Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Theatre: The Lighthouse Girl (★★★★½)

Benj D'Addario and Daisy Coyle
by Hellie Turner
based on the novels by Dianne Wolfer
Black Swan State Theatre Company
Directed by Stuart Halusz
Set Design by Lawrie Cullen-Tait
Costume designer Lynn Ferguson
Lighting designer Joe Lui
Composer/ sound designer Brett Smith
With Daisy Coyle, Benj D’Addario, Murray Dowsett, Mick Maclaine, Alex Malone, Will McNeill and Giuseppe Rotondella
STC Studio
Until May 14

Black Swan have delivered an unlikely little triumph with Hellie Turner’s adaptation of Dianne Wolfer’s Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy.
Unlikely because the staging of historical events such as those in Wolfer’s books often suffer from either the intractable non-theatricality of fact, or the loss of legitimacy when fiction interferes with it. Black Swan have been bitten more than once by this malady in recent years with the ponderous White Divers of Broome and the clunky, unconvincing Boundary Street.
Happily, The Lighthouse Girl is a case of third time lucky.
The story has become familiar, especially after its gigantic representation a couple of PIAFs ago. At the outbreak of WWI, fifteen-year-old Fay Howe (Daisy Coyle) lived on Breaksea Island at the entrance to the sheltered waters of Albany’s Frenchman Bay. Her mother died early in 1914, and Fay tended to her lighthouse-keeper father Robert (Benj D’Addario) and – in this story at least – his handyman Joe (Murray Dowsett). Life was tough; when the supply boat couldn’t make the short but treacherous crossing from the mainland, Fay would shoot rabbits and mutton-birds to eat with a salad of stinging nettle.
The known history and the play’s story continue alongside each other as the fleet bearing the 1st AIF, 30,000 young men from the Eastern States and New Zealand, anchors in the harbour before departing for foreign, fatal shores. There is something grand and archaic about this short pause, like Homer cataloguing the Greek fleet before the assault on Troy – incidentally all but within sight from the high ridge of Gallipoli across the Dardanelles.
Fay, unable to meet the soldiers but expert in semaphore and Morse, begins communicating with them, and sending their messages home to mums, dads, wives and sweethearts. It’s a sweet, uncultivated and heroic task in the shadow of the valley of death.
Now Turner combines the fictional stories in Wolfer’s books. Fay strikes up a flag-waving conversation with a young Lighthorseman, Charlie (Giuseppe Rotondella) that continues, and becomes more intense, as the ships leave; for Ceylon, for Egypt and, on April 25, 2015, for Turkish Gallipoli.
Charlie and his lifelong friend Jim are bound by adventure and naivety, tough, handsome boys marching without hesitation into a charnel house, and the love, sight unseen, between Fay and Charlie is emblematic of the emotional bonds between those who went and those who stayed behind, and their terrible cost.
Turner and the director Stuart Halusz capture it beautifully. When Jim returns to his sister Alice (the excellent Alex Malone), damaged, haunted, but alive, she is as damaged and haunted as he is. Their embrace is tight but not warm; death, and fear of death, has left cold shrapnel in both their hearts.
Turner’s work is superbly supported in this production. Halusz finds a steady, unhurried rhythm for the action, supported by expert stagecraft, and the work of the designers Lawrie Cullen-Tait (set), Lynn Ferguson (costume), Joe Lui (lighting) and Brett Smith (sound and music) is outstanding.
As is the cast. Rotondella – who will be a star – and McNeill – who could well be one – give the boys great charm and cheeky earnestness. D’Addario’s Robert is all emotional confusion, protective and stern, searching, as the fathers of fifteen-year-old girls must perforce always be doing, for the right way to deal with his daughter’s impending womanhood. (History tells us, a little inconveniently perhaps, that Fay was married and pregnant two years after these events.)
Dowsett’s Joe is the show’s dark horse, threatening to be a sappy stock codger but opening up an attractive store of wisdom and humour.
There’s something of Storm Boy about the story, its emotional arc and its character placement, and The Lighthouse Girl has adapted for the stage just as successfully as that smash hit.
There really is very little to criticise; sometimes Robert’s dialogue gets a little more elevated than the character needs, and there’s a strange lapse of historical verisimilitude over the rank of Major General William Bridges (played neatly by Nick Maclaine), the only WWI Australian soldier, apart from, eventually, the unknown one, whose body (and horse, Sandy) was returned home. Easily fixed.
Even if there was much more to quibble about, it would be quickly forgotten because of the performance of Daisy Coyle as Fay. It’s rare that you see a piece of casting so perfect, or a performance so utterly convincing. Coyle makes Fay young and wise, brave and frightened, very beautiful, feisty and completely knowable.
She’s what we go to the theatre to see.       

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


Turnstiles is taking a break while I grapple with a book (about World Series Cricket of all things) I'm collaborating on. Deadline (they must be joking!) is April 30, so I'll be back on deck early in May and get the page back up to speed.

In the meantime, you'll find most of my recent reviews on line at

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Musical: Matilda (ask Tim’s mum for stars)

Annabella Cowley and Elise McCann (pic James Morgan)
From Matilda by Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake
Music and lyrics by Tim Minchin
Book by Dennis Kelly
Directed by Matthew Warchus
Designed by Rob Howell
Orchestration by Christopher Nightingale
Choreography by Peter Darling
Starring Marika Aubrey, Daniel Frederiksen, Elise McCann, James Millar and Annabella Cowley (this performance) as Matilda
Crown Theatre Perth
On sale until May 7

One day, on some blasted heath or in the throat of some volcano, when the final battle between ancient evil and beleaguered humanity is fought, our champions will be a small guy with a ring, a young bloke with a wand and a little girl with books.
It’s going to be tough, but things are going to work out just fine.
The world loves a hero, and when she is little, and feisty, and just a little bit naughty, we love her to bits.
And have done since 1988, when Roald Dahl and his illustrator Quentin Blake put the little girl with a bit of magic about her into a book, and called her, and it, Matilda.
She’s seen the world since then, in print, on radio, on stage and in film, and made pretty much every post a winner. Never more so than her latest manifestation, in the stage musical that’s presently in residence at the Crown Theatre.
If Matilda were a filly, she would be a thoroughbred. By the prolific stage writer Dennis Kelly and the meteoric comedian and songwriter Tim Minchin out of The Royal Shakespeare Company (whose other hits include Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, Les Mis and Macbeth) and director Matthew Warchus, now at the helm of of the Old Vic Theatre, her bloodlines are to die for.
Of course it’s conquered everywhere and won everything, and it will run on all the best tracks, probably forever.
And now Minchin, the quintessential boy made good, has brought her home to meet the folks (drinking white wine in the sun, no doubt).
But does it deserve all this adulation? Are the Matildas (tonight it’s Annabella Cowley, for all the world like an even younger Hermione Granger) as pugnacious and precocious, is Miss Trunchbull (James Millar) as hammerthrowingly horrible, is Jenny Honey (Elise McCann) as sweet and Mrs Phelps (Cle Morgan) as emphatic, the Wormwoods (Marika Aubrey and Daniel Frederiksen) as ignorant and gormless, and Rudolpho (Travis Kahn) and Sergei (Stephen Anderson) as Continentally disreputable as we imagined?
Are the kids in the ensemble zinningly zesty? Have Kelly and Warchus done Dahl’s book proud? Are Rob Howell’s alphabet soup set and Famous Five costumes up to Blake’s scratch?
And do Tim Minchin’s songs move us and shake us? Is Miracle as miraculous and Naughty as nice? Does he spell the School Song correct and Smell Rebellion proper? Are they Quiet and Revolting? Are they Here, in the House, all Grown Up?
Well, you sticky-fingered little snotgoblins, yes they are, yes they do, and yes it is.
(Oh, and tell Tim’s mum her boy and his mates can have all the stars they want.) 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Theatre: The Manganiyar Classroom (★★★★)

Devised and directed by Roysten Abel
Regal Theatre
3-5 March

The boys enter like snails creeping unwillingly to school, but, an hour later, when they prance off stage to the beat of the drums, they’ve delivered an exuberant, and utterly adorable, finale to our festival season.
So ancient are their songs that they tell stories of Alexander the Great, whose army finally mutinied only a riverbank or two away, twenty-three centuries ago.
In recent years, the Manganiyar have come from their arid homes and toured the world in shows like The Manganiyar Seduction, which thrilled Perth audiences at PIAF 2011.
Its director, Roysten Abel, returns with the boys of The Manganiyar Classroom, and a message. He is distressed by the effect India’s homogenised education system is having on kids who, like these boys, are born with music in their veins. His show is a protest against that deadening of the spirit, and part of his campaign to establish an alternative education system for Manganiyar children that encourages their unique gifts and heritage.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Theatre: Lady Eats Apple (★★★★)

Back to Back Theatre
Directed by Bruce Gladwin
Composer Chris Abrahams
Designed by Mark Cuthbertson
Projection design by Rhian Hinkley
Sound designer Marco Cher-Gibard
Devised and performed by Mark Deans, Simon Laherty, Romany Latham, Brian Lipson, Sarah Mainwaring and Scott Price
Heath Ledger Theatre
Until 5 March

There’s a dilemma that confronts an audience at theatre of the disabled. There are two ways of approaching it, and each requires a compromise.
Do we see the performance through the prism of disability, and react to what we see in those terms? Or do we take the view that performance, and performers, must be measured against an objective, universal standard, disability or no?
There is a third possibility, though, one that renders it inconsequential. That is that the disabled, in possession of a particular vision and expression, can approach and communicate a mystery we might not unravel by other means.
When that mystery is as huge as mortality and death, and when, as in Lady Eats Apple, the performance is supported by extraordinary technical and creative accomplishment, the impact can be tremendous.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Theatre: An Evening with an Immigrant ★★★½

Inua Ellams
STC Studio

If everyone could have a good, long conversation with everyone else, would the world be a safer, more welcoming place for all the people who live in it?
If we all knew each other’s stories, would we then know too much to argue or to judge?
These questions spring from the poet/ playwright Inua Ellams’ story, from his family’s complicated history in northern Nigeria to his still not yet completely secure present life in Britain.
Ellams sits comfortably in a chair throughout, the only visible sign of “performance” a deck on which he cues the impressive music of DJ Sid Mercutio that accompany the poems that bookmark his story.
His poems are unexpectedly traditional and instantly accessible. Heavily alliterative and drivingly rhythmic, they skirt the border of rap and are both a sturdy vehicle for Ellams’ story and an entertainment in themselves.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Theatre: The Year I Was Born (★★★★)

Written and directed by Lola Arias
Audiovisual Director Nicole Senerman
Choreographer Soledad Gaspar
Sound editor Jorge Rivero
Composer and sound designer Jorge Rivero
Set and Lighting designer Rocío Hernández
Heath Ledger Theatre

The events in Chile on September 11 (what is it about that day?) in 1973 loomed large. The violence of the coup, the sight of fighter aircraft bombing their own capital, the death of President Allende, the rumours of CIA (and, as was later revealed, ASIS/ASIO) complicity.
The iron fist that descended on Chile held for seventeen years of summary justice, disappearances, shady referenda and corruption (although, undeniably, economic progress and, for many though far from all, rising affluence).
But Chile didn’t fracture – rather it curdled; families, streets, neighbourhoods harboured both supporters and opponents of the junta in the half-light of a community with violence, on both sides, a constant threat.
The Argentinian playwright and director Lola Arias takes us into the heart of this strange place and time in The Year I Was Born, and it’s a powerful document and a theatrical adventure.

Read the complete review in The West Australian