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Kenny

By Shane and Clayton Jacobson, adapted for the stage by Steve Rodgers. Ensemble Theatre (NSW). Jan 15 – 27, 2021.

Reviewed : 20 January 2021

Photo : Prudence Upton

There was a special air of anticipation at the opening night of Kenny at the Ensemble. More than a normal opening night. Even more than the opening night of a new season. The before show buzz was louder, more excited – even with QR codes, masks, social distancing, hand sanitiser and a team of COVID captains taking temperatures and religiously cleaning and re-cleaning every handrail and counter.

Because this opening night was more than just an opening. It was an “opening up”! After almost a year “in the dark” as the result of weeks of lock down and months of lock out, speculation, ever-changing restrictions, financial uncertainty and difficult decision-making, the Ensemble was “open for business” again! And the company has gone about it in a totally safe, business-like – and very theatrical way!

Once past the sanitised check in, the theatre transforms to an event centre hosting the International Portable Sanitation Convention. Key-note speaker is Kenny Smythe from SPLASHdown Bathroom Rentals, last featured in the much-awarded screen play Kenny written by Clayton and Shane Jacobson. Tonight, Kenny is here in person to promote the plucky importance of plumbers and their worthy work. It’s Ted-style Talk complete with power point photos and words from the wise.

Designer Simone Romaniuk has brought convention centre cunning to the intimate stage. The colour-scheme is baby blue and pristine white. Tasteful promotional signs and pot plants frame centre stage and the big screen behind it. Projections of symbolic cisterns illuminate the vomitoria. Everything is fresh, clean, sanitised – somewhat different from the things Kenny has to deal with every day!

Steve Rodgers’ adaptation is just as funny and clever as the Jacobsons’ movie – and perhaps at times even a little more philosophical. Rodgers is an innovative writer who calls upon a diverse range of theatrical techniques to bring vitality and dimension to this one-man show. The simple form of storytelling is augmented with jokes, puns, audience participation, and asides. He intersperses the narrative with humour, tension, even a little pathos – enough, in the hands of a clever actor, to keep the audience attentive, entertained captivated … and on side.

Photo : Prudence Upton

Who better to do this than the versatile and very amiable Ben Wood. Padded up a little in overalls that don’t meet across the middle, a company polo shirt and cap, Wood brings Shane Jacobson’s original Kenny’s discerning charm to the live theatre stage. Wood creates a Kenny whose latent energy and charisma has immediate appeal. He grabs the audience with his lively manner, ever-present grin, bright eyes, self-deprecating manner, old world honesty …  and holds them captive for ninety minutes of toilet tales, poo patter and philosophical fun.

Director Mark Kilmurry uses every intimate possibility of the Ensemble stage in this production. Aided by Damien Cooper’s creative lighting – and the talent and experience of Wood himself – he moves Wood deftly around the stage and up and down stairs, where he stops him for a moment to speak more directly to audience members – before discretely moving him on. Whilst this appears random, it is carefully orchestrated to sustain interest and anticipation. In the talented hands of Ben Wood it is particularly effective.

This production brings the Ensemble and its company out of the dark days of the past few months with a bright and entertaining ‘bang’. Steve Rodgers, Mark Kilmurry, the designers, Ben Wood himself – and the team that are keeping the cast and audience safe – thoroughly deserve the standing ovation it received on opening night.

William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged)

By Austin Tichenor and Reed Martin. Genesian Theatre, 420 Kent St, Sydney. Jan 16 – Feb 13, 2021

Reviewed : 16 January 2021

Photo : Tom Massey

“With bated breath …” (The Merchant of Venice Act 1, Scene 3) is how someone who’d seen some good productions of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield might anticipate another parody/merger of the works of the Bard emanating from that company. One might expect cleverness – clever merging of Shakespeare’s plots, clever manipulation of his characters, clever continuity, clever comedy, clever innuendo – and lots of energy and pace to make the cleverness work.

It is not easy to write a parody that meets such expectations. It demands an intimate knowledge of Shakespeare’s plays and characters and the rhythm and enunciation of his verse as well as the talent to manipulate them into a play that will amuse and entertain because of its cleverness. Long, Singer and Winfield managed this very successfully. Austin Tichenor and Reed Martin haven’t really made the same grade, in this play, despite an array of similar “abridgements”.

As co-artistic directors of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, they have created and performed a series of what Martin describes as “fast-paced, seemingly improvisational condensations of huge topics”, among them, The Complete History of America (abridged), The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged), Completely Hollywood (abridged) and The Complete History of Comedy (abridged).

In William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged), written in 2016, they ‘discover’ a play by Shakespeare buried in a carpark in Leicester, ‘next to’ the bones of Richard III. The ‘found’ manuscript, written by 17year-old Shakespeare presciently entails themes and characters of all his works. Tichenor and Martin know their Shakespeare and use Puck and Ariel competing for the title of Best Fairy to introduce a vast array of his characters from Cleopatra to Lady Macbeth in every setting from Verona to Athens. Perhaps too many characters – and too many settings!

Producing a parody encompassing so many Shakespearean allusions is demanding. As well as “knowing” their Shakespeare, the cast must have the ability to change characters constantly, mix iambic pentameter with everyday speech and idiom, manage a variety of props and costumes, interact directly with the audience and sustain the comedic pace.

Photo : Tom Massey

Tom Massey has the experience to do this, as he revealed in his 2015 production of Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) for the Genesian. It was fast, funny and craftily tailored to the Genesian stage. With Massey at the helm, this play should be just as fast and just as funny IF the script were less contrived and more astutely edited.

Nevertheless, Massey has worked hard to give the play ‘punch’ and energy. A clear stage, some humorous sound effects and Mehran Mortezaei’s lighting design facilitate the many changes of ‘place’ – including a colourful, raging tempest.

His young cast of three also works hard. Casey Martin, Paris Change and Riley Lewis are comfortable with Shakespeare and with comedy. They know their many lines and speak them well, despite the chaos of multiple character, accent and scene changes and a flurry of props – wigs, hats, a feather duster, golf clubs, velcro-ed skirts, heavy capes, witches’ hats, a donkey mask and a puppet! Keeping the necessary pace – and the necessary focus – under such circumstances is not easy and though they do their best, the tempo and rhythm flag at times. They are gaining good experience … in a play that may work better in the hands of more experienced actors.

Also published in Stage Whispers magazine.

 

The Shape of Things

By Neil LaBute. Lambert House Enterprises. Flight Path Theatre, Marrickville. January 8 – 31, 2021.

Reviewed : 10 January, 2021

Photo : David Hooley

 

 

 

 

 

LaBute’s play, written in 2001, has lost none of its astute ability to manipulate the audience. Nor does it lose the power of its final, disturbing scenes. LaBute craftily beguiles the audience with what appears to be a love story, albeit one that appears to condone the power of one person to hurt another in the name of art. In doing so, he raises such issues as the real nature of romance, friendship, personal identity, body image, honesty in relationships – and just what can be called ‘art’.

Director Les Solomon has used a minimalist set, realising the strength of the play lies in the dialogue, the interaction between the characters and the energy they generate. Framed in white, the bare stage becomes, with the aid of simply placed props – seats, a small table, a bicycle, a quilt, two pillows – the campus of a small-town university in mid-west USA. Here Adam, an English Lit student, finds Evelyn, a fine arts student, about to deface a sculpture in the museum where he works part-time. Unbeknown to him, they have met before, and Evelyn has manipulated this meeting, ostensibly to get to know him better – even romantically – and then to use him mercilessly.

In the course of the play, Adam falls under the spell that Evelyn weaves. Succumbing to her suggestion he begins to change his image, changing his hair, getting fitter, losing weight, giving up his favourite jacket – and eventually his best friends, Jenny and Phillip. All four characters are clearly written – and Solomon works carefully with his actors, using LaBute’s sentence construction and language to develop their characters and their relationship. The way they use accent, timing and gesture sets the play specifically in America and shows Solomon’s appreciation of the nuances in LaBute’s writing. Their economic use of space and movement shows the strength of Solomon’s directing experience.

Georgia Brindley is persuasively calculating as Evelyn. She fixes the audience in her sights from the first moments of the play – and Solomon builds on this, allowing the audience to see glimpses of cunning in her eyes as she shrewdly evaluates the effectiveness of her suggestions to Adam. Evelyn isn’t a likeable character and Brindley finds little gradations of tone, stance, expression and gesture that emphasise her callous ruthlessness – especially in the final scenes where her heartless cruelty and contempt shocks and appals.

Photo : David Hooley

Adam, on the other hand, is a gentle soul. He is shy, a little insecure, and romantically inexperienced until Evelyn begins his ‘remake’. Samson Alston finds all those characteristics in his first encounter with Evelyn. Anxious to do his duty as a museum attendant, but a little diffident, his approach to Evelyn is hesitant, giving her the opportunity to manipulate the situation and assert power. As their relationship –and his love for Evelyn – grows, he seems to become more confident and self-possessed. But Alston manages to retain the naïve transparency of Adam. It is there in subtle, thoughtful pauses, a telling frown, a tentative reaction, and his instinctive trust and belief in others, especially his flatmate, Phillip and Jenny, Phillip’s fiancée.

Unlike Adam, Phillip is brash, loud and upbeat. Tayman Jamae finds all this in the Phillip he portrays. He is fast, punchy, cheekily aggressive, over-confident. He belittles Adam constantly and in so doing plays right into Evelyn’s hands. It is interesting to see how he shows his confused reactions to her ‘management’ of him.

Jenny is his antithesis. Open, guileless, she is the typical ‘girl next door’ and Olivia Hall Smith plays her with ingenuous frankness. Her Jenny is anxious to please, trusting, easily taken in – and easily hurt. She treads lightly, sits elegantly, her movement accentuating Phillip’s hustle, Adam’s hesitancy and Evelyn’s self-assured exploitation of every situation.

Each actor brings out the brutal truths of this play – and the many comments it makes about society and human cruelty. With LaBute, Solomon and his cast trick the audience into being part of a story that is far deeper and dangerous than it first appears – and leaves them wondering about the damaging effects of persuasiveness, power, control, manipulation, exploitation …

First published in Stagewhispers magazine

The Wharf Revue 2020: Good Night and Good Luck

By Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phil Scott. Sydney Theatre Company. Directed by Jonathan Biggins and Drew Forsythe. Parramatta Riverside Theatres in November 2020, then touring until February 2021.

Reviewed : November 28, 2020

Photo : John P. Harvey

The original Wharf Revue trio, with the talented assistance of Amanda Bishop, is back on tour with another collection of pithy parodies and caustic caricatures!

Based on the chaos of the year gone by, they wittily appraise everything from the bush fires (How do we Solve a Problem from Hawaii) to pork-barrelling (The Adventures of Bridget McKenzie) to more ‘intimate relationships’ (The Premier’s Dating Service).

As usual, few lampoonable luminaries escape their satirical sketches. Phil Scott returns as Kevin Rudd advising not to “touch the Super in the bank”. Drew Forsythe re-envisages a Pauline Hanson even more discombobulated by the English language and the “all those people living in towers in Melbourne”. Jonathan Biggins reprises Donald Trump – and Amanda Bishop is a very elegant First lady. The New Seekers become the Jobseekers and four slinky “Cats” recall Labor Party branch stacking with a visit from Julia Gillard and her “Memories”.

Of course, there are some new personalities as well. Dr Norman Swan, the Brazilian president (“there’s an awful lot of coughin’ in Brazil”) and the oft’ ignored American medical advisor, Dr Fauci.

We have also come to expect some pieces that are just as topical but a touch more poignantly remembered – and this year has given the team much on which to reflect. In front of a backdrop of fire blackened eucalypts, Biggins at the piano, and Bishop as a furry ‘koala from Sofala’ ruminate on the fate of our native animals, the destruction of their habitats and the possibility of them ending up in “that concentration camp at Pennant Hills”.

Later in the program Biggins leads a sadly sensitive parody on The Sound of Silence as images of the empty streets of New York linger on the screen behind him lending extra pathos to the tragedy of which he sings.

The show finishes, as always, with a little musical theatre interlude. This year it’s set in the American wild west. Titled “The Man Who Shot Liberty”, it features a yellow-haired, narcissitic mayor, his Italian lawyer, a grey-haired doctor who warns him constantly of a pandemic – and his increasingly socially distanced wife who explains “why the Lady is a Trump”.

It isn’t hard to imagine the atmosphere in the ‘writing room’ as these creative intellects pool ideas! I wonder how many ideas are suggested before they decide on the program. Or how many are reluctantly rejected or shelved for another day.

I wonder also if the artistic director of the STC to whom Biggins, Forsythe and Scott first broached the idea of a revue twenty years ago had any inkling of just how popular it would become.

The very first productions were scant on props and financial backing – but big on ideas and energy. There were no recorded entr’acts, no orchestral backings, little back stage assistance – yet the trio came back for more. And eventually the STC realised that it had a gem – and a money spinner, one that would eventually ‘spin’ its way right around the state and the ACT to audiences starved of live topical satire.Though this show says “Good Night and Good Luck” please don’t go into lockdown guys! We need you to keep the turkeys on their toes – and to keep us sane!

Also published in Stage Whispers magazine.

Iphigenia in Splott

By Gary Owen. New Ghosts Theatre Company. Director Lucy Clements. Flight Path Theatre, Marrickville, Nov 12 – 21, 2020 and online Nov 16 – 28.

Reviewed : 11 November, 2020

Photo : supplied

 

Meg Clarke doesn’t have to worry about social distancing in this performance. She’s the only one on the stage – for over 80 minutes. It’s a difficult script, word and emotion heavy, in which her character, Effie, talks the audience through a time she wants them to understand – acutely. Skilfully she draws them into her story, making them laugh at times, shocking them at others, seeking their empathy, but never letting them get too close. There’s a reason she’s got them together and she’ll draw them in until she’s ready to tell them why!

Welsh playwright Gary Owen has set the play in his hometown of Splott, a suburb in south Cardiff. In fact, Effie lives in the street where Owen himself used to live – and he makes the Splott of today an intricate part of her story. Gone are the old farms. Gone are the steelworks that provided employment for so many. Effie describes a suburb of high-rise flats, vacant shops, a burnt out bingo hall. Life obviously isn’t easy – and Owen’s short, pithy descriptions set a graphic scene.

As do the words he has given to Effie to introduce herself. She describes vivid vodka-fuelled nights, pain-filled three-day-long hangovers – often paid for with money she accepts from her seventy-year-old “Nan” who works shifts in the supermarket. Until something changes … and Owen leaves that to Effie to explain in a series of carefully interwoven scenes that lead to an unexpected conclusion.

Meg Clarke epitomises the Effie that Owen’s words suggest. She makes her brash, street-wise, but innately intelligent. She does it through her walk, her stance, a shrug of the shoulders, a graphic gesture. She does it in her voice, her carefully rehearsed Welsh accent that heightens her colourful language, her bitter experiences, her telling throwaway lines. Clarke uses carefully judged pauses to emphasise effect – to shock, or relieve, or to re-engage.

She, and director Lucy Clements, know Effie intimately. Together, it seems, they have deliberated over every phrase, every punctuation mark, every implication and every turn of direction of this intricate script. And Clements has used a minimalist set and judiciously defined blocking to accentuate its impact. Three stepped platforms take Effie to the highs and lows of her story. She crouches or leans against a wall to reflect – or walks close to the audience to make a point.

Lighting (Jack Saltmiras and James Smithers) subtly enhances her changes of mood. Chrysoulla Markoulli matches this with a sound design that emphasises the shadowy places Effie inhabits – though the opening sound effects were really unnecessarily long.

Photo : supplied

Clarke and Clements have developed a gripping production. Though long for a one-hander, the audience is kept absorbed – so much so that the final words of the play are certainly a surprise.

Clements says in her director’s notes that once staging a play in 2020 was again possible, she knew that she “needed a show that was strategic, powerful, current, and could be adapted as both an in-person and on-line experience”. Iphigenia in Splott is a perfect choice. Tickets for the on-line performance can be purchased at: https://events.humantix.com/iphigenia-in-splott.

Whilst the company has a QR code, and hand sanitising equipment, and mark their seating to provide social distancing, there is need to be careful of social distancing in the foyer. Fortunately on a fine night, patrons can wait outside until the auditorium is opened.

Also published in Stage Whispers magazine

The Silver Tunnel

Written and directed by Warwick Moss. Presented by the Rev Bill Crews Foundation. Ashfield Uniting Church – NSW. November 9 – 14, 2020.

Reviewed : November 11, 2020

Photo : supplied

The Rev Bill Crews has a reputation for feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, nurturing the vulnerable. He’s also always been an innovator – and COVID-19 has inspired yet another new idea. To accommodate more socially distanced space for services, he’s taken all the pews out of his “grand old church” in Ashfield and put in brand new carpet. But that’s not all. “It is also perfect for bringing the wider community together as an Arts and Performance Space,” he writes. And that’s what he’s done!

With its nave, aisles, transept and altar opened up, the church is a blank canvas for an imaginative director – and Bill’s old friend and biographer, Warwick Moss, had just the play. “When Warwick suggested The Silver Tunnel to launch the space, I was a little sceptical,” Crews says, “but when I read it, what a swashbuckling hoot. A play about suicide. Set in a graveyard, heaven and hell. Performed in a church! What could be better to launch our brand new performance space for Sydney’s west!”

With the audience sitting in the nave on properly ‘distanced’ swivel chairs, Moss directs this production using the altar and both sides of the transept. The stained glass windows of the apse are the backdrop and the arched vault provides perfect acoustics.

His play begins on an oppressive, stormy night in Sydney’s oldest graveyard. Here the caretaker, Harry, played by Ric Herbert, stands amidst seven weathered headstones, all suicides from the First Fleet. Harry has been tending these graves for 34 years. They are special to him. He knows their stories well. He talks to them – and they talk back:

What do ya think about that, Cap’n?

Are you still here?

Bloody want to be after two hundred years, eh?

 

Then there is Jason (Tim Matthews), a young man just out of school, but suffering from the rejection of the father who has ignored him all his life:

At first I used to run home on weekends; hoping that just once, he’d want to come to the park with me, or go to the cricket, or just sit around; talking.”

Jason is lonely, dejected, depressed and, sensing his destructive intent, the old spirits have called him to the graveyard. How will Harry react? Will he be of any help? Why is he no longer able hear the voices of these graveyard ‘friends’ he has watched over for so long? And how come Jason can?

Although The Silver Tunnel is a conversation about suicide, it’s a very different conversation. Years apart in age and background, Harry and Jason’s dark thoughts are exposed – and with the clever work of sound and lighting designer Sam Taba, Moss lets them see the glowing red prospects of ‘hell’, on one transept of the church, and the ecumenical possibilities of a brightly lit ‘heaven’ on the other.

Depends where ya from.

Got Hindus here; Buddhists, Bahais, Moslems….

Stacks of Catholics. Real tossed salad it is.

Communists; agnostics; atheists….The works.

 

Ric Herbert creates the character of Harry with convincing clarity. He’s a man who has seen much, suffered a lot. It’s there in his walk; in the way he holds one arm a little stiffly. It’s there in his quick temper; in his eyes that search the space around him, seeing beyond what is really there. His brusqueness only partly covers his vulnerability and sensitivity.

Photo : supplied

Matthews finds all the pain and anguish of desolate youth in his depiction of Jason. He is hesitant, easily offended – but he keeps coming back, drawn by the voices that give him some comfort and a little confidence.

Moss has given both actors the chance to bring their own interpretation to the characters he created, and directs them sparingly, allowing them to use the space effectively and reach across it to connect with each other … and the audience.

This production has proved a perfect vehicle to demonstrate the potential of this new space. Using three separate acting spaces, creative sound and lighting design, a different seating arrangement, it shows thee possibilities are boundless – like the imagination of Bill Crews himself. Harry could well be describing him in these lines from The Silver Tunnel:

Can you feel it boy?

Can you feel the power?

The wisdom. The lessons man has learnt?

There are plans to take the play on a regional tour – leaving the chance for another production to make use of this creative new performance space.

First published in Stage Whispers magazine

An Enchanted Evening

Riverside Parramatta and streamed. Guy Noble, Julie Lea Goodwin and Daniel Belle. October 17, 2020

Reviewed : 17 October, 2020

Photo : BAM Studios

While some of us watched and listened online, an excited – albeit socially distanced – audience were welcomed back to Parramatta Riverside Theatre for An Enchanted Evening of music. Enchanting it was, bringing some of the most famous arias and love songs from opera and musical theatre on to a stage that has been bereft of a live audience for a long six months.

Accompanied by the much-loved and very versatile musical aficionado Guy Noble, celebrated soprano Julie Lea Goodwin and acclaimed tenor Daniel Belle seduced their theatre-starved audience with a program that was testament to the powerful range and control of both their wonderful voices; a program that must have filled the theatre with echoing music – but which also gave those of ‘isolated’ at home the chance, via some excellent use of technology, to experience the performers more ‘up close and personal’ than a stage usually allows.

Both performers are no strangers to the emotional tension of the characters they portray in both opera and musical theatre, and were able to bring that depth of portrayal to the concert stage. Whether in their evocative rendition of “Tonight” from West Side Story, or that most famous operatic love duet “O soave fanciulla” from La Boheme, or the very moving “If I Loved You” from Carousel, both were able to portray the emotions that drove the characters – as well as making their musical declarations of love hauntingly beautiful.

The choice of music allowed the audience to hear the immaculate control and power of both performers, and the amazing extent of their musical range. Goodwin with “Musetta’s Waltz” (“Quando me’n vo”), and a thrilling rendition of “I Could Have Danced all Night”. Belle with the very stirring O Sole Mio” and “Granada”. And, again together, at the end of the evening with “Time to say Goodbye”.

The choice of music also allowed Guy Noble to display his familiar expertise as accompanist, performer … and comedian! His cheeky parody of “When I was a Lad” from Pinafore brought some topical humour which Gilbert and Sullivan would surely have approved. Here’s a sample!

“2020 is a year I fear that

I really wish would disappear

This virus thing is a pain in the arse

Like a kidney stone I wish would pass …

It’s hard to play and dance and sing

When you’re practising social distancing …”

(If you’d like to hear more, check online for the rest of this and Noble’s other tribute to “The Virus”).

This latest in Riverside’s contribution to keeping its patrons entertained during this difficult year is further proof that the arts are alive and fighting the effects of the virus in every way possible in Western Sydney. Let’s hope the success of this Enchanted Evening is a happy harbinger of great things to come.

First published in Stage Whispers magazine.

The Merchant of Venice

By William Shakespeare, Directed by Roslyn Hick; Technical Director Thomas G. Burt. Streamed Shakespeare www.streamedshakespeare.com August 21 – 23, 2020.

Photo : supplied

Reviewed : August 23, 2020

As Coronavirus struck Australia, closing theatres all around the country and in the process darkening the lives of all those involved in arts, actors, directors, creatives, technicians and administrators were suddenly out of work and facing an uncertain future. But hope and the possibilities of technology soon stirred creative minds, and a small wealth of theatrical ideas emerged.

One of these is Streamed Shakespeare, founded five months ago to give “performing arts professionals much needed opportunities in a suddenly dark world of cancelled contracts, dwindling savings and career chaos” (Artistic Director Holly Champion). By August they had become a group of one hundred creative artists in an online theatre company that reached beyond Australia. They are now creating fully rehearsed ticketed productions. The first of these, The Merchant of Venice, aired from 21-23 August.

Photo : suppled

A skilled production team, led by director Roslyn Hick and technical director Thomas G. Burt, take sixteen actors to a virtual contemporary Italy via the skilled video editing of David Castle. Incredible organisation is involved in such a production. Think “zoom” with a team of dedicated, patient actors and directors, backed by a “whizz bang” technical team, who are just as dedicated and patient.

The result is a very different form of ‘live’ theatre, playing to a much ‘distanced’ audience that watches Shylock and Antonio arrange their strange business deal across streamed screens in ‘home theatres’. The absurdity of their agreement is just as improbable. The racism it exposes – and unfortunately condones – is just as disturbing. Through careful direction and skilled editing, the cast take their audience into a world of business, family dysfunction, romance and prejudice that could sound a tiny bit familiar.

Photo : supplied

For actors, this new theatrical genre requires a re-adjustment of movement and expression. They need to be contained, restrained, yet still portray the varied emotions and reactions of the characters. They need to be constantly aware of proximity to the screen, lest features be distorted, and intentions lost. They need to appear to be listening to a fellow actor speaking in a totally different frame.

Geoff Sirmai, as Shylock, is very aware of all of this, and uses both his stage and film experience to good effect on this new small screen. Sirmai’s Shylock has a very “lean and hungry look”. I know, wrong play, but Sirmai finds both the wiriness and grasping determination needed by a man struggling to sustain his place in a bigoted, mercenary society, epitomised by businessmen such as the cool, unfazed Antonio played by Haki Pepo Olu Crisden, who is confident of risking a ‘pound of flesh’ bond for his needy friend Bassanio (Jamie Collette).

Collette uses the small space allowed by the screen effectively to create a character that listens carefully and reacts accordingly, whether supporting his benefactor – or courting his Paduan prize, the discerning Portia, played by Jess Loudon. Both react believably across their screens, Loudon more effectively in her restrained but entirely contained delivery of the courtroom scene.

Photo : supplied

Both Holly Champion (Nerissa) and Adriane White (Gratiano) skilfully pare their acting to infuse their characters with both emotion and humour. Shakespeare uses these two characters to bridge the social barriers, and both performers find the complexities written into the roles despite being contained to a small screen and restricted responses.

It being Shakespeare, there are many other characters – hence a great choice for involving more actors – and these are enthusiastically played by Jacqui Greenfield, Samantha Winsor, Jim Southwell, Chiara Charlotte Osborn, Kim Jones, Susan Jordan Meredith O’Reilly, Abdeed Razzouk and Jessie Trompp. All bring eager energy to their characters, some doubling and even tripling their roles.

It may take some a little while to adjust to this new genre – but innovation seems to be more important than ever if we are determined to combat the theatre-less effect of this pervasive virus – and the too apparent lack of sympathy or empathy with the arts. Fortunately, innovation and the arts have always gone hand in hand, and Streamed Shakespeare is as determined as Shylock, as innovative as Portia.

Keep in contact with what they are planning at www.streamedshakespeare.com

Also published in Stage Whispers magazine

Selby & Friends present Beethoven’s Ghost

Kathryn Selby with violinist Harry Ward and cellist Timo-Veikko Valve. Celebrating Ludwig van Beethoven 250th birthday. Filmed at the Sydney’s City Recital Hall. Streaming from July 4, 2020.

Reviewed : July 4, 2020

Photo : provided

Pianist Kathryn Selby’s second concert since lockdown was recorded in Sydney’s beautiful – but sadly empty – City Recital Hall. With violinist Harry Ward and cellist Timo-Veikko Valve she presents a special tribute to celebrate the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven. The concert is “centred on Beethoven’s revolutionary ‘Ghost’ Piano Trio, bookended by his much-loved C minor Trio Opus 1, No. 3 and Beethoven’s own arrangement for piano trio of his spectacular Symphony No. 2”.

It is strange to watch the performers walk on to the stage without the applause with which they are usually greeted – and to see them complete their performances with the usual flourish, but without the customary bow and appreciative ovation. Despite this, they presented an intensively rehearsed and emotionally charged concert to delight their performance-starved audience who, via the clever work of the camera crew, were able to follow closely the concentration and muscular intensity required by Beethoven’s compositions.

Opus 1, No 3 begins softly, eerily moving into a jaunty lightness that becomes more complex, making the musicians work hard, fingers speeding, watching each other for changes in cue as the emotion builds. It’s almost a teasing composition, taunting both musicians and listeners with variations on the motif and the way they branch away and dart back. Changes in tempo and mood are reflected in the faces of the musicians as thy respond to the growing strength and power that is almost strident before unexpectedly returning to a gentle more reflective conclusion.

The Ghost Piano trio was composed when Beethoven was working on an opera based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth but his friend and pupil Carl Czerny felt that it reminded him more of the appearance of the ghost of the king in Hamlet. Thus, the origin of ‘The Ghost Trio’. It begins strongly, the strings and piano melding in fast tempos that change to lighter variations that seem to flit through the movements until they are sustained into controlled passages that evoke moodiness and unrest.

Photo : supplied

It must have seemed strange for Timo-Veikko Valve and Harry Ward to be performing Beethoven’s Piano Trio in D Major (an arrangement including every note of his spectacular Symphony No. 2 version condensed into a trio) when only a few months before they had played the symphony with a full orchestra on the same stage where, with Kathryn Selby, they now played to an empty auditorium. This time the violin and cello would play their parts, and in Valve’s words, Selby at the piano “would pick up all the parts of the orchestra”.

The composition is fast-paced and demanding in its changing tempo and emotions. The musicians reflect this in their faces. As the camera moves closer to them it is clear that their concentration is intense and enormous energy is required by the intricacy of the composition. It is an exciting piece that captures the imagination of the listener because of the changes in mood and pace that build evocatively through the movements.

At a difficult time for the arts, it is important that entrepreneurial artists such as Selby are able to find ways to keep sharing their art – and keep reminding audiences of the many artists that are “waiting in the wings” for a real rather than virtual audience, and a more lucrative living.

Carol Wimmer

www.selbyandfriends.com.au

First published in Stage Whispers magazine

Selby and Friends at Home

Kathryn Selby, Andrew Haveron and Umberto de Clerici in concert. Streaming Online. Playing to ticketed customers from May 2 – 10, 2020.

Reviewed : May 2, 2020

Photo : provided

As a reaction to the closing down of arts venues by the coronavirus, pianist Kathryn Selby took one of her ‘Selby and Friends’ concerts to the screen. With violinist Andrew Haveron and cellist Umberto de Clerici, she presented three of the most loved Piano Trios in a concert recorded after only two day’s rehearsal at Sydney Grammar School.

Despite the difficulties of complying with social distancing, very clever camera work follows the music sensitively, close up shots of the musicians revealing their expressive joy in the music and the sustained energy that the pieces demand.

“Reaching out through music has always given comfort and solace – and elevated the soul”, Selby said of her decision to record the concert. “Being able to bring Selby & Friends concerts to music lovers in the safety of their homes was a satisfying goal, worth striving for… and well worth the challenge of overcoming technical hurdles. I am grateful to our loyal subscribers and my colleagues and friends in the industry for helping make this new initiative come to life!”

This reviewer is not a musician – and though I could rely on research to augment my review, I decided to write about what I heard in the music and saw revealed by musicians more closely than on a concert stage. Hence, expect language that describes feelings rather than expertise! Thought stream reactions if you like, possibly stemming from being at home alone watching and listening, rather than being constrained by the proximity of a larger, closer audience.

Mozart’s Piano Trio No 3B flat major exhibits the quirky complications one expects of his work: contrasting tempos, changing inflections, challenging changes in mood. Slower and more romantic moments show the contrasts in the instruments, especially the deeper voice of the cello as it converses with the lighter voices of the violin and the piano.

The third movement is faster, seemingly more intricate than those before it, a delicate motif that somehow allows itself to become more substantive and suggestive, sometimes even a little strident.

Beethoven’s Piano Trio in E flat minor allows the instruments to blend yet exposes their different tones. At times the piano is soft and persuasive, at others emphatic. Lightness in the movements becomes more vibrant. The instruments echo each other, one leading the others into variations of the motifs that are underscored by the deeper voice of the cello.

Photo : provided

In this piece particularly, the camera picked up the oneness of the musicians – with each other, and with the music. Close ups of the piano showed Selby’s delicate finger work, intricately delicate at one moment, restrained reaction and more atmospheric at others.

Dvorak’s Piano Trio No 4 in E minor’s shorter but poignant six movements show the different ‘faces’ of the composer and his close understanding and feeling for the instruments. In the first movement, a strong introduction by the cello invites a response from the violin. Together they invite the piano to join them in incredibly strong changes in tempo and mood. Later, in the third movement, the piano draws the strings into a range of emotive moments, gentle at times, more fluidly energetic at others.

At times in the fourth movement there are moments of almost complete silence and stillness, and in the fifth the instruments seem to whisper secrets that are picked up, embellished and retold. The final movement blends the tones of the previous movements but here the violin seems to declare the mood and changes in pace that are picked up willingly until the instruments merge in a final, uplifting series of notes.

If the language is a little flowery – and emotive – I don’t apologise! It reflects a reaction to the music – and to the inspiring work of the camera operators who helped bring Selby and Friends to us so uniquely in the artistic void that has been forced upon us.

www.selbyandfriends.com.au

First published oinStage Whispers magazine.