Sunday, 1 October 2023

The Hotline review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

The Honeytrap excel in creating experiences that leaves its audience confronting their own biases or blindspots. I still vividly recall its immersive site specific one person at a time production of The Maze, where I followed a young woman as she walked home late at night and listened to her thoughts via a set of headphones. That was seven years ago but such was the effect it had on me. In 2023, The Honeytrap presents its new show The Hotline, as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, which shifts its focus from the dangers women face of being attacked or killed by a man, to the dangers women face of being attacked or killed by their own body.

Participants dial a 1800 number on their phone and in a choose your own adventure style, they navigate through the frustrations and hypocrisy of getting reproductive healthcare and support. For amendments to the Therapeutic Goods Act, Press 1. For access to ECP Press 2. The first thing I note is how convincingly creator Kasey Gambling has made this experience. The sound design by Josie Steele, from the ringing of the phone, the slightly muffled / static sound of the operator and the background jazz music that plays is incredibly authentic, and slightly triggering for anyone who has ever been put on hold or had to go through an automated service before.

Sunday, 24 September 2023

Eighteen review

There aren't many 30 year olds who can say they've been friends for 18 years but Caitlyn Staples and Tiana Hogben are two of these. Having met at high school, the two have been thick as thieves, and with their sketch comedy / musical theatre show Eighteen, the duo lets us know just how deep this friendship runs.

They recall their time being obligated to perform in questionable student theatre productions concerning issues such as AIDS, refugees, teenage pregnancy and drug addiction, and we are ... fortunate enough to get a recreation of these scripts.

There are sprinkles of Pen15 awkwardness as we flashback to Staples and Hogben as their former teen selves in debating competitions and speaking to their parents during a school play and that comes down to the shared history they have. They know each other's strengths and how to make the other person look good. There are musical numbers that present glimpses of the quirky and offbeat humour these two have, and this is when Eighteen was at its unique best. Turkeys will forever be linked to this show.

Bloomshed are preparing for an epic bloodbath with A Dodgeball Named Desire (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

Bloomshed is back at Melbourne Fringe Festival with its unique take on classic literature, this time turning its attention to the work of Tennessee Williams. But any expectations on what A Dodgeball Named Desire will be about should be dropped right now, unless you already suspected the ensemble will go up against a sub-elite AFL team in a game of dodgeball. We caught up with one of the brains behind Bloomshed, Anna Louey, to discuss this show and how these ideas formulate.

"Bloomshed as a theatre company is always thinking of the next show to develop, but we can also stew on a suggestion for years before it comes to life," she tells me. "In March of 2022, we met together for an intensive development of A Dodgeball Named Desire and knew that we wanted to make something about sport and theatre, and the colliding world in which theatre becomes sport. We had to set this aside to focus on our season of Paradise Lost in July, but revisited Dodgeball in October through the support of Darebin Arts Speakeasy. During this development, we realised that we were serious about the show and committed to buying a stack of dodgeballs that were the official size and weight as per international rules. We weren’t messing around. It meant hours of pounding each other with dodgeballs while simultaneously working on the script. A year later, we’re putting it on at fortyfivedownstairs as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival and we can finally whip the balls back out."

Saturday, 23 September 2023

Lily Fish on eating babies in Rakali, a new Australian Gothic houseboat horror (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

When a young couple move into a houseboat in Tasmania's Huon River to raise their baby, the last thing they expect is to be terrorised by a rakali(water-rat). With an incredibly talented team behind the production, Rakali is a new Australian Gothic neo-fable written by Alex Duncan (Five Bedrooms), directed by Alice Darling (The Fence) and starring Lily Fish, John Shearman, and Veronica Thomas. We caught up with the rakali herself, Fish, about taking on this role and how such a group of creatives came together for this Melbourne Fringe Festival show.

"Alex and I had worked together a couple of times in the past and we realised that we were interested in seeing the same sort of theatre: narrative drama that zips along, a thrilling storyline and characters that really attack each other," Fish tells me. "One day I was saying that I wished there was more work like that at the Fringe Festival and he said ‘why don’t I write you one?’ and then, he did it!"

"We’ve joked about it being like a cross between Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Wolf Creek. The dialogue is pacy, sometimes quite funny, and at other times awful in the most delightful way for an audience with super recognisable toxic relationship dynamics," she says. "And of course the concept is totally bananas. A couple living on a houseboat with their baby, and I play a shape shifting Nick Cave-esque water rat that wants to eat the baby. Who comes up with an idea like that?! When Alex pitched it to me I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was the most brilliant, fun, loaded idea ever. How could you say no to a proposal like that, so of course we had to make this.”

Wednesday, 20 September 2023

Hamish Annan is having an outpouring of emotions with Access (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

A person has about 400 emotional experiences per day stemming from 27 basic emotions. In Access, performance artist Hamish Annan invites his audience to be faced with six of these as they sit across from him in a room and are asked to select one of the designated emotions: aggression, happiness, lust, fear, grief, or disgust. Once they've announced it, Annan takes on that feeling for as long as the attendee remains seated. Annan has performed Access across New Zealand and won the New Zealand Fringe Touring Award, and for the first time, he is bringing his show to Australia as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival. It's quite a journey for a show that began amidst the pandemic lockdowns.

Monday, 18 September 2023

Spunk Daddy is coming up with the goods on sperm donation (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

Fringe Festivals are all about being slightly off-centre and unusual, so Melbourne Fringe Festival could not be a more apt breeding ground for a cabaret about sperm donation. Written and performed by Darby James, Spunk Daddy traces his journey through sperm donation and while the content of the show might have plenty of laughs, the inspiration for the work came from a place of sincere thought on the implications of such an act.

"I started the donation process back in August 2021 part-way through lockdown after clicking on a Facebook ad from an IVF clinic," James tells me. "It’s something I had contemplated but never thought too seriously about until then. The process was surprising, amusing and awkward so naturally it was the perfect fodder for a cabaret. It inevitably reignited some of the existential terror that passes in and out of my consciousness on a regular basis, which is probably common for a lot of our generation."

Sunday, 17 September 2023

Love Lust Lost review

It's difficult to give a review of the immersive and interactive production of Love Lust Lost without mentioning all the specifically amazing things about it because a lot of the fun comes from the surprise of discovering things for yourself, and not focusing on searching for certain rooms or experiences and enjoying what you have in front you. But review I must, so while I am being intentionally vague, I will say that this is definitely an event that you do not want to miss. It's been over four years since Broad Encounters brought A Midnight Visit to Melbourne so the debut of Love Lust Lost was met with anticipation and it did not disappoint.

In this instance, we board the submarine E.V. Nautilus, piloted by Captain Anderson, and follow the residents of this subterranean world and the loves, tragedies and mysteries they each carry with them. We are led into a decompression chamber and eventually faced with our first of many decisions, will we go left or will we go right? And so begins the adventure and the exploring.

Saturday, 16 September 2023

Theatre collective Pony Cam are planning on going nowhere fast with Burnout Paradise (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

We've been told that success comes when you put in the hard work. But how much hard work is necessary? And what happens when you keep putting in the work but it feels like you're never getting closer to achieving your dream and that you have been constantly pushing a rock up a hill, or maybe running on a treadmill? Ensemble theatre company Pony Cam are here to interrogate just that with a brand new Melbourne Fringe Festival show, Burnout Paradise.

Over the course of 55 minutes, Hugo Williams, Ava Campbell, Claire Bird, Dominic Weintraub and William Strom mount four treadmills as they go through the feelings and process of the euphoric optimism that comes before burnout. With what has occurred over the last few years, no one knows this better than those in the performing arts industry, where optimism and burnout are very much entwined. "The two are closely related for us. Like siblings, maybe," the collective says. "Trying to make work as a team, we’re juggling a lot. Between the five of us, we have 14 part-time jobs, we make 5 – 10 shows a year, and on top of that we’re all trying to become better, calmer, healthier people."

Thursday, 14 September 2023

Stickybeak Patrick Dwyer is getting nosey with the neighbours (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

Neighbours. Everybody needs good neighbours. But they're not the neighbours we often get. No. Sometimes it's the noisy ones, having shouting matches throughout the day, playing their loud music or even worse, having band rehearsals in their garage. And then there's the good old fashioned nosey parker, the one always inserting themselves into your life ... the stickybeak. Presented as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, Stickybeak is a physical comedy that brings the fence down around our neighbour and exposes them for a change.

The show is devised and performed by the exceptional talents of Kimberley Twiner, Jessie Ngaio, Laura Trenerry and Patrick Dwyer, and while the four have individually known each other and worked with each other in various shows, this is the first time they have come together for one show. "Laura and myself have been working together as The Beryls in the character comedy world for a number of years now and have worked with Kimberly Twiner several times in different capacities," Dwyer explains. "We decided we all wanted to make a show together where we played multiple characters in a highly physical and dynamic way. The brilliant visual and performance artist Jessie Ngaio joined shortly after and it was a magical addition."

Tuesday, 12 September 2023

Kaine Hansen on reshaping Australian history one queer icon at a time (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

There aren't many Australians who are not familiar with the expression "such is the queer life". These were the final words sung by Australian bushranger Ned Kelly before he was hung for the murder of three police officers in 1878. Not aware with this piece of Australian history? Well writer and director Kaine Hansen will fill you in with the Melbourne Fringe Festival show, Ned Kelly: the Big Gay Musical.

The first question I ask Hansen is not why a gay Ned Kelly, but why a gay Ned Kelly musical? "I'm a huge lover of Australian history but have always found the mythos around Ned Kelly is such a blokey one. I wanted to rebel and make the Kelly Gang queer, it felt dangerous and exciting and a lot of fun," he explains. "When I was thinking of a new show to write the name Ned Kelly The Big Gay Musical popped into my head. I thought it was the funniest thing I had ever heard and knew it would be the perfect time to expand from my solo musical comedy shows to a full scale production of Australia's new queer icon!"

Monday, 11 September 2023

Pulling an all-nighter with Telia Nevile (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

There is a lot that keeps Telia Nevile up at night. So much so that she decided to make a new Melbourne Fringe Festival show about it. In Insomniac Mixtape, Nevile takes a deep dive into the subconscious, where she talks and sings through the real and imagined things that go through her - and your - mind in the middle of the night.

"My brain has a love of chasing its tail, and periodically lighting its hair on fire while it does this," she explains. "Combine that inclination with being a very light sleeper and the result is long periods of staring at the ceiling when I want to be sleeping. The things that wake me up in the middle of the night vary wildly, but are usually driven by anxiety, stress, or an inability to stop turning a problem over. Then again, sometimes it’s the snoring beside me. Occasionally it's a loud car or our downstairs neighbours. It’s a lucky dip of sleepless treats!"

Sunday, 10 September 2023

SWAMP review

Created by Andy Freer and Nick Wilson, and presented by Snuff Puppets, SWAMP sends its audience into a fascinating journey into the impact humans have had on Earth's geology and ecosystems through the adventures of a number of Australian animals.

Large scale intricately designed animal puppets - including koalas, mosquitos, cane toads and lyrebirds - are bought to life by puppeteers in "short stories" of their interactions with each other and their changing environment. Varying in their humour and dramatics, each story effectively highlights their plight, and how humans have explicitly and implicitly made their homes a risk to their safety and lives.

Thursday, 7 September 2023

Eleni Telemachou is sending people Packing with her new interactive show (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

There are two camps when it comes to packing: those who love it and see it as a sign of adventure and those who loathe it and see it as painful and arduous task. With her upcoming immersive and interactive Melbourne Fringe Festival show for one person at a time, Eleni Telemachou is giving people the opportunity to live their dream or nightmare by packing someone else's belonging, and along the way unpacking ideas around growth, places and endings. It's a solo

"The idea of Packing came to me while I was flat-hunting around Melbourne. I was so bored going through the same process again and again until I started paying attention to the different objects tenants had lying around their flats." Telemachou recalls. "These simple objects held so many stories about who the tenants were, what they valued and where they had been."

Wednesday, 6 September 2023

Jake Silvestro on bringing together circus, nature and rollerskates (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

Put a group of people together in any situation and there are bound to be disagreements and arguments. Put a group of people together in an unfamiliar environment and things will intensify even further. Created and performed by circus artists Jake Silvestro and Romain Hassanin, Alienation is a physical theatre show at Melbourne Fringe Festival that explores our relationships and interactions with each other and nature.

Silvestro and Hassanin have been collaborating on Alienation since 2020 but it wasn't until Silvestro happened to come across a quote by art critic Martin Gayford that he realised what it was they wanted to say. "Romain and I had some ideas about what we wanted to do, but couldn't firmly say how they were connected or socially relevant. I find with projects that build over long time periods, the downtime between rehearsals is an opportunity to keep your eyes open and see what is out in the world that corroborates your practice, and that was definitely the case with "A History of Pictures" by David Hockney and Martin Gayford," Silvestro tells me. "I was reading that book and came across the quote “... alienation, the way in which, especially in Western Culture, people are separated psychologically and economically both from each other and from the natural world”, and it tied together a bunch of elements from this new work in a more succinct way than I could have come up with."

Monday, 4 September 2023

Celebrating love and human connection with Love Letters (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

The art of writing letters is very much a rarity these days. We might send each other lengthy emails or texts, but putting a pen to paper and handwriting our thoughts and experiences to then post to someone doesn't happen anymore. But this is not the case in Love Letters. Presented as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, Love Letters follows the lives of a man and a woman from their childhood to adulthood through decades of correspondence sharing their growth, fears, successes, failures and loves.

Fini Liu, in the dual roles of playing the male character and directing the work, was attracted to the obstacles that this work presented. "What drew me to the work is how extremely authentic and sincere piece it is. We also need to tell the story of two people spanning 40 years within just an hour so it was a challenge to be able to deliver this while allowing the characters and the story to breathe and be fully realised.

Sunday, 3 September 2023

The sketch comedy show that's asking life's big question: is it jazz or a bucket of blood? (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

It's the age-old question: is it jazz or a bucket of blood? It has divided people even deeper than what colour that dress actually was. Performers Ange Lavoipierre and Jane Watt at least hope to answer the former with their upcoming Melbourne Fringe Festival season of Jazz Or A Bucket Of Blood. Their hour of absurd humour and quirky perspectives have left audiences around the world - most recently at Edinburgh Fringe Festival - utterly fixated and astounded.

With Lavoipierre's solo show also having an equally eccentric title (Your Mother Chucks Rocks and Shells, and also playing at Melbourne Fringe), she and Watt are certainly displaying a knack for coming up with unique show names, but what comes first, the title or the content? "I don’t think you’re meant to do it like this but I’m only going to write something new after I turn out a title that makes me laugh," Lavoipierre says. "The idea happens quickly and then I say it to a few of the silliest people I know and see if they laugh too, and that’s the entire process."

Sunday, 27 August 2023

Prophet review

In Jodi Gallagher's Prophet, a man returns from war with a message that the end of the world is coming. His revelation leads to numerous interactions within the city's residents including the powerful elite and outcasts and vagrants of society. Presented as a promenade production, the audience is able to stand, walk around and follow the actors around and feel equally involved in the story (with no interaction), which has us also questioning our own ideas of faith and truth.

The ensemble work incredibly well together, with each actor bringing something unique to their character, and it is fascinating watching the dynamics of the distinct pairings or small groupings with each scene. Mia Landgren is highly memorable with her slow transformation from dutiful wife to being more challenging and confident with herself. She imbues intensity and authenticity to her character even when she is standing on the sidelines. Gabriel Partington successfully carries most of the show with his performance as he becomes a believer of what's to come displaying energy, commitment and vulnerability. His scenes with Dennis Coard as his father are particularly noteworthy and you can easily recognise the history between them. Helen Hopkins is great as the political antagonist but the role needed to have more menace and threatening undertones to it.

Tuesday, 22 August 2023

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum ... the cast became all female-identifying

How do you take one of Broadway's greatest and much loved farces while still being inventive and imaginative with it? With its many cases of mistaken identity, it's quite easy. Watch This, Australia’s first and only Sondheim repertory company is bringing one of the composer and lyricist's earliest work to the stage, with not only an all female-identifying cast but a multi-generational one too. We spoke to Sarahlouise Younger, who plays Marcus Lycus, about the new perspectives this production offers and the joy of working on A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

I was champing at the bit to get into the rehearsal room! If you're a Sondheim fan like I am, and what musical theatre performer isn't?, Forum is the second time we see Sondheim standing on his own and taking the reins as both composer and lyricist," she tells me. "While the influence of his mentor Bernstein is quite evident, you can hear little musical gems of what will be iconic Sondheim in his future musical creations. The book is a fabulous example of what is great comedic writing. His co-writer Larry Gelbart would go on to write M.A.S.H, so as a musical theatre performer it is such a treat to be given a rich, wordy text to play with."

Sunday, 20 August 2023

Cygnets review

Helen of Troy might be a familiar figure to people when it comes to Greek mythology but she is generally recognised as the cause of the Trojan War and little beyond that. Her sister, Clytemenstra is even lesser known, briefly acknowledged in her role of murdering her husband after he sacrificed their daughter to the Gods to aid in his quest for power. Cygnets brings these two sisters together to reclaim their voice and story as they work through the trauma and resentment they experienced at the hands of those around them.

The performances by Rebekah Carton and Delta Brooks are nothing short of magnificent. Brooks as Helen is put through the ringer with the distress and anguish she must convey, as well as reacting to the aggression she receives from her sister. Things get very messy and physically demanding but the commitment she keeps to each scene, as does Carton, is testament to the hard work the two have put in with director Harry Haynes and dramaturg Alanah Guiry in creating Cygnets. Carton finds an inspired balance of being vicious yet comedic, and fierce yet soft, as the woman who will mourn the loss of her daughter and then pay the price for exacting her revenge.

Set and costume designer Juliette Whitney has constructed an impressive set that draws you into the severely rousing moments that play out. Blood-red PVC strips confine us in the small makeshift arena that is used to great effect by Haynes where the drama is presented in a restrained yet impassioned pace. A group of four performers dressed in various red coloured outfits act as a sort of Greek Chorus entering the space for set changes and carrying in props. Their movements and interactions add to the intensity and the inevitable end for the two sisters.

Saturday, 19 August 2023

Monument review

Edith Aldridge has just 90 minutes to prepare for the most important day of her life, and it's not her wedding. Makeup artist Rosie has arrived at the hotel as a last-minute call-in to ensure Edith looks gorgeous, after all, how often do you get sworn in as the youngest female leader of a country? Written by Emily Sheehan, Monument explores the power that makeup, fashion and beauty hold over women and also the power that women can have from this. It's a delicate act that is captured by an intriguing and interesting premise.

Julia Hanna is brilliant as Rosie, a perfect foil to the matter-of-fact and calmly distressed Prime Minister. Her line delivery, pronunciation and speech patterns convey much about the character's background and make her inexperienced interactions with the Prime Minister seem genuine. Sarah Sutherland as the Prime Minister presents a woman who is slowly unravelling by forces outside her control and feeling the pressure of being relentlessly monitored over the minutest of details. She exposes Edith's emotional turmoil in a very raw way, including a compelling scene of her silently releasing her anger and frustrations out into the world.

Sunday, 13 August 2023

What Was That? review

It's not often a production gets to celebrate its 1000th show, but What Was That? did just that on Saturday 12 August. This immersive ghost tour through Werribee Park Mansion gives audience an overview of the home's history and the family that built it in the 1870s, the Chirnsides.

With permission granted by the production team to start the show five minutes late to watch the Matilda's win over France in the penalty shoot out in their World Cup match, the mood in the audience was in very high spirits and completely up for the thrills and delights our hosts had planned for us.

We are met at the entrance by the personable head maid Maggie (Alaine Beek) and the crabby butler Mr Duncan (Ross Daniels). As "we are all friends of the Chirnsides" we are led through the various rooms of this lush mansion.

Saturday, 12 August 2023

The Fence review

We may see fences as the boundary of our property, where one house ends and another one starts. But what happens when that fence is literally and figuratively taken down? Written by Fleur Murphy, The Fence takes audiences into the home of one woman as she bears witness to the darker side of neighbourhood living.

Louisa Mignone plays a happily married woman with a three-year-old daughter. She works night shifts at a local supermarket stacking shelves as she and her husband plan on buying the house they are currently renting. When a couple move in next door and tear down the fence between them, it leads to emotions and feelings that begin to impact her life as she struggles with the implications of turning a blind eye or calling out what she suspects is taking place.

Sunday, 6 August 2023

kerosene and SIRENS review

I remember the first time I watched kerosene and being completely engrossed by Izabella Yena and the ferocity and tenderness she brought to her role. Over a year later, I remember the first time I watched SIRENS and sitting in awe as Benjamin Nichol presented a story that was so rich in detail and raw in emotion. Now for the first time, audiences are seeing these critically acclaimed plays as they were intended to be seen: together. While each story is distinct, unique and stands on its own, what ties the two together is the exploration of belonging, environment and disillusionment and how the harsh realities of life can be difficult to overcome.

Nichol and Yena have collaborated extensively on these projects, with Nichol writing kerosene and Yena performing in it and sharing directing responsibilities. SIRENS has been co-created by the two with Nichol also serving as writer and performer (and direction by Olivia Satchell). They are quickly proving themselves to be a formidable duo in the performing arts scene and it is very exciting to see what they come up with next.

Saturday, 5 August 2023

Miss Peony review

We have all heard of the expression "be careful what you wish for", but in Miss Peony, the more appropriate expression would be "be careful what you promise on your Poh Poh's deathbed". When Lily agrees to enter - and win - a beauty pageant competition just as her grandmother passes away, she is forced to see it through or risk being haunted by her Poh Poh for the rest of her life. Written by Michelle Law, Miss Peony takes its audience into the world of beauty pageants with plenty of humour and heart.

The relationship between Lily and her Poh Poh (in the living and the spiritual world) constantly moves from affectionate to exasperating as Stephanie Jack and Gabrielle Chan touchingly display the underlying tension, grief and regrets they feel. Chan is full of personality as Adeline, Lily's Poh Poh. Her matter-of-fact attitude and dishing of barbs is a joy to watch and while her fan dance is brief, it is one of Miss Peony’s most powerful moments due to the emotion that Chan carries in it.

Saturday, 29 July 2023

2:22 - A Ghost Story review

When Lauren and Ben visit their friends Sam and Jenny for dinner, the last thing they are expecting is to be witnesses to a supernatural event. Or are they? As the night approaches, the four friends delve deeper into the supernatural and the existence of something beyond death that will challenge all their beliefs. Written by Danny Robbins, 2:22: A Ghost Story takes a common domestic setting and turns it into a nightmare for our two couples. What happens when what should be the safest place in your world is the one causing you to be most afraid?

2:22: A Ghost Story comes with chills and thrills (and some screams) but only if your idea of having the hairs on your arm stand is brought on by plenty of jump scares, which are generally lazy and uninspiring. Ian Dickinson’s sound design largely consists of random screams and foxes fornicating that are repeated ad nauseam. The moments of tension are more successful when the concept of “less is more” is applied, such as when Ben recalls his past encounters with ghosts. The finale gives the show a spine-tingling send off, but it is directed rapidly and awkwardly by Matthew Dunster and diminishes the frightening revelation that has come to pass.

Friday, 28 July 2023

Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra: Sisters doin' it for themselves in Cygnets

Helen and Clytemnestra. Sisters whose place in mythology has been one of persecution and revile. One is responsible for selfishly causing the Trojan War and the other brutally murdered her husband as he bathed. Nasty women indeed. But is there more to the story, to these women, than meets the eye? In The Liminal Space's upcoming production, Cygnets, the siblings reunite and open up about their shared history and the truth behind their actions.

Emerging actors Rebekah Carton and Delta Brooks take on the roles of Clytemnestra and Helen respectively, but it took the two performers a while to find a role that spoke to them, and challenged them, as performers, as women, as people. "Delta and I had been looking for a two-hander for a long time and were uninspired by the choices available to us. We had this ongoing banter about being ‘Gemini twins’, and I suggested perhaps devising a work around Castor and Polydeuces, the original geminis," Carton recalls. "It was only when reading into these characters that I connected the dots: Clytemnestra and Helen were sisters. Not only that, twins. How did I not know this? I had studied classics, I had read the plays, I’d even played Helen in The Trojan Women!"

Sunday, 16 July 2023

Love and loneliness with kerosene and SIRENS

After critically acclaimed seasons of kerosene and SIRENS, independent theatre company The Voice In My Hands is giving Melbourne a second chance of seeing these powerful works with a new double-bill season at fortyfivedownstairs. These one-person shows present rich character and environmental exploration with strong performances by its two actors, Izabella Yenna and Benjamin Nichol.

Both shows are also written by Nichol, who displays an incredible skill in bringing characters so vividly, passionately and frighteningly to life. Both shows have been nominated for a number of Green Room Awards, including a Best Production win for kerosene. We spoke to Yena about returning to the role of Millie for kerosene after two years and how she's changed since the first performance and to Nichol about his creative process in creating a narrative for two similar but very different people and circumstances.

Saturday, 15 July 2023

Animal Farm review

First published in 1945, it would be hard to imagine how a production of George Orwell's classic Animal Farm could offer something new to audiences. But theatre company Bloomshed have proven they are more than up to the challenge, imbuing the narrative with their dramatic flair and sharp satire to present a highly memorable experience in successfully exploring dark issues with a comedic tone.

The ensemble (Elizabeth Breenan, James Malcher, Anna Louey, Eden Goodall, Lauren Swain, Laura Aldous, Syd Brisbane and Sam Nix) do a brilliant job with the anthropomorphism of their assigned animals, be it Malcher's blindly loyal bleating sheep, Goodall's nervous chicken or Louey and Brisbane's respective vain and dim-witted horses.

Wednesday, 12 July 2023

Away review

First performed almost 40 years ago, Michael Gow’s Away is an Australian masterpiece about three families holidaying along the coast for Christmas in 1968. It’s been staged countless times across the country (and world) but under the direction of Steven Mitchell Wright, this production at Theatre Works will sit firmly in my mind for breathing new life and perspective to the narrative and the bold, adventurous nature of its storytelling.

The direction, costumes and performances make this exceptionally unique and anyone who has seen any production of this show will be surprised by how scenes unfold and how they are presented. The brilliant ensemble has been offered the freedom to take these characters and make them their own, which is extremely exciting to watch.

Sunday, 9 July 2023

Last Time review

It's late into the night when Jesse arrives at Lucas' home. They have known each other for years, so it's only natural they would meet up when they find themselves in the same city. While there is a tension that needs to be released, it still comes as a surprise to both of them when they realise what the tension between them is. Lily Hensby's Last Time is an intimate and humourous look at two people with a complicated past and a questionable future.

Lotte Beckett and Mark Yeates are thoroughly engaging as long-time friends with part-time benefits. Their rapport and interactions easily establish a history that does not need to be explained. We can understand the friendship between them, as well as the rivalry, jealousy and envy that lingers in the air, with something else that's not quite right simmering below the surface.

Friday, 30 June 2023

This Is Personal review

To many, the name Mary Coustas is an instant reminder of the Australian icon that is Effie Stephanidis, the character Coustas portrayed on the television comedy Acropolis Now that ran between 1989 and 1992. With her new solo show This Is Personal, Coustas lets free the woman under the big wig and make-up, and opens up about the fears she has on not being alive to be there for her daughter when she will need her most.

In 70 engrossing minutes, Coustas takes us through her Greek upbringing and relationship with her parents, and up to the present day of dealing with her IVF difficulties and eventually becoming a mother. She seamlessly moves between time periods with small revelations and surprises along the way that draws us deeper into the performance. Her commanding presence and controlled storytelling - including well timed callbacks such as her mother's obsession with American soapies, and endearing impersonations of family members - allow Coustas to display her knack for comedy and her dramatic flair.

Thursday, 29 June 2023

Social Dance review

In Social Dance, audience members have been invited to Suzie Spittle's dinner party in which she intends to present the first instalment of her 10 part lifestyle series "Etiquette in the Modern Age with the Spittles." Alongside her husband, two children and French exchange teacher, Suzie is here to help bring decorum and class back into our lives, but all is not all that it appears with cracks beginning to form in the Spittle’s facade of living the dream life.

Writer and director Laura McKenzie has designed the production so we are all seated around a large table setting with the Spittles. It's a great immersive approach to the show and while all the action happens around the dinner table, McKenzie allows her characters to move in the space and be active as much as possible.

Saturday, 27 May 2023

Crocodiles review

Written by Vidya Rajan, Crocodiles follows the aftermath of an incident at an aged care home that leaves a number of people contemplating their role in the matter and who should be taking responsibility, including a migrant aged care worker and a doctor.

The strength of this production lies with its cast, and the performances by Rachel Kamath and Marta Kaczmarek provide the finest results with their scenes together. Most compelling is when the two of them open up to each other as migrant worker Sandhya (Kamath) gives aged care resident Helen (Kaczmarek), a bath.

Tuesday, 23 May 2023

Moth review

In Declan Greene's Moth, two teens narrate a chain of events that lead to a tragic outcome for a pair of high school outcasts that leaves one unconscious and one missing without explanation. It's a fast-paced two-hander that highlights themes around mental health and identity through the friendship of these two people and the shared - and individual - experiences they go through growing up together.

Admittedly, I had some trepidation of whether a play written in 2010 about two teenagers would be relevant in 2023 but fortunately Moth still feels fresh and innovative. Greene depicts the horrors of high school and the long-term impact these instances can have, through authentic teenage voices and one can only imagine the power of this work back when it was performed.

Friday, 12 May 2023

Once review

Darlinghurst Theatre Company's Once has had three sold-out seasons over three years, and it is now Melbourne's turn to discover why this decade old musical is still a hit with audiences. The story centres on two lives that are drastically changed after a chance encounter between a struggling Irish musician and a Czech piano-player, both of whom are living in Dublin. What follows is a love story that gives them the confidence to take risks and grow, but whether that will be together remains to be seen.

A show like this relies heavily on the chemistry between its two leads so it's fortunate this production has Toby Francis and Stefanie Caccamo reprising their roles from previous seasons, as sparks fly from the second they appear on stage together. This repeat casting has allowed the two to really identify who these people are, and to be extremely comfortable and self-assured in understanding their character's vulnerability, drive and emotions.

Sunday, 7 May 2023

Lé Nør [the rain] review

In the island nation of Sólset live a small group of people that has been experiencing a decade-long drought. However, that's not enough to dampen their spirits, particularly the residents of an apartment building, with each of them dealing with their own day-to-day problems of heartbreak, love, friendship and loneliness. But it is only a matter of time before the inevitable occurs and disaster strikes in this original climate change story conceived by Perth theatre company, The Last Great Hunt, Lé Nør [the rain].

This is a wonderful story full of suspense, drama and humour, and the cast take to it with such skill and commitment (with many playing multiple characters) that you easily form strong emotional connections to what is happening to the residents. To make it even more challenging for the ensemble (Gita Bezard, Adriane Daff, Jeffrey Jay Fowler, Arielle Gray, Chris Isaacs, Jo Morris and Tim Watts), the entire dialogue is spoken in the fictitious native Sólset language, with English surtitles displayed to the audience. And this is just the tip of the iceberg about what makes Lé Nør [the rain] an exciting piece of work.

Friday, 5 May 2023

small metal objects review

It's been 13 years since Back to Back Theatre performed their acclaimed show small metal objects in Melbourne, one that straddles the line between voyeurism, suspense and contemplation. Taking place in the public area at Federation Square, audience members take their seat on a row of bleachers and are provided with a pair of headphones where we are privy to the conversations happening between four people.

We begin by hearing two friends, Steve and Gary, talking about things that friends talk about, such as eating roasts and updates on relationships. We scan the crowd to locate where these people are, looking for anyone acting strangely, as if they are being watched. There are so many false alarms in spotting the actors. Eventually we see them crossing the road and walking onto Fed Square.

Sunday, 23 April 2023

Arterial review

Good circus will always find ways to entertain its audience through the impressive abilities of its performers as they display their strength, flexibility and agility. Amazing circus will have this, but will also be able to make you feel something deeper through its storytelling and performances, and Arterial is one of the best examples of this in a very long time. Presented by Na Djinang Circus, the production explores the notion of what community is and the importance in keeping community alive.

Harley Mann - founder of Na Djinang and director of Arterial - is extremely specific and clear in creating his vision and showing this connection to story, to people and to country. While there is a lot to of ground to cover, everything that we see and hear - and even feel - in Arterial has purpose. The scattered eucalyptus leaves and branches around the stage and the way the lighting design by Gina Gascoigne includes red light illuminating the space are subtle yet constant reminders of the relationship to land being depicted and by extension our relationship with the land we live on.

Saturday, 22 April 2023

Happy at Times review (Melbourne International Comedy Festival)

Musical comedian Sarah Gaul is on a mission to improve her happiness levels. But what does it take to actually be happy? With Happy at Times, Gaul performs a number of delightful songs and shares her unique perspectives with her audience on how we can all increase our happiness ratio.

Gaul radiates warmth on stage and her personality shines through as she makes sure she greets everyone as we enter and take our seats. She is personable and friendly and when she recreates her passport and drivers license photo IDs she becomes someone we could sit there and listen to all night and still be entertained.

Outer Child review (Melbourne International Comedy Festival)

As adults we often forget what life was like when we were children and the freedom that came with being a child and not being jaded, worried, cynical or anxious about life. In Outer Child, Ashley Apap takes her audiences on a self-help journey of discovery about repair, understanding and self-compassion.

Apap plays a no-nonsense life coach, whom we have paid a lot of money for this six step program to learn from. She's so focused on this journey that she won't even accept any form of applause when she appears on stage. Everything seems to be going well(ish) until she has an IBS attack which results in Apap's inner child becoming free with the older Apap now trapped inside a hydroflask.

Friday, 21 April 2023

Heart Of Darkness review (Melbourne International Comedy Festival)

With Heart of Darkness, half-Greek half-Italian Anthony Locascio shares the worst things he’s ever done and by comparison, to make us all feel better about ourselves. The comedian recalls past experiences and introduces us to a variety of people from his life including his girlfriend, a high school bully and his two grandmothers through an hour of stand-up that gets close to reaching some very controversial topics.

Locascio talks about various mishaps and adventures, and he shows a great ability to bring up a memory and trail off to another but still return to what he was saying. It’s not off the cuff but he makes it sound natural and that he has thought about how to best tell these stories. So when he begins reminiscing about his Italian grandmother and midway through he gets “side-tracked” with a completely different story about his Greek grandmother he finds his way back to the original anecdote in a highly genuine way.

Wednesday, 19 April 2023

Your Mother Chucks Rocks And Shells review (Melbourne International Comedy Festival)

With less than a week left of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, I think the most bizarre yet most fascinating show I have seen is Ange Lavoipierre's Your Mother Chucks Rocks And Shells. I mean the title alone... As we take our seats Lavoipierre is on stage in a nightgown holding a pillow, trying to sleep but insomnia is a bitch and keeping her up. With a few tricks up her sleeve, Lavoipierre attempts to tackle her lack of sleep head on with incredibly hilarious results.

It's 2am when Lavoipierre’s brain, with a charming French accent, begins speaking to her and preventing her from falling asleep. She deduces that watching a movie will help her fall asleep and of ALL THE FILMS in the world, she decides the 1973 horror film The Exorcist is a suitable option (and if you’ve seen this you’ll have a better understanding of where the title for this show came from). From then on, we are treated to an absurd exploration of her twilight musings on religion, sexuality and the patriarchy through The Exorcist along with its 'deleted scenes' set in random alternate movies, such as The Matrix. Sounds weird? Buckle up. It gets weirder.

We're New Here review (Melbourne Interntational Comedy Festival)

For as long as man has existed, there has always been a rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney. Even the recent news that Melbourne has overtaken Sydney to become Australia's largest city by population has been met boastfully by Melbourne and with derision by Sydney. Two people who have contributed to this "win" for Melbourne are Melbourne-based New South Wales-raised comedians Lotte Beckett and Lily Hensby.

In their comedy show, We're New Here, the two examine the intricacies of Melbourne culture and lifestyle, from our unhealthy obsession with good coffee and the unique experience of hunting for a rental property. There are some brilliant sketches, including scarily accurate digs at Melbourne's impro scene and the premier performing arts school of this city, VCA. Their description of Sydney and Nowra – with extremely detailed and intricate maps - are also a highlight, giving the audience a very clear indication of where they came from.

Thursday, 13 April 2023

Grim review (Melbourne International Comedy Festival)

Goodness. What a devilish delight that Grim is. Ellen Grimshaw plays Grim, an alien who gets pushed off their Mum's spaceship on their way to Data Collection Headquarters in Hollywood, landing in a Pepsi ad audition in Carlton. What? Yup. It's extremely ridiculous but if you accept it and move on, you get to really enjoy the performance by Grimshaw, the absurd humour and the chance to consider what the cost of always trying to please people can be.

Grimshaw is superb in this role. She completely gives herself over to Grim with the stuttering voice, the physicality and the outlandish red costume with accompanying wig. The alien language that she creates might sound like a bunch of nonsense but it genuinely feels like she's gone and made a specific noise for its equivalent English word, and whether she has or not is beside the point as it is still works on that level.

Sunday, 9 April 2023

Net Worth review (Melbourne International Comedy Festival)

When Nicolette Minster googled herself, she discovered that according to NetWorths Ranks she is a 6ft, 30 year old worth $15 million, something which she is not. Up until this point she had been confident that she was the only Nicolette Minster in the world, so she decided to investigate who this person is and then make a comedy show about it, naturally titled Net Worth.

Using a projector with various slides, Minster presents to us "her" NetWorth Ranks profile and takes us through all the information - personal and family details and marital status. She takes each section of the profile and then dissects it and along with some strong detective work (Facebook and google) attempts to track down this Nicolette Minster's husband or siblings.

The Candidate review (Melbourne International Comedy Festival)

Mandy Nolan ran for the Federal seat of Richmond (Northern NSW) as the Greens candidate and lost. She lost by a 2% margin. In The Candidate, the comedian recalls the experience of running in a federal election and the impact this had on her.

Nolan is an extremely likeable and engaging speaker and it's very easy to see how she came so close to winning the seat in an electorate that is a bit too open to COVID and 5G conspiracy theories with a strong anti-vax mentality. She shows great ability in smoothly transitioning from completely ridiculous but factual encounters to the serious aspects of a feminist comedian running for politics, and the subsequent politics of running for politics.

Saturday, 8 April 2023

Ratbag review (Melbourne International Comedy Festival)

Ben Stevenson's mother used to call him a ratbag. When she suddenly died, Stevenson had to find some sense of meaning to her death. In Ratbag, the comedian looks at the slightly unconventional upbringing that he had and memories of the years he had with his mother.

Stevenson does wonderful work in painting a picture of growing up in Coffs Harbour, where gender reveal skid parties were a usual occurrence. He also shares details of his mother's peculiar habits, including her common boycotting of brands, companies and even countries, such as her supermarket protest of all things made in France, and her penchant for growing a very specific green plant.

Friday, 7 April 2023

Baba review (Melbourne International Comedy Festival)

Between February 2020 to August 2022, Joshua Ladgrove was the full-time carer for his 97 year-old Ukrainian grandmother. While death can be a difficult topic to genuinely discuss, particularly in a comedy, Ladgrove has constructed a very clever show in Baba, that pays respect to his baba and the life that she led with a mix of gentle laughs and some fearless comedic choices.

Baba was the best person Ladgrove knew and through his words he easily conveys the warm and loving relationship these two had. Whether he is speaking to us or chatting with his baba, you can see the strong affection in his blue eyes and how even though time heals all, she is still immensely missed.

Lolly Bag review (Melbourne International Comedy Festival)

Returning to the comedy festival with Lolly Bag, Hannah Camilleri presents a variety of sketches with some new and some returning but beloved characters. This mixed bag once again highlights Camilleri's ability to draw you into this make-believe world with relatable situations where you may very well have interacted with these types of people in your real life.

Camilleri is a chameleon when it comes to transforming into these people. She is unrecognisable from one to the next with just a simple wig or prop. Her physical changes as she goes from sketch to sketch are nuanced and well crafted, particularly with the opening act of a mechanic tending to a customer. It is a stereotype of mechanics but she also gives him his own distinct personality and idiosyncrasies that makes him completely and utterly believable. Camilleri clearly has a strong affection for her creations.

Thursday, 6 April 2023

We Forgive You, Patina Pataznik review (Melbourne International Comedy Festival)

There's plenty of people from high school we would love nothing but sweet sweet revenge on for making our life hell. At least that's the case for Jake and Liv and their arch nemesis Patina Pataznik. In the comedy show We Forgive You, Patina Pataznik, the two find themselves at their high school reunion where a chance encounter leads to a rare opportunity to exact their payback...but at what cost?

Written and performed by Jake Glanc and Olivia McLeod, the show is packed with sass and laughs. The energy they have throughout complements each other's character and adds fun chaos to the ridiculous situations they find themselves in. They are not afraid to mess with genre and style and the French car ride is an absolute joy to watch. Their time travel back to high school is simply executed but highly effective, as is Jake's date with a fellow classmate.