Saturday, 17 March 2018

Festival of Live Art – Rest Area, Kill Climate Deniers

Kill Climate Deniers by David Finnigan
Photo by Sarah Walker

The Festival of Live Art is back for the third year of nurturing and celebrating experimental, interactive and participatory artworks. You can learn to twerk, phone an artist, break things or push a button (True or False) in reaction to the statement “Capitalism Works For Me”.

I went to Arts House last night to experience a couple of the works.

Rest Area by S.J. Norman

A mattress and pillows in the back of a truck. Soft lighting. An intimate setting in an incongruous space. I climbed into the truck like I would approach any theatrical work of art – open to possibilities. But this space, while inviting, asks questions and put me on the back foot. How do I negotiate this moment with a stranger? Can I relax into this or will I be overthinking things?

Rest Area is a short, very intimate work that S.J. has performed on and off since 2007, when it first premiered in a truck outside Carriageworks in Sydney. We all bring our own baggage to any theatrical experience; this piece feels familiar and strange all at once.

I had a lot of thoughts running through my head, as I lay there – but after a while, I relaxed, stopped thinking and just breathed in time with the performer. And then it was all over. Hesitation, connection and release.

Kill Climate Deniers by David Finnigan & Reuben Ingall

How do you tell the story of climate catastrophe on stage without it feeling like a lecture? You run toward the science, challenge the media and make it a lecture. And combine it with a dance party.

David Finnigan’s play is provocatively titled and he’s still not sure if he made the right choice. It got him funding, but it also got him backlash. It got him attention, both good and bad. Finnigan’s work is always provocative and can be counted on to play with the theatrical form. Kill Climate Deniers was supposed to just be a play, but it’s become more than that.

It’s been an album, a film script, a walking tour of Parliament House and – most recently – it finally became a play at Griffin Theatre in Sydney. It’s still playing there. The lecture-cum-dance party version lit up Arts House in North Melbourne last night and plays again next Friday night; a hell of a way to end a week.

The story, such as it is, begins in 1988 – the year climate science and house music began. That’s not true, of course; both had precursors and predecessors that were as significant as the time global warming was first named in the US Congress and Black Box’s Ride On Time was released.

The show shifts and mutates in front of our eyes. It’s autobiographical and scientific; it elicits laughter and boos from the audience. And it tells the story of a fictional politician who must battle eco-terrorists at Parliament House in Canberra while Fleetwood Mac plays in the main hall.

But it’s really just agit prop with a sick beat.

Finnigan, writer and performer, is pitching you the show as he’s giving it to you. He’s prompting you to action while making sure he’s not inciting you to violence. And while Kill Climate Deniers has been script and music and live art, it’s also been hashed out by right-wing columnists and condemned by shock jocks – a strange performance art in itself.

The Festival of Live Art encourages participation, but it’s not just the dance party that brings this work alive: it’s the generosity of Finnigan as a presenter and performer, and it’s the fun of Ride On Time scoring a first-person shooter. And it’s the vital message to be engaged, but don’t literally kill climate deniers. Even though we know you want to.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

HIR by Taylor Mac - Midsumma, Red Stitch

Hir at Red Stitch
Photo: Teresa Noble

“The youth don’t understand you can’t mess with form and content at the same time.”

Isaac has been in the army; the weight of the war is still in his body, causing him to stoop, to not look people in the eye, to vomit. He’s returned home, hoping to be embraced by his parents and his sister. But his family has changed; this comfortable home is now a mess of clothes on the floor and dirty dishes, empty cupboards and piled up furniture.

This is not the reunion Isaac was looking for.

Father Arnold has had a stroke and mother Paige is feeding him a cocktail of pills to keep him docile. He’s on estrogen and made-up like a clown. Max, who was once Maxine, now identifies as transgender and insists on the pronouns of “ze” and “hir”.

The “hir” and “here” homophone is key to Paige’s many rants throughout the play; with all this brand-new information at her fingertips, she’s ready to change the world. And she’s starting with upending the patriarchal structure of the family home.

Taylor Mac is a performance artist whose most recent work in Australia was headlining the Melbourne Festival with his twenty-four-hour show, A 24-Decade History of Popular Music. judy’s queer sensibilities radically reimagined music and musicals from across America’s two centuries.

The play Hir echoes one of Paige’s pronouncements about not messing with form and content at the same time; much of the structure of this family drama is quite traditional. If not for the central LGBT content, the form of the story feels not unlike a kitchen-sink drama that might be staged at the Melbourne Theatre Company.

But the passages that feel like they could be teaching the audience abut a troubling messiness in the characters themselves. Paige and Max are trying to forge a new hir-story without really knowing what they are going to replace the patriarchy with. Paige insists on homeschooling Max, leading to lots of knitted craft on the walls and banjo playing, but leaves hir with no greater ambition than living in a commune.

Director Daniel Clarke has brought together a hell of a creative team to populate the tiny Red Stitch stage with a messy set and complicated characters. For a story that threatens to spiral out of control at any moment, he has a clear vision of what he wants, allowing us insight into the characters amidst the kaleidoscopic chaos.

Adrienne Chisholm’s set and costume design goes full-tilt rainbow realness; it’s a kind of absurd naturalism – you can imagine this was once a functional family abode until the family’s new sensibilities exploded. As Paige explains “We don’t do cupboards anymore. We don’t do order. Places and cupboards are what your father wanted.”

As Paige, Belinda McClory is her usual powerhouse dialled up to eleven, twelve and beyond. What was Paige like before Arnold’s stroke? There are hints, but what’s in that place now is incomprehensible to Isaac and a force of nature to Max, who sometimes feels as much of a victim of Paige’s newfound beliefs as ze was under hir father’s roof.

Harvey Zaska-Zielinski’s Max is a headstrong teenager given the ultimate power by hir mother to be themselves. His performance is remarkably complicated; shifting between excited at previously unknown freedoms and occasionally scared Max won’t live up to Paige’s expectations.

Ben Grant’s Arnold is mostly subdued and monosyllabic but he brings a vulnerability to his character that he shares with his just-returned son Isaac; they feel powerless in this new regime. And Taylor Mac’s play is at pains to be clear that tearing down society’s structures might be problematic if you have no true sense of what to replace that with.

If everyone is everything, what does that mean?

Jordan Fraser-Trumble as Isaac
Photo: Teresa Noble

As the literal and figurative straight man, Jordan Fraser-Trumble’s Isaac is withdrawn and stilted, his PTSD ready to explode out of him at any moment. Early on, Fraser-Trumble’s work seemed hesitant but then it became clear that was key to Isaac, the weight of history is on his shoulders; he is all men. His work here is amazing.

Hir is as thrilling and challenging a work as I have ever seen on stage. Its set up is simple and its premise is clear. But while it moves in ways you might expect in a family drama, the endeavour drives toward questions that are difficult to grapple with and answers to which are almost impossible to form.

Harvey Zielinski & Jordan Fraser-Trumble in Hir
Photo: Teresa Noble

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Falsettos by William Finn & James Lapine - Midsumma

The cast of Falsettos
Photo: Belinda Strodder

It’s 1979 and Marvin has left his wife Trina for a man named Whizzer. Marvin is trying to maintain a tight-knit family, somehow hoping to keep his wife and his son and his lover happy. His psychiatrist, Mendel, seems to be helping, until he falls in love with Trina.

William Finn’s Falsettos is somewhat of a cult musical; though it has been on Broadway twice, both runs were quite short. Finn is probably best known for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and his most recent Broadway musical was an adaptation of Little Miss Sunshine.

Falsettos is, in fact, a combination of two shows that originated off-Broadway at either end of the 1980s, March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland. March feels like Stephen Sondheim’s Company, a kaleidoscope of songs from people who know the slightly-unlikable main character. Falsettoland has a more traditional story arc and while as a second act, it’s only set two years later in 1981, the world had changed dramatically for gay men when it was first produced in 1990.

The show is effectively a story and a sequel to that story. Two books separated by an intermission. And StageArts’ production is brilliant.

In a show as lyrically complex and demanding as Falsettos, an intimate production is fitting. The “small band” is a solo pianist (David Butler) who gets quite the workout over the two-hour plus running time. The set is minimalist, a black and white silhouette of New York, alluding to the chess that son Jason likes to play (though it’s hard to look at a chess board set in a musical and not think of Chess, which is the wrong mood the be in for a show like this).

There were a few technical hiccups on opening night with missed lighting cues, but that’s a minor issue when everything else is so strong. Director Tyran Parke keeps the pace up throughout the show, with some rather impressive theatrical trickery that effectively digs into the characters’ moods and psyches. Choreography by Madison Lee is stunning throughout, most memorably in “Everyone Tells Jason to See a Psychiatrist” and “The Baseball Game”. Exciting stuff.

The cast is superb and it feels like they’ve been living with these characters for a long time. Sarah Shahinian’s Trina is the backbone of the first act and her two solo numbers are striking and heartbreaking. In a show that feels like a storm, with a family’s lives turned upside-down, Trina’s spotlight moments are intimate but no less complicated and messy. Shahinian’s performance is mesmerising.

Nick Simpson-Deeks as Mendel
Photo by Belinda Strodder
Psychiatrist Mendel is central to the complicated machinations of the plot but in lesser hands could have been forgotten at the fringes of this show; with Nick Simpson-Deeks in the role, this was not allowed to happen. His conflicted psychiatrist is fascinating; Mendel is both in and out of control. Simpson-Deeks shows us the inner workings of a man trying to help this family while also falling in love with Trina. He’s incredible.

Ben Jason-Easton is as great a performer as you’d want in the role of Jason, the son whose dad has come out and whose therapist is falling in love with his mother. Jason is at the heart of the second act, suffering through a more complicated adolescence than most. Jason-Easton knows his stuff; he makes us laugh and makes us hurt. His performance is remarkable.

Marvin feels like a narrator to his own life until late in the second act, when he must confront the failing health of his partner, Whizzer. Falsettos feels much like a frantic comedy with the occasional dramatic beat until deep into Falsettoland when Whizzer is dying from the unnamed AIDS. It’s 1981 and at the beginning of the crisis; this family’s life, as if it wasn’t already a mess, takes a darker turn.

Don Winsor and Sam Ward make a fine pair; their relationship is always complicated but they move in ways that make Marvin and Whizzer seem perfectly suited to each other, even when they are breaking up. “What Would I Do?” is a beautiful, tear-inducing finale that the actors nail.

Falsettos is a remarkable tale of unconventional and found families set at a time when this story could have quickly torn them apart. And in this production, it never hits a false note.

Father & son, Falsettos
Photo: Belinda Strodder

Friday, 26 January 2018

Strangers in Between by Tommy Murphy - Midsumma

Wil King as Shane in Strangers in Between
Photo: Sarah Walker
Shane (Wil King) is young. He’s run away from his family in Goulburn and he’s arrived in Sydney, finding a job at a bottle-o in King’s Cross. He can’t afford a fridge, doesn’t know how to cook and isn’t sure where coat hangers come from.

He’s dazzled by the wild nightlife, while being terrified of sex workers and drug addicts. He has no friends and no support in Sydney until he makes a couple of new friends who are buying alcohol – Will (Guy Simon) and Peter (Simon Burke).

Will is a young guy, ready to party and have fun with Shane. Peter is middle-aged and has seen a lot over his years but no less-likely to want to have fun with Shane.

Shane, though, is struggling with how to express his sexuality as much as he is wrestling with the simple parts of living an adult life far away from home. He’s also haunted by how he was treated by his brother, Ben (also Guy Simon); Ben beat him up when he discovered Shane having sex with a school mate.

Tommy Murphy’s play was first performed at Griffin Theatre in Sydney in 2005. It’s a period piece now, set in a time before smart phones and hook up apps – and in a world where posting a letter can be a prominent plot point. It feels no less relevant or authentic in the territory it covers, though; the decade or so since lends a helpful distance to the material.

Director Daniel Lammin’s choice to strip everything back is a solid choice and shows confidence in the script. Murphy’s writing demands strong actors to revel in the humour and dig into the emotion. Lammin trusts his performers and the text enough to get out of their way; some scenes are almost static, which heightens the tension and the drama.

Wil King & Simon Burke, Strangers in Between
Photo: Sarah Walker
Abbie-Lea Hough’s set and costume design is simple but striking. Strips of silver shimmer like the curtain on a nightclub stage; a bath sits in the centre, an inviting and an awkward meeting place. Rob Sowinski’s lighting is subtle but effective and vital to orienting the audience to where the characters are next.

As Shane, Wil King runs a mile-a-minute. His performance captures the nervous tension of the first day on a new job, being away from home for the first time, enthusiastically exploring his sexuality and having outbursts of anger and shame. A creation full of vitality.

Guy Simon and Simon Burke ably support Shane’s first taste of responsibility and a sexually transmitted disease. Burke’s Peter occasionally falls into stereotype, but this feels fitting for Shane’s story and his befriending a world-weary homosexual man who has watched friends die and King’s Cross change. He fits into that world in a way Shane is scared he never will.

Guy Simon playing the dual roles of Will and Ben gets to have fun with contrast; the costume change is the wearing and removal of a red flannel shirt. Will is as outgoing as Ben feels dangerous. And it’s great to see an Indigenous actor on stage in a role not written specifically as Aboriginal.

Strangers in Between is about the families we make as we move out into the world, whether or not we run away from our biological families at the same time. In the decade since this show was first performed around the corner from where it’s set, King’s Cross may have calmed down, marriage equality may be a reality, but coming out can still be a struggle – smart phones or not.

Guy Simon & Wil King, Strangers in Between
Photo: Sarah Walker

Note: another production of the play is currently on the West End in London. If you’re in London, you should go. It’s a well-reviewed transfer from off-West End from 2016. It closes next weekend.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

My Favourite Theatre of 2017

Joan by The Rabble

I saw theatre in Melbourne, Sydney, Seattle and San Francisco this year. There was a superb line-up of work at the Malthouse Theatre and Theatre Works this year, as well as some tough comedy at the Melbourne Comedy Festival.

Here’s my list of highlights, not ranked except the first.

Michael Luwoye as Hamilton in Hamilton

1. HAMILTON by Lin-Manuel Miranda (San Francisco, North American Tour)

I didn’t write a review of this show after I saw it in San Francisco in August because I wasn’t sure what else needed to be said about this astonishing musical about Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers. I knew the songs backward; I had even seen a bootleg video recording. Nothing could have prepared me for what I witnessed in that theatre. The direction is superb; the choreography enhances the lyrics and the story in surprising and moving ways.

The first North American tour cast was refreshingly different than the original cast, whose voices I knew so well from the cast recording. I am so used to seeing replica productions where the actors are cast so close to the original actors that it can only invite comparisons. I didn’t once think of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s performance as Hamilton as I watched Michael Luwoye’s complicated, layered take on the character. I will never forget his flood of tears during “It’s Quiet Uptown”.

THE REST OF THE TOP TEN (alphabetical order)

ATLANTIS by Lally Katz (Belvoir)

A follow up to Stories I Want to Tell You in Person, Katz is played to superb effect by Amber McMahon. Rosemary Myer’s production was a wild ride through Vegas, New York, Miami and Katz’s mind. Hilarious and heartbreaking.

AWAKENING by Daniel Lammin (45 Downstairs)

Taking the classic Spring Awakening and giving more agency to the female characters and putting a modern context on the second half, Lammin’s writing and directing blew me away.


CARAVAN by Angus Cerini, Patricia Cornelius, Wayne Mcauley & Melissa Reeves (Melbourne Festival/Malthouse)

Susie Dee and Nicci Wilkes inhabit their caravan-residing mother/daughter duo in this biting satire that exposed a Melbourne Festival audience to characters we so frequently see on our stages.

CHIMERICA by Lucy Kirkwood (Sydney Theatre Company)

A big, bold production of Kirkwood’s exploration of history and personal responsibility and how a picture may contain a thousand words, but none of them may be right.

THE ENCOUNTER by Complicite (Malthouse)

An immersive audio experience that, like Chimerica, questioned a foreigner’s responsibility when entering other countries to report on the world.

GLITTERY CLITTERY by the Fringe Wives Club (Melbourne Comedy Festival)

Songs, game shows, audience participation and a strong feminist message. I could have seen this show again and again.

JOAN by The Rabble (Theatre Works)

Another remarkable work by The Rabble, contemplating the real and fictional history of Joan of Arc. The visual moments of this production are seared on my mind but the glorious text late in the piece as Joan finds her voice was equally stunning.

NANETTE by Hannah Gadsby (Melbourne Comedy Festival)

A farewell to her stand-up career, I saw this relatively early in the year and then Gadsby performed it across the globe and across the country dozens more times. Jokes without punchlines. Punch lines without jokes. Devastating. A virtuosic performance.

WILD BORE by Adrienne Truscott, Zoe Coombs Marr, Ursula Martinez (Malthouse)

A show criticising criticism. A takedown of lazy critics and a challenge to even the best ones. Made me think harder about every work I reviewed after I saw this one.


AMERICAN SONG by Joanna Murray Smith (Red Stitch)

A play about gun violence in America that hit me so hard, I sobbed through the second half of this incredible production.

Angels in America

ANGELS IN AMERICA by Tony Kushner (45 Downstairs)

Gary Abraham’s superb production of Kushner’s classic was deceptively minimalist, but this show is so much about the words and the performances, you don’t need to overdo it with stage magic. But the magic was there anyway.

AWAY by Michael Gow (Malthouse)

The classic Australian play is burned into my mind from high school and from revisiting it on the page every few years. Matthew Lutton’s production opened it up in ways that were refreshing and new and heartbreaking. And I am so jealous of the school kids who were studying it this year and saw this show.

BOOK OF EXODUS, PART I by Fraught Outfit (Theatre Works)

Another incredible work from Adena Jacobs collaborating with children.

MERCILESS GODS by Dan Giovanni (Griffin Theatre)

Little Ones’ stage adaptation of Christopher Tsiolkas’ short stories is the mostly explicitly gay show and conversely their least camp/queer work. Still remarkable in it simplicity and the strength of performances.

MONKEY SEE, MONKEY DO by Richard Gadd (Melbourne Comedy Festival)

This was a tough comedy show about sexuality and depression. Unforgettable.

NICHE by Elbow Room (Northcote Town Hall)

Selling pop stardom along with feminism and the complications when you are desperate for her brand to go viral. I need this show back and for it to travel. Emily Tomlins and Erynn-Jean Norvill were, as always, incredible.



This was a tough show to watch, though a Wright/Lutton collaboration is always elegant in its way. John Merrick’s life is both known and unknown and this show tries to reconcile both sides.

A STRATEGIC PLAN by Ross Mueller (Griffin Theatre)

Art and commerce; it’s a tough balance to maintain. This is a show about music venues closing down but it’s also about trying to make art without compromise.

SPENCER by Katy Warner (Lab Kelpie, Chapel Off Chapel)

An hilarious family comedy about having high expectations and never really meeting them. Great script, perfect cast.


THE BASEMENT TAPES by Chapel Perilous (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

CUCKOO by Jane Miller (15 Minutes from Anywhere)

DESERT, 6:29PM by Morgan Rose (Red Stitch)

FULLY SIK by Tessa Waters (Melbourne Comedy Festival)

FUN HOME by Lisa Kron & Jeanine Tesori (North American Tour, Seattle)

MURIEL’S WEDDING: THE MUSICAL by PJ Hogan, Kate Miller-Heidke & Keir Nuttall (Sydney Theatre Company)

THE NOSE by The Bloomshed (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

THE ONE by Jeffrey Jay Fowler (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

TOO READY MIRROR by Jamaica Zuanetti (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

Desert, 6:29pm


Thursday, 7 December 2017

WE ARE LIGHTNING! - Arts House, North Melbourne

Photo by Bryony Jackson

Welcome to the final night of the Town Hall, a live-music venue that’s about to be replaced by an apartment building or a hotel or some kind of progress that feels more like the loss of art and soul.

WE ARE LIGHTNING! was standing-room only at Arts House last night; the opening night of this new work by Joseph O’Farrell and Sam Halmarack. It’s a communal experience for the audience, as well as the many, many performers who help to celebrate the end of an era through a night of singing and dancing.

It’s a sad phenomenon that has infected many cities across the world; live music venues closed to accommodate burgeoning populations and to appease noise complaints. The show itself is a celebration of how live experience builds a community and the loss they feel when a pub, a club or a space closes down.

JOF and Sam welcome us to the final night, the bouncers scan us and stamp us as we’re ushered in and we stake out a place to watch a series of performers play and sing and rock out and protest the loss of this space we’re in. There’s a three-piece band, a choir, a brass band and a teenage emo band who are getting to play their first gig in one of the few places that will let them step up.

This show takes a scatter-gun approach to embracing and scorning nostalgia. And the cacophony of sounds here is both exhilarating and enervating. I have watched spaces close and disappear, robbed of their artistic merit and intent. This show is both a celebration and a commemoration; it made me happy and it made me sad.

But at its heart, WE ARE LIGHTNING wants you to rock out one last time. And that’s reason enough to get along.

WE ARE LIGHTNING! community choirs
Photo: Bryony Jackson

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Sydney: Theatre & Exhibitions

Muriel's Wedding - Sydney Theatre Company
Photo:Lisa Tomasetti

I was in Sydney last weekend for a few days to see theatre, catch up with friends, have a meeting and visit a couple of galleries.

Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium – Art Gallery of NSW

“Don’t miss the XYZ room,” said the woman at the ticket box. “It’s near the flowers.”
“The XYZ room is near the flowers,” said the woman checking the tickets at the entrance.

In a world where we are given lots of warnings for films and theatre and exhibitions, as cautions to avoid things, it was refreshing to be encouraged to look at Mapplethorpe’s most challenging works. 

On the other hand, isn’t that what people visiting a Mapplethorpe exhibition are looking for? Do people go for his work with flowers?

Some of Mapplethorpe’s imagery is iconic, most of it is beautiful and very little of this exhibition was confronting; but the XYZ room was still kept off to the side, housing works from three compendiums of Mapplethorpe’s interests – erotica, flowers and black men.

There was also a selection of his work with Patti Smith, along with portraits of famous people like Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono and Isabella Rossellini. A strong overview of his career.

Three Sisters – Sydney Theatre Company

A Kip Williams production of an Andrew Upton adaptation of Chekhov with this cast, including Alison Bell, Eryn Jean Norvill, Mark Leonard Winter, Nikki Shiels, Chris Ryan… the list goes on. This should have been amazing. I am only ever a fan of Chekhov when it’s non-traditional: Simon Stone’s The Cherry Orchard or Eamon Flack’s Ivanov. This seemed to be another production in that same vein. And for much of the first half, it was engaging and funny and with that bleak undercurrent, because it is Chekhov.

The second half loses the fun of the first and dives headlong into Chekhovian nihilism. I am not a fan of Chekhov in general, but I have enjoyed work based on his work before. With this team, I had very high expectations. They were only rarely met and never in the second half.

Three Sisters, Sydney Theatre Company
Photo: Brett Boardman

Pipilotti Rist: Sip My Ocean
– Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney

I love visiting the MCA in Circular Quay because it’s central and because the shows there are so often surprising and delightful. Their own collection and what they have on display normally turns over between my visits is always strong, and their feature exhibitions open up new worlds to me.

Rist is a Swiss artist and her work is a combination of video installations and sculpture. Though her work was previously unknown to me, I can see how her pioneering work has inspired others; notably how Ever Is Over All (1996) was clearly an inspiration for Beyonce’s Hold Up music video.
My favourite work of hers in this exhibition was Pixelwald motherboard – a room full of strings of glowing lights that was meant to evoke the vision of an exploding television. Astonishing.

Merciless Gods – Little Ones/Griffin Theatre

It’s not the first time I’ve travelled to Sydney and ended up seeing work that I’ve missed in Melbourne. I was very lucky to get a ticket to a previously sold-out performance of Little Ones’ Merciless Gods which was performed at Northcote Town Hall earlier this year.

Based on a collection of short stories by Christos Tsiolkas, Dan Giovanni has selected eight of these stories to put on stage – a compendium of pieces told from the fringes of society. This isn’t the high camp I normally associate with Little Ones but I loved the boldness of the story choices and the ensemble is superb. I’m glad I caught up with this and I hope Sydney gets to see more of the Little Ones in the future.

Muriel’s Wedding – Sydney Theatre Company

Reinventing the classic Aussie film to be a stage musical seemed fraught; how do you find someone, anyone to write songs that won’t fade into the background next to the selection of ABBA songs that Muriel escapes into? And how do you use those ABBA songs without them feeling like a distraction?

Thankfully, Kate Miller-Heidke and partner Keir Nuttall have created fully-theatrical songs that capture the wild swings of emotion in Muriel’s life. They fit neatly alongside PJ Hogan’s book, based on his original film. There’s been some updates; the social media aspect is both a blessing and a curse to the show.

The first act is solid; director Simon Phillips keeps the show moving using a grab bag of his classic theatrical trickery. It is a strong musical and not just a play with songs; and it’s a long way from the jukebox musicals of Priscilla Queen of the Desert or Mamma Mia.

The second act is a bit messier. The script veers wildly around. Strong emotional moments are drawn out too long. There’s some attempt to give the love interests some depth, but that distracts from Muriel’s story – and in the end, does the show gain anything much from fleshing out the token men?

Overall, though, this is a strong show that deserves a long life touring the world.

Atlantis – Belvoir Theatre Company

Hi, I’m Keith Gow, playwright and theatre blogger. I have seen lots of Lally Katz shows and even aside from the show where she starred and talked about her life, most of her plays contain her in some way, shape or form. Not just in the way that some writers write what they know, but Lally is often a character in her own plays. In Atlantis, Lally is played by Amber McMahon. Amber is always amazing and she makes the perfect Lally, if you can’t have Lally telling these stories herself in person.

I love the honesty of Lally’s work and while the idea of a writer putting themselves into their own work could feel self-indulgent (and perhaps some of Lally’s early work might be described that way), somehow Atlantis doesn’t feel like that at all. Lally has gained enough perspective of her life over the last few years to tell a riotous, outrageous, touching story about writing and relationships; about motherhood and birthing new worlds on stage.

Rosemary Meyers has found her way into Lally’s head and sitting front row at Belvoir, I felt like I was immersed in this bizarre dimension that was a little bit Vegas, a little bit Miami and a whole lot of Lally Katz. And if I might have missed the Apocalypse Bear and the Hope Dolphin, I still got to see Lally’s imaginary Panther friend… and the funniest, most athletic sex scene I’ve ever seen on stage.

Atlantis, Belvoir
Photo: Daniel Boud