Tim Finn’s White Cloud at the Art Centre Melbourne

By Tim Finn and Ken Duncum with film by Sue Healey

“Salvage something that we need to remember From the wreck of history
Family images of fading splendour
Where they lead I’m following…”

– Tim Finn, White Cloud

Tim Finn, legendary New Zealand singer-songwriter, member of Crowded House and founding member of Split Enz, will perform White Cloud – a musing meditative performance about family, identity and home – this January at Arts Centre Melbourne.

White Cloud alchemises observation and contemplation, photographs and journals, narrative and music to deliver a potent celebration of family, ancestry and what it means to be Pakeha (a Māori language term for New Zealanders who are of European descent).

Through songs and stories, Tim introduces us to family members past and present, whose voices echo through journals, letters and memoirs – matched by dreamlike imagery drawn from 8mm home movies shot largely by his father, Richard Finn.

An inspired collaboration between Finn, leading New Zealand playwright/screenwriter Ken Duncum and video artist Sue Healey, White Cloud has moved audiences and critics alike in New Zealand, Australia, Ireland and the UK.

 

Tim Finn
Tim Finn

“We always envisaged White Cloud as an immersive experience, not a narrative in the traditional sense. More a series of impressions of people, places and our family backgrounds, which together tell a larger story,” explains Duncum.

A richly textured blend of beautifully melodic music and poetically evocative prose brought to life in the intimate confines of the Fairfax Studio, this inventive reflection on the lives of families growing up in New Zealand, loosening ties to the UK and encountering Maori culture is not to be missed.

Arts Centre Melbourne presents
White Cloud: Tim Finn
Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio
13 – 15 January, 2017
Book at artscentremelbourne.com.au

Vic Theatre Co: The Gathering

THE GATHERING. Thanks to the support of the City of Melbourne, Belinda Jenkin and William Hannagan are thrilled that their show will have its first professional staging in Melbourne produced by Vic Theatre Company and directed by Chris Parker at 45 Downstairs from November the 26th until December the 11th under the new name of ‘The Gathering.’

The Gathering by William Hannagan and Belinda Jenkin, first premiered in 2011 as ‘House Warming’ and was praised by critics as being ‘smart and spirited…musically complex…multi layered and accomplished…news, fast moving, impressive musical story telling’ (The Age), and ‘heart-warming to wrenching, to youthfully optimistic all in the same show’ (Theatre Press). In 2014, HouseWarming was presented in New York at Theatre Row, 42nd Street as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival, with the support of Arts Victoria and the Anna Sosenko Trust.

The story is set on a dark and windy night. A summer storm is brewing. Six young friends gather for their first night in an old, rickety house – and the promise of a new start. It’s a house haunted by atrocities from the past, a house where no one’s secrets are safe, where any one of their histories could tear this group apart. But Tom is determined to fix his past mistakes: right old wrongs and revive old relationships. He won’t run away. Not again. Will these friendships survive the night or will the whispering walls cause a rift no amount of shared history can overcome?

“The Gathering is the future of Music Theatre in this country. Smart, Slick and Witty, it’s a new voice for the new generation” – Glenn Ferguson – Vic Theatre Company

THE LAST 5 YEARS which opens on the 25th November is based on a couple, once inspired by each other’s dreams, trying to stay connected as their paths begin to divide? Jason Robert Brown’s acclaimed 2001 musical, The Last 5 Years, returns to Melbourne with an all-star duo of two-time Helpmann Award winner Verity Hunt-Ballard (Sweet Charity, Mary Poppins) and Josh Piterman (CATS, West Side Story).

The Last 5 Years tells the story of two twenty-somethings who fall in – and out – of love. Jamie (Piterman), an up-and-coming writer, struggles to balance his sudden success with his increasingly tumultuous love life. Meanwhile, Cathy (Hunt-Ballard), an aspiring actress, deals with the frustrations of her own career while watching her husband succeed from the sidelines. Jason Robert Brown’s much-loved musical looks forwards and backwards at the ups and downs of modern love and life.

“Josh and Verity are both dear friends of mine, and I’m really grateful for the opportunity to work on this piece with them. 45 downstairs is a beautifully intimate space, which will really serve this production.” – Chris Parker – Director

The Gathering
Venue: 45 Downstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Dates: 26th November to 11th December
Times: November – 26th 4.00pm, 27th 3.00pm, 30th 7.30pm
December – 2nd 7.30pm, 3rd 8.30pm, 4th 3.00pm, 6th 7.30pm
8th 7.30pm, 10th 8.30pm, 11th 7.30pm
Tickets: $38-$42
Bookings: fortyfivedownstairs.com or 03 9662 9966
Running time 2 Hours 20 Minutes – Including 20 min Intermission

The Last 5 Years
Venue: 45 Downstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Dates: 25th November to 11th December
Times: November – 25th 7.30pm, 26th 8.30pm, 27th 7.30pm, 29th 7.30pm
December – 1st 7.30pm, 3rd 4.00pm 4th 7.30pm, 7th 7.30pm,
9th 7.30pm, 10th 4.00pm, 11th 3pm.
Tickets: $45-$50
Bookings: fortyfivedownstairs.com or 03 9662 9966
Running time: 1 Hour 30 Minutes – No intermission

Visit www.victheatrecompany.com for more information

Reefer Madness

Chapel Off Chapel
25 November – 4 December 2016

 

Anti-drug propaganda film turned musical satire, Reefer Madness parodies the anti-marijuana attitudes of the 1930s. Wholesome couple Jimmy Harper and Mary Lane fall into the evil clutches of the devil’s lettuce in this cautionary tale, promising that “reefer will turn your children into hooligans and whores.” From selling babies to domestic abuse and hit-and-run murders, nothing is off-limits in this irreverent satire.

Charmingly kitsch, RL Productions steer the production far from realism with hand-drawn props, comically exaggerated simulated sex scenes and caricaturised depictions of violence. From a mannequin’s head thrown on stage following an emphatic decapitation to reams of red ribbons indicating blood streams, Stephen Wheat’s melodramatic directorial choices soften the gore and boundary-pushing humour.

Ben Adams is an unending fount of energy whose strong vocals and perfectly awkward performance as love-struck Jimmy Harper is a show highlight. Co-star Grace O’Donnell-Clancy as Mary Lane is an endearingly peppy, pint-sized powerhouse.

Ed Deganos’ campy Jesus is another incontestable highlight. Wheeled around on a wooden cross amidst choruses of ‘listen to Jesus, Jimmy,’ Deganos’ performance under Wheat’s direction captures the comical irreverence of this cult classic.

Rosa McCarty’s comic timing as reefer den hostess Mae alongside ruthless proprietor Jack Stone (Jared Bryan) draws consistent laughs. McCarty also impresses with strong vocals.

Some brief microphone issues, a near costume mishap in the five and dime Latin-esque dance interlude, and some poorly hidden wig lines are the only apparent flaws. Fortunately these flaws enhance the B-grade Rocky Horror Picture Show-esque cult classic spirit that Wheat manages to capture in RL Productions’ Melbourne premiere of Reefer Madness.

The Colour Purple

Chapel Off Chapel – 13 October – 6 November 2016

Stageart presents the Australian premiere of The Colour Purple, directed by Robbie Carmellotti.

Physically and emotionally beaten into submission by her father, fourteen-year-old Celie (Jayme-Lee Hanekom) is trapped in a cycle of abuse as she is passed from her father (Augustine Tchantcho) to her equally violent husband (Kendrew Heriveaux). With the help of strong-willed female influences Sofia (Vanessa Menjivar) and jazz performer Shug Avery (Thando Sikwila), Celie develops her sense of self-worth and overcomes a lifetime of hardships.

Carmellotti’s stripped back production highlights the cast’s impressive vocal talent. Initially appealing but otherwise unremarkable, Carmellotti’s simple set design soon proves itself versatile.

Thando Sikwila is a powerful, sexualised force as Shug Avery

Combined with the efforts of Jason Bovard of Moving Light Productions, the simple platform, set of benches and circular frame of hanging lights provide subtle transitional cues that enhance without distracting from the performance. Several dropped down lights function as a swing set. The benches become a front porch, a series of beds, and Harpo’s juke joint.

Rhiannon Irving’s costume design is similarly simplistic. Irving contrasts the relatively subdued initial costumes with the playfulness of Miss Celie’s pants designs.

The simple set design and choreography let the cast’s powerful vocals shine.

Jayme-Lee Hanekom as Celie is emotionally raw with flawless vocal control. She commands attention as she guides the audience through Celie’s feminist awakening.

Thando Sikwila is a powerful, sexualised force as Shug Avery. From the sensual ‘Too Beautiful For Words’ to the raunchy ‘Push Da Button,’ Sikwila’s delivery is effortless and charismatic. Despite the apparent lack of chemistry between Sikwila and each of her lovers, her vocal performance is powerful and emotionally rich, making up for any gaps in the believability of these relationships.

StageArt delivers an unforgettable performance of this Tony Award-winning tale of liberation and feminist awakening.

THE STATE OF PLAY

Let me break the news to those who haven’t awakened yet to the terrible reality of politics. There is no Left or Right anymore. There is just the craven lust for power and to keep the globalists happy in their bid to create a New World Order. By the way, this vision of an Utopian world may not include you or I, unless we make a heap of money rather quickly.

Of course the Left Wing Parties will still campaign on the pitch that they’ll raise taxes so that us little folk will get looked after but after they’re elected the bundle made out of increased taxes won’t trickle down to us but will be squandered on incompetence, stupid decisions, and their campaign to be re-elected. Or have I missed something?

The Right Wing Parties will run on a campaign of strength (usually meaning starting a new war somewhere and raining bombs on ordinary people like us who have no idea what the fuck is happening), business acumen, cut taxes (so us poor people have more money in our pockets for luxury items like bread), and will then proceed to squander money on incompetence, stupid decisions, and their campaign to be re-elected. Sadly, I haven’t missed anything.

My dad was a staunch Labour man all his life and was so far to the left he may as well have been a Communist. He had an intense dislike for bosses, police, the Royal Family, priests, June Allyson, Prime Minister Menzies and anyone he thought was a “big hat, no horse.” After several drinks he’d  want to start a petition to have a statue erected to Ned Kelly. Dad had lived a tough life losing his mother at the age of two and then being given up, with his two brothers, to relatives to bring up. He’d been denied much in his life including parental love and struggled all his days to show the great love he felt to those he cared about most.  I don’t think he’d have much time for the Chardonnay sipping new age Left Wingers. But that was him. And it was a different world. A slower, simpler place where people, if you were any good, did the right thing regardless of the cost.

But politics, nowadays, is mostly a game. The system rarely throws up someone who stands for anything other than getting elected,  and if it does, that naively principled person will either be crushed under the wheels of the machine or stabbed in the back by colleagues eager for the spotlight. And therein lies the problem.  The ego. Candidates want the top job for the wrong reason. General Ulysses Grant was a shy man who drank excessively not only to go into battle but in order to face people. To him, becoming President was his worst nightmare. But within days of winning the Civil War (there’s an irony in those words), his leader, President Lincoln, was slain and Grant knew that unless he ran for President everything that they had achieved in that long and bloody war would be undone. So, Grant sought the position not out of ego or a lust for power but out of a sense of duty to benefit the country he loved. People like this don’t come along often but history does have a habit of producing them at the right time.

I have met many politicians in Australia and Los Angeles in my time and save for a few good people, most of them were elitist phony snobs pretending to have a purpose in life. Having spent most of my years in the theatre I can judge a performance when I see one.  This great disappointment has made me totally apolitical. I am not a card carrying member of any political organisation so I am not shackled by party lines and rooting for “our” designated leader as if it were a football game. My party isn’t officially registered.  It is the Party of Common Sense. But no one is hated more these days than a free thinker. People have to categorise you. Put you in a convenient box and tick it. Sometimes I agree with the Left, sometimes I agree with the Right. It depends on what the issue is and what the arguments are. And when you think about it it’s the free thinkers that actually elect the government. The swinging voters, as they call them.

So at this time with all the problems facing our world I would implore voters to ignore the smear campaign ads, the dirt (whom amongst us can throw the first stone?), and all the manipulative side tracking issues they throw up to take our attention away from the real questions, like, “What are your policies?” “What are you going to do differently that you haven’t already done to disastrous effect?” “What are your plans to get people back to work?” and, if the heavenly powers above have stated that one must attempt to help one’s neighbours, “What are you going to do to ease the struggle of the aged and the unwell amongst us?”

Then take a good long look into their eyes and back your instinct on who, if any, are sincere and true.

After that, God bless us all and lead us not into the valley of darkness. Amen.

(c) Frank Howson 2016

Blessed

“In a shitty flat sit two shitty people, shitty lives hanging out all over the place” This is the precursor for Blessed, a new theatrical work that is to debut as part of this years Poppy Seed Festival. Written by Melbourne writer Fleur Susannah and presented by Attic Erratic, the work explores inter generational poverty in Australia and how this sits within the context of religious mythology. TAGG spoke with Fluer ahead of the season

Tell us about your background, where are you from, and what inspiration do you draw from the every day?

I am from Adelaide, location-wise. In terms of art, my background is both in directing and writing. For some people, this can mean that the two roles blur together – they begin directing their writing or re-writing the scripts they are working on – but I have found the opposite: working as a director has given me immense faith in directors.

I think I observe people, cities, light very closely. I don’t tend to lift whole conversations or narratives from the real world but I’ll plagiarise my own observations constantly, and use them to colour or detail a moment.

Fleur, what led you to write Blessed, what are some of the concepts and themes that you are wanting to explore?

Two thoughts, The Bible.There was this day in Year 5. We were all given different Bible stories to illustrate. I was given Abraham and Isaac and I read it and I went to the teacher and I said “this is fucked!” or however ten-year-old Fleur talked and she said “Oh I probably should have taken that one out.”

I think about that a lot. That her answer to a child confronting this shitty, difficult story in this book, this book that still defines our morality, was “I probably should have taken that one out.”

I think that’s why I do it. (This will be my second Biblical play and not my last.) I maul Bible stories. Maul or humanise. Make them have modern-day repercussions and emotions. I’ll leave the Greek tragedies to the other theatre-makers, we’ll take the ones that are still being read aloud every week. Those old stories that people pore over in search of new meaning.

They’re big stories. They reach right down into what makes us a society and yet I don’t think we ask enough questions of them. I don’t think we make them human. And theatre is really good at making things human.

And secondly; Australian poverty. When I was writing this I was thinking a lot about Jim Cartwright’s 1987 play, Road, this angry, beautiful, messy British play, which rages against the poverty inflicted by the closing of the mines. A play that ends with four young people screaming “somehow a somehow I might escape” into the dark. I was wondering what an angry, beautiful, messy contemporary Australian play that raged against poverty would look like. Well, the poverty wouldn’t be caused by the mines. It would be intergenerational. Which, for many, feels even more inescapable because there seems to be little any government or body can do to fix it. And it would be on the edges of our cities. On the edges of our consciousness. These wouldn’t be the British, fist-shaking, sign-waving poor. These would be the quiet, forgettable people. The ones who make us uncomfortable on the train but are almost forgotten once headphones go on.

And what would it take for these two to escape? An act of God. A literal hand reaching down through the roof. Something has to switch the power back on and light up this whole mess.

Tell us a little about the narrative and the characters, what connection do they share?

We see the characters at two different moments in their lives: as teenagers, meeting for the first time, baffled by the connection they feel and then 15 years later, now exes, who have not seen each other in many years. For me, if was very important to show this time difference. The startling thing if how little has changed. There is a sense of stagnancy. Even 7 years of absence has changed nothing.

Is there any significance behind the show’s title?

Hard to answer this without giving away the story. The whole work is a juxtaposition of the shitty and the divine. I love giving such a beautiful, holy and delicate title to a play that is so rough and human.

What sense/emotion do you wish to evoke in the audience, and what do you feel will elicit the strongest response?

I want them to reexamine a Bible story. A story which has been served to us so many times that we accept it, stripped of its human impact and the callousness with which a frightened woman is treated. I want them to think about Australian poverty: to hear this story in their own accent and perhaps recognize the voices.

I want them to laugh a bit too. It is pretty funny.

Away from the work, what challenges are currently faced by writers, in terms of economy and society?

For most of us, we are faced by a lack of trust from companies, who doubt that audiences will want to hear from us. When companies spend money on theatre, most spend it on year after year of development without getting works to the stage. I think those that reach the stage can end up sounding too polished and clean, sanitized by so many hands scrubbing away at it. I want to see companies just take a risk, trust audiences and trust writers. There are some amazing ones out there.

How does this work fit within or go against others being presented within this years festival?

There are so many connections running through the shows. For example, I share a studio with Morgan Rose, of Riot Stage and regularly work with Yvonne Virsik, director of What’s Yours Is Mine. There is a lot of mutual love and support between the companies. I think we all share a passion for the new, the passionate and the irreverent.

Blessed opens on November 8th and plays till the 20th at The Malthouse Theatre, for more info or to book you tickets click here

BOBBY DARIN AND THINGS (like a walk in the park)

Bobby Darin sacrificed himself to entertain us. Public adulation gave him life through one vein as much as it took from another. Once you’ve awakened that sleeping beast it can never be conquered – only lived with until that fateful day when your body becomes still from the exhaustion of hanging on too long.

Bobby now sits at a table with Hank Williams and they discuss loneliness and lost highways that bring you to nowhere. Oh Father where is art in thou heaven?  And why did you allow us to break our backs working in the fields only to have our crops contaminated by the ignorance of others?

Strike me down for uttering the truth.

Strike me down with the pain of living it.

Strike me down with the regret that I could’ve made a difference if only I’d wandered from your path.

Strike me down if you think it may help someone.

(c) Frank Howson 2016

Ancient Rain

Arts Centre – Playhouse 12 – 15 October 2016

Camille O’Sullivan and Paul Kelly perform a selection of Irish poetry in their collaborative effort Ancient Rain.

The poems become individual performances, although their individuality is easy to miss. Despite the differing themes and content of each poem, O’Sullivan and Kelly offer little stylistically to differentiate each mini-narrative.

O’Sullivan shows impressive stylistic range and masterful technique”

Excluding the use of a single red veil in O’Sullivan’s performance of The Statue of the Virgin at Granard Speaks, Kelly and O’Sullivan give little visually to indicate transitions. O’Sullivan inexplicably moves a chair. Kelly becomes a floating head and torso amidst smoke for one performance.

The sung poetry is punctuated by Kelly’s spoken performance. Monotone and stilted, his delivery feels like literary analysis set to music. His Australian accent is glaringly obvious when speaking, providing a jarring contrast to O’Sullivan’s soft Irish lilt.

Closing with a spoken rather than sung performance, Kelly and O’Sullivan bring Ancient Rain to a quiet end as James Joyce’s Gabriel and Gretta of The Dead. O’Sullivan is emotive and powerfully present. Kelly is once again uncomfortably stilted.

Fortunately, from haunting, whispered harmonies to emotive, powerful belting, O’Sullivan shows impressive stylistic range and masterful technique, shining despite Kelly’s stilted acting. Ancient Rain falls short of its potential, but O’Sullivan ensures it doesn’t fall entirely flat.

Backstage in Biscuit Land

Jess Mabel Jones (Chopin) and Jessica Thom (Tourretteshero)

Malthouse – Beckett theatre 12 – 16 October 2016

Biscuits, hedgehogs and choruses about sex with animals might not seem like obvious or cohesive topic choices. Jessica Thom’s Backstage in Biscuitland, a semi-structured exploration of her experience with Tourette’s with assistance from Jess Mabel Jones, disproves this.

Thom’s endearingly earnest discussion of her verbal and physical tics, including saying ‘biscuit’ 16000 times per day, segues seamlessly to her sombre, “serious monologue” about being made to feel like an unwelcome disruption. She offers an emotive retelling of a moment when she had been asked to watch a show from the sound booth to avoid disturbing her fellow audience members.

Thom weaves candid stories about her tics – like goading the lamp post outside her bedroom window about the moon”

Focusing on the sense of exclusion, Thom removes the barrier between herself and her audience, reminding us of our common ground regardless of physical ability: the desire to feel welcome and wanted.

Witty, frequently absurd, and simultaneously insightful, Thom weaves candid stories about her tics – like goading the lamp post outside her bedroom window about the moon – with puppetry, singing, and rule-free “buzzard” game shows.

The performance is inspired and guided by Thom’s tics. All props present, Jones informs us, were originally Thom’s tics, from the loaf of Steve to a cardboard cut-out of Mother Teresa. Her vocal tics provide a never-ending basis for improvisation for the duo. Both Thom and Jones delight in the signs that AUSLAN interpreter Jasmine produces for Thom’s tics, occasionally repeating phrases to see her repeat their favourite signs, including “swallowing hair.”

Biscuit land by name and biscuit land by nature, the performance returns to Thom’s most frequent tic in various manners. Jones, or Chopin as Thom’s tics have dubbed her, sprays the audience with the biscuity scent of an “old-fashioned” store, passes a tin of biscuits around the audience, and requests that the audience perform an “echolalic wave” by repeating ‘biscuit’ in wave formation across the room.

This whirlwind journey promotes self-acceptance and challenges the conventions of public spaces like theatre that exclude people with disorders and disabilities like Tourette’s.

Stay to buy a Live Young, Die Biscuity t-shirt after the show. Leave with a hint of biscuits still lingering in your hair, your mouth, and your heart.

Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour

Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour, presented by National Theatre of Scotland and Live Theatre is most certainly a show for those that love their humor dirty and their characters loud. It’s a dazzling affair that tells the story of six young girls coming of age . The work is based on The Sopranos, adapted by Lee Hall from the words on Alan Warner and as an adaption it is mostly successful.  However, in wanting to create a performance resonate of the times  it perhaps does not overcome all challenges. In fact, the characters here may of been fresh fodder for audience say ten years ago, but having being presented with the same stereotypes in so many works not just restricted to stage, but perhaps more prevalently in movies as example, there is little that breathes fresh life.

Let talk about the works merit, it is indeed humorous, with each of the characters endearing  themselves to the audience in their own particular way, it’s with sheer delight you watch as they turn from the most sickly of sweet schools girl to sex obsessed rampant loud mouthed teenagers in the blink of an eye. Director Vicky Featherstone, has made from this performance, a tightly wound coil, that pensively unravels. The sense of dual identity associated with each of these characters as they slip between scenes is also impressive. It takes the loose shape of some rollicking musical, with each of the performers taking to the score with more than enough youthful bravado; from choral numbers to those songs with a bit more kick the musicality is on point. The Band, led by Laura Bangay and joined by Becky Brass and Emily Linden, know this work inherently and it shows, the trio support the ensemble as a whole, though more could of been done to involve and in turn unify the cast, too often the band felt like an unnecessary addition instead of an element that should do more than just accompany.

Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour works with lighting intelligently, subtle changes of color allow the underling emotion to be drawn out. On the other end of the spectrum, the  performance works with the most grotesque and colorful of disco lights to best ability, emanating the sad and faded interior of bars that are well past their hay days. Set design by Chloe Lamford, makes the most of the small space, and has kept within a limited colour palate that extends right the way through this production.

This is quality theatre, though perhaps made all the better if you are able to look past the somewhat tired narrative and characters that the work is built around. It’s indeed poignant, in your face and unapologetic and worthy of a look, it’s playing at The Arts Centre, Fair Fax Studio until October 22nd, for more info click here