Monday, December 9, 2013

Circus: Cavalia

The White Big Top
Belmont Park Racetrack
Until December 29

In this year of spectacles, the biggest, if not unequivocally the best, has been saved to last. Cavalia, the Canadian equestrian show is ensconced under its massive complex of white big tops at Belmont Park and selling through December (although the removalists haven’t been booked until late January).
I don’t share the palpable electric thrill that horses give those who love them. For me, Cavalia didn’t have a moment quite as audacious as the mesmerising Sanddorn Balancing Act in Empire at Crown in July, or overwhelming as the snowstorm finale of Slava’s Snowshow at the Regal in August.
But for technical excellence, audience experience and pageantry, there’s been nothing to top it in town this year.
The quality of audience experience sets a new standard for Perth. From the efficient parking arrangements to the hospitality options available (you can pay anything from $64 to $294 for different packages), the air-conditioned tents to the guided stable tour after the show, it all made for a special night out.
I’ll never get on a horse again (Id rather forget my only calamitous attempt), but in a Perth summer once again devoid of the entertainment people would enjoy this time of year, Cavalio is a ride I’m sure many of you will want to take.         

Link here to the complete review in The West Australian

Friday, December 6, 2013

Theatre: Gertrude Stein and a Companion

By Win Wells
Her Infinite Variety Ensemble
Directed by Helen Doig
Performed by Vivienne Glance and Shirley Van Sanden
The Guild Studio
Until December 14

While I first became aware of Alice B. Toklas, in my student days, it was only because her name was part of the title of a minor Peter Sellers movie of the time. It had nothing to do with her, but made for a great round of charades.
Later, you saw grainy images of a mousy little woman standing with another woman and someone really, really famous, like Ernest Hemingway or Pablo Picasso.
The other woman was Gertrude Stein, and they were perhaps the world’s most famous lesbian couple before Ellen and Portia.
I feel I know her much better now, thanks to Win Wells’s deft Gertrude Stein and a Companion, and a terrific performance by Shirley Van Sanden.
There’s nothing mousy about Van Sanden, but she can play it, and that sets up her characterisation on familiar ground. What she does then, to Alice and our impression of her, is outstanding. Van Sanden makes her feisty, sometimes fierce, funny and downright sexy. She plays Alice from the studious young woman who arrives in Paris in 1907 until she dies, impoverished and evicted from her apartment, sixty years later. She has outlived Stein by 21 years.
Vivienne Glance, who plays Stein in life and as an apparition after her death, is a perfect foil for Van Sanden’s Alice. She captures both Stein’s generosity and her haughtiness, her essential American-ness, in a handsome, evenly paced performance.
I must say Wills is the most obscure playwright I’ve ever not come across – even our friends of last resort, Messrs Google and Wikipedia, are almost no help. His dialogue cleverly uses the cadence of Stein’s own writing to great effect, and director Helen Doig’s decision to let his words do the work pays of in a clear, engaging reading of his text.
I got off to bad start with Van Sanden and HIVE, the all-female ensemble, because of their first production, a misguided Titus Andronicus in which I thought she was fatally miscast. Here she is perfectly cast, the show has been judiciously chosen and produced (in the tiny Guild Studio space in East Perth), and absolutely deserves your attention.

This review appeared in The West Australian 5.12.13       

Friday, November 29, 2013

Theatre: Brief Encounter

Kneehigh Theatre
By Noël Coward
Adapted and directed by Emma Rice
Original music by Stu Barker
Designer Neil Murray
Lighting designer Malcolm Rippeth
Sound designer Simon Baker
Projection and film designer Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington
Performed by Joe Alessi, Kate Cheel, Damon Duanno, Annete McLaughlin, Michelle Nightingale and Jim Sturgeon, with musicians Dave Brown and James Gow
Regal Theatre
Until December 1

Time is short, and yours is precious, so let’s not beat about the bush.
I suggest you immediately secure tickets to one of the four remaining performances of Kneehigh’s glorious Brief Encounter at the Regal. You’ll be so glad you did.
It’s a tragedy that this season has been shortened because of poor ticket sales. Don’t be one of the unfortunate many who miss it.

Link here to my review in The West Australian, and have a brief encounter now...


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Newman at seventy

Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday Randy Newman
How terribly strange...

Friday, November 22, 2013

Theatre: Bruce

Weeping Spoon Productions
Created and performed by Tim Watts and Wyatt Nixon-Lloyd
Music composed by Wyatt Nixon-Lloyd
The Blue Room Theatre
Until December 7

Like all modern heroes, Bruce is a complicated guy. Well, maybe not “guy” exactly. Bruce is a complicated chunk of mattress foam with eyes stuck in it, and a pair of disembodied, white-gloved, hands. Sometimes three.
Bruce only has three hands when he’s a hallucinating junkie. Not when he’s an astronaut, or a cop, a best-selling author or a newborn baby, a doting father, a tongue-tied suitor or an old man.
No matter how he’s counting his hands, though, Bruce has a problem with eyes. Not his two, but the one that his former partner, One Eyed Joe, lost when Bruce unwisely took a shot in a police raid. Joe, who grew up dreaming of being an astronaut himself.
It’s a cruel world for the one-eyed, and Joe wants revenge.

Link here to the complete review in The West Australian

Theatre: Crash Course

Performing Lines WA
Created and performed by James Berlyn
with Sarah Nelson
Directed by Nikki Heywood
PICA until November 30

James Berlyn has constructed a language, Winfrien, of his own, and, in the hour of Crash Course, he sets about teaching it to us.
Our good work is rewarded with an encouraging “kweiloo”, as Berlyn helps – “tsoopun” – us adapt – “arn-tsunder” – to speaking – “ka-ka” – and writing – “glicken” – in this unfamiliar language.
Before the hour was up, and much to my amazement, I share with my classmates the first, dim, sense that understanding, perhaps even mastery, of Winfein isn’t unattainable. It’s an exhilarating feeling, an emotion of logic, like that which great music or dance elicits.
Berlyn delivers all this with skill and magnetism. There are little winks and nudges from the “real” world – at one point, buried so far under his Winfeinish accent you could hardly decipher them, he recited a list of English-language poets; Shakespeare, Joyce, Eliot, Yeats – but his command never drops, you never think he is talking anything but cogent, coherent Winfrien.
Crash Course was great fun, it was immensely thought provoking, and, above all, it was very, very kweiloo.

Link here to the complete review in The West Australian 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Theatre: South Pacific

The squirrel and the bear
By Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II
Book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan
Directed by Bartlett Sher
Musical Staging Christopher Gattelli
Musical director and conductor Stephen Gray
Set Design by Michael Yeargan
Starring Lisa McCune and Teddy Tahu Rhodes
Featuring Mitchell Butel, Blake Bowden, Christine Anu, Bartholomew John, Jeremy Stanford, Rowan Witt, Andrew Hondromatidis and Celina Yuen
Crown Theatre until December 8

What we have here is the Australian touring production of the smash Lincoln Center Theatre 2008 Broadway revival of Rogers and Hammerstein’s classic 1949 musical adaptation of James A. Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific.
With that pedigree, and all that talent, you’d be confident very little could go wrong.
South Pacific is more than romantic froth and bubble under swaying palm trees, of course. It had been only four years since US Marines were bloodily island-hopping their way towards Japan through the same dots on the map on which South Pacific is set, and it would be only another eight years later that General, now President, Eisenhower would order a division of the U.S. Army to escort nine frightened children to school past an angry mob because of the colour of their skin.
Sher is punctilious in keeping these sinister, painful things front-and-centre, and adds layers of his own.
There’s plenty to ponder in the story of the romance of the French planter De Becque (Teddy Tahu Rhodes) and the small-town flower Nellie Forbush, the heroic, doomed Lieutenant Cable (the handsome Blake Bowden) the Vietnamese girl Liat (Celina Yuen) and her mother, the souvenir merchant and pimp Bloody Mary (Anu).
But some things do go wrong, and it starts at the top. Rhodes is a gigantic figure on stage, but his presence, especially in dialogue, amplified and in an accent that seems a couple of countries east of French, is – I hate to say this – almost Schwarzeneggarian. McCune's clinches with Rhodes are like a squirrel being hugged by a bear. Some of her performances, too, fade a little, and that’s a problem in a show where her songs provide much of its snap, crackle and pop.
South Pacific is a mighty achievement and a great show. This revival has much to like, but, as tropical island weather goes, it was some degrees short of a heat wave.

Link here to the complete review in The West Australian 

Theatre: Midsummer (a play with songs)

Georgina Gayler (pic Gary Marsh)
Black Swan State Theatre Company
Written by David Greig and Gordon McIntyre
Directed by Damon Lockwood
Set and costume design by Fiona Bruce
Lighting designer Trent Suidgeest
Musical director and sound designer Ben Collins
Starring Georgina Gayler and Brendan Hansen, with musicians Ben Collins, Andrew Weir, Harry Oliff and Elliot Smith
Heath Ledger Theatre until Nov 24

Don’t you love that Scottish brogue? Wouldn’t life be interesting if it were narrated by Peter Capaldi and starred Billy Connolly?
Over the last few Perth festivals, we’ve seen it work its gruff magic in the National Theatre of Scotland productions Black Watch and Beautiful Burnout, and now David Greig, the writer of the most recent festival’s audacious, hilarious hit, The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, returns, courtesy of Black Swan’s revival of his 2008 black rom-com hit, Midsummer (a play with songs).
While Midsummer doesn’t quite have the imaginative pyrotechnics of Prudencia, it’s got some exquisite screw tightening, some hilarious set pieces (watch out for Puppetry of the Cock, coming to the Regal sometime soon), and a deus ex machina that’s as inevitable as it is necessary.
If I have a problem with Midsummer, it’s that the piece suits a smaller stage in a smaller theatre. It debuted in a space quite like the Blue Room’s larger room next door, and I’d love to see it mounted there, or in the STC’s own studio.

That aside, it’s hard to find fault with a show that delivers the most and best laughs in Black Swan’s 2013 season.

Link here to the complete review in The West Australian              

Monday, November 4, 2013

Theatre: The Hardest Way to Make an Omelette

Written and performed by Jessica Harlond-Kenny
Directed by Leah Mercer
Sound and Lighting designed by Joe Lui
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, Fremantle

Until Nov 9

You have to like what performance artist Jessica Harlond-Kenny attempts in The Hardest Way to Make an Omelette, which is appearing in tandem with Shirley Van Sanden’s excellent The Warrior and the Princess at Spare Parts as part of the Fremantle Festival.
The attempt, though, is more impressive than the show.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Performance: Proximity Festival

Curated by James Berlyn and Sarah Rowbottam
Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts

Until November 2

I've never run the Trans-Sahara Marathon or tried the Swim Around Tassie, but I did attempt all three programs at the Proximity Festival at PICA in one night - and that really was a feat of human endurance.
A dozen solo acts, each performing to an audience of one, is an intriguing concept. It's immaculately organised by curators James Berlyn and Sarah Rowbottam, stage manager Mary Wolfla and their team of wranglers who move us from act to act.
It goes without saying that you're in for a range of encounters and you're going to be captivated and challenged by some acts more than others.
But if, as I was, you're going to be immersed in something for more than four hours, there needs to be an overarching sensation that drives you deeper and deeper into the experience. In that, I'm afraid, Proximity fell well short.

Link here to the complete review in The West Australian.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Lou Reed (1942 - 2013)

I'll be your mirror
Reflect what you are, in case you don't know
I'll be the wind, the rain and the sunset
The light on your door to show that you're home

I find it hard to believe you don't know
The beauty that you are
But if you don't let me be your eyes
A hand in your darkness, so you won't be afraid

When you think the night has seen your mind

That inside you're twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
'Cause I see you

I'll be your mirror

I'll be your mirror
I'll be your mirror  

Theatre: The Cake Man

By Robert J Merritt
Yirra Yaakin and Belvoir
Directed Kyle J Morrison
Designed by Stephen Curtis
Performed by Luke Carroll, Oscar Redding, George Shevtsov, James Slee, Tim Solly and Irma Woods
State Theatre Centre Studio
Until November 9

Irma Woods
It's tempting to think of The Cake Man primarily as a political milestone rather than art but that would be doing it an injustice.
Written by Robert J. Merritt in Bathurst Prison in 1974 and smuggled out of jail to the newly formed Black Theatre in Redfern, it was the first professional, full-length drama to arise from the growing Aboriginal performing arts community in inner-city Sydney.
The following year, Merritt was taken to its opening night by prison guards and the cast refused to perform until his handcuffs were removed. In the shadowy half-world between paternalism and oppression, and (admittedly far from complete) acceptance and reconciliation, life has strange ways of imitating art.
For Yirra Yaakin, this co-production with Sydney's Belvoir is an important step for an important company and the result is an impressive revival of an equally important landmark in this country's theatrical history.

Link here to the complete review in The West Australian

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Theatre: The Tribe

Written and directed by Joe Lui
Designed by India Caitlin Mehta
Performed by Ella Hetherington, Paul Grabovac and Mikala Westall
The Blue Room Theatre
Until November 2

I play a little game with the writer, director, musician and lighting and sound designer Joe Lui. It comprises using more and more extravagant superlatives to describe the polymathematical Lui (whoops! I’ve done it again) who sometimes seems the mortar without which the entire edifice of alternative theatre in Perth would collapse.
It’s hard, though, to imagine an adjective that would do Lui’s epic, The Tribe, justice. “Ambitious” hardly suffices to describe a play that re-jigs Paradise Lost before interval, before moving on to six million years of evolutionary theory after drinks.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Theatre: Trampoline

By Shane Adamczak
Directed by Damon Lockwood
Performed by Shane Adamczak, Amanda Woodhams and Ben Russell
The Blue Room Theatre
Until October 26

Matt (Shane Adamczak) is a young man with a problem - he dreams too much. His therapist, Dr Vangillies, explains that he spends 85 per cent of his slumber in REM sleep, the time of dreams. It dominates his nights, and waking dreams wreck his days.
A girl - with trampoline - moves in across the street. Kelly (Amanda Woodhams, who also plays Vangillies) is also troubled, but the reasons for her distress are much more obvious. She's lost her mother to cancer and her father's grief has turned to violent anger.
It's not unusual to have sympathy for a play's characters but Adamczak makes us really feel these damaged kids are entitled to a happy ending. 
In the end, Kelly cures Matt as he frees her. But Adamczak sows a last seed of doubt when, in the play's final line, Kelly tells Matt: "I'm your dream come true, baby."
And maybe she is. Or maybe that's all she is.

Link here to the complete review in The West Australian

Theatre: The Empty City

Produced by: METRO ARTS and The Human Company

Director: David Fenton

Writer/Composer: David Megarrity  

Performed by: Tom Oliver and Bridget Boyle

Illustrator/Designer: Jonathon Oxlade

Animation/Film Maker: Luke Monsour

Sound Production & Additional Music: Bret Collery
Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre
Until October 12


Mercifully, the times when you watch children’s theatre and feel you are intruding into someone else’s world are few and far between. At its best (and the Awesome Festival is full of examples), it’s as exciting and stimulating for overgrown-ups like me as it is for kids.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Theatre: Kep Kaatijin

By David Milroy with Derek Nannup
Yirra Yaakin for the Awesome Festival
Directed by Derek Nannup
Performed by Shakara Walley, Ian Wilkes and Amy Smith
Until October 14

The Noongar word kaatijin means "learning", or "knowledge", and there's no doubt Yirra Yaakin, WA's indigenous theatre company, believes teaching its audiences is a critical part of its purpose. Just as impressive is how adept the company is at learning from those audiences.
You see it in the growing impact and enjoyment of their series of Aboriginal stories for adults at the Blue Room. And much the same development is evident in the origin stories they tell for children at the Awesome Festival.
This year's, Kep Kaatijin, has much to recommend it, and promises even more for Indigenous theatre for children in the future.

Link here to the complete review in The West Australian

Monday, October 7, 2013

Theatre: Boats

By Finegan Kruckemeyer
Terrapin Puppet Theatre, for the Awesome Festival
Director: Frank Newman
: Matthew Fargher
Set and Puppet Design
: Greg Methé
Costume Design
: Roz Wren
Performed by Quinn Griggs and Brett Rogers
Perth Cultural Centre
Until October 9

Quinn Griggs and Brett Rogers
It’s exciting to be back at Awesome, the arts festival for children (or, as its disarming director, Jenny Simpson, aptly brands them, “bright young things”) that runs through the October school holidays and into the spring term in and around the Perth Cultural Centre.
For me, it began with a real highlight: Boats, a rollicking sailors’ yarn by Tasmania’s Terrapin Puppet Theatre. The show was inadvertently involved in controversy at last year’s Helpmann Awards when our own Barking Gecko’s The Red Tree was mistakenly announced as the winner of the children’s theatre gong at the ceremony instead of it, but there’s no doubt that Boats was a more than worthy winner.
The awesomely prolific children’s playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer’s story is a complete adventure for kids, with shipwrecks and circuses, loves lost and found, mateship, and, above all, the irresistible siren song of the sea.
The telling of the tale, directed by Frank Newman, is just as impressive. The performers, Quinn Griggs and Brett Rogers, create sound effects like cinema’s Foley artists (the twisting of a leather belt become the creaking of a ship in a gale; air escaping from a balloon becomes the cry of sea birds). Its visual effects take shape from things seemingly lying about the stage: a knotted length of rope becomes the gull of good omen that flies over the sailor Jof (Griggs); two china cups become the kindly old fisherman, Okinawa Yukio (“age was a wave washing him overboard”), who leaves his boat to the young seafarer. It’s all wondrously inventive, with the deep humour of sudden imaginative discovery that is the greatest gift of theatre for children.
Rogers is an adept narrator of the play’s aquatic occurrences, as well as playing Jof’s offsider, Nic, his sweetheart, Eliza Turk, and other characters, and Griggs is an absolute marvel. His long, twinkling face (you’ve got to be reminded of the Welsh comic Rob Bryden), expressive voice and tough-as-teak body make him any kid’s first mate.
The bright young things with me were rising four (I cheated – the program advises five and up) and 10. The youngster laughed out loud, opened her eyes wide and got fidgety only towards the end of the show’s 50 minutes; her big brother took it all in shrewdly, leaning over to get me to write “very clever” in my notes.
So it was, and much more besides.   

An edited version of this review appeared in The West Australian 7.10.13

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Theatre: Tales From Outer Suburbia

by Shaun Tan
Adapted by Michael Barlow
Directed by Philip Mitchell
Designed by Sohan Ariel Hayes
Composer Lee Buddle
Performed by Humphrey Bower, Bec Bradley, Imanuel Dado and Chloe Flockhart
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, Fremantle
Sept 28 – Oct 12, 2013

We've been fortunate in WA to have artists with a particular feel for our suburbs, though perhaps it's hardly surprising. Perth dominates the entire State and its own constantly renewing newness dominates the city itself.

Our best writers have often been products of places that were, at the time, on the growing city's frontiers. Tom Hungerford's South Perth and Dave Warner's Bicton, Tim Winton's Karrinyup and Shaun Tan's Hillarys were all, once, outer suburbs. No doubt their creative successors are growing up now in Ellenbrook and Success.
The Spare Parts team, led by its artistic director Philip Mitchell and adapter Michael Barlow, are more than capable of doing the necessary tweaking to make Tales From Outer Suburbia a favourite in their repertoire.

Link here to the complete review in The West Australian

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Theatre: Storm Boy

By Tom Holloway
from the novel by Colin Thiele
Barking Gecko and Sydney Theatre Company
Directed by John Sheedy
Designed by Michael Scott-Mitchell
Lighting design by Damien Cooper
Sound design by Kingsley Reeve
Puppetry directed by Peter Wilson
Performed by Joshua Challenor (alternating with Rory Potter), Trevor Jamieson, Peter O’Brien, Michael Smith and Shaka Cook
Heath Ledger Theatre
Until October 5

Mr Percival with Michael Smith
It's all but instinctive to insert "the much-loved" before the title, Storm Boy. Colin Thiele's novel of loneliness, love and the hard truths of growing up is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and is constantly being rediscovered by new generations of kids, in classrooms and libraries (it has never been out of print), on film and the stage.
This ambitious, heartfelt co-production will do nothing but enhance its popularity and reputation.
This paper has described Barking Gecko as Perth's most exciting theatre company; it is, and it is also our most ambitious. Their work over the past couple of years has gone to a new level of creativity and production quality, thrilling for their young audiences, and fulfilling for their parents (and grandparents). The scope of the productions it has in the pipeline, in partnership with the Sydney Opera House, Opera Australia and the world's premiere stage company, Britain's National Theatre, is astonishing. 
It's like the Dockers making the grand final.

Link here to the complete review in The West Australian

Theatre: Broken Colour and The Boat Goes Over the Mountain

At the Blue Room:

Broken Colour
By Nina Pearce
Directed by Mike McCall
Designed by Iona McAuley
Lighting designed by Andrew Portwine
Sound design by The Men from Another Place
Performed by Caris Eves, Hannah Day, James Helm and Nina Pearce

Until October 5

The Boat Goes Over the Mountain
Written, directed and performed by Andrew Hale
with Dave Richardson
Designed by India Mehta
Until September 28

Caris Eves and James Helm

Mental illness is a difficult subject for the theatre, because finding a dramatic path between impenetrability and over-clarification requires delicate tightrope walking. That's why Equus, with its wretched psychoanalytical recapitulations of everything that happens in it, is among the worst of plays. No such danger here. Nina Pearce's Broken Colour, a drama of anxiety and ecstasy, is a considerable achievement.

 The Boat Goes over the Mountain is a dramatic monologue by Andrew Hale about his journey to South America with the sole intention of ingesting ayahuasca, a psychedelic concoction reputed to be a path to self- knowledge. 
Hale is a considerable theatre artist; however, the spasmodic narrative and lack of interaction with the play's location are serious shortcomings here.

Link here to the complete review of both productions in The West Australian

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Arena: Michael Jackson - The Immortal

Cirque Du Soleil
Perth Arena
Until September 22

Baaska Enkhbaatar
Of the 19 Cirque Du Soleil productions playing around the world, nine are permanently in Las Vegas; the Canadian troupe has hit treacherous paydirt in the Nevada desert.
It's hard to know whether its shows ever really "say" anything, but this one, a shameless, thematically shambolic tribute to the late King of Pop Michael Jackson says a lot about both its production values (very high), and its artistic sensibility (not so much).

Link here to the complete review in The West Australian

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Theatre: Macbeth

by William Shakespeare
 Class Act
Directed by Stephen Lee
With Nick Maclaine, Rhoda Lopez, Angelique Malcolm, Shirley Van Sanden, Kyle Sargon, Daniel Buckle, Stephen Lee and Patrick Whitelaw
Subiaco Arts Centre Studio
Until September 14; then in schools

When you watch Shakespeare performed for students, the immortal power of his language most impresses you: “one fell swoop”, “the milk of human kindness” and the “poison’d chalice”, everything that follows that “damned spot” and “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” all come from Macbeth.
Class Act has produced an unpatronising, economical Macbeth for high school students. If its audience (which, by the way, was immaculately attentive throughout the performance I saw) can take these words and ideas away with it, and know from whence they came, that’s a treasure beyond reckoning.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Bear with me!

I know a lot of people are having trouble accessing posts on this blog via Internet Explorer. It seems the problem is to do with cutting and pasting from Word documents into the blog - it makes HTML go to the Bahamas or something.
I'm working on it, and hopefully it will get well soon. All being well the Shrine review and Turnstile Awards stories should now be readable. Please keep checking in!

Music: Amanda Palmer and Grand Theft Orchestra

Astor Theatre
September 8 2013

I was unforgivably late to American punk cabaret diva Amanda Palmer’s Astor show, and caught only the last song by the support act, Die Roten Punkte.
By then, Palmer and her Grand Theft Orchestra, Jherek Bischoff (bass) Chad Raines (guitar) and Michael McQuiken (drums) were on stage themselves, enthusiastically backing up the Aussie comedy-rock duo’s rambunctious magnum opus, Ich Bin Nicht Ein Roboter (I Am a Lion).
Bischoff remained on stage for two solo numbers, and blew the evening away.
His first, Kule Kule, by the Congolese band, Konono No1, was an irresistible attack of solo bass rhythm. It was followed by the most beautiful ukulele playing I’ve ever heard, on A Semiperfect Number, which he wrote for the Kronos Quartet’s 40th birthday.
Like fellow Amanda Palmer alumna, the cellist Zoe Keating, Bischoff used live electronic sampling to create dense sound patterns underneath the uke, which he played like a classical guitarist. Simply amazing.
Palmer will never be an anti-climax, though.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Theatre: Shrine

Whitney Richards
Tim Winton
Directed by Kate Cherry
Designed by Trent Suidgeest

With Paul Ashcroft, John Howard, Luke McMahon, Sarah McNeill, Will McNeill and Whitney Richards
Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre
August 31 – Sept 15, 2013

Shrine, the third of Tim Winton’s annual forays with Black Swan into writing for the stage, leaves unanswered the question posed by his earlier Rising Water (2011) and Signs of Life (2012).
There’s no doubting his quality as a writer, the impact of his language and his instinct for character. He also has a wonderful knack for the transcendent, especially when his characters find themselves alone and exposed to nature.
Is this, though, enough to make him a playwright? Is the poet in Winton also a songwriter?

Link here to the complete review in The West Australian

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Theatre: The 2012/3 Turnstile Awards

The Pav responds to Fiona Bruce's set for Boy Gets Girl
We're delighted to confirm the rumour that this year’s glittering Turnstile Awards Ceremony will be held in a hastily erected tent on the MCG immediately after the AFL Grand Final. The master of ceremonies will be Matthew Pavlich, who, hopefully, will be cup in hand.

Turnstiles are awarded to outstanding locally produced stage shows between September and August each year. There’s no set number of winners, and no attempt to rank the shows in order of merit.
In the past year, I reviewed 52 eligible productions for either or both The West Australian and this blog. It’s not an exhaustive list, and I apologise for the absences. Once again, I didn't consider cabaret, comedy or improv theatre, although there were some terrific productions in those categories.
It’s interesting how similarly each year’s rankings have panned out, even though I’ve made no effort to reach that outcome. Two years ago, ten shows collected a Turnstile; last year it was eight, and this year it’s nine. The good news is that this year the shows I thought well worth seeing (30) very substantially outnumbered those I’d have strongly encouraged you to avoid (11). There was only one production I gave my lowest rating to, and I know many people would be horrified at my low opinion of it! 

So, here, in chronological order, are the productions I thought earned a Turnstile:
    •     Perth Theatre Company’s brilliantly conceived and executed, high gloss On the Misconception of Oedipus, directed by Matthew Lutton with Natasha Herbert, Daniel Schlusser and Richard Pyros as modern manifestations of the infamous Sophoclean triangle.
    •    The tense, menacing Boy Gets Girl, Rebecca Gilman’s stalker thriller directed by Adam Mitchell for Black Swan, with great performances by Alison van Reeken and the genuinely creepy Myles Pollard, and a superb and, at one point, shocking set design by Fiona Bruce. 
    •    One of the performances of the year by Margi Brown Ash in Eve at the Blue Room, the sad story of the largely forgotten writer Eve Langley, written by Ash, Daniel Evans and Leah Mercer, who also directed.
    •    Mainly because it was so good, partly because Black Swan took a punt on it for the Perth Fringe, Stephen Adly Guirgis’s joyfully erudite New York drama The Motherfucker With the Hat, directed by Adam Mitchell (again) with a mighty performance by Rhoda Lopez and a scene-stealing one by Fayssal Bazzi.  
    •    Barking Gecko’s adventures continued with the delicate, good humoured Duck, Death and the Tulip, a story for kids about death, directed by John Sheedy with exemplary performances by George Shevtsov and the irresistible Ella Hetherington.
    •    At the Perth Fringe, the Duck House production of Jeffrey Jay Fowler's funny, fierce and sad Minnie and Mona, firmly controlled by director Kathryn Osborne and fearlessly performed by Arielle Gray and Gita Bezard.
    •    John Sheedy and Barking Gecko again, this time in partnership with WAAPA to deliver a fresh, energised Hamlet, with a passionate, sexy performance by James Sweeny in The Part, and a brilliant sound design by James Luscombe.
    •    Black Swan’s production of Other Desert Cities made John Robin Baitz’s sparkling story of familial and political disintegration in High Republican Palm Springs even better. Immaculately directed by Kate Cherry and designed by Christina Smith, with stellar performances by Janet Andrewartha and Conrad Coleby.
    •    Marthe Snorresdotter Rovic brought authenticity and magnetism to Hedda, her seamless, electric adaptation of the Ibsen classic, directed by co-adaptor Renato Fabretti with a cast including her fellow Norwegian Tone Skaardal and the charismatic, intelligent Phil Miolin (who had a very good year).
    •    And, finally, John Milson, who died early this year. Here, mate, have a Turnstile to go on with.  

Monday, September 2, 2013

Circus: Cranked Up

Circus Oz
Performed by Ania Reynolds, Bec Matthews, Spenser Inwood, Vince Van Berkel, Carl Polke, Dale Woodbridge, Hazel Bock, Jez Davies, Kai Johnson-Peady, Mark Sheppard, Mason West and Stevee Mills
His Majesty’s Theatre
October 28 - 31, 2013

Mark Sheppard
I remember tagging along with Melbourne’s Soapbox Circus, and especially their funny, sport-mad strongman Greig (who later abandoned first names in favour of the initials HG and went on to bigger things), on a tour of Perth pubs and campuses with the Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band in the mid-1970s. One of them taught me to juggle (only three balls, very badly).
Soapbox Circus went on to bigger things too, merging with Adelaide’s New Ensemble Circus to form Circus Oz in 1977. Now, 35 years later, an Australian Living Treasure – if circuses were awarded that honorific – they’re back in Perth, as energetic, committed and exuberant as ever.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Theatre: Hedda

by Henrik Ibsen
Adapted by Marthe Snorresdotter Rovik and Renato Fabretti
Directed by Renato Fabretti  
With Marthe Snorresdotter Rovik, Tone Skaardal, Renato Fabretti, Richie Flanagan and Phil Miolin
The Blue Room Theatre
Until August 31 
The world’s in a bit of a spin over all things gritty and Scandinavian. Our televisions (or at least the best bits of them) are tuned to grim Swedish skies (various Wallanders and Girls With Tattoos) and rotten days in Denmark (serial Killings and Borgens) – the two countries have even combined forces, if not bodies, over The Bridge.
As far as I’m aware, the Norwegians have yet to join this small-screen splatter party, so this very tight, contemporary take on Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler comes at a fortuitous time.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Theatre: The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid
Houston Sinclair
Directed by Ian Sinclair
Devised and performed by Georgia King, Jacinta Larcombe and Ben Gill
The Blue Room Theatre
Until September 7

The earlier of the Blue Room’s Scandinavian double feature is a tricky, erotically charged inversion of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Little Mermaid.
In this version, the mermaid (Jacinta Larcombe) is a teenage girl in an Australian coastal town. She’s a castaway in the small society around her. Her only company, apart from her mother (Georgia King), is the picture of Leonardo DiCaprio above her bed. Then she meets a boy (Ben Gill) who befriends her and invites her to his party. In return, she takes him down to the sea.
Her mother wants to relive her belle-of-the-ball youth vicariously through her daughter, but when reminiscence becomes too too solid flesh, the consequences are heartbreaking and tragic.
Link here to my complete review of The Little Mermaid in The West Australian.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Theatre: Easy Virtue

By Noel Coward
Directed by Jason Langley
Ayeesha Ash
Performed by WAAPA 3rd Year Acting students Charlotte Davenport, Nicholas Starte, Grace Smilbert, Andreas Lohmeyer, Ayeesha Ash, William Thompson, Emilie Cocquerel, Shaynee Bradshaw, Samuel Delich, Justina Ward, Cecelia Peters, Michael Abercromby, Oscar Harris, James Sweeny, Madeleine Vizard, Felix Johnson and Rose Riley
Geoff Gibbs Theatre, WAAPA
August 23 - 29, 2013

WAAPA productions must strike a delicate balance between the academy’s objectives – its students’ training and the imperative to showcase their talents to the performing arts and entertainment community, and, of course, to put on a swell show.
That last priority is even more important now: the demise of some local companies has thinned out the options for theatre audiences, and WAAPA can mount large cast productions that can’t be matched elsewhere.
The annual Broadway extravaganzas staged by the music theatre department at the Regal are the most prominent example of this balancing act. This production, the third year acting students’ blitz of Noel Coward’s parlour melodrama Easy Virtue, matches them for purpose, and for sheer entertainment.

Link here to the complete review in The West Australian

Monday, August 19, 2013

Theatre: 51 Shades of Maggie Muff

by Leesa Harker
Directed by Terence O’Connell
Starring Nikki Britton
Subiaco Arts Centre
Until September 21

A spectacularly obscene parody of the mummy porn phenomenon 50 Shades of Grey was inevitable, and, despite myself, I’m happy to welcome it to our shores.

51 Shades of Maggie Muff started life as a bit of fun for Belfast mature-age student Leesa Harker and her mates on Facebook. Then known as 51 Shades of Red, White and Blue (there’s some Irish politics here), it became an overnight online sensation in Ireland, gathering 25,000 readers and a book deal within weeks, followed quickly by hit stage versions in Dublin and Glasgow.

Within a year of Harker’s first lurid chapter hitting the ether, it’s here, now set in the rough-as-guts wrong side of the tracks in Manchester, where the main employer is the dole office, the main activity is late night shoplifting and the main entertainment, to use the least offensive of Maggie’s arsenal of wafer-thin euphemisms, is bucking.

In the practiced hands of the busy director Terence O’Connell, whose Empire is also running in Perth, and with a fabulously vivid and boisterous solo performance by Nikki Britton, Maggie Muff is wildly funny much of the time, and surprisingly touching to boot.

That’s because Maggie, who thinks she’s found love with the creepy upper class tosser who works at the dole office, is as much working class heroine as she is sex addict. The tone of the play shifts adroitly between excruciatingly crude descriptions of sexual attraction and practices, and the effect they have on various body parts, to nicely drawn vignettes of lives lived tough, rough and not far from the street.

It’s desperately offensive, and, to be honest, becomes a little grinding and repetitive in the second half, but Maggie is no Anastasia Steele, her saltiness is of the earth and she’s a character that you can recognise, and empathise with, even at her most outrageous and degraded.

And boy (well, really, girl) does this thing have an audience! On a stay-at-home-and-watch-the-tv night in the middle of the third week of its run, there were still a couple of hundred in the theatre. Only around ten per cent of them were male (including Britton’s dad, who’d taken a couple of days off work to fly to Perth to see his daughter make an exhibition of herself), and the gleeful laughter of the other ninety per cent was unmistakable. And it isn’t girlish giggling we’re talking about here; this was full-throated guffawing born, I think, of identification and ownership.

Not, I hasten to add, with and of BDSM and the other amusements on Maggie Muff’s menu; more for the chance to have some good filthy fun that isn’t for, and owned by, men.

Actually, I’m not quite sure what the male equivalent of 51 Shades of Maggie Muff is. And I’m also not sure, if it exists, we’d be up to it.   

This review appeared in The West Australian

Cabaret: Christa Hughes

Neurotic Ladyland
Downstairs at the Maj
15 – 18 August, 2013

Christa Hughes, she with the voice that goes right up to her bum, returns to the basement cabaret at the Maj in great form.
Last time she was here was with her dad, the venerable boogie woogie pianist Dick Hughes, and a terrific set of dirty blues and drinking songs; this time around she’s brought the striking jazz pianist Leonie Cohen, drummer Jim Dunlop, a combustible collection of right-out-there songs and some truly gob-smacking costumes.
The result, Neurotic Ladyland, sometimes threatens to tip over the edge, but most of the risks Hughes takes pay off, and she’s always got that mighty voice of hers to straighten things up if they go haywire.