Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Theatre: An Almost Perfect Thing (★★★★)

By Nicole Moeller
Directed by Gabrielle Metcalf
Set and costume designer Tyler Hill
Lighting designer Rhiannon Petersen
Sound designer Christian Peterson
Performed by Daisy Coyle, Andrew Hale and Nick Maclaine
The Blue Room Theatre until August 26

The abduction and imprisonment of young girls holds a fascination for the media and public.
Apart from the purely sexual voyeurism that inevitably accompanies these cases, there’s a devil’s brew of other allurements; the psychological mysteries of “Stockholm Syndrome”, the personalities of victim and perpetrator, the titillating thought that these outrages could be happening right under your nose – even (hush now) right next door.
And when these children emerge, freed from a dark basement or recognised walking down the street with their captor, their story becomes somehow even more chilling by the shock of their very survival.
The Canadian playwright Nicole Moeller tackles the subject with considerable dramatic precision in An Almost Perfect Thing, and manages to wrap many of the issues around abduction into a compact and gripping narrative (at 110 minutes over two acts the play is long by Blue Room standards, but it’s time easily spent).
An 18-year-old girl, Chloe (Daisy Coyle), suddenly reappears after six years in captivity. For a struggling journalist, Greg (Andrew Hale), who’d been following the fruitless attempts to find her, it’s as though she dropped out of the sky.
Chloe, who’s read Greg’s stories while she’s been held, agrees to talk to him, but not to reveal the identity of her captor, Mathew (Nick Maclaine), or where she was imprisoned.
It’s clear that Chloe enjoys her fame, even when it turns to notoriety in some quarters, and is determined to play it out to her best advantage.
She realises – and it’s a fascinating insight – that once the perpetrator is exposed and captured, he becomes the focus of attention, not her.
As Moeller’s story plays out, and she moves us back and forward in time, she spins a web of interdependence, shared pain, hope and fear between captive, captor and reporter that delivers compelling theatre and psychological veracity.
Hale and and Maclaine are experienced and skilful actors, and Gabrielle Metcalf gives them a tight frame in which to deliver complex and impressive performances.
And Daisy Coyle, who recently announced her arrival in her starring role in the Black Swan hit The Lighthouse Girl, confirms her great promise here in a performance of terrific emotional suppleness and charisma. She’s a keeper.

This review appeared in The West Australian of 13.8.17  

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Theatre: Sista Girl (★★★★)

By Elena Carapetis and Alexis West
Yirra Yaakin and State Theatre Company of South Australia
Directed by Kyle J Morrison
Designed by Miranda Hampton
Composer/sound design by Andrew Howard
Lighting design by Rick Worringham
Performed by Sharni McDermott and Nadia Rossi
Subiaco Theatre Centre
Sharni McDermott and Nadia Rossi (pic: Kate Pardey)
It’s hard to find something to criticise about Sista Girl, but I have; it’s not long enough, and it stops short of the rip-roaring, “Sistas are Doing It for Themselves” climax it was beautifully poised to deliver.
Not that it fails to make its point. Not that it fails to be a satisfying – more than satisfying – story of connection across ethnic, economic and emotional divides.
It’s morning. Georgie Morelli (Nadia Rossi) and Nakisha Grey (Sharni McDermott) are both caught in the same bloody awful Australia Day holiday traffic jam, and are both heading for a shit of a day.
And that, though they don’t know it at the time, isn’t all they’ve got in common.
Nakisha has an aboriginal mother and a white father; Georgie an Italian migrant mother and a white father. Nakisha is affluent (although an Aboriginal girl in a BMW gets hassled just the same), Georgie is skint, but she’s still having a good time bogan-watching on the bus.
Both of them get a call. Their dads have collapsed, and have been rushed to hospital. Before they arrive, the news is even worse. Their dads have died.
Alone together in the waiting room, the two girls make a shocking discovery – their dads are the same man.
It’s a delicious set-up, and the writers Elena Carapetis and Alexis West are marvellously sure-footed as they play it out. Naturally, the circumstances (one family abandoned, the other imperilled, the collision of white, migrant and indigenous ethnicities) are pregnant with issues current and deep-rooted. The play does canvass them, but without weighing it down.
What is really important is reconciliation of a ground-level, intensely personal kind, and that’s the journey Sista Girl takes Georgie, Nakisha and us on.
Rossi and McDermott are great company on the trip. Rossi is feisty and appealing, giving her embattled Georgie a terrific rough-diamond appeal, and McDermott deserves high praise for her success in a very tricky assignment. For Nakisha to work, she has to first lose our sympathy to gain it back, and McDermott does both in a performance of great quality.
Sista Girl is an efficient, no-nonsense play, from its tidy writing to Miranda Hampton’s merry-go-round set and Kyle J Morrison’s adept, unobtrusive direction. That in no way, however, diminishes its quality or importance.
And my complaint? Give those girls another 10 minutes and they could re-draw the contract their dad had mucked up, blown their potential partners away with a hot-shot presentation and both driven off in Beemers.
Laughing their heads off and singing “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” no doubt.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Theatre: 1984 (★★★)

The novel by George Orwell
Adapted and directed by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan
Associate Director (Australia) Corey McMahon
Designer Chloe Lamford
Lighting Designer Natasha Chivers
Sound Designer Tom Gibbons
Video Designer Tim Reid
With Molly Barwick, Paul Blackwell, Tom Conroy, Terence Crawford, Coco Jack Gillies, Ursula Mills, Renato Musolino, Guy O’Grady, Yalin Ozucelik, Fiona Press
His Majesty’s Theatre August 8, 2017

Those mavens of modern manners and mores, Leigh Sales and Annabel Crabb, have been trolling the swamps of dystopia on their Chat 10 Looks 3 podcast lately. Inevitably the conversation turned to the two current celebrities of that grim genre, The Handmaid’s Tale (SBS On Demand) and 1984 (Sydney Theatre Company at His Majesty’s Theatre).
As it turns out, I was eight episodes into the riveting trials and tribulations of Elizabeth Moss’s Offred, so tearing myself away to the theatre took some doing (a subject Sales and Crabb also ponder).
George Orwell’s 1984 occupies a signal place in our consciousness – or at least, that of my generation and education. Along with Orwell’s other portent, Animal Farm, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, it lurked about our consciousness with its grim messages of the cold evil of the state and our powerlessness against it.
It’s also a chilling and memorable read. And it takes us where, perhaps, only books can go, into the heart and mind of its subject.
And that’s the problem with this staging of 1984.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Theatre: Coma Land (★★★★)

Black Swan State Theatre Company and Performing Lines WA
Written and directed by Will O’Mahony
Set designer Patrick James Howe
Sound designer Rachael Dease
Lighting designer Chris Donnelly
Performed by Humphrey Bower, Kirsty Marillier, Amy Mathews, Morgan Owen and Ben Sutton

In Will O’Mahony’s carefully delineated and finely performed drama, coma is a place.
By logical necessity, it can only be “about” one character – a startling young girl named Boon (Kirsty Marillier) – but O’Mahony’s achievement in Coma Land is to people the strange place she is in with figments of her imagination that have their own stories, memories and ambitions.
There’s a chirpy girl of Boon’s age, Penguin (Morgan Owen), who is trying to fly according to Malcolm Gladwell’s tendentious 10,000 Hour Rule (practice something for 10,000 hours and you will become expert in it). There’s Penguin’s dad (Humphrey Bower) who might be working towards their escape but keeps a dark secret. There’s the chummy party planner Jinny (Amy Mathews) and a panda named Cola (Ben Sutton) who pretends to be a man.
This place, and these people, are treacherous dramatic territory, but O’Mahony (who also directs) has shown that he’s up to the challenge before, most notably in his 2013 indie hit Great White and in last year’s The Mars Project.
His great talent is controlled incongruity, and much of the humour – and there is plenty in Coma Land – springs from it. There’s no earthly reason why Cola would suddenly ask what our favourite font is (his, he says, is the obnoxious Comic Sans), but, then, there’s no reason why a panda would be in Boon’s coma. And so on.
Coma Land isn’t about all this, or coma, at all. It’s about success and failure, dependence and independence, families and their fault lines, and these themes weave around, and progress through, the metaphor of coma to a powerful conclusion.
For this to be an entertainment, though, or to work on any of its levels, you mast have performance of high quality, energy and control, and all five actors rise to the challenge.
Humphrey Bower is a master of the unlovely, and he conveys a kind of careworn peril that gives the play a taut thread throughout, while Mathews and Sutton expertly deliver much of its absurdity and comedy.
Owen is chirrupy and magnetic as Penguin (you’re allowed to be reminded of Jane Horrocks’s Bubble in Absolutely Fabulous, but smarter), and Marillier makes the play her own in a wise and feisty leading performance that leaves plenty of room for those around her to shine.
The show looks and sounds great; Patrick James Howe’s set of dark distances around a square riser of brown shag pile gives it both mystery and focus, as does Chris Donnelly’s exposed, meticulous lighting design. The remarkable Rachael Dease brings music of great simplicity and beauty to the play.
Coma Land is another milestone in O’Mahony’s steadily developing career, and another success in Black Swan’s impressive 2017 season.

This review appeared in The West Australian 25.7.17 


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Theatre/Dance: Good Little Soldier (★★★★★)

Ochre Contemporary Dance Company and The Farm
Devised and directed by Mark Howett
Devised and dramaturgy by Phil Thompson
Devised and performed by Gavin Webber, Grayson Millwood, Raewyn Hill, Ian Wilkes, Otto Kosok
Music by Mathew de la Hunty and Dale Couper
Designed by Bryan Woltjen
Sound design by Laurie Sinagra
Lighting design by Mark Howett
Subiaco Arts Centre
Until July 30

Gavin Webber and Raewyn Hill (pic Peter Tea)
The purpose of theatre is to say something, and its challenge is to find the best way to say it.  Good Little Soldier succeeds completely in both.
Mark Howett’s story of a man and his family swamped by the devastating effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder needs telling, and this mighty production uses every creative asset that can be brought to the stage, delivered with a skill and commitment of the rarest kind.
It is free of any convention, and refuses to stay on any path. I understand the piece began its life as a regular text, but, over its evolution, words were replaced by movement or audio/visual effects whenever those alternatives more effectively told the story or conveyed the emotion.
This organic process delivers a work of immense sensory and cogitative power, and one with extraordinary narrative and dramatic clarity. It’s a revolutionary achievement.
Frank (Gavin Webber), a Vietnam veteran, lives with his wife Trish (Raewyn Hill) and teenage son Josh (Otto Kosok). But he is only partly, tenuously with them.
He constantly conjures up the ghosts of his army mates, Max (Grayson Millwood) and Mike (Ian Wilkes), both killed in Vietnam, who delight and torment him, and march him away to a broken interior landscape of guilt, pride, irresponsibility and disdain.
(Whether they are real or symbolic and whether Frank needs to feel responsible for their deaths are not explained and don’t need to be. A brief interlude when Max and Mike talk directly with the audience about the rights and wrongs of war and the long resistance of Aboriginal people to the invasion of their land is tangential to the story, but appropriate in its own right.)
Max and Mike’s intrusions are brilliantly realised, but even more powerful is the bewildered terror of Trish and Josh who cannot see what Frank is seeing. The representation of this double reality, these parallel worlds, is completely convincing and often genuinely frightening.
One grim, violent dance, caught in a claustrophobic circle of light, throws the characters, living and dead, against each other like sumo wrestlers – but while Frank, Trish and Josh, grapple and pivot, the ghosts just plough through, inexorable and unforgiving.
There is great ferocity in the choreography throughout the show, from Frank’s early manhandling of his son that threatens to break the boy’s neck to Frank and Trish’s fractured dance in its final scene that starts as reconciliation and ends in smashing catastrophe.
That violence is captured and amplified by Hewett’s shrapnel-shredded lighting design, Laurie Sinagra’s tearing, rumbling sound bed and the jarring music composed and played live by Matthew de la Hunty and Dale Couper.
I’m not sure I can recall a cast better fixed in their characters. Millwood and Wilkes are demon barbers, bush lawyers and bushrangers, sinister and magnetic as Chopper Read.
Co3’s artistic director Raewyn Hill returns to the stage for the first time in a decade, and she gives Trish a battered warrior spirit, her words only terrified mumbled thoughts, her body all determination and courage.
Webber captures all the swirling contradiction of Frank; manly and un-manned, tender, brutal and truly helpless, uncompassed, lost in place and time.
And the seventeen-year-old Kosok is extraordinary as Josh, the boy who will inherit the deep, horrible truth of his parents’ lives. At the end, he spins, skipping rope whipping, sending everyone and everything around him crashing down.
And that’s what Good Little Soldier has to say. When it all comes down to dust, we will all reap the whirlwind.

Ochre have taken a brave calculated gamble extending the season over three weeks. This means there is still time – until the 30th July – for you to see this thrilling, important and utterly unmissable show.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Theatre: Saltbush (★★★★★)

By Compagnia TPO and Insite Arts
Directed by Davide Venturini and Jason Cross
Lyricist/musician Lou Bennett
Designed by Elwyn Mannix
Sound Design by Spartaco Cortese
Digital design by Elsa Mersi
Preformed by Sharni McDermott, Caleena Sandsbury and Sani Townson
Studio Underground
12 - 14 July

 In the hands of committed and skilled creative and technical artists, theatre for children, and especially very young children, can be a thrilling and engrossing experience.
Never more so than with Compagnia TPO and Insite Arts’ Saltbush, a faultless, fantastically inventive introduction to Aboriginal art and philosophy, and much more beside.
Perhaps it’s not so surprising. Theatre for the very young works in pure realms of the senses and imagination, and, with the aid of digital technology, previously unimaginable sights and sounds can envelop and entrance like never before.

Saltbush is a wonderful experience for adults too. Its technical achievement is gaspingly powerful, the stagecraft (directed by David Venturini and Jason Cross) precise, the skill of its three performers wonderful.
I simply can’t think of anyone who shouldn’t see this mighty, perfect show.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Theatre: Biryani (★★★½)

Directed by Jay Emmanuel
Performed by Kali Srinivasan
Music by Tao Issaro
Upper Burt Hall
Until July 15

Bread is the staff of life, music is the food of life, and food, and the cooking of it, loves the stage.
Whether it’s Amanda Muggleton knocking egg & chips together in Shirley Valentine, Georgia King baking cakes in Scent Tales or, tastiest of all, the cast of The Gabriels preparing three family meals during that marathon, wonderful trilogy, there’s something about the experience of cooking that dovetails with the experience of theatre.
Never more so than in Biryani, a delicious little show about Indian lives and life choices that revolves around the preparation, cooking and – happily – consumption of the food of that great culinary nation.

Theatre: The Eisteddfod

By Lally Katz
Black Swan State Theatre Company
Directed by Jeffrey Jay Fowler
Set and costume designer Tyler Hill
Lighting designer Lucy Birkenshaw
Sound designer Brett Smith
Until July 9

Lally Katz’s The Eisteddfod takes us down into a tale of sound and fury.
It’s a disturbing experience, though undoubtedly a gripping one. It left me feeling a little sullied, considerably impressed, but with many more questions than answers.
I’m sure (as sure as I can be) that it signifies something. What that is, though, remains frustratingly elusive.

Music: Jimmy Webb

Heath Ledger Theatre
July 1, 2017

The last time the American songwriter Jimmy Webb played Perth, a paltry 100 or so people were sprinkled around the little Fly By Night Club in Fremantle.
Six years later, the swanky, and much larger, Heath Ledger Theatre was full to over-capacity.
This was partly due to much better promotion of this visit, but something else, I suspect, was afoot – call it nostalgia if you like, but that doesn’t adequately explain the resurgence in the careers of the septuagenarian Webb and his veteran peers.
Webb, though, is a unique case; he’s never had a hit single of his own, his own albums sell modestly, and yet he’s been a major star since the 1960s on the strength of his songwriting alone.

Theatre: Tamagotchi Reset & Other Doomsdays (★★★½)

Written by Finn O’Branagain and Scott Sandwich
Directed by Joe Lui
Designed by Sara Chirichilli
Performed by Paul Grabovac and Izzy McDonald
Blue Room Theatre
Until July 8

Programmes are useful things, but they can give the game away.
So, for example, if I’d read mine before watching Finn O’Branagain and Scott Sandwich’s Tamagotchi Reset & Other Doomsdays I would have realized much earlier than I did that the characters being played by the actors Paul Grabovac and Izzy McDonald were the playwrights themselves.
It would quite likely also have dawned on me that the play it appeared we were watching wasn’t a play at all, rather, in the writers’ own words, a “Secretly-Educational Devised Performance Lecture”, and that the play, the actual play, was about their relationship, their artistic conflicts and divergent concerns, and the process (including their interactions with the dramaturg and director Joe Lui) by which their work arrived on the stage.

Theatre: Enoch Arden (★★★★)

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Music by Richard Strauss
Performed by John Bell and Simon Tedeschi
His Majesty’s Theatre
June 14, 2017

It’s an auspicious gathering, a hundred and fifty-three years in the making. The master Victorian poet (Tennyson), the powerful, romantic composer (Richard Strauss), the grand old actor (John Bell) and the gifted accompanist (Simon Tedeschi), together in a magnificent Edwardian theatre.
Enoch Arden is a curiosity, and delivered, as it is here, with uncompromising fealty to its provenance, an anachronism.
But such is the charm and quality of its material, and such is the clarity and prudence of its performance, we’ve no reason to care.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Theatre: Present Laughter (★★★★)

Laura McDonald and Martin Quinn
By Noel Coward
Directed by Vivian Munn
Set design by Kelly Fregon
Costume design by Kaitlin Brindley
Lighting design by Ellen Sergeant
Sound design by Kevin Tan
Performed by WAAPA 3rd Year acting students
Roundhouse Theatre, WAAPA
Until June 22

Doing Noel Coward is as easy as falling off a log. As you topple, all you have to be is beautiful and beautifully dressed, with an opera length cigarette holder in one hand and a Josephine glass in the other, a plum in your mouth and a little acid on your tongue.
And you’ve got to take yourself deadly seriously – but pause for the laughs.
That’s certainly the case in the visiting British director Vivian Munn’s high-gloss, glamorous take on Coward’s semi-autobiographical crowd pleaser, Present Laughter. 

Munn makes every character a treat, and, boy, do they deliver; from Quinn’s bantam rooster of an Essendine (he’s so like the comedian Michael McIntyre you sometimes have to look twice) to Mitchell Bourke’s Basil Fawlty of a forlorn hopeful playwright; from the flashing rapiers of Vickery and McDonald’s feuding femmes to the quick, delightful cameo of poor Daphne’s aunt, Lady Saltburn, by Ruby Maishmann.
These delicious young actors poke gleefully at Present Laughter as it floats past like bubbles and bursts in gaiety.
It was a pleasure to watch them at play.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Theatre: The Irresistible (★★★★½)

Side Pony Productions and The Last Great Hunt
Written and directed by Zoe Pepper
Written and performed by Adriane Daff and Tim Watts
Composer Ash Gibson Greig
Set and costume designer Jonathon Oxlade
Lighting designer Richard Vabre
Sound designer Phil Dowling
Until June 24

The Irresistible is as singular and wholly realised a theatre experience as has been mounted in Perth, and the apogee – so far at least ­– of the intention, and work, of the writer and director Zoe Pepper, working with Tim Watts and Adriane Daff of the busy and multi-faceted company, The Last Great Hunt.

Its achievement rests on the rigour of Pepper’s creative processes and the knockout technical effects integral to it. That work ­– by the composer Ash Gibson Greig, physical designer Jonathon Oxlade, lighting designer Richard Vabre, sound designer Phil Downing and the amazing gadgeteer Anthony “Gizmo” Watts ­– is unified, complete and often purposefully disorienting.

Into the ferment of sight and sound they have created venture the performers Watts and Daff, who co-wrote with Pepper. The characters they inhabit, and the stories they tell, ricochet around age, gender and relationships with dizzying pace and a kind of narrative violence.
The vocal distortions created by Ableton Live software (the same as used in Complicite's startling The Encounter at this year's PIAF) and controlled by the performers allow them to play over a dozen distinct characters. 

Watts is as intelligent and precise as always, and Daff is ferocious, scouring her characters raw. She is highly-charged, sometimes vicious, and gives the stand-out performance of the Perth stage this year thus far.

I listened in to foyer conversations after the show, and was amazed (and a little chastened) to hear audience members discussing the characters and their activities as if this was a conventional story and they were conventionally presented characters. I simply have no idea how they untangled it.

If that sounds like a criticism of the play, it’s far from it. Sure, there’s always room in new work to hone narrative clarity and character definition, and maybe The Irresistible will be more finely chiselled as it is played, but, in truth, that’s neither here nor there.

It’s the psychology of these characters – of all of us really – that matters to Pepper, Watts and Daff; how we position ourselves, how we see the world and judge the people in it, and how wrong, how dangerous, we can be.

There’s an example playing out right now, in the real-world case of the girl texting her boyfriend to go back into his exhaust fume-laden car. In The Irresistible a similar moment plays out; a polar opposite, in some ways, but not so different in others.

This is theatre with great strength of purpose, and a technical achievement that will leave you gobsmacked.

The Irresistible is simply irresistible. You shouldn’t try to.             

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Musical: 42nd Street (★★★)

By Harry Warren and Al Dubin
Book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble
WAAPA 2nd & 3rd Year Music Theatre students
Directed by Jason Langley
Choreographer Lisa O’Dea
Set Design by Tyler Hill
Lighting Design by Trudy O’Neill
Costume Design by Sarah Duyvestyn
Regal Theatre

Until June 24

I’ve been in raptures about recent WAAPA musical productions at the Regal, 2013’s How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and 2015’s Legally Blonde (2014’s West Side Story was problematic, but for good and understandable reasons – WAAPA is a school after all – and I missed last year’s Bring it On!).
It’s a shame, then, to say I was less than carried away by this year’s extravaganza, Al Dubin and Harry Warren’s 42nd Street.
The fault, though, lies almost entirely with the show, not the student showgirls and boys performing it.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Theatre: Blueprint (★★½)

Devised and performed by Jessica Russell, Phoebe Sullivan and Lewis Crofton
Sound designer and composer Rebecca Riggs-Bennett
Lighting designer Phoebe Pilcher
Until June 24

It’s hardly surprising that students from WAAPA are tempted to give their graduating year work another spin once they’re in the big bad world. This is especially true of the stream of graduates from its Performance Making course, which, as its name suggests, trains its students in the creation of work as well as its performance.
As a result, we’ve seen a couple of productions at the Blue Room recently – The Mars Project and The Remedy/What’s Love Got to do With It? – that are essentially remountings of devised pieces performed at WAAPA the previous year.
Blueprint, which was originally titled Rocketman and was performed at last September’s TILT series of short pieces from the Performance Making course’s graduating class, is the latest of these.
It’s also the closest to its original; and that, I suspect, is a problem.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Theate: The Advisors ★★★★

The Advisors is a new work from The Last Great Hunt, the independent theatre company whose seven members have built a formidable repertoire over recent years and now tour their work around the globe from their Perth base.
As its title suggests, The Advisors is a collection of words to the wise, a Desiderata or Kipling’s If for the way we live now; so going quietly amid the noise and haste becomes “Take care on the way home” and treating triumph and disaster just the same becomes “Don’t be a pussy!”. 
It’s high-order technical performance, testing the physical, vocal and emotional powers of the cast and Bezard’s organisational resources. There’s no dialogue, just a torrent of words and phrases, and they pull it off with hardly a hitch.
There’s a sour tone of self-congratulation about the advice, captured perfectly by the cast, and a rising sense that what seems like good advice is not good enough, or good at all.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Monday, June 5, 2017

Music: A chat with Jimmy Webb

An Evening With Jimmy Webb is at the Heath Ledger Theatre on Saturday July 1.  We had a great chat on the phone from his place on Long Island as he prepared for the tour.

The legendary American songwriter Jimmy Webb is disarmingly frank about the secret of his current show’s appeal: “It’s a name-dropping fest!”

Webb won his first Grammy 50 years ago, for Up, Up and Away, and has since collected countless platinum and gold records.

By the 1970s, those hits – By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Wichita Lineman, All I Know, the gigantic MacArthur Park, Didn’t We? (one of four of his songs  Frank Sinatra recorded), The Highwayman – and the status of his “clients”, music royalty like Linda Ronstadt, Art Garfunkel, Joe Cocker, Richard Harris and, of course, Glen Campbell – made Webb, unique among his contemporaries, a major star for his songs alone.
Taking up the mantle of interpreting his own songs has been a matter of necessity as much as choice for Webb: sadly, he’s running out of his voices.

“They were the finest artists,” he said.

“They had the most beautiful voices in the world.

“It’s very painful to think about, as one by one these voices are stilled.

“It leaves me to sing.

“I may not be the best – I couldn’t tie Glenn’s shoes as a singer, but I learnt a lot from him, a little bit has rubbed off from everybody I worked with.

“So I go out with my limited resources.

“But can I pull off a convincing Wichita Lineman, or hit the high note at the end of MacArthur Park?

“Well, yes, I can!”
“That’s the best part of life for me, performing – not only taking the fans back to special times in their lives, but getting to go out after the show, meet everyone I possibly can, sign memorabilia, do photos.

“I don’t draw the line between me and the fans, which sometimes drives security, and my wife, a little bit crazy.

“But I absolutely love it.

Read the full interview in The West Australian 

And let's sing another Jimmy Webb song, boys…

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Theatre: Endgame (★★★★½)

by Samuel Beckett
Black Swan State Theatre Company
Director Andrew Ross
Set and costume Tyler Hill
Lighting designer Mark Howlett
With Geoff Kelso, Caroline McKenzie, Kelton Pell and George Shevtsov
Heath Ledger Theatre
Until June 11

 The set and lighting designers Tyler Hill and Mark Howett achieve a remarkable effect in Andrew Ross’s revival of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame.
Behind a grimy, littered yard and the ochre-stained façade of a crumbling house they have engineered a background of such impenetrable blackness that, try as I might over the 90 minutes of the play, I could not distinguish the curtains, paint and manipulation of light that must have created it.
This void is a perfect metaphor for Beckett’s bleak vision, a place like some freezing ocean abyss where no light penetrates, time has no meaning, the pressure is crushing and creatures – fish with no faces, skeletal crabs like vast spiders – eke out their less-than-lives with no chance of dignity, let alone redemption.And in our time, when clowns and vagabonds operate out of the biggest houses and even the oceans can no longer save their wonders, we need people who can stare into the black void and search for its meaning.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Theatre: Interrupting a Crisis (★★★½)

Written and performed by Georgina Cramond
Directed by Finn O’Branagain
Designed by Clare Testoni
Lighting design by Rhiannon Petersen `
Blue Room Theatre
Until June 3

Late in Georgina Cramond’s tender confessional, Interrupting a Crisis, she invokes Joni Mitchell, the queen of the genre her show falls into.

She’s entitled to, because both harness their emotional hypersensitivity, working through pain to realisation.

I’m not getting carried away here: Mitchell is a consummate, titanic musician, and Cramond still a neophyte, albeit an engaging one; Mitchell’s songs are stories nurseried in her experiences and gowned in sumptuous art, Cramond’s songs and monologues, in this show at least, are seedlings of pure autobiography, stark naked in both content and performance.

It’s an extremely brave act for a fragile person. In a sense Cramond is playing out her demons (is that the right word?) in the most direct possible terms. When she talks about how she deals with her disturbances, and its limitations and dangers – they are “short-term solutions to long term problems”; they give her “control of something”; she is “doing the best I can with the time I have been given”, you feel very strongly she is talking about the purpose of what she is doing right now, right here, every bit as much as she is what she did then, and there.

Those disturbances – her crippling anxiety, depression and eating disorder – are confronted head-on and unflinchingly. Those of us – and it’s a frighteningly high percentage – who have first-hand experience of these catastrophes can only applaud her courage and hope for the therapeutic benefit Cramond is clearly seeking here.

Cramond has been guided through the process of this show by the writer and director Finn O’Branagain, and O’Branagain’s care and sensitivity is very evident throughout. Her show also benefits greatly from the set and lighting design of Clare Testoni and Rhiannon Petersen respectively, who give it a sharp, cool look that seems to counter Cramond’s diffident charm until their hard edges and pincer focus hint at a deeper reality.

What now for Cramond? Her music now needs room to swell, her comic gifts now need a place to find more expression; she needs Mitchell’s gown of art to transform her personal frailty into something stronger, wider and louder.

Even if Interrupting a Crisis is only a step in that process (and it’s more than that), it’s a valuable and noteworthy one.     

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Theatre: The Lighthouse Girl (★★★★½)

Benj D'Addario and Daisy Coyle
by Hellie Turner
based on the novels by Dianne Wolfer
Black Swan State Theatre Company
Directed by Stuart Halusz
Set Design by Lawrie Cullen-Tait
Costume designer Lynn Ferguson
Lighting designer Joe Lui
Composer/ sound designer Brett Smith
With Daisy Coyle, Benj D’Addario, Murray Dowsett, Mick Maclaine, Alex Malone, Will McNeill and Giuseppe Rotondella
STC Studio
Until May 14

Black Swan have delivered an unlikely little triumph with Hellie Turner’s adaptation of Dianne Wolfer’s Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy.
Unlikely because the staging of historical events such as those in Wolfer’s books often suffer from either the intractable non-theatricality of fact, or the loss of legitimacy when fiction interferes with it. Black Swan have been bitten more than once by this malady in recent years with the ponderous White Divers of Broome and the clunky, unconvincing Boundary Street.
Happily, The Lighthouse Girl is a case of third time lucky.
The story has become familiar, especially after its gigantic representation a couple of PIAFs ago. At the outbreak of WWI, fifteen-year-old Fay Howe (Daisy Coyle) lived on Breaksea Island at the entrance to the sheltered waters of Albany’s Frenchman Bay. Her mother died early in 1914, and Fay tended to her lighthouse-keeper father Robert (Benj D’Addario) and – in this story at least – his handyman Joe (Murray Dowsett). Life was tough; when the supply boat couldn’t make the short but treacherous crossing from the mainland, Fay would shoot rabbits and mutton-birds to eat with a salad of stinging nettle.
The known history and the play’s story continue alongside each other as the fleet bearing the 1st AIF, 30,000 young men from the Eastern States and New Zealand, anchors in the harbour before departing for foreign, fatal shores. There is something grand and archaic about this short pause, like Homer cataloguing the Greek fleet before the assault on Troy – incidentally all but within sight from the high ridge of Gallipoli across the Dardanelles.
Fay, unable to meet the soldiers but expert in semaphore and Morse, begins communicating with them, and sending their messages home to mums, dads, wives and sweethearts. It’s a sweet, uncultivated and heroic task in the shadow of the valley of death.
Now Turner combines the fictional stories in Wolfer’s books. Fay strikes up a flag-waving conversation with a young Lighthorseman, Charlie (Giuseppe Rotondella) that continues, and becomes more intense, as the ships leave; for Ceylon, for Egypt and, on April 25, 2015, for Turkish Gallipoli.
Charlie and his lifelong friend Jim are bound by adventure and naivety, tough, handsome boys marching without hesitation into a charnel house, and the love, sight unseen, between Fay and Charlie is emblematic of the emotional bonds between those who went and those who stayed behind, and their terrible cost.
Turner and the director Stuart Halusz capture it beautifully. When Jim returns to his sister Alice (the excellent Alex Malone), damaged, haunted, but alive, she is as damaged and haunted as he is. Their embrace is tight but not warm; death, and fear of death, has left cold shrapnel in both their hearts.
Turner’s work is superbly supported in this production. Halusz finds a steady, unhurried rhythm for the action, supported by expert stagecraft, and the work of the designers Lawrie Cullen-Tait (set), Lynn Ferguson (costume), Joe Lui (lighting) and Brett Smith (sound and music) is outstanding.
As is the cast. Rotondella – who will be a star – and McNeill – who could well be one – give the boys great charm and cheeky earnestness. D’Addario’s Robert is all emotional confusion, protective and stern, searching, as the fathers of fifteen-year-old girls must perforce always be doing, for the right way to deal with his daughter’s impending womanhood. (History tells us, a little inconveniently perhaps, that Fay was married and pregnant two years after these events.)
Dowsett’s Joe is the show’s dark horse, threatening to be a sappy stock codger but opening up an attractive store of wisdom and humour.
There’s something of Storm Boy about the story, its emotional arc and its character placement, and The Lighthouse Girl has adapted for the stage just as successfully as that smash hit.
There really is very little to criticise; sometimes Robert’s dialogue gets a little more elevated than the character needs, and there’s a strange lapse of historical verisimilitude over the rank of Major General William Bridges (played neatly by Nick Maclaine), the only WWI Australian soldier, apart from, eventually, the unknown one, whose body (and horse, Sandy) was returned home. Easily fixed.
Even if there was much more to quibble about, it would be quickly forgotten because of the performance of Daisy Coyle as Fay. It’s rare that you see a piece of casting so perfect, or a performance so utterly convincing. Coyle makes Fay young and wise, brave and frightened, very beautiful, feisty and completely knowable.
She’s what we go to the theatre to see.       

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


Turnstiles is taking a break while I grapple with a book (about World Series Cricket of all things) I'm collaborating on. Deadline (they must be joking!) is April 30, so I'll be back on deck early in May and get the page back up to speed.

In the meantime, you'll find most of my recent reviews on line at

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Musical: Matilda (ask Tim’s mum for stars)

Annabella Cowley and Elise McCann (pic James Morgan)
From Matilda by Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake
Music and lyrics by Tim Minchin
Book by Dennis Kelly
Directed by Matthew Warchus
Designed by Rob Howell
Orchestration by Christopher Nightingale
Choreography by Peter Darling
Starring Marika Aubrey, Daniel Frederiksen, Elise McCann, James Millar and Annabella Cowley (this performance) as Matilda
Crown Theatre Perth
On sale until May 7

One day, on some blasted heath or in the throat of some volcano, when the final battle between ancient evil and beleaguered humanity is fought, our champions will be a small guy with a ring, a young bloke with a wand and a little girl with books.
It’s going to be tough, but things are going to work out just fine.
The world loves a hero, and when she is little, and feisty, and just a little bit naughty, we love her to bits.
And have done since 1988, when Roald Dahl and his illustrator Quentin Blake put the little girl with a bit of magic about her into a book, and called her, and it, Matilda.
She’s seen the world since then, in print, on radio, on stage and in film, and made pretty much every post a winner. Never more so than her latest manifestation, in the stage musical that’s presently in residence at the Crown Theatre.
If Matilda were a filly, she would be a thoroughbred. By the prolific stage writer Dennis Kelly and the meteoric comedian and songwriter Tim Minchin out of The Royal Shakespeare Company (whose other hits include Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, Les Mis and Macbeth) and director Matthew Warchus, now at the helm of of the Old Vic Theatre, her bloodlines are to die for.
Of course it’s conquered everywhere and won everything, and it will run on all the best tracks, probably forever.
And now Minchin, the quintessential boy made good, has brought her home to meet the folks (drinking white wine in the sun, no doubt).
But does it deserve all this adulation? Are the Matildas (tonight it’s Annabella Cowley, for all the world like an even younger Hermione Granger) as pugnacious and precocious, is Miss Trunchbull (James Millar) as hammerthrowingly horrible, is Jenny Honey (Elise McCann) as sweet and Mrs Phelps (Cle Morgan) as emphatic, the Wormwoods (Marika Aubrey and Daniel Frederiksen) as ignorant and gormless, and Rudolpho (Travis Kahn) and Sergei (Stephen Anderson) as Continentally disreputable as we imagined?
Are the kids in the ensemble zinningly zesty? Have Kelly and Warchus done Dahl’s book proud? Are Rob Howell’s alphabet soup set and Famous Five costumes up to Blake’s scratch?
And do Tim Minchin’s songs move us and shake us? Is Miracle as miraculous and Naughty as nice? Does he spell the School Song correct and Smell Rebellion proper? Are they Quiet and Revolting? Are they Here, in the House, all Grown Up?
Well, you sticky-fingered little snotgoblins, yes they are, yes they do, and yes it is.
(Oh, and tell Tim’s mum her boy and his mates can have all the stars they want.)