Thursday, September 3, 2015

The 2015 Turnstile Awards

Federal Arts Minister George Brandis made a surprise appearance at the glittering Turnstile Awards ceremony to announce he was giving some trophies of his own. It was a little hard to work out what they were, though. Or who he was giving them to.
There may be dark clouds on the horizon, but the WA theatre biz still delivered a harvest of both quantity and, by and large, quality, in the last year. 
The Turnstile Awards acknowledge outstanding WA produced (or co-produced) stage shows opening in Perth between September and August each year. 
There is no set number of Turnstile winners, and no attempt to rank them in order of merit: Turnstiles are a pat on the back, not a competition.
In 2014/5 there were 62 “eligible” productions (a few more than last year) reviewed in either or both The West Australian and this blog. Inevitably some others get missed, especially around festival time – apologies to them. 
Thirty of them were shows I had no hesitation in recommending; that’s an impressive proportion, and outnumbers those you’d have been wise to avoid by three to one – and a number of those were admired by people with far better judgement than mine.
Which all means that coming out to the theatre in Perth is an investment in your time and treasure you can make with some confidence. The people who make the shows need your support, more now than ever, and they will reward you for it.

Here, in chronological order, are the nine productions that take home a Turnstile this year:

  • 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 and 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 saw on the Perth stage this year.
  • 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 combined tens of thousands of years of continuous cultural endeavour with the skills and confidence of contemporary indigenous performing art.
  • The Mars Project: for the entire body of work by the 3rd year acting class at WAAPA this year, but in particular for Will O’Mahoney’s intricate, coherent and moving rumination on ambition, autism and the lure of the ultimate.

And here are some other great shows that could easily have walked off with a Turnstile:

It really has been a remarkable year for The Blue Room and its associated artists and independent producers; apart from their two Turnstiles, Joe Lui’s revelatory correspondence from exile, Letters Home, the gripping rom-horredy Welcome to Slaughter (Lui again, along with Michelle Robin Anderson, Jo Morris and Emily Rose Brennan), Finegan Kruckemeyer’s sparkling fable Those Who Fall in Love Like Anchors Dropped Upon the Ocean Floor (or Twifilladutoff, as I l took to calling it) and the extraordinary Margi Brown Ash and Leah Mercer’s Joey the Mechanical Boy were all terrific. They combined with PICA to present Summer Nights as part of the Perth Fringe, and in it Claire Lovering’s touching solo stand River, Chris Isaacs and Jeffrey Jay Fowler’s razor sharp Fag/Stag and Mikala Westall’s impressive writing debut Moving On, Inc. were all great successes.A good year, too, for Black Swan, who added their pacy, accurate revival of Glengarry Glen Ross to their brace of Turnstiles; and for WAAPA, who also picked up two Turnstiles and could easily have had a third for All My Sons, a splendid revival of Arthur Miller’s near-perfect play.I didn’t share the general enthusiasm for Barking Gecko’s blockbuster The Rabbits, but Marko Jovanovic’s star solo turn in the coming-of-age drama Pondlife McGurk was a standout, as was Nick Maclaine and Isaac Lim’s sparkling Dorothy Fields bio, Exactly Like You downstairs at the Maj.

For the record, a few honorary Turnstiles to brilliant shows that would have won the real thing if they had been from WA: at this year’s Fringe, Bryony Kimmings’ high-style, fearless Sex Idiot, a sleeper with a killer twist, Alice Mary Cooper’s Waves, and Ralph McCullum Howell’s tiny triumph, The Bookbinder; at PIAF, QTC’s powerful Black Diggers; Josh McConville’s superb Hamlet for Bell Shakespeare, and, downstairs at the Maj, John O’Hara and Anthony Harkin’s surprisingly substantial cabaret, Dedications.   

My thanks to the nine Turnstiles winners, and all those that cracked an honourable mention – between them, twenty shows mounted in WA you’d be privileged to see anywhere in the world.

You can read what I had to say about each of the awarded and noted shows by clicking on their highlighted title (thanks to Steve Bevis for his All My Sons review).

Finally, thanks again to everyone who dropped in to Turnstiles over the last year – it’s well into six-figure visits now, and, hopefully, at least some of them didn’t stumble across it looking for a Neil Young album. Please fire in a comment about the awards, even if it’s just to bag them!

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