Saturday, February 28, 2015

Blue Wizard

Blue Wizard runs at Belvoir from 19 February – 15 March 2015. By Nick Coyle.

I first saw and wrote about Nick Coyle’s Blue Wizard at PACT in 2013, when it was part of the Tiny Stadiums festival. My friend Hannah and I was utterly entranced by it. We were thrilled when we heard it was coming back to play at Belvoir, and we took the opportunity to drag a whole bunch of friends along with us this time so that they too could understand its fabulousness.

Blue Wizard is such a special piece of theatre. It’s ridiculous and sublime and silly and touching and spectacular all by turns. The Blue Wizard (Coyle) has come to earth on a special mission from his home – a crystal planet where everyone’s gay – but when his dance of erotic greeting isn’t exactly received the way he’d hoped and he realises that he can’t contact home (in particular, he can’t contact his beloved boyfriend, John Quark Jon), things take a darker turn. Alone except for a truly creepy wizard baby that he christens Meryl Streep, the Blue Wizard must work out how to survive in an unfriendly and lonely world.

The story of a fabulously sparkly gay wizard isolated in a world that does not welcome him is not a particularly subtle allegory, but there’s no reason for it to be. What I remember most from the last time I saw this show is how funny it was, but what struck me this time was just how sad it was as well. That’s something that’s clearly been built on in development, because the underlying level of pathos in this version of Blue Wizard is much more poignant. The Blue Wizard is fabulous and funny, but he’s also horribly lonely. He tries to do the best he can and to parent Meryl Streep insofar as he is capable (parenting is not something that Blue Wizards – the wizards of flirting, fucking and dancing – are usually that good at), but he misses his home, and he misses his life, and he misses his boyfriend, and he misses belonging.

It’s a really wonderful piece of queer theatre and it’s perfect for Mardi Gras. I’m so, so glad I got to see it again, and that I could make more people experience it too. It also clearly contains the best use of Britney Spears’ song Perfume in the history of theatre, ever. It has a truly startling and moving ending (which is still a shock even when you know it’s coming), and the end sequence with the treadmill is hair-standing-up-ingly spectacular. I was worried that it wouldn’t be as magical the second time around, but I was wrong – the Blue Wizard’s spell is even more powerful this time.

(Also, I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to know more about the Pink Wizards of Love and Passive Aggression. I would watch a show that was just about them doing day to day tasks and living their crystal planet lives.)

As You Like It

I reviewed Bell Shakespeare's As You Like It over at Australian Stage. You can check out what I thought here.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Friday, February 6, 2015

Between Us

Between Us plays at ATYP from February 4-21 2015. By the 2014 National Studio Writers and the 2014 ATYP Writer in Residence, directed by Sarah Parsons.

The Voices Project, for those not in the know, is a great initiative that ATYP put on every year. Some of the country's best young playwrights go away together for a week, tasked with writing a monologue for a young actor. Ten of the best pieces then form ATYP's first show of the year.

I love this project. I've seen it for for a few years now, and it's been so exciting to see the level of work produced. Sadly, I don't think Between Us, this year's showcase, quite lives up to the standard of previous years. There's some good work, and certainly that work that has potential, but I didn't leave wowed, as I have before.

The theme this year was “secrets”, and I wonder if this might have something to do with it. While the ten pieces presented definitely had distinct authorial voices, there was nevertheless a sort of sameness across them beyond thematic consistency. I think this might be because secrets are necessarily linked with confession – particularly when the art form being used is the monologue, which abets this confessional tone. Every piece was, in essence, a confession. While there's nothing wrong with this, it feels repetitive ten times in a row.

Between Us was staged in promenade – that is, the audience was active, following the actors around the space. Ultimately, I think this was a good choice, because it functioned to break up the showcase's repetitive confessions a little (even though as a lady of very little height, I generally dislike promenade theatre as I invariably get stuck behind someone super tall). While some of the actors pushed their performances a bit too hard, verging on overacting at times, overall, director Sarah Parsons did a fine job with the material.

This might not be the best ever instalment of the Voices Project, but there's definitely some potential in Between Us. It's a worthy project which supports and develops young artists, and I will always be excited to watch them grow.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015


Asylum plays at the Old 505 Theatre from February 3-21 2015. Presented by Apocalypse Theatre Company.

Asylum is important theatre. A collection of rehearsed readings of plays responding to the implementation of the Operation Sovereign Borders policy, it is an evocative mosaic of the issues facing and the lives of those seeking asylum in Australia.

 This is a massive project. Over 65 artists are participating, and the effort that Apocalypse Theatre Company have gone to in order to bring Asylum to the stage is incredible and must be applauded. The season is broken into five blocks of five or six plays each, so it would be possible to attend a number of times and have an entirely different experience.

I saw the second block of plays. There is a tendency for a lot of political theatre to be didactic – which I think would have been more than understandable in this case, given the issue – but the pieces I saw didn't really veer too far in this direction. (As an aside – I think verbatim theatre has become popular in political stories as a way of combating this tendency towards didacticism.) This wasn't a two hour lecture and it wasn't preachy. Instead, it focused on small, human, individual stories – often a much more powerful way of communicating – and on evoking the mythic.

There were some standout pieces in the block I saw. Melita Rowston's Bread and Butter was a beautiful story about an Afghani woman who sought asylum in Australia, and has now finally found happiness and a new family to replace the one the Taliban took from her in the bakery where she works, although she remains haunted by fears that her temporary protection visa will be revoked and she will lose everything. The writing was a tiny bit heavyhanded at times, but any flaws were masked by a luminous, joyous performance by Josipa Draisma, who I could easily watch for hours. Similarly brilliant is Jan Barr in Mary Rachel Brown's Self-Service. This piece – in which Pamela, who works at Woolworths, is forced to deal with her trainee Abdul-Rasheed becoming her boss – manages to be hilarious at the same time as horrifying as Pamela's unthinking casual racism is slowly revealed.

 But I think my favourite piece of the night was Amir Mohammadi's Gol Pari, a distinctly Afghani piece (like, literally – it was translated from Dari the day before the performance) which had a whiff of the mythic about it. It reminded me of the myth of Psyche and her sisters, or Cinderella and her stepsisters, as Pari Gol, the third wife of a rich man, is victimised and falsely accused of immodesty by the other two wives and her community. The most remarkable thing about this piece is its context. Mohammadi is from Afghanistan himself, a radical theatremaker who campaigned for women's rights, illegally rehearsing plays like this one and secretly showing them to an all-female audience. Someone needs to give him a big arts grant immediately, because this is the kind of theatre we need to be seeing – theatre that can bring hope, foster rebellion, and change the world.

Even leaving aside the fact that it is certainly vital and necessary theatre, Asylum is enjoyable theatre. It is evocative, engaging, and incredibly moving, and you should definitely spend your money on it - not least because all profits go to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. 


*NB: I’m just about to hand my PhD in, so a more regular reviewing schedule should resume. My apologies if you invited me to something in the last six or so months and I didn’t respond – my inbox got super out of control with thesis revisions. Things are basically back to normal now!

Friday, November 14, 2014


Trojans runs at PACT in Erskineville from November 14-22 2014 as part of the Tiny Stadiums Festival.

Trojans by Project Mess at PACT Sydney is not the greatest piece of theatre you’re ever going to see. It’s probably not in the top twenty either. But it is a lot of fun: and fun, as far as I’m concerned, is a good enough reason to see anything.

The conceit behind Trojans is one drawn from Mexican telenovela (essentially soap operas, generally of the most hyperbolic kind). The story moves so fast and the actors are required to film so many pages of script in a day that it isn’t possible for the actors to learn their lines, so dialogue is fed to them via radio as they tape. One take, one chance: that’s it. In Trojans, the lines are delivered to actors via radio and they deliver them as we watch, the action happening in real time against a green screen.

I love this idea. Like, I LOVE IT. The idea of genre fiction and maligned popular artforms – which most definitely includes telenovela and soap opera – on the stage is one that appeals to me greatly, so when I heard about Trojans, I pretty much hallooed HELL YES to the reverberate hills. Trojans, sadly, does not make the most of this conceit – at least not in the episode I saw, which was the episode performed on November 14, written by Annalise Constable. Instead, it delivers a fairly staid episode of a knockoff Cheers: a kind of sitcom set in a bar where two mental patients converse about pretty much nothing.

It’s not without its charms. Barman Brett (Brett Johnson) is a pretty entertaining fixture, and there are a couple of amusing exchanges. But telenovela is so big, so dramatic, so ridiculous and spectacular, that I wanted something more – something soapier. The program notes state that Project Mess visualise Trojans “as more of a sitcom than a soapie”, so I guess the Cheers-esque vibe suits that, but… why give up a golden opportunity to do telenovela on stage and make it awesome, especially when you’re adopting the conceits of its delivery? The recent success of Jane The Virgin shows that telenovela can be brought and brought well to a mainstream audience, even if the soap opera is the most maligned of televisual forms. I wish Project Mess hadn’t backed away from the spectacularised form of the telenovela and opted for the more acceptable sitcom. I feel the former would have made better theatre.

That said, even though the script on the night I saw Trojans was pretty ordinary, the evening is a great deal of fun. Interspersed with ad breaks and audience engagement, it’s definitely an enjoyable night out at the theatre. Every night features a new writer, and I’m coming back next week to see what another episode of the show has to offer. It’s a short night – the show clocks in at only an hour – and while it might not necessarily be great theatre, it is very entertaining.