Saturday, August 1, 2015

RECKLESS VALOUR


QL2 Dance

The Playhouse, Canberra until 1st August.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

First presented by Quantum Leap in 2005 to commemorate the 90th Anniversary of the ANZAC landings on Gallipoli, and now revisited with an entirely new cast for the ANZAC Centenary, “Reckless Valour” remains a thoughtful, affecting and at times, deeply moving dance theatre work.

Six choreographers and five composers have contributed to “Reckless Valour” with Fiona Malone, Natalie Cursio, Jodie Farrugia, Rowan Marchingo, and Ruth Osborne, refining and reworking their original contributions, and with a new segment by rising young choreographer, James Batchelor, added for this production.

There are no solos, no stars, and while there is some disparity in the ability of individual dancers, this is of little consequence because each choreographer has embraced this disparity to achieve remarkably committed and consistent performances from each of the 32 young dancers who make up the ensemble cast, allowing each segment to achieve its intended effect to create a glorious emotional patchwork. 

"Hall of Memory" 

Each work is accompanied by an evocative soundscape provided by either Nicholas Ng, Luke Tierney, Warwick Lynch, Morgan Hickenbotham or Mark Webber, and each is supported by arresting visuals from WildBear Entertainment. Impeccable stage management adds immeasurably to the professionalism of the presentation. 

The program is presented in two halves. The first half takes the form of homage to the Australian War Memorial.  Filmed segments, combining archival footage together with specially filmed sequences, are used extensively to set the tone and connect the three dance works. 

 Jodie Farrugia focusses on the “Pool of Reflection” to provide a thoughtful segment with suggestions of children at play contrasting with the ominous sounds of gunshots and helicopters. Endlessly scrolling names provide a compelling background for Fiona Malone’s “Roll of Honour” in which figures in monotone costumes march backwards in time.  This section concludes with Ruth Osborne’s superbly realised elegy, “Hall of Memory” in which Osborne employs mass sculptural images to encapsulate the grandeur and solemnity of the memorial.

A moment from "Reckless Valour" 

The three works after interval are more diverse but no less compelling. James Batchelor’s “A road to nowhere” is a typically stark and arresting work. Performed to the sound of tramping feet, with the dark shadows of the dancers providing a backdrop, his blank-faced dancers clomp through intricate formations. One by one they abandon their footwear, until there is just a row of empty clogs on the stage.  A remarkably chilling allusion to displacement and dispossession, and an effective contrast to Rowan Marchingo’s optimistic “Faces of the Enemy”  which celebrates Australia’s cultural diversity. Nat Cursio ends the program on a thoughtful note with his work, “Lest We Forget” which questions our ability to learn from the past, and ends with the whole cast imploring the audience to “Listen”.

A moment from "Reckless Valour" 

  Ten years on from when it was first created “Reckless Valour” remains an eloquent exploration of our attitudes to war and a compelling example of the use of dance to illuminate difficult themes. It is also a shining example  of  what can be achieved through youth dance and why QL2 Dance is regarded  as a leader in this field, not only in Australia but internationally. Don’t miss this opportunity to experience one of its finest productions. 


               This review first published in the digital edition of "CITY  NEWS"  on 30.07.15

GASLIGHT



Written by Patrick Hamilton
Directed by barb barnett
Canberra Rep at Theatre 3 until 15 August 2015

Review by Len Power 30 July 2015

We don’t often get to see one of these older classic commercial plays these days, so it was interesting to see how the play stands up for a modern audience.

Patrick Hamilton’s play premiered in London in 1938 and opened on Broadway in 1941 where it remains one of the longest running non-musicals of all time.  Not a ‘whodunit’, this Victorian era thriller is more of a ‘will-he-get-away-with-it’ drama as we observe a cat and mouse game between a cruel husband and his nervous wife.  As more of the secrets of the play are revealed, the audience is drawn into a complex and devious plot that maintains interest right up until the very satisfying climax.

Director, barb barnett, has given us a straight forward production with a nice sense of period and good attention to detail in character and style.  It might be tempting for a director to make cuts or speed up the action for an older play like this, but barb barnett wisely allows it to move at a deliberate pace that suits its period setting and the characters involved.

The production has been well cast.  As the cruel husband, Peter Holland gives a strong, chilling performance.  He pulls out all the stops with his appalling behaviour towards his wife, causing audible gasps from the audience.  Kate Blackhurst plays the downtrodden wife very well.  At first pathetically teetering on the edge of a breakdown, she paces the quietly gathering strength of this woman very successfully as the play progresses.

Kate Blackhurst as the wife, Bella, and Peter Holland as the husband, Jack
 At the risk of spoiling surprises in the plot, I won’t give away any detail about the character played by Pat Gallagher except to say that he gives a finely detailed performance that is very enjoyable.

Pat Gallagher with Peter Holland
 Natalie Waldron gives a particularly good performance as Nancy, the scheming maid with a sadistic streak and Nikki-Lynnne Hunter as the housekeeper, Elizabeth, gives a confident performance of quiet assurance.  The two policemen, played by Simon Tolhurst and Rowan McMurray have a long wait before they appear in the play but certainly make their presence felt when they do.


Peter Holland and Natalie Waldron as Nancy, the maid
 The beautifully detailed Victorian drawing room set, designed by Ian Croker, is a stunner.  Lighting is especially important in this show and Chris Ellyard’s lighting has been perfectly designed.  There’s also good sound design by Jon Pearson with an excellent choice of music as well as good period costumes by Helen Drum.

Pat Gallagher with Nikki-Lynne Hunter as the housekeeper, Elizabeth

 This is an absorbing and enjoyable play directed very well by barb barnett.  If you enjoy a good, suspenseful period thriller, you’ll certainly enjoy this one.

Photos by Helen Drum.

GREASE



Book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey
Directed by Stephen Pike
Queanbeyan City Council production
At The Q Theatre until 15 August.

Review by Len Power 29 July 2015

‘Grease’ is a nostalgic fairy tale but it’s amusing to think that in these politically correct times we all happily flock to a musical in which a nicely-mannered, pretty girl learns that she has to look and act like a leather-clad tart to keep her oaf-of-a-boyfriend’s interest.

Compared to the original, much grittier version, stage productions of ‘Grease’ these days are more like the blander, sugar-coated but enjoyable movie version of 1978.

Rosanna Boyd was excellent as Sandy as was Vanessa de Jager as Rizzo.  Marcus Hurley as Danny gave a strong performance in the first act but seemed less energetic in the second act.  There were also great cameo moments from Jonathan Garland, Dave Collins, Hayden Crossweiller, Liam Downing and each of the Pink Ladies.

Rosanna Boyd as Sandy
The set for the show and the projections were unimaginative and a disappointment.  There was so little detail it seemed more like a concert version of the show.  Jordan Kelly’s choreography was certainly energetic but often had nothing to do with the intention of particular scenes and it all looked the same after a while.
Marcus Hurley as Danny
 Costumes by Anna Senior were colourful and attractive with great attention to detail.  The singing was confident and the band conducted by Jenny Tabur sounded excellent.  Sound balance was occasionally uneven, making it hard to hear some lyrics clearly.

Vanessa de Jager as Betty

Stephen Pike’s show has an appealing freshness due mostly to the enthusiastic young cast.  It just needed some better production values to make it a great one.

Photos taken at the Media Call on 22 July 2015 by Len Power
 
Originally published in Canberra City News digital edition 30 July 2015.  Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast in the ‘Artcetera’ program on Artsound FM 92.7 on Saturdays from 9am.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Grease






Grease by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey.  Presented by Queanbeyan City Council.  Directed by Stephen Pike; Music Director: Jenny Tabur; Choreography by Jordan Kelly; Set Designer: Brian Sudding; Lighting / Video by Hamish McConchie; Sound by Chris Neal.  At The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, July 29 – August 15, 2015.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
July 29

Cast:

Sandy Dumbrowski – Rosanna Boyd
Danny Zuko – Marcus Hurley





Pink Ladies:
Betty Rizzo – Vanessa de Jager
Marty – Amelia Juniper-Grey
Frenchy – Risa Craig
Jan – Sophie Hopkins






T-Birds:
Kenickie – Liam Downing
Roger – Dave Collins
Doody – Tristan Davies
Sonny Latierri – Lachlan Agett







Eugene Florczyk – Hayden Crossweller; Patty Simcox – Ashley Di Berardino; Miss Lynch – Sue Richards; Teen Angel – Nick Valois; Johnny Casino – John Kelly; Vince Fontained – Jonathan Garland; Cha-Cha Digregorio – Amy Campbell; Radio Voice – Maddison Lymn

Girls Ensemble: Isabel Burton, Peita Chappell, Riley Gill, Jasmine Henkel, Maddison Lymn, Silvana Moro, Grace Mulders, Lara Niven

Boys Ensemble: Nicholas Friffin, Sam Jeacle, Robbie Lawrence, David Santolin, John Skelton, Mathew Tallarida-Lyons, Cameron Taylor




Band: Jacon Schmidt (Saxophone 1), Hannah Richardson (Saxophone 2), Kirsten Nilsson (Saxophone 2 on 8-9 August), Vince Tee (Keyboard), Sean Ladlow (Guitar 1), Maxim Korolev (Guitar 2), Gary Scott (Bass Guitar), Jenna Hinton (Drums)

Photos by Lauren Sadow

I can judge this production of Grease in two completely different ways: on its immediacy on opening night in Queanbeyan in 2015; and on its place in the history of this musical, which began as a local community show for young people in Chicago in 1971 “in an old trolley barn (now the site of a hospital parking garage)” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grease_%28musical%29] and went on to hold an amazing record in its day:  “At the time that it closed in 1980, Grease's 3,388-performance run was the longest yet in Broadway history....”

I simply had to list almost everybody involved here, because I’m sure that almost everybody had at least one family member in the audience.  The casting was terrific, the choreography and dance performances exciting, musically the band handled not only the 1950’s rock but all the other stylistic references in excellent fashion, the quality of all the singing matched the demands made by the show (including the very funny almost satirical high-pitched extenuating vocal flourishes by the men) – in other words Grease rocked along as it should.

There was no doubt about the enjoyment value on Wednesday’s opening night which will surely see Queanbeyan still rocking on August 15 for closing night.

I did find myself a little concerned about the balance between the singers’ voices and the band sound.  It was perhaps ironic that we critics had heard Chris Neal explain, when he spoke in our Canberra Critics’ Circle Conversation (Monday July 13, 2015), how difficult it is when everyone is miked individually to balance the sound across all the mikes while avoiding feedback.  I’m not sure how the band was miked on this occasion, but I’m sure even on Broadway, in the 1970s, microphones were fewer and farther between – and therefore easier to manage.

That was a segue to my other kind of question of judgement.  Rather than be critical of the show, this is a bit of critical writing about the show.  Whatever I say will not adversely affect your enjoyment, but may add something to the experience.

I was a bit surprised – not having been an aficionado of Grease – to see what seemed to be a switch from a light-hearted take, sometimes even a bit of a spoof, on conventional high-school romances into a not at all comfortable experience for Rizzo when it appears that she is pregnant and she can’t tell the would-be father, Kenickie.  The scene, leading as it does to Sandy becoming suddenly aware of the adult reality of sex, through Rizzo’s song “There Are Worse Things I Could Do”, is a turning point in the drama.  Sandy changes off-stage – mentally and literally – and reappears in sexy adult costume instead of the “litte girl” clothing she had worn up to this point.  What was happening here?

I wasn’t sure if the change in atmosphere was deliberate on the director’s part, in which case it seemed oddly out of place, something that couldn’t be avoided – since it was in the script – but could be quickly turned around back to the innocent fun of a whole company finale.  Somewhere in there I heard Rizzo say that it was a “false alarm”, so everything was now OK.  A bit of a cop-out, I wondered.

It was Wikipedia that sent me to http://www.newlinetheatre.com/greasechapter.html where I found an enormously useful essay, Inside Grease – background and analysis by Scott Miller (Copyright 2006. From Scott Miller's book, Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll, and Musical Theatre). 

I meant enormous – like, 20 pages, and so full of stuff.  I hadn’t understood that Grease was written in 1971, looking back to a specific year when this group of working-class young people were in their final high school year: 1958.  Miller calculated that this group were born just before the people we now call baby-boomers.  In fact they were born in 1942.  I was born in 1941.  And my final year at high school was 1957!

So now I get it!  Grease is about the working-class teenagers at the end of the fifties as rock’n’roll changed the world for them, setting them free from the middle-class conventions which were the dream of their parents.  Grease "is really the story of America’s tumultuous crossing over from the 50s to the 60s, throwing over repression and tradition for freedom and adventure (and a generous helping of cultural chaos), a time when the styles and culture of the disengaged and disenfranchised became overpowering symbols of teenage power and autonomy. Originally a rowdy, dangerous, over-sexed, and insightful piece of alternative theatre, Grease was inspired by the rule-busting success of Hair and shows like it, rejecting the trappings of other Broadway musicals for a more authentic, more visceral, more radical theatre experience that revealed great cultural truths about America," writes Scott Miller.

And indeed I saw Hair, the original Australian production which premiered in Sydney on June 6, 1969, though I never saw Grease on stage.  After reading Miller I understood the ironic references to Sandra Dee and Doris Day.  And I remember, too, looking back from 1972 during the “It’s Time” election to see how much we had changed since my first year (and the first member of my family) at uni in 1958.  I see myself as running half a decade behind the kids of Grease’s Rydell High, but maybe that was just a matter of living in Australia compared with USA.

I discovered, too, that Stephen Pike seems to have been influenced by the 1978 movie of Grease with Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta, but Miller complains that the film bowdlerised the original script – “Watered-down,” he called it – and goes on to castigate the “revival of Grease [which] opened on Broadway in May 1994, painfully misdirected and misunderstood by Tommy Tune’s protégé, director-choreographer Jeff Calhoun....” 

For example, in Act II, when Sandy leaves Danny at the drive-in, Miller notes: “The replacement song in the film, "Sandy," isn’t a bad song, but it doesn’t achieve half of what "Alone at a Drive-In Movie" does, textually, thematically, or musically.”  I checked this out on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLuN96-e6NQ where you can see and hear the 1972 performances, and you can understand what Miller meant.  And perhaps why the film version was “watered-down”.

Finally, Miller writes “Like all the best theatre songs, Sandy makes a decision in the "Sandra Dee" reprise, and the plot takes a turn toward its final destination. Sandy must decide who she is herself and what she values; she must embrace all of who she is, including her sexuality. She now realizes that only when she is true to herself can she be happy with Danny, and this final revelation will lead us to the show’s rowdy, playful finale "All Choked Up" (sadly replaced in the film by the less carnal disco number "You're the One That I Want").

So I think it’s fair to conclude that Queanbeyan isn’t what Chicago was in 1958, or even Broadway in 1972, nor should it be.  We don’t need to re-create the raw beginnings of Grease because – as I’m sure Olivia Newton-John herself would agree – the revolution in the lives of women and men is a long way further on now than it was then.  I guess the revolution is nowhere complete, either, but the thorough enjoyment in the audience of mixed ages and sexes watching Stephen Pike’s production, and clearly in the cast performing the show, is its own recommendation.  And it still rocks, even if a little less hard than it needed to be back then.






Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Dylan Thomas Return Journey - The Street Theatre


Review by John Lombard

In 1953, months before his death, Dylan Thomas began his final American tour of public readings of his poetry.  “Dylan Thomas: Return Journey” is a recreation of what it would have been like to sit in on one of those readings, with Bob Kingdom’s incarnation of the poet as close as it is possible to come to spending an actual evening with Dylan Thomas.
 
Because the show is a recreation of Thomas’ final performances (with readings of poetry and smatterings of reminiscence), the audience is left to supply a lot that is left unsaid, in particular the context of Thomas’ destructive marriage and spectacular alcoholism.  But for the informed viewer this trade-off is more than worth the illusion that this really is Dylan Thomas, with Kingdom’s musical intonation of the poems eerily close to recordings of Thomas himself.  His rumpled, hangdog face is genuinely weary - the suit is pressed, but the face needs ironing.
 
Kingdom does a fine line as a raconteur, but Thomas’ poems provide the most powerful moments of the night.  Thomas is an unusually clear and rhythmic poet with a gift for finding the most explosive word.  A Thomas poem is a sequence of controlled detonations.  Predictably, “Do not go gentle into that good night” becomes the poet’s epitaph.
 
The original direction by Anthony Hopkins is straightforward, shaped by the decision to recreate the experience of watching Thomas himself rather than giving us deeper insight into his life.  The set is limited to a podium and a chair, with the most dramatic variation in the staging whether Kingdom is performing behind the podium or in front of it.  Fortunately Kingdom’s excellent readings are enough to keep the attention focused for almost 90 minutes, an impressible accomplishment in a one man show.
 
Return Journey proves that “death shall have no dominion” over Thomas or his poetry.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

DON CARLOS - Opera Australia

By Giuseppe Verdi 


Don Carlos - Opera Australia
Photo: Jamie Williams
Conductor: Andrea Licata
Director: Elijah Moshinsky
Designer: Paul Brown
Lighting Designer: Nigel Levings   
    
Opera Australia
Joan Sutherland Theatre – Sydney Opera House until August 15.

Performance 17th July, reviewed by Bill Stephens

Though it deals with weighty matters, politics and the human condition, “Don Carlos” is far from a heavy night at the opera.  Crammed with lush melodies and absorbing characters, “Don Carlos” is   rarely performed in this country, largely because of the huge resources needed to do it justice, both aural and physical. However this finely detailed reworking by Opera Australia of Elijah Moshinsky’s 1999 production, with its spectacular Velazquez inspired sets and costumes, does the opera proud and offers a rare opportunity to catch up with this masterpiece.

The mood is set early as the curtain rises to reveal the interior of a lavish green marble mausoleum housing the tomb of Charles V.  A giant shadow precedes  the vision of a ghostly Charles V (David Parkin) as he  enters,  dressed as a monk,  to observe the Crown Prince of Spain,  Don Carlos (Diego Torre), seeking consolation for his sorrow at  the news that his father, Phillip 11 (Ferrucio Furlanetto), has claimed his fiancée, Elisabeth de Valois (Latonia Moore), for his own wife. 

Don Carlos is joined by his friend and advisor, Rodrigo (Jose Carbo in yet another outstanding performance) and together they pledge an oath to liberty in the first of several stirring male duets which occur throughout the opera. These duets reflect Verdi’s interest in expressing powerful emotions through the use of the singing voice, and this one provides the catalyst for the events which follow.
 
Daniel Sumegi (The Grand Inquisitor) Ferruccio Furlanetto (Phillip 11)
Photo: Jamie Williams
 
Opera Australia has gathered together some very fine voices for this production, nowhere demonstrated to more stunning effect than in the mighty duet between Phillip 11 and the Grand Inquisitor, (Ferruccio Furlanetto and Daniel Sumegi) which occurs during the second act when the Grand Inquisitor tries to persuade Phillip to kill both his son, Don Carlos, and Rodrigo. Both are exceptional singers, and both are fine actors with great presence. This scene, in which they are pitted against each, is absolutely electrifying.

Milijana Nikolic (Princess Eboli) Latonia Moore (Elisabeth)
Photo: Jamie Williams 

While the two women’s roles are less prominent , both Latonia Moore,  as Elisabeth,  the pawn between Don Carlos and his father, Phillip 11, and Milijana Nikolic, quite outstanding as the beautiful  Princess Eboli,  who harbours a passion for Don Carlos and who unwittingly causes his downfall,  give memorable performances. It was also fascinating to see these two singers cast opposite each other again in roles not too dissimilar as those they portrayed so successfully in the Handa Opera on the Harbour production of “Aida”.

Latonia Moore (Elisabeth) Ferruccio Furlanetto (Phillip 11)
Photo: Jamie Williams

Paul Brown’s imposing marble settings and lavish Spanish court costumes ensure that the production looks suitably spectacular, reaching its zenith when the doors of the church are flung open during the spectacular and chilling “auto da fe” scene, depicting the burning of the condemned heretics.

This production is rich with memorable moments, both vocal and visual, and once again the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, in top form under Andrea Licata, gives a superb account of Verdi’s sumptuous score.

Milijana Nikolic (Princess Eboli) Diego Torre (Don Carlos)
Photo: Jamie Williams

By the way, if you’ve not yet discovered the Northern Foyer pop-up bar, make sure you seek it out next time you go to the opera house.  It’s very chic and glamorous, offers reasonable priced snacks, stunning harbour views, and a great addition to the opera-going experience. 

                                                                                                            
Northern Foyer Pop-up Bar
Photo: Bill Stephens
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
                                     This review also appears in Australian Arts Review.


THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED)



Written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield
Directed by James Scott
Honest Puck
CADA Theatre, Fyshwick to 2 August 2015

Review by Len Power

Thirty seven plays, three actors, 97 minutes. That’s the promise made with ‘The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged)’.  You even get the sonnets thrown in, too.

This delightfully loony show started off at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1987 and ran in London for 9 years.  It’s not surprising as it’s a great audience pleaser but it has to be done well to succeed.

Luckily, the three actors in the Honest Puck production are in full command of the show, never letting the frenzied action falter for a moment.  James Scott, the director and cast member, displays excellent comic timing while also showing he has the skills and voice to play any of the classic roles he’s sending up.  His funniest moment had him trying to do ‘To Be Or Not To Be’ from ‘Hamlet’ and dealing with giggling audience members at the same time.

Left to right: Yorick, Ryan Pemberton, Brendan Kelly and James Scott

 The show is a brilliant showcase for the two young actors in the cast – Brendan Kelly and Ryan Pemberton.  Brendan Kelly is hysterically funny trying to patch up moments where things apparently are going wrong like mixing up a biography of Shakespeare with that of Hitler or finishing Othello with the final lines of Romeo and Juliet and still managing to make them rhyme.  He demonstrated a strong talent for the mechanics of farce and his mock innocence was very appealing.
Romeo and Juliet (guess who's Juliet....)

Ryan Pemberton plays the straight man much of the time in the show but has his moments of high comedy, too.  Left alone on the stage when the other actors have refused to continue, his nervous attempts to fill in and entertain were delightful.  His interaction with audience members was skilfully done and his sense of timing in physical and verbal comedy was very impressive.
Someone needs a Band-Aid....
Director, James Scott, has produced a highly entertaining show which moves at a wild pace without letting up for a moment.  He keeps it visually interesting with the use of crazy props and improvisations and the physical comedy is very well staged.  The Tudor-looking set by Geoff Patterson and Luke Patterson works very well and the wacky costumes have been well-executed by Imogene Irvine and Kathleen Masters.

There’s a lot of amusing audience interaction in this show but nothing threatening.  Well, OK, you might get vomited on but no-one on opening night seemed to mind.  You don’t need to know anything about Shakespeare’s plays to enjoy this.  In fact, it might be an advantage!

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast in the ‘Artcetera’ program on Artsound FM 92.7 on Saturdays from 9am.