Category: Review

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Meg’s partner, Tim (Riley Nottingham) is withdrawn and agitated, unenthused by the failing fertility regimes.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: 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

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: The Cane

A teacher gets ‘cancelled’ by his students for historic acts of violence

By Lois Maskiell

“This will seem like something from the past, cruel like sending children up chimneys,” the father says in Mark Ravenhill’s The Cane. It’s a phrase that resounds throughout the play, which was first performed at London’s The Royal Court two years ago, before having its Australian premiere at Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre.

The drama starts when Edward (Dion Mills), who is the husband of Maureen (Caroline Lee) and father of Anna (Jessica Clarke), prepares for his retirement after teaching at the same school for 45 years. However, plans for his farewell celebration are thrown into disarray when a mob of students, brought to life by Adam Casey’s sound design, descend upon his house. Jeering from outside, they hurl a brick through the window.  

Tension climbs in this lean two act play when the couple’s estranged daughter Anna unexpectedly arrives. Demanding to know why the students are outside, she learns that they’re protesting against her father’s use of the cane some thirty years ago, when corporal punishment was still legal.

Whether the past can be measured against today’s moral standards is the question the play probes. It’s a dilemma that persists, along with themes of patriarchal authority, violence and gendered power dynamics.

Kirsten von Bibra’s sophisticated direction unlocks a contrast between the naturalistic family drama and the text’s stylised dialogue; the result elevates the experience well beyond the mundane.

The set and costume design by Lara Week charms with its colours and simplicity. The compact stage features a staircase that rotates across the floor in an innovative transition accentuated by Bronwyn Pringle’s lighting design.

Screen and stage actor, Caroline Lee, performs Maureen with vocal prowess. She captures her sense of duty as a wife, despite her husband’s bouts of rage. Dion Mills hits a nerve in his performance of Edward. Mills’ delivery ranges from piercing to funny, as he explores the emotions of a man making a messy transition to retirement.

Jessica Clarke delivers a strong performance of the daughter Anna. Assertive and demanding, she challenges much of what her parents consider customary, including the school system her father devoted his working life to.

In its first in-door event since the latest coronavirus restrictions eased in Melbourne, Red Stitch delivers a clever production that draws on the timely issue of cancel culture. Whether they’re forms of violence in schools or racial stereotypes in books and films, not everything accepted in the past ages well. What’s less certain, however, is how far the public should go to denounce what it believes was wrong.  


Sophisticated, gripping and with an ending that doesn’t disappoint, The Cane makes for a satisfying theatrical experience.

The Cane runs from April 7 to May 9 at The Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre in St Kilda. Tickets are available here: https://www.redstitch.net/the-cane-2021

Photography by Jodie Hutchinson

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

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/

Review: The Winter’s Tale

A Shakespearean dramedy with a killer soundtrack and quality performances.

By Narelle Wood

Set amongst the greenery of Central Park, the Melbourne Shakespeare Company presents its interpretation of The Winter’s Tale.

The tale begins, as many Shakespearean tragedies do, with a husband – in this case Leontes (David Meadows) – accusing his pregnant wife Hermione (Melanie Gleeson) – of infidelity. Leontes decides to kill Polixenes (Anton Berezin), the apparent object of Hermoine’s affections but Camillo (Bridget Sweeny) warns Polixenes, and he Camillo escape to Bohemia. Leontes takes this as confirmation of Hermione’s treachery. Struck with grief Leontes’ son dies, then Hermione dies, and Leontes commands that Antigonus (Caleb Whittaker) burn the newly born child. Cleomenes (Adam Canny) and Dion (Jessica Barton) arrive, rebuke Leontes, declaring his accusations incorrect. Meanwhile, Antigonus, who has a conscience, hides the child in Bohemia, before exiting being pursued by bear, never to be seen again. Time passes and the tone shifts to something more comedic and more lively. There are people in disguise, secret plots for marriage, and the workings of the manipulative thief Autolycus (also played by Whittaker). All parties are reunited, and, as is the case for many Shakespearean plays – for those who survive, all is forgiven.

The performances are great, from Emma Austin’s initial jovial interactions with the crowd all the way through to the final bow. Tref Gare is hilarious as the shepherd and May Jasper brings a whole lot of sass to her performance as Time. The vocals, predominantly performed by Jasper, Canny and Barton are great, and Erin McIntosh’s portrayal of Perdita has just the right amount of sweet naivety you would expect. In fact, the show is extremely well cast; Florizel (Jackson Peele) is charming but not smarmy and Paulina (Elizabeth Slattery) is in equal parts devout to Leontes and to Hermione. Andrew Dang rounds out the cast as Lord Hampton, and like many of the other actors, seamlessly transitions between a few different parts and into the band when necessary.

Melbourne Shakespeare Company have done a remarkable job of hitting the key points of what can be a rather long and convoluted narrative. There are parts of the storyline that are a little uncomfortable in modern times; Leontes’ power to condemn people to death based on falsehoods he created and puts too much faith in, rather than actually listening to Hermione speaks not only to the time the play was written, but how hard it still can be to question those in power today. The King’s mostly unchecked power aside, the company finds many a comedic moment to lighten the mood, helped by ‘Time’ – the singing trio – and some song and dance numbers that set tone and provide insight into character. Artistic Director Jennifer Sarah Dean has included other details, such as character names on costumes, small changes in set and character accents, to help the audience follow the storyline and keep track of who’s dead, as well as the passage of time.

This is a fun and charming production, and a good introduction for anyone not familiar with or unsure about Shakespeare. It won’t suit the tastes of any uptight traditionalists with the musical numbers and some witty modern interludes amongst the dialogue, but I thought it was a delightful way to spend some time on a sunny Saturday afternoon. The social distancing has been extremely well thought through and the outdoor location makes this a perfect re-introduction to theatre. Pack a picnic, add some sunscreen for the matinees and a rain jacket no matter what, because well it is Melbourne, and sit back and enjoy watching a Shakespearean dramedy with a killer soundtrack and quality performances.

Venue: Central Park, Malvern

Season: Until the 20th March

Tickets: $20-$30

Bookings: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/melbourne-shakespeare-company-presents-the-winters-tale-tickets-141577047761

Review: The Choir of Man

A musical escape with a few new mates

By Narelle Wood

To be honest when The Choir of Man started the show with a high-octane rendition of Welcome to the Jungle I was little concerned that the next 80 minutes would be a series of tropes reinforcing the lad-at-the-pub stereotype. I couldn’t have been more wrong. While there is something definitely familiar about these nine guys, what follows is a musical journey that explores the importance of community spaces, and the joy and support these spaces bring. Each of choir member brings a different character to the stage that adds a unique dimension to the unfolding story. Not to mention that these guys can really sing. As a result it feels as though you are sitting in a small pub, any where in the world having a drink with your mates, while listening to some brilliant tunes.

The songs themselves range from perhaps the more expected repertoire for a men’s choir of Guns ‘n’ Roses, Queen and Eagle Eye Cherry to some unexpected numbers from Adele, Katy Perry, Sia, and even a good Aussie rock ballad; it’s these songs that provide some of the most joyous and most poignant moments of the show. While most songs elicited laughter, clapping and sing-alongs, you could hear a pin drop during the rendition of Chandelier. The audience participation, something that can be awkward to watch, was so much fun and these guys seem to be experts in picking willing participants and making them feel at ease on the stage.

I haven’t commented much about the singing, because I’m not sure there are words to describe it. The musical arrangements and harmonies are nuanced and the ensemble so tight that the performance is flawless. Add to this the choreography the perfectly captures the pub environment and the mood of each of the songs, and you have a show that is not to be missed.

The Choir of Man are in Australia for the next four months and Melbourne until next week. This is their first run in Melbourne and hopefully not their last, but just in case it is, you want to make sure you get along and spend some time with these guys who can hold the audience’s attention just as well as they can hold a tune.

The Choir of Man are performing until 12th January. Tickets at www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2020/contemporary-music/the-choir-of-man