Thursday 30 December 2021

Top 10 Shows of 2021

2021 was certainly a difficult year for the performing arts scene in Melbourne. However if you did manage to get to a show between lockdowns, you would have been witness to a great variety of talent and ideas. While I personally find it extremely difficult to engage with a show virtually, there were also some incredible digital works being made. With this in mind, I managed to see 54 pieces of work this year by independent artists and theatre companies in Melbourne. Below are my top ten shows of those 54 worksIf I reviewed it, then a link to the original review is provided.

And as I always like to remind people, sometimes the shows that will stick with you months and years after you've seen them, that will leave an imprint on your heart, body and soul, will not always be the big budget, flashy ones but the ones that are only on for four nights with ten people in the audience. In this current arts climate, remember to support your independent theatre makers and venues - some shows can cost you as little as $20 and can be one of the most original, inspiring and though provoking performances you might see.

Take a risk, see something new, unknown and different in 2022.

Here we go:

Saturday 18 December 2021

Queer and trans fairytales come to life in "The Story Keepers" - Midsumma Festival

While there's plenty to see and do during Midsumma Festival for the adults, there's also just as much fun to be had by families and children, including the magical, fun, queer fairy tale show, The Story Keepers. Written and directed by Em Chandler, the show has a group of fairy tale collectors who record the fairy tales of the world with queer and trans representations in its key characters. In this upcoming production, they share three overlooked fairy tales from Germany, Spain, and Iceland.

The Story Keepers has been a long time coming for Chandler, who has spent years selecting, preparing and devising these works. "The basic premise of fairy or fairy like beings telling fairy tales has been with me since 2017. So, in various ways it’s been floating around my brain for five years. But I’ve been writing, refining, and working on it over the last three years. I had been sitting on the idea of a troupe of fairy or fairy-like beings coming together to share, perform and act out fairy tales for a long time, but had struggled to find a way to start," they tell me.

Sunday 12 December 2021

Werk It – Tight Fit review

The venue might be small, but the energy emanating from the stage during Werk It - Tight Fit's circus show is incredible. For many in the audience, it is their return to the performing arts, and for myself, as an avid circus attendee, there is much excitement and anticipation at seeing my first live circus in close to two years. Fortunately the five acrobats do not disappoint, with Vincent van Berkel, Lisa Lottie, Richard Sullivan, Cassia Jamieson, and Malia Walsh performing a number of acts that display their skills and entrance the room.

Lottie's hula hoops act involves numerous hoops moving at incredible speeds on various parts of her body. Her later return to the stage has her completing a hoop striptease that continues to showcases her skill while adding a layer of sexy mischief. Real life strong woman Jamieson astounds the audience with her strength, particularity during her group act with Walsh and van Berkel. The familiarity and support the performers provide to each other highlights the trust between them, which is particularly important given the extremely small stage they have to use, where one misplaced step could mean falling off the stage or head-butting the hanging lights.

Thursday 9 December 2021

Ben Stuart is on the Run with first love - Midsumma Festival interview

What does it mean to love? Ultimately, we all have our own meanings, but in Stephen Laughton's one-man play, Run, this question is explored by Yonni, a 17 year old gay Jewish boy. Over the course of a summer, Yonni's infatuation for schoolmate Adam reaches breaking point where the real and the imaginary blur together as he begins to understand love, desire, grief and loss. The play has received critical acclaim since its debut in England and next year it makes its Australia debut as part of Midsumma Festival.

In the Melbourne production, Ben Stuart takes on the role of Yonni, and it was love at first read for Stuart when he got his hands and eyes on the script. "I fell in love with it as soon as I read it! When Gavin Roach (producer/director) gave the script to me, I remember getting completely lost in it. I've always been drawn to powerful stories and strong emotions, and Run has both (and much more!)," he tells me. "I related to many parts of Yonni's story, and I think many people will for a variety of reasons. Yonni re-lives numerous universal moments in this coming-of-age story, such as his first kiss, and those late-night text conversations, and it's easy to relate to in all those moments because I've been there and many others will have too!"

Tuesday 19 October 2021

Na Djinang Circus' Harley Mann on circus, culture and Common Dissonance

In 2017, Harley Mann founded Na Djinang Circus, a First Nations led circus company that has quickly made a name for itself for creating work that challenge ideas about contemporary Australian society. With three shows under its belt, Melbourne audiences will be treated to an encore season of one of its works, Common Dissonance, which highlights the struggle between traditional and modern modes of reasoning.

"We previously premiered the show as part of the Circus Oz SideSault Festival in 2019 and it went way better than we could have hoped," Mann recalls. "It was a work that was a bit experimental and different to what we had seen previously so we weren’t sure how people would react. Unfortunately, Covid put a stop to all our momentum and plans for 2020 and 2021 and so this is actually the first time we have had the chance to remount the work. Common Dissonance is deeply related to the artist and how they relate to their cultural identity, so every show is different, and I don’t mean from season to season, but I mean show to show. Of course, the structure and the choreography is the same for safety but the heart of the work comes from us and who we are as people. After two years of craziness, great times, horrible times and a complete shift in our understanding of the importance of art, this season will be a new representation of who we are now."

Wednesday 29 September 2021

JSMR - Melbourne Fringe Festival interview

There's a new thrill-seeking pass-time that's been happening worldwide over the last few years. Causing tingles to run through the back of someone's head and down their spine, it's a sensation that only be achieved from the intimacy of watching someone whispering into a microphone, or slowly brushing their hair or even crinkling wrapping paper. Yes, we are talking about the the world of autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR. As part of this year's Melbourne Fringe Festival, performer Jessica Stanley is delving into the ASMR world with her show JSMR. 

While this has become a recent obsession for people, with millions watching these videos on YouTube, Stanley's fascination with ASMR began during her schooling days and has continued to grow since then. "I remember, in the later years of primary school, I really enjoying when friends borrowed stationery from me – a rubber or pencil, something like that – and I got nice head tingles while they used it," she recalls. "And it has grown from there, where I now love roleplay ASMR videos, where someone is pretending to give you a haircut or check you in to an appointment. I enjoy the specificity and variation, and that they can allow for quite lengthy videos too. I used to really like falling asleep to videos by an artist called Amalzd; I’m pretty sure I stumbled across her YouTube channel by chance and just really enjoyed her voice, accent and roleplay scenarios. I would also recommend ASMR Bakery for someone who wants to watch a whole variety of objects being tapped or played with."

Saturday 25 September 2021

Dazza and Keif Reenact the Titanic Movie Playing All the Roles - Melbourne Fringe Festival interview

Dazza and Keif. What can one say about these two best mates from the suburbs? There's nothing they can't do, especially after traveling into space two years ago. How do you top that? Easy. You reenact James Cameron's 1997 Oscar winning film, Titanic, where you play all the roles, and so the not so subtly titled show Dazza and Keif Reenact the Titanic Movie Playing All the Roles is born.

With limited actual acting experience, I did have reservations about the quality of the show and asking people to pay for this "experience", but both Dazza and Keif assured me that they definitely have the mad skills and the fully sick talent to pull this off. "Mate, we can do anyfink. We can breakdance obviously, rap battle, cuntemporary dance, DJ, you name it. So we figured acting would be pretty easy. Like, chicks do it all the time so obviously we can do it," Dazza tells me.

"Yeah! And the Tittanic seemed like a pretty easy one to do," Keif chimes in. "Like we conquered all the chicks of the internet and then the galaxy... So going back in time onto a magical boat was pretty much the next logical step for us."

Thursday 23 September 2021

Little Monster - Melbourne Fringe Festival interview

We all have voices in our heads. The voices that keep us up at night, the ones that make it hard to focus on that report that is due that week or the ones that make us doubt ourselves when we are actually amazing at what we do. Returning to the Melbourne Fringe Festival, Telia Nevile digs into her own voices with her new show, fittingly titled Little Monster.

In her previous shows, Nevile uses nostalgic pieces of media or childhood pop culture such as Disney or John Hughes movies, to create a darker tale around mental health or facing the often harsh realities of life, and this trend continues with Little Monster, where she performs in the rhyming style of Dr Seuss. "I've always loved how musical Dr Seuss' rhyming style is and how much momentum it has. It kind of runs down a path, tripping over its feet like a puppy," Nevile tells me. "After the last two years, I wanted to challenge (and reward) myself with something fun and free-wheeling, and the language that this style encourages is so playful and very open to the ridiculous."

Tuesday 21 September 2021

Dog Park - Melbourne Fringe Festival interview

It has been proven that dogs can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, ease loneliness and encourage exercise and playfulness. They truly are a human's best friend. Walk past a dog park and you're bound to see dogs sniffing each other, running for tennis balls and marking their territory while their owners gather around catching up on local news and talking about their fur-baby like parents waiting to pick up their children from school. But what happens when that pocket of sanctuary is threatened by an unspeakable act? Presented by Lab Kelpie, Dog Park is a satirical and biting look at how one dog park community is impacted when a private school boy on exchange from Sri Lanka, is found dead in the leafy suburbs of a Melbourne dog park covered in bites.

In some ways, Dog Park is a work almost 30 years in the making when director Lyall Brooks, who also serves as Artistic Director of the now regional-based not-for-profit theatre company, first met the show's playwright Sally Faraday. "Sally and I used to act in shows and musicals together back in the *cough* late 90s *cough* when she was studying at Monash University and I was basically just hanging around there pretending to be a student because they had an incredible Performing Arts program," he recalls.