Saturday, 15 December 2018

My Favourite Theatre of 2018

Blasted
It’s that time of year again, when I look back over everything I saw on stage and put together a list of my favourite shows. I saw over 100 shows this year, mostly in Melbourne and a small number on one visit to Sydney.

I will link to reviews if I wrote one.

TOP TEN (alphabetical order)

The Almighty Sometimes – Griffin Theatre, Sydney

Kendall Feaver’s extraordinary debut play is about Anna, dealing with mood disorders and medication and the complicated relationship she has with the treatments and her mother. Superb cast and beautifully directed by Lee Lewis

Blackie Blackie Brown – Malthouse Theatre

Nakkiah Lui’s work is always amazing but this production, directed by Declan Green, was another step up for her – the satire sharper and bleaker and more hilarious than ever before.


Sarah Kane’s debut play from 1990s London is a tricky beast tackling difficult subjects but Anne-Louise Sarks nailed it with a superb production.


I had heard amazing things about this Griffin Theatre production over the last few years and was so glad it finally made it to Melbourne. An exquisite piece of theatre.

Calamity Jane – Arts Centre Melbourne

Another production from Sydney I’d heard amazing things about, only to miss it on its Melbourne debut earlier this year. Glad I finally got to see it from on-stage seating. Last show of the year, in my top ten. As I described it on Twitter – “Like the Doris Day movie, but gayer.”

Calamity Jane

An exceptional piece of queer theatre at Red Stitch; challenging and hilarious. Daniel Clarke’s production was superb.

Prize Fighter - Northcote Town Hall, Melbourne Festival

Yet another show that has travelled the country and I am glad to have finally seen. A tale of immigration that was about physical and emotional toughness. Unforgettable.


A musical comedy about romance, sexuality, narrative convenience and the “dead lesbian trope”. I hope this has a long life. I’d love to see it again.


Daniel Lammin’s treatment of Tommy Murphy’s play was subtle, nuanced and deeply moving. Superb.


An important story of people from the Torres Strait, a joyous celebration of family. Beautiful.


THE NEXT TEN (alphabetical order)


Little Ones took to the MTC stage and turned it upside. Incredible design, stunning cast, excellent production.

Abigail's Party
The Harp in the South, Parts 1 and 2 – Sydney Theatre Company

An epic Sydney story given the epic Kip Williams/STC treatment. A day to remember. The classic novel is set to be a classic stage play.

The House of Bernarda Alba – Melbourne Theatre Company

Patricia Cornelius did a wonderful job adapting Lorca’s classic play. Beautifully realised by director Letitia Caceres with an unforgettable cast of women.


post performed themselves and years of recorded conversations were elevated into something profound.


Trying to adapt this film to stage seemed like an impossible task but leave it to Matt Lutton and Declan Greene to pull it off with a performance for the ages by Eryn Jean Norville.

Melancholia
The Mission – Arts House, Melbourne Fringe

Tom Molyneux’s ode to his uncle and his ancestry was insightful and vital and very touching.

The Nightingale and the Rose - Little Ones, Theatre Works

Little Ones simple, effective adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s short story.

Prehistoric – Elbow Room, Meat Market

Elbow Room’s rocking work on Brisbane’s punk scene and the oppressive Bjelke-Peterson government.

Sneakyville – 45 Downstairs

Christopher Bryant and Daniel Lammin’s complex take on Charles Manson, his followers and the public’s decade-long obsession with the cult leader. Seared into my mind.



In the midst of despair, Rawcus’ moving work found hope in darkness.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

John Barrowman - Arts Centre Melbourne
Wild – Melbourne Theatre Company
Cock – Meat Market, directed by Beng Oh
An Ideal Husband – Melbourne Theatre Company
The Children – Melbourne Theatre Company
Elbow Room: There/Here – Lithuanian Club, Melbourne Fringe



PAST YEARS

Monday, 10 December 2018

"In love with night..." and twilight: Melbourne Shakespeare Company's ROMEO & JULIET

"All the world will be in love with night..."
Melbourne Shakespeare Company's Romeo & Juliet
Burke Photography
Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair St Kilda, where we lay our scene… 

In amongst the rose bushes of the St Kilda Botanical Gardens, two families are at each other’s throats and two lovers are falling for each other. The audience is separated into two halves, like the congregation at a wedding – one side the Montagues, one side the Capulets.

We are welcomed by a pair of Friars, Laurence and Mary, and a small band of musical players – a trumpeter, a pianist and a third on banjo. A rotunda sits in the middle of the garden and is the main focus of the performance space for Melbourne Shakespeare Company’s Romeo & Juliet.

Outdoors in Melbourne can bring all sorts of drama, especially in the transition between seasons. Yes, it’s summer now, but the city can threaten storms even after blisteringly hot days. Sunday was mostly overcast and threatened to rain – and that was the backdrop when we sat down for this production on Sunday evening. The sun was two hours from setting, but the dramatic black clouds in the distance suggested storms on the horizon for these star-crossed lovers.

This production isn’t the original text; it’s Shakespeare by way of Baz Luhrman - though not his own Romeo + Juliet. This felt more like Moulin Rouge, modern songs used to elevate the mood, heighten the tension and amuse when deployed in an oddball context. The Montagues and the Capulets engage in Shakespeare’s classic taunts – they do bite their thumb at you, sir, but their song and dance battles reminiscent of West Side Story, also inspired by Shakespeare’s tragic lovers.

The comedy gets the audience on side early on; we’re amused by anachronistic music and local references. But we’re also treated to a female Tybalt (Emily Thompson) and a female Benvolio (Carly Ellis, who steals the show each time she’s on stage, especially post-party, when she’s recovering from a hangover). Another treat is Tref Gare’s doubling as the police Inspector and his show-stopping turn as the Nurse with a comically Scottish brogue.

This show hits all the romantic plot beats, but it chooses to slice out the political familial machinations. Montague and Capulet are tyrannical parents for their children to rebel against and that’s enough here. They are figures of fear, if not fully realised characters. But that’s fine; this production is light and accessible and full of inventiveness for most of its length.

Adapting Shakespeare, particularly cutting it down, is a tricky business. Turning much of Romeo & Juliet into a raunchy comedy, with matching slapstick, makes the dramatic turn a little harder to buy. Some of the local references took away from the dramatic moments; St Kilda feels like a suitable stand in for Verona, but as Mantua, Pakenham is too much of a distracting laugh line.

And yet, even if the cleverness of the production faded into the background, as the dramatic pieces started to fall into place, the power of the tragedy remains palpable. The audience got quieter. The ensemble pulled back from earlier antics. And Matthew Connell and Joanna Halliday, both striking in the central roles, take centre stage to fulfil the promise of the play’s opening stanza.

Melbourne Shakespeare has created a thrilling, memorable Romeo & Juliet; and the outdoor setting is an amazing backdrop. The sun set slowly last night, casting a pink light into the St Kilda sky. Nature is one hell of a lighting designer.


The cast of Melbourne Shakespeare Company's Romeo & Juliet
Burke Photography