Friday, September 18, 2015

A little editorial: George (and his Dragon) must go

When Malcolm Turnbull pitched his candidacy for leadership of the Liberal Party on Monday he stated, as an unequivocal article of faith, that his prime ministership would be based on transparency, consultation and an end to "captain's calls".
Federal arts minister Senator George Brandis's decision to establish the National Programme for Excellence in the Arts is in chapter-and-verse conflict with the principals espoused by now prime minister Turnbull. He must be removed from the portfolio, or at the very least, instructed to immediately dismantle the NPEA and return the funds expropriated for its operation to the Australia Council.
Senator Brandis is, personally, a lover of the arts – albeit of the "dead white male" variety – and it is a very great shame that he was infected by the dark spirit of the Abbott regime (although many will argue he was one of its architects). 
For that reason, there's a weak case for a chastened and mentored Brandis continuing in the portfolio – minus the NPEA.
But such is the depth of antipathy towards him throughout the arts community, and the suspicion and fear that would attend his every decision, no matter how innocent, in the portfolio, that Mr Turnbull has no option but to move him on.
Not to do so would indicate that the words of candidate Turnbull were empty. That would be a deeply disappointing, and politically dangerous, way to start his tenure. 

Theatre: Between Solar Systems (★★) and Two Bees (★)

There’s been a small flood of plays about the loss of species, or humans fleeing the planet entirely.
We’ve already seen Will O’Mahony’s cracking The Mars Project for WAAPA. Black Swan’s world premiere season of Hannie Rayson’s Extinction, whose title is self-explanatory, opens next week.
In the meantime, the Blue Room is hosting two shows on the subjects; Scott McArdle’s Between Solar Systems and Nick Pages-Oliver and Daniel Buckle’s Two Bees. Neither, I’m afraid, sets the world on fire (perhaps that’s an unfortunate turn of phrase).

Read the complete reviews of both plays in The West Australian

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Fever and the Fret (★★★★)

By Jub Clerc
Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company
Directed Kyle J Morrison
Set and costume Designer Matt McVeigh
Sound designer Joe Lui
Lighting designer Chloe Ogilvie
Performed by Kelton Pell, Irma Woods and Ebony McGuire
Subiaco Arts Centre

 Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
The weariness, the fever, and the fret                                      
                                      John Keats Ode to a Nightingale

Many plays have their moment on the stage and are gone, but some remain and grow in thought and memory. It’s early days yet, but The Fever and the Fret will surely be among the latter.
A long (one two-hour act), sad story of three good people, it explores loss, memory and regret with care, compassion and attention to detail. It tells you a great deal about its people, and makes you care a great deal about them.
One of the strengths of the play is that while the Aboriginality of its characters is central, the lives we see here happen everywhere, and are common to all of us.
Kelton Pell is a mighty presence on stage, and a skilled and intelligent performer. He is one of those rare actors who could play Lear. And if he did, Ebony McGuire, whose journey from awkward schoolgirl to confident, caring young woman is superbly achieved, would be the perfect Cordelia.

Read the complete review in The West Australian          

Monday, September 14, 2015

Becky Peterson Will Punch You in the Face! (★★★½)

By Tyler Jacob Jones
The Cutting Room Floor
Directed by Scott Jacobs
With Erin Hutchinson, Kimberley Harris, Nicole La Bianca, Alicia Osyka, Verity Softly and Amy Welsh
Heathcote Cultural Centre
Until Sept 20

The corridors of power are no place for the faint-hearted. Or, really, for anyone with any heart at all. Even if they are those of the Little Ladies Leadership League.
The league’s Squad 109 is the battleground for Tyler Jacob Jones’s Becky Peterson Will Punch You in the Face! (at the Heathcote Cultural Centre, nimbly directed by Scott Corbett).
This is a two-hour show that should be an hour forty; Tyler Jones has so much great material he can afford to lose anything that’s merely okay. When he does, he’ll be doing his cast, who were great but had to labour some points a little, a big favour.
And Becky Peterson’s punch, already a stinger, will be a real knockout.    

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Five Years Below the Masthead

Trevor Jamieson: Hipbone Sticking Out
It was  five years ago to the day that I saw Analisa Bell's little show Gold-Digger downstairs at the Maj on my first assignment (audition, really) for The West. Doesn't time fly when you're having fun.
I just want to take the opportunity to thank everyone who's been so kind and helpful along that journey in the best way that I can - by showing you how privileged I've been to see and report back on so many wonderful shows.
Here's a list of 100 of the best of them – ranging from theatre to cabaret and comedy, circus to music – I've got to see in that time; each one memorable, each of the highest quality. It's impressive to see that the list divides almost exactly evenly between home-grown and visiting shows. There's a long list of others that could, probably should, have been on it as well.

Alison van Reeken
The Deep Blue Sea
Krakouer,  The Deep Blue Sea,  Waltzing the Wilarra,  The Ugly One,  Die Winterreise,  Laryngectomy,  Crazy For You,  Scent Tales,  Red,  Tender Napalm,  Adam and Eve,  The Damned,  Who’s Afraid of the Working Class,  Atishoo,  Blackbird,  National Interest,  How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,  It’s Dark Outside,  On the Misconception of Oedipus,  Boy Gets Girl,  Evie, The Motherfucker with the Hat,  Duck Death and the Tulip,  Sami Shah,  Minnie and Mona,  Hamlet (Barking Gecko/WAAPA), Other Desert Cities, Hedda,  Storm Boy, Trampoline, Midsummer (A Play with Songs), Diva, Vicious Circles,  Fuck Decaf,  Eight Gigabytes of Hard Core Pornography,  Jasper Jones,  This is Not a Love Song, Laughter on the 23rd Floor,  King Hit, Hipbone Sticking Out, Venus in Fur, Monroe & Associates, Under This Sun, Legally Blonde, Sonic Sessions Tim Minchin, Dedications and Gudirr Gudirr. 

Denis O'Hare: An Iliad
Donka: A Letter to Chekhov,  Aftermath,  The Animals and Children Took the Streets, Beautiful Burnout,  Stiggio and Tallis: Music in 40 Parts,  The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart,  Mission Drift,  Watt,  Black Diggers,  The House Where Winter Lives,  An Iliad,  Henry V (Propeller),  Africa,  The Disappearances Project,  The Year of Magical Wanking,  …miskien,  Love in the Key of Britpop,  Le Foulard,  Insomnia Cat Came to Stay,  East End Cabaret,  The Bookbinder,  Sex Idiot,  Too Much Light Makes the Baby go Blind,  Tatterdemalion,  Waves,  The Defence,  MKA: Dogmeat,  First Day Off in a Long Time,  Sunglasses at Night,  Neil Hamburger,  Paul Foot,  Asher Treleaven,  Jim Jefferies, Greg Fleet,  Dr Brown Brown Brown Brown and his Singing Tiger,  Kaput,  Echolalia,  Boats,  Death in Bowengabbie,  I’m Your Man,  Henry IV,  Henry V and Hamlet (Bell Shakespeare),  Slava’s Snowshow,  Brief Encounter,  51 Shades of Maggie Muff,  Christa Hughes,  Meow Meow,  Amanda Palmer,  Camille O’Sullivan,  Martha Wainwright,  Empire and Absinthe.

I hope you got to see plenty of them!

Thanks to Steve Bevis, who's been the most indulgent and generous of editors, and to Barry Strickland, Damien O'Doherty and Maggie, the Queen of Hairdressers, who put my name in front of him. Thanks to my Lesley for rectifying my lousy grammar and reining in my excesses, to all the producers and publicists who tolerated my fussy requests, to the handbags who kept me awake, even on 4-show nights at the Fringe, and to the generous beverage sponsors of Perth's theatre companies. And Uber.

But most of all to the creative people, both sides of the lights, who do this fine work for us, in most cases for little reward and less security. 

They are heroes, and I hope I've been more help than hindrance to them.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The 2015 Turnstile Awards

Federal Arts Minister George Brandis made a surprise appearance at the glittering Turnstile Awards ceremony to announce he was giving some trophies of his own. It was a little hard to work out what they were, though. Or who he was giving them to.
There may be dark clouds on the horizon, but the WA theatre biz still delivered a harvest of both quantity and, by and large, quality, in the last year. 
The Turnstile Awards acknowledge outstanding WA produced (or co-produced) stage shows opening in Perth between September and August each year. 
There is no set number of Turnstile winners, and no attempt to rank them in order of merit: Turnstiles are a pat on the back, not a competition.
In 2014/5 there were 62 “eligible” productions (a few more than last year) reviewed in either or both The West Australian and this blog. Inevitably some others get missed, especially around festival time – apologies to them. 
Thirty of them were shows I had no hesitation in recommending; that’s an impressive proportion, and outnumbers those you’d have been wise to avoid by three to one – and a number of those were admired by people with far better judgement than mine.
Which all means that coming out to the theatre in Perth is an investment in your time and treasure you can make with some confidence. The people who make the shows need your support, more now than ever, and they will reward you for it.

Here, in chronological order, are the nine productions that take home a Turnstile this year:

  • Laughter on the 23rd Floor, Black Swan’s sparkling, handsome revival of Neil Simon’s reminiscence of radio days. Impeccably cast, with Peter Rowsthorn outstanding.
  • King Hit, Geoffrey Narkle and David Gilroy took us inside the sideshow boxing tent, and plenty of other places, in Yirra Yaakin’s fine, important revival of this seminal West Australian play.
  • Hipbone Sticking Out, a magnificent, sprawling story of the collision of cultures in West Australia’s North-West. Created by Scott Rankin and Big hART, inspired by, and featuring, the people of Roebourne, it had everything theatre should have, and did everything theatre should do.
  • Venus in Fur, David Ives' delicious layer cake of a play-within- a-play-within-a-book, assiduously directed by Lawrie Cullen-Tait and sent into orbit by the tall, fair and heedless Felicity McKay.
  • Monroe & Associates: Tim Watts, the kindiest member of wunderkind company The Last Great Hunt, created a snazzy little noir world inside a caravan, and invited his audiences of one to try to outsmart him in it.
  • Under This Sun, Warwick Doddrell’s outback epic emerged from the heat and dust of the WA desert like a modern-day Burke and Wills, and was as impressive a writing debut as we saw on the Perth stage this year.
  • Legally Blonde showed WAAPA’s splendid music theatre course and its soon-to-be world-beating students to perfect advantage at the Regal – and was a sell-out smash hit into the bargain. 
  • Gudirr Gudirr, an extraordinary performance by Broome artist Dalisa Pigram combined tens of thousands of years of continuous cultural endeavour with the skills and confidence of contemporary indigenous performing art.
  • The Mars Project: for the entire body of work by the 3rd year acting class at WAAPA this year, but in particular for Will O’Mahoney’s intricate, coherent and moving rumination on ambition, autism and the lure of the ultimate.

And here are some other great shows that could easily have walked off with a Turnstile:

It really has been a remarkable year for The Blue Room and its associated artists and independent producers; apart from their two Turnstiles, Joe Lui’s revelatory correspondence from exile, Letters Home, the gripping rom-horredy Welcome to Slaughter (Lui again, along with Michelle Robin Anderson, Jo Morris and Emily Rose Brennan), Finegan Kruckemeyer’s sparkling fable Those Who Fall in Love Like Anchors Dropped Upon the Ocean Floor (or Twifilladutoff, as I l took to calling it) and the extraordinary Margi Brown Ash and Leah Mercer’s Joey the Mechanical Boy were all terrific. They combined with PICA to present Summer Nights as part of the Perth Fringe, and in it Claire Lovering’s touching solo stand River, Chris Isaacs and Jeffrey Jay Fowler’s razor sharp Fag/Stag and Mikala Westall’s impressive writing debut Moving On, Inc. were all great successes.A good year, too, for Black Swan, who added their pacy, accurate revival of Glengarry Glen Ross to their brace of Turnstiles; and for WAAPA, who also picked up two Turnstiles and could easily have had a third for All My Sons, a splendid revival of Arthur Miller’s near-perfect play.I didn’t share the general enthusiasm for Barking Gecko’s blockbuster The Rabbits, but Marko Jovanovic’s star solo turn in the coming-of-age drama Pondlife McGurk was a standout, as was Nick Maclaine and Isaac Lim’s sparkling Dorothy Fields bio, Exactly Like You downstairs at the Maj.

For the record, a few honorary Turnstiles to brilliant shows that would have won the real thing if they had been from WA: at this year’s Fringe, Bryony Kimmings’ high-style, fearless Sex Idiot, a sleeper with a killer twist, Alice Mary Cooper’s Waves, and Ralph McCullum Howell’s tiny triumph, The Bookbinder; at PIAF, QTC’s powerful Black Diggers; Josh McConville’s superb Hamlet for Bell Shakespeare, and, downstairs at the Maj, John O’Hara and Anthony Harkin’s surprisingly substantial cabaret, Dedications.   

My thanks to the nine Turnstiles winners, and all those that cracked an honourable mention – between them, twenty shows mounted in WA you’d be privileged to see anywhere in the world.

You can read what I had to say about each of the awarded and noted shows by clicking on their highlighted title (thanks to Steve Bevis for his All My Sons review).

Finally, thanks again to everyone who dropped in to Turnstiles over the last year – it’s well into six-figure visits now, and, hopefully, at least some of them didn’t stumble across it looking for a Neil Young album. Please fire in a comment about the awards, even if it’s just to bag them!