Tribunal

 PYT Fairfield                                                                                                            Lead artist: Karen Therese                                                                                      Arts House North Melbourne, July 20-23

Some very interesting things are happening in the arts in western Sydney just now. Quietly, and with surprisingly little attention from the rest of Australia, a remarkably fertile cultural milieu has developed.

Perhaps the best exemplar is PYT Fairfield, which seems to be going from strength to strength. PYT Fairfield is led by Karen Therese, an artist of singular dedication and strength of vision. In recent years, Therese has emerged as one of the most exciting voices in Australian culture, largely on the back of her work at PYT Fairfield, and with a small but significant amount of support from funding bodies.

Tribunal is a meaty and quietly passionate play that picks at the scabs of Australian politics and identity. Originally staged at Griffin last year in Sydney, this is its first trip away on tour. 

Tribunal’s conceit is as a kind of Australian truth and reconciliation commission, presided over by an indigenous elder, Aunty Rhonda Grovenor Dixon. On trial is Australia’s recent immigration policies, and, by implication, Australia itself. 

Bringing together the voices of Afghan refugees and the Australian human rights lawyers and Red Cross workers who try to help them, Tribunal presents the dilemmas of forced migration and militarised borders with a knobbly but by no means pessimistic realism. The story is a familiar one, and yet here it is rendered fresh.

The key story is that of Afghan Hazara refugee Mahdi Mohammadi, a young actor-director forced to flee Kabul after his feminist theatre troupe came to the attention of the Taliban. Mohammadi’s story is perhaps atypical of the plight of refugees globally: displaced by violence, he was lucky enough to be judged a genuine refugee and gain safety in a rich nation. In contrast, as he reminds us, many aren’t so lucky, including a friend currently locked up in Australia’s immigration jail in Nauru.

But Mohammadi’s story is also important in that he reminds us why people want to come to Australia in the first place: not just to escape violence and war, but also to build a new life for themselves and their families. It is only by attacking or ignoring the individual stories of people like Mahdi Mohammadi that the citizens of rich democracies like Australia can pretend that our policies are in any way generous, liberal or humane.

Every show needs a star, and Mohammadi is it. He portrays his journey with quiet assurance and deep integrity. It’s a kind of theatre that reminds you that name actors, expensive sets and cutting-edge sound designs are entirely superfluous to the basic and universal human experience of narrative. Also impressive were Katie Green, playing a disillusioned Red Cross worker, and Paul Dwyer, playing a series of officious Department of Immigration bureaucrats.

What made Tribunal so refreshing for me was the rediscovery of a type of theatre that had once seemed almost extinct in this country. After its hay day in the 1980s, community theatre was systematically attacked by hostile funding bodies in the 2000s, culminating in the disastrous abolition of the Community Cultural Development Board of the Australia Council in 2005. The reasons were complex, but they boiled down to elitist disdain for a supposed lack of artistic quality. 

By the early 2010s, Australian stages seemed to have been taken over by an ostentatious and showy style of theatre, in which classic texts were used as vehicles for star directors to demonstrate their mastery of spectacle.  

In contrast, Tribunal taps into different theatrical traditions, and asks very different questions of its audience. Despite a few rough edges at certain moments, there was no lack of craft on display. 

By insisting on presenting the voices of real asylum seekers, woven into a true narrative, PYT Fairfield has given us a genuinely radical work of theatre. Instead of the faux-verite of a Simon Stone, here we saw real people inhabiting their life experiences, in a way that was none-the-less powerfully theatrical. The result was both moving and profoundly satisfying.

Merciless Gods

It’s so refreshing to see some great theatre being produced, though calling Little Ones stage adaption of the work by Christos Tsiolkas “great” seems almost reductive. It’s impossible not to be simultaneously blown away yet also drawn inwardly into this performance. Each of the spiralling narratives builds to an unsettling end, as all of the sexual tension explodes and enigmatic energy comes simmering to the surface. 

This is the gritty underside of Australia, the kind of places, people and situations that are brought down and into disrepute by our main stream contemporaries and media outlets. It takes no prisoners and it’s bleak bordering on the dystopian. This sense achieved not by painting the big picture but instead tapping into the psychological landscape that lies just below. 

The ensemble give in to their respective characters, the over lapping and playing of multiple roles by a single performer is at times a confusing, but deliberate choice. Many times over, you experience just drifting away and becoming lost in many of the heavy passages of text and about this, there is something meditative. Other times, you are brought back into the moment so viscously that you are reduced to tears. The subject matter is unflinching, a terminally ill man who has given consent for his wife and children to administer a lethal dose or the bombing of a gay sauna and rampant sexual exploitation just some of the many themes. 

The eye to detail that has been applied to this production by each creator is evident and the picture they manage to paint proves a sumptuous backdrop.  The stage forms a sharp and abrupt shape that teeters out from a rich red velvet curtain, the audience flanked on two sides,  everything here has been edited down to a distinct colour pallet of blue orange yellow and red. The lighting design is second to none, it’s subtle and its refinement gives further depth to an already layered work. 

Nothing can prepare you for this level of awesomeness, it is the very best independently produced locally made theatre we have seen this so far year. Not for the faint hearted or easily offended, this work is important and will be spoken of for sometime to come. An easy prediction to clean up at next year Green Room Awards, Merciless Gods is now playing at Northcote Town Hall.

For more info or to book your tickets click here

 

Tina Del Twist Gold Class

Tina Del Twist, a gin soaked pickle of a woman, well past her prime, a washed up has been in the most endearing of ways. Though she maybe in serious need of a permanent stint at The Betty Ford Clinic she can still belt out a number like few can, and her show is still the most enjoyable kind of late night, boozey cabaret.

From the moment Del Twist steps onto the stage, her audience are involved with little they can do to escape. As the performance continues we are let privy to more of her story, her retelling is nothing short of crass and dirty, sporting the greatest kind of vulgarity, Her command of the space and way in which the whole venue is utilised, simply brilliant. Mid show, she stumbles through the audience and off into the dark, then only to bring the last row of empty seats, crashing to the floor proudly proclaiming, a sell out show. 

Tina del Twist is the creative makings of Wes Snelling, a man who has a long standing relationship with the Melbourne cabaret scene. Tina del Twist: Gold Class really pulls together the most recognised of Tina’s repertoire from the past decade or so. Testament to his comic genius, the material remains fresh and delivers big on belly laughs. Joined on stage by Twist (Stephen Weir) who accompanies on guitar, matching Tina’s voice should be a challenge, but his playing is brilliant and these two are equally as awe inspiring. The connection between each performer is evident and this really does bring joy.

The work doesn’t try to go to deeply into any particular line of conversation. Though it is slightly ocker, it doesn’t really tap into political or social issues, it’s pure entertainment, a great late night foray. Vocally bang on, tightly composed, we need more of this and we need it now.

This performance took place at Map57 in St Kilda, to keep up to breast with  the work of Del Twist click here

Respectable Thief Nástio Mosquito

Projects 104: Nástio Mosquito “Respectable Thief” Performer: Nástio Mosquito The Museum of Modern Art Titus 2 Theater New York, N.Y. September 23, 2016 Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes

Respectable Thief – where to begin exactly? This is a work which is as much layered as it is a superficial and visceral experience that skirts around a concept, never quite giving to us, the full picture. Powerful, evocative and immersive, each element here works in duality to present a vision that has evidently been granted time enough to develop.

The words of Nástio Mosquito cut deep, loaded with subtle commentary on the social and political spectrum of the world in 2017. Not only do the words of this amazing performer resonate, but his physicality vocals and attitude go almost too far, toe-ing a precarious line between art and arrogance. Self assurity only works when the performance is good enough to carry such bravado, and Respectable Thief is more than good enough.

The lighting and video, both the work of Nástio Mosquito and key collaborator Vic Pereiró are both heavily stylised, and this approach results in a visual continuity on par with the best. It’s hard not to draw parallels by the work of Chunky Move in recent years with Complexity of Belonging and Lucid as two good examples. But what makes this work different is it’s honesty, the way it presents as both a polished and unpolished thing. The narrative is almost intangible yet you know it’s there, the rhythm and the sharp manner in which each following scene proceeds, giving this performance enough momentum to propel the whole thing towards closing scenes. The comedic elements and interaction with the audience also two clever components which further cement a connection. 

The soundtrack to the work is awesome, loud and bashful, littered at times with the faintest hint of synth hooks and the kind of beats that have you re-listening to a song many times over. In fact, this is the kind of performance you could revisit several times only to rediscover something new upon each return.

Arts House has this past week chosen to present two very similar works, with Tales Of An Afronaut also enjoying a debut season. The only suggestion to be put forward is to witness both of these works back to back, with the above mentioned performance offering the perfect opening accompaniment. The team behind the presentation of works at this note worth Melbourne institution continue to impress. If other venues would be so bold, then Melbourne would continue to mature as a respected place where multiculturalism and inclusion are a given.

See this work while you can. For more info or to book you ticket click here

Cashing In On Queer Culture?

There has been some negative comment circulating in regards to Melbourne Festivals listed ticket price for Taylor Mac. Mac is a performer or more-so true embodiment of queer reverence, with a career forged through the bars and night clubs of New York. A narrative many can relate to, but Mac has achieved the kind of international recognition for their tireless pursuit of creative expression and visibility, that most only dream of.  Collaborator of prominent Melbourne theatre company, MKA and queer identifying performance artist Kerith Manderson-Galvin spoke with TAGG on the issue;

“I guess I just think there are already a lot of opportunities that queer people miss out on or are left out of.”- Continuing, Manderson-Galvin says “The festival website says it looks back on rebellions and revolutions- and I wonder what a financially inaccessible show offers us for revolution now, and what future we have to look forward to.”
 
There is a huge but not often discussed class divide within the GLBTIQ community, on one hand you have a select group of often white, cis gender males who have progressed through life to land in a moderate place of comfort. On the other end of the spectrum we have our trans brothers and sisters as example; who often still face difficulty and rejection from those both inside and out of our community. So it’s a grand gesture that speaks of more than the artistic integrity of Melbourne Festival that they bring to us the work of this artist. Not only as an opportunity for the GLBTIQ community to come together but also granting us a highly visible and public queer figure to be present at a time where topics such as marriage equality are still hotly contested. 

 

Speaking with Richard Watts on 3RRR’s SmartArts yesterday Jonathan Holloway Melbourne  Festival Director, responded to the issue by explaining.

 
“It is a work about inclusion that starts at 39 dollars with cheaper tickets discounted for people under 30 or in the industry for Taylor’s work. Of which you can see a one and half hour performance, a whistle stop tour for about forty bucks. Which i think is fairly good for a Hamer Hall or Forum Show.”
 
“Yes if you then want to see the full 24 hour marathon of which there are a 850 seats, the very top ticket price is 699 dollars. It is 150 performers and 50 crew members working for two weeks just on this piece one piece of work. And nobody is doing it for nothing, we pay absolutely everyone who is involved.”
 
“Once you start saying 200 people, of which 33 of them are flying in from New York. Doing something and telling a story that will be incredible; you get to the point where actually the level of subsidy that goes on top of that is absolutely worth it. And when you just work out the economics, there was no way to do it without that top ticket price.”
 
“But for me the 100 something people that are from the community who are performing and who are involved, that’s where the inclusion also is, aside from the audience.”
 
So there are compelling arguments being put forward by both sides, but is enough being done, and what will the final response be from Melbourne’s QLBTIQ and arts communities? For Melbourne Festival, its perhaps a moment of opportunity for them to further cement their relations with these communities instead of ostracising individuals whom are already forced to exist on the margins. 

Incognito a one-act play at Red Stitch Theatre, East St Kilda.

Jing-Xuan Chan & Kate Cole

There’s no doubt  Incognito is a fascinating and adventurous piece of theatre.  What else? Okay, intriguing and mysterious. And the probability is that some audiences will totally get it, the possibility is also some (members of this audience or that) will leave scratching their noggins, trying to stimulate the grey matter inside the skull…for the brain is a locus for the plot in this four-hander.

 Ben Prendergast & Kate Cole

Ben Prendergast & Kate Cole

Incogni Incogn Inco Incognito is mysterious in several ways as it stretches through time and the actors are required to play with character. Technically, for ‘the actor’, the play is demanding, with each player required to play at least four characters, and as many as six, without benefit of costume change, or off-stage moments to re frame. Four actors and 21 characters. So now is the moment to play the critic and to assert that the four actors were fabulous, none did falter a line and in the show I saw, the second-only public performance, well the sold-out audience couldn’t stop the applause. The actors, Ben Prendergast, Kate Cole, Paul Ashcroft (all seasoned Red Stitch players) and guest Red Stitcher Jing-Xuan Chan, well deserved it. And throw in Directors Ella Caldwell and Brett Cousins & the rest of the crew. Incognito stimulating, I enjoyed it. The play was presented in minimalist-ish fashion, with a dodgy piano and a jar with brain bits pretty much the only stage props…well as stage objects, include the constant presence of the whole cast. You’ll understand if you go.

What’s it all about, Albert? Well, it’s sort of about Albert E’s brain, about the Einsteinian space-time continuum, about brain trauma, about same sex sorties and space-time ‘wormholes’ but essentially about a lot of ‘who am I?’ Maybe ‘who was I?’ and ‘Who will I become?’

Colin Talbot’s full dissertation on this play can be read here in Toorak Times

 

Melbourne Festival Our Top Ten

The Melbourne Festival program has just been released. Once again, for 18 days this October it will unify, divide, enchant and entice our city with some of the most colourful, bright and brilliant acts from around the world. Artistic Director Jonathan Holloway describing the selection of this years program  as having

“Searched the world for the most courageous, visionary and ambitious artists: artists who are actively taking on the biggest subjects with flair, excitement and drive. We have drawn together as many of them as possible to create a blockbuster that attempts to remind us all what humankind is capable of.”

The 2017 line up has something for everyone and TAGG will again this year be bringing our readers the very best of the festival. To kick things off, here’s our top 10 picks.

 

Tanderrum

For the fifth year, Melbourne Festival opens with the celebration of the ground on which we stand and the people whose ancestors walked it before our time. Performed by the clans of the Kulin Nation, through Tanderrum we acknowledge the lore of creator spirit Bunjil and pay their respects to the vibrant and living culture of this land.

Federation Square Wednesday the 4th of October at 6.30pm.

Tom Waits’ Black Rider: The Casting Of The Magic Bullets 

It maybe hard for one to go wrong with an opera penned by Tom Waits that has on it’s bill  both Meow Meow and Paul Capsis, these two veteran performers have and continue to delight Australian Audiences. Presented by Malthouse Theatre this work continues on a bit of a trend for gothic theatre that has emerged in Melbourne and should prove to be an impactful performance.

Playing at the Malthouse Theatre from Friday the 15th of October.

All The Sex I Have Ever Had

As part of Melbourne Festival 2016, Hair Cuts By Children placed scissors in the hands of school kids and allowing them to play barber for some of the more intrepid Melbourne Festival patrons. This year the same creative team Mammalian Diving Reflex brings us something a little different. With Seniors taking the seat to talk about sex, life and longevity. Because let’s face it, we all do it and it certainly isn’t a new invention.

Playing at Arts Centre Melbourne, Playhouse from Thursday the 12th of October.

Bangsokol: A Requiem For Cambodia

Over two million Cambodians, were in the 1970’s, murdered. But in the face of this genocide and over the proceeding 40 years, a resilient and strong community has grown. Giving voice to a country which is still reeling from such unimaginable events. Spanning song, film, dance, voice and orchestra this is the first major symphonic work to commemorate the atrocities that played out in Cambodia

Playing at Arts Centre Melbourne Hamer Hall on Friday the 13th & Saturday the 14th of October.

Tree Of Codes

If any performance this festival  promises to deliver “Epic” it has to be this one. Having wowed audiences across the world, Tree Of Codes finally touches down in Australia premiering as part of this years Melbourne Festival. Between dance, light and structure, this is the work of three of the world most resplendent artists Wayne McGregor, Olafur Eliasson, and Jamie xx.

Playing at Arts Centre Melbourne, State Theatre from Tuesday the 17th of October.

Ever

Now settled into their new digs at Temperance Hall, BallatlLab under the guise of Phillip Adams, for this years festival gives us Ever. A transformative, painterly expression of vibrant minimalism and chromatic Romanticism morphing Shaker and Quaker roots and nostalgic tropes of the American West. 

Playing at Temperance Hall from Friday the 6th of October.

Ayoung Kim

Korean artist Ayoung Kim’s work is for the first time presented in Australia through dual exhibitions, Porosity Valley, Portable Holes and In This Vessel We Shall Be Kept. To walk through an exhibition by this artists akin to taking a voyage across dark and eerie waters, where real events rub shoulders with myth and memories are made mutable.

Exhibiting at Collingwood Arts Precinct, The Gym and the Royal Botanical Gardens, Mueller Hall Herbarium from Friday the 6th of October.

Under Siege 

A chance to see one of China’s most epic stories reinvented as one of this century’s most ravishing spectacles. The work of renowned Chinese choreographer and dancer Yang Liping this is her vision of the climactic battle between Chu and Han armies; an encounter that changed the course of Chinese history.

Playing at Arts Centre Melbourne, State Theatre from Thursday the 5th of October. 

Dark Circus

A riotous work for all ages, Dark Circus makes its Australian debut for Melbourne Festival audiences. Combining shadow puppetry, live illustration and hand drawn animation they present a scripted piece that is never the same twice. The resulting effect, is something close to “cinema without film”.

Playing at the Malthouse Theatre from the 5th of October.

Taylor Mac: A 24 Decade History Of Popular Music

From 1776 to 2016 this is a decade-by-decade account of American history and popular culture, told by the unmissable Taylor Mac. Re told from a radical, queer and unapologetic view point, these stories are often forgotten, dismissed, or buried. Part celebration, part exorcism, all party, this extravaganza will take its place as one of the most spectacular moments Melbourne has ever witnessed.

Playing at Forum Theatre and Hamer Hall Arts Centre Melbourne from Thursday the 5th of October.

With this being just the tip of the iceberg, head to the Melbourne Festival website to find out about many of other great offerings this years festival promises local audiences. 

Frankenstien

Presented by Theatre Works and Don’t Look Away and written by Lally Katz, this a modern interpretation of work penned by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Oddly beautiful, and uncomfortable in it’s own skin this production is laced with some potent undertones but more importantly it’s just damn good fun all round.

This is Frankenstein, but not as you would know the fabled character, nor his beastly creation, instead stripping back the work to uncover and explore notions of the outsider. It’s a blistering two hander, where in a flurry of scenes, Victor, over come with self loathing, battles with the idea of playing parent, while the rampant need for normality that his creature seeks, provides this work its centrifuge. Break out musicality, evocative lighting and a glitzy eighties vibe, completing this perfectly realised work. 

Other, less obvious choices adopted further extend upon themes of family, belonging and acceptance, it is a work that despite its surrealist vision, speaks directly of themes that through their universality will always prove contemporary. A connection to the work is easily established through The Creature, and unlikely in-road, but you feel for her, and her desire for love and affection. 

Both performances delivered by Chantelle Jamieson and Michael McStay are stoic and well refined, though they just need more time to really sink into the rhythm of the performance. Moments of strong physicality do emerge but are not delivered to their full potential, lacking a little in self assurance. Richard Whitehouse, who here is responsible for the lighting, has delivered a really beautiful component that unifies and further deepens the mood and aesthetic. Director Phil Rouse, has added a subversive and surreal undertone to the performance also.

Some technical issues dogged the performance, audio levels need to be addressed as do some of the projections used, but as the performance finds its feet and settles into the run, these should easily be ironed out.

An impressive, thought provoking work wrapped up into a tight one hour package, Frankenstein is now playing at Theatre Works until the 29th of July, for more info or to book your tickets click here 

Djuki Mala are Fabulous

What a marvellous show at Map 57, Djuki Mala is one of the most enjoyable experiences I have had at any show this year.

The dancers from NE Arnhem land, Yolngu people, are also known as the ‘Chooky Dancers’ the comedic energy they bring to their dance when crossing cultural styles, their Zorba the Greek brings the house down.

It is an inspired meshing of traditional dance and modern concoctions, lending their talents to the various forms of dance dating back to the ‘70’s.

The show is backdropped with a huge screen that connects us to the story behind Djuki Mala, elder women explaining how dance was used as a diversion from drugs and alcohol and general misbehaviour on Elcho Island off Arnhem Land. Not only was the idea effective but now Djuki Mala tour the world showing their talents and exposing the world to the culture of their people and their communication with the broader community.

The entrancement of the traditional songs to highly ridiculous piss take humour this mob provide is so well supported by the audio visual, sound, lighting and effects in a seamless roller coaster ride of entertainment that leaves you feeling real good for such a long time, I am still cracking up at some of the poses for instance…

It is a wonderful story about how a simple and powerful idea can change peoples lives and end up a world wide sensation.

Djuki Mala play at Map 57 on the St Kilda Triangle site until Friday July 28, so if you want a great time and a huge belly laugh, get along to this show!

Mothers Ruin at Map57

Mother’s Ruin is Gin 

Gin. Specifically, the alcohol beverage of Gin was called mother’s ruin because in the mid eighteenth century the effects of gin on the family and economy were disastrous. Considered the poor man’s drink due to its affordability, gin drinking had started out as medicine but due to its easy availability, men became impotent while women became sterile causing the London birth rate to decline drastically.  

 Mother’s Ruin is a deliciously entertaining cabaret that takes us through a Gin laced journey transporting us to 18th century London, to the prohibition, to the Peruvian jungle and even the Australian outback, with the common denominator being: Gin! In fact everything in Mother’s Ruin is about the Gin. 

The gorgeous, talented and appropriately voluptuous Maeve Marsden and Libby Wood are the creators and stars of the show and share the stage with Tom Dickins on the piano. The duo’s angelically seductive voices fill our ears with sublime vocals and tickle our senses with their hilarious stories while the piano man completes the act with his jazzy cabaret sound and style. 

Mothers Ruin is a collage of Impressions that travels the audience to smoke filled bars, naughty women, drunken sailors and witty humour that intoxicates the audience like Gin taking effect in their bloodstream. Beautiful renditions of songs by Amy Winehouse, Nina Simone, and Pretenders amongst others are woven into stories of Gin, creating an atmosphere of decadence, giving an even more integrated insight to the subject: Gin. In this unique cabaret the audience can taste, hear, see and even feel the Gin.  

A lot of Gin, Oompah-Pah, laughter and good old fashioned entertainment. Mother’s Ruin intoxicates your senses with this decadently indulgent Gin cocktail of pure, potent, quality entertainment. Bottoms up!