“’Night, Mother” At The Basin Theatre

For a play to go for 90-minutes, and be carried entirely by two characters, without boring the audience to death, a whole lot more than the writing being as good as it gets is needed. It takes an experienced director with razor-sharp skills and two actors as deeply connected and guided by instinct as they would be where the story their own lives immediately unfolding. We already know, before the theatre doors even open, the first part is covered – Marsha Norman’s ‘Night, Mother won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1983, an exceedingly rare accomplishment for a female writer, let alone one who wrote a female two-hander dealing with the extraordinary complexities of forced cohabitation between the mother-daughter relationship being stretched beyond breaking point by the pressures of immediate grief, selfishness and the troubling subject of mental illness.

Once the doors do open, director Barry O’Neil’s set design is the first thing to jump out at us – a stage not only intricately detailed, but largely functional, is an assuring sign that Norman’s shatteringly poignant and masterfully rendered work is in good hands. But it is the actors upon whom the delivery of this beautiful work rests.

Di Kelly is clearly moved by the content of the script, but she layers her performance so as to never preempt the result, a common mistake for many an actor. Her performance could be improved by thinking less about blocking and delivery, and instead giving in to the immediate urgency – the need to reach out to her suicidal daughter. It’s a role that demands for the utter desperation of maternal love, albeit one well contained, and Kelly clearly has all the necessary tools to bring it to life truthfully. This became evident as the script progressed, and she “let go” more, so to speak – her focus seemed to shift from performing to saving Jessie, as the threat of losing her became real. It is there, that it is best.

Jen Bush is an extremely promising young actor with a skill-set that exceeds her apparent age. She connects to Jessie’s resignation and the complicated set of circumstances that led her there without judgement and seemingly innately. When dealing with such subject matter, the temptation to perform is terrible, but Bush never gives in, and her performance is difficult to judge as a result – exactly what a performance should be. With training and discipline, the sky is the limit for Bush.

Barry O’Neil has undertaken an enormous task in directing Norman’s script. Written in the classic off-Broadway style, it is organic, subtle and complex as the human heartbeat. Slowly it escalates, stripping back layers until base urgency is reached and the final devastating climax can take place. It requires a level of discipline not readily available to many aspiring directors in Australia, and particularly given the precedent set by community theatre. That O’Neil doesn’t become Homer Simpson at the bat with Rodger Clemens at the pitch deserves high commendation – his choices, and those of the actors, add a tantalising degree of risk to the normally safe-zone confines of small-town Australian theatre.

Review by Max Davine

Beyond the Beehive by Carol Whitfield

It can be any time of the day. You can be doing anything from the blandly mundane or the bogglingly difficult. An Amy Winehouse song comes on. Maybe it’s one of her more upbeat tunes? You get a little spring in your step. Maybe it’s one of her more, shall we say, personal numbers? “Back to Black”, perhaps. Then, you hear that haunted howl thundering out of your speakers, or your headphones, reaching from some turbulent shore and raining raw emotion down through your entire body. For a moment, it’s like she never left us. The connection to each and every word, the way her voice feels like her own soul cascading out of her body and into the ether, it’s like she’s there. But addiction is a demon that has taken more from the arts than the sea has drowned men. She’s gone. Truly worthy to stand beside Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, in more than just the age they reached before the dragon won its hard-fought battle. Even seven years on, it’s a hard realisation to come to, and gives what she did leave behind for all of us who listen a certain gravitas that will never diminish.

One performer who ensures we never forget the gift that Winehouse was is Carol Whitfield, who together with an incredible four-piece band is bringing the music to the Butterfly Club in a series of intimate and powerful performances. What must be noted first is Whitfield’s love for the music she’s bringing us; she narrowly avoids tears when she speaks about the woman who created the sounds, and channels Winehouse during her performances in such an innate and devoted way that at times, in the low light when the beehive and the white dress is all we can really see, it almost feels like the real thing. But then again, some things you see with your eyes, others you see with your heart. Whitfield pays a final respect to Winehouse by not trying to emulate her vocals or imitate her too heavily. She was so unique, to do so would be a disaster anyway. Whitfield knows and trusts that she has enough of a connection of her own to bring us her interpretation of the songs, an act of courage that must be applauded.

With the accompaniment of four brilliant musicians, “Beyond the Beehive” had them dancing in their seats, crying quietly in the shadows, and finally left us glad that we have this little gift to reflect on in the long and beautiful annuls of musical history.

Review by Max Davine

Miriam Margolyes On Puffs. Or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic

Miriam Margolyes is one of those rare and special people who truly deserves the title of “national treasure”. There are any number of reasons; her fifty plus years of contributions to the theater and film industry, from London to Melbourne and back again. Her political and social activism. Her lovable British-dear-darling personality. The fact that she referred to herself as a “dyke” on national television. The glorious moment she eloquently and intelligently tore to pieces another old lady on ABC’s “Q&A” for the frankly racist suggestion that Australian children shouldn’t be reading Dickens in school, rather Patrick White, for no other reason than that the former is English and the latter is not. Or perhaps it is the fact that, unlike so many Australian treasures, most of whom become expats no sooner than they begin to make a mark on our industry, Miriam Margolyes chose this place to call home, elected to become a citizen, and left behind her birthplace to be an Australian.

To the younger generation, she is arguably best known as Professor Pomona Sprout in the “Harry Potter” films, and for this reason, she joined us at the St. George’s Ball in St. Kilda to celebrate the launch of the debut Australian run of Matt Cox’s “Puffs; Or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic”, but forget we mentioned Potter. This, evidently, is not about him.

“We’re here today to announce a thing,” she said, with the rigor and bombast one expects of a true British thespian, some things a change of citizenship cannot alter, you see. “And that thing is a play. A play happening at the Alex Theatre, commencing on the 31st of May…write this down, darlings, this is your job.”

She must have caught me having a chuckle.

“For seven long years, a certain boy wizard went to a certain school, in the process appearing in several books, films, games and on the packages of various items and electrical devices. You may have heard of him. Now the play we announce today is not that boy’s story.”

Clearly Rowling’s estate is not involved in this one.

“This is the story of the Puffs, a loveable bunch who come to that school to learn about plants,” she stopped, giving us that famous smile, the cheeky liveliness of which age shall never wither. “But due to that certain boy wizard, they fail…Puffs is a wonderful, loving, hilarious tribute to the underdogs. A story that says you don’t have to be a hero to have a wonderful story told about you.”

Where did this thing come from? There was never going to be a conventional answer.

“Puffs opened off-Broadway in 2015…” she stopped, looked up. “It’s strange, when you’re old, every day is nineteen hundred and something. Anyway…the play was only scheduled for ten shows. But it proved to be more popular than expected, and has since been seen by some forty thousand people.”

There will be two versions of the show, given it’s vague connection to…let’s say a certain franchise…there had to be something for the family.

“Matinee shows will be kid-friendly,” Miriam confirmed. “I will not be allowed to appear. So, you have to come twice: Matinee, nice. Night show, dirty.”

“If you strive for third place, instead of fourth,” she continued. “Puffs is the show for you.”

Director Kristin McCarthy Parker was not available for comment, but the show is in fantastic hands, it seems. A freelance director from New York City, and founding member of Recent Cutbacks, her resume boasts “Puffs” for New World Stages, “Kapow-I GoGo”, and for her own company, “KEVIN!!!”, “Hold on to Your Butts” (Jurassic Park is to this what Harry Potter is to Puffs?) and “Fly, You Fools!” (that’s The Lord of the Rings – you won’t get movie references past me!). She has worked all over the States, and we hope she feels right at home here in Melbourne.

Max Davine

“A Doll’s House” Theatre of the Winged Unicorn

Ceres looks just like something out of Ibsen’s time. A quaint little village of nineteenth century style houses on a hilltop, plonked in the middle of the rolling heaths just outside Geelong. It’s there, in the old temperance hall, that Theatre of the Winged Unicorn stages such landmark plays of timeless importance as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “Three Sisters” and, tonight, Henrik Ibsen’s landmark social commentary “A Doll’s House”.
Second only to Shakespeare, Ibsen is one of the most constantly staged playwrights of all time, and of them, “A Doll’s House” is certainly his most beloved, and it’s primary protagonist Nora Helmer amongst the most intimate, complex and lovingly crafted characters ever portrayed in literature or drama. An icon of feminism before feminism existed; a strong, wilful, determined and quietly intelligent powerhouse for whom the expectations are mountainous.
Entering the homemade theatre, the first thing that strikes the audience is the gorgeous stage design; it looks just like a doll house, as per Ibsen’s original direction. It seems as though Stuart, Alard and Ingrid Pitt have reached into the text and pulled out the very thing readers have been imagining for one hundred and forty years. The wardrobe is also stunningly authentic, arranged by director Elaine Mitchell along with Carol Fogg and actress Melissa Musselthwite. Then come the performances.
Stepping into the role of Nora is Georgia Chara, star of the upcoming horror film “Living Space” and known by the rest of the country for her roles in “Wentworth” and “Sammy J and Randy in Ricketts Lane”, in both of which she handled a certain duality that courted – but never came close to, from a writing perspective – her role in “A Doll’s House”. She is a towering pillar of quiet strength packed into the cherubic appearance of a Botticelli Angel. The perfect Nora. Her confrontations with Steven Georgiadis’ Krogstadt are utterly electrifying; a textbook honest and truthful performance, hidden beneath pretence which is then peeled back layer by layer until the raw intelligence and fortitude of the character are revealed. Alone and silent, she commands the space with intimate connections to her surroundings and then, hiding her anxieties from husband Torvald, she is heartbreakingly honest in how she pulls the pretence back over herself. This is an actor at the top of her game, expertly handling one of the most difficult characters in literary history.
She is supported by a fine cast; however it comes down to rehearsal time and priority, as is often the case. Certain intimacies were missing between Nora and Phillip Besancon’s Dr. Rank, whose accent was distracting amongst all the Victorian-style manners. He did see the connection between the character Rank and Ibsen himself, though, it must be said. Also there are the children; working with actors so young requires a certain gift, such as Elaine Mitchell showed in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, but the actors don’t seem to have spent enough time getting comfortable with them and developing the necessary intimacies that show a relationship between nanny and children and mother and children. Melissa Musselthwite in the role of nanny Anna, gives an honest and instinctive performance, so it could only be limiting rehearsal time with the children that is to blame for the emotion rift between them and both Nora and Anna.
All in all, Elaine Mitchell has managed to pull off another “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”; a magical, almost dreamlike rendition of a beloved classic, married with her acute instincts for classical accompaniment, this one is well worth seeing.

Review by Max Davine

“The Toxic Avenger” By Theatre of the Damned

Geelong has, at times, seemed reluctant to embrace the creativity of its community. Never was a town so perfectly laid out and positioned for hosting films, both international and local, a business that would create thousands of much needed jobs and bring much needed income to the region, and yet so often vehemently against the idea. Not outside of Europe is there such a high volume of theaters per square kilometer, and such a high population of truly extraordinary talent to use them per capita, and yet such a communal and political disdain for the performing arts. Only the truly ignorant would say creative industries aren’t profitable, but as much as Geelong is a creative town, it hosts far too many old-fashioned minds intent on looking backwards, rather than moving forwards.

One example of “forwards”, however, is Theatre of the Damned. Founded by Tony and Elise Dahl, their mission statement includes the parameter that everyone should have “the same opportunity to be in a stage production regardless of experience”. Excellent to see! Not that such a statement can’t backfire, but success is entirely impossible without considerable risk. Having said that, nothing screams “considerable risk” quite as loudly nor proudly as staging a musical version of Lloyd Kaufman’s bonkers cult movie “The Toxic Avenger”.

Not everyone is unfortunate enough to have seen the movie, but nobody knew what to expect as we entered the excellent Shenton Theatre, decked out as it was in absorbingly elaborate set pieces. A live micro-orchestra was conducted by Courtney Miller and the cast took to the stage to give us what we come for. What that is turns out to be an almost binary antithesis to Kaufman’s exercise in bad taste. Playwriter Joe Dipietro and songwriter David Bryan (of Bon Jovi) have turned Toxie’s tale into a fun, straightforward, almost family-friendly night of entertainment. Not that it does not demand a considerable amount from its production team, guided expertly by director Doug Mann and choreographer Xavier McGettigan. Together, they made a complicated mass of stagery seem fluid and simple, and the dances elegantly beautiful.

The rest is heaped on the shoulders of the cast, and in some cases, they could not have been better. Liam Erk is destined to be Gelong’s next favorite export, shows his quality as Melvin Ferd the Third, and undergoes a profound but truthful shift in physicality when he emerges as the mutated Toxie (and the somehow tastefully handled limb-ripping begins). Erk connects to Ferd so intimately that even when grotesquerie of his make-up or the sheer insanity of the piece threatened to spill over into absurdity, we never forgot the loveable nerd inside.

The bill also promises the “most memorable and unbelievable duet you’ll ever see on any stage” – a reach that far extends the grasp of this company – however that is not to say that the duet is not one of the most difficult this reviewer has ever seen. The musical battle between Toxie’s mother and the wicked mayor – both played by Alicia Miller – is a marvel of character work. Aside from suffering twice the demands of a single performance, it was evident Miller had done twice the difficult development and preparation for her characters. Only such devotion and finesse could have saved such a moment from spinning out of control, but in Miller’s hands it is not only believable, it’s brilliant. She is utterly breathtaking.

Theatre of the Damned deserve the full support of the Geelong community. They would be insane not to get behind it.

Written by Max Davine

Geek Out – Heros and Villains

If you are looking for geeky pop culture performers, boobs, butts and boots – then GEEK OUT nerdlesque is the one for you!

On Friday, I saw their Super hero vs Villains theme night at Saint Martins’ in St Kilda. As a DC and Marvel comics fan I was quite satisfied with how much thought and care the performers put in when portraying their characters. From Camilla Cream’s Jessica Jones’ whiskey bottle to Rosie Roulette’s spot-on Harley Quinn accent/impersonation.

Rosie Roulette as Harley was killer good, the costume was on point. Nailing Harley’s squeaky laugh but also adding her own quick-witted spin. I spoke to Rosie after the show, one question was; why Harley? Rosie mentioned just like her stage name it was a “game of chance” right up to they were conceived on the same day, 1992. Which I must admit made me chuckle a lot.

Not only is Rosie great as a performer, she is also a fantastic MC. I really enjoy MC’S who include audience interaction, in fact I enjoy MC’S who mock audiences – which includes making us in on the joke. I’d pay to see a one woman show of Rosie doing stand-up – I found her energy so engaging and fun. Also! Great dancer and singer…. Her voice is like a sweet flavour of Dolly Parton, but musical theatre style. And her dancing, those are the highest kicks I’ve ever seen. Well done girlfriend looking forward to seeing more of you!

Miss Holly Wouldn’t portrayed Scarecrow in the first act and the infamous robber in the second act (giving those under represented villains some justice!). I was gagging on her Scarecrow costume. I was kind of freaking out… in a good way! I thought the way Holly chose to take pieces off her costume was extremely clever. Instead of the corset and tights and just had layers and layers of clothing tied together, which was very refreshing to watch. I thought taking of the face mask last was a really cool artistic choice.

I love love loved Holly’s entry as Robber. Holly came out with a torch light on the side with the audience When the music played I had no idea where she was until I saw the torch go on – which was a great story telling devise! As that’s how I’d imagine robbers would symbolise. Miss Holly Wouldn’t is someone who I wouldn’t miss. If you are a fan of exciting costumes that are part of telling the story. This performer is for you.

Camilla Cream took it to a different turn. Playing troubled hero Jessica Jones. She came out in a leather jacket, jeans, sneakers and a bottle of whiskey. I can’t relate to anything more than this. Camilla had this cool grunge vibe to her – she reminded me of the burlesque version of Adore Delano. I really admired her attitude on stage, it worked for Jessica Jones. There was something about Camilla’s performance that was just genuine and real, she wasn’t afraid to get down and dirty. Especially when she poured the bottle of whiskey all over her. Camilla also included an element of old school burlesque which were the fans – those fans are not easy to use and she made it look effortless!

Luna Envy literally enchanted me with her voice. I was mesmerised. Her voice is a mix between Adele and Janis Joplin – if Luna would release and album right now I’d go buy it straight away. Luna was Poison Ivy. I couldn’t have asked for anything better when she sang and acoustic version of Toxic by Brittany – because well toxic and Poison Ivy is toxic. Also, that song is just legendary.

Luna and Rosie also work so well together – they did a duet piece towards the end. Luna as Cheetah and Rosie as Wonder Woman. The in sync repeated dance moves throughout the piece were just adorable especially when Cheetah was caught. Just about heightened the level of comedy. This is strange to type but I weirdly enjoyed watching you two rip each other’s clothes off – as it was a demonstration for the fight scenes. The choreographed fight scenes were also great, looked like you guys hit each other from where I was sitting. But by adding on that extra element of surprise gave it more value.

Belial who was DeadPool. Thank you. For rubbing your butt on my chair. I never thought I’d say this ever in my life but now I can. I got butt rubbed by DeadPool. Which is more than fine. Builer is a guy who is just having a ball on stage. You can tell by his funky dance moves.

Belial also worked with Rosie (Harley) as he also played the Joker. I must say that’s one of the best Joker cosplay’s I’ve ever seen – even his joker laugh sounds legit.

Evana DeLune. When I was writing my notes during the show, I didn’t even realise I was writing off the lines because I couldn’t keep my eyes from her. The first thing I wrote down was omg. I was living for every single kick, shoulder roll, sexy glance. This was everything. AND she looks spic spoc to Bettie Page. Evana DeLune’s look was DC superhero magician Zatana. The magic scarf gag was hilarious – especially when pulling 80 scarfs out of a tiny corset. The most spectacular part about Evana when I got the chance to speak to her after the show is that she had only started Burlesque in August last year. Which I would have never guessed because she appeared to be an absolute pro – you’d never know she was a newbie. But also she had danced for 15 years and has done cosplay beforehand. So by that – Evana has a lot to offer. This is one talented lady you have to see.

And finally, Tim. Who Rosie quotes “the glorified stage bitch.” Well done Tim.

I cannot overstate how talented this cast was. You can tell how much effort and thought they put into their performances. But most importantly, I had fun. This show was the most fun I had in a while and I went alone – to be fair I did get to make a couple new friends that I got to sit with. The audience crowd had good vibes and were just supportive to all performers.
I am moat certainly going to see another GEEK OUT show again! These guys are just to good! Their next show is on May the 4th Beta Block party you can only guess what that theme is going to be (star wars.)

Review by Jess Polites
Edited by Crystal Corocher

Follow Geek Out for future events:
https://www.facebook.com/geekoutmelbourne/

Full Blown Adult — Andrew Iles @ Hares & Hyenas for MICF 2018

Andrew Iles’ brand of stand-up comedy is a perfectly relatable adventure in story telling that is presented so naturally that one feels as if they’ve simply spent an evening catching up with that ‘one’ friend who never fails to make everyone laugh. There are definitely points where it is evident that some seriously passionate effort was involved in creating his performance — from an excellent intro clip, to exceptional action figures that are definitely needed ‘in a toy store near you!’. Andrew’s lines and presence are so easy going though, that it feels as if he’s chatting to you, rather than performing a prepared lineup of topics, proving that although he says it took him a while to settle on a career, he clearly chose well.

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He spends a portion of the evening explaining, in every colourful way imaginable, what has made him into the adult standing on stage today. The ‘absent father figure’ that many can relate to, plays an ironically influential role in many childhood memories, but he pays nearly equal tribute to a mother just doing what she thought was best for her children. His theme of Full Blown Adult wouldn’t be complete without also deliberating on what so many of the audience members have started to realise defines growing up: that we have all now started judging ‘today’s youth’ instead of being a part of said generation.

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Andrew’s ability to find the often self-deprecating humour in so many common events in our pasts is one of the ways he brings the whole audience together — showing us that it is alright to laugh at past troubles and experiences. As an audience member who has previously seen glimpses of his acts from various vaudeville shows and cabarets, this was the ultimate Andrew Iles experience. The crowd at Hares & Hyenas was treated to his performace with no limits. He fit into no one’s neat little description boxes; there was laughter, singing & dancing, toys, dick jokes, and well earned high fives, making this one of the most diverse stand-up performances one could see, especially since there was only one comedian! Whether you have the chance to enjoy a solo act, or simply see his name on the lineup for the next show you see, you will not be disappointed, as his comedy has a little something for everyone.

Review by Alyssa Baker

Pictures by Jeevan Surendran

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PO PO MO CO

How do you review a show like this? I know that isn’t a great way to start a review but bear with me. You walk into the makeshift theatre to a bright pink curtain full of sparkles and greeted by a very sexualised nurse that would fit perfectly in a Mel Brooks film handing out lollipops. What you see upon entry is the least amount of sexual innuendo in the show. I would love to draw on my years of theatre and movie reviewing to give you a fair comparison as to what I was seeing but this is unique, it is special, it is over the top and fantastic and I can’t speak highly enough of a show that unashamedly puts butt puppetry into pantomime.

Let me explain. The show comes from PO PO MO CO a comedy troupe whose name stands for Post Post Modern Comedy. They sit on the edge of absurdism and jump seamlessly over that line into something new entirely. The troupe have taken the classic vampire story and spun weird voodoo magic to make it an overtly sexualised adventure that explores sexuality with openness without bringing attention to it. My only warning is that this show has a lot of sexual references and simulated sexual acts. Then again, this show is called Nosfer-Arse-Tu: A Cheeky Vampire Pantomime so you knew what you were getting into.
Every member of the cast was on point but the thing that stood out to me was the way they engaged with the audience. As this is a pantomime they encouraged the whole audience to participate, which was done in such a welcoming way that even those tentative guests were yelling by the end.

The closest thing I could compare it to is the Mighty Boosh and that is an unfair assessment as I do not believe it takes any cues from the show, instead it is more about the style of how they handle comedy and what makes people laugh than direct inspiration. Go see it if you can get tickets, it has had a large amount of sold out shows this run, and I can see why. It’s a fringe show in a comedy festival and honestly, something a little different than just one person on a stage with a microphone. Now I have seen it, I may just go and see it again, and then whatever POPOMOCO put on next! As their promotional material has asked – I drank the rainbow kool-aid.

Review by Jon Krikstolaitis
Editor Crystal Corocher
Featured Image supplied MICF
https://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2018

Franny Pack Melb Int. Comedy Fest 2018

What the blithering blazes was that?

One guesses it might be a common question during the Melbourne International Comedy festival, albeit with a few words substituted for others. For Melbourne becomes a consortium of venues not just for the same old stand-up we’re all used to, from Lawrence Mooney to Ross Noble, but also nucleus to a host of other, more eccentric amoebas of the edgy, largely unnoticed but often worth-finding local comedy gene pool.

Take Comedy Unexpected, for example. A venue space that, by day, seems to be some nature of avant-garde art gallery/studio space. For the month of April, however, it has been transformed into a performance venue, and thus a veritable honey pot of the…shall we say…less commercially inclined funny folks who still rightly want their share of the nectar. It’s as rudimentary as they come; a card table set up at the top of the stairs, down on the street, serves as the box office, while upstairs another card table serves as the bar. Procure libations, guests, you will need them. For at the stroke of 2215 we were led into the little stage area where Fran Middleton greeted every entrant from atop a soap box, where she reclined lasciviously, albeit with some dubious stains on her Risky Business shorts.

What followed seemed to be an experiment in how far irreverence can go without becoming alienating. Middleton brought the audience into the show, and certainly one of the finest moments was the squirms she elicited from one conservative patron who might actually have got lost on the way to a Liberal Party meeting. She bounced around awkwardly, broke into song, danced badly, said things that just seemed to be plucked out of the air, and gave us little, teasing glimpses of the Phantom Menace living inside her titular pack.

If it seems as much, then yes, I am struggling to relate to you what has happened to me tonight. But the humor was there, carried almost entirely by the bizarre but extraordinary things Fran Middleton can do with her face.

Go ahead. You might just like this baffling journey into the odd.

Review by Max Davine