Saturday, 19 August 2017

REVIEW: Surprise Party with Jem & Dead Max, La Mama Courthouse

Surprise Party with Jemma and Dead Max
Photo by Connor Tomas O'Brien

Recently, La Mama theatre in Carlton celebrated its 50th Anniversary of staging and producing innovative, diverse, independent theatre in Melbourne. It is supportive of all range of artists, from newcomers to old-hands and you never know what you are going to get when you visit either of its two spaces in Faraday Street or at the Courthouse.

As La Mama enters its second fifty years, there’s a surprise party happening, in a new play by Georgia Symons. The play has been assisted in its creation by a Hot Desk Fellowship at the Wheeler Centre, followed by a development as part of The Kiln at Arts Centre Melbourne.

We’ve all arrived at parties on time or a little late only to find the hosts are still setting up and that’s the case here. Jem (Anna Kennedy) needs help hanging streamers and blowing up balloons and the audience is happy to help; we’re welcomed into a festive space and pleased to have been invited.

As the title of the play suggests, the surprise party is for Jem’s close friend Max (Christian Taylor), who is dead. He would have been twenty-one-years-old today, if he’d survived the fatal head-on collision with a truck. But enough with the sadness, let’s get on with celebrating a very full life.

Jem and Max were close friends at high school; they attended parties and went on school camp and saw movies together. Jem makes a game out of reminiscing about their friendship, sending Max on a kind of treasure hunt around her house to find mementos of their time together.

The play mostly focuses on these two friends hanging out and having fun talking about old times – even if Max’s scars from the accident are clearly visible throughout. Hey, if he’s not worried about his early death, why should we be? Let’s have fun watching them having fun!

And there’s a lot of joy in seeing Kennedy and Taylor inhabit these energy-filled teenagers jumping around the stage, dancing and singing and drinking like there’s no such thing as a hangover. Only late in the play do we get much of a sense of danger, when Jem’s drink is spiked, though the play makes it clear she’s hiding something from Max throughout.

There’s a darker, more complicated surprise at the heart of Surprise Party. It’s about grief, of course, but not simply about the death of a friend, but about the death of friendship. What can we say to people who slip out of our lives? Where do we put our anger and outrage when they aren’t around to yell at any more?

There’s some strong dramatic stuff towards the end, though the overly complicated staging by director Iris Gaillard robs us of a smooth way into the story. For all the energy of the cast, there’s too much stage craft and “business”; we should be connecting more with these characters than watching them deal with dozens of props and many sets of chairs. These choices bog down the reveals in the closing minutes of the play.

Anna Kennedy’s Jem is a welcoming presence and makes us feel comfortable before pulling the rug out from under us. Her character is easier to get a grip on than the deliberately mercurial Max. Christian Taylor has the harder job, being as much Jem’s memory of Max as he is Max himself.

Symons’ script is layered and knotty and the story she’s really telling isn’t clear until the end, but it might feel better if it felt more like an inevitability than a surprise twist.


Sunday, 6 August 2017

Returning to a place I've never been: My Twin Peaks Festival odyssey



As I sit here, half a world away (I have the co-ordinates, but am no longer in the zone) and a day ahead of those in North Bend and Snoqualmie (is it future or is it past), I am reminiscing about my time at the 25th Annual Twin Peaks Festival. 

I wish it wasn’t over.

I have been a fan of Twin Peaks ever since it aired in Australia in 1991. I have dreamed of visiting the area where it was filmed all this time – and have known about the Festival ever since first reading about it in “Wrapped in Plastic” magazine many, many years ago. I wonder now why it’s taken me so long to make this trip, but I would not exchange waiting and experiencing this years’ event for anything.

Even attendees who have visited the Festival multiple times (some, nearly every year for a quarter of a century) had to admit that this year was unique. We’re in the middle of watching Twin Peaks: The Return and we watched part 12 with a room full of Twin Peaks fans at the Roadhouse in North Bend, which is the exteriors for the Roadhouse (or Bang Bang Bar) in Twin Peaks itself.


I got to visit iconic locations – the Falls, the Double-R Diner, the Sheriff’s Station – while others, who had seen all these places, discovered new shooting locations for scenes that had just aired. In Part 11, which debuted the week before the Festival, we saw Becky hunt down her cheating husband at Gersten’s apartment – and fans found that location quick smart. So many stairwell shots from that building appeared over the weekend.

Next year’s Festival attendees will get to pull apart the entirety of The Return and actors will be able to answer questions in more detail. If Sherilyn Fenn returns in 2018, she’ll be able to talk about appearing in a show she’d been absent from until we saw her in the Roadhouse, though neither she nor Audrey made it there.

I don’t know that any other TV series could build an event quite like the Twin Peaks Festival. I can’t think of another series that has so many locations you can visit that still look mostly like they did twenty-five years ago or have been renovated to their former glory because of The Return.

Like Lucy, don't bother me when I'm at lunch
The original series only filmed in the Pacific Northwest for the pilot, but production returned for Fire Walk With Me and the new series has expanded the world of Twin Peaks in so many ways, including more and more locations around North Bend, Mt Si, Snoqualmie and Olallie State Park. I spent three days in the area and still didn’t see everything, which is reason enough to return some day.

Only three hundred tickets are sold to the Festival every year and they sold out in fifteen minutes this time. Three hundred people sounds like a lot but not compared to other TV and film festivals and conventions; three hundred attendees is intimate. We were all together at the Celebrity Dinner and the picnic, picking and choosing which places to see in between and when we might spend time talking to other fans and meeting the celebrities.

Can you imagine another festival/convention where you can just sit down with Sherilyn Fenn, chat for a few minutes, get a photo and not feel like a crowd is breathing down your neck?

People at the Festival love meeting the actors and the Executive Producer of their favourite TV series, but they are also excited by the fan art on display and on sale. As David Lynch says, anyone who creates is a friend of his – and there were a lot of Lynch fans/friends displaying their art, inspired by Twin Peaks and the Pacific Northwest.

with John Thorne,
co-editor of Wrapped in Plastic and Blue Rose magazines
I loved meeting Sherilyn Fenn and Kimmy Robertson and getting an epic photo with Chrysta Bell and Amy Shiels, but one of my favourite moments was meeting John Thorne, co-editor of “Wrapped in Plastic” magazine. Twin Peaks might have changed how I viewed television, but in the 90s, when I couldn’t rewatch the series, “Wrapped in Plastic” kept the fire of fandom alight. I found issue 6 in a local comic-book store and then purchased every issue through its final, number 75, many years later.

Over those years, I wrote to John and co-editor Craig Miller, many times. I had several letters and a couple of small pieces published in the magazine. In a time when I couldn’t revisit the series itself, reading theories and interviews with the cast and WIP’s detailed episode guides, reminded me issue after issue how incredible Twin Peaks was. Meeting John was a great moment. Seeing him in the Roadhouse after Part 12 and getting his immediate reaction to new Twin Peaks was very special.

Meeting fans and getting their thoughts on the new show was pretty wonderful, too. I spoke with fans from England and Japan and Germany and from all over the United States. Shout-out to Chris from Seattle, who drove my friend Amanda and I around the first day, and to Pete and his wife Kim from Virginia, who drove us around on the last day. Fans are so generous, showing off places they have already visited, willing to see them again to see the reactions of us first-timers.


After loving this show for twenty-six years, it’s hard to explain how it felt to see Snoqualmie Falls by day and by night, or to eat at Twede’s Café, or to walk through both the Twin Peaks and Deer Meadow Sheriff’s Stations. It was real and surreal. It was like stepping into the world of the show, a world that continues to open-up, its mysteries unfolding before us week-by-week.

Much like Cooper’s odyssey back to Twin Peaks in The Return, my trip to North Bend and Snoqualmie feels like it has taken twenty-five years and the wait has been worth it.

Upon leaving the Festival, I will miss the sights and sounds, the fans and the actors, but via social media, none of these people are that far away. And as we post our reminiscences and our highlights, we will continue to bond over the final parts of the 18-hour film that is David Lynch and Mark Frost’s return to Twin Peaks.

The original series was cancelled in 1991. It returned as a film and then went away for a long time. The Festival began and continued and, under the guidance of Rob & Deanne Lindley, goes from strength to strength.

In The Return, Dale Cooper is on his odyssey back to Twin Peaks. It’s a long, strange journey and one I will follow when I return to this Festival one day. Hopefully, it won’t take another twenty-five years.


with Kimmy Robertson (Lucy)

with Chrysta Bell (Agent Preston) &
Amy Shiels (Candie)

with John Pirruccello (Chad)
with James Marshall (James)
with Sherilyn Fenn (Audrey)

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Wrecking Ball by Action Hero (Arts House)


“Metaphor is bullshit.”

How do you create an authentic moment? How do you invent something out of nothing? How do you find truth with your camera when all you have is a model, a white backdrop and some cocktails?

James Stenhouse’s photographer welcomes us to his studio. He wants us to relax. He offers us a beer. He doesn’t want anyone to feel any pressure, especially not his model. Gemma Paintin is his model, his subject and someone who wants him to work miracles.

From the opening minutes of this play by UK company Action Hero, currently in residence at Arts House in North Melbourne, we can feel the power imbalance. The photographer has the audience on his side. If we’re not glancing at him, finding him at his makeshift cocktail bar or at his seat in the audience, we’re only staring at her. He’s subject and she is object.

The model, who needs a memorable photograph, a transformative album cover, acts like she is only there out of obligation. This might make her a star, but it’s also a chore. He’s trying to create magic and she’s pushing back. What is she to do with this pineapple? Is she really lying on a beach? What’s with this ice cream that doesn’t drip?

She rebels and we can see why. The photographer, for all his vision, lacks perception. He is treating her like a prop in her own photoshoot. A warm body who moves to his own amusement. And slowly the power shifts. Back and forth. Back and forth.

Wrecking Ball is a carefully drawn satire on creativity and commercialism. It’s also a fascinating commentary on objectification; when we stare at a celebrity in a perfectly posed photograph, are we seeing them or a thing the photographer has created?

Much of this play centres on how much we, as an audience, are willing to suspend our disbelief. The mounting tension between the photographer and the model, as he tempts her into more and more ridiculous scenarios, is palpable. And hilarious.

We all like to take photographs to capture moments. And we’re thrilled when we get the frame right and the light. Wrecking Ball swings wildly and smashes into the pretensions of trying to create something out of nothing. Of thinking capturing objects is enough and forgetting that the subject is the key.

A remarkable, insightful play about imagery and image.


Thursday, 25 May 2017

Hoke’s Bluff by Action Hero (Arts House)

Hoke's Bluff at Arts House
I don’t watch sport very often, but when I do, I often think of it as a kind of theatrical event. There’s drama on the field, on the court and on the ice. There’s a crowd invested in every movement and every shot at goal. Athletes are trying to give the best performances of their career every time they appear in front of their audience and fans.

Sporting heroism is at the heart of Hoke’s Bluff by British performance group, Action Hero, currently in residence at Arts House in North Melbourne. They’ve transformed the main room of the Town Hall into a stadium with bleachers and a court that resembles a basketball court, but the sport we cheer could be anything.

There’s a mascot and a cheerleader. There’s an umpire and a coach. And sportsmen going through tough training regimes, assaulted by a torrent of clichés and inspirational quotes. Small Town USA telling its young men that they can be the greatest; their young women cheering from the sidelines.

The repetition of the script, devised by performers Gemma Paintin, James Stenhouse and Laura Dennequin, is in turns energetic and trying. The writing fixates on certain turns of phrase and then tries out a myriad of reconfigurations. Small town kids are dreaming about the future, but the rote commands of coaches and teammates and friends almost guarantee they will go nowhere.

The sheer implausibility of becoming a professional athlete never enters their mind; they strive to achieve and escape their mundane existence.

The trouble with Hoke’s Bluff is that it’s stuck in this routine and we don’t learn much about the central characters. They are stuck on the treadmill and the audience is right alongside; it’s not enough we are occasionally brought into the action by feeling like we’re part of the team or the roaring crowd, we must care about who wins and who loses.

We were encouraged to cheer, like we might at a sporting event, but not much in the show itself left me wanting to applaud these writer/actor/athletes. Not even for their awesome physicality and commitment.

Hoke’s Bluff is oncourt until Saturday night only. Action Hero is at Arts Centre this week and next with two other shows.


Monday, 22 May 2017

Wild Bore (Malthouse Theatre)

Adrienne Truscott, Ursula Martinez, Zoe Coombs Marr
sitting on their starring arses in Wild Bore

I’ve been thinking a lot about theatre criticism lately, on the back of the layoffs at Fairfax, who are threatening to scale back their arts coverage to virtually non-existent. It’s hard to find even now.

Arts criticism is important to theatre ecology. Good theatre criticism informs a readership about a work it hasn’t seen. Good theatre criticism can be helpful to the artist. Good theatre criticism can be used in a show’s publicity. Good theatre criticism is an art in itself.

If you take criticism away, you diminish the arts.

But criticism isn’t always good. Criticism, like the theatre, can be flawed. And Wild Bore’s challenge to theatre critics is to question themselves.

The dramaturgical intent of this show is clear – critics can sometimes talk out of their arse. The audience is bombarded with this imagery over and over again to hilarious result. But it would be a pity if that’s what this show is remembered for, a lot of bare arses on stage.

Adrienne Truscott, Ursula Martinez and Zoe Coombes Marr are all performance artists whose work doesn’t neatly fit categories. You might call them comedians, but you don’t get tradition stand-up at their solo shows, not even when Zoe is playing “Dave” – a male stand-up comedian.

Truscott’s previous show, One Trick Pony, was about the critical reaction to her previous show Asking for It. She wrestled with her critics there, but she also wrestled with the fact that her work defies neat summary. How do you critique a work if you’re not exactly sure if it’s stand-up, or cabaret, or performance art? And should that matter to her?

Wild Bore continues to pick apart the problems of theatre criticism, while critiquing the show we are watching as it happens. They read choice quotes from reviews of their own work, but also focus on some outrageous, almost meaningless criticism that is remembered purely for its vivid imagery.

There also seems to be a recurring criticism directed at these women’s work, though; a blanket statement that dismisses the choices they make - “for some reason”. Their critics don’t bother to interrogate why these performers might choose certain theatrical devices, they just underline the conceit and leave it at that. For some reason.

I almost wrote that Wild Bore defies criticism, but that feels like a lazy response. This is a smart, confronting, hilarious piece of meta theatre that questions its critics’ biases and then picks apart its own. Yes, even as the show worries about the dominant male critical voice, these three white women step aside for another voice to take the stage. A critique of the critics of the critics. Thank you, Krishna Istha, your voice is very much appreciated.

Wild Bore is a review of Wild Bore and a piece of subversive art comedy theatre performance that doesn’t disappear up its own arse. It just comes dangerously close. And it’s all the better for it.


Saturday, 20 May 2017

Happy Days at War by Leah Milburn-Clark (Northcote Town Hall)

Leah Milburn-Clark, writer, director, star of Happy Days at War
In the midst of World War II, a German’s couple’s relationship is tested when the husband lands a job with the Fuhrer and must question if he has a future with his blind wife.

Written, starring and co-directed by Leah Milburn-Clark, Happy Days at War tackles big ideas in an intimate setting. Studio 1 at the Northcote Town Hall has never felt so cosy, with the audience lined up along the edge of a trestle table, cradling props that are waiting for us on our seats.

Nicola Stratman’s set design evokes a period kitchen, with a working stove allowing the scent of dinner to waft through the space. We are in that room, sometimes inches from the actors as they eat, drink, knead dough and play with a new pet.

Leah has written a part for herself that is challenging; her character is blind and interacts with the audience (those holding props), as if she is trying to find them, even when the character knows where she's left them. This woman is about routine and Leah makes these simple gestures fascinating to watch.

Jay Peardon as the husband has the tougher role, though. He must appear sympathetic at first, believable as a doting, affectionate husband and then watch him transform as he is affected by Nazi propaganda. It’s a big ask for the audience to track that change in a seventy-minute two-hander, but Jay's performance is striking in its shifts throughout.

The two performers are engaging and the production is lovely to look at, with all its theatrical nods to “realism”. The play is compelling, as we watch the routine of two lives turned upside-down by government policy they have no control over.

The character of the husband goes through a much more interesting journey than the wife, who simply reacts to her husband’s changing moods.  As the tone of the play changes, the whole production should feel a little more dangerous than it does; the collapse of this couple is a metaphor for the collapse of the country they love.

Leah Milburn-Clark is a recent graduate of WAAPA and she should be commended for getting a strong team of emerging artists together and taking this show on the road. I couldn’t help but think that an outside-eye, a director who was not writer and performer, might have helped to raise the stakes and interrogate things in the text that the writer might have missed.


Saturday, 13 May 2017

SPENCER by Katy Warner (Chapel Off Chapel)


Scott is an AFL football player who is waiting at his family home to meet the son he never knew he had. Brother Ben is more interested in Scott’s career than the result of Scott’s one-night-stand. Mother Marilyn is excited to meet her first grandchild, while criticising daughter Jules for not becoming a mother herself.

Spencer, a new play by Katy Warner (A Prudent Man), is a rapid-fire comedy about expectations amongst family. While Marilyn’s focused much of her energy on Scott’s AFL career, she’s given up hope on her other two children. And, to be fair, they’ve given up too; on dreams both big and small.

There are a lot of stories about parents having high expectations for their children, but Katy’s new play also digs into children’s expectations of their parents. In some ways, Ben and Jules’ stories of losing faith in Marilyn are more compelling than their mother losing faith in them. And when their estranged biological father arrives, tensions are higher and the uncomfortable, sometimes brutal laughs come thick and fast.

Director Sharon Davis keeps the pace up for most of the play’s running time, only allowing the audience and the characters a moment to catch their breaths during the occasional fade to black. In some ways, Spencer plays like a domestic drama punctured by cutting remarks; if you played this story straight, it could be unbearable. But sometimes, with family, you gotta laugh.

There’s a lot of high energy work on the stage in this production, none more so than Lyall Brooks in the role of Ben. He’s the biggest disappointment of the family; divorced, living with his mother, coaching Auskick and a complete slob. Lyall bounces around on stage, lunging, stretching and eating M&Ms off his chest. His speech about coco-pops is both gross and hilarious and some late play business with a piñata is stellar physical comedy.

Jane Clifton’s Marilyn brightens up the stage in her colourful costumes even as she darkens her children’s days. She’s unhappy with Ben and Jules’ life, but she’s also struggling to understand why her successful son might not be enjoying the career she sacrificed so much for. It’s a truly remarkable performance; a mother you can’t stand but come to understand.

Rob Sowinski’s set feels like outer-eastern-suburbs chic from the 1970s that Marilyn and family have never updated. This family is stuck in the past in many ways, retelling jokes they’ve told all their lives and being unable to grow up.

Spencer is the child and grandchild the family is waiting for to arrive. They are already pouring their dreams into him, a child of two-years-old. Spencer captures a day in the life of a family who once had high expectations for each other and, now that they have failed, are excited to have a new family member that might make up for wasted opportunities.

And it’s bloody hilarious.




Monday, 8 May 2017

The World Spins: Watching Twin Peaks for the last time


I recently finished re-watching Twin Peaks for the last time. One day, I’ll watch it again, but I’ll never be able to watch the original series the same way again.

The more you access a memory, the more it changes. Your recollection of events from your life remain more like reality if you leave them behind you and access them only rarely. The more you replay a moment in your life, the less reliable your memory of that moment gets. Memory is a fickle thing. We introduce new colours and new experiences and, of course, you can never re-live a memory. And you can never remember exactly how it was.

In the twenty-six years since Twin Peaks first aired on Australian television (it premiered here on February 24th, 1991 – the day Laura Palmer died and the day before my 16th birthday), I have watched the series through a number of times. On VHS, recorded from TV. On a released set of VHS tapes. On DVD (both the Artisan & Gold Box releases). And on BluRay.

It’s hard to remember exactly how I reacted to the series when I first watched it. I knew it was unlike anything I had ever seen, but I was sixteen at the time. What did I know?

I clearly remember discussing the pilot at school and there was a question of whether Sarah Palmer’s vision at the end meant the series was headed in a supernatural direction. Little did we know. I remember talking about Dale Cooper’s very strange dream in the red room with the little man. I remember a discussion about whether grief-stricken Leland falling on Laura’s casket was a clue.

And I remember thinking that this was a deep, dark secret held by the TV creators – even though the reveal of “Who Killed Laura Palmer” had actually aired in the US the previous November. The world, and spoilers, moved slowly in 1991.

I only had the last six or seven episodes on tape for years and I watched those episodes a lot, especially the final four episodes, which aired as two two-hour specials around Sept/Oct 1991. I’ve watched the final hour countless times, trying to figure out what really happened to Dale Cooper and how the multiple cliffhangers might resolve themselves.

I remember the excitement of being able to hire the show from a local video store; to re-watch for the first time, and introduce several friends to the series. It was strange to finally revisit Twin Peaks, which had influenced a lot of my writing in late high school and when I went on to study playwriting and screenwriting. It was a major turning point in my understanding of what television and art could be. And I wasn’t alone.

For twenty-six years, I’ve watched the series and read essays about the show and behind-the-scenes books and watched documentaries. I wrote a follow-up script to the series, just to try to deal with those many cliffhangers and I ran a roleplaying game for my friends to resolve Dale Cooper’s ultimate fate.

Each and every time I revisit the series, I see it differently. I catch things new things I’ve always missed. Or I appreciate different things about the writing or the production or the acting. Hard to not reflect on having co-created my own supernatural drama series (Sonnigsburg) in the years since David Lynch and Mark Frost announced they were returning to their own mystery town in the Pacific Northwest.

Every time you revisit a memory it changes. Every time you revisit a place, it’s different. Every time you watch Twin Peaks, something has changed. We see things differently. We appreciate different aspects of the whole.

In two weeks’ time, Twin Peaks: The Return begins. Whatever story it chooses to tell, however many of the original mysteries Lynch/Frost decide to answer, I will never be able to watch the first two seasons the same way again. Oh, sure, over time you can put terrible sequels and prequels behind you and enjoy the originals again. But never in quite the same way.

I recently finished re-watching Twin Peaks for the last time. I’m looking forward to seeing it again for the first time one day.


But soon, The Return.


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.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

The stars turn and a time reveals itself: The Return of (and to) TWIN PEAKS

April 8, 1990. The two-hour pilot of Twin Peaks premieres.

April 8, 2017. Forty-five days until the first new Twin Peaks for twenty-five years and we have little-to-no idea what to expect from Twin Peaks: The Return.

Twin Peaks is known for being a mystery, a puzzle. Most viewers interacted with it on a very basic level – they wanted to find out who killed Laura Palmer. That was the driving question of the series, it seemed. That was the hook.

The answer to that question did not resolve the puzzle box nature of the show, though. From a purely plot perspective, the simple answer is revealed about halfway through the show’s original run. But the answer to “Who Killed Laura Palmer” (emblazoned on t-shirts across the world) spawned other questions about the nature of man and the nature of evil.

For a show that took the form of a small-town mystery soap opera, it was determined to look beyond the typical concerns of most television dramas. And it presaged a new era of TV that was entirely different to the landscape of cop/doctor/lawyer shows from the decades prior.

Time.

In the final episode of the original series, a woman who looked almost exactly like Laura Palmer told Agent Dale Cooper that she would see him again in twenty-five years. That time is about to arrive.
Twin Peaks ran for thirty episodes from April 1990 to June 1991. Each episode of the series takes place on a single day and there is only one leap of time (three days) in the whole run of the show. For a show that lasted just over a year, in the town itself, only a month passes.

In these days of streaming television and binge-watching, you can watch those episodes in under 24-hours, if you have the constitution for it. Or you could easily watch it over a long weekend. You could experience Twin Peaks’ month in three days.

Meanwhile…

27 years has passed since Twin Peaks premiered. 26 since its final episode aired. 25 since the prequel film Fire Walk With Me was first screened at Cannes.

And 25 years have passed for the residents of Twin Peaks. So much happened in their month, imagine what might have happened over a quarter of a century.

Fire Walk With Me ostensibly takes place during the final week of Laura Palmer’s life, but it also has a forty-minute prologue set a year before that, surrounding the investigation of the death of Teresa Banks. Time moves strangely in Twin Peaks, both on and off screen. The film goes back in time, but alludes to moments set after the series. (And in the Missing Pieces – deleted scenes on the Blu-Ray – there were moments shot for the film that explicitly take place after the cliffhanger ending of the final episode.)

The stars turn

One of the late series’ plots concerned Agent Cooper’s ex-partner, Windom Earle, trying to find his way to the Black Lodge, a place of immense power. This was worlds away from where the series first started, but the show – in retrospect – is designed to get us used to these otherworldly ideas. The pilot ends with Sarah Palmer having a vision. The second episode ends with Cooper’s cryptic dream. It’s no wonder the final episode travels to another place, another world.

Windom Earle discovers the only time to get into the Black Lodge is when Jupiter and Saturn align. As one denizen of the Black Lodge warns Cooper early in the series, “the magician longs to see, one chance out between two worlds” – and in the final episode, he finds his way in. But when does he find his way out? And how long does he long to see his one chance out?

If the magician’s one chance out was the alignment of Jupiter and Saturn twenty-five years ago, is the next conjunction waiting for us now?

A time reveals itself

As we near our next chance to enter Twin Peaks, I ponder the subtitle for the new series: The Return. If the conjunction of two planets is important, perhaps the title is an allusion to Saturn’s Return, which occurs every 25-27 years. Maybe it’s a reference to Les Revenants and the various forms of The Returned which appeared these past few years, many of which were compared to Twin Peaks. Perhaps the Return is the return of those long dead.

Will the Return be another soap opera detective mystery with a side of goofball comedy and horror? Will it resemble the tragedy of Fire Walk With Me? Or might it be something else entirely?

Showtime’s website gives only the vaguest hint, barely a tweet, of what to expect in the two-hour premiere: The stars turn and a time reveals itself

Perhaps the premiere will be set twenty-five years after the original series. But when and where will it actually take place? How much time will pass as we’re watching? How much time will pass for the residents of Twin Peaks and for Dale Cooper himself?

We’ve waited twenty-five years so far. Forty-five days to go.

Melbourne Comedy Festival: The Wart on My Breast (Brustwarz)


Franzi has just awoken from a coma. She’s been asleep since the 1980s. She missed the Berlin Wall being torn down and she’s got up just in time to hear about another wall being built. What is this strange world she has woken up in? What has changed in thirty years and what hasn’t?

For a show that starts out as a dance party, with Franzi unable to stomach the tastes of the West, it has a dark heart lurking underneath. Don’t get me wrong, the absurdity of the piece – Franzi is convinced that David Hasselhoff has saved the world in the intervening years – will have you laughing and tapping your feet. But there is a lot to be serious about, too.

The Wart on My Breast is an unashamedly feminist look at what women have gained and lost over the past thirty years. The history of women’s rights behind the Berlin Wall are fascinating as contrast to now; many of the gains women strive for today were a way of life in East Germany.

April Albert has a lot to say but this current version of the show is a little bit formless; after a killer opening a reveal of the Hasselhoff shrine, there’s no real dramatic shape to the show. There are some really great moments of audience interaction, if April picks the right people, though. And the dance breaks are a cool way to keep everyone involved and excited, just before Franzi drops another truth bomb.

I am looking forward to seeing this show evolve.

Melbourne Comedy Festival: Tom Ballard - Problematic

Tom Ballard, Problematic
Welcome to the bubble, where Tom is preaching to a packed-house choir of lefties. To be fair, he left his bubble once, but ended up on a documentary series with Dicko, David Oldfield and Natalie Imbruglia in remote Central Australia, so he’s back in North Fitzroy and may never leave again.

The bubble, of course, is when we surround ourselves with people we agree with; separated from the other side by an ocean of Facebook algorithm. Problematic is about trying to figure out how to be the best form of yourself when everyone in the room agrees with you.

Ballard is a smart guy, as anyone who listens to his podcast would know. A lot of this show plays with the kind of angry-white-guy-comedian schtick you can see all over the Comedy Festival, but at some point, Ballard’s shouting becomes more than just complaining; he’s passionate and fired up.

“Who here likes political correctness?” And the audience was deathly silent.
“Who here hates political correctness?” No response again.

It’s the key to Problematic. Even people in Ballard’s bubble don’t know what to think about this loaded term and Tom spends a lot of time unpacking it. He’s angry about racism in politics and the rise of One Nation in Australia. He’s angry at Donald Trump being President. But is political correctness the saviour we need?

He’s also passionate about trying to get people to think about the words they use and how they deploy them. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. Ballard wonders why a primary school is allowing sticks and stones to break kids’ bones, while teaching them to toughen up in response to hate speech.

I’ve made this show sound super serious, but it’s really bloody hilarious.


Sunday, 2 April 2017

Melbourne Comedy Festival: Fringe Wives Club - Glittery Clittery

The Fringe Wives Club: Glittery Clittery
The Fringe Wives Club is like when superheroes team up to defeat an unstoppable bad guy. In this case, Tessa Waters, Rowena Hutson and Victoria Falconer-Pritchard are The Clitterati and they have teamed up to defeat The Patriarchy with #Glamtivism.

Glittery Clittery is a late-night variety show which has the audience on its feet within minutes in a spontaneous dance party. And there are rewards for rocking out and putting out – but it’s purely consensual, as the show’s tagline assures us.

These three women are in charge of a wild ride – from the sexist history of pockets, to a game show about naming parts of the vulva to a biting song called “I think he does it ‘cause he likes me” challenging the notion that aggression and assault is anything more than it seems on the surface. Change it up, society!

Each performer brings their own special skill: Victoria is a whiz on the keyboard, Tessa’s wild physicality is always impressive and Rowena tells the dramatic story of Pandora’s Box, starting off with a squirm-inducing quote from Donald Trump. Together, the Fringe Wives Club is a glittery spectacle that is not-to-be-be-missed.

And remember, you can have a dick, but don't be a dick.

You’ll be in good (and safe) hands as these women explore the majora and minora of the Lagoon of Mystery (copyright, Carrie Fisher 1977). Latenights Thurs, Fri and Sat the Greek Centre until April 22.

Melbourne Comedy Festival: Tessa Waters - Fully Sik

Tessa Waters is Fully Sik
Tessa Waters greets every audience member with a high-five while the repetitive theme song of her shows Fully Sik plays at high volume, which is the only right way to listen to something called “Fully Sik”. Fully Sik!

Tessa is a physical performer, which is where most of the laughs come from. The show begins with her in a pillow fight with an audience member plucked from the front row. She lost the pillow fights in Adelaide, so she was hungry for a win in Melbourne. We’re on her side.

There’s no knowing where the show will go from minute to minute and the audience doesn’t care, because the show is face-achingly hilarious from minute one. From high fives, through the audience sharing a joint, past a beautiful rendition of a bush po-em called “I Fucking Love Opals”, there’s no knowing what Tessa will hit you with next.

Her mostly silent sketch comedy is a real treat. A Woman Goes To Work On Her Period is mime but as she broadly exclaims at the end, it’s “issue-based comedy”. And we’re with her on that. A Woman Takes A Bottle Of Wine To A House Party is brilliant in how she fully commits to the scenario and what a pay-off.

There’s a lot of audience interaction in Fully Sik but don’t let that scare you. The space is intimate, the party is wild and Tessa will make you feel comfortable whatever happens. Even if she leaves your head spinning at the end.


Tessa Waters is sik but is she Fully Sik? There’s really only one way to find out. Get down to the Aphrodite Room at the Greek Centre byApril 23.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Melbourne Comedy Festival: Ginger & Tonic - Desperate and Dateless

Desperate & Dateless
The women of Ginger & Tonic open Desperate and Dateless with a played-straight rendition of Diane Warwick’s “Wishin’ and Hopin’” and I wasn’t sure what I’d walked into. The voices were beautiful but those lyrics are so awful and in a show that’s about looking for love, I was desperately looking for something to undercut this old-fashioned treacle.

Thankfully, the show quickly finds its feet with some spot-on satirical material about dating apps, game shows for love and how to weed out the undesirables when searching for someone special.
Ginger & Tonic are four women: a shiny brunette, a blonde that smells like Herbal Essences, a short cut brown-haired girl, and one with regrowth. You know, the whole spectrum of the female experience.

The pop-song parodies are sometimes spot-on, with highlights being “Tinderella” (after Rihanna’s Umbrella, ella, ella…) and “Beaver!” (hilariously ruining the passion of Fever). Other songs didn’t quite work, though – the rapping in “Whatta Man” was a bit cringeworthy and “Blame it on the Booger” seemed a bit beneath this team. I think I heard that lyrical joke when I was six-years-old and every child probably thinks she invented it.

As a group, these women have a strong command of the stage and when they are harmonising at full volume, the show is really magical. Get down to the Malthouse soon, because Ginger & Tonic just want to cuddle the fuck out of you.

Melbourne Comedy Festival: Geraldine Quinn - Fox Poncing

Geraldine Quinn is Fox Poncing
Geraldine Quinn is a local legend, rock star, cabaret goddess and this fox is here to ponce for you in her Green Room-nominated show.

Even after a decade on stages all over the world, this new show lays in a question about whether Quinn has made the right choices in her career and life. The show is not super serious, though; the singing and three-piece band rock too much for Fox Poncing to feel actually contemplative.

Quinn’s song-writing prowess is easily matched with the name-checked Tim Minchin, whose talents weren’t really noticed until he went overseas. And she’s a vocal chameleon, jumping from high octane rock-and-roll and then slowing down for a tribute to the kind of self-reflection you might hear on Triple J Unearthed.

It’s amazing to me that she hasn’t been cast in a musical somewhere along the way, but in the meantime, she’s written a great “musical theatre” song where she can over-enunciate lyrics while deploying emphatic choreography to full effect.

One small issue with the performance on Thursday night, the sound mix was a little off – the great band seems to drown out Quinn’s singing somewhat and I only caught half of her brilliant lyrics. The energy on stage and in the audience kept the show entertaining, even though I was missing bits.

Melbourne Comedy Festival: Double Denim

Laura and Michelle in denim, Double Denim

Welcome to the Double Denim party; not a flashback to when double denim was actually thought to be cool but to some weird time when there was an ironic revival.

Michelle and Laura are hosting and they are here to keep you fully entertained until the guests of honour arrive. They are disappointed there’s so little denim on display from their guests, which is a bit surprising from a comedy festival crowd. But our hosts are probably wearing enough denim for the rest of us anyway.

Double Denim is playing in the back room at Belleville and it feels just right for this kind of party. The audience are tightly packed in, perfect for games of pass-the-parcel and “have some coke and then give your neighbour a go”. While not getting hopped up on the excitement of prizes and caffeine, these two women entertain us with sketches (Laura and her invisible ballet partners), dancing and audience participation, including a date and some limbo. And some more dancing.

This is a very silly show, which perfectly suits the mood of a party that feels like it’s for high schoolers who are pretending to be adults. The show swings from sketch to improv to wild dancing and even when you get the feeling the guests of honour won’t show, you know you’ve been to a hell of a party anyway.


Melbourne Comedy Festival: The Desperettes' A Guide to Being a Wingman

The Desperettes

The Desperettes, a trio of women who love a solid pop song parody, want to have a good time. And they are dressed to, if not impress, stand out in the crowd. Clad in black suits with thin ties, like something out of an early 90s Tarantino movie, they also sport giant pink beehives.

What are we getting ourselves into? How far will they go to find a man?

The show, A Guide to Being a Wingman, plays with gender identity and they use old-fashioned tricks for picking up women to try to pick up men. The audience is treated to catchy twists on current and past love and lust songs. It’s a party club atmosphere, filled with laughs and some awkward and hilarious audience interaction.

“Terrible puns used as pick-up lines” is an awful genre of joke, but these women find the gender-flipped versions and all of a sudden, we’re laughing at new versions of old jokes and wondering how these things ever worked in the first place.

A Guide to Being a Wingman is fast-paced, quick-witted and while it won’t really teach you how to pick up, it might be a lesson in what not to do.