Pirates of Penzance by BK Opera, Melb INT Comedy Fest 2018

Yarraville. Largely an industrial area, with whole blocks crisscrossed with rusty railway lines, plenty of wire fencing and factories as far as the eye can see, some of them even with windows still intact. It must be said, it doesn’t feel like going to a night at the opera. But then again, this isn’t traditional opera. This is “Pirates of Penzance”, the classic (not classical) up yours to the opera establishment. More of a musical parody of opera than opera itself. Though still used to fanfare, “Pirates of Penzance” isn’t the kind of thing that took place on a lavish stage, flanked by opera boxes where counts and dukes peered and countesses and duchesses through their tiny binoculars, while phantoms stalked hapless singers from the wings. It made it’s debut on the New York stages, a Gilbert and Sullivan production of 1879, with every intention of being funny. Unfortunately, in spite of its initial success, it is gratingly boring. Not something one would venture as far from the nest as Yarraville to see, but then again, there is something even less conventional than the tiny stage, deck chairs and couches, and open bar just behind the back row happening to this rendition.
Enter BK Opera.
The name stands out as the ingenious company that brought us last year’s “La Traviata”, an intensely powerful, backstreet production that sustained itself on its raw passion and the awesome presence of its performers. Such a spectacle would have blown the walls out of the little venue that stages Pirates. But here, director Kate Millett shows her substantial versatility, and applies boundless imagination to give “Pirates of Penzance” a new, profoundly more engaging life. Re-envisioned as a pseudo-cabaret show for the tiny venue, with subtle rewrites and a total rejig of the wardrobe, props and, significantly, one particular character, Millett’s version earns the moniker “Adults Only”. Mabel is no innocent maiden, but a leather-clad dominatrix. The Pirates in question seem to have got lost on the way to the boylseque stage. But most beautifully, charmingly, inspiringly, Major-General Stanley is traded off, leaving Genevieve, his eldest daughter, to impersonate him, adding more to the deception than just the longevity of his parents.
This also leaves the door open for Beth Paterson to truly shine. She was hypnotic in “La Traviata”, able to snatch attention away from even the mighty Rada Tochalna with her more subtle, truthful performance and the uniquely endearing physicality she brings to her characters. In “Pirates of Penzance”, it not only thus falls upon her to perform the often-parodied but nevertheless difficult “Major General’s Song”, to which she lends a few choice extra words, but to ring her subtlety and idiosyncratic manner to one of four bubble-headed sisters, but in a way that lends truth to Genevieve’s ability to rise to the challenge dropped upon her. Paterson does so and makes it look easy, and with her undeniable gravitas she emerges as a true star of the musical stage.

All of the cast are good here, performing such bombastic material in such intimate confines is both intimidating and vulnerable, and the courage of the cast must be praised. As must the side-stage conducting of James Penn, who along with Millett holds a show together that might, if tipped but a little, descend into ridiculousness.

Do not miss out on BK Opera’s Pirates of Penzance! 

Review by Max Davine

Virgin Bloody Mary at The Butterfly Club for Melbourne INT Comedy Festival 2018

If a picture tells a thousand words, then a theatrical performance from the multi-talented Nadia Collins says all that and more with comedic, and oft times X-rated, precision.
Reacquaint yourself with the story of the Virgin Mary, only in this translation Mary has been transported to modern day with modern day problems. Just like our beloved Blues Brothers, (cult classic 1980 movie for our millennial readers), Mary is on a mission from God. She needs to become pregnant with the baby Jesus. She needs to choose a sperm donor.
If you’ve lost your way and are looking for a little spiritual redemption, maybe don’t look here. But if you want to feel secure in your own pious approach to life come and join Mary in her sanctuary. The hauntingly ethereal music subdues the parishioners who enter the downstairs refuge of The Butterfly Club as intruders upon a young Mary who kneels before you in sacred contemplation.

Right away Mary’s love for the Bible is unabashedly and lustfully portrayed. She invites you to join her in a reading. I can honestly say I have never experienced such a reading. So much said in so few words. Following is the traditional sharing of wine (as we drink the blood of Christ), and cracker (as we share in the body of Christ) and cheese… wait… what? At this point it’s fair to say our spiritual leader has turned party host and things get wild. This may be the most uniting congregation you will ever attend.
And now the biblical story of Mary, summoned by the almighty to be mother to the saviour child unfolds. Told like never before -there are no words, literally. If I hadn’t seen it myself I wouldn’t have believed you could tell this story in its entirety without an utterance. Not a chapter is missed. Not a sentiment left out.  From the jealous husband to the police chase; to arrival at the stable where Mary is visited by three generous Kings, all the way to the joyous, and terrifying birth. The ride is fast paced and delivered with such emotion all from the body of one very talented woman. Collins is spirited, surprising, and elastic – yes I said elastic!

VBM Collins 2
If you’re unfamiliar with the story of the Virgin Mary, it’s probably for the best. Immerse yourself in this modern-day version and get a little irreligious with the fabulously funny Nadia Collins. Exercise your funny muscles and prepare to be irreverently religious as “You get wise, you get to church” (another Blues Bros quote) If you’ve never seen Collins in action, do yourself a favour and get to this show. You won’t see another like it.

Review by Tanya Corocher

For Good Vibes Melbourne

TIX Available here

Netflix & Chill Cabaret at 24 Moons Bar

The 24 Moons Bar is an unexpectedly spacious venue, with its solid and vaguely industrial layout, which is made more inviting by modern and edgy backlit wall panels and a plethora of comfortable seats. A variety of electronic and indie rock music courses through the air, at a volume guaranteed to build the excitement for the arriving audience.

The MC for the night was Patrick Collins, who provided a brilliant mix of everyday experiences turned into hilarious tales, and pure unadulterated energy. He managed to leave everyone wondering if his role in this cabaret (as he repeatedly mentioned, tougue in cheek) was in fact just sheer happenstance — such was the skill of his goofy stage presence throughout the night.

The audience had gathered to be privy to another showing of Izzy Bellissima’s creation: The Netflix & Chill Cabaret. Explained as an excuse to produce a cabaret laced with everyone’s favourite Netflix shows, it also provided an outlet for any other pop-culture references the performers felt like showcasing. While everyone who took to the stage was talented, there were some performers who stood out, and captivated the audience from the first second.

Our MC Patrick, who naturally took up residence on stage frequently, delighted at every turn. Not only did his comedic banter provide energetic transitions between performances, he also showed us that his talents go above and beyond that of a traditional stand-up comedian.

Izzy Bellissima demonstrated that you can be sexy even when wielding dangerous 12 inch blades for fingers. Her act as Edward Scissorhands made it hard not to sympathize with how difficult and painful it is to disrobe seductively without slicing into something important.

Izzy Bellissima 1

Lily Brûlée’s performance was lively and unique with her overly dramatic expressions and gestures used to tell her story. She combined this with the additions of a bit of acrobatics and dance to create one of the most animated performaces of the night.

Lily Brûlée 2

Camilla Cream entertained us all when she joined the audience as the cynical and angsty Jessica Jones. She was so convincing in this role that it was almost a bit of a surprise when she transitioned to her Camilla persona, complete with her staple feather fans, in all of her luxurious twirling glory.

Boylesque also made a couple of appearances, though most memborably by Lord Lovat. He embodied the definitions of confidence and stage presence, strutting around in sky high platform heels. With his sultry gyrations and tantalizing glimpses of skin, he doubtless left a few previously unquestionably straight male audience members wondering at what they now define as sexy.

Lord Lovat 1.jpg

The final act of the night was comparatively tame, but by no means dull. Ashton Turner’s musical story of a clubgoer-turned-Tinderella-turned stereotypical Netflix consumer, and her relationship exploits, made for the perfect complimentary end for a cabaret such as this. Her story hit home for more people that would want to admit it, highlighting the humour, futility, and repetitive nature of modern relationships.

Overall, the performers and the theme made this cabaret both entertaining and relatable. It was an enjoyable and occasionally messy night, and if the Netflix & Chill Cabaret makes another appearance in Melbourne, it’s worth dropping in on — for the cabaret frequenters and new blood alike.

Review by Alyssa Baker

Pictures by Jeevan Surendran

For Good Vibes Melbourne  

Pictured: Andrew Isles, Aurora Flair, Izzy Bellissima, Lily Brulee, Lord Lovat 

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“It’s not easy being green” A Cabaret about veganism at The Butterfly Club

Veganism. For some, it’s a lifestyle choice. For others, it’s a revolution. There are vegans who politely decline the ice cream for dessert, and there are vegans who somehow miss the cruelty of feeding their physiologically carnivorous pets an herbivorous diet. There are vegans who join animal rights activists outside of circuses and factory farms, and there are vegans who will blast your children’s ears with a megaphone as you walk innocently through the CBD. In every case, the former are more than welcome to walk among us, and all power to them. They are doing something fantastic. Factory farms are the most destructive thing humanity has ever dreamed up, circuses don’t nor ever did need animals, and hey, more ice cream for the rest of us. But it’s the former breed who are ripe to be ground up and served as fodder for a witty comedian willing to make a few malnourished, dreadlocked, and prematurely aged enemies.

Being staged in the elegant upstairs section of Melbourne’s atmospheric Butterfly Club, Katie Visser’s “It’s Not Easy Being Green” declines the opportunity for ridicule outraged social-media activists, keyboard warriors and people who get about in public smelling like a dung heap make of themselves, and instead brings us a show designed around careful self-depreciation, herself being a committed but socio-politically moderate vegan. She gives us some impressively sung hits of the eighties to punctuate her caricature’s confessions and anecdotes regarding, and Joseph Daniel Junior’s piano renditions of classics from the likes of Springsteen, Carlisle and the musical Jesus Christ Superstar are superb. Meanwhile, her self-parody as a sort-of embarrassing aunt who’s discovered a new fad and is now intent on sharing it with all the world is amusing in an accessible manner. The lack of swearing or even remotely offensive content make it a rare cabaret number the whole family can enjoy. Adults seeking the typical raunchy, edgy night out will find it dreadfully pedestrian, but in another way, Visser’s show is refreshing.

We hope that Visser continues to work at her stage performance, refining her characters, and finding her voice up on the stage. There is a good deal of potential here.

Review by Max Davine 


Interview: Peter Kalos, Director at Lab Theatre and teacher at Melbourne Actor’s Lab

From the director’s chair

A collection of interviews with Aussie directors 

With Max Davine

Walking into the Melbourne Actor’s Lab feels like coming home. It doesn’t look anything like it used to; for one thing, it’s an entirely different venue. But there’s an energy that hangs around the place. The spectral presence of a thousand characters, worked on, fleshed out, and embodied with blood, sweat and tears. The looming feeling of what is required of an actor when they step through those doors, whichever doors the Lab has; that is, their absolute focus, their complete commitment, the abandonment of their ego and the resurgence of their sensory memories. This is a place where you go to create a symphony with your body, where you explore every dark recess of your heart and mind, and where you will, eventually, find yourself split open, stripped of all pretenses and slowly rotated in front of an audience. You sometimes learn things you didn’t know about yourself. But the work your create, the incredible rush to end a performance and know that it was as true and honest as if you were really there, is what you’re chasing. The day it clicks, and you know you’ve got it, is a day you never forget.

Behind all this is an unassuming man with an American accent and a deeply welcoming and generous personality. Not the wild eccentric, invasive one normally envisions of an acting teacher, and there’s plenty of them. Peter Kalos is really just a guy, and while his story is extraordinary, he shrugs it off as though it was, and is, a means to an end. “That’s the work,” he says, watching his students fall apart on stage. “That’s why actors get paid the big dollars. They earn it.”

I first came to Melbourne Actor’s Lab at age twenty. The school had just opened a little while before, and Peter sent me an invitation to come by and check it out. I knew of him, that he was a Melbourne boy who took off to LA to chase a dream, and found himself under the tutelage of none other than Stella Adler herself, and quickly earned himself a place amongst Hollywood’s elites, albeit as a script doctor for Paramount Pictures, instead of an actor. We’d all seen the photos of him with Robert de Niro, Sophia Loren, Mark Wahlberg, Dudley Moore, Eli Wallach…you name it, basically. I probably should have had a better idea of what I was in for. When the work started, I knew this was different. This was the real thing. I went through the usual trial period of wandering if I was losing my mind, if this was normal, and then, the glorious day, while working on a scene from Edward Albee’s “The Zoo Story”, when it finally clicked. With Peter Kalos’ voice in my head, I appeared in over sixty short films, five features, towards ten plays, I won awards, I stopped auditioning and started having parts written specifically for me…the day even came when I’d work on set with Robert de Niro, and Peter came along to visit his old friend. It’s all true; if it happened in Hollywood, Peter was either there, or knows someone who was. For three years, I left my tears, shards of my spirit, and on a few occasions my blood (though not everyone takes it that far, nor should they) on the floor of the Actor’s Lab. Acting was not for me. I am an author, sometimes a script writer. But ever since the school packed up and moved to Brunswick from that old place in St. Kilda, the energy remains. I feel pieces of myself, haunting spaces I left them for all to see.

“That’s the work.”

So, how did it happen? How did this school of about seven students in a little space in St. Kilda develop a reputation such as the Melbourne Actor’s Lab? How did a few bohemians flourish into classes of Logie nominees, packed out with people just come to watch what these incredible actors do?

“I was in LA,” Peter explains, of our luck. “And a project fell through, and I thought, I’m done with this. I’m done with LA. But I had to do something, so I stuck with what I know. I decided to teach what I know.”

Why Melbourne?

“I’m from Melbourne, originally,” he tells. “But I love the place. It’s like a young New York, it really is. There’s so much potential here.”

The Actor’s Lab started their own theatre this year, with Peter Kalos as the director. So far they have staged four plays, and are moving from their little venue, next year, to the Alex Theatre, back in St. Kilda. It will allow them to expand on their shows and bring us works which are new and exciting.

“We had amazing scenes going on,” Peter says. “And people had to see them. We were talking about it for years, but we realized nobody’s going to help us. Nobody’s going to finance anything…so we knew he had to do it ourselves.”

Rajiv Joseph’s “The North Pool” is currently playing at the Lab.

“We have pretty simple criteria; does it fit on our stage, is it well written, and can we do it without a budget. The North Pool was ready to go, it was available, that’s pretty much it.”

That’s pretty much it. Go see the play.

Written by Max Davine

Pictured: Max Davine interviews Peter Kalos

More info on The Actors Lab

Review: “The North Pool” At LAB Theatre

You come to the little side street just behind Sydney Road in Brunswick, probably thinking you’ve taken a wrong turn, there is no theatre here. You park your car, go for a little wander, and then the iconic sign jumps out at you; the black board, the intense face, half cast in shadow, the yellow stripe, and red letter: MELBOURNE ACTOR’S LAB. Almost ten years’ worth of reputation occurs to you. You’ve found the theatre, now feel that slightly nervous tingle. This is where actors work harder and are subject to the most intense training in all of Melbourne, possibly Australia. This is the only place where you can regularly find genuine off-Broadway quality in every aspect of the show. This is a style of theatre not available to everyone, not even in the theatrical world. The theatre by which all others in our fine city can be judged.

“The North Pool”, by Rajiv Joseph, is the first sign of Russian-inspired, New York-style grit, passion and raw honesty. It is structured in the classic style; a slow simmering, multi-layered enigma that must be unwrapped and played out layer by layer by the actors, who are challenged to create the emotion of the end product, then suppress it, hide it within the character and beneath the reams of dialogue which carry them and the audience toward the blazing crescendo. For a two-hander set entirely in a high school vice principal’s office, this is powerhouse writing. But you wouldn’t expect any less. It lives up to the traditions set down in such examples as Albee’s “The Zoo Story” and Mamet’s “American Buffalo”.

What is unexpected, to the newcomer, is the completeness to which actors Dennis Manahan and Sahil Saluja rise to the occasion, in the role of vice-principal and his interrogated new student, a middle-eastern transfer. What begins as a simple questioning peels back in slow phases, until the true nature of each is exposed, and as an audience, one can only sit and completely swept away by the two veteran Lab students. They are incredible. The only difficulty is tearing your eyes off of one to look at the other, and vice versa. Behind questions, behind political discussion, behind every verbal red-herring, the pot is slowly boiling over, and Manahan and Saluja disappear completely into the scene. That’s the thing about a great performance; you can’t judge it. You just have to try and remember that it isn’t real.  But then again, it is. It’s as real to them as pain, and it becomes real to the witnesses as well.

Peter Kalos guided them with the finesse of a director who studied for twenty years with the finest living teachers the United States has to offer, they have free reign but never meander. It’s about them, but only so far as the script will permit. Manahan clearly set up his own office, and the background props and pieces are magnificent and well-placed to throw us. Saluja exists in there like its brand new to him, through the rehearsal periods for Lab theatre are long and intense. Both are impeccably cast, Kalos’ instincts are in perfect form, and he communicates them with strength and assurance.

Special mention to Frances Braithwaighte, who provided a beautiful flute piece, and producers Natalia Nescpeca and Skye Young, who help make Lab theatre possible. Now, if you don’t mind, find some plays with decent parts for women!

Definitely don’t miss.

Written by Max Davine

Get your TIX to The North Pool

An interview with Gary Abrahams, Director of Hand to God – Playing NOW at the Alex Theatre

From the director’s chair

A collection of interviews with Aussie directors 

Something is happening at the Alex Theatre, long St. Kilda’s hub of smaller-scale professional and international theatre. For one thing, they’re doing something to the entrance; where once were large, glass doors are white wooden planks, and construction sight tape. For another, Vass Productions and ascending young director Gary Abrahams are rehearsing the kind of show that one struggles to imagine would have got a footing amongst the major commercial theatre producers in normally safe-and-mediocre and/or safely-mediocre Melbourne. “Hand to God” caused such a stir off Broadway that it’s sheer notoriety catapulted it uptown into just plain Broadway. In Abrahams’ words, it’s “Anarchic, risqué, and yet still really charming.”

When I did manage to get upstairs into the foyer, I quickly realized that this no ordinary play was being staged by no ordinary director, nor was Aleksander Vass any normal producers, for our fine city. Gary Abrahams took some time out from his supercharged rehearsal schedule to have a quick word with Good Vibes Melbourne, about his upcoming spectacle, which he says “was just one of those rare instances where you get a commercial play that’s also really loveable, and when I read the script, I loved it.”

Accompanying an impressive CV, which stretches back over an impressive nine year career, it doesn’t take long in the company of Abrahams to find a devotion for an eclectic but never unprofessional mix of theatre. Having graduated VCA in 2009, with a Masters in Directing, Abrahams balances directing shows for the likes of MTC (“Buyer and Cellar”) and Red Stitch (“Roam”; “The Pride”, “Laramie. 10 Years On” and “Oh Well Never Mind Bye”, to name a few) with writing and directing shows for his own theatre company, Dirty Pretty Theatre (whose show, “Therese Raquin” embarked on a national tour) and teaming up with other independent production houses shows like “Bad Jews” or, the mother of all monsters for any director, let alone one still so early in his career, “Angels In America”. That’s both “Millenium Approaches” and “Perestroika”, by the way. Six hours. Yeah, “Hand of God” is in good hands.

Hearing all this, it’s easy to see why Abrahams and Vass are a match made in theatre. “Alex and I both love the off-Broadway style, and Alex invests a lot in that small, New York style of theatre, to bring it to Melbourne audiences,” he said. “New York style” is not a term that should be used lightly, when referring to any theatre. The massive influx of Russian immigrants to New York City towards the end of the 19th century saw an almost religious devotion to the stage, culturally intrinsic to the Russians, duplicated in the Big Apple. It’s the city that gave us Lee Stransberg and Stella Adler, their students Stanford Meisner and Elisa Kazan, and the beacon of fine theatre arts itself: The Actor’s Studio. Vass and Abrahams will need a mighty team behind them, if they are to pull off their ambitions.

“We knew we had to get recognizable faces, actors with wide appeal,” Abrahams said, before the glow of genuine fondness came over him. “I’d worked with Alison White before, and even though she was well known for her more dramatic roles, I just wanted to know what she’d think of the script. Basically, I sent it to her out of curiosity,” he continued. “She said she absolutely loved it. Perfect relief from all the heavy drama. It just so happened she was looking for a comedy…but it’s a demanding role. There are moments of high melodrama, there are moments of subtlety, it’s really quite difficult, so we’re really glad she’s excited to do be doing it.”

“It’s also quite rare that an actress who’s been around longer, has more experience, actually gets an opportunity, in a script, to have such a good, meaty role,” he added, being exceptionally polite about the ridiculous double-standards that perpetuates in both theatre and film for actresses. What happens, in movieland, to women when they turn thirty? Do they turn to dust? We’re both glad to see that “Hand to God” is a departure.

“I didn’t know Gyton,” Abrahams said, of his leading man. “I’d known his work, of course, as most Australians do, from his television roles. But I’d never met him. But reading the role, I saw that it would benefit from his unique quality, and again, it’s a super challenging role. He’s swinging from protagonist to antagonist, he’s had to learn new skills, and it’s been amazing to watch. His puppeteering has come a long way! It’s just been great to see him flesh out and become this character. It’s always amazing to see an actor take on two roles, like this, and see one, and forget that it’s the same actor doing both. Just incredible.”

Written by: Max Davine

Hand to God TIX 

Read Good Vibes Melbourne review of Hand to God