Monday, February 19, 2018

Music: Folias Antiguas & Criolas: From the Ancient World to the New World (★★★★★)

Jordi Savall with Hesperion XXI and Tembembe Ensamble Continuo
Perth Concert Hall
17 Feb 2018

It is impossible to imagine a more exciting or exquisitely performed concert than that given by Jordi Savall and the merged virtuosi of Hesperion XXI and Tembembe Ensamble Continuo for the Perth Festival.
The programme of tunes, songs and dances from the Spanish-speaking world runs deeper that mere music. It’s a potent reminder that European culture does not reside exclusively north of the Pyrenees, and that the great arc of Spanish culture on both sides of the Atlantic is, at its best and most elevated, uniquely sensual, beautiful and enduring.
Savall’s choices for this concert are remarkable for their antiquity; in the main this is music composed before Bach and Vivaldi – some of it over a century before they were born.
It’s a revelation, in these inspired hands, how influential it’s been across contemporary music and how fresh it sounds to modern ears (it takes no effort to imagine Linda Ronstadt joining the marvellous Ada Coronel and Zeren Zeferino in the ancient, but immediately recognisable, songs that peppered the concert).
The dancer Donaji Esparza was just as marvellous as the singers, her bearing impeccable, her feet, in the zapateado, a flashing percussion.
Savall and his seven instrumentalists were a revelation; their virtuosity and imagination – many of the pieces feature improvisations by the musicians – outstanding, their joy in the music, the great energy they brought to it and the attention they paid each other, infectious.
Savall leads, but does not conduct, and his command of his instruments – a Venetian bass viol of 1553 and a priceless treble viol of 1500 – and his bow was a thing of wonder.
But leadership is shared among the players; sometimes the corps of guitarists, marshalled by the brilliant Xavier Diaz-Latorre, with Enrique Barona and Leopoldo Novoa, propelled the music. Sometimes it was the Spanish Baroque harp (no twee little twinkling here) of Andrew Lawrence-King or the percussion of David Mayoral and Xavi Puertas’s violone, an early form of double bass, in the driver’s seat.
Around us swirl a dazzling array of instruments – Novoa’s marimbol, a proto-marimba plucked by the musician, the intense Ulises Martínez’s violin, even Barona’s quijada de cabello, a horse’s jawbone.
It was thrilling to listen to, and wonderful to watch, this music from four or five centuries ago, freshly minted and as vibrant and compelling as when it was first heard. 
During a magnificent performance of Antonio Martín y Coll’s Diferencias Sobre las Folías that could make you want to weep one minute and dance the next, I suddenly thought of the futility of Donald Trump.
Because no crummy wall he conspires to build will be deep enough to hold back those tears, or high enough to trip these dancers.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Musical: What Doesn’t Kill You (Blah Blah) Stronger (★★★★½)

Book and lyrics by Tyler Jacob Jones
Music by Robert Woods
Devised and performed by Erin Hutchinson and Tyler Jacob Jones
Accompanied by Joshua Haines

The Maj Downstairs
Until February 17

I go to Tyler Jacob Jones’s productions with high hopes that are invariably met. In the case of What Doesn’t Kill You (Blah Blah) Stronger, though, they’ve been exceeded big time.
As a writer of script and lyrics, and as a comic actor and singer, Jones is the most prodigious talent in this town. His long-standing partnership with the composer Robert Woods and the performer and director Erin Hutchinson has honed their individual and collaborative skills to a fine point, and their confidence as performers to starry heights.
This show, like the Martin Sims Award-winning Point and Shoot and the 2016/7 Fringe hit Dr Felicity Rickshaw’s Celebrity Sex Party, starts with an audacious premise that is instantly hilarious: “Let’s make a musical about people who should have been killed, but weren’t.”
The result is eight killer songs and some snappy snapshots about people like Alexander Selkirk who was marooned for four years and raised an army of cats to protect him from the desert island's rats; Paul Templar who was swallowed by a hippo but managed to escape; and Ann Hodge who was hit by a meteor (“I think God meant this meteor for me”) and lived. There’s about a dozen more victims of what should have been fatal fate – and all their stories are true!!
Jones and Woods know every musical style from opera to calypso, and they steal from them all with huge relish. With Joshua Haines doing some mightily impressive piano thumping behind them, Jones, and especially the gloriously excessive Hutchinson, hit some great material out of the park.
I insist that you go to this show, the best local entrant in the Fringe marathon I’ve seen or heard of so far.
It might make you weaker from laughing, but it won’t kill you. And it might just make you happier to be alive.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Theatre: yourseven (★★★½)

Concept and direction by James Berlyn
Performed by the WA Youth Theatre Company
PICA until February 17

Years ago I delighted in Spike Milligan’s hilarious, surreal The World of Beachcomber (now, tragically, all but destroyed or lost).
One recurring skit had the great Spike attempting to prove old sayings – for example by rolling a large stone down a hillside to see if it gathered any moss.
There’s something of Ockham’s Razor in James Berlyn’s yourseven as well. Even more ambitiously, it plays out Jacques’s famous “Seven Ages of Man” speech from As You Like It by promenading its one-at-a-time audience through each of them, from cradle to grave, in the safe hands of members of the WA Youth Theatre Company.
The show is more an instillation than a performance, but that doesn’t limit its appeal or its insight into the sprit of Shakespeare’s exposure of the human condition.
In turn I became a babe in swaddling cloth, gently rocked by my unseen nurse; a schoolboy (class of ’62) with my chalk and blackboard; a lover, pining over my youthful crush (Julie Christie as it transpires); a soldier surveying the field of imminent battle; then a bellyful magistrate, weighing life’s priorities on the scales; then an aged, shrinking pensioner; and, finally, here at the end, everything used, wasted and gone.
If I have any criticism, it would be of the final tableaux, which, cleverly enough, had me pulling out lengths of string to represent my life and seeing them cut, as if by Atropos, the Greek Fate who decided mortals’ time of death.
Somehow that was too euphemistic a departure for the real horror Shakespeare saw – sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
That aside, Berlyn and WAYTC have fashioned a tantalizing look inside these famous words, and an entertaining journey through them for their audience. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Theatre: The Barbershop Chronicles ★★★

Inua Ellams
Directed by Bijan Sheibani
Designed by Rae Smith
Music by Michael Henry
Octagon Theatre until Feb 18

It’s a fertile premise: barbershops – the old-school ones where men gathered for more than just a haircut – can be places where tall tales and true are swapped, confidences made and broken, deals done and undone and secrets kept and exposed.
The British poet and playwright, Inua Ellams, was intrigued by a project where barbers were taught basic counselling techniques to apply in their shops and with their customers. He employed these ideas in an imagined barbershop in his native Lagos, Nigeria, and others across the parts of Africa that Britain painted pink; in Accra, Ghana, Kampala, Uganda, Johannesburg, South Africa and Harare, Zimbabwe.

Friday, February 9, 2018

CIRCUS: Il n’est pas encore minuit… ★★★★½

Compagnie XY
Regal Theatre until 17 Feb

I’ve been told that total strangers spontaneously wrestle each other on the streets of Ulan Bator. The urge to fight is so ingrained in the Mongolian culture that it overwhelms them.
So it seems with Compagnie XY, the French circus (although circus is hardly an adequate way to describe them). But theirs is the urge to fly.
As it turns out, their dazzling Il n’est pas encore minuit… starts with a street brawl, a bit of push and shove between two blokes, escalating into an all-in wrestle between 22 of them that evolves through judo and dance into an ebbing-and-flowing juggernaut of free-form acrobatics.
That escalation, evolution and disintegration sets the tone for the next 70 minutes, a glorious demonstration of what a fit, strong, well-balanced and expertly choreographed human body is capable of doing.
For me, admiration begins when I see people doing things I cannot, and never could, do. It’s a very low bar, I know, but, even if it were a tall building, these people would leap over it in a single bound. They’d outpace it if it were a speeding bullet, and carry it on their shoulders, and even heads, if it were a locomotive. And in this show there’s not the tiniest sliver of Kryptonite in sight.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The 2018 Turnstiles Fringe Marathon

Welcome to Turnstile's run-down of the shows I've seen, or are about to see, at this year's Fringe World. 
As you'll see, previews of shows will be replaced with reviews once I get to them, with links to full reviews either in Turnstiles or elsewhere.
Before we begin, though, an editorial!
I'm often amazed, and sometimes disturbed, by the star ratings given to fringe shows. It does neither the artist or the potential audience any favours to see shows given ludicrously inflated ratings.
I try very hard to be consistent with ratings I give to shows in or out of fringe, and to have a rationale for the ratings I give.
So, for the record, this is what my star ratings mean:

★★ A production with some good qualities, but with significant faults and weaknesses that outweigh its strengths. Quite often a missed opportunity by people whose qualities are apparent in this production despite its weaknesses 
★★½ A production with a balance of strength and weakness but little intrinsic value or memorability, quite often of reasonable quality but little apparent reason to be staged. Sometimes, a new work with substantial promise but needing significant work to fulfil it. 
★★★ A worthwhile production whose appeal and good qualities outweigh its faults and weaknesses without rising to great heights. Occasionally, a production with very significant weaknesses, but with a particular strength worth seeing for its own sake.  
★★★½ A very worthwhile production of high professional merit, many strengths and few and not important weaknesses. Very often a new work of high promise with the potential to grow into one of importance and wide appeal. 
★★★A fine production with strong premise and artistic merit, many strengths and no significant weaknesses. Occasionally, an important production with very high artistic merit despite a significant weakness or weaknesses and the potential to achieve even more.    
★★★½ A memorable production with great significance, very high artistic merit, many outstanding strengths and no significant weaknesses. 
★★★ An unforgettable production of major significance and the very highest artistic merit that may prove able to define or change its art form.
(Anything under two stars you can decide for yourself!)
I hope that all makes sense, and that what you're reading here helps you make some of those tricky will-I-or-won't-I fringe choices. 
I always say the only thing wrong with the fringe is that it ends; have a great time!

The World According to Farts and Other Extraordinary Sounds of the Human Body ★★★½
It’s a marriage made in a very naughty heaven.
Christa Hughes – she of Circus Oz, Machine Gun Fellatio, dirty blues in dive bars and other very grown-up pursuits – in a Fringe tent with a bunch of butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-their-mouths under-10s.
What could bring them together in an instant? The fart, of course!

(Read the complete review in The West Australian) 

Cameryn Moore: Phone Whore ★★★½ 
FourFiveNine in the Rosemount Hotel until Feb 11
Tomas Ford’s Fxxk Yxu line-up in the Rosemount Hotel’s FourFiveNine room is quite a ticket, and Cameryn Moore: Phone Whore  is an impressive kick-off to the season there. Moore's character, Jessica, is, as the title suggests a PSO – phone sex operator – and she runs her business like a hairdresser. She has regular customers, walk-in customers, problem customers, and her job is to find out what style they want, and give it to them.
Jessica is organised (900-odd clients in her box of alphabetical filing cards), matter-of-fact about what she's doing and why, and good at her job. 
Interestingly, what she gives her clients – and so, what they must want – is content, not play acting. So whether she's describing a titty-fuck or a blow job, the BBCs that aren't the British Broadcasting Corporation, mommy or daddy incest, or worse, she's storytelling, not character acting. It's a wise theatricalchoice; it's easier to know the character, and sympathise with her sadness, because she remains herself, not some fantasy figure.
Phone Whore is certainly confronting and, as the calls get deeper and more degrading, disturbing, but Moore still manages to inject some dark poetry into her text, and elicit real sympathy for her character. Give her a call sometime.     
ForniKATEtress ★★★
Kate Smurthwaite has done it all in her native UK, and attracted much praise, and a great deal of appalling hate mail, for her powerful feminist polemic and her openness about her lifestyle.

I found myself a little on both sides of the Smurthwaite ledger, although, happily much more in the bouquets than the shitbats corner.
Smurthwaite, you see, has an open – and highly publicised – polygamous lifestyle with her equally un-monogamous partner, James. He's one of 10 friends from whom she enjoys benefits, and we get to meet them all in a series of vignettes that also expose her working and social life, and her notoriety.
Smurthwaite has attracted that notoriety as a talisman of everything from female underarm hair to polygamy, and, boy, do they hate her for it. As you watch and listen to her, you wonder whether it's what she stands for, or just her, they hate so much. The Germaine Greer dichotomy, if you like.
She doesn't deserve the approbrium, of course, and her retelling of it  is forthright and cringeworthingly funny. Sometimes, though, her narrative is more like a TED talk than a stand-up routine (she admits as much herself), and that ties her down and distances us a little.
Not so much, though, that you won't find her, and what she has to say, well worth spending an hour or so with her at the Henry Summer (a stylish place for a drink or two before and/or after, by the way).
Oh, oh, those Summer Nights. The Blue Room’s 30-show programme of (mostly) indie theatre is the core of the Fringe, and the Turnstiles Marathon. And that’s not just because the Blue Room bar (entry with a ticket to any Summer Nights show that night) is the best, brightest – and cheapest ­– watering hole in the Fringe.

Find the Lady  ★★½
By a nice coincidence, the first show of the night was by the Blue Room's legendary bartender, Matt Penny. The magician and illusionist has mixed up a con-man cocktail in Find the Lady and it was a noirishing combination of mystery fiction and the real mysteries of legerdemain and the mind and the reading thereof.
A confession. Mr Penny and I share many passions, including a football team, and we have broken duck together on many occasions, so you're probably getting a slightly rose-coloured opinion of his show here. That said, I think he's as appealing a personality to a cold-calling audience as he to his mates, myself included.
So when I say that Penny isn't exactly a consummate character actor, that doesn't mean he's not a convincing character, and his first-person narrative of how he was taken for a ride by a team of grifters even better at it than him is more than entertaining and twisty enough to keep you engaged between tricks.
Find the Lady, the famous three-card trick, is one of them, and Penny baffles us as easily as swatting a dead fly. He guesses movie titles an audience member is thinking of, reproduces drawings he's never seen, magically reveals three words written on a card that's been in plain sight the whole show, every dice in the whole damn box. 
One day someone will put Penny and the brilliant Butt Kapinsky (who's here in a week or so - don't miss her) together, and that will be quite something. In the meantime, though Find The Lady might not quite be a must-see – you should.

Power Ballad ★★★½
Last year I compared Julia Croft's if there’s no dancing at the revolution i’m not coming to Bryony Kimmings 2015 Fringe smash, Sex Idiot. Croft is back, with Power Ballad, and it's even more fierce and hilarious than its predecessor. It's also got the wildest microphone technique you're ever going to see and hear. Whatever you do, don't miss it! 
(Read the complete review here)

The Wind in the Underground ★★★
The director Lucy Clements made an auspicious Blue Room debut a couple of years back with her Fractured and as part of The Remedy, and returns from Sydney with a bunch of largely fellow expat WA talent, in The Wind in the Underground.  
It's a finely written piece (by Sam O'Sullivan, who co-produced), exploring the divergence of a family through seperation and isolation, and how they are changed - or aren't - when they come back together. It's also a convincing description of the pain of children at the loss of their parents, and the tough, and ofen devisive, decisions that have to made when things pass from one generation to the next.
The cast, centred around the luminous, heartfelt Whitney Richards as the stay-at-home younger sister Claire, and including Rowan Davie as her prodigal younger brother, Simon, Michael Abercromby as Michell and Bishanyia Vincent as the oldest sibling, Andrea are excellently delineated and emotionally precise.
The problem with the play is that it is simply not finished; there's a deep conflict in both temperament and purpose between Mitchell and his siblings  that is not resolved, and this leaves the character of Andrea, who you feel should, and dramatically must, play a pivotal role in its settling, without a reason to be there. 
O'Sullivan has left a scene out of the play, and it's the stories most crucial one. When he finds it, The Wind in the Underground will be a very impressive and emotionally satisfying piece. 

Slap and Tickle ★★★
The director Mel Cantwell and Pinjarra-boy-making-good iOTA combined to much acclaim last Fringe in The Average Joe, and they team up again, joined by Russell Leonard and a 12-piece WAYJO orchestra, in Slap and Tickle (iOTA is Slap the clown; Leonard his gimp) in the STC Studio.
This is a show that would knock 'em dead at the Rooty Hill RSL (haven't times changed), but, in the meantime, you should let it beat you up good and proper right here and now!

Another marathon night ends, still in the STC studio, with more bloodshed and mayhem from a bunch of WAAPA grads in Minus One Sister, the Electra story all kitted out with iPhones and Instagram. Modern communication has turned cop shows on their ear – let’s see what it does to Greek tragedy!

Anna Morris is another funny person from the better class of British sitcom (in her case, Outnumbered and Bad Bridesmaid) who’ve clearly been told about our shark-free beaches and dirt cheap coffee. Her wedding rehearsal show, It’s Got to be Perfect, has got to be worth it.

I Think I’m Dead ★★
Lazy Susan's until Feb 2
This is the Australian premiere of Al Lafrance' I Think I'm Dead, but his fame has gone before him, as the inspiration, hirsute location and occasional co-star of Shane Adamczak's intercontinental fringe hit, The Ballad of Frank Allan (Frank Allan/ Al Lafranc - get it?). Now he's here, in his own right, with the ruminations that slouch around his insomniac brain, about alternative time, alternative stories, all kind of stuff that seem to occupy the Canadian mind. This isn't laugh-out-loud comedy, but it is wacky and wise in about equal measure, and a slyly stimulating way to spend an hour with a pretty cool, pretty uncool and very appealing performer.

Little Death Club ★★½ 
Parel Spiegeltent until 24 Feb
Wver since Bernie Dieter of EastEnd Cabaret sat on my lap and crooned some filthy song in my ear back in 2013, I have never really been the same. “Don’t go”, I croaked pathetically as she prepared to go in search of another victim. She’s back (sadly without the wonderful Vickty Victoria) to host a bit of late-night debauchery called, in the boring English version of the euphemism, Little Death Club. Tragically, I had to miss the night I planned to go (although, the devil willing, I'll make it some other time), but in my absence, the luminous and insightful Hermione Gehle tapped out these words for you…
(Read her complete review here)

If you don’t want to see a show called Children are Stinky, you’ve obviously got no business being around them. The little show from Victoria has set Edinburgh alight the last couple of years with all the stuff you need to keep the grommets enthralled for a whole 45 minutes. 

 The Beast and the Bride ★★
The Blue Room until Feb 17
Back to Summer Nights, and Clare Testoni’s gothic/feminist/multimediamedia/erotic horror story. It's reminiscent of Ralph McCubbin Howell’s magical The Bookbinder, the must-see smash hit of the 2015 Fringe, though her work is not as seamless as Howell’s (a couple of first-night  and she more often narrates rather than enters into the stories she tells, but at its best , The Beast and the Bride is far from a frog and could become a very handsome prince indeed with only a little strategic wand work.   
(Read the complete review in The West Australian)

Josephine! ★★
The Blue Room until Feb 17
Scott McArdle is Perth's own Kid Eager, and his first foray into children's theatre is full of present laughter and future promise. The adventures of a shy, precocious girl who goes on a quest to find friendship after the loss of her beloved auntie is original, often exuberant, and, I think, very likely to connect with its target market of six to nine-year-olds. (The audience I was among was almost all adult - I'd love to see the show again with lots of kids).
Josephine's adventures with pirates, ghosts, circus performers and the aviatrix Amelia Earhart are sprightly, fun and interesting, with a quality cast including Rhianna Hall as the heroine, Jo Morris, Nick Maclaine and Tristan McInnes as everyone else, accompanied by Georgina Cramond on keyboard, doing the material proud.
It has some major problems. The show is way too long for its intended audience (and the Fringe), and becomes a little complex towards the end. The over-extended scene between Josephine and Amelia Earhart - who, I'm confident, means nothing to that audience – that closes it is the main culprit. There is also a mystery concerning the fate of Josie's parents – dismissed twice, unsatisfactorily, as "I don't have any" – that should and could easily be solved.
Those qualms aside, this first outing of Josephine! is an encouraging debut for a show that, like its writer/director, could well be going places.  

yourseven (★★★½)
PICA until Feb 17
Until February 10
The seasoned writer/director/performer, James Berlyn and the WA Youth Theatre Company have fashioned a tantalising and entertaining solo journey through Shakespeare's Seven Ages of Man.

Joan (★★★★½)
STC Round until February 10
The idea of the teenage warrior/martyr/saint Joan of Arc haunts us, from classroom history to Shakespeare, Schiller and Voltaire, George Bernard Shaw to Leonard Cohen, as hot and elusive as flame.
Nothing in my experience, though, captures the idea of Joan more completely and more convincingly than Lucy J Skilbeck’s Joan. It is also an exciting, hilarious and deeply poetic piece of theatre, performed with incredible passion and élan by the British drag king Lucy Jane Parkinson.
Unlike Joan, I cannot MAKE YOU GO to this show, the highlight of the Fringe so far, but if there’s an empty seat for the rest of its short run, it’s a travesty. 
(Read the complete review here)
My Greatest Period Ever.

I finally managed to catch one of last year’s joint Martin Sims Award-winners,  Lucy Peach’s My Greatest Period Ever.

Fleabag ★★★★ 
Blue Room Theatre until Feb 24
Every so often a single-handed triumph heats up the Fringe like an induction hob. Back in 2012 it was Neil Watkin’s The Year of Magical Wanking. In 2015 it was Bryony Kimmings’ Sex Idiot. The goat’s entrails were auspicious for another one, Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Fleabag. (The six-part TV series of the play – which, coincidentally, begins on ABC 2 on Monday night) – won Waller-Bridge last year's BAFTA for actress in a comedy.
The eponymous Fleabag is played by Maddie Price, not Waller-Bridge, but she's terrific in the part.
(Read the review here)

Theatre: Joan (★★★★½)

Written and directed by Lucy J Skilbeck
Performed by Lucy Jane Parkinson
STC Round
Until February 10

The idea of the teenage warrior/martyr/saint Joan of Arc haunts us, from classroom history to Shakespeare, Schiller and Voltaire, George Bernard Shaw to Leonard Cohen, as hot and elusive as flame.
Nothing in my experience, though, captures the idea of Joan more completely and more convincingly than Lucy J Skilbeck’s Joan. It is also an exciting, hilarious and deeply poetic piece of theatre, performed with incredible passion and élan by the British drag king Lucy Jane Parkinson.
I won’t waste too much of your time regurgitating the well-known history of Joan – and it’s not mere historical accuracy (which in any case is disputable) that Skilbeck and Parkinson are about here.
As they tell it, though, the young Joan, beset with visions of St Catherine, sees her village plundered and her mother raped and killed by English marauders. Called by Catherine to rid France of the invaders, she meets the dissolute Dauphin of France and persuades him (she is now 17, remember) to give her an army for the purpose.
She inspires her army to break the English siege of Orléans and, three months later, install the Dauphin as Charles VII, but he reneges on his promise to support her, and, left with only the remains of her army, she is captured and, after a show trial, burnt at the stake.
It’s not the tale but the telling that matters, though, and Skilbeck gives her Joan a wonderful language – bawdy, ribald and power-packed – the best analogy I can think of is Shakespeare’s Henry V, with her “I am Joan – BEGONE, OR I WILL MAKE YOU GO!” before Orleans every bit the equal of Henry’s “Tomorrow is St Crispin’s Day”.
Parkinson’s Joan, mohawked, tattood, black T-shirted, with an accent of pure Sheffield steel, is utterly different from Jean Seberg’s iconic page-boyed saint in shining armour, but she inhabits the character completely.
Her ardour is wonderful, but so is her sassiness – among the highlights of the show are three of Skilbeck’s songs, for Joan’s dee-dar dad, the mincing Henry and the corrupt judge Pierre Cauchon, all of whom Parkinson plays in drag. There’s something of Rice and Lloyd Webber in the songs, and Parkinson gives them all superstar treatment.
Her audience work is also fabulous. People give up their seats for St Catherine, make out as horses, dance with her, walk “like men” for her, all in high good spirit.
And, of course, the delicious irony of a drag king (Parkinson, AKA LoUis CYfer, is a quest-winning practitioner) playing history’s most famous cross-dresser is a kicker throughout.
Unlike Joan, I cannot MAKE YOU GO to this show, the highlight of the Fringe so far, but if there’s an empty seat for the rest of its short run, it’s a travesty.