Critics' choice Melbourne shows
It's the end of the festival as we know it. Starting next year, Melbourne Festival is joining with White Night to create an as-yet-unnamed mega winter festival, which will run from August 2020. But director Jonathan Holloway is ensuring this iteration of Melbourne Festival goes out with a bang, with a spectacular and eclectic program. For theatre lovers, there's a new international work starring Maxine Peake as the enigmatic Nico and Anthem, and a new collaboration between some of Australia's leading creatives. Music fans will lap up gigs from the Flaming Lips and Joan As Police Woman, while Japan's legendary TeamLab will be showing three new video works in a free exhibition. See our highlights from the 2019 line-up.
After the outrageous success of playwright and comedian Nakkiah Lui’s Blackie Blackie Brown, twice seen at Malthouse, expectations were high for Black is the New White. The former work was a comic book mischief maker that used the B-grade schlock of the revenge thriller to comment on ancestral grief and cultural violence. It was also the funniest thing on our stages in years. This new work, a Sydney Theatre Company production that has toured around the country and finally comes to Melbourne in collaboration with Melbourne Festival, is in some ways a more conventional affair, a social comedy in the mode of David Williamson. But make no mistake; Lui’s targets are just as considered, and she hits them with deadly glee. The set-up is deliciously simple. Charlotte (Miranda Tapsell), daughter of the eminent Indigenous politician and self-proclaimed statesman Ray Gibson (Tony Briggs) is secretly engaged to Francis (Tom Stokes), son of stalwart former Liberal senator Dennison Smith (Geoff Morrell), Gibson’s sworn enemy. As Christmas looms, the two families come together for the first time, to snipe at, bemoan and celebrate this uneasy union between black and white. In case you haven’t been paying attention, it’s a state of the nation play. Lui is certainly in familiar territory here; the promotional material locates the work as a cross between Guess Who’s Coming For Dinner and Meet the Fockers, and it proves a perfect descriptor. It has the awkwardness of parent/child relationships
When Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins premiered in 1990, George Bush Sr was in power and the Gulf War was underway. Audiences during war time weren’t really ready for a musical about the dark heart of the American dream, and it closed early. In 2004 it was remounted on Broadway and won four Tonys. Its time had come. Come from Away feels like the reverse: a musical that suits its time, is perhaps even flattered a little by it. It’s of course impossible to predict, but it seems unlikely that this show will play quite so well in 15 years. Something about its message, its attitude and its structure relies heavily on the audience’s willingness, even hunger, to receive it. We are living in dark times, and a show like this certainly hits the sweet spot. Does that necessarily make it a great show? Certainly, it tells a warm and reassuring tale about a community who rallies for people it doesn’t know, and in that regard it is a necessary and timely one. On the morning of September 11, 2001 a total of 38 planes carrying 6,579 passengers were diverted to the remote airspace in Newfoundland, near the town of Gander. They didn’t know why, nor even where they were, but they soon learnt just how kind and welcoming the locals could be. Gander (and neighbouring towns) took them all in, almost doubling the local population in a single day; they fed them, clothed them and housed them. They broke the news of the terrorist attacks in New York, and they gave them phones to contact loved ones. And the
The first rule of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is that you don’t talk about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Safeguarding spoilers is an expected responsibility for anyone who attends the Potter-verse’s first on-stage outing. There’s even a hashtag: #KeepTheSecrets. But in truth (as far as theatre critique is concerned, at least), JK Rowling needn’t have worried. This marathon, five-hour spectacle has a plot so dense and sprawling, so wonderfully, unashamedly elaborate, it would take many thousands of words more than any theatre review to even scratch the surface. While we may have been sworn to secrecy about Cursed Child’s plot, we can reveal that the hype – and rarely has a piece of theatre ever generated such fever-pitched buzz – is entirely deserved. And not just because of the quality of the production. The masterminds behind the show – led by Rowling, playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany – have not merely set out to put on a play, but rather craft a rich and detailed immersive experience. To this end, Melbourne’s Princess Theatre has undergone a top to bottom $6.5 million makeover, transforming its interiors to match a Hogwartsian, Potterfied aesthetic. If this sounds like an unnecessary extravagance, it’s probably an indication this play isn’t for you. The success of Cursed Child, which has smashed box office records on Broadway and the West End, is powered by its unapologetic exclusivity. Those without any prior knowledge of Harry and co will be b
Melbourne’s Chunky Move has a massive reputation in the contemporary dance world, forged first by its founding director Gideon Obarzanek (who is actually co-directing the new iteration of Melbourne Festival next year) and then its latest director Anouk Van Dijk. Now Antony Hamilton is taking over the reins of the company, and will premiere his first work as artistic director at this year’s Melbourne Festival. We can pretty safely guarantee Token Armies won’t be like any dance work you’ve seen before. Set in an immersive environment, the futuristic work sees 23 dancers interact with various lifeforms and machines that move and seem to breathe. At the centre of the performance is a massive moving sculpture created by Creature Technology Co, the company behind the larger-than-life puppets in King Kong and Walking with Dinosaurs.
If you've never seen the all-male burlesque sensation Briefs, this intergalactic fusion of circus, comedy and cabaret is the perfect starting point. The show has just been a big hit on London's West End and is coming to Arts Centre Melbourne for a limited season. Our friends up at Time Out Sydney absolutely loved the show when it played Sydney Festival last year, giving it a glowing five-star review. They wrote: "It’s been ten years since Briefs first strutted onto a Brisbane stage. In the last decade the group has become an international indie cabaret phenomenon. "Close Encounters sees them take a bold and optimistic leap, while refining what they do. That’s not to say this dirty and dangerous variety show has a strong emphasis on ‘refinement’, simply that it requires real intelligence and creativity to craft a party this wild. The result is perfectly paced, keeping its audience screaming in delight from start to finish. It stands head and shoulders above its cohort of 2010s alt-cabaret. "The company has been blending striptease, dance, acrobatics, comedy and aerial work for several years, but this year’s mix is particularly potent. The technical prowess of these performers is impressive, but the show stands out for its ability to reach out to the audience (sometimes literally) and subvert every expectation. "The entire show looks spectacular and feels coherent: the acts are drawn together by retro-futuristic costuming from Dallas Delaforce (think The Jetsons, Lost in
This musical from Kander and Ebb (the songwriting team behind Cabaret and Chicago) has never before had a professional mainstage production in Australia. Melbourne Theatre Company's artistic director Brett Sheehy says he’s reversing that “unconscionable neglect” with this new production starring Australia’s own Broadway and West End star (she played the leading role in Chicago on Broadway), Caroline O’Connor. It’s based on Manuel Puig’s 1976 novel set inside a South American prison where two men are sharing a cell. One is a Marxist revolutionary, and the other is a gay window dresser who escapes into a fantasy world of movies starring the fabulous diva Aurora. That’s where O’Connor comes in. The cast also includes Adam Jon Fiorentino, Natalie Gamsu, and Bert LaBonté (The Book of Mormon). Helpmann Award-winner and musical theatre dynamo Dean Bryant directs.
Long before it was an Academy Award-winning film, Chicago was a hit Broadway musical. Penned by musical theatre's dynamic duo John Kander and Fred Ebb, the musical was only a minor splash when it premiered in 1975. But when it was given a stripped back and sexed up new production in 1996, it became an immediate sensation and eventually the longest running Broadway revival of all time. That's the production which Melbourne audiences will see, this time with Natalie Bassingthwaighte playing Roxie (the Renée Zellweger role) opposite musical theatre star Alinta Chidzey as Velma (the Catherine Zeta-Jones role). Jason Donovan is playing the smooth-talking lawyer Billy Flynn, while vocal powerhouse Casey Donovan is taking on Matron Mama Morton, the prison warden who sings 'When You're Good to Mama'. The show also includes 'Razzle Dazzle', 'Cell Block Tango', 'Mr Cellophane', and, of course, 'All That Jazz'.
It's time to don your ballet shoes and practice your plié – Billy Elliot the Musical is on its way back to Australian shores for a tenth anniversary tour. The British musical blockbuster is opening at the Sydney Lyric in October, with four freakishly talented youngsters sharing the title role: Omar Abiad (12, from Brisbane), River Mardesic (10, from Melbourne), Wade Neilsen (12, from Newcastle) and Jamie Rogers (12, from Canberra). They're joined by Australian musical theatre stalwart Kelley Abbey as the tough-as-nails ballet teacher Mrs Wilkinson, and Justin Smith as Billy's father. The musical is set against the background of the 1984/85 UK coal miners' strike and tells the story of Billy, a miner's son who dreams of becoming a professional ballet dancer. Lee Hall, who wrote the popular 2000 film upon which the musical is based, adapted the story for the stage with musical superstar Elton John, who penned the score. Elton John said: "Billy Elliot for me is one of the most rewarding and creative works of my career. I have very fond memories of the Sydney production in 2007 as it was the first city outside of the UK we mounted the show and found many incredibly talented children who would go on to carry the show through its successful Australian run." After opening on London's West End in 2005 – where it scored a five-star review from Time Out London – the show had its Australian premiere in 2007, winning a record-equalling seven Helpmann Awards including Best Musical.
Every couple of years, globe-trotting circus company Cirque du Soleil pops up its Grand Chapiteau in Melbourne for a season of good, old-fashioned spectacle and entertainment. Its next show to come to town has got a decidedly retro vibe and has been widely praised as the company's best in years. When it was in New York back in 2016, Time Out gave it a glowing five-star review: "Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities is a procession of wonders: the Canadian circus giant’s sharpest, sexiest, most stylish production in years. In a departure from the otherwordly themes for which Cirque is best known, writer-director Michel Laprise embraces a steampunk aesthetic: metal and leather, chunky robots, glowing filaments under glass, a singer with a phonograph horn on her head. The style may be retro, but the acts—and the technical ingenuity that makes them possible—are fully up-to-date. The show is a mad scientist’s lab of wild invention, in which circus artists from around the planet perform routines of breathtaking beauty and precision." Kurios is at Flemington Racecourse from March 12, 2020. Tickets go on sale March 18, 2019 at 9am.