Saturday, March 26, 2011

Theatre: Motherhood the Musical

Written by Sue Fabisch
Directed by Terence O’Connell
Featuring Rebecca Moore, Amelia Christo, Ziggy Clements and Jacqueline Hoy
Subiaco Arts Centre
Until April 14

Amelia Christo
There were only twelve of us in the audience at the Subiaco Arts Centre for this performance of the Australian touring production of Sue Fabisch’s Motherhood The Musical, and, not surprisingly, we were feeling exposed and uncomfortable.
Of course, there were a couple of hundred of them: women, having a high old time at this jaunty affirmation of the joys and tribulations of pregnancy, childbirth, motherhood and female friendship.
Motherhood has been somewhat sketchily adapted to an Australian idiom from its American origins, but it would be wrong to deny the entertainment value of the show because it’s corny, anachronistic and simplistic. 

Link here to the complete version of this review in The West Australian  

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Theatre: The Ugly One

Perth Theatre Company
Written by Marius Von Mayenburg
Directed by Melissa Cantwell
Featuring Benj D’Addario, Brendan Ewing, Geoff Kelso and Gemma Ward
Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre
March 22 - April 9, 2011 

Geoff Kelso (l) and Benj D'Addario
The Ugly One is the first of German playwright Marius Von Mayenburg’s work to be staged in Perth, though like his Eldorado and Moving Target, it has had success in other capitals.
On the strength of this elegant, economic production directed by Melissa Cantwell in the Studio Underground at the new State Theatre Centre, it’s easy to see why.
It’s a beautiful production to look at (and not for the obvious, somewhat over-publicised reason you may be thinking of) and the cast deal effectively with the challenges Von Mayenberg’s text throws them: Benj D'Addario tracks Lette’s descent from solid citizen to outcast to degenerate with clarity while Geoff Kelso, a very funny man right in his element here, and the provocative Brendan Ewing both inject just the right amount of over-the-toppery to keep things from getting too Germanic.
It’s impossible to ignore Gemma Ward's international celebrity as a beauty, but while this perhaps adds an unintended extra layer to Von Mayenburg’s text, it does it no harm.
The Ugly One is a flying start for the Perth Theatre Company in a space that is likely to be more important for WA theatre than its grander sibling upstairs.

Link here to the complete review in The West Australian                   

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Theatre: The Modern International Dead

Deckchair Theatre
Written by Damien Millar
Directed by Chris Bendall
Featuring Steve Turner, Michelle Fornasier and Stuart Halusz
Victoria Hall, Fremantle
March 17  - April 2, 2011

Steve Turner and Michelle Fornasier
We woke the morning after the opening of Deckchair Theatre’s production of Damien Millar’s The Modern International Dead to yet another country in flames. Like Somalia, like Kosovo, Iraq, Cambodia, Rwanda and East Timor before it, Libya joins the nightmare list of countries whose people endure torture and execution, disease and starvation, incursion and insurgency, ethnic violence and the deadly infection of the minefield. They are the modern international dead of the play’s very apt title.
Miller’s play centres on the stories of three Australians dealing with these seemingly endless agonies. 
The closer the play stayed to the real stories of real people plainly told, the more effective it was. Two monologues describing the terrible consequences of a land mine explosion in Cambodia and a car hijacking in Somalia were its emotional and dramatic high points. 
During these scenes, and in others where the characters bore plain, direct witness to actual events, the production had a similar impact to the powerful and illuminating Aftermath, recently seen at the Perth Festival.
The Modern International Dead isn’t everything it could be, but it still deserves praise for bringing a terrible darkness to the light, and for a performance from Steve Turner that alone is worth the price of admission.

Link here to the complete review in The West Australian

Footnote: I’ve had a brief email exchange with Chris Bendall about the extent to which Damien Millar is transcribing stories told to him, especially the Somalia carjacking story told by the Rod Barton character in the play, which relates to some of my comments in the full review in The West.
 Bendall tells me that, while that story is not a transcription, “the incident, reactions and actions are all factual”.
“The same incident is described in the book
Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures). In Damien’s interviews apparently Rod spoke of the story but not nearly to the same length, so Damien has re-constructed (it) using his voice. 

“I guess the interesting thing about the play is it feels like verbatim theatre, and nothing is made up so it's all based on the extensive interviews Damien conducted, but he has gotten inside the voices of each of the actual people and recrafted their words for dramatic purposes –which is why he uses the tag ‘witness theatre’ more than ‘verbatim”, Bendall says.   

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Theatre: Catalpa

By Donal O’Kelly
Actor Des Fleming
Director Alice Bishop
Composer Wally Gunn
Subiaco Arts Centre
March 12 - 19, 2011

Catalpa is an engrossing re-telling of the rescue in 1876 of six Fenian political prisoners from Fremantle by the American whaler, Catalpa. The fine theatre craft of playwright Donal O’Kelly, the show’s solo actor, Des Fleming, and director Alice Bishop breathe life, surprise and not a little wonder into the story.
Des Fleming
Fleming is a masterful performer, admirable for his endurance alone – two hours of demanding physical and vocal effort is an achievement in itself. Bishop also deserves praise for her sure-footed and inventive direction, in particular her imaginative transformation of mundane objects into an array of sails, lamps, boats, clothes and carriages.
In O’Kelly’s original version, Catalpa was a stand-and-deliver piece for an actor at a microphone. Bishop and Fleming, aided greatly by Wally Gunn’s cinematic score, nicely performed by James Rushford, have made it, I suspect, a much more complete experience.
Catalpa would be a rewarding night out at the theatre at any time; in the week of St Patrick’s Day, it’s damn near irresistible.
Link here  to the full review in The West Australian  

Monday, March 14, 2011

Concert: WASO plays Ross Edwards

West Australian Symphony Orchestra 
Spirit Ground (Ross Edwards)
Perth Concert Hall
March 11, 2011

We first heard Ross Edwards as we drove down Stirling Highway to a dinosaur show in Fremantle on a perfect Saturday morning in the autumn of 1990. It was the third movement of Maninyas II, and its rising,  ecstatic beauty will be part of our family's soundtrack forever; our daughter calling out “Mum! Dad! Dinosaurs! Dinosaurs!” in the back seat; her parents yelling “Shut up, Lily, we’re trying to listen to this amazing music!” in the front. Those were the days.
A couple of years later we were in the Concert Hall for the premiere of his Da Pacem Domine, dedicated to the dying conductor Stuart Challender and shot through with a greater foreboding brought on by the first Gulf War: how prophetic it seems now. Some years later, when I was asked to produce a visual history of Australians at war for the hour of last darkness before the Dawn Service at the State War Memorial in Perth, it was the only music I ever considered to accompany it – grave, pregnant with a deep hope, respectful in its quiet spaces but full of emotion, universal but unmistakably, powerfully Australian. If Kenneth Slessor’s Beach Burial is the great Australian war poem, Da Pacem Domine is its great war hymn.
Years pass, and we, and the world, heard his
Dawn Mantras, like a dream sung from the wings of the Sydney Opera House by didgeridoo and children’s choir to usher in the new century. Those lovely cadences, that singular Australian-ness, again.
And now we were back in the Concert Hall, this time for another Edwards' premiere, his short Spirit Ground for violin and orchestra. Edwards told us from the stage before the piece that it describes the relationship between Australia’s two cultures, our sky-oriented young northern spirituality, our old, deep, earth-calling one. Margaret Blades, who we’d seen the previous week having fun as a rock star fiddler with Tim Minchin in the park, was back in territory she has a real knack for, working Edwards’s violin meditation up to the firmament and back down to earth again with swooping style. It wasn’t a ground-breaking piece – often a re-stating of that palate he has painted with so gorgeously before, with its shades of Vaughn Williams and Copland and broad brush-strokes  of insects and gamelan. But, at 68, he’s entitled to look back a little and, in so doing, he’s delivered an honest acquittal of his commission from Geoff Stearns and a worthy addition to the West Australian Symphony Orchestra's Song Book.

There were other fine moments in this concert; the two glorious second movements, Adante from Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto and Allegretto from Beethoven’s 7th Symphony alone are worth the price of any admission, and I enjoyed Brett Dean’s Ampitheatre, which opened the show, with its scratchy tension, like an orchestral introduction to Ganggajang’s Sound of Then. 
But it was our Australian living treasure Ross Edwards we came for, and, as always, he delivered.

I’m just a fan: Neville Cohn has a much more authoritative and considered view in his review in The West link here . Many thanks to WASO for the kind invitation to the concert.

Monday, March 7, 2011

PIAF: Boundary Street

Written by Reg Cribb
Music by James Morrison
Directed by Kate Cherry
Featuring Adriane Daff, Rebecca Davis, Matt Dyktynski, Luke Hewitt, Christopher Kirby, Damon Lockwood. Clare Moss, Emma Pask, Kenneth Ransom, Gina Williams and Terry Yeboah, with James Morrison, Roger Garrood, Harry Morrison, John Morrison and Raymond Walker.  
Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre
Until March 20

Miss Lila Draper and Pte Bob Walker, New York City, dance to 
the US Fifth Air Corps Orchestra at Dr Carver's in 1943 .
This is an important production for many reasons, and the historic events on which it is loosely based, and the issues that arose from them, have been strangely neglected for almost 70 years.
I wish I could say Boundary Street steps up to these marks, but sadly it falls well short. Reg Cribb’s script is terribly episodic, with many short scenes that led nowhere yet required some awfully clunky set changes. Situations arise and disappear without explanation; the fate of the central characters is left unresolved in a denouement that lacks either historical accuracy or theatrical power. 
Director Kate Cherry has difficulty filling the stage with the forces at her disposal, leaving some scenes, especially the dance numbers, dreadfully exposed. Even the music, much of it original material by jazz legend James Morrison, who led the band, seemed tentative.
Too much is wrong with Boundary Street. Despite all the anticipation and high expectations, this play and this production are simply not ready for the public. 

The complete version of this review appeared in The West Australian link here.   Meanwhile, from the safety of his Canberra bunker, Ron Banks sent this spray in to The West, while Vickie Laurie's review for the ABC link here has some back-of-house detail to ponder.          

In concert: Tim Minchin v WASO

Kings Park
4 March, 2011

Tim Minchin knows that orchestral and rock music are uncomfortable companions; one’s a speedboat, the other an ocean liner, and it’s hard for them to travel in convoy without the former being swamped in the wake of the latter. 
There were times during his Kings Park concert with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra last Friday when the material was at risk of foundering in muddy waves of strings. 
But he’s got the weapons to overcome these problems, and he uses them to great effect during over two hours of favourite and new songs, punctuated by some tight stand-up routines and the occasional obligatory Minchin diatribe.
All in all, a happy homecoming for the Perth boy with everything except shoes!

Read the complete review in The West Australian here 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

PIAF: The Animals and Children Took to the Streets

Written and directed by Suzanne Andrade
Film animation and design by Paul Barritt
Music by Lillian Henley
Featuring Suzanne Andrade, Esme Appleton, Lillian Henley and the voice of James Addie
Astor Theatre
1 – 6 March, 2011

Ten minutes into The Animals and Children Took to the Streets, the tiny British troupe 1927’s gorgeous tour-de-force of live and animated theatre-making, I was completely enthralled by the twisted wit of writer and director Suzanne Andrade, the simply extraordinary animated trompe l’oeil of animator and designer Paul Barritt and the mordant, sharply performed songs composed by Lillian Henley.
Henley, Esme Appleton (also the company’s costume maker) and Andrade — who has as enunciated and beguiling a voice as I’ve ever heard — give riveting performances in a show that takes the integration of real and animated action to a level of faultless precision. 
The show’s technical brilliance is marshalled in the service of an equally impressive setting and theme. We leave the glistening towers of a wealthy, hedonistic metropolis and go just a mile or two east to Red Herring Street and the Bayou Mansions, the city’s “thorn in the side/ ghost at the feast”, where life is as hard as nails. The place is literally crawling with vermin (Barritt’s animated walls are constantly criss-crossed by cockroaches) and wriggling with perverts and other human detritus – the memorable Wayne the Racist and his racist children are mere comic relief in this nasty urban jungle.
We are warned that there is no escape from Red Herring Street – “born in the Bayou/ die in the Bayou too” – but for some, like the lonely caretaker who has saved 777 pounds, 77 pence for a one-way ticket out, and the evangelical Agnes Eaves and her daughter Eavie who come to the Bayou to save the souls of its children through “love, encouragement and collage”, there are dreams of a better life.
Saving the kids will be tough, though. This is a place where the children come out at night, and when Zelda, the Brechtian daughter of the Queen of the Bayou, the brothel-keeper and pawnbroker Mrs Villigan, and her pirate gang break out from Red Herring Street and descend on the prim and manicured City Park hell-bent on trouble, the city fathers give it back to them in spades.
The caretaker (Esme Appleton) and Eavie Eaves make their escape
And that’s where the trouble began for me, too. The pace and inventiveness of the production fall away a little to accommodate a story of abduction, sacrifice, escape and rescue; it’s all good black fun with a suitably Dickensian moral (and a twist) in its tale, but I don’t think that’s what 1927 are here for, and neither was I. It wasn’t a deal-breaker by any means, but when a show takes you up as high as this one, it’s a shame to be brought back to earth, even just a bit, by a fairly stock storyline.
But forget I said that: Animals and Children, with its seamless mix of the real and fantastical, is as marvellous to watch and listen to as The Triplets of Belleville or Howl’s Magic Castle, and as strange and wonderful to contemplate as Victor Hugo’s elephant. It’s not to be missed.

There was one other reason things went a bit awry about ten minutes in. It wasn’t a visual trick by 1927’s Paul Barritt; I was the victim of the Astor Theatre’s seating, which I imagine is okay for movies, when you’re looking up to the screen, or concerts where you’re moving about a bit, but is a serious issue when you’re trying to watch a production like Animals and Children. I realise the Festival has a continuing challenge finding suitable spaces for all its shows, but I urge them to be mindful of the sight lines at the Astor before housing shows there.

Robin Pascoe also had a good time with the beasts and kids; link here for his review in The West Australian.