Monday, July 25, 2016

Low Level Panic

Photo by Julia Robertson

Thread Entertainment in association with Red Line Productions, present LOW LEVEL PANIC, by Clare McIntyre, at the Old Fitz Theatre, Dowling St. Woolloomooloo. 12 July - 12 August.

LOW LEVEL PANIC, was written by Clare McIntyre, and presented at the Royal Court Theatre, in London in 1988. It is an examination of the low level panic that some women may feel by just 'being' in the world with the omnipresence of pornography and its possible construction for human behaviour. It traces the re-action of one of the characters to a sexual assault. The play was famous, especially, in its era, for the complex relationships that the three characters, Jo (Amy Ingram), Mary (Kate Skinner) and Celia (Geraldine Hakewill) have with their own sexual fantasies and bodies. For me, the play has the familiarities of the explorations of say Pam Gems with her play DUSA, FISH, STAS AND VI (1976), and Nell Dunn's STEAMING (1982-84).

Justin Martin, the Director of this production at the Old Fitz, and the choreographer, Tom Hodgson, had already made this show in 2014, for the Nun's Island Theatre in Galway. Reading the reviews of that production, it seems that what are we are seeing here is a recreation of that solution to the play. Originally, the play is a straight forward prose-text for three women. What Mr Martin has done, probably influenced by the work of John Tiffany (National Theatre of Scotland) and Stephen Hoggett (Frantic Assembly), especially, is to re-write the text as a musical with, besides the three women, a chorus of seven male participants (Joshua McElroy, Caleb Alloway, Luke Carson, Patrick Cullen, Scott Eveleigh, David Lang, Brendon Taylor) and a young girl figure who maybe the girl before her growth to womanhood (Zoe Belfast or Sophia Marosszeky or Mathilda Richardson).

It is potentially, a witty adaptation of the original play and it may have been that in the Irish production. It was probably fitted around the talents - gifts - of those participants and illuminated Ms McIntyre's intentions. At the Old Fitz, however, the production grinds on as a Director's indulgence that rather than revealing the politics of the play and its undoubted relevance to present day sexual issues, buries and obfuscates it. For instance, the monologue that the character, Mary has, concerning her brutal sexual assault - a famous and oft-used monologue for audition, by the way - has been turned into a musical song that Mary sings while accompanying herself on guitar. In this instance, Ms Skinner as Mary, does not appear to have much talent with the guitar and does not, similarly, have much gift in being able to 'sing' well enough - that is confidently - and, as a result, the comprehensibility of this very important speech is almost zilch! - barely, even a gist of the information. Again, Mr Martin, has used his Composer's song (Claire Healey) from the original Irish production, along with a Broadway-style male chorus dance, to close act one. Ms Hakewill, as Celia, too, did not seem to have the vocal equipment to over come the volume of the music accompaniment and, as well, negotiate her choreography with ease, to be able to communicate to us with clarity the text of her song - it remains a mystery, what she was singing, what was going on, except as a Director's demonstration of a love for the musical theatre form of dance! Too, the choreography using the young girl, as a reminder of the girl who is now a woman of suffering, with the Frantic Assembly famed dance-gesture, also fails to make its marks clearly here. The other characters, too, have dance quotations, every now and again. The flourishes of this Director's work seem to be imposed on these Australian actors rather than it being an organic exploration from his new collaborators. If the inventions of the Director cannot be acquitted by his chosen Australian cast maybe for the sake of the clarity of Ms McIntyre's play they should have been let go - it's effect is that of a wilful vandalism of the original play. The Design, created by Jonathan Hindmarsh, for Thread Entertainment and Red Line at the Old Fitz, as striking as it is, seems incredibly impressed by the original concepts from Ireland.

However, even if one can overlook the Director's inclinations as a show-biz entertainer, his work with his actors is not very sympathetic, for it has resulted in what one could charge as 'bad' musical theatre caricature. Ms Ingram, playing Jo, gives a knowing and skilful 'performance' - a 'performance' - all superficial clueing to the developments of the character's experience but without more than an inch deep truth - there is not much acting going on here, it is rather a show-offy look-at-me 'performance'. Ms Ingram barely talks or attempts to communicate to her partners onstage either as a character in the play, or even as an actor to another actor, and she is never affected by what they are saying and doing one iota, as she has seemed to have mapped out her 'juicy' opportunity in her Sydney debut, no matter what her collaborators are attempting to offer to her to be part of an ensemble. This work from Ms Ingram, is something like what some Shakespearean character says: is a tale full of sound and fury (comedy) signifying nothing. Ms Skinner has been lumbered with a song that does not sit easily within her skills, so delivers the essential information about the sexual assault Mary experiences, not well enough for us to comprehend, to fully appreciate, her character's principal dilemma. And, on top of that, has to do most of her work with a, mostly, absent partner, Ms Ingram. Ms Hakewill, in the least developed of the roles, Celia, is much used by the Director as a living and breathing figure of possible live pornography. As innocent as Celia maybe to her affect - it's repetition becomes more and more uncomfortable to view as the night wears on.

LOW LEVEL PANIC is a play deserving to be seen almost 30 years after its origin. The sexual low level panic of the female of the species is no less intense than it was then. But this production at the Old Fitz does not give it due regard.

P.S. It seems ironic to me that the name of the writer of this play, Clare McIntyre, appears only on the cover of the program and that there is no biographical information at all of her career. She is, after all, the inspiration of all this endeavour and she has something important to say and continued to say it with her other work, which this production company has kept us ignorant of.  (Mr Martin's name appears three times, at least). The rest of the artistic team are, as well, explicated quite extensively.

Resident Alien

Cameron Lukey presents RESIDENT ALIEN, by Tim Fountain, in the Reginald Theatre, at the Seymour Centre, Chippendale.

RESIDENT ALIEN is a monologue, a play, by Tim Fountain, revealing to us Quentin Crisp. Quentin Crisp shot to fame at the age of 60 with the publication of his memoir, THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT. It was later made into a television film in 1975, starring John Hurt. Crisp moved from Britain to live in New York, fulfilling a 'dream', late in life, dying there at the age of 90.

This monologue introduces us to Quentin Crisp, living in New York, in his disgusting bed, watching Ophrah Winfrey, in a small, decrepit room. He chats to us while he changes into clothes to keep a luncheon appointment with a Mr Black and Mr Brown. A free lunch being, it seems, a regularity and a necessity for his survival, the cost to the curious who wish to meet him. They disappoint him and do not turn-up. So, we watch him undress, and prepare a frugal meal on a gas stove in his room. During that time we are regaled with Mr Crisp's views of elements of the society, the world he lived, lives in. Essentially bullied because of his 'effeminacy' all of his life, he decided to embrace his difference blatantly and defy the hostile world around him. He dressed as he wished, he said what he wanted. When his simple presence on a bus offended, he'd reply, "If you like, I will get off the bus at the next stop, but even people like me can't walk everywhere." Famously, he has said of himself: "If I have any talent at all, it is not for doing but for being."

The Director of this work, Gary Abrahams, in his Notes to the production says,
Quentin Crisp is a hugely conflicting and conflicted figure. On the one hand he was celebrated and lauded for his flamboyant style and unerring stance of self-celebration. On the other hand, he was viewed as a bitter, jealous old queen who lived a miserly and filthy existence, who refused to wave the flag for gay rights and liberation, and who held contemptible views on homosexuality and the aids crisis of the 70' and 80's.
Indeed, Quentin Crisp is not, necessarily, a very pleasant individual to know - in fact, many of us will have met others like him in our worlds. It was, in my experience of observation, best and easiest for most people, to shun them in their determined decision to be, uncompromisingly, themselves. They made no one's life better (or easier) to be in continual close contact - to be a friend. To know them, like it was to know Mr Crisp, was only for the most determined. It could be - was - difficult to be with them. And it is true that Quentin Crisp, kept people at a deliberate arm's length and died almost completely alone.

The question that Mr Abrahams poses is "So what can a theatre piece give an audience about Mr Crisp that cannot be already gleaned from his many books and the hours of footage of him so readily available on the world-wide web?" The answer after watching RESIDENT ALIEN is, not much, I'm afraid to say. The content of this work, by Tim Fountain, may be interesting to some who do not know anything of Mr Crisp, but for anyone else it can simply be a regurgitation of some acerbic, maybe, sometimes witty, usually cruel, observation about life or persons, but not much else. There is, true, the oft-asserted thrust of the work, which is to have us hear his maxim: to look internally, into one-self to find who you are really, and to be happy, as he says he was, with that owned identity. The unique identity that he forged defiantly, and then consequentially, stoically endured.

The reason to attend RESIDENT ALIEN then, is to embrace the skill and courage of Paul Capsis as he negotiates his way through this over honorific text. Made-up with the grotesque aged face and the signature hair-wig of the favoured image of Quentin Crisp, and re-creating, from close study of the actual man, all of his physical and vocal tics, at age 90, Mr Capsis brings an inner human capacity to the characterisation. Whether this warmth is one's response to Mr Capsis himself, or that of our learned response to Mr Crisp, is a point to argue about.

English eccentrics (any eccentric) are always a fascination. Last year, I attended a production of Australian musician, Malcolm Williamson's opera ENGLISH ECCENTRICS (1964), at the Sydney Conservatorium, Directed by Kate Gaul, and would thoroughly recommend your acquaintance with it. I have a fascination with these people but rather appreciate more, those eccentrics that have searched for their unique identity and had a talent that was satisfied with more than just 'being', to quote Mr Crisp, and, instead, made an effort to do something positive with that satisfaction, other than, occasionally, securing a 'free lunch'. I could no help but think of GILBERT and GEORGE and their eccentricity and their extraordinary output of 'Art' that will endure beyond the cult of their eccentric personalities.

Despite my reservations with the play by Mr Fountain, I would recommend that you go to see Mr Capsis, in all the glory of the Set and Costume Design, by Rosmanie Harper, and the Lighing of Rob Sowinski. Mr Capsis is as captivating as usual - his talent resonates and radiates this presentation of The RESIDENT ALIEN: Quentin Crisp.

Thursday, July 14, 2016


Some Company in association with bAKEHOUSE Theatre Co presents, LEAVES, by Lucy Caldwell, at the Kings Cross Theatre (KXT), Kings Cross Hotel, July 9 – July 23rd.

LEAVES is a play by Irish writer, Lucy Caldwell, written in 2007, as part of a residency at the National Theatre Studio.

A family is waiting for the return of their eldest daughter, Lori (Harriet Gordon-Anderson), from a recovery clinic after an attempted suicide. Her two younger siblings, Clover (Bobbie-Jean Henning) and Poppy (Poppy Lynch) have responded to the events differently and are trying to find a way to prepare to respond for when she returns. Her parents, David (Simon Lyndon), and Phyllis (Amanda Stephens-Lee) are devastated and bewildered by what has happened. The play is set in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and in the times of its great political unrest (The Troubles) and deals with the consequences on the psyche of those caught-up in a world at war with itself. The play, in the words of Rachel Chant in her Director's Notes, "...isn't a play about suicide..." or "...about the bombs or shootings..." but about "our capacity for hope."

The play has a kind of Chekhovian feel of closely observed human relationships. The quirks of emotional maturity and the individualistic natures within a family are detailed with a delicateness that gently draws one into their dilemmas. The first act is a slightly over-extended 'Waiting For Lori - (Godot)' to return, and the play does not really take off until the second half with a beautifully realised scene between the three sisters. Ms Henning and Lynch are especially convincing and ultimately moving as the two younger sisters, Clover and Poppy. Mr Lyndon, doesn't quite fill out the opportunities of the sparely written character of the father, while Ms Stephens-Lee, plays the mother character with a little too much surface - obviously. Ms Gordon-Anderson plays the depression of Lori well, but, relatively, fails to play the contrasted opposite that Ms Caldwell gives opportunity for, in the last scene of the play for us to be moved in the intended way.

Ms Chant, the Director has, mostly, nurtured the musical structures of the writing, although, the mood and tempo of this production's last scene, which is really the first scene in the chronology of the story, suffers from a kind of hangover of all that we have sat through, instead of the contrasted optimism and excitement of the beginning of an adventure into a new life in a new country, as the family prepares to launch Lori, with presents and champagne, off to her study in England. There is an authorial echo from Ms Caldwell of the J.B Priestly juxtapositional juggling with his play's time structures in the famous TIME AND THE CONWAYS (1937).

The Design, Set and Costume, in the traverse set-up of this theatre's playing area, by Isabel Hudson, is beautiful, complimented by the uncredited Lighting Design. The Compositional work by Nate Edmondson, is mostly stimulating, but occasionally over plays the emotional context of the story - manipulating us a little too obviously, where subtle underscoring would probably be more effective.

I saw LEAVES at its second preview. I have always liked the play and with a little patience through the first act was rewarded with a pleasant experience with this gentle play.

Monday, July 11, 2016


White Box Theatre and The Old 505 present, HURT, by Catherine McKinnon, at the 505 Theatre, Eliza Street, Newtown, July 5th-23rd.

HURT is a new Australian play, and is part of The Hurt Trilogy (HURT; KIN; OUT THERE WILD WILD WORLD), by Catherine McKinnon.

HURT, is set in a hospital waiting room, Designed well by Isabel Hudson, a grey-blue fluorescent bleakness and spareness, lit suitably pragmatically, by Martin Kinnane - with warm spots of colour for character direct conversation with the audience (although, the actors do not always find them to serve their purpose clearly enough!) Three characters, a wife, Mel (Meredith Penman), and her estranged husband, Dominic (Ivan Donato), wait through the off-stage trauma of their child's operation after a car accident, with a relative stranger, Alex (Gabrielle Scawthorn), who has more 'connection' to the circumstances of the story, then first understood by the audience. All the performances are exceptional, deeply committed and convincing, though the play's harrowing dramaturgical concerns become a little overwrought, lacking any real relief, comic or otherwise, to sustain the audience's full concentration.

The design elements of this play and the intensity of the acting of the material of the writing reminded me of a recent production of BLACKBIRD, by David Harrower, that I saw on Broadway earlier this year. And it is in the writing of Ms McKinnon, though relatively skilful, that the quality of difference lies. For, like the characters in BLACKBIRD there is real human tragedy in those of HURT, and like BLACKBIRD, there is a suspenseful reveal of the circumstances of the story. That these characters in Ms McKinnon's play are all "HURT", we are, accumulatively, left in no doubt. But, sometimes, there is a poetic over-reach of image, overdrawn and uncharacteristic to persona, and more nakedly the persona of the writer: e.g. "pools of light" etc, and a risible speech that has Dominic declare that his marriage to Mel has turned to "ash" - for, as it stands in this production at the moment, it is a statement of florid melodramatic poetics, from the writer, Ms McKinnon, rather than the character, Dominic. Too, Ms McKinnon has not created or plotted, Alex's presence in the scheme of the play, with enough plausibility, for us to believe, without patient concession, the interactions that are 'forced' to unravel in the reel of the drama - the popular reputation that Real Estate Agents have accrued, especially in a Sydney context, of the drive to make a sale, is not rebutted by this play, unfortunately, at all!

Kim Hardwick has Directed this production of this play with her usual riveting attention to detail in all of its aspects, but cannot disguise the flaws in the writing of the play. Like the recent production of Louis Nowra's INNER VOICES, at the Old Fitz, this production for Old 505, and its performances are better than the writing. Though, what Ms McKinnon does demonstrate with HURT, the first play of her's that I have seen, is the capacity to tell stories of the real, unflinching pain of being human.

You're a Good Man Charlie Brown

Hayes Theatre Co presents, YOU'RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN, based on the comic strip "PEANUTS" by Charles M. Schultz. Book, Music and Lyrics by Clark Gesner. Additional Dialogue by Michael Mayer. Additional Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa. At the Hayes Theatre, Darlinghurst, 5 - 30 July, 2016.

YOU'RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN, is a musical based on the comic strip, "PEANUTS' by Charles M. Schultz. I first saw the first version of this show, in 1970 at the Playbox Theatre (Phillip St ), Sydney, produced by Harry M.Miller. Then, again, in an extended and revised version, on Broadway, at the Ambassadors Theatre in 1999 - with, memorably, Kristin Chenoweth, as Sally.

The "PEANUTS" cartoon strip featured drawings of five-year-old kids: Charlie Brown, his sister Sally, 'crabby' Lucy, intellectual Schroeder, innocent Linus, with his blanket, and Snoopy, the dog, all spouting 'profound' observations of life, providing for its readers a kind of bluffer's guide to 'philosophy' for day-to-day survival in the gloom of the Atomic Age and Cold War era (later, as well, the last instalment was made in 2000). The comic panels of evidently young 'kids' partnered with 'balloons" of adult wit endeared and inspired generations of readers.

The Musical has no plot but just a series of comic strip vignettes impersonated by actors interpolated with song. Almost verbatim quotes from the cartoon series, I am told. It is a nostalgic 'love-in' for the fans of the comic strip - self-evident, when one watched the reaction of some of the audience around me - and a wry intrigue for those of us less imbued with the knowledge or owned-affectionate, nostalgic cultural references. The show is, for those of us who are relative strangers to the core material, a lighthearted froth of humour and moderately interesting music from the composers, Clark Gesner and Andrew Lippa.

Shaun Rennie has Directed - staged - this production with the ease of managing some very competent musical theatre performers: Ben Gerrard (Linus), Sheridan Harbridge (Lucy), Nat Jobe (Schroeder) Laura Murphy (Sally), Mike Whalley (Charlie Brown) and Andy Dexterity - he, making a late inclusion as a re-placement Snoopy. All of these actors give life to the comic caricatures with the knowing charm of adults playing witty precocious kids. I especially enjoyed the energy and brightness of Ms Murphy throughout, and she delivers: "My New Philosophy", as the best number of the night; the understated but accurate balance of Mr Jobe - his Beethoven 'Moonlight Sonata' song with Lucy, a gem of elegance; and the lisping ingenuousness of Mr Gerrard, as the saccharine blanket hugging scene stealer. For me, there is an edge slightly missing in Ms Harbridge's 'crabby' Lucy - her usual brio, inhibited by the boundaries of the characterisation, perhaps? Whilst Mr Whalley, as Charlie, does not have all of the 'heart' needed to endear us enough to the perennial loser, - it has, mostly, only a shiny gloss of permanent perplexity. Mr Dexterity gives us a brave performance, as Snoopy, considering the circumstances of it, but lacks the vibrant technical focus to fully claim it - it may, may, come as the season develops.

Technically, the show is not as aesthetically successful as it could be to help substitute - distract us - from the thinness of the Book conception. The Set Design by Georgia Hopkins, has some 'crushed' grey-white hanging curtains as backdrop and wing drapes, that are 'visually' untidy, but, on the other hand, allows the lighting Designer, Hugh Hamilton, to throw a variety of bright colourings onto them to create a range of 'popsicle-rainbow' mood shifts (although, the lighting coverage of the actors in highlighted spotting, is often, irritatingly, gapped with shadow holes). Tim Hope, takes advantage of Ms Hopkins' curtains as well, and has created some fun AV Design to support the material of the Book and Lyrics. The properties design and execution (Snoopy's kennel etc) is well done. and managed by Mr Rennie with great efficiency.

Choreographically, Mr Dexterity, has not asked enough of his actors, or stretched the possibility of that part of the musical too far - resulting in the dance being a little too obvious and repetitive - lively, but imaginatively, dull.

The Musical Direction, by Michael Tyack, is first rate, with a four piece band, delivered to us through a sympathetic Sound Design by Jed Silver, and, together, they keep this Musical, at the Hayes Theatre, truly ebullient, afloat.

YOU'RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN, is well enough done for one to enjoy oneself, and that is especially true, if you're fan of the "PEANUTS" population created by Charles M. Schultz, which a lot of my audience seemed to be.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Back At The Dojo

Belvoir and Stuck Pigs Squealing present BACK AT THE DOJO, by Lally Katz, in the Upstairs Theatre, Belvoir St Theatre, Surry Hills. 22 June - 17 July.

BACK AT THE DOJO, is a new play by Lally Katz. It is as eccentric in its character population and in its structural worlds as any of her plays have been, but, for me, is the best play she has given us. Even better than that other old fashioned but rewarding concoction, NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH, which we also saw at the Belvoir Theatre in August, 2011.

Just like that play, BACK AT THE DOJO, has its origins in her personal history - 'her personal myth-making' - in what she has been able to extrapolate about the early relationship between her mother, Lois, and father, Dan. Significantly, Ms Katz tells us, in her program notes, that much poetic licence has been taken in the invention of the story she tells here for an audience. "Most of my plays are a mixture of true stories and people from my life mixed with made up stories and dreams". But the greater affect of the play is the feeling that it has been inspired as a kind of love letter to her parents - for the old-fashioned warmth of the night in the theatre wraps one up comfortably, even on a cold winter night in Sydney.

Elder Dan (Brian Lipson) is caring for his unconscious wife, Lois, in a hospital room, when his estranged grandchild, Patti - for Patti Smith - a transgendered Patrick (Luke Mullins) - high on LSD, comes to visit her grandma. All does not go well, for Dan is finding it difficult to say farewell to his past with his wife, accepting the present possibility of her end, and to a future with his grandchild, Patrick, who he cannot accept as Patti. The conceit of Ms Katz's writing is to have Patti have an LSD vision of the meeting of young Danny (Harry Greenwood) and young Lois (Catherine Davies), who is waiting for her brother, Jerry (Fayssal Bazzi), at a Karate dojo run by the Sensei (Natsuko Mineghishi). The play is inhabited, too, with other characters, mostly, created by Shari Sebbens and Dara Clear.

The two worlds of the play, the hospital room and the LSD vision, intertwine with clarity and ease and is beautifully harmonised and elevated with the Eastern ritual of the dojo as presented by the Sensei. The play gains a level of a higher poetry in its playing by the company engaged in the Karate ritual and sensibility, for the greater, actual plot twists mainly sit in the dramaturgy of the everydayness soap opera of love (for others and self), sex and death -  oh, so familiarly.

It is, certainly, the presence and convincing performance by Ms Mineghishi - physical dexterity and vocal purity -throughout the production, that constantly lifts the experience of the play into a kind of transcendent meditation on the foibles of the bumbling actions, lives, of all these ordinary people, who resultantly, become subtly important in our observance. It is the tangible atmosphere of a world view that is spiritually enhancing and embracing that  tugs us into the dimension of accepting a universal brotherhood-sisterhood and the possibility of another 'time and place' than the one we are in.

BACK AT THE DOJO has been in development since 2010, with the Director, Chris Kohn and his company, Stuck Pigs Squealing. Ms Mineghishi, who runs her own dojo in Melbourne, has been part of the long six year process to bring this work to fruition - contributing valuable insight and discipline to the creative process in all the developments of the play. It is the great good luck of this production that she has been about to guide the discipline and 'space' of development time that has been given to this work.

All the performances are, generally, wonderful. Mr Greenwood, Ms Davies and Mr Bazzi especially skilful in delivering performances of great delicacy of choice and graduated feeling - understatement - avoiding the 'melodrama' of their characters' plight. Ms Sebbens has a 'wicked' time with her many, and sometimes swiftly changing impersonations, whilst Mr Clear creates his tasks efficiently. Mr Mullins, as Patti, has a bewildered presence and beautifully created detail of transgender, even if, he seems to be tempted to draw our attention to his work, occasionally, with a touch of self-awareness of physical and textural emphasis. When Mr Mullins is truly 'lost' in his character he communicates uncomplicatedly what the actor sometimes  feels a need to 'demonstrate' - taking us out of the belief mechanism to have us admire the actor rather than to stay mesmerised by his Patti. Not that he is helped or securely supported with his major interaction, that is with Mr Lipson, as Dan, who mostly plays in a bubble of self concern for his character with minimal effect of action on others, or reception of action from Mr Mullins.

The Set and Costume Design, by Mel Page, is pragmatic in serving the scenarios of the schemata. The Lighting Design, by Richard Vabre, but, most especially, the Composition and Sound design by Jethro Woodward create the "magic realist" lens for us to shift into the belief of all the dimensions of Ms Katz's play.

BACK AT THE DOJO, is a wonderful old fashioned experience in the theatre. I am very grateful to have had it. It is certainly the best of experiences that I have had at Belvoir for some time. I recommend it very much.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Love for Three Oranges

Opera Australia presents THE LOVE FOR THREE ORANGES, An opera in four acts and a prologue by Sergei Prokofiev. Libretto by the composer, for Vsevolod Meyerhold's adaptation of a play by Carlo Gozzi. In the Joan Sutherland Theatre at the Sydney Opera House,  June 22 - July 9, 2016.

THE LOVE FOR THREE ORANGES by Sergei Prokofiev, is in a revival season for Opera Australia (OA). This absolutely delightful production by Francesca Zambello premiered in 2005. I saw it then as well. Then, I remember, it was a shock, and a dazzling but confusing experience. Now, under the Revival Direction of Matthew Barclay, the affect of the performance was one of being 'tickled' continuously with a surreal, crazy fairy story laced with the warm-hearted mocking, by the composer, of some of the 'modes' of stage theory of his times - 1923 - and particularly in Russia - led by artists such as Vsevolod Meyerhold.

The King of Clubs (David Parkin) has a son, the Prince (Rosario La Spina) and fears he will die of melancholia, so engages Truffaldino (Kanen Breen) to teach the prince to laugh. There are complications from different factions in the court, of course, and when Fata Morgana (Antoinette Halloran), unwittingly triggers a laugh from the Prince, she pronounces a curse that the Prince will fall in love with Three Oranges and roam the world in search of them.  Off he goes, and has many adventures, including the meeting with a frightening Cook (Adrian Tamburini), and , at last, finds the Three Oranges, Linetta (Eva Kong), Nicoletta (Catherine Bouchier) and Ninetta (Julie lea Goodwin). The first two wither from lack of water, but Ninetta survives and the Prince and she are fated for each other. Unfortunately, whilst away informing his father, the King, a servant of Fata Morgana, Smeraldina (Victoria Lambourn) enchants Ninetta who is turned into a rat. Further complications ensue but all turns out well with the 'good' being rewarded and the 'bad' being punished. It is, as you just read, really, really silly. But in this wonderful production, Set Design by George Tsypin, Costume Design by Tanya Noginova, Lighting Design by Mark Howett, and choreography by Denni Sayers, one can suspend one's disbelief and simply and pleasurably indulge all the efforts of this work.

The performances by these singer/actors are cast firstly, rightly so, for their capability to sing the demands of Prokofiev and all, generally, fulfil those demands - some with more vocal presence than others. However, when the performer can sing the  compositional needs AND also act the material (silly as it is) one can be transported into a kind of ecstasy. Kanen Breen as Truffaldino is a star of some note for the OA. I cannot ever remember ever being disappointed with the conviction and skills of this performer, and it is a great joy to watch this artist, at last, have a role where he is more than a featured performer - Truffaldino is a co-lead!  Every demand musically is met, and on top of that he has an elastic physicality and a convincing psychological entry to the 'joie de vivre' of the zany figure he is playing, inherited from the Italian Commedia dell'arte. He is a comic perfection.

Too, Adrian Tamburini as the gorgon Cook, is tremendous fun - could there be a more amazing contrast of performance skills than what we saw, from this performer last week, in his very convincing Zuniga in the CARMEN? Not likely! Rosario La Spina, less an actor, still, has the 'spirit' of the material and keeps us engaged, whilst Julie Lea Goodwin, as the heroine, has less comic demands but has the 'good' heroine acting down pat, and she sings gorgeously. This is a very big demand on the whole of the OA company and they pull it off with a committed and flippant wit. Much discipline and spirit is required. One should, for honour's sake, acknowledge the Chorus members who play the 'Ridiculous Ones.'

The present staging by Mr Barclay, assisted by John Sheedy and Johanna Puglisi, is joy of clarity and wit. More, dare I say, than I can remember in the original showing. Everything seems settled and now, with a clarity of intention, that is co-ordinated into an entertaining whole. Set, Costume, Performers, Score and Libretto.  Anyone looking for an idea of the 'look', the 'feel' of absurdist, surreal staging, ought not miss this production from Ms Zambello - it is an object lesson of a successful approach.

The origin of the material is from the play of Italian Carlo Gozzi, the present translation of the libretto is by Tom Stoppard (witty, indeed,) and both the libretto and the music, has been master-minded by Prokofiev - in 1921 - and originally for the Chicago Opera in the good old US of A. Clearly, not written in Stalin's Russia - he would never have approved it. Remember what he did to Shostakovich in reaction to his LADY MACBETH OF MTSENSK DISTRICT, let alone, what he may have done to THE NOSE? The musical score is, famously, made up of 'bits and pieces', and deliberately so - but they are memorable 'bits and pieces' - one cannot help but being disarmed by the famous MARCH, of the opera,  often repeated during the course of the adventure.

Here is an OA production that deserved to be the Opening Opera for the 2016 season.  So much more interesting and arresting than the CARMEN. I sat there and recalled another crazy work, THE MAGIC FLUTE, and thought, if THE LOVE FOR THREE ORANGES were as exposed to the audience as that Mozart work, it may become a popular and alternative stalwart money-maker. It certainly has all the charm and all the magic and comic delight of that work. It should and does in this production appeal to all ages. Take your young ones.

THE LOVE FOR THREE ORANGES, thoroughly recommended. Go.

For you non-opera goers, remember it is an opera and they have to be able to sing as well as act. Make adjustments of expectancy.