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2014: Tiring but satisfying

My Favourite Theatre of 2014

For the last few years, my Top Ten has been listed in alphabetical order because I see no point struggling any further with ranking art. This year, more than most, any show in my Top Ten could have been my absolute favourite – and they probably were, until I saw the next one in the list.

I saw shows in Melbourne, Sydney and New York this year. I feel very privileged to have seen amazing theatre in all three cities; there are shows from all three places in the list. And I will never forget any of them.
THE TOP TEN
Bernadette Peters – Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne

How to describe seeing one of the great Broadway leading ladies from the front row of Her Majesty’s Theatre? Singing some of the most iconic songs of her repertoire, from some of my favourite shows? Making eye contact with me and talking directly to me at one point? Magical.

Cabaret - Broadway Sam Mendes’ and Rob Marshall’s iconic production of this absolute classic musical has been revived yet again, because every once and a w…

I'll see you again in 25 years: Twin Peaks returns to the medium it changed

It took a long time for me to accept I would never get narrative closure from Twin Peaks.

I was a teenager when it first aired and I was obsessed with it. As obsessed as anyone could be back in 1991, when all you could do between episodes was discuss it at school or read reviews in the newspaper. And it was like nothing I’d ever seen. It was unlike anything else on television.
It’s not just that the show was cancelled – I was used to that happening, especially as a science fiction fan, watching series after series debut on FOX only to last a season and then disappear. They were looking for their next The X-Files. They never found it. Maybe, Fringe?
It was the fact that the ending was so bleak. So dark. So devastating. Evil triumphed. The town of Twin Peaks, torn apart by the murder of Laura Palmer, tried so desperately to recover – only to be consumed by the darkness that surrounded the town. And the series’ hero, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, was... well, even twenty-five years lat…

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 …

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 …

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, C…

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 …

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…

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…

“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 mi…

Theatre in New York, 2014

Seeing theatre in New York inspires me. Being in a city with such a vibrant theatre culture is exciting. We may have gone slightly overboard to start with – seven shows in four days, but even the ability to be able to do that is thrilling. We slowed down after that, which was good for our sanity and our theatre-going mood. It’s hard to not want to sample everything that New York theatre has to offer, which is impossible – but still tempting.
Here’s some short reviews of the shows I saw.
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Hedwig and the Angry Inch It’s true that the reason that this production is so great is that Neil Patrick Harris is perfect in the lead role – and he brings the audience along with him. What makes it even better than expected are the tweaks to bring this cabaret show to a Broadway-sized stage, plus – a masterful performance by Lena Hall as Yitzhak, whose character is fleshed out here like never before.

Violet I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see Sutton Foster on stage, but I went into this show b…

Five projects: why I'm only now writing my second blog post of 2014

I never have enough time to do everything, but so far this year, I’ve used all my spare time to do the things I want to do. I’m balancing several projects at different stages of development. It’s mid-April, though, and my first blog post was this week – about spoilers and Shakespeare and “Game of Thrones”.
And though I’ve been to see some amazing theatre this year – so far the highlights have been “Neighbourhood Watch” at Melbourne Theatre Company and The Rabble’s “Frankenstein” at the Malthouse – 2014 has been mostly focused on writing. My writing and collaborations. Productions and pre-production. Applications and workshops and improvisation.
I’ve never really believed in writers’ block. I always have more projects that I’d like to work on than time in the day, week or year. Ideas that have bubbled away in the back of my mind for months and years before I’ve committed words to a page. Sometimes I can’t make the small things work. Lines or dialogue or scenes. But I tend to always ha…