Strut and Fret; Sydney Opera House Studio. January 4 – March 9, 2019
“Not recommended for persons under 18 years, this performance contains adult concepts, nudity and references to alcohol consumption”. Of course it does! It’s local production company Strut and Fret’s Blanc de Blanc returning to the harbour city to add some saucy circus cabaret pizazz to the summer festival buzz!
Directed by Scott Maidment and led by outrageous ‘comperes’ Spencer Novich and Remi Martin Lenz, the show is bold and loud, a sort of Cirque du Soleil for adults with lots of glitz, glam and cheeky, risqué innuendo. An extravaganza of dance, clowning, song and aerial stunts performed by an international cast of audacious, multi-talented entertainers, Blanc de Blanc, like the dry champagne after which it’s named, is full of intoxicating bubbles and fizz.
Songster Ashley Straud joins this new show, along with aerial artist and sexy mover Reed Kelly, and aerial hoop duo Caitlin Tomson-Moylan and Spencer Craig. There’s Australian dancer Lauren New, burlesque artiste Skylar Benton and contortionist Uugantuya Otgonbayar (The Greatest Showman).
In a smoky haze and radiating light show, the Opera House Studio becomes a twenty-first century art deco cabaret cavern, where cast and audience merge in a frenzy of Kevin Maher’s suggestive, undulating choreography, a sound track that blasts and rebounds and a show that moves fast and furiously from segment to sexy, surprising segment …
Such as Novich and the cast, naked but for white towels, writhing suggestively in a dance routine that demands judicious timing and brazen flair. Or a huge parachute-like sheet that spreads across the space and slips away to the balcony, which, later, becomes the focus of a long plastic tube of flowing champagne that spirals through the audience to Lenz’ glass on the stage below. And that’s just a taste of the of the many acts that flow precipitously from comedy to circus to seductive song.
Infused by champagne and sparkles, energy and effusion, Blanc de Blanc Encore is everything the original was, and more. It’s a deftly-directed, tightly-performed production full of cheeky fun and flippant frivolity.
By Geoff Sobelle. Sydney Festival. Roslyn Packer Theatre, Walsh Bay. Jan 9 – 18, 2019.
Home is a ’grand scale’ theatrical experience that both astonishes and amuses. Whilst it makes one think about what makes a home, it also makes one think about just what makes theatre.
Conceived by Geoff Sobelle, after discovering different layers of floor covering in the kitchen of his one hundred-year- old Philadelphian house, the production is a tribute to innovative contemporary stagecraft, meticulous choreography and timing and the creative inspiration of collaborative theatre-making.
Sobelle: “I work in collaborative theatre because I believe that the really good stuff doesn’t come from the writer’s room – it comes from the space. It comes from the designers and performers leaning into each other.”
Thus, in the ‘space’ – a bare stage – a house is precisely constructed (the ‘designers’), by seven builders and tradesmen (the ‘performers’), who erect walls, fit doors, install, furnish and equip a bathroom, a kitchen, a bedroom, a study and a living room. Then, over the course of one hundred minutes, transform into a myriad of characters who make the house their home.
Their stories are told in non-verbal, visual, physical theatre. To the audience, it is a carefully planned on-going narrative that runs seamlessly from one scene to another, chronicling passing years and changing inhabitants, their differing relationships and rituals. From collecting the laundry to sharing a bathroom, the actors weave a magical vision of the intimacy demanded of a home, and the joys and tribulations this can bring.
From the beginning, the performance is interactive. At first the audience is welcomed into the household by gestures and unspoken ‘asides – like an open hand that invites the admiration of a building triumph. They are intrigued by different techniques that show the passing of time: measuring the years by recording the height of a child on the kitchen door frame. They are titillated by a bathroom scene that involves naked bodies moving in and out of the shower and on and off the lavatory!
Later, while party lights are erected across the theatre with the help of the audience, other members of the audience are invited into the house, and, via whispered instructions and gestures become part of ritual celebrations that are intrinsic to family life: a birthday party, a graduation, a gay wedding. Some don fancy dress, others have a pillow fight. Some are taken on stage in a conga line. All dance to the music of a four-piece band that materialises. Eventually they are gathered together by the cast to become part of a funeral service. They surround the body, and to the eerie voice of troubadour Elvis Perkins, and further whispered direction, mourn, turn to face the audience, look to the right and sway gently together in perfect time.
Two then become narrators talking, unprepared, into a microphone about their memories of their first home. As their voices play over each other, the remaining ‘cast’ begin the process of moving house. Photos are taken from walls and packed into boxes that are stacked, with in front of the set. Chairs are piled on top of them, whilst stair bannisters and bedroom furniture are removed from the upper storey, and plastic sheeting, used in the very early moments of the production, is re-stapled to wooden frames. All happens in perfect time, and, as the audience members are skilfully escorted from the stage, the light fades and fans blow the plastic sheeting in a ghostly illusion of times that have passed.
These final interactive scenes are a miraculous piece of planning – and trust. It is a credit to the poise and sang froid of the actors that so many realistic characters, so much action and such confident participation can be inspired by so few words and such brief directions.
This production is awe-inspiring in so many ways. Apart from the construction itself – the co-ordination of fitting the pieces fit together, the stability of the structure, the timing and concentrated pace that is constantly sustained – there are atmospheric moments that, though theatrical, are movingly real, like the light of dawn creeping softly and gently across a sleeping house, or a moth fluttering against the glass panel of a lighted doorway.
There are, as well, so many little ‘events’ that are easy to miss, but define the real-ness of family life, like, for instance, a child climbing out his bedroom window and being brought home by the police! Such is the prodigious value of the collaborative process – ideas and experiences are shared, considered, workshopped, and whether rejected or incorporated, bring “the really good stuff” that makes this production so real, so entertaining and such an absorbing piece of theatre.
Adapted by Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou from the book by Geoffrey McSkimming. Bookcase Productions. The Pioneer Theatre, Castle Hill. December 21 – 23, 2018
It’s always daunting to adapt a novel for young people to the stage – especially one of a series of 19 about an intrepid archaeologist-cum-poet like Cairo Jim and his companions, Doris the Macaw and Brenda the Wonder Camel. It has to capture the tenor of the prose, the imagination of the author – and his outrageous puns and poems – as well as sustaining the belief of Geoffrey McSkimming’s faithful readers.
Undaunted, Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou took on the awesome task. With the blessing and support of McSkimmings, and the ingenuity of puppet maker Katherine Hannaford, she has captured all melodrama of the plot including Cairo Jim’s derring-do … his arch rival Captain Neptune Bone’s nastiness … explosions … and assorted pieces of luggage falling out of the sky!
Hannaford’s puppets – Doris, Brenda and Bone’s wicked raven, Desdemona – are skilfully manipulated by Shabnam Tavakol, Tim Ressos and Benjamin Kuryo, and are hits with young Cairo Jim fans in the audience.
As Cairo Jim, Logan McArthur uses the ploys of melodramatic heroes to bring McSkimming’s hero, Cairo Jim, to life. He declaims as he tells of his search for the lost tomb of Martenarten; poses as he dreams of his airborne heroine; despairs as he is seized by Bones and his henchmen. All are effective devices, but they do seem to slow the production down a little too much at times.
Brendan Layton is a looming presence as the scheming villain, Captain Bones, especially in his disguise as a walking mummy – but is effectively ‘foiled’ by Joecelyn Osgood and the afore-mentioned objects falling from the sky.
Kristiann Dingas brings some needed pace and humour to the production as café proprietor, Mrs Amun Rue, as do the slapstick antics of Diego AR Melo and James Stubbs Grigoriou as Bones’ silly offsiders, Kevin and Abdullah Rhampsinites. Emma Wright also brings a little humour doubling as the dust-and-sun-affected Pyrella Frith.
All the characters of the Cairo Jim series come to life in this ambitious production. It’s fun – and funny – and way over the top, just as the fans of McSkimming’s popular, poetic hero would rightly expect it to be.
Midnight Feast. Sydney Opera House. Nov 29 & 30, 2018
In the battle for inclusion, no group has to fight more strongly than those who are challenged physically, intellectually and emotionally – and the people who love them. Two weeks in a row I have seen that that ‘fight’ manifested gloriously in two of the biggest performance spaces in Sydney.
Last night in the Studio at the Opera House twenty-six excited and diversely ‘challenged’ performers from the inclusive company, Midnight Feast, combined their funny and beautiful stories and dreams in a performance entitled Fireside. The buzz from the stage was exhilarating as they celebrated “abilities rather than limitations”. The buzz from the audience of proud parents and supporters was just as uplifting.
“The future, my darlings, is bright and inclusive”.
Last week, at the Qudos Bank Arena, the Sydney Schools Spectacular’s D’Arts Ensemble of 171 students from 29 schools across the state, four of them in remote areas, ‘wowed’ the thousands strong audiences with their performance to I Wanna Go Out Dancin’. I sat beside parents, who had travelled all the way from Forbes with their son, and watched their smiles mix with tears as he danced proudly in yet another Spectacular.
The struggle to be included across all aspects of society is hard enough. In the Arts it is even harder. Kylie Harris, founder and artistic director of Midnight Feast, explains that:
… some communities are left out of our main stages and screens. If they are represented it is tokenism or an off-handed reference for diversity’s sake, but the lived experience of any human being is equally valid and equally worthy of celebration …
‘Celebrate’ was the key word of Midnight Feast’s performance last night as Fireside took its performers on a journey to find a Willy Wonka-style ‘Golden Ticket’ to see their dreams come true.
By sharing those dreams and their stories – with Harris, Drs Stephen Sewell (Head of Writing for Performance, NIDA) and Suzanne Osmond (Acting Head of Cultural Leadership, NIDA) and a dedicated team of carers and creatives – these enthusiastic and committed performers developed a production that told of their different journeys, the things they hate, the mistakes they made, and the many things they want to do.
They did so as they were ‘abducted’ by a group of Aliens in a spaceship that eventually broke down and no one knew how to fix. Lights flashed, doors opened and shut on a screen above them. Escape seemed impossible until Heath Ramsey, as Edward St John, suggested they escape to their Happy Places – one of which involved a group of Brazilian Fantasy Dancers.
From those Happy Places they found the key to escape was … INCLUSION … and the stimulation and invigoration it can bring. They celebrated accordingly.
The excitement and elation of this proud group of performers – and their opening night audience – was inspiring, as was their confidence, dignity and honesty as they answered questions from the audience.
Kylie Harris’ face shone with pride as she passed the microphone from one excited performer to another – and as she announced that NIDA is investing in fully inclusive facilities, so that the company can keep working there as it “explores humanity in all its diversity and challenges assumptions”.
This is a production that shows just what can be achieved when kindness and respect, confidence and conviction, belief and hope overcome prejudices and preconceptions, injustices and intolerance. As Miss First Nation Drag Queen, Josie Baker (alias Joseph Cardona) exalted the cast in the rousing finale “The future, my darlings, is bright and inclusive”.
By Rachael Coopes. Riverside and Bathurst Memorial Entertainment Centre in association with Australian Theatre for Young People. Riverside Theatres, Parramatta. Nov 22 – 24, 2018.
Bathurst was the first ‘inland city’ established by the white settlers who followed Blaxland, Lawson, Wentworth and their Aboriginal guides over the Blue Mountains in 1813. On the land of the Wiradyuri people, they established a settlement that would become a beacon to the west. But in this process, they ‘highjacked’ and destroyed aboriginal sacred sites and burial grounds.
In The Climbing Tree, Rachael Coopes has documented four years of workshops and research into a play that gathers together what director Stephen Champion describes as “the thematic threads and heart” that tell the “essential stories of Bathurst”. It is a moving history that tells of ancient legends and old tragedies alongside contemporary issues and protests. In the hands of four gifted performers, a multi-talented musician and an empathetic director, it is a story that reveals not only “the essence of Bathurst” but of Australia itself.
They have an essence of Bathurst in them with much broader resonance and we hope to share them widely”. I echo that hope.
The set, the “climbing tree”, designed by Kari Shead, symbolises the place where four high school students escape the many issues that colour their lives – problem parents, exams, racism, discrimination, curfews, drugs, their indignation about the demeaning statue of an aboriginal man kneeling at the feet of an explorer and the use of the sacred mountain, Wahluu, as The Mount Panorama race circuit.
With the sound of the 35 bells of the Carillon punctuating the dialogue, their modern-day problems echo issues of the past – a convict servant’s concern about falling in love with her master’s son; the public flogging of the convict Ralph Entwhistle for skinny dipping in 1839; his subsequent hanging with nine other bushrangers in 1830; and the mistreatment of European migrants.
The stories transition via sound effects and the voice of “authority” operated and performed by Tim Hanson, who influences the changes in pace and atmosphere of the performance. Lighting by Bannon Rees helps shift time, place and prevailing mood.
There is a certain type of energy required to portray teenagers and all four actors find it convincingly. Peppered with the idiom and humour that Coopes has injected into the dialogue and the variation in pace Champion has directed, their appeal to both young and old audience members is electric.
Madelaine Osborn is beautifully believable as the rebellious but bright Rayleen, who, despite carrying the burden of an addicted mother, a young sister and unsympathetic schoolteachers, is lively, cheeky, funny and caring.
Jayla-Shae Davey plays her best friend, but complete opposite, Kylie. Davey portrays the different dimensions in Kylie’s character – her desire or justice and reconciliation, her ambition to lead but lack of belief in herself and the calming effect she usually has on. . . .
By Noëlle Janaczewska. Q Theatre. Allan Mullins Studio, Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre. Nov 15 – 24, 2018
Noëlle Janaczewska is an Australian playwright, poet and essayist who specialises in writing about people and events that “have been overlooked or marginalised in official records”. In this play she has taken as her inspiration the history of Penrith Regional Gallery & The Lewers Bequest and through it “traces the roots of Sydney’s early Modernist thinking and offers a fresh take on Emu Plains in the 1950s”.
In the 1940s, Gerald and Margot Lewers, leading artists in the development of modernism in Australia, bought a property at the foot of the Blue Mountains. Their home became a mecca for the creative cohort of the time. Patrick White described it as a place where “ideas hurtled, argument flared, voices shouted, sparks flew”. After Margot’s death in 1978, the house, gardens and many of the artworks were bequeathed to the local community. Thus, the Penrith Regional Gallery was born.
There is much in this play that inspires thought and discussion. Hopefully it will be one that goes on to reach a larger audience.
Janaczewska sets the play in the kitchen of the artists’ home, where the ‘hired help’, Iris and Leo, prepare food for a party that occurs off stage. As guests arrive they collect coats and serve hors d oeuvres – their own lives and conversations a stark contrast to the more bohemian visitors and their heady discussions. Janaczewska accentuates the time with quotations on the food and etiquette of the time that appear on the ‘kitchen’ wall – much to the quiet amusement of the audience.
Katja Handt’s set places the play perfectly. Food is prepared at a scrubbed table, curtains cover some of the cupboards, a large washing up basin dominates the bench space. My grandmothers’ kitchens have been recreated on the stage! With walls, furniture and appliances etched in charcoal-like shading, the kitchen is like the set of a 1950s black and white TV program.
As is Nick Atkins’ direction. There is a sense of the past in the blocking, a past where people knew their place but were aware of changes that were coming. Actions are precisely modulated, the characters obviously discussed and developed with care and the cadences of Janaczewska’s poetic dialogue skilfully rehearsed.
Kate Worsley is beguiling as Iris, a twenty-year-old finding her place in a society that is still affected by post war economies and definite ideas about ‘a woman’s place’. She cleverly finds the suggestion of questioning and awareness of new ideas that Janaczewska has woven into the script, making her Iris a little bit bold and forward thinking.
As Leo, a Biology teacher new to Australia from Hungary, Adam Booth is convincingly reticent, but also direct. He chops and fries field mushrooms as precisely as he avoids giving away too much of his opinions or his real feelings about Australia’s failure to recognise his teaching qualification.
On the stage beside them, cellist Me-Lee Hay deftly accompanies the action, sometimes subtly, at others more obtrusively as scenes become more agitated, dialogue more intense.
There is much in this play that inspires thought and discussion. Hopefully it will be one that goes on to reach a larger audience.
Adapted by Steve Rodgers from the novella by Peter Goldsworthy. National Theatre of Parramatta. Riverside Theatres Parramatta. October 18- 27, 2018.
Playwright Steve Rodgers, who adapted this story by Peter Goldsworthy for the stage, says this play “is about love and grief”. Director Darren Yap describes it as a “deeply moving story … full of pain and full of love, where family is everything.” It is all of this – and more – and, as such, it is a play that requires tenderness and understanding, sensitivity and compassion.
Rodgers met this requirement in his loving treatment of the story and the characters who tell it. Yap meets it with delicate perception in his direction. The cast bring it gently and intuitively to life. It is a touching, true-to-life production that demands an emotional commitment that is not usually expected from live theatre.
To say too much about the plot would be unfair to those who have worked so intensely to bring it to the stage. It is important, though, to say it is confronting in its intensity, challenging in its complexity.
. . .his closely bound cast brings Rodgers’ confronting but beautiful play into intense reality . . .
Emma Jackson and Justin Smith play Linda and Rick, whose love for each other is only transcended by their love of their children – Ben, played by Liam Lunan, and Emma (Wol) played by Grace Truman, star of the web series Amazing Grace – around whom they try to create a cocoon of love to protect them from the harms of the world. Unfortunately, Fate intervenes …
Both Jackson and Smith are compellingly authentic – in the brief but very poignant opening scene where they first realise the depth of their love – then as that love grows to envelop their children. Both find the emotional strength and complexity of these multi-faceted characters that Rodgers has shaped through sparse dialogue that suggests so much. These are not easy characters to play, but they so with deep insight and empathy.
Grace Truman brings surprising depth and awareness to the role of ‘Wol’. It is not an easy role and . . . .
by Joe Orton. New Theatre, Sydney. Oct 2 – Nov 3, 2018.
Director Danielle Mass has brought Orton’s provocative attack on hypocrisy somersaulting into 2018 with her cunning cross casting and precision-based direction. She has swept together the farce and the facetious in a production that heightens Orton’s comic genius – and the contemporary relevance of the inequalities that he satirised so subversively … and so well.
The play opens with Dr. Prentice, a psychiatrist, trying to seduce a prospective secretary, Geraldine Barclay, in a job interview. When his wife enters, he attempts to cover up his activity by hiding the girl behind a curtain. But his wife, who is being blackmailed by Nicholas Beckett, promises Nicholas the post as secretary. Add to this confusion, a self-serving government inspector, Dr Rance, a police sergeant, lots of costume exchanges, drugs, alcohol, lust, nudity and a panto-like ending – and you have what New Theatre adroitly advertises as: “this darkest of farces, stuffed full of twists and turns, mishaps and changes of fortune, coincidences and lunatic logic in which six characters gradually lose the plot, their wits and/or their clothes”.
The chaos thus described is accentuated by the sleek realism of production designer Tobias Manderson-Galvin’s set. Cool green and stark white; clean lines and sharp edges; and an obligatory sky-light invoke the institutional reality of the clinic. Careful construction ensures no slamming door causes a wall to shudder. The set is stable and secure – despite the fact that what happens on it is anything but.
Maas and her cast have honed this production to emphasise the qualities that make farce … well … farcical. It is fast-moving and fast-talking. The actors pose and posture with hilarious precision, and – because of the casting – in doing so add layers of innuendo and dimension to the characters and the plot.
Ariadne Sgouros is Dr Prentice. With tight-lipped, ‘upper class’ drawl and quizzical expression, Sgouros makes this role as falsely straight as Orton might have wished – and a perfect contrast to the posturing elegance and contained physicality of Jake Fryer-Hornsby as Mrs Prentice. Together they pace and pose, emphasisng the satire, and pulling off some cleverly timed gags involving bottle-opening, flowers and a brief case.
Amrik Tumber plays the interfering Dr Rance with bold aplomb.. . .
Independent Theatre, North Sydney; Sunday 31st September 2018
Eight members of the Metropolitan Orchestra (TMO) sneaked away from the mainstream yesterday to ‘wow’ an already expectant audience in a very special ‘gig’. From Bach to Led Zeppelin, Ravel to Metallica, they showed the mellow versatility of this lowest-pitched, second-largest stringed instrument.
Introduced, tongue in cheek, by leader John Benz as “the most important part of the orchestra”, Ezmi Pepper, Caroline Hobbs, Paul Taylor, Steve Meyer, Zenith Chae, Nick McManus and Julienne Guerbois took the stage for an uninterrupted program beginning with two of American 20th century composer Brian Kelly’s Spanish compositions. The first ,a short atmospheric piece, provided a fitting introduction to the second which conjured the busy bustle of a village market. Motifs intertwined, slow over fast, as the musical interpretation of the scene unfolded.
From Kelly, they moved to JS Bach and Rousseau, their baroque compositions showcasing the depth and flexibility of this instrument, the moods it can inspire, and the energy and emotional concentration it demands of those who play it, whether it be the quiet, pensive final notes of Rousseau or something more upbeat … like Led Zeppelin’s 1975 classic rock hit, Kashmir, where the faster pace, taut pauses and climactic crescendo highlighted the amazing adaptability of the instrument and the musicians.
From ‘heavy’ Rock they moved on to Ravel’ gentle Pavane for a Dead Princess. Here the melancholy of the cello was most evident, the softer, more intense notes merging tenderly with the whisper of the plucked strings.
Shostakovich’s waltz, Suite for Variety Orchestra raised the tempo again – and beautifully demonstrated the various voices of the cellos, the lovely interaction between the performers, and their obvious joy in this stirring mid-twentieth century tribute to waltz-time.
Less cheerful was Wagner’s Pilgrim’s Chorus from the opera, Tannhauser, but this too showcased the emotional control required to create the poignant images and tension in this song where penitent pilgrims praise the peace of God’s mercy.
A little different were the musical messages in Metallica’s 1991 hit, Nothing Else Matters, which once again emphasised the energy of the musicians – and their control, especially in the last lingering notes.
Percussive tapping set the pace for the final item in the program, a tango by Argentinian composer by Astor Izola, the cello a perfect instrument to invoke the sultry atmosphere and precision movement of the dance.
Called back to the stage twice, the group performed a bopping little piece composed by the group’s own Caroline Hobbs – and a rocking reprise of Kasmir that left the audience asking for even more.
The next concert by the Metropolitan Orchestra will include Elgar’s Cello Concerto, featuring a solo by Ezmi Pepper. Sarah-Grace Williams will conduct the concert on Saturday 27th October in the Eugene Goosens Hall at the ABC Centre, Ultimo. Check TMO’s website for information and availability of tickets.