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!

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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

“’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