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.

2. The Happy Prince
- review

Janine Watson and Catherine Davies. Photo Credit: Pia Johnson
I have an incredible soft spot for Little Ones Theatre, and this year The Happy Prince was by far the most impressive show of theirs I have seen. Their queer take on Oscar Wilde's short story perfectly highlights how meticulous the company is in not only creating the various worlds of the productions they stage but also having you be completely absorbed by it and believe in it. 
Stephen Nicolazzo's direction explores the eroticism and deeply tender moments of the story with some outstanding performances from Janine Watson and Catherine Davies. Eugyeene Teh and Katie Sfetkidis' gorgeous set and lighting designs strengthened these emotions in ways that could only be seen and felt.
The Happy Prince allowed the audience to take everything in and really focus on what the two characters were feeling. It was a performance that stayed with me long after the final scene, especially when you consider that I saw this during Midsumma Festival way back in January.

*Can't wait to see their take on The Nightingale and the Rose at Theatre Works in June 2018 and to see what Nicolazzo does with Abigail's Party at MTC in August 2018.

3. Cactus and the Mime
- review

Roby Favretto and Caitlin Spears
Who would've guessed that a love story between a Cactus and a Mime would fill your heart with so much joy and sadness at the same time? Presented at this year's Melbourne Fringe, Cactus and the Mime is a hilariously fast-paced look at the relationship between two people told in the style of a children's television show.
Roby Favretto and Caitlin Spears have crafted a unique show where despite the big smiling faces, adorable costumes and the stage decorated with brightly coloured props, there are still glimpses of something darker at play. 
Favretto and Spears never compromise the integrity of the narrative or their characters for the sake of a laugh, with each joke going further into exposing their personalities or what they love/hate about the other person. Hearts are broken and lives are irrevocably damaged in this original and captivating show that dares to take risks and reaps all the awards because of it. 

*Cactus and The Mime will be performing at Perth Fringe World in February 2018.*

4. Monkey See, Monkey Do
- review 
Richard Gadd. Photo Credit: Mat Brooks
A show that deals with mental health, masculinity and sexual assault wouldn't normally find its place at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival but Richard Gadd's one man (and one monkey) show, Monkey See, Monkey Do, is just that. And oh how we laughed, and cried, and laughed, and cried.
Gadd uses his own personal experience with assault as an opening for a wider conversation on mental health and masculinity. 
When that monkey appears in your life, it is bloody hard work to escape it, and this is something that Gadd seems to have succeeded in doing. Monkey See, Monkey Do is an unflinchingly honest yet entertaining show that encourages people, women and men, to talk about their feelings.
5. Biladurang

Joel Bray. Photo Credit: Pippa Samaya
My second show from the Melbourne Fringe Festival to feature in my top ten. 
Joel Bray's site-specific show, Biladurang, is an intimate and beautiful look at identity through movement and story. Set inside the Sofitel hotel, this show for 12 people has Bray exploring his homosexuality and his Indigenous heritage.
Bray exposed his vulnerability to us, opening up on his attempts to connect with himself and with others. He finds tenderness and comedy in the smallest of moments and his words and movements generate vivid images in your mind. 
The hotel room is used to its full capacity, from the outside red tower-light that shines through the window onto the wall, the views looking out into the Yarra and selected personal items that lay scattered throughout the room. The audio and visual elements throughout the performance are just as thought out and used exceptionally well, particularly during the moments of Bray taking a bath.
Biladurang is a flawless example of the effect that theatre can have on people and the community that can be created because of it.

6. Backbone
- review

Gravity & Other Myths
My favourite circus show of the year goes to Gravity & Other Myths' Backbone. Performed as part of Melbourne Festival, the need for strength and support from those around us, and to be able to come together as a unified front if we are to ever succeed in life, is wonderfully represented through some mind-boggling acrobatics.
The teamwork, flexibility and trust that lies within this troupe 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.
Geoff Cobham's impeccable laser and lighting design includes a rig beaming across the stage and shining down from above with light refracting off mirrors hanging from the ceiling creating mesmerising patterns and stunning images on stage.
Backbone is an extraordinary accomplishment that takes circus beyond the concept of just tricks and acrobatics.

*Gravity & Other Myths return to Arts Centre Melbourne with A Simple Space in January 2018, and you can read my interview with performer Jascha Boyce here.*  

7. Time's Journey Through A Room
- review

Mari Ando, Izumi Aoyagi & Yo Yoshida. Photo Credit: Bryony Jackson
Time's Journey Through a Room came to Melbourne from Japanese theatre company chelfitsch as part of the inaugural Asia TOPA Festival. Written and directed by Toshiki Okada, the performance is set a few days after the 2011 earthquake and Fukushima nuclear accident and is a meditative and meaningful look at life, death, the in-between and the hereafter.
The cast of three - Izumi Aoyagi, Mari Ando, Yo Yoshida - deliver deeply nuanced performances in roles that on the surface do not seem to demand much, but the subtleties of their characters and the delicate words spoken are where the complexities of hope and hopelessness are brought to the surface. There is a significant emotional detachment present by the performers throughout the show that is well balanced and effectively manifested on stage. 
Time's Journey Through a Room is an entrancing production where you find yourself both slipping into the moments that are being so vividly described on stage and allowing them to trigger memories of your own. Its exploration on hope is stirringly captured and gently insists we consider a different perspective when tragedy occurs.   

8. The Basement Tapes

Stella Reid. Photo Credit: Maxwell Gutterman
My third and final show to make my top ten from this year's Melbourne Fringe Festival.
Premiering at the New Zealand Fringe Festival this year, The Basement Tapes follows a girl who tends to her recently deceased Grandmother's house and begins to clean out her basement. She discovers a tape recorder with a series of recording made by her grandmother that leads to her questioning what she has come to know to be true.
Stella Reid gives a strong and focused performance as she gradually discovers that things are not what they appear to be. Aided by some exceptional lighting and sound design, the intensity begins to build and the story really burrows its way into your mind and then begins to play tricks on you in a truly terrifying theatrical experience. There were moments where I genuinely thought I was seeing things that were not possible because of how this story sinks its teeth into you.
Hopefully this team make it back to Melbourne in the future, as I would love to see what they come up with next. 

9. 7 Pleasures
- review

Photo Credit: Marc Coudrais
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 considers 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 is simple and familiar, with a living room consisting of 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 that slowly begin to move.
7 Pleasures is a highly intimate work that acknowledges the sexual joy the body is capable of providing. However, the pleasure that it refers to is more from the self-discovery and the surprises that our own bodies can give us if we are brave enough to go exploring.

10. All The Sex I've Ever Had
- review

Photo Credit: Jim Lee
Not many people think about 65 year-olds having an active sex life. 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.
To speak of the adventures and tribulations shared would be to break the pledge of not gossiping about what's discussed that we take before the show begins. However, this is more than just titillating stories of sexual escapades, and while sex - and all its manifestations - plays a big part in each of these people's lives, All The Sex I've Ever Heard is an opportunity for those over 65 to be heard - really heard - and for their sex lives and sexuality to be as respected as younger generations' are and not be mocked or ridiculed.
After traversing 80 years of highs and lows of these people's lives, we exited to the foyer where each cast member had personal items on display that provided us with a further understanding of who they were. It was a fitting way to end a heart-warming evening of human connection that crossed genders, sexualities and age. 

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

11. Away
12. We Love Arabs - review
13. Awakening - review
14. ROOMAN - review 
15. This Boy's In Love - review

If you fancy a further trip down memory lane, then have a look at my top 10 shows of 2016

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