Review: Rock Bang

Risqué and riotous: Circus Oz and Die Roten Punkte join forces 

By Leeor Adar

They’re certainly a little batsh*t, but that’s the appeal of the faux German duo, Astrid & Otto Rot (Aussie Clare Bartholomew and Daniel Tobias), the “brother/sister” team behind Die Roten Punkte (The Red Dots). To be frank, I walked into the Merlyn Theatre with few presumptions about the night ahead. The question for me, as a circus fan, was whether there would be enough space for some excellent circus, or would the circus be ancillary to the Rot?

It’s always fun when circus serves itself up with other performing arts, and pairing the incredible talent of Circus Oz with Otto & Astrid with their wacky punk appeal actually works out like coconut ice cream and mango sorbet – it’s a natural union of bedfellows, risqué upon risqué. However, the standout for the show really came down to the relentless energy of all performers and the crème of the crop of Circus Oz, whether they were on swinging trapeze or punk dancing in space-disco getups.

Rock Bang follows the journey of orphaned siblings, Otto & Astrid, as they escape the seismic violence of the death of their parents into a life of baked goods and the Berlin underground. Almost fatally dependent on his sister, Otto watches on from his technicolour dream world to Astrid’s descent into a drug and sex-fuelled haze. It’s very tongue-in-cheek punk rock, and makes for some outrageously funny scenes due to the performers’ excellent physicality.

Ensemble April Dawson, Alyssa Moore, Kyle Raftery, Matt Wilson, Robbie Curtis and Rockie Stone were stellar; the ensemble was exciting to watch as they performed various acts throughout the show. My only real wish was for more of them and less of the music.

Director Rob Tannion’s vision for Rock Bang is clear, it’s an in-your-face extravaganza of loud punk vibes and fantastic acrobatics. I found that frequently it was just a little much, particularly in the first act where the piece was disjointed in places, and a little unsure of its direction. This cleared up dramatically for a far more enjoyable and succinct second act that combined dance and song far more effectively. A particularly well-crafted scene was at “rehab” where Astrid makes a bold escape. I absolutely loved the choice in body doubles for the action sequences that led to some riotous physical comedy.

Although I did spy some very under-13 children in the audience, the show is really a 15+ affair, given that gang-bangs and drug use are featured. My favourite moment in the second act was hearing a little girl ask her mother, “What’s rehab?” and I glanced at my friend honestly pondering how a parent should break the rehab seal to their offspring. Now, how punk rock is that?

 

Rock Bang will be performed 15 – 25 November with an audio described & AUSLAN matinee 24 November. Tickets are available online and by calling the box office on 03 9685 5111.

Photograph: Mark Turner

 

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Review: Broken

Chance, pain and connection in a desert landscape

By Lois Maskiell

Horrific vehicle rollovers are not uncommon in the Northern Territory where sudden turns on long stretches of road can, in seconds, result in fatal injuries. In Mary Anne Butler’s Broken, a young woman’s car is overturned on a desert highway and as a result three lives entwine. Emerging from this brutal beginning is a story that unites both exquisite writing and dramatic form to offer a passage through pain and connection in a barren, outback landscape.

This great Australian play which won the $100 000 Victorian Prize for Literature in 2016 is produced by independent company, Lab Kelpie. Under the direction of Susie Dee (SHIT, This is Eden, Caravan), Broken brings together leading talent and demonstrates the company’s unique commitment to presenting new writing.

All unravels when a car is overturned and driver Ash (Naomi Rukavina), an environmental biologist, is trapped inside. Ham (Lyall Brooks), an engineer returning home from a long stint of work, discovers Ash barely breathing and rushes to her aid. Meanwhile, Mia (Sophie Ross) Ham’s partner is experiencing the traumatic miscarriage of their first child. Utterly unaware of his partner’s suffering, Ham is consumed by their disintegrating relationship and finds within Ash an intimacy he has long lived without.

Hoisted on this equal yet tripartite division of character, the plot is a fortress of strength. Though the real seductive power is found in Butler’s breathtaking use of words and expert manipulation of chronological events. Three singular voices harmonise and conflict with each other, venturing into independent monologues, before coming together in shared moments. In one instance, Ham and Mia reminisce about their first meeting and despite occupying different locations, their performances marry with such raw emotion, it is simply astounding.

Susie Dee directs a physically charged production that employs spatial relationships for maximum effect. Guiding the audience and actors through a tangled universe of thoughts and incidents, Dee allows the script to take precedence. Andy Turner’s lighting and Marg Horwell’s set feature a cracked wooden wall through which shards of light burst. It is a beautiful metaphor, for so much in this story is broken that the brief presence of light is all the more striking.

With a script that defies time and staging without props, much of the action is verbally presented as characters offer their own narration. This is a double-edged sword, for on the one hand it characterises the work and its superb writing, while on the other it tips, at times, into telling rather than showing which slows the momentum.

Maven playwright, Mary Anne Butler reveals her brilliance in this exemplary piece of postdramatic theatre by traversing time and space with all but three skilful actors and the power of language. Dancing around chance and an impending sense of fate brought on by the wild landscape, Broken is a spectacular piece of Australian theatre.

Broken is being performed at fortyfivedownstairs 15 – 25 November. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9662 9966.

Photograph: Jodie Hutchinson

Review: Don’t Judge Me!

Undoubtedly entertaining comedy cabaret

By Samuel Barson

Tom Casamento is the friend you always wanted. Being honest, funny and talented, he’s the guy you know would be a blast at parties, but you would also be hesitant to introduce him to your mother (in case she likes him more than you). His show, Don’t Judge Me! is a one-man comedy cabaret that attempts to dissect the social concept of judgment, especially the judgment of those we don’t know. He sings, acts and dances his way through a variety of stories, experiences and observations from his life that present to us a myriad of familiar characters, situations and moral struggles.

He is undoubtedly entertaining, and his charisma and unique understanding of the world lead the audience to root for him all the way. It’s unfortunate however that a bulk of the writing struggles to match up with what Tom promises to be the premise of the show. He has to work really hard to connect the observations he makes with the concept of judgment. What is impressive though is his ability to sing and act alone for 50 minutes straight, which takes some serious talent and dedication.

His inclusion of a coat rack to hold various costume pieces was clever as it allowed him to transform into several different characters. And his ability to hold character and improvise when a technical issue delayed the show was admirable.

Tom Casamento is clearly a talented and passionate performer, who with a cleaner idea of what he wants to achieve, as well as the inclusion of tighter script, will be a driving force in the Melbourne theatre scene.

Don’t Judge Me! is being performed at the Butterfly Club 14 – 17 November. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office on 03 9663 8107. 

Review: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Opera Australia mounts Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg trading comedy for grandeur 

By Leeor Adar 

One can rarely prepare for the grandiosity of a Richard Wagner opera; it takes the gargantuan ego of Wagner and elongates into a brilliance so exhausting that one is both awed and thankful by the time the curtains close. Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is no exception here, and instead of gods and monsters, Wagner takes a club to the club, so to speak. Old establishment meets the radical ego of a young man, and ultimately the radicalised eventually succumbs to the powers of the masters.

The story unfolds in Nuremberg, an intensely patriotic front of the Germans, and follows the competition amongst its musical poets for the hand in marriage of a young and well-connected maiden. The tale is simple enough, however Die Meistersinger reflects the innards of Wagner at differing stages of his own life. At first, Wagner is Walther Von Stolzing, rebelling against the gates of the establishment to be seen and heard. Like Walther, Wagner despised the conventions of opera in his youth, but by the time Wagner was composing the opera he was Hans Sachs, the wiser and far more desirable hero for the tale whose heroism is deeply entrenched in his love of art and Germany.

It is easy to see in the final act of Die Meistersinger how the Third Reich was so enamoured with the composer and his work. Where Gioachino Rossini’s lead in Guillaume Tell (recently performed by Victorian Opera) is bolstered by community and the fight against larger forces, our ultimate hero, Sachs, in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger strongly desires to maintain the masters, even when he questions their methods.

To bring us this extravagant opera Australian Opera partners with the Royal Opera House Convent Garden and the National Centre for Performing Arts, Beijing. It is mammoth in length and mammoth in the scale of its staging. Much like the Ring Cycle, Die Meistersinger contains larger than life characters and spaces. Set designer, Mia Stensgaard, created the crowning jewel of Die Meistersinger with a set design so stunningly elaborate and intricate it looks as though the characters inhabit the insides of an organ – a very fitting world for the Mastersingers.

I was thrilled to learn that Kasper Holten would be Directing Die Meistersinger, as his ground-breaking approach to his previous work had the potential to be fantastically imagined in Wagner’s world. I had the pleasure of seeing Holten’s direction of Karol Szymanowski’s King Roger in 2017, and can see how his style weaves through the old-world costumes of designer, Anja Vang Kragh. It is also pleasing to see composer Pietari Inkinen return after an astonishingly successful Ring Cycle in 2016 to conduct this production.

As for the performers, Natalie Aroyan makes for a strong Eva despite the constraints the role provides to a voice as rich as hers. Stefan Vinke as Walther is not so exciting in his Meatloaf moonlighting as a ’70s dad getup. Unfortunately, Vinke’s vocals struggled to bring the requisite intensity to the role, however by the second act, he was in a stronger stride. Die Meistersinger’s real hero, Sachs, is performed by baritone Michael Kupfer-Radecky with an intensity and composure that surely sent many hearts fluttering. Kupfer-Radecky had the opportunity to previously take on the role of Sachs in La Scala in 2017, so it is Australia’s great fortune to have him reprise the role for Opera Australia.

There is very little comedy to be had in Wagner’s famed comedy. Most of the “humour” is reserved for the humiliation of what is ultimately an abysmally treated Sixtus Beckmesser, a Jewish caricature that reflects only the surface of Wagner’s equally grandiose anti-Semitism. However, Warwick Fyfe certainly electrifies the role, making Beckmesser a fabulous (and yes, funny) villain despite what our historical gaze will affix to the character.

In the scheme of Wagner’s work, Die Meistersinger is not particularly as palatable as the Ring Cycle, but if this is your first foray into Wagner’s world, Opera Australia’s production makes for an excellent entrance.

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is being performed at Arts Centre Melbourne 13 -22 November. Tickets can be purchased online.

Photograph: Jeff Busby

Review: La Vie Broheme

Quirky cabaret celebrates bromance and musical theatre

By Narelle Wood

Josh Gavin and Dom Hennequin take to the stage and bring a range of musical numbers to life. The duo belt out songs from Dear Evan Hanson, Smash, Dream Girls, Frozen and Kinky Boots just to name a few.

The songs are loosely connected through stories of their bromance shaped by a range of musical theatre experiences aided by Mark Taylor’s direction and David Youings’ musical direction. The adoration the two performers have for each other is evident through their well-meaning banter and willingness to ad-lib throughout the show. The story moves from shared auditions, to moments performing in shows, to a missing father joke that perhaps because of the realism of the other stories felt more than a little uncomfortable. It did however provide a transition into a standout performance of I’m not my father’s son, which, along with the deliberately over performed You’re going to love me, were exceptional vocal performances.

Given the short run of this performance (only two shows) the thought put into lighting cues, set and the use of stage was really very good. My view of Gavin and Hennequin as well as the occasional appearance of Emma Russell was often impeded by the heads of those seated in front, especially when the action dropped below head height. This meant that many in the audience were struggling to see some of the fabulous interactions happening on the couch.

The show was sweet and provided a very indulgent foray into some musical theatre classics and some lesser known hits. While I and the musical theatre aficionados in the audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy the performance, there were a few in-jokes and audience participation requests that my friend and a few other audience members commented went over their heads. In saying that, it’s a lovely way to spend an afternoon, and hear some well performed show tunes.

La Vie Broheme is being performed at MC Showroom 11 and 18 November. Tickets can be purchased online.

Review: The Rug

A satirical dissection of the angry white man

By Samuel Barson

An angry white man has a tantrum about how difficult it is being a white man. No, this is not parliamentary question time, this is Ben Grant’s electropera The Rug.

With a running time of just 45 minutes, The Rug is a feverish and hysterical satire on the so-called ‘plight’ of the modern white man.

Ben Grant, a white male himself, does a respectful job with the commentary he makes on his own demographic. He is self-aware and has clearly done much research on Australia’s current situation, as well as its history of racial prejudice. It took some time to get used to his performance style, but once comfortable with what he was doing, it was a solid and clever solo performance.

Herbz’s production design and Paul Lim’s lighting design were exuberant, unpredictable and strangely glamorous. The dramatic design complimented the over-dramatic white man who was whining and prancing around the stage.

Rah Creation’s set design was kindly simple, allowing the attention to be on Grant’s performance, while still serving his choreography when necessary.

The Rug is certainly not your typical piece of theatre, but rather a greatly refreshing one. It was exciting to see regularly visited themes like privilege tackled in such an irregular and entertaining way. A must see for lovers of the absurd.

The Rug is being performed at La Mama Courthouse 31 October – 11 November. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office on 03 9347 6142.

Photograph: Pier Carthew

 

The War of the Worlds Anniversary Broadcast

Sci-fi classic entertains through the ages 

By Narelle Wood

The most infamous Halloween prank takes the stage as part re-creation of the original radio play, part ’70s rock opera and part exploration of behind the scenes.

There are multiple stories to tell here. The first is The War of the Worlds originally by H.G. Wells which sees Martians invade earth and obliterate every human in sight. The second, and perhaps more famous story is that of the 1938 Halloween performance of the radio adaptation which was directed by Orson Welles and resulted in widespread panic as listeners reportedly believed that Martians were in fact attacking America. Fast forward 40 years and Jeff Wayne launches his musical adaptation of The War of the Worlds, which has gone on to sell millions of copies worldwide.

In this iteration Rob Lloyd and David Innes of Innes Lloyd comedy duo bounce between snippets of the radio play, interesting facts, quotes from Wells and Welles’ only meeting and musical interludes from Wayne’s interpretation arranged for this performance by Caleb Garfinkel. In the process they dispel a few myths, clarifying what exactly ‘wide spread panic’ entailed. But the intrigue is only heightened by Innes Lloyd’s ability to recreate the eerie atmosphere of the 1938 radio broadcast.

You don’t have to dig very far to discover the background facts that are littered throughout the show, but there were many oohs and ahs elicited from the large crowd.  What I found most fascinating though was how much the combination of widespread panic and essentially fake news are both still very relevant today; this was perhaps highlighted by the way in which Innes Lloyd moved between and entwined all the different stories. The movement between some of the segments is a little clunky and sometimes it was a little hard to remember who was who with so many character changes. However, this doesn’t distract from the clear passion that Innes Lloyd bring to these stories.

It would be a shame for The War of the Worlds Anniversary Broadcast not to be an annual event, as there is just so much to like about the original stories and this new retelling.

The War of the Worlds Anniversary Braodcast was performed 29 October at the Butterfly Club. See here for information about Innes Lloyd. 

Photograph: supplied