Tag: Arts Centre Melbourne

Midsumma Festival 2017: PLAYING TO WIN

Witty, winsome – and definitely winning

By Myron My

Ash Flanders is confessedly one confused performer as he struggles to stay optimistic in a society and industry that like to chew people up before spitting them out in an instant. Presented as part of this year’s Midsumma Festival, Playing To Win has Flanders – in a wonderful kitten leotard – holding his cabaret audience hostage as he recalls the lowlights and the lower-lights of being in said industry, resulting in an evening of great songs and engaging storytelling.

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For the most part, Flanders draws on his own personal experiences with fame and success – including a tragically hilarious story involving Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy – but he also looks at the idolisation of reality-TV-star celebrities, particularly those who are famous for no discernible reasons. His send-up of Gina Liano’s “Gina” perfume ad is a great touch in emphasising his frustrations at slipping down the black hole of failure.

Admirably supported by musical director Dave Barclay and band Artistic Difference, Flanders has a select choice of songs that are used cleverly to colour and characterise his stories, including memorable performances of “Ride Like The Wind” by Christopher Cross and “Where Does My Heart Beat Now” by Celine Dion. The final song of the night (which is better as a surprise) succeeds in bringing his story full circle and includes some brilliant audience interactions.

Flanders does give his all in Playing To Win, and while it is full of satisfying sarcasm and cheeky comedy, there is an emotional aspect to his storytelling and a genuine openness in what he shares with us. In one way, his humour can be see as a defence mechanism on display, further highlighting his vulnerability. While Flanders might “only” be performing in the smallest venue at the Arts Centre, he is definitely destined for bigger things and bigger rooms, and Playing To Win is profound evidence of that.

Playing To Win was performed at Arts Centre Melbourne between 27 – 29 January 2017.

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Company 13 Presents MACDETH

Clever Shakespeare for cunning kids

By Rebecca Waese

Company 13’s Macdeth at the Arts Centre Melbourne is a cracking updated kid-friendly classic with a keen awareness of physical comedy and a respect for the tastiest morsels of Shakespeare’s prose that fire up the formative neurons of young brains. Director James Pratt and a strong core company of four accomplished actors have devised a high-intensity, playful and powerful tale of how Macbeth and Lady Macbeth grow greedy enough to kill King Duncan and a few other innocent characters who get in the way of Macbeth and his throne.

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King Duncan (John Forman) is a lovable buffoon and makes deliciously embarrassing errors such as reading his doctor’s note about his bottom cream instead of his royal proclamation. Aurora Kurth is excellent as Banquo, Macbeth’s fit and hearty best friend, and in her role as a servant who constantly interrupts key soliloquies and leaves the audience quite desperate to hear the words Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are trying so hard to say. What a terrific device this turns out to be to encourage the audience to tune in to the most memorable speeches.

Just gross enough to make the kids squeal, the play brings the violent tale to life with clowning prowess, false teeth falling in the cauldron and fake blood explosions of silly string spewing all over the stage. There are many levels, however, to the production. It isn’t all fart jokes and echo gags although these are done exceptionally well. Music underscores the action from bass-playing assassins to the eerie sound of a whirly tube as the witches predict the future. The sparse set is innovative and versatile with a vertical bed for the Macbeths and a backdrop of illuminated stars. Duncan’s murder is executed with cold-blooded deliberation after the four actors march, trance-like, with disharmonic vocals under red lights toward the scene of the crime. Macbeth, brilliantly played by Christian Bagin, with a goofy German accent and the simple desire to please his wife and be adored by all, asks, “What have we done?” and brings a startling moment of recognition to his murderous actions. Lady Macbeth, played convincingly by Fiona Roake, descends from clarity and purpose into madness. Comedy is left behind, briefly, as the young audience contemplates the consequences of ambition and greed.

Not dumbed down by any means but full of gags and self-reflective mayhem, Macdeth bridges a gap for kids who might glaze over under reams of iambic pentameter but respond to the passion, humour and intelligent complexities Shakespeare uncovers in human nature. This is a great first taste of Shakespeare and an enjoyable version for the initiated. Macdeth is ‘full of sound and fury’ but it signifies far more than nothing; it is a fine feat and well worth seeing.

Recommended for ages 8+.

Macdeth 
Fairfax Studio – Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St. Kilda Road, Melbourne
Season: 19 – 21 January 2017 (11.00am & 2.00pm)
Information and Bookings: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au

Rebecca Waese is a Lecturer in Creative Arts and English at La Trobe University.

Midsumma 2017: A NIGHT AT THE MUSICALS

Merrily murdering music theatre for Midsumma

By Myron My

Who doesn’t love the glitz, glamour and grandness of a musical showtune? Presented as part of this year’s Midsumma Festival, A Night at the Musicals starring Le Gateau Chocolat and Jonny Woo showcases the vocal talents of these two world-famous artists, as they take us through a select number of songs from some of the finest musicals that have existed – but with an added shake of camp and a shimmy of cheek.

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We are advised at the very beginning that this is a performance where musical theatre goes to die. The two have a highly energised presence and through rather tenuous links of somewhat aimless banter, introduce us to each song. Dressed in some shiny and often dazzling outfits, they take clever advantage of their differences in physical appearance and singing style, as each is given the opportunity to shine (and outshine the other) through their chosen repertoire.

As per the show’s cheeky premise, there are times where Gateau and Jonny hum or mumble their way through the “powerful” parts of the song, or will interject a quick comment while the other is singing, thus attempting to “murder” the song. In context these devices worked well, but within the actual performance it sometimes pulled me out of the moment and I confess I would almost have preferred to just have them sing the songs for me to enjoy, and leave those comic opportunities for between numbers.

However there are still a number of real vocal highlights from the evening, including their captivating duet “I Know Him So Well” from Chess; and while I am not a Disney fan, the performance of my favourite-ever Disney song, the titular title from Beauty and the Beast was orchestrated brilliantly with the right level of cheekiness and arrogance.

I admit A Night at the Musicals might not have got me jumping off my seat ready to belt out some show-tunes but it was certainly a fun and entertaining show from Le Gateau Chocolat and Jonny Woo who will perform a variety of musical show-stoppers for you with great panache and plenty of charm.

Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Rd, Southbank
Season: Until 22 January | Thurs – Sat 8pm, Sun 5pm
Tickets: $44.90 A-Reserve |Premium $49

Bookings: Midsumma Festival

Arts Centre Melbourne Presents BRIEFS

In short? – revealing in all the right ways…

By Myron My

Having seen Briefs last year in an upstairs room of the Athenaeum, I was more than eager to see them again for their short return Melbourne season. The six talented performers covering (or uncovering) burlesque, circus, drag and everything else in between, were a highlight of my theatre experiences last year and after seeing their show on Tuesday night, remains a highlight for this year as well.

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Led by the charismatic and engaging bearded lady Shivannah (alter ego of ringmaster Fez Fa’anana), the performances are nothing short of mesmerizing, but also laugh-out-loud hilarious and with plenty of skin on display – it is called Briefs for a reason, after all.

While some acts are the same as last year (which is to be expected for a return season), they are still incredibly entertaining to watch. With no lulls throughout, it is extremely difficult to choose a favourite performance , however Thomas Worrell‘s erotically-charged silks routine to Jarryd James’ “Do You Remember”, Evil Hate Monkey‘s uproarious banana skits, and the breathtaking finale by Captain Kidd (Mark Winmill) that just needs to be seen again and again, stick firmly in mind. The group acts also bring huge energy into the room, including a well-choreographed performance to Crooker’s “Royal T” showcasing the talents of drag queen (and brilliant costume designer for Briefs) Dallas Dellaforce, along with Shivannah, Worrell and Captain Kidd.

As Shivannah explains at one point, Briefs is a little bit political, a little bit idiotic and a little bit disco but it is also a celebration of being different and embracing that diversity. The entire show raises questions as to what masculinity and femininity mean and can mean, and creates an environment that is very much a joyous blurring of gender and sex.

It’s been nine years since Briefs came together and if this return season is anything to go by, this artist-driven collective is going from strength to strength. With a thumping soundtrack, slick production values and inventive acts, you had better book your tickets sooner rather than later because Briefs is only on for a brief time.

Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne
Season: until 18 December | 7:30pm, Fri – Sat additional show at 10.30pm
Tickets: $65 Premium | $60 A Reserve
Bookings: Arts Centre Melbourne

HOT BROWN HONEY: Return Melbourne Season

Superbly sassy, socially significant, and simply spectacular

By Jessica Cornish

Hot Brown Honey is vivacious, provocative and highly entertaining. The all-female powerhouse cast has created an engaging and daring 75-minute package that  encourages the members of its audience to reflect on their social roles in challenging gender and race stereotypes. The production successfully managed to strike a perfect balance of playfulness and fun whilst addressing serious and troubling aspects of our society.

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This raw production directed by Lisa Fa’alafi has immense potential to be an incredible piece of art, with only some further refinement needed to add complexity and sophistication to already good circus items, such as hoola hoop routines and an emotive aerial cloth number. The women cleverly weaved important quotes and messages about colonization, cultural appropriation, domestic violence and liberation throughout the performances enveloped by hilarious skits highlighting the all-too-familiar bogan-like behaviour often witnessed overseas in our neighboring city, Bali.

The music was well-chosen and arranged under the direction of the enigmatic Kim ‘Busty Beatz’ Bowers, although I sometimes felt the MC was a little out of breath. Overall the music was upbeat, bottom-heavy and just playful. I loved it all – plus the evening featured some impressive female beat-boxing.

The set was a dynamic beehive that was well-utilized with back light and a platform for the MC and others. Unfortunately, the lighting design seemed a bit under-developed and needs to be reviewed. There were often unused spotlights, performers were left dancing in the dark at times and weird beams of light fell across artists’ faces because of the follow-spot poorly blending with the stage lighting.

Overall, this show was completely fascinating, empowering and voiced an important message for each Australian to consider. The performance forces you to reflect on the role you play within broader society, our positions of vulnerability or privilege, and how we are perpetuating or fighting everyday stereotypes.

Hats off to the wonderful and talented women of Hot Brown Honey: Kim ‘Busty Beatz’ Bowers, Lisa Fa’alafi, Materharere Hope ‘Hope One’ Haami, Alexis West, Ofa Fotu and Crystal Stacey. Their voices deserve to be – and should be – heard.

6 – 11 December, 2016
Thursday 8 December, 7.30pm
Friday 9 December, 7.30pm
Saturday 10 December, 7.30pm
Saturday 10 December, 10.30pm
Sunday 11 December, 7.30pm

VENUE

Melbourne Arts Centre

BOOKING

https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2016/comedy-cabaret/hot-brown-honey

Arts Centre Melbourne Presents JACK CHARLES V THE CROWN

Unmissable

By Caitlin McGrane

Uncle Jack Charles has a long and illustrious artistic career behind him; from co-founding the first Indigenous theatre company Nindethana to Hollywood’s hallowed halls, Uncle Jack Charles has carefully crafted his presence in both the international and Australian arts scenes. Jack Charles has also faced a long history of abuse, frustration and rejection through the Australian judicial system. A member of the Stolen Generation, Charles’ story of addiction, arrest and prosecution was documented beautifully and poignantly in the documentary Bastardy.

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Jack Charles v The Crown seems to me an attempt to address some of the issues in the 2008 doco by retracing Charles’ life from his beginnings at the Royal Women’s Hospital to 2016 in the Arts Centre’s Fairfax Studio. Charles is alone throughout the performance, joined by only the band to provide beautiful musical accompaniment along the way. Co-written by Jack Charles and John Romeril (who also served as Dramaturg), Jack Charles v The Crown is a poignant reminder of how far Australia still has to go in addressing its appalling treatment of Indigenous peoples.

The play opens with scenes from Bastardy of Charles injecting himself with heroin, current Charles meanwhile works blissfully away on a pottery wheel on stage, delicately moulding the clay. The audience is simultaneously introduced to Charles’ charge sheets from 2004 when he was arrested on several counts of burglary. It sounds rough but the production is created carefully and unflinchingly, so what could be interpreted as painful is actually full of pathos and humour.

Director Rachael Maza has masterfully constructed this production, weaving together documentary footage, photographs and charge sheets together with Uncle Jack Charles’ unmistakeable gleeful cheek to create something much greater than the sum of its parts. This production is a story of redemption and coming to terms with the past: the way Charles tells his story means one moment you feel utterly heartbroken, yet a few moments later he has you giggling and guffawing at some innuendo.

The musical score composed by Nigel MacLean kept the pace of the production and added depth to Charles’ monologues. These musical interludes and accompaniments were performed by Gary Dryza, Mal Beveridge and Phil Collings, and occasionally Uncle Jack Charles; who knew he had such a set of lungs on him? The set and costumes (Emily Barrie) were carefully designed to keep the sense of intimacy as Charles moved around the stage making pottery and a cuppa. Lighting (Danny Pettingill) and audio visual design (Peter Worland) supported the performance, and gently overlaid the mood on stage.

I loved everything about this performance, and I honestly can’t recommend it highly enough. I feel very privileged to see a part of Uncle Jack Charles’s story, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Jack Charles v The Crown is now showing at The Arts Centre’s Fairfax Studio until 20 November – make sure you get in quick. Tickets and more info: Arts Centre Melbourne

Image by Bindi Cole

Life Like Company Presents THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA

Beautiful and beguiling musical of love

By Bradley Storer

A twinkling of strings on the harp, cascading into a glorious swirl of orchestral sound under the swell of a soaring and mellifluous soprano voice – from the very first moments of the opening night of The Light in the Piazza, Adam Guettel’s sumptuous score (gorgeously conducted by Vanessa Scammell) instantly swept us into the magically romantic landscape of Florence, Italy.

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The entire cast, under the capable direction of Theresa Borg and in Kim Bishop’s stunning costumes, are close to flawless. Genevieve Kingsford as the childlike Clara Johnson has the unenviable task of depicting a character with a mental disability that is never fully explained, but Kingsford is a marvel in the part, sensitively balancing Clara’s innocence and openness with a fog of anxiety and confusion but never tips over into caricature. Her rich youthful soprano manages the difficult score with ease and her beautiful rendition of the eponymous song whipped the crowd into a roaring applause on opening night.

As Clara’s ardent suitor Fabrizio Naccarelli, Jonathon Hickey brought a bright and piercing tenor and a refreshing adolescent sincerity to the part – while his ‘Il Mondo Era Vuoto’ came off a touch too anguished, he harnessed a touching sensitivity in ‘Love to Me’. Anton Berezin was commanding and charming as Fabrizio’s father, while Josh Piterman as the older brother Giuseppe exuded charisma and flashy charm. Madison Green as Giuseppe’s long-suffering wife Franca managed to find the heart and kindness in a deeply wounded and embittered woman, as well as ably handling the trickiest moments of Guettel’s music.

The heart of this musical, however, is the central role of Margaret Johnson, the mother of Clara whose journey through the show embodies the conflict between the human search for love and the fear that true lasting love is nothing but an illusion. Chelsea Plumley sometimes pushes into moments of slight performativity as Margaret, but overall she nails the character’s charm, intelligence and courage, giving glorious voice to Margaret’s inner conflict as she addresses the audience in both direct dialogue and dramatically compelling song.

The backdrop of paintings and sculpture that fly in and out seamlessly, designed by Tom Willis, make a wonderful set and illustrate the libretto’s constant correlation of the characters’ plights with the figures of renaissance art, but at certain points they blocked the view of the action – physical transitions between scenes were sometimes made awkward by lighting that highlighted instead of concealing the cast and crew moving the scenery.

These small concerns aside, Life Like Company has produced an outstanding production that wonderfully captures the magic of this modern musical, captivating the audience from start to finish with its magnificent score and achingly-rendered story – heart-meltingly lovely and heart-breaking all at the same time. 

Venue: The Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne.

Times: 8pm Friday and Saturday, 6pm Sunday

Dates: October 28 – November 6

Tickets: $65 – $135

Bookings: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au , 1300 182 183, at the box office.

Image by Ben Fon