Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Review: Doctor Who 'The Eleventh Hour'


At 10.30am today myself and three colleagues - three of us queer, coincidentally, and three - though not the same three - serious Doctor Who fans - sat down in a VIP suite at ABC Television's Elsternwick studios for a preview screening of Matt Smith's first proper outing as the Eleventh Doctor.

I've spent the last few hours alternating between gleeful joy, critical thought, and wondering how best to post a review without including major spoilers.

Let's give it a whirl, shall we?

But before we go any further, it must be said: MILD SPOILERS LIE AHEAD if you know nothing about the new episode. That said I won't be describing plot details, rest assured.

* * *

Written by new showrunner Steven Moffat, the first episode of the new series of Doctor Who begins pretty much where The End of Time Part Two left off, with the TARDIS out of control and the Doctor (Matt Smith) very recently regenerated.

Very much a new man, Smith's Doctor spends much of the episode discovering - as do the audience - what sort of a man he is. One of the things which struck me, while watching the show, is that he's a very physical Doctor. That said, there's some great throwbacks to previous incarnations of the character, notably Pertwee and McGann's Doctors - indeed, the whole history of the show is admirably evoked in one particular scene. Too, Tennant's first episode - The Christmas Invasion - is also referenced quite beautifully.

Something else - or somethings else - that is rediscovered are the inner depths of the TARDIS. During the Russell T. Davies era we only ever saw the main control room, save for one quick glimpse of the interior of a wardrobe room in the aforementioned The Christmas Invasion, but Moffat is clearly fond of the sheer, mind boggling size of the TARDIS, so expect to see its other rooms at the very least referenced in this and future episodes.

Other thoughts that sprung to mind as I was watching the episode, which I'll just quickly jot down:
  • Ooh, pretty: the Superman effect in the opening credits.
  • The way the story flows beautifully from comedic moments to scenes of tension and high drama in the blink of an eye.
  • The highly original way that new companion, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) is introduced, the ramifications of which will ensure that she and the Doctor have a fresh, unique and very interesting dynamic.
  • The equally effective introduction of Amy's friends and family.
  • What is it with Steven Moffat and people lying in comas?
  • Foreshadowing of future events and future episodes.
  • The way that when we do finally see the new interior of the TARDIS, it's through Amy's eyes.
  • Wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff.
In short, I loved it. The Eleventh Hour may not be the greatest episode of Doctor Who ever, but given how much it has to introduce in just 60 minutes, it does a damn fine job. It's exciting, funny, dramatic... *wiggles fingers* ... exciting. I hope you enjoy it too.

Doctor Who - The Eleventh Hour premieres this Saturday April 3 in the UK, and screens in Australia at 7.30pm on Sunday April 18 on ABC1. It premieres in Australia at midnight Friday April 16 (i.e. 12am Saturday April 17) on iView.

MICT 2010: Sam Simmons & David Quirk - The Incident

A man walks into a shop and is touched up by the shop assistant. So begins this surreal exploration of masculinity and men’s insecurities by Sam Simmons and David Quirk.

Not for the easily offended – there’s mimed masturbation, swearing, and sexual references aplenty – The Incident successfully uses adult-themed humour to mock men’s sexual obsessions, not celebrate them. Nor is this a comedy show for audiences who are seeking undemanding stand-up. Instead, this collaborative production fuses Simmons’ unpredictable absurdist humour with Quirk’s pitch-black observational comedy, to great success.

Braggadocio, boys and their toys, and buddy movies all cop a serve, interspersed with mock ad breaks and a satirical take on current affairs; but the show is at its best when Quirk and Simmons crash through the divide which separates homo-social behaviour from homosexual activity, to frankly explore the difference between mates and mating. Male bonding has never been funnier.

Four stars

Sam Simmons & David Quirk - The Incident

Tue-Sat 7.15pm, Sun 6.15pm
Melbourne
Town Hall

$15 - $22

An edited version of this review originally appeared in The Age on Tuesday March 31.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A new initiative at this year’s Comedy Festival, Headliners features a rotating triple bill of US comedians, reflecting American comedy traditions, where individual 20 minute sets rather than one hour shows are the norm.

Opening Saturday’s proceedings was Todd Barry, a master of the Pinteresque pause, whose dry wit occasionally baffled the crowd but whose material – ranging from the enviable ability of Swedes to create new English words, through to a gag about lemongrass-scented deodorant – was always incisive.

Next was the endearing John Mulaney. His professed fear of possums resulted in a protracted exchange with the audience and generated gales of laughter. Mulaney’s observations on pop culture, from the success of Avatar to a childhood jukebox incident, were equally well received.

Making his Melbourne debut, rockabilly comic Greg Behrendt wrapped up the evening with a splendid series of anecdotes about aging and relationships.

At Headliners, gales of laughter are guaranteed.

Four stars

Headliners
Tue-Sat 9.45pm, Sun 8.45pm
Melbourne
Town Hall

$22.50 - $33

MICF 2010: Russell Kane

Self-described ‘Lego-haired English shit’ Russell Kane arrived on stage over 20 minutes late due to a curtain malfunction, and after apologising, launched into a series of anecdotes and observations so quickly delivered they almost collided coming out of his mouth. His manic delivery continued as Kane juggled observations connected to his theory of ‘human dressage’, the social training which conditions our behaviour – especially where dating is concerned.

From generational and class differences to emotional literacy and reality TV, Kane presented a bewildering array of topics to support his theory, and at least half the room responded well to his shtick. Unfortunately the laughs faltered when Kane’s argument became bogged down by tangential material, such as observations about English regional accents, which failed to translate locally. A lack of research into Australia’s binge drinking culture further detracted. The hyperactive Kane needs to slow his delivery down for his material to really hit the mark.

Three stars

Russell Kane - Human Dressage
Tue-Sat 8.15pm, Sun 7.15pm

Melbourne
Town Hall

Tickets $25 - $29


This review originally appeared in The Age on Tuesday March 30.

MICF 2010: Asher Treleaven - Secret Door


Opening with incense and Indian music, Asher Treleaven’s audience could well be forgiven for thinking that the gifted and gangly comedian was about to induct them into a cult. Instead, resplendent in a white suit, Treleaven takes the audience on a hilarious tour through the knuckle-dragging world of Australian masculinity, complete with a slide show featuring ‘Poisonous Personalities of the Day’ (Senator Steve Fielding, take a bow).

From a satirical take on the tired dick jokes which are as close as some comedians get to enlightened sexual politics, and Treleaven’s absurd advice – inspired by our native fauna – on how to avoid a fight, through to a good cop/bad cop take on cunnilingus, there is not a flat moment in this entire show. Subtly expressed and perfectly timed physical comedy underlines Treleaven’s quick wit and keen intelligence. Cerebral, sublime and wonderful work from a comedian at the top of his game.

Five stars

Asher Treleaven - Cellar Door
Tues-Sat
9.45pm, Sun 8.45pm
Melbourne
Town Hall

$18 - $24


This review originally appeared in
The Age on Tuesday March 30.

Monday, March 29, 2010

MICF 2010: Smart Casual - Same Mother, Different Fathers


Musical comedy is strongly represented at this year’s Comedy Festival, ensuring that punters seeking a song as well as a laugh are well catered for. Adding their considerable skills to the mix are the deadpan duo Smart Casual, half brothers Roger David and Fletcher Jones.

At the heart of their new show is the duo’s slowly simmering sibling rivalry, brought to a head by a series of tape-recorded messages from their mother, Rhonda, about the fathers the boys never knew. Increasingly improbable stories about their respective dads soon follow, interspersed by sketches about bullying seagulls, and an excellent and topical Shirley Temple cover.

Through short pithy songs such as ‘Why is There a Polar Bear at My Party?’ and ‘Please Don’t Dance, Ellen DeGeneres’, Smart Casual provoke sporadic, staccato bursts of laughter rather than continued hilarity, but their carefully constructed shtick and wry, winning humour ensures audiences are constantly entertained.

Three and a half stars

Smart Casual -
SAME MOTHER, DIFFERENT FATHERS
Tue-Sat 7.15pm, Sun 6.15pm

Victoria Hotel

$15 - $22

This review originally ran in The Age on Monday March 29.

MICF 2010: Black Sheep - Glorious Baastards


A night of Indigenous sketch comedy, The Black Sheep’s Glorious Baastards is the fourth Comedy Festival show produced by Australia’s leading Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander theatre company, Ilbijerri, and follows in the footsteps of last year’s highly successful A Black Sheep Walks into a Baa.

Opening with a not-so-traditional, pointedly non-token, rapped 'welcome to country', Glorious Baastards is performed by two young comedians, Mia Stanford and Cy Fahey, and two older actors, Melodie Reynolds and Lisa Maza. The latter pair’s experience and confidence on stage somewhat overshadows their younger colleagues, with Maza particularly outstanding. Her over-the-top performance as an opera singer, complete with a possum, wattle and banksia hat that would make Dame Edna envious, was not just a brilliant satire of exoticised Aboriginal stereotypes; it also brought the house down.

While not every sketch hits its mark, when the Black Sheep are on fire, they’re blisteringly funny.

Three stars


Black Sheep -
Glorious Baastards
Tue-Sat 6pm (no show 2 & 3 Apr)

Melbourne
Town Hall

$10 - $20

This review first appeared in
The Age on Monday March 29.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

More from the MQFF

I've only seen nine sessions at the Melbourne Queer Film Festival so far this year, which is pretty poor by my usual standards. There were a couple more sessions today that I wanted to see, but ironically I missed out on them as I've been sitting in front of the computer all day writing reviews (my first Comedy Festival piece for The Age this morning, followed by several other reviews for this here blog this afternoon). I may as well continue in that vein, with a brief summary of the remaining sessions I've attended. Hopefully I get to see at least one more film tomorrow, before the Comedy Festival eats my life...

SHORT FILMS

I've seen three short film packages this year: Sex Drives and Videotape, a selection of edgy gay shorts exploring fetishes and the dark side of sexual desire; another collection of gay shorts, Short & Burly, and the lesbian shorts selection, Short & Girly. As always, an ecclectic range of films, none of them bad (in my opinion) but only a couple that were truly memorable.

Highlights included the wry American animation Numerology (dir. Paula Durette) which playfully mocked lesbian relationships through the mystic art of numerology; another animation, from Canada, The Island (dir. Trevor Anderson), inspired by a hateful email; and two films about sex and violence, the confronting Weak Species (dir. Dan Faltz, USA, 2009), and the meditative and murderous Heiko (dir. David Bonneville, Portugal, 2007).

My favourite short film though, was Second Guessing Grandma (dir. Bob Giraldi, USA, 2008), an emotionally engaging and surprisingly touching story about coming out to an elderly relative.

THE FISH CHILD
(Dir. Lucia Puenzo, France/Spain, 2008)

Set in Argentina and Paraguay, this new film from the director of lauded intersex drama XXY (which screened as the closing night film at the MQFF in 2008) was a heady mix of crime drama, lesbian love story, class structure critique and magic realism. From a fractured, multi-linear beginning featuring flashbacks a-plenty, the film gradually coallesces into a love story between the privileged young Lala (Inés Efron, who also played the lead in XXY) and Ailin (singer Mariela Vitale Emme in her screen debut). When Lala's father, a judge, is murdered, she flees to Ailin's village in Paraguay, while Ailin herself is arrested. Returning to take the rap and set her lover free, Lala is drawn into a web of corruption and exploitation, with devestating results.

The Fish Child is not as solid a film as Puenzo's remarkable debut feature, lacking the emotional impact of XXY, but it is still beautifully crafted and exquisitely shot, with excellent performances from all the cast. The storyline, with its turbulent mix of robbery, murder, incest and more, strains belief, so that one never quite believes the relationship which holds the story together. It was, nonetheless, an intellectually engaging cinematic experience.

Rating: Three stars

Next up was another feature, one I'd already seen but which I was keen to see again, and I wasn't disappointed. It held up extremely well the second time around, proving just as emotionally engaging as I remembered it - but rather than write a brand new review, here's what I said about it last year, when I reviewed the film for Arts Hub.

THE MAN WHO LOVED YNGVE
(Dir.Stian Kristiansen, Sweden, 2008)


This excellent Norwegian drama, directed by Stian Kristiansen and based on the acclaimed young adult novel by Tore Renberg, proves that there is life yet in that relatively tired queer film genre, the ‘coming out’ story.

Set in 1989, and opening with a direct-to-camera monologue that quickly establishes the light and engaging tone of the film, The Man Who Loved Yngve centres on Jarle Klepp (Rolf Kristian Larsen), a bored teenager living in Norway’s oil capital, Stavanger, who finds a new friend in fellow punk rock fan Helge (Arthur Berning). The pair form a band with a third friend, Andreas (Knut Sverdrup Kleppestø); and Jarle soon finds himself with a new girlfriend, the frank and fascinating Cathrine (Ida Elise Broch), as well as an important upcoming gig. But the arrival of a new student, Yngve (Ole Christoffer Ertvåg) disrupts Jarle’s life and forces him to reconsider everything he knows – or thinks he knows – about himself and his world.

Over its 90 minute running time, the film captures the highs and lows, the turmoil and the intensity of Jarle’s world, from his awkward and sometimes angry discussions with his separated parents, to his rapid infatuation with Yngve and all he represents.

Featuring charming performances from some of Norway’s best young actors, and incisive direction from newcomer Stian Kristiansen (who was still studying at Sweden’s National Film School in Lillehammer at the time he was appointed to helm the production) The Man Who Loved Yngve avoids clichés and sentimentality while telling a fresh and authentic story about adolescent life. Characters are appropriately inarticulate, avoiding the faux-adult teenage dialogue depicted in such staples of US drama as Dawson’s Creek, The OC and more recent productions such as Gossip Girl; and the pangs and pains of adult life are fleetingly though accurately portrayed.

Important alternative bands of the era – Joy Division, The Cure, The Jesus and Mary Chain – pepper the soundtrack, further establishing the period in which the film is set but also providing insights into the characters’ emotions, such as a scene in which a pensive Jarle lies on his bed as The Buzzcocks’ ‘Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)’ plays in the background.

The contrast between Jarle (an endearingly goofy, outgoing redhead who listens to bands like The Clash and Einstürzende Neubauten) and Yngve (a shy, blonde, tennis-playing fan of synth-pop and New Wave bands like Japan) couldn’t be more pronounced, but as the film unfolds the undeniable attraction between the two youths plays out with all-too-believable consequences. Especially welcome was the film’s refusal to resort to cliché, and the filmmakers’ decision not to pigeonhole Jarle’s sexuality: too many coming out films focus purely on gay life and gay desire, whereas films acknowledging bisexual identity are rare.

Having won the Best Feature award at the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in October 2009, as well as two Amanda Awards (Best Children’s or Youth Film, and Best Direction) at the 2009 Norwegian International Film Festival earlier in the year, The Man Who Loved Yngve marks Stian Kristiansen as a major talent to watch.

Rating: Four and a half stars

MICF 2010: DEAD CAT BOUNCE

Dead Cat Bounce
Roxanne, Coverlid Place
March 25 - April 18
Tues - Sat 9.30pm, Sun 8.30pm

A full-blown rock'n'roll comedy act from Ireland, Dead Cat Bounce are four talented musicians - Mick Cullinan (keys), Demian Fox (drums), Shane O’Brien (bass), and James Walmsley (guitar, lead vocals) - who are also skilled comedians with a firm grasp on timing and song writing. Visiting the Melbourne International Comedy Festival as part of their first ever Australian tour, they're playing a classic Melbourne venue, ie a bar that you have to venture down a seedy laneway and up several flights of stairs to find. Their repetoire features everything from a homoerotic piss-take of rugby players, and a mock boy-band ballad (complete with choreographed dance moves) to a kid's song about learning to differentiate between good touches and bad touches; and their between-songs banter is as strong as their grasp of a range of musical genres. Tight leopard-print trousers, props, and four strong personalities ensure that this is an act you'll not forget in a hurry. Not groundbreaking, but bloody funny.

Rating: Three and a half stars

MICF 2010: DONNA & DAMO: AN ASEXUAL LOVE STORY


Donna & Damo: An Asexual Love Story
The Arts Centre, Black Box
March 24 - April 17
Tues - Sat 8.30pm

This quirky comedic theatre show about Donna (Sarah Collins), a recently dumped call-centre worker, and Damo (Justin Kennedy), a self-appointed spellchecker, won rave reviews at last year's Melbourne Fringe Festival, and deservedly so. A triumph of low-fi charm, Donna &Damo: An Asexual Love Story sees both performers playing numerous roles, with Kennedy also doubling as the narrator of the show, against an ever-changing backdrop of hand-drawn and rear-projected scenery.

Telemarketer Donna sells glamour photography sessions to unhappy women across Victoria, in between striving to please her self-important film blogger boyfriend. Damo is a genuine eccentric for whom a poorly-placed apostrophe is a thing of horror; he spends his days visiting shops and restaurants in order to correct their mis-spelled signs and menus. When the two meet by chance, it is the catalyst for a wonderfully evoked roadtrip to Walhalla, in country Victoria, which in true roadtrip style teaches each of them an important truth about their lives.

An endearing exploration of a romance in which sex plays no part, Donna & Damo: An Asexual Love Story boasts a great script and winning performances. As charming as it is heartwarming, it's a Comedy Festival must-see.

Rating: Four stars

MICF 2010: MATT WILSON - MEMOIRS OF A HUMAN CANNONBALL


Matt Wilson - Memoirs of a Human Cannonball
At the Arts Centre, Black Box
24 March - 17 April

Tue-Sat 7pm, Sun 6pm


A painfully funny theatre show, Memoirs of a Human Cannonball sees 'The Singing Stuntman' (circus performer Matt Wilson) joined by Shirley Billings as popcorn seller P.K. ("as in the chewy) in an autobiographical production about the horrific accident that put an end to Wilson's cannonballing career. Through a skillful combination of clowning, comedy, songs, slides and home movies, the show explores Wilson's childhood desire to jump off things, and how he channelled that energy into a highly successful circus career. Along the way we're introduced to the Zacchinis (the famous circus family credited with establishing the human cannonball act) through some deft, daft cod-history; and entertained by some charming tunes and melodious harmonies in such songs as 'Hot Buttery Popcorn' and 'It's No Accident'.

The show culminates in Wilson's description of his accident, which had audience members wincing and groaning in sympathy, but takes a playful route to the unveiling of the gruesome details, while also generating surprising tension along the way. Billings seemed a trifle nervous on opening night, resulting in a slightly strained first few minutes, but once Wilson - whose stage presence and charisma are considerable - joined her, the show quickly found its groove.

There's a gentle, goofy charm, and a playful faux-naivety to Memoirs of a Human Cannonball which audiences should respond well to. Don't expect constant belly laughs; this is theatre, not stand-up; but do go and see this clever, confronting and engaging production.

Three and a half stars

Friday, March 26, 2010

MQFF 2010: BANDAGED

BANDAGED
(Dir.
Maria Beatty, Germany, 2009)

Oh dear. The first train-wreck of a film at this year's MQFF was this German-made, English language psychodrama which was advertised as a 'lesbian horror' film in the festival program. The only horrific moments in Bandaged were generated by the sheer awfulness of this film, an overwrought melodrama that tipped over into truly camp territory. When you're one of dozens of people in the cinema not even trying to stifle your giggles during the truly bad sex scenes, you know you're watching a real stinker.

Lucille (Janna Lisa Dombrowsky) is a home-tutored student whose father, Arthur (Hans Piesbergen) a brilliant but smothering surgeon, refuses to let her leave home to study poetry, preferring that she stay and do home-tutored science instead. In a moment of destructive teen angst Lucille pours acid over herself. Ouch. Enter her nurse, Joan (Sussane Sachse), who gradually realises that Arthur is trying to restore Lucille's face so that she resembles her dead mother; and who also falls in love - or at least in lust - with her heavily bandaged patient. Cue tongue flicking, bad sex faces, and generally laughable scenes.

Clearly trying to recreate the poetic horror of the 1960 film Eyes Without a Face, director Maria Beatty fails dismally, thanks in part to the stitled and melodramatic performances of her cast, and the film's inability to evoke the gothic mood it aims for. Laughablly bad, Bandaged is a film I can only recommend to people such as my friend Miranda, who is always looking for another film to watch at her regular Bad Lesbian Movie night.

Rating: One and a half stars

MQFF 2010: DARE

Wah! Where did the week go? One minute it's Saturday and I'd just finished blogging about seeing the excellent Children of God at the 20th Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and the next minute it's the following Friday and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival has already begun. Argh! So, time for a rapid run-through of what else I've seen at the MQFF over the last week...

DARE
(Dir. Adam Salky, USA, 2009)

Following the success of their acclaimed 2005 short film of the same name (which I described as 'a fresh take on the coming out film, which effectively communicates that fraught moment when you first put your desire on the line' when it showed at the MQFF in 2006) director Adam Salky and writer David Brind have reworked and expanded their mini-drama about a gay teen and the straight-in-theory jock he desires into an enjoyable but unremarkable feature film.

The story follows three teenagers, the wanna-be-theatre-diva Alexa (Emmy Rossum), her shy best friend Ben (Ashley Springer) and Johnny the jock (Zach Gilford) whose arrogant facade hides a sensitive soul who just wants to be loved; and is divided into thirds, with each segment of the film following one of the three main characters as they are drawn into an awkward ménage à trois.

Alexa wants to be an actress, but according to her drama teacher's former star pupil Grant Matson (a sly cameo by Alan Cumming) she lacks the life experience necessary to embody true emotion. Consequently, she throws herself at Johnny at a drunken party. Ben soon follows suit, in a swimming pool seduction scene which was the centrepiece of the original short film; and soon poor Johhny, who just wants to be friends with Ben and Alexa, finds himself a pawn in their attempts to out-vamp each other.

Dare is not a perfect film, but it's certainly more adventurous and more heartfelt than most teen dramas. A more accomplished writer/director team might have worked wonders with the story; as it is the film falls short of what it was striving for. Nonetheless, the performances are solid - Gilford particularly, although the most outstanding performer in the film is Ana Gasteyer as Ben's mother, who transforms her two dimension post-hippie mum into a truly remarkable and loveable character. Overall it comes across (in the words of my friend Byron, who I saw it with) as a milder John Hughes film for the 21st century. Not brilliant, but definitely enjoyable.

Rating: Three stars

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Finucane & Smith's Triple Bill of Wild Delight!

You've got one weekend left to catch Moira Finucane & Jackie Smith's Triple Bill of Wild Delight! at Carlton's La Mama Theatre, and you'd be a fool to miss it. Three shows in one night might seem like a hard slog to anyone who's not a hardened festival-goer, but the energy generated by these three excellent productions will keep you awake and alert all evening.

The first cab off the rank is The Feast of Argentina Gina Catalina, a one-woman show written and performed by Finucane and directed by Smith, and ably presented with the invaluable support of a small army of waiters, who serve up delicious snacks between each chapter of the show.

This cornucopia of fanciful imaginings featuring pirates, killer whales, opera and blood oranges, is a series of dramatic monologues performed by an immaculately costumed Finucane in character as the impossible Argentina. Between each set the audience dine on chorizo and grilled corn, white wine, mussels, cured meats, chocolate cake, ice cream and more; each course referencing Finucane's text, and everything delicious.

Concerning the text itself, while one or two of the shorter pieces (which lack the impact and verbal dexterity of the larger, more epic chapters) could perhaps have been cut to reduce the running time without impacting on the overall structure of the play, overall this was an excellent production; an imaginative and spell-binding visit to the atmospheric, gothic and garish world of Finucane & Smith. I can't wait to go back.

The second show on the bill is The Candy Butchers' excellent anti-circus production, Tooth & Nail, created and performed by Azaria Universe and Jess Love, with a guest appearance by Derek Ives.

If you find it difficult to imagine a circus show in the constrictive confines of La Mama, that's all the more reason to see this show. Universe and Love make brilliant use of the venue's restrictive space in a production which takes the traditional tropes of circus arts and turns them inside out. Instead of masking the grueling effort it takes to make an act look poised and effortless, The Candy Butchers highlight the performers' gasps and grunts; instead of the glamorous showgirl, we get nudity, ripped stockings and deliberately ill-timed entrances. Deftly and brilliantly performed - the skipping routine is just one of many highlights - Tooth & Nail is solidly and hilariously entertaining.

The third and final show on the bill is Salon de Danse - Deluge - yes, dance at La Mama! Again, before seeing the show, my mind boggled at how this concept would work in Melbourne's smallest theatre, but work it does, and beautifully.

As with both previous shows on the night, Salon de Danse - Deluge makes magnificent use of the space on offer, especially the recently expanded courtyard, which plays host to a number of acts both before the show and during interval. Highlights include the opening parade of dancers led by Maude Davey, in which the audience is urged to target the performers with previously supplied water pistols; a tender piece performed on the courtyard stage by the remarkably lanky yet physically precise Brian Lucas, as he dances half hidden beneath a billowing sea of red cloth; a passionate, sensual and surreal tango performed by Paul Cordeiro and an office chair; Umi Umiumare's grotesque presentation in the second act, in which a faceless woman dances alone in a sinister forest; and Moira Finucane re-appearing in an incredibly tense and emotionally charged work involving a pie and an AC/DC song.

Fanciful, fantastic, imaginative and startling, this triple bill of visually lush and emotionally charged works is an absolute triumph, and is very highly recommended.

At La Mama Theatre until March 28. Book online or call (03) 9347 6142.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

MQFF 2010: CHILDREN OF GOD

A landmark feature film by writer/director Kareem Mortimer, based on his 2007 short, Float, Children of God is the first gay-themed feature to come out of The Bahamas; and a powerful and beautiful story about love, fear and religious intolerance.

It is 2004, and the Bahamas are swept by a wave of anti-gay fervour driven by the Christian right, fuelled by the news that a gay cruise ship may soon be docking at one of the island's ports. Against this backdrop of scaremongering and hate, we meet Johnny (Johnny Ferro), a creatively-blocked art student struggling with an obsessive-compulsive disorder that sees him cringe away from any human touch; Romeo (Stephen Tyrone Williams) a young man struggling with his obligations towards his family and his band; and the devoutly religious Lena Mackey (Margaret Laurena Kemp) an anti-gay activist whose hypocritical preacher husband has just given her a sexually-transmitted disease. On the Bahamian island of Eleuthera, where Johnny has come at the urging of his art teacher to try and rekindle his love for painting, these three people's paths collide, with life-changing results.

Exquisitely shot by cinematographer Ian Bloom, and incorporating actual documentary footage of the 2004 anti-gay protests to great effect, Children of God features superb performances from all the cast, even those in minor roles, such as Craig Pinder as Johnny's father, Mike, who clumsily but tenderly tries to support his gay son as best he can; and Van Brown as the Reverend Clyde Ritchie, who embodies the compassionate face of Christianity.

Mortimer's assured direction, and his adherence to the film-maker's mantra of 'show, don't tell', offers up a series of excellent scenes, such as the achingly romantic moment in which Johnny and Romeo dance together without music, and the emotionally bruising conclusion.

Originally conceived as a purely romantic story, the film turned darker following a series of homophobia-driven murders in the Bahamas in 2007-2008. One of the men, who Mortimer knew personally, was almost decapitated during the violent assault which took his life. But despite the film-maker's obvious and understandable distaste for the anti-gay sentiments fostered and fuelled by the church in the Bahamas, Children of God is a remarkably even-handed film. Deeply moving, powerful and disturbing, its multi-faceted exploration of humanity, of loneliness, love and hypocrisy, is highly recommended.

Rating: Four stars

MQFF 2010: AMERICAN PRIMITIVE

My second film at this year's Melbourne Queer Film Festival was the US independent feature American Primitive, directed by Gwendolyn Wynne and written by Mary Berth Fieldler, based on events from Wynne's own childhood.

Set in 1973, the film tells the story of the recently widowed Harry Goodhart (Tate Donovan), who has moved to Cape Cod with his two teenaged daughters, 16 year-old Madeline Goodhart (Danielle Savre) and her slightly younger sister Daisy (Skye McCole Bartusiak), who fancies herself as a bohemian poet and litters her sentences with words straight out of the dictionary. The film is told from Madeline's point of view as she struggles to fit into her new school, where she is drawn to the handsome but shallow tennis jock Sam Brown (Corey Sevier), seemingly unaware that scruffy local boy Spoke White (an excellent performance by Josh Peck) may be a kinder, more honest suitor.

The film's drama is driven by Madeline's discovery that her father's 'business partner', the urbane and charming Theodore Gibbs (Adam Pascal), who lives at the back of their new home, is actually her dad's lover.

Once outed, Harry faces the very real possibility not just of public opprobrium, but also of losing custody of his children - and also losing their love. Madeline in particular struggles to square her discovery about Harry with the father she thought she knew.

Unfortunately, despite strong performances by many of the supporting cast (including Anne Ramsay as Mrs. Brown, the single woman who sets Harry Goodhart in her sights; and Susan Anspach as the girl's deeply religious grandmother) much of the dramatic elements in American Primitive felt straight out of telemovie territory, with the film's earnest script and Wynne's lacklustre direction dragging it down several notches. Creative flourishes - such as a use of split-screen shots that tries to pay homage to the Seventies but which borders on the invasive; and some very obviously fake sideburns on Adam Pascal - hinder rather than help strengthen the story.

In more inventive hands this could easily have been an excellent film about love, family and intolerance set in the less caring 1970's. Instead, it ends up as heavy handed and unimaginative; lacking subtlety and insight, and overly reliant on pat dialogue and simple moralising about being true to who you are and the importance of family in your life.

Of the film's traditional three act structure, the middle act is its weakest point, and to be fair, the film does lift towards the end, thanks in part to an excellent performance by Josh Peck. The scene in which he tells Madeline why her father's sexuality is none of his business is the emotional heart of the film and helps steer American Primitive towards its predictable but positive conclusion.

There is much to admire here - the title, which refers to an art movement practised by Mr. Gibbs, but which also cleverly highlights the less accepting times in which the film is set, the production design (save for those damn sideburns), and the intent with which the film is made; but ultimately I found American Primitive rather cheesy, and a little stodgy to easily digest.

Rating: Two and a half stars

MQFF 2010: ANTIQUE

Directed by Min Kyu-dong, Antique (Sayangkoldong yangkwajajeom aentikeu) was a brave choice by the Melbourne Queer Film Festival programming team, which usually shows relatively safe crowd-pleasers on opening night to assist in fostering an appropriate vibe at the party following the screening. Unlike the usual bland fodder sometimes screened at opening nights (such as the dreadful Canadian feature Breakfast with Scot, shown two years ago; ironically, the year prior was one of the best opening night's ever, the excellent Truman Capote biopic, Infamous) Festival Director Lisa Daniel and her team went with this high quality but more challenging film from Korea.

Consequently, numbers were definitely down at the Astor on Wednesday night (some 200 less tickets were sold than in previous years), a situation which reinforced my view that - generally speaking - the gay community is inherently conservative (a view that's further bolstered by the domination of drag and house music in gay clubs: tangible signs of a culture that is stuck in the 1980's). Subtitled films, it seems, are too challenging for many of Melbourne's gay cinema-goers.

Their loss. It meant that there was more food and more booze for the rest of us at the opening night party.

But what of the film itself? Antique was a curious blend of genres - comedy, drama, thriller, musical - that unfolded at a pace so rapid it was sometimes bewildering; featuring luscious cinematography and production design, and a stunningly handsome cast.

The plot revolves around a young man from a rich family, Kim Jin-hyeok (Joo Ji-hoon) who is searching for a girlfriend, and decides to attract one by opening a bakery specialising in rich pastries and fine cakes - an odd choice, given that such sweet treats make him physically ill.

The pastry chef he hires is Min Seon-Woo (Kim Jae-wook), a French-trained master of his craft who has nonetheless been sacked from every previous work place within 12 months, because he is 'a Gay of Demonic Charm' - irresistible to any man, gay or straight. Chaos follows in his wake. Only Kim Jin-hyeok, it seems, is immune to his charms.

Joining the team at the patisserie, 'Antique', where fine food is served on equally fine old china, are the eager young boxer turned apprentice pastry chef Yang Ki-beom (Yu Ah-in) and Kim Jin-hyeok's loyal bodyguard, the cool-seeming but clumsy Nam Su-yeong (Chin Ji-ho).

All four main characters, we soon learn, have secrets, but it is Kim Jin-hyeok's past which is the most complex: kidnapped as a child, he cannot remember any details about his kidnapper, only terrifying flashes that haunt his dreams, in which he runs through the streets covered in blood.

But soon Kim Jin-hyeok's past returns to haunt the present: more children are being kidnapped, and their bodies are turning up dead, stuffed full of cakes from a certain bakery. Further complicating matters is the unexpected arrival of Min Seon-Woo's French boyfriend and former teacher, the short-tempered Jean-Baptiste (Andy Gillet), who is desperate for his ex-lover to return home to Paris.

Unhindered by Western traditions of genre, Antique follows a convoluted and unpredictable narrative path which was at times confusing, but never less than entertaining, although its rapid pace meant that some story elements felt a trifle rushed. Even more puzzling was the resolution of its plot, which seemed somewhat contradictory - possibly due to a subtitling error at a key point in proceedings.

Such criticisms aside, this was a sweet yet surprisingly complex film, and a very enjoyable one. The chemistry between its odd couple leads - Joo Ji-hoon as the rich but unhappy Kim Jin-hyeok, and the gorgeous Kim Jae-wook as the 'Gay of Demonic Charm' - was fantastic, resulting in a rapport which resulted in solidly comedic moments; and the lingering shots of cakes and pastries had me salivating in my seat.

A highly enjoyable though occasionally confusing start to the 20th Melbourne Queer Film Festival.

Rating: Three and a half stars

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

An open letter to Herald Sun 'journalist' Fiona Hudson

Dear Fiona,

As a journalist, broadcaster and avid consumer and fan of the arts; as someone who has volunteered for numerous arts organisations over the past 20 years; and as someone who is well aware of the positive economic impact our many excellent festivals such as Melbourne Fringe, Melbourne International Film Festival, Melbourne International Arts Festival, Next Wave, Melbourne Queer Film Festival and Big West bring to Melbourne; I feel obliged to say, in response to your article about the City of Melbourne's arts funding program in today's Herald Sun newspaper: shame on you!

By demonising the artists concerned and failing to accurately and fairly present their viewpoints - indeed, it failed to present their viewpoints at all - your article failed to present both sides of the story.

It took a deliberately emotive and biased stance that skewed what should have been an impartial article into a piece of inflamatory and reactionary rhetoric, which appealed only to your readers' most basic and ill-informed opinions and sensibilities.

Have you read the Australian Journalists' Association's Code of Ethics, lately, which recognise 'respect for truth and the public's right for information' as 'fundamental principles of journalism'?

Have you forgotten the very first point of the code that journalists commit themselves to? Allow me to remind you, Fiona. It says that journalists should:

1. Report and interpret honestly, striving for accuracy, fairness and disclosure of all essential facts. Do not suppress relevant available facts, or give distorting emphasis. Do your utmost to give a fair opportunity for reply.

Perhaps you need a refresher course in journalistic ethics, Fiona? Or are we to assume that your flouting of the Code of Ethics is deliberate, and your scaremongering equally so? In which case I say to you again: SHAME ON YOU.

Yours sincerely,
Richard Watts

Producer/Presenter, SmartArts, 3RRR FM
Arts Editor, Arts Hub
Arts Writer, Citysearch
Man About Town

Monday, March 15, 2010

Review: HABITAT

Habitat
A Mutation Theatre Production
Written and directed by Patrick McCarthy
Co-devised & performed by James Tresise & Matthew Epps

There are several similarities between Habitat, which I saw last Wednesday, and MEN (reviewed below) which I saw the night prior. Both concern themselves with contemporary expressions of masculinity, and both are (or in the case of MEN, were) works by young playwrights. But whereas MEN was Brendan Cowell's first play, Habitat is the third play by writer/director Patrick McCarthy, whose two previous works were one man plays - Fluorescent Facade and The Corpse of Hamlet - which he himself performed.

A gentle, introspective exploration of what it means to be a young man in the 21st century, Habitat avoids emotional pyrotechnics in favour of subdued humour and wry realism. Set in the loungeroom of an inner city share house, the play is a character study of two friends, James (James Tresise) and Matthew (Matthew Epps), who identity as members of Generation Y.

While little of any real dramatic note happens over the play's slightly self-indulgent one hour and fifteen minute running time, the charm in this raw yet engaging production lies in the way we get to know its characters - and they get to know themselves - as it unfolds. Moments of true emotion - such as the pair's awkwardness when one of the boys confesses that he was lonely when the other went away for the weekend; or the flatly but compelling told story of a tragic death - alternate with scenes of simple, unfettered glee as the boys dance around the set, and moments when they suddenly halt the drama to ask audience members how we're going.

Habitat is not without its faults - it has a tendency to meander, and I'd love to see the results wrought by a good dramatuge in terms of tightening the script and subtly intensifying the drama - but I liked it all the same, and look forward to seeing playwright Patrick McCarthy further developing his craft in the years to come.

Until March 20
Upstairs at Cafe Coco
129 Smith Street Fitzroy
Bookings: mutationtheatre@hotmail.com or 0410 304 226

Review: MEN at 45 Downstairs

MEN
A Straightjacket Production
Written by Brendan Cowell

Directed by Sarah Hallam


Written in 2000, MEN is the first play by Australian actor and writer Brendan Cowell, and it shows. Generally strong performances and competent direction cannot hide the fact that the script lacks depth. Its characters are poorly developed and Cowell's voice is inarticulate.

Staged on a single set, the play introduces three male characters trapped within a limited space boasting basic amenities: a bar fridge, a couch and a collection of pornographic magazines. A mysterious woman, Haizel (Georgia Bolton) watches over them at a remove, her regular announcements reminding them that the clock is ticking down to some unknown deadline. Towards the end of the play she finally interacts directly with Guy (Samuel Johnson) a drug-abusing emotional wreck, the arrogant and aloof Jules (Jay Bowen), and Bob (Justin Rosniak) a cocksure Casanova who only stops boasting about his sexual escapades to give Guy more pills.

The play sets out to explore the male condition, complete with SNAG insecurities and violent misogyny, but does little more than scratch the surface. Cowell's characters are caricatures, lacking depth, development or true personality; and while the ending of the play makes it clear that they are supposed to represent archetypes, their interactions and childish posturing in the hour prior give us little to examine.

Director Sarah Hallam moves the production along at such a rate that there's little time to focus on anything but surface events, but really, there's not much to MEN other than its veneer of analysis.

Of the performers, Johnson gives his all and both Bolton and Rosniak are convincing, but Bowen falls short of the mark his colleagues set. That said, a fight late in the piece between the narcissistic Bowen and the posturing Rosniak is played well, and very effectively staged. Scott Allan lights Christina Logan-Bell's limited set well, and Jason Coleman's choreography is worth the wait.

Ultimately, MEN left me cold - and also grateful that its male characters so little resemble the men I know.

At 45 Downstairs until March 21

Money madness


So on Friday afternoon I'm doing the usual freelancer thing of anxiously checking my bank account every hour or two, to see if the money I was owed by the National Gallery of Victoria for a two-hour DJ set a couple of weeks ago had been deposited yet. Eventually it was - followed immediately afterwards by an additional NGV payment of $15,000!

To say I was flabbergasted is an understatement. Fifteen grand? Fuck!

As you can imagine, I had a moment of temptation where I thought 'Spend it! Pay off all your debts and spend it!' I didn't of course. It would have been wrong, and also, sooner or later, someone at the NGV would have noticed the mistake, and I would have had to pay the money back. But it was bloody tempting all the same. I could have visited friends in Ireland and Scotland and Sweden and Berlin...

Ah well.

This morning, having been emailed the NGV's bank account details, I strolled down to Smith Street and the local branch of my bank to work out the easiest way of transfering the money over. Turns out the quickest and cheapest way of doing it was to withdraw it as cash, walk next door to the Commonwealth Bank, and pay it into the Gallery's account.

Thus, for the first and probably only time in my life, I walked out onto the street carrying $15,000 in a plain white envelope. It suddenly occured to me that I should have arranged for a friend to mug me, and split the proceeds with them afterwards...

Of course I didn't, and the money was safely deposited, and my own bank account balance is back to its usual meagre state. Nonetheless I have the warm inner glow of knowing I did the right thing. And if nothing else I now know how heavy $15,000 in cash feels in my hand. I just wish I'd taken a photo.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Theatre Thoughts x 2

I've seen four different shows since last Wednesday, and there's not even a festival on - just Melbourne being its usual creative self. Some brief thoughts about two of the four shows I've seen in the last week, with the remaining two productions to hopefully be blogged about tomorrow:

SELF TORTURE AND STRENUOUS EXERCISE
By Harry Kondoleon Directed by Ben Pfeiffer
Presented by The Artisan Collective

Presented in the loft of Guildford Lane Gallery in the CBD, Self Torture and Strenuous Exercise is a black comedy of middle class manners which unfolds over a single evening, and concerns two middle class American couples: the complacent and forgiving Alvin (Mick LoMonaco), and his wife Beth (Kristina Brew) a failed poet; and the suicidal Adele (Marissa Bennett) and her unfaithful husband Carl (Josh Price) a popular but unimaginative novelist.

Opening at a dinner party at which under-the-table flirtations soon become obvious, events quickly unravel, with infidelity, angst, boredom and paranoia being served up for our entertainment.

While imaginatively staged, with the production making full use of the long but narrow loft space, this play failed to sustain my interest across its 60-odd minute running time. Ben Pfeiffer's direction resulted in an essentially one-note, borderline hysterical performance from all the cast, which drained most of the drama from the text. Bennett and Brew were the most impressive performers, and Pfeiffer's set and lighting design were also noteworthy, but otherwise this was not an especially memorable or enjoyable production.

Venue: The Guildford Lane Gallery, Guildford Lane, Melbourne
Season: March 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 &13 @ 8PM
Bookings: 0420 513 588 or artisanbookings@gmail.com


CATS
By Andrew Lloyd Webber
Based on
Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot
Presented by Lunchbox Theatrical Productions and David Atkins Enterprises

One of the best known musicals in the world, CATS first opened in London in 1981, and since then has continued around the world, a seemingly endless theatrical juggernaut fuelled by synthesisers, legwarmers and lycra. I auditioned (unsuccessfully) for the original Australian production back in 1985, when I was fresh out of performing in my high school's musicals and my dreams were matched only by my innocence, but for one reason or another I never actually saw the production when it first opened in Melbourne.

This new production, which has been touring Asia since 2006, opened in the appropriately glamorous confines of The Regent Theatre on Saturday night. I went along more out of curiousity than anything else, and while I was sporadically entertained (and truth be told, I still have one or two of the seemingly endlessly repeated refrains from the show stuck in my head) I was mostly struck by how dated the show now feels.

The score is very much of its time, saturated in synths that evoke the 80s without any of the charm of the New Romantic era; and its plot - which concerns Old Deuteronomy announcing the name of the Jellicle Cat who he has selected for rebirth to his fellow felines - is tenuous at best. Sporadic attempts to drag the show into the modern era - such as John O'Hara's Australian Idol-style rockstar take on the Rum Tum Tugger, and his correspondingly thin vocals in 'Mr. Mistoffelees' grated; while the Asian stereotypes presented in the second act song 'Growltiger's Last Stand' were quite frankly offensive.

These criticisms aside, the cast were generally strong, whether singing or dancing, especially Delia Hannah as the aged and outcast Grizabella; and save for a couple of flat spots - most noticably the first act patter song 'Mungojerrie And Rumpleteazer' - the show roared along at a fine pace. Had I seen it back in the 80s I'm sure I would have been blown away. As it was I was moderately entertained by this solid but dated piece of musical bombast.

Venue: Regent Theatre, 197 Collins Street Melbourne
Season: March 6 to April 4
Bookings: Ticketek

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Review: THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES.


I grew up watching Hammer horror films on late night television, back when there was a Late Movie, and a Late Late Movie on Channel Nine. Often, thanks to the blessing of my imagination-encouraging parents, I'd set my alarm clock for 2am or some-such so I could watch such delights as Dracula A.D. 1972 or Oliver Reed in the 1961 flick The Curse of the Werewolf.

Sometimes there would be other delights from different studios: the truly trashy Billy the Kid versus Dracula (1966) was one memorable highlight, and the dinosaurs vs cowboys delight of The Valley of Gwangi (a 1969 film featuring a T-Rex animated by the great Ray Harryhausen) another. But mostly it seemed to be Hammer horror films that I grew up with, featuring Technicolour gore, blue filters and heaving bosoms aplenty.

But one Hammer film I always wanted to see, but never have until tonight, was the 1966 classic, The Plague of the Zombies. Released as the support feature to Dracula Prince of Darkness, this is a true B-movie in every sense of the word: made on the cheap with no name stars. But as horror films go, it's fascinating.

In horror cinema and literature, the vampire - with Dracula as the classic example - has often been seen as a symbol of the 19th and 20th Century's growing unease about the nobility: inbred, decadent and evil parasites who prey on the more vibrant and wholesome working and middle classes.

The zombie, conversely - while often equally the subject of class conscious storytelling - has more often been symbolic of the working class: drones and drudges that go about their lives unthinkingly and automatically, as seen in everything from filmmaker George Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978) to playwright Ben Ellis' play The Zombie State (directed by Daniel Schlusser for Melbourne Workers' Theatre in 2008).

But in The Plague of the Zombies, instead of being objects of fear or derision, the undead are creatures to be pitied, even sympathised with.

Perhaps tellingly, the film was made during the tenure of a Labour Government led by Harold Wilson, and tells the story of an eminent medical man, Sir James Forbes (Andre Morell) called to a small Cornish village in the late 19th century to investigate a series of mysterious deaths. Before long the finger of suspicion points towards the local Squire, Clive Hamilton (John Carson), who we soon learn is the head of a voodoo cult - by day a group of wild young bucks who ride about hunting foxes and harassing women, including Sire James' plucky daughter, Sylvia (Diane Clare).

As with many vampire films of the 20th century, the Squire is a classic example of the nobility gone to seed, surviving by exploiting those below his station. But instead of draining their blood, as his vampiric peers might do, Squire Hamilton steals their lives - and then reanimates their stolen corpses to work in his tin mine.

The Plague of the Zombies is a fascinating exploration of 'power, control, exploitation and imperialism', to quote film critic and Hammer devotee David L. Rattigan; and its already compelling subject matter is only further enforced by excellent cinematography and lighting; while its graveyard dream sequence, in which the dead rise en masse (wearing what appear to be cassocks - perhaps a coded reference to the waning power of the priesthood, another oppressor of the working class?) is a classic and much-emulated scene, which has been copied in everything from another Hammer film, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1973) to Lucio Fulci's gorier Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979).

While flawed - the script is occasionally simplistic and not all the actors are exactly top notch - The Plague of the Zombies is a true horror classic, and will definitely reward viewers who prefer their horror films to have a social or political subtext.

* * *

I'll post another couple of theatre reviews tomorrow, but wanted to take a moment to blog about something else close to my heart for the moment. And I should end this blog entry by acknowledging the book that first alerted me to The Plague of the Zombies, and numerous other wonderful and terrible horror films over the years.

In many ways, it's been one of the most influential books I've read in my entire life.

I'm talking about Denis Gifford's A Pictorial History of Horror Movies (Hamlyn Publishing Group, 1973), which my parents must have given me in about 1977, probably for my 10th birthday, and which fed my love of horror and the macabre for many years. A wonderful, accessible and fascinatingly detailed book, it's one that ever horror movie fan should have on their bookshelf. I still have my copy to this day.

Cabaret, theatre, live music and stupid politicians

As you may have noticed I've been blogging rather sporadically of late, but I really do hope I can get back into a more regular rhythm in the coming weeks, especially with both the 20th Melbourne Queer Film Festival coming up, and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. There will be lots to cover, so I hope to be posting plenty of micro-reviews of the films and gigs I see once both festivals kick into gear.

For now, though, let me briefly recap some of the things I've been up to over the last couple of weeks.

As discussed in a post earlier this year, the closure of the Tote Hotel and the community's growing concerns about the impact of the state government's liquor licencing laws (which were supposed to address alcohol-related violence) on the live music scene culminated in a massive rally in the city a couple of weeks ago. Between 15,000 - 20,000 turned out to voice their feelings about the issue on Tuesday 23rd February, making it the largest rally I've been to since the protest against the invasion of Iraq several years ago.

There's a fantastic article about the Save Live Australia's Music (SLAM) Rally by Darren Levin over here at the excellent music web site Mess and Noise which I highly recommend you check out, if you haven't already seen it. Not only is it very readable, but there are some fantastic photos there as well.

The Liberal Party, shamelessly, used to rally to try and gain some street cred by dissing the Brumby Labour government - a more blatant piece of electionering I have never seen.

Liberal Party wankers with their 'Liberals Love Live Music' signs.
Funny, I don't ever remember seeing them at The Tote or The Arthouse. (Photo by Darren Levin)

After the rally - in fact before it had even ended - I raced off to The Wheeler Centre (Melbourne's new centre for Books, Writing and Ideas) where I hosted a one-hour conversation with playwright Lally Katz about the influence of music on her writing. It was the first of a series of conversations called The Writers's Mix Tape, co-presented by 3RRR, and was great fun. The next session sees short story writer Tony Birch in conversation with RRR's own Jonnie Von Goes; get along if you can, and definitely check out The Wheeler Centre's mostly free and generally excellent program of events.

And of course, I've been out and about seeing some cinema, cabaret and theatre as well, some of which I'd like to briefly review for you now.

* * *

The first two works I want to mention (and which I saw at their final performances in mid-February) have already ended their seasons, but were such masterful works that I couldn't forgive myself if I didn't write something about them:


Lloyd Beckman, Beekeeper (co-devised by Tim Stitz and Kelly Somes) was one of the most poignant but subtle meditations upon grief and loss that I've ever seen. Staged in the often-claustrophobic confines of La Mama in Carlton, this one man show by Tim Stitz transformed the theatre space into a bedsit, and invited the audience to share in the memories of Tim's grandfather, Lloyd Beckman.

A tactile, richly sensory work that saw us tasting Lloyd's honey and drinking his beer, this marvellous work explored love, loss and life - and its flipside, death and aging - with insight and restraint. If it has a return season at any time, I wholeheartedly urge you to see it.


Acts of Deceit (Between Strangers in a Room) was a remarkably accomplished, subtle and moving work of very traditional theatre based on the James Baldwin novel Giovanni's Room. This tale of desire, denial and guilt, set in Paris in the mid-20th century, was written and directed by Gary Abrahams, who took liberties with the book but remained very true to its themes. Ably demonstrating the strengths of Melbourne's independent theatre scene, the show did remarkable things with a very simple set and five actors. Brilliantly directed and staged, and very strongly performed, this production is already on my list for the best theatrical productions of the year, and it's only early March!

* * *

Next up I wanted to recommend a cabaret show which originally appeared in Melbourne as part of last year's Fringe Festival, and which I caught in a brief return/preview season at South Melbourne's marvellous Butterfly Club.


When The Sex Has Gone is a one-man cabaret show written and performed by Tommy Bradson accompanied by pianist/composer Jacqueline Morton.

Perhaps best described as Sydney's answer to Hedwig and the Angry Inch, this rudely & wonderfully entertaining production sees Bradson playing an intersex character whose split personalities - one an acid-tongue showgirl, the other a cocky bare-knuckles boxer - take turns to entertain us via a series of original songs and witty remarks.

Bradson's stage presence is spectacular - he truly dazzles - and his singing is simply superb, as is his characterisation (although I found the showgirl by far the more entertaining character of the two he plays): the show was definitely deserving of the two awards it won at the 2009 Fringe Festival. About as far from PC as you can get, When The Sex Has Gone is returning to The Butterfly Club for an extended season from March 25 until April 17 - and it's a must see!

* * *

Okay, that almost brings us up to date. I'm going to save this post, and publish it, and then go for a walk, since I've been sitting in front of the computer for a couple of hours now. When I return, I'll talk about the two most recent shows I've seen, including the latest revival of the epic stage musical, Cats...