Category: Theatre

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Meg’s partner, Tim (Riley Nottingham) is withdrawn and agitated, unenthused by the failing fertility regimes.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

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

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

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

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