Wednesday, July 30, 2014

BARTLEBY

Bartleby. Written by Julian Hobba after Herman Melville. Directed by Julian Hobba. The Street Theatre Hive Programme. The Street and Aspen Island Theatre Company. July 26 - August 3 2014

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins



Max Cullen as the Old Lawyer

 
A prophetic warning pervades Julian Hobba’s adaptation of Herman Melville’s 19th. century fable of a solitary scrivener, subsumed by social isolation and obsession. This is not to say that Aspen Island Theatre Company’s production of a twenty-first century take on Melville’s Bartleby is without ironic humour, stinging in its sharply pointed condemnation of a society obsessed with bureaucracy’s driving expectations. Hobba’s Bartleby introduces his audience to the three aspects of the workplace psyche. Max Cullen is the Old Lawyer, weatherworn by a long career in the law, yet clinging to the noble and humanitarian ideals of a bygone era. As his junior partner, Dene Kermond is a volcanic explosion of ambition and stress, driven by the obsessive lust for success. Ben Crowley’s Bartleby is a mystery, a self-driven workhorse whose cogs grind to their inevitable standstill. We gaze in apprehension at Bartleby’s descent, or is it ascent, into defiant resistance. His monotone “I would prefer not” intones the dogged protest of the silent will of the underdog. Melville’s release for his Bartleby is death. In Hobba’s work, Bartleby is last seen fasting in a hospital. We remain in the dark as to the true nature of his condition. Does he suffer a nervous breakdown? Does he have Aspergers or is his doodling the result of autism. We do not know, but what Melville, Hobba and Crowley all reveal is a man who has slipped through the safety net of a society more concerned with human achievement than the human condition. In this respect, Hobba’s production is both disturbing and thought –provoking.

Hobba reinforces Melville’s dark warning to the obsessed with reference to the author’s masterpiece. The Old Lawyer grips his copy of Moby Dick, his abiding comfort in Life’s stormy tempest. In his sleep he finds himself cast upon the swirling sea as Captain Ahab, tied to the mast and longing for that soul of peace and joy that the white whale’s death would bring. It is the Old Lawyer who reminds us of the virtue of empathy, a gesture of care and responsibility that is lost on the Young Lawyer, caught up in a bureaucracy of Risk Management, Incident Reports, deadlines, goals and the paraphernalia of modern technology. His fanatical quest for success and its rewards will inevitably erode the values that distinguish the human being from the machine.
Dene Kermond as the Young Lawyer. Ben Crowley as Bartleby. Max Cullen as the Old Lawyer.
 

In the intimate setting of Street Two and as a part of The Street’s innovative Hive Programme, , Bartleby strikes a relevant and familiar chord.  One would be hard put to find a finer production team in Canberra to do Melville’s morality tale greater justice. Cullen is masterful as the Old Lawyer, steeped in the ethics of the past, gracing the wisdom of his years and battling the frustrations of his age. Kermond plays the Young Lawyer as a warning in frantic motion. His future offers scant hope for a world of harmony and care.

Directing one’s own written work can confront the perils of inexperience, but Hobba is ably supported by dramaturg, Peter Matheson, a trio of fine actors, Christiane Nowak’s simple but functional design, Gillian Schwab’s lighting and Kimmo Vennonen’s excellent sound design and jazz soundtrack, soothing in its mellow sound but also unsettling in its unpredictability. Schwab and Vennonen revel in their skills with the powerfully dramatic nightmare sequence upon the deck of Ahab’s Pequod.

Hobba and the Hive Programme at The Street have done Canberra audiences a favour by bringing Melville’s short story to an audience at a time when more and more people face the dehumanising effects of unemployment or social alienation or where those in work too often are suffocated by the demands of a burgeoning bureaucracy. This production again raises the question of society’s responsibility to care for its citizens. Bartleby is theatre at its best. Confronting, challenging, thought-provolking and reminding us that the theatre is the place for society’s most important questions, and hopefully some answers along the way. This satisfying and absorbing production should not be missed.
 
 


 





Sunday, July 27, 2014

THE ROKITELLY MAN



Written by Michael Hemming
Music and additional lyrics by Andrew Hackwill
Directed by Richard Block
Presented by Dramatic Productions and Ickle Pickle Productions
Belconnen Theatre
25 July – 2 August, 2014

Review by Len Power 25 July 2014

Writing a musical, they say, is one of the hardest things to do.  Most musicals go through various incarnations until they arrive at their final form and even then success isn’t assured.  I’m sure that ‘The Rokitelly Man’, a new Australian musical, will continue to evolve beyond this inaugural season at the Belconnen Theatre.  It should, because it’s basically a worthwhile and entertaining show.

Michael Hemming’s book concerns a na├»ve young guy, Jeremy, working as a packer in a toy factory who has a brilliant design for a new toy.  The head of the design department steals it off him and he learns to stand up for himself and find his true love along the way.

Director, Richard Block, has done a fine job bringing all the elements of the show together.  The set design, credited to a team including the director, is attractive and creates the right atmosphere for the cartoon-like action that follows.  Multiple scene changes are, for the most part, handled smoothly.  The large version of the toy designed by the show’s hero, Jeremy, has been superbly done.

Miles Thompson as the young designer, Jeremy, gives an appealing performance and has a pleasant singing voice.  Alex McPherson as Cindy, the girl of his dreams, is charming and delivers her songs with a touching level of emotion.  Debra Byrne, Max Gambale and Joe McGrail-Bateup as the toy factory bad guys give appropriately hammy performances and perform their songs with ease and great humour.  Miriam Miley-Read as the man-hungry secretary, Angela, gives a standout performance that is both hilariously funny and sad at the same time.  She knows how to get the most out of a song, too.  The rest of the cast give enthusiastic and nicely-judged performances.

Musical director, Max Gambale, trained his cast vocally very well, but it’s a pity the music had to be pre-recorded.  I understand there are probably budget considerations here, but it makes for a sound lacking in energy.  A couple of cast members seemed to have difficulties vocally with some of the emotional songs late in the show, too.

Choreography by Kathyrn Jones was delightful and suited the skills of the performers and style of the show.  Some of the jokey touches that were fun at the start, though, became a bit wearing through repetition as the show progressed.  Costumes by Anne Mewburn-Gray were nicely imaginative.  The fancy dress party costumes were particularly well-done and very funny.  Hamish McConchie’s lighting design gave a good atmosphere to the whole show.  The show isn’t using amplification and at times words get lost from the performers.  However, the sound balance between the recorded orchestra and singers is fine.

Andrew Hackwill’s music score is a winner with appropriate variations in style to suit individual characters and moments in the play.  The lyrics are clever and add to the fun of the show.  It needs a stronger song for the finale, though.

The book of the show needs some trimming.  It takes too long to get to the main plot of Jeremy’s toy design.  Subplots involving Jeremy’s friends, while fun, slow the show down and there’s too much time spent on the bad guys of the toy factory, too.  The more serious second act needs more light and shade after the fun of the first act.

At the start, the audience was requested to take photos with their phones during the show and put them up on social media.  As a result, my attention was distracted from the stage whenever a phone screen lit up.  The joy of live theatre is to be drawn in to the action happening before you.  Why would a serious director agree to anything that disturbs the concentration of his audience during his show and why would a production team risk having a pile of poorly taken amateur photographs turning up on Facebook?  This is a good little show and doesn’t deserve to be harmed by gimmicks like this.

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ showbiz program with Bill Stephens on Sunday 27 July 2014 from 5pm.

THE ROKITELLY MAN


 
 
Written by Michael Hemming.
Miles Thompson (Jeremy) Alex McPherson (Cindy)
Music and additional Lyrics by Andrew Hackwill
Director: Richard Block
Musical Director: Max Gambale
Choreographer: Kathryn Jones
Presented by Dramatic Productions and Ickle Pickle Productions
Belconnen Theatre until 2nd August.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Written by prolific Canberra songwriter Andrew Hackwill, and Michael Heming, “The Rokitelly Man” is an engaging new original musical, complete with tuneful, toe-tapping songs, imaginative choreography by Kathryn Jones, a witty set design and colourful costumes. It tells the story of Jeremy, a packaging department assistant in a failing toy emporium, who invents a best-selling toy robot called “The Rokitelly”. The success of his invention turns around the fortunes of the company resulting in Jeremy becoming the new head of the toy design department.

Max Gambale (Richard) and "The Rokitelly Man" ensemble
Director Richard Block has assembled an attractive cast headed by Miles Thompson, as the gormless Jeremy, and Alex McPherson, as Cindy, the girl he loves and loses. Debra Byrne, delightfully channelling Hyacinth Bucket as the over-bearing proprietor of the toy emporium, Max Gambale as the suave marketing manager and Joe McGrail-Bateup as the opportunistic former toy design head who becomes a victim to Jeremy’s success, all provide amusing characterisations. Miriam Miley-Read almost steals the show with a delightful comedy performance as the deliciously ditzy, Angela.

Though it’s a shame that the dull, pre-recorded backing tapes drain away much of the necessary oomph and spontaneity of the musical numbers, that un-ironed costumes spoil the gloss, and an inexplicable change of style in the last 10 minutes plunges an otherwise frothy entertainment into some kind of Brechtian morality tale, there is still much to enjoy in “The Rokitelly Man”.    

An edited version of this review appears in the 26th July digital edition of CITY NEWS and will appear in the print edition out Wednesday July 30th.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

DRESS CIRCLE - ARTSOUND FM 92.7 THIS SUNDAY JULY 27




Aarne Neeme - director of "Arcadia" 
Ruth Osborne - Artistic Director QL2
In DRESS CIRCLE this week Aarne Neeme discusses his production of “Arcadia” which he is directing for the Canberra Repertory Society and which opens in Theatre 3 this week. Ruth Osborne talks about QL2’s latest work “Boundless” which opens in the Playhouse at the Canberra Theatre Centre on Wednesday, and former Canberran, Duncan West, tells how he came to join “Circa” which will also be at the Canberra Theatre from August 6th.

Duncan West - Circa 
Len Power will review “The Rokitelly Man” which opened in the Belconnen Theatre on Friday night; Isobel Griffin will present “Arts Diary” and Blue the Shearer has something to say about the great and powerful.

In the “Red Velvet and Wild Boronia” segment we present the second of two episodes featuring Jeanne Little accompanied on piano by Peter J. Casey, in excerpts from her acclaimed cabaret “Marlene – A Tribute to Dietrich”.

90 minutes of review, interviews, music and news about the performing arts in Canberra and beyond, DRESS CIRCLE is produced and presented by Bill Stephens and broadcast by Artsound FM92.7 every Sunday evening from 5.00pm and 6.30pm, repeated on Tuesday nights from 11.30pm and streamed live on the internet at Artsound.fm


Jeanne Little in "Marlene -a Tribute to Dietrich"

Friday, July 25, 2014

WOMBAT STEW

 A TRUE BLUE BREW OF WOMBAT STEW


Wombat Stew. Based on the book written by Marcia K Vaughan.  Illustrated by Patricia Lofts. Stage adaptation and lyrics by Gary Young. Original Score and arrangements by Paul Keelan. Garry Ginivan Attractions and the Canberra Theatre Centre. Canberra Theatre July 24 – 26, 2014.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

 
The cast of WOMBAT STEW
 

Whenever a Garry Ginivan Attractions show comes to town, you know you’re in for a top-notch production for children. With previous successes such as  My Grandma Lived in Gooligulch and Possum Magic, Ginivan has earned an enviable reputation as the leading  producer of  dinky-di, true-blue stage adaptations of popular Aussie children’s books. His latest offering of Wombat Stew, based on a story by Marcia K Vaughan, is no exception. Every drop of cunning trickery from Vaughan’s story of the bushland animals’ attempts to rescue a wombat from the dingo’s stewing pot is added to Gary Young’s delectable recipe of music, songs, dance, mime and puppetry to the utter delight of the young audience.

Young’s adaptation uses the clever device of a strolling company of players to enact the story of Wombat Stew.  It is an old, familiar tradition that works exceedingly well, and readily invites the young audience to use their imagination and accept the conventions of actors playing out Dingo, Platypus, Echidna, Lizard, Emu and Koala. The Stage Manager introduces the Clap Like Thunder Players, a motley band, and roles are apportioned to the members of this travelling troupe, in an opening scene, not unlike Shakespeare’s depiction of the Mechanicals in A Midsummer Night ‘s Dream, in which characters plea for their favourite part and demonstrate their prowess. Kookaburra and Wombat are presented as puppets.

A lively, fun-loving ensemble of very versatile and adroit actors enter the colourful storybook world of Wombat Stew with all the elan of seasoned professionals. Children’s Theatre is serious business, demanding the highest standards and challenging performers to enchant and excite. Clap Like Thunder Players don’t disappoint. Young’s adaptation pulls out all the stops with larger than life characters, catchy musical numbers, slick choreography and lashing of audience participation. I have always been sceptical of token audience participation, but in this production, before a large school audience of young primary age children the company encourages purposeful involvement, that never becomes gratuitous or gets out of hand. It’s all good fun, and it holds the kids’ focus as they happily engage with a story that many of them could possibly have recited by heart.

Mums and Dads will have just as much fun watching their kids’ enjoyment of seeing a favourite storybook come to life in a delightful, funny and energetic way upon the stage. And like all good tales for young and old alike there is the moral of Clap Like Thunder’s play that every child will cherish: Look after your friends.

So next time you hear that “gooey, brewy, yummy, chewy Wombat Stew is coming to a theatre near you, get on down and take the kids to the best Children’s Theatre show in town.  It’s a fail-safe recipe for a feast of fun entertainment.

 





 

 

Monday, July 21, 2014

OTELLO


Simon O'Neill as Otello
Opera Australia
Joan Sutherland Theatre until August 2nd.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

There can be few opera productions with a more breathtaking opening than Harry Kupfer’s masterful staging of Verdi’s “Otello”, currently being presented by Opera Australia in the Joan Sutherland Theatre of the Sydney Opera. 

Amidst the sounds of a raging storm, Otello and his courtiers burst into a war-damaged foyer, through the French windows high at the back of the stage, and tumble and rush down a huge flight of stairs. The effect looks so stunningly dangerous that you immediately want to reach for the rewind button to see how it is done. However it sets the mood perfectly for the emotional turmoil that follows as Otello succumbs to the jealousy skilfully and relentlessly fanned by his treacherous ensign, Iago.


Desdemona (Lianna Haroutounian and Otelo (Simon O'Neill) argue in front of their guests.
 
The entire opera is staged on Hans Schavernoch’s single setting of a massive black and red bomb-scarred staircase dominated by a huge statue of Atlas.  For the most part this works well, as the stairs provide endless opportunities for imaginative staging of the huge chorus scenes. The bomb damage allows plenty of dark areas in which the various characters can skulk and spy.  However, it is not so appropriate for the later scenes. Surely Otello would have found a more intimate space in which to harangue and ultimately murder Desdemona.

Armenia soprano, Lianna Haroutounian, making her Australian debut taking over the role of Desdemona at just one week’s notice from Tamar Iveri, proved a pleasant surprise with her dark beauty, warm, milky soprano and captivating stage presence. One might have wished for her to show a little more gumption at Otello’s constant accusations of infidelity, but her resigned acceptance of her fate, as she sang the final “Ave Maria” was very moving.

Desdemona (Lianna Haroutounian) and Otello (Simon O'Neill)
 
New Zealand heldentenor, Simon O’Neill, soon to be seen in Canberra as one of the stars of "Voices in the Forrest" at the Nationals Aboretum, and making his role debut as Otello, was a thrilling and commanding Otello, carefully shaping his interpretation as the opera unfolded. His interpretation is very physical and the moment when he plummets headfirst down the stairs is quite breathtaking. However he is a very pale Otello, which made Iago’s constant references to “the moor” a bit puzzling.

Another newcomer, tall, dark and swarthy baritone, Claudio Sgura, was an excellent Iago, oozing malevolence, and insuring the audience was never in doubt as to who was the baddy in this opera. Richard Anderson (Montano) and David Corcoran (Roderigo) offer fine supporting performances, although James Egglestone was a rather colourless Cassio.

Cassio (James Egglestone) Desdemona (Lianna Haroutounian) and Emilia (Jacqueline Dark)
 
Although having little to do in the early sections of the opera, Jacqueline Dark, as Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s maid, Emilia, was a sympathetic presence throughout, and in the final moments, following Desdemona’s murder, her spirited performance is completely compelling.  

Once again the huge Opera Australia chorus was impressive, both in the richness and accuracy of their sound, and with their attention to detail with their movement and acting. Particularly as in this production they have a rather daunting setting to negotiate while wearing at various times costume designer, Yan Tax’s splendid evening wear or large coats. AS always, the Australian Opera and Ballet orchestra, this time under Christian Badea, impressed with its spirited playing of Verdi’s magnificent score.

Despite what must have been a difficult rehearsal period, given the number of changes from the originally announced cast which offered Tamar Iveri or Nicole Car as Desdemona, Marco Vratogna as Iago and Michael Honeyman as Roderigo, none of whom are present for this season, Harry Kupfer’s superb production, under Revival Director, Roger Press, remains an impressive staging of this superb Verdi masterpiece.    

Otello and chorus
                                                                       Photos: Branco Giaca