Category: Whats On

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

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 together 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

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

Melbourne Festival 2017: 7 PLEASURES

Familiarity and confrontation in the flesh

By Myron My

It’s interesting how much uncomfortable conversation sex and nudity can create, and how many people can easily feel confronted by seeing a breast or a penis. So when you’re seeing a performance art piece in which the dancers are nude for the entire show, it can usually lead to some awkward moments. However, Mette Ingvarsten is well aware of this fact, and in 7 Pleasures she immediately knocks down the obvious issue before the performance has even begun, or before anyone in the audience is given a chance to realise it has begun.

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Ingarsten’s work explores the pleasure – and the pain – the body can provide and the difficulty in being able to enjoy one’s own body when faced with constriction and conflict. The set design for 7 Pleasures is simple and familiar, a living room with a few chairs, a table, coffee table and a pot plant. Its familiarity is what sets you at ease… except for the giant sculpture of naked bodies forming in a back corner.

Slowly, the performers begin to move as one, like lava seeping down a volcano as they envelop any furniture that lies in its way. While there are breasts, vaginas and penises on display, the bodies lose their gender through the course of the movements with arms and legs intertwining with each other until it’s almost impossible to tell where one person’s body ends and another begins. There is no music or noise during this sequence except for the contact the bodies make with each other and the set pieces. This play with sound and music adds to the themes explored and when these bodies reach peak liberation (and orgasm), Peter Leanaert and Will Guthrie‘s music and soundtrack creates a tribal-like feel with the near-destruction of Ingvarsten and Minna Tikkainn‘s set.

The final part of the show looks at body politics and the policing of bodies, with half the performers dressed head to toe in black and the other half still naked. There is a struggle between the two as they each fight for what they believe is right. The choreography still has the entrancing rhythm Ingvarsten has maintained throughout the piece but she also manages to imbue it with a violence that is both beautiful and horrifying to watch.

7 Pleasures is a highly intimate work that acknowledges the sexual joy the body is capable of providing. However, the pleasure that it refers to is more from the self-discovery and the surprises that our own bodies can give us if we are brave enough to go exploring.

Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne. 
Season: Until 22 October | Fri – Sat 7:30pm, Sun 5pm
Tickets: Full $59 – $69 | Under 30s $30
Bookings: Melbourne Festival

Image by Marc Coudrais

Melbourne Festival 2017: TREE OF CODES

Frenzy and reflection

By Myron My

When choreographer Wayne McGregor, composer Jamie XX, and visual artist Olafur Eliasson come together for a new contemporary dance production, expectations are high. Taking inspiration from Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2010 book Tree of Codes, this production of the same name is a stunning collaboration of movement, lighting, sound, and stage design.

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Interestingly, Foer’s book was inspired by another book, Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles, a collection of short stories of a merchant family in a small town. Schulz story is full of metaphors, mythology and a blurring of fantasy and reality, and for his book, Foer cut out a large number of words and sentences from Schulz’s stories and re-arranged them to form new stories and ideas. Even the title itself is made up of the letters from Schulz’s book title.

McGregor’s Tree of Codes also uses the idea of imagination and truth, and it begins with a gorgeous opening sequence performed in total darkness with lights attached to the costumes of the dancer as they move their bodies like they were floating balls of light. Along with Jamie XX’s electronic pulsing beats, there’s a sense of a new beginning and mysticism, of some kind of awakening that is about to occur, and that is exactly what we get.

In true McGregor-style, the fourteen dancers are pushed to extremes in a complex and frenetic choreography with bodies constantly moving. The music and visual designs including rotating set pieces and mirrored walls are a feast for the senses, and together create the perfect duality of dreaming and reality, of being and of the metaphysical.

Seated on an aisle and not having the best sightlines for this specific production, the impact of the kaleidoscopic images on stage was not able to be appreciated to its fullest, but it was enough to give an understanding of what was trying to be achieved. The numerous reflections of the dancers on stage highlight time passing by and moving on. At times, the audience itself is reflected onto the stage via the mirrored set pieces, blurring the line between passive viewer of “life” and active participant and asking you to consider your own life and the choices you’ve made.

While there is much to be fascinated and awed by with Tree of Codes, at 75 minutes long I feel the work is stretched too thin as it moves towards its conclusion. Keeping the show around the 60-minute mark could have allowed the intensity of the performances and the effects of the design to remain fresh, with the images constructed on stage and those created in our minds being appreciated to their fullest.

Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne. 
Season: Until 21 October | Fri – Sat 8pm, Sat 2pm
Tickets: Full $69 – $219 | Under 30s $30
Bookings: Melbourne Festival