Friday, 20 June 2014

West Side Story - WAAPA (19 June 2014)

There are times when you can sense something special is about to happen; a certain electricity in the air, a tingling sensation, a premonition almost. This elusive feeling is even more powerful when it’s a shared experience. Like sitting in a theatre as it slowly fills; watching performers warm up on stage; hearing the orchestra go through their own pre-show preparation; seeing the smoke drenched set and lighting arrays;  listening to the excited chatter of the audience; taking in the smiles of enthusiastic ushers as they help people to their seats.

Suddenly there is the polite announcement about photography and electronic devices. Then absolute quiet. For all of about a second. A shared hush of expectation that is as exquisite as it is fleeting… before the musical director’s baton descends and a lone performer walks on stage and we’re away.

It’s not a feeling I get often but the buzz around WAAPA’s mid-year showcase production at the Regal Theatre has been enormous and I was hoping, expecting, pleading for magic and that’s exactly what was delivered – magic of the most potent kind. If you had told me that baton was a wand I would have believed you.

This is a huge and wildly ambitious production by WAAPA and they’ve thrown everything at it – from a cast of 40 drawn from the second and third year musical theatre students to a 26 piece orchestra, again populated by WAAPA Music students, to the skills of their Production and Design students – the quality and attention to detail in every department is evident. This is nominally a student production but it looks and sounds like a professional, big budget musical. This is a triumph for all involved. 

The set is ingenious with four ‘towers’ (comprising scaffolding, platforms and stairs) that move, often during scenes, but fit together in different combinations to form various locations and are the centrepiece for many memorable moments such as the Balcony Scene. The intricacies of the staging seemed effortless but would have taken many, many hours to get so seamless especially with the number of performers involved.  

The lighting is wonderful and I’m told those towers were actually made of wood but lit to look like metal. It certainly had me fooled. The costuming is colourful and distinctive, clearly delineating the Jets and the Sharks as does the impressive work on the diverse accents, notably for the Latino Sharks. The orchestra was in ripping form and musical director David King definitely had a talented group at his disposal. Choreography by Lisa O’Dea was vibrant and energetic - the cast tear into set pieces like America and Gee, Officer Krupke with real verve. Director Crispin Taylor has attacked this with imagination and flair and the results show in all these elements.

Then there is the cast.   

WAAPA is rightfully proud of its status as one of the top performance academies in the world. When you see that talent arrayed on stage in such a challenging and acclaimed musical you come to understand how very true and earned that status is. They were superb. From the leads on down to the ensemble, from their vocal ability to the slick dancing, you sit back and marvel at the sheer talent on display. The greatness of West Side Story is it presents many different facets for them to explore – at its heart it’s a very dark piece but also sexy, vibrant and fun. There is a joy and exuberance here that is eminently watchable and, of course, there are many wonderful songs that are simply classics such as Maria, Somewhere, America, and Tonight.

William Groucutt nails one of those (Maria) and was a very likeable Tony. Miranda Macpherson shines as Maria and her chemistry with Groucutt is good especially in the more playful moments. Suzie Melloy gives a star making performance as the feisty Anita – she is simply superb and a real charismatic presence. Patrick Whitbread’s Riff and Lyndon Watts’ Bernardo are both suitably strong as the leaders of the respective gangs and the physicality of the male roles was impressive. Jacob Dibb plays the key role of Chino (especially in the darker second act) while Daniel Berini and Nick Eynaud add light comic relief as Detective Schrank and Officer Krupke. Shannen Alyce takes lead vocal on Somewhere to great effect which is a highlight as the amassed cast join in. 

The third years will graduate soon and on the evidence of this and Hair earlier in the year we’ll be hearing a lot more from most if not all of them. The second years gave an exciting glimpse into 2015.

This truly was a spectacular production and WAAPA’s presence on the Perth theatre landscape is an ongoing joy. West Side Story, directed by Crispin Taylor, Musical Director David King and Choreography by Lisa O'Dea, has only three more performances, 20-21 June. If you can get a ticket this is a not-to-be-missed show. 

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Realism - WAAPA (17 June 2014)

Ever have one of those Saturdays where you simply can’t be bothered? Hanging out with your mates, playing footy, none of it has any inspiration for you? You just want to mope around, watch the tellie, do some washing and pretty much that’s it.

That’s the predicament we find Liam (Liam Maguire) in when he tells his mate “Solley” (Adam Sollis) to bugger off in the opening minutes. Yes, the play allows for the actors to retain their own names, one of many quirks. For you see, Liam is about to spend the day preoccupied with three women and a surly cat. Not in any conventional sense mind you, oh no.

Liam brings images from his television set to life; recalls memories about his parents, notably his mother (Alexis Lane); reminisces about his first love, Harriet (Harriet Davies); and pines for his most recent girlfriend, Kirsty (Kirsty Marillier) who he inexplicably broke it off with even though he loves her. Then there is the cat (Sollis again) who in typical feline fashion treats Liam as an annoying pet. He is egged on by his hyperactive alter-ego, Alfie (Alexander Frank) while Ben Kindon plays his father.

In essence this is a series of set piece scenes that vary from the realistic to the surreal, held together by a very engaging central performance from Maguire. He is blokey, charming, mischievous, excitable but also introspective when required. It was billed as “in yer face” theatre and, sure, there is plentiful use of the C-bomb, simulated sex, partial nudity, and other antics but I didn’t find any of this confronting as it’s wrapped in an imaginary world with no real consequences. Not even the television inspired murder re-enacted in Liam’s mind with him as the victim. 

It is laugh out loud funny in moments – many moments actually – and works better in its frenetic ‘dreamscape’ than in any realism depicted such as Liam making breakfast or Liam getting dressed which is all very languid. There is some attempt at poignancy in quieter scenes and even a little pontificating about love but this felt slight when the real reason he ended the relationship with Kirsty is revealed.

The acting is good and the cast certainly throw themselves at this full tilt. Sollis has scene stealing moments not only as the cat but as a telemarketer with cerebral palsy (the humour is politically incorrect and deliciously black at times); Lane gives a spunky performance as the Mother; and Frank literally jumps out of his skin in a very physical performance. Davies unveils a superb singing voice in a key sequence and is fearless in one of the raunchiest scenes involving a toilet seat and, well, two other people. Marillier is an enticing Kirsty who Liam impatiently waits to call while Kindon has the least flashy role as the father.

Highlights are a show stopping musical number where the lyrics could most politely be described as ‘colourful’; the whole telemarketing sequence which starts off as a verbal exercise where Alfie cajoles Liam into abusing the caller only for Liam’s mother to announce the telemarketer has arrived in person… in a wheelchair with some lovely sight gags and appropriate humiliation; the surprising appearance of the mother in an unexpected place as Liam does his laundry; Sollis’ disdainful and surly cat; and there is a lovely use of a working shower of sorts as Liam tries to understand his emotions towards Kirsty. One of the stagehands (who are used as de facto characters) even has a conversation with Alfie about her job which is all very clever and self-aware.

I can certainly say I laughed throughout but I found the play as a whole uneven and occasionally perplexing (carrots anyone?). Ironically it works best when it’s not depicting realism at all. It’s the inventiveness and sheer craziness of Liam’s interior world that is fascinating. If the point is we can find the fantastical even in the most mundane of things then it hits its mark but that didn’t seem to gel with the conclusion to the relationship drama at the heart of this.

Written by Scottish playwright Anthony Neilson and Directed by Anthony Skuse, Realism is on at The Roundhouse Theatre until 19 June.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Coincidences at the End of Time - Second Chance Theatre (12 June 2014)

The apocalypse is upon us my friends! Meteors plummet into populated areas. Giant crocodiles that may (or may not) be Godzilla that may (or may not) be the American or Japanese version that may (or may not) breathe fire are on the rampage. Bodies litter the streets.

Relief is at hand for Peter who has found refuge in a quiet café at the end of the world. It’s not quite the Restaurant at the End of the Universe but it certainly is a welcome respite from ‘out there’... until a blood spattered woman, Rachel, enters… who happens to be Peter’s ex. Not just any ex as we’re about to find out but what could be best described as ‘The One’ as he is for her.

The night time temperatures may have been plummeting in Perth but that’s nothing to the frosty reception these two initially give each other. But time is running out and what else is there to do but talk about the past, both good and bad, and re-examine two lives once so intimately entwined?

Writer Scott McArdle (who plays Peter) isn’t so much interested in the apocalypse other than to use the concept of the world ending as a context to explore these two people and their relationship over the course of a lifetime. There is no future for this couple but this also gives them the freedom to share experiences and memories; some for the first time, some joyful, some painful, some full of doubt, regrets and even perceived betrayal.

In effect, we witness a series of flashbacks – ‘landmarks’ in their journey together. The conceit here is that they choose what ‘scenes’ to reenact - the first meeting, moving in together, work issues, significant highlights but also notable lowlights that point to the antagonism portrayed in the present. Revelations are disclosed towards the end that lends further poignancy.

McArdle is good as the rumpled, fatalistic Peter but it’s Emily David as Rachel who really shines in a nuanced performance – angry, loving, playful, morose – her character is the one who thought she might live forever yet discovers ‘forever’ has a used by date. The sequence where she is alone on stage including holding an ‘imaginary breakfast’ with Peter is very well performed.

The transitions between the present and the flashback scenes are aided with minimal costume adjustments, lighting (essentially naked light bulbs) and original music composed by Drew Krapljanov who is putting together an impressive list of scores including The Pillowman earlier in the year and SCT’s very own Bye. Gone. It’s the acting, however, that clearly delineates the various timeframes as mood changes are beautifully conveyed.

The dialogue is very strong and everything is paid off nicely – from the reprising of lines (no, I’m not mumbling) to the reward of earlier set-ups as we discover what happened after they split up and, perhaps more importantly, what they hoped might have happened. Scott and Emily have good chemistry together, essential as there is real closeness in the physical nature of their early flashback scenes. There is a wry sense of humour throughout.

The only query I had is when other characters are portrayed – a Doctor and Rachel’s mother. The conversation between the Doctor and Rachel signifies a substantial change in POV for the first time (in that it’s not a shared recollection between Peter and Rachel); the latter is almost a Python-esque style sketch that was tonally jarring.

This is an intimate examination of a couple so the choice of venue, an actual café in Fremantle, adds to the ambience. Seating only thirty I was a mere metre away from the action in the front row. There was no place for either actor to hide and they did a wonderful job.

Written by Scott McArdle and co-directed by Scott and Emily David, Coincidences at the End of Time is being staged once a month at the Moore & Moore café in Fremantle until September. Next performance is 10 July at 7pm and the play runs for approximately 45 minutes. 

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

A History of Happiness - Hayman Theatre Company (11 June 2014)

Ah yes, that elusive state we all strive for – happiness. But what does it mean to be truly happy? What has it meant down through the ages? What does it mean to YOU?

These are some of the questions posed by acting students from Curtin University in this 90 minute, self-devised production that is comprised of vignettes from moments in history, dance, direct audience interaction, various narrators, and even a ‘happy counsellor’.

The last of which I became acquainted with after being asked a question early on in proceedings and led out to the ‘happy room’ downstairs where I had a nice chat with said counsellor and sampled the assorted creams. (We agreed that the Monte Carlo is clearly the best choice in this regard. Another two audience members also had ‘counselling sessions’ though I can’t vouch for their biscuit preference!)

Back inside and the Neanderthals are giving way to Philosophy as we start asking questions about the nature of happiness and our place in the world before Religion arrives to shut down this practice and provide a ‘definitive’ answer (as Joan of Arc discovers in a re-enactment of her fiery demise). The discovery of Capitalism declares Money to be the new God before Power takes over and finally Freedom presents us with an overabundance of Choice. These moments are played with the majority of the company of some 35 actors on stage and I apologise for not naming the individuals until the end of this review as I am unfamiliar with most of them. Included in this are some four narrators deployed at various stages - setting the scene, interacting directly with the audience and each other, with one even asking questions of the actors. 

This is where the piece really shines because within the overarching construction of the ‘history’ there are recurring scenes - essentially two-handers - that examine different aspects of happiness and, interestingly, love.

The standout of these is a couple who are shown, mainly through dance, falling in love, being in love, falling out of love, then reconciling, with, if I interpret the last beat of the last scene correctly, impending parenthood. This was beautifully acted and handled.

Then there’s the anorexic egged on by his subconscious to exercise and lose weight, ever more weight, otherwise he is a disgrace. This arc has both dark and light with some nice comic moments by the two actors including an old-fashioned surprise that I won’t spoil but was a ‘laugh-gasp-out-loud’ moment.

We have two obsessive-compulsives who find each other after separate dates at the same restaurant go horribly wrong due to their ‘weirdness’. Again, full of humour but also a nicely narrated commentary about how love is sometimes about when two people find and accept each other’s weird habits and obsessions.

There is also a virginal, God-fearing woman in white hounded by a black clad Satan that has an interesting role reversal as the theme of Power is introduced in the context of relationships and how we handle that.

Lastly, there are six actresses who we see as young children around the age of 5-6 drawing on the back wall of the stage; then later as teenagers in what ends up being a quite raunchy sequence with the other cast joining them on stage doing what teenagers do; then as young mothers, and finally as elderly women. They are questioned by one of our narrators about what makes them happy, about their life choices, work choices, regrets, and the like. This personal history dovetails nicely with the larger history being told. There is a quiet highlight at the end of this sequence when the ‘surly’ one gives a quite moving plea to allow yourself to be marked by the dirt of life lest you end up in a nursing home alone, childless, with no friends.

When A History of Happiness first started it felt a little chaotic but then all these different threads were slowly deployed and this construction for a self-devised piece is quite elaborate and thematically impressive. There is also a great sense of zest in the performances and you can see the time and care the cast have invested. This is reinforced at the end when one of the actors simply states that being on stage performing is what makes the cast happy and it’s a wonderfully genuine and heartfelt statement. The cast sing Pharrell’s smash hit ‘Happy’ (of course) as they dance their way off stage before the audience is entreated to go out and find their own happiness.

This is a fun show with great use of humour and movement but it is also quite perceptive in its interrogation of what happiness is for without showing the dark how can we truly know the light?

There are three more performances, 12-14 June, upstairs at the Hayman Theatre and stars the Curtin University Performance Studies Devised Class of 2014: Zoe Barham, Samantha Barrett, Roisin Bevan, Holly Dodd, Danen Engelenberg, Rachel Foucar, Amy Johnston, Georgia Knox, Josh Lang, Lachie MacDonald, Kayla MacGillivray, Jim Maxwell, Gemma Middleton, Ashleigh Morris, Ellie Morrison, Amri Mrisho, Daniel O'Brien, Monty Sallur, Nicole Sandrini, Polly Seah, Aaron Smith, Emma Smith, Georgia Smith, Georgia Spencer, Madison Stirling, Zara Suryani, Nattida Thongin, Amelia Tuttleby, Savannah Wood and Judy Young.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Oliver! - Mandurah Performing Arts Centre (7 June 2014)

There was a moment during the first act of Oliver! that I caught myself grinning like a loon. On stage over sixty cast members including some forty children were performing a standout number that was simply joyous. 

When musical theatre gets it right, when everything is firing on all cylinders – the performances, the vocals, the orchestra, set, costume, lighting, everything – it is a sight and sound to behold. The joy is evident in those on stage (and implicit in the music pit) and is reciprocated by the audience in spades. It’s what makes musical theatre so magical - that joy and sheer optimism is infectious and a counterpoint to the anti-heroes and cynicism that populate much of the small and big screen these days.

This is the third production I have seen at the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre directed by Karen Francis after Hairspray (2012) and The Phantom of the Opera (2013). Francis picks crowd-pleasers that pull eager audiences and are big in scope and ambition. In Oliver! she has outdone herself - a huge cast of well over sixty that features forty children; a twenty piece orchestra that was in top form; and what I’ve come to expect from all of her productions, impressive set design that takes advantage of the spacious MPAC stage and attention to detail in the costuming. What especially stands out with this production is the lighting – it’s a beautiful looking show with copious use of smoke to enhance the lighting design.

Then there are the songs. Oliver! is littered with memorable numbers – Consider Yourself, You’ve Got To Pick A Pocket, Oom-Pah-Pah, As Long As He Needs Me and so on. It was during Consider Yourself that I was smiling away happily but every number is so well staged and sung. It is foot-tapping, rousing material that is thoroughly entertaining.

To the story - Oliver (Ryan White) is an orphan in a workhouse who has the audacity to ask for more food from Mister Bumble (Scott Hansen). For his trouble he is sold to undertaker Mister Sowerberry (Rory Ellis) to be his apprentice. Oliver promptly runs away and ends up meeting the Artful Dodger (Bailey Bridgman-Peters) in London who takes him to Fagin (Jon Lambert), the leader of a band of pickpockets. Oliver’s first attempt as thievery doesn’t go well, however, he ends up with the wealthy Mister Brownlow (Peter Sydney-Smith) who could be the provider of a better life. This doesn’t sit well with Fagin’s notorious associate Bill Sikes (Tom Hennessy) who abducts Oliver over the protests of his put upon girlfriend Nancy (Sky Ogier). Events come to a head with a tragic end for Nancy, the demise of Sikes, and Oliver’s rescue. Fagin remains as he ever was… or will he seek an honest living as he disappears off stage laughing?

That brief summary hardly does justice to a story populated by so many other memorable characters. It also bears some resemblance to that other ‘orphan’ musical, the one from across the Atlantic – Annie – that was on at Koorliny Arts Centre recently. Oliver! is much darker in places but both are preoccupied with the quest to (find and) better yourself and interestingly the involvement of a wealthy benefactor to assist you in doing so (Brownlow, Warbucks).

Like Annie, the title role here is critical though it could be argued that Oliver is quite a passive character mainly reacting to events that swirl around him. White is solid as the eponymous character and has a couple of lovely vocal moments, especially with Where Is Love. Hennessy is a suitably menacing Sikes and his showpiece number My Name is very well done. Sky Ogier is a standout as Nancy with a wonderful rendition of As Long As He Needs Me and a raucous Oom-Pah-Pah. Hansen has enormous fun as Mister Bumble and Jon Lambert is excellent as a charismatic Fagin. To think Lambert was the lumbering monster in Young Frankenstein earlier in the year and the contrast is astonishing. Bridgman-Peters is a cheeky Artful Dodger with the rest of the supporting cast all good. Then there is the huge ensemble mainly comprised of children which is a delight especially when the whole company is on stage.

There are so many highlights but three that immediately stand out are: the jaunty Consider Yourself is superb; As Long As He Needs Me strips away the multitudes to shine a spotlight solely on Ogier and she excels; and the extended Who Will Buy features members of the ensemble in fine voice, including Samantha Ferguson, in what is quite a moving sequence. I should also mention the on-stage violin work of William Huxtable who I initially thought was mimicking before realising, no, he actually is playing and is very good!

This really is an impressive production and I apologise to all those people I haven’t mentioned. When it finished a woman turned to me and exclaimed, “Wasn’t that brilliant?” It’s hard to argue otherwise and there was certainly a buzz as the audience was leaving the full matinee session.

Oliver! is directed by Karen Francis with Musical Director David Hicks, Choreographer Andre Beissel and Vocal Director Kristie Gray. There is only one performance remaining, Sunday at 6.30pm which, according to the MPAC website, is deservedly sold out. 

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Broken Glass - GRADS (5 June 2014)

1938 and the infamous Kristallnacht takes the harassment of Jews in Nazi Germany to new levels as a precursor of the horror to come. In Brooklyn, a Jewish woman - Sylvia Gellburg (Maree Grayden) - obsessed by the newspaper reports of the persecution suddenly finds herself unable to walk. Baffled by this, her husband Phillip (Geoff Miethe) engages the services of Doctor Hyman (Neil Cartmell) who becomes personally invested in finding the cause.

The great Arthur Miller, Nazis, American Jews and what was billed as a mystery has me intrigued. What I quickly come to realise is that this play is essentially two things: a kitchen sink, husband-wife melodrama; and an exploration of what it means to be Jewish. I have no personal context for the latter which infuses the play especially in the second act and therefore I felt emotionally distant from its characters and message. The ‘mystery’ of the marital breakdown is related to this over-arching theme and allusions to events in Germany are none too subtle thematic buttresses.

However, I was interested in how the play was constructed, predominantly as a series of two-handers with only two, maybe three moments I recall with more than two people in a scene - Husband and Doctor, Doctor and Wife, Husband and Wife, Doctor’s Wife and Husband, Wife and Sister and so on. This means it’s quite a static play and very dialogue heavy.

The set is beautifully appointed – stage left is the doctor’s office; centre stage is the Gellburg’s bedroom; stage right is the office of Stanton Case (Phillip Mackenzie) who Phillip works for. Cellist Sophie Parkinson-Stewart is situated back of stage behind a transparent screen and adds texture and tone with music composed by Grant Olding.

Cartmell is good as Doctor Hyman but in many ways his character is essentially a device – his occupation allows him to constantly ask questions of both husband and wife to probe and reveal the true state of the Gellburg marriage. In this respect many of the questions are oddly personal. There is an attraction manufactured between his character and Sylvia that allows him to (almost) get away with this. Grayden gives a strong performance as the neglected wife though the latter stages do verge into heavy melodrama as confessions are made and declarations intoned.

Georgia Jones as Mrs. Hyman adds much needed sassiness and Sally Barendse has a couple of lovely moments as Sylvia’s sister, Harriet. These two characters add life to what otherwise is pretty earnest material. Mackenzie has three scenes as the wealthy businessman who gets cheated out of a property deal due to Phillip’s misunderstanding of events. Miethe, however, did not have the best of nights as the main character, struggling with his dialogue throughout. Hopefully this is only opening night nerves as it affected key scenes, his characterisation, and created a few awkward moments.

I found the play difficult to embrace as it has a very specific message in mind which I can intellectually understand but have no emotional connection to. It is, however, an Arthur Miller play so there are some nicely written exchanges and the cello music does add another layer.

Directed by Barry Park, Broken Glass is on at the Stirling Theatre in Innaloo until 14 June.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Absolutely - Flaming Locomotive (4 June 2014)

What makes a person decide to become a performer? What are the influences that shape that performer? How does an introvert become a clown in the world famous Cirque du Soleil? 

What does this all have to do with Vikings, cheese and vegemite sandwiches, and the Fosbury Flop?

Absolutely is the fascinating insight into the journey of Allan Girod from introverted grammar school boy to international performing artist.

What immediately grabs you is the intimate, stripped down nature of this one hour show. But show is probably the wrong word because even though there is a performer ‘on stage’ and symmetrically arranged audience members it felt more like a chat, as if Allan is talking only to you. He is a warm and generous storyteller who is candid, funny, insightful and reflective about key moments in his life. There is a genuineness and honesty here that is compelling but also a little mischief and gentle humour throughout.

I won’t go into the specific details of the journey – this is Allan’s story to tell and for an audience to discover and delight in – but it starts all the way back at his Year 10 social, takes us to his first job in the country, the exact moment of his epiphany about becoming a performer, to developing his first show, touring to Canada, and the Cirque du Soleil experience.

There are moments that will truly resonant if you have ever tried to create your own work, or stepped on a stage, or suffered the indignities of high school or indeed a job you weren’t suited for. There is the joy and amazement at revelations along the way as well as the decisions and sacrifices that have to be made. Then there is the perfect plan, tried and tested, for a certain computer strategy game. Trust me, this is important!

It is quite a remarkable story with a glimpse into the inner workings of the world renowned Cirque du Soleil only one of the highlights. Some of the quieter, more introspective moments are perhaps the ones that will linger with you longer.

There are three more shows 5th, 6th, 7th June, 8pm at Chrissie Parrott Arts in Maylands with proceeds going towards Allan touring the show to Edinburgh. There is also a crowdfunding campaign where public pledges are matched dollar for dollar by Creative Partnerships Australia and The Blue Room Theatre.

One of the motifs I will share is how Allan sensed the voices of all the artists who had performed previously at places like The Blue Room and how that spurred him on. Allan’s voice is now one of those that others might hear one day in Maylands, Edinburgh, and beyond.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Acceptable Losses - Curtin University (1 June 2014)

The second play tonight was a scripted piece set in a dystopian future where the Lord Protector (Carlin Monteiro) aided by the Guard Captain (Rachel Foucar) keep the peace in an unnamed city using quite brutal methods. Citizens are rounded up by the Protectorate guards (Jenn Scullion and Dylan Searle) to be experimented on by Doctor Anders (Alexander Gerrans) for the mysterious Project 12.

Things go awry when Anders’ child Millie is kidnapped by unknown forces and his wife Fiona (Beth Tremlett) is implicated. She is tortured by the Guard Captain and eventually manipulated to be the scapegoat as ‘the masses’ have grown restless about the disappearances. Rhiannon Petersen plays the ‘Frankenstein’s monster’ of Project 12 as well as the Judge at Fiona’s sham trial.

Ambitious but uneven, the play sets up a quite atmospheric world especially with the use of sound effects such as thunder, constant rain, the slamming of cell doors; a range of costuming from the Lord Protector’s sleek look in buttoned down vest and wingtip shoes to the uniforms of the guards; and quite graphic violence, Foucar in particular delighting in putting a bit of stick about. The tone is mostly grim except for a curious Droog-like scene by Searle’s guard as he practices pickup lines on Petersen’s inanimate ‘monster’.  

Monteiro is all sinister charm as the pre-eminent villain behind it all but Foucar has the far more boisterous performance as the violent Guard Captain. Tremlett is clattered about and bound most of the play but gives a nice performance as the anguished wife concerned for her child. Gerran’s Anders proclaims himself to be a monster - the ‘silent scalpel of the city’ - but I was never convinced this was the case as he seemed impotent in the face of the Protectorate. The play also never addresses who did kidnap Millie so this felt more plot device than anything as I was waiting for the twist that never came.

It is, however, a concept that could be further developed as there are some interesting moral dilemmas thrown up, especially for Tremlett’s character.

Written and Directed by Dan O'Brien with Dramaturgy by Jesse Daniels.

Yes/No - Curtin University (1 June 2014)

Curtin University regularly has two One Act plays presented under the banner Sunday Night Theatre in the converted lecture room upstairs at the Hayman Theatre.

The first of these tonight was a self-devised piece that explored Fear. An unnamed woman (Rebecca Fowler) battles her demons and doubts with a “raven” perched on her shoulder. She awakes to find Fight (Ariel Tresham), Flight (Holly Dodd), Endure (Aaron Smith) and Undermine (Sean Guastavino) fighting to be the dominant force in her life… or is it all just in her head?

This is a high energy piece incorporating dance and stylised fighting between the different impulses with the use of a bongo drum and vibrant lighting giving the play a real kinetic feel. Fowler is literally torn between these opposing forces as different scenarios are explored – the drunk on the train who demands the shoes from a fellow passenger who meekly agrees in the first instance (flight) but when the scene is reprised chooses to fight which doesn’t end well for him either.

Fowler’s character at one stage has a lovely ‘courtship’ with Smith’s only to renege as they walk down the aisle. Characters narrate from the sideline and in this case tell us the figures about domestic violence against women, a prevalent fear unfortunately in this day and age. The characters also interact with the audience asking them to name their own fears before Fowler recites a list that includes rejection, loneliness and various others.

I really liked the energy in this piece and especially the ending where Fowler’s character states that her greatest fear is that she will stop trying. In an age where there is seemingly so much to be fearful of this was a poignant statement to end the play on.

The space is well used with the actors entering and exiting from various points and yes, I didn’t even realise I sat next to the lead in the front row before the play began! Talking to one of the actors afterwards this took 7-8 weeks with two rehearsals a week to develop. I found it an interesting exploration of what stops us growing and moving forward and maybe how a lot of this is indeed in our head.

Directed by Savannah Wood with Dramaturgy by Amy Johnston.

The Warrior and The Princess - Blue Moose Theatre Productions (31 May 2014)

I had the great pleasure of going along to the first of two fundraising nights on Saturday to assist the cast and crew of this play get to New York for the Fringe festival there.

Not only did I see the play, enjoy wine and supper, and have some great conversations, the evening’s entertainment commenced with a cabaret of some nine songs. Performed by two of the cast members – the fabulously talented Rhoda Lopez and Ian Toyne - this was a highlight in itself.

Rhoda kicked off proceedings with three songs from her tour de force performance as Edith Piaf in Madame Piaf with a lovely acknowledgement to the writer-director Stephen Lee who was in the audience. Toyne added two Frank Sinatra classics to make no doubt New York was on everyone’s mind and they shared a couple of duets – Cole Porter’s Night and Day and Somewhere from West Side Story. Rhoda also gave a wonderful rendition of Someone To Watch Over Me which was greeted with a simple “Beautiful” from an audience member in the row behind me. There was no chance of any disagreement on that score.

What a way to start! Another glass of wine at intermission and everyone settled in for the play itself which has been invited to New York’s Fringe…

“The Boss is always right.”

A phrase repeated throughout this play about Jewish refugees stranded in Lithuania during the Second World War and the Japanese diplomat who helped save thousands of them. Based on a true story, writer Shirley Van Sanden has crafted what the cast announce at the very beginning is a ‘fable and a fairytale’ and it is presented as such with various storytelling devices. There are three large, white screens at the back of the stage with two in the wings on a 45 degree angle. The three main screens are used to project various images onto but also show silhouetted action of the actors in crucial moments, notably acts of violence. Then there is the use of a puppet to represent The Boss himself and another that is a feisty dog which is part of an actual puppet show in the story. Throw in the use of origami, various other props from a Katana to a baseball bat and ball, and the recurring appearance of a bird both projected and on a stick wielded by the writer herself, and this is an inventive piece of storytelling. It did take me a little while to get into its rhythms and highly stylised and episodic nature but once onboard it proves highly rewarding.

But back to that statement:

“The Boss is always right.”

Easy to disagree with in this day and age, not so easy at a time of war when your boss is in the Japanese Foreign Ministry and you are a junior diplomat who has been reassigned after speaking out about the treatment of the local population during your posting in Manchuria. This is Yoshida (Brian Liau) who has a love of baseball and adheres to the seven virtues of Bushido, the Samurai’s code. He is The Warrior to Rhoda Lopez’s Anna, a Polish child and The Princess, who witnessed her mother’s death at the hands of the Nazis and flees to Lithuania with her Uncle, Jacob (Ian Toyne) where they are taken in by his sister (Monica Main). There they set up a puppet theatre but this is burnt down when the Soviets take control of Lithuania and the Jewish refugees are under even more threat. Yoshida had spotted Anna throwing a baseball and befriended her as she could make a great pitcher for the refugee team he coaches. As things become bleak, Jacob in desperation approaches Yoshida to help obtain transit visas so they can leave the country. Yoshida, with the assistance of his German assistant, Johanna, eventually disobeys The Boss and end up issuing more visas than is authorised. Jacob and Anna escape while Yoshida is summoned to Berlin for re-assignment and eventually ends up in an internment camp.

The acting is excellent across the board with Brian Liau very strong as the conflicted Yoshida who eventually decides to do what is right rather than follow orders. But we also see episodes from earlier in his life – the falling out with his father who wanted him to be a doctor; how he met The Boss whilst a waiter in a restaurant; the incident in Manchuria – which allows Liau plenty of latitude to give depth to his character. Lopez is excellent as the traumatised Anna who also finds a childlike joy in the puppet show and hitting a home run - the true innocent in a time of turmoil and unimaginable suffering. Toyne shines as Jacob who is determined to make life as tolerable as possible for his niece and pleads with Yoshida to help them and the others escape. He also has an amusing turn controlling the dog in the puppet show and plays a Dutch diplomat who is the catalyst for the idea regarding the visas. Finally, Main plays the ‘stern’ Johanna with a deft touch adding most of the humour to proceedings.

I say finally but a key component is the keyboard work of Mark Turton who adds mood and atmosphere throughout. One impressive sequence is the communiques between Yoshida and Tokyo which is a combination of keyboard effects, puppetry and the use of origami. Creative and telling.

There is a lovely coda at the end which brings all the threads together as a grown up Anna seeks out the elderly Yoshida and tells him of all the good his sacrifice accomplished.

This is a creative mix of elements that shines a light on a little known story that celebrates the ability of one person to affect the lives of literally thousands by choosing to do the right thing at great personal risk in a time of horror and war.

The final fundraiser is on tonight, Sunday the 1st June, and is well worth braving the football crowds to attend. A terrific night’s entertainment.