Saturday 30 September 2017

The Baby Farmer - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

What happens when those who are put into positions of care - like nurses and nannies - end up being the people who should fear the most? Presented by the The Laudanum Project, The Baby Farmer is storytelling at its most unsettling and grotesque with its exploration of infanticide - and a firm highlight at this year's Melbourne Fringe Festival. 

Set in London's East End in the 1870's, The Baby Farmer revolves around a mother and daughter, Winnifred Alcorn and Agatha May, who get caught up in the gruesome murders of a number of babies. What makes this story even more disturbing is that it is loosely based on fact, where in the late-Victorian era, women (baby farmers) would take custody of a baby or child in exchange for payment. One infamous baby farmer was Amelia Dyer who is regarded as one of the world's most prolific serial killers, said to be potentially responsible for up to 400 murders.

If that wasn't enough to creep you out, our storyteller, Alphonse Cheese-Probert, finishes the job. Dressed in tattered black clothes with a ghoulish appearance and eyes that take much courage to look into, he begins to relay the tale of Winnifred Alcorn. Nick Ravenswood's performance is flawless, with a magnificent transformation in speech, body language and movement. Each syllable of every word is carefully pronounced so as to create maximum tension and his silent pauses throughout give the audience just enough time for his vivid descriptions to sink in. His ability to capture an audience and retain their attention through nothing but his words is a sign of masterful storytelling.

Friday 29 September 2017

For The Ones Who Walk Away - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

Do we accept the happiness of the majority, at the expense of the few? This is the question raised in For the Ones Who Walk Away with its immersive and interactive live art performance performed by over 50 children aged 9 - 18. Presented by St Martin's Youth Arts Centre, it's an ethereal yet dark exploration of humanity and the choices we make.

Audiences are initially separated into groups and led to a workroom to experience their first performance. From here, we are free to wonder around and enter whichever workroom we gravitate towards. The interactions in each room vary and I find myself playing the role of observer, participant and creator throughout the course of the evening. We are told there will not be enough time to visit each room, so I don't rush and walk through the hallway until I see a room that takes my interest

I approach a teenager girl who hands me a rock and begins to ask me numerous questions about my life. I respond by placing the rock along a chart on how accurate that statement is. I'm also asked to share my life story with her in less than a minute and not only do I find myself questioning how honest I should be with this stranger but also how honest I am with myself. Another room has attendees and performers going through the futile act of separating flower petals into colours while being dealt with some difficult "would you rather" questions: would you rather be sexist or racist?

Appropriate Kissing For All Occasions - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

Intimacy can come in many forms: from a long, sensuous kiss to the brief contact of hands. They can unleash a flood of emotions and raise many questions to the meaning of such an action. David Finnigan and Isab Martinez's Appropriate Kissing for All Occasions is presented as two short works in which the art of kissing and desire are explored. 

The first piece, of which the show is named from, introduces us to Toni Stevenson-Smith (Christina McLachlan), a sex therapist and intimacy coach who is here to enlighten us on the perfect kiss. Toni takes us through a variety of kisses, including the first kiss, how to kiss in public and the farewell kiss. Teaching a group of people how to kiss is difficult without someone to kiss, so with some help from some volunteers in the audience (strictly by volunteering), Toni rates and critiques each kisser with the hope of them using her words of wisdom in the future.

This dissection of kissing explores how much meaning and power kissing has in our culture. Throughout the lecture, Toni's own cracks begin to surface as she deals with the aftermath of her own lip-locking experiences. McLachlan does a great job in presenting the duality of a cool, calm and collected professional while expressing the rejection, anger and sadness that has resulted from the simple act of kissing.

Thursday 28 September 2017

The Yonder - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

With our planet about to implode, a lucky few citizens board a spacecraft to take them to safety on a deserted planet. Presented as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, The Yonder follows three people on board this ship and looks at the tension, affection and horror that eventuates during these trying times.

The costuming is simple yet effective in this show, with the cast donning basic white and silver clothing - different to each other but uniform with their theme. While there are minimal props used, what is used is creative in its representation, particularly the hairdryers and socks as guns and space squid aliens respectively.

While the show has a lo-fi aesthetic, it unfortunately doesn't support the work as it results in performances by Shannan Lim, Elizabeth Davie and Ezel Doruk that don't seem believable with dialogue and reactions that are not always engaging. There are some humorous moments throughout the show which makes use of the trio's experience in clowning and absurdism, including Davie as the CEO of the shuttle company and the romance between Lim and Doruk's characters but none of this ever culminates to anything of note or play a role in any choices these characters face. 

The direction of the show creates an awkward pace with too many silences and the big moments of the show are never played out to invest the audience in the outcomes. There are far too many short scenes with blackouts that constantly prevent you from connecting with the work being performed.

Wednesday 27 September 2017

Seen & Heard - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

We always look at performers with an air of admiration about how confident and sure of themselves they are, and while we may follow their careers for years, how well do we really know them? Created by burlesque artist Becky Lou, Seen & Heard is a show that revolves around the art of storytelling and performance that allows audiences to not only get to know the person behind the performer but also provides an opportunity for performers to expose themselves in ways they never have before. 

Becky Lou gets the evening underway with a titillating burlesque routine that then leads to her recollecting a tale about her decision to not have children and her teenage ‘pregnancy’ scare. It sets the tone well for what will be an evening of openness and engaging stories. 

Seen & Heard is very much a variety show with various guests each evening, however the artists that Becky Lou has chosen to take part in this season of the show fully commit to being authentic and honest with their stories. It is a strange feeling seeing these people become quite vulnerable with the issue or topic they have chosen to share with an audience.

Cabaret diva Mama Alto gives a touching recount of growing up somewhere between two genders and the sanctuary that they find in music. Circus artist Anna Lumb takes a humorous look at the stress and pressure of being a person with two jobs (the circus and a parent), about being an ‘in-betweener’ and how sometimes that that is exactly where you should be.

The Birth of the Unicorn Mermaid - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

Unicorn Mermaids do not exist. Or do they? Presented as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, The Birth of the Unicorn Mermaid proves that mythical creatures can be real…well, sort of. As Ophelia Sols throws the baby shower to end all baby showers, ideals of motherhood, and what makes a good mother or a bad mother begin to surface.

After being on a diet of sugar, salt and glitter Ophelia Sol (Ruby Hughes) is ready to give birth to the first ever Unicorn Mermaid. She can finally show up all her friends by having the most unique and talented child that anyone has (and will) ever set their eyes on. But first thing’s first: she needs to throw the best ever baby shower.

While firmly set in the real world, Hughes adds an element of bizarreness with the inclusion of how Ophelia becomes pregnant and the science behind her efforts. While we scoff at her out-there plan, there is conviction in Ophelia’s theory so it ends up feeling highly probably that it will work. This combining of two different realities works quite well in setting the scene and the environment.

However, the story itself seems to get stuck as it ends up focusing more on how great this baby will be rather than trying to go inside Ophelia’s frame of mind and learn more about her reasons why. She comes across as vain and spiteful and we never get more than a glimpse of her insecurities to be able to connect with her more and understand why she is doing this.

Tuesday 26 September 2017

SELF - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

Performers always appear to have an air of confidence about them. They know how to turn on the charm, how to dress and how to behave and are always surrounded by people who adore them. In a  new musical theatre piece directed by Michael Ralph, SELF looks to explore what happens when the man who seemingly has everything together on the outside is falling apart on the inside.

The show begins before the audience is even aware it has started, with a whispering voice relaying a continuous stream of self-doubting and critical thoughts around success and the types of questions artists constantly ask themselves and get asked. Questions such as 'how long have you been creating for?’ and 'how do I express myself?’ keep repeating as the voice gets louder and louder. The silent and motionless band sit along the back of the stage, shrouded in darkness and add to the tension of the internal nightmare being constructed.

The Vagina Monologues - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

Written in 1996, Eve Ensler’s collection of monologues in The Vagina Monologues explored issues around sexual experiences, body image, reproduction and sex work. The groundbreaking work was an opportunity for women to reclaim the word ‘cunt’, and in 2017, Deafferent Theatre is bringing its production of the show to the stage as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival.

Deafferent Theatre is a bilingual theatre company that seeks to create inclusive productions, and with The Vagina Monologues this includes telling the story through Auslan, surtitles and voice over translations (both live and pre-recorded), which allows for engaged interaction with the performances and the text. The cast act out several monologues, including 'Hair' and 'My Angry Vagina', and while the play is over 20 years old, there is still relevance to the themes being raised.

Livi Beasley, Ilana Charnelle Gelbart, Hilary Fisher-Stewart and Marnie Kerridge work very well together as an ensemble and deliver some strong performances, particularly from Kerridge who displays brilliant comedic timing and produces some vivid storytelling to the audience.

The set design has the women sitting around a table, enjoying some wine and strawberries with a shopping list written on a board behind them listing oranges, chocolate and tampons as items needed. This informal setting and the relaxed direction of the cast immediately creates a sense of familiarity and honesty, and makes you feel like you are sitting out there with these women.

Sunday 24 September 2017

Motion Gallery - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

Transit Dance transforms into a labyrinth of movement with nine intimate performances within Motion Gallery. Conceived and realised by its 2nd year students, this immersive evening of dance showcases the talent that lies in both the school's dance students and its choreographers, as film and dance come together to create striking images and memorable performances. 

The evening begins with One Alternate (choreographed by Gabrielle Loveridge and Sarah McCrorie); an intriguing performance dealing with parallel universes and identical lives. Once this piece has concluded, we are guided to another room for the next piece and while I initially worried that this structure would take away from the immersive aspect of Motion Gallery, it worked quite well, particularly due to the role of the dancers-cum-ushers.

While each piece has its own theme, there is still an overarching idea linking the performances with regards to identity and how we connect to each other - either through human / physical contact or through technology and the digital age we find ourselves in. There are some pieces that don't seem to work in terms of concept and execution or feeling quite similair to something we've already seen, but the ones that do are hugely rewarding and I would love to see these ones explored and expanded upon in the future.

Choreographed by Nicole Muscat and Kady Mansour, Tapua is a humourous look at menstruation and sacredness with the four dancers (Meg Bassett, Kimberley Halberg Annaleise Gaffney and Matillda Hall) displaying some impressive physicality and characterisation. The costumes, set design and music all come together perfectly to build on the environment and themes being explored.

Neon Dreams - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

The 80s are the greatest music decade ever and after seeing Transit Dance's Neon Dreams, I'm fairly certain they agree. Performed by 25 first year students of the school's Performing Arts course, you easily feel like you have time travelled back to the era where music was - for the most part - all about moving your body and  singing as loud as you could.

The soundtrack consists of some iconic 80s gems such as Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want To Have Fun", RUN-DMC's "Tricky" and Robert Palmer's "Simply Irresistible", with all songs providing a great opportunity to display the versatility and skill of each dancer. However the highlight of the evening was Cassidy Richardson and Dimitri Raptis turn in INXS' "Never Tear Us Apart". Their ability to convey a complexity of emotions while performing the sensually aggressive choreography by Yvette Lee had the entire room transfixed.

Similarly, Jessica Cranage in Michael Sembello's "Maniac" was completely taken over by the music and delivered an absolutely commanding performance. The evening also includes a moment of reflection with a touching tribute to 80s music legends lost over the years, including Whitney Houston, David Bowie, Prince and Michael Jackson. 

Lee's choreography is engaging, active and takes into account many of the dancer's own unique abilities. Lee is able to create strong, distinct routines for each act and within that, individual moves for each dancer, resulting in audiences always having something new to see no matter where you are looking on the stage.

Saturday 23 September 2017

Sonder - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

How do you review a show in which you are the only audience member and the outcome of the show depends on what you say and do? This is what happens in Sonder and for that reason, this is more of a personal response than a review. Presented as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, Catherine Holder's Sonder is a 15-minute participatory show in which you make a bed with the performer.

As a word, sonder is a relatively new one that means "the realisation that each random passer-by is living a life as vivid and complex as your own - populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness". Through the simple act of making a bed, Holder does in fact make you stop and think about this. Sonder is an opportunity to pause and reflect.

Once you enter the space, you are given time to select what materials you wish to use for the task ahead. Do you want cushions? Will you choose the floral fitted sheet or the black one? Do you need two pillowcases? Once you have collected your items you walk through and meet Holder. She has great warmth to her so despite being a complete stranger, we immediately establish a friendly rapport. Living in such a digital age, Holder seeks to explore human-to-human connection through the exploration of the familiar contrasted with the unknown of having a stranger present.

Thursday 21 September 2017

Cabaret Slumber Party - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

Andrew Iles is stuck at that in-between stage of being an adolescent and being an adult. So the best way to figure it all out it to have a slumber party and sing about it. Combining storytelling, stand-up and some very cheesy dance moves, Iles attempts to get a grasp on what being an adult is all about in his new show Cabaret Slumber Party.

While the show has an air of fun to it, there needs to be a stronger, more cohesive story and an emphasis on how these all tie together to form a bigger picture. At times, Cabaret Slumber Party feels more like a stand-up routine as we hear joke after joke with cheesy punch-lines that seem to act as a shield in letting Iles show too much vulnerability, especially when he is talking about his absent father during his childhood or losing his virginity.

His serenading to his first celebrity crush is quite entertaining though and his choice of well-known songs in which he fashions new lyrics to, show some creativity but feel unfinished. Some stage design or props to signify Iles' bedroom would have helped immensely in setting the scene for the show instead of just having Iles on stage with nothing but a microphone. The show ends quite abruptly and the audience is not quite sure if it's indeed over until the sound and lighting technician informs us that we can leave.

Papillon - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

Circus, cabaret, comedy and a dash of debauchery collide in Papillon. After touring nationally for almost four years, the show has returned to Melbourne for this year's Melbourne Fringe Festival and it definitely lives up to expectations.

Mark Graham's cheeky balancing act displays his strength, amazing sense of balance and the gymnastic skills required to pull this off - as well as his clothing. Later he performs a mesmerising aerial hoop act to a stunning cover of Radiohead's "Creep" sung by Minnie Andrews.

Joshua Phillips' two balancing acts - one on a ladder and then on a number of chairs - add to the suspense one feels when watching circus but his comical demeanour make it seem like he is in control the entire time.

Led my Musical Director, Matt Anderson, the music plays a vital role in this show, setting the mood for each act and evoking varying emotions from the audience. Amy Nightingale-Olsen's rubber ducky trapeze number is suitable paired to a Bert and Ernie themed electronic song, and her partnered juggling act with Anderson, involving some strong hand-eye coordination as well as being in total time with each other, is accompanied by some great swing style music. Similarly, Andrews' performance of Khia's "My Neck, My Back" is a perfect way to begin to bring the show to a close.

How to Kill the Queen of Pop - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

When How To Kill The Queen of Pop outrageously describes itself as a murderous, drag reimagining of the 2000 Olympic Opening Ceremony, it's comforting to know that this is exactly what it delivers. Written and performed by Tom Halls, Adam Ibrahim and Samuel Russo, this is the sordid story of a pact between three best friends to destroy the Queen of Pop by murder most fab.

Halls, Ibrahim and Russo revel in their roles as Tiffanee D'Brie, Tulfah Ali and Tami Thompson respectively, as they undertake their scandalous plan to commit the unthinkable during Sydney's hosting of the Olympic Games. While they all take to their characters like a drag queen to make-up, Ibrahim in particular is highly entertaining to watch having to deal with the fact that Tulfah deal with the subtle - and not so subtle - racism she experiences.

The three have clearly worked hard at developing this show and know it inside out, so when a plastic fingernail unexpectedly breaks off, their acknowledgement and incorporation of this into the scene shows the confidence they have with the script and their characters. The flashbacks to their childhood - including scenes of them as young girls in their local church choir - are original in their re-enactment with some very clever use of props.

Dirty Words - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

Before Dirty Words begins, performers Jonathan Carter and Alana Dare sweetly croon to the audience on the perils of drugs. This sets the scene nicely for Monash University Student Theatre's rock cabaret show that tackles some of the big issues that society has still failed to address.

Austen (Austen Keating) is holding a vegan dinner party for a group of friends, and as his guests arrive - some invited, some uninvited, some vegan, some not - issues relating to racism, sexuality and the environment are raised and re-enacted. Tara Dowler's direction during these scenes is highly engaging, most notably when Jonathan recalls his life as a waiter at a restaurant and Dowler incorporates the entire cast into the scene. This is successfully repeated during one of the songs on marine protection, which includes some emotive adagio choreographed by Georgia Bell and performed beautifully by Sarah Maher and Carter.

Unfortunately Dowler does not retain this energetic style throughout the show, as other flashback or stories are told without the same visual flair. When child care worker Cat (Catriona Cowie) informs us of her conversation with a pregnant parent regarding the sexuality of her future child, Dowler has her emphatically jumping around the empty stage, which feels like it is being done more for laughs rather than to express the character's thoughts.

Wednesday 20 September 2017

Pee Stick - Melboune Fringe Festival review

It can be a pretty confronting moment when a plastic stick covered in your pee is going to determine the rest of your life. In Pee Stick, we are introduced to 26 year-old Annie who may or may not be pregnant, but we will all know in roughly 50 minutes. In that time, Annie's mind runs rife with thoughts of her own childhood as well as what the future will bring, as she attempts to comprehend the possible changes in her life, all while incorporating some cheesy 80s dance moves and songs, this is 1987 after all.

Written and performed by Carly Milroy, Annie contends with issues a woman in the late 80s would have to face as a (potentially) single mother, from receiving judgements from strangers and gossipy shop assistants to the logistical nightmare of requesting maternity leave from her manager Colleen, where Annie spends her time transferring data from a floppy disk to a CD-ROM - this is the way of the future she excitedly informs us.

We also meet Annie's mother who despite her good intentions, constantly smothers Annie and thinks she knows what's best. Milroy is intelligent enough to not make the show about who the father of her baby is and most importantly, not shaming Annie as to why she was having unprotected sex. We never learn the identity of who the father is or any of the circumstances leading up to the encounter, which allows for the story to solely focus on what Annie wants to do and allows Milroy to really hone in on Annie's state of mind.