Category: Theatre

Review: Brothers Wreck

An achievement of storytelling saturated with rain and feeling

By Leeor Adar 

Jada Alberts is an exceptional writer and member of the creative community. Her first community, as an Indigenous Australian, is that of her family, and her family have lived and breathed realities that were not their choice to create. So Alberts creates, and as a storyteller she can take the tragedy of losing a loved one and make it a powerful conversation about grief. For a first foray into the world of playwriting, Alberts’ Brothers Wreck is an aching and loving work, despite its shroud of suffering.

Jada’s grief for those she’s lost and the lives of her people runs deep, and Brothers Wreck is a potent “love letter” to her own family. In Brothers Wreck, a family must manage their loved one coping with the aftermath of a suicide. With an existing high rate in young male suicides, Indigenous Australian men are at an even greater risk. From the biting account of his every day roadblocks, Ruben (Dion Williams) recounts his frustrations with the world to the Court-appointed counsellor, David (Trevor Jamieson). Ruben’s anger is palpable, and no reason will quench the deep sense of injustice he feels towards his world. Fiercely protective of his family, we learn that he was unable to protect his friend and cousin, the unseen Joe, from himself.

Ruben’s struggle reaches a fever pitch with the terminal illness of his mother, and the arrival of his aunt (Lisa Flanagan), an uncompromising powerhouse of a woman who refuses to give up on him. In truth, none of those around Ruben, including his sister (Leonie Whyman), and cousin (Nelson Baker), will give up on him. Confronted once again with the gloom of death, Ruben’s nightly visitations to the past deepen his addictions and sense of gloom.

Featuring from left to right: Trevor Jamieson and Leonie Whyman. Photo credit: Tim Grey.

The oppressive heat and thunderous downpours of Darwin serve as a brutal backdrop to this family’s saga. With harrowing recollections of the past, including a haunting account of death, Lisa Flanagan’s performance as Ruben’s aunt is the absolute standout in this production. Her arrival upon her family brings the storms, and the opportunity for healing. Supported by a stunning cast, Alberts directs a deeply moving performance literally saturated with rain and feeling.

Dale Ferguson’s staging becomes another character in this production, as the stage feels like a glib prison, with doorways made of metal-screen netting, and drains to collect the water that intrudes upon the stage. It’s a fantastically considered set: its prison-like qualities a reminder of the excessive incarceration of members of the Indigenous community, and the sense of hopelessness and poverty that pervade the characters’ lives.

Despite the focus on mental health and death, Brothers Wreck is a hopeful, often funny, and poignant play about a family and its refusal to collapse in the face of hardship. Momentarily uplifted by this warmth, I am reminded that family cannot be the only hope for a community, there is so much more work needed to bridge the almost insurmountable gap between Indigenous Australians and the rest of the nation.

Alberts’ work is an achievement of storytelling, and I hope to see more of her writing in the future.

Brothers Wreck is being performed at Malthouse Theatre until 23 June. Tickets can be puchased online and by calling the box office on  03 9685 5111.

Photographs: Tim Grey

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Review: Holy Cow!

A rambunctious homage to Joyce’s modernist classic

By Lois Maskiell

Bloomsday in Melbourne’s homage to the modernist masterpiece ‘Ulysses’ is filled with the very wit and wordplay that gave the novel its place in the Western canon. This production titled Holy Cow! James Joyce Slaughters the Sacred Cows of English Literature is an original adaptation scripted by a team of Joycean experts. Running at Fortyfivedownstairs for a limited season, it’s a part of Melbourne’s 2018 Bloomsday celebrations that shouldn’t be missed.

The group of writers, including Graeme Anderson, Bruce Beswick, Steve Carey, Sian Cartwright, Frances Devlin-Glass and Di Silber, have focused on episode fourteen, ‘Oxen of the Sun’. This episode, famous for its parallel between the development of the child from the embryo and the development of English prose up to the late nineteenth century, is a linguistic marvel that makes for spectacularly verbal theatre.

Set in the National Maternity Hospital on Holles St Dublin, the play opens with a nun (May Jasper) and priest (Paul Robertson) who establish the production’s tone as the primary narrators. Their physically and comically rich performances are complemented by a voice-over of James Joyce (Eugene O’Rourke). The drama unfolds when protagonist Leopold Bloom (Hunter Perske) enters the hospital to check on Mina Purefoy (Liza Dennis) in the middle of her arduous labour, facilitated by an austere nurse (Bridget Sweeney).

Bloom’s pensive response to the situation highlights his own relationship with the continuation of his bloodline. This is contrasted to the shenanigans of his mostly younger friends Stephen Dedalus (Matthew Connell), Buck Mulligan (Mitchel Edwards), Francis ‘Punch’ Costello (Timothy Ian McMullin) and Dr Dixon (Johnathan Peck). Their wild commentary on birth and fertility, which is loosened by extravagant mead drinking, sparks much laughter.

Director, Jennifer Sarah Dean has crafted a droll theatrical experience rough with the atmosphere of an Irish pub. Aided by Alia Syed’s set design as well as lighting and sound by Alex Blackwell and Mitch Tabe, Dean’s stage devices complete the adaptation process with their strong dramatic and physical dimensions.

True to the Bloomsday tradition, Rhiannon Irving’s costumes are Edwardian-themed and characters pluck them from large boxes each dedicated to a particular century. As they work their way through the centuries language shifts accordingly until Donald Trump appears–performed by the diversely talented Sweeney–and here the text makes a fantastic collision with its present-day context.

Holy Cow! is a rambunctious and entertaining play that will have both die-hard fans of Joyce and anyone eager to encounter a glimpse of ‘Ulysses’ intrigued, amused and ready for the next episode.

Holy Cow! is being performed at Fortyfivedownstairs until 17 June.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9662 9966.

For more information about Melbourne in Bloomsday events take a look at their official website.

Review: LONE

A deep diving, personal experience 

By Joana Simmons   

Every once in a while, I come across a piece of art that makes the hairs on my neck stand up and leaves me gobsmacked about how I will be able to put the experience into words. This world premiere of LONE created by The Rabble and St Martins Youth Arts Centre and presented by Arts House is such a piece of art. What they have created is a beautiful and delicate performance designed to be experienced alone. This make us slightly uncomfortable, it leaves us without cues from other audience members of how to react whilst we dive in to explore loneliness through childhood and adulthood. It’s bold, disruptive and challenging.

We are given a number on our shirts as a ticket, and go one by one into a space where there is a booth corresponding to our numbers. We are instructed to don headphones and when the lights dim, enter the booths. To make this project the children aged 8 – 11 were asked to imagine a room designed for the audience to inhabit alone. There are moments where I feel both distant like an onlooker and completely involved, as the small child of whom I was in the company gave me a personal glimpse into their privately constructed world: one that was a combination of heart-warming, chilling and startling moods.

Seeing the pure innocence of their small hands and chests rising and falling as they breathed made me feel so fortunate to experience such a unique moment. It had me on the edge of my seat, leaning in, or pressed up against the wall, almost in fright.  Many moments across the 30-minute performance made me think of myself when I was that small, and the way I would pass the time alone.

The child whose world I stepped into had incredibly big eyes, which locked with mine fearlessly on more than one occasion. At the end, I was left in the dark, alone, which bought a range of emotions. The tone of the other adults as they stepped out of their booths was noticeably different to when we stepped in and the children were waiting outside to receive our applause.

Creators Emma Valente and Kate Davis of The Rabble have made a truly memorable and challenging piece of art. The Rabble are “a group of visionary women who have consistently produced bold, provocative and visually stunning theatrical experiences and have forged an unrivalled reputation for producing experimental theatre of the highest quality.” With LONE, they have fulfilled this mission. The set and costume by Kate Davis was effective with each booth forming its own little structure, and this was complemented by lighting and sound design by Emma Valente. The soundtrack was eerie and highly effective, making all sides of this production high quality.

LONE is not for the audience member who likes to sit back, see tricks and hear voice acrobatics. It is for the audience member who yearns for something to sink their teeth into, chew over, gristle and all, and digest over a period of time. It is remarkable how sometimes as adults we underestimate children and this performance show us they have so much to teach us. LONE is challenging, barrier breaking and memorable. No need to call a friend, go by yourself – alone.

 

LONE is being performed at Arts House, North Melbourne until 17 June.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9322 3720.

Photograph: Bryony Jackson

Review: Pancake Opus

When the kitchen becomes a microcosm of life, loneliness and love

By Narelle Wood 

There was something about the description of this show – a show about courage, loneliness, love and pancakes – that I found very intriguing. Not entirely sure exactly what to expect, one thing was clear, thanks to a spectacular looking mini-kitchen in the centre of the room: it was definitely about pancakes.

For the next 60 minutes Sandra Fiona Long invites us into her kitchen full of poetic monologues, retro kitchen appliances, reflections on childhood, motherhood and cooking. Long samples parts of her orations and singing as she goes along and these provide a multi-layered backdrop to the ponderings and musings that make up this show.

As Long contemplates what her signature cake might be, at the same time as juggling nagging children and internet dating, I can’t help but think that this could very well be a far more honest, artful and interesting version of Master Chef, with the only harsh critic being the voice that we often find in our head. The same voice that Long draws upon to explore issues of inadequacy, loneliness and loss.

There were sometimes that I found it a little hard to hear Long, mostly due to volume of the background track and the number of different layers all happening at once. That been said, the mixing of the multiple voices, constructed by Raya Slavin, provided a poignant reminder of the complexities happening on stage. The mini-kitchen designed by Bronwyn Pringle and Emily Barrie could be considered an art installation in and of itself – complete with hanging pots and pans and a tea-towel tablecloth. The kitchen provided the perfect stage for the other stars of the show – the cooking utensils and ingredients – which came with an ingenious lighting design all of their own.

The show finishes with audience participation, something that I normally loath. If you are theatre-participation-phobic you needn’t worry, it is non-threatening and even I was willing to get involved. Overall, I must admit I am more comfortable with theatre that might be considered more traditional than Pancake Opus. But there is something extremely relatable about both the themes of the show and Long herself. And it’s about pancakes, who doesn’t love pancakes?

Pankcake Opus is being performed at Arts House, North Melbourne until 10 June.  Tickets can be purchased online.

Photograph: Peter Casamento

 

Review: The Nightingale and the Rose

Little Ones Theatre crystallises Wilde’s classic with bittersweet intensity


By Bradley Storer

 

Little Ones Theatre return after the critical success of their productions The Happy Prince and Merciless Gods with their second work based on an Oscar Wilde fairytale, The Nightingale and the Rose – the classic story of the high costs involved in both love and art.

 

Director Stephen Nicolazzo conjures an air of mystery and intensity from the very start, the song of the Nightingale emerging against Eugyeene Teh’s beautifully simple moonscape set. Characters emerge from darkness seemingly out of nowhere thanks to the ingenious lighting design of Katie Sfetkidis. The first throes of young love are invoked wittily through strains of Morrissey and the Smiths, while Daniel Nixon’s original compositions and sound design amp up the tension in the darker and quieter sections of the story.

 

As the central dynamic force at the heart of the piece, Jennifer Vuletic as the eponymous Nightingale manages the tricky balance between stylised expression and emotional reality with aplomb. Vuletic floats across the stage as though walking on air with her eyes wide in wonderment at the beauty of love. Her dark-hued soprano ably handles intermittent sections of French and Italian operatic arias, piercing the soul in a climatic a capella rendition of Puccini’s ‘Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore’. It’s a moment that neatly ties together the work’s exploration of how love and art intersect, even as it tears at the heart.

 

Brigid Gallacher brings an affectingly androgynous charm to the Student whose love-sick woes initiate the plot, morphing convincingly from awkward romance to deep disillusionment. Justin Wang displays a dancer’s sensual poise and grace as the various rose bushes encountered by the Nightingale, and a hilarious flippancy composed of equal parts camp and callousness as the materialistic Lover. 

 

While the bitterness and bleak humour of the tale’s end are classically Wildean in tone, reflecting (in a way that feels intensely relevant even today) on a society that devalues the work of artists while simultaneously squandering their gifts, it does leave a bad taste in the mouth. Perhaps this bitterness also leaves the desire for some form of emotional closure, especially after evoking such powerful feelings beforehand. Nevertheless, Nicolazzo and the company of Little Ones capture the bittersweet and painfully beautiful nature of Wilde’s original tale with great artistry and obvious passion for the text. So as the company plans ahead for an adaptation of a third story in the future, we can only hope for more!


The Nightingale and the Rose
is being performed at Theatre Works, St Kilda until 10 June.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9534 3388.

Photograph: Pia Johnson

Review: Puffs

The magical world of Harry Potter seen from an ultra-novel perspective

By Narelle Wood

 

Let’s face it, anything Harry Potter based comes with some pretty big expectations, given the beloved characters and world that J.K. Rowling created. Puffs or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic does not disappoint, adding more loveable characters to the loveable world, now seen from a different perspective: the dormitory next to the kitchen.

Puffs explores what it would be like to go to a certain magic school at the same time as Harry Potter is gallivanting about saving everyone from impending dark wizard doom. Wayne (Ryan Hawke), a loveable geeky wizard, finds out on his 11th birthday that he is a wizard and begins his time at magic school by being sorted into the Puffs – an ultra-friendly group of students who fail a lot. Wayne soon befriends maths savant Oliver (Keith Brockett) and wanna-be evil wizard Meghan (Eva Seymour). Together the three wizards seek out adventure, magic and deal with the constant stress of an exceptionally unsafe school environment. Of course, no Harry Potter story, even one that features Wayne as a central character would be complete without some Harry, Ron and Hermione cameos, as well as a familiar monster or two and the evil wizard with no nose.

It would be easy to think that Puffs is Harry Potter spoof, but nothing could be further from the truth. The funniest moments come from the nuanced jokes that pay homage to Harry and his devoted fans. The storyline is built around the key events of the six years Harry is at school and the 7th year where he doesn’t attend as a student, but rather as one of the leaders of the wizarding war.

Playwright Matt Cox manages to highlight some of the absurdities of the wizarding world, mostly the idea that school is the safest place and yet every year the students find themselves in mortal danger. The writing is clever and witty and even with a large ensemble cast, the audience grows to know and care about the characters.

PUFFS-10_Gareth-Isaac_Annabelle-Tudor_Matt-Whitty_Eva-Seymour_Ryan-Hawke_Zenya-Carmellotti_Keith-Brockett_Olivia-Charalambous_Tammy-Weller_Daniel-Cosgrove
Photographs: Ben Fon

It is hard to fault this production, actually impossible. The cast, under direction of Kristin McCarthy Parker, are amazing as they run on and off stage through multiple exits, many switching between multiple characters. Matt Whitty’s portrayal of a certain potions master is eerily accurate, Rob Mills as Cedric is full of slightly creepy charm, and you could not wish for a perkier narrator than Gareth Isaac. The whole theatre is decked out in Puffs and magic school paraphernalia. All this, as well as lighting and haze effects, might have one almost think they are in the great hall itself.

This is a must for any Potter-loving-person. It is witty, charming and mostly family friendly (there is a sports coach who has a tendency for some colourful language). I giggled and guffawed the whole way through and, despite the soul-sucking security guards, I am definitely planning a return trip.

Puffs’ extended season runs until 8 July at Alex Theatre St Kilda. Evening performances are ideal for children aged 15+ and matinees for those aged 8+. Tickets are available online and by calling the box office on 132 849.

Review: Her Father’s Daughter

Ibsen’s 19th-century classic Hedda Gabler is resurrected thanks to playwright Keziah Warner

By Owen James

“If not Now, when?” asks the mission statement of Melbourne company Hotel Now, a question that seems especially relevant to their latest work, Her Father’s Daughter. Keziah Warner’s modern-day adaptation of Hedda Gabler shows that these themes and characters are as relevant today as ever, ensuring that every moment of the chaotic story is believable and beautifully complex. Together with direction from Cathy Hunt, the still-thriving patriarchy of the 21st century and Hedda’s own unique propensity for destruction bring about emotional and physical chaos.

Cait Spiker as manipulative and destructive Hedda Gabler seems born to play this role, filling our ongoing need for strong female characters in theatre. Her Hedda is unsettling in gleeful deceit, guaranteeing our mouths open in both laughter and shock over the course of the story. Spiker clearly thrives on Hedda’s determination, strength and psychotic intensity.

Tim Wotherspoon’s credulous George Tesman is a pure delight to watch, his boundless energy adding colour to the text and movement to the play. Honest George is unsure what to make of intelligent – and therefore threatening – reformed alcoholic Eli Lovman who’s portrayed with a strong performance from Luke Mulquiney. Laila Thaker and Fabio Motta as Thea Elvsted and Brack respectively shine in roles suited perfectly to them. Together with Verity Higgins as Aunt Julie, this ensemble of six are sensational, bringing out both the comedy and drama in every scene.

We move from room to room in the Prahan Council Chambers with looming painted men of the past staring down at the action in the courtroom and corridors, keenly judging every step self-righteous Hedda takes; their faces seem unimpressed by her self-empowerment. This historical presence makes it the perfect venue for this piece, and changing locations helps refresh our interest physically and visually – especially given the almost two-hour running time sans interval. Lighting from Megz Evans is simple and sometimes fluorescent, often not afraid of including the audience in the setting – we are flies on the wall. Sound from Jess Keeffe is powerful, evocative and modern.

Fans of the original Hedda Gabler may find no surprises in the plot of this faithful adaptation, but with such an expertly constructed text and phenomenal performances, there is still so much life to be found in Hedda’s story. It’s refreshing, and it’s absolutely a story for “Now”; see a caustic and intemperate woman take control of her stifling and privileged circumstances. See her conquer honesty and those around her to prove that the oppressed woman can forge her own reality as she sees fit. I really loved this show and highly recommend everyone experience such a refreshing drama.

Her Father’s Daughter runs at Prahan Council Chambers until 3 June.  Tickets can be purchased online.

Photograph by Theresa Harrison