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

 

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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

 

Review: De Stroyed

Hypnotising portrait of pioneering feminist Simone de Beauvoir

By Owen James

Suzanne Chaundy and Jillian Murray are clearly lifelong fans of French feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir and have taken on the mammoth task of reconstructing a history of her writing. De Beauvoir’s works span decades, as do the subsequent English translations Chaundy and Murray have used in creating De Stroyed.

De Beauvoir is more than worthy of this theatrical dedication. As a pioneering feminist, her highly influential writing inspired generations of thinkers. Chaundy and Murray’s theatrical scrapbook of her work shows us just how relevant many of her thoughts still are, despite their age – and therefore how far society must still progress. De Stroyed is a contemplative and intimate reminder of the powerful relevancy of this extraordinary woman. The line “sexuality no longer exists” has especially played on my mind since seeing the show – and I suspect everyone will leave the theatre with their own phrase staying with them.

Jillian Murray holds our attention for the full 70 minutes of this one-woman show. De Stroyed is the perfect vehicle for this powerful and experienced female performer to shine in her portrait of de Beauvoir that provides moments of passion and emotion in an intimate setting. Murray’s de Beauvoir is relaxed with her attentive audience, but never passive. Her storytelling ability is polished and trustworthy, providing an honest and highly believable reflection of an extraordinary thinker.

While Murray is alone on stage, she is joined by video projections from Zoe Scoglio. Modern, colourful and precise, de Beauvoir’s musings are amplified with Scoglio’s impressive and often psychedelic visuals. Joined together with Christopher de Groot’s reflective musical compositions, Scoglio’s video art illuminates our retinas while de Beauvoir’s words illuminate our minds.

De Stroyed is inspiring and oddly hypnotic. I feel relaxed at the end of this show, perhaps from the gentle ride through mesmerising visuals and text. It’s a similar feeling I get from finishing a good book or after a long chat with a close friend. While not for everybody, De Stroyed is undoubtedly a work for intellectuals, poets and philosophers – or anybody interested in the work and mind of one of the most influential feminists.

This meditation, contemplation, and celebration of de Beauvoir’s life and thought runs at Fortyfivedownstairs until 27 May. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9662 9966.

Photograph: Jodie Hutchinson

Review: The Three Deaths of Ebony Black

Heart-piercing and hilarious farce of three deaths

By Bradley Storer

 

Three deaths: the first, the death of the body. The second, the burial of the body. The last, the death of their name and memory forever. The first moments of this new work from Amberly Cull and Robert Woods (writers/composers of critically acclaimed The Point of Light) depict this first death of the eponymous Ebony Black, through a beautiful musical soundscape that relives Ebony’s glory days. Combined with Danny Miller’s gorgeously realised and intensely aged puppet, simultaneously operated by Cull and fellow performer Nick Pages-Oliver, it’s agonisingly beautiful to behold.

The plot then kicks into high-gear farce depicting the consequences of this first death, as Ebony’s relatives and friends gather for her funeral. Cull and Pages-Oliver have a roaringly good time animating multiple puppet characters with a variety of accents and voices. Cull’s beautiful soprano is utilised in several solos and blends with Oliver’s glorious baritone in duet, they even manage to perform a puppet kickline complete with choreography!

The pacing of this comedy of errors is high-speed with themes ranging from familial love and disappointment, class and wealth, hilariously brief existential crises. Even several missteps and errors across the evening didn’t feel out of place, they were laughed off and then leaped over to continue the show. Woods himself accompanies the evening, providing subtle but brilliant underscoring as well as a fantastic cameo later in the piece.

Without spoiling any of the classically farcical twists and turns the plot takes, the final section that wraps up the themes of the evening is beautifully poignant (and once again contains finely detailed puppets courtesy of Miller), but leaves one wondering what overall point, if any, Cull and Woods intend to convey.

Perhaps, as the characters themselves muse, there might be none except that which is created by the individual. Whatever the case, The Three Deaths of Ebony Black is nevertheless a hilariously and heart-piercingly charming hour of theatre.

The Three Deaths of Ebony Black runs at the Butterfly Club until 19 May.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9663 8107 .

 

Review: The Bleeding Tree

Staggering display of violence and revenge in a rural town

By Lois Maskiell

 

Angus Cerini’s acclaimed play, The Bleeding Tree, received three Helpmann Awards and the NSW Premier’s Literary Award since its 2015 premiere. Now, as a first for Melbourne audiences, Arts Centre presents this Griffin Theatre Company production and the results are staggering.

It begins with the death of a violent man: female trio including a mother and two daughters take down the man of the house with a knock to his head, his knees and a shot to his neck. Their relief is unmistakable – suddenly free of the “shit-stink man” who was “a slack-arse disgrace” – their years of torment are evident.

Cerini’s powerful mixture of prose and verse is elevated by a piercing performance on the part of Paula Arundell who wholly inhabits the mother – the role for which she earned Helpmann Award for best female actor.

The daughters – swamped with the shock and liberation of murdering their father – are a powerhouse of intensity and fervour. Brenna Harding excels as the severe younger sister who questions the morality of their act, while Sophie Ross stands out as the leader, pent-up with unapologetic rage. The trio occupy multiple characters with ease: we meet Mr Jones who stops in after hearing the gunshot, Mrs Smith with her cake and “half copper half postie” Steven.

Such a phenomenal display of acting raises questions at the heart of the play: Is a victim of violence culpable for murdering in self defence? Why do the public turn a blind eye on domestic violence?

Having struck an impressive relationship between text, structure and performance, director Lee Lewis has crafted a complex yet simple production. The stage floor, designed by Renée Mulder is spectacularly angular, amplifying light and shadow only to add to the pervasive and dense atmosphere.

Lewis steers clear of any obvious choices. By arranging the dialogue with its spoken stage directions and multiple roles skillfully, she holds you on the edge of your seat. And without giving everything away, a gap between what’s said and shown leaves the audience to hang from every word.

This is brilliant, jaw-dropping theatre at its best, achieved with all but three women and a few tea cups for bone broth.

 

The Bleeding Tree is being performed Arts Centre until 19 May.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 1300 182 183.

Directed by Lee Lewis with design by Renée Mulder, lighting design by Verity Hampson and sound design by Steve Toulmin. Featuring Paula Arundell, Brenna Harding and Sophie Ross. Photograph by Brett Boardman.