Sunday, 1 October 2017

Melbourne Fringe: Appropriate Kissing for All Occasions


Reaction Theatre have coupled a great pair of short plays by David Finnigan and Isab Martinez about the intimacy of kissing.

The first play, to heat you up and cool you down, is set at rush hour in a cheap cafĂ©. Two waitresses are run off their feet, their minds anywhere but on the routine of their work. One character’s thoughts appear as projected text on the back of the set and sometimes as voiceover; the other character’s thoughts are manifest physically, played by another actor.

It’s a tricky text to perform, intercutting the different kinds of media slows the momentum in moments; we don’t always feel the characters are having these thoughts but merely reacting. Occasionally all the elements fall into place, particularly in the moment where the two waitresses kiss for the first time, complicated by one character’s confusion over how own sexuality.

The second play, which gives us the overall title of the night – Appropriate Kissing for All Occasions – is a monologue, a lecture about kissing by an expert in personal relationships. Actor Christina McLachlan is striking in her red dress and heels, ready to tell us about kissing and to give demonstrations on the different kinds.

There’s tension throughout this piece as McLachlan finds audience targets and her lecturer character begins to unravel, reminded of her own recent relationship and how a kiss isn’t always just a kiss. It’s a fun, accomplished performance.

This is a solid pair of plays but the first one (the order of the plays was switched late in the run) about the waitresses wasn’t nearly as smooth as it could have been. The second one was much more straight forward and the audience interaction made it fascinating and fun.

Melbourne Fringe: The Vagina Monologues


Eve Ensler’s 1996 play, The Vagina Monologues, has been described as one of the most important pieces of political theatre ever devised. It has been produced thousands of times around the world and led to the creation of a non-profit movement that has raised millions to end violence against women.

Two decades later, it continues to be a vital theatrical work, given the stories of body image, self-worth, violence, genital mutilation, sex work and birth resonate in whichever community the show is produced.

Deafferent Theatre create theatre by and for the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities. Their production of Ensler’s play includes sign language, projected text, voice over to bridge the gap between the deaf and hearing audience but plays most directly for the deaf community.

In spite of this play being widely produced, I’ve never seen a full production, though I have seen excerpts and read the published version of the play. (Ensler continues to write monologues; different productions will include different combinations.)

Four women sit around a table and trade stories about sex, sexuality, menstruation, puberty, violence and learning to love their bodies. A monologue that catalogues different slang names for vagina is left for the hearing audience to decipher, as the performers sign and mime. A monologue about the messiness of childbirth which is visceral when read aloud, becomes slightly comical when those anatomical moments are recounted in AUSLAN.

As a hearing person, I didn’t engage with some sections of this production, but I was thrilled to see Deafferent create a work for a community that isn’t well represented on stage or for an audience that isn’t always catered for.


The Vagina Monologues is an important work for any number of communities and exposing it to deaf and hard-of-hearing both on and off-stage reminds us all how relevant these stories remain.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Melbourne Fringe: The Basement Tapes


A young woman is alone, cleaning out her late grandmother’s basement. Immersed in the flotsam and jetsam of furniture, nick nacks and tapes she left behind, the woman hears a recording that exposes a family secret.

The Basement Tapes is the work of New Zealand theatre makers, Chapel Perilous. Together they have developed a piece that swerves between moving and terrifying; this is the sadness and horror of grief.

It’s so rare for theatre to trade in dread or to effectively deploy jump scares. The Basement Tapes has both, trepidation seeping through every moment the main character seems trapped by the past.

There’s some beautiful humour weaved in through the script and in Stella Reid’s full-bodied performance. Reid is physical – we see her dance in defiance several times – and moving – frantic to get her mother on the phone or desperately trying to get the pizza guy to stay.

Director Jane Yonge has found a shape to this personal mystery that is both thrilling and sad. Lighting and sound design is effectively deployed as the show sometimes gives way to the haunting voice of the grandmother; the audience alone in the dark, listening to a tale as evocative as the one the granddaughter inhabits.

The Basement Tapes will leave you with a knot in your stomach, from fear and from loss; two threads in the same cloth.


Melbourne Fringe: Traps – A Romantic Comedy for the Modern Sociopath


Three characters struggle to tell their own stories, while the narrator laments the fact he has no character at all. Stephanie works for and is in love with vet, Joe. Joe still lives with his mother and she’s never happy. Julia has accidentally shot her dog and when she walks into the surgery, the soapy melodrama hits overdrive but remains underwhelming.

Traps is a queer, camp comedy on Valium. For all the outrageous situations involving mother and the forty-foot croc and the narrator desperately trying to insert himself into the narrative, the show isn’t particularly funny and outstays its welcome. Most of the gags are hit several times and the law of diminishing returns kicks in.

The show plays with gender roles and tackles male privilege and there's some satisfaction in the character of Stephanie not letting the narrator dictate her story, but enticing subtext is not enough.

There is a lot of talent on stage and behind-the-scenes in this show. Traps has been nominated as one of the best of the Fringe Festival in the Performance category. The judges must have seen it on a night when the audience was engaged and laughed more; last night’s audience was not on this show’s side. And I don’t blame them.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Melbourne Fringe: The Nose


Kovalev has lost his nose but worse than that, his nose has taken on a life of its own. Based on Nikolai Gogol’s short story, The Bloomshed’s new show is a satire on capitalism, beauty and class.

Here, though, Kovalev is the head of the Disney Corporation, a maker and pursuer of dreams. His work at the head of a giant corporation is remaking the world. But as soon as he loses his nose and his sense of smell, Kovalev begins to lose control and power.

The Nose is a series of vignettes; wild and piercing insights into the modern world. We laugh at a lost nose and its sudden new life, but we’re also challenged by how easily we lose respect for the damaged or the disabled. We laud the successful without always considering how they made it or how they retain that power.

Creators and performers Elizabeth Brennan, James Jackson and Tom Molyneux have reanimated Gogol’s original in a vision of spotlights, glitter cannons and joggers whose only goal is to live up to motivational quotes.

The Nose is energetic, hilarious and uncomfortable. A headbutt to the bridge of the audience’s nose, where the pain is offset by the ridiculous squirting of blood.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Melbourne Fringe: Title and Deed


A man alone on stage; bright lights illuminate him and us. We see the remnants of other lives here, other plays and the man addresses us directly, a clump of people listening to his story. He breaks the fourth wall, he transgresses and tells us in detail about where he is from and his trajectory to get here. To where we are.

Will Eno’s Title and Deed is subtitled “Monologue for a Slightly Foreign Man” and the man taking up that mantle for the KIN Collective at Melbourne Fringe is Keith Brockett. Brockett has been doing memorable work on Melbourne’s independent scene for years and it’s such a pleasure to see him tackle this story of the Other and crossing borders.

I’d say the story of a foreigner moving to a new country and not quite fitting in is apropos for our times, but this feels like a tale that is evergreen. We don’t need the context of Australia leaving asylum seekers locked up on Manus Island or Trump threatening to deport non-white citizens to make this play feel relevant; that context just gives the play an extra frisson.

Director Laura Maitland keeps the show moving with Brockett on his feet and pacing, his character feeling like he wants to keep us entertained. He wants to fit in, even though his life has been quite different to ours.

Brockett is an engaging performer who quickly endears himself to us, the people of his new home. Eno’s script is a subtle beast; digging into what makes us who we are and how breaking down barriers and borders is both life affirming and terrifying.


Monday, 25 September 2017

Melbourne Fringe: Ophelia’s Inner Monologue



Ari is an aspiring actor, looking to audition for a role in Hamlet. She’s not interested in any of the female parts, though. She is going to walk into that audition room and nail the Prince of Denmark. Or Claudius. Or, at least, the ghost of Hamlet’s father.

While she practices for her audition, Ari is interrupted by her domineering husband Ben, barking orders over the phone. He sends around an assistant, Rachel, to fetch some paperwork for an upcoming court appearance and Ari quickly decides to put her dreams on hold. Acting is frivolous, Ben tells her. But Rachel doesn’t agree.

Ophelia’s Inner Monologue is a dense show that deconstructs the character of Ophelia in a clever, insightful and theatrically inventive way. If Ari cannot yet play Hamlet, maybe Rachel can help her find the essence of his mistreated girlfriend.

Ari and Rachel decide to improvise, to let Ari get into Ophelia’s head and understand her better. Rachel chooses to play the ghost of Ophelia’s mother and Ari must deal with the grief in her past to understand her present relationships with father Polonius and her boyfriend, the mad Prince.

This show has contemporary resonances about emotional trauma and gaslighting and being “ghosted” but it’s also a hell of a lot of fun. Writer/director/star Aridhi Anderson plays with theatrical convention, while digging deeply into gender politics and the reverence we pay to dated classics.

The show feels a little long and it could definitely benefit from an outside eye to help refine and tighten it. Anderson is a captivating performer – and singer – who could use some help with the Shakespeare itself, but doesn’t miss a beat in deconstructing the text.

It packs a lot into its running time, maybe too much, but it’s full of the enthusiasm of young performers and theatremakers.