• Welcome to Cultural Binge

    Welcome to Cultural Binge

    The rating system is simple:

    ★★★★★ – Terrific, world-standard. Don’t miss. (★★★★★ will be rare).

    ★★★★ – Great, definitely worth seeing.

    ★★★ – Good. Perfectly entertaining. Recommended. Individual mileage may vary (most shows are ★★★).

    ★★ – Fine. Flawed and not really recommended, but you may find something to appreciate in it.

    ★ – Bad. Not worth your time or money.

    See more reviews over at The Queer Review.

    Instagram: @culturalbinge

    Email chad at culturalbinge.com

  • Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour: Madama Butterfly ★★★★1/2

    Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour: Madama Butterfly ★★★★1/2

    Written by Giacomo Puccini & Luigi Illica. Opera Australia. Mar 24 – Apr 23, 2023

    When it comes to uniquely Sydney spectacles, it’s hard to beat Opera Australia’s Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour. The vista alone is breathtaking, then to be serenaded with some of the finest voices and musicians around is utter bliss. But blending spectacle with heart (let alone art) is tougher. 

    This revival of La Fura dels Baus’ reimagining of Pucci was last seen in Sydney nine years ago, but hasn’t aged a day. It feels rooted in this particular Harbour-side space, utilising the water, the views and Sydney’s construction-crane strewn skyline as the perfect setting. Even the obligatory fireworks don’t feel gauche. 

    Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour: Madama Butterfly. Photo: Keith Saunders.

    Colonisation is at the heart of this tale. Pinkerton takes what he wants, be it the land or a bride, and uses them as he sees fit. His bride, Cio-Cio-San, is merely another pretty possession of his. Just as he sees the landscape as wasted beauty to be developed, Cio-Cio-San is only as useful as her prettiness gives him pleasure. 

    Diego Torre, as Pinkerton, is suitably gruff and abrasive. Gluttonous in all aspects of his life. Michael Honeyman as the Consul Sharpless is more compassionate but ultimately just as cruel by seeing the behaviour of Pinkerton but doing nothing about it. Sian Sharp is wonderful Suzuki, Cio-Cio-San’s handmaiden, who serves as our eyes and ears on the sad tale. 

    Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour: Madama Butterfly. Photo: Keith Saunders.

    The night clearly belongs to our Madama Butterfly herself, Karah Son who transforms from strong but demure to desperate over the course of the evening. She is a woman wronged by the world, and while her final moments are carefully hidden, her demise is no less impactful. She brings real pathos that cuts through the over-sized staging and views to reach the audience where it matters.

    The scale and grandeur of the staging is awe-inspiring. From a bamboo forest on a hilltop, that transforms into a construction site between acts (the act break may be lengthy but when you see them construct a decent sized apartment in 20 min it’s quite remarkable). The size of the operation, and the massive ensemble, are the kind of things most theatres would beg to be able to mount. 

    Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour: Madama Butterfly. Photo: Keith Saunders.

    And of course, opening night means lashing of people-watching. From ex-PMs, to reality TV alumni, models and socialites, Sydney turned out the full range of fashions from shorts & t-shirts, black tie and gender-fluid dress. We may not have Melbourne’s levels of couture on show, but it’s good to see Sydney let loose a bit more. 

    It’s a testament to the whole operation that while the sound is obviously amplified it never suffered from distortion, to the point where it was easy to sit back and revel in the excellent voices and orchestra. 

    Opera Australia’s Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour: Madama Butterfly is a wonderful, quintessentially Sydney evening of great music, great performance and great Harbour-side vibes. Plus, with Opera Australia’s Miss Saigon just around the corner, it serves as the perfect counterpoint for the culturally inquisitive.

  • Into The Woods ★★★1/2

    Into The Woods ★★★1/2

    Music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by James Lapine. Belvoir St Theatre. 18 Mar – 30 Apr 2023.

    Read my full review on The Queer Review.

  • On A Clear Day You Can See Forever ★★★★

    On A Clear Day You Can See Forever ★★★★

    Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, Music by Burton Lane, Revised and Adapted by Jay James-Moody. Squabbalogic & Seymour Centre. 17 Mar – 15 Apr, 2023

    My full review is up on The Queer Review.

  • & Juliet ★★★★1/2

    & Juliet ★★★★1/2

    Music & Lyrics by Max Martin and others. Book by David West Read. Based on Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare. Regent Theatre, Melbourne. Feb 10 – May 14, 2023.

    Read my full review up on The Queer Review.

  • Collapsible ★★★★

    Collapsible ★★★★

    Written by Margaret Perry. Old Fitzroy Theatre. Mar 9 – Apr 1, 2023.

    Read my review over on The Queer Review.

  • Bernhardt/Hamlet ★★★★

    Bernhardt/Hamlet ★★★★

    Written by Theresa Rebeck. Melbourne Theatre Company. 4 Mar – 15 Apr, 2023.

    Read my full review over on The Queer Review.

  • Gundog ★★★

    Gundog ★★★

    Written by Simon Longman. King’s Cross Theatre. 3 – 18 Mar, 2023.

    Simon Longman’s acclaimed play, Gundog, paints a grim picture of rural life in the UK as one family falls apart over time – the victims of circumstance, mental illness and economic desperation. It’s a gruelling story and definitely not for everyone.

    Sisters Becky (LJ Wilson) and Anna (Jane Angharad) have resorted to stealing sheep to replace their own flock. They find a stranger who introduces himself as Guy Tree (Saro Lepejian) who has nowhere to go. They give him room and board in return for his help with the sheep. As the years pass, Guy discovers more of their history and what brought this farming family to the end of their tether.

    On a simple stage, this production directed by Anthony Skuse inventively revels in this darkness. Clever design and lighting mark the passing of years as the narrative jumps backwards and forwards through time. It helps that these characters are almost stuck in a timeless state – their lives on a slow descent they can not avert. Even Becky and Anna’s brother (James Smithers), who left years earlier, comes back in desperation. There is a centre of gravity to their pain that is impossible to break free from.

    As an illustration of rural living, so far so awful. Gundog paints the life of farmers as a noose around their necks. Becky never finished school because it bore no resemblance to her life, and that lack of formal education forces her to stay. These characters have no options left. There is no hope and that’s a suffocating place for an audience to sit in for almost 2 hours (I know it could be worse, we could be watching Ivo Van Hove’s epic adaptation of A Little Life!).

    Despite great performances and strong direction, Gundog failed to connect with me. Misery-porn is my least favourite genre and this play comes very close to falling into that.

  • Comfort, Spin, Travel ★★★★

    Comfort, Spin, Travel ★★★★

    Written by Lu Bradshaw. Meraki Arts Bar. 24 Feb – 11 Mar, 2023.

    Read my review over on The Queer Review.

  • King ★★★★★

    King ★★★★★

    Shaun Parker & Company. Seymour Centre in association with Sydney WorldPride. Feb 28 – Mar 4, 2023.

    Read my full review on The Queer Review.

  • Briefs: Dirty Laundry ★★★1/2

    Briefs: Dirty Laundry ★★★1/2

    Created by Briefs Factory. Seymour Centre in association with Sydney WorldPride. Feb 28 – Mar 4, 2023

    Read my full review on The Queer Review.