Malthouse Presents Good Muslim Boy

Osamah Sami takes his award-winning memoir, Good Muslim Boy to the stage with energy and heartfelt drive in Janice Muller’s adaptation.

By Caitlin McGrane

It took me several days to process Good Muslim Boy – not because I didn’t enjoy it, but rather because I needed to let it soak into my bones. I found the frenetic energy of the 85-minute play needed to be left to sink in, so I could fully absorb what it was saying.

The play opens in an airport terminal in Tehran, Iran as Osamah (Osamah Sami) is attempting to transport his father’s body home to Melbourne, Australia. Even in this early stage of the drama, his exhaustion is palpable.

Osamah was born in Iran to Iraqi parents, and grew up during the First Gulf War under the Iranian religious regime. Many years later, after they had emigrated to Australia, his father arranges an impromptu trip back to Iran in an attempt to help Osamah reconnect to himself and his family. It’s on this trip that his father suddenly dies and needs to be expatriated back to Australia.

The action flashes backwards and forwards through Osamah’s relationship with his parents, particularly his father – deftly played by Rodney Afif – and his lengthy and deeply painful experience bringing his father home. Nicole Nabout shines as the third player and moves perfectly between characters – from Osamah’s sports-mad mother to a grumpy bus driver with barely a lag.

Osamah Sami, Rodney Afif & Nicole Nabout - Good Muslim Boy - Tim Grey
Photographs: Tim Grey

Set and costume designer Romanie Harper has done amazing work smoothing the transitions between scenes and characters with visual cues, while lighting (Ben Hughes) and sound (Phil Slade) complemented Afif, Nabout and Sami as they moved quickly and precisely around the stage.

For me the overwhelming energy of the play belies its narrative potential. There was so much movement between one disapproving, dismissive Iranian bureaucrat and the next that I could barely keep up with additional details that were meant to add texture to the story.

Comments from Iranian officials about the appalling treatment of refugees in Australia didn’t quite ring true for me because they weren’t given enough time to breathe – Osamah had to move on, had another stamp to get or document signed.

In the end I found myself wishing I was reading the book, so I could absorb everything that Sami needed to say. His story is so profoundly moving that I felt it deserved a more drawn out exploration. But, I still highly recommend Good Muslim Boy for both its pathos and empathy for all its characters (even the disagreeable officials), as well as for the obvious, heartfelt drive that keeps Osamah Sami telling his family’s story.

Good Muslim Boy plays at Malthouse until 11 March.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9685 5111.

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Emily Goddard’s This is Eden

Fortyfivedownstairs plays host to exceptional talent in this no-holds-barred performance of female convict behaviour.

By Lucy Dobson

If one’s under the false pretence that Goddard’s This is Eden will be some blatant display of tomfoolery and roly-polies, then let’s address that from the bat. O’ there’ll be laughs shared and shared frequently, however they’ll be accompanied by a brutal insight into the harsh realities and coping methods of the women convicts of Cascades Female Factory in Van Diemen’s Land, some 170 years ago. But we’re not really worried about the details, or are we?

If parts that seethe in sarcastic undertones hit a little close to home, then perhaps it’s time to question why? As the play laments the blameless crimes of a supposedly historic age, there’s a stirring in the gut that does the math, and it’s fresh. Furthermore, there’s blame to be placed and whilst we can only plead our ignorance for so long, there’s a mountain of eyes widening, and I suspect Goddard to be amongst them.

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In a time when the world is screaming for an upheaval of all that we declare is no longer satisfactory, This is Eden is a welcome offering. I left fortyfivedownstairs ready to march! But also in my stride laid the knowing feeling that to feed a starving child, many would risk thievery. Goodness, how many people have nabbed a wedge of cheese in their life and I doubt starvation but rather inflation to be the cause. It begs the question does it not?

Directed by Susie Dee, Goddard’s performance exhumed the talents of an actor well trained: from rosy cheeked tour guide to bread and tea spitting loon and her ability to alternate between characters was nothing short of remarkable. The bare bones of Romaine Harper’s simple but expertly created set, along with lighting and sound by Gina Gascoigne and Ian Moorhead respectively, enhanced the mood perfectly, making good use of all that was on offer, audience included!

At parts I felt lost in structure but I assumed this was yet another clever trick played by Goddard and Dee to echo the confusion and tragic mess of it all. If you’d rather stay at home in the comforts of ignorance, then don’t bother, the revolution doesn’t need you! However, if you appreciate top-notch acting and all the feels (laughs included), then head on down to fortyfivedownstairs, you won’t be disappointed.

This is Eden is at fortyfivedownstairs until 25 February.  Tickets can be purchased online and at the box office: 03 9662 9966.

 

Malthouse Presents Picnic at Hanging Rock

The disappearance of the turn-of-the-century darlings returns to Malthouse Theatre in Picnic at Hanging Rock 

By Leeor Adar

The disappearance of the turn-of-the-century darlings in Victoria’s Macedon Ranges has all the evocative appeal of a timeless classic: young school girls in their bloom disappearing into the harrowing Australian bush in a southern gothic fever dream.

As a young child, I shivered as I saw the great mass of Hanging Rock, where like many Australians I fell for the alluring tale of the disappearance of the women. When Joan Lindsay wrote the 1967 classic, Picnic at Hanging Rock, I wonder if she realised that audiences would come in droves to take a step closer to the mystery that never really was. Or was it? That is the question that rises in Lindsay’s readers and viewers of Tom Wright’s adaptation for stage.

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Photographs: Pia Johnston

Picnic at Hanging Rock is not the first tale to evoke the power of Australia’s sublime landscape, however its unfurling secrets of untamed nature in the face of impressionable young women barely buckled to their schooling is utterly sensual and unsettling.

Director Matthew Lutton has realised his best work in this timely February production of Picnic at Hanging Rock. Lutton’s cast is par excellence: Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Arielle Gray, Amber McMahon, Elizabeth Nabben and Nikki Shiels use their wiles and voices to such evocative effect that their words and physicality have the power to send the audience leaping out of their seats. This production hoists Lindsay’s language into haunting dramatic storytelling in such a way that I believe I am there with the girls, as the sun sets and the white of their dresses disappear into the rock forever.

Lutton hammers the horror to great effect, as the dark stage bares only an ominous mass of twigs and wood that is suspended above. The cast appear suddenly out of the black, and in the midst of this nothingness, the sounds of nature, women humming and discorded effects play out. A perfect storm strikes the stage by lighting design master, Paul Jackson, sound designer J. David Franzke, and composer Ash Gibson Greig.

Picnic at Hanging Rock is a full-senses feast, and I am both terrified and drawn to the nightmare as it plays out before us. There are ample occasions of wit and excellent delivery from all performers, and Nabben’s turn as Mrs Appleyard is subtle and breathtaking, particularly in her last moments as a failed schoolmistress.

The tightly laced tension of teatime between Irma (Shiels) and Michael (McMahon) after the events on that Valentines Day at Hanging Rock, highlight the absurdity of the excessively civilised in the wake of traumatic events. This theme continues until there is no denying the significance of the schoolgirls’ disappearance and what that means for a society colonising an unfamiliar and dangerous landscape.

If you were fortunate enough to acquire tickets for Picnic at Hanging Rock, you will not be disappointed. The remainder of the run has sold out, and fittingly winds itself up on Valentines Day.

At Malthouse until, 14 February.

Followed by London season at the Barbican, 21 – 24 February.

Midsumma Presents HIR

Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre tackles sensitive issues with decorum and finesse in Victorian premiere of Hir

By Ross Larkin

When American playwright and performer, Taylor Mac, headlined Melbourne Festival in 2017 with his 24-hour show A 24-Decade History of Popular Music; Melbourne theatregoers were largely blindsided by the immersive experience, with comparisons being made to that of a completely engrossing religious or spiritual encounter.

It is, therefore, with much anticipation that Melbourne’s own Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre presents the Victorian premiere of Hir, written by Mac in 2015 and part of this year’s Midsumma Festival.

Hir is about a young man returning home from combat in Afghanistan to find that his mother is more dysfunctional than ever while his father has had a disabling stroke and his sister is transitioning from male to female. The play is a beautiful, disturbing and poignant examination of life on the edge and a family trying to evolve in a reluctantly transitioning world.

Hir_Belinda McClory, Ben Grant, Jordan Fraser-Trumble_c Teresa Noble
Photographs: Teresa Noble

Characters identifying as transgender are seldom, if ever, seen in live theatre, and it’s hard to imagine that anyone other than Mac could bring to life such a character with as much respectful authenticity.

Harvey Kaska Zielinski is well cast in the role (as Max), and offers a dignified performance with heart and dimension. Jordan Fraser-Trumble as Max’s brother Isaac, and Belinda McClory and Ben Grant as their respective parents all offer solid and engaging performances – at times loving and humorous, and at others; heartbreaking and completely unhinged.

Director Daniel Clarke tackles some sensitive issues with decorum and finesse and does a superb job of finding the light and shade in the complex world of Hir, leaving its viewers pondering thereafter, making this one of Midsumma’s entries not to be missed – and reaffirming why Red Stitch have made such an impact on Melbourne’s theatre scene.

Hir is playing at Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre, 2 Chapel Street, St Kilda until March 4th. Wednesday to Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 6:30pm with a 3pm matinee on Saturday February 24th.
Tickets and bookings: https://midsumma.org.au/program/hir18

Midsumma Presents Falsettos

Treat your ears to unfaltering vocals in StageArt‘s latest production Falsettos

By Owen James

Falsettos presents an honest and often amusing dissection of an atypical family living through ‘70s and ‘80s New York City. The complex score by William Finn winds together the lives of seven people struggling with relationships, family and heartache.

The show is worth a visit for the music alone. Musical Director David Butler has guided the small cast of eight through a score that would give composer Stephen Sondheim a run for his money. I cannot emphasise this enough – the complicated music is executed with beautiful perfection. Lyrics are delivered at the pace of Guns and Ships without a syllable lost, and tear-jerking ballads are handled with love. Treat your ears to unfaltering vocals and note-perfect piano from Butler himself.

Director Tyran Parke has crafted a production filled with honesty and emotion that explores the intersection of morality with love in a disjointed family setting. The natural but playful staging brings laughs and sentiment, and gives the brave characters of this completely sung-through musical space to breathe.

Finn’s score and James Lapine’s book give us quite an antagonistic view of love through couple Marvin and Whizzer, played by Don Winsor and Sam Ward respectively. Winsor’s Marvin struggles with certainty on all fronts – questioning his decisions, circumstances, and sexuality. Ward’s Whizzer (say that ten times fast) is stubborn yet balanced, and dares us to love him. Together the pair explore masculinity and faith in two grounded and moving performances.

Sarah Shahinian’s Trina manages to hold everything together despite disrupted family life. Her flawless and versatile performance includes two highlight numbers – “I’m Breaking Down” and “Holding to the Ground” – which are performed with power and conviction. It’s hard to pull our eyes off Nick Simpson-Deeks as the persistent and self-serving Mendel. Simpson-Deeks brings us an endearing character with warmth, wit, and sublime vocals. The stereotypically troubled psychiatrist comes to life with nuance and affection.

Outsiders-turned-family members Charlotte (Francesca Arena) and Cordelia (Jenni Little) start as the “lesbians from next door” in act two, but quickly become an integral part of this unconventional family. Bright and sweet, the pair bring a much-needed lift in pace to the second act. The role of resilient and lively Jason is shared by Riley Flood and Ben Jason-Easton who alternate throughout the season. The night I attended had Flood, who to be performing at this level at his age is nothing short of phenomenal – with further vocal and stage training, this young performer will go far.

Crisp sound design from Marcello Lo Ricco, simple and colourful lighting from Tom Davies, and era-appropriate costumes from Meredith Cooney help to create the perfect atmosphere for this small show with a big heart.

March along to the quirky and emotional Falsettos, playing a very limited season until February 11th at Chapel Off Chapel.

Prices: $49 – $69
Bookings: https://midsumma.org.au/program/false18
Photo credit: Belinda Strodder

 

Midsumma Presents AntigoneX

A queer tragedy turned comedy that provokes more questions than answers

By Owen James

Ancient Greece has received a modern makeover in AntigoneX, a self-defined “queer tragedy”. Presented as part of the Midsumma Festival, writer Zachary Dunbar has refashioned Sophocles’ tragedy into a fashionable exploration of sexuality, art and identity. AntigoneX will make you laugh, and make you think.

Directors Zachary Dunbar and Katy Maudlin have created a unique world within which to explore important questions: where does sexuality and gender conflict with identity? Do artists feel a burden from their art? In a world so absurd, where does parody begin? There are more questions than answers, certainly – but this piece provokes discussion outside the theatre doors, as any good theatre should. Even those unfamiliar with the original story of Antigone will connect with these defiant ideas, and particularly Midsumma regulars.

There are wonderful moments of comedy, executed with perfect synchronised movement by the topless Greek Chorus, identifiable only by number. Connor Leach, Leigh Scully, Patrick Livesey, Jim Coulson and Jonathan Graffam bring laughs and atmospherics – they are a perfectly matched group of five. Louisa Wall as Dee Tritus, a washed-up cabaret performer, is our host and confidante, giving us sour comedy, attitude, exposition and explanation.

Darcy Whitsed as Haemon aspires to supersede definition, ready to rock the political boat and defy Uncle Creon (Nick Clark). Their ongoing conflict fuels drama-filled scenes and builds to an explosive conclusion. Phoebe Mason as Antigone and Briony Farrell as Ismene are both strong female leads, presenting witty satire through their characters, who suffer the consequences for being different.

Sets and costumes by Nathan Burmeister are considered and inventive. The stage is framed by crumbling poles, giving a constant reminder of the Greek influence. Dee Tritus’ brilliant rubbish bag dress reflects the trashy personality she exudes.

This show has balls. Beach balls, to be precise. AntigoneX reminds us to be bold in the face of conformity, and strong in times of oppression. The more the individual is compartmentalised, labelled and ignored, the greater the danger of explosion.

Head on down to Theatre Works for “the queerest tragedy you’ll ever see” – running until February 4th.
Times: 2:30pm, 7:00pm
Prices: $25 – $35
Bookings: https://midsumma.org.au/program/antig18

Midsumma Presents PO PO MO CO’s Birthday Party Show

PO PO MO CO’s latest production is as queer and as comic as ever.

By Joana Simmons

Extremely smart and wonderfully silly is the expression that comes to mind when describing the theatrical delight that is PO PO MO CO’s (Post Post Modern Comedy) Leigh Bowery inspired Second Birthday Show. It’s easy to see why, since its birth at the back of Hares and Hyenas two years ago, this company’s genius brand of queer neo-vaudeville comedy has been snapping up nominations and awards all over the place. 

The back of the bookstore-cum-performance venue that is Hares and Hyenas is the perfect setting for this quirky, immersive event with performers roaming around in character from the moment the doors open. We meet an eastern European couple, Baba and husband Ganoush who have a bunch of artists in their receptacle that they are turning into performance artists. That’s the thread from one sketch to another, and it’s all we need as each sketch is marked by its own individual brilliance. Stand-out moments include the giant conception to ‘Eye of the Tiger’ and a hilariously tragic look at climate change. Also to be noted is guest performer – Selena Jenkins and her stunning rendition of two songs by Ke$ha – mixing-up the tone of the evening and giving a full experience.

The production was tight and slick, the soundtrack got the audience going and cues were snappy. The costumes – mostly unitards, redesigned duvet covers, and wonderfully camp combinations – added to the absurdity. Lighting in this simple venue was tasteful and provided contrast where needed. The comical PO PO MO CO crew, directed by award-winning vaudevillian and comic genius Liz Skitch includes the talented Kimberley Twiner, Lily Fish, Precious Cargo, David Maney, Claire Sullivan, Anna Lehmann Thomson, Amaya Vecellio and Hallie Goodman.

Skitch has done a top-notch job at creating work that pushes buttons and tickles funny bones whilst packing a punch at the same time. The only lull in the show was after some fantastic audience participation to dress the Leigh Bowery mannequins (what fun!). Its ending and subsequent transition to the next sketch was somewhat clunky. Still, grotesque glamour, tactful truths and queer comedy are laid out for fine-viewing pleasure.

One thing that I love about theatre is how creatives are given a chance to say something. Sometimes I feel this position of power is abused and the work can be self-indulgent, however PO PO MO CO are the complete opposite of this. What they do is so clever, it’s not until the end that we realise how that sketch proves a point. Second Birthday Show presented by Midsumma Festival 2018 is a sweet, social commentary that gets under the skin but feels oh so good. Start your February the fabulously funny way and get a ticket today.

 

Dates: 1 – 3 Febuary
Venue: Hares and Hyenas, 63 Johnston St, Fitzroy
Times: 7:00pm
Prices: $15 – $20
Bookings: https://midsumma.org.au/program/popomo18