HOT: Where the Wild Things Sing by Black Hole Theatre, Summersalt Outdoor Arts Festival 2015, Southbank

where the wild things sing

Summersalt is Melbourne newest arts festival centred around Southbank’s Dodds Street/Sturt Street area, with five weekends of art, dance, music and theatre in February.

I bought tickets to ‘Where the Wild Things Sing’ which was billed as an ‘urban safari through the streets of Southbank where opera and puppetry collide in an adventure full of surprises’.

The hour performance was certainly a surprising experience, not least of which it introduced me to some beautiful street art and buildings in an area that I’ve often visited but never really explored fully.

where the wild things sing

There were about 30 adults and children on our family-friendly performance of the show and I very much enjoyed an hour of kookiness and unexpected encounters accompanied by some beautiful singing. The evening (non-family-friendly) performances are apparently ‘naughtier’ with adult themes and are for people 15+ years.

The 60 minute experience was led by raconteur Bernard Caleo who, along with series of mermaids, guided the group to a series of intimate performances in unexpected places.

where the wild things sing

where the wild things sing

where the wild things sing

I won’t reveal too much but the roll call included a gorilla, giant maggots barbecuing, a panda reading a pamphlet, tiny surreal sculptures, a bed-bug ridden beardy man and some crazed synchro swimming in a tub.

where the wild things sing

where the wild things sing

where the wild things sing

The whole surreal experience made me laugh, kept me fascinated and made me look at my surroundings in a new light.

where the wild things sing

Tickets are $5 from Melbourne Recital Centre and numbers are strictly limited for their last performances on Friday 20 February and Saturday 21 February.

Where the Wild Things Sing by Black Hole Theatre, Summersalt Outdoor Arts Festival 2015, Southbank 

Family performance Sat 21 Feb 3pm

Evening Performances (for 15+ years
, adult themes) Fri 20 Feb 8.30pm

Tickets $5 each. 

HOT: Legally Blonde the Musical, Princess Theatre, 163 Spring St, Melbourne

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Confession: I love musicals.

My normally fine-tuned antennae for excessive sequins, tackiness and over-the-top-ness is wound right down when there’s two hours of singing, high kicks and jazz hands on stage. Like amusements parks, musicals are almost guaranteed fun!

Legally Blonde the Musical is an adaptation of the fabulous feel-good flick made famous by Reese Witherspoon over 10 years ago. When it came out I didn’t think I’d like the film but my law school buddies dragged me along and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the story of Elle Woods, cheery underdog and sweet as candy floss fish-out-of-water at Harvard Law School.

I was invited to see the musical and it has a very similar feeling to the film – there’s a lot of pink, a lot of cheesy girlishness and a lot of potential for things to fall on the too-silly-to-care side. But the production pulls it back from being vapid and silly to make Legally Blonde the Musical a very enjoyable, witty, laugh-out-loud show, with sight gags like the recurring UPS guy Kyle and a very non-PC number entitled Is He Gay, Or European?. It’s been nominated for eight Helpmann Awards, including Best Musical, Best Choreography, Best Male Actor, Best Female Actor.

There are great performances from all the cast, including Lucy Durack as Elle Woods. She’s super-perky but not annoyingly so and you really want her to come out on top even though she’s a spoilt sorority beach chick from Malibu. David Harris plays the daggy but smart Emmett endearingly and their blossoming love affair is believable. Rob Mills as her ex-boyfriend Warner is a bit of a nothing character by comparison, though I overheard one grandma in the audience exclaim ‘He’s HOT!’ when he first appeared.

I actually thought the best performance came from supporting actress Helen Dallimore as Paulette, the hairdresser that Elle befriends – she displayed impressive singing, dancing and comedic timing. Oh – and there’s some super cute canines who come and go to ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the audience.

In addition, my favourite staging was some whiz-bang choreography at the beginning of the second act involving skipping ropes and some killer abs by Erika Heynatz playing fitness queen on trial Brooke Wyndham. No one tripped, the unison was perfect and everyone sang, danced and skipped without any sign of puffing. Amazing.

Of course the good guys win, the bad guys lose out and justice prevails. Everyone on stage looked like they were having a great time and their joy is infectious. You’ll leave the theatre smiling and laughing and days later I’m still humming ‘Omigod, you guys!’.

Legally Blonde the Musical is closing its Australian tour on 14 July so you only have 2 weeks to see it. All remaining tickets are now $69.90 – just click on the Ticketmaster link and enter the password: FAREWELL.

Summer Season at Arts Centre Melbourne – Giveaway!

Hello summer!

Arts Centre Melbourne has a fantastic season of events lined up for the summer and I have 2 x double passes to give away for one of their highlight performances.

Blaze, an amazing street dance concert which premiered in London’s West End featuring 12 of the best streetdancers and breakers in the world, against a digital backdrop designed by Es Devlin, designer for Kanye West, Mika, Take That, Pet Shop Boys and Lady Gaga. On BLAZE performance days, the public spaces in and around Hamer Hall will also have free music, dance and street art performances as part of the Bring It! program. The 2 x double passes are for the performance on Wednesday 23 January 8pm.

To win all you have to do is leave a comment below. The two winners will be randomly selected and announced on Monday 14 January. Good luck!

PS if you’re a parent and want to go into the draw for cultural school holiday events then hop onto my family/parenting blog TOT: HOT OR NOT for a series of giveaways in the the next week.

The winners are Angelique and Ashley – an email has been sent to you both!

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Lipsynch by Robert Lepage Giveaway

Theatre-nerds, this giveaway is for you.

The Arts Centre is hosting the exclusive Australian season of Robert Lepage’s epic nine-hour production Lipsynch. Canadian Lepage is one of the world’s foremost theatre directors and bringing his play to Melbourne is quite a coup. I missed out on tickets when it played in London in 2008 but here’s a review of the show in The Independent – ‘mandatory viewing’ they say.

Lipsynch will run in the newly unveiled Arts Centre from August 4 to 12, taking audiences on a journey that spans nine lives and seven decades from from war-torn Vienna to pre-revolutionary Nicaragua.

Giveaway! Thanks to Arts Centre Melbourne I have an A-Reserve double pass to Lipsynch (valued at over $300) for the Saturday 4 August 1pm performance to give away. To win all you have to do is leave a comment and the winner will be randomly drawn on Friday 27 July. Good luck!

Lipsynch by Robert Lepage, Arts Centre Melbourne 4-12 August

Complete performance in one day:
Saturday 4 August, 1pm
Sunday 5 August, 1pm
Saturday 11 August, 1pm
Sunday 12 August, 1pm

Complete performance split across three nights:
Part 1: Tuesday 7 August, 7pm
Part 2: Wednesday 8 August, 7pm
Part 3: Thursday 9 August, 7pm

And the winner of the Melbourne Museum Smartbar double pass is Erin and the Lipsynch double pass is Anne. I’ll be in touch soon!

Next Wave Festival 2012 – Day Pass Giveaway!

I’ve been a fan of Next Wave Festival since I volunteered to man a Docklands shipping container/arts space for the festival years ago.

Well, Next Wave Festival 2012 opens next Saturday (19-27 May) and this year they’re running a bit of an experiment to help you discover a new way of experiencing an arts festival.

With a festival Day Pass you can spend a day with a series of works that explores a theme relevant to our contemporary world,  from gender politics to climate change, fantastic imaginary worlds to our ability to perceive the truth. The day starts with discussions the Breakfast Club, a discussion about how the world and art collide over breakfast at the Wheeler Centre, before setting off on an adventure experienced through visual art, performance, dance, live art and more – with plenty of stop-overs for food, drinks and discussion.

Tours are led by an informed art guide and audiences will be taken into Melbourne’s most interesting places, to view the some of Australia’s most interesting artists.

Plus each Day Pass holder will receive some cool goodies with their pass – a Crumpler Tuft water-resistant pouch, a myki filled with enough credit to get you around from show to show (then keep it and top it up for everyday use!) and discounts at the tastiest spots in North Melbourne to help you refuel between shows, such as Grigons & OrrToastOld Melbourne CafeSensible Sandwich and more.

Day Passes start are $20-$56 (plus booking fee) and there’s a different pass for each day of the festival.  You can also check out other Next Wave Festival events at http://www.nextwave.org.au

Giveaway! Thanks to Next Wave Festival I have a Double Day Pass for Tuesday 22 May…totally worth chucking a sickie for! To win all you have to do is a leave a comment below and the winner will be drawn next Friday 18 May. Good luck!

And the winner of the double pass to Melbourne Museum’s The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia is…Theresa! Your prize will be posted out to you.

HOT: Red, Melbourne Theatre Company, Sumner Theatre, 140 Southbank Blvd, Southbank

I am not a fan of Mark Rothko.

However, there is a Rothko print hanging in my loungeroom because RM is a fan of Rothko. Which is also how we came to be in the audience for Red, Melbourne Theatre Company‘s production of the Tony award winning play by John Logan with Colin Friels starring as Rothko.

The construct is simple – the set is fixed as Rothko’s Manhattan studio in the 1950s and the play is a two-hander between Mark Rothko and his hapless young assistant. The dialogue (as there’s not much in the way of action) takes place against the work-in-progress backdrops of one of the most famous modern art commissions, murals for the Seagram’s Four Season’s restaurant.

Rothko is famous and rich and concerned with becoming an irrelevant old-timer in the face of Pop Art knocking Abstract Expressionism off the art pedestal. The characters discuss, yell and fight about art vs commercialism, how art should speak to viewers, Rothko’s disdain for the buyers of his art vs him ambition and the horrors of natural light. Rothko fans will be familiar with these views from his book The  Artist’s Reality.

Colin Friels and André de Vanny do an excellent job with the ideas-rich text. There’s no real plot, other than the progress of these of the Seagram landscapes, so it requires concentration from the actors and the audience to make sense of the flitting from one concept to another. That’s not to say that there is no structure – it’s a very tightly written piece which fits a lot of provocative thoughts into 90 minutes (no interval).

We all know how this story ends. Rothko decides to reject the Seagram’s commission and to protect the paintings. And I’ve seen some of these paintings in their monumental glory, lit as Rothko intended them – in a dark, somber environment, not hung in a noisy, moneyed restaurant. It’s the only piece of Rothko’s art that I actually like – and watching Red is an enjoyable way to somewhat understand the mind of this famous artist.

For more photos from the production check out MTC’s Flickr stream.

RedMelbourne Theatre Company, Sumner Theatre, 140 Southbank Blvd, Southbank
Season Dates 26 March to 5 May 2012

 

HOT: My Mexican Cousin, Corner Sturt St and Southbank Boulevard, Southbank

Finally the Arts Precinct has a decent place to eat, in the form of My Mexican Cousin.

The all-day restaurant is part of the Melbourne Recital Centre and is a joint project between Savatore Malatesta (St Ali, Plantation)  and Jerome Borazio (The Resurrection, Ponyfish Island). It’s named after St Ali‘s most famous breakfast dish ‘My Mexican Cousin’, so don’t be confused into thinking that there’ll be Mexican food involved in the neo-Creole menu.

I was attending the MusicPlay concerts at the Melbourne Recital Centre for a couple of days in a row so took the opportunity to try most of the typewritten one page lunch menu with Gourmet Chick. It is mostly shared food and comes in different portion sizes, so pre-show you can go easy on the servings and post-show you can satisfy your growling stomach.

I found the food to be a bit hit-and-miss. I can’t vouch for the menu’s authenticity as I’ve never eaten much Creole, so I’m going purely by flavour and texture.  Sometimes things that sounded great on paper didn’t emerge from the kitchen as expected and sometimes blandly described dishes were interesting, original and delicious.

Case in point – Praline bacon ($6) sounded good in theory but not so good in practice. It was like really over-dried beef jerky and we left most of the plate untouched.

The scallop ceviche ($5.50) was not the expected slices of scallop but whole medallions partially pickled. Not sure how it’s possible to ‘cook’ a thick scallop in lime juice, so consider it more of a scallop sashimi with some spicy gazpacho dressing. Worth a repeat visit.

The dirty rice was a Creole-style fried rice ($12), a tasty but oily mixture of rice, ground pork and Creole seasoning which with a bit of research apparently consists of cayenne, paprika, oregano, onion, garlic and thyme.

Make sure you don’t miss the po’boy, a classic New Orleans sandwich. It comes in two sizes ($7 and $14) and half is enough if you want to try other things. It’s a small sub spread with mayonnaise and a seafood stock reduction and piled with juicy fried king prawns and lettuce leaves. A quick and filling meal if the curtain is being raised soon and not something that’s going to make you burp during interval.

For dessert the beignets looked like appetising balls of fried dough but on taking a bite Gourmet Chick suspected that they had been reheated rather than freshly fried. She used to work at a servo cooking doughnuts so she should know! They lacked the tongue-searing just-fried sizzle and the crunchy exterior of a fresh doughnut. I personally didn’t care much for the accompanying sauces either.

On a second visit I had the gumbo and crab egg roll. Again, one hit, one miss. Like the scallop ceviche, the crab egg roll ($12) was a delicate dish, beautifully presented on a narrow platter, served cold, and contained big shreds of crab meat mixed with aioli, Creole seasoning and wrapped in an omelette. Really delicious, especially in hot weather.

On the other hand, the gumbo had the slightly gluey mouthfeel of a lot of cornflour or potato thickener in its base. A cheap stomach-filler nevertheless, as a half serve of gumbo ($7) is all you need for one person.

My coffee-drinking friend who lives nearby assures me the coffee is excellent (as you’d expect from the St Ali stable) and the staff are super-friendly.

My advice for dining at My Mexican Cousin is to select from  the menu carefully (if you are inclined, read the menu’s Creole-pedia for an explanation of the abbreviated codes next to the dishes). If you end up with more misses than hits at least the prices will be reasonable and there’s really no better option for pre or post-theatre dining close by.

My Mexican Cousin, Corner Sturt St and Southbank Boulevard, Southbank +61 3 9686 3389
Mon 7am – 4pm
Tues – Fri 7 till late
Weekends 8am till late


View MEL: HOT OR NOT in a larger map

My Mexican Cousin on Urbanspoon

NOT: Moth, Malthouse Theatre, 113 Sturt St, Southbank

Being a regular theatre-goer, I’ve been a subscriber of the email newsletter for Theatre Alive for years. It’s an Arts Victoria website which provides information on Melbourne’s independent theatre scene and it’s a great way to discover new dance, theatre and comedy shows.

So I was quite thrilled when they contacted me to see whether I’d be interested in reviewing a show for their new review section – an area where you can submit short reviews of shows (listed on Theatre Alive) along with a small selection of audience vox pops. Having a look at the many shows listed on Theatre Alive, my pick was Moth at the Malthouse Theatre.

It came with high praise and high expectations – ‘Playwright Declan Greene’s startling new play won the Malcolm Robertson Prize and was shortlisted for the Victorian Premiere’s Literary Award. After sell-out seasons for Malthouse Theatre and Sydney Opera House in 2010, this coproduction with Arena Theatre Company returns by popular demand.’ My friend IW and I joined the Saturday night crowd for a performance during the opening week which appeared to be close to selling out.

The small stage of the Beckett Theatre was draped in a dirty-brown carpet which appeared to have been slashed in various places, seeping a dim light into the darkness. Two figures appeared and the action began, with an unusual story unfolding with tangents on bullying, mental illness and estactic religious visions.

Thomas Conroy and Sarah Ogden played the two main characters, teenagers Sebastian and Clarissa, and they were convincing in their portrayal of all the awkwardness, edginess and freakiness of being a teenager and an outsider. The two actors also played every other character in the play and their acting craft was commendable as they switched seamlessly between clearly delineated characters through only a slight change in tone and stance.

However, the play was hard going. It was only just over an hour long but I had trouble staying awake at certain times. This is despite the fact that the action on stage was pitched mostly at a very loud, shouty and anxiety-creating level. Maybe that was the problem – it was almost monotonous in its intensity. It’s hard to say whether it was the writing or the direction that lacked the necessary light and shade, but while IW and I both felt a bit battered as we left the building, neither of us felt that we gained much insight from the experience. And let’s just say that in our adolescence we were both outsiders in some way, so I would have expected to really relate to the themes of the play.

While IW and I were in firm agreement about the NOT, I fully expect others to disagree. At the end of the performance people around us gave enthusiastic applause, even standing ovations. IW and I looked at each other and asked ‘what did we miss?’.

This review also appears on Theatre Alive’s review section.

Giveaway: Equinox, a mystical circus adventure

What better way to start the working week than by giving away more stuff! This is a giveaway for theatre/circus-loving folk – I’d be going too except that baby is ready to pop any time now!

Equinox is a new show by Melbourne’s Retina Productions featuring National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) alumni which is running for a limited season at North Melbourne’s Meat Market from February 9 to 12.

The 65 minute show involves aerial ballet, acrobatics and contortionism and is a journey through history’s most significant times starting with Ancient Egypt and taking in Ancient China, 50s New York and inspired imaginings of a new era 2012.

Tickets are on sale online at OzTix Ph 1300 762 545 and OzTix Retail Outlets. And for one lucky reader I have two tickets for the opening night performance of Equinox on Wednesday 9 February 7:30pm! All you have to do is leave a comment below and the winner will be drawn randomly and announced tomorrow.

Update 8 February: Thanks for all your entries! The Kitchenaid of Fortune has picked not one, but THREE winners thanks to the generosity of Retina Productions – Alissa, Kate and Teeo, you each receive a pair of tickets for the opening night performance of Equinox.

HOT Chat: Owen Thomas of Hipside Guides

I liked the idea of Hipside Guides as soon as I heard about them – a city guide written by a local to help visitors and locals find the the cool, hidden places of Melbourne. Kind of like MEL: HOT OR NOT, in map form! Today’s HOT Chat is with Owen Thomas of Hipside Guides – thanks Owen!

Owen, tell me a bit more about your background and how you came to start Hipside Guides?

I’m a relative newcomer to Melbourne, originally coming from London. I married an Australian and we moved here four years ago. One of the first things I looked for when we arrived (after an umbrella and sunglasses) was a guidemap, but none of the ones available met my requirements. So I decided to create my own.

It’s been a really fun way to get to know my new home city and I’m hoping it will also help other visitors and settlers, as well as any locals who want to explore beyond their usual neighbourhoods. It’s easy to take a place for granted when you’ve lived in it all your life, so a fresh perspective can never hurt.

In my previous life, I was a programmer and artist working on computer games, but strangely, map-making does seem to run in the family. One of my father’s first jobs was analysing aerial photographs for the air force and my brother is also a cartographer, mapping everything from wildlife to landmines.

What makes Hipside Guides different from other tourist maps or guides available about Melbourne?

There are mainly excellent books on Melbourne, but these days, who really has the time to read them? A good guidemap can give you an overview of a city in a fraction of the time and you also get a better impression of how everything fits together.

The Hipside Guides Melbourne Guidemap has a slightly hand-drawn look, making it visually very different from other maps that are available, but I’d say the main distinction is in its scope and level of detail. Most tourist maps cover just the CBD or a specific suburb, and don’t actually tell you much more than the location of the major museums and landmarks. At best, a few provide superficial ‘top ten’ type lists of the most popular bars, shops and restaurants. And of course, the free maps are either sponsored by the featured businesses or by local government, which has to affect impartiality to some degree.

The Hipside Guides Melbourne Guidemap covers the CBD, as well as a large part of the surrounding area. It features over 350 businesses and institutions, selected purely on merit. Alongside the usual, well-known destinations, I’ve made a point of including as many of the smaller, quirkier places as possible.

This isn’t a guidemap just about shopping and dining. Melbourne has a really fascinating history, which is clearly visible in its architecture and public artworks, so I’ve picked out the better examples and peppered the map with interesting facts, anecdotes and background stories.

With all its laneway hidey-holes, Melbourne is a city which really rewards those with the curiosity to explore, and that’s something I’ve tried to reflect in the guidemap. The intention was to create a deliberately sprawling and information-overloaded map, designed to be pored over and explored just like the city itself.

There are a lot of places on the map! How did you go about selecting which places to include in your guide?

I began with lots and lots and lots of walking. Then I walked some more. In Melbourne, you have to explore even the grottiest of laneways, because they often contain the best surprises. I try to never pass an open doorway or a shop without exploring inside and I’m sure I’ve sampled far more drinks and meals than is probably healthy. Yes, it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it!

I’ve looked for places that are exceptional or at least unusual. It’s easy to forgive a few rough edges if a place has a unique charm or is offering something out of the ordinary.

Of course, all guides are ultimately subjective, but I’ve done my best to keep its appeal as broad as possible. It isn’t a guide just for tourists or hipsters or any other single group, but for anyone who wants to get an understanding of the city as a whole. I personally may have no interest in poetry bookshops (Collected Works) or spice merchants (Gewürzhaus), but they’re all part of what makes up Melbourne and I find it wonderful that such places exist.

What has been the most challenging thing you’ve faced in starting up your own business? What advice would you give to a small business owner?

I think any independent publisher will tell you that one of the biggest challenges is getting exposure, so opportunities like this interview are really important.

Getting distribution into shops is also difficult, but at least people are getting more used to buying over the internet these days (you can get your copy from www.hipsideguides.com for $12.95 including free delivery).

As for advice to other business owners, I don’t think I’m qualified to give any just yet. Ask me again when I’ve sold my first million!

What are your next plans for Hipside Guides?

As soon as time allows, I want to expand the Hipside Guides website with more interactive features, more updates and maybe even a blog. And, in the long run, I’d like to apply Hipside Guides to other cities.

Finally, where are your HOT places to visit or things to do in Melbourne – maybe an entry that couldn’t fit into Hipside Guides?

The Butterfly Club is one of my favourite spots (204 Bank Street, South Melbourne +61 3 9690 2000). It’s a great little cabaret venue, but it’s also worth visiting just for a drink. From the outside it’s just another respectable-looking old house, but when you venture inside you find every available surface jam-packed with super-kitsch memorabilia. It’s one of the few places in Melbourne that can make even Madame Brussels look a bit on the timid side.

As far as shops go, Lost and Found is hard to beat (12 Smith St, Collingwood +61 3 9419 4477). It’s a real treasure trove of retro clothes, furniture, art and bric-a-brac. It’s a huge place – more of an indoor market than an individual store really – and it’s easy to lose a few hours searching through the all the racks and piles. You do tend to feel your age, though, when you discover your old toys in a vintage store.

One place that I couldn’t quite squeeze on to the map was New York Tomato (24/2-6 New St, Richmond +61 3 9429 0505). It’s a fantastic café, but it tends to be forgotten because it’s a little out of the way and simply because it’s no longer the new kid on the block.

If you really want to impress an overseas visitor, though, just take them to see the flying fox colony at the Bellbird Picnic Area in Yarra Bend Park. Australians barely notice their own wildlife, but to many foreigners a bat is a rare, mouse-sized creature that flits past in the dark and is gone, so the sight of 10,000 monster bats hanging out in broad daylight is quite mind-blowing.