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.