Tuesday 26 December 2017

Top 10 TV Shows of 2017

I spent a lot of 2017 watching a variety of TV shows from a broad range of genres and in my need to always finish what I start, I never "quit" a TV show until I finished its entire season - regardless of how bad it is or how much I hate it. But with the bad comes some utterly brilliant ones, so I decided to list my top ten TV shows of 2017. 

If you're not up to date with the season, read with caution as some spoilers may be revealed.

1. The Leftovers - season 3

In December, I went back and re-watched the entire series one episode per day. As I write this, I am two episodes from finishing the series again. The basis of the show is that on October 14 2011, 2% of the population disappeared. The show begins three years later but the emphasis is not about what happened to those 2%, but what happened to the one who stayed behind, the leftovers.
The Leftovers is a beautiful exploration of hope and faith and the struggle to keep them, and it is, without a doubt, one of the best TV shows I've ever seen. While it might not have been a hit in the ratings, the writing and the performances from every single cast member - most notably Carrie Coon - are the finest you will ever see. Max Richter's music is phenomenal and never have I had such emotional responses to a score before.
Also, it's pretty cool that the final season takes place in Australia and a couple of my friends got to share scenes with Coon.  

Saturday 23 December 2017

Top 10 Shows of 2017

Another year of some unforgettable theatre and live performances comes to an end, and what a year it has been, managing to get to a respectable 200 shows. Not quite sure how I stayed sane in doing that, but there you go. 
Naturally I kept a list of all the shows I saw and below I present my top ten of 2017. If I reviewed the show then a link to the review is also provided.
2018 is shaping out to be the time of innovative and exciting theatre, so make sure you go and see some of it. While it's nice to make a night out of seeing some big name performers and shows, remember to also support your independent theatre makers and venues where some shows can cost you as little as $15 per person.

Here is my list:

1. Angels In America
- review

Grant Cartwright and Dushan Philips. Photo Credit: Sarah Walker
What an epic seven-hour production this show was. Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize winning work, Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes was performed at fortyfivedownstairs under Gary Abrahams' brilliant direction.
Abrahams brings together a remarkably talented ensemble of actors to tell this story, which despite being set in the American 80s still has extreme relevance and prevalence today regarding social stigma of homosexuality and AIDS.
Some of the strongest performances of the year were present here including those from Simon Cornfield, Grant Cartwright, Emily Goddard, Helen Morse and Dushan Philips, with the evocative sound and lighting providing greater insight into the minds and thoughts of the various characters.
Also, can't not mention how amazing that wooden four-poster bed was by how it was utilised and what it represented during the show.
If there were an award for best use of a single prop, this would be the winner.

Put simply, Angels In America was gripping, powerful and affecting theatre at its best.

Sunday 17 December 2017

Stripped back circus in "A Simple Space"

Earlier this year contemporary circus company Gravity and Other Myths (GOM) captivated audiences with Backbone, a brand new show presented as part of the Melbourne Festival. The show explored the theme of unity through strength and support with acts that left audiences awestruck by what the human body is capable. Those who missed it, missed out on an exceptionally original circus show, however there is no need to despair for the troupe return to Arts Centre Melbourne in January with A Simple Space. While the show differs greatly to Backbone, it still promises an exciting evening of circus by some of the country's top performers. 

"A Simple Space and Backbone could not look more dissimilar. Backbone can fill huge theatres with 12 performers, a plethora of unusual props, magical lighting states and a haunting score while A Simple Space uses a small stripped back stage, placed as close as possible to the audience with only the simplest of lights run onstage by the acrobats," GOM member Jascha Boyce tells me. "If Backbone is the 30 piece orchestra, A Simple Space is the acoustic soloist. However the rapport between the performers and the playful nature of our work are a constant in both. This style that GOM is known so well for is the string that ties all of our creative endeavours together."

Friday 8 December 2017

We Are Lightning! review

The last music venue in town is shutting down, probably to make room for more hotels, so a group of musicians have gathered together for one last concert in their beloved Town Hall. It's a bittersweet night of music, memories and mayhem as Joseph O'Farrell and Sam Halmarack bring together a variety of local music makers for a final music showdown in We Are Lightning!

In both the show and the concert within the show, O'Farrell and Halmarack have a running theme of what community means and more specifically, how music can bring people together. As such, the two seek out local groups and musicians to take part in the show and in this instance, we are joined by teenage rock band Pythagoras and the Field, the Harmony for Humanity choir and a number of brass musicians - with a few added surprises along the way. Despite their varied musical styles, it's not long before you realise their passion for music and singing ties them together, and if you have any appreciation for live music, you can't help but feel part of that connection too.

Sunday 3 December 2017

Earshot review

Long gone are the days where a conversation between two people stayed that way. With advancements in technology, private conversations can be captured, recorded and shared to the masses within seconds of being had. However, the age-old art of eavesdropping has been around for much longer, where by leaning back just a little bit further on your chair means you can catch the argument a couple sitting behind you are having, or the joy a person is expressing on a phone call seated on the train next you regarding their recent engagement. In Earshot, Kate Hunter has created a show out of the conversations she has overheard in which she and fellow performer, Josephine Lange re-enact.

There are a variety of conversations in this live performance including death, being Jewish, domestic violence and gardening and the conversations and topics range from laughable to horrifying. So while we are provided with an array of people's conversations, you can't help but begin to question what is the purpose of hearing these conversations? Why have these conversations been specifically chosen over others? And unfortunately no answers are provided, which leads to a sense of dissatisfaction and frustration with Earshot.

Friday 1 December 2017

Please Hold review

NICA has been a breeding ground for world-class circus performers for almost twenty years. In its latest show, Please Hold, the training institute puts the skills and talents of its third year students to the test.

The 21 performers' strength and agility throughout the show never ceases to amaze. The determination they have to be able to maintain a handstand for a substantial amount of time or the ease at which two people can stand on someone's shoulders or the heights at which others are thrown and then caught are a sign of the careers that await them. A few mishaps here and there but that's the risk of circus and these incidents are what make the standout moments even more memorable.

Thursday 30 November 2017

Lost: 5 review

Australia playwright Daniel Keene has been writing for the theatre for almost 40 years and has a multitude of awards to his name. Presented as part of the Poppy Seed Festival, Ilumi-Nation Theatre's newest production, Lost: 5  takes five of Keene's monologues and weaves them together to share a variety of stories on homelessness set within the Melbourne CBD.

While not all monologues deal directly with the homeless and homelessness, director Michelle McNamara has chosen pieces that highlight human behaviour and how hopeless and alone people can feel. In some cases they shed light on why and how people find themselves without a home, particularly through Kaddish, where a man's grief of watching his partner die becomes all too overwhelming for him to accept and deal with.

Tuesday 28 November 2017

Rooman review

Our ability to connect with people and find deeper meaning in our relationships is what lays the foundations for finding happiness. Without building these relationships, life can be difficult and incredibly lonely. In Fleur Elise Noble's ROOMAN, we follow an unnamed protagonist stuck between living the monotony of the daily grind and living her dream and the choices she makes in trying to lead her best life.

Noble uses a variety of visual techniques to tell this story, predominantly through puppet work, illustration and projections onto a moving paper set. The detail in all these is incredibly intricate and adds arresting layers to the two worlds being presented on stage, from the black and white corporate world our protagonist is stuck in, to the more coloured and fantastical world of her imagination. With the only glimmer of happiness she finds is in her dreams, where she meets and falls in love with a ROOMAN (a half-man-half-kangaroo), she becomes more entranced by her fantasy life and begins to gradually slip away from reality.

Sunday 19 November 2017

NK: A Kazantzakian Montage review

Cretan writer and philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis is perhaps most well-known for his two novels Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ and epic poem The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel. However, Kazantzakis also led a life of adventure, passion and exploration and in Howard F. Dossor's NK: A Kazantzakian Montage, important and life changing moments from his personal story are presented and examined.

The story is told with the aid of a Greek Chorus that gives life to Kazantzakis' stories and allows the nine performers (
Elyssia Koulouris, Erin Marshall, Kostas Illias, Nicole Coombs, Paul Pellegrino, Sebastian Gunner, Tabitha Veness, Tania Knight and Will Atkinson) to easily switch in and out of the Chorus to become a person from Kazantzakis' life. Alex Tsitsopoulos as Kazantzakis displays a sound understanding of who this writer was and delivers a thoughtful performance. However, the production falls into the trap of having Kazantzakis explaining how certain experiences made him feel and what they meant to him, rather than showing us why these moments were important. This resulted in long monologues with less impact, particularly evident in the final scene with the Chorus that had the potential to be a climatic moment and bring this unique life's story full circle.

Saturday 18 November 2017

Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit review

In 2016, a recurring trend began to appear in tv shows and film. That trend was the death of one partner in a queer relationship and the subsequent pain and turmoil of the surviving partner. In order to counter that, Jean Tong takes a queer relationship and defies conventions through signing, dancing and Shakespeare in her new show, Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit.

A dead lesbian chorus (nicely performed by Nisha Joseph, Pallavi Waghmode and Sasha Chong) each wears a t-shirt emblazoned with the words 'sacrificed' 'stabbed' and 'strangled' on them. Representing the queer people who have been killed whenever they find love and happiness, they attempt to thwart the blossoming love between Juliet (Margot Tanjutco) and Darcy (Louisa Wall) in order to save them from the pain and death that awaits them. Despite their best efforts, everything they do seems to draw the two women closer together.

Tuesday 7 November 2017

Birdcage Thursdays review

A shelf filled with books or a wardrobe brimming with various shoes can bring lots of solace and comfort to people. Collecting things can often be a reminder of adventures and events in your life. However, this need to keep things can sometimes be a manifestation of fear and anxiety. Sandra Fiona Long's Birdcage Thursdays focuses on Helene, an aging mother whose need to hold on to everything and unable to throw things out has gotten so out of control she is now facing being evicted from her home. It's up to her daughter and a case manager to attempt to reason with her in culling possessions they perceive to be junk but to Helene are protecting her from her loneliness.

Genevieve Picot as Helene finds a good balance of determination and fear, particularly when it comes to avoiding her case manager, Kiera, who intends to help Helene learn how to let go of everything she's been holding on to. Her daughter Catherine, played by Sophia Constantine, displays the frustration at trying to help someone who doesn't realise they have a problem however there are times where she comes off as more aloof than caring and the relationship between mother and daughter does not feel as it has been fully fleshed out and established.

Saturday 21 October 2017

The Carnival of Lost Souls review

There can be no greater feeling than that of loving someone and being loved back. However, sometimes that gift can also be a curse. In the The Carnival of Lost Souls, ill-fated love and the afterlife are explored through the blending of circus and musical theatre. Performed in the Melba Spiegeltent, the show tell the story of a gypsy fortune teller and a giddy clown who despite being meant to be together, are destined to be apart.

A late 1800s carnival ambience is immediately established through Jason Bovaird's effective lighting design and Clockwork Butterfly's highly detailed Victorian Gothic and Steampunk costumes. As such, the acts themselves retain a simplicity in style and are more about showcasing the skill of the performers rather than distracting you with the razzle-dazzle of a large-scale circus.

Friday 20 October 2017

7 Pleasures - Melbourne Festival review

It's interesting how much uncomfortable conversation sex and nudity can create and how people can easily feel confronted by seeing a breast or a penis. So when you're watching a performance art piece in which the dancers are nude for the entire show, it can lead to some awkward moments. However, Mette Ingvarsten is well aware of this fact and in 7 Pleasures she immediately knocks down the obvious issue before the performance has even begun, or before anyone in the audience is given a chance to realise it has begun.

Ingarsten's work explores the pleasure - and the pain - the body can provide and the difficulty in being able to enjoy one's own body when faced with constriction and conflict. The set design for 7 Pleasures is simple and familiar, a living room with a few chairs, a table, coffee table and a pot plant. Its familiarity is what sets you at ease...except for the giant sculpture of naked bodies forming in a back corner.

Tree of Codes - Melbourne Festival review

When choreographer Wayne McGregor, composer Jamie XX, and visual artist Olafur Eliasson come together for a new contemporary dance production, expectations are high. Taking inspiration from Jonathan Safran Foer's 2010 book, Tree of Codes, this production of the same name is a stunning collaboration of movement, lighting, sound, and stage design.

Interestingly, Foer's book was inspired by another book, Bruno Schulz's The Street of Crocodiles, a collection of short stories of a merchant family in a small town. Schulz story is full of metaphors, mythology and a blurring of fantasy and reality, and for his book, Foer cut out a large number of words and sentences from Schulz's stories and re-arranged them to form new stories and ideas. Even the title itself is made up of the letters from Schulz's book title.

Tuesday 17 October 2017

All The Sex I've Ever Had - Melbourne Festival review

Not many people think about 65 year-olds having an active sex life. Even Hollywood films rarely have characters of that age talking about sex, and when it does happen, it's usually emphasised for comedic value. However, in All The Sex I've Ever Had, Mammalian Diving Reflex and director Darren O'Donnell bring six people over the age of 65 together and have them share their memories from their birth right up until the present day - to a roomful of strangers.

All The Sex I've Ever Had has toured around the world and what makes this a unique experience is that it is always performed by locals to that area, so each season is going to be completely different as the stories shared are based on the performers' own life. The structure is simple enough with the six cast - Beatrix, Brenda, Lionel, Noel, Philip and Suzie - sitting behind a table, and as our 20 year-old MC and sound designer, Moses Carr announces each year through a microphone, they share with us important moments of their lives. The fact that we are able to get a real picture of who these people are through a few sentences for each year is a testament to the collaborative efforts between the creative team and the performers in threading six narratives together that are engaging and meaningful to the audience.

Sunday 8 October 2017

Backbone - Melbourne Festival review

Just when you think you've seen all that is possible in circus, along comes Backbone (by Adelaide company Gravity and Other Myths) that makes you think again. Presented as part of the Melbourne Festival, this show examines the need of strength and support from those around us, and a need to be able to come together as a unified front if we are to ever succeed in life wonderfully represented through some mind-boggling acrobatics.

There's a strong ritualistic aesthetic in Backbone as the performers pour buckets of sand early in the show onto the stage in varying patterns. They begin to move left to right across the floor in a repetitive rite of passage while executing captivating twists, flips, balances, jumps and turns that I've never witnessed before. These bodies are doing things that should be physically impossible and it's baffling as to how they keep their energy and momentum going for the entire 75 minutes. 

The strength, teamwork, flexibility and trust that lies within this troupe (Martin Schreiber, Lachlan Binns, Jascha Boyce, Jacob Randell, Lewie West, Lewis Rankin, Joanne Curry, Mieke Lizotte, Lachlan Harper, Jackson Manson) is clearly evident, as bodies are thrown from one side of the stage and caught on the other and three person human towers are constructed. Boyce's hypnotic suit and rock act has her fixing her sight out towards the audience, remaining expressionless throughout her act so even as she stands precariously on the shoulders of one performer and being passed to another, her eyes stay locked and she remains calm, knowing everything will go according to plan.

Saturday 7 October 2017

All Of My Friends Were There - Melbourne Festival review

Many of us would agree that spending your birthday with a room full of strangers would generally not be the most ideal way to celebrate the occasion - however with The Guerrilla Museum's new interactive and immersive live artwork, All Of My Friends Were There, that's exactly what we get to do. The show a lucky dip of adventure, where you are allocated to a group and led through a number of rooms with performances and experiences revolving around birthdays.

We are split into our groups before we even enter the venue and my plus one is not to be seen again until the end, so it's time to make new friends and party like it's all our birthdays. It's difficult to review this type of show when you only get to experience about one quarter of it, but the conversations post-show made it clear that there was a lot more happening than that which a single person is able to experience.

Thursday 5 October 2017

Death Match review

Life is just one big competition where only the best will survive and thrive. Being nice will have you finishing last, and who wants that? Presented by the Monash Centre for Theatre and Performance, Death Match is a high stakes competitive look at what it takes to win in life while creating discussion on some big issues around what it means to live.

The cast of six (Stephen Amos, Rebecca Catalano, Elly D’Arcy, Aleeah Gabriel, Earl Marrows, Ursula Searle) are highly committed and bring emotion and truth to their characters as they exercise their way through to success. D'Arcy particularly brings great comedic timing and a nuanced portrayal of uncertainty to her character while Catalano also impresses with the matter-of-fact attitude of hers.

Tuesday 3 October 2017

Ugly Duckling - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

Meet Duckie, she wants to be famous and be adored by everyone, but what can she do when is an ugly duckling? In a new cabaret show written by Spanky! and Karla Hillam, Ugly Duckling is 60 minutes of great songs, laughter and some highly entertaining duck-tales about what happens when an ugly duck realises that she is not destined to become a beautiful swan, leading her on an adventure of self-discovery and learning to be happy with who she is.

Also starring in the role of Duckie, Hillam delivers a committed and highly engaging performance. She is clearly having fun with the character as she fills us in on her life and the realisation that things don’t always go the way you want them to be. With an impressive singing voice, the songs and music captivate everyone in the room and add further detail to the stories Duckie is sharing with us. Joining Hillam on stage is musical director and accompanist Andrew Kroenert who plays piano, guitar, makes a cameo as Duckie’s love interest and sings, with his and Hillam's duet being one of the musical highlights of Ugly Duckling.

The story is rich in detail and moves at quite a fast pace which keeps things interesting, however Hillam’s accent seems ill-suited for the show as it makes the audience work that extra bit to follow every word and keep up with the story.

The costuming is well designed with individual touches to the outfits that Hillam wears so that even though she doesn’t really look like a duck, there are many references to being a duck. She dazzles and sparkles with glitter and feathers adorning her body and her make-up - particularly those incredibly long eye lashes - is suitably matched to her duck persona. The webbed-feet heels are also a brilliant touch to the character.

Sunday 1 October 2017

Top 10 shows of 2017 Melbourne Fringe Festival

And so ends my favourite time of the year: the Melbourne International Fringe Festival. I'm constantly amazed by how many quality shows are put on during this time that challenge, entertain and surprise me. While I juggle full-time work and part-time study, I always make sure to block out my calendar for Fringe. 
After seeing a mere 58 shows, my top ten shows are presented below. There are so many shows I wish I had been able to get to but the fates were against us and I promise to make it to your next one.
If the show was reviewed, you will find a link next to its name for more thoughts and opinions. 
Can't wait to see what 2018 brings!

1. Cactus and the Mime - review 

A Cactus Mascot and a wannabe Mime decide to re-enact their relationship in the style of a children's show. What follows is a hysterical story of love and growing up that ends in heartbreak and looks at what happens when you are unable to move on when tragedy strikes.
Roby Favretto and Caitlin Spears as Trevor and Mandy have created a story that immediately draws you in, and one that finds just as much truth and honesty as it does with its humour and laughs. As the jokes become more vicious and personal, we begin to understand that there is something much darker lying underneath all this, something that Trevor and Mandy will ultimately end up facing head on.
There is also a blurring of performance and real life, which raises the question of how much performing do we do in our own lives and when are we authentic?
It's this blurring of themes and genres that Cactus and the Mime takes big gambles but it makes the work so much more impressive because of it.