Thursday, February 28, 2019

Theatre: A Ghost in My Suitcase ★★★½

Barking Gecko Theatre
Heath Ledger Theatre until March 3

Perth’s terrific theatre for young people, Barking Gecko, has been a frequent contributor to the Perth Festival, and it’s only fitting that it’s latest production appears in a year that has seen something like ten “Made in WA” productions gather critical acclaim and, even more encouragingly, box office numbers.
A Ghost in My Suitcase deserves both. The story, adapted by Vanessa Bates from the novel by Gabrielle Wang,  of a Chinese/French-Australian girl, Celeste (Alice Keohavong) who returns with her mother’s ashes to the small town of her family and the house of her Por Por – grandmother – Madame Bao (Amanda Mar) in China is entertaining — for both its younger and older audience – and enlightening about the culture and mores of both our countries.
Her adventures, her rivalry and eventual alliance with Ting Ting Shen (Yilin Kong), the great-grand-daughter of the man who ruined her family, is told in a style familiar to lovers of Sino-swashbuckling cinema and the supernatural elements it often contains.
While the narrative falters occasionally, and the climactic battle is a little underwhelming (especially in comparison to what has gone before) and predictable, the story of ghosts, ancient feuds and the triumph of courage is well told, gripping enough and lots of fun. I’ll leave the details for you to discover when you go!
What makes this show is its gorgeous imagery projected onto boxes expertly manoeuvred into position on an otherwise bare stage, the expressive soundscape created by the ubiquitous Rachel Dease and the fine performances by all three cast members.
The cleverly devised, knockabout staging of the show by co-directors Ching Ching Ho and Barking Gecko’s departing AD Matt Edgerton is illuminated by the visual design of media artist Sohan Ariel Hayes, richly coloured and textured, evocative and often remarkably three-dimensional. One scene, as our heroes float through the canals of Zhujiajiao Water Town is as cunningly constructed as it is breathtaking.
Keohavong, Ma and Kong are all excellent, and well supported by Freida Lee and John Shrimpton in the plays minor roles. The lithe, athletic Kong, a dancer by training and previous experience, is especially effective in a performance straight out of the wuxia playbook.
A Ghost in My Suitcase has already gathered many admirers on its journey to the Perth Festival. The short season here will win it many more.   

Friday, February 22, 2019


The Magic Flute ★★½
Komische Oper Berlin and 1927

His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth until Feb 23
This is the first opera I’ve been to. Ever. I’ve always considered it mutton overdressed as lamb.

The motivating reason I’m here is 1927, the innovative British theatre company who co-created this production with the Australian director Barrie Kosky,.
For newcomers to the art of theatrical illusion that 1927 specialise in, the staging of this Magic Flute is undoubtedly novel and exciting.
But once the novelty and excitement wears off, the exercise becomes disjointed, schizophrenic and, surprisingly, a little dated.
(Link here to the complete review)

Wot? No Fish!!  ★★★★

Danny Braverman
STC Studio until Feb 24
The stories of the great ones are carved in stone.
Around them teem millions of people with lives that pass unknown, their stories unnoticed and then forgotten, the evidence of their joys and sorrows, their increase and decrease, the circumstances of their coming and their going reduced to a few dusty lines in government files, a photograph album soon to be discarded or fading from living memory.
Since 1926 when he married his beautiful next-door neighbour Celie, Danny Braverman’s great-uncle, Ab Solomon, had taken home his payslip from the shoe factory where he worked, and given it to his wife with the housekeeping inside and a simple drawing or a painting on the outside.
Braverman tells Ab and Celie’s story in the simplest possible way, projecting a selection of these little doodles on a screen while commentating – and often speculating – about what’s happening in them.
The story of Ab and Celie that Braverman tells with good humour, taste and emotional precision is a window into the world of real people that will survive, in our common humanity, when all the statues have crumbled and there is nothing left of the great ones they memorialise but names.

(Link here to the complete review in Seesaw Magazine)

Lé Nør  ★★★★½
The Last Great Hunt
PICA until Feb 24
Lé Nør is the most ambitious work yet by The Last Great Hunt. It’s also the first time that all six members of the West Australian company have combined their talents as devisers, operators and performers in one production.
The result is awe-inspiring.
Here’s the bare bones: Lé Nør is set on the imagined North-Atlantic island city-state of Sólset (from now on I’m going to dispense with the accents and umlauts; more on them later) that has endured a terrible seven-year drought that has reduced its inhabitants to water-hoarding, water-blackmailing obsessives. When the rains finally come, they keep coming. Before long the little island faces an even more existential threat.

That’s the last you need bother about the plot. It’s the how, not the what, that this thing is about.
It’s a deep dive into a world transformed by the lens of a camera; a stage show that becomes, more completely than anything I can remember, the Grand Illusion, the making of cinema.
It’s a technical achievement, with a personality and charisma, like nothing we’ve seen from a West Australian company.
With Lé Nør the Last Great Hunt have confirmed their individual and collective stardom, and their mastery of their craft. Now it’s time for the real fun to begin.
(Link here to the complete review in Seesaw Magazine)

The Great Tamer  ★★★★½
Dimitris Papaioannou
Heath Ledger Theatre 

Dimitris Papaioannou, best known as the creator of the opening ceremony for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, is by training and inclination a visual artist, and The Great Tamer is most satisfactorily approached as an animated work of art.
This is a world without words, and without narrative. It’s Plato/Socrates’s world of forms, of timeless ideas, of sight and appearance, the original Twilight Zone.
It’s Papaioannou’s playground; it’s where Estragon and Vladimir wait and Lear is exiled. It’s Beckett and Eliot and Shakespeare distilled, first into images and then to thought.
It’s no surprise, and no accident, that Papaioannou’s final image is of a skeleton breaking apart into rubble like a ruined Greek statue. It’s skull rolls off the stage and comes to rest against – a book.
Perhaps waiting, in the marvellous game of The Great Tamer, for a Danish prince to play with.
(Link here to the complete review in Seesaw Magazine)    

Opera: The Magic Flute ★★½

Emanuel Schikaneder and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Komische Oper Berlin and 1927
Directed by Suzanne Andrade and Barrie Kosky
His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth until Feb 23

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. (There are quite a few of them, in fact, but more on that later).
This is the first opera I’ve been to. Ever. I’ve always considered it elitist, wastefully expensive and artistically heavy-handed, despite some gorgeous music. Mutton overdressed as lamb.
But here I am at the Maj (a woman all but next to me confided her ticket had cost more than her flight from Melbourne to see the show), feeling a bit of a fraud. If you want to stop reading now, I completely understand.
But hang on a second. The motivating reason I’m here is my admiration for 1927, the innovative British theatre company (Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, The Animals and the Children took to the Streets, Golem) who co-created this production with the Australian director Barrie Kosky, and they had never seen an opera either when he approached them to collaborate on the project. Didn’t even know what The Magic Flute was.
So I may be a neophyte, but I’m not alone.
For newcomers to the art of theatrical illusion that 1927 specialise in (you only have to look as far as The Great Tamer and Le Nor in this Perth Festival for other examples) the staging of this Magic Flute is undoubtedly novel and exciting.
But it isn’t, and shouldn’t be, an end in itself.
Once the novelty and excitement wear off, once the sight of singers suddenly appearing like climbers clinging to a rock face who suddenly feel the urge to sing loses its impact, the exercise becomes disjointed, schizophrenic and, surprisingly, a little dated.
The pace of Paul Barritt’s brilliant hallucinogenic animations on the opera’s vertical stage is at odds with Mozart’s repetitive score and Emanuel Schikaneder’s plodding, ludicrous libretto. Left with too much time on its hands, even they become tedious.
There is also an overlay of references, from Mozart/Schikaneder’s Masonic rantings, Egyptian and Greek mythology and other baloney to Barritt’s Weimar/silent movie era/Disney (hence the aforementioned Dumbos)/Wizard of Oz/pop-art incursions that ends up being overloaded, messy and confusing.
It also leaves the cast (notably Kim-Lillian Strebel and Adrian Strooper as the Orpheus and Euridyce-like lovers Pamina and Tamino, Tom Erik Lie as the comic Papageno and Aleksandra Olczyk as the Queen of the Night – she of the glass-shattering aria) somewhat sidelined, like kids not picked for a game in their own playground.
In the end, despite some individual images that are genuinely astounding, despite some impressive singing (from Strebel in particular) and some lovely music, the result is less than the sum of its parts.
It left me, untutored newcomer as I am, in a strange state of mind: overwhelmed and underwhelmed at the same time.