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.