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.


Monday, 13 March 2017

Sydney theatre weekend, March 2017

Justin Smith on the set of A Strategic Plan at Griffin Theatre
I love this fake door!

I have some Melbourne theatre reviews I still need to post, but I’ll catch up with those later in the week. This weekend, I saw three shows in Sydney and as I always try to do, I shared the love around: one Sydney Theatre Company show, one at Griffin Theatre and one at Belvoir.

Chimerica by Lucy Kirkwood (Roslyn Packer Theatre, STC)

British playwright Lucy Kirkwood’s drama about the rapidly evolving relationship between China and America (thus the portmanteau title, though with allusions to the chimera of Greek mythology) is constructed around a mystery: who was the mysterious “tank man” in Tiananmen Square? And where is he now?

Focused on a photographer (one of seven to get a similar photograph from June 5, 1989) played by Mark Leonard Winter, who is astonishing as always, the play begins in 1989, but focuses mostly on events in 2012. It plays out in the lead up to the Presidential election of that year, which gives it some parallels to recent events, though this play is far more wide-ranging than that.

History plays always fascinate me, particularly recent history, where my memory of events play a part. The play focuses on a fictional photographer because it has bigger things on its mind that what led that man to stand in front of those tanks; Chimerica wants to look at the push and pull between these two great super powers and where that’s led in the past (almost) thirty years.

Kip Williams plants much of the action on an empty stage, set pieces being rolled in and out in stunning displays of choreography with the help of twenty NIDA students who act as the show’s ensemble. With a cast of twelve, Williams’ uses all of these actors to populate Tiananmen Square, to protest both in China and in the post-GFC era on the streets of New York.

The cast is uniformly excellent, the stage work is clear and evocative and the script itself is a beautiful puzzle that clicks perfectly into place in the shows final minutes. A three-hour show that doesn’t waste a second.

A Strategic Plan by Ross Mueller (Griffin Theatre Company)

Writer Ross Mueller has written a complicated satire about office politics versus art, with an hilarious – and later quite affecting – play about what happens when the state government takes over the running of a live music venue in a “second city”. The Griffin production is ostensibly set in Newcastle, though the original text is probably meant to evoke Geelong, where Mueller lives.

The advertising for this show suggest a workplace drama, but the set evokes a live music venue that feels so authentically 1990s – with black walls and terrible carpet – that it was exciting just to sit in the space. Griffin is such an intimate venue that you might feel like you’re in the smoky back room of a pub waiting for the band to start. Except there’s no smoking allowed now and the government is being stingy with its support of the sector.

Yes, it’s not just about how workplace language seems to have no room for creative innovation, it’s about how government wants to step away from supporting live music specifically and art in general. As someone who has an office job and a creative outlet, A Strategic Plan hit me on two fronts.

Mueller’s dialogue is rapid fire and the cast – led by the remarkable Justin Smith, who is full of life until its almost drained from him – is so great with the pace and the shifts in mood and tone. A thrilling piece of biting comedy that packs an emotional punch by the end. Brilliant.

Mark Colvin’s Kidney by Tommy Murphy (Belvoir St Theatre)

I don’t know who Mark Colvin is or why I should care about his kidney. This play didn’t really illuminate this in any meaningful way, either. Well, it’s simple – Colvin is a journalist for ABC Radio and he was offered a kidney by a woman he met on Twitter. It’s a true story, but in typical theatre fashion, most of the incidents of the play have been dramatized, some have been invented and some are merely recreations of tweets and texts and emails.

The focus of the play isn’t actually on Colvin or his kidney, but on Mary-Ellen Field, the woman who offered the kidney. Her life is pretty remarkable; an Australian business consultant, she was Elle Macpherson’s brand manager, until she was accused of betraying the secrets of her clients to the press. She was tangled up in the News of the World scandal, where News Corp was accused of hacking people’s phones – which led to the Levenson Inquiry.

It’s a rich milieu in which to base a play, I would guess. Tommy Murphy’s script doesn’t really give us reasons to care for either Mary-Ellen or Colvin, beyond a general sense of “what a strange tale” to hear told. There is a scene late in the play between Mary-Ellen and her husband which teased out the reasons why she offered the kidney to Colvin, but the play should have explored them rather than leaving them as a kind of dramatic reveal at the end.

A two-and-a-half-hour play needs justify its length, especially when you could tell a great version of this story over a couple of beers in a pub in under an hour. It has a terrific cast but they were mostly wasted. A strange tale given an oddly unfocused treatment. Disappointing.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Asia TOPA – Kagerou, Little Emporers

Kagerou Photo: Bryony Jackson

Kagerou, Arts House

The Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 was known the world over as the Fukushima disaster, named after the nuclear power plant that was heavily damaged by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

Kagerou, subtitled A Study in Translating Performance, focuses on the experiences of one woman, Kyoko, a survivor of the earthquake.

Director and creator Shun Hamanaka has created a documentary experience, with performer Yoko Ito live-translating interviews conducted with Kyoko over the years since the tragedy.

The original interviews with Kyoko form part of an aural soundscape, while we hear the performer tell the story in English. Translation is key to the performance; we are being brought into Kyoko’s world but are still held at a slight distance.

We see projections of images filmed at Hisanohama; images that are mostly still but move just a little. It’s delicate and subtle, much like Ito’s performance – there are no bold moves or grand acting moments, just a reporting of one woman’s experience.

Taking a large-scale tragedy that affected tens of thousands of people and focusing in on the experiences of one woman and one city is very effective. Kagerou recontextualises our experience of the Great East Japan Earthquake as a news report about a nuclear facility to a story of personal tragedy. Delicate and profound.

Little Emperors, rehearsal. Photo: Tim Grey

Little Emperors, Malthouse

The title of this show references “Little Emperor Syndrome” – the end-result of an entire generation of Chinese children born without siblings under the country’s One-Child Policy. It was created in collaboration between Australian playwright Lachlan Philpott and Beijing-based director, Wang Chong.

In Little Emperors, there are two children: a son, who was kept secret, and a daughter, the oldest child. The son, Kai-wen, moves to Melbourne to become a theatre director, something his mother wouldn’t approve of. She also wouldn’t approve of his homosexuality either, so he keeps that secret for as long as he can.

The show is not so much about a clash of cultures, at least until mother and daughter arrive in Melbourne to surprise Kai-wen, but an exploration of a relationship between two children – one of whom is kept at a distance because of the one-child policy.

The script itself feels a little undercooked; Kai-wen’s story hits several clich├ęd beats about feeling at a remove from his family. His awkward relationship with one of his collaborators in Melbourne feels much less rich than the story explored between mother and daughter and, sometimes, between sister and brother.

I wonder how this show would play in China and if my cultural sensibilities dulled some of the impact of the revelations late in the play.

The direction and design is stunning, though – and the performances by Alice Qin and Diana Lin, as mother and daughter, brought a richness to the experience the rest of the show lacked. The actors perform much of the show thigh-deep in water and there are many moments of tension exorcised through vigorous splashing.


Little Emperors explores an interesting subject but fails to be as compelling as it could be or should be.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

The Book of Mormon, The Encounter

I’ve already written a review for AussieTheatre this year – MTC’s production of Born Yesterday – but I want to try to write a little something about all the theatre I see this year.

The Book of Mormon. Photo by Jeff Busby

The Book of Mormon

Back in 2012, I saw The Book of Mormon on Broadway after lining up for a few hours to get standing-room-only tickets. My sister and I stood at the back of the stalls, behind people who probably paid $300 for their seats. I’ve never been so happy to stand before.

Four and a half years later, the show has made it to Melbourne and I’m so glad to have seen it again. It’s not a soundtrack I listen to a lot and it’s not a show I think about much, but it’s so fun in the theatre. I think I even enjoyed it more this second time, maybe because I paid for a seat this time? I remembered parts but I’d forgotten others. I noticed details I had missed before.

I also think it’s smarter than I first gave it credit for. The satire on religion is not subtle, but the look at Africa through the lens of Mormon missionaries is very pointed. And while it’s outrageously crude, as you would expect from the creators of South Park, the songs are clever and the performances are outstanding.


Complicite's The Encounter

The Encounter

The Malthouse Theatre’s 2017 season looks sensational and it has kicked off with a rich, immersive piece of theatre – a one-man show that really gets inside the audience’s head. Performer Richard Katz welcomes us to theatre, gets us to put our headphones on and treats us to the story of Loren McIntyre, a photographer for National Geographic who got lost in the Amazon jungle in 1969.

How do you capture life? How do you record it? Can you record it too much and if a recording disappears, is your memory enough? The questions the show raises are as dramatic as McIntyre’s thrilling and horrifying trip into the Amazon – trying to capture images of a “lost tribe”.

With the headphones on, the soundscape can put the voice of the performer before us behind us. He can whisper in our ear. His words can echo and repeat. Music can be weaved in, along with live sound-effects and pre-recorded interviews. This one-man show creates a wild, wide world right inside your head.

This show is - I suspect - unforgettable, even though this review and a Facebook check-in might be the only digital reminders of my encounter with it.

The Encounter is sold out.

The Book of Mormon will run for a while.