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:

1. SIRENS - review

Written by Benjamin Nichols, SIRENS was a
stirring piece of theatre that spoke of the queer experience and the need we all have to be loved in some way. Also starring Nichols, if I were able to give an award for best performance, it would go to him.
The way he carried Eden's dreams, aspirations and his heartbreak was utterly captivating to watch. Director Liv Satchell brought beautiful moments to the stage and some very unforgettable imagery. The first night that Eden and David have sex is equally sensual and sexual, and this was also due to Harrie Hogan's lighting design and Connor Ross' standout sound design. Nichols has crafted a story that is so unflinchingly raw and honest that it ended up being something that you've not only never seen before but something that you've not experienced before.

Click here
to read our interview with Benjamin Nichols.

2. To Schapelle and Back - review

What I love about Alex Hines' shows is that they are absolutely loose as anything and full of chaos, but Hines just remains in total control of the entire thing. In To Schapelle and Back, she plays a schoolgirl where an ancient doppelgänger curse is about to strike and her life is about to become inextricably linked to that of Aussie icon, Schapelle Corby. Say what now!?!? Exactly. There is so much going on inside her head and it is testament to her skill as a theatre maker to know when to push the boundary and when to rein it back in. It is no fluke that Hines won Best Work by an Emerging Artist at the Melbourne Fringe Festival last year. To Schapelle and Back was one hilarious surprise after another as you're thrust into the crazy and chaotic Corbyverse that Hines made for us.

Click here for our interview with Alex Hines.
3. Kill Climate Deniers - review
Provocatively written with hilarious dialogue and challenging themes, David Finnigan's play Kill Climate Deniers was finally put on stage in a brilliant production by Monash University's Student Theatre (MUST). Under the direction of Yvonne Virsik, the entire cast excelled in their roles,with Monique Marani as Environment Minister Gwen Malakin being a standout with her comedic timing and acting skills reminiscent of Sarah Kendall's nuanced portrayal of Sammy Cooper in Australian television comedy-drama series Frayed. Virsik also ensured that the impressive visual and aural design elements, including Jason Lehane's set, Adele Cattenazzi's eye-catching costumes and Savanna Wegman's AV design reinforced what the characters were saying, thinking and doing without undue distraction. This was a work that began in 2020 and it was an absolute joy to watch, and we should all thank MUST for persisting in getting this up and running.

4. Future Joy Club - review

From cabaret to burlesque to dancing to singing and to everything in between, Finucane and Smith's Future Joy Club brought
together some beautiful people performing breathtaking act
s in a extravaganza full of fun, laughs and love.
Moira Finucane has a gift of drawing in the entire room and keeping them in the present, completely absorbed by what they are seeing. Even when she’s doing outlandish things with tomato soup or balloons, there’s a vulnerability and openness that carries out to the crowd. It’s a unique skill that she spreads out to the rest of the ensemble, making Finucane a uniquely skilled artiste. After the last two years we have had, Future Joy allowed performers and audience members to let down their hair, have a wild night of safe fun and head back into reality with their hearts full. It really was an unforgettable evening full of joy.

5. Buried Teabowl - Okuni - review

I'd seen Yumi Umiumare perform numerous times over the years but always as part of the ensemble in someone else's show. Buried TeaBowl - Okuni was the first time I attended one of her full solo works and it was an incredible experience. Incorporating dance, spoken word, song and a tea ceremony, this performance installation was an intimate and stirring passage through time, ritual, the past and the present. Umiumare's homage to Okuni, the power of ritual and female strength was a captivating work, which included an exquisite sound design by Dan West. It is fitting that this performance took place in an art gallery as what we witnessed often felt like art coming to life. She may have attempted to awaken the spirit of Okuni in Buried TeaBowl - Okuni, but through her generous guidance, Umiumare helped free the spirit inside all of us and provided us with a profoundly moving awakening.

6. Here We Are Amongst You - review

I have not felt such sense of warmth and being cared for while watching a show than I did during 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 was of particular significance for those of us in Melbourne who experienced a few hundred days of lockdown.
Performed in the round, the performers entered and exited the space around the audience, making you feel like you were not only part of the performance, but also part of the group. Jethro Woodward's intelligent sound design and composition was sublime, fully immersing you into what was taking place and keeping you there. It was a brilliant final show from director Kate Sulan who stepped down as Rawcus' Artistic Director this year.

7. We Too Us Too Me Too Too Too - review

There aren't many companies or performers that could promote a show about rape and murder as a dark satirical physical comedy, and actually be able to deliver the goods. Fortunately, after years in the making, The Bouffonery proved it was 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.
Kimberly Twiner, Ell Sachs, Lucy Kingsley and Nicholas O’Regan formed a magnificent ensemble and from the second they appeared, they were clearly working as a single unit. It's frightening how good they were at making us laugh one second from the silliness on display and then causing us to tense up mid-laugh by what we were being confronted with. This was a bold, daring and rewarding experience that served as a startling wake-up call to what is happening around us.

8. The Beep Test - review

Created by Conor Neylon and Jackson Peele (Neylon & Peele), The Beep Test is an original musical theatre show set during a high school beep test. It was an exceptional fun hour of comedy that took an unexpected emotional look at dealing with the pressures that hang around us, the ones we put on ourselves during our formative years, and the lasting impact this can have. The backstory and motivations that Peele provided for his characters ensured that The Beep Test wasn’t simply about the race itself but used the race as a way to explore themes of greater consequence. Music and lyrics by Neylon were a wonderful blending of familiar musical theatre songs and pop, rap and other genres that propelled the story forward while highlighting the inner thoughts of the characters. The Beep Test was a fantastic example of when a shared vision flawlessly comes together resulting in an A+ production.

Click here for our interview with Jackson Peele.

9. Bed and Breakfast - review

Mark Crawford's Bed and Breakfast follows a gay couple over the course of 12 months who decide to sell their city dwellings and move to a quaint small town with "no bars, no clubs and no culture" and set up a bed and breakfast. Alex Thew and Ben Noble are masterful as Drew and Brett but what made these performances even more remarkable is that Thew and Noble went on to play all the supporting characters, over 20 between them, young, old, male and female, with the same level of respect and authenticity they gave to Drew and Brett. There were some very raw moments in Bed and Breakfast as it explored the trauma of homophobia, gay hate crimes and the difficulties of being accepted and coming out when each day is a reminder of how people can despise you for just being you. Thew and Noble got right to the heart of these scenes and left us hanging onto every word they said.

10. BATSHIT - review

In BATSHIT, Shelton dug into the scores of women throughout history who have been labelled crazy, hysterical or a nutjob, including her own grandmother who was incarcerated for three months. It was a uniquely Leah Shelton show with plenty of surprises and awakenings along the way. Sound and light were critical to BATSHIT’s success, and Jason Glenwright's lighting design elevated the tension and horror of what was being explored through clever interaction with Shelton's performance, including a wonderfully disturbing lip-syncing number. Shelton's unrivalled stage presence and her confidence with the material, allowed her to inject darker and more twisted elements into the show that left the audience considering this from a different perspective and to get angry, and remain angry, for the countless women who were, and are marked, as mad for just wanting to live their lives.

Click here for our interview with Leah Shelton.

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

11. Naomi - Written and performed by Patrick Livesey
12. Variations or Exit Music
(review) - Written by Justin Nott and performed by Matthew Connell, Lachlan Martin, Yuchen Wang and Joss McClelland
13. Escalate (review) - Performed by Throw Catch Collective
14. GODZ (review) - Performed by Head First Acrobats
15. Mush (review) - Created and performed by Jeromaia Detto

If you fancy a further trip down memory lane, then have a look at my Top 10 shows of 2021.

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