Sunday, October 30, 2011

Mum's In - Stories from Razorhurst



Brand X Productions in Association with The Kings Cross Hotel presents MUM'S IN - STORIES FROM RAZORHURST by Vashti Hughes, Level 5 at The Kings Cross Hotel.

On arriving at the recently re-furbished Kings Cross Hotel and getting to the elevators on the ground floor, one is greeted by two of Mum's hatted pimps who escort you up to level 5, where another capped crony check's you out, gives you a red symbol of a razor gash on the palm of your hand as the ID for entry, and advises that  if one wants a drink while waiting, "Get it", over there at the bar. When the hoodlum cockatoo's  make it is clear that Mum is in, us customers are escorted by her handsome heavies, via some back stairs, to a small but atmospherically decorated cabaret room.It feels good.

Some of us have come dressed in 'period' clothing,it adds to the expectancy, and we are seated around tables close to a small platform stage on a mixture of chair types of varying comfortability .We order our drink or drinks - a menu and pencil supplied to accommodate the grog of our choice to be in ready supply. Ross Johnston, the composer and piano player for the show is stationed by his instrument and The Director, James Winter, doubling as technician, sits stooled by the lighting dimmers.

A woman in a simple contemporary black, figure- close dress in ordinary flat shoes walks from a curtained side-room and stands centre on the red curtained draped platform. This is Vashti Hughes. I recognise her from past encounters (SIX QUICK CHICKS). But it is Ms Hughes only momentarily, for once the lights are dimmed and stage focused, a totally possessed virago of creative energy transforms without any other theatrical assistance, in front of your eyes, into the impersonation of character and narrative of five notorious and uncompromising villains, breathlessly.

Described in the programme as a "one-woman performance piece lifts the veil on the Razor Gang era in Sydney during the 1930's, where sly grog, prostitution, cocaine and extortion were the commodities of the East Sydney underground …this dark comedy cabaret features the notorious gangster characters of Kate Leigh, Tilly Devine, Frank Green, Nellie Cameron and Guido Calletti".

The recent television series UNDERBELLY RAZOR, based on Larry Writer's 2001book, RAZOR, has brought these characters to us on the little screen, but not in the, frankly frighteningly realistic mode of Ms Hughes. Ms Hughes grabs your attention and takes hold of your collar and shakes and shakes you, glaring at you with psychopathic wide eyes and never lets go, with even the blink of an eye to release the tension.

This performance by Vashti Hughes is what I believe all good acting is: "Possession". There is no let off for the audience, one is simply in the presence of these five ruthless people, fuelled dangerously by cocaine and alcohol, wide eyed with  the dare for you not to look. They all, including the deceased Mr Calletti, reminisce and dream. This is a spectacular performance by Ms Hughes. I have seen her work before but this is IT. Something really special. There is a creative identification with this material by this artist, that thrills at the madness of the characters and all their ugliness and energy for destruction.

This work is also written by Ms Hughes and there is the veracity of raw street language and sexual abreactions that are not for the timid to witness. Prudes stay away from MUM'S place. Best you find she is not in. Full on. Full throttled. Not even the salacious, prurient producers, writers of the television series have gone to this level of realism. With no costume or make up changes Ms Hughes embodies all of these people that the photographs of the period reveal. No commercial art direction here, just deeply imagined worlds, by Ms Hughes, that permits us to endow transformations to occur in front of our very eyes.

There are some songs with chorus for all of us to join in on.There are jokes and there are good stories and insight to these souls of another era.There is a bar service. There is a police 'raid' and one is hustled by Mum's pimps to the back stairs once again and bundled out of Mum's place.

Just how much has changed to the human experience, and the character of the environment of Kings Cross, one may ask as you step out onto the Kings Cross Streets, and avoid the glare of some of the passing parade of the people traffic about you. You might grab a cab or you might be thrilled to find out more....

Well worth catching. A Dark Comedy Cabaret of a completely unexpected kind.

(www.mumsin.com.au for tickets).

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

No Way to Treat a Lady















Darlinghurst Theatre Company presents NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY -The Musical, at the Darlinghurst Theatre.

NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY - the Musical. Book, Music and Lyrics by Douglas J Cohen. Based on the novel by William Goldman was first performed in 1987 and was revived off-Broadway in 1996.

The novel apparently is a gently comic riff inspired by the Boston Strangler case written by Mr Goldman (Screenplays: BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID(1966); MARATHON MAN (1976); ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (1976); THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987); MISERY (1990) under the pseudonym of Harry Longbaugh (the real name of the Sundance Kid) after a bout of writer's block.

The film of NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY (1968)  was adapted by John Gay and starred Rod Steiger, George Segal, Lee Remick and Eileen Heckart. The  film, from memory, does not really work, a kind of "darkly comic thriller". The tone of the film never really finds its clarity and I remember it, mostly, because of a weird  image, for that time, of a famous Hollywood star, Rod Steiger, in drag and a very blond wig in a climatic scene. Cause celebre, indeed in '87!

This musical adaptation by Mr Cohen, written economically for four performers, also finds the tone a little difficult to plumb. That one of the principal character's we see commit  crimes as a vicious serial strangler/killer, and, then, converting him into a song-and-dance man may have been a near impossible conception and hence the tonal awkwardness (although, Stephen Sondheim in his operatic-musical SWEENEY TODD, THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET gets away with it as does Kander and Ebb in CHICAGO).

But despite the slightly macabre creepiness that permeates the work this simply confident and breezy production by Stephen Colyer has some charm to keep the musical theatre fan interested. While not exactly a lost treasure of the genre it is very interesting and should be an attractive offer for the FAN of the Musical.

On a simple but clever one-set design by David Fleischer (Costume, as well)  the many locations are swiftly changed with furniture re-organisation and the invitation to use our own imaginations. Lighting by Gavan Swift.

The four performers are super charged and personable with a clean and confident drawing of character, (musical theatre characters! - not much in the way of insightful depths), serving the text as fully as the writing allows, with professional proficiency.

Phillip Lowe, as the Jewish-son detective stumbling onto a series of crimes that will make or break his professional identity, Morris Brummell, is delightfully erudite in managing the cliché of the script demands, including building a credible relationship with a rich heiress, Sophie Stone, played charmingly by Katrina Ketallick. Julie O'Reilly has the most challenge in the work, playing not only THE Jewish mother (dare I say? a rival to Woody Allen's Mother in the 1989 film NEW YORK STORIES - OEDIPUS WRECKS ) as well as all the victims of the strangler. Ms O'Reilly charts her way competently through the dramatic challenges and costume changes. Jason Langley as Christopher "Kit" Gill creates blithely the demands of this difficult character genre mix with such brio that one just surrenders and enjoys the ridiculousness of  it all - Mr Langley's drag and wig moment extremely tasteful and credible, in contrast to the Steiger horror.

The music and lyrics are reasonably pleasant if not particularly memorable with some surprises to keep one alert. The musical direction by Craig Renshaw is exemplary and all the performers are confident and impressive.

The performance I saw kept the audience entertained and the work gathered a warm support as it unwound. This is a very impressive production by Mr Colyer, as was his work last year on KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN in this tiny space, and can be recommended to the dedicated fan of the Musical Theatre, who like to capture the curious and rarely performed work as part of their repertoire history. An easy way to spend a night or afternoon in the theatre that is reasonably, real value for money.

The performers are worth catching for their creative diligence and sense of exploration.

No Cold Feet



De Quincey Co and Art and About Sydney 2011 presents NO COLD FEET at Cathedral Square and Cook & Phillip Park.

Tess De Qunicey has collected a group of her movement apostles/practitioners (Body Weather): Peter Fraser, Linda Luke, Vicki Van Hout, Kathryn Puie, Katina Olsen, Mark Hill, Kirsty Kiloh and Gideon Payten-Griffiths and together with a Sound Design by Barbara Clare and Steve Toulmin and Lighting by Rachel Smith  has created a site specific work: NO COLD FEET at the St Mary's Cathedral Square and the adjoining Cook & Phillip Park.

At dusk, so that the work begins in twilight and finishes in the early night of a Sydney spring (promisingly seasonally spectacular), the company of dancers dressed in light flowing fitted cloaks, robust white breast plates and shoes of either sex (e.g. Boots and heels on either foot, Costumes by Albert Baldwin, holding flexible poles move in procession through the gathered audience and climb onto the steps of the Cathedral entrance. At this end of the space and performance we have the symbol of the world of spirituality as backdrop, and then through the  pool, fountain and board-walk,  we continue to the façade of the Sydney Museum, science, as the backdrop for the other end of the activity, ultimately descending into the Cook and Phillip Park, into nature., disappearing, enveloped by the brush and flora of the gathering night.

 The idiosyncratic movements of the dancers, collective and solo, supported by the music landscape of quite a wide variety of style featuring whale sounds (the whale being the indigenous totem of this area) interacts with the promenading audience. Children, adults, passing tourists with cameras and personal video capture, an early  spring "Dream". The effect of the work is in the visceral contact with the performers and in the stunning beauty of the outdoor site. Breathtakingly comforting. The heavy urban backdrop of the far buildings and the mechanistic sounds of the roadways fade into oblivion with the invitation by De Qunicey to experience our world anew. It will be hard to walk through these sites without the imprint of this magical world haunting it, next time we are there.

This kind of 'magic' appearing, seemingly spontaneously, in the environs of the city creates a wonder and a set of memories that will be kept as fond treasures of the city of Sydney by all of us who attended. For those of us that came on purpose it had the expected quality of the usual uniqueness of Ms De Quincey's work which we seek out eagerly. But the wonder seen on the faces of the accidental passing and collected viewers was a positive advantage of the performance to share and can only enhance the mystique of the City of Sydney.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Loot



Sydney Theatre Company and Qantas present LOOT by Joe Orton at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House.

LOOT by Joe Orton was written and premiered in 1966. It, followed the success of ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE on the West End stage, the year before. Orton with LOOT “ extended the boundaries of farce by taking it out of the bedroom and into the funeral parlour: this is Feydeau with fangs or Ben Travers rewritten by a socialist anarchist. The action hinges on stolen bank loot being stashed in a coffin while the displaced corpse (of one of the robbers mothers) is bundled about the stage. The physical mayhem, however, simply becomes a platform for attack on the hypocrisies of mourning, the fake pieties of the Catholic Church and the venal brutality of the British Police….”. Language was one of the keys to both plays (all his plays, really); the comedy lies between the sustained strangeness of the realities of the settings and the formal gravity of the verbal style.In LOOT (1966), which was then a rudely topical satire, “Orton remains a consummate stylist. At one point , the detective, Truscott proudly announces that he is the man who once tracked down the limbless killer. ‘Who’, someone enquires aghast, ‘would kill a limbless girl?’ ‘She’, replies Trustcott, ‘was the killer.’"

In the introductory program notes about this play,by the Artistic Directors, Andrew Upton and Cate Blanchett, we are told : “Brutality and comedy are the dual foundations of Joe Orton’s plays… And even though some of the subject matter may have lost its piquancy in the last 50-oddd years, Orton’s dramatic voice is still distinct and his dissertation on human nature still rings out loud and clear.”

In this production by Richard Cotterell, it is when the satire over issues that no longer have the sixties piquancy of audacity, and when not served accurately by the skill of his farceurs, around style with language and physicalities, that the play stands nakedly languishing in its time zone. Originally, Orton in tilting at death, the Church, the English police and the idea of English justice was attempting to ‘shake the audience out of its expectations’ and believed that ‘They need not so much shocking, as surprising out of their rut.’ And although some of the audacious physical juxtapositions - the mother/corpse, upside-down in the cupboard, for instance, still strike one’s funny bone, it is the dexterous verbal surprises that keep one agape with open mouthed laughter. The content does not really shock the regular theatre goer anymore.Who knows who it would really shock any more? Recent film and television have settled that. But it is certainly full of surprises.

The set design by Victoria Lamb is fine in its terribly accurate eye for period detail. This world is depressingly suburban and real and so the hi-jinx that it surrounds is more startlingly contrasted. An open coffin cosseting a mummified corpse sits in a really 'real looking' living room and the 'sixties anarchism of British counter-culture led by thrill seeking youth confronts a pious mourner, a serial killer and a psychopathic policeman – all revealed, conventionally disguised, in the respectable garb of the comfortable middle class.

Robin Goldsworthy as Hal and Caroline Craig as Fay do not seem to have the measure of the style of playing, both looking uncomfortable and miscast in the duties assigned them. Mr Goldsworthy giving a very self conscious and manipulated reading of the character and situation and the usually reliable Ms Craig appears oddly unfamiliar with the style and comedy of the genre, and like Mr Goldsworthy is too obviously effortful in her characterisation. The work from both these actors does not reveal any inner organic source of character, and, rather the characteristics that we are given appear to be stuck on, contrived, forced and hence deadly to the spontaneity of the ‘madness’ of the world that they are creating. The first twenty minutes or so of this production grinds silently on, in what looks in the hands of these two actors, painfully, like old fashioned exposition. One can hear the verbal jokes stacked throughout the writing in this first twenty minutes but the timing mechanics and physical thought processes of these two actors are not engaged accurately to bring this work to any comic reward for the audience.

But then the ‘cavalry’ arrives, and comes to the rescue of the the play. The production really takes off with the late presence of Josh McConville (Dennis) and then the two great clowns of farce: Willaim Zappa (McCleavy) and Darren Gilshenan (Trustcott). Like locomotives of much tonnage the sheer momentum of the stylistic knowledge, both physical and linguistic, particularly after the interval, that these actors bring to the play, creates such speed, that the comic deliciousness of a well oiled comic team slipstreams the audience into a breathless awakening, and chase, to keep on top of the situations and outrageous Ortonesque views of the world – Joe Orton, “the Oscar Wilde of Welfare State gentility.” Mr Cotterell can bring to bear his immaculate discipline and vision at last.Mr Zappa and Gilshenan, artists of the genre to be studied and cherished.

LOOT, had been produced by the STC before and is memorialized by the STC, in this program, with photographs and press reviews of the Richard Wherrett production of 1988. Orton’s last play, WHAT THE BUTLER SAW (produced posthumously in 1967), is what I regard as one of the great comic masterpieces and LOOT presages that genius. WHAT THE BUTLER SAW demands of the actors the verbal and mental dexterity of the Restoration Comedy and at the same time the physical dexterity of the 'low' comic farceur. Both skills are rare, but, rarer still, together. I reckon Mr Gilshenan and Zappa ought to have a go at the Doctors Rance and Prentice in that play with Mr McConville and Helen Thompson supporting. Maybe next time.

Then, again, perhaps Richard Bean should get a look in? What about Mike Bartlett? Just to keep us in the swim of contemporary comedy. LOOT for all of its skill offers, is dated in its content. Not so shocking. Without Gilshenan and Zappa this would have been a terribly mean evening. Knowing that the subject matter of LOOT has lost its piquancy over 50 odd years of cultural change, why not find a play of our times for Mr Cotterell that would allow this superlative craftsman, to offer STC audiences a new experience in the realm of farce?

Hmm.

References

PRICK UP YOUR EARS by John Lahr. Published by Allen Lane -1978.
STATE OF THE NATION by Michael Billington. Published by Faber and Faber Limited -2007.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Money Shots



Sydney Theatre Company presents MONEY SHOTS as part of Next Stage 2011 at Wharf 2.

The program tells us that we were to see 5 new fifteen minute plays about money from some of Australia's most exciting new theatre-makers: Tahli Corin, Duncan Graham, Angus Cerini, Rita Kalnejais, Zoe Pepper and the out going The Residents: Cameron Goodall, Julia Ohannessian, Zindzi Okenyo, Richard Pyros, Sophie Ross and Tahki Saul directed by the 2011 Richard Wherrett Fellow, Sarah Giles.

The Sydney Theatre Company's Literary Manager, Polly Rowe (who recently acted as dramaturg on BOXING DAY at the Old Fitzroy Theatre) along with Tom Wright, Associate Director to the Artistic Directors, Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton tell us that MONEY SHOTS originated when "á pool of grant cash that could be liberated to blow on commissioning young or emerging artists (was identified). Inspired by the opportunity to redistribute some wealth, we came up with the concept of a show comprised of five miniature plays, which would stand alongside one another to pick away at a giant theme. At the time of commissioning the plays, most Australians believed the GFC to be a bullet dodged but with the gun still smoking it felt like a fitting moment to muse on money .... without the input of economists or the output of calculators".

They go on to say: "Our writers and devisor have responded to the artistic stimulus  we offered by creating plays that examine financial crisis at its most human level. ...."

The key words in all this verbiage are  "when a pool of grant  cash could be liberated to blow..." for it was well and truly 'blown cash' . The quality of the writing and the superficiality of the approach to the world's GFC crisis is truly dire and truly of pygmy scale in contrast to what Ms Rowe and Mr Wright identify as a "giant theme", the present unfolding of the GFC crisis. No SERIOUS MONEY struggle here. No ENRON here. No THE POWER OF YES here. Just silly juveniles and broken marriages with perhaps a coin or a pile of  notes thrown in the air or to the ground, literally, to remind us that these plays/sketches were to be "about money" Truly pathetic. Any real guidance and dramaturgy go on here? Hard to believe so. (Check what Mr Pinter might call a sketch. A play. He wrote both).

I can not imagine these sketches will ever see the light of day again in any serious context.The whole event felt like an end of contract blow out concert that was meant only for the end of contractors to enjoy. An awful waste of cash and not a very interesting farewell showcase for these young artists after such a long moneyed contract with the Sydney Theatre Company.

The best of them, THE ARCADE by Tahli Corin concerning itself with young adolescent love and the exploitation by a sexual predator, had money appear, only as a prop to be counted as a means to begin each of the episodes. This work had charm and harm revealed and gave Zindzi Okenyo and Tahki Saul a little gift to create two delightfully believable youngsters. In fact, this is some of the best work that Mr Saul has given in his residency with The Residents. Ms Okenyo sustained my belief in her range and credibility.The two actors played well together and made the sketch work.

Ms Ohannnessian revealed a spontaneity and comic flair not featured before in her work, as part of her Residents tenure and the fact that she survived against the contrived and forced efforts of Mr Goodall in this very poor TV sketch by Rita Kalnejais, HOW TO GET VERY CLEAN - a static piece of writing that had more to do with hair than money, was a marvel to observe.

NO EXIT FROM THE ROOF by Duncan Graham with Sophie Ross and Richard Pyros, had tiny vignettes of the breakup of a marriage barraged with some tribal chanting (Composer/Sound Designer, Stefan Gregory) every  minute or so and ultimately the noise became the only memory of content. Not quite true. I do recall that this work by Mr Graham seemed to be free from his usual usage of the myths of the world to create a framework to pitch his content.

In fact, MONEY SHOTS began to feel it was really the Cameron Goodall show, considering that he featured heavily in three of the five sketches. One of them: DRILL DOWN by Angus Cerini, who some of my friends have championed for the writing, but in my experience, became an isolated spotlit solo, where the content of the work was pushed out of focus to accommodate the excessive vocal consonant work of this craftsman. Tiresome.
The last sketch directed by Zoe Pepper and written by Zoe Pepper, the Ensemble and Brett Stiller: FIDDLER'S COIN is best forgotten for the sheer banal concept and incoherent structure - surely, a late night party improvisation that only the late night party goers and their sponsored beer drinking friends could find in anyway amusing.

Ms Giles demonstrated that there is a way to work with no real design support and did her best with sketch content not really worth her sweat and tears. A waste of her talent.

What was the company really thinking here? This was awful. And a wasted opportunity. If cozened, and the details developed dramaturgically, it could have been interesting to see what these artists that the  Sydney Theatre Company regards as "Some of Australia's Most Exciting New Theatremakers" could do with one of the more crucial issues of the day. I wonder what this lot would have done with Climate Change as their subject matter? Or Afghanistan or the Middle East crisis?

I shudder to even speculate.

Monday, October 17, 2011

This Year's Ashes


Griffin Theatre Company presents The World Première of THIS YEAR’S ASHES by Jane Bodie at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross, Sydney.

In the program notes Jane Bodie, the writer of this play, tells us:

“It’s important to say that I have always wanted to write a romantic comedy, however I never imagined myself writing a play about cricket.” In looking for the formula to write a romantic comedy, Ms Bodie had one rule from ‘millions’ stick in her head. … ‘Always remember romantic means sexy and comedy means funny’. I then thought about the fact that I am someone that hates rules and following them. But I couldn’t help thinking about the fact that in both the loss of a loved one, and the loss of love, it is as if all the rules we believed existed have been violently broken. The world feels suddenly lawless, as if justice and balance will never be restored. Then many believe there are five stages to grief, and then of course there are five tests in a test match series. … Which brings me back to my first conversation with Sam (Strong) at Griffin. I told him I wanted to write a romantic comedy about grief, Sydney and cricket. He did what all good artistic directors should do at that moment, he smiled and bought me another glass of wine.”

I am happy to tell you all that Ms Bodie has indeed written a play about grief, Sydney and cricket, no matter how incongruous the combination of those three elements may, at first, seem, as ingredients for a romantic comedy – “a rom-com” – as it is known in the industry. This is a rom-com of a positively delicious kind. It makes you laugh, and often, and loudly, and also cry, gently, but deeply.

Three actors have responded wonderfully to the gifts of this text: Belinda Bromilow, Tony Llwellyn-Jones and Nathan Lovejoy. Directed by Shannon Murphy, gently and with discretion, no intrusive director’s fingerprints laid over this production - remarkable in the experience of recent Sydney work, at least, remarkable enough to note, and with relief, although, it seems to be a hall mark trend, mostly, of the Griffin production values under Sam Strong’s care. In my experience, relievedly. A trust in the writer as the instigator of the enterprise! How amazing!!! As the great theatre artist, Michel Saint-Denis has said: "It is the author who directs the director to direct his play.” And only if the director as the skill and discipline to respect the writer enough to read him closely and not take the auteur position of a vandal.

The design by Rita Carmody is restrained and elegantly sufficient, even wittily economic for the many sites the play moves to – despite the arty overstatement of the Tracey Emin reference to her signature work MY BED and the blue neon light boxes, to unnecessarily title scenes. Verity Hampson once again comes up trumps with a sensitive and beautiful lighting design and with the tender and resonant score composition by Steve Francis rendered in the impressive sound design by Nate Edmondson, all is a whole. This is a very impressive, assured production. One feels safe and therefore, open to the journey of the play, from the start.

The writing by Ms Bodie is deft and carefully layered with craft. Cricket and all its language absurdities and catch phrases are woven discreetly and wittily throughout the play, beginning with the very title of the play: THIS YEAR’S ASHES. The ironies of our modern world that is ‘connected’ by the iphone and other such gadgets that gives “ no reason to leave things behind anymore, to miss anyone, because we can stay in touch, at all times”  and the product that Ellen (Ms Broilow) is pitching to the world for her company employers, the “I…am…not lost”; The…”I am over here”; or finally, “I am still here” - a key ring attachment (what if we lost our keys?), is planted sadly within the floundering despair of a young woman. For, disguised in this romantic comedy structure is a very moving contemporary examination of one of the cultural ‘illnesses’ of our times: loneliness. Loneliness, in this case, sprung from unrequited grief and guilt and drowned in behaviour smothered by the anaesthetic of alcohol and promiscuous sexual encounters.

This “hilarious, touching urban fable of connection and redemption, of moving and moving on” has the assured hand of Ms Bodie who has the wicked gift of being all: brutal, insightful and bitingly funny, step after step, in this gorgeous scenario.

THIS YEAR’S ASHES is, also, a backhanded love letter to the city of Sydney and its woebegone denizens (of a certain milieu): “I’ve met all the people I want to here. …I can’t even bear the way people …walk in this city. Everyone’s so pleased with themselves. Whole city is, pleased with itself, with how it looks, its views, its smug fucking water views. And I’m amazed anybody manages to make it into work at all, the amount of time they must take getting ready…. Everything here is so FUCKING shiny, it hurts my eyes, to look at it. And I don’t like frappes. I hate frappes. And suntans, spray tans, sushi, swimming in ocean pools, jogging, bridges, paninis, Pilates, the harbour, sunsets, hot pants and small dogs, small gay dogs and cockroaches”. There is much, much more….!

The performance of the night is in the intelligent reading that Mr Lovejoy brings to his three men. There is such wry intelligence here not only in the delivery and timing of his text but in the subtle physical registrations of character differences and  in the comedy of the moments. There is also tenderness and empathy and the richness of a man in love in the long scene of seduction in the second act from his creation of Adam. Who would not fall in love with Adam? This performance supports the impression he made in May last year in a very different role in WAY TO HEAVEN at the Griffin. Seeing him and Toby Schmitz together in Bell’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING this year urged me to think of a play to put them together – what a load of intelligence and wicked invention could be struck for our delectation with them bouncing off each other? Ms. Bromilow gives the best work I have seen from her and is especially moving in the reaching out to her father, played movingly by Mr Llwellyn-Jones, especially in the revelation speech at the end of the first act. The rapport between the company is remarkable and graceful in its mutual generosity.

This is one of those rare, in recent times in the Sydney theatre going experience, (NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH, nearly so), at which audiences can feel the joyful, coalescing experience with all the artists’ offerings and feel subtly the embracing cloak of a deeply moving, shared experience. This is not avant-garde writing in either content or form, but very, very good writing. It is rare. It is addressed to the general human experience and it endows the gathered random audience with a sense of a common human bond. Of real connection. Funny, sad, grandly, modestly human.

Book quickly. Do go. Another gentle treasure from the Griffin Theatre Company. No to be missed.

P.S. I need to declare that Jane Bodie is a colleague of mine and a new friend. If this sounds like a love letter to her, I am very, happy and pleased to declare it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Jersey Boys


Dodger Theatricals, Rodney Rigby, Dainty Group, Joseph J. Grano, Tamara and Kevin Kinsella,  Pelican Group, Michael Watt in association with Latitude Link, and Rick Steiner present: JERSEY BOYS – The story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, at the Theatre Royal, Sydney.

I know, I know the season is nearly finished and I know that both internationally and nationally this musical has had truly great, great press. I know that the songs, music, the group, is a part of my growing up life, along with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and so, so redolent in my deep, deep unconscious that I ought to have seen it sooner. I know this now from my own personal experience last Sunday and even more because the audience around me was so rapt with the performance – some seeing it for the second and even fourth times – but I just resisted and resisted.

All the glowing press and quotes from other reviews is not spin. I thought it was terrific, too. That it was directed by Des McAnuff – who also gave us DOCTOR ZHIVAGO earlier this year – was thought provoking. Who would have recognised the very fine hand of the director of JERSEY BOYS as the same one that gave us DOCTOR ZHIVAGO?  I guess one is a work in development and this product, JERSEY BOYS, is a finished gem at the end of the rigours of the Broadway  machine.

A biographic musical utilising the extant musical repertoire of the artists of the play title, has not always been a successful formula and the quality has varied very, very much. It depends so much upon one’s own personal referencing, identification to the period through the songs (Sixties and Seventies), that it can become the defining part of the judgement of the experience. JERSEY BOYS has set a bench mark for this genre of musical. Even those of us who have no history with the material have a great time, as well – not just the parents and grandparents but their children do too. The generational spread was all around me – great to see.

The Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice is so expertly and expeditiously put together that one is propelled through the events of the lives of Franki Valli and The Four Seasons, so cleanly, without any sense of weight or boredom, both the professional and personal, that it should be used as a reference/teaching tool for anyone else attempting to do it in the future. The music  by Bob Gaudio (arranged by Steve Orich) with lyrics by Bob Crewe is heart stoppingly good (Musical Director, Vicky Jacobs at the helm at this performance) and the performances of the company have been nurtured and sustained to a ‘liveness’ that even on a Sunday - second performance –it is gratefully accomplished.

The Scenic design by Klara Zieglerova, skeletal structures resonating industrial formulas, deftly and efficiently, with Projection Design by Michael Clark that gives a clear sense of time, place and atmosphere. The set design is subtly utilised by the director, Mr McNuff, to create, not just simply exits and entrances at various levels but also, subliminally, character as well. Sophistication of a surprisingly simple and direct manner. Costumes by Jess Goldstein – an enormous number of them it seemed – along with the Hair and Wig Design (Charles La Pointe) were also a significant contribution to the clear and unfussy delineation of place and person – character. The control and choices delivered by the director are so ‘clever’ in their effiency that I need to remark upon them. The Lighting Design by Howard Binkley clean and vivid in its slightly art directed presence – a glamorous musical theatre sheen, if not giving necessarily period or real atmospheres of the world.

The Choreography by Sergio Trujillo is schematically simple, unfussy and crisply startling in its aesthetic punch. Edited and ordered and yet perfectly expressive for the storytelling. This was not dance for dance sake – it was an integral part of the integrity of the production and the tailored style of the project. Simple but compelling.

On the afternoon that I saw it, Matt Backer played Franki Valli and he was simply astonishing. The package of the triple threat, so greedily desired by this genre of actor: singer, dancer, actor, is packed into this young performer with vivid and controlled commitment. From the first entrance to the thrilling first notes of his music entrance there is a charisma about him that demands attention. The dramatic conviction of the scenes in the second act is seamless and reveals depth and technique. A modesty and professionalism and a sense of Matt Backer loving what he is doing, radiates to his audience. They appeared to return it to him in waves of pleasure. Mind you the whole of the show was reflected lovingly by the audience.

Jeremy Brennan as Tommy DeVito, clever and wickedly charming, witty and energised, surrounded by Stephen Mahy (Bob Gaudio) and Glaston Toft (Nick Massi), all create The Four Seasons with clear character delineation and ensemble harmony – musically, emotionally and physically. A team on stage, neatly improvising, or so it seemed, the sub-textual life of the interactions – to give the deft but simplified text, life. Daniel Scott, too, makes a mark with a clear drawing of Bob Crewe the producer and adviser to the rise and rise of the SEASONS. In fact this company of performers gave an impression of freshness and dedication, that is not always apparent in production at this late stage of their performance history. The crime of Broadway is seeing a company in a musical, after an extended run, tending to walk–through the work in an unconsciously jaded manner. I tend to see the more recent musical as part of my New York/London schedule, based on that all too common experience. I don’t know who is keeping a professional eye on this production, but based on Sunday’s performance, worth their weight in gold. My viewing of MARY POPPINS in Melbourne, last year, had several performances not fully engaged and undermined my complete belief and appreciation of the production work and the production itself.

If, like me, you have held off, from JERSEY BAOYS do go for a really easy and entertaining night. Who knew “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” was part of the Valli repertoire?  I always, mistakenly, associated it with Burt Bacharach. I have not been able to get it out of my head and find myself singing it spontaneously a lot since Sunday. Embarrassing, hey? But it makes one so happy. There is sure to be a tune to catch you as well: “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “Walk Like a Man”, “My Boyfriend’s Back”, “My Eyes Adored You”, “Working My way back To You” ,  “Fallen Angel”. Many more as well……ah, nostalgia. A relief, an escape from the present. Ahhhh.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Lucky


IPAN and The Spare Room present LUCKY by Ferenc Alexander Zavaros at the New Theatre, Newtown.

LUCKY by Ferenc Alexander Zavaros, attempts to tackle issues surrounding one of the pressing issues occupying the Australian government and its citizens today, that of the boat people refugee, and is entirely 'worthy' in its intentions. Unfortunately, the production at hand is not very interesting and presents itself as a potential, emerging work in the theatre rather than one that one must see. It is in development and may be best exposed as a workshop - interesting as part of a Fringe festival for developing work but not ready to touted to full paying audiences.

The text is fairly dull and utterly predictable, both in plot and character, in a quasi poetical form - relentlessly repetitive. The writing has no forward movement, it is staggeringly static, and fails to engage the audience with any real original observation or singular point of view in its content and subject matter.

This poor text is then wrapped in some contemporary theatrical production conceits: the sound artists - (Composer, singer, Joseph Nezeti;  singer, Conrad Le Bron)  revealed and lit on stage with the ubiquitous presence of the laptop computer and live micro-phoned voices; a movable platform, nicely painted, acting as a raft - a raft being the last thing, I would venture on to seek asylum across the seas - disaster assured, I should think (Set design, Sama Ky Balsom); pretty lighting that gives a romantic stylised 'art-directed' feel to the project - no grit or threat here (Lighting, Ross Graham); banal shadow work projected by back lighting onto cloth hangings and a further 'groovy'  physical-theatre approach to provide images through choreography and suspension of performers, by having them hang  off ropes and rigging, entwined in images of counter-balancing techniques  that have the appearance of  a craft not yet achieved - labour intensive in presentation (Collaborative Movement Director, Kirk Page).

The production cannot camouflage the short comings of the writing. All of these contributions (Performers: Guy Simon, Hoa X, Drew Wilson) to the production are very raw and nowhere convincing enough to help us appreciate the objectives of this work either as art or politics. The Director, Sama Ky Balsom, and her fellow collaborators do not have the skills to convince us to suspend judgement of the play or the production. It is all potential and nowhere kinetic enough to demand or hold our attention as yet.

IPAN Productions states as its aims "to create a broader global community for the performing arts, to connect creative and production members to projects and raise community and cultural awareness through the arts." Lofty ideals accompanied by ill equipped skills will not attract an audience of wide support. The Politics and the Art will founder by not being seen or heard.

The Spare Room curators need to be more rigorous to maintain the standard they are setting to hold the attention and loyalty of their audience.

Slowboat to Chinamans


SLOWBOAT TO CHINAMANS created by Ian Mortimer, on board the Mulgi Ferry at Wharf 2 on a voyage around the environs of Sydney Harbour.

SLOWBOAT TO CHINAMANS is a cabaret/vaudeville show that takes place on a restored ferry, the MULGI, that takes leave from Wharf 2 to take a voyage around the environs of Sydney Harbour. It is an old fashioned "Theatre Restaurant" experience. Food, drink and entertainment. This could be a very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours for Christmas party celebrations and/or a unique tourist escapade.

Hosted, alternately, by George Washingmachine, Mic Conway or Ian Mortimer (they play alternate nights), featuring Gemma Lark, as a mime/dancer; Sebastian Rideaux as a magic man; and the remarkable Daryl Wallis, as piano man; and the even more remarkable Sheridan Harbridge as chanteuse, satirist and bon vivant, we had a rollicking old time on board the Mulgi, surrounded by the most beautiful harbour twinkling in the night.

Mr Washingmachine as Captain Ironbark  takes us on a tour of some of the harbour sites of history and gives us a mostly factual account of these places. We are given faux, mini-lectures, alluding to the severe convict practices of some of these destinations alongside amusing but 'true' bio-graphies of some famous, infamous characters and events from Sydney's past: Kate Leigh and Tilly Devine (exposed with no touches of Art Direction, so prevalent in the television  UNDERBELLY series, mostly instead, tantalizing cruel realities, possibly more convincing and interesting than the TV version) and a potted musical lecture on the politics and history of the construction of the iconic Sydney Opera House. In the program handout we are also told of James Squire and the set up of Sydney's first brewery, of  Beatrice "Bee" Miles, of Sister Ada Green, Rosaleen Norton and Florence Broadhurst.

All this 'history', (an intriguing gimmick), is wrapped in original lyrics and appetizingly curious songs from sailor jauntiness to jazz renditions, played with intense and amazing accompaniment by a very dexterous Daryl Wallis, who displays Olympian stamina and indefatigable good humour - he loves  what he does (or, at least appears too). An indispensable artist on this voyage of merriment. All the artists are a delight.

But for those of you who like to spot talent ( "I saw her when...." ), that with proper attention may become a legendary figure of the future, one must catch the divine flair of Ms Harbridge. Her looks, personality, quick, improvisational wittiness (reminds one of the wickedness of the great Barry Humphries in his interaction with an audience), satiric accuracy, delivered with a light but true musical voice of some real note, will be a bonus of joy and marvel as you glide around the harbour. The highlight of her generous performance has to be the History of the Sydney Opera House in original song lyrics supported wittily by musical quotations of great opera tunes, which Ms Harbridge pulls off in an astounding demonstration of talent. This rendition is breathtaking and worth the price of the ticket alone. The comedy is counterpointed by the reality of the real building dominating the foreshore as a backdrop for this wonderful artist and her supports. No expense is spared in the timing and display of her talent it seems!

The food is theatre restaurant fare, the spirits of the bar and crew and company all create a good night out. Just a little too long on our night, but if you want a comfortable old-fashioned night out, worth considering. Especially, as summer roles out her atmospheric glories in the long daylight saving beauty of the harbour.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

ACO tour Six: Viennese Serenade


Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) present Tour Six: VIENNESE SERENADE with Benjamin Schmid in the Concert Hall, the  Sydney Opera House.

Benjamin Schmid acting as Guest Director & Lead Violinist with the Australian Chamber Orchestra presented a delightful concert, mostly focused on the Viennese influence on the music experience. What is nearly always joyful about the guest artists that the ACO invite to work with them, is the calibre and musical love that these artists bring to their work. What was most affecting for me was to see this relatively, modest looking artist appear with the orchestra, (firstly in a sedate soft grey, shiny jacket and then a neat white one) and see him shift-shape into a 'possessed' artist, rippling and glowing from within with a passion and conviction for the program he had chosen and then executed for us. That he was Viennese was self evident and the pleasure that he had in revealing and playing this music with this orchestra was translated and given as a joyous gift to us, the audience.

The selection of music began with nothing at all Viennese but a warm-up, utilising the Bach Concerto in D minor for two violins, BWV 1043 (composed c. 1720) with Helena Rathbone, Principal Second Violin of the ACO. Most enjoyable. Relaxing.

To follow was a revelation: a performance of Erich Korngold's Lento Religioso (from Symphonic Serenade). I know Erich Korngold mostly from his scores for Hollywood films, especially the rousing music for the 1939 Errol Flynn vehicle, THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD. An iconic score that still thrills and certainly holds that film in a land of contemporary thrall. The Korngold score being the essential ingredient to the film's timelessness in my experience. Great.

The Symphonic Serenade for string orchestra, Op.39, was composed in 1947, after the War in Europe, and grows in reputation amongst audiences and artists as time passes, apparently. The Lento Religioso has a quiet ethereal entrance and the sublime delicacies of the piece held one enraptured and are, still, a week or so after the event, hauntingly present in my consciousness. Mr Schmid then introduced us to a contemporary Viennese composer H K Gruber with his Nebelsteinmusik (composed 1988). In four movements this work was not always able to hold my concentration.

After the interval break, Mr Schmid, on micro-phone welcomed us to the concert and introduced the music to follow. His obvious delighted relish of what he was to give us shone through. Firstly, Rondo in A major for violin and strings, D.438 by Franz Schumann (composed in 1816) - a work that is easy for an audience to enjoy and a pleasure to see the demands made upon the violinist soloist's virtuosity. The music had a sense of gravity to begin and then slides off to 'adventures'. The virtuosity  seemed to be tossed off with what looked like effortlessness. Vienna was being evoked.

What followed was two short works by Joseph Lanner: Die Romantiker (the Romantics), Op.167 and Die Werber (the Suitors), Op.103. "Lanner's waltzes ... are fine examples of the beautiful late work of the composer who, more than any other (even Johann Strauss II), can be said to have invented the Viennese waltz." The human response to the waltz rhythm is so deliciously seductive and the smiles that it elicited around me in the Concert Hall were sublimely proof of that. They mirrored the smile and lifting eye brow of Mr Schmid as he exquisitely guided us through the music (eat your heart out, I reflected on Andre Rieu's concerts.)

To finish, Mr Schmid took us to contemporary Vienna and introduced us to a regular collaborator of his, Georg Breinschmid - "a classically trained double bass player who now works exclusively as a jazz musician, with an increasing reputation as a composer."  Musette pour Elisabeth (composed 2008) and Wien bleibt Krk (composed 2008) were the two works we heard. That in the clever music we heard quotes from the more famous Viennese waltzes brought delight and outright laughter of pleasure from the audience. The music was both contemporary and yet flattering to it's heritage, a respect that was palpable and highly appreciated by the audience around us.

It is typical of an ACO concert to cover such a range of musical history in one concert. To begin with a Bach composition of 1720 - a work composed before Captain Cook mapped the east coast of our nation - and to finish, with stops along the way, in 2008, with two vitally new works from Vienna, is a treat of intellectual rigour and pleasure that enlarges my perspective of music as a cultural entertainment constantly renewing itself with respect and honour of its past genius. Renewal with a sense of the great shoulders, the new musicians stand on to continue to create - no sense with this orchestra of shunning the past or the present and future, but rather an admirable inclusive love of all of music and its forms as a part of man's language - past and present.

An orchestra and concert to celebrate.