing was removed from my head into the world, and I saw it for the first time how others were experiencing it. I felt the power of it for the first time. I walked out there believing that I had actually done something special. I knew it would be a great play."
Trainspotting Live

It is a great play and the cast are the children of those who were part of the Trainspotting generation – they were wee bairns like Dawn. They confront with bleakness, desperation and anger but always lead from the vulnerable fear that really motivates the characters. It's hard to hate someone when you know their abhorrent behaviour is the only choice they understand.

Esplin, Rachael Anderson, Calum Barbour, Chris Dennis, Michael Lockerbie, Erin Marshall and Gavin Ross have been performing this show in the UK and Australia for months and are so tone-perfect tight that they are now the people I picture when I read the book.

So fuckin' book now, ya cunts.

And if language bothers you, here's what Gibson said in an interview in Spike magazine in 2006: "Spotting is everywhere now. In fact language is a big part of Trainspotting’s appeal. People write dissertations about it. The play has 147 cunts. In Edinburgh housing schemes, I explain to people, cunt is a laddish term of endearment. You can say “Y’cunt-ye” to a mate and it’s quite cuddly. You would not call a vagina a cunt; a vagina is (excuse my language) a f*n*y."

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

22 March 2017

MICF reviews 2017

I've been very quiet on here lately. Work has been taking up more time than usual and I don't have the time to review as much as I'd love to. However, I am teaching and I can promise there are lots of terrific journalists excited about writing about theatre in the near future.

So, for the first time in ten festivals, I'm having a quiet(ish) festival. I'm still seeing shows, just not as many as usual. And I'm going to be tweeting instead of reviewing (ok, maybe some Age reviews).

I'm trying to answer every email and I'm sorry if some fall into the cracks in the internet.

It is difficult to get to all the emails. And all the arts writers in Melbourne face the same terrifying wall of emails. A couple of years ago I did  Top Ten Tips to Get  a Comedy Festival Review and here the are again.

Top ten tips to get a Comedy Festival review revisited

1. Make it personal

“Dear reviewer”, “Hey guys”, “To whom it may concern”  says, “I have no idea who you are and don’t read anything you write”. If you don’t know the name of the person you’re contacting, are you sure you want them to come?

Sending cut-and-paste individual emails isn’t much better. I’ve received emails asking me to review for publications I don’t write for and ones where my name has changed during the email.

And if you don’t know the person you’re writing to, introduce yourself. Let us get to know you.

2. Know what you want

Do you want your email to result in an interview, a listing, a review, an opinion piece, a news story, a ticket giveaway, an audition notice …

Tell the writer what you want.
And don’t ask for something that they don't do.

I’ve had complaints that I wasn't at shows I was “invited” to. Sending a media release with no other information is NOT an invitation.

3. Write a good subject line

Don’t write a witty or an obscure subject line, write a good one. A good subject line makes it easy to know what you want (and easy to search for when we need to check something).

For example:

Invitation: Name of show
Review/interview/listing request: Name of show
Reminder: Name of show (I appreciate reminder emails.)
Follow up: Name of show
Images: Name of show

Media release: Name of show? – see point 2

4. Put the information in the body of the email

A beautifully designed pdf is cool, but make sure that the vital info is also in the body of the email. Opening an attachment takes time, is annoying to do on a phone and is one more excuse to move onto the next message.

Plain text also makes it easier to cut and paste so that names are spelt right.

5. Check spelling and grammar

This festival, I want to read ONE – really, just one – email or media release that has been proofread.

Writers do judge you by your ability to use an apostrophe.

6. Do your research

Read the writer and the publication. What do they like seeing and writing about? Do they interview? Do they review? Who else do they write for?

And check if the writer had reviewed the show/artist before. I’ve had invitations to review shows I’ve already seen – and not liked. Google really is your best friend.

7. Who, what, when, where

If the name, time, date and place of the show aren’t on your message, media release, invitation, web page, flyer and everything else about your show, don’t be upset if people don’t turn up.

8. Find the magic time

There’s a time that’s not too early or too late to make contact. It differs for everyone. For me, it’s four to five weeks from opening. Too late and I'm booked up, too early and I'm not ready to commit.

Some writers, especially those with mainstream publications, need longer, but a last-minute request can work, especially during a festival.

The secret to finding the magic time: ask the writer.

9. Follow up

A follow-up email is a great idea.
A second follow-up can work.
A third is a waste of time.

10. Be nice

Over 500 other festival shows want reviews. As do the all the other shows on during March and April. Arts writers love seeing your shows (it’s why we do this, after all) and try to see as many as possible.

But this means that not everything will get a review.

This can be a kindness, or it can be because their brains imploded, the extra day in the week doesn't exist (it takes time to write reviews), they're sick or there wasn’t room to publish.

Never assume the worst, don’t get shitty and be happy with a tweet. And remember that a lot of word-of-mouth really is word-of-mouth.

Review: Faith Healer

Faith Healer
Melbourne Theatre Company

9 March 2017
The Sumner
to 8 April

Paul Blackwell. Faith Healer. Photo by Jeff Busby.

Faith Healer, directed by Judy Davis, at Sydney’s Belvoir last year was so successful that the MTC put it into the Sumner Theatre. While twice as many can see it each night, most can’t experience the intimacy that made it so successful and the production struggles to find its strength in the large space.

Irish playwright Brian Friel’s play of four monologues only lasted for 20 performances on Broadway (with James Mason) in 1979 but has since gone on to scoff at those first reviews and opinions.

In the 1950s, Irish faith healer Francis “The Fantastic” Hardy (Colin Friels) travelled through Wales, Scotland and Ireland with his wife, maybe mistress, Grace (Alison Whyte), and manager-cum-dogsbody Teddy (Paul Blackwell). As their monologues coincide in time, the audience can imagine them together and find their own truths, which sit somewhere between comforting and devastating.

Moving from places including village halls, a desolate roadside, and a pub that’s more of a lounge bar, they remember more about death than healing. And their memories are shaped by the conscious and unconscious tweaks that create a story that can settle in their own psyches, no matter how broken or blackened, and help them make the only choices that feel right for them.

Friels holds his emotion tightly with a heavy physicality that makes Francis feel every movement as pain. Whyte leads with Grace’s heart and shares the emotion that lets us into her thoughts. Blackwell’s Teddy connects with the audience as he also sees the couple from an outsider’s perspective and because he survives by finding the awkward humour that offers much-needed space to breath and reflect.

But while they talk to us, we don’t know who “we” are. We’re not Francis’s “fictions” or “despairing people” wanting to be healed or to give up on hope. Are they talking to judge, jury, friends, strangers or gods? Are we listening to a confession or a yarn?

This is questioned more as most of the audience have little direct connection the stage. Brian Thomson’s design of an empty town hall engulfed by storm clouds (that subtly change colour and mood with Verity Hampson’s lighting) is clearly made for Belvoir. So much that ther’s a Belvoir-shaped thrust staged and a couple dozen of the luckiest punters get to sit on the extra seats around this stage. But while most of the audience were so close in Belvoir, I felt too distanced in the closest third of the seating bank.

If post-show chat is anything to go by, those close and centre had a much more engaging evening, but it left me watching performances and listening to words rather than being so lost in the memories of the characters that their pain was felt.

This was on AussieTheatre.comaussietheatre.com.

27 February 2017

Review: The Play That Goes Wrong

The Play That Goes Wrong
Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, Kenny Wax Ltd and Stage Presence in association with David Atkins Enterprises and ABA International Touring
Mischief Theatre
24 February 2017
Comedy Theatre
to 26 March. Then touring

The Play That Goes Wrong. Luke Joslin, George Kemp, Nick Simpson Deeks, James Marlowe

The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society present The Murder at Haversham Manor. It goes wrong. Very wrong. So wrong that it's totally right.

The Play That Goes Wrong by Mischief Theatre was first seen in 2012 in a 60-seat theatre. With a new second act, it went to the Edinburgh Fringe and has now been swimming through tears of laughter for three years in London, where it also won a 2015 Olivier Award for Best New Comedy. The Australian production opened in Melbourne on Friday and the Broadway production starts previewing in early March.

An inept local drama society have got enough cash – thanks to one of the actors (there are bonus giggles in the program) – to stage a 1920's murder mystery. Under the serious direction of Chris Bean (Nick Simpson-Deeks), who also plays the lead detective, lines have been (mostly) learnt and they're ready to open. If only the stage manager could find his Duran Duran box set and the crew could get the set to stay together.

From the wobbly set to pratfalls, malapropisms, slapstick and every other joke in the book – and then some – the pace doesn't speed up so much as deliberately run you down, back up and do it all again. What begins with polite giggles and small gags develops into an insanity that breaks the most serious of reviewers as it celebrates every memory of atrocious theatre.

While Darcy Brown's dead body almost steals the show, Simpson-Deeks sets the tone as the unflappable actor, who loves his company and every show they have done – oh, to have seen CAT. The Australian cast (including Adam Dunn, Luke Joslin, George Kemp, Brooke Satchwell and Tammy Welle) are joined by James Marlowe from Mischief Theatre and are all so gloriously bad that they are wonderful.

My only complaint is that I wasn't bribed like some other reviewers.

This was on AussieTheatre.com .

18 February 2017

Review: John

Melbourne Theatre Company
16 February 2017
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 25 March

MTC. John. Photo by Jeff Busby

American playwright Annie Baker won a 2014 Pulitzer Prize for The Flick (seen at Red Stitch) when she was 33. Her writing's won Off-Broadway Obie awards and rightly declares a new Baker as a show to see. The MTC have the Australian premier of her 2015 play, John, and director Sarah Goodes guides a must-see production that revels in the ambiguity, mystery and too-close-for-comfort humour in the writing.

Jenny (Ursula Mills) and Elias (Johnny Carr) are as much trying to stay together as they are trying to break up when they weekend at a B&B in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, run by Mertis (Helen Morse), who wears a fanny pack and a doggy apron when she's working. The tourist area offers Civil War ghost tours, but the real unease come from the gaze of personal ghosts and gods, collectable American Dolls, and, sometimes, Mertis's blind friend Genevieve (Melita Jursisc), who's happy to explain that she's no longer clinically insane.

The heart of Annie Baker's writing is in the subtext: the white space on the page that creates the silences on the stage, the time between scenes, how characters listen and reacts, and the surprises in the design and sound.

Designers Elizabeth Gadsby (set and costume) and Richard Vabre (lighting) make the homely and welcoming B&B feel creepy. At a glance, it looks super naturalistic – in a world where floral carpet, chintz and kitch figurines are expected – but the detail reveals an out-of-time oddness that hints of the supernatural, or an ageing house with quirks. There are too many lights, the grandfather clock ticks but doesn't measure time without help, the flying ducks on the wall light up, the radio is a mini juke box that plays Bach and Vivaldi, and the pianola can't be trusted. The atmosphere is perfected with Russell Goldsmith's sound design of ticking, rustling and music that's as implied as it is heard

Morse and Jurisic perform like Metris and Genevieve  – oh, Genevieve – were written for them. With timing and pacing that define their years of experience and an ability to create character from the centre of their beings, they are as heartbreaking as they are hilarious. Mills and Carr use the silences to show more than "what yelling looks like", and let Jenny and Elias be so unlikeable that the moments when they show their true feelings change everything. All four hold onto the their secrets and let the audience keep guessing, filling in the unsaid through the two intervals, and talking about their own Johns late into the night.

John isn't theatre that explains itself and the temperamental room that Metris talks about might be the one you're sitting in. Baker's writing is as complex as life but she never wants her audience to forget that they are in a theatre. Goode's production lets this conceit pay off again and again, and, as the stories unravel and tangle, we're reminded how theatre can get inside our minds and stay with us like ghosts.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

16 February 2017

Review: Little Emperors

Little Emperors
Malthouse Theatre for Asia TOPA
15 February 2017
Beckett Theatre
to 26 February

Little Emperors. Photo by Tim Grey

Little Emperors was commissioned and developed by Malthouse Theatre for the Asia TOPA festival. Australian writer Lachlan Philpott (The Trouble With Harry) was flown to Beijing to work with director Wang Chong (founder and director of the Beijing-based experimental company Théâtre du Rêve Expérimental) to create "a piece about the connection between China and Australia ... appealing to both English and Mandarin speaking audiences."

Starting with the idea of exploring the cultural impact of China's one-child policy, a Chinese university-student (Yuchen Wang) is in Melbourne where he can live with a boyfriend, explore theatre making (it gets meta with Liam Maguire), chat with his older sister (Alice Qin) in Beijing on Skype, continue to ignore his mother (Diana [Xiaojie] Lin) and move on from being the second child who was ignored in public and sent to boarding school when he was too young. When he doesn't come "home" to Beijing for his mother's 60th birthday, mum and sis plan a surprise visit to Melbourne.

With an exceptional design (Romanie Harper, set and costume; Emma Valente, lighting and video), it's easy to get involved in the story as the design creates distance and/or intimacy between the characters and/or the audience. Set in a large pool of water that makes the simplest of movements difficult, a curtain of hand-written signs (maybe letters?) separates the onstage world from the backstage one that's seen through a live video projected onto the curtain. This allows for moments when you can see a character next to a close up of themselves; concurrently showing us so little and so much of the world.

The strongest parts of the work are the complex relationships between the family, especially between mother and daughter, but, while it touches on many issues – from expensive dumplings in Melbourne to the shame of having no grandchildren – it doesn't explore any of them in depth. It feels like the Chinese and Australian creative voices are being so polite to each other than no one dared mention the non-polite issues the work could explore or question whose voice was ultimately telling the story.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

13 February 2017

Review: Lifetime Guarantee

Lifetime Guarantee
Theatre Works
10 February 2017
Theatre Works
to 26 February

Izabella Zena & Julian Dibley-Hall. Photo by Pier Carthew

My review in The Age/SMH.

With apologies for getting Mark Constable and Julian Dibley-Hall's names mixed up.

Review: The Way Things Work

The Way Things Work
Red Stitch Actors Theatre
8 February 2017
Red Stitch
to 5 March

Joe Petruzzi & Peter Houghton. Photo by  Teresa Noble

My review in The Age/SMH.

10 February 2017

Reflection: The Intimate 8

The Intimate 8
Finucane & Smith, National Gallery Victoria
4 February 2017
to 11 February

Last year, Moira Finucane became the NGV's first Creative Fellow. It's an honorary role, but what an honour.

And what an absolute joy to be among the lucky few who have taken Moira's The Intimate 8 tour through the gallery. Over three Saturdays, groups of 20(ish) took a free whirlwind tour where hundreds of years of art saturated our souls and reminded us to look around, see what people make and live our life as a total work of art.

A gift. Porcelain Heart handcrafted by Catherine Lane and held by many hands. (I put it next to my cat's ashes.)

Guests wear headphones and follow Moira in her swishing long black gown with crystal straps. She tells us what she thinks about when she looks at the works, what she imagines the artists thought or what the characters in the paintings are thinking.

I saw pieces I've never looked at before, but some weren't new. Her imagined revenge on the ravens in Anguish – August Friedrich Albrecht's 1878 painting of the sheep with her dead lamb that always breaks me a little bit – was gory and glorious.


The headphones add a soundtrack (composed and collated by Darrin Verhagen and Ben Keene) to her commentary – like hearing "... then we take Berlin" (from Cohen's "First we take Manhattan") while looking at Great dancing pair by Erich Heckel, painted in Germany in 1923 at the height of the Weimar Republic, when the war to end all wars was over and no one believed that a greater hell was on its way.

It felt like being in a film; feeling distanced from everyone else in the gallery and being immersed in Moira's thoughts. Even though she's talking out loud, and others are listening, we only hear her through the headphones.

There's little time to contemplate, but it's easy it is to remember each work and its story – why don't I live in the Gallia apartment? –  and still have time to accidentally hold hands with a stranger while imagining afternoon tea served eighteenth century English silver. And watch gallery visitors watching us; we became as much a part of their gallery visit as the art.


What a way to introduce and share art. Imagine if there were tours like this through the gallery every day? Think of all the artists and performers that you'd love to take a tour with. Think of all the people – some who might have never been to the gallery – who would take the tours.

The six Intimate 8 sessions were booked out almost as soon as they were announced. There are two tomorrow afternoon, so if you're in the gallery after 2.30, you may want to follow a group of people in headphones following a magnificent woman in black.