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.

Theatre: Ghost Stories (★★½)

Richard Moss checks things out
By Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson
Prince Moo Productions
Director Peter J Snee and Jennifer Sarah Dean
Designer Jaz Wikson
Lighting designer Mat Cox
Featuring Stuart Brennan, Richard Moss, Matthew Connell, Brian Markey
Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre
Until October 12

To say that I scare easily is an understatement. I saw Disney’s Sleeping Beauty when I was around six and still haven’t fully recovered, just about dislocated a hip convulsively jerking my legs out of harm’s way during Jaws, and was a tiny bit frightened last week by The Sound of Music.
So, if the publicity was to be believed, I should have been stretchered out of Ghost Stories at the Heath Ledger Theatre.
But I’m afraid I wasn’t. Not even close.
Ghost Stories has been a popular success in the UK and elsewhere – it claims a total audience of over half a million – so maybe the “don’t tell anyone” request is cleverer than it seems.
Because this might be one occasion where lack of word of mouth is the best marketing strategy.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Monday, September 19, 2016

Musical: THE SOUND OF MUSIC (★★★★)

Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse
Presented by Andrew Lloyd Webber, David Ian, John Frost and The Really Useful Group
Directed by Jeremy Sams
Designed by Robert Jones
Music direction by Peter Casey
Choreography by Arlene Phillips
Burswood Theatre
Until October 9

In April 1965, The Sound of Music movie opened in Brisbane, where I was 11 and at boarding school, and the whole city swooned.
There was pandemonium. One woman saw it 100 times. We all got special boarder’s leave to see it.
All this for a Swiss cheesy, Vienna chocolate box of a musical, as anachronistic as lederhosen?
But nobody cared then, and I doubt anyone does now. The Sound of Music is both an “icky sticky” failure (as one critic described it) and a triumph. You can love it and laugh at it, all at once.
It belongs to its audience alone; all there is to judge is the justice each production does it.
And this one delivers in spades.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Theatre: Grounded (★★★★½)

Written by George Brant
Directed by Emily McLean
Sound designer and composer Brett Smith
Lighting designer Karen Cook
Performed by Alison van Reeken
Blue Room Theatre
Until October 1


“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”
Robert Oppenheimer (from the Bagavad Gita) 

When Oppenheimer, in the high New Mexico desert, pondered the destructive power of his atomic bomb, it was its enormity and existential threat that gave him pause.
No such qualms stay the hand of the wielders of military drones, those precise, invisible predators that increasingly are the weapon of choice of the world’s militaries.
It’s easy to see why. Bloodless (to their possessors) and politically expedient, they turn warfare into images on screens, and death into the ultimate gamer abstraction.
But there are people operating the drones, and, in George Brant’s hard, cold Grounded, we meet one. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that one confronts us. The Pilot (she has no name) was an F-16 fighter jock. Her world was The Blue, W.B. Yeats’s “lonely impulse of delight”.
When it is taken from her and she’s assigned to the “Chair Force”, sitting in a hut at an air force base in another high desert an hour out of Las Vegas, staring at screen images from 1.2 seconds ago on the other side of the world, her blue world turns to grey.
As she monitors her screen, and rains death on figures scuttling around in the desert, her moral compass and her sense of self become harder and harder to grasp.
Until another reality forces her to reach back for them.
Alison van Reeken is the very best of our actors, and she’s extraordinary here. Hair tied back tight, face taut and unmade, sinewy in her pilot’s jumpsuit, her performance (85 minutes, delivered at the gallop) is uncompromising, technically flawless and emotionally convincing.
Her pilot is frightening and frightened, normal and abnormal in equal measure.
The director, Emily McLean, doesn’t have all the technical bells and whistles at the Blue Room that the celebrated Julie Taymor had to play with in the Broadway production of Grounded, so she and her lighting designer Karen Cook focus us entirely on van Reeken, and it’s to powerful, chilling effect.
The only distractions from Grounded’s tension are the songs on The Pilot’s car stereo.
Maybe one day she will crank up her AC/DC, her Guns ‘N’ Roses and Springsteen real loud, and drive. Away, up past Las Vegas, up past Los Alamos, and off into The Blue.
Tickets to Grounded will be hard to get. Don’t miss it.

An edited version of this review appeared in The West Australian 16.9.16.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Theatre: TILT 2016 (★★★)

WAAPA  3rd Year Performance Making Students
Blue Room Theatre
Until September 10

These two short seasons are the second annual showcase of WAAPA’s Performance Making course’s graduating class at the Blue Room Theatre.
Performance making is the most DIY of artistic pursuits. These artists are the small business people of the theatre, responsible for everything from devising and writing to the technical and performance delivery of the work.
It’s a daunting environment where, if you want something done, you’ll more than likely have to do it yourself.
The 23 young artists in TILT are launching into a rock-strewn stream that leads to the spiegeltents of the fringes and the black boxes of indie theatre venues like the Blue Room. Bon voyage.
Promise abounded in both programmes, and one piece, Where the Giant Fell, is already all but ready for market. I’m confident, like The Mars Project and The Remedy/What’s Love Got to do With It?, both also original product from WAAPA’s teeming shipyards, it will be setting sail for the spiegeltents and black boxes very soon. 

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The 2016 Turnstile Awards

Corey Bernardi reacts when he thought someone told him he was hosting the 2016 Turnbull Awards

This year’s Turnstile Awards reflect a year when the output of WA theatre was solid rather than spectacular.
In some respects, it was a good year; it was professional, well curated, earnest and worthy.
But while a night out at the theatre in Perth was a good, reliable entertainment option, there was a lack of local productions that truly thrilled, inspired, transported and provoked.
The Turnstile Awards acknowledge outstanding WA produced (or co-produced) stage shows opening in Perth between September and August each year. They are inclusive, rather than proscriptive, when it comes to eligibility.
There is no set number of Turnstile winners, and no attempt to rank them in order of merit. The Turnstiles are a pat on the back, not the prize in a competition.
In 2015/16 there were 59 “eligible” productions (a couple fewer than last year) reviewed in either or both The West Australian and this blog. Apologies to those I missed.
Thirty-two of them were shows I happily and heartily recommended (meaning a star rating of 3.5 or more); that’s a sizeable majority of the field, and vastly outnumbers the five I thought you were wise to avoid (two stars or fewer).
But there’s no getting around it: this year produced the fewest Turnstile Awards since they began in 2011, and by some margin.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Theatre: Clinton the Musical (★★★)

by Paul and Michael Hodge
Black Swan State Theatre Company
Directed by Adam Mitchell
Musical director David Young
Choreographer Claudia Alessi
Designed by Bruce McKiven
Lighting designer Mark Howett
Sound designer Ben Collins
With Lisa Adam, Simon Burke, Matt Dyktynski, Brendan Hanson, Luke Hewitt, Megan Kozak and Clare Moore
Music performed by David Young, Jonathan Fernandes, Andrew Weir and Michael Perkins

Heath Ledger Theatre
Until September 11

The first thing that strikes you about Clinton the Musical is Bruce McKiven’s set, a spectacular bandstand in the shape of the rotunda of the United States Capitol. It should be set up permanently at Elizabeth Quay.
The show’s other ingenious device is having two actors (Simon Burke and Matt Dyktynski) playing Bill Clinton, bringing both sides of his character to life; The Big Dog and the Silver Fox, the president and the player, William Jefferson and “You Can Call Me Billy, Darling” Clinton.
The story is played rather like a series of Saturday Night Live sketches, and it’s effectively handled by director Adam Mitchell and his cast.
The music, though, is no more than adequate, especially for a main stage production. A couple of its showstoppers don’t, and some of the ensemble pieces expose the patchy vocal strength of the cast.
Two performances really got the audience up and about, though; Brendan Hanson’s wicked A Starr is Born shows that he’s got more showbiz chops than a butcher’s shop (and some nice rump as well), and Megan Kozak’s coyly-titled Monica’s Song has a hook line that is as unforgettable as it is unrepeatable here.
When Hanson and Kozak are strutting their stuff, it’s easy to forget Clinton the Musical’s drawbacks. The two of them alone are just about worth the price of your ticket.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Now I'm getting the feeling the tide of opinion is against me here; could I have been a bit grumpy the night I hung with the Clintons? On the evidence of Will Yeoman's review in Limelight read it here, maybe so…