Get us in your inbox

Articles (10)

Where to sit in Melbourne's theatres

Where to sit in Melbourne's theatres

Melbourne is blessed with a wealth of theatres, from the grand old dames like the Princess Theatre to the kooky hidden gems like the Butterfly Club; no city in Australia can lay claim to as many in as good a condition as ours. But inside those venues, not all seats are created equal. Sure, there are some shows so spectacular and unmissable you’d happily sit anywhere, but most experiences in the theatre can be augmented by the best seats in the house. And occasionally ruined by the worst. So, without further ado, we give them to you. RECOMMENDED: How to score cheap theatre tickets in Melbourne.

Angels and demons: The Phantom of the Opera stars on reviving a problematic masterpiece

Angels and demons: The Phantom of the Opera stars on reviving a problematic masterpiece

In a moment of cultural reckoning, where classic works are coming under renewed critical reappraisal, it might seem a little risky to remount Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. It does, after all, tell the story of a murderous ghoul who stalks, isolates and threatens a young woman in a basement because he’s obsessed with her talent; it debuted on London’s West End back in 1986, when gender politics looked vastly different. It is a risk worth taking, though, according to stars Josh Piterman and Amy Manford, who are about to bring a completely new production of the gothic masterwork to Melbourne. Having played the Phantom and his muse Christine in previous productions around the world, they’ve had plenty of time to contemplate the nuances of their characters’ problematic psycho-sexual relationship. Photograph: Daniel Boud “This happens in the real world,” Manford tells us when we catch up with the pair as they prepare to open at Arts Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre. “People are abusers, and women are subject to this kind of behaviour.” She isn’t necessarily referring to the masks, mirrors and subterranean music lessons, but to the culture of coercion women are subject to in the wider world. Piterman picks up on this point immediately. “What we’re doing on stage is holding up a mirror to society. If we were to dilute and sanitise that, I assure you the demons of the world will continue to [abuse women] and we’re not going to be able to see it. And that is even more d

Secret arts spaces in Melbourne

Secret arts spaces in Melbourne

It might seem that hiding your theatres and galleries in out-of-the-way places would be bad for business – given the size and dominance of the NGV, or the Princess and Regent theatres, it’s a sentiment previous architects and impresarios clearly agreed with. And of course Melbourne's famous street art is about as visible as you can get. But it turns out hiding your bushel can be very good for arts and showbusiness, not to mention cultural caché. Here are some of the harder to find theatres and galleries dotted inconspicuously around the city. Recommended: the best art exhibitions in Melbourne this month.

The 8 best things we saw at the Melbourne Festival

The 8 best things we saw at the Melbourne Festival

For 18 days in October, hundreds of artists from Australia and many other nations converged on the city. They brought theatre, dance, music, visual art and live art to Melbourne’s performance spaces, streets, laneways and even hair salons. They surprised, delighted and challenged audiences. And now, as quickly as they appeared, they are gone. In his Melbourne Festival debut, artistic director Jonathan Holloway (formerly the artistic director of the Perth International Arts Festival) took a number of risks. While he kept some important festival traditions (Ilbijerri Theatre Company’s Welcome to Country ceremony Tanderrum, most importantly), he decided to scrap the riverside festival hum. He programmed a number of pieces that were highly participatory, including the live-art-meets-game-show The Money and Haircuts by Children (exactly what you think it is). Hugely successful shows from overseas (Robert Lepage’s 887) shared space on the program with new commissions from local companies (Back to Back’s Lady Eats Apple), and the grand (David Bowie: Nothing Has Changed) was counterbalanced with the intimate (Collisions). Numbers-wise, Holloway’s risks paid off: tickets became very scarce towards the end of the festival, and takings are reported at $2.9 million (higher than the target organisers set themselves). But which were the shows that got our critics’ hearts pumping? Here, we present our eight most memorable Melbourne Festival moments. Having festival withdrawals? Check out th

Ray Chong Nee on playing the title role in Othello

Ray Chong Nee on playing the title role in Othello

If Hamlet was right, and the stage is a mirror held up to nature, then why is our reflection so white? In a multicultural society like Australia’s, it is shameful that our theatre doesn’t genuinely reflect our racial diversity. Othello remains by far the least performed of Shakespeare’s tragedies in this country. We’re kidding ourselves if we think this isn’t symptomatic of a great unease. Ray Chong Nee is a Samoan Australian, and has found the sheer fact of being cast as the Moor in Bell Shakespeare’s upcoming production (directed by the company's artistic director Peter Evans) something of a wake-up call. “When I was younger, I used to wish I was Caucasian. Looking at Othello has made me more proud of the skin I’m in, but also more aware of the tyranny of otherness.” Othello might be the noblest of generals, expansive and loyal, but there is a sense that he will never really belong; it’s something he’s internalised, and something his subordinate Iago (played here by Yalin Ozucelik) will exploit to the great man’s ruin. It’s not something that Chong Nee has to conjure in rehearsal.“I’ve had racism hurled at me. I thought when I was 14 that everything was cool, that I was accepted in this country. And then this car went by and someone yelled ‘Go home, you fucking n*****!’ It was my reality check; you’ve got dark skin.” Othello’s skin colour has been a highly contested subject from the beginning. The Moors were traditionally differentiated by religion as much as race, although

Author Craig Silvey on the Jasper Jones theatre adaptation

Author Craig Silvey on the Jasper Jones theatre adaptation

Few people get to experience the surreality of sitting in a darkened theatre watching their own imagination come into being. It’s an experience author Craig Silvey has been grappling with a lot lately. MTC’s stage adaptation of his novel Jasper Jones hits townafter two previous productions in Perth and Sydney, and he still isn’t used to the uncanny sensations evoked.“That initial opening night in Perth was the most profoundly moving experience. But it was also really odd, like being inside this strange dream. I know these characters so intimately, they’re a part of me, so to see it acted out in front of me was hard to describe. It’s been really emotional, actually.”Silvey's novel – which filters narratives like To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn through a distinctly Australian lens – is the story of a young man on the precipice of adulthood drawn unwittingly into the predicament of a local Aboriginal boy. John Sheedy, of Perth-based company Barking Gecko, was the first to realise its potential for the stage, and commissioned Kate Mulvany to adapt it. Mulvany has form in adaptation, having brought the children’s picture book Masquerade to the Melbourne stage recently, and Silvey describes her as “eminently qualified. I think she’s a genius.” The sense that Silvey had to pass his baby on to her was important for both of them. “The book had been in the public domain for a long time by then, and I felt this new work for the stage had to be hers as much as mine.”Certainly,

Ray Chong Nee on playing the title role in Othello

Ray Chong Nee on playing the title role in Othello

If Hamlet was right, and the stage is a mirror held up to nature, then why is our reflection so white? In a multicultural society like Australia’s, it is shameful that our theatre doesn’t genuinely reflect our racial diversity. Othello remains by far the least performed of Shakespeare’s tragedies in this country. We’re kidding ourselves if we think this isn’t symptomatic of a great unease. Ray Chong Nee is a Samoan Australian, and has found the sheer fact of being cast as the Moor in Bell Shakespeare’s upcoming production (directed by the company's artistic director Peter Evans) something of a wake-up call. “When I was younger, I used to wish I was Caucasian. Looking at Othello has made me more proud of the skin I’m in, but also more aware of the tyranny of otherness.” Othello might be the noblest of generals, expansive and loyal, but there is a sense that he will never really belong; it’s something he’s internalised, and something his subordinate Iago (played here by Yalin Ozucelik) will exploit to the great man’s ruin. It’s not something that Chong Nee has to conjure in rehearsal.“I’ve had racism hurled at me. I thought when I was 14 that everything was cool, that I was accepted in this country. And then this car went by and someone yelled ‘Go home, you fucking n*****!’ It was my reality check; you’ve got dark skin.” Othello’s skin colour has been a highly contested subject from the beginning. The Moors were traditionally differentiated by religion as much as race, although

Melbourne Theatre Company 2016 season

Melbourne Theatre Company 2016 season

“Themes can be a straightjacket”, says MTC artistic director Brett Sheehy, “and usually they are so broad they’re meaningless.” It’s a sentiment that bears out in his 2016 program, which is so diverse and multi-faceted that a search for thematic links feels futile. “If I’ve tried to do anything, it’s that all the work should feel contemporary. It’s got to be art of our time.” 

 Certainly many of the plays on offer deal directly with contemporary issues. British playwright Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs (Feb 5-Mar 19) is set in Ikea and concerns itself with the problem of procreation in an already over-populated world. Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced (Aug 19-Oct 1) deals with Islamophobia in upper-middle-class New York. Deborah Bruce’s The Distance (Mar 5-Apr 9) tackles motherhood, in a modern iteration of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. 

Even the classic plays in the program, according to Sheehy, will speak directly to contemporary concerns. While it may be tempting to see the programming of David Hare’s Skylight (Jun 18-Jul 23) or Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple (Nov 5-Dec 17) as exercises in pure nostalgia, Sheehy is adamant that they will reflect audiences’ current preoccupations.

 “I don’t think it’s good enough for us to say, ‘Classics are valid because their themes are universal’. It has to puncture the audience’s universe in a specific and deliberate way.” Quite how odd couple Felix and Oscar will do this remains to be seen, although the casting of Shaun Micallef and Francis Greenslade will

Meet Miss Trunchbull from Matilda the Musical

Meet Miss Trunchbull from Matilda the Musical

Some musicals have helicopters and some get by on giant shoulder pads. Matilda – opening in Melbourne in March 2016 – may not be as visually spectacular as the behemoths of past decades, but it does boast the best villain. Miss Trunchbull – the Olympic hammer-thrower turned monstrous school principle of Roald Dahl’s iconic novel – is played on stage by the fresh-faced James Millar, looking as far removed from monstrosity as possible, as he casually pieces together a large jigsaw puzzle in the rehearsal space of Sydney’s Lyric Theatre. “At first it felt like the costume was riding me,” Millar confesses. “A hump that’s up here, and a chest that’s out there. You have to renegotiate yourself so that you’re on top of the costume rather than it being on top of you.” It wasn’t the only thing he needed to be on top of. In an industry that’s lucky to have two weeks of rehearsal, Millar endured seven months of auditions. Trunchbull requires an unusual skill set, given that she tosses children by their pigtails, leaps from a vault and performs a ribbon dance. “Not many actors come with a ribbon dance in them. So there was a lot of time between each call back to learn those skills.” While casting a man as Miss Trunchbull taps into the English pantomime tradition, Millar doesn’t “go out there actively playing a woman. Her attributes, particularly her aggression, are almost entirely masculine”. Of course, she meets her match in Matilda, the girl with genius behind her eyes and tricks up he

Listings and reviews (26)

Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing

3 out of 5 stars

Many directors, not to mention audience members, like to think of Much Ado About Nothing as a prototypical rom-com – the one about the bickering pair who think they hate each other, whose friends trick them into the realisation they’re the perfect couple. And there are benefits to this approach in performance: the play has a breezy rambunctiousness when Beatrice and Benedick are the central focus and an uncomplicated ending. The lovers fall madly in love. But Much Ado has a darker side, and over the years, it has threatened to eclipse the sun in Medina, the play’s ostensibly Italian and yet still-very-English setting. Because really, Beatrice (Anna Burgess) and Benedick (Nicholas Gell) are the subplot, and the true action revolves around Hero (Larissa Teale) and Claudio (Alex Cooper), the lovers whose path to happiness is far thornier, and leaves a distinctly bitter taste in the mouth. Shakespeare’s works are divided into histories, comedies and tragedies in the First Folio, but they rarely conform neatly to these categories. Much Ado is defined by its tonal instability and shifting dramatic modes.  There are long stretches of the play that feel like a sophisticated comedy of manners and other sections that seem like a pure farce. The Hero/Claudio plot is, as one character says in this funny and irreverent production, “a real downer”, but it is also key to the play’s meaning. The action takes place immediately after a war, and although far from enjoying a well-deserved peace,

The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the Opera

4 out of 5 stars

The story of an opera house haunted by a musical genius, who falls in love with a chorus girl and elevates her to stardom. It was a combination of schlock, syrup and superior showmanship, and it has haunted the musical theatre world ever since. The Phantom of the Opera is unavoidable, one definition of the art form itself; slick, populist and crashingly unsubtle, it nevertheless has a strange power to enthral.This production, billed as a new iteration from producer Cameron Mackintosh rather than composer Andrew Lloyd Webber – the labyrinthine corporate negotiations that underpin a show of this magnitude would fill an episode of Succession – is no carbon copy of the original. Like Mackintosh’s recent revival of Les Miserables, it has been entirely redesigned and restaged. Some changes are massive, and massively risky; others are more a matter of emphasis.Perhaps the riskiest alterations are to do with the set design. Original designer Maria Björnson has since died, and Mackintosh employed Paul Brown to come up with a different aesthetic along with simplified sets suitable for touring. The problem is that certain theatrical effects – the chandelier, the Paris Opera House staircase, the black lacquered lake lit by giant candelabra – have become iconic and are now part of the fabric of the show, as much key signifiers as the Phantom’s mask. To do away with them, or minimise their efficacy, threatens to destabilise the whole show.It isn’t all loss, though. Downplaying the spectacl

Girls and Boys

Girls and Boys

3 out of 5 stars

There have been many terrific solo female plays, and many of them performed at Melbourne Theatre Company over the years. Amanda Muggleton was an irrepressible Shirley Valentine in the old Russell St theatre; Robyn Nevin tore up the boards as Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking; and next year Sheridan Harbridge brings her celebrated performance in Prima Facie and Judith Lucy turns to Beckett’s masterpiece and ostensible monologue, Happy Days. In the meantime, we have to be content with UK playwright Dennis Kelly’s less stellar effort, Girls & Boys. Like Prima Facie, this play seems ripped from the headlines, and benefits from our awareness that these things are happening all around us, and do indeed speak to contemporary concerns. But unlike Suzie Miller’s searing portrait of sexual injustice in the legal system, Girls & Boys feels decidedly academic, like a Ted Talk from someone who’s merely read about the issue in the morning paper. There’s no sense that Kelly has any skin in the game. Nikki Shiels is one of the country’s most exciting actors, but even she feels emotionally remote here. The character she plays has no name, and neither does the husband who provides the play’s animus and is the key to a tragedy the playwright keeps far too long in reserve. In fact, the only people who are named – apart from a brief moment of inattention where the name of the protagonist’s boss is dropped – are the couple’s two children, Leanne and Danny. This ambivalence around specifi

Instruments of Dance

Instruments of Dance

4 out of 5 stars

What are the instruments of the dance? Australian Ballet artistic director David Hallberg tells us before the curtain comes up on the company’s new triple bill; in an echo of Peter Brook’s philosophy in The Empty Space, only the music and the dancer’s body are required – although US choreographer William Forsythe once demonstrated (on the same stage) that you don’t even need music. A triptych of contemporary choreographic works, Instruments of Dance is one of those nights at the theatre that Australian Ballet do so well. If the pieces aren’t all of a certain quality, they are individually engaging and beautifully demonstrate the company’s depth of talent. They also speak to each other in fascinating ways, juxtaposing artistic ideas while niggling at the edges of the cultural zeitgeist. The evening opens with UK choreographer Wayne McGregor’s Obsidian Tear, a chilling exploration of male violence and homosocial tyranny that recalls everything from Cain and Abel to Lord of the Flies. It begins with an extended pas de deux (danced magnificently by Callum Linnane and Adam Elmes) that ranges from the playful to the dangerous, as brotherly affection sours into suspicion and one-upmanship. Those notes of brutality come to sinister fruition when the stage fills with seven more male dancers led by a savage Adam Bull, who uses his considerable stage presence to forceful and intimidating effect. McGregor’s work here is miles away from the all-male gimmickry of Matthew Bourne; queerness

9 to 5 the Musical

9 to 5 the Musical

3 out of 5 stars

At the very end of 9 to 5: The Musical, Dolly Parton herself (who has been appearing on stage throughout via a recorded video projection) tells the audience who liked the show to spread the word as widely as they can. She then tells those who didn’t to “keep your mouth shut”. It’s a joke, of course, but it has that whiff of naked aggression that tends to sit under the surface of all that southern gentility. This is a musical that doesn’t just beg you to like it, it threatens to shove a gag in your mouth if you don’t. So perhaps, in the spirit of politesse, we should start by talking about the things that work in this musical adaptation of the 1980 film. This is the story of three women employed in the corporatised world of high finance who plot revenge on their conceited, abusively misogynist boss. It starts with the eponymous song Parton wrote for the film, a peppy zinger that neatly establishes a mood of bright, satirical fun. If the rest of the songs – written by Parton specifically for this version – don’t match up, '9 to 5' itself proves enough of an earworm to have you singing long after the curtain falls. The ensemble, under the original direction of Jeff Calhoun, are terrific; Lisa Stevens’ slick, perky Broadway choreography is delivered with precision and real heart, and every number that requires the entire cast comes vibrantly to life. The three leads are also excellent: Marina Prior is Violet Newstead, the office gun consistently overlooked for promotion; Erin Cla

The Sound Inside

The Sound Inside

4 out of 5 stars

“Listen to the sound inside”. It’s a sentence that suddenly occurs to Bella Lee Baird (Catherine McClements), or rather comes from her, unbidden, in a creative writing class that she herself is conducting. It’s an exercise in automatic writing – the idea is to write continuously without ever lifting the pen from the page, designed to unlock the unconscious creative muse. It’s been 17 years since she published her one, politely received, novel, and if the sentence hardly constitutes a major work, it seems to be the key to something more significant. If only she could get this one student out of her head. The Sound Inside is written by US playwright Adam Rapp, who is also a novelist and creative writing teacher at Yale. These distinctions seem vitally important here: the play is about a novelist who teaches at Yale – her name deliberately echoes his own mother’s maiden name of Baird. It’s a work not only deeply concerned with the art of the novel, it is itself steeped in novelistic structures and effects. It is a kind of masterclass in fiction – in particular the self-reflexive blend of the invented and the biographical known as auto-fiction – and as such constantly teases the audience with questions about what is real and what is not. The plot is simple, yet it rather ingeniously keeps us on the edge. Baird is a fine, if possibly remote creative writing teacher, respected by her students but still a rather solitary figure. She tells us she lost her mother to a rare and devasta

Lohengrin

Lohengrin

5 out of 5 stars

Opera Australia often talks about “entry-level operas” – easily digestible works with familiar melodies that make ideal experiences for the uninitiated. La Traviata, currently playing in Melbourne, is often brought up as the perfect example. It’s something you won’t hear them say about Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin, which seems a shame. It’s a fairly simple tale clearly told; it has, with the Bridal Chorus, one of the most recognisable tunes in opera; and in a major coup for Melbourne audiences, it stars the greatest tenor in the world, Jonas Kaufmann. Lohengrin comes before Wagner’s opus, his Ring Cycle, and is in many ways more accessible, relying as it does on traditional operatic structures like arias and recitative. The story of a mysterious stranger who turns up to rescue the honour of a woman wrongly accused of fratricide, it draws on medieval German myth, of knights and chivalry and holy grails. And, like most of Wagner’s work, it deals with complex universal themes in dramatically satisfying ways. These people grapple with the grandest of ideas, with love and faith, ambition and evil. The setting, in director Olivier Py’s uncompromising vision, is post-WW II Berlin, specifically the burnt-out rubble of a theatre. As Wagner’s exquisite prelude, shimmering and delicate, fills the State Theatre, the monumental face of a brutalist structure, all shattered windows and graffitied walls, slowly revolves. It’s impossible not to think of the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol,

Driftwood

Driftwood

Below is a two-star review of the 2022 season of Driftwood - The Musical. There has, since the end of the second world war itself, been searing and complex questions asked about the role of art in depicting, representing and reflecting the horrors of the Holocaust. While we now accept as possible the idea of 'Holocaust art', a lingering doubt remains. Is there a limit or boundary artists need to respect, especially in regards to questions of taste or accuracy? Is a purely aesthetic lens appropriate or even possible when critiquing such work? What exactly constitutes bad Holocaust art? These are questions occurred to me while watching Driftwood. A musical based on the memoir of Eva de Jong-Duldig, it has largely been driven by her daughter Tania de Jong, who plays Eva’s mother, Slawa. She is listed in the program as “Producer and Creator”, and is also credited as one of the lyricists, along with composer Anthony Barnhill and playwright Jane Bodie. The whole exercise has “vanity project” written all over it, an impression that only intensified to me as the musical progressed. It opens in Melbourne in 1958, when Eva (Sara Reed) is turning 18 and her parents, Slawa and Karl (Anton Berezin), give her a box of memorabilia, intending to fill in the gaps of their story. Just why they haven’t told her any of this beforehand is difficult to discern, but we know it’s been bothering her, because she sings a song called Something Missing. It’s painfully literal, like almost everything in

Lano and Woodley: Moby Dick

Lano and Woodley: Moby Dick

3 out of 5 stars

Herman Melville’s gargantuan masterpiece Moby-Dick is one of those unassailable classics of popular culture; it will survive any shit thrown its way. Which is just as well, because Lano and Woodley (Colin Lane and Frank Woodley) throw a lot of shit – in the form of juvenile oneupmanship, silly costumes and a series of almost endless comic distractions – at the story of Captain Ahab and his pursuit of the white whale, not so much adapting it for the stage as face-planting at the foot of its opening line. Part of their well-established schtick is a daring flirtation with failure, a sense that the comic duo are always underprepared, their shows fatally undercooked. So even when problems with the mics grinds the show to a halt – with Colin standing awkwardly on stage as Frank has his mic fixed in the auditorium – they somehow manage to absorb the dead patch and fold it into their central argument. Everything in a Lano and Woodley show is “a little bit shit”, careening towards a kind of reassuring chaos. We do get a tiny bit of Melville among the inanity, and it’s quite delicious: Colin uses his briniest radio voice for some descriptions of Ahab stalking the Pequod at night, and there is a brief moment when Moby-Dick is spotted and the call of “Thar she blows!” booms through the theatre. But inevitably, Frank shuffles on with some ludicrous pretext for diversion and the wind literally drops from Colin’s sails. Most of time, the two are mucking around with giant squid costumes or k

Yentl

Yentl

5 out of 5 stars

While Shakespeare by no means invented the cross-dress comedy – in which a young woman disguises herself as a male in order to woo, wile or win a man either for herself or a surrogate – he arguably perfected it. So when Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer turned to the device in his short story Yentl the Yeshiva Boy, he drew on a long-established tradition. That he did so in order to subvert and challenge traditions of his own, both cultural and spiritual, was perhaps less appreciated at the time. Certainly, the story of a girl who dresses as a boy so that she can study the Torah sounds harmless enough to us now, which is why this new stage adaptation for Kadimah Yiddish Theatre, provocative and profoundly moving, comes as such a shock.Barbra Streisand famously turned the story into a 1983 movie musical and then retained all rights to the material in perpetuity, so director Gary Abrahams, Elise Hearst and Galit Klas returned to the original Yiddish and adapted it themselves. The result is one of the most lucid, dramatically compelling and theologically reflective productions Melbourne has seen in years. Yentl’s transformative journey into their own soul is an arduous one, not without pain for themselves and others, but it is necessary and unmistakably current.Desperate to disobey the directive of her synagogue that says a woman is not allowed to study the Torah, Yentl (Jana Zvedeniuk, a revelation) gains the support of their father to dress as a young man named Anshl and ent

Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina

4 out of 5 stars

This is a review of the Melbourne season of Anna Karenina. Tolstoy published his masterpiece Anna Karenina in 1878 and since that time, it has been adapted for the ballet twice – and it isn’t hard to see why. It's intensely psychological, inherently dramatic but also simple to understand, Anna’s doomed love affair with Count Vronsky has the kind of seething high romanticism perfectly attuned to the dancer’s body. Choreographer Yuri Possokhov luxuriates in the lyricism that is only suggested in Tolstoy’s hyper-realist style, but he also connects directly with the work’s savage inevitability.Possokhov opens, like Tolstoy, at a train station where Anna (Robyn Hendricks) and eventual lover Vronsky (danced memorably by Callum Linnane on the night he was elevated to principal artist) witness the death of a railway worker, crushed in an act of foreshadowing by an oncoming train. Already, with David Finn’s saturnine lighting and Finn Ross’s persuasive projections, despondency mingles with the expectation of high drama to create a palpable mood of tragedy in motion. In the initial ball scene, it is Anna who seems most in control, seductive and authoritative. Hendricks is positively regal here, dominating the mise-en-scène with grace, poise and an impenetrable aloofness. Linnane seems almost boyish in comparison, eager and guileless. Their pas de deux crackles with sexual potential, the almost unbearable desire sitting under the surface. It is also here that we meet the secondary pair

Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina

4 out of 5 stars

Tolstoy published his masterpiece Anna Karenina in 1878 and since that time, it has been adapted for the ballet twice – and it isn’t hard to see why. It's intensely psychological, inherently dramatic but also simple to understand, Anna’s doomed love affair with Count Vronsky has the kind of seething high romanticism perfectly attuned to the dancer’s body. Choreographer Yuri Possokhov luxuriates in the lyricism that is only suggested in Tolstoy’s hyper-realist style, but he also connects directly with the work’s savage inevitability.Possokhov opens, like Tolstoy, at a train station where Anna (Robyn Hendricks) and eventual lover Vronsky (danced memorably by Callum Linnane on the night he was elevated to principal artist) witness the death of a railway worker, crushed in an act of foreshadowing by an oncoming train. Already, with David Finn’s saturnine lighting and Finn Ross’s persuasive projections, despondency mingles with the expectation of high drama to create a palpable mood of tragedy in motion. In the initial ball scene, it is Anna who seems most in control, seductive and authoritative. Hendricks is positively regal here, dominating the mise-en-scène with grace, poise and an impenetrable aloofness. Linnane seems almost boyish in comparison, eager and guileless. Their pas de deux crackles with sexual potential, the almost unbearable desire sitting under the surface. It is also here that we meet the secondary pair of lovers, Levin (Brett Chenowyth, totally assured) and Kit

News (12)

Melbourne theatre in 2020: the shows we're looking forward to

Melbourne theatre in 2020: the shows we're looking forward to

Picking highlights for the coming year is always a crapshoot: the things you expect to be brilliant are often bound to disappoint, and the things that look naff or downright weird on paper turn out to be revelatory. Still, we beat on in the hope we might get something right. In that spirit, here are our expected highlights for the 2020 theatrical year. Just don’t hold us to them. Home, I’m Darling Melbourne Theatre Company have opened their season with a British play starring Jane Turner before, back with Jumpy in 2015, but there’s reason to believe this one might actually be good. Turner is not playing the lead; that honour goes to the fabulous Nikki Shiels. Here she plays Judy, a contemporary woman who decides not to just decorate her life as a ’50s housewife, but to literally become one – cue day after day of baking, cleaning and Tupperware. As her friends and family start to realise she is serious about this descent into a rosy mid-century romanticism, the tensions rise between the cold realities of the present and the safe sureties of the past. Single Ladies Another play from the rapier-sharp Michele Lee is always something to look forward to, and this one for Red Stitch sounds like a cracker. Set outside the Coles on Smith Street, and taking place over the course of a single day, this work plucks three generations of women from three different cultural backgrounds and smashes them together. Knowing this writer’s tendency to push at the boundaries of identity, this shoul

The best on Melbourne stages in 2019: our top 10

The best on Melbourne stages in 2019: our top 10

Like all art forms, theatre is an ecosystem: it needs large-scale commercial works to provide the oxygen and the moss from which edgier, independent fare can flourish. This year in Melbourne, we saw a strange hybrid growth in works that were ostensibly mainstream but sprang from the independent sector, and blockbuster shows with outsider sensibilities. Here’s our top ten, in a year that could have had a top 50. 10. 33 Variations An independent production that should by rights have slotted easily into the programming of Melbourne Theatre Company, Cameron Lukey and Neil Gooding’s production of Moisés Kaufman’s play about genius and mediocrity was superbly directed by Gary Abrahams, with a top-notch cast led by a towering Ellen Burstyn. 9. Pomona Again directed by Gary Abrahams (surely a director who deserves to run a major state company) for Red Stitch, this nasty, grubby little gem from UK playwright Alistair McDowall envisaged a world only mildly more gruesome and soulless than our own. Shining a misty light into Stygian hellscapes, it was an uncompromising vision of the city as cage and endgame. 8. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Commercial theatre at its colossal best, the much-awaited theatrical behemoth from the Potterverse turned out to be as exciting, as tricksy (how the hell do they do that phone booth thing?) and as emotionally engaging as Melbourne could have hoped for. Top-dollar theatre that is actually worth every one of those dollars. 7. Wake in Fright Such a s

What do actors and asylum seekers have in common? The audition

What do actors and asylum seekers have in common? The audition

The idea of comparing actors to asylum seekers seems initially rather crass, bordering on offensive. How can you make an analogy between the soul-crushing wait that families on Manus Island face, for example, with the relatively comfortable instability of the actor’s plight? But when Outer Urban Projects’ Irine Vela conceived the idea, she was thinking not so much of the ways that actors are like refugees, but in the ways refugees are forced into the role of actor; subjugated, living in limbo, forced to survive on hope. “So much of a refugee’s experience is about hoping and waiting. Waiting for acceptance into the show, into the country,” Vela explains over coffee at her house in Coburg. It’s a disempowering experience that completely strips people of agency. “We wanted to look at what it means for a person to be constantly rejected, and having to turn up again and again.” Milad Norouzi and Irine Vela. Photograph: Miguel Rios and Meredith O'Shea Vela put the idea to a number of writers, including longterm associates Patricia Cornelius and Christos Tsiolkas. All three were integral members of the Melbourne Workers Theatre, and recently reunited for the production of Anthem that has just played in this year’s Melbourne Festival. They were instantly hooked, especially because the show would include works by asylum seekers Wahibe Moussa, Milad Norouzi and Sahra Davoudi. “I’m interested in the ways asylum seekers have to perform this role of subjugation,” says Cornelius. “They’r

Brisbane's most dangerous theatre company has moved to Melbourne

Brisbane's most dangerous theatre company has moved to Melbourne

What makes a theatre company pull up stumps and relocate to another city? It’s a tough thing to do, logistically as much as artistically, especially when there’s no guarantee your work will be received with the same enthusiasm in your new home. But when we sat down to chat with director and designer Stephen Mitchell Wright, who last year moved his experimental theatre company the Danger Ensemble from Brisbane to Melbourne, we quickly learned that risk was central to the appeal. “The name of the Danger Ensemble came about, not because we wanted to make overtly risky work, but because we wanted to always feel like we were in danger of failing,” he explains over coffee in a clattering café in the middle of the CBD. “I didn’t want to get to a place where we were making choices that we understood, before we’d already made them.” The move can therefore be read as a physical extension of their artistic aims, of “always wanting to be in new territory.” The first show in their new digs was The Hamlet Apocalypse, an alarming and chaotic countdown to the end of time. Performed by a troupe of actors stuck in a performance of Hamlet, it refracted Shakespeare’s play through the prism of contemporary doom culture. It was electric and strange and difficult to categorise. “That’s important to us, that we don’t pre-empt or prescribe what an audience is going to feel coming to our shows.” The important thing is to shake audiences up. “I don’t want people to feel safe, or familiar, in our space.

Time Out Melbourne's second annual alternative Helpmann Awards

Time Out Melbourne's second annual alternative Helpmann Awards

Another year, another round of Helpmann Awards for the theatrical community to cheer, boo and yell at with supreme apoplexy. They mightn’t be quite as frustrating as the Oscars (are any of us over that time Brokeback Mountain lost to Crash?), but there are a number of ways, year after year, they find a way to disappoint and exclude. That could be through a lack of Indigenous representation – although it must be said that this year has seen major improvements on this front; it could be gross gender bias, where, for example, no female choreographers are even nominated; or it could be a complete lack of interest in regional and rural performances that don’t visit major cities. This year, the Helpmanns have moved from Sydney to Melbourne, so you’d expect to see more Melbourne shows in the mix. You’d be wrong. This year’s line-up is incredibly Sydney-centric. So here at Time Out, we like to hold a little tonic for those feelings of awards ennui, a little repository for our collective indignation. We call them the Alternative Helpmanns, the Alternate Helpmanns, and sometimes the flat-out Fake Helpmanns. Of course, we'll have the full list of official winners tonight, but here are our picks: Best Choreography by a Person (which could include a man but doesn’t)Jo Lloyd, for OVERTURE, who is apparently good enough to get nominated for Best Dance Production but not for choreographing the bloody thing.Special Mention: Stephanie Lake, for Colossus and Skeleton Tree, and for taking her a

Melbourne theatre in 2019: all the shows we're looking forward to

Melbourne theatre in 2019: all the shows we're looking forward to

The only thing more fun than best-of lists for the year just gone are best-of lists for the year ahead. Of course, these are more prone to error, more susceptible to the bloating of expectation and good old-fashioned hype; they’re also more likely to miss the smaller, unexpected gems that give Melbourne theatre the majority of its thrills. Still, at the risk of egg on our collective faces, here’s a run down of things we are hoping to delight us in 2019. Big shows/Massive hype There are several shows coming to Melbourne this year that will ride a crest of buzz and expectation, with ecstatic reviews and a tonnage of pre-bookings to back them up. Tony Award-winning musical Come From Away, which focuses on the planes that were diverted to Canada during the 9/11 attacks on New York, opens at the Comedy Theatre in July. Muriel’s Wedding comes from a triumphant season in Sydney to Her Majesty’s Theatre in March. Biggest of all, though, is Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which is expected to keep the lights on at the Princess Theatre for many months (possibly even years) to come. Shows almost never get bigger than this. International playwrights/Local productions The year starts off with some major new productions of internationally acclaimed work, from Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van at MTC, to Moises Kaufman’s 33 Variations starring none other than Ellen Burstyn at the Comedy. Red Stitch are premiering a new Caryl Churchill play, Escaped Alone, which is nothing short of mirac

The best on Melbourne stages in 2018: our top 10

The best on Melbourne stages in 2018: our top 10

In this year of massive political upheaval, when things seem daily on the knife-edge of collapse, it’s not surprising to see theatre itself turn political. Melbourne saw an influx of fiercely funny political theatre – some of it admittedly on the silly side – in a fulfilment of Hamlet’s commandment to “hold a mirror up to nature”. There was some fine pure escapism around, but mostly 2018 was the year shit got real. Here’s a run down of the best: 10. The Architect “The personal is political” was a concept born of second-wave feminism, but it also perfectly encapsulates the ideas driving this powerfully emotional play about assisted dying and the consequences of policy on the individual. While it cemented the talent of Linda Cropper, it featured a career-making performance from Johnny Carr. 9. The Antipodes US playwright Annie Baker is one of the finest voices working in theatre anywhere in the world, and she brought us a dazzlingly clever, intellectually labyrinthine meditation on storytelling with this play set in a writers’ room. Director Ella Caldwell did a superb job gathering the finely drawn performances of the Red Stitch ensemble together. 8. Going Down Michele Lee is such an exciting voice in Australian drama right now, and this co-production with STC and Malthouse helped spread a love for her that will no doubt continue to grow. A riotously funny satire on cultural expectations and the limits of identity politics, it was also a poignant and profound commentary on ance

The perpetual warfare of the Middle East inspires MTC's new production of Macbeth

The perpetual warfare of the Middle East inspires MTC's new production of Macbeth

When Simon Phillips tackled Richard III for Melbourne Theatre Company, in 2010, he was inspired by George Bush; when he took on Julius Caesar, in the ’90s, it was Thatcher’s Britain. So one shudders to think of what might inspire him to stage Shakespeare’s most brutal and bloody tragedy, Macbeth. As it happens, his Macbeth has nothing to do with contemporary America and its preposterous President. “It’s ludicrous to say that America today is like Macbeth’s Scotland,” Phillips demurs. “[America] is fucked, but it isn’t that.” Instead, Phillips turned his attention to the perpetual battlefield of the Middle East for inspiration. “I saw a fantastic photograph early on when I was conceiving this, of a whole force of army trucks and soldiers on the ground with guns – all red – and this woman, swathed in black, stopping and talking to them. It was such a potent image, somehow.” It led him to a conception of the ‘weird sisters’ as people “who are disenfranchised, un-homed. I wanted them to be against the established order, a force for chaos.”   Director Simon Phillips (centre) in the rehearsal room for Macbeth Photograph: Deryk McAlpin     A world of endless warfare, of a bloodlust that can never be sated, does brilliantly describe Macbeth’s Scotland, and when it came to casting the brutish Thane, Phillips wanted someone who could convincingly play a soldier. Enter Hollywood heartthrob Jai Courtney: “Have you met him? He’s massive. He’s over six foot, built like a brick shithouse,

Opera Australia's Ring Cycle reviewed: Götterdämmerung (4/4)

Opera Australia's Ring Cycle reviewed: Götterdämmerung (4/4)

This is the fourth – and final – instalment in our review of Opera Australia's Ring Cycle. Read reviews of Das Rheingold, Die Walküre and Siegfried to catch up. There is a particular kind of tension that builds as a great work moves inexorably to its conclusion: how can something so complex and expansive, so vast in its vision and so completely attuned to the monumental in human experience, bring itself to a close that is in any way satisfactory? J.R.R. Tolkien opted for ending after ending to his great saga, Lord of the Rings, so incapable of leaving off that he introduced yet another battle after his ring had burnt in the fires of Mount Doom. Wagner’s ring also burns – not in a volcano but a funeral pyre – before plunging back into the river Rhine from whence it came. The difference is that Wagner manages to distil this climax into a finer and more layered thematic resolution of his great work. It’s an ending that opens outward and upward, ambiguous enough to leave the audience reaching towards its mysteries rather than congratulating itself for getting to the end. It is precisely this aspect, seen also in the great masterpieces of Shakespeare, that enshrines this extraordinary cycle in the minds of all who experience it.   Jacqueline Dark, Anna-Louise Cole and Tania Ferris as the NornsPhotograph: Jeff Busby     Götterdämmerung opens with the Norns (Tania Ferris, Jacqueline Dark, Anna-Louise Cole), Wagner’s equivalent to the Three Fates of Greek mythology, as they weave

Opera Australia's Ring Cycle reviewed: Siegfried (3/4)

Opera Australia's Ring Cycle reviewed: Siegfried (3/4)

This is the third instalment in our review of Opera Australia's Ring Cycle. Read reviews of Das Rheingold and Die Walküre to catch up.And then a hero comes along. It may have taken Wagner more than eight hours to introduce the central character in his Ring Cycle, but he makes up for it by naming the third opera after him. The child of the late incestuous twins Siegmund and Sieglinde, Siegfried (Stefan Vinke) is initially something of a brat; he certainly makes life difficult for Mime (Graeme Macfarlane), the dwarf who has raised him and endures his contempt and constant rages. But with Wagner nothing is what it initially seems, and the audience’s view of these two characters will shift markedly as the plot deepens.   Stefan Vinke as SiegfriedPhotograph: Jeff Busby     The opera opens, much like the previous one (Die Walküre), with a long exchange between two people; in fact, most of the entire Ring Cycle is made up of long exchanges between two people. That Wagner can employ this seemingly limited model to suggest entire world views, to mine the most profound impulses of humanity, is a mark of his genius. This exchange, however, couldn’t be further from the glorious love serenade that opens Die Walküre. Mime is, by all appearances, a hard-working pseudo-father to Siegried, toiling to forge the sword his charge will use to slay the current keeper of the ring, the dragon Fafner (Jud Arthur). What becomes clear pretty quickly is that this bogus father/son relationship is based

Opera Australia's Ring Cycle reviewed: Das Rheingold (1/4)

Opera Australia's Ring Cycle reviewed: Das Rheingold (1/4)

Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, otherwise known as The Ring Cycle, is without doubt Opera’s Everest; four operas, over a hundred musicians, sixteen hours in total, it’s a feat of endurance for some, and a total obsession for others. People who travel the world to see the cycle are affectionately referred to as “Ring nuts”. After a single performance of the first opera in the cycle, Das Rheingold – at two and a half hours without an interval it’s really only an amuse-bouche for the lengthy meals to follow – you’ll be tempted to join the club. Neil Armfield’s production premiered in Melbourne in 2013 and is back to close the year for Opera Australia with a tweaked design and the majority of the original cast and crew. The buzz has hardly diminished. Armfield was not exactly an obvious choice, even if it feels like it in retrospect; his best work for this company was with the Janáček operas in the ’90s – pared back, small budget productions that emphasised the emotional interactions of the characters over lavish spectacle. This production has plenty of lavish spectacle, but it’s the emotional interactions that anchor and drive the piece. The result is pretty much triumphant.   James Johnson as Wotan, Jacqueline Dark as Fricka and the Rainbow GirlsPhotograph: Jeff Busby   The plot is tricky to explain, even in sketch form. Wotan (James Johnson) – a kind of Nordic/Germanic Zeus, and king of the gods – has commissioned the giants Fasolt (Daniel Sumegi) and Fafner (Jud

Opera Australia's Ring Cycle reviewed: Die Walküre (2/4)

Opera Australia's Ring Cycle reviewed: Die Walküre (2/4)

Richard Wagner conceived his Ring Cycle to occur in a festival setting over three days, with a preliminary opera, Das Rheingold, to play the night before as a means of getting the audience up to speed with the backstory. Die Walküre is, therefore, technically the first opera in the cycle. It contains the most famous music – namely the ‘Ride of the Valkyries’, immortalised in popular culture via Bugs Bunny as much as Francis Ford Coppola. It also introduces the heroine, Brünnhilde. The hero will have to wait his turn, appearing as the eponymous character in the next opera, Siegfried. Die Walküre opens on a house revolving gently under a heavy fall of snow, like something from a fairy tale. A stranger approaches, wounded and desperate for shelter. The mistress of the house lets him in, and gradually the two realise something profound has occurred. This is Siegmund (Bradley Daley) and Sieglinde (Amber Wagner), twin children of Wotan (James Johnson) and husband and wife before the end of the act. Unless her current husband, Hunding (Jud Arthur) has his way.   Amber Wagner as Sieglinde and Bradley Daley as SiegmundPhotograph: Jeff Busby     This remarkable three-person mini-drama, with incestuous love as its engine, seems as brazen now as it must have on its premiere back in 1876. The exact moments the twins realise that they are in love and also brother and sister are difficult to pin down precisely; the music is so encompassing of their sorrow and yearning that it becomes imp

The best things in life are free.

Get our free newsletter – it’s great.

Loading animation
Déjà vu! We already have this email. Try another?

🙌 Awesome, you're subscribed!

Thanks for subscribing! Look out for your first newsletter in your inbox soon!