Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Physical theatre: WALK

by Bobby Russell

Designed by Opie Robinson

Lighting design by Joe Lui

Sound design by Peter McAvan

Performed by Bobby Russell

Blue Room Theatre

July 14 - 30, 2022

pic: Jed Lyall
 For all its many virtues, the little black box theatre at the Blue Room is not an ideal venue for the spectacular. It’s been achieved before (Humphrey Bower and Tim Green’s Golem in 2020 and Leah Shelton’s Bitch On Heat the year before come to mind) but rarely.

Now along comes Bobby Russell’s WALK, and it absolutely blows conventional wisdom about what can and can’t be done there to smithereens. Russell and their collaborators have created a dark, sumptuous environment of light, sound, vapours and forms that challenge and extend the senses.

While Russell is the only live performer, writhing through a maze of marvelous creations by Opie Robinson, dark fogs and blinding bursts of light, there’s a case that their performance is as much an physical adjunct to a remarkable original composition by Peter McAvan than that McAvan’s music is an accompaniment to Russell’s dance.

Add to that a remarkable lighting design by Joe Lui that, among many striking effects, uses bursts of dazzling light that allow Russell to reset while our pupils recover from the shock.

The cumulative effect of movement, music and light produces a work with a very clear structure within which Russell tells their story.

But what is it, what are these creatures that Russell and Robinson creates, and what narrative purpose do they serve?

A confession: dance is a foreign language to me. I appreciate its skill and beauty in the same way I admire French, or Noongar, or Hindi, but find interpreting what is being said to me as difficult as understanding what I’m being told in those languages.

Having said that, I’m sure Russell is telling their own story, and their metaphor is the process of metamorphosis. Their inner being, their soul, is represented by their unadorned form, close-shaven, non-binary, monochromatic, anonymous – the egg from which they will grow.

The egg’s metamorphosis, to larvae, pupa and adult is represented by its interaction with Opie’s creatures – a gigantic, billowing form, like a mutant caterpillar, and a disintegrating suit of armour, glowing like some burning conquistador – until, finally, the egg becomes adult and finds its personality in drag in shimmering gold lamé and electric wig, beaming as they lip-sync to Kylie and take their bow.

Russell’s story is about the struggle for identity and for freedom in the face of a society that would contain them or swallow them whole. Shot through the spectacle is powerful emotion and an authentic humanity.


Monday, July 4, 2022

Theatre: Pull the Pin

by Rebecca Fingher

Directed by Sian Murphy

Set designer William Gammel

Lighting designer Spencer Herd

Sound composer Jacob Sgorous

Sound designer David Stewart

Performed by Caitlin Beresford-Ord, Hannah Davidson, Tegan Mulvaney, David Stewart and Elisa Williams

Blue Room Theatre

June 17 – July 2, 2022

Tegan Mulvaney lines 'em up (pic: Sophie Minnissale)
 Pull the Pin, Rebecca Fingher’s story of the trials and tribulations of a ten-pin bowling team of women of a certain age, the “Old Hags”, as they graduate from the relaxed comfort of the Social League to the dog-eat-dog Mid-Year Championship has plenty going for it.
The Hags – Jules (Caitlin Beresford-Ord, Donna (Elisa Williams) and the ambitious Ang (Tegan Mulvaney) are all at the time of their lives where action and consequences collide, on and off the alley, and this is fertile territory for Fingher’s sharp, observational script.
Even more so when their move into the big league butts them up against younger, tougher opponents (in life as in bowling) like the teenaged Lake (Hannah Davidson), whose contemptuous pity for her older adversaries is obvious and often very funny.
In a nice touch the women’s story is narrated by an endearing bowling pin (David Stewart, filling in for the COVID-benched Isaac Diamond) that keeps the story rattling along merrily.
The staging is quite an achievement; William Gammel’s bowling lane set has all the right detailing, and the actual bowling, with the balls rumbling off the traverse stage to that singular sound of pin action (Stewart is also sound designer) is terrific use of the space.
It’s a talented cast – Beresford-Ord and Davidson are particularly effective, and they push the boundaries of realistic characterization with well-controlled discipline (a credit to director Sian Murphy).Rather like last year’s Ugly Virgins from Maiden Voyage at the Blue Room, that plays out very similarly in a women’s roller game team, the plot is simple and satisfying enough (it needs no elaboration here), but it’s a little too straightforward to be truly absorbing. I doubt anyone expected a tragic ending, but the setbacks in the story are too easily overcome, and the conflicts, such as they are, too quickly resolved
It’s nice that everything comes good in the end, but it’s a better game if the danger that it might not lour’d larger upon the Old Hag’s house.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Perth International Cabaret Festival: closing weekend

Meow Meow, Gill Hicks and Gala

Perth International Cabaret Festival

His Majesty’s Theatre June 25-26, 2022

Meow Meow

In her Apocalypse Meow, the prima chanteuse Meow Meow describes herself as “a showgirl of gargantuan proportions”.

Never was a truer word spoken, but, as always with Mme Meow, it’s necessary to peel away her layers of intent; of course there’s the sheer presence of her, the big hair, the phenomenal décolletage, the lips, the eyes, the Rockette pins.

Then there’s her stance; hands on hips, all challenge and control – control, that is, until the lights, or the smoke machine don’t work, the flowers aren’t thrown, it all goes wrong – “I suppose I’ll have to do this myself” she snarls, a pussycat becoming a very pissed off tigress.

Its all an act – no, it's The Act – and a brilliant, insurrectionary one, and she injects snatches of it throughout her PICF show.
But for the most part she stripped the tomfoolery away and concentrated on the songs, curated with her usual immaculate taste and subversive purpose, from Laurie Anderson’s 'The Dream Before' (“history is an angel being blown back into the future”) to her mate Amanda Palmer’s murderous 'Miss Me', from Patti Griffin’s tender, lovely 'Kite Song' to the Brecht/Weill canonical 'Pirate Jenny' and 'Surabaya Johnny', but also Brecht and Hanns Eisler’s hauntingly prescient 'Deutsches Miserere'.

There were also original songs written for her with Megan Washington (‘Skeleton Key’) and in collaboration with Pink Martini’s Thomas Lauderdale (‘I Lost Myself’) and Iain Grandage(‘Tear Down the Stars”’)

Alone but for the immaculate accompaniment of Mark Jones (piano) and Dan Witton (bass), Meow Meow went much of the way to granting me a wish I made in a review a decade ago: “There are times when she should trust the songs and her singing of them instead of interrupting herself with comedy. I’d love her to just sing to me.”

 

Gill Hicks

On the night of Meow Meow the foyers of the Maj were abuzz with praise of Gill Hicks’s Still Alive (and Kicking), so, with some gentle prodding from PICF’s indefatigable Ali Welburn, I was back on Saturday afternoon for her show.

Why had I not always planned to see it? Hicks was a victim of the July 2005 London bombings, and lost both her legs in the explosion on board the train she was traveling in. I must confess this tragic story didn’t sound like the makings of a fun hour of cabaret.

How wrong can you be!

Still Alive (and Kicking) is, instead, a quietly glorious story, completely free of self-pity or bitterness, beautifully told and shot through with humour.

The image of Hicks being rushed to hospital without any sign of life for 30 minutes other than that she is talking non-stop, or insisting on going to the hospital morgue to say goodbye to her legs, are drilled into my memory.

There are images and characters just as human and memorable: Adrian, the man she never knew who saved her life as he lost his by being between her and the bomb blast; Matt, “the geezer” who guided her through her prosthetic rehab (“I can’t stop you from falling, but I can help you get up”); waving her prosthetic leg out the taxi window as she finally left hospital.

And there are songs, performed with a remarkable duo, Dylan Paul on double bass and Julian Ferraretto on violin and, or all things, saw.
Among her many achievements, Hicks is a stylish and engaging jazz singer, and the smooth arrangements of 'Stayin’ Alive' (accompanied by aforementioned saw), 'Summertime', 'Bye Bye Blackbird' and 'I’m Feeling Good' gave the standards a musical freshness as well as an urgent dimension.

And, as she says, “being alive is a damn good thing to have whilst you have it.”

 

Closing Night Gala

There are obvious joys in festival galas, and hidden ones too.

If you come to them cold, you get a snapshot of the highlights of the programme you didn’t see.

So, if that’s you, you got lucky, with festival director Michael Griffith’s snappy opening ('Another Opening, Another Show'), the esteemed Noongar artists Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse ('Moon River' – in Noongar and sing-a-long English – and the willy-wagtail song 'Djidi Dgidi') and double-barrelled showstoppers from the festival's headliners Paul Capsis and Meow Meow.

But if, like me, you’d seen many of the shows in the festival, there were other delights:

Libby Hammer and Ali Bodycoat were all wit and breeze in their festival hit Over the Rainbow, but whack them on the big Maj stage with a full band and they had the crowd roaring to their Kylie Minogue mash up and a barnstorming take on the legendary Streisand/Garland medley, 'Get Happy/Happy Days are Here Again'.

I was critical of Brigitte Hauser’s Maria, Marlene and Me that got bogged down in a clunky narrative which, I thought, threw her performance off kilter, but, at the gala and back in her natural environment, and with Rossini’s 'Una Voe Poco Fas' to work on, she really shone, letting both her pipes and physical comedy chops rip. More of the same, Brigitte!

While Gill Hicks was an impressive interpreter of the standard numbers in her Still Alive (and Kicking) earlier in the day, her one-song stand at the gala, 'Stayin’ Alive' went to another height on the big stage. Even leaving aside her extrordinary story she’s a compelling, complete artist.

 

And that was that. The second Perth International Cabaret Festival took itself downstairs for a few more songs and quite a few more drinks, the ghost light was switched on and all the songs, and all the laughter and applause were just echoes to add to the grand old theatre.

PICF is a great addition to Perth’s popular arts (the good news is that it’s back next year, and extended from two to three weeks), and, given the tough environment it was born into, everyone involved deserves a standing ovation.

 


Monday, June 13, 2022

Theatre: Sit! (Or I’ll Make You Sit)

by Morgan Owen
Directed by Izzy McDonald

Set and costume designer James McMillan
Lighting designer Adelaide Harney

Composer and sound designer Keiran Gulvin

Performed by Alicia Osyka, Ebony McGuire, Ben Sutton and Morgan Owen

Blue Room Theatre
May 30 – June 4, 2022

Dogs and humans have been at it for somewhere between twenty and forty thousand years, and you might imagine it’s worked out okay, all in all.
I tell myself that the gooey eyed look our wonderdog Lachie gives me at 6:30am and 5:30pm every day is an expression of self-determined affection rather than his imposed hunger time-clock ringing in his head, or that his instantly alert reaction to the mere mention of the word “Yokine” is his freely expressed anticipation of a mutually-agreed morning walk.

It doesn’t occur to me that we were in fact keeping him prisoner, unilaterally decided when he’d eat, sleep, run, wee, wear a collar and lead or even bark.
But that’s what “attachment style” – a handle I had never encountered before – is about, and it’s the grist to the mill of Morgan Owen’s erudite, papercut black comedy Sit! (Or I’ll Make You Sit) at the Blue Room.

Blair (Owen) is breaking up with her live-in boyfriend Dom (Ben Sutton). She doesn’t mince words, and neither does she leave Dom any wriggle room.
Ainsley (Ebony McGuire) is a successful public prosecutor; out on a first date with a woman she met on-line. Their conversation revolves around worth, honesty, control. Ainsley doesn’t leave her date much wriggle room either.

These episodes are the bookends, two years apart, of Owen’s story, most of which takes place at and around a dinner party where Ainsley and Blair, now, and then, a couple, have Dom around, ostensibly so Ainsley can meet him, but, in fact for many other, deeper reasons. All of which are best left for the audience to discover.
Oh, there’s a dog as well. Chekhov (Alicia Osyka), obsessed with and fiercely protective of, Ainslie, snarlingly trying to ward off the threat posed by Blair and Dom.

Sure, there’s plenty here to unpick, deconstruct, position and ponder, but if that’s what you want, there are plenty of pop-psych articles and postgrad thesis you can refer to.
Don’t come to a play for them though. And certainly don’t come to this one. Owen’s achievement is in absorbing its meaning and purpose into the meat of the play without foregrounding it; she covers her tracks with comedy and dramatic intrigue (it’s remarkable that this is her first play). She claims in her notes that she’s ‘sweetened (the play) by laughter’, but that’s selling her success here short
Sit! stands on its own two feet as an entertainment; the comedy is sharp, generous and genuine, the plot twists have internal logic and momentum, and there’s a purposeful balance between reality and improbability.
Much credit goes to Izzy McDonald, who is an inspired choice as director. An accomplished playwright herself (Busboy, French Over), McDonald has a expert touch for both the play’s nuances and broad brushstrokes. She and Owen have their material completely under control, and they never miss a beat.

McGuire nails Ainslie, so that how we see her, and what she becomes, fit seamlessly, while Sutton gives Dom a great deal more than the hangdog, rather gormless character we first meet seems to promise.
The W.C. Fields zinger “never work with children and animals” might just as easily be “never work with Alicia Osyka playing animals”. Idiosyncratic and courageous, Osyka could make something of a pet rock; with a critter as charismatic and confronting as Chekhov she’s every kind of scream.

And Owen gives an expert characterization of Blair, zeroing in on her like a tracer bullet. I have no idea the amount of autobiographical detail, or self-reflection, there is in her performance, but you can believe in it absolutely.
As you can the whole production.

It’s a great shame the season was perforce so short; I hope Sit! will be picked up for a return season (perhaps as one of Black Swan’s series of remounted independent productions).
Sit! (or I’ll make You Sit) certainly deserves it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Theatre: The Great Un-Wondering of Wilbur Whittaker

by Dan Giovannoni
Barking Gecko Theatre
Director Luke Kerridge

Composer Claudio

Set and Costume Designer Jonathon Oxlade
Animation and Video Designer Tee Ken Ng
Sound Designer Tim Collins

Lighting Designer Lucy Birkinshaw
Puppetry Consultant Sarah Nelson

Movement Consultant Bernadette Lewis
Performed by Adriano Cappelletta, Grace Chow, Luke Hewitt and Laura Maitland

Performances at the Heath Ledger Theatre, Perth; Red Earth Arts Precinct, Kararatha; BREC, Bunbury; Albany Entertainment Centre
April 9 – May 19, 2022;
Tickets on the Barking Gecko Website https://www.barkinggecko.com.au

Grace Chow and Adriano Cappelletta (pic: Stewart Thorpe

 

The gap between entertainment for kids and for adults is long dissolved now, and Barking Gecko remains in the vanguard of theatre with stories and productions that work across the ages and interests of audiences.

Traditionally the starting point for bringing these diverse audiences together has, inevitably, been the stories, but Barking Gecko have a commitment to production values that add a high gloss to their telling.

In the case of Wilbur Whittaker, that begins with a beautifully designed set of abstracted columns and arches by Jonathon Oxlade (who also created some marvellous costumes). It frames the expanse of the Heath Ledger stage as well as anything I’ve seen there, and, with the assistance of slide out rostra and slide in or drop down screens, allows for a genuinely thrilling parade of effects and scene changes.

Oxlade’s work is given even more impact by the powerful, rapid-fire visuals by Tee Ken Ng that worked seamlessly between and during scenes and take us to other galaxies and beyond.

These design assets, integrated into director Luke Kerridge’s rapid-fire staging and delivered by some terrific stage management by Jack Wilson and Georgia Sealey, give Wilbur Whittaker a propulsive comic-book energy that’s exciting to watch.

It’s also excellently served by its cast; Wilbur Whittaker (Adriano Cappalletta), an eternal Clark Kent, is a boy who’s lost his Wonder and goes looking for it across the galaxy before his time runs out, while Princess Fantastic (the combustive Grace Chow) is his Supergirl. They provide the earnestness and determination the quest for Wonder requires.

The remarkable Luke Hewitt and Laura Maitland deliver the laughs, especially as the fabulous Pearls of Wisdom (Oxlade outdoes himself here) and Hewitt’s ubiquitous, cynical Francis Fox.

My hesitation about Wilbur Whittaker is the same as for the writer Dan Giovannoni and Kerridge’s previous collaborations for Barking Gecko, the Helpmann Award-winning Bambert’s Book of Lost Stories (2016) and House (2021).

After its inventive opening, the plotline tends to meander and lose focus - the litmus test here is the level of engagement by young audience members who continued to react to the spectacle, but not always the storyline.

Those qualms, though, dissolve in an exhilarating final scene as Wilbur, his sense of wonder restored, rides the Dangerbird through the clouds towards the audience

It’s an extraordinary effect, a testament to the skills of Wilbur Whittaker’s creative team and Barking Gecko.   

 

(Don't just take it from me – it’s worth reading the review by 11-year-old Jackson Davis in Seesaw Magazine here

 


 

 

 

 

 

 


Friday, April 8, 2022

Theatre: Tartuffe

By Molière  

WAAPA 3rd Year acting students
Directed by Trent Baker
Set Designer Charlotte Meagher
Lighting Designer Reev Coonan
Sound designer Aaron Davidson
Costume Designer Pia Dewar

Roundhouse Theatre, Edith Cowan University
March 31 – April 6, 2022

Gabrielle Wilson, Radhika Mudaliar and Laura Shaw. (pic: Stephen Heath)
While I’m not sure what Jean-Baptiste Poquelin would have made of Wet Leg’s post-punk hit Chaise Longue intro, or Sweet’s 1970s banger Ballroom Blitz outro, he’d have liked very much what happens between them in this rip-roaring revival of his great satire, Tartuffe.

Certainly the eleven 3rd Year WAAPA acting students who cavorted about the Roundhouse Theatre stage looked and sounded like they were enjoying themselves very much too.

Poquelin, who went by the stage name Molière, delighted in eviscerating the elites of Louis XIV’s Ancien Régime (The Sun King, nevertheless, was an admirer and quite likely, his protector), achieving, with Tartuffe, the illustrious status of being more scandalous than the scandals he was exposing through his satire.

The play has many of the signature features of commedia dell’arte, with the title character a cassocked version of its stock villain/clown Scaramouche.

The show’s original director Clara Voda was unable to travel here to lead the performance, but her replacement, Trent Baker, the Artistic Director of the National Theatre Drama School in Melbourne, and the design students Charlote Meagher (set) and Pia Dewar (costume) have remained true to the spirit, if not the letter, of the great old theatre style.

Tartuffe, the play, needs no verdict from me; its bona fides have been established for four centuries now, and if the interminable delay before Tartuffe makes his first appearance is an irritating indulgence of Molière’s, or the abrupt and outrageous deus ex machina that brings the shyster undone robs the play of a satisfying climax, well there’s plenty of splendid, witty, raunchy, wicked fun to be had before then.

Baker and his cast milk it for all it’s worth in a broad, sexy staging, gorgeously dressed by Meagher and Dewar.

A wealthy bourgeoisie family are outraged by the hold the itinerant priest Tartuffe has over its head, Orgon (Remy Danoy), and his overbearing mother, Madame Parnelle (William Bastow).

Orgon’s wife Elmire (Delia Price), her brother Cléanti (Radhika Mudaliar) and step-children Mariane (Laura Shaw) and Damis (Blaise Tindale) can’t bear the man, but their distaste turns to despair when Orgon announces that Mariane is to break off her engagement to true love Valere (Tinashe Mangwana) and marry Tartuffe.

Mon Dieu! Quelle Horreur! Something must be done!

The something, essentially the exposing of Tartuffe as a shameless roué with carnal designs on Elmire, is hilariously accomplished. But worse is to come…

The cast throw themselves at the hilarity with flair (and flare); all the characters are brought vividly to life, and if some handle the translation’s rhyming couplets better than others, that’s a small matter and a knack that will come with time and 10,000 hours of practice.

Highlights were Shaw’s extraordinary Mariane, squirming, or being dragged, about the stage, with her yelps and squeaks making intelligible dialogue somehow redundant. Ah, the agonies of love.

Just as charming was Mangwana as her sweetheart, the resplendently beefy Valere, as he fought not to lose her.

Love was a much more judicious emotion for Price’s Elmire – going into battle in a stunning 17th Century gown over a decidedly 1950s cocktail outfit –looking like someone who’d done it all before, and well.

Mia Fitzgerald took a nice comic turn or two as the maid Flipote, as did Angelo Torres as the conniving bailiff who very nearly stole Orgon’s house for Tartuffe.

If anything was stolen, though, it was the show – by the housemaid Dorene. She sees everything and sorts everything, and everyone out. Dorene is a masterful creation by Moliere, and Gabrielle Wilson gives her everything she’s got. Wilson’s got great comic chops, searchlight eyes and lightning-fast dramatic reflexes.

Remember the name.  


Thursday, March 24, 2022

Theatre: City of Gold

by Meyne Wyatt

Black Swan State Theatre Company and Sydney Theatre Company

Director Shari Sebbens
Composer and Sound Director Rachael Dease
Set and Costume Designer Tyler Hill

Lighting Designer Verity Hampson

Performed by Meyne Wyatt, Simone Detourbet, Mathew Cooper, Ian Michael, Trevor Ryan, Myles Pollard and St John Cowcher

Heath Ledger Theatre

March 17 – 27, 2022, 2022

Meyne Wyatt (pic: Daniel J Grant)
Warnings: City of Gold contains deeply offensive and racist language that this review draws your attention to but will not repeat. Indigenous readers are advised that this review contains the names of people who have died.

 

Art is a ripple on the surface of deep waters of oppression and injustice that radiates out from a particular tragedy and makes us aware of others that lie beneath the surface.

The most striking example in Western Australia is the body of work arising from the 1984 death in custody of John Pat in Roebourne, most notably the extraordinary Hipbone Sticking Out. The 1834 massacre of Noongar men, women and children by Governor James Stirling, dramatised in Bindjareb Pinjarra, reminds us of the genocidal treatment of the state’s First People.

In 2016, the prominent Wongutha-Yamatji stage and screen actor, Meyne Wyatt (Redfern Now, Neighbours, Mystery Road, The Sapphires), was mourning his father’s death from cancer when the killing of a young relative, Elijah Doughty, and the subsequent acquittal of the man responsible for his death compelled him to speak out.

In City of Gold, an actor, Breythe Black (Wyatt), storms off the set of a risible Australia Day lamb commercial, partly in frustration at his cardboard-cut-out part in its “Change the Date” script, and because his dad had died at home in Kalgoorlie. Back in Kal, Breythe shares his grief with his brother Matao (Mathew Cooper), sister Carina (Simone Detourbet) and deaf, vulnerable cousin, Cliffhanger (Ian Michael).

And there’s the dark undertow of the old mining town, its overt and covert racism, the insults and intimidation, the constant threat of violence and the possibility of tragedy lurking with every interaction between Indigenous people and the police.        

The result is an outpouring of grief, rage and frustration, both personalising and generalising the outrage Wyatt feels and sees. The story of Wyatt’s family’s life inform the play, but its message extends to the experience of all Indigenous people in this country.

The narrative of City of Gold is very often a vehicle for Wyatt’s polemic, for which purpose the action frequently stops dead in its tracks.

One of those dramatic roadblocks does provide the play’s most memorable scene: the celebrated, impassioned monologue – sometimes beat poetry, sometimes rap ­– about an individual’s place in a world that demands the conformity and “niceness” against which Breythe revolts.

Less effective is an extended dialogue between Breythe and his brother, a litany of grievances and accusations that, while legitimate in themselves, break the first, best rule of theatre – that it should show, not just tell, how the world wags. That whole long scene could be cut without any damage to the play’s message or force.

City of Gold’s other essential difficulty is its dramatic chronology. Its action takes place in scenes that, to quote Kurt Vonnegut, have become “unstuck in time”.

Looping back and forwards in time is a device that can be effectively used to preserve the impact of the crisis of a play, even if that crisis actually occurs quite early in the piece.

But, in City of Gold, the resulting narrative was so confused that I confess to not knowing when that crisis, or many of the other scenes, occurred (an uncertainty shared by many audience members I spoke to afterwards).

Having said that, many of the scenes are powerful and effective, especially those between Breythe and his dead father (Trevor Ryan), and those featuring Carina, who has many burdens to carry, not least because of her cantankerous brothers.

There’s a sweetly engaging performance by the gifted Michael as Cliffhanger, and Myles Pollard and St John Cowcher effectively portray characters from the laughably incompetent advertising director to a craven, perilous policeman.

The creative team, led by director Shari Sebbens (who performed alongside Wyatt and Cooper in the original STC/QTC production in 2019), produces work of high quality. Tyler Hill’s skeletal homestead, placed diagonally on the stage, allows for memorable effects and efficient staging, while Rachael Dease’s original compositions are exquisite, especially the ascending, pulsating music that accompany and help drive Wyatt’s second-act monologue.
City of Gold is shot through with broad humour and pain, tenderness and brutality, and wisdom in the face of ignorance and stupidity, though it lacks the dramatic rigour and clarity that would give its raw, urgent truths all the power they deserve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Friday, March 4, 2022

Theatre: It's Dark Outside

The Last Great Hunt
Created and Performed by Tim Watts, Arielle Gray and Chris Isaacs
Set construction by Anthony Watts
Music by Rachael Dease
STC Studio

The Last Great Hunt's It's Dark Outside returns for a season at the STC Studio from March 16 - April 2. This review is adapted from that of its original 2012 season.

As our lives extend, the manifestations of our long declines come from the shadows. Dementia, Alzheimer’s, memory loss, sundowning syndrome (the specific subject of this play) are fearsome, insidious blights on so many lives.   

The team of Tim Watts, Arielle Gray and Chris Isaacs tackle these demons head on in It’s Dark Outside, and the result is a rare triumph of theatrical ingenuity and human compassion.

An old man (Gray performs behind the mask) gingerly takes his seat and gropes for a mug of tea that, inexplicably, isn’t where he thought he left it. It breaks on the floor, and he tries to drink from its shards. The sun is going down, and his connection with present reality is setting with it.

In the gloom, he goes wandering, and strange and wonderful things happen. His landscape becomes the wild west of his youthful imagination, a tent becomes his horse, a cloud his dog. His steps are followed by a moon shadow, a dark shape with a butterfly net. Is it death and oblivion, or is it his memory of himself as a boy?

When he rises from the tent of his dreams on the “Zs” of sleep, while a music box tinkles Somewhere Over the Rainbow, the stars are brilliant tears. The music in his head forms into a song, the only words in the play: “I’ll be your light/ when it’s dark outside”. It’s ineffably sad, and deeply, gently, moving.

I must emphasise what a thrilling entertainment this is, because I’d hate you to be discouraged by its sombre subject matter. Watts and his colleagues play in the theatre of ideas, and they stand or fall on their inventiveness. It’s Dark Outside has a dazzling multitude of both. The cloud dog is a superbly created delight; a dance to Peggy Lee’s I Love Being Here With You so sweet and sly it drew spontaneous applause from the audience. So often, if it weren’t so sad, it would be easy to laugh at the quirky brilliance of it all.

None of this will surprise anyone who saw Watts and co’s hugely successful Adventures of Alvin Sputnik. Their ability to play with shapes, sizes, silhouettes and sound effects remains just as impressive, but It’s Dark Outside is a much more coherent and powerful piece than its predecessor. The tenderness with which the performers manipulate their puppets and the eloquence of their wordless text is simply outstanding, while Rachael Dease’s lovely music and Anthony Watts’s memorable sets and gadgetry contribute greatly to the play’s achievement.  

There’s a touch of genius about The Last Great Hunt's work, and it’s on display in this, a highlight of the Perth stage over the past decade.    

Monday, February 21, 2022

Music: Katie Noonan with strings

Katie Noonan
with the Sartory String Quartet
: Pascal Whiting and Susannah Williams (violins), Katherine Porter (viola) and Sophie Curtis (cello)
Art Gallery of Western Australia
February 18, 2022

(pic: Court McAllister)
Katie Noonan has crafted a remarkable career as a singer, musician, songwriter, artistic director and musical patron over more than two decades (although it’s fair to say her musical education began in the womb of her opera singer mother, Maggie).

While she has hardly snuck up on us, her musical interests and accomplishments since she emerged as a lead singer with her band George and their No 1 album Polyserena in 2002 are so wide-ranging as to be an amazement.

Much to the joy of the audience in the grand foyer of the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Noonan took us for an exhilarating ramble across many of the years and styles of that career.

It fell, essentially, into two parts; the first, Noonan at the piano and the Sartory string quartet performed lush, romantic ballads from across her repertoire; the sweet, simple Quiet Day, the gentle torrent of Bluebird, like wind over wings; her setting of Michael Leunig’s sotly-spoken Peace is My Drug, and Lover, My Song for You, her wedding present to her husband, the saxophonist Isaac Hurren (she says he took some time to reciprocate).

This is lovely music, made even more impressive by Noonan’s vocal restraint; there’s not an instant of her using her powers merely to impress – she gives the songs exactly what they need, with very little embellishment, allowing us to slip quietly into their beauty and emotion.

That restraint is also apparent in the arrangements by Dr Steve Newcomb from the Queensland Conservatorium at Griffith University, and is given vivid life by Pascal Whiting and Susannah Williams (violins), Katherine Porter viola) and Sophie Curtis (cello) of Sartory.

After a sad aside concerning the failing health of the great jazz pianist Keith Jarrett (and thanks, Kate, if you could leave the steak knives at the Festival office I’ll pick them up from there), the temperature of the show changed as Noonan left the piano for centre-stage and more complex vocal music featuring the words of two revered Queensland poets, Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Cath Walker) and Judith Wright.

Wright’s Late Spring has been set to music by the illustrious and prolific composer Elena Kats-Chernin, while the settings of Oodgeroo’s The Curlew Cried and Balance were from Queensland composers Thomas Green and Robert Davidson respectively.

The songs, often in minor keys, are musically challenging and unsettling, but Noonan’s taste and vocal tact are constant.

They are also –and this is clearly something of great pride for her – orchestrations she has commissioned, which is an admirable gift to Australian music.

The show ends on a high – Noonan’s own setting of Noonuccal’s anthemic A Song of Hope (“New rights will greet us/ new mateship meet us/ and joy complete us/ In our new dreamtime”) and the high romance of her breakout Breathe in Now.

It gave me an inkling of why she mentioned Keith Jarrett. As she pointed out, he’s famous for his cries of pleasure as he’s playing.

It’s an immersion in the music that has a physical expression she shares with him and other singers – Antony Hegarty and the incomparable Joe Cocker among them – who lose themselves in those same transports of delight.

It was a great joy for us to be taken there with her. 


Monday, February 14, 2022

Musical: Panawathi Girl

by David Milroy
Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company
for the Perth Festival
Director Eva Grace Mullaley
Musical Director Wayne Freer
Choreographer Janine Oxenham
Set designer Bruce McKinven
Lighting designer Lucy Birkenshaw
Sound designer Jeremy Turner
Performed by Grace Chow, Peter Docker, Luke Hewitt, Chris Isaacs, Geoff Kelso, Angelica Lockyer, Nadia Martich, Lila McGuire, Gus Noakes, Teresa Rose, Maitland Schnaars, Manuao TeAotonga and  Wimiya Woodley
His Majesty’s Theatre
February 10 – 13, 2022
Luke Hewitt and Geoff Kelso and the Long White Socks  (pic Dana Weeks)

It’s easy to see why much excitement accompanied the world premiere of David Milroy’s Panawathi Girl, and it’s pleasing to report that it’s a catchy, warm-hearted show that understands the simple virtues of the Broadway musical while maintaining a distinctly Australian – and specifically West Australian – flavour.

It’s also a good example of the long process required to take a story idea and a collection of songs and moulding them into an integrated, exciting, finished product.

Panawathi Girl, which began its journey as Rodeo Moon, a hastily-produced season for WAAPA’s Aboriginal Theatre course in 2015, is well down that path. It has a little way to go yet, and this abbreviated Perth Festival season is a giant step in its evolution.

There’s much that is already ready to go; the band – musical director Wayne Freer Bass and tuba), the legendary Lucky Oceans (pedal steel guitar), Adam Gare (violin, mandolin) and Milroy himself (guitar) is exquisite, and Milroy’s songs, appropriately enough largely in classic country and western style, fit it like a glove.
There’s well-developed comedy too, highlighted by veterans Luke Hewitt and Geoff Kelso in a Laurel and Hardy-style double act as Gough Whitlam and John Gorton –the play is set in 1969 as Australia lumbers toward the “Don’s Party" federal election and grapples with the ramifications of the 1967 Aboriginal Citizenship referendum and the stirring of the land rights. Hewitt has Big Gough down pat (Gorton himself doesn’t provide quite the same comic potential, but Kelso could make reading the instructions for downloading the ServicesWA app side-splitting); their big number “Long White Socks” is a hoot.

Just as hooty are the rag-tag trio of hippies (Grace Chow, Manuao TeAotonga and Chris Isaacs) who also arrive in Chubb Springs, the home town of their friend Molly Chubb (Lila McGuire), who has taken a break from her uni politics studies in Perth to find the grave of the mother she never knew. Isaacs, curly haired, harmonica-braced and folk-guitared like a gormless version of Bob Dylan, is a barrel of laughs, and TeAotonga’s drag act in the Rodeo Queen talent quest is an outrageous highlight.

As he showed in his 2011 Perth Festival smash Waltzing the Wilarra, while Milroy doesn’t sugar-coat the important and confronting messages he’s conveying, he uses the conventions of the musical to insinuate them into the narrative. While in many ways, the plot and characters of Panawathi Girl mirror those of the Gershwins’ frothy Crazy For You (which, coincidentally, was revived at The Maj last June by WAAPA’s Music Theatre students), the evils of bigotry and segregation in Chubb Springs are endemic, and unapologetic.
That story is played out by Molly’s conflicted white father (Peter Docker), the grifting rodeo king Buckley (Maitland Schnaars) and the young people of the town and rodeo troupe.

Docker and Schnaars are in familiar territory here, and the two fine, experienced actors give their characters depth and authenticity.

Some cast members are not always as comfortable with the particular demands of the musical – to be fair it was an opening night without the benefit of a run of previews – and it led to occasional awkwardness and hesitancy in the performances.

Not so for Gus Noakes as Knuckles, the rodeo cowboy, who’s rollicking baritone vocal on Rodeo Moon and confident hoofing are a delight.

There are plenty of moments to shine, though, for the young, talented McGuire, Teresa Rose as Knuckle’s sweetheart and co-worker Ada, Wimiya Woodley as Molly’s protective brother Billy, Nadia Martich, who combines ensemble work with the dance captain’s duties, and Angelica Lockyer (who role is hidden behind a spoiler alert curtain).

This is a signature production for Yirra Yaakin, confirming their status as both Australia’s leading Indigenous theatre company and one of the pillars of West Australian theatre. The director (and Yirra Yaakin artistic director) Eva Grace Mulalley has taken the company to the most prestigious of our main stages with an elite team of creatives, including the choreographer Janine Oxenham, set designer Bruce McKinven, costume designer Lynn Ferguson, lighting designer Lucy Birkinshaw and sound designer Jeremy Turner, and a stage management and dressing crew led by Jenny Poh.

It’s an impressive mark of confidence in the company’s capacity, and on David Milroy’s rare talent to tell stories that need to be told with terrific tunes, humour and purpose.

I only wish this Perth Festival season were longer to give the cast more time to completely find their feet, but I’m sure this won’t be the only time we see Panawathi Girl, so their time will come.

And like all good things, it will be worth the wait.