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: Voldemort and the Teenage Hogwarts Musical Parody

An Hilarious Hogwartian Homage

By Owen James

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Film Review: Night Shift

A multi-dimensional exploration of the human condition

By Ross Larkin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of Studiocanal GmbH/Thibault Grabherr

Film Review: Then Came You

A delightful piece of escapism

By Narelle Wood

Then Came You, written by Kathy Lee Gifford and directed by Adriana Trigiani, is a slow-burn romance, set amongst the spectacular scenery of Scotland.

Howard (Craig Ferguson) is the owner of a Scottish Inn that has been in his family for generations. Annabelle (Kathy Lee Gifford) is a bereaved American, embarking on a world tour in the wake of her husband’s passing. From the moment they meet the chemistry and the inevitable clash of cultures, tastes and dreams are all evident. Howard is determined to keep the Inn working and part of his family, while Annabelle is ready to find new dreams, lamenting those dreams she once had and abandoned in pursuit of a different kind of life. Gavin (Ford Kiernan), Howard’s best friend, cuts a clownish figure but plays the wise truth telling confidant to both Howard and Annabelle, especially when it starts to become clear that Howard’s and Annabelle’s bickering is symptomatic of an increasing affection for each other.

Gifford’s take on a later in life romance is refreshing. It’s understated, and while the banter is full of double entendre and miscommunication, there is a maturity and wisdom that is seldom seen in films of this genre. Even with the inclusion of Clare (Elizabeth Hurley) there are clear points of conflict and the two women are very different, but Gifford does not trot out the tired trope of two women fighting over of a man, and finds another resolution. The direction by Trigiani matches the pace of the storyline beautifully, except for one moment about three quarters the way through the film. I’m sure this moment was supposed to be a homage to a past era or film, but it was one that was lost on me and I found that it only managed to disrupt what until that point felt like a gentle walk through the Scottish countryside with a couple of friends who happen to be falling in love.

While there is a lot understated about Then Came You, the scenery is certainly not; the green sweeping mountains, the Scottish Lochs, and the small Scottish roads lined with the sheep make this film worth watching even if you’re not a fan of love stories. It’s a delightful piece of escapism, that’s heart-warming and calming without being too overly sentimental.

In cinemas now.

Film Review: Cosmic Sin

A sci-fi film with a social conscience

By Nicola Sum

We are living in a time of protest. A level of activism, essential to our sense of community, continues to play out around the world. What of colonization? What of intention? Too much drama? Welcome to the grand scale of Cosmic Sin; a sci-fi meets social conscience film, filmed in 2020 against the backdrop of the global pandemic.

Director, Edward Drake, explores ideas of civilizations, cultures and erasures through a human versus aliens scenario. In 2524, mining companies claim planets, a global alliance looks for first contact (FC incidents) and back on earth we still drive SUVs on motorways. Sorry!

An FC incident on a faraway planet leads General Ryle (Frank Grillo) to gather his specialist team, headed by Ford (Bruce Willis), Goss (Perrey Reeves) and Tieve (Costas Mandylor). As the team engage the FC survivors, it becomes apparent that the aliens have plans for an invasion. Goss quotes her own thesis, “To kill a culture is to kill the very idea of creation. It is a sin against the cosmos”. Ergo- operation Cosmic Sin is launched, or as Ford puts it “Better them than us”.

The storyline is a mix of some poetic scripting, some intimate chatter across the main characters, and many scientific references to all things quantum – displacement, bomb, leap and so forth. Much kitting out later (courtesy of Hex Morris for his Icarus suits), and with some cool special effects (supervised by Ian Duncan), the rogue team go to war on the remote planet. The rest is for watching with a warning from the parasitic aliens about erasure of our species.

Ford leads with the confidence of his past experience, while Braxton, played by Brandon Thomas Lee, is the counter-balance of the promising young soldier. There are moments of mood shifting humour in the character of Dash (Corey Large, who also co-wrote this with Drake) and much serious-faced decision-making from Ryle.

Watch this for sci-fi entertainment. Watch it for the drama of war. Watch it because it is aiming to hold a mirror to our discourses of kingdoms, colonies and liberties. Not necessarily all in that order or that heavy a fashion, but the film is trying to say something, and it’s worth a listen.

In cinemas now.

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

Film review: Wrong Turn

Hipsters embroiled in hiking horror for not heeding warning

By Margaret Wieringa

Wrong Turn, directed by Mike P. Nelson, follows the adventures of a group of city-dwelling hipsters, heading out to hike the Appalachian Trail. As they embark on their adventure they are warned by the unfriendly small-townsfolk to stick to the marked path. Yet seemingly immediately, they deviate to visit a Civil War site and the horrors start. When you leave the road, you end up in the territory of The Foundation, a strange community who live far removed from modern society. And when you meet The Foundation, you don’t leave; alive or dead.

The Foundation members dress in camouflage – not the army pattern type, but covered head to toe in greenery topped with animal skulls. This is their home, and the audience is challenged about whether the barbaric snares and traps set up to protect their land from strangers are justified. Certainly, the interloping hikers are set up to be annoying and privileged, the opposite of the earthy, hard-living Foundation folks. It’s hard to be sympathetic to the plight of rich kids searching for an “authentic” experience, though it’s also hard to fall on the side of a group who have unwritten, unspoken rules and barriers and an inflexible method for justice. I struggled to side with either, which made me, at times, less invested in the outcome than perhaps I should have been.

I’m not a great horror film watcher; I’m really far too much of scaredy-cat. Right from the start, the soundtrack had an intermittent, disturbing drone which had me on edge. As the sequences became choppier, the discordant music and speedy camera movements nearly did me in. Add to that the intense, wide-eyed fearful stares of Charlotte Vega and Adain Bradley (playing Jen’s boyfriend, Darius), and the sudden, sharp and extremely graphic action sequences, and I was left with a horror film which I actually thoroughly enjoyed.

My recommendation is that you don’t watch Wrong Turn immediately before going camping. That was probably not my smartest decision. I can only hope I make it through without discovering a strange, cult-like group of folks living on the outskirts of Melbourne, though the film has given me some handy hints on how I might survive.

Wrong Turn is currently screening in cinemas across Australia.