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.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Rhys Nicholson: Nice Things Nice People Nice Situations, MICF, Victoria Hotel

Rhys Nicholson is a young comedian at the top of his game. He works fast and incisive, barely leaving space for the audience to laugh before he's onto his next joke, constantly on the move. And his current show is a strong, if slightly unfocussed, pileup of comedy looking at modern life for a happily partnered gay man under 30. One of the things that's noted for Australian Comedians is that the cycle of doing an annual Melbourne Comedy Festival shows means there is a constant requirement to come up with new and different material - but it does sometimes mean that you get shows that are development points rather than perfectly honed shows all on their own. Nicholson's a polished and skilled comedian, and the show has a reasonable sense of structure, but I do want to see what happens when he has something stronger than just himself and his attitudes to focus on. It's good to watch him under development, but I want to see where he gets to.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Bob Franlkin: Sir Robert's History of Horror, MICF, Melbourne town hall

Bob Franklin is probably not the hippest or edgiest of comedians - his style of surrealist-dad-joke territory probably feels hopelessly old-fashioned to some. But I still like it - it's got a kinda retro-comfort to it, and he's never entirely resting on his laurels as I've seen some legacy comedians do. His latest show is a combined history-of-horror with its own side little horror story embedded in it. Part of the charm of the show is the obviousness of some of the jokes - and there's a good attempt to build atmosphere between the set, lighting and sound design. That atmosphere is slightly broken by location (a room on the corner of the Melbourne town hall means that it gets sound bleed both from the tram noises in the street, and a louder show elsewhere in the venue) - but Franklin still manages to get the tone between horror and comedy pretty much right - it's a show that keeps you right up until the final twist.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

How to Rule the World, Sydney Theatre Co, Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre.

There was a big preoccupation with the state theatre companies during the 80s, 90s and early 2000s to "find the next Williamson". By which they meant "a socially conscious writer who can get large audiences to plays that speak to contemporary issues". Hannie Rayson was probably the closest we got for a while, writing very much in the Williamson style, reflecting the largely middle-class white audience back at themselves in various guises. More recently that style has slipped out of date, and the go-to-writer appears often to be Alana Valentine, who has a more in-depth, closely-researched style that adapts itself to the subject of the play more. But Nakkiah Lui gives the style to us in a modern remix - telling a story of three political operatives who decide they want to make a big statement and who get in over their heads as the forces of compromise, realpolitik and each other start to interfere.

Of course, it's a take that delves a bit deeper than later Williamson (who, well, started to contemplate his navel just a tad too frequently in his later years) - with our three diverse protagonists indulging in all manner of bad behaviour on their way to rediscovering their idealism and learning how to put it into effect. Lui, Michelle Lim Davidson and Anthony Taufa are an engaging trio of narrators/protagonists with just the right mix of cynicism and hope. Support is strong from Hamish Michael as the dupe-who-turns, Rhys Muldoon as an all-too-familiarly media-screened PM, and Vanessa Dowling and Garath Davies as every other character (and with particular congratulations to their costume designers and dressers who give split-second costume-and-wig-changes to get Dowling and Davies through their paces). There's a great score by Paul Mac and Steve Francis that makes sure this is a play that feels truly modern.

IF there are a couple of hiccups here and there (in particular, there's a slight sense that in having Lui in the cast, a couple of spots where her character is slightly underwritten haven't been noticed), this is still a strong piece of contemporary political satire with bite, and well worth the catching.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Canberra Rep, Theatre 3

Harper Lee's novel is a perennial favourite, almost 60 years after its first publication. Already a historical piece when published, it's a double-edged story of growing up in the American South in the 1930s as Scout faces up to her community's prejudices and how her family is affected by it in the light of a rape case that her father defends. There are certainly moments that could be considered sentimental (it's about a young girl remembering her father), but there's also moments that are still startlingly honest.

Christoper Sergel's adaptation has its hiccups - some subplots feel a bit skimmed through, and there's a narration that feels less easily integrated into the storytelling than a way to make sure exposition gets out there - but it gets the essentials right - particularly in the act two trial scenes and what comes after, it hits all the right points fleetly and effectively. Anne Somes' production realises those essentials well - drawing us into the community of Maycomb and making sure we feel all those brutal points when the community fails to live up to its ideals.

Michael Sparks IS Atticus Finch, in every essential detail. Kind but firm, aware of his age but with inner strength, and endlessly, endlessly compassionate to others. The three kids in the cast (Jade Breen, Jamie Boyd and Jake Keen) do have to do a lot of carrying of the first act plot, and there are a few slight issues with comprehensibility as the Alabama accents can get a tad thick, but when interacting with Sparks or the other adult characters of the play, they definitely hold their own. Antonia Kitzl, doing the narration, delivers it clear and precisely - she doesn't entirely remedy the "why is this woman who doesn't have much to do with the story of the show telling the story" aspect of the scripting, but she's a good presence. Tim Stiles as the oafish Bob Ewell is, in the best sense of the word, really dislikable - the thing that makes his performance work is that he's convinced that everybody around him, including the audience (who during the trial scenes basically become the jury - this pays off  wonderfully when the verdict is given and the cast's reaction to the jury's choice is played straight at the audience), agrees with his racism and is his best friend - it makes someone a thousand times worse if they try to make us complicit with their despicable actions. Stephenie Wilson as Mayella delivers a powerfully heartbreaking performance as a girl who has been so crushed that any generosity towards her feels more like condescension. Jack Tinga as Tom Robinson, the man at the centre of the trial, does well with a role that is kinda underwritten - giving him passion and seriousness and a real sense of the stakes this trial has for him. The rest of the large supporting cast do well with their roles as the various townspeople, giving a diverse sense of reality to the town.

Cate Clelland's design gives a strong sense of place and time with one slightly symbolic tree, a swing-bench and a couple of see-through walls - and Stephen Still's lighting picks out the spots and moments in the play to give a sense of isolation and walls-closing in.

I don't think this is a perfect production - Sergel's script clunks a little bit too much in act one for me - but it has it where it counts, in the brutal demonstration of childhood innocence exposed to the worst sides of human nature.