Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Turnstile Awards 2014

Brian May from Queen (r. obscured) congratulates 
Shane Adamczak (l. obscured) on his Turnstiles haul

The Turnstile Awards for excellence in theatre in Perth acknowledge outstanding locally produced (or co-produced) stage shows opening between September and August each year. There’s no set number of Turnstile winners, and no attempt to rank the shows in order of merit.
In the past year, I reviewed 56 eligible productions (a few more than last year) for either or both The West Australian and this blog. To those I missed, my apologies.
Overall, shows I thought well worth seeing outnumbered those I’d have strongly encouraged you to avoid by better than two to one – and there will be shows that didn’t make it to the podium that many of you would have had there.
Many might have just needed one more round of inspiration and polish—in writing, direction and production—to achieve their potential; in a year where over half the productions were new scripts, overwhelmingly from independent producers working with limited time and tiny budgets, that’s hardly surprising, and as encouraging as it is frustrating.   
So, here, in chronological order, are the nine local productions I thought earned a Turnstile:

•   Storm Boy, Barking Gecko’s handsome co-production, with the Sydney Theatre Company, of Colin Thiele’s much-loved novel, was another step forward for our most exciting and ambitious main-stage theatre company.

•    The first of an unprecedented Turnstiles trifecta for the outrageously talented writer and actor Shane Adamczak, the bouncy romcom Trampoline at the Blue Room, directed by Damon Lockwood and also starring Amanda Woodhams and the very funny Ben Russell.

•   Midsummer (A Play with Songs) had the most and best laughs of anything Black Swan staged in the past year, thanks to Georgina Gayler and Brendan Hansen’s performances, Damon Lockwood’s direction and David Greig's often hilarious screw-tightening script.

•    In DIVA, the writer and performer Tiffany Barton and director Helen Doig collaborate to tell the story of a fading opera singer with pungency, tempestuousness and ultimate humanity.

•    Adamczak again, this time incredible as Johnny Rotten in Ben Kalman’s Vicious Circles  the sad, brilliantly performed story of the last days of Sid and Nancy, co-produced by WA’s Weeping Spoon and Canada’s Stadium Tour for the Blue Room’s Summer Nights season at PICA. 

•    Pop-up theatre at its best: F*@k Decaf, Tyler Jacob Jones’s café society comedy, sharply directed by Scott Corbett with star turns by Amanda Watson and Ann-Marie Biagioni, at the Mary Street Café on Beaufort St.

•    Declan Greene’s dark comedy Eight Gigabytes of Hardcore Pornography may not live up to its name, but it has plenty of hard drive. Perth comedian Andrea Gibbs delivers a performance to be proud of.

•    Kate Mulvany’s savvy adaptation of Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones. Another faultless step on John Sheedy’s mission to grow Barking Gecko from a children’s theatre to one for young people of all ages.  

•    The stand up comedian Greg Fleet’s impressive debut as a playwright, This is Not a Love Song, at the Blue Room, is a sure-fire singalong hit, and more besides. Fleet performs, as does director Tegan Mulvany and, you guessed it, Shane Adamczak.

So two of this year’s Turnstiles have gone to Barking Gecko and three to productions supported and hosted by this year’s big winner, The Blue Room, which also garnered a swag of honourable mentions, for Nina Pearce’s drama of anxiety and ecstasy Broken Colour, the surprisingly powerful 10,000 Beers, Libby Klysz’s nimble, teasing These Guys, Sarah Young’s sombre, deceptively simple Giving Up the Ghosts and Jeffrey Jay Fowler’s clever, dystopic Second Hands and Elephents, the latter directed by Kathryn Osborne, who also tried her talented hand at opera with the snappy, cleverly-designed The Old Maid and the Thief at the Town Hall. Not such a productive year, though, for the tenants of the State Theatre Centre, with only two Turnstiles between them, although Black Swan’s bucolic, attractive As You Like It and Suzie Miller’s clever, mercifully unportentious Dust also deserve a mention.
Couldn’t find a Turnstile for WAAPA this year, but the adventurous, sexy Realism came close.
A number of independent productions, on top of the Turnstile-winning Diva and F*@k Decaf, made a big impression this year. Helen Doig added an honourable mention to her Turnstile for DIVA with Gertrude Stein and a Companion down at the tiny theatre in Media Alliance building in East Perth, James Berlyn’s Crash Course taught its audience a whole new language at PICA and Adam T Perkins delivered a tour de force performance in The Guys at the Subiaco Arts Centre.

You can read what I had to say about each of the nine Turnstile winners by clicking on their highlighted title. You'll find reviews of the honourable mentions elsewhere on this blog.
Congratulations to them all—let’s see which of them make the podium at the next Perth Equity Guild Awards. 

And, finally, thanks to everyone who visited my little blog over the last year – there’s been nearly 100,000 Turnstylists, and it’s gratifying to know there’s some interest in my humble musings (even if many of them, mysteriously, are from Mountain View, California). Please fire in a comment about the awards, even if it’s just to bag them!

Theatre: Great Expectations

By Charles Dickens
Adapted by Nick Ormerod and Declan Donnellan
Directed by Andrew Lewis
Performed by WAAPA 3rd Year Acting students
Geoff Gibbs Theatre
Until August 28

It’s unsurprising that those two mighty epics of relentless pursuit and ultimate redemption, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, are contemporaneous (the English novel was published in 1861; the other a year later). Neither is it surprising that both were instant and enormous successes, nor that they have generated many successful adaptations, across artforms, in the subsequent century-and-a-half.
This year’s WAAPA Acting graduating class performs the adaptation of Great Expectations by Cheek By Jowl’s Mick Ormerod and Declan Donnellan, first staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2005. It’s a wise choice.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Theatre: This is Not a Love Song

By Greg Fleet
Directed by Tegan Mulvany
Designed by Christian Barratt
Performed by Greg Fleet, Tegan Mulvany, Shane Adamczak and Michael de Grussa

A remarkable thing about the stand up comedian Greg Fleet is how unfunny he is. He doesn’t pull funny faces or do funny voices, and he doesn’t crack jokes. What he does, though, is tell stories about life and its vicissitudes, mixing an audacious combination of logic and absurdity from which the human comedy grows like bread rising in an oven.
Fleet brings this considerable skill to his debut play, This is Not a Love Song, and it’s a cracker. It’s also going to be a runaway hit.

Link here to the complete review on The West Australian website
Amanda Harrison
Accompanied by Bev Kennedy
Downstairs at the Maj
21 - 23 August 2014

If you’re A Star, and used to performing on big stages in green make-up, the little cabaret downstairs at the Maj must be daunting.
To paraphrase the title of Amanda Harrison’s one-woman show, you’re right up close and very personal on that stage. If you wanted to be less naked, you’d take up stripping.
Harrison is first cab off the rank in a cabaret season at the Maj dominated by women, either as performers (including the not-to-be-missed Christa Hughes) or subject matter (Michael Griffiths’ take on Annie Lennox; the story of the lyricist Dorothy Fields). You could do much worse.

Link here to the complete review on The West Australian's website       

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Theatre: Concussion

By Ross Mueller
Ellander Productions
Directed by Sarah McKellar
Designed by Iona McAuley
Performed by Richard Mellick, Nichola Renton, Ian Bolgia, Paul Grabovac, Russya Connor and Danen Engelenberg

Much of the ambitious Australia/UK multi-arts company Ellander Productions’ theatrical output since they launched in 2010 has been decidedly underwhelming.
Concussion (at the Blue Room, directed by Sarah McKellar), though, is much more like it.
They’ve been wise to secure Ross Mueller’s nasty, opportunity-laden play, winner of the 2009 New York New Dramatists award. His story of a cop, Caesar (Richard Mellick), recovering from a savage beating and struggling to remember what happened before, during and after it, could be straightforward enough, but Mueller sets its narrative adrift in time and peoples it with some decidedly unsavoury types. While the result is often gobsmackingly obscene and morally bankrupt, work through all that and there’s quite a bit of wicked fun to be had and something to be said about the human condition in a world hotwired to the net and drowning in pornography.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Theatre: The Seagull

Black Swan State Theatre Company
by Anton Chekhov
adapted by Hilary Bell
Directed by Kate Cherry
Designed by Fiona Bruce
With Adam Booth, Rebecca Davis, Leila George, Michael Loney, Andrew McFarlane, Luke McMahon, Greg McNeill, Sarah McNeill, Ben Mortley and Greta Scacchi

Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre
Until August 31

This remounting of The Seagull, Anton Chekhov’s great first play, owes much to a modest, approachable adaptation by Hillary Bell, effectively executed by its director, Kate Cherry.
Bell, who has no Russian, has interpreted several
English translations of the play made over the past century—if this sounds like “adaptation by committee”, Bell seems to be happy to live, and Cherry to work, with it.
The result stays loyal to its roots—we remain by a Russian lake, not in an Australian beach house or a Long Island estate. The characters speak in their own accents, but traditional representations of the Russian idiom remain. They are dressed, by the designer Fiona Bruce, as per fin de siècle Russia, and her set, a stripped-down proscenium, is like many that have housed the play in the past 120 years. 
So this Seagull is not spectacular, or edgy, but it is handsome and approachable. If it’s something of museum piece, that’s not the worst charge that can be levelled at a work of its significance in theatre history.

Link here to the complete review in The West Australian

Friday, August 8, 2014

Theatre: The Last Confession

By Roger Crane
Directed by Jonathan Church
Set Design by William Dudley
Starring David Suchet, Philip Craig, Donald Douglas and Richard O’Callaghan
His Majesty’s Theatre
Until August 16

The sudden death of the first Pope John Paul, Cardinal Albino Luciani, in September 1978, left a disquieting aftertaste. An apparently healthy man of only 65, barely a month into his papacy, he died in contradictory circumstances, while Vatican scandals lurked in the shadows.
After a whodunnit? This could be a doozy. 
Trouble is, The Last Confession is an awfully convoluted one, constructed around real, well-known, figures of the recent past. That gives its writer, Roger Crane, a lot of work to do, and precious little historical wriggle-room in which to do it.

Link here to the complete review in The West Australian