Saturday, 31 March 2018

Melbourne Comedy Festival – Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit by Jean Tong



Margot Tanjutco and Louisa Wall star in
Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit

Go and see this show.

Is that enough? People listen to me sometimes. People don’t always agree with me. But -

Go and see this show.

Please, just take a second to book a ticket and then come back.

What else do you need to know?

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single woman in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

And by the end of the narrative, one of them will end up dead.

The cast of Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit
Photo by Bede McKenna
Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit is essentially Dead Lesbians: The Musical, a response to the “bury your gays” trope that has infected stories forever but stands out as particularly egregious on film and television in the last decade or two.

Have you booked your tickets yet?

Darcy (Louisa Wall) has just moved to fair Verona, where writer Jean Tong lays her scene. Darcy stands out because she is very tall and very white. Not that the rest of the diverse cast of characters is racist, they are just worried about how she’s going to fit in. And can she use chopsticks.

Juliet (Margot Tanjutco) is worried specifically about how Darcy fits into her life. Not because she’s gay (she’s not, she’s really, really, look just believe her, she’s not gay) but because maybe Verona just isn’t a place where they can find their dreams.

Of course, spoiler alert, Darcy and Juliet are going to see each other across a crowded room of gaming machines and one is going to offer to put a token in the other’s slot and… they’re going to end up at a queer performance art poetry slam. You know, that old story.

Narrated by a chorus of Incompetent Dead Lesbians (the wildly entertaining trio of Nisha Joseph, Pallavi Waghmode and Sasha Chong), the course of true love never did run smooth. But along the way you’ve got kick-ass, electro-pop tunes that subvert clichés, buck trends and urge you to fuck the narrative system that was designed to keep ladies alone and waiting for a man. But, as the saying goes, it’s not over until the Cat Lady sings!

Jean Tong’s script is clever, snappy, over-the-top and the satire cuts deep. Her direction keeps the show moving at a brisk pace on a cleverly designed set with an acting ensemble whose enthusiasm is infectious. The whole package is a revelation.

Tong is a talent to keep an eye on; that’s how good this show is. I hope this run is sold out and it might well be, so book those tickets now! And I wish this show a long touring life, because there are women who love women (and people who love them) who should see this now.

Go and see this show. Even if you don’t normally listen to me.


Go. See it.

BOOK TICKETS HERE AND NOW. Unless you've already done that earlier when I told you to.


The Incompetent Dead Lesbians in
Romeo Is Not the Only Fruit
Photo by Bede McKenna

Melbourne Comedy Festival – Rama Nicholas: Death Rides A Horse


Gather round, ladies and gentleman, Rama Nicholas has a story to tell you. It’s a one-woman Western musical filled with cowgirls, talking horses, whores with hearts of gold and a Spanish cowboy on his way to defeat Death… in Cancun.

Death Rides A Horse is a real gem, with Rama playing a dozen characters and narrating the show and singing the songs, sometimes in four-part harmonies, all by herself. But it’s not just an astonishing feat of performance, it’s supported by a strong script and an awesome musical score.

Caterina is from Coyote and she wants to be a famous cowgirl, but the women of her home town mostly make a living on their backs or on their knees. There’s a new and evil Sheriff in town and they are soon enemies, particularly after Caterina shoots him and gallops off into the desert.


This show is an hilarious pastiche of Western and musical clichés – and Rama is expert enough to make sure you’re never lost with who is speaking or what is happening next. With simple stage craft and excellent lighting design, this is a superb piece of comedy and theatre.

Melbourne Comedy Festival – Alice Tovey: Existential Crisis


Alice Tovey’s Existential Crisis is A Rock Opera where Alice hashes out all the issues she’s having during her quarter-life crisis. It’s hard out there for a millennial when you’re full of anxiety and not sure if your partner is right for the upcoming zombie apocalypse.

Alice is backed by a four-piece band, The Apostles, a hold over from her earlier show Personal Messiah, which was a lot more personal, given her Catholic upbringing, which I learned about in her first show, Malice.

While she rocks a slinky body suit with some impressive tassels hanging from her arms, the songs themselves don’t match up to her best work. In fact, the best song from the night “Australia’s Fair” is from another one of her shows.

Her concerns are those of a generation, which is a pity – because in the past her work has been more vital because we felt like we were getting to know her. I guess it’s fitting to end the review of a rock show by saying, in the words of Regurgitator, I like her old stuff better than her new stuff.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Melbourne Comedy Festival – #PickUp



In a world of dating and hook-up apps, much of the humour comedians find in Tinder stories stems from an old-fashioned view of the world. Remember when we dated like that, well now we date like this – isn’t that SO WEIRD?

The fun of #PickUp is the sex talk is frank and non-judgmental and the apps are just there to get to the really funny part – the sex itself and how to get your hook-up to go to sleep after.

Performers Alia and Colin are in a relationship, but they are polyamorous so they date other people. That’s a good set-up for a show in and of itself. As a non-traditional pairing, you get to be on their side as a team but also appreciate when they come into conflict. They don’t always find their needs met by one another.

#PickUp is a musical act first and foremost; the songs are the kind of rock and roll sexy that suits these two off-beat performers. There’s some fun audience interaction, mostly through people texting questions to them during the show.

When comedy about gender politics and sexuality can so often be lazy, it’s great to see an hilarious sex-positive show that is a little bit educational and a whole lot of fun.

You can, uh, #PickUp at Tasma Terrace until April 8th.

Melbourne Comedy Festival – David Massingham: Sketch Me Like One of Your French Girls



Sketch comedy is hard, people. Filling your show with a dozen or more joke-filled sketches seems like it might be easier than crafting a fifty-minute stand-up routine. But it’s a tricky business.

David Massingham’s show is a mixed bag, utilising the full complement of a sketch comedian’s tricks – bad puns, terrible accents and audience participation. And that’s just in the first few minutes. But, as the saying goes, it gets better.

There are some gems to be found in-between the messy bits, though. Some fun satire with a small-town Mayor trying to play up the “Murder Capital” moniker his town has been branded with. A clever commentary on cultural criticism, centred around the “performance art” of a thief stealing oil paintings – capturing a real tension between law and order. And a Last Will & Testament video to a dying man’s three sons which is audacious in its complexity.

Sketch Me Like One of Your French Girls could afford to lose some of the groaners and try to find some more character-driven gems, which were the highlights for me.


Melbourne Comedy Festival – Hayley Brennan: The Procrastinator



It’s not unusual for a comedian to come out on stage to a song that pumps them up and gets the crowd excited. Hayley Brennan is already on stage when the audience enters, bouncing around, shaking off nervous tension and welcoming the crowd to “I’ll Make A Man Out of You” from Mulan

Hayley grew up on Disney films from their 90s renaissance, so you’ll have to forgive her if she tells you a few stories about that obsession before she starts the show.

Hayley is a unicorn, you see. Not that she’s magical or rare, though; she gets distracted by Netflix and YouTube like the rest of us mere mortals. She’s a unicorn because she’d miss getting on the ark due to the aforementioned shiny distractions.

I went to see The Procrastinator at the last minute, which feels like the perfect way to see this show – with a second’s notice and totally unprepared. Hayley bounces from topic to topic in a way that feels unplanned but is cunningly devised.

She’ll draw you in with a story about Princess Jasmine, then pull that magic carpet out from under your feet with tales of tequila shots, pee-stained mattresses and whatever the hell lunges are for.


Friday, 23 March 2018

Bare – The Musical by John Hartmere & Damon Intrabartolo

Bare - The Musical
Photo: Belinda Strodder

At St Cecilia’s boarding school, the students are going through typical high school angst, while rehearsing for a production of “Romeo & Juliet”. If you think that is a portent for mayhem and doom, you would be right. But there’s still a lot of fun to be had along the way.

Bare – The Musical has a cult following borne of its original Off-Broadway run in 2004. It’s been through a number of changes over the years, having originally been produced as bare: a pop opera, which is a much more interesting title than the one it’s now got under the current licensing agreement.

I originally saw bare: a pop opera at Cromwell St Theatre during Midsumma a decade ago. This was right around the time I was discovering not all stage musicals had to be multi-million-dollar budgeted with huge casts. I was overly effusive in my praise of bare at the time, excited to see a strong local production of a score I’d heard several variations of at that point.

Ten years later, I thought I was headed to Stage Arts’ latest production to see the updated version of the show. In 2012, Bare was produced as a book musical, which is a strange evolution for a sung-through musical to take. Luckily, this local production is much closer to a pop opera, retaining the original concept of Nadia, the “plain jane fatass” as she describes herself in song, one of the highlights of the show.

Stage Arts have been producing strong productions of niche musicals for a number of years now, having previously mounted In the Heights, Dreamgirls, The Color Purple and the excellent Falsettos earlier this year. I’d say Bare was a riskier venture, without the name recognition of the earlier shows or the history of a show like Falsettos. But given the crowd reaction at opening night, Stage Arts seem to be on another winner.

For me, though, while the themes and experiences are timeless, this is an early work by its writers and it shows. The central love story of Peter and Jason, two boys falling in love at Catholic boarding school, is intense as you would expect in a musical that alludes to Shakespeare and also includes drug taking, underage sex and teenage pregnancy.

But the characters themselves are flat, cardboard cut-outs jumping through the expected hoops of teenage melodrama. That doesn’t mean the show won’t tug at your heartstrings though, and Adam di Martino makes a lot out of Peter’s emotions – especially during “See Me,” a phone call to his mother.

Much more interesting are the previously-mentioned Nadia - Jason’s sister, and Ivy - who hooks up with Jason after her birthday party. Set against the backdrop of the central love story, these two characters seem less like clichés – especially in the hands of actors Hannah Grondin and Hannah McInerny. Nadia might lament about spending “A Quiet Night at Home” but when she’s invited out, she finds her voice and Grondin steals focus every time she’s on stage – and to good effect.

Ivy, who is oblivious to the love of Matt, falls for Jason, and must struggle with multiple teenage problems and while “Portrait of a Girl” suggests hidden depths, McInerny’s “All Grown Up” makes for the strongest performance of the night. It’s a rocking portrait of teenage girl whose Catholic upbringing hasn’t prepared her at all for growing up so quickly.

The production itself is superb, taking full advantage of the stained-glass window at Chapel Off Chapel and some wonderful lighting from Jason Bovaird, whose work must stretch from the intimacy of a confessional to the wild incandescent vision of a rave.

Director and set designer Dean Dreiberg keeps the show moving inside the simple, versatile set; and though the choreography is slightly indulgent in places, it all makes for a gorgeous visual treat.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Colder by Lachlan Philpott - Red Stitch



Colder
Photo: Teresa Noble

I’m there.

I’m sitting there in the dark.

Sitting there in the dark watching a play by Lachlan Philpott at Red Stitch.

A child has gone missing at Disneyland but nothing evokes Disneyland for me, not even the actors wearing mouse ears. Especially not the actors wearing mouse ears and affecting exaggerated American accents. I want to feel what the mother is feeling, while officious behind-the-scenes Disney workers assure her everything is going to be fine.

I want a sense of her being frantic and frustrated.

But I don’t get this sense because the language of the play is putting me at a distance. The expository monologues don’t paint a picture or flesh out a world beyond the very basic (“padded concrete, padded seats”) and the facile (“padded people”).

This choral arrangement of voices is not singing.

Eight-year-old David remains missing all day and we learn that his single mother has felt separate from him ever since. We aren’t given much of a hint of why. David, now 33, has come out as gay but has hidden his relationships from his mother and his best friend. But is that a symptom of the distance or the reason behind it?

What happened to him at Disneyland? Colder wants you to ask that question but resists answers and insight. When the character says that nobody really knows anybody else, I was disappointed the played turned on such a cliché.

The design elements of the production – both the set and lighting – elevate the material. The curved slats of the set, which resemble a wave about to crash on the characters, keep the actors on their toes for the entire performance. The lighting helps with changing moods, even as the characters are scattered across space and time, rarely, if ever, connecting with each other.

Early on, I wondered if Philpott had ever been to Disneyland. Then David, his sex partners and his boyfriend describe Sydney like they’d overheard someone talk of Potts Point, Surrey Hills and Oxford Street. Strange for a writer who is from there. 

When the parades of Disneyland and Mardi Gras are used as a recurring theme in David’s life, the play lost me. If it had ever had me.

I was there.

I was sitting in the dark.

Sitting in the dark, waiting for it to be over.

Left cold.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Festival of Live Art – Rest Area, Kill Climate Deniers

Kill Climate Deniers by David Finnigan
Photo by Sarah Walker


The Festival of Live Art is back for the third year of nurturing and celebrating experimental, interactive and participatory artworks. You can learn to twerk, phone an artist, break things or push a button (True or False) in reaction to the statement “Capitalism Works For Me”.

I went to Arts House last night to experience a couple of the works.

Rest Area by S.J. Norman

A mattress and pillows in the back of a truck. Soft lighting. An intimate setting in an incongruous space. I climbed into the truck like I would approach any theatrical work of art – open to possibilities. But this space, while inviting, asks questions and put me on the back foot. How do I negotiate this moment with a stranger? Can I relax into this or will I be overthinking things?

Rest Area is a short, very intimate work that S.J. has performed on and off since 2007, when it first premiered in a truck outside Carriageworks in Sydney. We all bring our own baggage to any theatrical experience; this piece feels familiar and strange all at once.

I had a lot of thoughts running through my head, as I lay there – but after a while, I relaxed, stopped thinking and just breathed in time with the performer. And then it was all over. Hesitation, connection and release.

Kill Climate Deniers by David Finnigan & Reuben Ingall

How do you tell the story of climate catastrophe on stage without it feeling like a lecture? You run toward the science, challenge the media and make it a lecture. And combine it with a dance party.

David Finnigan’s play is provocatively titled and he’s still not sure if he made the right choice. It got him funding, but it also got him backlash. It got him attention, both good and bad. Finnigan’s work is always provocative and can be counted on to play with the theatrical form. Kill Climate Deniers was supposed to just be a play, but it’s become more than that.

It’s been an album, a film script, a walking tour of Parliament House and – most recently – it finally became a play at Griffin Theatre in Sydney. It’s still playing there. The lecture-cum-dance party version lit up Arts House in North Melbourne last night and plays again next Friday night; a hell of a way to end a week.

The story, such as it is, begins in 1988 – the year climate science and house music began. That’s not true, of course; both had precursors and predecessors that were as significant as the time global warming was first named in the US Congress and Black Box’s Ride On Time was released.

The show shifts and mutates in front of our eyes. It’s autobiographical and scientific; it elicits laughter and boos from the audience. And it tells the story of a fictional politician who must battle eco-terrorists at Parliament House in Canberra while Fleetwood Mac plays in the main hall.

But it’s really just agit prop with a sick beat.

Finnigan, writer and performer, is pitching you the show as he’s giving it to you. He’s prompting you to action while making sure he’s not inciting you to violence. And while Kill Climate Deniers has been script and music and live art, it’s also been hashed out by right-wing columnists and condemned by shock jocks – a strange performance art in itself.

The Festival of Live Art encourages participation, but it’s not just the dance party that brings this work alive: it’s the generosity of Finnigan as a presenter and performer, and it’s the fun of Ride On Time scoring a first-person shooter. And it’s the vital message to be engaged, but don’t literally kill climate deniers. Even though we know you want to.