The Chaser’s Empty Vessell at Giant Dwarf

“Twenty years ago”, I told Ronni Khan from Ozharvest, “I worked at Coles New World, and one of my jobs was to document the shrinkage, and to make sure the bins were locked so people couldn’t steal food. Is that still the case, or are the supermarkets now on board? Who do you still get resistance from?”.

She knew exactly what I was talking about: shrinkage is what the supermarket chains refer to and what they mean is food they throw out, and indeed, many still have a policy of locking up their garbage bins to avoid so-called “dumpster dining”. She said with the exception of ALDI, the supermarkets “say they’re on board, but they’re not really, and we could use your help in convincing them to help out”.

In asking the question, I was mindful of an earlier comment from Julian Morrow that questions should be “more than just a statement about your own life, seeking affirmation” (or words to that effect). Having worked in the media for a long time, I’m conscious of how badly constructed are the questions of some journalists. They often asked closed questions to establish facts which could have been established differently. The best questions are usually those which seek to establish fact, but then gain further insights, and of course, they shouldn’t be questions which elicit the answers your already know. I think my question did all of those things (I hope), even though it was a double-barelled question.

Ronni is an interesting character, and so is Greg Combet, and so is Jeremy Moylan. Jeremy is an activist who famously pranked the media recently, Ronni is the founder of an organisation which feeds homeless people with food otherwise thrown out by restaurants, and Greg is a former ACTU boss and federal minister.

Greg was very much in “book selling mode”, as he has recently published an autobiography, focussing on his life generally, but more specifically about his years in the Rudd/Gillard ministry. Like a bunch of people – Gillard, Swan – he’s in reflective mode about the years of the Labor Governments, and in particular, about the impact of the dysfunctional relationship between members of the ALP. The only really interesting anecdote from him was about how, in front of Bob Hawke, he described Bill Kelty as the greatest president of the ACTU. “Bob looked pretty uncomfortable”, he said, but then argued it’s usually harder to be the President of the ACTU when you have a Labor Government in place”.

I’ve been to Giant Dwarf only once before, but enjoyed it very much. For about twenty bucks, you have an hour or two of great entertainment and interesting conversation. I suspect it’s the space where The Chaser team are trying out some new ideas for television programs. The space has been on my mind once again in the last week – at work, we’re planning to hold an event there – and so I decided I’d pop along to remind myself what it’s like as a venue. I’m also a fan of the work of The Chaser, so it wasn’t like it was only for business reasons.

Toast to Colin Anderson

Phantom Colin
Phantom Colin

“Colin would have loved this show”, my friend Michaela noted as we enjoyed a half-time drink at “Ruthless – The Musical” at Sydney’s Seymour Theatre tonight. The show was well acted, well sung, it was camp, and it was fun, but it was also deadly serious. It was the kind of show Colin and I would have bought tickets to see togther. Sadly, he passed away last night, and so tonight Michaela and I held our glasses high and remembered him.

I told Michaela tonight about the first time I’d met Colin. It was at the end of 1991 and I’d recently arrived in Wagga (from Renmark) and was invited by a couple of new friends to attend a party at Colin’s place. Although Colin was the Head of Drama at Charles Sturt University for many years, I didn’t know him from a bar of soap. I hardly knew the people who’d invited me. So when Colin walked up to me and asked (with a wry smile), “Who are you and what are you doing here”, I replied, “I was told if I wanted to meet anyone interesting in Wagga, I should meet you”. “You can stay”, he said with a laugh.

Over the next few years our friendship in Wagga blossomed. It was cemented when we both, at similar periods in time, moved to Sydney. With a bite to eat here, and a glass of wine there, we became good friends, sharing a common love of theatre.

In the last few years his health declined dramatically, and so he eventually moved back to Newcastle (to be closer to his family). It’s probably eighteen months, now, since we’ve enjoyed a night at the theatre together. I woke this morning and saw the late night text message from his niece, Helen, that Colin had passed. It wasn’t a surprise. I went to Newcastle on the weekend to say “goodbye”. Though unconscious, I hope he knew I was there. He had been in a lot of pain and discomfort. His passing was, in many ways, a relief. And then tonight, fittingly, I went with a friend to the theatre to see a show Colin would have loved, and toasted the life of a good friend of over twenty years.

The Chaser’s Giant Dwarf

“In the last twelve months two of the institutions I’ve given so much of my life and passion to have disappointed me deeply”, was the most memorable line from Kristina Keneally last night. The former NSW Premier was one of three guests for the “live chat show”, “The Empty Vessell” put by on by The Chaser at their new theatre venue, The Giant Dwarf on Cleveland Street.

Although there were a few moments when she went into “former politician mode”, I thought she was, for the most part, candidly honest. For example, when asked to comment on the current corruption hearing in NSW, she said she never had time for Eddie Obeid, but that she thought she KNEW Joe Tripodi and Tony Kelly, and seemed disappointed in what’s currently occurring.

“For every Eddie Obeid, you have to remember there was a Carmel Tebbutt, a Verity Firth, a John Watkins”, she went on to say, arguing there were still lots of good people in the Labor Party.

“You forgive the Catholic Church for some things, but not the child abuse”, she went on to say about the other institution she said had disappointed in the last twelve months.

Maybe it was the glass or two of red wine she enjoyed as she sat on the stage that resulted in the candidness? Or maybe she’s reached the point where she doesn’t feel the need to justify everything the former NSW Labor Government did and didn’t do? She was unequivocal about NEVER returning to a political life.

The other two guests were Norrie May-Welby and John Watson.

Norrie was the person who recently won a case in the High Court to be formally recognised as “non-specific gender”. Whenever I’ve seen Norrie speak in the past there’s always been a bit of showbiz about the presentation style, as it’s usually been at a rally or something like that. Speaking/shouting in public isn’t usually conducive to honest reflection, which is what I saw last night. I always thought Norrie was slightly crazy, but have now developed a new found respect.

John Watson was the founder of boutique record label Eleven Music, whose artists include Gotya, Cold Chisel, Missy Higgins, silverchair, Daniel Johns, Birds of Tokyo. Of the three guests, he was the least interesting for me. Although I was really interested in the subject matter, I felt he was a little “rehearsed”. There seemed to be a lot of answers or anecdotes he had given previously which disappointed me a little.

Half was through the night there was also a really fantastic comic performance by an actor, writer and director I’d never heard of before called Nick Coyle @nickcoyles. Magic stuff.

Over the course of about two hours, it was really good to sit in a large theatre along with a couple of hundred people to enjoy some really good conversations, with intelligence and humour combining throughout. I’ll definitely be heading back some time in the future.

Charlie Hides

Charlie Hides has one of the funniest live shows I’ve seen in ages. He’s an English comedian – though originally from the United States – who dresses up and impersonates (with humour and affection) some of the great modern pop divas, including Cher, Madonna and Lady GaGa.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been enthusiastically sharing his Youtube videos with friends. The first one that made me laugh was a sketch about the apparent rivalry between Madonna and Lady GaGa. Since then, he’s gone on to incorporate a bunch of other characters including Lana Delray, Joan Rivers and others with the same level of affection and humour. Unlike many other comedians, I don’t think there’s anything nasty or malicious behind his humour.

In the last year or so he’s been doing live shows in London, and I’ve read about this development with a sense of longing and wonder. “There has to be a lot of video in his live shows to achieve what he does”, I whispered to Graeme in the minutes before his live show at Sydney’s “Gingers” began. There is. There are also lots of costumes changes, and a comedy routine which continues to shock and surprise over the course of about ninety minutes. He works hard.

The comedy of his live show was far more cutting edge, and definitely less politically correct, than you see on the Youtube clips. Overall it was a fantastic night which we both enjoyed very much. Hopefully he’ll be back for Mardi Gras again next year.

Privates On Parade

“Meet the gang cos the boys are here, the boys to entertain you…” Nearly forty years after having first watched “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum”, the 1970s BBC sit-com, I can still remember and sing-a-long with the opening theme song.

Having spent most of my formative years just a few feet away from a 26″ Chrysler colour TV, it’s no surprise. Along with “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum”, there was a steady regular Friday night television diet courtesy of the ABC which included Dave Allen, The Two Ronnies and “The Trots”. And when I say “The Trots”, I mean trotting. Horses. Yes its true. Every Friday night, ABC TV in NSW (and probably elsewhere) used to regularly feature live coverage of trotting. They might have been done “The Dogs” also, though I don’t have that memory.

Yes it was a different world back then. Although it wasn’t evident to my young eyes, I’m sure if you looked closely at “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum” these days, there would be more than a hint of racism. I don’t think I will. But going to see “Privates On Parade” has re-ignited in me an interest in some of those BBC comedies of my youth.

The subject matter of “Privates On Parade” is similar to “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum”: both are based around the activities of a 1940s English Army Entertainment Troop. Although I’m sure the original play was the basis for the television show, the subject matter of the play is much darker, dealing openly with homosexuality (whereas it was only really hinted at in the TV show), and with death.

I thought the production by New Theatre (as part of Mardi Gras) was excellent. It’s a well written play (of course), though perhaps a little dated. so the company had good material to start with. While there could have been a propensity to ham things up a little, I thought the company did an excellent job in playing it straight, and allowing for the depth of the characters to show.

Totally Wired

“It’s a by-product of the NBN”, I was told by the woman running Lime Designs, an arts/crafts gift store at Salamanca Place. When I asked her what she was weaving the small basket with, she told me she had literally hundreds, if not thousands of kilometres of telephone wire at her home. The wire was one of the by-products of the roll-out of the National Broadband Network. As the wire was replaced by optic fibre, it was being discarded, and she was one of the eager people willing to make something with it.

Sue and I spent the day sight-seeing around Hobart, starting off looking at some of the galleries in the centre of Hobart, and having lunch at the Cascade Brewery, ahead of going on “Louisa’s Walk”, currently voted on Trip Advisor the best tourist attraction in Hobart. I think that assessment is probably a little over the top, as Hobart has much to offer, but it’s definitely pretty good.

Louisa's Walk
Louisa’s Walk

“Louisa’s Walk” takes the idea of the history walking tour up a notch. Instead of walking around Hobart and pointing at things and recounting facts about them in a fairly stock standard way, the tour takes the form of simple street theatre to recount the story of just one woman who came to Tasmania as a convict. As we chatted afterwards, the male actor told us it was the idea of his mother and her partner who were also semi-professional actors around Hobart who had the idea of creating some sustainable work for actors who would otherwise find it hard to make a living in a city of its size.

And why street theatre? One very obvious reason is there’s not a lot to see at the Female Factory, what was once home to up to 5,000 female convicts. Indeed, the historical records at the space document it was only recently the buildings were “restored”, having previously been used as goods yards, and even as a tennis court for a number of years. Unlike similar convict buildings here in Sydney, or even the male equivalent, Port Arthur in Tasmania, there’s really only the facade that remains.

After a return to our hotel for a little relaxation, we spent the evening at Sing A Long Sound of Music, an event organised by Tasmanian Gay & Lesbian Pride. As the name applies, we were all encouraged to sing a long and to interact the much-loved film. As both Sue and I love the film, it was a perfect way to finish up the day. Great songs, a terrific story, lots of laughter.

I Love Musicals

I Love Musicals
I Love Musicals

There was a moment of pure joy this morning at work when I noticed a package from Sweden in my in-tray. A few weeks ago on a whim I purchased t-shirt promoting the new album for Peter J√∂back. Peter’s name is a little hard to find, being found only the sleeve of the t-shirt. Instead, the phrase “I Love Musicals” (the name of Peter’s latest album) dominates. When I bought the shirt, I joked with a friend “this could well be the world’s gayest t-shirt”. When a colleague snapped a photograph of my wearing the shirt today (which I shared on social media) she agreed. In fact, it gave everyone at work a bit of a laugh today. In the midst of some busy times, it was great to see people go from wry grins to broad smiles as they looked at the shirt and agreed.

Co-incidentally, I went to a preview tonight of the new Sydney musical, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels“. The musical is based on the Steve Martin film about the two conmen who are themselves conned. I haven’t actually seen the film, so I went in without preconceptions. In fact, I was even prepared to be a little disappointed, as really good musicals are often few and far between. Many modern musicals, often based around movies or back catalogues, are often disappointing. They can seem like a hastily assembled pastiche.

Even though I haven’t seen the film, I didn’t get that impression from this. My colleague and friend I went with, who has seen the film, whispered in my ear “He’s completely ape-ing Steve Martin”. That was the only comparison she made between the movie and the film. From both our perspectives, though, this was a fun musical, with really clever lyrics, performed well, with humour and passion. The play was great fun to watch, and it seemed as if the actors were enjoying it as much as the audience. That’s high praise, since there are some really great performers in the show, including Tony Sheldon, Ann Wood, Matt Hetherington (who I thought was fabulous), John Wood and others. Overall it was a really wonderful night, and fabulous reminder of why “I Love Musicals”.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels