Thursday, 19 February 2015

Metalhead - Creative Collaborations (18 February 2015)

As Fringe World heads into its last week of predominantly comedies, cabaret and burlesque there is an explosive drama tucked away in the courtyard of the Guild Studio in East Perth that is a definite must see. This superbly acted play is confronting, at many points harrowing, and is guaranteed to leave an impression.

This is the second season of the Tiffany Barton penned Metalhead after its premiere in October 2014 at the Victoria Hall in Fremantle. It is a tale about how violence and bad deeds are perpetuated in a seemingly endless cycle through the generations; how even the most disadvantaged and damaged of us seek freedom from those binds that hold us fast.

The story centres on Jake (Clarence Ryan) and his step-sister Jackie (Chelsea Gibson) whose mother has disappeared after another violent outburst from Jake’s father. Jake follows in the footsteps of his father and is short-tempered, volatile, and always ready to use his fists to lethal effect. Like her step-brother, Jackie has taken up boxing as a way to cope with the harshness of living in an outback township where everybody is going nowhere fast. This includes the promiscuous Michaela (Caitlin Jane Hampson) and her ‘creepy’ brother Tyler (Declan Brown) both of whom live in a beat up caravan. Michaela is having sex with Jake much to Tyler’s disgust though his protective instincts may betray an entirely different agenda. Jake has an offsider Baloo (Toby Franks) who appears to amuse Jake with his antics but is largely subservient though fond of Jackie.

Into this world come two outsiders with a hint of the otherworldly or supernatural about them – Mercy (Tornina Torres) and Freeman (Ian Bolgia). They state they are there to help the inhabitants of Fury find ‘freedom’ but perhaps they are just as damaged and lost as the others. It’s a potent mix rife with the potential for violence and confrontation… and that’s exactly what we get in spades. That it is done so realistically makes this utterly compelling and at times hard to watch in the best possible way.

Here, the outdoor setting adds an enormous amount of texture as it enhances the visceral nature of the work. The performers are allowed to immerse themselves in the township of Fury – in its barren landscape and its utilitarian accommodation. An actual caravan is stage right with the raised back corner of the courtyard in effect a sandpit (the use of sand is a recurring motif) with a ladder propped up against the wall. There is a circular platform on a large truck tyre that, once overturned, will also represent a grave. Mood is further achieved by an effective lighting design in the outdoor space, evocative music and snippets of recorded song, and even the natural soundscape of the nearby train line and urban surrounds.

The acting by all seven performers is simply stellar. Under the direction of James Winter the brutality is devastatingly brought to life though I must stress there are moments of genuine humour to leaven the assault. 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.

Gibson who was so good in WAYTCo’s Punk Rock last year further announces her presence as one to watch with the spunky Jackie. She handled the boxing training sequence very well and clearly had taken no small instruction to make that play credibly. Her equally impressive Punk Rock colleague Declan Brown gave Tyler his own repressed anger with a healthy dose of sarcasm. Hampson, the only member of the original cast, was a revelation as Michaela especially early with her comedy work and a misguided naivety that sees her character get into all sorts of trouble.

I very much liked Franks as the effusive Baloo imbuing the sidekick with a larger-than-life persona that becomes increasingly challenged by Jake’s disintegration into quite reprehensible acts of violence. Torres brought an almost noble quality to Mercy as the character strives to assist (particularly Jackie) while Bolgia was a strong physical presence playing the enigmatic Freeman.

Above all I liked that this was a full tilt performance in every aspect – writing, performance, and staging. This was in your face and unapologetically brutal in spots. There were moments when the audience sat in stunned collective silence as the tension built. Under the stars on a warm Perth night it was something quite special. The ending gave some characters release while others seemed to accept their fate. There were no easy answers here. But that adds to the authenticity – things were never likely to be neatly tied up in a bow as they never are in real life.

Metalhead is wonderful piece of theatre that showcases an exceptional cast. There are only four shows left, ending on Sunday. Go sit out under the stars and experience a little bit of magic.     

Princess Obsession - Fireflies Entertainment (17 February 2015)

If one measure of a performer is how they react when things aren’t going well then Emma Marie Davis passed a true test of fire on Tuesday night. Technical problems, excessive noise from the neighbouring tent, and a momentary lapse in recall were obstacles on the night but she retained her composure to deliver an otherwise charming and enthralling show.

I’ve come across Davis’ obsession with princesses before in Once Upon A Time. Not any old princess mind you but Disney princesses. While I have passing familiarity with the movies Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, I didn’t have any knowledge of the women who provided the voices for such iconic characters. And this is where the strength of Princess Obsession truly is.

Davis takes us through the backstories of Adriana Caselotti (Snow White), Ilene Woods (Cinderella), and Mary Costa (Sleeping Beauty) – how they came to be considered for the part, their experiences during recording, and a glimpse into their subsequent careers, the most notable of which is Costa’s conversion to opera star. Walt Disney plays a huge role in shaping these productions and the women involved while there are all kinds of interesting facts about the pressure the studio was under to deliver a hit at the time of Sleeping Beauty.

There is a range of songs included in the show - from the movies themselves to operatic pieces and period standards to excerpts from popular radio and television shows of the time. Davis showcases impressive vocal range and also an array of accents as she gives us an insight into the thoughts and experiences of each princess. She is accompanied by Irina Vasilieva on keyboards who provided a lovely musical soundscape during the storytelling sequences as well as great backing for the songs.

There is no doubt that this is a subject matter Davis is passionate about and well steeped in. This is clearly evident in her joy at sharing these tales with us. A well sung and entertaining hour long cabaret that had me a little wiser about how difficult it really is to become a princess!

Monday, 16 February 2015

Breathless - Shadowlight Darkly Theatre Company (16 February 2015)

Imagine the Shakespearean comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream told exclusively from the fairies point of view. Now throw in an eclectic mix of electronic music peppered with some pop standards (Bowie’s Golden Years; Simon & Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair) and an interpretation largely based on movement and dance with only snippets of the original text via the human lovers and you have Breathless.

This iteration is in fact the further development of a concept that originally saw life last year as Sleepless. Many of the same performers have returned, some in new roles, and the director remains the jauntily named Josh “The Pirate” Walker. 

Now, it is certainly true that audience members with more than a passing familiarity with the Shakespeare play will better appreciate the storyline and subtleties here. Those without any knowledge at all might end up a tad confused. There is, however, enough colour and movement and energy for this to be an enjoyable performance piece no matter what your comfort level with The Bard’s (truncated) tale of four lovers who stumble into fairy infested woods is. 

And my, what a bunch of mischievous fairies they are! From their King (Oberon) and Queen (Titania) who feud over a lost child; to the magical potion that entreats a person to fall in love with the first creature they see; to the tricks they play on the wandering humans, this is ripe with misunderstanding and fun. Throw in some colourful costuming and makeup and this is quite the frolic. 

The performers work well as an ensemble and the energy slowly builds to a frenetic ending. I liked how the lovers are literally the playthings of the fairies though they did have their back to the audience for a disproportionate amount of time. I wanted to see more of the lovers’ faces but it was a minor quibble. 

Matthew Randall was a commanding physical presence as Oberon and Angela Donlan (Titania with fairy wings of course!) was certainly a hit with the young girl in the audience who rushed up to her all excited afterwards. Shannon Berry had lovely poise as Helena and Michael Moshos was a devilish Luck. There were times the music was too loud for the dialogue excerpts, however, Keren Schlink, Berry, Owen Lane and Brendan Ellis handled the language well enough.

This is a young cast with a vibrant variation on a classic tale. At a slick 50 minutes it’s a great way to commence an evening at Fringe, beginning at 5.15pm in The Stables, with only three more shows until Thursday 19th February.

Directed by Joshua Walker and Featuring: 
Angela Donlan as Titania
Matthew Randall as Oberon
Keren Schlink as Hermia
Shannon Berry as Helena
Owen Lane as Lysander
Brendan Ellis as Demetrious
Kimberley Harris, Michael Moshos and Anka Cikic as Muck, Luck and Duck
Daniel O'Brien as Bottom
Tahlia McQuade, Ruhama Geiger and Alanna McKennzie as Parsley, Sage and Rosemary
and Jessie Williams as The Lost Child

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Skin Deep - Pickering Productions (14 February 2015)

With over 500 shows Fringe is always going to prove to be a little hit and miss. You’ll see some fabulous performances and every now and then there’ll be a dud or two. I’ve seen quite a few wonderful ones this festival which means I’m pretty much batting ahead of the curve. I don’t state it lightly then that for sheer entertainment value Skin Deep is my favourite show to date. What a fantastically crazy and hilarious mash-up of mashed up pop songs and insight into the quest for beauty through the ages!

When the answer to “what price beauty?” comes in the form of botox, arsenic, insect larvae, nightshade and other remedies you know you’re in for a helluva ride. Throw in some creative interpretations of a variety of pop songs (I’ll never hear The Eagles' Take It Easy the same way ever again) with a few, um, judicious tweaks here and there to the lyrics and it’s a rollicking night’s entertainment. I’m known for having a big laugh but the lady next to me was literally having kittens. Yes, literally! In fact the whole audience loved this with a standing ovation at the Hellenic Club after a suitable finale with a Carole King classic.

The set-up is that three generations of beauty therapists (all the most important jobs end in ‘ist’) reveal the secrets of the trade with several ‘exhibits’, Law and Order style. They range from invasive beauty procedures to client confessions to mother-daughter wrangling over the school ball with a little murder thrown in for good measure. The performers in question are Lindsay McNab, Cynthia Fenton (also co-writer), and Grace Edwards with the seemingly ever present Timothy How on keyboards.

They work tremendously well together with each getting a moment to shine. A sense of what we were in for arrives early when the three women excel during ‘Exhibit A’ that involves plenty of sight gags as ‘Lins’ undergoes a certain delicate beauty treatment. Other highlights included:

Fenton gives a whole new meaning to the song Defying Gravity which was as inspired as anything you’ll see at Fringe this year and had me laughing from How’s opening bars.

Edwards, hard on the heels of The Dummies Guide to Opera, gives another vivacious performance with standouts including her turn as a put upon 17 year old railing against her domineering mother (Fenton); and who could go past that classic piece of shtick I’ve Never Been To Me for comic potential?

McNab had a beautiful ballad as the mood surprisingly turned a little sombre towards the end. It was an interesting counterpoint and I liked that they took their time here. Additionally, her opening refrain from Bohemian Rhapsody was a prime example of taking the lyrics from a famous song and twisting the context for maximum comedic effect. Which is exactly what How’s Mack the Knife does as cosmetic surgery comes under the satirical knife of writers Fenton and Tyler Jacob Jones.

Jones, who also directs, is the writer of that other impressive Fringe piece currently on, F**k Decaf, one of the stars of which was happily chortling along with the rest of us. Skin Deep has all of his trademark wit and is staged with style and energy. 

What elevates this though is that beneath the hilarity there is very perceptive commentary on the beauty industry from all kinds of different angles. This gives it great resonance as it highlights how crazy the pursuit of beauty can sometimes be. There is a positive message at the end, however, that dovetails nicely with the singing of classic pop songs from artists such as The Go-Gos, Cyndi Lauper, ABBA, Katy Perry, and Mike and the Mechanics.

Skin Deep is well performed with deft comic timing and inventive use of songs. The singing is strong with Edwards the standout but they are all terrific in the numerous set-pieces. Timothy How is excellent on keyboards and gets to appropriately ham it up as required. 

Above all this is thoroughly entertaining and a hilarious exploration of an industry that has been around in one form or another for centuries. A must see but hurry, there is only one more performance left this Sunday at 7pm.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Gillian Cosgriff is Whelmed - Fringe World (11 February 2015)

Beware the gift giver! The ones who impart the ‘gift’ of inspiration and false advice; the ‘gift’ of all the spurious knowledge you could ever wish for nowadays in the palm of your hand; and those people who simply give bad gifts. 

Yes, in her new show, Cosgriff is squarely taking aim at all the fortune cookie nonsense that passes for wisdom these days and the means of its dissemination. Plus, you know, all 198 capital cities of the world, some crazy ass lizards from Madagascar, and a handbag made out of an old pair of jeans.

Early on, Cosgriff mentioned how some people compare her to Tim Minchin because, well, they both play keyboards and sing witty songs with a healthy dose of stand up comedy thrown in for good measure. I’ve never seen Tim Minchin perform live but I've seen Gillian Cosgriff twice now and she is forging her own identity as a gifted entertainer. There is the engaging stage presence, excellent voice and keyboard skills, and songs that crackle with wit and intelligence - probably due to all the research done online in the name of procrastination and over-achievement.

Earlier on though, the show starts before the show starts with a song about the usual sort of front of house announcements to do with mobile phones being switched off and where the exits are and hoping people don’t burn to death in a fire and the like. It’s all sensible advice that would look great on the poster... of a lush rain forest. Yes, wanky motivational tools, #thinspiration, #fitspiration and #hashtags in general #bugthehelloutofgillian.

Then we launch into an explanation of the title ‘Whelmed’ which is indeed a real word and has something to do with boats not capsizing. Don’t worry, it’s fine; tricky stuff, sure, but you’re in safe hands as Cosgriff is nothing less than a compelling storyteller and has a knack for making the obscure come to life in the funniest of ways.

Like her award show from last year, This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, plenty of personal revelations pepper her feeling of whelmedness (this may actually not be a word) and this time her mother plays a pivotal role in the tale of ‘The ugliest bag in the world, parts one and two’ with a charming reprise.

Some guy named Guy is called up from the front row to be an accessory to Cosgriff’s ability to overachieve at learning new things that totally don’t help her write a new show... until she decides to take all that stuff and put it in her new show. A tantalising ten dollar note was on offer if the guy Guy could stump her with the aid of an online quiz about capital cities. That bounty ain’t going nowhere but back into (probably) the ugliest bag in the world, my friends. I have not the slightest doubt that all 198 cities are committed to memory... because 56 just wasn’t good enough for our procrastinating, overachieving heroine the first time around!

The internet comes in for some stick as do those folks who try to cheer up depressed people by telling them others have it worse... saying things like, ‘Syria’. Then again, what’s the point of being happy when there are others even happier? I mean, Richard Branson bought an island when he was 28. The jabs at hypocrisy, nonsensical platitudes, and the obsession with being happy - in both lyric and patter - are razor sharp. Then there are those lizards. That’s a tale to be amazed by (Cosgriff clearly is) as an exuberant explanation details some seriously weird evolutionary shenanigans.

What I like about the performance style here is that Cosgriff isn’t afraid to follow tangents, to reveal personal information, and to engage with the audience by being effusive and self-deprecating. It’s all very impressive and when it’s done you’ll be singing the final song as you leave (trust me, you will, #noseriously) with a smile on your face. This show is what I’ve come to expect from Cosgriff - sharp, witty, and very clever. Get along and see it!

Gillian Cosgriff is Whelmed is on at the PICA Performance Space as part of Fringe World until 21 February

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

F**k Decaf - The Cutting Room Floor (10 February 2015)

With Fringe expanding to over 500 shows this year various locations have been pressed into service to hold the staggering amount of activity that is going on. One of these is the Frisk Small Bar in Francis Street which was perfect for this witty observation of relationships, how we change and, dare I say it, grow with the passage of time.

My inescapable conclusion at the end of the performance was that a smart, well written script in the hands of (two) talented actors is a recipe for an excellent evening of theatre.

I missed seeing this the first time around last year so was delighted it had another life at Fringe in 2015. The writer in question is Tyler Jacob Jones who had a stellar festival last year with Point & Shoot: a new musical which he co-wrote and starred in winning major awards and successfully touring on the east coast. This was his next script and talking to Jones he felt some pressure to follow-up Point & Shoot’s achievements.

In this he has succeeded admirably even restraining himself by including only one song (we won’t quibble about a burst of Leaving on a Jet Plane) - the Des’ree, um, classic, Life (okay, I confess, my pop sweet spot is more the 80s and I missed the whole ‘piece of toast’ thing!).

That song (which is revisited several times) serves as a shared memory for friends Kate (Ann-Marie Biagioni) and Ruby (Amanda Watson) though what deeper philosophical meanings did Des’ree really mean with those lyrics? I’ll leave that for Kate, Ruby and eminent scholars to decide.

The two friends periodically meet in the same cafe over a span of several years to share the highs and lows of their relationships, travels, and expectations. Kate is the sexually adventurous one while Ruby, who initially appears quite grounded, suffers through a series of relationships some more doomed than others. They talk, spar, bicker and reminisce as only good friends can. Their insights and experiences are funny but have more than a healthy dose of deft observation.

Biagioni and Watson are both excellent, the former’s character all brash and in your face; the latter’s becoming increasingly a bundle of nerves and doubts. In this, coffee plays a major part. As for decaf, well, the title gives you a pretty good idea what Kate thinks about Ruby’s conversion at one point to Pilates, vegetarianism, and a caffeine free lifestyle!

The device that sets this all up is the dinging of a bell by the waiter (Monty Sallur) that announces the end of one scene and the jump forward in time to the next. The intimate setting means the audience is almost on top of the actors with a sense we’re eavesdropping on their conversations. Each vignette reveals more about the two of them and gives both actors the opportunity to add impressive layers to their portrayals.

Most importantly, this is flat out hilarious. The moment Biagioni storms outside the bar and harangues Watson by mobile while stomping up and down Francis Street is priceless. Likewise, the fight they have that ends up leaving the small performance space a mess of coffee beans, salt, plastic cups and every manner of detritus is realistically frantic. If you sit in the first two rows you might even cop some friendly fire.

I loved this sense of play. Biagioni and Watson are totally in sync with each other and the surroundings - even the accidental breaking of a ceramic coffee mug was used to great effect. I give kudos to Frisk for allowing such an exuberant and messy show on their premises and to the actors for embracing that freedom.

There was a moment of magic towards the end that launched this into another level of intensity and possibilities - Ruby becomes aware of the device of the ringing bell. We then witness a bravura explosion of rapid fire scenes as that bell starts dinging overtime! The ensuing sense of timing and flexibility was impressive and had the audience in stitches.

This is the sort of show that is ideal for Fringe – it’s smart, witty, wonderfully performed and written, with a sense of confidence and playfulness that audiences find irresistible, certainly the one I was with on opening night. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Directed by Scott Corbett, Written by Tyler Jacob Jones, and starring Ann-Marie Biagioni, Amanda Watson and Monty Sallur, F**k Decaf has seven more shows from tonight until Sunday 22nd February. 

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

WAAPA Music Theatre Showstoppers (9 February 2015)

Take the cast of Les Miserables, half of whom are WAAPA graduates; their musical director Geoffrey Castles along with four other members of the orchestra; throw in a little star power with event patron Ben Elton; add the enthusiasm and organisational skills of Eponine herself (Kerrie Anne Greenland) and you end up with what can only be described as a spectacular fundraising concert at the Geoff Gibbs Theatre. The sheer magnitude of talent on display was breathtaking.

The number 30 was a significant one for the evening. WAAPA’s world renowned musical theatre course turns thirty this year and what a way to kick off yearlong celebrations by showcasing so many of their graduates. 2015 also marks the 30th anniversary of the original West End production of Les Miserables. Obviously the only sensible thing to do was to celebrate 30 years of musical theatre with a roster of thir--, um, 16 songs. (I suppose 30 songs was asking too much!)  

The fundraising aspect involves WAAPA hosting the Musical Theatre Educator’s Alliance Conference in the middle of this year, the first time it has been held in the southern hemisphere. What with the launching of the Jackman-Furness Foundation last year and now this conference it’s an exciting time for the Academy.

To the show and we are greeted by our hosts Kerrie Anne Greenland, Lara Mulcahy, Rodney Dobson and Ben Hall with a rousing rendition of Live in Living Colour from Catch Me If You Can. The tone is set early with plenty of light-hearted banter, Mulcahy in particular proving adept at the witty one-liner and adroit comic timing. A post musical theatre career as a stand-up comedienne beckons!

There then followed a series of songs which was quite the eclectic mix with musicals as diverse as Phantom of the Opera to City of Angels, and Parade to Dr. Zhivago represented. What I loved though is that members of the ensemble were given equal opportunity to shine and you quickly come to realise the firepower a production like Les Miserables has. Every member of the cast is a fabulously gifted performer in their own right. The show as a whole was brilliant across the board but some of my highlights were:

Lisa Sontag and Matthew Heyward worked wonderfully well together in a funny performance of That Face from The Producers. This is given a reprise of sorts when Lara and Ben decide to interview them about what it’s like to be an understudy on Les Mis. Oh the jealousy you have to endure, Lara, the jealousy!

Mischana Dellora Cornish and Ben Hall crushed Rita’s Confession from The Lucky Stiff with Cornish especially impressive in a virtuoso performance.

While the ensemble cast members were relishing the spotlight Simon Gleeson and Hayden Tee reminded everyone why they are the headline stars of Les Mis (as Jean Valjean and Javert respectively) with a superb rendition of Lily’s Eyes from The Secret Garden. The power and control from both is simply first class.

Joshua Robson followed with a powerful Bui Doi from Miss Saigon backed by some eleven of his male colleagues. The massed voices made for a riveting aural experience.

Likewise, Chloe Zuel was supported by her female colleagues as she brought plenty of sass to a boisterous performance of Raise Your Voice from Sister Act.

Patrice Tipoki gave the penultimate performance with a stirring Defying Gravity from Wicked before Ben Elton was called onstage to share his thoughts about the importance of WAAPA in developing future generations of musical theatre stars.

It was therefore a treat to see the second and third year students onstage for the finale of One Day More. What was even better was when they moved to the front of the stage as if being anointed by their celebrated predecessors. The combined might of the Les Miserables cast plus some forty students singing the crowd pleasing song ensured a standing ovation as the show closed.

Some other thoughts:

The five piece orchestra was excellent. Well done to Geoffrey Castles (Piano), Laura Tipoki (Keyboard), Katherine Gillon (Keyboard), Anna Pokorny (Cello) and Bronton Ainsworth (Drums). 
The humour and genuine camaraderie throughout the show elevated this to something quite special.

I am contractually obligated to mention (because I told her I would!) that Kerrie Anne Greenland gave a “Cher-like performance” with at least 6 costume changes on the night.

It was a delight to briefly talk to some of the performers afterwards including Kerrie Anne, the elegant Elisa Colla, and Simon Gleeson who simply can’t shake Javert forced to sing opposite him even in concert! 

Likewise, it’s always a pleasure chatting to some of the WAAPA students whose year commenced today. What an inspiring and perhaps daunting experience tonight was for them. This is the bar they have their sights set on as they continue the extensive, world class training at the Academy.

This was a magical night and a timely reminder of the power of musical theatre at its very best to move and enthral us.  

Friday, 6 February 2015

Tales of a Time Traveling Songstress - Playful Productions (4 February 2015)

You wouldn’t know it from a vantage point in Wolf Lane but tucked away in the upstairs reaches of the Cheeky Sparrow there’s some serious manipulation of time going on.

Yes, 1920’s girl Kitty from Davenport, Iowa is bouncing around the decades and having a helluva time along the way. We don’t know why this happens except that it started after Kitty’s mother died of pneumonia and her dad of a broken heart a few days later. But we don’t really care either - it is a smart device for performer Bobbie-Jean Henning to showcase an eclectic range of songs, wear a nice dress, and sport an American accent as she navigates different social mores, customs and musical styles while finding love and friendship along the way.

Henning proves to be a charming storyteller as she recounts Kitty’s experiences that take her from 1920s America to Paris in 1945, 1930’s London and 1962 Italy (amongst others) where there are brushes with the legendary Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe. What grounds this though is the ultimately lost-in-time, tragic love story of her relationship with Toby; and a friendship with a woman named Lucy.

The 50 minute cabaret show began with Nat King Cole’s Nature Boy which is such an evocative song that set the mood nicely. Henning follows it with Corinne Bailey Rae’s Put Your Records On – a very good song – but the only one that didn’t seem linked to the time travelling conceit as it came early before the rhythms of the tale were fully established. While ‘Kitty’ was explaining her predicament it cast my mind to another small town girl dislocated not so much in time as in ‘dimensions’ yet Dorothy Gale was left in Oz though I do wonder what Henning would have made of Over the Rainbow.

Instead there was a part English, part French version of Windmills of Your Mind, a snippet of Summertime from Porgy and Bess; a raucous Cabaret; and amusingly a Frank Ifield song She Taught Me How to Yodel. The relationship with the writer Toby who Kitty met then lost then met again in London (uncontrolled time travel is a bitch when it comes to long-term relationships!) brought out the Sondheim in Kitty with Being Alive and a very emotional rendering of Losing My Mind as tragedy strikes.

A stint in California circa 1977 was always going to result in either a song from Hotel California or Rumours and it is indeed the latter though not the song you would expect as The Chain gets a slowed down workout. Henning is at her best when she lets her voice soar and Cry Me A River is a highlight. The Sia song Chandelier makes an appearance and even If My Friends Could See Me Now. An eclectic mix indeed!

The venue did Henning no favours as there were diners in the next room who could be clearly heard enjoying their boisterous conversations seemingly oblivious to our presence. This intruded in the quieter songs and linking stories but Henning kept her composure and focus admirably under less than favourable circumstances.

In all this was a most enjoyable performance and Henning has a lovely and versatile voice that the range of songs showed off to great effect. I also had the opportunity to have a chat afterwards and she was generous with her time and thoughts about the development of the show and experiences since graduating from WAAPA. It was a delightful evening cabaret show that in a more suitable venue could really soar. 

600 Seconds (Program B) – Fringe World (4 February 2015)

A sold out black box theatre space and ten minutes to do pretty much whatever you want.

Now GO!

The prospect must surely be quite daunting but it was a diverse range of pieces tonight, from drama to comedy to dance.

First up was Flaming Youth, directed by Lucy Clements and performed by Kieran Wych and Chloe Evangelisti. Here the brother (by adoption) of a young woman is urgently summoned to her aid. There is the usual sibling angst until the woman drops a bombshell on what really happened to her. The young man wants to kill her boyfriend until another twist comes to the fore. The problem for me was that there wasn’t enough emotional heft here to convince me of the bombshell in the first place. So when the ‘twist’ came it didn’t feel surprising or affect me in the way that was intended. That said, extremely difficult to explore the darker aspects of sex and dating in such a short period of time.

The two performers walk off stage and are replaced by Zane Alexander, Verity Softly and two beach chairs. His character likes her's but she isn’t really interested. What follows is some lovely physical comedy as Alexander’s character inches ever closer and even at one point makes a paper seagull to impress her; mixed with some terse barbs from Softly’s increasingly annoyed woman who just wants to enjoy the sunshine. That style of comedy that comes from the inherent awkwardness of a situation and a character trapped within it. The only query I had was that later in the piece Softly began to make asides to the audience that weren’t perhaps necessary as both actors were very skilled in conveying their character’s emotions and thoughts in a piece called It’s Only A…
Then we had Emma Marie Davis alone in the corner to begin Quiet. Tragically, she has been pronounced an introvert which her mother fears will surely cripple her in life. I liked that Davis was all backed up in the shadows and only slowly moved to centre stage as she discovers an obsession to draw her into the world. We soon learn this involves lots of yelling in the competitive realm of… netball refereeing. Most amusingly all the signs used to signal infractions are turned into a dance as Davis sings and charms us during her conversion to extroversion.

The first half ended with a very interesting slam poem and compelling performance by Haydon Wilson in Contentment in B Minor where he plays an alcoholic. I cringed at the start as he accuses his wife of cheating and details his muscular response. This promised not to be a likeable character by any stretch of the imagination. But then something strange happened – there was an honesty and rawness here as the character embraces who he is which revolves around, for better or worse, the copious consumption of beer. It was a very good performance as it treaded the fine line between audience aversion and engendering fascination in a character that defied the usual expectations.

After a short interval we recommenced with solo performer, Natalya Alessi who danced to the rhythmic sound of breathing in A Simple Act. Lithe and serene, this was a celebration of the beauty of the human body in motion. Towards the end of the piece a voiceover intoned interesting statistics about the amount of breaths we take in the course of a lifetime performing different functions. The true fascination, however, was in the mesmerising and elegant moves of Alessi in the dimness, mood lighting provided stage right.

Chloe King and Claudia Tati followed in a piece written by King and directed by Ali Roberts called Darling Daughter. The apple of her mother’s eye (Tati) exhibits all the recklessness of youth the moment mummy dearest leaves for nightshift work. She finds herself in a certain predicament with a guy at school that is echoed in King’s flashback retelling of her character’s own experiences as a girl the same age. There is a lovely symmetry in the parallel trajectories here and both actresses play multiple roles to flesh out the world of the tale. A heartfelt ending as two generations come together over a shared experience years apart. It was a well-structured and performed piece that made maximum use of the allotted time.

Finally, another performance piece, this time by two male (Russell Thorpe and Scott Elstermann) and two female dancers (Ayesha Kats and Rikki Bremner) called It’s Strange To Remember A Touch Over A Thought. This was a superb piece that not only celebrated the human form but beauty in synchronisation and touch. The suppleness and connection between the performers was absolutely enchanting as they moved with sublime confidence to an electronic backing of songs. I found this enthralling.

Then it was all over as the last dancer slid off stage and the house lights came on. It was a terrific mix of quite different performances that made the task of voting for a favourite very difficult. Yes, there is a competitive element to all this as audience favourites get to perform again in a Best Of night. If this is the quality to expect from all four programs then those evenings will be quite something!

600 Seconds is at The Blue Room until 14 February, however, I believe all remaining sessions are sold out. On this outing I can see why.   

Monday, 2 February 2015

The Dummies Guide To Opera - Charlie & Friends (2 February 2015)

Take four very talented singers, one fashion-challenged accompanist, at least one dummy in the audience (raises hand… though in my defence Amadeus is one of my favourite movies and has excerpts from at least three Mozart operas so that has to count for something, right?) and a killer concept and you have a funny, entertaining and yes, damn it, educational show that is perfect for Fringe. 

I mean, I even learnt a new word tonight – Fach – which, contrary to my initial belief that I was being sworn at, is a form of categorising different voice types. Those crazy German opera buffs!

The show races through the entire chronology of opera in a sleek one hour that covers: different periods such as baroque, classical and romantic; giving hilariously twisted synopses of famous operas; explaining the different types of singers and their dominant personality traits; to most amusingly rating the major composers in opera’s long history. There was a wonderfully arcane formula to calculate each composer’s score to pronounce an eventual winner. My dear Wolfgang did not fare well in this exercise. It was, however, a great device to impart all kinds of weird and wonderful information about this roster of greats (okay, I knew of most of them but a couple were a little hazy).   

Then there was the singing; in different styles, from different periods, with many of the pieces instantly recognisable though some were a little more obscure for this dummy. And what wonderful voices they were, provided by Grace Edwards, Erin Jay Hutchinson, Warren Bracken and Charlie D. Barkle. The byplay between all four plus accompanist Timothy How was excellent with a lovely sense of chemistry as they played up to all the dramatic rivalries and stereotypes with glee. It was clear that while they were taking good-natured jabs at all the preconceptions opera can engender, there was a total love, respect, and joy here. I was also left in no doubt as to their knowledge both historical and technical which was impressive. The use of clever humour throughout plus a touch of class made this most entertaining.

Edwards in particular shines with a real twinkle in the eye and sense of flair while Hutchinson relishes the more ‘bitchy’ role with Barkle betraying his burlesque background with a touch of adroit physical comedy leaving Bracken to nicely ground it all with a warmer persona. They do work very well together, vocally and with good comic timing. Timothy How adds some sight gags as he reacts to proceedings before he himself briefly takes centre stage to amusing effect. 

I really enjoyed this – it’s funny, the concept is clever, the singing is first rate (though occasionally there was some speaker static on a stormy Perth night) and the joy on display beneath the bluster is infectious. There is only one show left – Tuesday night at 7.15pm in Teatro 1 in the Perth Cultural Centre – and I would recommend this as a great festival show.

And if you think Game of Thrones is full on, wait until you check out the murder, mayhem and flat out infatuation going on in all these librettos – those dwarves, Gods and love-struck humans sure know how to have a tragically good time! 

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Keeping Time - Skylight Ensemble Theatre (31 January 2015)

Let’s start at the ending first for ends are very much on this play’s mind – what happens when our time on this plane of existence comes to a halt? Where do we go? What occurs when we get there? What of those we leave behind? Do the memories of people and events become imbued in the very fabric of a place? What is the world between the living and the dead and why could it exist?

All of these are big questions to be sure.

Memories abounded at the historic Victoria Hall when local Freo personality, 92 year old Norm Wrightson was asked to share his experiences at the end of the play. In remarkable good health and with more than a dash of sly humour Norm told of his time as a band member playing at this very venue in the Forties when Fremantle was buzzing with seamen and migrants. You could almost see his fellow band members and their enthusiastic audience as they played, danced, loved and fought. Maybe this is what ghosts really are – our imaginations fired by memories summoned from those who preceded us.

The play itself was written specifically for this venue with its high ceilings, wonderful stage and real sense of atmosphere. The subsequent stories were based on real life characters with no small amount of embellishment of course, unless there really are ghosts that walk and laugh and wonder amongst us.

After an awkward start where we hear a recording of… an argument of some sort that is then replayed, a character called Ed (Jeremy Mitchell) slowly makes his way from the back of the hall onto an empty stage. It soon becomes clear that Ed is deeply troubled… and hangs himself. His wife (Chloe King) discovers his death which knocks her and their daughter Skyla (Kira-Che Heelan) into a cycle of paralysed grief and, in the daughter’s case, self-harm. This is exacerbated by the accidental death of her boyfriend Johnny (Obe Oldmeadow) who falls from the scaffolding at this very hall.

Johnny acts as our guide as we are introduced into a netherworld of ghosts who cannot cross over and are trapped in their own sorrow and regrets. A couple from colonial times, Elsie (Jessica Dalwood) and James (Caleb Olsen) who lost their 6 month old baby in a fire; Henry (Fraser Shepherdson) who went to Europe searching for his father during World War I who had by that time already died on the battlefield; a coquettish young woman Ethel May (Jitana Jamieson) who loves to dance; and various other ghostly apparitions all dressed in white including Sir Joseph Talbot Hobbs (Christopher Wortham) the actual architect of Victoria Hall who acts loosely as a mentor figure. Then there’s Ed himself. Johnny has a little trouble coming to terms with his ‘condition’ and those around him. Much philosophical discussion around the nature of life and death ensues.

Meanwhile Skyla and her Mum are literally haunted by the ticking sound of the clock Ed so loved in life. Johnny’s work colleagues, two painters (James Gill and Kai Arbuckle) who work on the ceiling, add humour as well as historical facts about the hall. It is indeed a character in its own way.

The acting across the board by a mainly young teenage cast was very good. Skyla is well played by the striking Heelan who doesn’t allow the character’s anger and grief to verge into melodrama. Likewise, Jamieson is all wide-eyed innocence and yearning as Ethel May. Johnny is played with suitable earnestness by Oldmeadow and the two painters add a common touch and a more ribald sense of humour. There is the occasional song accompanied by a piano at the back of the hall. Dalwood's Elsie who sang to her long dead child was convincing in her utter sorrow and there were lovely touches throughout such as the soldiers who kept watch even in death. King does a lot of the heavy lifting as the grieving widow and fearful mother in a fine emotional performance. 

The space was set up as cabaret style seating and while many people liked that some scenes were played amongst the audience I was near the stage so most of that was behind me. Lots of twisting and turning for those who wanted to follow the action. The acoustics were terrific where I was with the soundscape from the front speakers and the dialogue crystal clear. The stage was simply set with scaffolding at the back and a coat rack stage right where Ed’s overalls hung with great significance.

The deaths were well handled as were the tales from the ghosts as they shared the cause of their predicament. There was a pivotal scene, however, where Ed talks to his wife and physically interacts with her. This came out of nowhere and I think it needed to be established earlier that the ghosts could physically affect the living otherwise it opened up a whole host of questions. Why couldn’t the painters see Johnny? Who could see who under what circumstances? If Ed could visit his wife why couldn’t Johnny visit Skyla or Henry his Dad etc? 

That Johnny ultimately does go to his girlfriend seemed more like script mechanics than an organic decision even though the use of a linking song device was good. It would be nice if the spurned Ethel May told the tyro ghost that this was possible and released him. Skyla’s reaction was also interesting though her immediate response was masked as she turns away from the audience to face Johnny. I wanted to see her face, the confusion or fear or joy or disbelief in her eyes so this felt like a lost moment.

Other than those quibbles this was an atmospheric and interesting exploration of grief and loss with a tale anchored in the very building it was set. I did wonder though whether the audience should also have been a ‘character’ of sorts as we were in the ghosts’ space but only obliquely acknowledged. It all ends in a lovely moment as the cast, scattered throughout the hall, beseeched us to live life to the fullest before being taken by the darkness… then blew out their candles. Nice touch. 

Written and directed by Julia Perkins (in collaboration with cast and crew) this was a very mature and intelligent piece of theatre. 

Quiet Please, There's A Lady On Stage - Fringe World (31 January 2015)

The subtitle says it all – The Music of Peter Allen, Liza Minnelli and Judy Garland. Performed by Ryan Taaffe, Elethea Sartorelli, and Rachel Monamy respectively, this was a collection of great songs including classics such as Over the Rainbow, Cabaret, New York, New York, the Oscar winning Arthur’s Theme, and the unofficial Australian National Anthem for all ex-patriates, I Still Call Australia Home.

They couldn’t afford a band on a Fringe budget but they did have the Minnellium Dancers – Allen Blachford, Hillary Readings, Jessica Helen, and Rebecca Jayne – who contributed the requisite colour and movement to make this a most enjoyable hour of cabaret. 
Sartorelli added the pizazz as Liza with a Z; Monamy the moxie as Garland; while Taaffe contributed a touch of snark as the three shared good-natured banter between songs. That’s not to say there weren’t a few jabs along the way – Garland’s battle with pills and booze; the doomed-to-fail marriage of Minnelli and Allen; and Minnelli’s struggle to cope with the enormous shadow of her mother – were all touched upon.

The conceit of the show is that it’s Minnelli’s story and Sartorelli, fresh off winning a Finley Award (Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for Xanadu), is excellent with a wonderfully energetic performance and powerful singing voice. Of course, Garland and Allen can’t help but interrupt – we’re talking some huge personalities here - and Monamy is impressive as the mother who constantly strives to upstage her daughter, at one point showing Minnelli how The Trolley Song should really be done. The competitiveness between mother and daughter is brought to life in perhaps the best sequence of the show that included Don’t Rain On My Parade

Monamy also has a big voice and the two of them together were a potent combination. It’s unfortunate that Garland’s signature song from The Wizard of Oz was drowned out a little by an over loud backing track (the only occasion this happened).

Taaffe (himself a 2014 Finley Award winner as Best Director for Xanadu) imbues Allen with the snide remark or Ocker cheekiness that powered a lot of the humour. I Go To Rio gets an obligatory maraca-styled performance with no less than Garland and Minnelli on backing vocals! While I Still Call Australia Home generated the mandatory audience participation I was more enamoured of the highly personal Tenterfield Saddler and Don’t Cry Out Loud was another strong number.

While the songs were being performed images of the real life Garland, Minnelli and Allen were projected on the back wall as well as posters from movies and other snapshots. These did much to visually establish their relationships and career highlights.

With three powerful voices on stage sometimes the sound mix struggled to adjust but this was a well sung and charming trip down memory lane with a nice sense of humour and a roster of terrific songs. It didn’t take much encouragement for me to Get Happy and I’ll confess to bouts of toe tapping as well.

A most enjoyable interlude at one of the many Fringe outposts outside the CBD, this one being the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre which had a real festival atmosphere with plenty of stalls... and the hot dog consumed before the drive home wasn’t too bad either!