The Ides of March

Writer’s block is the bane of many writers; whether you’re staring at a blank page, hitting a wall, or just simply losing your steam it’s no enviable experience. However, if said writing is based upon a historical event there’s a simple solution. Time travel.

The Ides of March is a meta, witty, fourth wall-breaking romp of intelligent theatre. The premise is simple, William Shakespeare (Kieran Bullock) travels back in time with Cardenio (Paul Brown) to witness the murder of Julius Caesar (also Bullock). Unfortunately, Shakespeare makes a grave mistake, he becomes a suspect to the Detectivus (Jennifer B Ashley) and the Pomodoro (James Rosier). Mayhem ensues as the real culprits Cassius (Ashley), Brutus (Rosier), and Casca (Brown) try to sabotage Shakespeare’s every move to cover up their crime.

Slightly akin to that of an episode of Doctor Who, the escapades of these time-travellers are much richer in comedy. With only four key actors playing numerous roles (a great source of laughter) it’s commendable how easy it is to follow. The four reinvent themselves with ease utilising either a noir-like accent, a costume change, or a shift in mannerisms to switch between them distinctly. Their props and stage dressing are minimal but creative, and the intricacies of character changeovers (particularly in the final act) are handled exceptionally.

The cast of performers are well-rounded and bring plenty of charisma and talent to the stage. Ashley beams as Detectivus and Bullock’s hilariously narcissistic interpretation of Shakespeare as a struggling writer constantly taking notes runs the risk of being tired, but never does.

Certain elements of the narrative are slightly predictable in points, there’s the odd moment where you can expect it to go a certain way and it does. There is plenty to love with the odd twist or surprise that you won’t see coming as The Ides of March is a fantastic stage production that is bound to entertain.

4.5 / 5 stars


Words by Isaac Freeman

The Ides of March is showing at the Bakehouse Theatre until March 14

For more information and to book tickets click here

The Ballad of Mulan

A gritty, grown-up retelling of the original tale, The Ballad of Mulan follows alternate timelines that see a battle hardened Mulan look back over a decade of war and sacrifice on the eve of her final battle. Delving deep into the narrative’s inherent questions of gender, war and identity, this one-woman show is a homage to the courage and fortitude of a well-known icon, popularised in the West through Disney’s animated film.

The sparse set design illustrates Mulan’s isolation, both as a woman hidden in a male dominated world, and as a person who is set to transition to the next stage of her life and feels the unease and trepidation that come with the prospect of such change. Mulan’s isolation is also evident in the play’s use of reflective narration: At one point the character even acknowledges that she is talking to herself.

Michelle Yim is engaging as Mulan, and though some aspects of the hour-long performance’s delivery might benefit from a little refinement, Yim’s interpretation and portrayal of both the experienced general and the optimistic foot soldier is confident and dynamic.

The show’s writing is accomplished, offering a fresh but pragmatic examination of Mulan’s past motivations and future aspirations, with the dual timelines striking a perfect harmony between the terror and violence of battle, and the distraction and reflection that come in the moments before. Clever lighting and sound design also serve to emphasise this juxtaposition.

At its core, The Ballad of Mulan is a powerful exploration of gender, war, and identity, as relevant and timely today as ever. Expect a little humour, a lot of heart and a refreshing focus on the darker aspects of a familiar tale.

4/5 stars


Words by Rachael Stapleton

The Ballad of Mulan is playing until March 12 at the Bakehouse Theatre

For more information and to book tickets click here

Renfield: In the Shadow of the Vampire

A deeply disturbed, spider-eating nutjob. These are my thoughts on the character of Renfield from Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). Throughout the book, we are only really ever told about Renfield through the other characters. This all changed on March 5 at Bakehouse Theatre’s Studio, when Grist to the Mill Productions debuted Renfield’s perspective on life in Renfield: In the Shadow of the Vampire. This one-man show adds depth to this character and tells the story of Dracula through Renfield’s eyes.

Renfield’s terrors are brought to life in incredible realism throughout the show. The actor does a fantastic job in capturing the sense of insanity in a late 19th century mental asylum. The costume design too, reflected well on that time period together with the battered mattress on the floor and wooden chair. Although minimal, this was effective in turning the stage into a cell. I really did feel transported to this time period throughout the show, this was enhanced by both special effects and lighting.

As engaging as the ramblings of Renfield were, it did almost become an insanity trip myself watching this show. The ramblings were presented in long intervals and are difficult to digest at times. They progress slowly and it may appear that the story is going nowhere. In many ways, this captures the essence of the novel really well. They do well to emphasise the craziest and disturbing parts of Renfield, including his catching of flies and hearing the voices of Dracula. Having read the novel, this is both effective and almost difficult to understand.

Renfield: In the Shadow of the Vampire captures the character of Renfield effectively with high accuracy. It feels like an official extension of Dracula and offers a different perspective into the story, one which would’ve been great to have. If you enjoy the book and the film adaptations then you will really enjoy this show. It’s a faithful retelling of a classic horror novel and a disturbing character.

3.5 / 5 stars


Words by Cameron Lowe

Renfield: In the Shadow of the Vampire will be playing at the Bakehouse Theatre on March 10 and 14 at 6pm

For more information and to purchase tickets click here

Cold War

As you walk in, you’re handed an ice-cube from someone wearing a vaguely Day of the Dead-style suit, and no further instructions. There’s a low, bass-y, static-y rumble, and almost as soon as you’re in your seat – still holding the ice-cube – it’s demanded that the audience gets out of the stalls and assembles on the dance floor, where the two cast members launch into some heavy punk-rock. This is not a drill, one of them repeats. You’re still holding what’s left of the ice-cube. Yep, welcome to Fringe.

For me, this is the heart of Fringe; big-money stand-up acts in 200-plus seat arenas might pay the bills and keep the wine flowing, but for a festival initially started as a rebellious response to the original Adelaide Arts Festival becoming elitist and exclusionary, Fringe needs these sorts of shows to remain the Fringe. Avant-garde, highly experimental, stuff like Cold War gives street cred to the event. MKA, with Doppelgangster, have created a boldly unconventional production that discusses the current inaction on climate change. The two performers talk at each other in rapid-fire, touching on a million topics but always coming back to the same theme. Seemingly all absurdist and random, and with that constant white noise in the background, it all pivots back to an underlying question – can you win your innocence back? Can you right the ongoing wrongs? Each ‘act’ is punctuated by some original punk songs – one notable one claims Titanic was an inside job – and these effectively set up each act’s scenario.

Unfortunately though, there just seems like there’s a bit too much going on at any one time. The conversations between the two actors are peppered with off-hand references and sharp wit, but because they’re also tending to a drone or shaving ice & walking around the audience, you miss specifics and have to rely on just getting the gist of it. Key parts are usually slowed down a bit, but the sound mixing was clearly off, and as a result some of the song lyrics were hard to pick up as well. Whether it was intentional or not, it detracted from an otherwise interesting and engaging show.

Inasmuch as Cold War is clearly designed to be a confronting attempt to experiment with how a play ought to be staged, the lack of narrative and chaotic nature will rankle some people, which is a pity as the spectacle is well worth the effort required.

 

3.5/ 5 stars


Words by Mikey Della Porta

Cold War is showing until March 15

For more information please click here.

Promise and Promiscuity

The reimagining and retelling of a treasured work of literature can be a risky endeavour; New Zealand writer and performer Penny Ashton courageously took this plunge in her one-woman-show Promise and Promiscuity. Ashton describes this piece of theatre as collaboration between herself and Jane Austen, the 18th century writer who gifted the world with texts such as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasion. Ashton engages with Austen’s timeless values and narratives to bring us the character of Elspeth, a young woman battling against the gender obligations and expectations of her time. Using wit, song and dance, Ashton stages a charming and utterly hilarious revision of Austen’s iconic works.

Ashton was a riot of energy on stage as she jumped so precisely between the portrayal of various entertaining characters who were all exaggerated depictions of classic Austen personalities. Ashton’s physicality, vocal talents and unwavering commitment made such characters overwhelmingly comical. Paired with sharp staging, all character distinctions easily identifiable.

Songs were scattered throughout the 70-minute production, adding an additional layer of amusement and ridiculousness to the piece. Ashton also interacted with her audience, introducing us to an eager participant, Mr Lock, who hand a grand time dancing across the stage with our performer. Ashton’s talents in improvisation were on display in these moments as the inclusion of the audience only added humour and appeared organic and comfortable.

The aptitude of Ashton’s writing shone in her inclusion of contemporary pop-culture references: although Austen’s work is timeless, Ashton made it relatable and relevant. This was not limited to Austen’s advocacy against gender conventions, although droll comments on the long-standing gender pay gap were slipped in. Ashton also provided references to Fifty Shades of Grey, Kim Kardashian, Kmart, Donald Trump, and Billy Joel, with this list is only scraping the surface. Intertwining 18th century life with our current day perspectives highlighted how little this world and humanity has really changed: we are as hilariously absurd now as we were then.

The themes in Pride and Prejudice will never get old; hence, Promise and Promiscuity is built on an intertextual solid foundation. Although this piece is rooted in Austen’s work, it must be noted that the enjoyment of this show is not exclusive to those who are well-read or obsessive fans of Austen’s literature. Promise and Promiscuity is widely accessible, cheeky and uninhibited, particularly in the way it draws from the current day zeitgeist. Ashton, her chummy friendship with Austen, and her delightful production provides all audience members with the opportunity to have a hearty chuckle.

4.5 / 5 stars


Words by Michelle Wakim

Promise and Promiscuity is playing at Gluttony’s Masonic Lodge until March 1

For more information and to purchase tickets, click here

Peach Cobbler

It’s a pretty familiar scene for just about everyone: family dinner. Some families do it every night, some maybe once a fortnight, if that. Or just when everyone’s free. Y’know, if you can make it, it’d be really lovely to have you over – mum’s making roast lamb. It’s tradition, the family get-together, everyone has a bit of a laugh, your mum will have a crack at you for swearing so much, and you’ll leave having eaten a bit more than you should have.

For Peach Cobbler, you’re led in to someone’s dining room, and it’s instantly familiar to you. Mum hands you some crockery – don’t just stand there, go help your brother set the table. Dad’s already sitting there, craning his neck to watch the T.V. on in the living room. Your sister is there, having had to move back home for a bit, but can we not talk about that? Do you have to bring that up? Here, open this bottle of wine.

This isn’t the Joker hanging out of a police car window, and here… we… go-style, though. This is just family dinner. Over the next three-quarters of an hour, playwright Laura Desmond’s family’s dirty laundry gets aired – brother Dan, father Gary, Carol, the matriarch trying to hold it all together, and Georgia, back living at home for a while. You get the feeling that this dirty laundry never really gets washed, and the topics of conversation – light, airy dinnertime subjects such as why feminism has gone too far, nationalism, misogyny, how it’s unfair that indigenous students always seem to be getting handouts – aren’t exactly on their first lap around the washing machine, and definitely aren’t on their last. That’s what gets to you about this show, the excruciating familiarity of it all, how you instantly know these people, how you don’t realise you’ve been clenching your jaw for twenty minutes. And then it ends, gradually, but suddenly. A long, drawn-out abruptness.

This show is like sitting on a chair that’s tilted fifteen degrees too far in one direction, at a desk that’s tilted fifteen degrees too far in the opposite direction. The light is 15% too bright or too dark, and the window just won’t open enough to get any of the breeze through – just like some family dinners you’ve absolutely been to, having to listen to racist aunt Mary or Uncle Dave who thinks that girls really should behave or dress in a certain way if they want to be taken seriously.

There isn’t a whole lot of things I’d give five stars to; Jawbreaker’s 1993 album 24 Hour Revenge Therapy, inter dismantling Barcelona in 2010, The Puma Suede… But this show is definitely one of them.

5 / 5 stars


 

Words by Mikey Della Porta

Peach Cobbler is on until March 13

For more information and to book tickets, click here

Boys Taste Better with Nutella

I can’t recall laughing at having cold Macca’s fries thrown at me, and then instantly being floored by a stark, brutal admission, so a tip of the propeller beanie to you, Caitlin Hill and Peter Wood. I mean, I’ve definitely had fries chucked at me a few times after I’ve said something inappropriate, and on one particular occasion someone lobbed a half-eaten kebab at me, but the 1-2 combination of an amusing dance routine and a rather blunt statement? That’s definitely new.

Boys Taste Better with Nutella is a brief, and at times sharp, examination of Aggy’s (Hill) love life and Frederick’s (Wood) sexuality. For Aggy it’s a revolving door of manipulative scumbags that inevitably break her heart, whilst for Frederick it’s coming to terms with who he actually might be, and what he’s allergic to. Punctuated by silly dance numbers and throwaway pop-culture referencing one-liners, both characters find replacements for their respective struggles: Aggy’s best friend Nutella masks the latest bloke that she’s changed herself completely for, and Frederick takes solace in producing Mukbang videos and McDonald’s fries.

Both are addicted to the instant gratification that they find in each of their vices; Aggy either falls for a guy she believes will love and adore her unconditionally, or she gets to inhale Nutella, and Frederick gets immediate acceptance, likes, and comments on his videos, or he gets to mainline fries like a junkie. Of course, both characters have a genesis for their coping mechanisms, which gets explored through absurd and exaggerated situations, with Wood often playing a range of supporting characters to Hill’s leading role.

Whilst it’s pretty low-hanging fruit – millennials learning to accept and better themselves without having to rely on motivational Instagram posts of profoundly banal quotes over idyllic mountains – Boys Taste Better With Nutella doesn’t pull any punches, and gets pretty confrontational with the topics it brings up. Yeah, it’s ludicrous and stupid but it’s clever and quite poignant at the same time. Wood and Hill ham it up whilst giving serious commentary on the increasing isolation and lack of identity that’s come about with modern hyper-connectivity. Their slick comedic timing means both bounce effectively off each other, and their evident talents create a rather enjoyable show.

3.5 / 5 stars


Words by Mikey Della Porta

Boys Taste Better with Nutella is showing until February 23

For more information and to purchase tickets, click here

The Devil Made Me Do It

An independent production by Write Me Originals, The Devil Made Me Do It is a theatre piece interrogating the pressures of being an actor/dancer in Hollywood or even just a woman in the 1950s.

Beginning as an intermission dancer, Nancy was offered the chance of a lifetime making films with director Robert Melva. Without much thought for the consequences, she signed on sacrificing not only her name but her independence, her body, and her life to the showbiz industry. Renamed as Nora Hudson, she’s cultivated into a glamorous starlet by the production company and encouraged to take a number of pills to enhance her suitability as at actor (eg pills for weight loss and energy). Eventually she loses herself along the way, realising that nobody in the industry valued her for herself, instead they valued her for being a sex symbol.

Nancy needs to break her contract with the devil – despite the fact he laughed in her face when she suggested it, she is determined to regain her soul. Given a challenge and a countdown, Nancy must revisit memories of her past and uncover what kind of person she truly is. It might be painful, but it’s necessary if she’s ever going to have a shot at regaining her soul.

While the story appears to be Nancy’s, it is more so about the haunting figure in the background. Both Nancy’s past and present selves are overshadowed by the devil. Nancy’s devil is the devil while Nora’s is her infamous manager, Melva, who is not only controlling and demanding, he is the person Nora must please daily to maintain her path to stardom.

With some dark turns this production explores a number of issues including drug-dependence, body-image issues, and gas-lighting. The Devil Made Me Do It is an engrossing piece of performance theatre with several quite talented young actors. The piece is a warning to performers, and people in general, to be wary of what you’re signing up for and the consequences of signing a contract that might exploit you later on/ bite you on the ass.

With costuming a throw-back to the 50s and the iconic blonde-bombshell archetype, the show is a delight to watch.

 

3.5 / 5 stars


Words by Kayla Gaskell

The Devil Made Me Do It is playing at the Bakehouse Theatre until February 22

For more information and to book tickets, click here

Sh!t Theatre Drink Rum with Expats

Drink Rum with Expats is one of the many highly acclaimed productions currently on show at Holden Street Theatres. Presented by Sh!t Theatre – the collaboration of UK based duo, Becca Biscuit and Louise Mothersole – this production offers itself as a recount of Becca and Louise’s venture to Malta, a small, idealistic, sun-kissed island in Europe. Specifically, the pair take us to Valletta, ‘The European Capital of Culture’. This comical telling quickly shows its full depth as the pair take a deep dive into the political climate of this small country.  The production highlights the profound cultural tensions that lie beneath a country’s touristic offering and also explores the constructions of expats and immigrants.

On our entrance we were poured a beer and given cheese: Sh!t Theatre were welcoming in us in with the same pleasant rituals that expats experience when establishing their communities abroad. Soon after introductions, Becca and Louise begin to unpack the privilege of an expat and the marginalisation of an immigrant, yet they are not arrogant or overpowering in this political discussion. ‘Expats’ and ‘Immigrants’ are lined up alongside of each other, exposing their constructed similarities and differences – it is suggested that the former comes from a ‘rich’ country, and the latter from a ‘poor’ one. This is symbolically presented many times throughout the production, such as when we see our expats wearing life jackets and drowning themselves in alcohol, while the screen behind them plays a photo reel of immigrants drowning at sea. Before we know it, Becca and Louise plunge into one of Malta’s, and the world’s, greatest predicaments: who is entitled to citizenship?

This piece of theatre is by no means traditional; instead, it is a rich melting pot of various theatrical genres, mediums and devices. There is song, dance and elements of physical theatre. The set, in its structure, is rather simple but decorated with humble props that bring the space to life, with each prop serving as a connection to travels or the political discussion at hand. The use of real audio recordings, photographs and videos from Sh!t Theatre’s travels contributed not only to the humour of the piece, but in realising the authenticity and intensity of the unfortunate truths that sit behind the comedy.

A specific note of praise must be given to the inclusion of song within Drink Rum with Expats. Revised lyrics and touching harmonies were applied a familiar sea shanty tune and the audience were invited to sing along, establishing a sense of community and belonging within the quaint theatre. The singing was at times jovial but also offered the sensation of nostalgia and a melancholic connection formed within a patriotic community when under threat.

The execution of this production was sharp and seamless.  It was fast paced and engaging with an improvisational tone. It felt like highly organised chaos, a whirlwind, allowing 75 minutes fly by in an instant. The organic chemistry between Becca and Louise was evident, heightening the comedic appeal of the production. The fact that there was, arguably, no fourth wall ever built to be broken encouraged a relationship to be formed quickly between performers and audience members. Such a relationship enabled the uncomfortable undertones of this piece to be received without resistance. A hearty commendation should be given to Becca and Louise for their writing. Layering comedy with harrowing political commentary takes remarkable intelligence and acute social awareness.

Sh!t Theatre were right to present such a show to Australian audiences. An ‘Australian expat’ and ‘expats in Australia’ are common pairings. However, the relationship between Australia and immigration is not nearly as friendly and sometimes forgotten. Australian citizens have often exercised the privilege of living and travelling abroad, immersing ourselves in a foreign culture and then returning home to be welcomed with open arms by everyone in our country – even those working at airport security – all because of our Australian documentation. Becca and Louise’s experiences were much the same.

It has never been more important for people to see such pieces of art, and Becca and Louise make this piece of political theatre an absolute pleasure to watch.

 

4.5/ 5 stars


Words by Michelle Wakim

Sh!t Theatre Drink Rum With Expats runs until March 15.
To find out more and to purchase tickets click here.

The Archive of Educated Hearts

The Archive of Educated Hearts is an exquisitely touching piece of work. This theatre and installation act is tucked away in one of the snug and charming spaces at the Holden Street Theatres. In this half an hour production, Casey Jay Andrews, both writer and performer, shares the true stories of four women and their battles with breast cancer; these women are all influential figures in Andrews’ life.

The intimacy, created by both the physical space and the way the stories are told, was overwhelming. The small audience of only six were seated in a crescent shape around Andrews, allowing her to offer every person eye contact and directed expression, having a remarkable effect on our emotional investment. The performance space was filled with homely treasures – pictures, trinkets, old toys, books – the floor covered with beautifully detailed rugs, and the seats were old sofa chairs that many of us associate with our grandparents’ houses. It felt like a feminine space. It was the perfect place to discuss the long lasting and wide spreading effects of cancer.

Andrews brought together a range of artefacts to tell these stories, with voice recordings from the real-life characters and pictures making for an intensely authentic experience. As the audio played, Andrews sat at a small table laying out pictures under a camera that projected her content onto a screen in front of us.

Between the personal stories and reflections, the audience learnt about the Educated Heart, a concept from Gelett Burgess’ book Have You an Educated Heart? Complimenting her personal stories with the ideals of an Educated Heart – kindness, instincts and relations to others – was a remarkable paring by Andrews, as it added a further layer of sentimentality, allowing us to understand the way we receive and process life’s challenges. Andrews herself opens up to us about her own heart, and inarticulate one.

Andrews’ writing is rich in imagery and delicate in tone, with her use of language allowing audiences to feel a deep connection to her and the experiences at the heart of this piece. In her delivery, Andrews presents a version of herself that reflects genuine kindness and vulnerability, yet great composure and comfort; in summary, her character and narrative voice is a flawless fit for this production.

The Archive of Educated Hearts brings us back to the humble art of storytelling, and the power of shared connection and human experiences, particularly those generated in times of grief. Expect the odd tear, a struck nerve or a lump in your throat. In this homely space listening to Andrews’ gentle recount, you will feel as if you have found the company of an old friend, someone you can sit with for hours and discuss life with a cup of tea in hand.

5 stars


Words by Michelle Wakim

The Archive of Educated Hearts is showing at Holden Street Theatres until the 16th.