Fortyfivedownstairs presents Venus in Fur

Greenroom award-winning director Kirstin von Bibra explores steamy sexual politics.

By Caitlin McGrane

It’s always an exciting occasion when I’m familiar with the source material of a play. Venus in Furs is a novel that holds a special place in my heart: it was the first book I read after submitting my master’s thesis. I soon fell so deeply in love with Gilles Deleuze’s analysis of the text Coldness and Cruelty, that his photo has been the background of my phone for months.

In case you’re unfamiliar (and remarkably this all gets explained in the play), the novel Venus in Furs is a tale of masochistic love, devotion and obsession. Written in 1870 by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the story is an erotic fever dream about protagonist, Severin’s fetish for being beaten, subjugated, humiliated and manipulated by women wearing furs – specifically the upper-class Vanda – who he convinces to dominate him as her slave.

The play version, written by David Ives in 2010 and directed by Kirsten von Bibra in this production at fortyfivedownstairs, deftly weaves together not only the novel’s central narrative but also the thematic debates surrounding the work – particularly whether Vanda is a sadist and/or feminist figure. Ives’ adaptation deviates from Sacher-Masoch’s text by focusing on the casting of a play based on the original book.

Photographs: Sarah Walker

Brooklynite director Thomas becomes intrigued by an actor, coincidentally named Vanda, who bursts into his studio at the end of a long day demanding to read for the part of Vanda. As they begin to read, Thomas’ kinks and prejudices reveal themselves in insidious and sometimes nasty ways. We see Vanda’s power over him grow, as well as the sheer pleasure she takes in watching him slowly unravel.

Let me be completely honest: I absolutely loved this play. Vanda (Tilly Legge) and Thomas (Darcy Kent) performed flawlessly and faithfully captured Sacher-Masoch’s twisted and erotic relationship dynamics. All the way through I believed completely in how Vanda and Thomas were treating each other and was entirely captured by their debate on the text. The pair also managed to switch between American and British English with barely a glitch, thanks to Jean Goodwin as dialect coach. I was glad they opted for these accents, rather than going down the dodgy-German route, which always sounds forced to me.

The one area of the production where I wish there had been more attention paid was in the unpacking and challenging of Thomas’ misogyny, which to me wasn’t addressed as directly as I would have liked. There’s also a strange conversation about who Vanda ‘really is’ which to my mind could easily have been left out.

These small misgivings aside, I can’t reiterate my enjoyment of the play enough. The whole mis-en-scene was executed with precision from the velvet chaise to the half-filled coffee pot. I found the performance was only enhanced by the way the cast appeared to manipulate the lighting and staging – it made for a more naturalistic setting and the actors looked very comfortable. Proper praise to all involved, including costume and sets by Dann Barber, lighting design by Megz Evans and sound design by Linton Wilkinson.

From the moment the play started, I was excited, which can be a rare feeling in the theatre. I felt that Legge was going to be magnificent, and I couldn’t wait for Thomas to cop the full force of Sacher-Masoch’s perversions. There’s so much to enjoy in Lighting Jar Theatre’s production of Venus in Fur, I strongly recommend seeing it while it’s still on.

Venus in Fur plays at fortyfivedownstairs until 24 March.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9662 9966


Malthouse Presents A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer

The incredibly moving, A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer, reaches all extremes of the emotional spectrum.

By Joana Simmons 

‘The C word’ can be a touchy subject, so people talk around it often referring to it as a battle or war. British theatre company, Complicité team up with Bryony Kimmings in this world-class production, A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer, to present cancer through a different lens: a real one, a feminist one, a funny one, and a musical. The show tells the story of Kimmings in the process of writing a guide for patients and the people around them. This guide makes space for cancer not to be seen as a heroic battle and celebration of survival, but rather the scary, lonely and painful thing it is.

Performed by an all singing female cast, this musical is the kind of show where you remain seated after it ends, knowing it has got right under your skin as you begin to process it. While I dried my tears, I wondered how to write a review that would do this show justice.

Kimmings is the narrator of the story and her humorous manner makes us feel like she’s having a chat over a cuppa, instead she’s on top of a scaffold addressing an audience. We hear voice overs of interviews conducted with patients, doctors, psychologists and researches, who are also acted out by the cast. From this point in the production, I got goose bumps every five minutes.

_A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer by Complicite. Photo by Mark Douet _80A3951_preview
Photographs: Mark Douet

Lara Veitch is introduced as the oracle who changes Bryony’s perspective completely. Lara and Bryony recount the lessons they learned from each other, and how their friendship blossomed in a way that gets into our hearts because it’s both funny, sad and entirely true. The show shifts in mood when Lara describes the shocked comments and stares she continues to receive after refusing to have reconstructive surgery post a double mastectomy. She describes the pressure female patients have to ‘stay sexy’ through treatment.

Rock-chick power anthems frequent the show with a stand out number sung by the captivating Elexi Walker, with multi-instrumentalist Gemma Storr on lead guitar, Eva Alexander on bass and Lottie Vallis on synth. Another memorable moment involved an audience member sharing their story of cancer, and the audience – many of whom were sobbing – was then invited to join the cast in naming the people close to them who have been affected by this group of diseases. As Kimmings said, it’s “definitely not like Netflix” and I think it is so remarkable that we were able to share our grief.  It is an experience I will never forget.

This production is the brainchild of many brilliant minds who have banded together to make this an aesthetically and audibly bold musical. It was co-written by Kirsty Housley, Brian Lobel and Bryony Kimmings with Kirsty Housley also directing. Music and sound design by Tom Parkinson and Lewis Gibson respectively got the message across, especially the deafening sound of the MRI. Unfortunately, I could not hear some of the lyrics in the songs, which was largely disappointing. Lucy Osborne’s sparkly costumes and set adorned the stage, transforming it from place to place wonderfully while illuminated by Marec Joyce’s lighting design. By the end of the show, the stage was trashed, as if to be a visual metaphor for how one’s world can be turned upside down.

Theatre is a powerful medium that can make us laugh, cry, get mad, feel inspired and feel connected to something outside ourselves. A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer achieves all of these things. It is like nothing I have seen before, and I will always remember with awe that I was able to experience such a moving production. Buy yourself a ticket to this show that is not only a night out but also an opportunity to grow.

A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer plays at Malthouse until 18 March.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9685 5111.

Melbourne Shakespeare Company Presents Twelfth Night

Melbourne Shakespeare Company bursts onto the scene once again with an all-singing, all-dancing performance of Bill Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

By Leeor Adar

With a previous season of Much Ado About Nothing in the gorgeous St Kilda Botanical Gardens at the beginning of summer 2017, it is lovely to see the troupe take their performance to Prahran’s equally stunning Victoria Gardens. Despite a little bit of frying by Melbourne’s sun, the performers managed to not just survive their high energy show in the heat, they honestly thrived.

The ensemble brings us one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, Twelfth Night, in another superbly costumed production. The production is clearly Euro-folk inspired, with musical numbers featuring knee-slapping beats with violin and accordion playing for added authenticity. So much of the enjoyment of Shakespeare’s comedies rests on the abilities of the cast. Director Jennifer Sarah Dean rallies around her some serious talent, and its great to see her cast and crew continue to return from production to production.

Rhiannon Irving continues to deliver fantastically inspired costuming, on this occasion with plenty of petticoats, corsets and lacy veils. It perfectly marries the eccentricities and slapstick nature of the play, and the actors certainly use the costumes to their advantage.

Photographs: Burke Photography

Twelfth Night is a shipwreck tale of which the lovers are star crossed through mistaken identity. There are remnants of Romeo & Juliet, if you consider a young man of noble birth loving a woman who does not return his love, only to be surprised by an unexpected passion. Of course, this is a comedy, and no cases of mistaken identity and devilish subplots result in any deaths.

Vocally Nicola Bowman is a knock out, and serenades as Feste with charm and cheek. Iopu Auva’a (Duke Orsino) and Saxon Gray (Sebastian) do credit to their roles with their strong vocals. I was particularly impressed with the show’s schemers, namely Annabelle Tudor’s Maria, Peter Tedford’s Sir Toby, Mitch Ralston’s Sir Andrew and Bridget Sweeney’s Fabian. So much of the plot comes second to the antics of this group; Tudor is a strong and instinctive performer, and uses her physicality and voice to great effect. Maria is an excellent contrast to her highly-strung lady, Olivia, who is played by Jacqueline Whiting in such a way that you’d think she was born to play this role.

An absolute stand out was Johnathan Peck’s Malvolio, a character which is easy to scorn, but which Peck turns into a laugh-out-loud spectacle. Peck’s physicality and comic timing have been evident from the Company’s previous productions but here he completely reigns.

I’ve come to expect high quality laughs from the Melbourne Shakespeare Company, and they certainly deliver in terms of their cast’s excellent sense of comedic timing and acting abilities. The Company always conveys a sense of unity and genuine joy in the work they do, which is no different on this occasion. The season was unfortunately cut two weeks short due to a resident’s complaints, and I genuinely hope the wonderful Company pushes past this misfortune and returns with another high-quality work.

Twelfth Night was performed from 2 – 4 March in the Victoria Gardens. Stay in touch with the Melbourne Shakespeare Company here.

Arts Centre Presents The Sounds of Falling Stars

The star-wattage of Cameron Goodall is so bright the audience gasps for air, as he brings to stage the greatest musicians of the 20th century.

By Leeor Adar

The Sound of Falling Stars is a high intensity euphoric gaze into the past, and the falling stars are the men who died too young from living too hard and too fast. Their voices have carried through the decades and into the present (in most cases) in this nostalgic serenade by Goodall and his band of merry men, Enio Pozzebon (on keyboard), and George Butrumlis (on accordion).

Goodall is an explosion of talent; he is harnessed artfully by legend herself, Robyn Archer AO, who has written and directed this utterly fantastic show. Archer who is famed for her intimate shows and soulful sounds, has crafted this portrait of the musicians who died too young. The Sound of Falling Stars contains a litany of music from musicians of the likes of Hank Williams, Bobby Darin, Elvis Presley and all the way to Kurt Cobain. It is Goodall’s excellent voice and ability to mimic the essence of these now deceased icons that really captures the audience.

Goodall first enters the stage as none other than the Sex Pistols’ prince of darkness, Sid Vicious, who at 21 found his demise. Goodall manages to capture the voice and mannerisms of Vicious, and rapidly fire away as Mario Lanza and Sam Cooke the next moment. Goodall’s talent as actor and musician is evident, and the audience is completely in the palm of his hand. It takes effort to embody 31 performers, but Goodall does it without ever breaking out of their rhythm in a relentless show of tragedy and soul.

What is so captivating in The Sound of Falling Stars is the glimpse into the troubled lives of the musicians, and the often-tragic way their lives came to a sudden end. The theme of death, bad fortune and self-destruction pervade the stories. And, as emphasised at the close of the show, many lived and learned on the excellence of musicians past, but also followed the methodology of their own downfalls. One cannot help but consider whether an untimely end would surely ride on the coattails of such whirlwind ascent.

I find myself wanting to listen to all of these musicians, some of whom I collected in my early youth and some of whom were new to me as a Gen Y. One particular standout for me, (but entirely based on my own private musical tastes), was Goodall’s soulful performance of Jeff Buckley. Buckley’s high lilt of melancholy and vocal control is what I imagine to be one of the hardest voices to mimic, but Goodall did it with such precision, I felt for a moment that Buckley waded out of his watery grave back to us at the Arts Centre that night.

Despite the gloom, Goodall captured the heart of the audience through one musician and another, leaving us on a delighted high. I expect we all hope to see Goodall in some other incarnation another time, maybe next time as himself.

The Sound of Falling Stars was performed from 28 February – 3 March 2018 at the Arts Centre, Playhouse.

MC Showroom Presents Brexiter

In this classic cabaret Fifi La Boom recounts her experiences living the glamorous London lifestyle. 

By Joana Simmons

Classic cabaret combines with self-deprecating Aussie charm in Fifi La Boom’s new one-woman show, Brexiter. FiFi tells, through song and relaxed conversation with the audience, all the woeful and wonderful things that giving a crack at the big time in London brought. And, how her choice to move home after eight years came with its own discoveries. The songs spread from Phantom of the Opera to Jungle, and Fifi’s subtle nuances enticed many hoots and laughs from the audience.

Prahan’s MC showroom is set up in classic cabaret style: a lush red velvet couch, a piano and tables with little candles. When Fifi La Boom bursts onto the stage in a red sequined gown and stilettoes, she immediately puts smiles on the audience’s faces. Divinely dressed, she delivers her show in stream of consciousness like manner. Stories of London life such as auditions, the tube, the pubs and all those side jobs an artist does to survive help us warm to Fifi.

Highlights for me were her rendition of Jungle’s “Busy Earning” which is about the hustle of London (“no one even has time to say ‘Bless You!’”), her story of a lost toy, and a completely on-the-money delivery of “Think of Me” from Phantom of the Opera. There were a few moments though where her singing or song choices fell short, as either they were too long, didn’t have enough physicality, or didn’t sit well in her voice – which is a shame because she sure has a good set of pipes!

The showiest and strongest vocal numbers were found in the middle of the show, rather than the opening. I also noticed some of the text’s delivery created a disconnect between the audience and the story. Such moments however, were redeemed by her fantastically dry comments and subtle facial expressions that gave both sass and life to her character and had us all laughing.

The backdrop, that consisted of a slideshow, provided visual support to the performance. It included pictures of London, of Fifi’s journey and images that seemed like they had been taken from the internet. This convention enhanced the show particularly when they were pictures of her, as they was completely heart-warming.

The pianist, Jane Matheson did not miss a note or a beat. She was truly engrossed in what she was doing, playing with as much expression in her body as what was reaching our ears. The sound and lights were simple, but flawless. One thing I absolutely loved was the ending, the part in me that loves a happy ending was completely won over and indulged as the performance closed.

True tales like this onstage remind us that we’re not alone. Fifi La Boom gets up there, in this classic cabaret, to celebrate and commiserate all she has done in an entertaining evening. Go and get yourselves a sweet little seat!

Brexiter plays at MC Showroom until 4 March.  Tickets can be purchased online.

Watch This Present A Little Night Music

Stakes are as high as the tea in Watch This’ latest production, A Little Night Music.

By Owen James

Watch This have been presenting Sondheim musicals to Melbourne audiences for six years now, and their latest venture explores nostalgia and tangled romance among Sweden’s upper class of the early 1900’s. A Little Night Music first premiered on Broadway in 1973, and while written as a period piece, it is admittedly dated in its depiction of malleable women by today’s standards.

Although the plot moves slowly, by the end of act one we are hanging on the edge of our seats. Director Nicholas Cannon ensures that this web of romantic entanglement is as thrilling as a car chase. Michael Ralph’s choreography intertwines with Cannon’s direction and Sondheim’s intricate score with ease, highlighting the lyrics and never distracting.

Musical Director Daniele Buatti handles every operatic flourish, rapid-fire lyric and ensemble crescendo with perfection. While vocals are consistently clean and clear, we occasionally strain to hear the gorgeous six-piece orchestra, especially Buatti’s piano.

Alittle Night Music
Photographs: Jodie Hutchinson

It is difficult to single out any performance in this perfectly balanced cast. Every actor is integral to the production, and Cannon (director) ensures no one melts into the background. Johanna Allen (Countess Charlotte Malcolm), Nelson Gardner (Henrik Egerman) and Anna Francesca Armenia (Petra) deliver delightfully comedic performances throughout the show, while also bringing moments of truly moving underlying emotion.

The highs and lows of romance and memory are explored by Nadine Garner (Desiree Armfeldt), John O’May (Fredrik Egerman), Carina Waye (Anne Egerman), Eddie Muliaumaseali’i (Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm) and Jackie Rees (Madame Armfeldt), who all deliver considered and desiring characters, each affected by secrecy and competitive courtship in their own way. We sympathise with the whole cast as they are unable to escape treasured memories of the past, but also unable to conquer eluded happiness. We are left asking ourselves if risking another heartbreak is worth the potential pleasure.

Grace O’Donnell-Clancy, Adrian Barila, Kate Louise Macfarlane, Greta Wilkinson, Kerrie Bolton and Raphael Wong complete the cast of fourteen, creating a perfect combination of voices and presence. Full praise must be given to this cast with no weak links.

The veils on the set by Christina Logan Bell poetically reflect the veil of superiority aristocracy brings. With the eye-catching costumes by Emily Collett and lighting by Rob Sowinski, the grandeur of these characters is visually accentuated.

Watch ThisA Little Night Music will charm and delight with highlight numbers from Nadine Garner (Send In The Clowns), Johanna Allen (Every Day A Little Death) and Anna Francesca Armenia (The Miller’s Sun). Rush out to see this rarely performed aristocratic epic, playing for a very short season until March 10th.

A Little Night Music plays at the National Theatre until 10 March.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 95254611.

The Thin White Ukes Present The Other Songs of David Bowie

The Thin White Ukes prove that ukuleles can, and do, rock and rock hard in The Other Songs of David Bowie.

By Narelle Wood 

The combination of David Bowie and ukuleles does not seem like it should work, after all the ukulele is most commonly known for its island sounds or as a kid’s instrument. The Thin White Ukes prove that this is anything but the case; ukuleles can, and do, rock and rock hard.

The three-piece ukulele ensemble consisting of Betty France (soprano uke), Michael Dwyer (tenor uke) and Robert Stephens (baritone uke) have put together a playlist of some of Bowie’s lesser known hits with some old familiar favourites thrown in, including Moonage dream, Slip away, Andy Warhol, Fame and Space Odyssey. One of the things that stood out in this performance was how their arrangements highlighted the intricate rhythms and chord progressions of Bowie’s music, reminding me what a musical genius Bowie was, how hard his music is to play and demonstrating just how talented these ukulele players actually are.

The hour show was pure music, with no additional storylines or gimmicks, only a couple of lightning bolts, a silver jumpsuit and some pretty captivating performance skills from all three band members, but especially France. The Butterfly Club is a small venue but you definitely get the feeling that France could hold an audience no matter what the venue size.

It is really hard to pick a favourite moment of the show, I would have been quite happy – along with most of the audience it seems – to sit there for at least another hour. In saying that I was really quite taken with the performances of both Slip away and I’m Afraid of Americans: the combination of the songs, the arrangements, performance and ukuleles were perfect.

There is so much to like about this show and it is safe to say that I will be seeking out all The Thin White Uke shows in the future. I never got to see Bowie perform live, but this may be the next best thing.

The Other Songs of David Bowie plays at The Butterfly Club until 4 March.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9663 8107.