Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Festival Roundup

It's been a mad month, with Fringe segueing straight into the Melbourne International Arts Festival, and not enough time to blog about it all. As well as the shows I've already detailed on this here blog, I also managed to catch:

  • an array of visual arts, from oribotics to Riceboy Sleeps.
  • Barrie Kosky's The Tell Tale Heart, which I admired for its attempt to convey the heightened senses of the insane narrator of the original Poe story in a theatrical setting, but whose - dramatic - pauses - began to pall for me after the first half hour. Nonetheless an exquisite aesthetic experience, even though I wasn't always fully engaged.

  • Laurie Anderson's Homeland, a festival commission, which washed over me in waves of haunting electronica as I struggled to stay awake in my seat. Loved her evocation of 'the Underwear Gods' - the idea of the photos of giant billboard models striding around the city - but was less enamored of her more polemic pieces, which struck me as unnecessarily strident (though I did appreciate their increased tempo, which helped me stay awake on a particularly low-energy night).
  • Kinky, a band from Mexico who played at the Meat Market, bored me - sounding too much like the Red Hot Chili Peppers in their opening songs, so I left; going instead to the Arthouse to see a new punk band before pushing on to a debauched and dissolute warehouse party in Abbotsford, hurrah!
  • And closing the festival with Merce Cunningham's Program B, which featured as part of its program the long-awaited Split Sides, featuring vivid, beautiful dancing; a Radiohead score for half the work, and also a live score by Sigur Ros. Oh bliss! Oh joy! Oh rapture! I'm not going to go into a long and detailed review here, as sadly I don't have time, being at work and all (and also because I have to juggle several other committments today, including my Fringe hat, RRR and a few other things into the bargain) but god it was good, from the costumes and set, through to the palpable buzz in the audience the moment Cunningham himself and guests appeared on stage to randomise the presentation of the post-interval performances.
It's been an extremely enjoyable festival for me; though coming hot on the heels of Fringe means I'm always a little art-ed out by this time of year; too much of a rich diet can sometimes spoil your appetite (which is why I've been sitting at home the last couple of nights watching Hollywood action-trash as an antidote; the Transformers movie and the first Resident Evil if you must know - both of which don't translate well to the small screen, it must be said).

I also managed to catch the opening night show by La Clique at The Famous Spiegeltent on Sunday night, in the company of a Hibernian mate who'd never seen them before, which was an added thrill - there's something about glancing sideways at someone's wide-eyed delight which I find quite inspiring: a vicarious thrill which adds to my own already delighted enjoyment of proceedings.

The new acts to join the show this year aren't especially memorable, though there was some utterly sublime aerial work on show, some clever puppetry, and an amusing spot of juggling; and of course, bathtub boy David O'Mer (pictured above) is still as hot as ever... but La Clique is still a great night out, even if you have seen it before: it's fast, funny, risky and risque; and above all, damn entertaining.

But now it's back to my usual routine, and my normal life, in the absence of Melbourne Fringe and the Melbourne International Arts Centre. Not that my normal life is at all drab and grey, of course: coming up in the next few days I'm going to try and see the latest production from Red Stitch, a Hollywood farce called The Little Dog Laughed; and also Melburnalia, five short plays by Melbourne writers including Lally Katz and Tee O'Neil about life in different aspects of Melbourne, staged at 45 Downstairs by White Whale.

Then there's the Festival of Jewish Cinema opening next week, with a live score for the silent 1920 masterpiece The Golem...

It never stops - for which, of course, I am utterly thankful. Here's to art!!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

My one-man war

Two of my more eccentric habits are my deeply-ingrained loathing of ticket inspectors on trams, and my tendency to goad them at every available opportunity.

For those readers not from Melbourne, let me briefly digress. Once upon a time, trams had individuals on board known as conductors, or connies. As well as selling you your ticket, they would assist tourists with directions; help the elderly, infirm or pregnant on or of the tram; and provide a vague sense of security when travelling late at night.

Then, one day, in the name of economic rationalism, the state government did away with conductors, because they weren't cost effective.

Since then we're have non-cost-effective scratchy tickets introduced (whereby you were supposed to scratch off the silver gunk covering the date and hour of your journey to demonstrate how long yout ticket was valid for; not exactly practical if you carry your spare tickets in your purse or wallet, where they chafe and rub and flake); non-cost-effective ticket machines, which saw fare evasions skyrocket; and then, the non-cost-effective (significant) increase of the number of ticket inspectors patrolling our trams.

When I saw our trams, of course, I mean their trams ( as in the 'They' that everyone talks about when they say that 'Well, they say...") because 'our' trams were long since privatised; sold out from under our feet to private companies who now operate our so-called public transport system.

In other words, in order to save money by sacking all the connies, the government - and now the private sector who own our privatised public transport - have massively increased the numbers of ticket inspectors. Saving money by hiring loads more people to replace the people you sacked. I don't quite get it...

End of digression. Back to the story.

Ever since the Kennett Liberal Government sacked the conductors, I've been carry out my own private guerilla war against the existing system, and especially against tickets inspectors. It's the reason why I've amassed numerous unpaid fines in the intervening years, which probably means my credit rating is shot to hell, but then again, I'm not exactly planning to apply for a mortgage at any time soon.

Tonight, I confronted a group of ticket inspectors who were blocking one of the doors of the tram I was travelling home on. It's exactly the kind of inconsiderate act that pisses me off at any time, but when it's a group of ticket inspectors it's even worse. Had the shoe been on the other foot, and it been a group of young people standing in the doorway, you can bet the mob - because that's what ticket inspectors are, a cowardly mob of thugs and bullies who travel en masse and use their numbers to intimate - these very same inspectors would have been lecturing and abusing and fining.

Instead, they laughed and joked among themselves, and when I harrangued them, they claimed that they'd move aside for anyone who asked them to move, despite the fact that I'd just witnessed them stand unmoving when the doors open, forcing people to thread their way slowly and awkwardly through them - and as if people who are already intimidated by thugs in uniform are going to demand anything of them!!

Which is another reason I hate ticket inspectors, who in my opinion are way lower even than parking inspectors: because they've been granted the power to forcibly detain suspected fare evaders until the police arrive. They're people in the employ of private corporations who have been granted police-like powers. If that's not an erosion of civil rights, what is?

So, I've declared a one-man war on tricket inspectors on trams and I invite you to do the same.

When you see them acting objectionally, intervene: especially if you're an adult and you witness a pack of inspectors bullying and frightening a young person. Take down their badge numbers. Dob the bastards in.

When they demand to see your ticket, do what I do: refuse to show your ticket until they say the magic word: and when they get angry and even more demanding, ask to speak to their immediate superior - there's usually a queen or king bee travelling with the uniformed drones - and sweetly explain that, had the thug in question simply been polite enough to say 'please may I see your ticket', you would have happily shown them your ticket on the spot.

Cause them trouble. Make their lives as difficult as they make ours. Don't give the fuckers an inch. And remember - the next time you stand up against their authority, you're setting an example that your fellow passengers will remember - and as I did tonight, you'll find yourself sharing a conspoiratorial glance and a smile with another public transport user who you've just inspired with the idea of passive resistance.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

On listening to Sigur Ros' Hvarf-Heim

If you know me, whether it's because we've been friends for years or from occasionally reading this blog, or from listening to SmartArts on 3RRR; you'll know that the music of Iceland's Sigur Rós moves me to tears of joy. Right now I'm listening to a preview copy of the band's new album Hvarf-Heim, and loving it. (Thank you EMI, and no, I promise I won't burn it and distribute it to the world via the net: I lack the technical skills to do so even if I wanted to!).

The album, which is released in November, is an aural accompaniment to the band's concert film, Heima, which is screening at The Forum this Sunday; and which is a documentation of a two week tour Sigur Rós took around Iceland last year that featured both grand scale concerts and intimate gigs for friends and family. If you go to see the film on Sunday, you'll also see the band playing a short accoustic set and doing a Q+A with fans; following on from the live performance of Ba Ba Ti Ki Di Do, accompanying the Merce Cuningham dance troupe, they're performing as part of MIAF the previous night.

Hvarf ('Disappeared') consists of five (mostly) previously unrecorded tracks: 'Salka'; the gorgeous 'Hljomalind'; 'I Gaer'; the title track of their first album, 'Von'; and the live favourite 'Hafsol', previously released as a B-side on the 'Hoppipola' single.

Heim ('Home') is a series of six intimate, still beautiful but less orchestrated versions of tracks I know and love: 'Samskeyti', 'Staralfur' (which I'm listening to right now, loving the track's rich keyboards), 'Vaka', 'Ahaetis Byrjun', 'Heysatan' and 'Von', again. In many ways these songs are even more remarkable than the band's usual, life-affirming concerts; there's a subdued beauty to them that highlights the tenderness of Jonsi's voice, the vibrancy of the music; the throbbing sweep of emotions contained within each song.

Look, it's a fucking beuatiful album, ok? And you can read more about it, the band, and Heima here, in the UK newspaper The Guardian. And if you're a fan of the band, please leave a message: myself and a mate, Darren, are going to the gig on Saturday night, and I hope to get along on Sunday as well: maybe we can meet up for an impromptu Sigur Rós appreciation society drink before or after the shows?

Wonderfully wicked

I saw, without doubt, not only my absolute MIAF highlight on Monday night, but also the most wonderfully wicked cabaret show I've ever witnessed: Kiki and Herb: the Year of Magical Drinking; at North Melbourne's Meat Market Arts House.

Kiki is an aging, alcoholic chanteuse; Herb her equally withered pianist and straight-man - an irony given that both are gay men; performed respectively by vocalist Justin Bond (who may perhaps be familiar to you from John Cameron Mitchell's superb Shortbus) and pianist Kenny Mellman.

Part of the point behind the duo's performance is to demonstrate that cabaret need not be stuck in the first half of the 20th century: as demonstrated with versatility, pathos, wit and flair last night, a medly of Velvet Underground songs, and the songs of Jarvis Cocker and Kate Bush have just as much resonance as Piaf or Brecht - and perhaps, for modern audiences, even more relevance.

Equally, though, the pair delight in skewering and satirising the cliches of cabaret, such as a wonderful routine where an alcohol-sodden Kiki staggered around the stage trying to embody the sinuous sexuality of a panther, with a definite, naughty nod to the likes of an aged Eartha Kitt beyond her prime. Mreeow! Just as Judy Garland turned into a tragic travesty, Kiki slurs, staggers and swears beneath the spotlights; in between joking about rape, child abuse ("I always say, if you weren't abused as a kid, you must have been one hell of an ugly child!") and Hitler. Herb, meanwhile, mutters and giggles at the keyboard. Both rise to the occasion when levity is no longer required, twisting laughs into gasps of admiration and disbelief as they take a song like The Eagles' 'Hotel California' and turn it into a magnificently melancholic gothic melodrama.

They were also capable of deliciously dark wit; jokes that teetered on the edge of totally wrong (such as Kiki's comment about Qantas loosing her luggage, only to find her suitcase floating in a Sydney pond a few days later, the body of a dead toddler contained within: looking around I saw smiles sag into sickly frowns, and convulsions of laughter transform into cross-armed frowns at such a point, while elsewhere in the room others shrieked with mirth).

I hooted, I giggled, and I was moved to tears at various times throughout the night. Had I been more financial I would have raced off to the festival's Artists' Lounge after the show in the hope that Bond and Mellman might have materialised, so that I shower them with praise and alcohol. Instead, together with Josh, and my poor tired housemate, who fell asleep on more than one occasion at our table while steadfastly claiming afterwards he enjoyed the show, I walked home through the darkened streets of Melbourne-town, thence to bed; a wry and wicked smile still flickering about my lips when I thought about what I'd just heard and seen.

For presenting such a magnificently macabre and magical evening as part of your third festival, Kristy Edmunds, I salute you - and I shall kiss you the next time I see you!!

‘Brokeback’ sequel rumour quashed

A flurry of rumours about a sequel to the multi-award winning Brokeback Mountain have been quashed following a denial from the studio that made the film.

Britain’s OK! Magazine last week claimed that Australian actor Heath Ledger was in negotiation to reprise his role as closeted cowboy Ennis Del Mar, in a sequel to the acclaimed film about two star-crossed lovers in the American Midwest.

“It will follow the nasty process of being openly gay in 1963 Wyoming,” the magazine quoted an insider as saying.

“Not true,” a representative for Focus Features, which produced Brokeback Mountain, has told, an infamous celebrity gossip website.

The 2005 film, which co-starred Jake Gyllenhaal, is ranked eighth among the highest grossing romantic-dramas of all time.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Wonderful whimsy

Daniel Kitson blew me away earlier this year with his Barry Award-winning comedy festival show, It's the Fireworks Talking, and I'm delighted to report that his MIAF show C90 is equally delightful, although somewhat less frenetic than his stand-up gigs are want to be.

In the company of the lovely MsKP, freshly returned from her replenishing stint in Queensland but still not blogging much (the curse of Facebook, perhaps?), we wandered down into the bowels of the Arts Centre, and into the intime confines of the Fairfax Studio. Even this small space is almost too large for this show, which would have worked best, I think, at somewhere like the Tower Theatre at the Malthouse, or even The Store Room, but thankfully our seats were well situated, so this didn't really impact on our evening.

The premise of the show is a simple one: Kitson plays Henry Leonard Bodley, the about-to-retire-today librarian of a library of mix tapes, which no-one makes any more thanks to digital equipment, making Henry's job redundent. Kitson also plays a range of people in the village in which the librarian lives, all of whom have their own unique quirks and traits, strange yet totally believeable eccentricities, such as baking cakes to feed to birds, or always addressing people by their full name - middle name included.

The arrival of two mysterious packages at Henry's work is the catalyst for a story of change and renewal which had me grinning with pure, simple glee as the production unfolded. Gradually, as Kitson intercuts between the various characters, we begin to build up a sense of community, of concern, of the value of joy in our lives, and of the delight that compassion and engagement with those around us can bring to ourselves and others.

As with Kitson's stand-up shows, elements which seemed at first to be throw-away references in the opening moments of the show are later seen to be incredibly significant: Kitson's seemingly meandering path proves to be an elliptical journey that ends with the audience so much more enriched for the experience.

Clever, warm-hearted, and whimsical without being twee, Kitson's C90 was a gentle yet thoroughly satisfying delight. I'm so glad I saw it.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'm going to go bake a cake for the birds...

Friday, October 19, 2007

Sporadically Sublime

"Sporadically sublime" is the phrase I've been using to describe my Melbourne International Arts Festival (MIAF) 2007 experience so far, as well as some of the specific events I've seen at MIAF; so I figured I may as well kill two Andrew 'lesbians ruined my festival' Bolts with one stone and use the phrase as the title of this blog post as well.

Those readers who feel compelled to point out that, as a writer and commentator, I should perhaps be more able to coin multiple phrases rather than overusing the one, will be politely directed towards the fact that I'm simultaneously:
  • Trying to write a 2500 essay about Jack Kerouac's contribution to modernist literature while seeing as much of MIAF as I can;
  • Juggling the demands of my day job as a newspaper editor;
  • Chairing the Arts Development: Creation funding panel at Arts Victoria over the last couple of days (I'm sworn to secrecy about the outcomes of the meeting and which applicants will receive funding, of course: bribes should be presented in increments of $1000);
  • Looking for a new General Manager at Melbourne Fringe while wearing my Chairman of the Fringe Board hat; and,
  • Contemplating the fourth draft of my novel after letting it simmer away at the back of mind for the last couple of months.
God, I'm exhausted just reading all that. No wonder I was crawling into bed by 9pm for the first few nights of the week this week.

Anyway, given that this post is supposed to be about my experiences at MIAF to date, rather than me justifying the paucity of my words in this particular blog entry, I suppose I should get on with it, shouldn't I?

Due to the usual chaos which is my life (see above) and a slight bout of festival burnout post-Fringe, I haven't been MIAFing as frenetically as I'd planned, but fear not gentle reader - those events I've been unable to attend have not seen my tickets wasted, thanks to the joy of SMS technology and a direct line to the festival publicity office...

But enough late-afternoon three-hours sleep brain-wandering waffle: ART!

We begin, gentle reader, with the opening night of the festival proper, last Thursday (yes, I know I'm behind in posting, I am trying to catch up, ok?) and the opening night of Robert Wilson and Bernice Johnson Reagon's The Temptation of St Anthony, which was followed by an excellent opening night party at the Melbourne Town Hall, which I sadly left relatively early due to work committments the next day.

I'm not here to review the nibbles and drinkies and conversations though (which Born Dancin' used to do before his blog got all high-falutin' and/or surreallistically You-Tubey) but to discuss the show. So I'll try - and without many more of these tangential asides, which are starting to get quite silly.

Based on Gustave Flaubert's story of the ascetic St Anthony, whose travails have also been illustrated by the likes of Hieronymous Bosch, among other medieval artists; and who believed that isolation is the truest form of worship, this was a rich, luscious production in which the subtle grandeur of the cathedral-nave-like set contrasted beautifully with evocative lighting, costumes and sound. Using gospel music to highlight the battle between faith and reason struck me as a delightful conceit, although I was less taken by the staging, which felt somewhat old fashioned in the way that the performers were arrayed: almost clumsily or awkwardly blocked. It's a stylistic thing of Wilson's, I know, but it left me unthrilled.

This was the first production at MIAF I described as 'sporadically sublime', because there were moments of truely transcendent beauty on display; at other times, due to the lack of a defined narrative and my lack of familiarity with the story, I drifted, letting the show sweep over me rather than focussing upon its details. In short, I was occasionally engaged, once or twice transported, but also a little restless at various times.

And did I mention the party?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Farewell to Fringe

Saturday night saw the closing night party and artists' awards for The Age 2007 Melbourne Fringe Festival, at which good times were had by all. I called it a night at approximately 6am Sunday, and trudged happily home; I didn't crawl out of bed until 3pm that afternoon, and was fast asleep again by 9pm Sunday night. I've still been catching up on sleep the last two nights.

Saturday evening saw me take it my final show, in the company of a couple of friends; a tribute to Tom Waits (right) at Abbotsford's Terminus Hotel called The Piano Has Been Drinking...

Less a cabaret, more a cover band, but not a bad job at all. The band were tight, if a little conservative in their instrumentation by Waits' own standards (where was the person playing a giant seed pod when you needed it?) and the singer could perhaps have smoked an entire pack of cigarettes and gargled a bottle of whiskey before coming on stage to get that wonderfully raspy quality Waits has, but even so, they caught some of his wit, wisdom and compassion in a range of songs drawn from both old and newer albums.

The Piano Has Been Drinking: Three stars
Season concluded

So that was my adventure in Fringeland this year; some 15 shows (not including a few art exhibitions I saw, which I haven't had time to blog about here seeing as I was a performance judge and so mostly focused on that category; only one of which I walked out of. Not a bad strike rate at all!

No official word yet on final audiences figures and ticket sales, but I'll be willing to wager that both have gone up; certainly from my perspective it seemed a highly successful festival indeed.

Now, on into MIAF!

Ben Cousins

Could someone put me in touch his dealer, please? Mine is out of town.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Bring it on!

So, the Rodent has called the election at last, after stalling for weeks in the vain hope that the polls might suggest a closing of the gap in terms of Labor's lead. No such luck, Johnny-boy. So, please make sure you're enrolled to vote and your address details are up to date by Wednesday, so that you don't get squeezed out thanks to the Coalition's sneaky reductions, and get ready to vote the fucker out.


Oh yeah - final Fringe updates and first Melbourne International Arts Festival details coming soon; probably tonight...

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Apologies for the paucity of updates, readers; life is moving at too fast a pace for me to fit in much blogging. It's all about living at the moment, and less about reflecting on what I've experienced. That said, on with the show!

started with a brief puppet show that, while inventive in its application of grand guignol to the video age, failed to manifest its promise. While I delighted in its vivid and literal embodiment of one's everyday concerns about being devoured by your job (I'll never look at a photocopier the same way again!) its narrative lacked bite; a nice set up that went nowhere. Thereafter a series of dance works inspired by childhood games began; not what I was here to see, nor distinctive enough in their choreography to hold my attention, so I retreated to the Lithuanian Club's bar to read for a while.

The best of Mudfest: Two stars
The Lithuanian Club until Saturday 13

is a local adaptation of a popular Polish film about masculinity and men's inner lives that's been boiled down from two and a half hours to one hour for the Fringe; possibly at the expense of character development and focus. Set at a wedding reception that goes horribly wrong, the play's misanthropic cast of neanderthals, misognynists, brothers and journalists bicker, argue, brawl and question their roles in life and those of the invisible women around them.

While I enjoyed most of the performances, especially those of Richard Sutherland and Hugh Sexton, each of whom admirably rose to the occasion when allowed to reveal the emotional lives of their characters when given a chance to peel the bluster and bravado away; overall I found this production too frenetic and self-concious for its own good. Some stilted staging and a tendancy in the script towards the simplistic didn't help; consequently my attention wandered, and I found myself growing bored by this exercise in male ego and energy that fails to bring anything new to discussing what it means to be a man.

Testosterone: Two and half stars
Until Saturday October 13 at the Lithuanian Club

Bucket of Love
is a solo circus performance by The Candy Butchers' Derek Ives, and what a delightful show it is. Pathos and comedy combine in equal measure in a series of pratfalls, stunts and touching routines that leap between gasp-inducing, laughter-provoking and whimsically melancholic. Birds are killed, shovels wed, tears shed, ropes swung from, and precarious balances achieved, in this swift, deft and darkly delicious production. Tonight's your last chance to see it, so go, go go!

Bucket of Love: Four stars
The Lithuanian Club until Saturday October 13

Disclaimer: the views expressed in this review are made in an individual capacity and do do not represent those of the Board of Melbourne Fringe. Just thought I should say that to be on the safe side, given that I'm the Chair and all...

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Two comedy shows this time, although one, sadly, has already ended so you've missed you're chance to see it; while the second ends tonight. These will be kinda micro-reviews though, as I have to bolt out the door in a sec. Maybe I'll expand on them at a later date...though given my schedule over the next few days, with MIAF overlapping with Fringe, that's probably unlikely!

FEAR OF A BROWN PLANET scored the honour of drawing the ire of one Andrew Bolt, publicity which certainly did them no harm. The premise of the show was a simple one, inspired by its three performers wondering, "When did a Muslim last make you laugh?". Consequently, around a framework structured in part by Public Enemy's classic album Fear of a Black Planet, the three young men responsible for this show proceeded to mount a Muslim comedy spectacular, exploring issues around race, politics, bigotry, family and related themes.

Well, perhaps spectacular is too strong a word; Aamer Rahman, who came on last, was definitely bloody funny, with both good material and great delivery, but his two compatriots, Mohammed El-Leissy and Nazeem Hussain were less accomplished. More work was needed to tighten some of the material, but the generous audience laughed loud and long nonetheless. Fantastic to see such a diverse audience at an arts event as well; young and old, white and brown.

The verdict? Fun but flawed.

Fear of a Brown Planet: Three stars
Season concluded.

THE INFAMOUS SPRAYGELTENT is a two man show that originally premiered at the Comedy Festival earlier this year. Devised by ex-Carlton AFL player Glenn Manton and improvisational comedian Jim Lawson, the premise of the show sees the audience roped in to become Coach Manton's new football team, due to all of Carlton's cash being spent bringing Juddy to the team. Coach Manton, it must be said, is a scary man - especially when he's screaming at you or another team-mate (although in real life he's quite different).

By shining a spotlight on what goes on behind closed doors at AFL level, Manton and Lawson create some genuinely funny moments, whether it's Glenn claiming he can't relate to the players as human beings unless we're all equipped with demeaning nicknames (mine was 'The Fist' LOL), or explanations of particular coaching techniques and gestures. The fact that the show on this particular night was actually performed in the rooms at Carlton added extra vermissilitude.

My one criticism is that it suffered a little because of its structure, which was originally designed so that you'd see part one (the pre-match address) then catch another comedy show at Trades Hall, where it was originally staged before seeing parts two and three. In its present guise, breaking the show's three parts with a trip to the bar was enjoyable, but felt slightly laboured by the final third. Condensing it into two halves may have worked better from an audience member's point of view; though obviously this would have impacted on the nature and content of the show itself. A laugh-out-loud enjoyable night nonetheless.

The Infamous Spraygeltent: Three stars
Season ends tonight at North Melbourne Town Hall

Disclaimer: the views expressed in this review are made in an individual capacity and do do not represent those of the Board of Melbourne Fringe. Just thought I should say that to be on the safe side, given that I'm the Chair and all...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

On seeing 'Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, The Musical'

I'll probably write a considered, analytical review of this show shortly, breaking down the various reasons I disliked it. For the time being, though, here's my non-analytical response: an emotive rant which let me get a few things off my chest...

Now, I've been to a few openings in my time, but never have I seen more money, more people who've had work done, more theatre luvvies and art fags gathered together in the one place than at last night's gala opening of the stage musical incarnation of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert at the Regent Theatre. It was quite astounding. And that was just at the pre-show canapes and champagne soiree.

The after-party was even more remarkable: in my borrowed suit, I felt like an observer or an outsider, like I was visiting an alien world of privilege and position rather than part of what was going on around me. Cerise and I left after about an hour and a half, retreating to more comfortable, less pretentious confines of the Fringe Club, where I had a much more relaxed and enjoyable time.

The amount of money that must have spent on the Priscilla after-party makes me pale: I can't fault the look and feel of the Forum when we walked in, but fuck, how many small theatre companies and arts organisations who actually produce good work might have been funded for a year for the same amount? Lavish, opulent, overstated, extravagent, chose your adjective accordingly.

But let's talk about the show itself, shall we?

Strip away the fabulously over-the-top costumes and the elaborate staging, and you were left with very little. As a show, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is an empty, fascile spectacle; a glorified covers band of a musical which repackages a neutured version of queer culture for the safe consumption of the middle class and Middle Australia. It's a show with no heart: when it tries for emotion it became Disney-manipulative and sacharine; its story relies on caricature and cliche; and the few good jokes added to its threadbare story felt coldly cynical and contrived.

In short, I was offended by its gross stereotypes, its faux-irony, its contempt for regional Australia, its shrill songs, and especially by its lack of anything even vaguely resembling artistic merit or value. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical, I despise you, and everything you stand for.

Other than that, Mrs Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?

Tagged: Eight Random Things

I've been tagged by the lovely alicia sometimes with a new meme, which requires me to tell you eight random things about myself, then tag 8 other bloggers. Accordingly:

  • A self portrait of Vincent Van Gogh painted in 1887, in the form of a postcard I purchased at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, is peering down at me from the top of my clutered desk. When I saw the original, I had just smoked my first joint in over a year, and while gazing into the painter's intense eyes, became quite convinced that, like Vincent, I would end up going mad. Not suprisingly, I almost never smoke pot any more.
  • My flatmate, who no longer maintains his blog, is working in the loungeroom and watching/listening to a live gig by Morrissey on DVD: we just heard 'First of the Gang to Die'.
  • On a related note, I'm both proud and abashed to say that I own a UK first edition of Jack Kerouac's On The Road, published in 1958. It set me back several hundred dollars; were in the American first edition, it would have cost me several thousand dollars.
  • My first boyfriend's name was Tim: we met at the Sarah Sands Hotel, during my serious young goth phase. Around that time I went to the beach with a group of friends, and while they splashed about and cavorted in the sun, I sat under a black umbrella, dressed in black from head to toe, probably labouring under the illusion that I looked fey and outre, as opposed to a bit of a dickhead.
  • In primary school, my favourite colour was green.
  • Our cats, when I was a teenager, were called Marmeduke, Fred and Fluffy-Bum, the latter named after the cat in a children's book by the late, lamented Spike Milligan.
  • I almost never remember my dreams.

Now I tag D-U-P, Yarraville Paul, Born Dancin', Stop the World Mummy I Want To Get Off, Path of Most Resistance, A Wild Young Under-Whimsy, The Melburnian, and Dole Diary.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

More Fringe: Kaleidoscope, Every Film Ever Made, Fully Committed, Intimate Apparel

Other committments have made it hard for me to see as many Fringe shows this year as I've wanted to; not have I seen much outside the Performance category, save for a few pieces here and there. But enough excuses: more reviews!

The delightful performance/installation piece, KALEIDOSCOPE, is an exercise in memory and inspiration; rough around the edges but touching and effective. One or two at a time, the audience are taken through a series of vignettes presented by six different actors, beginning with the hum-drum daily life of Ben, an office worker. After another mundane, mechanical day, Ben arrives home to discover a package from mum, containing an old childhood toy which sparks a personal epiphany.

Thereafter, scene by scene, we play out Ben's memories, becoming Ben, in fact; assisted by actors who play Ben-as-a-child (played by a child actor who passes us a note to read that young Ben has written to his future, grown-up self); Ben's childhood love; a favourite uncle, and so on. A sequence in which we're reminded of the unique perspective of a child's imagination by being taken on a flight of fancy among the clouds (pictured above, photo nicked from festival sponsor The Age) is particularly wonderful; and put me back in touch with that child-like sense of wonder which is all too easily repressed by the rules and rituals of adult life. Simple yet superb.

Kaleidoscope: Three and half stars
North Melbourne Town Hall until Saturday October 13

is an inspired, irreverent and utterly hilarious comedy show that attempts to cover over a century of cinema in 55 minutes. Along the way it takes the piss out of the special effects in The Lord of the Rings, mocks the pretentiousness of The Matrix, lays the boot into Nicole Kidman (a tempting taget if ever there was one) and much, much more. Seemed to run out of steam a little in the last 10 minutes of the show, but overall, wonderfully engaging performances that segue with ease from genre to genre and scene to scene. You don't have to be a film buff to enjoy this show, but those with a love of cinema will take special delight in spotting the barrage of references that come flying at you like Bruce Lee's fists right from the opening titles of this very funny show.

Every Film Ever Made: Three and a half stars
North Melbourne Town Hall until Saturday October 13

FULLY COMMITTED is a one-man show produced and performed by local actor Spencer McLaren which has had great success on Broadway and in the UK. I can sort of see why: it's a frenetic, bland crowd-pleaser that allows its star to showcase their comic timing, their versatility and skill, which McLaren certain does with aplomb over the show's 80-minute run time. It's also, frankly, dramatically boring, with no real narrative and a pissweak denoument.

The 40-odd characters which populate the piece, set in one of New York's most exclusive restaurants, are utterly two-dimensional. Within the first five minutes of the show, my heart sunk and I lowered my expectations to floor-level. I like Spencer, but I don't think this was a good vehicle for him, and while his performance was strong, overall I disliked this show intensely.

Fully Committed: Two stars
The Athenaeum Theatre until Sunday October 14

is a sparklingly savage satire of the arts and artistic pretention, in which 'Kevin' and 'Kevin', washed-up artists who've milked every trend in the performance sector over 30 years, bemoan their fate and consider their (no) future. Opening with a mock-solemn invocation to the stage, in which the artistes become the audience, and vice versa, this show takes no prisoners as it flays erotic cabaret, queer performance art, community theatre and other pretentions to the bone. Like Every Movie Ever Made, you'll get even more out of this show if you've ever worked in the arts sector as either artist or arts administrator, but it's simultaneously accessible to all, as my plus one last night observed after the show. Wicked, witty and wonderfully funny.

Intimate Apparel
: Four stars

Dante's Fitzroy until Sunday October 14

Disclaimer: the views expressed in this review are made in an individual capacity and do do not represent those of the Board of Melbourne Fringe. Just thought I should say that to be on the safe side, given that I'm the Chair and all...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Values, values, values

Love this article in The Age today:

Parents, government split on 'values' for kids

A DRAFT report canvassing the values parents want schools to instil in their children has highlighted "considerable differences" between what parents want and the nine values identified by the Howard Government.

The report, obtained by The Age, says parents are critical of the perceived inconsistencies between the values promoted by the Federal Government in schools — such as compassion, honesty, respect and tolerance — and the conduct of the Government on boat people, the environment, people from the Middle East and Aborigines...

...The findings were based on parent focus groups, held in each state and territory between May and September. All 150 parents who participated had children at non-government schools.

The report — commissioned by the Australian Parents Council, which represents parents of students at non-government schools — was funded as part of the Federal Government's values education program [my emphasis].

Oddly enough I can't find any mention of this story in the Herald Sun online, which is instead prominently flagging this story:

We close door on Africans

THE Howard Government yesterday slammed the door shut on refugees from Africa. Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said that no more Africans would be allowed into Australia under the humanitarian refugee program until at least July next year.

And he said there were no guarantees any Africans would be accepted in the next intake.

Announcing a move critics slammed as simplistic and inhumane [my emphasis], Mr Andrews said the program's quota for Africans had already been filled.

Mr Andrews said Africans, particularly Sudanese, had experienced serious problems settling in Australia.

"They tend to have more problems and challenges associated with them. Their level of education, for example, is a lot lower than for any other group of refugees," he said.

"They've been in war-torn conflict for a decade, many of them. Many are young . . . and many have been in refugee camps for decades.

In other words, classic Howard Government dog-whistle politics: African immigrants don't share our values, they're violent, and they cause trouble. Elsewhere in the Herald Sun today is a charming article quoting another Howard Government MP:

Beware of thirsty peril, warns Heffernen

AUSTRALIA'S north faces a future threat of invasion by Asian refugees who have run out of water because of climate change, outspoken Liberal senator Bill Heffernan has warned.

In a Bulletin article to be published today, Senator Heffernan says that underpopulated northern Australia has to be developed and settled to avoid such a fate.

"Without being alarmist, it would be better for us to do it than letting someone else," he told the magazine. "We're not talking tomorrow, but in 50 to 80 years time. If there are 400 million people who have run out of water -- Bangladesh or Indonesia -- well, you've got to have a plan."

So, scaremongering and covert racism from Coalition MPs instead of... I'm sorry, what were those Australian values the government wanted schools to teach again?

'The Government's nine values for Australian schools are: care and compassion; doing your best; fair go; freedom; honesty and trustworthiness; integrity; respect; responsibility; and understanding, tolerance and inclusion. But according to the report findings, many parents questioned if "doing your best" and "freedom" were values, while "fair go" was dismissed as "wishy-washy jargon" that had been "hijacked for political purposes". And rather than being seen as a value to aspire to, "tolerance" was considered by many respondents as a negative trait better replaced by "acceptance".'

No wonder "parents are critical of the perceived inconsistencies between the values promoted by the Federal Government in schools — such as compassion, honesty, respect and tolerance — and the conduct of the Government on boat people, the environment, people from the Middle East and Aborigines"!!!!!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Bjork @ the BDO

Just received a media release announcing that Bjork will be playing the Big Day Out @ Flemington Racecourse on MOnday January 28 next year, alongside Arcade Fire (woooot!) , Rage Against the Machine (yawn), Billy Bragg (hmm), Paul Kelly, LCD Soundsystem, and UK hip-hop artist Dizzee Rascal (yay!) among others. OMG OMG OMG I am so definitely there.

Tickets on sale Friday October 12.

Like, yay!!!!

Monday, October 01, 2007


Sunday night I saw another two shows at the festival, which strikes me as just the right number of events to see in a row...

First up was Cinderella Sucks which I regret to say, I didn't really enjoy. There were some moments of sweet simplicity in this story told by a young mum and dad and four of their five young children, but there was also an earnest awkwardness and lack of subtlety that I found grating, such as repetitious dance routines which over-emphasised the tensions which arise between mothers and their teenage daughters.

On the plus side, a monologue by the dad in which he talked frankly and touchingly about his love for his wife was lovely; as was another scene in which one of the kids talked about ways of controlling your children (bribes seem particularly effective, it would appear).

Essentially a reflection on the family's own lives, the saving grace of Cinderella Sux for me was that it only ran for half an hour. Given that the family's fifth child was sitting in the audience and crying for most of the show (Because he wasn't in it? Because he hated being dragged along to see it night after night? I don't know) that was an especial relief.

In fairness, this is a very amateur production, and so perhaps I'm being a little harsh in judging it by the same standards I'd apply to a more professional company. I'm sure the family are striving for artistic excellence, which is something I applaud, together with their desire for creativity and self-expression. I just wish they'd had more access to dramaturgical support prior to opening...

Cinderella Sux: Two stars
Festival Hub until October 14

Next up was an unexpected delight in the claustrophobic confines upstairs at the Town Hall Hotel, the deliciously dark I've Written a Letter to Daddy (pictured right).

Perhaps best described as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane meets The Sullivans, this marvellously macabre show about a wheelchair -bound woman and her seemingly hen-picked sister features superb singing, gender-blind casting, deft characterisations, an evocative live score, and a simple but striking set design.

As the 45-minute show unfolds, the audience - who are seated in close proximity to the performers, and offered lemonade and hor d'oeuvres by them - slowly realise just how deep the tensions run between them, and the reasons why. Deliciously dark, unsettling and enjoyable show - my clear highlight to date.

I've Written a Letter to Daddy: Four stars
Town Hall Hotel until Sunday October 7

Afterwards I retired to the festival club, drank wine, and laughed uproariously at character-based comedy until the wee hours. Monday started slowly as a consequence...

Disclaimer: the views expressed in this review are made in an individual capacity and do do not represent those of the Board of Melbourne Fringe. Just thought I should say that to be on the safe side, given that I'm the Chair and all...