Tuesday, 25 April 2017

JOAN by The Rabble (Theatre Works)

The Rabble's JOAN

Darkness. Pitch darkness.

A heavenly light shines down on a woman praying. No, not just praying, throwing herself onto her knees, as an offer to God. Over and over again. In submission to Him.

It’s a hypnotic sequence; remarkable and already giving the audience a sense of unease. The act itself is physically demanding, almost punishing, but the glimpses we get of this woman – these women – are striking. This is Joan pledging herself to God in repetition.

No one makes theatre like The Rabble, though these black and white images and allusions to silent film, do bump alongside the remarkable work of Adena Jacobs and Fraught Outfit. What a treat that Theatre Works has programmed work from both companies this year. Fraught Outfit’s The Book of Exodus, Part I opens late in May.

Joan, like all of The Rabble’s work, takes a figure audiences will be aware of from history or literature – and in this case, both – and finds a fresh way to reconsider that text. Or that person. If we know of Joan d’Arc, we know of films and books and songs and poems that tell her story. We may only know the basics of her historic truth – the virgin warrior who claimed to be guided by the voice of God.

Creators Kate Davis and Emma Valente bring out a deeper consideration on the subject; what do we know of Joan that has contemporary resonance? What parts of her life might be better appreciated through queer, feminist theatre rather than the stories we’ve heard told by men throughout the centuries?

The black and white imagery is evocative of one of the early films of Joan’s life, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. Dreyer’s use of lighting and extreme close ups is striking and unnerving, striving for a kind of realism which reaches its apotheosis in the scene where Renee Jeanne Falconetti’s Joan is burned at the stake. It’s all too real.

Much like the Dreyer film, The Rabble’s Joan is silent for much of its length for two reasons: one, the strength of their visual elements tells Joan’s story through close-up projections and choreography, and two, much of this play is about women’s lack of voice. Joan’s voice, her truth, has been sublimated by the Voice of God and the repetition of her story that highlights her possible mental illness and, typically, her virginity.

Actors Luisa Hastings Edge, Emily Milledge, Dana Miltins and Nikki Shiels are all Joan. They all suffer the bruising physical punishment of dropping to their knees in prayer and, in various ways, being subjected to ordeals that prove Joan’s purity and corporeal worth.

From darkness, through the light of God, only to find themselves thrown onto a pyre, these women are dragged closer and closer to the flame – ready to be burned on the altar of history and the retelling of a story that rarely considers Joan’s bodily autonomy or her own voice.

The Rabble’s Joan is deeply affecting and troubling, but somehow this company, this ensemble, finds a way to give Joan back her voice – through the haze and under the bright light of a full moon. 

Darkness, no more.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Melbourne Comedy Festival: Tash York - These Things Take Wine

These Things Take Wine, Tash York
I love wine, so there’s no reason to believe I wouldn’t also love Tash York’s cabaret show, These Things Take Wine.

Cabaret shows are often themed for fun and songs about wine could have easily devolved into a messy drinking session followed by regret but this show isn’t just about drinking to excess.

It starts out that way, though, with Tash crawling out from behind the couch – sad that her 5:30pm audience can’t already be drunk with her. She says she looks sexier if the audience has been drinking; right now, she looks like a Tina Turner impersonator, which is the reason she left Brisbane.

Most of the songs in the show are re-written pop numbers but Tash nails the re-writes with Let’s Talk About Wine, Baby and I had a shot (bang, bang) and Wine After Wine. There’s a great song about trying to fit in with The Ladies Who Lunch, with whom she’s been set up on a friendship date.

My favourite song was about Tash falling for Musical Theatre Boys, while she was studying. “They are so much shorter than me / They love Cole Porter more than me”. They wear shorts and cheer for Schwartz and maybe that’s what led to her drinking… and being put off when men have tried to serenade her ever since.

There’s also a lovely ode later in the show to meeting her father and them bonding over a bottle of wine. It’s not all about wine-vado, though sometimes it is.

Tash has a powerhouse musical theatre voice, a lot of charm in telling stories of drunken excess and is much funnier than drunk people think they are. These Things Take Wine is full-bodied, rich and the show leaves a lovely aftertaste. You might even want to go back for more!

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Melbourne Comedy Festival - Innes Lloyd's Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Innes Lloyd - Jules Verne would be so proud
Never read Journey to the Centre of the Earth? Save yourself the effort and spend an “Innes Lloyd hour” bouncing between the Jules Verne original and something like twelve adaptations from film, television, animation and – as was the style at the time – the concept album.

We trust that the always impeccably dressed Mr Innes knows the original novel well and the structure is all there. And we know that the equally well-dressed Rob Lloyd is there to riff on the story with rapid-fire references (watch out Brendan Fraser fans!) from the recesses of his pop-culture filled mind.

As with all Innes Lloyd joints, they absolutely have a script but they will not stick to it. There’s a charm to when one or other flubs a line, but what I love about their improvisations is that the audience feels responded to. Who needs a script when there’s a row of women who keep knocking over their glasses in the middle of the mayhem?

Pause for laughter.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read this Jules Verne, but I also appreciated the references to his other stories scattered throughout. The translation scene done as a training montage is some patented Innes Lloyd ridiculousness. And the actual Journey includes puppets, ping pong balls, Super Mario and a song from Rick Wakeman’s concept album.

If you’ve never seen an Innes Lloyd show before, shame on you. These two hilarious goofballs will cover all you need to know about a classic novel and which films you might want to watch instead and which you should absolutely avoid. (psst, never watch the Brendan Fraser version!)

Innes Lloyd are slightly worried that middle class white guy comedy is on its way out; but I think of them less as white guys and more as pop-culture referencing machines. And that’s a show all you nerds should see!

Innes Lloyd are doing this Journey one more time tonight at the Butterfly Club. Skip Doctor Who for it (you can catch up on iView later).

Full disclosure: Rob Lloyd starred in a play of mine once. He didn't stick to that script either ;)

Friday, 14 April 2017

Melbourne Comedy Festival: Eli Matthewson - The Year of Magical Fucking

Eli Matthewson, The Year of Magical Fucking
According to studies, millennials are having less sex than their parents. Eli is mostly offended by this statistic because it makes him think of his parents having sex. But he’s not really surprised, not in a world where you can choose to stream another episode of Narcos instead.

Eli is charming and funny in a way that you’d be surprised that he’s gone through sexual droughts. He thinks the film 40 Days & 40 Nights – where Josh Hartnett has to give up sex for a month and a bit – is entirely relatable and not really much of a challenge. Happens to him all the time.

Yes, The Year of Magical Fucking is Mainly Concerned With Sex in the age of Tinder and Grindr. He’s from New Zealand, so his best pick-up line is that he was in “Lord of the Rings”. He also employs the oft-used LOTR trick of forced perspective for the pics he sends possible hook-ups.

Eli isn’t just worried about getting himself laid, though, he’s also worried about the sexuality of animated characters like Elsa from “Frozen” and LeFou from “Beauty & the Beast”. There’s a lot to unpack there, too.

Millennials, turn off Netflix and get along to the Forum; Eli has some tips for you about dead people on Twitter and therapy versus hair-apy. Eli Matthewson is a funny fucker.

Melbourne Comedy Festival: ABORIGI-LOL


ABORIGI-LOL is a pair of indigenous comedians, Dane Simpson and Matt Ford, touring Australia to remind the country that not all the brown guys you see are Indians.

Dane tells a lot of dad jokes; not just bad puns (though there are those) but jokes about his dad. Dane was born in Walgett and his dad still lives there. There’s some clash-of-cultures storytelling here, not just because Dane grew up in the bush and his dad is wide-eyed and searching for coffee when he comes to Melbourne. Some of the best jokes are about when Dane goes back up bush to visit one or other of his parents.

Matt has a much more assured air about him; his jokes dig a bit deeper into who he is and how he fits into his family and the country. He works in the arts, so his family laughs when they hear he’s been to Bunnings. And though he’s a comedian and happy to work in front of crowds, he’s definitely shy when at a party. He likes to turn up early because at least he knows the host and then tries to avoid being introduced to people, hoping they’ll think they’ve already been introduced to him earlier. And as far as meeting women is concerned, he’s got that covered – he’s bought himself a pug.

Dane and Matt have been touring as part of Aboriginal Comedy Allstars all across Australia. As part of ABORIGI-LOL they each do a set of around twenty-five minutes of personal observational comedy, taking apart how they see themselves and the country they live in: their strengths and its flaws.


Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Melbourne Comedy Festival: Richard Gadd - Monkey See, Monkey Do

Richard Gadd, Monkey See, Monkey Do
There’s a monkey. And there’s Richard Gadd. And there’s a monkey. And Richard. And a monkey. Richard. Richard running. There’s a monkey and the monkey is chasing Richard and all Richard can do is run and run and run and run and run and run and run and run and…

Monkey See, Monkey Do begins with video of a man-sized monkey chasing Richard Gadd through the streets. When Richard appears on stage, he’s still running and he jumps onto a treadmill and that’s where he stays for the rest of the show.

Running.

This is a hard show. It’s a hard show to watch. It’s a hard show to review. It’s hard to talk about without giving too much away, but I want to talk about it because its subject matter needs to be talked about. Richard has created a show to deal with his demons, but its power – as a show – is in keeping its secrets. But he wants you to open up.

Richard is blisteringly honest about his experiences over the past several years. Early in the show, we see quotes from a raft of reviews from his previous Waiting for Gaddot. It seems his kind of humour is an acquired taste; the one-star review calls him unfunny and the five-star review is effusive in its praise.

These reviews are often fixated on Richard’s frank views on sex and his own anatomy and I was worried about what I’d gotten myself into. Was he being upfront about his controversial style to excuse what came next? No, in a way, it’s to prepare the audience. To warn them. And to ease them into what comes next.

That Richard runs on a treadmill through ninety-percent of the show is unnerving. His physicality is exhausting, while we take in uncomfortable observations about masculinity and his fixation with how manly he is. Or how manly he seems.

Richard apologises for his show being part of a Comedy Festival – and he’s almost got a point. Except, humour is a great way to broach uncomfortable topics and the subject matter of Monkey See, Monkey Do is one of the more uncomfortable topics imaginable.

Richard Gadd is a smart guy and fit. He’s complicated and hilarious, just like his show. It’s not gut-bustingly hilarious; it’s a gut punch. Sometimes, you run from the monkey. And other times, you gotta run toward it.


Richard Gadd is running all month at ACMI until April 23. I recommend you catch him, if you can.

Melbourne Comedy Festival: Alice Tovey - Mansplaining

Alice and Ned, Mansplaining

Alice Tovey is happy that men are coming to her new show, but the show isn’t made for them. Alice is tired of society making things for men, even when they already exist, so Mansplaining is for all the non-men in the room.

Actually… and here, I feel trapped. Not that I’m complaining about being trapped, not at all. My privilege suggests that my feeling trapped feels nowhere near as bad as the typical life experience of women or people of colour. That’s what Alice sings about, how society works when no one challenges the status quo.

Wait, am I mansplaining Mansplaining?

Alice, accompanied by Ned Dixon on piano, jumps from a beat poem about fragile male ego to racism in Australia to a peppy song about Islam.

The pair are skewering the ridiculous power structures of society. These songs are layered in meaning and hilarious in execution. One minute you’re tapping your feet or clapping along; the next minute, Alice is calling for women’s bodily autonomy from bro dudes called Trip, Chase and Roofie.

While the style of songs varied wildly - Alice can give you soulful poetry, rat-a-tat rap and a deep song about how feelings age you, the humour is always front and centre. Sometimes you laugh out loud and sometimes you recoil from the truth bombs she drops like a rapper drops a mic.

Alice is a clever lyricist who can sing the hell out of her rage. Women, get along. Men, it’s not for you, but you should go anyway.