Category: Cabaret

Review: Slut

Pertinent and permeating progressive perfection

By Owen James

Witnessing an ensemble of collaborators and performers so in tune with each other, as well as in tune with the message and tone of the work they are presenting, is a rarity. Slut is a powerful dissection of the tangible inner conflict imposed on women making their journey from childhood to adulthood; and this is a production that for me comes close to perfection.

Patricia Cornelius’ exemplary yet disconcerting script was first performed in 2007, and as director Rachel Baring notes in the programme, “it is really hard when you take a piece from 2007 and it is just as relevant now as when it was written”. Baring has taken the raw, exposing elements inherent in Cornelius’ work, and turned the flame to high. Presented in the insanely intimate Fitzroy space ‘The Burrow’ (journey down a laneway off Brunswick Street to find a very cozy black box seating only 25), these feminist depositions are brutally honest and grippingly confronting. Baring ensures the dialogue and impressively rapid-fire choreographed movement are always as perturbing as the claustrophobic space these oppressed performers are unnaturally confined within. Lighting and sound design by John Collopy and Daniella Esposito respectively is exquisite, enhancing the text and direction at every turn.

The majority of dialogue is shared by a narrative triad composed of Lauren Mass, Jessica Tanner and Michaela Bedel. So impeccable is the timing and communal commitment to concentration shared by these three that we are transfixed with every word and gesture. Laura Jane Turner plays social renegade Lolita (named for the connotative qualities title “Lolita” recalls), and fearlessly delivers much of her exposition with disturbing composure mere centimetres away from audience members. This perfectly-matched company of four are of such high calibre I could happily have sat there fully engaged for hours.

A 30-minute show for almost $30 is a hard sell in our relentless economy where getting bang for your backbreaking buck is not only expected but necessary. But I’m here to tell you your spent dollars will be bereft of regret thanks to the dedication and expertise of these creatives. Slut is everything great theatre should be – urgent, relevant, and a good story well told; and proves how access to only limited resources is no obstacle to talented theatre-makers.

Don’t miss Slut, a powerhouse rollercoaster that propels itself forward with turbulent momentum at every turn, and will leave you simultaneously thrilled and terrified.

Running until March 21: https://www.trybooking.com/book/event?eid=586996

Photograph courtesy of Michaela Bedel.

Review: Conchita Wurst & Trevor Ashley with Kate Miller-Heidke

Voices of Austria and Australia combine

By Owen James

Musical events where two great artists unite always make for an evening of enthralling entertainment. Last night however, Melbourne was treated to three world-class artists at Hamer Hall, and over two hours and through various musical styles, we were taken to music wonderland. The six standing ovations throughout the night are a testament to the magic of these renowned vocalists.

The audacious Trevor Ashley kicked off with classic tunes and brazen cabaret-style anecdotes of bad dates gone wrong, warming the audience up for a wild night of dauntless divas. Ashley channelled the great Shirley Bassey, gave a stirring rendition of the toe-tapping Peter Allen rousing anthem ‘Quiet Please, There’s A Lady On Stage’, and dazzled us with cabaret classic ‘The Man Who Got Away’. Ashley’s vocals especially impressed with Broadway classic ‘People’ from Funny Girl, receiving a deserving rousing ovation.

Eurovision legend Conchita Wurst delivered stunning anthem after anthem with her unmatched, heavenly soprano tones. This was Wurst’s first time performing here, and her warm and gracious personality has undoubtedly enamoured her first Melbournian audience. Performing recognisable hits including ‘Out Of Body Experience’ and infamous winning Eurovision ballad ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’, Wurst also wowed with lesser-known tracks peppered throughout the evening. Ashley and Wurst also dedicated a substantial portion of the evening to a timely tribute to the music of James Bond, including Adele epic ‘Skyfall’, and piano-bar favourite ‘Goldfinger’.

Kate Miller-Heidke’s brief two-song stint in the second act stole the show for me. Miller-Heidke’s seamless blend of classical and contemporary vocal styles is mesmerising, showcased in both the finale from her 2016 Opera ‘The Rabbits’ and Eurovision ballad ‘Zero Gravity’ from 2019. She joined Ashley and Wurst for a gentle delivery of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ that made the perfect conclusion for the night.

Conductor Michael Tyack lead the magnificent 40-piece symphony orchestra who backed every piece with delicate nuance and soaring, rich explosions and crescendos. There’s no recorded alternative that that can match a stage full of live professional musicians in perfect synchronisation, and through every alternating musical style this set list demanded, this heavenly group were precise and moving.

Keep an eye out for the next live performance of any of these heart-warming artists.

conchitawurst.com
trevorashley.com.au
katemillerheidke.com

Photography courtesy of Arts Centre Melbourne

Review: Salome

A disturbing opera, masterfully presented

By Narelle Wood

Victorian Opera opens its 2020 season with a performance of Richard Strauss’s unsettling Opera Salomé, based on Oscar Wilde’s play by the same name.

The Opera opens with Narraboth (James Egglestone), the captain of the guards guarding the prophet Jochanaan (Daniel Sumegi), voicing is admiration and infatuation for Salomé (Vida Mikneviciute). Salomé soon enters, having left the banquet to escape her step-father Herod (Ian Storey), who is also infatuated by Salomé. The plot quickly thickens as Salomé demands to speak to Jochanaan. Upon meeting Jochanaan Salomé becomes intoxicated by his looks, but Jochanaan rebukes her advances, denouncing Salomé, her family, and their wickedness. Meanwhile, distraught at the sight of Salomé’s admiration for another, Narraboth takes his own life. And just when you think that this may be the climatic end to the story, Herod and Herodias (Liane Keegan) enter, and the plot takes yet another dark turn.

Conducted by Richard Mills, Orchestra Victoria bring a sense of urgency to the score that seems to foreshadow the impending tragedy, even when the characters are declaring their love for another. Director Cameron Menzies has capitalised on the uncomfortable themes of Strauss’s opera, bringing to the stage characters who are complex, unlikeable and disturbing, especially in their interactions with each other. There is no mistaking Herod’s leering, and almost predatory pursuit of Salomé’s affections, but he is also tormented and seems to have some resemblance of a moral compass. Herodias, while gleeful at the prospect of her husband’s potential demise, is also at times seemingly concerned for him. The setting, designed by Christina Smith, superbly mirrors some of the architectural features of the Palais theatre, and is almost dishevelled in appearance, but is still reminiscent of a ‘great palace’. The costuming by Anna Cordingley is stunning, but again there is something that is just ‘off’ enough, deliberately so, for it to look constricted, unsettled or out of place.

Everybody’s performances are exceptional, including the impressive ensemble. There is potential with this storyline for the characters to become more caricatures. And while there were certain character traits that each performer emphasised, it didn’t ever cross the line into something more farcical. And, again, this seemed to contribute to the troubling nature of the performance. Mikneviciute, for instance, moves from emotion to emotion, portraying Salomé as someone confident in who they are and what they want, despite how irrational or comedic her behaviour might appear to the audience.

While the opera is short – one act of 90 minutes – the impression it leaves is lasting. Victorian Opera’s interpretation of Salomé is tragic and uncomfortable, but captivatingly so.

Salomé is on at the Palais Theatre until February 27th. Tickets at http://www.victorianopera.com.au/season/salome

Photography by Craig Fuller

 

 

Review: Amore e Morte

Reminiscent of a film noir

By Sebastian Purcell

Amore e Morte tells the story of a couples witness to a murder, fleeing their home and seeking refuge in a strange new place. While safe for a time until they are called back to the home land. He testifies while she records his tale as an expose. The musical is performed by the dynamic duo, Nikki Elli Souvertijs and Italian instrumentalist Riccardo Barone.

Barone’s music is complex, beautiful, emotional and soaring in equal parts. Most impressive is the entire 60 minutes performed without sheet music. In addition the performance of the Melodica while playing the piano together was worth viewing in its own right.

Souvertijs soars with a big clear Broadway voice, which is sometimes overwhelming in the smaller venue of the Butterfly Club. The softer notes in the show, resonates more on a dramatic and emotional level, however, overall there are too few of these moments. Because of this I felt as thought the show didn’t provide enough light and shade, especially given the tale it was trying to tell. That been said, Souvertjis clearly demonstrates that she is multi-dimensional conveying the story through both song, costume and minimalist acting that was reminiscent of a film noir.

Throughout the production a type writer is used as prop for Souvertjis’s character to write about the couples trials and tribulations, but it also serves as a wonderful accompaniment to the piano. The timing and use was creative and experimental, and one of the highlights of the show.

The production was smooth, lighting design simple but effective, and the sound was clear, but I did think that it might be too amplified for the venue. This is a no gloss, no glam production, and very befitting a story of love and loss.

Amore e Morte was performed at the Butterfly Club, Melbourne.

Review: Much Ado About Nothing

Traversing the pitfalls of love, deceit and pride 

By Rebecca Waese 

Shakespeare was celebrated joyfully last night in a Sevenfold Theatre Company production of Much Ado About Nothing in an inner-city backyard in Kingsville, Melbourne. First-time director Mitchell Wills led his youthful cast, hailing from Federation University, in an Australian-inspired Much Ado About Nothing that included well-crafted references to Melbourne suburbs and the Australian Open Tennis. It was a happy, accessible production with some moments of deep feeling and bawdy humour. For Shakespeare fans and, perhaps, VCE English students who are studying this play, this production of Much Ado offers an engaging way to experience the comedic adventures and misadventures of two couples, Hero and Claudio, and Beatrice and Benedick, who traverse the pitfalls of love, deceit, pride, and Don John’s cunning plots against Hero’s honour.

With some cuts to the original Shakespeare to condense the play to two hours, Wills includes modern references to make the story resonant with his audience, with messages arriving by iPhone and Don John vaping on top of the doghouse. There were many enjoyable interactions with the audience where audience members were winked at, called a drunkard or asked to record the notes from the trial led by a very funny and capable Watch duo, played by Fae O’Toole and Tess Walsh.

Other highlights include the strong performance of Benedick, played by Jesse Calvert, in his transformation from sharp-tongued bachelor to the love-struck, poetry-writing wooer of Beatrice, played by Petea Stark.  Benedick’s spying behind the laundry and Beatrice’s squeezing through the doggie door contributed enjoyable moments of physical comedy and a clever use of the backyard and surrounding space.

There were a few questionable interpretive choices involving the sheer likability of Claudio, (Tom Costigan) who might benefit from emphasizing the darker aspects of his fickle nature, and interest in appearances and in Hero’s inheritance as suggested in the subtext of the play. The level of campiness of Leonato, played by Joshua Strachan, was a little out of place at times and I believe Leonato’s strongest moments were in his more dramatic and grounded rejection of Hero. Perhaps Don John, the evil plotting villain, ought to remain estranged in the final dance and not mingle in the celebration with the revellers?

While rocking up to someone’s backyard for the evening involves some level of trepidation, the audience was given a warm welcome from Leonato, and invited to an intimate setting with paper lanterns, strings of lights and laundry hung artfully in hues of red, pink and blue. Costumes were coordinated and appealing and music added a convivial feeling to the relaxed night. While the level of professional experience of the ensemble is new and the company is in its debut season in the Melbourne theatre scene, there is certainly a place for this pleasurable outdoor Shakespearean production and its promising ensemble. 

Playing until the 26th January. Tickets available here

Review: Songs For Nobodies

One woman becomes ten

By Owen James

Bernadette Robinson is a star, and Songs For Nobodies is the perfect vehicle for her endless talent to be showcased in. Originally commissioned and directed by Simon Phillips ten years ago, this one-woman masterpiece allows Robinson to become Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf and Maria Callas in succession, alongside five women who meet these stars in unlikely and often amusingly implausible situations.

She has the audience in the palm of her hand from the very beginning, and we are enthralled with every breath and spellbinding note. Robinson effortlessly switches between her impressive array of accents, dialects and musical styles as she crosses continents and classes, each new voice painting a portrait of a lost artist we feel could be genuinely standing before us. (And it’s the closest we’ll get!) Robinson performs from the heart, her loving recreations mesmerising and enchanting for their truthful purity. We are left astonished with delicate transitions between soprano torch songs, country classics, and smoky blues standards.

The whole experience is very calming and peaceful, a combination of the warm wave of nostalgia intrinsic to the material, and the feeling that we are always safe in Robinson’s expert hands. Sound and lighting designers have embraced this tranquillity, and enhanced every moment with simple but very effective use of soundscapes and flawless lighting states.

The text is written by acclaimed playwright Joanna Murray-Smith, and is imbued with research and passion at every turn. Clear and polished pictures are painted of both the famous artists and the ordinary women recounting their encounters in every monologue, and every carefully selected song is masterfully integrated with the text, creating a tonally consistent flow throughout the entire ninety minute runtime. The show is undoubtedly curated for an audience acquainted with the references, but will still be enjoyed by anyone unfamiliar with these famous artists, thanks to Murray-Smith’s witty and timeless writing.

It is difficult to imagine an artist more suited to their art than Bernadette Robinson in Songs For Nobodies. She is deserving of every piece of praise and acclaim that has come her way throughout the ten-year international performance history of this show – which includes a noteworthy nomination for an Olivier Award during its West End run. Living in the intimate Fairfax Studio at Arts Centre Melbourne until January 5th, this outing makes for the perfect pre-Christmas treat or post-Christmas wind-down. Not to be missed.

https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2019/musicals/songs-for-nobodies

Photography courtesy of The Arts Centre Melbourne

 

Review: Chicago

Full of razzle dazzle

By Rebecca Waese

The sizzling Jazz-age musical, Chicago, opened at the State Theatre at the Arts Centre in Melbourne last night, satirizing the idea of the celebrity criminal, the corrupt justice system and the media that glamourizes American criminals, and especially, gorgeous female murderesses. Based on a 1926-play written by crime reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins on historical female murderesses who used their feminine wiles to get away with murder, this revival of the 1975 American musical is eerily resonant today in the age of ‘fake news’ where phoney celebrities dominate the headlines and Insta feeds. It was sultry, and full of ‘razzle dazzle’ with some fine moments of comedic timing and satire, and extraordinary talent.

Alinta Chidzey as Velma Kelly brought her outstanding talents in dance and voice to the stage, with vertical leg extensions and a vocal range and power that took my breath away. Having toured alongside Hugh Jackman in The Boy from Oz and winning an impressive collection of awards for Musical Theatre, Chidzey is one to watch. The casting of Casey Donovan as Matron ‘Mama’ Morton was bang-on. The former Australian Idol winner was a powerhouse to behold, owning the space with intensity and adding a sexy physical confidence to the role which was fabulous to see. Natalie Bassingthwaighte brought engaging comedic timing and physicality to the role of Roxie Hart, particularly in the press conference scene where the lawyer, Billy Flynn, played by Jason Donovan, uses her as his ventriloquized dummy to construct a new narrative and re-frame her as innocent. Donovan was slick, charming and humane in his dramatic portrayal of the celebrity lawyer and connected well to the Melbourne audience who welcomed him warmly. The vocals of Jason Donovan and Bassingthwaighte, however, were just not on the same level as Chidzey and Casey Donovan, whose voices filled the vast theatre and were in a league of their own.

Highlights of the show included the onstage orchestra (directed by Daniel Edmonds) who stole a few celebrity moments after interval with some upstanding jazz solos that got the crowd roaring. Understated cuckold Amos Hart, played by Rodney Dobson, had the best jazz hands in the show in his compelling, ‘Mr. Cellophane’ and the ensemble was extraordinarily strong with salivating sexy moves from Fred Casely, played by Andrew Cook and Fosse-inspired choreography by Ann Reinking and Gary Chryst that popped and pulsed with impressive synchronicity.

Opening on the historic night of Donald Trump’s impeachment, this Chicago production voices a timely and ironic message on the decline of justice and truth in America. Velma comments, “You know, a lot of people have lost faith in America and what America stands for’ and Billy Flynn’s response is to ‘Razzle Dazzle them… How can they see with sequins in their eyes?” A self-aware musical production such as this exposes our collective desire for both glamour and truth. With home-grown stars and a formidable ensemble, you will be entertained on a number of levels by this Australian production of Chicago.

Until 23rd February, tickets at http://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2019/musicals/chicago

Photography by Jeff Busby