Comedy review: Ned Kelly: the Big Gay Musical

There’s always been rumours about queer bushrangers. They say Captain Moonlite’s dying wish was to be buried beside fellow gang member, his beloved James Nesbitt. So despite the sensibilities of those who would deny it, queer has always been here, and Ned Kelly: the Big Gay Musical is testament to that view.

Written by Kaine, Ned Kelly: the Big Gay Musical is a drag king extravaganza about Australia’s most loved bushrangers. With an original score, live band The Glen Rowans (aka Apex Bloom – comprising Griffin McGookin, BJ Humphrey, Timothy O’Keefe) will get you jumping in your seats with its rocky tunes that start before you’ve even entered the theatre. This show is a fast paced, action packed, all singing, all dancing, gender bending re-imagining of the story of the Kelly gang, and it’s a hoot.

Part of Melbourne’s International Comedy Festival, this original show is written by Kaine, a music comedian from Ballarat. The venue is small, and the set simple, but the cast set the stage on fire. Monique Kerr (Dan), Sunny Youngsmith (Steve), Erin McIntosh (Joe) and Ellen Morning (Ned) deliver flawless performances as the Kelly gang with great energy and synergy. The fifth actor, Sian Dowler was a stand out, switching between multiple roles (the diary, bank teller, leprechaun, police officers and Queen Victoria).

I saw Ned Kelly: the Big Gay Musical last night and it was sold out, but I believe there are still tickets available for the final performances tonight and Sunday 23rd April. So, dust off your favourite sequinned boots or bushranger hat and get along to the Motley Bauhaus in Carlton for some unbridled fun. Find tickets here.

I can also recommend the Green Man’s Arms for dinner before the show.

Theatre review: Pear-Shaped

Pear-shaped is a whimsical, funny and at times surreal show that explores the very serious issue of anorexia (trigger warning) and how it impacts families.

Culture, family tradition and sibling relationships take a front seat in this original work by playwrights Miranda Middleton and Ziggy Resnick. The script also draws on the story of Alice in Wonderland as metaphor.

Two sisters of Jewish heritage, played by Ziggy Resnick (Frankie) and Louisa Scrofani (Kayla), grow up in a close knit family with a mother who works relentlessly to support them and a grandmother who survived concentration camps and likes to feed people. When one of the sisters develops a psychological illness their relationship falters.

As Kayla struggles with anorexia, the family watch with horror. The mother works harder to try to hold the family together and pay medical bills whilst Ziggy who is trying to work on a show that is an interpretation of Alice in Wonderland becomes resentful at what she perceives as her Kayla’s deliberate insistence on losing weight because she believes she is fat. Her pleading and angry outbursts fall on deaf ears as Kayla remains trapped in her personal torment.

The performance slides between the past and present and slips into Alice in Wonderland with some fabulous moments of playful magical realism that provide both light relief from the sombre subject matter and help communicate it. Humorous puppetry and hand cameos are provided by Cameron Steen.

The young cast handles the difficult content and multiple characters well with fast paced direction to keep the narrative moving at pace. The show has great set design by Grace Deacon that adapts well to enable the beautiful moments of magical realism using the Alice tropes and Aaron Murray’s lighting effects.

Pear -Shaped is on at Theatreworks until 15th April. Find tickets here.

The Butterfly Foundation provides support for eating disorders and body image issues.

Theatre review: Devastating Beauty by Christopher Fieldus

Midsummer show Devastating Beauty by Christopher Fieldus is an original performance fusing prose poetry, storytelling and cabaret.

From a boy in Thailand who felt he was ‘too much’ to a young lover in Melbourne who discovered he was ‘not enough’. Devastating Beauty is about growing up queer and personal crises.

Fieldus enters the stage in dazzling drag, including the most exquisite sequin platform shoes. They start to tell us about a young boy growing up in an expat family in Thailand who then moved to Melbourne.

As a story of longing unfolds, Fieldus tells of their journey to adulthood, shedding clothing along the way to reveal their true self.

Fieldus has an extraordinary vocal range reminiscent of a young Freddie Mercury or Paul Capsis. In Devastating Beauty they do justice to music by the likes of Celine Dion, Róisín Murphy and The Killers intertwined in a spoken word story of self discovery that will touch your heart.

Devastating Beauty runs nightly at 7.15pm till Saturday 11th February at The Motley Bauhaus in Carlton. The Motley is an intimate venue with a bar and snacks so go a bit early and grab a beer for the show.

Get tickets for Devastating Beauty and support Midsumma live performances, you won’t be disappointed.

Theatre review: promiscuous/cities by Lachlan Philpott

Midsumma Festival, Melbourne’s queer arts and cultural festival runs 21 January to 12 February and boy has it come a long way since it began in 1989. Last night I went to see Promiscuous Cities written by Lachlan Philpott and showing at Theatre Works in St Kilda.

The production is set in the round and opens with a lone woman sitting on a stool, then it explodes. The props are sparse but versatile, and well designed costumes help bring the characters of the twelve talented young actors to life. The choreography is exquisite and creative and moves the actors seamlessly at pace from scene to scene in a way that enhances the aesthetics.

Promiscuous Cities has a bit of everything – at one moment like a cabaret, then a ballet, then a traditional play – but what sounds like a mish-mash works beautifully to tell a tale of the city of San Francisco. Multiple fast paced story lines run through the show exposing the underbelly of San Francisco, famed as a place of freedom and liberal thought.

What you get is glimpses into the cities many subcultures, the impact of the IT boom and the gentrification that has spawned homelessness, the ongoing legacy of the HIV pandemic, and the impacts of street violence and drugs. Promiscuous Cities show oozes queerness and reminded me of a trip I did to San Fran about eight years ago when I was lucky enough to get some insights from a local I met there.

Promiscuous Cities is a professional quality production that deserves a full house every night, so get a ticket before they all sell out. The show runs till 24th January.

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.