Thursday 19 December 2019

Love, Hugs + Kisses - Midsumma Festival preview

Nestled in a laneway near Elizabeth and Londsdale streets, queer underground nightclub, Hugs + Kisses, opened its doors in 2010 and for nine years it was a supportive space for LGBTIQ+ people to get together and make it their own. Music, dancing, liberation, open-minds and self-expression were all welcome. In January 2019, it closed its doors for the last time.

Photographer Nik Epifanidis was at Hugs + Kisses on its closing night. Set up outside the club, he spent the evening taking portraits of who was there, capturing the mood and tone that was present in the crowd. Only able to spend a few minutes with each person, Epifanidis asked them to focus on the emotion they wished to convey to the camera. The result of that is the Love, Hugs + Kisses exhibition, which acts as a compendium to a documentary on the club that is scheduled to be released in 2020, and begin presented as part of the Midsumma Festival.

While not personally connected to Hugs + Kisses, Epifanidis understood the importance and relevance of this venue closing, and was keen to be involved in the project when the film makers of the documentary made contact. "I hadn’t been to Hugs + Kisses, but I've always been intrigued by counter culture and how this is communicated. There is usually a good reason these places come into existence that speaks about people feeling the need to show themselves and be heard in a way they are unable to in the current mainstream," he says.

Sunday 15 December 2019

Rust - Midsumma Festival preview

TBC Theatre has been quietly working away on its most ambitious project yet with its upcoming immersive theatrical experience, Rust. Performed as part of the Midsumma Festival, the part period drama / part romance takes place during the height of a war where over the course of a night, secrets, spies, love affairs and betrayals are revealed. But what the audience uncover will depend on whose story they choose to follow.

There are three main stories told in Rust, each with its own intrigue and suspense, but while Vaughn Rae has written them as individual stories, there is much that ties them together. "The show is about three different relationships that reach breaking point over an evening," he tells me. "A pair of young women contemplate their future in a hostile world, two former soldiers on opposite sides of war battle with their growing attraction and a marriage crumbles under the weight of betrayal and secrecy, and gradually these lives crash into one another."

Friday 13 December 2019

Summer of the 17th Doll - Midsumma Festival preview

Going by their past productions, the ensemble of neo-vaudevillian company PO PO MO CO are not afraid to get their hands - and minds - dirty when it comes to bringing their queer lensed physical comedy to life. As part of the Midsumma Festival, the company has bravely decided to unleash itself onto what is considered to be one of the most significant Australian plays in history.

Written by Ray Lawler in 1955, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll takes place during the summer of 1953 and follows the events that impact the lives of six people. PO PO MO CO will be taking this script and delivering parts of it to various queer theatre companies in Melbourne and giving them free rein to reimagine their scenes in any way they see fit for their season of Summer of the 17th Doll. It's an idea that PO PO MO CO's Artistic Director Kimberley Twiner is very excited to watch unfold for a number of reasons. "We’re passionate about queer representation. We grew up with basically no one like us on stage or screen," she tells me.

Thursday 12 December 2019

The Taming of the Shrew review

William Shakespeare's The Taming of The Shrew has seen countless adaptations in theatre, opera, ballet, film, radio and TV, and to wrap up its 2019 program, the Melbourne Shakespeare Company have brought it back to Melbourne in an outdoor setting with a twist. To address the controversy of the play regarding its sexist and misogynist tones, the company have pulled together a predominantly female cast with the character of Bianca change to Bianco and played by a man, who has a list of female suitors after him.

The casting of Katherina is determined by an audience vote before every performance and on opening night, the majority voted for John Vizcay-Wilson to be Katerino with the role of Petruchia performed by Emma Jevons. This shift in power and gender blending allows the humour and the liveliness of the story to come through and it's refreshing to have the women be confident, loud and brash and not be admonished for it.

Wednesday 11 December 2019

Top 10 Shows of 2019

Every year I tell myself no more saying yes to going to all the shows in Melbourne, and this year I managed to cut down from 221 in 2018 to only 199 in 2019, and yes, those numbers do annoy me. I found this year particularly exciting as I saw some amazing work from new and emerging writers and performers who I can never get enough of seeing on stage. I witnessed shows in venues that hold hundreds of people and others that were intimate one-on-one experiences.
As an audience member, I got to plan a friend's wedding in a cafe, discover hidden secrets in Werribee, explore loneliness and isolation in a caravan, watch a five hour break-up take place on stage and suckle on some of mummy's breast milk. 
Like most people, I like to keep track of everything I see so I maintained a list of them all. Below I list the top ten shows I saw in 2019. If I reviewed it, then a link to the original review is 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. Especially in this current arts climate, remember to support your independent theatre makers and venues - some can cost you as little as $20 and can be one of the most original, inspiring and though provoking performances you might see.

Here we go:

Tuesday 10 December 2019

Big Glittery Sh!tshow - Midsumma Festival preview

They were the winners of the 2019 Gasworks Circus Showdown, and now Jack Wilde and Shona Cona return to Gasworks for Midsumma Festival to present their show that is bigger, more glittery and more chaotic than ever with Big Glittery Sh!tshow. Featuring Laney Mejias, the three performers are ready to have you leave your expectations and decorum at the door as they charm and disturb their unsuspecting audience with their bonkers antics and acrobatics.

It has been fun and games for Wilde and Cona since they met two years ago, but this threesome only recently got together formally. "I made contact with Laney a few years back on instagram when she lived in the USA, so we chatted online before she ended up moving here," Wilde recalls. "We then met Shona at a boardgames evening where her first words to me were, as she explained she could get too serious about playing, "I am not allowed to play boardgames anymore." I can confirm we’ve played many a boardgame since."

Monday 9 December 2019

Theatre Works 2020 Launch

This Bitter Earth. Image credit: Matthew Predny
Theatre Works has launched its 2020 program and it looks set to be an impressive year of theatre. For forty years, Theatre Works has consistently supported and cultivated emerging artists and theatre companies while being particularly encouraging of new Australian works, something it has once again accomplished. "Theatre Work’s history is steeped in hard work, built by the aspirations of countless artists and passionate creators as they continue to deliver what can only be recognised as powerful, relevant and vital performances," General Manager, Dianne Toulson says. "In 2020, we celebrate and uphold the values that Theatre Works is built on with a provoking, playful and proud program." While all 20 productions can be seen on the Theatre Works website, we have a look at a number of the offerings that are on the table.

Sunday 8 December 2019

When The Light Leaves - Midsumma Festival preview

Death is inescapable. We are all going to die. Unfortunately, few of us are given a say on how or when we will die. With the recent introduction of the Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) Act in Victoria, where Victorians who are at the end of life (and who meet strict eligibility criteria) can now request access to voluntary assisted dying, Rory Godbold's When The Light Leaves is a timely and compelling examination of VAD legislation and what it actually means to the people who need it and returning to the stage for a second season during Midsumma Festival.

When The Light Leaves had its premiere season at La Mama in July 2019, which was coincidentally the same week that VAD was passed into legislation in Victoria. The timing of the production opened up plenty of debate on the topic between audiences and the creative team. "Being able to put this on while the state of play for the terminally ill shifted was an incredible thing," Godbold recalls. "It happened in the middle of the season, which led to different readings from the audience in the first and second week as the reality of choice in death changed around them. We had a forum after the play on the day the legislation came into effect and there was a whole raft of responses that were not the previous focus of responses. Just as people react differently to grief, the show has elicited a wide range of responses regarding choice on the end of life as people respond to the play on a personal level."

Wednesday 4 December 2019

The Campaign - Midsumma Festival preview

Australia may have recently celebrated two years since marriage between same-sex couples became legal in this country, but it's important to remember the struggle faced by the LGBTQ community to get there, and this fight goes way back further than 2017. Roughly 30 years ago, being gay was considered a crime in Tasmania and it wasn't until the Tasmanian Gay Law Reform Group defied a ban on a stall to decriminalise sexual activity between consenting adults that progress began. Presented as part of the Midsumma Festival, Campion Decent's The Campaign traces the events from that day, where over 100 people were arrested, and the changes this group brought. 

Decent spending considerable time researching and interviewing figures who were involved with the gay law reform and writing the play, which had its first performance in 2018. "I was approached with the idea at the beginning of 2016 by the director Matt Scholten who operates If Theatre, and we spent the next two and a half years developing it and building partnerships. We were hoping to premiere the work in October 2018 to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the first arrests at Salamanca Market and with the assistance of Playwriting Australia, Tasmanian Theatre Company, Blue Cow Theatre and Salamanca Arts Centre – and the blessing from key stakeholders – this became a reality," he says.

Monday 2 December 2019

Love By The Hour - Midsumma Festival preview

Darwent & Gray are known for creating musical comedies exploring sex, sexuality and gender. Their previous outing, The Rest Is Drag, looked at the labels we place on ourselves and the complexity of building relationships based on those labels. For the 2020 Midsumma Festival, the company is yet again tackling labels and relationships but in a theatrical drama without their trademark music and songs.

Love By The Hour investigates the boundaries of friendship when one discovers his friend is a sex worker and decides to book them for an evening. Writer Caleb Darwent drew from a number of events and moments in their life that subsequently released a Pandora's box of ideas to navigate through. "The central concept sprung from a conversation with a friend of mine who had recently been offered money for sex by a Grindr Daddy. They were contemplating accepting his offer and start to do sex work. My first thought was how awkward and inappropriate it would be if I were to hire them, considering our pre-existing non-sexual friendship. The more I considered this, the more ethically complicated I realised it was," they tell me.

Sunday 1 December 2019

Sick review

Mention the word hospital or being sick and the memories that most people will have will be negative. But NICA's third year students from the Bachelor of Circus Arts are here to change that with their final showcase performance, SICK. Directed by Gavin Marshall, the show is inspired by Marshall's two month hospital stay where doctors tried to determine why his body was falling apart on him.

With this personal experience, Marshall captures the mundaneness, the ridiculousness and the gravity of hospital life. Taking place over 24 hours at St. Nowhere Hospital, the show opens with a number of patients passing time in the waiting room as they keep themselves occupied. On the other side of this wall we observe doctors and nurses in the staff room, tired, overworked and hurriedly getting themselves prepared for the onslaught of what is behind those doors.

Thursday 28 November 2019

You & I - Midsumma Festival preview

Formed in Brisbane, circus troupe Casus has always been proud of the diversity of its company and the performances they created. It is this vision that has led them to become internationally recognised as leaders in contemporary circus. With five works unders their belt, this summer two of its performers hit the Midsumma Festival with You & I, a touching and intimate exploration of a relationship between two men in love.

"You & I is a glimpse into these mens' lives," performer and co-founder of Casus, Jesse Scott says. "They are in a yurt in a subtropical rainforest of northern NSW. As they spend their time together, they perform a number of circus and dance acts, from trapeze to chair balances, from tango to hula hooping, and from acrobatics to a bit of silly magic but it all expresses the love, affection and joy felt by these people."

Wednesday 27 November 2019

Adam - Midsumma Festival preview

Adam Kashmiry risked being killed in order to live his life. The Egyptian born transgender man left his home and country at the age of 19 to seek asylum in Scotland for the opportunity to be himself. This extraordinary journey of resilience and strength was first performed at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and is now making its Australian premiere this Midsumma Festival.

It took director Jacob Thomas less than a second after they read the script to know they had to put this on. “Adam’s story is an experience you can easily disregard through one’s privilege, which is exactly why it's vital for our communities to hear this story, particularly as seeking asylum is still incredibly difficult for LGBTIQA+ people," they explain. "White, Western queers - myself included - can forget, perhaps conveniently, how our communities abroad are surviving. They’re getting by without pride parades, support systems and events such as Midsumma. That’s not to say we’re without struggle here in Australia, but more that we can’t ignore the realities of our global queer families. We can hold both our struggles and the struggle of others at the same time."

Monday 25 November 2019

Queen Bette - Midsumma Festival preview

Visit Bette Davis’ grave and you’ll see the inscription on her tombstone reads: “she did it the hard way”, and indeed she did. During a Hollywood career that spanned 60 years, Davis made a name for herself as being a fiercely outspoken and independent woman at a time when Hollywood preferred their female stars to be demure and complaisant. Davis was quoted as saying “I survived because I was tougher than anyone else” and in Queen Bette, Jeanette Cronin retraces the life of the Hollywood icon and screen legend in a tribute performance to the woman who was regarded as the biggest bitch in Hollywood.

Apart from an uncanny resemblance to Davis, Cronin’s channeling of the Hollywood star in the 2015 premiere of Queen Bette was met with critical acclaim in her inimitable portrayal of Davis. However, before she felt comfortable becoming Davis, Cronin spent a substantial amount of time understanding her by reading books, interviews, stories and film viewings, to get as much insight as possible into Davis. “I suppose we had a mini Bette Festival in preparing for this show. The first volume of her autobiography, The Lonely Life, played a huge part in its creation, as did the many interviews she gave over her entire career,” Cronin tells me. “There is a wealth of material in the public domain and she was a great raconteur, very entertaining and articulate. A very bright lady. A lot of the dialogue is verbatim but there are also original speeches inspired by true events which I have penned.”

Trapped Inside a Fat Old Lady review

Forming the artistic portion of her PhD, Pauline Sherlock's Trapped Inside a Fat Old Lady is the auto-ethnographic ruminations of a middle-aged woman ranging on topics such as body image, mental health, intimacy and menopause. Through storytelling, stand-up and singing, Sherlock opens up on these and the impact they have had towards her journey of self-acceptance and self-love.

The show plays like a TED talk with Sherlock hooked up to a mic, pacing around the stage with small gesticulations and pausing between sentences as she smiles and looks out to the audience. This cool and calm demeanour puts her in a position of authority, which is particularly fitting as this is the story of her life, so we are swiftly drawn in and eager to hear all that she has to say.

Saturday 23 November 2019

People Suck review

How often do we complain about someone and describe them as the worst person ever? They might be rude, aggressive or obnoxious towards us, ignorant of the world around them or perhaps we simply don’t like the way they breathe. Written by Canadian duo Megan Phillips and Peter Cavell and presented by Melbourne theatre company, Salty Theatre, People Suck is a musical comedy that highlights these terrible human behaviours, and if you think this is only about them, then you’re in for quite an awakening as you begin to identify with the various examples.

The quintet (Belinda Jenkin, Tim Lancaster, Georgie Potter, Ashley Taylor and Ashley Weidner) go through a range of scenarios where people can excel at sucking. The workplace brings out a number of relatable gems, namely not liking a colleague for no particular reason and having your lunch eaten by the resident office thief. We delve into #MeToo territory with a sexist and lecherous boss but what People Suck does well in is taking something serious and giving us permission to laugh. The absurdity of religion and the reasoning as to why one God is better than the other is hilariously juvenile in "My God" and the joys of being surrounded by frenemies is brilliantly executed by Jenkin, Taylor and Potter in "When I See You Smile (I Want To Kill You)".

Monday 18 November 2019

The Audition review

Working with emerging artists who were also asylum seekers and immigrants, Outer Urban Projects have brought together a mix of writers and actors to explore the process of auditioning through two different lenses. One of these being for performance roles and investigating the power plays that are present between an actor, director and audience, and the other being asylum seekers auditioning to be permitted to live in this country. 

The Audition includes work from seven theatre writers (Christos Tsiolkas, Melissa Reeves, Milad Norouzi, Patricia Cornelius, Sahra Davoudi, Tes Lyssiotis and Wahibe Moussa) that examine the commonalities of these auditions. While not all of these are as powerful or engrossing as they could be due to writing and/or performances, each story highlights various issues pertaining to asylum seekers and immigrants. In one, an Iranian woman (Sahra Davoudi) is reading for the role of Hecuba from Euripides’ The Trojan Women only to have the Australian director (Peter Paltos) force his western interpretation of what a victim should look and act like. Later, these two actors meet again as an immigration officer and an asylum seeker, where Davoudi must once more pass an audition, this time to prove herself to be in need of asylum.

Saturday 16 November 2019

Exit Strategies review

In Exit Strategies, Mish Grigor explores not only various ways of leaving but also the thinking and process behind this, such as when to leave and how to walk away from a situation. This world premiere, a collaboration with APHIDS co-directors Lara Thoms and Eugenia Lim, is an intimate performance that brings the audience into its absurd environment as we question our own philosophies and decisions around exiting.

These exits are comical in description and execution, such as Grigor’s reenactments of sneaking out of a yoga class, but they are often acknowledging a greater social or cultural observation. She has a natural charisma on stage, and it is entertaining to see how she will depart next. She finds the subtleties for each scenario and simultaneously plays it naturally and plays it big. There are some thought-provoking points raised but unfortunately there is not enough substance to sustain it and you wish the show would go further in what it is trying to say. The exits never amount to anything substantial and as it nears its own end, Grigor’s words fail to carry adequate weight or urgency to generate a lasting impact on the issues that are introduced.