Speaking: MFF

Speaking by May Jasper is a technically exacting piece about love and the National Relay Service, a form of communication used by the Deaf community in order to speak to non Deaf persons. This service is used to demonstrate the frustration of distance, loss, and unrequited love, with a good dose of humour thrown in.

Nick (Adam Cass) is a man slowly coming to terms with the loss of his hearing. He is in love with Olivia (Lauren Bailey), the first friend he has made since going deaf. They communicate chiefly through the National Relay service, where a third character, Beth (Kellie Fernando/Bird), reads out what he types and translates her words the other way round, gradually becoming Nick’s only hope in winning over his reluctant friend. This is an arduous task, especially for a man who “used to wield his voice like a weapon” who is forced to communicate through a sultry woman’s voice.

Speaking is an awkward piece, but deliberately so. Most theatre is made up of well-turned phrases, glibly trotted out, a call and response of emotion. In this play, however, every word counts, especially for the character of Nick, who is frustratingly cut off many times by Olivia’s casual remarks; she has the space to speak words on top of words, he has only the keyboard, and the disembodied voice.

Further disorientation occurs through the stance of the characters, peering into a half-seen audience, speaking into a darkened room. Nick and Olivia are blinded by the NRS, unable to use visual markers or Auslan, and Olivia shouts out into space, not quite knowing how or which of her words are going to have the right resonance. Their stunted attempts to dance alone are corralled by the spotlights that contain them. Olivia manages to break free, if only temporarily, in a musical display of tongue-in-cheek celebration, but Nick remains within his circle of light, waiting for a response from the void.

This is a highly technical play, and director Phil Roberts has done an admirable job of assembling the vital use of words on the screen, as well as including an Auslan translation of the entire script that runs along with the play. As it is technically demanding, it did seem that any hiccups would destabilise the performance of the actors, who seem to do well despite the obvious constraints of the piece. Jasper has written a thoughtful and heartfelt play where we are left to wonder about the dissatisfaction of the unclosed circle.

Speaking runs from the 23rd of September until the 11th of October at La Mama theatre in Carlton

MELBOURNE FRINGE FESTIVAL
23 September – 11 October

Original Post: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/speaking-mff-179284?sc=1

COOK: An Exploration: La Mama

COOK: An Exploration: La Mama

COOK: An Exploration is a confusing traipse through Australia’s ‘black’ history, with the production team wilfully ignoring that it is essentially an audio play or history show with the baubles of live theatre attached to justify its presence on the stage.

Taken from his original journals, Peter Finlay has adapted Captain James Cook’s exploration of what he came to name terra nullius, a land uninhabited. The ramifications of this phrase are felt to this day. What at first seemed to be the main thrust of the piece turned out to be the only thrust, the text laid bare, the echoes and meanings painfully obvious, and the audience were left to witness the staging of a talking book.

Finlay seems to have had some idea of what he was trying to achieve in his adaptation, a touch on the naivety of so called ‘civilised’ people, the character of Cook trying to comprehend the native people of the land so that he can dominate them. But any sense of nuance is lost in the bizarre direction by Strangio, which leaves certain passages spoken with inexplicable randomised vigour, with no emphasis on any particular thought or idea.

Finlay is unable to achieve a Yorkshire accent. That’s fine, the actor has to memorise sixty plus minutes of script, let alone saying it in a perfect British voice. The decision should have been to drop the accent entirely, rather than trying to muddle through an attempt that frequently garbled the meaning of certain words.

La Mama is an intimate space, so using poorly made costumes for a period show is lazy. The audience are clearly able to see that his clothes, including his frock coat that Cook tediously takes on and off to represent every time his character goes to shore, is made of a cheap polyester material, and drove me to distraction. Same goes for the shoes that were again poorly put together.

The approach to the script seems to have taken on that certain smugness that has crept into many historical plays lately, from the MTC’s Realism and The Colours. It’s the taking for granted of hindsight, saying that we, as members of the privileged white middle upper classes, know better than our naive, stupid, brutal predecessors. What was most irritating about this play was not so much Cook’s repeated surprise at the natives’ lack of clothing and what that means to him as an English gentleman of a certain time, but the sycophantic, knowing laughter of the audience watching. “What an ignorant little Englishman”, both the play and the audience seem to say. You wonder if the purpose of a play such as this, though maybe not entirely intentional, is to salve the guilty wounds of post-intervention white Australia. “Well,” we say, “at least we’re not as bad as that.”

COOK: An Exploration: La Mama
September 9 to 20
Wed – Sun 8pm, Sun 6:30pm
La Mama Theatre
205 Faraday Street, Carlton, VIC

Adapted & Performed by Peter Finlay
Dramatised & Directed by Laurence Strangio

Original Post: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/cook-an-exploration-la-mama-179212

Back to the Bathhouse: Wet on Wellington

Back to the Bathhouse: Wet on Wellington

Mzzz Erin Tasmania is a stalwart of the Melbourne cabaret circuit and her new show, Back to the Bathhouse delivers in all its trashy high camp glory. The show is based on Bette Midler’s early career as an entertainer in New York’s Continental Baths, a gay sauna. Tasmania tells the story of Midler’s early days, and her transition from singing what was essentially background music to her creation of the Divine Miss M and her subsequent success. Tasmania, along with her accompanist Tom Williams and the backup Dancing Fagettes (Anthony Cleave and Brent Fox), recounts these stories along with her own recent forays into the casual sex scene.

Madame Brussels is the main venue for the show, but one show a week is performed in an operational bath house, Wet on Wellington. Unfortunately because this venue is still running during the show, and despite Tasmania’s best efforts, these particular nights of the run are male-only affairs. This does make you feel like you are missing out on an extra colouring to the show, but no matter, Madame Brussels with its opulent salon room and camply-dressed bar staff make up for the lack of a hark back to the original venue of Midler’s bathhouse shows.

There is a handmade quality to Tasmania’s show that belies the enormous talent of not only herself but her supporting team. Hannah Cuthbertson has created a fun and diverse costume for Tasmania and the dancing Fagettes, who relish their role as the camp supporting dancers. Williams seems to be slightly shy of his half dressed state while accompanying the group, but is still a talented and personable player. Mzzz Tasmania’s voice has incredible and surprising range, allowing her to cover many of Midler’s songs and moods with ease. The emotional range of the material is diverse, from the cute The Tale of an Oyster by Cole Porter, to the double entendre filled Hot Wet Tight Bald Pussy, and the surprisingly moving Midler cover of Beast of Burden.

Back to the Bathhouse is a chatty, informal evening of song and dance that leaves the audience feeling lively and involved. Mzzz Erin Tasmania has produced another soiree that showcases the many talents of Melbourne’s queer scene.

Back to the Bathhouse

Shows at Wet on Wellington, 162 Wellington St Collingwood.
Thurs 10, 17, 24 Sept at 8:30pm Tickets $18 at the door.
(MEN ONLY. Clothing optional.)

at Madame Brussels (up the rear), lvl 3, 59-63 Bourke St.
Fri 11, 18, 25 Sat 12, 19, 26, Sun 13, 20, 27 Sept at 6.30pm. Tickets $20/$15
(ALL SEXES welcome. Clothing encouraged.)

Original Post: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/back-to-the-bathhouse-wet-on-wellington-179143

The Colours: Melbourne Theatre Company

The Colours: Melbourne Theatre Company

The Colours, which Peter Houghton both wrote and stars in, is predominantly a showcase of the technical skill of the actor. And while this is just about enough in a monologue that consistently engages with Houghton’s vibrant performance, the heart of the piece does seem to have been overlooked. This is not fault of Houghton himself, and it seems that in the many stages of production when a hook could have been found, the creators fell back on the performance and well-honed language of the piece, unable to extend beyond it.

Colour Sargeant Atkins is the last man stationed in a remote part of a generic African nation at the end of Empire, 1946. Atkins is an old-school career soldier, gaining his stripes and his pride through the various battles of the First World War, leading into the second. It soon becomes apparent living with this man that he has gone off the deep end, interacting with a series of increasingly tangible ghosts from his past, from his regiment, from the various touch stones of the early Twentieth Century, moments that the modern world has either canonised or forgotten. These historical events, theoretically, are used to reflect on his life, his place amongst the relics of the past, even giving Houghton room to jibe the nationalistic nostalgia of ANZAC, a soft and knowing in-joke to the audience. But this, as well as many other thoughts are not fully extended.

So at some point you have the put the history aside. ANZAC, Ypres, the Somme, El Alamein, these are the sites that you reel off to demonstrate any particular point about the futility of war. Churchill, Kitchener, Hitler, again a series of names, names that are powerful and potent, but, at this stage in history, in this time of reconfiguration, revisiting, rehabilitating and reviling, being able to reel them off is not good enough anymore. In order to use these events, these names, these ideas of history, of historical markers, there needs to be an intention, a substance that was lost in the overall production of The Colours. A knowledge of history does not mean that the audience will be happy simply having a Pavlovian response to certain names and terms being used.

But back to Houghton. This is the third time I’ve seen him in action and he is, simply, a brilliant actor. His ability to immerse himself in the manic Atkins, to pull out the various characters that help to tell Atkins‘s story is admirable. He is one man on stage for seventy five minutes, taking a schizophrenic journey through the mind of a career soldier whose life has unravelled in the space of a few months. If more care had been taken in figuring out the substance of the piece the effect would have been breathtaking.

The Colours plays at the Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) Lawler Studio until September 12.

Original Post: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/the-colours-melbourne-theatre-company-179129?sc=1