Tag: Theatre Works

Melbourne Festival 2017: ALL MY FRIENDS WERE THERE

Fun, whimsical, evocative, and full of birthday surprises

By Myron My

Many of us would agree that spending your birthday with a room full of strangers would generally not be the most ideal way to celebrate the occasion – however, with The Guerrilla Museum‘s new interactive and immersive live artwork All Of My Friends Were There, that’s exactly what we get to do. The show is a lucky-dip of adventure, where you are allocated to a group and led through a number of rooms with performances and experiences revolving around birthdays.

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We are split into our groups before we even enter the venue and my plus-one is not to be seen again until the end, so it’s time to make new friends and party like it’s all our birthdays. It’s difficult to review this type of show when you only get to participate in about one quarter of it, but the conversations post-show made it clear that there was a lot more happening than that which a single person is able to experience.

One of the first rooms my group is taken into, for example, involves a pair of highly entertaining hosts supervising us through some traditional childhood games such as musical chairs and pass the parcel, allowing a fun, free-spirited atmosphere to take over the room. While each room visited had amusing and cheery performances, there were some where I was left wondering how the birthday theme linked in. At one point, we are left in an authentically decorated 90s-style bedroom – which could easily have been mine back in my teen years – but with no context about this room, we spent our time looking at the posters on the walls and the video works playing on the television. However, as each evening has an entirely new story based on the questionnaire completed by an attendee prior to the show, each performance is tailored to reflect that person’s real-life birthday experiences.

The entire design of All Of My Friends Were There is exceptional and what the team at The Guerrilla Museum have been able to set up inside Theatre Works is highly impressive and transforms the venue into a labyrinth of surprise and fun. While acknowledging that this was a preview performance, there were times of substantial waiting between rooms, which began to draw me out of the experience, but hopefully as the season develops these timing kinks will be ironed out. The show culminates with everyone coming together to celebrate the surprise ‘birthday’ of one of our own with champagne, fairy bread and dancing.

My plus-one’s experience was vastly different to mine in terms of what they participated in and how it made them feel, and perhaps this is the point of All Of My Friends Were There. Taking something as personal as a birthday is always going to mean different things to different people – some people love them and some people don’t – but where this show succeeds is in highlighting the importance of surrounding ourselves with people who care for us and love us, and in never underestimating the role that we play in each other’s lives. Knowing that is worth more than all the lolly bags in the world.

Venue: Theatre Works, 14 Acland St, St Kilda

Season: Until 11 October | Mon – Sat 7:30pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 5pm

Tickets: $49 

Bookings: Melbourne Festival

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Theatre Works Presents LIFETIME GUARANTEE

Talented hard-working cast enliven new Australian play

By Myron My

Written by Ross Mueller, Lifetime Guarantee is a story shared by five characters whose lives intertwine as they seek love and connection in the modern world. Julian Dibley-Hall and Charles Purcell play Charles and Daniel, a couple living together who don’t seem to actually want to be with each other despite their protestations. Charlie’s new assistant Jodie has some interesting sexual predilections and Daniel’s ex-wife Chloe is trying to move on with her life. And then there’s Francis, whose interactions with each character seems to lead to situations in which they’d rather not be.

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Unfortunately Mueller’s script feels under-developed, with some questionable character motivations throughout. The cast themselves do well with their characters’ limited development, and with direction that seems surprisingly over-the-top, awkward and unnatural. Candace Miles manages to breathe some life into the aggrieved Chloe, bringing pleasing nuance to her portrayal. Izabella Yena as Jodie is initially full of spark and creates interest in her character, but once the assistant’s “secret” is revealed, Jodie immediately becomes one-note and repetitive where even Yena’s energy and effort is unable to make her relevant again.

Jodie’s revelation, while intended to create shock and intrigue, is just ridiculous, and there seems to be no purpose in having this transpire except to make some sex-related puns. Similarly, the scene involving Francis visiting Daniel to fix his broken washing machine is preposterous, and becomes merely a plot function to drive the story go down the path Mueller wants.

For me, John Sheedy‘s direction is often jarring and prevents any emotional connection being established, with even intimate moments feeling cold and artificial. Simple actions like entering and exiting from the same side of the stage break the realism and if the production goes to all the trouble of having a working shower on stage, why did they decide to have an actor pretend to spit out coffee from an empty cup?

What is interesting about Lifetime Guarantee is the level of importance that ‘models’ of things have:  Charlie and his model house signify the life he idealises, Jodie and her model cars are symbolic of the kind of love she desires, and there’s Jodie’s friend who has been offered a job to create a model of the Great Wall of China. The idea that everyone is trying to build these perfect lives for themselves with intricate and minute care, but end up ignoring the significance of the things happening around them is fascinating, but sadly never fleshed out.

Lifetime Guarantee attempts to examine modern life and the ways people experience loneliness and struggle to connect with others. Unfortunately the writing and direction here cannot inspire any deeper thought beyond the surface of themes that have been staged many times before.

Venue: Theatreworks, 14 Acland St, St Kilda

Season: Until 26 February | Tues – Sat 7:30pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 5pm 

Tickets: $38 Full | $30 Conc 

Bookings: Theatreworks

Photo by Pier Carthew

Theatre Works Presents ANIMAL

Core-shaking theatre

By Myron My

Watching Animal is a rare theatrical experience. It has such a visceral effect on you that you are left shaken and feeling extremely vulnerable and angry as you walk out. Created by Susie Dee, Kate Sherman and Nicci Wilks, it is an exploration of domestic violence and how women are meant to react in a world where violence against women and male brutishness are celebrated – and it is as gritty as physical theatre can be.

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The stage design by Marg Horwell feels like a large shipping container; dark, cold and empty except for a number of small square cages. The two sisters climb and crawl over them, the whole time emoting that they are also caged, desperately looking for a way out. The tattered netting that covers the roof can be seen as protection from the outside, but with the many holes in it, it is only a matter of time before it is destroyed. 

Composer Kelly Ryall builds a suffocating and unsympathetic environment from the opening moments of the show, and is relentless in drawing you into the sisters’ world. There are moments in Animal where you feel like you need to look away as the horror unfolds, but even if you do (which you shouldn’t), the sounds are so vivid that they create the visuals for you regardless. There is one moment particular, where along with Andy Turner‘s lighting design, the shadows that form along the walls and menacingly envelops the two sisters involves some nail-biting tension and panic.

All these elements work meticulously together to support the two performers on stage. Sherman and Wilks show strong commitment, strength and stamina in their challenging roles. The duality (and also the blending) of playful sisters who depend on and support each other to hyper-aggressive fighters has a complexity that the two are able to authentically create on stage. The need to swap between these “characters” in seconds is not only a physical demand on their bodies but also an emotional and psychological one.

As with SHIT and The Long Pigs, Dee’s direction allows for moments that make us laugh, surprise us, and haunt us. With a show like Animal, pacing is extremely important and Dee ensures that there are adequate breaks between the truly dark moments of the show, so that by the time we reach the powerful conclusion we are completely engaged with the piece.
While there is no dialogue in Animal, it speaks volumes regarding the immense impact domestic violence and violence against women has on women: the violence that they experience and also the violence that it breeds. Compelling, gruelling and masterful work by Influx Theatre, Animal is raw theatre at its finest.

Venue: Theatre Works, 14 Acland St, St Kilda

Season: Until 27 November | Wed – Sat 8pm, Sun 5pm

Tickets: $35 Full | $26 Conc, Under 30, Groups 8+

Bookings: Theatre Works

Image by Pier Carthew

Theatre Works Presents ANTI-HAMLET

Fierce, funny and fraught

By Leeor Adar

Satirising the current state of Australian politics with the heady and destructive tendencies of the Prince of Denmark lends for a wild, funny, and at times utterly confusing production. Just as I’ve grasped one metaphor and issue, Mark Wilson’s Anti-Hamlet shifts us onto the next, expecting its audience to intelligently manoeuvre themselves through the multi-layered political arc Wilson has created.

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This is the third of Wilson’s Shakespearean adaptations after Unsex Me and Richard II. Wilson comments that these productions “inherit from Shakespeare”, and fill the gaps. On this occasion, Wilson engages with the Australian inability to confront its history. History is the underlying theme of Anti-Hamlet, but I am deeply sceptical as to how tenuously Hamlet itself connects to a country’s collective blindness.  I will say in Wilson’s defence, his ability to bring Shakespeare’s Hamlet into contemporary ‘realness’ and embellish its themes with references to the Australian political climate is impressive. That is no easy feat. Despite this tenuous connection, the key issues rage on. A young man, both sexually and politically impotent – afraid and trying to find meaning at a time when ‘democracy’ feels more like forcing kool-aid down your throat.

Wilson is wildly funny and painfully irritating as Hamlet. Wilson is accompanied by some theatre-heavyweights in Marco Chiappi’s Claudius, Natasha Herbert’s Gertrude, and Brian Lipson’s marvellous contribution as Sigmund Freud. These actors brilliantly dive into Wilson’s writing and bring to life the characters in an exciting and relevant way. Herbert’s Gertrude is an indulgent, lazy queen whose concern is with turning her gaze towards her possessions rather than noticing that her power is waning. Chiappi’s Claudius is the fabulous politician in the blue tie (a wink to our political leaders), desperate to become President of Australia’s new Republic. A new addition is the role of Freud, and it’s so apt that Freud should show up as the family psychiatrist to stir Hamlet et al. Freud, like Hamlet in this production, is a self-aware character that almost recognises that he is party to a play and merely a plot device. It works very well, and adds yet another intricate layer to this complex work.

Anti-Hamlet unpacks two issues astonishingly well. Firstly, there’s the spin-doctoring behind politics, which takes on a seductive and serpentine fervour in Charles Purcell’s energetic American marketer, Edward Bernays. Secondly, there is the idealism of those politically-minded young Australians who succumb to the political machine in a feeble attempt to create change in the world. Ophelia (Natascha Flowers) is the modern woman; she’s no limp-limbed belle of Shakespeare’s imaginings. A Rhodes Scholar and Oxford graduate, Ophelia comes brimming with ambition for a better nation, but is the futile pawn to a more experienced and cynical power under Claudius and his newly-minted henchman, Bernays. Wilson’s Hamlet serves as the alternative to Ophelia – a politically awakened youth with nothing but privilege and a blossoming conscience who thinks taking back ‘blackface’ to undermine racism is an acceptable and intelligent statement. Hamlet is politically impotent, and this funnels through into his sexuality, which he attempts to mask. This is a striking point of discussion for this production, because it single-handedly takes on issues that are utterly relevant in Australian politics today, but does so in a manner that humours and pinches those politically aware within its audience.

Anti-Hamlet is self-indulgent and utterly self-aware. If you’re a Shakespeare puritan, perhaps step away. However, if you’re interested in a play that engages with the politics of today in an original way, you may be convinced to come down to Theatre Works and indulge yourself… and Wilson.

Anti-Hamlet continues to run Thursday-Saturday 8pm, and Sunday 5pm until November 13 at Theatre Works in St Kilda. Afternoon session at 2pm Saturday. Book your tickets here: http://www.theatreworks.org.au/whatson/buyeventtickets/?id=278

Image by Sarah Walker

2016 Graduating Music Theatre Company of Federation University Australia Presents THE ADDAMS FAMILY

Inventive and energetic production of quirky gothic musical

By Amy Planner

That kooky family that we all know and love has been reborn in musical form in this production of The Addams Family, with book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, and music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa. Presented by this year’s music theatre Arts Academy graduates from Federation University Australia in Ballarat, and based on the original cartoon characters by Charles Addams, this amusingly spooky tale is witty, unique, mysterious, spooky and altogether ooky.

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This gloriously gloomy tale follows the Addams clan as they find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Wednesday decides she wants to marry the very normal, very cheery, yellow wearing boy, Lucas Beineke. When their families meet for the first time, when basic black meets bright and shiny, something is bound to go wrong.

This off-beat musical was decisively dependent on their creative team, whose unique vision of this crazy family and willingness to step outside the box certainly paid off. Director and choreographer David Wynen and musical director Rainer Pollard proved satisfyingly that what you think you know should never be what you expect when it comes to musical theatre.

The cast were diverse, multi-talented and even controversial at times. As is often the case in large-scale productions, some performers were stronger than others and deserve special mention such as Andrew Thomas as the seductively romantic Gomez Addams, Liam Dodds as the hilariously kooky Uncle Fester, Georgia Moore as the solemn but somehow hopelessly in love Wednesday Addams, and of course Paige Easter as the slightly off-centre and forever rhyming Alice Beineke.

The ensemble is also highly engaging: long moments pass where your eyes are glued to the ghostly figures in the background and yet you are still more than thoroughly entertained. These Addams ancestors, decked out in clothing from various eras, dance and sing their way through the entire show, including most notably the Roman Luke Wilson and Equestrian Rider and show dance captain Eliza Grundy.

These sleek era-styled costumes of the ensemble were the work of costume & set designer Adrienne Chisholm, whose work was artistically distinctive in the face of the extremely iconic image that is the Addams Family.

There were a number of technical difficulties throughout the performance I attended, with a few mic fades, some lighting trouble, a couple of projection issues and a 47-minute technical-related intermission. But despite all this, the performers remained calm and in character and should be commended for their professionalism.

If musical theatre and a little nostalgia are what you’re after, this production will delight and stimulate. You really should go and see ‘em, they really are a screa-um – check out The Addams Family. *Click *Click.

SHOW DETAILS

Venue: Theatre Works, 14 Acland Street, St. Kilda

Season: June 18th-25th 2016 – Wed to Sat 7.30pm, Sun 19th 3pm, Sat 25th 1pm.

Tickets: $50 Full, $40 group 10+, $35 Conc, $10 Fed Uni Students (plus $2.50 booking fee)

Bookings: theatreworks.org.au

Image by Jodie Hutchinson

REVIEW: Daniel Schlusser Ensemble in M+M

Daring to unravel a Russian classic

By Christine Moffat

M + M is the theatrical reworking of Bulgakov’s classic Russian novel The Master and Margarita by exploratory masters the Daniel Schlusser Ensemble for this year’s Melbourne Festival.  Approaching such a novel with reverence, and producing a slavish retelling is not in this Ensemble’s vocabulary.  Instead, this innovative group always attempt to crack the code underpinning the work of art, and present its inner workings to the audience.  Unfortunately, in this production they have taken a risk that has not entirely paid off.

M+M

Some elements of this show are truly superb.  The set design by Anna Cordingley and Romaine Harper is outstanding, and used extensively and with great effect by director Daniel Schulusser.  Every performer (Johnny Carr, Josh Price, Nikki Shiels, Karen Sibbing, Emily Tomlins, Mark Winter & Edwina Wren) bravely attacks the show with energy, commitment and obvious talent.

Deconstructing such rich source material is ambitious for when it comes to reconstructing, how do you decide which elements must be reinstated?  The attempt to connect the novel to Pussy Riot and modern Russian social oppression is disjointed.  Instead of combining these themes, the performance gives the sense of empty, barren space between them.  The program invites the audience to view the piece as “…theatrical architecture…”, but the parts are too loosely connected to achieve this.  It could be better compared to blueprints and a collection of building materials.

It is not a narrative that this production lacks, but rather any emotional resonance.  The vignettes performed on stage are diaspora; closer to resembling performance art than theatre, but not managing the shock or provocation common to that art form either.  Whether this production succeeds in affecting others in its audience emotionally, or merely works visually, the Daniel Schlusser Ensemble have achieved an outcome that can inform and feed their future works.

Sometimes parts do not create a cohesive and greater whole.  In approaching a seemingly impossible novel, this Ensemble should impress us in the attempt, and in the many successful moments it produces.  Sadly, this reconstruction still feels as if it has major elements of the original source missing.  It is like a beautiful watch that has been rebuilt without hands – each component is lovingly crafted, but it has no way of performing as intended and so we have no way of receiving its ultimate message.

Oct 12 – 16 (no show Oct 15)

Theatre Works, 14 Acland Street St Kilda

Tickets: $65 / $50 / Under 30s $35, Student $25

Bookings: theatreworks.org.au, 03 9534 3388, or Ticketmaster 136 100

Review: HIMMELWEG – Way to Heaven

A complex and difficult play adroitly staged

By Adam Tonking

We are so far removed from the world of Nazi Germany in World War II that the true stories of the atrocities that took place are often near impossible to believe.

Himmelweg is one of the lesser known and more bizarre of these horror stories, and it is a rich source of material for a play, presenting several tricky moral dilemmas for the characters and the audience to navigate. It is also an important and fascinating exploration of this deeply disturbing period in our history.

Redroom Theatre and director Alister Smith present an excellent production; the lighting and set design, as well as the sound, are spare and elegant and used effectively to evoke the era, and also to separate the play into its abstract first half and more naturalistic second half.

I think the material could have benefited from an older cast, simply because the emotional complexity may have been beyond such a young group of actors. However, they still acquit themselves capably, in particular the actors portraying the Commandant and Gottfried. These characters have to carry the entire second half in what is more or less the Commandant talking at Gottfried, and the actors performed admirably.

At a running time of two hours, there should have been plenty of material to sustain the action, however the second half becomes very repetitive with very little new information introduced.

The cast, under the superb direction of Smith, work valiantly to keep the story moving and inject as much interest as possible, but can’t quite keep the material from slowing the pace.

I think the cast and the production team deserve commendation for staging what is a difficult and challenging piece, yet a terribly important story from a time that should not be forgotten, and I encourage everyone to see it.

Himmelweg is on at Theatre Works 14 Acland Street, St Kilda from June 21 to July 1.

Book at www.theatreworks.org.au or by calling 9534 3388.