Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Theatre: [PORTO] (★★★★)

Joe Lui and Alicia Osyka
by Kate Benson
Directed by Lisa Louttit

Designed by Sara Chirichilli

Lighting designer Karen Cook

Sound designer Joe Lui

Performed by Joe Lui, Alicia Osyka, James Marzec, Taryn Ryan, Nick Pages-Oliver and Tristan McInnes

Blue Room Theatre

Until November 5

Porto (Alicia Osyka) spends this evening, as she does most others, in the local Brooklyn bar where she is routinely fed, watered, teased and propped up by the bartender, Doug (James Marzec) and the waiter Raphael (Nick Pages-Oliver). Another regular, Dry Sac (Taryn Ryan), “the hottest woman you’ve ever laid eyes on”, slinks in wearing a dress made of what seems to be paint. (There are very specific character descriptions and stage directions in the American playwright Kate Benson’s text – more on that shortly.)

There’s the usual banter between people who know – though perhaps not well, and are comfortable with, one another. There’s food talk, booze talk, the faintly conspiratorial tone of American bars since prohibition; if the cops burst in, blackjack tables and drinks would disappear and Dry Sac would flutter her eyelashes as though butter wouldn’t melt – although, in her case, at least, it would sizzle.  

Into this cosy mix comes Hennepin (Tristan McInnes), “some version of a Hot Guy”, with a copy of the extravagantly-mourned David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest under his arm.  He stirs the joint, and especially Porto, up a bit. Some things happen, but nothing much more than you’d expect over the course of a boozy few days in and around a bar. Certainly, there’s nothing justifies a plot summary, or a spoiler alert, from me.

This narrative inconsequentiality means Benson can throw everything she’s got at the characters and their milieu, which she does with great erudition and bravado. [PORTO] gallops along, casting theatrical daring and cultural references from its hooves like broken turf.

There’s a fantastic torrent of language; sometimes [PORTO] sounds like Ira Glass, sometimes Jonathan Franzen or Tom Waits’s Putnam County. There are interventions; from a puppet chorus of dumb bunnies, from Simone de Beauvoir and Gloria Steinem – but mostly from Joe Lui.

He plays [ ], who Benson describes as “a lesser God, or a person of many genders who owns a bar”, which is not a bad description of Lui himself. Adorned in Oriental splendour, working the mike from his podium like Steve Tyler, he barks direction and calls lighting cues – holding the action up until they are followed – announces impending entrances and sets scenes. It’s as specific as Beckett. Lui is part of Benson’s text, rather than a character, and, as always, he’s fabulous.

The cast is maneuvered through Benson’s text, Sara Chirichilli’s tidy, intimate set, Karen Cook’s witty lighting and the ubiquitous Lui’s sound, with great skill by director Lisa Louttit, a recent arrival here from them beleaguered States.

Marzec and Pages-Oliver are tons of fun behind the bar, Ryan is extremely deluxe and delightful, and McInnes has come on in leaps and bounds since his last play, Tank (which, busily, is running on the same nights as this one).

Osyka is such a fine, natural actor that you often wonder whether she’s doing it at all. Her Porto is absolutely believable, absolutely here, in our world. We know her, and through her, we know her play.

[PORTO] makes some points in the great American tradition of self-excoriation, some a little too often and earnestly, but that’s a very small price to pay, and a very little while to wait, to enjoy its very many rewards. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Theatre: The Beat Generation (★★★½)

Devised and directed by Andrew Lewis 
Devised and performed by WAAPA 3rd Year acting students
Fremantle Arts Centre
12 – 16 October, 2016

Rory O'Keefe and Guiseppe Rotondella come to grips
Theatre is always on the move, and WAAPA, our estimable academy of performing arts, moves with it. A mirrored and glittering spiegeltents now stands in the Mt Lawley campus to train future fringe stars. WAAPA students strike out to iconic locations around town for site-specific and promenade performances.
This is good for their training, and it’s very good for us. Unshackled by the limitations of cast and crew size and the counting of beans, and with boundless talent and energy at their disposal, their public shows, taken together, are the most adventurous, diverse and exciting offered by any of our theatre companies (if we can call WAAPA that).
No-one else here could even dream of mounting The Beat Generation, a rambling, multiform exploration of that tiny movement of hedonistic, hierarchical and highly talented poets, novelists and provocateurs in New York and San Francisco in the 1940s and ‘50s.

Theatre: Tank (★★★)

Chaos Ensemble
Written and directed by Daley King
Designed by Sara Chirichilli
Lighting designer Scott McArdle
Performed by Nick Maclaine, Izzy McDonald, Geordie Crawley and Tristan McInnes
Blue Room Theatre
Until October 29

I’m not exactly allergic to allegory, but it is uncomfortable being in the same room as it. Especially if that room is a theatre.
And when, as per Tank’s publicity, “Three fish swim peacefully in an aquarium. When a fourth fish is introduced into the tank, their status quo is confronted and life begins to take a turn for the worse”, I can feel a rash coming on.
It continues: “The temperature rises, food is scarce, and a fight for survival begins. Primitive instincts are brought to the fore as the world they know collapses around them”. Uh oh – allegory AND dystopia. Someone pass the adrenaline.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Awesome Festival 2016

Once again, the Awesome Festival lived up to its promise of  wonderful enlightenment for their Bright Young Things. These were just some of its highlights:

New Owner (★★★★)
The Last Great Hunt
Created and Performed by Tim Watts and Arielle Gray
Set construction and gadgets by Anthony Watt
Puppet design and construction Chloe Flockart
Music by Rachael Dease
PICA Performance Space
1 – 16 October, 2016

Tim Watts and Arielle Gray, the co-creators and performers of New Owner, are heartstring-tweakers of the first order. Their previous collaborations, The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer and It’s Dark Outside, play to rapt audiences around the world, and this will follow in their footsteps.
New Owner sits perfectly in the timeless tradition of storytelling for children, and the child in all of us.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Big Bad Wolf (★★★★)
By Matthew Whittet
Directed by Rosemary Myers
Designed by Jonathon Oxlade
Sound Design by Harry Covill
Lighting design by Chris Petridis
Preformed by Patrick Graham, Emma J Hawkins and Ellen Steele
Heath Ledger Theatre
Until 8 October

As you’d expect, times have changed around here since the famously gruesome episode involving Granny, Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf.
These days there’s a Wolf Alarm System in place, operated by the village’s resident serial over-achiever – and Little Red Riding’s descendant – Heidi Hood (Emma J Hawkins), to keep the current Big Bad Wolf (Patrick Graham) at bay.
Only trouble is, Heidi gets few thanks, and makes no friends, for all her good works. The BBW also finds it hard to make any when everyone and everything assumes he’s eying them up for a one-way dinner date.

Read the complete review in The West Australian.

The Bookbinder (★★★★½)
Written and designed by Ralph McCubbin Howell and Hannah Smith
Trick of The Light
Directed by Hannah Smith
Music by Tane Upjohn Beatson
Performed by Ralph McCubbin Howell
State Library Theatrette

Inside a magic book, a boy goes on a journey to right a wrong, save himself and, perhaps, a world.
It’s a tale told, in all its variety, from the earliest fairy tales to today’s multiplex family magnets, but rarely with the charm, wit and inventiveness of this tiny gem from New Zealand’s Trick of the Light.

Read my review from the 2015 Fringe Festival in The West Australian 

A Mano (By Hand) (★★★½)
El Patio Teatro
Devised, constructed and performed by Julian Saenz-Lopez and Izaskun Fernandez
AGWA Theatrette
Until 8 October

We have no more supple, subtle and sensitive tool than our hands. With theirs, the Spanish artists and performers Julian Saenz-Lopez and Izaskun Fernandez make faces and bodies, tell stories and create emotions in front of our eyes, all from lumps of clay.
The story they tell in A Mano (By Hand) is shrewd, funny, touching but unsentimental, and sad.

Read the complete review in The West Australian.

Sunny Ray and the Magnificent Moon (★★★)

Arena Theatre Company
Written and performed by Clare Bartholomew and Dan Tobias
The West Australian Barn
Until 10 October

When we dumb adults go down in the woods of children’s theatre, we better not go alone. We need guides who really know their stuff.
For me, at the Awesome Festival, it’s Harper, who’s sharp as a tack and young enough to be my grand-daughter (she is).
Overgrown-ups’ main problem, of course, is that we don’t get that fart and poo jokes are the funniest things in the universe. But one of the other traps we can fall into is a consequence of the cultural literacy and sophistication of so much children’s theatre these days. We get to expect shows to deliver as if they were written and performed for us as well as them. But, as Harper shows me, they don’t HAVE to be.
This story – the Sun wants to stay up late and party all night with the Moon and Stars, but they hide whenever she appears, is cute enough, and Bartholomew and Tobias are both energetic and unselfconscious performers. But I’m starting to fidget.
But what would I know? Harper writes all her star ratings in my Awesome programme, and she’s a pretty hard marker (although she did break the rules and gave the fantabulous Madame Lark 5½ stars). Three stars, she wrote. Good fun, well done, she said.
And, in that case, so say all of us.  

Read the complete review in The West Australian.

And I can't let Awesome go without mentioning Christine Johnson, the fabulous Madame Lark. She held kids spellbound with her saw-playing, bird-calling, shape-warbling and head-vocalising, and left the gob-smacked adults in her audience hoping to find out where the after-party was. Incredible!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Cabaret: Cole ★★★½

by Anna Goldsworthy
Songs by Cole Porter
Performed by Michael Griffiths
Downstairs at the Maj
29 Sept – 1 Oct, 2016

Michael Griffiths is a frequent visitor to the Perth Fringe and the cabaret season Downstairs at the Maj. The 1999 WAAPA graduate has been partying like it’s that year ever since, with long stints in Jersey Boys, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Shout!, We Will Rock You! and a string of highly successful one-man character shows under his belt.
This short season of his latest, Cole, is already sold out, testament to the loyal audience he has built up here.
Cole deserves its success. Griffiths is on very firm ground with the story and music of Cole Porter, much more so than he was in his Annie Lennox tribute, Sweet Dreams, where his interpretations, though fine enough, paled against her peerless original performances.
Cole Porter presents Griffiths with no such problems; though he was a crafty performer of his wonderful tunes, it’s the songs, not the singer, we are in awe of.
And so we should be. From Anything Goes to Night and Day, Griffiths takes us through the luxurious tangle of Porter’s ridiculously elegant, swelligant songbook; De-lovely, Paris in the Springtime, Let’s Fall in Love, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, What is This Thing Called Love?, Let’s Misbehave, a terrific Miss Otis Regrets, You’re the Top, Love for Sale and a great little sing-along to Another Opening of Another Show. (I list them all to demonstrate the enormous bang for your buck Porter and Griffiths deliver here).
There’s no attempt to shoe-horn the material into a chronology, and that’s a good thing. Griffiths as Porter sits at his piano and chats to us, in that strange, trans-Atlantic accent he concocted, about his charmed life, his understanding, loyal wife Linda, their wealth and profligacy, his homosexuality and the horse-riding accident in 1937 that left him crippled and in pain for the rest of his life.
What the show’s writer, Anna Goldsworthy, and Griffiths really give us, though, is a convincing study of a phenomenally intelligent boy in a bubble, perhaps the most culturally aware songwriter ever (or until Randy Newman at least), who could turn everything around him into a smile, a laugh or, even, a snigger (Porter delicately tip-toed through the minefield of the Hays Code in the ‘30s), while living a life the ordinary people who loved his work could hardly even dream of in those troubled times. Or these.

Why have I put Why here? Because I can, and you deserve it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Theatre: Is This Thing On? (★★★★)

By Zoe Coombs Marr
Directed by Zoe Pepper
Featuring Nicola Bartlett, Daisy Coyle, Andrea Gibbs, Samantha Maclean and Giulia Petrocchi
Blue Room Theatre
Until October 8

Andrea Gibbs (pic: Daniel James Grant)
Shakespeare famously identified seven ages of man in As You Like It, and the Sydney writer and comedian Zoe Coombs Marr has performed a similar dissection on the trajectory of the stand-up comic here.
The play’s mechanics are audacious, and skilfully managed by its director Zoe Pepper; five actors all play a comedian, Brianna (named, she claims, after the Fleetwood Mac song – it’s a running gag), from her first tentative stand at 16 (Daisy Coyle) to all-but-redundancy at 60 (Nicola Bartlett). Along the way we see her juggling bar work, uni studies and her fledgling act at 22 (Samantha Maclean), dealing with adult life at 27 (Giulia Petrocchi) and, fully fledged, struggling with it all at 35 (Andrea Gibbs).
Since her auspicious arrival as a dramatic actor in 2014, Gibbs has delivered an unbroken string of notable performances. None more so than this; her Brianna is genuinely horrible and achingly sympathetic. It’s a remarkable characterisation.
We may laugh with this person – Is This Thing On? has plenty of gags for that – but this unusual and effective play admonishes us not to laugh at her. 

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Cabaret: Tribute (★★★)

Written and performed by Ruth Wilkin
Downstairs at the Maj
22 – 24 September

Audiences want more, and performers need to give it to them. So it’s unsurprising that the stock-standard cabaret tribute show has been re-invented by artists who see its potential as a launch pad for something more complex, nuanced and satisfying.
We’ve seen that potential realised recently in a couple of shows in the cabaret room downstairs at the Maj; the writer Izaak Lim (with others) and director Michael Loney, after delivering attractive bio-tributes of Cole Porter and Dorothy Field, took the songs of Harold Arlen and fashioned them into Fancy Meeting You, an original romantic comedy musical, while John O’Hara and his writer/director collaborator Anthony Harkin’s Dedication used a suite of songs to drive the internal monologue of a late-night schmaltz jock.
Both shows became greater than the sum of their parts, and great successes, while more traditional tribute shows– there’s no need to name them, even though some of them are very well performed by very talented artists – increasingly seem less than the sum of theirs.
Ruth Wilkin has taken things a very long step further. 

She’s also devised a bio-tribute, only, in Tribute, she’s invented the star whose story she tells and whose hits she sings.