Tag: La Mama

Review: Running with Emus

Beautiful and thought provoking

By Ross Larkin

Local playwright, Merrilee Moss’s new work, Running with Emus, is a comedy drama about a small outback community which is considering becoming ‘refugee friendly.’ 

Part of the current VCE curriculum, the play explores themes of hope, identity and change with surreal elements (namely, a ghost) in an otherwise naturalistic and contemporary setting. 

When Pat’s granddaughter Krystal arrives on her doorstep unexpectedly, her youthful spirit and drive immediately makes ripples through a seemingly narrow-minded town, where the idea of refugees and immigrants is a totally foreign concept, pun intended.

As Pat and Krystal’s differing personalities and opinions clash, Krystal begins to assimilate to a new life in the town while learning the truth about her grandmother’s past. 

Acting luminary, Julie Nihill, is ideally suited to the introspective and detached Pat, more at ease with the birdlife than the few humans in her predominantly isolated world. 

The small, yet strong, supporting cast are all worthy of note, particularly the ever versatile and deft Kevin Dee as well as Sam Baxter, who is excellent as the charismatic Italian ghost, Raffaele, injecting some necessary spice to the mix.

Director Kim Durban takes a minimal and simplistic approach with the staging of the work, which mostly serves it well, but for such a dialogue heavy and arguably lengthy piece in need of trimming, it might have benefited from some more dynamic blocking.

Overall, Running with Emus has some beautiful and thought provoking moments, a stellar cast and plenty of poignance and relevance to the current political climate to warrant a viewing of a piece which will no doubt go on to become a staple in the library of important Australian works. 

Running with Emus is playing now at La Mama’s Courthouse Theatre in Carlton until March 22nd. For bookings go to https://lamama.com.au/


Review: Anna

A bizarre, yet perfectly plausible set of interlocking events

By Rachel Holkner

Fear, frustration and overwhelming sense of foreboding, the lack of control one feels in the face of endless, incomprehensible, nonsensical bureaucracy. These emotions are deftly conveyed and uncomfortably experienced throughout this one act play. Anna is a very timely piece, although firmly set during its own time and space of Bulgaria during the Cold War.

Both written and performed by Bagryana Popov, deftly using her childhood experiences and years of research into the totalitarian regime to develop a bizarre, yet perfectly plausible set of interlocking events.

The appearance of a large sum of money is the instigating event of the play, and the contradictory stories around its origin and the attempts to dispose of it rapidly open out to display a complex web – artfully appearing on stage by the end – of interested parties with conflicting motives. Anna herself moves frequently in and out of our sympathies as she naively attempts to deal with the bureaucracy but then displays contrary behaviours at home.

Anna tells fairy stories, and perhaps the whole play is a fabrication of her mind as she slowly unravels over the course of months while events both within and out of her control turn against her. But what if the events she discusses are imagined? Is Anna paranoid or am I?

The performance of Popov is hugely affecting. She carries the entire show with aplomb, moving nimbly between portrayals of very different characters. She sings, she utilises props, she takes us with her into the chill mood behind the Iron Curtain at this time. The use of space, lighting and the raw set design suit the performance and the tightly written, almost sparse script, perfectly.

The very slight, surreal nature of the production as a whole is particularly effective against the backdrop of world politics today. One leaves with an inkling of discomfort and almost dread that lingers uncomfortably, yet I can’t help scratching at it.

At La Mama Courthouse until 22 December


Photography by Ponch Hawkes




Raucous ridiculousness done incredibly well

By Joana Simmons

Imagine a world where there are no rules, and your wildest silliest and most creative urges could be realised. In Madame Nightshade’s Poison Garden, Melbourne-based clown, theatre-maker, workshop facilitator and circus performer Anna Thomson creates this world, having an absolute ball herself in the process. It’s raucous ridiculousness done incredibly well.  The detail and creativity in the props, set and physicality paves the way for boundless fits of laughter as the outrageousness builds.

Madame Nightshade.jpg

Before the show even starts, the Friday night full house at La Mama are all in the mood for mischief. The intimacy of the theatre means we are instantly all friends ready for a unique experience. Anna Thompson requested at the end of the show for us not to tell anyone about it…. it’s fair to say that there are copious surprises that I could spoil, each one as incredible as the next. The set and creative art designed by Lara Week is of a garden, featuring vegetables, nightshade, a table and a compost bin. There’s intricacy to the props like a magic show and in the way that Thompson integrates them to the physicality of Beatrice (a devilish shape-shifter) and her alter-ego, Madame Nightshade. Through the show we are faced with several ideas – our effect on the planet, where we sit into societal stereotypes (and how we break those) and that ‘there’s shit in the beauty, and there’s beauty in the shit.’

This dark, visceral physical comedy incorporates clowning, buffoonery and queer spectacle. It’s a type of work that defies labels or boxes, and stands alone in its own little genre of twisted brilliance. Thomson’s characterisation and commitment throughout is impressive. Each facial expression of simple utterance says so much, holding us in the right amount of tension to relieve it or break the frame, leaving us the audience laughing and on our toes for what is next. My favourite moments, to give you a taster of what makes this show wonderful, was the spring-onion sword-fight to Prodigy’s “Smack my B***h Up,” King-Kong crunch (complete with every audience member participating) and anytime Thompson squeezed herself into something small and unexpected. The soundtrack, produced by Jacky T, combining everything from Alice Cooper to Disney, adds great drama and comedy. Sarah Ward (creator of famous cabaret character Yana Alana) was director, and should be applauded for creating not only an aesthetically engrossing show, but also a glamorously grotesque one. Thompson’s slick timing, facial expression and physicality says more than the sporadic snippets of storyline, and is hilarious.

A weirdly wild wonderful world is the best way to describe Madame Nightshade’s Poison Garden. It’s high class and full of laughs and an opportunity to go to unique crazy places. Appreciate the absurdity and get twisted up in the nightshade – book today.

Madame Nightshade’s Poison Garden is playing at La Mama, 21 September- 1 October  7:30 PM, Wed 6:30 PM, Sun 4:00 PM.


La Mama Presents CLEAVE

Tales twice-told

By Myron My

In 1908, conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton were born in England. About 55 years later, Colleen Burke and her twin sister were born – five minutes apart separated by three years. Burke was born with two vaginas, and her sister was born severely disabled with Cerebral Palsy. Presented as part of La Mama Theatre’s Exploration season for presenting work in various stages of development, and under the dramaturgy of Doug McLeod, Burke’s Cleave explores the relationship that each set of twins had and – despite the decades between them – the similarities shared between their lives.


Having only completed the story very recently, Burke performs a scripted reading of Cleave while placing a select number of props on the stage. There is a toy train set, a sculpture of two fused humans embracing, a photo of the Hilton twins, and a rolling pin. There are also a number of props revealed throughout the show, which – especially during a scripted reading – allow us to remain visually engaged with the performance.

At times, Burke breaks from script and describes to us how she envisions the following scene taking place, and it will be interesting to see how these various ideas are actually executed. As a skilled puppet-maker and puppeteer, Burke’s main goal is to play both the conjoined twins where she is one twin and the other is a puppet manipulated by her.

Burke’s research into the Hilton twins’ lives is detailed and the parallels between their experiences and those of Burke and her sister are well tied-in. There are moments however, when switches between the three stories could be more closely linked with the theme of the current anecdote being explored, as this would allow for not only a smoother transition into the next story but a more fluid and easy-to-follow narrative.

Cleave starts off strongly with the stories being presented as performances by the various characters within the lives of the four women, and the intended use of puppets. Towards the second half, it seems to turn more into Burke re-telling much of her life and that of the twins’, with little performance aspect to it. While the stories are engaging, that performative aspect from earlier greatly assists in entertaining the audience and taking the show to the next level. Furthermore, it may also prevent Burke from breaking “character” when recalling the more emotional moments of her own life.

While Cleave is very much a work in progress, Burke has managed to create a captivating story that deserves to get bigger and better and come to fruition on stage as a fully developed piece, and I look forward to seeing this work in its next phase.

Cleave was performed between 6 – 8 December at La Mama Theatre.

Image by Michael Camillieri

Melbourne Fringe 2016: FALLING APPLES

Powerful concept as lives traverse

By Leeor Adar

The concept of Lene Therese Teigan’s Falling Apples is vast and intimate – a Chekhovian-inspired world where the characters’ lives collide in uncertain times.

Falling Apples.jpg

As a fan of Chekhov’s work and Peta Hanrahan’s wonderful direction of A Room of One’s Own earlier this year, I had high hopes for this production presented by La Mama and Verve studios as part of the 2016 Melbourne Fringe Festival, but it was ultimately a cacophony of words, ideas and vibrations.

The Kensington Town Hall is undoubtedly a beautiful place to perform a production. The echo within the large chamber provided a beautiful and haunting introduction as the voices of the performers hummed a suitably melancholy sound – this is Chekhovian terrain after all.

The echo, however, did not bode well for the performers and their interactions. Unless the audience was seated directly opposite the vignette, much of the dialogue was lost within the space. Due to the length of the performance space, the audience was seated along some distance, exacerbating this issue. This had the unfortunate affect of alienating the stories before us. I expect a better choice of space or seating arrangement would have prevented this.

I appreciated the concept of the characters constantly moving within the space as one scene was explored. Undoubtedly the message is clear – we cross paths with other histories every day, and occasionally collide. On this occasion it was further distracting from the already difficult-to-follow dialogue of the active scene within the work.

There were silver linings of strong performances from some members of the cast, particularly Elizabeth Huey-Williams as the troubled sister, and Marissa O’Reilly as the foreign lover. Huey-Williams and O’Reilly gave a lovely depth to their performances that managed to pierce through the chaos surrounding them. Unfortunately, some of the performances were unconvincing and I do not doubt that staging issues contributed.

Ultimately this premiere work was conceptually strong, but weak in execution.

You can catch Falling Apples from Tuesday-Saturday until October 8, Kensington Town Hall: http://lamama.com.au/2016-winter-program/falling-apples

Image by Tommy Holt of T6 Photography

Encore! Presents L’AMANTE ANGLAISE

A dark and compelling masterpiece

By Myron My

Based on Marguerite Duras‘ 1967 novella, L’Amante Anglaise (The English Lover) is on the surface a murder mystery story, but look a little deeper and it is an exploration of what happens to a person when the life they are leading turns out to be the life they never wanted. Originally performed at La Mama, this stage adaptation has been remounted for a second season at fortyfivedownstairs. Having missed it first time round, I was very thankful I managed to get to it now for this really  is a breathtaking production.


The story unfolds in two interviews conducted by nameless interrogators over the brutal murder of a woman in a small town in France. The dismembered body is discovered at a railway viaduct, missing her head. Furthermore, the novella is based on true events, adding to the darkness and brutality to the proceedings.

The first interrogation is with Pierre (Rob Meldrum), the husband of the woman who has confessed to the murder. What transpires is a picture of a man who cared very little for his wife, who can offer little insight as to what could have driven her to commit such a heinous crime, and Meldrum’s portrayal of the detached husband is well-presented throughout and compelling to watch.

In the second interrogation our attention shifts to Claire, where her interrogator insists on finding out what drove her to commit murder. Jillian Murray does a phenomenal job in this role and it is not hard to see why she won the 2015 Green Room Award for Best Female Performer. Beginning as a shy and timid woman it was hard to imagine Claire viciously killing someone, but as the interview progressed, her instability and sadness began seeping through.

The intimate direction and impressively staging by Laurence Strangio allows for the words of the characters to create the visuals for the audience, and creates focus on  the hands, the feet, the eyes and the face to show the characters’ states of mind, enticing the audience to be drawn further into the intrigue and horrors of the story and its protagonists.

In its powerful intersection of fiction and reality, L’Amante Anglaise has you leaving the venue with an emptiness and sadness deep in your heart as to how these people have got to where they are in life. Ironically, it is not the dark details of the murder that have this effect on you, but the utter fascinating character study of two people who yearn for a different time. Unmissable.

Venue: fortyfive downstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Season: Until 3 July | Tue- Sat 7.30pm, Sun 5pm
Tickets: $38 Full | $32 Conc
Bookings: fortyfive downstairs


Faultlessly funny

By Ross Larkin

From the outset, a certain curiosity swells at the prospect of a play with no title, while simultaneously bearing a highly distinct and decided one. This is not coincidental, but rather a sneaky peak into the contrary madness that awaits in writer/director Sofia Chapman’s hilarious new production.

Untitled or The Seat of Narcissa.jpg

Initially a love triangle between three quirky, tenacious women, Untitled, or The Seat of Narcissa quickly evolves to include multiple love-crazed subjects in a chaotic swarm of hysteria while infidelity and passion abound along with music, dancing and poetry.
Penny Larkins is the egocentric and deceitful Viscountess Narcissa, who chews up her lovers and spits them out, all the while demanding the utmost respect and attention.
Falling under her spell are Erica Chestnut as the sassy Duchess of Dullcote and Kate Hosking as feisty go-getter, Baroness of Inverness, while Narcissa’s seemingly dazed and confused servant, Marcello, played by Madeline Hudson, intersects the melodrama with great intrigue.

The humour and wit of Chapman’s writing is immediate and doesn’t stall for a single moment, aided by a strong and energetic cast whose comic timing and delivery had the audience cackling from beginning to end.

Chapman is also responsible for the hilariously witty poetry which merges with the play beautifully, as well as the very fitting and engaging music and comical lyrics. Hudson’s song on the accordion with Hosking on the cello about knowing a Jewish person is a particularly priceless moment.

Add to the mix some wacky and amusing dancing, gorgeous costumes and a slew of double entendres and clever one-liners and the result is a barrel of non-stop laughs, comparable to the likes of Monty Python, Black Adder and Absolutely Fabulous. This is one Midsumma show for the top of your list!

Untitled, or The Seat of Narcissa is playing now at La Mama, 205 Faraday street, Carlton until January 31st.

Tickets available at http://lamama.com.au/ or on (03) 9347 6948.
Image by Annabel Warmington

REVIEW: Drago’s Amazing Bona Fide Freak Show

A one-man carnival

By Myron My

I knew next to nothing about Drago’s Amazing Bona Fide Freak Show before attending the show, but I was intrigued by its title and minimal show synopsis. Fortunately, Drago’s (Ilan Abrahams) declaration at the beginning of the show that he is here to entertain us and we are here for enjoyment really proves true.

Drago's Freak Show

Abrahams has really honed in on showman Drago’s character and personality. The physicality displayed seemed very natural and habitual, and along with his miming, Abrahams has great story-telling abilities and ensures that he always has our attention.

The tatty circus tent designed by Hamish Fletcher and the outfit worn by Abrahams and created by Amaya Vecellio are both well thought out and carefully detailed, down to the dirt marks and holes, further embracing the travelling circus atmosphere.

The lighting played a very important and effective part in Drago’s Amazing Bona Fide Freak Show. A variety of lighting techniques are used including a circus spotlight, torchlights and candlelight, with each eliciting a different emotion or mood from us. Even amongst the low light moments, the shadows bouncing off the walls and flickering within the tent added to the freak show vibe being created.

Despite my enjoyment, I did walk out of the show feeling unsure as to the purpose of the piece. What is it that Abrahams wants us to feel? The stories were enjoyable as were the songs but I felt like there was a message that got lost along the way. I was also puzzled as to the meaning of the special guest and the “big reveal”. I expected a stronger impact especially with all the anticipation for their arrival.

The elements that do work in Drago’s Amazing Bona Fide Freak Show work very well and ensure that it is an hour of definite enjoyment, even if the ultimate meaning of the work does get a little confused.

Drago’s Amazing Bona Fide Freak Show was performed at La Mama as part of its Explorations season which supports works in development.


Parodoxes of humanity and morality brought to light

By Myron My

Directed by Mammad Aidani, The Two Executioners deals with the repercussions of a woman who reports her husband to the authorities for an unnamed crime. As he is tortured upstairs, the woman and her two sons argue over their guilt and betrayal.

There are many questions raised throughout the play: why has Francoise reported her husband? What crime has Jean committed? How has this woman created such a strong hold over her sons?


None of these are fully answered and we are left to our own creative devices to ponder and resolve. The lighting also plays a part in creating this intense and ambiguous atmosphere with a lot of shadows being deliberately cast on the actors. The stage is never fully lit with only small pockets given light at a time, thus literally keeping us in the dark as to what is truly happening and who is in control. Another effective direction of Aidani’s was to have the torture of Jean occur off stage – with the audience able to hear his screams of pain our imaginations are forced to create the horror.

Wahibe Moussa is exceptional as Francoise. She initially comes across as a desperate woman and a victim, but slowly crosses the line to manipulator and betrayer. It’s not always clear which way she will go and as Moussa plays the role full of subtleties, you are left guessing even after the play has ended as to whether Francoise was indeed a good person with high morals – or the true villain of this story.

Clearly Francoise is the protagonist of this tale, but I would have liked to see more character exploration with her sons, Maurice and Benoit (Shahin Shafaei and Osamah Sami). Maurice has a lot of anger but also displays conflicting emotions towards his mother which needed justification, and would have been great to see Shafaei able to deal with these contradictions in the narrative. Sami may have had a few opening night nerves but quickly found his way and established his character as Francoise’s ‘favourite’ son, but I felt the ensuing tension between him and his brother needed to be developed further.

There are times when the story does flounder and get repetitive in its dialogue which can sometimes take you out of the moment and undercut the drama. However, what draws you back in is the beautiful and poetic language used throughout the play, which is not surprising given playwright Fernando Arrabal‘s background in poetry.

Overall, The Two Executioners has some strong performances, some lovely writing, and brings to surface many dark questions about good and evil and right and wrong that will keep you thinking long after the lights come down.

Venue: La Mama Theatre, 205 Faraday Street Carlton

Season: Until 25 August | Wed-Sat 6:30pm, Sun 4:30pm

Tickets: $25 Full | $15 Conc

Bookings: http://lamama.com.au or 9347 6142

REVIEW: Daniel Nellor’s DISTANCE

Torn apart and drawn together by an act of violence

By Myron My

Directed by Chris Thompson, Distance comes into focus over two parents who are dealing with their son having been arrested after an incident in which another child has ended up in a coma. They grapple with the repercussions of what their son has done, and attempt to deal with their own guilt and grief as parents who have ‘failed’.


The range of emotions that this estranged couple go through are brilliantly played by Margot Fenley and Kevin Hopkins. Fenley’s portrayal of Ellen, who attempts to keep herself together as she tries to fully understand what has happened, is raw and authentic. Her character is in direct contrast to Hopkins’ Andrew, who initially is more concerned about having his boy home with him and trying to justify what has happened because his son is “just a child”, rather than accepting and dealing the situation. Hopkins shows this man (who in his own way is also struggling with the events that have transpired) with great believability.

Daniel Nellor’s script, whilst predominantly a character piece, still has a strong narrative presence. Nellor doesn’t describe everything that has happened and opens the way for speculation by his audience, which allows us to be strongly included in the creative process. His writing is honest and real and doesn’t delve into melodrama. However I must confess the final scene of Distance did confuse me as to how much time had elapsed, and having been through such an emotional experience with the two characters, I felt a bit deflated by this finale.

It is worth commenting on the number of students and recent graduates who worked on this production including lighting designer, Yossi Torbiner, whose work helped create a claustrophobic and engulfing environment and delicately reflect the moods and emotions of the two leads. The musical interludes used throughout also added to the confusion and conflict felt by not only the parents but also (we are invited to imagine) their son.

Distance offers a rare look into the lives of a perpetrator’s family and how this act of violence affects them. It is a strong collaborative production that is well worth seeing.

Venue: La Mama Theatre, 205 Faraday Street Carlton

Season: Until 16 June | Wed, Fri 6:30pm, Thurs, Sat 8:30pm Sun 4:30pm

Tickets: $25 Full | $15 Conc

Bookings: http://lamama.com.au or 9347 6142