Prima Facie; Nosferatu; Vengaboys; Burgerz

Nosferatu is simultaneously too much and too little. It’s ambitious – it just needs to trust its audience a bit more.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Flux

Prima Facie ★★★★★
Suzie Miller, Melbourne Theatre Company, Arts Centre Melbourne, until March 25

Prima Facie is the second five-star play about sexual assault I’ve seen in as many weeks (the other was Trophy Boys), and the repeated theme shouldn’t surprise anyone. Sexual violence is all too common in Australia – 23 per cent of Australian women and 8 per cent of men have experienced it in their lifetime. Reporting and conviction rates for these crimes remain alarmingly low, even in the wake of the #MeToo movement and several high-profile cases drawing wide attention to how the law contributes to this problem.

Sheridan Harbridge in Suzie Miller’s one-woman play Prima Facie.

Sheridan Harbridge in Suzie Miller’s one-woman play Prima Facie.Credit:Brett Boardman

Suzie Miller’s monodrama is an extraordinary and visceral portrayal of one woman’s experience of the legal system – first as a defence barrister, then as a sexual assault complainant and lead witness in a criminal trial – and it offers as uncompromising a cross-examination of the law as you’re likely to see on stage.

Tessa Ensler (Sheridan Harbridge) graduated top of her class in law school. The whip-smart, working-class kid felt out of place at university, and she still has an outsider’s sharp eye for privilege, enlivening her story with satirical impersonations of the “thoroughbred” private-school cohort with whom she studied.

Her lack of polish does give her an advantage in the courtroom, though. Witnesses consistently underestimate her, and Tess relishes the cut and thrust of defending her clients. She believes absolutely in the right to a fair trial and has long since internalised how to think like a criminal lawyer, which is to say, truth is irrelevant – it’s what the prosecution can prove beyond reasonable doubt that matters. And that is all.

When Tess gets raped by a colleague, she knows exactly what’s she in for, but reports the crime anyway. The anguish of her ordeal is multiplied by the knowledge that her pursuit of justice can only have one realistic outcome.

Sheridan Harbridge as Tessa: “The emotional impact of the show really does colour my own daily life.”

Sheridan Harbridge as Tessa: “The emotional impact of the show really does colour my own daily life.”Credit:Brett Boardman

I’ve seen the UK version of this play starring Jodie Comer, and I have to say Lee Lewis’ production outshines it by some margin.

Harbridge gives a magnificent tour de force. The first half of her performance is stirring, passionate, peppered with irreverent humour.

As a brilliant barrister in full flight, she possesses an electric intelligence that animates the whole room with an infectious enthusiasm for the blood sport, drawing us uncomfortably into the crafty tactics that (in a terrible dramatic irony) will later be used against Tess as a witness.


And there’s a likeable vivacity to Tess letting her hair down, too, which makes the gut-punch of the play’s second half even more crushing.

You should take the play’s trigger warning seriously. Harbridge brings absolute authenticity to her portrayal of the emotional and psychological consequences of sexual assault. What happens is genuinely upsetting to watch, and if you’re a survivor, you may want to go with someone you trust.

Perhaps the play’s final cri de coeur is a touch didactic, but perhaps it needs to be. Decades of law reform now protect sexual assault complainants in many ways at trial, but they’ve done little to raise conviction or reporting rates. Let’s hope the affirmative consent model passed by the Andrews government last year has a greater impact. Brilliant theatre on this subject is necessary, but not sufficient, to make a difference.
Reviewed Cameron Woodhead

If you need support, call the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).

Vengaboys ★★★
The Forum, February 11

“Are you ready to party?” The Vengaboys yelled as they stepped onto the stage.

The Vengaboys perform at the Forum in Melbourne.

The Vengaboys perform at the Forum in Melbourne.Credit:Martin Philbey

A rhetorical question, really. The Dutch Europop outfit has been touring the world on and off for 25 years thanks to one unforgettable earworm – We Like to Party (The Vengabus) – unleashed in 1998.

Nevertheless, the crowd screamed in the affirmative. That unmistakable clown-car horn sounded, followed by a few bars of the electro-polka intro. We like, we like, to party. But it was a mere tease – when a group’s oeuvre pivots around three short songs and the show’s runtime is one hour, some filler is called for.

It was an hour filled with kitsch and nostalgia as the Vengaboys took the stage.

It was an hour filled with kitsch and nostalgia as the Vengaboys took the stage. Credit:Martin Philbey

What followed was an extended karaoke remix session – with lyrics displayed on a screen behind the dancing quartet – that paid homage to pop and rock hits from the late-70s through to the resurgent Y2K era. At one point I wondered if any song would run longer than 30 seconds. No sooner had we yelled Let’s Get Loud than we were stomping our feet to We Will Rock You.

The performance was energetic and fun, if uneven. But who cares about the quality of the vocals and choreo’ when you’re an ageing millennial doing the macarena for the first time since your cousin’s bat mitzvah in 2001? This was pure kitsch.

The Vengaboys – which still comprises three of the original four members, now aged in their forties – knew what we came for, and they delivered: nostalgia, banal banter, sequins, giant bouncy balls, and a cover of Barbie Girl, that other late-90s Europop bubblegum hit by Aqua. I wondered if, in some parallel universe, Aqua was covering We Like to Party. But my existential questions evaporated as we segued into a club remix of 4 Non Blondes’ What’s Up? Don’t think too hard about what’s going on, the universe was telling me.

Across their set, the Vengaboys paid homage to pop and rock hits from the late 70s through to the resurgent Y2K era.

Across their set, the Vengaboys paid homage to pop and rock hits from the late 70s through to the resurgent Y2K era.Credit:Martin Philbey

We had to wait until the end of the show to jump into the Vengabus – and the other big Vengaboys hits, Up and Down and Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom!! – but the wait was worth it. The floor of the Forum trembled with the pent-up anticipation of the previous 52 minutes.

The crowd seemed genuinely overjoyed. At one point the tempo of We Like to Party slowed and then gradually sped up to a frenetic pace, like a deranged hora. I felt like I was literally inside TikTok. There was a brief encore – an impressive feat for a show that was itself one long, extended encore. And then, after exactly one hour – precisely when any TikTok session should stop – it was over.
Reviewed by Elissa Goldstein

Burgerz ★★★½
Travis Alabanza, performed by Kikki Temple, Theatre Works, until February 18

When it comes to smashing barriers to performance, Kikki Temple really knows how to make an entrance.

Kikki Temple makes quite the entrance in Burgerz.

Kikki Temple makes quite the entrance in Burgerz.Credit:Daniel Rabin

Burgerz begins with the Maori actress, drag artist, and playwright hooning through the wall of Theatre Works in a hatchback, her car knocking over a prop sign before careening to a standstill onstage. It’s as provocative a grab for the limelight as it could be. Well, almost. She could’ve done a few donuts over the dominant culture, I suppose, but that would have been stealing her own thunder.

The piece is framed as a response to an ugly public assault – a total stranger threw a burger at Kikki at Flinders St Station in 2016, just because of how she looked. Hundreds of people witnessed it and, to everyone’s shame, no one said a word or lifted a finger to help.

Her experimental riposte plays out as part-cooking show and part-healing ritual. To restore her agency, Kikki invites a white male audience member onstage to help her cook a burger, a process that turns into an extended metaphor for all the absurdities and inequities faced by those who don’t fit neatly into a binary conception of gender.

It’s a unique recipe for performance art, using ingredients you won’t find on MasterChef – including furious screeds against discrimination and violence, and an instructive look at how various cultures ancient and modern have approached gender difference; a lesson transfigured, in the show’s most affecting moment, into an ancestral prayer for assistance.

Burgerz plays out as part-cooking show and part-healing ritual.

Burgerz plays out as part-cooking show and part-healing ritual.Credit:Daniel Rabin

Spliced in are dynamic drag diversions, sassy digs at white privilege, and a perilous portrayal of how trauma can remain embodied in the present. (At one point – a bit worryingly – the burger attack appears less performed than relived.)

Technically, screws need tightening. Distilling scenes of outrage and pruning loose moments should increase dramatic impact, though any opening night nerves were unwarranted: Kikki is totally at home on the boards, and she was performing before a receptive crowd.

The opening night audience was packed with trans peeps, enbies and androgynes, in a joyful celebration of gender diversity that the show could’ve played to more. It’s fair to say the crowd went wildest when Kikki simply enjoyed the hard-won freedom of being herself onstage, but the fact that she can’t feel as safe and free to express herself at Flinders St Station is the bitter crux of the piece. Until that changes, the battle goes on.
Reviewed by Cameron Woodhead

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