Thursday, 30 April 2015

See, Watch, Hear: April 2015

A monthly round-up of what I've seen, watched and listened to. This month I'll talk about the best-of-the-best in each category and then give a quick overview of the rest.

SEE

I binge-watched a bunch of stand-up comedians at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival early in the month, saw a show each at the Melbourne Theatre Company and Malthouse Thetare, as well as a little show called The Road to Woodstock at Chapel Off Chapel.


Spotlight on... Sara Pascoe vs History

I see a lot of theatre - plays and musicals, mostly. I love being won over by a piece of theatre. I go in with the attitude of "give me your best" and I really hope that happens. But when I watch plays or musicals, I can usually see the work that's gone into it. I watch and my brain tries to figure out how it works - whether as stage craft or just on the level of writing. If I'm loving a play, it can inspire me - to be better, to try new things. If I'm hating a play, I'm pulling it apart - trying to work out what went wrong.

Watching stand-up is, for me, like trying to understand nuclear physics. I understand the basic components. Or I like to think I do, but I don't think I could ever really explain it. Or replicate it. I could write a funny play or even a funny one-man show (I think I have done both). But stand-up? That's something I'm often in awe of. It seems so simple, but the degree of difficulty...

Sara Pascoe tells great stories, is consistently funny, ties her show to a theme - challenging our perception of womens' place in history - and entertains for a solid hour. She's open and honest - doesn't mind making fun of herself, but is never self-indulgent. And hilarious.

If a stand-up routine can make me laugh from beginning to end, that's all it needs to do. It doesn't need to be flashy. It doesn't even need to be smart. But if it is, if it has something to say. If it makes me see the world differently, good. Sara Pascoe did that. Just don't ask me how.

Elsewhere... Melbourne Theatre Company's production of Beckett's Endgame was hamstrung by Beckett himself and the insistence that his stage directions are followed to the letter. I like the play and there are superb moments. But in some ways it feels so dry, so mannered and so dated. After seeing the Triptych at the Adelaide Festival recently, I know I haven't become adverse to Beckett. But as much effort as director Sam Strong and his awesome cast put into the show, it still feels like the best play of 60 years ago.

The much more modern stylings of Meme Girls at Malthouse was entertaining but disappointing in the way it kind of felt thrown together. I know it was an homage to YouTube, but I only engaged (or not) with the show piece by piece and not by the whole.

I've seen a lot of Neil Cole plays, but his love letter to Joan Baez, The Road to Woodstock, is probably the best work of his. Petra Elliott is incredible in the role of Baez. It's on until Sunday.

WATCH


Spotlight on... Justified

When Justified started six year ago, I thought it might be a fun diversion. I like Elmore Leonard's novels and basing this show on one of his short stories is a solid basis for an ongoing series. The show is about Raylan Givens - a US Marshall who must return to his home town in Kentucky. The criminals who populate the show are typical Leonard creations, violent, verbose and - often - quite stupid. Givens is like a Sheriff from an old Western, so casting Timothy Olyphant after his turn in Deadwood was perfect.

There's a lot of talk about how TV is currently in a new golden age. And the shows discussed are often game-changers. The Sopranos, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad - they all changed the medium, whether or not I was a fan of them personally.

I don't think Justified changed the medium, but it was a solid show for six years - and it did what I need my favourite shows to do, remember its history and let its characters grow. Even just a little. It honoured Leonard's work and was a hell of a lot of fun.

Elsewhere...

One of the absolute best shows on television right now is The Americans - about a pair of Russian spies who are married and living in suburban America in the 1980s. Its third season was the best yet.

I also watched The Fall, which I loved. And Daredevil, which I am somewhat indifferent to. But I'll let you know what I think when I finish the first season.

And speaking of the Marvel Universe, I saw Avengers: Age of Ultron last weekend. I'll probably write a review of that this weekend. But just quickly - a lot of fun, but trying to do too many things at once.

Finally, the last season of Mad Men is airing right now. Expect a post about that when it wraps up in three weeks' time.

HEAR



Spotlight on... The Allusionist is a podcast about words - and sometimes about the spaces between the words. Its first episode was about puns, there's another about where the word bra comes from, one about crossword puzzles. My favourite is about fake words in the dictionary - words inserted into published dictionaries to act as a kind of copyright protection. If someone copies a dictionary and uses one of these fake words, it's easy for a dictionary publisher to notice.

Of course, once these words become well known, even for their fakery, they become words.

Other podcasts

Scriptnotes
 continues to be a great podcast about the creativity and business of screenwriting. On a similar topic, I've been listening to a lot of episodes of the Nerdist Writers Podcast - writers on Joss Whedon shows, writers on Friends, writers on Archer.

I've been sampling The Theory of Everything, which currently has an ongoing series called "New York After Rent" - which is about how AirBnB has changed New York in some strange ways. But it's also got some great stuff about the musical Rent and the real-life Life cafe (which no longer exists, but of issues with their landlords and, uh, rent).

Also check out Love + Radio and Strangers. Pick a random episode and listen.



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