Saturday, June 25, 2011


Expressionistic motifs are subtly referenced throughout the Malthouse Theatre's latest production, A Golem Story. Anna Cordingley’s stark wooden set, the stage jutting out into the audience, effortlessly evokes Prague in 1580 while simultaneously recalling the haunted streets of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. Paul Jackson's exquisite lighting design is equally Expressionistic, but it is the sparse script by Lally Katz (Goodbye Vaudeville Charlie Mudd, The Black Swan of Trespass) which perhaps most successfully evokes the spirit of Expressionism though its focus on mood and emotion over fine detail, on archetypes over individuals.

As the play opens, a young woman, Ahava (a compelling performance by Yael Stone) awakens beneath a candle-lit chandelier, questioning all around her. A recent exorcism to remove the dybbuk (a malicious spirit) that has possessed her – the spirit of her late fiancĂ©e, Israel Hasidim, a suicide – has rendered Ahava without memory, and more importantly, without knowledge of God.

Ahava’s exorcist is the Rabbi (Brian Lipson), but while he welcomes her into the synagogue, his student, (Dan Spielman) is uncomfortable with Ahava’s presence, a fact the young man makes no attempt to hide.

While tensions exist inside the synagogue, greater dangers lurk outside. A child has been murdered, and the Guard (Greg Stone) blames the Jews. His bigotry and hatred know no bounds, and in fear of a pogrom, the Rabbi – assisted by Ahava – creates a Golem to protect the ghetto and its inhabitants.

Angered at such resistance, the Guard will go to shocking lengths to incite violence against the Jews, despite the wishes of his Emperor (Mark Jones, displaying superb comic timing), a far more reasonable man, and one with an appreciation of both aesthetic beauty and the arcane arts.

Unsurprisingly, the results are tragic, not least for Ahava, but from an audience member’s perspective they are also engrossing, engaging, and deeply compelling.

Some may find the starkness of the text underwhelming – this is perhaps Katz’s most minimal and refined work to date; a tone which the sometimes excessive Kantor matches, directing with considerable restraint. Others may miss the presence of a physical Golem, which is represented by a shimmering light, as if the animating spirit of the Lord had manifested on stage instead of an all too solid creature of clay – but then this is not an Andrew Lloyd Webber production, where stagecraft takes the place of story...

Read my full review of A GOLEM STORY at Arts Hub, here.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Torchwood: Miracle Day

Thanks to BBC Worldwide and UKTV I've now watched the first epsiode of Torchwood: Miracle Day twice, and I like it a lot. I'm still formally formulating my thoughts about the episode, what I enjoyed and what I disliked, so a proper review will be coming soon, I promise. But trust me, it's one hell of a ride and I can't wait to see what's in store for us in the rest of the series, which premieres in Australia on UKTV at 8.30pm, July 9th.

Meanwhile, hear are some photos of the cast to enjoy:

Thursday, June 09, 2011


If your perception of history is that it’s the dry and dusty domain of tweedy old academics, this accessible and engaging publication from the Australian Lesbian & Gay Archives (ALGA) will surely change the way you think about the discipline.

An account of the travails and triumphs of Melbourne’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex – or ‘queer’ (to use the umbrella term that has grown in popularity since it was first introduced to Australia circa 1991) – community from the 18th to the 21st centuries, the book makes no claim to be a comprehensive history. Rather, as its editors acknowledge in their introduction, it is a series of ‘snapshots, fragments, vignettes’; a collage of histories told over 51 chapters, written by 12 separate authors.

Having grown out of a series of history walks presented by the ALGA at Midsumma and similar festivals, the book’s tone is accessible, concise, and distinctly non-academic despite the qualifications and careers of its various contributors. It is also immaculately researched, with an array of footnotes providing proof of the writers’ and editors’ rigorous approach to their subject.

“The history of queer Melbourne is stored in documents, in newspapers and magazines, in police and court records,” writes co-editor and author Graham Willett in one chapter of Secret Histories of Queer Melbourne; and certainly much of what we know about early queer life comes from incidents where gay or bisexual men came into contact with the law, such as the case of Yackandandah resident John Morrison, who in 1870 was sentenced to ten years hard labour for the ‘abominable crime’ of buggery. As an additional punishment, in the first six months of his sentence, Morrison was flogged three times, each time receiving 50 lashes from the cat-o’-nine tails...

Read the full review at Arts Hub.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Review: SUPER 8

OK, so you probably know the drill by now: I've written up a review of J.J. Abrams' new film, Super 8. The review in its entirety is over here, at Arts Hub, but here's an extract to whet your appetite:

Like the young protagonists in Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me (1986), the main characters in Super 8 are in their last days of innocence before puberty sends them raging into adolescence. Their precarious position, on the cusp between childhood and their teenage years, means a very specific – and deliberate – tone permeates the film; an awareness that something threatening, powerful, and irresistible is lurking just out of sight.

This ‘puberty-as-monster’ subplot is by no means original – it’s a key theme of The Lost Boys (1987) for example – but here it’s played out subtly, more as a mood or a motif than as an overt theme of the film. Other films Super 8 references include The Goonies (1985) and E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982), but while the film is clearly crafted as a homage to the movies of Abrams’ childhood, it is simultaneously contemporary and engaging, playing to the sensibilities of modern 12-14 year olds as much as to their nostalgic parents.

Modern references abound – such as a scene evoking post 9/11 New York, when Joe posts a message about his missing dog on a local notice board, only for the camera to pan back and reveal his flyer is just one among dozens – alongside obvious homages to even earlier horror films, most notably Christian Nyby’s Cold War classic, The Thing From Another World (1951).

Performances are strong – particularly Elle Fanning, who is exceptional – and the film looks fantastic, though Abrams still can’t seem to resist an excess of lens flare in several key scenes, which some will find distracting. The film’s ending borders on the mawkish, but just holds back, while its evocation of period and obvious delight in referencing its cinematic forbears sometimes feels a touch contrived, and consequently occasionally distances the viewer instead of allowing one to be swept up in the drama...

So, that's my take on the film - what did you think of it?

Wednesday, June 01, 2011


So, last week I had the pleasure of seeing the latest addition to the X-Men franchise. You can read my full review over here at Arts Hub, but here's an extract to whet your appetite:

Set in the 1960s – the era in which Marvel Comics editor and head writer Stan Lee, together with artist Jack Kirby, originally created the X-Men comics – X-Men: First Class is a rollicking action movie, a thoughtful character study, a satisfying origin story, and a hell of a lot of fun.

Directed by Matthew Vaughn (Kick Ass) the film focuses on the friendship between two young mutants, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy, in the role created by Patrick Stewart) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender playing a young Ian McKellen), and explores the origins of the intense rivalry between them that will drive later (earlier) films in the series...

Briskly and efficiently told, X-Men: First Class feels a little disjointed and travelogue-like in its early scenes, but quickly settles down to tell its story in a way that is engaging for fans of the series and newcomers alike.

Possessing both genuine emotion (a scene between Charles and Erik in which long-buried memories of Erik’s dead mother are finally unlocked brought a tear to my eye) and moments of real exhilaration (such as the scene in which Banshee learns to fly), the film’s main fault is that it tries to pack too much into its 132 minute running time. Nonetheless, Vaughn successfully balances the many beats and plot elements of his story, capturing a swinging Sixties aesthetic and referencing some of the deeper thematic concerns of the more successful X-Men films along the way.

Three and a half stars from me, Margaret.