Monday, November 20, 2023

Theatre: Democracy Repair Services

by Noemie Huttner-Koros
Directed by Andrew Sutherland
Performed by Rali Maynard, Zoe Garciano, Phoebe Eames and Gabriel Critti-Schnaars
Blue Room Theatre
7 – 25 November

A small cell of four young climate activists take action to coincide with a federal election to protest galloping climate change and the part the fossil fuel industry plays in it.
In the dead of night, on the wrong side of a security fence, they break into a gas pipeline. It soon becomes clear that their ambitions and methods are wildly different…
Scroll back months, and Democracy Repair Services follows the trail that leads the quartet to that night at the pipeline. We meet Viv (Rali Maynard), a political operative with a playbook she’s intent on following, the sweet, uncertain Fin (
Gabriel Critti-Schnaars), the combustible Elena (Zoe Garciano) and playful Billy (Phoebe Eames).
The story of their fruitless attempts at small-scale disruption and growing frustration as the summer heat rises and the election draws nearer exposes the fractures within the group and, more generally, the different and often conflicting ways political action gestates and finds its expression.
There’s no doubt about the commitment of the DRS team from its writer and presenter by Noemie Huttner-Koros, its director Andrew Sutherland and the young cast to the story and the issues it explores, and there are authentic and engaging performances, (notably from Critti-Schnaars).
Sutherland is a skillful theatre maker as well as an audacious one, and the structure and pace of his staging does justice to Huttner-Koros’s text and purpose. The production benefits from impressive creative work from the Audio-visual designer Edwin Sitt and the set, sound and lighting designs of Molly Werner, David Sewart and Jasmine Lifford respectively.
The quandary, though, is whether the effective representation of the characters, their thoughts and actions, which DRS undoubtedly delivers, comes at the expense of theatrical clarity and effectiveness.
I’m not insisting that DRS be a traditional “well-made play”, or that its action and dialogue follow conventional paths, but too many ideas, too often repeated, become a jumble that’s hard to untangle into a cogent line of thought.
That, of course, is the real world of political activism of all shades, but that’s real-world accuracy at odds with theatrical lucidity.
A critical pillar of the Blue Room’s charter is to give voice to disparate voices, and it’s at its best when they are young and challenging. For that reason alone, Democracy Repair Services is a worthwhile and necessary work.
And for its examination of the greatest issue of our time – and especially its impact on the young – it demands our attention.       

Monday, October 16, 2023

Musical Theatre: Mary Poppins

Disney and Cameron MacKintosh
Crown Theatre,
11 October 2023
Reviewed by Erin Hutchinson

When I was a kid in Brisbane in the mid-’60s, we’d only just recovered from the onset of Beatlemania before we got whacked by Julie Andrews-frenzy. By some quirk of the tryranny of distance, the first blow was struck by My Fair Lady (the Courier Mail was full of stories of people who’d seen it 100 times) and then, hot on its heels the fabulous frolic that was Mary Poppins.
Nearly 60 years later the allure of these shows has hardly dimmed, as Turnstiles' illustrious guest reviewer Erin Hutchinson found out last week at Crown. Take it away, Erin! (DZ)

Stephanie Jones sweeps us off our feet as Mary Poppins

From the moment the lights dimmed as whispered projection of umbrella-holding Mary Poppins crossed the curtain and we were reminded to turn off phones and open our sweets, I knew we were in for a treat.
And boy, was it a big spoonful of musical theatre sugar.
Now nearly 19 years old, the stage musical version of Mary Poppins stands up well as a magical story of the importance of kindness, fun and family – and you just know all the songs are so singable.
The stage show takes elements of the original children’s books by P.L.Travers, combines with the 1964 film starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, adjusts the storyline a smidgeon with a few more songs, and snap! Success.
More than the movie, the stage show hones in on the dynamics of the Banks family, exposing toxic behaviour and relationships whilst encouraging growth and connection.
Bert, played with physical finesse by Jack Chambers, serves as narrator and, working with the storybook folding set, unveils the (desperately in need of love and fun) Banks household.
Chambers has great chemistry with the show's star, Stephanie Jones, playing the iconic Mary Poppins, and both evoke the instantly recognisable sounds and moves of Andrews and Van Dyke whilst making the roles their own.
In this production the bond between the two characters adds to the otherworldliness and magic of them as agents of change as they dance, glide and guide us through with expert skill.
The wonderful young talents Makayla Healy and Sebastian Sero performed the naughty children in need of a nanny, Jane and Michael. The pair were terrific, and their slickness of delivery and beautiful voices were sustained from start to finish. Their sibling relationship and excitement for life is evident and got plenty of chuckles from the audience.
Tom Wren and Lucy Maunder, as the parents George and Winifred Banks, are sublime. Wren reveals a nuanced Mr Banks whose return to youthful joy is just so satisfying, and Maunder has a wonderful moment (amongst others) as the former ‘actress’ Mrs Banks, kicking up her heels in some can-can moves that had me and my dance-teacher date in fits of giggles.
If there’s a major flaw with the changes to the story for the stage though, it lay in this character, in the film a proactive suffragette but in the stage production reduced to a kept wife.
That is not to say the show is lacking in fab female parts, with Mary, the Bird Woman (the evergreen Patti Newton), the intimidating Miss Andrew (Chelsea Plumley) and supernatural supplier of gingerbread stars, Mrs Corry (Cherine Peck). It’s wonderful to see so many women with great parts on stage!
A standout was Helen Walsh (Mrs Brill), who performed seamlessly throughout and whose timing works superbly with the comic delivery of Gareth Isaac (Robertson Ay).
The choreography by Stephen Mear and Matthew Bourne is incredibly layered and detailed, and the ensemble is talented and oh-so tight. Geoffrey Castles leads a quality band, and the new sound design by Paul Gatehouse is effective, particularly in the kitchen-that-goes-wrong scene. Some of the balance between the vocal mic levels and band was out at times, muffling some of the singing at the openings of number, but this was likely a flaw in the sound in the Crown Theatre rearing its ugly head rather than the production itself. 
For all its delights, the most impressive element of the show is the extraordinary scenic design by Bob Crowley, who also designed costumes. There’s foldout set pieces, flies, tracks, puppetry, projection – the list goes on. It was inspiring, entrancing and altogether supercali-fantastic!
Directors Richard Eyre and Matthew Bourne have done an outstanding job with this production. It’s nearly done with its tour to Perth, and the great box office it been doing is testament that this Mary Poppins is an absolute joy and guaranteed to have you toe-tapping your way out at the final curtain.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Dance Theatre: Jurrungu Ngan-ga (Straight Talk)

Concept by Dalisa Pigram and Rachael Swain
With Patrick Dodson
Presented by Black Swan
Director Sarah Rachael Swain
Choreographer Dalisa Pigram with the performers
Performance dramaturgy Hildegard De Vuyst
Cultural dramaturgy Behrouz Boochani, Patrick Dodson and Omid Tofighian
Set designer Abdul-Rahman Abdullah
Costume designer Andrew Treloar
Lighting designer Damien Cooper
Music by Sam Serruys, Paul Charlier and Rhyan Clapham aka DOBBY
Lyrics by Beni ‘Bjah’ Hasler
Sound design Sam Serruys and Paul Charlier
Performed by Czack (Ses) Bero, Emmanuel James Brown, Chandler Connell, Luke Currie-Richardson, Issa el Assaad, Macon Escobal Riley, Bhenji Ra, Feras Shaheen, Miranda Wheen
Heath Ledger Theatre
15 – 23 September 2023

Bhenji Ra (pic Prudence Upton)

 There are times when the magnitude of events make attempts to expose and explain them through art seem trivial and patronising.

But rarely, though reason and justice fail, art can reach an intensity that is scalding to the touch.

If you’ve ever stood in front of Picasso’s Guernica, with its massive fury and agony, you’ll feel that heat.

The Perth premiere of the celebrated Broome-based dance-theatre Marrugeku’s Jurrungu Ngan-ga (Straight Talk) was always going to be eagerly anticipated. The company of director Rachael Swain and choreographer Dalisa Pigram has reached new heights of on and off-stage power here with an international assembly of performance talent and creative support.

Its subject matter is the historic and pervasive sickness of incarceration that infects Australia’s colonial history and present, the grinding tragedy of Indigenous imprisonment and the open-ended detention of asylum seekers.

What couldn’t have been anticipated in 2016, when Jurrungu Ngan-ga was conceived by Pigram, Swain and the great Jawuru leader Patrick Dobson, was the wicked project of proselytising a second Terra Nullius that is slouching towards us in the wake of the likely political failure of the Voice referendum.

In just the last fortnight, agents of the No campaign, basking in the hubris of the victory they think is already theirs, and egged on by shameless politicians and the shadowy figures behind them, have begun tearing at the established facts of the post-colonial experience of Indigenous Australians and thrown monumental slurs at the integrity of Indigenous people, culture and communities both before and after colonisation.

They are preaching a sermon of derision and division, and have the passionate intensity, not necessarily of those who believe they are right so much as those who are sure they will succeed.

It’s heartbreaking that we have come to this dark episode, and the message of Jurrungu Ngan-ga is urgent and, as its English translation, Straight Talk, reminds us, even more vital.

One of the great strengths of Marrugeku is its ability to part the veil that can obscure the language of dance, and Jurrungu Ngan-ga is a brilliant example of their practice.

The nine dancers in the troupe perform solo, in duets or in riveting ensemble, taking us from the fear and anguish of a prisoner (EJ Brown) alone and helpless in a cell with the sounds of metal on metal and harsh half-heard voices around him to marvellous expressions of the joy of kinship and life of diverse people living in the shadow of captivity.

Among them are the transfixing movement and voice piece by Bhenji Ra that somehow brought to mind Laurie Anderson’s 1986 Home of the Brave and a searing transposition of Childish Gambino’s This is America to an Australian context, performed by the imposing Luke Currie-Richardson.

The music of Sam Serruys, Paul Charlier and Rhyan Clapham aka DOBBY pulsates throughout, sometimes a heartbeat, sometimes marching feet, sometimes with lyrics by Beni ‘Bjah’ Hasler.

The richness of the movement, the music and voices of Jurrungu Ngan-ga draws from the wealth of experiences of its performers and dramaturgy; along with Dobson, Pigram and Swain, the Kurdish/Iranian writer Behrouz Boochani, translator Omid Tofighian and the Belgian dance dramaturg Hildegard de Vuyst informed the work, while performers drew from their Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, Kurdish, Palestinian and Filipino cultural experience,

The entire effect of Jurrungu Ngan-ga is propulsive, the visual impact of Abdul-Rahman Abdullah’s enigmatic set of opaque, metallic panels through which shadowy figures emerge like ghosts while incongruous crystal chandeliers rise and fall casting a sallow light on the space and the figures within it.

Jurrungu Ngan-ga is a work of deeply considered anger and considerable artistry. It’s our Guernica.

And it brings straight talk to the table at a time when it is most needed.




Monday, August 21, 2023

Theatre: Catastrophes

 Created and performed by Renée Newman and Ella Hetherington
Composer Ben Collins
Scenographer Mark Haslam
August 16 - 26

Renée Newman and Ella Hetherington (pic Aaron Claringbold)
I’m not the first person to point out the similarities between Renée Newman and Ella Hetherington’s Catastrophes and Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Sarah Reuben’s Hypotheticals (reviewed in From the Turnstiles on July 31), and they are revealing.

Newman, Hetherington, Fowler and Reuben are intelligent, aware and experienced theatre-makers, and while their approach to the subject of parenthood is, perforce, different (the former have and are experiencing it, the latter are contemplating it) the issues they deal with or imagine, the choices they make or imagine are much the same.

Which is hardly surprising, and very real. The decision to have children that once seemed about personal logistics underpinned by a universally held belief that it should, and would, happen, are now complicated by changing ambitions and ideas of fulfillment, the complexity of daily life and the dark fears of a world increasingly out of natural and human balance. Can I have a child becomes should I have a child?

Newman and Hetherington have had those children though, the now five-year-olds Frankie and Benji, so the stories in Catastrophes are vastly more immediate, corporeal (and, in a couple of memorably nightmarish comic situations, scatological) than those in Hypotheticals.

Frank, funny, scary and sad, they are a piece of verbatim theatre gathered over years of text messages, phone calls and conversations – Hetherington for much of them living in Sydney, Newman in Perth – structured as an interrogation by the two friends of each other and themselves.

It’s an effective method of compressing a cosmos of feelings and experiences into a tight 60 minutes of gripping theatre.

It’s also a great challenge for the two actors, just in its sheer compressed workload but, more importantly, in the expression of their personality and emotion. Hetherington and Newman, though, are more than up to the task. They both have phenomenal lucidity and energy, Hetherington in her speed and animation, Newman in stillness and poise. The contrast between them is the punctuation that gives this work form and impact.

That grammar is accentuated by Mark Haslam’s set of billowing sailcloth that rises and dives above and beyond the performers, and Ben Collins’ music of biological tempos and murmurings, a soundscape of pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood.

Motherhood, mysterious, bewildering and consuming, emerges from Catastrophes as life’s great upheaval and the resolution of its drama.

And for mothers, despite the support of loving partners, despite the confidences of good friends, despite the overwhelming closeness of and to their children, it's a dance they do alone.      

Monday, July 31, 2023

Theatre: The Hypotheticals

Created and performed by Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Sarah Reuben
The Last Great Hunt
Director Adam Mitchell
Choreographer Laura Boynes
Composer and sound designer Louis Frere-Harvey
Visual designer Matthew McVeigh
Lighting designer Peter Young
STC Studio
July 27 – August 5

In 2022, the population of Japan fell by 800,000, a demographic implosion four times as devastating as the explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
If this is a glimpse of the future, perhaps our family photos are destined to have the kids photo-shopped out, our family holidays spent in adult-only resorts.
Perhaps our destiny is to be alone, with our machines.      
Perhaps all humanity deserves the final Darwin Award; perhaps the species most at existential risk from our carelessness and greed is our own.
In times like these, and with a zeitgeist like this, how is anyone going to even contemplate having a child?

These questions are the playground of Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Sarah Reuben’s snappy, crackling The Hypotheticals, but the game they play is at once not as deep as it might have been, but even deeper than you might expect.

Which are both good things, but hardly surprising. Over the past decade Fowler, it’s fair to say, has been Perth theatre’s most exposed artist as writer, director, performer and core artist with its leading company The Last Great Hunt.

We know him, and the games he plays, well.

He’s also a great collaborator, notably with fellow Hunter Chris Isaacs (Fag/Stag, Bali) and now with the Darwin-based Reuben, with whom he shares a long friendship and theatrical vision (their first collaboration, I’ll Tell You in Person, was a 2021 Perth Festival hit).

Both these partnerships have been based on a dialogue between alternative realities that requires great skill in both writing and performance to succeed convincingly.

In The Hypotheticals, what if Fowler was himself, a partnered gay man and Reuben was herself, a straight single woman, both in their mid/late thirties? What if all kinds of clocks were ticking, and, to the beat of that rhythm, what if she asked him if, maybe, they could have a kid together?

And if they did, what would happen then? To him? To her? To them? To “it”?

Sarah and Jeffrey examine themselves and each other, running the gamut of hope and fear, of what they expect of themselves, each other and others.

It’s very often riotously funny (their attempts at insemination by syringe, a catastrophic Passover with Sarah’s family), sometimes sad and perplexing.

They are open with each other, they talk things through, but each is on a journey neither can explain because they don’t yet know where it leads to themselves.

All of which leads to an unexpected and surprising denouement – a whatif as sly and astute as the best whodunnit.

Fowler’s previous collaborations have had the simplest imaginable staging and performance – with Isaacs just the two actors talking, perched on stools; with Reuben only their voices through headphones, but The Hypotheticals is audaciously staged, with movement and dances accentuating the characters’ internal monologues and dialogue.

Neither Reuben or Fowler are dancers, but the precision of their unversed physical work is extraordinarily impressive. The director Adam Mitchell and his choreographer Laura Boynes have schooled their performers in the minutest detail, and the result is consistent in its clarity of purpose and often thrilling in its execution.

Louis Frere-Harvey’s soundscape and Peter Young’s lighting of Matthew McVeigh’s stark cuboid set (visual design is a more apt description) are as much dancerly as theatrical, and the expressiveness of both performers owes as much to the dance as the drama.

Fairly or unfairly I’ve sometimes taken issue with Fowler’s ability to find and take the straightest path from cup to lip in his work (an impressive skill that should be avoided at all cost).

In The Hypotheticals, though, Reuben and Fowler discover and explore all kinds of slips, surprising byways and hidden places, and the result is up with his best work.

And that’s about as good as it gets.


Don’t delay. The short season of The Hypotheticals ends August 5.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Theatre: The Snow

By Finegan Kruckemeyer

Barking Gecko Theatre Company

Directed by Adam Mitchell

Designed by Zoe Atkinson, Lucy Birkinshaw and Cathie Travers

Performed by Grace Chow, Charlotte Otton, Andrea Gibbs, Isaac Diamond and Cathie Travers

STC Studio Until July 15

Charlotte Otton and Grace Chow
I made the fatal error of going to the opening night of Barking Gecko’s latest foray into the fertile imagination of the prolific Tasmanian playwright for (mainly) kids, Finegan Kruckemeyer, without my infallible wriggle-meter.

It’s all very well for all-grown-up audiences to enjoy and appreciate theatre for the young because so much of it – and particularly Kruckemeyer’s – keeps a weather eye on what tickles the adults the kids are taking care of as well.

But the missing wriggle-meter is the real test. Are the kids engaged, entranced and a little bit naughty? Are they shifting in their seats, have they got an endless stream of questions for mum or granddad? Are they bored? Has the play lost them, or are they happily lost in it?

The Snow has got plenty going for it. Kruckemeyer’ s allegory of how distrust, ignorance and rusted-on enmity is like snow that won’t melt is neatly imagined and just as neatly staged by director Adam Mitchell and his feisty and talented performers Grace Chow, Charlotte Otton, Andrea Gibbs and Isaac Diamond, accompanied by the outstanding accordionist Cathie Travers.

It staging is inventive, with multiple chuckleworthy characters drawn by Gibbs and Diamond, a crafty set-in-a-roadcase design by Zoe Atkinson and lashings of clever and entertaining puppeteering and size-shifting magic.

In its “simple story” (Mitchell’s own words), the young, little Thea (the kinetic Chow), the silent, mysterious and much larger Olive (the much loftier Otton) and a bunch of local heroes are catapulted away from the permanently snowbound village of Kishka (pop. 200) and over their despised rival, snowbound too, village of Gretaville (pop. also 200) to find a solution to their white, cold, obstinate problem.

After many adventures, overcoming many obstacles and uncovering many surprises, our mismatched champions bring all to rights, heal many old wounds and cause many piles of snow to melt. Because as any kid’ll tell you, 200 minus 200 comes to nought, while 200 plus 200 is, well, heaps.

The problem is all in the “many”; too much of a good thing is just that, and I suspect there might have been a fair bit of fidgeting and losing the plot going on in a young audience as Thea and Olive’s odyssey plays out.

There are just too many episodes in The Snow, too many pieces to fit into the jigsaw to finish the picture (for example, there’s a drear and dingy district called The Darkness that the characters seem unable to avoid and keep diving into without much rhyme or reason).

None of which detracts from the craft of the production, the energy of its performances or the worthwhile messages The Snow delivers. And none of it makes Finegan Kruckemeyer less than a master of stage writing for all us kids. It’s just something a little less than the sum of too many parts.

And I’m sure that’s what the wriggle-meter would have said.     



Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Theatre: Sisterhood of the Travelling Lightly

By Courtney McManus and Hannah Quaden
Crash Theatre
Directed by Ella Cooke and Hannah Quaden
Designed by Megan Mak
Performed by Stella Banfield, Courtney McManus, Clea Purkis and Shannon Rogers
Blue Room Theatre
May 16 – June 3

The enigmatically titled Sisterhood of the Travelling Lightly from Crash Theatre is very much a traditional Blue Room show, and that, for me at least, is a very good thing.

Perth’s hub of independent theatre is at its best with stories by and of young people in recognizable situations and settings, dealing, or sometimes, not with their emerging world and themselves.

Sisterhood tells the stories of four friends on the eve of graduating from Uni; Bree (Stella Banfield), Nic (Courtney McManus), Georgia (Clea Purkis) and Holly (Shannon Rogers) gather at Bree’s place to celebrate and reminisce about their intertwined lives since they stumbled across each other by sheer school assembly alphabetical order (they’re all ‘Ps’) through the highs and lows of adolescence and beyond.

The cast work well together, and their characters are nicely contrasting: Holly is a bombshell, but wounded by her parent’s split when she was in just Year 7; Georgia is intense and had battled bulimia through high school; Nik is loud and careless, harbouring an infatuation that is going nowhere; and Bree is all heart and soul, but struggles with the realities of work and the getting of it.

All of which makes a strong foundation that promises impressive and enjoyable theatre.

Unfortunately it’s too far between cup and lip for Sisterhood. The show’s clunky structure moves back and then forward in a series of scenes focusing on each character in turn, but the transitions lack fluidity.

In part this is due to arduous and largely unnecessary scene changes during which the cast cavort around the stage in what seems to be an attempt to distract us from the stage business around them.

Even more unnecessary, and, frankly, plain silly, is the device employed to move the characters through time, a mysterious joint a hit on which somehow instigates the relocation in space and time.

Inevitability, with its interruptions and artificiality the narrative ran out of steam, and the final story of Bree and her job-hunting seemed more like an attempt to shoehorn a misfortune on her in the absence of anything more meaningful.

All these are roadblocks to appreciation of Sisterhood’s considerable insight into the lives and relationships of young women, of friendships, how they can be frayed and repaired. 

It could be well worth Crash Theatre taking the time and effort to set Sisterhood’s qualities free from the encumbrances that currently constrain it.