Tag: Pia Johnson

Malthouse Theatre Presents REVOLT. SHE SAID. REVOLT AGAIN.

Tear down the wor(l)d

By Leeor Adar

Alice Birch’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. directed by Janice Muller is a perpetual play on words, and a play on what those words mean to us. It isn’t just a revolution within our society, but a collective ‘revolt’ at our own bodies, and at the male gaze for which women squirm under. Yes, it’s a raging, raging work. It probably needs to rage, because what Birch tells us is nothing new to a woman’s struggle within the constraints of her world, the sharp lines that fix her within it – whether that is her workplace, her lover’s place, her child’s place – or any place in which she exists.

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Birch’s text takes us to many dimensions of existence – at first it’s the constructed box that sits on the stage, vignettes of conversations that throw sex, marriage and work upon its head – women asking to be utterly present in the acts society inflicts upon them. Marg Horwell’s set design is effective here, the sound even strains within the ‘four’ walls created. Soon enough, this world revolts upon itself and a woman (Sophie Ross) climbs out of the four walls to really talk about the things we don’t talk about – about the damage women inflict upon our bodies, in a beautiful and hideous memorandum of all our physical evils – to be endlessly sexually available.

For all the seriousness of the work, the audience laughs with tears in their eyes at some scenes, and sometimes we flinched away – we couldn’t look upon what was before us. I sat behind male audience members who I confess I enjoyed watching too throughout the piece; in context, I admit I was morbidly fascinated at how they would react. Of course they laughed when it was appropriate, and sometimes when it was totally inappropriate, because on some level it was surely uncomfortable for male viewers to see a woman getting angry or opening her body up with Birch’s visceral words – but I can tell you that looking around the room at the women was an different story. Many moments of the play were a bitter reminder, unravelling us at the seams.

The cast is five-strong (Belinda McClory, Elizabeth Esguerra, Ming-Zhu Hii, Gareth Reeves, and Ross). Each actor delivered their parts with total abandonment and intensity – it is an absolutely demanding show to watch, but also to act. The words are hard, and they’re almost too funny and also too damn real. You know Birch is onto something good when you physically react to the words.

For all its power, the total breakdown of the world presented to us loses shape as characters throw costumes on, haphazardly run about, throw themselves on stage, shake, spit, shiver, deliver – it ceases to be a functional whole. Oddly enough, the work held its power until the final dimension and then disintegrated. Was it meant to show us how bad we really had it – apocalypse femme? I can’t say. But sometimes in an effort to rattle its audience, the hyper-modern piece loses us.

Did it change my outrage, or the message? No. Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. remains a daring exercise to deconstruct everything that shapes womanhood in a violent world.

Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. will be performed at the Malthouse Theatre until 9 July. Performance dates, times and bookings available here: http://malthousetheatre.com.au/whats-on/revolt-she-said-revolt-again

Image by Pia Johnson

Malthouse Theatre Presents BLAQUE SHOWGIRLS

Truly outstanding

By Caitlin McGrane

Nakkiah Lui’s searing portrait of white Australia’s treatment of Aboriginal people, Blaque Showgirls, is vital viewing for all white people. In this production, Lui does not shy away from intensely uncomfortable subjects, but her punchlines always hit their target.


The show opens as Sarah Jane (Bessie Holland) starts performing her signature dance, the Peking Emu on stage in Chithole, Queensland. Sarah Jane is a white-skinned ‘blaque’ girl who dreams of making it as a dancer at the famous Blaque Showgirls show in Brisvegas, just like her mother. With a voice that could shatter glass, and dance moves that would not be out of place in any reputable club in Melbourne, Sarah Jane is unceremoniously booed offstage. Sarah Jane makes the journey to Brisvegas to begin her journey to stardom, where she meets the amazing Chandon (Elaine Crombie), Kyle McLaughlan (Guy Simon), and Molly (Emi Canavan). Chandon and Kyle are the owners of Blaque Showgirls, the best and toughest show in town; Molly meanwhile is Sarah Jane’s Japanese sidekick who gets continually cut off when she’s talking. As Sarah Jane (aka Ginny) begins to work on her dancing with TruLove Interest (spelling: uncertain, Guy Simon) she starts to discover her true culture through the ‘Sacred, Sacred Really Sacred Dance’ (never-before-seen).

By the end of the performance my face hurt from laughing so much. Director Sarah Giles has worked magic with Lui’s exceptional script, and with it the duo has delivered something truly outstanding – the production perfectly skewers Australia’s bonkers and backwards attitudes to race and cultural appropriation, while Ginny continues to wreak havoc and destruction on the lives of those around her, her life continues to get better and better. Even finding out the truth about her past fills her with unconscionable optimism.

The production is completed with wonderful set and costume design from Eugyeene Teh, lighting design from Paul Jackson, composition & sound design from Jed Palmer, and movement direction from Ben Graetz. The team obviously have a tremendous passion for the subject matter, which left me deeply sympathetic to the tiny bumps in the production, which should be ironed out once the cast gets further into the show’s run.

There is so much more I wish I could say about Blaque Showgirls, but you should just go see it, especially if you’re white.

Blaque Showgirls is now on at the Malthouse until 4 December 2016. More information and tickets at: http://malthousetheatre.com.au/whats-on/blaque-showgirls

Image by Pia Johnson

Finn and Porter’s THE FIERY MAZE

Sink into the music

By Leeor Adar

Twenty years later and the unburied treasure of Tim Finn and Dorothy Porter surfaces into a smoky, enchanted space at the Malthouse’s Beckett Theatre. It’s a minimalist space with a ring of lights surrounding the performing trio, Tim Finn, Brett Adams, and Abi Tucker.

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Tucker howls and serenades us with Porter’s visceral and haunting words, as if the very spirit of Porter possesses Tucker. Tucker’s performance is moody and earthy, and she breathes life with her voice into the stories of the stormy, moon-gazing kind of love that evokes something forgotten in her audience. Like quicksand, we are enveloped into the private world of Porter.

Finn’s music is gorgeous, and we expected it. Brett Adams on guitar is a revelation, and a perfect suitor for the music. The real core shakers, This World, My Magic Friend and Black Water are interspersed with the jagged energy of New Friends, Bride Doll and Making You Happy. Each song delivers a truth behind the kind of love that we remember and carry even if it’s not in our very present. Porter’s words are utterly relatable, even if we can’t admit it. Like in January, we hope for a tomorrow that may bring us something new, something better. Understandably, even decades later, Tucker asked after Black Water, wanting to revisit the music and words that never left her from that recording in 1995.

As an audience we feel no different. With Black Water still swimming in my veins, I too want to return to the balmy darkness of The Fiery Maze.

It’s a real treat for those seeking a soulful experience with this unique blend of poetry and music by world-class artists.

The Fiery Maze continues until 4 September at the Malthouse Theatre: http://malthousetheatre.com.au/whats-on/the-fiery-maze

Image by Pia Johnson

Optic Nerve Presents THE MILL ON THE FLOSS

Where waters run deep

By Rebecca Waese

Optic Nerve’s The Mill on the Floss directed by Tanya Gerstle, delivers a thrilling, sensual, and physically-charged performance about Maggie Tulliver, who, growing up in a provincial town in nineteenth-century England, learns that her choices in life are damningly limited by her gender.

The Mill on the Floss

In this intelligent and immersive production, originally adapted by Helen Edmundson for Shared Experience Theatre Company from George Eliot’s novel, three actors play Maggie at different stages in her life in a moving embodiment of how we experience inner conflict when faced with making heart-breaking decisions. Young Maggie, played by Maddie Nunn with joy and irreverence, supports the more somber second Maggie, hauntingly portrayed by Zahra Newman, and convinces her to return the affections of her first suitor Philip Wakeham, (Tom Heath), who is the son of the lawyer who has taken over Maggie’s father’s mill. Rosie Lockhart delivers a beautifully tempered yet volatile third evolution of Maggie, who becomes entangled in an impossible love triangle with her cousin’s betrothed, Stephen Guest (George Lingard), and has to choose between respecting her brother’s wishes for her and her own desires that will leave her disowned by her family and a societal outcast.

Gerstle’s Pulse style of actor training, where actors follow physical and emotional impulses to give body to the text, allows for some unforgettable ensemble moments. Eight actors commit fully to their 17 roles and create a moving experience of a flood using only chairs and an upturned table in a simple yet evocative light and soundscape. The ghost of a drowned witch emerges from an unseen crevice under the stage to try and drown Maggie in the river. The scenes with the Aunties who selfishly expose their self-interest when Mrs Tulliver (Luisa Hastings Edge) and Mr Tulliver (James O’Connell) lose everything reveal the underside of family divided by class. Music enhances the production and Zahra Newman’s powerful instrument of a voice, worth the price of admission alone, sings a primal call-to-arms of the pain of women who centuries earlier were drowned for being witches.

This adaptation maintains a strong connection to the novel, written in 1860 by Mary Ann Evans under the male pseudonym George Eliot, for its unflinching and unnervingly contemporary portrait of the stirring passions of a young woman bound by the social forces of her time. There is less focus on Tom, Maggie’s brother (Grant Cartwright) than in the novel although his over-physical relationship with Maggie resonates with the intense childhood bond George Eliot describes having with her brother before they were estranged in her autobiographical poem “Brother and Sister.” The weakest part comes in the love affair between third Maggie and Stephen Guest where the affair feels somewhat rushed and not as consuming as it could be if Lingard were able to bring a deeper maturity to the role.

Mill on the Floss injects the past into the contemporary with its rousing themes of how women react passionately against being held down in society. In the theatre foyer, a collage depicting fifteenth-century witch trials and Eddie McGuire’s recent comments about how he would pay to see his female colleague’s head held under a pool of iced water, tracks a chilling legacy that makes Maggie’s struggles even more vital today. This a triumph you do not want to miss; it’s history in the making.

Date: 28 Jul 2016 – 13 Aug 2016. Extra show added Tues Aug 9.

Time: Tues to Sat at 7:30pm and 1:30pm on Sat 6, Sat 13 Aug

Price: $35 Full / $26 Conc, Under 30, Groups 8+ /$20 Preview [plus $2.50 booking fee per ticket]

Presented by: Theatre Works and Optic Nerve

Bookings: (03) 9534 3388

Image by Pia Johnson

Rebecca Waese is a Lecturer in Creative Arts and English at La Trobe University.


Beautiful reimagining of a classic

By Bradley Storer

The Glass Menagerie, the first great success of legendary American playwright Tennessee Williams, is a curious thing – not entirely a traditional naturalistic play nor an abstract lyrical Symbolist piece, it lives in the blurry division between fantasy, reality and memory. Director Eamon Flack emphasizes this essential ambiguity from the outset, as narrator Tom Wingfield (Luke Mullins) enters casually through the audience and seemingly begins to construct the play both physically and textually before our very eyes in his opening monologue.

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The multifaceted set designed by Michael Hankin, the tiny Wingfield family apartment that unfolds in continually surprising ways, is surrounded by cameras (with video design by Sean Bacon) that project images onto near by screens as the play unfurls, creating delectable moments of intimacy with the characters and thrilling moments of theatrical ingenuity at the same time it theatricalizes and distances these moments as though we are seeing scenes from an old Hollywood picture – further suggesting the way Tom has shaped and crafted his memories until the line between his nostalgic remembrance and the reality has disappeared completely.

Mullins as Wingfield is remarkable, combining the soul of a poet with a bitter and sardonic twist of humour that one senses is the result of a sensitive spirit yearning for the freedom his home life denies him. Pamela Rabe as his mother Amanda, one of the great Southern belles of the Williams canon, gives a truly titanic performance, moving from a shrewd no-nonsense woman beaten down by the harsh realities of her life to the winsome love-struck girl of her youth with ease in the space of a single scene, creating a portrait of a woman burdened by both her massive maternal love and the seething resentment underneath. Rose Riley as Laura, Tom’s shy and disabled sister, brings a surprising and refreshing tom-boyishness to the role, and when her closed-off but scintillating face is projected in big screen, it is easy to see why Laura is the heart (and the central mystery) of this nostalgic play.

The first act is close to perfection, but the second act where the lives of the Wingfelds is interrupted by the visit of a gentleman caller (a jovial Harry Greenwood) seems to get a bit lost, and the final moments of the play fail to bring together the wide-ranging resources used throughout into a  satisfying conclusion. But when this production succeeds, which it often does, those moments are truly magical.

Venue: Malthouse Theatre, Merlyn Theatre, 113 Sturt St

Dates: 18th May – 5th June

Times: Tuesday 6:30pm, Wednesday – Saturday 7:30pm, Saturday 1pm, Sunday 5pm

Bookings: www.malthousetheatre.com.au, (03) 9685 5111, boxoffice@malthousetheatre.com.au

Prices: Adult $65, Concession $50, Senior $60, Tertiary Student and Under 30’s $35

Image by Pia Johnson, Malthouse and Belvoir


You’ve never seen anything like this

By Margaret Wieringa

The set gives the audience nothing to begin with– stark white, with white rectangular plinths arranged around the space. Then, as the audience are still settling in, a couple of people appear, the house lights drop suddenly and the rollercoaster is on.

Love and Information Photo Credit Pia Johnson

Every production of Love and Information will almost certainly be different to every other production ever staged because of the mysterious and challenging nature of the script. Caryl Churchill has written seventy-six scenes for the script, some of which are compulsory, some optional, and each production must have at least fifty-one of these scenes included. There is a set structure, yet within that structure there is flexibility both in the order of the scenes and the characters who speak the parts. Confused yet?

I love it when writers fool around with form – even should it not work, it is interesting to push what the audience expect and how messages can be delivered. But the unusual structure of Love and Information makes for a truly wonderful show.

The performance consists of a jigsaw of scenes of varying lengths and emotions. Some are long and drawn out, pulling the audience in; others are barely a thought, perhaps only a line or two. Between each, the performers run on and off stage, bringing along the props as required. It must be very organised chaos out the back with the number of props and costume changes that take place.

Initially, I thought that the loud music and extremely bright, colourful lighting that separated the scenes was going to get tedious pretty quickly. I learned pretty quickly to trust the work of director Kip Williams to create change within the similarities.

The cast are fabulous, so in tune with each other, tight on the changeovers and bringing a wide variety of characters. It is such a marvellous ensemble that each cast member is able to shine, though special mention must be made of Alison Whyte’s ability to stay extremely still in several scenes.

Love and Information is not a traditional story, but an exploration of emotion and relationships. It is hilarious, moving, beautiful, light, heavy and exciting. Go see it. Absolutely.

Venue: Malthouse Theatre, Sturt St Southbank
Dates: Jun 12 – Jul 4
Tickets: $35 – 60 via malthousetheatre.com.au/

Image by Pia Johnson