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Plenty serious TALK TALK

Dance Bites 2018. Form Dance Projects and Riverside Theatres. Aug 30 – Sep 1, 2018

 

Photo : Heidrun Lohr

No-one could better describe the premise behind Vicki Van Hout’s clever, creative – and philosophical – piece of theatre than the performer herself:

Even if I am on stage by myself, as an artist, I am never truly alone, as I am bound to bring my family, my community, my peers and mentors to work with me. In this piece, I decided to place the usual behind-the-scenes action of the indigenous arts making process front and centre …

While Australians from all cultural backgrounds create within the framework of cultural arts and community development … there is a particular obligation placed on indigenous performers.

Van Hout has chosen a blend of theatrical forms to highlight her words, and in all of them – dance, drama and film – she manages to incorporate the gentle, but very effective, satirical humour and comic timing that we have come to expect from our indigenous writers and performers. From Jack Davis to Nakkiah Lui, Bob Maza to Leah Purcell, the ability to infuse their special stories with humour as well as truth has earned them a special kind of respect.

Whether in a clever video clip mocking attitudes to the acknowledgement to country, or “auctioning” traditional indigenous and European dance steps; explaining to an invisible elder the ability to tell her stories truthfully without traditional ‘props’ or encapsulating all of them in interpretative movement, Van Hout proves herself a consummate performer. She has a lithe, buoyant energy that injects itself into her performance, an innate ability to use pause, gesture, a tilt of the head, a wry expression to reach beyond the moment and make her truth even clearer.

Van Hout is a skilled dancer, story teller, actor and analyst – with the ability “speak across cultures” in a way that is edifying as well as entertaining.

Review published in Stage Whispers magazine

 

The Streeton Trio : Jazz Inspirations

Independent Theatre, North Sydney; Sunday 24th August 2018

Photo : Geoff Sirmai

Melbourne cellist Blair Harris joined violinist Emma Jardine and pianist Benjamin Kopp in a wonderful afternoon concert that traced the influences of contemporary music on classical composers – from Haydn in 1795, to Ravel in 1914, to more recent composers such as Paul Schoenfeld (1985), Fazil Say (2012) to young Australian composer Harry Sdraulig (2017).

The harmonious refrains of the motifs in each composition were reflected in the elegant synchronisation of the performers – and their accord as a trio. Moments of eye contact, easily missed by some perhaps, told of their shared passion for the music and the diligent rehearsal that is needed to achieve perfection.

Joseph Haydn’s Trio in G, Gypsy, picked up the gypsy folk music of his time in three movements that conjured the mysticism and romance of those that live a less settled life. It begins in mellow tones, then forces the instruments almost to a race, where they outpace each other “more for fun than for competition”. It certainly puts the musicians through their paces, requiring fast fingers and split-second timing to match the energy of the piece.

Ravel’s Piano Trio, written as The Great War loomed, begins quietly with the rhythmical motifs picked up and echoed, until the rolling patterns of the Pantoum, that reflect pattern of a Malaysian poem where the last two lines of each stanza roll into the next. The fourth movement starts low, with the motif moving higher and higher in scale until it leads into the final movement, that begins with trickling water droplets and ends with the crescendo of a storm.

Photo : Geoff Sirmai

Every part of this composition demanded faultless timing and a unity of purpose and passion that shone in both the music and the faces of each of the trio.

The second part of the program took the trio to Europe in 2012 and Fazil Say’s musical interpretation of Felix Baumgartner’s jump from a helium balloon 39kms above the earth. The music contemplating the earth from his capsule, then drifting and spinning through the stratosphere and into a dance of joy as he lands safely. All the risks and the exhilaration are iterated in music that trips through the fingers of the three performers as they recapture Say’s interpretation of the feat.

In Harry Sdraulig’s Joybox, composed for Musica Viva, elements of jazz are cycled through a central concept. In Paul Schoenfeld’s Café Music, which is in Kopp’s words, “a wild, free ride” where Schoenfeld “pays homage to all things American”. Suggestions of jazz, soul, and musical theatre come together in a classical pastiche that is obviously as much fun to play as it is for the audience to listen to – and to watch.

The Independent Theatre brings the audience into the close proximity for which chamber music is written … and these three musicians are as thrilling to watch as the music that is their vocation.

The Widow Unplugged

Written by and starring Reg Livermore. Ensemble Theatre. Directed by Mark Kilmurry. August 4 – September 1, 2018

 

 

 

 

Not reviewed by CW.

Madame Butterfly

By Puccini, in an adaptation by Peter Hutchinson. Opera Australia. Riverside Theatre, Parramatta. August 18, 2018 and touring.

Once again, Opera Australia, supported by some generous donors, is ‘on the road’. Performed in English, in an adaptation by Peter Hutchinson that re-sets the opera into the mid-1950s, and directed by John Bell, a cast of wonderful singers accompanied by a chamber orchestra are taking Puccini’s Madame Butterfly to twenty-nine venues in NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT. This performance, to a packed house at Parramatta, saw them two thirds of the way through a tour that began early in July and will culminate at the Princess Theatre in Launceston on the 18th September.

Butterfly tells the tragic love story of a faithful Japanese wife, Cio-Cio-San, waiting patiently with her little son for the return of her American husband, Captain Pinkerton, only to find that he has taken advantage of an old Japanese divorce custom, and married again.

In each community, a chorus of local children, join the OA cast. Trained by local choir leaders, who have attended intensive workshops, the children have the envied opportunity to be part of the production – and in this opera, to take part in the famous “humming chorus”.

This faithful adaptation of the opera is taking its beautiful music and sad story far afield.

This, and the actual tour itself, require an enormous amount of planning and organisation, not least of which is the transportation of the set – cunningly designed for (fairly) easy transportation by Jennie Tate – musical instruments, costumes, wigs, lighting … and the cast and crew.

Tate’s set uses the simple, clean lines that are integral to Japanese design. A stage of wooden platforms, augmented by sliding screens takes the scene to a more contemporary Nagasaki than that of 1904 when Puccini’s work was first performed, though the ceremonies and rituals that are an essential part of his libretto are faithfully retained. The traditional costumes evoke the flowing lines and subtle colours of Japan and contrast with the deeper colours and fabrics of the more modern costumes.

Into this setting comes Puccini’s music. The influence of Japanese music is evident in the use of the pentatonic scale with which Puccini suggests changes in mood and atmosphere. The travelling orchestra – two violins, a viola, cello, double bass, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, French horn and keyboard – subtly evokes the emotions that he worked into the score.

There is romance and joy in the opening act, with Butterfly’s aria, her maid Suzuki’s prayers and in Butterfly’s duet with Pinkerton; and in the optimism of the famous. . . .

Review continued in Stage Whispers magazine

Next to Normal

Music by Tom Kitt, Book & lyrics by Brian Yorkey. Directed by Kathryn Thomas, Musical Director Steve Dula. Lane Cove Theatre Company (St Aidans Anglican Church Longueville). 10 – 25 August, 2018.

Photo : Dawn Pugh

Though classified as a ‘rock musical’ Next to Normal is far from the ‘lightness’ that classification usually describes. Rather, it’s the harrowing story of a mother struggling with the crippling weight of bipolar disorder and the effect that it has on her, and her family. This is a musical for Now, even though it was written over ten years ago.

Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2010 (one of only eight musicals ever to receive the award), it also touches on drug abuse, suicide, the long-lasting devastation of grief and the vagaries of psychology and psychiatry, making it perceptive musical comment on contemporary society.

Director Kathryn Thomas says she is drawn to theatre that explores “what it is to be human and what it is to learn and grow”. Next to Normal certainly does that. It blends music and drama in a story that is heart breaking and very real.

In a compact, shared little theatre space, on a sparse yet suggestive set, Thomas has created the allusion of an ordinary suburban house – yet one that is slightly askew – just like the family that exists precariously therein.

With a talented and committed cast, Thomas, and musical director Steve Dula, have wrought a delicately sensitive production that blends the poignancy of Brian Yorkey’s words with the passion and complexity of Tom Kitt’s music. Thomas is a creative director who searches for the inner spark that ignites the characters. Whether in intimate dialogue or impassioned song, she has sought that spark in her cast as well.

Miriam Rihani plays the disturbed, disordered Diana, existing between the real and the longed-for. In action and in song, Rihani finds the anxious highs and desperate lows of this distraught character. She shrinks into herself, fearful, disoriented, wretchedly engaging.

Trent Gardiner is her loyal but worried husband, Dan. Gardiner shows the complexity of his apprehension in expressive voice and studied action. He stands steadfast and supportive, yet his face shows the anguish and disquiet he feels inside.

Their daughter, Natalie, is played with mature assurance by Chelsea Taylor. Taylor finds the complexities of a teenager torn between love and distrust at home, and in her relationship with her devoted boyfriend, Henry, played with warm, affectionate stoicism by Luka Bozic.

Doctor Madden, Diana’s psychiatrist, is played by Brent Dolahenty, who depicts the smug self-righteousness of this highly qualified but distant and insensitive character.

Christopher O’Shea, as Gabe, haunts the production as effectively as he does Diana’s mind. He moves lightly, his eyes fixed, vacant, compelling, his power over the family scarily gripping. This is a difficult role to sustain and O’Shea does it well.

A musical drama such as this requires an enormous amount of rehearsal to portray and control the varied levels of emotion and vocal intensity that this cast has achieved. That intensity would be even more effective if the amplification of the voices was not so high. In a space where the audience is so close, the voices so strong, the themes so confronting, less in that case, would achieve much more.

 

The Turk in Italy

By Gioachino Rossini. Librettist: Felice Romani. Opera Australia. Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House. August 10 – September 1, 2018.

Photo : Keith Saunders

Though opera buffo doesn’t traditionally have the same classical ‘standing’ as the dramatic operas, the music is just as beautiful – and there is much more opportunity for directors to have fun with the action and the costumes. Simon Phillips certainly did this in his 2014 production of The Turk in Italy, and revival director Andy Moore has treated it just as playfully in this reprise. In Opera Australia’s own words: “This production is a frivolous take on a comedy that is not often performed”.

Frivolous or not, the music is Rossini as a 21-year-old creative wizard, mixing his musical talent, with, like Noel Coward, “a talent to amuse”. The orchestra, led by Andrea Molino, with Assistant conductor Siro Battaglin at the Fortepiano, plays with as much joie de vivre as the performers on stage. Together they make this almost silly, yet musically stretching opera, a frivolous musical romp that lifts the spirits and makes life seem a lot brighter.

. . . it is the acting that takes this production beyond comic to comedy . . . . . elements of commedia del’arte are carefully inter-woven with the music . . .

The opera is set in a seaside town near Naples and Phillips has moved the time forward to the 1950s and a bar in a classy seaside resort. Costume designer Gabriela Tylesova has picked up the 50s style, “exaggerating the clashing colours of the time” in multi-coloured swimsuits, tight waists, gathered skirts and strappy sandals. The men are equally flashy, in shiny fabrics, three-piece suits, pegged pants and pointed shoes. The fancy dress ball in the second Act is a plethora of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe lookalikes rocking and rolling to a classical beat – but introduced cheekily by the very faint notes of “Love me Tender”.

Rossini and librettist Felice Romani had fun with the interlocking love stories of the plot, which they explained cunningly through the poet Prosdocimo (Samuel Dundas), who is finding trouble imagining the scenario for a farce he is writing. The flirtatious heroine, Florilla (Stacey Alleaume), precariously balances her lover Narciso (Virgilio Marino), the visiting Turk, Selim (Paolo Bordogna) and her jealous husband, Geronio, (Warwick Fyfe). The arrival of Selim’s former lover, Zaida (Anna Dowsley), with a band of gypsies, causes more complications.

Prosdocimo’s attempt to unravel the tangle by suggesting disguises causes even more confusion, but, like all good comedies, the couples are re-united, poor Narciso is left on his own – and Prosdocimo succeeds in finding a plot. Phillips uses a great deal of poetic licence in his Surtitles, with words and phrases such as “boofhead, “nong” and “desperate and dateless” peppering his translation.

The plot gave Rossini the opportunity to write less for solo voices and more for ensemble. There are duets, trios, quartets and a thrilling comic quintet in the ballroom scene. Stacey Alleaume obviously relishes the coloratura of Rossini’s crescendos, thrilling the audience as the whispered beginnings of her solos reach higher and higher. Warwick Fyfe (and the orchestra) delight in . . . .

Review continued in Stage Whispers magazine

BESPOKEN WORD: “I Can Top That” Edition

Solid Lines Creatives,  Petersham Bowling Club,  8th August 2018

Sometimes the best ideas are sparked by the simplest things. Take a few comics telling stories after a Stand Up gig. Realise their stories are even funnier than the gig itself! Why not share this with a wider audience? In an intimate space? With a glass of wine? And call it BESPOKEN WORD?

Storytelling is fundamental to every society, every family, every group of friends. It’s the basis of history, literature, theatre, opera, music. It’s how we share, learn, grow … entertain. And the irrepressible John Knowles, Kate Iselin and their friends do all of that every second Wednesday of the month in the little theatrette downstairs at the “live, local and pokie free’ Petersham Bowling Club.

A simple stage, a microphone, 4 chairs, some topics in a hat, a few people who are happy (and daring enough) to share their memories, and an enthusiastic audience … that’s all it takes to produce a lively, funny – even a little poignant – evening.

Last Wednesday night Iselin began the show by introducing CJ Denning who told us of her first night in Australia, holed up Harry-Potter –style on the floor in a cupboard in a share house in Sydney. And Naomi Mourra, who shared the surprise of finding an unexpected, used, GST charged feminine hygiene ‘item’ stuck to the seat of her pink motor scooter.

After interval Knowles was joined by the bowling club’s own George Catsi, Comedian Jen Carnovale, and James Valentine, afternoon presenter on ABC Sydney, for a session of “I Can Top That”.

What a weird and wonderful range of stories they told!  In Quick fire quips, Catsi  described his grisly effort to fit dentures into the mouth of a cadaver in his nursing days. Carnovale took us on camping trip to the Hunter where a candle set fire to the tent. This inspired Valentine’s memories of his teenage candle-making business and Knowles’ Grade 8 story of selling Christmas-character candles to raise money for a school trip, only to find the money he’d raised was merely the deposit which should have been paid much earlier – and therefore missing out on the excursion. Poor John!

The topic Road Trips took us ‘on tour’ with Valentine and a rock band in a Falcon station wagon where he was the only driver – mainly because all the others had lost their licences. He told of being pulled over, and facing a burly policeman on his own, while his fellow travellers ‘ditched’ some illegal substances. Catsi ‘topped that’ with the tale of hitching a lift in a Combi van in Tasmania, ending up in and anti- Franklin Dam demonstration and being arrested for demonstrating.

Knowles was reminded of his young band deciding to travel to Melbourne by train – not realising that the many instruments they carried with them would incur a $700 fee for excess baggage! Fortunately, his mother was able to sweet talk the station master down to $200 … for which she paid!

And that’s just a few of the many stories with which they entertained us for a few happy, convivial hours. Everyone has stories to tell. Most of us like to share them. Many of us do so fairly well. Some of us also have the timing and chutzpah to ‘Top That’!

Tickets to this cunning little show are available through Event Brite or at the door. But they sell out quickly, so booking is advisable. The next show is Wednesday 12th September. Go along and see just how much fun the age-old art of storytelling can be.

 

The Wizard of Oz

By L. Frank Baum. Music and Lyrics by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg. Background Music by Herbert Stothart. Adapted by John Kane for the Royal Shakespeare Company. A production by Richmond Players with Richmond High School. The “Mac” Auditorium, Richmond High School, Lennox Street, Richmond. August 10 – 19, 2018.

Photo : Samantha O’Hare

I had the privilege to sit in on the tech run of this production on Monday night and though there were a few little glitches (after all, that’s what tech rehearsals are all about), director Josie Dwyer, musical director David Catterall and their very efficient and hard-working crew have their show ready to “hit the high spots” – and there are plenty of high spots to hit!

Taking into consideration the (unavoidable) limitations of a busy high school auditorium, Dwyer and her designers have come up with some imaginative ideas, including some impressive lighting and smoke effects. Her innovative set designer, John Grimshaw, has used scaffolding to extend the width of the stage, and scrim to hide and highlight the extensions and elevations he has created. Imaginative use of metres of hessian and camouflage netting transports the audience – as well as Dorothy and Toto – from Kansas to the land of the Munchkins … then to the Emerald City, where a giant animated face with red LED eyes, hovers magically above the actors.

and a very well trained dog that occasionally – and completely unintentionally – attempts to steal her scenes.

Dwyer has worked closely with a cast and crew of over a hundred to achieve a production that is colourful and entertaining. She has provided the opportunity for a great many enthusiastic Richmond youngsters – high school, tweens and junior primary – to work with the more ‘mature’ but equally enthusiastic members of the Richmond Players, including the President, Sean Duff, resplendent in “Emerald City” green guarding the gates to Oz.

Photo : Samantha O’Hare

Dorothy herself – played by Sabina Salas, a year 11 student – will be an asset to any musical theatre company in the years to come. She sings beautifully, but is also a convincing young actor, described aptly by Dwyer as being able to “find the heart of the character”. She is mature and assured, dealing confidently with a range of entrances and exits, and a very well trained dog that occasionally – and completely unintentionally – attempts to steal her scenes.

The companions she meets along the way are as charming as everyone expects them to be. Jake Wholohan as the Scarecrow is elastic and flexible with a wide-eyed naivety and cheerful smile that makes his character charmingly lovable. Craig Wynn-Jones as the Tin Man sustains a semi-robotic alertness that shines as seriously as his well-oiled joints and tapping toes. The cowardly lion played by Adrian Evangelista is as cuddly as Big Ted, as clumsy as Jerry Lewis and as scary as … a kitten … and equally endearing.

The witches – one good (Crystal Forbes) and one wicked (Catherine Gregory) – behave as expected. One comforts whilst the other cackles. One encourages whilst the other threatens. One inspires whilst the other, eventually, expires – as all bad witches should.

Supporting these larger-than-life characters is a chorus of tiny Munchkins, toe-tapping trees, crows, soldiers and green Emerald City socialites. Their voices ring out joyfully. They dance vivaciously. And they follow direction attentively.

Managing such a large cast is no mean feat. Teaching the songs and choreography, developing the characters, explaining the blocking, coordinating rehearsals, organising and storing costumes, takes a lot of planning and patience – and some very efficient backstage ‘wrangling’ to teach and sustain theatre decorum, and focus and timing.

There are some special moments in this production that I shouldn’t divulge … but wait for the wicked witch’s descent to “where the goblins go”; and the very special finale which Dwyer “hopes people will take away with them and remember”.

I’m sure they will.

Celebrity Theatre Sports

Enmore Theatre, 5 August, 2018

Photo : Stephen Reinhardt

The lure of some of our celebrities of stage, screen, radio and the comedy circuit teaming up to take on the improvised hilarity of Theatresports to raise money for Canteen has been attracting packed audiences for years. The 2018 performance was no exception. Crowds gathered outside the Enmore theatre impatiently waiting for the doors to open – and once they did, a constant stream of excited, cheerful fans flowed in, stopping to buy raffle tickets at the door, before finding their seats and chatting as they awaited another night of “non-stop improvised comedy madness”.

To say this audience is eclectic is an understatement. There are no age, social or cultural barriers to Theatresports – especially not on this special night. Kids and adults from all over the city flock to see the faces they know so well fool around in a series of games that test their quick thinking, physical dexterity, collaboration … and intelligence!

Photo : Stephen Reinhardt

A ‘curtain raiser’ surprise in the form of the flexible and acoustically unbelievable Umbilical Brothers got the audience even more hyped. What a start to the night! And they stayed on beside musician Tom Cardy to provide appropriate sound effects for the games to come.

Hosted by the ineffable David Callan –  actor, comedian, writer and Theatresports champion – and his off-sider, game decider and time-keeper extraordinaire, Jane Simmons, this year’s teams were welcomed to the stage by an audience ready to have fun while generously raising funds for one of the most important cancer support organisations in the world.

This year’s celebrities – among them Costa Georgiadis on a different but dramatically fertile ‘verge’; Rebecca De Unamuno rhyming rhythmically; Adam Spencer gyrating geometrically; Holly Brisley playing away from Summer Bay; Zoe Norton checking things out; and Jay Laga’aia without Big Ted but still with “stories to tell” – got off to a flying start with a series of two minute games, discerningly judged by Theatresports aficionados Murray Fahey, Jenny Hope and Mark Streeter.

On a more serious note was the story of a family devastated by cancer, shared bravely by the young daughter and granddaughter who has become their mainstay and carer with the encouragement, support and mentorship of the Canteen family. Her story galvanised the interval sale of raffle tickets, with just a little ‘celebrity’ encouragement.

The second half of the program saw inter-team shenanigans as Simmons hit them with combinations of games and challenges. Competition raged – theatrically of course! Belts were loosened in a hilarious ‘emotions’ confrontation in a fortuneteller’s booth. A Roller Derby in stilettos minced menacingly.  And Cinderella was re-told, sinisterly in Kung-fu style. It was a veritable feast of improvised proportions.

Finally the raffle was drawn … the winning ticket holders congratulated … Callan and Simmons declared Rebecca De Unamuno and her team – Rowan Witt, Daniel Cordeaux and Monique Dykstra – the 2018 champions … and a happy audience made its way home.

Photo : Stephen Reinhardt

So ended a night of fun and frivolous fund raising for the worthiest of causes – based on an improvisation idea developed in Canada way back in 1978 by Keith Johnstone, and inspired, believe it or not, by the antics of professional wrestling! Today Impro teams compete around the world … just as Sydney the Theatresports teams battle annually for The Cranston Cup. This year’s competition begins on 23rd September – check Eventbrite for tickets.

Torch Song Trilogy

By Harvey Fierstein. Darlinghurst Theatre Company. Eternity Playhouse, Dalringhurst (NSW). July 29 – August 26, 2018

Photo : Clare Hawley

This is a stunning production where writing, direction, design and acting come exquisitely together. It takes Harvey Fierstein’s beautifully written script and his very delicately drawn characters through the maelstrom of discrimination and the fight for acceptance. Conceived in the late 1970s, when homophobia and vilification reigned, Fierstein’s trilogy was way ahead of its time, an inspiration to others to “imagine the possibilities that could lead to positive changes”. His character Arnold’s dream of a gay couple raising a family seemed inconceivable then – but was a harbinger of a brighter, more tolerant future.

Stephen Colyer’s production of this iconic trilogy gives it the elegance, lustre and sophistication that “the chutzpah of Fierstein’s creative spirit” deserves.

The three plays are funny, witty, warm … yet heart-breakingly realistic. This revival by Stephen Colyer of his 2013 production finds the all of this and more. His direction is tight, his choreography beautifully timed and coordinated so precisely with the lighting effects designed by the creative Benjamin Brockman, that at some moments the audience reaction is whispered audibly. The skilful alliance between sound designer and musical director achieved by Nate Edmondson and Phil Scott is testament to their innovation and vast theatrical experience.

Designers Imogen Ross (set) and Katja Handt (costume) endorse the collaboration that is a feature of this production. Together they have made colour a facet that unites the action. Ross has designed a set that is effectively workable and dexterously evokes the ambiance of each play. She plays with colours and props and moves furniture cleverly. In the interval before the final play –  Widows and Children – the stage crew nimbly transforms the stage, moving in tall, colourful flats, changing curtains on windows, setting up a workable kitchen bench and positioning the many props that are used or referred to in the text. Handt picks up the colours and images in costumes (especially the colour-coordinated PJs in Fugue in a Nurser!) that define the characters and the time. Watch for the rabbits that cunningly conjure the charm of Arnold’s new apartment in Widows and Children.

Photo : Clare Hawley

The cast move with impeccable precision in intricately rehearsed blocking that pinpoints tense moments. Deftly delivered dialogue defines the characters’ fears and the fragility of the lives they live in a hetero-normal, bigoted society. Humour, included cleverly by Fierstein, and subtly accented by Colyer, endows the characters with the guts and resolve they need just to get by.

Simon Corfield expertly portrays Fierstein’s hero, the feisty but blighted Arnold Beckoff, through three soul-baring hours of changing emotions. His timing is faultless. . . . .

The Review continues in Stage Whispers magazine