Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Artist of the Year Award goes to “inspiring” Canberra cellist.

The 2010 Citynews Artist of the Year award has gone to cellist David Pereira.

Pereira was described as “inspiring” by special guest, Sydney theatre director Iain Sinclair, as he presented him with a cheque from Citynews to the value of $1000.

At the ceremony, hosted on Tuesday November 30 by the Canberra Critics Circle at the Canberra Museum and Gallery, he was also presented by David Williams on behalf of the Canberra Glassworks with a glass paperweight crafted by Benjaimin Edols.

Before coming to the Canberra School of Music in 1990, Pereira enjoyed an international career, playing as Principal Cellist with the Australia Ensemble, the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. After recovering from a serious illness, he has made his mark anew in Canberra and the region with the David Pereira Cello Series. He is a patron of the ACT Mental Health Foundation.

The Canberra Critics Circle Awards went to writers Kaaron Warren, Peter Stanley, Alan Gould; filmmaker Christian Doran; visual artists Jude Rae, Simon Maberley, T.J. Phillipson, Patsy Hely and curators Deborah Clark and Mark Van Veen; Dance artists QL2, Jackie Hallahan, Jacquelyn Richards; theatre artists Everyman Theatre, Boho Interactive, The Street Theatre, Jordan Best, Tony Turner, Louiza Blomfield and SUPA Productions & Phoenix Players; musicians Lucy Bermingham, David Pereira, Shortis & Simpson, Donal Baylor, Tobias Cole and The Street Theatre & the ANU School of Music.

Painter Ruth Waller was singled out by the Circle for her outstanding body of work and her strong advocacy of the visual arts.

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance announced that the Green Room awards for professional productions went to sound artist Kimmo Vennonen and to the production of “When the Rain Stops Falling.”

The full list of Critics’ Circle members for 2010 is as follows:

Anne-Maree Britton . Margaret Pierce-Jolley . Samara Purnell . Jennifer Gall . Helen Musa . Ian McLean . Clinton White . Bill Stephens . Stella Wilkie . Malcolm Miller . Glenn Burns . Alanna Maclean . Joe Woodward . Wendy Brazil . Frank McKone . Peter Wilkins . Kerry-Anne Cousins . David Broker . Yolande Norris . Anni Doyle Wawrzynczak . Diana Kostyrko . Annika Harding . Meredith Hinchliffe . Gia Metherell . Cris Kennedy.

The full list of  Canberra Critics' Critics’ Circle citations for 2010 is below:

For
Writing
Presented to
Karron Warren
For
Her novel “Slights,” a work of horror fiction praised as “a deeply intense, disturbing read” that tells  of human despair.

For
Writing
Presented to
Peter Stanley
For
His non-fiction work “Bad Characters,” in which he tells the story of those Australian soldiers in the Great War who were not heroes. His account advances an understanding of who these men really were  and what war did to them.

For
Writing
Presented to
Alan Gould
For
“The Lakewoman,” a mysterious and compelling novel praised as a bold portrait of male decency and resilience.

For
Film
Presented to
Christian Doran,
For 
producing, writing, directing and editing “Broken,”   a tight, exciting thriller on the theme that every man has his breaking point. 


For
Visual Arts
Presented to
Jude Rae
For
her exhibition at Canberra Museum and Gallery. The strength of her painting and drawing can be found in the way it produces an emotive encounter and consequently private experience that is far greater than the sum of each piece’s individual parts.

For
Visual Arts
Presented to
Deborah Clark and Mark Van Veen
For
their virtuosic curatorial vision and realisation of the exhibition “Something in the Air: Collage and Assemblage in Canberra Region Art” for Canberra Museum and Gallery. 

For
Visual Arts
Presented to
Simon Maberley
For
his breakout exhibition New Works at ANCA gallery, applying his technical prowess and the tradition of vanitas to a collection of works that encompasses both the personal and political.

For
Visual Arts
Presented to
T.J. Phillipson
For
his solo exhibitions “Semblance” at PhotoAccess and “There is Fire Inside” at CCAS Manuka, presenting intelligent, innovative, resolved and at times self-deprecating artworks utilising photography, video and installation.

For
Visual Arts
Presented to
Patsy Hely
For
her exhibition “roundabout” at the Helen Maxwell Gallery last December. She decorated her fine porcelain ceramics with intimate glimpses of Canberra life that celebrated the more domestic aspect of life in the national capital that, unlike images of the national icons, speak to those of us who actually live here.

Visual Arts
Presented to
Ruth Waller
For
For her survey exhibition of works at Canberra Museum and Gallery, encompassing thirty years of her diverse painting practice. In the past twelve months she  has also presented solo exhibitions recent work at both Helen Maxwell Gallery in Canberra and Watters Gallery in Sydney.

For
Dance
Presented to
QL2  
For
its contribution to youth dance in the ACT, particularly for its outstanding provision of opportunities for young dancers to work collaboratively with established artists and for its significant contribution to the nurturing of young male dancers.

For
Dance
Presented to
Jackie Hallahan
For
her contribution to dance in the region, and her 25th year at the Canberra Dance Development Centre.

For
Dance
Presented to
Jacquelyn  Richards
For
her outstanding choreography for The Queanbeyan Players production of “Fame.” Her exuberant routines successfully captured the youthful spirit of the show and were danced with confidence and enthusiasm by the whole cast.

For
Theatre
Presented to
Everyman Theatre
For
its productions of “Richard III,”  “The Laramie Project” and “Musical of Musicals (the Musical),” which set high benchmarks for innovative production and performance.

For
Theatre
Presented to
Boho Interactive
For
its original and innovative science theatre production at Belconnen Arts Centre  of “True Logic” and its continuing illumination of scientific theory and concept through imaginative theatrical performance.

For
Theatre
Presented to
Jordan Best
For
her performance as Blanche DuBois in Free Rain Theatre’s “A Streetcar Named Desire,” which took on  a daringly unorthodox casting by director Fiona Atkins  to produced a portrayal of great power and fragility. 

For
Theatre
Presented to
The Street Theatre
For
its very successful “Made in Canberra” season, which   provided strong support for local companies and individuals actors, writers, directors, designers  and stage technicians.

For
Theatre
Presented to
Tony Turner
For
his  terrifying, moving performance as Big Daddy in Jordan Best’s production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” for Free Rain Theatre.

For
Musical Theatre
Presented to
Louiza Blomfield 
For
outstanding performances in leading roles in several musicals during the year including “Musical of Musicals (the Musical),” “Spamalot” and “The Boy From Oz.”

For
Musical Theatre
Presented to
SUPA Productions and Phoenix Players 
For
their outstanding production of “Miss Saigon,” directed by Kelda McManus, which with limited resources cleverly succeeded in capturing the sweep and drama of a difficult and demanding musical.

For
Music
Presented to
Tobias Cole
For
For his outstanding contribution to music-making in Canberra, as both Choral Director with the Oriana Chorale and the University of Canberra Chorale, and soloist singer in several major Canberra musical events including the Canberra International Music Festival and the Hughes Festival of Music.

For
Music
Presented to
Lucy Bermingham  
For
her unflagging and outstanding contribution to musical life in Canberra as a composer, performer, musical director and accompanist.


For
Music
Presented to
David Pereira 
For
Making his mark on music in Canberra and the immediate region with his cello-focused David Pereira Cello Series, which  demonstrated  his ability to interpret different compositional styles; and for his encouragement of  young associate artists which stamps him as an outstanding figure in the Canberra arts scene.

For
Music
Presented to
Shortis & Simpson  
For
their production of “Tin Pan Aussie.” A cleverly conceived entertainment devised by John Shortis  and performed by himself, Moya Simpson, Peter J. Casey, Dave O’Neill, Ian Blake and Jon Jones, it explored the history of early Australian popular song-writing.

For
Music
Presented to
The Street Theatre and the ANU School of Music
For
Geoffrey Lancaster and Caroline Stacey’s production of “Dido and Aeneas” which breathed new life into the famous work by staging the opera in a contemporary street-culture setting.

For
Music
Presented to
Donal Baylor
For
his fine performances as a blue-grass and Western Swing musician, including his 2010 appearance at the National Folk Festival Canberra which demonstrated his versatility, dazzling technique and warm musical relationships with those on stage.
List ends

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekov.

Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekov.  Adapted by Andrew Upton, directed by Tam├ís Ascher.  Sydney Theatre Company at Sydney Theatre, November 9 – December 23, 2010.

Reviewed by Frank McKone

November 24

Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh in Sydney Theatre Company's Uncle Vanya
© Lisa Tomasetti 2010

Despite the success of the first production by Moscow Art Theatre of Uncle Vanya in 1899, I like to imagine that Konstantin Stanislavsky was troubled.  He had not wanted to play the role of the doctor, Mihail Lvovich Astrov “for I had always dreamt of another part – the title role.  But [director] Vladimir Ivanovich managed to break my will and even got me to like Astrov.”

In Ascher’s production, I think Stanislavski’s troubles are over.  Considering he died in 1938, you may think it’s a bit late.  But there’s 111 years of theatrical history behind Ascher’s and Upton’s work, and it shows to perfection in the performances of top-class actors Hugo Weaving (today’s Astrov), Richard Roxburgh (Vanya), Cate Blanchett (Yelena), Hayley McElhinney (Sonya), John Bell (Serebryakov), Jacki Weaver (Nanny), Sandy Gore (Maria), Anthony Phelan (Telegin) and Andrew Tighe (Labourer).

Stanislavski also directed Chekov’s works and in the 1920s and 30s focussed on training actors to perform ‘naturalism’.  His work was the key to making the break from melodrama to the form of drama the 20th Century needed.  But that doesn’t mean that everyone got his ‘system’ right.  I think we were lucky in Australia, from the time of the early NIDA classes and Hayes Gordon, to eschew the ‘American Method’ of Lee Strasbourg. 

Richard Roxburgh and Hugo Weaving in Sydney Theatre Company's Uncle Vanya   
© Lisa Tomasetti 2010

Australians, being perhaps less sentimental than Americans, knew that when Stanislavski said act ‘as if’ you were the character, he never meant ‘become’ the character.  This cast, with this director, backed by their Australian training and experience, demonstrated exactly what Stanislavski meant.  I suspect, too, they also ‘got’ Chekov better than Stanislavski himself had achieved in 1899.

The clue is the fun in this presentation.  Here is the humourist Chekov we know from his short stories and plays like The Proposal.  Weaving skips and even Russian dances about the stage.  Roxburgh swings and sways from gloom to fury, from lust to murderous intent.  The two of them reminded me of Ian McKellen (Estragon) and Roger Rees (Vladimir) in the recent production of Waiting for Godot – the same understanding of the absurdity of the social condition.

One might imagine that the young wife of the old fart professor, so imbued in boredom, would be waspish or merely sad.  Not this Yelena.  Blanchett collapses into unbridled laughter as often as she is the worst manipulator.  And who would have thought that the professor’s horribly put-upon daughter could lose herself so freely in laughter and take the audience along with her, especially in McElhinney’s marvellous scene with Blanchett in Act Two. 

And John Bell at last is free of the constraints he seems to have laid upon himself in recent years.  Compare his Lear with this pretentious old Serebyakov, and Chekov looks better than Shakespeare.

But how is this not mere farce or melodrama?  Because every actor plays their character’s intention behind every facial twitch, every loose movement, every eye contact, every incomprehensible vocalisation, every word which means the opposite of its apparent meaning, or diverts attention away from reality.  As Stanislavsky taught, nothing must happen on stage without the audience being aware of each character’s intention.  Nothing, absolutely nothing, was missed in this production.

A simple demonstration, but a most exciting moment in the play, was the silence after Yelena and Astrov realise that Vanya, bringing roses for her, has seen them kissing.  Such wonderful theatre in which no-one says anything for minutes on end.  My copy of the script has just four dots to indicate no more than a pause before Astrov says [with bravado] ‘The weather is not too bad today.’  On this stage, with this director and these actors, what tension was there – and what laughter from us watching this embarrassed triangle.  What a creation of the illusion of natural reality!  What honour to a master playwright.  What grateful thanks on my part for the skill and artistry of this company.

What a pity for so many of you that the season is fully booked.

Sandy Gore and Richard Roxburgh in Sydney Theatre Company's Uncle Vanya
© Lisa Tomasetti 2010

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS

Phoenix Players,
The Q - Queanbeyan Entertainment Centre until November 27th.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Utilising a large cast, bright sets and costumes and well-staged production numbers, Phoenix Players and director Kelda McManus have mounted an ambitious production of this bawdy musical which takes place in a brothel in Texas run by the world's nicest madam, Miss Mona (Megan Baran).

HIghlight of the evening is the Aggie dance at the end of Act one, where the men, as lusty footballers, have some boot-stomping fun in one of several energetic dance routines choreographed by Nikole Sklavos. The "whores" also worked well as an ensemble, particularly during "Hard Candy Christmas", with Jacinta Le a standout as the new Chicken Range recruit, Angel.

As Miss Mona, Megan Baran looked lovely and sang with an attractive texas twang, however Jon Garland, as the hot-tempered and coarse Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd provided the emotional fireworks.

Among a strong line-up of principals, Liz De Toth (Jewel), David Smith (Melvin P. Thorpe), Aleisha Stevens (Doatsey Mae) and Pat Gallagher (Governor) all made the most of their big moments.

However on opening night the second act lacked the energy of the first and looked as though it had missed out on a technical rehearsal. The sound and lighting cues were erratic and the abrupt ending appeared to leave the cast stranded and the audience non-plussed and maybe wondering why the spectacle of football jocks cavorting in a brothel seems rather less palatable now than it might have back in 1978.

(An edited version of this review appears in the November 18-24 edition of City News).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

When the rain stops falling by Andrew Bovell

When the rain stops falling by Andrew Bovell.  A collaboration with Hossein Valamanesh and Brink Productions.  Directed by Chris Drummond at The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre, November 10-13, 2010.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
November 10




This production of a play, described by Richard Zoglin in Time as ‘easily the best new play of the year’ at its US premiere at the Lincoln Centre in March this year, is a privilege to behold.  The acting, direction and design all fall into their right places stylistically and technically in a jigsaw puzzle which comes together piece by piece. 

At first there are scattered elements of a picture picked up seemingly at random from four generations leading to the meeting of Gabriel York and his son Andrew Price.  The experience watching is exactly as happens while reconstructing a complex 1000 piece puzzle.  Aha! realisations light up completely unexpectedly when it becomes clear that this or that piece just has to go here or there.  Yet it is not until the very last piece is in place that we feel the tension that we might not have everything correctly understood, fall away.  Only as the last clue is revealed, just as the rain stops falling, do we suddenly feel we can breathe again with satisfaction that all is now positively complete.

Zoglin goes as far as to compare Bovell’s work with the achievements of the novelist William Faulkner.  It is a fair comparison in two ways. 

Faulkner used devices like plain print interspersed with italic print and standard sentence structure interspersed with poetic line forms as a way of shifting from time to time or from internal to external experience.    The result is difficult reading until you allow the feelings expressed in the words to wash into your mind without self-consciously seeking logical understanding or even clarity of events.

Bovell’s writing is theatrically interpreted by this production team to create a similar kind of time and perspective shifting, which as Faulkner achieves in the end of The Sound and the Fury, finally comes into clear focus in the final scene of When the rain stops falling.

But the perhaps more important way that the comparison with Faulkner is sensible is that Bovell, as does Faulkner, creates in his jigsaw, images and themes in words and action which symbolise elements of the human condition which recognisably belong to the writer’s culture – American in Faulkner’s case, and Australian in Bovell’s.  In the local we see the universal. 

It is interesting to read the American Zoglin’s description: ‘The play is unrelievedly bleak but with a denouement of unexpected hope: a moving, almost revelatory evening of theater’ while the Australian audience on opening night in Canberra responded to the many moments of ironic humour which are built into our culture.  We certainly found the unexpected hope, but not an unrelieved bleakness.  In fact, without laughter, I suspect, the unexpected hope at the end would have been maudlin and sentimental.  In this production, it was ultimately satisfying to know that Gabriel and his son Andrew, with the help of a fish falling from the sky, could at last enjoy each other’s company after four generations of emotional disaster.

Bovell’s work, it seems to me, has matured in this play even beyond his earlier Holy Day.  Now he has achieved strength in simplicity, placing him among the great playwrights not only of Australia but around the world.

Monday, November 1, 2010

THE CLEVER COUNTRY

By Bruce Hoogendoorn,
Street Theatre  6 -16 October 2010

reviewed by Bill Stephens

A statistic revealing that university science enrolments had dropped by 3000 in five years provided the inspiration for this biting satire by Canberra playwright Bruce Hoogendoorn.

Cataloguing the trevails of scientist Andrew Dean (Bruce Kavanagh) who invents a machine supposedly capable of stimulating minds to improve the ability to draw and play music, provides Hoogendoorn with plenty of grist for wicked comment on the ethics  of the science, fashion, advertising and television industries.

When the Minister for Science (David Vallenti) offers Andrew 10 years funding if he can raise science enrolments by 20 per cent in a year, Andrew accepts the challenge which includes the services of the Minister's ambitious assistant Sarah (Michelle Cooper) who strongly believes "a message is not as important as the messenger".

Andrews' inept attempts to win the challenge are catalogued in a series of well-written scenes, highlighting in the riotous punch-up with the director of a fashion school (Clinton McRobert) during a television show when both men try to attract student Fiona (Jamie Ishfani) to their respective disciplines.

Director Daniel McCusker has his strong cast play the characters in an exaggerated surreal style which works well for the comedy but tends to prevent the characters making much emotional contact with the audience. However good performances particularly from Kavanagh, Cooper, Vallenti, Isfahani and a delightfully eccentric Fiona Fox ensures an entertaining, even thought-provoking evening of theatre.

(This review was published in the October 14-20 edition of "City News".)