Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Wicked Sisters, papermoon theatre, Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre

Alma DeGroen's 2002 play is a contained, "well-made-play" type piece, played out in real time as four friends come together after the death of the husband of one of them, to talk, drink, commiserate and uncover a few secrets along the way. It's an entertaining example of the genre, with a mixture of humour, rage, and with a fair range of ideas going on - looking at what happened to the women who fought for equality and liberation during the 80s, at fundamental questions about human nature, about aging, about contemporary society and about the nature of betrayals.

papermoon's production does a reasonably strong production of this, justifying the revival largely thorugh the four strong actresses in the leads. All four get their moment to shine  - Elaine Noon as the widow-with-more-than-one-secret, hiding under a layer of polite meekness until she breaks; Nikki-Lynne Hunter as the fashionable real-estate agent still seething over her divorce even after acquiring her own younger lover; Alice Ferguson as the PR woman whose attempts to gloss over the situations gets more and more desperate, and Lainie Hart as the one who's whose own morality serves as persistent irritation to the others.

This isn't quite a perfect production - there's a couple of moments where the play's shifting attentions feels a little like gear shifting - but in a case where opening-night-is-also-first-time-with-an-audience, this can only grow and develop further over the next few nights. This isn't a particularly showy production - the set and lighting are nicely functional - but it's a great showcase for the central four actresses who seize the opportunity to play with an evenly balanced set of four meaty roles. Worth catching.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Playhouse Creatures, Pidgeonhole Theatre, Theatre 3

Three years, two different casts, two interstate and one international tour later, it's the final show of one of my favorite shows in recent memory. And returning to it three years later, it's familar yet new, still full of life as four actresses and their dresser struggle with career, relationships and social position as they emerge during the Restoration as the first actresses to perform. There's distinct changes (Christiane Nowack's set has had a few alterations to make it more easily tourable, and of the main cast of five, 3 are replacements), but the solid bones of Pidgeonhole's production show strong, even as the changes mean the show belongs to the new cast as much as it did to the originals.

Comparisons between then and now are almost beside the point - if, perhaps, when first watching the show there was a great sense of women launching into an unknown future, at the end of the run there's maybe a bit more weight to that uncertain future, and to this as an elegy of how each of these women ended their time on stage. The two returners show just as much strength as they did before - Liz Bradley still hilarious and touching as the slightly disrespectful Doll Common, and Karen Vickery being both an imperious terror in her prime and a touching figure as she finds herself sidelined by her husband. The replacements give different effects to their moments - comparing them you find one element is increased while another diminished, so Natasha Vickery's Nell Gwynne is perhaps a touch more naive, a touch less brash; Yanina Clifton has a different kind of hunger as Mrs Farley, so eager to hold onto the status she's only just acquired; and Lainie Hart's umbrage at her mistreatment as Mrs Marshall seethes differently. But it's still superlative theatre, and it's a wonderful farewell to a work that feels like it's expanded the horizons of Canberra theatre in all kinds of good ways.

The Miser, Bell Shakespeare, Playhouse, Canberra Theatre

This is Bell Shakespeare's fifth go-round with Moliere (though only the second to do the grand touring thing - their versions of "Tartuffe", "Le Misanthrope" and "Les Femmes Savantes" (as "The Literati") only played seasons in Sydney or Sydney and Melbourne. All have been done with translation by Justin Fleming and ... I must admit, his translations are starting to pall a little for me - his use of somewhat relentless rhymes (yes, there is a varying rhyme scheme, but still...) has become pretty repetitive, with the gag of chucking in Australian colloquialisms becoming pretty damn stale (yes, I'm aware it's very easy to rhyme stuff with "shut your clacker", the question now becomes "should you"). And all this extra not-particularly-funny gagginess tends to drag what should be a short sharp incisive comedy out to around two and a half hours.

My other problem may be that the last two Molieres were at least directed by the superlative Lee lewis so they had incisive energy and skill applied to them, and this one is directed by Peter Evans instead. Oh, it's very prettily designed, and there's a couple of decent moments here and there, but it's fairly uninspired work. Of the cast of nine there's three performances I'd consider reasonably strong (John Bell has a pretty good grotesque lead performance, Michelle Doake steals scenes where she has anything to do but alas that's pretty much confined to one scene, and Jamie Oxenbould has a goofy charm as an impertinent servant). Otherwise, I must admit I found this fairly lumpen - trying to be "fun" but feeling largely forced.

And the final image is a fairly desperate reaching for poignancy that the production hasn't really earned and, for me, doesn't land.

If Moliere works (and yes, he can work, and potentially even in these clunky translations), it needs to feel fresh, lively and sharp. And this feels dull, clunky and forced. So this was a disappointment.

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Simon Amstell: What is This?, MICF, Farfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne

Simon Amstell's a british comedian whose best known work is probably the work he's trying to retreat from - his 2006-2009 run hosting the music panel show "Never Mind The Buzzcocks", where he spent much of his time mocking the various guests on the program. He's gotten very into analysis and self-help since, and much of his subsequent solo standup shows reflect this. His 2010 show "Do Nothing" is a pretty solid breakthrough, and his current show more or less continues as that goes on - albiet, perhaps, a bit less tight and a bit more rambly. It's not that this is a bad show, it's that it's ... familiar and it doesn't really show anything new. And yes, one could argue that he's basically the same person, and has basically the same set of thoughts (alibiet one now settled with a boyfriend and with a few new drug adventures) - but that doesn't mean that it's still not a disappointment that I don't think he's entirely found a new vein to work in or something richer or different. It's not a bad show so much as it's a familiar remix-of-similar-hits. And I enjoyed in the moment but I'm hoping for something a tad newer.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

#KWANDA, MICF, Melbourne Town Hall

"Q and A" is one of the more irritating programs on TV. Presented as a chance for the public directly to question politicians and other public figures, in the end it becomes a show about people avoiding saying anything other than their normal boring set pieces. It's an exercise in avoiding the truth more than in getting any of it.

#KWANDA breaks that fairly quickly - it's an episode of Q and A where, at some point, everybody on the panel, including the moderator, breaks and starts to rant about what they're really thinking. It's brutal, it's funny, it's disturbingly familiar, it pokes holes in every political sacred cow that's out there, and it's an absorbing 70 minutes of theatre. It's mostly a triumph of Tom Ballard's writing and, to some extent, some of the acting (in particular Emily Taheny as the Labour party representative disappointed by her party one too many times, Geraldine Hickey as the Tasmanian-says-it-like-she-sees-it-moron and Michelle Brasier as the right-on musician who unfortunately has never actually thought about any of her political positions beyond the easiest slogan) The staging is pretty basic (just one big desk with the cast largely behind it), but if the current state of politics needs an exorcism, this feels like the big comic one that allows you to laugh at things that have been making you internally scream for way too long.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Daniel Kitson: Keep, MICF, Malthouse Theatre

Daniel Kitson is a strange kind of genius, and "Keep" is the current manefestation of that genius. It's a show that is in some ways indescribable - what it looks like it's about isn't really what it's about, and much of the show feels like it's diversions that add up to something far more interesting than the ostensible subject. And it's astounding how well he plays his main instrument, which is his audience - part of the fascination in the show is him interacting with the audience in a very different way to how I've ever seen a comedian interact with the audience - it's like he plays back on our reaction to him and turns it into something that forwards his underlying plan. 

How can I describe the show? Well, it's certainly an unusual one - and it's longer than most previous standup i've seen - an uninterrupted 2 hour show - well, almost interupted, there's a deliberate break at the 15 minute mark so audience members who don't want to stick around for the full two hours can leave and get a refund (this appears quite seriously meant, and means that, if this isn't your kinda show, yes, you can bail early). And it means that everybody who stays is, by defininition, a willing subject. It's an ambitious show (even though it's basically one guy, a desk and a cabinet with a whole lot of index cards) - and it's one that absolutely fulfils those ambitions. And if this seems like a lot of words made up to not say very much about the show and what it's doing ... well, that's absolutely by design. The show is its own bundle of precious surprises and I'd be a crass idiot if I tried to ruin that for anybody going in cold. 

Friday, 26 April 2019

Greg Larsen: Useful Idiot, MICF, Melbourne Town Hall

This is only partially a review, and partially an explanation. You see, occasionally as a comedy festival goer you decide that it's a good decision to try to squeeze three shows into one night. After all, the times line up, the venues are reasonably close, and why not?

The answer is, because by the third show, your attention starts to wander a little and your head isn't quite in the show you're in. And you're slightly laughed out. So this is sorta an apology to Greg Larsen for not being a very good audience member during his show "Useful Idiot". I think there was basically a good idea behind this show, examining the young-ish urban activist type a bit deeper than we normally get. It looks at behaviour that's as concerned with looking good as it is with actually doing good, about the socially-aware but also socially-awkward, and ineffective ways to pursue your political passions. Larsen uses his gruff chunky demeanour to great effect, with some decent chuckles along the way. I'm not sure whether it's all the way to fully-working yet, as I think some of the gags seem like they could go back to the shop for further development, or whether, as formerly metioned, I was a bit comedy-tired by show three. I'm certainly willing to give Larsen another go as an audient if he's doing another show somewhere that I am.