by Michael Thebridge
Directed by Gabrielle
A piece of Christmas Candy Cane
If their recent GoFundMe Campaign is anything to go by, The Owl and Cat Theatre is in a little bit of trouble. They’re short on funds to keep the place open, and have issued a rallying cry to their loyal supporters to lend a hand. None of the seriousness of their predicament was on display when I went to see the new show After Party written by Michael Thebridge and directed by Gabrielle Savrone.
Last time I was reviewing a show at The Owl and Cat it was for the determinedly darker work Breed. Where Breed lay on one end of the spectrum, After Party lies almost at the other end entirely. It’s a comedy about an ad agency and their big pitch meeting the day after a scandalous Christmas party.
It’s pretty funny. It’s definitely charming. It’s a welcome piece of confectionary against Owl and Cat’s usual social commentary oeuvre. It’s hard to know how to describe the experience of watching it beyond the genuine amusement I felt during the play. It doesn’t linger very long, and it doesn’t challenge you to think about anything, but I enjoyed myself regardless.
The cast are skilled (albeit largely too young, especially obvious was the ridiculously youthful looking CEO character, but this is a problem that plagues independent theatre), and deliver their characters with conviction. Some of the more slapsticky elements are sold excellently, and the timing of the rushed entrances and exits was lovely.
First time writer Thebridge does a… B/B- grade job of crafting a surprising narrative, with some delightfully caustic lines flung amongst the characters. His writing suffers a little from many first-time-writer’s-syndrome where all his characters occasionally sound like the same bitchy, gay stereotype, roles already strongly presented in two of the characters. That’s something that will diminish with more writing experience, and it didn’t detract heavily from the play, especially when many of those sassy one-liners are so funny.
Overall, I enjoyed myself, and I laughed out loud, which is really the benchmark over which comedies have to leap.
If The Owl and Cat Theatre can continue to produce this kind of variety, ranging from the bleakest of social commentaries to the lightest of comedies, all while supporting promising emerging talent, then they can become an integral piece of the independent theatre landscape in Melbourne. And that, to me, seems worth saving.
After Party is open till Monday 21st of December. Tickets available here.
A Lady Shot
By Girls Act Good
Directed by Jennifer Monk
A bold effort
La Mama’s Explorations program gives emerging and established artists the opportunity to present new, in development and potentially very rough ideas. It’s a fantastic program, and often means independent artists take their concepts on into fully fledged productions.
It is with this understanding of the program in mind that I made my way into La Mama’s tiny, rough theatre for the debut production A Lady Shot from all-female performance collective Girls Act Good with direction from Jennifer Monk who also performs in the show.
The best use of the Explorations season is as a trial grounds for concepts, and Girls Act Good have taken that mission absolutely to heart. In examining historical female characters through a modern lens the performers bring several powerful women to the fore in both modern contexts, and occasionally in their historical contexts too.
A Lady Shot is a lot to take in. It’s an immense amount of show, with the cast tackling as many variations of what it means to be a woman in a tightly choreographed sixty minutes. This relentless pacing means some of the vignette fail to land, not given the time to breathe, and not given adequate time to present a thoughtful understanding of the larger issues at play. A piece on domestic violence provoked a particularly uncomfortable response, not for the confronting nature of the content, but for the rushed and eventually didactic nature of the presentation. With further fine tuning, and the elimination of a number of the vignettes it is easy to see how Girls Act Good could present a highly nuanced examination of contemporary womanhood.
The performances were highly committed, emotionally truthful and, frankly impressive. With deft comic timing and a perfect, unruffled performance as various opening night jitters and glitches popped up, Lee McClenaghan delivered a captivating performance. All the cast delivered, and it’s delightful to see a stage filled with professional, talented women totally dominating their stage.
I can easily see Girls Act Good continuing to make impressive strides with A Lady Shot. A writer, some dramaturgy and a couple more tech rehearsals, and this show will stand alongside anything else making the rounds in independent theatre in Melbourne right now.
A Lady Shot has concluded.
by Sarah Clarke
Directed by Emily Joy
A talented performer in a show that fails to hit every note.
For me, the Melbourne Fringe Festival is an opportunity to showcase emerging, avant-garde and potentially confronting works to enthusiastic audiences. I don’t go into every Fringe show anticipating a work of perfect execution, for I believe the Fringe Festival is as much about exploration and development as it is about engaging performances that need to be seen.
In Semi Charmed, a new work written and performed by Sarah Clarke - making her Fringe debut - Daphne Hill is a twenty-something single preparing for a first date with a Tinder match. It’s an area ripe for exploration, social commentary and insight into the workings of modern romance, but in this particular production, an underdeveloped approach prevents the piece from saying much that is meaningful.
Sarah is clearly a talented actress. In the subtler moments of drama that pepper the piece her emotional connection really shines through and she is captivating. It’s in the remainder of the piece where she falters, spinning in time, not saying much, and offering little in the way of commentary. Sarah’s singing voice is elegant and gentle, crooning over love songs both familiar and foreign, but the heavy reliance on lyrics to convey meaning as opposed the musical expression left me feeling alienated from the music, as opposed to drawn in.
Performed in the lower studio space at The Butterfly Club, Semi Charmed is somewhat swallowed. The intimate, often quiet, piece is lost over the creaking of chairs, and Sarah’s personal and reflective voice fails to carry to the back rows. In a venue which charges $32 per adult ticket, not being able to see the full stage or hear the entire show seems inexcusable.
The most telling moment was a piece of recorded audio from Lena Dunham’s GIRLS, which offered both more insight and a far stronger narrative voice, serving only to highlight what appeared to be a lack of intention guiding the performance.
I wanted to like this piece as Sarah is charming and charismatic, but I left feeling somewhat cold, unable to see the driving need to make this particular piece of theatre, especially for Fringe.
Semi Charmed has concluded.
I Am A Miracle
by Declan Greene
Directed by Matthew Lutton
I don't quite know what to make of this Malthouse Theatre piece, the first work following the announcement of new artistic direcor Matthew Lutton who also directs. I have sat for some hours contemplating what I witnessed on that stage, and I'm at something of a loss.
The Malthouse Theatre has committed itself to some interesting theatre, and I Am A Miracle is certainly interesting. At best, I can describe it as a visually spectacular and, sometimes surprisingly moving, failure.
The play opens with a jarringly difficult to follow monologue courtesy of Bert LaBonté, punctuated with interruptions from other cast members Melita Jurisic and Hana Lee Crisp. They're all in orange jumpsuits, and I believe it has something to do with prison, because I had glanced at a program informing me the work was inspired by a Texas execution. The monologue doesn't linger in the mind, but LaBonté seems convinced of his lines, in spite of my ability to follow them. The utterly incomprehensible opening transitioned to the following scene accompanied by some of the most ethereally gorgeous choral singing I have ever heard on any stage, the Opera included.
What followed was an extraordinary monologue delivered by Jurisic, about her life as a 17 year old Dutch sailer in the 1800's. As a middle aged female, the casting confused me at first, and then continued to confuse me as I recognised the substance of the stories, and how much more appropriate they would be as conveyed by a male actor. I'm sure Jurisic was an artistic choice (and is a very fine actor), but I was left wondering why this particular performer was most suitable for the role. This became even more apparent to me in the second scene which could have remained entirely unaltered with Jurisic replaced by a male performer. This isn't to say she isn't talented, she is, exceedingly so, just miscast, and in a way that distracts far too much from one of the only sections that could have worked flawlessly.
Again, it was the transition at the end of the monologue (a monologue also punctuated by remarks from LaBonté and Crisp), that spellbound me. Never have I seen a theatre curtain used so beautifully on a stage. Crisp, again delivered an extraordinary aria, looped against her own vocal, and then supplemented with more sumptuous choral arrangements. Her voice is transporting and affecting, and was a delight to listen to. Had the entire play been performed as an (Italian, I believe) aria, I would have been enraptured.
The second scene was puzzling in it's presentation. Meant, I'm sure, to be delivered in an extraordinarily naturalistic style, the relationships between the characters was marred by the clear age difference between the performers. At times I wondered in Jurisic was LaBonté's mother, and at times I wondered if they were lovers. The scene itself was set on one of the most spectacular uses of staging I have ever seen, and will remember for some years. The beautiful presentation, however, couldn't ever make up for the fact that I felt left out, unable to pull together the strands of this increasingly unforgiving play.
I can remember almost nothing of the third sequence save for the use of some extraordinary lighting design, and, again, that sumptuous choral accompaniment. The dialogue was repetitive and incredibly difficult to follow, and perhaps it's just that I've been out of the country for some time, and have become somehow unfamiliar with my own accent, but keeping track of any semblance of story over the incredibly beautiful imagery and soundscape became impossible.
Is this what theatre is supposed to be now?
I felt punched in the chest in a way I haven't felt in the theatre for a long time, and at no point did I feel even remotely drowsy (a serious problem I have in so many productions), but it wasn't the theatre that made me feel that. I wonder how much production design, how much music, and how much lighting it takes before what is essentially an unfathomable play becomes something of a performance art piece.
And in a way, maybe that's okay. Perhaps we are allowed to enjoy theatre just for how it looks for a while, instead of how truthful the performances are; instead of how honest, meaningful and exciting the writing is; instead of how assured the directing might be. Perhaps that's okay, but for me, it isn't.
As a work of performance art, I Am A Miracle is stunning; a shining example of how to use space, production design, lighting and sound to create a truly spectacular sensory experience.
As a piece of theatre, it fails. Utterly.
I am Miracle has concluded.
by lou ramsen
directed by jd ness
nb: images supplied by production
BREED, part of the newly reopened The Owl and Cat Theatre's first season, is a stunning example of what the independent theatre sector in Melbourne is able to achieve in spite of the serious issues which plague it.
There aren't enough roles for women. There are too many roles for young men. There isn't enough money. Writing isn't nurtured in this country. Independent theatre is a young person's game.
When I filed in to the uncomfortable plastic chairs, stacked on rostrum in the theatre, I took in the cardboard and ply wood set, the sparse staging, the little set dressing and wondered how many of these issues which plague independent theatre BREED would fall foul of.
BREED, directed by JD Ness, is a powerful play. The subject matter is evocative, and language itself crackles with wit, energy and violence. The relationships are strong, the connections between the characters are strong, and as we move through this story, we're swept up in the world created by UK-based writer Lou Ramsden.
The performance itself is wonderful. The accent work is largely flawless, the directing is sharp and well staged, and the performers are giving it their all driving the action beautifully. Performers Jennifer Monk shines in her role and Pat Moonie delivers a stunning realism as they play almost opposite each other, but not together in a beautiful symmetry. Jennifer and Pat are both too young for the roles they play, but that's the lot of the independent theatre director.
The remaining cast, Oliver Bailey and Honor Wolff bring a beautiful depth to their performances, fleshing out their characters with honest performances and an incredible commitment to the story. It's compared to these performances that the turn from Damian Vuleta falters with an energy totally at odds with the rest of the cast. He is an older actor and appears untrained, unsettling the balance created in the opening scenes. It's disappointing, watching the action slow down like that, but the others keep up the energy and fire, driving the play onwards.
BREED is an excellent work, in spite of the limitations; the too-small space, the empty staging, the always-too-little money. When it flies it really soars. I was wrapped up in the action all the way through to the heart-stopping conclusion, and I wished, as soon as the bows were over they'd had even more money, a bigger set, more.
Independent theatre needs more, and it is my hope that directors like JD Ness, and performance spaces like The Owl and Cat Theatre get what they need to continue to make challenging, excellent and conversation-starting work like BREED.
BREED has concluded.