Review: Loaded, Malthouse Theatre

For The Saturday Paper, I reviewed the long-awaited stage adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ Loaded which is playing at the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne.

Danny Ball plays Ari in Malthouse Theatre’s 2023 production of Loaded. Photo: TS Pubicity / Tamarah Scott.

Ari’s casual assertion that he’s a wog, not white, scorns millennia of Western empires claiming Greek epistemology as an intellectual forebear while systemically deorientalising it. This feels particularly salient for how homoeroticism in Greek antiquity is absorbed into the lineage of anglophone gay culture today. That troubled relationship to history and lineage is also a recurring trope in migrant narratives, as the point of origin recedes into a romantic homeland fading into the horizon, or becomes a risk and a burden, a chorus of voices clamouring for tribute. Or a third thing: a ship with new parts but the same name.

It’s really interesting to see all the different iterations of this story (I also reviewed the audio play in 2020) and be pushed to tease apart my responses and figure out what’s in the work vs what’s changed in the world or the presentation context or my point of view. A good exercise as a critic!

Club Critique | Emerging Writers’ Festival

And further on criticism, I’m chairing this panel at Emerging Writers’ Festival and the National Writers’ Conference featuring Prithvi Varatharajan, Dan Hogan, Jess Ho and Vyshnavee Wijekumar.

How and why should one write deeply engaged, contemplative, and authentic criticism? From literature to food, music to screen, join these writers as they consider the purpose and scope of criticism, the role criticism plays in the arts, as well as hopes and ambitions for the future of the form.

Club Critique
Saturday 17 June 2023
12:30pm to 1:30 pm AEST
Online via Zoom with closed captioning, Auslan on request
Free – details here

Also if you’re an arts critic or editor in Australia, you can add yourself to the Critical Mass database I made to help media outlets access a more diverse pool of critics.

Promo graphic with Club Critique in pink all-caps text over a purple background. Emerging Writers' Festival logo and website in green and white at the bottom of the square.

Finalist for the Pascall Prize for Arts Criticism!

The Walkey Foundation announced their finalists for the 2023 Mid-Year Celebration of Journalism today and I’m shortlisted for the Pascall Prize for Arts Criticism alongside Catriona Menzies-Pike and Christopher Allen! How thrilling!

The piece that’s nominated is my review of Chinese theatremaker Wang Chong’s solo show at the Malthouse, Made in China 2.0. So many great critics have won this prize in past years, including Anwen Crawford, Jeff Sparrow, Sarah Krasnostein, and my editor for this piece and so many others, Alison Croggon. It feels like an unthinkable privilege just to write criticism at all, let alone get recognised for it, so I’m really startled, chuffed, blushing, beaming.

Beijing LGBT Center closes down; reporting on LGBTIQ+ issues

Disheartening news this week on the eve of IDAHOBIT that Beijing LGBT Center has been forced to shut. Beitong, as it was known in the community, was the leading NGO for queer advocacy and research in China, as well as providing important welfare and peer support services. Our paths crossed frequently over the years that I was reporting on LGBTIQ+ issues in China, so this loss feels quite devastating both personally and politically – the China I knew and loved is being eroded piece by piece.

A bright pink sanlunche draped with Pride flags in a Beijing hutong, 2016.
Beijing’s NGO community made such a big impression on me but a lot of what I remember is already gone. Q-Space, where this was taken, closed their physical space in 2020.

Foreign Policy has a good analysis of Beitong’s closure in the context of a natalist push for gender normativity, heterosexual marriage, and more babymaking to rebalance the country’s demographic woes. I’m quoted there, as well as in articles by the AFP and Bloomberg wires that have been syndicated pretty widely. I also gave NBC an interview for their story that should be out soon – I’ll add it to my press page when it’s published.

A few articles misgendered me, which I managed to get corrected, but it’s been interesting to see: I was rendered male in French and female in English, while a queer Italian media outlet not only got it right but taught me something new: the gender-inclusive suffix ə, which linguists and writers in Italy have popularised against strident opposition from many, including the national language watchdog.

Anyway, it’s pretty cool to go on a late-night tweet spree and then see it translated into half a dozen different languages, but disappointing that so many media outlets remain inattentive to gendered language, even when reporting an LGBTIQ+ story. My pronouns have been in my Twitter bio since I started the account, and in my website bio and email signature (ey/eir/em, they/their/them, 伊 or TA).

It’s ironic too, because what I’m most proud of from my time in China journalism was building up LGBTIQ+ and gender reporting into beats that were taken seriously and resourced appropriately, and integrating that area expertise into editorial processes, ethics and house style. Using the correct pronouns for someone is just one very small part of that but often revealing of broader priorities. It’s something that Beitong and their peers like Tongyu and BGHEI invested in, too, with media guidelines, training, analysis and awards. So I hope media outlets take stock and use events like IDAHOBIT and Pride as an opportunity to consider how they could improve their LGBTIQ+ reporting.

Articles mentioned:

LGBTQ spaces are shrinking in China, James Palmer, Foreign Policy, 16 May 2023.

Chinese LGBTQ Center Closes Down Abruptly Amid Xi Clampdown, Bloomberg, 16 May 2023.

Leading Chinese advocacy group Beijing LGBT Center closes down, citing ‘unpreventable circumstances’, AFP (syndicated in Hong Kong Free Press), 16 May 2023.

* IDAHOBIT is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersex discrimination and Transphobia.

Review: She and Her Pretty Friend by Danielle Scrimshaw

For The Saturday Paper, I reviewed She and Her Pretty Friend, an appealing and accessible history of queer women’s lives in Australia from roughly 1830 to 1980. There’s a lot I liked about it and a few things that bugged me too. As always, I can send a read link if you can’t access it through the paywall, just leave a comment.

Scrimshaw code-switches easily between the cautious register of the historian and the more colourful lexicon of chronically online queers, reading real events in relation to memes and fandom tropes such as “oh my god, they were roommates” and “be gay, do crime”. The effect is chatty and conspiratorial, like catching up with a friend who can’t wait to tell you about what she just read, and it’s endearing to witness her transparent disappointment when women treat each other badly or don’t get the life we feel they deserve.

Taste test: Australian supermarket lasagne

As a public service, I gobbled up more than 3 kilograms of lasagne from Coles, Woolies* and Aldi, to review it for you, dear reader. Cheers to the Guardian for indulging my pivot from arts criticism to ready meal reviews.

There’s nothing like an oozy hunk of meat, cheese and carbs to make you feel as if you’ve just tucked yourself into a pasta doona. Eating lasagne under a blanket manifests a beautiful sense of symmetry: I’m at one with the universe in all its multi-layered glory.

FYI, I learned in the process of researching this story that lasagne is the plural, which is typically what’s used for pasta dishes (spaghetti, penne are also plural, and of course noodles), while lasagna is singular. Australian and UK English favours lasagne, US lasagna.

* It’s forever Safeway to me.

Save Trove!

Little of my work would exist without Trove, the online archive that provides free access to a huge range of resources, but funding is set to expire in July 2023.

Please sign this petition to fully fund Trove so we can continue our conversations with the past. The petition closes midnight 22 Feb.

A young shirtless Chinese boxer, looking straight into the camera.
Chinese boxer. Photo: Sam Hood, Sydney, August 1934.