Saturday, 17 December 2016

Top 10 Shows of 2016

What a year of theatre! Managed to squeeze in 172 performances in 2016 while working full-time and starting a Masters part-time. Not sure where I found the time or the energy but there's just so much great theatre and live performances happening in Melbourne constantly, that it's impossible to say no to things. Having said that, there are still shows I deeply regret missing out on seeing this year but unfortunately that is always going to be the case, it's impossible to see everything.

Seeing the 2017 programs for Dance Massive, Midsumma, Arts House, Malthouse Theatre, The Butterfly Club and Theatreworks (just to name a few), there is something in store for everyone no matter what your interests so get on it! 
I know it's going to be another busy year for me and I cannot wait, but back to 2016 and my top ten shows of the year. If I originally reviewed the show then a link to the original review is also provided.

So, without further ado, here is my list:

1. Picnic At Hanging Rock

Picnic At Hanging Rock Photo Credit: Pia Johnson
Having been a massive fan of the book and movie, I was initially skeptical as to how Matt Lutton's production would hold up, but I was utterly impressed by this that I decided to see it a second time.
Lutton perfectly captures the repressed sexuality of these private schoolgirls and the harsh landscape in which these people attempt to own and control.
The ensemble (Elizabeth Nabben, Amber McMahon, Arielle Gray, Harriet Gordon-Anderson and Nikki Shiels) are flawless in their various roles, constantly switching between characters - covering both genders and a range of ages - in the blink of an eye.

A thoughtful and inspiring set design by Zoë Atkinson - particularly the ominous 'tree' hanging over the rest of the set in the shadows - together with Paul Jackson's lighting design, Ash Gibson Greig's composition and J. David Franzk's sound design made Picnic At Hanging Rock an unforgettable example of creating horror in theatre.
Full subscription to Malthouse Theatre's incredible 2017 season has already been purchased and can't wait to see what's to come.


2. Wit

  Jane Montgomery Griffiths. Photo Credit: Lachlan Woods
I was incredibly hungover the evening I was meant to go see this and contemplated not going, but I am so glad I got myself to it, because what a powerhouse performance by Jane Montgomery Griffiths.
She perfectly captures the tone of the play and the gamut of emotions that Vivian Bearing experiences, as she accepts and succumbs to the cancer ravaging her body.
The minimal but highly effective set design by Jeminah Ali Reidy denies Vivian (and Griffiths) the opportunity to hide as her every thought and feelings are exposed, and Griffiths never falters in her delivery.
While I was determined to not cry during the show because I knew once I started I would not be able to stop, I re-watched the film adaptation as soon as I got home and there was a sudden release of tears and ugly crying.
Moving and powerful theatre doesn't come much better than The Artisan Collective's production of Wit.


3. Mother's Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin 
- review

Maeve Marsden and Libby Wood. Photo Credit: Patrick Boland
I knew I would adore this show the moment I heard it was being produced, for two reasons; gin is the only alcohol I drink and any performance that involves Maeve Marsden and Libby Wood (of Lady Sings It Better) is going to be highly entertaining.
The pair have a knack for getting audience on-side and the rapport they share on stage is genuine and fun to watch as they share the history of gin in creative and engaging ways.
They variety of songs the cover, re-written to link to important moments in gin consumption, are inventive, daring and full of flair. Marsden’s performance of Martha Wainwright’s “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole” is possibly the best song I have seen performed in a cabaret and I wish I could hear it again (hint hint ladies).


4. Kinky Boots
Callum Francis with ensemble. Photo credit: Matthew Murphy
When I went to see Kinky Boots, I knew nothing of the story or its background. While I knew it was a musical, I literally knew nothing else about it, and boy was I in for a most pleasant surprise.
The performances by Toby Francis and Callum Francis (particularly the latter as Lola) are committed and are fortunate enough to sing some great numbers penned by Cyndi Lauper. The choreography is also brilliant, especially the pieces involving Lola and her friends.
While the musical numbers are often loud with lots of sparkles and glitter, there is still a heart to the story for both the characters and while we may have seen these stories before, Kinky Boots find its own unique and extremely fun way of telling it. Will definitely be getting to this one a second time before it closes - especially now that I know the words to the entire soundtrack.
 
5. Matilda

cast of Matilda
Another show I saw twice: the first time in London and then a few months later in Melbourne, and while I thought the London production was stronger, there was still much to love about this one.
The child actors are all great to watch on stage and while I have always questioned why a male is required to play Miss Trunchbull, James Millar delivers a horrifyingly beautiful performance of said monster.
Tim Minchin's lyrics are inspiring, particularly "School Song", which has some brilliant choreography and accompanying set design, and "When I Grow Up", which had me on the verge of nostalgic tears.
Now I just need Minchin to create a The Witches musical and I will be a very very happy man.



6. The Dark Chorus
- review

 The Dark Chorus Photo Credit: Gregory Lorenzutti
Lucy Guerin is one of the most talented choreographers whose works I have seen. All her pieces evoke such an emotional and thoughtful response from audiences and The Dark Chorus was by far no exception.
This is an intimate look at the darker thoughts and voices in our heads and how they can consume us with equally haunting and intricate performances by dancers Benjamin Hancock, Stephanie Lake, Jessie Oshodi, Lilian Steiner and Tyrone Robinson.
The tense composition by Robin Fox further supports the tenebrosity of The Dark Chorus with various sounds and music dropping in and out, creating a strong feeling of unease and leaving us never quite sure what is going to happen next. 
It was a hauntingly hypnotic dance piece and I eagerly look forward to what Guerin comes back with to Dance Massive next year. 

7. BOYZ
- review

BOYZ Photo Credit: Chris Curran and Paul Malek
I saw this show as part of Midsumma in January and I still remember it so clearly. Presented by Transit Dance, Paul Malek's exploration of being gay in your 20s and trying to determine what your place in the world is, is humorous, touching and hopeful.
This physically demanding piece expects much from its performers who are more than able to rise to the challenge. The menage-a-trios sequence between Charles Ball, Lachlan Hicks and Jayden Hall is erotically charged and highly detailed in its execution.
While the various experiences shared on stage - as the boys transition into manhood - can potentially cause harm and tragedy, they can also be viewed as an opportunity for growth and self-discovery.
Malek has created a highly thoughtful piece looking at sexuality, individuality and finding a peace within oneself. 

8. Member
- review

Ben Noble. Photo Credit: Luke Cadden
Another Midsumma Festival performance that has stayed with me throughout the year was Fairly Lucid Productions' production of Member.
The story is inspired by the death of gay man Scott Johnson in 1988, when his body was found at the bottom of a cliff at Manly. Deemed a suicide, there has always been speculation that he was a victim of a gay hate-crime.
In this instance, Ben Noble - in a staggeringly brilliant performance - plays Corey, a typical Aussie bloke who explains to us the moments leading up to where we are now: him sitting inside a hospital room with his son lying unconscious, seemingly fighting for his life.
There are some disturbing moments recalled by Corey, and through Noble's convincing characterisation and delivery of dialogue, it is impossible to not begin visualising what is being described. You see the fear in the eyes of the victims with every insult slurred, you hear the moment when foot connects with rib and you can almost feel the blood splatter from every strike to the face.
It's uncomfortable theatre but extremely necessary theatre. Still hoping that after its sold out season, Member gets a second breath of life in the near future.
 
9. Sedih//Sunno
- review

Rani Pramesti. Photo Credit: Daniela Rodriguez
I had such a visceral personal response when leaving Rani Pramesti's Sedih//Sunno. Her unique ability to share personal stories of her life but to also have you think about your own is a rare talent.
“Sedih” is Bahasa Indonesia for ‘sadness’ and “sunno” is ‘to listen’ in Fijian Hindi, so the show is an invitation to listen to our sadness.
In this collaborative piece with fellow artists, Ria Soemardjo, Kei Murakami and Shivanjani Lal, we are encouraged to open our hearts and our minds as we listen to their childhood stories in this multi-sensory and multi-cultural show. There is no rush or urgency trough any of the show and if anything, it is almost a communal meditation on life, ending with a group of 11 strangers sharing a pot of tea together, thoughtfully contemplating the experience they have just shared.
Sedih//Sunno can be seen as a rite of passage in accepting sadness as part of our lives. It is about reflecting on those moments and opening up to ourselves as to how they have made us who we are, and everyone should be keeping an eye out for future work by Pramesti.


10. Trilogy 
- review

Trilogy Photo Credit: Bryony Jackson
On the night I attended the show, Nic Green informed us that one of the performers of Trilogy had fallen ill. Fortunately, rather than cancel it, some last minute changes were made and I was able to witness this brilliant feminist performance art piece on women reclaiming their bodies and their rights.
The work is divided into three parts: part one looks at how women's bodies are presented in the public eye, part two provides a historical context of feminism, and the final part is a call to arms from Green for women to reclaim their bodies and create their own "herstory".
There was nothing more powerful during the performance than having a large number of women - all members of the public from various backgrounds, ages and body types - nude on stage, singing loudly and proudly to William Blake's "Jerusalem", the official song of the suffragette movement.
Green encouraged all women to "start your own fucking movement" and if this show hasn't set those wheels in motion, not quite sure what will.


And just because rules were made to be broken, here are the shows that were pipped at the post:

11. Titanic the Musical - review
12. The Literati
13. The Late Night Sexy Show - review
14. Notorious Strumpet and Dangerous Girl - review
15. Terror Australis - review

If you're still reading, have a look at my top 10 shows of 2015

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