Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The 2016 Turnstile Awards

Corey Bernardi reacts when he thought someone told him he was hosting the 2016 Turnbull Awards

This year’s Turnstile Awards reflect a year when the output of WA theatre was solid rather than spectacular.
In some respects, it was a good year; it was professional, well curated, earnest and worthy.
But while a night out at the theatre in Perth was a good, reliable entertainment option, there was a lack of local productions that truly thrilled, inspired, transported and provoked.
The Turnstile Awards acknowledge outstanding WA produced (or co-produced) stage shows opening in Perth between September and August each year. They are inclusive, rather than proscriptive, when it comes to eligibility.
There is no set number of Turnstile winners, and no attempt to rank them in order of merit. The Turnstiles are a pat on the back, not the prize in a competition.
In 2015/16 there were 59 “eligible” productions (a couple fewer than last year) reviewed in either or both The West Australian and this blog. Apologies to those I missed.
Thirty-two of them were shows I happily and heartily recommended (meaning a star rating of 3.5 or more); that’s a sizeable majority of the field, and vastly outnumbers the five I thought you were wise to avoid (two stars or fewer).
But there’s no getting around it: this year produced the fewest Turnstile Awards since they began in 2011, and by some margin.

Here, in chronological order, are the three productions that gonged in the past year (click on the titles to link to reviews):
•           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, sometimes 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.

This is a very subjective exercise: no doubt many people with better minds than mine would have seen a gleaming Turnstile in the trophy cabinet of some of these excellent productions:

Black Swan may not have added to its collection of Turnstiles this time around, but Chrissie Parrott’s production of The Red Balloon, Gita Bezard and Will O’Mahony’s double bill, Loaded, the stage adaptation of Picnic at Hanging Rock, and its collaboration with the National Theatre of China in The Caucasian Chalk Circle made for a fine turn into the home stretch for departing artistic director Kate Cherry.
Apart from the two Turnstile winners that played within its walls, the Blue Room hosted Andrew Hale’s earthy and convincing adaptation of Patrick White’s The Cockatoos (thanks to Ron Banks for his review in The West I've linked to) and an all-grown-up remount of Will O’Mahony’s 2015 Turnstile-winning The Mars Project.
WAAPA was involved, one way or another, with all three Turnstiles winners this year, and also came on strong with muscular productions of Coriolanus and A View From the Bridge, featuring manful lead performances from Angus McLaren and Giuseppe Rotondella.
Barking Gecko showed, again, that it’s harder to win a Turnstile than a Helpmann with Bambert’s Lost Stories, and Yirra Yaakin’s The Fever and the Fret grew even richer with thought and in memory.
Among the WA productions at this year’s Fringe, the Robert Woods and Tyler Jacob Jones team delivered a bunch of orgasms with Dr Felicity Rickshaw’s Celebrity Sex Party, and writer Chris Isaacs, director Adam Mitchell and the wonderful actor Steve Turner were all class in The Great Ridolphi. Downstairs at the Maj, writer Izaak Lim and director Michael Loney turned Harold Arlen’s songs into the musical he never wrote, Fancy Meeting You Here.

You can’t just pop in to WA and expect to head home with a trophy, but if, if, these productions – all but one from the summer festivals – had been born and raised here, they certainly would have. Honorary Turnstiles, then, to:
The Wild Duck, Refuse the Hour and The Object Lesson from Wendy Martin’s impeccable first PIAF theatre programme;
Reasons to Stay Inside and 17 Border Crossings from the fit-to-burst Fringe balloon; and…
…oh, bugger it. Hakuna Matata! The Lion King.       

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