Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Theatre: Master Class (★★★★)

by Terrence McNally
directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher
starring Amanda Muggleton
and featuring Dobbs Frank, Kala Gare, Jessica Boyd, Rocco Speranza
Subiaco Arts Centre until December 17

There’s a transfixing moment late in the first act of Terrence McNally’s Master Class where the great diva Maria Callas stands caught in the spotlight, arms outstretched, with the balconies of La Scala, the opera house where she reigned as queen for a headstrong, headlong decade from 1950, projected behind her.
Transfixing, because the actor caught in that spotlight is the star Amanda Muggleton, and she is the queen of the stage she is playing on – the Hole in the Wall Theatre (now, prosaically, the Subiaco Arts Centre) – and has been since 1988, when Raymond Omodei (who was in the opening night audience) brought her to Perth to play Shirley Valentine.
And that is the hook of this show, and what makes it such a joy and a celebration despite what is often an overwrought and factually unreliable script.
Off the page it is a master class by the great soprano, now faded and maudlin, combative and overbearing. But it’s another master class as well. Muggleton’s.
She may have already outlived her character by, oh, a decade or so, but she is not faded, not a bit, and remains one of our most generous and formidable stage presences.
So it’s a sort of double act, Callas and Muggleton, and the actor displays her great gifts, an ability to both capture a character, to show us its height and depth, and to concurrently run a commentary on it in a kind of conspiracy with her audience. So a Callas aside, or a Callas trip into the audience looking for victims, is Muggleton’s as well. You can almost hear her whispering in our ear.
The mechanism for this removal of the fourth wall between us and her/them is the director Adam Spreadbury-Maher’s literal reading of the master class – so we are at it, not at a play about it; we are characters, albeit passive extras, in the story.
Thus rendered defenceless, Callas/Muggleton have their way with us, cajoling and pleading, skewering their unfortunate students, the sopranos Sophie De Palma (Kala Gare) and Sharon Graham (Jessica Boyd and the tenor Tony Candolino (Rocco Speranza and Callas’s peers, including, and with particular relish, our own monumental Joan Sutherland.
The singers hardly get a note in edgeways, and the accompanist Manny Weinstock (Dobbs Frank) knows better than to try.
All of which leads to two marvellous set pieces where, with Callas’s recorded voice soaring in the darkness behind the spotlight, Muggleton first speaks the translated libretto of Bellini's La Sonnambula with all the passion and drama of the sung version and, later, uses the aria from Verdi's Macbetto to tell her own tragic story, the loss of her career, her lover Aristotle Onassis and her unborn child.
The music, which also includes Puccini’s Tosca, is gloriously over-the-top (and when the young soloists get to show off their pipes in the curtain call, there’s more Puccini  – yes, Nessun Dorma for the tenor – and the ridiculously impossible Der Hölle Rache from Mozart’s Magic Flute).
Perth is always a better place when La Muggleton is on one of its stages – especially this one.
Don’t be late for class.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Theatre: My Robot (★★★½ )

By Finegan Kruckemeyer
Barking Gecko Theatre Company
Directed by Matt Edgerton
Designed by Ilsa Shaw
Lighting design by Chris Donnelly
Composer and sound designer by James Luscombe
Robot designer Steve Berrick
Performed by Arielle Gray, St John Cowcher and Sarah Nelson
State Theatre Centre Studio
Until November 28

So much of children’s theatre – of all theatre really – is about the journey from here to there, from the unbearable past to a desirable future.
One of the things that makes the extraordinarily fecund Finegan Kruckemeyer’s My Robot different and interesting is that when the play starts its hero, the feisty, ever-so-slightly nerdish Ophelia (Arielle Gray) has already arrived at her destination – and she’s not at all happy about it.
She has just moved to the seaside with her parents (St John Cowcher is her father and all the show’s other characters – we never meet her mother) and while dad is thrilled by their new surroundings, Ophelia pines for the mountains and friends of their former home.
The play’s other point of difference is right there in the title. A functioning robot character called Olivetti (designed by Steve Berrick and wrangled by Sarah Nelson) is Ophelia’s sidekick and lifeline.
She finds Olivetti – or the pieces that will make it up – in a box in a dumbwaiter that connects her room to the café below owned by the haughty, censorious Ms Ogilvie.
Ogilvie’s stink eye isn’t the only challenge Ophelia faces. There’s the town bully, Otis, who wants to cajole her into admiring the seaside town while trying to get her out of it. And there’s her neighbour, Orson, whose allergies and agoraphobia shut him up in his room away from life.
But Ophelia isn’t easily daunted, and once she puts her toolkit to work and builds Olivetti, she’s a force to be reckoned with. As is the little robot, whose powers of telekinesis elicited gasps of delight from the young (and not so young) audience.
Things proceed in typically engaging Kruckemeyer fashion, with all the real set backs and hard-won triumphs he is a master of, until Ophelia, in true Grace Bussell style, daringly affects a rescue from the wild sea and brings everyone and everything to a highly satisfying conclusion.
There’s no beating Arielle Gray if you want feist, adorability and that pinch of nerdiness, and Cowcher shows yet again what a terrific character actor he is. They are both stars, and its wonderful to see them so committed in a show for children. Barking Gecko’s award-winning production values are all on show (Isla Shaw's storybook design, with Chris Donnelly’s lighting and James Luscombe’s music and sound), and Matt Edgerton directs the whole process with precision and ease.
It would have been nice if the budget could have stretched to a second character actor to create more colour and movement (and maybe allow mum to make an appearance), and Olivetti, achievement as it was, was a little cumbersome to excite an audience used to R2D2 and its lively successors.
Those minor issues aside, My Robot comfortably clears the bar set by what now must be regarded as Australia’s leading theatre company for children and young people. We should be grateful for having them here.
   

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Theatre: Let The Right One In (★★★★½)

by Jack Thorne
based upon the novel and film by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Black Swan State Theatre Company
Director Clare Watson
Set and costume designer Bruce Mckinven
Lighting designer Richard Vabre
Composer and sound designer Rachael Dease
Featuring Sophia Forrest, Stuart Halusz, Ian Michael, Rory O’Keeffe, Clarence Ryan, Maitland Schnaars, Steve Turner and Alison van Reeken
Heath Ledger Theatre
Until December 3
The last production of Black Swan’s 2017 season marks the completion of the extended and orderly transition from the company’s long-time artistic director Kate Cherry to the leadership of Clare Watson.
During the transition, Watson has gained the trust and friendship of Perth’s theatre community, and, as her much-anticipated 2018 season demonstrates, her board and Black Swan’s sometimes tricksy and disparate stakeholders.
But can she deliver in her own right as the director of a whopping main stage production in the signature theatre of her new town? Well, as we have just discovered, 61.9% is the new benchmark for overwhelming success, and Watson’s splendidly executed and often downright thrilling Let the Right One In does way, way better than that.
We didn’t need to wait long for those thrills to start. The first sights and sounds – Blue Oyster Cult’s smashing Don’t Fear The Reaper (just the opening salvo of Rachael Dease’s soundtrack of 1980’s hits and her own haunting compositions), and Bruce Mckinven’s Rubik’s Cube of a set, animated by Richard Vabre’s lighting and Michael Carmody’s projections, set the senses racing, and the first scenes, an ominous voice-overed narration and, not long after, a bloodlettingly brutal murder, set the nerves on edge.
So, within minutes, it’s apparent that Watson knows her stuff and recruits her staff wisely. Within a few more it’s obvious she has cast just as astutely – and, in the case of her two young leads, with some inspiration.
The business in and around Mckinven’s cube by the cast, supported by Claudia Blagaich and Meabh Walton’s stage management, is adeptly paced, and Rohin Best and Tim Collins’s sound operation is of exemplary clarity and quality.
In such good hands, Jack Thorne’s adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel and screenplay could hardly go wrong.
As much young romance and teen revenge tale as horror, Lindqvist’s story exposes the unpreparedness of smug, well-ordered suburban society to deal with that which lies beneath and beyond – be it phantasmagorical or all-too-human (as Edgar Cooke and the Burnies have shown us).
Which makes Let the Right One at its heart a grim tale, and Watson is wise to take it seriously. Sure the final flight of the young ill-matched lovers, the boy Oskar (Ian Michael) and the undead Eli (Sophia Forrest) after the destruction of their pursuers and tormentors has a redemptive quality, but the drained corpses they leave behind, and the hunger that will never leave Eli, are not a good fit for cartoon treatment.
Rather like Michael Lehmann’s ’80s cult classic Heathers (there’s something about that decade) it pays to play things straight, even when Eli is wrapped around her victims’ heads like an octopus and doing some extremely unwelcome necking (movement director Claudia Alessi and fight director Andy Fraser are kept busy throughout).
Rory OKeeffe and Clarence Ryan as the school bullies who make Oskar’s life hell are deliciously odious and ripe for come-uppance, while the seasoned core of the cast, Stuart Halutsz, Maitland Schnaars, Steve Turner and Alison van Reeken are exceptional without exception.
I understand that a vampire can only come in if invited, and Sophia Forrest’s Eli is certainly the right one. Tough and sexy, needy and very scary, she clambers over this play – and its set – with remarkable surety and athleticism. Ian Michael’s singular quality shines again here. He makes Oskar vulnerable, complex and surprising, and shows that weakness, like beauty, is only skin deep.
Let the Right One In is a mightily auspicious start for Clare Watson and the new phase of what is now her State Theatre Company. 
Don’t miss it.              

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Theatre: Bali (★★★★)

The Last Great Hunt
Written and performed by Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Chris Isaacs
Subiaco Arts Centre
Until October 28
Chris Isaacs and Jeffrey Jay Fowler
The adventures of Corgan and Jimmy
Dinky-di tales of two true blue boys…

That mightn’t be exactly how the title song from Barry Humphries’ epochal ’70s satire “The Adventures of Barry McKenzie” went, but it’s appropriate enough for the continuing story of Perth’s BBSF and BBGF. And Now, like Bazza, the fag and the stag have that most satisfying of stamps of public approval – a sequel.
This time the boys are on Australians’ favourite holiday isle, but, of course, like 2015’s hit Fag/Stag, this is no mere romp in an exotic location.
Like its predecessor, Bali is a razor sharp, witheringly witty and technically brilliant take on contemporary Australia, its mores, expectations and hypocracies.
Chris Isaacs’ Corgan (the stag) and Jeffrey Jay Fowler’s Jimmy (the fag) are in Bali for Corgan’s mum’s sixtieth, and Corgan has picked up the tab for his skint friend.
As Polonius would warn you, that’s bound to be a risky proposition, and it gets even more so when Corgan’s GF won’t pick up when he calls her, and Jimmy has picked up a gaucho amigo who comes complete with a crush.
As things heat up around and between the boys, we learn a lot about both of them – and it’s far from fun and games.
It doesn’t pay to be too judgmental, though; if you don’t recognize parts of yourself in Corgan and Jimmy, perhaps you should take a long, hard look in the mirror they are holding up to us.
Isaacs and Fowler are fine writers and polished performers, and they smoothly, and hilariously, pull off the often-tricky feat of telling two versions of the same story simultaneously, like the Rashomon Effect on speed. The acrobatic dialogue, and the laughs, keep coming, even when their darker purpose is revealed.
On the strength of Bali, there’s no reason why, like Martin and Lewis or Hope and Crosby, Corbin and Jimmy, won’t pop up again.
When they do, I’d like to see Corbin given a little more smarts and awareness than he has in Bali; there’s a little gap growing between him and the vivacious Jimmy that could do with closing so he doesn’t become merely – forgive me for this – a straight guy.
But that’s a word of caution, not a criticism; indeed, there’s precious little to criticize in this stellar outing by two of the brightest stars of Perth’s stage.
 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Theatre: I Am My Own Wife (★★★★)

by Doug Wright
Black Swan State Theatre Company
Director and sound designer Joe Lui
Set and costume designer Cherish Marrington
Lighting designer Chris Donnelly
Voice and Dialect coach Luzita Fereday
Performed by Brendan Hanson
STC Studio
Until October 29
(pic: Daniel J Grant)

Doug Wright’s I Am My Own Wife won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for drama; it’s perhaps a little more surprising that it won the Tony Award for best play the same year.
I say that because we associate the Pulitzer primarily with journalism (although its drama prize is an august award voted on by distinguished theatre critics), and Wright’s work feels as much a long-form character piece, in, say, The New Yorker or on This American Life, adapted for the stage, as a fully formed play.
That’s not to say that its subject, the German transgender personality Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, isn’t a fascinating character, or that her story lacks drama – the mere survival of a public transvestite under both the Nazi and East German regimes could hardly be without that. It’s more that its dramatic form is more akin to reporting a life rather taking us inside it.
This is partly because Wright’s narrative vehicle is the story of his research into, and extensive interviews with, Mahlsdorf shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Wright’s various tribulations – his grant funding running out, his disconcerting discovery of Mahlsdorf’s connections to the Stasi – are incidental to the story and add little to it.
But left to her own devices – and those of Brendan Hanson, who plays Mahlsdorf, Wright and perhaps a dozen other characters in a tour de force performance, and the director Joe Lui, whose conviction and command clicks into gear as soon as they get her alone – the show lifts instantly and to great heights.
Hanson is a natural fit for Charlotte; he has the charisma and subversive Kit Kat Klub glamour for her (I can’t see the Emcee in Cabaret on his resumé – some producer has missed out there) and this allows him to give a surprisingly understated performance with moments of quiet tenderness quite without the histrionics and flounces you might expect from Mahlsdorf and the terrifying world she navigates through. Hanson is capable of hugely entertaining extravagance – it’s a credit to him, and to Lui, that this performance is almost entirely devoid of it.
This restraint is echoed in Cherish Marington’s set of high vertical panels that loom over Mahlsdorf’s domestic collection, and the little gay nightclub she operated in the basement, like the searchlight pillars of the Lichtdom at the rallies in Nuremberg (though, happily, there is not a swastika or hammer and sickle to be seen). Chris Donnelly’s lighting design creates angular glimpses of figures in side streets and cells, bursting into garish colour to frame the talk show interrogation of Mahlsberg’s ambiguous past.
While I Am My Own Wife could be a more dramatic and gripping play than it is, its window into the queer demi-monde of totalitarian Mitteleuropa, and Brendan Hanson’s marvelous performance, makes it a considerable success and well worth your seeing.       

Monday, October 9, 2017

Cabaret: Chiquitita and Fernando (★★★½)

Adele Parkinson and Darren Mapes
Downstairs at the Maj
4 – 7 October
The cabaret season Downstairs at the Maj is a welcome, and underappreciated, respite from the serious stuff up on street level. While a fair bit of its programme can be formulaic, it has a habit of throwing up little gems, sometimes from unlikely places.
Adele Parkinson and Daren Mapes’s Chiquitita and Fernando is one of them.
It’s fairly obvious from the title what you’re in for: an hour and a bit of Abba and a few bits and pieces of Scandipop from Roxette and Ace of Base, among others.
What you mightn’t have expected is its tongue-in-cheek shenanigans and a wacky story laced with on-and-off stage mischiefs.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Proximity Festival


Curated by Kelli McCluskey and Sarah Rowbottam
Cathedral Square until November 5
Tyrone Robinson (pic: PAVLOVA)
I’m something of a Proximity veteran, having tramped around the Blue Room, PICA, the Fremantle Arts Centre, AGWA and, now, Cathedral Square since 2012 in search of the amusement and however big a slice of enlightenment you can get from a quarter hour or so in the hands, or at least the company, of a single performer.
That’s the idea of Proximity; an encounter of one performer with an audience of one, multiplied anything up to twelve (this year a more manageable nine) times, in one precinct.
It’s a challenge for performers, their curators, Kelli McCluskey and Sarah Rowbottam, the producer Megan Roberts and stage management, led by Donelle Gardiner. There’s no disputing it’s also a challenge for the audience.
That challenge for us isn’t logistical – the Proximity team know exactly what they’re doing and how to do it, and you’re shepherded from site to site with practiced skill and a small army of vollies.
It’s more about what you do when you get there. There are some pieces that require your proactive interaction with the artist, some where the artist leads and guides that interaction and some where you need only observe proceedings.
The trick is knowing what you need to do, if you need to do something, and the success of a piece often depends on how clearly that is communicated.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Theatre: Hypatia (★★★)

Devised and performed by The Open Lid Ensemble
The Blue Room Theatre until August 26

What an interesting pair of plays are now on at the Blue Room Theatre.
Scott McArdle’s Laika (reviewed in last weekend’s West) took us inside the Soviet space programme of the 1960’s, and now The Open Lid Ensemble’s Hypatia takes us back to Egypt in the 5th Century CE.
Both plays grow from historical fact and the actual people who made it; both employ imaginative theatrical processes to deliver narrative drive and draw insight from their subjects.
Hypatia (Kat Shaw), the Neoplatonic philosopher, mathematician and astronomer was a leading figure in the intellectual life and political disputes of Alexandria, the ancient melting-pot of ideas, ethnicities and religions, famous for its great library and schools.
And Hypatia was a woman.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Theatre: Laika: A Staged Radio Play (★★★★)

No escape: Soviet brass pay their respects to the remains of cosmonaut Komarov
Written and directed by Scott McArdle
The Blue Room Theatre until August 26

I grew up with spacemen.
They would appear in their white spacesuits and be gone, impossibly upwards, and we would gaze up at the Great Beyond and wonder at the thought of a human riding across it.
The greatest of them was the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (St John Cowcher), the first man in space. It was two days after my seventh birthday, and I was lost among the stars.
Scott McArdle’s Laika: A Staged Radio Play is a gripping and inventive tribute to the men and women (and dogs) of the Soviet Space Programme who lived and died behind the secrets and lies of that shadowy empire.
McArdle has taken some liberties with history, but he’s done so with excellent control and to the great benefit of his story. It was the cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov, not Gagarin, who died when his spacecraft plummeted back to earth in 1967 (Gagarin died a year later in a fighter jet crash) but the terrible story is brilliantly told. There were no cosmonauts aboard Sputnik 7 and 8, but we grieve for them nevertheless as they burn and drift into the dark.
The play’s main narrative creation is Natalya Volkov (Taryn Ryan), a technician and candidate cosmonaut who lives through the triumphs and failures of the space programme. Through her we meet the legendary “Chief Designer” Sergei Korolev (Arielle Gray), the feuding missile designers Mikhail Yangel (Cowcher) and Vasily Mishin (Daniel Buckle), and the cosmonauts.
Volkov is a terrific character, brave, wounded, full of hope and fury, and Ryan is a star in the making. Cowcher and Gray are already stars, and are well supported by Buckle and the Foley artist Andrew David, whose sound effects, along with Robert Woods’s compositions and George Ashforth’s historical projections on Sara Nives Chirichilli’s moody set give the play a most impressive look, sound and feel.
As its title suggests, McArdle’s conceit is that this is a radio play, read by a group of friends who stumble across an old script in a deserted studio. There’s no reason to get particularly excited about this top-and-tailing expedient, but it’s a brief and inoffensive vehicle for the telling of a story of real power and quality.


This review appeared in The Weekend West Australian 16.9.17  
 

THEATRE: TILT 2017

WAAPA  3rd Year Performance Making Students
Blue Room Theatre
August 30 - September 9

The Blue Room Theatre is the perfect venue for TILT, the annual showcase of WAAPA’s Performance Making course’s graduating class. It’s exactly the sort of venue these artists will first venture into in the big, wide world outside the academy.

All the pieces in TILT, which is presented in two programmes, are self-devised, and brand new. You look for the talent and personality of the creator/ performers, and the potential for their pieces to take the leap from a half-hour showcase to the hour or so of a full Fringe/Alternative theatre production.
Other TILT shows have made that leap with mixed results; finding character and narrative development, light and shade, is no easy task. Pieces that are essentially skits can be quickly found out in longer formats.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The 2017 Turnstile Awards


Arts minister David Templeman points out the bar to
supremo Duncan Ord at this year's Wild West-themed
(but still glittering) Turnstile Awards ceremony.

There’s been something of a return to form for this year’s Turnstile Awards after 2015/6  saw only three Turnstiles find a new home in the trophy cabinets of their deserving winners.
This year more than double that number have taken home the silverware, while another baker’s dozen would have been deserving winners.
There were over thirty local productions I would have warmly recommended to theatregoers; just as impressively, I did not see a single local production you really needed to avoid. Honestly!

There’s a caveat, though, to all this enthusiasm, and it’s a nasty one.
Going back over the past five years or so I would consistently review somewhere in the high fifty to low sixty “eligible” local productions for The West and/or this blog. This year the number is 45. That’s a really significant drop off in the output of the local theatre business.
(I don’t think it can be explained by a drop-off in my coverage; changes in the newspaper business have meant a severe reduction in the opportunities for freelance contributors, but I’m not aware that it’s changed my efforts to cover locally-produced theatre  – there simply hasn’t been as much of it.)
When you consider that the programmes of the three main theatre outlets in this town – The Blue Room, Black Swan and WAAPA – have roughly the same number of productions each year, and our hot-as-wasabi globe-trotting wunderkinder, the Last Great Hunt, grow ever more productive, that indicates a potentially catastrophic falling off in other parts of the sector.
I constantly argue the case for content; we can build all the infrastructure we like, and cut as many ribbons as we want, but without content – and especially locally-created content – to fill it, it’s all expensive back-slapping.

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.
Here, in chronological order, are the seven productions that got up for a Turnstile in the past year:
  • 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 In the very last hours of the Turnstiles year, WAAPA Performance Making students Isaac Diamond, Cam Pollock and the genuinely terrifying Sam Hayes concocted a brilliant, noxious cocktail of carnality and addiction.

As always, my selections are inevitably subjective and often idiosyncratic. Better judges than me would no doubt have have seen a Turnstile heading in the direction of these other fine productions: 

By and large the last year of Kate Cherry’s programming for Black Swan has (so far) been impressive. Apart from its two Turnstiles, an archly funny Tartuffe and the talented Will O’Mahony’s Coma Land were especially notable.
WAAPA churns out battalions of talent, and, as a felicitous by-product, some fine productions each year; this time around as well as a Turnstile, their yummy
Present Laughter was one of the best nights out in town.
The Hunters, either individually or collectively, delivered a whole swag of rolled-gold shows this time around; they add two more Turnstiles to their trophy cabinet, and their sharp, sweet shaggy-dog story,
New Owner, was right up there.
No-one, though, comes close to the year the Blue Room and its cohort of independent producers delivered; as well as the two Turnstile-winning shows within its walls, there was a slew of fine productions:
the finely-crafted bar-room blitz PORTO, Samantha Maclean and Timothy Green’s dazzling, sexy Tissue, Mr Greg Fleet’s adroit, profane Signifying Nothing, Izzy McDonald’s touching, truthful Bus Boy and Daisy Coyle’s second star turn of the year in An Almost Perfect Thing.The tiny company that can, Holland St Productions, hit again with the irresistible Gutenberg! The Musical, Azaak Lim’s Malpractical Jokes was the pick of the Downstairs at the Maj season, the Fringe brought us the dark tomfoolery of When He Gets That Way and the little gem, Odd Socks. 
   

 

Let's also hand over honorary Turnstiles to some great visiting shows:
Christopher Samuel Carroll was a tortured, eloquent Satan in
Paradise Lost at the Fringe. Another power-packed PIAF theatre programme was highlighted by  Dmitry Krymov’s savage Opus No. 7, Complicite’s Amazonian aural feast  An Encounter, and, especially, the revelatory, magnificent The Gabriels. Compagnia TPO and Insite Arts took kids, and us, on a wonderful journey across country in Saltbush.
  

 

 


Friday, August 25, 2017

Theatre: Switzerland (★★½)

Giuseppe Rotondella (pic: Philip Gostelow)
by Joanna Murray-Smith
Black Swan State Theatre Company
Director Lawrie Cullen-Tait
Set and costume designer Bruce McKinven
Lighting designer Lucy Birkenshaw
Composer/ Sound designer Ash Gibson Greig
With Jenny Davis and Giuseppe Rotondella
Heath Ledger Theatre
Until September 3

This is the fourth time I’ve gone to Joanna-Murray-Smithland, a favourite destination for our State Theatre Company, and my struggles with her continue. On this occasion altitude sickness is compounded by frustration, because she’s come up with a killer idea, arranged it expertly, but failed to pull it off.
None of the improbabilities and inconsistencies that marred Black Swan’s 2013 production of her Day One, a Hotel, Evening and destroyed 2011’s awful Ninety are here.
This is partly because this Switzerland is not a real place, and the skirmishes between her characters, the real-life novelist Patricia Highsmith (Jenny Davis) and the imagined publishing executive Edward Ridgeway (Giuseppe Rotondella) are phantasmagorical.
In this shifting reality, improbability and inconsistency becomes, if anything, a blessing rather than a curse.
Highsmith (Strangers on a Train, The Price of Salt/Carol, the five Tom Ripley novels) is boozing and smoking her way towards a lonesome death in grumpy self-imposed exile in Switzerland. She is visited by Ridgeway, a young man from her American publishers. He brings a contract for Highsmith to deliver a sixth and final installment of the Ripliad.
She’s aggressively disinterested in the project, and scornful of Ridgeway, his employers, other writers (the better the more) and anything and anyone else she turns her mind to.
She wants rid of Ridgeway, but he manages, somehow, to stick around. He plies her with gifts, those she demanded he bring with him and one, a beautiful dagger for her collection of antique weapons, unasked for.
He knows these weapons, in surprising detail. He knows her, and he knows her anti-hero. Like a book.
As the idea for the new Ripley story takes shape, it’s Ridgeway rather than Highsmith who brings its snakes and ladders to the table.
From there Switzerland wriggles its way to a climax to the Highsmithian manner born.
That’s the good news. Despite the play’s artfulness, the recruitment of Lawrie Cullen-Tait, a director with a real gift for staging the interplay of two people (Red, Venus in Fur), and a powerful creative team, the play founders on the rocks of Murray-Smith’s dialogue.
It’s highfalutin and self-indulgent, emotionally shallow and psychologically unconvincing. It leaves Highsmith, even in the hands of the admirable Davis, sounding strained and rote (if she’d yelled “G’wan, get out or I’ll call the cops!” at Ridgeway one more time, and I’d been on an aisle, I’d have been tempted to take her advice). All the acidity and wit is drained out of Highsmith, and with it any feeling – admiration or repulsion – we have for her.
Davis’s problems are compounded by an odd set (by Bruce McInven) that required two physiotherapists to be credited in the programme. A trapezium of grey granite with a rake for the performers that would struggle to pass an OH&S inspection – at one point Davis dropped a pencil that proceeded, unsettlingly, to roll away from her down the slope – it impressed initially but demanded too much attention from us, and far too much care from the actors, as the play wore on.
At least Rotondella’s character, and so his performance, goes somewhere. When we meet him he’s determined but a bit of a puppy, very like Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin in The Graduate. By the end he’s someone – or something – that looms much more dangerously. Guess who.
Rotondella is a young actor with a genuine talent and real appeal. Sadly, he’s one of very few reasons you should consider a trip to Switzerland.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Theatre: Arteries by Ancestry (★★★½)


By James McMillan
The Blue Room Theatre until Sept 2

On a white traverse stage, in a bleached pink glare, are two performers almost within touching distance of the audience.
One is staggering under the weight of a massive plastic ball, like Atlas crushed by the weight of the world. The other, wielding a whip, berates him…
Plastic!  Bad! (Crack!)
It’s a relationship of sorts – or a battle to the death – between self-destructive mankind and nature. It’s also a metaphor for what we pass down to each other, the ancestry of blood, of thinking and perception.
We see this played out in the relationships of fathers and sons, of lovers, of us and the world. The core of the story is the arc of the love affair between Avery (Noah Jimmy) and Sebastian (Haydon Wilson), a gay couple who have to deal with inherited preconceptions.
Avery also has his father’s ambitions and disappointments to contend with. In the piece’s most powerful scene, the father (Wilson) parades his son, driven almost to the point of collapse, in front of us: “A MAN…Look at him…A MAN”. In an extraordinary performance by Wilson, the father is at once a gorilla, a goat, a dog; primal in both anger and fear, confronted by the reality of the son he cannot bend to his will.
In the end, the father is chained by his son, the inevitable fate of all generations in the face of their successors.
Jimmy is terrific throughout; a dancer, but a fine actor as well, he conveys emotion through movement, a glance or a tone of voice. He is lithe and flexible, a tight fit for the larger, more powerful Wilson.
The violent power of their physical theatre is augmented by an impressive technical achievement from the designer Sally Phipps, sound designers Alex & Yell and lighting designer Rhiannon Petersen. The writer/director James McMillan delivers the accurate staging without which it would have foundered.
Arteries by Ancestry is a challenge to its audience, and it’s not always clear where you are in its complex, layered narrative, but the energy and skill of its creators and performers makes it well worth the effort.


Read the complete review in The West Australian of 19.8.17    

Theatre: An Almost Perfect Thing (★★★★)

By Nicole Moeller
Directed by Gabrielle Metcalf
Set and costume designer Tyler Hill
Lighting designer Rhiannon Petersen
Sound designer Christian Peterson
Performed by Daisy Coyle, Andrew Hale and Nick Maclaine
The Blue Room Theatre until August 26

The abduction and imprisonment of young girls holds a fascination for the media and public.
Apart from the purely sexual voyeurism that inevitably accompanies these cases, there’s a devil’s brew of other allurements; the psychological mysteries of “Stockholm Syndrome”, the personalities of victim and perpetrator, the titillating thought that these outrages could be happening right under your nose – even (hush now) right next door.
And when these children emerge, freed from a dark basement or recognised walking down the street with their captor, their story becomes somehow even more chilling by the shock of their very survival.
The Canadian playwright Nicole Moeller tackles the subject with considerable dramatic precision in An Almost Perfect Thing, and manages to wrap many of the issues around abduction into a compact and gripping narrative (at 110 minutes over two acts the play is long by Blue Room standards, but it’s time easily spent).
An 18-year-old girl, Chloe (Daisy Coyle), suddenly reappears after six years in captivity. For a struggling journalist, Greg (Andrew Hale), who’d been following the fruitless attempts to find her, it’s as though she dropped out of the sky.
Chloe, who’s read Greg’s stories while she’s been held, agrees to talk to him, but not to reveal the identity of her captor, Mathew (Nick Maclaine), or where she was imprisoned.
It’s clear that Chloe enjoys her fame, even when it turns to notoriety in some quarters, and is determined to play it out to her best advantage.
She realises – and it’s a fascinating insight – that once the perpetrator is exposed and captured, he becomes the focus of attention, not her.
As Moeller’s story plays out, and she moves us back and forward in time, she spins a web of interdependence, shared pain, hope and fear between captive, captor and reporter that delivers compelling theatre and psychological veracity.
Hale and and Maclaine are experienced and skilful actors, and Gabrielle Metcalf gives them a tight frame in which to deliver complex and impressive performances.
And Daisy Coyle, who recently announced her arrival in her starring role in the Black Swan hit The Lighthouse Girl, confirms her great promise here in a performance of terrific emotional suppleness and charisma. She’s a keeper.


This review appeared in The West Australian of 13.8.17  

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Theatre: Sista Girl (★★★★)


By Elena Carapetis and Alexis West
Yirra Yaakin and State Theatre Company of South Australia
Directed by Kyle J Morrison
Designed by Miranda Hampton
Composer/sound design by Andrew Howard
Lighting design by Rick Worringham
Performed by Sharni McDermott and Nadia Rossi
Subiaco Theatre Centre
 
Sharni McDermott and Nadia Rossi (pic: Kate Pardey)
It’s hard to find something to criticise about Sista Girl, but I have; it’s not long enough, and it stops short of the rip-roaring, “Sistas are Doing It for Themselves” climax it was beautifully poised to deliver.
Not that it fails to make its point. Not that it fails to be a satisfying – more than satisfying – story of connection across ethnic, economic and emotional divides.
It’s morning. Georgie Morelli (Nadia Rossi) and Nakisha Grey (Sharni McDermott) are both caught in the same bloody awful Australia Day holiday traffic jam, and are both heading for a shit of a day.
And that, though they don’t know it at the time, isn’t all they’ve got in common.
Nakisha has an aboriginal mother and a white father; Georgie an Italian migrant mother and a white father. Nakisha is affluent (although an Aboriginal girl in a BMW gets hassled just the same), Georgie is skint, but she’s still having a good time bogan-watching on the bus.
Both of them get a call. Their dads have collapsed, and have been rushed to hospital. Before they arrive, the news is even worse. Their dads have died.
Alone together in the waiting room, the two girls make a shocking discovery – their dads are the same man.
It’s a delicious set-up, and the writers Elena Carapetis and Alexis West are marvellously sure-footed as they play it out. Naturally, the circumstances (one family abandoned, the other imperilled, the collision of white, migrant and indigenous ethnicities) are pregnant with issues current and deep-rooted. The play does canvass them, but without weighing it down.
What is really important is reconciliation of a ground-level, intensely personal kind, and that’s the journey Sista Girl takes Georgie, Nakisha and us on.
Rossi and McDermott are great company on the trip. Rossi is feisty and appealing, giving her embattled Georgie a terrific rough-diamond appeal, and McDermott deserves high praise for her success in a very tricky assignment. For Nakisha to work, she has to first lose our sympathy to gain it back, and McDermott does both in a performance of great quality.
Sista Girl is an efficient, no-nonsense play, from its tidy writing to Miranda Hampton’s merry-go-round set and Kyle J Morrison’s adept, unobtrusive direction. That in no way, however, diminishes its quality or importance.
And my complaint? Give those girls another 10 minutes and they could re-draw the contract their dad had mucked up, blown their potential partners away with a hot-shot presentation and both driven off in Beemers.
Laughing their heads off and singing “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” no doubt.