Category: Performances

Review: High Tea Live – Steaming Jazz with Stevenson’s Rockets 

Toe-tapping jazz that’s good for the soul

By Narelle Wood

There is perhaps no better ways to spend a Sunday afternoon in Melbourne than sitting in The Pavilion at the Arts Centre, overlooking the city, eating scrumptious food and listening to “Steaming Jazz” with Stevenson’s Rockets.

The Stevenson’s Rockets are as smooth as they come, entertaining with numbers such as Scott Joplin’s Solace and the more laid back Riverside Blues, mixing it up with jazz styles from songs with upbeat Latin-American rhythms, to the Dixieland stylings of Ice cream. The quartet, consisting of Jo Stevenson (reeds), Steve Grant (piano), Chris Ludowyk (bass, trombone) and Ian Smith (drums, trumpet and vocals), effortlessly moved between styles, instruments, and solos, each song just as entertaining as the last.

This is perhaps to be expected given that Stevenson’s Rockets have been around for some time. But what added to this already stellar performance was that the Stevenson, Grant, Ludowyk and Smith also seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, the music, and each other’s company, as well as the performance itself.

And just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, we were treated to a rocketing-rendition of Irving Berlin’s Puttin’ on the Ritz, compete with Smith on the washboard. It was certainly a crowd pleaser that left me wondering where exactly one might find a washboard.

If the toe-tapping Jazz performances are not quite enough to tempt you into purchasing as ticket, then the addition of high tea should certainly seal the deal. There are bubbles on arrival, with non-alcoholic options also available, and continuous tea and coffee refills. There are both sweet and savoury options, of sandwiches, pastries and cakes. And of course, any high tea wouldn’t be complete without scones, jam and cream.

So if you’re looking to spend a couple of hours soothing the soul, decadently eating and listening to, not just good, but great music, I highly recommend high tea on a Sunday afternoon at The Arts Centre.

Venue: The Pavilion, The Arts Centre, Melbourne

Tickets: from $79

To book tickets for the November or December High Tea Live go to www.artscentremelbourne.com.au

Review: A Midnight Visit

An immersive, choose-your-own-adventure, gothic experience

By Narelle Wood

 A Midnight Visit is an immersive, choose-your-own-adventure experience inspired by the works of Edgar Allen Poe. Poe, famous for his dark and morose themes, both captures and plays with the human psyche, and it is this intent that Broad Encounters attempts to capture in their gothic house of madness.

The audience are free to move in and out of rooms at their discretion, literally choosing the way they experience the performance. Characters also move about, blending the boundaries between audience participation and voyeuristic experiences. Just as the characters and audiences move from room to room, so do the performances. But with the exception of Poe’s work there is seemingly little to no thread to connect the different vignettes together, the only indication that a performance is taking place is the sound of a monologue or singing floating down the long black corridors.

The performances I stumbled upon – John Marc Desengano’s Detective Dupin, Sarochinee Sawakghim’s the Black Cat and Bri Emrich’s Madeline Usher – were amazing, and I would have been happy to sit for the hour and take in their interpretations of the different gothic tales. While I’m sure I missed significant parts of the various performances on offer, Danielle Harvey (Production Director) and Kirsten Siddle’s (Production Creative Producer) attention to detail throughout this production is astonishing. The rooms, thanks also to Loren Bell (Design Manager) and her team, are performance pieces in and of themselves. Close attention reveals minute details, such as tealeaves in the shape of a raven at the bottom of a teacup, adding to the authenticity of this gothic fantasy world that Harvey and Siddle have produced. Layer on top of the visual aesthetic a haunting soundtrack of beating hearts with other atmospheric music and sounds, as well as detailed costumes and make-up, it is obvious that A Midnight Visit has been realised through the collaborative efforts of some extremely talented people.

I did leave disappointed though. I was frustrated that I had missed bits of the performances and confused about how it all came together; I admit though I do prefer theatre with a clear narrative thread. My main gripe wasn’t to do with the show, but the pre-show theatrics. We were asked to sign a waiver before entering, but any indication of this is buried deep in the last line of the Frequently Asked Questions on the website. This seemed like information that needed to be more upfront. We were also asked to wear facemasks and while I understand the aesthetic behind this, it was presented as a fait accompli despite some people’s discomfort. It was clear that the pre-show is designed to heighten the sense of anticipation, and that may have been at the root of my disappointment; I left wanting more.

If your idea of a night at the theatre revolves around voyeuristic comfort and a clear storyline, this is not for you. But the premise of A Midnight Visit is so different and interesting that I think it would be an absolute delight for anyone who desires to be immersed in the gothic brain of Edgar Allen Poe or for theatregoers who revel in a show specifically designed to push some boundaries.

Venue: House of Usher – Funeral Services, Melbourne

Season: Until 15th September

Tickets: From $62

Bookings: https://amidnightvisit.com/#tickets

Photography by Graham Denholm

 

Review: Quadra and Echoes

Transformative interplay of light and sound

By Joana Simmons

As daylight saving comes to an end putting us in darkness earlier in the evening, Arts House presents an incredible program of light shows. Spectral is a one-week season with leading artists Robin Fox, Hanna Chetwin, Jannah Quill, Kusum Normoyle and Meagan Streader exploring the interplay between sound and light.

Exhibitions by Robin Fox and Meagan Streader culminate in special performances over two nights featuring works never seen before in Melbourne alongside new commissions. I had the opportunity of transforming my gloomy Saturday by moving through two of the free exhibitions.

Quadra by Robin Fox is an immersive, psychedelic experience of sound and light that makes the Wizard of Oz’s Emerald City look boring. Within the first 30 seconds inside a dark room, my jaw dropped and I felt joy well up inside me as lasers cast beams of rainbow light onto a truss of mirrors placed in different angles.

Over the next 11 minutes, the pattern of the lasers combined with brilliant sounds coming from a quadraphonic sound system which meant all my senses were completely brought to life. You hear the light with your ears, see the sound with your eyes, and feel everything in your body.

At times the bright lasers beamed in patterns that made the roof appear to close in on us. I wanted to touch the light that created a Matrix-like effect and made me feel as if I was inside a giant game of pick-up-sticks.

Fox has designed an incredibly well-timed and transformative work. Once it was finished, I sat quietly with my eyes closed to let the magic sink in.

Just down the hallway was artist Meagan Streader’s light installation Echoes.

The installation is site-specific to the North Melbourne Town Hall and contrasts fluorescent lights with the heritage architecture of the building and soft lighting.

The piece dominates the empty space of a black box theatre: two large curved beams support a series of fluorescent rings, which are reflected in a pool of water on the floor like tentacles. The light here transforms the space and guides us as we navigate the room to view the installation. It’s refined and stark.

These exhibitions are tasters for what else is on in Spectral, a ticketed event featuring a curated line up of artists.

If you have space in your weekend to see what art can be created with light, go!  If you enjoy it as much as I did, you’ll be sure to come out brighter.

 

Spectral: between light and sound runs at Arts House North Melbourne 11- 18 April. See here for tickets and additional information

Photograph: Sam Whiteside 

Tangled Web Theatre Presents BETRAYAL

Pinter’s work at its finest

By Ross Larkin

Harold Pinter is a somewhat acquired taste. The Nobel Prize-winning British playwright’s work was distinctive in its knack for simplicity and complexity all at once. Betrayal is possibly Pinter’s most interesting example of his preoccupation with the fragility and emotional inconsistency of the human condition and the relationships implicated by it.

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Betrayal examines a chronologically reversed seven-year period in the affair-laden lives of married couple Emma and Robert and their close friend (and Emma’s lover), Jerry. Deception and infidelity are second nature and compulsive to the trio to the extent where the characters themselves lose track and create their own undoing.

Tangled Web Theatre’s production, directed by Bruce Cochrane, succeeds in capturing the mood of the piece: one of subtle tension, heavy pauses and intricate exchanges. Presented sparsely and deliberately, the atmosphere and direction would have made Pinter himself proud.

However, it’s the performers who really shine here. Supported by Michael Fenemore’s solid portrayal in the difficult role of Robert, Eleni Miller, who plays the unapologetic and somewhat sociopathic Emma, is suave yet guarded with a calculated and emotional repression that is natural, absorbing and devastating. Her understated performance is hypnotic and exactly the right measure of Pinteresque.

Tim Constantine as the deceptive Jerry is exceptional, capturing the charm and truthfulness of the character without ever succumbing to any obvious or intentional malice or trickery, but rather, allowing the text to allure and reveal while maintaining Jerry’s authenticity and self-perceived ingenuousness.

The pair are mesmerising from the get-go with a believable and palpable dynamic, rich in nuance and wonder, managing to woo the audience to care and empathise, despite their deceitful, self-absorbed ways.

Betrayal in all its uncomfortable loitering and tension may not be for every taste, but for those who like their theatre raw, brooding and close to the bone, it’s just the ticket. Playing now at the Northcote Town Hall until November 19th nightly at 8pm with 2pm weekend matinees. Booking at www.northcotetownhall.com.au or (03) 9481-9500.

 

Robyn Archer in QUE RESTE T’IL (WHAT REMAINS?)

A chanteuse’s love song to la musique

By Leeor Adar

Australian luminary and chanteuse Robyn Archer takes her Melbourne audience through a journey of harsh cityscapes and loving sentiments in Que reste t’il (What Remains?). I suspect the ‘What Remains?’ of her performance is an ode to the love affair we have with French music and how ingrained it has become within our popular culture.

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What is so enthralling about Archer’s performance is her engagement with her audience. When an awkward twenty-something seated beside her relatively conservative mother can both burst into song along with the crowd, you know that the conductor of such an experience is of the gifted kind. The crowd is filled with those who have supported Archer for decades, and she certainly knows how to command them with her voice and wit.

Accompanied by Michael Morley on piano, and Paul Butrumlis on accordion, Archer’s music sails through the turbulent times of Paris from the late nineteenth century and as far as the 1970s – even stopping to deliver an outsider’s perspective of the city of lights in Cole Porter’s You Don’t Know Paree. Archer interspersed her songs with stories of the era – a charming education on the history of live performance, with decadent and tragic stories ranged from lesser-known artists to the crowded halls of the Dadaist movement. It is apparent in ‘What Remains?’ that Parisian cabaret was not afraid to regurgitate the city’s own horrors and grime, juxtaposed with the songs concerning quaint longings of love that perch in a higher place above the cityscape.

I found Archer’s ability to weave history through French songs a marvellous form of escapism. My eyes even misted over during a rendition of Marie-Louise Damien’s Pluie: Damien, as Archer explains, was a chanteuse of the Parisian cabaret lesser known than Édith Piaf, but her music was exquisite, as Archer showcases. From Jacques Brel (who’s music dominates the night), Archer takes on some comic short rides with Aristide Bruant’s It Takes Cash, the kitsch delight The Singing Nun’s Dominique and the steamy Serge Gainsbourg/Brigitte Bardot’s Je t’aime. ‘What Remains?’ is such a tasty and eclectic mix of tragi-ballads and humour, where nothing musical of the French variety is left unturned.

The night came to a roaring close with two comic renditions – Alouette where everyone chimed in, and a bastardisation of Piaf’s Non, je ne regrette rien. Archer and her team exited the stage with thundering applause behind them – we really wanted more than an encore.

Francophiles found themselves in a comforting terrain in ‘What Remains?’, and for those remaining, find themselves delightfully haunted by the songs that have pervaded their lives through various mediums over the years.

‘Que reste t’il (What Remains?)’ was performed at Melbourne’s Arts Centre, 10-12 November 2017. Follow Archer’s latest here: http://robynarcher.com/

Image by Claudio Raschella

Melbourne Festival 2017: THE WRAP WITH TAYLOR MAC

A glorious festival finale

By Bradley Storer

After finishing the rapturously received 24 Decades of Popular Music in America for this year’s Melbourne Festival, Taylor Mac returned to preside over the closing of the festival. From the very start, as Mac entered from the rear of the Forum Theatre and crowd-surfed over the people gathered at the front of the stage, an uninhibited party atmosphere prevailed. Mac (who uses the gender pronoun ‘judy’) was casually charismatic and commanding, describing the event as a collection of the queerest moments from the full 24 Decade show and with the aid of musical director Matt Ray and a small collection of musicians from the show judy certainly delivered!

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The hyper masculinity of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run’ was used as the back drop to a clandestine gay romance, the Supremes’ ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’ (aided by the magnificent vocals of guest singers Steffanie Christi’an Mosley and Thornetta Davis) soundtracked the bus ride towards the Bayard Rustin march. Mac enlisted the audience to help re-enact the funeral procession of Judy Garland to the tune of ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ before the explosion of the Stonewall Riots in the Rolling Stones ‘Gimme Shelter’. The climax of the evening came in a spontaneous rendition of Prince’s make-out classic ‘Purple Rain’ where the division between audience and performers was broken down by what felt like sheer Dionysian joy, with tears and singing along in equal measure – as well as an incredible guitar solo from guitarist extraordinaire Viva DeConcini. The audience was then asked to dance with someone of the same gender (or for non-binary people, anyone of their choice) as Mac and Ray transformed a homophobic Ted Nugent song into a gorgeous slow dance at a gay junior prom, a beautiful and poignant ending to the high-octane evening.

The best was saved for last, with a song not from Mac’s 24 Decade show, as judy encored with a camptastic cover of Olivia Newton John’s ‘Xanadu’ as a tribute to the Australian audience, complete with mirror ball and costume designer Machine Dazzle back up dancing dressed as a disco butterfly. The crowd roared and begged for more, and the feeling of sad acceptance as Mac exited the stage was palpable: the sensation of waking from a wonderful dream and having to return to the real world.

A delicious and satisfying ending to a triumphant season at the Melbourne Festival, and we can only wait in anticipation for what the festival will bring next year!

Date: 22nd October, 2017

Time: 7pm

Venue: Forum Theatre, Flinders St & Russel St, Melbourne VIC 3000

Tetsuya Umeda’s SPECTACLE OF EXTRAORDINARY OBJECTS

Experiencing the the experiment

By Lois Maskiell

Attending Tetsuya Umeda’s performance at The Substation, Newport was akin to being held captive in a particularly entertaining science experiment. This one-hour piece featured the artist manipulating a range of objects, sound and light. These objects included portable gas stoves, loudspeakers, beakers, lamps and even bags of rice that he began to cook. Umeda’s artistry lies in turning these ordinary items into an extraordinary spectacle for the senses.

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The first feat of intrigue included Umeda swivelling a metal rod into a lump of dry ice. This rod, which had been heated in the flame of a gas stove made a bizarre screeching noise. Soon, on the opposite side of the room, a loudspeaker was lowered from the staggeringly high ceiling over the balcony. With this loudspeaker dangling from a long string mid-air, the site-specific nature of Umeda’s work was revealed. The relationship between object and space lurched before your eyes.

Umeda meandered carefully around his constructed environment, tweaking items and causing reactions, of many kinds. As objects flew into the air, audience members gasped instantaneously. These knee-jerk reactions brought the audience together in a shared, visceral experience.

The most memorable assemblage was an enormous glass bowl with a flickering light bulb placed inside it. Umeda filled the bowl with water and left his audience to marvel at both the danger and beauty of electricity in water. Umeda continued by crumbling dry ice into the water, creating a hypnotising layer of white smoke that emerged like a snake from the bowl.

For audiences unaccustomed to performance art, this piece could either be an exciting and novel experience or an introduction to a genre of art that often demands significant commitment on the audience’s behalf to stay engaged. Chasing the next cluster of objects to implode/explode was part of the game. Umeda’s performance emitted an overarching sentiment of intrigue and alertness, though the final question remains: did he eat the rice?

Presented by The Substation and Liquid Architecture in association with Performance Space and Room40, Tetsuya Umeda’s work was at The Substation, Newport October 30 – November 04, 2017.