Category: Festivals

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

 

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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

 

Midsumma Presents RIOT

Dublin-based company, THISISPOPBABY have brought a perfect mix of outrageous comedy, skill-based acts and quality variety to Arts Centre Melbourne

By Ciara Thorburn

THISISPOPBABY’s latest show, RIOT is everything you expect and everything you don’t. This perfect montage of cabaret, drag, music, dance and circus, mixed with political undertones will leave you both reflective and inspired.

A glittery and sexy opening introduces four mysteriously hooded figures, who soon reveal themselves as RIOT’s talented vocalists (Alma Kelliher, Adam Matthews and Nicola Kavanagh). Spoken word poet, Kate Brennan delivers emotive stories that address diverse subjects from teen pregnancy to capitalism. Her powerful and rhythmical style give us a sense of the raw, reckless ride that we are about to embark on.

Drag artist, Panti Bliss as MC leads us through the evening’s performances in a camp and rowdy fashion. Add a sensitive strongman who defies gender norms (Ronan Brady) to this already spectacular group of artists, as well as a quirky and captivating tap-dance duo (Philip Connaughton and Deirdre Griffin) and the Lords of Strut, and you have one hell of a talented cast. The crowd favourite was easily the former stars of Britain’s Got Talent, the Lords of Strut – if you haven’t heard or seen these guys before, prepare yourselves because what you will see cannot be unseen. In a ruckus of ‘80s dance parody, lycra leotards and homemade mankinis their ridiculousness proves to be absolute genius. These guys really steal the show with their loveable stupidity and impeccable comedic timing.

What stands out most is the cast of diverse, passionate and highly-skilled performers who bring a mashup of specialties together to complement each other delightfully. Too often we see high (or low) budget shows where the performers look exhausted, run down, or like they would prefer to be somewhere else. Every act in RIOT brings a fresh performer to the stage boasting peerless energy and incomparable talent.

Dublin-based company, THISISPOPBABY have brought a perfect mix of outrageous comedy, skill-based acts and quality variety to Arts Centre Melbourne as part of Midsumma Festival 2018. RIOT is a pro-queer, pro-fun, pro-friendly spectacle where anything goes and anything can happen. It’s an absolute delight of a show and a great night out with your boyfriend, girlfriend, or both.
Dates: 31 January – 9 February
Venue: Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne
Prices: $30 – $79
Bookings: https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2018/circus-and-magic/riot

Midsumma Presents We Were There

A new piece of verbatim theatre that presents an often unheard perspective of HIV and AIDS.

By Lois Maskiell

When it comes to verbatim theatre, truth is never far away as the script is constructed from the words of real individuals. Dirk Hoult and Gavin Roach of Tilted Projects have developed their latest production, We Were There from interviews with 15 different women who were directly involved in the AIDS crisis during the ‘80s and ’90s.

Based on real accounts of sisters, mothers, wives, friends, volunteers and medical professionals who cared for those living with HIV, this production transmits their often unheard, devastating and heart-warming experiences.

Actors Perri Cummings, Olivia Monticciolo, Leah Baulch and Jodie Le Vesconte all play various women, at times HIV-positive women and at other times medical professionals involved in caring for people with this virus. Their characters are initially somewhat fluid, they don’t seem to have set names and in the early stages of the performance they interrupt each other, releasing fragmented experiences in a dynamic, fast rhythm. We meet a young woman who had unprotected sex while holidaying in Israel, a mother whose partner gave it to her without ever knowing he was positive, a nurse and a doctor.

Director Dirk Hoult has put together a coherent, post-dramatic piece which despite resisting realistic characteristics of time and space, comes together in a clear narrative. Strong visual and physical cues assist in transitions between scenes and notify the audience when a speaker has changed – particularly important as performers don’t wear identifiable costumes.

Jason Bovaird’s lighting features the clever use of darkness to create a rough and brooding atmosphere in the intimate Chapel Loft. In several instances, significant shifts in lighting allow a sudden change in tone, engulfing the space with warmth during happier moments – like the recounting of a wedding. Alexandra Hiller’s set design includes essential items such as chairs, as well as a large, ambiguous cloud-like structure which had a meaning and significance I found difficult to discern. Nonetheless, it contributed to an eerie atmosphere, that seemed neither of this world nor of another.

This production’s brilliance lies within its ability to lay bare pertinent social issues. By deconstructing the stigma around HIV and depicting real life experiences, the vitality of its message is what stands out most. Its strong group of actresses were clearly moved by the accounts of the women they were bringing to life, which in turn was moving to watch. The dedicated nurse, the advocate who attended three funerals a week for years, the young woman who had her first relationship after being diagnosed – all of their stories of both celebration and despair are deeply affecting and worth sharing.
Dates: 23 January – 4 Febuary
Venue: Chapel Off Chapel
Times: 7:30pm
Prices: $39 – $49
Bookings: https://midsumma.org.au/program/wewere18

Midsumma Presents Lucky: Songs by Kylie

Glimpse into the life of one of Australia’s greatest pop artists

By Bradley Storer

Barely surviving in the sweltering heat, the spirits of the audience at fortyfivedownstairs were lifted as we were greeted by that perfect 80’s pop confection “I Should Be So Lucky”, which also provides the title for Lucky: Songs by Kylie as part of Midsumma Festival.

The show is bound together loosely by a slim narrative of Minogue’s life, beginning with her first collaboration with powerhouse pop composers Stock Aitken Waterman and writer/director Dean Bryant, which keeps the pace brisk and sparse. Songs are tied into key moments of Minogue’s career, her romance with Michael Hutchence and eventual diagnosis with breast cancer (interspersed with a few Craig McLachlan jokes that felt slightly too soon after last week’s allegations). A point is made of Minogue not being regarded warmly by Australian audiences at the beginning of her career, when she transitioned from soap starlet to massively successful musical artist, until she found success overseas – a reminder of how deep ‘tall poppy syndrome’ runs in Australian culture and how we still fail to embrace our local artists.

The main attraction here is the music, and under musical director James Simpson with his four piece band, the hits don’t stop coming. From her biggest hits, re-arranged much the same way Minogue herself has modified them throughout her lengthy career, to numbers less familiar (“Hand on Your Heart” was particularly poignant) the audience was bopping along and mouthing the lyrics joyfully. A medley of her dance anthems sped things along, but with her massive back-catalogue of familiar numbers it felt like a tease to only hear a few lines of each. Her best work – “Can’t Get You Out My Head”, “Better the Devil You Know”, and “Confide in Me” to name a few – was well represented.

Michael Griffith played Minogue herself, but in no way attempted to sound like, look like or imitate Kylie. Speaking as her, Griffith instead channeled the diva through the prism of his own mischievous charm, and his obvious joy and enthusiasm for singing Minogue’s music was incredibly infectious. His bright, clear singing tone suited the material perfectly and was supported by a bevy of backing vocals from the band.

A glimpse into the life of one of Australia’s greatest pop artists, and more importantly, an excuse to listen to some of the catchiest pop music ever written – Lucky: Songs by Kylie was the perfect Midsumma treat!

Lucky: Songs by Kylie ran until 21 January, 2018 for Midsumma Festival.

Midsumma Presents John Barrowman in Concert

Hamer Hall hosts a glittery Captain

 

By Owen James

While most of Melbourne was screaming at the Australian Open, 2500 people were screaming at international star, John Barrowman. For one night only Hamer Hall played host to the international star made famous by Doctor Who, Torchwood, Arrow and numerous West End and Broadway shows. Adorned in glitter from head to toe, Barrowman could say anything to his Melbourne crowd and have it received with both rapturous applause and cheers louder than the music.

Journeying across a world of musical styles, Barrowman never stayed in one stylistic continent for long. Over almost three-hours, we were treated to musical theatre, pop, rock, jazz and even a traditional Scottish ballad. His Australian seven-piece band were more than capable of seamlessly transitioning from genre to genre, backing Barrowman’s powerful vocals with punch and passion. This seven-piece band were in fact so capable that the pre-recorded backing vocals and synthesised strings were largely unnecessary and at times, distracting. Perhaps a second keyboard might have better provided those additional sounds – so that although synthesised, at least they were performed live alongside all other music.

Barrowman himself provided an unforgettably energetic performance, entertaining every seat in the house. The incredible power and timbre of his voice transcended genre and would have surely amazed those who knew Barrowman only for his screen roles. Scattered between songs were anecdotes and stories of what life as the famous John Barrowman is really like. His love and passion for all things important in his life: equality, music, his pets and his family, shined stronger than his sequins (if that’s possible).

After a third standing ovation, Barrowman conceded to an unplanned third encore – a simple piano ballad satiating his hungry crowd. Barrowman promised numerous times of his plans to come back to Melbourne soon with a “bigger and better” show, featuring dancers and more singers. So John, if you’re reading this – please do.

John Barrowman in Concert ran for one night only on 16 January, 2018 for the Midsumma Festival.