Melbourne Cabaret Festival Opening Gala

Melbourne Cabaret Festival Opening Gala: a terrific taster of this year’s festival

By Bradley Storer 

At the opening night gala for the Melbourne Cabaret Festival, we were greeted by Melbourne cabaret fixture Dolly Diamond and from the very start we were in safe hands. Dolly wielded her signature sass to maximum effect throughout the entire night, firmly guiding the evening with confidence and with renditions of the iconic ‘Cabaret’ and ‘That’s Life’ as only Dolly could deliver.

The proscenium arch erected for the night, pointed out by Dolly in her opening monologue, along with the light fixtures attached around it were used alongside a dark back drop interlaid with small star-like globes. This construction gave a wondrous and dramatic effect throughout the entire show, courtesy of Tom Willis’ creative lighting design.

Alyce Pratt in a section from her show ‘Someone’s Daughter’ – backed by band members Clare Moore, Steve Paix, Frank Di Sario and Pete Farnan – was utterly beguiling and enchanting. Dressed in a sparkling white gown beneath a black coat, she drew the audience in with compelling and mysterious original song writing. Her songs were interspersed with familial story and self-deprecating allusions, before climaxing in a ferocious performance of Jacques Brel’s ‘Amsterdam’ that whipped the audience into raucous applause.

Max Riebl, accompanied by Adam Cook on piano, followed by showcasing his glorious counter tenor voice in excerpts from his show ‘Hard to Handel’. The pairing of Elvis Presley’s ‘Young and Beautiful’ with the Handel aria ‘Con rauco mormorio’ worked beautifully, Riebl’s gorgeous tone and technical mastery in the coloratura sections delighting the audience. In the performance of Radiohead’s ‘Karma Police’ which came after, Riebl produced such beautiful and spine-tingling notes that it was tempting to just sit back and let his voice wash over you in opulent waves.

 

Justin Clausen and Jamie Burgess brought the first act to a close in spectacular fashion with a preview of their show ‘He’s Every Woman’. Accompanied by Burgess on piano, Clausen entered through the crowd belting Celine Dion’s classic power ballad ‘The Power of Love’ in a suitably fabulous ruffled white gown which then quick-revealed into an equally fabulous black leather ensemble for a rollicking rendition of ‘River Deep Mountain High’. Clausen’s flawless pop vocals combined with Burgess’ charming banter were the perfect end to act one of the opening gala.

After intermission and a special presentation to patrons of the arts Margaret and Ron Dobell along with Drew Downing brought the audience back in with songs from his upcoming show ‘God Only Knows: The Songs of Brian Wilson’. Although there was shakiness to the performance (with Downing admitting that his piano-playing was outsourced to another musician in the full show), the enthusiasm of the band and backing vocalists Seth Drury, Courtney Glass, Callum Warrender and Ashlee Noble helped carry the buoyant joy of ‘God Only Knows’, ‘Surfer Girl’ and ‘Help Me Rhonda’ out to the audience.

The standouts of the night were Erin Hutchinson, Tyler Jacob Jones and Joshua Haines presenting the original compositions of their show ‘What Doesn’t Kill You [Blah Blah] Stronger’. Telling unbelievable (but true!) stories of survival, the trio had the audience in hysterics with the macabre tale of the ‘Army of Cats’ and the delightfully upbeat but horrifying calypso stylings of ‘Things People Do to Survive’, complete with snappy banter and choreography.

Danielle O’Malley closed the night with a section of her tribute show, ‘Nancy Sinatra: You Only Live Twice’, with a backing band including Mark Jones, Tristan Courtney and James David. O’Malley delivered a slick and commanding performance as the eponymous ‘60’s pop star with vocals that outstrip even the original, bringing the evening to a close in a roof-raising ‘These Boots Are Made For Walking’.

A terrific taster of this year’s festival, which promises for even greater delights to come over the next few weeks!

The Melbourne Cabaret Festival runs until 1 July at Chapel Off Chapel and showcases up to 10 performances daily. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 8290 7000.

Photographs: Sanjeev Singh
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Tubular Bells for Two

Mike Oldfield’s horror-film-famous score performed by two

 By Leeor Adar

Mike Oldfield’s debut masterpiece, Tubular Bells, sent shivers through our dreams for decades after its feature in the 1973 film, The Exorcist. Oldfield’s record was the first release of Virgin Records, where the ever-entrepreneurial Richard Branson took a chance on Oldfield’s unusual sound.

It’s worth noting here that the piece in its entirety is so much more varied and beautiful than those first few notes that became horror-film-famous. Any progressive rock aficionado listening to the whole recording would have to admit its multitude of instruments and complexities make it a hard live performance.

How about performed in its entirety by two?

The concept is kind of insane, but it has been a successful endeavour by Daniel Holdsworth and Aidan Roberts, who co-created the performance in 2010 and were surprised at the appetite of their Sydney Fringe Festival audience. It not only become a sell out show, but also received the Best Music Moment award. After performing extensively through Europe and the United States, Daniel Holdsworth returns with a new partner in madness, Thomas Bamford, for this year’s Australian tour.

In all frankness, I did not know what to expect. I have a strong familiarity with Mike Oldfield’s music through my mother, who sailed this globe through the 1970’s and is a bonafide authority on very cool music of the era. It was a treat to hear Tubular Bells live, and performed by two men with 20 instruments.

Full house again on the Saturday night performance at the Melbourne Arts Centre, and the audience was transfixed, whether on their heydays, or just awed by the sound and the sheer hard work of Holdsworth and Bamford. It’s a sight to behold, as the men expertly craft the sound and attempt to keep true to Oldfield’s music. It is an exercise in fortitude, as Tubular Bells demands its maker’s rhythm and soul. One moment Holdsworth is smashing his drums and growling, and the next on guitar churning out such peaceful melodies.

Tubular Bells for Two is a must-see for music fans anywhere in the world. The music if fantastic, and even where a moment is missed, as my mother keenly pointed out, it was breathtaking to watch. Holdsworth regaled the audience with some of their tour stories, including the man who found him after a show and pointed out all the times the music they performed did not exactly meet the timing of Oldfield’s piece.

For the kooky diehard fans, they will absolutely enjoy Tubular Bells for Two for the reminiscence, and emerging fans will love the performance and music.

Both will agree that it is an engaging, sometimes funny, and totally skilled performance.

Tubular Bells for Two was performed at Melbourne Arts Centre 15 – 16 June as part of their tour of Victoria and New South Wales that runs until 14 July. For a full list of tour dates and ticket information take a look at the Tubular Bells official website.

Review: Le Sacré

Daring and exciting fusion of circus arts and classical ballet

By Lois Maskiell

The National Institute of Circus Arts has joined forces with the Australian Ballet School in the bold, large-scale production, Le Sacré. With over forty bodies on stage, directing this large work, which fuses two distinct art forms as well as showcases diverse student talent, is no easy feat.

The directorial team includes NICA’s Movement and Performance Coordinators Zebastian Hunter and Meredith Kitchen along with Simon Dow, the Resident Choreographer at the Australian Ballet School. With additional creative input from Francois-Eloi Lavingnac, these collaborators have devised a piece using all the right key ingredients. Though despite the advertised aim to expose the themes inherent in Nijinsky’s the Rites of Spring, I found that the narrative development left any deep exploration of its themes to the wayside.

What was identifiable was two distinct parts: the first filled with riotous dance scenes and the second filled with smaller acts and the ceremonious choosing of the young girl or sacrificial victim. One ingenious directorial choice was how the ballet’s story is transferred from a pagan world of ritual to a twisted ball where power constructs are playfully altered through a camp aesthetic mixed with a techno sensibility.

The technical abilities of these bold, young students are manifold. Their talent is abundant, particularly during smaller group acts that made me wish for more solos. Standout performers include Georgia Webb, a chameleon of skill whose aptitude for acrobatics is as dynamic as her skill on lyra, rue cyr and hand balancing. Straps performer, Troy Griffiths had an intriguing presence, covered in tattoos and endowed with grace and flexibility, he was a brilliant embodiment of circus’ power to subvert the mundane to something extraordinary.

Le Sacre-216

Stark and beautiful choreography was found in a visually poetic rue cyr act that featured three wheels. Jessie Carson on dance trapeze was serene and of a penetrating icy calm. Her timing was in complete unison with her apparatus and like a seasoned performer she didn’t reveal a hint of exertion in her execution.

The ballet dancers doused the show with energy and elegance, approaching their form without such distinct specialisations as found in circus. With powerful leaps and complex foot work, the differences between the two art forms were exposed. An exceptional skipping rope act involved classical ballet steps accomplished in the minute gaps of the rope’s swing. The pas de deux and pirouettes in the second half were exact and powerful.

The stirring result of circus arts and classical ballet coming together in such a novel and bold production as Le Sacré is exiting to say the least. Collaborations like this do push boundaries and it would be wonderful to see more in the future.

Le Sacré is being performed at the National Institute of Circus Arts until 23 June. Tickets can be puchased online.

Photographs: Aaron Walker

Review: Brothers Wreck

An achievement of storytelling saturated with rain and feeling

By Leeor Adar 

Jada Alberts is an exceptional writer and member of the creative community. Her first community, as an Indigenous Australian, is that of her family, and her family have lived and breathed realities that were not their choice to create. So Alberts creates, and as a storyteller she can take the tragedy of losing a loved one and make it a powerful conversation about grief. For a first foray into the world of playwriting, Alberts’ Brothers Wreck is an aching and loving work, despite its shroud of suffering.

Jada’s grief for those she’s lost and the lives of her people runs deep, and Brothers Wreck is a potent “love letter” to her own family. In Brothers Wreck, a family must manage their loved one coping with the aftermath of a suicide. With an existing high rate in young male suicides, Indigenous Australian men are at an even greater risk. From the biting account of his every day roadblocks, Ruben (Dion Williams) recounts his frustrations with the world to the Court-appointed counsellor, David (Trevor Jamieson). Ruben’s anger is palpable, and no reason will quench the deep sense of injustice he feels towards his world. Fiercely protective of his family, we learn that he was unable to protect his friend and cousin, the unseen Joe, from himself.

Ruben’s struggle reaches a fever pitch with the terminal illness of his mother, and the arrival of his aunt (Lisa Flanagan), an uncompromising powerhouse of a woman who refuses to give up on him. In truth, none of those around Ruben, including his sister (Leonie Whyman), and cousin (Nelson Baker), will give up on him. Confronted once again with the gloom of death, Ruben’s nightly visitations to the past deepen his addictions and sense of gloom.

Featuring from left to right: Trevor Jamieson and Leonie Whyman. Photo credit: Tim Grey.

The oppressive heat and thunderous downpours of Darwin serve as a brutal backdrop to this family’s saga. With harrowing recollections of the past, including a haunting account of death, Lisa Flanagan’s performance as Ruben’s aunt is the absolute standout in this production. Her arrival upon her family brings the storms, and the opportunity for healing. Supported by a stunning cast, Alberts directs a deeply moving performance literally saturated with rain and feeling.

Dale Ferguson’s staging becomes another character in this production, as the stage feels like a glib prison, with doorways made of metal-screen netting, and drains to collect the water that intrudes upon the stage. It’s a fantastically considered set: its prison-like qualities a reminder of the excessive incarceration of members of the Indigenous community, and the sense of hopelessness and poverty that pervade the characters’ lives.

Despite the focus on mental health and death, Brothers Wreck is a hopeful, often funny, and poignant play about a family and its refusal to collapse in the face of hardship. Momentarily uplifted by this warmth, I am reminded that family cannot be the only hope for a community, there is so much more work needed to bridge the almost insurmountable gap between Indigenous Australians and the rest of the nation.

Alberts’ work is an achievement of storytelling, and I hope to see more of her writing in the future.

Brothers Wreck is being performed at Malthouse Theatre until 23 June. Tickets can be puchased online and by calling the box office on  03 9685 5111.

Photographs: Tim Grey

Review: Holy Cow!

A rambunctious homage to Joyce’s modernist classic

By Lois Maskiell

Bloomsday in Melbourne’s homage to the modernist masterpiece ‘Ulysses’ is filled with the very wit and wordplay that gave the novel its place in the Western canon. This production titled Holy Cow! James Joyce Slaughters the Sacred Cows of English Literature is an original adaptation scripted by a team of Joycean experts. Running at Fortyfivedownstairs for a limited season, it’s a part of Melbourne’s 2018 Bloomsday celebrations that shouldn’t be missed.

The group of writers, including Graeme Anderson, Bruce Beswick, Steve Carey, Sian Cartwright, Frances Devlin-Glass and Di Silber, have focused on episode fourteen, ‘Oxen of the Sun’. This episode, famous for its parallel between the development of the child from the embryo and the development of English prose up to the late nineteenth century, is a linguistic marvel that makes for spectacularly verbal theatre.

Set in the National Maternity Hospital on Holles St Dublin, the play opens with a nun (May Jasper) and priest (Paul Robertson) who establish the production’s tone as the primary narrators. Their physically and comically rich performances are complemented by a voice-over of James Joyce (Eugene O’Rourke). The drama unfolds when protagonist Leopold Bloom (Hunter Perske) enters the hospital to check on Mina Purefoy (Liza Dennis) in the middle of her arduous labour, facilitated by an austere nurse (Bridget Sweeney).

Bloom’s pensive response to the situation highlights his own relationship with the continuation of his bloodline. This is contrasted to the shenanigans of his mostly younger friends Stephen Dedalus (Matthew Connell), Buck Mulligan (Mitchel Edwards), Francis ‘Punch’ Costello (Timothy Ian McMullin) and Dr Dixon (Johnathan Peck). Their wild commentary on birth and fertility, which is loosened by extravagant mead drinking, sparks much laughter.

Director, Jennifer Sarah Dean has crafted a droll theatrical experience rough with the atmosphere of an Irish pub. Aided by Alia Syed’s set design as well as lighting and sound by Alex Blackwell and Mitch Tabe, Dean’s stage devices complete the adaptation process with their strong dramatic and physical dimensions.

True to the Bloomsday tradition, Rhiannon Irving’s costumes are Edwardian-themed and characters pluck them from large boxes each dedicated to a particular century. As they work their way through the centuries language shifts accordingly until Donald Trump appears–performed by the diversely talented Sweeney–and here the text makes a fantastic collision with its present-day context.

Holy Cow! is a rambunctious and entertaining play that will have both die-hard fans of Joyce and anyone eager to encounter a glimpse of ‘Ulysses’ intrigued, amused and ready for the next episode.

Holy Cow! is being performed at Fortyfivedownstairs until 17 June.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9662 9966.

For more information about Melbourne in Bloomsday events take a look at their official website.

Review: Bring It On

Vibrant and uplifting, Stage Masters’ high school classic soars

By Owen James

Bring It On is Stage Masters’ first foray into professional theatre after producing youth productions for a number of years, and they have really stepped up to the plate. I remember seeing their youth production of Bring It On in 2015, and I’m blown away by how far this company has come.

Loosely based on the film of the same name, Bring It On follows the journey of high school cheerleader Campbell as she navigates the highs, lows and backstage drama of the high school cheer world. After being transferred to a new school, Campbell must make new friends and form a new cheer squad to compete in the National Championships.

The book by Jeff Whitty is both tight and clumsy at different times, but Alister Smith’s direction ensures the pace rocks along as fast as some of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Amanda Green’s rap-filled lyrics. It’s undoubtedly one of the most combined physically and vocally demanding shows I’ve seen, and this cast nail it.

The first act is admittedly much stronger than the second both in music and writing, but there are energetic crowd-pleasers throughout. Michael Ralph’s choreography is some of the most vibrant and jaw-dropping I’ve seen in theatre and matches perfectly with the score by Tom Kitt and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Ensemble numbers like ‘What I Was Born To Do’, ‘Friday Night Jackson’ and both teams’ final performances at Nationals are where the choreography really shines – with some cast members almost touching the Athenaeum ceiling as they soar into the air. Musical Director Daniele Buatti executes this funky, synthy score flawlessly, and Greg Ginger’s sound design rocks the theatre with every electronic pulse.

Nadia Komazec is exemplary as Campbell, onstage for almost every scene but never missing a beat. Audition favourite One Perfect Moment is executed with vocal perfection, and throughout the show she develops a truly beautiful connection with the audience. Mean Girls The Musical needs to be rushed to Australia immediately with Komazec as Regina George.

Nicola Bowman almost steals the show as hilarious Bridget. She is an utter delight to watch in every moment with impeccable comic timing and undoubtedly has a very successful future ahead of her. Elandrah Feo is perfectly cast as sassy Danielle. She is compellingly energetic in every move and note and despite the ferocity of her character, brings a beautifully watchable and warm energy to the stage.

Karla Tonkich as ambitious antagonist Eva, lights up the stage with every assertive quip and evil riff. Second act song ‘Killer Instinct’ is performed with hilarious intensity from Tonkich and quickly becomes a show highlight. Special mentions to Marty Alix as La Cienega who we can’t help but love, and to Tarik Frimpong as Twig whose stage presence is utterly sensational.

Bring It On has already extended its Melbourne Season – it’s wonderful to see this production getting the attention it deserves. We need more short professional runs like Bring It On in Melbourne, so that shows that might not pull audiences for months on end in the Regent still have their chance for creatives and audiences alike. Congratulations to producers David Venn and Stage Masters for presenting this gem – I highly recommend everyone gets along to this passionate and uplifting night at the theatre.

Bring It On is being performed at Athenaeum Theatre until 23 June.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 13 28 49.

Review: LONE

A deep diving, personal experience 

By Joana Simmons   

Every once in a while, I come across a piece of art that makes the hairs on my neck stand up and leaves me gobsmacked about how I will be able to put the experience into words. This world premiere of LONE created by The Rabble and St Martins Youth Arts Centre and presented by Arts House is such a piece of art. What they have created is a beautiful and delicate performance designed to be experienced alone. This make us slightly uncomfortable, it leaves us without cues from other audience members of how to react whilst we dive in to explore loneliness through childhood and adulthood. It’s bold, disruptive and challenging.

We are given a number on our shirts as a ticket, and go one by one into a space where there is a booth corresponding to our numbers. We are instructed to don headphones and when the lights dim, enter the booths. To make this project the children aged 8 – 11 were asked to imagine a room designed for the audience to inhabit alone. There are moments where I feel both distant like an onlooker and completely involved, as the small child of whom I was in the company gave me a personal glimpse into their privately constructed world: one that was a combination of heart-warming, chilling and startling moods.

Seeing the pure innocence of their small hands and chests rising and falling as they breathed made me feel so fortunate to experience such a unique moment. It had me on the edge of my seat, leaning in, or pressed up against the wall, almost in fright.  Many moments across the 30-minute performance made me think of myself when I was that small, and the way I would pass the time alone.

The child whose world I stepped into had incredibly big eyes, which locked with mine fearlessly on more than one occasion. At the end, I was left in the dark, alone, which bought a range of emotions. The tone of the other adults as they stepped out of their booths was noticeably different to when we stepped in and the children were waiting outside to receive our applause.

Creators Emma Valente and Kate Davis of The Rabble have made a truly memorable and challenging piece of art. The Rabble are “a group of visionary women who have consistently produced bold, provocative and visually stunning theatrical experiences and have forged an unrivalled reputation for producing experimental theatre of the highest quality.” With LONE, they have fulfilled this mission. The set and costume by Kate Davis was effective with each booth forming its own little structure, and this was complemented by lighting and sound design by Emma Valente. The soundtrack was eerie and highly effective, making all sides of this production high quality.

LONE is not for the audience member who likes to sit back, see tricks and hear voice acrobatics. It is for the audience member who yearns for something to sink their teeth into, chew over, gristle and all, and digest over a period of time. It is remarkable how sometimes as adults we underestimate children and this performance show us they have so much to teach us. LONE is challenging, barrier breaking and memorable. No need to call a friend, go by yourself – alone.

 

LONE is being performed at Arts House, North Melbourne until 17 June.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9322 3720.

Photograph: Bryony Jackson