Thursday, 4 September 2014

Life in Living Colour, and What Happens Next: Melbourne's Mainstages 2015

It’s September and there are still some great shows to be excited about at Melbourne’s mainstage theatres. But it’s also that time of the year for us to look ahead – at what they have planned for 2015. Marion Potts presented Malthouse Theatre 2015 on Tuesday night. Brett Sheehy unveiled Melbourne Theatre Company 2015 tonight.

It’s like theatre Christmas. Some expected faces and some wonderful surprises.

Here’s what I’m most excited about (in order of first performance):

Endgame by Samuel Beckett, directed by Sam Strong
Starring Colin Friels, Luke Mullins and Julie Forsyth. Excited to see Strong direct Beckett and for Mullins to be on the MTC stage.
From March 21



Meme Girls by Ash Flanders/Marion Potts, directed by Stephen Nicolazzo
Pretty much Ash Flanders trawling through YouTube videos, right?
From April 8

Timeshare by Lally Katz, directed by Olive Butler
Set in a timeshare resort that’s situated on the International Date Line, it’s enough that this is by Lally Katz.
From April 23

The Waiting Room by Kylie Trounson, directed by Naomi Edwards
The combination of intimate drama and epic scope makes me excited already, as does seeing the MTC nurture female directors and lift up shows from their Cybec reading series into production.
From May 15

North by Northwest by Carolyn Burns (based on the film), directed by Simon Phillips
The Hitchcock film I’ve watched the most times, I’m excited how they will find a way to stage this – as well as find an actor who could even come close to Cary Grant as Roger O. Thornhill. But if anyone can do it, Phillips can.
From June 1

Birdland by Simon Stephens, directed by Leticia Caceres
I love Stephens’ writing and Mark Leonard Winter (Thystes) is a magnetic performer. This looks thrilling.
From June 6

Love & Information by Caryl Churchill, directed by Kip Williams
Churchill’s work just isn’t produced very often in Australia – and certainly not her recent work. I’m excited to see this 2012 play of hers, starring Anita Hegh, Zahra Newman and Alison Whyte.
From June 12

The Last Supper by Reckless Sleepers
Dinner in the Grand Hall of the Nation Gallery of Victoria. A banquet and the last words of the famous and the infamous.
From  July 1

I Am A Miracle by Declan Greene, directed by Matt Lutton
I loved Greene and Lutton’s previous collaboration, Pompeii LA and this one is presented in partnership with Opera Australia. Not to be missed.
From July 18

Death and the Maiden by Ariel Dorfman, directed by Leticia Caceres
Starring Susie Porter. Dorfman’s play is incredible and I cannot wait to see Caceres’ take on it.
From July 18

A Social Service by Nicola Gunn & David Woods
I’ve been hearing amazing things about Gunn’s work for a while now and after seeing Green Screen at NEON this year, I’m eager to see more of her work.
From August 11

The Weir by Connor McPherson, directed by Sam Strong
This is a tough play, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s Sam Strong. With Nadine Garner and Greg Stone in the cast, I couldn’t be more excited to see this production.
From August 14

Antigone by Sophocles, adapted Jane Montgomery Griffiths, directed by Marion Potts
Starring Emily Milledge. One of the great plays with this team? How can it go wrong?
From August 21

Betrayal by Harold Pinter, directed by Geordie Brookman
Brookman’s work always excites me and he’s working with Alison Bell and Nathan O’Keefe on a Pinter play. Yes, yes, yes.
From August 26

They Saw a Thylacine by Justine Campbell & Sarah Hamilton
I’ve been a big fan and supporter of Sarah’s work for a while and I was so thrilled to see this show, first presented at Melbourne Fringe in 2013, being elevated to the main stage.
From September 15



Buyer & Cellar by Jonathon Tolins, directed by Gary Abrahams
You had me at “starring Ash Flanders”.

From October 30

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Sonnigsburg: Day Twelve

Today, we completed principal photography on episode one of Sonnigsburg.

After twelve shooting days, we’ve filmed in Walhalla, Croydon, Richmond, Hampton, Highett, Ashwood, Maribyrnong, Glen Iris and Belgrave. We’ve posted heaps of photos to our Facebook page – both behind-the-scenes shots and stills from the show itself.

And the little bits of footage I’ve seen cut together looks amazing. Our director, Glenn Triggs, has done an incredible job directing the episode – and now has the fun of editing it together.

I’ve been involved in a handful of short film shoots before, but nothing quite on this scale. And while production happened on episode one, the scripts for episodes two and three went through a few re-writes. Don’t worry, actors – those scripts will be released to you soon. I know you can’t wait to see what happens next!

I do have to apologise to some of the actors, who were intent on being as surprised by upcoming scripts as viewers will be of the show itself – but I blurted out several spoilers on set, forgetting who knows what about upcoming stories. It’s great to have actors so enthused about what’s coming up. I think Ann Truong (Savannah) is our biggest fan so far. And I keep giving things away! Sorry, Ann.

As always with low budget filmmaking, we must all jump in and do what’s necessary. While Fiona Bulle is overseeing everything, Serenity DeAngeles and Gordon Boyd have taken on several roles each behind-the-scenes. You’ll see their names in the credits several times.

The twelve days of shooting have been spread over five weeks, to accommodate everyone’s schedules – both behind and in front of the camera. A couple of days of principal photography were directed by Alex Scott and myself. With the amazing support of all of the crew, in particular our Director of Photography, Bernard Winter, I was able to direct a couple of key scenes from the pilot.

Scenes that included smoke machines, lighting effects and crawling under Fiona’s parents house in Ashwood – directing is definitely glamorous. And I’m looking forward to doing more directing as production on the series continues. I definitely think that building up experience as a director will help me become a better writer, too.


Principal photography on episode two will begin in September. Keep an eye on the Sonnigsburg page on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter and Instagram.


Sunday, 27 July 2014

It Takes Two (or more viewings): INTO THE WOODS and a Sondheim Check List


I have seen three different productions of Into the Woods on stage – and I am well acquainted with the DVD of the original Broadway production. By the end of this year, there will be a feature film version – and then I can write an article comparing the five witches I’ve seen: Bernadette Peters (DVD), Rhonda Burchmore (Melbourne Theatre Company, 1998), Donna Murphy (Public Theatre NY, 2012), Queenie Van De Zandt (Victorian Opera, 2014) and Meryl Streep (feature film, 2014).

Well, no, I probably won’t do that. Each of them has their strengths and a couple of them have no weaknesses. Just as the productions overall have things that work brilliantly and other parts, not-so-much. And it’s hard to compare the lavish original, to the Public Theatre production that was staged in Central Park, to the more sparse version that Victorian Opera put on this past week.

Into the Woods is one of my favourite Sondheim shows, probably the favourite – though I have a lot of affection for Sweeney Todd, Company and A Little Night Music. I’ve only ever seen Sweeney Todd on stage once, a pro-am production in the northern suburbs of Melbourne in the late 90s. As well as the film, which – I’m glad Sondheim liked it. Oh, and the original Broadway production on DVD.

But A Little Night Music I’ve seen on stage three times: Melbourne Theatre Company (1997), Opera Australia (2009) and Broadway (2010). I haven’t seen the film version, starring Elizabeth Taylor. (And how could I possibly compare the Desirees I’ve seen? Pamela Rabe to Sigrid Thornton to Catherine Zeta Jones? I couldn’t and won’t.)

Sondheim’s shows are so rich and dense, so much detail to see and discover – I was even noticing things in Into the Woods yesterday that I don’t think I’d seen before. I suspect that comes down to actors stressing things in different ways. But it is all there to be discovered, even after watching numerous productions and the DVD multiple times.

After last year’s Sunday in the Park with George and this year’s Into the Woods, Victorian Opera is doing Sweeney Todd in 2015. I’m excited to see a full professional production of that on stage. But even more exciting is the couple of lesser-known and lesser-seen Sondheim works that have popped up in Melbourne this year: Pacific Overtures at Theatre Works this past February and later in the year, Passion at the Arts Centre Playhouse.

With those smaller works - and Magnormous’ 2010 staged readings of other obscure Sondheim work, I am close to completing the Sondheim set.


Shows by Stephen Sondheim

A list of productions, films or DVDs I’ve seen of Sondheim’s work

Saturday Night
-         Staged reading by Magnormous, 2010

West Side Story
-          Film, 1961
-          Regent Theatre, 2010

Gypsy
-          TV Movie, 1993
-         The Production Company, 2013

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
-          Her Majesty’s Theatre, 2012

Anyone Can Whistle
-          Staged reading by Magnormous, 2010

Do I Hear a Waltz?
-          Unseen.

Company
-          Unseen on stage. (I know!!!)
-          Broadway production 2006, DVD
-          New York Philharmonic concert, cinema & DVD

Follies
-          The Production Company, 2008

A Little Night Music
-          Melbourne Theatre Company, 1997
-          Opera Australia, 2009
-          Broadway revival, 2010

Pacific Overtures
-          Theatre Works, 2014

Sweeney Todd
-          Original Broadway production, DVD
-          Pro/am production on stage, late 1990s.              
-          Sweeney Todd in Concert 2001, DVD
-          Film, 2007

Merrily We Roll Along
-          Staged reading by Magnormous, 2010

Sunday in the Park with George
-          Original Broadway production, DVD
-          Opera Victoria, 2013

Into the Woods
-          Original Broadway production, DVD
-          Melbourne Theatre Company, 1998
-          Public Theatre/Shakespeare in the Park, 2012
-          Victorian Opera, 2014

Assassins
-          Broadway, 2004 (bootleg video)
-          Melbourne University, 2012

Passion
-          Arts Centre Melbourne, 2014

Bounce/Road Show
-          Unseen.

The Frogs
-          Unseen.

Anthologies

Putting It Together
-          Broadway revival 1999, DVD

Sondheim on Sondheim
-          Original Broadway production, 2010


Monday, 21 July 2014

In the context of rational madness: THE BOOK OF LOCO


How do you tell a life in 90 minutes?

How do you give the audience enough context to tell even one story from a life in the same amount of time?

The Book of Loco is a semi-autobiographical monologue by Alirio Zavarce, covering what he terms “rational madness” – bizarre things some of us accept because we don’t (or can’t) know any better. It’s all about context.

In the context of Zavarce’s “book of loco”, a notebook he carries around to keep track of the stories of his life, we get to know him quite well. Depending on how semi this autobiographical show is.

Did he really get pulled over by customs officials over a reinforced suitcase? Did he really get interrogated on another return trip over the “convenient excuse” of his mother’s cancer? Did his marriage really collapse on September 11, 2001?

The Book of Loco is theatre, of course. It’s a performance. And it’s very theatrical. The set is a large stack of boxes. But inside those boxes are the stories of a life. Some of the stories are whimsical. Some of them are terrifying. Some are just awful.

But Zavarce and his director, Sasha Zahra, keep things moving – and keep the audience on edge by having Zavarce interact from even before the lights go down. Even that is a trick. The lights go up on the audience several times during the show. The line between performance and real life is thin. Just as the line between rationality and madness can be.

The show isn’t just about one life, though. It’s about stories and the context we hear them in. So in a show that also touches on terrorism and plane crashes, this show had a whole new context on Friday night – after having listened to the news all day about flight MH17 being blown up over Ukraine. We all come to theatre with our own life stories to inform us. But sometimes we come in with the same story in the front of our minds.

The Book of Loco, after the events of last week, was both upsetting and exhilarating. In any context.


The Book of Loco plays at the Malthouse Theatre until August 2.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Inevitability: The rise and the dawn of the Planet of the Apes


I think one of the hardest narrative tricks to pull off is writing a story to an inevitable conclusion. A conclusion that the audience knows is coming. Some authors want you to know; Shakespeare tells us that his two star crossed lovers take their lives in the prologue of Romeo & Juliet. It’s a tragedy and you’re waiting to see how that falls into place.

Prequels suffer a similar pressure; we know what’s coming, but what happens on the way there. And if we're already emotionally invested in the outcome, maybe we won't care about what came before? David Lynch’s Fire Walk With Me tells the last week of Laura Palmer’s life; the object of Twin Peaks becomes the subject of the film. The dread comes from seeing what we know to be true come true.

When Rise of the Planet of the Apes was released in 2011, it had a lot to live up to – The Planet of the Apes is a classic of the genre, as well as having one of the most famous endings in the history of film. In fact, its ending is so well known, people who haven’t seen the movie will still recognise the indelible image of the Statue of Liberty.

But Rise also had a pitfall to avoid. Tim Burton’s 2001 remake was not very well received and for good reason – it had no real reason to exist. It seemed to have no purpose and no real point of view. Burton’s film also tries to outdo the original’s twist ending and it is laughable.

Rise and its sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, are playing toward the ending of the original film – there are seeds planted in the first prequel that will lead to an astronaut landing on the Planet of the Apes, in a film that is due in 2016. And to that end, we are watching a tragedy and the pieces fall into place.

I think that’s fitting for a pair of films that is so critical of modern society and, in particular, our treatment of animals. They are not saying that war can be avoided. They are not saying we can defeat the worst parts of our nature. These films are saying that, well, power corrupts. In fact, even in ape society, they fish and subjugate horses. And there are apes that are in power and apes that want to wrest that power away.

The parallels between the humans and apes in this story are drawn clearly but with subtlety. We are certainly not lectured to. And the filmmakers know that the best way to tell this story is to find a balance; in fact, much of the first act explores the ape society – the mere appearance of a human being is the first significant narrative turn in Dawn. But by then, we are emotionally engaged with Ceasar and his family and their society.

Andy Serkis is stunning in the role of Ceasar, helped enormously by the CGI artists involved in bringing all the apes to life. Well, to be honest, the CGI is so life-like these days, some of those scenes might have been guys in suits. But don’t even tell me if you know. I think maybe they found apes who could act.


Rise was a stunning achievement – a reinvention of the Apes mythology for the twenty-first century. Dawn is an even greater feat – building on what had come before, in Rise, and toward what we know is inevitable. The Planet of the Apes. Set for release in 2016.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Sonnigsburg: Day One


Late in 2013, Fiona Bulle had an idea for a television show – and we’re just about ready to start shooting it. Today, though, was a table read of Episode One, with as much of the cast and crew and we could get together on this chilly Melbourne Sunday.

It’s been seven months since Fiona corralled a group of four writers into a room and we started throwing ideas around. Sonnigsburg will be a six-part supernatural drama that is scheduled to air on Channel 31 in 2015. And the writers room was a new experience for all of us. Early on we decided who would take ownership of what episodes – and then it was a matter of pitching the kind of stories we wanted to tell and the kind of characters we wanted to populate the series.

Sonnigsburg is a mystery; a town in the woods that hasn’t been visited for seventy years. Or so the legend goes. Nearby is the town of Mount Sunshine – and it’s there that our main character stops on her way to research Sonnigsburg. Savannah’s ex has called her out of the blue, desperate for help – but when Savannah arrives in town and her past begins to catch up with her, she realises that the residents of Mount Sunshine are haunted by their pasts, too.

Fiona, our creator and Executive Producer, wrote the pilot episode that begins shooting next week in Walhalla – a town in country Victoria that bills itself as “the most haunted town in Australia”. Perfectly fitting for our supernatural drama.

Today was our first opportunity to get most of the cast and crew together; to meet, hang out, get to know each other a bit better – and have a read through of the first script. It was great to finally hear the whole script being read by our amazing cast of actors.

I’ll post semi-regular updates about the production process here, but you can also follow our Facebook page, Twitter account and Instagram. There will be a website soon enough as well.


Sonnigsburg - [Official Teaser Trailer] from GLENN - DARK EPIC productions on Vimeo.

Sonnigsburg will be produced by Rock Bottom Productions and Wrongtown Films with assistance from the Community Broadcast Fund and Channel 31.

Sonnigsburg was created and written by Fiona Bulle, Alex Scott, Meaghan Bell and Keith Gow

Sonnigsburg stars Ann Troung, Don Bridges, Dushan Philips, Maree Shefford, Soren Jensen, Nadia Andary, Gavin Williams, Juliene Vanner, Sam Eddy, Petra Elliott and Ian Stenlake. With Eryn Saunders, Ethan Oppy and Olivia Sprague.

Friday, 4 July 2014

“That was pretty good for a play”; Roald Dahl’s THE WITCHES on stage

Above is a quote from one young audience member, even before he’d exited the Beckett Theatre at the Malthouse. I don’t know what other experience he’d had with plays; ‘pretty good’ might mean that he wasn’t really impressed with other stage shows he’s seen. Or maybe he just didn’t know what to expect from a one-man version of Roald Dahl’s The Witches.

The theatre was basically full, mostly of parents and their children – some of whom were delighted by their interaction with actor Guy Edmonds before the show even began. The boy sitting next to me – who would later become part of the play, as a Witch – was talking to his mother about what he was expecting. Or, rather, they were discussing how they thought Edmonds might pull off different parts of the story.

“How is he going to become the witch, do you think?” his mother asked.

“Masks, probably.” He was quite confident.

“What about the mice? How do you think he’ll do the mice?”

The boy thought for a while and figured out that Edmonds might just crawl around on the floor. The answer to how he “does” the mice is what makes the show such fun – and I won’t give it away here, but he uses three different techniques to bring the mice to life, each more thrilling than the last.


For a show that runs for fifty minutes, it’s full of invention that many plays of twice the length can lack. The script and direction are tight. Edmonds performance is so full of energy – as you might expect, but also clever and layered. The twist and turns of his body and voice as the various characters act and interact was precise but also felt spontaneous. There was so much life in a show that could feel like just a technical accomplishment in lesser hands.

I don’t know what children expect when they go to the theatre. I see so much theatre, I come in with baggage – it’s been so long since I’ve read The Witches or seen the film that I really wish I’d remembered it better. But the conversations I overheard before and those I heard after meant that whatever these kids wanted, they got something they really enjoyed.

I expected to have fun. I didn’t expect to be grinning from ear-to-ear from beginning to end.

Australian children’s theatre is some of the best in the world. This production of The Witches continues that tradition. Though the show has already played Sydney and closes in Melbourne this weekend, I expect a tour will come soon enough. Because there are a lot more children across Australia to be delighted by this show.


It is pretty good for a play, after all.