Category: Cabaret

Review: The Beautiful Game

Theatricalised slice of Irish Troubles

By Owen James

Amidst the madness of Fringe, independent company Manilla Street Productions are presenting a rarely-performed Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice musical about the lives of a football team wrestling with pride and confrontation during ‘The Troubles’. This is a high-quality production of material that I found at times unfulfilling and disjointed, but full kudos to Manilla Street Productions for choosing to tackle this little-known show.

Lloyd-Webber’s score is nothing groundbreaking, but suitably serves the emotional elements of the story. Though rife with generic and poorly-written lyrics that hinder potential character development, there are beautiful ballads and dynamic ensemble numbers peppered throughout. The book by respected veteran writer Ben Elton is at its best when tackling the darker themes stewing beneath these characters’ lives, crafting moments of emotion that are deeply affecting.

Director/producer Karen Jemison has brought the world of 1969 Belfast to life with evident understanding of the political and religious thunderstorm these conflicted young men are swallowed by. It is this ongoing conflict – both in their heads and on the streets – that is at the heart of The Beautiful Game, where you either take a side, or someone will choose one for you. Jemison has injected the production with a realistic sense of energy and danger that makes for compelling, engaging character work.

Choreography by Sue-Ellen Shook is seamlessly integrated into blocking, executed by an ensemble at the top of their game (no pun intended). A football match dissolves into a competitive, masculine dance sequence and out again in a West Side Story-esque blend of athleticism and choreographic metaphor. Daniele Buatti’s expert musical direction embraces the tender Irish melodies and rousing, chanted anthems of Lloyd-Webber’s score with vivacity and concentrated delicacy.

Stephen Mahy brings innocence and vulnerability to ambitious footballer John Kelly. This is a great vehicle for Mahy’s talents, his versatile voice gliding over difficult high melodies with ease – Mahy can sing anything. Stephanie Wall has crafted a detailed character in love interest Mary, and executes a perfect rendition of heartfelt, part-acapella ballad ‘If This Is What We’re Fighting For’.

David Meadows is a standout as Father O’Donnell, bringing gravitas and humour to this commanding but compassionate man, and finding depth in scenes both celebratory and devastating. Des Flanagan as bitter, turbulent Thomas carries the character’s complicated arc with building intensity in a delightfully intimidating and exceptional performance.

Sound design by Marcello Lo Ricco is superb, highlighting crisp and clean vocals and every note from the nine-piece band. Lighting designer Jason Bovaird has once again transformed the intimate Chapel into a colourful paradise, creating menacing alleyways, rowdy pubs, hotel rooms and bright football ovals, all with distant, twinkling Irish hues hanging over every desperate character’s decision.

The material is undoubtedly imbued with heart and passion, but does not always connect its serious and comedic elements in a believable manner, creating a sometimes confusing dichotomy of tone. The extremely strong cast and production team of Manilla Street have played to the show’s many strengths with a very faithful, polished presentation – audiences will undoubtedly relish the professional performances and quality of this production. I cannot wait to see what Manilla Street bring us next.

Running at Chapel Off Chapel until 29th September
Tickets: https://chapeloffchapel.com.au/show/the-beautiful-game/

 

 

Advertisements

Review: Yummy Deluxe

Clever and raunchy

By Irene Bell

Yummy Deluxe: the perfect way to forget your troubles for an hour and laugh along to talented people doing crazy things with their bodies.

What is there to be said about a group of highly talented people entertaining the crap out of everyone? The ensemble of Yummy have crafted a perfect hour of fun, sexy and cheeky cabaret and burlesque.

What’s truly lovely about this show are the tonal shifts. While Hannie Heslden, Zelia Rose and Jandruze provide the audience with upbeat and suggestive performances, Benjamin Hacock’s dancing brings a level of grunge to the show that was surprising, though not in any way unwelcome – the dancing to ‘The Beautiful People’ in a feathered crown and mask was a highlight. Yummy Deluxe is a celebration of all things feminine, with the colourful dance numbers being broken up by Joni the Moon’s ethereal singing that transports you out of the venue and into a dreamscape. All the while the show is hosted by the charismatic Valerie Hex, whose performance of ‘When Doves Cry’ was spectacular.

The show is many things and the identities on the stage reflect that. It’s great to see woman incorporated in the drag show. The costuming is brilliant, with every new reveal fighting for the audience’s attention – it’s impossible to look away from the stage.

This show is the perfect way to unwind and remind yourself that as long as art that is both clever and raunchy is getting made, it’s all going to be okay. Entertaining a crowd and brining genuine smiles to people’s faces can be hard in today’s political (and environmental) climate – as Valerie Hex points out – but Yummy Deluxe will do just that. Plus, if this show doesn’t make you want to take up pole dancing, you’re beyond help.

YUMMY DELUXE is playing at the Trades Hall until 29 September. Tickets can be bought here online (https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/yummy-deluxe/) or by calling the box office on (03) 9660 9666.

 

Review: The Worst Little Warehouse in London

Best little cabaret is laugh-out-loud hilarious

By Ross Larkin
 

The prospect of independent cabaret can be unsettling, given the self-indulgence and lack of polish that often dog the genre, presumably because they are usually easier to produce in terms of cost and time.

So it is with no small amount of surprise to report that The Worst Little Warehouse in London is one of the best little shows I’ve seen in a long while.

A two-hander about an Australian couple house sharing in the big smoke with a dozen wildly eccentric travellers is no doubt a familiar scenario for many an Aussie who has treaded the backpacking trail. However, The Worst Little Warehouse explores the premise with shrewd innovation, brilliantly composed music and laugh-out-loud hilarity.

Real-life couple Lala Barlow and Robbie Smith bring to life an array of quirky, misguided characters while singing and playing keys to a selection of fast-paced, intelligent and witty tunes which get better and better as the show progresses.

Both Barlow and Smith are clearly natural born entertainers with comic timing and musical prowess to rival the best in the business, and the pair never miss a beat as they move from one character to the next, often in rapid succession.

Director Sarah Redmond ensures the couple are showcased in all their musical comedy glory at a pace that builds so satisfactorily the audience is practically in the palm of the show’s hands, ready to burst with joy by the conclusion yet not wanting it to end.

It’s no wonder this gem of a cabaret has been raved about at so many festivals and shortlisted for best musical and best cabaret at Edinburgh Fringe.

I seldom recommend shows so highly (let alone the indie cabaret variety), but The Worst Little Warehouse in London is a complete delight from start to finish which will have you in stitches and in awe. I implore you to make it your first choice at this year’s Comedy Festival.

The Worst Little Warehouse in London plays until 31 March at The Butterfly Club as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets can be purchased online.

Photograph: Ben Fon

Review: Close Encounters

Deliciously camp sci-fi burlesque

By Bradley Storer

Australian all male burlesque group Briefs return to Melbourne with their latest work Close Encounters,and without a doubt the boys are better then ever! This time around the troupe have a thematic link tying the show together, the idea of ‘close encounters’ in terms of both science fiction and the connection between human beings as a whole. We’re invited aboard ‘the mother of all motherships’ by host and drag performer Shivanna (AKA Fez Fa’anana) as the boys of Briefs deliver a hopeful message from the future.

The audience is treated to a stunning array of burlesque, acrobatics, dance and comedy across the evening. Highpoints include a science experiment/juggling routine that first thrills then tantalizes with balls flying through the air and volcanoes exploding as a lab uniform vanishes. A sensual, spacey strip show featuring an astronaut floating through space in nothing but a g-string. A gorgeous and gawky ballet set to the futuristic thrum of Kate Bush. And all throughout, an inexplicable but wonderfully grouchy white rabbit who continually points to a ringing alarm clock – suggesting the inescapable tugging of time as it drags us into the future, perhaps? At every twist and turn of the performance, the audience were whooping and hollering in ecstatic joy.

Across the board, Close Encounters takes the aesthetic previously established by Briefs – queer, cheeky, joyful, political and daring – and deepens it in beautiful ways. The highlight of the entire show is a gorgeous sequence exploring the limits of the human body with Shivanna as icy extra-terrestrial mistress manipulating and contorting her aerialist test subject. Campy, deliciously overwrought elements crystallise into a stunning whole that can only be described as a piece of pure art.

Briefs continues to offer up work that arouses, disturbs and most of all, delights the audience. While it admittedly offers no solutions to the problems of humanity, it does give a glimpse of a time in which humanity has moved towards a more joyous tomorrow – and that is more than consolation enough.

Close Encounters ran at the Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne 20 – 24 March. See here for more information.

Photograph: Kate Pardey

Review: Mad World

Fortune favours the bold

By Bradley Storer

The classic Latin proverb is handy advice for any audience member entering the realm of Mad World, the new theatrical experience currently running at Vau d’vile.  An immersive and interactive piece, Mad World will yield different paths for everyone who enters, and those who wish can simply hang back and enjoy the show. The real joy, however, is for those who dare to explore and try to unravel the mysteries they encounter.

Set in Berlin, circa 1933, the venue is transformed into a underground Weimar-era cabaret bar, Klub Wonderland. The cast become an eclectic gathering of local singers, dancers and deplorables hiding away from the encroaching shadow of Nazism. The drama begins even before the audience has entered the club, and we are quickly guided through introductions to all of the characters before the evening begins in earnest and we are encouraged to split off and explore.

Each of the denizens of Klub Wonderland is wonderfully eccentric and so delightful that it would be easy to follow one of them all night. Directors James Cutler and Lauren McKenna have done an impressive job crafting the tiny intimate moments hidden throughout the performance and co-ordinating them around the larger beats that make up the central story. The cast are all extraordinarily talented, improvising with the audience behind the scenes without missing a beat as well as singing and dancing up a storm whenever they’re called to the main stage. Under the musical direction of David Butler (who also stars as the club’s de facto leader Peppy), the band keeps up a cavalcade of modern hits magically reworked into the fashion of pre-World War II music. Be prepared to hear Pink, Ariana Grande, Queen and even Eminem as you never imagined!

The floor show on the main stage of Klub Wonderland (which runs continuously throughout the entire evening) is so thoroughly entertaining that it’s almost a disappointment to tear yourself away. The compelling and intricate choreography of Madi Lee evokes the bawdiness of the sleazy Berlin underworld, even as it chillingly suggests the ever growing influence of the Third Reich.

The rewards of wandering further afield are more than worth it, as you find yourself drawn into the lurking tensions and shadowy dealings of the club’s denizens. Pulled into dark corners for hushed conversations, taken backstage to share furtive prayers, invited into alleys for terrifying tea parties? It feels as though literally anything could happen!

Words can only capture this experience to a certain degree, but the closest way it can be described is that child-like feeling of nervous excitement embarking on an adventure into the unknown. Take the plunge down the rabbit hole before it’s too late!

Mad World is being performed 3 – 20 February at Vau d’vile Drag Cabaret Fitzroy. Tickets can be purchased online.

Photograph by Carl McKinnon featuring Sophie Perkins as DamDam.

 

 

Review: The Miss Behave Gameshow

A fast-paced, raucous and euphoric experience

By Owen James

Adorned in sequins and seeping in sass, audacious host Miss Behave holds no punches in this fast-paced, full-throttle theatrical gameshow, where one half of the audience battles the other.

Every game is unique with the title scrawled on a cardboard sign and held up to the audience, think quickly! Some last for less than five seconds, some for five minutes – there are no rules and “cheating is rewarded”. It’s a cathartic hoot, and you’ll find yourself obsessively vying for points within minutes.

Don’t enter the Fairfax Studio at Arts Centre Melbourne expecting to sit calmly in your seat while you enjoy this extravaganza directly from Las Vegas. The Miss Behave Gameshow demands participation, and honestly, it’s nearly impossible to resist the joyful atmosphere.

Anything goes, and anything will get you points. If you think you have a competitive personality, you’ll be absolutely in your element. Miss Behave (Amy Saunders) unleashes gags and comebacks at a rapid-fire pace, feeding off the raw energy of the points-hungry crowd. Sidekick Tiffany is the perfect companion to Miss Behave, playing perfectly timed music from a mounted iPad and filling gaps in the evening by dancing with extremely flexible limbs and eyebrows.

Ensure you prepare for the game with a fully charged phone and having downloaded WhatsApp as the event page recommends – there’s free WiFi to help you win the more electronic challenges.

You’ll dance, you’ll sing, you’ll scream, you might even misbehave, and you’ll certainly see more nudity than you probably expected. While it’s not for the faint-hearted, it’s a raucous and euphoric experience unlike any other show I’ve seen or heard.

Miss Behave celebrates simple, uninhibited fun in a world where stupid men with stupid hair make stupid decisions, and it proves you don’t need anything but some cardboard and a sharpie to create an exhilarating night. It’s worth every penny, so why not take the risk?

The Miss Behave Gameshow is being performed at Arts Centre Melbourne as part of Midsumma Festival until 27 January. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 1300 182 183.

Photo credit: Prudence Upton

 

Review: The Legend of Queen Kong

Punk, bawdy and a tad confusing

By Bradley Storer

Midsumma Festival 2019 launched this week, and what more appropriate way to blast off than with a story set in the deepest reaches of space?

The Legend of Queen Kong – Episode Two: Queen Kong in Outer Space is the latest endeavour from Sarah Ward, the performer behind the infamous Australian cabaret cage-rattler Yana Alana. Ward introduces us to the mythological and immortal being Queen Kong – half ape, half living rock – in the midst of an epic trilogy, a space journey commencing after a daring escape from Planet Earth. Backed by a queer and gender diverse punk band the HOMOsapiens (Bec Matthews, Gen Bernstein, Jo Franklin and Cerise Howard), Kong vaults from experience to experience in an intergalactic quest of sensation. Complementing the group is the omnipresent Motherboard creatively portrayed and signed by deaf performer Asphyxia via projection with a voice over by singer Ilana Charnelle, whose gorgeous music ranges from rock ballad to operatic aria. Accessibility is paramount in this production, with AUSLAN interpreter Kirri Dangerfield providing live signing (as well as doubling as performer) in addition to surtitles.

Ward commands the stage from beginning to end, wielding her gigantic and miraculously versatile voice with finesse along with her bawdy and fearless physicality. The HOMOsapiens, under the musical direction of Matthews, tear the house down in their rock numbers and play with delicate fragility in the softer musical interludes. Asphyxia, even in projection form, is so charismatic and engaging that they almost overshadow Kong herself!

The show seems deliberately designed to frustrate linear narrative convention, appropriate for a story that involves a black hole reducing time and matter to a singularity where beginning, middle and end merge. Kong reminds the audience at several points that it’s perfectly fine to have no idea what is happening as we loop from event to event, backwards and sideways in time, resisting hetero-patriarchal structures of storytelling.

While there is a wealth of riches in Queen Kong in terms of production, performers and form – as well as definite moments of deep beauty and emotion – it feels as though these elements never quite coalesce into a cohesive whole. Despite the clear themes of patriarchy, religion and resistance that emerge, we’re only left with the message Ward and the creatives of Queen Kong are trying to communicate through Joni Mitchell’s classic refrain: “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden”. Nevertheless, the show’s sheer creative vitality and passion is more than enough reason to hope for more accessible-queer-feminist-punk art such as this!

The Legend of Queen Kong is being performed until 20 January at Arts Centre Melbourne. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 1300 182 183.

Photograph: Peter Leslie