A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney

Another side, another story

By Owen James

‘A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney’ presents a fictional script penned by Walt himself as a reflection on obsession, self-sabotage, and his own death.

This piece written by US playwright Lucas Hnath and presented by Melbourne’s MKA Theatre of New Writing is absorbing and intriguing. By taking one of the most prolific creative figures in history and questioning and even defacing his memory through a fictionalised and sensationalised characterisation, it leads us to contemplate the purity of some of our own most treasured childhood memories. But just how warped is this portrait of Walt? It’s common enough knowledge that his demeanour didn’t match the friendly family face he exerted publicly, and that his obsessive, antagonistic, and even racist darker sides often inflamed his personal and business lives. The script by Hnath explores this representation of Walt – whether fictional or accurate – and the weight it placed on his family and business decisions in his life.

Tobias Manderson-Gavin plays Walt with an unforgiving intensity that ensures the energy of this show never dips – which is essential, as for the majority of the show it is very visually stagnant, with four actors sitting in chairs reading from their screenplays. He is so present and truthful in every moment, that his unpredictability makes every scene uniquely exciting. Manderson-Gavin is the puppet master of this play just as Walt was of his company, and the control he has over the energy in the room is palpable.

The supporting cast features Kerith Manderson-Gavin as Roy Miller, Lenore Manderson as Diane Miller and Patrick Galvin as Ron – but none of them quite match Tobias’ energy. This seems like a very conscious decision though, as with Tobias launching himself at the night’s atmosphere with absolutely zero reservations, matched energy from the supporting cast would be overkill.

‘The Death of Walt Disney’ has deep, captivating monologues scattered throughout, and it’s these moments that I find most engrossing. The bizarrely absurd world that directors Tobias Manderson-Galvin and Cara Dinley have created is sometimes highly erratic, but it’s this lunacy that keeps it alive. It’s unclear which moments in the show are improvised and how much is genuinely pre-planned or premeditated, but again it is this excitement that makes the wild ride oddly mesmerising.

Find yourself caught up in the world of ‘The Death of Walt Disney’ at The MC Showroom in Prahran, to decide for yourself how falsified or tarnished this account of Walt is – or perhaps how terrifyingly realistic it may be.

‘The Death of Walt Disney’ was performed 11 – 14 July at the MC Showroom as part of Provocaré Winter Festival 2018.

Photographs: Supplied




Review: Mamma Mia! The Musical

Musical extravaganza will have you dancing in the aisles to ABBA’s greatest hits

By Owen James

It’s the classic party music we all know and love realised onstage in this musical extravaganza that makes it a great night out for all ages.

When 21-year old Sophie secretly invites three of her mother Donna’s past lovers to her wedding on the fictional Greek island Kalokairi, chaos and confusion ensue. Throw in twenty two of ABBA’s best songs alongside this simple but effective plot, and Mamma Mia quickly becomes a joyous musical extravaganza.

This is the third professional incarnation of Mamma Mia The Musical in Melbourne, and its pure, unbridled joy is infectious and irresistible for everyone in the Princess Theatre. If you’re not grooving in your seat during this show, you’re either deaf or soulless. The energy of the performers is palpable, and every person onstage gives their all to this electric, joyous atmosphere.

Gary Young has directed this polished production, ensuring that it parties harder and bigger than any other jukebox musical. The second act moves a little slower than the first, but familiar peppy ABBA tunes accompany a very colourful disco-style finale that makes dancing in the aisles genuinely irresistible.

The choreography by Tom Hodgson is jaw-droppingly spectacular. Huge kudos to the entire ensemble for their slick, sharp execution, and to Hodgson for a truly fantastic grasp of effective ensemble movement.

Featuring Natalie O’Donnell. Photo credit: James Morgan.

Sarah Morrison as Sophie brings a beautiful warm energy to the stage in every scene she’s in. Her infectious smile and sublime vocals ride the deceptively complex ABBA melodies with ease, and she’s an utter joy to watch in every moment.

Natalie O’Donnell’s Donna is heart-warming and heart-breaking, and she belts every iconic ballad and party classic with divine passion. ‘Money, Money, Money’ is one of the show’s best moments thanks to O’Donnell’s energetic and jovial performance. Jayde Westaby contributes a cheeky and feisty Tanya, and Alicia Gardiner is glowing as hilarious Rosie – her gleeful physical comedy is a highlight of many of the trio’s group numbers.

Phillip Lowe as Harry Bright, Josef Ber as Bill Austin, and Ian Stenlake as Sam Carmichael are each a perfect fit for their three beautifully distinct characters. Their comedic confusion is enchanting as they bounce off one another with ease, and moments of fond reflection throughout the show of their time on this island twenty years prior are heartfelt and warm.

Take A Chance on Mamma Mia The Musical – it’s guaranteed to leave you with a grin, and possibly some sore calves from boogying in the aisles. Lay All Your Love on this Super Trouper playing at the Princess Theatre until September 30th.

Mamma Mia! The Musical is being performed at the Princess Theatre until 30 September.  Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 1300 111 011.

Photographs: James Morgan

Coral Browne: This F***ing Lady!

From West Footscray to West End, Coral Browne’s remarkable story is adapted to stage

By Owen James

The true life story of assertive and determined actress, Coral Browne, is lovingly told in this delightful tour de force, as we watch her recall her journey from West Footscray to the West End, and beyond.

Never heard of Coral Browne? Before this show, neither had I. But this joyful and witty piece of theatre will open your eyes to the incredible life of a bawdy, ambitious Australian actress who found great success across the oceans in England and America. After some brief local success on Australian shores in her teens, she moved to the UK with only fifty pounds, charm and talent. Her career spanned decades and included many mainstage productions and Hollywood films, all while maintaining a busy and eventful personal life – including her marriage to famous horror film actor Vincent Price.

She’s certainly deserving of this tribute and indomitable performer, Genevieve Mooy, is utterly exemplary as Browne. Mooy’s Browne is a fierce but elegant woman, unbridled by her era or colleagues – a true force to be reckoned with. Mooy jumps between Browne and other influential characters seamlessly and segues through decades with mounting charm and sass. Mooy is the perfect actress for this role, hitting every comedic beat with laughter-inducing perfection and she ensures that despite Browne’s intrinsic ferocity, she never loses her stoic yet charming composure.

The script and direction by Maureen Sherlock effortlessly combine and maintain a beautiful flow throughout the show. The story races along at breakneck speed just as any good one-hander should, and Sherlock’s portrait of Coral Browne is clearly written with great love and admiration.

I really, really loved this show – it is delightfully charming and hilarious in a manner that is at once uniquely British and Australian – just as I suspect Miss Browne would have been. It’s an exhilarating tale of Australian ambition and success, and gives us a laugh a minute. Miriam Margolyes was spot on with her recommendation: “A must see!”

Coral Browne: This F***ing Lady! runs at Fortyfivedownstairs until 22 July. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9662 9966.

Photo credit: Rob George

Review: Dancing on the Volcano

Celebrated star, Robyn Archer AO, delves into cabaret from Berlin in the ’20s and ’30s

By Leeor Adar

It was indeed a time to be alive, between two World Wars in Germany, the highs and lows of life were encapsulated in the music of the era. A time marked as a period in the eye of a storm, poets and artists thrived in their joy at the end of 1919, and experienced the rattling descent into Nazi Germany. ‘Dancing on the volcano’ was an apt term for the artistic world of Germany in this period. Kabarett, a German form of political satire was commentary wrapped up in performance – a musical send up of the times.

Providing the historical context of the music only adds to the gravity of its content, and Robyn Archer AO, takes her audience on an educational journey with her long-time collaborators, Michael Morley on piano, and George Butrumlis on accordion.  Delving into the political carnage of the times, kabarett was also intensely concerned with the darker facets of the human identity – murder, sexuality, and obsession. It absolutely exploded in the 1920s, and saw the likes of Bertolt Brecht, Hans Eisler, Kurt Weil and Friedrich Hollaender take centre stage in this dark and electric world. Many of their pieces are performed with a lightness of tone, but deal with child murderers and the disintegration of society.

The performance begins on a pleasant note, with charming and saucy numbers like Kurt Tucholsky’s Anna Luise, which focuses on a man’s reminiscence of his time under a buxom woman’s skirt. However, it is not long before we find ourselves thrust into darker territory, stricken with tales of criminal conduct and the seedy underbelly of Berlin. The collaboration between Weill and Brecht for The Threepenny Opera resulted in the notorious and widely loved Mack the Knife. It was a pleasure to hear Archer perform the classic, and a special note must be made to Morley’s piano playing with this piece, perhaps cementing itself as my favourite rendition.

Archer relishes in the humour of the music, and her gestures throughout send her audience into fits of laughter even when a grandmother is being slain in Frank Wedekind’s Granny Murderer. The tongue in cheek humour of kabarett often savagely dealt with the cruelties of the world, something Archer clearly appreciates. This is most notable in her powerful performance of Friedrich Hollaender’s The Jews. Archer’s performance descends into the fist and head shaking notorious of a certain Chancellor, that when she finally lays the blame on multiple minorities in a final crash, she utterly rattles her audience. We are experiencing a rise of similar attitudes in our present day. Such is the power of the kabarett.

The delivery is overall strong, however I find the occasional phrasing in English leaves Archer breathless, as the translations don’t always flow so well. I appreciated when Archer would occasionally croon in perfect German – another example of her expansive skill as a performer. I must note here though, it would be harsh to expect a non-German speaking audience to grasp the subtle and brilliant flashes of truth conveyed in the words, and so much of Dancing on the Volcano is an ode to the power of words.

After the dark turns with The Jews and Brecht and Hans Eisler’s tragic horse in Falladah, the audience is both exhausted and in need of an injection of hope. Anticipating this need, Archer ends with Brecht and Eisler’s once again in the wonderful Bilbao Song.

I exited with greater knowledge and some joy from the night out, but also exited imagining a society ripping apart the horse it once loves stays on with me.

Dancing on the Volcano was performed at Arts Centre  Melbourne 9 – 11 July.

Review: Club Provocaré

Alive and seductive cabaret complete with original acts

By Ciara Thorburn

Enter, David Williamson Theatre, enter darkroom, enter a packed yet cosy and sexy bar. Enter, Club Provocaré. The impeccable Queen of Kink, Bernie Dieter presents a killer line-up of world class acts and a delectable selection of some of Melbourne’s best performers. With favourites including Karen from Finance’s skilled and hilarious lip-synch drag and the stunning choreography in Laurie Hagan’s (Club Swizzle, Vegas Nocturne) reverse Burlesque act – this show is unmissable. Though it’s too little, too late as the entire season of Provocaré has already sold out.

With musical prowess and racy charisma, host and MC Bernie Dieter commands the stage and the audience, with her guests wrapped around her finger (and her velvet sequined unitard) from the outset. She gently caresses her audience into submission, coaxing them to divulge their fantasies and embrace their desires as she introduces each new act. The rawness of this show only added to it’s realness, with a few technical malfunctions taken in the stride of these seasoned professionals. This show is an excellent fusion of genres (drag, burlesque, circus, musical theatre) within a cabaret format, lucky to be seen and flawlessly presented by Chapel Street’s Provocaré Festival.

The facetious and charismatic attitudes of these strong female characters who dominate the production are empowering and seductive. Highlights of the show include the cultural delight Yusura – a master fetish geisha – who ventures into kink as she pours searing hot wax over her extravagantly tattooed body. Yusura leaves the audience in a sense of titillating torment.

Unique, provocative and complete with original acts performed by unparalleled performers, Club Provocaré is a spectacle of Australia’s best talent. Next year, make sure you get your tickets early.

Club Provocaré is being performed 5 – 15 July at the David Williamson Theatre. For more information about Provocaré Winter Festival 2018, take a look at their official website.

Review: TAHA

TAHA – the life and work of a Palestinian poet

By Lois Maskiell

The life and work of poet, Taha Muhammad Ali, receives remarkable attention in Amer Hlehel’s play, TAHA. Originally written in Arabic in 2014, the play has since been translated into English and subsequently toured the UK at a range of venues including the Young Vic before making it to Australian shores.

Presented by Arts Centre Melbourne as part of the Big World, Up Close program, this performance brings a uniquely Middle Eastern perspective to the stage. Though more specifically, it brings the perspective of a Palestinian poet who, born 1931 in the Galilee village of Saffuriyya, saw his town disappear during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

Writer-performer Amer Hlehel has constructed a powerful piece based on Taha’s poetry and the biography, ‘My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness,’ by Adina Hoffman. Hlehel’s lyrical monologue traces Taha’s childhood to adolescence in Saffuriyya, depicting village life both humorously and tenderly. We relive his early passion for reading, his first love, and the moment the Israeli army struck Saffuriyya and the village was forced to flee north.

After leaving a refugee camp in Lebanon, Taha and his family relocated to Nazareth where he remained, operating a souvenir shop, for more than fifty years. His store, a meeting place for poets and writers alike, still exists today though is now run by his sons. Self-instructed English speaker and poet, Taha’s individuality is also revealed in the fact that his first book was published when he was fifty two years old. Hlehel’s rendition of the poem, ‘Revenge,’ at an Arabic poetry festival in London is a beautiful moment that showcases the recognition Taha began to receive within his time.

Hlehel’s command of both English and Arabic colours his performance magnificently and is a magnetic force that draws the audience closer to the culture of the story’s origin. Translator-director, Amir Nizar Subai, accentuates Hlehel’s storytelling with an almost bare stage, save for a bench and suitcase. His stripped-back, clear direction allows Hlehel to engross his spectators with his expert dramatic saga.

Amid stories of life in the village, Lebanon, and Nazareth, an absorbing atmosphere of suffering and loss melds with hope and humour. Momentous life events and comic anecdotes are interrupted by moving poetry. Depending on which language Hlehel choses to speak, Arabic or English translations are displayed in surtitles. Culminating in a stirring celebration of life and loss, Hlehel manages to leave political debate in the production’s peripheries. The play – like Taha’s poetry – avoids forming direct arguments about Palestine or Israel as nations, but instead forms a stirring account of an individual’s life in a particular time and place.

Taha’s birth town is one of four hundred and eighteen Palestinian villages that Israeli forces destroyed in the 1948 conflict. And, as the play comes to a close, memories of the village as evoked through Hlehel’s accounts vanish with it. The stage is left with nothing but a chair and a briefcase, along with the reminder of the ongoing Palestinian struggle.

TAHA runs 10 – 14 July at State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne as part of Big World, Up Close. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 1300 182 183.

Woman – It’s A Mother of A Cabaret

WomanIt’s A Mother of A Cabaret proves even a busy mother of two can fulfil their dreams

By Owen James

The role of women in society and the role of motherhood is explored in a smooth combination of music and text in Woman – It’s A Mother of A Cabaret.

As we descend the stairs into the basement room of The Butterfly Club, everything necessary for a quality hour of storytelling is awaiting. A piano, a microphone, and a few props fill the small stage, and as the lights go down, Jodie Stubbs emerges and treats us to her own personal brand of humour and cabaret. Stubbs’ performance is amusingly archaic, as she attempts to recount the history of equality and discrimination against women throughout history, all the while being plagued by the struggle of the modern mother – calls from a worried babysitter interrupt.

Jodie Stubbs has a truly divine voice that conquers every genre and style she attempts. Many of the most beautiful moments of the show come from slow, building ballads such as ‘Life Story’, where stillness is mesmerising. Stubbs’ voice can be equally as rousing in many of the upbeat numbers, including a comical, country-esque cover of ‘Material Girl’.

Co-written by Tyran Parke and Jodie Stubbs, the script is both humorous and personal, brushing the surface of deeper socio-political tension but focusing on the story close at hand: a woman just keeping her life together by indulging her dreams and talent. Through Parke’s script, Stubbs is able to construct a portrait of mounting personal strain bubbling beneath a fragile surface, demonstrating her ability as a confident and comfortable performer.

Onstage pianist David Butler is a maestro extraordinaire. Moving with every subtle fluctuation of Jodie’s voice, the consummate professionalism of his skilful accompaniment shines in every song. Indeed, many of the best comedic moments in the show come from David’s shy interjections or brief moments in the spotlight.

Although the show never quite focuses on a single moment for long enough, it doesn’t need to. Like a collection of unravelling thoughts brewing in a pressure cooker, Woman – It’s A Mother of A Cabaret declares loud and proud that anyone – even a busy mother of two – can fulfil their dreams.

Woman – It’s A Mother of A Cabaret is being performed at the Butterfly Club 9 – 14 July. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on (03) 9663 8107.