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REVIEW: Chicago - The Musical

The real-life inspiration for the musical Chicago comes from nearly a century ago, when reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins reported on two unrelated court cases about women suspected and acquitted of murder. Watkins later wrote a satirical play about the attention both cases got, focusing on the media’s sensational headlines – something Watkins herself fed into.
The play became a silent film in 1927, a 1942 film named Roxie Hart (starring Ginger Rogers), and later the 1975 musical Chicago, for which husband and wife creative duo, Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon, struggled to get the rights to make throughout the sixties.
The original Broadway production opened to mixed reviews, as it was considered cynical and subversive – the opposite of what audiences wanted from musical theatre. But times change and this black satire about merry murderesses returned to Broadway in 1996 in a slick, pared-back production, directed by Walter Bobbie with choreography by Anne Reinking – “in the style of Bob Fos…

My Favourite Theatre of 2019

This year I saw some amazing theatre in Melbourne, as always, and I was lucky enough to visit London for the first time, where I saw some wonderful West End theatre and some really inventive off-West End and independent theatre.
The thing about the theatre in London is that is really seems to be working toward the ideal of diverse casting, even if behind-the-scenes (writers, directors) are still male-dominated. And it’s not just in reinventions of shows like Death of a Salesman, which was a mostly black cast; a lot of shows I saw there were female-focused with racially diverse casts.
That said, I did see a show that was ostensibly about race, which was all white.
I saw some shows again this year, which were as great as when I originally saw them, but they have been on previous year-end lists, so sorry to Hamilton, Muriel’s Wedding and Cock – you’re not on my list again this year.
The lists are in alphabetical order and links in titles to review where available.
TOP TEN 

All About Eve –…

REVIEW: Punk Rock by Simon Stephens

You’re a teenager and your hormones are racing and you’re in school and you’re supposed to be studying but there’s a girl… there’s a boy… there’s your awkward body and your perspiration and emotions and masturbation and kissing and daydreams and nightmares… you want to act out but you’re taking your mock A Level exams at a grammar school in Stockport and there’s some pressure to do well but… you just want to dance and fuck and turn over tables and feel everything.
Simon Stephens’ Punk Rock is a two-and-a-half-hour drive into the malaise of being a teenager, where you think you know all the answers, but can be taken down a peg or two by a look from a girl you fancy or from a bully who might fancy you. Where you might feel nervous or uncomfortable in your body, but inside you’re ready to rock the hell out. It’s a delicate and dangerous balance.
Patalog Theatre Company’s production of Stephens’ play is slick in parts and rough around the edges in others, which seems fitting. Director Ru…

REVIEW: This Wide Night by Chloe Moss

“Twelve years inside and I’m still not free. Not properly.”
Lorraine is just out of prison and she’s dropped in on Marie, who she met and got to know while they were both locked up. She’s thirsty. Parched. Unsettled and unsettling. She can’t sit still.
Marie has been out for a while and seems, at first, to have found her feet. She’s looking fresh-faced and has shiny hair and she might be living in a studio apartment, but she knows that’s just a fancy name for a bedsit.
Playwright Chloe Moss has based her play on women she met while volunteering at a prison in England. The play touches briefly on their prison lives and only alludes to why they might have been sent there in the first place. The story doesn’t focus on life behind bars, but on life upon release – and how difficult it is for these women to re-enter society.
Marie is uncomfortable with Lorraine encroaching on her space, even as she wants to help her friend. Lorraine wants companionship, before she moves into a shelter and –…

REVIEW: Apocalypse Meow – Crisis Is Born

Meow Meow is trying to find somewhere to birth her new Christmas show. There’s no room at the Royal Albert Hall or the Sydney Opera House, so the old brick building on the Southbank in Melbourne will have to do. Apocalypse Meow: Crisis Is Born is Meow Meow’s holiday show that was original commissioned by the Southbank Centre in London in 2014. Now it has finally found its way to Melbourne and it’s not even Christmas. It is an early Christmas present, though.
Meow Meow is such a singular presence on stage, she will outshine everyone when appearing in shows not of her own making, but when it is her own show and you’ve seen her before, you know what you’re getting yourself into. A self-described gargantuan performance artist, her singing is sultry and smooth – she will have you laughing one moment and moved to tears soon after.
If you think this all sounds a bit heavy for a Christmas show, you’re right, but you’re probably forgetting you’ve been disappointed by Christmas before. Sometim…

REVIEW: The End of Eddy – Melbourne Festival

The End of Eddy by Pamela Carter is based on the book En finir avec Eddy Belleguele, a memoir by Edouard Louis about growing up gay and poor in a small French village.
Normally I would describe the world of a play before I get to the credits and give a sense of the kind of story you’re going to see. But this production is as much about adapting the book into theatre as it is about Eddy himself.
Two performers, Oseloka Obi and James Russell-Morley, play Eddy and all the other characters – sometimes on stage and sometimes on one of four video screens. There were four televisions in Eddy’s house when he grew you, you see. It’s that kind of production, too.
The actors also take their time to explain the differences between the book and the play: you can’t fit everything from a book into ninety minutes on stage, and theatre has different responsibilities than books, too, apparently. The show makes statements like this and never really explores them. They fundamentally change one of the fin…

REVIEW: The Nico Project – Melbourne Festival

“It costs me nothing to show you everything. It might hurt, though. It does hurt.”
Nico was a German singer, songwriter, musician and actress. She recorded vocals for The Velvet Underground’s debut album and appeared in films directed by Andy Warhol and Federico Fellini.
In September 1968, Nico recorded The Marble Index, an avante-garde album full of songs memorable for her somber lyrics and the strains of her playing the harmonium. This work and the femme fatale persona she created at this time has been cited as inspiration for Siouxsie Sioux, Dead Can Dance and Bjork.
It’s also the key stimulus for The Nico Project, created by actor Maxine Peake and director Sarah Frankcom, a co-commission of the Royal Court, the Manchester Festival and the Melbourne International Arts Festival.
Peake and Frankcom haven’t simply created a biographical work about the singer, but a performance art piece that’s as surreal as Nico’s music. The title itself suggests that this is a project inspired by Ni…

REVIEW: The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes – Melbourne Festival

We are welcomed into a public meeting and after some confusion over which Aboriginal nation they are acknowledging, the five performers begin a long, complicated discussion about being heard, being listened to and being understood.
Geelong’s Back-to-Back Theatre works with performers both with and without disability but for their latest work, five members with intellectual impairments take centre stage. Sometimes they are difficult to understand, so there are surtitles to help the audience, text – it is suggested – that is being created live by Siri.
After the company’s previous show Lady Eats Apple at the 2017 Melbourne Festival, a show that took over Hamer Hall, The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes is stripped back and sparse. There’s a lot going on at its core, though; perhaps too much.
The ensemble, who helped to create this piece, want desperately to be understood but hate being patronised by the illuminated translation hanging above their heads. They see this as just anothe…

REVIEW: Control by Keziah Warner – Red Stitch

The crew of a space ship, dressed in bold primary colours, rock from left to right in front of us, as they try to keep control of their craft. The group is racially diverse but it’s the white guy, a larrakin Aussie from Melbourne, who boldly steps forward to save the day. “It’s something I have to do.”

Keziah Warner’s Control, a science fiction triptych, begins with a scene of broad comedy, a nod to Star Trek and then jumps back in time to see how this crew ended up in such a dramatic situation. Starting a story in media res can be a pretty tired trope, but here Keziah uses it as a dramaturgical sleight-of-hand; this story is much more complicated than it first appears to be.
A pregnant woman, a puppeteer, a singer and a detective have been hand-picked to be on this space ship, leave Earth and strive to survive in “Fifteen Minutes on Mars” – a Big Brother-type reality show that is manoeuvring this ensemble toward interstellar cabin fever.
Twenty years later, in a library that promises…

REVIEW: Anthem – Melbourne Festival

"The train moves forward and he is still, he allows the machine and its engines to carry him. He is listening without hearing, watching the world without seeing it." - Barracuda, Christos Tsiolkas
The train network in Melbourne is a web. It circles the inner city and spreads out like tendrils into the suburbs, creeping further and further away from the affluent centre. But as a public transport system, it is a great equalizer, bringing people from all points of the sprawling metropolis together. Sometimes too close for comfort. Interaction leads to reaction. A catalyst for drama. A spark for the fire next time.
Twenty-one years ago, four playwrights and a composer collaborated on a seminal piece of Australian theatre, Who’s Afraid of the Working Class? It was written for the tenth anniversary of the Melbourne Workers Theatre, a company now defunct but never expected to last much past its origin point, putting on plays in the Jolimont railyards.
Christos Tsiolkas, Andrew Bove…

REVIEW: What Girls Are Made Of – Melbourne Festival

It’s 1992. Grunge is taking over the music world. But in Scotland, Cora Bissett’s inspirations are rock’n’roll women like PJ Harvey, Linda Ronstadt and Patti fucking Smith.
When Cora sees an ad in the local paper “Band Seeks Singer”, it throws her into the music world just after she’s left school. She’s not even 18 yet. Her drummer bandmate is still studying.
After only a few gigs and their song played on a local radio station, her band Darlingheart are signed to a five-album deal by Phonogram’s sister label, Fontana, and that’s when things start to go wrong. What Girls Are Made Of is writer/performer Cora Bissett’s on-stage memoir of that time she was in a band. It premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2018 and now the production has been flown across the world to be part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival.
It’s part-monologue, part-rock show, with three bandmates to support her, on drums, bass and as various characters in her life – her mum and dad and manager, mostly. Occa…

REVIEW: Just Us Girls (What’s a girl?) – Melbourne Fringe

A woman walks up to a door marked PULL and she pushes. A man tells her that she needs to PULL instead of PUSH. “I know that. I’ve been reading since I was four. It’s a joke,” she says. Can’t he take a joke? The man mansplains how doors work and how much happier she’d be if she’d just PULL. So, the woman pulls off her skin, revealing new layers – she’s an alien – and she destroys the door with her tentacles.
Welcome to Just Us Girls by Ellen Grimshaw, an absurdist avalanche of observations about women and the patriarchy and its changing rules and shifting sands.
Ellen plays an alien, it seems, who meets a man (Dick Shit, played by Alice Stewart), an amalgam of all the worst white cis men Ellen has talked to in real life. Early on, Ellen’s alien repeats everything she says because she’s so used to not being listened to, she thinks she has to say everything twice.
“I’m surprised people are listening now, so it’s a hard habit to break,” she tells The Man, who explains there is really onl…

REVIEW: Oh No! Satan Stole My Pineal Gland! – Melbourne Fringe

A group of unnamed people, uniformly dressed in red and pink like a cult, greet each other with “Hail Satan!” – the same way you might say hello or good morning to a stranger when you pass them on your morning walk.
But are they a cult or are they a generation with similar needs and concerns, trying to find connection in an increasingly bizarre world? And what is the best way to form a connection these days? Recount your dreams? Talk about Gilmore Girls? Offer them an Allen’s Snake to eat, even if it’s unethical?
Kirby Medway’s play is a comedic dreamscape that bounces from person to person to Satan, playing out vignettes that are odd and sweet and strange and hilarious. Directors Jean Tong & Lou Wall keep things tight and flowing smoothly, though the transitions between scenes felt a little repetitive as the show went on.
The pineal gland is a part of the brain that regulates sleep, so taking it away would produce restlessness or sleeplessness and increasingly bizarre visions an…

REVIEW: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Cooking For – Melbourne Fringe

Jamie Oliver’s 30-minute meals are an effort to get people cooking healthy food even when they think they don’t have the time, with the demands of working a forty-hour week, looking after kids or indulging in extra-curricular activities.
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Cooking For is a concentrated, pressure-cooker of an experience for a different Fringe performer each night. Produced by Stage Mom, it’s like Masterchef, but as the contestant tries to make one of Oliver’s 30-minute, three-course meals, they are interrogated on their personal beliefs and the state of the world they live in.
The night I saw the show it was Lou Walls in the spotlight and she was the perfect first-night contestant. She had to cook a risotto, prepare a salad and serve up four individual cheese cakes. And there was a timer on the wall, counting down every second.
Co-creator Alberto Di Troia (writer of Truly Madly Britney) read the recipe step-by-step and co-creator Hannah Fallowfield fired questions at Lou a…

REVIEW: Happy-Go-Wrong – Melbourne Fringe

Darkness. Pitch black.
Torch light cuts through, swinging wildly into the space.
Out glides Lucky, an angel, who always finds the silver lining because she lives on Cloud Nine. Lucky is a guardian angel, it turns out. Helps human beings while they are being human. And she’s had her eye on one particular human being, Andi Snelling.
Andi plays Lucky and later we hear about all the tiring platitudes she’s heard over the last three years, since her previous Melbourne Fringe show, Déjà vu (and other forms of knowing). “Lucky you don’t have cancer” was a particularly unhelpful bit of wisdom.
Andi suffers from Lyme disease, which has brought on many food intolerances, and bouts of weight loss and weight gain. This has led to an inability to perform, which is her passion and her life. If she can’t eat and is always exhausted, getting onto the stage has been impossible, until now.
Happy-Go-Wrong is the story of her struggle with her invisible disease, with people’s unhelpful suggestions, and w…

REVIEW: Off Off Off Broadway Karaoke – Melbourne Fringe

Come on, admit it. You sing Broadway showtunes in the shower. Or in the car. Or when you’re cleaning the house. You aren’t worried about what the neighbours or the people in the next car think. You are Simba and Javert and Frank’n’Furter and Sandra Dee.
Sometimes you even get drunk and play SingStar or get super drunk and go to karaoke bars. But you have your turn and then you have to listen to all your friends have a go.
Jess McGuire and Emma Smith have curated two weeks of karaoke craziness at the Melbourne Fringe hub starring… the audience. This gives everyone their chance to let their inner diva out, while helping to recreate such Broadway classics as Les Miserables or Jesus Christ Superstar.
Last night, it was The Lion King’s turn. Everyone had a chance to sign up to get involved before the show and there’s opportunities to join in as the show progresses. If you’re shy, you can stay seated and sing your heart out, too. I did the latter.
Jess and Emma keep things moving, with a p…

REVIEW: Boys Taste Better with Nutella – Melbourne Fringe

You’ve probably got a friend like this. She’s young and desperate to fall in love but she hates herself a little so she clings to any guy who will give her attention, when all she really wants is to go home and binge-eat a jar of Nutella. But you’ve never seen that story on stage with dance, musical interludes and actors smeared with the aforementioned Hazelnut spread. Good news, now you can!
Aggy and Frederick are best friends who met in the supermarket. They’ve seen each other fall in and out of bad relationships, Aggy with boys whose traits she takes on, and Frederick with guys online who post shit like “no fats, no femmes”. There’s a lot of flashbacks to flesh out their history of bad habits and you never really forget where you are – past or present – until the audience is put on the spot to answer a question or two.
Aggy tries hard to be loved, but it’s hard when she’s smeared in Nutella. Frederick seems like the life of the party, except he’s really just in his room making Muk…

REVIEW: Disinhibition by Christopher Bryant

Flick, known on Instagram as Flick.Eats, and George, known on Tumblr as Boyance, are social media influencers. Flick.Eats posts FODMAP recipes and Boyance is living his best gay life online, but both are lies – constructions of the kind of personalities that get likes and shares and re-blogs. When Microsoft releases a new artificial intelligence bot onto Twitter – Tay, whose followers are #TaysTeam – the world of fake online personas gets trickier to navigate.
Who are Flick and George, really? Do they even know anymore?
Disinhibition plunges the audience right into the internet, the opening scene a perfect recreation of a Twitter interaction: someone posts a photo of their cute dog, lots of other users retweet it and someone @s the original poster, telling them their dog is prettier than they are. All social niceties are gone; people will say anything to each other online.
Presented by Monash University Student Theatre (MUST) and directed with a sure hand and clear intent by Artistic …

REVIEW: Australian Realness by Zoey Dawson

North Fitzroy, Melbourne. Christmas. 1997.

Mum is carrying a load of groceries and a box filled with Christmas presents, while dad plays around with his latest creation – the puppet of a baby. Daughter is heavily pregnant and asleep on the couch, while her parents reminisce about the lives they had before children and a mortgage. Soon, their Daughter’s partner arrives – a woman and a dock worker. Then their Son strides in, all suited up, wheeling and dealing on his brick of a mobile phone.
A suburban family home at Christmas is a ripe location for drama, even in the hands of a nascent writer; everyone has been there and we all know what tensions lie beneath. Mum wants everything to be perfect. Dad wants to help out, but has a project of his own that needs attending to. And the kids, well, they have their own lives now and they can’t always see or know what’s going on with Mum and Dad now.
Playwright Zoey Dawson has made her name on the independent stages of Melbourne as a writer who g…