Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ha ha arrrrrgh

This comedy is killing me, I tell you.

JASON BYRNE - Jason Byrne Cycled Here
At last year's Melbourne International Comedy Festival I walked out of Jason Byrne's show about three qaurters of the way through, bored and annoyed by his constant belittling of his audience. Back then I wrote that "his main strength lies in interacting with and occasionally humiliating his audience rather than in especially innovative comedy". It's a comment I stand by, although this year his shtick seemed less venomous - more laughing with than at. With some fairly simple material - best summed up as 'oh you Aussies and your whacky slang' - fused with audience interaction taken to a extreme (ie dragging a guy on stage and turning him into a ventriloquist's dummy) and some anecdotal comedy about moving to the country that came out of nowhere, this is an uneven but sporadically enjoyable show that entertains, but which by no means evolves, enhances or advances the stand-up form.
Three occasionally amused giggles out of five.

MARK WATSON - Can I Briefly Talk to You About the Point of Life?

Well, no, actually - not if you're going to be as inspid as you were tonight, Mark. You're a nice enough guy, but there was nothing of any substance in your show that endeared you to me or made you stand out from the crowd. If I want nice, there's Adam Hills. If I want observational comedy about strange things that happen on public transport, there's my own life. Quite frankly, I was often bored, and only occasionally engaged - and in all honesty, that was mostly because of your accent.
Two and a half middling chuckles out of five.

Laughing my way through the weekend

Yes, more reviews from the 2008 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and no, I don't seem to be having much of a life outside the festival at the moment, thank you for asking...

NINA CONTI - Complete and Utter Conti
Now this was an unexpected pleasure - walking into a show by a UK performer I knew absolutely nothing about - I had no idea if she was going to do standup, character-based comedy or what. What I got was a raunchy, wry and post-structuralist take on ventriloquism from a highly adept UK comedian. Her partner in crime, Monkey, is a foul-mouthed monkey who complained constantly about Conti having her hand up his bum. A remarkably poignant moment came with Conti taking on the persona of her grandfather, who produced his dead wife out of a box and sat sadly talking to her, holding her hand, for a short sketch that I would have liked to see go on for much longer. The end of the show was wickedly unexpected, and a nice inversion of what had come before. Highly recommended.
Three and a half roars of laughter out of five.

A gentley entertaining show from a WA native exploring childhood fables and perspectives, Enid Blyton, parental fates and foibles, and the quest to live happily ever after. Hooper is sweet, and her charm is undeniable, but the show itself seemed lacking in substance, resulting in the production overall feeling a little lightweight and forgettable.
Three soft chuckles out of five.

MATTHEW KENNEALLY'S Ill Thought Through Plan for the World
Melbourne's Matt Kenneally has produced one of the strongest shows I've seen in the festival to date: a wry, witty romp through politics and contemporary life, from feminism to Facebook, religion to environmentalism. Instead of ranting or lecturing, Kenneally mocks and mugs his way through a very tight show that never dragged. Definitely the gig at which I've laughed the most out of all the 24 shows I've now seen to date.
Four constant belly laughs out of five.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The laughs continue

Having seen two previews of this show, I was very much looking forward to it, and it didn't disappoint. That said, don't go in expecting unbridled, constant hilarity. This is a show with considerable quiet moments, and lots of build up, but the sight gags, when they come, are uniformly strong. It's also a show that's heavily dependent on its audience - if you don't throw yourself into it 100% you won't get a lot out of it. Kiwi performer Sam Wills is an enigmatic, deranged presence, at whose urgings audience members help create musical mayhem and surreal, expressionistic mime. A word of caution though - if you don't like shows where performers pick on the audience - albeit, in this instance, in a good-natured and collaborative way - this is not the show for you.
Three and half quizzical hoots of mirth out of five.

ROD QUANTOCK - 2050 AD The Musical

In his usual endearing, slightly flustered way, national comic treasure Rod Quantock presents an arry of information about how our current lifestyles are killing the future: oil shortages, water shortages, and what they mean for the coming decades. Some chaotic use of IT equipment - cameras, graphs and websites - rather than his usual whiteboards and butcher's paper displays - appropriately in keeping with the theme of his show, which is futurism - often as seen from the past, ie outmoded views of how we'd live as seen from 1948 - sadly, we're still waiting for those personal jetpacks we were promised... A slightly depressing yet delightful show that provoked regular laughs and constant grins.
Three slightly nervous laughs out of five.

There's much less music than I've come to expect from Ms Quinn and a lot more stand-up in her new show, which is essentially an exploration of gaffes and blunders, from asking random old people to be a grandparent, to reading 19th century literature aloud on the tram. Some excellent stories and strong delivery, but just a bit too much bogan-bashing for my tastes.
Three chuckles out of five.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

And yet more Comedy Festival reviews

WIL HODGSON - Straight Out of Chippenham
He may be a walking conundrum - the ex-wrestler and punk rock enthusiast who collects My Little Ponies - but pink-haired Wil Hodgson also needs to engage with his audience much more if his stand-up routine about small-town racists and chubby-chasing is to really work for a festival audience. His material - especially his attacks on white power band Skrewdriver and the total lack of sex appeal in the emaciated, sillicone-enhanced women held up as sex symbols by lads' magazines - are engaging, effective and entertaining, but his distance made the whole exercise feel like Hodgson was going through the motions rather than actually having a good time, which translated into me not having a good time either.
Three occasional guffaws out of five.

GLENN WOOL - Promises, Promises
This Canadian stand-up performer's show got off to a great start, with a very funny moustache montage; and his material about snorting cocaine and mocking Alcoholics Anonymous was sharp, crude and good fun. But when he started making borderline gay jokes, bitching about his ex-wife, and finally telling a routine about being born with a vagina and kicking himself in the cunt, I lost all interest. Misogyny is not, and never has been funny.
Two and a half early laughs that faded to a stony-faced silence.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

More, more comedy!

Another three shows at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival tonight, including the worst show I've seen so far...

Sharp, edgy, passionate, intelligent and cute - what's not to like about this US-born Irish resident (pictured)? His material touched on everything from having testicular cancer and giving up drinking, to why he things the Catholic church has no right to talk about how 'unnatural' gay people are when priests are A) celibate - not very natural at all, and B) kiddie-fiddlers - not all of them, but certainly some of those who taught at the school he was sent to from New York aged 14. Straight-forward stand-up isn't usually my thing, but this guy won me over in the first 10 minutes of his act. Not a god of comedy by any means, and he could do with a touch more light and shade in terms of his delivery perhaps, but definitely a winner in my books. And did I mention that he was cute?
Three solid belly-laughs out of five.

THE DELUSIONISTS in Everything That Ever Happened, Ever
About 10 minutes into this trite, undergraduate sketch comedy show, I so wanted to walk out, but couldn't, as I was trapped in the middle of a tightly packed row of punters. Highly dubious sexual politics that shone the spotlight squarely on the male cast and reduced the female performers to bit parts and 'straight men'. Borderline homophobia that was manifested in a series of jokes about inserting musical instruments or other objects into men's arseholes. Dull, cliched and unimaginative gags: Ned Kelly's helmet as a mailbox for instance - gosh, haven't heard that one before! Definitely a show to be avoided.
One and a half desperate titters out of five.

KATE MCLENNAN in The Enthusiasts
Character comedy that alternates between the wry, the delightful, the dark and the poignant. Barry Award-nominee McLennan presents a show about a collection of passionate, indeed obsessive individuals, including a self-help instructor, a sleaze-bag, an adult Wiggles fan, a teenage Justin Timerlake devotee, and a bright little girl who loves reading. If you saw McLennan's The Debutante Diaries last year you know what you're in for; but while it is more of the same, it's also tightly written, well-performed and preented with a masterful eye for convincing and subtle detail. There's one character that's less strong than the others, which results in the show dragging a little in places, but overall the structure, and McLennan's innate ability, ensures that The Enthusiasts is another winner.
Three cackles of delighted laughter out of five.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Even more Comedy Festival 2008 reviews

SAMMY J in The Forest of Dreams
In which Sammy J falls (well, crawls) through a mysterious portal and finds himself on a quest in an enchanted forest, the inhabitants of which are brought to life via the talented puppetry of Heath McIvor. A droll and clever show that deftly blends stand-up, songs and puppetry; and which contains some absolutely superb and left-field moments of visual humour and marvellous characterisation. Sadly, its greatest flaw is that it peaks way too early, ie about the 15-minute mark, after which you can palpably feel the energy trickling out of the show and the audience alike. Nonetheless, definitely work a look if you'd like to see something fresh and well removed from your traditional stand-up.
Three and a half hoots of mirth out of five.

The first solo show for sad-faced clown Frank Woodley is a remarkably ambitious and largely successful production. The plot sees him playing a painfully shy young man hiding from the world in his basement apartment, where he spends his time making model ships; but when he becomes possessed by the ghost of a dead Irishwoman, his life and worldview begin to change. The audacious set allows Woodley to display his physical skills to their best advantage, and the sound, lighting and video projection are excellent. There are some awkward jumps in the narrative that had me having a few 'huh?' moments, and Woodley isn't always convincing as a man possessed by a female spirit; but such flaws aside this was an extremely likeable production, with some inspired asides to the audience which blur the line between rehearsed gag and improvisation.
Three and a half delighted chuckles out of five.

ANTTI HAKALA - Arctic Comedy
Peel away the engagingly awkward delivery and the accent, and fledgling Finnish comedian Antti Hakala isn't, alas, especially funny. There's some good material in his show, but not enough for 45 minutes worth, which results in his observational approach to life as a "human labrador" (cute, soft blonde hair) falling a bit flat, really. Kudos to him for trying, though.
Two sporadic laughs out of five.

DANIEL KITSON in The Impotent Fury of the Privileged
Kitson is, without doubt, one of the the most accomplished and intelligent people working in the comedy field today. That said, The Impotent Fury of the Privileged is not in the same league as his Barry Award-winning show of last year. It's less tightly structured, and while still fill of quips and clever wordplay, the balance between storytelling and lecturing is slightly out of whack. Even so, it's always a pleasure to see Kitson's analytical mind at play, to hear his articulate analysis of contemporary life, and to have him implore us to just look out for each other a little more. Oh yeah, and someone tried to shoot him the night I saw his show...
Three and a half awed guffaws out of five.

Amelia Jane Hunter & Hannah Gadsby in MEAT THE MUSICAL
Crazed comedic cannibalism, Batman! Two excellent solo performers have combined forces for this deranged and delightful show about twin sisters - the lugubrious psychopath, Kaye (Gadsby) and the dim-witted but cheerful Berverly (Hunter) - seeking to win back their late father's crown of Sausage King for their family butcher shop, Mountains of Meat. Cue bloodstains, disappearing health inspectors, musicals, sibling tension and the sleaziest policeman I've ever seen portrayed in any medium, and you have a recipe for a darkly comic evening's entertainment that is refreshingly unlike any of the 14 shows I've seen in the festival so far. The energy isn't always sustained for the show's duration, so there are a couple of flat spots, but overall, this is another show I'd definitely recommend you see.
Three and half peals of delighted laughter out of five.

Let me make it easy for you (or, Richard summarises his festival highlights so far so you don't have to scroll too far down that page):

Andrew McClelland's Guide to Being a Modern Gentleman
Every Film Ever Made

Allsop & Henderson's The Jinglists
Frank Woodley - Possessed

Sammy J in the Forest of Dreams
Meat the Musical

Counsellor Cat...

Humorous Pictures
see more crazy cat pics

Sunday, March 23, 2008

More Comedy Festival reviews

The 2008 Melbourne International Comedy Festival continues apace. I shall probably die at the end of it. Or collapse of liver failure. Or something.

SHANE WARNE THE MUSICAL - a work in progress
Eddie Perfect's musical tribute to the boofhead bad-boy of Australian cricket is having five run-throughs at the Comedy Festival. Judging from what I saw on Friday, it needs them. The show's too long, and its narrative needs work, especially in the second act. It doesn't seem to have a real ending, and unless you're a cricket tragic, there's a lot to slog through before you get to the SMS and diet pill scandals ,which I suspect are what most people will be waiting for - I'd suggest opening with a taste of the doom that is to come, then present the first act in flashback, in order to get around that. Nor was I all that impressed with the songs to be honest: too long and not catchy enough. On the positive side, Perfect is a charismatic performer, matched with a strong cast - particularly the woman who plays Simone, his long-suffering wife - her second-act torchsong suddenly revealed an all-too-human heart beating beneath the show's satirical epidermis. It will be interesting to see how much the show is altered after this development process is completed...
Two occasional chuckles out of five.

The Hound of the Baskervilles in Every Film Ever Made
Fast-paced and very funny, this show manages to both satirise and celebrate cinema in a way that provokes hoots of laughter, thanks to its three irreverent and charismatic performers and their obvious love for the films that they're acting out. Simple props, great banter and deft physicality ensure a rib-tickling time for hardcore film buffs and popcorn-lovers both, although some obvious ad-libbing occasionally detracted from the show's tight pacing. Definitely one to catch; especially if you missed it in Fringe last year.
Three and a half hearty guffaws out of five

Asher Treleaven - Cellar Door
In which some truly awful literature is mocked for the public's edification and amusement by a charismatic performer with an endearingly floppy fringe and a droll, dramatic delivery. The only problem is, we already know this stuff is bad; we don't really need Treleaven to further skewer it for us. A solid performer, but it felt a bit like he wasn't really challenging himself with this particular show...
Three snickers out of five.

Anthony Menchetti in Gay Conversion School Drop Out Volume 2
A stand-up show about what happens when you put a group of sexually frustrated gay men in a room together in an attempt to try and 'cure' them of their same-sex attraction. Menchetti is a solid, engaging performer, and many of his stories are genuinely funny. Unfortunately the show seems almost over-produced, with too many props and gimmicks cluttering the stage and slowing down the pacing, requiring Menchetti having to strain in order to achieve the tempo he's aiming for.
Three knowing chuckles out of five.

Allsop & Henderson's The Jinglists
This talented pair of performers were last seen in the delightfully deranged sketch-comedy, A Porthole into the Minds of the Vanquished at the 2006 festival. In this new theatre piece, they give us a glimpse instead into the heads of two agrophobic jingle-writers, trapped inside their small apartment together and acting very strangely indeed. Characterisations are superb, as is timing, set design and musical interludes. Sadly the show's ending felt somewhat anti-climactic, but I'd still recommend this show highly if you like your comedy lunatic, emotive and sweetly grotesque.
Three and a half bouts of manic hilarity out of five.

Comedy Festival 2008 - the first reviews...

Another week, another festival. I haven't even had time to finish detailing some of the films I saw and/or previewed at the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and already the 2008 Melbourne International Comedy Festival is underway. Eeek! Oh well, on with the (somewhat hasty) reviews...

The first real night of the festival, not counting last night's comedy gala, and only a handful of people came to see Sydney comedian Townes in his show at the Portland Hotel. I caught the guy last year and enjoyed him, in a lacksidasical way. Less impressed this year. He has this whole laconic bogan schtick thing happening, which is sporadically funny, but I saw little progression or evolution in his material since 2007. Endearing, but the ultimate impression was that he was lazy. Nonetheless, an intelligent guy who can and should do better if he can be inspired to lift his game.
Two and half ocasional chuckles out of five.

ANDREA POWELL in Gobbeldygook
Part of the Comedy@Trades program at Carlton's Trades Hall, comedian Andrea Powell presents a range of new characters in her latest show; only one of which - a delightfully wrong junkie hippie - has strutted the boards before. The rest of them are new, although the opening character, a wonderfully bitter yoga instruction, seems to have grown out of Powell's 2007 show at Town Hall. Not all of the characters are strong enough to warrant inclusion, particularly a video store clerk, who is the most passive character on show, interacting with an imaginary customer on the phone rather than with the audience, but there are some wicked laughs to be had here if you don't sit in the front two rows...
Three gasps of recognition and wicked cackles out of five.

ANDREW MCCLELLAND'S Guide to Being a Modern Gentleman
Or, Diverse and Entertaining Facts about Dandies, Debonair Role Models, Eccentric Uncles and the Importance of Manners and Style, delivered with chortles, reverb and flair.
The strongest show McClelland has done since he taught us all about pirates several years ago. Richly delivered, well timed, with just the right amount of gentle self-mockery, and of course, cravats and a handy flip-book. Definitely recommended.
Three and a half chortles which set off one's gout out of five.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Review: Holding the Man

Holding the Man, which actor-turned-playwright Timothy Conigrave completed only a few short weeks before he died of an AIDS-related illness, is a frank and heartfelt memoir about his 15-year-long relationship with John Caleo.

In 1976, as high school students at Xavier College, the pair fell in love, and started their lives together. In 1985 they were both diagnosed HIV positive. John died on Australia Day, 1992, with Tim by his side. He followed his lover to the grave two years later.

Written in decptively simple yet detailed prose, Holding the Man details the highs and lows of the turbulent, passionate relationship between these two men. Conigrave pulls no punches, describing his numerous infidelities with the same unflinching eye for detail as he devotes to growing up in 1970s suburban Melbourne, and the terrible impact of AIDS as it ravages both his body and John's. It's an incredibly tender book; a testament to John and Tim's love; and an incredibly painful book, which has reduced so many of its readers to helpless, wracking sobs.

The stage adaptation of Holding the Man by playwright Tommy Murphy, which opened at the Malthouse on Wednesday night, perfectly encapsulates the story Tim and John's love. It is a remarkable dramatic work, and the single most captivating and emotionally devestating theatrical production I have ever witnessed.

As with the book, the play is told from Tim's point of view - often directly, in droll asides to the audience by Guy Edmonds, who is utterly convincing in his role as Tim Conigrave. The first act opens with a young Tim witnessing the landing of Apollo 11 and Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon, then launches into a series of quickly-sketched vignettes which collapse years into a succession of key scenes from Tim's life.

The focus, naturally, is on Tim's relationship with the laconic John Caleo (a wonderfully subdued and understated Matt Zeremes). Thus we see a teenage Tim mooning over this boy he hardly knows, followed by a comical flirtation which is aided and abetted by a pencil case; and at last, their first kiss, played out in a way which perfectly captures the scene as Conigrave describes it in the book:
"I turned to face him. He shut his eyes and pursed his lips. Everything was in slow motion as I pressed my mouth against his. His gentle warm lips filled my head. I body disolved, and I was only lips, pressed against the flesh of his. I could have stayed there for the rest of my life..."
The chemistry between Edmonds and Zeremes is remarkable, and utterly convincing, whether early in the play, when the boy's love is fresh and innocent, or later, when Tim's infidelities and out of control libido threaten to once more drive the pair apart.

Less convincing are the many minor characters which come (or cum, as in one especially comic high school scene) and go throughout the many short scenes of which the play is comprised.

The supporting actors, Jeanette Cronin, Nicholas Eadie, Eve Morey and Brett Stiller, are subject to numerous rapid costume changes in order to play a range of characters including school friends (Stiller is especially memorable as Tim's daggy mate, Biscuit), the boys' parents (Cronin and Eadie double up, playing both Tim's and John's mum and dad), actors, doctors, AIDS patients and more. Many of them are played strictly for laughs, as broad caricatures whose purpose is to be instantly identifiable and just as quickly forgotten due to the play's manic pace. That said, they are also played well, signalling key people or moments in Conigrave's all-too-short life.

As the second act unfolds, the need for such a heavy emphasis on humour becomes apparent; it's a much-need balance for the tragic scenes to come.

As John's once strong and healthy body is wracked by illness, the mood of the play darkens, and while there are still opportunities for laughs - usually as a result of Conigrave's wit and unfortunate habit of speaking his mind without due thought for the consequences - more often I began to hear muffled sobs emanating from the audience around me. Often the sobs were mine; tears freely coursed down my cheeks for much of the second half of the play, and by the time of its heart-breaking final scenes, I was bawling my eyes out.

Director David Bertold has ensured that Edmonds and Zeremes never overplay their roles; the pair bring a quiet dignity to their every scene; a fitting balance to the broad comedy sometimes played out around them. Brian Thompson's minimal and versatile set, which we first see covered in dust sheets, a condition to which it ultimately returns, is a perfect counterpoint to the dramas played out on stage; and Micka Agosta's costume designs, like the lights and sound, never draw attention to themselves, instead modestly and effectively highlighting the passage of time over the 15 years of the story.

Of particular note is the sporadic use of puppetry, which is utilised in the opening scene of the lunar landing, and is at its most effective when presenting the ravages of AIDS on the human body. Another memorable scene involves a grotesque yet tender dance between Tim and a dying John, in which Tim is supporting his lover, yet also a puppetmaster, pulling John's strings. It's an ambiguous and powerful scene, and like the production overall, fittingly theatrical, given that Tim Conigrave was, at heart a theatre-maker and practicioner.

Despite the regular presence of humour, Holding the Man is not an easy play to watch. By the time of Guy Edmond's final, heartbreaking monologue, I, like those around me, was reduced to wracking sobs. Some will find its sexual frankness confronting. Others might wish its narrative was less cluttered, its pace less rushed. I myself have no such qualms. Holding the Man is a magnificent, moving piece of theatre; a superb realisation of a great Australian love story; and a more than fitting tribute to the late Timothy Conigrave and the great love of his life, John Caleo. If you only see one piece of theatre this year, I implore you, see this show.

Holding the Man at the CUB Malthouse Theatre until April 19. An MTC presentation of a production by the Griffin Theatre Company.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

INTERVIEW: Holding the Man

Enduring love

Richard Watts talks with actors Matt Zeremes and Guy Edmonds, the stars of Holding the Man.

Since its original publication in 1995, Tim Conigrave’s powerful and passionate memoir of love and loss in the first years of the AIDS crisis, Holding the Man, has engaged tens of thousands of readers worldwide.

It’s also moved almost all of them to tears.

The book, which Conigrave completed shortly before he died, tells the story of Tim’s enduring love for his partner, John Caleo; from their first, nervous meeting at Melbourne’s Xavier College, through to John’s untimely death from an AIDS-related illness at Fairfield Hospital. As a story it is by turns comical, remarkable and deeply – at times painfully - affecting.

In November 2006, a stage production of Holding the Man, adapted by Tommy Murphy and directed by David Berhold, was premiered by Sydney’s Griffin Theatre Company; the very same company with which Conigrave devised his own, critically acclaimed play about the impact of AIDS, Soft Targets, in 1986.

Holding the Man went on to become Griffin’s most successful ever production in the company’s history to date.

Now, thanks to the Melbourne Theatre Company, local audiences will finally have a chance to see this critically acclaimed production, with Holding the Man having its opening night at Southbank’s CUB Malthouse Theatre tonight.

Guy Edmonds, who plays the character of Tim Conigrave, says he realised what an incredible play this was the moment he first read it.

“I wouldn’t have said we would be doing six seasons down the track … but I knew it was something special; something that resonated with people,” Edmonds says.

“It was like nothing I’d read out of Australia for a long while. When we got into rehearsals great things were happening, and I thought ‘fuck, this is going to be alright’; but the clincher was opening night. Tim’s family came, and all the invited guests and everyone got it.”

Matt Zeremes, who plays Tim’s lover, John Caleo, believes that one of the reasons for the play’s success is the way it so clearly demonstrates Caleo’s love for his partner.

“I love the character of John. He’s a real joy to play. That completely committed love he has for Tim; I think that that’s a really great quality,” he says.

Anyone who has read Holding the Man will also recognise the love Conigrave had for Caleo; it infuses the memoir’s every page, but Conigrave himself was not so easy to love, Edmonds explains.

“Tim lived on impulse,” he says. “If he felt something, he acted on it; and he was always honest about how he felt, whether it was going to affect someone negatively or positively. I portray him honestly, like that. When he’s being nasty, he’s being nasty; when he’s loving John, he’s loving John. It was a bit tricky for me, because as Guy, I’m not that sort of person; so it took a while for me to understand that. But you understand him, and you empathise with him as well.”

Both actors say they were conscious, when first approaching the play, that they were playing real people, not fictional characters.

“I felt that there was more weight on my shoulders than in playing a fictional character, especially when I heard that members of Tim’s family would be coming to see the show,” Zeremes says, adding that the weight of expectation has also spurred him on to give the best performance he possibly can.

“I did and still do want to do a really good job with it; and that’s also because I believe that the story is so beautiful. I want to give it 100% every night, which an actor should always do, but with this story in particular there’s that determination to want to do a really good job.”

For Edmonds, the opportunity to research his character was one of the things that has helped him bring Tim Conigrave to life.

“Tommy had done a lot of research himself, and dug up a lot of things from Tim’s days at NIDA (the National Institute of Dramatic Arts), videos from productions for example, and some old video footage of him and John at a birthday party. So I listened and watched as much of his life as I can, but I didn’t want to get bogged down in mimicking Tim Conigrave.”

“At the end of the day, as a play he’s still a character; and though he was a real person and there’s a wealth of research there, both Matt and I didn’t want to get bogged down in getting the mannerisms. We wanted to take it beyond the real and turn it into something bigger.”

In the United States, actors who play gay characters are often praised for their ‘bravery’ in taking on such roles. Zeremes has no patience for such attitudes.

“Some people ask, ‘You have to kiss a guy on stage; is that hard?’ which I think is a silly question,” he scoffs. “I don’t think it’s brave. That’s casting pretty negative aspersions on the gay world. That’s creating divisions, and there shouldn’t be divisions between any of us.”

The Melbourne Theatre Company presents the Victorian premiere of the Griffin Theatre Company’s Holding the Man at the Merlyn Theatre, The CUB Malthouse, March 14 – April 19.

Vale Arthur C Clarke

Science fiction author and visionary Arthur C Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey and countless other works, died this morning in a Sri Lankan hospital, aged 90. He was one of the gods of speculative fiction, and he will be sorely missed.

I first encountered his work through 2001, the film, which I saw as I wide-eyed eight year old. I didn't understand it, but I loved the cavemen prologue, fell asleep during the middle of the film, and woke up just in time to meet the Star Child. I was hooked.

In high school my favourite work of Clarke's was the short story collection, Tales from the White Hart. Today I'd be hard-pressed to name a favourite, as I haven't read his work for some years; a situation I intend to rectify as soon as possible; but I think I shall perhaps remember Clarke best for his 'Three Laws', which display his characteristic dry humour and his vision in equal measure:

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

I wonder what his dying words were? Perhaps he said nothing, but slipped into a quiet, peaceful death. But maybe, just maybe, he said, "My god. It's full of stars."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Feeling down? You need a dancing walrus!

No, really. It's a walrus. It dances. What more do you need to rid yourself of those workaday blues?

Happily stolen from the lovely Tim Norton. Thanks Tim!

From the sublime to the ... sublime

On Sunday night I was imersed, amazed and blown away by the MQFF closing night film, XXY, an haunting, magnificent Argentinian intersex feature that said so much by saying so little.

Tonight I saw one of my favourite bands in the world, Múm, from Iceland, in the company of my very dear friend Lisa, who joined me at the last minute for what proved to be a rapturous, transcendent experience.

And last week I saw an awesome precursor to Comedy@Trades, personified by The Boy With Tape On His Face.

Details on all shortly. But for now, I am happy. So very, very happy. I expect to have pleasant dreams tonight. I wish them for you, also, whoever and wherever you are.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


The annual Australian Shorts showcase is always one of the highlights of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, but also - like any anthology - a very mixed bag. The most slapdash productions are winnowed out: the least appalling of which are then screened in the 'Celluloid Casserole' session, which I've never attended (I sat on the MQFF programming committee for seven years; I know just how dire some of those films can be...).

Despite this selection process, however, the quality of the Oz Shorts can still sometimes leave a little to be desired. But enough preamble - on with the show!

LOOK SHARP (Dir: Amy Gebhardt, Australia, 2006, 35mm, 9min)
This tautly made, simple film is shot in a single room and features three actors. They play an older female photographer, and two of her young male students (ostensibly sharpies, although their haircuts are wrong) with whom she is sleeping. The queer focus of the film is the sexual rivalry/tension between the two young men.

While crisply lensed, the film is let down by unconvincing acting from the guys; and more critically, by its over-reliance on the story of Australian photographer Carol Jerrems, as told in the documentary Girl in the Mirror. Essentially this is a fictionalised account of Jerrems' life, and consequently looses points from me for failing to acknowledge that fact.

FILLED WITH WATER (Dir: Elka Kerkhofs, Australia, 2006, video, 5min)
An animation about a woman whose life is transformed by a kiss. The story was slight, but the animation technique and aesthetic was intriguing, and the soundtrack strong.

THE MANUAL (Dir: Sarah Spillane, Australia, 2006, video, 15min)
A young man is sent away for therapy when it's discovered he is queer. Upon his return home 20 years later, he discovers little has changed. A confused attack on psychiatry and the use of aversion therapy to 'cure' homosexuality; well shot, impressively cast and well intentioned, but visually cliched.

SNAP (Dir: Georgia Versluys, Australia, 2007, 16mm, 11min)
Petra’s life is turned upside down when a chance meeting leads her to consider denying her true feelings. Reliance on visual narrative is only good when it avoids cliche. The plot of this film felt contrived and strained. A short about imagination and passion which shows little of either.

LOVE BITE (Dir: Craig Boreham, Australia, 2008, video, 3min)
This tangential play on the coming out story sees Noah confessing that he wants to be more than just friends with Gus. The two boys are sharing after-school cones when the munchies kick in. The results are... bloody surprising... at least they should be. Nice concept but under performed in the acting stakes. Editing and cinematography also leave a little to be desired.

Dir: Tim Slade, Australia, 2007, video, 16min)
In which a hand on the back says all about love and the pain of seperation that needs to be said. While bordering on melodramatic, strong performances and deft direction ensure that this short, emotive feature about two seperated gay dads and their attempts to vye for their daughter's affection and maintain some semblance of a relationship is rich, rewarding and moving. The only Oz Short I had an emotional response to - I was wiping away tears by its end...

MY LAST TEN HOURS WITH YOU (Dir: Sophie Hyde, Australia, 2007, video, 15min)
Jeremy is leaving; heqading overseas. Mark is staying. Over ten hours on a hot summer night, the fears and frustrations of their relationship is played out. But really, who cares? Beautiful production values but a dull, dry and tedious film that left me utterly unmoved. Oddly enough it won the City of Melbourne Emerging Film Makers Award for best Oz Short, so what would I know?

MIRROR, MIRROR (Dir: John Winter, Australia, 2007, video, 11min)
An aging man bids farewell to his drag identity as he sits at the mirror and throws her makeup and paste jewels away. This could have been superb: an exploration of identity, aging, personal expectations of what it means to be beautiful versus society's views. It wasn't. It felt like the film-maker took the easy way out, going for cheap laughs instead of something more meaningful and memorable. Next, please.

ROPE BURN (Dir: Melvin Montalbin, Australia, 2008, video, 8min)
A love triangle plays out between two women aerialists and their anchor-woman. If you want sexy, smouldering, erotic circus acts with a lesbian twist, skip this earnest film and watch When Night Is Falling, instead.

MQFF reviews: Shelter

Written and directed by Jonah Markowitz under the auspices of the new movie production arm of US gay cable network, Here!, Shelter (USA, 2007) is a simple yet effective story about love, family and responsibility.

It's this year's 'gay surfie' movie, following on the heels of last year's Tan Lines, which was shot in Australia by young UK director Ed Aldridge. Tan Lines was really more an exploration of small-town life, and a flawed but fascinating exploration of the Australian Gothic, than it was a surf movie; whereas in Shelter, sand and surf are far more central to the action.

When he’s not babysitting his nephew, five-year old Cody (Jackson Wurth), for his good-for-nothing sister, Jeanne (Tina Holmes), would-be artist Zach (Trevor Wright) spends his time surfing and spray-painting walls around his Californian coastal home. Already unhappy, the return of Shaun (Brad Rowe), the gay older brother of his closest friend, Gabe (Ross Thomas), unsettles Zach’s already turbulent world.

At its heart, Shelter is a gentle film about love, trust, and creating your own families. Its mawkish plot about coming out and following your heart is compensated for by the tender chemistry between the film’s two male leads, although wooden acting, expository dialogue, and awkward sex scenes are further detractions I could have lived without.

In addition, the film's editing was poor; as was the pairing of music with certain key scenes - a surfing scene and a sex scene, to name two key examples - while the cinematography is rather routine.

Perhaps the greatest flaw of Shelter is that it fails to give us a sense of the characters' internal lives. Zach is an artist, but we only ever see him in longshot or extreme close up as he creates his work; there's no believeability to such scenes, no sense of the act of creation; nor the sense of inspiration that, in theory at least, motivates him.

Likewise, Shaun is supposedly a writer, a role which is quickly established via awkward dialogue but again never fleshed out. Nonetheless, the tenderness that is expressed between Zach and Shaun gives a real sense of the pair's burgeoning romance, and lifts the film enough beyond the ordinary that I was prepared - just - to forgive its flaws.

Two and a half stars out of five

MQFF reviews: Breakfast with Scot

Good grief, where has the last week gone? It seems like only a day or two ago I was stepping out for the opening night of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival (MQFF), and now it's already the final day of the festival, with closing night festivities tonight.

And instead of visiting the festival almost daily, I've barely seen anything this year; a shocking turn of events caused by a combination of going away to Golden Plains last weekend, and being stupidly busy at work the week just gone. That said, I have managed to watch preview copies of quite a few of the films on offer at the festival this year. Here are my impressions of what I've seen so far...

Breakfast with Scot (Candada, 2007) was the opening night feature at this year's MQFF, and sadly, a return to the poor form of most of the festival's opening nights, which tend to feature a light, feel-good movie rather than a good movie. It didn't help this year that the expected 35mm print of the feature didn't arrive, meaning that a digital beta copy had to be screened instead; a situation which hardly took advantage of the Astor Theatre's sizeable screen.

Based on the novel by Michael Downing, and directed by Laurie Lynd from a screenplay by Sean Reycraft, Breakfast with Scot is a slight, trite story of rainbow families, acceptance and understanding.

Tom Cavanagh (best known as the title character of the TV series Ed) is Eric McNally, a retired pro hockey player turned closeted TV sports commentator. Tom lives with his lawyer partner, Sam (Ben Shenkman), who unexpectedly becomes the legal guardian of his brother’s flamboyant young stepson, Scot (Noah Bernett), a primary school kid with a fondness for make-up, feather boas and kissing boys. Not surprisingly, Scot's arrival throws the men’s lives into disarray. Cue Tom's mistaken efforts to butch the kid up a little, a ploy which risks breaking Scot's spirit, and which leads to the film's main message: individuality is a good thing. Duh. It's a hackneyed message delivered with all the subtlety of a kick in the balls.Worse, in the film's final act, Scot's no-good dad, Billy, appears on the scene, prompting a predictable, cloying ending.

Performances - save for young Noah Bernett - were stiff and forced, while characterisation of the gay male leads was severly lacking. We get that Tom is uptight and closeted, but their relationship as portrayed in this film was the most loveless, un-physical pairing I've seen portrayed on screen in a hell of a long time.

Aiming for endearing, too often, Breakfast with Scot was simply trying. Its comedic elements were unfunny, its emotional elements blunted, and its blandly commercial approach to storytelling has resulted in a film lacking zest, wit or originality. Yawn. Next?

Two stars out of five

Thursday, March 13, 2008

No more Community Cup?

This news just in via a media release from St Kilda Sacred Heart Mission:

Thursday 13 March 2008

For immediate release

Sacred Heart Mission’s Community Cup comes to an end

After 14 years, the Sacred Heart Mission has decided to no longer hold its annual Community Cup.

In recent years, an increased number of people have been attending the event and the amount of infrastructure and logistics required to support the Cup have increased dramatically. This has meant the costs to run the event have become unsustainable.

“The Cup is also a huge investment in staff and volunteers’ time. We feel unable to continue this and to dedicate the necessary resources without detracting from our service delivery to people who are homeless,” said Michael Perusco, CEO Sacred Heart Mission.

The Community Cup has enjoyed great success over the years and the Sacred Heart Mission would like to say a huge thank you to all the individuals, community organisations, businesses, sporting groups, government bodies, volunteers and members of the community for their extraordinary support.

Sacred Heart Mission still has a range of exciting events that help to raise money and keep our doors open. Our events will continue to embrace the community and celebrate St Kilda and the important work of the Mission.

Is this truly the end? Stay tuned, footy fans...

Monday, March 10, 2008

A weekend in the country

Ah, my first ever (and only the second ever) Golden Plains, the slightly smaller, saner version of the Meredith Music Festival, held on a farm just outside the township of Meredith, north of Geelong. How superb it was, despite the heat.

Good friends (thanks for snagging us a campsite in Bush Camp, Ms Sam!), good people (*waves at Cerise and Mel*) and some damn fine bands.

Iron and Wine
were soothing and uplifting; an inspired early-evening choice. Swedish popster Jens Lekman and band were simply superb: heartfelt, fun (they did an aeroplane dance! All of them! Running around on stage with their arms stretched out like wings! Bless!) and touching without being twee. Beirut struggled to rise above some shitty sound problems, and from my perspective at least, did so triumphantly; with a heart-starting horn section and some wonderfully operatic vocals; and won over some new fans in the process, from what I saw. With working sound, could have been one of those once-in-a-lifetime gigs that totally rocked my world. Hmm, I wonder who I have to sleep with to get my name on the door for the Beirut gig at at The Corner tomorrow night...?

And oh my god, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings! I want to marry the woman. Sheer sass and exhuberance, with a band to match; tight, funkly and fantastic sounds that had be bopping and grooving from the get-go in the company of an equally delighted Irishman.

Of course it wasn't all wonderful. The Vines were an overdose of meh. Turgid and unimaginative. Plenty of people loved them, though. Kid Koala demonstrated his impecable turntable skills (and an awsesome breakdown of 'Moon River') but wasn't really what the crowd wanted, I felt. They wanted to Dance, baby, with a capital D (or should that be a capital E?). As for the much-hyped Ween - yawn. They bored me, while their unnecessarily aggressive (and groping, so I'm told) crowd annoyed the shit out of me.

But the band I liked the least were the South Rakkas Crew, a dancehall act who I'm not even going to honour with a link. Their vocalist gave shout-outs to some of the most notoriously violent homophobes in the reggae/dancehall world, such as Buju Banton; showed slides of bikini-clad women while demanding all the 'pretty girls' come down to the front of the stage; and generally lived up to a range of misognynist stereotypes. Why the fuck were they on the bill?

And yes, Sunday was way too hot - and the fact that I peaked too early on Saturday night and totally wrote myself off (kids, vodka and hot sunny days don't mix - at least not if you want to maintain some sense of decorum. Though at least I didn't pass out and piss myself, unlike one lobster-red bloke I saw yesterday.) didn't help things. That was balanced out with the fact that I was actually adult enough to turn down an offer of free drugs on Sunday night, as I didn't want to be a total mess again today.

And coming home, we stopped off in Geelong to paddle in the water of Corio Bay and eat fish and chips on the seashore. All rather lovely. And did I mention Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings? I want to marry the woman, that's how much I loved her set on Saturday night!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

A weekend away

Despite the fact that I organised tickets for Keating! tonight for my mum, her friend and I (thanks Casey!) I have instead decided to depart for greener pastures and Golden Plains, having come into possession of a couple of free tickets on Thursday (thanks Triple R!).

So, the tickets are waiting for Mum at her hotel and I've arranged for a girlfriend to be her escort. I've borrowed a tent, packed my bag, and am very much looking forward to a weekend in the country surrounded by friends, freaks, and bands, bands, bands: Sharon Jones and the Dap King, The Kamikaze Trio, Iron and Wine, Beirut, The Sea and Cake, and more, more more!

I definitely need a weekend away, and I think it will do me good to get out of town and recharge my batteries - or run them so low that I have to totally reset my system, which I think is more likely. Either way, it's gonna be fucken' wonderful!

See you on the other side, peeps!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Gary Gygax RIP

I've just learned (via TobyToby's Facebook status update) that Gary Gygax, the father of fantasy roleplaying, has died aged 69.

Gygax co-created the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game, which despite its flaws and faults, provided me with countless happy memories from the age of 15 onwards. While I don't play D&D any more, having moved on to other games and more flexible systems, I mourn his death all the same.

D&D taught me a lot about collaboration, creativity and communication; indeed I'd go so far as to say that without it, I would have had a much more miserable, poorly-socialized adolescence.

And that's just the impact the game had on me personally. On a wider scale, we probably wouldn't have the range of roleplaying games, including popular computer games such as World of Warcraft, that we have today had not Gygax and his co-founder Dave Arneson fleshed out their game's rules back in 1974.

Yes, life goes on, but right this moment, I'm remembering being in high school again, and getting together with my old friends in the Latrobe Valley on weekends for an afternoon of rolling dice, fighting monsters, casting spells and gaining treasure and experience points...

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Dorothy Parker's 'Two-Volume Novel'

The sun's gone dim, and
The moon's turned black;
For I loved him, and
He didn't love back.
- Dorothy Parker (August 22, 1893 - June 7, 1967)

Oh, fuck it.
Richard Watts (July 6, 1967 - ????)

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Confessions of a professional homosexual part 2118

Oops! I forgot to go to the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras! Fancy that. What a bad, bad homosexual I am, to miss a parade of exhibitionists, body fascists and a party dominated by dull house music and muscle marys drugged up to the gills on crystal meth and disco biscuits. Oh well. maybe next year...