Saturday, May 23, 2015

DRESS CIRCLE - SUNDAY MAY 24 - ARTSOUND FM 92.7




Luke Kennedy
 in
"Jesus Christ Superstar
In DRESS CIRCLE this week Luke Kennedy  talks to Bill Stephens about his role as Jesus in the forthcoming arena spectacular, “Jesus Christ Superstar”. Alexander Knight discusses the repertoire for his Artsong Canberra recital, “Love Blossoms in May”. Director of “Drowning in Veronica Lake”, Simon Coleman, gives some background to this production, and Street Theatre Artistic Director, Caroline Stacey, reveals some of the highlights of the Capital Jazz Project.
"Aeolus " wind trio
 
 
 
In the “Red Velvet and Wild Boronia” segment, Canberra wind trio “Aeolus”, Liz Horweg, Jane Linstead and David Whitbread perform excerpts from their School of Arts Café cabaret.
As well, Len Power will review Camilla Blunden’s new play “All This Living”, Isobel Griffin will present “Arts Diary” and Blue the Shearer has a go at writing normal verse.

Caroline Stacey
 
 
90 minutes 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 evening from 5.00pm until 6.30pm. It is repeated on Tuesday nights from 11.30pm and streamed live on the internet at Artsound.fm

Sunday, May 17, 2015

SPIDER'S WEB



Written by Agatha Christie
Directed by Jon Elphick
Tempo Theatre Inc
Belconnen Theatre to May 23, 2015

Review by Len Power 15 May 2015

‘Oh, what a tangled web we weave…’ says the police inspector towards the end of Agatha Christie’s ‘Spider Web’.  The Queen of Crime plays wonderful puzzle games with the audience in this complex and, surprisingly funny, thriller.  The Tempo Theatre cast and director, Jon Elphick, have obviously had a lot of fun staging this and the large opening night audience showed how much they enjoyed it with laughter throughout and strong applause at the end.

An original play, it was written in 1953 at a peak in Agatha Christie’s play-writing period.  Both ‘The Mousetrap’ and ‘Witness For The Prosecution’ were still running when this one opened in 1954 and ran for 774 performances.  The plot might seem dated, the characters quaint and the police procedures definitely lacking but it doesn’t matter.  You’re carried along like you’re on a fairground ride and you’ll enjoy it.

Amongst the large cast are several standout performances.  In the leading role, Sarah Bourke shines as the woman trying desperately to cover up what seems to be an accidental killing.  Tony Cheshire underplays nicely as the sinister butler, Elgin, and Marian Fitzgerald is very funny as the meddlesome gardener, Mildred Peake.  Kim Wilson gives a believable country gentleman performance as Sir Rowland and Shane Horsburgh as the police inspector displays a fatherly warmth with a hint of steel under the surface.

Rear (L-R): Marian FitzGerald, Jason Morton, Tony Galliford, Shane Horsburgh, Kim Wilson, Sam Kentish, Tony Cheshire, Garry Robinson; Front: Bill Kolentsis, Kate Walker, Sarah Bourke.


The set, designed by the director, is simple but attractive and is well lit by Chris Donohue.  Costumes are fine, with a particularly nice one worn by the leading lady.

This company revels in doing these older plays and their enjoyment shows in the playing.  The play gives plenty of opportunity for comedy and the laughs are all there.  There were times when the pace flagged a bit and some of the acting was a bit uneven but it was never less than enjoyable.

Now how did THAT get there....?


Director, Jon Elphick, has produced an entertaining version of this Agatha Christie play.  His Tempo Theatre company have developed a unique niche in the market for these vintage plays which no-one else is doing in Canberra.  I made the usual fool of myself telling friends at interval who I thought the murderer was – and I got it wrong.  Go along and see if you can work it out.  I bet you can’t!

Photographs: Melita Caulfield
 
Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ showbiz program with Bill Stephens on Sunday 17 May 2015 from 5pm.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Wizard of Oz after L. Frank Baum

Image by Julian Meagher

The Wizard of Oz after L. Frank Baum.  Belvoir directed by Adena Jacobs; set designed by Ralph Myers; costumes by Kate Davis; lighting by Emma Valente; composer and sound, Max Lyandvert; dance captain, Luisa Hastings Edge.  Belvoir Theatre Upstairs May 6 - 31, 2015.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
May 14

If you thought, as did the young people I asked in the foyer at the end of this hour and ten minutes of imagist theatre, that The Wizard of Oz was a ‘nightmare’ and ‘self-indulgent’, then it’s a good idea to read the plot summary of the original horrifying children’s story at  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wonderful_Wizard_of_Oz#Plot_summary .  Adena Jacobs’ weirdness is nothing compared with L. Frank Baum.

My interviewees said they were ‘lost’ (like, 'it was lost on me'), unable to understand what the show was about, and could not even offer any theories.  I thought the old woman in the wheelchair at the end might have been Dorothy whose life (including for some reason her sexual life, which I’m sure was not alluded to in the book) had been utterly ruined by her childhood nightmare Munchkin experience – actually the result of the terror she felt as the tornado took her house up and smashed it to the ground.

I also wondered, because of the nightclub style singing of It had to be you and the fact that Somewhere, over the rainbow only got as far as the word ‘Somewhere’, whether this was some kind of oblique reference to Judy Garland whose fame began as a child with playing Dorothy, and whose life also turned nightmarish after that toe-tapping fantasy version of Baum’s story.

Then again, maybe – since all the parts except the cowardly lion were played by women with most of their parts exposed at various times – this play was meant to be some kind of twisted feminist plot.  But then I couldn’t for the life of me work out what was supposed to have happened or what it meant.

Perhaps it was meant to be a satire of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (that’s the original title), showing how a woman’s life is anything but wonderful.

Anyhow, at least I suppose it led me to think a bit, even if only in ever-decreasing circles.

As a creative work of art, I can’t give it too much praise, despite the obvious demands on the actors’ skills which I presume they carried out as required.  As a teacher of improvisation from way back, it struck me as a case of a potentially interesting idea workshopped to within an inch of its life.  Most of it wasn’t boring to watch, but then I approached it after a scrumptious dinner and half a bottle of good red wine.

To conclude, I thought the most disciplined role was Toto, the little fox terrier who paid attention and never misbehaved.  So much for the injunctions against acting with animals.

I leave you to viewing the photos below.

The cast is listed as

Lion - Paul Capsis
Witch - Luisa Hastings Edge
Scarecrow - Melita Jurisic
Woman - Eileen Kramer
Dorothy - Emily Milledge
Tin Man - Jane Montgomery Griffiths
Toto - un-named Dog

Photos by Brett Boardman
















Thursday, May 14, 2015

FORTUITY



 Mirramu Dance Company


Courtyard Studio,

Canberra Theatre Centre.

May 9 – 17, 2015

Reviewed by Bill Stephens.

 
 
 
 
There is a moment during this program when visiting Taiwanese dancer, Christopher Chu, performs a poignant solo entitled “Memory Lost” to the music of Liszt’s “Liebestraum”. It depicts a dancer who can no longer remember his steps, and is the only item on the program not choreographed by Elizabeth Cameron Dalman.  Fortunately Dalman suffers no such affliction, as evidenced in her meticulous recreation of all the other items, some dating back as early as 1966.

An important figure in Australian contemporary dance history, Dalman founded Australian Dance Theatre in 1965 and the Mirramu Dance Company in 2002. She continues to maintain a busy schedule, choreographing, teaching and mentoring, both in Australia and overseas. She has a particularly close association with the Taipei National University and the annual Tsai Jui-Yueh International Dance Festival, and six Taiwanese dancers participate in this program.

In a performance presented without interval, seven items were shown from a possible twelve listed in the printed program. The rest will be included in other performances throughout the season. All were presented simply on a black draped stage, with minimal props, sensitive lighting design, and in some cases costumes that appeared to be the originals.

Created in 1966 and danced to the songs of folk group, Peter, Paul and Mary, “This Train” was originally a suite of seven short dances.  Dalman chose three of these dances to open the program. They were given spirited performances by Miranda Wheen, Janine Proost, Vivienne Rogis, Fu-Rong Chen and Ming-chu Yu, and were particularly interesting inclusions because they contain many of the hallmarks of Dalman’s open, energetic choreographic style.

Vivienne Rogis - "Generation Gap"

Photo: Barbie Robinson
 
Another work, “Generation Gap”, choreographed in 1968, also used the songs of Peter, Paul and Mary and contained powerful solos in which both Wheen and Rogis  shone.


Yi-ching Chen & Fu-rong Chen - "Sun & Moon"

Photo: Barbie Robinson
 
In her entertaining introductions, given before each item, Dalman revealed how she came to form a close association with Peter, Paul and Mary.  She shared too, how, also in 1968, her fascination with Peter Sculthorpe’s music led to the creation of “Sun & Moon”, superbly danced by Yi-ching Chen and Fu-rong Chen, and how in 1987, she created for herself, a solo, “Woman of the River”, to the music of the Penguin Café Orchestra, which she has now gifted to dancer, Hsiao-Yin Peng, who went on to perform it exquisitely.

Hsiao-yin Peng - "Woman of the River"

Photo: Barbie Robinson
 
Dalman’s irrepressible sense of humour was to the fore in her cheeky, 1969 satirical work, “Homage to Botticelli”, gleefully interpreted by the company, and featuring Yi-chin Chen as Venus exhibiting a graceful serenity that must surely rival that of the original painting.



"Homage to Botticelli"
Christopher Chu , Miranda Wheen, Yi-chin Chen, Ming-chu Yu, Janine Proost 
Photo: Barbie Robinson
 
The program ended with excerpts from “Silk”, a work created by Dalman in 2002 for Mirramu. It featured Christopher Chu in a startling butoh inspired silkworm solo, and concluded with Dalman herself performing a spectacular Loie Fuller-style solo in which she manipulated huge silk wings in a touching interpretation of the life-span of a silkmoth.  

Dance students, and indeed, anyone with even a passing interest in Australian dance history should flock to “Fortuity”, not only for the  fascinating and entertaining glimpse it offers into the development of contemporary dance in Australia, but also for the opportunity be in the company of one Australia’s most import and passionate dance pioneers.     

 This review first published in the digital edition of  CITY NEWS on May 10. An edited version published in the Print edition of CITY NEWS on May 13.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Samson by Julia-Rose Lewis

Belinda Jombwe and Ashleigh Cummings

Production photos all by Lisa Tomasetti



Ashleigh Cummings and Benjamin Creek



Charles Wu and Belinda Jombwe

Image by Julian Meagher
Samson by Julia-Rose Lewis.  Presented by Belvoir and La Boite Theatre Company.  Directed by Kristine Landon-Smith; set & costume design by Michael Hili; lighting by Ben Hughes; composer and sound, Kim Bowers; fight director, Scott Witt.  At Belvoir Street Downstairs, May 7 - 31, 2015.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
May 12

The OZLotto ad on the back page of MX, the free upbeat paper which everyone reads on the trains in Sydney, ends with the injunction “Have fun and play responsibly”.

To get a feel for the MX idea of attraction for today’s youth, the front page is pictured large with a furious shot from Mad Max: Fury Road (“The wait is over”); and writ large with the serious budget news headlined “Say cheese, Joe.  No attention deficit disorder, despite selfie” with details of how Anika Buining, 16, “ sidled up beside the Federal Treasurer in the middle of his press conference on the steps of Parliament House this morning and asked for a selfie, to which he replied ‘Sure’.  ‘I don’t want to feel like Kevin Rudd’ the Treasurer joked to reporters, while insisting the photo opportunity was not a setup”.

Inside, MX Talk is about questions like: “My girlfriend and I broke up a couple of months ago, I want to be amicable but she won’t acknowledge me whatsoever.  It really hurts me a lot and I feel she doesn’t care!  What should I do?”

LeaverHerAlone replies “Contrary to what you might think, she doesn’t owe you friendship.  If you keep pestering her, she won’t be able to get over the relationship.  Leave her alone, she obviously doesn’t want to talk to you.”  MovingOn says “Chances are she is just moving on with her life and finding her own [way] again, she probably doesn’t mean to make you feel left behind.” [Quotes include original punctuation and apparently missing word.]

Viewing Samson from the distant realm in which live, I needed the MX experience to remind me what it is like to be a teenager on the cusp of adulthood.  Samson does not appear in his play – only his memorial, “down at the creek” on the edge of the tiny Downstairs stage at the feet of the audience in Row A.  Just as the small-town teenagers – Essie, Beth (both in love with or loved by Samson), and rival Sid, with recent arrival “Rabbit” – are seeking love, death undermines their chance for fun.  They lose touch with how to play responsibly.

It’s a short hour and fifteen minutes from dysfunction to some kind of hopeful acceptance and resolution – moving on – in this cleverly written play, for which Julia-Rose Lewis received the 2014 Philip Parsons Fellowship (noted on this blog November 30).

This is a young playwright writing for young actors.  Ashleigh Cummings (Essie), Benjamin Creek (“Rabbit” whose real name is never revealed), Belinda Jombwe (Beth) and Charles Wu (Sid) are an interesting cast, not only for the excellent quality of their acting but because they represent visually four different ethnic backgrounds: Anglo, Aboriginal, African and Singapore Chinese.  My point in mentioning this is that the script could have been played by any mix or lack of mix of young people from any of the enormous multicultural range which is the norm in Australia today.

The troubles and needs of 15 to 19 years olds are universal, and Julia-Rose Lewis captures the essence of their concerns.  The stories of the death of Samson, involving a rope, a fall and drowning in the creek, and of Rabbit’s sister in a house fire, only gradually become clear as the rapid bits of dialogue of the young are put together like the pieces of a complex jigsaw.  The avoidance of truths leads to a climactic level of conflict until at least some degree of an adult sense of responsibility begins to filter through.

Julia-Rose Lewis is already building a career and I hope to see much more of her work in the future.


MISS SAIGON



Music by Claude-Michel Schӧnberg
Lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. and Alain Boublil
Directed by Stephen O’Neil
BLOC Music Theatre
Her Majesty’s Theatre, Ballarat, Victoria to May 17, 2015

Review by Len Power 9 May 2015

The annual Ballarat Heritage Festival weekend chose a war commemoration theme this year and local theatre company, BLOC Theatre, presented the Vietnam war musical, ‘Miss Saigon’ as their contribution.  It proved to be an excellent choice as well as an excellent production.

Staged in the beautiful 140 years old Her Majesty’s Theatre, the show is a challenge for any company, requiring very strong singers, a fine orchestra able to tackle the difficult score, realistic acting and a director able to pull it all together.  If that’s not enough to deal with, there’s also the audience expectation of a spectacular helicopter landing on stage in the second act.  Luckily, director Stephen O’Neil showed that he is more than equal to the task.

Musical and Choral Director, Gareth Grainger, achieved very high quality with both singers and orchestra.  Everyone in the large cast gave realistic characterisations and the principles had no problems with the vocal demands of the score.  As Kim, Vanessa Belsar sang beautifully and was heart-breaking and believable in the role of the ill-fated Vietnamese girl.  Andrew McCalman as her American lover, Chris, was outstanding in a vocally assured, heart-felt performance.  Jodie Toering shone in the smaller role of Gigi and Brendan Smart gave a warm performance as Chris’s friend, John, as well as a show-stopping rendition of ‘Bui Doi’ at the start of the second act.

Emma Rix, as Ellen, sang well but lacked warmth in her characterisation.  It’s important not to lose audience sympathy in this role by displaying too much angry determination to keep her husband.  Keith McNamara in the difficult role of Thuy was strongly militaristic but needed more variation in his performance to show the human side of the man.  Steve Armati gave a winning and very physical performance as the wily Engineer.  His singing of ‘The American Dream’ was superb.

Steve Armati and the cast of BLOC's 'Miss Saigon'. Photo by The Ballarat Courier.


The set, designed by Nathan Weyers, was spectacular in its detail and, with the excellent lighting of Scott Snowden, gave the show a realistic atmosphere.  The helicopter landing sequence was the most exciting one of all of the productions of this show that I’ve seen.  It looked frighteningly real and the sound design of that moment by Greg Ginger was very well done.  Her Majesty’s Theatre in Ballarat is renowned for its good acoustics but I was not expecting a sound as clear and balanced as this.  Sound operator, Peter Thwaites, deserves special mention for his work during the performance.  Costumes designed by Melanie Buckingham were correctly in period and added to the overall realism of this show.

Director, Stephen O’Neil, has done excellent work with this production.  Some productions of this show confuse audiences with the three year time changes but this was not a problem here.  In addition, there were many welcome original touches by the director.  This was an emotionally draining but highly enjoyable show that the whole company can be proud of.

SOUNDS ON SITE II: SPACE EXPLORATION



Canberra International Music Festival
Mt. Stromlo, May 5

Reviewed by Len Power

I’m sure the idea to have this concert moving between sites on Mt. Stromlo seemed a good idea on paper, but not taking into account the weather and the terrain for the mostly elderly people attending was a serious miscalculation.

After first crowding into the Visitors Centre, we were then divided into two groups and escorted out of there to the various concert sites.  On top of sculpture platform ‘Walking on the Moon’, percussionist, Bree van Reyk, played Kate Moore’s ‘Rain’ on a solo snare drum.  While it was good to be able to stand very close to the artist while she was playing, the cold and gusty wind made it difficult to hear the quiet hand passages of the work.  Much more effective was her work with sticks on the drum, revealing an interesting work by turns dramatic and introspective.

Our group then straggled uphill to the Oddie Telescope ruin to hear Kate Moore’s ‘Dolorosa’ for cello, electric guitar, vibraphone and live electronics.  I assume, given the title of the work, that we were supposed to be listening to it as we made our way up the hill.  Unfortunately the wind was so strong, I wasn’t aware until we arrived that they were already playing.  Being still reasonably nimble, I was one of the early ones to arrive but I gained little impression of the work as it finished a few minutes after I got there.  And people were still arriving!  Then it was down the hill again and over to the ruins of the Directors Residence.

Inside the residence, the musicians, who were again already playing when we arrived, were stationed in various rooms.  Kate Moore’s ‘To That Which Is Endless’ was a nicely sombre piece which was marred by the constant shuffling feet of the audience milling around from room to room.  Once everyone arrived, the musicians then moved outside for the finale where it was harder to hear the music because of the wind.

From there to the Yale-Columbia Telescope ruined shell where the highlight of the concert was performed – Kate Moore’s Sliabh Beagh (Little Mountain).  Played and sung extremely well by Lisa Moore (no relation), this Irish-influenced work was passionate and emotional and very satisfying.

Back in the Visitors Centre, we were treated to an interesting and amusing talk about the future of our galaxy by Professor Brian Schmidt, the Director of the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the ANU.  And it was especially nice to be out of the wind.
 

Originally published in Canberra City News digital edition 5 May 2015