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Sydney: Theatre & Exhibitions

Muriel's Wedding - Sydney Theatre Company
Photo:Lisa Tomasetti

I was in Sydney last weekend for a few days to see theatre, catch up with friends, have a meeting and visit a couple of galleries.

Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium – Art Gallery of NSW

“Don’t miss the XYZ room,” said the woman at the ticket box. “It’s near the flowers.”
“The XYZ room is near the flowers,” said the woman checking the tickets at the entrance.

In a world where we are given lots of warnings for films and theatre and exhibitions, as cautions to avoid things, it was refreshing to be encouraged to look at Mapplethorpe’s most challenging works. 

On the other hand, isn’t that what people visiting a Mapplethorpe exhibition are looking for? Do people go for his work with flowers?

Some of Mapplethorpe’s imagery is iconic, most of it is beautiful and very little of this exhibition was confronting; but the XYZ room was still kept off to the side, housing works from three compendiums of Mapplethorpe’s interests – erotica, flowers and black men.

There was also a selection of his work with Patti Smith, along with portraits of famous people like Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono and Isabella Rossellini. A strong overview of his career.

Three Sisters – Sydney Theatre Company

A Kip Williams production of an Andrew Upton adaptation of Chekhov with this cast, including Alison Bell, Eryn Jean Norvill, Mark Leonard Winter, Nikki Shiels, Chris Ryan… the list goes on. This should have been amazing. I am only ever a fan of Chekhov when it’s non-traditional: Simon Stone’s The Cherry Orchard or Eamon Flack’s Ivanov. This seemed to be another production in that same vein. And for much of the first half, it was engaging and funny and with that bleak undercurrent, because it is Chekhov.

The second half loses the fun of the first and dives headlong into Chekhovian nihilism. I am not a fan of Chekhov in general, but I have enjoyed work based on his work before. With this team, I had very high expectations. They were only rarely met and never in the second half.

Three Sisters, Sydney Theatre Company
Photo: Brett Boardman

Pipilotti Rist: Sip My Ocean
– Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney

I love visiting the MCA in Circular Quay because it’s central and because the shows there are so often surprising and delightful. Their own collection and what they have on display normally turns over between my visits is always strong, and their feature exhibitions open up new worlds to me.

Rist is a Swiss artist and her work is a combination of video installations and sculpture. Though her work was previously unknown to me, I can see how her pioneering work has inspired others; notably how Ever Is Over All (1996) was clearly an inspiration for Beyonce’s Hold Up music video.
My favourite work of hers in this exhibition was Pixelwald motherboard – a room full of strings of glowing lights that was meant to evoke the vision of an exploding television. Astonishing.

Merciless Gods – Little Ones/Griffin Theatre

It’s not the first time I’ve travelled to Sydney and ended up seeing work that I’ve missed in Melbourne. I was very lucky to get a ticket to a previously sold-out performance of Little Ones’ Merciless Gods which was performed at Northcote Town Hall earlier this year.

Based on a collection of short stories by Christos Tsiolkas, Dan Giovanni has selected eight of these stories to put on stage – a compendium of pieces told from the fringes of society. This isn’t the high camp I normally associate with Little Ones but I loved the boldness of the story choices and the ensemble is superb. I’m glad I caught up with this and I hope Sydney gets to see more of the Little Ones in the future.

Muriel’s Wedding – Sydney Theatre Company

Reinventing the classic Aussie film to be a stage musical seemed fraught; how do you find someone, anyone to write songs that won’t fade into the background next to the selection of ABBA songs that Muriel escapes into? And how do you use those ABBA songs without them feeling like a distraction?

Thankfully, Kate Miller-Heidke and partner Keir Nuttall have created fully-theatrical songs that capture the wild swings of emotion in Muriel’s life. They fit neatly alongside PJ Hogan’s book, based on his original film. There’s been some updates; the social media aspect is both a blessing and a curse to the show.

The first act is solid; director Simon Phillips keeps the show moving using a grab bag of his classic theatrical trickery. It is a strong musical and not just a play with songs; and it’s a long way from the jukebox musicals of Priscilla Queen of the Desert or Mamma Mia.

The second act is a bit messier. The script veers wildly around. Strong emotional moments are drawn out too long. There’s some attempt to give the love interests some depth, but that distracts from Muriel’s story – and in the end, does the show gain anything much from fleshing out the token men?

Overall, though, this is a strong show that deserves a long life touring the world.

Atlantis – Belvoir Theatre Company

Hi, I’m Keith Gow, playwright and theatre blogger. I have seen lots of Lally Katz shows and even aside from the show where she starred and talked about her life, most of her plays contain her in some way, shape or form. Not just in the way that some writers write what they know, but Lally is often a character in her own plays. In Atlantis, Lally is played by Amber McMahon. Amber is always amazing and she makes the perfect Lally, if you can’t have Lally telling these stories herself in person.

I love the honesty of Lally’s work and while the idea of a writer putting themselves into their own work could feel self-indulgent (and perhaps some of Lally’s early work might be described that way), somehow Atlantis doesn’t feel like that at all. Lally has gained enough perspective of her life over the last few years to tell a riotous, outrageous, touching story about writing and relationships; about motherhood and birthing new worlds on stage.

Rosemary Meyers has found her way into Lally’s head and sitting front row at Belvoir, I felt like I was immersed in this bizarre dimension that was a little bit Vegas, a little bit Miami and a whole lot of Lally Katz. And if I might have missed the Apocalypse Bear and the Hope Dolphin, I still got to see Lally’s imaginary Panther friend… and the funniest, most athletic sex scene I’ve ever seen on stage.

Atlantis, Belvoir
Photo: Daniel Boud

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