Saturday, December 17, 2016

Cabaret: A Very Merry Christmas (★★★★)

John O’Hara, Gillian Cosgriff and Andrew Kroenert
Downstairs at the Maj
15 – 17 December 2016

On Thursday, America’s Santa Claus-elect, Donald Trump, declared that “we are going to say Merry Christmas again!”
Sadly, he couldn’t make it Downstairs at the Maj that night (although a man who looked alarmingly like his vice-president did), but he would have approved mightily.
As if inspired by The Donald’s pronouncement, John O’Hara, Gillian Cosgriff and Andrew Kroenert give the festive season a ticker tape parade in A Very Merry Christmas, and it’s a winning display of their talents and chutzpah.
Kicking off with It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas – first as is, then given a “Perthmas” reboot – the trio gambol through everything Yuletide, from the sacred (The First Noel, Silent Night, a genuinely stirring O Holy Night) to the profane (Santa Baby, My Simple Christmas Wish), but most of the material is straight out of the Great American Christmas Song Book  – I’ll Be Home for Christmas, All I Want for Christmas is You, Let it Snow, The Little Drummer Boy, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and a tricked-up sing-along to 12 Days of Christmas (seven months of Netflix, six Crossfit sessions, five nut allergies…).
We know these songs; they’re a huge part of First World Fantasyland, secure behind its white picket fences and gathered around the presents and the ham. Maybe they are a mirage and a hoax – often a cruel one – but in these hands they are sweet, tasty and irresistible.
Trussed up in a suit of indescribable colour, tall, bald, and just a touch cracked, O’Hara is a generous ringmaster, and a grand performer. Cosgriff (who’ll be back soon with a new show for Fringe) is immaculate, charming and slyly capable of delivering showstoppers without seeming to lift a finger. Kroenert is the dabbest of hands on piano – Cosgriff tinkles as well – and guitar and adds plenty of vocal heft as well.
Taken separately, they’re a treat. Together, they’re a banquet.  
Could they have done more? Would, say, Tim Minchin’s White Wine in the Sun or the Pogues’ Fairytale of New York have added some flavour and bite to the sugary feast?
Perhaps – but why quibble? For one sweet hour O’Hara, Cosgriff and Kroenert wrap us up an early Christmas present with the prettiest bow.

And – this time at least – Donald Trump has hit the nail on the head.

This review appeared in The West Australian 17.12.16 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Theatre: Signifying Nothing (★★★★)

Written and directed by Greg Fleet
Designed by Joe Lui
Performed by Nicola Bartlett and Greg Fleet
with Luke Hewett, Roz Hammond, Matt Dyktnski, Sarah McNeill, Russya Connor, Summer Williams, Katie Keady and Matt Penny
Blue Room Theatre
Until December 3

Paul and Lanie Macbeth (Greg Fleet and Nicol Bartlett) are a power couple of big fish in the very small pond of WA politics. She’s a lawyer, he’s the new Member for Cannington and a Man Who Would Be King.
Which doesn’t bode well for Premier Byron Duncan, or even the Macbeth’s good mate James Banquo (the terrific Luke Hewitt).
But while Fleet  may be a celebrated stand-up comedian, he’s no fool. He’s adroitly dodged the traps lying in wait for this production; it’s not a contemporary adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and neither is it a parody of WA politics.
I’ve no doubt that there’ll be people who find Signifying Nothing far from their liking, but, for me, it’s another highlight in a Blue Room season that’s had a bundle of them.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Theatre: Tissue (★★★★)

Devised and directed by Samantha Maclean and Timothy Green
Performed by Ann-Marie Biagioni, Elijah Melvin and Taryn Ryan
Blue Room Theatre
Until November 26
(l-r) Taryn Ryan, Ann-Marie Biagioni and Elijah Melvin
Twenty minutes or so into Samantha Maclean and Timothy Green’s slick, erotically-charged Tissue, I stopped taking reviewer’s notes. My last scribble, a not particularly perceptive “Oh Boy! Wowee!”, was testament to both the sheer quantity of its action, and the dazzling way it had been delivered.
The story is as contemporary as the last time you Googled, but as old as time. Zoe (Taryn Ryan) and Alex (Elijah Melvin) meet in one of those modern on-line ways, and Tissue tells the arc of their love affair, through attraction, affection, compulsion and addiction. It’s pornographic, onanistic and obsessive, love measured in hits, clicks and comments, but its mutant beauty is something Sophocles and Euripides would understand.

Read the complete review in The West Australian 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Tartuffe (★★★★)

by Moliere
adapted by Justin Fleming
Black Swan State Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre Company
Directed by Kate Cherry
Designed by Richard Roberts
Lighting designer David Murray
Sound designer Tony Brumpton
With Jenny Davis, Darren Gilshenan, Tessa Lind, Hugh Parker, James Sweeny, Steve Turner, Alison van Reeken, Emily Weir and Alex Williams

Heath Ledger Theatre
Until November 6
En garde! Emily Weir and Steve Turner
We’re in a ritzy two-story house in an affluent Australian suburb (an eminently liveable set by Richard Roberts). There’s a party going on.
It’s Moliere’s Tartuffe, but the house, the people in it, and the language they use, are straight out of David Williamson.
Justin Fleming’s adaptation of the great French comedy of extremely bad manners doesn’t tamper with the characters and their station in life, or the arrangement of the text.
That takes a little getting used to. Rhyming couplets, of which the dialogue in Moliere and Fleming’s adaptation is composed, can seem to our unaccustomed ears like pantomime doggerel.
But the director Kate Cherry and her cast take on the audience’s early qualms with heedless confidence, and it pays off.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Gutenberg! The Musical! (★★★★)

by Scott Brown and Anthony King
Directed by Erin Hutchinson
Musical director Joshua James Webb
Performed by Andrew Baker and Tyler Jacob Jones
Hellenic Club, Stirling St, Perth
Until November 5

Holland Street Productions are the tiny Perth theatre company that can. Their hits include the 2014 Perth Fringe winner Point & Shoot that went on to collect gongs at the Sydney and Brighton fringes, this year’s rambunctious Dr Felicity Rickshaw’s Celebrity Sex Party and the wonderful café confessional, Fuck Decaf.
Which makes their decision, despite the in-house writing heft of Tyler Jacob Jones and Robert Woods, to take on a decade-old Off-Broadway pocket musical especially interesting.
It doesn’t take long to see why they did it. Gutenberg! The Musical! is a sleek, high-octane vehicle, and Jones and Andrew Baker keep their pedal to the metal for all its 85 minutes (plus a 20-minute recuperative interval that the audience needs as much as the performers).
Bud and Guy, two less-than-gifted writers, pitch their idea for a musical about, of all things, the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg. Finding little information about Gutenberg on Google, they resort to a historical fiction (“fiction that’s true”) set in the happy but horribly filthy German town of Schlimer, inhabited by characters like his straw-blonde, half-witted assistant Helvetica and the Satan-worshipping Monk (both his name and profession).
As Bud and Guy are pitching in their street clothes, they identify the characters by putting on caps with titles like Drunk Man, Beef Fat Trimmer, Anti-Semite (a recurring gag), Rat and Whore on them. There are lots of caps – at one time they are pegged to a clothesline to form a Chorus Line – and they are swapped in a dizzying whirl of action.
Meanwhile, Bud and Guy use and misuse every convention of musical theatre – the happy opener, the rocking first act closer, the romantic ballad – in a series of adorably ridiculous songs (Joshua James Webb’s keyboard accompaniment is elite) as we thunder towards the inevitable happy ending.
If I’ve got an issue with the show, it’s only that it’s almost too fast, too jam-packed. Much as I enjoyed it – and that was very much – I was a little relieved when it was over.
That small discombobulation aside, Gutenberg! The Musical! is another winner from this great little troupe. I wouldn’t miss it for quids.

This review appeared in The West Australian 29. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Theatre: Frankenstein: Some Assembly Required (★★★)

Jessica Moyle
Feet First Collective
Directed by Teresa Izzard
Designed by Olivia Faraone and Olivia Tartaglia
Sound design George Ashcroft
Lighting design Dana Ioppolo
Performed by Zoe Hollyoak, Andrew David Sutherland, Haydon Wilson, Declan Brown, Bubble Maynard and Jessica Moyle
Moores Building Fremantle
Until November 5

The story of the scientist Victor Frankenstein and his Creature have been so imbedded in, and distorted by, popular culture that it’s hard to recall where it all began, in Mary Shelley gothic novel published almost two centuries ago.
There are no Herman Munsters or Frank N. Furters in the Feet First Collective’s take on the story, a genuine and often successful attempt to capture the spirit, if not the detail, of Shelley’s story.
There’s much to admire and enjoy in the approach the creator/director Teresa Izzard took to its telling. Its fragmented, immersive presentation, with the audience moving between the brooding spaces of the Moores Building while snippets of the story whirl around it, is ambitious and striking. Some of its tableaux, particularly the awakening of the Creature and the creation of a female companion for it, deliver an almost physical shock.
By and large the cast respond well to the challenges of the text and approach; Victor (Andrew David Sutherland) and the Creature (Haydon Wilson) perform a horrifying pas de deux as they descend to their fates, and the attendants/ female creatures Mary (Bubble Maynard) and the ill-fated Justine (Jessica Moyle) are delicate and frenzied in turn.
Zoe Hollyoak is less convincing as Frankenstein’s bride Elizabeth. Hollyoak is a unpredictable, high-energy actor, but this too-fragmented role didn’t play to her strengths. The empathy you should feel for the innocent Elizabeth doomed by her husband’s insane ambition is never given a chance to emerge.
Which is indicative of the show’s problem. Short scenes in different rooms means lots of clambering around and jostling for position, often for scraps of dialogue and action that hardly seemed worth the effort.
I know it was challenging, and imagine it was satisfying, to deliver the production in this way (and let me put on record that I have no problem at all with promenade theatre), but the audience is the purpose of theatre, not a mere witness to its progress.
A little less shuffling and a bit more card play would have made this undoubtedly impressive production much more satisfying.      

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Theatre: [PORTO] (★★★★)

Joe Lui and Alicia Osyka
by Kate Benson
Directed by Lisa Louttit
Designed by Sara Chirichilli
Lighting designer Karen Cook
Sound designer Joe Lui
Performed by Joe Lui, Alicia Osyka, James Marzec, Taryn Ryan, Nick Pages-Oliver and Tristan McInnes
Blue Room Theatre
Until November 5

Porto (Alicia Osyka) spends this evening, as she does most others, in the local Brooklyn bar where she is routinely fed, watered, teased and propped up by the bartender, Doug (James Marzec) and the waiter Raphael (Nick Pages-Oliver). Another regular, Dry Sac (Taryn Ryan), “the hottest woman you’ve ever laid eyes on”, slinks in wearing a dress made of what seems to be paint. (There are very specific character descriptions and stage directions in the American playwright Kate Benson’s text – more on that shortly.)
There’s the usual banter between people who know – though perhaps not well, and are comfortable with, one another. There’s food talk, booze talk, the faintly conspiratorial tone of American bars since prohibition; if the cops burst in, blackjack tables and drinks would disappear and Dry Sac would flutter her eyelashes as though butter wouldn’t melt – although, in her case, at least, it would sizzle.  
Into this cosy mix comes Hennepin (Tristan McInnes), “some version of a Hot Guy”, with a copy of the extravagantly-mourned David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest under his arm.  He stirs the joint, and especially Porto, up a bit. Some things happen, but nothing much more than you’d expect over the course of a boozy few days in and around a bar. Certainly, there’s nothing justifies a plot summary, or a spoiler alert, from me.
This narrative inconsequentiality means Benson can throw everything she’s got at the characters and their milieu, which she does with great erudition and bravado. [PORTO] gallops along, casting theatrical daring and cultural references from its hooves like broken turf.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Theatre: The Beat Generation (★★★½)

Devised and directed by Andrew Lewis 
Devised and performed by WAAPA 3rd Year acting students
Fremantle Arts Centre
12 – 16 October, 2016

Rory O'Keefe and Guiseppe Rotondella come to grips
Theatre is always on the move, and WAAPA, our estimable academy of performing arts, moves with it. A mirrored and glittering spiegeltents now stands in the Mt Lawley campus to train future fringe stars. WAAPA students strike out to iconic locations around town for site-specific and promenade performances.
This is good for their training, and it’s very good for us. Unshackled by the limitations of cast and crew size and the counting of beans, and with boundless talent and energy at their disposal, their public shows, taken together, are the most adventurous, diverse and exciting offered by any of our theatre companies (if we can call WAAPA that).
No-one else here could even dream of mounting The Beat Generation, a rambling, multiform exploration of that tiny movement of hedonistic, hierarchical and highly talented poets, novelists and provocateurs in New York and San Francisco in the 1940s and ‘50s.

Theatre: Tank (★★★)

Chaos Ensemble
Written and directed by Daley King
Designed by Sara Chirichilli
Lighting designer Scott McArdle
Performed by Nick Maclaine, Izzy McDonald, Geordie Crawley and Tristan McInnes
Blue Room Theatre
Until October 29

I’m not exactly allergic to allegory, but it is uncomfortable being in the same room as it. Especially if that room is a theatre.
And when, as per Tank’s publicity, “Three fish swim peacefully in an aquarium. When a fourth fish is introduced into the tank, their status quo is confronted and life begins to take a turn for the worse”, I can feel a rash coming on.
It continues: “The temperature rises, food is scarce, and a fight for survival begins. Primitive instincts are brought to the fore as the world they know collapses around them”. Uh oh – allegory AND dystopia. Someone pass the adrenaline.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Awesome Festival 2016

Once again, the Awesome Festival lived up to its promise of  wonderful enlightenment for their Bright Young Things. These were just some of its highlights:

New Owner (★★★★)
The Last Great Hunt
Created and Performed by Tim Watts and Arielle Gray
Set construction and gadgets by Anthony Watt
Puppet design and construction Chloe Flockart
Music by Rachael Dease
PICA Performance Space
1 – 16 October, 2016

Tim Watts and Arielle Gray, the co-creators and performers of New Owner, are heartstring-tweakers of the first order. Their previous collaborations, The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer and It’s Dark Outside, play to rapt audiences around the world, and this will follow in their footsteps.
New Owner sits perfectly in the timeless tradition of storytelling for children, and the child in all of us.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Big Bad Wolf (★★★★)
By Matthew Whittet
Directed by Rosemary Myers
Designed by Jonathon Oxlade
Sound Design by Harry Covill
Lighting design by Chris Petridis
Preformed by Patrick Graham, Emma J Hawkins and Ellen Steele
Heath Ledger Theatre
Until 8 October

As you’d expect, times have changed around here since the famously gruesome episode involving Granny, Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf.
These days there’s a Wolf Alarm System in place, operated by the village’s resident serial over-achiever – and Little Red Riding’s descendant – Heidi Hood (Emma J Hawkins), to keep the current Big Bad Wolf (Patrick Graham) at bay.
Only trouble is, Heidi gets few thanks, and makes no friends, for all her good works. The BBW also finds it hard to make any when everyone and everything assumes he’s eying them up for a one-way dinner date.

Read the complete review in The West Australian.

The Bookbinder (★★★★½)
Written and designed by Ralph McCubbin Howell and Hannah Smith
Trick of The Light
Directed by Hannah Smith
Music by Tane Upjohn Beatson
Performed by Ralph McCubbin Howell
State Library Theatrette

Inside a magic book, a boy goes on a journey to right a wrong, save himself and, perhaps, a world.
It’s a tale told, in all its variety, from the earliest fairy tales to today’s multiplex family magnets, but rarely with the charm, wit and inventiveness of this tiny gem from New Zealand’s Trick of the Light.

Read my review from the 2015 Fringe Festival in The West Australian 

A Mano (By Hand) (★★★½)
El Patio Teatro
Devised, constructed and performed by Julian Saenz-Lopez and Izaskun Fernandez
AGWA Theatrette
Until 8 October

We have no more supple, subtle and sensitive tool than our hands. With theirs, the Spanish artists and performers Julian Saenz-Lopez and Izaskun Fernandez make faces and bodies, tell stories and create emotions in front of our eyes, all from lumps of clay.
The story they tell in A Mano (By Hand) is shrewd, funny, touching but unsentimental, and sad.

Read the complete review in The West Australian.

Sunny Ray and the Magnificent Moon (★★★)

Arena Theatre Company
Written and performed by Clare Bartholomew and Dan Tobias
The West Australian Barn
Until 10 October

When we dumb adults go down in the woods of children’s theatre, we better not go alone. We need guides who really know their stuff.
For me, at the Awesome Festival, it’s Harper, who’s sharp as a tack and young enough to be my grand-daughter (she is).
Overgrown-ups’ main problem, of course, is that we don’t get that fart and poo jokes are the funniest things in the universe. But one of the other traps we can fall into is a consequence of the cultural literacy and sophistication of so much children’s theatre these days. We get to expect shows to deliver as if they were written and performed for us as well as them. But, as Harper shows me, they don’t HAVE to be.
This story – the Sun wants to stay up late and party all night with the Moon and Stars, but they hide whenever she appears, is cute enough, and Bartholomew and Tobias are both energetic and unselfconscious performers. But I’m starting to fidget.
But what would I know? Harper writes all her star ratings in my Awesome programme, and she’s a pretty hard marker (although she did break the rules and gave the fantabulous Madame Lark 5½ stars). Three stars, she wrote. Good fun, well done, she said.
And, in that case, so say all of us.  

Read the complete review in The West Australian.

And I can't let Awesome go without mentioning Christine Johnson, the fabulous Madame Lark. She held kids spellbound with her saw-playing, bird-calling, shape-warbling and head-vocalising, and left the gob-smacked adults in her audience hoping to find out where the after-party was. Incredible!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Cabaret: Cole ★★★½

by Anna Goldsworthy
Songs by Cole Porter
Performed by Michael Griffiths
Downstairs at the Maj
29 Sept – 1 Oct, 2016

Michael Griffiths is a frequent visitor to the Perth Fringe and the cabaret season Downstairs at the Maj. The 1999 WAAPA graduate has been partying like it’s that year ever since, with long stints in Jersey Boys, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Shout!, We Will Rock You! and a string of highly successful one-man character shows under his belt.
This short season of his latest, Cole, is already sold out, testament to the loyal audience he has built up here.
Cole deserves its success. Griffiths is on very firm ground with the story and music of Cole Porter, much more so than he was in his Annie Lennox tribute, Sweet Dreams, where his interpretations, though fine enough, paled against her peerless original performances.
Cole Porter presents Griffiths with no such problems; though he was a crafty performer of his wonderful tunes, it’s the songs, not the singer, we are in awe of.
And so we should be. From Anything Goes to Night and Day, Griffiths takes us through the luxurious tangle of Porter’s ridiculously elegant, swelligant songbook; De-lovely, Paris in the Springtime, Let’s Fall in Love, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, What is This Thing Called Love?, Let’s Misbehave, a terrific Miss Otis Regrets, You’re the Top, Love for Sale and a great little sing-along to Another Opening of Another Show. (I list them all to demonstrate the enormous bang for your buck Porter and Griffiths deliver here).
There’s no attempt to shoe-horn the material into a chronology, and that’s a good thing. Griffiths as Porter sits at his piano and chats to us, in that strange, trans-Atlantic accent he concocted, about his charmed life, his understanding, loyal wife Linda, their wealth and profligacy, his homosexuality and the horse-riding accident in 1937 that left him crippled and in pain for the rest of his life.
What the show’s writer, Anna Goldsworthy, and Griffiths really give us, though, is a convincing study of a phenomenally intelligent boy in a bubble, perhaps the most culturally aware songwriter ever (or until Randy Newman at least), who could turn everything around him into a smile, a laugh or, even, a snigger (Porter delicately tip-toed through the minefield of the Hays Code in the ‘30s), while living a life the ordinary people who loved his work could hardly even dream of in those troubled times. Or these.

Why have I put Why here? Because I can, and you deserve it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Theatre: Is This Thing On? (★★★★)

By Zoe Coombs Marr
Directed by Zoe Pepper
Featuring Nicola Bartlett, Daisy Coyle, Andrea Gibbs, Samantha Maclean and Giulia Petrocchi
Blue Room Theatre
Until October 8

Andrea Gibbs (pic: Daniel James Grant)
Shakespeare famously identified seven ages of man in As You Like It, and the Sydney writer and comedian Zoe Coombs Marr has performed a similar dissection on the trajectory of the stand-up comic here.
The play’s mechanics are audacious, and skilfully managed by its director Zoe Pepper; five actors all play a comedian, Brianna (named, she claims, after the Fleetwood Mac song – it’s a running gag), from her first tentative stand at 16 (Daisy Coyle) to all-but-redundancy at 60 (Nicola Bartlett). Along the way we see her juggling bar work, uni studies and her fledgling act at 22 (Samantha Maclean), dealing with adult life at 27 (Giulia Petrocchi) and, fully fledged, struggling with it all at 35 (Andrea Gibbs).
Since her auspicious arrival as a dramatic actor in 2014, Gibbs has delivered an unbroken string of notable performances. None more so than this; her Brianna is genuinely horrible and achingly sympathetic. It’s a remarkable characterisation.
We may laugh with this person – Is This Thing On? has plenty of gags for that – but this unusual and effective play admonishes us not to laugh at her. 

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Cabaret: Tribute (★★★)

Written and performed by Ruth Wilkin
Downstairs at the Maj
22 – 24 September

Audiences want more, and performers need to give it to them. So it’s unsurprising that the stock-standard cabaret tribute show has been re-invented by artists who see its potential as a launch pad for something more complex, nuanced and satisfying.
We’ve seen that potential realised recently in a couple of shows in the cabaret room downstairs at the Maj; the writer Izaak Lim (with others) and director Michael Loney, after delivering attractive bio-tributes of Cole Porter and Dorothy Field, took the songs of Harold Arlen and fashioned them into Fancy Meeting You, an original romantic comedy musical, while John O’Hara and his writer/director collaborator Anthony Harkin’s Dedication used a suite of songs to drive the internal monologue of a late-night schmaltz jock.
Both shows became greater than the sum of their parts, and great successes, while more traditional tribute shows– there’s no need to name them, even though some of them are very well performed by very talented artists – increasingly seem less than the sum of theirs.
Ruth Wilkin has taken things a very long step further. 

She’s also devised a bio-tribute, only, in Tribute, she’s invented the star whose story she tells and whose hits she sings.

Theatre: Ghost Stories (★★½)

Richard Moss checks things out
By Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson
Prince Moo Productions
Director Peter J Snee and Jennifer Sarah Dean
Designer Jaz Wikson
Lighting designer Mat Cox
Featuring Stuart Brennan, Richard Moss, Matthew Connell, Brian Markey
Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre
Until October 12

To say that I scare easily is an understatement. I saw Disney’s Sleeping Beauty when I was around six and still haven’t fully recovered, just about dislocated a hip convulsively jerking my legs out of harm’s way during Jaws, and was a tiny bit frightened last week by The Sound of Music.
So, if the publicity was to be believed, I should have been stretchered out of Ghost Stories at the Heath Ledger Theatre.
But I’m afraid I wasn’t. Not even close.
Ghost Stories has been a popular success in the UK and elsewhere – it claims a total audience of over half a million – so maybe the “don’t tell anyone” request is cleverer than it seems.
Because this might be one occasion where lack of word of mouth is the best marketing strategy.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Monday, September 19, 2016

Musical: THE SOUND OF MUSIC (★★★★)

Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse
Presented by Andrew Lloyd Webber, David Ian, John Frost and The Really Useful Group
Directed by Jeremy Sams
Designed by Robert Jones
Music direction by Peter Casey
Choreography by Arlene Phillips
Burswood Theatre
Until October 9

In April 1965, The Sound of Music movie opened in Brisbane, where I was 11 and at boarding school, and the whole city swooned.
There was pandemonium. One woman saw it 100 times. We all got special boarder’s leave to see it.
All this for a Swiss cheesy, Vienna chocolate box of a musical, as anachronistic as lederhosen?
But nobody cared then, and I doubt anyone does now. The Sound of Music is both an “icky sticky” failure (as one critic described it) and a triumph. You can love it and laugh at it, all at once.
It belongs to its audience alone; all there is to judge is the justice each production does it.
And this one delivers in spades.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Theatre: Grounded (★★★★½)

Written by George Brant
Directed by Emily McLean
Sound designer and composer Brett Smith
Lighting designer Karen Cook
Performed by Alison van Reeken
Blue Room Theatre
Until October 1


“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”
Robert Oppenheimer (from the Bagavad Gita) 

When Oppenheimer, in the high New Mexico desert, pondered the destructive power of his atomic bomb, it was its enormity and existential threat that gave him pause.
No such qualms stay the hand of the wielders of military drones, those precise, invisible predators that increasingly are the weapon of choice of the world’s militaries.
It’s easy to see why. Bloodless (to their possessors) and politically expedient, they turn warfare into images on screens, and death into the ultimate gamer abstraction.
But there are people operating the drones, and, in George Brant’s hard, cold Grounded, we meet one. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that one confronts us. The Pilot (she has no name) was an F-16 fighter jock. Her world was The Blue, W.B. Yeats’s “lonely impulse of delight”.
When it is taken from her and she’s assigned to the “Chair Force”, sitting in a hut at an air force base in another high desert an hour out of Las Vegas, staring at screen images from 1.2 seconds ago on the other side of the world, her blue world turns to grey.
As she monitors her screen, and rains death on figures scuttling around in the desert, her moral compass and her sense of self become harder and harder to grasp.
Until another reality forces her to reach back for them.
Alison van Reeken is the very best of our actors, and she’s extraordinary here. Hair tied back tight, face taut and unmade, sinewy in her pilot’s jumpsuit, her performance (85 minutes, delivered at the gallop) is uncompromising, technically flawless and emotionally convincing.
Her pilot is frightening and frightened, normal and abnormal in equal measure.
The director, Emily McLean, doesn’t have all the technical bells and whistles at the Blue Room that the celebrated Julie Taymor had to play with in the Broadway production of Grounded, so she and her lighting designer Karen Cook focus us entirely on van Reeken, and it’s to powerful, chilling effect.
The only distractions from Grounded’s tension are the songs on The Pilot’s car stereo.
Maybe one day she will crank up her AC/DC, her Guns ‘N’ Roses and Springsteen real loud, and drive. Away, up past Las Vegas, up past Los Alamos, and off into The Blue.
Tickets to Grounded will be hard to get. Don’t miss it.

An edited version of this review appeared in The West Australian 16.9.16.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Theatre: TILT 2016 (★★★)

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

These two short seasons are the second annual showcase of WAAPA’s Performance Making course’s graduating class at the Blue Room Theatre.
Performance making is the most DIY of artistic pursuits. These artists are the small business people of the theatre, responsible for everything from devising and writing to the technical and performance delivery of the work.
It’s a daunting environment where, if you want something done, you’ll more than likely have to do it yourself.
The 23 young artists in TILT are launching into a rock-strewn stream that leads to the spiegeltents of the fringes and the black boxes of indie theatre venues like the Blue Room. Bon voyage.
Promise abounded in both programmes, and one piece, Where the Giant Fell, is already all but ready for market. I’m confident, like The Mars Project and The Remedy/What’s Love Got to do With It?, both also original product from WAAPA’s teeming shipyards, it will be setting sail for the spiegeltents and black boxes very soon. 

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The 2016 Turnstile Awards

Corey Bernardi reacts when he thought someone told him he was hosting the 2016 Turnbull Awards

This year’s Turnstile Awards reflect a year when the output of WA theatre was solid rather than spectacular.
In some respects, it was a good year; it was professional, well curated, earnest and worthy.
But while a night out at the theatre in Perth was a good, reliable entertainment option, there was a lack of local productions that truly thrilled, inspired, transported and provoked.
The Turnstile Awards acknowledge outstanding WA produced (or co-produced) stage shows opening in Perth between September and August each year. They are inclusive, rather than proscriptive, when it comes to eligibility.
There is no set number of Turnstile winners, and no attempt to rank them in order of merit. The Turnstiles are a pat on the back, not the prize in a competition.
In 2015/16 there were 59 “eligible” productions (a couple fewer than last year) reviewed in either or both The West Australian and this blog. Apologies to those I missed.
Thirty-two of them were shows I happily and heartily recommended (meaning a star rating of 3.5 or more); that’s a sizeable majority of the field, and vastly outnumbers the five I thought you were wise to avoid (two stars or fewer).
But there’s no getting around it: this year produced the fewest Turnstile Awards since they began in 2011, and by some margin.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Theatre: Clinton the Musical (★★★)

by Paul and Michael Hodge
Black Swan State Theatre Company
Directed by Adam Mitchell
Musical director David Young
Choreographer Claudia Alessi
Designed by Bruce McKiven
Lighting designer Mark Howett
Sound designer Ben Collins
With Lisa Adam, Simon Burke, Matt Dyktynski, Brendan Hanson, Luke Hewitt, Megan Kozak and Clare Moore
Music performed by David Young, Jonathan Fernandes, Andrew Weir and Michael Perkins

Heath Ledger Theatre
Until September 11

The first thing that strikes you about Clinton the Musical is Bruce McKiven’s set, a spectacular bandstand in the shape of the rotunda of the United States Capitol. It should be set up permanently at Elizabeth Quay.
The show’s other ingenious device is having two actors (Simon Burke and Matt Dyktynski) playing Bill Clinton, bringing both sides of his character to life; The Big Dog and the Silver Fox, the president and the player, William Jefferson and “You Can Call Me Billy, Darling” Clinton.
The story is played rather like a series of Saturday Night Live sketches, and it’s effectively handled by director Adam Mitchell and his cast.
The music, though, is no more than adequate, especially for a main stage production. A couple of its showstoppers don’t, and some of the ensemble pieces expose the patchy vocal strength of the cast.
Two performances really got the audience up and about, though; Brendan Hanson’s wicked A Starr is Born shows that he’s got more showbiz chops than a butcher’s shop (and some nice rump as well), and Megan Kozak’s coyly-titled Monica’s Song has a hook line that is as unforgettable as it is unrepeatable here.
When Hanson and Kozak are strutting their stuff, it’s easy to forget Clinton the Musical’s drawbacks. The two of them alone are just about worth the price of your ticket.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Now I'm getting the feeling the tide of opinion is against me here; could I have been a bit grumpy the night I hung with the Clintons? On the evidence of Will Yeoman's review in Limelight read it here, maybe so…

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Musical theatre: The Beautiful Game (★★½)

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Book and lyrics by Ben Elton
Director and choreographer Meryl Tankard
Musical director David King
Set and costume designer Sallyanne Facer
Performed by WAAPA 3rd Year Music Theatre students
Roundhouse Theatre, WAAPA
August 20 – 27, 2016

The Beautiful Game is a musical about the lives of the players in a Catholic soccer team, and their friends, during the deadliest period of The Troubles in Northern Ireland.
In 2000, when Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton premiered the work, no one could be sure that Ireland’s sectarian violence had finally ended. Lloyd Webber has compared The Beautiful Game to South Pacific, which premiered only four years after WWII and was controversial for the issues it raised so close to the events on which it was based.
At the time, The Beautiful Game must have seemed just as topical and confronting.
Unfortunately, that’s the only real similarity between the two musicals. For all its sincerity and earnestness, The Beautiful Game feels like a rushed side project for two successful and very busy writers.
Meryl Tankard, who choreographed The Beautiful Game’s original West End season, returns to it as director. Her participation, supported by the Jackman Furness Foundation, is one of the visits to WAAPA by internationally recognised creative artists that undoubtedly enrich its students’ learning.
On this occasion – unusually for WAAPA – the same isn’t entirely true of the audience’s experience.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Theatre: A Tale of Two Cities (★★½)

By Charles Dickens
Adapted by Terence Rattigan and John Gielgud
Directed by Hugh Hodgart
Set and costume design by Chris Kydd Brain
Performed by WAAPA 3rd Year acting students
Geoff Gibbs Theatre, WAAPA
19-25 August, 2016

From “It was the best of times” to “It is a far, far better thing”, Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities burned into the mythos of generations of misty-eyed boys and girls. Sydney Carton’s martyrdom stood alongside Captain Oates’s walk and the Spartans’ last stand as paragons of noble sacrifice and grace in the shadow of death.
Terence Rattigan and John Gielgud wrote their stage adaptation in 1935 but, for a charmingly generous reason, it stayed in the cupboard for 78 years.
This production by WAAPA’s graduating acting course students, then, is one of its rare outings. To be honest, it quickly becomes apparent why so few producers have felt compelled to give it an airing.
And perhaps, after a year that’s brought us a muscular Coriolanus and a mighty A View From the Bridge (to say nothing of the music student’s absolutely fabulous Drowsy Chaperone), it’s almost a relief to find that, unlike Lucie Manette, WAAPA isn’t perfect!

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Theatre: I Do I Don’t (★★★)

Written and performed by Whitney Richards
Directed by Rachel Chant
Sound designer and composer Brett Smith
Lighting designer Joe Lui
Choreographer Claire Nichols
Blue Room Theatre
Until September 3

I’m a Whitney Richards fan.
She’s back in town with I Do I Don’t, an honest, often painful, recollection of her early life and fractured family.
It’s clear that there have been some rocky times for her over the past few years in the bigger ponds she’s been swimming in, and this has sparked a desire – compulsion even – to reconstruct the past that she finds in scraps of memory, the casual documents of life, and conversations with family members. 

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Theatre: Othello (★★★½)

By William Shakespeare
Bell Shakespeare
Director Peter Evans
Designer Michael Hankin
Lighting designer Paul Jackson
Composer/ sound designer Steve Toulmin
Featuring Ray Chong Nee, Yalin Ozucelik, Elizabeth Nabben, James Lugton, Michael Wahr, Edmund Lemnke-Hogan, Joanna Downing, Alice Keohavong and Huw McKinnon

Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre
Until August 20

Donald Trump may boast, “I am what I am”, but Shakespeare’s irreplaceable villain will have none of it.
Iago (Yalin Ozucelik) warns us, in the first minutes of his play, “I am not what I am”, and tells us much more besides; his hatred of his brilliant general, Othello (Ray Chong Nee), the reason for it, and his lethal intention.
We’ve barely opened this whodunnit, and we already know its who, why and how. The many surprises that follow arise from Iago’s sheer audacity.
He is an improviser and a tightrope walker. He sets action in motion and exploits whatever emerges to his best advantage.
And, ironically, it’s the one thing he plans in advance that brings him undone.

This Othello may not quite reach the heights of last year’s dazzling Hamlet, but it’s another reason for us to be grateful to Bell Shakespeare for bringing us fine productions of some of the greatest works of the world’s theatre. 

Read the complete review in The West Australian  

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Theatre: The Trembling Giant (★★★)

Those Who Love You
Written and directed by Monty Sallur
Performed by Zoe Street and Peter Lane Townsend
Blue Room Theatre
Until August 27

Monty Sallur tells the grim, interesting story of two renegade survivors of ecological disaster hiding from a brutal governing corporation and nurturing what we gather is one of the very last remaining trees.
Every day Flint (Peter Lane Townsend) takes the risky trip from their grey bedrock bunker to search for naturals – the rare rich soil left on the surface – to feed the tree while Margo (Zoe Street) stays behind to tend to it.
Sallur (who also directs) gives us a convincing, though quickly sketched, picture of a barren world where the remnant population live in cities of heaped-up one-room cubes, and stony storms rumble across overwhelming desolations.
Despite my concern that so much of our best new writing centres on dystopia and apocalypse (perhaps, as one of the generation who have exploited the world like none before, I shouldn’t be surprised that those who are going to inherit whatever is left should be bleak about the future), The Trembling Giant is a worthy addition to the repertoire of independent theatre in WA.

Read the complete review in The West Australian 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Theatre: The Caucasian Chalk Circle (★★★★)

by Bertolt Brecht
translated by Ralph Manheim
Black Swan State Theatre Company and The National Theatre of China
Directed by Dr Wang Xiaoying
Designed by Richard Roberts
Costume Designer Zhao Yan
Mask designer Prof Zhang Huaxiang
Lighting design by Mark Howett
Composer/sound designer Clint Bracknell
With Caitlin Beresford-Ord, Adam Booth, Kylie Farmer, Luke Hewitt, Geoff Kelso, Alex Malone, Felicity McKay, Lynette Narkle, Kenneth Ransom, James Sweeny, Steve Turner and Alison Van Reeken
Music performed by Clint Bracknell and Arunachala

Heath Ledger Theatre
Until August 14

The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Bertolt Brecht’s 1944 parable of tyranny and the “terrible temptation to do good”, is based on an ancient Chinese folk story dramatized eight centuries ago as The Circle of Chalk.
The fulcrum of the story, though, is told in many forms in many cultures dating back as far as the legend of the judgment of Solomon.
So there’s a fine sense of closing another circle in this cooperative production of a German play set in the USSR, translated by an American, staged by an eminent Chinese director with a creative team from both China and Australia, performed by an Australian cast, with a deliberate and significant contribution from the inheritors of a living culture with stories that date back tens of thousands of years.
It’s an ambitious culmination of the tenure of Black Swan’s departing artistic director Kate Cherry and the signature piece of the company’s 25th anniversary season.
Happily, the result is a clear and persuasive staging of Brecht’s tale, and a rollicking entertainment to boot.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Monday, July 11, 2016

Theatre: Hobo (★★★)

By James Taylor
Jeffrey the Cat Productions
Directed by Ian Wilkes
Designed by Chris Brain
Performed by Maitland Schnaars, James Hagan and James Taylor
Blue Room Theatre
Until July 16

In James Taylor’s Hobo, a perfect storm of evils collides at the dead end of an alley. Among the excrement and urine, vermin and bottles of plonk, the homeless and destitute eke out a volatile and vulnerable half-life.

Hobo maintains an impressive authenticity, especially in its portrayal of chronic drunkenness and mental confusion.
However, the play is uneven in both its text and staging.
Part of the issue is in performance. James Hagan is a wonderful and imposing actor but his presence here, the sheer volume of him, is just too much for this play in this small space.
He needs to dial down so that Hobo can be heard and understood with the clarity it warrants.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Wednesday, July 6, 2016


by Nathaniel Moncrieff
Black Swan Lab
Directed by Stuart Halusz
Set design Frances Danckert
Costume design Lynn Ferguson
Sound design Brett Smith

Lighting design Joe Lui
With Adriane Daff, Rebecca Davis, Luke Hewett, Greg McNeill and Igor Sas

STC Studio until July 17

Luke Hewitt and Rebecca Davis
 The sad true story of Julia Pastrana, a Mexican Indian woman who was a sideshow attraction in the mid-19th Century, has been made into a sumptuous, generally successful but not especially remarkable, stage play by the writer Nathaniel Moncrieff, the director Stuart Halusz and the Black Swan Lab, the development project of the State Theatre Company.
Pastrana was the archetypal bearded lady, due to a cruel congenital condition that led its sufferers to be promoted as ape men and bear women.
The challenge of bringing Pastrana to the stage is deftly and sympathetically achieved by not representing her deformities. Adriane Daff, in a fine and touching performance, gives a sympathetic portrait of a wounded woman without the prurient distraction of her condition.
Luke Hewitt’s Theodore Lent is also convincing. The play is as much a picaresque exploration of the complete moral failure of a man as it is the tragedy of his victim.

Rebecca Davis threatens to run away with the show as Lent’s mistress, the acrobatic Marian Trumbull. The remarkably lengthy Davis makes it easy to see how she would be a hit in the ring or between Lent’s sheets, and she brings desperate power to her characterization.
The show is beautifully staged. Joe Lui moodily and imaginatively lights Frances Danckert’s revolving set and Lynn Ferguson’s rich costumes, and Brett Smith’s sound design and original compositions add greatly to its atmosphere and appeal.
Despite all those advantages, A Perfect Specimen ultimately lacks dramatic ambition. The narrative is determinedly linear, never truly taking us inside its characters or off its rails.
That does, of course, make this strange tale clear and easy to follow, but that comes at the expense of greater opportunities it could have taken, and deeper insights it could have found.

Read the complete review in The West Australian   

Friday, July 1, 2016

Theatre: Coincidences at the End of Time (★★★)

Written and directed by Scott McArdle
Second Chance Theatre
Designed by Sara Chirichilli
With Nick Maclaine and Arielle Gray
Subiaco Arts Centre
Until July 2

By the time Scott McArdle’s Coincidences at the End of Time gets under way, things have come to a decidedly un-pretty pass. Outside the beat up café Peter (Nick Maclaine) has holed up in, whopping great fire-breathing lizards are barbecuing whole neighbourhoods and a flesh-eating mist is gurgitating the survivors.
The waitress has been reduced to a smear of ash on the wall, while Peter has either had some pretty lucky escapes from the general misfortune or he’s disastrously bad at opening the café’s fiddly tomato sauce sachets.
For those of us familiar with the fashion for dystopia and apocalypse that infects our indie playwrights, the tea leaves are easy to read.
Of course – it’s a rom-com!