Sunday, March 19, 2017

Anti Gravity, Chunky Move, Review


Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

I have no idea how this review is going to go. I'm a words-and-story guy – how do you review something that has no words and no story?

Bottom line, right here at the top: Yeah wow, amazing. A dream-like, surreal esoteric poem, but visually and aurally mesmirising.

The intro to this latest of Australia's most accomplished contemporary dance companies, Chunky Move, is (like this reviewer) slow and moody. Just when you get to the point of thinking if the whole hour and a bit is like this I might have to go, things start to happen. The pace changes and all the quite dazzling elements come into play and it just has your attention for the duration. You kind of get lost in this sensory assault that is at times slow, at other times charged and upbeat. Even the quiet sections, however, are quietly thrilling.

The performance is based around the concept of clouds and gravity. The dormant props scattered around the stage are intriguing and all come into inventive play. The smoke machines produce some wonderful clouds indeed, and the performers themselves occupy the stage as individuals at times coming together like water molecules combining to form clouds. There is always something going on on some part of the stage, some little vignette being enacted, bodies fluidly expressing some idea, some essence of the elements. The mood is by turns primal, tribal, communal, surreal. Individually, each performer does something amazing, but when they come together as a larger entity, the trust and teamwork on display... it just makes you smile with admiration.

All six dancers are such a joy to watch. Their movements are explorations of how far the body can go. The movements are angular, smooth, sensual, elegant, flowing, rhythmic. We - mostly in our rigid bodies - see bodies all day long but never really see them reaching for their full potential, this physical exploration, and that's why this is such a visual feast. These six performers are our physical potential realised. And it's magical stuff.

The sound system in The Merlyn has always been an impressive beast and it is used here to wonderful effect. The sound – humming, pulsing, beating – comes from all around and is a thrill in itself. This is an all-round, wonderful production.

It's a short season. Life is short. Treat yourself. Go see Anti-Gravity before it vanishes, cloud-like, into the Goddamnit I missed it.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Faith Healer, MTC 2017, Review

Faith Healer

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

I love and embrace my ignorance; to the best of my knowledge I was not aware of the existence of the Irish playwright Brian Friel. This is excellent, because after seeing the very fine Faith Healer, I now have another 30 or so plays to experience by this much lauded, very famous Irish recluse. In short, I loved everything about Faith Healer, a play as modest, inventive and intriguing as its author appears to have been.

Colin Friels plays the eponymous faith healer of the title. His is the first of four monologues looking back into the past. He looks back at his life as an itinerant faith healer traveling through small villages in Wales and Scotland healing the ill and the damaged with varying degrees of success. He is Frank Hardy and he comes across as now wistful, a once likeable rogue with a strange talent he didn't quite understand and which never delivered its full potential. He comes across as a worn-out, threadbare showman who clearly thought he was always destined for greatness. It's basically a personal reminiscence about his glory days as a faith healer (not so glorious, in reality, and he knows it), as well as his relationships with his partner Grace and his cockney manager Teddy.

Colin Friels is in fine form here. Right from the opening, lilting brogue delivery, Friels draws you into his sepia toned past. It's been a past of ups and downs, of moments both sad and shining. It's a masterful portrayal of a basically well-meaning man who has lived a life of unrealised potential, of someone who, looking back, is intrigued by how things worked out the way they did. It was a flawless and engaging performance.

Alison Whyte as Grace was equally compelling in the next monologue. Totally different character, same compelling stage presence, and exact same story. But this is the genius of the writing; it's also a very different story. Grace's version of events are very different to those of Frank's account. Frank, himself, as Grace tells it, is a different character. Not completely; she acknowledges that she fell for the charisma of the showman too, but she reveals that all was not as it seems. There are unexpected laughs, as there were in the opening section, but there is also much sadness as Grace, too, looks back at how her life turned out. The essence of her past with Frank is the same, it's just different.

The third monologue is by Paul Blackwell as Frank's traveling manager Teddy. There is much more humour in this section as this larger than life character gives his version of events. By this time you think that perhaps he will represent Truth, and maybe he does. Maybe his is an impartial account of events. However, the whole point of the play seems to be that perhaps we use memory to cope. Perhaps we unintentionally change things to help us survive, so in fact is Teddy's memory to be relied upon?

Colin Friels returns for the closing monologue after this largely comic, though also melancholic section, which seems fitting, given that his character is the centre-piece of the story. Not all is spelled out, which ensures that the play lingers in your mind.

Faith Healer really is wonderful writing, such beautifully engaging writing rich with all that it means to be human, with our hopes and our dreams and our frustrations. It's such good story telling that it needs a minimal stage design, in this case a few chairs a backdrop of a stormy sky with ever-changing lighting and a tattered banner. Director Judy Davis has done well to keep things minimal and let these very fine actors do their thing, which is to draw you into their characters' world for a couple of beautifully engaging hours.

At Southbank Theatre until March 4

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis In Grumpy & The Dreaded One's Little Cafe Of Awesome

This is one seriously cool photo. These guys are legends. They make amazing music. I love the music of The Bad Seeds and Grinderman and Dirty Three. And here were these two one day, in my banged up cafe.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Donald Trump... So Fucking Stupid

This Trump thing... it's so fascinating. So morbidly fascinating that an idiot orange pigman, self-confessed pussy grabber has the world's attention. That press conference... holy shit. He doesn't need the media to be his enemy or "the enemy of the American people" to paint him in bad light, he's doing it all himself. He's up there in front of a hastily-called press conference doing all the worst damage he could possibly do to himself. He is clearly a lunatic. He is clearly a sociopath. And stupid... so breath-takingly stupid. That bit about uranium... for real? The leader of the current leading world super power actually said that? Among so much other totally dumb shit... amazing.

And he is so stupid that he doesn't see the media as the powerful tool that it could be. Yeah right, all of the media is against you because they make up fake news... no, just look at your pathetic performance up there in your first presidential press conference where you could have talked calmly about policy and won the press over with charm and intelligence, but noooo. What a bombastic, idiotic performance that was. No one made it up. Nothing fake. You did it. You are real. You proved yet again that you are the very worst example of humanity.

And it makes me want to know what the supporters of this truly delusional and vile bit of phlegm think now that he truly is out there unleashed and representing them on the world stage. I know he appeals to an ignorant minority of the American population (didn't win the popular vote, orange pigman fool), but I hear stories about supposedly intelligent Americans who voted for him.

I'm fascinated. How do you feel now, intelligent Americans who voted for this actually mentally unstable grub? Are you happy that he represents YOU on the world stage. You good with that? I'm curious. I want to know.

Because it's one month in and from all the way over here it looks you have fucked up badly by electing this proven pathological liar and utter buffoon.

Okay... butterflies and pretty clouds... butterflies and pretty clouds...

Sunday, February 05, 2017

'Tis Pity, Victorian Opera, Review

Image result for tis a pity, victorian opera
'Tis A Pity

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

My love affair... no my infatuation... no that's not right either... my obsession... no I'm not obsessed... my stalker tendencies for... no that's just wrong (but not entirely)... my...
thing for Meow Meow goes back many years now, as the whole world knows. And as much as I have always melted at the mere mention of her name and become positively turgid at the prospect of a new show, 'Tis Pity left me... let's just say it didn't leave me with the raging emotional hard-on her performances usually leave me with.

Part of the problem is that Meow Meow belongs on a pedestal. A pedestal with spotlights focused on her unique and divine presence. Of course she is usually accompanied on stage, but usually by a small band or a solo pianist or some hand-picked reluctant volunteers from the audience.

In 'Tis Pity, however, Miss Meow is part of a much larger cast and as such, her star power has been much diluted. And 'tis a pity.

Borrowing its name from... I thought it got its name from a recent Bowie song, but it's actually from a 17
th century play by John Ford. The full title is 'Tis A Pity She's A Whore, and this production by Victorian Opera is indeed an examination of prostitution in its various forms throughout the ages.

We start off in ancient Athens and Rome and move through the ages to modern times in a series of 10 vignettes, each exploring various aspects of prostitution and its standing in the respective times, all told in a kind of Vaudevillian operatic style.

The work is a collaboration between artistic director and composer Richard Mills, director Cameron Menzies, and performer (what an insufficient word, given her star quality) Meow Meow. MM is accompanied on stage by co-lead Kaneen Breen and three dancers Alexander Bryce, Thomas Johansson and Patrick Weir. The stage is also rammed with a symphony orchestra. All do a fine job.

Ironically, all of this talent on stage adds up to the reason this was a little less satisfying for me than the usual Meow Meow experience. There were teasing glimmers of classic Meow Meow craziness but it was buried in so much orchestra and opera (yes, I know from other shows that she holds her own in classic song of whichever style she chooses to play with). I do appreciate classical music, but as a soundtrack I found the music here distracting. I kept feeling like I was listening to a Disney cartoon, melodramatic tunes accompanying crazy visual antics. And I don't think I appreciate the operatic delivery of story, so while I found the vocals amazing, it's just not my preferred way of being told a story or given information. I don't actually like having to take my eyes away from the performance to read the English interpretation of the Italian lyrics being sung.

But that's just me. I haven't seen a lot of opera, so I'd love to hear what someone who knows about opera thinks of this performance.

At the heart of 'Tis A Pity is a serious examination of a very human condition. What they have tried to do is balance the seriousness of the topic with comedy. In past shows I've been amazed by Meow Meow's ability to draw from me tears of hilarity and tears of the other kind in such a short time. Again, here, for me, not so much. I'm not sure this balancing act of sincerity and humour worked so well.

I went in aware that this was going to be a little different to my favourite Meow Meow shows of the past, and yes, there is so much amazing talent present in this production, and yes I did start to really enjoy it but not until the Berlin Vignette, which was quite a way into the show.

I'm not quite sure why this show was “written at breakneck speed”, as Richard Mills tells us in the program notes, but perhaps it would have benefited with a bit more time. Really not bad, just possibly doesn't deliver its full potential.

At Melbourne Recital Centre until February 8

Saturday, February 04, 2017


Things hadn't been happy in the household for quite a while. There had been a lot of trouble, almost all of it entirely unnecessary. Declarations of love had been shouted down by declarations of hate. Separation seemed inevitable. Friends from all parts of the world were concerned. There was much discussion between many clueless third parties about what would or should happen.

Then there was a period of tranquility, of cautious peace. Maybe, he thought, they could work things out after all. Maybe it was worth trying to make it work, because the troubled now was riding on the crest of a wave of long-time love. There was hope.

He was an introvert working in a people job, dealing with people all day long. He enjoyed this, enjoyed interacting with people, but by Friday he needed the quiet sanctuary of his home. Dealing with people was a kaleidoscopic experience, often wonderful, often sad, always, ultimately, exhausting.

On this Friday, he stopped off to have a drink with her and her friends. They were already drunk and laughing and keen to kick on. He explained his exhaustion and his need to go to his sanctuary and they said they understood. He said he would pick up dinner ingredients and would cook dinner for her. She smiled and said she'd see him soon.

At home, he showered and dressed in his silk sarong. He didn't turn on the TV or music. The silence was sublime. He made a drink and started to prepare their dinner, looking forward to their quiet night in together.

Then his phone buzzed with a message: We are all coming back for dinner. Can you pop the nachos in?

He hoped she was joking but started to prepare a bigger meal just in case, and sure enough the door crashed drunkenly open and they all spilled in, all noise and drunk laughter.

He felt rude as he excused himself, told her he was going to bed. He really needed some solitude and didn't understand why she had done this. He went to bed, and she turned the music up so loud it almost drowned out their raucous talk and laughter.

Music and raucous talk and laughter are happy sounds, and as he fell asleep, he enjoyed these sounds, even though right now they made him feel sad as well.

Eventually the others left, their leaving waking him. She cleaned up and eventually made her way into her room, no longer so happy and talkative.

Silence and darkness; sanctuary at last.

He went out into the darkness of their home to look for something to eat, because it was late and he was hungry. He looked for the leftovers of the meal he had started to prepare for them and found that in a final fuck you, she had scraped the leftovers into the garbage bin.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Staying Here, For Now

Hey. Hey you, yeah you.
I've got it now,
I understand what's going on.
I'm a guy in this story,
There's no other explanation,
I'm just a guy in this story.

I'm this guy in this story
About love
And missed opportunities
And understanding
And misunderstanding
And understanding
That life is eternal
But our brief experience of it
Is fleeting.

I'm a story.
You are a story.
He told a story,
She heard his story,
They became a part of each others story.

Out there in the universe,
That vast, vast universe,
They held hands and looked
Into each others cosmic eyes.

Transmission of information,
He didn't know how.
You have to stay on this planet,
You must stay here,
Said in a strange and distant voice.

Really, you need to stay here.

Why are you saying this?
Why are you saying these things?
Why are you saying this?
I don't understand why you are saying this.

She said,
Because I know.
I know what you are going to do.
I know. I see you, and I know.
You need to stay here and tell your stories
And help people.

And I will stay here and help people,
Even though right now
I also want to leave.
Okay, he said, not now,
I'll stay for now
If you stay too.
And she said that she will stay too.

For now.