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Travis Johnson

Travis Johnson

Travis Johnson is an award-winning screen, stage, and music critic. If he’s not at a screening or a show, he can most often be found underwater.

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Articles (11)

The most unmissable movies at Sydney Film Festival (according to the festival director)

The most unmissable movies at Sydney Film Festival (according to the festival director)

Has it really been only 70 years? It seems like only yesterday that the Sydney Film Festival (SFF) began as a small event at the University of Sydney, but look at it now – a world class event, boasting hundreds of screenings, dozens of high-profile guests, events and Q&A sessions, all crammed into the scant 12 days between June 7 and June 18. On such an anniversary, a sense of the weight of history is perhaps unavoidable, as we contemplate not only the fresh films on the slate, but the lifespan of the festival itself – from its humble beginnings to its current status as one of the premiere events on the international film circuit.  It’s certainly on the mind of festival director Nashen Moodley, now in his twelfth year at the helm. Still, he assures us that some things never change. We have so many films from Cannes. Which is always a great boost to the line-up. “The approach is always the same,” he tells us. “It's looking for the best possible films from around the world. We start pretty early, with a search beginning around August of the previous year. And I think that yeah, that's very much the way we've gone about it, just looking at as much as we can. And of course, it was really important to have a great opening night film this year, and that we managed to do at a very late moment – an uncomfortably late moment – we have The New Boy.” The latest work from director Warwick Thornton is a more than worthy candidate for the opening slot, pairing the Sweet Country director wi

Smells like teen spirit: the Powerhouse takes us on a grungy trip back to the ’90s

Smells like teen spirit: the Powerhouse takes us on a grungy trip back to the ’90s

In late 1991 and early 1992 in Perth, Western Australia, you couldn’t walk into a pub, club, bar, or record shop without coming across a photocopied petition that demanded Nirvana, who would play their first Australian gig at Sydney’s Phoenician Club on January 24, 1992, add the city to their inaugural (and, as it turned out, only) Australian tour. The Perth show had been cancelled due to Kurt Cobain’s ill-health, and the sandgropers were incensed. I know – I was one of them. Pages from that petition are now on display in the Powerhouse Museum as part of the new exhibition, Unpopular, which charts the exploits of music promoter Steve “Pav” Pavlovic. The names have been carefully covered to anonymise the angry Westies, which is a shame; if my name isn’t on there, the names of people I know certainly are. It’s not the biggest ticket item on display – that’d be the 1959 Martin D-18E guitar Cobain played on MTV Unplugged, on loan from Rode Microphones founder Peter Freedman – but it’s personal, tactile, and evidence of the hands-on, grassroots approach that Pav took when he has bringing over the likes of Mudhoney, Hole, and Fugazi back in the day. “I was doing things that I love,” Pav explains of his fan-first philosophy. “And at that point in time I loved those bands and it was exciting to me and I had the opportunity to do it, so I did it.” Photograph: Powerhouse/Zan Wimberley Pav was only 25 years old when he toured Nirvana, and by sheer luck the Australian tour coincided with

Sydney Theatre Company returns to full strength for the 2023 Season

Sydney Theatre Company returns to full strength for the 2023 Season

If the upcoming 2023 STC slate seems overwhelming, perhaps it’s because of this: this is the first full season announcement since the beginning of the pandemic.  Until now, the vagaries of the Covid crisis had made forward planning a challenging prospect at best, but now  STC can unveil a spectacular selection of works: 16 productions encompassing six world premieres and four new commissions. Theatremakers and writers of the caliber of Wesley Enoch, Andrew Upton, Anchuli Felicia King, Aleshea Harris, and Ella Hickson all have upcoming productions under the STC banner, attracting spectacular casts that include Sigrid Thornton, Don Hany, Zahra Newman, John Bell, Justine Clarke and – returning to the stage following a 25-year absence – Claudia Karvan. It’s going to be a bumper year for theatre fans. It's an eclectic selection, with bold new works standing shoulder to shoulder with revered classics, and yet there are themes to be discerned. Speaking to us on the eve of the program launch, STC artistic director Kip Williams explains that while his choices in 2021 reflected themes of community in response to the lockdowns and the Covid crisis, this year a different theme has emerged. “In this particular season I've been looking at creating a collection of plays that allow an audience to enter into a different world,” he tells us. “For a society that has largely been held in a contained space for a long time, we want to be transported. We want to go outside of ourselves. We don't wa

Bell Shakespeare marks the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s First Folio with a fantastic 2023 season

Bell Shakespeare marks the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s First Folio with a fantastic 2023 season

William Shakespeare knew a thing or two about productions being interrupted by outbreaks of pandemic proportions, and so too does Bell Shakespeare. But after a couple of fraught years thanks to Covid, a triumphant 2022 season marked a return to form – headlined by a new pop-musical spin on A Midsummer Night's Dream. And 2023 promises an even more impressive slate of productions – along with an important anniversary. “Next year is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio,” Bell Shakespeare’s artistic director Peter Evans explains. “Without which we wouldn’t have some of Shakespeare’s most-loved plays, including Macbeth and Twelfth Night. It felt like the right time to restage these blockbuster works.” In addition to the aforementioned works, Bell will be mounting a minimalist, stripped back production of Romeo and Juliet designed to showcase the company’s new home base, The Neilson Nutshell at Pier 2/3 in the Walsh Bay Arts Precinct, and starring Rose Riley and Jacob Warner, who featured as Ophelia and Horatio, respectively, in this year’s Hamlet. Read on for full details. Bell Shakespeare: 2023 Season Supplied/Bell Shakespeare | Hazem Shammas for Macbeth Macbeth Sydney Mar 1 – Apr 2 Canberra Apr 15 – Apr 22 Melbourne Apr 28 – May 14 Directed by Peter Evans, this production of one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies sees Hazem Shammas (The Twelve, Safe Harbour) as Macbeth, the valorous Scottish general whose ambition will be his undoing, and Jessica Tovey (The Miser,

After the epic cine-theatre feat of Dorian Gray, Kip Williams takes on Jekyll and Hyde

After the epic cine-theatre feat of Dorian Gray, Kip Williams takes on Jekyll and Hyde

Having astounded audiences and critics alike with his bold take on Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Sydney Theatre Company’s artistic director Kip Williams and the creative team behind Dorian, including leading video technology and production company TDC, return to the realm of Victorian supernatural literature with his latest directorial offering, Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Whereas Dorian Gray was a one-performer affair, with actor Eryn Jean Norvill playing 26 different characters and interacting with video recordings of herself in various guises in real time, Jekyll and Hyde splits two actors across three roles between them: Ewen Leslie, reuniting with Williams after their impressive recent staging of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and Matthew Backer, who appeared in Williams’ Cloud Nine. Between them, the pair play the saintly Jekyll; the sinister Hyde; and Utterson, Jekyll’s friend and confidante, and the point of view character in Robert Louis Stevenson’s source novella (exactly who plays who is left for audiences to discover). Williams will again employ the innovative cine-theatre live video techniques that have become synonymous with his work, and which made Dorian Gray into a nationally (and soon to be internationally) touring hit (next stop: Broadway). Many theatregoers are wondering, how is he going to top it?  Photograph: STC/Daniel Boud “I've always been fascinated by the novella,” Williams explains. “And I was struck by how different the no

12 awesome podcasts to listen to right now

12 awesome podcasts to listen to right now

Everyone has a long list of podcasts they’ve been meaning to get around to, but haven’t quite found the time as yet. Well, with Sydney’s lockdown looking to last considerably longer than anyone expected, there has never been a better time to dig into that audio To Do pile. Even better, podcasts are compatible with other lockdown activities, like upping your wine subscription frequency, vaguely working out to compensate, alphabetising your regrets, and staring into the middle distance. So, the next time you’re doing any (or all) of those, slip one of these gems on in the background and forget about it. Unravel True Crime: Juanita Featuring investigative work from some of our finest journalists, all five seasons of the ABC’s Unravel podcast are well worth a spin. Each digs deep into a different unsolved Australian crime. The latest is a must for Sydneysiders, as it deals with the disappearance of journalist and activist Juanita Nielsen in 1975. A vocal proponent of tenants’ rights and heritage preservation, Nielsen vanished in the middle of a high-profile stoush with organised crime figures over real estate development in King’s Cross. This series picks at the underbelly of the city's crime, corruption, politics and bloody murder – just the thing to make you glad you can’t go outside. TJ This American Life If you’ve got a short attention span but still love a good story, look no further. Hosted by beloved American broadcaster Ira Glass, the podcast tackles a different theme e

The best true crime programs you can stream right now

The best true crime programs you can stream right now

It’s a bit of a grim time in Sydney with the city in lockdown and its cultural life flatlined. But things can always be worse: you could fall prey to a serial killer, or get sucked into a bizarre cult, or any number of grim fates that are the province of the true crime genre. It’s all bit nasty, but we can’t pretend we’re not fascinated by the macabre and malevolent things that real people do to other real people. The ratings don’t lie, after all: true crime is a booming business. Perhaps it’s comforting to know that, no matter how bad your iso situation, things could be demonstrably worse. Perhaps it’s simply that we’re all a lot more morbid than we like to let on. Here, then, are some truly frightful and fascinating true crime series for you to sink your teeth into.

11 awesome comics and graphic novels you can read online

11 awesome comics and graphic novels you can read online

In 2019, comic juggernaut Marvel ruled the world, raking in US$2.8 billion globally with their big-screen offering Avengers: Endgame. Capping two decades worth of storytelling in the MCU, it became one of the most-watched movies in history. Flash forward a year and global lockdowns managed what Thanos could not, by taking out the heroes we know and love. Scarlett Johansson's swansong Black Widow was pulled from release schedules as cinemas shut worldwide. Skip to now, and on the eve of it finally bowing in Australian cinemas, Sydney and other cities find thesmelves shuttered once more.  But don’t despair. If you’re itching for some super-powered action, you can always go straight to the source. These 11 awesome comics are all available on Comixology, but make sure to check if your friendly neighbourhood comic shop is delivering – they’ll appreciate the business in these uncertain times. And yes, that was a Spiderman reference. RECOMMENDED: The 100 best horror movies you can stream right now.

Art Month Sydney

Art Month Sydney

Art Month in Sydney is about much more than exhibitions – although there are certainly a lot of them. The program extends to talks, tours, open studios, performances, workshops and classes too. Artistic director Emma O’Neill has curated a fantastic array of events across the city for the annual festival, which was started by gallerists and heavyweight art dealers Vasili Kaliman and Michael Reid in 2010 in response to the growing public interest in art. Below are some of our highlights, including events that expand the footprint well into April, if you're the sort of person that swings into cool gigs fashionably late.  Art Month Sydney runs through March and into April. See also, our hit list of best art to see this month.

Katie Noonan talks bringing women’s voices to the Don Walker songbook

Katie Noonan talks bringing women’s voices to the Don Walker songbook

Drawing on songs from the length and breadth of Don Walker’s storied career, superstar Katie Noonan is set to rock the Headland stage at Barangaroo Reserve this Sydney Festival with a few of her favourite friends. Fans will hear refrains from his formative years with hard rockers Cold Chisel, through his country-rock work as one third of Tex, Don, and Charlie, and from his solo outings. Combining the words of one of our greatest songwriters with the voices of Noonan and co, Songs of Don promises to be one of the highlights of the 2021 festival. The initial seed from which this flame tree has sprung was planted several years ago when Noonan was Artistic Director of the Queensland Music Festival. Ruminating on the kind of musicians coming out of Queensland, she was surprised to discover that Walker hailed from Ayr, a little under a hundred kilometres south of Townsville. “I’ve always thought of Cold Chisel as an Adelaide band,” she explains. “But in fact one of their primary songwriters and the writer of some of their biggest hits is a Queenslander. So that was something that I was interested in exploring.” Noonan was, and remains, an unabashed fan of Walker’s musical craft and song-writing chops. Cold Chisel were well-established by the time she was born in 1977 and so, as she puts it, Walker’s rough-hewn pub rock poetry was, “In my musical DNA since I was a baby. I have admired his incredible capacity to write really interesting songs that are musically engaging but then also

Kenny's creative team talk translating the mockumentary to the stage

Kenny's creative team talk translating the mockumentary to the stage

Nobody expected Kenny to take the world by storm. And yet the Shane Jacobson-led mockumentary went on to become one of the most beloved Australian films of all time. It tells the tale of a put-upon plumber trying to win the respect of his father, the esteem of his peers, and perhaps even a little love for himself, all the while trying to be the best purveyor of portaloos he can be. Co-written and directed by Jacobson’s brother, Clayton, Kenny struck a chord with movie audiences and critics alike, and the amiable, unassuming prince of plungers earned a place in the Australian cultural firmament. Now, almost 15 years on from this first flush of success, the story is headed to a new medium: theatre. It’s been re-imagined as a one-man play starring Ben Wood (Top of the Lake: China Girl), which will debut at Ensemble Theatre this Sydney Festival 2021, running from January 15 to February 27. Funnily enough, it was Wood’s close resemblance to original Kenny that first spurred the project. The actor regaled director Mark Kilmurry with an amusing recollection of the time a prominent theatre director chatted to him at the Helpmann Awards before realising that the man before her was not, in fact, Shane Jacobson. “It’s always been a running gag that I certainly get mistaken for him a fair bit,” Wood laughs. “And I’ve spoken to friends of his about it as well, and he seems to get inversely mistaken. So they’ll see me on an ad or something and they’ll think it’s him.” Kilmurry, artistic di

Listings and reviews (34)

Into the Shimmering World

Into the Shimmering World

5 out of 5 stars

Ray is a farmer. Ray is dying. Ray is falling in love. Ray has had a tough year. Ray mourns his wife. Ray meets his wife. Ray doesn’t want to live in a nursing home. Ray’s kids don’t understand him. Ray doesn’t understand why the world won’t let him live his life. Ray, played with impressive physicality and nuance by veteran actor Colin Friels, is the central figure of Into the Shimmering World – a new work commissioned by Sydney Theatre Company that makes the intimate epic, seesawing back and forth in time but remaining locked in space. The main arena of conflict is the family farm that Ray and his wife, nurse Floss (fellow veteran Kerry Armstrong) have run their entire adult lives. It’s a hard existence, but a rewarding one, contending with droughts, floods, fluctuating markets, and unruly neighbours (one dubbed “The Crook” remains an unseen presence, but a constant source of grievance).  Written by 2020 Patrick White Playwrights Fellow Angus Cerini and directed by STC’s Director of New Work and Artistic Development Paige Rattray, Into the Shimmering World is a study of Australian masculinity – as were the previous works in Cerini’s Australian gothic trilogy, The Bleeding Tree and Wonnangatta. In many ways this play is a study of stoicism, its strengths and its limitations. The laconic Ray meets every challenge with a resigned determination that borders on fatalism, an attitude that has served him well for decades. But the sons his work put through university don’t want to

Elvis: A Musical Revolution

Elvis: A Musical Revolution

2 out of 5 stars

How much Elvis is too much? The King of Rock n’ Roll is a perennial pop culture fave, and recently the subject of two major movies – Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, and Sophia Coppola’s sobering corrective, Priscilla. Last month saw the 31st edition of the venerable Parkes Elvis Festival, and last week the death of rockabilly legend Mojo Nixon, whose most famous song informed us that ‘Elvis is Everywhere’. Almost 50 years after his death, the King continues to reign. Presley’s latest manifestation comes in the form of this musical extravaganza, a stage-bound biography that loosely and lightly tells the story of his rise from rural Mississippi poverty to global domination, kicking off with Presley ruminating on his life backstage at the ’68 Comeback Special. ...perhaps this musical's shameless hagiography is understandable from a certain perspective – we come here not to bury the King, but to praise him. If that reminds you of the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line (or, less charitably, the merciless parody Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story), you’re not alone. But Elvis: A Musical Revolution takes more cues from the recent Tina - The Tina Turner Musical. It’s a jukebox musical, of course (how could it not be?) boasting over 40 songs from the Elvis back catalogue. Well, bits of them, at any rate – in an effort to cram in as many Presley bangers as possible, the show resorts to medlies, which seems to be missing the point. Surely, in a production celebrating one of the most iconic musical figu

An Evening Without Kate Bush

An Evening Without Kate Bush

5 out of 5 stars

Sarah-Louise Young brings a lot of big Theatre Kid Energy to her Kate Bush tribute act at Sydney Festival, which is exactly what you want from this sort of thing. Young doesn’t attempt to exactly mimic the revered and eclectic English musical icon, but rather invites the audience into a celebration of both Bush herself and the Bush fandom. The trick, I think, is acknowledging that Bush is, yes, ethereal and arty, but also more than a little goofy – as sketched out when we’re taken through a quick practical demonstration of the six main tricks in Bush’s choreography bag. It’s taken as a given that the audience is heavily seeded with Kate Bush tragics, and that certainly seemed to be true – which came in handy when a 10-year-old girl and her mother were roped in to provide backing vocals for ‘Hounds of Love’, and when a couple in their sixth decade of marriage were invited in stage to dance to ‘Don’t Give Up’. There’s a lot of audience interaction; at this show we are all “Fish People”, as Bush’s fans call themselves, regardless of how well we may know her back catalogue. And Fish People are not precious, it seems – Young’s reworking of several songs, including a Russian take on ‘Babushka’ with the pronunciation corrected, were met with rapture.  An Evening Without Kate Bush is an absolute delight. Odds are good you’ll never see the enchantress herself live (Fish People know), but this joyous celebration might be the next best thing. ‘An Evening Without Kate Bush’ played at Syd

Switched On: Courtney Barnett’s End of the Day

Switched On: Courtney Barnett’s End of the Day

4 out of 5 stars

Opening act Warm Currency struggled to hold the attention of a restless Sydney Festival crowd at the City Recital Hall. Despite strong applause at the end of their set, the two piece act’s minimalist soundscapes and spoken word combo played to an audience that seemed impatient for the drawcard: not one, but two sets from Courtney Barnett. Each set in turn encompassing her now-familiar wry, observational songwriting, loved by fans since her 2015 LP debut, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit; and cuts from the instrumental album End of the Day, comprising the score to the 2021 documentary Anonymous Club (Danny Cohen’s anti-rock-doco about Barnett’s rise to fame). The irony is that Warm Currency proved an inspired intro to Barnett’s low-key vox-free noodlings, accompanied by Stella Mozgawa of Warpaint. But the uptick in energy was palpable when Barnett launched into her second set, exhorting the crowd “Don’t be afraid to make noise!” and hitting us with her repertoire of certified bangers, including suburban anthem ‘Avant Gardener’ and relationship requiem ‘Need a Little Time’. As a singer-songwriter, Courtney Barnett is simply one of the best we’ve got, and the standing ovation that closed the show was well-earned. Still, as Barnett moves into musical spaces outside of what we’ve become accustomed to, she may be facing an age-old problem in pop. To paraphrase another iconic Australian outfit, the fans seem to like her old stuff better than her new stuff.  'Switc

Il Tabarro

Il Tabarro

4 out of 5 stars

After spending 107 years as a lightship, the Australian National Maritime Museum’s Carpentaria has had a late-life career change, being press ganged into service as the stage for Sydney Festival’s production of Puccini’s one-act opera, Il Tabarro. Director Constantine Costi updates the original Parisian setting to 1930s Sydney, with the harbour providing a perfect backdrop (and the local seagulls an atmospheric Greek chorus).  Puccini’s class consciousness remains intact as we follow the doomed love triangle between ship owner Michele (Simon Meadows), his wife Giorgetta (Olivia Cranwell), and wharfie Luigi (James Egglestone) – and even if you’re not familiar with the original, the fact that that this production is being billed as a “nautical noir” should indicate that things do not go smoothly.  This take on Il Tabarro shines not just because of the novel setting, but in the way Costi manages to retain the intimacy of the story, even with the bustling Sydney CBD serving as his backdrop. Meanwhile, conductor Simon Bruckard and the Victorian Opera Chamber Orchestra’s music reminds us that even if the lives of these characters are modest, the emotions in play are epic. The only real caveat is an issue with the audience rather than the production – not a moment passed that wasn’t captured on several mobile phones. (Still, there is a large body of water close to hand, if that proves to be an unbearable imposition.)  Il Tabarro is playing on Sydney Harbour, outside the Australian

The Seagull

The Seagull

5 out of 5 stars

There’s a tendency to forget that The Seagull is intended to be a comedy. This classic play flies in the face of the public’s perception of gloomy ol’ Russian dramatist Anton Chekov, but it was in fact director Konstantin Stanislavski who reframed the action as drama in his 1898 production. Given the play’s initial run was a catastrophic failure, and that Stanislavski’s is still regarded as an epochal production, the die was cast. Happily, Sydney Theatre Company’s final production of the 2023 season has gone back to the original intent, and modernised the language and context – which will drive purists up the wall, but works wonders in terms of breathing fresh life into the material. The orthodox take on The Seagull is great, of course; no argument there. But make some time for adapter (and former STC creative director) Andrew Upton’s and director Imara Savage’s more heretical version – it’s a banger. Sigrid Thornton's Irina would be right at home lounging under a large hat in a North Shore brunch spot... Instead of “modernised” we should perhaps say “Australianised” – the lakeside country estate that provides the play’s setting could be a luxuriously rustic Central Coast getaway, and the cast of characters a typical collection of Eastern Suburbs artistes and culture vultures. There’s struggling and pretentious artist Constantine (Harry Greenwood), resentful of living in the shadow of his distant mother, Irina (Sigrid Thornton), a famous actress. There’s her partner, popular

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night

3 out of 5 stars

Gender was frequently blended in the world of Elizabethan theatre, given that women were banned from the stage and all the roles were performed by men. Perhaps William Shakespeare was making a sly comment on the practice with Twelfth Night, which repurposes a few elements from his earlier The Comedy of Errors (twins, a shipwreck, mistaken identity, tangled romance) but has as its protagonist Viola (Alfie Gledhill), a young woman who takes on a male identity, Cesario, after she is shipwrecked. She’s looking for her twin brother, Sebastian (Isabel Burton). In this new production from Bell Shakespeare, the two actors initially play each other’s parts before swapping, just to add an extra frisson of enjoyable confusion. From there, we get a tangled knot of love – both unrequited and otherwise – and mistaken identity. Louche Duke Orsino (Garth Holcombe) uses Cesario to press his suit on the grieving Countess Olivia (Ursula Mills). Viola, disguised as Cesario, has fallen in love with Duke Orsino. Olivia sets her romantic sights on Cesario – or possibly Viola, or perhaps Sebastian – as he wanders through the action of the play largely puzzled by whatever’s going on.  The six original songs penned by Blasko for the production offer a sombre counterpoint to the ostensibly comic thrust of the narrative... Meanwhile, Olivia’s steward, Malvolia (reconfigured here from the usually male Malvolio, and played with a striking mix of pomposity and vulnerability by Jane Montgomery Griffiths) ca

On The Beach

On The Beach

5 out of 5 stars

We’ve been thinking about the end of the world for a long time – this is one notion that keeps recurring to me regarding On the Beach. Nevil Shute’s novel was first published in 1957 – 12 years after the atomic age was inaugurated in the New Mexico desert, and while these days our impending Armageddon seems to be of a non-nuclear variety, the fact that the Sydney Theatre Company’s stage adaptation (the first ever for this story) is launching the same week that Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer debuts in cinemas speaks to the long shadow thrown by the blast at Los Alamos. Stanley Kramer’s 1959 film adaptation is steeped in the same Cold War nuclear anxiety as Shute’s book, while Russel Mulcahey’s 2000 television movie is a solid take on the material that feels oddly out of kilter with its cultural context – released in the relatively calm period immediately presaging 9/11, the Global War on Terror, and an entirely different flavour of paranoia than what had gone before. Perhaps the nature of the catastrophe is unimportant, only its seeming inevitability. Directed by STC artistic director Kip Williams and penned by Tommy Murphy (ABC's Significant Others, Holding the Man), this version retains the original setting (Melbourne), period (1963), and existential threat (nuclear fallout drifting southward following a brisk war in the Northern Hemisphere). However, with this production being mounted as global temperature records are routinely obliterated and the tangible effects of the c

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet

4 out of 5 stars

You’d never, surely, describe Romeo and Juliet as one of William Shakespeare’s funnier plays. However, Bell Shakespeare’s latest production highlights the humour in the famous tragedy, before bringing the hammer down in the back half. It’s an interesting approach that could, in other hands, undermine the play’s central thematic concerns – but here, the contrast works wonders. Of course, this is not director Peter Evan’s first at-bat with R&J – he mounted a lavish production in 2016 when he first took up the reins as artistic director of Bell Shakespeare. This production, however, is a more streamlined, minimalist affair. Set and costume designer Anna Tregloan dresses Bell’s new HQ, The Neilson Nutshell, with a couple of raised platforms and a scattering of carpets and wooden stools. The cast is dressed in stylish but functional black, the addition of brighter accessories marking the crucial Capulet ball scene when our star-cross’d lovers first meet. ...hearing this old song sung in a new register is nothing less than exhilarating Jacob Warner’s Romeo here is capricious, charming, and more than a little blind to the consequences of his actions. More than a little ink has been spilled on the notion that Romeo is the OG fuckboi (most prominently in the pop musical & Juliet, currently playing in Melbourne to great fanfare), his dalliance with Juliet more of a passing obsession than true love, and Warner leans into that ambiguity. Warner drops lines such as “Shall I hear more, or

Tina – The Tina Turner Musical

Tina – The Tina Turner Musical

3 out of 5 stars

After an unforgettable run that saw 301 performances and 301 standing ovations, Tina – The Tina Turner Musical is preparing to take the final bow of its Syndey season on Sunday, January 28, 2024. The show is a record-breaker for Theatre Royal Sydney, becoming the longest-running production since the iconic venue’s reopening and shattering sales records during its launch in May 2023. The national tour kicks off in Perth in February, followed by seasons in Adelaide, Brisbane, and Melbourne. Read on for our critic's review... Australia loves Tina Turner – the one-two punch of her appearance, both in the film and on the soundtrack of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, and the use of her cover of Bonnie Tyler’s The Best to promote the NRL back in the day made sure of that. Will they love Tina, the acclaimed jukebox musical based on her life and, naturally enough, packed with her tunes? Well, yes, probably – as long as your appreciation of that music outweighs the shortcomings of the writing. That writing is by Pulitzer-winner Katori Hall, along with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins, but as a piece of drama Tina struggles to encompass the life of its subject. We begin in Tina’s childhood in Nutbush, Tennessee, when the pre-fame protagonist – then simply Anna Mae Bullock – was deserted by her mother (Ibinabo Jack). We then follow her through her soaring career and abusive, drug-sodden relationship with Ike Turner (a role carried well by Tim Omaji), her eventual break from him, forays into so

UFO

UFO

3 out of 5 stars

Last year the Tasmanian art collective Re:group gave us Coil, a gem of a play that combined live performance with video capture to present a funny but emotionally resonant tale of loss and regret set in the dying days of a small town video store. Now they’re back with UFO, a similarly experimental project that uses video capture and puppetry to follow the experiences of four young people (Matt Abotomey, James Harding, Angela Johnston and Tahlee Leeson) who have been tasked with observing an honest-to-Ed-Wood flying saucer that has set down on a local golf course. But some experiments are less successful than others. Directed by Solomon Thomas and written by Kirby Medway, and utilising puppets by Chris Howell that are based on 3D scans of the actors, UFO plays out on a miniature set designed by Angus Callander, with the actors manipulating the puppets by hand while a videographer films them. The resultant images projected on two walls in a kind of stop-motion animation style. Effectively, these “screens” are the focus of the action, with the puppets and sets effectively being a glimpse behind the scenes. Unfortunately, while Griffin Theatre Company’s rather small SBW Stables Theatre has proved itself as a storytelling TARDIS (feeling bigger on the inside) time and time again, it is perhaps not the best venue for such an undertaking. For at least some audience members (including me) both the projected images and the miniature sets were partially obscured, lessening the impact o

Macbeth

Macbeth

4 out of 5 stars

Bell Shakespeare brings us a minimalist, sly, and refreshingly funny take on the Scottish play with their latest production, which sees Hazem Shammas (The Twelve, Safe Harbour) as Macbeth and Jessica Tovey (The Miser, The Merchant of Venice) as Lady Macbeth, killing and scheming their way to the top of the feudal heap in a medieval Scotland that looks a lot like Great Britain in the aftermath of World War I. Soldiers wear greatcoats instead of armour, and sport rifles rather than swords. Nobles and courtiers swan about in sharp-cut dinner jackets, while Tovey’s Lady Macbeth greets us in a stunning ivory dress that director (and Bell artistic director) Peter Evans and designer Anna Tregloan somehow resist smearing with blood as the murderous action of the play unfolds. Modern productions of Shakespeare sometimes feel like a game of Mad Libs as theatre makers strive for a fresh take on the Bard’s well-worn works – “It’s Othello set in a diner in the 1950s!” – but a careful selection of setting and aesthetic can contextualise the narrative wonderfully. Here, the post-war setting is a nice touch, reminding us of both the strife that precedes the story being told as well as  the greater tragedies to come – Macbeth’s downfall looms in the future like World War II did after the Treaty of Versailles.  Hazem Shammas' brilliant turn as Macbeth is underpinned by a rueful gallows humour But in an interesting take on the material, Evans and his team choose to emphasise the supernatural e

News (1)

Sydney on screen: Filming 'Anyone But You’ in the Harbour City

Sydney on screen: Filming 'Anyone But You’ in the Harbour City

Starring a couple of Hollywood’s brightest young things alongside some iconic Aussie landmarks, the breezy R-rated rom-com of the summer, Anyone But You shines a light on Sydney’s most romantic locations. When Euphoria star Sydney Sweeney and Top Gun: Maverick actor Glen Powell touched down in Sydney (the city, mind you) in February 2023, they caused quite the stir. Now, audiences are finally on the cusp of seeing what all the fuss was about. Loosely based on Shakespeare’s 16th-century comedy Much Ado About Nothing, the movie follows our American stars to a destination wedding in Australia. Director and romantic comedy veteran Will Gluck (Easy A, Friends with Benefits) has wanted to showcase Sydney (the city) on film since 2017, when he was making the first of the two computer animated Peter Rabbit films here – and with Anyone But You, he’s gotten his wish.  Photograph: Supplied/Sony Pictures “I kind of fell in love with Australia, as did my family. So I wanted Anyone But You to be my love letter to Sydney – one of the most beautiful, welcoming, glorious places in the world,” he said. “All these things that I wrote, I never actually thought that they would let us do,” Gluck admitted. “Like landing a helicopter at the Sydney Opera House, and I had Glen jump out multiple times, during daytime and at night, or putting Sydney and Glen on a buoy in the middle of Sydney Harbour for five nights straight.” In the vein of Time Out’s ‘City on Screen’ series, let’s take a behind-the-s

Now that live venues are closed, can digital gigs save the music scene in Sydney?

Now that live venues are closed, can digital gigs save the music scene in Sydney?

With waves of folks let go from the hospitality industry in one fell swoop, it’s hard to look past those devastating headlines. But it’s not just our cafes, bars and restaurants that have shut up shop indefinitely. The arts are smarting too, with music venues, in particular, falling silent. Festivals and gigs have been cancelled for the foreseeable future. Venues and music rooms are shuttered with no concrete return date. Jobbing musos have seen their day gigs in hospitality, retail and the service industry disappear in a puff of hand sanitiser too as the lockdown kicks in. Still, musicians are a resourceful lot, and many have pivoted remarkably quickly to the notion of live-streaming gigs to a now-housebound audience. Isol-Aid, a two-day virtual festival organised by Melbourne artist Rhiannon Atkinson-Howatt, was a recent example hosted on Instagram. Some 74 artists including Stella Donnelly, Angie McMahon, Didirri, and Julia Jacklin played 20-minute sets from their respective homes, tagging the next artist on the roster so fans could follow along. Isol-Aid is the biggest cyber-festival to take place since the virus outbreak, but many more of varying scales are sure to follow, with smaller sets already cropping up. On a global level, Sofa King Fest is aggregating live gig stream from around the world, with the likes of Willie Nelson, Melissa Etheridge, Cypress Hill, and more playing for homebound, and Mary’s Group curating the Australian contingent for the site. Locally, Sur