Thursday 29 December 2022

Top 10 Shows of 2022

It was a much welcomed return for live shows in 2022. The intimacy, connection, and engagement with a variety of works was much needed after the last couple of years. From theatre to dance to live art, from satire to comedy to drama, it was an exciting time once again for the Melbourne independent performing arts scene. With "only" 90 pieces of work seen this year, my top ten is merely an indicator of the fantastic works that were put on in 2022, and try as I might, it just isn't possible to see everything, especially while travelling for ten weeks! If I reviewed the show, a link to the 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 mind, 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. 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, seek something new, unknown and different in 2023.

Here we go:

Monday 14 November 2022


Childhood can be such a fleeting moment. One second you're a teenager and the next you have responsibilities and must face the harsh realities of life. In NEVERNEVERNEVERNEV- ERNEVERNEVERNEVER, Sol Feldman and Aaron Orzech deconstruct this growth and rite of passage, and with inspiration from Peter Pan and JM Barrie, attempt to whisk its audience off to their own Neverland, one that is surrounded by an air of sadness and nostalgia.

The two figures emerge from the darkness; they are roughly twenty years apart in age. They are dressed in identical green singlet and shorts and both have long, unkempt hair. As they start to move their bodies and connecting (and disconnecting) with each other, we begin to question if they are the same person in different periods of their lives, and if so, what is going through their minds as the relationship unfolds. Unfortunately, there isn't much to help guide us through this.

Tuesday 8 November 2022

Day After Terrible Day review

I learnt a few years ago that the apparent inspiration for Miss Havisham from Great Expectations was an Australian woman buried at Sydney's Camperdown Cemetery. I'd never really given it more thought than that, but it is said that in the 1850s, Emily Eliza Donnithorne was jilted on the morning of her wedding and subsequently became a recluse. Thirty years later she died, still wearing her wedding dress.

In its latest production Day After Terrible Day, The Danger Ensemble make use of Donnithorne's story to explore the sorrow, grief and mourning that comes from falling in love and being unable to let go when the love ends. Director Mitchell Steven Wright builds a world that is macabre and disturbing from the very beginning when we are greeted by two real estate agents hoping to sell us a property. They are dressed in pink outfits with hair and make-up to the nines, but something about them doesn't look quite right. Once we enter, it is not long before we encounter one of the previous owners.

Tuesday 25 October 2022

Nu-Disco! review (Melb Fringe)

Some of our most memorable moments happen here. We meet people who we instantly connect with while knowing nothing about them. People we may have never otherwise met. We also learn about ourselves and even how society functions. Welcome to the world of clubbing. Presented as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, Ellen Marning's Nu-Disco! takes us into the dark recesses of a pulsating nightclub and the people who go there.

The experience of sitting in a tiny theatre space and seeing it transform into a tight, crowded, sweaty space of bodies moving together with a single person on stage is quite surreal. Marning delivers an enthralling performance as she swaps between characters while covering a gamut of emotions, thoughts and encounters. There is a lot of care taken to tell these stories in a genuine manner, and while they may be funny, we are never laughing at them.

Sunday 23 October 2022

The Beep Test review (Melb Fringe)

The Beep Test. For those who know it, it is most likely the cause of much anxiety and triggering memories during your high school years. For four students (and their PE Teacher), it is the instigator of some serious competition as each one vies to take out the title of Beep Test champion for the year, with a bit of song and dance thrown in the mix.

Created by Conor Neylon and Jackson Peele (Neylon & Peele) and presented as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, The Beep Test is an original musical theatre show that is an A+ production. It is an exceptional fun hour of comedy that takes an unexpectedly emotional look at dealing with the pressures that hang around us and the ones we put on ourselves during our formative years, and the lasting impact this can have.

Saturday 22 October 2022

Vicky & Roger's Cattle Call review (Melb Fringe)

Who could ever forget the gorgeous Victoria Beavoir and the charismatic Roger Seahorse from when they wooed audiences in their 2019 Melbourne Fringe Festival debut The Pageant? Well clearly the have as this creative duo have moved on to bigger and better! Roger has written a play and after much searching, has found his leading lady in Victoria, but in order to get this show on the road, they need to cast 71 other roles, and so begins Vicky and Roger's Cattle Call.

Created and performed by Patrick Dwyer and Laura Trenerry, this is a mix of sketch, improvisation, guest comedians/performers and Australia's Got Talent as they go through audition after audition. But the unquestionable stars here are Dwyer and Trenerry to the point where you keep getting drawn to them even when they are sitting to the side, critiquing their wannabe thespians. They completely and utterly become their characters where a shared glance or the way they sit and take notes is all done in a style that is true to who they are.

Beige Bitch review (Melb Fringe)

When people put on a show for the public, the last thing they want to be called is mediocre or average or...beige. But Emily Carr is here to assist us in accepting our beige status with her Melbourne Fringe Festival Show, Beige Bitch. Presented as a self-help seminar, Carr takes her aspirational audience through the steps required to not only be beige but to learn how to embrace their beigeness.

These steps include categories such as Denial, Rejection and Depression, and they are explored with anecdotes, stories and song. While I cringe whenever I see a ukulele on stage these days, Carr's use of it is almost welcome due to its commonplace perception and being quite unremarkable.

Wednesday 19 October 2022

Hey Hey It's Doomsday review (Melb Fringe)

It's difficult to explain what Ross Purdy's Melbourne Fringe Festival show Hey Hey It's Doomsday is about. The description tells us Purdy "has to put on the show of his life when the country is taken over by a fascist dictator. If he fails to entertain our new leader he'll be executed by the state in this brain-bending fever dream sketch show", but that doesn't come across in the sixty minutes that we endure. In fact, for most of the time, I was left completely dumbfounded as to what I was watching.

It feels like there are a bunch of random ideas thrown into a blender, pulled out and thrown onto a wall and seeing what sticks. There's so much going on with confusing pre-recorded projections that make no sense, bizarre cameos from "celebrities" like Craig McLachlan (really? it's meant to be taking the piss out of him, but still, really?) and Schapelle Corby and some freakish bit with a puppet tumour.

Monday 17 October 2022

Such An Inspiration review (Melb Fringe)

I walk into the venue five minutes before the show is scheduled to begin and comedian Anna Piper Scott is already working the crowd. She's learning everyone's names and as I come to learn, she can speak at 100 miles an hour, but not because of nerves but because she is genuinely interested in giving as much as she can to her audience in the time that she has them.

Presented as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, Piper Scott's Such An Inspiration explores how trans women generally have three narratives told about them: as a punchline, as a villain and as a victim. For the next hour, Piper Scott weaves together a number of thoughts, anecdotes and jokes that highlight this but making it clear that she, and every transgender person, are a lot more than that.

Friday 14 October 2022

Mush review (Melb Fringe)

Where has Jeromaia Detto been all my life? The actor / clown / improvisor has brought an incredibly delightful near hour of hilarity to the Melbourne Fringe Festival with his show Mush. Regardless if the title refers to something soft, spongy and shapeless or sickeningly sweet sentimentality, and to be honest, it's probably both, the laughs are plentiful as Detto takes us on a journey into his head and his way of seeing the world.

What's refreshing about Mush is that there is little to no "adult content", it's all such wholesome and innocent fun and it's a wonderful way to forget the stresses and worries of real life and throw yourself into the sketches of a waiter who thrives off applause or a conductor eager to get his rehearsals started. Character sketches follow one after the other as we take a seat inside Detto's wacky brain.

SIRENS review (Melb Fringe)

Eden is a young gay man in a rural town. He spends most of his time having random hook-ups with older men he meets online. A beachside encounter with a man called David opens up a world of possibilities for him, but at what cost? Presented as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, Benjamin Nichols' new play SIRENS, in which he also stars in, is a stirring piece of theatre that speaks of the queer experience and the need we all have to be loved in some way.

Nichols is absolutely phenomenal as Eden. The way he carries Eden's dreams, aspirations and his heartbreak is utterly captivating to watch. His switches to secondary characters are seamless as he instantly takes on their mannerisms and voice. It's difficult to not get emotional from how convincing the bonds between Eden and David and Eden and his mother are displayed and how they develop.

Manifesto review (Melb Fringe)

Riley Nottingham is here to make you fret less about life. Through songs. Presented as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, musical comedy show Manifesto is an opportunity for Nottingham to let us know that it's ok to be happy and it's ok to be sad. 

After a memorable (and convincing) entrance as RaptorRiley, evolution takes place and we fast forward through time to the very human and highly advanced creature that is 2022 Riley Nottingham. Nottingham’s charming stage presence and playful nature help immensely in getting us onside and creating the personable environment that a production like this requires.

However, while this works in his favour, Nottingham’s interactions with the audience and storytelling could be further developed. There are instances where we were asked questions but Nottingham's reactions felt heavily rehearsed and that he wasn't actually responding to what we were saying. Adding in a little off-the-cuff banter or acknowledgement would increase our engagement with the performer and the performance. 

Juniper Rising review (Melb Fringe)

The world came to a standstill when this powerful iconic woman recently passed away.  It was a national day of mourning in virtually every country. Everyone had a story or opinion about her life. It was a unique life and one that no one else will ever come close to experiencing. I am, of course, talking about Juniper Wilde, who accidentally committed her own suicide. Presented as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, Alex Hines resurrects her alter ego Juniper Wilde in Juniper Rising.

There is one word to describe this show and it is looooooose. SO loose. But Hines thrives on it. She THRIVES. She feeds off the chaos and crazy like a soul-sucking demon feeds off humans. Like a demon in hell. Where Juniper finds herself. But behind all this, there is craft, and it is clever and stupid and absolutely hilarious and frenetic. Hines can take a ridiculous idea and make something hysterical out of it or she'll make a drive-by comment and move on. You never quite know what's going to happen next, and sometimes, you get the feeling that Hines isn't even sure. But it works so brilliantly in Juniper Rising.

Wednesday 12 October 2022

2 Proud 2 Prejudiced: An Austen-tatious Cabaret review (Melb Fringe)

When you've made some incredible cabarets around dinosaurs and under water creatures there's nowhere left to go but Jane Austen, and that's exactly where Picked Last For Sport have gone with their new Melbourne Fringe Festival show, 2 Proud 2 Prejudiced: An Austen-tatious Cabaret.

It's a bonnet heavy evening of harmonising as the quintet delves into the lives and stories of the five Bennet sisters. Each of the cast (Sarah Edgar, Ryan Smith, Sean Sully, Melissa Viola and Freya Long) take to their characters with exaggerated but committed energy, particularly Sully as the very sensible and dry Mary and Viola as the youngest and most excitable sister Lydia.

Shut Up, I'm a Vampire review (Melb Fringe)

Shut Up I'm A Vampire is not your traditional vampire story. Presented as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival and written and performed by Jessica Stanley, the show follows a woman who has been bitten by a vampire and attempting to come to terms with her transformation. Except that it's not. It's about something bigger and deeper and human.

Stanley plays Sophie, who is on a journey to discover what happened to her on that fateful night. Along the way we meet her friends, doctor and a dark, brooding stranger looking for their cat, all of which help Sophie put the pieces of the puzzle together. For the most part, Stanley takes on the roles of all the supporting characters and she makes sure that even if they have a few lines of dialogue, they come across as fully fleshed out characters with backstory.

Monday 10 October 2022

type-a-poet review (Melb Fringe)

As you enter the Temple of Poetry you instantly feel like you have been transported into an otherworldly place. Cushions are scattered on the floor, two chairs and a table are to your left and a small set of shelves hold stacks of paper kept in place by crystals and paperweight.

And there, at the head of altar sits The Poet (Andi Snelling) by their typewriter, like a street performer waiting for someone to drop some coins into their hat before they move. This is type-a-poet, a 1:1 silent ten-minute encounter where Snelling writes a poem for your soul based on your speechless interaction.

Relate review (Melb Fringe)

Fresh Creative Entertainment's Relate is a multiple art form show that weaves through the lives of seven people and the challenges they are facing. Based on personal events and interviews with people who have experienced difficult and traumatic relationships, a range of issues are explored including domestic violence, the death of loved ones and coming out to a religious family.

The writing is considered and thoughtful and while it's clear care has been made to retain the authenticity of these situations, there are still a few instances when dialogue feels unnatural. There is also a scene when a character is told he must support his family and stop being an alcoholic by "being a man". It is a problematic phrase and surprising that it is mentioned in this play given the topics it deals with, as it brings its own damaging stereotypes and generalisations on what makes a man and the expectations that men face in society.

Sunday 9 October 2022

BABECITY Hotline review (Melb Fringe)

If you're looking for a good time, the BABECITY Hotline is the number to call. These bevy of experts are here to make all your (sex) dreams come true. But they have dreams, wants and desires of their own and with the support of each other they might just get them.

Presented as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, BABECITY Hotline is inspired by lived experiences in sex work within the creative team, so it is disappointing to see how undefined the characters are, and part of this is because the show is trying to cover too much in too short a time. Introducing six characters in a 50-minute show is a difficult task and the result here is that we don't get to know these people. It's also unclear why the writers chose to go down the path they did with a fiery moment that does nothing to progress anyone’s arc or leave any impact.

GODZ review (Melb Fringe)

Who knew the ancient Gods of Olympus excelled in acrobatics and circus performance? But the brains and bodies from Head First Acrobats have done their research and with their Melbourne Fringe Festival show GODZ, they present, with one hundred per cent certainty, what actually went down during their reign.

The loose narrative follows the four misbehaving Gods - Cupid, Dionysus, Hercules and Apollo  (Liam Dummer, Jordan Twartz, Callan Harris and Thomas Gorham) - who are getting a bit too rowdy for Zeus' liking, particularly demigod Hercules. While this might not be what the Gods were expecting, for the audience it turns into an evening of untamed and shameful pleasure that even Dionysus would’ve been proud of, especially when a pair of saintly sisters come to visit.

Saturday 8 October 2022

BATSHIT review (Melb Fringe)

Leah Shelton's grandmother spent three months at Heathcote Hospital mental institution simply because she wanted to leave her husband. She was diagnosed as schizophrenic and listed with having various symptoms of "hysteria". In BATSHIT, Shelton digs deeper into her grandmother's incarnation as well as the scores of women through history who have been labelled crazy, hysterical or a nutjob (to name a few). It's a uniquely Leah Shelton show with plenty of surprises and awakenings along the way.

If anyone knows how to make an entrance, it is Shelton. Wearing a flowing emerald green gown and gloves and looking like she has just walked out of a hairdresser with her blonde bob, she is the perfect combination of a Hollywood starlet and a Stepford wife - apart from the gag in her mouth and an extended limb. It's a skill that Shelton utilises throughout the show, where she can simultaneously entertain while having a mood of disquiet permeating in the space.

Thursday 6 October 2022

Escalate review (Melb Fringe)

When most people think of juggling, they think of a person throwing balls in the air for as long as they can. But after seeing Throw Catch Collective's Escalate, you not walk away from a great night out, but with an appreciation and understanding of just how exhilarating juggling can be.

Presented as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, jugglers Byron Hutton, Richard Sullivan and Samuel Kreusler take their balls, clubs and rings, and combine them with music, sound, lighting and choreography to deliver a truly unique circus experience. Instead of throwing items in the air, the trio throw them at each other, around each other and even through each other. The hand and body movements often resemble something you would see in contemporary dance with smatterings of ballet-esque motions. The intricate routines they perform require precision timing from everyone as arms interlock in rapid actions.

Monday 3 October 2022

Jackson Peele is bringing the fear of beep tests back with his new musical theatre play, The Beep Test

The beep test is a fitness test where people run back and forth between two points. A programmed beeping noise determines the running speed that must be maintained which increases and decreases as the test continues. But in the case of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, The Beep Test is a musical theatre comedy piece presented by upcoming writing duo Jackson Peele and Conor Neylon. The musical follows four highly competitive Year 7 students as they compete to win top place in the beep test, whatever the cost may be.

While The Beep Test had positive responses at its Perth Fringe season, Peele was not initially convinced of its potential when approached by Neylon. "The concept was Conor’s idea and to be honest, I really wasn’t sold at first. We’d been (and still are) trying to write the great Australian musical! I kid, I hate pretentious shit," Peele laughs. "But it genuinely was Conor’s idea and I did take a hot second to come around."

Saturday 1 October 2022

Leah Shelton has gone completely BATSHIT for Melbourne Fringe

Acclaimed performer Leah Shelton returns to Melbourne Fringe with her third solo show, BATSHIT, in which she explores the history of female madness. While it brings to light how mental health was - and still is - utilised to control women, the main source of inspiration comes from a more personal connection, Shelton's grandmother, Gwen.

"My grandmother was incarcerated at the Heathcote Hospital mental institution in Perth, and she was given a cocktail of drugs and ECT treatments without her consent for basically wanting to leave her husband. This was in the 1960s, but the pathologisation of women is still a real problem today," Shelton tells me. "Women are often framed as hysterical, irrational, mentally ill in a court of law as a way of undermining their credibility or they are seen to be imagining symptoms in a medical system. They're also twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression, anxiety, panic disorder, phobias, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, eating disorders and PTSD, and seven times more likely to be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, so it’s fair to say it’s a long-standing systemic problem."

Thursday 29 September 2022

Long Prawn is cooking up a conversation on food with its Live Leisure Yabby Fishing Restaurant at Melbourne Fringe

If there's one rule to be aware of when going to the Melbourne Fringe Festival, it's to expect the unexpected and open yourself up to new adventures. Okay, so maybe that's two rules. But in Long Prawn's Live Leisure Yabby Fishing Restaurant, both these statements ring true. During the last weekend of the festival, the public will be given the chance to flex their fishing skills as they are given a rod for an hour to go fishing for yabbies. Catch one, and pass it to renowned chef Lorcan Kan who will cook it for you on the spot and create a delicious yabby snack.

For the brains behind Long Prawn, Frederick MG Mora and Lauren B Stephens, the appeal in putting together an event likes this stems from wanting to offer unique dining experiences while subtly asking people to think about the various stories of where our food comes from.

Sunday 25 September 2022

Traversing the after life with iconic superstar Juniper Wilde

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the theatre, Juniper Wilde is back with more zest for life than ever be- oh, she's dead. That's right, the icon that is Juniper Wilde has died after losing a lip-sync battle in Hades. But fear not Wildlings, because Juniper has a plan to return to the world but it does involve making a deal with the devil.

If that brief synopsis of Juniper Rising has confused you, then the brains behind the beauty, Alex Hines, has done her job, but it's not easy to create some very twisted and often dark sketches and comedy. "Usually my brain spits these fucked little ideas out at me and if it makes me laugh I’ll do it, even if literally everyone else says no," she explains. "With Wilde Night In and Juniper Rising I’ve been so lucky to have my collaborator and director Sarah Stafford by my side. I’ll go to her with the dumbest ideas and we’ll riff and she’ll shape until it’s a show. Before Sarah it was far more chaotic and unhinged, but she’s got this magical way of helping imagination come to life on stage."

Saturday 24 September 2022

The tribe has improvised in Completely Improvised Survivor

31 May 2000. It was the day the reality TV world landscape changed forever with the premiere of Survivor, where a group of strangers battle it out as tribes and as individuals to outwit, outplay and outlast everyone else and become the sole survivor and winner of a million dollars.

Fast-forward 22 years and there's a new player in town with Completely Improvised Survivor. Created by Melissa McGlensey and Douglas Wilson, each night audiences are witnesses to a tribal council with flashbacks to events that have happened between the players. As the title states, this is all improvised and made up on the spot so the audience and the cast are never quite sure what they are going to get.

"Each show is the finale "episode" of a fictional season of Survivor. The players mould their characters on the spot based on audience suggestions and then perform a "previously on" montage, which fills in the backstory for the full season. Then they go on and play out the remaining immunity challenge, tribal council, etc, all while building on top of the backstory they just invented," McGlensey explains.

Wednesday 21 September 2022

How dough, dough and d'oh! came together for Stage Mom's new show Dough!

Dough. Another word for money.
Dough. Used for baking bread and pastries.

D'oh! A catchphrase used by Homer Simpson. But for the purpose of this show, let's stick with Dough.


And that is the name of Hannah Fallowfield and Alex Thew's new Melbourne Fringe Festival show, Dough!

As with many important ideas, the concept of this show was developed through having the right conversation with the right person. In this case, it was Fallowfield and Thew finding dough (bread) and d'oh! to be a funny pair of homophones and wanting to see what happened when they brought the two together. And then money joined the party.

Part of the research for the show involved immersing themselves in The Simpsons, something that Fallowfield had (shockingly) never seen! "We sat down and watched the first 4-5 episodes of the first season, which was great. I didn't realise how wholesome the early episodes were, so that was a pleasant and unexpected learning. In my mind they were this dysfunctional family that hated each other, but at least in the early seasons that doesn't seem to be the case," Fallowfield tells me.

Sunday 18 September 2022

Patrick Livesey's "Naomi" and destigmatising conversations on mental health and suicide

Patrick Livesey's mother took her own life in 2015. While mourning her, a number of questions began to gnaw away at Livesey's mind, including how did this happen and who was to blame? To answer these, Livesey spent over 30 hours interviewing people who knew their mother and it was these conversations that guided their new play, Naomi, which will have its Melbourne premiere at the Melbourne Fringe Festival next month.

Sharing such a story with strangers and with Naomi's friends and family was never going to be easy but it was something Livesey felt compelled to do. "Very early on after mum died, there was this feeling that this was something I wanted to share with people. It became clear to me how much storytelling is a means of healing or finding hope in total darkness. When my mum died, the stories I told myself about her and about what happened were what I clung to for survival. They were by far the most important tools for me in figuring out how to deal with the grief so as a storyteller myself *flips hair* it seemed obvious that at some point I would share those stories.” Livesey laughs.

Saturday 17 September 2022

Variations or Exit Music review

Variations or Exit Music takes a deep look at one person's three great loves and their struggle to see through the heartbreak and believe in the possibility of finding love again. Written and directed by Justin Nott, it is a personal response to his past relationships and the depression that these breaks ups brought on.

Despite its personal nature, Nott's script easily connects with his audience. The conversations, the thoughts and the dreams that are portrayed on stage, are the exact same ones we've all had - regardless of sexuality. It is intense and reflective with moments of light humour. At times, he runs the risk of mashing together a number of complex ideas with long scenes but this is balanced out with shorter, simpler exchanges, like when Justin and his partner Sam share everything they have done for each other.

Friday 16 September 2022

Circonoclasm review

Devised by its second year students, NICA’s Circonoclasm is an exploration of the theft and destruction of the arts through circus. A new artwork is about to be unveiled at the National Gallery of Melbourne. But when it is stolen, everyone become a suspect as the investigators take unconventional, or in some cases too conventional, methods to solve the crime.

Director David Woods has a large cast of performers to play with and that he does, but unfortunately much of Circonoclasm is grounded in acting, sketch and slapstick with not enough satisfying circus. The opening in particular is drawn out far too long as we watch robbers and guards running on and off stage in varying comedic fashion like a montage of Scooby Doo gang as they are chased by (or chasing) the monster.

Monday 12 September 2022

Ellen Marning is dancing the night (and the day) away with "Nu-Disco!"

You can dance. You can jive. Having the time of your life. That's what Ellen Marning was doing in Berlin earlier this year as she immersed herself in some fervent daytime clubbing. And she's bringing it to Melbourne. Presented as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, Nu-Disco! takes a look at dance culture and sharing "the moment".

"I was drawn to a show set in a club space because I love dancing and wanted permission to go clubbing as a form of ‘research’ and also having worked with award-winning audio artist Robert Downie in the past, I felt a lot of trust and excitement about working with him sonically to establish place, mood and character," Marning tells me. "Nu-Disco! explores one woman’s experience at a club over the course of a night. Time stretches and condenses in a club space (at least to me anyway) and it’s a metaphor for where she is at in her life. Late 20s, confused, horny, lonely, full of bravado, full of questions, full of rage she can’t quite place. It’s a celebration of the highs and an examination of the lows that can go along with these spaces."

Sunday 11 September 2022

Benjamin Nichol on his new show "SIRENS" and making noise about the queer experience

Fresh from his critically acclaimed and award winning show kerosene, playwright Benjamin Nichol is returning with a new play for Melbourne Fringe Festival, SIRENS. This queer coming of age story, in a solo performance by Nichol, introduces us to 22 year old rurally isolated Eden who after a chance encounter with a drag queen has a world of possibility and hope open up to him.

The premiere of SIRENS has been a long time coming and with the success of kerosene, Nichol is even keener to finally get some eyes on it. "I’ve been coming back to this again and again for several years now, so to say that I am excited it’s about to be given life would be a significant understatement. kerosene was such a joyful creative process and in many ways I see SIRENS existing within the same theatrical universe," he explains. "It’s a fresh story with a very different character, but it is stylistically comparable and intentionally explores similar themes of obsession, isolation and resilience. My dream is that one day SIRENS and kerosene will be programmed together as a double bill, which was actually our plan for last year's Fringe Festival prior to the lockdown!

Saturday 10 September 2022

Bed & Breakfast review

When Brett's aunt Maggie suddenly passes, he and his partner Drew, decide to sell their city dwellings and move to the quaint small town with "no bars, no clubs and no culture", and convert Aunt Maggie's house into a bed and breakfast. Mark Crawford's Bed and Breakfast follows this gay couple over the course of 12 months as they deal with small town mentality and homophobia while trying to renovate their new house and also dealing with the surprises that life often throws at you.

Alex Thew and Ben Noble are masterful as Drew and Brett. They have great rapport with each other and are clearly enjoying being on stage together. They present a couple that have a history as partners and as individuals from the total commitment they give to their characters.

Friday 9 September 2022

K-Box review

When Lucy (Susanna Qian) turns up unexpectedly at her adopted parent's house after quitting her job and ending her relationship, her parents are immediately concerned. Depressed and confused with what she wants in life, she finds comfort in an old cardboard box that used to be full of her childhood memories. Written by Ra Chapman, K-Box is a humourous and heartfelt look at what family means to an adopted child and how we should still be held accountable for our actions even when we act with the best of intentions.

There are some really tender and touching moments in the show and some that are surprising, challenging and confronting. Chapman fleshes out many thoughts and issues around adoption of children from overseas and the impact this can have on adoptees for the rest of their lives. The relationship between Lucy and each of her parents is presented authentically while still providing plenty of laughter. The change in dynamics between these three over the course of the play is gradual but sudden and is fascinating to watch unfold.

Wednesday 7 September 2022

Musical theatre royalty, Ethel Mermaid is coming out of the sea

Is it really better down where it's wetter? Musical theatre royalty, Ethel Mermaid is about to let us know when she comes up to land and perform Songs in the Key of Sea at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. The creation of Melbourne comedy performer and improviser Amanda Buckley, it's an evening of music and stories on living life in the spotlight while under the sea.

"Ethel was born at The New Zealand Improv Festival in 2018 thanks to a workshop and show created by Derek Flores and Michelle Neilson," Buckley tells me. "The character came out of the workshop when I was endowed as a mermaid but one from the depths of the Hudson River. As far as improvised characters go, she immediately felt so fun. Brassy and no nonsense and although the name is definitely a pun on the amazing Ethel Merman, 'the undisputed First Lady of the musical comedy stage', it turns out that they also share a love of a big belting Broadway number."

Tuesday 6 September 2022

How being a Slave 4 Britney built Sunanda's career in comedy

In 2019, Sunanda moved to Australia and quickly set their sights on the Melbourne comedy scene. Fast forward to this year and a Best Newcomer Nominee at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Sunanda is ready to take on the Fringe Festival with their show Sunanda Loves Britney about how a decade long obsession with Britney Jean Spears led to an awakening and understanding of who they are.

Arriving with no contacts and being a queer Indian woman, Sunanda faced some initial hurdles to break the ice and make those valuable connections and introductions but she got lucky in finding her people and her audience. "I just moved here and had no network of artists to collaborate with so at first the Melbourne comedy scene felt limited and gatekeepery but I gradually met the right people and worked with different groups with different aesthetics and comedic styles which have informed and sharpened my own perspective. I’ve made friends in stand up, clown, theatre, impro, and sketch comedy. Compared to LA where I was doing lots of sketch and some impro, it’s definitely a smaller scene on the whole, but there are still artists pushing and melding genres," they tell me.

Monday 5 September 2022

The art of deception with "Heather"'s Michelle Perera and Kristina Benton

You shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but should you judge a book by its writer? Thomas Eccleshare's Heather attempts to answer that question in the Australian premiere of this play at this year's Melbourne Fringe Festival. A reclusive author is hesitant to go public despite her agent (and her fans) desperately wanting to meet her. A cat and mouse game emerges between the two with one trying to coax the other to achieve their own end.

While the plot of the play might be mysterious and ambiguous, the roles that actors Michelle Perera and Kristina Benton take on are just as vague in this thrilling drama with a twist. "I play multiple roles, which is intended to perplex, and hopefully, only for a moment, disorient the audience," Perera says. "I love that the play plays on the multiple personalities we often harbour." It's a sentiment shared by Perera's co-star, Benton. "It's what drew me to the play. That there is this exploration of the struggle to accept both the light and the dark within ourselves."

Sunday 4 September 2022

Dorr-e Dari: A Poetic Crash Course in the Language of Love review

Dorr-e Dari: A Poetic Crash Course in the Language of Love brings three artists sharing stories of Persian poetry and the multiple forms of love that exist around us. Presented in English and Persian, it's a moving evening with singing, dancing, storytelling and language in which to remember and reminisce through.

There is great rapport between the three performers, Mahdi Mohammadi, Hasiba Ebrahimi and Jawad Yaqoubi, and through this they are able to collectively project this friendliness and kindness to the audience. They recall anecdotes and stories of their childhood and adulthood with warmth and humour, including the consequences of three schoolboys who write a love letter to their classmate.

Wednesday 31 August 2022

Il Mago di Oz review

It's been over 120 years since the release of L. Frank Braum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, in which a young girl called Dorothy Gale is swept away by a tornado and carried to the Land of Oz. While many would have read the 1900 story and many more would have seen the 1939 film, it is the first time that Italian composer Pierangelo Valtinoni’s opera, Il Mago di Oz, is being performed in Australia. Presented by the Victorian Opera, the opera mostly sticks to the source material but manages to throw in a few contemporary references to  surprise audiences.

Soprano Georgia Wilkinson as Dorothy possesses great presence and charisma as the determined and brave Dorothy and an even more captivating voice that takes us on a vocal journey that matches the magic of the physical one that Dorothy takes us on. James Emerson, Stephen Marsh and Michael Dimovksi deliver distinct characterisations to The Cowardly Lion, The Tin Man and The Scarecrow, with their voices supporting each other but able to take the lead when required.

Sunday 28 August 2022

Iphis review

It's been a number of years since I've seen an opera by Lyric Opera and there is great anticipation as to not only what story they choose to tell with each production but also the innovation and the uniqueness in which they will present it, and Iphis is no exception.

Running at just 70 minutes, this is a short opera but there is much that is covered in Iphis, beginning with Telethusa going through labour (and what a memorable labour it is) as her husband, Lidgus, eagerly awaits the arrival of a son. However, Telethusa gives birth to a girl and in order to protect her child (and herself) from her husband's wrath, secretly raises Iphis as a boy. Fast forward a decade or two and Lidgus is preparing to marry Iphis off to Ianthe, which introduces various issues around gender, identity and relationships.

Saturday 27 August 2022

Heart Is A Wasteland review

In John Harvey’s Heart Is A Wasteland, a chance encounter at a pub leads two people on a road trip through the Australian Outback where they are forced to face the problems they’ve been long running away from. Directed by Rachel Maza, this First Nations storytelling and live music production tells a compelling and relatable tale of trying to find your place in the world.

Having seen the premiere production at Malthouse Theatre in 2017 starring Ursula Yovich and Aaron Pedersen, Maza’s decision to cast two leads considerably younger than Yovich and Pedersen is an interesting choice that pays off brilliantly. While Yovich and Pedersen delivered exceptional performances, Ari Maza Long and Monica Jasmine Karo bring a youthful energy to this production which makes for a fresh and alternative viewing experience for the audience as we see these two Indigenous people, at an age where naivety and jadedness begin to clash, deal with the wounds in their lives and also the wounds of their community and ancestors.

Saturday 20 August 2022

Scream Star review

Worlds collide in Speak Percussion's new collaborative performance, Scream Star, where three artists from around the globe have come together with three pieces of live music that intersect sound, the moving image and percussion. London-based Matthew Shlomowitz, German Johannes Kreidler and New Yorker Jessie Marino present unique compositions that investigate the playfulness and creativity of sound and music exploration.

The opener by Shlomowitz is an imagined variety show called Hey Hey It’s Tuesday. Archival footage of people lining up for shows, on stage, backstage and everything in between is projected onto a screen as the composers play with a number of percussion instruments including cymbals, drums and xylophones. Through this, we discover  ways of how the moving image can interact with new sounds and to appreciate new ways of hearing sound. The segment involving the Kiama Blowhole, the largest in the world, is a particular highlight.

Saturday 6 August 2022

Rebel review

Playwright Fleur Kilpatrick did not set out to write Rebel, but this serendipitous act has resulted in a warm-hearted play that shares the stories of senior climate and environmental activists. From Queensland to Western Australia and to New South Wales, Kilpatrick met and spoke with several "rebels" and discussed how and why they were doing what they were doing to protect the planet while also bringing up the idea of what makes someone a rebel.

Being familiar with Kilpatrick's writing and having met her a few times, you could mot have picked someone better than Ayesha Tansey to portray her - except if Kilpatrick herself had taken to the stage. Tansey convincingly displays Fleur's sensitivity to the world around her and her curiosity about people and community. She brings forth Fleur's caring nature and kindness as she explores the state of the planet and how hope is not completely lost.

Wednesday 3 August 2022

We Too Us Too Me Too Too Too review

There aren't many companies or performers that could promote a show as a dark satirical physical comedy about rape and murder and actually be able to deliver the goods. Fortunately, after years in the making, The Bouffonery have proven it is more than up for the challenge with We Too Us Too Me Too Too Too and its brutal takedown of the patriarchy through the art of bouffon.

Wearing beige hooded unitards with grotesquely exaggerated growths, the four bouffons (Kimberly Twiner, Ell Sachs, Lucy Kingsley and Nicholas O’Regan) move their way to the centre of the stage where they simulate a series of births that don't go exactly to plan, that is of course, until Jimmy is born. While exploring issues related to gendered violence and toxic masculinity with numerous sketches and scenes, Jimmy is used to ground the show and keep bringing us back to its main idea.

Sunday 31 July 2022

Gone Girls review

It's been almost three years since Gone Girls debuted at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. A farcical, queer retelling of two of the most powerful women in politics - Julia Gillard and Julie Bishop - and the media scrutiny they endured due to their gender. With a new actor portraying Bishop and a story with far more creative license, this new season has a fresh energy and perspective on women in politics.

Once again, the performance by Patrick Livesey as Gillard is frighteningly accurate. A little exaggerated for comedic effect but it does not fall into caricature or a send-up of Gillard. Wearing Gillard's trademark pantsuit and jacket, Livesey allows the former Prime Minister to envelop them as her speech, language, movement and facial expressions are flawlessly depicted. Similarly, Annabel Larcombe proves to be a great pairing with Livesey, finding the confidence and outspoken attitude of the former Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party.

Friday 29 July 2022

Paradise Lost review

Based on English poet John Milton's epic 1667 poem "Paradise Lost", local independent theatre company The Bloomshed presents its interpretation of the temptation of Adam and Eve by fallen angel Lucifer and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden with its trademark contemporary satirical style.

This is the third iteration of Paradise Lost by the company, and each one has been unique in scale and delivery. The first in 2019 was an in-development season at The Butterfly Club, with minimal set design and a highly frenetic pace. One year later, we were blessed with a remarkable radio play adaptation and in 2022, The Bloomshed have come back to the stage in a momentous way. With the years spent working on Paradise Lost the cast and creatives have finessed the foundations of the narrative they want to share while continuously challenging themselves to take this production to the next level.

Wednesday 13 July 2022

Future. Joy. Club. review

It's been a hellish last few years for us all, and while we might not be getting off this bumpy ride any time soon, Finucane & Smith are here to ensure that we can still have a good time with their new production Future. Joy. Club. From cabaret to burlesque to dancing to singing and to everything in between, they bring together some beautiful people performing breathtaking acts in a extravaganza full of fun, laughs and love.

Mama Alto begins the show by belting out Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”. It is one of the many highlights of the night and illustrative of the premise for Future. Joy. Club, where we will survive, and we will thrive. Joining Mama is an army of onesie wearing dancers spreading the glee into the audience at the Sofitel ballroom.

Sunday 10 July 2022

World of Wonders review

Lachlan Wilde has been practising magic for roughly a decade and even won the Australian Junior Champion of Magic award at the 2015 Melbourne Magic Festival. Three years ago, as a bright eyed 21 year old, Wilde bought a ticket to see the world and create new experiences for himself. Fast forward to 2022, and Wilde is back at the Magic Festival with his show World of Wonders, in which he shares those adventures with us through some mesmerising magic.

There is great imagination and creativity with Wilde linking his "art of deception" with anecdotes and memories from his travels to Abu Dhabi, London and Paris, including a particularly interesting (although somewhat questionable) spotlight on Jack the Ripper. His storytelling is specific enough to form bonds with us but vague enough where we are able to insert our own experiences and further strengthen the relationship between magician and audience.

Thursday 30 June 2022

Here We Are Amongst You review

I have not felt such sense of warmth and being cared for while watching a show than I have in the world premiere of Rawcus' Here We Are Amongst You. The Rawcus Ensemble began creating this in December 2019, looking into ideas around belonging, togetherness and being present in the moment, which is of particular significance now after the last few years, which for Melbournians has included a few hundred days of lockdown.

After a genuinely caring welcome by one of the cast, they begin walking through the space. Performed in the round, they enter and exit behind the audience, which makes you feel like not only part of the performance, but also part of this group. The smiles on their faces and the joy that they express as they walk and then begin to jog, run and skip with each other and around the audience is incredibly infectious.

Saturday 25 June 2022

She Wrote the Letter review

In 1979, two teenagers from opposites sides of the world began writing to each other as pen pals. That friendship would see Ute from East Germany and Tania from New Zealand sharing their dreams and aspirations, their joy and grief, and their families and lives for over four decades. She Wrote The Letter brings this real life correspondence to the stage, gently dissecting how friendship fosters strength and hope when we need it most, and the profound impact that such people can have on us.

Playwright Kieran Carroll, presents the information and events covered as letters being read aloud (although this takes a conversational style at times), as monologues to express thoughts and feelings or through more traditional theatre with the two people speaking on the phone or face-to-face encounters. It would not be the easiest of tasks to squeeze forty years of friendship into an 85 minute production but what Carroll includes captures everything the audience requires to understand how deep this relationship runs between Ute and Tania. Most interestingly, Carroll uses historical happenings like the fall of the Berlin Wall and Princess Diana's death, as not only timestamps but also as ways of reminding us how external factors influence these two women and the bond they share.