Tag: La Mama

REVIEW: Daniel Nellor’s DISTANCE

Torn apart and drawn together by an act of violence

By Myron My

Directed by Chris Thompson, Distance comes into focus over two parents who are dealing with their son having been arrested after an incident in which another child has ended up in a coma. They grapple with the repercussions of what their son has done, and attempt to deal with their own guilt and grief as parents who have ‘failed’.


The range of emotions that this estranged couple go through are brilliantly played by Margot Fenley and Kevin Hopkins. Fenley’s portrayal of Ellen, who attempts to keep herself together as she tries to fully understand what has happened, is raw and authentic. Her character is in direct contrast to Hopkins’ Andrew, who initially is more concerned about having his boy home with him and trying to justify what has happened because his son is “just a child”, rather than accepting and dealing the situation. Hopkins shows this man (who in his own way is also struggling with the events that have transpired) with great believability.

Daniel Nellor’s script, whilst predominantly a character piece, still has a strong narrative presence. Nellor doesn’t describe everything that has happened and opens the way for speculation by his audience, which allows us to be strongly included in the creative process. His writing is honest and real and doesn’t delve into melodrama. However I must confess the final scene of Distance did confuse me as to how much time had elapsed, and having been through such an emotional experience with the two characters, I felt a bit deflated by this finale.

It is worth commenting on the number of students and recent graduates who worked on this production including lighting designer, Yossi Torbiner, whose work helped create a claustrophobic and engulfing environment and delicately reflect the moods and emotions of the two leads. The musical interludes used throughout also added to the confusion and conflict felt by not only the parents but also (we are invited to imagine) their son.

Distance offers a rare look into the lives of a perpetrator’s family and how this act of violence affects them. It is a strong collaborative production that is well worth seeing.

Venue: La Mama Theatre, 205 Faraday Street Carlton

Season: Until 16 June | Wed, Fri 6:30pm, Thurs, Sat 8:30pm Sun 4:30pm

Tickets: $25 Full | $15 Conc

Bookings: http://lamama.com.au or 9347 6142



Jack and Jill reunited

By Darcy Whitsed

As most theatre-goers in Melbourne know, or should know, the La Mama Theatre is both a hub for creative independent works as well as an extremely intimate space. This was the setting for Backyard Theatre’s new show Unconditioned Heart that opened this week.

The show starred four actors: Vanessa Chapple (Woman), Lily Fish (Jill), Rob Gaetano (Jack), Paul Roberts (Man) and a puppeteer Dan Goronszy, and was focused around the return of Jack to his sister Jill after being overseas for several years.

Unconditioned Heart

Unconditioned Heart utilized a lot of different theatrical elements to tell its story, combining movement, shadow puppetry, scenes of dialogue between Jack and Jill ranging from realistic to non-naturalistic and story-telling monologues from both lead characters. Most of these elements blended very well together, however there were times (such as during the shadow puppet sequence) when there was simply too much happening, especially the abstract movement. On the tiny La Mama stage it became almost distracting, and hard to focus on all of the action. That being said, Lily Fish’s exquisite monologue combined with the exceptional shadow puppetry (the stage was cleverly hidden in the solitary set element of a cupboard) provided the audience with a gorgeous moment that in my opinion stole the show.

Lily Fish was definitely the stand-out performance. Her character Jill had such a sense of sadness, desperation and vulnerability in her interactions with the other characters, none of which was explicitly explored in the story but it was incredible to see the nuances of emotions and thought that had gone into her performance. The other ensemble members were also very strong with a lot being demanded of them in terms of the different performance elements that were used to convey the story, such as movement and non-verbal communication.

The technical elements of Unconditioned Heart were very well considered for the venue and style of the production. La Mama is very small so everything is extremely visible and raw to the audience members and this fact was definitely not ignored in the design of the show. The lighting and sound effects were simple but well-used and the scenes flowed together efficiently and were marked effectively with lighting changes.

The costuming was also simple, representing the different characters’ personalities, but seemed a little too random and it would have been satisfying to see a more unified decision or element within the ensemble.

Overall, Unconditioned Heart is a short, sharp, thought-provoking piece of theatre. It ambitiously combines a wide range of performance elements that for the most part work well, but at times seem to not synchronize perfectly. It is carried by strong actors and gorgeous shadow puppetry.

Where: La Mama Theatre, Carlton

When: May 22nd – June 2nd 2013

Time: Wed – Fri 6.30pm, Sat – Sun 8.30pm

Tickets: Full $25, Conc $15

Bookings: (03) 9347 6142 or online

REVIEW: Hope is the Saddest for MICF

Don’t let the title deter you…

By Myron My

Hope Is The Saddest debuts at La Mama as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and revolves around three people, Hope (Michelle Robin Anderson), Theo (Jeffrey Jay Fowler) and Marion (Natalie Holmwood) – who, after a chance encounter, are inexplicably drawn into each other’s lives for better or for worse.

What follows is each individual’s attempt at finding hope in their lives and how they help each other in some way, shape or form to achieve this. Through this hope they experience happiness, joy, regret, sadness, anger and despair.

Hope is the Saddest

Despite not actually appearing in the play (as such), Dolly Parton’s presence and influence on these people is obvious with her songs creating the soundtrack to the show, constant references being made to Parton and the life-size cardboard stand-in of her on stage that assures she will remain omnipresent throughout.

All three actors excel in their depictions of Hope, Theo and Marion and really capture their essence and bring them to life, which is not as difficult a task for an actor when you have a script as strong as this. Fowler’s script does not allow for any words to be wasted. Everything spoken is vital to the progression of the story and he has endowed the three characters with three distinct voices. There is also a perfect blend of humour and sadness in this script, just like life, and includes such cheeky dialogue gems as “just get over being gay and stick your tongue in…”

The La Mama stage is divided up into three locations, and considering how small the space is this would not have been an easy thing to devise. Using a large dollhouse to represent Marion’s home was an ingenious idea.

There are a number of interesting narrative devices used in Hope Is The Saddest to further the story that are worth acknowledging. There is the standard dialogue between characters but there are moments where all three actors speak in unison to the audience like a Greek chorus, a split-scene of letter reading and of course, lip-syncing and dancing to some Dolly songs.

Hope Is The Saddest is a beautiful comedic story interspersed with the harsh realities of life. And pancakes. And of course, Dolly Parton.

Venue: La Mama, 205 Faraday St, Carlton

Season: Until 14 April | Wed, Sun 6.30pm | Thu-Sat 7.30pm

Tickets: $25 Full | $15 Concession

Bookings: http://lamama.com.au

REVIEW: Stripped at LA MAMA

Laying a story bare…

By Adam Tonking

Stripped is the story of two sisters, Lillian and Sophie, estranged by the various circumstances of their vastly different lives, and brought back together through tragedy.

Lillian is a lawyer, married to Daniel, good friends with Louise and Jack: she is also dying. Sophie is a stripper, and there are more characters in this story; but what is important is that all of these are played by the one amazing actress.

Caroline Lee, creator of the original text, is the actress at the helm of all these characters in this overwhelming story about the repercussions of death on relationships. While the different characterisations took a while to sink in for the audience, Lee was in complete control the entire time.

She obviously understood each character down to the bone, and presented their individual identities clearly for the audience, managing the different ages, genders, and motivations with grace and apparent ease; in fact, one of the most provocative moments was told from the perspective of Lillian’s husband, Daniel. All this, while allowing the compelling story to unfold before us.

In spite of the subject matter, the script never became manipulative, melodramatic, or clichéd. Rather, it remained conversational and deeply personal throughout. I did feel at times that this conversational tone clashed with Lee’s often declamatory style of speech, and with Laurence Strangio’s restrained direction which occasionally seemed too stylised.

I suspect that these choices were made to clear any extraneous clutter for an audience required to keep up with the complexity of shifting narrative perspectives, however I felt that it created a barrier between the audience and the characters, forcing the audience to sympathise rather than empathise.

But that is ultimately a small detraction, in what is otherwise a masterful performance of a challenging and powerful piece.

Stripped is on at La Mama Theatre, 205 Faraday Street, Carlton, from Wednesday 7th March till Sunday 18th March. Bookings at www.lamama.com.au or by calling 03 9347 6142.

REVIEW: Sophie Walsh-Harrington is HOT

In search of the sequel to success

By Bradley Storer

After her incredibly successful debut cabaret, The Damsel in Shining Armour (winner of Best Cabaret Adelaide Fringe 2011), Sophie Walsh-Harrington returns to Melbourne with her new show HOT. Crafting a follow-up is a massive task as Sophie herself is obviously aware – the first segment of HOT acts as both a funeral and exorcism of the success of Damsel, Sophie entering in mourning black, greeting individual audience members like attendees at a wake, brandishing her Fringe award in their faces.

Those coming expecting similar fare to Damsel should be forewarned: Sophie continuously informs the audience, via bullhorn, that ‘this is not a cabaret’. Instead we are taken through Sophie’s travails to leave behind her cabaret past and become a ‘serious’ artist, ranging from attempts at monologue, mime and in one particularly hilarious segment, political donkey-themed agitprop anthems. Songs fromartists such as Paloma Faith, Muse and Sia are scattered throughout the show with fragments popping up like bad habits.

Sophie nevertheless retains the goof-ballish but headstrong innocence that made Damsel such a joy, which here keeps the audience on side even as the show takes a more confusing turn. Her vocals have only increased in power, which makes one sad about the relative lack of songs in comparison to her previous work – but in a show which she repeatedly proclaims is not a cabaret, this makes sense.

The show’s major theme is a continuation from Damsel: the attempt to live an authentic life – in this case the struggle of artists to maintain artistic originality and legitimacy in the wake of enormous success. Sophie shamelessly parodies artistic self-indulgence as the show moves into the realm of ‘serious’ theatre. 

The culmination of this endeavour is a lengthy, ‘Animal Farm’-style play. Despite Sophie’s uproarious characterizations and comically expressive physicality, this section began to drag the further it went along – even though this links in with the overall thematic structure of the show, self-indulgence (whether real or simulated) is only funny for so long.

However at the climax of the show, the accumulated superficiality collapses in on itself as if by magic. Sophie seems to rise from the debris of the dissembled show like a phoenix, with a spontaneous rendition of Des’ree’s ‘Kissing You’ so powerful it held the audience completely spellbound. For this alone HOT is worth seeing, reiterating not only Sophie’s incredible skill as a cabaret artist but reassembling what has come before in the show into a true, electrifying moment of artistic rebirth.

HOT stands as a riotous examination of the downsides of creative success, in its own way as cunningly and cleverly structured (if not more so) as its predecessor, and, if the finale is anything to go by, promises even greater achievement and success for Sophie’s future. What is perhaps required is a bigger audience for this show to burn at its brightest.  

HOT plays at La Mama Theatre until March 4, 8:30pm Wed/Sun, 9:30pm Thur-Sat

Directed by Alex Wright, backing tracks performed and engineered by Jason Odle

Tickets: (03) 9347 6142 or www.lamama.com.au

REVIEW: A New Australian Play – CROSSED

A moving and immersive theatre experience

By Kate Boston-Smith

I did not know what to expect as I picked up my ticket from the always-fabulous door staff at La Mama’s Courthouse on Thursday for the opening night of Crossed, a new work by young playwright Chris Summers and directed by Matt Scholten

The story is based around the tragic true event from 2010 when a teenage boy from Melbourne’s northern suburbs was shot and killed at a skate-park by police. 

The stage was set down the middle of the theatre with the audience on either side.  Over Kat Chan’s sparse set was hung a long sheet of clear- corrugated plastic that literally encased the cast in the suburbia they were going to set up for us, and that they did with desolate precession.

Summer’s character choices were spot on, and Platform Youth performed them brilliantly.  Each narrated the event from their perspective.  From the moment the cast entered the stage, the story was flying.

The characters fired their lines with an explosive desperation, expressing their need to share their version of the event and to wonder how they could have changed the outcome had they made different choices in the lead-up to the shooting. 

The retelling of their stories revealed the disconnection they felt from their family, school or community around them.  The heat of the text reflected the intensity of their individual heartache, and as this intensity grew so too did the heat of the atmosphere in the theatre. 

The lighting by Lisa Mibus and sound design by Pete Goodwin were industrial and fitting for this harsh stories.  The exemplary cast comprised of Prag Bhatia, Matthew Candeland, Nick Linehan, Jenny Lovell and Ioan Roberts carried off this fast-paced script beautifully.  In the build-up to the climax, I looked at audience members sitting across from me and saw them literally leaning forward, such was the anticipation of the moment. 

I particularly enjoyed the roles of the mother and Dino.  The mother’s loss and isolation from the community she has always lived in and Dino’s intense bravado.  That said, each character provided an incredibly interesting look into their private world and their perception of the moment at the skate-park.

All in all I thought this interpretation of that day in late 2010 was an insightful and superbly agonizing re-telling.   

Crossed by Chris Summers

Dates:Thur 9 June–Sun 19 June 2011
Times:8pm Tue-Sat, 2pm Sat/Sun, 5pm Sun
Tickets:$25 Full, $15 Con, $22.50 Group 10+

Venue : La Mama Courthouse
349 Drummond Street, Carlton

Bookings : 03 9347 6142, www.lamama.com.au

Photos by Deryk McAlpin


An act of chivalry, bravery, comedy – and Celine Dion

By Kim Edwards

In all the best off-beat, edgy, witty and unlikely ways, The Damsel in Shining Armour is wonderful award-winning Fringe-esque comedy. Gagged and bound for her opening number, Sophie Walsh-Harrington promptly rescues herself from her bonds and her audience from their prosaic lives and sweeps us all into a modern musical melodrama with just the right amount of self-satire.

The great charm of the show is Walsh-Harrington herself, who enchants us with knightly tales of real-world romance where her laconic and satirical comic delivery is contrasted delightfully with outrageous physical humour, and punctuated with the reworked epic ballads of Celine Dion. Blessed with a rich and effortless voice, particularly in her lush lower register, our damsel fearlessly saves Celine from cabaret contempt with some clever musical arrangements and neat segues from story to lyrics.

The unique performance space of La Mama offered director Tom Dickins wonderful dramatic possibilities for unexpected direction and blocking, and beautiful Jen Kingwell is both an impressive musical ally and a lovely stage presence in the show.

Some of the show’s devices are more successful than others, and the narrative that has been so engaging and funny has a little trouble getting back up on the white steed after a particularly poignant moment, but the arch and over-arching charm of the performance is beguiling.

Ultimately, the show’s heroic skill at predicting and preventing cliches, drawing cleverly unconventional connections between anecdotes and songs, and Walsh-Harrington’s unwavering commitment to her material and character dub this damsel’s quest a triumphant knight’s entertainment.

The Damsel in Shining Armour won Best Cabaret for Adelaide Fringe 2011 and is now in Melbourne for the Comedy Festival.

Written and performed by Sophie Walsh-Harrington
Directed by Tom Dickins
Musical Director: Jennifer Kingwell
Tech and Lighting: Bec Etchell

La Mama Theatre, 205 Faraday St, Carlton
Wed April 6 – Sun April 17
Wed & Fri 6.30pm; Thurs & Sat 8.30pm, Suns 4.30pm
Duration: 60 mins approx.
Tickets: $25 / $15
Bookings: 9347 6142 / comedyfestival.com.au
For more information: www.lamama.com.au or http://sophiewalshharrington.com/