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

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Theatre: Opus No. 7 (★★★★★)

Written and directed by Dmitry Krymov
Designed by Vera Martynova (Genealogy) and Maria Tregubova (Shastakovich)

ABC Studios
Until February 26

The brace of arresting, visually exciting one-act pieces from Moscow’s Dmitry Krymov Laboratory that make up Opus No. 7 take famous stories and re-imagine them in broad strokes of colour and movement.
For all their innovation and technical brilliance, they remain steeped in theatrical traditions from Eastern European clowning to Grand Guignol, along with the dark humour and deep sorrow of Russia, the Always and Endless.
The first story, Genealogy, is an enormous lamentation, the same old ceremony of Jewish life from “Abraham begat Isaac” to the coming of the Christ, the old ways and the old faces lost in the avalanche of the 20th Century, its holocaust and progroms. The actors hold x-rays of bones up to the light, and the faces of lost Russian Jewry project through them onto the walls; a troupe of musicians scat, but their song becomes a black hymn of death and loss. The policeman passing a window is SS; at the next he is NKVD.
In the second story, Shostakovich (Christina Pivneva, in the role originally created by ensemble member Anna Sinyakina, whose striking, ominous plaint opens the show), a gigantic babushka puppet, at once Mother Russia and Uncle Joe, cradles the tiny, bespectacled composer in its dangerous, capricious arms.
Shostakovich’s fellow artists disappear or are condemned in show trials; he speaks at Communist Party conferences, but his voice is timid and his Socialist platitudes trite and unconvincing. He is awarded a medal, perhaps the Order of Lenin or the Hero of Socialist Labour, but is impaled on its gigantic pin. In the end, he is crushed by Russia, like an infant smothered by its mother as they sleep.
This may sound bleak, and it is, but it doesn’t capture the exhilaration of the two plays’ creativity and performances. The ensemble of eight (the saturnine, sinister Mikhail Umanets outstanding), directed by Krymov, hold you fixated with their intensity and skill; even the bustle of moving props and setting scenes is mesmerizing in their hands.
There is much theatrical sleight of hand throughout, especially in Genealogy, which is played on a wide space in front of a temporary stand in the ABC studio; look one way and, on the other, things materialise and disappear. Splattered paint becomes human forms, coats and jackets emerge, seemingly from nowhere, and, in the most overwhelming assault on an audience’s senses since the storm in 2013’s Slava’s Snowshow, a blizzard of paper cuttings, burning through with incandescent light, cascades over us.
That’s just one of the first of many wonders in a show that is no picnic. Rather, Opus No. 7 is a feast.

An early version of this review appeared in The West Australian 23.2.17