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