Christos Tsiolkas’ Loaded has finally hit the stage. But is it good?

Christos Tsiolkas’ Loaded has finally hit the stage. But is it good?

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This wrap of shows around Melbourne includes a long-awaited stage adaptation of an iconic novel, a genre-defying work of satire and an original production that engages radical theatre history in ways that will surprise and delight.

Loaded ★★ ½
Malthouse Theatre, until 18 June

Caught between two worlds. This theme is a preoccupation of many artists from various diasporas, so much so that it has become somewhat trite. Yet, despite it being well-worn territory, it remains compelling. There’s a natural narrative tension, and the conflict makes for a good arc. To resolve or not to resolve?

Dany Ball as Ari in Loaded at Malthouse Theatre.Credit: Tamarah Scott

Christos Tsiolkas’s 1995 novel Loaded is chockful of this; you could call it seminal, even. The book follows a day in the life of Ari, a 19-year-old gay Greek man as he travels to all four corners of Melbourne looking for a good time, not to mention the ultimate escape from the straitjacket that is traditional Greek culture, one that his first-generation parents cling on to.

He meets with friends along the way, they party lots, and the tensions that come with coming of age as a queer ethnic are viscerally felt. A film adaptation, Head On, was released in 1998 to critical acclaim, and Loaded the audio play followed in late 2020 during the height of the pandemic. The latter was meant to be staged, but we know what happened.

Two years later, the staged version is here. The homonymous play is a monodrama with Danny Ball as Ari, directed by Stephen Nicolazzo (Looking For Alibrandi). At times Ball switches to Johnny a.k.a. Toula, his drag queen buddy, or to Maria, his friend, but it is largely Ari. We see through his eyes as he dances, cruises, sucks and f—s all over Melbourne while grappling with his sexuality in the context of being Greek-Australian.

The stage version of Loaded updates the story from the ’90s to the modern day.Credit: Tamarah Scott

Instead of the ’90s, however, the audience is taken to the present, where Ubers, Spotify playlists and terms such as “check your privilege” exist.

The expensive-looking yet sparse set—comprising a rotating stage made of stone and two arched entrances, one tiled in a glorious blue—is all Ball has to work with. He sustains it fairly well across the 95-minute runtime, but the highs and lows are inconsistent. For a story inherently imbued with manic energy, Ball at times appears rote as he switches between Ari’s contradictory demeanours and feelings.

There is a tender moment when Ari finally catches the eye of George, his brother’s friend, and they have frenzied sex before a vulnerable, angst-filled conversation about their shared identity, but generally the cruising and partying scenes are lacklustre.

The same thing could be said about the music. Composed by Daniel Nixon, its mutedness is a curious decision: after all, this is a narrative about a disenfranchised young man where music is the only real thing. Perhaps this is why Ball sometimes seems anguished when he is experiencing pleasure and vice versa.

That said, Ball is luckily quick with the character transitions and the script is paced well. But I could have just as easily listened to this as a book on tape.
Reviewed by Cher Tan

A Nighttime Travesty ★★★★
A Daylight Connection, Meat Market, until May 12

Yirramboi means “tomorrow” in the languages of the Woiwurrung and Boonwurrung people. As a platform for First Nations creatives across the performing arts, the Yirramboi Festival has a fearless, forward-looking cultural energy that shows up just how timid and moribund a lot of mainstream performance in this country has become.

A Nighttime Travesty is a case in point. This genre-defying satire furiously dismantles life-denying forces at work in Australian culture. Patriarchy, colonial genocide and stolen generations, white supremacy and white guilt, wanton environmental destruction – not to mention the sins and inequities of the theatre world. You name it, the show eviscerates it.

Carly Sheppard and Kamarra Bell-Wykes in a scene from A Nighttime Travesty.Credit: Gregory Lorenzutti

Indigenous Australian flight attendant Angel (Carly Sheppard) serves aboard The Last Fleet, a spacecraft ferrying cashed-up souls away from Earth (now a smouldering hellscape on the brink of human extinction) to some not-so-great beyond.

Tough gig … and Angel has had to compromise herself to get it. All survivors aboard (Kamarra Bell-Sykes) are hideous lampoons, and when Angel isn’t coerced into providing sexual favours to the phallocentric Captain Gift, she’s dealing with an infuriatingly calm AI colleague, or a motley cast of entitled passengers.

But Angel’s a fighter, and when things get Biblical, she finds herself in a fight to the death against God Himself.

An apocalyptic frame parodies free-to-air TV, from the glossy, whiter-than-white “ordinariness” of morning news hosts to a piss-take of the Red Faces segment on Hey Hey It’s Judgement Day.

Overt meta-theatre intrudes, with self-deprecating quips from the performers about the show itself, and even a pre-emptive roasting of the platitudes and values that critics can regurgitate about First Nations theatre.

A Nighttime Travesty is a genre-defying satire.Credit: Gregory Lorenzutti

Onstage house band smallsound plays responsive incidental music, giving proceedings the air of an improvised counter-cultural “happening”, and rocks out to a range of musical numbers – some inane, some soulful – loosely incorporated throughout.

Sheppard and Bell-Sykes deliver the ferocious script with a compelling command of comic grotesquerie. There’s a Brechtian force to the way their performance speaks truth to power. They’re also deadly funny, with outlandish visual gags including a costume reveal showing how all this mob wants is, ah, a fair suck of the sauce bottle.

Tasteless moments abound, of course, but “good taste” is political, as are “good manners”. Here a wildly subversive aesthetic deliberately impales both on the blade of satire.

Blue language. A massive dildo. Action that might be viewed by some as blasphemous or obscene. It’s all there, and hardly any of it feels gratuitous. Clutching one’s pearls at rudeness is, after all, the luxury of the privileged and complacent – those of us who don’t want to think about, or to be offended by, how we’re implicated in the real-life injustices the show so blisteringly critiques.
Reviewed by Cameron Woodhead

Cavalcade ★★★★
Wits’ End, The Eleventh Hour, 170 Leicester St, Fitzroy, until May 21

Alone together in this place – Dada is not – When you consider – As art must fall to be – Dead as a – Dada is – Pedalling into a wall – Concrete poetry – No omelette without – Marcel Duchamp is not – the “Real Thing” – Erik Satie is not – Readymade – William Henderson is – Bespoke – World famous in Yackandandah – The real thing – The jacaranda on the veranda – Overegged – As art must fall to be – But so there! – If you look – poetry – If you can be stuffed looking – If only, if only…

Peter Houghton stars in Cavalcade.Credit: Ponch Hawkes

A review of Cavalcade written using the cut-up technique devised by the original dadaists might come closer to capturing its bizarre and brilliant essence than more conventional forms. Alas, there is granular information to convey, should you want to seek out this hidden indie theatre gem for yourselves.

Cavalcade resurrects a century-old modernist movement in a distinctly Australian idiom.Credit: Ponch Hawkes

Performed at The Eleventh Hour – a beautiful, privately owned theatre space tucked away on the side streets of Fitzroy – the show resurrects a century-old modernist movement in a distinctly Australian idiom. It’s the unlikeliest flower, the kind that seems to bloom from artists (the novelist Gerald Murnane is a good example from literature) whose eccentricity thrives in an intellectual desert where the cultural topsoil is thin.

Cavalcade is a biography of a bicycle, or an attempt at one. Two disgruntled jobbing actors (Tom Considine and Peter Houghton) face opening night disaster: their theatre troupe has been delayed by Melbourne traffic and a series of unfortunate events. They crash the bike right away, and although they get on with the show, they’re not happy about it.

Their misery becomes part of the show’s elaborate and consuming whimsy. Scenes are interwoven with meta-theatrical bickering and banter. An amusing sense of comic futility and failure dogs every move. And yet, the scenes themselves are utterly true to the subversive agenda of dada.

A slapstick sack race mocks the inevitability and arbitrariness of male competition. The tale of a dead dog skewers the callousness of the bourgeoisie. A schoolboy runs rings around a martinet teacher, controlling the narrative by shouting a frenzied poem, itself composed of permutations of ugly slogans, buzzwords, and soundbites from Australian politics.

Bedecked in a bowler hat with a piano on top, pianist Peter Dumsday plays Erik Satie’s inimitable Sports et Divertissements – occasionally to odd instructions – providing neat dramatic accompaniment and interludes to the comedy.

And projections disrupt, and deepen the performance, through weird and wonderful concrete poetry, lists of concentration camps, and satirical animations of evil billionaires carving up the world.

Original, smart and very funny, Cavalcade engages radical theatre history in ways that will surprise and delight, without letting the present off the hook.
Reviewed by Cameron Woodhead

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