Tuesday 27 February 2018

Fafenefenoiby II: Return of the Ghost Boy - Melbourne International Comedy Festival preview

Every year, as the Melbourne International Comedy Festival approaches, I vehemently urge people go and see a Neal Portenza show. It's comedy like you've probably seen before, only much much better. Well this year will be the last year I will recommend him because Neal Portenza is hanging up his little red beret and performing his final ever show.

"The rumours are true. This will be my last live Neal Portenza show. I expect there will be a national day of mourning followed by a blood moon at the conclusion of the festival," the brains behind the beauty of Neal, Joshua Ladgrove tells me. For his final send-off, Ladgrove has named his show Fafenefenoiby II: Return of the Ghost Boy, a title that is slightly different to previous shows P.O.R.T.E.N.Z.A and Neal Portenza: Neal Portenza Neal Portenza Neal Portenza Neal Portenza Neal Portenza Neal Portenza Neal Portenza. Tracey, but equally as perplexing and random. "Fafenefenoiby is a Shaun Micallef reference. Hopefully he won’t sue me, but what wonderful publicity if he does. Audiences can expect a shell of a man performing his 22 last ever live shows with a mixture of genuine abandon and cavalier intimacy," he says.

Identity Steft - Melbourne International Comedy Festival preview

She was the winner of Deadly Funny at the 2014 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and now in 2018, Steph Tisdell is presenting her debut show, Identify Steft at this year's festival. Tisdell, who has also been named the Funniest Aboriginal Woman in Australia looks at what 'sorry day' means to her and sharing her thoughts on white guilt and racism However, her show will also delve further into the more personal with Tisdell sharing her own mental health struggles and identity issues.

"Both my awful mental health and my identity crisis were actually what inspired this show. I desperately wanted to know more things about my culture but there were roadblocks everywhere. From every angle," she explains. "I needed to tell MY story. Which is one of feeling pride and fear at the same time. And I know it's one that a lot of Aboriginal people feel, certainly if they're mixed race."

Monday 26 February 2018

Hand to God review

In Hand To God, members of a Christian church in a small Texas town are preparing to put on a puppet show, however when a demonic sock puppet possesses a performer's hand, everyone's inner thoughts and intentions are brutally revealed. Billed as an irreverent and filthy comedy that is the love child of The Book of Mormon and Avenue Q, Hand To God spends so much of its time trying to shock its audiences that it fails to create characters we care about, or a story that grabs us. 

Director Gary Abrahams has gathered together a formidable cast led by the brilliant Alison Whyte as Margery, who gets herself into all sorts of situations while attempting to prepare for the puppet show. Gyton Grantley, Jake Speer and Morgana O'Reilly remain highly committed to the teenage characters of Jason, Timothy and Jessica but the script can't decide if they are ignorant and self-absorbed teens or intuitive young people. Grant Piro as Pastor Greg is the most defined and consistent character in the show, and subsequently his performance is as close to a realistic performance as we can expect in a story around puppet possession.

Monday 19 February 2018

"Bent Bollywood": Bending Gender Through Dance

Combining Indian classical dancing with the camp theatrics of Bollywood through a queer lens, Bent Bollywood was a definite must-see show during Midsumma Festival this year. Created and Performed by queer performance artists Raina Peterson and Govind Pillai, the show explored how different sexualities, genders and cultures can co-exist and complement each other.

Bent Bollywood began with a nod to traditional dancing and gradually grew in its exploration of queerness within these heavily steeped traditions. "Raina particularly was using lots of gendered mudras (hand gestures) in their spiritual solo opening piece, doing the gesture for female and male repeatedly. They were working with those traditional gestures and dissolving them into dust to almost disestablish the notion of binary genders," Pillai tells me.

Tuesday 6 February 2018

Falsettos - Midsumma Festival review

Set in 1979, Falsettos is an entertaining yet affecting musical of a New York family trying to keep it all together. With music and lyrics by William Finn and the book by Finn and James Lapin, the story explores the complexities of life and the struggles we face to find the balance in the different roles we lead.

Dom Winsor as Marvin manages to show the varying facets of his life with an intimacy that is rarely seen in musical theatre with his relationship with his son (played by Riley Flood on the night attended) being one of the most rewarding ones to watch unfold. Flood delivers a highly convincing portrayal of a teenager who is intellectually on the same playing field as the adults around him. Playing Marvin's on/off boyfriend Whizzer, Sam Ward brings confidence and charm to the character, however the chemistry between Marvin and Ward, which is integral to Falsettos, feels the weakest of all the relationships in the show.

Saturday 3 February 2018

AntigoneX - Midsumma Festival review

Based on the Greek tragedy of Antigone and Creon, AntigoneX takes this story and turns it inside out and upside down with its queer perspective. Presented as part of the Midsumma Festival, AntigoneX is a somewhat surreal look at queerness through identity, gender and art that draws you into its world but then not quite sure what to do with it.

Written and co-directed by Zachary Dunbar has created a very text-heavy show and the various plot threads all zoom past with barely time for one to catch their breath. While the story is based on Creon and Antigone, there are references to other classic tragedies like Medea and also contemporary pop culture with 'fake news' and Taylor Mac getting a mention. While Dunbar has wisely included a synopsis in the program, there are still moments where as an audience member you wish he had slowed things down a little to give the audience an opportunity to absorb everything that is happening on stage and maybe if there were not so many stories being told simultaneously it would be more audience friendly.

RIOT - Midsumma Festival review

This time last year, drag artist Panti Bliss was in Melbourne during Midsumma Festival with her solo show, High Heels in Low Places. In 2018, Panti returns with a number of her talented friends in tow for a hugely entertaining and political evening of circus, dance, poetry and music with RIOT.

There is non-stop wonderment to be had as Panti brings together a fine selection of performers who are a joy to watch on stage. The way in which each act is devised and performed makes them feel like they are something incredibly special and affecting. Led by Panti's inviting display of warmth and humour, the entire audience feels like they are part of the show too. We are all creating something here.

Kate Brennan's spoken word on power, poverty and class divide shows how powerful words can be in showing what the world is like and fostering change. Similarly, opening night's guest performer Melbourne singer Mojo Juju performed her new song about her Indigenous and Filipino heritage to rapturous applause.