Category: Festivals

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.

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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

Review: Lexicon

A homage to circus’ most loved qualities

By Lois Maskiell

NoFit State Circus has discovered two key ingredients for a fast-paced circus extravaganza: a series of short acts teamed with wistful and poetic imagery. A nostalgic school scenario opens the evening with the cast sitting at antique desks before being hoisted into the air in joyous mayhem. The juxtaposition of the mundane and gravity-defying displays fills the canvas walls as aerial artists, acrobats and clowns take over the classroom.

Lexicon, a title that perhaps tributes the rich vocabulary of circus as developed since Philip Astley’s equestrian-based entertainment of the late 1700s, sees an array of individual numbers come together to form a seamless whole. Staged in a circular ring of a tent that’s nestled amongst the greenery of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Lexicon harks back to circus’ golden age while delivering a contemporary experience complete with a superb live band, open rigging and on-stage costume changes.

Milan-born director, Firenza Guidi has an eye for creating beautiful visuals combining empty space and multiple focal points for maximum effect. Leading performers at the top of their game, Guidi has arranged a straps, slack wire, double ropes, rue cyr, trapeze, foot juggling, hand balancing and unicycle act each separated by a good dose of clowning and group acrobatics. In one instance a fire juggler proves that clowning is in fact serious business, he repeatedly sets himself alight and the audience erupts in laughter before he swiftly juggles a countless number of flaming torches with ease.

Embracing danger, the bizarre, outlandish comedy and vivacious personality, the artists all espouse circus’ most loved qualities by accomplishing reality-bending tricks that spark awe in children and adults alike. Their Edwardian-style steampunk costumes will make you want to throw your work attire in the bin and run away with the circus. Though, based on the talent of the cast only years of training would grant you entry into their ranks despite how easily their stunts seemed to be executed. Lexicon is a playful and joyous ride that not only transcends the mundane but the laws of gravity too, and it’s simply exhilarating.

 

Lexicon is being performed at the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria until 21 October as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival. Tickets can be purchased online. 

For information about the Melbourne International Arts Festival access services call 03 9652 4242.

Photograph: Jim Lee

Fringe presents Ascent

Citizen Theatre’s optical illusions push senses to new extremes

By Owen James

 

Theatre is usually confined to only two of our senses, relying on sight and sound to entertain, create and delight. Ascent pushes our relationship with these two senses to a new extreme, challenging our eyes to unusual visual stimulants and gifting our ears to aural delight. Through these frames, Ascent explores expectation, change, acceptance, and most of all, identity.

This very tight and expertly polished ensemble of five (Marty Alix, Jordan Barr, Kala Gare, Jessica Vellucci, Willow Sizer) are dressed head-to-toe in black and expose different limbs in low lighting as to create shapes and represent zoomed-in parts of one body. While this might have been more effective with a black light or under UV lighting, the shapes this group creates throughout the piece are mesmerising and magical. We are transported to a world where anything is possible and where our lens can transform between microscopic and wide-angle with nothing more than bodies and creativity.

Director and writer Jayde Kirchert uses these “visual illusions” to meditate upon contemporary themes and pose questions we ponder long after the show is over: Why do we attempt to create a standardisation for beauty? Do we change for ourselves or for others? Is our obsession with modernisation blinding us from comfort? Kirchert’s unique world tackles these deep questions with zest and comedic flair, and gives us as an audience space to reflect and consider throughout the piece.

The original music composed by Imogen Cygler is breathtaking, reminding me of works by Philip Glass. Every piece of movement is influenced by the music and the music by it, clearly presenting a very solid working relationship between every member of this team. Every change of music and movement are precisely timed, and as each new musical motif is introduced, Ascent raises the stakes and physicalised obsession a step further. Cygler’s cyclic music is beautifully rich in emotion and thought. I would have purchased a CD in the foyer if one were available!

If you want something “fresh” where “less is more” Ascent is for you. This first foray into “experimental music theatre” has greatly excited me for the future of this company and where these experiments will lead them. This polished, collaborative piece runs until 30 September at Theatre Works in St Kilda as part of the Melbourne Fringe, but hopefully Ascent or its future sibling will return to a theatre before too long.


Ascent is being performed until 30 September at Theatre Works, St Kilda. Tickets can be purchased online.

Photograph: Stu Brown

 

Fringe presents Dudebox

Bold, Brash and Full of Bobbly Bits

By Joana Simmons

Kimberly Twiner (PO PO MO CO) has enlisted some of Melbourne’s hottest babes in her latest variety show Dudebox. Sketches, songs, clowning, neo-burlesque and physical comedy all weave together to dig fingers into the ribs of the patriarchy in a humorous and delicious fashion. Artists Kimberley Twiner, the Travelling Sisters, Lily Fish (PO PO MO CO), Becky Lou (Seen and Heard Cabaret), Selina Jenkins (Beau Heartbreaker), Hallie Goodman (Spoon Monkeys), Sharnema Nougar (Two Little Dickheads) and Fox Pflueger (Max Freak) unite and it’s as good as when the Avengers got back together.

We were warmed up by the Travelling Sisters as we came in. Each sketch by different combinations of the cast was well devised and made strong statements. There was a hilarious hen’s night scene that provided some great commentary on marriage which climaxed with a performance by a feminist-stripper. Many moments had us laughing and cringing because of lustfully grotesque clowning or the revelation of truths a little too close to home.

Standouts included Beau Heartbreaker’s honest and beautiful nuances during Caravan Park Neighbour Blues. Twiner’s tradie character who was equipped with a very interesting piece of machinery and had us eating out of her hand and lapping up every little facial expression. The Travelling Sisters’ auction was a scream. The trio sang wonderful harmonies full of intensity that were completely off the wall. The beer version of Rich Man’s Frug was brilliant with its stylised and juicy choreography.

The show was stolen for me by the penultimate number: Lily Fish’s best man speech. It was beautifully bittersweet and hilariously heart-wrenching. The characterisation, content and delivery were bang on, making it an unforgettable performance.

Herding a bunch of independent artists together to create a show is mighty tricky and takes serious time and creative magic. There were some moments that unfortunately fell flat because they were either too long, lacked structure or needed more gags, choreography or spectacle.

The ending fronted by Sharnema Nougar, while incredibly costumed, didn’t do justice to the rest of the show. Maybe some kind of MC character or thread to pull everything together would have been useful. Though the costuming was brilliant, which is satisfying to see a Fringe show put in the effort to make aesthetically pleasing work, and the sound was right on cue, as was the lighting.

I am excited to see where Dudebox goes, because it’s bold, brash and full of boobs and other bobbly bits. It had enough of an effect on me that I reprimanded someone for casual sexism in the workplace the day after – such is the power of theatre like this.

Dudebox was performed 26 – 28 September at the Lithuanian Club as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival. See here for more information.