Category: Theatre

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

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: 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: Come From Away

Moments of levity and uplifting human connection set against a backdrop of tragedy

By Narelle Wood

With the return to live theatre also comes the return of Come From Away. Directed by Christopher Ashley, the production captures all the fear, joy, heart-break, break-ups and friendships of spending time in an unfamiliar place, plagued by the uncertainty and fear watching the aftermath of a terrorist attack.

The story begins in the town of Gander where the townsfolk are going about their business like any other day. There are people chatting in the local diner, a reporter starting her first day for the local TV station, teachers negotiating the first day back at school, and the town’s Mayor negotiating with the local bus drivers who are on strike. But it isn’t any ordinary day; it’s the morning of September 11th 2001. With an unprecedented number of planes being diverted to Gander airport, the townspeople rally together to work out how a small town in Newfoundland, in the far reaches of Canada, can accommodate 7000 guests.

Over the next 100 minutes we’re introduced to a range characters, from the town and the planes, whose stories interweave and overlap. There is a couple whose relationship is becoming increasingly strained, while new relationships and friendships are steadily forging. Some characters are confronted by racial stereotypes, while others are facing language barriers, or trying to reconcile the destruction caused by the terror attacks with the city that they love. Buelah (Emma Powell) jumps to action at the local school organising everything from spaces to sleep, to food, telephones and televisions, as well as offering emotional support to a number of the plane people such as Hannah (Sharriese Hamilton) whose son, a New York fire fighter, is missing. Beverley (Zoe Gertz), Captain of one of the planes, shares her concerned for her passengers, her plane, her colleagues, her family, and the approaching storm that may keep them grounded for even longer than expected.

It’s a true ensemble piece, each character stands out but doesn’t over shadow the others. It’s hard not to adore Bonnie’s (Kellie Rode) passion to care for the animals trapped on the planes or Bob’s (Kolby Kindle) gradual acceptance of Gander and the surrounding towns as a place he can feel safe. Each actor plays multiple characters, seamlessly transiting from one to another, and it is a testament to the quality of the book (by Irene Sankoff and David Hein), direction and performances that no one story is lost along the way. The effortless transformations are complimented by the simple staging (Beowulf Boritt) which quickly transforms from planes to buses, to a diner, bar, school cafeteria, a cargo hold of the plane, and back again.

It’s really hard to fathom how a story, set against so much tragedy, can capture the fear, sadness and terror of September 11th, whilst finding moments of levity and uplifting human connection. But Come From Away does exactly that, helped along in no small way by a powerful and gutsy soundtrack (music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, musical direction by Luke Hunter).

Come From Away made me both laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time. It is quite possibly one of the best shows of all time, and it’s just as good the second and third time as it was the first.

Come From Away is on now until 21st March at the Comedy Theatre. Tickets for the Melbourne performance are available via the link below.