Tuesday 18 December 2018

Top 10 Show of 2018

Every year I say to myself no more saying yes to going to all the shows in Melbourne and while I exaggerate, I do end up going to a lot. This year, I managed to get to 221 pieces of theatre and live performances (and being one shy of 222 is really going to bug me). Naturally I kept a list of all the shows I saw and below I present my top ten of 2018. If I reviewed the show then a link to the review is also provided.

This is also a great reminder that sometimes the most memorable and exciting experiences are not always the big budget, flashy ones but the ones that are only on for four nights at a small theatre venue. So remember to support your independent theatre makers and venues - some shows can cost you as little as $15 and can be one of the most original and though provoking theatre you might see.

Here we go:

Gravity & Other Myths. Photo Credit: Steve Ullathorne
1. A Simple Space - review

This was actually the first show I saw in 2018 and it still feels like I only saw it yesterday. With this show, Gravity & Other Myths perform a circus show with only a handful of props on a black mat roughly four metres wide and six metres deep. With our attention ultimately glued towards the seven acrobats, they work with the only thing that's left: their bodies. They demonstrate surprising feats on what the human body is capable of, through a variety of acts.
What is great to see in GOM that isn't often seen in other circus or performance shows is their personalities coming through and the camaraderie they share. While we are seeing a show, there is a sincerity and openness present where it's very clear that these people love what they do and are having a great time doing it. Can't wait until their return to Melbourne.

Raina Peterson & Govind Pillai. Photo Credit:
Hayden Golder

 2. Bent Bollywood - review

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 explores how different sexualities, genders and cultures can co-exist and complement each other.
Bent Bollywood not only explores the idea of what being queer is - and can be - but it does it in such a considered way where even if you didn't know anything about Indian dance and culture, the concepts and ideas are clearly established where you can easily recognise that the story being presented is a universal one of being free to express yourself any way you wish. 

*Peterson and Pillai will be performing their new show, Third Nature, at Arts House in March as part of Midsumma Festival. 

Emily Thomas. Photo Credit: Pier Carthew
3. Polygraph
Written by Robert Lepage and presented by Optic Nerve Performance Group, Polygraph is a gripping piece of theatre that had me hooked from the beginning.
A woman's rape and murder is explored through the eyes of three people, all with their own unique relationship to the victim. The performances by Grant Cartwright, Emily Thomas and Lachlan Woods are electric as they are pushed to their limits with Optic Nerve's unique Pulse process in which they explore and bring out the physical language of the text.
Under the strong direction of Tanya Gerstle, Polygraph is a deeply dark look at how malleable truth can be and how perception can alter our sense of reality. The show left such an impression on me that I went back for seconds during its run at Theatre Works.

Andre de Vanny. Photo Credit: Yure Covich
4. Swansong
Swansong is responsible for one of my favourite performances this year. Andre de Vanny is absolutely astonishing in this violent, tragic and hauntingly tender story of a young man fighting his way into adulthood.
Without any set, lighting or sound design and with minimal props, the entire show rests on de Vanny's shoulders and his ability to show the complexities of Occi throughout the piece. de Vanny's shows impeccable skill in displaying the troubled nature of Occi through his mannerisms, physicality and voice work, highlighting just how angry, frightened, lost and confused he is, and the battle he is fighting with himself and with society.
Swansong is an intense production and while you won't come out of it smiling or feeling particularly good, you can be comforted by the fact that you have just witnessed something pretty amazing.

  5. Bighouse Dreaming
Declan Furber Gillick
Written and co-performed by Declan Furber Gillick, Bighouse Dreaming covered so much in 60 minutes but did so with insight, authenticity and emotion in its look at black and white masculinity in Australia, the justice and prison systems and the helplessness that people who want to help often feel. 
There is an outrage in the piece that flows out into the audience with Gillick, Daniels and third cast member Sahil Saluja, delivering some of the strongest work I have seen from an ensemble. Mark Wilson's direction maintains the integrity and the intensity of the work while allowing time for the audience to articulate their thoughts on what is happening.
If you missed this during this year's Melbourne Fringe Festival, I feel certain that it won't be long before we see it again on our stages because this is a show that needs to be seen again.

Tiffany Knight
6. 19 Weeks

When her unborn baby was diagnosed with Down Syndrome, Emily Steel decided to terminate her pregnancy. Another Melbourne Fringe Festival show, 19 Weeks is a retelling of the events and factors that led up to her decision. Steel is honest with her experience and openly discusses the conflicting issues of not only terminating her baby, but also terminating a baby with a disability.
While this is Steel's story, performer Tiffany Knight takes it and really makes it her own. Not once does she falter or does it feel like we are watching a performance.
The show takes place in a swimming pool, which conjures up a variety of potent imagery: the calmness of being out in the water and floating, but also drowning and of water being a giver and a taker of life. The red swimsuit that Knight wears is suggestive of blood and life and the description of the abortion procedure and the use of a red towel - so innocently picked up at first - is very powerful in its symbolism.
You know you have made a compelling piece of theatre when the entire audience knows how it is going to end, but their attention never wavers throughout the whole story.

Daniel Sloss
7. Now - review

After breaking up numerous relationships with his stand-up show, So?, Scottish comedian Daniel Sloss returned to the Melbourne International Comedy Fetival with new show Now, where instead of dissecting other peoples' relationships, he turns his attention inwards to determine whether or not he is a sociopath, and if he is, if that is such a terrible thing?
Sloss has a knack of raising contentious issues while remaining in control of the conversation and not getting carried away by the 'thrill' of what he is raising. There is a purpose to everything he raises; it is not being said simply to shock, but to entertain and to inform us.
The question Sloss raises throughout Now is whether or not he is a sociopath. We can all reach our own conclusions on this, but one undeniable, indisputable fact is just how skilled Sloss is at making people laugh at things they probably shouldn't- and feeling good about it. Or maybe he's created an army of sociopaths and we just don't know it yet.   

8. Queenz
Emily Carr, Alexandra Hines & Kaitlyn Rogers

I only got to Queenz because of an empty slot in my crazy Melbourne Fringe Festival schedule, and boy, am I so glad I did.
Originally from Queensland, the three performers, Alexandra Hines, Kaitlyn Rogers and Emily Carr, have come together to showcase the refined culture that Queenslanders are known for. The show is littered with so many witty and smart references to theatre, privilege, feminism and art, that there is not a period of more than 30 seconds where I was not laughing out loud, be it a throw-away line to Optic Nerve Performance Group or their ongoing worship about their own Queen, Schapelle Corby.
While there may have been a few instances when the trio could not contain their own laughter or missed certain cues, this resulted in a very enthusiastic audience in that we are never quite sure what is going to happen next. The three work so hard at building a strong rapport with the audience that the show ends with a joyous dance party and a spontaneous standing ovation (of sorts).
Photo Credit: Bryony Jackson
9. The Infirmary - review

The Infirmary is a live art immersive experience designed to leave you questioning your death and what inevitably awaits us.
Presented as part of Arts House's Mere Mortals program, this intimate show for a small number of participants begins with individuals being triaged by a clinical nurse. We are then admitted and guided through a hospital corridor and numerous hospital rooms. It is here we begin to experience different stories and beliefs around dying through all five of our senses.
Towards the end of the show, I catch my reflection in a mirror and I am shocked by what I see. I appear to be refreshed and rejuvenated. I seem happier and calmer than I have in a long time. By contemplating death and the end of my life, I feel very much alive.
This is the stunning first part of Triage Live Art Collective's Death Trilogy and I bloody well hope I stick around long enough for the other two. 

Calen Tassone & Kamil Ellis. Photo Credit: Jeff Busby
10. Astroman

Rounding out my top ten is Astroman, a joyful and entertaining look at Geelong living in the 80s, through the eyes of an Indigenous family.
The young cast are exceptional in their roles, particularly Kamil Ellis as our protagonist Jimmy, but it's Tony Nikolakopoulos and Elaine Crombie who really shine in delivering some highly nuanced character work. The musical interludes and the creative approach to the set design instantly has you falling into a comforting hole of nostalgia.
This was the perfect show I needed to see when I saw it. It was a heartwarming show about growing up and taking a step into the unknown. About standing up for yourself and doing what's right for you.

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

11. Gloria
12. Muniak Mulana
13. Riot - review
14. Beautiful: The Carole King Story
15. Good Muslim Boy

If you fancy a further trip down memory lane, then have a look at my top 10 shows of 2017

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