Friday, December 28, 2018

The 2018 Turnstile Awards

Very early yesterday morning, a secretive yet glittering ceremony hosted by WA Meistersinger David Templeman was held inside the deserted Legislative Assembly chamber to announce the recipients of the 2018 Turnstile Awards.
David Templeman, Mark McGowan and Ben Wyatt belt out Tame Impala's
"Apocalypse Dream" at the 2018 Turnstiles
Templeman was joined by WA premier Mark McGowan and state treasurer Ben Wyatt in a visceral medley of dystopian tunes (Eve of Destruction a standout) curated by Jeffrey Jay Fowler, prior to revealing the eleven shows that had won a prestigious Turnstile. They were:

What Doesn’t Kill You (Blah Blah) Stronger. The writer, comic actor and singer Tyler Jacob Jones may be the most prodigious talent in this town. His long-standing partnership with the composer Robert Woods and the versatile performer and director Erin Hutchinson has honed their skills to starry heights, no more so than in this precision-crafted, utterly hilarious little musical.
You Know We belong Together. There is wonderful warmth about Julia Hales and her co-performers, all of whom have Down Syndrome. It enveloped the audience, creating a shared, joyous experience of the rarest kind in theatre as these lovely and loving people tell us their stories. Some of them are deeply moving; others are funny, sexy and sad.
The Summer of the 17th Doll. This production marked a highpoint in the career of the talented director Adam Mitchell. The first major play in the Australian idiom concerned with authentically Australian lives, it’s also arguably our best. Kelton Pell plays Roo without race or colour, but with magnificent emotional and physical power.
The Events. David Greig’s The Events, which was motivated by Anders Breivik’s rampage in Norway in 2011, is dark, fascinating and theatrically ambitious. Catherine McClements, gave a compelling performance, and a different community choir performed in each performance as a cogent reminder of lives lived and lost in the terrible “events” we have become so used to.
Hiro. This is an extraordinary story, and a true one, about a man swept out to sea by the 2011 Fukushima tsunami, but to make it compelling theatre requires dramatic vision and technical expertise. It’s creator and director Samantha Chester, her co-creators and performers Humphrey Bower and Kylie Maree, and her creative team, provided just that, and in spades.
The Tale of Tales. A small, brilliant gem of storytelling, and a breakout achievement for its deviser and performer, Clare Testoni. She used the fairy tales of Giambattista Basile as a jumping off point for a wider and deeper story of four generations of her own family, the rise of Fascism in Italy and the resistance to it, the flight of many Italians to Australia  and their fate here. It was an honest show, and a heartfelt one; as one of its characters says: “a story left untold is destined to repeat itself.”
Court My Crotch. The writer and director James McMillan’s play is wild, savage, and the most memorable production of the Blue Room’s 2018 seasons. Its action was as fast, furious, sweaty and grunty as any Grand Slam final, and took a wide-ranging look at sport, society and sexuality of surprising accuracy and topicality. The show moved so fast and so far that its flaws were trampled underfoot.
In the Next Room – The Vibrator Play. The American playwright Sarah Ruhl delivers a witty, playful peek into domesticity and its pitfalls, the role of women in marriage and society, and quite a bit more besides. The result is a wildly entertaining and intelligent piece of popular theatre. Another Turnstile for Jeffrey Jay Fowler, the director, who accurately assessed Ruhl’s play for what it is; a modern take on Restoration Comedy, almost a bedroom – well consulting room – farce, highlighted by career performances from Rebecca Davis and Jo Morris
Fever. This collaboration by Andrew Bovell, Christos Tsiolkas, Patricia Cornelius and Melissa Reeves dates from 2002. It’s not the first time this quartet of playwrights’ work has been performed by WAAPA’s Aboriginal Performance students; what was new was this production’s complete lack of specific Aboriginality; the students, and their director Rachael Maza, ask us to come to their work on its own merits, with no concessions or schema. What was exciting was how terrifically they succeeded, and how, in so doing, they brought a major and intensely relevant Australian work to a new audience.
Frankie’s. The best bars are real-life impromptu stories. The characters in their dramas walk in without a script, and they are as varied and various as all humanity. The actors and musicians Libby Klysz’s Variegated Productions gathered to people Frankie’s were, perhaps uniquely, fit for purpose. The night I dropped in (the cast and characters change nightly), Turnstile-magnet Shane Adamczak and Sam Longley were bartenders, the combustible Tegan Mulvany was the resident barfly, and Chris Bedding, an oversize man with a great talent of presence, was her lost love. It’s a great achievement that a cast could concoct such material out of thin air.

A little piece of housekeeping:  up until now the Turnstile Awards have gone from September 1 to August 31 each year. That now seems an awkward construct, so I’ve converted to the calendar year. Which means to tidy things up, a stand-alone, late 2017, Turnstile goes to:
Let the Right One In. A whopping Heath Ledger Theatre debut for Black Swan’s new artistic director Clare Watson, the vampire romantic thriller splendidly executed and highlighted by a tough, sexy and needy performance by Sophia Forrest, impressively supported by Ian Michael.

I started these little awards back in 2010/11 when I became the theatre reviewer for The West Australian and have continued them through the eight years during which I’ve been privileged to see, and delighted to acknowledge, some wonderful West Australian theatre.
The awards acknowledge outstanding WA produced (or co-produced) stage shows opening in Perth each year. Eligibility is inclusive, rather than proscriptive. There are no set number of Turnstile winners each year, and no attempt to rank them in order of merit. The Turnstiles are a pat on the back, not a competition.
As it’s now apparent (although no-one has actually taken me into a little room and delivered the coup de gras) that The West, to the extent that it covers the arts at all, will do so “in house”, it’s a good time to look back on those shows that have won Turnstiles up to now. I’m sure its a list that will bring as much pleasure to those who saw these terrific pieces as they gave to me when I did.
So indulge me for a while as I remember the Turnstile Award winners since 2010:

Krakour. Deckchair Theatre’s production of Reg Cribb’s engaging hagiography of the football wizards, directed by Marcelle Schmitz and starring Jimi Bani and Sean Dow as Jim and Phil;
The Deep Blue Sea. Terence Rattigan’s ‘50s tragedy, stylishly directed by Michael McCall for Onward Production, with a stellar performance by Alison Van Reeken;
Waltzing the Wilarra. Yirra Yaakin’s irresistible 2011 PIAF hit, written and composed by David Milroy and directed by Wesley Enoch;
The Ugly One. Marius Von Mayenberg’s literate and adventurous play, directed by Melissa Cantwell for the Perth Theatre Company;
Die Winterreise. Matthew Lutton’s engrossing and unsettling theatrical extrapolation for ThinIce of Franz Schubert’s song cycle, with striking performances by Paul Capsis and George Shevtsov;
Laryngectomy. Renegade Production’s ferocious and courageous lament at the Blue Room, written by Joe Lui (who also directed) in collaboration with the riveting performer Demelza Rogers;
Crazy For You. WAAPA 2nd and 3rd year music theatre student’s ebullient and potential-crammed revival of the Gershwins' hit at the Regal;
Scent Tales. A perfectly miraculous parable of knowledge and love, directed by Joanne Foley for Little y Theatre, with a transfixing performance by Georgia King;
Red. Onward Production’s second Turnstile, for Lawrie Cullen-Tait’s auspicious main stage directorial debut with John Logan’s mighty seat-filler, starring James Hagan as Mark Rothko;
Tender Napalm. Perth Theatre Company again, for the brutal and vivid play by the prodigious Philip Ridley, directed by Melissa Cantwell and starring Joshua Brennan and Anna Houston;
Adam and Eve. A smashing, laugh-out-loud modern take on The Fall, ,directed by Moya Thomas at the Blue Room, with terrific, inventive performances, especially by St John Cowcher and Alicia Osyka in a Laurel and Hardy-like comic pairing;
The Damned. Reg Cribb’s unlovely, memorable play for Black Swan, firmly directed by Andrew Lewis with gripping performances by Amanda Woodhams, Claire Lovering and, especially, Sage Douglas.
Who’s Afraid of the Working Class. An imposing, ultimately heartbreaking play, beautifully and proudly performed by WAAPA Aboriginal Theatre students directed by Rick Brayford.
Atishoo. A wonderful, fevered dreamscape by DNA, written for kids under six by Rachel Riggs and Adam Bennett, who also performed alongside the beguiling Anna Marie Biagioni.   
Blackbird. Perth Theatre Company’s unsettling, exciting production, written by David Harrower and directed by Melissa Cantwell, with fine performances by Humphrey Bower and Anna Houston.
National Interest. Black Swan’s complete and satisfying production, written and directed by Aiden Fennessy, with the outstanding Julia Blake and a fine supporting cast.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. WAAPA’s music theatre students’ exuberant production of Frank Loesser’s snappy musical at the Regal.
It’s Dark Outside. A rare triumph of theatrical ingenuity in the service of human compassion; Tim Watts, Arielle Gray and Chris Isaacs’s wonderful production for the Perth Theatre Company.
On the Misconception of Oedipus. Perth Theatre Company’s brilliantly conceived and executed, high gloss, play directed by Matthew Lutton with Natasha Herbert, Daniel Schlusser and Richard Pyros as modern manifestations of the infamous Sophoclean triangle.
Boy Gets Girl. A tense, menacing staging of  Rebecca Gilman’s stalker thriller directed by Adam Mitchell for Black Swan, with great performances by Alison van Reeken and the genuinely creepy Myles Pollard, and a superb and, at one point, shocking set design by Fiona Bruce. 
Eve. A stand-out performance in any year from Margi Brown Ash in at the Blue Room, the sad story of the largely forgotten writer Eve Langley, written by Ash, Daniel Evans and Leah Mercer, who also directed.
The Motherfucker With the Hat. Stephen Adly Guirgis’s joyfully erudite New York drama, directed by Adam Mitchell with a mighty performance by Rhoda Lopez and a scene-stealing one by Fayssal Bazzi.  
Duck, Death and the Tulip. Barking Gecko’s delicate, good humoured, story for kids about death, directed by John Sheedy with exemplary performances by George Shevtsov and the irresistible Ella Hetherington.
Minnie and Mona. The Duck House production of Jeffrey Jay Fowler's funny, fierce and sad play, firmly controlled by director Kathryn Osborne and fearlessly performed by Arielle Gray and Gita Bezard.
Hamlet. John Sheedy and Barking Gecko in partnership with WAAPA to deliver a fresh, energized staging of The Play, with a passionate, sexy performance by James Sweeny in The Part and a brilliant sound design by James Luscombe.
Other Desert Cities. Black Swan’s production of John Robin Baitz’s sparkling story of familial and political disintegration, immaculately directed by Kate Cherry and designed by Christina Smith, with stellar performances by Janet Andrewartha and Conrad Coleby.
Hedda. Marthe Snorresdotter Rovic brought authenticity and magnetism to her seamless, electric adaptation of the Ibsen classic, directed by co-adaptor Renato Fabretti with a cast including her fellow Norwegian Tone Skaardal and the charismatic, intelligent Phil Miolin.
Storm Boy. Barking Gecko’s handsome co-production, with the Sydney Theatre Company, of Colin Thiele’s much-loved novel, was another step forward for our most exciting and ambitious main-stage theatre company.
Trampoline. The first of an unprecedented single-year Turnstiles trifecta by the outrageously talented writer and actor Shane Adamczak, the bouncy romcom at the Blue Room, directed by Damon Lockwood also starred Amanda Woodhams and the very funny Ben Russell.
Midsummer (A Play with Songs). The most and best laughs of anything Black Swan staged that year, thanks to Georgina Gayler and Brendan Hansen’s performances, Damon Lockwood’s direction and David Greig's often hilarious screw-tightening script.
DIVA. The writer and performer Tiffany Barton and director Helen Doig collaborated to tell the story of a fading opera singer with pungency, tempestuousness and ultimate humanity.
Vicious Circles.  Adamczak again, this time incredible as Johnny Rotten in Ben Kalman’s sad, brilliantly performed story of the last days of Sid and Nancy, co-produced by WA’s Weeping Spoon and Canada’s Stadium Tour for the Blue Room’s Summer Nights season at PICA. 
F*@k Decaf. Pop-up theatre at its best; Tyler Jacob Jones’s café society comedy, sharply directed by Scott Corbett with star turns by Amanda Watson and Ann-Marie Biagioni, at the Mary Street Café on Beaufort St.
Eight Gigabytes of Hardcore Pornography. Declan Greene’s dark comedy may not live up to its name, but it has plenty of hard drive. Perth comedian Andrea Gibbs delivered a performance to be proud of.
Jasper Jones. Kate Mulvany’s savvy adaptation of Craig Silvey’s wonderful book was another faultless step on John Sheedy’s mission to grow Barking Gecko from a children’s theatre to one for young people of all ages.  
This is Not a Love Song. The stand up comedian Greg Fleet’s impressive debut as a playwright was a sure-fire singalong hit at the Blue Room, and more besides. Fleet performs, as does director Tegan Mulvany and, you guessed it, Shane Adamczak.
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. was 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 have seen on the Perth stage.
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, combining tens of thousands of years of continuous cultural endeavour with the skills and confidence of contemporary indigenous performing art.
The Mars Project. The 3rd year acting class at WAAPA shone in Will O’Mahoney’s intricate, coherent and moving rumination on ambition, autism and the lure of the ultimate.
The Drowsy Chaperone. WAAPA’s 3rd Year Music Theatre students kicked up a storm in this utterly hilarious, marvellously generous and strangely neglected little musical about nothing other than what makes a musical tick.
Hart. Wonderfully controlled and white hot with anger, Ian Michael wove the stories of four indigenous men (himself included) into a rich, entertaining and deeply moving tapestry of the terrible events of the Stolen Generation. 
The Astronaut. The performer Samantha Chester and her director Frances Barbe created something mysterious and ineffably sad between dance and drama that used the minimalist space of the Blue Room as effectively and imaginatively as anything I’ve seen there.  
Grounded. Alison van Reeken, the very best of our actors, was taut and sinewy as the fighter pilot cum drone operator in George Brant’s horrifyingly real journey into bloodless, abstract, modern warfare.
The One. The arc of a love affair told as a blues by the white-hot writer Jeffrey Jay Fowler, and Georgia King and Mark Storen, who both gave career-best performances.
The Lighthouse Girl. Hellie Turner overcame the intractable untheatricality of fact to fashion a touching and very real love story in the shadow of war and death, highlighted by an outstanding rookie performance as the girl from Daisy Coyle.
End Game. The pedigrees of the play, the director Andrew Ross, the designer and lighting designer Tyler Hill and Mark Howlett and a fine cast were impeccable, and they delivered Beckett’s bleak vision with wonderful clarity and control. 
The Irresistible. A singular, wholly-realised theatre experience by the writer and director Zoe Pepper and the performer/collaborators Tim Watts and the ferocious, highly-charged Adriane Daff,
Good Little Soldier. Ochre Dance Theatre’s Mark Howlett took his text about the scars of war and, working with a talented team of deviser/performers, broke it down into a cross-disciplinary performance that, miraculously, was even greater than the sum of its parts. 
The View from the Penthouse. WAAPA Performance Making students Isaac Diamond, Cam Pollock and the genuinely terrifying Sam Hayes concocted a brilliant, noxious cocktail of carnality and addiction.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Theatre: Stay With Us

The Last Great Hunt
Created by Arielle Gray, Chris Isaacs and Tim Watts
Directed by Arielle Gray
Body sculpture by Tarryn Gill
Devised and performed by Gita Bezard, Jo Morris and Clare Testoni
Stage management by Emily Stokoe and Zachary Sheridan
Riverview Hotel
Until 8 December

When Marcel Duchamp declared that it is the viewer who completes a work of art, he may have had something like the The Last Great Hunt’s tasty exercise in bed-hopping, Stay With Us, presently occupying three rooms in the Riverview Hotel in Mount Street, in mind.
While each of the short tableaux that make up the work might have worked in front of a disengaged audience, it’s our participation – immersion more properly – in them that gives them their hook, and their dramatic power.
There’s little need be said about the plot of each piece, other than they relate back to the show’s title (as, of course, does the idea of us spending an evening with the Hunters in a hotel).
In the first, a woman named Alana (Jo Morris, the only actor to appear in any of the stories) is grieving the death of her twin sister Zoe when strange things begin happening in her hotel room.
In another room, medical staff gather around the body of an elderly woman (a sculpture by the artist Tarryn Gill) while the objects that make her and her life up are revealed.
In the final piece, children in their jimjams clutch teddy bears and listen to a goodnight story (illustrated by Tim Watts and Clare Testoni) that takes them to the stars and beyond.
It’s the how, not the what, though, that delivers these little stories.
There’s no denying the artistry of the work: JoMo’s (Sorry Jo, that’s irresistible) performance, seen up close without make-up or theatrical costuming, is as wrenching and electric as we have come to expect from this fine actor; Gill’s old lady is an abstraction, but captures beautifully (and quite touchingly for those who have seen their parents in death) the sunken calm of the deceased; and, best of all, Watts and Testoni’s projected images, starting small and squiggly, build into a powerful and vast panorama of the galaxies and the forces within them.
What’s most impressive is how we are wrangled into our part in proceedings. We travel in groups of eight from the Riverview’s lobby to the three rooms, guided by a bellhop (in our case Gita Bezard; other groups were led by Chris Isaacs and Watts) who costumes and arranges us, and wordlessly instructs us in our participation.
I can only imagine this duck’s legs are kicking ferociously beneath the placid surface as the stage manager Emily Stokoe and her assistant Zachary Sheridan restore the wreckage of each scene ready for the next audience’s incursion.
The director Arielle Gray, along with Watts and Isaacs, created the whole catastrophe and keeps a sure hand on a very tricky tiller throughout.
It’s marvellous to see the Hunters in action (of them only Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Adriane Daff, who were no doubt furiously busy elsewhere, are absent), and their disparate talents, seen together, gives them a collective charisma different from, if not greater than, the sum of its parts.
They’ve added judiciously to their talent pool with Gill, Morris, Testoni and even the effervescently ubiquitous Scott McArdle – who will be the concierge at my next hotel – front of house.
I believe their upcoming Perth Festival debut, Le Nor, will be the first time all six have performed in one show - this will be another stride forward for this world-class ensemble. 
We’re lucky to call them our own.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Theatre: Medusa

Renegade Productions and Bow and Dagger
Written by Finn O’Branagáin
Directed and sound design by Joe Lui
Set and costume design by Ish Marrington
Lighting design by Kristie Smith
AV design by Clare Testoni
Performed by Moana Lutton, Jacinta Larcombe, Jess Moyle, Mani Mae Gomes, Michelle Aitken, Andrew Sutherland and Sandy McKendrick
Blue Room Theatre
Until 3 November

The greatest compliment you can pay Medusa – or, certainly, the one its writer Finn O’Branagáin and director Joe Lui would most appreciate, I suspect – is that it is “splitting people”.
That’s at least what a friend texted me as I donned running shoes and easy-to-wash clothes for 75 minutes of self-proclaimed uncomfortable (you get to stand through the performance), loud and messy theatre.
My friend meant that people were either loving or hating it – I’m firmly in the latter camp – but, perhaps unconsciously, she expressed a deeper truth about the show; it splits you.
Its physical discomfort is paralleled by a psychic one; the action, a raging female blood-haka, is a sensory assault; Lui’s choreography and Clare Testoni’s audio visual work, while tight as a drum, are disconcertingly out of synch; the actors, semi-naked, daubed in paint and blood, are pungent and self-aware, the noise, woman-made or recorded, is percussive and intrusive.
Medusa is quite deliberately, a sensory overload.
O’Branagáin, Lui and Testoni are all fascinated by mythology, and their body of work is shot through with it. Medusa, the snake-haired Gorgon monster of Greek mythology whose gaze turned men to stone is an almost inevitable metaphor of female oppression and rage for them.
She represents the quintessence of woman-as-monstrous and woman-as-deadly, the touchstone of misogyny and revulsion, the physical and psychological anathema to the orderly patriarchal world view.
Of rape, and murder.
(There were times when I couldn’t help thinking of Tony Abbott and Bronwyn Bishop preening in front of the “Ditch the Bitch” caricature of Julia Gillard – it’s a wonder they didn’t put snakes in her hair.)
The ensemble of young women (Moana Lutton, Jacinta Larcombe, Jess Moyle, Mani Mae Gomes and Michelle Aitken), one androgynous man (Andrew Sutherland), and an older, homeless woman (Sandy McKendrick) beat on drums, floors and punching bags, chant, rage about the stage while Testoni’s images charge around them.
It’s a remorseless and exciting barrage, often seemingly formless and without narrative, but its messages get into your head like drumbeats.
Especially effective is the interplay between McKendrick’s monologues, filmed live from an adjoining room (you can wander over to watch her “live”) by Sutherland and projected scratchily and unstable on the walls of Ish Marrington’s scribbled set.
When McKendrick enters the main room, perched on a gopher like a dilapidated queen, wounded by life and defiant to the end, while the names of victims of the Medusa-myth flash up around her, the purpose of this ramshackle, rumbustious, divisive piece is delivered, whole and unmistakable.    

Friday, October 26, 2018

Theatre: In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play

by Sarah Ruhl
Black Swan State Theatre Company
Directed by Jeffrey Jay Fowler
Set and costume designer Alicia Clements
Lighting designer Lucy Birkinshaw
Vision designer Mia Holton
Composer and sound designer Ash Gibson Greig
Performed by Rebecca Davis, Stuart Halusz, Kingsley Judd, Tariri Mavondo, Jo Morris, Tom Stokes and Alison van Reeken
Heath Ledger Theatre until November 4
Jo Morris, Stuart Halusz and Rebecca Davis
 There’s A Hit – A Palpable Hit – In The Next Room
It’s an entertaining (if likely apocryphal) historical factoid that the first appliance of the age of electricity was the venerable and handy vibrator; it was certainly in wide use in doctors’ rooms as a copacetic for female hysteria – in other words, to cure that which ails you by the bringing on of orgasm – quite soon after those ACs and DCs started running through Edison’s wires.
The American playwright Sarah Ruhl has bounced off all this with In the Next Room, a witty, playful peek into domesticity and its pitfalls, the role of women in marriage and society, and quite a bit more besides.
Along the way she neatly avoids all of the traps of prurience and earnestness lying in wait for her, and the result is a wildly entertaining and intelligent piece of popular theatre.
It would be anyway, just on the strength of the text, but this production is lifted to its very considerable heights by the skill and talent of its creative team and cast.
Jeffrey Jay Fowler, the director, has accurately assessed Ruhl’s play for what it is; a modern take on Restoration Comedy, almost a bedroom – well consulting room – farce, and he plays it elegantly through the covers. He’s much assisted by his designer Alicia Clements, whose cutaway two-way-mirror set is wholly successful – quite inspired in fact –and allows the action to move from room to room seamlessly and often hilariously. Her costumes, which are removed, replaced and got inside with great regularity, are authentic and sumptuous.
Ash Gibson Greig has composed music that perfectly fits both the play’s acoustic era and electrical subject, and Lucy Birkinshaw’s lighting is subtly effective throughout, even when dealing with the tricky task of switching set lighting on and off like an electric lamp.
A cast this well provisioned, led, dressed and lit has a great opportunity, and they go to town on it. There are terrific supporting turns by Tom Stokes as the ardent but diffidently amorous artist Leo Irving (who gets a different, and squirm-in-the-seat, kind of vibration), Tariro Mavondo as the African-American wet nurse Elizabeth who introduces a suite of issues as relevant today as they were in postbellum America, and Kingsley Judd as the straight-laced but sympathetic husband of one of the patients of the New Machine.
Alison van Reeken, who stepped into the cast at late notice (as she is often asked to do), is glorious (as she always is) as Annie, a Ma Clampett nurse who gets swept up in all this tomfoolery.
The story revolves around the practice of the good doctor Givings, and Stuart Halusz gives a perfectly pitched performance as the medical technocrat oblivious to the torrents and torments of those around him. He’s in pretty good shape, too.
The play belongs to its leading women, and Rebecca Davis, as Catherine Givings, and Jo Morris as her husband’s patient Sabrina Daldry, both give career performances.
Morris is electric (sorry) as Sabrina, and she makes her I’ll-have-what-she’s-having scenes ­– she develops quite a hankering for her little buzzing friend – a tour-de-force.
Davis rarely gets the opportunity to show her range, but she does here, and her ability to slip easily from farce to genuine emotion is the touchstone for the production’s stance, and its success.
There’s much talk around about the sparse opportunities for seasoned professional actors in the current Perth theatre. There are reasons for it, and I don’t intend to argue the whys and wherefores in a review of one show.
This one, though, reminds us that the talent is here, and in spades. You can help by the easy act of seeing it when you get a chance as enjoyable as this is.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Cabaret: #Val: A Glitery Ode to Queer Men and their Mums

John O’Hara
Accompanied by Andrew Kroenert
Downstairs at the Maj
13 – 15 September
John O’Hara. What a guy!
Raised on the Canning Highway Avenue of the Stars (Dave Faulkner at the Manning end, Dave Warner at the Bicton end), O’Hara schooled at Melville Primary and John Curtin College of the Arts, studied at WAAPA and has gone on to star on stage (Cats, Rocky Horror, Wicked, Priscilla) and cabaret, all over the place.
He’s back home, in more ways than one, with #Val: A Glittery Ode to Queer Men and their Mums, the story of his growing up, his coming out and the songs that helped him do both.
Those who’ve seen him on the Maj’s basement stage before, in Dedications (2015) or last year’s A Very Merry Christmas (there were plenty of comebackers in the audience – always a good sign) would have known they were in for a fine time in the company of a dead snappy performer.
I think they’d have also known they were in for more than that – because O’Hara’s cabarets are rare commodity in that glittery world. They are about things.
A fair swag of the songs of #Val are, in a sense, predictable. Gaga’s Born This Way, Scissor Sisters’ Let’s have a Kiki, an all-time gay anthemfest  (I Will survive, Raining Men, Strike A Pose, Dance With Somebody…), George Michael’s Freedom, even the Barbie theme song, Get Your Sparkle On (we did).
But it’s the songs we don’t expect, and the way he gets inside them that we’ve never heard before, that makes O’Hara such a compelling performer. Who’s gunna to do the little tearjerker Baby of Mine from Disney’s Dumbo, Cher’s gun-totin’ Turn Back Time, or, of all things, Farnsy’s You’re the Voice?
But he does, and owns them all big time.
And when everything he’s trying to do and say comes completely together (much credit due here to his accompanist – well they’re a duo, really, Andrew Kroenert), in heartbreaking, revelatory versions of TLC’s Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls and Sia’s Titanium, it’s like you’ve never really known what they’re about until now.
That’s the strength, but also the one weakness, of #Val. The story of a gay boy growing up and into is skin, his relationships (with his fabulous mother, of course, his straight brother, his absent father) is funny, sweet and makes all the points it needs to.
The extrapolation into the history of the LGBIQ struggle way back to the Stonewall Uprising and the death of Marsha P Jackson is understandable and legitimate, but it confuses O’Hara’s narrative and dangles him on the crumbly edge of polemic.
But what the hey. That’s just me. John O’Hara, “Australia’s John O’Hara”, gives as good an hour as you’ll get to spend on this side of the footlights.
Don’t miss #Val. Don’t miss anything he does.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Theatre: The Inconsequential Lives of Little Fish

Created and performed by Frieda Lee and Sam Hayes
Blue Room Theatre
Until 22 September

The sea, the things that swim in it and those who catch them is the world of Frieda Lee’s The Inconsequential Lives of Little Fish. It’s a powerful and cruel world, and Lee’s play is a striking, heart-wrenching response to it.
Her play is shaped like a parable, and within it the horrors of modern quasi-slavery,  and the fragility of life and family are explored.
She tells the story of a little fish (Lee) the wife and the mother of the child of the fisherman who caught him (Sam Hayes).
They are the little fish, and their inconsequential, expendable lives are buffeted by the avaricious, the capricious and the brutal (many of the incidents are drawn from the real-life stories of indentured fishermen in Thailand and other South-East Asian countries).
Lee is both the little fish and the narrator of her story, and she weaves the dual role together effectively. She is an actor of great passion and intelligence, and gives a memorable performance.
Her husband Hayes plays six supporting characters as well as the fisherman, and demonstrates his versatility as well as his power in the performances.
Hayes has the rare gift of being genuinely menacing on stage (as he showed to frightening effect in last year’s A View from the Penthouse, which, incidentally, returns in an extended version with a stripped-down title later in the Blue Room Season).
In Little Fish he also shows his capacity for tenderness and arch comedy.  Hayes is an actor I’d go a long way to see.
The quality of the performances, well supported by Maeli Cherel and Étain Boscato’s set and costumes, Isaac Diamond’s sound and Phoebe Pilcher’s lighting designs, drives the story of Little Fish to its fateful conclusion.
There are some rough patches along the way ­– a diversion involving  a capricious wealthy woman and her boyfriend who take Little Fish in is overlong and meandering, and I felt the show needed more of a sense of the sea to give it mystic and mythic power – but The Inconsequential Lives of Little Fish remained engaging and engrossing theatre.
And the ending is absolutely shameless. You’ll adore him! 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Theatre: TILT 2018

WAAPA  3rd Year Performance Making Students
Blue Room Theatre
Until September 8

(l-r) Zachary Sheridan, Tamara Creasey, Christopher Moro and Elise Wilson in Cookies and Cream
The forays by WAAPA’s Performance Making course’s graduating class to the Blue Room Theatre for the double-head TILT programme have become an annual highlight.
That’s in part for their own sake – eight short pieces over two nights with the freedom, expressiveness and self-indulgence (not always a bad thing) that, maybe, will never come again, will always reveal some delights.
It’s also a window into the future; what these young theatre-makers are interested in, and how they deliver it to audiences, will more than likely be the matter and method of the independent stage in time to come.
There’s a very direct pay-off from that – along with a trap for young players. Some of the best (or, more correctly, more substantial) Tilt bits have quickly gone on to become fully-fledged productions at the Blue Room, albeit with mixed results.
The problem, the challenge anyway, is converting a 25-30 minute piece into the hour or so alternative theatres, fringe festivals and the like trade in.
Sometimes these short shows are exposed as skits when a longer format calls for more character development and a more sustained narrative. Sometimes they leap that tall building with a single bound.
Last year’s showstopper, The View From the Penthouse, is a case in point. It’s slotted to return, with a longer running time and a shorter title – just Penthouse – at the end of next month in the Blue Room.
From what I saw last year, I’d advise you to crawl over broken glass to see it – but that trap is baited and waiting.
So, to this year’s Tilts.
Courtney Henri and Jordan Valenti’s play-within-a-play about street performers, a flying whale and surface tension, Fluke, was deftly managed and sweet, without quite nailing its allegory or compelling our attention.
Evelyn Snook, in her Work in Progress, certainly does. A small, sad portrait of a girl battling depression and inertia (“Sometimes it’s okay if the only thing you do today is breathe”), it’s beautifully written and winningly performed.
The evening’s closer, and its most striking performance, was Girl & Thing, a kinetic, sometimes frightening dance piece devised and performed by the busy Henri and Marshall Stay, who also delivered an impressive video and sound design (with Ash Lazenby). Henri is an extraordinary sight, diminutive, a shock of hair and a frenzy of movement, sometimes defying your senses to keep up with her. I’m tempted to wonder whether Henri and Stay always knew what they were saying in Girl & Thing, but if the language they used to say it was sometimes incomprehensible, the effect was certainly mesmerizing.
I’m cheating. The best was first, not last, but I’ve saved it anyway.
Cookies and Cream (or, as its writer Zachary Sheridan and director Amelia Burke would have it, “however the diddly is done”) is everything you could want in forty minutes of alt-theatre. Smart, screamingly funny, did-she-really-SAY-that-ish, snappy, crackly and poppy, it’s the antidote to whatever ails you.
And, among the terrific cast of Sheridan, Christopher Moro and Tamara Creasey, a star is born in Elise Wilson – anyone who loves the work of The Last Great Hunt’s fabulous Arielle Grey is gong to really love this gal.
Cookies and Cream will be back. You can bet on it.
The second programme (which ends this Saturday 8) may not have a firecracker like Cookies and Cream, but it’s textually more substantial than the first.
The opener, The Painfully True Story of the Show we Couldn’t Make, devised and performed by Noemie Huttner-Koros, Karina White and Snook is a backstage procedural about, as the title suggests, the difficulty – and even the validity – of nice, young, white folk making theatre about people without their privileges. It’s a good and worthy idea, blunted by an overabundance of long, meaningful looks and some lengthy, problematic recorded segments that had plenty of verbatim but not enough theatre.
Dad is Isaac Powell, Jarryd Prain and Stay’s emotional paean to those strange creatures that fathered us. It’s, perhaps, a little repetitive, but it sneaks up on you, building bit by bit to a touching, insightful kind of father-son catharsis – and a pillow fight. It’s performed with energy and commitment and should both extend and tighten up nicely if it goes around again some time. The pillows are inspired.
Clare Testoni has made quite a splash over recent times with her combination of shadow puppetry and fairy tale-telling, and it’s a lode that Chloe-Jean Vincent, co-creator Madeleine McKeown and co-writer Valenti mine effectively in Where the Woodsman Cannot Find You. Working with the fairytales The Big Bad Wolf, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk, Vincent and fellow performers Henri and Stay deliver a multi-media take on the stories, and the head of the girl imagining them, that is tightly-drawn, funny and sometimes genuinely scary.
Who knew the story of Ada – Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace – the only legitimate child of Lord Byron and, some claim, the writer of the first computer programme? Wikipedia, naturally, the writer and director Huttner-Koros, clearly, and now all of us who saw her smarty staged and delightfully composed little bioplay about this extraordinary (Queen) Victorian woman. Played with corseted good grace by McKeowyn, well supported by Snook, Burke, Creasey and White, Ada is another tilt that could easily re-emerge as a fully realized-piece in a Spiegeltent near you sometime soon.