Sunday, November 25, 2007

Review: Election 07

One of my life-mottos (or mantras) is “credit where credit’s due” and so I have a lot of credit cards, and money due. But I also think people should be given recognition for their work, especially when that work involves the victory of federal election candidates and those people are me.

I don’t claim legal ownership of Channel 7’s groundbreaking “Tower of Power” graphic last night, or the cartoon cartwheeling Kevin Rudd, or Jeff Kennett’s moustache. Do I feel a certain moral responsibility for these things? Perhaps I do. But more importantly, for you at least, is just how much I contributed to Mr Rudd’s landslide win.

The term “Ruddslide”? One of mine. I put it to the ALP campaigners way back, noting that it connoted both an overwhelming victory and a potential Wobbies-World-style adventure ride. The perfect combination.

And when I vetoed Rudd’s planned “nerny nerny” speech in favour of a gracious address to the country, I think I pricked up a few ears.

But the real kicker came when I told Rudd to accept his inevitable victory to the sounds of a rockin’ tune with a 70s bassline and some mad wailing licks. As per my decree, this tune will now be heard any time our new Prime Minister appears in any public or televised situation. As it should be. I was minorly disappointed that my further suggestion – Solid Gold dancers introducing the track, feathered arms windmilling to suddenly reveal Rudd in gold-lame hotpants windmilling wildly before dropping into a “whatever!” frozen pose – was dismissed like a Whitlam government, but I guess that’s democracy for you.

In any case, when Kev hit the stand it was done to a tune that would have done Hendrix proud (or at least Cat Empire) and if he wasn’t exactly air-guitaring, at least the rest of Australia was.

Here’s some bonus inside goss: if you’re wondering why it took so long for Howard to show up and concede the big boot-print his behind had just acquired, it’s simple. 11 years in The Lodge and not once – NOT ONCE – had he done any cleaning. If you thought the mad scramble to fix up your crappy student rental property when an inspection was announced was kinda manic, you should have seen John when he saw the election results sitting on his torn, crusty Kirribilli house couch. He looked around at the remnants of Downer’s regular keg-parties, the deep furrows Costello had left in the parquetry every time he dragged his coffin full of maggots down the hall, and Jeanette’s jelly bath, and uttered a deep sigh. And then, of course, remembered the toilet. 11 years without a simple wipe-down or swish of the Toilet Duck ™ is bad enough, but do you know what an exclusive diet of ham milkshakes and human baby jaffles does to a PM’s digestive system?

Oh, you do? Well there you go.

Howard hadn’t really expected to lose. He’d spent most of election night sitting on his crusty couch drawing a picture of Rudd on his clenched fist in a way that made the gap between his thumb and curled forefinger appear to be a mouth, a biro-penned set of glasses at the first knuckle completing the impression. This allowed him to feel very cultural (and was in fact the only element of the Libs 2007 arts policy) as well as providing him the opportunity to engage in imaginary debates with the then-opposition leader. He would scrunch up his nose as he made “Fist-Rudd” squeak out placating phrases like:

“My glasses are smaller than yours!”


“Gillard is a big girl, it’s true!”


“I love you Lenin I want to have your babies!”

There was a tense moment when Jeanette walked in to find her husband gently, absent-mindedly running the soft, talcumed hand along the length of his cheek and whispering, as if to himself, “but I really DO acknowledge your superiority, esteemed leader” but Howard quickly defused the situation by tearing the fleshy face from his hand with the teeth he had cautiously sharpened earlier in the evening using a small nail-file and spitting the bloody pulp onto the floor. Whew! (When cartoon Kevin choose to do a cartwheel across his plasma screen at just that moment, well, it was weird, sure.)

And when Jeanette came in and told him that the nation was waiting on his admission of defeat, and that the pike-mounted goats’ heads and virgin-blood pentacles in the bedroom weren’t going to clean themselves up, and that after the good times they’d had it really was their responsibility to leave in a dignified fashion, all he could do was blurt “Screw my ‘responsibility’! Screw my ‘nation’! Screw everything!”

Poor Jeanette. In her quiet, understated way, it was heartening to hear her mutter “You’ve spent 11 years doing that, John. It’s time to go. Our people await us.”

And so they set about stuffing their pockets with stationery and free toiletries.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Review: Motortown

It's probably pretty rare that a play about the horrific effects of war will trigger post-traumatic stress in people who were never actually involved in one. There are certainly a couple of scenes in Red Stitch's new play Motortown that will probably have me waking in a cold sweat for nights to come, or else freaking out small children with my hollow thousand-yard stare. But I'm not going to get all "you wouldn't understand cos you weren't THERE dammit" on you readers because when you enlisted you couldn't have known that you wouldn't see combat, but would instead be stuck in front of your computer screen reading about my exploits at the front line. It could just as easily have been the other way round. I strapped up and took everything this one could shell out because I know you would have done the same for me.

When Danny comes home to his crappy hometown in Essex, he's really got nothing bad to say about his whole tour of duty in Basra. The way he puts it, Iraq was mostly ginger beer and shennanigans with the lads. Of course, he does seem a little haunted and sometimes goes quiet and intense for no apparent reason and is also sort of obsessed with a girl he'd been dating briefly before he went off to war. And when he finds out that she's not interested any more and sets about getting a gun from some dodgy London types, I began to wonder if Danny hadn't maybe left a little bit of himself back in Basra, if you smell what I'm cooking, and perhaps everyone else should start practicing their zig-zag running skills because young Daniel was about to bring the War on Terror back home. Then I thought: nah, you're reading too much into things. After all, it's not like we've ever come across a story about a veteran who can't escape the memories of what he was forced to do and ends up perpetuating the cycle of violence modern war is founded upon.

OK, so this tale might just be a noughties update of the post-Vietnam drama that taught us that sometimes war had its downside and we might want to think twice about sending our impressionable young kids off to another one. There's a good whiff of the classic film Coming Home here, grafted onto a self-conscious homage to Taxi Driver and even a bit of Rambo: First Blood. Luckily, even though I felt like I'd seen a lot of this stuff before, I didn't really get much of a chance to rest my peepers because the level of tension along with the A-grade performances the Stitchers deliver is shock and awe stuff.

From the measured build-up which tracks Danny's complex mental state to the honestly surprising climax (equally surprising since it sort of happens in the middle) to the scenes which follow and give some depth to the piece, there's not much to fault this production. The script is possessed of sparkling dialogue and the cast get their teeth into it without overplaying at all, but I can't help but feel that there's not much underneath it all that we don't already know, and it's even perhaps prurient to actually play out the horror when we do know this stuff.

At the same time, this is a production worth catching just for those fantastic performances and the superbly drawn characters, Brett Cousins as Danny on stage for nearly the entire show and only ever less than compelling when sharing the space with Dion Mills' hypnotically watchable Lee. It's a hard show to stomach and it's not even the kind of play I normally like, but nobody shirks in their duties here and the audience is left to patch up their wounds the best they can. Some leaflets in the foyer suggesting places we could seek therapy might have helped, but I guess that's better than when your government sends you off to war and then turns its back on you after you bring your shattered soul back home. It's that trickle-down effect.

Oh and there's an election tomorrow, too. Hope that all goes swimmingly.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Review: The Madwoman of Chaillot

Sacred Blue. It all starts off with a whole bunch of Jacques Tati-style business that wastes no time in confusing its audience. You’ve got a bunch of dastardly capitalists (Nazis in the original) front and centre, hatching a plan – I hesitate to use the word ‘plot’ in any connection to this show – surrounding oil wells in Paris and the obliteration of the quaint culture that surrounds them in favour of industry, unfettered speculation and, eventually, a state of Total War. But while they’re expositing their little what-ho, a constantly shifting parade of shorthand French stereotypes are buzzing about distracting our gaze from what should be a far more interesting dynamic. That the audience on opening night kept applauding every bit of basic clowning that occurred while the piece’s villains were concurrently waxing nasty on another part of the stage speaks volumes. More immediately annoying was the shallowness of characterisation afforded the pedestrian crowd.

While nobody in the MTC’s latest production actually wears a stripy skivvy with a string of garlic around their neck, you always feel they’re just a costume change away from it. As beaming accordion-players exchanged howdies with rosy-cheeked flowersellers and bicycle-borne gendarmes tipped their caps to dancing homeless men, I couldn’t help but wonder if someone, somewhere, was prendre le pissoir. (I must continually remind myself that not all of you are as fluent in the language of love as moi, so I should note that I’m not suggesting that someone was “on the piss” during the development of this piece, but was mayhaps “taking the piss”. Also, I used the term for “urinal” rather than “piss” through a form of “creative license”. “Creative license” is a common term used to describe the ways writers engage in imaginative, sometimes innovative wordplay to add flair to otherwise lacklustre prose. Another common technique is digression, wherein the obvious trajectory of a piece of writing is subtly delayed by gently segueing into seemingly casual but ultimately unrelated asides, anecdotes, pontifications and opinionating. If this review seems unusually characterised by digression, then it is simply to mask a lack of anything serious to say about this show. Also, c’mon, if you’ve ever read this site you shouldn’t be surprised.)

Anyway, the level of clichĂ© on offer in Madwoman is best summed up by Ms Theatre Notes’ review, in which she compares it to a Yoplait commercial. I couldn’t sum it up better myself. At times I began to wonder if it wasn’t an exercise in Franxsploitation. For a long time, I felt there was a decent story being developed somewhere under all of the Tours Eiffel and copious latte sipping and rhubarbe-ing. When Magda S. finally turned up as the eponymous Madwoman, things began to look up.

The Countess Aurelia at least offered a greater depth than most of the other folks on offer. Magda wisely plays against the role – rather than offering a madwoman of the histrionic, non sequiterial or fey type, she is simply a softly-spoken eccentric dressed in an outfit director Simon Phillips must have rejected from his Priscilla with an “I’m sorry, but that’s just TOO much.” She has her oddities – to her, all men have the same name depending on the hour of day, her missing feather-boa holds the key to her fate, and she is haunted by the memory of a long-ago lover she only knew in brief – but Ms Szubanski grants her character a level of respect I found admirable. Strangely, she was the only character with a wireless mic, but this didn’t really affect my appreciation of the show since it allowed her to be heard without having to bellow out across the Playhouse stage. And she was playing the wacky-wisewoman, so a little subtlety was required.

I suppose the whole crazy-dame-possessed-of-uncommon-wisdom angle might boast an air of the classics about it (also a polite way to describe the bathroom of a Parisian cafĂ© I once visited). If my high school education doesn’t fail me – and I’ll admit it was more airy Swiss than fresh French Charolais – the Greeks blabbered on about some nutty kid called Cassandra who could speak the future but was never listened to. Kind of like SBS newsreaders, I suppose.

Aurelia is the informal spokeswoman for the community of French stereotypes we’ve met so far, and it’s her job to speak out against the encroaching modernisation of gay Paris. When she learns of the plans to drill under Paris for black gold, she gathers her fellow eccentric womenfolk in a trio reminiscent of another classic threesome, the Fates, and debates the ethics of entrapping and murdering all of the capitalists in France. Which, eventually, is just what happens.

If it all sounds quite exciting – madpeople, manslaughter, missing feather boas – it doesn’t really play out too heart-palpitatingly. When we finally leave the streets of Yoplait Paris and enter the gorgeous dungeon Aurelia seems to live in, things get quite fun. The comedy has gathered a layer of dust – written in the 30s, this might not be such a surprise – but there is a sweet scene where someone pulls on a bit of stone and a secret staircase is revealed. That’s pretty much all I want out of a play.

Unfortunately most of this play is as uneven as the rough-hewn rock steps of the staircase itself. The dazzingly negative responses to the piece I’ve read so far – and they’re incredibly entertaining for their damning-ness – offer the best summations of the show’s flaws. But their very relish, the way in which they – or we – can so precisely pinpoint what’s so very wrong with the thing, make me feel that this isn’t a case of a show getting it wrong. Not at all. It feels more like a work whose intentions are so contrary to those expected by Melbourne’s reviewers that we simply can’t understand how this – this – could be exactly what Phillips, his cast and crew has meant to end up on the stage.

Anyone who has ever been to Paris will likely wrinkle their noses at the odd artistic choices here in the same way so many Aussies pout at the omnipresent dog crap decorating the city’s sidewalks - mainly because said crap is entirely absent from this peachy-keen vision of the City of Lights. Maybe that’s the point. The play’s descriptions of a nostalgic Parisian past – including, I kid ye not, the trash cans of old which, apparently, smelled so much sweeter – seem so ridiculous that maybe only a ridiculously artificial production could be appropriate. Suspension of Disbelief, meet Benefit of the Doubt. I hope you two get along.

Those of you who thought Amelie was far too depressingly realistic might find this quite your decanter of Beaujolais. For the rest, at least you get a dungeon.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Notice of Removal of Name from Electoral Roll

The title of this post comes from the title of a letter I received this week. Jiminy Crickets! And with an election coming up and all. That's what you get from moving house so often. I'd better get onto it. Or who knows what may result?

We cannot rule out the potential.

In other news, I will probably be doing a little redecorating of this here blog in the next few days. This is mainly due to the very welcome if a little disturbing inclusion of a list of Melbourne artsy blog URLs in the latest Malthouse season brochure, and given we here at Born Dancin' Worldwide Enterprises (limited liability) decided to name ourselves starting with a big ol' "B", we're at the top of the list. So a few things should perhaps occur - I'll be taking out the occasional personal reference (mainly relating to other people who might not want to be read about) as well as losing all of the links (same reason). Typos, rash reviews and lazy factual errors will of course remain, due to said laziness.

In other other news, I've also been busy wrapping up phase one of the bookmagazinebook project after a year at the thing. BMBs have made their way to most continents and have been picked up by writers and photographers and craftspeople and artists ranging from emerging indie kids to people who are household names. And of course all sorts of other people who liked the idea or knew someone who did. If all went according to plan, the first would show up next week. But of course things rarely go to plan, which is the point of the project.

And also the point of phase two.

In other other other news, I've just come home from Petty Traffickers' current show, The Chosen Vessel. It's definitely worth checking out, and maybe I'll post a full review here in the next few days. Then again, looking at the last few busy weeks - YOU KNOW I WON'T. Apologies in advance &c.

Just go along and see it and post your own review. Ends Sunday.

Also: Faces in Places. Why God invented the internet.