Category: Theatre

Review: Bottomless

Engrossing and heartbreaking depiction of addiction and sobriety

By Owen James

Beneath an unsettling thunderstorm brewing overhead, the lives of seven people teeter on an alcoholic precipice of temptation both inside and outside the gates of the Broome Sober Up Centre. Will the ambitious Will find a way to become their angelic saviour of sobriety before the heavens above open up to quench the land’s thirst?

The personal connection for writer Dan Lee resonates deep inside every word of his text. It’s brutal and painfully accurate in every description, argument and metaphor, and the unbreakable romantic connection depicted between the drinkers and their drink is heartbreaking. It’s hard to believe this is Lee’s first play with text as expertly crafted as this.

Director Iain Sinclair has given Lee’s partially autobiographical play a world on the verge of collapse – which drought will break first? There is an undercurrent of resolved certainty here in Broome – things here may always be as they are now. Sinclair smartly mines Lee’s metaphorical text for every piece of clarity and objectivity that the audience crave to tighten our understanding of events, and also ensures we can connect with every character’s intrinsic longing for change.

There are no weak links in this very strong cast, each member provides terrifyingly realistic portrayals of unassailable alcoholics and their affected familiars – there are years of damage and desperation behind these weary eyes. Mark Wilson is one of my favourite actors in Australia and once again he delivers a powerful performance as determined Will. Margaret Harvey must keep all the plates spinning as Claudia, attacking her role with exhausted grit – we can see Claudia’s fatigue for her day-to-day struggle at every turn.

Mark Coles Smith is startlingly energetic, combining his clear talent for physical performance with his emotionally driven and manipulative dialogue he terrifies us as the alcoholic but clever Jason. Jack Charles as Pat embraces his powerful gravitas with every step before he even opens his mouth. Charles’ jaded but accepting delivery of grief-stricken Pat locks our eyes deeply into his.

Jim Daly, Julie Forsyth and Alex Menglet play six characters between them so well that you’d be forgiven for thinking there were six separate actors on the stage. From frenzied addicts to bewildered tourists, each distinct character is detailed and often battles their own demons. There are other stories hiding within them waiting to be told.

Atmospheric light and sound design by Andy Turner and Russell Goldsmith respectively builds tension and extends the production design elements by Romanie Harper into the invisible distance. As the piece builds to a sudden climax, the remaining rubble of these crumbled minds reminds us of the inescapable and circular nature of addiction.

Bottomless explores consequences and guilt inside the mental pressure cooker that unhealthy dependence creates, and it’s a truly engrossing world to watch deteriorate. Addiction and sobriety are fascinating topics that create utterly engrossing characters, and I would happily have sat through a second hour of Bottomless. Congratulations to the whole team and especially to artistic director Mary Lou Jelbart for backing this new Australian piece over a number of years to finally reach this fully-fledged production.


Bottomless is being performed at fortyfivedownstairs until 14 December. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9662 9966. 


Review: Lamb

A family drama that sinks deep into your skin

By Samuel Barson

A farming family, across two generations, experiences loss, grief, love and guilt whilst working the harsh and lonely land of the Australian outback. In her new Australian work Lamb, Jane Bodie has created the most heartbreaking and fascinating of family portraits, providing audiences with a night of theatre that sinks deep into your skin and remains well after you leave your seat.

Annie (Brigid Gallacher) has been living in the city, making her place as a successful musician. When she returns home to the country for the funeral of her mother, she reunites with brother Patrick (Simon Maiden) and sister Kathleen (Emily Goddard). This reunion brings back years of pain and family secrets that propels the three siblings towards an uncertain future.

Maiden is a driving force in this play. His stage presence is astounding, and is undoubtedly the anchor of every scene that he is in.  His ability to present such a complex and tormented character, whilst still maintaining a considerable air of charisma, made him a clear stand out in this production.

Rounding out the rest of the cast was Brigid Gallacher and Emily Goddard as sisters Annie and Kathleen, respectively. Gallacher is charming, but unfortunately the presentation of her dialogue becomes slightly repetitive at times. Goddard serves as a much needed comic relief, and equally impresses in her darker and heartbreaking scenes.

Greg Clarke’s set and costume design is beautifully effective, inviting audiences into a familiar Australian landscape. The slight modifications made to the set and costumes during a flashback in time at the beginning of the second act were particularly impressive.

Justin Gardam’s sound design is invading and effecting, beautifully complementing the tense and jarring family dynamic that is taking place on stage. Similarly, Efterpi Soropos’ lighting design perfectly represents the lightness and darkness of this family.

The absolute highlights of this show are the songs performed by the cast, creating some of the play’s most poignant moments. Beautifully and cleverly written by Mark Seymour, the inclusion of music brings this show to a new level of class and emotion. Not to mention, Maiden and Gallacher both impress with their singing chops.

Director Julian Meyrick deserves to be applauded for turning an already brilliant piece of writing into one of the most moving and fascinating pieces of theatre that has played on a Melbourne stage this year. His attention to detail and understanding of the play’s complex themes is clear.

Thanks to some incredibly fine acting, direction and design, Lamb is the perfect conclusion to what has been an already successful year at Melbourne’s beloved Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre. A huge congratulation to all involved.

Lamb is being performed until 13 December at Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling 03 9533 8083. 

Photograph: Jodie Hutchinson


Review: 80 Minutes No Interval

Provoking, strange and comic

By Samuel Barson 

Never have I seen a show like 80 Minutes No Interval. Despite it’s slow and uncertain start, the play develops a frenetic pace, unhinged sense of humour and obscure narrative that is unparalleled – even for a unique theatre maker like Travis Cotton.

The play tells the story of Louis (played by writer/director Cotton), a failing novelist turned theatre reviewer whose history of bad luck has not only prevented him from reaching his dreams but continues to leave a trail of destruction behind him.

Cotton is the perfect tragic hero. He navigates Louis’ misfortune with a grit and commitment that leaves the audience wincing each time the character inevitably fails. Typically when individuals decide to write, direct and act, they are unable to do all three to an equally good degree, but in this case Cotton excels in all areas. His work on this show is only another confirmation that he is one of Melbourne’s most valued and well respected theatre makers.

Rounding out the rest of the cast in a variety of supporting roles is Martelle Hammer, Robin Goldsworthy, Tom O’Sulivan and Tamzen Hayes. All give Cotton great support in their respective roles, but the cast member that leaves the greatest impact is Goldsworthy. His performance as publisher Dan Kurtz was the finest comedic performance I have ever seen on stage. Goldsworthy’s sense of timing, physicality and projection was nothing but perfect. He is definitely one to keep an eye on.

Brynna Lowen and Sarah Hall’s design was simple and served the play’s more absurd moments. Hamish Michael and John Collopy’s respective sound and lighting design excelled in illustrating the dreamlike (and more often than not nightmarish) sequences that Louis finds himself trapped in. The costume design complemented the play’s world and the flower display in the final scene was particularly effective and engaging.

I doubt that I will ever see a play like this again, and in a way I hope I never do. It’s very rare that a piece of art is able to be so uniquely captured and presented. A play of this intellect, strangeness and calibre deserves to live on in its own individual legacy. A must see for those who are seeking a refreshing and escapist experience in the theatre.

80 Minutes No Interval is being performed until 2 December at Theatre Works, St Kilda. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling 03 9534 3388.

Photograph: James Terry

Review: Broken

Chance, pain and connection in a desert landscape

By Lois Maskiell

Horrific vehicle rollovers are not uncommon in the Northern Territory where sudden turns on long stretches of road can, in seconds, result in fatal injuries. In Mary Anne Butler’s Broken, a young woman’s car is overturned on a desert highway and as a result three lives entwine. Emerging from this brutal beginning is a story that unites both exquisite writing and dramatic form to offer a passage through pain and connection in a barren, outback landscape.

This great Australian play which won the $100 000 Victorian Prize for Literature in 2016 is produced by independent company, Lab Kelpie. Under the direction of Susie Dee (SHIT, This is Eden, Caravan), Broken brings together leading talent and demonstrates the company’s unique commitment to presenting new writing.

All unravels when a car is overturned and driver Ash (Naomi Rukavina), an environmental biologist, is trapped inside. Ham (Lyall Brooks), an engineer returning home from a long stint of work, discovers Ash barely breathing and rushes to her aid. Meanwhile, Mia (Sophie Ross) Ham’s partner is experiencing the traumatic miscarriage of their first child. Utterly unaware of his partner’s suffering, Ham is consumed by their disintegrating relationship and finds within Ash an intimacy he has long lived without.

Hoisted on this equal yet tripartite division of character, the plot is a fortress of strength. Though the real seductive power is found in Butler’s breathtaking use of words and expert manipulation of chronological events. Three singular voices harmonise and conflict with each other, venturing into independent monologues, before coming together in shared moments. In one instance, Ham and Mia reminisce about their first meeting and despite occupying different locations, their performances marry with such raw emotion, it is simply astounding.

Susie Dee directs a physically charged production that employs spatial relationships for maximum effect. Guiding the audience and actors through a tangled universe of thoughts and incidents, Dee allows the script to take precedence. Andy Turner’s lighting and Marg Horwell’s set feature a cracked wooden wall through which shards of light burst. It is a beautiful metaphor, for so much in this story is broken that the brief presence of light is all the more striking.

With a script that defies time and staging without props, much of the action is verbally presented as characters offer their own narration. This is a double-edged sword, for on the one hand it characterises the work and its superb writing, while on the other it tips, at times, into telling rather than showing which slows the momentum.

Maven playwright, Mary Anne Butler reveals her brilliance in this exemplary piece of postdramatic theatre by traversing time and space with all but three skilful actors and the power of language. Dancing around chance and an impending sense of fate brought on by the wild landscape, Broken is a spectacular piece of Australian theatre.

Broken is being performed at fortyfivedownstairs 15 – 25 November. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9662 9966.

Photograph: Jodie Hutchinson

Review: The Rug

A satirical dissection of the angry white man

By Samuel Barson

An angry white man has a tantrum about how difficult it is being a white man. No, this is not parliamentary question time, this is Ben Grant’s electropera The Rug.

With a running time of just 45 minutes, The Rug is a feverish and hysterical satire on the so-called ‘plight’ of the modern white man.

Ben Grant, a white male himself, does a respectful job with the commentary he makes on his own demographic. He is self-aware and has clearly done much research on Australia’s current situation, as well as its history of racial prejudice. It took some time to get used to his performance style, but once comfortable with what he was doing, it was a solid and clever solo performance.

Herbz’s production design and Paul Lim’s lighting design were exuberant, unpredictable and strangely glamorous. The dramatic design complimented the over-dramatic white man who was whining and prancing around the stage.

Rah Creation’s set design was kindly simple, allowing the attention to be on Grant’s performance, while still serving his choreography when necessary.

The Rug is certainly not your typical piece of theatre, but rather a greatly refreshing one. It was exciting to see regularly visited themes like privilege tackled in such an irregular and entertaining way. A must see for lovers of the absurd.

The Rug is being performed at La Mama Courthouse 31 October – 11 November. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office on 03 9347 6142.

Photograph: Pier Carthew


The War of the Worlds Anniversary Broadcast

Sci-fi classic entertains through the ages 

By Narelle Wood

The most infamous Halloween prank takes the stage as part re-creation of the original radio play, part ’70s rock opera and part exploration of behind the scenes.

There are multiple stories to tell here. The first is The War of the Worlds originally by H.G. Wells which sees Martians invade earth and obliterate every human in sight. The second, and perhaps more famous story is that of the 1938 Halloween performance of the radio adaptation which was directed by Orson Welles and resulted in widespread panic as listeners reportedly believed that Martians were in fact attacking America. Fast forward 40 years and Jeff Wayne launches his musical adaptation of The War of the Worlds, which has gone on to sell millions of copies worldwide.

In this iteration Rob Lloyd and David Innes of Innes Lloyd comedy duo bounce between snippets of the radio play, interesting facts, quotes from Wells and Welles’ only meeting and musical interludes from Wayne’s interpretation arranged for this performance by Caleb Garfinkel. In the process they dispel a few myths, clarifying what exactly ‘wide spread panic’ entailed. But the intrigue is only heightened by Innes Lloyd’s ability to recreate the eerie atmosphere of the 1938 radio broadcast.

You don’t have to dig very far to discover the background facts that are littered throughout the show, but there were many oohs and ahs elicited from the large crowd.  What I found most fascinating though was how much the combination of widespread panic and essentially fake news are both still very relevant today; this was perhaps highlighted by the way in which Innes Lloyd moved between and entwined all the different stories. The movement between some of the segments is a little clunky and sometimes it was a little hard to remember who was who with so many character changes. However, this doesn’t distract from the clear passion that Innes Lloyd bring to these stories.

It would be a shame for The War of the Worlds Anniversary Broadcast not to be an annual event, as there is just so much to like about the original stories and this new retelling.

The War of the Worlds Anniversary Braodcast was performed 29 October at the Butterfly Club. See here for information about Innes Lloyd. 

Photograph: supplied

Review: Re-Member Me

A mammoth excavation of Hamlet’s legacy 

By Owen James

Lip-sync performer Dickie Beau has taken perhaps the most iconic play ever written (Hamlet) and broken down its legacy into a beautiful historical tapestry that acts as both an inquisition into tradition and memory, and a celebration of art and artists.

Dickie Beau alongside his collaborator and director Jan-willem van den Bosch have created a world that is inquisitive and daring, framed by two core questions prominently displayed in the programme: “why is this play so iconic? And why is it done over and over again?” Instead of simply accepting the great Hamlet’s legacy as given, Beau takes us on a journey narrated by some of the most famous artistic minds in history (including Sir Ian McKellen, Sir John Gielgud and Suzanne Bertish), to discover why Hamlet is so deeply steeped in tradition and honour.

Hours upon hours have gone into preparing this meticulously crafted sequence of interweaving voices and projections, devised from dozens of interviews both conducted by Dickie himself and obtained from mining theatrical archives. Beau has undertaken an extraordinary examination of detail in learning these interviews verbatim, proven as he perfectly lip-syncs every breath, every pause, and every stutter or stammer that occurs naturally in each interviewee’s speech. Imagine learning every subtle shift of a singer’s intonation across an entire album and that’s only a slither of what Beau has accomplished, for as he embodies the eight or more voices we hear, each characterisation is noticeably distinct and seems like a different person appears before us.

It’s more than simply lip-syncing – it’s a unique branch of theatrical art that mines comedy and detail in a way I certainly hadn’t seen let alone considered before. Beau is clearly an extremely passionate and detailed storyteller who is fascinated by history, and the transformation of that history into a modern setting.

For even the least Shakespearean-inclined person, Beau’s amalgamation of perspective and memory will still be captivating. It’s not a show about Hamlet, but about humanity. In asking why we return to see great actors give “their Hamlet” across decades and centuries, Beau taps into our sense of self, asking us to reflect on what we presume is iconic without usually questioning it.

This self-described “human Hamlet mixtape” is a journey into the past seen through a window of the future. It’s a mammoth undertaking for Beau and his team, and overall a joyful celebration of humanity’s obsession with repetition and heritage.

Re-Member Me was performed 17 – 21 October at the Arts Centre Melbourne as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival. See here for more information.