Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Theatre: The Secret River

by Andrew Bovell
from the novel by Kate Grenville
Composer Iain Grandage
The Sydney Theatre Company
Directed by Neil Armfield
Artistic Associate Stephen Page
Designer Stephen Curtis
With Nathaniel Dean, Bailey Doomadgee, Lachlan Elliott, Kamil Ellis, Roy Gordon, Iain Grandage, Ethel-Anne Gundy, Anita Hegh, Daniel Henshall, Trevor Jamieson, Rhimi Johnson Page, Judith McGrath, Callum McManis, Colin Moody, Rory Potter, Jeremy Sims, James Slee, Bruce Spence, Matthew Sunderland, Miranda Tapsell, Tom Usher, Ursula Yovich
 His Majesty’s Theatre
Until March 2

The journey of a well-loved story from page to stage is a treacherous one, with the expectations of both its audiences – readers and theatre-goers – to be met, and the vasty fields of the original to be somehow crammed within the theatre’s wooden O.
The Secret River, with its description of early colonial society and the fatal clash of people and cultures in our far-from-terra nullius has deeply affected those who have read it.
The tears I saw last night in the audience were, I’m sure, from readers whose emotional investment in the book had been realised on stage. I haven’t, and can only leave the truth of that to them.

Theatre: The House of Dreaming

Arena Theatre Company
for the Perth Festival
Written by Halcyon McCloud
Directed by Chris Kohn
Performed by Sam Routledge, Penelope Bartlau, Phillip McInnis, Sarah Kriegler
ABC Perth Studio
Until March 2

Elio and Eva went into The House of Dreaming with eyes wide open, and came out thirty minutes later with wide-open eyes. They were two of the children who stood on the ceiling, climbed through the clock and sailed through the storm in Chris Kohn’s indoor adventure made just for them.
Along their way, in the labyrinthine house built inside the ABC’s big studio in East Perth by Melbourne’s Arena Theatre Company, they got to laugh, wonder, change colour and even get a little frightened.
Immersive installations are becoming a regular feature at festivals; last year’s Oraculos and Proximity were festival season highlights and La Marea drew thousands to Rokeby Road a fortnight ago. It’s good to see the same experience being created for children, especially when it’s as stimulating as this strange, dreaming house.

Link here to the complete review in the The West Australian

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Theatre: Mission Drift

for the Perth Festival
written by The TEAM
Music by Heather Christian
Directed by Rachel Chavkin
With Stephanie Wright Thompson, Bryce Gill, Heather Christian, Ian Lassiter and Amber Gray, accompanied by Matthew Bogdanow and Josh Myers
Heath Ledger Theatre
Until March 2
Bryce Gill, Ian Lassiter, Stephanie Wright Thompson and Heather Christian
(pic Lee Griffith)
There’s no objective measure of theatre or how it gives each individual the particular things they like, want and need from it.
So, when I say that I have never seen anything better than Mission Drift in the theatre, you will only know if you can at least understand me if you have the great good fortune to see it for yourself. It has everything I think theatre should have, and does everything I believe theatre should do.
 Mission Drift is a daring encompassing of America, its historic promise and its breaking.
It’s the incredible fecundity and westward impulse of America that inspire Mission Drift’s thrilling first half, which is, quite literally, a history of a nation.
If the second half of Mission Drift lacks some of the ebullience of the first, it simply mirrors the grinding stasis that has beset America, and its dream, since those last days of ’07.
I was often in tears during this brilliant production (and here I should disclose that I was living in America, and personally affected by the events of 2007 and ’08); two days later its effect on me has scarcely subsided. If there’s still a ticket to be had, go see it.

Link here to the complete review in The West Australian

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Perth Fringe Festival 2013

Done and Dusted 
Turnstiles is, finally, all Fringed Out.
So, of the 42 Fringe shows I saw, I'm very glad I saw 20 and rather wished I'd have missed only nine. That's a terrific strike rate for a come one, come all fringe, and a testament to both the quality of our local artists and the ability of Marcus Canning and the Fringe World team to attract quality from interstate and abroad. 
I've said before, and will keep on saying, that I don't see any reason for us to stop here. Let's make the Cultural Centre precinct a place to gather, be entertained and inspired twelve months a year, not just at festival season. We don't need more fancy buildings or expensive infrastructure; just content, great content, and I'm absolutely convinced the demand will be there, and the benefit, to our city and our state, immeasurable.

Read on for a run-down of my Fringe:

Friday, February 22, 2013

Theatre: Le Foulard, Bane 2 and Never Mind the Monsters

Never Mind the Monsters
Blue Room
Bane 2 and Le Foulard

Lucy Hopkins
Lucy Hopkins only made one mistake in her magnetic, witty Le Foulard – its fabulous first line: “You are about to receive something of a very high quality”.
There’s no denying that what followed was. What she didn’t know, however, is that the “about” was redundant; we’d already had “very high quality” twice that night in the Blue Room’s Summer Nights series with Never Mind the Monsters and Bane 2.

Link here to the complete review in The West Australian  

Theatre: The Improved

The Skeletal System
for Fringe World
Written and directed by Will O’Mahony
Designed by Alicia Clements
With Glenn Hall, Andreas Lohmeyer and Will O’Mahony
The Blue Room
Feb 12 - 16, 2013

One of the pleasures of fringe is getting a first look at local work that has the potential for longer runs and other stages. A good example was Rachel Dease’s sombre and exciting City of Shadows, which went on from last year’s Fringe to critical acclaim in the tough New York Fringe and, happily for me, had a short encore run here last week.
So far this time around, Jeffrey Jay Fowler’s Minnie and Mona showed the theatrical smarts and sharp performances to go to the next step, and it’s now joined by Will O’Mahony’s tense, twisting The Improved.
It’s infuriating to hear about shows after they’ve gone. Hopefully, they, and you, will get another chance to get Improved somewhere, and soon.

Link here to the complete review in The West Australian.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Theatre: Three Little Pigs

Devised by Tara Louise Notcutt and the cast
Directed by Tara Louise Notcutt
Performed by Albert Pretorius, James Cairns and Rob van Vuuren
Fringe World
Until February 24

The small but deadly strike force South Africa has sent to infiltrate our Fringe has hit again, this time with a taut, hilarious political allegory about – you guessed it – three pig brothers and a big, bad wolf.
The brothers are pigs of the “’ello, ’ello, ’ello”, as well as the ham and bacon, variety, and two of them have been blown up and blowtorched by a shadowy crime boss (their finger-lickingly delicious autopsy is a highlight). The younger, smaller brother (Rob van Vuuren) knows the bad guys are after him next, and goes squealing to the cops, in particular an Irish goat (Albert Pretorious) and a hard as nails chicken (James Cairns).
They take the case to the head of the Pig Squad the brothers had been members of, Vark Jansen (a gloriously funny name, sounding for all the world like an very impolite imprecation, when said with the appropriate accent), and the hunt for the murderer is on.
It’s great fun, but for all the fun and games, there’s serious intent behind the laughs. I’ve speculated before that the extraordinary history and ethnic, political and economic circumstances of SA have produced an alternative theatre with a particular energy and edginess.
I wonder if any other national theatre can produce work with this fever, and this determination. It’s both instructive and inspirational to have these fine examples of it at our Fringe.

Link here to the complete review in The West Australian.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Theatre: Dirt

Written by Nick Warren
Directed by Jenine Collocott
Performed by James Cairns
Until February 23

I was talking with the all-pervasive Joe Lui, who almost seems to be holding alternative theatre in Perth together by dint of personal effort, about the South African shows at this year’s Fringe.
We were struck by the urgency of these performances. Even a relatively slight rom-com like Love @ First Bite had an edge; and Dirt, a vastly more considerable piece, was savage in its a febrile energy and intensity.
Much of this is due to the phenomenal power of James Cairns, who delivers the theatre performance of the festival thus far, but there’s something else besides. Joe and I thought perhaps, even though the characters Cairns plays in Dirt, like those in First Bite and last year’s Fringe highlight …miskien, are white, middle class, hedonistic and complacent ­– just like us, in fact – South African history is so different, and these characters’ place in its society so much less absolute, that it completely changes the torque of their theatre writing and performance.
Three men are travelling from Johannesburg to Cape Town for the funeral of a friend. They have his dog with them in the car. Like a good road movie, there’s revelation and conflict, tragedy (of the canine variety) and a psychic, as well as physical, destination to reach. The dirt of the title is manifestly that poured into the grave of their friend at the end, but it’s also that which gets dug up and spread on their journey.
Cairns has a terrific ear for voices, and each of his characters is distinct and memorable. As well as the three travellers and the dog – Cairns does him proud – there are incidental characters, especially a hilariously mock-obsequious Indian South African traffic cop, that he switches between without skipping a beat.
A word of warning: the two Parade Teatro tents are struggling to cope with our new summer paradigm (thank God global warming is a myth, hey), and the industrial fans being used as part of the solution can be an unfortunate distraction. If you’re going to Dirt – and I hope you will – it’s worth finding a seat where they are as unobtrusive as possible.

An edited version of this review appeared in The West Australian link here

Friday, February 15, 2013

Theatre: Watt

The Gate Theatre Dublin
for the Perth Festival
From the novel by Samuel Beckett
Selected and performed by Barry McGovern
Directed by Tom Creed
Heath Ledger Theatre
Until February 17

When the doors closed at the Heath Ledger Theatre, something happened.
The audience reduced their conversations to a whisper, in anticipation of the arrival of the actor on stage. When, however, some time had passed and the play did not begin, and as if on cue, the whisperers resumed talking at their previous volume. This sudden increase in sound suggested that an incident of some kind had occurred, impelling people to look for it. Others, seeing the direction in which many of their fellows were looking, began looking in that direction as well. People, unable to see for themselves what had occurred (because nothing had), began asking each other what was going on.
It was an auspicious beginning for a night in the company of a writer with an unsurpassed ability to describe what happens when nothing does, and an actor, in Barry McGovern, with the skill and focus to bring it to the stage.

Link here to my complete review in The West Australian

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Theatre: The Wives of Hemingway and Birdboy

The best and brightest of Perth's young theatre artists are out and about in force at the Fringe and, even more than the touring acts rampaging through the festival, it's a chance for them to experiment and extend their range.
But, before you read on, remember that no matter how talented and inspired the people behind them are, not every experiment works, not every extension sticks, and that's as it should be. Just saying.

The Wives of Hemingway
Side Pony and Productions Weeping Spoon Productions
Directed by Zoe Pepper
Starring Adriane Daff, Josh Price and Tim Watts
North Perth Bowling Club
Until February 16.

Tim Watts, Josh Price and Adriane Daff
Tim Watts is the kid who wouldn't grow up, and he and his lost boys (and girls) play theatre like others play ultimate frisbee. It may not be theatre for kids, but it has many of the qualities of a game a bunch of them might play in their cubby.
Watts, director Zoe Pepper and the others have delivered some of the most justly admired and popular alternative Perth theatre in recent times (Alvin Sputnik, The Pride, It’s Dark Outside, Pollyanna) and they have earned some pretty major Get Out of Jail Free cards with their audience.
They’ll have to spend one of them this time, though. For all its audacity and smarts, Wives is seriously self-indulgent and more than a bit sloppy around its edges. They aren’t fatal flaws, by any means, and there are plenty of moments to savour, but most of the twists in the story are gratuitous, and there is no, repeat no, take away from the piece.
Link here to my complete review in The West Australian.

by Ian Sinclair
The Wet Weather Ensemble
Directed by Moya Thomas
With St John Cowcher, Alicia Osyka, Ian Sinclair and Moana Lutton
Until February 16

I could try to tell you what happens in Birdboy, but I have no idea whether it would represent its actual narrative or the intentions of the award-winning – and genuinely talented – collective, The Wet Weather Ensemble (The Bearskinner, Adam & Eve). You may come to an entirely different conclusion. As to any allegorical, metaphorical or cautionary purpose behind it all, your guess is as good as mine.

Birdboy is the result of an impressive development process, both here and in the US, but it feels like there’ve been too many cooks putting way too many ingredients into the broth. I’m sure the ensemble knows exactly what they are trying to prepare, but that’s not much help to us diners.
Link here to my complete review in The West Australian

Theatre: The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart

by David Greig
The National Theatre of Scotland
Directed by Wils Wilson
Composer and musical director Alasdair Macrae
With Annie Grace, Melody Grove, Alasdair Macrae, Paul McCole and David McKay
Little Creatures Loft and The Melbourne Hotel until February 24 (waiting list only)

Last year you could still get a ticket to The National Theatre of Scotland’s pulverising Beautiful Burnout deep into the season. No such luck this time. The company’s third visit to the Perth Festival, The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, already has a waiting list, and it’s going to get very, very long.
The rush is, in part, because of the company’s well-earned reputation here, and because the festival’s publicity promised “rip-roaring action” set, and performed, in a bar, and that’s bound to pull Perth punters.
The good news, for those of you holding tickets, is that Prudencia Hart delivers all that’s promised for it, and a whole lot besides.

Circus: La Cucina dell'Arte

Circus Ronaldo
David and Danny Ronaldo
Russell Square, Northbridge
Until February 24

As the name suggests, La Cucina dell’Arte takes place in a restaurant, in this case a pizzeria where the chef (David) battles it out with his ditzy assistant (Danny).
There was much breaking of plates and cocking of snooks in the set-up, but things came to a head when the two boys chose different women from the audience to be their guest for dinner on stage.
Things start flying about, and, in the process, Danny shows his considerable talent at plate-spinning, balancing, a bit of juggling and, especially, the wild and wonderful things you can do with pizza dough.
After a cute, albeit predictable, denouement, and a gracious rapprochement between performers and audience members, we filed back out into the dragon-infested night.
That’s all good, as far as it goes, but even at a smart 70 minutes, the show felt a little long, and, while Danny’s routines were skilful and funny, there just wasn’t enough of them, and a bit too much incidental business.
Just down the other end of James Street there are other tents, and inside them there are performers with history and a venerable performance tradition of their own, and they are going hell-for-leather to entertain at half the ticket price.
It’s shaping up to be a long, hot summer in Perth.

Link here to the complete review in The West Australian.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Theatre: Duck, Death and the Tulip

By Wolf Erlbruch
Barking Gecko Theatre Company
For the Perth Festival
Directed by John Sheedy
Designed by Alicia Clements and Chris More
Performed by Ella Hetherington and George Shevtsov
Subiaco Arts Centre
Until February 16

George Shetsov
How does a six-year-old stare Death in the face? A nine-year-old? An eleven-year-old?
The answer is: very differently. That seemed the case at the Subiaco Arts Centre at least, when kids of all those ages, along with their parents and grandparents, watched a wizened, wizardly (dare I say Gandalfian or Dumbledorian) George Shevtsov playing it in Barking Gecko’s Duck, Death and the Tulip.
Shevtsov is a superb actor. His long, etched face displays the whole range of emotion with economy and deadly accuracy, and his mature voice is a beautiful instrument.
Hetherington is clearly Sheedy’s first choice actor, and, as she showed in last year’s The Red Tree and This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing, she is an exemplary performer for children. 

Link here to the complete review in The West Australian

Monday, February 11, 2013

Theatre: The Threepenny Opera

By Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill
The Berliner Ensemble
Directed and designed by Robert Wilson
His Majesty’s Theatre
Until February 11

For Robert Wilson, the celebrated American director and polymath, The Threepenny Opera is a canvas of unparalleled potential upon which to paint huge expanses of history, politics, thought and culture, and the result is a thrilling, beautifully defined piece of theatrical high art.
Wilson’s techniques arise from his belief that each element of theatre is equally important, so a prop or a lighting change, the movement of scenery or an actor’s finger is as significant as the narrative; a tiny sound effect as vital as a song.
This demands a phenomenal attention to detail, and the painstaking creation of space and hierarchies of sensation, so everything that happens or can be experienced is defined and able to register clearly.
It’s a process that needs time to deliver, and time for an audience to decipher; the rewards don’t come immediately, but they are very great indeed.

Link here to the complete review in The West Australian

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Theatre: Love in the Key of Britpop

Emily Andersen
The Cheeky Sparrow
For Fringe World
Until Feb 13

Emily Andersen is an unprepossessing, 30-something Melbourne girl who’s affection for Britpop, Britain and a boy therefrom got her in and out of love and marriage a few years back.
She’s also a poet, and her witty and touching autobiographical verse play, Love in the Key of Britpop, is the product of that time, that romance and that affection.
Don’t be off put by the verse. Many playwrights, one from the 15th century in particular, have employed it with great success. Anyone who saw last year’s Fringe standout, Neil Watkins’ The Year of Magical Wanking, will remember how brilliantly the form can be used in a contemporary setting. Andersen has achieved a similar success this time around.
Britpop, for those unfamiliar with its specifics, was the genre of alternative rock music led by bands like Oasis, Blur and Pulp that reached its zenith in the mid-1990s. Ten years later, our Emily, still a fan, hangs out in indie clubs around Melbourne to drink, dance and cavort. It’s there she meets a British backpacker, and it’s casual sex at first sight. Love, anchored by their shared passion for the music, follows soon after, and marriage, necessitated by the visa requirements of both their home countries, soon after that.
The light “Aussie chick meets and marries spunky pom” tone of the first half is fun, tasty and carefree, but when harsh reality and heartbreak bring a sadder, wiser tone, Andersen’s writing effortlessly changes gear to accommodate it.
By then you find yourself engrossed in her character, intrigued by her narrative and moving to the pulse of her words. It’s a wonderful effect, more than flexible enough to take you from humour to wretchedness and, finally, resolution without missing a beat.
By their nature, fringe festivals are hydra-headed beasts. You have razor sharp entertainments like The Wau Wau Sisters and Frisky and Mannish, but there's another side to them, small, independent alternative productions for which the fringe offers much needed oxygen. Love in the Key of Britpop is a fine example, and I hope its short season gets the audience it richly deserves.

This review appeared in The West Australian 9.2.13