Friday, March 1, 2019

Theatre: RE-MEMBER ME ★★★★

Dickie Beau
Studio Underground until March 3

Lip Sync. That imitation of live we associate with Milli Vanilli and dreadful drag acts approximating what the mouth does when singing, oh, you know, Total Eclipse of the Heart. If you can’t sing it, sync it.
It’s not something that should be seen on polite stages.
Until there was Dickie Beau.
Mr Beau has made lip sync an art form, and he brings his extraordinary felicity with it to a riveting remembrance of Hamlets past that is, at once, a fascinating quiz show (whose was that voice?), a forensic deconstruction of actors and their most prized role and, ultimately, a sad, loving eulogy for a glorious talent lost to the scourge of AIDS.
He has interviewed actors, agents, directors and critics (I’m pleased he gives more recognition to the significance of our beleaguered occupation in the ecosystem of the theatre than is customary!) and plays their responses back lip-synced, with uncanny verisimilitude, every half-cough, glottal stop and stammer captured exactly. His recreation extends from the lips to the eyebrows, the tilt of the head, the gestures of hand and body to create an almost spooky facsimile of the original. The result is mime of a unique and daring kind.
It’s a great entertainment, of course, excruciatingly funny and camp, but it somehow transcends fun and games and, ironically, gives both authority and ephemerality to what is said and those who say it.
Two long sequences of Beau filmed as different people projected in a row (There’s Gielgud – the only voice Beau didn’t record himself – and McKellan, the agent John Wood, Daniel Day-Lewis’s dresser Stephen Ashby and the directors Richard Eyre and John Wood) speaking about the stage, and Hamlet particularly, reminded me of the wry and touching Nothing Like a Dame, with Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright and Maggie Smith reminiscing to camera, occasionally to each other, about life in the theatre.
For Beau to elicit his subject’s often raw responses, then capture them so precisely, is a singular achievement (even if the filmed segments occupy a little too much of the show’s hour).
When their conversation turned to Ian Charleson, the Scottish actor who became a star in Chariots of Fire and played Hamlet, memorably, twice before succumbing to AIDS in 1989 at 40, the show shifts into a lower, more sombre, gear.
Beau wanders the stage, fitfully trying to reconstruct figures from body parts scattered around it, while a figure of Andrewes lies on his hospital deathbed behind him. Beau is saying a lot here – about the transitory nature of life and beauty, about gay culture, about what’s real and what’s illusion.
If you’re not ready for it, it’s unsettling and indigestible, but Beau’s thesis, drawn from the character of Hamlet and that of those who play him – or lip sync those who do –is far more ambitious than first meets the eye.
I was startled, and thrilled, by the conclusion of RE-MEMBER ME; the great lines, not from Shakespeare, but from T.S. Eliot (who, as Beau reminds us in the programme, was no fan of Hamlet): 

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.
Dickie Beau will never be Prince Hamlet, but his peculiar talent, and the use to which he puts it in RE-MEMBER ME, shows that he is no fool.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Theatre: A Ghost in My Suitcase ★★★½

Barking Gecko Theatre
Heath Ledger Theatre until March 3

Perth’s terrific theatre for young people, Barking Gecko, has been a frequent contributor to the Perth Festival, and it’s only fitting that it’s latest production appears in a year that has seen something like ten “Made in WA” productions gather critical acclaim and, even more encouragingly, box office numbers.
A Ghost in My Suitcase deserves both. The story, adapted by Vanessa Bates from the novel by Gabrielle Wang,  of a Chinese/French-Australian girl, Celeste (Alice Keohavong) who returns with her mother’s ashes to the small town of her family and the house of her Por Por – grandmother – Madame Bao (Amanda Mar) in China is entertaining — for both its younger and older audience – and enlightening about the culture and mores of both our countries.
Her adventures, her rivalry and eventual alliance with Ting Ting Shen (Yilin Kong), the great-grand-daughter of the man who ruined her family, is told in a style familiar to lovers of Sino-swashbuckling cinema and the supernatural elements it often contains.
While the narrative falters occasionally, and the climactic battle is a little underwhelming (especially in comparison to what has gone before) and predictable, the story of ghosts, ancient feuds and the triumph of courage is well told, gripping enough and lots of fun. I’ll leave the details for you to discover when you go!
What makes this show is its gorgeous imagery projected onto boxes expertly manoeuvred into position on an otherwise bare stage, the expressive soundscape created by the ubiquitous Rachel Dease and the fine performances by all three cast members.
The cleverly devised, knockabout staging of the show by co-directors Ching Ching Ho and Barking Gecko’s departing AD Matt Edgerton is illuminated by the visual design of media artist Sohan Ariel Hayes, richly coloured and textured, evocative and often remarkably three-dimensional. One scene, as our heroes float through the canals of Zhujiajiao Water Town is as cunningly constructed as it is breathtaking.
Keohavong, Ma and Kong are all excellent, and well supported by Freida Lee and John Shrimpton in the plays minor roles. The lithe, athletic Kong, a dancer by training and previous experience, is especially effective in a performance straight out of the wuxia playbook.
A Ghost in My Suitcase has already gathered many admirers on its journey to the Perth Festival. The short season here will win it many more.   

Friday, February 22, 2019


The Magic Flute ★★½
Komische Oper Berlin and 1927

His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth until Feb 23
This is the first opera I’ve been to. Ever. I’ve always considered it mutton overdressed as lamb.

The motivating reason I’m here is 1927, the innovative British theatre company who co-created this production with the Australian director Barrie Kosky,.
For newcomers to the art of theatrical illusion that 1927 specialise in, the staging of this Magic Flute is undoubtedly novel and exciting.
But once the novelty and excitement wears off, the exercise becomes disjointed, schizophrenic and, surprisingly, a little dated.
(Link here to the complete review)

Wot? No Fish!!  ★★★★

Danny Braverman
STC Studio until Feb 24
The stories of the great ones are carved in stone.
Around them teem millions of people with lives that pass unknown, their stories unnoticed and then forgotten, the evidence of their joys and sorrows, their increase and decrease, the circumstances of their coming and their going reduced to a few dusty lines in government files, a photograph album soon to be discarded or fading from living memory.
Since 1926 when he married his beautiful next-door neighbour Celie, Danny Braverman’s great-uncle, Ab Solomon, had taken home his payslip from the shoe factory where he worked, and given it to his wife with the housekeeping inside and a simple drawing or a painting on the outside.
Braverman tells Ab and Celie’s story in the simplest possible way, projecting a selection of these little doodles on a screen while commentating – and often speculating – about what’s happening in them.
The story of Ab and Celie that Braverman tells with good humour, taste and emotional precision is a window into the world of real people that will survive, in our common humanity, when all the statues have crumbled and there is nothing left of the great ones they memorialise but names.

(Link here to the complete review in Seesaw Magazine)

Lé Nør  ★★★★½
The Last Great Hunt
PICA until Feb 24
Lé Nør is the most ambitious work yet by The Last Great Hunt. It’s also the first time that all six members of the West Australian company have combined their talents as devisers, operators and performers in one production.
The result is awe-inspiring.
Here’s the bare bones: Lé Nør is set on the imagined North-Atlantic island city-state of Sólset (from now on I’m going to dispense with the accents and umlauts; more on them later) that has endured a terrible seven-year drought that has reduced its inhabitants to water-hoarding, water-blackmailing obsessives. When the rains finally come, they keep coming. Before long the little island faces an even more existential threat.

That’s the last you need bother about the plot. It’s the how, not the what, that this thing is about.
It’s a deep dive into a world transformed by the lens of a camera; a stage show that becomes, more completely than anything I can remember, the Grand Illusion, the making of cinema.
It’s a technical achievement, with a personality and charisma, like nothing we’ve seen from a West Australian company.
With Lé Nør the Last Great Hunt have confirmed their individual and collective stardom, and their mastery of their craft. Now it’s time for the real fun to begin.
(Link here to the complete review in Seesaw Magazine)

The Great Tamer  ★★★★½
Dimitris Papaioannou
Heath Ledger Theatre 

Dimitris Papaioannou, best known as the creator of the opening ceremony for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, is by training and inclination a visual artist, and The Great Tamer is most satisfactorily approached as an animated work of art.
This is a world without words, and without narrative. It’s Plato/Socrates’s world of forms, of timeless ideas, of sight and appearance, the original Twilight Zone.
It’s Papaioannou’s playground; it’s where Estragon and Vladimir wait and Lear is exiled. It’s Beckett and Eliot and Shakespeare distilled, first into images and then to thought.
It’s no surprise, and no accident, that Papaioannou’s final image is of a skeleton breaking apart into rubble like a ruined Greek statue. It’s skull rolls off the stage and comes to rest against – a book.
Perhaps waiting, in the marvellous game of The Great Tamer, for a Danish prince to play with.
(Link here to the complete review in Seesaw Magazine)    

Opera: The Magic Flute ★★½

Emanuel Schikaneder and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Komische Oper Berlin and 1927
Directed by Suzanne Andrade and Barrie Kosky
His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth until Feb 23

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. (There are quite a few of them, in fact, but more on that later).
This is the first opera I’ve been to. Ever. I’ve always considered it elitist, wastefully expensive and artistically heavy-handed, despite some gorgeous music. Mutton overdressed as lamb.
But here I am at the Maj (a woman all but next to me confided her ticket had cost more than her flight from Melbourne to see the show), feeling a bit of a fraud. If you want to stop reading now, I completely understand.
But hang on a second. The motivating reason I’m here is my admiration for 1927, the innovative British theatre company (Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, The Animals and the Children took to the Streets, Golem) who co-created this production with the Australian director Barrie Kosky, and they had never seen an opera either when he approached them to collaborate on the project. Didn’t even know what The Magic Flute was.
So I may be a neophyte, but I’m not alone.
For newcomers to the art of theatrical illusion that 1927 specialise in (you only have to look as far as The Great Tamer and Le Nor in this Perth Festival for other examples) the staging of this Magic Flute is undoubtedly novel and exciting.
But it isn’t, and shouldn’t be, an end in itself.
Once the novelty and excitement wear off, once the sight of singers suddenly appearing like climbers clinging to a rock face who suddenly feel the urge to sing loses its impact, the exercise becomes disjointed, schizophrenic and, surprisingly, a little dated.
The pace of Paul Barritt’s brilliant hallucinogenic animations on the opera’s vertical stage is at odds with Mozart’s repetitive score and Emanuel Schikaneder’s plodding, ludicrous libretto. Left with too much time on its hands, even they become tedious.
There is also an overlay of references, from Mozart/Schikaneder’s Masonic rantings, Egyptian and Greek mythology and other baloney to Barritt’s Weimar/silent movie era/Disney (hence the aforementioned Dumbos)/Wizard of Oz/pop-art incursions that ends up being overloaded, messy and confusing.
It also leaves the cast (notably Kim-Lillian Strebel and Adrian Strooper as the Orpheus and Euridyce-like lovers Pamina and Tamino, Tom Erik Lie as the comic Papageno and Aleksandra Olczyk as the Queen of the Night – she of the glass-shattering aria) somewhat sidelined, like kids not picked for a game in their own playground.
In the end, despite some individual images that are genuinely astounding, despite some impressive singing (from Strebel in particular) and some lovely music, the result is less than the sum of its parts.
It left me, untutored newcomer as I am, in a strange state of mind: overwhelmed and underwhelmed at the same time. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Fringe World 2019

Welcome to Turnstile's run-down of the shows we've seen at Fringe World 2019.
These spot reviews will often link to full pieces either elsewhere on Turnstiles or in Seesaw Magazine.
I hope that all makes sense, and that what you're reading here helps you make some of those tricky will-I-or-won't-I fringe choices.

What Doesn’t Kill You (Blah Blah) Stronger  ★★★★½
Everything I said about this Martin Sims award-winning show last Fringe holds true this time around. If anything, the snaps were snappier, the laughs laughier and the tunes even more tuneful. A little triumph you simply mustn’t miss.
Lake Disappointment ★★★
It doesn’t live down to its name, but it still feels like an opportunity lost. The script, by Lachlan Philpott and Luke Mullins, about the vanity and abandonment of a film star’s body double (Joel Sammels) is smart and well constructed, but we don’t get inside the character enough. Sammels has all the right moves, but his delivery suffered from a nervous speed which robbed some of his lines of their impact.
Icarus ★★★★½
The terrific mime artist Christopher Samuel Carroll takes the tragedy of the boy who flew too close to the sun and wraps it behind and around a modern tale of escape from indescribably danger (in Deirut? Damascus? Yemen?) and it’s fatal consequence. Unlike his previous Fringe highlight, Paradise Lost, Caroll is hirsute, mute (except for one cluck) but he is just as brilliant, technically superb and utterly transfixing. 
Rest  ★★★★★
As fine a piece of site-specific theatre as I can remember and an enormous credit to James Berlyn, Monica Main and Rubeun Yorkshire, the composer Rachael Dease, lighting designer Lucy Birkinshaw, stage manager Emily Stokoe and the wonderful young cast from WAYTco who made the extraordinary East Perth Cemetary come to life. The season is sold out, but I believe there may be some performances added. You should keep an eye out for them!
Blueberry Play ★★★★
Ang Collins brings sharp observational ability to the story of a teenage girl approaching adult life in Blueberry Play. Julia Robertson’s impressive emotional range allows the story to swing from playful comedy to wrenching moments with ease. If Blueberry Play was a song, it would be by Courtney Barnett.
(Read the complete review in Seesaw Magazine)
Manwatching ★★½
Written by an anonymous woman, Manwatching is about “heterosexual female desire”, though by-and-large that translates to female masturbatory fantasy. Its shtick is that it’s read by a man who has never seen the script before. Tonight’s performer was the skillful and wily actor Paul Grabovac, but before long you realized you weren’t hearing anything you hadn’t heard before, and you were hearing it rehashed too often.
(Read the complete review in Seesaw Magazine)
Djuki Mala ★★★½
The “Chooky Boys” of Elcho Island in Arnhem  Land have taken their exuberant mash up of traditional and pop dancing around the world over the past eleven years. This is their third Fringe World season, and if ever the term “back by popular demand” told the story, this is it.
The purists will no doubt argue that the dancing isn’t of great technical quality - and of course they’re right – but for me, and for the rest of the packed-to-the-gunnels sea of beaming faces in the WA Spiegeltent, it didn’t matter a jot.
Orpheus ★★★★½
This simple, lovely re-telling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is the first you-must-see piece of theatre this Fringe World.
It was wonderful to watch the audience (even some who weren’t quite sure why they were there at first) fall under the spell of one of humankind’s greatest, saddest stories.
(Read the complete review in Seesaw Magazine)
Elizabeth Davie: Super Woman Money Programme  ★★★½
Sometimes, comedy is best when the laughing stops.
When Elizabeth Davie stops with the funnies (she gives us plenty), she sits down and reads a damning indictment of the systemic barriers raised against women who find themselves “financially independent” – either by their own choosing or by the actions of others.
She says its like cold water running down her back. And, sometimes, that’s exactly what comedy needs to be.
(Read the complete review here in Seesaw Magazine)
Feminah ★★★
Charlotte Otten, a young actor of decided presence, has quickly built a reputation built largely, so far, on anticipation. With Feminah, though, she starts to deliver.
While it’s fair to say her text tends to the sophomoric, her performance is bold brave and confronting. There’s some hilarious imagery and some terrific, torchy versions of songs from Marilyn to Britney, both of whom she’s kinda heiress to. Well worth a look.
The Violent Years (1956) ★★★
A late night spot on a blistering Sunday night at Fringe World makes for a tough room to fill – not that the cast of Rachel Kerry’s The Violent Years (1956) ain’t up for it. when you’re playing a stage musical version of Ed Woods’s gleeful sump, swirling adolescent boredom, crime, sex and anarchy into a nasty brew designed to offend every complacent, puritanical atom of 1950s America.
(Read the complete review here in Seesaw Magazine)
Poorly Drawn Shark  ★★★★
Andrew Sutherland loves the fringe world, and this Fringe World will love his Poorly Drawn Shark. Both love story and revenge play, it rips into the manicured miracle of Singapore and its contradictions with baleful glee, yet with an understanding of what drives it and its leaders from Stanford Raffles to Lee Kuan Yew. Sutherland, his co-performer Ming Yang Lim and the director Joe Lui (not incidenrtally, Ming and Lui are Singaporeans who can't go home because of the nation's conscription laws) have a visceral understanding of their subject , and their play, for all its outrageousness, is shot through with blinding insight. The image of Singapore as a shark that has to keep moving forward to survive, and, if were to stop, would no longer be a shark, will stay with me a long time.
A Midnight Visit ★★★½
This fringe's showcase production has more to admire than to love about it. An extraordinary effort of design and production has transformed the old Perth Girl's School building (also once the former Police Traffic Branch headquarters) into a vast labyrinth of grottoes, dungeons and mansion rooms inspired by Edgar Allan Poe. Its dark recesses are populated with Poe people, and the bitter vignettes that play out as we stumble, crawl, stroll and dance through them are shot through with Poe's sensibility. For all that though, there's no real narrative, or even a sense of progression as you pass through, and you're left with an uneasy sense that, for all its undoubted impressiveness, nothing of any importance, or even value, has actually happened. A great show for date night though!
Grace  ★★★½
Grace is a quirky little thing, but an engaging and surprisingly adept one. The Grace of the title (Ana Ika) is struggling; with her room, her mind, her life. The intrusion of an octopus (strangely and brilliantly played by Elise Wilson), followed by two more of the beasties, all of them cajoling her to join them in a vast floating island of junk in the Pacific, is guaranteed to throw her off the rails, and risks throwing us in the too-deep end, but to the credit of the writer Zachary Sheridan, the director Phoebe Sullivan and the cast nothing like that happens. The result, though a little confusing (but, hey, that's life) is a pint-size Fringe gem.

Friday, December 28, 2018

The 2018 Turnstile Awards

Very early yesterday morning, a secretive yet glittering ceremony hosted by WA Meistersinger David Templeman was held inside the deserted Legislative Assembly chamber to announce the recipients of the 2018 Turnstile Awards.
David Templeman, Mark McGowan and Ben Wyatt belt out Tame Impala's
"Apocalypse Dream" at the 2018 Turnstiles
Templeman was joined by WA premier Mark McGowan and state treasurer Ben Wyatt in a visceral medley of dystopian tunes (Eve of Destruction a standout) curated by Jeffrey Jay Fowler, prior to revealing the eleven shows that had won a prestigious Turnstile. They were:

What Doesn’t Kill You (Blah Blah) Stronger. The writer, comic actor and singer Tyler Jacob Jones may be the most prodigious talent in this town. His long-standing partnership with the composer Robert Woods and the versatile performer and director Erin Hutchinson has honed their skills to starry heights, no more so than in this precision-crafted, utterly hilarious little musical.
You Know We belong Together. There is wonderful warmth about Julia Hales and her co-performers, all of whom have Down Syndrome. It enveloped the audience, creating a shared, joyous experience of the rarest kind in theatre as these lovely and loving people tell us their stories. Some of them are deeply moving; others are funny, sexy and sad.
The Summer of the 17th Doll. This production marked a highpoint in the career of the talented director Adam Mitchell. The first major play in the Australian idiom concerned with authentically Australian lives, it’s also arguably our best. Kelton Pell plays Roo without race or colour, but with magnificent emotional and physical power.
The Events. David Greig’s The Events, which was motivated by Anders Breivik’s rampage in Norway in 2011, is dark, fascinating and theatrically ambitious. Catherine McClements, gave a compelling performance, and a different community choir performed in each performance as a cogent reminder of lives lived and lost in the terrible “events” we have become so used to.
Hiro. This is an extraordinary story, and a true one, about a man swept out to sea by the 2011 Fukushima tsunami, but to make it compelling theatre requires dramatic vision and technical expertise. It’s creator and director Samantha Chester, her co-creators and performers Humphrey Bower and Kylie Maree, and her creative team, provided just that, and in spades.
The Tale of Tales. A small, brilliant gem of storytelling, and a breakout achievement for its deviser and performer, Clare Testoni. She used the fairy tales of Giambattista Basile as a jumping off point for a wider and deeper story of four generations of her own family, the rise of Fascism in Italy and the resistance to it, the flight of many Italians to Australia  and their fate here. It was an honest show, and a heartfelt one; as one of its characters says: “a story left untold is destined to repeat itself.”
Court My Crotch. The writer and director James McMillan’s play is wild, savage, and the most memorable production of the Blue Room’s 2018 seasons. Its action was as fast, furious, sweaty and grunty as any Grand Slam final, and took a wide-ranging look at sport, society and sexuality of surprising accuracy and topicality. The show moved so fast and so far that its flaws were trampled underfoot.
In the Next Room – The Vibrator Play. The American playwright Sarah Ruhl delivers a witty, playful peek into domesticity and its pitfalls, the role of women in marriage and society, and quite a bit more besides. The result is a wildly entertaining and intelligent piece of popular theatre. Another Turnstile for Jeffrey Jay Fowler, the director, who accurately assessed Ruhl’s play for what it is; a modern take on Restoration Comedy, almost a bedroom – well consulting room – farce, highlighted by career performances from Rebecca Davis and Jo Morris
Fever. This collaboration by Andrew Bovell, Christos Tsiolkas, Patricia Cornelius and Melissa Reeves dates from 2002. It’s not the first time this quartet of playwrights’ work has been performed by WAAPA’s Aboriginal Performance students; what was new was this production’s complete lack of specific Aboriginality; the students, and their director Rachael Maza, ask us to come to their work on its own merits, with no concessions or schema. What was exciting was how terrifically they succeeded, and how, in so doing, they brought a major and intensely relevant Australian work to a new audience.
Frankie’s. The best bars are real-life impromptu stories. The characters in their dramas walk in without a script, and they are as varied and various as all humanity. The actors and musicians Libby Klysz’s Variegated Productions gathered to people Frankie’s were, perhaps uniquely, fit for purpose. The night I dropped in (the cast and characters change nightly), Turnstile-magnet Shane Adamczak and Sam Longley were bartenders, the combustible Tegan Mulvany was the resident barfly, and Chris Bedding, an oversize man with a great talent of presence, was her lost love. It’s a great achievement that a cast could concoct such material out of thin air.

A little piece of housekeeping:  up until now the Turnstile Awards have gone from September 1 to August 31 each year. That now seems an awkward construct, so I’ve converted to the calendar year. Which means to tidy things up, a stand-alone, late 2017, Turnstile goes to:
Let the Right One In. A whopping Heath Ledger Theatre debut for Black Swan’s new artistic director Clare Watson, the vampire romantic thriller splendidly executed and highlighted by a tough, sexy and needy performance by Sophia Forrest, impressively supported by Ian Michael.

I started these little awards back in 2010/11 when I became the theatre reviewer for The West Australian and have continued them through the eight years during which I’ve been privileged to see, and delighted to acknowledge, some wonderful West Australian theatre.
The awards acknowledge outstanding WA produced (or co-produced) stage shows opening in Perth each year. Eligibility is inclusive, rather than proscriptive. There are no set number of Turnstile winners each year, and no attempt to rank them in order of merit. The Turnstiles are a pat on the back, not a competition.
As it’s now apparent (although no-one has actually taken me into a little room and delivered the coup de gras) that The West, to the extent that it covers the arts at all, will do so “in house”, it’s a good time to look back on those shows that have won Turnstiles up to now. I’m sure its a list that will bring as much pleasure to those who saw these terrific pieces as they gave to me when I did.
So indulge me for a while as I remember the Turnstile Award winners since 2010:

Krakour. Deckchair Theatre’s production of Reg Cribb’s engaging hagiography of the football wizards, directed by Marcelle Schmitz and starring Jimi Bani and Sean Dow as Jim and Phil;
The Deep Blue Sea. Terence Rattigan’s ‘50s tragedy, stylishly directed by Michael McCall for Onward Production, with a stellar performance by Alison Van Reeken;
Waltzing the Wilarra. Yirra Yaakin’s irresistible 2011 PIAF hit, written and composed by David Milroy and directed by Wesley Enoch;
The Ugly One. Marius Von Mayenberg’s literate and adventurous play, directed by Melissa Cantwell for the Perth Theatre Company;
Die Winterreise. Matthew Lutton’s engrossing and unsettling theatrical extrapolation for ThinIce of Franz Schubert’s song cycle, with striking performances by Paul Capsis and George Shevtsov;
Laryngectomy. Renegade Production’s ferocious and courageous lament at the Blue Room, written by Joe Lui (who also directed) in collaboration with the riveting performer Demelza Rogers;
Crazy For You. WAAPA 2nd and 3rd year music theatre student’s ebullient and potential-crammed revival of the Gershwins' hit at the Regal;
Scent Tales. A perfectly miraculous parable of knowledge and love, directed by Joanne Foley for Little y Theatre, with a transfixing performance by Georgia King;
Red. Onward Production’s second Turnstile, for Lawrie Cullen-Tait’s auspicious main stage directorial debut with John Logan’s mighty seat-filler, starring James Hagan as Mark Rothko;
Tender Napalm. Perth Theatre Company again, for the brutal and vivid play by the prodigious Philip Ridley, directed by Melissa Cantwell and starring Joshua Brennan and Anna Houston;
Adam and Eve. A smashing, laugh-out-loud modern take on The Fall, ,directed by Moya Thomas at the Blue Room, with terrific, inventive performances, especially by St John Cowcher and Alicia Osyka in a Laurel and Hardy-like comic pairing;
The Damned. Reg Cribb’s unlovely, memorable play for Black Swan, firmly directed by Andrew Lewis with gripping performances by Amanda Woodhams, Claire Lovering and, especially, Sage Douglas.
Who’s Afraid of the Working Class. An imposing, ultimately heartbreaking play, beautifully and proudly performed by WAAPA Aboriginal Theatre students directed by Rick Brayford.
Atishoo. A wonderful, fevered dreamscape by DNA, written for kids under six by Rachel Riggs and Adam Bennett, who also performed alongside the beguiling Anna Marie Biagioni.   
Blackbird. Perth Theatre Company’s unsettling, exciting production, written by David Harrower and directed by Melissa Cantwell, with fine performances by Humphrey Bower and Anna Houston.
National Interest. Black Swan’s complete and satisfying production, written and directed by Aiden Fennessy, with the outstanding Julia Blake and a fine supporting cast.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. WAAPA’s music theatre students’ exuberant production of Frank Loesser’s snappy musical at the Regal.
It’s Dark Outside. A rare triumph of theatrical ingenuity in the service of human compassion; Tim Watts, Arielle Gray and Chris Isaacs’s wonderful production for the Perth Theatre Company.
On the Misconception of Oedipus. Perth Theatre Company’s brilliantly conceived and executed, high gloss, play directed by Matthew Lutton with Natasha Herbert, Daniel Schlusser and Richard Pyros as modern manifestations of the infamous Sophoclean triangle.
Boy Gets Girl. A tense, menacing staging of  Rebecca Gilman’s stalker thriller directed by Adam Mitchell for Black Swan, with great performances by Alison van Reeken and the genuinely creepy Myles Pollard, and a superb and, at one point, shocking set design by Fiona Bruce. 
Eve. A stand-out performance in any year from Margi Brown Ash in at the Blue Room, the sad story of the largely forgotten writer Eve Langley, written by Ash, Daniel Evans and Leah Mercer, who also directed.
The Motherfucker With the Hat. Stephen Adly Guirgis’s joyfully erudite New York drama, directed by Adam Mitchell with a mighty performance by Rhoda Lopez and a scene-stealing one by Fayssal Bazzi.  
Duck, Death and the Tulip. Barking Gecko’s delicate, good humoured, story for kids about death, directed by John Sheedy with exemplary performances by George Shevtsov and the irresistible Ella Hetherington.
Minnie and Mona. The Duck House production of Jeffrey Jay Fowler's funny, fierce and sad play, firmly controlled by director Kathryn Osborne and fearlessly performed by Arielle Gray and Gita Bezard.
Hamlet. John Sheedy and Barking Gecko in partnership with WAAPA to deliver a fresh, energized staging of The Play, with a passionate, sexy performance by James Sweeny in The Part and a brilliant sound design by James Luscombe.
Other Desert Cities. Black Swan’s production of John Robin Baitz’s sparkling story of familial and political disintegration, immaculately directed by Kate Cherry and designed by Christina Smith, with stellar performances by Janet Andrewartha and Conrad Coleby.
Hedda. Marthe Snorresdotter Rovic brought authenticity and magnetism to her seamless, electric adaptation of the Ibsen classic, directed by co-adaptor Renato Fabretti with a cast including her fellow Norwegian Tone Skaardal and the charismatic, intelligent Phil Miolin.
Storm Boy. Barking Gecko’s handsome co-production, with the Sydney Theatre Company, of Colin Thiele’s much-loved novel, was another step forward for our most exciting and ambitious main-stage theatre company.
Trampoline. The first of an unprecedented single-year Turnstiles trifecta by the outrageously talented writer and actor Shane Adamczak, the bouncy romcom at the Blue Room, directed by Damon Lockwood also starred Amanda Woodhams and the very funny Ben Russell.
Midsummer (A Play with Songs). The most and best laughs of anything Black Swan staged that year, thanks to Georgina Gayler and Brendan Hansen’s performances, Damon Lockwood’s direction and David Greig's often hilarious screw-tightening script.
DIVA. The writer and performer Tiffany Barton and director Helen Doig collaborated to tell the story of a fading opera singer with pungency, tempestuousness and ultimate humanity.
Vicious Circles.  Adamczak again, this time incredible as Johnny Rotten in Ben Kalman’s sad, brilliantly performed story of the last days of Sid and Nancy, co-produced by WA’s Weeping Spoon and Canada’s Stadium Tour for the Blue Room’s Summer Nights season at PICA. 
F*@k Decaf. Pop-up theatre at its best; Tyler Jacob Jones’s café society comedy, sharply directed by Scott Corbett with star turns by Amanda Watson and Ann-Marie Biagioni, at the Mary Street Café on Beaufort St.
Eight Gigabytes of Hardcore Pornography. Declan Greene’s dark comedy may not live up to its name, but it has plenty of hard drive. Perth comedian Andrea Gibbs delivered a performance to be proud of.
Jasper Jones. Kate Mulvany’s savvy adaptation of Craig Silvey’s wonderful book was another faultless step on John Sheedy’s mission to grow Barking Gecko from a children’s theatre to one for young people of all ages.  
This is Not a Love Song. The stand up comedian Greg Fleet’s impressive debut as a playwright was a sure-fire singalong hit at the Blue Room, and more besides. Fleet performs, as does director Tegan Mulvany and, you guessed it, Shane Adamczak.
Laughter on the 23rd Floor. Black Swan’s sparkling, handsome revival of Neil Simon’s reminiscence of radio days. Impeccably cast, with Peter Rowsthorn outstanding.
King Hit. Geoffrey Narkle and David Gilroy took us inside the sideshow boxing tent, and plenty of other places, in Yirra Yaakin’s fine, important revival of this seminal West Australian play.
Hipbone Sticking Out. A magnificent, sprawling story of the collision of cultures in West Australia’s North-West. Created by Scott Rankin and Big hART, inspired by, and featuring, the people of Roebourne, it had everything theatre should have, and did everything theatre should do.
Venus in Fur. David Ives' delicious layer cake of a play-within- a-play-within-a-book, assiduously directed by Lawrie Cullen-Tait. was sent into orbit by the tall, fair and heedless Felicity McKay.
Monroe & Associates. Tim Watts, the kindiest member of wunderkind company The Last Great Hunt, created a snazzy little noir world inside a caravan, and invited his audiences of one to try to outsmart him in it.
Under This Sun. Warwick Doddrell’s outback epic emerged from the heat and dust of the WA desert like a modern-day Burke and Wills, and was as impressive a writing debut as we have seen on the Perth stage.
Legally Blonde. Showed WAAPA’s splendid music theatre course and its soon-to-be world-beating students to perfect advantage at the Regal – and was a sell-out smash hit into the bargain. 
Gudirr Gudirr. An extraordinary performance by Broome artist Dalisa Pigram, combining tens of thousands of years of continuous cultural endeavour with the skills and confidence of contemporary indigenous performing art.
The Mars Project. The 3rd year acting class at WAAPA shone in Will O’Mahoney’s intricate, coherent and moving rumination on ambition, autism and the lure of the ultimate.
The Drowsy Chaperone. WAAPA’s 3rd Year Music Theatre students kicked up a storm in this utterly hilarious, marvellously generous and strangely neglected little musical about nothing other than what makes a musical tick.
Hart. Wonderfully controlled and white hot with anger, Ian Michael wove the stories of four indigenous men (himself included) into a rich, entertaining and deeply moving tapestry of the terrible events of the Stolen Generation. 
The Astronaut. The performer Samantha Chester and her director Frances Barbe created something mysterious and ineffably sad between dance and drama that used the minimalist space of the Blue Room as effectively and imaginatively as anything I’ve seen there.  
Grounded. Alison van Reeken, the very best of our actors, was taut and sinewy as the fighter pilot cum drone operator in George Brant’s horrifyingly real journey into bloodless, abstract, modern warfare.
The One. The arc of a love affair told as a blues by the white-hot writer Jeffrey Jay Fowler, and Georgia King and Mark Storen, who both gave career-best performances.
The Lighthouse Girl. Hellie Turner overcame the intractable untheatricality of fact to fashion a touching and very real love story in the shadow of war and death, highlighted by an outstanding rookie performance as the girl from Daisy Coyle.
End Game. The pedigrees of the play, the director Andrew Ross, the designer and lighting designer Tyler Hill and Mark Howlett and a fine cast were impeccable, and they delivered Beckett’s bleak vision with wonderful clarity and control. 
The Irresistible. A singular, wholly-realised theatre experience by the writer and director Zoe Pepper and the performer/collaborators Tim Watts and the ferocious, highly-charged Adriane Daff,
Good Little Soldier. Ochre Dance Theatre’s Mark Howlett took his text about the scars of war and, working with a talented team of deviser/performers, broke it down into a cross-disciplinary performance that, miraculously, was even greater than the sum of its parts. 
The View from the Penthouse. WAAPA Performance Making students Isaac Diamond, Cam Pollock and the genuinely terrifying Sam Hayes concocted a brilliant, noxious cocktail of carnality and addiction.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Theatre: Stay With Us

The Last Great Hunt
Created by Arielle Gray, Chris Isaacs and Tim Watts
Directed by Arielle Gray
Body sculpture by Tarryn Gill
Devised and performed by Gita Bezard, Jo Morris and Clare Testoni
Stage management by Emily Stokoe and Zachary Sheridan
Riverview Hotel
Until 8 December

When Marcel Duchamp declared that it is the viewer who completes a work of art, he may have had something like the The Last Great Hunt’s tasty exercise in bed-hopping, Stay With Us, presently occupying three rooms in the Riverview Hotel in Mount Street, in mind.
While each of the short tableaux that make up the work might have worked in front of a disengaged audience, it’s our participation – immersion more properly – in them that gives them their hook, and their dramatic power.
There’s little need be said about the plot of each piece, other than they relate back to the show’s title (as, of course, does the idea of us spending an evening with the Hunters in a hotel).
In the first, a woman named Alana (Jo Morris, the only actor to appear in any of the stories) is grieving the death of her twin sister Zoe when strange things begin happening in her hotel room.
In another room, medical staff gather around the body of an elderly woman (a sculpture by the artist Tarryn Gill) while the objects that make her and her life up are revealed.
In the final piece, children in their jimjams clutch teddy bears and listen to a goodnight story (illustrated by Tim Watts and Clare Testoni) that takes them to the stars and beyond.
It’s the how, not the what, though, that delivers these little stories.
There’s no denying the artistry of the work: JoMo’s (Sorry Jo, that’s irresistible) performance, seen up close without make-up or theatrical costuming, is as wrenching and electric as we have come to expect from this fine actor; Gill’s old lady is an abstraction, but captures beautifully (and quite touchingly for those who have seen their parents in death) the sunken calm of the deceased; and, best of all, Watts and Testoni’s projected images, starting small and squiggly, build into a powerful and vast panorama of the galaxies and the forces within them.
What’s most impressive is how we are wrangled into our part in proceedings. We travel in groups of eight from the Riverview’s lobby to the three rooms, guided by a bellhop (in our case Gita Bezard; other groups were led by Chris Isaacs and Watts) who costumes and arranges us, and wordlessly instructs us in our participation.
I can only imagine this duck’s legs are kicking ferociously beneath the placid surface as the stage manager Emily Stokoe and her assistant Zachary Sheridan restore the wreckage of each scene ready for the next audience’s incursion.
The director Arielle Gray, along with Watts and Isaacs, created the whole catastrophe and keeps a sure hand on a very tricky tiller throughout.
It’s marvellous to see the Hunters in action (of them only Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Adriane Daff, who were no doubt furiously busy elsewhere, are absent), and their disparate talents, seen together, gives them a collective charisma different from, if not greater than, the sum of its parts.
They’ve added judiciously to their talent pool with Gill, Morris, Testoni and even the effervescently ubiquitous Scott McArdle – who will be the concierge at my next hotel – front of house.
I believe their upcoming Perth Festival debut, Le Nor, will be the first time all six have performed in one show - this will be another stride forward for this world-class ensemble. 
We’re lucky to call them our own.