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