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Tag Archives: Australia

Holding the Man

holding the manTimothy Conigrave’s autobiographical story of his love for John Caleo has turned into one of the finest Australian films ever produced. In fact, I should strike the Australian from that sentence, as it’s really one of the finest films ever produced in the world, but having seen it, I’m rather more proud to be an Australian than I was yesterday, so it’s staying.

Adapted for the stage (and subsequently the screen) by Queanbeyan playwright Tommy Murphy, Holding the Man follows the story of Tim and John from when they meet in high school and Tim pursues John. The story follows their love through homophobia, infidelity (of sorts), moderate success and finally AIDS. The characters are portrayed skilfully by Ryan Corr as Tim, and Craig Stott as John. Despite a strange, forced accent from Corr (he insists on pronouncing every T as if he were dining with the queen and it annoyed me throughout), their performances are truly impeccable.

The film matters in a sociological sense because it is set against the backdrop of the changing Australia of the late seventies through early nineties, which was when the bulk of social attitudes about the rainbow community shifted. And yet, despite the significance of these political shifts, this story is firmly grounded in the experience of the two men at the heart of this tragedy. And therein lies its greatest strength.

If you really hate spoilers, you might want to stop reading now, but really, the ending is clear from the very opening moments of the film, anyway. It is rare, I think, that this tactic works, but this is certainly one of the circumstances in which it serves well for keeping the story on track and focused. One of the benefits of knowing that John dies is that as the film delves into some very dark places the audience doesn’t question whether he will pull through. And because we know he is going to die, we are able to concentrate on the way in which the characters deal with their circumstances. It really is very strategic storytelling, and shows a master of the art was at work.

Despite the darkness of this story, this film is, at its heart, a celebration of love. It truly demonstrates a spectacular skill on the part of Tommy Murphy, to delve into such dark plotlines with such pathos and not lose sight of the heart of the story, which was the love between the two protagonists. Few writers can manage this with such dexterity.

I simply cannot recommend this film highly enough. Get it. Watch it. Share it.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 26 August 2015 in Australian Film, Film, Goalpost Pictures

 

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The Sapphires

 

We’ve seen plenty of films centred on the victories of the Civil Rights Movement. Most are quite interesting but the bulk of them seem to float in the ether of the social and political significance of their subject matter, and don’t make a particularly smooth landing in the grit and grime of reality. That criticism can’t be levelled at The Sapphires.

Inspired by the true story of the writer’s mother, who toured Vietnam during the American WarThe Sapphires portrays three sisters and a cousin, young Aboriginal women who in 1968 are discovered by a drunk Irishman who can barely hold down a job but has a great passion for Soul music and recognises a talent. Auditioning for an American military talent scout, they are recruited and find themselves on their way to a war zone.

The story veers close to the heavy themes of racial discrimination, the Stolen Generation, and the moral predicament of the Western powers in Vietnam, but deftly avoids wallowing in them, instead focusing on the narrative of a family. It is remarkably how carefully balanced this story is, since it could so easily drop into a tirade on the heavy themes it skirts, but instead focuses on the triumph of hope and perseverance.

The Sapphires is distinctly the product of the early twenty-first century. It looks back at this period as a critical juncture in world history, a point when the usual shift in cultural values across the western world took on seismic significance and fundamentally altered the way we see things. And unlike most films that try to do this, it doesn’t preach, it doesn’t overstate the political and cultural significance of its subject matter. It just tells the story of five young people experiencing change at the crossroads of world culture. This is cinema at its best.

 

 
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Posted by on Friday, 10 August 2012 in Australian Film, Film, Goalpost Pictures

 

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A new theatre blogger is about in Canberra!

So I was scrolling through Facethingy for something interesting this morning, and lo and behold, I was successful. That doesn’t happen often!

I came across a link to a new blog about theatre in Canberra. Again, anonymous, and seemingly a little critical of Canberra’s slightly longer-standing anonymous critic, Max, who’s had a six-month head start and has ruffled a few feathers. This blogger, who goes by the title That Guy Who Watches Canberra Theatre is rather more modest and wants to increase conversation about theatre in Canberra, which I appreciate rather more than Max‘s claim that whatever s/he thinks is Gospel. Well, I congratulate That Guy on that, and wish him all the best. I also look forward to offering the odd pingback where we happen to post about the same show.

My one little hesitation is that I’m not fond of the anonymous critic idea generally. It has some merit, since it allows the critic to be completely candid about people s/he might otherwise just pay lip service to, but it also encourages that most useless form of criticism, the attack. Max has been known to tear artists down under the rather bemusing motto of being “objective, honest and accurate” (objectivity is of course impossible in a critic, who by definition must take a position; and an accuracy of opinion is hardly something to distinguish any individual critic from any other (for all anyone knows every critic’s expression of his/her opinion has always been accurate); though I value the honesty). Max is rarely as aggressive as the worst of the critics at the Crimes (a significant achievement!). So while I can understand why a critic might want to remain anonymous, and don’t really object, I just don’t see enough value in anonymity. If opinions are personal, they should be owned by a person and not paraded about as gospel.

I’m aware I’m sitting in a glass house here; I haven’t always focused on what I like, which was my intention for this blog when I started it four years ago. But nonetheless, I stand behind my opinions and own them. My real name is all over this blog and everything that links to it, and anyone can click through or search for my Facebook or Twitter accounts to hurl abuse right back at me. There are photos of my face so that if you don’t know me and you object to something I write you can approach me the next time you see me in a theatre foyer and punch it. Even my phone number is here, freely available for you! Anyone can post a dissenting point of view in response to my posts, and know who they’re having a conversation with. When I review for Australian Stage, I need to be more forthcoming, and I don’t get the privilege of simply not writing about shows I really don’t like. On my blog, though, I can just speak my mind about what I do like and save my vitriol for Andrew Lloyd Webber, who truly deserves it for his criminal aversion to character and plot.

At times, I’ve found myself and people I’ve worked with desperately discouraged by the Crimes’ most viscous and disreputable reviewers, and though their reviews aren’t anonymous, I fear the same level of vitriol could develop as a result of Max and That Guy‘s anonymity. It doesn’t really help, and this kind of critic potentially leads great artists to quit and exit the field based on one irrelevant person’s opinion before they’ve created their greatest work or found what they’re really good at. I prefer the philosophy of pointing out what I value and hoping the artist does more of that. I certainly hope that no artist I’ve been critical of sees my opinion as being more important than anyone else’s.

The two posts currently up on That Guy‘s blog are reasonably balanced and positive, so I guess time will tell whether the anonymity will be a blessing or a curse. I just hope it doesn’t become a haven for discouraging the wonderful artists who make up Canberra’s theatre community. Overall, it’s just great to have another blog about Canberra theatre around, and I’m looking forward to a greater diversity of opinions being expressed (especially because That Guy‘s no great fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber). Have a look at his review of Free Rain’s Cats here.

 
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Posted by on Sunday, 22 July 2012 in blog, Canberra Theatre, news, Theatre

 

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The Bugalugs Bum Thief

Playing at The Street Theatre this week is Monkey Baa’s latest incarnation of one of Australia’s best-named plays, The Bugalugs Bum Thief. No, it’s not quite Shakespeare, but it’s closer than one might assume.

Its central character, Skeeter Anderson, just one young member of Bugalugs’ coastal community, wakes up one morning to find his bum is missing, which proves inconvenient for him. He soon finds that just about everyone in town has had their bum stolen, including his friend Mick Misery, for whom it is not so inconvenient, as it means his mum can’t smack him. The advantages of life without a bum, however, do not prove to outweigh the disadvantages, and Skeeter sets out to identify the bum thief and locate everyone’s bums.

The entire town is brought to life through the generous energy of just three performers who present mums, dads, teachers, police and sailors as well as their main role as a child. It may not be universally accepted as a compliment, but Gideon Cordover, Carl Batchelor and Mark Dessaix make excellent children, which is particularly helpful when…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 

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The Piano Diaries

I’m a sucker for an immigration story, and Joanna Weinberg’s latest offering, The Piano Diaries, starts with one, so I was engaged from the get go with both her story, and her intoxicating voice.

I know I commented on a recent post that I might not be a particular fan of cabaret, but this was marvellous. While The Piano Diaries doesn’t have a plot in the conventional sense, Weinberg’s autobiographical stories are wonderfully full of the froth and bubble of life, flowing from the joys of a child’s fascination with her parents’ happiness to the darkness of witnessing racial vilification. These stories, fragments of a life story, provide a backdrop for the seemingly-effortless grace with which Joanna engages her audience.

London-born Weinberg grew up in South Africa (yet another reason for my interest; stories of South Africa fascinate me) and much of the material for this show is inspired by her childhood and youth in South Africa, with much of the remainder relating to her migration experience in coming to Australia. The Winds of Fear explores this, with its humble reference to the South African migrant as the “privileged of the refugees”. The unique perspective of South African Australians on this topic is refreshing, and Weinberg’s stories really speak to the immense value of a diverse society.

Weinberg took joy in complimenting Tuggeranong, even likening its Town Centre to Florence, repeatedly! No compliment was received with anything less than a hearty laugh by Tuggeranongians, who apparently take much less delight in the simple beauties of a well laid-out urban entity. It is Weinberg’s simple delight in the varied experiences of her life that make this show so charming, though. It is wonderful to just hear stories gleaned from life experience that then translate so beautifully into song, and the articulation between story-telling and song is what makes this show really special.

If nothing else, I’m finally sold on cabaret.

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 30 June 2012 in Cabaret, Canberra Theatre, Theatre, Tuggeranong Arts Centre

 

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Toomelah

Toomelah is a particularly interesting film, if not especially engaging. Writer and Director Ivan Sen went into the New South Welsh township of Toomelah, which began life as an Aboriginal mission, and filmed this story with the local community performing the roles. As characters and performers, they offer a lot. They are, in a sense, playing themselves, and although the story is fictitious, the setting and the circumstances of life in Toomelah is very real.

After the screening at Arc, Sen described the experience of making the film in this community. He went alone, with no film crew, in order to get unhindered access to the community, and to allow the performers more scope to ignore the camera. The effect is remarkable; these characters come to life, despite having just about the thinnest plot I’ve ever seen. There was one point while watching the film when I wondered whether the story was actually just Sen following Daniel Connors around and filming his real life.

The reality, though, is that this is a fictitious story about a real community, played by the people of the community. The slowness of life in this community is, presumably, captured faithfully, but unfortunately I don’t think this verisimilitude does the film any favours. It asks a lot of the audience to keep watching, and while I think this is often acceptable, it is more effective when the story is more engaging.

I think it is particularly important that we tell the story of diverse Aboriginal communities, but I still think these stories need to be told in the dominant storytelling form of our society. While Toomelah is a film worthy of our attention, I doubt it will get much. With a plot arc this slow, it takes pre-established empathy with the characters for an audient to sit through it.

So I find it sad that I don’t think Toomelah will get much attention. It is worthy of every Australian’s attention, but its interest lies in the way it was made and what it offers as a picture of life in this community, rather than being intrinsic to the film.

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 29 October 2011 in Australian Film, Film

 

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Four Flat Whites in Italy

I suspect this may be the first time I’ve seen a New Zealand play on an Australian stage. It’s a novel irony to hear actors we know to be Australian making disparaging remarks about Australia in a New Zealand accent!

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 

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Love Song

The warmth of John Kolvenbach’s play Love Song is brought to the fore in Centrepiece‘s production, which opened at The Q in Queanbeyan tonight. This play brings a vibrancy to themes that can be cold and stark, drawing humour and humanity into some otherwise dark places.

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 

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Look Back in Anger

Ten pound Poms let out of the nursing home may enjoy a trip down memory lane with Paris Hat’s production of Look Back in Anger, but there is much more to this play for those of us who didn’t live through post-war England. This is an opportunity to experience a first-rate performance of a play that was pivotal in the development of modern theatre…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 

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The King’s Speech

Don’t ask me why, but I’m a sucker for a title with a double meaning! Usually, though, they represent a pretty ordinary film, play or novel. In the case of The King’s Speech, the film is far more clever than its title.

Set in 1930s England, with the world on the brink of war, this is the story of an unfortunate chap with a speech impediment. Not a particularly big deal, perhaps, unless the unfortunate chap happens to be the king of a constitutional monarchy in which the only useful thing a king does is to speak to his subjects. In such circumstances, there is only one thing for it; run through the gamut of speech pathologists until you find one who has a bit of common sense. Such a personage, of course, would have to be an Australian. You just can’t make stuff like this up!

It’s true. The film, I mean; it’s a true story. And it’s not in any way dry or sombre or mundane as biographical films are prone to being; it’s a thoroughly engaging story, made all the more real by its heart-warming depiction of our queen in her childhood, her mother in her prime, and the relationships of this extraordinary family.

If you’ve not seen it, do so. If you don’t like it, you’re probably not human.

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 15 January 2011 in Bedlam Productions, British Film, Film

 

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A Well Hung Parliament

Shortis and Simpson’s brand is safe with this latest topical offering, which provides plenty of laughs and many gentle jabs at Canberra’s more itinerant population. Rhyming Gillard with ‘kill hard’ and pointing out some of the delicious ironies of our new parliament (such as the two Wyatts and one Wong), these veterans of the Canberra stage were as amusing as ever, keeping the audience enthralled throughout.

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 
 

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The Clever Country

It is unusual, I think, to hear about a play inspired by a statistic. It is not encouraging, either. Nonetheless, Bruce Hoogendoorn‘s play, The Clever Country, currently playing at The Street Theatre, takes as its theme Australia’s falling science enrolments, and does so—perhaps surprisingly, considering its inspiration—with great humour and an intriguing plotline…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 

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Tomorrow When The War Began

Tomorrow When The War Began is an iconic piece of Australian literature renowned not so much for its story, characters or fantastic writing as for annoying the heck out of high school students. John Marsden wrote it specifically for the high school market, aiming it at schools in need of an easy read for young adolescents. This ambit was successful, and as a result it is one of the most read stories in Australia, despite being dull, poorly-written and full of implausible circumstances and pointless guff. Needless to say, I didn’t expect much from the film.

From inauspicious beginnings, apparently, great stories are born. The very act of adapting a story for film has a way of weeding out page-filling nonsense and implausible circumstances. A novel can get away with not mentioning visual elements, but scenarios undergo more thorough analysis in film. In the case of Tomorrow When The War Began, this process has thoroughly redeemed an otherwise unremarkable story.

The cast, who, with one exception, are far too old to be playing characters who need to ask their parents’ permission for anything, are otherwise superb. Led by the magnificent Caitlin Stasey in the role of Ellie, they personify Marsden’s characters better than Marsden did, and without any exception they sustain impeccable performances throughout the film. And yes, I even include a former Home and Away actor in this praise, which is remarkable in itself.

Like the age of the actors, the locations chosen for the film leave something to be desired, but are nonetheless redeemed. The Blue Mountains, instantly recognisable and distinctive, simply doesn’t cut it for a random bush hideaway near the fictional rural town of Wirrawee. The sandstone cliffs of the Megalong Valley are simply too familiar, and the familiarity detracts from the value of setting the story in a fictitious Australian town.

The film nonetheless survives these faults, and is certainly the best saleable film made in this country for many years. The plot, characters and actors combine to produce a film that is far better in all respects than the novel that spawned it, making the tongue-in-cheek line from the film that all books are better than their films deliciously ironic.

This film may not win huge numbers of awards, but thoughts that it may be the beginning of the most profitable film series in Australian history could be right on the money. I certainly hope so.

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 18 September 2010 in Ambience Entertainment, Australian Film, Film

 

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The Ghost Writer

To the extent that Americans love a good conspiracy theory, the Brits are equally keen on questioning the integrity of their Prime Minsters. Roman Polanski caters for both predilections in his magnificent new film, The Ghost Writer.

Ewan McGregor plays the titular character, a writer hired to massage the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister into shape following the mysterious death of another ghost writer. Gradually, and innocently (which is refreshing), he discovers a web of intrigue and finds himself reluctantly wrapped up in it, at his own peril.

However much I like this as a film, it’s the story, penned originally as a novel by Robert Harris, that I find so magnificently intriguing. Remaining almost entirely fictitious, and needing no awkward date stamp, this story draws a shocking parallelism from the circumstances surrounding the era of fear following the 9/11 attacks. And surprisingly, since it parallels so literally the Anglo-American response, it is as relevant here in Australia as in the US and UK.

I can’t say too much about it, lest I spoil it for you, but this is a great film, and you must go see it. That is all.

 
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Posted by on Thursday, 19 August 2010 in British Film, Film, France 2 Cinema, French Film

 

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Do Not Go Gentle

Seeing Do Not Go Gentle was an experience. Not just because it’s a great show, but because I got the opportunity to meet Patricia Cornelius, the play’s writer, before the show opened. That, and the fact that fortyfivedownstairs is a fantastic venue with more character than a Shakespearean king.

Equally admirable were the performances of a fantastic cast, admirably lead by Rhys McConnochie, all bringing their characters to life in a way that should connect with audiences of all ages.

Freezing my way through a show is not normally my idea of fun, but it’s highly appropriate for Do Not Go Gentle, which focuses on Scott’s unsuccessful attempt to plant an Australian flag at the South Pole before the Norwegians got theirs there. And while fortyfivedownstairs may have been a bit of a cold place on the night, the lives of its characters are just as cold, but with a warmth that makes it all worthwhile.

The thing I enjoyed most about this play was its insistence that life is for living, a thesis well worth remembering on a cold Winter’s night in Melbourne.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 18 August 2010 in fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne Theatre, Pure Theatre, Theatre

 

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The Berry Man

I’ve never really liked stories about the Vietnam War. They have a tendency to either be so factual that they’re dead boring, or so esoteric that they’re unrelatable to anyone who didn’t live through that time. Patricia Cornelius has deftly sidestepped both potential faults in her heartwarming play, The Berry Man.

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 

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Gruen Nation

Wil Anderson is, in my humble opinion, Australia’s most serious comedian. He may not admit it, but just about everything he says has a point, and most of those points are both scathingly critical and bitingly relevant. The only comedian that comes close to him is Paul McDermott, but his humour is very gentle by comparison, and almost exclusively aimed at politicians. Interestingly, both have spent formative years in Canberra, but the announcement that Anderson will be refitting the magnificent concept comedy The Gruen Transfer especially for the election makes me think twice about simply labelling him a ‘comedian’. The Gruen concept, which allows Anderson to refrain from making too many comments that aren’t funny, while still getting to a more salient point.

In the ABC’s weekly newsletter, Gruen Nation is touted to dissect the advertising of the parties and “decode what’s going on for the audience and point out the many strategies political parties use to influence voters”. In his rather more forthright style, Anderson himself describes the show as the “national bullshit detector”.

Analysing election campaigns is mostly about detecting disingenuity and calling candidates to account for their policies in the hope that voters may make an informed decision. Unfortunately, the media, which was enshrined in both our country and the Americans’ as a balancing force in government, is not particularly good at this. Probably because they no longer have the time to undertake thorough investigation, their work is driven by media releases, which are innately untrustworthy. These days, dissecting how political parties construct a sales pitch in the context of an election is the best way to analyse their motivations and question their integrity. We may even find that this heightened scrutiny is a game-changer for federal elections.

And if not, it’s still bound to be a great series.

 
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Posted by on Tuesday, 6 July 2010 in Television, Zapruder

 

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Robin Hood

Robin Hood is a bit of a marathon, and if you have a comfortable seat and a few hours to spare, it’s a vaguely worthwhile pastime. Unlike other renditions of the myth, this film draws its impetus from political machinations, and lets go of the story’s usual plebian roots. Surprisingly, this is actually a good decision, as it provides not only a novel context for the story, but also broader relevance.

Russell Crowe plays his typical alpha male with a softer side, only this time with a funny accent. This novelty is complemented by extremely modern dialogue; making the film in many ways a counterpoint to films of Shakespeare’s plays that place sixteenth century dialogue in a modern setting. This is the opposite; playing twenty-first century dialogue in a twelfth century setting, with the added irony of a post-colonial actor playing the Old Country’s chief hero. My strange little mind would like to have heard Crowe’s cultivated Australian accent placed into the context to see what other meanings could be derived, but of course that wouldn’t do so well at the box office, would it?

And the box office is what this film is made for. It is formulaic, rudimentary and appeals to the same values as every other film about underdogs made in the last couple of decades. It does absolutely nothing to distinguish itself from that genre, and sits somewhere in the middle of Ridley Scott‘s very palatable aesthetic.

Of more note than this film is the venue I saw it in. Perth’s Picadilly Cinema is a quaint venue, reminiscent of Canberra’s Electric Shadows. That’s all well and good, but this film needs chairs with a higher back and a clearer view of the screen. I came out with a sore neck and tired knees. Every city, especially Australia’s western mecca deserves a Dendy or a Limelight.

A good film, but a bit meh.

 

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Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom poses that age-old question about how many blood spatters are too many. I suspect that the creators were attempting to use blood spatters as a visual motif, as most of the spatters were of a similar consistency, evenly spread across a contrasting surface, but ultimately they just echoed the naff nature of the film generally.

There was a lot of potential here. After a slow start, the film did engage, and it did manage to take me to that serendipitous point at which you have to know what happens next, and the screening environment just melts away. A magnificent cast with a wealth of experience is admirably lead by newcomer James Frecheville. His treatment of the morose character he landed is remarkably compelling, and I think the cast is this film’s saving grace.

But overall, this is a truly disappointing film; not because it represents nothing of value, but because it really had a lot of potential that it didn’t live up to. An engaging story and some of Australia’s best actors are let down by a slow treatment in the editing suite and mundane cinematography. This one’s definitely worthy of a remake, perhaps even with the same cast, but it needs a more compelling treatment by the creative team.

 
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Posted by on Friday, 28 May 2010 in cultural cringe, Porchlight Films

 

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Every Single Saturday

Before going along to see Every Single Saturday I must admit to a little apprehension. It is the same fear I face every time a conversation turns to sport or someone makes a comment vaguely sports-related and then looks at me as if I am expected to make a certain type of comment. That’s right, I’m a member of Australia’s smallest minority group: the Sports-Ignorant. Thankfully, although it really is all about soccer mums and dads, Every Single Saturday makes life easy even for the Sports-Ignorant. There’s even one of us amongst the characters!

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 
 

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