Thursday, October 28, 2010

Theatre: Madagascar

Black Swan State Theatre Company
Written by J.T. Rogers
Directed by Kate Cherry
Featuring Rebecca Davis, Greg McNeill and Amanda Muggleton
Playhouse Theatre
27 October – 7 November 2010

There is a conjurer's trick you need to know to understand the dark acts that happened, or might have happened, to the four people whose intertwined stories comprise J.T. Rogers’ glittering melodrama Madagascar.
The rabbit in Rogers’ hat is that the three people who occupy the stage for the entire play (the other, although central to the action, never appears) are always alone. 
Lillian is the widowed matriarch of an endowed, intellectual New York family; she is alone in a hotel room in Rome five years ago, waiting for her son Gideon to arrive from Madagascar.
We meet her daughter June five days ago, living alone in the same room while she occupies her time mechanically taking tourists from the American sticks around the great piles of the ancient city.
Nathan is an earnest, not terribly eminent, academic economist, once the junior colleague of Lillian’s dead husband Arthur and for many years, much to his own surprise, her lover. He too is alone in the room, today.
Go back those five years. Gideon never arrives. Terrible things happen. 
Rebecca Davis (pic: Gary Marsh)
On the fairly rare occasions the characters interact it is only in their memories. Consequently there is barely any dialogue; the actors, Amanda Muggleton (Lillian), Rebecca Davis (June) and Greg McNeill (Nathan) almost invariably narrate the story directly to the audience.
The stage, beautifully dressed and lit by Alicia Clements and Jon Buswell, although recognisably the hotel room of the story, is refined, elegant, vast and all but bare; Ben Collins’ soundscape drifts just on the margins of our hearing, like music from another room.
By creating this floating, almost hallucinatory dreamscape, Rogers and director Kate Cherry (who understands what he is up to very well) are free to mess with our minds a little, and they do it with relish. Despite its sombre themes and tragic denouement, there is a sort of playfulness about Madagascar. References to Greek tragedy and Classical art are everywhere; Shakespeare bobs up (Lillian and her son are a Park Avenue Gertrude and Hamlet), O’Neill and Miller whisper in the corner. Demeter and Persephone reach out with fingerless hands, Pluto’s ardour engulfs Proserpina, Ophelia drifts away downstream, Gatsby floats cold in Lake Geneva and Gideon never makes the plane out of Madagascar.
It’s clever, gloriously black fun, but I'm not sure that the play really delivers on one of the claims made about it; that somehow it grapples with the end of “the American experience, as a separate experience”, that it shows there is a world outside America that Americans have to learn to deal with. To my mind these characters are full of the same enormous self-absorption that drives most American writing and most of the Americans they write about. Lillian and June go to Rome, but it's for the statues. Gideon goes to Madagascar, but his fellow aid workers say he wasn't really cut out for the work. Sure they are affected, but it’s still an affectation. They are still like earnest college girls from Pasadena and White Plains suffering from Stendhal Syndrome after too many days wandering the Uffizi on those interminable summer breaks of theirs.
That aside, the test for Madagascar's success is whether it creates a convincing reality. Could the things that happen to the people in the play have really happened? To the great credit of the play and this production, the answer, for me at least, is absolutely “yes”. 
And that opens up an intriguing possibility. A strange and shocking thing happens toward the end that maybe, just maybe, makes this singular, sad story the last thing you expected it to be; a psychological thriller about a perfect crime. You can judge this for yourself.
Greg McNeill (pic: Gary Marsh)
The show is lifted by fine performances from each of its actors; you ache for Rebecca Davis’s June, her state of shock, her thin fragility in her vestal robes. No such fragility about Amanda Muggleton; she sashays and storms through the play and, all these years after she famously put her body on the line in Shirley Valentine, Muggleton stretched out fully clothed is still capable of generating much more libidinous delight than a multitude stark naked. Greg McNeill’s Nathan, like Nick Carraway, is left to close the tale, his performance growing in confidence and stature as his character becomes more critical to the unfolding story.
The variety of regional American accents can be devilishly hard for non-American actors to nail precisely, and the actors wander a little unsteadily from Nu Joizee to Bawwston in the first part of the show. McNeill settles into sounding like a gainfully employed George Costanza as he gets up a head of steam, though Muggleton, a little disconcertingly, sometimes seems to be channelling that other sassy Goddess, Bette Midler. There are moments, especially when Ben Collins’ music swells a little behind, when you half expect her to slide into (You’ve Got to Have) Friends or Surabaya Johnny. Mind you, from the Divine Miss Muggleton, that would be a show-stopper!


Joanna Gentilli also reviewed Madagascar. Link to her call on the play in The West here!  Alison Croggon's review here! of the MTC production earlier this year in her Theatre Notes blog also makes interesting reading.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Theatre: Krakouer night!

Krakouer!
Deckchair Theatre and Country Arts WA
Written by Reg Cribb from Brotherboys by Sean Gorman
Directed by Marcelle Schmitz
Featuring Jimi Bani, Sean Dow and Luke Hewitt
Margaret River Performing Arts Centre
22 October 2010

So much of WA’s best footy originates on the far-flung farms and in the small towns of the state’s regional areas, so a country tour of Krakouer!, Reg Cribb’s story of two of bush football’s brightest and most controversial stars, was always a great idea.
I caught up with the tour in Margaret River full of anticipation for a show I’d missed but had heard great things about, including in the pages of The West Australian, after its hit Perth season in 2009.
Sean Dow (l) and Jimi Bani as
Phil and Jim Krakouer
Little did I know the dose of Krakouer Magic I was in for.
That’s partly because the play deserves the positive reaction it got in the big smoke. Jim (Jimi Bani) and Phil (Sean Dow) Krakouer’s story, with its great highs and terrible lows, makes a gripping narrative, and Cribb and director Marcelle Schmitz bring all their experience to bear to keep it lively, funny and, when the times come, truly moving.
The portrayal of the end of the brothers’ fabulous on-field partnership, the transfers to other clubs, the injuries and frustration and then, as the career-ending coup-de-grace is delivered to Jimmy by St Kilda coach Ken Sheldon (Luke Hewitt), is precisely accurate and gut-wrenching.
For young talented men, that moment is a kind of death, and when it comes either side of only 30, especially unbearable. It takes a particular strength to deal with it. One of the play’s driving forces is that reserved, quiet Phil was the brother who had that strength, while pugnacious, defiant Jim was the one whose world fell apart after football.
Bani, Dow and the hilarious Hewitt were in especially good form. It’s a strength of Bani and Dow’s performances that neither resemble Jim and Phil – it demonstrates their skill at bringing out the personalities of their characters rather than just impersonating them.
It’s little wonder, though, that the cast approached their roles with special commitment this night: the brothers themselves were in the audience, along with Jim’s son Andrew. Andrew is winning his own place in the Krakouer legend (and Cribb has recently included him in a postscript to the play after his Sandover and grand final-winning 2010 heroics).
The Krakouers came on stage after the play and spoke frankly and movingly for over 30 minutes and then mingled easily with the audience in the foyer until it was way past time to go.
I could say more about the pride in family and their Aboriginality that Krakouers and the play about them so vividly reveal, or the truth that redemption for the worst of behaviour is the best we can aspire to, better by far than flags and medals.
But for this football tragic, who will never forget two small bolts of lightning carving up Claremont Oval and then taking on and bewildering the giants of the VFL through the 80s, there really is only one word about this night that needs to be said. 
Magic.       

An edited version of this review appeared in The West Australian 27.10.10 read here        

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Good Life: The Studio Gallery and Bistro

Broke a jouney to Margaret River recently with lunch at the new Studio Gallery and Bistro off Caves Road just south of Yallingup. I'm not planning to do a lot of restaurant reviewing on Turnstiles, and I'll leave the visual arts to experts like my Lesley, but I couldn't let this very pleasant experience go unreported, especially as it's exactly this kind of intelligent combination of art and hospitality that will really lift the all-seasons appeal of our glorious South-West. 
Jane Flowers: Inland Red Aerial
First things first: the gallery is small, uncluttered and carefully curated. It was great to see a couple of works by a favourite of ours, Jane Flowers. One of them, the striking "Inland Red Aerial", has to be kept hidden from Lesley, at least until our boat comes in.
Another artist who made a big impression was Mal Leckie with his sumptuous panorama "Where Time Speaks Softly". Both Flowers and Leckie have a terrific eye for Australia and deliver stirring and immediately accessible work. It's a bit unfair to single them out though; there's much else at the gallery to like, and a visit to them on line here will, I'm sure, excite your interest.
Mal Leckie: Where Time Speaks Softly
And so to lunch. The bistro at the rear of the gallery is modern and spare, and opens out into a lovely, restful garden setting. 
My friend Joe (who is opening one of his great Clancy's Fish Pubs near Dunsborough next year) and I opened the batting on its short, stylish menu with goat cheese entrees, a curd and a souffl√©, both of which were light, clean and tasty. We then got serious about a rare fillet steak and lamb backstrap with polenta and salad. Joe's steak was gone in an obscenely short time while my lamb was pink, tender and satisfying. 
The dessert list looked like it deserved a real going over next time, and the locally-based wine list, as you'd expect for a casual bistro, covered all the bases without making you do too much thinking; just how it should be!.
The whole affair was priced √† la Down South; no rude shocks but, at $17 entree and $34 main, no bargains either. Mind you, they had packaged up a entree, main and wine lunch deal that suited us perfectly. 
Another winner was the service from the delightful Em and her manager, Lorraine, who had that natural combination of attentiveness and fun in the best Australian style. They were enthusiastic about their job and really knew what was going on around the area. We could use a lot more like them in our tourism-focussed restaurants!


Friday, October 22, 2010

Theatre: The lost child

Ruby Moon
By Matt Cameron
Always Working Artists
Directed by Jeremy Rice
Featuring Benj D'Addario and Kate Rice
Victoria Hall
October 19 - 30 at 8:00pm

The child out there haunts our dreams.
In Frederick McCubbin’s Lost and all the way to Paul Kelly’s One Night The Moon the child disappears into nature. In our modern, frantic horror stories, the child is stolen from right under our noses, from streets like Flaming Tree Grove where, in their ordinary suburban house, Sylvie (Kate Rice) and Ray (Benj D’Addario) confront the void their little Ruby has left behind.
Ruby put on her red dress one day and went to visit her nanna, and she hasn’t been seen since.
Sylvie and Ray struggle to avoid using the past tense when they talk about her, and tend the mannequin with a red dress they leave on the verge every day just in case someone remembers.
They confront the unbearable, and they fall apart.
Matt Cameron’s Ruby Moon is part whodunit, part psychodrama but more than anything it’s an exercise in terror, and the terrible price of love.
D’Addario and Rice do fine jobs as Ray and Sylvie, and also play the Moon’s neighbours with energy and dark humour.
Rice, in particular, convincingly conveys Sylvie’s nerves stretched to breaking point as the truth about herself, her marriage and the fate of her child are revealed. In contrast, D’Addario’s best moments are his portrayals of the sometimes shady characters who populate the street, and who, despite our suspicions about them, often turn out to be little Ruby’s best friends. As one of them, Sunny Jim the dissolute clown, presciently observes, we should fear the ordinary, not the strange.
Director Jeremy Rice handles the actors’ tricky transformations from Sylvie and Ray to the other characters, all of which happen on stage, with deft control, and he has a couple of tricks up his sleeve, one at the play’s very beginning, the other at its very end, that will sit you up straight.
Ruby Moon was originally written to introduce young audiences to this most difficult of subjects, but it made the transition to the adult audience at Victoria Hall with ease. It serves to remind us, as we become more fearful of the dangers out there and obsessively protective of our children, that Little Red Riding Hood gets to grandma’s house. And it’s there that her troubles begin.

An edited version of this review appeared in The West Australian 21.10.10 read here     

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Music: Rufus Wainwright

Perth Concert Hall
October 18, 2010

The Boy Stripped Bare
Rufus Wainwright has lived his life in the spotlight since his arrival back in 1973 was announced by his famous dad, Loudon, in songs like Dilated to Meet You, and the (as it turned out) ironically titled Rufus is a Tit Man.
The famous baby has grown into a famous man, and a prodigious talent.
He came to Perth on Monday night in the midst of a period of great personal highs and lows: the international popularity of his re-creations of Judy Garland's legendary 1961 concerts, the debut of his opera, Prima Donna, and his growing celebrity, all overshadowed by the illness and death, in January this year, of his beloved mother, the tender, luminous singer and songwriter, Kate McGarrigle.
In the first part of his Perth Concert Hall solo show, Wainwright performed the whole of his recent album, All Days are Nights: Songs for Lulu, as a song cycle (“no applause until Rufus has left the stage, please”).
It's a format that has worked well for other ambitious artists, in particular Brian Wilson on his Pet Sounds and Smile tours, and it certainly satisfied this adoring audience.
Songs for Lulu is demanding music, and Wainwright played it for all it was worth.
He was dressed in an operatic cape with a five-metre train and backed by gigantic close-up images of an eye, opening, closing and, eventually dropping a single, enormous tear.
Pausing from the keyboard only to sip water, he worked through songs of deep loss, love, freedom and family, and when they worked (“Martha”, the glorious, spare “Zebulon”) it was a transfixing experience.
Sometimes, though, it was not so successful, in particular his awkward arrangement of Shakespeare’s 43rd, 20th and 10th sonnets, and then, stripped of an orchestral backing or his playful starriness, you have to confront The Rufus Wainwright Issue: that voice of his.
When he performed Garland’s repertoire, his vocal limitations were part of the fun (“I can’t reach these notes, but we’ll all have fun watching me try!”), but in this setting, and though everything was well within his range, that voice, like a chainsaw wrapped in felt, could really throw you.
It was a lot easier to take in the second half, when beautifully crafted songs like Beauty Mark, Memphis Skyline (his lovely tribute to Jeff Buckley), The Art Teacher, Cigarettes and Chocolate and, finally, his mother’s sweet and touching Walking Song, swept the audience away.
No song swept more thoroughly, though, than his version of that strange re-telling of Old Testament stories and perverse sexual longings by an ascetic, mordant Jewish Canadian Buddhist poet that has become the crowd-pleasing showstopper par excellence for artists as varied as John Cale, k.d. lang, Jeff Buckley, Wainwright and every second American Idol contestant. Dear God, will no one ever rescue Leonard Cohen from Hallelujah?

An edited version of this review appeared in The West Australian 20.10.10 look 


Set list: If you haven't come across it yet, setlist.fm gives you the running sheet and links to videos of artists' shows; this one is from Rufus Wainwright's concert in Osaka only a fortnight or so ago setlist here. It's not identical to his Perth show, but pretty close. Check it out! 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Music: Every mother's son

When Rufus Wainwright came to town for PIAF 2008, the great disappointment was the cancellation of his opening act; his mother and aunt, the evanescent Kate and Anna McGarrigle. Little did we know Kate was suffering the effects of the cancer to which she succumbed in January this year. This time it was Rufus who cancelled Australian dates, to be with her in the last days.
Rufus returns to the Perth Concert Hall on the back of his recently-released All Days are Nights: Songs for Lulu, an elegiac collection of songs in which the spirit of Kate is always present.
As well as Rufus, Kate and Anna's work, the Wainwright and McGarrigle clan's phenomenal collection of varied and engrossing music over nearly 40 years includes the arch observations of (sometimes estranged) dad Loudon Wainwright III and the insinuating voice of sister Martha. Coming up fast behind them is Rufus and Martha's half-sister Lucy, daughter of Loudon and Suzzy Roche who, along with her sisters Magge and Terri... and so on!
A couple of years back Lesley and I saw Rufus's massive star turn in front of 15,000 at the Hollywood Bowl, recreating Judy Garland's famous 1961 concert. The following night we caught his sister's captivating performance, from almost within touching distance, at a tiny cafe down the road from the Bowl. On both occasions their mother, looking diminished but obviously proud of her son's success and her daughter's talent, joined them for a couple of numbers. It was a privilege, after all these years, to see a woman we're admired so much for so long in two such different circumstances. We miss her.

Here's a lovely appreciation of Kate from The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg, from which you can launch into other fine pieces.



Saturday, October 16, 2010

Theatre: The WAAPA Week That Was

WESTERN AUSTRALIAN ACADEMY OF PERFORMING ARTS PERFORMANCE WEEK
Various Venues
8-16th October 2010


WAAPA's 2nd and 3rd year acting and music theatre students have been strutting their stuff this week on a number of stages on and outside their Mt Lawley home and, leaving aside the chance to see the next generation of the country's best (or at least best trained) stage performers in action, the results have been a real boost to the town's theatre stocks.
WAAPA has the huge advantage of having the talent, time and resources to mount shows that are beyond either the expertise or budgets of anyone else in Perth. This results in large casts, high quality (though not extravagant) production values and exciting, well developed material for the students and their mentors to work with.
A case in point is Stalin's Orchard, a really outstanding attack on the lugubrious personal dictatorships of the Soviet/Russian systems from Stalin to Putin.
Simon Montefiore in his Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, tells the story of the highly-placed couple who were suddenly swept from their apartment alongside the Kremlin and into confinement and torture in Moscow's notorious prison for the elite, only to be just as mysteriously released and returned to their empty, untouched apartment ten years later. Late that night they answered a knock on their door to find Stalin and his henchman Beria, smiling and carrying bottles of vodka, on their mat. There followed the strangest all-night drinking session in history, with the two leaders making friendly enquiries about their health and how they found prison life, and saying how nice it was to have them "back", while the couple sat paralyzed by terror and repulsion.
That lurid episode didn't make Stalin's Orchard, more's the pity,  but the play's mordant telling of its peers in horror, the murders in 2006 of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya as she returned with her shopping to her apartment and the former KGB operative Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned with polonium-210 while he drank sake in a London restaurant, are superbly convincing.
I found the whole production, and the performances of all 15 actors, a revelation. While there were many particularly outstanding performances, it was the ensemble work in a show that is part Brechtian cabaret, part three-ring circus (it's often very very funny amidst the horror), that was especially captivating. Chris Edmund, who wrote the piece in collaboration with the cast and led its fine artistic and production team, deserves the highest praise for realising a work that I hope will be seen again.
The 2nd year music theatre students also premiered a new work, WAAPA graduate James Millar and his collaborator Peter Rutherford's A Little Touch of Chaos and, once again, it was an evening well spent.
While the show didn't have the visceral excitement of Stalin's Orchard, and music theatre students inevitably take longer to bring power to their craft, the story of two generations of a family was cunningly brought to a very emotionally satisfying and convincing conclusion, and the best performances were very impressive indeed, both musically and dramatically.
James Millar 'kind of hates' the idea of nationalised "Aussie" musicals, and this certainly doesn't fall into that trap - the book and score sit squarely in a contemporary international style often reminiscent (I hope they'll forgive me) of Sondheim, and both principals' and ensemble turns worked well, and often extremely so.
Unfortunately a bout of the lurgie kept me from two other shows I was looking forward to seeing, the 3rd year acting students' Talking with Terrorists (reviewed here by Robin Pascoe) and the classical music students' English Eccentrics, both of which I'm told were similarly impressive.


Postscript: I hope I can be forgiven for not singling out individual performers  for special praise in the two shows I saw - many in both deserved it. It's probably not fair, though, especially half way through their WAAPA courses, to distinguish between performances. There'll be plenty of time for that later!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Theatre: Black Swan subscribes to the power of the pen

Black Swan State Theatre Company
2011 subscription season 
Boundary Street (world premiere)
by Reg Cribb, music by James Morrison
Heath Ledger Theatre, 4-20 March
A Midsummer Night's Dream
by William Shakespeare
Heath Ledger Theatre, 7-22 May
Rising Water (world premiere)
by Tim Winton
Heath Ledger Theatre, 25 June-17 July
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
by Tennessee Williams
Heath Ledger Theatre, 10-25 September
When the Rain Stops Falling
by Andrew Bovell
Heath Ledger Theatre, 29 October-13 November
Ninety
by Joanna Murray-Smith
Studio Underground, 1-7 July
The Damned (world premiere)
by Reg Cribb
Studio Underground, 14-30 October


This is a big year for Black Swan. Its got a brand, spanking new home in Northbridge and a season squarely aimed at delivering a subscription audience worthy of its status as the anointed state theatre company of the Boomiest Place on Earth.
The good news is that AD Kate Cherry is putting most of her eggs in the best basket she can afford: her writers. Tim Winton (now that's going to be a hot ticket!), Andrew Bovell and Reg Cribb (twice) are WA box office boffo, the other Aussie, Joanna Murray-Smith, has got her repertoire and reputation up and about world-wide, and great things are predicted for young Englishman William Shakespeare and the American tyro Tennessee Williams.
My friend and mentor (oh, all right, boss) at The West, Steve Bevis, gives us the low-down here, so I'll say no more. What will be worth watching, though, is whether Sin City on one side of William Street and Loveyland on the other can come together to deliver a package tony enough to lure the Western Suburbs across town and hip enough to get the Inner East and North out of Must and The Queens and down to the theatre. We'll keep an eye on it!
In the meantime, there's no doubt the best way to see these shows is to see them all, and the best way to do that is subscribe. You can start in for not much more than a coffee and a bruschetta in Claremont. You can do it here! 

Theatre: R & J as performed by William Shakespeare and the Earl of Southhampton

by John Aitken
Directed by John Senczuk
Featuring Ethan Tomas and Lauchlan Bain
BLUE ROOM THEATRE
Until 23 Oct



John Aitken loves poets and playwrights, musicians and composers, and many of his many plays attempt to illuminate their hidden lives. A case in point is his story of Shostakovich and Stalin, Music From The Whirlwind, a fine, muscular piece whose main achievement was stirring interest in the composer and the regime he served and subverted (and this was well before the private lives of the Stalinist oligarchs became popular bedtime reading). Aitken has had greater or lesser success with dozens of similar subjects and themes over his long career. 
This time, though, Aitken travels into very dangerous waters. The world and his wife have been pounding away at the life of William Shakespeare through his mighty body of work and tiny shards of hard evidence since April 23, 1616. It’s as if his famous funerary entreaty and curse “ Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare / To digg the dvst encloased heare / Bleste be ye man yt spares thes stones / And cvrst be he yt moves my bones” applied as much to his life as his remains.
 While many have ventured into this huge biographical void –and the box office and best-seller lists prove that the public eagerly follow them there – the question has to be, as none of them can be right, or at least proved right, about Shakespeare, what is it they seek to achieve? The answer must be the revealed image of a man;
the man for all ages,
as Dr Johnson described him. All the other figures of his age, even kings and queens, merely strut their hour upon the stage, because we either know them sufficiently, or have no need to know them at all.
 So it is with the Earl of Southampton, the other character in this play. While there’s little upon which to base the relationship between the aristocrat and the poet, Southampton was clearly a talented, handsome, vicious and almost certainly bisexual young man when Shakespeare was in his orbit, and Aitken may have captured him perfectly, or not. As performed by Lauchlan Bain in a fine turn he is both attractive and repellent, as he should be. But who cares?
It’s Shakespeare (played by Ethan Tomas) we care about, and hope to know better, and here I think Aitken’s characterisation falls away badly. His Shakespeare is forlorn, unsure and, except in recitations of his written words, depressingly inarticulate. Above all, he lacks the quality most noted by those who knew him or study him: he is not masterful. Aitken (and he’s far from the only one) over-reads the passions and torments in the sonnets; Shakespeare, as always, is the great reporter of the emotions, but to ascribe those of the sonnets to him personally is as valid as to suggest he was as mad as Ophelia or demented as Lear. Shakespeare was always master of his words, and nothing in them suggests he was not also master of his world as well.
All of which leaves Tomas’s performance incapable of success. Frankly, I hated every moment of it, but that’s not his fault. His William Shakespeare, John Aitken’s Shakespeare, could not have written those plays and those poems. And without that, the performance, and the play, founders.   

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Hybrid Arts: Have Fun Living Forever

The Last Man to Die
Devised and performed by Last Man To Die and Pete Butz
Blue Room Theatre
September 29 – October 16, 2010


The Canberra-based Last Man to Die collective’s self-titled hybrid-arts show on tour at the Blue Room is an engrossing piece of futuristic fantasy.   
The premise is that we are in the distant future, being taken on a guided tour of a derelict museum built to celebrate man’s achievement of immortality.
It’s a tricky proposition: the package we are handed when we arrive warns that the tour will begin as soon as “our suspension of disbelief field is ready”.
It gets even more so when we are each given a card containing an elaborate individualised bar-code which, when scanned, determines which scene the performers will do; so that some scenes reappear and others, I’m told, may not be performed at all (I guiltily confess to not scanning my card and, therefore, potentially condemning a brilliant part of the show to remain unseen and unheard).
Add to all of that lots of audience participation – we are scanned for suitability for immortality, individual audience members are led away for scenes the rest of us don’t see, we are asked to tweet our thoughts about the show while it’s unfolding – and you’ve got the potential for a confusing, disorientating experience.
Happily that’s not the case. The performance is cleverly structured so you “get it” as it goes along, and the audience participation is non-threatening and often a lot of fun.
While collaborator Pete Butz’s script doesn’t deviate much from standard futurist fare (Jerry Seinfield once pondered why, in every representation of the future, everyone wears daggy uniforms and speak in bureaucratese) it provides a strong platform for some fine work from the collective’s talented young performers.
Artist Benjamin Forster’s technological visuals dominate the work – it’s as much an art installation as a live performance – delivering some fascinating effects and moments of real excitement.
Actor Hanna Cormick works through a physically and emotionally demanding performance with vigour and surprising nuance; at one point I was startled to see a tear fall down her cheek during a monologue she’d performed hundreds of times and, indeed, more than once during this show.
Percussionist Charles Martin’s spare xylophone-based electronica augments the show perfectly and at times rises to grand heights (listen).
One scene in particular, where Forster has Cormick’s projected image metamorphosing in and out of an elaborate cat’s cradle to one of Martin’s most elegant pieces was a thing of rare beauty. It was repeated three times by the luck of the bar-code scan, and I watched entranced each time.
By necessity The Last Man to Die plays to a tiny audience – 20 is pretty much a full house – and I’ve got a feeling tickets might get hard to come by before it closes on October 16.
It’s also great to go into a one-hour show at 7.00pm, allowing you to enjoy the hospitality of Northbridge Sin City at a civilised hour afterwards. Let’s hope such imaginative and complimentary scheduling becomes a regular part of the experience of WA’s performing arts complex as it develops.


An edited version of this review appeared in The West Australian 6.10.10 look.