Monday, 27 October 2014

Crave - Hayman Theatre Company (26 October 2014)

Four actors, four wooden chairs, one black box theatre. Two actors in white, the other pair in black. Male, female, black, white. Nameless, elusive, damaged. Short, precise lines picked up and carried by each actor as if thoughts tumbling in the breeze. Terrible words, terrible deeds, terrible legacy. Abrupt outbursts, anger, longing, obsession. Moments of eloquence, dense passages of intense monologue. Hurt. Futility. Abuse. Rape. Murder?

Confusion, annoyance, concentration. It’s Sunday night and I’m struggling. The fractured nature of the delivery and of the stylised writing forces me to pay attention. It is elliptical and obtuse. Initially it surprises me. Then it annoys me. Then slowly, awkwardly, its rhythms and darkness fascinate me. What is it all about? What does it mean? Why do I care? How should I respond? I feel emotionally distant as if watching an ugly transgression through Perspex. Is it even real?

Ultimately, did I like Sarah Kane’s writing? No. It was deliberately ambiguous, a verbal manifestation of that blurred object that refuses to fall into focus in the extreme of your peripheral vision. Far too much like hard work on a Sunday night. On any night.

What elevates the production is the fine work of all four actors who are very good with the exacting dialogue that requires precise timing; and the direction of Savannah Wood who keeps them in motion and interacting in striking pairings. Those actors are white-clad Caleb Robinson-Cook who gives a bravura extended monologue that was an emotional assault of rapid fire words that I later learnt took the better part of 12 weeks to nail in rehearsal. I can believe it. His black-clad male counterpart is Ryan Hunt who predominantly interacts with Annika-Jane Shugrue, also in black, while Emma Smith gravitates more to Robinson-Cook.  

All of them exhibit a range of emotions as they verbally joust over the most horrible of topics. This is full on and not for the fainthearted.  A couple of choice blood-curdling screams act as both punctuation points and a sonic slap in the face to make sure the audience’s attention doesn’t waver. The chairs are used as props throughout and there is a real physical nature to the performance that adds to the verbal conundrums. This is essential as a static presentation would have lost me in the more portentous meanderings of the writing.

At the end I could not help but admire the skill and precision that was used to bring a very difficult piece to life.

But what did it all mean?

My immediate reaction was that the black and white characters were different representations of a man and woman who were in a dysfunctional relationship with an exploration of the reasons for that dysfunction and its consequences. There were lines about generations passing on events and knowledge so I initially thought each embodied a family history of sorts. Talking to one of the actors afterwards he suggested they had tackled it as four separate characters, one pairing being the parents of the troubled couple. I had taken references to 'mother' as being more metaphorical but that’s the elusive nature of the play. Any interpretation might be valid with the non-specific stage directions in the script and the lack of clarity of who is talking to whom.

So I looked online for previous reviews from different productions and pretty much none of them offered a theory other than to list themes, general observations and exhibit a fascination with T.S. Eliot. At least I wasn’t the only one who found it hard work!

I can’t say I 'enjoyed' the play but it certainly was a fascinating if dark experience that was well performed and directed.

Crave was written by Sarah Kane, Directed by Savannah Wood and starred Caleb Robinson-Cook, Ryan Hunt, Emma Smith and Annika-Jane Shugrue. 

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Gasp! - Black Swan State Theatre Company & Queensland Theatre Company (25 October 2014)

Excited chatter went around the Heath Ledger Theatre as people realised that Ben Elton was in the audience for the opening preview of his play Gasp! The director Wesley Enoch gave a brief introduction including the right to stop the play at any stage if there were technical difficulties. Thankfully this wasn’t required as the performance went smoothly with opening night scheduled for this Wednesday.

Gasp! is a reworking of Elton’s first professional play (originally called Gasping) and has been reimagined specifically in an Australian context. It is a satire about the absurdity and ethical vacuum of big business as even air is commodified for profit. Great for those who can afford this designer air, not so good for the poor who slowly suffocate. 

The cast is made up of Greg McNeill as Chifley Lockheart, head of a resources company that has mined most of Australia and sent it offshore to the Chinese. Steven Rooke plays a seven figure executive, Sandy, who toadies up to the boss at every opportunity and lords over the six figure number two, Phillip (Damon Lockwood). Phillip has his heart set on asthma-ridden Peggy (Lucy Goleby) whose respiratory ailments give him the idea for Suck ‘n’ Blow, a device that sucks in the air, purifies it, and blows it back into classy establishments. But as Caroline Brazier’s high powered marketing executive, Kirsten, excels in selling this designer air, suddenly consumers are hording it until finally oxygen itself is just another product. The power of global market forces ensures it quickly becomes out of reach of the masses to devastating consequences.

The cast is excellent. Lockwood impresses as the man who wants to prove himself not only in the company but to the girl he tried to kiss ‘on the oval’. I have some issues about his character’s arc but this is otherwise a very engaging performance. McNeill has great fun as the blustering corporate heavyweight and gives a cheeky turn in more ways than one. Rooke has a difficult role as his character is largely a device to generate conflict and obstacles for Phillip but he does it well. Brazier gives the ballsy ad executive an air of supreme confidence and sexiness that works in direct contrast to perhaps the key role, Goleby’s Peggy. She plays the moral compass of the play with a natural charm that grounds proceedings as every other character deals in hyperbole and one-upmanship.  

Enoch’s curious introductory remarks make much more sense when you see the technical ingenuity of the set where sliding sections of stage floor meant scene changes were quick, seamless, and inventive. There is also a large screen on the back wall where images and charts are projected to give this a real visual flair. The recreation of an executive steam room was particularly well done. There was only one moment where Lockwood was left in darkness at the beginning of a scene a few beats too long but being most adept at improvisation his winking nods to the audience kept things moving nicely. There were some minor timing issues but that will shake out over the run as the cast adjusts to where unexpected or prolonged laughs and spontaneous bursts of applause land.

Then there is the writing. Blackadder certainly was a formative sitcom as I was growing up and that style of humour is replete here, especially throughout the first act. Witty and cutting asides on topics and persons of derision are trademarks but at times it felt like Elton was too eager to please a hometown audience. The local references are fast and furious and there is an immediacy that instantly dates this version. The mining industry and figures such as Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer, Twiggy Forrest and Rupert Murdoch are easy targets as is the obligatory Abbott jab. Then there’s a host of pop culture references including the Kardashians, the Minogues, and even a Russell Crowe gag. Sure, it’s funny but at times felt strained.

Enoch had also mentioned that the creative team would be watching audience reactions as they calibrated the show and performances. This becomes notable in the second act where there was an early sequence where the humour became questionable especially in relation to women and there was an outburst regarding indigenous Australians that had me gasping but for all the wrong reasons. It was in keeping with the character’s viewpoint but the fact it went unchallenged was a concern. The mood of the audience noticeably shifted and it was an uncomfortable stretch for a while.

The second act is problematic because the dilemma set up for Phillip is whether he’ll stay beholden to the company or follow his conscience as pricked by Peggy. At times he seems to resist the manipulations of Lockheart but then is complicit in the larger horror of the ruthless extension of the air industry. So Phillip’s moral compass wavers all over the place whereas it called for a more natural progression. Peggy’s fate is dealt with in perfunctory fashion which felt odd as she should have been the moral bedrock in any decision Phillip made. The ending acts only as that – an end to the play. It comes out of left field and is thematically disturbing – the only action to take in the face of a rapacious and out-of-control business conglomerate is one so extreme as to be horrifying on many levels. Yes, this is satire but it was too much of a dark twist for mine. In the words of the play, it needed another ‘dog turd’ to bring out the absurdity in the fabric of the premise.

Having said that, there is a lot to like here - very strong performances, a great set and, especially in the first half, the trademark sense of humour that has made Ben Elton a household name. However, it will be interesting to discover whether Messrs’ Enoch, Elton and co were indeed listening to the mood of the audience early in the second act as the lady sitting next to me openly pondered as the lights came up.

Gasp! opens on Wednesday night at the State Theatre Centre and runs until 9 November. Written by Ben Elton and Directed by Wesley Enoch it stars Damon Lockwood, Greg McNeill, Caroline Brazier, Lucy Goleby and Steven Rooke.

Once Upon A Time - Fireflies Entertainment (24 October 2014)

When you wish upon a star…

That’s exactly what audience members were asked to do before this charming cabaret show about chasing your dreams within the most unusual of circumstances.  All those dreams and wishes were pegged to a couple of fish lines across the black box performance space upstairs at the Spare Parts Puppet Theatre.

Performer Emma Davis then proceeded to tell us about her dreams which were brought into sharp relief on watching Disney’s The Little Mermaid when she was a toddler. As for the unusual circumstances, well, Emma is the 11th child of 12 with three brothers and eight sisters! A recurring theme became the quest to gain the attention of mum and dad and all the obstacles growing up in such a large family. This was given greater resonance by the presence of Mum in the audience along with three of Emma’s sisters.

The show is a combination of audience participation (yes, I’m proud to announce my on stage singing debut, a rousing rendition of Puff the Magic Dragon with my fellow audience members), Disney songs with modified lyrics to suit, and engaging tales of family activities such as Christmas Day, picnics, and regular visits to the movies.

These stories were amusing logistical nightmares that come with invading a park or cinema in such numbers. But it’s the impact of the movies that shaped Emma’s ambition to become a performer, a Disney princess, and eventually to visit that ultimate dream factory. There are disappointments along the way leading to a lovely conclusion that again had more weight with Emma’s husband present doing the tech work. Indeed, Emma ‘directing’ Ben from the stage when sound cues were slightly wrong added to the charm and good-natured vibe throughout.

The other movies cited were Aladdin and Pocahontas. Now, I’m not a Disney aficionado – my formative movies growing up were Star Wars and Alien – but Emma’s passion and knowledge was clearly on display. I had no doubt she cried four steps into a Disney World every single time. And that’s the secret here – the authenticity of Emma’s story and the elements that influenced her as a person and performer. In many ways this reminded me of Allan Girod’s Absolutely… with songs. Both have a fundamental honesty, warts and all, that is engaging. I asked Emma’s mum afterwards how accurate it all was and she smiled and said they certainly knew how to clear a camping park!

To my shame I didn’t recognise the songs (did I mention Leia and Ellen Ripley were my movie princesses?) but Emma has a lovely singing voice that was featured to best effect in a homage to Disney then an ode to being a mermaid. Normally I am very reticent about being an active participant at the theatre but there was such an enthusiasm and delight here that it was hard not to get caught up in it all. Kudos to the gentleman plucked from the row behind me who, in a funny sequence, ‘played’ Emma’s youngest sister, Amy who I’m sure watched on bemused!

Emma returned to do an impromptu encore to warm applause and as we walked downstairs I was only left to wonder what all those other star shaped dreams left hanging on stage might have been…

Once Upon A Time stars Emma Davis and has one more performance upstairs at Spare Parts Puppet Theatre in Fremantle, 6pm, Saturday 1 November.  

Friday, 24 October 2014

Welcome to Slaughter - The Blue Room Theatre (22 October 2014)

Slaughter: the brutal or violent killing of a person.

A suitable word one would think for a production with overt horror references.

It’s a simple premise really. Two women drive along a dark road, stop, and something ‘horrific’ happens. I’m not sure what to make of that event but we’ll return to that later.

The play stars Jo Morris as Fawn (yes, a skittish, young deer in case we weren’t sure), Michelle Robin Anderson as the Rubik’s Cube-wielding Olive who is immune to spontaneous “I spy” road games, and Emily Rose Brennan as Perdita, the ‘thing’ they bring with them on the drive. They are all very good.

The set is excellent – a recreation of bush land; a car in two-pieces that is used to good effect; projection of a full moon and landscape; all creepily lit.

Add the provocative title and the promise of frights and everything is primed for a scary good time at the theatre.

Except that’s not what I witnessed.

Sure, I accept that trying to unnerve an audience saturated with all the tricks the movie world deploys in the name of horror is an unforgiving task. I also am led to believe many people have found it scary but for me this was far more a psychological piece with nary a shock in sight.

However, I didn’t know to what end and that prompted a lengthy discussion at the bar afterwards. 

Fawn and Olive appear to be running from something but the start is quite languid and I never had a sense from what. I liked how their ‘passenger’ was slowly revealed and there was some very nice work with performance and lighting in teasing out the ‘creature’ that proceeds to whisper in each woman’s ear. Suggestions, accusations, demands for action.

It seems this relationship of nine years is on rocky ground. They stop and again everything is setup for true horror – two women stuck in the middle of nowhere at night with something stalking them. Then Olive discovers, “you have brought us here before” and everything unravels. The creature is despatched by Fawn in violent fashion and they are free to continue their journey though not together as their relationship is ‘terminated’ as well.

The problem is I didn’t understand what the ‘creature’ was – their subconscious; their darkest desires? One person suggested that Olive and Fawn were different aspects of the one person. The “you’ve brought us here before” suggested that maybe it was a vengeful spirit of someone they had killed previously. Or was it all simply a metaphor for their relationship? Another discussion explored whether it was a commentary on mental illness.

To me it was far too vague and maybe this is the drawback of the devised method. They’re running from something, going somewhere with something along for the ride and when they stop something happens. These beats had to be better defined for mine. Especially if you’re claiming to navigate in genre waters as well established as horror.

I liked the acting, I liked the set and technical prowess but I didn’t know what it meant or was trying to tell me. So I was underwhelmed by the overall result. I wanted to see what the next twenty minute sequence would have been to illuminate theme and give clarity to the story.

In execution it reminded me of two plays - Delusions of Doubt and Les: Miserable - that were performed under the banner of Never Mind the Monsters at 2012’s Fringe. In those productions, however, the ‘monster’ was a clear representation of depression and there was none of the ambiguity here. It helped that the monster ‘plagued’ only one character – the time-sharing in this production muddies the water with expediency paramount rather than plausibility. It partly favours the dual aspects of one character interpretation. 

Slaughter: the brutal or violent killing of a relationship by metaphorical intervention?

Directed by Michelle Robin Anderson and Joe Lui, Devised by the actors and Jeffrey Jay Fowler, and starring Michelle Robin Anderson, Jo Morris, and Emily Rose Brennan, Welcome to Slaughter is on at The Blue Room until 25 October

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Punk Rock - WA Youth Theatre Company (16 October 2014)

If you’re going to run into walls best do it full tilt.

That’s exactly what director Renato Fabretti and his talented cast of young actors have done in every sense with this uncompromising play. I had not seen the WAAPA version earlier in the year and, having never read the play, did not know what was in store.

What unfolded at the Subiaco Arts Centre studio was a slow burn production that was shocking, uncomfortable and powerful. It elicited several visceral responses from the audience as it built to a brutal climax and then lingered in the aftermath to let us all breathe again. That the cast was predominantly made up of young teenagers was remarkable.

The story itself starts innocently enough – students in an English school common room discussing their mock exams, the teachers, and each other with the usual group dynamics and hierarchies firmly in place. There is the inquisitive William (Luke Binetti) who is keen on the smart new girl Lily (Chelsea Gibson) who will turn down his request for a date because she’s secretly seeing the suave Nicholas (Sven Ironside) who is mates with bully Bennett (Declan Brown). Bennett takes particular delight in picking on quiet intellectual Chadwick (William Everett-Knight) while the meek Tanya (Claire Thomas) occasionally cops his ire as well. Bennett’s girlfriend Cissy (Naomi Denny) is powerless to control him as indeed is everyone else who appear paralysed in the face of his escalating antics. Until one of them makes a stand and matters spiral out of control in horrific fashion.

The decision to not have an intermission is a critical one. As the tension builds I quickly come to realise that what at first seems like typical teenage antics is going to mutate into something far more primal and disturbing. The seating configuration means the audience is right on top of these characters and the confined space adds to the pressure cooker atmosphere. A break would have leached out that gnawing sense of impending dread. Instead there is no respite as the stakes are ratcheted up and we’re right there with the characters. It’s exhilarating and draining in the best possible way.

The external expectations of parents, test scores and their own personal ambitions be it Oxford or Cambridge pile on the pressure for these teenagers but it’s their isolation from the school body that is telling. In this hermetically sealed world of the common room their worst instincts can run amok as secrets are revealed, lies exposed, true character traits hinted at, and monstrous acts born of dispassion are allowed to flourish.

In this Declan Brown gives a wonderful performance as the utterly loathsome bully Bennett. He is a physical presence that intimidates all of the others but it’s his use of pointed sarcasm and humour that hits home early before he goes too far with his humiliation of Chadwick. He has a beat with Thomas’ Tanya that was utterly unexpected and had me gasping. It’s such a brave moment from both performers and was a clear signpost of how far this production might dare to take the escalating psychological and physical violence. At one point when Bennett was in full flight and none of the characters would even look at him let alone challenge his behaviour I wanted to get out of my seat and clock him one. Kudos, Mister Brown.

The main target of Bennett’s rage is given a moment of quiet dignity and respect as Everett-Knight delivers a fascinating monologue about the true nature of mankind immediately after Chadwick is debased in sickening fashion. It’s a highlight as he neither flees nor resorts to any forlorn attempt at retaliation other than to express his contempt for Bennett as representative of our inevitable worst aspects as a species.

Gibson is intriguing as the smart and engaging Lily. She is playful and clever in the opening scenes but slowly teases out a darker undertone as Lily’s sexual relationship with Nicholas is revealed and she appears quite callous at times to the feelings of others, notably William. Ironside is all charm as Nicholas and works well with Gibson in their more intimate moments. Denny adds sass and attitude as Cissy though that front is easily pricked by her boyfriend’s bluster. Thomas' Tanya is maybe the one true innocent even though the character's delusions about being in love with one of the teachers and wanting to have his babies hints that all of these characters are fundamentally flawed. Together they are a fuse away from exploding.

Then there is seventeen year old Binetti who gives a spellbinding performance as William. Initially he appears to be the good-natured nerd, full of questions and hopelessly out of his depth in attempting to woo Lily. We gradually see that he has his own delusions and secrets that are carefully revealed until he appears before us an entirely different prospect. For that transformation and its consequences to be handled so convincingly is a testament to Binetti’s skill.

Not only were the performances impressive I loved the sense of play throughout this. The stage ends up a complete mess as the actors use every inch of it – drawing on the walls, clambering up, under and over the tables and chairs, throwing all manner of stuff at each other, and totally inhabiting the space. They eat, drink, cavort and react spontaneously which is such a delight to see. Well done to Fabretti and his crew for letting them loose on the set. In what could have been a dialogue heavy, sit and deliver play this instead always had someone in motion or doing something interesting even if they weren’t featured in the scene. I should also state that Simon Stephens’ writing was excellent with clever dialogue and a dark sense of humour.

The penultimate scene is performed in near darkness illuminated only with a torchlight that enhances the chilling climax that was difficult yet enthralling to watch. The final scene is one that was debated after the show as structurally it felt overlong and redundant but serves the purpose of letting the audience down after the harrowing scene before it and attempts to cast some light on the reasons for what we have just witnessed. David J Rose adds support here and the cast is rounded out by a cameo from Tahlia Norrish as Lucy who also provides a live score.

WAYTCo are to be applauded for tackling such a powerful piece and doing so in a full-throated manner. Directed by Renato Fabretti and Written by Simon Stephens, Punk Rock stars Luke Binetti, Declan Brown, Naomi Denny, William Everett-Knight, Chelsea Gibson, Sven Ironside, David J Rose, Claire Thomas and Tahlia Norrish, names we can expect to hear more of in the future.   

Ninety - Garrick Theatre (15 October 2014)

Time is certainly on the mind of all involved with this production of Joanna Murray-Smith’s examination of a once vibrant relationship now defunct. How the passage of time changes who we are and how we relate to others, particularly our significant other. But also in the major device in the construction of this two-hander – Isabel (Katrina Murphy) has requested exactly ninety minutes of her about-to-be-remarried ex-husband’s time.

William (Gino Cataldo) is less than enthused on his arrival at her artist’s residence but after the initial sparring they soon reminisce about the high and low points of their time together. The production plays out in real time for that hour and a half with flashbacks to how they first met; their honeymoon in Europe; the birth of their daughter; and the tragedy that ultimately dooms the marriage.

In many ways this play reminds me of Scott McArdle’s Coincidences at the End of Time where two former lovers meet and relive their relationship as the world crumbles around them. In that play though, time is about to end forever so there is urgency to the remembrances with considerable weight to the revelations that are ultimately teased out. Here the faux ‘ticking clock’ of the ninety minutes feels like a gimmick that has more to do with the running time then any mechanism to generate urgency and stakes as time ticks down. More importantly, I didn’t understand what Isabel’s goal was to ask for such a specific block of time – it seemed like a lot of extraneous hard work to set up such an artificial device with no actual purpose. They spar, they remember, they part.

The writing was particularly stylised and oftentimes I did not believe that two people – people who had, it turned out, experienced so much together – would talk to each other like that (“You promised me ninety!”). Then again, Isabel is an art restorer and William is a newly minted Golden Globe winning actor so there was a sense of artifice to the many art and theatrical references with the occasional curious, dated pop culture references thrown in (Bozz Scaggs anyone?). Of course, William is significantly older than Isabel having been her teacher so there is naturally a disparity in the comparative frames of reference.

The use of the ‘restored painting metaphor’ was heavy-handed as well – as layers are peeled away we ‘see’ who the subjects of a painting really are. Finally there are times the characters appear to be addressing the audience more than they are each other – this was odd as it robbed us of intimacy and insight as if they were simply regurgitating memories instead of experiencing them.

My biggest problem with the play though is that it was performed at the same pace and measured tone during its length. Murphy was a warm and engaging presence but was so throughout – it is suggested that Isabel is the far more sexually adventurous of the two but I never saw that edge of ‘danger’ nor any passion or ‘spark’ between them. William is an award winning actor but Cataldo never gives him that sense of theatricality – there were moments that could have been played ‘big’ and even the stylised dialogue could have really been emphasised as a ‘performance’. This meant that when his final monologue comes – a time when all artifice should be absent and we see true grief and rawness – it doesn’t have the same impact.

There needed to be more gear changes along the journey to earn the emotional climaxes for both characters. It would have also helped with characterisation - William largely comes off as a prick. When he tells Isabel in the early going why he doesn’t love her anymore he doesn’t just run over her with the bus he reverses the damn thing and steamrolls the poor girl’s prone body a few times in a verbal outburst that was quite shocking. Now, if he was being an ‘Actor’ I might have forgiven the excess but here it made it almost impossible for me to identify with the character.

The one sequence that did work well is when Isabel, the young female student, rings her teacher William and propositions him for sex. He is the reluctant one and amusingly, Isabel tells him that he should be ‘stalking’ her. When he does turn up at her flat she initially denies all knowledge of the call. This sense of play needed to be used more to break up the ‘sameness’ of the production. The actors had a beautifully designed set to perform in as the artist’s loft was lovingly rendered and the lighting cues certainly helped with the flashback sequences.

For me the writing was problematic but this is the sort of play that needed to be far more adventurous within the conceit that was set up to really work.

Directed by Brendan Ellis, Written by Joanna Murray-Smith and starring Katrina Murphy and Gino Cataldo, Ninety’s final performance is tonight at the Garrick Theatre.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Children of Eden - WAAPA (13 October 2014)

There is no better feeling than being totally surprised by a theatre production. I had no idea what to expect with Children of Eden. It was the WAAPA second year musical theatre students’ first standalone musical after their public debut earlier in the year (the play Beach) and sterling support of the third years in West Side Story. I am not a religious person so the prospect of an overt retelling of sections of the Bible left me somewhat cold. The Enright Studio is also my least favourite venue at the Mount Lawley campus tending, on occasion, to be a little cramped seating wise.

I’m happy to report that any reservations I had disappeared almost immediately in what turned out to be a spectacular production. The second years were uniformly excellent; it is a beautiful score with wonderful songs; and the venue was comfortably configured and used to maximum effect. I walked away with a real sense of the ‘wow’ factor hence my delighted surprise.

The story is familiar even to someone as unschooled in the Bible as me – the First Act is Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden who are subsequently cast into the Wasteland when they defy ‘Father’ and eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. The Second Act is Noah and the great flood. What I didn’t expect is how much good-natured humour there is throughout. The themes of free will versus (parental) control, unconditional love, compassion, forgiveness and ultimately letting go so that your children, however you want to define that term, can exercise their own choices are universal and there is nothing preachy at all here. It is a joyous recounting of iconic tales that have survived for two millennia.

I particularly liked the parallels as first Adam then Noah assumes the de facto ‘Father’ mantle of their respective families and the hard earned lessons that lead to forgiveness and love. Another key aspect is that a completely different cast of performers is featured in each Act which gives everyone a chance to shine. And shine they do…

Father is played by Matthew Hyde, a towering figure in a sharp white suit who is genial and kind to his children Adam (Daniel Ridolfi) and Eve (Baylie Hemming) as they discover the joys of the Garden. That benevolence turns to consternation then wrath as they defy him. Hyde plays both sides of that coin well and is aided in his rage by great lighting and sound effects as he curses Cain and later in the Second Act brings the thunder and rain.

Hemming is the impulsive ‘spark of creativity’ as she quizzes Father relentlessly and is first to fall to the seductive charms of the Snake and partake of the forbidden fruit. She does well with the difficult The Spark of Creation but it’s in the final number of the First Act, Children of Eden that Hemming excels.

Ridolfi is a warm Adam with a lovely singing voice who calmly and implacably believes Father will return to take them away from the Wasteland. A World Without You where he proclaims his love for Eve even if it means joining her in exile is a highlight.

We soon meet a playful young Abel (Harrison Prouse) and a sullen young Cain (Joe Meldrum) subsequently played as teenagers by Morgan Palmer and Chris Wilcox respectively. Wilcox, in particular, gives a physical and forceful performance as he challenges Adam and ultimately Father. He exploded into action in the second half of the First Act and added a rock flavour in his singing and posture. The death of Abel at his hands is well handled and the darkest point of the tale.

The other significant presence is the Snake, a sensational six-headed ssynthesissss of sensuousnesssssss and sssssslinkinessssss as sssimulated by Tayla Jarrett, Taryn Ryan, Kate Thomas, Rosabelle Elliott, Jess Phillippi and Megan Kozak. Their tempting of Eve is downright playful and sexy.

After the interval Megan Kozak warms up the audience as she’s featured in the boisterous Generations. Then it’s time for Noah (Jacob Dibb) to assume the father mantle as he guides his wife Mamma (Heather Manley) and sons Japeth (Joel Granger), Ham (Callum Sandercock) and Shem (Alex Thompson) through the perils of arranged marriage and, of course, the building of the ark. Japeth incurs the wrath of the family when he chooses to wed Yonah (Matilda Moran) who is marked as the line of Cain and therefore seen to be utterly unsuitable.

Granger and Moran’s duet In Whatever Time We Have echoes A World Without You and is another highlight. Moran also features with Stranger to the Rain and was most impressive in the acting stakes as Yonah becomes the unlikely catalyst for compassion and healing as the situation becomes desperate on the ark. In fact this whole sequence is nicely acted with Dibb’s work pivotal and Rosabelle Elliott and Jess Phillippi rounding out the main cast as Aphra and Aysha respectively.

Then there’s Heather Manley who blew the doors off the joint with a blistering rendition of the gospel flavoured Ain’t It Good. Even the ensemble seemed impressed as they were all smiles responding to the vocal fireworks. It ends with the entire cast singing In The Beginning which was a fitting and emotional finale to a great show that had so many other highlights even in small moments like Sandercock’s vocal work as Adam and Eve enter the Wasteland.

I must mention the atypical setup that had three rows of seating along both of the long walls of the Enright Studio facing each other. This meant the performers were in very close proximity as they used the entire length of the narrower stage space. At times they were even behind those rows singing in what I overheard one audience member describe as “surround sound” – a nice effect. Finally, the band of Derek Bond (piano), Alex Barker (bass) and Ellenor Pereira (drums) who were tucked away in a corner was excellent and I really enjoyed the beautiful piano driven score.

Directed by Adam Mitchell with a Book by John Caird, Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, Musical Direction by Derek Bond and featuring the second year musical theatre students and the three piece band of Bond, Barker and Pereira, Children of Eden is a wonderful piece of musical theatre that is uplifting and beautifully delivered. A must see with only 5 more performances until 18 October 2014.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Exactly Like You: The Magic of Dorothy Fields - His Majesty's Theatre (11 October 2014)

You know you’ve done pretty well when your opening act is Barack Obama. Yes, Exactly Like You starts with a recorded excerpt from the President’s first Inauguration speech where he borrowed lyrics from Dorothy Fields’ song Pick Yourself Up. It’s a somewhat obscure reference unless you are familiar with Fields impressive body of work – over 400 songs stretching from the 1920’s all the way to the early 70’s. If you’re not then writers Izaak Lim and Nick Maclaine take you on a guided tour of the lyricist’s career in a slick and entertaining cabaret show featuring Ali Bodycoat as Fields.

Having recently seen Lim and Maclaine’s tribute to Cole Porter (You’ve Got That Thing!) in Melbourne they use a similar format that works well – three performers and an accompanist on piano using songs between key narrative scenes to tell the span of a life story from one character’s perspective. While Porter was the referred to yet absent hero in that show, here Fields is front and centre with Bodycoat giving a wonderful performance both vocally and in the acting stakes. She is joined by Ian Cross as the much older and brash composer Jerome Kern; and Lim himself playing three roles – initially Fields’ early composer and lover Jimmy McHugh, her brother Herb Fields, and finally the composer Cy Coleman who lures Fields out of retirement for a late career resurgence that includes the collaboration on the musical Sweet Charity.

Collaboration is the key word here as Fields worked with a variety of famous people including Irving Berlin on Annie Get Your Gun which perhaps explains why she is not as well-known as her track record deserves. Indeed, much is made of Fields blazing a path in a traditionally male dominated realm but except for Kern’s initial protestations and early condescension little is seen of this. A point reinforced by the closing monologue where Fields acknowledges how grateful she was to have such gifted male colleagues, mainly the ones who are featured here. But this is predominantly a celebration of her songs so the negative aspects are nodded at but not explored in any great depth.

Bodycoat is such a strong presence that wisely the opening interlude with McHugh is brief as Fields flounders on learning she is merely a ‘fling’ for the also married composer. It’s a fleeting moment of weakness that throws the character but ultimately leads to more productive collaborations.  It’s when she butts up and holds her own against other dominant personalities – Cross giving Kern a lovably gruff father-figure aspect, and Lim as the irrepressibly charming Cy Coleman - that Bodycoat excels playing a strong, feisty woman who very much knows her abilities. Her posture throughout was very erect, her costuming very formal, and there was a stillness that radiated calm confidence. No flamboyance here even during one of Fields’ signature numbers, Big Spender, the writing of which was amusingly reconstructed with Lim on piano.

Other highlights included the transition from a moment of triumph – Kern and Fields winning the Oscar for Best Song (The Way You Look Tonight) - to the announcement of Kern’s death which was beautifully handled; the resurrection of Kern as a ‘phantom’ in the second act to urge Dorothy to ‘pick herself up’ after his death; and the fine comedy work between Bodycoat and Lim as Cy Coleman ‘propositions’ the older woman to write with him. The piano playing by Musical Director Lochlan Brown was excellent and the singing and sound balance throughout was equally impressive.

The standout though is Bodycoat who shines playing a woman who could craft a lyric from plain speak yet had that touch of New Jersey vulgarity. Even when put on the spot as we observe her sat melancholic while Cross’ rendition of Lovely To Look At plays over the speakers, she is fascinating in what was a brave directorial move by Michael Loney. Such deliberate stillness and inactivity for what must have been the better part of 3 minutes on stage takes guts by both director and performer.

I walked away from the sold out final night the same as I did from You’ve Got That Thing! – thoroughly entertained and knowing a lot more about a key figure in 20th century musical history. That is no small achievement and a seam that Lim and Maclaine will hopefully continue to mine with equally enjoyable results.

Directed by Michael Loney with a Book by Izaak Lim and Nick Maclaine, Lyrics by Dorothy Fields, Musical Direction by Lochlan Brown and featuring Ali Bodycoat, Ian Cross and Izaak Lim, the show was performed Downstairs at His Maj as part of Cabaret Soiree. 

Blood Wedding - WAAPA (11 October 2014)

If Game of Thrones has taught us anything it’s that weddings are to be avoided at all cost. Red ones, Purple ones and now, courtesy of WAAPA and Federico Garcia Lorca, Blood ones. Yes, this is not a happy tale. Things start calmly enough as the audience is greeted by a band playing appropriately Spanish music with Hayden Emery doing some tasty classical guitar work. The Roundhouse set is particularly impressive with full length arches made of entwined rope and what will be a series of different drapes hanging from the rafters. There is an upper level walkway that will see extensive use even by a surprise ‘character’ in the second half.

The production begins with the band retreating to upstage left and the second year acting students in 1930s period attire attacking the stage with gusto in dance and song. It’s an attention grabbing opening. From there the tale of generational family conflict and bloodshed unfolds as a Mother (Stephanie Panozzo) bemoans the use of guns and knives as her son, credited only as the Bridegroom (Andrew Creer), goes off to work on the family vineyard. It seems he is betrothed to a woman – The Bride (Shalom Brune-Franklin) - who once had a relationship with Leonardo (Ben Kindon) who is from a family that murdered the Mother’s husband and other family members. Leonardo’s Wife (Rebecca Gulia) is none too happy when Leonardo wants them to travel to the wedding leaving their baby with the Mother-in-Law (Jess Paterson). The Father of the Bride (Bevan Pfeiffer), however, is eager to finalise the union as the Bridegroom’s family has extensive lands and wealth compared to his. Things go terribly awry when Leonardo runs off with The Bride on the wedding night and they flee into the woods. It does not end well as the Mother’s wrath and anguish towers above this tragic tale of impulsive love, revenge and generational violence.

In many ways this reminded me of the Sicilian sequences in The Godfather. That sense of passion, the pre-eminence of family, and the animosity between clans that lingers for generations. The production is full of song and dance and even gets quite surreal at points in the second half as the Moon (Lincoln Vickery) decides the fate of those in the woods with his light illuminating (or not) the transgressors. There’s also a creepy Beggar Woman (Hoa Xuande) in this sequence who adds a supernatural tinge to proceedings.

The show ends quite abruptly after The Bride presents herself to the Mother and beseeches the grieving woman to cut her throat and end the cycle of violence. But what use is this sacrifice to a woman who has lost all the men in her life so cruelly? This is punctuated with a thud as the deceased are summarily disposed.

I really enjoyed this though it took me a little while to get my bearings. The first scene after the dance introduction was tentative and awkward but from that point Panozzo (who sports a convincing Spanish accent) gives an increasingly strong performance culminating in a powerhouse final sequence where her anguished song is quite devastating. It’s interesting that all of the main characters seem set in their ways throughout – the Mother foreshadows the outcome in the very first scene – but maybe that is the true tragedy – none of these people can change their essential nature. 

Brune-Franklin is terrific as the haughty Bride and her plea to the Mother at the end is heartbreaking. Creer is a strapping Bridegroom whose character is beholden to his mother but adds some lighter touches during the wedding celebration as brief as it is. Kindon is fiery and passionate as Leonardo which is a tricky role as he is less than kind to his wife and his impulsive nature is the catalyst for the tragedy. Gulia (with a beautiful singing voice) has a lovely moment with Paterson as they serenade the baby to sleep though she is largely left to play ‘the other woman’ as her husband follows his rash desires. A standout in a supporting role was Harriet Gordon-Anderson as the Bride’s servant. She is all fussy efficiency and practicality with yet again another strong singing voice.

There is plenty of work for the rest of the cast with a ribbon sequence between Brittany Morel, Claudia Ware and Elle Harris that is quite effective and Seamus Quinn, Dacre Montgomery-Harvey and Rian Howlett playing woodcutters in the second half. The cast is rounded out by Luke Fewster and Megan Wilding.

This is a wonderful mix of drama, dance, song and music but there were a few things that didn’t quite work for me. The band, who added so much mood and atmosphere particularly with a mournful saxophone (Michael Bednall), were a little loud in the latter sequences of the first half which tended to drown out pivotal dialogue which was already tricky to follow with the Spanish accents. When the woodcutters are chopping into the table a sound effect was used. This play is so visceral and passionate I wanted to hear the axes crunch on the table; I wanted to feel the reverberations. Not so good for the table perhaps but the sound effect was a little chintzy especially when it curiously wasn’t used for one of the woodcutters (nice save, checking the axe blade). Yes, later there was a cool lighting effect when the trees are cut down but it was a small moment that felt off-kilter. Likewise, I wanted to really experience the final THUDS. 

A couple of other minor things – most of the action is set quite far back and perhaps could have been brought forward to take advantage of the Roundhouse configuration. There are also times when central characters are saying dialogue to back of stage when they could have circled around to deliver lines. Other than that this is a really strong piece and has whetted my interest in seeing what this class does next year.

Directed by Ross McGregor, Written by Federico Garcia Lorca, starring WAAPA’s second year acting students and featuring a band of Michael Bednall (soprano saxophone), Hayden Emery (classical guitar), Jameson Feakes (guitar), Lila Raubenheimer (celeste), Dario Jiritano (double bass) and Tom Robertson (cajon), Blood Wedding is on at The Roundhouse Theatre until 16 October.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Escape Goat Utopia - Hayman Theatre Company (8 October 2014)

Nathan drops his last box of possessions as tears overcome him and he slowly slides down the wall, stage right until finally he curls up in the foetal position. An audience member, Nathan’s mother, can’t stand the pain of her son sobbing any longer and rushes onstage from her front row seat to comfort him. As her arms enfold him he looks up in anguish. ‘Mum, bugger off, you’re embarrassing me!” The Reviewer, also in the front row, thinks this suggestion is a wonderful idea as he talks to Nathan and his mother after the show and insists it must somehow be included… and so this paragraph came to pass…

None of this happened in the actual play, of course, but if it had the intrusion would have fit in perfectly to the absurdist, self-aware, meta-construct that was on display. A self-devised piece with the assistance of Jeffrey Jay Fowler, it is partly a commentary on the process of creating theatre; an existential rumination on the age old questions of who am I and what is my purpose; and for me, largely a showcase for the diverse talents of the cast. Then there are the goats.

Amusingly, in the best set piece – a lovely film noir parody replete with purple prose narration and femme fatale splendour that spins off into an all too clever discourse on theatre acting – a trap is set for the casual fan or critic. Beth (Tremlett) decries the person who tells her after a show that she was great, looked fabulous, and was clearly having fun as a shorthand way to avoid saying she is a bad actor. There is another layer of self-awareness here as the two-hander with Nathan (Whitebrook) clearly knows how good they both are as actors. While Beth was, as I’ve come to expect, excellent; did indeed look fabulous; and was having a good time with that particular iteration of her character, I dare not type that lest I… damn!

Embracing that conceit though, I can’t genuinely say I understood what the play was about or ultimately what it was trying to tell me. The theatre in-jokes were funny and well played but the existential crisis/debate was less interesting to me as it never really took a position. Throughout there is the recurring line, “this isn’t who you really are”; a notion that a Deep Thought like computer could conceive a moral code that could lead to world peace; and, in the long ensemble set piece at the end, further exploration about what would make the characters happy. The solution, in fitting with the tone of the piece, was absurdist and too obtuse for mine. Then there are those damn goats that were symbolically gnawing at the fabric of the universe. We’ll come back to them later, one in particular.

The structure is largely comprised of two-handers and initially felt like a series of skits after the first iteration of the more serious breakup scene between Nathan and Beth (yes, the characters use their actor’s first name). There was the death scene where one soldier (Monty Sallur) only wants to be told he is loved and beautiful by his reticent comrade (Jack Middleton) which was amusing, for some reason reminded me of Hair, but tended to be overlong as a sketch; two old schoolmates (Rhiannon Petersen and Rebecca Maynard) who have taken completely different paths in life have an awkward chance meeting at a supermarket; and an enthusiastic boss (played with gusto by Ariel Tresham) shows a new employee (Savannah Wood) the factory that makes toy goats. These pairings are revisited in seemingly alternative universes and it all folds in on itself and becomes self-referential until the end scene where all the actors assemble and intone in unison existential angst.

I loved the energy on display and there are genuinely funny parts such as when Jack storms off stage shouting ‘amateurs’ as the next iteration of the dying soldier scene is interrupted then debated by the ‘director’ (Ariel) and actors. My immediate response after the play finished was to say I was “processing” what I’d just seen… and that is a good thing though perhaps an ever elusive exercise. 

The set was simple with a silver curtain along the rear of the stage with turf covering the stage floor and side walls. There was good use of lighting and sound effects throughout to immerse us in this fantastical world. The acting styles also varied depending on the demands of any individual scene and there were moments of genuine drama between the absurdity and comedy. But what did it all mean…?  

Directed and written by Jeffrey Jay Fowler (based on a devising process), Escape Goat Utopia stars Ariel Tresham, Beth Tremlett, Rebecca Maynard, Jack Middleton, Monty Sallur, Nathan Whitebrook, Rhiannon Petersen and Savannah Wood and is on at the Hayman Theatre Upstairs until 11 October.  

Part 2

The Reviewer drops his programme as tears of frustration overcome him and he slowly slumps into his seat in the front row until finally he curls up in a semi-foetal position. A surprise cast member, Roxie Hart, can’t stand the pain of this critic sobbing any longer and rushes across stage from behind the silver curtain to comfort him. As her arms enfold him he looks up in anguish. “Roxie, bugger off, I’m processing here!” The actors, gathered on stage, think this notion is a wonderful development as they chat to The Reviewer after the show and insist it must somehow be included… and so this paragraph came to pass…

Okay, there appear to be clues throughout the play and here’s a theory *deep breath*…

The play is anchored by the breakdown in the relationship between Nathan and a pregnant Beth. It seems Nathan’s wayward tendencies – unfaithfulness, drugs and his pet goat – have caused an irrevocable split even though he pleads his case. The line, “this is not who you really are” that Nathan throws at Beth echoes throughout this and other scenes except for one notable exception when Beth later tells him this IS who you really are. Savannah also plays a pregnant character and ‘steals’ Beth’s showpiece monologue (which is beautifully delivered) - a surrogate version in his imagination?

Characters emerge from behind a shimmering silver curtain as if being summoned and disappear back into that glittery void. I would have to see it again but I don't recall Nathan breaking that 'barrier'. The philosophical discussions about moral codes and world peace possibly disguise his need for emotional stability. The play ends with a traumatised Nathan who has been moving out throughout the story collapsing into tears. 

I have a sneaking suspicion that the two-handers are wonderful perversions of his emotional trauma – the ‘dying’ character who needs to be told he is loved; a weird reinterpretation of how he met Beth (the “cute-meet”) now seen as two completely different (incompatible) people in the supermarket; his enthusiasm for the pet goat and Beth’s dismay morphed into the factory scene (where Nathan lurks in the background transfixed by a toy goat).

Then there is the fantastical film noir scene that comes immediately after the first set of pairings and puts the focus firmly back on Nathan and Beth. The ensemble sequence with all the characters speaking in unison would appear to be a giant echo chamber of his doubts and fears. Is Nathan like Roxie Hart in the movie version of Chicago taking real events - the breakup and its aftermath - and projecting them into fantasy? An escape indeed. 

Of course, there’s always the possibility that I am the goat…

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Blackadder the Third - Serial Productions (5 October 2014)

Serial Productions and the Old Mill Theatre appear to have concocted a cunning plan, more cunning than a fox that has majored in cunning and decided to enact a plan so full of guile and cunningness that it would stump a master criminal. Following last year’s by-all-accounts successful run of Blackadder Goes Forth these clever chaps have decided to put on the Third iteration of the popular sitcom. At this backwards rate, 2017 should see a stonking good production of Not The Nine O’Clock News. Yes, I have been a fan of Rowan Atkinson’s for some time. Throw in a little Ben Elton - though size isn’t all that important here - and some Richard Curtis and you’re pretty much guaranteed to have more fun than that time Hugh Laurie used to be a comedian.

Edmund Blackadder, the scheming, conniving butler in early 19th century London who suffers in the service of a Regent so foppish he makes Hugh Grant’s hairdo look like a crew-cut, labours away doing what he does best – scheming and conniving with trademark acerbic wit. He is assisted in this by his dogsbody Baldrick in much the same way engine failure assists aircraft fly. The acting Regent, George, the Prince of Wales, really is a decent chap though he is a few swizzle sticks short of a jolly good cocktail party. Together they navigate the treacherous waters of anarchists, overblown actors, transvestite highwaymen, destitution, and the Duke of Wellington’s wrath among other things.

Okay, down to business. Blackadder is an iconic character and Atkinson’s shoes are formidable ones to fill. I wasn’t convinced at first but Joe Isaia slowly won me over and is very good as the narky butler. The putdowns and snide remarks are all there and Isaia uses a lot of the same inflections but didn’t quite nail the scorn behind the words. No shame there – Atkinson is the absolute master of the cutting aside. Isaia is front and centre pretty much for the whole four acts and works particularly well with Rodney van Groningen’s George.

And what a George it is. Originally played by Hugh Laurie in the television series this is another challenge for any actor but van Groningen, who was excellent as Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream earlier in the year, is the standout here. His George is preening, childlike, na├»ve and stupid with some lovely moments of physical comedy as well. Keith Scrivens’ Baldrick, however, was oddly a little flat for me. His infamous “cunning plans” (yes, thank you to the gentleman sitting behind me on pointing them out lest the audience and I were under the misapprehension we were attending some strange re-imagining of The King and I) didn’t elicit the sort of craftiness and glee that I had hoped.

In support was Jacqui Warner as Mrs. Miggins with Natalie Watson and Brendan Tobin in minor roles. Michael Lamont played several characters, notably Samuel Johnson and the mad Scot, McAdder while Clare Fazackerley Wood had fun with the duality of Amy Hardwood, initially the source of George’s misguided affections who is later revealed to be a notorious robber. Finally, the director himself, David Gregory has a featured role as the Duke of Wellington in what was the last and best of the four acts, Duel and Duality.

This is where the source material is paramount – this isn’t a coherent play with a single through line narrative, rather four episodes of the show presented as individual acts. Even the running order has been changed – episodes 4 and 5 presented as Acts 1 and 2 with episodes 2 and 6 performed after intermission. The production lands on a suitable ending though the episodic nature detracts a little from the overall experience.

The other stars are the costumes which are fabulous and appropriately gaudy for the period where needed; and especially the set which is a marvel. Not one but TWO revolving sets, one taking up a third of the stage, the other twice the size. I may be no mathematician but that pretty much covered the entire available space. They worked so smoothly like rotating things that revolved on their axis in a circular motion creating the illusion of multiple sets and quick transitions. It really was well thought out and executed most impressively.

This is a slick presentation of a beloved television show, one that really hits its stride in the second half. Directed by David Gregory and written by Ben Elton and Richard Curtis, it stars Joe Isaia, Keith Scrivens, Rodney van Groningen, Jacqui Warner, Michael Lamont, David Gregory, Clare Fazackerley Wood, Brendan Tobin and Natalie Watson and is on at the Old Mill Theatre in South Perth until 11 October

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Farm - Spare Parts Puppet Theatre (4 October 2014)

I am a city boy. Born and raised in Cottesloe I’ve never lived or worked outside a metropolitan area, even spending four years in the heart of Sydney a few hundred metres from Centrepoint Tower. The only experience I’ve had with farms is when I was much younger. 

Every year the family used to drive down to Uncle Frank’s farm on the outskirts of Albany. It’s a pretty awesome experience when you’re a kid, this great big playground with tractors, cows to milk and all the strange wonders foreign to city folk. After a few days pretending to be great pioneers we’d pack up and head back to Perth.

Of course, Uncle Frank, Aunty Dot and their family never had that luxury and I guess I never did know how hard life was for them. He was a small man, his weathered face a roadmap of those hardships but he was nothing less than kind and generous… and a pretty mean table tennis player after finally selling the property when it all became too much…

Thoughts that came flooding back when watching the wonderfully evocative Farm. Here three generations of a family work the land with all the attendant highs and lows as Mother Nature provides, deprives, batters, and tests the very fabric of their resourcefulness and strength. Threaded within this, a young girl (Chloe Flockart) eager to help meets resistance from her Father (St John Cowcher) as this world is very much seen to be a male domain. She talks to her Grandfather (voiced by Humphrey Bower) over the two-way and he dispenses wisdom and stories which is the framing device for the tale that slowly unfolds. The other performers are Rebecca Bradley as the Mother and Ruth Battle who represents the elements, nature, and the odd pesky kangaroo or cheeky sheep.

The story itself is very simple but effectively tells of the small moments of joy, the heartache, and the dependency of life on the land. Starting from the clearing of the trees and the construction of the farm, to the planting of crops (represented as gold coins), to the devastation of drought and bushfires with enemies ever lurking like the kangaroos and salinity. The grandfather (Foxtrot1) tells of how the girl’s Mother and Father (Foxtrot4) met which is celebrated in dance but then the inevitable pressures of constant battles with the elements take their toll. At one point the girl pleads in a kind of invocation as she wishes: that it would rain, that things would grow, that her father would listen, and that her mother was happy. It swirls around the stage as whispered voices join the heartfelt chant. The play ends on a note of optimism and with a lovely moment of closure for the girl as Flockart simply dons a hat, finally accepted as a vital contributor to the revitalisation of the farm.

There is so much inventiveness in the staging of this production. It is beautifully lit with the sun and occasionally the moon key players as they hover over the land. A projector is used to great effect to depict messages scrawled in the sand (for the worms to read) and there even is some hand silhouette work as the story of the fox and the trees is told, the fox ultimately revealed to be the father. Symbolism is used throughout – this is a visually stunning production. The only performer who speaks onstage is Flockart; the Bower voiceover used as the Grandfather and also to represent the essence of the trees whose presence, even as ash, infuses this place.

Bradley and Cowcher work silently and effectively and with Flockart make up an entirely credibly family unit. Battle is terrific in various guises and costumes, the most notable of which are a kangaroo that bounds across the stage; and as The Salt Man in an eerie costume as she encircles Cowcher’s despairing farmer in salt. The musical score works in well and all the visual, aural and performance elements are synchronised to stunning purpose, none more so than in the bushfire sequence.

I very much liked that there were lighter moments – the almost slapstick sequence as the family chase after Battle’s sheep; the joyous nature of the dance that initially starts with Cowcher and Bradley with Flockart and even Battle’s sheep joining in. Yes, there is also sadness here as destruction and death is a bleak reminder of the realities of farm life. But the affirmation at the end that these people will continue no matter what obstacles are put in their way is a powerful testament to the courage and perseverance of the Merredin community that inspired this story… and people like Uncle Frank who I think would have enjoyed this very much.

Directed by Philip Mitchell, Written by Ian Sinclair, and starring Ruth Battle, Rebecca Bradley, St John Cowcher and Chloe Flockart with Voiceover by Humphrey Bower, Farm has that element of magic that can make theatre so special. It is on at the Spare Parts Puppet Theatre in Fremantle until 11 October and is suitable for all ages. In fact it was wonderful to see so many children in attendance at today’s matinee.