BARASSI THE STAGE SHOW until 5 May at the Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre, Melbourne.

BARASSI THE STAGE SHOW until 5 May at the Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre, Melbourne. 

I am one of those people who has never been into football but who has occasionally been  impressed and surprised by those of my friends and colleagues who are. Impressed because the commitment they exhibit is awesome. Surprised because I get to have my snobby prejudices well and truly challenged.

I once dated a nice bloke for a full month before a blathering Collingwood fan and friend of mine pointed out  my date was a former well-known VFL player.

But then terrific writers like Martin Flanagan and Gregory Day do manage to unearth the poetry and power of Aussi Rules so that even dire-hard anti-sport-tragics like myself may be moved.

Barassi The Stage Show by Tee O’Neill is less an exploration or investigation into the sport itself but rather an uncritical celebration of ‘Australian football legend’ and ‘Icon’ Ron Barassi.

In its return season – it did pretty well last year- Steve Bastoni as Barassi-the-elder has been replaced by Chris Connelly, and Jane Clifton replaced as the play’s (loud) mouthpiece/ narrator, Melba, by Odette Joannidis. Initially neither of these new cast members appears all that comfortable in their roles. Although Connelly, a fine actor but essentially miscast, does a great job finally of pitching the Barassi killer-instinct against the man who has never quite reconciled the early loss of his father to the killing fields of Tobruk. Joannidis, too, as the personification of the game’s ancient tribal loyalty eventually relaxes into the role having got off to a shaky start.

Barassi is a review-style mix of the cartoon and the corny and is at its best when the fast-paced bluster and backslapping are relieved with moments of delicious slow-mo-footy-style-choreography, the occasional barbershop crooning and the infectious energy and simpatico of Chris Asimos as the young Barassi and Matt Parkinson’s well-paced and credible rendition of Barassi’s surrogate father and coach Norm Smith.

It’s tough to write about someone who is still around – particularly someone as media savvy and switched on as Barassi – and O’Neill and co are nothing if not reverential of the great player, big personality, coach and failed furniture salesman.

Overall O’Neill does a solid job of this straight-up and engaging bio-show and the cast and direction all serve to keep the ball in the air for the most part.

This show is not my cup of tea. But who cares? The opening night audience appeared to enjoy it enormously.

Hate by Stephen Sewell

Malthouse HATE photo Jeff Busby_1080There had been some pretty crook reviews of this latest production of Sewell’s 25-year-old family melodrama so I was trepidatious. I also felt damned sorry for the actors who having just had a couple of scorchers in the press on the day were having to face the music that night. (I was an actor and know what it’s like to receive a god-awful review and then have to draw on every little bit of craft and camaraderie to get out up there again.) But as soon as the 5 actors in Hate appeared, I knew they were going to be fine, more than fine.

I first saw Sewell’s stringent expose of a mega-rich-political family in the throes of its final  meltdown, years ago when I was fresh out of drama school and was struck by its relentlessness and intelligence. It remains relentless and intelligent and it’s first half, although staged in a peculiarly unfocused and vague kind of way with no sense of place at all, is arresting. But it does eventually lose its grip.

Wealthy patriarch and politician (William Zappa is acid itself and someone should give him Lear sometime soon) has summoned his family to their country estate. Wife (Glenda Linscott’s  brittle and off-balance portrayal of the ‘good wife’ is excellent) and their three children, Ben Geurens, the disaffected outsider, Grant Piro, the edgy, ambitious stockbroker and Sara Wiseman, the favourite child who is all mixed up and appears to have gone off the rails.

All kids are in one way or another falling apart, furiously ambivalent about their dividing and conquering father and oddly unconcerned about their desperately sad mother.

There is a massive amount of talking in this play. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I remain, perhaps, one of the few reviewers around who still digs a good old-fashioned well-made-text-based play. And Sewell has proven pretty good at the form – The Blind Giant is Dancing, Myth, Propaganda and Disaster. Hate too is characteristically shot through with black humor, high-flame political rhetoric and a lot of pretty awful archetypes. It’s all compelling enough but by its second act Hate loses touch and becomes just too repetitive, didactic and overwrought for its own good.

Director Marion Potts has chosen a minimalist and metaphoric approach to this production and initially I thought she just wasn’t placing sufficient trust in the play. However, I did  come to appreciate her motives finally.

All the actors do a sterling job but the play’s denouement is just too big and messy, over stuffed with themes and implausible.

Still, Sewell always deserves a look. Even if it’s all pretty nasty stuff this is better than half the shows I saw last year and he is an Australian classic after all.

At The Malthouse Theatre Melbourne until 8 March

Love Me Tender

Final Love Me Tender Landscape website

Mutation Theatre

at Theatre Works until March 2

Tom Holloway has written some terrific plays (Beyond the Neck, Red Sky Morning), and although this recent one, Love Me Tender, does possess Holloway’s signature subversive playfulness with narrative logic, overlapping, punchy dialogue, and ambitious anti-theatrics, it just isn’t, finally, all that satisfying.

From the sexualisation of girl-children to a contemporary culture suspicious of a paternal love that ‘ought not speak its name’ to allusions of Euripides’ Iphigenia, to the catastrophic Victorian bushfires of 4 years ago, this play is a real tease but without the pay off.

Amidst a kind of sooty, post apocalyptic Australian bush set – all fire damaged and arid – a father/firefighter, a mother, a policeman and 2 narrators all appear to improvise multiple stories by way of prompts, interjections and multiple ellipses. The ‘final’ story is unclear but at its tragic heart is that of a father’s moral dilemma re his daughter (signal Iphigenia).

It could be terrific. It might be provocative. It should be disquieting. But apart from intermittent flashes of luminous, choric narration and a couple of strong, sure performances from Sarah Ogden and Nick Pelomis, Love Me Tender left me hanging out for a single coherent narrative and some good old fashioned catharsis of the classic Euripidean-kind.

When this production does occasionally manage to get-ahold of Holloway’s obtuse, bold, fragmentary text and run with it, the black humor and wry social commentary are lean-forward-in-your-chair- compelling. But director, Patrick McCarthy (he’s been spot on in the past), does not anchor this script’s potentially delicious anarchy in a secure over all vision.


Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – Review

Car - New

Yes the car actually flies and so does this show!

This an apologetically silly billy and highly entertaining musical about a beguiling, if slightly nerdy single-dad inventor (David Hobson) who, along with his two kids, (Beau Woodbridge and Lucille Le Meledo), their loving Grandpa (Peter Carol) and the perfectly ‘scrumptious’ heiress to a sweet factory (Rachel Beck), all embark on a classic Edwardian boy’s/girl’s-own adventure story. Complete with requisite chase, capture, love interest, goodies, baddies and final cathartic rescue, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is an all-round bells and (candy) whistles show.

Based on the novel by Ian Fleming (of James Bond notoriety), this production features music and lyrics by the Sherman brothers, composers of Mary Poppins although not quite as witty or memorable as those timeless Poppins songs. That said the opening night audience did burst into a spontaneous clapping accompaniment when the show’s signature song started up.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was the first film my dad took me to when I was around the same age as my 10-year-old son, who accompanied me to the show’s opening night. And he loved it. ‘It’s pretty awesome! I didn’t think it was going to be so good.’ He liked the spies from Vulgaria the best (George Kapinaris and Todd Goddard). Even though he reckoned their German accent was a ‘bit embarrassing’. Naturally, he also savored the full-on comic-operatic antics of the Baron and Baroness (Alan Brough and Jennifer Vuletic).

Directed with admirable restraint (contemporary reworkings of much-loved classics are often blasted with oh-so-clever-irony and camp), Chitty is for the most part very well sung (Hobson and Beck are particularly secure and impressive) and overall, performances are dexterous, amusing and mighty generous. Tyler Coppin does a suitably evil job as the lean, mean Childcatcher. Some of the kids in the audience actually booed when he slithered on stage.

Its huge cast, spirited choreography, hummable melodies, candy-colored design and uber-impressive flying car make this ‘a real crowd pleaser for the whole family’ as they say in the classics.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

By Ian Fleming

Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne

Opened Feb 2