Twists and Turns – Matthew Mitcham

I think Matthew Mitcham is stalking me. I wish. On Tuesday we jockeyed for position in the coffee queue at the ABC cafe, ahead of his appearance on Midday Interview with Margaret Throsby. This afternoon, he was in the reception of 702 ABC Sydney, ahead of his appearance on “Thank God It’s Friday”. “I loved your show last night”, I told him.

Indeed I did. He has a cabaret show – songs, stories, acrobatics – based on his autobiography, which I read a couple of years ago. At the time, I observed how amazing and complex was his life story, moving me in many ways.

As I read about his early years in Brisbane, I couldn’t help but be connected to his story. “Oh my goodness, he lived around the corner from my aunt”, I noticed. And the gay bar he went to where they allowed him in as an underage patron? I’d been there too. With a good cultural knowledge of Brisbane, I knew instantly where that was, even though he failed to name it (for obvious legal reasons). I’d also been an under-age entrant to a gay bar in Brisbane many, many years ago. I was fifteen at the time, and was accompanied by a slightly older friend. Not much older, but old enough to be able to whisper in the ear of the bouncer and guarantee me entry. Twenty years later, and it seems little had changed when Matthew found himself in a similar position. Unlike Matthew, however, I was never accompanied by my mother.

His mother was in the audience at last night’s show, along with his diving coach, and seemingly, several hundred of his closest friends because there was a lot of love in the room. There were lots of people who have obviously followed his story ever since Beijing, which, by contrast I completely missed, as I backpacked my way through Europe at the time.

Matthew’s quite a good singer, with a reasonable vocal range, and with dramatic qualities, brings life to a range of songs, many written for the show, along with others such as “True Faith” by “New Order”. He’s also a talented story-teller, and displays a charming self deprecating sense of humour. One of the highlights was a mood-lighting re-enactment of his perfect 10 dive at Beijing, accompanied by Matthew singing a rather haunting song.

At the end of the show there was a 15 minute or so Q&A session. He was asked whether or not he would be going to any of the Mardi Gras parties. “Oh no, I don’t know how to party safely”, he told the audience, showing a greater level of self-awareness than I did at that age.

After the Q&A everyone wandered outside for selfies with Matthew, and for the purchase of a range of signed merchandise. A fun evening was had by all.

Radiance

Belvoir Street Theatre has a warning in their publicity for “Radiance” that it may raise issues for people who have experienced sexual assault. “OK, a bit grim”, I thought, but I was still really keen to see the play, as I’d heard so many good things about it over so many years. I also knew there was a movie based on the play, which I’d read was Rachael Perkin’s feature film. But I’d never seen it, so I didn’t know too much about the play. But I really liked the sound of the play, and I was really keen to see the cast: the amazing Leah Purcell, and two actors I’d come to know through the wonderful film, The Sapphires: Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell.

Without giving away too much of the plot, the play concerns three women (half sisters) who come together for their mother’s funeral. One of the daughters had been living and caring for their mother through dementia, having previously worked as a nurse. There’s a couple of really upsetting descriptions of the mother’s experience with dementia, by the way. Another had been living a wonderfully casual life, with no real career, and was pretty fond of spending time with a lot of men. You soon discover, she’s probably the most similar to her mother. The oldest was a world-famous opera singer who had been living overseas for a number of years, and although she had “sent money home” to her family, hadn’t had all that much contact with her sisters.

At the heart of the play is how they confront some of their family secrets and myths with tears and laughter. There were moments in the play when we laughed out loud, side-splitting humour. There’s a scene with a vacuum cleaner which is both hilarious and wonderfully dark. There’s also a moment in the play which had me in tears, almost on the verge of sobbing. There were a couple of occasions when I almost had to get up and leave. How embarrassing would that be? And what a terrible diversion it would have been to the experience of others enjoying the play. That said, a bloke sitting in front of us looked around as if to say “are you okay?”. I pulled it together, though I left the theatre with red eyes.

It’s a wonderful play. I’d highly recommend it, and this production was excellent.

Conversations @ Giant Dwarf

Had a fabulous night at the Richard Fidler “Conversations” event at Sydney’s Giant Dwarf Theatre.

Here are some photographs from the evening.

Bangarra 25

“I don’t mind if we get wet. I love getting rained on”, I said to Kate as we sat on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. In hindsight, I probably should have checked the weather before leaving the house, but since I wearing shorts, I figured getting wet wouldn’t be much of a problem. And besides that, it was a great thing to be part of, the 25th anniversary performance by Bangarra Dance Theatre.

Kate arrived earlier than I did, and so secured us terrific seats in the front row. For a couple of hours we sat there, chatted, ate and drank a little, as we watched and waited for the show to commence.

As I checked the weather radar, we overheard a couple of security guards chatting, offering their thoughts on the likelihood (or rather unlikelihood) of the show going ahead. For a while it didn’t look good. On two or three occasions cleaners came on stage to mop off the water. Even that had a certain theatricality about it. “You could put that in a theatre, charge thirty bucks, and say it’s edgy”, I joked.

The sheer risk of electrocution for the band and injury for the dancers meant they were only about to deliver a much scaled down version of what was planned. Nonetheless, it was a great evening, and one we (and many others) enjoyed very much.

Giant Dwarf Radio Play

“This could be really good or really lame”, I said to my friend Michaela the other week when I invited her to join me for the “Radio Play” at Giant Dwarf Theatre. I’d read about the event a few weeks ago on Eventbrite, and I heard Tom Ballard who wrote/directed the event on 702 ABC Sydney this morning.

“You know, we’re the only people old enough to actually remember radio plays”, I said to her as we met at the theatre. The crowd was very twenty-something, though we did spot a bloke who was actually older than us. “He’s here with his daughter”, Michaela noted.

The whole idea around tonight was to do a night of “modern radio theatre”, and I suspect it was a passion project, more than something which was seen as commercially viable. That said, there was a reasonably good crowd at the Giant Dwarf tonight.

As “modern radio theatre”, the concepts behind the sketches was also very modern: a sketch involving an orgy on the Lower North Shore, a piss-take on “Serial” (the new podcast from “This American Life”) which was really, really funny and, to be honest, a third sketch which I don’t actually remember a couple of hours later (obviously because we’re so old).

We sat right up the front and chose a seat which WE THOUGHT would avoid some degree of audience interaction. How wrong we were. “I hate audience interaction. Don’t go there”, Michaela told the host/writer/creator, Tom Ballard when he singled her out for some audience interaction. I’ve previously seen him doing standup and thought he was pretty average, pretty lame, to be honest. In contrast, we both agreed tonight was surprisingly good. In parts, it was probably a little over-written. But overall, it was a really great night of theatre, written and performed with passion. And it was great to see a bit of live radio theatre. Apparently, it will eventually turn up somewhere as a podcast. I’ll edit this item and post a link if/when it turns up, because it’s worth a listen.

Sondheim on Sondheim

My friend Colin had a framed type-written signed letter from Stephen Sondheim on the wall of his apartment. He also had one from Dame Judi Dench also, but that’s just bragging :) I don’t remember exactly what the letter said, though I’m guessing, since it was Sondheim, it was probably beautifully written, sensitive and with a twist of humour. I don’t imagine it was a form letter.

The reason I feel this way is because I began to understand a little more about his character from attending “Sondheim on Sondheim”, a musical review featuring some of the best of his works, currently playing at Sydney’s Seymour Centre. The songs are accompanied video inserts of Sondheim himself providing a narrative, talking about his works (the good, the bad, the indifferent) and his feelings about them many years later. The narration is very funny, often touching (as he spoke about being raised by Oscar Hammerstein, for example), and always witty and intelligent.

The performances in this particular production are stellar. “There wasn’t a single dud amongst them”, a friend who is a performer told me during intermission. Great voices. Great harmonies.

Though it could have been little more than a “hits and memories” musical, this particular review steers clear of that. Sadly for me, the production failed to include some his bigger hits, “Another Hundred People” and “Ladies Who Lunch” (for example), instead featuring some of his more obscure works. One song, for example, we’re told was only performed once and then dropped. There’s also a segment which takes the piss out of arguably his best known work, “Send In The Clowns”. Very funny.

If you love musical theatre, I’d highly recommend seeing it during its short run at the Seymour Centre. Colin would have loved it, I’m sure.

Glass Menagerie

In the back of my mind, there’s a vague fragment of a slither of a memory of having seen a production of “The Glass Menagerie” about twenty-five years ago (or more likely more) at a theatre in Brisbane. La Boite Theatre, maybe? Even so, my memory doesn’t extend much beyond the image of a woman sitting at the front of the stage obsessing over her small glass figurines. Without much of a memory beyond that, being Tennesee Williams, I just assumed there would have been repressed homosexual men with alcohol problems and unsatisfied women with mental health issues. I’m being silly of course, but you have to admit, these are characteristics you do find in other works by him including “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” and “A Streetcar Named Desire” which are two of my favouite plays of all time.

As we made our way to Belvoir Street Theatre last night, Sue read out loud the article on Wikipedia outlining the plot until the point where we both decided we had reached “spoiler” territory. But in short, and without a spoiler, it’s a play set in 1910/1920s America, the South, about a woman and her two children, none of whom are very happy with their lives. The mother was deserted by her husband many years ago, forcing her to raise her children by herself, both of whom she describes as “not normal”: the daughter has a slight disability, and the son goes out drinking most nights, with a slight suggestion he might also be homosexual. The plot-line centres around the mother’s desire for her daughter to be “married off before it’s too late”.

Before the play started last night the director came out to explain this was the first public preview after an intense week of technical rehearsals. “This could be really good or you might be witnessing one of the worst, most memorable moments of Australian theatre”, he joked. It was pretty evident shortly into the production why the technical rehearsals had been so intense: this production relies HEAVILY (in the first half at least) on video effects. Screens to the left and right of the stage feature images captured from on-stage cameras in the style, I’m guessing, of a 1940s movie. Sue and I both agreed the reliance on the narrator on stage to have to move the cameras around became distracting. We both found we sometimes spent more time watching him than we did watching the action on stage. The set, although really clever, was also a little distracting, as much of the action took place at the back of the stage behind a flimsy see-through curtain. We both really understood what they’re trying to achieve with the set and video, but it just didn’t do it for us.

Which is a shame, because it’s a really good play. “It’s much more complex than I’d imagined”, I whispered to Sue at one point. If you’ve grown up in a family with any degree of dysfunctionality, you’ll immediately realise how believably flawed the characters are. The performance by the actor who played the daughter, Laura was, in particular, really good: really honest, really authentic etc.

It will be interesting to see how audiences and critics judge the production as it opens in coming weeks, being mindful of what the director said last night.