MICF: What Would Bill Murray Do?

Non-stop bullet-train of absurdist comedy

By Samuel Barson

Comedian David Tieck describes himself as a big fat absurdist, idiotic, stupid-faced, teddy bear-type person. And he certainly exploits all these facets of his being in his new solo show What Would Bill Murray Do?

Running just under an hour, this latest venture from Tieck is a non-stop bullet-train of nonsense and philosophy, with audiences strapping themselves in for David’s promise of at least 37 bits of weirdness that culminate in his sharing of a newfound “meaning of life”. A significant highlight of the show was the large number of costume changes that came with presenting 37 dramatically different moments. Tieck’s energy never dropped throughout, a testament to his passion and stamina as a performer.

If you’re not a fan of absurdist comedy, this show is going to be purely painful for you. The depths of contemporary absurdism that Tieck reaches are cavernous and could prove highly alienating for the wrong audience member. Even as a fan of absurdist comedy myself, there were moments that momentarily left me behind.

However, the thing that most stood out is how much Tieck loves his audience and his enjoyment for performing was palpable. He doesn’t care who you are or where you come from: all he wants to do is have fun with you. This approach to life informed the title of his show, through the way actor Bill Murray has discussed living his own life.

If you love comedy that makes absolutely no sense but leaves you in stitches anyway, this is the show for you.

 

What Would Bill Murray Do? runs until 8 April at the Imperial Hotel as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the MICF box office on 03 9245 3788.

Photograph: supplied 

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Review: The Worst Little Warehouse in London

Best little cabaret is laugh-out-loud hilarious

By Ross Larkin
 

The prospect of independent cabaret can be unsettling, given the self-indulgence and lack of polish that often dog the genre, presumably because they are usually easier to produce in terms of cost and time.

So it is with no small amount of surprise to report that The Worst Little Warehouse in London is one of the best little shows I’ve seen in a long while.

A two-hander about an Australian couple house sharing in the big smoke with a dozen wildly eccentric travellers is no doubt a familiar scenario for many an Aussie who has treaded the backpacking trail. However, The Worst Little Warehouse explores the premise with shrewd innovation, brilliantly composed music and laugh-out-loud hilarity.

Real-life couple Lala Barlow and Robbie Smith bring to life an array of quirky, misguided characters while singing and playing keys to a selection of fast-paced, intelligent and witty tunes which get better and better as the show progresses.

Both Barlow and Smith are clearly natural born entertainers with comic timing and musical prowess to rival the best in the business, and the pair never miss a beat as they move from one character to the next, often in rapid succession.

Director Sarah Redmond ensures the couple are showcased in all their musical comedy glory at a pace that builds so satisfactorily the audience is practically in the palm of the show’s hands, ready to burst with joy by the conclusion yet not wanting it to end.

It’s no wonder this gem of a cabaret has been raved about at so many festivals and shortlisted for best musical and best cabaret at Edinburgh Fringe.

I seldom recommend shows so highly (let alone the indie cabaret variety), but The Worst Little Warehouse in London is a complete delight from start to finish which will have you in stitches and in awe. I implore you to make it your first choice at this year’s Comedy Festival.

The Worst Little Warehouse in London plays until 31 March at The Butterfly Club as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets can be purchased online.

Photograph: Ben Fon

Review: Muriel’s Wedding

Explosive Australiana in musical wonderland

By Owen James

Sometimes classic films should remain untouched and untainted by a musical adaptation – but luckily this is not the case for Muriel’s Wedding, which places the timeless story on the mainstage in colourful glory. When outcast Muriel impulsively departs Queensland hometown Porpoise Spit in search of a brighter future, she discovers her true self and her place in the world.

Original film writer PJ Hogan has modernised Muriel’s story for 2019, ensuring her flight and plight is relatable for its contemporary audience – social media plays a big part in both her initial belittling and later success. Much of the sarcastic subtlety of the film has been replaced with larger-than-life characters, displaying Hogan’s adept adaptability as a writer across formats and decades. There are big lines from big characters at every turn which ensure these colourful personalities bounce off the back walls of Her Majesty’s Theatre in every scene.

Music and lyrics by Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall have both strong and weak points, but always boosts Hogan’s exaggerated Australia with punchy energy and vibrance. Miller-Heidke and Nuttall combine a contemporary musical theatre sound with moments of synth-filled pop that wouldn’t be out of place on the radio (such as ‘A True Friend’). Their detailed score also features cleverly reworked ABBA hits that offer many a catchy melody with standout songs including ‘Strangely Perfect Stranger’, ‘Here Comes The Bride’, and ‘Never Stick Your Neck Out’.

Ensemble numbers such as ‘Sydney’ and ‘Progress’ are staged with spectacle through Andrew Hallsworth’s engaging and dynamic choreography. Tight movement in songs like ‘Shared, Viral, Linked, Liked’ is jaw-dropping in its precise execution and numbers like ‘Here Comes The Bride’ demonstrate Hallsworth’s capability and love for large-scale chorey.

Director Simon Phillips has staged a heartwarming extravaganza in Muriel’s Wedding, which delves beneath initially superficial character tropes to find the diamonds waiting inside. It’s a simple and safe production with a lot of heart and colour. Set and costume design by Gabriela Tylesova transports us seamlessly between locations and embellishes the bright, larger-than-life tone set by Phillips.

Natalie Abbott absolutely shines as attention-starved underdog Muriel, never missing a beat in her mainstage debut. This is the perfect role to showcase Abbott’s varied talents, she captivates every audience member with quirky and sincere moments throughout.

Feisty friend Rhonda has been cast perfectly with Stefanie Jones. I could watch her for hours. Hilarious and heartbreaking, Jones is a talent sure to excel in many future productions.

With costumes brighter than Priscilla, more Australian humour than Strictly Ballroom, the sass of Kinky Boots and almost as much ABBA as Mamma Mia, Muriel’s Wedding is a new Australian musical very successful in its mission to entertain. It both celebrates and mocks our admittedly highly mockable culture with stereotypes you absolutely will find on a Queensland beach or a Sydney street.

Big bogans, big bitches and big budgie smugglers galore. Walk down the aisle to Muriel’s Wedding for a colourful and entertaining Australiana parodic, patriotic paradise.

Muriel’s Wedding plays at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne until 16 June. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 13 28 49.

Photograph: Jeff Busby

Review: Close Encounters

Deliciously camp sci-fi burlesque

By Bradley Storer

Australian all male burlesque group Briefs return to Melbourne with their latest work Close Encounters,and without a doubt the boys are better then ever! This time around the troupe have a thematic link tying the show together, the idea of ‘close encounters’ in terms of both science fiction and the connection between human beings as a whole. We’re invited aboard ‘the mother of all motherships’ by host and drag performer Shivanna (AKA Fez Fa’anana) as the boys of Briefs deliver a hopeful message from the future.

The audience is treated to a stunning array of burlesque, acrobatics, dance and comedy across the evening. Highpoints include a science experiment/juggling routine that first thrills then tantalizes with balls flying through the air and volcanoes exploding as a lab uniform vanishes. A sensual, spacey strip show featuring an astronaut floating through space in nothing but a g-string. A gorgeous and gawky ballet set to the futuristic thrum of Kate Bush. And all throughout, an inexplicable but wonderfully grouchy white rabbit who continually points to a ringing alarm clock – suggesting the inescapable tugging of time as it drags us into the future, perhaps? At every twist and turn of the performance, the audience were whooping and hollering in ecstatic joy.

Across the board, Close Encounters takes the aesthetic previously established by Briefs – queer, cheeky, joyful, political and daring – and deepens it in beautiful ways. The highlight of the entire show is a gorgeous sequence exploring the limits of the human body with Shivanna as icy extra-terrestrial mistress manipulating and contorting her aerialist test subject. Campy, deliciously overwrought elements crystallise into a stunning whole that can only be described as a piece of pure art.

Briefs continues to offer up work that arouses, disturbs and most of all, delights the audience. While it admittedly offers no solutions to the problems of humanity, it does give a glimpse of a time in which humanity has moved towards a more joyous tomorrow – and that is more than consolation enough.

Close Encounters ran at the Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne 20 – 24 March. See here for more information.

Photograph: Kate Pardey

Review: The Girl Green as Elderflower

Mesmerising, musical drama

By Samuel Barson 

Five years since his death, Australian-born author Randolph Stow remains an elusive, mesmerising and mysterious presence in Australia’s literary landscape. His stories continue to multiply and grow, yet Stow’s audiences are still unable to fully understand who the man truly was. His 1980 novel, The Girl Green as Elderflower is as close as we get to a biography of his. The tale of its protagonist Crispin Clare and his task of putting together life’s broken pieces as he recuperates from a life-threatening disease almost echoes the aftermath of the author’s mental and physical breakdown, which he experienced after serving as a patrol officer in the Trobriand Islands.

Stow’s original novel has been competently adapted for the stage by Richard Davies, and celebrated Australian director Sara Grenfell has orchestrated a vibrant and talented ensemble cast for La Mama’s Courthouse Theatre, that (mostly) honours Stow’s original work to a high standard.

Leading the cast is Billy Sloane as Cris. Sloane brings some solid moments of charisma and empathy to the role and has a gorgeous voice to match. Highlights amongst the cast included the compulsively watchable Nicholas Bell in his dual role of Mikey/Robin, Alice Albon as the cheeky (and at times seriously scary) Malkin and Liam Dodds as the smooth and charming Matthew. The rest of the ensemble all brought considerable contributions throughout the night however it was sometimes hard to avoid the feeling certain actors may not have had the necessary understanding of the text to really do their characters justice.

Lighting and sound design by Shane Grant and Ryan Smedley was positively consuming and certainly came to be appreciated during some moments where the script’s action became a bit dry and un-evolving. The mystical elements of the play were brilliantly showcased by both designers’ decisions to tap into the absurd and exaggerated in their designs. Christina Logan-Bell’s set design was impressively adaptable and multi-faceted with scene changes often occurring before the audience had even realised.

The play certainly could have run the risk of falling into poetic monotony if it weren’t for the inclusion of Davies’ music score. The range of musical numbers throughout the play was highly appreciated, and musical director Shelley Dunlop did a superb job of creating such an entertaining musical landscape. There was not a fault when it came to the cast’s singing talents.

Grenfell is to be applauded for tackling such a complex narrative and for bringing it to life for audiences. Despite the often overly slow pace and actors’ detachment from the script, it was a solid production with all the desired bells and whistles.

The Girl Green As Elderflower plays at La Mama Courthouse Theatre until 31 March. Tickets can be purchased online or by contacting the box office at 03 9347 6948.

Photograph: Jack Dixon Gunn

Review: Dance Nation

An ironic spin on the world of dance

By Leeor Adar 

Clare Barron’s Dance Nation is the kind of charming macabre well suited to the world of dance. Directed by the excellent Maude Davey and assistant director Angelica Clunes, I am not surprised to see Davey has injected her wacky charm into directing this work for Red Stitch. What you ultimately have is a glorious unicorn of a play performed by adults acting as children. The irony of the dance world through this lens is great, particularly as audiences will be well acquainted with the fierce and devastating early maturity for youngsters caught up in the competitive world of dance.

It all starts as expected, our herd of dancers preparing for a big competition for exposure and FAME! Peter Farnan’s sound design is perfect here, sound bites of sighing and breathing intersperse scene changes with Clare Springett’s sharp lighting design. We’re off to a good start with a formation of dancers’ legs waving about to an amused audience. The scene quickly descends into that macabre goo when one has severed her leg – the price of fame!

Before auditions for the leading role of Gandhi, a brilliant cliché of the creepster dance teacher Pat (Brett Cousins), it is evident friendship will be tested. Zuzu (Zoe Boesen) and Amina (Tariro Mavondo) are the two glory girls of the troupe, who somehow manage to sustain a level of sweetness up until the big first night of the competition.

Adrienne Chisholm’s set and costume design are perfectly sparkly and quirky, and you will enjoy seeing what she serves up for the competition. Choreographer Holly Durant sets us into a barrel of laughs with zombie dance moves and extra dagginess to boot.

The cast is fantastic, and the characters are completely engaging throughout. Natalie Gamsu’s odd young Maeve is downright the funniest of the bunch, and in the most unexpected ways. Somehow her subtle smile as the moon passing over Connie’s bedroom (played by Georgina Naidu) is a bit of a low-key show stealer. Caroline Lee’s monologue as the quietly ambitious and hyper-sexualised Ashlee is perhaps the greatest personal pep-talk I’ve ever heard, and Hannah Fredericksen’s tomboy/cool girl Sofia is utterly brazen and suitably goofy. Token dance boy, Luke, played by Casey Filips is delightfully at home amongst the feminine, waiting for a chance at Zuzu’s affection, and Zuzu’s dance mum (Shayne Francis) is the kind of child-soul-killer you’d see forcing Vaseline onto her child’s teeth in USA’s Dance Moms.

Despite all the laughs, Dance Nation has a litany of poignant moments for its characters. Sofia’s need to be tough is brought back down to earth when the most feminine of life occurrences strikes at a critical moment. Connie’s need to be seen is so vital to her, that her little heart breaks throughout the play are all the more tragic and are handled beautifully by Naidu. As events try and tear the dancers apart, they still manage to lift each other up by imagining themselves as they will be some day. I find that childlike wonder uplifting despite the gravity of adulthood weighing in upon their hopes and dreams.

Dance Nation runs until 14 April at Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9544 8083.

Photograph: Teresa Noble

Review: The Importance of Being Earnest

An interpretation not to be missed

By Ross Larkin

Oscar Wilde is arguably one of the most celebrated playwrights of the nineteenth century and The Importance of Being Earnest is rightfully among his best known offerings for its playful sass and dry wit.

Set in 1880’s Britain, two upper class friends, Algernon and Jack, become caught up in their own game when the women they wish to marry, Gwendolen and Cecily, grow wise to the men’s spirited untruths and a web of hilarious confrontation ensues.

Melbourne’s All Sorts Productions have shrewdly crafted the play as an immersive piece on location at the stunning Labassa Mansion in Caulfield to great effect, utilising an outdoor garden area and several indoor ones.

As the lively host, Basil, and the cast move around the Victorian era surrounds, so do the audience along with the occasional interactive moment.

First time director, Maurice Mammoliti, succeeds particularly well in creating an entire world for the show (as opposed to isolated scenes), whereby characters and activities subtly link the action from one location to the next.

The ensemble cast are strong, with standout performances from Patrick Hill and Katherine Innes as Algernon and Gwendolen, who bring a sharp, energetic and sophisticated charm that would make Wilde himself proud, while Ruby Gabriella is also delightful as the whimsical Cecily.

There is much attention to detail where costumes and accessories are concerned, which only adds to the immersive experience, transporting viewers in every sense for the duration.

Although the full season of The Importance of Being Earnest has already sold out, it is well worth adding your details to the waiting list, as All Sorts’ immersive interpretation of Wilde’s classic is definitely one not to be missed.

 

The Importance of Being Earnest runs 7 – 31 March at Labassa Mansion Caulfield North. See here for ticketing information.

Photograph: Tameika Brumby