Category: Theatre

REVIEW: The Taming of the Shrew

This is as accessible and fun as Shakespeare has ever been

By Sebastian Purcell

If all Shakespeare was as accessible, fun and brilliantly acted as this production of The Taming of the Shrew, schools would have no trouble getting any of his texts into children’s hands. 

The Melbourne Shakespeare Company has put together a sublime ensemble that not only nails the Shakespearean tongues at incredible pace and annunciation (even more impressive outside in the elements), but also the interjection of modern references, which makes the play feel current and relatable. 

The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Jennifer Sarah Dean, questions the essence of the feminine and masculine, power and control, truth and deceit. Each show the main characters roles are chosen by the audience, often leading to gender reversal which is poetically reflected in the production’s setting in the St Kilda’s Botanical Gardens, characters coming from Gardenvale, Elsternwick and surrounding suburbs.  

In essence the main plot is about the courtship of Petruchia (played by Emma Jevons on the day) and Katherino (John Vizcay-Wilson) the ill-mannered shrew. Petruchia takes on a bet to tame and wed Katherino in order for the younger, fairer Bianco (Saxon Gray) to marry. Bianco cannot marry until the elder sibling Katherino is wed, but Bianco already has two suitors (May Jasper and Charlotte Righetti) and is courted by another (Sarah Krndija). To add intrigue, the bet is placed as the various suitors vie for Bianco’s love, and supporting the suitor’s in their quest are their dutiful sidekicks (Emma Austin and Yash Fernando) who attempt to disguise their true intentions throughout the 90 minute performance. 

While everyone provides an outstanding performance, I think a special mention is warranted for Liliana Dalton (Trania) whom often steals the scenes and delivers the wonderful line “how now brown cow”, demonstrating a pure enunciation of the English language. Emma Jevons as the Tame and John Vizcay-Wilson as the Shrew have an authentic energy and have the most physically demanding roles. Their courtship scene is an absolute highlight of physical acting prowess. Paul Morris (Sly) on the guitar is fantastic, so much so It even felt like Tones and I’s Dance Monkey belongs in Shakespeare. 

Benjamin Almon Colley provides a masterclass in musical direction; who would have thought Kelly Clarkson’s My life would suck without you would sum up the play so gloriously? The choreography (John Reed) is tight and the use of the gardens and gazebo, as well as the set dressing (Hayley James) makes you feel part of the show. In addition, the recycled products and the digital program show the environmentally conscious nature of the Melbourne Shakespeare Company. The costuming (Rhiannon Irving) is consistent with the traditional characterisations but with the added benefit of adding a character sash to each actor making the play easy to follow and acting as clever props throughout.

This is a laugh out loud production, a comedy in all its glory. There’s so much physicality from the performers and it’s a joy to see them enjoying themselves and each other’s brilliant performances. Bring a picnic and a jumper for Melbourne’s cool evenings. This is as accessible and fun as Shakespeare has ever been. A triumphant production. 

The Taming of the Shrew plays from Saturday 7 – Sunday 22 December 2019

The Rose Garden, St. Kilda Botanical Gardens. 

Tickets are available at http://www.melbourneshakespeare.com

Photography courtesy of Jack Dixon-Gunn

Review: Humans by Circa

An incredible display of strength, vulnerability,  flexibility and a celebration of the human spirit.

By Sebastian Purcell

 

Humans offers 10 acrobats pushing themselves to the extreme as they explore the physical and emotional limits of their bodies. The breathtaking strength, masterful, and at times down right freakish choreography is set to a Spanish inspired soundtrack. This, combined with the inspiring performers (Caroline Baillon, Marty Evans, Piri Goodman, Keaton Hentoff-Killian, Bridie Hooper, Cecilia Martin, Hamish McCourty, Daniel O’Brien, Kimberley O’Brien, Jarrod Takle) leads us beautifully to reflect on our lives, loved ones, and the burdens we all must overcome to survive and thrive.  The show invites you to consider how much can we take as humans? How much weight can we carry? And, who can we trust to support us?

Yaron Lifschitz brings this extraordinary performance to life with a stripped bare stage and a lighting design that takes you from night to day, to sunset and dawn. The ensemble pushes the boundaries of comfort before the show even begins undressing in front of the entering audience, stripping away insecurities.

Humans focuses on the triumph over adversity and disability, in a moving display the loss of one’s legs is transformed into the strength of the upper body. This prompts the audience to reflect on our ability as humans to support and raise our fellow brothers and sisters up, or to go out of our way to make life difficult.

The performance insightfully demonstrated the power of teamwork. The most brilliant moments were the human chains, stacking three women on top of each other’s shoulders, a nod to female empowerment, and that only with the help of another are you able to have your elbow licked. This routine offered a light-hearted comedic moment but also offered a powerful representation of going it alone, and conforming to everyone else.

Humans is about perseverance. It shows that every muscle can be trained, that our weakest parts can be our strongest, and that failure is the bedrock of success. The body and mind are only as vulnerable as we allow it to be, a crash landing may not be the thing to fear but rather an opportunity in the strength and resilience it builds.

This is one outstanding piece of acrobatics that is a testament to endurance and dedication, but also a thought-provoking theatrical experience that will have you questioning your limits, your comfort zone, and hopefully leave you with the desire to stretch your own limits.

Humans presented by Circa plays at the Arts Centre Melbourne Wednesday 27 Nov – Sat 30 Nov 2019.

Visit https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2019/circus-and-magic/humans-by-circa

Photography by Sarah Walker

Review: DreamSong

Forgive, Forget, Redeem.

By Sebastian Purcell

Set in urban modern Australia, Pastor Richard Sunday (Nelson Gardner) runs the Mega-Church of DreamSong, along with his (second) wife Christian Pop artist Whitney Sunday. Together they concoct a plan to not only increase the church’s standing in the community but re-elect out of favour Prime Minister Darren Cunningham (Jarrod Griffiths). However not all actions are conducted in good faith as DreamSong navigates the waters of fame, celebrity, power, honesty, faith and redemption.

This musical comedy looks to emulate the success of the Book of Mormon by providing endless laughs at Big religion which is more focused on status, wealth and power over faith.  This is a tight show, wonderfully directed by Lauren Mckenna  and pop/ rock score executed dutifully by the band, led by Maverick Newman, ensures the cast works seamlessly as an ensemble (Luisa Scrofani, Gareth Issac, Samuael Skuthrop and Tayla Muir) and gives everyone their moment in the spotlight. Lauren’s work with the creative team is fantastic and smooth in particular using a giant cross as both prop and scene setting is aesthetically clean and current, rising to its crescendo in ‘Funeral Hymn’.

Choreographer Madison Lee should be applauded for the incredible dance routines which add so much colour, movement and laughter, though she’s supported by one of the most flexible and vibrant casts to take to the stage. Madison makes the church feel more of a pop/ hip hop show than your Sunday sermons, with sex dripping from routine after routine.

Annie Aitken delivers the standout performance of the night, her soaring soprano voice is largely under utilised by the score, but when she’s able to let loose – in particular in It isn’t Fair – it will give you chills. Annie shows that seeking fame at any cost will always have consequences and her stage presence is mesmerising throughout.

Nicola Bowman as April Sunday drives the heart of the show, losing her faith, re-affirming her faith and questioning DreamSong’s teachings to high praise. She excels in the shows few soft moments in April’s Prayer and Show Me. Olivia Charalambous as Jesus Christ recounts the events of the last supper and over 2000 years of history in minutes in a dramatic and polished re-enactment while Maxwell Simon (Chris T) rocks it out as a pop sensation turned wannabe saviour.

Gardner and Griffiths commit enthusiastically to their malevolent, scheming characters with props to Griffiths who literally blows smoke up Chris T’s arse. Kate Schmidli (Clarice) and Bailey Dunnage (Neville) provide the voices of reason to their boss’ with Bailey in particular providing an outstanding performance as a nervous, intelligent but incredibly confused follower.

I found that the shows only downfall is that it tries to do too much. It’s jam packed with jokes, political and social references, so many that I was at a loss for what exactly DreamSong’s message is. While set in Australia with denim costumes, and Australian flags, the introduction of guns and a tweeting, golfing Prime Minister, seems to confuse Australia with America; and I wonder it the show’s authenticity would be impacted by this. I would be curious to see what sort of show would result from a more condensed, focused book; hopefully, one that would cement this Book of Mormon-like show as a cult favourite.

DreamSong plays at The Alex Theatre, St Kilda 22 Nov – 30 Nov.

Tickets available through Ticketek.com.au

Photography courtesy of The Alex Theatre

Review: APOCALYPSE MEOW: A Crisis is Born

Some Christmas kook for the Christmas cynic

By Leeor Adar

Few performers can request audience members to inflate plastic animals and giveth o’er their personal possessions, but cabaret queen Meow Meow does this and the audience giggles and obliges. Meow Meow’s personal charm aside, her performances are always memorable and mercurial in equal measure. Apocalypse Meow is a Meow Meow Christmas special, carting out tricks, music and orphans; no stone is left unturned.

The stage is a haphazard mess, affectionately (or not so) referred to as a “shelf”. A fire burns in a tv, there’s sheets everywhere and a band perches themselves at the ready in golden glitz uniform(they are fantastic). Meow Meow enters, all apologies and grandiosity. She was set for the Royal Albert Hall, but no room; Sydney Opera House? Forget it. She’s left with the Malthouse shelf, and this is where she will take us through to the end of time.

Conceptually, this show is a cracker. It’s the cynics guide to Christmas. But don’t you worry, cynicism doth crack, and sentimentality will floweth. Every Christmas cliché is carted out and thrown off kilter with Meow Meow, and it really is an anti-Christ-mas of belly laughs and shtick. There is a level of depth reached that at first is hard to imagine, her prerogative is to sift through the Hallmark holiday dregs and find the bonafide core of what it all means, usually through the lens of a child’s eyes. Deep down, does Meow Meow not hope and dream?

The show starts with large promises and an air of embarrassment; Alan Cumming, Rufus Wainwright and Jake Shears are set to appear, apparently, but instead Meow Meow finds herself greeted at the door by children singing Christmas carols. Meow Meow finally relents to the carollers and drags two orphans out to sing at her will alongside a boy mannequin. It’s very clever, and very funny. And just when I think Meow Meow is softening, she begins a rendition of Nick Cave’s ‘Red Right Hand to scare the daylights out of the orphans – not to mention herself.

The descent is not over, and the arrival of her über talented doppelgänger (Michaela Burger) takes this show into a kooky Christmas variety show that would make the Kransky Sisters marvel. Anything goes in Meow Meow’s apocalyptic world of sparkles and dilapidation, so it is a pleasant surprise when tenderness rears its head towards the close of the show. My eyes water a little as things take a mellow turn, and Meow Meow’s gorgeous voice is soon replaced by her transforming into a child-like ballerina, dancing until the end of the show. 

Merry Christmas cynics.

You can catch her Christmas kook until Sunday 1 December. Tickets on sale:  https://malthousetheatre.com.au/whats-on/apocalypse-meow

Photography courtesy of Magnus Hastings

Review: Ragtime

The peak of the modern Broadway musical.

By Bradley Storer

Ragtime, the much beloved modern classic of the American musical stage, finally makes its Australian professional premiere with the Production Company – judging from the rapturous audience response on opening night it has been well worth the wait. Based on E.L. Doctorow’s acclaimed novel, with a score by powerhouse composing duo Ahrens and Flaherty, and a book by legendary playwright Terrence McNally, Ragtime represents the peak of the modern Broadway musical.

Set at the turn of the 20th century, the show depicts the trials and interactions of three families representing the cross sections of racial and socio-economic backgrounds in America at the time. An upper-middle class white family of New Rochelle, a pair of lovers from the marginalized black community of Harlem, and a father and daughter emerging from the impoverished immigrants of Eastern Europe. Director Roger Hodgman conducts these intersections of class and race across tiers of scaffolding, choregrapher Dana Jolly delineating all three groups clearly through movement (as well as several flashy vaudeville numbers).

The African-American lovers form the centre of Ragtime’s dramatic momentum and spirit, with Kurt Kansley cutting a commanding figure as pianist Coalhouse Walker Jnr., his fine baritone by turns beautiful and fearsome as Coalhouse’s struggle for justice descends into darkness. Chloe Zuel as his lover Sarah makes a huge impression with a powerful performance of the chilling ‘Your Daddy’s Son’.

Alexander Lewis as immigrant on the rise Tateh recalls a young Mandy Patinkin, bringing intensity and a thrilling tenor to the role as well as rogueish charm, combining all three in the pyrotechnic patter song ‘Buffalo Nickel Photoplay, Inc.’. As the acerbic Grandfather, John McTernan steals the show with barely a handful of lines. As the Mother of the white New Rochelle family, Georgina Hopson delivers the standout performance of the production. She delivers the show’s defiant anthem to the onward march of civilization, ‘Back to Before’, so winningly that the audience is held completely spell bound before exploding into applause.

Ragtime’s optimistic ending, which envisions a potential America whose socio-political boundaries have dissolved and united the people as family, seems slightly naïve in the face of the country’s (and indeed, the world in general) continued racial and class inequalities well into the 21st century. While we can only hope and work towards a future like the one prophesized here, musical theatre fans can rejoice in the vision of this beautiful production.

Venue: State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne

Dates: 2 – 10th November

Times: 7:30pm Wednesday – Saturday, 1pm Matinee Wednesday and Thursday, 2pm Matinee Saturday, 3pm Sunday

Prices: $25 – $150

Bookings: artscentremelbourne.com.au, 1300 182 183, Arts Centre Box Office.

Photography courtesy of Cavanagh PR 

Review: Mansion

Dancing, immersive horror with production design to DIE for

By Owen James

As we wait in the gardens of the Labassa Mansion, an ornate 19th century estate that screams gothic horror, spirits and demons conspire and glare from the balcony above, a glimpse of what is to unfold as we enter the house. Before this immersive experience has begun, we are already intrigued, on edge, and prepared to be spooked…

Producers Bass Fam Creative could not have selected a more perfect venue for Mansion. As we are lead from room to room by The Caretaker, the attention to detail inherent in the building itself is matched by breathtaking design in every costume (Bass Fam Creative) and accompanying masks, prosthetics, detailed makeup (Todd Winterton) and even creepy contact lenses. Lighting by Linda Hum and Gordon Boyd is simple but very effective, creating dark, cavernous spaces and sublimely highlighted moments of performance. Mansion’s design is cohesive and colourful – horror director Dario Argento would be proud.

The cast of eleven dancers are all given chances to showcase their vast skillsets, which range from delicate ballet to aerial circus acts. These are professional, trained performers at the top of their game who are incredibly adept at executing impressive routines in dangerously confined spaces (prepare for various limbs swinging mere measured inches from your face in the smaller rooms). Particularly memorable sections include a number with a water-filled bathtub, demons protruding from a lavish bed in a garish nightmare sequence, and a fiery duet atop one of the largest wooden tables I’ve ever seen. All this is connected with an overarching plot about the haunted Walker family, which itself is peppered with a healthy smattering of references to horror pop culture icons including The Exorcist, The Grudge, and A Nightmare On Elm Street. Horror fans will rejoice – or at least smile and nod.

Scream-induced (and inducing) jumpscares are aplenty, with characters popping out from behind curtains, beneath furniture, and lurking in every dark corner you cautiously peer into. The storytelling is sometimes convolutedly crafted but always clearly presented – a very important facet when utilising a largely visual medium. Bass G Fam (writer, director and producer) has ensured the storytelling is thankfully at the forefront of every moment of the production, and created a successfully unified tonal experience in Mansion.

One caveat is the sound design – too often distorted or compressed. Whether the supplied audio files lacked sufficient quality or the distortion was intentional, many popular contemporary songs lacked the vivacity and consistency a show driven by sound should demand.

Bass Fam Collective have noted this is the second instalment in their ‘Trilogy of Love’ which began with ‘Matador’ earlier in 2019. Fans of dance theatre with a twist should keep an eye out for what comes next.

https://www.ticketmaster.com.au/mansion-tickets/artist/2673490

Photography courtesy of Sarochinee Saw

Review: Bright Star

A compelling story, anchored by powerful performances

By Bradley Storer

‘Bright Star’, the critically acclaimed Broadway/country musical composed by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, makes its Australian premiere under the helm of company Pursued by Bear and it is easy to see why this piece has rapidly become beloved by audiences. Director Mark Taylor has crafted a strong production stacked with wonderful talent that show off the virtues of this musical to maximum effect.

The story follows two parallel narratives – a young soldier (Callum O’Malley) returns from World War II to his hometown in the American South and sets off to become a writer, while the authoritative newspaper editor (Kala Gare) who takes him under her wing relives her own wild youth and the events that have led her where she is. Running underneath these intertwining stories is a refreshing score combining country, bluegrass and gospel brought to roaring life by the band assembled for this production.

O’Malley is charming and bright as the young writer Billy Cane, radiating good natured innocence throughout. Sarah Krndija as Margo, the book store clerk who is not so secretly in love with Billy, is effusive and sweet at the same time she nails every comedic undercurrent of their relationship. Ellie Nunan and Lachie Hewson as the newspaper staff are a hilarious duo peppering the emerging friendship between Cane and their editor Alice Murphy with acerbic zingers. The ensemble around them flow seamlessly and skilfully in and out of multiple characters, changing sets and eras fluidly (aided by lovely choreography from Freya List) as the story moves back and forth through time.

While the entirety of the cast is excellent, it is truly Kala Gare in the role of editor Alice Murphy who emerges as the ‘bright star’ of the title. From her first step on the stage her velvet but powerful voice tenderly and thrillingly strokes the opening notes of the bluegrass music, hooking the audience immediately. Alice’s journey across the show is emotionally gigantic, encompassing youthful exuberance, first love, tragedy, painful regret and joyous rediscovery, with Gare making every step of the way ring true. After winning turns in ‘Rent’ and ’50 Shades of Grey: The Musical’, Gare fully comes into her own as a leading lady of musical theatre with this performance.

A compelling and emotional story, anchored by unique music and a powerful performance at its centre, ‘Bright Star’ offers an unmissable experience for all fans of modern musical theatre.

Venue: Chapel off Chapel, 12 Lt Chapel St, Prahran

Dates: 25th Oct – 3rd November

Times: Mon – Wed 7pm, Thurs – Sat 8pm, Sunday 5pm

Price: $55 – $69

Bookings: chapeloffchapel.com.au or 03 8920 7000 or at the box office

Photography courtesy of Fon Photography