Tag: Theatreworks

Don’t Look Away Presents FRANKENSTEIN

Snapshots of modern horror

By Owen James

Don’t Look Away’s modern-day production of Frankenstein presents the classic tale reinterpreted to face issues of tolerance, diversity, sanctuary and acceptance.

Frankenstein Image by Sarah Walker.jpg

The horror of this Frankenstein comes not from a fictional, gothic world, but from the mirror that this production holds to the horrors of contemporary Western society. We are asked to reflect on our own place in the world, as Frankenstein’s monster desperately tries to find its own.

The stripped-back script by Lally Katz (after Mary Shelly) presents us with every necessary moment for plot development, but no more. Within a tight 65 minutes, the familiar but gargantuan story is totally reinvented for a modern audience, and then thrown at us in a series of fast-paced vignettes of both drama and comedy, with the themes and characters given a welcome priority. Director Phil Rouse ensures these vignettes are seamlessly connected, finding the thematic flow between sharp bubbles of action and moments of heightened dramatic tension.

The choice of Chantelle Jamieson as The Creation is a compelling and powerful one, her gender and ethnicity intrinsically linked to the thematic content of both the play and the character. She presents a Creature not unlike a possible young woman of today – lost in a confusing world without guidance – and draws every bit of intertextuality out of the text possible, ensuring the audience is left both uncomfortable and amused. With mesmerising stage presence in every scene, it is unmistakably her journey we are following.

The titular Victor himself is presented through an incredibly physical performance by Michael McStay. This Victor is not an arrogant scientist but a man as lost and confused as his own creation. Although presenting levels of both eye-opening physicality and balanced subtlety, McStay’s dramatic side could not always match his natural affinity for comedy.

Their performances are joined with beautifully timed assistance from Martin Quinn as the onstage assistant. Some of the best comedic moments came from the presence of Quinn’s movement or assistance onstage, and I would almost love to have seen more from this quirky addition.

The bold and inventive sound design by Neil McLean creates the perfect atmosphere, and also adds to the comedy of the piece with the synthetic texture of pulsing 80’s beats. Lighting by Richard Whitehouse is evocative and resourceful, matched by sets and costumes by Martelle Hunt, which are simple but incredibly effective.

When exposed and stripped back, the themes and characters of Frankenstein are hauntingly relevant to modern issues prevalent worldwide. The uncompromising sharp wit of Don’t Look Away’s tight production ensures these themes will continue to turn around in your mind long after you leave the theatre. Ultimately we are faced with a question of acceptance, and a challenge to embrace the ignored.

Frankenstein runs at TheatreWorks in St Kilda until July 29, tickets through theatreworks.org.au

Image by Sarah Walker

THE RABBLE Presents JOAN

Magnificent

By Myron My

It was only a matter of time before experimental feminist theatre company THE RABBLE decided to take on the life of Joan of Arc, the woman who helped France win the war over Orléans and was later burnt at the stake for heresy and cross-dressing. Twenty-five years after her death however, she was declared innocent of her crimes by the courts and was canonised in 1920. Her struggle and persecution is something that still resonates with us today, and with a fierce and poignant feminist perspective on her story, co-creators Kate Davis and Emma Valente bring her plight into a contemporary spotlight.

Joan.jpg

The show begins with a projection of an eye onto a scrim at the front of the stage. While it originally challenges the audience, there is a vulnerability and apprehension to the blinking eye that lingers in the room. The sound of burning logs and crackling wood as it continues to stare into the audience further builds on the unease and hints at what is to come. While we may know the story of Joan of Arc, there are still plenty of surprising and gripping moments to unfold in this production.

Joan‘s non-linear narrative structure explores significant moments in  life including her visions of angels and saints, the examination she underwent to ensure her virginity was intact, and her execution by fire – spectacularly and awfully brought to life on stage. These vignettes are used as a way of exploring not only Joan’s power and persecution, but also that of all women. The focus is not war or history but the person – the woman – and THE RABBLE construct a strong and commanding voice and presence for their protagonist through the evocative performances from its highly talented and dedicated cast.

The four Joans (Luisa Hastings Edge, Emily Milledge, Dana Miltins, and Nikki Shiels) initially appear behind the scrim of Davis’ set, with flashes of light illuminating them or capturing them briefly before the stage is enveloped by darkness once more. The music and Valente’s lighting create a haunting rhythm which, when paired with her adept direction of the cast with their ritualistic prayer-like movements, fills the room with a supreme intensity, emphasising the devout faith held by Joan.

The projections designed by Martyn Coutts are effectively used (particularly during the character’s aforementioned visions and examination), which allows for various complex feelings and thoughts to be cleverly depicted by the various Joans, complemented by the flawless lighting and sound effects.

While there are no authentic representations of what Joan looked like, in casting four women to play her, Joan allow her to embody womankind. While the only documents that exist of her speaking are those from her trial, this superb production expresses powerful words, emotions and ideas from and to her, and by extension, offers a voice to women across time.

Venue: Theatreworks, 14 Acland St, St Kilda 
Season: Until 30 April | Wed – Sat 7:30pm, Sun 5pm 
Tickets: $38 Full | $30 Conc 
Bookings: Theatreworks

Image by David Paterson

Playback Productions Presents THE WEDDING SINGER

Joyous nostalgia and amazing mullets beckon

By Jessica Cornish

Growing up idolising Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore in the 1998 motion picture that inspired this musical, I was a little sceptical as to how it would translate onto the stage, but from the moment the lights went up I was hooked. Playback’s production of The Wedding Singer was vibrant, energetic, hilarious and oozed with the colourful spirit of the 80s.

the-wedding-singer

Composed by Matthew Sklar, with lyrics by Chad Beguelin, and a book by Beguelin and Tim Herlihy, The Wedding Singer’s music is what you’d expect, a contemporary/pop musical laced with incredibly catchy melodies – and don’t worry, Adam Sandler’s infamous songs from the motion picture are both there! And if you like gory 80s’ chiffon dresses, plastic crucifixes and curls, this musical has you covered. Stand-out musical items of the night were “It’s Your Wedding Day” and “Casualty of Love” which had electric music and really fun, high-energy movement using a diverse ensemble.

The main cast were all terrific in achieving the difficult task of recreating well-known characters from the screen while bringing their own twist to it. Lead sweethearts, played by Leighton Irwin (Robbie Heart) and Katlin O’Keene (Julia Sullivan) were well cast.  Irwin brought a constant high level of energy to his performance whilst belting out pitch perfect notes, and Sullivan had beautiful warmth to her voice and a gentle stage presence that contrast well to her 80s counterparts. The supporting roles were equally excellent and special mention needs to be made of the musical and comedic skills of Dion Kaliviotis (Sammy), Rosie Alexander (Linda), and my personal favourite, the sassy and flamboyant Danny Nercessian (George).

With such a strong performance this means an equally strong production team. Monica Cioccia needs to be commended for her excellent role as director, similarly musical director Allan Hessey for ensuring a night of strong vocal performances supported by impressive live musicians. And of course what good is an 80s’ musical without some dancing? Grace Madderm was the hard-working production choreographer and also played the promiscuous and bubbly Holly.

Unfortunately, there were a lot of sound issues through the entire opening night, which was frustrating for audience and cast alike, no doubt. It was a shame as some key vocal lines were lost to white noise, or were overpowered by the band when microphones would completely cut out. There were a few missed lighting cues and performers not finding their light, however I am confident as the performers and tech crew continue the run, these initial issues will soon iron themselves out.

This is such an incredibly fun and entertaining musical at a intimate venue hidden away on Acland St, St Kilda. Defiantly worth squeezing into your busy schedule!

Venue: Theatre Works, 14 Acland St, St Kilda

Date: 14 Oct 2016 – 23 Oct 2016
Time: Thu to Sat 7.30pm & Sat/Sun 1pm
Price: $38 full / $36 conc / $34 group 10+ [plus booking fee]

Bookings: Please call 03 9534 3388

Daniel Tobias in THE ORCHID AND THE CROW

A warm and witty look at life and brush with death

By Myron My

Our twenties are generally spent figuring out who we are and what we want to get out of life. At 29, Daniel Tobias just wanted to live. Diagnosed with stage-four testicular cancer, with stage five being death, Tobias faced a long and scary battle, and despite the cancer having spread to his abdomen, lungs and neck at one point, it has been a battle he has been winning for the last twelve years. In The Orchid and the Crow, Tobias retells significant moments from this experience through a variety of songs, music and performance.

The Orchid and the Crow.jpg

From the instant he appears on stage, it would be hard not to like Tobias. He is very affable and while there is a cheeky grin to him, there is also a vulnerability that he displays to the audience. Moreover, the show’s constant dynamic style and story switching – from a rock song about his parents falling in love to a retelling of how he was diagnosed to even an ode to his fallen testicle in Italian – keeps his audience engaged the whole time.

In the early part of the show, Tobias focuses on his “religious” upbringing: being an atheist Jew who ate bacon and celebrated Christmas. There are some light-hearted moments but with the well-placed hospital curtains as stage backdrop, there is a distinct sense of something looming. Given the show’s premise, it’s of course no surprise what this is. However it still feels like a bomb has been dropped when his story reaches his diagnosis, upon which the latter part of the show focuses.

Tobias raises some interesting points about life and beliefs, but after that dramatic turning point in the narrative, I felt that there needed to be a stronger link or call back with the initial religious aspects of his show. Furthermore, while the Italian song is executed brilliantly with the projected animations and surtitles, I wonder if it could have had even more impact had it been sung in Hebrew and thus tie in better with the story.

It feels wrong to say I enjoyed The Orchid and the Crow, given the nature of the show and the experience that Tobias has had, but it is enjoyable, and is a testament to his performance and writing skills that there are plenty of laughs to be had. It may even be the reminder call you need to re-evaluate what is important in your life, regardless of how old you may be.

Venue: Theatreworks, 14 Acland St, St Kilda

Season: Until 15 May | Tues – Sat 8:00pm, Sun 5pm

Tickets: $35 Full | $25 Conc

Bookings: Theatreworks

REVIEW: Little Ones Theatre Presents DRACULA

Bloody and beguiling

By Myron My

Little Ones Theatre is back with bite in their nearly all-female, silent production of Stoker’s classic 1897 gothic horror story Dracula. It is a brilliant homage to previous cinematic adaptations of the novel, with nods to Bela Legosi, Gary Oldman and Catherine Deneuve, while also including the company’s trademark exploration of sexuality and queerness.

Dracula - Amanda McGregor and Zoe Boeson -photo by Sarah Walker

The seductive Dracula is ‘brought to life’ by Alexandra Aldrich and Catherine Davies, with Davies playing a more youthful transformation of the bloodsucker. As one expected with films made during the silent era, on-screen performances need to be more emphatic and expressive, and on stage, Aldrich and Davies (like the rest of the cast) do not falter. Under the strong direction of Stephen Nicolazzo, their movements and actions are large and telling while still maintaining a menacing air of mystery around Dracula.

Janine Watson as Jonathan Harker, Mina Murray’s fiancé, who in turn is the obsession of Dracula, convincingly shows the emotional turmoil her character goes through, beginning with his initial hapless meeting with the Count. The only male cast member, Kevin Kiernan Molloy certainly nails it (so to speak) as vampire hunter Van Helsing. Molloy portrays him with much bravado and machismo as here to save the day, but ultimately it is he who poses a threat to those around him; intriguing in this case, he is shown to be the destabilising force.

All the various stage elements of this production seamlessly come together and work extremely well in supporting each other. Katie Sfetkidis‘ dramatic lighting design is a highlight with some memorable moments created from its play with darkness and shadows. Along with Daniel Nixon‘s original score, the emotion of both music and light heighten the tension as the story builds to its climatic conclusion. The sparkling all-black stage design by Eugyeene Teh paired with Tessa Leigh Wolffenbuttel Pitt’s and Teh’s mostly black-and-white costume designs pay further homage to the silent film era.

The Little Ones Theatre‘s winning streak of creating unique theatrical experiences therefore continues here with this production of Dracula. While we may be familiar with the gothic and erotic nature behind the famous story, the striking camp and queer elements the company explores ensures that this retelling retains a high level of surprises and entertainment for audiences.

Venue: Theatreworks, 14 Acland St, St Kilda

Season: Until 14 November | Wed- Sat 8:00pm

Tickets: $35 Full | $25 Conc

Bookings: Theatreworks

Image by Sarah Walker

REVIEW: Joe Lui in LETTERS HOME

Sharing the contents of letters unsent

By Christine Young

Letters Home is playing at Theatre Works at the same time as Saltwater: both plays are presented by performance-makers, Joe Lui and Jamie Lewis respectively, who hail from Singapore and have made Australia home. They are vastly different theatre pieces in many respects but share themes of self-discovery and vulnerability.

Letters Home

Joe Lui has been a writer, director and sound designer in Perth for several years. Letters Home is his first outing in front of an audience. Lui wouldn’t describe himself, or actors in general, as brave. He says bravery belongs to nurses. But maybe he won’t mind if I call him gutsy. And audacious. Letters Home is warts-and-all storytelling, and it takes gumption to lay yourself bare to 24-odd strangers then hope like hell they’ll appreciate you.

Lui is also warrior-like, not just because of his warrior play-acting, but also because he has overcome great adversity.
Lui’s unsent letters to his parents are about why he decided to stay in Australia after completing his degree at Murdoch University in Perth. In part, going to Perth was a way to temporarily put off three years’ compulsory military service. That was seven years ago. Lui’s decision to stay in Australia means he will never return to Singapore or see his parents again.

There is so much more to Lui’s story than escaping the rigidity of life in Singapore. He paints a stark, sometimes harrowing, picture of his childhood in Singapore through poignant, touching verbal letters to his parents on stage left, and in monologues addressed directly to the audience. The picture is also coloured with streaks of joy, hope and pluck. Lui speaks effusively about Australia, theatre and his two passions –art and sex – with humour, pathos and light self-deprecation.

However, he still feels the remnants of an abusive childhood which hint towards depression and anxiety. He simultaneously loves his parents and rages against them.

Letters Home is an insightful glimpse into Singapore society weaved into stories and letters that reveal Lui’s transition into manhood and identity. Overall, he gives a strong performance but there were moments where Lui seemed to falter which I put down to beginner’s nerves rather than lack of ability. There were many times when he nailed a casual conversational style of banter which belies a man to be both reckoned with and delight in.

Venue: Theatre Works, 14 Acland St, St Kilda
Dates: Until July 12, 2015
Tickets: $30 Full / $25 Conc (plus booking fee) Saltwater / Letters Home Double Bill – purchase a ticket to both shows for only $50 full price or $40 concession.
Bookings: www.theatreworks.org.au

WARNING: Contains smoke effects, strong language and adult themes including suicide. If you or someone you know are in crisis, you can speak with someone right now.
The Lifeline Support Helpline is available 24 hours a day: phone 13 11 14.

Image by Simon Pynt

REVIEW: Jamie Lewis in SALTWATER

Serving up a charming and cultural delight

By Christine Young

Saltwater is an innovative one-woman show from Jamie Lewis who gives the audience a taste of Singaporean cuisine and culture. In 2012, Lewis’s The Stream/ The Boat/The Shore/The Bridge/, created with Dan Koop & Co., received a Green Room Award for Outstanding Production – Creative Agency for Audiences.

Saltwater

This is not surprising.

Saltwater is a gentle and thoughtful theatre experience like no other. Fifteen audience members, guests really, are invited to prepare and eat a traditional Eurasian meal with Lewis. Master Chef this ain’t, so don’t worry, guests are only asked to perform a simple task. In fact, the Saltwater concept and purpose are a refreshing antithesis to the hectic, competitive nature of reality TV cooking shows.

Saltwater is designed to engage all of our senses for a truly visceral encounter. This is a chance to stop, look and listen and enjoy being in the present moment. Lewis creates a relaxed atmosphere, from the background music to subtle decorations, and due to her relaxed style of speaking. Nothing seems particularly contrived. Most of it is, of course. But that’s a mark of outstanding theatre: making the planned look and feel natural.

Lewis encourages guests to talk about their relationship with cooking and culture, though you aren’t forced to speak or interact. It’s not group therapy. Observing and letting everything flow over you is perfectly fine. Conversations lead into invisible segues for autobiographical monologues from Lewis. She covers the experience of growing up in Singapore, under the shadow of her mother’s cooking and kitchen, which expands into contemplation of her parents’ courting days and 35-year marriage.

Lewis also talks about her three-year marriage to an Australian lad, starting with the safe territory of dinner parties, then moving into how newly weds negotiate marriage through love, death, triumphs and differences. These are not simply put down to cultural differences. Lewis recognises that our relationships are informed by all of our relationship experiences from the day we take a breath.

I felt privileged to be part of Saltwater. Lewis is a gracious, friendly and frank host who gives you a peek inside her private world in a way that makes you feel right at home.

Venue: Theatre Works, 14 Acland St, St Kilda
Dates: Until July 12, 2015
Tickets: $30 Full / $25 Conc (plus booking fee) Saltwater / Letters Home Double Bill – purchase a ticket to both shows for only $50 full price or $40 concession.
Booking: www.theatreworks.org.au

Image by Sarah Walker

REVIEW: Midsumma Festival Presents BAD ADAM and PONY

Religion and evolution collide

By Myron My

On the surface, the double bill of Bad Adam and Pony during this year’s Midsumma Festival appears to be constrasting highly different pieces of work with distinct moods and tones. However both these shows leave us questioning what it means to be a gay man and how gay male sexuality is perceived both by society – but more importantly – by us.

Bad Adam_Pony

In Bad Adam, the title character (creator and performer Dosh Luckwell) spends his time in “Club Eden”, a sex on-premises venue, where we follow his various experiences and are privy to his thoughts during these moments. The overt religious imagery and themes throughout Bad Adam, such as the apples, the lit-up cross on the floor and our protagonist’s name for example, worked well in subtly exploring the idea of sexual repression and suppression and the conflict the two forms of pressure often present with each other.

Given Luckwell is the creator of the live art project Sex Poetry Booth, it is not surprising he has a way with words and the language used and the way it is presented in Bad Adam is indeed quite poetic and intriguing at times. Yet while we see a vulnerable, lonely and conflicted side to Adam, a number of scenes were too similar in execution. This lessened the impact of the overall work and impeded us in retaining an interest in Adam which, in a one-man show, is pivotal to its success.

The second part of this double bill, Jay Robinson’s Pony, looks at similar ideas of sex and sexuality but with fewer dark overtones than Bad Adam. Here, we see the evolution of man and then more specifically the evolution of a person exploring and experimenting and with his own sexuality.

Robinson has a strong presence on stage and this helps with his demanding physical performance. He uses his body to its full extent and fully commits to the moment, however there are a number highly obscure scenes that left me confused as to their purpose and significance, such as the moment when Robinson transforms into a dog.

The final moments of Pony though are quite positive and playful and the idea that once you are at ease with yourself and can be what you want to be, then there’s no reason to not feel complete and free.

Both Bad Adam and Pony offer some interesting thoughts and ideas on gay male sexuality but I felt they need to focus more on how they share these thoughts and ideas. With further development, these two pieces have the potential to be a profound commentary on the society and an important voice for the community in which gay men live.

Venue: Theatreworks, 14 Acland St, St Kilda.
Season: Until 7 February | Fri 9pm, Sat 3pm and 7pm
Tickets: $23 Full | $18 Concession
Bookings: www.midsumma.org.au, http://www.theatreworks.org.au, or 9534 3388

REVIEW: Midsumma Festival’s THE BIG GAY CRUISE

All aboard this maritime musical

By Myron My

What could be more fun than a gay cruise? Nothing, according to engaged couple Alex and Ben and their best men, Stephen and Anthony, as they board a gay cruise ship for one final hoorah before their nuptials. Being performed as part of the 2015 Midsumma Festival, it’s fun, sexy and camp laughs in David Peake‘s original musical The Big Gay Cruise, directed by Leigh Barker and presented by Adam J. Lowe.

The Big Gay Cruise

With Alex and Ben (Brenton Cosier and Will Atkinson) soon to be married and their wedding day approaching, insecurities and fear are heightened for the characters. I would have loved to see more focus on this storyline in Peake’s script and an exploration of the secret that is revealed in the second act rather than splitting off to various sideline stories for the support cast. These characters may have had some genuinely funny moments, but I was not as emotionally invested in their story as I was about Alex and Ben’s. I felt more focus on the central couple would have kept the narrative more entertaining, with a stronger pay-off at the end.

The impact of the music raises a similar issue, with many songs not progressing the story, and creating the impression they are mostly filler, such as “The Locker Room” and “My Suite”. Despite being saddled with these unnecessary numbers, most of the cast are strong singers and do exceptionally well with their solo songs. Cosier in particular does an exemplary job when singing, and seems to be in his element during these moments.

The funniest part of The Big Gay Cruise would belong to Ben Paine as the sexually adventurous Anthony, and his song “Strength Inside of Me”, which Paine performs with great comedic expression and timing. However, it is Samuel Kitchen as Stephen who steals the show with “That Happy,” his emotional song of love lost and missed opportunities. This is where Peake’s songwriting skills excel, alongside other striking numbers about life and love such as “There’s A Boy” and “Just A Little Bit”.

Overall, there is little clarity on whose story this is, and thus the relationship between the audience and the inferred “hero” of this musical, Alex, needs to be strengthened. The Big Gay Cruise definitely has enough laughs and a committed cast to prevent this ship from sinking but the script and score do require more fine-tuning.

Venue: Theatreworks, 14 Acland St, St Kilda.
Season: Until 1 February | Tues – Sat 7:30pm, Sat 3pm, Sun 6pm
Tickets: $39 Full | $35 Concession
Bookings: www.midsumma.org.au, http://www.theatreworks.org.au, or 9534 3388

REVIEW: Little Ones Theatre Presents THE HOUSE OF YES

Dysfunctional comedy all in the family

By Myron My

It took me exactly 37 seconds to realize that I was going to be in pure bliss watching Little Ones Theatre‘s production of The House Of Yes, a bizarre yet hilariously witty play by Wendy Macleod.

The House of Yes_Photo Credit_ Sarah Walker Photography

It’s Thanksgiving in 1983, and Marty (Benjamin Rigby) has returned home with his fiancée Lesly (Anna McCarthy). As we meet the rest of the family – his mentally unstable and Kennedy-obsessed twin sister “Jackie O” (Genevieve Giuffre), younger brother Anthony (Paul Blenheim) and matriarch, Mrs. Pascal (Josh Price, in a superb casting decision) – the domestic Pandora’s box is well and truly opened in this satirical play on class, incest and mental illness.

For the most part, Giuffre succeeds in bringing out the fragility and loneliness in the challenging role of Jackie O but it is the scenes involving McCarthy and Blenheim that allow for a deeper honesty and vulnerability to be present. Unfortunately I was not at all convinced by Rigby’s performance as Marty, who really only shines in his scenes with Giuffre which are filled with an infinite amount of palpable sexual chemistry.

Price as Mrs. Pascal is truly an unusual choice, but at the same time a perfect decision to convey the dysfunctional ties of the family, and personify the desires and morals that otherwise seem to be lacking in the Pascal household.

Director Stephen Nicolazzo has done a great job in crafting the pace and delivery in The House of Yes, and there is never a dull moment on stage. The set and lighting design of the Pascal home further articulates the misguided values and the mindset of a family that is caught up in its own bourgeois reality. Eugyeene Teh’s all-pink set contrasts with the darkness that envelops the family, and the lighting by Katie Sfetkidis successfully builds the tension towards the climatic final scene, even with all the laughs and antics.

Little Ones Theatre have managed to bring their own unique touch to this compelling story of a family whose desires and wishes to lead the lives they want only ends in devastation for themselves and each other. The House of Yes gets a resounding yes from me.

Venue: Theatreworks, 14 Acland St, St Kilda.

Season: Until 13 December | Tues – Sat 8:00pm

Tickets: $30 Full | $25 Concession

Bookings: 9534 3388 or http://www.theatreworks.org.au