Category: Festivals

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.

Fringe presents 10 Things I Hate About the Taming of the Shrew

Intelligent and comical analysis of Shakespeare’s classic

By Narelle Wood

Shakespeare fans beware. Gillian English has some issues, 10 in fact, with this supposed Shakespearean classic and isn’t afraid to share them. Loudly. Emphatically. And very convincingly.

Before English deconstructs, or rather demolishes The Taming of the Shrew, she astutely gives the audience a precis of the play, just so everyone’s familiar with the key themes – women are property and using torture is a perfectly permissible method to tame an unwieldy female. It’s obvious from the get-go why English wants this play to burn in the fiery pits of hell. Over the next hour though she continues to educate us on just how f-ed up Shakespeare’s portrayal of the female characters Katerina and Bianca really is, and also questions the heroic status of Petruchio, the gaslighting protagonist with the dumbarsed name. As a side note, there is a lot of language use that would make a “proper” Shakespearean lady blush, so the show is recommended for an audience 15 years of age and over.

I don’t want to list the 10 things that English takes issue with, because that would spoil the show. However, broadly speaking she touches on themes such as men and violence against women, teenagers, Disney, fetishizing youth, film adaptations of Shakespearean classics, violence against women (part of the premise of the show, so worth repeating, because it’s a very important for everyone to hear, not just men) and pockets. As a Shakespeare lover, it’s a little confronting. I found myself wanting to yell, “what about the language Gillian, think about the language!” But I also wanted to bail English up and ask her thoughts on other Shakespeare gems such as Romeo and Juliet and Othello. Confronting yes, but more importantly thought provoking and very topical; I have also since discussed a number of the 10 things with my fellow English teachers who do teach Shakespeare by highlighting many of the problems with it.

10 Things I Hate About the Taming of the Shrew is challenging, educational and full of lots of intelligent reasons as to why we should reconsider whose stories get told and who tells them. It might be easy to dismiss it as an entertaining rant, but it’s not just a rant, it’s an intelligent and comical analysis of Shakespeare, with some self-defence advice thrown in for free.

10 Things I Hate About the Taming of the Shrew is being performed at Belleville, Melbourne until 30 September. Tickets can be purchased online.

Photograph: Dahlia Katz

Fringe presents We Can Work It Out

The fab four come together in Gabriel Bergmoser’s play

By Samuel Barson

You’d be hard pressed to find someone who has never heard of The Beatles. Widely argued as the greatest band of all time, their 10-year existence produced hit after hit and resulted in a legacy that has strongly embedded itself within cultural and music history.

Gabriel Bergmoser’s We Can Work It Out is a play about the band’s four illustrious members: John, Paul, George and Ringo. It’s 1966 and the days of their trusty and happy-go-lucky love songs appear to be behind them. But where to next? As the “Fab Four” confront this creative crossroad head on, their separate personalities, world views and egos clash dramatically.

The performances are incredibly captivating. To be able to bring to life four of the most well-known personalities in the history of pop culture is no mean feat, but all four actors achieve this with utmost charisma and energy. Kashmir Sinnamon (John), Karl Sarsfield (Paul), Troy Larkin (George) and Brett Wolfenden (Ringo) all successfully capture the essence of the men the world once knew, whilst also lending their own individual spirits to the characters. Troy Larkin was a standout, as a particularly brooding, frustrated and cynical George.

Director Greg Caine must be congratulated for creating such a tightly choreographed and poignant piece, especially in such a small space. The actors are constantly in each other’s faces, with the conversations and arguments regularly becoming physical. Not once did the space feel too small or too tight for this sort of interaction, a testament to Caine’s eye and attention to detail as director.

It is important to note that this play is filled with several deep-seated Beatles references. This may pose a potential accessibility issue for audience members who are not knowledgeable about the band and their story. For Beatles fans however, this play is an absolute treat.

We Can Work It Out is being performed 24- 30 September at The Butterfly Club. Tickets can be purchased here.

Photograph: Supplied

Fringe presents Night Terrors

Four haunting tales brilliantly animated

By Joana Simmons

Aesthetically and rhetorically pleasing with a touch of unhinged brilliance is an apt way to describe Night Terrors. The 2018 Melbourne Fringe brings a plethora of all sorts of unexpected art including this show of literary terror which explores four ghost stories inside a church, all told by an incredible performer. There are so many elements that have gone into this production to make it a top-notch experience, not to mention the fact that it genuinely made me shiver and clutch my face in delight.

Bluestone Church Arts Space was the perfect setting for this night of spooky storytelling. The way the giant door creaked open to reveal the stained-glass window in the background had me ready to be entertained right from the start.

The star that is Caitlin Mathieson commanded the space for just over an hour, embodying different characters as she told four classic tales of terror. The first was The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe which describes the story of a woman driven mad by guilt after committing murder. Second was The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman which tells of a woman confined to her room. Next were The Keepsake by Briony Kidd and The Open Window by Saki, both exciting in content and structure and moved with dexterous detail from beginning to climax. The drama was further heightened by the soundtrack which smoothly weaved all the stories together.

Creator Stefan Taylor has done an incredible job to bring such a sophisticated piece from paper to stage. I loved how refined it was and that it did not try cheap tricks for laughs. Joining Taylor was director Simon J Green, whose contribution added to this highly polished production. The lighting gave great contrast between scenes and provided both moody and spooky qualities without ever being over the top.

Overall, I was in awe of Caitlin Mathieson’s ability to smoothly glide from scene to scene, from character to character with a great command of text. There were points where she absolutely embodied the people in the stories, moving around the church with her wonderfully expressive voice and face which drew the audience in. Ever so gracious and in a tweed two piece, Mathieson gave us a sense of refinement and class belonging to an older world.

If you are looking for a delightful night of spooky entertainment, do not look further than Night Terrors. Not only is Night Terrors a memorable production, it is a hoard of times better than any creepy Netflix series.

Night Terrors is being performed at Bluestone Church Arts Space until 30 September. Bluestone Church Arts Space is an accessible venue and there are Auslan interpreted performances and open captioning. See here for more information and tickets.

Photograph: David Edmonds


Stephanie Lake on her largest work to date

Stephanie Lake takes over Arts Centre Melbourne with a work of colossal proportions

By Lois Maskiell

Contemporary dancer turned choreographer Stephanie Lake, whose work has earned accolades and travelled the globe, stages her largest production to date, Colossus. Backed by Arts Centre Melbourne as part of the Fringe Take Over, it is by no means a small feat.

As a fresh graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts in 2000, Lake immediately earned a Green Room Award for Best Emerging Dancer and went on to perform in the international circuit with Australia’s best contemporary dance makers including Lucy Guerin and Gideon Obarzanek. In 2014, she established the Stephanie Lake Company and has since delivered a steady output of award-winning productions, solidifying her reputation for creating powerful kinetic art with striking visual aesthetics.

Colossus features fifty dancers from Victorian College of the Arts and Transit Dance, marking a sharp departure from Lake’s most recent work Replica which was a duet. A production of such colossal proportions is something Lake has envisaged for some time, though arrived sooner than expected: “To be honest I was thinking it would be something that would be in the future, but I put in a proposal just thinking I’ll give it a shot, and then we won the tender.”

Affording an independent company $30 000 in funding, support and mentorship, the Fringe Take Over is a highly sought after opportunity and a symbolic return for Lake to the festival. “Twenty years ago, when I was a young whipper snapper, I made shows for the Fringe Festival and it was very exciting and thrilling,” enthuses Lake.

Lake’s enduring passion for contemporary dance stems from the mysterious and intuitive nature of movement, which she believes is often difficult to rationalise. “There is a pressure to always articulate what the work is about and I understand that,” she says, “but the beauty of the form that we’re working in is that it is ambiguous and strange, and it can articulate things that are more mysterious.” Despite this conflict between creativity and concept, Lake admits that there are clear ideas she is working with.

By placing fifty bodies on stage, each interacting in smaller formations that contribute to a whole, Colossus poses a simple question. “Essentially it’s about this mass of people,” says Lake. “So these fifty bodies occupying the space together and what is that as a representation of how we organise ourselves as a society?” In terms of what that means for the audience, “I think that’s really going to be open to interpretation,” she says, “I love when people bring their own experience to bear on the reading of the work.”

Rehearsing a production of this magnitude is not without challenges. “It’s really intense,” says Lake, “because I’m working with younger dancers there’s a lot of energy in the room. Everything is amplified, and I feel like I have to make decisions quickly and efficiently.” But for Lake the payoff is huge and with the creative team’s contributions ramping up towards the final stages of rehearsals, opening night brings much anticipation. “It’s just so beautiful seeing that many bodies moving together and every simple idea is expanded in really interesting ways,” she says.

Lake’s creative team, consisting of composer and long-time collaborator Robin Fox, costume designer Harriet Oxley and lighting designers Bosco Shaw and Additive Lighting, will make significant contributions. “The conversations start early,” says Lake, “but that side of the collaboration doesn’t really come together in a crystallised way until you’re actually in the theatre.” 

The premiere of Colossus is inciting a great deal of interest owing to the Stephanie Lake Company’s track record in producing ground-breaking work. It also stands out as one of many tour dates scheduled for Lake’s thriving company. In May of next year, Lake tours to the Théâtre National de Chaillot in Paris, arguably the most prestigious venue for contemporary dance in the world.

Colossus is being performed at Arts Centre Melbourne 26 – 30 September as part of the Melbourne Fringe. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 1300 182 183.