Tag: Lara Week

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

Melbourne Fringe 2017: MADAME NIGHTSHADE’S POISON GARDEN

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.

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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.

https://www.melbournefringe.com.au/event/madame-nightshades-poison-garden/

Western Edge Presents CALIBAN

Dynamic and captivating

By Leeor Adar

The culturally diverse Western Edge Youth Arts’ Edge Ensemble under the directorship of Dave Kelman and Tariro Mavondo delivers a spirited, vibrant and painfully accurate adaptation of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest with Caliban.

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Who is Caliban in this tale?

We are not dealing with a deformed witch’s son, but a native of an island, which carries the spirit of his mother – all mothers – in the sand, air and water. The Edge Ensemble’s Caliban (Oti Willoughby) is every pure thing, every angry living thing that despises the poisons inflicted by civilisation on the natural world.

In this tale Prospero is Prospera (Natalie Lucic), and Ariel (Piper Huynh) is a machine, not spirit, that can think up realities to save the planet from global warming and other ills that contribute to the inevitable downfall of our world. But Prospera needs capital. Propera needs wealth. Prospera’s adopted daughter, Miranda (Achai Deng), is shipped off with billionaire Afghani, Ferdinand (Abraham Herasan) for a better life, a life of opulence, but little freedom and incredible isolation. It is ironically a lonely and uncertain life at the top of the world, but all is not lost.

Caliban tackles big ideas with humour and poignancy. This is a remarkable and highly physical performance delivered by an ensemble with differing physicality. The performers are excellent, emotive, funny and totally humane. So much of the story told is delivered by this troupe through their bodies, and they each deliver something unique. Credit must be given to movement director, Amy MacPherson, who has successfully conjured the best of the cast. The set design by Lara Week, who previously worked with Mavondo in Greg Ulfan’s 3 Sisters, provides yet another bright and adaptable space that works well for the performers. Turquoise cylinders serve as podiums, seats, towers, and the ever-present reminder of man-made waste.

There is at the heart of this story a great longing for a home that is being stolen by land erosion and war. On one hand our lovers, Ferdinand and Miranda, each long for their homes, Afghanistan and the Sudanese Abyei Area, each torn, each broken by the worst of human nature. On the other, Phano (Rexson Pelman) longs for a Samoa with an uncertain future, and Caliban for his island home – two examples of the fate rendered by the hands of global warming, another ongoing man-made calamity.

The tragedy of our characters is that they each seek to do well, but fail fundamentally on their quest. It is deeply Shakespearean, but simply a timeless tale of humanity. Prospera is blinded by her mind, Ferdinand by his desire for respect, and Caliban by his anger. Their undoing is deeply psychological and a result of the previous ills of man-made affliction. And so is the cycle of human nature…

Caliban will be showing for its final night tonight, November 26 at 7pm at the Coopers Malthouse Theatre. Bookings: http://malthousetheatre.com.au/whats-on/caliban

Image by Nicola Dracoulis