Saturday, April 28, 2007
No, wait a minute, that's not a funny person, that's another fucking cashed-up bogan in a pink polo shirt with the fucking collar turned up who's part of the audience! WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU PEOPLE AND WHY THE HELL DO YOU LINE UP TO LAUGH AT SOME OF THE MOST BLAND, MEDIOCRE, MIDDLE OF THE ROAD SHITE IN THE FESTIVAL?
Woah, Richard, get a grip. Elitist, much?
Ahem. As you can tell, the Comedy Festival has taken its toll. I think my sense of humour will be the next casualty...
In total, I saw 39 shows at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival; and I lost track of the number of late nights I had; and the amount of alcohol I consumed.
Now that the festival's over, there's several more comedians I should review, but to be honest, it's getting late, I only got home from work at 9pm (lost two days out of the production schedule due to ANZAC Day and moving the office from Richmond to the city) and right now I really should be trawling through the 150 emails in my inbox to plan my radio show for this Thursday. So here, in brief, are the remaining shows I saw at the festival this year:
Fiona O'Loughlin. I definitely enjoyed this alcoholic, trouble-prone, housewife superstar's show in a low key sort of way. Instead of constant guffaws, she generated constant smiles and regular chuckles, and the occasionaly fervant prayer that she wasn't my mother. Three and half giggles out of five.
Dave Bushell - Dirt, War and Why I Don't Eat the Fishies. From Nazi relatives to the death of Princess Di, and zombie cows to Morrisey, this was a joyous, occasionally slackly-paced romp through the major events of the 20th century. Needs to either tighten up his material or write some really killer jokes, but given that this was Dave's first solo show in the festival, bloody enjoyable, even if the average audience member (who appeared to be aged between 15-18) were too young to get at least half his jokes. Three regularly-spaced hoots out of five.
The So-Called Elite in Once Upon A Coffee Cup. I really wanted to like this show. I didn't. The John Howard puppet was cool, though. Shame the humour was forced and laboured. Two vague smiles out of five.
Introducing Beau Heartbreaker. The award-winning drag king was suffering from a tummy bug on the night I saw her, so rather subdued but still sweetly funny, in a low-fi kind of way. Two and a half droll laughs out of five.
Josh Thomas - Please Like Me. A 19 year old comedian from Brisbane who reminded me too much of too many semi-autobiographical novels by young authors: you can actually write about things that haven't happened to you, you know. I went into this gig expecting great things, due to the hype Josh had generated, and got only good things, so perhaps it's partially my fault for beliving the hype that I was vaguely unsatisfied by his tales of small testicles, schoolies week dramas and MSN messenger stalking. Nonetheless, his delivery is strong, and given time, he should be bloody good. Three 'oh my god that reminds me of myself in high school' titters out of five.
The Infamous Spraygeltent. Sadly, because my second show of the night ran overtime, and then I was so exhausted after the previous night's Barry Awards afterparty, I only got to see part one of this three part show by Glenn Manton and Jim Lawson. What I saw, though, I really liked - although I was eternally grateful that I wasn't called upon to do pushups or walk across burning coals, unlike some of the audience. If this is what life is really like in an AFL team, I'll stick to being a spectator!
The Glass Boat. Absurdist theatre that occasionally didn't work, but when it did, dear god - what superb flights of lunacy! Giant frogs that terrorise autistic children; girls raised by wolves; a bush Christmas that recalls every Australian rural cliche goes horribly yet touchingly wrong; mail-order zombie brides who talk to their suitcases; and much, much more. Deadpan when required, wonderfully exagerated at others. Delicious. Although the performers might want to wash their costumes before the end of their run, next time - they were a bit whiffy! Four strangled shrieks of mirth out of five.
And that, ladies, gentlemen and trans people, was my 2007 Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Well, almost...
Friday, April 27, 2007
Tonight I saw this headline - 'Peter Andre in brain scare' - and got all excited. People are scared he has a brain? Damn right we are, people - because the brain keeps the fucker alive! Without a brain, that's one less mouth-breather celebrity we have to worry about.
Sadly, real life is much less interesting.
Then again, if you read the article, you discover all manner of interesting titbits:
"Peter's not well at all," said Claire Powell, a spokesperson for Andre and his wife, glamour model Jordan, aka Kate Price.
Not well? Yes, we sort of gathered that. Clearly the poor luv fears his penis is about to wither away and drop off - possibly as a result of steroid abuse, mayhap?
"He's had lots of tests, but nobody's any the wiser.
IE, his IQ is still at sub-moron level.
"He's just really poorly."
Yes, as is his 'music'.
We now return you to our normal schedule.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
This next lot of reviews will perforce be brief, in order to get through several of them in the one post before I head off to the ANZAC Day game between Collingwood and Essendon. Go Pies!
Kim Hope in Rollercoaster. An entertaining night of stand-up with an edge. Hope's delivery is never less than sharp, incisive and hilarious, and even as the show takes a turn into darker territory, dealing with the vagaries of alcohol and depression, this laudable comedian keeps the laughs coming with her intelligent and audacious comedy. From pitch-perfect evocations of 1970s dinner parties to a hyper-animated discussion of ways to pick up men, Hope's show is not always hilarious; the London-based section of the show could be a little tighter; but when she hits her mark she'll have you in stitches. The greatest problem with this show was that the brave material (and I know that's a cliche but in this instance its fucking appropriate) is not always suited to what is essentially a fairly mainstream festival that attracts a very suburban crowd. Performed in the Fringe Festival, Rollercoaster would be winning greater acclaim and attracting larger houses. I definitely recommend it. Three awed silences followed by shrieks of mirth out of five. (Portland Hotel til April 29)
Alison Bice in The Wizard of Bice. A Moosehead award-winner, Alison Bice's festival show this years shows real promise - Bice has a wonderfully dry delivery and stage presence - but overall fails to work for two main reasons. Much of the material is structured around her interaction with pre-recorded video segments, during which, partially for timing reasons, all the energy drops out of the show. She's also too caught up in in-jokes about other comedians, and if you don't know who they are, or about their reputations, then too much of the show is going to leave you scratching your head. A worthy but largely unsuccessful production. Two forced laughs out of five. (Town Hall til April 29)
David O'Doherty is my name. Yawn. Another bland international Irish comedian whose middle-of-the-road humour was lapped up by a sychophantic crowd. To be fair, the night I saw O'Doherty he was getting over the flu, so had little energy in his performance, but even then the majority of his material left me cold. When he sat down to sing his twisted little songs I started to enjoy myself, but these only punctuate his material sporadically, and his actual standup struck me as tedious, in all honesty. Two and a half occasional chuckles out of five. (HiFi Bar til April 29)
Thank god for someone like Sam Simmons in the Sex and Science of Boredom. In a sea of middle-of-the-road stand-up, his surreal, unpredictable humour had me in stitches. Exploring the versatility of bread, how to maintain your inflatable pool, and bringing new life to lint and slideshows, Simmons is definitely not everyone's cup of lukewarm tea. Given that I hate tea of any sort, I adored this show, and definately recommend it to anyone seeking more challenging or creative comedy at the festival this year. Three and half howls of laughter out of five. (Bosco Theatre @ Federation Square til April 29)
Monday, April 23, 2007
saturday may 5 :: 2pm-9pm
14 prentice street :: brunswick
new estate : made austria : extreme wheeze : rose turtle ertler :
dane certificate : made for chickens by robots : love is science fiction : luke you (reading from the zine)
zine stalls : vegan bbq : all ages gig!
Sunday, April 22, 2007
While likeable, and scattered through with some moments of genuinely inventive comedy (such as Brough's embodiment of the THX sound system movie ad, with which he opens the show), this show sadly didn't work for me, mostly due to the fact that I never felt at any time that the characters Brough was playing were real. Too two-dimensional to be convincing - and without them and their internal lives, the drama fell flat and the laughs felt forced. Additional flaws, including laboured exposition and overly drawn-out script elements, also detracted.
There is a real poignancy to some of the show, which references Brough's father's death last year, but even these scenes, coupled with a (forced) moral about the compassionate nature of small towns, failed to save the production. Two and a half occasional giggles out of five. (Town Hall til April 29)
Russell Howard. This charismatic, quick-witted and queer-friendly young Englishman, who demonstrated an adaptive, positive and slightly goofy take on stand up during Thursday night's performance, rattled through a show exploring threesomes, relationships and dreams, pretending to be a fish, fox-hunting and much more, and which provoked constant laughter. While his regionally-oriented jokes didn't always translate for the Melbourne audience, his engaging personality and hyperactive energy more than made up for the occasional blunder. Managing to mock local accents and attitudes yet also appear awed and delighted by what we say and how we say it, Howard rapidly ingratiated himself with his audience, who responded with undiluted joy. Restlessly inventive, spontaneous and fucking funny. Four shrieks of mirth out of five. (Town Hall til Sunday 29)
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Gerard McCulloch is Gerard McCulloch sees the affable Melbourne comedian dropping the characters and narrative structures that have informed previous shows such as Uncorked and Gerry of Arabia, returning to the roots of comedy to deliver an hour of somewhat basic stand-up. On Wednesday night, with only seven of us in the audience (not counting the two Auslan interpreters who left after about 15 minutes when it was clear their services weren't required) the show ran short, and in truth limped across the finish line. Less people means less laughs, resulting in McCulloch having to hammer through his material rather than pause for a breather while the audience rocked in paroxysms of hilarity. There were certainly laughs generated; and McCulloch's stories of playground accidents, explanations of why cabaret is shit, and the difficulties of writing for television were solid; but overall - even taking into account his struggle to work an almost-empty room - the show lacked magic. When you know that a comedian can do better, it's dissapointing to see a show that feels so under-developed. Two and a half chuckles out of five. (Town Hall til April 29)
Michael Chamberlin - Buddha & Bluey and Me. Later that night, up the road, down a laneway and upstairs, Mike and I caught Michael Chamberlin's latest show, a homage to Chamberlin's lifelong friendships with two mates, Buddha and Bluey. With only about 20-25 people in a venue that could comfortably seat 100, Chamberlin might have struggled. Instead, he proved himself an adroit, engaging and charismatic performer who more than rose to the occasion. While this wasn't an exceptionally brilliant night of comedy, Chamberlin's stories of childhood misadventure in the Christmas pagent, inciting a schoolground rebellion over a confiscated football, and a ballet dancer's testicles raised plenty of laughs. Three happy chortles out of five. (Alley Bar until April 29)
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Having got the paper to bed earlier than expected on Tuesday night, indeed the earliest yet since I took over as editor of MCV , my first of two shows for Tuesday night was Phil Nichol - The Naked Racist.
While Nichol's intense, provocative, turned-up-to-eleven tirades won't be to everyone's taste, if you like your comedy edgy, dark and almost threatening, this is the show for you. When he burst onto the stage I was slightly taken aback, expecting him to build the energy rather than explode straight away, but right from the word go this intense Canadian went at it like a speed-freak who's just snorted a kilo of a particularly mad-eyed Hell's Angels' personal supply of A-grade gear. From his girlfriend's bunions to Amsterdam's neo-Nazis, and the effect of magic mushrooms on your brain while you're conversing with a US marine sniper, Nichols was by turns hilarious, delightful, and intense. A great show - as long as you don't sit in the aisle or the front row. Consider yourself warned! Three and a half shocked yet delighted shrieks of mirth out of five. (Victoria Hotel til April 29)
Jason Byrne - Sheep for Feet and Rams for Hands. While this engaging Irishman's show was a strong evening of stand-up, after Nichols it felt far too traditional and - frankly - safe. With highlights including a game of 'Spot the Roo', during which Byrne's improvisational ability shone, albeit at the expense of a woman he mocked for being 'posh', it was clear that his main strength lies in interacting with and occasionally humiliating his audience rather than in especially innovative comedy. Other topics in this show included sex, his wife's labour, and his and other people's sexual fantasies. Engaging yes, but not especially exciting. Two and a half grudging chortles out of five. (Melbourne Town Hall til April 29)
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
God, I've fallen behind on my reviews a bit, haven't I? Sorry about that. As penance, let me race through the last few days in brief, in order to bring this here blog up to speed, but never fear; where detail is required, as opposed to brevity, no adjective will be spared!
When last we met, dear reader (why am I channelling a Victorian novelist this morning?), it was Saturday night and I'd just walked out of the last five minutes of Anthony Morgan, as he ended his show by strapping on his guitar and inviting three other guitarists up on stage for a song. The first musical minute left me underwhelmed, so rather than lose the good humour he'd bestowed on me with his set, I strolled out onto the mezzenine of the Victoria Hotel for a quick bevy. Ten minutes later I was back in Vic's Bar for my third show of the day...
Mickey D - Shame 101. This engagingly chaotic, barefoot comedian hails from Adelaide, and possesses a cheeky charm which he puts to good effect in this show, the focus of which is on banishing guilt and shame. To this end he talks about serial masturbation, colonic irrigation and other subjects frankly and cheerfully, in a manner that comes across as cheeky rather than crass or crude. On the night I saw him, Mickey D became so distracted by a couple of latecomers whose mobile phones went off that, after taking one of the phones in question and using it to call a mate in England, he briefly started the show again from the start. Later, clearly enjoying himself, he had Marcus, one of the front-of-house staff, buy a drink for the bloke whose phone he'd used, himself, and given that I was sitting in the second row, me (now that's the way to win over a reviewer!). By no means a brilliant show, but the lack of focus and Mickey D's infectious charm guaranteed an extremely enjoyable time. Three consistent guffaws out of five. (Victoria Hotel until April 29)
Josie Long - Kindness and Exuberance. One of the few international acts I've seen at the festival, and not one I did justice, I'm afraid. About 10 minutes into this gentle English comedian's show, the fourth I'd seen that day, I hit a wall. My lack of sleep caught up with me, and meant that instead of being endearing, Josie's gentle, observational humour, faux-naïve persona, and quirky, lo-fi presentational gimmicks rapidly started to give me the shits. Worst of all, I was stuck in the corner right at the front of the stage, so the only way out was to grit my teeth and suffer through it. Consequently I walked out hating every minute of her show. In retrospect, Kindness and Exuberance wasn't that bad, but I suspect that even if I'd been wide awake and raring to go, it still wouldn't have been my cup of tea. David Witteveen had a very different perspective of the show. Two gentle chuckles out of five. (Town Hall til April 29)
Which brings us to Sunday...
The Receipt. This superb show is one of my undoubted highlights of the festival so far, and I urge you, nay, implore you, to go and see it as soon as you can.
A dystopian comedy akin to Terry Gilliam's Brazil, The Receipt is an superb exploration of urban alienation and the malaise of modern life, told from two perspectives: as an archeological examination of contemporary society presented by a dispassionate narrator; and as an unfolding drama concerning the rapidly unwravelling life of the show's Everyman hero, Wiley, an office drone. Both roles are played by the Perrier Award-winning Will Adamsdale. To the side of the stage, and interacting with Adamsdale by interjecting, and generating sound effects and a live soundtrack, is the other half of the show, its co-creator Chris Branch. Through a simple but magnificent use of everyday objects - a filing cabinet, a chair, another filing cabinet - the pair not only invite you into their fictional world, but they create it on-stage before your very eyes, mapping out the streets and skyscrapers of a frighteningly familiar city.
The gently-paced story of Wiley's retreat from bureaucratic hell into fantasy, sparked by his discovery of a crumpled receipt on the street which is his one tenuous link to another real person, may not provoke tears of mirth in its telling, but if it's rich, subtle, thought-provoking comedic theatre that you're after, then this gem of a show is definitely for you. Don't just take my word for it, either; go here, here and here for further proof that The Receipt is one of the most inspired shows of the festival. Four jaws dropping in amazement out of five. (Malthouse Theatre til April 29)
The Pitch. More magnificent mirth and mayhem on stage at the Malthouse, but this time a play that both celebrates and satirises the mindless excess of the Hollywood movie. Written and performed by Green Room Award-winning virtuouso Peter Houghton, this 70 minute show concerns Walter, a scriptwriter still dealing with his girlfriend recently leaving him for another man, as he prepares to pitch his screenplay to three influential international producers. One hour before showtime, Walter is fine-tuning his pitch - and his screenplay - according to the Four Rules of Film-Making as laid down by the cigar-chewing American producer, Sid. The resulting hilarity entwines Walter's personal life and his preperations for the meeting with the deranged plot of his increasingly ludicrous movie, which stars everyone from Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones to either Russell Crowe or Clint Eastwood in the lead role - and Houghton plays every bloody role impeccably. Although I would have liked to have seen this play cut back by about 5-10 minutes, and the script isn't as good as Houghton's performance, it's still very funny, and definitely recommended. Three and a half hoots of mirth like a gibbon on heat out of five. (Malthouse Theatre til April 29)
My final show for the weekend was We Are Klang invite you to a Klangbang. Definitely a good show to see late at night when you're half-pissed and already semi-hysterical, this outrageously crass, over the top show will appeal to anyone who was a fan of shows like The Young Ones in all its spotty student glory. Several people I know have hated it. Others have loved it. Certainly on Sunday I was a little distant and aloof in the early stages of the show, but over the course of the next madcap hour, after witnessing talking buttocks, the creative exchange of some wicked insults, a dancing horse, and hilarious things done with grapes, I was in fits of mirth. Wonderfully wrong fun. Three and a half shrieks of nauseated mirth out of five. (Victoria Hotel til April 29)
More reviews coming soon...
Monday, April 16, 2007
"In further knitted cephalopod news, Sherry Weller wrote in to share the lovely knitted nautiloids from her online Nautie Knit-Along."
A Nautie Knit-Along - it sounds so wholesome! Best of all, a quick Google led me here, where you can find a pattern for a knitted octopus; here, where you can indeed knit a nautaloid; and here, where you can lovely pictures of knitted and plush squid. Oh, happy days!
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Why am I seeing so many shows? Good question*. In the past I've probably seen no more than 5-6 shows in any given ComFest, so this year I'm going hard. At the time of writing it's the second Sunday night of the festival, and according to my trusty notebook I've now seen 22 shows. It should be at least 24, dammit - I'm behind schedule!
Such stresses aside, let us turn our eye to Saturday, dear reader, and the treats that were in store for your unsuspecting correspondent as he ventured once more out the front door of his bohemian** inner city domicile...
Keating! God bless you, Casey Bennetto - not only for setting me up with a couple of comp tickets for the latest incarnation of your show at very short notice after I ran into you at Trades Hall on Friday night, but for writing the bloody thing in the first place.
A musical celebration of the all-too-brief era when Paul Keating was Australia's Prime Minister, and vision, not short-sightedness was the political agenda of the day; this marvellous show, which won every award under the sun during its original incarnation at the Comedy Festival two years ago; has since been refined and redeveloped for Sydney's Belvoir Street Theatre by director Neil Armfield, and makes a triumphant return to Melbourne for an all-too-brief season for this year's Comedy Festival.
While I didn't see the original production (there goes my street cred!) I was lucky enough to see the dynamic, bare bones original production on the opening night of last year's Fringe, and fuck it was good. To an extent, I occasionally struggled to juxtapose that version of the show with the slicker, glossier, razzle-dazzle version I saw on Saturday, and at the time, I walked out after the show thinking that the original version was better. I've since refined that perspective: not better, just different. It's like comparing a film to the novel it's based on: they're different beasts. Mike McLeish is still impossibly suave as the Zegna suit wearing, clock collecting, Mahler-loving Prime Minister; Eddie Perfect is a delightfully over the top Alexander 'freaky' Downer; the romantic duet between Gareth Evans and Cheryl Kernot is as wonderful as ever; and new material, which incorporates Keating's landmark Redfern speech, is just as strong and musically diverse as Bennetto's original material.
From reggae to country to power ballads, there's something in this show for everyone - unless you happen to think that John Howard is a morally upright leader with a well developed social conscience, instead of a manipulative, socially divisive cunt who is happy to exploit an array of national archetypes and myths for his own selfish political agenda. Four resonant belly laughs out of five. (Comedy Theatre until April 11)
Anthony Morgan - Sackfull of Bullfrogs. No bullfrogs. No structure. Hell, the self-described 'washed up comedian' didn't even get to the point of the show until the last five minutes, by which time it was far too late to explain why there was a fridge-sized cardboard box bearing the words 'OMINOUS BOX' on stage.
Despite being a rambling drunk, after an awkward opening 10 minutes, Morgan soon warmed up to prove himself a hilarious comic, fond of tangents and humour so biting he'd take your nipple off if he was licking your breast instead of asking the audience to remind him what point he'd just been making.
From satirising the US invasion of Iraq by suggesting we abandon the Arabic numerals we use everyday (a joke which I think went over the heads of at least half the audience, for whose edifiction I present the following:
- These - 1,2,3,4,5 etc - are Arabic numerals.
- These - I,II,IV, XIX - are Latin numerals,
- And this is binary: 011010 - which equals 26);
For the first 10 minutes of his show I was singularly unimpressed - old fans who are just pleased that the notorious hellraiser is still alive, I speculated, as festival-goers of 'a certain age' hooted and applauded his meandering anecdotes - but once he'd warmed up, there was not a doubt that Anthony Morgan still had that old magic - it was just a little diluted by the amount of alcohol in his veins. Three breathless chortles out of five. (Victoria Hotel until Sunday 29)
There were two other shows I saw on Saturday night, but now it's 11.41pm on Sunday, and I've just seen three shows in a row, had a couple of glasses of wine, and quite frankly, would like to stop blogging now so that I can watch the first episode of the new season of Dr Who courtesy of my friend the Pirate, before going to bed. I'll get up at 6.30am, write 1800 words of arts news and commentary for Beat and then go to work. Cheers!
* Translation: Please don't ask this question again.
**Translation: Bohemian = grotty.
"I want my money back
My job's like a culdersac
And the bus is to infrequent at 6.30.
Why don't they pay me more?
Life was good before
And I'm thirsty."
Watch the video and rejoice at this wonderful example of artistic alchemy that turns shit into gold. Hurrah!
Other committments kept me away from the Comedy Festival on Thursday, but by Friday night I was raring to go, making my way to Trades Hall for my first installment of Comedy@Trades, the remarkably successful independent program that, in just its second year, is challenging the official Festival Club as a late-night meeting place, while simultaneously creating a hub for alternatives to traditional stand-up comedy.
In the company of a girlfriend, Cerise, our first show for the night was Alzheimers the Musical: A Night to Remember. This three-woman show, performed by Lyn Shakespeare, Maureen Sherlock and Carole Velland, combined sketch comedy with cleverly re-worked songs (Skyhook's 'Living in the 70s' became 'Living in my 70s' for example) to explore life from a senior citizen's perspective. Well-delivered jokes about aging, memory loss and society's attitudes towards the elderly were delivered with charisma and panache, although one or two interludes, including attempts at poignancy and the jarring appearence of a granddaughter character, didn't gel with the bulk of the performers' material. Nonetheless, a rich, warm and well-delivered show. Three throaty chuckles out of five. (Trades Hall season now concluded)
Having missed the first 10 minutes of our next show, Cerise and I elected to retire to the bar for a snack and a drink - and I'll quickly note at this point that the red wine left a lot to be desired, but that conversely, the champagne, while expensive at $9 a glass, is very good bubbly indeed.
Thereafter, suitably restored, we strolled into Lawrence Leung Learns to Breakdance, in which the engaging Leung takes us through his quest to compete with his brother in the cool stakes. Having previously only seen Leung performing in tandem with his occasional partner, Andrew McClelland, I was looking forward to seeing him solo, and wasn't disappointed. Via a powerpoint presentation, video, and a manically-paced delivery, Leung explored various aspects of 'cool', including fashion skills, picking up chicks, and, in the show's most audacious moment, a very public exercise in humiliation and hilarity staged before a potentially hostile crowd at Federation Square. Despite my vague sense afterwards that the show tended towards the slight, this was nonetheless an extremely funny show whose predominantly young crowd were clearly enjoying themselves enormously. Three and a half thigh-slapping guffaws out of five. (Trades Hall til Sunday 29)
Afterwards there followed more champagne, excellent conversation, adventures in The Photobooth, singing along to songs by 80s Enough, and finally, a happy walk home through the Carlton Gardens being watched by suspicious possums convinced Cerise and I were ne'er do wells...
Thursday, April 12, 2007
This contemporay production of Tchaikovsky's classic ballet, Swan Lake, choreographed and directed by England's Matthew Bourne, is accessible, delightful, moving, transgressive, transporting, erotic and very queer. As you can probably guess from that opening sentence, I liked the show - which had its Melbourne premiere on Wednesday night at the opulent Regent Theatre - a hell of a lot.
Bourne's decision to replace the traditional, tutu-clad ballerinas who usually play the swans in Swan Lake with muscular, half naked men has garnered considerable attention for the production in the decade since it debuted in the UK in 1995, but rest assured it is much more than a simple publicity stunt. While just as graceful as women, Bourne's dancers visibly embody the strength of the swan - a bird which can, reputedly, break a man's arm with a blow of its wing. They highlight the beauty of masculinity, although conversely, in certain scenes late in the production, they also present the ugly side of being a man.
In Act II, where the character of The Prince (played last night by Simon Williams, alternating the role with Christopher Marney) dances with The Swan (the beefy, hairy Alan Vincent, alternating with Thomas Whitehead), Bourne's decision to re-gender his swans effortlessly evokes the transforming power of love - in this instance, a romantic love between men. While some might quibble at this interpretation, I can see no other way to read the scene where the Swan comes to the Prince's aid physically and emotionally after he has been betrayed by the machinations of his mother's Private Secretary. The dance between Prince and Swan is nothing short of magnificent, and left me with my heart in my mouth and tears in my eyes. Highlighting Bourne's virtuosity, the same act transforms a traditional dance by four cygnets into a cocky, cheeky dance of boyish bravado.
Elsewhere Bourne has added elements to his Swan Lake which satirise our expectations of traditional ballet; and in other scenes, melded political satire and broad humour to the play's story. The sumptuous set design, lighting and costuming (especially in the ball scene in Act III, which was truly spectacular) added to the overall impact of the production, but as befits a narrative told through dance, the physicality of the performers was always at the forefront.
Gimmicks such as a mechanical corgi, and the creative freedom of a massive budget, assist in ensuring that this Swan Lake is delightfully entertaining , but coupled with the stirring original score by Tchaikovsky, Bourne's fluid, threatening, startling and addictive choreograhy are what give this production its heart and soul.
I could quibble and say that one or two scenes could have been trunctuated or entirely abandoned, but the production's reliance on Tchaikovsky's complete original score negates this possibility. Importantly, given that ballet bores me - or at least has until now - I was never restless or looking at the time.
I commend Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake, and recommend this production to you wholeheartedly. After all, how often do you have the opportunity to see centuries of tradition remade before your eyes?
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
That said, I did make it to The Debutante Diaries, and what a delightful show it was. Written and performed by Kate McLennan, this production won Best Comedy and Best Newcomer at last year's Melbourne Fringe Festival, and it's so easy to see why.
Deftly and effectively, McLennan maps out a series of characters who are planning for their grand appearance at the Libra Hills High Debutante Ball, including the sweet, sad Sophie; the bitch-queen Krystaal Jones; and ambitious social-climber Stacey. Along the way we're also introduced to Guy Gerrity, the sleazey phys ed teacher who's organising the show; Carla, the bitter lefty teacher whose life is so empty she even fakes her own orgasms; and a range of other students, including Krystaal's footy-hero boyfriend, and Stacey's gay best friend.
The Debutante Diaries is a beautifully realised show, balancing pathos and hilarity, which builds with immaculate timing to an ending which, though slightly underplayed, stayed true to the awkwardly endearing tone established in the production's opening scenes. Without props, on a bare stage, McLennan shifts from character to character using only the simplist of lighting and sound queues, creating a caustic high school comedy for the teenage girl in all of us. Less character-driven stand-up and more a one-woman theatrical performance, this is another MICF show that I heartily recommend. Three and half gleeful gasps of delighted recognition out of five, plus an elephant stamp. (Victoria Hotel til April 29)
After the show I trouped down to the Festival Club at the Hi-Fi Bar for the first time this year, given that tonight's entertainment was very definitely bent; a fact which most of the audience seemed completely unaware of, not that it really seemed to matter. Performers included the Fabulous Adam Richard; the very droll, dry and absolutely brilliant Hannah Gadsby (see this woman now, before she's famous); performers from The Sound of Music drag show; and Wes Snelling as the fabulously sozzled diva, Tina del Twiste. Scottish comedian Craig Hill ("camper than a big camp of campers") was the MC tying it all together, and while, like most nights of anthology comedy it was a bit hit and miss, I enjoyed myself enough to stay out til 1am, leaving me a bit the worse for wear today...
And tonight? I'll try and squeeze in another comedy show before racing off to the gala opening night of Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake, which I'll review soon...
'They've tried to silence David,' said Mr Hicks, 'but they can't keep me quiet. David might have had to agree to a deal to come home but that doesn't make what happened to him right. And it's important to speak out about it.'
Mr Hicks will be attending the Melbourne part of a National Day of Protest around David's case. Similar events are scheduled for Sydney (with Senator Kerry Nettle, Dr. Tim Anderson and Mamdouh Habib), Adelaide, Canberra, Perth and Darwin.
'The deal cooked up at the tribunal does not mean that this story is over,' said Mr Hicks. 'The way David has been treated has implications that should worry every Australian.'
The Melbourne event will also feature an address from Senator Bob Brown. The rally has been endorsed by Civil Rights Defence, Liberty Victoria and Victorian Trades Hall.
National Day of Protest 1pm Saturday 21st April
State Library, Melbourne
Speakers include Terry Hicks and Bob Brown
Monday, April 09, 2007
Amelia Jane Hunter is Keith Flipp (the Girl from Belkondowns Flat) is a darkly comic show bording on drama or Fringe theatre, and while containing elements of character-based stand-up, was clearly confrontational for some audience members the night I saw it, who didn't quite seem to know how to handle either the show or Hunter's larger than life character.
At first glance Keith Flipp is a drag queen, but we soon learn he's not a man pretending to be a woman (or to be precise, a woman playing a man pretending to be a woman); he really is a man, trapped in a woman's body - his sister's body to be precise. Amelia was an 8 pound baby girl who grew into a 7yr old boy. In scientific terms, she's a chimera - also known as vanishing twin syndrome - a person whose body contains two different sets of genetic material as a result of one fetus being absorbed into the other in utero. In this instance though, the two personalities have survived in the one body, with startling results.
Keith is only let out for one week every three months by his sister, during which time he takes drugs, fucks around, and moonlights as a drag queen in a grungy queer bar. What happens, though, when Keith decides he no longer wants to play by his conservative sister's rules?
Hunter, a trained actor, brings real pathos and intensity to this Lynchian scenario, as well as confronting humour and some truly delightful and memorable scenes. Not a show for the easily offended, but defintely one to see if you're at all interested in catching a remarkable performer in a complex and well-rounded production. Three and a half knowing laughs out of five. (Town Hall til April 29)
Next was Adam Rozenbachs in Wrong Way, Keeping Going, whose show is aptly named. While a charismatic performer with some genuininely funny material, this was Rozenbachs' debut solo performance at the festival, and quite frankly, he doesn't seem ready. His material was too patchy and sporadic, lacking a connecting narrative or means of smoothly seguing from topic to topic, and also was too blokey for my tastes, bordering on outrightly offensive in places (such as joking that Indosnesian customs officers must have been surprised to discover that Bali Nine member Renae Lawrence had a vagina when they strip-searched her; - congratulations, Adam, you managed to be crass, misogynistic, borderline homophobic and just plain wrong simultaneously). Given that I was sitting near the front, I get the feeling my body language conveyed my disapproval, because he pretty much stopped making eye contact with me from that point on. Two occasional chuckles out of five. (Portland Hotel until April 29)
I ended my weekend by catching up with Josh and heading off to see UK performer Daniel Kitson in It's the Fireworks Talking at the Athenaeum Theatre. You won't be surprised to know that this was a great show - by turns surreal, whimsical, delightful, hilarious and touching. In a rambling, wide-ranging show that embraced childhood memories, staying up all night, friendships, relationships with parents, nostalgia, death-bed memories and much more, Kitson kept the majority of the audience in the palm of his indeed. Not everyone though - when two people walked out having complained that they hadn't laughed once, he seemed to thrive on the challenge, lifting the intensity of his performance up another notch despite his jetlag.
The show ran for two hours - half an hour over its alloted time - and save for the first 15-20 minutes when Kitson seemed to be underwhelmed by his own material, this show was an utter delight. Four wiping the tears from your eyes laughs out of five. (Athenaeum til April 29)
Then Monday I had to go to work 'cause I have a newspaper to put out. Bah humbug.
So I've thrown myself in the deep end and seen another six shows over the last two days, ranging (as you might expect) from the sublime to the shitful. Let's start with what I saw on Saturday, accompanied by the luverly Lisa Greenaway, shall we?
First off was Aaron Keeffe's It's Not You, It's Me, upstairs at English theme pub the Elephant & Wheelbarrow. Not somewhere I've been often, not being a fan of English beer, although I did once have a lukewarm parma there once. Speaking of lukewarm, let's talk about the comedy... or rather the lack thereof.
Keeffe's poorly structured show was matched by a rushed, awkward delivery, a distinct lack of stage presence, and a virtual absence of jokes. The concept was what drew me in: the bloke set out to survey his ex-girlfriends to see why they'd broken up with him in the first place. Sadly only two of his 11 ex's had actually responded. Equally sadly, the funniest line of the night was written by one of Keeffe's ex-girlfriends about him, rather than by the comedian himself. One pained grimace out of five. (Elephant & Wheelbarrow until April 28)
After dinner and a restorative glass of wine, it was time to see Andrea Powell in How Do You Like Your Eggs? Perhaps best known for her monstrous harridan Ethel Chop, this simply staged show saw Powell ensconsed on a chair before an unfortunately small audience. Just as unfortunate was the fact that we decided to sit in the front row, resulting in Lisa and I being roped into the audience participation segments of the evening. If you've ever seen me trying to salsa, you'll know I provided several moments of utter hilarity for those present...
Exploring the ins and outs of modern dating, including where to meet men, RSVP.com and speed dating, Powell's barbed wit and measured, precise delivery were a delightful tonic after the previous show we'd suffered through. While I could have lived without the intrusive plug for Ethel Chop's book, over all this was a strong, sharply observed and well-structured evening of stand-up, complete with restrained use of audio-visual (keep an eye out for Andrea's pussy - it's a hoot!) and a few deftly presented minor characters to keep the narrative moving.
While the show's middle third needs some tightening, and saw the energy drop a little, and Powell's humour occasionally borders on the almost too savage, overall I'd heartily recommend this production. Three braying laughs out of five. (Town Hall til April 29)
Last up for the evening was Sydney comic Daniel Townes. A charismatic, laid-back bogan (or Westie to be more apt, as he's from Sydney's Blacktown) Townes swears like a trooper, grins engagingly, and regularly tiptoed along the border between crude and offensive without ever crossing the line. I was enjoying his performance so much, despite the small, claustrophobic space he's been programmed into, that I forgot to take notes, so I can't really go into detail about his act save that part of it centers around his recent deportation from the USA, and he also talks about bedbugs. The rest you can find out for yourselves. Three stoned giggles out of five. (Portland Hotel until April 29)
Saturday, April 07, 2007
It's an odd beast, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, with its long queues of punters lining the steps and corridors of the Melbourne Town Hall and snaking out into the streets. Up the road at Trades Hall you can find people puzzling over the lack of stand-up and seduced by strange theatricality, music and magic; or revelling in rogue cabaret at the Buterfly Club across the river, but for most punters, comedy means stand-up, and subsequently that's how I started my festival this year, with three stand-up shows back to back.
Adam Richard X sees the gay Melbourne comic best known for regular appearances on FOX FM's Matt and Jo Breakfast show celebrating his 10th year in stand-up with a brand new show. Not surprisingly, much of the material covers familiar ground - celebrity gossip, Kylie Minogue, Bindi Irwin and the delicious vapidity of pop culture - essentially the same topics that Adam addresses on radio, and also on his Channel 10 apearances. Rounding out the material is a hefty dose of queer culture, which for some audience members on Friday night didn't seem to sit entirely comfortably, judging from the odd squirm and the nervous expression of the cute boofhead sitting in front of me.
Adam's musing on beats, one night stands and Gaydar profiles was entertaining, but lacked a certain spice required to really give the material zest; although that could perhaps be explained by the fact that the show was still really finding its legs, and didn't flow as smoothly as it no doubt will later in its season. Consequently it was billed as a preview, with ticket prices discounted accordingly. As Adam himself said, "You get what you pay for, people!"
On the plus side, there were some touching observations about death and funerals rounding out the material, in which the usually bitchy (in a good way) comedian showed a tender and vulnerable side; and some hilarious riffing on a reality TV show Adam appeared in (appeared being a more appropriate word than starred) called Celebrity Dog School - notable for its distinct lack of celebrities, and ex-footballer Robert 'Dipper' DiPierdomenico shouting "I've got a bloody Brownlow medal, I shouldn't have to do this shit!".
Adam's schtick won't satisfy everyone, and if you know his style, you basically know what you're in for with this show: it's entertaining without being innovative, and consists largely of a series of well-aimed barbs seasoned with buggery and leavened with a dash of mortality. Two and a half 'I can't believe he just said that' giggles out of five. (Melbourne Town Hall til April 29)
Following a quick walk to meet up with Josh, next on the bill was Adam Hills Joymonger, in which the host of the popular ABC TV quiz show Spicks and Specks proved himself to be delightfully endearing,very funny, and really, rather sweet. From his engaging banter with latecomers that reveals a quick wit and genuine warmth; to more structured elements of the show that skim through a range of weighty topics (including racism, human nature and the perils of bureaucracy run amok) without seeming either didactic or facile, Hills is an absolute delight to watch in action.
I could criticise the infectiously optimistic and charming Hills for being so nice that he's a little bland (he said 'freaking' instead of 'fucking' at one point for example, as if not wanting to offend some of the older audience members present) or for failing to address some of his material with the satirical bite it could have warranted, but really, to do so would not just be missing the point of Hills' "lets make the world a nicer place" philosophy; it would also be rather churlish. Who needs anti-depressents when you have Adam Hills? Three and half delighted hoots out of five. (Forum Theatre til April 29)
Finally, after an invigorating champagne in the Peter Cook Bar with Mel Sherridan, my lovely editor at Beat magazine, it was off to see another local comedian, Charlie Pickering in Impractical Jokes. After the traditional start spent padding out the wait for latecomers with some easy laughs generated by jokes about lawyers, ninja and accidentally fighting for the Taliban, Pickering got stuck into the show proper, which celebrates his love for his father, and specifically, his father's love of elaborate practical jokes.
Thence followed a long - overlong, judging by the anxious and slightly irritated expressions on the front-of-house staff's faces at its conclusion - series of stories about practical jokes, counter jokes, and a state of virtual warfare between, 'Two households, both alike in dignity".
Sadly, unlike the familiar story of Shakespeare's Montagues and Capulets, there really wasn't enough material to sustain Pickering's admittedly well-timed retelling of what are essentially amusing family anecdotes for a full hour. While acknowledging that this was a preview show, and so of course Pickering will gain a stronger grasp of his material over time; and that it is well-constructed both thematically and in terms of its narrative, the show felt padded; perhaps more suited to telling over the dinner table or a few beers than on stage at the Comedy Festival. A lowpoint in which Pickering segued into an aimless, seemingly improvised conversation between himself and a parking meter was a clear indication that charismatic as he is, the toussle-haired Pickering needs stronger material if he's going to live up to his reputation. Two and a half wry smiles and an occasional chuckle out of five. (Town Hall til April 29)
Thursday, April 05, 2007
Its parade of identical male characters essentially lack any character, being so utterly two dimensional that you simply don't know them or identify with them, a flaw meaning that you feel no sense of concern for them when they enter battle.
The film glorifies fascism, setting the Spartans and their obsessive, bloodthirsty king as heroic, with an all-too-obvious parallel that posits their small army as defenders of humanity going up against insurmountable odds, just like 'our boys in Iraq' - complete with massed, imbecilic Marine-like grunting.
The fight scenes, of which there are many - too many - lack tension, drama or pathos. I found myself watching dispassionately, only occasionally moved by the aesthetics of the film-making process, but uterly disconnected, even bored by, the action on the screen.
Equally offensively, the film is overtly homophobic, as if somehow needing to offset the director's vision of Spartans as muscular underwear catalogue models in red cloaks and leather codpieces designed to show off their oiled pecs and washboard stomachs. One example of this comes when the Spartans dismiss Athenians as "poets and boy lovers". The most extreme example of homophobia in 300 is in the depiction of the film's villain, the Persian god-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) who is presented as the classic Hollywood evil fag, with plucked eyebrows, long nails, a lascivious voice and exaggerated, effeminate posture.
Xerxes' unnatural overtures are rebuffed - and rightly so, cry a thousand sweaty, insecure teenage jocks - by the Spartan king Leonidas (Gerard Butler), a manly man's man who surrounds himself with half-naked men in an unwittingly precise illustration of the struggle between homosocial and homoerotic urges that dominates the Western masculine millieu.
Perhaps the only highlight in the entire two-hour movie is a scene in which Leonidas' queen, played by Lena Headey, gains the upper hand over a supercillious, treacherous Spartan politician. Sadly it comes so late in the film, as the coda of a poorly developed subplot, that it failed to arouse the appropriate thrill in the by-now bored and intellectually brutalised audience at last night's midnight preview at the IMAX Theatre.
In short, 300 is an abominable film that offends the intelligence of its viewers, that betrays the historical canon it purports to celebrate, that butchers any concept of drama, and whose politics and social messages are deeply suspect. It even fails to be so bad it's good. It's just bad, boring, and uterly undeserving of popular or critical acclaim.
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Anyone want to buy a real human skull for only $600? How about a stuffed barn owl? A clockwork model of the solar system, complete with the now-downgraded planet Pluto? Fossils? Stuffed peacocks that would be just perfect for your library, assuming you own a house with an observatory, entrance hall, spiral stairs and mad relative in the attic? Maybe a mounted tarantula under glass?
Get thee down to Wunderkammer post-haste, my friend!
Having walked past the shop when it was in Carlton for years yet never managed to be there when it was open, Simon managed to drag me out of bed last Saturday, despite my hangover (hell, I was probably still drunk) so that we could walk into the city and check out the new shop. I've since added my name to the waiting list for a human skull. And no, I won't call it Yoric. I was thinking maybe, 'Bruce'...
Sunday, April 01, 2007
Browsing the various shelves and categories, I briefly considered a deluxe hardcover edition of the first 15 or so issues of Neil Gaiman's classic comic book series The Sandman but soon gave that up as a bad idea when I considered its price (over $200, in case you were wondering).
Shelved immediately above the graphic novels at Readings was the queer fiction section, and it was here, on a whim, that I picked up Almost Like Being in Love.
The back cover blurb read:
Ok, I thought, vaguely interested, sounds cute, and hell, quite frankly I could use a bit of romance in my life right now, even if only vicariously. I opened the book and started reading the first few paragraphs, something that I regularly do before I buy something in order to get a sense of the writer's style.
A high school jock and nerd fall in love senior year, only to part after an amazing summer of discovery to attend their respective colleges. They keep in touch at first, but then slowly drift apart.
Flash forward twenty years.
Travis and Craig both have great lives, careers, and loves. But something is missing.... Travis is the first to figure it out. He's still in love with Craig, and come what may, he's going after the boy who captured his heart, even if it means forsaking his job, making a fool of himself, and entering the great unknown. Told in narrative, letters, checklists, and more, this is the must-read novel for anyone who's wondered what ever happened to that first great love.
Then I kept reading. After 12 pages I decided this was the book for me.
Written as a series of diary entries, emails, memos and letters, Almost Like Being in Love is light, engaging, often laugh-out-loud hilarious (just ask Mike, who was home the other night when I kept cackling) and also moving. At several points as I was reading I had tears in my eyes, or drying on my cheeks as I chortled.
The first section of the book establishes the boys' deepening friendship which swiftly turns into a passionate but discrete first love:-
Tarrytown, New York
When he gets nervous his voice squeaks. It isn’t funny but it makes me grin just the same. He has three different laughs that I’ve almost got a lock on. Number 1 and Number 2 were no-brainers, but I struck out on Number 3. This is going to be a challenge. You can tell when he’s about to pop his top because the tips of his ears get red and his forehead frowns, which I found out twice by accident when I bad-mouthed Eleanor Roosevelt and Wilma Flintstone (long story, but it has something to do with the Equal Rights Amendment and both of them getting stuck with sexist douchebags like FDR and Fred). He picked USC for college not because of the Trojans but because L.A. is the farthest he can get from his parents. The only reason he never said anything to me in the hallway is because he was afraid. He needs to be talked out of wearing the blue Van Heusens. There’s nobody else like him in the whole world. And he thinks that’s a handicap! QUESTION: How come he wants to hang out with me?
Tarrytown, New York
Bulletin: He has a dimple in his chin that you can only see when he (a) smiles, and (b) smiles at me. May I be struck dumb if I’m making this up. We passed each other in the hall after dinner. Craig said “How’s it going?” and I squeaked four times. (Four times!) THEN I DID TWENTY MINUTES ON ANGELA LANSBURY, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE! What was I thinking? That’s no way to talk to a jock. It’s a whole other language. “Johnny Unitas.” “Notre Dame.” “Third down.” “Gridlock.” My life is over. The only way he’ll even grunt at me again is if he’s hanging off a cliff by his fingers and I come to his rescue. And what are the chances of that?!
The second part of the novel, set 20 years later, sometimes stretches credibility as far as its narrative goes, but never gets bogged down in unnecessary detail, and introduces a delightful array of suporting characters with which to flesh out the story.
As novels go, it's not without its flaws. The main characters' voices aren't always dissimilar, although the supporting cast are wonderfully enunciated - especially Gordo, Travis' almost-offensively heterosexual slob of a roommate. The climax, after over 300 pages of build-up, feels slightly rushed. That said, it's resolved in a way that reveals the writer's essential humanity and deep affection for his characters, given that someone is going to get their heart broken whether Travis and Craig end up together again or not.
Overall, a delightful novel, easy to read, engaging, compelling and definitely worth picking up if you're feeling like a bit of love in your life. Definitely recommended.
$330 for a fucking jumper? Jesus!! The rack of tshirts on display in the same shop started at $120.
Looks like me and fashion are going to remain on non-speaking terms...
Howard hopes the Hicks case will fade away now, leaving him able to focus on distracting the public with more important things, like the economy. The pessimist in me has a nasty feeling he might be able to do it, too.
I might go distract myself from such weighty matters by doing my laundry, having already vaccumed, and cleaned the bathroom. Ah, the exciting life of a man about town. Did I mention that I was so drunk* on Friday night that my housemate had to help me to bed? No? Good, let's leave it that way, shall we?
*Drinking on an empty stomach after work leads to Richard falling over. Repeatedly. Alcohol is bad, kids, okay?