Saturday, December 12, 2015

Theatre: In a Bony Embrace (★★★½)

By Gita Bezard
Curtin University Stage One Production
directed by Adam Mitchell
designed by Sally Phipps
performed by Daisy Coyle, Alexander Gerrans, Chelsea Gibson, Sean Guastavino, Anna Lindstedt, Tristan McInnes, Jessica Nyanda Moyle, Kane Parker, Beth Tremlett and Nathan Whitbrook
Blue Room Theatre
December 8 - 12, 2015

The theatre course at Curtin University, in various forms and under various titles, has been producing good work and many very good theatre-makers for decades. Its light may have been obscured by the enormous bushel that WAAPA has become, but that hasn’t stopped the fourth of its Stage One productions, Gita Bezard’s In a Bony Embrace, lighting up the Blue Room in a short season this week.
Bezard, who is one-seventh of indie darlings The Last Great Hunt, and the notable director, Adam Mitchell, have steered this natty ensemble piece and the student actors in its cast to a funny and surprisingly touching destination.
In a Bony Embrace is a work in progress, as are these young actors, and there is, naturally, something of an exercise for students about both its writing and staging.
But that doesn’t detract from what is a genuinely rewarding and entertaining piece of theatre in its own right. 

Read the complete review in The West Australian      

Monday, November 23, 2015

Theatre: The Lion King (★★★★½)

Disney Theatrical Group
Music and lyrics by Elton John and Tim Rice,
Lego M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor and Hans Zimmer
Book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi
Directed by Julie Taymor
Scenic design by Richard Hudson
Music direction by Richard Montgomery
Choreography by Garth Fagan
Crown Theatre
On sale until February 28

Buyi Zama as Rafiki in the long-awaited Perth season of The Lion King
 Now that we finally get to see the Lion King in the flesh, it may not hold too many surprises. But that doesn’t mean it has lost its power to thrill and captivate us.
From its first moment, the colour, movement and sheer theatrical imagination of Taymor’s sub-creation are mesmerising.
The director Julie Taymor’s guiding principle, the “double event” as she calls it, is to see the puppeteers and their performance as well as the creatures they both manipulate and portray. It’s an inspired theatrical decision – and it’s worth remembering just how influential this show is. 
The inventiveness continues in the sets; in one virtuoso scene, a spread of blue parachute silk disappears beneath the stage to announce the coming of drought and dearth that are the inevitable result of the murderous Scar’s fratricide and misrule.
All of which emphasise the underlying message of The Lion King, which is, in a sense, ecological. Goodness, truth and love lead to bounty, fecundity and joy. Falsehood, evil and hatred lead to ruin, sterility and misery. It says as much about our planet and us as it does about the lions and their Pridelands.
Nothing is perfect, and this production does suffer from some vocal deficiencies that aren’t as well supported by the sound balance and punch as they could have been.
It’s no deal-breaker though, and may no longer be an issue by the time you join the stampede of visitors to this, the proudest kingdom of them all.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Theatre: Multiverse Theory in D (★★★½)

Ellandar Productions
Written and directed by Jessica Messenger
Musical arranger Suzanne Kosowitz
Designed by Tessa Darcey
Performed by Erin Hutchinson, Esther Longhurst, Nick Maclaine and Josh Walker
Blue Room until December 5

Ellandar Productions is about to celebrate its fifth anniversary.
Since then their work has been ambitious, well resourced, glossy, cinematic – and curiously awkward and unconvincing.
Happily they are now gathering some momentum. Last year’s Concussion was a solid production, and now with Multiverse Theory in D, they may have a hit on their hands.
Written and directed by Jessica Messenger, it’s an elusive, deftly-tailored story of a woman, Naomi (Erin Hutchinson), her ex-husband Robbie (Nick Maclaine), current boyfriend Jonathan (Josh Walker) and BFF Tegan (Esther Longhurst).
Hutchinson sure can work a tune, and that’s the icing on the cake here. Whether it’s an audacious blending of Savage Garden’s To the Moon and Back and the standard Fly Me to the Moon, the Goo Goo Dolls’ Iris, Jewel’s You Were Meant for Me or No Doubt’s Just a Girl, Hutchison, Longhurst and the boys beat and belt them out, often to a thrilling effect that’s more than worth the price of admission.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Theatre: Next to Normal (★★★)

Brendan Hansen and Rachael Beck
by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey
Black Swan State Theatre Company
Directed by Adam Mitchell
Musical Director David Young

Designed by Bruce McKinven
With Shannen Alyce, Rachael Beck, James Bell, Michael Cormick, Brendan Hanson and Joel Horwood

Heath Ledger Theatre
Until Nov 22

I’m sure we’ve all been waiting for a rock musical about bipolar depressive disorder with delusional episodes, and now we have it – Next to Normal (at the Heath Ledger Theatre, directed by Adam Mitchell).
Certainly the Americans, who are miles ahead of the game in such matters, were. When the Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey-penned show hit Broadway in 2009 it was showered with awards (including a rare Pulitzer Prize for a musical) and rewarded with record-breaking box office takings. It’s since travelled the world; this is its fifth Australian staging.
It’s a strange beast. One thing that it’s not, despite the tag and the publicity, is a rock musical; if these songs, most of which sound like scrunched up and binned attempts to write another Defying Gravity, are rock, then Angus Young wrote Jesus Christ Superstar.
I’m not even sure that it’s a musical in the accepted sense. Oh, there’s music, lots of it; there are 42 songs in the show’s 130-odd minutes, surely a record, but that leaves precious little time for anything else. The music serves no purpose other than to carry the text. Dance is discarded entirely, spoken dialogue all but. So is humour (there was originally some, I read, but it was excised in the pursuit of cohesion and a “responsible” approach to its depiction of its hard, dangerous subject).
It as if we are at two shows at once: one, a dark drama on the devastation caused by mental illness, I’ll gladly see again; the other, the one with all the watery music, I’ll happily pass on.     

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Theatre: Proximity Festival (★★★½)

Curated by Kelli Mccluskey and Sarah Rowbottam
Art Gallery of Western Australia
until November 8

The annual Proximity Festival moves to the pointy end of the plane this year, taking up residence in the elegant surrounds of the Art Gallery of WA after stints in the Blue Room, PICA and the Fremantle Arts Centre.
The dozen one-on-one performances and encounters that comprise the event are also an exploration of the gallery, from its grand exhibition halls to its deep-delved foundations. There’s sometimes a second layer of audience for the performances; gallery visitors watching the artist – and you – doing your things.
Proximity is an impressive achievement, as much of stage management (Anna Kosky was the wrangler-in-chief for the curators Kelli Mccluskey and Sarah Rowbottam) as anything else.
It’s often instantly stimulating and it can be frustratingly elusive, but Proximity is never even remotely an everyday occurrence.

Read the complete review in The West Australian 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Cabaret: Fancy Meeting You (★★★★)

by Izaak Lim, Amalie O’Hara and Kathleen Douglas
Music by Harold Arlen
Directed by Michael Loney
Performed by Anne-Marie Biagioni, Cassandra Charlick and William Groucutt
Downstairs at the Maj
29 - 31 October, 2015

Fancy Meeting You is the third outing for the team of writer Izaak Lim and director Michael Loney in the Downstairs at the Maj cabaret seasons, and, while it’s something of a departure from their previous shows, it’s every bit as successful.

Their formula is as simple as it effective; take a great American songwriter – composer or lyricist – and build a narrative around their songs. You’ve Got That Thing and Exactly Like You were biographical pastiches of Cole Porter and Dorothy Fields respectively, but Fancy Meeting You breaks the mould, using the songs of Harold Arlen to tell a neat story of love faithless and faithful set in a joint something like the Cotton Club.

That story takes in themes of race and homosexual love that give it a contemporary relevance without weighing down the evening’s entertainment.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Theatre: Macbeth (★★★)

by William Shakespeare
WAAPA 3rd Year acting students

Roundhouse Theatre, ECU Mt Lawley
Until 16 October

Whether it’s in anticipation of the looming 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, or a reflex action in response to the real-life slaughter of the innocents with which we are constantly assailed, there’s a lot of Macbeth about these days.
Which is no bad thing for admirers of this most efficient of Shakespeare’s killing machines. It's barely half the length of Hamlet, but is pound-for-pound, and by a very great margin, the most poetic of his great tragedies.
Then there's the dark unreality, the hallucinogenic quality, of Dunsinane and the charnel house made there by its lord and lady.
And there is also some of Shakespeare’s greatest contributions to the language, from “fell swoop” to “screw up courage”, from “double, double, toil and trouble” to “out, damned spot”, reaching its apogee in Macbeth’s great hymn of nihilism, “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…”.

…Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

If that doesn't make you shudder, even four centuries leter, you need to take a good, hard look inside yourself.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Puppet theatre: Cloud Man (★★★½) and The Secret Life of Suitcases (★★★)

Ailie Cohen and Lewis Hetherington
Awesome Festival
Until October 11
(Recommended for 4+ year-olds)

The work of the Scottish puppeteers Ailie Cohen and Lewis Hetherington is always good, and the simpler it is the better. At its best, it’s magical for all ages.
Cohen and Hetherington are at Awesome with two shows. The first, Cloud Man, a solo performance by Cohen, tells the story of Cloudia’s search for these “very quiet, very shy, very hard to find” creatures who hide from us in the clouds. 

Cohen returned a couple of hours later, with her collaborator Hetherington, in The Secret Life of Suitcases. Larry, a tall, thin, tube of a man, works in an office where he revels in the mundane. That won’t do at all, and a mysterious suitcase arrives to whisk him away to a beautiful, leafy park, on a boat to a desert island and off into space in a rocket.
If I had to choose between them, Cloud Man’s simple charm particularly won me over. The good, better and best news is that it’s not a choice you have to make.          

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Theatre: TILT (★★★½)

WAAPA  3rd Year Performance Making Students
Blue Room Theatre
Until October 10

WAAPA’s Performance Making course is celebrating its first graduating class with TILT, a short season of their work at the Blue Room Theatre.
Some of the six self-devised pieces are of a piece with the indie theatre that dominates our burgeoning fringe festivals and popular small venues like the Blue Room; others operate in hybrid territory between and apart from those templates.
It makes TILT exciting and engrossing theatre-going.
With their world-class training from WAAPA and all their talent and daring, these are twenty young artists with a lot to offer the big, wide world they’re about to step into.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Theatre: Benjamin and Me (★★)

Whiskey + Boots
Written, directed and performed by Mark Storen
Illustrated by Jacinta Larcombe

Blue Room Theatre
Until October 24

You’d be forgiven for imagining that a show called Benjamin and Me about a boy and his dog would be a sweet, whimsical story of friendship and loyalty. Probably sentimental, perhaps a little sad. With an adventure thrown in.
You certainly get the adventure, a breakneck, seesawing tale of flying machines, mind-robbing villains and feline heroines, lost tribes and menacing hyenas, but any whimsy or sentimentality it might have had gets lost beneath the action.
As for the sadness – I can’t go into detail, but there really should be lots – I’m afraid you are left with neither the time nor energy to feel it.
If the kids in the performance I saw were a little quiet and dazed, it’s probably because there was little left for them to do.

Read the complete review in The West Australian 

Theatre: Rain (★★★★)

Drop Bear Theatre
Composed by Edwina Cordingley
Designed by The Seam
Performed by Sarah Lockwood, Carolyn Bechervaise and Zoë Barry
Awesome Festival
Until October 11
(Recommended for babes in arms and crawlers)

The audience at Rain didn’t applaud at the end of the show. A couple of them nodded off during it. Quite often they were more interested in each other than the performers. There was a disconcerting amount of hugging and smooching going on.
Mind you, the oldest of them was less than a year old, so all this unusual audience activity was to be expected.
For Brandon, Rosalind, John, Jarrah, George, Zoe the Adventurer and all the other squirming, hugging, napping, gurgling and grinning bubs there, it was the time of their just beginning lives.

Read the complete review in The West Australian and have a sneak peek here:

Monday, October 5, 2015

Theatre: The Red Balloon (★★★★)

By Albert Lamorisse
Adapted by Hilary Bell
Black Swan State Theatre Company
Directed by Chrissie Parrott
Set and costumes designed by India Mehta
Lighting designed by Trent Suidgeest
Sound designer and composer Ash Gibson Greig
With Dylan Christidis, St John Cowcher, Ella Hetherington, Eloise Hunter, Ben Mortley and Sarah Nelson

State Theatre Centre Studio
Until 17 October

To successfully adapt a well-known and loved film to the stage takes a little luck and lots of good decision-making.
Hilary Bell’s adaptation of Albert Lamorisse’s 1956 Oscar-winning short film The Red Balloon has both in spades.
In its original form, the story is a simple one, but Bell fleshes out the enigmatic original, largely by the introduction of three animal characters that narrate and comment on the otherwise all-but-wordless action. They are wise and entertaining additions.

It was an inspired decision to invite the celebrated choreographer Chrissie Parrott to direct the show. Her sensibility fits perfectly with the mood of the work, and the dances of balloons, the boy and girl, and the vermin, are highlights.
Kids are the best reviewers of their theatre, and they do it in real time, with laughter, gasps of wonderment and, especially, questions.
There were plenty of all three for this wonderful, impressively staged, story.

Read the complete review in The West Australian.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Theatre: Head Full of Love (★★★½)

By Alana Valentine
Queensland Theatre Company/Performing Lines
Directed by Wesley Enoch
Associate director Catarina Hebbard
Designer Susanne Roanuike
Performed by Paula Delaney Nasarski and Annie Byron 
Margaret River Cultural Centre
September 24, 2015
An old woman (Paula Delaney Nasarski) sits on a low stool crocheting. Around her are bundles of wool and the instruments of her craft.
“Old” is a relative term, though. We're in the town camp outside Alice Springs, and there you can get very old very young. As the woman, Tilly, says, in the town camps “bad things happen, and they happen to you”.
Bad things do happen in Alana Valentine’s sad, sweet Head Full of Love, but good things too, and in the most unlikely of ways.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Theatre: Extinction (★★)

By Hannie Rayson
Black Swan State Theatre Company
Directed by Stuart Halusz
Set and costumes designed by Bryan Woltjen
Lighting designed by Trent Suidgeest
Sound designer and composer Ben Collins
With Hannah Day, Matt Dyktynski, Sarah McNeill and Myles Pollard

Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre
Until 4 October

Hannie Rayson’s Extinction is anchored solidly enough on reality: the effort to locate and preserve the elusive tiger quoll, mainland Australia’s largest surviving carnivorous marsupial.
Equally factual is the conflict that pits environmentalists and local residents against the mining companies interested in exploiting reserves of brown coal in the hinterland of the Otways, the temperate rainforests in Victoria that are among the quoll’s last habitats.
So there’s something to be learnt from Extinction, which is fortunate for its audience, because there’s not much else to take from it. This play perches uncomfortably between several stools and doesn’t really get a purchase on any of them.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Friday, September 18, 2015

A little editorial: George (and his Dragon) must go

When Malcolm Turnbull pitched his candidacy for leadership of the Liberal Party on Monday he stated, as an unequivocal article of faith, that his prime ministership would be based on transparency, consultation and an end to "captain's calls".
Federal arts minister Senator George Brandis's decision to establish the National Programme for Excellence in the Arts is in chapter-and-verse conflict with the principals espoused by now prime minister Turnbull. He must be removed from the portfolio, or at the very least, instructed to immediately dismantle the NPEA and return the funds expropriated for its operation to the Australia Council.
Senator Brandis is, personally, a lover of the arts – albeit of the "dead white male" variety – and it is a very great shame that he was infected by the dark spirit of the Abbott regime (although many will argue he was one of its architects). 
For that reason, there's a weak case for a chastened and mentored Brandis continuing in the portfolio – minus the NPEA.
But such is the depth of antipathy towards him throughout the arts community, and the suspicion and fear that would attend his every decision, no matter how innocent, in the portfolio, that Mr Turnbull has no option but to move him on.
Not to do so would indicate that the words of candidate Turnbull were empty. That would be a deeply disappointing, and politically dangerous, way to start his tenure. 

Theatre: Between Solar Systems (★★) and Two Bees (★)

There’s been a small flood of plays about the loss of species, or humans fleeing the planet entirely.
We’ve already seen Will O’Mahony’s cracking The Mars Project for WAAPA. Black Swan’s world premiere season of Hannie Rayson’s Extinction, whose title is self-explanatory, opens next week.
In the meantime, the Blue Room is hosting two shows on the subjects; Scott McArdle’s Between Solar Systems and Nick Pages-Oliver and Daniel Buckle’s Two Bees. Neither, I’m afraid, sets the world on fire (perhaps that’s an unfortunate turn of phrase).

Read the complete reviews of both plays in The West Australian

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Fever and the Fret (★★★★)

By Jub Clerc
Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company
Directed Kyle J Morrison
Set and costume Designer Matt McVeigh
Sound designer Joe Lui
Lighting designer Chloe Ogilvie
Performed by Kelton Pell, Irma Woods and Ebony McGuire
Subiaco Arts Centre

 Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
The weariness, the fever, and the fret                                      
                                      John Keats Ode to a Nightingale

Many plays have their moment on the stage and are gone, but some remain and grow in thought and memory. It’s early days yet, but The Fever and the Fret will surely be among the latter.
A long (one two-hour act), sad story of three good people, it explores loss, memory and regret with care, compassion and attention to detail. It tells you a great deal about its people, and makes you care a great deal about them.
One of the strengths of the play is that while the Aboriginality of its characters is central, the lives we see here happen everywhere, and are common to all of us.
Kelton Pell is a mighty presence on stage, and a skilled and intelligent performer. He is one of those rare actors who could play Lear. And if he did, Ebony McGuire, whose journey from awkward schoolgirl to confident, caring young woman is superbly achieved, would be the perfect Cordelia.

Read the complete review in The West Australian          

Monday, September 14, 2015

Becky Peterson Will Punch You in the Face! (★★★½)

By Tyler Jacob Jones
The Cutting Room Floor
Directed by Scott Jacobs
With Erin Hutchinson, Kimberley Harris, Nicole La Bianca, Alicia Osyka, Verity Softly and Amy Welsh
Heathcote Cultural Centre
Until Sept 20

The corridors of power are no place for the faint-hearted. Or, really, for anyone with any heart at all. Even if they are those of the Little Ladies Leadership League.
The league’s Squad 109 is the battleground for Tyler Jacob Jones’s Becky Peterson Will Punch You in the Face! (at the Heathcote Cultural Centre, nimbly directed by Scott Corbett).
This is a two-hour show that should be an hour forty; Tyler Jones has so much great material he can afford to lose anything that’s merely okay. When he does, he’ll be doing his cast, who were great but had to labour some points a little, a big favour.
And Becky Peterson’s punch, already a stinger, will be a real knockout.    

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Five Years Below the Masthead

Trevor Jamieson: Hipbone Sticking Out
It was  five years ago to the day that I saw Analisa Bell's little show Gold-Digger downstairs at the Maj on my first assignment (audition, really) for The West. Doesn't time fly when you're having fun.
I just want to take the opportunity to thank everyone who's been so kind and helpful along that journey in the best way that I can - by showing you how privileged I've been to see and report back on so many wonderful shows.
Here's a list of 100 of the best of them – ranging from theatre to cabaret and comedy, circus to music – I've got to see in that time; each one memorable, each of the highest quality. It's impressive to see that the list divides almost exactly evenly between home-grown and visiting shows. There's a long list of others that could, probably should, have been on it as well.

Alison van Reeken
The Deep Blue Sea
Krakouer,  The Deep Blue Sea,  Waltzing the Wilarra,  The Ugly One,  Die Winterreise,  Laryngectomy,  Crazy For You,  Scent Tales,  Red,  Tender Napalm,  Adam and Eve,  The Damned,  Who’s Afraid of the Working Class,  Atishoo,  Blackbird,  National Interest,  How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,  It’s Dark Outside,  On the Misconception of Oedipus,  Boy Gets Girl,  Evie, The Motherfucker with the Hat,  Duck Death and the Tulip,  Sami Shah,  Minnie and Mona,  Hamlet (Barking Gecko/WAAPA), Other Desert Cities, Hedda,  Storm Boy, Trampoline, Midsummer (A Play with Songs), Diva, Vicious Circles,  Fuck Decaf,  Eight Gigabytes of Hard Core Pornography,  Jasper Jones,  This is Not a Love Song, Laughter on the 23rd Floor,  King Hit, Hipbone Sticking Out, Venus in Fur, Monroe & Associates, Under This Sun, Legally Blonde, Sonic Sessions Tim Minchin, Dedications and Gudirr Gudirr. 

Denis O'Hare: An Iliad
Donka: A Letter to Chekhov,  Aftermath,  The Animals and Children Took the Streets, Beautiful Burnout,  Stiggio and Tallis: Music in 40 Parts,  The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart,  Mission Drift,  Watt,  Black Diggers,  The House Where Winter Lives,  An Iliad,  Henry V (Propeller),  Africa,  The Disappearances Project,  The Year of Magical Wanking,  …miskien,  Love in the Key of Britpop,  Le Foulard,  Insomnia Cat Came to Stay,  East End Cabaret,  The Bookbinder,  Sex Idiot,  Too Much Light Makes the Baby go Blind,  Tatterdemalion,  Waves,  The Defence,  MKA: Dogmeat,  First Day Off in a Long Time,  Sunglasses at Night,  Neil Hamburger,  Paul Foot,  Asher Treleaven,  Jim Jefferies, Greg Fleet,  Dr Brown Brown Brown Brown and his Singing Tiger,  Kaput,  Echolalia,  Boats,  Death in Bowengabbie,  I’m Your Man,  Henry IV,  Henry V and Hamlet (Bell Shakespeare),  Slava’s Snowshow,  Brief Encounter,  51 Shades of Maggie Muff,  Christa Hughes,  Meow Meow,  Amanda Palmer,  Camille O’Sullivan,  Martha Wainwright,  Empire and Absinthe.

I hope you got to see plenty of them!

Thanks to Steve Bevis, who's been the most indulgent and generous of editors, and to Barry Strickland, Damien O'Doherty and Maggie, the Queen of Hairdressers, who put my name in front of him. Thanks to my Lesley for rectifying my lousy grammar and reining in my excesses, to all the producers and publicists who tolerated my fussy requests, to the handbags who kept me awake, even on 4-show nights at the Fringe, and to the generous beverage sponsors of Perth's theatre companies. And Uber.

But most of all to the creative people, both sides of the lights, who do this fine work for us, in most cases for little reward and less security. 

They are heroes, and I hope I've been more help than hindrance to them.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The 2015 Turnstile Awards

Federal Arts Minister George Brandis made a surprise appearance at the glittering Turnstile Awards ceremony to announce he was giving some trophies of his own. It was a little hard to work out what they were, though. Or who he was giving them to.
There may be dark clouds on the horizon, but the WA theatre biz still delivered a harvest of both quantity and, by and large, quality, in the last year. 
The Turnstile Awards acknowledge outstanding WA produced (or co-produced) stage shows opening in Perth between September and August each year. 
There is no set number of Turnstile winners, and no attempt to rank them in order of merit: Turnstiles are a pat on the back, not a competition.
In 2014/5 there were 62 “eligible” productions (a few more than last year) reviewed in either or both The West Australian and this blog. Inevitably some others get missed, especially around festival time – apologies to them. 
Thirty of them were shows I had no hesitation in recommending; that’s an impressive proportion, and outnumbers those you’d have been wise to avoid by three to one – and a number of those were admired by people with far better judgement than mine.
Which all means that coming out to the theatre in Perth is an investment in your time and treasure you can make with some confidence. The people who make the shows need your support, more now than ever, and they will reward you for it.

Here, in chronological order, are the nine productions that take home a Turnstile this year:

  • Laughter on the 23rd Floor, Black Swan’s sparkling, handsome revival of Neil Simon’s reminiscence of radio days. Impeccably cast, with Peter Rowsthorn outstanding.
  • King Hit, Geoffrey Narkle and David Gilroy took us inside the sideshow boxing tent, and plenty of other places, in Yirra Yaakin’s fine, important revival of this seminal West Australian play.
  • Hipbone Sticking Out, a magnificent, sprawling story of the collision of cultures in West Australia’s North-West. Created by Scott Rankin and Big hART, inspired by, and featuring, the people of Roebourne, it had everything theatre should have, and did everything theatre should do.
  • Venus in Fur, David Ives' delicious layer cake of a play-within- a-play-within-a-book, assiduously directed by Lawrie Cullen-Tait and sent into orbit by the tall, fair and heedless Felicity McKay.
  • Monroe & Associates: Tim Watts, the kindiest member of wunderkind company The Last Great Hunt, created a snazzy little noir world inside a caravan, and invited his audiences of one to try to outsmart him in it.
  • Under This Sun, Warwick Doddrell’s outback epic emerged from the heat and dust of the WA desert like a modern-day Burke and Wills, and was as impressive a writing debut as we saw on the Perth stage this year.
  • Legally Blonde showed WAAPA’s splendid music theatre course and its soon-to-be world-beating students to perfect advantage at the Regal – and was a sell-out smash hit into the bargain. 
  • Gudirr Gudirr, an extraordinary performance by Broome artist Dalisa Pigram combined tens of thousands of years of continuous cultural endeavour with the skills and confidence of contemporary indigenous performing art.
  • The Mars Project: for the entire body of work by the 3rd year acting class at WAAPA this year, but in particular for Will O’Mahoney’s intricate, coherent and moving rumination on ambition, autism and the lure of the ultimate.

And here are some other great shows that could easily have walked off with a Turnstile:

It really has been a remarkable year for The Blue Room and its associated artists and independent producers; apart from their two Turnstiles, Joe Lui’s revelatory correspondence from exile, Letters Home, the gripping rom-horredy Welcome to Slaughter (Lui again, along with Michelle Robin Anderson, Jo Morris and Emily Rose Brennan), Finegan Kruckemeyer’s sparkling fable Those Who Fall in Love Like Anchors Dropped Upon the Ocean Floor (or Twifilladutoff, as I l took to calling it) and the extraordinary Margi Brown Ash and Leah Mercer’s Joey the Mechanical Boy were all terrific. They combined with PICA to present Summer Nights as part of the Perth Fringe, and in it Claire Lovering’s touching solo stand River, Chris Isaacs and Jeffrey Jay Fowler’s razor sharp Fag/Stag and Mikala Westall’s impressive writing debut Moving On, Inc. were all great successes.A good year, too, for Black Swan, who added their pacy, accurate revival of Glengarry Glen Ross to their brace of Turnstiles; and for WAAPA, who also picked up two Turnstiles and could easily have had a third for All My Sons, a splendid revival of Arthur Miller’s near-perfect play.I didn’t share the general enthusiasm for Barking Gecko’s blockbuster The Rabbits, but Marko Jovanovic’s star solo turn in the coming-of-age drama Pondlife McGurk was a standout, as was Nick Maclaine and Isaac Lim’s sparkling Dorothy Fields bio, Exactly Like You downstairs at the Maj.

For the record, a few honorary Turnstiles to brilliant shows that would have won the real thing if they had been from WA: at this year’s Fringe, Bryony Kimmings’ high-style, fearless Sex Idiot, a sleeper with a killer twist, Alice Mary Cooper’s Waves, and Ralph McCullum Howell’s tiny triumph, The Bookbinder; at PIAF, QTC’s powerful Black Diggers; Josh McConville’s superb Hamlet for Bell Shakespeare, and, downstairs at the Maj, John O’Hara and Anthony Harkin’s surprisingly substantial cabaret, Dedications.   

My thanks to the nine Turnstiles winners, and all those that cracked an honourable mention – between them, twenty shows mounted in WA you’d be privileged to see anywhere in the world.

You can read what I had to say about each of the awarded and noted shows by clicking on their highlighted title (thanks to Steve Bevis for his All My Sons review).

Finally, thanks again to everyone who dropped in to Turnstiles over the last year – it’s well into six-figure visits now, and, hopefully, at least some of them didn’t stumble across it looking for a Neil Young album. Please fire in a comment about the awards, even if it’s just to bag them!

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Mars Project (★★★★)

Written and directed by Will O’Mahoney
with WAAPA 3rd Year acting students 
State Theatre Centre rehearsal room
Until 29 August

In 2013, at the suggestion of WAAPA’s programme director Andrew Lewis, the playwright and director Will O’Mahoney embarked on a project to devise and mount an original production with the academy’s then first-year acting class.
The result, The Mars Project, ranks among the most ambitious and impressive new works to arrive on the Perth stage this year.
It must have been a daunting exercise for O’Mahoney; seventeen young actors, a big chunk of two years of their finely honed talent – and a blank piece of paper.
It’s a cast full of enormous potential, and all of them shine very brightly in a work that, perhaps, could only ever have emerged under WAAPA’s auspices, and that we are very fortunate to see.
 Read the complete review in The West Australian

Monday, August 24, 2015

Carrie the Musical (★★)

By Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford
Book by Lawrence D Cohen
Based on the novel by Stephen King
WAAPA 3rd Year Music Theatre students
Directed by Crispin Taylor
Music Director David King
Choreographer Christabel Ellis
Set Design by Madeleine Watt
Lighting Design by Amelia Blanco

Geoff Gibbs Theatre, WAAPA
Until August 29

In 1988, the Royal Shakespeare Company was persuaded to mount a ghastly musical based on an infamous horror story that became one of the biggest flops in Broadway history. Twenty-five years later the show was given a makeover and returned to the stage. The stinger, of course, was that it was still awful. 
None of this is the fault of this cast, another marvellous herd of all-singing, all-hoofing WAAPA musical theatre students, all of whom make the most of a very bad lot.

Let’s hope the Australian musical theatre is able to support professional careers for the stampede of ability heading its way.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Theatre: Latitudes (★★)

By Mark Walsh
Directed by Mikala Westall
Designed by Patrick Howe
Sound design Will Slade
Lighting design Chris Donnelly
Performed by Tessa Carmody, Jo Morris and Claire Munday
Until February 21

I have an aversion to plays – Peter Shaffer’s Equus comes quickly to mind – that insist on explaining themselves to you. No such accusation can be levelled at Mark Walsh’s Latitudes (at the Blue Room, directed by Mikala Westall).
It’s an opaque, convoluted affair that, despite strong performances and an impressive creative team, defied my best efforts to untangle.

Read the complete review in The West Australian.

Dedications (★★★★)

Written and performed by John O’Hara
Written and directed by Anthony Harkin
Musical director/piano Luke Hunter
Cello Anna Sarcich
Downstairs at the Maj
20 – 22 August 2015

Perth-born and WAAPA trained (as is his co-writer and director Anthony Harkin), John O’Hara has forged a fine career as a character principal in juggernaut musicals like Cats and, most recently, Wicked. Dedications is his first cabaret, but he and Harkin are as sure-footed, poised and nuanced as the most experienced of its exponents.
Their idea is inspired: bouncing off the real-life Dedications and Love Songs, Richard Mercer’s long-running late night show on Sydney FM radio, O’Hara plays an eclectic mix of lost souls and hopeless romantics, all calling in to empty their hearts to the unseen, endlessly sympathetic, “Love God”.
And he sings. Brilliantly. All those power ballads, from Whitney to Katy, Lionel to Huey, that make the FM world go round.
And when O’Hara dangles himself from an imaginary coathanger in a heartbreaking version of Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire, and follows with a transfixing take on Annie Lennox’s endlessly amazing Why, a great little show becomes something much more substantial. Someone needs to bring it back soon.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Monday, August 17, 2015

Theatre: All that Glitters (★★★)

Devised by Gita Bezard, Adriane Daff, Jeffrey Jay Fowler, Arielle Gray, Chris Isaacs and Kathryn Osborne
Directed by Gita Bezard
Designed by Tessa Darcey
Lighting and sound Joe Lui
Performed by Adriane Daff, Jeffrey Jay Fowler, Arielle Gray and Chris Isaacs
Blue Room Theatre
Until August 29

Here come the Hunters again. Smart as tacks, sexy as all get out and prolific to the point of frenzy, Perth’s theatre’s indie darlings The Last Great Hunt return after a few nanoseconds absence with maybe their smartest, sexiest and most frenzied show yet, 55 minutes of social conscience in skin tight gold lamé to the beat of Taylor Swift.
After “All That Glitters…” we are, of course, meant to fill in the unsaid “…Is Not Gold”. Our country, they say, is doing terrible things to asylum seekers, and we are complicit by our high-life acquiescence, our casual racism and, even more, by the facile sterility of our opposition to these policies and attitudes.
Fair enough too. It’s a point worth making, and the Hunters go in pretty hard at us, and themselves, doing it.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Theatre: Hamlet (★★★★½)

Matilda Ridgeway and Josh McConville
By William Shakespeare 
Bell Shakespeare
Director Damien Ryan
Designer Alicia Clements
Lighting designer Mat Cox
Featuring Josh McConville, Matilda Ridgway, Sean O’Shea, Doris Younane, Ivan Donato, Michael Wahr, Philip Dodd, Robin Goldsworthy, Julia Ohannessian and Catherine Terracini
Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre
Until August 16

The Prince is on a roll. There are all-night queues for Benedict Cumberbatch’s West End stand, and Bell Shakespeare’s short season at the Heath Ledger is a sell-out.
As it should be.
This Hamlet, with its clear and intelligent direction by Damian Ryan, should completely satisfy both aficionados and newcomers to the greatest of plays.
If that’s too bold a claim for the play, there’s no doubting its hero is the first of drama’s characters. He utterly dominates his play, physically and intellectually. He speaks a third of its 4,000 odd lines; it needs no secondary plots or truly independent second lives.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Circus: Absinthe (★★★★)

Ukrainian furniture removalists were never like this
The Empire Spiegeltent
Perth Arena Forecourt

Until August 29

Those wonderful folks who gave you Empire a couple of years ago are back, with Absinthe, and it’s a doozy.
Since it premiered in 2006, the show, mounted by the Australians Wayne Harrison and Ross Mollison, has taken Manhattan, and then Vegas – where it is approaching its 2000th performance at Caesar’s Palace – by storm.
What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas, though; this touring production has the same structure as its stay-at-home sibling, with its MCs, The Gazillionaire and his ditsy side-kick Abby Bobbins, dispensing gobsmacking crudities and introducing a dazzling line-up of twirlers, balancers and fliers.
Cabaret circus is the 21st Century’s vaudeville, and it’s no wonder that the public flocks to it. If you liked the Perth Fringe smash La Soiree, you’ll LOVE Absinthe. And if Cirque du Soleil’s philosophical meanderings leave you a little underwhelmed these days (I plead guilty), Absinthe will quickly cure what ails you. Yowzah!

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Circus: Totem (★★★★)

Anything you can't do…
Cirque du Soleil
The Grand Chapiteau
Belmont Racecourse
Until September 27

You don’t have to buy into Cirque du Soleil completely to admire what the Canadian juggernaut has accomplished in its 30-year history.
It has had a revolutionary effect on circus and its staging, both by the shows it has mounted, and by its influence on other circus companies around the world.
Perhaps that cross-fertilisation is beginning to work back the other way, because Totem, the latest CdS show to visit Perth, is both more traditional and yet more contemporary than we’ve previously seen from it.
There’s still a certain amount of its trademark mumbo-jumbo to wade through, but what Totem really is about is production impact and bang for the buck, and it certainly delivers on both.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Music: Tim Minchin with Lucky Oceans, family and friends (★★★★)

Sonic Sessions
Fremantle Town Hall
August 6, 2015

Outside the Fremantle Town Hall last night, a friend said that, 20 years on, she’d be able to boast that she’d been at this gig by Tim Minchin.
That may be a little overemphatic, but it’s easy to see where she was coming from. The chance to see a genuine phenomenon (and there’s no doubt that’s what Minchin is), surrounded by his family and close friends, talking and performing his way through his lucky life and gilded career for a rapt hometown audience of 500, was something very special.
Especially so when he was coaxed through that story, and accompanied on his songs, by the wonderful Lucky Oceans, whose pedal-steel playing was downright celestial.
This was especially so on Charlie Rich’s gospel anthem, Feel Like Going Home, one of a sprinkling of covers including a bluegrass version of Muddy Waters’ Got My Mojo Working and the Stones’ Shine a Light that got the old hall rocking.
Indeed, it felt at times like a Sunday session at Clancy’s, Minchin’s uncles’ famous pub just up the road, where the young Minchin pulled beers and listened to Oceans and another uncle, the legendary Jim Fisher.
Uncle Jim was there, on guitar and mandolin, as was his cousin Tom, who played bass and contributed bullroarer vocals on Shine a Light, and Minchin’s long-time drummer, Ben Vanderwall.
Minchin’s brother Dan and sister Nell played and sang, and old friend Karl Wendt joined him on Tim’s powerful early break-up ballad, At Least I Tried.
The stories, of Tim’s childhood vicissitudes, the family pianola on which he learnt his trademark breakneck blues scales, were touching, happy, sad and revealing. Growing up as an artist, working at the Blue Room, Barking Gecko and, a sad irony, the Perth Theatre Company (note to George Brandis: international success and excellence in the arts don’t just happen; they are nurtured and seasoned by small companies in little theatres).
Put together, it was a window into the Minchin provenance, a combination of influences and opportunities that make him the ultimate jack of all trades and master of them all – or, as he put it, allow him to “make people think I’m smarter than I am – and it’s fucking worked!”
It sure has.

This review appeared in The West Australian 8.8.15

Here are a couple of the songs from the show, recorded (on a shaky camcorder) at an earlier get-together at the Sydney Opera House.

Shine a Light, with Tim and Cousin Tom:

and Harbour Lights, with Tim and Uncle Jim;

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Theatre: Blithe Spirit (★★★)

By Noel Coward
Black Swan State Theatre Company
Directed by Jeffrey Jay Fowler
Set and costumes designed by Bryan Woltjen
Lighting designed by Jon Buswell
Sound designer and composer Ash Gibson Greig
With Adam Booth, Adriane Daff, Michelle Fornasier, Ella Hetherington, Michael Loney, Alison van Reeken and Jo Morris

Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre
Until 9 August

It’s hard to imagine a less opportune time to premiere a drawing room comedy about a shallow, self-absorbed chap and the dueling ghosts of his temperamental wives than the middle of 1941. 

Human nature being the resilient creature it is, though, Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit was a smash hit. It repeated its success on Broadway and on film, and remains one of those always-on-somewhere-in-the-world perennial hits.O
On opening night, by and large, the strong cast seemed uncomfortable and halting. Much of this must have been due to the late withdrawal through illness of Roz Hammond, who was to play Madame Arcati.  Her replacement, the impeccable Alison van Reeken, read from a script with skill and performed with some bravura, but the inevitable uncertainty this created was palpable.
Of course allowances must be made in such unfortunate circumstances, and it’s unwise to make hasty critical assertions under the circumstances. I’m curious to see whether, once it is bedded back in, this production has all the fluidity and élan it needs to succeed.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Theatre: Songbird (★★★)

By Shakara Walley
Imprint Productions in association with Yirra Yaakin
directed by Ian Wilkes
designed by Patrick Howe
performed by Bethany Cooper, James Taylor and Zac James
Blue Room Theatre
10 - 19 July, 2014
James Taylor, Zac James and Bethany Cooper (pic: Jamie Breen)

 Shakara Walley’s interest is in the personal qualities and attitudes to life, family and friendship her Indigenous characters possess, rather than the particular issues they face as Aboriginal people.  Essentially, they live the same stories as everyone does, and respond in ways that may be influenced, but are not defined, by their Aboriginality.
Walley's approach to indigenous theatre is innovative and impressive. It will be fascinating to watch it progress.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Dance theatre: Gudirr Gudirr (★★★★½)

By Dalisa Pigram
Marrugeku in association with Yirra Yaakin
Directed and choreographed by Koen Augustijnen
Performed and choreographed by Dalisa Pigram
Singer and songwriter Stephen Pigram
Designed by Vernon Ah Kee
STC Studio
7 - 9 July, 2015

This extraordinary solo performance by Broome artist Dalisa Pigram, working with a creative team from Australia, Belgium and The Netherlands, is an example of the powerful synthesis of tens of thousands of years of continuous cultural endeavour with the skills and confidence of contemporary indigenous performing art.
The result is a mighty hour of high concept performance; dance, circus, martial arts, comedy, cultural and social witness combined.
What a shame that this wonderful West Australian work only comes to Perth two years after it premiered, and just for three performances. I sincerely hope it will be back again, and for longer, so more of us can appreciate its beauty and power.

Go to the complete review in The West Australian

Theatre: Storm Boy (★★★★½)

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 Otis Pavlovic (alternating with Kai Lewins), Jimi Bani, Julian Garner, Anthony Mayor and Phil Dean Walford
Heath Ledger Theatre
Until July 11

Barking Gecko and the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Colin Thiele’s Storm Boy, the much-loved children’s story that has been sensitively and economically adapted for the stage by Tom Holliday, makes a short but welcome return to the Heath Ledger Theatre for the first week of the school holidays.
It features an entirely new cast from the original 2013 production, but its strengths and virtues are entirely intact.
This production is a final encore for Barking Gecko’s former artistic director John Sheedy. There’s no doubt about the legacy of creativity and ambition he’s left to our exceptional theatre company for young people.

I reviewed Storm Boy in its first Perth season in 2013, and this review of its return season inevitably contains some self-plagiarism! Link here for the complete version of this review, and here for the original 2013 review, both in The West Australian. 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Theatre: Jesus No Ordinary Life (★★½)

Written and directed by Damon Lockwood
Featuring Andrea Gibbs, Brendan Hanson, Nick Pages-Oliver, Sean Walsh, Shane Adamczak and Talei Howell-Price
Designed by Cherie Hewson
Blue Room Theatre
Until July 4

The release of Monty Python’s Life of Brian in 1979 drew howls of outrage and demonstrations outside cinemas from religious groups accusing it of blasphemy and worse.
I doubt that we’ll be seeing earnest people with crucifixes and placards picketing the Blue Room season of Damon Lockwood’s Jesus: No Ordinary Life (even though it’s much more scurrilous than Brian ever was).
Which is a pity, because it would be a diverting way to start a night at the theatre – and it means I’ll have to do the complaining for them.
It’s not that this Jesus offends my wafer-thin religious sensitivities; I just struggle to see what it achieves. 
Towards the end, Lockwood has a character say: “Reviewers, make of this what you will.” That, I’m afraid, is leading with your chin.

Go to the complete review in The West Australian 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Fracture (★★★) and How We Ruined MacArthur's Markers (★½)

Two debutante teams of producers are strutting their stuff in short seasons on Perth stages this week. 

by Lucy Clements
Directed by Joe Lui
Designed by Patrick Howe
Featuring Salacia Briggs, Paul Grabovac, James Marzec and Mikala Westall
Blue Room Theatre
Until June 27

Lucy Clements and Harriet Roberts are stepping out from their final year at WAAPA with Clement’s psychological drama Fractured. They’ve done their due diligence and delivered a tight, crafty script in a perfect venue, realised by the established talent they’ve engaged, including the director Joe Lui and designer Patrick Howe.
The script has some infelicities, and could do with some more effective relief from the pervasive gloom, but Fracture is a strong beginning for Clements and Roberts.

How We Ruined MacArthur’s Markers
By Thomas Owen and Cal Silberstein
Music by Jackson Griggs
Directed by Thomas Owen
Performed by Ben Thomas, James Cohen, Amy Fortnum, Olivia Everett, Sven Ironside and Madeline Crofts
Subiaco Arts Centre
Until June 27

While Fracture looks forward to its creators’ future, Thomas Owen, Cal Silberstein and Jackson Griggs’ How We Ruined MacArthur’s Markers looks back to their days in UWA’s University Dramatic Society, where a version of it was produced last year. 
Some of the young cast do well (Madeline Croft’s dipsomaniac company lawyer and Sven Ironside’s love struck accountant had good nights), but MacArthur’s Markers gave us little indication of the potential of either its creators or performers.

Go to both reviews in The West Australian

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Theatre: The Luck of the Irish

Megan Wilding and Seamus Quinn
Yesterday was the 112th anniversary of the summer’ afternoon James Joyce and Nora Barnacle stepped out together in Dublin, later immortalized as the day in which he set Ulysses. It has been celebrated as Bloomsday for over nine decades, in homage to the book, its author and the joys of alcohol.
The Irish Club staged its 26th (and, some report, last) Bloomsday last night, with performances by the illustrious and indefatigable Colm O’Doherty, his lovely daughter Damien, and other luminaries.
As the luck of the Irish would have it, there’s been a lot of it around this week; from the saga of Fionn Mac Cumhaill and the Fianna in Finn O’Branagain and Scott Sandwich’s illuminating, poetic The Epic at the Blue Room to Taryn Ryan’s show-stopping Ireland in WAAPA’s smashing Legally Blonde at the Regal (both reviewed here).
But they were mere tastes; for the whole stew, it’s off to WAAPA and, where else, the Irish Club.