Category: Festivals

Review: Merciless Gods

Gods and monsters rendered achingly human 

By Bradley Storer

Queer performance collective Little Ones Theatre returns to the stage with the critically acclaimed production Merciless Gods for Midsumma Festival. In this production playwright Dan Giovannoni adapts Christos Tsiolkas’ collection of short stories to present a series of vignettes which encompass lives across the social and economic strata of Australian society. It’s a thrilling reminder of the burning necessity for Australian stories on our stages.

What remains most striking in the memory is director Stephen Nicolazzo’s powerful use of imagery as he channels the divine forces that give the play their name and inspiration. We see a heroin addict bathed in the heavenly halo of a Christian saint, we see a murderer locked in the gracefully muscular pose of a Grecian statue and we see a bedraggled and defiantly grotesque old woman sipping from a cask of cheap wine. This magnificent imagery is only made possible through the transporting simplicity of Eugyeene Teh’s set design, the glorious lighting of Katie Sfetkidis and the seductively mysterious sound design of Daniel Nixon.

The ensemble are excellent across the board, never more so than in the opening scene where they bounce off each other effortlessly in a seemingly normal suburban story that morphs into an unsettling and disturbing account of human brutality.

Each actor is given their moment to shine. Brigid Gallacher plays the voluptuous mother disgusted by the baseness of her own offspring. Paul Blenheim plays a drug addict enraptured by the twin figures of his straight best friend and the Lord Jesus Christ. Stefan Bramble stars as an imprisoned murderer both terrifying and tender in equal measure. Charles Purcell embodies a grieving gay son of a dying man. And Sapidah Kian, in the final glorious sequence, stars as the domestic Delphic Oracle relaying a vision of ecstasy.

The only negative, since there was seemingly no vocal amplification used, was the loss of textual and vocal clarity whenever the actors would play upstage away from the audience – an unfortunate side effect from a space as acoustically unforgiving as the Fairfax.

If forced to pick a standout performance it would have to be Jennifer Vuletic’s. Whether she is prowling the stage proudly nude as a pretentiously provocative German novelist, curling and contorting in spasms of pain as an aged Australian patriarch or bowed over in operatic fits of grief as an Italian mother mourning the loss of her son, Vuletic is a charismatic chameleon.

This unapologetically queer production, centred on the outsiders and outcasts of society even at their most reprehensible, is so luscious and commandingly seductive in its urgency and power that it’s impossible to resist. The cast and creatives of Merciless Gods have crafted a piece overflowing with horror and love, and is a must see this Midsumma season!

Merciless Gods plays at Arts Centre Melbourne until 10 February as part of Midsumma Festival. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 1300 182 183.

Photograph: Pier Carthew 

 

Review: Become the One

Smart, moving and challenging examination of sexuality in sport

By Samuel Barson

The results of a 2015 study into homophobia in sport documented that 87 per cent of Australian sportspeople felt compelled to hide their sexuality in some way.

Adam Fawcett’s smart and challenging new play, Become the One, tells the fictional story of Tom, a celebrated AFL player who belongs to that 87 per cent. When Tom meets the openly gay Noah, sparks immediately fly, and as their relationship grows so do questions around identity, sexuality and a devotion to a toxic masculinity that sport can bring.

Fawcett’s exquisite writing is undoubtedly the highlight of this production. His clever combination of romance, comedy and drama has given director Lyall Brooks and actors Chris Asimos and Henry Strand the room to explore and create a piece of theatre that is exceedingly important for audiences to witness. Asimos is charismatic and brooding as Tom, the perfect counterweight to Strand’s precocious, yet sweetly gentle Noah. The two bounce off each other beautifully and present a dynamic and chemistry that surpass the stereotypes their respective characters could have easily risked slipping into.

The set design was simple and stationary yet exceedingly effective: the relationship never leaving Tom’s apartment just as Tom wanted it, behind closed doors and away from the public eye. It’s amusing to note the decision to design the set with synthetic grass (footy oval!), and the use of a single red pillow (footy!) that made its way around it. As an equal lover of footy and theatre this imagery pleased me greatly. Tom Backhaus’ and Benjamin Morris’ respective sound and lighting design complimented the rest of the production well, providing various atmospheres of swelling emotions as Tom and Noah journeyed through the highs and lows of their relationships.

It cannot be stressed enough how important a story like this is. Classy, sharp and deeply moving, Become the One makes for a special experience. A huge congratulations to all involved.

Become the One is currently playing at Gasworks Theatre until 9 February as part of Midsumma Festival. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office on 03 8606 4200.

Photograph: Jodie Hutchinson

 

 

15 Minutes from Anywhere presents Cock

Cock is hot, Cock is great

By Leeor Adar

 

From the get-go, Beng Oh’s direction of Mike Bartlett’s witty work is sharp and arresting. We are thrust into the ring of a domestic dispute between John (Matthew Connell) and his long-term boyfriend, M (Shaun Goss). The dialogue is the kind of whip-crack smart that makes you laugh and consider for a moment the tortured inertia that lingers between the pair and coupledom at large.

Cock plays out like a fight between M and W (Marissa O’Reilly) for the affections of John, but it rapidly reveals itself to be the fighting rounds in John’s own mind that drive the plot, oscillating between the feminine ideal and the comfort of his accepted sexuality.

Shining the light on bisexuality it would seem, John crushes his poignant observation that love is reserved for the individual and not the gender while he still remains wholly inept at choosing his person. I find myself torn between the belief that Cock is a genuine attempt for Bartlett to unpack bisexuality in a world that seeks to rigidly define desire, or a plot that clenches its fists at the insecurity of indecision whilst moonlighting as an intellectual take on sexuality. Despite these feelings, I am raptured in the glory of the performances and dialogue that truly carry this play.

Emily Collett’s costume and staging is minimalist, allowing for the characters to shine, whilst gussying up W and throwing a stern jacket on the judgemental father figure, F (Scott Gooding), to solid effect.

Goss is pure energy, unrelenting in his performance throughout, countering with his grand movements the wilting indecision of Connell’s almost boy wonder. Connell perfectly captures the differing relationships his character has with M and W. With M, he is the lost boy needing direction in discovered territory, and with W he seeks direction like a voracious and able explorer. One is almost rooting for his passage to W, and not for ultra-conservative reasons, but for the new pathway he forges to a would-be maturity.

Having now witnessed O’Reilly’s performance a second time as W in Cock, she takes the character to a more insecure and jaded place. This incarnation of W frets a great deal more, leaking her truth of the wreckage of a past relationship, throwing her hopes and dreams upon John with the intent that his virgin heterosexuality will invoke a new life for her too.

The entrance of Gooding as F late into the play is a great shift in the dynamic of the piece, carting out now generally accepted archaic belief systems to pick apart the revelations of John’s newfound feelings and desires. F’s focus to define and box the individuals before him largely fails, and he enters and exits Cock’s world like an awkward flashback.

It’s all a bit overwhelming, and in the last gasp of the play, the great question hangs above us all. Quoting critic Michael Billington’s earlier observation, Cock is truly in Schopenhauer’s words, a “tyranny of the weak” – and a spectacular display of it.

 

Cock is being performed as part of Midsumma Festival at Fortyfivedownstairs until 10 February. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9662 9966.

Photograph: supplied

Review: Re-Member Me

A mammoth excavation of Hamlet’s legacy 

By Owen James

Lip-sync performer Dickie Beau has taken perhaps the most iconic play ever written (Hamlet) and broken down its legacy into a beautiful historical tapestry that acts as both an inquisition into tradition and memory, and a celebration of art and artists.

Dickie Beau alongside his collaborator and director Jan-willem van den Bosch have created a world that is inquisitive and daring, framed by two core questions prominently displayed in the programme: “why is this play so iconic? And why is it done over and over again?” Instead of simply accepting the great Hamlet’s legacy as given, Beau takes us on a journey narrated by some of the most famous artistic minds in history (including Sir Ian McKellen, Sir John Gielgud and Suzanne Bertish), to discover why Hamlet is so deeply steeped in tradition and honour.

Hours upon hours have gone into preparing this meticulously crafted sequence of interweaving voices and projections, devised from dozens of interviews both conducted by Dickie himself and obtained from mining theatrical archives. Beau has undertaken an extraordinary examination of detail in learning these interviews verbatim, proven as he perfectly lip-syncs every breath, every pause, and every stutter or stammer that occurs naturally in each interviewee’s speech. Imagine learning every subtle shift of a singer’s intonation across an entire album and that’s only a slither of what Beau has accomplished, for as he embodies the eight or more voices we hear, each characterisation is noticeably distinct and seems like a different person appears before us.

It’s more than simply lip-syncing – it’s a unique branch of theatrical art that mines comedy and detail in a way I certainly hadn’t seen let alone considered before. Beau is clearly an extremely passionate and detailed storyteller who is fascinated by history, and the transformation of that history into a modern setting.

For even the least Shakespearean-inclined person, Beau’s amalgamation of perspective and memory will still be captivating. It’s not a show about Hamlet, but about humanity. In asking why we return to see great actors give “their Hamlet” across decades and centuries, Beau taps into our sense of self, asking us to reflect on what we presume is iconic without usually questioning it.

This self-described “human Hamlet mixtape” is a journey into the past seen through a window of the future. It’s a mammoth undertaking for Beau and his team, and overall a joyful celebration of humanity’s obsession with repetition and heritage.

Re-Member Me was performed 17 – 21 October at the Arts Centre Melbourne as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival. See here for more information.

Review: Song for a Weary Throat

Dark and majestic physical theatre

By Lois Maskiell

A woman scrambles up a slope on all fours, never reaching the top. Another woman walks around the stage desperately asking her fellow performers to “please dance with me”. A performer jumps as if in aerobics class lifting each leg until she cannot continue any more, finally she lets out a wild yell. These are but three samples of what is to be experienced in acclaimed ensemble Rawcus’ devastatingly beautiful, Song for a Weary Throat.

Without text, without a linear plot, without any assumed structure to rest your experience upon, the production encourages a reading that insists on surrendering to sensations and abstract responses, rather than reason and logical interpretations. Director Kate Sulan paints not with a brush but with a cast of fifteen with and without disability. The interplay Sulan strikes in each vignette between the physically rich performance, lighting and sound keeps the overall configuration constantly transforming and fluid.

Lighting morphs from brutal to gentle thanks to Rachel Burke’s design which opens with a startling sequence that shatters all expectations. After Nilgun Guven scratches an quote from Dante’s Divine Comedy on a chalkboard, it is safe to assume we will be entering a sort of darkness. Blindingly harsh lights illuminate the entire auditorium in concentrated flashes accompanied by Jethro Woodward thunderous sound effects. The setting – an abandoned gymnasium – has leaves strewn accross the floor and fraying chairs which provide endless opportunities for the performers to sit, pause and even throw.

Formations that single out individuals remain seamlessly positioned within a whole which rarely strays from overarching themes of isolation and despair. Despite sharing the stage, the performers often appear disconnected, though occasionally layers of connection are revealed. Their hollow expressions out number their warmer displays and it is this dominating misery that I found crushing and at times difficult to bear.

Gian Slater, Joshua Kyle and Louisa Rankin of the Invenio Singers flood the stage with unearthly sounds, even forming unusual harmonies with humming and breathing. When Joshua Kyle wails into the microphone while holding Clement Baade’s hand, his majestic vocals build endless tension in a highly charged and consuming moment.

Rawcus exchange for your ticket a lost world of suffering that draws spellbinding depth from a whirlwind of sound, light and movement.

Song for a Weary Throat is being performed at the Arts Centre until 14 October as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 1300 182 183. 

Photograph by Sarah Walker featuring Prue Stevenson and Joshua Lynzaat. 

Review: Trustees

Politically charged theatre as beautiful as it is crushing 

By Owen James

I can’t remember the last time I stood up so quickly when the lights came up for applause. Trustees is by far the most relevant, powerful and responsive piece of theatre I’ve seen in a long time, and any Australian concerned with the dumbfounding rates of racism, indigenous discrimination, refugee torture and sexism prevalent in our country will resonate with the honest and painful truths to which Trustees opens our eyes.

Yes, Trustees is highly socially and politically charged – but it’s a necessary and all-too-pertinent reminder of how we do have the power to overcome the “traditions, habits and stereotypes” that we silently ignore every day. After a fast-paced and technologically interactive opening (keep your phone on and web browser open!) where a new government policy has stripped the fictional Lone Pine Theatre Company of their funding, the trustees of Lone Pine meet to determine the route towards a secure economic future in our typical noncommittal Australian creative climate. From here, a turbulent ride through perspective, privilege, and uncertain, unreliable reconciliation makes for easily the most engaging and jaw-dropping evening at the theatre you will witness all year.

Co-directors and writers Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada (both political refugees) have created a very comfortable, creative space that both performers and audience feel mutually at ease in – you will laugh, you will cheer, and you will join in on the Mexican wave. With their refugee background greatly informing and influencing the work, the depiction of these actors’ stories has been handled with sensitivity and love, despite the raw and confronting nature of the material presented.

The warmth of all five performers (Daniel Schlusser, Tammy Anderson, Natasha Herbert, Niharika Senapati and Hazem Shammas) resonates throughout the room as these creatives tackle extremely personal issues with confronting and honest performances. This diverse cast of five share with us their “testimonies about the state of our society” from the perspective of their unique backgrounds and each new perspective presents a strand of our normalised and embarrassing history. It’s their own experiences with inequality and battles with society, prejudice and culture that they’re laying naked (sometimes literally) for us to understand, in many ways donating their personal life experiences to a larger cause, pushing for change.

The set design by Romanie Harper serves every unique corner of the text with chilling physicality, placing all the action atop a lush red carpet where only the privileged should walk. The core set piece is a gargantuan metal table that gradually uncovers its secrets across the ninety-minute runtime; I won’t give them away here, but its transformative properties are utter genius. Trustees gets messy with liquid, fire and dirt – so huge kudos to the stage management team (Adam Chesnutt and Adalaide Harney) who deal with the catastrophic aftermath nightly.

Amidst the constant, inescapable flow of #fakenews, Trustees teaches that our shameful history is embedded deep within our culture – and it will be a long and hard road to remove our racist, unbalanced and ignorant hivemind-mindset. Trustees desperately pleads for a reconciliation of fractured ideas of equality, and seeks to reclaim Australian multicultural pride and eliminate illogical nationalistic patriotism, uprooting our stoic and imbalanced sense of white male perfection.

Congratulations to Malthouse and Melbourne International Arts Festival for presenting this relevant piece of theatre Australia desperately needs, with genuine truth at its heart. Do not possibly miss this masterpiece.

 

Trustees is being performed at Malthouse Theatre until 21 October as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on  03 9685 5111.

Photograph:  Nicolai Khalezin

Review: Watt

Deadpan humour and storytelling in adaptation of Beckett’s Watt 

By Samuel Barson

It’s 1942, and France is occupied by Germany. Samuel Beckett is on the run from Nazis. Throughout this grim reality, Beckett wrote a novel titled Watt, describing the journey of the titular character to, and within, the house of Mr Knott. Renowned Irish actor Barry McGovern has adapted this novel for the stage, delivering a powerhouse one man show that pays the perfect homage to Beckett and one of his most fascinating characters.

McGovern is the ultimate storyteller. He manages to keep the audience drawn into the world of Watt for the entire hour, despite some parts being particularly dry and wordy. Credit must also, of course, be given to director Tom Creed for allowing McGovern to realise the beauty in such an absurd world.

McGovern’s deadpan approach to the absurdity of Watt’s experiences was the cause of immense (and regular) laughter. McGovern’s ability to allow the audience to feel empathy for characters he was not even playing was incredibly special, an ability rarely seen amongst most performers. This was a testament to McGovern’s own intelligence and experience as a theatre maker.

The set was simply, yet effectively realised by Sinéad Mckenna, a bare concrete wall in the foreground providing context to the drab and dreary existences Watt witnesses in Mr Knott’s house. A wooden chair and trolley are also on stage at the immediate and useful disposal of McGovern. An equally simple yet, effective lighting design was also implemented by Mckenna.

This is a show that could have very easily been boring and lost amongst audiences. There is a lot of dialogue, drawn out and confusing. There is not a lot of action to keep audiences entertained. Yet, McGovern and Creed have proved that the art of simple storytelling has not been lost. Watt is a stunning, entertaining piece that is a joy to experience.

Watt is being performed 4 – 13 October at the Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 1300 182 183.

Photograph: Pia Johnson