Friday, 12 February 2016

Viva La Restoration - Fringe World 2016 (11 February 2016)

Imagine a world where colour doesn’t exist. Where people only vaguely recall it from a children’s fairy tale about golden and crimson monsters battling black and white knights. Where the powers-that-be consider colour dangerous as it incites emotions such as red for anger, blue for sorrow, yellow for fear, and orange for… well, let’s forget about orange for the moment.

Of course, this horrifying dystopian nightmare is quite familiar to anyone who is colour-blind (raises hand sheepishly). But this is the premise for the originally written musical Viva La Restoration or, more accurately the reworked version as this initially premiered back in 2013. Back then it was under the auspices of the University Dramatic Society (UDS). Featuring the same creative team of Jackson Griggs (Music) with Book and Lyrics by Thomas Owen and Cal Silberstein, this production has now been picked up by The Midnite Youth Theatre Company and directed by Gregory Jones.

It stars an excellent young cast of musical theatre performers, headlined by Olivia Everett as the whimsical Gwen Archer; Rupert Williamson as the intense Elias Kane; and Erin Craddock as Mayor Vera Donahue. To quell stirrings of unrest in this black and white world, Craddock’s Mayor announces a competition where Archer’s painting of an eye trumps Kane’s own creation. Both, however, are dissatisfied as something is missing. That something is of course colour that each discover in startlingly different ways. Archer through seeing colour in the eyes of her friend Lucy (Amy Fortnum) and Kane in more brutal fashion as red blood flows freely from one of his admirers Anna Meeler (Amber Kitney).

While Archer sets off to find the almost mythic Professor Perkins (Ben McAllister) who was banished for insisting that colour exists, Kane dazzles the local populace with his bloody art. Red becomes all the rage. The Mayor, advised by a bumbling duo of Councillors (Daniel Kirkby and Kieran Lynch), struggles to keep things under control, instructing her chief enforcer Officer Ambrose (Luke Wilson) to restore the monochromatic peace. It all ends in a showdown between Kane’s towering ambition fuelled by blood and Archer’s childlike idealism aided by the Professor’s dubious science in the creation of true colour.

The show started a little slowly but I really enjoyed this. The predominantly black and white design in costuming and projected images with splashes of colour, particularly red, is striking. The lighting also created great atmosphere with movable wooden frames holding old fashioned blinds rearranged in different combinations to diffuse light and provide the background for those images.

It showcased an excellent piano and guitar driven score that was very well played by the band of Ben Hogan (Keyboard/Conductor), Josiah Padmanabham (Guitar/Keyboard), Gwyneth Gardiner (Bass) and Andrew Silberstein (Drums) that added a lot of mood and texture.

Everett continues to impress with a deft comic touch that I really enjoy. Williamson was all brooding malevolence while Craddock presented a sleek and stern Mayor. Kirkby and Lynch worked well together as comic foils while Fortnum’s change in allegiances was heightened by the earnest loyalty she imbued Lucy with. McAllister gave an offbeat performance as the Professor but gets away with it because we immediately recognise the mad scientist archetype. The ensemble provides great support with strong vocal talent amongst its ranks.

Unlike their previous collaboration How We Ruined MacArthur’s Markers where the lyrics attempted a Sondheim level of complexity, the songs here are simpler and far more effective because of it. Highlights included the dark Living Masterpiece and the lovely Horribly Horrible where Everett’s Archer, faced with the failure of her quest, sings of how she wanted statues. Yes, both lead characters are not short of ego!

But this is one of my quibbles – it took a while for the show to settle into a groove that I thought I’d found when Archer meets the Professor and we get some shtick and the light-hearted I Believe In You. Ah, musical comedy, of course! The very next scene dashed that thought entirely when things took a very dark turn indeed. These two competing tones battled each other throughout the production – the light comedy styling that Everett pulls off so well versus the intense psychological drama that Williamson embodied. It sort of works as both represent diametrically opposed forces on the colour spectrum but the changes in style could, at times, be jarring.

The other minor suspension of disbelief issue emanates from the Book – in a colourless world colour exists in nature as depicted by the eyes and the flow of blood. It was as if no-one had ever noticed this before, not even after a minor cut or scratch.

Other than that this was well played, well sung, looked terrific and featured a great young cast. Plaudits go to Messrs. Griggs, Owen and Silberstein on continuing to develop this 90 minute, one act musical. It’s a devilishly tricky form to get right and this is an enjoyable production that showcases great potential for future endeavours. A recommended addition to the local music theatre scene.  

Viva La Restoration is on at the Subiaco Arts Centre until 20 February.  

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