Friday, 3 November 2017

WAAPA Showcase (3 November 2017)

From Stephen Sondheim to David Mamet; Kander & Ebb to Peter Shaffer; Jason Robert Brown to Patrick Marber... you're unlikely to see as diverse a selection of acting excerpts and musical theatre numbers in two hours as you do at WAAPA's annual Showcase.

The W.A.A.P.A. Friends Of The Academy Showcase night is one of my favourite dates on the Perth theatre calendar as we get to say goodbye and celebrate the graduating musical theatre and acting students. I actually find it inspirational to witness the talent on display after three gruelling years of study and knowing that this marks the transition point from student to professional career.

As always that talent is across the board excellent. Congratulations to each and every one of you and all the best for your future endeavours and careers.

If I may offer a limited selection of favourites from the night...

Acting Showreel scenes:

A delightfully quirky scene featuring Katherine Pearson as an unusual theatre patron encountering Martin Quinn's somewhat bewildered director after the premiere of his play.

Spider-Man meets Catwoman in a very well written scene that highlighted the talents of Jack Scott and Laura McDonald with a nice array of emotions and underlying message. The writing was so perfectly suited to the actors' strengths I was delighted to discover Scott himself had written it.

Acting scenes:

An oft encountered pairing who have excellent onstage chemistry, Roy Joseph and Laura McDonald, in an excerpt from John Patrick Shanley's Danny and the Deep Blue Sea. I loved the physicality of the scene, their accent work, and the clear, crisp action changes. Many other scenes saw blocking where the actors were too far apart in key dramatic and/or emotional moments. Here, Joseph and McDonald were literally in each other's face which heightened the potency of the scene. 

Sasha Simon's fierce performance playing opposite Mitchell Bourke in a scene from People, Places and Things by Duncan Macmillan. The focus is squarely on Simon as her character fights for help on her own terms. A smart decision therefore to have Bourke (who sets the table nicely) sitting angled away from the audience so that she was featured.

Musical Theatre numbers:

One of my absolute joys at the theatre is being surprised. That is often the case when someone who maybe hasn't been featured as much in the last couple of years blows you away in a jaw-on-the-floor moment. Here it was Chloe Bremner's performance of Behind These Walls which was superb.

Finn Alexander taking a song written for a female character - Sondheim's Losing My Mind from Follies - and making it his own in an exquisite performance. Brave choice, excellent execution that paid off in spades.

I have to also mention the musical accompaniment on piano from WAAPA's own Kohan van Sambeeck that was a non-stop, hour long tour de force.

In the days to come agents and managers and talent scouts and all sorts of other people will make decisons based on what they see at the final Showcase in Perth tomorrow night and then in Sydney and Melbourne. On the evidence of tonight I look forward to reading of agent signings and then casting announcements, both screen and stage, from here on in.  

Friday, 27 October 2017

Once We Lived Here - The Blue Room Theatre & Western Sky Theatre (25 October 2017)

At the question and answer session following the Wednesday night performance Ryan Dawson (who plays Burke) and Megan Kozak (Lecy) indicated how difficult it is to sing with their natural Australian twang. They explained that most musicals are delivered with either an American or leastways neutral accent given the predominance of the US as a generator of this type of entertainment. How refreshing then to hear the unique sounds and vernacular of a homegrown Aussie musical no matter how difficult to maintain. There are lyrics and rhymes in Once We Lived Here that you wouldn’t hear created anywhere else in the world. For that alone this is a notable entry in the modern musical canon.

But the show is much more than that. The setting is utterly Australian – the country farm and its inhabitants battling the elements and themselves to eke out a living. In many ways it reminded me of the Spare Parts Puppet Theatre production simply called Farm from a couple of years ago. Life is bloody tough on the land. Families toil for generations in conditions that would make the average city dweller blanch. There is a fierce loyalty and bond to that land and to each other. Those loyalties are constantly tested and this is where we get to the heart of the musical. 

Times are tough for the McPherson clan. The sheep farm is failing as is the health of the matriarch Claire (Sharon Kiely). Oldest daughter Amy (Taryn Ryan) has managed the farm ever since the death of her father some eight years earlier. Amy's siblings Lecy (Kozak) and Shaun (Joshua Firman) return to the property to be with Claire in what may be her final days. Former farmhand Burke (Dawson) also arrives at 'Emoh Ruo' though his motives are questioned by Amy. Hard earned truths and tragedy ensue as these five distinctly drawn characters interact in the furnace of the drought afflicted environment and competing memories of their shared history. Events of the past are revisited. Revelations made. Futures put in flux.

There is a truthfulness here that is commendable and while emotionally fraught, resonates with authenticity. There are no easy victories, no glib story beats. This heightens the joy we experience when these characters find even the smallest moment of happiness or deliver the briefest of smiles. The humour is distinctively Australian, at times laugh out loud hilarious, and a coping mechanism for the ever present harsh realities of country life.

Behind all this there is a spirit that infuses the musical that strikes me as quite special given it is counter-intuitive to what could be perceived as the general bleakness of the premise. It celebrates the strength and resilience of these characters and of those who choose to makes sacrifices, personal, professional and emotional, to work in the country. The love between siblings, and between a mother and her children, also rings out loud and clear. It's an impressive and ever present energy. 

The Book, Music and Lyrics are by Matthew Frank and Dean Bryant who, as was remarked at the QandA, are country lads. The structure involves cutting between two timelines - the present and eight years early when a key event shaped who these people have become. I admit, I was a little disoriented when the first 'flashback' occurred but once I keyed into the device it was fine. In this I was aided by the lighting design and notable change in performances - Shaun, for example, is only 13 years old in the flashbacks.

I very much liked that Frank and Bryant found a simple yet creative way to deal with exposition in the early going as Lecy uses a handheld camcorder to capture her feelings on returning to the farm and to interview her siblings. It works because it reveals so much about Lecy, the materialistic girl who fled to the bright lights of the city. It also sets up the family dynamics as the others react to her posturing. 

The music, beautifully played by the three piece band of (Musical Director) Joshua Haines on piano, Harry Love (guitar) and Luis Santos (double bass) in a room off to one side, is evocative and perfectly balanced with the vocals. So much texture is created here. The songs move the story forward and give us character insights aplenty. There's wonderful use of reprises to buttress emotional beats and recurring motifs for each character. Highlights include Ryan's Gotta Fix The Pump and As Far As The Eye Can See, Firman's haunting The Shearing Shed, and the moving The Leaves of Summer. Then there's the showstopper We Like It That Way that opens the second half in hysterical fashion. The cast sang superbly in the small space.

The dramatic heft of the Book means that the five performers have to show off some serious acting chops to go along with the impressive vocal talent. Foremost in this is Ryan who plays the practical, responsible daughter who, in many ways, is the replacement for the father that is so sorely missed. Ryan, one of the brightest stars in Perth's independent theatre scene, is simply terrific. There is a sequence where her character Amy finally lets all the bottled up emotions explode into life to quickly cut to a moment of happiness in the past which is just as swiftly undercut back in the present. The emotional range on display in a maybe 5-6 minute sequence is extraordinary.

By contrast, Kozak imbues younger sister Lecy with self-absorbed snark, and overt flirtatiousness when it comes to Burke. There is a certain desperation that bubbles under all this which becomes clearer in the second half. I'm a big fan of the off-beat comic energy Kozak brings to her performances and director Andrew Baker utilises it well here never letting it verge into caricature. 

Joshua Firman does incredibly well with a tricky role - as the larrikin 13 year old who grows up to be the cruising-through-life Shaun with a gnawing sense of emptiness that festers. Firman has charm to burn so it's intriguing to see the restraint deployed in the present day sequences. He nails the cheeky, boyish enthusiasm of We Like It That Way and his work with Dawson in Guitar Lesson is excellent. Firman also has such a joyous singing style when let loose that is a pleasure to experience.

I had not come across Kiely or Dawson before but both round out an excellent cast. The former oozes maternal love and protection as Claire, never allowing the character to be defeated by either her illness or the past. It is a performance of great integrity and decency that anchors the production. Likewise, Dawson's Burke is a voice of reason amongst the emotional tumult. His character is a multi-faceted link to the McPherson children that sees him display fatherly concern towards Shaun; care for Lecy whilst rebuffing her advances; and notably a tenderness mixed with some tough love towards Amy. Again, he gives the character an aura of down to earth decency.

Props to Andrew Baker and fledgling company Western Sky Theatre for staging a two hour Aussie musical at The Blue Room and assembling such a talented cast, band and production team (shout outs to Rhiannon Walker for the rustic set design and costumes and Katrina Johnston for the lighting design). His intention is to mount productions that attract talent that is either from WA or trained here. If this opening salvo is any indication we are in for many excellent productions. 

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Bali - The Last Great Hunt (18 October 2017)

You call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye - Glenn Frey & Don Henley.

Those lyrics from the Eagles song The Last Resort floated across my consciousness during a bravura sequence in this preview where Chris Isaacs's character describes the sights of an unexpected road detour in Bali. I won't spoil the impact by providing further details other than saying it offers a telling commentary on our relationship with the popular island destination and its effect. 

Indeed, only a cursory summary of the plot of Bali will be given here as the joy is in the consummate storytelling which needs to be experienced firsthand. To wit, this is the continued adventures of Jimmy (Jeffrey Jay Fowler) and Corgan (Isaacs) who we first met in the award winning FAG/STAG in 2015. This time Corgan's mum is holding her 60th birthday celebration week in Bali and the lads are along for the ride. Each show signs of reluctance though for completely different reasons. 

On the surface this is a witty comedy but like its predecessor the control of tone is exceptional with exquisite observation, raw emotion that is earned, and sequences like the above that are gut punch effective. Fowler and Isaacs have an immensely likable rapport and as writer/performers have total command of the material. The audience can be belly laughing one moment to pin drop silent the next. That roller coaster emotional journey for the characters and the audience is an outstanding feature of both plays. 

Many of the same techniques from FAG/STAG are used - contradictory points of view in the retelling as the two characters recount moments quite differently. Often for comic effect; critically for deeper insight into who they are, how they perceive the world, and why. The actors are again seated on stools with a table in between where there are a variety of drinks. The other significant prop is the ubiquitous mobile phone (I seem to learn of a new app from Jimmy's character every play!). 

It is a deliberately sparse set. The world is created by the vivid writing and delivery, Scott McArdle's lighting design, and Nathan Jamieson's subtle sound design. I love the level of authenticity in the script with such fine detail not only in describing the Bali locales but also in the well rounded characters and their interactions. I have a complete picture of, for example, Corgan's mum in my head without her ever appearing onstage. Set-ups are paid off handsomely and the parallel revelations for both characters are emotionally true and, particularly in Jimmy's case, devastating. 

Smartly, they are on a raised platform as the angle of the raked seating in the Subiaco Arts Centre Studio isn't always ideal for the best viewing experience. It shouldn't be a problem here and the intimate space is perfect for this style of storytelling. There is an honesty that is compelling - in the depiction of male friendship; sex and sexuality; consumerism; casual racism; western world entitlement; homophobia; drugs; and the crucial events in our past that shape us. It's also damn funny precisely because there is so much we recognise that resonates with us.

As a bonus, Bali includes perhaps the most impassioned defence of a (not very good, sorry Corgan) Hollywood movie that you are ever likely to hear. It's these surprising beats and unexpected turns that make this feel so real. The other thing is, I damn well like these characters!

This is not only a worthy companion piece to the terrific FAG/STAG but perhaps even better. The offshore setting allows Fowler and Isaacs to explore varied aspects of their characters and expose new vulnerabilities and strengths. It's a wonderfully written, performed, and staged piece of theatre. 

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson - WAAPA (16 October 2017)

Ah, musical theatre, what a great educational resource you are! My knowledge of American presidents has grown exponentially over the past few years due to Assassins (Midnite Youth Theatre Company, 2015) with its clutch of dead and almost dead presidents (as English Bob says mockingly in the movie Unforgiven, "Now, a president... well I mean... why not shoot a president?"), Clinton: The Musical (Black Swan State Theatre Company, 2016), the ubiquitous Original Broadway Cast Recording of Hamilton: An American Musical, and now, the second year's first standalone musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.

The American obsession with the office of the presidency, its inhabitants, and their legacies is perhaps an odd cultural phenomenon as seen through Australian eyes but one ripe for creative interpretation and reimagining. The four shows above use, respectively, a carnival sideshow setting; an actual split personality; the language of rap; and here, the world of a self-absorbed emo rockstar.

I admit, it took me a while to zero in on the tone of this production. In its opening salvoes it is spectacularly politically incorrect particularly towards the Native American Indians. This had me squirming more than a little. Jackson, a former general, founder of the Democratic Party, and a populist president (1829-37) is a polarising figure in presidential debate mainly due to his treatment of the native tribes and his support of slavery. The 'bloody' moniker is not unearned.

The comparisons to the current incumbent are, to be frank, scarily prescient. Especially when you consider this was written a decade before Donald Trump's ascendancy. Jackson, the 7th president, wanted to overthrow the system run by 'corrupt aristocrats' and, as was shown here, fiercely for American nationalism and bitterly opposed to the English, Spanish, and Native American Indians, forcibly resettling the latter westwards. He was the Trump of his day... with much better dialogue.

The show started to click for me during the number Illness As Metaphor where Jackson (Jarrod Griffiths) and his soon to be wife Rachel (Stacey Thomsett) cut and bleed each other as a demonstration of their love. It's a metaphor, get it? From then on I settled into the, more often than not, outrageous retelling of Jackson's life and political career.

Not only is this a pungent satire on the crass nature of political populism but a pointed commentary on musical theatre tropes as well. In an inspired moment Jackson starts to sing about his feelings on losing his first bid for president - a classic musical theatre technique to allow us insight into a character's emotional state - only to be interrupted by several of his political rivals vocalising their own feelings over the top of him. This is followed by a 'montage' like sequence to show the passage of time, again skewering more conventional narrative devices.

Indeed, all sorts of devices are thrown at the wall to see what sticks starting with the rear wall of The Roundhouse Theatre itself. This was plastered with posters and photos of many former presidents including Obama, Bush 43, Clinton, JFK. The path to the highest office in the land isn't perhaps so different for any president after all. There's even a weirdly complementary song to Hamilton's The Room Where It Happens with The Corrupt Bargain as behind closed doors shenanigans lead to Jackson being bilked of the presidency at his first attempt.

Other deliberately off-kilter choices for the period included the crippled Storyteller (Amy Fortnum) riding around on a motorised scooter; the Bandleader (Josh Reckless) wearing a Ramones t-shirt; the use of a modern day phone/intercom on the presidential desk, and even a disco ball makes an appearance. Once I latched onto the "all bets are off" nature of the production these elements, while raising an eyebrow, actually worked reasonably well.

The four piece band (Craig Dalton on Keyboard, Tom Purdy - Guitar, Ty Barwick - Bass, and Liam Hickey on Drums) is at the back of the stage with a microphone set up to replicate, in several songs, a concert feel for featured singers. The band is, again improbably, part of the action as Jackson declares them to be his Cabinet. They played well, especially the more upbeat bass and guitar driven numbers.

The conceit of President as Rock-Star-In-Chief is given a wonderful workout by Griffiths who dominates proceedings. He is rarely off stage, is charismatic and belligerent in equal measure, and sings well with appropriate swagger. There was also a lot to like to about his acting, notably in the, admittedly rare, serious moments such as when he confronts the Native American Black Fox (Jarrod Draper) about further compromises and betrayals of his people.

Others to shine: Fortnum as the cheerful provider of historical facts even when deprived of her scooter and having to haul herself across the stage; Thomsett gives a lovely rendition of The Great Compromise as Rachel forces her husband to choose between politics and their marriage; Josh Reckless who comes to the fore in the last third as the Bandleader particularly with Second Nature and leading the finale; Jessica Clancy as the Announcer who is like the political pundit of the day (and interesting that there are no less than three characters who provide overt narration); Prudence Daniel who featured with the deceptively sweet sounding yet rancorous Ten Little Indians; and Todd Peydo (John Quincy Adams), Elise Muley early as Frederick, and Imogen Howe all caught the eye in lesser roles/the ensemble.

It's a wild kind of show that runs for 90 minutes with no interval. It lost some of its bite and energy during the second half as Jackson assumes the presidency. There are too many sequences with citizens asked for their opinion on issues of the day to demonstrate he is a man of the people. The point is well taken and didn't need repeating before they turn on him. I did like, however, the choreography that was, at times, reminiscent of the all out assault of 2015's Urinetown.

Finally, special mention to the young actress who played Lyncoya in a delightful portrayal that was an audience favourite.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

The Threepenny Opera - WAAPA (14 October 2017)

Attitude. The very best productions have it. Clearly discernible, unapologetic, and totally embraced by all involved. The third year acting students bring it in spades with what turns out to be a perfect ending to their formal training at WAAPA. There is a cockiness and surety here that is undeniable.

Initially I had thought the prototypical musical was an odd choice for the acting cohort given the vocal demands but it turns out be an inspired one. It suits the group personality of this graduating class like a 'fancy glove'. As one audience member put it after the show, "they owned the space".

And what a glorious space it is.

This is why you make the Edith Spiegeltent a permanent addition to the performance venues on the ECU Mount Lawley campus. For productions exactly like this. The atmosphere and sense of history adds immeasurably to the aura of a classic piece of theatre. So much so that visiting director Craig Ilott dispenses with the need for set decoration with the exception of, as Roy Joseph's messenger amusingly put it, "these fucking mannequins". The two of which were totally extraneous to proceedings anyway.

Instead, the 8 piece band, conducted by visiting graduate Kohan van Sambeeck, is nestled at the rear of the tent with a thrust-like stage jutting into the centre of the space. In a smart move, the audience is situated within the inner circle of the spiegeltent so there are no cluttered sight lines. We're right on top of the action. Or, as I discovered, the action is occasionally right on top of us!

The outer circle and booths were the province of our players. This gives the production an immersive quality for the audience as characters prowl and cavort around us with multiple entry and egress points to and from the stage. There is the feeling of a fully formed world that exists beyond the strictures of the performance space. A colourful, bawdy, exotic world full of villains and dames; vagabonds and, well, to put it indelicately, ladies of dubious reputation. But something more as well - as if we're transported in time to how The Threepenny Opera might have been experienced in decades gone by.

In a simple device the setting of scenes was left to characters wielding cardboard signs (and to our imaginations). I must say the furniture was ever so fancy in the stables of my mind's eye! But more than that, a sense of time and place was evoked by make-up and costuming. The use of white face paint for all; the women provocatively attired; the men all singlets with smart pants and braces; not to mention a range of beggar chic that would make Oliver Twist blush.

Most impressive of all the performers were, as another audience member put it, "balls to the wall" in their characterisations. This was a chance to 'go big' and they lapped it up. In another smart move actors were mingling with the audience before the show started; being cheeky, friendly, inviting. It set the tone - that attitude - of the production right from the get go. A relaxed confidence that you couldn't help but feel and respond to. Thank you Laura McDonald, Sasha Simon, and Katherine Pearson for the chats.

To top that all off there were many fine singing voices with Natasha Vickery (Polly Peachum), Skye Beker (Lucy Brown) and Katherine Pearson (Jenny Diver) excelling in this regard with notable contributions from Rhianna McCourt who belted out Ballad of Sexual Dependency with savage contempt and, of course, the notorious Macheath, Jake Fryer-Hornsby, who acquitted himself well with the challenging lead vocal role.

This is generally described as a 'play with music' so there is ample opportunity to show off the acting chops. With such a rogue's gallery of characters to inhabit this provided all sorts of treats. Kudos to Macheath's henchmen - Charles Alexander, Kingsley O'Connor, Elliott Giarola and Mitchell Bourke - who provided a touch of menace, more than a dash of comic relief, and worked together well especially during the stables sequence.

McCourt and the booming-of-voice Martin Quinn, as Celia and J.J. Peachum, were the Thenardiers of their time in an immensely enjoyable double act. I loved the swagger McCourt gave Celia and Quinn, as Present Laughter also demonstrated, plays pompous rogue with aplomb. Vickery added lovely touches to perhaps the only virtuous character of the lot such as fussing over the decorum of her surroundings - carefully brushing dirt off the steps leading to the stage before sitting for example. She also has a stand out moment singing Pirate Jenny.

Fryer-Hornsby gets to show the greatest range, imbuing his Mack the Knife with an almost cavalier attitude that crumbles when the hangman's noose beckons. I wasn't as convinced about the character's reputation as a ladies man but there is charm here and he worked well with Jack Scott's Tiger Brown, especially during the Canon Song, a fun demonstration of male camaraderie. Scott plays the police chief with a sense of haplessness that I later learned was partly modelled on Inspector Lestrade from the BBC's Sherlock.

Then there's Roy Joseph who delivers the play's infamous Deus Ex Regina as I like to call it. The Queen herself, on her coronation day no less, ensures that crime does indeed pay. Joseph, following the constant breaking of the fourth wall throughout the production, plays up to the silliness of the reversal in a gloriously over-the-top declaration that had some of his fellow cast members struggling to hold back laughter. Nice assist from Mitchell Bourke with equine inspired antics. 

In all, a marvellous production that had me leaving the magical world of the spiegeltent behind with a smile humming what else but Mack The Knife.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

First Date: Broadway's Musical Comedy - Blak Yak Theatre (23 September 2017)

Director Lorna Mackie has a knack for bringing quirky, lesser known musicals such as 2014's The Great American Trailer Park Musical, 2015's Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens, and last year's Bad Girls to Perth's community theatre stages. First Date fits comfortably into that tradition; a funny look at the pitfalls, embarrassments, and epiphanies of the blind date. Not only that, Blak Yak being a theatre company without a permanent home often comes up with interesting alternative venues for their shows. In this case the Shenton Park Community Centre which proved quite the intimate locale. As an aside, it was amusing to see a portrait of a much younger Queen Elizabeth II hanging high above the onstage antics. Perhaps Her Majesty would have approved and hankered for a burger.

Mackie also attracts the cream of Perth's community theatre performers with several here having lead role experience - Tom Hutton, Cassie Skinner, Helen Kerr, Therese Cruise, and reigning Finley Award Winner for Best Male Musical Performer Mitch Lawrence; the first four of whom were also in Bad Girls. Joining the cast were Arianne Westcott-King, James Hynson, and Jason Nettle.

In essence this is a two-hander - guy meets girl at a restaurant on a first date - that is surrounded by a colourful group of real and imagined characters. In some ways it felt like a musical version of 90's sitcom Herman's Head with a comic sensibility that reminded me of Spamalot (Aaron is Jewish, Casey is decidedly not) and there was even a little Avenue Q thrown in with an unexpected 'cameo'.

Hutton is the awkward BDV (blind date virgin) Aaron and Skinner's 'serial dater' Casey is all sass and confidence. On the surface. Over the course of drinks and a meal they get to learn more about each other with the help of the wait staff, reincarnations of mothers and grandmas, intrusions by imagined best friends, sisters, ex-lovers, and, in the modern age, technology itself.

This gives plenty of opportunity for the ensemble to shine in several funny set-pieces but the success of the production rests on the interaction between Aaron and Casey. In this I was impressed with the acting of both Hutton and Skinner who bounced off each other nicely, displayed good comic timing, and gave layers of doubt and vulnerability to their characters amongst the observational comedy and, at times, sheer shtick. Not to mention sporting credible American accents and the ability to freeze mid-ingestion of a pickle.

It's an odd musical in that the songs are liberally shared around with the two leads not often given prominence. Skinner does get a featured moment with the first act closer Safer which she belts out to great effect. The five piece band was nestled alongside one wall right next to the audience. Indeed I was about a metre or so from the keyboards in my second row seat. The sound balance, on the whole, was very good and I was delighted that the drums were suitably muted. Several musicals staged at venues without a pit have been cruelled by overpowering drum work.

The wireless microphones were occasionally problematic with Nettle suffering the most in this regard. The poor pickup often left him singing unamplified but he showed great composure (and style) in soldiering on. The intimate nature of the venue meant that nothing too much was lost though the rapid-fire lyrics were sometimes difficult to follow.

Of the supporting cast Mitch Lawrence was excellent as Aaron's best friend Gabe with faux indignation and 'bro advice' turned to high. Helen Kerr plays the ex that Aaron must get over with "I'm too good for you" insouciance though it's her appearance as Google - yes, the search engine itself - that cracked me up during a role call of social media in The World Wide Web is Forever.

James Hynson is a scene stealer as The Waiter (and accomplice for the guest cameo) with his I'd Order Love kicking off the second act in style. Arianne Westcott-King had a twinkle about her as Casey's hectoring sister Lauren and was light on her feet with a little tap for good measure. Therese Cruise adds colour as a drunk at the bar and as the Jewish Grandmother from Hell in the Pythonesque The Girl For You while Jason Nettle plays the over-the-top gay friend Reggie with swagger.

As I often find with comedy musicals there is always a more serious or tender song that stands out from the frivolity and here it's Hutton and Kerr (as Aaron's mother) singing The Things I Never Said which was a standout. Hutton also has a featured moment in the second act with In Love With You.

Mackie at the start of the show encouraged the audience to hoot and holler throughout and it's that kind of musical. Funny, over-the-top, but with some perceptive insights into the dating game and strong performances all round. A fun night.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Best Bits - WAAPA (17 September 2017)

Simply wow!

I haven't had as much fun in a theatre all year as I did with the graduating musical theatre students' final production before Showcase. I certainly haven't laughed as hard or as consistently at anything else, theatre or otherwise, for quite some time.

It is the usual custom for the graduating students to 'take the piss' out of their major 2nd and 3rd year productions during Best Bits. But this cohort has many gifted comic performers and as a collective they have impeccable timing and mischievous sense of humour. The send-ups of Rent, Heathers, 42nd Street, and Chicago were exceptional and there were even a few sly Bring It On references interspersed throughout the program. What is most impressive amongst the inspired satire is an understanding of the weaknesses in story or structure or character that is ripe for the picking.

It also reminds us of the many tremendous performances we've witnessed over the last two years. Most notably Kelsi Boyden in Rent; Monique Warren in Heathers; Mackenzie Dunn in 42 Street; and Boyden again with Jenna Curran in Chicago. Looking back it has been a strong slate of musicals with compelling female characters.

That's not to say the male students have been any less stellar as Finn Alexander (Today 4 U from Rent), Nick Errol (Freeze Your Brain from Heathers); and Luke Haberecht leading the charge in reminding us of the glorious tap dancing from 42 Street demonstrated.

This wasn't solely about making us laugh however. In a generous program that stretched over two hours there were plenty of opportunities for the students to show off their acting and singing skills. Dance, other than the tap from 42nd Street, wasn't as featured.

I liked that a lot of the songs had a lead-in requiring the performers to display their acting chops. The second half also included many more serious pieces to give a sense of emotional range. Indeed, it was an eclectic selection of songs from a remarkably varied smorgasbord of musicals. I was even teased with a snippet from Hamilton. Brief, all too brief!

The two standout moments in this section were -

A beautiful rendition of Falling Slowly from Once by David Cuny (also on guitar) and Monique Warren (on piano). Extra points for difficulty as Cuny dealt with an unexpected broken guitar strap mid-song; and

A powerhouse vocal performance by Cameron Steens of Dust and Ashes from Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. The company adding backing vocals from the upper walkway elevated this further.

But there were so many highlights. To name a few:

Luke Haberecht delivering the rapid-fire, tongue twisting lyrics of Cole Porter's Let's Not Talk About Love with aplomb.

The accent work of Meg McKibbin and Daisy Valerio in singing The History of Wrong Guys (Kinky Boots) and I Have Confidence (The Sound of Music) respectively.

Some inspired mania by Joshua White during The Brain from Young Frankenstein.

A deliciously phlegmy (not a term I hope to ever repeat!) If I Were A Rich Man from Fiddler on the Roof by Tom Gustard.

Benjamin Almon Colley bringing The Roundhouse Theatre to enthralled silence with Tomorrow Belongs To Me (Cabaret).

A lovely, authentic moment between Bailey Dunnage and Daisy Valerio as the former sang World Inside A Frame (Bridges of Madison County).

A couple of real character numbers written by Sondheim - Jenna Curran's scathingly delivered The Ladies Who Lunch (Company) and Mackenzie Dunn effortlessly handling the black humour of Worst Pies in London (Sweeney Todd).

During the show costumes and props, once they were used, were placed in large wicker baskets and suitcases. The symbolic packing up after three long years. Final bows were quite emotional but the applause was enthusiastic and well earned.

See you on the other side in a few months time on stages here, over east, and who knows, maybe throughout the world. As Alexander Hamilton would say... just you wait...

Hit Parade: Defying Gravity Turns 30! - WAAPA's Defying Gravity & Guest Performers (16 September 2017)

Three words immediately spring to mind after witnessing a rousing matinee perfomance of the WAAPA percussion students, returning alumni, and special guests:

Inspiration. Joyous. Family.

The last was mentioned by two of the students - Nanna Faulkner and Pavan Hari - at the post show interview held by the Friends of the Academy.

It's clear this is a tightknit group by the way they interacted on stage and even listening to some of the banter in the interval. That extended to returning graduates Joshua Webster & Catherine Betts (the duo that performs under the moniker Kaboom Percussion), Marcus Perrozzi, and Ian Robbie who were all given raucous acknowledgements.

Then there's Tim White, the Head of Percussion at WAAPA, who shares genuine enthusiasm and passion for the music and his students. Faulkner admitted she has called him 'dad' more than once and it's not difficult to see why as White exudes such a genial nature.

The joy was equally evident - the zeal with which students, alumni, and guests alike performed was writ large on their faces. The big grins, the concentration, the relief, the shouts and hollers.

And what joyous music it is - from full on aural assaults of massed drumming to melodic original compositions to delicate reinterpretations of Bach on the marimba, the diversity was astonishing. Inspiration was what I felt as a result. The talent, eye-hand coordination, the creativity and invention, the timing and synchronisation. Amazing. 

Inspiration for all of us - students, staff, and audience - came by way of world renowned percussionist Kuniko Kato. She was clearly revered by the students after spending a fortnight giving master classes as part of the thirty year anniversary celebrations. The three pieces she performed - the multi-percussion Rebounds, the atmospheric Fratres inspired by the chanting of monks in ancient times, and the aforementioned Bach cello suites were mesmerising but all in completely different ways. The first was a robustly physical piece that became increasingly complex in its drumming patterns; Fratres was a multi-layered exercise in mood; and the combination of Bach and marimba demonstrated the sheer beauty of music.

Other highlights:

The smile of relief from graduating student Laura Harris and reception from her fellow students as Harris completed the first piece of the afternoon in style. She also showed great composure during Fratres when it seemed there was a technical malfunction and she changed to another vibraphone with minimal disruption.

The flourish with which Tom Robertson finished the jaunty Log Cabin Blues on xylophone which he crushed in a dazzling display.

You will never see a bigger grin than Pavan Hari's as his world premiere composition Dark Lotus was met with rapturous applause. His piece not only incorporated vibraphone and other percussion instruments but also cello and violin. Not content with that, two dancers complemented the beauty of the music with the beauty of the human body in motion.

Tim White giving the first head of percussion, Gary France, a warm hug after France led the perfomance of Bonham, an ode to Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham.

When you not only hear music but you feel it - the sheer waves of sonic vibration during another world premiere - alumnus Marcus Perrozzi's Momentum on taiko drums; and the massed drumming of the whole company led by another alumnus Iain Robbie celebrating the rhythms and traditional sounds of Papua New Guinea and the south-west Pacific. The frenetic attack of the latter was punctuated by a snapped drum stick sailing over Robbie's shoulder.

A captivating and inspirational couple of hours followed by birthday cake in the lobby (it was yummy too!). Happy 30th anniversary Defying Gravity. 

Friday, 15 September 2017

Radio Active - WAAPA (14 September 2017)

A terrific showcase for the vocal and musical talent amongst the now 200 strong cohort of contemporary music students. A fun time for the audience with an eclectic mix of songs from artists as varied as Toto to Beyonce. But an early highlight puts this all in context. Mia Matthiessen gave an excellent performance of the haunting Grandma's Hands by WAAPA alumna Meg Mac who is currently on a national tour with a hit album riding high in the iTunes charts. That's where the bar is set for these students - the possibility, one day, of a recording contract, album sales, hit singles, national tours and beyond. Heady stuff.

The musicianship of the band with rotating members was excellent. The vocal talent of the singers was uniformly outstanding. The stagecraft and how to work an audience, for many, is still a work in progress though there were a couple of natural performers in Zain Awan and Nicholette Chew. We also gained a brief insight into the personality of and inspiration for many of the singers as they introduced songs by their colleagues.

The first set was dominated by female vocalists with the second half leaning a little more to the male singers. Both sets were very good and I should mention the other students who make a night like this work - sound and lighting design, stage management, and the oft unsung arts managment front of house.

My other highlights:

Beyonce's Halo by the remarkable Ritchell Lim with backing vocals by the WAAPA Gospel Choir.

A blistering rendition of Justin Timberlake's Cry Me A River by Zain Awan, both vocally and in sheer style.

A moving version of Sia's Chandelier by Lani Melrose who proved a crowd favourite with a down to earth enthusiasm for her craft and the evening.

The band rocked out to Detroit with Cameron Hayes prominent on lead guitar.

Katie Reid presented an extraordinary arrangement of Kate Bush's Running Up That Hill using her voice to lay down and layer a live 'backing track' of increasing complexity.

James MacCallum flashed rock star credentials with Allen Stone's Satisfaction, again with the band kicking into full on rock mode.

Nicholette Chew brought the pizazz and the pipes for Beyonce's Daddy's Lessons.

Radio Active is a rare synthesis of audience and performers' enjoyment and is a great couple of hours to spend with possibly tomorrow's stars, standards from the past, and hits from the present.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Choice Cuts - WAAPA (9 September 2017)

A greatest hits 2015-2017 megamix to help raise money for the upcoming showcases and to celebrate three years of studies coming to an end.

In that spirit of learning here's what I gleaned from this hour long revue...

In what surely will become the industry standard, Martin Quinn's pre-show announcement to the audience did more than merely remind me to check my landline, but filled me with confidence that in case of an emergency ECU's multitude of physicians would save me.

Quinn later explained, whilst disguised as a Noel Coward character, the latest state of the art theory in how to write a play. Apparently it involves a basket, a river, and a 7 day wait. Revolutionary.

Corpsing is a skill best taught in a safe, supportive environment such as The Roundhouse Theatre. Mitchell Bourke, Roy Joseph, and Katherine Pearson excelled under extreme provocation; baskets, hats, melodies and all.

If you're not doing Shakespeare with rap are you even doing Shakespeare at all?

Why hand someone a business card when you can surprise them with a hat instead as Jack Scott so ably demonstrated.

One cannot truly experience their first kiss without a little one hit wonder pop embellishment. Even if you're a doomed Jewish girl.

Stephen King has it all wrong. Clowns aren't scary at all. Unless you get dragged onstage pre-show and asked if you have a "tight 5 minutes".

The lyrics of Mack the Knife, suitably altered, prove a fitting send off for this graduating class. Until, you know, their last show in October, The Threepenny Opera.

This was a fun, breezy, hour long restrospective and the chemistry of this group is very strong. It's a really good graduating class.

It was also witnessed by, unless I'm mistaken, Perth girl Katherine Langford who might have ended up on this very stage if not for successfully auditioning for the show that has made her a star, 13 Reasons Why.

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

Friday, 21 July 2017

Coma Land - Black Swan State Theatre Company & Performing Lines WA (20 July 2017)

There is no doubt that local playwright (and director here) Will O'Mahony is a pre-eminent talent when it comes to crafting dialogue that dazzles, is fast-paced, dense and thoroughly entertaining. He loves having his actors deliver rat-a-tat barrages of facts and figures at high speed and his style favours repetition of key phrases and lists, point/counterpoint, as well as sly word play.

It is undeniably evident that O'Mahony loves words and language. What a gift that is for both his performers and the audience (though getting the rhythms and pace right must place all sorts of demands on the former).

Accompanying the sizzle is a sizeable 'chunk of gravity' though of the dramatic not physics kind. His plays explore interesting themes in an intriguing way, usually with a bitter-sweet emotional core. He has certainly served his 10,000 hour apprenticeship in mastering his writing gift.

The cast embrace the material - an exploration of loss, letting go, chasing perfection, and the expectations of parents and their children - within the framework of characters inhabiting this fantastical space while in a coma.

Morgan Owen is excellent playing a quintessential O'Mahony character in Penguin and generally handles the machine gun dialogue well. Working out the pauses for laughs will come with further performances. O'Mahony also knows when to slow down the verbal assault which emphasises the lovely contrasts as Owen modulates her delivery in volume, tone, and speed depending on dramatic or comedic beats.

Experienced comedian Ben Sutton adds brilliant timing and off-beat delivery to his unexpected character... as a panda. Yet it is the most off the wall character that delivers telling insight as revelations and epiphanies are made.

Kirsty Marillier's matter-of-fact delivery for the lamplighter character of Boon works well and she has a couple of notable scenes with Humphrey Bower who plays Penguin's Dad with paternal concern tinged with sadness.

Amy Mathews adds exuberance as Jinny, another coma patient who acts as almost a mediator between several of the other characters.

There was only one slight miss-step for mine - a cathartic emotional moment which is beautifully conveyed by Bower is drowned in a swell of unnecessary music. It jarred as the sound design for the rest of the play was far less intrusive.

The writing and the acting is top notch in an unexpected tale which is emotionally and thematically rich. I enjoyed it very much.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

42nd Street - WAAPA (20 June 2017)

Forty specks of dust on a stage. 

Twenty graduating students; another twenty who will be in their place the exact same time next year.

Yes, when "you put all those specks of dust together... you have something alive and beautiful that can reach out to thousands of people..."

And so it proves in this spectacular mid-year production at the Regal Theatre.

There is perhaps nothing more exhilarating at the theatre than witnessing a mass tapdancing routine. I confess I'm sucker for it and here you don't get one, or two, or three, you get several tightly choreographed explosions of movement, colour and straight up, unabashed enthusiasm. It's a joy to watch. Plus this - you will rarely see that number of performers together on stage at the one time outside of this combined flexing of WAAPA's MT muscles.

"...who cares if there's a plot or not when they've got a lot of dames!"

Sure, the plot even with the 'play within a play' structure is hardly groundbreaking and follows a well trodden path. But who cares? Every set piece is exquisitely staged and performed so the skeleton on which it all hangs is, certainly for me, of secondary concern.

"...you're going out a youngster but you've got to come back a star!"

It's perhaps not so difficult to draw parallels in this statement between the fictional character Peggy Sawyer and the performer who plays her, Mackenzie Dunn. Dunn displays true triple threat talent - singing, dancing, and acting - and like Peggy is destined to have a big future. The other standout for me was Lucy Ross as the bitchy, aging star Dorothy Brock who will be usurped by Peggy. Ross sings exquisitely and is all swagger and attitude to burn.

Others to impress - Tom New as irrepressible Billy Lawlor; Joshua White as the demanding Julian Marsh; Laura Jackson as Maggie Jones; Kelsi Boyden who brings the charisma with her Ann Reilly; the sharp dancing of Luke Haberecht as Andy; and a lanky comic performance by Ben Colley as Bert.

But then everyone is excellent and the dancing is fabulous as is the orchestra.

When I left the theatre there were a couple of teenage girls tapping on the footpath. If I wasn't already smiling that just capped the evening off.

If you don't leave the Regal grinning from ear to ear after this show seek medical attention. Immediately. I'm serious. Go to nearest medical facility NOW.

Highly recommended though I expect tickets will be extremely difficult to get.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Monday, 19 June 2017

Petits Fours - WAAPA (19 June 2017)

An eclectic quartet of bite-sized theatrical treats ranging from political satire (The Election) to an exploration of film set dynamics (Remarkable), amusing canine empowerment (The Emancipation of Alice Paws) and lastly, arthouse portrait of a hedonistic artist (Self Portrait, Masturbating).

All written by local playwrights, in order, Finn O'Branagain, Gita Bezard, Chris Isaacs, and Hellie Turner and directed by Julia Jarel, Nicole Stinton, Trudy Dunn, and Susie Conte respectively.

My pick was Remarkable which started off as a pisstake of the egos one might find on a film set (of a hilariously poorly written script) but turned into a most interesting commentary on the depiction of sex, nudity and violence and, critically, the ways male filmmakers pressure actresses into doing their bidding for less than altruistic motives. A fascinating angle emerged around who was portrayed as complicit in this. Unsettling and perceptive.

Performances were uniformly strong throughout all four plays but my picks from each - Lily Stewart as the kinetic emcee of The Election; William Bartolo as the writer-director in Remarkable whose character initially seemed innocuous/pompous enough until darker motivations emerged; Shannon Ryan in a fine physical performance as the mouthy pooch in The Emancipation of Alice Paws; and Thomas Jackson as the outraged and conflicted Oskar in Self Portrait, Masturbating.

Good to see so many of the 3rd year MT students in the audience on their night off from 42nd Street supporting their acting colleagues. 

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Present Laughter - WAAPA (17 June 2017)

I had a great time with this Noel Coward comedy - witty and elegant this featured a handsome set, was stylishly costumed, briskly paced, with many wonderful performances by the third years.

Foremost was Martin Quinn as Garry Essendine with the trio of Natasha Vickery, Rhianna McCourt, and Laura McDonald all excellent.

Sasha Simon and Mitchell Bourke give notable support; the latter exhibiting the physical comedy and mannerisms of a young John Cleese.

The Q&A afterwards featuring Quinn, Vickery, Set Designer Kelly Fregon, and Stage Manager Radek Rubinski gave insight into the construction of the play both from a performance and technical perspective.

A classy production all round.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Sally Burton Awards (6 June 2017)

An entertaining evening of Shakespearean delights as the graduating acting class vied for the two $2000 awards courtesy of Sally Burton, widow of the legendary Richard Burton.

Stephanie Somerville (as Queen Margaret from Henry VI, Part 3) and Mitchell Bourke (as the eponymous king from Richard II) were deserving winners and the standard was high across the board including an inspired excerpt from A Midsummer Night's Dream.

If there was, implausibly, any lingering doubt about the talent pool at WAAPA the "light entertainment" provided by 2nd year actors Mia Morrissey and Adam Marks surely dispelled that with an exclamation point.

Morrissey blew the doors off The Roundhouse Theatre showcasing a superb singing voice that gave the audience collective chills in a holy ****! kind of moment.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Life is a Cabaret! - WAAPA (3 June 2017)

45 (classical voice) students accompanied by David Wickham on keys with many among their number also providing musical accompaniment from guitar to accordion, clarinet to banjo. Marshaled by director and accomplished WAAPA graduate Brendan Hanson who kept a watchful eye on proceedings at the rear of the sun-drenched Edith Spiegeltent.

The students and even Hanson himself were colourfully attired as denizens of their 'Cabaret Carnivale'. Jugglers, a gorilla, stilt walker, belly dancer, ladies of the night, men in drag, women in body hugging splendour.

Above all, glorious voices especially when the whole company was deployed to stunning effect in the intimate space.

This was playful, at times a little sexy, satirical, and, especially after the interval, raucous and jaunty.

The highlight for mine came after biting satirical commentary on the Trump-Putin bromance with a stunning version of Sting's 'Russians' with full choral accompaniment and two ballet dancers adding a touch of class. The contrast in tone was unexpected and sobering.

Hanson added a highlight of his own with a rendition of 'Port of Amsterdam' and the finale left the audience with a note of hope before we exited the magical Edith and re-entered the world where Trump serenading Putin is unfortunately all too real.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Someone Who'll Watch Over Me - Irish Theatre Players (27 May 2017)

A fascinating psychological profile of three diverse characters kept hostage chained to the floor in a room in Lebanon. The grimness of the circumstances is leavened by humour (some admittedly quite dark) and creative ways to alleviate the boredom and fear they experience.

I also found the production interesting in terms of different acting styles. Paul Davey and Manuao TaAotonga, both excellent, gave naturalistic performances that drew me into the claustrophobic world in the opening sequence. Grant Malcolm, however, delivered a very theatrical turn that wrenched me out of that world and jarred with the other two for mine.

Quite long with the second half not having the same visceral impact after a change in the character dynamics.

As always, the Irish Club puts on a good spread at interval.

*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Thursday, 4 May 2017

The Lighthouse Girl - Black Swan State Theatre Company (4 May 2017)

Playwright Hellie Turner revisits familiar territory after 2015's WAYTCo commissioned production of The Dreaming Hill for the 100 year anniversary of the Gallipoli landings.

Daisy Coyle played a nurse in that production and has since appeared as the lead in another of Turner's plays, last year's explosive Project Xan and now as Fay Howe in The Lighthouse Girl.

She is terrific here in a dual coming of age story - that of the eponymous character and of Australia itself as innocence gives way to the 'baptism of fire' on the shores of Gallipoli and the harsh realities of war writ both large and personal.

Just as in Project Xan, Coyle projects a radiant innocence and decency that is compelling. Clearly, writer and actor have gelled creatively and it will be interesting to see what may come in future endeavours.

Coyle is joined by a crack cast of newcomers and stage veterans. The play itself feels very much a throwback to old-fashioned storytelling with its own guileless charms. We know what awaits the troops steaming off to war and portents of doom are therefore flickering beats instead of heavy-handed assaults.

The characters represent aspects of the Australia of its day. Coyle and Murray Dowsett (as the gammy legged Joe Taylor) are innocence personified, the latter with a good willed Ocker sense of humour but with a touch of wisdom as befits the older pre-war generation.

Giuseppe Rotondella and Will McNeill are the larrikin spirit of the young country; two outback tearaways off to see the world and chase adventure as they sign up for war. Their chemistry is excellent, forged over the last three years together at WAAPA.

Then there's Benj D'Addario as the widowed father of Fay and Alex Malone, the older sister of McNeill's Jim Finch. They serve important functions as the voices of concern and reason (in the former's case from hard won experience) which grounds the other two strands.

The ending is well executed as 'growing pains' turn to inevitable tragedy but mostly this is a gentle and good-natured tale driven by an immensely likable central performance.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Megan Washington & WAAPA Jazz Students (6 April 2017)

Before we begin we need to clarify a few things.

1) This was not a gig. This was not a recital. This was a CONCERT. We, the audience, were therefore 'concertgoers' and Megan and the students were 'concert performers'. I thought she explained this very concisely.

2) The aforementioned concertgoers, by overwhelming acclamation, were deemed by Megan to be... "lovely". And so we were. We didn't chat during songs or anything!

3) Not being familiar with the two time ARIA winning singer-songwriter - I'm past the age where I know what an ARIA is let alone who wins them - I discovered over the course of the night that she is a major talent with a fabulous, distinctive voice, engaging stage presence, and a knack for writing songs with smart lyrics and surprising origins (I learnt more about the mating habits of gorillas than I perhaps might have expected). She also wields a mean set of hands on the piano.

4) I further discovered she has a sly sense of humour. Yes, I was "that guy" in the front row. What can I say, you made me laugh. You're welcome!

All this, along with the talented jazz students, instrumentally and vocally, added up to an excellent evening of jazz standards and original songs.

I very much liked that there were different combinations used throughout the roster of 15 songs - a big band combo; a vocal ensemble; two separate band ensembles; and her solo moments on piano. Megan allowed us to see a vibrant personality with that sense of humour, off-beat stories about the creation of a couple of songs, and even a joke to stretch for an instrument change. She is a very expressive performer with physical movement and hands aflutter in Cocker-esque style passion.

Highlights included a stunning acapella rendition of Imogen Heap's Hide and Seek; the first solo number Skeleton Key; and first half closer Fisherman's Daughter with Michael Ellis again impressing on guitar after last month's Bebop. The set following the interval took things up another notch with a most unusual ballad; her original composition How to Tame Lions with the Vocal Ensemble adding real oomph; and a smashing Valerie as the vocals soared and Ensemble 2 cranked up the beat with Chris Musitano featuring on trumpet.

As Megan herself remarked, she only arrived in Perth on Monday and to have such excellent musical backing in that short a time frame and from students no less speaks volumes to their talent. 

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Lord of the Flies - WAAPA (21 March 2017)

Straight off the bat, this is the most ambitious public debut production I have seen for a 2nd year MT class in the past four years. The first slot is always a play but usually incorporates song and dance in one form or another. Apart from some rudimentary choreography this is an unvarnished acting challenge dealing with a classic tale. Further complicated by the fact that the cast alternates each night after interval!

For the first half I saw the 10 member female cast and then 9 of the 10 male students after the break. Those familiar with the novel/tale will know which character is missing.

I can appreciate the experimental nature and the fact we get to see almost the entire group in one sitting. But it comes at a cost given the demands being made here.

Before we get to that, the design elements are strong from lighting and sound to the multi-level set that is made up of various elements such as compacted suitcases, parachute, sails, netting, airplane tyres and a couple of easter eggs for the keen of eye. Thank you Production Manager Dames Long for the brief inspection after the show. There is a reveal that is well disguised then executed and the ubiquitous pig's head is a substantial prop along with the other iconic item, the conch shell.

To the performances and this is where the MT students are stretched. I can recall either at an Open Day or WAAPA Tour seeing first year acting students doing an exercise where they played young children and then old people. This is how the opening sequences felt and well into the first half with over-exaggerated movement and voices, compounded by the female students playing young teenage males. It felt like an extended acting exercise.

This settled down after the killing of the pig when the plot takes on more serious undertones. Alessandra Tonkich increasingly comes to the fore as Jack upping the confrontational nature of the character. Imogen Howe and Stacey Thomsett also provide grunt as members of Jack's army of hunters.

Crystal Haig's performance of Piggy almost felt like she was channeling Matt Lucas and this muddled the tone for me coming across as caricature. Alexandra Cornish was a preppy and very English Ralph and I liked Prudence Daniel's and Emma Bradley's stillness as Simon and Percival respectively. Daniel didn't quite nail the difficult dual nature of her character, however, on confronting the 'Lord of the Flies'.

The second half is much shorter and it's fascinating to see the changeover to the male students who automatically and inevitably bring a more robust physical presence as matters spiral out of control and into open conflict. It would be fascinating to see how they handle the 'innocence' of the opening 'chapters' (I was ambivalent about the projection of chapter numbers and titles onto one of the sails). Andrew Coshan made an immediate impact as a striking Jack and Jarrod Griffiths fared better as Piggy.

The play ends with what felt like another acting exercise as the male students, their characters confronted by the enormity of what has occured, break down and start to weep. It's gutsy to hold on them for so long standing there slowing disintegrating before our eyes but then that's the point.

This production asked a hell of a lot of its cast and while the results were varied the sink or swim approach should serve them well in terms of the acting leg of their triple threat training.


*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews

Monday, 20 March 2017

Heathers The Musical - WAAPA (20 March 2017)


WAAPA is at its most adventurous in recent years with the choice of production in the first slot of the graduating MT class. Heathers proves to be no exception. Based on the bitingly satirical 1988 cult movie that starred Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, and Shannen Doherty, this captures the over-the-top tone perfectly while retaining the wry observations about teenage suicide, bullying, and depression with what was, at the time, almost a prescient foreshadowing of school massacres.

It's dark subject matter but the surface level presentation is infectious rock music with subversive lyrics; a riot of colour in staging, lighting, costuming, and rear screen projections; and exuberant choreography befitting the age of its characters. It's a fun show with energy and black humour to burn.

Monique Warren gives a star turn in the role made famous by Ryder. She sings superbly, looks fantastic, and I was impressed by her acting throughout. It is an eye-catching performance. Nick Errol is the square-jawed nemesis who nicely plays the arc from cool outsider to something far more deadly. His Our Love is God is a highlight.

Jenna Curran makes her mark as the Queen Biatch and ruling Heather until misfortune strikes. It's a delightfully venomous portrayal. The other two Heathers are played with swagger and style by Daisy Valerio who has a standout moment with the aching Lifeboat while Meg McKibbin assumes the red scrunchie of supreme bitchiness as the body count mounts.

Other highlights:

David Cuny's and Tom Gustard's hilarious Blue; Laura Jackson's beautiful solo Kindergarten Boyfriend; Cameron Steens' and Benjamin Colley's boisterous My Dead Gay Son; and Mackenzie Dunn cutting loose as Ms Fleming in Shine A Light.

As always, David King marshalls a fine orchestra in what is a cracking rock score and no less than Andrew Lewis himself directs this with great pace and playfulness.

A wildly entertaining start to this cohort's final year.


*originally published at facebook.com/perththeatrereviews