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My Favourite Theatre of 2015

I’m scared I’m going to forget something. I saw so much great work this year, I’m worried that I’ve missed something from my list. Or it wasn’t recorded properly in my Calendar. I reserve the right to add to this later, if I wake up in the night, remembering something I forgot to mention. Or a rave I forgot to make.
I saw shows in Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney this year – and amazing work in all those places.
Here we go... in alphabetical order...
THE TOP TEN
ANTIGONE - Malthouse It divided the critics (along gender lines) but I thought Jane Montgomery Griffith’s translation/update of Antigone was superb. One of a number of shows that left me utterly speechless this year. I eventually found words.
BIRDLAND - Melbourne Theatre Company Simon Stephens’ work always seems brutal and fragile to me all at the same time. Even the most awful people feel like they are going to break apart. And Leticia Caceres’ production was really astonishing. Easily the best thing at the Melbourne Theatre Co…

How old were you when you first saw STAR WARS?

No spoilers for The Force Awakens.


Watching films is so different these days. It’s not just the films themselves. It’s the way we watch them. The way we talk about them. And how quickly we devour them and wait for the next thing.
How old was I when I first saw Star Wars? Five, maybe? Or seven? I was too young to have seen it on its original release (I was only two at the time), but I have a distinct memory of watching it at a friend’s house on VHS after school. This is before we had a VCR at home, so this was a big deal. Such a big deal, that we watched Star Wars a lot.
I think I remember The Empire Strikes Back being released, but I’m not sure. I would have only been five years old then. What am I remembering? A re-release before Return of the Jedi when I was eight? Possibly.
I do have a very clear memory of seeing Return of the Jedi for the first time, not just because I was so excited for the movie – but because I am pretty sure my mother would have preferred to see Roger Moore in…

SPECTRE: Does it meet expectations?

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR SPECTRE
After 2012’s Skyfall – a commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the James Bond film series – any follow-up was going to have hard time hitting that height. And the series, since its 2006 reinvention with Daniel Craig, has been a solid run of films. Even the maligned Quantum of Solace really only suffers in comparison to Casino Royale and, for me, it’s a perfect sequel to Craig’s first outing.
Spectre, on the other hand, doesn’t just suffer by comparison. Its own internal logic doesn’t stack up and where it wants to tie together disperate elements from the three previous films, it makes little-to-no sense. Yes, we’re still talking about James Bond films here. A series whose low points include James Bond in space (Moonraker) and James Bond in an invisible car (Die Another Day).
It’s not that the series has ever been consistently one thing or another, let alone consistently good. Each actor brings his own quirks to the role and every time the character is re-c…

Sometimes I write reviews: YOUARENOWHERE

YOU ARE NOWHERE.
The first thing you should know going into this show is that you should know nothing about it. But isn’t that true of all shows? The less you know, the better? Maybe, but you see Desdemona having read or seen Othello. You see The Bacchae, perhaps knowing the original play or the Greek myth or the word bacchanalia, at least.
I went into YOUARENOWHERE knowing it was made by Andrew Schneider at PS122 in New York and that it was highly regarded by people who had seen it as part of the Coil Festival back in January of this year. I knew this was one not to be missed, but I didn’t know why.
The brief in the Festival program was enough to whet my appetite. It hits my interest in science fiction and time travel and individual perspective. And the production/promotional image is intriguing.
The first thing I want to say about my reaction is that I walked out of the theatre speechless. I get this way. If I don’t know what to say, it’s always because I loved the show. Because ad…

Melbourne Fringe 2015: AussieTheatre reviews

ANTIGONE: the tragedy that keeps on giving

On Monday afternoon of this week, I sat in the public galleries of both the House of Representatives and the Senate at Parliament House in Canberra. It was Question Time and many of the questions to our Prime Minister were about Syria, in particular about increasing Australia’s refugee intake and whether or not a campaign of airstrikes on the country was in anyone’s best interests.
I realised, sitting there, watching the same questions asked over and over – and the Prime Minister falling back on his tired rhetoric that his government “stopped the boats”, that Question Time is just that. A time for questions. No answers were given. The captain had made his call.
By Thursday, Australia committed to taking 12,000 refugees from Syria – as well as to a series of airstrikes in the region. In three days, the answer went from “we are doing enough” to “let’s not be too compassionate” to increasing our refugee numbers while the Prime Minister made the unilateral decision to engage in another M…

Christie Whelan in SHOW PEOPLE! One night only at Chapel Off Chapel

There’s no people like show people They smile when they are low...
I’ve seen Christie Whelan-Browne on stage numerous times – in many Production Company shows (like The Boy Friend, Sugar, The Producers), at the Melbourne Theatre Company (in The Drowsy Chaperone and The Importance of Being Earnest), in big musicals (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Xanadu), small musicals (Once We Lived Here) and cabaret (Britney Spears: The Cabaret).
She’s the kind of performer whose name will make me want to see a show more, if I’m ever uncertain. Each and every time I see her, I still wish I saw her on stage more often – because she can sing and dance and always creates rich and complex characters, when the show requires it. She’s been in three shows with Geoffrey Rush and has pretty much stolen the show from him each and every time.
If this feels like I’m getting carried away, it’s true. But this is the kind of roll I get on when I talk about her work. This is the kind of excitement …

I AM A MIRACLE: Challenging abuses of power (Or, How to change history)

Adam Goodes. Sandra Bland. Cecil the Lion. Bronwyn Bishop.
Four vastly different stories that have filtered through news and social media over the last few weeks, that have basically nothing in common – except they are all about systemic abuses of power. Goodes and Bishop are intensely local stories that have vied for our attention in Australia. Sandra and Cecil are both stories we’ve heard a hundred times before – and this week, we argued about which should outrage us more.
All of them important. None more important than any other. Bishop may have resigned today, but the system she was using to her own advantage continues. Goodes may not have played football this weekend, and the tide of support has turned toward him – but those who booed him last week probably still wish they could boo him this week. And some, hopefully, have woken up to themselves.

I Am A Miracle by Declan Greene and directed by Matthew Lutton, currently playing at the Malthouse Theatre, was inspired by a miscarria…

Love, Shit and Birdland: Extraordinary work on Melbourne's mainstages (and elsewhere)

June has been an incredible month for theatre in Melbourne.
Even though my theatre-going month started with MTC’s The Waiting Room, which was inept on most levels – it’s hard to know where to place the most blame, with MTC’s Neon season in full swing and the premiere of three more mainstage works (two at MTC, one at Malthouse), the quality of work picked up considerably. I also saw a great show at La Mama and the Owl and Cat.
But let’s begin with the cream of the crop – three shows that are still running through next weekend.

Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information is given a stunning production at the Malthouse, with superb direction by Kip Williams, populated with stunning performances on a modular set (David Fleischer) with evocative lighting (Paul Jackson).
The script is divided into seven sections. Within the seven sections there are seven scenes. The sections must be played in order but the scenes within the sections can be played in any order. This sounds like chemistry, like a…

Fuller’s Unfinished Symphony: HANNIBAL begins its Third Movement

When it was announced that Bryan Fuller (Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies) was making a TV series about Hannibal Lecter, I was skeptical. An ongoing narrative about the cannibal psychiatrist? It seemed like a concept that wouldn’t work. It seemed like another show that was using name recognition to sell it, rather than a compelling story.
Thomas Harris’ first two novels that featured Hannibal Lecter, "Red Dragon" and "The Silence of the Lambs", had both been turned into films – Manhunter in 1986 and Silence of the Lambs in 1991. Lambs won five Oscars and is still the only horror movie to win Best Picture. If, indeed, you think it fits neatly into the horror genre.

(Also, Silence of the Lambs is in my top five films of all time and it has influenced a lot of my writing - if only by learning that you can use genre tropes to tell compelling human stories.)
But the books, and the adaptation of the books, had taken a turn for the worse. Harris didn’t want to …

See, Watch, Hear: May 2015

A monthly round-up of what I've seen, watched and listened to.
SEE I took a trip to Sydney this month, plus a whole lot of new work opened in Melbourne - mainstage, independent and a combination of the two in MTC's third Neon season.



Spotlight on...Wizard of Oz at Belvoir, directed by Adena Jacobs

Adena Jacobs' work is often interested in the cinematic, while being transposed into the theatrical. Her production of Persona was a revelation - somehow she was able to capture the essence of that film while making a memorable stage work. Her Wizard of Oz is even more remarkable - it's bold, it's unforgettable and it's confronting and troubling. She knows you've seen the film a hundred times and this is the nightmarish version of that Oz that was once Dorothy's dream; now it's a nightmare about growing up - where brains, heart and courage can also put you on a path to doing terrible things.

There are touchstones in there, characters we know but barely recog…

Pain from an old wound: MAD MEN, nostalgia and the end of an era

No spoilers.

In the first season finale of Mad Men, Don Draper – an ad man in 1960s New York – defines nostalgia, from the Greek, as “pain from an old wound”. He’s pitching a campaign to Kodak, who are trying to sell their slide projector wheel.
Nostalgia is delicate and potent, Don says. The carousel is about evoking memories, eliciting emotion. Nostalgia and the wheel arouse “a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone”.
Throughout the presentation, we see photographs of Don and his family – telling us more about their lives and their history, arousing emotions for a family at the centre of the series. A family we know that is slowly breaking apart.
The wheel "isn't a spaceship, it's a time machine. It goes backwards and forwards... it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It's not called the wheel, it's called the Carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels - around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we a…