Month: October 2015

REVIEW: Melbourne Festival Presents 32 RUE VANDENBRANDEN

Suspended in isolation

By Myron My

Performed as part of this year’s Melbourne Festival, Peeping Tom return to Australia with 32 Rue Vandenbranden which explores the isolation and loneliness that a group of people feel through the company’s trademark fusion of dance, physical theatre and music.

32 Rue Vandenbranden

The stage design, which is how the Belgian company begins developing a new creation, perfectly encapsulates the emotional state of its inhabitants. High on a mountain-top, underneath an endless sky, sit three rickety caravans. The ground is covered in snow and there is an immediate sense of remoteness and desolation. The emotive sound composition by Juan Carlos Tolosa and Glenn Vervliet strongly adds to the feelings that the characters are experiencing, while mezzo-soprano Eurudike De Beul‘s musical moments in the show are an aural delight for the audience.

There are some beautifully choreographed moments in 32 Rue Vandenbranden including the opening performance between Jos Baker and Maria Carolina Vieira. Their subsequent duets are mesmerising to watch, as their bodies intertwine with apparent ease in equal displays of frustration and desire to connect with another human.

However, there is still a strong emotional disconnect between what is occurring on stage and what the audience is feeling. The stories that are being told and the character motivation for the movements in the piece unfortunately do not translate well, and along with the constant change in the tone and mood and beyond the stage snow, the show left me feeling quite emotionally cold.

Overall, the individual elements in 32 Rue Vandenbranden, such as the set design, the music and the performances, show the loneliness and hope that people experience in their attempts to connect with and build relationships with people. Ironically, it is this success with the aforementioned aspects that is also its undoing, resulting in a distinct lack of story and heart to the show and an unemotional response from its audience. Perhaps this disconnect is deliberately the work’s ultimate message.

32 Rue Vandenbranden was performed between 8 – 11 October at Southbank Theatre.

REVIEW: Melbourne Festival Presents BABYLON CIRCUS

Dance music explosion

By Narelle Wood

Babylon Circus was a little late in kicking off thanks to Melbourne’s stormy weather, but when it did the elements were just as wild inside the venue as they were out.

Babylon Circus

It’s hard to classify the genre of Babylon Circus; they are French Ska (think big band meets punk) with rock, French, gypsy, Israeli, Reggae, Dixie Jazz and slightly heavier punk, influences. The band itself is a 10-piece ensemble that includes all your regular instruments with a piano accordionist, and some brass and woodwind thrown in. For the most part the music is upbeat and extremely boppy, the constant vigorous bounce by the fans in the audience was a testament to that.

The first three or four songs were fantastic and all of the solos showcased the immense musical talent within the band. Unfortunately the beginning was also marred by some sound issues, which did make it hard to hear all the different instruments at times. Most of the songs were sung in a combination of French and English, and as my French is non-existent and the sound was very large, I found it difficult to work out what they were singing about.

As result of not being able to work out the songs, and also due to so much going on on stage, I found that by about half way through the set, things for me started to sound very much the same – though it was clear from the still bounding audience I was probably in the minority. The only other thing that I struggled with was the lighting; it was really cool and matched the high energy on stage, the problem was there was a lot for such a small space and I was still seeing lights in front of my eyes after I left the venue.

While some of Babylon Circus’s music probably won’t make my play list, there were some pieces that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was also really refreshing to hear a group that so cleverly mixed together a whole range of musical influences to produce a unique perspective on the Ska genre: I would have liked more of that.

Despite my reservations towards some of their music, I couldn’t help but tap my foot and get caught up in the enthusiasm and energy of both the band and the crowd. Babylon Circus knows how to have a good time on stage and that is completely infectious. Their run at the 2015 Melbourne Festival was one night only, but if you like the sound of a melting pot of musical genres that makes you want to dance, be sure to catch them next time they’re in town.

REVIEW: Red Stitch Presents JURASSICA

Impressive cast in family saga

By Caitlin McGrane

Jurassica is a familiar Australian family story of immigration and assimilation. Ralph (Joe Petruzzi) and Sara (Caroline Lee) came from Italy in the 1950s to begin a new life in Australia. As immigrants in a foreign land they attempted to adjust to a new way of life, while trying to maintain their familiar traditions and customs. The play is told through flashback sequences as Ralph’s son Ichlis (Jordan Fraser-Trumble), grandson Luca (Edward Orton) and daughter-in-law Penny (Devon Lang Wilton) attempt to deal with his rapidly failing health. All the performers in the ensemble cast give exceptional performances as individuals and work well together. Fraser-Trumble and Orton both do a particularly good job of playing men/boys at a variety of ages.

Jurassica

However, for me the play did not hang together exceptionally well: the script was slightly tired and took a well-trodden path that was not aided by the addition of the interpreter Kaja’s (Olga Makeeva) Serbian background story, which seemed slightly clumsily included. Director Bridget Balodis has done a terrific job in the six weeks she had to put the play together, but the story was not quite up to the standard I have come to expect from Red Stitch. However, the writing was not without merit, and the play maintained a steady and relatively engaging pace throughout.

As always at Red Stitch the staging and lighting were excellent: Romaine Harper (Set & Designer) and Amelia Lever-Davidson (Lighting Designer) have both done a wonderful job of evoking a variety of environs on stage.

In some ways this is a story of fragile masculinity within a family, and while it was certainly told with its heart in the right place, it unfortunately did not strike a chord with me. This may have been due to the heavy use of Italian, which I do not understand or speak. Luckily I attended with someone who does so she was able to translate, but this somewhat distracted from the intentions on stage. I look forward to seeing what playwright Dan Giovannoni does next.

Dates: Until Nov 9th 2015

Red Stitch Actors Theatre
Rear 2 Chapel Street
St Kilda East, Vic 3183, Australia

Bookings: http://redstitch.net/gallery/jurassica/

Image by Jodie Hutchinson

REVIEW: Melbourne Festival Presents LIMBO

Circus with flare

By Myron My

Presented as part of the 2015 Melbourne FestivalLimbo is an exhilarating blend of circus, acrobatics and cabaret that will have audiences speechless and leave them wanting much much more. With a strong nod to the 1920s and performed in a Spiegeltent, Limbo transports its audience into a seedy underworld of no barriers or rules, a place where everyone can come and play, no matter what your tastes and likes may be.

Limbo

Its international cast ensures that they have the best of the best in its skilled performers including fire-breather sword-swallower Heather Holliday who at one point literally has the stage in flames and the near-impossible contortionist act by Tigris. Other highlights include Danic Abishev‘s hand-balancing act and Mikael Bres‘ Chinese pole act, which left audiences gasping throughout.

There is a great sense of play and cheekiness coming from the performers, which adds to the excitement of Limbo. While they are clearly focused and very careful in what they do, they never let this emotion show and except for one of two moments, you can never actually tell if anything doesn’t quite go according to plan.

The interludes between acts are well thought-out that not only assist with the set up of the next act but allow the audience to catch their breath and compose themselves from the excitement they’ve just witnessed. Scott Maidment has directed a very tight show that has no unnecessary lulls among the incredibly highs of watching these talented people creating intense and jaw-dropping acts with their bodies.

Sxip Shirey‘s live score – including some brilliant beat-boxing by Bres – is a great accompaniment to the acts. The music and the performances come together in unison, to the point where the movements of the acts are in perfect sync with the beats and rhythms of the music.

The charisma and genuine playful nature of the performers ensures that Limbo is an intense yet highly enjoyable experience. There are a number of “need to be seen to be believed” acts that will have you exiting the Spiegeltent in awe and wonderment of what has just been witnessed.

Venue: Spiegeltent, South bank of Yarra River, east of Princes Bridge.

Season: Until 1 November | Tues-Sat 8pm, Sat 3pm, Sun 7pm.

Tickets: $35 – $69

Bookings: Melbourne Festival

Image by Tony Virgo

REVIEW: Metanoia Theatre Presents NOT A GOOD LOOK

Sprawling and ambitious

By Christine Young

NagL, or Not a Good Look, is intended to represent writer Lech Mackiewicz’s impressions of the changes he observed in Australia after leaving in the late 1990s and returning in 2002. This is an Australia that has progressively become less progressive in its acceptance of multiculturalism, to state the obvious.

Not A Good Look

NagL/Not a Good Look means: to describe something as unacceptable, foul, disastrous, inappropriate, or awkward. And this is what’s dished up. Five actors portray several generations of a dysfunctional multicultural family who are in a constant state of disconnect; they are unable to communicate without shouting or talking at each other. They are supposed to be grotesque. And they are supposed to reflect us back to ourselves.

About three quarters of the way through Not a Good Look, actor Miles Paras’s character holds a mirror up to herself and is astounded and upset about how awful she looks. Mirror in hand, she starts a chant with words to the effect of: “live theatre is supposed to show us ourselves in caricature”.

So the vision presented in Not a Good Look is one of a nation at war with itself and what it means to be Australian. The play is structured into 20-odd scenes which are punctuated with the familiar ding! ding! of a boxing ring while the disjointed family goes through motions of their mundane existence. Sometimes, scenes begin with the Hey Dad! television show theme playing ironically in the background.

This an attempt at absurdist theatre with a lot of nonsensical conversations and scenarios occurring in the backdrop of a suburban kitchen and living room.

Unfortunately, the goals of the play aren’t quite realised. At best, it’s organised chaos. At worst, it tries to deliver too many layers of meaning and symbolism so the main message is lost. For instance, the final scene of the play had the characters in costume including a statue of liberty with a barbeque on a barge while Angry Anderson’s Suddenly played. It came out of nowhere and seemed an unlikely ending to the play.

There were some enjoyable aspects to the play such as the tango routine with Paras and Joseph Sherman. However, I wonder if this is a play that needs to be seen more than once in order to understand and engage with it properly.

Venue: Metanoia Theatre, Mechanics Institute, 270 Sydney Rd, Brunswick
Dates: Until October 18, 2015
Tickets: $25 Full / $20 /2 for $25 Wednesdays
Booking: metanoiatheatre.com

REVIEW: Melbourne Festival Presents THE LONDON HAYDN QUARTET

Impeccable

By Narelle Wood

It has taken three years for the Melbourne Festival to complete its ambitious undertaking of performing all 68 quartets composed by Franz Joseph Haydn. As part of this plan The London Haydn Quartet In their Melbourne debut contributed an astounding performance of three of Haydn’s string quartets (No 17 Op 17 No 2, No 37 Op 50 No 2 and No 3 Op 54 No3).

The London Haydn Quartet

It would be easy, at first glance, to mistake this sort of performance as simplistic; there is after all only a stage, the four musicians and some lights. But the simplicity of the surrounds only highlights the complexity of the music and the attention to detail in what can only be described as an incredibly nuanced performance of Haydn’s works. The intricate composition of Haydn’s music moves from moments of quiet almost stillness to furious duelling as the four string instruments answer and talk to and over each other in the most animated musical conversations.

Catherine Manson (violin), Michael Gurevich (violin), James Bord (viola) and Jonathan Manson (cello) make up the quartet and are as every bit as animated as the music. It was clear from both their performance and the brief moments Manson spoke that Haydn is their passion; Manson describing their dedication to Haydn’s works as something akin to dwelling in the unique musical universes that Haydn created. What was perhaps even more evident though was the mastery that these four musicians exhibited, especially in the ways they seamlessly moved through the pieces, each instrument and musician perfectly connecting to each of the others.

The music was beautiful and I found it to be an extremely relaxing and a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend some time on a Friday evening. The only disappointing thing was that it was over so quickly. But the good news is the Haydn for Everyone Series does continue throughout the Melbourne Festival. If you can, make sure to catch The London Haydn Quartet next time they visit for a remarkable classical music experience.

Haydn for Everyone Series

Venue: Various locations and times. See website for details
Season: Until 25th October
Bookings: www.festival.melbourne

REVIEW: Melbourne Festival Presents BRONX GOTHIC

She is mesmerising

By Christine Young

Bronx Gothic is a deeply personal performance that is captivating from the outset. In a quiet corner of the stage, which is shrouded by a curtain, Okwui Okpokwasili shakes her butt for the longest time. All the while, her shadow lurks on the curtain and becomes a character in its own right. It’s spellbinding.

Bronx Gothic

The spell is broken with the clamour of a big city soundscape crashing in and Okpokwasili’s body mirrors the traffic, voices and general hullabaloo of the street. This is the world of her younger self growing up in the Bronx, New York City, during the 1980s. Throughout the performance, the music and other sounds enter Okpokwasili’s body at an invisible point and subtly seep out in her lithe movements.

With the scene of her childhood set, Okpokwasili approaches the microphone and picks up a pile of handwritten notes she passed with her unnamed best friend when they were eleven years old. These notes contain a disturbing dialogue of innocence lost with Okpokwasili’s friend revealing a knowledge of sexual activity beyond her years. They are notes that haunt and follow Okpokwasili into adulthood with the realisation that her friend was probably being sexually abused.
Bronx Gothic is richly symbolic and filled with juxtapositions of light and shade; the public and the private; love and hate; perceived beauty and ugliness; and fear and yearning. Okpokwasili evokes the intensity of childhood on the brink of adolescence with carefully choreographed movement, in-your-face poetry and stirring song.

Director and visual and sound designer Peter Born helps artist Okpokwasili reach and create her vision by deftly synchronising the lighting, sound and choreography. Bronx Gothic is clearly the result of a creative partnership where two minds click in all the right places. This is experimental theatre at its best.

Bronx Gothic is playing at the Arts House as part of the 2015 Melbourne Festival and an exchange between the Arts House and Performance Space 122 in New York.

Venue: Arts House, 521 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne
Dates: Until October 12, 2015
Tickets: $39 Full / $25 /$15 students
Booking: www.festival.melbourne

Image by Sarah Walker

REVIEW: Melbourne Festival Presents THE RABBITS

Powerful and poignant family opera

By Rachel Holker

Based on the acclaimed picture book by John Marsden and Shaun Tan, and the winner of several Helpmann Awards, The Rabbits (adapted and directed by John Sheedy) comes with high expectations and does not disappoint. An unsubtle commentary on the colonisation of Australia and the consequences for the people and the environment, this production for Melbourne Festival 2015 is no pantomime for the kids.

The Rabbits

The story remains very close to the original text, with the addition of Bird (Kate Miller-Heidke) as a narrator of sorts, calling on high various warnings and dire predictions yet pointlessly declaring her inability to assist with the Marsupials plight as the Rabbits invade.

The Rabbits is masterpiece of staging and design. Tan’s illustrations are utilised sparingly, yet effectively to portray the land of the Marsupials and the encroaching impact of the Rabbits. The costumes (Gabriela Tylesova) cross the line into puppetry and are so emotionally effective (the Marsupials in particular are gorgeously haunting) that the performers’ own faces become superfluous.

Miller-Heidke’s score is very good and, the small orchestra on stage was a delight – I would have liked to see even more of their interactions with the other players. All the performances were strong, especially the Marsupials Hollie Andrew, Jessica Hitchcock and Lisa Maza who brought genuine grief to some heartrending scenes.

The libretto is a touch uneven and jarring at points, particularly where it tries to play to the adults in the audience. This was not necessary and detracted from the story rather than lightening the mood as was the intent. However where the words and music combine at key emotional points is where The Rabbits excels.

I hope The Rabbits represents the beginning of a trend in children’s productions that speak up rather than down to their audience.

Tickets to The Rabbits, produced by Opera Australia and Barking Gecko Theatre Company, in Melbourne are sold out.
Sydney performances:14-24 January, Roslyn Packer Theatre, $47-$98

Bookings: https://opera.org.au/whatson/events/detail?prodid=113130

By Abbey age 11.

I really liked The Rabbits, but it was really sad at some parts. The costumes were amazing and the way they used their headdresses’ mouths when the Rabbits were drinking tea, instead of their own, was really cool. The use of props was awesome with some reaching the top of the stage such as the boat.

The story was told extremely well with one of the Marsupials from the book replaced by a narrating bird and I thought that was effective. The interpretation of the book was really good for the book has no dialogue, but the show does. The character’s speeches were made up but what they said still made sense to the story. The operatic side was amazing but loud.

I wouldn’t recommend this for young kids because it is so sad and emotional.

REVIEW; Jimmy Chinn’s A DIFFERENT WAY HOME

Double monologue was a hit with delighted audience

By Margaret Wieringa

We start in the living room of Leslie. He is an old man, or perhaps he just seems older than he is because of his lingering cold, awful breathy wheeze and the difficulty he has at getting around. But he wouldn’t complain, instead, he’d welcome you in for a cuppa and a natter. Though don’t expect to get a word in!

A Different Way Home

Michael Dalton is Leslie, who tells us about his life; his mother, only recently passed away, his sister and brother who’ve migrated to Australia and Canada respectively, and ‘Our Maureen’, the evil sister who lives around the corner. We’ve all met a Leslie – welcoming and friendly, but bitter and full of anger and regret.

His home is sweet – old, furniture that is clearly well-loved, trinkets to fill an op shop, and a real sense of cosy. The set welcomes the audience as much as Leslie does. Throughout, the lighting subtly directs our eye across the stage, but also creates a real melancholy when required.

In the second half we meet Maureen (again played by Michael Dalton). We’ve come to expect a real piece of work from Leslie’s description, and there is certainly a sense of that. Similarly to Leslie, she is bitter, but perhaps slightly more aware of the world around her – though possibly equally as deluded about her place in it.

Michael Dalton plays both characters with the black humour, yet genuine sadness that playwright Jimmy Chinn requires from his words. Dalton and director Zoe Warwick have created two distinct yet clearly interwoven characters that connect instantly with the audience.

And did I mention that it is funny? The play carries a lot of emotional weight, but the audience with whom I enjoyed the performance roared with laughter many times during the show. The show is part of the Victorian Seniors Festival this year: festival participants were well-represented in an audience who clearly loved this show as particularly suited to them.

A Different Way Home is being presented by the community partner annecto and the City of Stonnington as part of the Victorian Seniors Festival 2015.

Where: Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, South Yarra, Prahran
When: 6-11 October
Tickets: $32.40-$36.50, http://chapeloffchapel.com.au/

REVIEW: Helen Bower’s LOST IN THE LOOPING GLASS

Engulfed in the artistry of music

By Myron My

I’ve often said if I had the time to learn any musical instrument I would choose the violin. There is something incredibly calming and meditative about hearing an accomplished musician play such an instrument. Upon learning there was a performance by violinist and sound artist Helen Bower as part of the 2015 Melbourne Fringe Festival, I made sure I would not be missing it.

Lost in the Looping Glass

Bower’s Lost In The Looping Glass is a 50-minute violin performance played alongside a loop pedal. She records fragments or sequences on her violin from compositions by local and international composers live, and has them playing on loop where they gradually layer on top of one another to create their own music.

It is obvious from the very beginning that Bower has completely given herself over to the music. There is a somewhat ritualistic process with Bower kneeling by the violin in reverence before she picks it up and begins to strum, pluck and strike the violin to make her expressive and emotive music.

Once you close your eyes, the beautiful combination of sounds and rhythms draw you away from the venue and you find yourself wherever your mind and the sounds want to take you. I myself end up on a nostalgic journey through significant periods of my life, all the while thoroughly enjoying the musical soundtrack that evokes and accompanies these memories.

At one point during Lost In The Looping Glass, Bower speaks of a time when she was a child in Berlin. Unlike other performances where hearing the artist speak of their own experiences enhances the effect of the art, I actually found the aural impact of this work means this spoken interlude breaks into the personal reflective journey that each audience member is going on, as our thoughts are then in conflict with the visual that Bower is describing. For me, it takes away from the power of the music and carefully constructed acoustic environment, and subsequently disrupted the distinctly immersive influence the performance has over me.

Bower’s Lost In The Looping Glass is a transfixing performance and a unique opportunity to see music from a violin being created on a loop pedal. Moreover, it’s a moving experience that allowed me the poignant and powerful chance to travel back to moments of my life that I had otherwise forgotten or not thought possible to relive.

Lost In The Looping Glass was performed at Scratch Warehouse between 18 September and 4 October for the 2015 Melbourne Fringe festival.