Tag: Stephanie Lake

Malthouse Theatre Presents AWAY

An Australian fever-dream

By Leeor Adar

The Sydney Theatre Company/Malthouse collaboration of Michael Gow’s modern classic Away opens with Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream to stir the summer heat from the stage to warm this Melbourne audience in winter.


Matthew Lutton’s blaze through the Malthouse Theatre (and now as Artistic Director) has brought Melbourne audiences some extraordinary and outlandish theatre to feast upon in recent seasons. The announcement that Away would be on the banquet table for procuring no doubt left many theatregoers with a morbid curiosity. The matrimony between the rugged Australian summer depicted in Gow’s writing and director Lutton’s horror dream of dancing animal skulls somehow takes this classic to new contemporary heights. Yes, Dale Ferguson’s costume design keeps us well within the bounds of the 60s, but his set complies with the post-modern theatrics we’ve come to expect from the Malthouse under the gaze of Lutton. Lutton injects into Gow’s world a kind of dystopian synchronicity that plays out as the actors dance in formations together like glamourous zombies trying to forget their realities to Stephanie Lake’s choreography.

What we have depicted in Away is an Australia of then which is not that much different from the Australia of today. Everyone has high hopes for the Aussie dream, but even in the most comfortable homes the world outside will always rudely awaken us. What unites the families of Tom (Liam Nunan) and Meg (Naomi Rukavina), our high school would-be, could-be, not-be lovers, is the quiet sadness and acceptance of a life that was hard-won. The fear that something could steal the dream away lurks beneath the happy exteriors of (most) of Gow’s characters, and becomes a focal point of the play. That dream is already stolen from Roy (Glenn Hazeldine) and Coral (Natasha Herbert) through the loss of their son in the Vietnam War. Herbert’s Kim-Novak look-alike Coral continuously treads the line between reality and the past, slipping further and further away from the desperate grasp of her husband. Coral is not mad because Roy cannot control her; she is in such a deep state of grieving that the Aussie dream is well and truly lost for her. Herbert gives Coral a fluid naivety damaged by tragedy; her performance is one of the heart-breaking standout’s alongside Liam Nunan’s Tom.

Amongst the great pretenders are Vic (Julia Davis) and Harry (Wadih Dona) who manage to live in the moment as they watch their son Tom slip away from them due to his illness. We know the inevitability of grief will befall them, and they too may just stop smiling through their sadness and join Coral on her faraway shore.

In contrast we have the couple whose great tragedy is staying together, existing in a chronic state of unhappiness in which no holiday can salvage. Heather Mitchell’s Gwen is marvellously funny and annoying as her shrill voice drains her family of any moments of joy; a complacent husband Jim (Marco Chiappi) continues to accept his lot with a resigned shruggery. Their family is one blessed with health, but they are not untouched by the life of having lived as battlers-come-good. Gwen’s chronic state of stress is indicative of another kind of grief, one where a lifelong sacrifice for a future yet lived leaves traces of bitterness.

This is still a sensitive and poignant production by Lutton amidst the jarring devices of non-naturalism that threatens to break down the walls of their world. Audiences will be surprised from the outset of this play; if they are expecting a classic re-telling of Away they will be in for an awakening – but it really is a very good one.

Away will grace Melbourne audiences at the Malthouse Theatre until May 28th. Collect your tickets here: http://malthousetheatre.com.au/whats-on/away?gclid=Cj0KEQjwoqvIBRD6ls6og8qB77YBEiQAcqqHe6-xVP730ooUfRIBdx6VZ67CrJxYFl3Ytuu3-bHvzQcaAulB8P8HAQ

REVIEW: Chunky Move Presents AORTA

In the heat of a heartbeat

By Myron My

I’m always looking forward to award-winning choreographer Stephanie Lake’s next work. Having seen A Conversation Piece at Dance Massive in which she performed, and then her creation A Small Prometheus during Melbourne Festival this year, where both works pushed the limits of what dance can be in unexpected directions, I was expecting something big with the world premiere of Lake’s new piece: Aorta.

Chunky Move AORTA photo Jeff Busby

Instead, Lake has stripped Aorta back to basics. She uses three dancers (James Batchelor, James Pham and Josh Mu) to share her thoughts on how our interiors perform on the surface. Lake explores the notion of how blood moves and circulates throughout our systems and opens out into themes of mortality, growth and decay.

As with any work commissioned by Chunky Move, the performers themselves are of a high caliber. Batchelor, Pham, and in particular Mu remain highly committed and execute some intricate and impressive moves. They work extremely well together when remaining dynamically in sync with each other, but then also excel when performing solo parts. Pham’s segment towards the finale was a firm highlight of Aorta.

Keeping in line with this minimalist approach, the costuming by Shio Otani has the dancers wearing costume pieces constructed of thick rope, providing the imagery of veins running through the body. The sound composition and lighting by Robin Fox is also effective, with the sounds heard being reminiscent of hearts beating, blood pumping and life itself.

Despite all these elements coming together so well, I did leave feeling comparatively unfulfilled with Aorta. Perhaps it was because of my previous encounters of Lake’s work where so many aspects of the production are used to capacity to create strong emotional environments and moods. It’s still an interesting and unique piece but not something that I will remember as strongly as her others.

Venue: Chunky Move Studios, 111 Sturt St, Southbank

Season: Until 30 November | 7:30pm, Sat 2:00pm

Tickets: $30 Full | $20 Conc

Bookings: http://www.chunkymove.com.au

Review: CONVERSATION PIECE at Dance Massive

Dancers and actors blend – and battle…

By Myron My

In Lucy Guerin’s Conversation Piece, three people appear on stage and have an eight-minute conversation which is recorded using a trusty iPhone. This conversation is different each night and is completely improvised. From there, that conversation is played on loop that creates various experiences for the six performers and audience members through acting and dance.


The dancers (Stephanie Lake, Alisdair Macindoe and Byron Perry) have great fluidity in their movements and were great to watch dancing together. There were a few moments that lacked synchronicity but as a whole, it was pretty hard to take our eyes away from them. Likewise, the three actors (Matthew Whittet, Katherine Tonkin and Megan Holloway) seemed completely at ease in their roles. What was of interest to me was having the performers doing the opposite of what they were trained in. You could see the obvious level of skill that the dancers possessed over the actors and vice versa yet they all held their own with strong commitment to what they were creating.

In the performance I attended, the standout work was the pairing of Macindoe and Whittet. Their combined efforts using the earlier conversation to create a ‘new’ one, and the dancing that then came from that was highly enjoyable as was its later intensity. Furthermore Tonkin’s improvised stinging speech to Lake using the original conversation as inspiration was amazing to watch with heightened tension thanks to lighting designer, Damien Cooper.

Conversation Piece doesn’t go where you initially think it will – this is its strength. What begins as a light and humorous conversation does take a few dark turns and the last few minutes are particularly sinister which leaves you with a feeling that these two art forms – dancing and acting – cannot co-exist. They both need to be in control, to be the leader, as if they are rival gangs fighting for turf. This mood crept up on me but then hit me quite suddenly and took me to some unexpected places. Conversation Piece is playing as part of the  contemporary dance festival Dance Massive and despite its grim outcome, creates a beautiful fusion between dance and performance.

Venue: Arts House, Meat Market, 5 Blackwood Street, North Melbourne

Season: Until 24 March | 8:30pm, Sat 2:00pm

Tickets: $25 Full | $20 Concession

Bookings: www.dancemassive.com.au