Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Momentum - WAAPA (29 August 2017)

The unexpected gem. There's at least one every year. A show you maybe don't know much about and have little or no expectaton for that turns out to be a theatrical treat. Momentum, a self devised piece by the 2nd year actors under the tutelage of visiting director Andy Paris, is such a production.

Based in the Moment Work technique this is the presentation of a collection of stories using movement, dance, lighting, props, costuming, audio and multi-media elements, utilising the whole of the Enright Studio space to support and enhance the text. These are the stories of the actors themselves, drawn from or inspired by their own personal experiences.

In its shape and construction Momentum is reminiscent of Love and Information, currently being performed by the 3rd years. However, there is an emotional authenticity and rawness here that is compelling in its honesty. The whole troupe have shared insights into pivotal moments in their lives and it's this vulnerability and generosity that makes Momentum a remarkable work.

Not so much Love and Information as Memory and Fears. Parents feature heavily in these memories, a combination of the traumatic, touching, and insightful. Fears are portrayed in relationships with parents, friends and possible lovers as well as touching on anxiety, bullying, suicide, domestic violence, identity, religion, and sexuality. That may sound 'heavy' but the creativity in the staging and the universal themes explored resonant deeply and keep this totally engaging.

There are also moments of humour including an hilarious 'guest star' appearance by Bobby De Niro himself and a little slapstick here and there.

Music is supplied by the divinely voiced Mia Morrissey on guitar as well as, wait for it, Duran Duran whose Hungry Like the Wolf I never thought I'd hear in a WAAPA production! Jessie Lancaster adds vocal support towards the end showcasing another fine voice.

This truly is an ensemble piece however I'd also like to recognise Teresa Moore's distinctive dancing throughout; Cameron Rouse's opening monologue that sets everything up and gives the actors 'permission' to own their stories and for the audience to embrace them; and the work of Sam Corlett who attacked his story about masculinity with complete fierceness.

The intimacy of the black box Enright Studio is perfect for this type of production and I'd highly recommend attending one of the last two nights this week.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Monday, 28 August 2017

Chicago - WAAPA (28 August 2017)

By scheduling a bona fide musical blockbuster in the last slot of 2017, WAAPA has eschewed the choice of lesser known productions over the last few years (The Beautiful Game, Carrie, Merrily We Roll Along). The results are surprisingly uneven.

Make no mistake, the songs and score are first rate and I was heartened to see a 15 piece orchestra under the baton of David King that played well. Special mention to the trumpet players Jack Sirett and either Matthew Smith or Benn Hodgkin.

The characterisation and staging though were very vaudevillian. This is not a slinky, sexy production by any means, more a heightened satirical romp that left me oddly disconnected from the material.

The opening number All That Jazz was strangely lifeless and Cell Block Tango suffered mightily with the over-exaggerated portrayal of the Merry Mistresses of Murderess' Row.

The show did settle into a strong sequence of scenes/numbers from A Little Bit of Good to We Both Reached For The Gun to Roxie and the second half was much more convincing particularly with the trial sequence.

Director Crispin Taylor and guest Choreographer Michael Ralph made Jenna Curran work her backside off as Velma Kelly in a physically demanding performance. Kelsi Boyden, an always expressive performer, impressed as Roxie and Laura Jackson also caught the eye as Mama Morton. I didn't quite get the pathos of Amos from Finn Alexander though, again, he was mainly played for laughs.

David Cuny was suitably slick as Billy Flynn but the choice of a boxing themed introduction to the character jarred. Tom Gustard stole the show with the Mary Sunshine number A Little Bit of Good. Nick Errol makes the most of his cameo as Fred Casely in great style.

A colourful confectionery that had its moments but needed a more hard-boiled edge to truly convince.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Love and Information - WAAPA (26 August 2017)

The first time I saw a production of this play - a series of rapid fire vignettes over 90 minutes - I described it as a Showcase on Speed. That was last year with a new collection of performers at Curtin University. This time it is with the graduating class at WAAPA. My opinion has not changed.

The difference, however, is that I have seen this troupe of actors for the better part of two years over a half dozen or so productions.

The play itself keeps me at arm's length - I have no empathy or connection with any of the dozen upon dozens of characters as there is no narrative, no arcs, no backstory, no connective tissue, only a fleeting glimpse at a series of circumstances, the context of which is illuminated on the set. From that standpoint it is purely an intellectual exercise with the (tenuous) link between all these moments being thematic in nature.

What is interesting though is that my empathy and emotional connection is with the actors themselves. They are given a myriad of different roles and scenarios to play, some seconds long, some a decent length scene. It demands a range of emotions and is a nice acting challenge. To see these students now on the cusp of professional careers rise to that challenge is the true pleasure of this play. In effect it IS a precursor to the end of year Showcases that will catapult them into the next stage of their acting journeys.

The other hook is in the execution. Associate Professor Andrew Lewis directs this with the same multi-layered approach as he attacked 2015's Macbeth. There are two musicians perched in each upper corner of The Roundhouse adding live music, recorded tracks, and aural effects; there are projections of scene titles and images on the set; and that set itself is a clever two level construction with compartments and scrim covered openings that allow for all types of creative configurations buttressed by the lighting design. Lewis is also very good at using the whole thrust stage space at the venue.

It all comes to what feels like an arbitrary stop as the play is unconnected to normal structures and story-telling rhythms. However, it was satisfying to see this group together all smiles at the conclusion. The two standouts in the Saturday matinee for mine were Audrey Blyde and Sasha Simon. Many a fine singing voice was also on display which bodes well for The Threepenny Opera in October.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Monday, 21 August 2017

Switzerland - Black Swan State Theatre Company (21 August 2017)

An emissary from a New York publishing house (Giuseppe Rotondella) is dispatched to Switzerland to convince reclusive crime novelist Patricia Highsmith (Jenny Davis) of The Talented Mr. Ripley fame to sign a new contract.

A bold move to stage a two-hander at an hour forty five minutes with no intermission in the Heath Ledger. The massive stage space was wisely reduced with a monolithic bunker design that sloped upwards from (audience) left to right which I took to hint at the title's terrain but mainly gave a visual indication of the power dynamics at play. This was consistent early with Davis always 'above' Rotondella as befitted their comparative status (and the distance between them also seemed calculated) but that spacing lost its discipline later in the play with the first 'crossing' of less impact than one might have thought.

The decorated Davis is suitably caustic as Highsmith and newcomer Rotondella is all wayward gestures as the callow intruder into her literal bunker-like mentality. But those default positions for a play that talks about and explores, amongst other things, transformation felt too rigid for too long.

More interesting were moments of contrast - seeing Highsmith unexpectedly enjoy 'show tunes' and especially become immersed in moments of introspection. Likewise, Rotondella comes to the fore in the latter stages when his character takes on a stronger, more confident tone and the power dynamic is altered.

Those transformations needed to be sharper and the timing in only the second preview felt off. That should shake itself out over the run with the back and forth becoming crisper and the shifts more clearly delineated.

There were moments you could see where the play will really hum - the delight Davis gives Highsmith when she deduces Edward Ridgeway's background; the two of them plotting the next Ripley novel; and the interaction in the final act.

As a writer I also enjoyed observations and commentary on the process of writing and the relationship between an author and the world and characters they create.

At this stage the play didn't quite fire on all cylinders for mine but that's what previews are for and once this finds its rhythm and with the talent involved will be a tidy two-hander with an appropriate denouement.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

An Almost Perfect Thing - The Blue Room Theatre & Gabrielle Metcalf (16 August 2017)

An exceptional script performed with precision and emotional depth by a stellar cast of Daisy Coyle, Nick Maclaine, and Andrew Hale.

The tale of a young woman newly escaped from being held captive for 7 years, her captor, and the journalist who brings her story to light told in two separate timeframes that overlap and mirror each other in execution, theme, and consequence.

Three damaged souls seeking control, recognition, and love in ways that are not so dissimiliar in a psychologically astute script that is engrossing.

An unusual running time at 100 minutes for a play at the Blue Room (with a brief intermission) but worth the experience as the acting is first rate and the material complex and dramatically rewarding.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews