Saturday, June 25, 2016

PIGMAN'S LAMENT



Written by and starring Raoul Craemer
Directed by Paulo Castro
The Street Theatre until July 3.

Review by Len Power 24 June 2016

Raoul Craemer’s ‘Pigman’s Lament’ at the Street Theatre is a fascinating, startling and entertaining theatrical experience.  Part autobiography, part fantasy, Craemer takes us on a journey through his mind and spits us out at the other end.

Don’t expect a linear story with a neat ending.  The elements that make up this piece are a bit like one of those Picasso paintings or an Alain Resnais movie.  You have to decide what it all means and maybe it doesn’t matter.  It’s the pure theatricality of this work that makes it so worthwhile and memorable.

Raoul Craemer, who grew up in Germany, India and England, uses his experiences of that background to weave a kaleidoscopic story around a Canberra playwright and stay-at-home dad in a smart Canberra studio apartment who seems to be undergoing some sort of personal crisis.  The ghost of his grandfather is a frightening influence as is his love of soccer, symbolised by a soccer ball covered with a pig’s face which seems to be mocking him.  The laundry basket full of white socks still to be folded and put away may signify issues with being a stay-at-home parent.  The medieval Indian weaver-poet, Kabir, played memorably by Craemer in a previous play, is also bound up in this as is the computer game, Minecraft, and maybe the key to the whole thing is a quote from the German poet, Rilke, about ‘a forest of contradictions’.

Craemer’s performance is intense, controlled, funny at times and always interesting.  We may have different personal experiences to him but, through his down-to-earth performance, we can identify with a lot of the personal anxieties displayed here.  His clever script has been enhanced by the imaginative direction by Paulo Castro who makes sure there’s not one moment that isn’t exciting to look at or listen to.

The set, designed by Christiane Nowak, creates an engaging atmospheric environment for the play.  A gantry of lights protruding diagonally into the acting space seems to tell us that we’re in a theatrical experience, not the real world, but maybe it’s a design statement in this modern Canberra apartment?  The lighting design by Gillian Schwab is imaginative and the original music by Lara Soulio and Sianna Lee and additional sound by Kimmo Vennonen are an essential and pleasing element of this clever production.

You will be challenged by this work but if you’re prepared to go along with it, you’ll find it very rewarding.

Len Power’s reviews can also be heard on Artsound FM 92.7’s ‘Artcetera’ program from 9am on Saturdays.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION



Written by Agatha Christie
Directed by Aarne Neeme
Canberra Rep at Theatre 3 to 2 July

Review by Len Power 17 June 2016

In Canberra Rep’s new production of Agatha Christie’s ‘Witness For The Prosecution', fog plays a major part in the atmosphere of the show and in guessing the murderer, you’ll find you haven’t the foggiest idea.

‘Witness For The Prosecution’ was a huge success in London in 1953 and was made into a popular movie in 1957.  Aarne Neeme’s production is particularly strong on depth of character from the performers, making this a very engaging, well-paced show.

Pat Gallagher gives a terrific performance as Sir Wilfrid Robarts, QC.  Emma Wood, as the witness for the prosecution in the show’s title, gives us a fascinatingly cold as ice character with a surprising humanity under the surface.  As the malevolent Scottish housekeeper, Alice Ferguson’s performance is a sheer delight.  Cole Hilder displays a winning naivety and charm as the accused murderer and there is particularly good character work from Jerry Hearn, Ian Hart, David Bennett, Peter Holland, Saban Lloyd Berrell and the rest of the cast.

The set design by Quentin Mitchell is superb.  The show has to alternate between the lawyer’s chambers and The Old Bailey Criminal Courtroom.  The staging of the third act scene change in full view of the audience was so cleverly and efficiently done that it drew a deserved round of applause.

The early 1950s costumes designed by Helen Drum are very well done and lighting by Cynthia Jolley-Rogers added a fine atmosphere to the set, especially in the first scene of the third act.

Agatha Christie herself stated that ‘Witness For The Prosecution’ was her favourite work for the stage.  You can see why in Canberra Rep’s excellent production.

This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition 18 June 2016.  Len Power's reviews can also be heard on Artsound FM 92.7's 'Artcetera' program on Saturdays from 9am.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Events

The Events by David Grieg. Directed by Clare Watson. Belvoir St Theatre. May 12 – June 12.

That the final Sydney performance of The Events was sadly followed by Orlando and the killing of British MP Jo Cox only serves to prove the play’s relevance. It’s by no means the last word on the subject of such events but it stirs the thinking.
Claire, a vicar (Catherine McClements) survives the slaughter of her choir by a lone gunman (Johnny Carr) and searches desperately for the reasons and for any meaning in what happened.
McClements gives an absorbing performance as Claire deals with everything from her own shock and grief to her ongoing attempt to understand any possible causes for what has happened. Carr deftly plays a range of characters including the shooter. The intense and sometimes surreal debate between Claire and the young killer becomes the focus of the play and ultimately it is only debate because there seem to be no answers. Which makes it all the more desperate.
The choir in the story is represented each performance by a local choir. (At the last performance on June 12 this was One World Choral) That’s at once a risk and a strength. The strength is the naturalistic truth of that choir as it assembles, chatting, before the show, and as it sings. The risk is that its style is not that of the actors nor of the script. The gently active presence of Luke Byrne at the piano sometimes makes it hard to see who is running the choir, him or the vicar. The theatrical mix is occasionally awkward.
But the heart of The Events is where it ought to be, wrestling with the dilemma of human actions.

Alanna Maclean




Monday, June 20, 2016

TCHAIKOVSKY ROMANCE



Art Song Canberra Concert
Rada Tochalna, Soprano
Lucas De Jong, Baritone
Janis Cook, Piano
Wesley Music Centre, Forrest Sunday 19 June

Review by Len Power

‘Powerful and expressive’ is how pianist, Janis Cook, described Tchaikovsky’s music at the start of Art Song Canberra’s ‘Tchaikovsky Romance’ concert.  The program of songs and music was cleverly arranged, starting from the joy and innocence of young love, through the pain of parting from a lover and the continual striving for happiness through love.

Soprano, Rada Tochalna, began with ‘It Was In Early Spring’ and perfectly captured the innocence of youth in this beautiful song.  ‘If Only I had Known’ displayed not only her fine voice but also her strong acting ability, making the doubt in the mind of a young girl waiting for her lover completely believable.

Lucas De Jong, baritone, joined with Tochalna in a duet, ‘Frenzied Nights’.  His rich baritone nicely complemented her soprano in this nostalgic song.  One of the highlights of the concert was Lucas De Jong singing, ‘Why?’, a sad song about the state of mind at the end of a romance.  The song showed De Jong’s powerful voice and technique extremely well, bringing the emotion of the song through strongly.  Accompaniment on piano for this song by Janis Cook was especially fine.

Janis Cook also played two solo piano pieces superbly – ‘Prelude: The Seasons - April’ and ‘Interlude: Polka de Salon’ from the ballet, ‘Eugene Onegin’.

At the end of the concert, we were given the final scene from Tchaikovsky’s opera, ‘Eugene Onegin’ – a perfect choice for both singers to display the full range of emotion in both voice and acting.  Their performances were powerful and very moving.

All of the songs for the concert were sung in Russian and it was a delightful surprise to hear the singers perform an encore in English of the tongue-twisting song, ‘Tchaikovsky’, made famous by Danny Kaye in the Broadway musical, ‘Lady In The Dark’.

This was yet another fine concert from Art Song Canberra.

Len Power’s reviews can also be heard on the ‘Artcetera’ program on Artsound FM 92.7 on Saturdays from 9am.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Witness For The Prosecution - Canberra Repertory


Review by John Lombard

Leonard Vole (Cole Hilder) stands trial for murder, accused of killing a wealthy old woman who has left him a substantial inheritance.  The circumstantial case against him is damning but his pleas of innocence ring true.  Is he a calculating murderer or a victim of circumstance?

Witness For The Prosecution, Agatha Christie's follow-up to her super-successful The Mousetrap, is a play that has aged badly - not that it had much merit to begin with.  The play is clogged with exposition, endlessly sifts minute details, and hinges on absurdities that would be uncomfortable even in melodrama.

Fortunately the cast of this production are game, and like prospectors sift an unlikely soil for moments of fun and deeper resonance.  Insightful direction by Aarne Neeme has latched onto the gender politics lurking within the script, and the battle between men and women carried out in the play is often more engaging than the dull facts of the murder trial.

 Agatha Christie's characters are thumbnail sketches, rapidly recognisable types that help her plot-heavy novels crackle along without getting bogged down in elaborate psychology.  On stage, the same characters register as two-dimensional, forcing the actors to supply the depth that the writer has glossed over.  Through no fault of the actors, the central courtroom scene drags badly, with wrangling over shirt cuffs and voices heard through doors just homework that the writer is making us complete before we can get to the real fun that happens when Leonard's unpredictable wife Romaine (Emma Wood) finally takes the stand.

The play is in fact held back by its determination to be a murder mystery.  In the Christie style, with a little imagination anyone could be made out as the murderer - even the judge could secretly have a line in bumping off old ladies.  But because anyone could do it, none of the evidence really matters - after all, the facts can always be turned on their head by the next shocking revelation.  And since none of it really matters, having it fed to us in elaborate and exhausting detail becomes a chore, particularly when there are much richer and more interesting matters to explore.  I frequently felt like I was watching a reading of a novel that could be adapted into an excellent episode of Poirot - the play is simply in the wrong medium.

However the cast work with what they have, in some cases quite deftly.  Pat Gallagher is lively as Leonard's defender Wilfred Roberts.  His affectionate rivalry with opposing council Mr Myers (Peter Holland) becomes quite engaging, with the two scoring points off each other not like lawyers locked in battle but like gentlemen competing in a darts tournament.  Cole Hilder is likeable as the young man on trial for his life and we feel genuine sympathy for him.  Emma Wood meanwhile excels as his feisty wife Romaine, the noticeable age difference between her and her husband justified by her stand-out, firecracker performance.  The cast overall give engaging and believable performances.

Besides the obligatory murder mystery the play has a lot to say on the battle of the sexes.  The opening scene between servants Carter (Ian Hart) and Greta (Morgan Heath Williams) establishes the law as a stodgy, stuffy boy's club where the only choices available to women are servitude or anarchism.  Inevitably, the women choose anarchy, and when strong female characters such as Romaine and Alice Ferguson's servant/companion Janet take the stand they force their own rules on the bemused but nervous court.  The men who take the stand are much better behaved.

It's far from a feminist manifesto that dismantles the patriarchy - for the most part, the men are right and just - but awareness of what it is like to be a woman in a system run by men is what gives the script whatever freshness it has.  In one very funny moment the judge (Saban Lloyd Berrell) mansplains to the jury that a woman in her 50s could have any number of perfectly innocent reasons for reading literature where more mature women serendipitously bed young swains.  Moments like these are the play at its best.

Witness For The Prosecution is a weak play, a potboiler that has lost its flavour.  This production benefits from decent direction and casting, but the play itself is due for not so much for a revival as a remake.  One trick in the final act could be effective in a novel, but is genuinely confusing and distracting when played out on stage.  But that said, there were some gasps in the audience at the final reveal, so perhaps some audience members will plunge into Agatha Christie's trap.

The tragedy of Witness For The Prosecution is that it is actually a pretty good mystery, worthy of Agatha Christie at her sneakiest.  But as a play, it has the lukewarm recommendation that it is slightly better than The Mousetrap.  Aficionados of the Golden Age murder mystery will find a lot to enjoy; others may find the endless dithering about open windows and shirt cuffs trivial.  Detective fiction has moved on from this minute mystery sleuthing but this play is a relic from a different time.

Monday, June 13, 2016

THE MUSIC MAN



Book, Music and Lyrics by Meredith Willson. 
Directed by Joseph McGrail- Bateup,
Musical Direction by Zach Raffan. 
Choreographed by Kathryn Jones.

Presented by Queanbeyan Players.

The Q, Queanbeyan until 25th June, 2016.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens.

Deana Gibbs (Marian Paroo) and the Pickalittle Ladies

Photo:Bec Doyle

First presented on Broadway in 1957, Meredith Willson’s charming musical fable tells the story of a community in Iowa, duped by a persuasive con-man, Harold Hill, (Gordon Nicholson) into buying instruments and uniforms to form a boy’s band. Hill’s plan comes unstuck when he makes the fatal mistake of falling in love with the town librarian, Marian Paroo (Deanna Gibbs). 

Fleshed out by an excellent score containing a succession of lovely songs, including the rousing “Seventy Six Trombones”, and a song made popular by The Beatles, “Till There Was You”, and what is surely the first rap-song to be used in a musical, “Rock Island”, as well as plenty of juicy character cameos for the large ensemble cast, “The Music Man” is an excellent choice for this latest production by The Queanbeyan Players.

Heading the enthusiastic, 50 strong cast, Gordon Nicholson, as the music man, Harold Hill, sings his songs well, especially “Trouble”, and “Seventy Six Trombones”, but elsewhere is surprisingly subdued. The show is called “The Music Man” after all, and that character needs to dominate. On opening night it was Deanna Gibbs, delightfully secure in voice and characterisation, who lead the show.

Deanna Gibbs (Marian Paroo) and Gordon Nicholson (Harold Hill)

Photo: Bec Doyle

Bill Lord as the bumptious Mayor Shinn, Kerry Warner as his attention-seeking wife, Eulalie, and Janet Tweedie as Marion’s mother, Mrs Paroo, get the lion’s share of the laughs, while Callum Doherty, as Marion’s lisping little brother, Winthrop, is delightful, especially in his big song, “Gary, Indiana”. Dan D’Abrera as Tommy, Emily O’Brien as Zaneeta, and Jeremy Brown as Charlie Cowell, all contribute strong performances.

Pretty sets and costumes, together with some nice touches by first time director, Joseph McGrail-Bateup, like having musical director, Zach Raffan,  discover a shining golden trumpet centre stage to commence  the show with a rousing trumpet solo, and the inclusion  of a reference to the famous painting “American Gothic” in the “Iowa Stubborn” number  add to the enjoyment.

The imaginative choreography by Kathryn Jones’s succeeds in making each dance number a highlight, particularly the spirited “Shipoopi”, which involved almost the entire cast in a sustained whirl of movement. 

Zac Raffan’s appropriately brassy big band took a little while to settle on opening night, leading to some very brisk tempi, but by second act was sounding so impressive that many members of the audience stayed in their seats  to listen to the play-out music.


First night nerves resulted in some pitch problems for the men’s quartet, and some of the scene changes for Ian Croker’s attractive settings could be smartened up, but over-all, this delightfully nostalgic production of “The Music Man”   is well on the road to becoming another triumph for The Queanbeyan Players.   

This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 11.06.2016.

The Big Dry adapted from the novel by Tony Davis

The Big Dry by Mark Kilmurry, adapted from the novel by Tony Davis.  Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) at Ensemble Theatre, Sydney, June 4 – July 2, 2016.

Director: Fraser Corfield

Designers:  Production Designer – Rita Carmody; Lighting – Benjamin Brockman; Sound – Daryl Wallis.

Cast:      Jack Andrew (whom I saw) or Noah Sturzaker as Beeper
    Sofie Nolan as Emily
    Rory Potter as George
    Richard Sydenham as Rabbit Man and Man from next door.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
June 12


As I watched this post-apocalyptic scenario, I was reminded of the novel The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.  I found that work difficult to get through, because of its unrelenting grimness.  I haven’t read the children’s novel The Big Dry, but the relationship which develops between the girl, Emily, who breaks into the relentlessly sandstorm-blasted house, and the two boys she finds there, George – a young teenager like her – and his much younger brother nicknamed Beeper, makes the chance of humour, lively activity and even warmth of feeling seem possible.

I’m guessing, though, that Kilmurry has tried, in 75 minutes, to put in too many of the events in the novel, resulting in very short scenes between blackouts as the blasts hit the house again.  The developing relationship, from the time before Emily’s intrusion to her being blown away, and the boys’ decision to follow her, even though the man from next door has finally come to help; that development is pictured in brief snatches, little vignettes, which give us too little time to empathise or identify with the feelings of the three children.  The play becomes a series of plotted points, rather than an absorbing personal drama which engages us.

This is a pity, because Corfield’s directing of the scenes is very effectively done, and his three young actors Jack Andrew, Sofie Nolan and Rory Potter played very professionally (though I thought Rory needed to find more variety in voicing).

For an adult audience, I found myself looking for a different Irish comparison – with J M Synge’s Deirdre of the Sorrows – to turn the drama into something much more mythical.  Though Synge’s story seems nothing like Davis’s, in Ireland when the troubles cannot be overcome, the acceptance of death becomes mythologised.  It is often in the spirit of a woman that death appears to lead ordinary mortals away, and this is what happens in The Big Dry.

For the boys, Emily is both a source of life, offering George solutions to an impossible task and mothering Beeper.  But in the apocalyptic future – maybe at the extreme phase of the climate change we see beginning today – there is no final answer.  All the mythical figure can do is to provide, in her unseen death, blown away by the might of the roaring wind, just enough hope in the minds of the boys, though we know, and Rabbit Man knows, that wanting to find her can only lead them to their deaths.  Irishman Synge would do this using highly poetic language, in the Irish tradition, especially for the woman figure.  Here’s an example:

DEIRDRE (very quietly).  Am I well pleased seven years seeing the same sun throwing light across the branches at the dawn of day?  It’s a heartbreak to the wise that it’s for a short space we have the same things only.  Yet the earth itself is a silly place, maybe, when a man’s a fool and talker.
 



Though this level of drama may seem too much for a children’s play (if that was the intention of ATYP in this production), I can claim to have very successfully directed Year 8 students in Synge’s Riders to the Sea.  A novel is one thing, to read and let your imagination fly; but drama of the dread future of The Big Dry needs words of poetic power, far more than this adaptation offers.  With such poetry, I can promise the young actors so much more depth of experience for them to cultivate in their future careers.