Tag: poetry

Review: Since Ali Died

Theatre making and storytelling at its simple best

By Owen James

Using nothing but words, an empty stage and some very simple lighting, wordsmith Omar Musa has concocted a beautiful and chaotic cacophony of language that inspires, amuses, and shocks with Since Ali Died. Musa is a master conductor of words, and this symphony reflects his passion for these art-forms – poetry and rap.

Using “the death of his hero Muhammad Ali as a lyrical springboard”, Musa launches into story after story, tackling love, loss, and divinity – and we are enthralled for the entire duration. There were many moments throughout the hour-long performance you could hear a pin drop. Musa is scathingly honest as he presents reflections on his life as a “brown man growing up on black land”, enduring episodes at primary school where he was told his “skin is the colour of shit”, and recounting encounters with racist politicians (inspiring the rap piece ‘Un-Australia’), tumultuous past loves, and perhaps his worst enemy, personal demons. There are insightful personal descriptions as he defines (and defies) wrestling with identity, and the expectations that stem from heritage and masculinity.

As this compelling performer rhymes and riffs, any notions of poetry being a boring and antiquated requirement confined to the high school classroom are demolished – every word is riveting and current, the atmosphere in the audience alive with anticipation. But it’s more than his gritty eloquence as a poet that makes the work so engaging; Musa is a storyteller who is charming and relaxed no matter the topic, always comfortable presenting his work mostly alone onstage, with the exception of guest performer Sarah Corry alongside for two pieces.

Fully deserving of the standing ovation he received at the end of the performance, Since Ali Died is a cutting and contemporary lyrical refraction of Musa’s powerful perspective on Australia and humanity. It’s a reminder of how powerful language can be, and a wake-up call to habitual Australian ignorance.

Don’t miss this intimate and intelligent work, playing a very short season at Arts Centre Melbourne until August 17th, as part of the third year of their ‘Big World, Up Close’ series. Tickets: https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2019/festivals-and-series/big-world-up-close/since-ali-died

Photography by Robert Catto



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


Poetry to ponder…

By Myron My

Don’t Look At Me for MICF stars performance artist Graaahm (Amy Bodossian) – yes, that’s Graaahm with three a’s. Throughout the course of the show Graaahm performs a number of poems and songs for her audience and gives us an insight into her life.

Graaahm’s word play was actually quite intelligent and well thought-out. Hearing her witty rhyming and clever combination of very different ideas into single words was interesting but it didn’t stop this show from becoming very difficult to follow and understand where Graaahm was going with it.

Don't Look At Me

This was in fact the most frustrating thing about Don’t Look At Me – I simply did not know what I was watching. There seemed to be no point to it. As a reviewer, I always ask myself, what is the artist attempting to do? – and I was at a loss here. I walked out of the show – once Graaahm informed the audience that it was over and we could leave – with no more clue as to its purpose as when I walked in.

Visually, the show is rather good. The stage is adorned with a myriad of objects and decorations which are incorporated into the show – even if it is for a few seconds, including that very interesting portrait of Graaahm’s grandmother. Graaahm’s outfit is also something to behold – with many thanks to what I assume is very strong body tape.

There were moments of improvisation in Graaahm’s Don’t Look At Me which worked well, and would rate as the more memorable parts of her show. Her acknowledgement of what was going on outside of the space and bringing it into the show was well executed.

Bodossian definitely possesses talent, skill and wit, but it didn’t come across as well as it could have in this Melbourne International Comedy Festival show.

Venue: The Tuxedo Cat, 17-23 Wills Street

Season: Until 21 April | Mon-Tues, Thurs-Sat 10:45pm, Sun 9:45pm

Tickets: $20 Full | $15 Conc

Bookings: www.ticketmaster.com.au, www.tuxedocat.com.au, or at the door

Review: WORD CRIME with Alice Fraser

Trying to find the right words

By Myron My

Alice Fraser’s Word Crime is part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and in it she looks at language and how we use them to shape the world yet despite this rich resource for comedy there was ultimately very little present in this act. Fraser spent most of the time offering social commentary on how women are seen in society and about the violence that is sweeping America.

Word Crime

There were awkward moments in this show and I would like to put it down to preview night nerves but some of the material that was covered seemed inappropriate in such a setting. Death can be funny but trying to bring humour into topics such as suicide and her mother’s terminal suffering of MS is a very difficult thing to do especially when there is a room full of people who haven’t been warmed into your brand of comedy. There were jokes that were bordering on racist, and references to World War 2 that just didn’t work and made it difficult to connect with the performer.

There were many times that Fraser said how important words were for her as a child and how her mother would speak many languages and read poetry but unfortunately she never went further with this. The flow of delivery was a bit abrupt and we kept re-visiting topics that seemed out of place after what we had just been discussing.

Fraser seemed quite nervous on stage which is understandable for a preview, but perhaps more rehearsing was needed as she often began talking about something that was very personal, but paused, apparently remembering lines or thinking about what she was going to say next. A few times, Fraser even dismissed the attempt and went on to talk about something else.

Fraser was at her strongest when singing and playing the banjo so it’s a shame there wasn’t more of this. Her lyrics were charming and her song about being the best stalker in the land was actually quite sweet…in a stalker kind of way.

Overall, Word Crime is a concept of great potential doesn’t quite come together this time.

Venue: The Butterfly Club, 256 Collins St (entry via Carson Place), Melbourne

Season: Until 17 April | Tues-Wed, 6:00pm

Tickets: $18 Full | $14 Concession

Bookings: www.butterflyclub.com, 1300 660 013 or at the door


A beautiful tale of a terrible man

By Adam Tonking

Ad Nauseam, created by Tom Pitts and performed by Nick Bendall with Kate Laverack and Grace Travaglia, is the story of one rather unlikeable man and the drunken destructive path he cuts through one night in the city. But the story itself is only the beginning of this wonderful production.

Pitts’ text, one long rant, is almost poetic, reminiscent of those long-dead beat poets Kerouac and Ginsberg and through Pitts’ treatment of the language, transforms a gritty loathsome bender into something romantic and poignant.

His despicable narrator seems lost and forlorn, even while his actions paint him as an arrogant pig, somehow you want to be the one to save him. I did find the insertion of a few topical one-liners jarring and unnecessary, however they did receive the biggest laughs of the night. The text is performed in counterpoint with a score also composed by Pitt, and the interaction between the two beautifully underpins the ebb and flow of the piece.

Playing the part of this narrator, Bendall brings a rascally quality to the character’s unpleasant tendencies, charming the audience with his antics as opposed to repelling us. His physicality in performing this piece was a work of art, like mime bordering on dance, depicting the world and the people he interacts with through mere controlled movements and poses of his constantly working body, from delicate and beautiful to aggressive and masculine. Fascinating to watch.

Haunting him throughout the piece are the spectres of the two women who started him on this downward spiral, played by Laverack and Travaglia, who never speak a word, but manage to convey everything they need to through the movement of their bodies.

Ad Nauseam is a masterful work, using poetry, mime, dance, music, lighting – all the elements available to create a phenomenal, tragic and romantic piece. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

This production is showing at La Mama Courthouse, 349 Drummond Street Carlton, from Wednesday 21 March till Sunday 1 April, 6.30pm Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, 8.30pm Thursday and Saturday. Book at www.lamama.com.au or by calling 03 9347 6142.

Review: KIMBERLEY DARK in Good Fortune

A beguiling future was in store for a raconteur and her audience

By Adam Tonking

Do you remember the pleasure, as a child, of having a story read out loud to you? Kimberley Dark’s Good Fortune instantly transported me back to those long-forgotten days.

Dark is a consummate storyteller but these are not for children. They are stories from her life, that when illuminated through her telling become stories about the world at large: about love, sex, politics, and power.

The show was presented as a kind of tasting platter – 46 stories and poems from Dark’s 15 years of performance, each attached to a quirky little artwork, which became a sort of Tarot deck, with members of the audience choosing. These pieces make up the show, with each show being unique to the audience present.

Dark explains that every audience has its own personality, and this method of framing the show’s concept lent it an air of legitimacy, but also created an air of mutual respect between Dark and the audience.

Telling stories is clearly a gift for the highly-skilled Dark. While she chatted with us amiably in between stories, discussing her history and philosophies, including a few poems as a palate cleanser between stories – the moment she opened her book, she transported the audience into another world, as only a true storyteller can.

 The tone of her voice, from beguiling to conversational, from hypnotic to questing, guides us through her world; but the stories themselves grow to encompass all of us. The material is complex yet comedic, personal yet provocative. Perhaps storytelling of this nature is a lost art, but by the end of Good Fortune I was completely enamoured with Dark and her tales.

Perhaps because of the nature of the audience choosing the material, no one will have the chance to see the same show that I did. But go anyway, and reconnect with those wonderful days of simply being told a good story by someone who knows how to tell it best.

Kimberley Dark’s Good Fortune is on for one more night, Wednesday 30th November at 8pm, at The Butterfly Club in South Melbourne, with tickets available at www.thebutterflyclub.com or at the door.

Or see her show Dykeotomy at Hares and Hyenas Bookstore in Fitzroy, December 1-3. For more information go to www.kimberleydark.com.


A dreamscape of art and addiction

By Anastasia Russell-Head

The subtitle of this play is very apt: “an hallucination”… hallucinatory by name, hallucinatory by nature. Given its subject-matter – one of Australia’s most famous artists, infamous for his addictions – the poetic, dreamlike nature of this show is a tribute in form as much as it is in its substance.

Beginning at the end, as it were, in the motel room in Thirroul where he died, the dead Brett Whiteley muses over his life and art. Neil Pigot is superb as Whiteley, alternately celebrating and regretting, remembering and forgetting, drug-addled and lucid.

Barry Dickins, the playwright, describes his script as a “magical monologue”, where “the words are a poetic synthesis of his own experimental paranormal paragraphs, his own ‘unlanguage’; if you like”. Words are used for their pictorial and evocative sense, and mostly this is extremely effective at conjuring up the decadent, swirling exuberance of Whiteley’s visual world – without actually showing any of his artworks.

In fact, visually this production is very sparse, with a sparing use of projections creating surreal imagery like blue tendrils slowly covering Whiteley as he speaks about the effect of heroin, and the neon “no vacancy” sign of the budget motel flickering into life outside the window.

The least effective aspect of this show for me was the use of voice-over, narrating impossible stage directions. Supposedly an attempt to add to the hallucinatory nature of the piece, this really detracted from the strength and power of the lone actor and the poetry of the text. For me this filled in the gaps too much, rather than leaving it to the imagination.

With an excellent musical score played live by the Calvert George Fine trio, this production is at once mesmerising and incomprehensible – as every good hallucination should be.

The premiere of Whiteley’s Incredible Blue is playing for the Melbourne Festival until Sunday 23 October

Fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

Times: Tuesday to Sun 8pm, Fri & Sat 8pm & 10pm

 Tickets: $40-$45

Bookings: 03 9662 9966