No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Melbourne

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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Melbourne Fringe Review: … him

This review contains minor spoilers.

He reads newspapers.

He hoards newspapers.

He re-enacts newspaper stories.

He re-creates the weather.

He does the crosswords.

He lives alone.

He lives alone, behind a locked door, in his room of newspapers. Newspapers pile on top of each other in stacks around the room. Important pages are stuck to the walls. Certain pages from certain sections have their place. Every day, the new paper is delivered through the slot in the door.

In this space, he finds joy. Great joy, sometimes. He reads every page of every paper every day. He knows what’s going on in the world. He’s just not quite part of it.

But in the room, sometimes there is loneliness. Sadness. Sometimes the news isn’t enough of a companion.

…. him from New Zealand artist Barnie Duncan is an uplifting, hilarious show which had the audience laughing uproariously, but then the work turns to find great pathos.

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Melbourne Fringe Review: Choir Girl

Choir politics, it seems, are a very big deal.

Which choir you’re in; who they accept and who they reject; their history; their venue; their accompanist; what section of the choir you are in; what food you bring; how much you rehearse; who gives whom a carpool.

Anything I’ve missed? Dozens of things, I’m sure.

Sarah Collins’ Choir Girl is a somewhat befuddling look into the world and the politics of choirs, of being an outsider, and of finding spaces for the lonely. A one-woman show, it is at its core, a small and simple story about Susan (alto) joining a new prestigious choir two bus trips away, while struggling to fit in amongst the other women of the choir and desperately fantasising about the accompanist.

This seemingly simple, one-woman show, though, is far from small. Joining Collins on the small stage in the Lithuanian Club Ballroom is an ensemble of fifteen women making up the choir: making this a small story epically told.

Collins’ Susan is earnest and heartwarming in all the right ways, while also being dark and incredulously manipulative. Incredibly dorkily invested in choir, slightly socially awkward, judgmental, and slightly lacking in empathy and social awareness, Collins nonetheless manages to pull of a character that, if we’re not exactly rooting for her, we’re still in some way cheering her on. This choral world – which to me is entirely foreign – becomes a refuge for the lonely Susan: a place where she can blend perfectly in as a good choir girl should, but you get the idea she feels she is so good at blending in she is probably the best at blending in, and so she is probably the best in all circumstances.

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Melbourne Fringe Review: More Intimate Than

Those of us who sit around the table tonight have been selected. We’ve been watched. Observed. Chosen because we are just the right balance of people who might – just might – remember. We might be able to be reminded. And when we’re reminded, when we remember, we might – just might – help someone else remember.

In a street-front gallery on Brunswick St sits a little house built of sheets. Solid sheets and lace sheets drape over the long dining table, windows quilted into the fabric. As we enter the gallery and wait to enter the house, through the curtains we watch as a woman, Punzel (Laura Jane Emes), is in the house setting the table: counting and recounting plates, adjusting their alignment although they remain always crooked. There is a slight air of discomfort as we wait: has the show begun yet? Should I be looking through into the space? Is it okay to speak?

When all of the guests have arrived, however, we are invited into the space and directed to a take a seat. There is a seat reserved for Punzel’s mother, and a seat reserved for Punzel’s father, while the rest of the seats reserved for us.

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Review: The Seizure

Written and directed by Benedict Hardie, The Seizure is nothing more than a tiny glance into a tiny fraction of giant story. Wars rage; teams of men conspire; battlefields are filled with the fighting and the dead; streets are filled with the starving. And then, alone on an island is Philoctetes (Christopher Brown); left to rot, his foot literally, after being bit by a serpent and abandoned by his crew ten years earlier. On the island, he is kept company only by a crow (HaiHa Le).

It has been prophesied that the only way the war will be won is at the hands of Neoptolemus (Naomi Rukavina), Philoctetes, and his bow and arrow. Odysseus (Brian Lipson) and Neoptolemus sail to the island to recover Philoctetes, and his arrow.

The Seizure shows us this: two people on a rock in ocean, Neoptolemus trying to convince Philoctetes to return and end the war. We are shown what could almost be relegated to a footnote, and, indeed, it is almost presented as such. Lipson opens for us with a prologue of all that came before, and ends with an epilogue of all that is to come. We are offered nothing more than a cursory glance at a point in the middle.

Even within the production things are sparse. There is much left unsaid in Hardie’s text: the play is almost as much about the pauses as about the words. The stage (designer Zoe Rouse): a continuous drop of white falling from the ceiling to the foot of the playing area, punctuated with smears of black ink and only dressed with props which are essential, also embraces the emptiness. The play, a story between stories, embraces the communication outside of words, what is said with empty space.

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A Next Wave wrap up: Perhaps we’ll see how little we see

So I went to Melbourne for nine days.

I saw much more art than I ever expected too. I wrote much less that I planned. Scribbles in notebooks don’t count. I did go on the radio, though.

I saw thirteen Next Wave visual art and/or sound exhibitions/works over twenty-two different locations; seven with some kind of performance element. I saw eighteen Next Wave performance/dance/theatre works. The lines between types of works are almost all blurred, and I’ve no doubt you would count differently than me.

I saw two visual art exhibitions and two theatre works which weren’t connected to Next Wave – I could have chosen from dozens more. I only found the time to listen to two of the five audio plays from the Living Cities Tours. I don’t think you could say I even scraped the surface of the Emerging Writers Festival.

I went to Breakfast Club nine times for nine days. Some days I was more present than others. I spent four nights dancing to DJs at Wake Up. I went to one official feminist dinner and one official feminist breakfast. I went to Bone Library four times, and then found myself shackled with fear of responsibility and couldn’t take one home. I went to one closing night party, two after parties, and then got straight on a plane back home.

I acted in a TV cop show; I had my first manicure; I paddled a boat across the Yarra, I hugged one stranger, and I had my photograph taken with another; I got married in what is still revealing itself to be one of the most emotionally complex works I have ever been a part of; I went into space twice; I wore headphones a lot.

I saw work which I am still struggling to unpack, to understand, to find the vocabulary for, to explain. I saw how little I see.

I met and re-met some of the most inspiring staff, interns, volunteers, artists, residents, and audience members. I really did feel embedded in the culture. I hope you all stay in touch.

Given the choice between seeing work and writing about work, I chose the former. Back home, it’s time to choose the latter. I’ll be writing about the festival for RealTime, so the balance between writing for the publication and writing for the blog will take some time to reveal itself to me as I begin to type. Expect much more from me, though.

Thanks to everyone involved.

It was truly remarkable.

I am overjoyed.

Adelaide’s Lament: Pent-up Frustrations

However much I talk about youth issues in Adelaide, it is in many ways a city where it is great to be a young maker of things – because the generation above us is missing.  They’re living in Sydney or Melbourne.  It’s much easier to find yourself noticed or to raise your voice above the din when there isn’t much of a crowd which needs to be broken through.  But how is this impacting on the younger and emerging generations of artists?  Is the cultural drain, coupled with a lack of venues where independent artists can present – and where audiences interested in independent work can attend – and Adelaide’s insularity having a negative impact on the quality of art produced?

In both Brisbane and Sydney this year, I saw work by people who were once based in Adelaide, but now these writers, directors, actors, and stage managers, live and create work in other cities for other audiences.  This work ran the gauntlet from among the best (The Seagull) to among the worst (Woyzeck) I saw this year, but the point is I couldn’t have seen it at home.  I don’t blame them – I’m not planning on sticking around forever – but this has a two-fold effect on the cultural ecology of Adelaide.  Not only are we losing these artists and these voices, we’re also losing the effect these artists can have on the generation who follows them: the knowledge base and the talent which can be shared is lost.

It is, of course, a self-perpetuating cycle.  The “brain-drain” creates its own pull, the more creative people that leave, the more others feel they need to leave, too, to find new opportunities,  be them creative, employment, or creative employment orientated.   Then, particularly in the case of arts administrators, as people start to return to Adelaide to raise their families, having worked interstate almost becomes a prerequisite for many higher level jobs.  There is, it seems, even the perception that you must leave in order to advance in a career in Adelaide.

It is not only the artists who leave, it is the other people interested in punctuating their lives with arts and culture outside of the festival context.  The more these people leave, the harder it is for artists to find audiences, and the more artists leave to move interstate.

The pull of the Adelaide artists in Sydney or Melbourne grows ever stronger, the pull of Adelaide grows ever weaker.

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Review: Hairspray (and Paragraphs: Mary Poppins)

To be a total cliché and miss-quote a song title in the review of a show: Hairspray is big, bold, and beautiful.  And LOUD, in every sense of the word.   Loud music, loud voices, loud costumes, and above all, a loud set.  It is a fantastic melding of musical theatre and the performing arts, with ultra modern digital screen technology, leading to a hybrid which shows off the best of both the performance on stage and on digital screens.

You Can't Stop The Beat. Photo Ros O'Gorman.

Premiering on Broadway in 2002, this is the first Australian production, and it is an Australian production.  Taking the book and music from the original, Australian director/conceiver David Atkins has brought together an Australian creative team to deliver a product which makes the eight year gap more than worth it.   The team has delivered a production that is both so technically ambitious and achieving to have been given anything less in past years would have been a great loss.

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Review: The Trial

Josef K (Ewan Leslie), awakes one day to find out he is under arrest.  For what, the arresting officers cannot say, but he is free to go about his life, until he must present for his trial.  From there, Josef K’s life proceeds to spiral out of control, as the impasse of being persecuted by an unknown power, for an unknown crime, takes over and destroys.  Kafka’s The Trial, adapted by Louise Fox and directed by Matthew Lutton, is an uncomfortable and inexplicably satisfying play.

Inexplicable, because as you can see from that lack-lustre of a plot summary, the nature of this story and its themes are hard to pin down and identify.  Yet, the collection of elements gives way to a fantastical production, helped in no small part by Leslie, who won his latest Helpmann for  Richard III as I wrote this.  Leslie gave a huddled performance, a man who was hushed and nearly defeated by life itself before we meet him, who becomes unquiet and tense as the absurdity of his trial takes its toll.  Simply a beautiful actor to watch, he has an energy which feeds into the audience, and carries the play.

Ewen Leslie as Josef K. He also, really distractedly, reminded me of my friend so much in mannerisms.

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