Film Review: Bombshell

An outstanding portrayal of three strong, yet vulnerable women

By Narelle Wood

Bombshell is one of the most important films of this era. Not because it deals with the landmark sexual harassment lawsuit involving Fox News, but because it does so in such a nuanced and complex fashion.

Based on true events, the storyline starts with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly’s (Charlize Theron) interactions with Trump during the Republican Primaries of 2015, before introducing Fox journalist Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and fictionalised staffer Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie). We quickly learn of Carlson’s intention to pursue legal action for the sexist behaviour and harassment she has endured during her time at Fox, specifically at the hands of Roger Ailes (John Lithgow). Woven throughout Kelly’s and Carlson’s stories, is the story Pospisil and her quest to move from the production team to on-air talent, and the manipulation and abuse of power that this ambition makes her susceptible to.

Each of these storylines are supported by a wide range of both real and fictional characters, including Kelly’s husband Doug Brunt (Mark Duplass), executive producer Gil Norman (Rob Delaney), research staff (Brigette Lundy-Paine, and Liv Hewson,), Kayla’s friend (Kate Mckinnon), as well as Richard Kind as Major Giuliani and Allison Janney as Robert Ailes’ lawyer, Susan Estrich. The responses from Rupert, Lachlan and James Murdoch’s (Malcolm McDowell, Ben Lawson, Josh Lawson respectively) are also woven throughout as they attempt to navigate between making money and protecting Fox’s reputation. The different characters’ responses range from the straight-down-the-line it should never have happened, to there’s no way it did, and everything in between. All of this highlighting the problematic nature of reporting sexual harassment for the victims – shame, embarrassment, fear, anger, relief, and for some, a loss of job, friends, money and respect.

The story doesn’t unfold in a linear fashion. Director Jay Roach cuts between storylines, and snippets from the past – using some archival footage to do so – to help paint a fuller picture of the events leading up to Aile’s demise. What’s intriguing about the film is that there are moments where the camera angles would traditionally objectify women – focusing on their legs, the tight costumes – but the camera never lingers. In doing so Roach manages to highlight the culture at Fox without assigning blames to the victims, instead he raises some really important questions about the complicit nature of all Fox News employees.

Charles Randolph’s script is intelligent and empathetic, capturing seemingly every conceivable perception, creating characters that are likeable one moment and then challenging to watch the next. Pospisil who is clever and kind is also determined and naïve. Even Ailes is given some redeeming features, which highlights how manipulative, creepy and appalling his predatory behaviour was.

Theron, Kidman and Robbie are outstanding in their portrayal of three strong, yet vulnerable women. Theron is so good as Kelly it could have been Kelly herself on the screen. Kidman captures a quiet and calculated anger, while Robbie, yet again, shows just how damn good of an actress she is. In fact the performances across the film are faultless.

Bombshell is not an easy watch, but a necessary one. While the true events may have started a very important conversation, the film keeps this conversation going and adds some new perspectives, especially in a time when people’s behaviour, and understandings about what is acceptable, are being challenged – and rightfully so.

Now playing in cinemas.

Review: The 91-Storey Treehouse

A show with an anything-can-happen feeling

By Rebecca Waese

Behold, the lobby of the Melbourne Arts Centre contains a giant submarine sandwich as big as a real submarine for your kids to command! This is the first taste of the oversize imagination in The 91-Storey Treehouse based on the best-selling series created by children’s author Andy Griffiths and illustrator Terry Denton and adapted for the stage by Richard Tulloch.

Now towering at 91-storeys, Andy’s and Terry’s treehouse ups the ante from the previous 78-Storey CDP Kids stage production, with vast and dangerous levels including a desert island, an oversize whirlpool, a brain-draining fortune teller named Madame Know-it-All, and the terrible task of babysitting Mr. Big Nose’s three grandchildren who keep disappearing. It’s a polished, inventive, silly and stupendous production about imagination and solving problems at the last possible second.

All four of the characters, especially the intrepid Andy and Terry, are played with fantastic energy and fine physical comedic timing, directed by Liesel Badorrek. The children in the audience enjoyed the repetitive banter between the best friends and were hooked. When asked if Andy and Terry should push the giant red button to see what would happen next, just about every young person in the audience shot up a hand with shining, excited eyes. What happens next, due to a fantastical multi-level set and design team created by Mark Thompson, is a mystery worth waiting for and one that delights the audience. With drawers that shoot open at the right time and ramps and brightly coloured curtains and hideaways, the set captures the anything-can-happen feeling that kids know so well.

Lighting Designer Nicholas Higgins deserves a special mention as he transformed the stage into a psychedelic Banana-inspired Narnia land and a massive spider web. The show features some musical and dance numbers that work well. My favourite was the one that asks kids, ‘What would you put in your treehouse?’, leaving them to dream up their own dangerous and delightful scenarios.

From the forgetful memories of Andy and Terry who are suffering from having their brains drained to the wasteful wishes of Terry who blows his genie opportunity, this instalment of the Treehouse series is a winner. I would suggest it is best suited for kids aged 6-10 but older kids who have read the books will enjoy the adaptation as well. There is a an Auslan performance on January 11 and a relaxed performance on January 18.

http://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2020/kids-and-families/91-storey-treehouse

Photography courtesy of Heidrun Lohr

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Cirque Stratosphere

All the requirements of a spectacular

By Rachel Holkner

There’s a disconnect in seeing a circus in a static building, particularly one as large and revered as Hamer Hall. But this is not mere circus, it is a reframing of circus arts as event spectacular. Spectaculars themselves continue to grow in popularity as extravagant productions with lavish sets and costumes, and an all-senses assault of lighting and music become the go-to for a big family night out.

For all the requirements of a spectacular Cirque Stratosphere certainly holds up – all the elements are present – yet the disconnect is amplified as I found none of the elements speak to each other. The show is presented as the story of NASA’s race to land a man on the moon in the 1960s, however it seems as if each of the departments went off on their own without an overarching vision. Lights and music are perfect for a ’90s rave (complete with hovering UFO for DJ Hikuri Roots), staging as if preparing for TRON and costumes lifted straight out of The Jetsons.

While beautifully realised, it is the costumes which amplified the misogynistic times of the space race. Reliant on 1960s stereotypes of women, with added boob cones, the roles for the female performers were framed as office staff and passive observers. Women were further marginalised as the two male clowns calling audience members on stage chose men nine out of ten times. If the jokes being written consistently require a male participant, perhaps there’s a need to write some different jokes.

The use of archival audio, from educational films, interviews and missions recordings, was well-intentioned, but the poor quality nature of these tracks meant that much of it was lost under the dance beats and bass drops. But in the end it was the lack of narrative holding this production together which really made it fail to launch. I found transitions stilted, the acts isolated and choreography tired. The only moment of surprise and delight was thanks to an unexpectedly talented audience member brought up on stage, which unfortunately highlighted what was missing from this circus.

There is no doubting the skills of these performers. Each worked flawlessly and tirelessly to present a solid show. Cirque Stratosphere suffers from these artists standing alone and not being part of a troupe, which goes against the mission to the moon theme where all had to work together.

Cirque Stratosphere is showing at Hamer Hall until 11 January and then Sydney Opera House from January 14th.

https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2020/circus-and-magic/cirque-stratosphere

Photography courtesy of Jordan Munns

 

 

 

 

Review: The Choir of Man

A musical escape with a few new mates

By Narelle Wood

To be honest when The Choir of Man started the show with a high-octane rendition of Welcome to the Jungle I was little concerned that the next 80 minutes would be a series of tropes reinforcing the lad-at-the-pub stereotype. I couldn’t have been more wrong. While there is something definitely familiar about these nine guys, what follows is a musical journey that explores the importance of community spaces, and the joy and support these spaces bring. Each of choir member brings a different character to the stage that adds a unique dimension to the unfolding story. Not to mention that these guys can really sing. As a result it feels as though you are sitting in a small pub, any where in the world having a drink with your mates, while listening to some brilliant tunes.

The songs themselves range from perhaps the more expected repertoire for a men’s choir of Guns ‘n’ Roses, Queen and Eagle Eye Cherry to some unexpected numbers from Adele, Katy Perry, Sia, and even a good Aussie rock ballad; it’s these songs that provide some of the most joyous and most poignant moments of the show. While most songs elicited laughter, clapping and sing-alongs, you could hear a pin drop during the rendition of Chandelier. The audience participation, something that can be awkward to watch, was so much fun and these guys seem to be experts in picking willing participants and making them feel at ease on the stage.

I haven’t commented much about the singing, because I’m not sure there are words to describe it. The musical arrangements and harmonies are nuanced and the ensemble so tight that the performance is flawless. Add to this the choreography the perfectly captures the pub environment and the mood of each of the songs, and you have a show that is not to be missed.

The Choir of Man are in Australia for the next four months and Melbourne until next week. This is their first run in Melbourne and hopefully not their last, but just in case it is, you want to make sure you get along and spend some time with these guys who can hold the audience’s attention just as well as they can hold a tune.

The Choir of Man are performing until 12th January. Tickets at www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2020/contemporary-music/the-choir-of-man

Review: Songs For Nobodies

One woman becomes ten

By Owen James

Bernadette Robinson is a star, and Songs For Nobodies is the perfect vehicle for her endless talent to be showcased in. Originally commissioned and directed by Simon Phillips ten years ago, this one-woman masterpiece allows Robinson to become Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf and Maria Callas in succession, alongside five women who meet these stars in unlikely and often amusingly implausible situations.

She has the audience in the palm of her hand from the very beginning, and we are enthralled with every breath and spellbinding note. Robinson effortlessly switches between her impressive array of accents, dialects and musical styles as she crosses continents and classes, each new voice painting a portrait of a lost artist we feel could be genuinely standing before us. (And it’s the closest we’ll get!) Robinson performs from the heart, her loving recreations mesmerising and enchanting for their truthful purity. We are left astonished with delicate transitions between soprano torch songs, country classics, and smoky blues standards.

The whole experience is very calming and peaceful, a combination of the warm wave of nostalgia intrinsic to the material, and the feeling that we are always safe in Robinson’s expert hands. Sound and lighting designers have embraced this tranquillity, and enhanced every moment with simple but very effective use of soundscapes and flawless lighting states.

The text is written by acclaimed playwright Joanna Murray-Smith, and is imbued with research and passion at every turn. Clear and polished pictures are painted of both the famous artists and the ordinary women recounting their encounters in every monologue, and every carefully selected song is masterfully integrated with the text, creating a tonally consistent flow throughout the entire ninety minute runtime. The show is undoubtedly curated for an audience acquainted with the references, but will still be enjoyed by anyone unfamiliar with these famous artists, thanks to Murray-Smith’s witty and timeless writing.

It is difficult to imagine an artist more suited to their art than Bernadette Robinson in Songs For Nobodies. She is deserving of every piece of praise and acclaim that has come her way throughout the ten-year international performance history of this show – which includes a noteworthy nomination for an Olivier Award during its West End run. Living in the intimate Fairfax Studio at Arts Centre Melbourne until January 5th, this outing makes for the perfect pre-Christmas treat or post-Christmas wind-down. Not to be missed.

https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2019/musicals/songs-for-nobodies

Photography courtesy of The Arts Centre Melbourne

 

Review: Chicago

Full of razzle dazzle

By Rebecca Waese

The sizzling Jazz-age musical, Chicago, opened at the State Theatre at the Arts Centre in Melbourne last night, satirizing the idea of the celebrity criminal, the corrupt justice system and the media that glamourizes American criminals, and especially, gorgeous female murderesses. Based on a 1926-play written by crime reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins on historical female murderesses who used their feminine wiles to get away with murder, this revival of the 1975 American musical is eerily resonant today in the age of ‘fake news’ where phoney celebrities dominate the headlines and Insta feeds. It was sultry, and full of ‘razzle dazzle’ with some fine moments of comedic timing and satire, and extraordinary talent.

Alinta Chidzey as Velma Kelly brought her outstanding talents in dance and voice to the stage, with vertical leg extensions and a vocal range and power that took my breath away. Having toured alongside Hugh Jackman in The Boy from Oz and winning an impressive collection of awards for Musical Theatre, Chidzey is one to watch. The casting of Casey Donovan as Matron ‘Mama’ Morton was bang-on. The former Australian Idol winner was a powerhouse to behold, owning the space with intensity and adding a sexy physical confidence to the role which was fabulous to see. Natalie Bassingthwaighte brought engaging comedic timing and physicality to the role of Roxie Hart, particularly in the press conference scene where the lawyer, Billy Flynn, played by Jason Donovan, uses her as his ventriloquized dummy to construct a new narrative and re-frame her as innocent. Donovan was slick, charming and humane in his dramatic portrayal of the celebrity lawyer and connected well to the Melbourne audience who welcomed him warmly. The vocals of Jason Donovan and Bassingthwaighte, however, were just not on the same level as Chidzey and Casey Donovan, whose voices filled the vast theatre and were in a league of their own.

Highlights of the show included the onstage orchestra (directed by Daniel Edmonds) who stole a few celebrity moments after interval with some upstanding jazz solos that got the crowd roaring. Understated cuckold Amos Hart, played by Rodney Dobson, had the best jazz hands in the show in his compelling, ‘Mr. Cellophane’ and the ensemble was extraordinarily strong with salivating sexy moves from Fred Casely, played by Andrew Cook and Fosse-inspired choreography by Ann Reinking and Gary Chryst that popped and pulsed with impressive synchronicity.

Opening on the historic night of Donald Trump’s impeachment, this Chicago production voices a timely and ironic message on the decline of justice and truth in America. Velma comments, “You know, a lot of people have lost faith in America and what America stands for’ and Billy Flynn’s response is to ‘Razzle Dazzle them… How can they see with sequins in their eyes?” A self-aware musical production such as this exposes our collective desire for both glamour and truth. With home-grown stars and a formidable ensemble, you will be entertained on a number of levels by this Australian production of Chicago.

Until 23rd February, tickets at http://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2019/musicals/chicago

Photography by Jeff Busby

 

Review: Anna

A bizarre, yet perfectly plausible set of interlocking events

By Rachel Holkner

Fear, frustration and overwhelming sense of foreboding, the lack of control one feels in the face of endless, incomprehensible, nonsensical bureaucracy. These emotions are deftly conveyed and uncomfortably experienced throughout this one act play. Anna is a very timely piece, although firmly set during its own time and space of Bulgaria during the Cold War.

Both written and performed by Bagryana Popov, deftly using her childhood experiences and years of research into the totalitarian regime to develop a bizarre, yet perfectly plausible set of interlocking events.

The appearance of a large sum of money is the instigating event of the play, and the contradictory stories around its origin and the attempts to dispose of it rapidly open out to display a complex web – artfully appearing on stage by the end – of interested parties with conflicting motives. Anna herself moves frequently in and out of our sympathies as she naively attempts to deal with the bureaucracy but then displays contrary behaviours at home.

Anna tells fairy stories, and perhaps the whole play is a fabrication of her mind as she slowly unravels over the course of months while events both within and out of her control turn against her. But what if the events she discusses are imagined? Is Anna paranoid or am I?

The performance of Popov is hugely affecting. She carries the entire show with aplomb, moving nimbly between portrayals of very different characters. She sings, she utilises props, she takes us with her into the chill mood behind the Iron Curtain at this time. The use of space, lighting and the raw set design suit the performance and the tightly written, almost sparse script, perfectly.

The very slight, surreal nature of the production as a whole is particularly effective against the backdrop of world politics today. One leaves with an inkling of discomfort and almost dread that lingers uncomfortably, yet I can’t help scratching at it.

At La Mama Courthouse until 22 December

https://lamama.com.au/whats-on/winter-spring-2019/anna/

Photography by Ponch Hawkes