Friday, March 6, 2015

HOT BROWN HONEY at the 2015 Adelaide Fringe

Hot Brown Honey.

Presented by Black Honey Company and Briefs Factory Ukiyo at the Royal Croquet Club. Victoria Square/Tarntanyangga. February 13 - March 15.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

The cast of Hot Brown Honey at the Adelaide Fringe


During the show, lively and forceful Hot Brown Honey DJ says to the audience “What we are is so much more.” How true that is. The female cast from Northern Queensland and Polynesia serve up a smattering of Hip Hop, dance, poetry, song, comedy, circus and striptease. It’s all done with a bold display of irreverent fun and black politics that soon had the audience laughing and clapping along with the colourful display of satire and self-mockery.

What the show lacks is discipline and direction. There are good ideas, serious comment on race and identity, brash, carefree humour and an abundance of undeveloped talent. Food for thought is left undigested. Dance routines and circus skills are carelessly denied the artistry of carefully choreographed purpose. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the decision to draw some unsuspecting audience member into a coconut dance, or an assault with inflated breasts or the battle with a giant coconut, from which, Botticelli-like a maiden rises to celebrate the power of the coconut. It may be good fun for the audience, but it seems largely unnecessary and a distraction from the real potential of the show.

There is abundant talent in the show. A hula hoop artist flagrantly displays her disrespect for other cultures. Unfortunately mistake and misjudgement is sloppily disregarded when slick exhibition of hula hoopery would have transfixed the audience. Moments of magic are too quickly cast aside, such as the routine with the black woman in a white man’s world, trapped by a tutu and desperately seeking her true self. There is power in the theme and with a director’s strong and insightful hand, such a moment could have made for compelling theatre. The aerialist, subjugated to another will, devalued and abused, offers a poignant and powerful moment that hangs in the air without clear context. Without a clear thematic context, and the skill to develop a spine to this cabaret performance, the audience is treated to a series of vignettes that leave one unsatisfied. There is the unexplored vocal dynamism of the black voice, soulful and absorbing or the clever vocal gymnastics of the attendant helper who finally has her moment on the stage.

Hot Brown Honey has the potential to be a first class act. A firm directorial vision, and dedicated practice to thread together the serious commentary of the women’s stories would make this a show not to be missed. Its message is too important to be cast so carelessly aside; the talents of the performers too precious to be given such short thrift and disregard. Only then will an audience fully savour the real power of the art and the message of Hot Brown Honey.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

VELVET at the Adelaide Fringe 2015

VELVET at The Vagabond in The Garden of Unearthly Delights . Adelaide Fringe 2015

Directed by Craig Ilott Designer James Brownie. Choreographer Lucas Newland. Lighting Matt Marshall. Produced by Virginia Hyam for Organised Pandemonium

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Velvet in The Vagabond at the Garden of Unearthly Delights at the Adelaide Fringe
Photo by Sam Oster

WOW! What an introduction to this year’s Adelaide Fringe! In a loud, explosive and dazzling display of disco meets variety, energy, talent and sheer effervescence make Velvet a must see, not to be missed hit of the Fringe. The show’s five star rating preceded my visit to soak up the offerings of the Adelaide Festival and the Fringe. And with Velvet, I couldn’t have hoped for more to start the journey.

Set in The Vagabond circus tent in the Fringe’s Garden of Unearthly Delights Velvet, greets the audience with pulsating lighting, designed by Matt Marshall and the deft hands of DJ and dynamic drummer, Joe Accaria. A lone figure (Brendan Maclean), in shirt and tie and clutching a ukulele case, stands forlornly in a single spot. Suddenly, his solitude is shattered by the enticing appearance of exotic, glamourous, seductive and free spirited characters to transport him through a whirling, dizzying, discotheque world of sheer abandonment and free will.

Marcia Hines and Brendan Maclean
Photo by Sam Oster

 Bellboy, Mirko Koeckenberger discards his uniform to entrance with a balancing act upon a tower of cases. Aerialists, Stephen Williams and Emma Goh invite him to soar to new heights in a breathtaking display of agility, strength and grace. Burlesque performer, Perle Noire, teases his male fantasy with the promise of sexual liberation in a provocative and mischievous striptease that concludes with tribal liberation to the rhythmic brilliance of Accaria’s drumming. However Perle Noire’s striptease sits less easily within the cabaret world of circus and disco. Sliding provocatively with teasing posturing into Maclean’s fantasy world, it conjures the sexual longing of the hot-blooded male and a challenge to inhibition, but in a show so pulsating with energy, physical skill and grace and dance-enticing numbers it seemed something of a distraction.

Legendary pop Diva, Marcia Hines, resplendent in a figure-hugging gold dress and exciting with the power of a voice that has lost none of its magic through the years, guides Maclean’s lost soul through the possibilities of his transformation. She is backed by the astounding vocal power and electrifying energy of singers Chaska Halliday and Rechelle Mansour.
Stephen Williams in Velvet with Marcia Hines,Chaska
Halliday and Rechelle Mansour
Photo by Sam Oster

Velvet’s collection of artists is pure 9 carat gold, and under Craig Ilott’s tight and exuberant direction, the show recaptures the mesmerizing, possessed world of the disco floor. None captures this spirit of surprise and amazement more than hula hoop artist, Craig Reid. It is astonishing enough that a man should be so skillful in his art of twisting, turning and gyrating the incandescent hula hoops about his entire body, but that he should also not exhibit the physical litheness nor muscularity of customary performers offers a clever challenge to preconception. Nonetheless his mastery of the hoops is to be seen to be believed.

The songs will be familiar to those who have lived through and loved the disco age. But listen carefully. They trace the central character’s journey of transformation, with numbers such as Enough is Enough and It’s Raining  Men. Most telling is Brendan Maclean’s soulful rendition of the Bee Gees classic Staying Alive. At the end of the show and after a momentary transformation of wonderment and liberation, he remains alone, singing with reflective longing for a world that is just beyond his reach, magical, mysterious and transitory. And yet, in the sheer rapture, joyfulness and free spirited eruption of possibility there is the possibility of release from the inhibitions that bind us to convention and conformity.
Brendan Williams with Marcia Hines. Photo by Sam Oster
The spontaneous standing ovation at the close of the show speaks for itself. For a little over an hour, we were all transformed by the smooth seduction and dynamic vibrancy of Velvet.  Velvet will be touring to Sydney and Brisbane after its triumphant sell-out season in the Garden of Unearthly Delights. This is an unearthly delight that you will not want to miss.   

NUFONIA MUST FALL Adelaide Festival 2015

Nufonia Must Fall

Creator Eric San (Kid Koala). Director K.K. Barrett. Set design Benjamin Gerlis. Puppet designers and puppeteers Clea Minaker, Patrick Martel and Karina Bleau. Musical Score Kid Koala. Musical director, String arrangements and additional score Vid Cousins. Musical performers Kid Koala and the Afiara Quartet. Director of photography a.J. Korkidakis. Th Dunstan Playhouse. Adelaide Festival centre. Adelaide Festival. March 4-7.

Originally co-commissioned by Luminato Festival and the Adelaide Festival, the Banff Centre,Internationales Sommerfestival Hamburg, Noorderzon Performing Arts Festival, Groningen,Roundhouse UK and Santiago A Mil.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Nufonia Must Fall
You know that you are in for something different when the audience warm-up is a bingo game with a card of illustrations that will later feature in the silent movie love affair between a heartwarming out of work robot and a beautiful inventor. “Bingo! Shouts a man from the audience and walks to the Dunstan Playhouse stage to collect his prize, a personal copy of Nufonia Must fall, complete with a DVD of the animated puppet show, from none other than the show’s popular creator, Kid Koala a.k.a. Eric San.

The lonely Office Girl and the Out of Work Robot from Nufonia Must Fall
The lights dim, and we are lured into an enchanting wonderland of music, video, sound effects and puppetry. Dexterous puppeteers manipulate the puppet characters against miniature model sets to the sounds of a string quartet and Kid Koala on piano, synthesizer and turntable, as well as providing the vocal effects. Childlike magic weaves its spell, entrancing child and adult alike as the love story unfolds upon the large screen. From soothing melody to frenzied discord, the strings stir the emotions and underscore the action as the poor outdated robot is fired from one job after another and replaced by the latest model, ironically invented by the girl who has fallen for the cutely irresistible rod puppet robot. We are bewitched, our heartstrings pulled by the simple forlorn angle of the robots head, shocked by his accident with a bus and heartened by the girl’s ability to bring him back to life. We wince at the apparent betrayal and sigh with relief at the power of love to reunite and restore the love’s true passion. Nufonia Must Fall  is a love story that will soar with the power of music, puppetry and the eternal tale of triumphant love.

The unfolding narrative and engaging animation absorb our imagination and fascination. Beneath the screen, one can only imagine a delicately and finely choreographed pattern of brilliant collaboration between the puppeteers, who breathe life into the inanimate rod puppets, the video operators who move with the puppeteers from model set to model set and the stage manager and his team who ensure the symmetry of film and operation. Meanwhile Kid Koala and the Afiara Quartet of string instruments entice our hearts to feel the passion of the tale and our minds the engagement with life’s struggles and dreams, disappointments and joy.
Nufonia Must Fall is a theatrical experience at its most engaging and endearing. Creative, imaginative, and collaborative it is the theatre of the new age, entrancing and enticing and sharing the child’s world of wonderment with the adult’s world of detached fascination. For a time, Nufonia Must Fall reminds the adult that the child within still longs for a happy ending.

For those in the audience who retain the fascination with how something works, Nufonia Must Fall  will be an enduring inspiration.  Whether you are a child, completely absorbed by the story of the robot or an adult fascinated by the onstage magic of manipulation and operation, Nufonia Must Fall offers a new and refreshing art of storytelling that will delight all ages. Hopefully, it will have a life beyond Adelaide and the Festival. It is a charming entertainment for everyone.



James Welsby
Director and Choreographer: James Welsby

Street Theatre 1st March 2015

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

For anyone born after the 1980’s it must be hard to comprehend the pall that the spectre of AIDS cast over humanity. A time when the very diagnosis of AIDS was tantamount to a death sentence.

Born in 1987, the year in which the greatest number of people died in Australia and the U.S. as the result of AIDS related illness, and after learning that a number of his friends had become HIV positive, dancer/choreographer James Welsby created his dance work, “HEX”, in an attempt to make sense of the epidemic, and to hopefully better understand the present rise of apathy towards HIV/AIDS amongst his peers.  

Utilising three dancers, himself, Chafia Brooks and James Andrews, together with a dramatic  soundscape by Claudio Tosco, sensitive lighting design by Rose Connors Dance, a dance vocabulary drawing primarily on popular club dance moves, together with a  good deal of chutzpah and imagination, Welsby has created an intriguing work, which, even if it does not provide answers, will certainly go a long way towards achieving his secondary aim of creating an inter-generational conversation about AIDS history.

The work commences with a recording of Peter Allen singing “Everything Old is New Again”. Towards the end of the song the recording grinds to a halt, as Brooks and Andrews take the stage, separated from each other by two corridors of light. Welsby, wearing a Grim Reaper costume and mask, appears and menaces the others. After a few minutes, Welsby discards the costume with the exception of the mask, which remains a constant through-out the work, suspended centre stage.

The three perform a long series of complicated disco moves, moving in unison. Then follows several intriguing sections, which, although the significance of what they attempt  to convey was not always clear, were none-the-less interesting for their theatricality and staging.

In one section, two male dancers growled into each other’s faces. 

In another, perhaps the most successful section of the work, the two male dancers stood either side of Brooks and together the three performed a series of lovely, intertwining arm movements to the music of “I’ll be Seeing You”.  

Another section, performed to an electronic version of “Another One Bites the Dust” involved scattering dozens of red rubber gloves around the stage to signify souls lost to the epidemic.In the final startling moments of the work, the choreographer exposed his anus to the audience in a gesture, perhaps of insult, invitation or maybe a reference to the source of the epidemic.

Although, not all the ideas in “HEX” work, it is an admirable attempt to address a difficult topic through dance. One looks forward to seeing more of Welsby’s creations.

This review also appears on the Australian Arts Review website :

SmallWar at the 2015 Adelaide Festival

SmallWar. Australian Premiere

Written and performed by Valentijn Dhaenens. Video, set and sound design Jeroen Wuyts. Produced and presented by SKaGeN, Richard Jordan Productions and the Theatre Royal Plymouth in co-production with Stuk and De Tijid. The Space. Adelaide Festival Centre    March 2-4 2015

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Valentijn Dhaenens

A limbless body lies swathed in a blanket on a hospital bed. Beside him a World War 1 nurse (Valentijn Dhaenens) stands gently singing “There was a boy, a very special boy”. The haunting voiceover of the wounded soldier recounts the character of war against the droning sound of a ghostly hum. It is the mournful lament of the victims of war across the millennia. Profoundly moving in its sentiments, deeply disturbing in its truths and startlingly simple in its honest logic, SmallWar in the intimate Space at the Adelaide Festival Centre casts new light on the impact of war on the individual. Drawn from accounts of soldiers, doctors, nurses and officers who served in wars from Attila the Hun to Afghanistan, SmallWar lends voice to the 120,000 victims of conflict between 1914 and 2014. It is a frightening statistic that glares at us from the large projection screen across the stage.

We have become accustomed to the horrors of war. Nightly, the hideous images of current conflicts and atrocities flash through our living rooms. In this country’s centenary commemorations we are reminded of the appalling horrors and lauded glories of Gallipoli and the Western Front. We recognize the incongruity of human conflict, its devastating impact on nations, its horrendous loss of life in the countless rows of crosses, and, tragically, its seeming inevitability.
Valentijn Dhaenens in SmallWar. Photo by Inge Lauwers

SmallWar zooms in on the shattered remains of the individual soldier. With the amazing use of digital technology, images of the motionless patient emerge from the bed to appear in hospital garb behind the larger screen. Dhaenens depicts the various facets of the soldier, at times interacting with himself as the nurse, the girlfriend or the mother of the wounded soldier. Reality and illusion fuse in a digital world of experience. Each image presents moments in a soldier’s life, before the war, during the war and ultimately as a victim of combat fatigue, shell shock or post-traumatic stress syndrome. A rhetorical debate between the images and the nurse raises questions, challenges beliefs, attacks motives and layers the arguments with undeniable cynicism.

Ultimately we are left with an appreciation, not only of the futility of war. that has never been in doubt, but also more poignantly, more profoundly and more fearfully the reality of the destruction of life, of opportunity, of dreams and aspirations and the possibilities denied by the brutal consequences of man’s inhumanity to man.

Dhaenens’ inhabiting of the many characters and personas offers a tour de force performance, persuasive in its truth, powerful in its argument and hypnotic in its conviction. Finally, like the wounded soldier, we are confined to a state of helplessness. The soldier’s recorded voice cries out through the darkened theatre, “If I had arms, I could kill myself. If I had legs I could run away. If I had a voice I could have a conversation with myself.” Dhaenens reminds us that there are many reasons that young men will go to war. There can be no reason why it is right and sweet to die for one’s country.

Dhaenen’s brilliantly orchestrated fusion of digitally realized and real performance heightens our sensibilities, evokes more directly our emotions and brings us to a greater understanding of the frightening inevitability of war and its consequences. Original, imaginative and profoundly thought-provoking, SmallWars is theatre that will continue to question and debate the necessity or otherwise of war long after you have left the theatre.   



SMA Productions Pty Ltd.,

Canberra Theatre Playhouse 28th February 2015

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

The lovechild of “Human Nature” and “Jersey Boys” proved an apt description of “The Boys in the Band”, a slickly produced entertainment which played  just one concert in the Canberra Theatre Playhouse following its performance the previous night in Taronga Park Zoo as part of the zoo’s Twilight series.

Featuring a cast of four handsome and talented young men, Hugh Barrington, Tom Sharrah, Leigh Sleightholme and Tom Struik, who, between them, have already notched up some impressive theatre and television credits, the show turned out to be fast-moving,  high energy concert of hit songs associated with some of the most successful boy bands of the last fifty years. Included among them are Frankie Valley and the Four Seasons, The Beatles, The Jackson Five, The Beach Boys, The Righteous Brothers, The Backstreet Boys, The Bee Gees  and even, surprisingly, Simon and Garfunkel.

Dressed in neat suits and ties, the talented quartet, backed by an excellent four-piece ensemble, The Players, presented a potted history of boy bands. They worked their way through well-chosen medleys of the hit songs associated with each of the various groups commencing with Oh What a Night and Sherry Baby in the style of Frankie Valley and the Four Seasons, through Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and The Great Pretender a la The Platters, through The Beach Boys Good Vibrations, a stylish version of the Bee Gees You should be Dancin and dozens more.

Most of the selections were presented with tightly choreographed movement reminiscent of the various groups, often cheesy but with the look of authenticity, and performed with energy, panache and precision by the singers. The harmonies were spot on, with the energy level maintained throughout.  Connecting narration was shared among the singers, with each singer having the opportunity to shine in solos and duets.

Hugh Barrington 
The possessor of a lustrous soaring falsetto, Hugh Barrington charmed the audience early on with a superb performance of “Unchained Melody”. Tom Sharrah got his opportunity in a lovely arrangement of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” and again in duet with Hugh Barrington, “Scarborough Fair”. Tom Struik provided another highlight with an excellent version of Michael Jackson’s “Ben”. 

The only blights on the performance were the segment involving an unfortunate audience member being hauled up on to the stage for some embarrassing participation, and the constant “Are ya havin’ a good time?”.  This show is too polished and professional to include these corny time-wasting ploys. When you have four excellent singers available, surely another showcase solo would be a better use of their talent.

That said, Boys in the Band provides an excellently produced, superbly sung, performed and  constantly entertaining dash through the colourful history of boy bands. Watch out for them when they come your way.     

This review also appears on the Australian Arts Review website

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Tuesdays with Morrie by Jeffrey Hatcher and Mitch Albom

Dave Evans and Graham Robertson

Tuesdays with Morrie by Jeffrey Hatcher and Mitch Albom, based on the book by Mitch Albom, presented by Queanbeyan City Council. Director: Liz Bradley; set design, Brian Sudding; lighting, Andrew Snell; sound, James McPherson.  At The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, March 3 – 15, 2015.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
March 3

This is a nice production of a nice play.  Liz Bradley’s directing has placed the tone of the play precisely on the level.  There is no sliding down into the possibility of underplaying in order to avoid the other possibility – which the script easily allows – of overplaying up into a sentimental, even mawkish, heightened emoting style.

Of course, her actors need to recognise the risks.  Both Graham Robertson as Morrie Schwartz and Dave Evans as Mitch Albom succeed in making the lives of the mentor, dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease, and the one-time student who visits every Tuesday – even at the graveside – become a reality for us, watching.  The audience on opening night was attentive and appreciative – a nice audience to match.

Tuesdays with Morrie was previously presented at The Q in 2011 (reviewed on this blog March 10) by Ensemble Theatre from Sydney, directed by Mark Kilmurry.  It is interesting to see different theatrical approaches at work.  Kilmurry used much more stylisation to make use of the device where the character ‘Mitch Albom’ shifts in and out of speaking directly to the audience as the Mitch Albom who actually was in this special relationship with his sociology lecturer, Morrie Schwartz, (and wrote the book as a memoir after Schwartz died), and then playing the role of himself in naturalistic scenes with Morrie.

That approach worked theatrically, especially as I noted for a young audience.  But Liz Bradley kept to a more even, essentially naturalistic style.  The result, perhaps especially appropriate for an older age group, was more like an intimate chat.  We were able to feel more in touch with the character of Mitch, with his internal contrast – if not conflict – between his musician self and his go-getting journalist self.  It became clear why he had married a singer, whose voiceover singing “The Way You Are” to Morrie (sung beautifully by Dylan Muir) was a high point in the show.  And we understood then why Morrie Schwartz was so important to Mitch, keeping him grounded in his deeper artistic self.  Liz Bradley made the play warmer than Mark Kilmurry had done – an important achievement.

Yet the real Mitch Albom, and his co-playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, did not make it easy to achieve this warmth.  The short scenes and constant chopping and changing between direct storytelling and acting out scenes are difficult enough to do without breaking the theatrical illusion, and therefore the mood.  But what to do about getting the dead Morrie off stage?

Using a reclining chair which smoothly became Morrie’s bed for his final scene worked well.  Graham Robertson could have been left there out of the spotlight, while Dave Evans came on to complete the play, as if he were at the graveside, but this could have been confusing, if not a bit ghoulish. 

So, on the only occasion in this production, we moved out of naturalism into symbolism.  Upstage the rear wall of Morrie’s lounge room opened to reveal a shaft of light shining downstage.  Morrie, as if still affected by his disease (but not quite at the point of death), awkwardly got out of his chair, turned towards the light and steadily exited, the light in our eyes absorbing his image, and the curtain closing behind him.

At one level, this represents his funeral, of course.  But on a higher level, it appears as if he has ascended into some spiritual realm.  The theme of the play is about Mitch’s discovering his loving relationship with Morrie, which I felt was established well in the naturalistic play.  But seeming to turn Morrie into something like a god seemed a heavenly stairway too far for me; and indeed for Mitch, who dealt with the death in a quite practical and appropriate way, with a little gentle piano memorial music going into blackout.

This production of such a well-known play, a favourite according to Liz Bradley’s notes of The Q’s Artistic Director Stephen Pike, is absorbing and, in its original meaning of ‘precise’ and ‘appropriate’, is certainly nice.  Another success at The Q.