No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Category: Misc. Reviews

On my Shotgun Wedding


“I hope you don’t think I’m going to stop reviewing your work”, I said in my speech at our reception in East Melbourne’s St Peter’s Church. “Harshness is a cornerstone of marriage.”

To my left sat my new husband, playwright Anthony. In front of us in the church hall was everyone who had come out on that blustery Melbourne autumn day to see us married. I was probably half a bottle of champagne in, buoyed by nerves, and impressed with my ability to make a joke. Still, given the chance I scurried back to my seat to again giggle with my maid-of-honour Naomi and have another glass of champagne.

I was giddy. It’s the only word for it. I held a manic grin on my face all afternoon. All of these people had come out to celebrate us! There was so much joy in the air, I was wearing a beautiful dress, my nails were freshly painted navy blue to match Naomi’s dress, my make-up was done. I was married! This was my wedding day!

And yet, it wasn’t. Not really. Oh, I began to panic part way through the ceremony that perhaps it was my wedding. Perhaps I was actually going to marry Anthony. Were they going to ask us to sign a piece of paper? Could they arrange something like this for real? Could I refuse? Would that ruin the show? Or would I keep on saying yes just to play along with the rules of the game?

I certainly hadn’t intended to get married that day – or any day in any foreseeable future. It was the final day of Melbourne’s Next Wave Festival, and I had been eagerly awaiting No Show’s Shotgun Wedding. I’d met one of the directors, Bridget Balodis, the day before at Breakfast Club, and I’d thought of course it would have come up that I was a critic. Apparently not.

As we waited in the courtyard before the ceremony, Bridget asked if I would be interested in playing a role in today’s wedding. Sure, I said, thinking they’d pull me up to be a bridesmaid, perhaps. Mother-of-the-bride, maybe. But bride? It wasn’t until Anthony was pulled up to be the groom that I realised it would just be the two of us.

I was getting married.

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Thoughts: These are the People in your Neighbourhood

I first came across the work of Canadian performance company Mammalian Diving Reflex in 2010, when I walked into a Launceston hair salon to have my hair cut by an eleven-year-old boy. I was at Haircuts By Children, a work that sees primary-school aged children taught how to cut hair, and then gives them control over a salon for the day. They take bookings, sweep hair off the floor, and cut, colour, and even shave hair for a weekend. It’s slightly terrifying and mightily exhilarating. I’ve been excited by and following the company’s work ever since, and on Saturday I had the chance to see their work again.

With the Come Out Festival, Mammalian Diving Reflex has been working with students from Blair Athol North B-7 School on a tour of the shops in Kilburn for These are the People in Your Neighbourhood.

On arriving, we were each handed a small magazine sharing the title of the show, with articles and pictures about the people and places we were going to visit, all written by and drawn by the students. Along Prospect Road, we visited eight businesses, where each shop owner was interviewed by some of the kids and the floor was opened up to questions. There was fantastic generosity and good will from all of the people we visited: all excited to be sharing their lives with this community of students and the rest of the group that had come along for the journey. We were repeatedly invited to come back to the businesses, to say hello, to say “I saw you on These are the People in Your Neighbourhood.

The children all approached the presentation of the work with agency. Mammalian Diving Reflex created the artistic and physical frameworks for the performance to exist, but the performance itself feels to belong entirely to the children. While some may have looked to the ground while presenting, while some spoke softly even with a microphone, the show resolutely belonged to the children.

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Review: Ode To Nonsense

Slingsby's Ode To Nonsense, photo by Andy Rasheed

Nicholas Lester and cast. Photo by Andy Rasheed.

Previous to seeing and reviewing the show, I spent a significant amount of time with the company in rehearsal. You can read my documentation of that in parts one, two, and three. This experience undoubtedly coloured the way I saw the work, so take from this what you will.

Edward Lear (1812 – 1888) was one of the first writers to create work specifically for the entertainment of children. His nonsense drawings and writings have lived on, endearing themselves to many new generations of children, while his paintings and illustrations of wildlife and landscapes command ongoing respect from a whole different audience. Ode to Nonsense is an ode to the life of Lear, from Adelaide theatre company Slingby, in conjunction with the State Opera of South Australia.

A significant departure for the company, this work moves from the intimate work Slingsby are known for – both in terms of performers and audience – into a production with a cast of eighteen and an audience of 1000.

Walking into the old Her Majesty’s Theatre under a garland of green flags and fairy lights, director Andy Packer and designer Geoff Cobham have created a world that speaks from the same world of their previous works. With much of the usual suspects in the creative team, including Quincy Grant as the composer, visually and aurally the work seems to capture the spirit of Slingsby that has brought the company such acclaim. In Ode to Nonsense though, there is something that doesn’t quite gel, and we are left with a work that is curiously flat.

Lear (Nicholas Lester) has returned to his adopted home of San Remo with his perennial servant Giorgio (Adam Goldburn) to see his love Gussie (Johanna Allen) – not that he could ever admit to that. While Jane Goldney’s libretto has found moments of great heart in these scenes, and moments of joyous frivolity in the embracing of Lear’s nonsense, the gap between these moments is never truly bridged, and so audience members are never truly immersed in either world: Ode to Nonsense never reaches beyond the proscenium.

It’s a work that perhaps is captured in nearly-theres. In exploring the world of Lear and his friends, Goldney’s work alternately suffers from under-exposition, requiring a solid knowledge of Lear’s life and work, then over-exposition with too much stake in explanation placed in a single song. Taken in isolation, Goldney’s scenes under Packer’s careful touch of direction paint insightful snapshots of old friendships, of never embraced romance, of the triumph of embracing worlds and words that cannot be truly grasped or explained. Built up into a narrative, though, neither Goldney nor Packer have solved how to stop the strands unraveling.

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Fringe Review: Vioollusion


In the Garden of Unearthly Delights, just beyond the footbridge, is a shipping container, home to Vioollusion. We walk inside down to the long benches that run along its sides. At the end we entered in, the doors close on the hustle and bustle of the garden. At the other, now mostly obscured by darkness, a white screen.

Through the darkness light shines on a man, as he cradles his violin under his chin. The classical compositions are amplified as the notes from the strings bounce off the metal walls of the space, so that the music envelops the small crowd tightly packed on to the seats.

On the screen, a short movie plays out in scratchy black and white. We watch through the eyes of another as he goes about his day walking around his apartment. The bathroom, the desk and the note, the window to the outside world.

As story about a man who lives inside a violin, its presentation isn’t entirely successful. At the end of the twelve-minute show, we are told to look at the small studio as we file back out into the evening air. The video was being created live in the room with us. Given this information at the end, however, does the work no favours: for many in the audience, this simultaneous video production goes unnoticed, and so a significant level of the appreciation of the artistry in its real-time creation is lost.

When the music and the video best work together, such as when the bow over the strings creates music that swirls and grows on top of itself, and on the video we watch a piece of paper spin, a pencil slowly creating an outward spiral, there are moments of beauty. Yet there isn’t enough investment in creating a story that is by itself intriguing – the violin, particularly as it echoes in that space, is beautiful, and needs a story to compliment alongside it, or work along with it. More needs to be shared in the time and space within the shipping container, than just a relationship between the violin and a man who lives inside of one.

Vioollusion, created by Vincent De Rooij and Jacob Plooij. At The Garden of Unearthly Delights for the Adelaide Fringe until March 17. More information. Tickets at the door.

Fringe Review: A Modern Deception: Live To Air

A Modern Deception: Live To Air is a magic show, a comedy show, and a morning television show rolled into one. Magicians Alex de la Rambelje, Vyom Sharma and Luke Hocking appear on the live-to-air pre-morning show sitcom about magicians who are also lawyers, when they find out a) it has been cancelled and b) the hosts of the following morning show have died, so they will need to fill in.

The show sees the three men (with occasional cameos from stage manager Brendan Jelly) take over said morning show, and Magic Mornings, as it is now called, explores the tropes of morning television through magic: the news told through cards, the cooking segment which causes a cake to magically appear, the infomercial with ever multiplying wine bottles, the weather report crossing a trick from stage to video. Through a mixture of pre-recorded segments and live action, A Modern Deception gives us a fun laugh at morning shows, and genuine amazement at some magic tricks – and quite a few more spoiled by a childhood of reading magic books.

Director Danny Delahunty and script developer Max Attwood devised the work in conjunction with the magicians, but the work struggles to find its feet in the balance between the world of the morning show, and the “off air” conversations of commercial breaks. Through this construct, the show tries to have it both ways: be a traditional magic show with audience participation, while also playing around with the conventions of a morning show. While some of these tricks would be harder to shoehorn into the construct, in the end these off-air segments cheat the show.

On their own, these tricks are often funny and are well performed, but in a narrative show the team need to be a bit tighter in being faithful to the framing device. In the end, what we walk away from does indeed feel more like a magic show and less like a play. Which, in itself isn’t a bad thing – there is just room for there to be much more.

A Modern Deception: Live to Air, performed by Alex de la Rambelje, Vyom Sharma, and Luke Hocking, devised with director Danny Delahunty and developed and edited by Max Attwood. South and music by Tom Pitts; Stage Manager, Tech and Performer Brendan Jelly. In the Cupola at the Garden of Unearthly Delights until March 3. More information and tickets.

AdlFringe Review: The Candy Butchers

The Candy Butchers photo Jeff Busby

When we walk into the big top, our fingers slightly sticky, we’re already there with the world of the circus. Big Top, hanging trapeze, red curtains, sugar overload: we know the circus. We know what we’re going to expect.

The trouble, though, is The Candy Butchers professes to be a dark circus, something off the beaten track, not your ordinary circus show. It plays so easily into traditional circus, though, attempts to be something different are never truly realised.

The non-narrative work takes four loosely drawn characters for four performers and gives us traditional circus acts: there is the clowning, the trapeze, the hula-hoops, and the tests of strength through handstand. Perhaps most crucially, the work fails in truly being a dark production by how much the performers are joyous in their roles, and how much the social construct of applauding for physical feats and trickery still stands in the show.

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AdlFringe Review: The Unstoppable, Unsung Song of Shaky M


It’s an interesting question, I think, how much our knowledge of a work impacts our reactions to it and how we, as writers, have to measure these up in our responses. I’d seen One for the Ugly Girls in its original production, and while they didn’t make the review, many of my thoughts after the Adelaide Fringe production were concerning the differences that the casting, in particular, made to the presentation of the work.

I’d read Like a Fishbone several months before the Fringe season was announced, and had been familiar with the work even before that through reviews of the Sydney season.

Seeing …him for the second time I wasn’t quite as taken. While I still loved it, perhaps knowing its progression mean I couldn’t be taken on the same journey. I cried the first time: was that the work, or my slight homesickness?

The Unstoppable, Unsung Story of Shaky M was on in the Melbourne Fringe when I was there, and came recommended, but I couldn’t fit it into my schedule. I then saw Rowena Hutson speak on a panel [podcast dated 12/10/12] with several other fringe artists, where she spoke a bit about the show and her background. So I think it’s fair to say I knew quite a bit about the show going in.

And so after I penned down this review, I went to see what Jake Orr wrote about the work. He walked into the show largely blind, and we came out with very different responses. Perhaps, of course, our perspectives would have been exactly the same had our roles been reversed. Who knows? I do know this is why we need multiple voices writing about art. And I do know I’ll greatly miss having Jake in Adelaide to talk about such things.

But then, here I go, my thoughts. How much they’ll mould yours before or after meeting Shaky M, I don’t know.

The Unstoppable, Unsung Story of Shaky M is a small, gently humorous clowning piece about a young woman, Shaky M (Rowena Hutson). As the audience files in and takes their seats, she sits on stage, idly tracing her finger across the ground. Her right foot shakes. A constant jiggle in her ankle. It doesn’t stop shaking for the next hour, as Shaky M tells us her unsung story.

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Melbourne Fringe Review: Lessons With Luis – Luis Presents: Kidney Kingdom

“Hello, my name is Luis from Lessons With Luis”, the young man with the adorable smile, adorkable hair cut, love of cats, love of teaching, love of cats, love of comedy, love of cats, and amazing knitted jumper says, giving us a thumbs up.

We’re here today for Lessons With Luis – Luis Presents: Kidney Kingdom. Luis’s father needs a kidney operation, and to help raise money Luis has gone to where the money is: a fringe festival. Within this show about a show raising money for a kidney, we follow the story of Luis on his treacherous journey to Kidney Kingdom where kidney replacements can be found.

Luis is joined on stage by his father Len, in several supporting roles with the help of a music stand and script, and his silent brother Luelin, in charge of the props. If the show fails it’s all Luelin’s fault. Clearly.

Through this improbably hilarious show, we are treated to Luis’ most best jokes and improvisation, a lesson about anatomy, and journeys along the blue wooden road, on the train, through an ocean pursued by a shark, in conversation with a dinosaur, to the moon (which, shockingly, isn’t made out of cheese!), and, of course, past the gates of Kidney Kingdom.

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Briefs: Face to Face; Into The Dark

I’m not entirely sure when my life got so busy. Or, perhaps, how I used to fit it all in. I’m currently in Newcastle to speak on a panel called I Started A Blog … Now I’m a Critic for the Crack Theatre Festival as a part of This Is Not Art. Over the next fortnight, I will be in Melbourne, where I am producing Sepia in the Melbourne Fringe, and then it is down to Goolwa for the Regional Arts Australia conference Kumuwuki / Big Wave. I then have a couple of projects I’m working on when I’m back in Adelaide, that I can’t wait to share.

In light of this, I have edited down two pieces I worked on and then were relegated to the “to finish when I have time” pile. I know I can be rather less than brief, perhaps this is the start of a new experiment.

Face to Face was the second stage adaptation of an Ingmar Bergman film I saw this year. I unfortunately didn’t find the time or brain space to write about Persona at Theatre Works, but Alison Croggon does a wonderful job of capturing how the team took this story that was told originally in a film exploitative of the medium, into a play exploitative of its medium. In Face to Face co-adaptors Simon Stone and Andrew Upton approach from a similar place: taking the screenplay and not the film, they create a work which is of the theatre.

In Face to Face we watch the unraveling of the life, and subsequently the mind, of Jenny (Kerry Fox). Through the sparse set (Nick Schlieper), times and places roll over and into one another: the movement of sets on and off the stage in unison choreographed movement with the cast brings some of the most powerful visual images to the work.

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Fringe Review: Clown Lights Stage

In a mix up with the lecture theatres at Adelaide University, Alice Mary Cooper, of the University of Sydney, has been forced to present her APAM lecture in an abandoned room of the Tuxedo Cat. Her lecture, something way too intellectual for me to recall here, certainly has something to do post-modern and post-post-modern performance art in Australia as a process of six-months immersive practice. I simultaneously am horrified at the idea of sitting through such a presentation, and actually completely intrigued and know I would probably take time out of my day to listen.

It’s not to be, though. Alice searches through her bag, and realising she has left her notes in the car she asks us to just sit tight one moment. Outside we hear crash, bang, sirens. Silence.

The door at the rear of the theatre opens, and sliding along the wall, wavering smile under her red nose, is Clown (Cooper). A fan, perhaps of Alice, she is her to save the day and perform Alice’s lecture: if only she can face up to her audience.

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