“Cracked Smiles” At Chapel off Chapel

When talking about stories, plays or films about power dynamics in psychiatric institutions, it is invariable that one finds oneself discussing the power dynamics of society itself. It’s just one of those little ironies; we’re all living in one big nuthouse. Arguably the finest example of this is “Girl, Interrupted”, the 1993 memoir of Susanna Kaysen who, in the 1960’s, was incarcerated in what was then known as an asylum after being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. In 1999 it was adapted into an unforgettable film starring Wynona Ryder, Angelina Jolie and the late Brittany Murphy. Before them was Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and it’s 1975 film adaptation starring Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher, both giving the performances of a lifetime. Kesey had been a porter in an institution in the 1950’s, before writing then novel. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” was adapted into a stage play as well, performed at Chapel off Chapel back in 2011.

There is more that sets these two so vastly apart from the new show at Chapel off Chapel, “Cracked Smiles” than the fact that neither writer and producer Kieran Gould-Dowen or directors Jacinta Scadden and Gemma Flannery have clearly never even set foot in a psych ward, unlike myself. However, the depiction of eight “psychopaths” contained within the confines of a single room is a monumental task to tackle, and a concept that could, given proper work, research and intuition, be a deeply moving and confronting experience.

The reason it is not is evident as soon as the audience enter the theatre: we are brought in via the stage, where we see the various characters engaged in their leisurely pastimes, amongst which are a woman, Holly (played quite well by Rebecca Brigden) listening to headphones with a large, black chord – contraband inside such an institution. As are the pen wannabe journalist Emma Cox writes with and the black scarf hanging from former model Shamita Sivabalan’s coat rack. As the play progresses, we learn that these are dangerous cases; possibly murderers, all. They then assault staff entirely without consequence, despite mention of strict security guards in the dialogue. Research is everything when it comes to addressing the souls of those who still live, albeit in a cocoon outside of a society they can’t bear to exist in. It is not confronting in the way the creators intended to see them reduced to poor stereotypes and clichés.

Another few drafts and a consultation with a more experienced writer would have also saved the script from a lot of the undercooked dialogue and gaping plot holes. “Do you fear me?” asks Aaron James Campbell’s villain, at one point. Such pantomimic cartoonery has no place in what is advertised as a gritty, realistic depiction of the cracks in our society. What the crew of Thatcher’s Boy Theatre are trying to do is huge, and it is commendable that they are taking on such a project, given their apparent age. But they must do it well. This script has so much that could be improved upon, and such potential if they only took the time to nurture and grow this ambitious undertaking. What we saw tonight was born prematurely. It needs more incubation, more time and much more care.

The effort was not saved by the acting. Performances lacked intimacy and truth. The directors needed to put less emphasis on how to say lines and blocking and work more from an organic place – finding character and honesty with the performers. Seb Muirhead as Nigel was a notable exception, a lot more homework was evident on his part, as was the aforementioned Brigden as Holly, giving far more natural performances.

This seedling could truly grow into something powerful, but it isn’t there yet. I strongly encourage the creators to work on it, after the season is done, and bring it back when it – and they – are truly ready to shine. I am certain they will.

Review written by Max Davine for Good Vibes Media

“Coral Browne: This Fucking Lady” At 45 Downstairs

“She left behind an emptiness,

A gap, A void, a tough,

The world is quite a good deal less,

Since Coral Browne fucked off”

So said Barry Humphries at the funeral of Coral Browne in 1991. She’d died of breast cancer at the age of 77. Just how much of a good deal less the world was is just what audiences heading to Flinders Lane’s 45 Downstairs for the show run of “Coral Browne: This Fucking Lady” are going to find out.

When the stage and screen entered its first Golden Age in the early 1930’s, on both sides of the Atlantic, it became a quite literal breeding ground for the flamboyant von-vivant, the glorious queer, the outspoken jazz-age flapper and the shameless lothario. Thus came to prominence kings and queens of hotel-smashing, spouse-swapping, booze-guzzling decadence; Rex Harrison, Ava Gardner, Robert Newton, Elizabeth Taylor, John Barrymore, Trevor Howard, Joan Crawford Richard Burton, Bette Davis and the “wicked” woman by which all others shall be forever judged: Tallulah “Pure as the Driven Slush, Darling” Bankhead. But it wasn’t all fun and games in the darker corners of glitter Babylon, particularly if you happened to be held to the standards of a woman; Frances Farmer was institutionalized and eventually lobotomized for her free spirit, for one extreme example, while the talented likes of Jean Seaborg and Rachael Roberts were driven to suicide. It took toughness to be so dandy in such a conservative time.

You’d be forgiven to thinking perhaps an oddly named Australian woman, born in the industrial suburb of West Footscray in 1913, would rate amongst these glorious, if slightly unprofessional, camps. But then again, you’d be forgiven for not being too aware of Coral Browne. Despite the fact that she ruled the West End for a time, toured the world many times over, had a movie made about her encounter with a Russian spy and won two best actress BAFTAS, Australia, as it does with some of it’s finest luminaries, has all but forgotten her.

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Yet, she could quip with the very best of them. When informed that her former lover, Cecil Beaton, was gay, she quickly remarked “Not with me, darling. Like a rat up a drainpipe.” And though talent and skill played a minor role in what constituted a star in those days, Browne was not only good looking and charismatic, as were necessities, she was talented enough that she was able to penetrate the deeply xenophobic English stage long before the likes of a slightly sozzled Welshman and his two Irish counterparts turned up to “change West End forever”. Coral was a foreigner in a time when it was simply unheard of, and of all things, one hailing from the bastard child of John Bull’s days; ghastly Australia.

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Her story is not only being told, but colorfully and brilliantly played out by uncannily similar-looking Genevieve Mooy. In one lengthy soliloquy, she plays out her remarkable life, from troubled relationship with her mother to her autumn spent in loving bliss with second husband Vincent Price. Mooy is visibly nervous, but with relaxation over the coming season, she’s only going to improve on an already stellar performance. Not too much can be said without giving it away, but it’s elegant, dazzling and peppered with language befitting of “this fucking lady.”

Go see for yourself.

Reviw by Max Davine for Good Vibes Media 

Photo credit: Rob George

 

Burrinja Circus Festival: Ruccis Student Showcase

Walking into the Burrinja Cultural Centre on the final day of their Circus Festival to enjoy the Ruccis Student Showcase felt very much like I had travelled back in time to one of my many dance recitals from my childhood. Everywhere I looked there were students in costumes and makeup milling around, greeting family and friends before the show. My walk down memory lane ended when I entered the theatre however, as the juggling batons placed carefully onstage quickly brought me back to the present.

The showcase jumped right into things with its opening piece — a lively group juggling performance. We were treated to a common circus act in uncommon variety, with balls, batons, blocks, and rings, as well as some dexterous and theatrical hat tricks. As I was expecting the performances to include some overlap of different students using the same apparatuses, I was pleasantly surprised that every act was entirely unique. As an audience member who practices in an aerial studio already, the variety of aerial apparatuses (Straps, Rope, and Trapeze for those wondering), and the aerialists that flew on them, made me itch to get in the air and learn new ways to enjoy a fearless flight of my own. I can only assume that my fellow audience members were similarly inspired by these talented students.

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There were two standout performances in the show that absolutely took my breath away. Sam and his Cyr Wheel was easily one of the most mesmerising acts that I’ve ever been treated to. Where most performers need to work on smooth transitions between stunts and poses, he whirled effortlessly around the stage, absolutely hypnotizing everyone. Maddi and Liam finished the show with a both physically and emotionally powerful piece. They literally took aerial hoop to a whole new level by mounting a hoop on a pole and bracing the creation on Liam’s shoulder. The control displayed by the duo was captivating, and the chemistry and trust evident in their dance would have made it my favourite act regardless of song choice; the fact that they choreographed this to a magnificently slow cover of ‘Wicked Game’ made a flawless performance, somehow, even better.

Overall, Ruccis put together a wonderful showcase. Although it wasn’t lengthy, they truly packed the best performances in for the audience to enjoy. It was the definition of an ideal student showcase. I don’t doubt that they will be getting enquiries about their classes after tonight, and I highly encourage everyone to check out Ruccis and everything they have to offer.

Review by Alyssa Baker for Good Vibes Media 

Images by Tania Pendlebury

Ruccis Circus School 

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“Barefoot in the Park” At the Woodbin Theatre

Neil Simon is arguably one of the most popular playwrights of all time. His resume boasts some of the most beloved and frequently staged plays ever to grace the off-Broadway stage: “The Odd Couple”, “Lost in Yonkers”, “Sweet Charity”, Rumors”, “Little Me”, “The Good Doctor”, “The Goodbye Girl”, the list goes on and on. In fact, the only list longer are the names of acting legends who cut their teeth performing his plays, and often returned for the film adaptations. In the case of the immortal, hilarious and effortlessly relatable “Barefoot in the Park”, there are luminaries like Robert Redford, Elizabeth Ashley, Myrna Loy, Amanda Peet, Maureen Lipman, Patrick Wilson and, in the 1967 film, the formidable Jane Fonda.  Needless to say, the cast picked by Kelly Clifford for the play’s run at the Woodbin Theatre in Geelong had some mighty shoes to fill. Just how difficult a play we have here is evident at any of the shows put on in Melbourne – as a Lab actor, I’ve seen scenes performed hundreds of times (and done them myself), as well as going to shows – all of which have been drastically inferior to Simon’s writing. I was nervous for Clifford. I did not expect a little community theatre in Geelong to outdo any venue or cast I’ve thus far seen in Melbourne. But I was wrong.

The treat we were in for was evident from the moment we entered the theatre; set design was wonderful. Enter Corie and Paul Bratter.

Chemistry that comes alive and electrifies the audience at every cheeky glimmer and cutting line. Even their fights are so charged by passion that the audience couldn’t help but be taken up by it. Kelly Clifford clearly understands actors, and the script – to kindle such an explosive formula in such an obviously restrictive rehearsal period is impossible. It’s all in her casting choices, and that shows a keen and perceptive instinct far surpassing many.

As Corie, Georgia Chara is able to get away with anything with her cheeky glint and idiosyncratic mannerisms. Lucky enough to call her a friend, I can testify that this is as close to the experience of actually knowing Chara that I’ve ever seen on stage; it is her most intimate and personal performance by far.

Ian Nash-Gilchrist, in the role of Paul, lets himself be as exasperated, baffled and utterly charmed as he must be, being thrust on a tiny stage in such an intimate role with such a live-wire. Paul Bratter is a set of eyes through which the audience may perceive of Corie, and Nash-Gilchrist is expertly subtle and intimate enough for us to connect to.

But the casting expertise exceeds Corie and Paul here – Robyn Birrell, in the role of Corie’s Mother Ethel Banks, shares a relationship with Chara that rings subtly and irritatingly true, while David MacKay’s Victor Velasco compliments her perfectly, although he could have spent a little more time amongst the likes of Bela Lugosi and Peter Lorre to get that accent down…but, who’d have thought he’d get a reviewer so acutely versed in the Hungarian syntax as I?

Clifford and co have pulled off a fun, breezy rendition of a Simon classic, as refreshing as walking barefoot in the park.

Review by Max Davine for Good Vibes Media 

Images by Sandy Gray

Swan Lake at The Princess Theatre

Exquisite. There really is only one word for the St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre Co’s production of Swan Lake.

Every other word falls short.

Of course, there is the beauty and opulence one expects of a night at the ballet. But while beauty in its truest meaning is the perception of something as ‘pleasing to the senses or mind aesthetically,’ to call something ‘exquisite’ is to say that not only was it extremely beautiful – it was also intensely felt.

This is ballet at its very best.

You don’t have to be a ballet lover, ballet student or past ballet student, as in my case, to appreciate the athleticism of ballet. Human strength pushed almost to defy belief, yet with a delicacy that, when executed correctly, is ethereal to watch.

Irina Kolesnikova was the essence of this as Prima Ballerina. Her rendition of Odette / Odile is the embodiment of daydreams for ballet students everywhere.

Ballet is a complex pursuit for a dancer. The quest for perfection is addictive – the knowledge that such a thing is forever out of reach; a constant frustration. Because there could always be a more pointed toe, a higher grande jete, a more cohesive pas de deux.

So when I say, Irina Kolesnikova was perfect – it really is what I mean.

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The corps de ballet was not as tight as others. Perhaps seeing it so early in the show run, we saw dancers who need a little more settling in and rehearsing on the Australian stage. But part of it was also foot work. It in no way detracted from the beauty of the overall performance but there was room to improve synchronicity.

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Overall, this most beloved classic of ballet productions has been staged incredibly well and it is a privilege to see The St. Petersburg Ballet here in Melbourne and at the stunning Princess Theatre. Don’t miss out! Images by Glen Wilson. Tickets

Review by Crystal Corocher for Good Vibes Media

 

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“The Lonesome West” By LAB Theatre Company

Not long after Melbourne Actor’s Lab director Peter Kalos, along with producers Natalia Nespeca and Skye Young, staged their brilliant show of “The North Pool” in the rudimentary little theatre in what appeared to be the large storeroom at the back of their school in Brunswick, the team announced a drastic upscaling. Thenceforth, their plays, with their distinctively intimate, raw, gritty and paralyzingly honest performances and lean, sharp writing by the luminaries whose sides are practiced in none other than New York City’s original actor’s Studio, would be shown at St. Kilda’s gorgeous Alex Theatre. No more would Kalos’ vision be economized by what he could fit on the tiny floor, nor would his audiences be restricted to the handful that could fit in the ramshackle stalls of the much-loved acting school. As a former student of Kalos’ early years, it did feel right to be back in the old neighborhood. But “The Lonesome West” is a drastic leap from the taut little two-handers Kalos has been handling through his school for the past nine years. Nor, however, is it Ben-Hur. Rather, it’s a starting block. A step out of the fringe-theatre of claustrophobic New York and into the longer-winded, more mobile plays of Great Britain. In this case, Ireland.

One of Martin McDonagh’s pitch-black but comedic Connemara Trilogy, which also included “A Skull in Connemara” and ‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane”, “The Lonesome West” carries a visual and sensual dynamic in it’s dialogue that demands the utmost discipline from its actors, in order to transport anyone who hasn’t strayed two-to-three hours west of Galway into the Emerald Hills of rural Ireland, where English might be taken for a whole other language. Fortunately, Kalos’ instincts for actors are as sharp as ever here. All have mastered the accent so perfectly that, while intelligible, it is just barely so, but more importantly, they have found tremendous characters in McDonagh’s work. The two brothers are electrifying in their powerhouse scenes together, and this is where McDonagh’s writing excels. Dean Gunera’s Coleman is quietly and subtly sadistic; a madman wrapped in layer upon layer of lazy complacency. Sean Kitchner’s Valene is a comedic masterwork; his very voice and appearance are ridiculously humorous, and he gets the most out of every line, but rendered with such careful attention to truth that he is almost heartbreakingly real.

However, in much the same way as “A Skull in Connemara”, it is in McDonagh’s periphery that cracks begin to show. Kalos is an acting teacher, and part of his class is working on two-hander scenes picked from any script that fits the bill. Meaning he likely chose this play based on the merit of the scenes between Coleman and Valene alone, rather than the whole play. Indeed, while Renee Kypriotis and Mattew Elliott, in the roles of Girlene and Father Welsh, respectively, are no less excellent actors, and they have all developed the intimacy between their characters so deeply that you’d never doubt that they’ve lived together within the confines of a small rural village their entire lives, McDonagh clearly didn’t care for Girlene in creating her; she is merely a means of communication and a sexual talking point for the men, and no performance, however inspired, can save her; Father Welsh is yet another drunken, troubled priest, and yet again, while Elliott plays him wonderfully, he is written as nothing more than a plot device.

Again, this does not fall on the actors. McDonagh shares the strange aversion to female characterization with much of his male contemporaries and has a streak of underdeveloped supporting characters across his entire resume. Ultimately, you see a Melbourne Actor’s Lab play for the acting, and in doing so, “The Lonesome West” does not disappoint.

Written by Max Davine

Puffs at The Alex Theatre

The play ‘PUFFS, Or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic’ is bound to have you in stitches and casting magic spells! The laugh out loud comedic play showing at The Alex Theatre in St Kilda, Melbourne Australia.

A true delight you don’t want to miss the opportunity to see!

PUFFS-08_Keith-Brockett_Eva-Seymour_Ryan-Hawke_Olivia-Charalambous_Rob-Mills_Zenya-Carmellotti_Annabelle-Tudor_Tammy-Weller_Matt-Whitty_previewWithin a 10 minute drive of Melbourne’s CBD you can find your way down to the the theatre for a fun night suitable for friends and family! The moment you walk into the foyer of the theatre you are greeted by reminiscent decorations of magic and wizardry. Not to mention once you are in the actual theatre it feels as though you have stepped through the doors of the Great Hall and before you know it you feel just like a student at a certain school of magic and magic.

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The play ‘Puffs’ follows the lives of Hufflepuff students through their seven years of schooling while they become witches and wizards. The play surrounds you by not only letting you reminisce about your favourite Harry Potter films but transports you to a time and place where anything is possible. I think it is through the element of friendship that really brings together the characters in the play. Not only for the play but also for people in the audience watching, it simply unites you as one with the play.

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It truly is an experience that needs to be seen to be believed. The cast includes the multi-talented Rob Mills a wonderful addition to the play. This is a change from his musical theatre performances and he truly has a comedic side that people need to witness. He brings his character to life and leaves you wanting more. The cast as a whole work so wonderfully together and I hope to see more of them together and for more people Australia wide to get an opportunity to witness this play and the actors bringing it to life. Also no worries if you haven’t seen the Harry Potter movies.

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Whilst I would recommend that you have seen some of the films as it would make more sense with a lot of the references made throughout it isn’t essential as the jokes would still make you laugh out loud. The play truly combines a sense of magic and its Australian twang to the production is also hilarious. You can’t help but feel connected. There is also an element that this play was so highly successful on Broadway and is being represented in Melbourne by Aussie talent. If you are a fan of the Harry Potter franchise then ‘Puffs’ is certainly for you. The exhibition is suitable for people of all ages and there is sure to be an element of the play which excites the magic within you. So make sure to take along a camera and have your phone handy to snap a pic. You definitely won’t regret it. Needless to say the creative team behind ‘Puffs’ have allowed for plenty of Instagram friendly moments!

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Review written by:  Brianna Reynolds

Images by: Ben Fon

Make sure to check out PUFFS!

SEASON EXTENDED!!  – GET TICKETS NOW 

 

From the directors chair…Max Davine chats with Clare Pickering about “electro Girl”

In a tough industry, it’s hard to keep a gentle soul. Actors are trained to empathize and respond to emotional cues, so unfairly, they’re often the ones who turn cold and cruel the fastest when it comes to real life. Not so for Clare Pickering. Somehow, in a business run by cutthroats, buying and selling human souls, she remains warm, gentle and instantly connected. Her past credits include “One Grated Carrot at a Time” for Mad Women Monologues and “Ladonna Marie”, a short film. A disarmingly soft countenance shines through her ageless smile and puts a person immediately at ease. It’s a handy tool for an actor, it’s a golden ticket for a director, and it’s imperative for a director who has taken on the task that Pickering has just successfully seen the fruition of the first time; directing Lainie Chait’s one-woman show, “Electro Girl” – a powerful, intimate piece dealing with a lifetime of severe epilepsy.

She comes out of the first night’s show without any of the signs of stress or anxiety normally plaguing the director, or the bottle-in-hand of those they don’t. Just a natural calm without a hint of cockiness. We sit down, and I have her complete attention. She’s present one hundred per cent. Another extraordinary rarity in a world where everyone’s thinking about what happens next.

“I’m an actor, writer and director,” she says, glancing back across a CV branching through film, television and theatre. “I studied with Hayes Gordon, I studied a many, many schools…and Howard Fine.”

I get the impression that she doesn’t want to talk about herself. Yet another rarity, given that acting, writing and directing are a honey pot to the driven narcissist. One gets used to certain things…but Clare continues to sweetly surprise. It’s so refreshing, I’m only happy to oblige, having just witnessed the fascinating piece she has just given us.

“I met Lainie at Pilates, actually,” she smiles as the memory occurs to her. “She was doing stand-up. I’d read her book, and we started talking about a show to educate teenagers, that’s the biggest motivation. They’re the ones who tend to feel really alone with these conditions, so we’re both really interested in reaching out, and telling them this story. That’s the biggest motivation.”

Suddenly, the passion is showing. Others, those in need. That is where Clare Pickering’s heart lies.

“We worked together on the script, drawing from Lainie’s life,” she says, of the process. “Then, it had to be edited down to fit the standard. The puppet was Lainie’s idea. It added a second character.”

But Lainie is a stand-up and author, with no theatre experience. How is such an intimate performance evident in “Electro Girl”?

“It was an interesting challenge, but actually it turned out to be really good, because not being trained, Lainie wasn’t stuck to anything in particular. It made her really flexible, easy to work with and show the way to. She was very open to what I’m used to, which is refreshing.”

“Electro Girl” is showing at the Butterfly Club, and Clare and Lainie hope to take it on a national tour to raise awareness of Epilepsy with young people.

Written by Max Davine

“Electro Girl” At The Butterfly Club

It’s 2018, and yet while science may have made leaps and bounds in understanding epilepsy in the past century, taking it from the days when it was associated with demonic possession and sufferers were often subjected to life threatening exorcism rites to an age where it can at least be monitored, there remains no absolute cure, and public awareness and knowledge has barely seen it destigmatised beyond the rude stereotypes of which sadly still permeate some corners of our popular culture.

One can assume that’s what inspired Lainie Chait and director Clare Pickering to bring Electro Girl to the intimate upstairs state of The Butterfly Club.

It opens with a sickly-looking Chait stumbling through the audience, greeting the guests, before falling into a demonstration of what has plagued her more than three hundred times for real in her life; a grand mal seizure. It’s a shocking awakening to what we’re about to be talked through, but one done always with gentle humor and self-deprecating irony.

Remerging as Electro Girl, in her dazzling jumpsuit, Chait and her brain, Nora, talk to us intimately and candidly through twenty-six years of epilepsy.

It’s not unlike your average biography, all the usual psychological conditions are evident; youth, fomo, a poor grasp of the not-naïve reality of casual sex, alcohol and recreation drugs, all of which exacerbate anxiety and self-loathing in any and all of us. For Chait, this came coupled with another condition, and at this we are about to be sweetly but thoroughly schooled. All the while, there is the presence of a perfectly average life…

She talks us through her failed relationships, we’ve all had them, but not with the struggles caused by medication and the occasional post-orgasm convulsions to boot. She tells us about her private journal, most of us kept one, albeit not one full of medical advice and minutiae chronicling her struggles with a brain that tends to “hiccup”, as she says. This is a life story, quite a normal one at that, but with the addition of a struggle also not so uncommon, but one seldom seriously spoken of. It gives all of us the chance to ponder epilepsy and come to grips with just how normal it can be. There were moments anyone can relate to, balanced with moments of extraordinary accomplishment in the face of an unfair diagnosis. But, then again, if anyone can have most of Lainie’s life, then those with the rest of it can live as successfully and richly as she has.

Thank you, Lainie.

Written by Max Davine