Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Top Ten Theatre Productions in 2018 - Musicals, Cabaret & Concerts

If the goal of a theatrical work is to make an audience feel something, whether that be through laughter, tears, outrage, self-reflection, inquisitiveness, discovery or simply awe, then it's been a successful 2018.

It's perhaps no coincidence that three of the top ten productions in this category are Stephen Sondheim musicals. Oftentimes you can experience all of the above in the one production from this bonafide master.

This year, however, the top musical moved me to tears in a sublime exploration of what it means to create art. To be affected so profoundly by a piece of theatre is a boon beyond measure.

My top ten musicals, cabaret and concerts of the year:

1. Sunday in the Park With George - WAAPA

Yes, I cried. Both nights I went. Children and Art and Move On had tears rolling down my cheeks. Did I like the opening sequence in the second half? Not overly. But the first half is sublime as is the modern day return to the Island of La Grand Jatte. Every aspect of the production was exceptional - set & art design, costuming, lighting and sound, the orchestra - plus two wonderful lead performances.

"There was a buzz around two years ago that The Drowsy Chaperone was the best production in years at the Geoff Gibbs Theatre. Yes, it was that good. I'm here to tell you Sunday in the Park with George is right up there with it. Maybe even better and that's a debate I'm happy to have. This was an exceptional production of what is a masterwork by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine."

2. Into the Woods - Midnite Youth Theatre Company 

Not all fairy tales have a happy ending in the hands of Sondheim & James Lapine and the tonal shift after interval is jarring. But the storytelling is inventive and it's an extraordinary collection of songs. The young cast and orchestra tackled it with real verve in a most entertaining production.

"The show was led by three central performances that were very good indeed - Aleisha Archer as a feisty Little Red Riding Hood; Imogen Rabbitte, full of compassion as the Baker's Wife; and Cat Perez soars vocally and in scene chewing intensity as the Witch."

What a way to end the year! A rollicking couple of hours in the hands of a brilliant jazz band and three lead vocalists each with their own distinctive style and personality. It all gelled into an irresistible foot tapping evening Downstairs at the Maj. 

"The music is timeless – the slide of the trombone; the slap of the bass; fingers tinkling the ivories; the wail of a trumpet; the caress of a saxophone; the crispness of a snare. Together, sublime. Music to make you smile, to tap your toes, to sway in time to the beat. Then you add the voices. Playful and sexy, crooning, snarrrrrrrrling, soaring. Music and vocals working in harmony."

A farewell concert at the Ellington for a performer who made her mark in only a few short years in the independent theatre scene. An eclectic mix of songs from “Tin-Pan Alley, classic Broadway, West End blockbusters and European cabaret, concept albums, pop/folk crossovers, and contemporary Australian musicals with guest performer Megan Kozak adding her trademark vocal fireworks. 

"There is no doubt Perth is losing a unique talent. But there was a sense that Taryn has outgrown us and that bigger and better things await as she chases her dreams on the other side of the world. On the evidence of her body of work to date and this memorable performance London will be gifted with an accomplished performer who will flourish in the spotlight."

5. Cirque du Rhythm - WAAPA 

I have only recently been going to the concerts held by the percussion students who go under the moniker Defying Gravity. They are such joyous affairs with music from around the world performed on all sorts of instruments you might not normally hear. There is a real camaraderie between the students and with the guest performers, many who are successful alumni. 

6. Jones & Woods Retrospective - Holland St Productions

You're guaranteed to laugh your arse off at any of the musical comedies created by Messrs. Jones and Woods. Put together excerpts from all of those shows and you'll be reaching for an oxygen mask such is the sheer inventiveness of their humour and execution. 

"Their roster of productions has won multiple awards, toured nationally and internationally, and are among the best works created in this state in any performance medium in the last decade. My personal favourite, Point & Shoot is a spectacularly good work. But then all their shows are gems."

7. Assassins - Black Swan State Theatre Company 

The production started a little slowly and was perhaps lost in the cavernous Heath Ledger Theatre. But when you have a roster of talented vocalists and such an audacious concept for a musical then it's not long before it wins you over. Features one of my favourite moments when The Balladeer turns into something far more sinister. 

"Darkly humorous and inventive it's a cracking show. The Black Swan veterans were in fine form but the delight for me was seeing so many recent WAAPA graduates - Finn, Nick, Mackenzie, Natasha, Cameron, and Nathan up there on the Heath Ledger stage and doing so well in a high quality piece of theatre."

For people who like their festive season a little bawdy this was a sleek, laugh out loud funny, and inspired cabaret show poking fun at all sorts of social woes magnified under the pressure cooker of the family Christmas. 

"The original songs are clever and pointed in their observations but never shy away from some dark home truths while being hilariously delivered by Newman and Thomsett. And what a combination they are – Thomsett plays Bonnie as a character with a perky disposition whilst seemingly craving acceptance from her brother; while Newman is all faux outrage and confidence as Bailey."

9. From Marathon to Waterloo, In Order Categorical - WAAPA

I can't claim to be a Gilbert & Sullivan aficionado so this snuck up on me as an absolute treat. Performed on a gloriously presented set by the beautifully costumed and lit classical voice students, this production put a smile on my face from start to finish.

"Staged on a sumptuous set with accompaniment on piano by musical director Marilyn Phillips, the gorgeously costumed students sparkled. There was wit and joy aplenty and those glorious voices soared especially when the massed company was deployed."

[You might know that I detest lists that have ties as being lazy. There were genuinely four productions in consideration for the final spot on this list and the easiest thing in the world would be to name them all. However, I like to torture myself by making a decision. So, after much consideration and agonised hand wringing...]

10. Rock of Ages - Koorliny Arts Centre

Powered by an eminently likeable performance from Matthew Arnold as Drew with notable support from Timothy How as Lonny this was a raw and raucous production. The tribute to 80's power ballads and rock standards was all good cigarette-lighters-waved-in-the-air fun. 

Female Performer of the Year – Prudence Daniel

Such an assured performance as Dot in Sunday in the Park With George. Daniel sang beautifully and handled the dense lyrics faultlessly. But it was the depth of her acting that elevated this to something truly special. From embracing the inherent joie de vivre of the character to the disappointment of knowing Dot will always be second to her lover's obsession. Then the transformation to the much older Marie in the second half before the emotional triumph of Dot's return at the end. Extraordinary.

Male Performer of the Year – Jarrod Draper

Handled the demanding role of Georges Seurat and his grandson George with an aplomb that belied his age. Worked incredibly well with Daniel to establish the emotional core of their relationship and the main thrust of the piece in the first half. Switched gears to play the modern day grandson who returns to the site of the famous painting to encounter Dot in a moving final sequence. Sang well including the famous Finishing The Hat and does a mean dog impersonation to boot!

Special Mentions:

Will O'Mahony 

Added real flair portraying Charles Guiteau in Assassins with his The Ballad of Guiteau being a standout moment as he milked the walk up the stairs to the gallows with outstanding comic exaggeration. 

Elaina O'Connor

Won me over with an utterly infectious, high energy performance as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde. O'Connor was beautifully costumed, so totally likeable in the role, danced and sang with winning charm. 

Finn Alexander

Conveyed such a relaxed stage presence as his Balladeer commented on events before undertaking the startling transformation into Lee Harvey Oswald in Assassins. Alexander also showcased a wonderful voice that stood out in a cluster of excellent vocalists.

Pavan Hari 

Seemingly everywhere in his final year at WAAPA - composer, percussionist, dancer - he added to his Defying Gravity performances with contributions to The Crucible (composer), Ajax in Afghanistan (musical director) and percussionist for In The Heights. A charismatic performer and inventive composer you sense he is on the cusp of being a superstar in the world of percussion.

Cat Perez 

Perez had an excellent end to the year featuring as The Witch in Into the Woods where she displayed powerhouse vocals and a knack for stealing every scene she was in. Backed up with a harrowing portrayal in an original play staged at Murdoch's Studio 411. 

Jessie Gordon

I couldn't leave Gordon off any list of notable performances for the year. She was in fine form on her return from Spain with a characteristically mesmerising outing in Moonshinin'. An outstanding vocalist with well honed stagecraft, Gordon brings the glamour and sexiness mixed with an aura of mischievousness that is an irresistible combination.

Top Ten Theatre Productions in 2018 - Plays

Another Christmas is over and as the food coma slowly subsides it's time to cast one's mind back over the theatre landscape of 2018. I suspect I may have a somewhat more eclectic viewing pattern than many of the people who do such lists. Nor can I compete with those entities that have multiple reviewers whose coverage is therefore substantially larger. However, I did see some 70 productions during the year of which 38 were classed as plays.

The main takeaway is that there is good work being done year round in Perth. Not only in major hubs such as the theatres in the Perth Cultural Centre and at WAAPA but in the suburbs with vibrant community and independent theatre.

Fringe World offers a smorgasbord or productions every year though it will be interesting to see if its growth spurt can be sustained. There are sizeable rumblings of discontent from local artists about being cut out of a fair share of the pie. Time will tell if that situation will be remedied so that the people bringing in the punters, quite rightly, get a more equitable share of the profits for their creative labour.

Here now, my Top Ten plays that I saw during the year...

1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - The National Theatre of Great Britain

Nothing short of dazzling in its execution, this was world class theatre staged in the beautiful His Majesty's Theatre.

"The stagecraft on display is world class in all facets - set design, lighting design, sound design, movement and acting all working seamlessly. The play is moving, funny, thought provoking in an excellent script by Simon Stephens... a revelation. When a play is firing on all cylinders like this it is an utter joy to witness."

2. A Streetcar Named Desire - WAAPA

The Academy went all in on classics this year, mounting productions from revered playwrights such as Arthur Miller, Oscar Wilde, Anton Chekhov, as well as The Bard. None was more vividly brought to life, however, than this Tennessee Williams classic. 

"Tonight's production of A Streetcar Named Desire answered this fundamental question: Why do I go to the theatre? Answer: It's one of the few places I know where magic happens. Honest to goodness actual magic... The third year acting students crushed it out of the park led by Cameron Rouse who gave a stunning performance as Blanche DuBois."

3. Stuff Happens - WAAPA

One of the advantages WAAPA has is that it can cast 18 actors in its productions, something that is prohibitive cost-wise in professional theatre and strains available talent in community or independent theatre. The full effect of being able to deploy the full cohort was never more evident than in this damning indictment of the lead up to the Iraq War.

"Anger. Unbridled, fist clenching anger. Usually not a good emotion to have walking out of a play. In this case it was justified, well earned, and the exact state to be in... Excellent, urgent, relevant theatre to get angry about."

4. Fever - WAAPA 

The Aboriginal Performance students continue to mount excellent end of year productions. An achievement made all the more laudable by the fact that it is only a one year course. Fever follows in the footsteps of Rodeo Moon and last year's Windmill Baby as vibrant showcases of the outcome of that intensive yearlong training.

"Fever... is the most ambitious production I've seen out of this performing strand at WAAPA - two hours and twenty minutes in length with intertwined stories written by four acclaimed Australian playwrights that is densely packed and often elusive. It's a testament to course coordinator Rick Brayford's and visiting director Rachael Maza's work with these talented indigenous performers that they pulled off such a complicated work in quite stunning fashion."

5. End of the Rainbow - Koorliny Arts Centre

One of the premiere community theatre clubs in the state, Koorliny is perhaps best known for its musicals. That DNA does pulse through this tragic recounting of the last days of the legendary Judy Garland's life with many of her most famous songs featured. But it's the acting of all three leads that made this so compelling.

"The three actors were terrific in what, ultimately, is a tragedy as the tears of a few audience members demonstrated at the end. But what a rollercoaster ride to get to the final song; one that was preordained almost 80 years ago."

6. Arabian Nights - WAAPA

The 2nd year musical theatre students are always plunged into a non-musical production for their first public performance. WAAPA takes the third aspect of 'triple threat' seriously as acting chops are tested early. Simply put, this is the best introduction to a MT cohort I've seen in the last 5 years. There was a sense of playfulness that was infectious. 

7. 4x4x4: One Punch Wonder - The Actors' Hub

A passionate condemnation of toxic masculinity using comments and testimony from actual one punch cases combined with a boisterous physicality set in a boxing ring. Impressively, this was performed by young men speaking directly to their generation. Powerful.   

8. The Seagull - WAAPA

Another introduction, this time to the 2nd year acting cohort tackling a classic in the early going of the year. Staged in the black box space of the Enright Studio I found this suitably entertaining and a promising beginning for this group.

9. The Three Deaths of Ebony Black - Amberly Cull

A two-hander with puppets and live musical accompaniment that was touching, funny, and quirky. A gem of this year's Fringe World. 

10. Lysistrata - tempest

Speaking of classics, this comic tale of feminine empowerment in a time of war written over two millennia ago was updated to incorporate the #metoo movement to pointed satirical effect. 

"Excellent use of props (to hilarious effect in one memorable sequence) and costuming. Well acted, inventively staged, and as relevant now as it was over two millennia ago. Perhaps even more so. A breezy hour of theatre."

Female Performer of the Year - Cameron Rouse

The now graduated WAAPA student took on one of the iconic roles in theatre, that of Blanche DuBois, and simply blew the walls off the Roundhouse Theatre. The audience I saw the play with were mesmerised and happily discussing Rouse's performance afterwards. I was quite amped by what I had seen. The skill involved was outstanding, from the authentic southern accent to the slow unravelling into nervous breakdown. A magical performance in a terrific production. 

Male Performer of the Year - Joshua Jenkins 

In the exceptional piece of theatre that was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Joshua Jenkins gave an astonishing lead performance as Christopher Boone. Playing a character somewhere on the autism spectrum, he was always in the moment and truthful, whilst also navigating the physical demands of a production that had so much technical wizardry and precise movement. You could not take your eyes off him in an emotionally resonant performance. 

Special Mentions:

Jarryd Dobson

So convincing as George W. Bush in Stuff Happens that I was infuriated by the "aw shucks" charm that led to the disaster that was the Iraq War. 

Kian Pitman

Pitman had an excellent year with notable highlights being her light touch as Cecily Cardew in The Importance of Being Earnest; a very funny take on Romeo & Juliet that saw her adjudged co-winner of the annual Shakespeare Awards; and a fiery turn as Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Tegan Mulvany

Stood out in Thought Jar Productions final episode of the live science fiction radio play Atlantis. Mulvany showed great emotional range as her character was forced to recall memories past, present, and future in a riff on Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol. 

Rachel Monamy

A bravura performance as a caustic and profoundly wounded Judy Garland in the latter stages of her life in End of the Rainbow. Monamy has never been better, showcasing a range of emotions as Garland attempts yet another comeback to pay off years of debt due to drug and alcohol abuse. The acting is superb and... her vocal performance of many famous numbers is icing on the cake.

Sam Corlett 

Excelled as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire bringing a physicality and brutishness that belies his age. One to watch as he moves from student into the professional realm. Immensely talented yet down to earth and humble. 

Monday, 24 December 2018

My Favourite Local Writers 2012-2018

In the last of my retrospectives covering the years 2012 to 2018 I wanted to highlight those people perhaps closest to my creative heart, that being local playwrights and collaborators. The people who have created wonderful plays, musicals and cabaret acts that, at their very best, can compete with any new work anywhere else in the country.

There have been outstanding individual works - Stephen Lee's Madame Piaf immediately springs to mind - but this list is made up of those writers where I have seen more than one example of their creative output.

Thank you for the drama, the laughs, the entertainment, the discovery of new worlds and characters, of reflection and debate.

Tyler Jacob Jones & Robert Woods

A duo that is synonymous with award winning one act comedy musicals. Jones is the showman with dazzling lyrics and inventive books that skewer everything from reality television to the movie industry to our obsession with celebrities. Woods is the more stoic of the two when it comes to being onstage but his music is just as inspired. Together they are a perfect creative match. They also have a shared love of movies and movie making that is abundantly clear in how they approach their material. It's perhaps why their work resonates so deeply with me. Above all, they create smart, witty, laugh out loud funny musicals that are a joy to watch. They are also prolific as a Holiday Special and recent Retrospective amply demonstrates.

Highlights: Point & Shoot: A New Musical; Dr. Felicity Rickshaw's Celebrity Sex Party; Gravity the Musical

Tyler Jacob Jones is a fine dramatist in his own right with F**k Decaf and Becky Peterson Will Punch You In The Face notable examples. He also contributed to the excellent Skin Deep which lambasted the cosmetic industry with typical flair.

Jeffrey Jay Fowler & Chris Isaacs

Members of independent powerhouse The Last Great Hunt, Fowler and Isaacs combined their considerable writing talents to create two wonderful pieces of theatre featuring the same characters (that they also played) - FAG/STAG and Bali. There is a compelling honesty to their writing that comes from sharp observation and pointed social commentary. They can have an audience roaring with laughter in one moment then deathly silent the next. Consummate storytellers, they have an innate grasp of storytelling rhythms honed, I suspect, over many performances together.

Each has individually written notable plays with Isaacs' The Great Ridolphi an engrossing one man tour de force and Fowler impressing with perhaps his most mature work, The One.

Scott McArdle

McArdle was like a supernova at Murdoch University when I first came across him - from writing original works to acting, directing, lighting design, pretty much everything. Such indefatigable multi-tasking has continued since he graduated, adding publicist amongst other functions and being a popular fixture on the independent theatre scene. The scope and ambition of McArdle's writing has been a feature - contemplative dramas; a full superhero themed musical; bringing science fiction front and centre to the stage; and adapting Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as a passion project of considerable skill.

Highlights: Bye. Gone; Coincidences at the End of Time; Frankenstein; Between Solar Systems

Will O'Mahony

Perhaps the finest local exponent of dialogue writing I have witnessed over the last seven years. I adore his rapid paced rat-tat-tat exchanges between characters and the density of the information he has them impart. He builds in verbal motifs and repetition that has my Aaron Sorkin loving heart swooning. There is a somewhat off-kilter approach to his storytelling that I enjoy as it allows for such theatrical treats as a talking panda. But he doesn't shy away from emotionally wrenching drama as the final moments of The Mars Project and his contribution to the Loaded double bill attest.

Highlights: The Mars Project (WAAPA version); Tonsils + Tweezers; Coma Land

Hellie Turner 

Always in demand as a dramaturg and mentor, Turner seems to have specialised of late in bringing true life stories to the stage. Notably in uniquely Australian tales set during World War I and a searing reportage-based production tackling rape culture. There is often a lyrical quality to Turner's writing that suits the historical dramas even with their sense of doom and glimpses of impending horror. Project Xan, however, grabbed you by the throat and demanded you bear witness.

Highlights: The Dreaming Hill; The Lighthouse Girl; Project Xan

Tiffany Barton

The aspect I respect most about Barton's writing is the no holds barred, in your face approach. She illuminates extreme characters and behaviours with a forthrightness and honesty that you simply can't look away from. There is no guile or ego here. It may be blunt, it may shock, but it makes for riveting drama.

Highlights: Metalhead; Diva 

Noel O'Neill

To say O'Neill is prolific would be an understatement. He seems to have at least two to three of his plays being performed every year and is a fixture in the community theatre scene. His comedies are so popular he has even turned two of them into franchises. But it's his dramas that most impress.

Highlights: Under Any Old Gum Tree; Holly & Ivy; It's All Greek To Me

Izaak Lim & Nick Maclaine

Specialists in a certain type of cabaret show - take a musical theatre icon from the past and weave a tale about their life story while incorporating their most memorable songs. It's a winning formula that has seen entertaining explorations of Cole Porter and, I confess, someone I did not know much about beforehand, Dorothy Fields.

Highlights: You've Got That Thing!; Exactly Like You: The Magic of Dorothy Fields

Thomas Owen, Cal Silberstein & Jackson Griggs

Emerging from the UWA theatre scene this trio has been tackling that most difficult of beasts, the fully fledged musical with Owen and Silberstein on book and lyrics; Griggs composing the music. The first effort I saw was promising though perhaps trying a little too hard to impress while the followup was one of my favourites from 2016's Fringe World.

Highlights: How We Ruined MacArthur's Markers; Viva La Restoration

Gita Bezard

Another member of The Last Great Hunt, Bezard's writing has a lighter comic touch, oftentimes playing with farce and the exaggerations/preoccupations of youth. Even her most provocative play featured four female teenagers that are literally in a playpen.

Highlights: In A Bony Embrace; Girl Shut Your Mouth; The Talk

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Memorable Performances 2012-2018

Oh my I've seen some wonderful theatre over the last seven years in Perth. Professional productions, community theatre, independent theatre, student productions, even high school shows.

The level of talent never ceases to amaze me, both onstage and off. Seen everywhere from the cavernous performance space at the Heath Ledger Theatre to various black box theatres dotted throughout the city to hubs like The Blue Room and the ECU campus at Mount Lawley. Then there are the pop up venues come Fringe time and the beautiful, oftentimes heritage listed, community theatres in the suburbs.

Here are some of the most memorable performances I've seen since 2012:

Declan Brown (Bennett) & Luke Binetti (William) - Punk Rock, WAYTCo, 2014

"Declan Brown gives a wonderful performance as the utterly loathsome bully Bennett. He is a physical presence that intimidates all of the others but it’s his use of pointed sarcasm and humour that hits home early before he goes too far with his humiliation of Chadwick."

"Then there is seventeen year old Binetti who gives a spellbinding performance as William... For that transformation and its consequences to be handled so convincingly is a testament to Binetti’s skill."

Brittany Morel (Kate) - All My Sons, WAAPA, 2015

"Brittany Morel is simply superb as Kate. The ferocity of Kate’s conviction that Larry is still alive results in a woman who is barely in control and Morel plays this with great skill... That this seemingly anguished and deluded woman turns into something far more potent in the third act is remarkable and Morel’s transformation is riveting..."

Prudence Daniel (Dot) - Sunday in the Park with George, WAAPA, 2018

Such an assured and confident performance. You simply couldn't take your eyes off Daniel as she handled the emotional and lyrical complexities of Dot with aplomb.  

Suzie Melloy (Anita) - West Side Story, WAAPA, 2014

"Suzie Melloy gives a star making performance as the feisty Anita – she is simply superb and a real charismatic presence."

Kingsley Judd (Pongo) - Animal, Upstart Theatre Company, 2013

"Nothing is wasted or misplaced here. It is beautifully acted by Kingsley Judd... who clearly relish(es) working with such quality material."

David Gardette (Alfie) - A Man of No Importance, Playlovers & Irish Theatre Players 2015

"... anchored by a superb, multi-layered performance by David Gardette in the lead role. His Alfie is at turns conflicted, sweet, passionate, naïve, understanding, unbowed and such a warm presence throughout."

Rhianna McCourt (Irina) - Three Sisters, WAAPA, 2016

"With an expressiveness that belies her age, McCourt lets Irina’s emotion flicker across her face to stunning effect... Shock, horror, loathing, resignation, desperate attempts to convince herself of the possibility of happiness, an abject longing to travel to Moscow, the love for her sisters and fondness for Ivan... are all communicated throughout the play without a word."

Kieran Garvey (Martin O'Meara) - Under Any Old Gum Tree, Dramafest, 2014

"... brilliantly performed by Kieran Garvey... powerful, moving, insightful, occasionally funny and a blistering exploration of the devastation the Great War caused on those who survived No Man’s Land."

Ashley Rousetty (Man in Chair) - The Drowsy Chaperone, WAAPA, 2016

"His tone is conversational and... he demonstrated excellent comic timing and warmth in addressing and responding to the audience. It’s a nicely judged performance as Roussety imbues the character with enthusiasm, passion, some snark sure but also tinged with an underlying sadness or being ‘blue’ as Man in Chair would put it."

Rhoda Lopez (Edith Piaf) - Madame Piaf, KNUTS Theatre, 2013

"Talking to (writer/director) Stephen Lee after the show, he reinforced what was apparent for all to see – sometimes an actor is simply perfect for a role. Rhoda Lopez gives a bravura performance as Edith Piaf."

Amy Russotti (Amy/Dr. Rickshaw) - Dr. Felicity Rickshaw's Celebrity Sex Party - Holland St Productions, 2016

"... but it’s Russotti who is the star here dropping in and out of the titular character with relish. Her lower lip trembles as Rickshaw mentally salivates over the steamy concoctions she conjures. It’s a tour de force comedy performance that never lets up..."

Giuseppe Rotondella (Eddie) - A View from the Bridge, WAAPA, 2016

"Rotondella as Eddie gives one of the finest performances I have seen at WAAPA in the last few years. There are so many layers revealed from the forthright, cocksure man’s man who is confident in his position and status to the slow unravelling of that certainty as Eddie’s pre-eminence is questioned by all around him."

Felicity McKay (Vanda) - Venus in Fur, Black Swan State Theatre Company, 2015

"Felicity McKay is simply outstanding as Vanda. Her accent work is excellent and she slides in and out of various characters with astonishing ease, each one of them utterly distinctive so there is no prospect of confusion. She runs the gamut from playful, sexy, sensuous, commanding, dismissive, brash and refined but always with an underlying air of intrigue about who this person really is."

Cameron Rouse (Blanche) - A Streetcar Named Desire, WAAPA, 2018

"The third year acting students crushed it out of the park led by Cameron Rouse who gave a stunning performance as Blanche DuBois. And I mean stunning."

Clarence Ryan (Jake) - Metalhead, Creative Collaborations, 2015

"Ryan is superb as Jake – all coiled anger and aggression both physically and verbally. It’s an exhausting role and his physicality is outstanding – the fight sequences are well choreographed but it’s the manhandling of Gibson and Hampson that was achingly authentic and had the audience wincing."

Friday, 21 December 2018

The Productions That Made A Lasting Impact 2012-2018

Over the last seven years I've seen well over 500 shows. Phew! 

On reflection, these are the ten that have made a lasting impact. 

An oustanding collection of musicals and plays that are personal touchstones for a variety of reasons but most of all for this, the thing I crave every time the lights go down:

A good story well told. 

In no particular order...

Point & Shoot - Holland St Productions (2014-15)

For mine, the best original production originating from WA in the last 7 years. A superb one act comedy musical.

Animal - Upstart Theatre Company (2013)

Brilliantly written and acted, this brutal and provocative play left me gobsmacked, staged at the gritty PSAS in Fremantle.

Urinetown - WAAPA (2015)

I adored the satirical tone of this musical but it was the fierce choreography in the intimate confines of The Roundhouse Theatre that elevated this to memorable status.

The Drowsy Chaperone - WAAPA (2016)

Witty, gorgeous, laugh out loud funny, this was a dazzling musical that was a complete triumph for that year's graduating class.

A Midsummer Night's Dream - Acacia Prison & The Actors Workshop (2015)

An unforgettable theatrical experience that demonstrated the transformative power of theatre. Unique, raw, moving, and damn funny.

Festen - WAAPA (2014)

A gut punch of a play that was a brutal watch but utterly engrossing as the majestic horror unfolded.

Punk Rock - WA Youth Theatre Company (2014)

Featuring an outstanding young ensemble cast that demolished the set in the studio space at the Subiaco Arts Centre in a powerful and spirited performance.

Under Any Old Gum Tree - Noel O'Neill (2014)

Playwright Noel O'Neill may be better known for his comedy franchises but this is by far his best work. A devastating portrayal of a man traumatised by war.

The Day The Sky Turned Black - Ali Kennedy Scott (2012)

A bravura performance as Ali Kennedy Scott played multiple characters with aplomb to tell the heartbreaking story of the Black Saturday bushfires from unexpected angles.

Sunday in the Park with George - WAAPA (2018)

Made me cry. Went home and booked a ticket for the very next night. Cried again. Superb.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Moonshinin' - Perth Cabaret Collective (6 December 2018)

Take a few flights of stairs off Hay Street into the bowels of His Majesty’s Theatre, order a drink, take a seat, close your eyes, and listen. 

It’s not hard to imagine you’re in a nightclub in Berlin during the height of the Weimar Republic; or a club in New Orleans pretty much in any decade where jazz reigns supreme; perhaps even watching the Kelly Sisters perform in a dive in Chicago… before, you know, that unfortunate incident.

The music is timeless – the slide of the trombone; the slap of the bass; fingers tinkling the ivories; the wail of a trumpet; the caress of a saxophone; the crispness of a snare. Together, sublime. Music to make you smile, to tap your toes, to sway in time to the beat. Then you add the voices. Playful and sexy, crooning, snarrrrrrrrling, soaring. Music and vocals working in harmony. 

The Perth Cabaret Collective band and the talents of Jessie Gordon, Mark Turner, and Cougar Morrison.

An irresistible combination in the packed venue known simply as Downstairs at the Maj. Playing jazz standards and classic songs for almost two hours on an early summer’s night in the city. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Open your eyes and you are presented with a constellation of lights in the backdrop that will pulse and change colour throughout the evening. Illuminating the band, the performers, and the mood.

The sense of timelessness is aided and abetted almost immediately by Jessie Gordon appearing on stage like a movie starlet from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Gorgeous gown; winning smile; all confidence and sass. She works the audience with consummate ease before launching into Ain’t Misbehavin’ that sets the tone for what’s to come. Playful, sexy, and a little bit naughty.

Mark Turner is all suaveness and self-deprecation as he joins his childhood friend onstage. That friendship is immediately discernible in their banter and comfort in the other’s presence. They sing Dream A Little Dream to each other as if there was no one else in the room. An intimacy and authenticity that is compelling to experience. 

Then throw in the wildcard. The Queen of The Court, Cougar Morrison, who adds a sense of unpredictability and edginess. If it’s possible to upstage Gordon in the fashion stakes then Morrison does so with a battery of sequins, bold accessories, bolder make-up, and more costume changes than a Cher concert. But the lad can hold his own in the singing stakes while cutting a striking figure in a skin-tight gown. 

Morrison’s banter is far bawdier and he’s aware that his appearance may unsettle some of the punters. His mischievous “can you smell the fear?” as he prowls through the crowd at the beginning of the second set is priceless. But then so too is the acknowledgement of his parents in the audience and the support they have given him in his chosen career. It’s a touching moment, echoed later as Turner greets his own folks.

The nine-piece band under musical director Jess Herbert is in cracking form. They all get their moments to shine and together they are a rollicking sonic force. The exuberance of their playing is matched by the sheer talent involved. Of particular note is the trumpet playing of Matt Smith and Erin Royer on alto saxophone and clarinet. But they’re all damn good – Herbert on baritone saxophone, Luke Minness on tenor sax, Ricki Malet on 2nd trumpet, Tom Salleo on the trombone, the bass playing of Kate Pass, Tim Voutas adding ‘subtlety’ on piano, with Alex Reid on drums. 

The two set lists are littered with classics that are instantly recognisable. Some of the highlights – the classic St James Infirmary sung by Gordon that had me down in the New Orleans bayous; the slow build of Shake That Thing into a crescendo of vocals and musicianship – when the collective talent on stage is in mass attack mode as they were here then the table and chairs be a vibratin’!

Morrison delighting in rolling more R’s than a hundred Edith Piaf impersonators whilst singing C’est Si Bon. Turner crooning his way through I Get A Kick Out of You and The Way You Look Tonight; the chaos Morrison brought at various points, one of which was a duet with Turner on a retro-fitted Lady Is A Tramp. The trusty crowd-pleaser Mein Herr with Gordon at her cheeky best as she expertly builds to a thumping conclusion with that glorious voice. The instrumental jams such as Climax Rag.

All culminating in Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend, the Moulin Rouge arrangement no less, that would have made Nicole Kidman blush as a now pneumatic Morrison breathed new life into Satine; with an encore of Gordon and Turner, best friends fittingly together, doing Kander and Ebb’s wistful Nowadays.

There are only two more shows of this incarnation, all no doubt sold out. But never fear, the Perth Cabaret Collective will be showcasing an hour-long version at next year’s Fringe in the magical Edith Spiegeltent. On the evidence of this performance it will be one of the hottest tickets in town.

*Images courtesy of Claire Alexander

Monday, 29 October 2018

'Tis the Season... - Maverick Newman & Stacey Thomsett (28 October 2018)

Ah, Christmas. A moment when families come together in the spirit of goodwill and friendship to spend quality time in celebration of whatever their beliefs dictate. A joyous time of bonhomie and inclusion; of catching up with loved ones and relatives perhaps otherwise unseen. But that’s for functional families… and where’s the fun in that?

Brother and sister Bailey (Maverick Newman) and Bonnie (Stacey Thomsett) come from a decidedly dysfunctional family. Their parents are divorced, and Dad seems to go through more girlfriends than a gluttonous uncle gorging himself on the fruit mince pies. Christmas festivities are therefore beset by all sorts of lecherous rellies; family secrets; and a revolving door of wannabe mums.

What better way to cope than to stage a cabaret and sing about the trials of tribulations of their annual Christmas ordeal? Yes, the audience is complicit in this witty and perceptive hour-long cabaret that received a raucous reception upstairs at the Lazy Susan’s Comedy Den.

The Christmas setting is a smart way to explore all sorts of issues – intolerance, whether it be political, sexual, or religious; the stereotyping of gender and age groups; the mocking of family dynamics (and what more stressful setting is there than at Christmas time?); inappropriate behaviour by older men at such gatherings; and generally making fun of sibling rivalry and the oddball characters you might find in any family.

The original songs are clever and pointed in their observations but never shy away from some dark home truths while being hilariously delivered by Newman and Thomsett. And what a combination they are – Thomsett plays Bonnie as a character with a perky disposition whilst seemingly craving acceptance from her brother; while Newman is all faux outrage and confidence as Bailey. With a quick costume change and a couple of glorious wigs, he also plays the guests – 13 year old Maisie (who demands to be called Maz) who sings of her love of an unlikely suitor in Love is Love (Maz’s Lament); and Patricia who’s trying a little stand-up comedy to disastrous effect.

The byplay and stagecraft of the two performers is excellent – the choreography of Newman’s and Thomsett’s movement in the tiny space is slick; the looks and asides all perfectly timed for maximum comedic effect. Then there are the vocals with the two newly minted WAAPA musical theatre graduates equally adept at belting out a gospel tune such as Praise Be; the jaunty opening number Christmas Time; or the standout torch song I Don’t Need a Boyfriend.

It’s a simple set-up with two microphone stands and a keyboard. Both take turns supplying the musical accompaniment with those transitions amusing in themselves. Add some dramatic lighting, notably for the extended sequence of role-played surrogate mum introductions during the defiant I’m Not Gonna Call You Mum; a touch of piped in choral flourishes; and those unruly wigs and you have an effective backdrop to the onstage antics. 

The humour can be bruising with quite a few “should I be laughing at this?” moments as you howl with approval. But that’s the strength of the premise – everyone can relate to the bizarre goings on of a family Christmas. Pushing this to extremes only enhances the fun. Throw in some embarrassing call and response confessions that have a perfect payoff from the audience and this is a bawdy, riotous show that is sure to put a smile on the face of even the sternest, bah-humbag Santa hater.