Archive for the ‘Theatre Review’ Category

American Idiot…
March 9, 2018

In the lobby, I suggested some upcoming productions that could go onto our list for future evenings in the theatre. I recommended Red Stitch’s Colder or Melancholia at the Malthouse. One of my companions commented that she does not like to feel depressed when she goes to the theatre.

American Idiot,
Comedy Theatre, Melbourne, March 8, 2018…

All over the darkened set, televisions flicker to life, displaying images of the reign of President Trump: this production will clearly have a new focus of rage from that beneath Green Day’s original American Idiot album, though throughout the show the production uses projections directly onto the set to carry the album’s message of televised political propaganda.

American Idiot cast, photo by Ken LeanforeThe stage adaptation of the story apparently beneath the American Idiot album expands upon the kind of bleak imagery of the Boulevard Of Broken Dreams video clip, but unlike the stylised video, plays it straight. There aren’t a lot of laughs in this show. Rebellious outcasts head from their ‘Make America Great Again’-cap wearing community with dreams of a new life in the city, only to be thwarted by drug addiction, unplanned pregnancy and the seduction of government propaganda.

Nevertheless, the cast and musicians perform the soundtrack well within a simple but effective set, and seeing the songs performed in this way feels a lot like a new, live take on the long form music video. It feels more devoted to its source than other jukebox musical tributes, like We Will Rock You, which can seem like commercial afterthoughts (though I’ve seen quality productions.) Green Day fans should appreciate the experience.

For others, the plot could prove too heavy to enjoy. The three main characters are hard to empathise with, whilst we are left to wonder about the exploits of their female counterparts in the meantime. It is a shame, because some of the talent in those roles shine – Phoebe Panaretos as ‘Whatsername’ in particular brought an unexpected take to Green Day’s music with her vocals reminiscent of Anastacia. Kaylah Attard was also impressive in the unfortunately fleeting role of the nurse, ‘Extraordinary Girl.’

Themes like those explored on stage in American Idiot aren’t new to musical theatre any more (the set and story are kind of reminiscent of Rent – there is even a scene where characters are filmed on stage and projected,) Green Day fans will enjoy being able to sing along and Sarah McLeod in the rotating role of ‘St Jimmy’ this evening elicited well-deserved cheers from the moment she appeared and stalked the stage menacingly. Those unfamiliar with the source material looking for a new musical to enjoy might leave feeling overwhelmed by the grim tone, though some of the big cast numbers like Jesus Of Suburbia are enjoyable, despite the tone.  Hopefully the next Green Day musical can draw inspiration from Warning and capture the punk rebellion with a brighter tone to capture both audiences.  Or maybe that is just wishful thinking…

Green Day’s American Idiot runs in Melbourne until March 11, then moves to QPAC Playhouse in Brisbane from April 13 to 21, and Darwin’s Entertainment Centre from May 4 to 6.

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Je suis mort…
February 13, 2018

When I first started browsing the world of podcasts, I was surprised to quickly find something that seemed so tailored to my tastes: a series focused on community broadcasting, the paranormal and new music. It seemed like a niche combination.

Then the show came to Melbourne, and I walked into the lobby of the Comedy Theatre to see it filled with people who looked like me, only wearing costumes.

Welcome To Night Vale,
Comedy Theatre, Melbourne, February 10, 2018…

In the theatre, the lights dimmed and a hush fell across the audience – blue hair aplenty, and a scattering of lab coats for the occasion – and we saw a stage bare except for a few microphone stands. Applause rose as a woman strode confidently onto the stage, followed by admiration for her blue, sequined dress. As soon as she spoke, her voice was familiar. She didn’t need to identify herself as Meg Bashwiner, ‘the woman who reads the credits and the proverbs in Night Vale.’

Rather than launching straight into the show, Meg was to be the night’s MC, giving an introduction in trademark anachronistic Night Vale style. Pointing out the exits, she continued, ‘Presumably most of you entered through those doors. So in the case of an emergency, use the same method as you did to enter, only in reverse.’

For the stage format, rather than opening straight to the evening’s community radio show, the musical guest was introduced to begin. Erin McKeown bounded onto the stage and with only her voice and guitar created a sound as full as a whole band. Switching from rock guitar fuzz to moody blues – sometimes mid-tune – Erin had the audience singing and clapping along with her Norah Jones-ish vocals, a smile never far from her own face or that of the audience. Erin seemed to enjoy playing with the audience, inviting participation, and it looked like reflecting the spotlight onto key players in the crowd from the shine of her guitar.

Whilst the applause for Erin McKeown was honest and grateful, anticipation built as MC Meg returned to the stage, wasting no time in introducing Night Vale’s resident composer, Disparition, who set himself up at a desk with laptops and a mandolin, launching into a faster version of the theme song as the star of the show, Cecil Baldwin took up his microphone to, as always, welcome us to Night Vale. Cheers filled the theatre in equal parts for his iconic speech, dulcet tones, and flamboyant suit printed all over with anime eyes.  Considering the layered solo music produced by Disparition, he scored the live show flawlessly.

NightValeQuickly reminding us that we are cast tonight as regular listeners of his radio show, Cecil explains that it is the night of Night Vale’s annual ghost story competition. It is a script that lets us experience lots of Night Vale stories, and importantly, to hear from lots of our favourite characters. Symphony Sanders as a more playful than usual Tamika Flynn was a highlight. Bashwiner’s corporate spokes-haze Deb took the chance to have some fun with local brands.

Despite the reminders that we’re listening to the radio, the cast don’t forget their audience. During the regular horoscopes segment, Cecil answers the call of vocal members of the theatre. The Children’s Fun Fact Science Corner invites ‘listeners’ to use their smartphone to prove the existence of time travel. During a Community Calendar announcement, a suggestive mime act is interpreted to air as ‘Nuclear testing along Route 800.’

After a parade of citizens telling ghost stories ranging, as is common in Night Vale, from the tragic to hilarious, it is time for Cecil to bid ‘Goodnight, Night Vale. Good night.’ As the cast left after their curtain call, people could be heard still emotional after the story of a ghost cat. I wondered if seeing the actors on stage would change how I pictured the characters when I next listen to the podcast.

Trainspotting Live…
April 1, 2017

An addendum to the conditions of booking my tickets arrived via email on the day of the performance.  Like a film screening late at night on SBS in the 1990s, it boldly warned of nudity, coarse language, violence, sex, drug use and smoking contained within, as well as haze and strobe effects.

Less usually, it continued to warn ‘Please don’t wear your best clothing!’  It made me recall the scene with the bedsheets, and hope I wouldn’t be too close to what had been billed as an ‘immersive production’ of Trainspotting.

Trainspotting Live,
Fortyfive Downstairs, Melbourne, March 30, 2017…

When the live production of Trainspotting was first announced, a large pool of colleagues had expressed interest in attending, but the final group who made it to Fortyfive Downstairs was much smaller, with most citing concerns about high expectations when comparing the play to the novel or film version.  As a fan of both, I was excited to see another interpretation of the story.  In the lead up, I was surprised to learn that it was actually the play, originally performed shortly after the release of the novel, which inspired the film.

The production began in the lobby: once passing through the box office, tickets were exchanged for glow sticks, the lobby converted to a graffiti-laden laneway where bass beats pounded through the ‘warehouse’ we shuffled towards.  Each time the mix sank into the next banger, cheers rang out from both inside the warehouse and within the ranks of the patrons outside.  Rather than entering to take seats, we fell into a smokey, darkened room – a 1990s rave in full swing.  Immediately, cast members with thick Scottish accents accosted us, dancing clumps of patrons towards different sections of the space.  Certain traits of the characters began to become evident:  It must have been Begbie, sneering at the rave hits playing and snatching cans of beer from patron’s hands.  Was that Sick Boy, giggling with a pair of young female patrons he had effortlessly slotted himself between?  It was an impressive opening to the show, which built upon the immersion advertised which was to carry through the show – to varying degrees of success.

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After playing the immersive nature of the production for laughs – and perhaps to get the audience used to the experience – familiar scenes started to unfold.  The infamous bedsheets scene was close to the opening, and just as unfortunate as I’d expected for those patrons in the midst of it, but just as tragically hilarious as one familiar with the novel or film might expect for everyone else.  On the other hand, scenes of domestic violence and drug-use took on a harrowing quality when viewed from within the scene as the audience were.

It was a peculiar choice, then, after drawing the audience into a feeling of powerless intimacy with the characters and their tragedies to include surreal, dream-like scenes and lengthy monologues which tended to break that rapport.  After the first act, it became difficult to switch between the two ‘modes’ of the production, and hearing characters give voice to what we could already see acted out on stage only tended to lessen the impact.

Still, it was a production that had moments that worked perfectly, and were literally worth writing home about.  As much as I tried to detach myself from my love of the film and book, I couldn’t help but await moments from each – some which I loved the interpretation of, some which I thought could have benefited from being played differently, and some which I was surprised were absent.  But, as in my discussion in the lead up, it was most interesting to see what playwright Harry Gibson took from Irvine Welsh’s text, even those choices which were surprising.  Although Trainspotting Live was at times uncomfortable, and not for the reasons intended, when it gets its tone right it excels and should be experienced for those moments.

Trainspotting Live is playing at Fortyfive Downstairs in Melbourne until April 13, and at Brisbane Powerhouse from April 19 to 22.