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Romeo and Juliet by Curious Pheasant

Stumbling out of another theatre, again physically shaken by the performance I’ve just witnessed, I am awestruck by the ability of creatives to breathe new life into one of the oldest and most frequently redone stories in the canon. But this one was something extra special.

Plonked gently into lad culture, using the images of rugby to speed the story along, our gay pair of star-cross’d lovers shine brilliantly in this show. The cast is condensed to six, the dialogue is abridged but rarely altered: and yet the story rarely diverts significantly from the original.

Curious Pheasant’s Romeo and Juliet successfully stands up to an intellectual scrutiny without becoming a mere academic exercise. The emotion is raw and gutteral, the performances robust and delicately nuanced, and even this middle aged English teacher felt like he was watching the story for the first time, despite knowing essentially what was coming next.

And what it achieves is to show all love as equal. Humane folk care about Juliet and Romeo as much regardless of their gender, and it is specifically a toxic masculinity that gets in the way. Words that ring with familiarity are reinvigorated in this context: that rose, by any other name, really does smell as sweet.

And so, quietly I stepped out of the Bijou into the hustle and noise of Edinburgh’s festive streets, somewhat deafened to the hubbub and still lost in the tragedy. Hoping, maybe, that better days are coming.

 
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Posted by on Thursday, 15 August 2019 in Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Theatre

 

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Ripped

I have been impressed with quite a few performances so far this Fringe, but the most impressive skill an actor can possess is the ability to elicit a gut reaction to a scenario that is beyond the ken of most audients. And Alex Gwyther left me barely able to stand up and walk out of the theatre.

In Ripped, Gwyther portrays a male rape victim masking his trauma by taking action to fulfill a gender stereotype; a stereotype he struggles to define throughout. Gwyther also embodies the victim’s associates, and just keeping the plot clear is a challenge that he rises to with the deftest of hands.

On one level, I want to praise Gwyther’s technical prowess: he is skilled and professional in every way. But the technical skill he demonstrates, regardless of how worthy it is of praise, pales into insignificance against the creative choices he has made in developing the monologue.

This is a story that balances the need to energise and engage with an edifying glimpse into the morass of toxic masculinity. That is a remarkable achievement, and I cannot describe how impressed I am with Gwyther’s achievement.

At the end of this performance, I applauded with the rest of the audience, but I could barely move, and had to take a moment gathering my thoughts before I could leave. That is the mark of a stellar performance.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 14 August 2019 in British Theatre, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Theatre

 

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Vulvarine

Vulvarine, wowing audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe

There is a subtle difference, I think, between efforts to bring about gender equality by political action, and efforts to shift or reinforce gender equality as a paradigm and a goal. The former was needed in the last few centuries, but the latter will be needed much longer.

Fat Rascal Theatre’s Vulvarine, currently wowing audiences at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, is one of the most enjoyable examples of musical theatre to stand up to the challenge of building the gender equality paradigm.

The story centres on Bryony Buckle, a nerdy office worker with a crush on another nerdy office worker and a cough. After accepting a new medication from a misogynistic doctor, she is struck by lightning and becomes a superhero. You can guess what this hero’s name becomes…

The greatest strength of this production is how effortlessly it engages the audience, with slapstick humour and a light-hearted, whimsical air it screams along at a cracking pace, with barely enough time for the audience to draw a breath between guffaws. And the deeply important messages it delivers come with a depth or pathos rare for any musical, let alone such a comic one.

Performances are exceptional. There are five performers, and I lost count of characters at some point, but although Allie Munroe is spectacularly perfect in her depiction of Bryony Buckle, each one is a consummate professional worthy of the highest praise Edinburgh can offer.

My one objection is that I thought I was the only playwright to ever use High Wycombe in a play!

I don’t know if many misogynists would be persuaded by this work, but it reinforces messages of gender equality in a light hearted and positive way, building the culture of gender equality as paradigm, rather than movement.

But most importantly, this is musical theatre at its finest: engaging, witty and pointed.

 
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Posted by on Tuesday, 13 August 2019 in British Theatre, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Theatre

 

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The Judas Kiss

In the light of the civil rights movements of the last five decades, the various ways to interpret the facts of Oscar Wilde’s life seem almost kaleidoscopic. Even in the two decades since David Hare wrote The Judas Kiss, our perspectives on queer rights have moved so dramatically that material of this age frequently jars current sensibilities. Perhaps because of its subject matter, but probably more because of Hare’s focus on the people he was writing about, the play doesn’t suffer from any such awkwardness.

The first act is encountered in a single scene in which Wilde has the opportunity to flee England and escape arrest for gross indecency. Those who hold influence over him try to persuade him in different directions before it is too late, and the wordy dialogue presents a number of reasons for him to stay or to go. Whether Wilde allowed the police to arrest him in a misguided belief that he would never be incarcerated, or in a rather premature expression of gay pride, his courageous foolhardiness shines through brilliantly.

And it is this courageous foolhardiness that I find most inspiring about the Oscar Wilde presented in this production.

David Hare’s heavily verbose script is lightened by inspired direction from Karina Hudson (with the support of Alexandra Pelvin). Despite the weight of words Hare burdens the actors with, each of the three central characters shine through with a life and vivacity that is rare with such a piece.

What is perhaps most surprising is to see the conflicts that currently play out within the queer community about how we engage with the societies we live in, playing out in a story twelve decades old. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

For me at least, this was a deeply moving production of a carefully constructed play. It honours Wilde’s memory while also recognising his humanity, and you can’t ask for more than that.

 

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Mary Magdalene

Landscapes and coastlines reminiscent of southern Australia give this film a grounded feel that exceeds most other depictions of biblical stories. Even the perspective lent to this story by looking at it through the eyes of Mary of Magdala puts me in mind of the strong and courageous women of the Australia Henry Lawson depicted.

In this harsh environment, Mary’s voice emerges subtly and beautifully over the course of the film. Rooney Mara depicts her with a graceful sensibility that builds in courage and awareness as the story progresses.

The male disciples appear as little more than a contentious rabble, much like the church they founded. They tend to follow Jesus about, rather than travelling with him, which is a different way of depicting them than I’ve seen in the past. They argue with each other, ignoring him largely, and it is Mary who points out after Jesus’ resurrection that in their fervour they’d forgotten to listen to the man they — rather pretentiously — called teacher.

This film, though, is more than merely a feminist reading of the gospel. Jesus certainly isn’t depicted here as a feminist, and nor is he depicted as omniscient. Instead, the messiah is shown as a man who was accessible and responsive to others; one aware of the people around him and open to a greater understanding of their experiences. This, really, should be central to the Christian faith: while denominations of the church continue to argue amongst themselves about petty nonsense like whether to worship on Saturday or Sunday or whether vegetarian Catholics should take communion or whether queer people should be treated like human beings, this film depicts a Christ with ears as well as a mouth. It shows him as a man listening: in all my years listening to a myriad of teachings about Jesus, I’ve never once heard a sermon about the example he set as a listener. And yet the gospels, both canonical and apocryphal, frequently depict him listening.

I feel that this film depicts the events of the gospel — canonical, apocryphal and fictional — in a wholly engaging and enlightened manner. And most importantly, it does so from the perspective of one of the most important participants in the events themselves. Truly enlightening and exciting.

 
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Posted by on Sunday, 18 March 2018 in British Film, Film, Porchlight, See Saw Films

 

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Oedipus Scmoedipus

Blood, as Stoppard’s tragedian says, is compulsory.

The auditorium at the Playhouse goes dark for a moment before the curtain shoots into the fly tower and two women wearing white are flooded with blinding white light in front of a white backdrop and a white stage. The audience gasps as their eyes react to the onslaught and giggle a little while they wait for something to happen…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 
 

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Nightmare at 20,000 Feet

The greatest joy in visiting a fringe festival is being able to wander into a show with little to no awareness of what it’s about. Not every show turns out to be worth the time of day, but frequently they’re as good as Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.

I had a couple of hours to fill between shows I’d booked, and had only glanced at the description, but it was cabaret, and it was soon, and it was close, and it was free, so it hit my favourite fringe criteria perfectly, I just hoped there weren’t too many references to imperial measurements to confuddle me. Wandering over to the Crown and Anchor, I got myself a cider and sat down outside the band room. I’d been there but a moment when an attractive gentleman wearing a tuxedo print t-shirt introduced himself as Mark Metaphor, the performer, and sat and chatted for a couple of minutes before heading in and inviting me to proceed.

At this stage, I still had no idea what to expect, and was surprised to see a projector screen taking up most of the stage, leaving very little room for the handsome gent and causing me to hope I was still in my cabaret safe space. Nonetheless, he shortly took up a space beside the screen and introduced the show, thanking what seemed to be more than a few relatives and friends in the audience.

I was pleasantly surprised to realise that the show was going to present four television interpretations of Richard Matheson’s short story, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, while reading from the original text (impressively, he had much of it memorised). Snippets from the television interpretations spanned from the 1960s to the early 2000s, including live action and animations, serious adaptation of the original and comic spoofs. Mark’s screen mashup was timed brilliantly to allow for an impassioned reading of Matheson’s text, and the whole scenario was novel and rich and engaging.

I remained enthralled until a technical glitch with the puter running the projections broke the atmosphere, and the techie hurriedly attempted to get it up and running again. Mark carried on as any professional performer would, and eventually paused to realign his reading with the projection, quickly reestablishing the lost atmosphere. Despite this glitch, the show turned out to be a gem.

This is such a simple but novel idea, and one that could be so engaging. I hope I’ll see more of Mark’s shows at future fringes.

 
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Posted by on Sunday, 18 February 2018 in Adelaide Fringe, Fringe

 

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