In the opening scene of Lally Katz’s semi-autobiographical play Atlantis, Lally confides in her boyfriend at the time, Dave, about an important dream she had involving a panther, friendship, and growing up in Miami. Dave reluctantly listens, and when Lally confronts him about not being interested in her story, Dave casually remarks that he isn’t. I confess I found it difficult to engage with her story, too.

The biggest problem lay at the core of the stage play, with a heavy emphasis on narrating events occurring on stage, making it difficult to settle down and immerse myself in a scene. After half an hour of ongoing narration, I had no idea where the story was meant to be going or why I should be caring. Lally was doing stuff while telling us about doing that stuff and relying too heavily on ‘this is a true story’, but maybe I’m being unfair.

I could see where the dialogue and narration could have used a more delicate touch. Often, the story may have worked better at a different pace or delivered more reflectively and thoughtfully. Georgia Britt, to her credit, played Lally with energy and enthusiasm. But Lally (not Britt) comes across as a hyperactive, overbearing, self-indulgent narcissist obsessed with marriage, babies, and curses. Lally is quirky, optimistic, and energetic almost all the time, which, to my mind, distracts us from the deeper character arc of her story.

Many scenes suffered pacing issues, sometimes seeming to be a race to get through a scene as fast as possible, with offbeat timing, pace, and/or control.

The most interesting character was Electra, played superbly by Tamara Foglia Castañeda, but felt her efforts were diluted because there was no humorous contrast between her rapid-fire New York Latino delivery and that of rapid-fire, overly enthusiastic about everything Lally. Many of the characters came across as manic. Some scenes would have been far more emotional, interesting, and impactful if the play had slowed down and become more intimate.

The set itself and the technical delivery were impressive. Two single panels and a few props were used to create a range of environments, from apartments to streets, nightclubs, and churches. Each panel also had chalkboard windows that would open up to serve as bars, windows, reception desks and even a DJ booth. I was, however, confused as to why place names were written on the chalkboards, like subtitles in a movie, when we switched locations. There was so much potential there to use the chalkboards for more than place names.

The cast did a great job switching between their multiple characters, which came across more as caricatures to me. The cast did what they could, but unfortunately, much of their time, effort, and energy fell flat on occasion.

The story is that of the playwright, and the characters are based on real people. My favourite moments revolved around Electra’s dog. The second was an in-joke about a caricature the same performer had played earlier. And the third was the sex scene. I was genuinely impressed and amused by the creativity of the sex scene between Lally and Diego.

Alyona Popova genuinely entertained me in the background of a scene between Lally and an Uber driver. With each driving scene, a spare actor in the background runs a toy car around the inside of a window frame. During Lally’s final journey to Miami, given the length of the journey represented, Popova used the entire backdrop and moved with a slow, purposeful grace. It was a slow-motion dance, really, and genuinely entertaining.

An interaction with a New York Cabbie helped introduce us to the theme of Atlantis. References included global warming, finding oneself, holding on to the past, yearning, loneliness, the challenges of womanhood, growing up, and finding love.

These are themes I normally connect with. I appreciate being drawn into the characters’ feelings and emotions, but the play goes so fast that I found investing in Lally and her struggles challenging. And that’s a shame. To be fair, many in the audience were noisy and laughing out loud—a lot. So it just might be that Lally and I just didn’t connect with each other on this occasion.

Atlantis is playing at the New Theatre in Newtown until the 13th of April, 2024.

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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OZ Acts As You Like it

OZ Acts As You Like it

OZActs’ rendition of William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” at the Williamstown Botanic Gardens provided an accessible and high-quality theatrical experience.

Despite rain earlier in the day, the setting of the Botanic Gardens provided a perfect backdrop. The atmosphere outside the performance space was immediately immersive, with people dressed in period costumes milling about, playing music, and interacting with the audience before the show commenced.

One of the highlights of the production was Rosalind’s portrayal, whose expressive movements and charismatic presence captivated the audience from the start. Touchstone (the court Jester) also stood out, entertaining the crowd before the show and during intervals with his witty antics. He even indulged in playful banter with the audience, encouraging them to throw fruit at him.

Despite the inherent complexity of Shakespearean language, the play was easy to follow, pleasing the wide audience, which included many family members of the cast (which Touchstone pointed out to the audience) and children. Song interludes helped set the scenes, and classic lines such as “all the world’s a stage” were delivered poignantly, resonating with the audience.

The chemistry between cousins Rosalind and Celia was another standout aspect of the performance, particularly in scenes involving scheming and plotting. The actors delivered every line with confidence, and the quick costume changes between characters were executed impressively, adding to the dynamic nature of the production (noting that the whole production was outdoors – so there was no traditional dressing room!).

The side and background characters added layers of comedy to the play, contributing to its light-hearted and comic tone. Despite this, the production skillfully balanced the humour with the darker subject matter, reminding the audience of the characters’ banishment by the Duke.

The outdoor setting was utilized to its fullest potential, with the production cleverly using the space. For example, during a scene where a character hangs love poems about Rosalind, blank scrolls are hung on tree branches, enhancing the immersive experience.

The costumes were exemplary period pieces, with each outfit contributing to the characters’ disguises and identities. From the intricate details to the versatility of accents and mannerisms, the costumes added depth to the characters and the overall narrative.

The production maintained a high energy level throughout despite the challenges of staging an outdoor play in unpredictable weather conditions. Moments such as Rosalind fainting and needing to be carried (“Counterfeit, I assure you”) provided memorable highlights, showcasing the actors’ commitment to their roles.

Overall, OZActs’ “As You Like It” production at Williamstown Botanic Gardens was a delightful rendition of Shakespeare’s timeless classic.

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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Comedy Roulette – Take The Gamble

Comedy Roulette

Down one of Melbourne’s scenic laneways on a mellow Wednesday night in Theory bar, Comedy Roulette was about to begin. Hanging plants and disco balls adorned the booked-out show, which was filled with enthusiastic first-time attendees.

The premise was simple and clever – as our two bubbly, enigmatic hosts, Kru Harale and Olga Loitsenko, explained to us – behind the comedians on stage, a large spinning wheel was to be projected, containing a wide variety of prompts from “what Sydney hates about Melbourne”’ (which Hannah Sainty nailed – the good-looking people, and the good coffee) to “self-help titles that won’t sell”.

The wheel would begin to spin when the audience chanted, “Spin…that…wheel!”. The line-up of comedians rotates per show (much like the wheel itself), with this show featuring Suren Jayemanne, Diana Nguyen, Charlie Lewin, Hannah Sainty, Henry Yan, Zach Riley, Chris Nguyen, Aarti Vincent, Oliver Coleman, and the two fabulous hosts. A callout of “Who in the audience likes gambling?!” was met with a chuckle, and the games had begun – with the wheel’s prompts being a surprise to the comedians.

The show kicked off with Olga bantering with the front row and introducing the audience to a winning Estonian Eurovision song (and hilariously noting how widely Eurovision had been expanded for Australia even to be included).

Comedy Roulette

Oliver then made the audience giggle with his ‘enlightened’ persona, complaining about people meditating in public in Coburg. The laughs of the audience were magnified at various times throughout the night when jokes featured familiar Melbourne locations and tropes – later, the famously unclean Flinders Street Railway Station toilets would be the butt of a joke.

The comics employed various ways of engaging with the audience to spin the supposedly “voice-activated” wheel throughout the night, including stating “, We are a cult, and we must chant!”. Charlie didn’t miss a beat when the wheel had a momentary technical delay – he casually bantered with the audience like they were old friends, giving some sage words of wisdom – when your boomer Dad cracks it at one of your siblings – take that as an opportunity to add in your own personal crises to the mix.

After a quick drink break, the comedy took a more introspective turn, with topics ranging from Hannah’s reflections on the absurdities of health food shops to Suren’s thoughts on the complexities of religion, family dynamics, and the true crime genre (which Chris noted he loved listening to, but not partaking in). I laughed particularly hard at Zach’s recollection of a horrible past job in an unsanitary pub kitchen and when an audience member asked Aarti about her ‘worst Tinder date’, as she dryly explained that she was married before Tinder was even invented.

Henry charmed the audience with his awkward and endearing persona and stories. Diana’s candid anecdote about her mother’s horrified reaction to a previous comedy show entitled ‘Naked’ ended Comedy Roulette on a high, leaving the audience in stitches with her unabashed humour.

Throughout the night, each of the 11 comedians delivered an audience-engaging set of observant, clever, and witty jokes—the perfect mix of pre-prepared stand-up material and fast-paced improvisation. Comedy Roulette is a gateway drug to the upcoming Melbourne International Comedy Festival, in which many of the aforementioned comics will be performing. Take a gamble if you dare, as this is a room full of comedians to watch.

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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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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