My Fair Lady – flashback to a more innocent time

When I was in Year 7 at East Doncaster High School, back when they were called High Schools, the school musical was My Fair Lady, and I auditioned to be in it. I got to be part of the chorus in the opening scene in Covent Garden and I played a Cockney urchin of sorts. I sang ‘Wouldn’t it Be Loverly’ and got to do a soft shoe shuffle dance with a hockey stick wrapped in black duct tape to resemble a walking stick – as you do.

Aww, Wouldn’t it be luvverly. The scene I was an extra in when I was in Year 7…

I was in good company, it would transpire, as future Underground Lovers Vince Giarrusso and Glenn Bennie (a few years ahead of me at EDHS) played Freddie Einsford-Hill and Alfred P. Doolittle respectively. Regardless, I was beguiled by the musical, and even though I only performed in the first scene, I’d sit through every rehearsal I could, lapping up its musicality, its witty and sparkling dialogue and lyrics, and its dual celebration and mockery of the English class system.

So hearing that Julie Andrews, who starred as the title character, Eliza Doolittle on Broadway in 1956, was directing a 60th anniversary production of the original, and bringing it to Melbourne, I had to see it.

A friend of ours, Matt Heyward, is in the ensemble cast, playing a cockney in the opening scene, just like I did (but much better, of course), and he was kind enough to organise House Seats at the Regent for a Friday evening performance a couple of weeks ago. So there we were, middle of Row A (about eight or nine rows from the stage) ready to be transported.

She could have danced all night

And transported we were, back to a 1956 musical production of a play written in 1913 (Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw) and a story set in Edwardian London, of a young cockney flower girl groomed to be a lady by language expert, Professor Higgins.

The costumes and sets, recreated from the original designs, were gorgeous, especially in the Ascot and Ball scenes (of course), performances from all were polished, and the book, despite its obviously dated sexism, still shines.

Every duke and earl and peer is here – and some fabulous hats!

It’s interesting then that Shaw did not approve of the ‘happy’ ending of Eliza returning to Higgins that one production added to Pygmalion, which subsequently made it into My Fair Lady. Even when I was in the school musical, I found in unsatisfactory, especially given Eliza’s evolution as a person, and not just as a ‘lady’, and her relationship – which is not romantic at all – is a step backwards.

But there’s plenty to delight and enchant in the musical today, as much as there was for me 38 years ago. I think it was this that really consolidated my love of the English language, and English society, that would go on to inform the rest of my teenage years – and ultimately my career path as a writer. And for that, I’ll always love My Fair Lady.

 

Melbourne Queer Film Festival 2016 – part one

Oh, I do love Melbourne in autumn. All the colours, the vibrancy…

Okay, that was a little cheeky – extra points if you can tell what Doctor Who story I massacred that quote from – but Melbourne really is alive in March and April, and the CBD is buzzing with the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and the Melbourne Queer Film Festival creating a stimulating and often exhausting level of activity.

Proudly Different

I haven’t seen any Comedy Festival shows yet – I am planning to – but I have seen a few MQFF films over the past week.

First up in this, the first festival for new Executive Director Dillan Golightly and Program Manager Spiro Economopoulos, was the Opening Night film, That’s Not Us (USA, William Sullivan). Opening night films are tricky beasts, as I’ve observed before. It’s got to be something that’s going to appeal to a wide cross-section, and That’s Not Us certainly had all the right elements: three couples, a lesbian couple, a gay male couple and a straight couple head off together for a weekend away at an aunt’s beach house. Now there’s great opportunity to explore all sorts of dynamics: sexual, social and domestic. What a shame then that it didn’t exactly deliver.

Lesbians on the Loose. Well, almost...

Lesbians on the Loose. Well, almost…

Yes, each of the couples had their own issues to deal with – the girls hadn’t had sex with each other for quite a while, the boys were wrestling with the Chicago university offer one had received, and the straight two were grappling with gender role expectations, but the three storylines all operated independently of each other. And while they are all legitimate issues within a relationship, they’re not exactly redolent with dramatic potential and conflict. It all felt just a little… beige, to be honest.

I don't remember the boys playing football in the film, but that would have been more interesting than their argument about university

I don’t remember the boys playing football in the film, but that would have been more interesting than their argument about university

There were no real shouting matches or cross-couple tensions or bitch fights, and maybe that was the point of the film, but for me, it left me unmoved and ultimately I didn’t care for any of the characters. The after party in the Fed Square Atrium was a hit though.

Chemsex is definitely not an Opening Night film, but it is a good example of why we still need a queer film festival. It’s a UK documentary directed by William Fairman and Max Gogarty and it explores the rising use of drugs in London’s gay scene, the sex activity and rise in HIV infections that are intrisnically linked to it.

You may think this would make for an erotic and sexy film, and given its late-night Friday screening, a lot of the audience seemed to be up for that – but it was not sexy at all. It was sad, confronting and at times difficult to watch.

Some of the interviewees remained anonymous - understandably

Some of the interviewees remained anonymous – understandably

I’ve never been a drug user – pre-existing medical conditions prevent that – and I’ve never found the idea of chemsex attractive at all, but it’s going on here in Melbourne too, and apps like Grindr and Scruff are facilitating unsafe and addictive sex and drug use.

This documentary shows the effects that has on the lives of the men interviewed, and it is destructive. It’s a sobering, cautionary tale that despite its difficult content is a necessary film for most gay men to see.

On a much lighter note is Tab Hunter Confidential (USA, Jeffrey Schwarz), a documentary about the 1950’s Hollywood heartthrob. It charts the career of this impossibly handsome blond, blue-eyed man, from Z-grade movie actor to singer, star and household name.

Luckily, Hunter is still alive, so rather than just rely on the recollections of his co-stars and other celebrities, the filmmakers speak at length with him, and hear his stories first-hand.

Tab Hunter, the quintesential Hollywood heartthrob

Tab Hunter, the quintesential Hollywood heartthrob

What’s interesting is that while Hunter kept his sexuality hidden in the ’50s – necessarily, given the era – he wasn’t pretending to be straight, he just kept his private life out of the spotlight, and he talks quite candidly about that now, as an 80-something man.

He looks happy, and why wouldn't he? He's Tab Hunter!

He looks happy, and why wouldn’t he? He’s Tab Hunter!

It’s the innocence of a bygone era that’s the charm of Hollywood docos like this, and Schwarz has a lot of fun playing with that, using old footage and photos to ironic effect. And it certainly makes you wonder, 60 years from now, what Hollywood celebrities will we be watching with similar stories.

 

 

A world away from Hollywood is the Spanish film, Hidden Away (Mikel Rueda). Set in Bilbao, it’s about Ibra, a young Moroccan refugee who runs into Rafa, a young Spanish boy, in a nightclub. There’s an instant connection, especially for Rafa, who goes out of his way to seek out Ibra’s friendship. But both of them have to deal with prejudice in various forms: racism, classism and homophobia.

As far as plots go, it’s not exactly new – it’s a Romeo and Juliet scenario in many ways, but that storyline prvides a good framework for the more complex racial and sexuality themes. Interestingly, like last year’s Brazilian film, The Way He Looks, not once does either boy state they are gay, although some of Rafa’s friends are less than complimentary, and their attraction for each other takes a while to develop.

Ibra steals a glance at the sullen Rafa

Ibra steals a glance at the sullen Rafa

Thankfully, there are no sex scenes; it’s more about two teenage boys coming to terms with their feelings for each other and their own sexuality.

 

 

And that’s somewthing it shares in part with the festival’s Centrepiece Presentation, the local documentary Remembering The Man (Nickolas Bird and Eleanor Sharpe). It tells the not-unfamiliar story of Timothy Conigrave and John Caleo – immortalised in Conigrave’s memoir, Holding The Man, and its stage and recent screen adaptations.

Using archival footage – including home movies of the pair – and photos and interviews with the friends and colleagues of Conigrave and Caleo, it tells the story of their love, beginning as teenage boys at Xavier College, and their experiences with AIDS in a candid, heartfelt and moving way. It also provides aspects and anecdotes not heard before, and paints a respectful portrait of the men that works well as a complement to last year’s film version.

So young, so in love. A great way to remember Tim Conigrave and John Caleo

So young, so in love. A great way to remember Tim Conigrave and John Caleo

Even though it is a tender and emotional telling, there’s still a measured objectivity here that really makes it work as another part of a love story that has become part of Melbourne’s legacy and history.

And so, off I go, diving into the final weekend of MQFF films. Expect a report early next week. I promise!

 

 

MQFF 25

Lisa Daniel, we salute you for 16 years as Festival Director

Lisa Daniel, we salute you for 16 years as Festival Director

2015 was something of a landmark year for the Melbourne Queer Film Festival – not only did it celebrate its 25th year, but it was also Lisa Daniel’s last year as Festival Director after 16 years in the position. Under her educated and keen eye for queer film, the festival has grown and become one of the largest and most respected queer film festivals in the world – something she should be very proud of, and Melbourne should really appreciate.

This year I decided to go for (mostly) quality over quantity of screenings, and took heed of some of Lisa’s recommendations, as well as seeing two Australian feature films – something that’s been very thin on the ground for some time now.

The Way He Looks

The Way He Looks

Opening Night is always a good night, and this year Lisa selected Brazilian film, The Way He Looks, to open the festival. And it hit the mark. In the past, there’s been negative responses to foreign language films on opening night, but not this year – which demonstrates that Lisa has indeed done a good job in educating Melbourne audiences.

Leo and Gabriel find themselves attracted to each other

Leo and Gabriel find themselves attracted to each other

It’s the coming-of-age/coming out story of blind teenager Leo as he becomes attracted to the new boy at school, Gabriel. It’s sweet and gentle, and affirming without preaching, and remarkable not only because its focus is not on physical attraction and there’s a pleasing lack of sex on screen, but also because the word ‘gay’ is never used, and the boys’ sexuality is not an issue to any of the characters, themselves included.

They may be wearing aussieBums, but Drown is not all about sexy men.

They may be wearing aussieBums, but Drown is not all about sexy men.

The first of two Australian feature films I saw was Drown, directed by Dean Francis, based on a play by Stephen Davis. I’ve seen a number of his short films, and they’ve dealt with homophobia and bullying in a dark and angry way, so I knew this film wasn’t going to be light and fluffy. This is the story of Len (Matt Levett), the local hero at a Sydney surf lifesaving club, until he’s threatened by new member, Phil (Jack Matthews), not only because of his physical abilities, but also because he’s gay, and that creates quite a bit of conflict for Len.

Len isn't having a great night

Len isn’t having a great night

Drown is a fascinating, often confronting, exploration of masculinity and sexuality and how they are expressed by both straight and gay men. There’s an inherent aggression here, for all the characters, and it demonstrates that at their most extreme, straight men and gay men aren’t that dissimilar; while straight men channel that aggression into sport and competition and fighting, gay men express it through dancing, drugs, seduction and sex.

Told through the eyes of Len, Drown has a heightened and often exaggeration perception of reality, and while there’s plenty of bare flesh and aussieBums on screen, it’s not a superficial or titillating film. Yes, some of the sex scenes are erotic, but for the most part, they’re overshadowed by violence and conflict. At times it is too violent, and some scenes could have done with an edit, but there’s also a lot of ambiguity and unspoken subtext at work here.

Just a bit confronting...

Just a bit confronting…

The fact that this film was produced quickly and through crowdsource funding is not evident on screen at all – it’s beautifully shot and has a polish and finish that belies its low-budget production. Let’s just hope that Francis’ next film isn’t quite as angry.

Jamie Marks is Dead... apparently

Jamie Marks is Dead… apparently

Jamie Marks is Dead is a US supernatural (I guess) directed by Carter Smith. When the dead body of teenage boy Jamie Marks is found in a river, the spirit or ghost of the bullied gay boy connects with Gracie, and straight boy Adam for help to cross to the other side. It’s a curious film, with almost incidental queer content. There’s a dark melancholy with a touch of whimsy at work here, but to be honest, I’m not sure that as a queer/supernatural crossover is works very well. Still, it was good to see an American gay film that didn’t follow the same tired formulaic story.

Barrio Boy

Barrio Boy

Cocktales was one of the short film packages and provided an interesting and varied mix of gay shorts. Like many queer films, the quality of the short films is much better than it used to be, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t get predictable stories, such as Dinner at 40 and Open Relationship, and mawkish ones like Pepper. But we also get the understated Searching and Barrio Boy, and the very silly and fun If We Took a Holiday. And interestingly, none of them actually featured an sex at all.

It's Mission: Impossible, gay-style!

It’s Mission: Impossible, gay-style!

Also silly and fun was the Dutch comedy, Queen of Amsterdam directed by Tim Oiehoek. Fluffy and far-fetched, and perfectly programmed at 6pm Friday night, it’s about the regulars of a gay bar in Amsterdam who concoct a plan to raise the money to buy back the bankrupt bar – and that plan involves a jewel heist and the Gay Pride Parade. Not necessarily groundbreaking but enjoyable nevertheless.

Ben Wishaw in Lilting

Ben Wishaw in Lilting

Onto something more grounded, Lilting is a British film directed by Hong Khaou, and is a beautiful portrayal of the awkward relationship between a gay man Richard (played by Ben Wishaw) and his recently-deceased partner Kai’s (Andrew Leung) Chinese-Cambodian mother, Junn (Pei-pei Cheng). To broach the language barrier, Richard brings in a translator and the two begin tentative steps to an understanding. It’s poignant and understated and a sensitive representation of a gay relationship. Once again, there’s no on-screen sex, but convincing post-sex discussions, and is much more powerful for what it doesn’t show or tell.

Unfortunately, that is something missing from the final film I saw, at its encore screening, the second Australian feature, The Dream Children, directed by Robert Chuter and based on a play by Julia Britton. It’s the story of a gay couple, Steven (Graeme Squires) and Alex (Nicholas Gunn), who live in St Kilda. Steven is a closeted game show host who nevertheless has a very active extra-curricular sex life, and Alex wants to adopt a child. Legal options are non-existent, so the couple explore black market adoption with predictable results.

Steven and Alex argue even at the pool while  swimming laps

Steven and Alex argue even at the pool while swimming laps

Chuter’s better known as a theatre director, and has quite an extensive back catalogue, including some well-respected outdoor period plays in the grounds of Rippon Lea, and more recently the divisive production of Teleny in 2014 (read my thoughts on that here), and indeed, he directed a stage production of this play in 2009. While The Dream Children‘s intentions are noble, the delivery is forced and heavy-handed. It opens with a fairly full-on sex scene between Steven and Alex which is decidedly unsexy and feels like it was included merely to shock. And many of its other sex scenes – and there are many, as well as a number of other scenes involving the trailer trash child surrogate and her cliched drug-addicted partner, feel contrived and gratuitous.

A rare tender moment in The Dream Children

A rare tender moment in The Dream Children

The relationship between Alex and Steven lacks intimacy and affection; they’re mostly arguing about the adoption arrangements or having mechanical, soulless sex, except for scenes where we see them enjoying time with their young son.

The dialogue is awkward and stiff and often didactic, the mood and the drama are overwrought and could really have done with a more delicate touch. Conflict and arguments don’t always equal good cinematic drama, and unfortunately there is too much of it. If only more time had been spent fleshing out the final ten minutes, where their relationship finally flourishes, rather than focusing on unnecessary and overlong scenes of conflict.

If only we'd had more of this and less conflict

If only we’d had more of this and less conflict

 

Having said all that, it’s an impressive looking film – Melbourne, especially St Kilda and Elwood, look great on film, and like Drown, is an independently-funded and produced film. Hopefully we’ll see more Australian queer features in the future – and heaven forbid, government funding bodies and local distributors may even look past their cautious and conservative choices and see the merit in backing films such as these.

And if that is something that Lisa Daniel has had more than a hand in changing, then that is legacy enough from her. But she leaves behind her a great legacy of which this will only be a small part. Congratulations, Lisa, on the 25th MQFF, and for 16 amazing years as Festival Director. You will be missed!

 

 

That Was the Midsumma That Was

Yes, Midsumma is over for 2014, and in some ways, this blog entry will be pretty irrelevant. But for the record, here’s Midsumma 2014 experience.

It all started with Carnival on Sunday, January 12 of course, back in the Alexandra Gardens after a few years trying to work in Birrarung Marr, and a welcome return it was too. It was wonderful to meet with friends and spread our picnic blankets under palm trees and chat, eat, drink, laugh and check out the passing traffic. Carnival’s one of those events where you run into people you haven’t seen since last Midsumma, except on Facebook, so it’s a very social and relaxed day. We even managed to make in into The Age’s online photo gallery doing exactly that, which was nice. I managed however to acquire a singlet tanline which is slowly being replaced with a full chest tan…

Palms, picnics and poofs! Courtesy The Age.

Palms, picnics and poofs! Courtesy The Age.

 

T-Dance returned as it was first conceived too, as a free dusk dance party, and that too had a great atmosphere – good music and sexy vibe, the perfect end to the day.

And so the festival was off, and we had a very busy three weeks ahead of us seeing shows. Not that we got to everything (by the time Pride March finished the festival, we were burnout – literally and figuratively), but what we did get to was consistently good quality entertainment, whether it was the Revolt Artspace in Kensington or the State Theatre in the Arts Centre. It was a broad range of shows, but surprisingly two distinct themes emerged: divas and the channelling thereof, and self-reflection. And gay marriage.

opraficationR_7886b53b89d06765dd5722801159a14a

Rachel Dunham as Oprah.

We started off with Oprahfication at Chapel Off Chapel, a 90-minute musical speculation of What Oprah Got Up To Next. Rachel Dunham, who wrote the show with composer Shannon Whitelock, WAS Oprah as soon as she stepped on stage. The audience were, in effect, her studio audience for this ‘one-off ultimate interview’, and as such, it was lots of fun. It wasn’t satire, and not exactly a homage to the Queen of Daytime TV, but it was definitely an affectionate celebration of Oprah, her show, and her ego that wasn’t afraid to gently take the piss here and there.

Dunham channelled Oprah perfectly, and with her strong voice and the live band, she belted out some great original songs that sounded polished and professional. It’s no surprise then that Oprahficaction is aiming for something bigger – it’s Broadway or bust!

The very sexy Michael Griffiths.

The very sexy Michael Griffiths.

The following night it was off to fortyfivedownstairs to channel another diva with In Vogue: Songs By Madonna. With just a grand piano, smooth vocals and dry wit, Michael Griffiths inhabited the world of the Queen of Pop and her music. Like his other show, Sweet Dreams: Songs By Annie Lennox, which we saw last year at the Melbourne Cabaret Festival, Griffiths didn’t imitate or impersonate Madonna; he adopted her persona and spoke and sand in the first person as if he were her. Loosely following Madonna’s career from her early days to who she is today, Griffiths made astute and sardonic observations about her music and acting skills (or lack thereof), and performed some great arrangements of Madge’s songs. But as good, and sometimes nostalgic as it was, In Vogue didn’t have the resonance or emotional depth that his Lennox show had. That probably says more about the two artists rather than Griffiths’ performance. Or maybe it’s just that I prefer Annie over Madge any day.

Sexy key art for Standing on Ceremony.

Sexy key art for Standing on Ceremony.

The week after, we were back at Chapel off Chapel for Standing on Ceremony – The Gay Marriage Plays, a much-publicised and anticipated collection of nine short plays on the theme of gay marriage. The collection premiered in New York in 2011 and is still very relevant, with some plays stronger than others. While they all had important things to say or observations to make, the more memorable plays involved a conservative housewife talking about the gay agenda, a Jewish mother and her made-up engagement for her gay son, both by Paul Rudnick, a dramatization of a Facebook post and subsequent comments, and the moving eulogy a gay man gives at his partner’s funeral. The strong cast included Spencer McLaren, Pia Miranda, Michael Veitch and Helen Ellis. Well put together, with live music linking the plays, Standing on Ceremony was thought-provoking, irreverent and well-considered. And not at all didactic or preachy, which is always a good thing on stage.

The cast of Standing on Ceremony

The cast of Standing on Ceremony

A young and innocent (hah!) Michael Dalton.

A young and innocent (hah!) Michael Dalton.

On to show number four – You’ve Got Male with Michael Dalton. This had been postponed for a week because of a death in the family, which is understandable, and actually made this first performance that little more poignant, given the show was a trip down memory lane as Dalton talked about his performance career, starting as a young boy in England. Dalton usually performs as his drag persona Dolly Diamond, so this sees him stepping out from behind the wigs and frocks to reveal himself – not an easy thing for anyone to do on stage. It was indeed very funny, mostly because Dalton happily made jokes at his own expense, but it also touched on darker issues such as self-esteem and body image. But it was a treat seeing archival video footage of Dalton performing ‘Believe It Or Not’ as a teenager on Young Talent Time.

Because this was the show’s first full run-through, and because Dalton was clearly enjoying himself on stage, he didn’t realise that the first act ran for almost two hours! Not that it wasn’t entertaining, but it was long. Luckily he kept the second act brisk and according to all reports, tightened up the first act the following night. Still it was a courageous, funny and revealing show for a born entertainer.

Michael Whelan, Glenda and I waiting to test teams' beer sculling talents...

Michael Whelan, Glenda and I waiting to test teams’ beer sculling talents…

The following day was DT’s annual Golden Stiletto Rally around the streets of Richmond, always a fun and out-of-control day. Like previous years, I was accompanying Glenda Waverley at one of the challenge pitstops, this year at Ost Café on Bridge Road. Teams had to volunteer one member to scull a Crownie, which may or may not have been laced with tabasco sauce, and most teams rose easily to the challenge. Bribes were a bit lacking this year (I attribute this to the number of first-timers), but there was a good-natured effort in dressing up and having fun. Some teams performed well, others gave up along the way. Bless.

Glenda is bribed with cream...

Glenda is bribed with cream…

Jonathan Duffy swanning around the streets going Bjork.

Jonathan Duffy swanning around the streets going Bjork.

The following week we were off to Jonathan Duffy’s show at Revolt Artspace, Without Me, I’m Nothing. Essentially it was a one-man show with stand-up comedy and music numbers as Duffy recounts his experiences with showbiz success, especially his documentary The Doctor’s Wife. What was most impressive though was his willingness to make himself completely vulnerable in front of an audience, especially when talking about his early sexual experiences, body image issues and self-doubt. The fact that he stripped down to his underwear for a costume change made his exposure both emotional and physical, and took a lot of guts. It was a funny, brave, poignant and very human show presented with a healthy humour and self-deprecating insight. It was refreshing to see on stage that life as a gay man is complex, and not just about sex, dance parties, Kylie and coming out. And Duffy finished with a wonderfully hilarious finale performing ‘Euphoria’ by Loreen, Sweden’s 2012 Eurovision winner, assisted ably by Daniel Witthaus, kicking off a new career as a back-up dancer. I hope to see more of this type of show in the future.

To finish off our Midsumma marathon, it’s back to diva-channelling with Diamonds Are For Trevor. We’ve seen Trevor Ashley in Liza on an E, Little Orphan Trashley and Priscilla: The Musical, but in this larger-than-life and lavish show, he becomes Dame Shirley Bassey. It was uncanny, and not in mimicking the Girl from Tiger Bay, but by getting to the essence of who Bassey is.

Diamonds Trevor‘Let’s Get This Party Started’ was an obvious but perfect way to start the show, and like all the songs Ashley performed with a 15-piece orchestra, incredibly faithful to Bassey’s own renditions. Other highlights included (as you’d expect), ‘Goldfinger’, ‘Diamonds Are Forever’, ‘History Repeating’, ‘I Who Have Nothing’, and some amazing frocks, but his ‘Bassey doing Adele doing Bassey’ version of ‘Rolling in the Deep’ was clever and priceless. With talent like that, it’s no wonder Ashley sold out the State Theatre, and the audience clearly loved it. Maybe it was the two standing ovations that gave that away.

It was a perfect end to a varied but rewarding Midsumma Festival, and if this is an indication of the festival’s performing arts future, it’s going to continue to strengthen. Thank goodness – the festival is still an important outlet for queer art and community involvement.

Adventures in Cabaret

Anybody who believes Melbourne shuts up shop in winter is wrong. In many ways, winter is when classy, cultural Melbourne wakes up and shows itself off. And the Melbourne Cabaret Festival is fast becoming another of our city’s popular winter attractions. This week I’ve seen two very different shows that really demonstrate the range of what’s on offer during the festival: one sublime, one ridiculous, both intentionally so, and both worth seeing.

Michael GriffithsSweet Dreams: Songs by Annie Lennox is written and directed by Dean Bryant and performed by singer and pianist Michael Griffiths who gets under the skin of Annie Lennox and revisits and recounts her career as a singer-songwriter and her life of love and heartbreak. With just his voice and a grand piano, this sexy, dapper and slightly cheeky gay singer transports the audience back to the early ’80s when Lennox, along with her one-time lover Dave Stewart, were hugely successful as the Eurythmics.

Griffiths doesn’t try to to impersonate, or even ‘channel’ Lennox; he simply inhabits her life through her music and links it with first-person reflections, often dry, wry and witty (just the way we like reflections). And it’s this simplicity that makes Sweet Dreams so effective.

MICHAEL_GRIFFITHSWith his strong and clear singing and evocative and accomplished piano arrangements, Griffiths shows how timeless and poignant Lennox’s songs are, full of raw emotion – mostly pain, jealousy and self-deprecating irony. He weaves songs and anecdotes from different periods in and out of each other, and tells a compelling and entrancing story. You can’t help but find yourself reassessing those old Eurythmics songs and albums and hear them afresh.

Of course, Griffiths does justice to songs such as ‘Love is a Stranger’, ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)’, ‘Why’, ‘Who’s That Girl’ and ‘Little Bird’, but what he does with other songs is quite incredible. By stripping away the 80’s over-production, songs such as ‘Right By Your Side’, ‘When Tomorrow Comes’ and ‘There Must Be an Angel (Playing With My Heart) sound new, gentle, even wistful, and ‘This City Never Sleeps’ is truly hypnotic.

It’s an emotionally charged show, full of joy, sorrow, bitterness and hope, all the more effective thanks to some well-considered lighting design and the occasional use of some retro reverb on the microphone. Even if the Eurythmics and Annie Lennox weren’t an important part of your teenage years and musical development, Sweet Dreams will haunt your waking hours and sit nicely in your subconsciousness as you sleep. It’s an inspiring show not soon forgotten.

Maybe a little more immediate in its tone and production is Trevor Ashley’s new adults-only panto, Little Orphan trAshley. While the show was originally called ‘Trannie’, objections from the transgender community and the producers of the musical Annie required the name to be changed, Ashley’s not letting that stop him. He drops in quite a few bitchy one-liners about it – and just about everything else, from the recent Labor leadership spill to Linden Gallery’s ‘pornography’exhibition hoo-ha and many other cheeky, crass and downright wrong comments.

TrashleyWhich is what pantomime is all about, and as such, there is a loose, off-the-cuff feel to the show, but I don’t see that as a problem. In a nutshell (so to speak), it’s the story of Fanny (played, of course, by Ashley), an orphan left in the care of the drunk and nasty Miss Trannigan (played with wicked relish by Rhonda Burchmore, of course), but who is then ‘adopted’by millionaire Daddy Warhorse (Gary Sweet, having a great time, even if he looks like her has no idea of what’s going on – again, part of the point). But Fanny is actually transgendered and looking for someone to fund her gender reassignment surgery, and Daddy Warhorse fits the bill perfectly.

Naturally, the cast have great fun singing, dancing and swearing their way through the brisk parade of jokes and set pieces, held together tenuously by a bit of story, and while everyone is showing off their natural talents (Rhonda’s legs and stage prowess, Gary’s blokeyness and bald head, Trevor’s sharp tongue and comedic timing), Rhys Bobridge as the leathered-up dog Bullshit is the one who almost steals the show. Not just because he’s running around the stage on all fours yapping and whimpering like an excitable puppy with his bare arse in the air, but because he almost makes you believe he’s an actual dog.Rhys B

According to those who saw the show in Sydney, this incarnation is much tighter, which is a good thing. Pantomime can easily become self-indulgent and smug, but Little Orphan trAshley isn’t. It’s self aware enough to know when to leave things alone, when to milk what’s working, and when to change horses midstream if necessary. It’s a lot of fun, a lot of wrong fun, and another show worth seeing.

 

Catching up on comedy, nudity, big-budget superheroes and no-budget Classic Who

Yes, yes, I know; it’s been well over a month since I last posted, but unfortunately, other things have been getting in the way: work commitments, a sick husband, family functions… you know how it is. It doesn’t mean I’ve been idle, though.

It’s been a mixed bag of cultural experiences, from three very funny but very different Melbourne Comedy Festival shows to a blockbuster movie, a naked stage show, and a dodgy DVD. Let’s go on a quick cultural tour of my last month.

April in Melbourne of course means the Comedy Festival, and while I didn’t bust a gut to get to too much, I did see three shows: Dixie’s Tupperware Party, Nath Valvo’s Walk of Shame and Joel Creasey’s Naked. All gay shows, but all very different. Dixie Longate – essentially a drag show from a Deep South trailer trash mother and her newfound love of Tupperware. Yes, it was fun, and Dixie was quick-witted and well-rehearsed, but while there was plenty of laughs and sharp off-the-cuff material, there was no real payoff at the end, and it felt like a camp, dressed-up Tupperware party – which is all it was, really. Great fun, but not groundbreaking.

Nath Valvo contemplates how far he can push the envelope in 'Walk of Shame'.

Nath Valvo was pushing more boundaries though. In his show about being on the dole and his achievement of passing two kidney stones – with very clever and funny stops along the way – he doesn’t apologise for being gay, or for a fairly confronting (well, for the straight audience members anyway) tale about a foursome. And while he may seem scattered and random, you can tell he knows exactly what direction he’s going – even if it almost derails when he involves the audience at the end.

Joel Creasey's promotional material exposed more flesh than he showed on stage...

Joel Creasey, surprisingly with a show called Naked, was a little more ‘family-friendly’, but just as funny as he spoke about his fear of being naked in front of other people – and his country gig where he was chased by anti-gay protesters. It wasn’t his flesh he was exposing – but there was some of that as well. As there should have been.

Both Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans had their work cut out for them when faced with their gay admirers.

 

 

 

 

No naked flesh however in The Avengers, Marvel’s blockbuster movie featuring six – count them – superheroes. And that’s despite Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth reprising their roles as Captain America and Thor respectively. At least we got some great views of Evans’ arse and Hemsworth’s arms, some fun banter between the Avengers (yes, Robert Downey Jr came out on top there), and the decimation of Manhattan by Loki and his alen allies that makes Independence Day look like a senior citizens’ sightseeing tour. While not as earth-shattering as the CGI would suggest, The Avengers was an enjoyable, overblown piece of superhero cinema.

Thor wonders how many bicep curls he'll end up doing tonight...

Captain America finds sprints achieve the perfect bubble butt...

 

 

 

 

 

 

One show that needed some extra fluffing – at least, the night I attended – was Naked Boys Singing, and it wasn’t their tackle that needed tending to. Unfortunately, two of the cast were unable to perform, which left five naked boys, and the dance captain stepping up to help out.

Two of these Naked Boys were missing - can you pick which ones?

The problem was, while the boys did an admirable job singing and dancing in the buff, it was obvious that they were covering the missing boys’ arses, and some numbers seemed lacklustre and the performances uncertain. Which was a great shame, because some of the other numbers were very good. But good-looking naked boys and in-your-face tackle wasn’t enough to carry the show.

Check out the flares on those Mandrels!

Not all my cultural pursuits have been in theatres and cinemas. There’s been plenty to keep me entertained at home. Released recently on DVD was the 1979 Doctor Who story, Nightmare of Eden. Starring Tom Baker as the Doctor and Lalla Ward as Romana, from the oft-ridiculed Season 17, Nightmare of Eden is one of the most reviled, and that’s essentially because of the very cheap studio-bound sets (a staircase shifts as Baker races down it), equally cheap, but camp costumes (the designers had clearly just discovered Spandex and sparkly fabric), and the flare-legged Muppet monsters, the Mandrels, who managed not to be menacing at all, and whose flares were already out of fashion.

Even the Doctor has trouble coming to grips with these - erm - monsters...

I first saw this story in 1980, when it first screened on Australian TV, at the very start of my love affair with Doctor Who. I was 13, so still able and willing to be impressed, and there is much to admire in this story: the drug addiction backstory, the hyperspace collision, and of course Baker and Ward relishing their witty asides and double act. Watching it now, it alternates between being inspired, dreadful, camp, boring, sobering, and a lot of fun. Even when Doctor Who is really bad, there’s always something worth watching it for.

So that’s me caught up, in time for the end of autumn. Now I’m immersing myself in trashy television of many kinds – but more of that later…

 

Kylie’s Anti-Tour no anticlimax

I’m a little surprised I haven’t heard more about Kylie Minogue’s Anti-Tour show in Sydney. Aside from a couple of delirious Facebook posts from some Sydney friends, I’ve heard around about nothing. That’s probably because I live in Melbourne and the majority of my Facebook friends do as well; which means last Sunday was the big Kylie Day on Facebook. And even though it’s a couple of days ago now, I thought I’d write about the concert anyway.

My partner Kieran is a HUGE Kylie fan, in the way I am about Doctor Who, so when the Anti-Tour was announced, there was no way we weren’t going to go. And being a good husband, I was online on the ticketing site from 11am the day the tickets went on sale and made sure that as soon as it hit midday, I was there, buying tickets – successfully, for the first show, which sold out in seven minutes (or ten, or fifteen, depending on who you believe).

So, on Sunday we got into the city around 1pm, and went to queue for our entry wristbands before heading off to the Melbourne Queer Film Festival. I have never seen the top end of Bourke Street so gay before! Of course, we ran into friends and plenty of other gay men (now there’s a surprise) who were doing the same, and the excitement was palpable.

Nothing, of course, compared to the barely-contained anticipation in the line later that night waiting for the doors to open at 7.30pm, a line that snaked down the laneway next to the Palace, around a corner, down another lane to Little Bourke Street, and then almost up to Spring Street. All devoted, die-hard Kylie lovers, and it was gayer than Mardi Gras.

Position sorted - good view of the stage!

It was even more excitable once we were inside, and soon Kieran and I had our position (just at the top of the stairs down to the dance floor) sorted. We were surrounded by more gay men, all posting photos pictures of themselves on facebook, and then it was 8.30, and – an hour before the advertised time – Kylie was on stage!

Starting with ‘Magnetic Electric’, an extra track from X (2007), Kylie, her band and the crowd were on fire. But it really reached fever pitch when Kylie’s first step back in time took us all to 1988’s ‘Made in heaven’. Looking back at the crowd behind us, there was something heartening to see so many gay men (and lots of straight girls too) in their 30s and 40s singing and dancing gleefully along, reliving more innocent times.

It was like that all night. As Kylie jumped around her extensive back catalogue of b-sides and album tracks – with incredible vocal skill, I must say, and not one mimed song at all – there were obvious highlights; more often than not the quieter songs, such as ‘Tightrope’, ‘Bittersweet Goodbye’ and ‘Paper Dolls’., and a number of Impossible Princess (1997) tracks, ‘Drunk’, ‘Say Hey’ and ‘I Don’t Need Anyone’. But everything she performed was greeted with delight and enthusiasm, and there was only two songs I wasn’t familiar with.

Despite the intimate, stripped-back nature of the show, and Kylie’s unguarded and obvious enjoyment, it had to end – with ‘Enjoy Yourself’ (1989), naturally enough, and a glitter explosion. Well, it wouldn’t be a Kylie concert with out a bit of glitter.

Kylie pumps it in the second show. Photo by Matthew Noonan

And then she turned around and did it again for the second show an hour later. I’d like to see Madonna do a show like this. Just sayin’…

And we’re off!

Welcome to The Urban Hunter, and thanks for joining me.

Just as a quick introduction to this blog, here’s a bit about myself, and what you’re likely to find here. Basically, it’s all about hunting down urban culture adventures and experiences.

I’m a Melbourne writer and reviewer of a certain age. I’ve been writing for about 20 years, mostly on film, TV, Arts, and occasionally music, fashion and contemporary culture. So expect to see posts about these things.

For example, I did enjoy Martin Scorsese’s new film Hugo, but I thought it didn’t really get going until Hugo and Isabelle became friends, and the story finally kicked in. Martin, you could have tightened that first half-hour up, and that would have made all the difference.

"Ah, that's the key to getting this movie going. I'd better get this to Martin Scorsese quick smart!"

George Clooney wonders if there'll be room in Hawaii for his Golden Globe AND an Oscar...

Another film that, for me, is receiving a lot of unnecessary praise, is The Descendants. Oh yes, George Clooney’s getting all the attention for an apparent ‘performance of his career’, but essentially it’s another story of a rich and privileged American family dealing with tragedy, secrets and emotions, but this time they live in Hawaii. That’s not a bad thing, but I found it hard to care.

Not the case with Weekend, a new British film about two gay men hooking up, but I’ll leave that for another post.

And yes, I am gay, so expect to see the occasional post about gay characters on the screen, and maybe even poolside and beachside swimwear reports over the summer.

I’m also a very proud Doctor Who fan – well, more than a fan; I’ve written about the show quite a lot as well, and interviewed many of the current cast. If you’re interested, you can check out my thoughts on the 2011 season at the ABC blog site. So the good Doctor will crop up here from time to time too.

As well as being in the tennis thrall of the Australian Open, Melbourne is also hosting Midsumma, the gay and lesbian cultural festival. I won’t be writing about the tennis, or Margaret Court, but I will talk about Midsumma shows and events.

Anyway, that’ll do for my first post. Hopefully I’ve piqued your interest, or scared you off. In either case, please feel free to drop by weekly, and let me know your thoughts, and your urban hunting adventures.