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.) 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Theatre: The Manganiyar Classroom (★★★★)

Devised and directed by Roysten Abel
Regal Theatre
3-5 March

The boys enter like snails creeping unwillingly to school, but, an hour later, when they prance off stage to the beat of the drums, they’ve delivered an exuberant, and utterly adorable, finale to our festival season.
So ancient are their songs that they tell stories of Alexander the Great, whose army finally mutinied only a riverbank or two away, twenty-three centuries ago.
In recent years, the Manganiyar have come from their arid homes and toured the world in shows like The Manganiyar Seduction, which thrilled Perth audiences at PIAF 2011.
Its director, Roysten Abel, returns with the boys of The Manganiyar Classroom, and a message. He is distressed by the effect India’s homogenised education system is having on kids who, like these boys, are born with music in their veins. His show is a protest against that deadening of the spirit, and part of his campaign to establish an alternative education system for Manganiyar children that encourages their unique gifts and heritage.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Theatre: Lady Eats Apple (★★★★)

Back to Back Theatre
Directed by Bruce Gladwin
Composer Chris Abrahams
Designed by Mark Cuthbertson
Projection design by Rhian Hinkley
Sound designer Marco Cher-Gibard
Devised and performed by Mark Deans, Simon Laherty, Romany Latham, Brian Lipson, Sarah Mainwaring and Scott Price
Heath Ledger Theatre
Until 5 March

There’s a dilemma that confronts an audience at theatre of the disabled. There are two ways of approaching it, and each requires a compromise.
Do we see the performance through the prism of disability, and react to what we see in those terms? Or do we take the view that performance, and performers, must be measured against an objective, universal standard, disability or no?
There is a third possibility, though, one that renders it inconsequential. That is that the disabled, in possession of a particular vision and expression, can approach and communicate a mystery we might not unravel by other means.
When that mystery is as huge as mortality and death, and when, as in Lady Eats Apple, the performance is supported by extraordinary technical and creative accomplishment, the impact can be tremendous.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Theatre: An Evening with an Immigrant ★★★½

Inua Ellams
STC Studio

If everyone could have a good, long conversation with everyone else, would the world be a safer, more welcoming place for all the people who live in it?
If we all knew each other’s stories, would we then know too much to argue or to judge?
These questions spring from the poet/ playwright Inua Ellams’ story, from his family’s complicated history in northern Nigeria to his still not yet completely secure present life in Britain.
Ellams sits comfortably in a chair throughout, the only visible sign of “performance” a deck on which he cues the impressive music of DJ Sid Mercutio that accompany the poems that bookmark his story.
His poems are unexpectedly traditional and instantly accessible. Heavily alliterative and drivingly rhythmic, they skirt the border of rap and are both a sturdy vehicle for Ellams’ story and an entertainment in themselves.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Theatre: The Year I Was Born (★★★★)

Written and directed by Lola Arias
Audiovisual Director Nicole Senerman
Choreographer Soledad Gaspar
Sound editor Jorge Rivero
Composer and sound designer Jorge Rivero
Set and Lighting designer Rocío Hernández
Heath Ledger Theatre

The events in Chile on September 11 (what is it about that day?) in 1973 loomed large. The violence of the coup, the sight of fighter aircraft bombing their own capital, the death of President Allende, the rumours of CIA (and, as was later revealed, ASIS/ASIO) complicity.
The iron fist that descended on Chile held for seventeen years of summary justice, disappearances, shady referenda and corruption (although, undeniably, economic progress and, for many though far from all, rising affluence).
But Chile didn’t fracture – rather it curdled; families, streets, neighbourhoods harboured both supporters and opponents of the junta in the half-light of a community with violence, on both sides, a constant threat.
The Argentinian playwright and director Lola Arias takes us into the heart of this strange place and time in The Year I Was Born, and it’s a powerful document and a theatrical adventure.

Read the complete review in The West Australian

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Theatre: Opus No. 7 (★★★★★)

Written and directed by Dmitry Krymov
Designed by Vera Martynova (Genealogy) and Maria Tregubova (Shastakovich)

ABC Studios
Until February 26

The brace of arresting, visually exciting one-act pieces from Moscow’s Dmitry Krymov Laboratory that make up Opus No. 7 take famous stories and re-imagine them in broad strokes of colour and movement.
For all their innovation and technical brilliance, they remain steeped in theatrical traditions from Eastern European clowning to Grand Guignol, along with the dark humour and deep sorrow of Russia, the Always and Endless.
The first story, Genealogy, is an enormous lamentation, the same old ceremony of Jewish life from “Abraham begat Isaac” to the coming of the Christ, the old ways and the old faces lost in the avalanche of the 20th Century, its holocaust and progroms. The actors hold x-rays of bones up to the light, and the faces of lost Russian Jewry project through them onto the walls; a troupe of musicians scat, but their song becomes a black hymn of death and loss. The policeman passing a window is SS; at the next he is NKVD.
In the second story, Shostakovich (Christina Pivneva, in the role originally created by ensemble member Anna Sinyakina, whose striking, ominous plaint opens the show), a gigantic babushka puppet, at once Mother Russia and Uncle Joe, cradles the tiny, bespectacled composer in its dangerous, capricious arms.
Shostakovich’s fellow artists disappear or are condemned in show trials; he speaks at Communist Party conferences, but his voice is timid and his Socialist platitudes trite and unconvincing. He is awarded a medal, perhaps the Order of Lenin or the Hero of Socialist Labour, but is impaled on its gigantic pin. In the end, he is crushed by Russia, like an infant smothered by its mother as they sleep.
This may sound bleak, and it is, but it doesn’t capture the exhilaration of the two plays’ creativity and performances. The ensemble of eight (the saturnine, sinister Mikhail Umanets outstanding), directed by Krymov, hold you fixated with their intensity and skill; even the bustle of moving props and setting scenes is mesmerizing in their hands.
There is much theatrical sleight of hand throughout, especially in Genealogy, which is played on a wide space in front of a temporary stand in the ABC studio; look one way and, on the other, things materialise and disappear. Splattered paint becomes human forms, coats and jackets emerge, seemingly from nowhere, and, in the most overwhelming assault on an audience’s senses since the storm in 2013’s Slava’s Snowshow, a blizzard of paper cuttings, burning through with incandescent light, cascades over us.
That’s just one of the first of many wonders in a show that is no picnic. Rather, Opus No. 7 is a feast.

An early version of this review appeared in The West Australian 23.2.17

Monday, February 13, 2017

Theatre: The Gabriels (★★★★★)

Public Theatre
Written and directed by Richard Nelson
Designed by Susan Hilferty and Jason Ardizzone-West
Lighting designed by Jennifer Tipton
Sound designed by Scott Lehrer and Will Pickens
Featuring Mag Gibson, Lynn Hawley, Roberta Maxwell, Maryann Plunkett, Jay O. Sanders and Amy Warren
Subiaco Arts Centre
Until February 18

Early in What Did You Expect, the second of the trilogy of plays that constitutes Richard Nelson’s The Gabriels, we are told a story translated from a Russian play.
Two old men stand outside an apartment block. Through its windows, they can see a happy family enjoying their time together. What the old men know, but the family inside doesn’t, is that the family’s daughter has just drowned in the river.
It’s a moment deeply reminiscent of the “fell swoop” scene in Macbeth, or the playful family scene in The Wild Duck that presages its catastrophe.
It is the fulcrum of The Gabriels, a dagger in the heart of its story. We have been beautifully prepared for it, and events – or the discovery of them – follow swiftly after.
It’s one example of the invisible architecture of this intimate, monumental American masterpiece.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Theatre: BEATING THE ODDS ★★★½

The Hayley Stewart Story
The Voodoo Lounge
until 18 Feb 
It’s a sweet position to be in. Hayley Stewart, the proprietor of The Voodoo Lounge (“Setting the Standard in Adult Entertainment”) believes she has a story worth telling. She certainly has the means to do it – her cast are on the payroll and, to a large extent, pre-rehearsed, and if ever there was a site-specific setting, this is it.
The good news is that she’s made a pretty good fist of it. There are more than enough of the things she and her crew are experienced at to satisfy her existing audience (I’m not the person to ask about the quality of that work, but I suspect it was up there).
And while her lack of experience in the things she doesn’t customarily stage showed at times, she has the intelligence not to try too much or push too hard.
And she does have quite the story.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


Here we go again!

Over the next few weeks I'll be posting reviews of shows in this year's Fringe Festival, with links to other reviews in The West and elsewhere, and anything else that comes to me in the seething morass that is engulfing Perth through to January 20.

Here’s the story so far…

Nikki Britton: Romanticide ★★★½
Perth City Library until February 18
I haven’t ventured out to comedy much this Fringe, but I couldn’t resist seeing Nikki Britton at the Perth City Library, part of the new Cathedral Square hub for the festival.
Britton came to Perth a few years ago with the uninvitingly-titled 51 Shades of Maggie Muff, and it turned out to be a hilariously filthy romp, and she turned out to be brilliant in it. (Here’s what I said at the time.)
So this is her stand-up routine – on fairly similar ground, with a pretty similar result. Britton takes us to ganglia cysts in the groin and the biblical way of dealing with them, the unsolicited dick pics she remorselessly attracts (only one of which, mercifully, we got to see), various unseemly smells and the reasons for them and other stuff which, as the title suggests, tend to be romance killers.
It’s wild and wooly stuff, but it’s also very human and, in her hands, very approachable. Britton has a genuine comic talent (by which I mean she is genuinely funny) and a fine observational gift.
She also had a very small audience. It deserves to grow by the end of her Fringe season. 

If there’s no dancing at the revolution I’m not coming ★★★★
The Blue Room until 18 Feb
It’s an interesting word, “strip”. In the context of Fringe, it means people (almost always women) finding entertaining ways of removing their clothing.
That may be so, but Julia Croft’s show is more about the rest of strip’s dictionary definition: to pull or tear the covering from something.
This she does with a relish, intelligence, literacy and fierce humour reminiscent of Bryony Kimmings’ Fringe smash, Sex Idiot.
None of those qualities matter without energy, and Croft has it in spades. She’s a dervish, in and amongst us, fixing us drinks, blasting out bubbles and confetti, pulling junk food rabbits from her hat, whirling through a one-woman (and, very effectively, audio-visual) history of the flicks and, through it, the objectification of women and their bodies.
As she does, she peels; clothes, yes, but layers of image and image-making too, finally, as she becomes, in a sense, a real” woman, dancing her way through Psycho to Pretty Woman to Blue Velvet to Chandelier.
It’s exciting theatre, bold, hilarious and free, and it makes its important point with an impact far more structured and earnest shows can’t match.
I’m guessing this will be the last show on stage in this year’s Blue Room Summer Nights programme. If so, it’s a fitting end to another great season, and deserves a packed house for the finale.

Them Good Ol’ Boys ★★★½
The Blue Room until February 18 
The day the music died. Clear Lake, Iowa, on a cold February night in 1959. Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, The Big Bopper. Waiting for the plane to fly them up to Minnesota.
Good Ol’ Boys is the second collaboration between Perth’s Weeping Spoon Productions and Canada’s Stadium Tour, a theatre company devoted to rock music. The first, Vicious Circles, the story of the last days of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, was an outstanding hit at Fringe a couple of years back. Shane Adamczak, who was a spookily accurate Johnny Rotten in that show is back, this time as Buddy Holly, and just as convincing.
Joining him is a stellar Canadian/ West Australian cast including Patrick Rogers as Waylon Jennings, the Country/ Americana superstar who gave up his seat to The Big Bopper and Paul “T-Rex” Grabovac as Richie Valens, who “won” his on the toss of a coin with bassman Tommy Allsup (St John Crowcher).
Kathleen Auburt plays Each McGuire, Holly’s first girlfriend and muse, who, coming back to the fatal night from the future, acts as an augury of the tragic events and a solace to those young men whose lives will soon be lost.
It’s a complex play (by Ben Calman, directed by Stefan Cedicot), far from a straight storytelling, with the future of rock ’n’ roll referenced, like ripples spreading from the fall of this night’s stone.
It felt, on it’s first ever performance, like a show that still had some distance to travel, but there’s no doubt it has that journey in it. I'll happily admit that, as Buddy and the boys put on their coats and left to catch that plane, if there was a dry eye in the house, it wasn't mine.
Even by the last night of its Perth Fringe run I’d not be surprised if it adds a star to those it earned on its first. Well worth a visit.   

Lucidity ★★½The Blue Room until February 18
This is what happens when a bunch of young, ambitious and highly talented writers, directors and actors take a neat idea and let it, and the process of theatre-making, run away with them.
The bunch are writer and director Michael Abercromby, and the actors Andreas Lohmeyer, Shaynee Bradshaw, Charlotte Devenport and Alex Malone. The idea goes something like this:
Alex (Lohmeyer) has a great product that’s making him rich and fucking up his life. It’s a system, Lucidity, which allows you to control your dreams and use them to rehearse your waking life (“Stop Dreaming and Start Living!” says the slogan).
Trouble is, Alex is letting Lucidity use him – partly to connect with his dead wife Em (Bradshaw), but more often to replace reality with fantasy.
It's a clever and useable metaphor for addiction; the trouble is that Abercromby writes with such vehemence that the characters are hard to grasp, let alone empathise with.
That’s not such a problem for Malone’s Billy, Alex’s tough-loving sister, or Devenport’s Ashley, Alex’s doomed attempt at romance; they, and Bradshaw have good, sharp scenes which they play with panache.
But Lohmeyer is buried under the avalanche of words and emotions that gets thrown at him, and he quickly becomes insufferable. You don’t hate him – you just don’t want to be in the same room.
Dirty People ★★★½
Joe's Juice Joint
This little twister is a homecoming for a Sydney-based cohort of (mainly) WAAPA grads, staged with serious site specificity in a dive bar down some stairs off a Northbridge alleyway (Joe’s Juice Joint – if you’re up to mischief I recommend it). Dirty People is a tight comedy thriller that hangs together with impressive ease through a tricksy maze of parallel scenes.

Read all about it!

When He Gets That Way ★★★
The flier doing the rounds for Ann Marie Healy’s When He Gets This Way claims it is Downton Abbey meets Monty Python.
I beg to differ – it’s more like Edward Lear meets Edgar Alan Poe and Jean Genet. Whatever names you call it, though, it’s a deliciously wicked and consummately performed piece of dark tomfoolery that you should make it your business to see.

Read all about it!

Badger and Kit Write the Best Love Song Ever ★★★
State Theatre Centre
Ann-Marie and Michael Biagioni are siblings, and talented ones. Michael is a polished, adaptable musician, and Ann-Marie one of our most notable and noteworthy young actors. Here, as Badger and Kit, they have entered a contest/audition (it’s a little unclear exactly what) to come up with “the greatest love song ever”.
It’s a nice idea, a chance to have some fun and play out some brother/sister dynamics, and by and large it works well. The siblings step in and out of the spotlight, their search for the perfect love ballad neatly juxtaposed with their own rocky romantic lives.
Another layer is provided by the artist Matthew Hooper, who builds his own visual love story (different each night) behind them. It’s a nice touch.
If Badger & Kit has a weakness, it’s an overload of intensity; Ann-Marie has an energy that sometimes seems like an unspecified anger. There are times she comes on so strong it threatens the balance of the narrative.
But, that aside, what emerges is the story of a family overflowing with love, the signposts of happy childhoods, the resilience that comes with it. Even the crippling judgement of the competition adjudicator (this night Lisa Loutitt, whose When He Gets That Way plays at Fringe this week), who, after her other criticisms, declares “and what’s more – this is not a love song” can’t dampen their determination and ambition. 

A Prudent Man ★★★½
The Shambles
Christopher Pyne is not given to spilling his guts for an hour in a tent at fringe festivals. Neither is Alexander Downer.
In their absence, Lyall Brooks does a pretty good job of representing them, and all the other smug, smarmy South Australian liberal politicians that have looked down their noses at us through interminable years.
Katy Warner, whose Reasons to Stay Inside was one of my favourite shows at last year's Fringe World, may not quite have created what she aimed for in A Prudent Man. Her motivation was the rise of Trump, One Nation and the National Front;  what she and Brooks have in fact created was not someone breaking in from the outside like The Donald, Pauline and the Brexit crew, but someone born to the belly of the beast like Downer, Pyne, David Cameron or Malcolm Turnbull. Just as odious, perhaps more dangerous – in the long term at least – and far, far more deceptive.
The Prudent Man oozes self awareness and contempt; "They are they, we are we" is his mantra as he walks down shopping malls (I imagine Rundle Street), imagining the angry people he sees as seagulls worrying a chip he's thrown them. Women deserve what they get (Tony Abbott's "Shit happens" is his "Things that batter"). He is not "the enemy"; we must be "cautious and alert".
Things descend, as they must, into The Prudent Man's personal hell, and perhaps the show lingers a little too long in there, but it's a finely drawn and powerfully performed portrait of a man the likes of whom we have seen too often.

Zeppelin was a Cover Band ★★★
The Shambles
Stéfan Cédilot’s (very) animated lecture is, as the name suggests, a ramble through the basement of The Zep’s monumental repertoire, pointing out its foundations in the blues and folk music.
There’s nothing new or startling about the stories of Led Zeppelin’s rise from the ashes of The Yarbirds, or the ways Jimmy Page fashioned the music of the Delta and Chicago into the turbocharged monsters they became. But, if you’re interested in Page, Plant and co, or the legacy of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters or Bert Yansch (all of whom Cédilot plays, along with Zeppelin’s reworkings), then there are some very good books I could lend you.
Or maybe an hour or so with the entertaining Mr Cédilot will suffice.     
Amelia Ryan Late 'N' Loose ★★½
The Gold Digger
Amelia Ryan was her effervescent self in this Fringe variety gig, but, on this late Friday night, the audience was tired and flagging. Her guests were struggling to tease the audience into the kind of response a polished cabaret performance should have. The outrageous Rueben Kaye, the evil love child of Liza Minnelli and Jim Carrey, got close, but Tessa Waters, with her imaginary hula hoops and Shirley Gnome with her guitar lacked late-night lustre.

Love Thy Monster ★★★½
Blue Room
Joe Sellman-Leava, the British writer and performer, wowed us with his virtuosity in last year’s Fringe hit Labels (happily brought back for the 2017 festivities), and this year’s model, Love Thy Monster, demonstrates it again. Virtuosity, though, is not its own reward, and there are bumps along the way in this multifaceted exploration of the violence that men do, very often to their women.

Paradise Lost ★★★★½
State Theatre Centre
This, as you might have guessed, is the story of Man’s first disobedience and the fruit of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste brought death into the world, and all our woe.
This is not burlesque, or stand up. You won’t hear Total Eclipse of the Heart here (although the title is suggestive). But thank God – while he’s in the room – that there’s a place for work like this in the Fringe World.

Grounded ★★★★½
State Theatre Centre Studio
Alison van Reeken is the very best of our actors, and she's extraordinary in this future Turnstile Award-winner

The Book of Life ★★★
State Theatre Centre Studio
Joe Lui has an energy and work ethic that would impress Lee Kuan Yew (Lui is an estranged Singaporean). But there’s nothing workaday about his work. His writing is visionary and utterly fearless. He is without doubt the outstanding figure of the Perth stage.

Odd Socks ★★★★
State Theatre Centre
This little gem ends with a closed door, but you hope it might open again. What has gone on before, inside that door, between Charles (George Ashcroft) and Mia (Megan Hollier) is so odd and sweet, and so marvellously performed, that you can't help but be sad it's over.
Interestingly, their story has the same foundations as another Fringe World sleeper, Bus Boy. Wild, headstrong girl bursts into the cocooned life of damaged boy and tries to bring him out of himself. 
Charles is obsessive compulsive. Each item of his clothing is in boxes marked Shirts AM, Shirts PM and so on; he has a shirt-folding gadget. Mia makes an art-form of messing things up. They are made for each other. Or maybe not. they may be an odd couple; maybe they're just odd socks.
The play is the work of the director Gemma Hall and Hollier, with input from Ashcroft and Cam Clark. It's wickedly funny (raising delighted interjections from the audience at times) and perfectly feasible. In the hands of Hollier and Ashcroft, the characters are convincing and engaging, shaggy and shag-able, and the unlikely frisson between them is just a joy.
I really hope you get to see this delightfully created small and great creature.
Sami Shah ★★★★
Noodle Palace
Ah, Sami, you've done it again!
Mr Shah's star is on the ascendant, despite a disappointing (rain affected?) Tuesday night audience for his latest Perth Fringe appearance.
He's clearly passed his Radio National audition, and tweets to a growing audience.
The reasons are simple: he's a fresh, iconoclastic voice from a part of the world of treacherous importance to us, with a clear insight into what makes us tick as well; he's a cheeky little bugger with no respect for the respectable; and, oh, unlike many of the other ethnic comedians plying the same trade-routes as he is, he's genuinely really funny.
Anyone who can explain why it's important to have your mouth open when a suicide bomb goes off nearby, and make it funny as well as horrifying, deserves our attention. Anyone who can express admiration for Saddam Hussein's way with hecklers ("What does the lion care what the monkey screams from the trees") on his way to the gallows deserves it too.
Shah talks a lot about "situational awareness", the skill you develop in places like Pakistan where "everyone is trying to kill you".
The same skill that can keep you alive in deadly places can also make you a great comedian.
Shah is that - and in the Age of Trump (and his Australian disciples), it makes him an increasingly important one as well.

Not a Very Good Story ★★★★
The Blue Room
Stephanie works in a call centre for Speedy Rent-a-Car, doing their bookings and cancellations. She shares her pod with Alison and Robyn, Dave, Mel and Carmen.
She’s been away and come back, and the reason is revealed as one by one her female workmates fall ill. They are a cancer cluster (the story is inspired by a real-life case at the ABC studios in Brisbane), and their sad, frightening story is a very good one indeed.
May Jasper is Stephanie, and she creates a beautifully rounded, complex character in the shy awkward girl whose need for friendship and an unlikely love leads her to make a sacrifice that is both unexpected and absolutely convincing.

Butt Kapinski ★★★★
The Blue Room
Repeat after me: “Fiwm nerwow”. That’s “fiwm nerwow”, and it’s what this one man/woman show is all about. Parodies of fiwm nerwow are a bit of a Fringe rage (think of Monroe & Associates and the Bane and Dirk Darrow franchises), and this wild and crazy ride on those mean streets down which a man must go is a perfect fit.
Deanna Fleysher’s gumshoe is a creature of a fevered imagination, carrying his obligatory streetlamp strapped to his back and leering suspiciously at the assortment of bodies and bad guys he encounters. Who, by the way, are us.
Don’t be alarmed, though. Fleysher has the gift of taking her audience with her with ease, and, as the word of mouth that made this an instant Fringe sell-out attests, you’re in good, though really, truly weird, hands the whole way.  

Dr Felicity Rickshaw's Celebrity Sex Party ★★★★
Last night in the State Theatre Centre Injector Room
Bunches of orgasms, and even more fun, in the latest Woods and Jones mini-musical
Read all about it!

Blank ★★★
State Theatre Centre Injector Room
The expatriate Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour’s first play, White Rabbit, Red Rabbit had a successful run here in 2014, and his Blank is a continuation of the idiosyncratic process he employs to tell his stories.
Drunk Girl
The Blue Room
The drunk girl lives in Hudson, Quebec, a commuter town 60km east of Montreal. Thea Fitz-James brings her to vivid life in a well-drawn and finely delivered show.
Read all about it!

Price Tag
The Blue Room
Jeffrey Jay Fowler has a delicious talent for dialogue that he puts to the service of a nasty streak.
In Price Tag a friendly dinner party between a pair of haves (Jo Morris and Nick Maclaine) and have nots (Gita Bezard and Mararo Wangai) gets increasingly unfriendly as the haves up the antes to vicious heights.It’s all reliably terrific fun – hence its sold out season – deliver with needle-point precision by Fowler and his cast, and the theatrical gymnastics are flawless. Morris is, yet again, ludicrously good, Bezard and MacLaine re-calibrate smoothly as the script twists, and Wangai goes from feather duster to rooster with splendid menace.
But for all the fun and games there’s something vacuous about it, something too easy about its insights (could the name of their mutual friend – Merengue – be the most thought-provoking gag in the play?). And it’s just not real.
Fowler is a major talent and delivers great entertainment. But one day, he’ll produce work about real lives and real people - and that will be quite something! 

Bus Boy ★★★★
The Blue Room
This is the sleeper of the Fringe so far, a touching and truthful portrait of two damaged people that is often shot through with real beauty.
It's also very recognisable, set on Rottnest and with much of the feel of the best Tim Winton (and much better than some of his work we've seen on much bigger stages).
The story is simply and effectively directed by Geordie Crawley, working with fine material by Izzy McDonald in collaboration with the cast and crew. McDonald also plays Jenny, a young woman whose headstrong courage obscures deeper issues, and whose dangerous dalliance with the son of the island's fireman, the Bus Boy, leads to a beautifully nuanced parcel of consequences. One scene, as the Bus Boy rides Jenny to Thompson's Bay on the back of his bike, will not soon be forgotten.
Bus Boy could have kept a couple of its tricks up its sleeve a little more, and had the confidence to know that the audience gets it without being told, but these are small dramaturgical flaws in a marvellous, emotionally satisfying, little show.     

The One by Jeffrey Jay Fowler ★★★★½
The Blue Room 
The arc of a love affair told as a blues in a brilliant outing by the white-hot writer Jeffrey Jay Fowler and performers Georgia King and Mark Storen.
Rather Than Later ★★★
The Blue Room 
A gentle and thoroughly worthwhile piece of verbatim theatre about a place we would rather not go to and people we would rather not see. 
Mahagonny (Preview)
Hellenic Club February 1 - 5
Four decades in the making, the world remiere of Tony Durant's Brechtian song cycle has enlisted the talents of writer Dave Warner and Perth pub rock legends Dick Haynes and Bill Beare in one of Fringe World's most intriguing attractions. And the Hellenic Club is a cool venue!

Will Greenway: A Night to Dismember  ★★½
The Blue Room 
Like Stuart Bowden, another comic fantasist with whom he collaborates, I have a guilty urge to apologise to Wil Greenway. I like him, I truly do, and I think I know what he is on about, but I just don't get it (or, at least, can't stick with it).
A Night to Remember is a perfect example. Wil's character has a couple of amputatory encounters with a shark, grows cheesy arms somehow connected with an asteroid (hence becoming The Man Fromage) and has other misadventures, in none of which the rules of narrative, let alone reality, apply.  If got that bit wrong, its because it wasn't quite worth the effort to remember it.
For a while, let's say 20 minutes or so, it's all very enjoyable. You mightn't laugh, exactly, but you experience the feeling of laughter, a satisfying, pleasurable sensation like the prelude to a sneeze.
But eventually, despite Wil's charm, it all becomes an amiable muddle, and, for the last half hour or so my great temptation was to thank him very much, apologise for intruding and meekly make myself scarce.
The Little Death Club
Circus Theatre
There's not much more I can say about EastEnd Cabaret. I've made my feelings about Bernadette and Victoria perfectly clear since they first overwhelmed me back on January 27, 2013 (a date forever carved in my memory). 
This late night it's only Bernadette, as blackly cat-suited and slinky as ever, hosting a little late-night variety show in the Circus Tent.
As the title suggests to those who know their Roland Barthes, things got pretty frisky under the big top. The acts – it was late and I was distracted – were fine enough (the last , a beat-box and acoustic guitar duo, are probably really famous, but forgive me…), but this is Bernie's show, and she never fails to tantalise. Wide-eyed, gin-and-Teutonic, the kind of girl you'd like very much to take home to meet your mattress. 
She arced up late on with some political outrage – never out of place in the dawning of the Age of Trump – and left us as she always does. Hoping she'll come again and again.