Friday, March 27, 2015

EVERYBODY LOVES LUCY



Written by Elise McCann and Richard Carroll
Directed by Helen Dallimore
Performed by Francine Cain and Anthony Harkin
Musical Direction by Anthony Harkin
Luckiest Productions
Q Theatre, Queanbeyan
25 May 2015

Review by Len Power

Like most people of my generation, I have fond memories of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and their TV show, ‘I Love Lucy’, from the early days of television in Australia.  That does make it a little difficult to accept a modern actress playing Lucille Ball and the character, Lucy, on stage but Francine Cain does it rather well in ‘Everybody Loves Lucy’.

It’s a curious show that, while entertaining, doesn’t dig deep enough into the background of the show or the performers’ lives.  Mention is made of their marriage breakup but we’re only told that Ball left her husband because Arnaz couldn’t take being a success.  We don’t get his side of the story and he disappears early in the show which then concentrates on Lucille Ball only.

The story is interspersed with songs sung very well by Francine Cain.  Lucille Ball was not known for her singing so I assume the songs were added to give this show some variety.  The song, ‘Make Someone Happy’ from the 1960 musical, ‘Do Re Mi’, becomes a repeated theme for this show but was never associated with Lucille Ball in real life.  It is at least chosen from a relevant time period.  Only at the end of the show is a song associated with Lucille Ball used – ‘Hey Look Me Over’ from the musical ‘Wildcat’ which Ball appeared in on Broadway in 1960, the year of her divorce from Arnaz.

It was fun, however, to see a few of the famous comedy sequences from ‘I Love Lucy’ recreated and Francine Cain does them very well.  Anthony Harkin is a very good Desi Arnaz, too, and his piano accompaniment for the songs throughout the show is excellent.  Helen Dallimore’s direction is tight and moves the show along at a good pace but the sound amplification on the show was uncomfortably loud.

I liked the additional character of a TV-watching housewife of the period giving her opinions on the show and the actors, assuming the stars must be happy together in real life because they were portrayed as so loving in the TV show.

The show as played at the Q Theatre was exactly an hour long and the minimal detail left me a bit unsatisfied.  I wondered if there is a longer version of the show.  On the Q’s website, the detail about the show says, ‘We are introduced to a woman, who could make the work laugh while the actress was crying inside, a woman who was not just a clown but a voice for independence’.  The show didn’t go into all that in any detail and might have been more satisfying if it did.

DRESS CIRCLE - ARTSOUND FM 92.7 - SUNDAY 5.00pm TO 6.30pm


Craig McLachlan 

DRESS CIRCLE  is all about transformations this week.

Craig McLachlan will tell Bill Stephens how he will transform from Dr. Blake into Dr. Frank. N.Furter for the forthcoming Sydney season of “The Rocky Horror Show”.

John Frost 

Entrepreneur extraordinaire, John Frost, will share his excitement about his forthcoming production of a show about one of the most famous transformations of all time.. “Jekyll and Hyde”.

Gene Peterson 




Gene Peterson will explain how he transformed from percussionist to theatre director to present “360 Allstars” soon to be seen in the Q in Queanbeyan.

As well, Len Power will review the Ian Robinson play “The Process”. Isobel Griffin will give a round-up of forthcoming shows in “Arts Diary” and Blue the Shearer has a new poem about Metadata.


90 minutes of interviews, reviews, music and news about the performing arts in Canberra and beyond, DRESS CIRCLE is produced and presented by Bill Stephens  and broadcast by Artsound FM92.7 every Sunday evening from 5.00pm until 6.30pm. It is repeated on Tuesday nights from 11.30 and streamed live on the internet at Artsound.fm

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Everybody Loves Lucy by Elise McCann and Richard Carroll

Everybody Loves Lucy by Elise McCann and Richard Carroll.  Produced by Luckiest Productions.  Performed by Francine Cain and Anthony Harkin; directed by Helen Dallimore.  At The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, March 25, 2015.

Reviewed by Frank McKone

Actor Francine Cain performs as Lucille Ball in Everybody Loves Lucy in the role originally played by Elise McCann.

Looking remarkably like Lucille Ball (and Elise McCann) on stage, Francine Cain is a Helpmann Award-nominated musical theatre star, who has just concluded an 18-month national tour as Frenchy in the musical Grease. She was the winner of the 2010 Rob Guest Endowment Scholarship, and her credits include Regina in Rock of Ages (Helpmann and Green Room Award nominations), and understudying Truly Scrumptious in the Australian tour of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

This recognition is not surprising, as you hear Francine reproduce the voices of Lucille Ball – from the piercingly high-pitched American television comedy voice to the mature voice of her final interview following her divorce from Desi Arnaz and the end of the original series of I Love Lucy.  Perhaps even more engaging is her movement, from the Ball skit on her childhood ballet class and the many and varied little dance illustrations of the Lucy character through to expressive facial and bodily contortions that indicate excellent mime training.

Though Lucille (and an anonymous supposedly representative American housewife who watches and empathises with her as she appears on television) is the star of this production, Anthony Harkin’s Desi Arnaz is very well acted (in addition to his terrific piano-playing).  In fact it is his Desi that brings out the theme of the show.  Was he, in real life, playing a role which did or did not justify Lucille’s characterisation of him as a ‘loser’ who needed to destroy his own achievements; who needed to see himself as a failure?  The script, deliberately, makes it difficult to be sure when Desi is acting or not acting – meaning that Anthony’s acting was well done.

Because, by the end of this short hour-long overview of her life, we only get to know Lucille’s viewpoint, we are left wondering.  Everybody Loves Lucy is not of the dramatic quality of, say, Robyn Archer’s A Star is Torn (1979) – it’s light entertainment rather than excoriating life experience – but perhaps that’s because, as Ron Cerabona records (in the Canberra Times) Although both Ball and Arnaz were behind the success of the show and of [their company] Desilu, Ball tended to get most of the credit and Cain says Arnaz was "torn".

[Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/theatre/everybody-loves-lucy-is-a-tribute-to-a-comedy-legend-20150320-1m22ys.html#ixzz3VMvQbyXy ]

But a theme of social responsibility, something about Jerome Kern’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes you might say (just to keep to the musical ambience), makes a clever point.  The show begins with Lucille’s (or Lucy’s)  and Desi’s (or Ricky’s) advertisement for cigarettes which, if the woman buys them for her man to show she loves him, then he will love her, too.  The same song is reprised, and sung in a quite different mood, towards the end of their marriage – and the two points are made in one, since on our stage in modern non-smoking times, the cigarettes are not lit, as, one might say, the fire of their relationship had gone out.

So the entertainment was not perhaps as ‘light’ as it seemed.  It was certainly very funny and enjoyable, and very appropriate for The Q’s Morning Melodies program.

[If for some unknown reason you want to follow up Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (lyrics by Otto Harbach), have an interesting read at http://www.steynonline.com/1663/smoke-gets-in-your-eyes ]


Sunday, March 22, 2015

HANDLE IT



Written and performed by Laura Jackson
Aspiring Musical Theatre Company production
The Street Theatre, March 13-15, 2015

Review by Len Power 13 March 2015

For many of us we’ve now had about twenty years of internet experience.  The changes it has made to our daily lives have been extraordinary through the wealth of information instantly available when we want it, on-line purchasing and the ease of communication with friends and family through email, Skype and social networking programs like Facebook.  But there’s a darker side to social networking which is chillingly explored in Laura Jackson’s one woman play, ‘Handle It’.

The play details the experience of a young woman at university when compromising pictures of her appear on Facebook.  We also see the impact on other people as judgements are made and actions are taken.  It’s confronting and thought-provoking and it’s also good theatre.

Writer and performer, Laura Jackson, has produced a strong script with some good characters and excellent links between scenes with computer projections that progress the story.  She also performs all seven characters in the show, six of whom are women and one is male.  It was confusing and a bit of a stretch to accept her at the start of the play as a rather loathsome young man and the character of the Pro Internet Sexologist, while amusing, had minimal relevance to the plot.  All other characters were finely written and played extremely well.

Director, Janys Hayes, has staged the show simply on a bare stage with minimal props and furniture.  Each character has their own acting space which gives good visual variation as the play progresses.  The computer images have been well-designed to clearly demonstrate how easily you can lose control of a situation when using programs like Facebook.  Good lighting and sound complements the setting and action.

Anyone assuming they’ll just see a biased, strongly feminist view in this work will be surprised to find that some of the female characters are unsympathetic and unhelpful, making judgments that are hurtful and ignorant as well as just plain dangerous.  What appears to be a straight forward case of abuse using Facebook turns into an ever-deepening mystery that is quite absorbing.  It raises some pretty uncomfortable issues about human nature as well as about a technology moving too fast for most of us to keep up with.

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ showbiz program with Bill Stephens on Sunday 22 March 2015 from 5pm.

Elektra / Orestes by Jada Alberts & Anne-Louise Sarks

Katherine Tonkin
Illustrator: Julian Meagher
Hunter Page-Lochard
Illustrator: Julian Meagher


Elektra / Orestes by Jada Alberts & Anne-Louise Sarks.

Presented by Belvoir, directed by Anne-Louise Sarks.  Designed by Ralph Myers; costumes by Mel Page; lighting by Damien Cooper; composer and sound, Stefan Gregory; fight director, Scott Witt. 

At Belvoir Upstairs, Sydney, March 14 – April 25, 2015.




 Cast:

Linda Cropper:    Queen Klytemnestra
(mother who killed her husband, King Agamemnon, eight years ago, after he sacrificed their eldest child, daughter Iphegenia, to the gods to give him safe passage to Troy and left the family while at war for nine years)
Ursula Mills:        Khrysothemis (fourth child, youngest daughter)
Hunter Page-Lochard:    Orestes (third child, and only son)
Katherine Tonkin:    Elektra (second daughter, eldest surviving child)
Ben Winspear:    Aegisthus
(Agamemnon’s cousin, lover of Klytemnestra, joint murderer of Agememnon, now King)

Reviewed by Frank McKone
March 21


Klytemnestra (Linda Cropper), Elektra (Katherine Tonkin), Orestes (Hunter Page-Lochard)


Elektra / Orestes shows the final battle in an internecine family war of monumental proportions. 

But instead of taking place in the kind of Ancient Greek palace that we might imagine if we think of the Parthenon, massively dominating Athens still today, we watch the verbal and physical violence play out in a minimally furnished family or breakfast room, and later in a slightly more upmarket kitchen (with an island workbench and extensive cupboards).

Revolves are now the in-thing (since Andrew Bovell’s Holy Day, I suspect), and in this case Ralph Myers’ design works very well indeed.  The play takes place twice, the first half hour focussed on Elektra in the family room; the second half hour repeating the action, but focussed on Orestes in the kitchen – where there is a knife block. 

He has also brought a handgun and secretly hidden in a cupboard, prepared to avenge his father’s murder, as his elder sister had told him to do when she sent him away to protect him from Aegisthus eight years previously, when he was still only an eleven-year-old.

We are in modern suburban Australia, with something like a professional woman trying to keep herself and her family together, or at least keeping up appearances.  Her youngest polite daughter tries to keep out of the way of the worst of the continuing conflict, yet can’t help being attracted by Aegisthus’ predatory attention.  Her other surviving daughter has become foul-mouthed and rebellious, focussed obsessively on her mother’s calumny, and has refused to reveal the whereabouts of her only son.

Orestes’ return inevitably presages the tragic consequences of past action.  In the Ancient Greek context, of course, it is the demand for human sacrifice made by the gods which is the root cause of the tragedy of the human condition.  In this modern setting, Agamemnon takes all the blame for the sacrifice of Iphegenia from Klytemnestra’s standpoint, while she takes all the blame for the murder of their father in the eyes of Elektra and Orestes.  Gods don’t get a look in nowadays.



Hunter Page-Lochard as Orestes

Soft toy rabbit, Ben Winspear (Aegisthus), Hunter Page-Lochard (Orestes), Ursula Mills (Khrysothemis)
Katherine Tonkin (Elektra) and Hunter Page-Lochard (Orestes)




The writing and production of this play is an ambitious and risky project.  Does it entirely succeed?

The production certainly does.  We are held in the grip of the conflict situation – except briefly when people laughed as Orestes continued to stab, and stab, and stab Aegisthus.  Half a dozen stabs were believable, even though we knew that the horribly long sharp kitchen knife was not really piercing Ben Winspear, despite how it looked.  (Fight director Scott Witt deserves credit here).  But the next half a dozen went over the top.  Even so, the laughter faded as another half a dozen stabs, and another, meant we could not look away. 

At this point I was reminded of the obsessive murder of his mother by an adult son which took place here, in modest Canberra, some years ago.  The perhaps schizophrenic son stabbed his mother more than 50 times, according to news reports.

The revolve and the action being repeated as seen from behind the scene worked brilliantly.  I remember a novel (French existentialist, I suspect) which described the same scene three or four times, each from a different character’s physical and mental perspective.  That struck me as an interesting idea, but not much more than playing an intellectual game with the reader. 

In Elektra / Orestes the point was that in the second half we discovered what was really happening in the kitchen which we had not known while watching the first half – and it worked because dramatically the second half developed our understanding of the plot and of each of the character’s viewpoints, which we thought we had understood before.  The structure of the drama was strengthened in this way, reaching the climax we might have expected, but with unexpected personal elements – such as the importance to Orestes of his soft-toy rabbit.


Katherine Tonkin (Elektra) and Linda Cropper (Klytemnestra)





Ursula Mills (Khrysothemis) and Katherine Tonkin (Elektra)

Ben Winspear (Aegisthus) and Linda Cropper (Klytemnestra)


But I wonder why a play, written by two modern Australian women – Aboriginal Jada Alberts and non-Indigenous Anne-Louise Sarks – kept the names and key elements of the Ancient Greek myth.  Were these meant to be modern Greeks?  How could a Queen and her family be living in such mundane circumstances?  Were we supposed to be watching a realistic story of a modern family, since the attitudes of the children were understandable considering what their mother and her lover had done?  But how could this be real in modern times, without their father having been arraigned for murdering his daughter Iphegenia, and their mother being arrested for murdering her husband (even if she acted partly in the belief that he was a threat to the safety of her other children)?

I had no problem seeing the issues of family violence exposed by the play.  That’s a tremendously valuable aspect of the writing and its presentation on stage.  But I found myself not connecting emotionally as I would like to have been able to do, because the myth from the ancient past and such a different culture was too literal.  So I began thinking about how it might be better done.

This Elektra / Orestes can be seen as part of the long tradition of representing the myth, starting from the 5th Century BCE Aeschylus, then Sophocles and Euripedes, but particularly in the 20th Century the American Eugene O’Neill’s trilogy Mourning Becomes Electra. http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks04/0400141.txt 

O’Neill finds a parallel in American history with the Trojan War – the American Civil War – and covers the years 1865 – 1866, when Brigadier-General Ezra Mannon comes home to his wife Christine and his daughter Lavinia.  Mannon’s mansion has a “white Grecian temple portico with its six tall columns [which] extends across the stage” which was correct for the American South (and is still used on MacMansions to day in Australia!).  The characters have names which are appropriate for the period, and they speak American English of that period according to their class and racial background.  The three plays – Homecoming--A Play in Four Acts; The Hunted--A Play in Five Acts; The Haunted--A Play in Four Acts – parallel the plays by Aeschylus, but the reference is not made explicit.

Mourning Becomes Electra made O’Neill’s name as the great American playwright in 1931.  This was because Electra in the title made people try to work out what his play meant.  When the connection to the Electra / Orestes myth was thought through, people could see the play was a tragedy – not just for the characters in the story, but because Lavinia and her brother Orin represent the failure of the American Dream.  This is Lavinia’s last speech, to the old servant/retainer Seth:

LAVINIA--(grimly)  Don't be afraid.  I'm not going the way Mother
and Orin went.  That's escaping punishment.  And there's no one
left to punish me.  I'm the last Mannon.  I've got to punish
myself!  Living alone here with the dead is a worse act of justice
than death or prison!  I'll never go out or see anyone!  I'll have
the shutters nailed closed so no sunlight can ever get in.  I'll
live alone with the dead, and keep their secrets, and let them
hound me, until the curse is paid out and the last Mannon is let
die!  (with a strange cruel smile of gloating over the years of
self-torture)  I know they will see to it I live for a long time!
It takes the Mannons to punish themselves for being born!

Maybe Jada and Anne-Louise were not trying to write a play of such monumental proportions, but Lavinia is not so far from their Elektra (though I think their Orestes deserves more sympathy than O’Neill’s Orin).  But if they were wanting to put our feelings and understanding of the tragedy of family violence on stage at a higher level, they need to find a story from our history on which to turn the blowtorch of ancient myth.

The story of Jandamarra (http://www.bungoolee.com.au/index.php/jandamarra/) could be a good place to begin, for example.  If the family story in Elektra / Orestes represents the extension of the ancient Greek myth into the family violence we see in modern times, surely there might be an even more powerful drama in another 21st Century family perhaps entailing myth from the European and Aboriginal cultures, and the real history of the Bunuba man Jandamarra from 120 years ago.

This would be an equally ambitious and risky project, even more monumental in proportions.  Elektra / Orestes is an excellent start, but I feel the tragedy of family violence needs to be brought closer to home.
Ben Winspear as Aegisthus (the first stab)
Klytemnestra appeals to Orestes
Hunter Page-Lochard and Linda Cropper

Orestes about to take final revenge for his father's murder
Hunter Page-Lochard and Linda Cropper

All production photos by Lisa Tomasetti

Dan Sultan “Dirty Ground" Tour Supported by Pierce Brothers

The Street Theatre

18, 19 March 2015

Reviewed by Samara Purnell 


Jack and Pat Pierce 
Original image
Pat and Jack Pierce 
Original image


Today, Jack and Pat Pierce, known collectively as Pierce Brothers, announced a record deal with Warner Music. They will belt out a few headline gigs in Australia before they head to Europe to play the PinkPop festival alongside performers including Sam Smith and George Ezra.

Last night however, Pierce Brothers opened for Dan Sultan at The Street, in his “Dirty Ground” tour.

The boys’ infectious blend of folk-pop music was delivered in a “more-than-slightly-hectic” performance.

During the set, Jack played everything from the drums, guitar and tambourine to The Street Theatre railing. Then he pulled out his didgeridoo, delighting the audience as he played it, whilst simultaneously holding the mouth organ for his guitar-strumming brother to play.

Their more mellow songs including “Empty Canvas” were reminiscent of Joshua Radin’s sound and included well balanced, sweet harmonies. Other songs brought to mind Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecelia” whilst overall there is an undeniable Mumford and Sons vibe to Pierce Brothers.

Despite the pronouncement before a couple of songs that “This one is REALLY miserable”, the long-haired lads invariably worked back up to a toe-tapping, hand-clapping hoe-down.

“Tallest Teepee in Town”, “Golden Times” and “It’s My Fault” were perfect examples of why these guys need to be experienced in a tent – so you can dance around in the dust wearing your finest folk hat.

The set was rounded out with the beautiful song “Flying Home” and “Genevieve”, written for their sister.

Some of the lyrics were difficult to pick up, unfortunately, but Pierce Brothers is an impressive duo. It won’t be the vocals alone that stay with you, but the “Woo!”- ing, the hair flicking and the undeniably fun and contagious rhythms.

*****

DAN SULTAN cut an imposing figure as he walked onto the dark stage.

The solo performance of his “Dirty Ground” EP meant songs were delivered raw, sparsely and intimately, just Dan and his electric guitar and keyboard.

Dan has a strong and beautiful voice and he connected with his audience in this setting. Musicians have the only profession where having “WOO!!!” yelled at you when you ask “How are you?” is acceptable”, he notes.

Dan’s quirky stories kept the audience chuckling. And while there remained a sense of a slightly shy, awkward, young man, Dan was not afraid to let us in on the darker periods in his life, during which time he wrote “Man on TV”, about seeing his younger self on TV one night. “The good passes, the bad passes, you just have to see it out”, he said, before singing it.

Dan collaborated with Paul Kelly to write “On the Leffy” (as it’s written, although inspired by Dublin’s Liffey River) about missing home and family. And with another Paul, of the Dempsey variety, to write “Mountaintop”.

With a funny little story about a grumpy man in some terry-toweling pants, Dan immediately launches into “Nyul Nyul Girl”, a beautiful lullaby from the “Bran Nue Day” Soundtrack, about a father’s love for his daughter. It’s moments like this you realise Dan can take you from laughter to goosebumps in about 4.5 seconds. His dreamy vocals soared over the pretty melody, played on keyboard, in the melancholic “Gullible Few”.

Be it a gentle love song, such as the simple, beautiful “Nobody Knows” from his Blackbird LP or the tough “Crazy” about domestic violence, from songs about growing up in Fitzroy to “Kimberley Calling”, Dan entertains and impresses with a warm modesty, a husky growl or an up-tempo rock-out.

Letting loose with “Rattlesnake” and “Same Man”, on guitar, Dan rocked out his finale, informing us that he’d somehow managed to do an extra-long set tonight. And we were thankful for it.  



Wednesday, March 18, 2015

MARY POPPINS



Director: Stephen Colyer.
Shaun Rennie (Bert) - Alinta Chidzey (Mary Poppins) 
Musical Director: 
Ian McLean,
Choreographer: 
Jacquelyn Richards,
Set Design: Gez Mansfield
Costume Design:
 Fiona Lynch
Free-Rain Theatre Company

Canberra Theatre until March 29

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

You won’t need a spoonful of sugar to make this merry musical go down, it’s “practically perfect in every way”.  Director Stephen Colyer has achieved a highly-polished, imaginative production which, with its black and white story-book setting, and stylish, colourful costumes, has all the bells and whistles, and keeps the magic coming until the very last notes.

Colyer has drawn exceptional performances from his cast, so that the audience soon become captivated by the familiar story of the mysterious super-nanny, and her chimney-sweep friend, who insinuate themselves into the lives of the Banks family with life-changing results.

Alinta Chidzey gives a Broadway quality performance as Mary Poppins. Her character has just the right level of astringency. She sings her songs superbly, and confidently leads the company through the big complicated dance numbers, even tossing off some neat conjuring tricks along the way.  Just as impressive is Shaun Rennie as Bert. Rennie matches Chidzey’s flair with excellent singing and dancing, while heightening the air of magic and mystery which pervades the production.

Alinta Chidzey (Mary Poppins) and Shaun Rennie (Bert) lead the cast
 in
 Free Rain Theatre's production of "Mary Poppins"

Chidzey and Rennie are excellently supported by the strong local cast who rise to the occasion with well-judged character performances. Among them, Colin Milner, who finds an unexpected complexity in his curmudgeonly banker, George Banks, which makes his eventual redemption quite moving. Christine Wallace is also excellent as his ditzy wife, Winnifred, while Callum Doherty and Georgia Forster as their wayward children, Jane and Michael, perform their large roles with extraordinary aplomb.

Unrecognisable in two scene-stealing cameo roles, Bronwyn Sullivan uses her remarkable stage presence and lustrous voice to great effect as the bird woman and the fearsome Miss Andrew.  Anita Davenport contributes fine comic performance as the housekeeper, Miss Brill, matched beautifully by Lachlan Agett as the remarkably flexible butler, Robertson Ay.

The tightly-drilled production numbers, choreographed by Jacquelyn Richards, are sensational, especially the brilliantly performed “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious “, the wonderful park scene with its dancing statues, and the marvellous “Step in Time” with its stage full of  tap-dancing chimney sweeps, all performed with admirable style and panache, and buoyed on by Ian McLean’s classy orchestra.

Not even some missed sound cues and occasional clunky set changes on opening night could dent the professional gloss of this brilliantly conceived and executed production, with which  Anne Somes and Free Rain Theatre have again raised the bar for local theatre.
   
Free Rain Theatre's production of "Mary Poppins" 


        This review first published in the digital edition of "City News" on 15th March 2015. 
         An edited version appears in the print edition published 18th March 2015.