Pins and Needles

Written by Thomas Ian Doyle
Directed by Gabrielle Savrone

Starring:
Lucinda Cowden
Mardi Edge
Aston Elliot
David Macrae
$20/$25
Ticket Bookings

A cutting comedy exploring the love and the lives of two middle-aged married couples who decide that it’s time to explore their silent sexual desires. Carolyn and Gregg set the table, whilst Joe and Fay make the bed, as they all venture to navigate love in the modern generation. But with their younger years behind them, this proves more adventuresome than expected.

4th -13th October, 8pm

Bowie and Mercury Rising

Chapel Off Chapel – July 26-30 2017

International composer Warren Wills’ tribute to Freddie Mercury and David Bowie is a visual mess. This bemusing mishmash of montage, interpretive dance and lasers does little to honour the memories of these late icons. The often-convoluted arrangements highlight Wills’ skills rather than allowing the music to shine, detracting from the tribute.

From the obvious head shots of Bowie and Mercury through to seemingly random stock images of scenery, the projected montage has the coherence and professionalism of a school PowerPoint presentation. The transitions between images are choppy and they seem to serve no purpose other than filling in space.

Fortunately, Melbourne RnB singer and actress Thando Sikwila, whose credits include Dreamgirls and The Colour Purple, graces Chapel Off Chapel with her powerhouse vocals once again for Bowie and Mercury Rising. Offering some redemption for the disorienting visuals, Sikwila’s rich, smooth vocals supported by Wills on piano are the main draw for the show.

Inexplicably marketed as a musical, Bowie and Mercury Rising is more cabaret than musical, and more ‘inspired-by’ than tribute. Sikwila is given the host-esque role of cohering the performance, but her awkward dialogue of puns and impersonal anecdotes between songs fall flat. Don’t expect a story and don’t expect an emotional journey; there’s little in terms of narrative to guide the audience, and Sikwila unfortunately lacks the warmth and charisma needed to drive the performance in this role.

The show’s lighting budget appears to have been allocated to gear rather than design. Jason Bovaird’s light design demonstrates the same lack of cohesion as the other elements of the show. Late in the performance, a short laser show is as unexpected as it is underwhelming, apparently moving through all available settings rather than having any semblance of structure. Lights also occasionally blind the audience; squinting at the stage through the brightness, I can see I’m not the only one shielding my eyes from the glare.

Melbourne dancer Jessica Mortlock is undoubtedly talented, but her contribution to the show does little to ease the jarringly incohesive show. From writhing beneath sheets to gyrating atop the piano and later donning retro clothing to enthusiastically grin dance like the next member of High-5, Mortlock’s choreography treats each song as an individual show with no thought to the overarching performance. Mortlock clashes energetically with the laid back Sikwila, gently swaying while she sings.

Bowie and Mercury Rising should probably come with an epilepsy warning and complimentary sunglasses. Nevertheless, Sikwila and Wills will at least entertain you with this Bowie- and Mercy-inspired cabaret.

 

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

 

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

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

 

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!

We All Know What’s Happening

The rich, colourful and checkered history of an island, that lies just off the coast of ours, provides the narrative and the once perfect, tropical backdrop to this performance. But as the performance traces the lineage from past to present, the effects of colonisation and the ploys of various continents to take from this island ts natural resources. Leaves us the present. For what is faced by Nauru and it’s people is clearly, and evidently a disaster. 

The performance takes the form of a school pantomime, it’s all pops of colour, prop heavy stuff with some deeply evocative memories of childhood at play. But cutting deeper than these superficial and at times satirical movements, you can recognise that choosing such a young ensemble is an a intelligent and timely theatrical device. With detention centres and off shore processing still a hotly contested issue, it’s important that we continue to stoke the fire, insight curiosity and inspire conversation, not just between us as adults, but perhaps more importantly with the next generations to come. We All Know Whats Happening, comes at a time in Australia where our schools have only begun to really educate on white Australia’s violent history of invasion and conflict. The ensemble give as much they can, and the performance is solid and co-creators Samara Hersch & Lara Thoms should be commended for such a brave and unsettling image. 

Mid performance all children younger than the age of twelve are asked to leave the theatre, next coming the most uncomfortable truth that is our governments attempts to sweep under the rug, valid claims of child and sexual abuse on Nauru. Here the performance strikes its greatest chord.

Creatives and visionaries should always strive for work that is resonate, powerful and of the times, however in the cold hard light of reality, one must also question how far reaching theatre of a political nature really is. Not to diminish what is being communicated here, but how will this show permeate the outside,  what is its ability to effect change? Theatre won’t drastically shift conversation nor instile in our government empathy. Sadly outside of the theatre the world continues to turn, the planet continues to burn and we continue to regress further. In reflection of such negative and uncompromising thoughts the power of this kind of  performance is visible. In an otherwise darker growing world, things that shine and own such an innocence need continuing. We All Know Whats Happening playing this week at Arts House, for tickets or more info click here

 

Next Fall

Darrin Redgate + Mark Davis
Darrin Redgate + Mark Davis

Opposites attract they say and Peter Blackburn’s direction of Geoffrey Naufft’s hilarious and poignant tragi-comedic exploration of an oddly matched gay couple throws light on the current discussion about the issues of marriage equality, acceptance and openness in a well-paced, humorous and  challenging performance.

Set in New York this complex story crossing between the present and flashbacks to 5 years of a loving relationship between Adam played by Darrin Redgate, a 40 year old atheist and Mark Davis plays Luke, a much younger devout Christian.

Their relationship has been hidden from Luke’s devout Southerner parents, Butch his father played by Paul Robertson as the brusque, grieving father and his eccentric mother, Kaarin Fairfax as Arlene. Such a fine performance from both actors!

One of the flashback scenes is the de-gaying of their apartment in preparation for Luke’s fathers soon arrival and Adam’s will to confront the issue of their relationship with the father. This causes some stress as Luke wants Adam to be invisible for a couple of hours but as luck would have it dad arrives as Adam swings into the lounge room carrying the picture of a large naked black man’s buttocks…it is amazing what some people choose not to see or process sometimes!

Luke lies in a hospital bed after an assault leads to brain damage. The play starts in the stark waiting room of the hospital with the couple’s bestie Holly (Sharon Davis) and Brandon (John Biasetto), Luke’s ex love interest setting the scene for the many dramatic waiting room scenes in the two act play.

The set design is an inspired use of the space, the use of the huge green draw curtains to signify the hospital and opening up to cleverly used stage props that take us through the couples 5 year relationship leading up to this tragedy.

Loved this play, a very strong statement about where society still struggles to accept equality today.

Cast:  James Biasetto, Mark Davis, Sharon Davis, Kaarin Fairfax, Paul Robertson, Darrin Redgate
Director: Peter Blackburn
Set and Costume Design: James Lew
Lighting Design: Megz Evans
Sound Design: Linton Wilkinson
Original Music/Score: Claire Healy
Stage Manager: Jacinta Anderson

12-30 July 
Time: 8pm Wednesday-Saturday, 5pm Sunday
Tickets: $39.50 Full, $29.50 Concession, 33.50 Group 8+ (+transaction fee)

Duration: Act 1: 50 minutes (20 minute interval) Act 2: 55 minutes