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.