Category: Cabaret

Review: Gundog

A gritty and absorbing story, brilliantly performed
By Owen James

Simon Longman‘s fierce drama ‘Gundog’ has made its Australian Premiere thanks to Three Fates Theatre, a small independent company rising from strength to strength with each production they present.

Gundog was first presented at the Royal Court Theatre in London, the home of unmatched modern English playwrights including Simon Stephens, Tim Crouch, and Martin McDonagh – and Longman’s dynamic script exudes the urgency and explosive dialogue we have come to expect from his contemporaries and the Royal Court. It’s a superb choice of text to present, capturing the audience in the puzzle of a non-linear timeline and drawing us into the fate of this turbulent family.

Director Alonso Pineda has masterfully captured the isolation and cynicism that bleeds from every page, crafting a heartbreaking interpretation of this raw, ‘timeless’ world. The unrelenting advance of time is the core theme, perhaps reiterated with too heavy a hand in the writing, but reflected in a visceral and considered approach in this staging.

Freya Allen‘s innovative set design aligns seamlessly with a lighting design from Harrie Hogan. Coupled together, these designs transform the bite-sized Loft stage into a farm, replete with sheep and rusty shears. Their work especially pays off marking each transition in time, footlights circling and set rearranging. Costume design by Zoe Hawkins is faultless, making great use of farm-like stains and intricate detail.

This ensemble of five are perfectly cast, together forming a believable dysfunctional family unit, and individually delivering balanced and nuanced performances. Thalía Dudek, a co-founder of Three Fates, holds this ensemble together as Becky, the optimistic younger sibling keeping their head high despite grave circumstance. Their transitions between ages are steeped in detail, and successfully convey a litany of thought in just a glance. One to watch.

Andy Johnston‘s physical, connected performance as Ben is emotional, and often chilling. Taking on the character with perhaps the biggest arc in the piece, his journey from confident to vulnerable, and all states inbetween, is very moving, and performed with considerable tenacity. Dion Mills is the audience favourite, a fireball of energy and gravitas. He has us in his hands with every word from grandfather Mick. Alexandros Pettas confidently carries the arc of foreigner Guy, and Laura McCluskey is touching as Anna, displaying firm determination to hold strong through loss and abandonment.

A gritty and absorbing story, brilliantly performed.

Titanic – The Musical – in Concert

A production that befits the scale of the Titanic itself

By Sebastian Purcell

Titanic – the Musical is an operatic recount of the events of the catastrophic maiden voyage of the proclaimed unsinkable ship the Titanic. The story follows a selection of guests from the first three classes and a handful of crew members as they recount their hopes, dreams and come to grip with their ultimate mortality for those1500 souls that perished.

The Australian production directed by Theresa Borg is staged as a lively concert, with minimal set and props. However, it does extend beyond just a simple concert with Katie Ditchburn’s choreography and Jason Bovard’s lighting design combining to add movement and colour, taking the audience from the boiler engine room of the ship and to the cold depths of the Atlantic Ocean. Musical Director Stephen Gray leads a 26 strong orchestra, which is wonderfully tight.

The 23 strong ensemble is impeccable with their vocals. They soar with every note despite dialogue, which I found clunky, and songs which I don’t overly memorable. John O’Hara, as third officer Pitman and Henry Etches is marvellously flamboyant, gleeful and brings a welcome levity to an otherwise serious production. Likewise, I found Johanna Allen’s performance as Alice Bean a standout in her portrayal of a person looking to rise above her class; her acting a stand out in this production.

Juan Jackson as Thomas Andrews, the Titanic’s architect, is a powerful, sublime vocalist and serves dutifully as the narrator for the production. However, Anthony Warlow as Captain E.J Smith is the draw card for this production. I was surprised by how little stage time Warlow has in comparison to other roles, and I certainly felt like he was under-utilised given that every time he sang it was a complete masterclass in performance, completely unmatched by anyone. There is a very short aria To Be a Captain in Act Two, his only solo, and his rendition gave me goose bumps and left me wanting more.

On a technical level, I found the Melbourne Town hall not well suited for the sound needed for a work of this stature; the large room created echos in parts. There were also some other difficulties, such as the microphones not been switched on making it had to hear the cast over the orchestra, and some late spotlights struggling to find the performer on the balcony.

For fans of Warlow and Opera you won’t be disappointed, but this is not a musical version of The Titanic the blockbuster movie; My heart will go on does not feature as part of the score. It may have been stronger if it was more reminiscent of the movie.

Titanic-The musical in concert played at the Melbourne Town Hall

Image supplied

Review: Sirens

A brilliant queer story of self-discovery, self-worth and redemption that is raw, authentic and full of hope.

By Sebastian Purcell

Sirens is a solo performance, delving into the queer experience of love, lust and acceptance. Siren is expertly directed by Liv Satchell and superbly written and performed by Benjamin Nichols.

Twenty-two years old and rurally isolated, Eden, finds purpose when his voice is in full flight. However, bored, aimless and angry at his parents, Eden is consumed by the attention and sexual gratification from the endless string of older men that pass through on holiday. That is until he meets David and forms a connection and dreams of what life could be like. Until David abandons Eden and Eden is forced to come back to reality and find an inner strength, peace and joy once again in his music.

This is an exhilarating, fair dinkum Aussie tale. Nichol’s performance is visceral, rhythmic and his ability to project characters he brings to life—his mother, father and David as well as others—through just the inflection of his voice conjures ripe imagery.

But above all, and in a total surprise, Nichol performs two songs acapella throughout the show; I Want Someone Badly, Jeff Buckley and Into my Arms, Nick Cave.  These are stunning moments in the context of the show, but also show Nichol’s skill as a vocalist with such raw power, control, and emotion. These remakes are emphatically better than their originals. Selfishly, I wanted to have the whole show sung after hearing this.

The script has a mammoth word count that would rival any hour-long Aaron Sorkin TV episode, and impressively Nichol hardly draws a breath. As a minor critique, I did find the lack of silence refrained my ability to reflect and take in the full emotion; we were thrusted from one high octane scene to another, one after the other.

On the technical side, Connor Ross’s sound design is minimal yet important as a quiet supporting act, placing you on location, whether that’s the crash of waves along the beach, to the ear-splitting sirens inside Eden’s head. Harrie Hogan’s lighting design does the same, effortlessly supporting scene changes on an empty stage. I never once felt like I didn’t know where we physically were in the story.  It’s a shame that the Trades Hall Meeting room isn’t soundproof. and noisy, excited crowds outside could be heard towards the end of the show – not that it knocked Nichol off his game.

Siren certainly deserves to be seen in front of large crowds, with an Aussie story worth telling. Nichol’s acting proves that you only need an authentic commitment to storytelling for a truly impressive theatre show.

Siren played as part of this year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival.

The 20s, and all that dissonance

By Leeor Adar

Ah, the 1920s. Some think Gatsby, but I’m inclined to think Weill.

A period that inspired many current-day flapper parties, but fundamentally tested an array of structures, very notably in music. It’s almost too good: Meow Meow and the MSO coming together again (remember Pandemonium?) to jostle a comfortable audience’s senses with tales of tragedy and temptation.

Meow Meow is joined onstage by the incredible Aura Go on piano and Christopher Moore conducting and on violin. They take us on a long (and I do mean, long) journey through the 1920s with Hindemith, Walton and Stravinsky. Amidst these pillars of discord, we are also treated to Picabia’s La Nourrice Américaine (The American Nurse), Schwitters’ Cigarren, and Weill, of course.

Meow Meow keeps things light to begin with, adding her own unique schtick that elicits chuckles from the audience. Once the back is suitably exposed, and we’re all smiling, she does a fine job of introducing the audience to the 1920s and what it meant politically, socially, and importantly, musically.  Parallels are made to our current end of days, and we nod understandingly.

The first pillar of discord of the evening is Paul Hindemith’s Kammermusik No. 2 for Piano and 12 solo instruments. Composed in 1924, the piece is structured across four movements, with the piano at the centre. Go is absolutely in element here, showcasing her versatility as a performer and every bit the virtuoso. Hindemith’s piece essentially takes chamber music and thrusts it into a storm, all the notes carrying off the ground and ascending to a place beyond the period and spouting it back out with vigour and contempt. It’s an uneasy ride, but it’s perfectly well suited to the commencement of the pieces this evening.

It’s time for more chuckles with Cigarren by Kurt Schwitters, an obscure piece of disassembled language that only a Dada could love. It curls and purrs out of Meow Meow’s mouth like it was written for her. Meow Meow also gives us a delicious rendition of Brecht/Weill’s classic, Pirate Jenny. The shrill cruelty of Pirate Jenny’s words sounds as it should in German, and it’s quite titillating despite only three audience members speaking a lick of the language (Meow Meow checked). It’s okay, we, the bourgeoise audience all universally understand the welling hatred of those who look down upon us.

It’s all cruelty, with another Brecht/Weill ballad, in The Ballad of the Drowned Girl, until we fall headlong into William Walton’s poetic universe in selections of Façade. The morbid state of the evening ascends briefly in Igor Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale. The tale is compellingly narrated by Meow Meow, and the devil in disguise is elegantly portrayed by Moore, who’s silhouette as he conducts and plays along, is a ghoulish projection upon the Melbourne Recital Centre’s curtains. And just as I too am about to abandon all hope, the lighting saturates a deep red, the drums crescendo, and the soldier makes his choice in the face of the beckoning devil.

Ah yes, the 1920s as we like to remember, where temptation wins.

Review: Tattle Tales

Come one, come all!

Leeor Adar

We descended down the stairs of the Bard’s Apothecary in Melbourne. Fitting name, fitting cocktails. Theatre with a tarot reading is an appealing concept. I haven’t stumbled into a reading in years, but before Tattle Tales starts, performer (and founder of Ponydog Productions) Davey Seagle gives my friend and I a tarot reading with half a deck (but magic is magic, you see). For true believers, it’s a damn good reading. For the sceptic, half the deck sits candlelit a table away.

It’s cosy down below, and Seagle is an excellent storyteller who expertly sets the mood for the evening. It’s a little mysterious, quite fun, and at the same time surprisingly relaxing for an immersive show. That’s largely the doing of Seagle’s respectful approach, which in turn sparks engagement with the more introverted among us. 

Weaving the audience together into groups, we’re choosing our fate and adventure for the next 60 minutes. Everyone politely urges a member of each group to choose the group’s fate and select a tarot card at different points. Each night is a new group, new reading and new storyline. We fall into classical storylines quite easily, but sometimes you need to spice things up. I offer a thumbs down (quite the anti-hero) and the audience gasps. What have I done? Well, the group behind us with the Sun card are feeling suddenly vengeful. And that’s the magic of it. Each group brings the unexpected, and Seagle is a magical facilitator with a wise voice to guide us along.

Ponydog Productions (Hotel Bella Luna) is based in Sydney, and is a relatively new immersive theatre company. Tattle Tales, created by Seagle and Lachlan Ruffy, is their first show in Victoria as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival… but something in the cards tells me it won’t be thier last.

Tattle Tales played at the Bard’s Apothecary as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival

Photo by Aaron Cornelius

Review: Il Mago di Oz

Journey into another world, by Owen James

Victorian Opera’s production of Il Mago di Oz (The Wizard Of Oz) is a delightful cornucopia of music, design, and storytelling that is sure to put a Ozian smile on your face. Keeping faithful to L. Frank Baum’s original text (now 122 years young), composer Pierangelo Valtinoni and librettist Paolo Madron incorporate characters and plot points that differ slightly from the famous 1939 film, keeping us intrigued every step along the Yellow Brick Road, and twisting our expectations to ensure their work stands on its own in the labyrinth of Oz adaptations.

Georgia Wilkinson shines as Dorothy, a role she was born to play. Adorned in silver shoes (as the original novel dictates – no ruby slippers here!), Wilkinson glides over impossible motifs and confidently fills every crevice of the magnificent Palais without amplification. Her high notes in the penultimate scene melt effortlessly in the air, and she pulls us in to Dorothy’s fairytale with expert repartee between fellow cast and audience alike, emanating joy for performance in every beat.

The Scarecrow (Michael Dimovski), The Tin Man (Stephen Marsh), and The Cowardly Lion (James Emerson) are an equally matched troupe, in vocal prowess and high-strung comedic energy. They each have a distinct sound that defines their characters, and together, provide a masterful blend for a male trio – among the best I’ve heard.

Tiernan Maclaren is the audience favourite as thoroughly over the top Guardian of the Gates, and The Wizard Of Oz himself. Maclaren cracks smiles not only throughout the audience, but in the ranks of the masterful children’s chorus, a highlight every time they pour onstage. Staging Director Constantine Consti has given these cheeky munchkins clear, defined movement – an impressive feat given their number and age!

There are no hummable melodies in Pierangelo Valtinoni’s score, but still it is a musical paradise. The children’s chorus are used to spectacular effect, especially in darker moments, where their haunting phrases remind me of compositions by Michael Abels and Indigenous ensemble Spinifex Gum. Valtinoni captures the atmosphere for each scene with rousing orchestration (divinely conducted by Chad Matthias Kelly), embellished by Paolo Madron’s often amusing libretto, which makes skilful use of purposely out of place slang, always rewarded with a laugh. Daniel Gosling’s projection and lighting design amplifies this magical score, reaching its apex when Dorothy and crew arrive at the Emerald City; the Palais shimmers in green from top to bottom. Costumes by Mel Serjeant are stunning, beautifully tailored for each character and packed with detail.

Il Mago di Oz ran for only two performances, and is another remarkable new work from Victorian Opera. Here’s hoping the season’s success prompts a return in the near future:


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

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

Photography by Ben Fon

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: Slut

Pertinent and permeating progressive perfection

By Owen James

Witnessing an ensemble of collaborators and performers so in tune with each other, as well as in tune with the message and tone of the work they are presenting, is a rarity. Slut is a powerful dissection of the tangible inner conflict imposed on women making their journey from childhood to adulthood; and this is a production that for me comes close to perfection.

Patricia Cornelius’ exemplary yet disconcerting script was first performed in 2007, and as director Rachel Baring notes in the programme, “it is really hard when you take a piece from 2007 and it is just as relevant now as when it was written”. Baring has taken the raw, exposing elements inherent in Cornelius’ work, and turned the flame to high. Presented in the insanely intimate Fitzroy space ‘The Burrow’ (journey down a laneway off Brunswick Street to find a very cozy black box seating only 25), these feminist depositions are brutally honest and grippingly confronting. Baring ensures the dialogue and impressively rapid-fire choreographed movement are always as perturbing as the claustrophobic space these oppressed performers are unnaturally confined within. Lighting and sound design by John Collopy and Daniella Esposito respectively is exquisite, enhancing the text and direction at every turn.

The majority of dialogue is shared by a narrative triad composed of Lauren Mass, Jessica Tanner and Michaela Bedel. So impeccable is the timing and communal commitment to concentration shared by these three that we are transfixed with every word and gesture. Laura Jane Turner plays social renegade Lolita (named for the connotative qualities title “Lolita” recalls), and fearlessly delivers much of her exposition with disturbing composure mere centimetres away from audience members. This perfectly-matched company of four are of such high calibre I could happily have sat there fully engaged for hours.

A 30-minute show for almost $30 is a hard sell in our relentless economy where getting bang for your backbreaking buck is not only expected but necessary. But I’m here to tell you your spent dollars will be bereft of regret thanks to the dedication and expertise of these creatives. Slut is everything great theatre should be – urgent, relevant, and a good story well told; and proves how access to only limited resources is no obstacle to talented theatre-makers.

Don’t miss Slut, a powerhouse rollercoaster that propels itself forward with turbulent momentum at every turn, and will leave you simultaneously thrilled and terrified.

Running until March 21:

Photograph courtesy of Michaela Bedel.