SO tonight is White Night – the first all-night arts festival held in Melbourne, and modelled on Nuit Blanche in Paris (and 21 other cities around the world). The CBD is expected to attract 100,000 people and there’ll be events – many of them free – from 7pm to 7am. Nessun dorma. I’ll be roving the streets and preceincts of the city centre, recording my impressions at sundry moments throughout the night, below. Really hope somewhere is serving all-night lattes.
White Night Melbourne, 2013
Here’s an opinion piece I wrote about this year’s Perth Festival for The Age, which looks at the reasons why the Festival is so vibrant, as well as giving a potted summary of the first week highlights. (I originally had BHP as one of the sponsors … my mistake. It isn’t. Where are you BHP?)
Ballet National de Marseille, The Truth 25 Times a Second.
The Perth International Arts Festival seems to have the most vigour and momentum of any arts festival in the country. If you have the time and means to sample Australia’s festival circuit, it is certainly worth an interstate visit, not least because many of the most lustrous works presented are exclusive to the city of mining riches.
A complex situation lies behind Perth’s rise on the festival scene. There’s the two-speed economy, of course. You can smell the money almost the second you step off the plane. It’s a little smoke, Perth, but it’s bustling with construction and infrastructure projects in a way Melbourne and Sydney aren’t, and some fraction of the revenue from [More...]
La Cucina Dell’Arte, Circus Ronaldo, Russell Square, Northbridge, until Feb 24.
The Ronaldo Brothers in Cucina dell'Arte
Belgian brothers Danny and David Ronaldo have circus in the blood. One of their ancestors ran away to join the circus as a teenager in 1842, becoming a famous acrobat, marrying an actress. The fusion of circus and theatre has stayed in the family through six generations.
Set in a big top, La Cucina Dell’Arte marries the traditions of commedia dell’arte, with its stock figures and buffoonery and poke-’em-in-the-eye slapstick, and traditional circus tricks. Its conceit casts the brothers as chef and head waiter in the worst pizzeria in the world.
The riotous clowning begins with plate-breaking mayhem in a sequence where the restaurant’s candelabrum is lit by one match at a time. Then the barrel organ starts up and a couple is selected from the audience to dine at the front of the stage.
The attempt to make them a meal worth eating is undermined at every point by antagonism between the brothers, who vie with magic tricks, whipping tablecloths from laid tables without spilling the table’s contents, plate-spinning, [More...]
The Threepenny Opera, Berliner Ensemble, directed by Robert Wilson, His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth, Until Feb 11.
Stefan Kurt and Angela Winkler in the Berliner Ensemble's Threepenny Opera, directed by Robert Wilson.
There’s a synergy between avant-garde director Robert Wilson and Bertolt Brecht that makes this Threepenny Opera, performed by Brecht’s own company the Berliner Ensemble, a production of global significance.
Wilson’s method of detaching the visual and aural components of a work and reassembling them in a two-phase rehearsal process marries with and invigorates Brecht’s ideas about creating a distance for the audience to reflect critically on the performance, never losing consciousness of the fact that it is in the theatre, a place where artifice reigns.
All elements of theatrical craft fuse to create an extraordinarily rich and layered experience. The production is set in a floating world – moving from vibrant, cartoonish sequences that bustle with the decadent glamour of Weimar Berlin to poised tableaux inhabited by the chiselled silhouettes of actors; shadows in a world of sickly, cold light.
Most of the set is lighting, which the decorative connotation of all adjectives, from gorgeous upwards, fails [More...]
Les Commandos Percu performing at Perth Festival 2013. Photo: Toni Wilkinson.
The opening weekend of the Perth Festival, Jonathan Holloway’s second as artistic director, attracted arts lovers from across the country. Holloway has proved adept at combining the ceremonial and the cream of international art along with popular (and free) spectacle to create an atmosphere of excitement suited to the longest and best funded arts festival in the country.
At an opening gathering on Matilda Bay by the Swan River, a select crowd listened to Shakespeare sonnets recited in Noongar and a song from Indigenous musician Archie Roach.
Later on Friday, theatregoers flocked to the first appearance in Australia of the Berliner Ensemble, the theatre company Bertolt Brecht founded in 1949. Under the spell of the world-renowned theatre director Robert Wilson, the ensemble performed The Threepenny Opera – a savage, seductive Weimar musical that, with its blistering (if funny) critique of capitalism, was an apt choice in the city of mining riches.
It was one of the highlights of the Australian stage year, this lavish and entertaining production of the Brecht/Weill musical, and received an enthusiastic [More...]
With Nick Payne’s Constellations opening next week at the MTC, I talked with actor Alison Bell about the challenges of performing in a play that shifts between realities with each new scene.
Alison Bell in the rehearsal room.
Alison Bell has an infectious laugh – uninhibited, a whiff ridiculous, and utterly irrepressible. Maybe there’s a nervous undercurrent; mostly it’s the laugh of someone who finds a lot of things funny.
It’s also a sign of an actor without ego. Bell doesn’t take herself remotely seriously. When you talk to her about the craft of performance though, her clownish air vanishes into curiosity, searching intelligence, intense dedication.
Best known for starring in the ABC’s popular black comedy Laid, Bell’s stage work (most recently in the MTC’s Tribes, where she played a young woman going deaf with ringing conviction) is a more exacting test of her skill.
Playing Marianne in Nick Payne’s Constellations is an unusual role. The speculative two-hander uses the ‘quantum multiverse theory’ in physics – the idea that the reality we experience is one of many, and everything that can possibly happen will happen.
Alternate universes are common in science fiction. [More...]
Two Australian one-handers at La Mama this week I can happily recommend.
Not a Very Good Story, by May Jasper, La Mama, Until Feb 10.
May Jasper. Photo: Sarah Walker
You’re better off not knowing very much about this one-woman show from May Jasper. I’m glad I didn’t – partly because the narrative is beautifully paced and slowly reveals its secrets in a way that demonstrates a mastery of suspense; partly because it involves cancer and call-centres and an inarticulate narrator, none of which seem like remotely entertaining prospects.
And yet Not a Very Good Story is a misleading title. It takes a phenomenon snatched from the headlines – one of those freakish disasters that might provoke distracted and momentary sympathy in the reader – and imagines it really happening to real people.
The main reason this is such absorbing theatre is that it does things only theatre can do. Using empathy, the fleshly presence of the actor and the vulnerability of the human voice, it manifests the imagination of life from the abstraction of it with powerful immediacy.
Under Daniel Rice’s direction, Jasper creates the nuanced, realistic voice [More...]
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Her Majesty’s Theatre, Opens Feb 2.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang flies through the air, Photo: Kurt Sneddon.
As a big-budget musical, Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang makes a fun and imaginative spectacle. It’s a winning adaptation of the faux-Edwardian fantasy about a quirky family having adventures in a dream car that can float and fly and seems to run on nothing but family feeling and the best of British manners.
The car is certainly the jewel in this production’s lavishly designed crown – a miraculous (and costly) toy which, to the audience’s delight, transforms into an automotive dinghy on the waves or shoots into the stars on propellers. Mary Poppins eat your heart out.
With its catchy songs, dazzling costumes and a set packed with confections for the eye, the production also features a talented Australian cast.
The roles of the two motherless children, Jeremy and Jemima Potts, were performed with great charm by Beau Woodbridge and Lucille Le Meledo on opening night.
David Hobson as their eccentric inventor father Caractacus is no Dick van Dyke, it’s true, and casting an opera singer proves [More...]
Hair, presented by StageArt, Chapel Off Chapel, Until Feb 17.
Performers from Hair 'let the sunshine in'…
The musical Hair is an odd one. As a glamorous commercial portrayal of 60s counterculture, it was always already a parody of it, while at the same time being in deadly earnest about its ‘make love not war’ message.
This Midsumma revival has unusually high production values for independent musical theatre. It looks great: the costumes and wigs are a loving idealisation, full of paisley-inflected, stagey, half-mocking nostalgia for the real deal.
The band sits around a couple of ratty couches upstage, while the scene swells with a large cast of (admittedly a bit too freshly scrubbed) hippies, working the audience with glee.
There are some terrific performances that should have talent scouts out in force. Ashley Rousetty’s Claude leads the way, bringing a fragile charisma to the messiah of the piece. His willowy frame and high cheekbones are perfect for the part; his presence matched by a strong voice with great range.
Around him other stars of the tribe congregate: Sam Kitchen’s louche ringleader; Dianne Algate as the low-rent, pot-smoking earth [More...]
The Other Place, by Sharr White, MTC, The Arts Centre, Until March 2.
Catherine McClements stars in The Other Place at the MTC.
You can see why Sharr White’s The Other Place proved so popular in America. It’s a thrillerish play that transforms into a drama, almost a melodrama, about the inevitability of loss and the consolation of discovery, of finding human connection in a culture that seems to obstruct so many possibilities for that prospect.
Juliana Smithton (Catherine McClements) is a brilliant, difficult woman – a star geneticist in her 50s who has placed her vast intelligence and charisma in the service of “Big Pharma”, spruiking a novel drug for an incurable disease at a medical conference.
During her lecture to the congregation of doctors, she spies a young woman wearing a yellow bikini in the audience and mercilessly taunts her. That surreal moment begins a cascade of events that begins to look, to Juliana at least, like a sinister conspiracy against her – one her mild doctor husband Ian (David Roberts) is in on.
Nadia Tass’s directing debut at the MTC gives [More...]