Review: Oh No! Satan Stole My Pineal Gland!

Great title, great fun

By Owen James

Are we en route to a world where “hail Satan” becomes a normalised, cordial greeting? Kirby Medway’s ‘Oh No! Satan Stole My Pineal Gland!’ undoubtedly wins best title at Fringe this year, and seems to suggest that this future isn’t too far out of reach.

Medway gives us satire at its most contemplative and reflective height in this terrifyingly recognisable world of fake smiles and fake news, set atop and against fake grass. We meet four regular young Australians who casually worship Satan, but whose day-to-day struggles are largely not different to our own. It’s difficult enough to find a comfortable living arrangement, or an easy ‘out’ of an awkward conversation, or remember that specific episode of Gilmore Girls – but even more difficult when you’re a Satanist. The delight Medway finds in distorting communication within this skewed reality provides many moments of entertaining comedy, but also asks many insightful, thought-provoking questions. Each audience member will respond to these questions in their own way, and so interpret this sardonic, and sometimes perplexing world, differently.

Clever direction from Jean Tong and Lou Wall brings out both the warm, relatable humour and the bleak melancholy inherent in Medway’s script with affection and punchy zest. They have created a charming and unique space where left-of-centre stagecraft is quickly established as convention, and then takes on a comedic life of its own – giving the audience a sense that as we understand the rules that define this world, our connection with the text and performers is increasingly embellished. As friendships break down and barriers are built up, comprehending the converging spaces and blurring conversations relies on our learned understanding of the environment depicted – expertly seeped into our consciousness thanks to Tong and Wall’s lucid and deliberate construction.

The cast of five bring their skilled comedic timing to every eccentric beat of this absurd AstroTurf-ed venture, deftly displaying fallacies of friendship and anxious but amusing social discomfort. Societal crisis and organ extortion are all played with a smirk, winking at the perturbing undercurrent of truth-in-flux to their characters. Special mentions to Liam Maguire for his many short, cynical, guitar-plucked taunting tunes delivered with an unnerving and candid grin, and Lou Wall as coercing, stubborn housemate Satan, who induced many giggles from the crowd.

Sell your soul before it’s stolen with your pineal gland, with a ticket to this absurd masterpiece. I look forward to the next offering from Medway and team.

Tickets: https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/oh-no-satan-stole-my-pineal-gland/

Photography by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

 

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Review: Tetris

The solitary pursuit of shapes to human forms

By Rebecca Waese

I never would have thought there would be so much humanity in a dance show based around Tetris. Until today. Years ago, I used to play Tetris when I wanted to step back from the chaos of the world and find comfort in falling shapes and finding solutions in patterns. Arch 8’s production of Tetris, choreographed by Erik Kaiel of the Netherlands, at the Melbourne Arts Centre, brings the solitary pursuit of shapes to human forms in a dance piece designed for young people but inspiring for all ages. It celebrates human connection and the balance between playing together and taking time out to be quiet and calm.

With a gentle start, set to piano music, the four performers create geometric shapes with their bodies, cuddling and balancing and filling in the spaces and voids between them. The movements are comforting and creative, nesting and curling and stacking on laps and backs. Watching the performers’ connection with each other and with the audience, I remember how it used to feel rolling down a great big grassy hill with your best friend or brother. The foursome made a triple-decker wheelbarrow centipede with their bodies and took it for a walk. They showed how sometimes you withdraw and sometimes you are left out. They showed how sometimes you are perfectly in balance and sometimes you collapse and need to be inventive to be included.

Moving from Tetris to Rubik’s cubes, the pace picked up and the performers discovered that they could control one another’s movements by spinning the cubes. To the audience’s delight, the performers gave children in the audience a turn to shake and twist the cubes as the performers responded to their every whim. Soon, the performers were all over the theatre, leaping on the seats, engaging with audience members, sitting on laps and even lifting and spinning children who were game.

This began the most amazing interaction where the audience members became co-creators in the show. Kids and adults alike were invited to mirror and shadow one another, give horsey rides, build bridges and climb through spaces onstage. At one point I’m sure there were more people onstage than in the seats. When it was over, we all took a bow and clapped for the performers and each other. It wasn’t forced or stagey; it was an amazing moment of human connection. Far more satisfying than playing Tetris on your own, this performance lifted the game to an experience of joy and humanity. I agree with my eleven-year-old son who rated it an 11/10. Give Tetris a go.

Tetris is playing at the Arts Centre until September 28th. Tickets at http://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2019/kids-and-families/tetris

Rebecca Waese is an Honorary Associate at La Trobe University in the Department of Creative Arts and English.

Photography by Didier Philispart

Review: Australian Ballet School Showcase 2019

Raising Artists for the Global Stage

By Leeor Adar

It’s a pleasure to return to the magic that the Australian Ballet School conjures for its yearly showcase of talent. This year is no exception, proving that Australia continues to raise artists for the global stage.

In 2019, the showcase is dedicated to the school’s founding Director, Dame Margaret Scott AC DBE, who sadly passed away earlier in the year. In a sparkling commemoration, the showcase begins with the full cast performing the Simon Dow choreographed, Défilé, underneath a projection of the kind face of the Dame herself. Dow is choice to choreograph this piece, as a former pupil of Dame Scott’s, he infuses the piece with nostalgia whilst the current pupils fill the stage like elegant-limbed swans in Kate Glenn-Smith and Maree Stratchan’s costumes.

Divertissement, also choreographed by Dow, is a pleasing entry for showcasing the individual talent from the graduating class, but the real standouts here were its male graduates, particularly Ziggy Debrincat, Benjamin Garrett, Alain Juelg and Louis Ramsay in their quartet, and the megawatt star power of Jett Ramsay in his solo.

Choreographer Margaret Wilson brings a stunning contemporary showcase for the level 8 students in Journey. With a backdrop of the sky, the dancers perform to a melancholy piece by composer, Max Richter. Likened to birds, they move with one another in a mesmerising force. I was totally hypnotised by the choreography and the quality of the performances from the dancers, which required from them a great deal of maturity and skill.

Wilson again takes a contemporary lead with the deeply personal in her choreography of After Escher, a piece that reflects the words of M.C. Escher himself. Wilson’s choices showcase the ballet dancer in the modern world, finding their way with their quality ballet training into new spheres of dance. I found Wilson’s choreography in 2019 more inspired than her previous work for the 2018 showcase, and it was wonderful to see how the dancers took to her choreography.

The theme of elegant birds continues with Richard House’s choreography of the level 5 students in Sketch Tone to the wonderful music of André Messager’s ‘Pas de Deux’. A nod to the classics once again, it is a delight to find ourselves taken from this work to the more frenzied choreography of Leigh Rowles in La Tarantella Italiana. Rowles’ choreography of the level 7 students is breathtaking. It is quickly apparent that next year’s graduates will have much to offer, as they elegantly perform in astonishing unison and timing. The colour and luscious costuming by Glenn-Smith, Stratchan and Lara Barwick are at peak delight here, with bright yellows and reds, the dancers completely come alive, and we are all captivated in awe at the spectacle – a crowd pleaser.

For the final showcase, Victoria Simon stages Who Cares? with George Balanchine’s choreography set to George Gershwin, Balanchine’s great collaborator. I thoroughly enjoyed the jazzy New York inspired work, but there were certainly standouts amongst the graduating class. ‘The Man I Love’ performed by Lilly Maskery and Jett Ramsay was captivating, both of whom established themselves in the 2019 showcase as one’s to watch in the ballet world. Maskery’s solo to ‘Fascinatin’ Rhythm’ was faultless beauty, and Ramsay’s standout performances throughout the night made him the unofficial star of the evening. Heidi Freeman’s energetic and delightful presence on stage was thoroughly notable, including the unparalleled grace of Larissa Kiyoto-Ward.

The performances will now head to Sydney on the 27th and 28th of September at the Concourse Theatre. Tickets available: https://premier.ticketek.com.au/Shows/Show.aspx?sh=AUSBALLE19

Photography by Sergey Konstantinov

Review: Circus Oz Presents AURORA

Dazzling visuals and flying penguins

By Leeor Adar

Circus Oz’s latest offering, Aurora, is a whole lot of fun for the family, offering dazzling visuals and humour with a nod to the climate and its refugees.

Directed by Kate Fryer, the talented ensemble includes a polar bear (Tara Silcock), a band of flying penguins (Sam Aldham, Matty Brown, Adam Malone, Spenser Inwood, Shani Stephens, Jillibalu Riley), and a fantastic live music soundscape featuring Jeremy Hopkins and Selene Messinis.

Children will be completely entertained from the get-go, with the band of flying penguins eliciting laughter and smiles from the crowd, including a few bouncing props tossed amongst the audience – for those holding a glass of wine, be warned! The penguins soon show their prowess with the flying trapeze, peppering humour from high above as they perform extraordinary acts, leaping to one another with audible gasps from the audience.

Silcock emerges to the audience grinning, and commences a polar bear/climate awareness rap, which is admittedly a difficult feat to perform in a polar bear suit under the hot lights. But Silcock is up for the challenge, flanked by Hopkins and Messinis on drums. The rap is a touch breathless, but my partner and I shared a sad look about the current state of affairs for the polar beast. It quickly turns playful again, as Silcock attempts to enjoy a hearty meal of a toy penguin, much to the outrage of the surrounding children in the audience, prompting her to commence an artful foot juggle with the toy penguin.

The unfolding of Aurora tells the story of toxic waste and rubbish piling up, and the plight of the animals fighting for food and territory. Circus Oz attempts to explore this through a combination of humour, and acts that dissect its impact on the environment and its inhabitants whilst showcasing the many talents of its ensemble. It’s hard to inject the realities of our environment to children, and while its not lost on the adult spectators, I do wonder if the younger members of the audience are cognisant to what is being performed.

Stand out, Adam Malone, is electrifying in his Washington trapeze act suspended above the toxic waste, mostly balancing on his head (gasp!), and later again proving his mercurial performance style in a hoops act. Sam Aldham’s notable collection of plastic rubbish from a rope as he climbs it precariously above the ground, is another nod to the pick-up-your-rubbish fodder for the children in the audience. Matthew Brown is a regal addition of the classic ringmaster trope, adding a level of gravitas to the mostly light-hearted entertainment.

Aurora, with its quality selection of circus acts, music and high-energy performances makes for an enjoyable romp for all of its spectators.

You can catch Aurora until 6 October at the gorgeous Royal Botanic Gardens. Don’t forget to take the younger members of your tribe! Tickets: https://www.circusoz.com/shows-and-tickets/about/10021/aurora.html

Photography by Mark Turner

Review: Sesame Street Circus Spectacular

Full of wonderment and surprise

By Narelle Wood

Silver’s Circus presents an action packed circus show, with something to entertain everyone. Sesame Street characters such as Cookie Monster, Elmo, and Bert and Ernie, start the show with a song and a dance, and are soon joined by a number of different juggling and acrobatic acts. Before you know it the beloved fluffy characters have decided the circus looks like a fun, and wander off to wonder what circus acts they might be able to contribute.

The circus acts themselves include everything from juggling, monocycle riding, acrobatics, hoola-hoops, motorbikes, and what I’m going to refer to as the rings of death. Most of the ‘oohhs’ and ‘aaahhhs’ came from the adults in the audience, with perhaps the difficulty level of some of the tricks being a over the really little ones’ heads. But for most part everybody’s eyes were wide with amazement and there were plenty of moments that the two little people with me were in absolute awe. Four motorbikes in the spherical cage was “crazy” (in a good way) according to my nephew, and my niece was very much taken with tightrope walker’s ability to cross the rope in pointe shoes and on pointe. It was, however, the dogs that were a clear crowd favourite, especially when the dogs were being naughty.

There are moments when the music is really loud, making it hard to understand some of the talking, and there are times where the lights are really bright, or turned off altogether. The music and lights worked really well to highlight the performances and allow the stage to be reset but, while most of the kids coped, it is worth thinking about this if there are any members of your party that have light or sound sensitivities.

That been said, there was definite excitement from everyone to see the Sesame Street characters live on stage. I’m not sure the younger kids would have understood the jokes or what the Sesame Street characters were singing about, so I would have liked to see the Sesame Street characters worked into the show a little bit more.

Sesame Street Circus is a show full of wonderment and surprise, with the occasional nerve-wrecking moment. It is definitely a fun way to spend a couple of hours.

Silver’s Circus’s Sesame Street Circus Spectacular is playing until the 11th of October. Tickets available at http://www.sesamestreetcircus.com.au/tickets

Review: Batmania

Sold out for a reason

By Owen James

One world, two shows. The Very Good Looking Initiative have created the dark, satirical world of Batmania, and given audiences two immersive experiences to choose from to discover this whacky, inane place. Expo ’19 takes place in one static place at Theatre Works in St Kilda, and the Bus Tour departs from around the corner and brings you back to Theatre Works 90 minutes later, just in time for the final goodbye at Expo ‘19. Both versions of Batmania have now completely sold out.

I went along on the Bus Tour, which was undoubtedly one of the most unique theatrical experiences I’ve had in a while, but especially at this year’s Fringe (so far). As the bus visits different places in St Kilda (sorry, “Batmania”), our overly cordial, happy-go-lucky, devil-may-care tour guides (Guide Raymond and Guide Vidya) are cheery almost to the point of painful – until events take a turn for the worst. This ingenious shift in tone comes as a surprise, creating a highly engaging, alluring atmosphere. It’s a delightfully enjoyable ride, and presents many moments of black comedy at its finest. But be warned: audience members not prepared for high levels of interaction will find this the stuff of nightmares.

Both Raymond Martini and Vidya Rajan deliver delightfully energetic, hilarious, and sometimes terrifying performances. Their descent from unpredictable ecstatic mania to rabid, cacophonic-but-catatonic beasts is carried out extremely well, and secured a vast range of responses from assorted passengers (sometimes just as fun to observe as the guides). Thankfully, despite the pandemonium and public territory, we always feel safe in the hands of these skilled performers.

Our blokey, arrogant bus driver (Elliott Gee) plays an important part in the madness too, always happy to perturb and provoke Raymond and Vidya as recent arrivals to his lifetime hometown Batmania. His quirky quips and rough demeanour provide many of the biggest laughs on the bus.

As we first boarded the bus, clearly no-one was quite sure what to expect. And as we alighted at the end of the trip, the feeling hadn’t really shifted. Though Batmania’s premise has a lot of promise, the experience overall seems not fully realised or cohesive. A lot of tension is built – very successfully, which then dissipates and has no real conclusion or payoff. While this may be intended to mirror contemporary Australia, as a theatrical experience, it is underwhelming. There is a lot of fun to be had on the journey though, and I would love to see the concept executed in a future iteration on a grand scale – it could run for a very long time.

I applaud The Very Good Looking Initiative for launching such a high-concept, out-of-the-box, very special production. Batmania embraces the awkward and rejects expectation, poking fun at Australiana and our culture with a very large stick, and dashes of parodic political humour. If a return season is mounted, grab your ticket fast.

Tickets (there are none): https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/batmania-the-bus-tour/

 

Review: Share House

A den of secrecy and compromised blame

By Owen James

Emerging company ‘Here and Now Collective’ have staged original drama Share House as part of the Howard Fine Studio’s current ‘Fine At Fringe’ season. This stimulating piece dissects the “intertwining of loyalty and manipulation” through slowly unfolding the tenuous, damaged relationships between four housemates following a grave incident one drunken night.

Writer/director Adeodatus McCormack has placed his four characters in a pressure-cooker setting (the share house), ensuring constant fissure which escalates in every scene. He has also very effectively staged the story in a nonlinear progression, which allows the audience to slowly piece together every separate piece of the puzzle, clue by clue. While there are moments of stilted and simplistic dialogue, the pace and tone are highly naturalistic for the most part, giving the cast ample opportunity for excavating varying levels of deep emotional engagement with their characters.

This well-matched cast of four explore the progression and consequences of grief, ambition and jealousy, with each individual encountering debilitating emotional stability throughout the course of the story. There are undoubtedly deeper and perhaps more realistic emotive heights and depths to be mined, but we are presented with four clearly developed and distinct characters who engage with this rollercoaster admirably and sensitively. As tensions rise and friendships teeter on the brink of collapse, mundane everyday routine gradually degrades into hollow repetition – and the true motivation of sinister characters comes to light.

Jorja Bentley and Maya Cohen both give compelling performances as eventually rivalrous housemates Sam and Shannon, respectively. They successfully highlight the bitter acrimony swelling between them, and demonstrate the growing pertinence of hobbies (photography) and reliance on vices (alcohol) introduced from the top of the show, which we come to learn play a larger part in unravelling the mystery at the story’s core. Cohen reliably establishes Shannon’s traumatic journey and coerced suspicion.

Amalia Krueger plays anarchistic housemate Taylor, who is coldly calculating but also fraught with fragility. She is at her best when tempers finally explode and can expound on Taylor’s venomous intentions. Claudia Piggott as the narrative springboard Jaime makes the most of her minimal stage time with a considered, naïve character.

Delve into a den of secrecy and compromised blame in Share House, playing until September 21st at The MC Showroom, Prahran.

Tickets: https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/share-house/