Wednesday 24 July 2013

Review: White Rabbit Red Rabbit, Melbourne

The most exciting moment of White Rabbit Red Rabbit is also the most mundane. An actor walks onto the stage and picks up an envelope from a table, pulling out a copy of a script.

Why is this interesting? Because the actor has never seen the script before, and is about to perform its contents on stage in front of a paying audience.

We know this, she knows this, and the author - Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour - knows this. Tomorrow night there'll be a new actor taking on the role, and he or she will know this too.

It's theatre stripped to its absolute basics, a point clearly made in Soleimanpour's text.

Speaking in the text from 2010, when he didn't have access to a passport, the playwright points out how he is able to communicate with strangers located far away and in the future.

This something that's always been true of plays - indeed, of any writing - but in this curious setting it's a philosophical truth which packs a punch.

Sitting in our brightly lit seats, listening to the playwright speak to us through the assigned actor for the evening, we're suddenly in awe of both the gulf between us and the fact that we can collaborate through time and space.

But that's not all he has to say. Via the tale of a white rabbit who goes to the circus, and another story of a competitive experiment with a white rabbit marked red, we're given some hints about the dark side of human nature.

The red rabbit could be the person who stands out and is dragged down for that difference, be it via racism, tall poppy syndrome or the generalised resentment emanating from Internet “haters”.

It's a fascinating show to watch, partly because of the predicament of the actor. For once he or she can't retreat behind the mask of a character, and as a result there's a lot of sympathy from the audience for her efforts (the actor on the night I went was Catherine McClements).

Although the actor is good natured about her situation, there's something slightly undignified about the starkly revealed puppeteering of the playwright, the actor a victim of his whims.

The audience is also exposed and drawn into the performance as members take to the stage and act as instructed; no hiding behind the fourth wall for this crowd.

In fact, the Malthouse has wisely configured the Beckett Theatre so we can see each other quite clearly across the thrust stage.

It's a fascinating experience, an hour in which the carefully concealed artifice of theatre is removed, forcing us to grapple with its unadorned mechanics. And communicate with someone who plainly isn't there. As playwrights, of course, never are.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit continues (with a different actor each night) at Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre, 113 Sturt St, Southbank to 3 August 2013. Book online.

Thursday 18 July 2013

The Bed Report 1: Lochiel, Olinda, Victoria

This is the first instalment of a new series on my blog, reviewing a variety of accommodation across Australia. I hope you find it useful next time you're planning a domestic trip.

Review: Lochiel

The website for this forest accommodation east of Melbourne announces “No Olde World, No Lace”.

This makes clear its difference from traditional Dandenong Ranges B&Bs, often situated in quaint old cottages with old-fashioned decor.

The “treetops cottage” we're placed in is a purpose-built modern timber building with the accommodation spread over three levels.

The decor follows simple contemporary lines, with none of the pokiness or fussiness often found in older guest houses.

On the base level is a sizeable living room with parquet flooring, a leather sofa, a glass-topped table and chairs, and an enclosed wood-fired heater for winter warmth. There's also central heating for when the fire is too much bother.

Along one wall is a kitchen, a bit low on utensils but equipped well enough for cooking basic meals. On the next level up is the bathroom, featuring a spa bath, with the bedroom on the level above that.

The king-sized bed is placed beneath a high pointed ceiling into which are set large windowed sections, giving glimpses of the forest surrounding the property.

There's an even leafier view from the two balconies, as Lochiel has been built facing lush, dense greenery while actually being placed just off Olinda's main road and within walking distance to its shops and eateries.

The tariff includes breakfast each day at a local cafe, and a discount on restaurants.

Not far away are attractions such as bushwalking tracks, the William Ricketts Sanctuary with its curious statues, the tea rooms of Sassafras, and the Puffing Billy tourist railway.

For more details on attractions, dining and other accommodation in this area, download my Melbourne Getaways mobile app.

Just the Facts:
1590 Mt Dandenong Tourist Rd, Olinda VIC 3788, Australia
Phone: 03 9751 2300 (International +61 3 9751 2300)
Rates: From $279 per night

Disclosure time... I received discounted accommodation at this property.

Friday 12 July 2013

Fiji: Enter the Turtle

A Fijian resort is naturally a very controlled environment. There's plenty of nature on show, but it's present in the form of neatly tended tropical vegetation, or a postcard-perfect ocean view from a beachside restaurant.

But sometimes, nature in its wild form wanders in unannounced.

I was chatting on my recent Fiji visit to Talei Tora, communications manager at the Outrigger on the Lagoon, when she mentioned a remarkable thing which had happened at the Coral Coast resort earlier in the year.

On 11 April, guests looking out to sea could see a greenback turtle within the lagoon that sits in front of the resort, sheltered by a coral reef. The sea turtle was a big specimen, about 1.5 metres long, and had somehow found its way over the reef and was looking distressed.

These green turtles are remarkable creatures. They live in oceans across the world, migrating up to 2500 kilometres to spawn; can live up to 150 years; and weigh up to 300 kilograms. Despite international treaties protecting them, they're also endangered, mostly due to human practices such as hunting.

So it was heartening to hear of the human response on this occasion. Resort staff contacted fisheries officers, and together they nutted out the problem of how to get such a large creature back to deep water.

The solution was an everyday garden object: a wheelbarrow. The 80 kilogram turtle was eased onto it, then wheeled to a waiting ute. It was then driven to the nearby Shangri-La resort, where staff from the onsite dive shop helped the creature back into the sea off the resort's marina.

Fittingly, the spot they chose to release the greenback is known as Turtles' Wall.

For all the luxury and organisation of the Outrigger, I'll bet the strongest holiday memory of the resort's guests that day was of this unscheduled intrusion by the wild; a reminder that we're all part of the same green, interconnected world, no matter how much we might try to keep nature under control.

Disclosure time... On this trip I was hosted by the Outrigger on the Lagoon resort.

Friday 5 July 2013

Problems of Posh Hotels

Four years ago I wrote a post in which I complained about issues I regularly encountered at B&B accommodation.

The list included inaccessible power points, hard pillows and lack of space for one's toothbrush - you can read the full post here.

Having stayed in a great many high-end hotels over the past year, it occurs to me that I'm being unfair to B&Bs by only picking on them.

So let's have a look at some of the problems I've encountered with classier accommodation:

1. Windows which can't be opened. This is an enduring mystery. The entire raison d'ĂȘtre of an upmarket hotel is to create an experience which is far more pleasant than living in your own home.

How can this be achieved when you wake up with a dehydration headache after being forced to sleep with the airconditioning on? It's particularly galling when the night-time weather outside is perfect.

I've heard vague excuses for this policy over the years, including the alarmist explanation that it's intended to stop people falling out of windows. I find this hard to credit, particularly as I have stayed in hotels which allow windows to open far enough for air circulation without a body being able to slip through.

2. Unexpected interruptions. You have to be on the ball with the "Do Not Disturb" sign when staying in an upmarket hotel. Otherwise, you'll be in the middle of answering an important email, or maybe lying on the bed in your underwear watching telly, when there'll be an unexpected knock on the door.

Cue mad scramble for trousers and other garments while shouting "Just a minute!" to forestall the staff member opening the door. For it will indeed be someone offering some pointless service - a fruit plate or a turn-down - in order to justify the high room rate.

3. Extortionate bar fridge prices. Yes I know, this is an old complaint covering most hotels. But high-end hotels take it to daring new extremes. I remember one posh hotel in Sydney listing a small orange juice for $6.50. $6.50! And it's not confined to the fridge, with various expensive bottles of water dotted around the room just waiting to be opened by the inattentive.

4. Guided tour of the room. To be fair I haven't had this happen often, and usually it's been overseas. A member of staff will come with you to tell you a bunch of things about the room (how to work the airconditioning, the TV, etc) which you will promptly forget because you're distracted by being tired from travel and would really like to be left alone in your room.

5. Hard pillows. I know I included this in the B&B post, but it's worth repeating. Hotels seem addicted to sourcing rock-hard pillows, without a softer alternative necessarily being available. If I were being cynical, I'd assume it's because they look better in the publicity photo shoot.

6. Impractical showers. There are some amazing-looking shower stalls in the more cutting-edge upmarket hotels. Shunning the traditional cabinet, they aim for a sweeping open appearance via a single sheet of glass, no door, and a shower floor seamlessly connected to the rest of the bathroom.

Looks great; and is guaranteed to produce a vast lake of water across the bathroom which will take several fluffy white towels to soak up.

7. Dim lighting. Of course the room's very low lighting accentuates the sexiness of its design - but it also makes things difficult when it comes time to pack and you need to see what you're doing. At this point I find myself turning on every single light and lamp, and using the Flashlight app on my phone as well.

Of course I've enjoyed many things about upmarket hotels - I'm particularly a sucker for places with contemporary design - but these little niggles have popped up time and again. Do you have any issues to add? Please do so in the comments below.