Monday, 23 April 2018

Right Now by Catherine-Anne Toupin - Red Stitch

The cast of Right Now
Photo: Jodie Hutchinson
Alice and Ben are settling into their new apartment when their neighbours, the Gauches, invite themselves over to see what the couple have done with the place.

Juliet, Gilles and son Francois live directly across the hallway in an apartment that is the same, but the other way around. If Alice and Ben turn left, the Gauches must turn right.

Ben is a doctor who works long hours and Alice spends a lot of time at home, alone. And when she’s alone, she hears things. A cry in the dark that begins to haunt her even when other people are around.

Catherine-Anne Toupin’s Right Now is a domestic psychological thriller that mines its tension for dramatic and comedic affect.

When the Gauches arrive as a family, they are framed in the doorway like the perfect Gothic portrait of a haunted family. But once they cross the threshold, they are harder to pin down.

Francois enters with a wide toothy grin – both goofy and deeply unsettling. His relationship with his parents is complicated; his brother died when he was very young, and he’s uncomfortably close with Juliet and Gilles, though he’s sure he’s still not the favourite.

Gilles turns out to be an idol of Ben’s in the medical field. Juliet tells Alice she reminds her a lot of herself. The neighbours are like a fun-house mirror of Alice and Ben; a mirror on the wall of a haunted house.

Alice and Ben are still settling into their new apartment, but they are haunted by something in the past. This ideal place they have made for themselves, comfortable and perfectly appointed, will not let them forget where they have come from and the pain of their past is beginning to infect their waking lives.

The play itself is slippery; it gives you signposts but then turns them around. You may twig to what is happening to Alice early on, but then Toupin’s work twists into more complicated shapes. And the characters shift and change before our very eyes.

Katy Maudlin’s production ratchets up the tension with each glance and maniacal laugh. Daniel Nixon’s sound design gets under your skin and Richard Vabre’s lighting illuminates the characters and their shadows in uncomfortable ways.

The acting ensemble is uniformly excellent. Christina O’Neill’s Alice is opaque, but this makes her utterly compelling. What is going on inside her mind? Is what is going on inside her mind playing out in front of us?

Mark Wilson’s Francois is superb for the way he evolves throughout the play. As his character slowly encroaches on Alice’s life, he turns from comic relief into something much more disturbing and finally transforms into a much more complicated figure.

Dushan Phillips is compelling as Ben, who is pushed to extremes by his and Alice’s trauma and by the many ways he cannot say no to the far-too-friendly neighbours.

Rounding out the cast is Olga Makeeva and Joe Petruzzi as Juliet and Gilles, whose relationship at times feels like Morticia and Gomez Addams and at moments like they live in the same apartment building as Rosemary’s Baby.

Twenty-four hours after Right Now, I’m still thinking about what happened and what didn’t happen and which of those things matter the most. It’s the shadows of what’s not there that leave the deepest impression.

Tense and twisted drama that you’ll wrestle with for a long time after.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Abigail's Party by Mike Leigh - Melbourne Theatre Company

Benjamin Rigby & Pip Edwards in Abigail's Party
Photo: Jeff Busby

The middle-class dinner party that descends into chaos is a pretty classic theatrical trope and a mainstay of the Melbourne Theatre Company mainstage. Gather five people in a room, give them alcohol and some conflict and the drama writes itself. Most of the time, the troubles of wealthy inner-suburban types are typical First World Problems and often boil down to “we’re doing well, but we’re just not satisfied with our lives”.

Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party is basically the same set-up but written in 1970s Britain, it’s about the aspirational newly middle-class – people who want what their neighbours have. People who are doing the done thing: marriage, kids, buying a house. But they’re not sure they belong and are desperately trying to fit in.

Leigh’s play is a bleak social satire but the tone of MTC’s production, directed by Stephen Nicolazzo (of Little Ones theatre company), is one of camp and farce. This is a world and decades away from the original play and the filmed BBC drama that starred Alison Steadman.

The audience is struck by a bold, uncompromising set on the Southbank Theatre stage. Looking something like a 70s game show, these are portals into another world. Small off-set windows into a bedroom, the bathroom and the garage frame the central space that is wall-to-wall shagpile and drapes. Everything is blindingly Fanta orange, where the dinner party guests are trapped for most of the show’s running time.

And trapped is the key to their predicament. Hostess Beverly (Pip Edwards) wants everyone to have a good time, to the point where she is desperate to control everything. Husband Lawrence (Daniel Fredriksen) wants to prove he can fit into this new neighbourhood, by quoting from literature and refusing to play Demis Roussos too loud.

Angela and Tony’s relationship seems even more fraught. They are brand new to the estate, having moved into a house from the furnished apartment where they began their marriage. Angela is a nurse and Tony is a computer programmer, but we get the sense their home life is unpleasant.

Benjamin Rigby does a stunning job of playing the monosyllabic Tony, who cuts a fine figure in a bright white suit, taking up as much space as he can, manspreading at every opportunity. In a sea of characters in extremis, Tony is the most unpredictable – like he might erupt into a violent rage at any moment. And what did happen when he and Lawrence looked in on Abigail’s Party?

Yes, the titular party isn’t even the focus of the play. Angela is the teenage daughter of Susan, a single-mother who gets along fine with her ex-husband. She’s at Beverly’s dinner party to give her daughter a night to have fun. It’s the rest of the adults at the dinner party who are worried about what’s happening down the street.

Katharine Tonkin’s Susan is nervous and quiet and uncomfortable in this atmosphere. You feel for her every time she’s offered another cheese-and-pineapple canape. And it’s Tonkin’s descent into the madness of the other characters that makes a real impression; from not drinking too much on an empty stomach, to spilling her drinks with wild abandon like everyone else.

Inside this heightened experience, the actors and Nicolazzo do find the humanity within these characters, though. That’s a recurring motif in Nicolazzo’s work with Little Ones; inside the camp and the queer, there are people hurting by the roles society expects them to play.

There’s a moment in this production where everything seems to slow down, into a dreamlike state, and we get to focus on a long-held gaze and a look of disappointment and another of despair. The ridiculous, for a moment, gives way to the sublime.

This is the kind of experiment I hope MTC tries more often; take a classic work and let an indie theatremaker turn it on its head. There’s nothing I dread more than seeing a dinner party drama at the Melbourne Theatre Company, so it’s much more thrilling to see this bleak classic turned upside-down and pushed outside its and the audience’s comfort zone.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Melbourne Comedy Festival – Annie Louey: Butt Donut



For a festival that most punters think of as a long line-up of stand-up comedians, the percentage of stand-up shows I’ve seen this Comedy Festival has been pretty low. I actually wonder if traditional stand-up has a degree of difficulty that makes it tougher than other kinds of comedy shows; fifty minutes of a performer and a microphone - a style we’ve seen so many times.

Annie Louey stands out in the stand-up crowd because she is a young woman with Asian heritage who can mine her background for rich stories of culture clashes and dramatic stories of life and death. This Aussie Chinese Millennial has some great tales to tell in a refreshing, honest style.

Annie can make you laugh about young love, travelling the world, her snake-soup-making Chinese family and their surprise that this Aussie girl can use chopsticks. She also has some pretty dramatic stories about fainting into a fire and the passing of her elderly father. But she finds humour in these dark moments, too.

I was a bit lost with some of the pop culture references she was making, but I guess the generation gap makes that kind of thing inevitable. And she was so old when she got her first computer – 12. Back in my day, kids didn’t get computers until much later. But that difference in perspective is what makes this show really special.

Butt Donut isn’t polished, though. Annie is still finding her way, even after seasons in Perth and Adelaide. But the material is there and when she grows in confidence, Annie will be one to watch out for.

Melbourne Comedy Festival – The Travelling Sisters: Toupè



There’s a lot to say about The Travelling Sisters are their upbeat intro song and their bizarre costume changes and the genius physical comedy combined with more wigs than I’ve seen in the rest of the entire festival combined. So many wigs, so well utilised.

But I’m fixated on the tap-dancing cactus who just wants to be held. Some comedians will go a long way for a gag; some shows think bigger is better. There’s something so wonderful in such a simple, beautifully executed bit like this. No wig in this one, though – but a great costume.

The crowd-sourced song by a child trying to please their mother was a highlight the night I saw the show, but I wonder if this is a high-wire act that might fall apart with another less funny audience. No matter, The Travelling Sisters have the rest of the act worked to a sharp point. There’s an oddball family band from Arkansas with deep dark secrets. And a trio of lollipop ladies who have a striptease for you.

The Travelling Sisters are an offbeat comedy trio whose humour mostly dabbles in the strange, but once you get on their wavelength, Toupè is an hour where you might hurt yourself from laughing. And I was worried they might hurt themselves to make us laugh. Totally worth it.




Melbourne Comedy Festival – Cindy Salmon: Empowerful


Cindy Salmon wants to empower you! She wants you to kick-ass when getting out of bed. She wants you to put all your energy into brushing your teeth. Every moment of every day, you need to be eating the patriarchy and smashing that glass ceiling (which is why she wears steel-capped boots)!

Welcome to Cindy’s very empowering seminar or, as she calls it, salmon-ar. Are you ready to take complete control of your life? To combat all of your fears? To change the world?

Cindy is full of jargon and tips on making life better. The comedy comes from the broad American accent and the ridiculous bits of wisdom she spouts. It’s entertaining for a while, but the jokes do get a little repetitive as the show goes on.

In a week where real-life motivational speaker Tony Robbins showed what dangerous delusions self-professed gurus can have, Empowerful feels a little safe; Cindy Salmon is treading water and not swimming upstream as she’d have you believe.


Melbourne Comedy Festival – Garry Starr Performs Everything



Garry Starr wants to save theatre, so he’s here to perform every style of theatre to encourage his audience to see more of it. It’s a Whitman’s Sampler of theatre genres for anyone who has ever seen Shakespeare done slowly or anyone who hasn’t. This show has something for everyone.

It’s actually tough to figure out who would get more out of this show – people who know nothing about theatre or someone who knows what a Pinter pause is. There’s enough silly word play and physical humour that you could love this show whoever you are, as evidenced by the eye-opening experience the two young boys in the front row got last night.

Actor Damien Warren-Smith writes and performs with such skill. He gives us rapid-fire Shakespeare, earnest Melodrama, ridiculous slapstick and even more ridiculous romantic comedy – each sketch more hilarious than the last. There’s a bunch of audience interaction, which ups the comedy stakes beautifully. I do wonder whether he can always find someone who knows what to do with a butoh drum without prompting, though.

This show is a solid hour of laughs. Will is save theatre? You decide. See this and as much of the Comedy Festival as you can. Every ticket sold helps.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Melbourne Comedy Festival – Cameron Duggan: Sorry I’m Late


Cameron Duggan is very relaxed, in life and on stage. He’s often late for work; his record is four hours and they sent him home. He takes his time with his show, too. The audience gets no sense he’s in a rush. His stories are low stakes, really – he found some really cheap socks once and he’s not that keen on art galleries.

I do wonder what his other nights at the Festival have been like, though. He had some hecklers in the night I saw him and he took a pretty relaxed approach to them, too. A bunch of drunk Irish lads were in for a beer and a good laugh – and halfway through the show they left to get more beer. Cameron took it in his stride. (They came back and gave Cam a beer, too. So that was nice.)

When he asked if anyone in the audience was regularly late to work, the guy who responded first turned out to be a life guard. Cam thinks that’s probably the kind of job you wouldn’t want to be late for, but he got more worked up about how well built the life guard was than the fact he might have been deficient in his responsibilities at the pool.

Cameron seems like a nice guy (he thinks he’d be on a list of nice guys) and his show was a pleasant way of filling in an hour between two shows I’d been asked to review. I admitted as much when he spotted me sitting alone in the audience, wondering what I was doing there. “I had an hour to fill in,” I said. I think he’s surprised when anyone turns up. He’s that kind of guy; loves a beer, always late to work, has a good sense of humour.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Melbourne Comedy Festival – Kaitlyn Rogers: Can I Get An Amen?


Cecil is a preacher and he wants to welcome you to the Cult of Sass. Cecil has travelled all the way from Goondiwindi to be with us in Melbourne tonight, to read from the gospel of Whoopi Goldberg, to teach you three simple lessons based on the three independent women of Destiny’s Child and to share with you the Holy sacrament… wine from a box.

Kaitlyn has the character of Cecil down pat; she’s met a few preachers like him. He ingratiates himself with the audience, with songs, and high kicks and references to Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Ru Paul’s Drag Race. It’s a heady mix of hilarity and silliness and audience participation. What else would you expect from an introduction to a cult?

There are songs we can all sing along to. There are call-backs we can shout with him. And famous film quotes some of us can finish – even when no one else ever has.

This satire of cults and preachers deliberately breaks down later in the show and it becomes clear that the sly digs at women not being allowed to preach is about something else. These men that stand on stages and proclaim what is and isn’t funny, that’s what’s at the heart of this.

Can I Get An Amen deftly plays with how men see women, how women see women and how drag queens know that if you can’t love yourself, how the hell can you love anybody else.

Forget the Church of Cecil. Forget the Church of Sass. Go worship at the Church of Kaitlyn Rogers. A true inspiration and a hell of a funny woman.


Kaitlyn Rogers is preaching sass and shouting back at Trades Hall until April 22nd.


Melbourne Comedy Festival – Hit By A Blimp: I’m Here


Hit By A Blimp is a sketch comedy trio, combining the improv/scriptwriting/acting talents of Tiana Hogben, Caitlyn Staples and Jayden Masciulli. I’m Here is the second show for the trio, after Who We Were at Melbourne Fringe in 2016.

The show starts with the trio reciting excuse after excuse for not attending a friend’s party – a list that we’ve all seen if we’ve ever created an event on Facebook. It gives us a good grounding for the pace at which the show will move; the show zips through its sketches like we’d scroll through our social media feeds.

A lot of the show is concerned with how we interact online and in person – and there’s a particularly insightful and hilarious bit about two people at a party, who only know the birthday girl and no one else, but they are forced to make conversation. Tiana and Jayden capture the awkwardness of trying to connect with nothing in common, while Caitlyn interjects with a musical commentary about how the two are getting along.

There’s jokes about waiting for texts, a dance sequence about Uber Eats, and a sketch about sexually explicit cocktails. There’s an odd bit about the language of attraction and dating amongst three buoys with a cameo from a flock of gulls, which was clever, except the trio all pronounced buoy as if they were Americans.

Some of the punchlines were killed by the transition music or blackouts. And while pace is important, some of the sketches could have worked better if the performers had been clearer.

Overall, though, I’m Here is delightful hour of sketches about young people in the digital age.


Melbourne Comedy Festival – Zoe Coombs Marr: Bossy Bottom



Zoe Coombs Marr is best known in comedy circles for playing Dave, an old-school misogynist male stand-up comic. She was so good at it, the last time she brought Dave to the Melbourne Comedy Festival she won its highest honour, the Barry Award. Playing a male comedian has done wonders for her career.

She is often asked, “What’s it like being a woman in comedy?” After six years of being Dave, she’s decided to try being a woman in comedy. See what it’s like.

Zoe assures us that the show will just be jokes. Her previous shows as Dave included costumes and lighting changes and meta-textual humour and props and guests and – none of that now, she insists. All of that gets in the way. It’ll just be joke, joke, joke, joke, joke.

And the jokes about being a lesbian in her early thirties (everyone is offering to help her and her girlfriend get pregnant) and about all the funny stories her family thinks should be in her show (and subsequently end up in her show) are hilarious. Zoe could give us fifty minutes of personal, observational comedy for her specific point of view.

But Zoe is struggling with stand-up. She took on the persona of Dave because she didn’t feel safe in comedy clubs and she didn’t feel supported. What’s a comedian/performance artist/theatre-maker to do? Is she going to fall back on call-backs or rely on digital media to give us her perspective of the audience? (She sees us every night, after all. We're all the same. The audience is the longest relationship she’s ever been in, she admits.)

Late in her previous show Trigger Warning, Dave brought out his “angry feminist character” named Zoe Coombs Marr. Now she’s sloughed off the Dave persona, she stands proudly in front of us, telling us jokes, but wrestling with the medium she loves and hates. And we’re better off having witnessed the battle first hand.


Zoe Coombs Marr is a Bossy Bottom at the Town Hall until April 22nd.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Melbourne Comedy Festival – Woah, Alyssa! 1


Colwyn and Filip are boyfriends and the sketch-comedy duo, Woah, Alyssa! After a couple of years on the Melbourne Improv scene and as part of another sketch comedy group, the couple have devised a show for themselves which they have already toured to Adelaide Fringe and Fringe World in Perth.

This is a fine debut for the pair, jumping from silly puns to physical humour to sharp satire. The boys push themselves, where even in two-hander scenes, they’ll jump into playing a third, fourth or fifth character that liven things up.

The opening sketch about the history of same-sex kisses on television should work better than it does, but perhaps they were shaking off nerves because they grew in confidence as the show progressed. Soon we are introduced to recurring characters: Barbara Binks, an over-the-top talent agent, and her assistants Paxton and Kroffner.

One of the smartest writing choices these boys have made was to connect the sketches with these three central figures and to build an ongoing narrative. This seemed to increase the urgency and hilarity of most of the situations, because the audience was getting the know the characters as the show progressed.

The sharpest piece of satire is the interview with Sir Michael, an actor who has made his career playing a female caricature named Velma Fanny. It’s one of the many digs the show makes at dated humour and how much sketch comedy, film and television have changed over the decades.

My absolute favourite part was the scene where Paxton is late to meet his friend at a bar because he’d been at rehearsal. Then it turns out, he was just rehearsing an argument with his boyfriend… and the scene rolls on from there. Hilariously clever.

The title Woah, Alyssa! 1 confidently suggests this won’t be the only time we see this pair on stage together, which is great. They have a strong script and after a slightly shaky start, the show kicks into high, hilarious gear. I expect they’ll get stronger over the season. And I look forward to Part 2.


Monday, 2 April 2018

Melbourne Comedy Festival – Tessa Waters: Volcano


Tessa Waters is a comic volcano; firing hot balls of joke magma at the audience, while they run screaming for their lives. Wait, that’s a terrible metaphor. Things are rumbling under the surface and you never know when she’ll find that point where the audience will cross from silence to erupting with laughter. Yes, better.

Multiple shows I’ve seen at this Festival have joked about the upcoming Apocalypse, since the world is feeling on the brink of war or collapse. Tessa is worried about the children running the United States and North Korea pressing the nuclear button, partly because of the fallout, but mostly because she’s not sure what her role is in a dystopian future. She’s not good at woodwork and she’s worried you’ll want to eat her first. Especially her delicious thighs.

Volcano is Tessa pitching her various talents in an effort to prove she’ll be worth something once the bombs drop; she can keep everyone’s spirits up. Tessa is a woman of many talents; she’ll make you laugh as much from a joke as from physical gyrations or simply hiding her face in the corner. There are team games to get the audience involved; if the audience are fighting among themselves, at least she’ll live to joke another day.

She’s also an epic storyteller and that’s what we’ll need once Netflix and the internet no longer exists.

Get along to Tessa Waters Volcano before the end of the Festival and before the Apocalypse. No one will make you laugh harder or make you appreciate their thighs more.

Volcano is playing at the Greek Centre for the whole Festival, until April 22.

Melbourne Comedy Festival – Nikki Spunde: The Lazy Show


I’m writing this review from bed because Nikki Spunde has really inspired me to be lazy, to embrace it and relax. The Lazy Show is a 2:45pm show on weekends and public holidays during the Festival, the perfect follow-up to a lazy lie-in and a relaxed brunch and… that’s not for you, that’s just for Nikki. Even at quarter-to-three in the afternoon, she’ll still be recovering from the morning.

Nikki has been thinking about doing this show for a while and she’s only just getting around to it. Part of the show is to guess how long she has been planning to do stand-up and I don’t want to spoil the answer, but back then she was friends with hackers, learning to be a model and she was a dude. Just wait til you see the flashback costume change, it’s very minimalist.

As much as this show is about Nikki’s laziness, the show itself is tightly scripted and entertaining – from the lengthy introduction to the very smart conclusion. Nikki is warm and personable; stand-up has never been so fun as when she does it from a comfy leather chair, sipping from a china tea-cup.

The audience might identify with the central premise but they might miss how well thought-out and put together this show is. Sometimes there’s a benefit in taking your time – and maybe that’s not laziness at all?

Melbourne Comedy Festival – The Junior Mighty Little Puppet Show


Do you have kids? Looking for something fun for them to do during the school holidays? Take them along to the Town Hall for The Junior Mighty Little Puppet Show where children get to help make the characters and contribute to the story.

Devised by Rob Lloyd and built on his love of puppets and impro comedy, the Junior version of his Mighty Little show is wild and delightful. In the show I saw, Rob hosted and five expert improvisers took control of the Ritas – the faceless stars of the show. Rob invites children up to the stage to select from a range of eyes and noses to place on the Ritas and from there, the improvisers bring these new characters to life.

The audience also gets to contribute in other ways – shouting out favourite animals or names of the characters, which all feed into the stories that are created on stage. Yesterday, the audience was thrilled by a tale of a Man in search of chocolate, another story of cursed Egyptian artefacts and finally, Princess the Golfing Princess searching for her lost golf ball (Bally) in the forest of the Troll (don’t call him an ogre!)

Kids laughed and squealed with delight at the puppet antics and there’s an opportunity for them to get a photo with their favourite Rita after the show. Lloyd keeps everything moving and the kids entertained. And don’t worry, he also throws in jokes for the adults to keep us amused. How can you go past suggesting a cheetah’s favourite sport might be cricket? And when a child named Sophie has a to choose a puppet face, he assures us it’ll be easier for her than the original Sophie’s Choice.

Shout out to Jaklene, Petra, Scott, Jamie and Ryan, the wild and crazy improvisers who brought the puppets and stories to life. Every show has a new line-up and every show will be different. Go along more than once! A perfect school holiday treat.

The Junior Mighty Little Puppet Show is on all through the school holidays, every day except Monday.