Category: Review

Melbourne Shakespeare Company Presents MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

Blithe, beguiling and fantastically fun

By Leeor Adar

Delivering yet another flamboyant jewel to the Shakespearean scene this summer, Melbourne Shakespeare Company (MSC) returns with Much Ado About Nothing.

Much Ado About Nothing

MSC manages to hook its audiences with its flair for performing some of the great comedies of Bill Shakespeare in a way that is totally enjoyable and easily accessible by audiences of today. So much of the work comes together due to its excellent direction from Jennifer Sarah Dean and her talented crew and ensemble cast.

The start of summer in Melbourne delivered some intense rainfall, and set in the beautiful rose garden of the St Kilda Botanic Gardens, the cast of Much Ado played on. We were thankfully housed under a marquee, but the cast’s professionalism through the occasional lashings of rain was commendable. With white frocks and florals a-plenty, the production was clearly set for warm days and balmy evenings. The use of the rose garden was artful for this production, and the creative use of space in the usual MSC style, was exceptional.

Much Ado is one of the more popular Shakespearean comedies, where the arrows and slings between leads Beatrice and Benedick, make for some enjoyable viewing. If you can get past the cruelty of Claudio’s treatment of Hero, it makes for a charmingly feather-light play.

Leading as Beatrice, Annabelle Tudor embodied the character’s classic snarky attitude and emotional range with humorous flair and passion. Tudor makes an excellent Beatrice, and her understanding of physical comedy (like much of the cast) is quality. As Beatrice’s counterpart Benedick, Fabio Motta gives a charming and delightfully warm performance, which is unusual for the Benedicks of productions past who often resort to snideness and arrogance to portray the character. The pair are supported by a fantastic cast, who perform in lively synchronicity with one another. Madeleine Mason made for a sweet Hero, the cool hippy vibe of the Friar played by Hunter Perske added another dimension to this enjoyable production, and everyone equally jumped in for solid performances and fun. May Jasper and Jonathan Peck were a satisfyingly slapstick pair as Dogberry and Verges, and Khisraw Jones-Shukoor was the definition of disco-sleaze as Don Pedro.

The musical element of this MSC performance was not the strongest, even where it definitely added to the comedy. Musical director Ben Adams, who directed an astonishingly fun and talented a cappella group in The Comedy of Errors in March this year, couldn’t quite get the performers to hit that mark this time with the evident exceptions of the delightful Nicola Bowman (Margaret) and Motta. The enthusiasm was there, but the quality of the musical talent did not match the excellent quality of the acting on this occasion.

A real highlight is Rhiannon Irving’s imaginative costume design, which once again adds a great deal to the delight of the performance. The choice of elegant white was utterly appropriate for the outdoor setting in summer, special mention must be made of the fascinating fascinators fashioned from CD’s, cassette tapes, and heat-affected records, and the consideration that went into Don Pedro’s flashing headgear was noted and greatly appreciated.

Despite the rain I really enjoyed myself, and have no doubt MSC’s future productions will continue to deliver.

You can catch MSC’s Much Ado About Nothing in the beautiful rose garden every weekend of December leading up to Christmas, 2pm and 7pm. For tickets visit: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/much-ado-about-nothing-by-melbourne-shakespeare-company-tickets-39610284427

Image by Burke Photography

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Poppy Seed Festival Presents BREAD CRUMBS

Witty, self-aware, and with a definite Grimm streak…

By Lois Maskiell

A fresh take on an old tale, Bread Crumbs is a funny, yet cruel portrayal of relationships in modern life. Specially selected for this year’s Poppy Seed Festival, this one-hour show that questions the gendered tropes common to fairy tales is self-devised by a team of recent graduates of the Victorian College of the Arts.

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Ruby Johnston and Benjamin Nichol, along with a talented production team including set and costume designer Joseph Noonan, sound composer Sidney Millar and lighting designer Rachel Lee, have created this highly-stylised performance that traces the journey of brother and sister Hansel and Gretel in a magical landscape loosely set in Australian surburbia.

In the first scene, the lullaby-like music coupled with picture-book costumes of gaudy colour establishes an innocent tone that sharply contrasts the coarse language of Gretel (Johnston), the girl guide whose use of Australian vernacular hits a mature-audiences-only rating in exceptional style. It’s this stark contrast, between the genre of fairy tale and fantastically black humour that keeps this production fresh and quirky to the final scene.

When Gretel escapes her childhood home by running away with Hansel (Nicole), their only means of returning is the deliberately-left bread crumbs that she knows he will eat. This plot to never return home proves successful. Searching for a prince charming, she wanders in the woods, leading her highly-strung brother on an adventure that leads to a dark reality.

When Gretel enters into a relationship with Prince Charming (Nicole), he’s not quite the man she had in mind. The acting and narrative takes a turn towards realism, and an abusive relationship ensues. It’s here that the performance makes its strongest comment on the darker sides of young ‘love’: domestic violence in the suburbs.

Australian cultural references including quips about hard rubbish, vegemite on crumpets and dreams of a man who drinks Corona instead of Melbourne Bitter inject a load of mature humour into this generally playful fable to keep adult audiences engaged.

The acting is highly physical and vocally rich, creating a hyper-real world bursting with energy. Johnston’s driving performance as the bossy, big sister is outstanding and strong, powering the narrative along. Benjamin transitions with ease from the anxious younger brother to the hipster Prince Charming who uses love as an excuse for violence and abuse.

So what’s the moral of story? Perhaps that for a woman in today’s world to truly be free, she must become the narrator of her own life.

Bread Crumbs runs from the 21st of November until the 2nd of December at The Stables, Meat Market in North Melbourne.

http://www.poppyseedfestival.com/events-products/show-3-tickets

The Kransky Sisters Present A VERY KRANSKY CHRISTMAS

Deliciously oddball holiday humour

By Leeor Adar

The Kransky Sisters are the kookiest cabaret act gracing Australia, and really, they’ve become cultural icons in their own right including memorable TV appearances on programs on Spicks and Specks and Adam Hills Tonight. I doubt many pictured backwater Australia as three sheltered sisters as a comic-cabaret gothic triad, but nonetheless here they are in all their kooky mod-squad glory.

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The Kranskys are touring pre-holidays to offer some quirky Christmas cheer to Australians everywhere. Appearing at the relatively new kid on the block, the Alex Theatre, the sisters Mourne, Eve and Dawn (Annie Lee, Christine Johnston and Carolyn Johns) bring the house down with their hilarious songs, revamped versions of club hits, and strange stories from their fictional lives.

For those who don’t know the Kranskys’ origin tale, it starts out like most caravan dreams: Mourne and Eve’s mother runs off with their uncle, leaving them with their half-sister Dawn, the tuba-playing and long-suffering member of the pack. They live in Esk in small-town Queensland, and ever dressed alike, conduct their everyday Aussie lives whilst enabling each other’s sheltered world-views – with marvelously funny results.

To get everyone in the mood for their fabulously off-beat humour, a slideshow shared highlights of the sisters’ travels over the past year. It’s particularly funny to those who like the odd and unsettling – which is pretty much everyone in the audience – because we didn’t come for a Barbie sideshow, and the wonderful seriousness of their vibe only heightens the absurdity.

Mourne (clearly the dominant sibling), tells stories from their childhood and adult lives, and Eve nods in agreement and chimes in, whereupon they’re often completing each other’s sentences as Dawn eyeballs them. Songs intersperse their histories, from singing Thriller to an unsuspecting Swedish backpacker, to taking same backpacker to a nightclub only to regale the night through song to us – we really get a solid dose of Kransky Does Pop: Sia, Daft Punk etc. etc. and it’s an absolute hoot as the sexual undertones of the music are utterly lost on them. Brandishing the tuba, and an oddball collection of other instruments, they give us a new vantage point to confection music by injecting their gloomy-folk magic to it.

The Kransky Sisters are a highly talented performance trio, and their style, music and unique way of storytelling gives them the enduring creative edge to attract audiences for years to come. I know that I will happily attend their next Christmas shindig if they will have me.

If you want to catch the kooky Kranskys, you may need swallow your pride for some audience participation – but boy will it make for some fun! You’ll find them touring Melbourne until the 26 November, and then on to NSW, QLD, SA and ACT.

For Melbourne:

20th – 26th November, 2017

Alex Theatre

135 Fitzroy Street,

St Kilda, Melbourne, VIC

Info & tickets: www.alextheatrestk.com and ticketek.com.au

For other upcoming locations, dates and ticketing, head to the following link: http://www.thekranskysisters.com/touring

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.

 

Circus Oz Presents SIDESAULT FESTIVAL

Sheer delight

By Lois Maskiell

Sidesault Festival kicked off with a roaring double bill on Wednesday the 8th of November. This experimental circus festival presented by Circus Oz is showcasing emerging and established circus artists in the wondrous Melba Speigeltent and features a range of independant artists from Melbourne and beyond. Casting Off by Australian troupe, A Good Catch and Unsuitable by Tumble Circus from Belfast certainly delivered the goods on the opening night.

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Casting Off commenced with three performers sitting under a table all the while deliberating how to start their own show. These candid clowns soon took their audience on a ride as absurd as it was touching. The dialogue was fresh, carrying the show along with popping originality. The acrobatics, fast-paced and true to the Australian circus tradition, were pleasingly raw and rough around the edges.

Performers Debra Batton, Sharon Gruenert and Spenser Inwood clearly have a bond that only years of training circus could provide. Debra’s one-liners, planned or improvised were goldmines of laughter. She dropped pearls of nonsensical wisdom, including forgetting what the meaning of life was on top of a three-chair stack. Gruenert threw firey tantrums that could outdo a toddler amidst her air-piercing acrobatics. Finally, the charming Spenser Inwood effortlessly executed an aerial cradle routine, throwing and catching Sharon while jazz scat-singing melodiously.

Casting Off was relaxed, personal and fantastically inappropriate. Not surprising to see these Circus Oz performers pushing their art to new places here in Melbourne.

The ambiance of the Melba Spiegeltent is like no other venue. It’s a space whose magic has been collecting like dust since it was made in Belgium in 1910. The second show on the bill, Unsuitable reflected the facets of this mirrored tent well with its revue-type show consisting of a series of individual acts.

Unsuitable by Tumble Circus premiered at Sidesault Festival, and to say it was welcomed warmly would be an understatement. This full-length show commenced with a short vignette of three mischevieous clowns who liked to kick each others’ butts to psychtrance.

Ken Fanning, Tina Segner and Angelique Ross demonstrated their talent in a series of individual and group acts. All our favourite apparatus took the stage: trapeze, tissue, hula hoops and even a group juggling act with all performers in spangled leotards, platforms and blonde wigs.

Highlights include Tina’s tissue routine performed in motorcycle helmet, Angelique’s poetic tightwire act that told the story of a trip on the metro and featured some edible props, and Ken’s clowning act that proves the art of buffooning is very much alive. He really had the audience in the palm of his hand, eliciting high-pitched cackles with ease.

Sharp, edgy and hilarious: Tumble Circus’s Unsuitable is guaranteed to keep you engaged and laughing.

Supported by the City of Yarra and presented by Circus Oz, Sidesault Festival runs from the 8th to the 18th and is not to be missed. For tickets and more information: http://www.circusoz.com/the-spiegeltent/shows-at-the-melba.html

Image by Rob Blackburn

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

Malthouse Presents THE TESTAMENT OF MARY

Listening for a voice

By Bradley Storer

In the darkened corner of a modern apartment, a woman in blue is curled up weeping and clenching her fists. A stark blackout, and the same woman stands expressionless and walks into the kitchen to chop vegetables. With this bleak contrast of mourning and domesticity, The Testament of Mary begins to unfold the hidden story of the mother of God.

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Colm Toibin’s script, adapted from his own novel of the same name, is certainly evocative, and the passages describing Mary following the trail of Jesus’ march to crucifixion, her vigil and eventual terrified flight from Golgotha are as heart-breaking as they are harrowing. While the aim of the play seems to be to break down our historical and religious pre-conceptions of Mary, in Testament she never emerges as enough of a fully-formed character to do this. In sections describing her situation years after the crucifixion, flashes of a full-blooded Mary emerges – in a poignant description of a chair left eternally empty waiting for its occupant to return, or in her bafflement in dealing with the outlandish declarations of her son’s former followers, we can see her humanity appearing. Once the play moves on to re-telling Jesus’ rise and subsequent downfall, however, Mary becomes a reactionary character with no agency to affect her own fate. She is simply shuffled around according to the actions and desires of other (mostly male) characters, whether it be her mysterious cousin Marcus or Jesus himself, but what Mary herself desires is very rarely evident.

Pamela Rabe works incredibly hard to form a character out of these materials, and the fact that Testament works at all as a dramatic piece can be credited entirely to her as a brilliant actor. The unrelenting darkness and bleakness of Toibin’s writing begins to feel almost monotone as the play goes on, which unfortunately the direction of Anne-Louise Sarks seems unable to combat. The contemporary apartment set by Marg Horwell and Paul Jackson – while maybe intended to divorce the story of its distant historical context – alas adds nothing to the overall meaning. Steve Toulmin’s compositions and sound design, while sometimes overused, add subtle poignancy and gravitas to several key moments.

The Testament of Mary is described as having the goal of ‘to examine how myths are made, and to question who has the power to tell them’ but never offers up a strong enough voice of its own or an alternative to accepted mythology. The key divergence from biblical text, that Jesus was not the son of God, doesn’t feel like enough of a dramatic twist to build the entire plot upon. For a play about the historical silencing of women and the narrative exclusion of the feminine viewpoint, The Testament of Mary feels oddly voiceless.

Dates: 3 – 26th November

Venue: Merlyn Theatre, The Malthouse, 113 Sturt St, Southbank VIC

Times: Tuesday 6:30pm, Wednesday – Saturday 7:30pm, Matinee Saturday 3pm, Sunday 5:30pm.

Prices: $35 – $69

Bookings: www.malthousetheatre.com.au , boxoffice@malthousetheatre.com.au , Ph: 03 9685 5111

Image by Zan Wimberley