Archive for the theatre Category

King Kong the musical: I liked the gorilla

Posted in review, theatre, things to do in melbourne with tags , , , on June 24, 2013 by jason nahrung

king kong the musicalSaw King Kong the musical playing at The Regent in Melbourne, and can’t say it did the business. Or perhaps it tried to do too much business.

The titular ginormous gorilla was awesome, worked by puppetry ninjas, with a fetching array of facial expressions. And the lighting, a triumph during the climactic air assault on Kong atop the Empire State Building. Almost drew a tear, too, except the big fella’s death scene was dragged out far past the point of caring.

There was one other scene of note, bodies falling upwards as Kong wreaked devastation on the Big Apple.

And that was one of the problematic scenes, too, bringing to mind the terror attacks of 9/11, the dubious metaphor amplified in quasi religious tones by a mysterious — in terms of, who are you and what are you doing in this story? — but well-played fortune teller.

Trying to retrofit modern allegory to the tale was as effective as combining Lady Gaga bondage dance numbers with 1930s swing. Add a suite of non-memorable songs — Ann Darrow’s lullaby the only one to really make an impression amid all the song-and-dance noise — and it all kind of left me swinging in the breeze, really.

But the gorilla was ace.


Tastier far: the lamb ribs at Ombra are amazing (the plonk’s not that cheap, but), and Father’s Office has a scrummy range of Southern-style dishes. Both highly recommended.


Wild Surmise at the Malthouse: a stellar production

Posted in review, theatre with tags , , , , on November 10, 2012 by jason nahrung

wild surmise at the malthoueLove, death and astrophysics. And poetry, of course. That’s the bottom line of Wild Surmise, a two-person play now showing at Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre, based on the verse novel by Dorothy Porter.

It’s a wonderful show, a little over an hour long, sharp, affecting, endearing. Jane Montgomery Griffiths is Alex, sometimes narrating herself in the third person, sometimes the first, always on the ball. How effortlessly she changes accents!

And balancing her is Humphrey Bower’s Daniel, Alex’s husband, disaffected university lecturer, lover of poetry, terminally ill, watching life and his wife’s love slip away and helpless to hold on to either. At least he has his poets for some slim comfort … and that lemon tree, that garden, that morning coffee.

Alex is an astronomer with a passion for Europa and, more tragically, American counterpart Phoebe; trapped between the cold light of her lover and the dark days of her husband, she is forced to declare at one gripping point, ‘My life is fucked.’

Powered by Porter’s stunning prose, replete with astronomical and oceanic metaphors, the play runs on the passion of the two leads, who deliver such honest, proficient performances, it’s hard not to get swept up in their drama. There is humour, sorrow, such longing …

Once again, the Malthouse stage setting is to the fore, the two often separated by a glass wall successively stripped of pages of text to reveal the mirrored room beyond. There are four chairs and two coffee machines and the lighting is spot on.

Amazing, isn’t it, how such a simple set, and such a simple set-up, can be so powerful in the hands of skilled artisans.

Add in a splendid dinner served and eaten inside an hour at the Malthouse’s restaurant, and it was a very filling evening indeed.

The play opened last night and runs until December 2.

Glory Box: glorious burlesque

Posted in review, theatre, things to do in melbourne with tags , , , on June 16, 2012 by jason nahrung

cast for glory box by finucane and smith

I love Meow Meow. She’s an awesome performer, fearlessly shattering the performance walls; stylish with a great voice, charismatic and opinionated, a kind of singing stand-up comedian with her ability to mix laughs and social commentary. She was guest last night at Glory Box, the latest production of Finucane and Smith, and the two-hour show was every bit as entertaining and provoking as last year’s Burlesque Hour.

Some of the pieces are repeats, all the better for another viewing: Salome’s unveiling, the balloon-bursting Queen of Hearts, the concluding Get Wet for Art that requires the front rows to shelter under brollies. There’s clever illusion — where does the naked woman hide that hanky? — and stunning trapeze and hoola hoop action; there are spraying apple pieces in keeping with the Eden/sin/Pandora theme, smooches, cross-dressing, the shattering of sexual identity preconceptions … and the thing that struck me at that other performance and again here, the simple joy of the female form, sans airbrushing, surgery and other unrealistic expectations. Writer Christos Tsiolkas contributes the script for a be-suited duet, ‘I Have a Confession’, a slap in the face of homophobia. And as before, the performers get out and about amidst the audience, packed into the basement level of the very cool fortyfivedownstairs.

Meow Meow’s ‘Down Dolly Down’ set encapsulates the political context perfectly, and her ‘Be Careful’/All the Girls with piano accompaniment is sheer class. That she pulls off such impact while, for example, rotating slowly on a lazy susan or lit by her own torch is all the more reason for applause.

Glory Box is a glorious romp indeed, with Jimi Hendrix, Portishead, Prince, Salt-N-Pepa on the playlist, and a message in the medium that is revealing in more ways than one.


Things to do in Melbourne: dinner and Macbeth

Posted in gothic, horror, review, theatre, things to do in melbourne with tags , , , on June 14, 2012 by jason nahrung

Last night, there was steak, seafood and Macbeth. It’s a winning combination, even if the play wasn’t quite as noms as the dinner.

Il Primo Posto is at Melbourne’s Southbank. It’s a welcoming space, unlike many of the corporate aquariums that line the river walk, given warmth and character by its mural wall, wooden shelves and dashing burgundy feature wall. The staff are efficient and friendly, and the food — the food is spot on in size, quality and price.

We got to the Arts Centre with the bell — not just the theatre bell calling us to our seats, but the Bell Shakespeare Company, performing my favourite work by the Bard, Macbeth.

The stage was set with turf and grass, suitably crunchy for adding to suspenseful creeping scenes, and a key feature was a reflective ceiling — it had a more dramatic effect farther back, I think, based on what I saw at intermission. Lighting was superb.

Among the highlights: Lady Macbeth, played by Kate Mulvany, and the beautifully balanced and passionate relationship with Macbeth; the sensation of spirit possession in the cleverly singular witch, Lizzie Schebesta; Macduff’s emotional speech on reception of news of his family’s death; the way in which dead Banquo exits the stage as the dinner scene is set up around him; the sex/violence dynamic between Macbeth and the witch. Great fake blood, too!

Some of the things that didn’t work quite so well for me: the truncated, even jumpy, second half, especially the absence of the scene explaining how it is that the woods can march; slow motion while actors deliver soliloquies; the confusion about whether the witch is still the witch when playing minor characters. Why keep Macduff’s family’s death scene but deny Lady Macbeth her post-dinner ramble?


One striking aspect of the play was the unexpected humour. There was an ironic, even Ocker, vein that elicited laughs in places one wouldn’t normally expect, while the one character often played for laughs — the gatekeeper — presented in part as quite dour. Lady Macbeth suffers a bout of hiccups, highly effective at beginning and end, but a tad disruptive in the midst of a heavy emotional monologue. And Macbeth himself, looking impish with a constant crouch and hunch and arms akimbo, at times more Rumpelstiltskin than tortured king, giving air to that jarring Aussie twang once in a while. The costumery was understated Australian, too, with the men’s uniforms of jeans and work shirts topped occasionally by formal blue military coats, and woollen jumpers to the fore.

This is another version that seems to put more weight on the role of the witch/es not just as oracles of fate but manipulators or even victims of it. I’m not convinced that reframing is required, given the sheer power of the tale about self-fulfilling prophecy.

It was a bold, even challenging production, and overall I enjoyed it, not just for what it did so very well — some wonderful scenes will linger for a long time indeed — but for what it dared to do. And kudos for programming Fever Ray for the departure song: a perfect beat to leave on after such a striking final moment.

Going metal at MICF: Andrew O’Neill and Steve Hughes

Posted in review, theatre with tags , , , , , , on April 22, 2012 by jason nahrung

andrew o'neillEnglish comedian Andrew O’Neill wears green heels, jeans tight enough to show off an enviable pair of pins, black top, red lipstick and nail polish. His Melbourne International Comedy Festival show is entitled Alternative but the core theme is one of how easily he can be distracted: by the internet, by television, by shiny things. The show is filled with distractions — zany asides, mostly — and littered with pop and metal references. He has a Dr Who tattoo. He’s witty and intelligent and he has something to say and doesn’t mind coming out and saying it — about the class divide, about hipster appropriation of culture, about societal constraints on being who you want to be; in his case, he’s a lover of heavy metal, an overt transvestite, an athiest with a grudging respect for the Norse gods (just in case).

His own spruiker and roadie, he’s playing the suitably metal Pony, a small, slightly smelly club tricked out in red and black with an upstairs performance space cosy enough for the full house to appreciate his boss eye sight gag. The gig ends with a bit of a singalong in ‘Jesus was a Cockney’. Lovely dovely.


We gladly paid to see O’Neill; the tickets to Steve Hughes were complimentaries for review purposes.


steve hughes Hughes is another metal head, but where O’Neill wears heels and talks about the outdated and outlandish vision of what it means to be male, the Aussie comedian, now relocated to the UK, still thinks a man should steer clear of Starbuck’s, pull up his pants, grow a beard and not act like a faggot. Or a poofter. Yes, such people still exist, and they can fill the Melbourne Town Hall. It’s a strange world, Hughes says repeatedly, and listening to the chortles and guffaws as he harangues and postulates for 90 minutes, I can’t agree more.

What starts out as amusing anecdotes, deftly told in Aussie vernacular, descends into a diatribe of sometimes contradictory pseudo-spirituality, anti-establishment, pro-drugs anti-police conspiracy theory with all the subtlety of a bludgeon.

Clearly, Hughes’s take on the Big Issues isn’t for me. And I think, if I’ve interpreted the psychobabble rightly, Hughes will understand if I say it’s not me, it’s them.

MICF: Sarah Kendall and Daniel Kitson

Posted in review, theatre with tags , , , on April 12, 2012 by jason nahrung

It was the night for intelligent comedy at last night’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival outing, with pre-show drinks at Cabinet and a pleasant dinner break at Time Off in Fed Square where Massive Attack and Joy Division albums were on the stereo. Oh yes.

sarah kendall First up was Sarah Kendall at the Victoria Hotel. Kendall, 35 (there’s some laughs in that), resident in the UK for the past 12 years, tells us she’s that woman with the screaming toddler on the jet plane. Her Persona show reveals a dry delivery and acid wit — and incredibly expressive eyes — as she explores the world her daughter is growing up in. Some subjects covered are pole dancing, banana innuendo, depictions of women in advertising and, most wonderfully, a nighty-night sequel to the ugly duckling fairytale in which growing up to be pretty is not the answer to being bullied and marginalised.

daniel kitsonAfter dinner, with ‘Disorder’ still whispering in my mind, we headed down to the Arts Centre for UK comedian Daniel Kitson. Kitson’s mission in Where Once Was Wonder is to share his thoughts on the meaning of life, exemplified in three stories, taking 90 minutes. Intellectually arrogant, confronting and very bloody funny, Kitson is an unreliable narrator but sure knows how to string a yarn together. Suspense, divergence, segue, meta references and ‘denial’ river puns, all combine for a superlative performance.

He makes the audience complicit, whether about vegetarianism, ideology, typecasting or the bleeding obvious. ‘I’ve got a lisp, don’t know if you’d noticed. I’m very brave.’ Or words to that effect.

By the end of the show, he’s undercut the diatribe he espoused at the beginning; he’s shared thoughts about image and personality and character, about certainty and uncertainty and seizing moments and living with principles and undermining those principles when it’s convenient or easy to do so; the audience is highly amused and guilty and guiltily amused.

A dangerous pair, Kendall and Kitson; though chalk and cheese in delivery, they both manage to get the message across amid the laughter. Brilliant stuff.

MICF: The Underlads

Posted in review, theatre with tags , , , , , , on April 6, 2012 by jason nahrung

underlads comedy duoWe hit the awesome warehouse space that is 1000 £ Bend last night to catch The Underlads — a former Townsville duo fairly recently (I gather) moved to Melbourne — conjure a haunted house tale as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Living on Limbo Lane uses an array of techniques to bring the story alive: mime, hand puppets, marionettes, video, slapstick, night vision cameras, songs. There are more homages to movies and video games than you can point a ouija board at.

Shrub and Wearnie are likeable, engaging performers, but the show — for all their energy — never really takes off. Over-ambitious, perhaps, but the Ed Wood level of staging and effects, while charming, is too often less effective than it might’ve been, and the underpinning material relies too heavily on old gags and tired tropes.

The pair have got some great comedy chops, but this show was perhaps a street too far. An act to keep an eye on.

MICF: Victoria Healy and Lisa-Skye

Posted in review, theatre, things to do in melbourne with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 3, 2012 by jason nahrung

Two Melbourne comedians, two sides of the same self-empowered coin in last night’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival outing.

comedian victoria healy

Victoria Healy

First up was Victoria Healy, taking the stage at an intimate upstairs room at the wonderfully downbeat Rue Bebelons — out of the cafe, down the alley, up the wooden stairs … and Healy’s journey was even more entertaining.

Entitled Independent Women Part 2, Healy’s show offers the soundtrack to her understanding of what it means to be an independent woman. Starting with the Spice Girls in Year 7 and including Shania Twain, Black Eyed Peas and the titular tune from Destiny’s Child, there are six or seven songs that serve as milestones along the way.

Through a timeline featuring high school dorkiness and learning to be a team player, a spate of loser boyfriends, becoming a fashionista and a competitive sex object, Healy, in jeans and sleeveless blouse and armed with telling character voices, delivers observations and laughs at a conversational and endearing pace, brought to a close with disappointing abruptness. And damn if I couldn’t see the signature hoop move that made her the star of the rhythm gymnastics team…

comedian lisa-skye

Lisa-Skye

TAKING a different approach to the subject of self-awareness and fulfilment is Lisa-Skye, holding down a spot upstairs at the John Curtin Hotel.

Lisa is ‘a glittery drag queen in a tubby goth real-girl’s body’ who delivers a multi-media exploration of sexual desire and individualism par excellence in Ladyboner. She enters the stage with a walk through the audience while reciting Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’, and you just know you’re in for a treat.

Performance poetry, slide shows and video clips complement her search for a girl of her own. There’s the dad dance, the animal kingdom’s mating rituals, her nan’s passions, love requests from a telephone dating service, an audience Q&A on BDSM; all interspersed with beautifully delivered performance pieces set to the beat of a metronome.

Thirty and married and living in the ‘burbs in her nan’s ‘wog house’, Lisa-Skye is going her own way and taking us along for the ride. She’s personable, honest, acerbic, with great character pieces and spot-on timing. It’s an accomplished performance and wickedly funny.

If you ever wanted to know what it sounds like when doves cry, Ladyboner is for you.

MICF: Tim FitzHigham’s The Gambler

Posted in review, theatre, things to do in melbourne with tags , , , , on April 2, 2012 by jason nahrung

tim fitzhigham in the gamble comedy showTim FitzHigham’s The Gambler is playing at the upstairs bar at the Victoria Hotel as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, giving it quite the home movie feel. Which is perfect, as the gregarious and energetic Englishman narrates his latest zany exploits to the accompaniment of a slideshow and video clips.

As the name of the show implies, the basis of FitzHigham’s production is wagers: historically based and quite astounding ones. Such as rolling a cheese round 6000m in 100 tosses, or lasting 10 moves with chess master Nigel Short, or pushing a wheelbarrow over a marathon course in 6.5 hours.

As zany as the tasks are, it’s FitzHigham who makes the show, engaging the audience with his manic energy and awfully amusing anecdotes, and an expressive face just made for comedy.

He shook everyone’s hand on the way out, too; a gentleman and a scholar and a very funny man.

  • We also saw the Bedroom Philosopher’s High School Assembly variety parody thing last night at the Forum. Execrable, but I enjoyed the dancing.
  • MICF: Des Bishop Likes To Bang

    Posted in review, theatre, things to do in melbourne with tags , , on April 1, 2012 by jason nahrung

    des bishop likes to bangCaught the Irish-American comedian Des Bishop at the Hi-Fi last night in our first Melbourne International Comedy Festival outing, and it was a bit disappointing. I’d hoped the humour would swing towards the Irish side — the multi-accented comedian’s got a big following thanks to television appearances there — but the material and delivery was squarely old-school observational New York style: fast, loud, self-aggrandising and not particularly witty. The kind that makes fun of yuppie Dubliners, exhorts sex in hotel rooms because you don’t have to clean up, that brags about banging groupies.

    The sell-out crowd lapped it up, though: there were a hell of a lot of Irish in the room and much of the material was directed to them, and I guess he’s been here enough to know that bashing Frankston bogans is always good for a laugh from a Melbourne crowd.

    It was the strangely disjoined show’s third night — maybe it’ll smooth out as it picks up steam.

    One point of difference came from a Roland electric drum kit, loaded with samples of dialogue labelled homeboy, paedophile and bogan, for instance, all mined well past their worth. There was some good laughs when the sound guy went AutoTune on Des’s vocals.

    The entertaining climax came when an audience member was called up to provide a chorus to go with Des’s hip-hop song — Des laid down a beat on the drums, Helen from Cork sang (and very nicely, too) a chorus from a Beyonce song, and Des unveiled his MCing with verses taken from the latest headlines: Julia Gillard, AFL’s late great Jim Stynes (of Irish background, so that explains that connection, perhaps) and Ben Cousins.

    Just why he had to intro the skit by saying he was going to show how easy it was to write a hip-hop song is a mystery, but not as great as the mystery as to why he felt the need, after the song’s completion, to go back through his lyric sheet and explain all the gags. It’s kind of unusual to have a comedy show with an epilogue of explanatory notes.

    As Des observed during the gig, if you’ve read the innuendo in the title, you know what to expect. What a shame he was bang on.

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