Category: Theatre

Review: END. OF.

Dark sensibility and deep vulnerability

By Bradley Storer

Comedic writer/performer extraordinaire Ash Flanders returns with his latest work, END. OF. Beginning in the doldrums of police transcriptions, Flanders moves down the river of memory in a journey that spans childhood, death and the eternal quest to be the funniest one in the room. Looming over proceedings is the long shadow cast by the indomitable Flanders matriarch, Heather Flanders, whose bombastic catch phrase gives the show its title.

Flanders’ usual mix of caustic camp and neurotic melancholy is underlaid here by a darker sensibility. Acid trips gone haywire and a trip to the slaughter house provide imagery bordering on true horror, Rachel Burke’s lighting and Tom Backhaus’ sound design combining with the text to create some deeply chilling moments.

Flanders is, as always, an effortlessly charismatic performer, needing little more than Nathan Burmeister’s simple (but quietly effective) set, his own comically lithe physicality and incisive turn of phrase to carry the entire show. The loveable narcissism of previous shows is tempered here by a deeper vulnerability in later sections and a beautifully realized joy that draws the work to its conclusion.

In a show that searches to unpick the meaning in making story and structure, Flanders wryly comments: ‘It’s hard to know what to hold on to when you believe in so little.’ Even as the show leaps through time and place within seconds (and it could be argued that some sections of the piece could be trimmed slightly), it is a credit to both the strength of Flanders’ writing and the canny direction of Stephen Nicolazzo that the whole flows together in emotional seamlessness.

A wonderful new work from an established comic performer that solidifies his continuing artistry, as well as expands his range into gorgeously new and beautiful territory!

Venue: Northcote Town Hall, 189 High St, Northcote Town Hall

Date: 11 – 22 March

Times: Wed – Saturday 8:30pm, Sunday 6pm

Prices: $28 – $35

Bookings: www.darebinarts.com.au, ticketing@darebin.vic.gov.au, (03) 8470 8280

Review: Running with Emus

Beautiful and thought provoking

By Ross Larkin

Local playwright, Merrilee Moss’s new work, Running with Emus, is a comedy drama about a small outback community which is considering becoming ‘refugee friendly.’ 

Part of the current VCE curriculum, the play explores themes of hope, identity and change with surreal elements (namely, a ghost) in an otherwise naturalistic and contemporary setting. 

When Pat’s granddaughter Krystal arrives on her doorstep unexpectedly, her youthful spirit and drive immediately makes ripples through a seemingly narrow-minded town, where the idea of refugees and immigrants is a totally foreign concept, pun intended.

As Pat and Krystal’s differing personalities and opinions clash, Krystal begins to assimilate to a new life in the town while learning the truth about her grandmother’s past. 

Acting luminary, Julie Nihill, is ideally suited to the introspective and detached Pat, more at ease with the birdlife than the few humans in her predominantly isolated world. 

The small, yet strong, supporting cast are all worthy of note, particularly the ever versatile and deft Kevin Dee as well as Sam Baxter, who is excellent as the charismatic Italian ghost, Raffaele, injecting some necessary spice to the mix.

Director Kim Durban takes a minimal and simplistic approach with the staging of the work, which mostly serves it well, but for such a dialogue heavy and arguably lengthy piece in need of trimming, it might have benefited from some more dynamic blocking.

Overall, Running with Emus has some beautiful and thought provoking moments, a stellar cast and plenty of poignance and relevance to the current political climate to warrant a viewing of a piece which will no doubt go on to become a staple in the library of important Australian works. 

Running with Emus is playing now at La Mama’s Courthouse Theatre in Carlton until March 22nd. For bookings go to https://lamama.com.au/

 

Review: Slut

Pertinent and permeating progressive perfection

By Owen James

Witnessing an ensemble of collaborators and performers so in tune with each other, as well as in tune with the message and tone of the work they are presenting, is a rarity. Slut is a powerful dissection of the tangible inner conflict imposed on women making their journey from childhood to adulthood; and this is a production that for me comes close to perfection.

Patricia Cornelius’ exemplary yet disconcerting script was first performed in 2007, and as director Rachel Baring notes in the programme, “it is really hard when you take a piece from 2007 and it is just as relevant now as when it was written”. Baring has taken the raw, exposing elements inherent in Cornelius’ work, and turned the flame to high. Presented in the insanely intimate Fitzroy space ‘The Burrow’ (journey down a laneway off Brunswick Street to find a very cozy black box seating only 25), these feminist depositions are brutally honest and grippingly confronting. Baring ensures the dialogue and impressively rapid-fire choreographed movement are always as perturbing as the claustrophobic space these oppressed performers are unnaturally confined within. Lighting and sound design by John Collopy and Daniella Esposito respectively is exquisite, enhancing the text and direction at every turn.

The majority of dialogue is shared by a narrative triad composed of Lauren Mass, Jessica Tanner and Michaela Bedel. So impeccable is the timing and communal commitment to concentration shared by these three that we are transfixed with every word and gesture. Laura Jane Turner plays social renegade Lolita (named for the connotative qualities title “Lolita” recalls), and fearlessly delivers much of her exposition with disturbing composure mere centimetres away from audience members. This perfectly-matched company of four are of such high calibre I could happily have sat there fully engaged for hours.

A 30-minute show for almost $30 is a hard sell in our relentless economy where getting bang for your backbreaking buck is not only expected but necessary. But I’m here to tell you your spent dollars will be bereft of regret thanks to the dedication and expertise of these creatives. Slut is everything great theatre should be – urgent, relevant, and a good story well told; and proves how access to only limited resources is no obstacle to talented theatre-makers.

Don’t miss Slut, a powerhouse rollercoaster that propels itself forward with turbulent momentum at every turn, and will leave you simultaneously thrilled and terrified.

Running until March 21: https://www.trybooking.com/book/event?eid=586996

Photograph courtesy of Michaela Bedel.

Review: The Hitmen

Get hired or get fired (at)

By Owen James

The latest black comedy from Baker’s Dozen Theatre Company riffs on the relentless job-hunting struggle facing 5.3% of Australians today. So desperate are six jobless hopefuls that working as a hired killer for professional assassination syndicate KOC (Killing On Command) is deemed a legitimate possibility. The Hitmen depicts a group-job-interview-cum-survival-of-the-fittest for these six employees, where only one will prevail with both the job and their life.

Writer Mish Wittrup and director Blake Barnard have created a world of unadulterated absurdity, where regular social constructs are often demolished or ignored, and we see normal people become wild animals ala Battle Royale. The pressure-cooker setting mixed with classic “only one can survive” setup is a strong premise which ensures the exposition is, for the most part, pleasantly swift and snappy. Wittrup craftily weaves individual backstories and motivations for most characters into the narrative with asides and soliloquys spattered throughout, which immediately makes each ‘John’ far more fascinating once we know why they’re there.

These six Johns (giving real names leads to execution) portray rising desperation with feverish realism, allowing the many moments of violence to feel deserved and authentic. Two audience favourites are undoubtedly Eidann Glover and Raymond Martini, who both give dedicated and extremely humorous performances. Glover finds comedic flare in her character’s unwavering unlikability but also genuine warmth in her affection for partner John (Harry Borland), and Martini plays the gamer nerd out of his depth to perfection. Cazz Bainbridge as tyrannical head honcho Gwendoline sometimes moves too fast through moments of potential comedic gold, but successfully creates a dominating and minacious persona who is always one step ahead of the game.

Amidst characters’ wavering integrity and blood splatters galore is a subversive and gratifying (but extremely dark) comedy, with meaningful comments about the societal juncture desperate job seekers face in contemporary Australia – what lengths may some go to just for a paycheque? Though tempting, can we live with an unethical choice? It is the abandonment of solidarity when in the face of disparity that these corrupt individuals barely question as they undergo the world’s most erratic and stressful job interview that provokes many fascinating questions, and may also force you to consider how strong your own moral compass would be were you in this environment. When it’s a world of every man for himself, is it possible to unify against our unethical leaders? Or, as Wittrup and co perhaps suggest, do we willingly accept our fate and the sniper’s headshot.

The Hitmen plays until March 14 at Theatre Works, St Kilda: http://www.theatreworks.org.au/program/the-hitmen/

Photography by Justine McArthur

Review: The Importance of Being Earnest

“A Trivial Comedy for Serious People”

By Margaret Wieringa

How can a farce from the late 1800s be relevant over two hundred years later? Perhaps because politics and society seem to be as farcical as ever, with world leaders shunning education and humanity and instead using confounding language to say very little. Or perhaps it’s just that we need a break from it all and to really laugh.

If it’s a laugh you need, this is certainly the show to go to. This interpretation of the Importance of Being Earnest by Ridiculusmus has the magnificent talents of Jon Hayes and David Woods playing all of the characters. Being the work of Oscar Wilde, comedy is in almost every line, but Hayes and Woods manage to elicit humour even from the silences. Each costume change brings titters of laughter from the audience, as much from the action itself as the anticipation of what is coming next. The timing is perfect, starting with long pauses filled with slight movements as we wait for a character to reappear, and then moving to fast-paced, frenetic changes as the play reaches its climax.

Even the set was humorous, with every surface (including the leaves of an indoor plant) covered with busy wallpaper and Persian rugs. While the magnificent costumes were practically characters of themselves, the set was used delightfully for the performers to do some of the more complex character changes.

The show plays with the concept of theatre itself, with the actors using remote controls and the like for sound and lighting cues (supported by lighting designer Stephen Hawker and  sound realiser Tom Backhaus). They play with conventions, use modern music to add humour to scenes, and enjoy letting the audience in on the joke when things start to go off the rails.

Perhaps the greatest joy of the show is that the audience feels as though they have joined the actors on a magnificent journey and reach the end victorious and fulfilled.

Venue: Malthouse Theatre

Dates: 14 Feb – 8 March

Time: Varies between 5pm and 7:30pm starts

Prices: $49-$89

Bookings: https://tickets.malthousetheatre.com.au/production/5676 or call the box office on 9685 5111

Photography by Pia Johnson

Review: Extinction

An uncomfortable environmental theme

By Rachel Holkner

 

Modern churches have the most comfortable chairs. I guess that’s because people just won’t come if their backside falls asleep during the sermon. Fortunately these same chairs are now being used at multi-purpose venues such as Gateway to seat theatre audiences at times when sermons are not being delivered.

But what about when the theatre is a sermon? Extinction by Hannie Rayson, a play on the VCE English list, has an environmental theme that is not always comfortable to hear. This production, directed by Sarah Tierney, has been designed with a student audience in mind, an audience which may not be entirely convinced about seeing a play, let alone a play which carries strong messages the audience might not want to hear.

Going in knowing very little about the story, I was surprised, not unpleasantly, to have my own strong environmental views challenged particularly by the mining magnate character of Harry Jewell. While it felt almost medicinal at times, I appreciated the opportunity for establishing defensive arguments alongside the more traditionally environmentally skewed characters of the empathetic zoologist, Piper and unsentimental vet, Andy.

The play itself is clear and compelling. Set in the near future it takes on a pragmatic environmental message while encompassing economic perspectives. While the first act of Extinction is strongly environmental and explores issues of economics, ecology, the role of research and policy, the second act devolves somewhat into soap opera territory. The characters’ motivations clash and while the deal of bed-hopping that occurs highlights the foibles of human nature, it detracts from the stronger messages that affect communities and ecosystems. The text is a little on the long side and would benefit from an edit to remove repetitive exposition.

The production design of repurposed crates and shipping pallets and tonal costumes emphasised this rendition’s stance on individual action being powerful. The lighting design made terrific use of the venue’s futuristic neon stage lighting and the sound design was as equally evocative.

Tierney’s straightforward direction led to each performance being excellent; Amelia Hunter as the American zoologist; Juan Fernando Monge negotiating the tricky role of a sympathetic mining magnate; Maree Barnett fitting the part of harried university administrator to a tee; the role of her brother the vet by Jesse Thomas negotiating secrecy very capably. These are each morally complex characters with stubborn streaks which with Rayson’s writing navigate the themes extremely effectively.

The seats might be comfortable, but this exploration of the role of human intervention in ecological recovery won’t be. I strongly encourage audiences to attend this short season of Extinction.

Extinction was performed at Gateway Worship & Performing Arts Centre

 

Review: Daddy

A candy coated concoction

By Bradley Storer

At the opening of Daddy last night, the audience entering the performance space were greeted with the sight of Wiradjuri artist Joel Bray, clad only into a pair fluorescent pink hot pants, reclining artfully on a fluffy cloud of fairy floss. This cheeky image slowly morphed through poses of contorted classical imagery alongside grotesque parodies of childish innocence, signalling the wide range of expression Bray would traverse in the next hour.

Mixing fairy tale, contemporary dance, and stylised but emotionally direct text, Daddy is a moving examination of existence at the intersections of queerness and blackness in modern Australia. The continual imagery of a hole needing to be filled operates on multiple levels – an empty stomach hungering for nourishment, an orifice looking for sexual fulfilment, the empty space left by an absent parent, as well as the pulsating wound at the heart of a people ripped apart by colonisation.

Bray is a charming and warm presence throughout, gracefully guiding the audience through tales of his own family and lived experience as a white-presenting Wiradjuri man. His un-amplified voice carries impressively in the intimate space of the State Theatre Rehearsal Room, and he ably manoeuvres audience members through several configurations throughout the room (audience participation is a large part of the performance, but in an entirely voluntary capacity). Bray’s lithe form and skilful dancing are utilised to both hilarious and chilling effect, whether peacocking in the confines of a gay club or contorting in convulsions of loss and pain.

Bray’s generosity of spirit nevertheless refuses to excuse the complicity of modern Australia in the decimation and erasure of Indigenous culture. The molten tirade he unleashes at the climax of the piece stings with cutting truth, particularly in light of continuing Aboriginal deaths in custody, shortened life expectancy and the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in prison populations.

Sitting in a space combining dance, theatre and storytelling, Daddy is absolutely delightful – a candy coated concoction disguising bitter truths, and whipped cream concealing the deep wounds of colonialism. An absolute must-see for this year’s Midsumma festival!

Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Rd

Dates: 4 – 8 February

Time: 8pm Tuesday – Saturday, 2pm Saturday

Prices: $30 – $35

Bookings: artscentremelbourne.com.au, 1300 182 183, tickets@artscentremelbourne.com.au or at the box office.

Photography by Bryony Jackson