Review: Lottie in the Late Afternoon

Offbeat comedy loaded with idiosyncratic characters

By Lois Maskiell

It’s not even a long weekend, but Lottie has convinced her friends to join her and her partner for a brief weekend getaway in New Haven. Played by a superbly skilled cast, Amelia Roper’s play is an offbeat comedy loaded with lively and idiosyncratic characters.

Lottie is an intriguing woman. She’s dominant, odd and oddly narcissistic, though utterly endearing all at once. Like all the personalities in Roper’s light-hearted and amusing comedy, she’s full of contradictions and good intentions.

When Lottie (Laura Maitland) and her partner Ryan (Linc Hasler) arrive at a picturesque cottage for their holiday, the first disappointment hits when they discover an enormous cliff nearby. With their expectations beginning to erode, Lottie and Ryan’s perfect vacation is further destroyed when they receive a phone call: their friend Anne and her partner can’t make it due to a sudden hospital visit.

The drama takes an unexpected turn when Clara (Michala Banas), Lottie’s long-time single and closest friend, arrives and admits she’s been having an ongoing affair with Anne. Lottie’s shock and surprise are further compounded when Anne (Ally Fowler) unpredictably shows up and confesses she’s just had an abortion despite her partner’s disapproval.

Presented by indie-theatre group, The KIN Collective, the quality of this production is of an extremely high calibre. Under the direction of Marg Downey, the entire cast make Roper’s diverse and well balanced characters shine. Hasler’s Ryan goes beyond masculine clichés with his boyish enthusiasm and frequent panic attacks. Banas’ Clara is tough and nonchalant, though the cracks begin to show when her relationship with Anne falls apart. Ally Fowler’s Anne is probably the most perplexing of all. A journalist praised as the intelligent one, Anne’s life is the most out of order between her secret affair and bouts of sloshed dancing.

Half the fun is watching the cast dart around Tim Ropers’ exquisitely built set. Featuring a house made entirely of wood, Ropers’ set perfectly contains the characters’ awkward attempts to connect with each other during their unfortunate weekend vacation.

The comedy remains elevated in its light-hearted humour so that the suffering of these characters never arouses much sympathy. Overarching themes of lonliness and the effect of work and income on relationships renders the story at once relatable and accessible to a broad audience. Lottie in the Late Afternoon is a brilliant comedy brimming with outlandish dialogue, played to the hilt by a superbly talented cast.

Lottie in the Late Afternoon is being performed at Fortyfivedownstairs until 30 September. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9662 9966.

Photograph: supplied. 


Fringe presents Night Terrors

Four haunting tales brilliantly animated

By Joana Simmons

Aesthetically and rhetorically pleasing with a touch of unhinged brilliance is an apt way to describe Night Terrors. The 2018 Melbourne Fringe brings a plethora of all sorts of unexpected art including this show of literary terror which explores four ghost stories inside a church, all told by an incredible performer. There are so many elements that have gone into this production to make it a top-notch experience, not to mention the fact that it genuinely made me shiver and clutch my face in delight.

Bluestone Church Arts Space was the perfect setting for this night of spooky storytelling. The way the giant door creaked open to reveal the stained-glass window in the background had me ready to be entertained right from the start.

The star that is Caitlin Mathieson commanded the space for just over an hour, embodying different characters as she told four classic tales of terror. The first was The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe which describes the story of a woman driven mad by guilt after committing murder. Second was The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman which tells of a woman confined to her room. Next were The Keepsake by Briony Kidd and The Open Window by Saki, both exciting in content and structure and moved with dexterous detail from beginning to climax. The drama was further heightened by the soundtrack which smoothly weaved all the stories together.

Creator Stefan Taylor has done an incredible job to bring such a sophisticated piece from paper to stage. I loved how refined it was and that it did not try cheap tricks for laughs. Joining Taylor was director Simon J Green, whose contribution added to this highly polished production. The lighting gave great contrast between scenes and provided both moody and spooky qualities without ever being over the top.

Overall, I was in awe of Caitlin Mathieson’s ability to smoothly glide from scene to scene, from character to character with a great command of text. There were points where she absolutely embodied the people in the stories, moving around the church with her wonderfully expressive voice and face which drew the audience in. Ever so gracious and in a tweed two piece, Mathieson gave us a sense of refinement and class belonging to an older world.

If you are looking for a delightful night of spooky entertainment, do not look further than Night Terrors. Not only is Night Terrors a memorable production, it is a hoard of times better than any creepy Netflix series.

Night Terrors is being performed at Bluestone Church Arts Space until 30 September. Bluestone Church Arts Space is an accessible venue and there are Auslan interpreted performances and open captioning. See here for more information and tickets.

Photograph: David Edmonds


Review: The Australian Ballet School Showcase

A chance to witness Australia’s up and coming classical dancers

By Leeor Adar

Entranced from the moment the curtains open upon the dancers, it is evident that there is no such thing more beautiful than the artistry and skill of the ballet.

The Australian Ballet School prides itself on its high quality training opportunities for talented young performers, and I am thrilled to say that the talent very much shines in the 2018 Showcase directed by Lisa Pavane. Dancers from Level 1 – 8 perform under the direction of some of the best teachers Australia has to offer, and the pieces vary from contemporary to fairy tale, flamenco-inspired to the tongue-in-cheek.

The Showcase opens with a tiny ballet dancer lifting the veil upon the scene, and we begin with the masterwork of choreographer Paul Knobloch, an Australian Ballet School alumnus with the capacity to arrange 121 dancers into stunning visual formations with the Grand Défilé (a grand parade in literal translation). The Défilé is really a glorious start to this production, as the choreography is just gorgeously cinematic in its scope. Knobloch has an enormous task on hand, but manages to make this a triumph. This was the perfect opportunity to let any doubt of the calibre of the young performers disappear into the tulle.

If the audience had any doubts about the extent The Australian Ballet School could stretch its flavour, the Alegrías choreographed by Areti Boyaci which featured on stage Spanish guitar by Werner Neumann established the Showcase as something to be reckoned with. The flair with which the performers managed keep to the 12 beat rhythm of the flamenco was an excellent choice for exhibiting the performers’ versatility.

The Don Quixote, Dryads, Act II was a charming nod to tradition, featuring Ludwig Minkus’ music, with extraordinary costumes. I enjoyed the sweep into fantasy, but admittedly craved something bolder, which I had begun to really expect after such enticing earlier numbers. I was delighted by the Wolfgang Dance choreographed by the excellent Simon Dow to Mozart’s Allegro from Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (which we know as ‘A Little Night Music’). The Level 4 students were brilliant and able to bring an enormous humour and spirit to the performance, which featured baroque white wigs and many laughs from the audience.

A standout performance for me was the wonderful troupe of male dancers in the Knobloch choreographed Valetta. Knobloch establishes himself as a master of ballet ensemble here, and the dancers are absolutely breathtaking moving works of art as they perform the classical movement which featured the flair of the late 1950s Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musicals.

The final act featured the elegant and fluid wonder of the Ballo Barocco, choreographed by Stephen Baynes, featuring the beautiful music of Bach. Initially created for Level 8 dancers, the Level 6 dancers took on this piece with astonishing mastery. Heart Strings was a poignant series of dances choreographed by Margaret Wilson showcasing the experiences of the Level 6 students. With humour and incredible maturity, these pieces were navigated by the students, with notable standouts in Enter the Protagonists and the Bullied.

The final performance of the night, the Danza de la Vida choreographed by Simon Dow borrowed from the tango traditions of Argentina. I found this performance a nice piece to cap the Showcase, however there was a pool of talent that I felt had been under-utilised. Despite that, it was an elegant way to end the evening, and certainly proved that The Australian Ballet School harnesses and hones the astonishing talent of its young performers.

The Australian Ballet School’s 2018 Showcase is headed next to Canberra for a showing on the 22 September. Tickets can be purchased online. 

Photograph: Supplied

Stephanie Lake on her largest work to date

Stephanie Lake takes over Arts Centre Melbourne with a work of colossal proportions

By Lois Maskiell

Contemporary dancer turned choreographer Stephanie Lake, whose work has earned accolades and travelled the globe, stages her largest production to date, Colossus. Backed by Arts Centre Melbourne as part of the Fringe Take Over, it is by no means a small feat.

As a fresh graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts in 2000, Lake immediately earned a Green Room Award for Best Emerging Dancer and went on to perform in the international circuit with Australia’s best contemporary dance makers including Lucy Guerin and Gideon Obarzanek. In 2014, she established the Stephanie Lake Company and has since delivered a steady output of award-winning productions, solidifying her reputation for creating powerful kinetic art with striking visual aesthetics.

Colossus features fifty dancers from Victorian College of the Arts and Transit Dance, marking a sharp departure from Lake’s most recent work Replica which was a duet. A production of such colossal proportions is something Lake has envisaged for some time, though arrived sooner than expected: “To be honest I was thinking it would be something that would be in the future, but I put in a proposal just thinking I’ll give it a shot, and then we won the tender.”

Affording an independent company $30 000 in funding, support and mentorship, the Fringe Take Over is a highly sought after opportunity and a symbolic return for Lake to the festival. “Twenty years ago, when I was a young whipper snapper, I made shows for the Fringe Festival and it was very exciting and thrilling,” enthuses Lake.

Lake’s enduring passion for contemporary dance stems from the mysterious and intuitive nature of movement, which she believes is often difficult to rationalise. “There is a pressure to always articulate what the work is about and I understand that,” she says, “but the beauty of the form that we’re working in is that it is ambiguous and strange, and it can articulate things that are more mysterious.” Despite this conflict between creativity and concept, Lake admits that there are clear ideas she is working with.

By placing fifty bodies on stage, each interacting in smaller formations that contribute to a whole, Colossus poses a simple question. “Essentially it’s about this mass of people,” says Lake. “So these fifty bodies occupying the space together and what is that as a representation of how we organise ourselves as a society?” In terms of what that means for the audience, “I think that’s really going to be open to interpretation,” she says, “I love when people bring their own experience to bear on the reading of the work.”

Rehearsing a production of this magnitude is not without challenges. “It’s really intense,” says Lake, “because I’m working with younger dancers there’s a lot of energy in the room. Everything is amplified, and I feel like I have to make decisions quickly and efficiently.” But for Lake the payoff is huge and with the creative team’s contributions ramping up towards the final stages of rehearsals, opening night brings much anticipation. “It’s just so beautiful seeing that many bodies moving together and every simple idea is expanded in really interesting ways,” she says.

Lake’s creative team, consisting of composer and long-time collaborator Robin Fox, costume designer Harriet Oxley and lighting designers Bosco Shaw and Additive Lighting, will make significant contributions. “The conversations start early,” says Lake, “but that side of the collaboration doesn’t really come together in a crystallised way until you’re actually in the theatre.” 

The premiere of Colossus is inciting a great deal of interest owing to the Stephanie Lake Company’s track record in producing ground-breaking work. It also stands out as one of many tour dates scheduled for Lake’s thriving company. In May of next year, Lake tours to the Théâtre National de Chaillot in Paris, arguably the most prestigious venue for contemporary dance in the world.

Colossus is being performed at Arts Centre Melbourne 26 – 30 September as part of the Melbourne Fringe. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 1300 182 183. 


Review: The Dumb Waiter

Absurdist play toys with tension and information

By Owen James

Two men waiting for another man, killing time with circular conversations and inane activities – sound familiar? Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter was undoubtedly inspired by Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, but the occupation and character of these two men raises the stakes to a new level. It’s engrossing and fascinating to watch people discussing ordinary subjects, and it’s that underlying and undiscussed reality that builds tension. To say more would be giving too much away, but this comedy/drama explores a breakdown of communication in a way that only absurdist theatre can.

Director Paul Watson has given Pinter’s 1950s play a very faithful reproduction, noting that “staging directions are very deliberate and precise from Pinter and we’ve honoured that closely”. Watson has crafted a world of impatience and intrigue, with every increasingly heated exchange between Ben and Gus playing on our minds without a single dull moment.

John Wood brings subdued menace to the role of Ben. A seasoned and admired actor, the gravitas of Wood contributes a lion’s share of intensity to this dramatic pressure cooker. Does he suspect what we suspect? The calm, apathetic demeanour of Ben is juxtaposed by the irritability of Gus (played by Don Bridges), which sinks into our skin. As his patience wears thin, his craving for information becomes obsessive.

Lighting by Jason Bovaird is simple but powerful, breathing life into the highly detailed and realistic set by Michael Watson. Together, Watson’s set and Bovaird’s lighting extend the world of the play far beyond what we see onstage, adding depth and possibility to the intimate Chapel.

It’s Reservoir Dogs meets Waiting for Godot in this absurd but intense basement, where the power of information shapes men. Authority is defined by who knows the most, and the trickle-down nature of information in this world deems who the loser will be.

Seeing The Dumb Waiter professionally performed is rare, and this production would make Pinter proud.

The Dumb Waiter runs at Chapel Off Chapel until 9 September. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 8290 7000.

Review: Emil and the Detectives

Slingsby Productions presents Emil and the Detectives

By Narelle Wood

Emil and The Detectives brings to life the 1929 German children’s classic by the same name written by Erich Kästner, adapted for the stage by Nick Bloom. Part detective mystery and part tale in friendship, the story follows Emil’s adventures from his small town to the big city, as he tries to catch a thief and the friends he meets along the way.

The adventure begins at Newtown as Emil (Danielle Catanzaritti) is given money from her mother to take to her grandmother. Emil embarks on a train journey and meets a peculiar man, Max Grundeis, in a bowler hat. Emil wakes up on the train to find both Grundeis and his money gone. Terrified of what his mother will say, Emil chases the man through the city streets and on the way meets a number of other children and engages their help to catch the thief. Nathan O’Keefe – who plays all the other characters including Grundeis and the mother – helps narrate the story as it goes along.

The story is aimed at age 7 and above, but it does seem as though it would be better suited for a slightly older audience. O’Keefe is great as all the different characters; the nuanced differences between each of the characters was brilliant, but occasionally the transitions from character to character were lost on the young person I was with. I found the storyline itself was full of exposition, which was good, but I was left wanting some more action. That said, the staging and production value (designers Wendy Todd and Ailsa Paterson and lighting designer Chris Petridis) was amazing, featuring miniatures, lighting and shadow effects, digital animations and hidden shelves in amongst the set. The costumes and music are reminiscent of something out of a Sherlock Holmes’ mystery, which helps to add to the detective-adventure genre feel.

Emil and the Detectives is a lovely story with some great morals and good feels as Emil learns to ask for help and what it means to be a part of a small town community.

Emil and the Detectives was performed 8 September at the Alexander Theatre, Monash University, Clayton. See here for more information about the 2018 MLIVE program.

Review: Ich Nibber Dibber

Witty, gritty conversation draws laughter and reflection

 By Leeor Adar

Ich Nibber Dibber is really as it sounds, a nonsense phrase dressed up as “a woman’s work” in German, and if this is women’s work, Post co-creators Zoë Coombs Marr, Natalie Rose and Mish Grigor make it look fabulously funny.

Descending from the heavens, these three angelic women draped in white come to be upon the stage. Make whatever metaphor you want from it – exiting the womb, descending like messengers from heaven – the women have something to say, and it starts with plenty of cussing and fussing about being trashed at a party.

Welcome to the human experience.

If you thought poo jokes didn’t captivate theatre goers, then listen here, you are gravely wrong. But there is so much more to this wonderful production than the humdrum of day-to-day life – my friend and I, and so many more in the audience can remember conversations like these with our friends, a combination of the profound and the banal. On a superficial level, the blokes in the audience will laugh, but for the women, we will laugh because we see ourselves in these three very human characters (even Gywneth Paltrow would agree).

The women inhabit personas we all recognise within our friendships – the sardonic, the naïve, the progressive, and it’s all tongue in cheek. If they poke fun at each other, they do it with profound love, in only the way the closest of kindred spirits can. Nat, Mish and Zoë admit that this is all them – they are just hanging out on stage having the really silly and gritty conversations close friends do. It’s really refreshing and welcoming, and it’s incredibly easy for the audience to connect and relate to the work.

The 70 minutes of Ich Nibber Dibber is all talk, but it’s the talk of over a decade of friendship. The women party, break up, and give birth in the span of the decade, and their conversations continue to shift with the times of their lives and the eras they fall within. It’s a glimpse into the past for many in the audience, from the choices of music to the socio-political backdrop of the noughties and today. There are serious issues the women face: sexual and racial discrimination, the disintegration of intimate relationships, haphazard views of the self – and it’s all handled with an impressive amount of subtlety and humour.

There are some poignant moments within this spectrum, particularly when the writer John Berger is quoted as they cannot recall whether John Berger or John Burgess was the first celebrity death of 2017. Berger’s quote on women surveying themselves as a man alters the atmosphere reminds us that while we are watching women inhabit the stories of their lives, they are still a spectacle of the male gaze.

I find Ich Nibber Dibber intelligently comments and navigates the complex terrain it raises with a lightness of being, and its capacity to make its audience laugh under such examinations makes for powerful theatre.

Ich Nibber Dibber is being performed at Malthouse Theatre until 23 September. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9685 5111.

Photograph: Jacquie Manning