Kat of the Musicals

My absolute favourite opera performance ever. Ever. Yonghoon Lee was something else! As I mentioned in a “Favourites of 2015” article-

“This is the opera that has made me fall in love with opera. Graeme Murphy’s latest production of Puccini’s Turandot is nothing less than absolutely stunning- beautiful sets, soaring music and the incredible tenor Yonghoon Lee. It was perfect.”

Opera, by its very definition, should be grand and dramatic. It should be colourful and magnificent, with soaring notes and breathtaking sets. Its story should capture you completely for that moment that you are in the Opera Hall, lost in that world of poetry and romanticism. Opera Australia’s latest production of Turandot is exactly that opera, and I was completely captivated from the first note.

Turandot was Puccini’s final opera, and one that had to be completed by Franco Alfano after his death. The opera is of course most famous for its pinnacle aria, Nessun Dorma, but the music that surrounds this famous piece is no less grand. There are several beautiful traditional Chinese melodies that are interwoven into the score. The strong leitmotif for the Princess herself is perhaps my favourite, an all at once fierce and beautiful piece of music.

The story is quite unique for an opera, as it is not all death and tragedy (although there is a little, couldn’t stray too far from the norm!). Instead it tells of a cold-hearted, ruthless and (of course) unobtainably beautiful Princess Turandot. The first moment she is introduced is breathtaking- as the music soars giant fans unfurl to reveal the imposing figure set upon a high pedestal. Lise Lindstrommade for a fantastic Turandot, her commanding voice reaching out from the stage and demanding that we both love and fear her.

The princess enforces that any prince wishing to marry her must first pass her test of three riddles, and if he fails than he is to be executed. Turandot’s justification in her reign of blood is that her ancestor Princess Lou Ling was taken, ravished and murdered by an invading foreign prince, and she will not let any man possess her in revenge. We are soon introduced to the newest suitor for the Princess, the young son of an exiled king whose name is Calaf. He glimpses the princess and is immediately enraptured by her, so declaring that he will answer her riddles despite the pleading of his father and the young slave girl Liu, who is in love with Calaf.

In the role of Liu is Hyeseong Kwon, who is perfect in the role. Her voice rises with such beautiful tragedy… empathetically pulling at your heartstrings with her loyalty to her unrequited love, and conveying her feelings through the most aching facial expressions and pure voice.

Calaf enters the palace, brave and determined- and succeeds in answering all three riddles. The Princess is furious, and so Calaf challenges that if she is able to discover his name before the sun rises that she may execute him. It is here that he sings of the sleepless night, that Nessun Dorma, and oh wow. Nothing could really prepare you for hearing this magnificent aria sung live, with the full orchestra and the incredible vocal talents of a magnificent tenor. The crowd was in thunderous applause, and I couldn’t help but feel a little teary at how breathtaking it all was.

Turandot drags sweet little Liu into the palace for questioning, but Liu will not give up her love and so fatally stabs herself (there is our operatic tragedy). Left alone, Calaf boldly kisses Turandot in an attempt to convey his emotions and Turandot, feeling for the first time, sheds tears. Declaring it no longer matters Calaf reveals to Turandot his name, at which she strides boldly to the palace and declares she has discovered the secret. That his name is Love. The lovers embrace and the music soars into the happiness of ever after. A happy ending! Finally!

Everything is conveyed beautifully by Graeme Murphy’s direction, the movement throughout the stage is fluid and sweeping with Oriental gowns, long hair and giant fans. Weapons gleam in the light, shining into the crowd with blinding brilliance. The chorus is large, and gathered on the relatively small stage their presence seems even larger. Throughout there are several moments that are just so exquisite that they take your breath away.

Although all the performances are spectacular in this opera, none stands out more than the incredible Yonghoon Lee. What a voice! Although Calaf could be considered quite frustrating with his desire for the Princess and proclamations of “I must have her”, with that voice he can be easily forgiven for his flaws. Yonghoon is a perfect representation of Calaf, his stance bodes fearless determination and his expression stoic proclamations of love. He is also quite handsome, and you feel yourself hoping for his success, which I feel contributes significantly to the overall success of the opera!

Every moment had me breathless, a magnificent spectacle of soaring music and grand costumes. I was enraptured by the characters, and captivated by the staging. I have seen many operas before, but this production of Turandot has made me fall Calaf-style in love with opera.

Well… it wasn’t Aladdin: The Musical, but it was one of my first pantomime experiences! An easy-to-watch bit of fun 🙂

Originally posted on The AU Review.

An enjoyable theatre experience is the combination of two things- naturally it is the performance itself, but it is also the audience. Very often the energy of the audience determines the success of the performance on stage so when you have an audience full of the uncontained excitement of children you are sure to feel a buzz! In Aladdin and his Wonderous Lamp it is the delight and participation of the children in the audience make the night a thoroughly enjoyable piece of entertainment.

Aladdin is a modern family pantomime- combining music, song, dance, slapstick comedy and a script packed with topical jokes. The production is light hearted and fun, taking us through the magical tale of Aladdin and his magic lamp. This is not the Disney version of the tale mind, but closer to the original tales from The Arabian Nights. With a modern-ish sort of twist.

In this tale Aladdin (Mat Verevis) is the son of a (cross-dressing) washer-woman (Ian “Dicko” Dickson) who falls for the Princess Yasmina (Lauren Brant) after gazing at her through and apple orchid. The evil wizard Abanazar (Josh Adamson) attempts to trick him into retrieving the lamp of the Genie (Beau Ryan), but the lamp falls into the hands of Aladdin first- who wishes for the wealth to marry the princess. This is, of course, all told along with the help of several recognizable pop songs that you can clap and sing along to. Think the Princess singing Britney Spears, Abanazar singing Phil Collins and a cross-dressing Dicko singing Taylor Swift.

As our tale continues now-rich Aladdin is all set to marry the princess, but Abanazar tricks her and gets his hands on the lamp. He then whisks the princess away to naturally await rescuing by ol’ Al and everyone lives happily ever after!

There are some truly fun characters along the way as well- Aladdin’s brother Wishee Wahee (Kev Orkian) is a whole lot of entertainment, and interacts with the crowd to keep the energy high and the laughter flowing. I also thought Abanazar was quite hilarious in his role, and brought the character a delightful joviality.

It’s really Beau Ryan as the Genie who stands out here though, and not just because of that body (although that certainly does stand out). Although his acting skills might not quite be up there you can tell he’s really going all out and putting in his full effort, and the crowd LOVES him. He takes on the genie character brilliantly, bringing to it a wonderful sense of humor and delightful charm that makes him easy to like.

What makes pantomime really special is the amount of interaction with the audience. The crowd is instructed to boo for the evil characters (which they do loudly and with relish, poor Abanazar!) and cheer for the good characters. They loudly call out suggestions for the characters, settling comfortably into their role within the panto. The actors make a considerable effort to keep this interaction high, talking and joking with several audience members and further encouraging loud reactions. It’s lots of fun! It wouldn’t work if the audience didn’t respond, but with half of the crowd children you soon find adults to be bellowing “hissssss” out just as loudly as their younger counterparts.

With dazzlingly colorful costumes, sets and lighting this Aladdin pantomime is a delight to watch. There may not be anything exceptionally remarkable here in terms of acting and singing, but there doesn’t really need to be. The lightheartedness of the comedy moves the performance along and you can clearly hear the delight in the young audience. This is a great night of enjoyable family fun that will put a smile on everyone’s face, especially with the help of one rather muscular and smirking genie.

Not much to say on this one as I unfortunately didn’t get to see the work itself…

Originally posted on The AU Review.

On View: Live Portraits is dance and live portraiture work that is set to push the boundaries and preconceptions of dance as an art form in a stunning work that weaves deftly between both live performance and recorded dance portraits. The AU discussed this visionary new work with its choreographer Sue Healey.

How is On View: Live Portraits unique as a piece of dance choreography?

With this work, the actual artist is the subject. Perhaps this makes it unusual. Essentially I want to show the dexterity and sheer genius of the dance artist – I believe that dance has always been under-played, under-valued, although central to our culture (we all move, or else we die). This work for me, celebrates the unique knowledges and diverse ways of thinking through the body that a dancer embodies. It highlights the skills of a dance artist in revealing complex constructions of identity and suggesting new ways of being. Dancers are masterly. They know how to be seen. They know how to see.

I also bring my filmic eye into the choreography. I’m interested in the subtle nuances that a close up or dynamic camera, or different perspective, can achieve. I have orchestrated the audience to both move around the choreography, as well as be seated, in the hope that an awareness of how we view is experienced.

How do you keep the balance between the live performance and recorded dance within the work?

It is a constant weighing-up of what form speaks the most eloquently for a given moment or idea. It is indeed a tricky balance – I shape and craft each moment, absolutely aware of the conflicting powers of the live body and the mediatised presence. Also, this work is about the dialogue that occurs between the cinematic and the live, so I am interested in the spaces between – the differences in how our perception alters when we read an image on a screen, or a real, breathing body. There are sections where I am also trying to fill the whole space with image, distorting and breaking away from the traditional flat picture plane surface. I hope this helps bridge the gap in our awareness of seeing space. Light is everything. Light in the cinematic image and light in the real space. Lighting designer Karen Norris is a key component to this – she activates the space around the screens illuminating the live bodies so that the dialogue can occur.

You mentioned that we are a screen-based culture, used to experiencing an overwhelming deluge of moving images daily. How has this shaped your choreography for On View?

This is a great question and at the heart of my enquiry. Because we are saturated with images and screen information, I feel it is my responsibility to be very accurate with the imagery, rather than just add to the cacophony. It makes me hone my ideas, filtering out the unnecessary, and refining what is essential.

How do you help the dancers to embrace your vision for the choreography and the final performance?

We talk and share ideas and trust each other. This artform is a true collaboration. There needs to be utter respect between artists for the magic to appear and I do believe that we have this in this production. All collaborators; dancers, composers, lighting designer, cinematographer, production staff, presenters and producers, bring their skill to the mix. I am not sure politicians understand just how incredible the Arts are in this respect. If our economy was run in a similar fashion I believe we would be in a far better place than we are now.

What was it like to work in collaboration with Judd Overton for the new work?

Amazing. This collaboration is at the core of this work. Every project I have created with this artist is eye-opening and empowering. He enables me to take risks, through his belief that my ideas might hold some merit…and I am so grateful for his skill and problem-solving (which is legendary). We have had some great adventures around the world filming dancers.

You are well known for working as a dance visionary across many mediums- galleries, theatres, tradition and non-traditional venues. How do you approach each of these?

Space is the issue for me – I love dealing with the specifics of any given space and context that is offered to me. I believe that this is the key to all my work…creating the right work for the right space for the right context. Give me a space and I will relish in the task of creating something moving and meaningful for it.

And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from the On View: Live Portraits?

Look at a portrait in a different way.
Think about creating their own portrait – of someone or themselves.
Really see something – go deeper than the surface.
See that our identities contain many shifting layers.

Well this is a bit of a different one but who doesn’t love Lego? 😀

Originally posted on The AU Review.

Ryan “Brick Man” McNaught is the only LEGO Certified Professional in the Southern Hemisphere, whose incredible LEGO-building career spans models and mosaics vast! The AU caught up with the Brick Man ahead of the arrival of more than 50 of his original works in Sydney to chat about the Brick Man Experience, super-secret building tips and everyone’s favourite little coloured bricks.

What is your first memory of Lego?

I was 3 years old, and my grandmother Hazel bought me a LEGO set from coles, I remember very clearly playing with it on the floor next to grandads chair.

You were originally an Information Technology Manager. How and when did you decide that wasn’t the path for you and that your destiny was paved by little bricks…?

Like most career changes it just sort of happened, I was doing more and more LEGO projects after hours and it eventually was like working 2 jobs, so I had to make a decision, which of course was easy when you had to choose the board room or a LEGO workshop!

How does one become a Lego Certified Professional?

There is only 12 of us in the world and each of us became one in a different way, so there is no set path per se, how I got it was I was working with mindstorms which is the LEGO robotics system, and I wrote some software to let mindstorms work with the ipad, so kids could control models from their ipads. Anyway some guys from LEGO saw it and we got chatting from there.

What is the standard process for approaching a new model?

It’s all about research before we even pick up a brick, its about learning about what we are going to build, on average every project has about 10% research time. The more we understand what we are creating the better the outcome. From there we will do sketches and drawings before we actually build.

At any one time about how many Lego bricks do you have?

It’s not easy to keep count, but its around the 5 million brick mark give or take, it also depends on what projects we are working on.

Do you have a favourite Lego piece that you have built?

The LEGO colosseum is my favourite, it was such a difficult model to build, it has a lot of little secret detail things in it too.

What can audiences expect from the “Brickman Experience”?

I’ve got over 60 models on display, some of the largest ever seen in Australia and I’ve got plenty of things for people to help me build too. I’ve also got a couple of secret never seen before models which will be unveiled just for Sydney!

And finally, do you have a super-secret special tip for all Lego builders out there?

Build things you love, if you are into space, then build rockets, or if you like trains, building things you are interested in means you add a whole heap of passion into your models, and that really shines through. Also don’t be afraid to build the same thing a few times, each version will get better and better.

LEGO! Ah, the world’s most popular toy. There’s something just so magical about these little coloured bricks that holds the adoration of children and adults alike. That love of building and creating is something we never seem to grow out of, thank goodness. Now you can see the work of one such man who has dedicated his life to our beloved bricks and become The Brickman (Ryan McNaught), the only Lego Certified Professional in the whole Southern Hemisphere. In The Brick Man Experience: An Exhibition of LEGO Works you get to see some of his most incredible LEGO creations right up close, and feel that little pang of longing to play.

As you enter the exhibition you are greeted with some fun factoids about LEGO, for example 1989 was the year that our little yellow characters first received their multiple facial expressions (extra fact- they were with the pirates collection!). But as you enter into the big exhibit room prepare to be wow-d.

From the first piece, an amazingly ombre giant flower, to the Opera House and Colosseum, to a giant ship, a space shuttle, a Ferrari, a helicopter. Everything makes you stop and inspect with careful wonder at the amount of incredible detail and just HOW MANY BRICKS are in each and every one. Most of the models are two sided, showing the outside and the incredible inside. You could stand there and explore the inside of the Opera Hall for hours (although you may face the wrath of Jabba the Hutt). The Colosseum is split into old and new, one side showing its original form in the age of Gladiators, the other as a work of restoration and popular tourist destination. My favorite piece was the giant ship though! With something different in each and every little room, and even carefully thought out ballast at the bottom of the ship.

The exhibit also recognizes that seeing all these LEGO models makes hands twitchy to build, so along the way there are several chances to get your hands on some bricks. There are two large murals underway, made with little squares that everyone can build on to contribute to the picture, and there is also a large area for kids to get building as Brickmen in Training.

The Brick Man Experience is fun and exciting for children of all ages (even the fully grown ones). There is plenty to be amazed by, and everything is close enough to see clearly (but far enough away to worry about little determined hands) that you can quite easily spend your time just watching the story of the model unfold through the carefully planned and executed detail. Mr Brickman, I’d love to build LEGO with you sometime!

This was really fun! They gave us a fantastic table and everything was really entertaining- a great girls night out! Food was pretty tasty, and I finally got to taste Fleur Delacour’s bouillabaisse. Excitement!

Originally posted on The AU Review.

The sexy Paris burlesque feeling, the lavishness of French cabaret and the glamour of fine dining all comes to life at Slide Lounge for the Risqué Revue. This is fabulously fun and seductively sexy evening of French-themed performance and cuisine, and as you make your way through the 3-course meal prepared to be wow-d by six performers who know how to show off their talents (and bodies)!

Upon arrival we were guided to our table, taken through the evening’s French themed menu (more on that in a moment) and offered a drink. Everything keeps in this French theme- the music, the wait staff, food and the collection of fun French-themed cocktails! First up was our entrée- a delicious zucchini & tomato tarte tartin. I loved the soft and fluffy pastry base!

After entrée it was time for the show to begin, starting with the cabaret-style vocalist. Set to the side is a sort of picture frame, in which appears legs, arms and corset-clad torsos. You can tell already from the toned body parts the physical athleticism that will be shown. One by one the vocalist introduces the four ladies to us, as they appear out of the frame and onto the stage. We are also introduced to our sole muscle-clad man of the evening, Joe.

Each of the girls shows off her own individual talents in a short skit- a delicate chair-dance of white and mink, an incredible performance of rose petals on the silks, a whip-equipped pole dancer and a strip teasing seductive dancer. Throughout these performances Joe stands by, assisting with any required clothing removals and being the occasional swing from his biceps. His seductively passionate gaze is quite something! Eventually he gets to show off his very own talents on the spinning pole, and wow! (I also loved his belly piercing).

After all the girls returned on stage wearing beautiful lace masks for a final chorus dance to our sultry vocalist it was time to break for our main course, of which there were two alternating options. A slow braised beef cheek and bouillabaisse. My very first bouillabaisse! It was very exciting, and delicious! Served with tasty large croutons. I felt very much like Fleur Delacour.

After dinner we were into the second half of the performances and wow did the intensity pick up! There were can-cans and sexy dances and a man on a aerial hoop and a woman on a aerial hoop in a bathtub! That routine was simply spellbinding- as without any safety ties she flicked herself out of the water filled bath (spraying us nearby tables with water and making our supplied umbrellas useful) and spinning herself freestyle into their air on a hoop. Careful not to leave you mouth open in awe, you might catch some bubbles.

The dessert course was served through this second half; with a cute shortbread Eiffel Tower and a Cannele de Bordeaux with French custard and an amazing red/blue/white salted caramel éclair. And with the last bite of my delicious éclair the evening came to a feather shaking close.

Everything on the evening is just sexy enough, with a provocativeness of glamorous dance so that everything is tasteful for the dinner meal. The costumes are exquisite, with feathers and sparkles galore. Each of the performers has their own unique personality, which makes everything even more entertaining.

There is really no other experience like it- you are really really close to the action here. Aerial routines are performed pretty much right next to (and on top of) you and the stage itself is very much on level with the tables. The French themed menu is delicious, and as you pace yourself through the food you are treated to some really spectacular performances. It’s all quite risqué, lots of fun and just makes for a really fantastic night out!

Hi everyone~

Earlier this year I went to Japan- amazing, amazing Japan! I loved my time there and am hoping to share a whole lot of new experiences and travel tips!

A lot of people have asked me, and yes Korea is still number one in my heart, but Japan definitely comes in at a close second for my most favourite places I’ve visited and I cannot wait to go again ❤

In the meantime- let’s visit Japan (through blog posts ke)!


This was actually super fun, I really enjoyed it! It was the story from the movie per se, but it had a lot of similar elements. Would definitely see it again! “Sometimes being pretty, it’s enough” haha, still laughing.

Originally posted on The AU Review.

Bring It On was (and still is) one of my favourite movies to watch at a girly sleepover. Cheerleading, high school romance and lots of attitude! It’s all fun and very re-watchable. Now Bring It On comes to the musical stage and it brings with it those same sorts of epic routines, but this time live. On stage. With no mats. Prepare to cheer!

The most important thing to note for Bring It On The Musical is that it is NOT the story of the film. If you go in expecting Toros and Clovers you’ll be disappointed, so go in expecting all the high school attitude and epic cheer routines and you’ll be in for a fun night!

The musical follows Campbell (Alex Lewtas), who has just been elected as cheer captain for Truman High. She’s popular, blonde and has a handsome, yet dense, boyfriend. Okay, so it’s a little similar to the movie. Here the tales diverge though. Campbell is redistributed from her preppy school to the downtown Jackson High, which GASP has no cheerleading team. The school does have a dance crew though, lead by the feisty Danielle (Kat Hoyos). Campbell bumbles along making lots of mistakes, which she eventually recognizes and grows as a person as a result. There are lots of positive messages in this one- the importance of friendship, the diversity and celebration of body image and firm self-belief.

A couple of standouts for me were Jessica Van Wyk in the role of Skylar, who managed to be very enjoyably bitchy with fun lines like, “Sometimes being pretty, it’s enough,” as well as show off some strong Cabaret-style vocals; Jamie Leigh Hadwen as Eva with her hilarious antics and energetic performance; and Sophy Carol as Bridget, the crowd favourite, with her wonderful expressions and empathetic pull. But the whole cast was a just a delight to watch together in action, with the youthful energy and love of performing really shining through.

Occasionally, there are moments when the energetic fun is interrupted by an emotional ballad-style piece, which I felt disrupted the flow a little too often, but overall the pacing kept up with the squads.

The most impressive part of this musical though, is the cheerleading moves. They really don’t hold back, despite the frighteningly hard looking wooden floorboards and evident lack of any fall-breaking mats. Girls are tossed and spun high into the air, landing with precision on shoulders with a huge performance smile. It’s all at once terrifying and insanely impressive.

Bring It On The Musical is a high-energy, crowd-motivating, trick-filled musical that is really enjoyably easy to watch. Just like our favourite cheerleading movie, this is a musical to grab your girlfriends together for fun night out. Perhaps to be followed by that ol’ sleepover with Torrance and popcorn.

Unfortunately this was another miss for me. Although some of the performances were good, overall I thought the dancing was average (for that level of production). The music tracks didn’t seem to work with the dances too (especially the live singing), and it was just a bit… boring. I do remember the “Take Me To Church” performance being quite good though!

Originally posted on The AU Review.

Ballet Revolución is a smooth fusion of classical ballet, contemporary dance and modern hip-hop, set to a rhythmic Cuban vibe. This talented company of dancers show off their athletic talents with the help of a live band, who take some current chart topping favourites and mould them into their own for the performances.

The show opens to a workshop class, as the instructor explains the movements and steps. When the theatre darkens the live band is revealed and the loud energy begins. There are no tight buns of classical ballet here, with hair flipping and flowing all over the place in continuous movement with the dancer.

These dancers move through a couple of instrumental pieces with classical, Cuban and Latin American vibes before beginning their routines to covered versions of popular RnB hits. This is where the fun really begins, when we see how the songs we are all familiar with are interpreted through dance! A couple of my favourite routines were the (almost) male-solo in “Take Me To Church”, the sexy fun of “Blurred Lines” and when all the dancers joined in together on stage for an energetic “Bang Bang”. Some other standout performances were an incredible display of strength and partnership in a pair dance on chairs, a rhythmic drumming performance that moved into James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s World” and a solo piece to Purple Rain by Yanier Gomez Noda. I’m pretty sure he would make a perfect specimen for studying the muscles in a body- you could see each and every one as he pirouetted, leaped and rolled.

At times the music switched between the live band and a pre-recorded track, and I must say I thought perhaps the pre-recorded tracks suited the performance better. I found the live singing to be slightly distracting.

The mix of genres and styles is what is fascinating in this production though, and the way these talented dancers carry it through. At times there were moments where choreography wasn’t quite in sync, but they worked to rectify with increased movement and flair.

Ballet Revolución is a really unique opportunity to see a balanced fusion of classical ballet, contemporary dance and modern hip-hop. With its integration of such recognizable chart songs, and the routines they perform to express these songs, you are really able to see the individual skills and combined work of one of the most renowned dance companies.

I didn’t actually see this one! Just coordinated this interview through email based on what I could find out about the production 🙂

The interview was originally posted on Arts on the AU.

Of Mice and Men is one of the world’s most compelling tales of friendship and survival. Now the much loved stage production is showing at the Seymour Centre as part of the Reginald Season until the 25th July. The AU caught up with Director Iain Sinclair about how he breathes new life into the original stage adaption and the important messages of the text.

OF MICE AND MEN is one of the most recognisable pieces of literature. How do you approach breathing new life into the production whilst staying true to the original stage adaptation and novella?

Steinbeck writes with a great sense of stagecraft. Even his novels have a great sense of dramatic clarity. They burst into reality as you read them. Our first port of call in the first half of rehearsals was to study Steinbeck’s gestural offers very closely and get them working right before clomping all over his elegantly lean prose with our own big ideas. He runs a very tight ship and doesn’t take much for contemporary life to come pouring into Of Mice and Men, it was written as an act of acknowledgement and respect for the tough lot that migrants endured, the constant assaults on their dreams the systematic dehumanising from above, the suspicion and antipathy people feel for them feels alarmingly close when we look at our own contemporary attitude toward migrant workers.

You also work as a dramaturg. How does that help shape your work as a Director?

It’s always a humbling experience working on text encoded by a master like John Steinbeck. My best learning experiences in dramaturgy have come from unpacking and restaging masterpieces. We have a lot to learn from our Masters. When I worked on Our Town at The Opera House a few years ago it felt at times like I had the reassuring hand of Thornton Wilder on my shoulder when it came to the really tough decisions. I learned from that experience to temper the interventionist directorial urge with a broader more playwright focussed attention to text, especially when working with a master. We always have a lot to learn from our masters – Steinbeck has extraordinary narrative efficiency its humbling to unpack the amount of complexity of emotional terrain, journalistic observation and fierce social commentary that Steinbeck can pack into a single gesture. The small talk as the men wait for Carlson to shoot Candy’s beloved dog, George’s heartbreaking vigilance looking after Lennie, Curley’s one hand in a glove full of Vaseline. He’s one of those rare writers who can tell giant stories with complex philosophy in with simple efficient eloquence.

How do you bring the rather despairing era of the Great Depression to life on stage?

The other night I found a documentary on Netflix called The Overnighters by Jesse Moss. The documentary is about men from all over the US converging on North Dakota hoping to get a slice of the new oilfield riches, the burb said this: “Broken, desperate men chase their dreams and run from their demons in the North Dakota oil fields. A local Pastor risks everything to help them.” This is a real thing happening right now.

As I watched it I was struck by just how true Steinbeck was to the voice and spirit of lonely, displaced migrant workers. The circumstances in The Overnighters are virtually identical to what Steinbeck documented in Southern California in the 1930s. Millions of people in this predicament are wandering the globe right now, hunting for any kind of work “just to get a stake” as George puts it. Of Mice and Men documents a relentless stripping back of dignity brought on by dire economic circumstances, I suspect that it would be foolhardy to attach too many extra bells and whistles to such a lean piece of storytelling.

What do you think is the most important message within OF MICE AND MEN and how relevant are these messages still within today’s society?

Beware the ravages of austerity. Slim the Jerk Line Skinner puts its best: “It seems like everybody in the whole damn work is scared of each other … it gets like they don’t even want to talk to each other … I’ve seen em turn mean.” Steinbeck draws fine portraits of a group of people lost in their own loneliness, some teetering on the cusp of turning mean and others already hardened and lost. My mind is drawn to our own rhetoric of economic austerity and our own response to people doing it tough. Have we allowed ourselves to become mean in the face of hardship? How do Australians treat our own migrants now? Do we have the tools to protect our souls from the ravages of unfiltered market forces?

Do you have a favourite line from the play/novel?

There are so many lines in Of Mice and Men that have deep impact – the trouble is that Steinbeck’s eloquence is so efficient that his quotes seem like plain sentences in isolation. If I may steal from his prologue instead: “In every bit of honest writing in the world, there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love. There are shorter means, many of them. There is writing promoting social change, writing punishing injustice, writing in celebration of heroism, but always that base theme. Try to understand each other”

And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from your new production?

A recognition that we define ourselves by our behaviour toward one another. That economic austerity invites mean-ness, mean-ness breeds isolation and isolation creates a universe of loneliness but that there is a way out. It is each other.

Bonus! Iain shares with us some of his director notes!

Like most of us I first encountered John Steinbeck at school. In one year I was also introduced to George Orwell, Arthur Miller and J.D Salinger and it set me on a path.

Steinbeck’s tough and deeply humane tale hooked me hard when I was 14 even though I was probably too young to appreciate the central mechanism of the novel. I had very few plans, they weren’t best laid and none of them had gone awry yet. At the time I was compelled by the deep friendship of Lennie and George, two men almost randomly thrown together yet so bound together that when they are pulled apart the whole universe of the story is destroyed. I remember sitting on my own bunk bed after finishing the book and something spent of its words, as if I could open it again and it would be just blank pages. As much as I was drawn by this extraordinary incongruous friendship I was also deeply moved by Steinbeck’s respectful and close portraiture of loneliness. I knew what loneliness was by then, sat on that bunk bed in a boarding school, my family in another country altogether I had just enough insight to appreciate Steinbeck’s lean eloquent and respectful genius of portraiture.

Revisiting this dearly loved childhood text now I’m struck by its adultness. I see Steinbeck’s close simple observation open up universes of human need. The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, it’s true, as we get older we feel this deeper and darker. We reach for our dreams in a way that exposes us to the cruelty of only ever realising them briefly. It’s a cruel story but it makes you cling ever more tightly to the consolation of dreams.

When Slim says to George that it seems to him “maybe everybody in the whole damn world is scared of each other” I wonder how far we have evolved from the depression, when economic hardship made us fearful and untrusting of migrants, of how ‘tightening our belts’ impacts those most exposed to hardship and how economic austerity pulls us away from kindness and toward something less admirable.

Again Slim has the words for it: “I’ve seen ‘em get mean”.

I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of spirit that Sport for Jove injects into theatre and humbled by the depth of investment the actors have made in this production and very fortunate to have revisited a work that put me on the path I find myself on.

In stark contrast to the previous review this was unfortunately the worst thing that I have ever been to in my life- just not something for me at all. I hated the interactivity, the absurdity, the dirtiness of the venue, and the stuffed phallic objects attached to the actors. I’m sure the experience would be worthwhile for some, after all the beauty of any art is that it is wonderfully diverse. But for me I learnt my lesson, and eye any shows that say “interactive” warily from a safe distance.

Originally posted on The AU Review.

If you have ever wondered what it would be like to wander about a derelict mad house of ex-psych patients dressed like teletubbies and mostly speaking in jibberish while they try and convince you to look for “things”, than look no further! Like Me is a unique, and crazy, theatre experience that is entirely interactive and a whole lot of… absurdity.

Each of the actors is dressed in a bright coloured piece with some ridiculous feature- enlarged body parts and eccentric face paint etc. As soon as you approach the theatre, an old house in Sydney’s The Rocks, they greet you in character- beckoning and gesturing, and encouraging you to take “selfies” with them.

The whole experience is entirely interactive and quite unpredictable. You are given free reign to wander around the house and explore each of the rooms. The actors come along with you, loudly playing their parts and darting here and there. The main “story” I suppose are these characters within a madhouse who are obsessed with themselves. They mutter “like” and beckon to you asking for your attention. For the most part it is all lighthearted fun, but there are a few moments when it all turns a bit dark and confronting. This is quickly glossed over with more chaotic action, but the messages are not quite lost.

This is perhaps not a theatre experience for everyone- but extraverts, drama students and those who generally enjoy a bit of mayhem and fun will feel right at home. The rest of us will just take in this interactive theatre piece, wander about the house observing all of the craziness, and wonder what on earth is going on.