Hannah Gadsby Woof!

Hannah Gadsby Woof!

Hannah Gadsby brings their new show “Woof” to Melbourne Arts Centre for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Their star has risen well and truly since her show Nanette hit Netflix in 2018. Today, they grace the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine (AU/NZ edition) with the headline “Comedy’s enfant terrible is relishing their anti-hero era”.

As a newbie, it was a wonderful introduction to Gadsby’s fast-paced, quick-witted, intensely analytic humour, which brought out belly laughs galore. Snappy asides like bullet spray on the way to the main punchlines compounded the fun. I was surrounded by pre-Nanette die-hard fans, so there was a lot of love in the house. And I can see why—Gadsby is earnest, humble, intelligent, funny, vulnerable, honest, and a truth-teller.

They’ve worked hard to be where they are now. For someone who can go for weeks without speaking (they have autism and ADHD) and who says they are bad at everything in life, including having fun, they have certainly played their cards to their advantage. They say their only skill is to talk to a room full of strangers and not feel scared. But what they choose to say has been both strategic and a personal lifeline. Nanette deconstructed comedy and social norms derived from centuries of white male dominance at a time when Australia was debating the same-sex marriage plebiscite. For this, Gadsby bared their soul, and it was raw and confronting.

Interestingly, Gadsby has tried hard, in good faith, to like Taylor Swift. It hasn’t worked. They even used her as inspiration for their 2016 show, Dogmatic. Of course, they have major differences: Gadsby has a depth of intellectual engagement with their art form and uses it to subvert and confront. Their 2023 Picasso-blasting exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, It’s Pablomatic, is a case in point alongside Nanette. However, I can’t help but see some similarities: both use the power of story-telling and self-disclosure in their work, which fosters a high level of devotion in their predominantly female fan base; both live their lives in a way that encourages their fans to be unafraid to be themselves and in return, their fans care deeply about them and want to support them. But there is a vast contrast in their lived experience of otherness and, therefore, the depth of their fight.

Hannah Gadsby Woof!

Now, Gadsby has a global voice and has just launched a new Netflix comedy show, Gender Agenda, featuring seven gender-queer comedians from around the world. Being nouveau-riche means staying in posh hotels where the concierges don’t know how to respond to questions about doing your own laundry and the bathrooms have no toilet brush. Gadsby worries about becoming a rich arsehole, but I doubt that will happen – they take a spare travel toothbrush with them to clean up after themselves when a low roughage travel diet messes with their regularity.

“Woof” is a show about the worries that lead to anxiety. If you think the ending is a bit loose, well, that is the point. There is no closure, no easy answers. What happened to all those plastic dolls called Cabbage Patch Kids from the 80s/90s? Did they end up somewhere in a “Blair Witch style croquembouche”? Will Hannah Gadsby be able to enjoy swimming with a whale on her day off? Will their brain let them remember fun times as vividly as they remember a randomly defiled Tim Tam packet left for them to clean up when working as a hotel cleaner?

Enjoy this show where your host “takes all their worries and lays them out on stage in front of a darkened room full of strangers. It’s like group therapy, but the group is the therapist”. That’s us, but we don’t feel like strangers. So now Gadsby adds us to their list of worries, too, because therapists are all “f***ed in the head.”

“Woof” is playing until April 20 at the Melbourne Arts Centre Playhouse.

This review also appears on It’s On The House. Check out more reviews at Whats The Show to see what else is on in your town.

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Melbourne Comedy Festival – Necrophilia

Melbourne Comedy Festival - Necrophilia

Don’t be fooled by this deliciously named one-act play “Necrophilia” by Aussie writer Lincoln Vickery. This tightly written dark comedy, directed by Ben Ashby, is making a return season at the 2024 Melbourne International Comedy Festival after winning Melbourne Fringe Judges Pick in October 2023. Whilst humour is derived from the awkwardly taboo subject matter, this play has a sensitive side. There are no visually disturbing scenes and the play treats all characters with respect as humans trying to cope with their bizarre situations.

The play opens in a morgue, with a sheet-covered cadaver on a trolley. The Motley Bauhaus Theatrette’s small stage and bare bricks perfectly conveyed the feeling of being in a cold basement mortuary. Darren (Declan Clifford) and Mark (Gene Efron) are in mid-conversation whilst preparing a body for viewing. The contrast between the usually unseen business of “making dead bodies look hot as shit” and the desensitised workers bickering about a “victimless crime”, especially when we realise that Darren has just confessed to feeling a rush when defecating in a certain street near his house under cover of darkness. He cleans it all up immediately, he explains, so, whilst technically a crime, no one gets hurt. He also explains the origin of the fetish – an accidental experience accompanied by unexplained pleasure that then becomes a fascination and a repeated behaviour that reinforces the rush.

These themes of fetishism and its origins and whether or not they affect others are explored within this play, and the quality of the writing really shines – there is no dull moment and lots of laughs. If you have come for the comedy, you won’t be disappointed. Vickery doesn’t miss any opportunity to bring out the hilarity of the situations in which he places the characters. For example, bumping into your boss at a sex shop, walking in on your boss dancing in a blissful moment of private surrender. However, the treatment of the underlying themes brings substance to this play.

Amanda (Gillian Mosenthal, who also produced this) is the necrophiliac and boss in question and the only character who reveals her insecurities directly to the audience. Instead of judging, we are invited to journey with her in her struggle and shame. I was impressed with the attention to psychological detail in the writing, particularly with the reveal of Amanda’s childhood trauma. Vickery has done his homework on this psychiatric condition. But there is no schmalziness here. It’s just a fact.

The minor characters shed more light on the question of whether necrophilia is a victimless crime. The recently bereaved daughter starkly contrasted with the mercenary med student who rents out cadavers to fund her studies. “Dead people are tools. I don’t care what you do”. Both characters were ably played by Joanna Halliday, who stole the scenes with her fearless performances.

However, the exploration of loneliness and the desire to connect in the face of shame draws us in. The actors have a lovely chemistry that brings the relationships to life. They really care about each other, and so do we. A developing romance between Mark and Amanda is at the heart of the narrative. But will it withstand the shame?

Come and see Necrophilia for the laughs, but you will be in grave danger of taking away a dose of heartwarming humanity.

This review also appears on It’s On The House. Check out more reviews at Whats The Show to see what else is on in your town.

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Murder Village: An Improvised Whodunnit

Murder Village: An Improvised Whodunnit

Enter a world of mystery and intrigue where the classic tales of Agatha Christie come to life in unexpected ways. This thrilling new show is back by popular demand and promises to keep you on the edge of your seat with all new improvised tales of murder and mayhem in response to audience cues.

Each performance is a unique puzzle crafted live before your eyes. It’s up to you to piece together the clues and guess the murderer before the amateur sleuth does. With an ever-changing storyline and an unpredictable cast of characters, this show will keep you guessing until the end.

So, do you want to visit the quaint little post-war English town called Murder Village? It’s open to you and 75 other tourists for an hour every night except Mondays for the next four weeks until April 21 for the duration of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Will someone die? Will they have been… um… murdered? With a candlestick or a rope? Will they have been at the centre of an intriguing conflict involving several suspects who all have a motive? Will the detective be assisted by an amateur sleuth who solves the mystery despite the red herring?

I would say probably not a candlestick or a rope (sorry, Cluedo fans) because you and the 75 other tourists will actually get to suggest the weapon in question, and I’m sure you are all much more imaginative than that. Take your phone because if you scan the QR code provided, you can also virtually vote on who the victim and the murderer will be (you have a choice of four) and can suggest the nature of the village event (is it always a fundraiser?) preceding the murder, as well as the clue that the case rests upon.

So, let me tell you a bit about my excursion to the village on opening night. As I climbed the many stairs and entered deeper and higher into the iconic venue, which is the Butterfly Club, for the first time, I found myself waiting alongside the other tourists in a dimly lit narrow lounge filled with knick-knacks, portraits, small flickering TV, mirror – the quirky otherness was the perfect transition from reality to the escapism that is Murder Village. The narrow theatre worked perfectly, with tiers that ensured there were no bad views.

Tonight’s host was Miss Artemis Martin (Louise Fitzhardinge), our shrewd whodunnit novelist (Agatha?) and our MC/narrator/unimaginative police officer was Detective Inspector Owen Gullet (David Massingham). We were introduced to Lady Clarissa Spalding (Candice D’Arcy), an excessively wealthy widow and best friend of Marion Kind (Amanda Buckley), a boisterous wartime entertainer.

Eddy (not Teddy) Brewster (Rik Brown), an Earl of Wooster, has bought the rights to Marion’s songs so that only he will profit whenever she performs, leaving her destitute. His respectable butler, Eames Chair (Rhys Auteri), has tarred feathered himself and picked up broken glass with his bare hands to serve his master. Eddy dies on a serving platter with a sharp edge that accidentally, on purpose, severs his carotid in a hilarious death scene. True to the genre, all three suspects are hiding something, but Artemis’s intellect uncovers Lady Clarissa as the murderer, and we are privy to her confession enacted as a flashback.

The population of Murder Village was 84, but now that Eddy is dead and Lady Clarissa is put away, there are now 82 possible people left to entertain you when you visit. So, the plot will be completely different based on your input. If you are like me, you will be so carried away by the fun energy of the performances you’ll have to remind yourself that the actors didn’t know the details of the plot beforehand – it all just unfolds before them, as it does for us. Musician Terrence Mudwater Junior (Jaron Why) improvised the background music on the keyboard (piano/strings sound). This underscored the action so well without drawing undue attention to itself that I had to remind myself someone was playing.

So, enjoy your excursion to Murder Village! I know I did.

This review also appears on It’s On The House. Check out more reviews at Whats The Show to see what else is on in your town.

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The King’s Singers

The Kings Singers

The King’s Singers (KS) is a classical music supergroup with two Grammys and one Emmy that performs over 100 concerts per season all over the world. If you haven’t heard of them, then open your ears!

This group have been around since 1968 and is steeped in the English choral tradition of King’s College Cambridge, but brings those high precision vocal and ensemble skills to an eclectic range of styles from avant-garde to Renaissance to contemporary pop.

The line-up has changed over the years, but the quality and versatility of the group have not. Jonathon Howard (bass) has been a member for 13 years, and Christopher Bruerton (baritone) for 11 years. Chris is from NZ, and don’t we Aussies love to embrace Kiwis who make the international stage! Patrick Dunachie and Edward Button sing countertenor (the male equivalent of the soprano range), Julian Gregory, tenor, and Nick Ashby, baritone.

The current lineup has been stable for four years, and what a busy four years it has been! They have released 11 albums since 2019 and also launched their Global Foundation, which seeks to reach out to community singers and choirs through free workshops and online sing-along videos. The foundation also nurtures new composers through competitions, workshops, and commissions and brings in mentors such as Joe Hisaishi and Ola Gjeilo.

Their website says, “Underpinning all this work is the fundamental belief that the act of singing together is beneficial, both individually and also for the societies in which we live. In today’s ever-more fractured world, we feel it’s more important than ever.”

The King's Singers

The album that showcases songs that bind people together in grief, in celebration, or when fighting for a cause is “Finding Harmony”(2020) and their Melbourne Recital Centre concert (19 March, 2024) opened with four songs from this album, including This Little Light of Mine and If I Can Help Somebody from the Civil Rights Movement in the USA.

Three albums were released in 2023 (I told you they were busy!), and we were treated to highlights from each. ”Tom + Will – Weelkes & Byrd: 400 Years” featured Renaissance psalms and madrigals, “Wonderland” featured avant-garde musical storytelling with Georgy Ligeti’s Nonsense Madrigals based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland stories, and “When You Wish Upon a Star” is a Disney album but with arrangements commissioned from the likes of John Rutter, Toby Young and Alexander L’Estrange.

However, it was the Australian ties that brought the experience close to our hearts. During the tour that placed the King’s Singers on the international stage in 1972, they visited 30 different Australian cities and sang a song they had commissioned from Australian composer Malcolm Williamson. This song “The Musicians of Bremen” was recorded for Wonderland (2023) and really shined in performance with each singer taking on a character in the story (donkey, dog, cat, rooster, and two would-be thieves).

Derek Bogle’s song ‘’And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” always brings me to tears but the dissonance between the bare-faced lyrics (about the ANZAC veteran returning from war without legs and asking the question why) and the light musical setting was even more poignant due to beauty of the arrangement and the softly caressing warm velvety tones that is the King’s Singer’s signature sound.

If a choir nerd friend brought you, there was more than enough familiar music to keep you happy: from Mexican mariachi band to Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Beatles and even Horses by Aussie Daryl Braithwaite, now a pop music favourite. They were pleased to tell us that the Melbourne Recital Centre is one of their favourite venues in the whole world and gave us two encores – a hilarious Flight of the Bumblebee (complete with an imagined bee making a nuisance of itself) and then I Still Call Australia Home. What’s not to like!

Finally, to choir nerds—did you know that Timothy Wayne-Wright, ex-KS, now lives in NZ and visits Australia regularly? He will be leading professional development workshops for singers and conductors at UKARIA A Capella Academy, Adelaide, in June 2024, with VOCES8 as Ensemble in Residence. Get on it if you can!

This review also appears on It’s On The House, and check out more reviews at Dark Stories Theatre to see what else is on in your town.

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