Review: Every Second

Fertile dark comedy

By Owen James

WIT Theatre’s latest offering depicts the emotional rollercoaster endured by two couples struggling to conceive a child. Through a darkly comic lens, a strong script from Vanessa Bates dissects the societal pressure and inner conflict surrounding this largely unspoken subject matter.

Madeleine Magee Carr as borderline obsessive Meg is a perfect blend of hilarious and chilling in pursuing her burgeoning child-bearing obsession. Carr’s portrait of a wannabe mother on the verge of desperation is often moving, rousing our sympathy when fighting circumstances beyond her control. But she is also the source of great comedy, anxiously seeking a remedy through herbs, fertility statues – any potential antidote charges a new level of fixation. Carr fuels her culminating moments of catharsis with pent-up frustration, expertly bringing Meg’s arc to a fiery finale.

Meg’s partner, Tim (Riley Nottingham) is withdrawn and agitated, unenthused by the failing fertility regimes. The reasons behind Nottingham’s characterisation become apparent as the plot is teased out, and his dismissive, callous attitude is the perfect chalk to Meg’s cheese. He is also a source of discomfort for Richard Mealey as Bill, a calm, supportive quasi-friend. Bill and his wife Jen (Lansy Feng) are more comfortable with their fertility struggle, and are beginning their journey with assisted reproductive technology, opting for IVF. Their stark contrast in attitude, patience, and beliefs help drive both comedy and drama between the two couples.

This well-matched cast thrive under Emma Drysdale’s direction, combining naturalistic and presentational styles to grab and hold our attention with each new scene. Drysdale utilises the traverse staging of the Bluestone Church Arts Space to great effect – and it’s enormous fun to watch the audience opposite you whipping their heads left and right as if it were a tennis match during scenes with rapid-fire dialogue. Riley Tapp’s simple, detailed, and highly effective set design is put to tremendous use, particularly in the ‘pregnancy ballet’, featuring sublime choreography by Sophie Loughran.

Every Second is a glimpse into the turbulent lives of couples coping with infertility, and the range of reactions and responses that can result. Loose threads are tugged and converge, prompting ingenious and unexpected twists which are executed with a chill by a sensational cast. Well worth a trip to Footscray.

Tickets and info: https://www.witinc.com.au/shows/every-second

Review: MEOW MEOW’S PANDEMONIUM

A cavalcade of demented joys and powerful emotion

By Bradley Storer

After a lengthy COVID-enforced break from the stage, Australia’s own international cabaret sensation Meow Meow returns to Melbourne audiences accompanied by the hefty forces of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and long time fans of the self-destructive and self-aggrandizing diva will find plenty of pleasures here. Entering Hamer Hall in her typically chaotic manner (which almost results in her climbing Rapunzel-like down a make shift rope from the balcony), Meow Meow clambers through the crowd whilst discarding layers of costume until finally she bares herself – physically and emotionally – before the audience.

Despite the lengthy time between gigs, Meow Meow has lost none of her powerful and flexible contralto, or her ability to hold an audience spellbound. Beginning with a disjointed and disgruntled ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’, she takes full command with the rousing Rinascero – whose sentiments of ‘my country will be reborn’ feels like a loving prayer to us all. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra under the conducting of Benjamin Northey plays exquisitely and brings stunning dimension to Meow Meow’s own composition Hotel Amour (and later the tear-jerking Tear Down the Stars), bathing Hamer Hall in a glorious glow of romanticism that one simply wishes to dissolve into.

The first act contains many of the characteristic Meow Meow shenanigans (many involving unwitting audience participants) and even as they draw uproarious laughter, the strength of the musical offerings and Meow Meow’s ability to embody each song completely almost renders these comic interludes unnecessary. After the shattering combination of the Weill classic Surabaya Johnny with the apocalyptic In this City (the orchestral accompaniment taking it to new, nearly Wagnerian, heights) to end the first act, Meow Meow wisely tones down the antics to focus more on the music. Making the Weimar satirical tune of profiteering and backstabbing, Alles schwindel, feel more relevant than ever followed by making an incompetent attempt at burlesque entertainment, the evening then turns to more emotional material. This allows Meow Meow to bring her full dramatic and emotional abilities center stage, before climaxing in a wonderful and joyous dance spectacle to end the evening.

A glorious return to the stage for one of our most talented and beloved cabaret stars, Meow Meow’s Pandemonium is a cavalcade of demented joys and powerful emotion that cannot fail to bring a smile (or tear) to your face.

Meow Meow played at Hamer Hall, Melbourne

Review: Mara Korper

Long live the new flesh

By Owen James

Citizen Theatre’s new work is a feminist dystopia that playfully dissects the boundaries of gender binary and disrupted social norms under the toxic authoritarian rule of the Mother Administration. The citizens are well-behaved, kept in line with a sturdy regime of disinformation, gaslighting, and conciliation – and as the underlying conspiracy unwraps, an impasse is reached and (spoiler alert) blood is shed.

Writer/Director Jayde Kirchert has concocted a fascinating futuristic landscape, void of gender politics and rife with hierarchical secrecy. It is no small order to deliver a fully-realised alternate world on stage with limited space and settings, but Kirchert’s masterful text achieves this with aplomb. Our language is deliciously twisted into familiar yet absurd new phrases that highlight the nonsensical procedures regulating these tortured residents. My personal favourite: “how luck-filled your basket is, that you fished that group of letters out of your word closet”, which had me giggling for about five minutes.

Akin to popular dystopian literary and cinematic works such as The Handmaid’s Tale, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, or 1984, the message is clear: that to dismantle an overbearing hierarchy, we must challenge what we are told – even at the threat of punishment. Blindly obeying orders is obstructing societal growth and promoting inequality, despite the Mother’s drive for conformity. This resonates particularly in light of protests such as those that took place in Hong Kong in 2020; citizens with restricted rights have cause to revolt.

The ensemble of eight are perfectly matched, attuned to a unified sense of storytelling and world-building through the use of significant gestus, and their skilful navigation of Anthony Lyons’ delicious harmonies. Audience favourite Kayla Hamill is a comedic delight as Assistant Hans and Superior Clarence, playfully stealing every scene they are in. Shamita Siva as Assistant Konrad filled every line with ferocity and devout allegiance to The Mother, bursting energy into every scene.

Set Design from Stu Brown sees everyday objects take on a new life as part of The Mother’s new-world evangelism. Atop a rotating platform sat on a larger platform, characters spout their sectarian fealty, elevated by Clare Springett’s bold Lighting Design and Aislinn Naughton’s appropriately uniform Costume Design. Compositions from Anthony Lyons are deep, dark and electronic, and incorporate a Midi ring worn by a performer – responding to each gesture in the moment, creating a fascinating soundscape exclusive to each performance.

Mara Korper has launched with the fortuitous timing of Instagram’s addition of pronouns into a profile’s bio this week. As we enter an age where gender binary is disassembled, Citizen Theatre encourage that conversation with a piece where gender is beautifully irrelevant and “Sie” covers all. It is the personal histories (or lack thereof) and future of these characters we are invested in. They are not defined by gender, nor do they need to be for us to follow their arcs. There is also a fascinating underlying commentary about body image and body positivity, as we see the surface consequences of a people forbidden from “breathlessness or stress”, to keep korpers “round and soft”. We cannot help but consider how our culture may degrade if we continue down as unhealthy a path.

Citizen Theatre are a force to be reckoned with. I adore each new terrain they traverse as they build a catalogue of unique, playful theatre that transcends genre and defines their own thundering style. (See past reviews for Forgotten Places (2019) and Ascent (2018).) Mara Korper takes their creativity to a new level; a pensive remedy amidst a tempestuous world alive with cause for conversation.

At TheatreWorks, St Kilda until 22 May 2021.
170 minutes incl. interval
Tickets: https://www.theatreworks.org.au/program/mara-korper/

The Music of the Night – The songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber

Pure perfection – you won’t get better on Broadway!

By Sebastian Purcell

This is the ultimate musical and Andrew Lloyd Webber fans dream show. More than 90 minutes of pure joy from the most talented cast to perform at Chapel off Chapel – and I’m not exaggerating, this should be playing in Hamer Hall.

With songs from Phantom of the Opera, Love Never Dies, Evita, Sunset Boulevard, Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar, Whistle down the Wind and others, this wonderfully staged show gives respect to each song and performance through its own simple but effective lighting in the fittingly intimate Chapel; the brilliant starry night backdrop (Harrie Hogan), choreography (Celina Yuen) and staging (Director Theresa Borg), creating scenes all unto themselves.

The cast – Bianca Bruce, Andy Conaghan, Madison Green, Genevieve Kingsford, Cherine Peck, Christopher Scalzo, Caitlin Spears, Tod Strike and Raphael Wong – are sublime in their delivery, their vocals are warm, big and pitch perfect. Special guest Debra Bryne is an absolute delight and brings a raw authenticity to her performances which left the cast and audience visibly emotional. There’s something so real and heartfelt when Bryne performs the song Memory that it feels like a big love letter from her time originating the role of Grizabella in Cats in 1985.

Its so hard to pick favourites, but I will because there are moments that stood out that made my night, including Wong’s opening number of The Music of the Night, sung as well as I’ve heard Simon Gleeson sing. His tone is just so smooth and the vocal control is insane. The cello accompaniment was the perfect choice to let his vocals shine.

Another standout was Evita by Bianca Bruce, and even though I saw Evita in Melbourne, I thought Bruce knocked it out of the park; the strength, the precision and a real emotional essence, not to mention the wonderful harmony from the cast humming along was stunning.

A new favourite for me from the evening is now Too Much in Love to Care, Sunset Boulevard (Conaghan & Spears). The harmonies are gorgeous and made me feel a real connection between them.

And I just cant go past Macavity, Cats by Bruce & Scalzo. It was playful, a joy to watch, and some serious vocals to match.

Across the cast you could feel a sense of connection and respect for one another, and how it lifted each other up; you could see how special it was to have Byrne on stage with them. I’m clearing my calendar for a second viewing!

I could go on about every song, they were all amazing, and wonderfully accompanied by Music Director Stephen Gray and the band, Gary Norman, Nathan Post and John Clarke.

You’d be crazy to miss this very short season of just 6 shows at Chapel off Chapel from 12 May to 16 May

Tickets available at www.chapeloffchapel.com.au

Photography by Ben Fon

Review: Everyone is Famous

Growing up in a social media world; all, nothing or somewhere in between

By Kiana Emmett

Everyone Is Famous (directed by Katrina Cornwell and written by Morgan Rose) depicts the impact of social media on this generation through an almost unbiased, transparent weigh in of positives and negatives.

Through telling the stories of nine young people, Everyone is Famous shows us how it is to grow in this new social media riddled world. It is a celebration of having the choice to be everything, nothing, or anything in between. It champions choice, and exploration of self.

The cast is strong, providing raw, truthful commentary on our society. I found it interesting and powerful that the characters were named after the actors portraying them, and connection to the source material was evident.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the production is the use of technology (Sound & AV by Justin Gardam). The phone shaped screens that hung above the actors and worked as their communication with the audience, showing us the way they wanted to be perceived. This was quite different to what we had seen prior and post. It worked to remind us that social media is never what is really going on in a person’s life, and that it is merely the expression of what an individual wishes to be perceived as.

The shift into an almost post-apocalyptic world following social media’s overtaking of society was a stark reminder that the concept isn’t as outlandish as we may have once thought. The reoccurring themes throughout the play help to ground it with its more realistic first half.

The result is a touching, amusing, heartfelt, relatable depiction of what it is to grow up, and to grow up while being influenced by the choice to be all, nothing or anywhere in between.

The Northcote Town Hall, with its intimate setting works perfectly enveloping the audience, and bringing them into this world. It feels as though you are a victim of social media, but also held accountable for it at the same time, that you are the problem and the solution. This adds to the feeling of duality throughout the piece, and leaves you feeling torn between the two.

Everyone is Famous is thought-provoking, heartfelt, brilliantly funny and everything we need right now. It is a must see.

‘Everyone Is Famous’ played from April 21- May 1st at The Northcote Town Hall

Photography by Darren Gill

Film review: Wrath of Man

Liver, lung, spleen, heart 

By Sebastian Purcell

Wrath of Man, directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Jason Statham (both the Fast and Furious and the Transporter franchises), is a pulsating thriller that oozes influences of James Bond, the Joker’s bank heist (The Dark Knight) and Sherlock Holmes.

‘H’ a quiet and mysterious new security guard for Fortico, a private armoured cash truck company, shocks co-workers as he saves his crew during a heist. With a score to settle and a personal hunt for those who took the most valuable thing from him, revenge and greed promise to lead to irreconcilable and devastating outcomes.  

Wrath of Man is a remake of the French film Le Convoyeur (Cash Truck). Ritchie directs with film noir references, dark, low lit scenes, often composed through doorways, offering partial views to the audience, obscuring the totality of the scene playing out, adding to the sense of anticipation. The score composed by Christopher Benstead compliments this, heavy and largely unrelenting, moving between resemblances of a beating heart or punctuated throughout like the heavy gun fire unloaded throughout the film.

The film certainly commands attention, and is split into four acts, each titled and while not necessarily in order, the film is cohesive and coherent, and is well paced as edited by James Herbert. The narrative is logical, but neither emotional nor unique, trading on the Oceans 11 / Sherlock Holmes style; describe a mission in the planning phase as it’s being carried out, which ultimately does the work for its audience rather than being clever or innovative. 

While the action scenes, of which consume almost the entire runtime, are captivating and the performances of a relatively large ensemble cast are serviceable, they are almost entirely lifeless. Statham is stoic, inhuman like in the face of grief and gives an action man performance making it a rather two-dimensional performance. The most tragic of events are given little more than an afterthought. They serve as a plot point and motivation for Statham rather than anchoring the narrative or performances in any emotional strength. Additionally there’s no light and shade, the minimal attempt at humour is confined to locker room banter. 

Man of Wrath is a polished Hollywood, action-packed thriller, with twists and turns aplenty. It’s suitable for mature audiences (MA15+), especially those who are fond of Ritchie’s cinematic style.

In cinemas from April 29, 2021. 

Review: Drummer Queens

An hour and a half drumming and dancing spectacular

By Margaret Wieringa

Drummer Queens slammed an hour and a half of drumming and dancing out at the Comedy Theatre and nearly took the roof off. Creator, Composer and Musical Supervisor Joe Accaria worked with Choreographer Peta Anderson and Creative Director Nigel Turner-Carroll to create this stunning, varied performance which thrilled the audience, receiving not one but two standing ovations.

This is absolutely a show for the whole family. The show moved from huge, full-cast numbers to solos and smaller interactions. It was the physical bantering between performers that had the kids giggling, in particular the moments between Rebel (Stef Furnari) and Bey-b (Georgia Anderson).

The set looked like some kind of under-the-city world with exposed pipes forming arcs across the stage. The queens came out in a series of variations on the yellow overall and white singlet combo, each reflecting the personality of their character. And as the show went on, there were more and more set reveals, including a series of moving platforms with varieties of percussion set-up that allowed the drumming to be transformed into fully choreographed numbers.

It’s hard to pick a favourite part when there were so many amazing numbers – the totally kick-arse Asian Metal number (with very impressive head-banging from Cap (Ned Wu) – all whilst slamming the kit); the beautiful gentleness of The Heartbeat Song; the excited, pounding energy of Chant. But for me, it was when things went Eighties. Rebel was rocking it on an electronic drum, and when the full cast joined in with an impressive light show, including sticks and costumes, I wasn’t sure if I was more impressed with the choreography, the drumming or the magnificent spectacle.

Or maybe it was when Freedom (Peta Anderson) blew the audience away with a tap number that started small, a few taps, the clacking of drumsticks, but built and built until she was playing a kit that other cast members built around her, while dancing an absolute storm, and the auditorium broke into a storm of applause.

Unfortunately, Drummer Queens only has a short run in Melbourne before touring the country. Get in, take the family, and maybe grab some earplugs because this show is extremely loud. And if you’re still unsure, check out these videos for yourself

60′ vox pops https://youtu.be/PwvGdCNTddI

Beyanet https://youtu.be/2Q_nze9nVdg

Drummer Queens is playing at the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne until May 8. It will then be touring the country – visit https://www.drummerqueens.com/ for details.

Photography by David Hooley

The Umbilical Brothers – The Distraction

Combining green screen wizardry with puppetry, pantomime and slapstick

By Sebastian Purcell

Just when you thought live theatre was back and we could all escape our screens …

The Umbilical Brothers bring their new show The Distraction to audiences combining the magic of green screen wizardry and their trademark puppetry, pantomime and slapstick to deliver an experience that only makes sense in this Covid world.

David Collins and Shane Dundas provide an impressive display of acting that balances the need for physical theatre and nuanced by the more subtle movements picked up by the cameras; at times you’re not sure where to look as the funny is often off the screen. This is a creative, clever show, which utilises loops and small scale models and props, paired with CGI and the Umbilicals performances, all simultaneously happening on stage and screen.

With two green screens the Umbilical Brothers are able to combine and build scenes together providing multiple viewpoints which are both clever and provide plenty of laughs, including some novel ways of defying gravity in space from earth and communicating with Steve Jobs in the cloud. The show moves around a handful of skits including Baby Sports (basketball, Olympic Curling, Rugby), button mashing in space and heads being blown off, and is strung together by the impending destruction of the ever-looming big baby.

As with most of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, audience participation is a given, but there is no where to hide when the house lights come up and the camera turns on the audience. Kudos to those involved in this performance who ably participated whether by having their heads blown off or providing themselves as intact talking heads.

Putting a show on which relies on live green screening is always a risk and the technology appeared to fail for a few moments, with a system re-set required. There’s no impact for these seasoned performers with improvising comedy often at their core, the show simply becoming an example of art imitating life.

Its no wonder the Umbilical Brothers are at the top of their game, continuing to innovate the live theatre experience, and in ways that makes the show suitable for all ages.

While the The Umbilical Brothers The Distraction has finished its run as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival you can still catch their upcoming shows if you’re in Brisbane at QPAC from the 27/04/21 or Perth at the State Theatre Centre of WA from 14/05/21.

For tickets and more details visit https://www.umbilicalbrothers.com/

Photography courtesy of Gavin D Andrew

Coral Browne: This F**king Lady

By Kiana Emmett

Coral Browne, (the ‘e’ added for good luck) was an Australian actress who traversed over stage and screen in a career that spanned more than five decades. In her one woman show, Amanda Muggleton pays homage to the West Footscray born actress in dramatic, flamboyant style.

We begin the show by witnessing Browne’s biggest accomplishment, her 1984 BAFTA win, before we are invited into the basement of the Browne, where, through her memorabilia, Browne takes her audience on a rollercoaster ride through her career and personal life, and everything in between.

Browne is shared with a blind honesty and meditated depiction of every salaciously saucy detail. From her journey to West End diva to her affairs with every kind of person imaginable, it’s clear that Coral Browne was anything but ordinary.  

Amanda Muggleton is an utterly electric presence on stage, and brought an eagerness out of the audience; ready to join Muggleton at a moments notice, she had us eating out of the palm of her hand. Her wealth of experience and sharp mind was brought to the forefront, with her charming depiction of the diva, hitting all the right notes.

The staging worked to the advantage of both actor and audience. The intimate Brunswick Ballroom worked in favour of the ‘basement’ feel and enveloped the audience in a familiarity. The guise of packing all of her memories away, until the stage was left almost bare at the end of the show, was an unexpectedly heartbreaking moment, but somehow also filled with comedic value; something that by that time the audience had come to learn this, summed up Coral Browne perfectly.

The projector screen provided the audience with a more well-rounded understanding of what it was to be Coral Browne, and how the many flings throughout her career shaped her both professionally and personally. The many newspaper clippings and film excerpts worked together to create the classy atmosphere of the production, a slick, retelling of a legends’ career and life.

This F**king Lady treads the line of being hilarious, heart-warming, and downright naughty, perfectly. Through quick paced, witty writing, and brilliant execution, Coral Browne is preserved in fantastic fashion.

Coral Browne: This F**king Lady plays at the Brunswick Ballroom through April 18.

Tickets can be found at:

http://brunswickballroom.com.au/whats-on/

Because The Night

Theatre redefined
By Owen James

Malthouse Theatre’s first major offering for 2021 is one of the most unique theatrical experiences I’ve had in my life. Because The Night is an immersive, gargantuan labyrinth of design that defies description, and will drop your jaw as you slowly realise its scale through your ninety-minute self-guided journey.

Writers Matthew Lutton, Kamarra Bell-Wykes, and Ra Chapman have used Hamlet as a springboard to create this abstract, intriguing world of Elsinore. The programme describes the world as “a collage of histories, politics, and dreams, woven into an alternate reality”, a concept fully realised in every inch of dozens upon dozens of macabre, dream-like spaces.  

As we enter the performance space, we are asked to don hooded cloaks and pointed masks – we become ghosts, there to observe the action and not disturb. I feel like I’m inside Eyes Wide Shut or The Da Vinci Code. We are encouraged to explore – open drawers, doors, books and boxes, and search every nook for a new secret to uncover. There’s forests, gymnasiums, mausoleums , hallways of archives and hermitage galore. More doors open as the clock ticks on, and the scope of this carnival baffles the mind. How does this endless estate fit inside the Malthouse?!

Six captivating performances from an ensemble in perfect harmony make for spinechilling, intense theatre – especially when oftentimes the performers are mere inches away. There’s no downtime, no offstage, and at least one audience ‘ghost’ is watching every moment – so you’d best believe these would-be Elsinore natives are thoroughly immersed in their deformed, depraved reality. The intimacy of the venue means beautifully minute, private moments can be comfortably observed, and often shared between just one performer and two or three audience members. I delighted in watching Ophelia (Artemis Ioannides) decipher scribbled diary entries alone in her bedroom, and stumbling across Polonius (Syd Brisbane) removing a revolver from its hidden hiding place.

I’ve seen other “immersive” pieces before – I recall ‘Mansion’ and ‘Mad World’ in 2019; but any expectations I had were shattered within five minutes. If “the devil is in the detail”, then Because The Night is hell itself. Every room in this impossible haven is a feast of design, and designers Dale Ferguson, Marg Horwell, Matilda Woodroofe, J. David Franzke, Amelia Lever-Davidson and Kat Chan deserve a standing ovation for dreaming up this place. You really have to see it to believe it. 

Fans of The Wicker Man, Twin Peaks, or New York’s Sleep No More MUST get to Elsinore; a beautiful, brazen defiance of our tentative, painfully lingering COVID-Normal world: https://www.malthousetheatre.com.au/

Review: Voldemort and the Teenage Hogwarts Musical Parody

An Hilarious Hogwartian Homage

By Owen James

After a painful hiatus, it’s safe to say that theatre has returned to Melbourne with a bang. And Salty Theatre’s latest production ensures that bang is a wild explosion – of infectious, ferocious energy.

Voldemort and the Teenage Hogwarts Musical Parody is a haven of in-jokes, subtle winks and overt nods for Potterverse Potterheads, who will lap up every reference and expert impression this packed extravaganza offers. Writers Fiona Landers, Reuben James and Richie Root rely on the bottomless well of Potter tropes to effectively expedite their exposition, and propel the audience through an upbeat hour of boisterous musical parody.

Miranda Middleton (Director and Choreographer) ensures that clear storytelling rockets us through dozens of vignetted scenes and songs, building a slapstick, melodramatic world, filled with wild lines from wild characters. Middleton’s heightened direction helps the show to especially lift off in the second half, with converging plot lines, elements of murder mystery, and appearances from classic Potter characters.

The cast of seven are a slick ensemble, and it is clear they are having enormous fun in every moment. David Youings’ Musical Direction lifts the show from parody to professional, showcased with tight, delicious harmonies in songs like ‘Foreshadowing’, and the catchy opening/closing numbers. Every individual is given ample opportunity to showcase their finely honed, powerhouse vocals, and there are sensational highlights from Mel O’Brien as doting Hufflepuff Muffin Rows, and Jonathon Shilling as complicated Derald Bacon. Ellis Dolan’s frustrated Professor Al (“another day, another child’s body”) is a ferocious tour de force of rowdy wit and scene-stealing lines (“I’m going to go stick my dick in the sorting hat.”)

The Battle Of The Bands sequence gives moments to shine for Stephanie John as Hogwarts’ own ‘Mean Girl’ Genevieve Griffyndor, and Emily Hansford as ostracised Myrtle Warren – whose journey from caterpillar to butterfly is sweet and hysterical. Jonathon Shilling plays every sweep of Derald Bacon’s 180 degree character arc with glee. All three must be commended too for special appearances as well-known core Potterverse characters – these expert, over-the-top impersonations are an unquestionable highlight of the show.

Jay Haggett as Hagrid, and Alex Donnelly as Tom Riddle are audience favourites, brilliantly exploiting measured moments of subtlety amidst the raucous chaos. Haggett’s featured operatic vocals are especially impressive, and Donnelly’s paradoxically sweet but cruel disposition keeps us invested at every turn, finding the joy within every evil intention.

Theatre Works’ unique approach to COVID safety involves raised plexiglass booths that seat small or large groups, arranged in the round. While these reflective, non-absorbent surfaces may have hindered clear Sound Design, their arrangement has thankfully inspired a genius Set Design from Madeline Nibali. Detailed paintings of crests hang above our booths, denoting which Hogwarts house your section belongs to, further immersing and engaging us as we are encouraged to campaign for our allocated house throughout the show.

Gorgeous, precise Lighting Design (Caidan De Win) transforms the space into a colourful, exaggerated menagerie of hallowed Hogwarts halls, and highlighted explosions of musical theatre.

Salty Theatre are welcomed fresh faces on the Melbourne independent theatre scene, striving to bring “the culture of workshop musicals to Australian audiences”. They have delivered another powerhouse production with this imported gem, and I eagerly await their future festival circuit discoveries and cultivated local originals.

Potterheads who adored Puffs or A Very Potter Musical are strongly encouraged to grab their broomstick and fly to this frantic, frenetic Hogwarts frenzy. Running for a limited season until 10 April (they have started adding extra matinees and late shows for some dates!), there are very few tickets remaining at https://www.theatreworks.org.au/program/voldemort/

Film Review: Night Shift

A multi-dimensional exploration of the human condition

By Ross Larkin

Few nations are as adept at storytelling as the French, who consistently unearth the interesting in the everyday and find meaning in the unexpected. 

Night Shift (also known as Police) is one such example. At first glance, perhaps an unusual crime drama. On further inspection, however, a multi-dimensional exploration of the human condition, with virtually no reliance on the likes of gunfights, murder or explosions, often synonymous with such a genre.

Three police officers are saddled with transporting an illegal Tajikistani immigrant to the airport for deportation. En route, however, they learn of the man’s past and the conditions he was initially fleeing, and find themselves conflicted as to whether sending him back is morally acceptable. 

As one might expect from French arthouse tropes, the foundation is thoroughly established with much character development and emotional examination well before the arc of the story takes shape.

Knowing our three officers prior to their predicament, and understanding how and why they have such varying viewpoints on the subject become essential aspects to the success of the tension and conflict, as they come to loggerheads over the immigrant’s fate. 

Director Anne Fontaine avoids the temptation of excessive sentimentality and rather, allows her viewers to consider all sides and ultimately share in the conflicted perspectives. Even by the end, one isn’t quite sure how to feel, or what the full truth entailed, which are arguably the key ingredients to a satisfying and thought-provoking cinematic experience. 

Virginie Efira, Omar Sy and Gregory Gadebois play the three starkly different cops, combining subtle angst amidst moments of high-pressure strain with the utmost realism and poise. Likewise, Payman Maadi as the immigrant, conveys a world of emotion in very few words, only adding to the escalating tension. 

As one unexpected moment leads to the next, and no outcome seems off the table, Night Shift will undoubtedly have viewers in intense anticipation of the conclusion, the stakes all the higher due its naturalistic approach, believable context and very relevant and significant subject matter.

Night Shift is screening as part of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival at a variety of cinemas across Melbourne until the 31st of March. For tickets and session times go here: https://www.affrenchfilmfestival.org/ 

Photo courtesy of Studiocanal GmbH/Thibault Grabherr

Reivew: Joe Hisaishi Symphonic Concert: Music from the Studio Ghibli Films of Hayao Miyazaki

Heartfelt and tear-inducing but ultimately healing

By Bradley Storer

As part of the collaboration between Arts Centre Melbourne and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Melbourne audiences are extremely lucky to experience this concert of the music of Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli films as conducted by their original composer, the legendary Joe Hisaishi.

After a preliminary speech by both MSO Managing Director Sophie Galaise and Consul-General of Japan in Melbourne, Kazuyoshi Matsunaga, maestro Hisaishi entered the stage to rapturous applause before launching into a suite of dramatic themes from the epic Nausicaa of the Valley of the Winds. The first act of the concert was a journey of contrasts – this suitably dynamic start to the evening contrasted with a soothingly peaceful but bright suite from Kiki’s Delivery Service, before flowing into the chilling, explosive violence of Princess Mononoke.

Hisaishi was a commanding and masterful presence throughout the evening, switching seamlessly between conducting and accompanying the orchestra on grand piano. Australian guest artist Antoinette Halloran appeared to lend her powerful operatic soprano to several pieces, a charming fairytale vision in her pink gown. The Australian Air Force Band made a surprising entrance to provide a wonderful rendition of the Laputa: Castle in the Sky score under Hisashi’s direction, before a small section of the MSO returned to deliver a very intimate performance of the jazzier Pocco Rosso as the act one finale.

The second act began with the stunning Howl’s Moving Castle opening theme before morphing into the gentle beauty of The Wind Rises. Scenes from the original films projected overhead reflect how inextricably the scores are intertwined with the story and scenery of each world, a testament to the enduring power of Miyazaki and Hisaishi’s partnership. Japanese guest artist Mai Fujisawa was introduced to provide her blissful airy vocalizations to selections from Spirited Away – Hisashi uttered his only words for the evening after her initial performance to introduce Fujisawa as his daughter, drawing delighted gasps of shock from the audience.

The evening was brought to a close with the entire ensemble of musicians and vocalists performing the cheerful and rambunctious songs of My Neighbour Totoro, before Hisashi ended the evening offering a message of support for the Australian public after the Bush Fire crisis along with the final image of Princess Mononoke: a destroyed forest returning to life. An absolute pleasure of an evening, heartfelt and tear-inducing but ultimately healing in its vision of simplicity and harmony – a treasure for die hard fans and first timers alike!

Venue: Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Kings Domain Gardens

Dates: 29th February and 1st March

Times: 7:30pm

Bookings: artscentremelbourne.com.au or 1300 182 183

Photography courtesy of The Arts Centre Melbourne

Review: Conchita Wurst & Trevor Ashley with Kate Miller-Heidke

Voices of Austria and Australia combine

By Owen James

Musical events where two great artists unite always make for an evening of enthralling entertainment. Last night however, Melbourne was treated to three world-class artists at Hamer Hall, and over two hours and through various musical styles, we were taken to music wonderland. The six standing ovations throughout the night are a testament to the magic of these renowned vocalists.

The audacious Trevor Ashley kicked off with classic tunes and brazen cabaret-style anecdotes of bad dates gone wrong, warming the audience up for a wild night of dauntless divas. Ashley channelled the great Shirley Bassey, gave a stirring rendition of the toe-tapping Peter Allen rousing anthem ‘Quiet Please, There’s A Lady On Stage’, and dazzled us with cabaret classic ‘The Man Who Got Away’. Ashley’s vocals especially impressed with Broadway classic ‘People’ from Funny Girl, receiving a deserving rousing ovation.

Eurovision legend Conchita Wurst delivered stunning anthem after anthem with her unmatched, heavenly soprano tones. This was Wurst’s first time performing here, and her warm and gracious personality has undoubtedly enamoured her first Melbournian audience. Performing recognisable hits including ‘Out Of Body Experience’ and infamous winning Eurovision ballad ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’, Wurst also wowed with lesser-known tracks peppered throughout the evening. Ashley and Wurst also dedicated a substantial portion of the evening to a timely tribute to the music of James Bond, including Adele epic ‘Skyfall’, and piano-bar favourite ‘Goldfinger’.

Kate Miller-Heidke’s brief two-song stint in the second act stole the show for me. Miller-Heidke’s seamless blend of classical and contemporary vocal styles is mesmerising, showcased in both the finale from her 2016 Opera ‘The Rabbits’ and Eurovision ballad ‘Zero Gravity’ from 2019. She joined Ashley and Wurst for a gentle delivery of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ that made the perfect conclusion for the night.

Conductor Michael Tyack lead the magnificent 40-piece symphony orchestra who backed every piece with delicate nuance and soaring, rich explosions and crescendos. There’s no recorded alternative that that can match a stage full of live professional musicians in perfect synchronisation, and through every alternating musical style this set list demanded, this heavenly group were precise and moving.

Keep an eye out for the next live performance of any of these heart-warming artists.

conchitawurst.com
trevorashley.com.au
katemillerheidke.com

Photography courtesy of Arts Centre Melbourne

Film Review: Escape and Evasion

A story of survival on the battlefield and of the mind

By Sebastian Purcell

Seth (Josh McConville) returns home from a mission in Myanmar after losing not only his fellow soldiers but also one of his best friends. Seth’s transition to life at home, becoming a father again, is punctuated by the series of PTSD episodes he experiences. Driven by the guilt he feels for the loss of his men and his actions, he is confronted by Rebecca (Bonnie Sveen) for answers about the death of her brother and Seth’s best mate Josh (Hugh Sheridan).

Writer and Director Storm Ashwood takes the all too familiar war in the jungle screenplay but overlays the effects of PTSD on returning servicemen. The use of alcohol to mask the pain, suicidal tendencies, inability to integrate and provide support to family are all themes explored. Ultimately the film seeks to reiterate that getting professional help is the most effective treatment; if a tough guy like Seth can accept help, then others can too. Ashwood also makes social commentary on the Australian Military’s role in training soldiers and not victims. Seth’s new mission is now to survive back in Australian suburbia.

McConville provides a committed performance throughout and the complexity he brings to the character is to be commended; displayed through his ability to swap between someone who displays brutal physical strength in a bar fight and survival in the jungle, to the vulnerable and emotional character in the aftermath of PTSD episodes.

The film uses flashback scenes to move the narrative forward and is well edited and paced by Editor Marcus D’arcy. The audience finds out the truth of what happened to Seth and his team as Seth re-lives the trauma and builds a bond with Rebecca. The most impressive scenes are the overlay between Seth’s current world and the trauma he is experiencing, allowing the audience to feel the same Seth’s horror, which, at times is realistically frightening. In saying that, I sometimes found the relationship between McConville and Sveen lacked chemistry, and at times, the physical relationship that develops feels quite forced.

This is an interesting take on a war film, but viewer discretion is advised as there are graphic torture scenes and suicidal material throughout.

Escape and Evasion is out in cinemas March 5, 2020.

Review: À Ố Làng Phố – Vietnamese Bamboo Circus

The epitome of modern circus

By Rachel Holkner

Asia TOPA is fast becoming one of my favourite Melbourne festivals. It is a hugely valuable months-long showcase of Asia-Pacific performing arts where the sheer volume of performances creates a powerful movement against the Eurocentric tradition of arts in Australia. The quality is consistently so high I would cheerfully throw a dart at the program to select a show. So, happily fed thanks to the Vietnamese menu currently on offer by Chef de Partie Vinnie Nguyen at Café Vic, I settled into the State Theatre for À Ố Làng Phố with very little idea of what would unfold. I was not disappointed.

À Ố Làng Phố (Vietnamese Bamboo Circus) is the epitome of modern circus, a flawless blend of storytelling, elite physical skill, music and choreography. The multitalented cast demonstrate a strength and depth of performance that is joyful and exuberant.

In an exploration of place, time and human relationships, the usual suspects of circus, such as juggling, contortion, dance and puppetry are utilised in a celebration of culture. What shone particularly for me were the harmonious interactions between cast members both within complex routines and in interstitial sections.

Delightful moments of clowning employed gentle self-mockery which was never demeaning of others, so often the go-to of circus clowns. All the comedy sketches were beautifully timed and added poignancy to the overall production.

The lighting, props and costumes remained straightforward throughout with the emphasis on bamboo as a material. Whether woven into a basket or disk, as a short stick or long pole, a juggling club or an instrument, it seemed bamboo was used in its every possible configuration except as a food. Its warmth was echoed by the sepia tones of the opening, transitioning through to a multicoloured and joyous conclusion. Motifs of pattern-making and rhythm grounded the entire performance.

My complete lack of any Vietnamese language proved no barrier at all to my understanding. Through song lyrics or occasional dialogue, the expression of voice and gesture were far more important in conveying meaning.

The entire simplicity of execution lent an elegance throughout, balanced beautifully by the undertones of truth and humour. All these aspects were perfectly integrated into a whole celebration of Vietnam and, by extension, humanity.

Asia TOPA continues through March 2020 at various venues across Melbourne. See http://www.asiatopa.com.au for more information.

Photography courtesy of Arts Centre Melbourne

 

Film review: Twist

A modern retelling of a Dickens’ classic with a little extra twist.

By Narelle Wood

In this remaking of Charles Dickens’ classic, directed by Martin Owen, Twist offers a fresh ending that addresses issues of exploitation, and provides some consequences for bad behaviour.

Filmed in a style that is something more akin to a Guy Richie action film in parts, the opening sequence follows a fast-paced parkour action sequence. This sets up not only the modern retelling, but the intrigue and misadventure that ensues. Owen’s direction slows throughout the film, replaced by an action-inspired soundtrack to help create a sense of urgency.

Young Oliver (played by both Samuel Leakey and Finley Pearson), all though brief in appearance, captures the naivety, sadness and grief that produces the older, wiser and self-sufficient Twist (Raff Law). With a disregard for authority and a need to belong and survive, Twist meets and befriends Dodge (Rita Ora), Batesy (Franz Drameh) and Red (Sophie Simnett), and is introduced into the seductively comfortable but manipulative underworld that Fagan (Michael Caine) has created. Fagan soon sees Twist’s potential as an advantage to his crew, and the sense of family offered by Fagan soon becomes apparent to Twist. The remake plays up the heist and thievery nature of the Oliver Twist original with interactions between Fagan andBill Sykes (Lena Headey) providing a glimpse into the real danger in the world these characters inhabit.

Stripped of the song and dance numbers the fans of the musical will be familiar with, the grit and devastation is at times more pronounced. The overt nature of some of the manipulation and, well to put it bluntly, grooming, I found to be a little uncomfortable, especially in contrast to the lighter feeling attempts at ‘street cred’ through the use of graffiti and parkour. The contrast between the street and the underworld was perhaps a little too great, making the twist ending plausible but perhaps a little bit too light.

There are some other points of unevenness, but I think it’s to be expected when you play with the very familiar storyline that is Oliver Twist, and put the experience of Caine and Headey up against the younger cast of Law, Ora, Drameh, and Simnett. That’s not to say these young actors don’t do a fabulous job, they absolutely do, just that Caine and Headey play the characters with an unquantifiable ease.

This is probably not going to hit the mark with die-hard Dickens traditionalists, but it is an interesting look at this previously dark children’s tale. It’s a grim tale with a lighter and satisfying ending.

Now showing.

Review: The Pitts

A high-octane energy masterclass in how to be well from those who really shouldn’t teach it.

By Sebastian Purcell

The Pitts is an enthusiastic and camp cabaret, taking the residents of Shady Pines Nursing Home through their Weekly Wednesday Wellness Program, inviting everyone to boost their five pillars of wellness: physical, mental, social, spiritual and emotional.

Carol and Daryl Pitts (Stephanie Marion Wood and Brendy Ford) must use the skills they obtained through their self-designed six-week theatre course to navigate the ups and downs of their professional and private lives and keep their geriatric residents “stayin alive” for just another week.

This is a highly fun and laugh-out loud cabaret with some wonderful comedic timing by writer and choreographer Brendan Ford and Musical direction by Stephanie Marion Wood. The pair deliver tandem dance routines reminiscent of 1990’s aerobicise in ‘100 percent polyester’ blue and pink sparkling tracksuits, to tracks such as Rhianna’s SOS, Where have you been and Disturbia, and Katy Perry’s Firework and Last Friday Night.

The vocals are carried by Wood who does a terrific job in maintaining the high energy routines and singing other hits such as Absolutely Everybody, You Can’t Stop the Music and Physical. However, it is her moments at the piano, in particular Carol’s lament (under pillar 4 Spiritual) over husband Daryl’s ‘suckiness’, with Bette Midler’s Wind Beneath My Wings, which delivers the most impactful performance; it is a highlight for the show.

Brendy Ford delivers some terrific deadpan backing vocals, and has a standout dance performance once he reaches emotional wellness; it’s a shame that we don’t get a true vocal performance from Ford.

Cameo performances from Stacey Kelly and Leigh Jay Booth, as Nurse and resident Ethel respectively, are slightly under-utilised, and their interactions, while comedic, also reflect some of the recent commentary within the aged-care sector. 

There are a number of gags that are a hit with the audience, who were roaring with laughter throughout, including at references to the infamous Sydney Ruby Princess and a timeshare orgy at Lake Eildon. Despite this, there are moments that I found that languished, like a really long lunch-break scene that breaks the flow; I wonder whether this might have been better punctuated with an additional ballad.

Overall, this is a terrific show for the whole family, provided everyone’s okay with the occasional mild sexual innuendo the prospect of some audience participation. The Pitts played at the Athenaeum Theatre, Collins St, Melbourne.

Photography courtesy of Salty Theatre

Review: Aida

An exquisite re-telling of love and war more than 150 years in the making

By Sebastian Purcell

Opera Australia presents Verdi’s Aida with its long awaited premier on the back of a closed Arts Centre; making up for the 2020 hiatus with a truly dazzling and rich production. Under the wonderful direction of Davide Livermore and conducted by Tahu Matheson, the 60 strong cast (and orchestra) displayed such enthusiasm and discipline that every word could be heard within the wonderful State Theatre perfezionamento.

Aida, first staged in 1871, is a tragic love story set in the middle of a war between the Egyptians and Ethiopians. Egypt’s King (Gennadi Dubinsky) enlists Radamès (Stefano La Colla) as his battle commander while the king’s daughter, Amneris (Elena Gabouri), pines for Radamès love. Unbeknownst to all, Aida (Leah Crocetto), a slave of the Egyptians, is in love with Radamès, which is reciprocated, but to complicate things further, Aida is also the daughter and princess of Ramfis (Alexander Vinogradov / David Parkin) the King of Ethiopia. A tug of war between loyalty for country and love ensues, ending in a climatic declaration of love and the ultimate sacrifice.

This production of Aida steps into the digital age, utilising 10 large LED screens to give depth and provide scene setting. This vibrant statement bringing this opera into the modern age. The wonderful projections of the black panther and the golden cobra are a menacing back drop at times, wonderfully animated as to not take away from the performers on stage. Other key highlights include being bathed in the Nile, to being entombed in a Great Pyramid. The incredibly powerful final scene is a triumph of staging with suspended props and use of the digital boards.

Leah Crocetto as Aida, the leading soprano, was sublime; such command of her voice and intensity for almost 3 hours is sure to be admired. Elena Gabouri and Stefano La Colla were equally breathtaking in their craft and command of the stage. And costume designer Gianluca Falaschi deserves a shout out for the lavish costumes, especially for over 60 performers and really bringing the audience into an ancient Egyptian court room.

While there were some minor technical difficulties experienced during the first act, with the surtitles screen not operating, making it slightly trickier for those unfamiliar to follow. This was quickly rectified for the second act onwards, and to be fair the sets, costumes and choreography (Davide Livermore and Shane Placentino) made the surtitles an added bonus rather than an absolute necessity for translation.

Aida plays at the Victorian Arts Centre, State Theatre from 6 – 21 May, 2021. Tickets are between $69 – $287. Book at https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/

Photograph courtesy Opera Australia