March: Insurging Through My Top Five Cinderellas

Posts, The Other Movie Project

This installment in The Other Movie Project blog is a bit late and I’m sorry to have kept you waiting, but let’s kick on and insurge through the new movies showing in March that were not about white men!

1. Chappie

I don’t know what to make of this movie. Its sentimentality is at times sickening, but its handling of serious themes is also weirdly flippant. And the ending does not feel earned at all.

Dev Patel is wonderful as always, and I look forward to telling him so during our inevitable courtship. Hugh Jackman is one of my favourite movie villains of the past few years. With his tough guy mullet and biology teacher shorts, he is a very believable toxic macho Australian bully boy. Imagine a guy like that getting in charge of military operations. Terrifying.

Where did that come from

Imagine.

There are two female characters (who do not speak to each other): Sigourney Weaver and Yolandi from Die Antwoord. They portray, respectively, Sigourney Weaver and Yolandi from Die Antwoord. Weaver appears infrequently to yell “NOPE” at a male character, and Yolandi becomes “Mummy” to Chappie, then eventually dies so that Chappie can feel sad and motivated about it. That’s not a spoiler because what else did you think could happen?

Back to Chappie himself – why did I never doubt that he was a ‘him’? All of the characters assume his maleness from the get-go. But he’s a robot? He doesn’t have biology? On looking back, this movie may not actually qualify for The Other Movie Project. Chappie is voiced by a man of the whitest order, but I’d thought the movie was mainly about Dev Patel. Nope. It turned out to be about a white man dressed as a robot. Tricked again.

2. Top Five

This is the first really funny movie I’ve seen this year. And I. Loved. It. The storytelling is tight and the performances are great. Chris Rock can say a lot with an eye-squint. And he has created an actual woman role for the wonderful Rosario Dawson, who reads like an  Actual Real Woman.

The movie’s attitude towards women is surprisingly positive (I say ‘surprisingly’ because I’ve seen Chris Rock’s stand-up), other than some eye-rolly moments of mansplaining on Chris Rock’s part. For example: “You know you’re beautiful, right?” SHE KNOWS, CHRIS. PRETTY SURE ROSARIO DAWSON OWNS A MIRROR.

There are undertones of homophobia (Dawson becomes disgusted with her boyfriend when he shows enjoyment of butt play, and instead of talking to him about it violates his body because of course), which I found frankly disturbing. Other people say it better than I can.

Also troubling is the main character’s anecdote about his “rock-bottom moment”, in which he watches two women with whom he was having a threesome, have a threesome with another man. They turn from “angels” to “disgusting” in his eyes, and he appears traumatised. Something something, gate-keeping of female sexuality, something.

Oh and later, when the women are annoyed about something, they immediately yell “rape”. Awesome.

3. Focus

This should have been much more interesting. Like, we know Will Smith is charming, right? We know he’s charismatic? So how come it barely came through in this movie? Instead, I guess the FRESH Prince comes off … a little STALE.

I"m proud of myself.

I”m proud of myself.

Focus has never heard of the Bechdel Test. Margot Robbie has the only female speaking role in the movie. Oh, I’m sorry, there is another female speaking part – one woman says “OK” to Will Smith when he asks her for money. Good hustle, team!

Margot Robbie – or, to use her proper name, Donna from Neighbours – is the best thing in this movie. She is funny, engaging and cool. She is also insanely beautiful. Which is another thing about Focus – for having two such charming leads, it is surprisingly sexless. It’s mostly too preoccupied with grinding through complicated plot set-ups. I got a bit lost in the details. Or maybe I just needed to … FOCUS.

Hooo, TWO of them! What!

Hooo, TWO of them! What!

Points to Focus for having a twist ending that actually surprised me – and I think it played on the audience’s expectations of race in a pretty smart way. Well played, Focus.

4. Insurgent

I have already forgotten this movie.

Still, it was pretty cool to see a scene in which the female villain (Kate Winslet) taunts the female hero (Shailene Woodley) that her mother (Ashley Judd) was not all that she seemed. Bechdel Test: exploded into a million pieces of glittering CGI.

Octavia Spencer shows up for a minute at the beginning of the film to dole out life advice to the little white girl and then disappears forever. Guys, this is not okay. There’s a name for this trope, but I’ll let Octavia explain it.

5. Cinderella

I spent most of this clunkasaurus looking at Twitter (dropping my phone only when Our Lady of Perfection Cate Blanchett was in frame).

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 12.59.29 pmThe little kids in the cinema seemed pretty content, but even they were watching in silence.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 12.59.15 pmAt this point I started wriggling in my seat and pining for a juicebox.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 12.59.06 pmTurns out I wasn’t being paranoid, I was just noticing the actual physical distress that her body was in.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 12.59.37 pmHow do you fit your crown over that massive fedora, prince.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 1.00.07 pm“Women just love shoes lol!!”

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 12.58.49 pmGame of Thrones is probably closer to the original Brothers Grimm tales anyway.

6. A Little Chaos

More Kate Winslet! As a landscape-gardener in 17th century France! But unlike in Insurgent, she has non-ridiculous dialogue to say. However, this is kind of a strange film. The direction (by Alan Rickman) is … odd. Scene transitions are awkward. And the central romance between Winslet and a plank of wood Matthias Schoenaerts is so unconvincing that supporting characters have to keep remarking upon how convincing the couple’s romance is. In case we forgot that they were in love. Because I did.

My favourite thing about this film is that we have a protagonist who is clearly living with post-traumatic stress syndrome, but the main conflict does not arise from her mental health issues. Rather, the cause of her trauma is revealed in well-paced flashbacks and serves to provide greater depth to the character. The main narrative conflicts have to do with class, social structures, and the ol’ struggle of progress versus tradition.

It was pleasant to watch a period drama with a female protagonist who is trying to get her job done despite many obstacles, both internal and external. Some scenes are quite moving, and if Rickman had cut out or reworked the awkward romantic storyline this would have been a much better film.

Number of movies released near me in March that were about white men:

Nineteen.

FYI (French Your Information):

There was also the French Film Festival on during March, which I haven’t counted in my project, because I just couldn’t afford to see that many movies during one month. However, I counted up the FFF films:

French movies about white men: 31.

French movies about anyone who wasn’t a white man: 15.

Some of the films are getting a post-festival release in my local cinemas so I will get to see some French films, don’t you worry. (And not ‘A Little Chaos’ French, where everyone is British.)

And, just for fun:

Of all movies released so far this year that were about a female protagonist, the character was a white blonde woman in 57 per cent of them.

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February: The Second Best Jupiter Ascending Over Selma And Alice

Posts, The Other Movie Project

Whoa! February actually achieved parity in white-dude and non-white-dude movies released near me! I didn’t even manage to watch all of the films that qualified for my project, for reasons I will explain further on. What is my project? I have challenged myself to watch every movie released at a cinema near me that is not The Story of A White Guy. I am interested in how intersectionality affects my movie-going choices, so I am watching every movie available that is about a woman and/or a person of colour.

Still Alice Twitter screen shot

1. Still Alice

I put on my pinkest pants and my most mentally healthy head and made sure I was exposed to plenty of sunshine and put chocolate in my purse and then I went to see Still Alice.

I needed every self-care strategy I had.

Still Alice is the story of Alice (Julianne Moore), a linguistics professor who finds out she has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. We watch her deteriorate on-screen. It is brutal. Thank goodness the cinema was nearly empty and I was sitting up the back because I wept from credits to credits. Yet the film is gentle, elegant. Not only is Julianne Moore the queen of everything, but the film direction makes sure the story is told from her character’s perspective. I didn’t notice until the end of the film that none of the action takes place out of Alice’s presence; it is entirely her experience of the disease. So often, stories about devastating illness focus on the experience of the people who must care for the ill person, but Still Alice never stops being about Alice.

Kristen Stewart is wonderful as Alice’s youngest daughter, who steps up to play a major role in her mother’s care. “Thank you for asking,” Alice says to her daughter when asked what Alzheimer’s feels like. Still Alice shows us the creativity with which Alice manages her condition, and her determination not to lose herself. It asks, What is it like to live with this? As someone with a debilitating and poorly understood disease, I was grateful to this movie for asking.

2. Selma

The first movie released near me this year to be about a person of colour, and, unbelievably, the first theatrical movie ever to feature Martin Luther King Jr as a main character. No, really. The first. And it took Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay to push it through.

I knew this movie was about Martin Luther King Jr, but I’m going to have to step up right now and admit that I thought Selma was the name of a female character. My US Civil Rights’ Movement history is sorely lacking. But you don’t need much prior knowledge to be affected by the significance of the film’s events. It is narratively tight; the movie opens in the town of Selma, at a time when King is already an influential civil rights leader and African-American people have won the legal right to vote. But legal rights haven’t translated into equal rights, with black people still being blocked from voting by systemic racism. King fights to raise support for the Voting Rights Act through a historic march from Selma to Alabama’s capital. The opposition to something as simple as the equal right to vote is violent, ugly and all too familiar, with scenes reminiscent of Ferguson.

Let’s go back to the thing about Selma being the first MLK film. I found out while researching this post that most films about the American Civil Rights era have accessed the events through a white character (for example, The Help). David Oyelowo, who plays King in Selma, has said:

“There was a study done around the police in a certain state in this country, and they admitted that there is an inherent fear of the black male … So subconsciously or consciously, to have black powerful men driving the narrative as protagonists is frightening for America. And frightening for Hollywood. Subconsciously there is an allergy to it.”

It is indicative of my blind spot as a white person that, although I’ve always admired MLK, I had no idea that he’d never been the main character in a movie about him.

Selma contains breathtaking moments of violence, all the more shocking because they jump out between talky scenes of bureaucracy and strategy meetings. The movie also features a particular moment during which I punched the air and shout-whispered “WINFREY!” Oprah is so, so good in this, and she also co-produces. Selma cements its feminist cred by being directed by the first African-American woman to be nominated for a best director Golden Globe, and by passing the Bechdel Test with flying colours (thanks to one of my favourite scenes, in which one African-American woman speaks at length to another African-American woman on why she is proud of her ancestry).

If this is still showing near you, go out and see it.

3. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Alternate tag lines I suggested to no one:
‘The Sequel That’s Keeping It Dench’
‘The Dames Are Back In Town’
‘Downton Abbey Lost Its Money And Moved To India’

the-best-exotic-marigold-hotelI was charmed by the first Best Exotic Marigold movie, and the sequel did not disappoint. This is sweet comfort viewing, dripping with fairy lights and even a couple of dance breaks. The sequel builds on the first movie’s already large ensemble cast, adding Richard Gere, Black Books‘ Tamsin Greig, and a bigger part for the formidable Lilette Dubey. Sonny (Dev ‘I’ve Been In Love With Him Since Skins‘ Patel) wants to open a second hotel before his wedding, with the help of reformed racist Muriel Donnelly (Maggie ‘Dame By Name, Dame By Nature’ Smith), but his myopic ambition is threatening his relationships. Will he learn his wedding dance in time to save his marriage? Will they find out who is the mysterious spy sent to appraise their hotel? Will Bill Nighy make it through a complete sentence? It’s all adorable and I love it.

There were quite a few moments in the movie where I balked at what seemed like blithe colonialism: white gentry moving in and taking Indian jobs (leading regional tours even though they have to have a local child feed them information). But I thought there was poetic justice in the way Sonny gets his second hotel in the end (spoiler!), and the property he takes over is the Viceroy Club – a leftover of British colonialism. The last we see of the ‘White People’ Club’s romanesque columns, they are being decked out for an Indian wedding reception. It seemed right.

I enjoyed watching a movie that represented younger and older generations without resorting to ageist stereotypes or confected intergenerational warfare. It just avoids progressivism, however, by falling into the sequel trap of attempting to tie up all their stories with neat (hetero-normative, monogamous) bows. I note with interest that the franchise’s only gay character (played by Tom Wilkinson) died in the first movie after a lifetime of unrequited love. But look, the straight people are dancing!

Look, the main thing for me was that The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel begins and ends with the Dowager Countess Maggie ‘McGonagall’ Smith, and you can’t go wrong with that. I found it genuinely uplifting, and frankly I needed that after Still Alice and Selma.

4. Fifty Shades of Grey

The movie adaptation of the book that reportedly romanticises an abusive relationship. I wondered if Fifty Shades would even qualify for this project, since the title refers to its white male protagonist (antagonist?), Christian Grey. But a quick skim of the internet showed that the story is about Anastacia Steele’s emotional journey/’erotic awakening’. I don’t know how true that is, because I have not seen the movie. I am not going to see this movie. At least, not at this time. I am sorry – to the people who said they were looking forward to my review, and to consistency for breaking it – but I just cannot. Not for political reasons, although I have those; I’m avoiding Fifty Shades of Grey for personal reasons. At the top of this post I talked about self-care, and this is me doing that. However I would like to note that this is not a stance against BDSM or erotica or romance – or even Twilight fan-fiction – in any way. I just don’t have the spoons to watch something that potentially dresses up abuse as romance.

5. The Wedding Ringer

I also missed this Kevin Hart comedy, not for any reason other than I was travelling and did not have time to catch it. I will try to watch it soon and include it in a later post.

6. Jupiter Ascending

Fuck, this was bonkers. Channing Tatum was a dog person? Mila Kunis nearly married her grown-up son? Eddie Redmayne was trying to be Gary Oldman in The Fifth Element crossed with Richard Roxburgh in Moulin Rouge if both of them had had lip implants?

I almost didn’t watch Jupiter Ascending for this project because, based on the trailers, I’d thought it was about Channing ‘White Guy’ Tatum, with Mila Kunis as his romantic interest/trophy to save. In fact, most of the marketing made it seem this way. I didn’t even realise until I was watching the movie that Jupiter is the name of Mila Kunis’s character. The movie is all about her: she is the title character; she has the main arc; she is in nearly every scene; she even narrates the introduction! Channing Tatum is her helper friend. And yet, this is how the billing was listed wherever I looked:

From Wikipedia

From Wikipedia

From IMDB

From IMDB

From the trailer's YouTube description

From the trailer’s YouTube description

From the poster

From the poster

… And please don’t tell me Tatum is the ‘bigger name’. Mila Kunis was in Black Swan, people. BLACK. SWAN.

Anyway, I didn’t hate this film. It was fun. They went BIG. Mila Kunis is endlessly watchable and got a few good laughs from the audience. (Eddie Redmayne got the only other laugh, unintentionally. Sorry Eddie.) The cast was diverse, for Hollywood, and it was exciting to see Gugu Mbatha-Raw (from the seriously underrated 2013 film Belle) pop up. In fact, instead of watching Jupiter Ascending, maybe you should go find a copy of Belle. Belle is great. Watch Belle.

If you’re still not sure whether you are someone who would enjoy Jupiter Ascending, it is easy to find out: does the following phrase appeal to you? ‘AMERICAN-AUSTRALIAN SPACE OPERA.’

My answer was yes.

Number of movies released near me during February that were about white men:

Five! Not bad, world.

Oh Fringe World!

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It’s the final week of Fringe World and I am having more fun than a hipster at Bogan Bingo. We had a great season of Not Much To Tell You at The Blue Room Theatre, and although I very much enjoyed the show run, it was a relief to wake up on the final morning and not have to wonder about ticket sales.

instagram_nmtty_sold-out

After bumping out my final show, I needed to find a way to unwind after a week of shows. I left The Blue Room Theatre thinking, food? Eat everything in Northbridge? Or maybe collapse onto one of my friends? Then, we walked past robot busker guy, and I had my answer.

In my downtime after Not Much To Tell You finished, I have been soaking up everything Fringe has to offer. Most particularly, many shows by many very fine and talented artists. I’ve just come from Brian Finkelstein’s First Day Off In A Long Time, which was a masterful example of honest, vulnerable storytelling, and pretty damn brutal. I guess any story that takes place on a suicide hotline is going to be brutal. But Brian’s a master at keeping the tension just bearable – and he’s bloody funny.

Last night I caught the Lords of Luxury and had my biggest laughs so far this Fringe. These four suited-up gentlemen had me gripping my sides like an idiot. It turns out what I really like in my sketch comedy is absurdist pop culture references, deadpanning, and wigs (see: Slumber Party Time Travel).

Adam Peter Scott’s Book Fight was an education in Stephen King’s back catalogue. Ostensibly a game show where panel guests answer questions about books, it was really a competition to see who could bring the most snark. To my mind, the night’s winner was burlesque performer Sugar du Joure for her handling of Adam Peter Scott, who kept groping (word choice intentional) for jokes about her ample neckline. (Scott, staring: “My mind’s gone blank.” Sugar: “It’s always like that.”)

A sweetly absurd adventure through dystopia was She Was Probably Not A Robot. Delightful, silly, and shot through with an unexpected vein of poetry. Stuart Bowden had the audience on side from the start, and pulled us into his cartoonish, faintly threatening world with ease. I’m a heart-fan of dystopian storytelling anyway, but Bowden’s spandex antics won me over the rest of the way. Also, great beard.

Fringe World, you are the bomb.

instagram_pleasure-garden_fringe-world

“Barry Morgan shows off his organ”, Feb 2012

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A review I wrote for Buzzcuts and Perth Now of the Fringe World show, Barry Morgan’s World of Organs. After the show, I had the pleasure of meeting Barry himself. Such a grin!

Barry Morgan and I

You might know Barry Morgan, Adelaide’s celebrity organ salesman, from his appearances on the music quiz show Spicks and Specks.

Barry’s trademark toothy grin and his prodigious skill on the keyboard were all he needed to win over television audiences. So, when it was announced that Barry Morgan would be coming to Fringe World, I was curious to see how he would flesh out his camp keyboard act into a one-hour show.

Barry Morgan’s World of Organs is a mildly strange experience from the moment you walk into the Perth Town Hall. Underneath the grand proscenium arch sits a 1981 Hammond Aurora Classic with matching Leslie speakers, looking very small indeed in contrast with the pomp of the venue. A badly recorded voice comes over the speakers, announcing the star of the show. Then out walks Mr Barry Morgan himself, all smiles and big hair.

The organ salesman immediately launches into his hilariously camp patter, announcing “this organ must be sold tonight!” The rest of the show is an extended sales pitch, with Barry avidly trying to convince audience members of the wonders of the electric organ.

Barry works the crowd with delightful ease, throwing out organ innuendos that never seem to get old. On this night, the audience seemed at first uncertain, but quickly got into the spirit of things with sing-alongs and shout-outs.

Although Barry’s talent on the organ is the central spectacle, the show has a great audio-visual element. A screen hangs over the stage onto which Barry projects photos from his childhood and footage from the stage.

Aside from a very strange moment when Barry abruptly disappears from the stage to “change into something more comfortable” and then returns wearing an almost-identical outfit, the show runs along smoothly.

Happily, this is a Fringe show that is suitable for all audiences. It’s a fun, light-hearted hour of comedy that will be especially pleasing for music-lovers.

The winner of Bogan Bingo and his be-mulleted mates

Perth Now entertainment review: “Flannel fun at Bogan Bingo”, Feb 2012

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A review I wrote for Buzzcuts and Perth Now, of the Fringe World show Bogan Bingo.

Bogan Bingo is, quite simply, a bingo night run by bogans.

The winner of Bogan Bingo and his be-mulleted mates

If you’ve ever thought that bingo nights don’t include enough AC/DC and swearing, then you might want to get down to Rosie O’Grady’s during Fringe. Just make sure to check your political correctness at the door, because these bogans aim to offend.

The flannel-clad comedians running this night had the audience cringing at off-colour jokes about pedophilia, bestiality, and Steve Irwin’s death. (‘That’s low,’ groaned one audience member.) However, Bogan Bingo’s humour is so self-conscious that they just get away with it. Just.

The drawing of each bingo number is punctuated by a rock ‘n’ roll hit from the ’80s. There’s sing-alongs, mullet wigs, and an Air Guitar Championship. The crowd can get a bit lively – this reviewer was nearly knocked over by a woman charging at the stage to win an inflatable guitar.

The night only runs for one round of bingo, which can be a relief for the audience, as the host’s ball-related innuendos get old fast. The show’s energy levels stay up during their short running time, except for an awkward three minutes where they try to make everyone stand up and sing Khe Sanh. The whole song. All of it.

Still, this is a fun night out. If you’ve got a bunch of friends who aren’t easily offended, then this might be the bingo night for you.

Theatre People feature: “Watts Up With Alvin Sputnik”, Nov 2011

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A feature article I wrote for Theatre People, interviewing WA’s Tim Watts.

It’s the opening night of the Perth Theatre Company’s latest production at the State Theatre Centre. An eager crowd pours in, primed by two years of rave reviews from this show’s runs in New York, Seoul and Edinburgh. Reviewers have used no shortage of gushing adjectives for this show, even calling it the theatrical equivalent of a blockbuster Pixar film. But if this audience is expecting a big-budget production, they aren’t going to get it. They’ve come for the story of one little man made out of a buoy and a white glove. This is the fringe theatre darling known as The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer.

The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer is set in a bleak future where the seas have risen and wiped out most of humanity. Someone must volunteer to journey down into the watery depths to find a new place for the survivors to live. Alvin Sputnik takes on this dangerous mission, hoping to follow the soul of his beloved wife, to be with her once more. Alvin Sputnik is told through a fusion of live performance, animation, mime, puppetry, projections, music, live drawing and even a ukelele. Alvin himself is portrayed by a mix of performance, stick-figure animation, and clever puppetry.

Two weeks before the show’s opening night, I’m sitting in a North Perth café with Alvin Sputnik’s creator, Tim Watts. He has come a long way since the first performance of Alvin Sputnik at The Blue Room in 2009. The show was quickly picked up by the Perth Theatre Company and went on to tour the United Kingdom, the United States, South Korea, India, New Zealand and, of course, Australia. Watts and Alvin picked up a swag of awards along the way. Now, in 2011, Alvin has come back to Perth a hero, starting a season at the newly minted State Theatre Centre.

After all the positive press over Alvin Sputnik, is Watts feeling the pressure to deliver? “I’m just worried that it’s going to be over-hyped,” he admits. “Towards the end of the UK season, I think people came in with really high expectations. I think no matter what happens when you go into a show and your expectations are through the roof, it can never really measure up.

“At the beginning of the show, where I’m just doing the live drawing, I try to bring things down to a basic level, so that people aren’t necessarily going to expect a big song and dance. Then I can surprise them from there.”

Despite the show’s accolades and years of touring, Watts has been careful to preserve what he calls its “nice little handmade quality.” Since Alvin Sputnik’s first incarnation at The Blue Room in 2009, Watts has added more animation and more puppetry, but says it is still essentially the same show. “You don’t want to polish it up to where it doesn’t have any heart left.”

Watts developed Alvin Sputnik in collaboration with fellow Perth theatre peep Arielle Gray. Their development process focused on audience response; they would work on the show together, then present showings to their friends and ask for feedback. Watts was prompted to try this kind of process by watching stand-up comedians.

“I got really jealous of stand-up comedians who’d have an idea for a joke, and could get up that night and try it out. They got real feedback as to whether the delivery was right, whether the joke was any good. They could work on their set through actual response from the audience, as opposed to a lot of theatre shows where you have an idea, you write out a script, and you spend six months putting it on. Then you perform it for two weeks, and no one is really honest with you as to how it goes. If anything negative is said about it, you just go and sit in a hole. You think, ‘Well, there’s nothing I can do about it now’.”

The character Alvin was created in a puppetry workshop with ‘Spare Parts Puppet Theatre’ in Fremantle, out of a buoy and a white glove. Under Watts’ expert hand, these abstract objects take on a very human life. He attributes Alvin’s anthropomorphism to the audience’s imaginative engagement. “To be able to pretend that this is a little guy … it’s as though you’re delighted at your own imagination. Then, when he does something human, it looks even more human,” he says. “When you’re really imaginatively engaged with something, you’re more likely to be emotionally engaged as well.”

Whenever he mentions Alvin, Watts absently arranges his hands into the shape of the little puppet, so for a moment it’s as if the deep sea explorer is at the table with us. It’s clear that Watts has formed a strong bond with the little round-headed man. So, how long do they plan to stay together? “Next year I’m kind of winding it down a bit. I don’t have a finite date where I’m like, ‘2015: no more Alvin’. I’m happy to keep doing Alvin, but I’m hoping to introduce more shows into my repertoire.”

But for now, it looks like Alvin will be sticking around. It’s the opening night of Alvin Sputnik’s Perth season for 2011, and I’m sitting in the State Theatre Centre’s Studio Underground, holding my breath in anticipation. Watts needn’t have worried about the hype. It’s not often you see a show that wins over the audience’s heart so quickly, or so completely. But Alvin Sputnik does it. During the performance, theatre-goers of all ages are sitting forward in their seats, faces shining, completely enamoured of Alvin. There are soft gasps of delight the first time puppet-Alvin emerges, and bursts of joyous applause throughout the 45-minute show.

Alvin’s underwater adventures arc towards a poignant finale. This is the second time I’ve seen The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik (having seen it during its inaugural season in 2009), so I reckon I’ll be able to steel myself against the emotional gutpunch and maintain a cool demeanour. Err, not so much. I straight-up weep. But I am relieved to see plenty of other patrons dabbing at their eyes as we leave the Studio. Something about this simple story of love and self-sacrifice has certainly captured people’s imagination. Perth audiences are usually dour and bestow admiration grudgingly, but Alvin Sputnik receives an ovation that seems to go on forever, and cheers such as are usually reserved for rock stars. But that’s how it is now. Alvin is a rock star. And it’s only a matter of time before Tim Watts achieves the same status.

The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer is showing at the State Theatre Centre of WA (Perth) from Tuesday 22 November to Saturday 3 December.

Tim Watts performs with one of the Alvin puppets


Theatre People review: “Flirt Fiction”, Oct 2012

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A review I wrote for Theatre People, of Blue Room production Flirt Fiction.

Red Rabbit Collective, Perth’s sexiest new performance ensemble, brings their new show Flirt Fiction home to Australia, fresh off the back of a run in Edinburgh.

The show is a web of seductive tales woven around two competitive writers, Ana (Kathryn Delaney) and Henry (Lawrence Ashford). The two friends set each other a new writing challenge: sensual fiction. Each writer must attempt to write erotica. Henry accuses Ana of being uptight, and Ana tells Henry that sex isn’t all about penetration. They each struggle to take on the challenge, facing up to their personal taboos and secret fantasies. Centred in their sensual scenes is the waitress from their coffee shop, played by Zoe Cooper. The writers craft their characters in her image, and she becomes goddess, whore, dominatrix, whatever they need her to be.

Flirt Fiction production still, courtesy Angela H King
Zoe Cooper and Kathryn Delaney flirt with fiction.

Flirt Fiction is an interesting exploration of erotica, and how we craft our fantasies. With a strong script by Jessica Craig-Piper, the show explores the vulgar and the obvious in erotica, then goes deeper, reflecting on how our identities inform our consumption of sex. Woven through the story is a sweet thread of romance, which elevates the play from a collection of vulgar sketches and creates an engaging narrative.

Ashford is the stand-out performer of the show; he had the audience from his opening monologue and held them right through the play. Delaney, too, gave a strong performance and played her character with an admirable mix of strength and vulnerability. Cooper was perhaps the least engaging; although she gave a brave performance as the muse who is stripped of her clothes and bent into any position the others wish, she was somehow too brittle, and not terribly convincing as a flirt.

On the night this reviewer watched the play, it was unfortunate that the audience was not terribly responsive. There were a few murmurs of laughs at some of the naughty jokes, but mostly just the tense silence of an uncomfortable audience. While Ashford’s comic timing was spot-on, Delaney and Cooper missed a few chances for laughs, so that the energy fell flat. Unfortunately, the biggest laugh came in the middle of a heartfelt monologue about bestiality and rape, which was clearly intended to be an emotional peak in the story. Instead, the audience was left chuckling and hoping for relief from the confronting sound effects. The play’s finale was undercut by The Blue Room Studio’s black box set-up, which means that the actors freeze in their final position, then immediately unfreeze and wave goodbye to the audience. Awkward.

Despite some setbacks, this show is enjoyable and intensely interesting. Although not, perhaps, for the faint-hearted. At the end of the show, a man loudly said to his friend ‘I did NOT like that’, and two young women from the front row were evidently most concerned that they were going to be hit in the face by a strap-on dildo. It seems the show did not ‘find its audience’ that night. But if you can get past the graphic sexuality and the desire to giggle like a schoolgirl, then you’ll find Flirt Fiction a rewarding experience.

Flirt Fiction is showing at The Blue Room until Saturday 22 October.

Read this review and heaps of other up-to-the-minute info about Australian theatre on TheatrePeople.com.au

Theatre People review: “The Yellow Wallpaper”, Sept 2011

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This is a review I wrote for Theatre People of a theatrical adaptation of the famous short story, ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’.

The Yellow Wallpaper is a new Perth production based on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s gothic short story of the same name, adapted for stage by Silvia Lehmann and Teresa Izzard. This beautiful play gives a twisted physicality to the tale of a woman, Charlotte, who is struggling to cope after the birth of her first child. Her husband, a doctor, prescribes a ‘rest cure’ – a popular remedy for ‘hysterical tendencies’ in 1892. Stuck in the upstairs nursery with nothing but her imagination and the wallpaper, the woman desperately searches for an escape.

The role of Charlotte is shared between two actors – Jo Morris and Sarah Nelson. Morris is captivating as the ‘real’ Charlotte, the one still anchored in reality, while Nelson represents the part of Charlotte’s mind that she keeps hidden. From the very beginning of action, the two women are in perfect sync; they mirror each other’s movements around the stage in a way that is both fascinating and slightly unsettling. As Charlotte’s mental state deteriorates, the line separating the two women blurs, culminating in a breathtakingly disturbing choreography at the end.

Charlotte’s husband (Sean Walsh) orbits around the edge of the set. He sits to one side of the stage throughout the play, reading medical books in his winged armchair, an immediate symbol of nineteenth-century masculine authority. Walsh is perfect as the logic-minded doctor who treats his wife with fatherly condescension. The doctor ignores his wife’s pleas for help, insisting that she would get better if she would only practise some self-will. As infuriating as his character is, Walsh doesn’t let him descend into a monstrous figure; he makes him human, a man who is well-meaning but getting it completely wrong.

Though there are only three principals in The Yellow Wallpaper, I feel I should name a fourth: the wallpaper itself. Laura Heffernan’s brilliantly crafted set, complemented by clever lighting design from Karen Cook, gives the peeling yellow wallpaper a life of its own. The actors interact with the paper until it has a towering presence in The Blue Room’s small theatre; they stare into it, tear strips off it, and rub its dust onto their clothes. Silhouettes dance behind it and disembodied eyes blink through secret holes. It is delightfully creepy.

Perkins Gilman’s original story was composed of a first-person narrator’s journal entries, and I was curious to see how Lehmann and Izzard would flesh out the parts of the story that were left unwritten. For instance, the woman is never named in the original text, but in the play her name becomes Charlotte, an evident nod to the author. Except for a couple of changes, the play keeps true to the brooding drama and moments of black humour that made The Yellow Wallpaper such an arresting tale. However, I thought one of the company’s interpretations of the story was a bit odd: as Charlotte deteriorates, so does her husband. Charlotte’s decline into madness would have had more impact if it had been contrasted by the husband’s stoic belief in reason. Instead he was reduced to a crawling, collapsing wreck, which seemed uncharacteristic. This, perhaps, was why the play did not reach a stronger climax at the end; I think the audience was waiting for a more violent conclusion to Charlotte’s condition.

Despite an uncertain finale, The Yellow Wallpaper is a truly stunning production by Perth physical theatre company Movementworks. And, with a relatively short running time and no intermission, it holds the audience’s tense attention from start to finish.

The Yellow Wallpaper is showing at The Blue Room until Saturday, 3rd September 2011.