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.