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Mike Birbiglia looks the part. Unassuming. Casual. He wears the uniform of the gen-X comic: well-worn jeans; button-down shirt over tee; sneakers. His manner, when he first walks on stage, matches his appearance. He’s surprisingly quietly spoken, which proves a deft technique for quietening the audience.

This unexpected quietness is slightly unsettling, but strangely compelling. He launches into a brief introductory riff on jetlag, but it’s only brief, for we’re here for the unravelling of an intriguing tale, entitled My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend. For Birbiglia isn’t about wisecracks, oneliners, smart-arsed remarks or gags, even if his stories are peppered with all of those. He’s about cutting true-to-life slices, or at least has the art to make them sound that way. These slices lay bare all the filling: more embarrassment and downright humiliation and tears, than triumph. His performance is his life story; most particularly his romantic history. Though one does get the sense some poetic licence and embroidery has been involved. But when the result is this convincing, truth becomes all the more relative.

Continue reading “REVIEW: My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend (Sydney Festival) | Everest Theatre”

Cabaret

Jan 17, 2011

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The Wau Wau Sisters' Last Supper | Sydney Opera House (Photo: SOH website)
The Wau Wau Sisters' Last Supper | Sydney Opera House (Photo: SOH website)

Acrobatics, aerialism and comedy, fused with yet other modalities, seem to be enjoying a moment in the sun this summer, particularly as part of Sydney’s annual festival. Last week alone, I caught two homegrown shows, both excellent, both at the Sydney Opera House and, last night, direct from NYC and with the requisite hype, The Wau Wau Sisters.

It was one of those shows that was underway even as you made your way to your seat, with two girls (at least one moustachioed) deputised as pseudo-ushers.

Continue reading “REVIEW: The Wau Wau Sisters’ Last Supper | The Studio, Sydney”

Melbourne

Jan 14, 2011

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Don Parties On | Playhouse, Melbourne (Photo: Jeff Busby)

Barry Humphries skipped out quickly after curtains, perhaps avoiding an awkward conversation with the playwright after. In fact, ushers misdirected the usual crowd of Melbourne B-listers and the post-show party fizzled. The stench still wafted from the theatre. This was grim viewing, possums.

Our most celebrated stage scribe got to his feet post-show to be applauded, a polite if halfhearted acknowledgement. He smiled contentedly. David Williamson is nothing but content. Blithely, indolently content.

Continue reading “REVIEW: Don Parties On | Playhouse, Melbourne”

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Some of the best, most enchanting and memorable theatre I’ve seen has been for kids. That might say something about me. The theatre I’ve seen. Or both.

The Festival of Sydney has jumped on the junior bandwagon with Snow On Mars, at Seymour. The possibility of vibrant life on other planets must seem particularly appealing for many youth stuck in rural New South Wales. Like 12-year-old Waylon; played by Rick Everett, who manages to act Waylon’s age, rather than his own. And if Waylon has his head in the clouds, and stars in his eyes, so does his equally obsessed dad, a would-be country singer-songwriter of repute (Elliott Weston). Elliott might have eyes for Kasey Chambers, but he can’t see his son and, ironically, chides him for his astronautical antics. But nothing will dissuade Waylon from his dream. He even writes to Aussie astroboy Andy Thomas. Sensing Waylon’s need for affirmation not forthcoming from his preoccupied father, grandma determines to pose as Thomas, replying to Waylon’s emails and offering every encouragement.

Continue reading “REVIEW: Snow On Mars (Sydney Festival) | York Theatre”

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Many moons ago, I was set upon by a ‘friend’, who requested I interview (for my then radio programme) an acquaintance of his who’d just arrived in the Top End, having motorcycled all the way around the world. “Wow!” I thought, “now that guy ought to be interesting.” But Arno proved the most tedious, aggravating and difficult interviewee ever. “So, travelling across the sub-continent, you must’ve seen some sights. What stands out?” “Yes, it was very interesting,” came the clipped response. Further prompts, probes and pleading elicited nothing more informative.

Gun playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig strikes me similarly, even if he has much more to say (his name sounds like a petite cigar and, just between you and me, I really wish someone would smoke him). There’s something about his writing that, for all its merits, for mine, reveals a little too much about him. If the writing is any indication, he seems, to me, tedious and aggravating. Still, who am I to quibble: he is, after all a standout amongst an apparent microcrop of young German playwrights invading countries across Europe. Sorry, I know I shouldn’t mention the war.

Continue reading “REVIEW: For A Better World | Stables Theatre, Sydney”

Cabaret

Jan 11, 2011

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Tap Dogs -- Capitol Theatre

What the bloody hell has Tap Dogs got to do with a drag show (Briefs), or an almost epic piece of ‘visual’ theatre (Soap)? Well, ok, not that much, necessarily, but having seen these three back-to-back, I was struck by coincidences; aesthetic and athletic.

The Doggies are back to bask in the glory reflected by the appreciation of the rest of the known universe. Well may they soak up the limelight, having wowed 11 million people around the globe. And the acclaim hasn’t been restricted to the excitement of the great unwashed; critics, too, have lauded ’em with more than enough heavyweight awards to fill Santa’s sack and have him screaming for elfen assistance. Much of the appeal might be down to sheer glamour: fronting the six-pack is movie idol, matinee or otherwise, Adam Garcia, but there’s no way you can fake this level of expertise and Garcia is much, much more than a pretty face.

Continue reading “Strip down, soap up and Tap a merry dance, Sydney”

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Pedophilia isn’t nearly as fashionable, in right thinking circles as, at first glance, it might appear to have been in the mind of Giacomo Puccini, when he conceived his intensely, fatally romantic, oriental drama, Madama Butterfly, so much loved by the very same crowd, quite possibly, who might’ve tsk-tsked at Bill Henson’s liberal affrontery. It’s a puzzling and almost impenetrable conundrum: that we can, in a staggering feat of selective denial, embrace the supposedly romantic elements of the former and, without drawing so much as another breath, hypocritically exhale condemnation of the latter’s allegedly suspect intentions. It beggars belief. But I digress.

Moreso than perhaps any other opera, for some reason Flutterby brings out the bowtied and the snooty, the posh and the pretentious, looking askance and down their noses at the contemptible hoi polloi, such as I; alongside, one supposes and hopes, genuine opera afficionados, for this is a musically sublime, if contemporaneously controversial work.

Continue reading “REVIEW: Madama Butterfly | Opera Theatre, Sydney”

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Here in the echo chamber, we preview a piece of vaudeville that’s about us (well, Crikey is mentioned at least). A play that mocks plays, including the very next production from the Melbourne Theatre Company.

It’s all very meta.

There’s not many left in the chamber, of course; just Don Watson and a few other marginalised bleeding hearts. It’s Don Watson’s Party, see (Don Parties On at the MTC from Thursday, in fact, a not-particularly-awaited sequel that could have done without the preliminary pillorying. Can’t imagine David Williamson laughed). One of the election revellers mentions he’s following Guy Rundle’s tweets (which is gross creative licence; we’ve been trying to get Rundle onto Twitter for a good 12 months but he’s not keen).

Continue reading “From the Wharf, through the Woods, to Melbourne”

Musicals

Jan 4, 2011

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Take a snapshot of the 2010 year in Melbourne theatre. It’s unlikely to look very much the same again.

Melbourne Theatre Company’s muse has quit, Marion Potts has already programmed her first season at the Malthouse Theatre, and Opera Australia’s artistic director Lyndon Terracini (he joined in July) is starting to gnaw his teeth into the library. New local theatre groups are seizing main stages and capturing more attention. There’s a diversity and vibrancy about the space, even at the ‘mainstream’ end.

From there, we saw plays from Shakespeare to Beckett and Mamet; centuries-old operas to brand-new local works. And in a year that saw independent producers and smaller shows shine, a brassy all-American musical was perhaps the most stirring and enjoyable night out. Even if snotty broadsheet critics would never admit it.

Continue reading “2010 on stage: the best (and worst) from Melbourne”