Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Pete the Sheep

PETE the Sheep based on the picture book by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley

Adapted by Eva Di Cesare, Tim McGarry and Sandra Eldridge.

Directed by Jonathan Biggins. Composer/Lyricist Phillip Scott. Set and Costumes James Browne. Lighting Design Matthew Marshall. Sound Design Kingsley Reeve.

Monkey Baa Theatre Company at The Q. Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre. September 15-17 2014 

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Cast of Pete the Sheep -  Todd Keys, Jeff Teale, Nat Jobe and Andrew James

It's 10 a.m. on a Tuesday morning and dozens of small children, bursting with wide-eyed excitement, file into The Q at the Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre for Monkey Baa Theatre Company's lively and utterly engaging production of Pete the Sheep. Director Jonathan Biggins and composer/lyricist Phillip Scott have created a musical adaptation of Jackie French's and Bruce Whately's highly popular, true blue Aussie story, Pete the Sheep.

The story of new wave shearer Shaun (Jeff Teale) and his sheep sheep Pete (Nat Jobe), the shearer's mate, is given an upbeat, colourful and fun-filled spin by the Wharf Revue duo of Biggins and Scott. Their delightful, quirky sense of the humorous and the absurd lends itself perfectly to this tale of tradition versus innovation. Shaun is the new shearer in the Shaggy Gulley shed. Fresh out of tech and brimming with new ideas, and accompanied by his sheep sheep-shepherder, Pete, Shaun meets his dyed in the wool Ringer boss, Ratso (Andrew James). Ratso and mates Bungo ,played also by Jobe, and Big Bob (Todd Keys) are having none of Shaun's new-fangled shear snipping ways. Rejected and dejected, Shaun is encouraged by Pete to open his own salon and bring a brand new style to shearing sheep. The salon is an instant success and soon sheep and sheepdogs and Big Bob are happy clients. Business is brisk and even ringer Ratso, the best shearer in the land, joins to lend a hand.
Jeff Teale, Andrew James, Todd Keys, Nat Jobe
on James Browne's set for Monkey Baa Theatre Company's production of Pete the Sheep


Like every good children's story there's a moral or two or more and Monkey Baa Theatre Company has pulled out the stops to help the young audience embrace the value of new ideas, accepting differences and triumphing in the face of rejection. Too sophisticated for a three year old? Not according to Biggins in his Director's Note, and judging by the sea of rapt attention, the very young, while delighting in the colour and movement of catchy song and slick, brisk, bouncy dance, could also applaud Shaun's victorious triumph in the face of adversity, thanks to a trusty, savvy sheep.

Nat Jobe as Pete, Jeff Teale as Shaun, Todd Keys as Sheep.

Judging by the audience's reaction and their enthusiastic applause at the finale, Monkey Baa's  production was a sure-fire hit with young and old alike. For the very young, for whom fifty minutes stretched their concentration and the need to visit the loo, it might be worth reading the story to them before they come, although it was obvious from responses to the jokes that many knew the story and were thrilled to see a favourite tale come to life upon the stage in a production, superbly crafted, true to the book and imaginatively brought alive with original music and song and dance (A few bars of Memories from Cats, sung here by Pete the Sheep lent a touch of irony, and the Rocky theme raised the excitement of revealing a bright new shorn wool style)

James Browne's authentic shearing shed setting, complete with rusted galvanized iron and timber ramps and woolshed slats complemented the black singlets, kakhi shorts and akubras, giving the set a truly authentic Aussie bush look. Matthew Marshall's atmospheric lighting design heightened the moments of hilarious comedy, conflict and solitary reflection. In a tour de force of ensemble playing, the four actors adroitly switched with compete conviction from shearers to dogs to sheep and back again, with no danger of confusion under Biggins's tight direction and in the fertile minds of a young audience who understand only too well the art of pretending.

Children's theatre at its very best has the power to capture the hearts and minds of every generation. Monkey Baa's adaptation of Jackie French's and Bruce Whateley's delightful story is testament to the power of story in our lives and the perfect role of the theatre to illuminate the human condition from page to stage.


Nat Jobe as Pete the Sheep, Todd Keys and Andrew James as sheep 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

SONS & MOTHERS



Written, devised and directed by Alirio Zavarce
A No Strings Attached Theatre Of Disability production
The Q, Queanbeyan
Saturday September 13, 2014

Review by Len Power

Asking a mother when she first met her child seems like an odd question to ask, but you can count on some very interesting responses, as we saw in ‘Sons & Mothers’ at the Q on Saturday night.

This is a complex and unique theatrical work that is very entertaining and ultimately very moving.  Written, devised and directed by Alirio Zavarce, this No Strings Attached Theatre Of Disability production presents six men with disabilities who tell us about their relationships with their mothers.  With the use of slides and video, their real mothers give us their candid views of the relationship, too.

Venezuelan-born director, Alirio Zavarce, whose brother is disabled, has developed and fashioned this work in collaboration with his cast through workshops including improvisations and movement over a three year period.  In the program, he states that, ‘As the writer I have crafted the performance, but the words each performer speaks are his own.  The work is alive and it will change every night’.

Gently guided by the director, each cast member presents his story directly to the audience.  Some of the stories are funny, some are angry and all are quite moving.  There is no manipulation of emotions here, just simple statements of truth.  The one common factor to all the stories is the love between sons and mothers.  The video comment by the mothers provides another aspect of the stories as they unfold.  The onstage presence of these men and their ability to connect with an audience is truly remarkable and not because they have a disability.  These are people who just have that indefinable something – a charisma – that draws you to them like a magnet.

All other elements of the production give a strong theatricality to the work.  The set design by Kathyrn Sproul provides an almost dreamlike atmosphere which is complemented by the excellent lighting design by David Gadsden.  Movement by Aidan Munn adds another charming dimension to the show and the music by Mario Spate is well-chosen.  The clever and thoughtful video design by Eugenia Lim, including projected quotes by famous people about mothers, was especially well done. 

Alirio Zavarce has fashioned an extraordinary work that not only showcases his cast but is also great theatre.  The standing ovation at the end of the performance was well-deserved.  Mark Twain is one of the people quoted during the performance.  He said, ‘My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it.’  I know I enjoyed it!

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ showbiz program with Bill Stephens on Sunday 14 September from 5pm.

Friday, September 12, 2014

DRESS CIRCLE - SUNDAY SEPT.14 - ARTSOUND FM 92.7




Bronwyn Sullivan in costume as Norma Desmond 
 Among the special features in DRESS CIRCLE this week Bronwyn Sullivan (pictured in costume) talks to Bill Stephens about her role as Norma Desmond in the Q Theatre’s forthcoming production of “Sunset Boulevard”.

Bill also talks to director, Stephen Pike, and actor, Peter Dark, about this production.



"Sweet Charity" producer Richard Carroll
 
Producer, Richard Carroll, gives details of the Helpmann Award winning production of “Sweet Charity” which is coming to the Canberra Playhouse next February. “Stage Whispers” editor, David Spicer, previews the latest edition, and  former members of the Canberra School of Music Jazz Faculty, violinist, Wilf Jones, and guitarist, Mike Price join jazz pianist extraordinaire, Julian Lee and double bassist, Craig Scott in the “Red Velvet and Wild Boronia” segment.  
Julian Lee - Craig Scott - Wilf Jones - Mike Price 
Len Power reviews “Sons and Mothers”, Isobel Griffin presents “Arts Diary” and Blue the Shearer comments on Qantas.

Packed full of interviews, reviews, music and news about the performing arts in Canberra and beyond, DRESS CIRCLE is produced and presented by Bill Stephens and broadcast by Artsound FM 92.7 every Sunday night from 5.00pm until 6.30, repeated on Tuesday nights from 11.30pm and streamed live on the internet at Artsound.fm

Bill Stephens interviewing "Sunset Boulevarde" director Stephen Pike 

 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

ROLLING THUNDER VIETNAM

Writer: Bryce Hallett


Director: David Berthold
Musical Director: Chong Lim
Set and Costume Design: Adam Gardnir
Presented by Blake Entertainment
Canberra Theatre
September 7, 2014.

 
 
Reviewed by Bill Stephens

 
Anyone expecting “Rolling Thunder Vietnam” to be just another loud head-banging rock concert is in for a surprise. Yes there is loud rock music, but in this show it is beautifully arranged and produced so that you can hear the lyrics - and in this show the lyrics have context – and in this context some of these lyrics are very powerful and moving.

Described in the publicity as a concert drama, “Rolling Thunder Vietnam” is a remarkable production by any measure. From the very first guitar chords of Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride”, the audience is hurled into an emotional rollercoaster ride through the period of history defined by the Vietnam War.

Billed as  "songs that defined a generation”,  “Rolling Thunder Vietnam” delivers much more than it promises, leaving those members of the audience who have lived through that period, as well as those who only know it from second-hand accounts,  deeply moved by the potency of the songs and their presentation.

Wes Carr - Matthew Pearce - Tom Oliver
 
Bryce Hallett has provided an electrifying script, drawn from actual letters and first-hand interviews, distilled into a compelling account of three young every-men, two Australians and one American, drawn into that war.  Tom Oliver, Wes Carr and Matthew Pearce play the men and address the audience directly as they recount their experiences. Kimberley Hodgson and Vanessa Krummenacher portray various women in their lives, and Will Ewing provides back-up vocals and a multitude of other characters. All sing solos, and produce brilliant harmonies in the ensemble numbers.

Their stories are interwoven with key songs from the period. These songs weave seamlessly through the narrative, informing and enhancing the text, and becoming powerful and moving declarations of love, loss and protest.

“Most People I Know Think That I’m Crazy” is sung by Tom Oliver to describe the reaction of his parents and friends to the news that he has volunteered to go to war. With “Help Me Make It Through The Night”, Kimberley Hodgson describes the loneliness of separation. Kimberley Hodgson again, achieves the near-impossible by managing to turn “Killing Me Softly With His Song” into a beautifully sung, heart-wrenching response to the news of the death her fiancĂ©. Each of the six soloists is superb, equally persuasive as both actor and singer.

 The beautifully balanced sound allowed the virtuoso five-piece  band, lead from the key-boards by Musical Director, Chong Lim, to impress mightily with its ability to move effortlessly through a soundscape which embraces the head-banging anarchy of Steppenwolf’s,  “Born To Be Wild”, the Stones, “Paint it Black“ and a deeply moving arrangement of Simon and Garfunkel’s anthem, “Bridge Over Trouble Waters”. The musical arrangements allow space for the audience to appreciate scorching solos from guitarists Stuart Fraser and Brett Garsed, Craig Newman’s driving bass, and Angus Burchall’s superbly textured percussion.

David Berthold’s direction is tight and imaginative. The performers toss dialogue between each other as they enter and exit the stage.  Each song is delineated with its own unique staging. Each performer is superbly showcased to display individual strengths and talents, and even some impressively energetic physicality.

Adam Gardnir’s splendid setting is particularly evocative, with four huge video screens displaying Toby Harding’s brilliant, ever-changing montage of brilliant archival and abstract images, in front of a textural background of beautifully-lit camouflage-material drapes. His costumes are subtle, attractive and appropriate.

Much more than a concert. Much more than a documentary. “Rolling Thunder Vietnam” is a superbly presented theatrical experience which will leave you entertained, informed and surprisingly moved.

The Cast of Rolling Thunder Vietnam 
   

 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

THE MAGIC FLUTE



Opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder
English translation by Michael Gow
Directed by Michael Gow
Opera Australia
Canberra Theatre, September 4 – 6, 2014

Review by Len Power September 4, 2014

‘He looks like a film star!’  This is not a line you expect to hear in a Mozart opera written in the late 18th Century.  Michael Gow has transported Mozart’s opera to 1930s Egypt, Hollywood-style, and set it in an ancient tomb with sinister shadows on the walls, secret doorways and a hero who looks like you-know-who from a Steven Spielberg movie.  It all works very well and is a delight from start to finish.

This production is sung in English and you can actually hear and understand the words as they’re singing them.  Michael Gow’s translation is witty and clarifies a lot of the original story with careful cuts to the text.  It’s especially notable that the modern words in the arias don’t stray much in translation from the original German text.  A major change in this version concerns the Queen Of The Night who isn’t destroyed at the end of the opera.  In addition, Monostatos, usually played as a black man who must therefore be evil, is played as a foreigner who is subservient to people who think they are better than him.  These changes are a welcome improvement.  The punishment of the Queen Of The Night has always seemed a bit extreme, so this change makes the ending of the opera more human and satisfying.

The terrific set design by Robert Kemp is very much in keeping with a 1930s Hollywood movie designer’s idea of an ancient Egyptian tomb.  The lighting gantries clearly visible above the set add to the Hollywood feel of the production.  It might be a touring set but it looks quite substantial with secret doorways opening here and there.  Matt Scott’s lighting design gives it all a spooky Universal Studios horror movie atmosphere.

The music, using Andrew Greene’s excellent orchestral arrangement was quite charming.  The nine piece chamber ensemble, conducted by Paul Fitzsimon brought out the colour and vibrancy of Mozart’s score.  Sound balance between the orchestra and the un-miked singers was perfect.

Hannah Dahlenburg, as the Queen of the Night, had the most spectacular arias to sing and handled them superbly.  Tamino was sung by the handsome Jonathan Abernethy and his fine singing displayed a striking tenor voice.  Christopher Hillier as Papageno sang very well and demonstrated strong comic ability also.  Emma Castelli as Pamina, Steven Gallop as Sarastro, Benjamin Rasheed as Monostatos and Anna Dowsley as Papagena also sang very well and gave good in-depth characterisations.  The Three Ladies, played by Anna Yun, Regina Daniel and Stacey Alleaume, were great fun bickering over Tamino and their trios were beautifully sung.  The members of the Woden Valley Youth Choir, appearing in the Canberra performances only, were in fine voice and moved so confidently that they looked like they had been part of the production from its inception.

At the beginning of the opera, Tamino has to do battle with a monster, usually portrayed as a dragon or a serpent.  In this production, Tamino takes on The Mummy, dressed as expected in rotting bandages.  This costume and all of the others designed by Robert Kemp were striking and nicely in period.

Director, Michael Gow, has produced a very entertaining show with fine performances.  His decision to set it in a 1930s Hollywood-style setting was inspired and makes the opera much more accessible.


Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ showbiz program with Bill Stephens on Sunday 7 September from 5pm.

Friday, September 5, 2014

THE MAGIC FLUTE - Touring Production



Presented by Opera Australia
Sam Roberts-Smith as Tamino

Director: Michael Gow

Conductor: Paul Fitzsimon

Designer: Robert Kemp

Lighting design: Matt Scott

Canberra Theatre: September 4th, 5th, 6th.

September 4th performance reviewed by Bill Stephens

On the front page of the original score of “The Magic Flute”, Mozart noted that the setting was Egypt. This was all the encouragement director, Michael Gow, needed to come up with this deliciously silly adaptation, which moves the action into the 1930’s, when the world was still besotted by the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb, and all things Egyptian.

Robert Kemp’s design takes us into a rather substantial-looking Egyptian tomb, complete with a mummy, secret chambers, mysterious hieroglyphics and a cast who look as though they have just stepped out of the latest Indiana Jones movie. It all works a treat.

Some clever tweaking of the libretto by Gow, has Tamino as a young explorer. Pamina is now a rather modern young miss whose love for Tamino ultimately manages to re-unite her parents, the glamorous Queen of the Night and the mysterious, if slightly dotty professor, Sarastro.  They are aided and abetted through a series of adventures, along the path to true love, by a bumbling bird-catcher, Papageno and three of the Queen’s hand-maidens.

This rather wonderful nonsense serves Mozart’s idiosyncratic opera very well indeed and is particularly beautifully sung as by this ensemble cast of young emerging Opera Australia soloists, most of who, alternate between the soloist and ensemble roles.  This version is sung in English, and for the most part, admirably well-articulated by the singers, and accompanied by an excellent small ensemble orchestra, conducted by Paul Fitzsimon, who ensures an excellent balance between orchestra and singer, making the lyrics easy to hear and the action easy to follow. 
Christopher Hillier (Papageno) - EmmaCastelli (Pamina)
Photo Albert Comper


 Jonathan Abernathy cuts an impressively heroic figure as Tamino, and though his acting was rather tentative, his warm, lyrical tenor voice was unforced and expressive.  As Pamina, the object of Tamino’s affection, Emma Castelli also impressed with the clarity and beauty of her voice.   




Usually seen in more serious roles, Christopher Hillier as Papageno, proved a dab hand at knock-about comedy, nailing all his laughs, and tossing off his tongue- twisting arias with admirable aplomb. He was well teamed with Anna Dowsley, quite irresistible as the mischievous Papagena.
Hannah Dahlenburg (Queen of the Night)
Photo: Albert Comper

As dazzling as she appeared as the epitome of Hollywood glamour, in a glittering silver dress, white fur and platinum blonde wig, Hannah Dahlenburg also dazzled vocally with her thrilling performance as the Queen of the Night, nailing every note of the famous aria with startling accuracy and clarity, whilst striding the stage with confidence and flair. 

Steven Gallop (Sarastro)
Photo: Albert Comper


Equally thrilling, but at the other end of the scale, was Steven Gallop’s towering Sarastro.  His voice as rich as warm treacle, Gallop commanded the stage on every appearance, bringing a quiet dignity and subtle air of mystery to the unexpected denouement of his re-union with The Queen of the Night...




At this performance, Anna Yun, Stacey Alleaume and Regina Daniel brought admirable vocal clarity and vivaciousness to the three ladies. Benjamin Rasheed was a wonderfully loathsome Monostatos, and Andrew Moran and Nicholas Jones provided enthusiastic support as the guards.
Anna Yun -Stacey Alleaume - Regina Daniel
Photo Albert Comper

A notable feature of this production is the interpolation of a children’s choir, and for the Canberra performance, members of The Woden Valley Youth Choir contributed to the fun, singing accurately and beautifully while acting with enthusiasm.  

Following on last year’s Opera Australia touring production of his excellent “Don Giovanni”, this imaginative, entertaining production,  by Michael Gow,  of another Mozart masterpiece, stamps Gow as one of our most interesting contemporary opera directors. One looks forward to his next production.
Anna Dowsley (Papagena) - Christopher Hillier (Papageno)
Photo: Albert Comper

                                        This review also appears in Australian Arts Review.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

THE DREAM



Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Peter Evans
Bell Shakespeare
Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse
August 30 to September 13, 2014

Review by Len Power 30 August 2014

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is one of Shakespeare’s most performed plays.  Its strange plot about young lovers, a forest, fairy kingdoms and magic spells gives directors plenty of opportunity to use their imagination when staging it.

The famous Peter Brook production of the 1960s dazzled audiences with its way-out production.  I remember it left this first-time viewer of the play none the wiser about the story even though I enjoyed every minute of it.  Bell Shakespeare’s snappy new production, retitled, ‘The Dream’, probably works best for people who know the play, too.  If you’re not familiar with it, you might wonder at times what’s going on, but it won’t really matter.  You’ll have a hugely enjoyable evening watching this excellent cast play up the farcical elements of the play.

The setting by designer Teresa Negroponte looked like the loft of an old building with a dilapidated roof.  It gave the play a feeling of it all being a bit of a shambles.   This feeling was continued into the many mixed-style costumes hanging on racks ready for use as needed and clearly visible behind the setting.  Scene changes seemed improvised with, for example, furniture being simply being thrown onto its side or a table being suddenly swept clean of props and dumped into a corner.  The wooden roof became the forest of the play with lots of holes for the cast to hang from or climb through.

The lighting by Rachel Burke added great atmosphere, as did Caitlin Porter’s subtle sound design.

The apparently rough and ready playing by the cast matched the setting very well.   There was strong ensemble playing by the cast of eight playing multiple roles throughout the show.  Standouts amongst the cast were Nikki Shields as Helena, Julie Forsyth as Puck, Richard Piper as Bottom and Lucy Honigman as Hermia.  The frantic acting of the cast of the play within a play was a very amusing highlight of the show.

Director, Peter Evans, has produced a very enjoyable, very theatrical production which celebrates the show for itself without any impositions of style or period.  It’s a dream of a comedy and that’s all you need to know when you take your seats for this one.

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ showbiz program with Bill Stephens on Sunday 31 August 2014 from 5pm.