Sunday, July 23, 2017

What Was She Thinking?

What was she thinking
When you told her of another dream
When you came up with another idea
Another adventure
Another plan.

A dream and an idea and adventure
That came to nothing.

What was she thinking
When the dream
And the idea
And the adventure
Came to nothing?

What was she thinking?

What was she thinking
When she agreed to stay with you?
Really, what was she thinking?

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Moira Finucane, The Rapture, Review

The Rapture

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

Short review for the Moira-converted: Just go see it. Duh.

More detailed review for those who haven't had had The Divine Moira Experience: Wow, where to start.

This is without a doubt a strange show. At times, it is positively weird. At times you might not even know what the hell is going on. Splitting hairs, perhaps, but I didn't feel that this was burlesque,as such, but more performance art. 80 minutes of thrilling Gothic weirdness. A kind of surreal dramatic monologue with flashes of humour and musical interludes, stunning costumes, lots of nudity and some tomato sauce.

In the past I've only seen Moira Finucane as part of an ensemble that she has curated. She has brought together the world's most talented burlesque artists frequently over the years and has appeared amongst them, usually standing out, with her performances being dark, powerful and often hilarious.

With The Rapture, it's a treat to see Moira do her thing for the duration of the show with assistance from a mere handful of performers. It's a pretty demanding task to set herself. In The Rapture, Moira is a story teller. She tells stories and stories and stories, acting out the narration as she tells us these stories. I wanted to be a more conscientious reviewer - like the chap across from the stage in the white shirt and red scarf who ostentatiously scribbled in his notebook throughout the performance (anyone know who he was? I'd be interested in reading his review) – but to be honest I was just too enthralled by what was happening on stage to take notes.

Moira is an engaging story teller to say the least. But she also an engaging actor. In The Rapture, she is a shapeshifter. She is a growling, dark and dominant Goddess who it would be wise not to anger, then the most feminine of girls going through the phases of love. Physically, she can have a strong, almost masculine presence, but she can also appear, well, just really beautiful.

And that beauty would appear to come from within. Moira is obviously a feminist, but there is an all-embracing feel to what she does. There is an undeniable celebration of the feminine in this show, as there has been in all her previous shows, but it would appear that she wants to celebrate the beauty of life in all its forms. The revelation that Moira is an Environmental Scientist came as a bit of a surprise, given the accomplished performer that she is. And yet it shouldn't surprise.

Highlights for me were many. The costumes... such lush creations. The scene where Moira acted out the various phases of love to the accompaniment of U2's With Or Without You (I think this is correct – as I said, too enthralled to take notes). The general pagan feel of the night including the breaking and sharing of bread. Shirley Cattunar's version of A Daisy A Day... wait on – this deserves its own paragraph.

Another highlight is that all of the performers hang around and mingle and hug and talk. I was lucky enough to thank Shirley Cattunar for her version of A Daisy A Day, and I hope she doesn't think I was just being nice. This is a song I haven't heard for a lifetime, but its simple lyrics are so beautifully sad, delivered here in such a raw, almost frail way, that it made me tear up. Nice work, you beautiful woman.

Do see this show. It's a strange and darkly beautiful creation that you won't quickly forget.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Today In The Cafe: Real Generosity

Two beautiful things today.

A customer was reading my stories with interest. My co-worker Noraa told me she seemed shy and was surprised that the stories were mine and that she would tell me what she thought about them before she left.

Before she left, she hand wrote a poem on the back of an art gallery flyer. The poem is beautiful. The sadness comes from the fact that we didn't talk. I'm kind of introverted as well. I liked her poem. We could have talked about writing and poetry and thoughts about things and things and stuff and more things and stuff.

But she was gone. The beautiful poem on the flyer though, I have that.

The second beautiful thing today.

The door to the cafe is closed. An ancient Asian lady knocks on the door. I open the door. She tells me she needs one more bucket, a five litre bucket like the ones we use all the time and throw away. It's for the old people, she tells me. I get one such container from the kitchen. She is so grateful when I give her this empty plastic container. Thank you, she says, in her broken English, it's for the old people. I have no idea what she intends to do with the containers. She is dressed in rags.

Wait - do you want some food? I ask her. Her expression is blank for  a few moments. I gesture about free food, for the old people. Her ancient face lights up. I ask her to come inside and wait.

I show her the food I can give to her and she looks so happy. I start putting the food - delicious pastries and sandwiches crafted by Heart-Shaped Lollipop Girl that we had been intending to eat over the weekend - into a takeaway bag, and this is where the beauty thing happened, because this is not about me being generous.

Ancient Asian woman in her raggedy clothes looking after the old people, she insists I stop. "You keep some for you. You keep some food for you."

Now that is generosity. What a caring, generous soul she is.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Cigarettes After Sex

Today in the cafe... my new front of house helper Nøraa and I were working away during a lull in customers. Out of the blue, she struck up conversation with, "So eeeh... you know cigarettes after sex?" Spoken in that hybrid French/Spanish accent.
"Erm... yeah?" I replied, thinking that she was asking if I was aware that people enjoy smoking cigarettes after having sex but not having any idea where she was going with it.
She nodded slowly almost to herself. "Mmm. Is good."
I waited for a while, thinking there was more to come. Maybe the results of a new study or something. I don't know. But that appeared to be it. Apparently she had just wanted to tell me that she enjoys a cigarette after a good bonk. Which is cool. That's fine. Random as hell, but fine.
"So..." I asked eventually, "What made you share that with me?"
"That you like smoking after having sex."
"No the band that is playing this song. It is Cigarettes After Sex. Is good."
"Oh. Oh I see."

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Poet At My Table; A Chat With Poet Anthony Lawrence

Today in the cafe... a customer who likes his double espressos asked me, randomly, if I read poetry. I said I read a bit of poetry and write a little of it. He said Oh really? He then showed me me some poetry that he was reading, an intriguing poem by an Irish poet, someone Muldoon.

We started talking. There were clues. He was reviewing this book because Australian Book Review had asked him to review it. We talked a little about reviewing. He mentioned that he was an academic. He said something about students. I asked what he taught. He said he teaches creative writing on The Gold Coast, and he hates The Gold Coast. I told him that I hate The Gold Coast too. We talked about why we both like Melbourne so much. Far better place in so many ways, we agreed.

We started talking about creative writing and I gave him my card with the info about my e-book of short stories, told him how I had given up creative fiction years ago because of a rejection letter from Overland. They had said they have a policy of the three editors needing a unanimous acceptance from all three and on this occasion two liked my story a lot but the third was unsure, so no cigar. The customer said that sucked and said that he also didn't like how this particular litmag operated, said something about how they preferred to publish their mates' experimental work. Said something about how people like him were considered by them to be The Gatekeeper.

I wisely didn't say anything more about my own writing. I was more curious now about who he was, because it seemed like he was Someone.

I asked if he had stuff published and said sorry but I don't know who I am talking to. He said he had had about 15 books published. We chatted some more and I asked what his name was. Anthony, he told me. Okay, Anthony who? I asked. Anthony Lawrence, he told me.

I Googled. Oh, so he's kind of like the David Bowie of Australian poetry. There's all the awards, the critical acclaim, a novel and a stage play... we said goodbye, and he left telling me that we could talk about my stories next time he comes to the cafe.

He is all the writing success that I have not been. A properly humbling experience. Thank fuck my radar was up and I didn't talk myself up. Pretty funny, all in all. Kind of wish I hadn't mentioned my writing at all.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Tiger Air Australia

Dear Tiger Air,
The official reason we were given for you totally ruining our weekend away to catch up with beloved friends was that you swapped our plane for a smaller plane that was not able to land in Sydney's notoriously wet conditions.
I'm curious about why the plane was swapped for a smaller, inferior version. This was particularly frustrating when other flights with yours and other airlines were flying out for Sydney as scheduled.
I'm also curious about why we were told our flight was boarding in four minutes, only to be told that the flight was delayed for an hour, then to be told that it was actually cancelled altogether. That's kind of shitty service, however you look at it.
In between that four minute notice and the hour before being told the flight had been cancelled due to you incomprehensible ineptitude at doing your job, my partner and I made the mistake of ordering some crumbed squid from The Two John's or whatever that place is called, because by now, after a long day at the end of a long week of providing food and service in our cafe, we were hungry.
The squid was awful. It's possibly the worst squid I've ever had. But it was my mistake to order the squid, so I don't really hold you accountable for the squid.
However... We closed our cafe early (unknown dollars lost), caught the Skybus to the airport ($38), drank two glasses of wine each ($32), ate that memorable squid, were dicked about until finally being told that our flight had been cancelled because you can't do your job. The cab fare back home was $60.
Fortunately we hadn't airbnb-ed our home out as planned because we would have then had to book a hotel. We just had to kick friends out who had planned to stay. They were good enough to cook us dinner (much better than that squid... seriously, that squid...), and it was a lovely night in the end, just not what we had planned.
Because I am sitting here in Melbourne writing this letter when I paid for flights to be in Sydney, I would appreciate a full refund, because you didn't deliver the service I paid for. I also have receipts for the Skybus and the taxi fare home. The wine and the squid... look, I really wouldn't have ordered that awful squid (have I mentioned how awful the squid was?) if you hadn't lied to us all about the four minute boarding-one hour delay before cancelling thing, but I'll take the squid mistake as my own. I should have ordered a salad or something unfuckupable.
I've done a fair bit of travelling and have never experienced this level of ineptitude. I've also eaten quite a bit of squid in my time and never have I… okay, I'll stop going on about the squid. Although I would suggest that if they can't get the squid right, they stop doing it.
I think I am a fair and kind person who thinks that if someone doesn't do their job properly, they should be held accountable. For example (and I know I said I'd stop but I just can't help myself) if we served squid like that in the cafe I would basically give the customers back their money as soon as they ordered it, because really, it's the worst squid they are ever going to eat and as a human being I'd just feel awful taking their money for such an awful experience.
The human who was dealing with your stuff-up was wonderful. So calm in the face of so much anger around me. My words with her were quiet and understanding and she really did do a wonderful job and I hope all of them have a much better weekend than their Friday night. I hope all the pointless anger has abated. I hope everyone, all the passengers on that “flight” are going to enjoy their weekend, even if it wasn't the one they had planned.
I do hope you will do the right and fair thing and refund my flights as well as reimburse me for the expenses incurred of getting to and back from The Flight That Never Was. I suspect you don't give a rat's arse, as they say, but it would be nice and fair and decent if you proved me wrong.
The squid's on me.
Lee Bemrose.
#tigerair #tigerairaustralia #yuckysquid
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Sunday, June 04, 2017

Some Of The Humans, They Are Awesome.

I'm kind of a solitary man, but I keep encountering these people, these amazing souls who wander gently into my life and quietly go about having a big impact on my life. It's quite fucking awesome.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Trash Goes Down The River, Interview With Clare Mendes

I recently received a review request from a theatre company I'd done a review of a few years ago. I liked the concept of the play enough to offer to do an interview. Here it is in full. It's long, but it's perfect. I love the close, the quote from the play. I love having the opportunity to talk to artists about their art.

How has your day been? What have you been up to?
By 7.15am I was on the 18th floor of a Collins Street multinational. This play about homelessness is largely being funded by my corporate clients – this is the reality of being a writer in Australia. There was a homeless man setting up in front of Dior as I came back down the hill – even Collins Street isn’t trying to hide the problem any more. I went home to two sleeping cats, a pile of washing and a few hours spent on MWT projects; I run Melbourne Writers’ Theatre and we have two shows coming up, plus one in Fringe, which is exciting. Then a newspaper had asked me to write an article on TRASH so I did that. This is a typical day for me – business mixed with creative pleasure, constantly switching from one to the other like a coin that keeps flipping over. I love it.

How are you feeling leading up to opening night of
Trash Goes Down The River?
To be honest, I haven’t had much time to think about it. I handed this script over to my director (Elizabeth Walley) at the first rehearsal, and I feel like it’s hers now. I saw her a couple of days ago and she said she had changed some lines, and hoped I would be okay with the changes – I just said I trusted her and then went back to the task of marketing. TRASH is a product now; it needs to be sold. Actors are entitled to perform in front of good houses – apart from which, if your audience numbers are low, there’s almost no point having written the play because the thing you wanted to say with it won’t be heard by enough people. Having said that, if I take a moment out from it all to look ahead to opening night, I do feel quietly excited. TRASH will be opened by Simon McKeon AO, who is respected for his contributions to social justice in this country and currently holds an advisory role with The Big Issue, and for our guest speaker we are honoured to have Vicky Vacondios (‘You Can’t Ask That’ – ABC iview), a formerly homeless mother-of-three who now speaks publicly about issues relating to homelessness. So yes, now that you mention it, I am definitely looking forward to 14th June.

Rehearsals have been going well? What can you tell us about the cast and crew?
I’ve put them in a nice rehearsal space – it has a marble stairwell and leadlight windows and natural light flooding in. TRASH has a cast of three – Alec Gilbert, Emma Cox and Clare Larman. They’re all highly intelligent, all erudite and articulate. This is perhaps another reason why I have detached from the script; these are smart actors and thinking human beings and I trust them with my words. Clare Larman, who will be playing Trash, posed for a very long time in a city doorway on a freezing Sunday afternoon to give us that striking image. She doesn’t seem to flinch from things. Alec (Rich) has a real power to him but also a tenderness in the way he deals with people, which is quite similar to the character he is playing. Emma (Melody) is unbelievable. She read the part of Melody at the public reading we did of TRASH at La Mama Courthouse back in 2015, so she has lived with this character for a while now and there’s no one else I would have asked. Our Lighting Designer is Bronwyn Pringle – she has worked at Bluestone before and likes its spiritual ambience; well, it is an old Wesleyan church – and Left Bauer Productions are producing this show, which I am happy about as they intuitively understand theatre like this and have a lot of vision.  My director is ELIZABETH. Capital letters. Elizabeth is also Resident Director at Melbourne Writers’ Theatre. Slick, stark, intelligent direction, always.

Have you re-worked the play much since the readings at La Mama a couple of years ago? If so, in what ways?
Gosh yes – it’s a different play. From memory, after receiving the feedback from that reading I churned out a few drafts that were fairly interchangeable, but late last year I did a further draft which pretty much constituted a rewrite. A dramaturge who had happened to read the script had flagged a problem with Trash. In the earlier drafts, Trash was a silent character who conveyed all of her thoughts and intentions through actions, mime – I wanted to reinforce the fact that the homeless have no voice. But this dramaturge said quite bluntly, ‘Your character doesn’t work in her current state – for an audience to relate to her and feel for her, she needs a voice,’ and in case she’s reading this I’ll name her: Emilie Collyer. Thanks Emilie. It was sound advice which I took on board, because Trash now talks. This puts her on an equal footing with her co-stars, and really, with society.

You wrote the play before the Flinders Street homeless were moved along earlier this year. How did it make you feel when action was taken to remove them?
You know, it was a bit dreamlike to watch the police and the City step in, and then the protests and the scaffolding going up along Flinders Street. That was the only thing I hadn’t predicted, the scaffolding – everything else had been forewarned by Melody in TRASH. I was at a chess tournament when the protests around the Australian Open broke out and I picked up a newspaper that one of the players had finished with – I’d seen a headline relating to the homeless camps along Flinders Street, something about them being broken up. I texted Elizabeth and said Have you seen today’s paper? The events came thick and fast after that; every day there was a new headline, a new travesty. I took a collection of these newspaper articles along to the first rehearsal and laid them across the table, so that we could all understand where TRASH had come from – in the end, it wasn’t just plucked from the air.

Homelessness is obviously a serious problem, but evicting homeless people, so to speak, has only displaced them, hasn't it? It hasn't really solved the problem.
As I see it, the solution to this problem lies in the provision of affordable housing and a LOT more of it. And to be fair, the City’s disbanding of people sleeping rough in the CBD has been delivered with a fair degree of transparency and an emphasis on finding solutions. COM staff don’t roam around the city at dawn looking for homeless people to dislodge – to some extent they are still turning a blind eye to rough sleepers, and their policy is to only ‘move on’ an ‘illegal camper’ in the presence of a representative from a recognised charity/housing provider who can provide the affected person with some kind of action plan and support towards the next step. But you are correct – eviction without any back-up plan will never be a solution. It just moves the problem further uptown, or, in the case of TRASH, further upstream.

It struck me that there is such sad irony in the fact that Melbourne is frequently listed as one of the world's most liveable cities, yet we have such an obvious problem with homelessness. What are your thoughts on this?
I was speaking to someone about this recently, someone who has a broader comprehension of the situation than many of us do. He cited the widespread lack of affordable housing in Melbourne as the source of our homelessness problem, and he also suggested some more contentious reasons for Melbourne’s current homelessness predicament. The rising number of foreign-owned investment properties, the rental of which are often mis-managed by landlords, for instance – it is a fact that there are houses and apartments throughout Melbourne currently sitting vacant while people sleep on the footpaths in front of them. There is also a widespread and accepted lack of scrutiny of both foreign and domestic landlords, which creates a free-for-all mentality in which landlords can charge whatever rents they want without any requirement to operate within a reasonable ratio of what is ‘affordable’ for a low-income, or no-income, citizen of this city. The problem is not with Melbourne, which is indeed a most liveable city – it is with the laws, and the lawmakers, around and beneath which Melbourne operates.

I haven't been down to Flinders Street recently. Do you know what it's like down there at the moment?
There’s really not much there at all – it’s barren. The train station is covered in scaffolding, from the Clocks right down to the Elizabeth Street entrance, and this is reinforced by cyclone fencing that covers half of the footpath. So the life that was there has vanished – to where, I’m not sure. Homeless people tend to look for better cover when the weather cools down; those who were camped along this street in the heat of the summer are possibly now living under cover a few blocks away, or it’s possible that the scaffolding has broken their resolve. I suspect, as do many, that it was intended to do this. It was also perhaps intended to restore Melbourne’s reputation as the World’s Most Liveable City for the tourists who serve as our weekly retainer. I think if they saw Flinders Street right now, they wouldn’t bother sticking around for the City Sightseeing tour but would hop on a bus to the Great Ocean Road. Apart from commuters and scaffolding, there is very little to see.

I do remember walking along Flinders Street very early each morning, during winter, and seeing one particular guy most mornings rugged up in a thick doona, looking quite snug and protected against the chill. One morning, his doona was gone, probably stolen. He was in his same place, but no longer protected against the cold. I took an old sleeping bag with me to work the next morning but he wasn't there. It brought home to me how hopeless the situation is. Do you feel it's a hopeless situation?
I’m sorry you had that experience, but it’s a profound one to have had. No, I don’t think this situation is unfixable. For some members of our population, it’s just going to take a long, long time to break the cycle. There are many degrees of homelessness, and a man sleeping in a doona on Flinders Street cannot be put into the same basket, or offered the same solutions, as a woman in the suburbs who is couch-surfing with her kids. An infinite number of variables need to be addressed, not the least of which are the physical and mental health of the homeless person requiring assistance and the events which have led that person to this point. Your fellow with the doona, and the rough sleepers like him, can be helped out of homelessness, but not with a one-size-fits-all solution. You would not approach a person living in a house and say, ‘Here is a generic solution to your problem which I am really hoping will fit you’ – you would have a lengthy consultation with that person to ascertain her or his individual wants and needs, strengths and fragilities. Homeless people are individuals, and individual problems necessitate an individual approach. Our homeless need tailored solutions, and they need people who will stay by their sides as they attempt to implement these solutions. In the end, they just need people.

Have you been following the situation or any individuals affected by it?
Yes, I follow Melbourne’s homelessness situation every day. It’s impossible not to if you have your eyes open. I’ve noticed that the media coverage of this issue has really dropped off as the year has gone on – more than one person has suggested to me that June is a very good time to present TRASH, simply because issues like this fall off the radar when they lose their ‘spectacle’ factor. Homelessness in the CBD is not as visible as it was in the summer months – this is not because the problem has been ameliorated but because it’s harder for our homeless to live on the streets as winter approaches. They will go somewhere warmer, perhaps onto a friend’s couch or into a car or onto a train. I have a friend who is fortunate to be in public housing now but was on the streets for some time, and also slept rough whilst pregnant. The child she gave birth to is beautiful, but my friend’s adolescence is gone – you don’t get those years back, and you don’t fully recover from them. When she has to send her kids overnight somewhere, she sends them with enough clothes and belongings for a week – in case they find themselves homeless, perhaps. She has described to me very bluntly how it was and how it is. It’s another planet, the twilight world of the homeless.
Can you tell us a little about the main characters in your play?
They are all trapped in an intricate, three-way social catastrophe. The happiness of each one depends on how much leeway the others will allow them to develop the ambition they are desperate trying to fulfil. Trash, real name Dianne, is quietly ambitious. The last thing she wants is to be sleeping on a stretch of concrete on Elizabeth Street – it’s not how she imagined life at 56 – but a combination of domestic violence, debt, unemployment and abandonment by family have led her to this point. A different ambition has led Melody to Trash. A perfectionist who is constantly scrutinising her life and her body to pinpoint the reason for her perceived failures, she dreams of a world that is ordered and clean - of a city that sparkles. Trash, sitting on her piece of filthy cardboard, is thwarting Melody’s goal, and her husband Rich seems to be deliberately sabotaging it. As the Deputy Lord Mayor, Rich has his own ambitions, his own plans for making Melbourne sparkle again – unfortunately he is too low on confidence, too much of a people-pleaser, to fulfil these by himself. To succeed, Rich needs Melody’s strength; for Melody to succeed, she needs Trash to yield. For Trash, success will only be possible when this unhealthy, unhappy, co-dependent man and woman make the decision to support each other. What these people really need is to stay a long, long way away from each other and try to make it on their own. But that’s not possible in this situation. In sickness and in health, for better or for worse, they are fused together.

How much research did you do in writing the play and what form did it take?
I didn’t do any research while I was writing TRASH – the material I needed was in front of me, in the doorways, and at the time of writing the first draft back in 2015 there was very little in the way of a public conversation relating to homelessness, so TRASH was just an imaginative ‘what if’ story that I had fun writing. That may sound flippant, given the topic, but it was fun to write about this uptight, neurotic events manager (Melody) organising her Big City Clean-Up, her council teams at the ready with their brooms and mops – I had no inkling that this scene would one day play out for real. I just wrote a play about what I was seeing as I sat waiting on Elizabeth Street each night for my tram home, and how it made me feel – and then how it made Melody and Rich feel. It was just a little dystopic play. But research, yes – once the very real events of January and February started to roll out like a grubby red carpet, I began to research quite obsessively, trawling the daily media for news relating to Melbourne’s homelessness crisis. Those grim headlines meant that a lot of the fanciful events described in my play could now be presented as facts. So suddenly, for example, Melody had a justification for ordering her Clean-Up of the city’s homeless camps – because in February 2017 the City of Melbourne passed a by-law making it illegal for people to ‘leave items unattended in public’ – and so on. From January onwards, each time a new initiative, protest or arrest was reported in the daily media, I would take this information and cede it back into TRASH. I don’t know what you call that kind of research-in-reverse, but I hope I didn’t miss anything.

Does the play suggest any solution or is it more about drawing attention to the problem and perhaps giving a voice to the homeless?
Melody, Rich and Trash come up with some cracking solutions to homelessness – judge them as you see fit. Within this interview, I’ve suggested a few of my own solutions. I rarely do something just to ‘give a voice’ to it – I am solutions-driven rather than creatively driven – but in this case I think my job was to draw the public’s attention to something that is important and then step back into the shadows. I have people coming to this show who can tell you what to do about homelessness. Simon McKeon and Vicky Vacondios, as I mentioned earlier, and on Sunday 18th June Launch Housing will be delivering an address just before the 5pm matinee. They have concrete answers, and that show is a 100% fundraiser for Launch Housing. Open Canvas will be displaying artwork by disadvantaged and homeless artists throughout the TRASH season, with an exhibition in the space on Saturday 17th; at any session of the show you can buy one of these pieces of art, all proceeds going back to the artist, so there is another solution. And for the show on Thursday 18th June we’re collecting funds for Vinnie’s, who have their CEO Sleepout on the same night, and that’s a third solution.

What kind of audience do you think will be drawn to the play?
I’ve thought a lot about this. I’m asking Melburnians to come to Footscray in the middle of winter to see a play about an issue they thought they’d dealt with back in February. Even that word is enough to put some people off: ‘issue’. A colleague who loves independent theatre and always supports my work looked at the flyer for TRASH last week and said, ‘Hmm. I don’t know, Clare … I probably need something more cheerful at the moment.’ I really think she won’t be coming, which is a pity because she likes comedy and there are a lot of funny lines in this script. And creatively, TRASH is fairly out-of-the-box – here are these two women on a ferry chugging towards Utopia, and there’s barely any set, the set will be created by Bronwyn’s lighting and a soundscape that is currently being created. It’s magnetising – a bit hypnotic. There are frequent moments of beauty throughout the play, too. If that all sounds too harrowing for some people, I don’t mind if they stay home, but the rest of you should come.
How do you think audiences will feel after seeing the play?
I think they’ll think, ‘That was 80-minutes of very good theatre and Clare’s done herself a disservice by pitching it as a play about homelessness. If she’d pitched it as a compelling drama about three people trapped in a knife’s-edge situation, she would’ve sold more tickets.’ I know how it’s done – I used to work in advertising. But remember that we’re aiming to raise awareness of the homelessness crisis with this play, or rather, to reignite awareness, and beyond this we want TRASH to raise money for the three organisations who have partnered with us – Launch Housing, Open Canvas, Vinnies. To do this effectively, I need to mention the issue first and the art second. But TRASH GOES DOWN THE RIVER is definitely art.

Do you have a quote from the play that best captures its spirit?
At the first rehearsal, I said to the director and actors: ‘Do what you want with this play. Change what needs to be changed. But there’s one line I want left exactly as is.’ Upon arriving at that line, Elizabeth gave me a look and the actors started shaking their heads and saying, ‘No, Melody can’t say that’ and ‘I really don’t think we can have Trash doing that’ and ‘When was the last time a homeless person did that to you, Clare?’

That was the line,’ I said. It goes like this: “I can remember the exact moment when I identified that thing in her, that X-factor. She spat at me, hard – it landed this close to my mouth – and I thought, There’s something about this woman.”

The last I heard, it was back in. Good.

At Bluestone Church Arts Space, 8A Hyde Street, Footscray 13 -24 June

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

In Flagrante, Butterfly Club 2017, Review

In Flagrante

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

Something about this In Flagrante performance at The Butterfly Club intrigued. I Googled. I saw a weird clip with women in G-strings pretending to be horses to the accompaniment of some really quirky music and I thought, this is weird. I like weird; I'm going to check this out.

In Flagrante is basically a dance-based burlesque show celebrating, I think, the empowerment of femininity as well as offering a feminist reply to the idea of sexual fetish. It's a dance group of four artists performing vignettes that vary quite a bit in mood and tone but all celebrate some aspect of what it means to be female, or occasionally deride male perceptions of what it means to be female.

The overall vibe is one of playful sexuality. This is not a pervy show, even though it's wall-to-wall g-strings and boobs. These women are dancers and although there is much eye candy for anyone with a taste for the semi-exposed dancer's body, there is so much going on in the narration that thought is stimulated as much as anything else.

There is much fun to be enjoyed during this showcase. The aforementioned horse/pony fetish piece, which possibly alludes to the outdated saying of a woman being “a fine filly” is just as wonderfully weird on stage as it is in that film clip. The traffic cop is hilarious, as is the can-can piece with its exuberant and cheeky irony. There's a moody and darkly arty piece about binds or holding back, another retro piece based on actual text when ignorance was the voice of what it meant to be a woman and what her duties entailed, this one quite tragic given that it it and others like it were the voice of authority of a bygone time. Bound. Bondage. Bond-age.

Music was varied but as with the performance on stage, always engaging. The music highlight for me was Nick Cave's beautifully brooding Water's Edge. So good.

But the whole thing, all these little stories, it was all so good.

At The Butterfly Club until 21st May 2017.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Thank You

Thinking about the good people. Thinking about the friends. Thinking about the love. Looking at that sunset - thinking about how amazing it is that I am still here today. Thinking about how fortunate I am. Wondering why everyone isn't as fortunate as I am.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Farewell Bendy Giraffe Girl

Today in the cafe... well for a while now in the cafe... the departure of my latest front-of-house teammate, Bendy Giraffe Girl, has been approaching and now is finally here after six months. April has been a dream co-worker. We've reached that level of working together where we just kind of morph around each other and operate as a single blob of efficiency. In the beginning I was kind of possessive of my work space, but for a while now it's been a bit of a free-for-all as to what task each is doing and how the other slots blobbily (mostly gracefully blobbily) in to what is going on. It's a trust thing. It's a mental telepathy thing. Sure, sometimes she startles me with a random spillage or breakage, and yes she has often SCARED THE FUCKING BEJESUS OUT OF ME BY JUST SUDDENLY BEING THERE NINJA-LIKE-RIGHT BEHIND ME AS I TURN AROUND expecting void only to be confronted by SURPRISE BENDY GIRAFFE GIRL!!!

It was her last day today, but she has kindly offered to come in to help out tomorrow, because that's the kind of person she is.

I had a replacement lined up. All was good. New Person seemed fine. We did some trial shifts. All was good. I turned down so many other offers and resumes because all was good. I threw out all those resumes. One person, Spanish Norina, had been so persistent but ultimately couldn't make a trial shift which is why New person got the gig. I had been disappointed by this because Norina had The Vibe. I like The Vibe.

Late on Sunday, New Person texted to say that she had, after all, decided to take another job.

Fuckity fuck.

I know it's just a banged up little cafe, and I know it's a first world problem, but I've had such a good run of co-workers. Recently Team Awesome with April and Jodie has been pretty perfect, so I've been spoiled. I had three days to find someone to fill Bendy Giraffe Girl's big, threadbare and holey shoes. It's been a stressful couple of days.

I asked if Norina was available for a shift today. She was. She came in. There is a slight language barrier again, but within minutes I felt The Vibe. She starts tomorrow and seems so very happy to have the job. Feedback from the others is that she has a good vibe about her. I think things will be all right. Stressful days ahead until we find our blobby morphiness, but I'm sure we'll find it. Hopefully she won't frighten the fuck out of me by sneaking up on me as often as BGG did.

But I shall miss my Bendy Giraffe Girl. How lucky I was that she slid that awesome resume under the cafe door that day when the cafe was closed. How happy I am that she has become a good friend, and a good friend to many of my friends. How grateful I am for the conversations, both serious and silly. I've learned things from her and laughed with her in the quiet times and in the after-work times.

I hate goodbyes. But some goodbyes are the result of the most beautifully unexpected hellos.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Miss Blossom Callahan, 2017, Review

Miss Blossom Callahan

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

Actor and playwright Stephen House returns to the iconic La Mama theatre, this time as director of one of his own works, Miss Blossom Callahan. During post show drinks and discussion, I overheard Mr House ask wryly, “Can you tell that this is one of my works?”

Oh yes, yes you can.

Miss Blossom is a dark comedy following the story of aged hooker Blossom (Rosemary Johns), her alcoholic one night stand Max (Marc Opitz), landlord Geraldine (Ruth Katerelos) and a local petty crim/drug dealer/junkie Junk (Will Ewing). The story starts out on a bleak, hungover morning, and as the sun rises reluctantly into the sky and the rain falls, things get even bleaker.

Which is not to say that this isn't a wonderfully engaging play; it is a totally wonderfully engaging play. These characters are probably so foreign to the average person able to afford the luxury of a theatre ticket as to be grimily exotic. In real life we catch glimpses of them in the street from time to time, but we never fully see their existence. We might see them nodding off in a park, eyes rolling back in their head or we might see them screaming intoxicated abuse at each other, but it's all so fleeting for us. What else goes on in the rest of their days and their weeks and their lives that are as long as our lives? How does their life pan out? What are the minutes and hours of their days actually like?

This is the magic of Stephen House's writing. He gives a voice to the marginalised ones who don't have a voice, who are mostly invisible to us. He gives them their voice to tell their story, and lemme tell you, it's authentic stuff.

The story of Blossom's life is a tragedy that unfolds through the telling of her dreams and fantasies, a life spent dreaming of possibilities and possibilities. Her head lives in the most colourful of dreams even as she wakes in the filthiest gutter, sleeping with so many rats.

And all are rats in Blossom's story. All are addicted to drugs and booze or some other need. Everyone's need dictates their loyalty. Betrayal is a means to an end. It's every man for himself in this world, baby.

It's fair to say that it is a black comedy, though I doubt you'll hear much real laughter during the performance. There probably won't be much of the raucous stuff, but that's because it is all so very real. It's more a kind of slow, head-shaking laugh. But trust me, you will laugh.

And with any luck, once you are back in your nice comfortable world, maybe when you catch a glimpse of Blossom Callahan and her cohorts, you might give them some thought. This is not a play suggesting a solution to a problem, more, it is an expose of lives less fortunate than yours or mine, so engagingly written and so perfectly performed.

On at La Mama in Carlton until May 14

Monday, April 24, 2017

Today In The Cafe 24/4/2017

Today in the cafe... I love watching our customers. Not in a creepy way, I just love watching their interactions with each other. There is comedy and drama each day.

Today I watched these two friends. They walked back to their table with the fluffy giraffe, their table I.D. They fell into conversation, these two friends. The conversation was deep. He seemed a little distressed. They talked some more. Beautifully - so fucking beautifully - she leaned across the table and hugged him. The hug lingered and was so very heartfelt. I cleared their table and smiled at their very human murmured thank yous of friendship.

These customers, these friends, they talked in confiding tones about things and things and things, and eventually she left.

Weirdly, this is when he had a reaction. Now, as she left, this is when he teared up. This is when the full appreciation of her friendship hit him. Suddenly when she left, he was overwhelmed with thank you, you awesome dude. Dudette? No actually, just dude. Just friend.

And that's the end of that story.  Probably not the end of that friendship, as far as I could tell as an observer, but the end of that episode in that cafe on that day.

Shortly after that beautiful encounter, my schizophrenic friend Jeff Collins came into the cafe. I think his name is Jeff Collins. I feel for this guy. I've become part of his crazy mixed up world. I've given him sandwiches and coins and some of my time. And today in the cafe he thanked me for the 20 years of being kind to him and his father and told me that he appreciated my 20 years of attention. It's been two years max. It's all so sad and crazy. But hey, what do you do?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Three Little Words, Melbourne Theatre Company, Review

Three Little Words
By Joanna Murray Smith

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

Upon the audience's entry, the vast stage in The Sumner is already richly detailed and fully lit. The cast sit in the dining room of a well furnished home. Husband and wife Tess (Catherine McClemments) and Curtis (Peter Houghton) and their close friends Annie (Kate Atkinson) and Bonnie (Katherine Tonkin) – also partners – are engaged in apparently convivial conversation. It appears we are about to embark on a very mainstream, commercial play aimed at a very mainstream audience. The pop music being played would also indicate that this is so.

And so it is. And when that big shiny stage starts spinning, the whole thing feels very much like one of those cheesy TV comedy-dramas so popular with nice urban families. This feeling of watching an affable TV show never quite left thanks to that spinning stage and the loud pop music interludes... it was like a commercial break, time to get up and get a cup of Milo or something. I found these interludes truly distracting and annoying and could not see what they achieved at all. I mean, yeah, it's kind of impressive, but over and over again... just annoying.

The story is about the repercussions when Tess and Curtis announce to their good friends that their relationship is over. After 20 years, Tess wants to find out what it's like to be her own person. She wants to fulfil her yearnings. In the beginning, Tess and Cutis still seem kind of in love and certainly full of respect for each other, it's just that Tess want find out what else there is and Curtis agrees that if that's what she wants, so be it. Annie and Bonnie are shell-shocked. What follows is indeed an affable comedy-drama examining the repercussions of the breakdown of a relationship that is seemingly rock solid, the ripple effect that breakdown has, and what individuals want and expect from their relationship. The original civility between Tess and Curtis deteriorates, and the relationship between all four – all quite different in nature – is tested.

For the first 30 minutes or so, I just wasn't getting it. The humour seemed a little contrived and over acted and I just didn't get why it was getting such a good response from the audience. The lines or the physical humour – though impeccably timed and delivered – just didn't seem deserving of the LOLs. Perhaps I was alone in the audience, but I just wasn't feeling it.

However there was a point (not sure exactly when) when the humour gave way to a little more drama, and I started to feel it. I think what happened is that at a certain point, Tess, Curtis, Annie and Bonnie felt less like characters and more like real people. There was something happening on stage that started to feel very real. A rawness seeps in and you start to feel for Tess and Curtis the way we feel when our real life friends break up. When the good ones - the relationships you've thought were solid - go through hard times you want them to get through it because if they can't make it work, what does anything mean? Maybe there really isn't anything in this idea of being a couple.

There is still plenty of humour throughout all this, and either it got better or something was happening to me, because I had crossed over to the dark side and was, on occasion, laughing out loud. There was quite a nice balance between drama and humour. There's a unique bitterness when a relationship devolves from love to hate, and if you can portray that unique, personal viciousness so accurately and manage to get some laughs in there, you're doing something right. The cashed-up, mainstream audience Joanna Murray Smith's latest play is aimed at is probably going to love it, and with good reason.

At Southbank Theatre, The Sumner until May 27

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Heads Or Tails

Production shot of a sensational new drama by Melbourne Theatre Company titled Zed Is All Ears. It's a Romcom featuring a smart-arse talking cat and the ups-and-downs of a modern Melbourne share household.

Actually, just some current friends. Good people. And a cat we might have adopted.

This was a good day.
Good days,
Bad days,
Like the flip of a coin,
And in a flash
No will to live.
Must remember to remember
The good days
In the no will to live times.

Friday, April 14, 2017

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit Review

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

Dear Nassim Soleimanpour,

It was a pleasure to meet you last night via your inventive theatrical experience, White Rabbit, Red Rabbit. I did as you asked and refrained from reading reviews prior to seeing your play. I also avoided reading a detailed synopsis. I knew the barest detail of the concept: a play by an Iranian writer prohibited from leaving his home country because of his political beliefs; no director; a different actor each night; the actor does not see the script until he/she opens the envelope containing it as the performance commences.

Who could not find all of this intriguing?

You'll be happy to know, Nassim, that the performer on this opening night at The Arts Centre in Melbourne, April 2017, was the talented Eddie Perfect, and he did a splendid job. He appeared to enjoy the experience, and the audience enjoyed this enjoyment. There were many, many laughs. Eddie Perfect generally leans towards comedy but likes a bit of social commentary in his work. This might explain why he enjoyed this experience so much, because as well as some absurdist comedy, your play has a lot to say. With White Rabbit, Read Rabbit, you convey some very important messages, deftly coupling humour with seriousness. I hope someone has sent you some photos of Eddie (and indeed some of the audience members who found themselves on stage as part of the performance) in action during the show. Oh and very good of you to allow us to leave our phones on and encourage us to take photos during the show – just one of the many surprising elements of your experiment.

The set design was minimal. Just a couple of household items and some things borrowed from the audience. This is all that's needed, because really, the magic is in the writing and the concept of the work.

The big irony, Mr Soleimanpour, is that while your show has a lot to say, I'm guessing that even in a review, you would like the writer to refrain from saying too much about the show itself. This is a big ask, but I will respect your wishes post-show as much as I did pre-show.

I would like you to know that everyone in the room thoroughly enjoyed this piece. You would have enjoyed it. You would have enjoyed our enjoyment. And strangely, in spite of your absence, you actually felt very present. Your humour, your wit, your deep understanding of how society and systems and individuals work... all of this was palpable, and you may as well have been sitting in that chair kept vacant for you. I don't think I was alone in feeling that I met you last night. It was a real pleasure to have met someone with such a sharp sense of humour, with such deft story-telling ability... oh yeah, another thing: I was aware of the experimental nature of White Rabbit, Red Rabbit and thus wondered if I would find it satisfying. I wondered if it might be a bit gimmicky for someone who goes to the theatre to be told a cracking good story. I needn't have worried. I found this a deeply rich and satisfying theatrical experience indeed.

So there you have it. I'm pleased to have met you, even though we've never met. I'm grateful that you have shared some of yourself with us. The memory of your play feels real and important, like the memory of a friend.

Wishing you all the best my friend,

Lee Bemrose.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Work In Progress

I've neglected the play for a week now. Today, I got a little bit scared about that. What if the momentum has gone? What if this is yet another of my ideas that comes to nothing? What if these characters I've been calling down from The Forever have moved on?

I was about to leave the cafe today but thought no, I have to find out if these characters are still there, so I sat down in my quiet and empty cafe, and I called out to them.



And silence.

And then, eventually, they were there.

The first thing they said to me was, Where the fuck have you been for the past week?
I told them I was sorry and that I have missed them. They said they had missed me too. Then we got to work, and they said dramatic and witty things to each other, and I took dictation, and all was good in my world.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Saudade, I Think.

I love the concept of melancholy. There's another word, saudade. I thought they were different but it seems they are kind of the same. I thought saudade meant a longing for something or someone that never was.

The longing for someone that never was. Wanting to be in a place or a time or be with someone that never was. You have never been there. You have never been then. You have never known them.

But your heart aches. You miss this place you have never been to, you miss this time that was your time but not your time, you miss this soul you have never known.

I was overwhelmed by this feeling tonight. It's happened before, but tonight, these long moments of longing overwhelmed me.

I am a recluse. I am solitary man, with wonderful friends, but I really missed someone who doesn't exist. I hadn't realised it, but I envy The Dreaded One for calling her mother each week and just chatting to her. Their relationship has been typical of a mother daughter relationship with its ups and downs, but it's a really beautiful thing to hear them talking now. I think they both enjoy these weekly catch ups.

And I just found myself feeling kinda weird thinking how cool would it be to pick up the phone and say, Hey Dad, how are you?

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Funny Because It's True

Recently someone said to me, You call yourself Grumpy, but you're not really grumpy, are you.

No, I replied, I'm not grumpy so much as... perpetually, deeply sad.

And they laughed and laughed as though I had made a joke.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Anti Gravity, Chunky Move, Review


Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

I have no idea how this review is going to go. I'm a words-and-story guy – how do you review something that has no words and no story?

Bottom line, right here at the top: Yeah wow, amazing. A dream-like, surreal esoteric poem, but visually and aurally mesmirising.

The intro to this latest of Australia's most accomplished contemporary dance companies, Chunky Move, is (like this reviewer) slow and moody. Just when you get to the point of thinking if the whole hour and a bit is like this I might have to go, things start to happen. The pace changes and all the quite dazzling elements come into play and it just has your attention for the duration. You kind of get lost in this sensory assault that is at times slow, at other times charged and upbeat. Even the quiet sections, however, are quietly thrilling.

The performance is based around the concept of clouds and gravity. The dormant props scattered around the stage are intriguing and all come into inventive play. The smoke machines produce some wonderful clouds indeed, and the performers themselves occupy the stage as individuals at times coming together like water molecules combining to form clouds. There is always something going on on some part of the stage, some little vignette being enacted, bodies fluidly expressing some idea, some essence of the elements. The mood is by turns primal, tribal, communal, surreal. Individually, each performer does something amazing, but when they come together as a larger entity, the trust and teamwork on display... it just makes you smile with admiration.

All six dancers are such a joy to watch. Their movements are explorations of how far the body can go. The movements are angular, smooth, sensual, elegant, flowing, rhythmic. We - mostly in our rigid bodies - see bodies all day long but never really see them reaching for their full potential, this physical exploration, and that's why this is such a visual feast. These six performers are our physical potential realised. And it's magical stuff.

The sound system in The Merlyn has always been an impressive beast and it is used here to wonderful effect. The sound – humming, pulsing, beating – comes from all around and is a thrill in itself. This is an all-round, wonderful production.

It's a short season. Life is short. Treat yourself. Go see Anti-Gravity before it vanishes, cloud-like, into the Goddamnit I missed it.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Faith Healer, MTC 2017, Review

Faith Healer

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

I love and embrace my ignorance; to the best of my knowledge I was not aware of the existence of the Irish playwright Brian Friel. This is excellent, because after seeing the very fine Faith Healer, I now have another 30 or so plays to experience by this much lauded, very famous Irish recluse. In short, I loved everything about Faith Healer, a play as modest, inventive and intriguing as its author appears to have been.

Colin Friels plays the eponymous faith healer of the title. His is the first of four monologues looking back into the past. He looks back at his life as an itinerant faith healer traveling through small villages in Wales and Scotland healing the ill and the damaged with varying degrees of success. He is Frank Hardy and he comes across as now wistful, a once likeable rogue with a strange talent he didn't quite understand and which never delivered its full potential. He comes across as a worn-out, threadbare showman who clearly thought he was always destined for greatness. It's basically a personal reminiscence about his glory days as a faith healer (not so glorious, in reality, and he knows it), as well as his relationships with his partner Grace and his cockney manager Teddy.

Colin Friels is in fine form here. Right from the opening, lilting brogue delivery, Friels draws you into his sepia toned past. It's been a past of ups and downs, of moments both sad and shining. It's a masterful portrayal of a basically well-meaning man who has lived a life of unrealised potential, of someone who, looking back, is intrigued by how things worked out the way they did. It was a flawless and engaging performance.

Alison Whyte as Grace was equally compelling in the next monologue. Totally different character, same compelling stage presence, and exact same story. But this is the genius of the writing; it's also a very different story. Grace's version of events are very different to those of Frank's account. Frank, himself, as Grace tells it, is a different character. Not completely; she acknowledges that she fell for the charisma of the showman too, but she reveals that all was not as it seems. There are unexpected laughs, as there were in the opening section, but there is also much sadness as Grace, too, looks back at how her life turned out. The essence of her past with Frank is the same, it's just different.

The third monologue is by Paul Blackwell as Frank's traveling manager Teddy. There is much more humour in this section as this larger than life character gives his version of events. By this time you think that perhaps he will represent Truth, and maybe he does. Maybe his is an impartial account of events. However, the whole point of the play seems to be that perhaps we use memory to cope. Perhaps we unintentionally change things to help us survive, so in fact is Teddy's memory to be relied upon?

Colin Friels returns for the closing monologue after this largely comic, though also melancholic section, which seems fitting, given that his character is the centre-piece of the story. Not all is spelled out, which ensures that the play lingers in your mind.

Faith Healer really is wonderful writing, such beautifully engaging writing rich with all that it means to be human, with our hopes and our dreams and our frustrations. It's such good story telling that it needs a minimal stage design, in this case a few chairs a backdrop of a stormy sky with ever-changing lighting and a tattered banner. Director Judy Davis has done well to keep things minimal and let these very fine actors do their thing, which is to draw you into their characters' world for a couple of beautifully engaging hours.

At Southbank Theatre until March 4

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis In Grumpy & The Dreaded One's Little Cafe Of Awesome

This is one seriously cool photo. These guys are legends. They make amazing music. I love the music of The Bad Seeds and Grinderman and Dirty Three. And here were these two one day, in my banged up cafe.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Donald Trump... So Fucking Stupid

This Trump thing... it's so fascinating. So morbidly fascinating that an idiot orange pigman, self-confessed pussy grabber has the world's attention. That press conference... holy shit. He doesn't need the media to be his enemy or "the enemy of the American people" to paint him in bad light, he's doing it all himself. He's up there in front of a hastily-called press conference doing all the worst damage he could possibly do to himself. He is clearly a lunatic. He is clearly a sociopath. And stupid... so breath-takingly stupid. That bit about uranium... for real? The leader of the current leading world super power actually said that? Among so much other totally dumb shit... amazing.

And he is so stupid that he doesn't see the media as the powerful tool that it could be. Yeah right, all of the media is against you because they make up fake news... no, just look at your pathetic performance up there in your first presidential press conference where you could have talked calmly about policy and won the press over with charm and intelligence, but noooo. What a bombastic, idiotic performance that was. No one made it up. Nothing fake. You did it. You are real. You proved yet again that you are the very worst example of humanity.

And it makes me want to know what the supporters of this truly delusional and vile bit of phlegm think now that he truly is out there unleashed and representing them on the world stage. I know he appeals to an ignorant minority of the American population (didn't win the popular vote, orange pigman fool), but I hear stories about supposedly intelligent Americans who voted for him.

I'm fascinated. How do you feel now, intelligent Americans who voted for this actually mentally unstable grub? Are you happy that he represents YOU on the world stage. You good with that? I'm curious. I want to know.

Because it's one month in and from all the way over here it looks you have fucked up badly by electing this proven pathological liar and utter buffoon.

Okay... butterflies and pretty clouds... butterflies and pretty clouds...

Sunday, February 05, 2017

'Tis Pity, Victorian Opera, Review

Image result for tis a pity, victorian opera
'Tis A Pity

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

My love affair... no my infatuation... no that's not right either... my obsession... no I'm not obsessed... my stalker tendencies for... no that's just wrong (but not entirely)... my...
thing for Meow Meow goes back many years now, as the whole world knows. And as much as I have always melted at the mere mention of her name and become positively turgid at the prospect of a new show, 'Tis Pity left me... let's just say it didn't leave me with the raging emotional hard-on her performances usually leave me with.

Part of the problem is that Meow Meow belongs on a pedestal. A pedestal with spotlights focused on her unique and divine presence. Of course she is usually accompanied on stage, but usually by a small band or a solo pianist or some hand-picked reluctant volunteers from the audience.

In 'Tis Pity, however, Miss Meow is part of a much larger cast and as such, her star power has been much diluted. And 'tis a pity.

Borrowing its name from... I thought it got its name from a recent Bowie song, but it's actually from a 17
th century play by John Ford. The full title is 'Tis A Pity She's A Whore, and this production by Victorian Opera is indeed an examination of prostitution in its various forms throughout the ages.

We start off in ancient Athens and Rome and move through the ages to modern times in a series of 10 vignettes, each exploring various aspects of prostitution and its standing in the respective times, all told in a kind of Vaudevillian operatic style.

The work is a collaboration between artistic director and composer Richard Mills, director Cameron Menzies, and performer (what an insufficient word, given her star quality) Meow Meow. MM is accompanied on stage by co-lead Kaneen Breen and three dancers Alexander Bryce, Thomas Johansson and Patrick Weir. The stage is also rammed with a symphony orchestra. All do a fine job.

Ironically, all of this talent on stage adds up to the reason this was a little less satisfying for me than the usual Meow Meow experience. There were teasing glimmers of classic Meow Meow craziness but it was buried in so much orchestra and opera (yes, I know from other shows that she holds her own in classic song of whichever style she chooses to play with). I do appreciate classical music, but as a soundtrack I found the music here distracting. I kept feeling like I was listening to a Disney cartoon, melodramatic tunes accompanying crazy visual antics. And I don't think I appreciate the operatic delivery of story, so while I found the vocals amazing, it's just not my preferred way of being told a story or given information. I don't actually like having to take my eyes away from the performance to read the English interpretation of the Italian lyrics being sung.

But that's just me. I haven't seen a lot of opera, so I'd love to hear what someone who knows about opera thinks of this performance.

At the heart of 'Tis A Pity is a serious examination of a very human condition. What they have tried to do is balance the seriousness of the topic with comedy. In past shows I've been amazed by Meow Meow's ability to draw from me tears of hilarity and tears of the other kind in such a short time. Again, here, for me, not so much. I'm not sure this balancing act of sincerity and humour worked so well.

I went in aware that this was going to be a little different to my favourite Meow Meow shows of the past, and yes, there is so much amazing talent present in this production, and yes I did start to really enjoy it but not until the Berlin Vignette, which was quite a way into the show.

I'm not quite sure why this show was “written at breakneck speed”, as Richard Mills tells us in the program notes, but perhaps it would have benefited with a bit more time. Really not bad, just possibly doesn't deliver its full potential.

At Melbourne Recital Centre until February 8

Saturday, February 04, 2017


Things hadn't been happy in the household for quite a while. There had been a lot of trouble, almost all of it entirely unnecessary. Declarations of love had been shouted down by declarations of hate. Separation seemed inevitable. Friends from all parts of the world were concerned. There was much discussion between many clueless third parties about what would or should happen.

Then there was a period of tranquility, of cautious peace. Maybe, he thought, they could work things out after all. Maybe it was worth trying to make it work, because the troubled now was riding on the crest of a wave of long-time love. There was hope.

He was an introvert working in a people job, dealing with people all day long. He enjoyed this, enjoyed interacting with people, but by Friday he needed the quiet sanctuary of his home. Dealing with people was a kaleidoscopic experience, often wonderful, often sad, always, ultimately, exhausting.

On this Friday, he stopped off to have a drink with her and her friends. They were already drunk and laughing and keen to kick on. He explained his exhaustion and his need to go to his sanctuary and they said they understood. He said he would pick up dinner ingredients and would cook dinner for her. She smiled and said she'd see him soon.

At home, he showered and dressed in his silk sarong. He didn't turn on the TV or music. The silence was sublime. He made a drink and started to prepare their dinner, looking forward to their quiet night in together.

Then his phone buzzed with a message: We are all coming back for dinner. Can you pop the nachos in?

He hoped she was joking but started to prepare a bigger meal just in case, and sure enough the door crashed drunkenly open and they all spilled in, all noise and drunk laughter.

He felt rude as he excused himself, told her he was going to bed. He really needed some solitude and didn't understand why she had done this. He went to bed, and she turned the music up so loud it almost drowned out their raucous talk and laughter.

Music and raucous talk and laughter are happy sounds, and as he fell asleep, he enjoyed these sounds, even though right now they made him feel sad as well.

Eventually the others left, their leaving waking him. She cleaned up and eventually made her way into her room, no longer so happy and talkative.

Silence and darkness; sanctuary at last.

He went out into the darkness of their home to look for something to eat, because it was late and he was hungry. He looked for the leftovers of the meal he had started to prepare for them and found that in a final fuck you, she had scraped the leftovers into the garbage bin.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Staying Here, For Now

Hey. Hey you, yeah you.
I've got it now,
I understand what's going on.
I'm a guy in this story,
There's no other explanation,
I'm just a guy in this story.

I'm this guy in this story
About love
And missed opportunities
And understanding
And misunderstanding
And understanding
That life is eternal
But our brief experience of it
Is fleeting.

I'm a story.
You are a story.
He told a story,
She heard his story,
They became a part of each others story.

Out there in the universe,
That vast, vast universe,
They held hands and looked
Into each others cosmic eyes.

Transmission of information,
He didn't know how.
You have to stay on this planet,
You must stay here,
Said in a strange and distant voice.

Really, you need to stay here.

Why are you saying this?
Why are you saying these things?
Why are you saying this?
I don't understand why you are saying this.

She said,
Because I know.
I know what you are going to do.
I know. I see you, and I know.
You need to stay here and tell your stories
And help people.

And I will stay here and help people,
Even though right now
I also want to leave.
Okay, he said, not now,
I'll stay for now
If you stay too.
And she said that she will stay too.

For now.