Tag: Sarah Ward


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.



Delightfully and darkly bewitching

By Bradley Storer

The ‘witchy woman’ of the Western suburbs gathering ingredients for her potions under the scrutiny of her perplexed neighbours – song-writer Benn Bennett uses this opening image as our gateway to explore ideas of modern witchcraft in relation to the role of women in society.

Occasional Suburban Witch.jpg

Bennett is a charming and charismatic host for the evening as he guides us through the combination of original songs and occasional cover to celebrate femininity and the wisdom of women. His topics range from the previously mentioned ‘suburban witch’, his inability to ever be a ‘nonna’ to dream-like love songs involving orange trees (it makes sense in context).

Sarah Ward provides backing vocals for Bennett as well as taking lead during several songs, her huge range shown off in a Balkan gypsy-esque vocalese that segues into a dramatic rendition of the Stevie Nicks classic ‘Rhiannon’. Ward comes close to stealing the entire show with her hilarious background moments of physical comedy, making it hard to take your eye off her even when silent. Bec Matthews in addition to providing backing vocals is virtuosic in her drumming ability, using brooms all the way to kitchen implements to create percussive backings for Bennett’s music.

For those with a taste for the occult mixed with a dash of feminism, Occasional Suburban Witch is a dark delight that begs to be devoured!

Venue: The Butterfly Club, Carson Place (off Lt Collins St)

Time: 7pm

Dates: 16th – 20th November

Bookings: www.thebutterflyclub.com or at the door.

Price: Full $32, Concession $28, Members $26, Group (6+) $25


Captivating as ever

By Bradley Storer

Cabaret provocateur Yana Alana, the alter-ego of performer Sarah Ward, emerged from behind a scrim after her opening number, fully clothed – which she noted was a rarity after touring her critically acclaimed show Between the Cracks for the last three years, where she appeared completely nude. Here she was for the 2015 Melbourne Fringe Festival cheekily taking her show title Covered in both the literal and figurative sense, with no nudity as she only sang the songs of other artists, backed up by the multi-talented members of her band The Piranas, Louise Goh and Bec Matthews.

Yana Alana is COVERED

Even when singing the words of others, Yana Alana remains a fiercely individualistic and ruthlessly entertaining performer, bringing her unique interpretations to the works of Tom Waits, James Shelton, Puccini and even Beyonce, her incredible voice scaling from a Bassey-sized belt to an operatic soprano. From trying (and spectacularly failing) to achieve complicated dance moves to running screaming offstage from one end of the venue to the other, Alana is utterly and wonderfully shameless in her pursuit to entertain.

If anything, Covered is light on Alana’s usual repertoire of political and cultural satire and self-loathing narcissism, choosing instead to use the out-of-context lyrics from various songs as segues between sections. This can feel a little toothless compared to the usual ferocity of her work, but the level of artistry and craft present means she is, as always, completely compelling and absolutely unmissable.

Dates: 29th September – 3rd October
Time: 8:30pm
Venue: Main Theatre, Lithuanian Club, 44 Errol St, North Melbourne.
Tickets: Full $35, Concession $25, Cheap Tuesday $15
Bookings: www.melbournefringe.com.au, (03) 9660 9666, at the door.

REVIEW: Anya Anastasia in TORTE E MORT

Treat yourself

By Bradley Storer

Bedecked in a gorgeous 18th-century aristocratic French court gown topped by an appropriately extravagant wig, cabaret performer Anya Anastasia swanned elegantly through the audience at the Melba Spiegeltent, her entourage (comprised of one drummer and one back up singer) strewing her path with rose petals while she blew kisses and flirted with the crowd.

Torte e Mort

From this decadent entrance, Anastasia took the audience on a wild ride loosely inspired by the cautionary life of Marie Antoinette – under the direction of Sarah Ward (AKA cabaret provocateur Yana Alana) the journey spins delightfully towards the grave and beyond, bouncing with dark glee from musical tales of Antoinette’s extravagance to doom-riddled warnings from a certain ‘post-apocalyptic auctioneer’ who sells off the French queen’s post-mortem possessions.

Anastasia exudes an ecstatic sense of anarchy, whether it’s contorting her body to ridiculous lengths all the while still plucking out a melody on the piano, or executing a striptease that shifts compellingly between burlesque and a contemporary movement piece. The titular songs of cake and death, with drummer Bec Matthews expertly accompanying, run the gamut from manic and adrenaline-crazed elegies to the parties of the French aristocracy, black-hearted and jaunty tunes that recall Tom Waits at his most bleak, all the way to a simple and chilling ukulele tune about inevitable mortality. However, a section which pays visit to the devil and an ode to the advantages of self loathing, while entertaining, spins so far from the central topic of the show for reasons that are unclear that it almost seems unnecessary.

Overall Torte e Mort is a wildly inventive show that bursts with ferocious creative energy, drawing laughs one moment before chilling the blood the next – a delicious and bloody treat for lovers of cabaret!

Dates: Wednesday 16th September – Sunday 20th September
Venue: Melba Spiegeltent, 35 Johnston St, Collingwood
Time: 8:30pm (Wednesday 7:45pm)
Price: Full $25, Preview $15
Bookings: www.melbournefringe.com.au, 03 9660 9666, at the door.


Once in a blue moon

By Bradley Storer

Yana Alana, the internationally renowned self-proclaimed ‘cabaret provocateur’, returns to fortyfivedownstairs for a second season of her Helpmann Award-winning show Between the Cracks. The title of the show proves to be literal as well as metaphorical, as the cabaret diva (the alter-ego of performer Sarah Ward) emerges into the spotlight clothed in a coat of blue body paint, a dishevelled Marie Antoinette-worthy wig and nothing else.

Between the Cracks

Yana Alana is a narcissistic, self-absorbed and utterly irresistible creation, her feline grin and razor-sharp tongue making her seem (even completely naked) the most confident person in the world. Her vocals are perfection, ranging from a high classical soprano to a ballsy and bluesy belt in her lower range. Her accompanist, Louise Goh, provides the silent straight man to the flamboyant Yana, getting some of the biggest laughs of the night without moving a muscle.

The show itself, seemingly centred on the eternally self-involved Yana’s attempts at self-improvement, deliberately (and hilariously) pushes at the boundaries of acceptability, with songs on topics ranging from anal sex to the inability of celebrities and political figures to say the word ‘sorry’. Scattered throughout are chapters from Yana’s self-help book (whose name is unprintable here) and her witty and winning self-penned poetry. The journey to the show’s surprisingly touching ending, while making sense on an emotional level, is hard to trace intellectually, which makes one wonder if the show has a point or purpose at all – although with a star as charismatic as this, it hardly matters.

Don’t miss out on the return season of this ferociously talented, endlessly provocative and unquestionably hilarious cabaret performer!

Venue: fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne VIC 3000
Time: 7:30pm Tuesday- Saturday, 3pm Sunday
Dates: 16 – 21st December
Tickets: Table Seating $45, Full $42, Conc $35
Bookings: Online at www.fortyfivedownstairs.com, Phone: (03) 9662 9966

REVIEW: Between the Cracks with YANA ALANA

Simply scintillating

By Kate Boston Smith

Yana Alana’s much anticipated new show Between the Cracks for this year’s Melbourne Cabaret Festival grabs you by the soul and cradles you deep in her blue-clad bosom for the best part of an hour.

The diva within the diva is Sarah Ward: a woman who has a wicked smile with a wit you could set your watch to, and whose delectable use of language is only surpassed by her tremendous voice.

Yana Alana

Self proclaimed ‘feather-ruffler’, Yana Alana bares all and is unafraid to speak her mind about the failings of others and society around her.  She has the uncanny knack of twisting all of her ego foibles around, to the point where you would apologize to her, should she step on your toe in one of her many sojourns into her adoring audience.

An entirely original show, Yana’s fantastical poetry, vocal power and dominance of the room has you on the edge of your seat and soaking up every precious moment.  For it can be in the blink of a heavily fake-lashed eyelid that Yana will spin the show in a new direction, and can possibly and suddenly be sitting in your lap.

“Not a role model, but a model with rolls” – this is not a show for the faint-hearted.  Reading from her personally penned self-help book, Yana slaps you in the face with the realities of her world as an underappreciated performance artist/ writer/songstress and of course model citizen.  Songs such as ‘Box me In’ and ‘Some of the Queerest people I know are Straight” highlight our obsession with classification and how this passion for exclusion can cut us off from understanding one another more deeply.

As with most of Yana Alana’s shows, some of the favourite moments are those unscripted when things come slightly off the track.  An accidental breast in an unsuspecting face or microphone failure do not curtail this seasoned performer, but merely add to the internal rage that we so love to see played out before us.

Her spontaneous and pre-determined comedy moments and meltdowns are both hilarious and colourful, highlighting Ward’s impeccable understanding of timing and the beauty of self-deprecation.

With incredible direction by Annie Davey and a prolific support team, Between the Cracks could easily be lifted from our beloved 45downstairs and placed in the cabaret heart of New York or Berlin and received with respect and admiration without missing a beat.

If you are looking for a show to inspire and delight, or to show off to your friends your edgy taste in art, then Yana Alana’s Between the Cracks is the show for you.

Venue: 45downstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

Dates: 3 -7 July 2013

Times: 9.30pm Wed – Sat, 5.30pm Sun

Tickets: Full $35, Conc $30, Group 8+ $30