Theatre review: Stranger Sings! The Parody Musical

Enter an 80’s parallel universe through the quirky, boppy, playful romp – Stranger Sings! The Parody Musical – a nostalgic, rock-driven song and dance spoof poking fun at the 80s – you’ll recognise references to Dungeons and Dragons, Dirty Dancing and Slushie’s, just to name a few.

Not much happens in small towns – until it does. When teenager Will goes missing in Hawkins, Indiana in 1983, his nerdy mates go looking for him. Turns out Will has been kidnapped by an interdimensional monster and it takes a strange telepathic girl called Eleven to help find him.

The Australian premier of this Off-Broadway show inspired by the Netflix series Stranger Things is preformed by Salty Theatre. The choreography is excellent, the music nostalgically catchy and the acting to a professional standard. The character Barb Holland (Stacey-Louise Camilleri), a dorky girl with raging hormones, second fiddle to her gal pal, Nancy, stole the show for me with her larger than life personality.

If you’ve seen Stranger Things this show will be familiar but you don’t need to be a fan to enjoy the performance – it had me laughing out loud.

Stranger Sings! The Parody Musical is on at Meat Market in North Melbourne with its spectacular barrel vaulted ceiling. The venue is a heritage listed building that was home to Melbourne’s wholesale meat trade in the 1880’s and was transformed into an arts hub. There’s parking just around the corner in Bedford Street.

Stranger Sings! The Parody Musical runs till 19th November. Last night was a raucous full house, so get your tickets soon if you don’t want to miss out.

Theatre review: HYSTERICA

I’m popping out a couple of extra posts this month as Melbourne Fringe is on and we all need to get out and support the performing arts in Melbourne…go on…

Women have always made history in equal measure to men, but with only about 0.5% of them traditionally appearing on the historical records, their contributions were often forgotten – that is until women started to rewrite the records…

In Melbourne Fringe show, HYSTERICA, actors Tess Parker and Mary Steuten deliver a piece of historical revisionism through monologue to tell the stories of four extraordinary women – Alice Anderson, business woman, garage proprietor and motor mechanic (1897-1926); Joy Hester, artist and member of the Angry Penguins movement and the Heidi Circle integral to the development of Australian Modernism (1920-1960); Elizabeth Gould (1804-1841), botanical artist and illustrator, much of whose work is believed to have been attributed to her husband naturalist and author John Gould (sigh); and the more contemporary story of Dawn Faizey-Webster who developed locked in syndrome after suffering a brainstem stroke that left her only able to communicate by blinking her left eye. Faizey-Webster still went on to complete a degree, a Masters and commence a doctorate.

Despite challenges with the shows lighting (the lighting deck got drenched in yesterdays downpour so the actors had to work under fluorescent strip lighting to avoid electrocuting anyone), Parker and Steuten put on thought-provoking performances that made me want to find out more about the characters they inhabited. Tess Parker’s portraits of Alice Anderson and Elizabeth Gould were particularly expressive and engaging.

HYSTERICA is showing at Theatre Works new venue, the Explosives Factory which is down a back alley and up a flight of stairs into a warehouse space in St Kilda. Running 4-8th October, tonight is the final show, so get in quick.

I stand on the sacrifices of a million women before me thinking what can I do to make this mountain taller so the women after me can see farther

Rupi Kaur

Theatre review: Batsh*t

Difficult women have long been pathologised as crazy. Hysteria was the standard diagnosis applied by male doctors who couldn’t work out what was wrong when the fairer sex behaved in ways that deviated from their idealised feminine norm. Of course, the norm was defined as being male, and by comparison women were fundamentally unstable, a problem that manifested as hysteria.

Women were weaker than men – it was their vaginas and uteruses that were the problem. The (male) medical gaze (mis)diagnosed, locked up, electrocuted and medicated women by way of treatments to relieve the symptoms of female existence until women were compliant. Making women crazy was a means by which to regulate and control – the message from doctors was in essence, don’t be a pussy.

Batsh*t is a solo show performed by Leah Shelton and directed by Ursula Martinez as part of Melbourne Fringe. The show explores what was at the root of women’s distress, how the pressures of women’s lives and their limited choices may have often led to their misery.

A disturbing, funny, physical interrogation of female madness and a tribute to Shelton’s grandmother, Gwen. Batsh*t is a wild ride worth a visit, and don’t forget your pussy hat.

Batsh*t is on at Northcote Town Hall Arts Centre as part of Melbourne Fringe from 5 – 15 October.

Theatre review: Vibe Check

Written by Greta Doell and directed by Stephanie Lee, Vibe check explores the exhilaration, uncertainty and awkwardness of casual dating and how that experience can heighten our personal neuroses like nothing else, bring all our insecurities to the fore and shake the most robust of individuals. We’ve all been there right? When our desire to connect turns us from confident adults into insecure weirdos. When not only are we trying to get to know a new lover, but navigate the multitude of options the ‘relationship menu’ offers – casual, open, monogamous, polyamorous, friends with benefits, it’s almost enough to make you wish you were asexual. But it is great fodder for a good laugh.

The setting is intimate and the props are minimal so Vibe Check is all about the characters and their personal journeys. Beth and Harry (Oscar Morphew and Freya Patience) are hip young self-aware new lovers in the honeymoon phase of their relationship exploring each other to see if their connection is a long term prospect. There is great chemistry between the actors. Beth is nervous, awkward and self-conscious. Harry is a confident, self assured inner city hipster tradie. The pair take the audience on their intimate journey as they talk about and dissect their feelings and preferences in minute detail to try and negotiate the type of relationship they want with a mix of discomfort and hilarity.

The Butterfly Club is a great venue with quirky intimate theatre spaces and a bar. If you had one of those nannas who collected kitch ornaments and artworks and crammed them all into her tiny terrace house, you will get the vibe.

Support a talented emerging play write and great acting talent. Vibe Check runs till 23rd July so grab a ticket for today or tomorrow from the Butterfly Club website so you don’t miss out.

Theatre review: No Ball Games Allowed

Good poetry tackles big ideas, cuts out the unnecessary and makes careful word choices to create powerful imagery and elicit emotion in the reader. It is also often a little elusive to allow us to bring our own meaning and perceptions to a piece. Good theatre is dialectical in the broadest sense and combines sight and sound to engage and challenge us. It makes us think long after we see it.

two actors on stage looking at photos projected onto a mirror

From its haunting opening to its dramatic conclusion No Ball Games Allowed written by Kristen Smyth and directed by Kitan Petkovski brings the elements of good poetry and theatre together beautifully.

There are only two actors on the stage (Smyth and Mia Tuco), one young, one older, identically dressed in drab clothing that obscures their gender and identity. The set is parred back to almost nothing, the central focus a continuous drip of water falling from high up to a grate in the floor.

I suspect setting this postdramatic theatre during the Blitz in 1941 London was carefully considered. Locating the piece during a time when the Nazi party viewed any kind of individuality as a punishable offense and sent thousands of queer people to concentration camps to endure unspeakable atrocities draws the audiences attention to the themes of discrimination and prejudice that run through it.

In one scene, a young woman is assaulted and the phrase ‘Make the bitch beg’ is hurled repeatedly at the audience, eliciting the fear such an experience imposes. In another, a mother punishes her thirteen year old son for dressing up in her clothes. She wants him to be a strong man because ‘women aren’t safe’. She cannot see or accept her son for who he is. Her own fears blind her to her son’s confusion and struggle with his identity. At one point the mother even tries to blackmail her son into being the vision of a man she had for him, but you cannot substitute money for love or identity.

Repetition draws the audiences attention to the multiple meanings within the piece. At one point the actors tell one another repeatedly ‘I love you’. It highlights the affection between the characters and at the same time the fact that sometimes people are confused about what love is and how to express it appropriately.

The two actors play multiple characters during the lyrical vignettes, yet I was also left with a sense that on one level they were one and the same. A person speaking to themselves across time in an effort to make sense of the hostile world they found themselves in. A world that rejected the very essence of who they were. The affection, tenderness, and at times affirmation, expressed between the actors on stage helps provide the audience relief from the bleakness of the set and themes explored.

No Ball Games Allowed rejects the idea of a simple, logical, causal representation, instead using conflicting, contested and irreconcilable multiple logics to deliver a powerful, mesmerising and thought provoking piece of theatre that will stay with me for some time. It was clear that the writer, director and actors were in harmony, supported by a music composition (Robert Downie and Rachel Lewindon) that magnified the intense, emotive piece.

No Ball Games Allowed is on at Theatre Works in St Kilda until next Saturday 9th April. Get a ticket, the show is worthy of a full house every night.

Images: all images by Cameron Grant

Be careful who you hate, it could be someone you love

wording on billboards across the USA by Gay Day

Theatre review: Yellingbo by Tee O’Neill

It’s just over twenty years since the Tampa affair, when the Howard government changed Australia’s treatment of refugees from a welcoming stance to offshore processing and detention. It was a strategy to dissuade people smugglers they said. Since that time thousands of people fleeing persecution in their home countries have been locked up by successive Australian governments, often left languishing indefinitely. It is topic debated at protests and dinner parties alike. In Yellingbo Tee O’Neill brings the issue literally into the lounge room in her ingeniously crafted play running at La Mama in Carlton until 20th March.

Loving couple Danny (Jeremy Stanford) and Kaye (Fiona Macleod) live an ordinary life in the suburbs until Danny’s old girlfriend Cat (Jude Beaumont) turns up unexpectedly after having been out of contact overseas for many years. It appears we are about to become enmeshed in an awkward love triangle.

Cat’s arrival triggers an unravelling of secrets and baring of scars that will change three lives forever. Once exposed, secrets cannot be rewound. They test our trust in one another, challenge our values and can reveal whether our rhetoric is true to our behaviour.

Yellingbo is multilayered and impassioned. The lives of the three characters on stage are interwoven and bound, yet fragile. O’Neill balances the emotional tension that ripples across the stage with the relief of dark wit perfectly.

How generous are we really toward people seeking asylum? If confronted with this dilemma in your personal life – literally in your living room – a choice to help, or not – how would you respond?

I was riveted from start to finish.

The silly season and S.S. Metaphor

I decided it was time to stop shying away from the world last week and got out amongst it. I went out to lunch with work colleagues on Friday, to live music Saturday and to caught Ash Flanders latest stage show, S.S. Metaphor, on an outdoor stage at the Malthouse on Sunday.

It had been a bleak day of storms but the clouds parted and the boat sailed under a perfect sky. S.S. Metaphor was one of those performances you’re either going to love or hate. I could tell when I perused the crowd whilst belly laughing, because some of the audience members wore expressions that sat somewhere between a scowl and a grimace. Whilst my more serious friends sat at their tables looking tortured I immersed myself in the absurdity of the cabaret-comedy show.

The audience became the passengers on a boat stuck at sea for 365 days in order to avoid some unknown catastrophe onshore whilst also trying to dodge the Great Pacific Trash Vortex. We were entertained by cabaret singers vying for centre stage whilst jollying the audience along by repeatedly saying, ’We’re all in this together.’ Below decks, some of the crew who were sick of being at sea hijacked the ship. Then all hell broke loose.

S.S. Metaphor was perfect absurdity masking more serious themes such as man made environmental disasters, and of course the pandemic. Slapstick at its best. It was exactly what I needed – to shine a humorous light on the current world madness in which we live.

Back to semi hibernation now that Omicron is here…I trust you all have a peaceful and pleasant festive season.

Theatre review: Because the Night @Malthouse Theatre

Theatre set showing office desk with light on a diamond motif carpet. There is a trussed up Zebra replica in one corner.

I saw a great promenade theatre show in New York in 2015. Sleep No More was a silent riff on Macbeth performed inside the McKittrick Hotel. The massive space over five floors was transformed into theatrically designed rooms through which the audience wandered interacting with the set and observing the actors perform.

Writing on a wall beneath a replica shot gun:
She was trapped under a fallen tree
Looking up into the shadows of the branch
She said she saw the future
In the movement of the leaves
Hamlet and Ophelia 
sacrificing their daughter
Old King Hamlet
Hacked to death by his wife
Royal Princess
Murdering for the throne
Ophelia's dear father
Slain by Hamlet's knife
Crowns and blades
blood and arms
for eternity
As the forest splinters to dust

Slow to emerge from Melbourne lockdown IV, other than a couple of dinner parties I have mostly stayed home. The temptation of an immersive theatre performance motivated my first foray out into the wilds with the general public and it was definitely worth it. After all what is a Melbourne Winter for if not beanies, dinner parties and theatre?

Because the Night runs from March to September 2021 so grab some tickets and get out and support the arts. You will not be disappointed. The entire Malthouse Theatre space has been transformed into a labyrinth of interconnected spaces for the adventure.

Text on theatre wall:

The trees were screaming
the people fleeing
the king
flung and flayed

I fear that if my daughter 
the true ordeal of the forest 
and speaks it aloud at school
she will be beaten

The audience gets divided into three, each group led into a dark foyer and instructed to wear identical dark robes and Donnie Darko masks that transform the crowd into macabre giant black rabbits. We were also intersected to remain silent.

A room with a dining table set for a dinner party with fairy lights.  There is a very large replica pig standing in the middle of the table amongst the crockery

My adventure in Elsinore, a 1980s logging town, started in the Palace bedroom (others were taken to the Royal Office or the Gymnasium) where Gertrude lay prostrate on her bed mourning the kings death. The ancient forest was restless for blood…

This is choose your own adventure theatre. You can stalk one actor, go in search of different scenes or focus on exploring the space during the 1.5 run time. You are invisible to the actors so don’t worry you won’t suddenly find yourself being dragged into the action.

Three theatre goers dressed in dark cloaks and wearing black Donnie Darko masks

I started out following Gertrude, then got sidetracked by other dramatic scenes, following the loudest voices. After a while I broke off from the crowd and went in search of hidden rooms (of which there were many) and props that provided insight into the story – discarded notebooks and writing scrawled on walls. I simply soaked up the sensory experience until joining the actors again for the final dramatic scene. And pigs, there are lots of pigs.

The script is loosely based on the story of Hamlet with a bit of gender bending and it helps to have the general gist of Shakespeare’s play before you start. The show is designed in such a way that you won’t see the entire performance in one visit, though of course there is nothing to stop you from going more than once

Postscript: lucky I went because we’re back in lockdown again…