Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ratty, Mole, & Other Mafiosi (the link between The Wind In The Willows & La Cosa Nostra)

Metro, Sydney Morning Herald, December 28, 2007

BENITO DI FONZO finds Mafia references in The Wind In The Willows.

Front at left, Callie Gray as Mole with Joe Sullivan as Ratty. At back is left, Warwick Allsopp as Weasel and Tamlyn Henderson as Toad.
Photo: Marco Del Grande


"It feels like one big picture book," says Callie Gray of the production of The Wind In The Willows, staged annually in the Royal Botanic Gardens. "We're really at one with nature."

Gray again will embody Mole, whose journey above ground into the world of the riverbank, chaperoned by nautical companion Ratty (played by Joe Sullivan), is at the heart of Kenneth Grahame's classic children's tale.

In the 100 years since its original publication, Grahame's novel has been adapted many times for stage and screen. It has introduced whole generations to the pastoral wonders of boating by the riverbank, where Ratty, Mole and other creatures such as the stern Badger (Colin Donnelly) and the mischievous Toad (Tamlyn Henderson) live.

This Australian adaptation by Glenn Elston introduces audiences to the magic of theatre as well as the gardens.

"I think kids naturally have a love of theatre, of dressing up, make-up and play-acting," Gray says. "It's wonderful that we can have it in such a wonderful position on Sydney Harbour and you can bring your mother, grandmother, sons, daughters - it's for everyone. For an actor it's absolute bliss: outdoors, a receptive audience, great material."

The performers mostly stick to the original story but the production allows for some improvisation, particularly when the children who are turned into rabbits become part of the show.

Later, parents allowing, these children are formed into teams and taken into the "Wild Wood". Ratty's team is termed the Rat Pack. It reminds me that, while many over the years have seen the story as analogous to the British class system, with the upper-class twit Toad, middle-class river bankers, the proletariat of rabbits and underclass of weasels and stoats, no one seems to have noticed the obvious references to Mafia mythology, namely the "rats" and "moles" "badgered" by an ancient and powerful patriarch.

I put this to Ratty and Mole.

Gray: "Badger could be the Godfather, couldn't he?"

Sullivan: "He'd kneecap you with his walking stick."

Gray: "I'm loving that. Maybe we should go with that?"

Sullivan: "Who would Toad be, the bumbling fool?"

I suggest the clumsy Fredo Corleone and decide to quit while I'm behind.

Toad Hall, positioned in a natural amphitheatre near Mrs Macquaries Chair, is the scene for a climactic imbroglio in Grahame's novel, where Mole, Ratty, Badger and Toad wield clubs and rifles against weasel and stoat squatters. However, this scene has been softened for the gardens.

"We use water bombs," Gray says. "We try to make it a bit of fun - Weasel [Warwick Allsopp] is scary enough."

Much of the story revolves around the foolish Toad, including his jailing for grand theft auto and escape as a washerwoman in a moment of classic pantomime drag. However, Gray feels Mole's discovery of a world beyond her tiny underground home and the unique personalities that populate it resounds most with audiences.

"There's an innocence that the kids really relate to," she says. "I almost represent them up there with these animals. They learn to be themselves - not to apologise for who you are - and enjoy that. Kids are the best to perform to: they're amazing, so generous and, if they don't like it, they'll tell you."

A few brats among the bunnies, then?

Sullivan: "Which Badger keeps in line. They'll yell out and throw things."

Gray: "Tug costumes."

Sullivan: "Pull your tail."

Gray: "Say, 'You're not really a badger.'"

Nonetheless, Gray admits Mole is her childhood dream role.

"I put the make-up on when I go out on Friday nights," she quips.

I thought I recognised her from that weird club near The Sopranos' Bada Bing.

"Yeah, it's called The Burrow."




Royal Botanic Gardens


Mrs Macquaries Rd, Sydney


5 January 2008 to 26 January 2008


$25 ($85 family of four)

Phone Bookings

1300 122 344

Online Bookings


Tues - Sat, 11am & 6pm.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Myfanwy 'Myf' Warhurst & Alan Brough In Conversation with Benito

Spicks And Spec-tacular

Benito Di Fonzo, Metro, Sydney Morning Herald
December 14, 2007

The road-show version of ABC TV's hit rock quiz show, now with live audience participation.

Season's greetings ... (from left) Myf Warhurst, Adam Hills and Alan Brough.

Season's greetings ... (from left) Myf Warhurst, Adam Hills and Alan Brough.

Comedy, Theatre
Enmore Theatre
130 Enmore Rd, Newtown
9 January 2008 to 12 January 2008
Phone Bookings
02 9550 3666
Online Bookings


"We've got very special ways of picking out the music nerds in the audience." So says Myfanwy "Myf" Warhurst of the road-show version of ABC TV's hit rock quiz show Spicks And Specks, now with live audience participation.

"There'll be Adam [Hills], Myf and myself onstage and a band," says opposing team leader Alan Brough. "What we'll do is pick 10 contestants from the audience and they're going to play the games [from the TV show] and we're going to whittle it down to an eventual winner."

The house band will feature Warhurst's brother Kit from Rocket Science, as well as Jet keyboardist Stevie Hesketh and, from the Vandas, Gus Agars on drums.

The idea of taking the TV show on tour came from the frustrations of ABC studio audiences.

"The audience is always so much fun," Warhurst says. "They love having a yell at us and they always get told to shush on the TV show so I'm hoping there'll be a lot of yelling and a lot of chaos."

"On television everything's pretty much prescribed," Brough says. "It can be edited and any screw-ups taken out. The great thing about a live show is that who knows what the hell's going to happen, particularly when you're interacting with the audience."

Aside from choosing players on the basis of questions from the stage, Brough will be scouting the audience for what he calls "super nerds".

What's the best way to spot them? Vulcan handshake? Deep Purple T-shirt?

"I think that they're fairly obvious," Brough says. "We'll have a set of questions which are quite specific because every night we'll want to find different sorts of people. One night we might want a classical-music nerd or a show-tunes nerd."

Or someone attractive to share the stage with? "That should never be discounted as a criteria for selection," Brough says. "We're going to go from the actually practical, asking them whether they know about music, to the completely facile, [such as] 'That's a nice blouse you've got on' or 'I like that T-shirt'. So everyone will get a chance of being involved."

Doesn't inviting the audience onstage risk them being upstaged?

"I have no doubt that every night we will be upstaged," Brough says enthusiastically, "but it will be fun. I think as soon as you start worrying about people being better or funnier than you, you should give up."

Once the 10 audience players are chosen they'll be run through the paces of familiar segments such as "Know Your Product", "Malvern Stars On 45" and "Substitute", which in the live show will be a medley sung by Hills, Warhurst and Brough.

"We'll just slowly lose people until we have one eventual winner," Brough says. "And in keeping with the ethos of the ABC they will win nothing!"

Except kudos? "That's exactly right."

Brough first exercised his music-nerd muscles working behind the counter of a record store in his native New Zealand, which he left after gaining fame as the personification of margarine, a husky transvestite, in a butter commercial.

"I'll be perfectly honest with you," Brough says. "I think the people who came up with [the campaign] were on drugs."

In Australia, his stand-up success garnered him spots such as his 1998 rendition of I'm In Love With The Chemist Shop Girl on ABC TV's Recovery to a bemused group of youngsters, before Spicks and Specks brought him wider fame.

"That was a spectacular disaster," Brough says of the Recovery spot. "I remember looking up and all these kids were staring at me, going, 'You're not You Am I!' "

Warhurst, meanwhile, was rising up the grimy pole of youth radio, moving from Melbourne's 3RRR to Triple J. Next year on Melbourne's Triple M she'll co-host breakfast with Rove's Peter Helliar.

Warhurst also received the 2007 Fugly Award, which runs in tandem with the Logies, for Most Spankable TV Personality.

"It's a bit of a worry," Warhurst says. "I wasn't sure if that meant someone that you wanted to slap."

Warhurst, who studied music at university, will give a rare display of her musical skills.

"I have put my hand up to be playing some sort of '80s balladry piano. That will be deeply frightening for everybody involved. You get to see little sides of us that you wouldn't see on the show."

Will Brough and Warhurst finally get to live out their frustrated rock-star dreams on the road?

"We hope so," Warhurst says. "I've already got plans to trash a hotel room somewhere along the line just so I can have that little fantasy, but I'm sure I will be very polite."

Brough doubts they'll live up to the dream.

"I'd be tempted to but all my friends would laugh at me, which is a fairly potent weapon. We were asked for our backstage requests recently and all I could think of was fresh fruit and a nice bottle of red wine. I think that doesn't make me rock."

Warhurst, who famously forgot the title of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit in the second episode of Spicks And Specks due to nerves, admits she is a little frightened of her first live theatre show.

"There could be some Britney Spears moments for me," she says. "[But] we can all be humiliated together."

Surely mass humiliation is the modus operandi of the show?

"That's right," Warhurst says. "And all having a good time doing it."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Book Reviews on 2ser

Today on 2ser 107.3 fm, at roughly 5pm, Benito will be discussing the slightly over-hyped meta-textual tome The Raw Shark Texts by Stephen Hall (see )

and the brilliant and serious academic study entertainingly translated for the layman Eccentrics by David Weeks & Jamie James (see

Vital Organs

Here is an unedited version of the article. For the Sydney Morning Herald click on this post's title. (photo: Simon Elekna)

“Insalata & Accessible Absurdism”

by Benito Di Fonzo.

“It was salad days back then,” says Patrick Brammall of the time last year when he and co-writer/performer John Leary won The Philip Parsons Young Playwright’s Award, had their first play staged, and were commissioned to write a B Sharp production.

“It was all high-fives and check-us-out and how we can get a commission, and then there was the reality of doing it...”

“Holy Moses,” remembers Leary, “we have to write a show!”

Brammall and Leary have a healthy rapport, as evidenced by the number of times they finish each other’s sentences or digress into topics ranging from Gunter Von Hagen’s plastinated corpses, Tony Abbott, or the deficiencies of Facebook’s ‘Scrabulous’ versus genuine Scrabble. No wonder their company is called Easily Distracted.

Their first play The Suitors was written whilst sharing a house in Camperdown, taking turns typing whilst bouncing ideas around the walls. However that was suddenly impossible with Brammall moving interstate to film the upcoming Channel 9 series Canal Road, then travelling overseas with his girlfriend on the proceeds. They turned then to the already mentioned popular website, making Vital Organs possibly the first play written on Facebook.

Vital Organs begins with the two actors performing a light-hearted show about the history of medicine called Vital Organs. Things veer towards weirdness when Brammall’s character decides their long-running show must delve deeper into the meaning of pain and the human body. He decides he can do this by removing his own organs in front of an audience.

“We actually tried to write a serious play,” says Brammall. “That’s where the idea of the man removing his organs came from, the idea of a man on an existential quest. He feels pain and doesn’t know how to deal with it so he tries to locate it within his own body and he finds it, he thinks it’s in his stomach, so he tries to open up and physically remove it, and that was quite serious, but the difficulty with us writing together is that we tend to live in the ‘joy zone.’ We’re not very comfortable staying in the...”

“In the dark,” interrupts Leary.

Living in separate cities and writing via the web presented it’s own problems, such as how to distinguish each other’s changes to the script.

“When either of us had an addition or an amendment we’d change the colour of the font,” says Leary.

“So it was a rainbow script,” adds Brammall. “We’re like Brad and Angelina in a way.”

“How?” asks Leary.

“Well,” explains Brammall, “our words are our children, and they’re a rainbow.”

“So what are we: John-Trick?”

“No, I’m Brad, you’re Angelina.”

“Yeah; Brangelina; Johntrick.”

“Pat-John? Patathon? No, you’re not Jonathon are you?”

“Just John.”

“Johntrick, that’s a shit name.”

I suggest we leave that one to the editors at Who Weekly to work out and ask how the long-distance writing relationship affected the final draft.

“I certainly didn’t expect to come up with something so absurd,” says Brammall. “Not just silly either, it actually travels and constantly deviates in ways I didn’t expect. It’s completely off the beam, but not obscure...”

“I think it’s accessible Absurdism,” says Leary.

“There you go,” laughs Brammall, “corporate Absurdism.”

“No,” corrects Leary, “rather than Absurdism that leaves you completely baffled, I think...”

“It still has a logic integrity to it that you can follow,” adds Brammall, “so you understand how they got to where they are but it’s ridiculous where they get to - a man trying to take out his organs and another man...”

“Doing everything that he can to stop it,” finishes Leary.

While there are no Dr. Von Hagen-style organs exposed there are a few faux bodily fluids passed through the show.

“[Designer] Bobby Cousins has to come up with stage wee and stage poo,” says Leary.

“And it’s got to be the right kind of warm so that if someone touches it they’ll think it’s wee,” adds Brammall.

It won’t put people off their dinner?

“You’ll be able to eat before the show,” says Brammall helpfully.

Perhaps something to remind you of your salad days?

“A salad yeah, some sort of insalata would be good, then your main meal, then come see the show and get some desert afterwards.”


“Vital Organs”

By Patrick Brammall and John Leary.

Directed by Matt Whittet.

November 29 – December 22.

Belvoir St. Downstairs Theatre.

$29/$23 (Preview November 28 $20, Tuesday Pay-What-You-Can min $10)

Bookings 9699 3444 or

Friday, November 30, 2007

"Keeping Your Kitsch In Sink"

The Needle And The Damage Done

Benito Di Fonzo
Metro, Sydney Morning Herald, November 30, 2007

Fiona Scott-Norman uses her collection of vinyl atrocities to educate as well as entertain.

Fiona Scott-Norman puts a comic spin on her collection of trash vinyl.




The Studio


Sydney Opera House, Sydney


5 December 2007 to 8 December 2007


$28/$20 plus booking fee.

Phone Bookings

(02) 9250 7777

Online Bookings


"It really is is shockingly bad," says Fiona Scott-Norman of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival hit she is bringing to the Opera House. "The whole show is full of shockingly bad stuff."

At first appearance it seems a strange way to entice audiences but, in the case of The Needle And The Damage Done, bad is kitsch, and kitsch is good.

Over 75 minutes, Scott-Norman counts down a top 10, or should that be bottom 10, of the worst albums of all time. She trawls through the collection of just-plain-wrong vinyl she has amassed over the years, starting as a teenager in England when she shoplifted a Rolf Harris LP. It was strange preparation for her move to Australia at 18 but great grounding for her Melbourne radio program Trash Is My Life.

"This is the thing," Scott-Norman says. "I'm a good DJ, but I also have a large trash collection. It's like the evil side of me, the dark side. At some level I'm programmed for kitsch."

As comically kitsch as much of Scott-Norman's albums are - be they John Laws's spoken word LP In Love Is An Expensive Place To Die, or her most recent acquisition, a collaboration between the London Philharmonic Orchestra and romance novelist Barbara Cartland - there is certainly a dark side to this malodorous menagerie, as seen in categories including Swinging Sexism and I'm Not Racist But, in which even old Rolf takes a fall.

"I concentrate on the '60s and '70s because there's a big gap between what was acceptable then and what is now," Scott-Norman says. "I play a bit from Rolf Harris' Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport [which goes] 'Let me Abos go loose, Lew, let me Abos go loose, they're of no further use Lew, so let me Abos go loose.' By our standards that's appalling [but] he wrote that in 1957 and at that point Aborigines not only didn't have the vote but their deaths on outback stations were recorded in the livestock records."

Scott-Norman uses these vinyl atrocities to educate as well as entertain.

"It's cultural archaeology," she says. "It's drawing attention to things and reminding people how far we've come. It's celebratory, my show."

She has also found a rich vein in the vintage work of various Christian singers.

"A lot of it's simple in that what's funny is that it's so daggy or structured because, man, they go for a lot of hairspray those Christians. But what I find interesting about Christian music is the hypocrisy. They pose as being about love and Jesus and Christian values but so much of it is propaganda and it's manipulative."

There is a jaunty Christian sing-a-long (or should that be sin-a-long?) to a song called Oh Buddha.

"It's a categorical slagging off of all other religions," Scott-Norman says. "It's passive-aggressive."

Has she thought of evening the score with some Islamic, Hindu or Buddhist kitsch? Some duets between the Dalai Lama and Richard Gere perhaps?

"If the Dalai Lama put out a record of songs, I'd be there."

Scott-Norman brings her unique comic analysis to the albums, something that comes naturally to her after parallel careers as a DJ and a theatre and comedy critic for publications including The Age and The Australian.

"A couple of comedians have gone, 'Ooh, gamekeeper turned poacher,' " she admits of her first forays into stand-up after 15 years as a critic. "It's different doing it to writing about it. The stuff that seems obvious from the outside is not so easy when you're on the inside. It's like you're on different sides of the membrane. I was lucky in bringing all my interests together and it struck a chord with people. It's like going to a fun fair, on a roller-coaster or ghost train: we all enjoy being terrified. I think there's a lot of that in my show, people being appalled but also delighted."

Scott-Norman, whose vinyl library will be featured in a coming episode of ABC TV's Collectors, admits the reason she has been able to amass such a cornucopia of crap is that most people consider them rubbish and chuck them out.

"I've got most of my stuff from op shops over the years," she says.

How does one decide if an op-shop find is kitsch, and therefore cool, or daggy and bad?

"What you're looking for is something that has that extra edge," she says. "Something that catapults it into the spectacular category. It's a lot to do with the intention of the artist, the self-awareness."

Cover art is also important, says Scott-Norman, hence her section Men With Stuff.

"Basically that's an album cover art section, the props that men use to make themselves appear more masculine on their album covers."

After Scott-Norman's show, you'll no doubt be scouring St Vinnie's for Bernard King's A Man Of Style, John Laws's You've Never Been Trucked Like This Before or Charlie Manson's folk album Lie.

Alternatively, you could search for Olympic skaters Torvill and Dean's collection of embarrassing duets.

"They do Saturday Night and I Ain't Got Nobody," Scott-Norman says. "They're so white, they make Leonard Nimoy sound like 50 Cent."

Peter Helliar in conversation with Benito


Benito Di Fonzo
Metro, Sydney Morning Herald, November 22, 2007

Expect role-playing, bad mime and jokes about produce from Peter Helliar.

Peter Helliar goes bananas.




Enmore Theatre


130 Enmore Rd, Newtown


23 November 2007



Phone Bookings

02 9550 3666

Online Bookings


Two shows, 7.30pm (sold out), 9.30pm.


Bananas pushed Peter Helliar over the edge. "Global warming I could handle," the blond comedian says, "but paying seven bucks for bananas was a bit full-on."

This produce-based epiphany became the seed for Hellraiser, his show looking at the comedic possibilities of some of the more serious issues of our day.

"When I started writing it, there was a foiled terrorist plot at Heathrow, North Korea was testing missiles, global warming was more on the agenda, petrol prices had skyrocketed. Then bananas got to seven bucks a kilo and I thought,

'OK, it's time to get involved now.' "

Helliar guffaws regularly during our chat. He appears not to be laughing so much at his own jokes as at the ludicrousness of life in general, a gift that would have proved invaluable earlier this year when hepatitis C support groups attacked him.

"Who'd have thought a Pamela Anderson joke could get you into hot water?" Helliar says.

Helliar made a public apology but the controversy was reported in papers around the world, including London's Daily Mail and The New York Post - which can't have hurt his notoriety, surely?

"No, there's nothing wrong with that," Helliar says.

Eschewing any future hepatitis C humour, Helliar has stuck with making fun of the intrinsically unfunny.

"It's a challenge to take an issue that on the surface isn't funny and make it, find something in it. There are only so many jokes you can make about the same target. I don't want to do any more jokes about Shane Warne, I'm bored of that. You're always looking for new stuff to find comedy in. But I don't want people to think they're going to learn anything by coming to this show. It's not preachy."

Less An Inconvenient Truth than A Mildly Informed Possibility? "Mildly informed, yeah. Half-baked opinions."

Helliar is happy to stray from the script, which lets him swerve into pet topics such as the corporate patriotism of McDonald's or his strange affection for Bunnings employees. This has led to some dangerous audience encounters.

"I once had a saucepan thrown at me," Helliar says.

Who goes to a gig with a saucepan?

"I was thinking, 'Was this pre-planned? Was there some controversial stir-fry routine that I had?' I guess they would have brought a wok if that were the case. But it was a footy club, so there was a kitchen at the back. I said, 'Hey Cranbourne, heard your footy team had a win today.' Cranbourne's a suburb outside of Melbourne. Someone up the back - obviously he didn't play that day - threw kitchenware at me."

One thing that won't appear in Hellraiser is Helliar's AFL alter ego Bryan Strauchan. With his fame from TV's Before The Game, Strauchnie is more famous than Helliar in the AFL states.

"When I'm in Sydney, I still get people yelling out for the character, which puts a strange vibe in the room for a couple of seconds because it's hard to go into any of that kind of stuff, and I don't like to. If I'm doing Hellraiser as myself, I don't like to sponge off that character."

Much of Helliar's appeal, particularly through Strauchnie, is the self-deprecatory humour of the plain, unfit, everyman against superstars.

"There are too many comedians who have come about in recent years who are too good-looking, so we have to balance up the ledger a bit."

Surely Helliar's boss, Rove, is among those tall, handsome, young comedians?

"I'm taller than Rove," Helliar says. "I'm 5 foot 11 [180cm] and he's about 5 foot 2 [157cm]. He's got those telephone books he's sitting on, but he's got the looks on me."

Did he ever call him "shorty"?

"For the first three or four years," Helliar says, "then he won the Gold Logie."

What can punters expect from him live? "I'm a lot more physical, reasonably high-energy on stage. I use the whole stage. I like role-playing, bad mime ..."

Mime? "I'm up there with your worst comedy mimes but I give it a shot. I've become a kettle on stage, a paper clip.

I talk about global warming, drought ...

A lot of people I talk to after the show say it was their first stand-up gig. I was lucky enough to discover stand-up quite early and I think it's the perfect night out."

Friday, November 09, 2007

interview with Uncle Semolina (& Friends)


Benito Di Fonzo
Metro, Sydney Morning Herald. November 9, 2007

Plastic wrestling greats and a seven-metre mudpit help re-enact the world's oldest written story.

Back in the pit ... actor Mark Tregonning from the production in England.

Back in the pit ... actor Mark Tregonning from the production in England.
Photo: Tristram Kenton

The Studio
Sydney Opera House, Sydney
15 November 2007 to 23 November 2007
$20-$28 plus booking fee.
Phone Bookings
02 9250 7777
Online Bookings


"We try to use the qualities of dirt," says Phil Rolfe of the decision to stage the 5000-year-old Sumerian epic Gilgamesh in a seven-metre mudpit.

"At times [the dirt's] playful and at other times it becomes like a burial ground. By the end of the play the actors are literally covered in dirt, caked in it."

"The dirt is a real character," says co-creator Christian Leavesley, who admits to feeling "quite suffocated by cleanliness".

Mess is an important part of the work of Melbourne theatre troupe Uncle Semolina (& Friends), who have also re-enacted parts of the Old Testament and Greek myths using their childhood love of soiled plastic superheroes. As we speak they are making a mess of London's auspicious Barbican Theatre before wiping down their Iron Sheik and Sergeant Slam figurines for the Opera House. The 1980s toys play the respective leads of the original superhero Gilgamesh, born two-thirds god and one-third human, and comrade Enkidu, born half-man, half-beast.

They suspect their mudpit in the Opera House will arouse the usual mix of reactions to what they admit is, dolls aside, not a show for children.

"It's pretty violent," Leavesley says. "There's quite a lot of darkness in some scenes which counteract the child-play aspects. [In London] we had three curtain calls, which they told us is extremely rare, but at the same time we also had a couple of people who just thought, 'I don't understand what this is about and I find it annoying,' and left. I'm assuming that's what they were thinking. There is a level at which you [must] understand the imaginative vocabulary that the show is built on, which is the way that we played as children."

Leavesley, 33, and Rolfe, 35, feel their combination of intense toy-play and mythology appeals to generations that spent the 1970s or '80s in sandpits with Star Wars and World Wrestling Federation figurines. Rolfe and Leavesley saw in this the roots of storytelling and returned to the mudpit when the time came to stage their own shows.

"I had the whole Star Wars set," Rolfe says. "I used to play in the backyard, flood it with water and just crash and bash through all sorts of stories with my brother. Christian had a similar suburban Australian upbringing."

Leavesley: "We had more Lego at my place."

"From a psychological point of view," Rolfe says, "when you are a kid playing with these toys you're playing out versions and possibilities for the world. That kind of re-imagining of stories and creating epics out of miniatures is part of the inspiration for the show."

The actors hold the figurines, like dolls or puppets, and then do their voices for them as they play-fight each other. The figurines are the leads, but the audience can see the actors who are doing their voices and throwing them around.

The story is that of King Gilgamesh fighting and then befriending Enkidu who, after offending the goddess Ishtar, among others, is destroyed, leading Gilgamesh to a violent existential struggle with his own mortality.

This archetypal tale is the oldest surviving written story and from its 12 stone tablets later stories such as Noah and the flood and Homer's Odyssey arguably emerged.

Rolfe and Leavesley saw lessons relevant to our time in the work.

"When we first started it," Leavesley says, "the US was invading Iraq and [there was] the idea of a literal but also lateral sense of the US being at the height of its powers ... but now being somewhat of a Gilgamesh, of how different societies deal with a sense of mortality and of crumbling."

The tale of a tyrannical ruler convinced of his own invincibility carries specific messages for today's kings.

"It relates to that moment when you're a child and completely self-obsessed and then you realise the world's bigger than you," Rolfe says. "I think [world leaders] are still very much little boys, in that all the big geopolitics are actually little-boy stories if you boil them down."

Monday, November 05, 2007

Live at The El Rocco Jazz Cellar, Oct. 2007

For those who were too lazy, poor, or indifferent to come to my gig at Wordjammin' at The El Rocco, underneath Bar Me last month you can now hear some of the tracks at

Alternatively you can just click on the title of this blog entry, cheers.

the tracks are - "Whore of Babylon", "The Perfect Local", "Her Name was Champagne", and "She Chucked A Sickie".

the personnel are Benito Di Fonzo (guitar, poetry) Ash (piano) and Ben Eadie (drums).

Yes, I am playing those muzaky jazz chords, crippled walking bass and cheesy pentatonic scales whilst performing poetry, but they did let me sit down.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Half A Person: My Life As Told By The Smiths.

Half a Person: My Life as Told by the Smiths

Benito Di Fonzo
Metro, Sydney Morning Herald. September 21, 2007

The songs of the miserable Morrissey inspire a stage show.




Newtown Theatre


Cnr King & Bray Sts, Newtown


20 September 2007 to 29 September 2007



Phone Bookings

1300 306 776

Online Bookings


Who would have thought that inside Alex Broun - playwright, rugby journalist and long-time director of the Short & Sweet theatre festival - there was a Smiths tragic bursting to get out. The melancholic love songs from singer Steven Morrissey so mirrored his own adolescent existence he was inspired to recreate it on stage in Half a Person: My Life as Told by the Smiths.

The show tells the story of William, the protagonist of the Smiths song William, it was Really Nothing, and the unrequited love he has for fellow Smiths tragic Salome, a femme fatale reminiscent of her mythical namesake.

"Salome is a perfect example of a Smithian love," Broun says. "In unrequited love for John the Baptist she got Herod to cut his head off."

In a twist, William discovers that his best friend and mentor, older writer Rick, is in love with him.

"I really tried to capture that Morrissey tone," Broun says. "There's a longing in Smiths songs for this unattainable love, this magical love that's going to transform you and change your life and make everything perfect and wonderful.

"That's a very romantic gesture, a very classical gesture. If you look through the ages it's there in Dante, Shakespeare, Keats. That's what Oscar Wilde wanted, that unattainable love for Bosie that eventually undid him, and it's the same for Morrissey. If you look at that last [Smiths] album and substitute the one wanting the love to be Morrissey and the one rejecting the love to be [guitarist] Johnny Marr, you can see what happened to the Smiths."

So the play reflects the band's history as well as Broun's own?

"Exactly, we wanted to capture the essence of the Smiths not only in story but in the dialogue and characters as well."

William's tale is told and sung by David Forster, accompanied by arrangements of 13 Smiths classics by former Big Country keyboardist Colin Berwick.

Forster is somewhat of a cabaret enfant terrible, having written and performed his own one-man show at 18. Now 23 - born only a year after the Smiths formed - Forster admits to not being a fan until Broun and director Robert Chuter approached him.

"They said, 'We've got this play and you'd be great for it.' I said, 'OK, who are the Smiths?' They were disgusted but I think they understood. They just handed me a bag with about four DVDs and seven books in it and said, 'Come back in two weeks.' "

Forster, who has since become a fellow Smiths tragic, feels the play captures Morrissey's comic melancholia.

"If the Smiths were ever writing and singing about someone it was William, this misunderstood young man who has a good heart but just doesn't seem to be able to put a foot right, and doesn't want to be lonely."

Surely Smiths fans revel in their loneliness?

"Morrissey does, and William as well, but I think there's more to that. You've got to want to revel in it for a reason and I think this play is a great way to explore that."

Smiths drummer Mike Joyce and bassist Andy Rourke gave their blessing to the project when cornered by Forster and Chuter in London last year - but no one has any illusions as to what Morrissey or Marr would make of it.

"Morrissey would probably puke," Broun says.

"If Morrissey came to see it," Forster says, "I would be absolutely terrified but I know he'd probably just get drunk and throw things and walk out halfway through."

Not that that would necessarily mean the patron saint of social alienation disapproved.

"There's a lot of humour in Morrissey," Broun says.

"It can be black and profound but there's always an ironic twist that stands it on its head and says, 'Don't get so serious because it just doesn't matter.' "

Monday, August 27, 2007

"Deeply Offensive & Utterly Untrue"

Deeply Offensive & Utterly Untrue

Benito Di Fonzo
Sydney Morning Herald. August 24, 2007

Would you bribe a dictator to sell grain? Our biggest corporate scandal comes to the stage.

David Williams and Jane Vaile in Deeply Offensive & Utterly Untrue.






245 Wilson Street, Eveleigh


24 August 2007 to 8 September 2007



Phone Bookings

1300 438 849

Online Bookings


"It's a happy story about Australian successes," says Stephen Klinder from Version 1.0.

He's talking about the performance group's adaptation of the Royal Commission into the Australian Wheat Board's (AWB) rorting of the oil-for-food program. The Cole Inquiry found that AWB kicked back about $290 million into Iraqi coffers via a Jordanian trucking company while it made Australia the biggest seller of wheat to Saddam's regime. Bad politics, yes, but surely good business?

"Iraq was their most profitable market," says another Version 1.0 member, David Williams. "They were able to charge whatever they wanted."

Deeply Offensive & Utterly Untrue follows earlier Version 1.0 works in a genre called documentary theatre. CMI: A Certain Maritime Incident used transcripts from the "children overboard" inquiry, while The Wages Of Spin used Senate proceedings about the Iraq war.

Turning the 8500-page transcript from arguably the most boring of political scandals into something entertaining seems a mammoth challenge. Isn't it just a room full of lawyers talking about wheat contracts?

"It's a fair question," says Version 1.0's Kym Vercoe, "but we were about to go to war against Iraq and, meanwhile, one of our biggest corporations had given them $290 million, a company monitored by the Government gave our archenemy money. That's not boring, that's shocking!"

Surely it's all in legalese, a language designed for somnolent obfuscation rather than entertainment?

"Sometimes it's like a farcical courtroom drama," Klinder says. "We have interviews with Alexander Downer and he's really a parody of himself. I think there's a lot of comedy in Alexander Downer."

The play's title comes from Downer's response to accusations that Australia went to war to protect its wheat market.

"He'll be a great loss to the artistic world," Williams says of the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Taylor says: "The only parallel I can think of is extreme sports. This is extreme theatrical sports - how do you [make it entertaining]?"

Members of Version 1.0 find using real transcripts lends rhythmic veracity to the dialogue.

"You've got people like [David] Mamet and [Harold] Pinter, who struggled their guts out to make [dialogue] sound like the stuff people say and in the way they say it," Klinder says.

Cognisant that they couldn't just have people sitting in courtroom chairs for 90 minutes, Version 1.0's members use sound, video - even live mice - and physical theatre to bring the concepts to life, such as a "living diagram" of just how the kickbacks worked.

Taylor says: "When we go onto the floor we have to physicalise it, that's why I called it an extreme sport."

So it won't be like watching question time?

Vercoe says: "We've done this because we trust that most sane people wouldn't want to read the entire Cole Inquiry. We think, as much as we forced ourselves to read it, we have particular skills - whether they fail spectacularly or not - of making that information digestible, entertaining and something that people can take away and think about."

With so many witnesses apparently suffering memory loss during the inquiry, there shouldn't be a problem if they forget their lines.

"You do get the feeling that they've had a big meeting and said, 'Let's see how far we can push this, how far we can pretend we just don't remember,' " Vercoe says. "If I forget my lines, sooner or later someone in the company's going to say, 'Get your lines down, we open tomorrow night.' That's pretty small in comparison to giving Saddam Hussein $290 million. It doesn't work when you get a parking fine - you can't say, 'I didn't have time to read the sign.' "

Another performer, Christopher Ryan, says: "We're human beings, we all f--- up. With the AWB, you've got somebody who's incredibly belligerent at one end going, 'I did nothing wrong, get off my case,' and you've someone at the other end having a mental breakdown. It's a huge classical thematic of human greed. It's fantastically meaty, ballsy stuff."
The timing is certainly fortuitous.

Williams says: "I don't know that political scandal will die if the present government isn't re-elected, [though] I'd hope there'd be fewer of them."

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Preview - Survival Tactics

Survival Tactics

Benito Di Fonzo
Sydney Morning Herald, August 6, 2007

Is hip-hop theatre more valid for today's generation than Shakespeare?

Wire MC in Survival mode.
Photo: Bryan O'Brien


Back in the mid-'80s, talented young actor Morgan Lewis was performing mime at the Opera House and playing Romeo for the Australian Theatre For Young People. Meanwhile, streetwise B-boy Morganics was beatboxing and breakdancing to Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa outside Hoyts and at Circular Quay.

Lewis and Morganics were the same person and, through the emerging genre of "hip-hop theatre", they've come together - not that the paradox was ever more than geographical to Morganics.

"I moved from Circular Quay doing mime and popping and breakdancing routines to, at the age of 14, doing a 45-minute white mime show in the Opera House, so it just moved up the road a little bit," he says.

The 36-year-old has performed in shows such as Crouching B-boy Hidden Dreadlocks and Stereotype. He was in arguably Australia's first hip-hop theatre show, The Bridge, as part of the Metabass N'Breath ensemble in 1996. Reviewers in the US, where hip-hop theatre has become large enough for an annual week-long festival to be held in New York, have noted that the genre in which people speak in tight rhymes is reminiscent of Shakespeare's poetic Elizabethan language.

Morganics agrees with this observation.

"Iambic pentameter, yeah," he says. "I came up doing Shakespeare since I was 12, you're doing your bars and your counts. As artists today we have a new vocabulary and this vocabulary is now being put in a theatrical context.

"I think it's as valid, if not more valid, for us than Shakespeare. For us this is the stuff that we listen to, live, breathe, eat, sleep ... this is what's going on in our lives and we're trying to put it on the stage so people can feel it."

Despite starring in stage productions opposite Toni Collette, Morganics originally moved away from acting out of creative frustration.

"I found that actors didn't have any ideas of their own, which is not entirely true, but I found that if you had your own ideas you'd become a performer, and you'd start making your own work."

Morganics is currently performing in, directing and co-producing Survival Tactics with the Opera House Studio through his company, Invisible Forces. The cast is filled with some of Australia's finest B-boys, rappers, DJs, dancers and singers, including Sista Native (Bounty 75), B-boy Jay (Wicked Force), Wire MC, Nick Power (Gravity Warriors) and Triple J Hip Hop Show and Channel [V] host Maya Jupiter.

"Everyone [in the cast] generates their own work and has their own ideas," Morganics says.

The cast also represents the multicultural heritage of inner-city Sydney. Marrickville-raised Tongan soul singer Seini Taumoepeau, also known as Sista Native, says: "We've got myself, some Anglo-Australians from various backgrounds, an Aboriginal man, a Turkish-Latino woman, and a Maori-Romanian who's also part Polynesian."

Sista Native sees hip-hop theatre as a welcome move away from the materialism of much of the hip-hop scene.

"Hip-hop theatre is an area where we can just tell the story, where it's not about your CD or DVD," she says.

"It's a bit more simple in terms of, 'It's theatre, it's the story, and here's our story in this format,' and I think that people really dig it. And it's good getting off the mic, it's a bit more like hip-hop on the street in that sense."

Each performer has created his or her own character, whose story intertwines with the story of other performers. The result is a narrative about life in inner-city Sydney that culminates in a moment of violence.

"Some characters are very close to the performer and some are very different," Morganics says. "I'm not an ice junkie but in the show I am, because that's what I wanted to look at. Once you scratch the surface of that you become aware of more people who are doing that shit everywhere in this country."

Rapper and guitarist Will Jarrett, also known as Wire MC, plays Swerve, an angry young Aboriginal man who has to learn to give and accept trust.

"He's based on where I was at a young age, not letting go of anger and bitterness and letting that consume my life," he says, adding that reading helped him to escape that phase.

"I read a lot and I met a lot of people and I realised you can't blame people, you have to blame actions. That's what [Swerve] learns."

Monday, July 02, 2007

In conversation with some Chaser cats.

(unedited version of article for Sydney Morning Herald)

“The Chaser’s War on Shakespeare” by Benito Di Fonzo.

While awaiting Dead Caesar composer Andrew Hansen’s emergence from an ABC editing suite I watch the play’s author Chris Taylor and Chaser cohort Craig Reucassel rehearse links for that evenings show. Reucassel is confused by Taylor’s joke concerning the Dalai Lama’s MySpace site and it’s ubiquitous creator Tom.

Taylor tells Reucassel not to worry, “the kids will find it funny.”

His approach to writing his debut play was not a million miles away.

“I went to a whole lot of plays in a row that were just hard work,” says Taylor, “It struck me that there was a hole in the market for a good crowd-pleaser, so I wanted to put on something that was very undemanding of it’s audience, and just a bit of silly feel-good nonsense. Even I was surprised at how Revue-like and unsophisticated it is. It’s the most undergraduate thing I’ve written since Uni. I grew up loving Life of Brian and the Python stuff and I’ve never been able to write that type of humour for the Chaser because [it’s] set in the real world, it just wouldn’t work, whereas I could do it on stage.”

Rumour has it the idea was first mooted by Wharf2Loud Artistic Director Brendan Cowell in the early hours of a bender.

“The way he recalls it is I was begging him to give me a slot, as I actually recall it was somewhere between the two. We were definitely in The Abercrombie Hotel, that has been verified by at least four barmen and a cleaner. [Cowell] and I write very different shows but we have a mutual interest in getting young people to the theatre and convincing them that it needn’t be a hard night out, it can be enjoyable and engaging.”

Taylor chose to satirise Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar as a way of commenting on both politics and theatre itself.

“I’d always had the idea, even back in Year 9, that it was a great story, but Shakespeare made the fundamental mistake of making it a tragedy. Even back then I could see the potential for quite a satirical political fable in there, these guys running around stabbing each other wearing togas. I play up the whole analogy between Caesar as toppled dictator and Saddam Hussein. The Roman plotters are like the Coalition of The Willing, particularly Bush and Rumsfeld, the way they thought they were doing a good thing by getting rid of a dictator but actually plummeted a country into civil war. I was keen to make that analogy without laying it on too thick.”

Taylor discovered writing for the stage a very different process to TV and radio.

“No one ever really analyses the lines I write in a Chaser script, whereas it was fascinating to see these NIDA trained actors torturing themselves in analysing what essentially amounted to a knob joke. I thought I could just break their habits and convince them to work my way but what happened was the reverse and eventually I saw method in the way they’d been trained and it made me a lot more disciplined with the rewrites. You still get to the knob joke but you’ve got to be a bit smarter about how you get there.”

Andrew Hansen, who along with a kazooist is the live orchestra for the show, admits he was worried when he first heard Taylor was writing a play.

“In the Chaser group I tend to play the more low-brow stupid stuff,” says Hansen. “Chris is good at writing dry, satirical, clever stuff and I was terribly worried that Dead Caesar was going to be dry and clever, it was an enormous relief when I discovered that it was this drunken bawdy farce.”

Hansen also had his fear of his fellow actors to confront.

“There was a moment with the dress rehearsal where Ben Borgia [who plays Brutus] said to me ‘I’ve brought 20 friends, all NIDA graduates,’ and when I heard this my bowels loosened. I thought god they’re going to go ‘what is this upstart comedian doing in the theatre? Get out!’”

Does he appreciate the political allegory?

“I’m told there are some allegorical moments, audience members have told me, I haven’t spotted them myself. It’s just a huge amount of fun and incredibly entertaining, to me that’s meaning in itself.”


“Dead Caesar”

By Chris Taylor.

Composer Andrew Hansen.

Directed by Tamara Cook.

With Ben Borgia, Alan Dukes, Andrew Hansen, John Leary, Ewen Leslie, Toby Moore, Monica Sayers.

Wharf 2, Sydney Theatre Company.

4 July – 21 July.

$15 - $34

Bookings (02) 9250 1777