Saturday, October 16, 2010

Theatre: The WAAPA Week That Was

Various Venues
8-16th October 2010

WAAPA's 2nd and 3rd year acting and music theatre students have been strutting their stuff this week on a number of stages on and outside their Mt Lawley home and, leaving aside the chance to see the next generation of the country's best (or at least best trained) stage performers in action, the results have been a real boost to the town's theatre stocks.
WAAPA has the huge advantage of having the talent, time and resources to mount shows that are beyond either the expertise or budgets of anyone else in Perth. This results in large casts, high quality (though not extravagant) production values and exciting, well developed material for the students and their mentors to work with.
A case in point is Stalin's Orchard, a really outstanding attack on the lugubrious personal dictatorships of the Soviet/Russian systems from Stalin to Putin.
Simon Montefiore in his Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, tells the story of the highly-placed couple who were suddenly swept from their apartment alongside the Kremlin and into confinement and torture in Moscow's notorious prison for the elite, only to be just as mysteriously released and returned to their empty, untouched apartment ten years later. Late that night they answered a knock on their door to find Stalin and his henchman Beria, smiling and carrying bottles of vodka, on their mat. There followed the strangest all-night drinking session in history, with the two leaders making friendly enquiries about their health and how they found prison life, and saying how nice it was to have them "back", while the couple sat paralyzed by terror and repulsion.
That lurid episode didn't make Stalin's Orchard, more's the pity,  but the play's mordant telling of its peers in horror, the murders in 2006 of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya as she returned with her shopping to her apartment and the former KGB operative Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned with polonium-210 while he drank sake in a London restaurant, are superbly convincing.
I found the whole production, and the performances of all 15 actors, a revelation. While there were many particularly outstanding performances, it was the ensemble work in a show that is part Brechtian cabaret, part three-ring circus (it's often very very funny amidst the horror), that was especially captivating. Chris Edmund, who wrote the piece in collaboration with the cast and led its fine artistic and production team, deserves the highest praise for realising a work that I hope will be seen again.
The 2nd year music theatre students also premiered a new work, WAAPA graduate James Millar and his collaborator Peter Rutherford's A Little Touch of Chaos and, once again, it was an evening well spent.
While the show didn't have the visceral excitement of Stalin's Orchard, and music theatre students inevitably take longer to bring power to their craft, the story of two generations of a family was cunningly brought to a very emotionally satisfying and convincing conclusion, and the best performances were very impressive indeed, both musically and dramatically.
James Millar 'kind of hates' the idea of nationalised "Aussie" musicals, and this certainly doesn't fall into that trap - the book and score sit squarely in a contemporary international style often reminiscent (I hope they'll forgive me) of Sondheim, and both principals' and ensemble turns worked well, and often extremely so.
Unfortunately a bout of the lurgie kept me from two other shows I was looking forward to seeing, the 3rd year acting students' Talking with Terrorists (reviewed here by Robin Pascoe) and the classical music students' English Eccentrics, both of which I'm told were similarly impressive.

Postscript: I hope I can be forgiven for not singling out individual performers  for special praise in the two shows I saw - many in both deserved it. It's probably not fair, though, especially half way through their WAAPA courses, to distinguish between performances. There'll be plenty of time for that later!

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