Saturday 30 December 2023

Oh Great, It's Jessie Ngaio! (Midsumma Festival)

From a young age, Jessie Ngaio has fantasised about killing herself. Originally performed in early 2023, Oh Yuck, It's Me is her dark yet exceptionally entertaining exploration of sexuality, trauma and climate anxiety and finding the will to survive when everything seems stacked against you.

Ngaio received much acclaim during her original season, leading to two 2023 Green Room Awards for Best Performer and Best Production. In 2024, Oh Yuck, It’s Me returns as part of the Midsumma Festival, where she one again hopes to engage her audience with the wider themes of the show while offering an outlet of mutual laughter, vulnerability and honesty.

Friday 22 December 2023

Top 10 Shows of 2023

It was a much welcomed return for live shows in 2023. 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. This year I managed to attend 141 shows and the below ten are the ones that left an impression on me. If I reviewed the show, a link to the review is provided.

And as I always like to remind people, sometimes the show that you remember for a long time after is not the big splashy extravagant piece with recognisable names and a huge budget, but the one that was 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.

As I request of you every year, take a risk, seek something new, unknown and different in the new year.

Here we go:

Sunday 17 December 2023

Exposing the male form through echoes and whispers (Midsumma Festival)

It was back in high school when Evan Cooper picked up his first camera. His English and Journalism teacher decided to set up an extracurricular group for students that might like to learn photography. 

"In those days it was completely analogue so we learnt not only the basics of taking photos but also how to develop the film and print the images," Cooper recalls. "As someone that can be somewhat shy and content in my company, it became something I could do by myself while creating opportunities of being involved in certain activities like being the photographer at school events. 

Fast forward to 2024 and Cooper's solo exhibition will be held as part of Midsumma Festival.

Echoes and Whispers will be a multiple exposure photographic exploration of the male form. "I started experimenting with different photographic processes as a way of playing with the medium by pushing or pulling the film, blurring, and the effects of different shutter speeds. With multiple exposure I found results that interested me, and I wanted to see where I could take it," he explains.

"All of my multiple exposure work is captured in-camera and since I only see the one image when I take the photo I actually have to use my memory to plan how the image is possibly going to look when all three are taken. There is an element of serendipity with the final image, where some are better or worse than expected," he says. "Even though this work is shot digitally, I limit the editing of the images to what I would do in the dark room if I was developing film. So the things I edit are cropping, exposure, contrast etc. By limiting myself in this way I have to be more aware and present during the taking of the images, as I simply can't "fix it in post".

Monday 11 December 2023

The Sea review

The Sea is an opera in five parts in an exciting new collaboration between Forest Collective and BK Opera. The two arts companies have put together a riveting production that looks at love and the abuse of love through patriarchy, trauma and the imbalance of power.

Using a poem by Nicole Butcher, The Sea Libretto, we are told the story of an unnamed woman living in an abusive relationship. With music by Evan J. Lawson (Forest Collective's artistic director) and direction by Kate Millett (BK Opera's artistic director), this woman’s plight is linked to the sea, where its negative and positive associations are brought to the surface.

Saturday 9 December 2023

FUNeral review

One inescapable fact in life is that death will always come for us in the end. No matter what we do, life can end at any moment. While that realisation can be quite bleak, Clare Taylor and Ruby Rawlings are here to make it less dire, with their comedy show FUNeral.

During the promotion of their show, the two performers capture the attention of Death itself and so Death decides to crash the party. With the odds against them, Taylor and Rawlings are determined to put Death in its place and break its 100% winning streak of successful life ends, as if this was a comedic version of Final Destination.

Sunday 3 December 2023

The Long Pigs review

Clowns are supposed to stir joy and laughter in people. Just ask It. Or the Long Pigs. Back in Melbourne for more bloodshed and nosey behaviour, The Long Pigs introduces us to three black-nosed clowns who are busily at work eliminating all red-nosed clowns. When doing a count, they realise they are one nose short and suddenly no one can be trusted as they vow to figure out who the culprit is.

Directed by Susie Dee, The Long Pigs is strong with its vision and imagination in crafting this macabre world and bringing these clown characters vividly to life. It is fascinating to see the changing relationships and power dynamics play out throughout the show. Clare Bartholomew in particular is a delight to watch with her facial expressions a constant source of intrigue and hilarity. Nicci Wilks is the loose cannon that plays by her own rules and Mozes is the slightly more high achieving and focused of the three, which sees him condemned to a far darker fate than his red-nosed counterparts.

Thursday 30 November 2023

ON/OFF review

We all have different parts of ourselves that emerge depending on our environment. This could be at work, home, social and anything in between. In ON/OFF, NICA’s third year Bachelor of Circus Arts students bring their on stage and off stage personas together in a distinctive production that allows them to present their skills and share their thoughts on what drew them to circus.

From the instant you enter the space, you can see this won’t be a traditional circus performance. Backstage has been transported into the theatre and you literally need to walk through it to reach your seat, getting up close and personal with the ensemble as they warm up, put final touches to their hair and make-up, and make any costume adjustments.

Saturday 25 November 2023

How Do I Let You Die? review

In February 2020, while dealing with bushfires and the looming pandemic, Michele Lee called her parents every day for 30 minutes. How Do I Let You Die? is a culmination of those conversations resulting in a gentle interrogation of life and death through the perspective of her Hmong parents and Lee's relationship with them.

As we take our seat, actor Alice Qin sits at a desk covered with post-it notes and politely acknowledges us. She introduces herself as writer Michele Lee, and begins to share with us the conversations with her parents, what brought her to that point and where these conversations led her.

Wednesday 22 November 2023

Happily Ever Poofter review

Fairy tales always come with a happy ending for the Princess. But what about our Princes? More specifically, our gay princes? In Happily Ever Poofter, Rich Watkins takes his audiences on a magic carpet ride through the world of a gay Disney Prince looking for love and acceptance while also enjoying some good old-fashioned sexcapades, through songs, of course.

With assistance from his fairy godfather, Prince Henry is whisked away from his kingdom far far away into the real world where he begins his quest to find his own Prince Charming, but until then, he's eager to embrace the smorgasbord that is gay culture and sex. From the get-go, Watkins is at maximum energy levels. He may have created this show four years ago, but the enthusiasm and excitement he brings feels like it's the first time he’s performing it. The story is quite loose but the pantomime-like element of audience involvement and the cheeky humour work in its favour and we can sit back and delight in the ride.

Saturday 18 November 2023

Butoh Bar 番狂わせ OUT of ORDER review

Simply walking into ButohBar 番狂わせ OUT of ORDER is an experience on its own. It feels like we have entered an underground, post-apocalyptic dive bar. Chairs are scattered around the space, various art installations are positioned on the floor or projected onto the walls and drinks and food can be ordered at the makeshift counter. There are roving performers and there are resting performers - lying on chairs, sitting at an altar and even hidden within a box. These initial encounters immediately succeed in setting the scene for the artistic collective of ButohOUT! to present, inform, inspire and enlighten its audience with what butoh is and its potential to bring change.

Monday 6 November 2023

Orlando review

First published in 1928, Virginia Woolf's Orlando spans three centuries and tells the story of a poet who changes sex from male to female. Roughly 95 years to its release, Antipodes Theatre Company present a retelling of Orlando as an electro-folk musical adaptation of Woolf's groundbreaking work.

Written by Rachel Lewindon and Willow Sizer, this reimagining is restrained yet ambitious. There is a focus on access and representation in the cast - both on and off stage - and the performers have combined their own lived experiences into the source material. This has been done with great care and attention to the narrative that feels like it belongs as part of the story and not just wedged in.

Sunday 29 October 2023

Manifesto review

On a luscious pink draped tiered platform sit nine drummers dressed in black. Below them, on the stage, sit nine dancers dressed in white. They are all motionless, frozen in time. And then ... bang! A strike of the drum and a jolt of the body. Another bang, another pose. Gradually the beats get faster and the movements become larger, both becoming more elaborate. Choreographer Stephanie Lake is building up to something big with Manifesto and from its opening sequence she draws the audience into this world of anticipation and excitement for the unknown.

Even with so many people on stage, Lake gives opportunity for every individual to have their solo moments while also seen to be an integral part of the ensemble. At one point, the spotlight moves from drummer to drummer giving them a few seconds to perform before moving on to the next person. The spotlight continues to run back and forth down the line of musicians, and as it begins to speed up, so too do the drummers. The swiftness and dexterity they display is astonishing, with Rama Parwata deservedly having his place at the centre of the nine.

Monday 23 October 2023

A Dodgeball Named Desire review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

You've got to hand it to Bloomshed. They have proven themselves time and time again to be one of the most innovative, bold, daring and creative theatre makers around. Too much? Absolutely not, and with their new show A Dodgeball Named Desire they continue to reign supreme. Using Tennessee William' near 80 year-old play A Streetcar Named Desire, Bloomshed explore the competitive nature between the performing arts and the sporting industries, and if there's any chance of these two co-existing. All set in a dodgeball arena. Flores para los muertos? Indeed.

On one side of the court we have our dainty and frail Blanches dressed in old, withered white gowns. On the other, we have the Stanleys, who happen to be extremely fit and very much ready for a fight. While Streetcar is a sharp critique of how society and its attitudes restricted women's lives, A Dodgeball Named Desire uses the dodgeball scenario as a way to highlight how government and institutions are restricting and suffocating the performing arts and not giving them their due credit.

Sunday 22 October 2023

Rakali review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

A seachange is said to be an effective way to reassess what you value most in life and to gain new perspectives. But what about a riverchange? For Emma, Kevin and their four-month-old baby, it could be a devastating decision. On the surface, Australian gothic horror Rakali depicts a couple being terrorised by a water rat intent on eating their baby, but dive deeper and it's a sharp commentary on parenthood and family.

Alex Duncan's script may live in the realms of absurdity but it firmly establishes its world early on and we can accept this wild river-ride. We are kept guessing the entire time if the baby will be eaten whenever the rakali is nearby. Duncan fuses horror, comedy and drama into a tight 60 minutes as we learn about the conflicts and struggles that Emma and Kevin are facing externally and internally.

Saturday 21 October 2023

Gender is a Scam and I am Winning review (Melboune Fringe Festival)

On the surface, Josh Cake is a man, more specifically, a brown man. And if we want to be even more specific, he is a brown Australian man. But Cake doesn't ascribe to any of that and in his comedy cabaret, Gender is a Scam and I am Winning, they sing and share stories about how the structures of society should not limit you from being whatever you want to be.

Cake has a wonderfully warm presence on stage as he takes his audience through a fun evening of gentle but meaningful reflections and interrogations. He remains focused on the task with a strong sense of humour in both his stand-up routines as well as the musical numbers. There are instances where the material is a bit repetitive but Cake does well in expressing how labels are just labels and can easily be torn off. Not everyone can do this though, at least safely, and Cake acknowledges his privilege in this.

Am I The Drama? review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

Andy Balloch is one of those performers who relishes being on stage. He's genuinely delighted to be up there and bringing people happiness and escapism. In Am I The Drama?, Balloch takes his audience on a (theme park) ride inside the thoughts that occur in his head, and after watching this show, it's definitely one where you need to strap yourself in tight.

Balloch is a gifted storyteller who moves at a frenetic pace that could easily derail the performance but he knows when to step on the breaks and when to start speeding up. There are a couple of speed bumps along the way but the audience is in good hands with the comedian. (This is also where I stop with the ride analogies).

Friday 20 October 2023

I'm Ready To Talk Now review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

Oliver Ayres has packed a lot into twenty-minutes with I’m Ready To Talk Now, but this well-considered immersive show for one person at a time patiently and intelligently explores his journey of being diagnosed, and living, with a chronic medical condition.

The performance starts with us sitting on a chair and facing a white screen. We put on a pair of headphones, and we begin to hear Ayres' voice as he explains how he relates to his illness and the empathy (or lack of he extends to others), frustration, anger and loneliness he encounters. Ayres’ monologue is obviously rehearsed but his natural pauses and uses of 'like' and 'umm' gives the impression of this recording being off-the-cuff and authentic. It genuinely feels like he is unburdening himself with these thoughts and opening himself up to us.

Thursday 19 October 2023

Mythos: Ragnarok review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

Ancient rivalries are brought to life in wrestling show Mythos: Ragnarok. We follow Odin, the Norse God of War and of the Dead and his half-brother Loki as they battle giants, gods, enemies, and each other, to create the world of Asgard. It's a straightforward story which doesn't bring a huge amount of excitement but that is where the wrestling comes in.

The cast is made up entirely of professional wrestlers, and while some of the acting is not the most convincing, it's the spectacle of the sport we are here for. It's fascinating being quite up close to the bouts and anticipating what move will come next. Precise choreography ensures there is no risk of (serious) injury when people are thrown onto the ground, body slammed or have their limbs bent in unnatural positions, and the ensemble are clearly skilled and giving it their all.

Tuesday 17 October 2023

Spunk Daddy review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

During the end of Melbourne's lockdown, we were all pretty much scrambling to escape being trapped inside four walls. We'd do anything to be outdoors and seeing friends. Not Darby James though. He decided to spend more time with himself and donate his sperm. His cabaret show Spunk Daddy follows this journey that leaves James interrogating his choice for donating as well as the moral and ethical reasons in doing so, and bringing life into this planet.

James has written quite an engrossing story that make you laugh, makes you think and makes you feel. His rhythmic storytelling is the perfect palette cleanser from other solo shows that are delivered as a standard monologue directly addressed to the audience. Not only does this make Spunk Daddy stand out above the rest but it showcases James' skill as a performer and his imaginative and emotional style of expression. Vulnerable.

Monday 16 October 2023

Apricity review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

What I love the most about circus is the surprising ways that it can make you feel. While the logic defying tricks and acrobatics are always the drawcard, I am fascinated to see how the artists go deeper with this and attempt to bring its audience into the show. Circus company Casus manage to do this and so much more with their mesmerising and breathtaking new work Apricity.

The ensemble (Jesse Scott, Lachlan McAulay, Mayu Muto, Amy Stuart, and Harlow Carey) work flawlessly as one with the precise choreography having them coming in and out of the space, directly and indirectly engaging with and assisting one another. Their bodies entwined, they rely on the group to be held up, carried and supported, in both the literal sense and the spiritual.

I Am Seaweed review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

It always seems like a badge of honour when someone asks you how you are and respond with "I am so busy". Working hard, learning a new craft, up-skilling, upselling, educating yourself. Constantly moving and doing. In I Am Seaweed, Cheryl Ho contemplates what it would feel like to just be and enjoy what is.

Sheryl with an S - played by Cheryl with a C – is a teacher who thinks that by being busy she will find satisfaction in life. By being like seaweed, something that expands under pressure, her super zestful positive attitude and her "Slay Everyday Era" mantra, she's sure she can.

While only a portion of the space at Theatre Woks is utilised, director Tan Hui Er keeps the full stage open and visible. The black, empty areas serve as a reminder of what Sheryl is trying to avoid as well as offering a visual representation of what's happening in her mind with her thoughts projected as images along the wall.

Sunday 15 October 2023

Jon & Jero: Improv Narrated By Comedians review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

In Improv Narrated By Comedians, improvisers Jon Walpole and Jeromaia Detto have a guest comedian on stage who via different improv games, narrates stories for them to perform. They have brought together a variety of guests including Virginia Gay and Nat Harris and on the night we attended, we were graced with the presence of the wonderful stand-up comedian Anna Piper Scott.  

Piper Scott and Detto have individually been reviewed by My Melbourne Arts and they are both talented and funny performers but in this format, on this night, along with Walpole, the elements did not come together with many golden rules of improv either not followed or present.

Saturday 14 October 2023

Love Letters review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

In Love Letters, human connection and love is explored through a lifelong relationship between two people. When Lisa's family decide to leave China and move to Australia, a letter-writing correspondence is forged with her school friend Zhangguo. With the decades that follow, heartbreak, love, loss, grief and deep yearning for something more is shared between the two in this dramatic but intimate story.

Angel Xiao and Fini Liu (who also serves as director) deliver committed performances as Lisa and Zhangguo. The show begins entirely in Mandarin (English surtitles on display) but once Lisa has moved to Australia her English speaking becomes more prominent, as well as her personality change in expressing herself more openly. Capturing this ongoing conflict in Lisa's life is demanding, but Xiao ensures that Lisa is as authentic as possible even with everything that life throws at her. By comparison, Liu plays a quieter, understated Zhangguo who remains inwardly frustrated at the limitations life has afforded him.

To Be Frank review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

I was so incredibly tired heading into To Be Frank I thought I would actually fall asleep while it was being performed. But within the first second I realised that would not be possible once Michael Hockey's creature came barrelling out on stage with an impassioned roar.

For the next hour we join "Frank" as he begins to understand the concept of love, loneliness and belonging with the aid of a humble balloon. The show is heavily improvised but there is a story and Hockey presents a wonderful balance of both, at one point he leaves the room to follow an audience member who has had to leave early but it fits perfectly with this journey to find love. His clown and bouffon skills are put to excellent use as Frank non-verbally engages and interacts with the audience, who become just as invested in this odyssey as he is.

Ned Kelly: the Big Gay Musical review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

The story of Ned Kelly and the Kelly Gang is integral to Australian culture, our Aussie equivalent of Robin Hood. However, in Kaine Hansen's version, Ned Kelly: the Big Gay Musical, the gang are a pack of extravagant and flamboyant homosexuals with immaculate hair, perfectly groomed beards and an extraordinary ability to sing and dance.

Ellen Marning, Erin McIntosh, Monique Kerr and Sunny Youngsmith play the men who "put the bush in ranger" as they re-enact the gay retelling of the Kelly Gang. The four share wonderful chemistry and are able to make these people their own creation. Sian Dowler just about steals all the scenes they are in with a variety of supporting character roles, including a number of police officers and a diary, that allows them to display their impressive comedic timing and skills.

Friday 13 October 2023

Black Widow review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

What do you do when you are a half-woman, half-spider searching for love while fighting your lust for blood? Write a cabaret about it. In Black Widow, Isabel Knight explores the highs and lows of finding a connection with someone as she is forced to live the life of an arachnid. This might not be the best time in Arachne's existence but Knight easily gets the audience tangled up in her seductive web of sex, love and death.

Knight's performance as Arachne - who in Greek mythology is transformed into a spider after insulting the Goddess Athena - is absolutely captivating and fascinating to watch. Her vocal cadence is brilliantly used to build the drama and the intrigue of her life and she remains consistent with her speech patterns. Knight presents a number of well-known songs and reimagines the lyrics to tie in with Arachne's life. She displays a great range in her singing ability, from pop ballads to rock to cabaret classics, with the standouts being James Blunt's "Goodbye my Lover" and Chicago's "When You're Good To Mama."

Wednesday 11 October 2023

YUMMY: Joy Machine review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

Nine is my favourite number. It's also now the number of full-length productions that the brains (and beauties) behind YUMMY have presented, so it was pretty much a given that I would love this instalment by the team, Joy Machine.
As usual, the founder of YUMMY, Valerie Hex is here to oversee the proceedings and get the crowd pumping for some euphoric drag, burlesque, circus and performance art.

Founding members are still part of the ensemble but YUMMY has also become a playground for emerging and up-and-coming artists to show the audience what they've got.
The talent that Val has assembled is the performance artist equivalent of The Avengers.

Each week of Joy Machine has a rotating cast and this one did not disappoint. Under the watchful eye of Val, Hannie Helsden, Jandruze, Karlee Misi and Jarred Dewey deliver awe-inspiring acts with unbridled self-expression and freedom. Each of them displays tremendous panache with their stage personas that further heightens the excitement for the audience and the breadth of variety on offer. Helsden is the super cheerful one that never loses her smile, Jandruze is the ice queen who will easily cut you down to size, Misi is the energetic ball of fun and Dewey is the sensual yet sexual vintage strongman.

Tuesday 10 October 2023

Stickybeak review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

Everybody needs good neighbours right? But what happens when you don't necessarily like the people who live next door to you but have to find ways to tolerate them as they float around the periphery of your daily life. In the sketch comedy Stickybeak, Kimberley Twiner, Jessie Ngaio, Laura Trenerry and Patrick Dwyer introduce us to three families, their pets and other animals that reside in the hood, and give us a hilarious peek into a space where the demarcation of public and private life is at its most blurred.

First things first, Ngaio wins this year's Fringe award for best impersonation of an animal. Her portrayal of Psycho the bulldog (in my mind) in movement and mannerism was scarily precise. If there were a runner-up for this award it would go to Twinner and her slithering snail, but less said about that the better to not lessen the surprise and joy of watching it transpire. The ensemble have given so much thought to movement and how to use their bodies, and given their experience with clown, bouffon and previous performances this is not surprising, but they have clearly honed in on this for Stickybeak.

Creme de la Creme review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

The talent behind Head First Acrobats are back at the Melbourne Fringe Festival with their amazing show GODZ, but this year, they are the gift that keeps on giving as they present Creme de la Creme, a variety night of circus, comedy and acrobatics.

Each of the four Head First Acrobats - Cal Harris, Liam Dummer, Thomas Gorham and Jordan Wartz - have their individual moments in the spotlight, and while Wartz and Dummer impress with their respective solos, Gorham's "Finale Man" doesn't land as well as it should.

For a show that is only 60 minutes long, an intermission feels unnecessary. However, even though we are all encouraged to head to the bar and get more drinks, we do get to see Harris do some side tricks on a ladder and a unique RAT test. As entertaining as these are, it would be great if there were less fillers and more appreciable acts on display. Similarly, for those who have seen GODZ before, there are a few familiar routines, and while creating new acts is not easy, having basically the same acts in two different shows is a bit disappointing.

Sunday 8 October 2023

Packing review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

Who would have thought that packing up a stranger’s art studio would not only make for a Melbourne Fringe Festival show but make for an amazing Melbourne Fringe Festival show? Packing is an interactive performance made for one person at a time where we have been hired to help Marigold pack up her art studio. Except Marigold can’t make it and must communicate to us through What’s App on what to pack as she shares snippets of her life, past, present, and future. It’s a beautifully captivating work by Eleni Telemachou that is over way too soon.

Telemachou and her set designer Nancee Kilpatrick have fashioned an authentic studio with paints, painting, photographs, sketches and personal belongings all scattered around the room. The floor and walls are adorned in colour and there is a “mix tape” that Marigold has playing for us. Oh, and she’s also left snacks.

Through voice memos and texts via What’s App, Marigold gives clear instructions on what to pack and when, and what to dispose of. This still gives us ample opportunities to look – not snoop - through her personal belongings and find letters, photographs, ticket stubs and other surprises in pockets, frames and sketch pads. Each item provides a deeper indication of Marigold’s story, including what led her to Australia and what is taking her back home to Italy.

Beauty Queen review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

Narcissus takes centre stage in Emily Carr's new work as a young woman hell-bent on winning the Miss World Australia beauty pageant. With Carr's strong character comedy and a story that takes its audience to a few unexpected places, it's laughs aplenty and then some with Beauty Queen.

Carr is in full control of all the characters she portrays, clearly defining the various mannerisms and personality traits of each one. Voice and body language are distinctive and she doesn't take a misstep with presenting each one. Her interactions between "herself" and the AI program helping her write a feminist play that doesn't scream feminism are comical and it's amusing watching the tension and power battle between the two of them intensify.

Dragon Hearts review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

It's clear that Bria McCarthy has had an interest in dragons since before Game of Thrones made them cool again. In Dragon Hearts, McCarthy tells us the stories of various dragons through time using shadow puppetry along with some other creative forms and styles but unfortunately this production falls short of effective storytelling.

There are a few stagecraft issues, one of the more obvious ones being the sightlines. Unless you sit in the front row or the front row of the high chairs, it is difficult to see the text that is displayed on the screen with the obstruction of the heads of people seated in front of you. The music is unaffecting and quite repetitive and it does little to support the emotional depth of the scenes that McCarthy hopes to instil. There is a strong need for a dramaturgical eye to finesse these stories and allow audiences with limited or next to no knowledge of the tales to be swept away on the journey intended for us.

Insomniac Mixtape review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

There is nothing worse than going to bed at a reasonable time and being awake all night. You've done all the right things to be able to fall asleep but to no avail. Insomnia is here. Telia Nevile knows exactly how that feels and in her cabaret comedy, Insomniac Mixtape, she takes us through her journey of restlessness and watching the clock tick tick tick away towards the morning sun.

She begins with a variety of exercises to get us sleeping, including visualisations and breathing techniques but despite her determination to stay in the present, Nevile's mind begins to race from worry to worry. It is clear from the laughter in the audience that we have all been there before too and perhaps some of us have been triggered by her thoughts and are now worrying about these exact same things.

Saturday 7 October 2023

Alienation review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

Expectations are high as I walk into the NICA performing space, and see Jake Silvestro and Romain Hassanin sitting in a boat suspended in the air. Created by the two circus artists, Alienation is a physical theatre show that examines what happens when your survival depends on those around you and understanding your environment.

While there's no denying the skill and strength that Silvestro and Hassanin possess, the show left me unexcited and unfeeling. The tricks and acrobatics become repetitive and resemble warm-up activities, things that get the audience anticipating the big stuff. Rollerblades, a hula-hoop and a cyr wheel all make an appearance but they don't eventuate into anything. They disappear as quietly as they appear.

Jazz Or A Bucket Of Blood review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

It seems to be an unwritten rule that the later your Fringe Festival show is scheduled, the more outlandish and wacky the show will be. Jazz or a Bucket of Blood is a great example of this. Performed by Ange Lavoipierre and Jane Watt, the hour of sketch comedy takes us to some weird but extremely amusing places with the two performers (hopefully) playing extremely heightened versions of themselves.

The matching outfits of grey shorts and blue shirts give them a childlike disposition, like they are wearing a school uniform, lending some credibility to them being somewhat naive and innocent with what they say and do. Some. Because a lot of what they say and do is very much on the other side of that spectrum. Try Lavoipierre's instructions on how to make friends and you'll probably realise this is most definitely not the way to make friends - but a great way to endear yourselves to the audience in your comedy show.

Friday 6 October 2023

Hot Fat Crazy review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

If being mentally unwell was as much fun as Hot Fat Crazy, I would have signed up years ago! Created and performed by Eadie Testro-Girasole and Thomas Bradford, this musical theatre comedy follows Eadie as she admits herself into a psych ward and begins to work through her anxiety and depression. But oh how we all laughed. A lot.

Testro-Girasole is absolutely charming and wins the audience over from the opening number, “Welcome to the Psych Ward”. She displays a vulnerable confidence that ground the character despite the wackiness and absurdity that takes place in this world, which makes sense given that this is based on her own psych ward admissions. Bradford is the perfect pairing to Testro-Girasole, brilliant in all of his over-the-top characters, particularly when he is Eadie's diary and as a homophobic cat. Yes, a homophobic cat.

Thursday 5 October 2023

Cry Baby review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

Isabella Perversi has written three plays, each one dealing with heavy emotions. With Cry Baby she explains that she wants to branch out and create a piece of work that is different. Something that is light, and happy but she also lists a number of other requisites about what she wants and doesn't want to do.

However, no matter what she tries, she seems to fall back into the pit of sadness that she's building an artistic reputation for.
Perversi has set up a good structure to explore these worries and she starts off with a burst of colour and movement as she removes her black oversized coat and trousers to reveal (and revel in) a bright orange leotard. She energetically gets into an aerobic routine, brimming with forced positivity that eventually begins to wear her down and she succumbs to the sads. But that's OK, she'll simply move on and try something else to help guide her writing process.

Wednesday 4 October 2023

Riley Nottingham Needs Your Help review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

Riley Nottingham is sick and tired of making choices. So he's not making them anymore. In Riley Nottingham Needs Your Help, Nottingham enlists his audience to guide him through life like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel while he sings about his anxieties and worries as he plays the piano.

Our first decision is determining what outfit Nottingham will wear by raising our flash cards with an angel or devil emoji. Will it be the bad boy black outfit or the sweetly innocent light blue outfit? From there, we follow Nottingham through a variety of situations where we compel him to go with either option A or option B. The concept is interesting but there is a lack of adventure and risk in the scenarios we are introduced to and there's low stakes throughout the entire show.

Tuesday 3 October 2023

EXHUMED: The ‘Best’ of Bradley Storer review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

When Bradley Storer suddenly appears in the basement space of The Butterfly Club, it's as if he's always been there. The melancholy and sadness that fills the room from the way he moves his body and looks off into the distance while performing his opening number is palpable. And so it should, as this is Storer performing EXHUMED: The 'best' of Bradley Storer.

Storer has such an unassuming presence that he can simply stand in the middle of the stage and command our attention for the hour. His introductions for each song - and at times, suite of songs - are laced with toned down camp humour but also take us to places of honesty and deep contemplation without feeling like you're at a fork in the road. We are able to sit with and enjoy both of these emotions.

Witch, Please! review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

Is there a more iconic witch than the Wicked Witch of the West? Maybe it's Ursula the sea witch from The Little Mermaid, or maybe Joan of Arc for something a little more historical. Or maybe it's Alysha Jane? In the cabaret-comedy Witch, Please!, performer Jane takes us through a series of infamous sorceresses to determine what makes a witch, and if she is a witch.

Each figure introduced is paired with a song and it's where Jane is at her strongest, a highlight being during her inquiry into Snow White and the Evil Queen. There are instances where Jane makes observations about the films or stories she has selected that have potential to open up a treasure trove of possibilities but we sadly never go deeper with these ideas. Let's discuss why Dorothy could not be a bad witch because she isn't ugly or what the gay romance behind the creation of The Little Mermaid means and what Ursula represents.

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!"