Monday, June 29, 2015

LIFE, LOVE AND LONGING



Art Song Canberra
Wesley Music Centre, Forrest
Sunday 28 June 2015

Review by Len Power

Art Song Canberra provided a well-balanced program at Wesley Music Centre in Forrest in which three local singers, sopranos Rosanna Boyd and Ruth Crabb and baritone, Chris McNee, accompanied on piano by Colin Forbes, sang songs on the theme of ‘Life, Love and Longing’.

Rosanna Boyd’s set of songs ranged across the centuries from Mozart to Faure to Sondheim.  The songs were good choices to display her fine young soprano voice and in the Sondheim theatre piece, ‘Green Finch and Linnet Bird’, she displayed her acting skills with a nice depth of character for the girl trapped in her life like a bird in a cage.  The highlight of her set was the traditional Irish song, ‘She Moved Through The Fair’, to which she gave a sensitive, dreamlike quality.

Ruth Crabb sang her set confidently and with great technical skill.  Her pleasing soprano was heard to excellent effect in ‘A Green Cornfield’ from Christina Rossetti’s poem with music by Michael Head.  She also sang two pieces set to music by Calvin Bowman based on works by cartoonist, Michael Leunig, and delightfully brought out the sly humour in both of them.  Two poems by Walter de la Mare, ‘Silver’ and ‘The Ride-by-Nights’, again with music by Calvin Bowman, rounded out her performance and her singing of ‘Silver’ was particularly pleasing.

Young baritone, Chris McNee, started his program with three pieces from Schubert’s, ‘Swan Song’.  His choices displayed the full colour of his fine voice.  It can be a trap to overdo the drama in ‘The Doppelganger’ but it was sung simply here and was very effective as a result.  He also gave a pleasing performance of Beethoven’s song about the king and the flea from Goethe’s ‘Faust’.  As well as displaying a fine voice, Chris McNee also showed great onstage confidence and humour when explaining his songs to the audience.

Piano accompanist, Colin Forbes, gave great support to all of the singers and it was, as always, a pleasure to hear him play.

Art Song Canberra included after show drinks and a remarkably fine selection of home-made sandwiches and cakes for their audience.  Helen Raymond’s fruit cake was so delicious it deserves an excellent review on its own!

This was a fine concert and a really nice way to spend a wintry afternoon listening to three of Canberra’s fine singers with an excellent program of music.
 

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast in the ‘Artcetera’ program on Artsound FM 92.7 on Saturdays from 9am.




KELLY



Written by Matthew Ryan
Directed by Todd McDonald
Queensland Theatre Company
The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre to 27 June

Review by Len Power 24 June 2015

‘I AM this country’, declares Ned Kelly at a key moment in the play.  Was he aware of his legendary status to come or was he just a deluded individual dangerously believing his own publicity?

In Matthew Ryan’s strong play, all sides of the Kelly legend are presented in a fictitious meeting between him and his brother, Dan Kelly, in his gaol cell the night before his execution.  Sibling rivalry spills over into violence, accusations of cowardice and even homosexuality while the brothers’ widely differing points of view of key incidents in the Kelly saga are discussed and re-enacted.

Dan Kelly, of course, was officially listed as perishing in the fire at Glenrowan which resulted in the capture of Ned Kelly.  However, over the following years four Queensland men declared they were Dan Kelly and, while none of the claims were backed up by evidence, it all added to the legend surrounding Ned.

Director, Todd MacDonald, has provided an atmospheric, tightly paced and very physical production.  His cast of three give excellent performances.  As Ned Kelly, Steven Rooke has the advantage of looking like Ned Kelly but backs this up with a highly controlled performance of great depth.  As his brother, Dan Kelly, Kevin Spink provides the emotional heart of the play.  At times angry and just as violent as Ned, he also displays an unexpectedly disarming, tender side.  Anthony Standish is also impressive as the brutal prison guard and other characters in the Kelly story.  You don’t realize how much you’ve been drawn into the emotional interaction of the characters until the guard tells Ned Kelly, ‘It’s time’, and he walks fearlessly off to his execution.  At that point, there wouldn’t have been a dry eye in the house.

The prison set, designed by Simone Romaniuk, is stark but atmospheric and is enhanced by the excellent lighting by Ben Hughes and the sound design by Guy Webster.  The attention to detail in the costumes was especially notable, down to Ned Kelly’s appropriately worn and scuffed boots.

The story of Ned Kelly has been told often and the lines between fact and fiction have become blurred.  Matthew Ryan’s clever play, coming at the legend from an unexpected angle, breathes new life into the whole saga.

Originally broadcast on Bill Stephens’ ‘Dress Circle’ program on Artsound FM from Sunday 5pm 28 June 2015.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Kelly by Matthew Ryan







Kelly by Matthew Ryan.  Queensland Theatre Company directed by Todd MacDonald; designer – Simone Romaniuk; lighting designer – Ben Hughes; composer/sound designer – Guy Webster.  At Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse, June 25-27, 2015.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
June 25

This variation on the myth of Ned Kelly is an interesting delve into what may have been the relationship between the gang leader Ned and his young brother Dan.  At one level, Matthew Ryan’s ideas about their characters may explain some of the mysteries in the Kelly story, such as the propensity of Dan and Steve Hart to disguise Steve as a woman, and whether Dan was as committed as his brother claimed to be as a revolutionary on behalf of the downtrodden.

But beyond this particular story, the play raises questions about violence and extreme destructive behaviour which we see played out in different ways around the world, including here in Australia today.

First, though, to the quality of the production. 

The set design, representing the Old Melbourne Gaol in 1880, is not a literal reproduction of the cell where Kelly was held.  The play is not a historical documentary.  So the stage floor is an open space with an unadorned bed in the centre; upstage across the whole width is a raised iron walkway, with a narrow iron stairway down at stage left.  The only entrances are at the left and right ends of the walkway.

This simple design places the prisoner at the mercy of the guard, while the clanging of boot and baton on iron steps and rails is all we need to imagine ourselves incarcerated – though at one point we are made aware of the imaginary ‘fourth wall’ between us and them.  Dan looks out at us, but turns and says to his demanding imaginative brother, “I can see a wall, only.”

Surrounding all is highly evocative sound concrête: hard to describe in words but perfect for locating the drama in our feelings.

Between the actors – Steven Rooke as Ned, Kevin Spink as Dan and Anthony Standish as Guard – there is a strong sense of choreography: of the interplay between them in movement and speech.  They play as if in a dance of changing positions – of power and weakness; of winning and losing.

We are aware that we are watching a play, a theatrical construct, and so we have no problem with Ned making Dan act out events in their violent story (though Dan intensely dislikes having to do so); or even with the Guard briefly becoming a character in their story, then switching into his Guard role.

For me, this approach made the work engaging, and I began to wonder if I should not see the play as a fantasy entirely in Ned’s head as he faces the reality of his execution, just hours away – indeed only minutes away as the play ends.  Rather than my having to believe in the theory that Dan survived the fire at Glenrowan, or the obviously fictional story of his meeting Ned in the guise of a priest, I could just as easily see the priest as ‘real’ – since a priest brought in to prepare a person to face his death was the usual thing in the days of capital punishment.  Ned might imagine him to be his ‘baby’ brother as he goes through the question of his own guilt in causing Dan’s death.

It’s at this point that I come to the broader ramifications of the Ned Kelly story.  Why do certain people turn to cause such chaos and destruction of others, often in the belief that they are creating a better world.  From the leaders of IS in Iraq and Syria, to the Bonds and Skases, or George Alex and his series of phoenix labour hire companies, and even to Dylann Roof’s racist killings in South Carolina, can we come to some understanding of how they do what they do?  Why do these people become mythic in stature, as if other lesser mortals admire them even while they revile them?

I think Ned Kelly has this status because people like him arise generation after generation.  And this play allows us to accept his desire to defend his family, protect his brother and rescue his sister – especially in a society where violence is normal (including the killing of people convicted of crimes, by the state) and where weapons are commonly available (such as in the US, where Dylann Roof’s father could buy him a pistol for his 21st birthday) – and that these morally good intentions can lead to massive evils.  We hear politicians call such people ‘evil’, ‘inhuman’, and we shake our heads as we say we can’t understand them.  But they are human, they do evil things, and perhaps, like Matthew Ryan’s idea of Ned Kelly, they want to control their world – and therefore the world – to make everything right.

Kelly, then, is worth watching for both its production quality and for stimulating such thinking.


In costume but out of gaol:
L-R Kevin Spink as Dan, Steven Rooke as Ned, Anthony Standish as Guard
Photo: Stephen Henry



Thursday, June 25, 2015

ADELAIDE CABARET FESTIVAL - Love Songs For Sir Les

 Love Songs For Sir Les

With Barry Humphries and guests . Directed by Andy Packer. Musical direction by Vanessa Scammell. Adelaide Cabaret Festival. The Festival Theatre.Adelaide Festival Centre. June 20. 2015 

Barrie Humphries
Artistic Director o the 2015 Adelaide Cabaret Festival

Who better than Australia’s dissipated champion of cultural cringe, Sir Les Pattison, to host a final night concert of the Barry Humphries Adelaide Cabaret Festival. This crass, uncultured, debauched, degenerate and disgustingly crude relic of the nation’s sorry state of the arts with his spraying spittle, colossal crotch and bulbous red visage remains forever etched in the memory as one of Barry Humphries most unforgettable, if for some most detestable characters. For the packed audience of the Festival at this one-off farewell to three weeks of scintillating no rules cabaret offered a tasty degustation of talent, including the amazing Ali McGregor, who introduces the audience to her sidewalk of lost souls and lovers and losers. Sir Les, accompanied by his scantily clad Lesettes, dishes the muck with his rhyming expletive that Humphries claimed would not see the light of cabaret at his festival. But then he was leaving the following day so why give a…..
Barry Humphries as Sir Les Pattison
For those who have followed the despicable antics of the master of satire’s most vulgar creation over the decades, there is little surprise and abundant delight in the metaphors that he heaps upon his delighted admirers. And, judging by the uproarious laughter, the theatre was full of adoring fans. Humphries’ talent has always been to hold the mirror up to the unwitting victims of his sharp satirical bite and allow them to laugh at themselves, to delight in the innuendo and to see others as they do not see themselves. With rapier wit, harmless insult and groundling grossness, Sir Les lets the crude quip slip from the lip as he tells his audience that he is” off to Bangkok to get his rocket polished. His frontal insult attack is swiftly launched at an unsuspecting lady in the front row, “You’ve got a face like a half sucked mango”.  
Sir Les only makes a handful of short appearances, leaving the stage to the talents of the likes of McGregor, Amelia Ryan, The Songbirds, Trevor Ashley, Lady Rizo, all backed by the Adelaide Art Orchestra. With a parting cliché Pattison offers a stereotypical view of the arts sung in guttural contempt, There’s a Lot Of Poofters In The Arts!
Set against a plush bordello design upon the vast Festival Theatre stage, Love Songs For Sir Les offers a pot pourri sample of festival highlights, mostly from the final week of what has been hailed as the most successful Cabaret Festival yet. The final concert is a tribute to the many local, national and international artists who have illuminated the many guises of cabaret within the Festival Centre precinct. The talent is palpable in the one-off farewell event and it would be remiss of me to apply the same criteria of quality to the production. Under the direction of Andy packer, it has obviously been hurriedly put together. With so many busy artists involved in their own shows, and Humphries offering his own performances as dame Edna and Sir Les as well as playing mine host to the weeks of non-stop entertainment, the best that packer could hope for I that he marshals the artists and ensures the smooth transition from act to act. For the audience it is a showcase smorgasbord of talent and a feat of fun entertainment and a fitting finale to a jewel in the city’s festivals crown.
Barry Humphries waves goodbye to his festival
The octogenarian monarch of satirical entertainment and the star-bright artistic director of the 2015 Adelaide Cabaret Festival offers his final bow and has handed the baton to two of cabarets brightest stars, Ali McGregor and Eddie Perfect to take on the mantle in 2016. Young, enthusiastic, experienced and bursting with talent, they promise excitement, energy and a dynamic programme of events for the 2016 Adelaide Cabaret Festival, and a worthy successor to this year’s phenomenal celebration of cabaret under Barry Humphries and his team. Mark June 10-25 in your calendar  as your 2016 Adelaide Cabaret Festival experience. By order of none other than your cultural Czar, the Right Honourable Sir Les Pattison!.

 

ADELAIDE CABARET FESTIVAL - Trevor Ashley

I'm Every Woman

Performed by Trevor Ashley. Written by Trevor Ashley and Dean Bryant. Directed by Dean Bryant. Musical direction by Andrew Worboys. Adelaide Cabaret Festival. The Space. Adelaide Festival Centre.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Trevor Ashley - I'm Every Woman
 

Drag performer Trevor Ashley ends my Cabaret Festival experience on an energy-charged, outrageously camp high. Coming from his brief appearance in the festival’s farewell performance of Love Songs For Les, Ashley bursts onto the stage of The Space with the explosive charisma of the divas he impersonates. “It’s been a frigging week” he announces to his crowded audience, and it shows in the strained vocal chords that are bearing the brunt of a performance without compromise.
Ashley is no apologist; nor does he need to be. The voice may be gravelling its way through the songs, but nothing in this amazing artist’s performance will sacrifice Ashley’s stunning transformation into the divas of song.  With the panache of a chameleon impersonator, Ashley blasts his way through song after song of  the likes of Bette Midler: “the drag queen trapped in a woman’s body”, Cher: Judy Garland in a duet with daughter Liza Minelli: Tina Turner, that raunchy tigress of rock,  and that grand dame of the billowing gowns, Shirley Bassey.

With relentless force, wig after wig is discarded into a bin while a new one is donned to bring to life another perfectly realized chanteuse. Costumes are changed in view and in an instant the transformation is complete. And the familiar numbers keep coming, backed by a band that enters the spirit of the show with relish and gusto. Ashley  intersperses his dresser’s costume changes with banter, and a wind machine sequence with an audience member holding the fan as Ashley bursts into Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of The Heart. Bette Midler’s From A Distance morphs effortlessly into The Rose. Shirley Bassey’s voice swells through The Space with Bart’s As Long As He Needs Me from Oliver and the diva’s signature song, Diamonds Are Forever.
The divine and occasionally decadent, but always dynamic divas of Ashley’s kaleidoscopic repertoire could not hope for a better tribute. In spite of the toll of his frigging week, Ashley’s never-let-up parade of legendary singers captures the very essence of his impersonations. I’m Every Woman is more than impersonation in song. It is a revelation of remarkable talent and forceful personalities. With a wig, make-up and  a gown or flimsy costume to reveal his stars of song and stage and screen, Ashley reveals his consummate skill and devotion to the divas that have lit up our lives through their song.
His encore appearance as Susan Boyle is more than a comical jibe at this unusual phenomenon. The master of drag who can transform into the mistress of song reminds us with empathetic  sensitivity that even the ugly duckling can become a swan of song and “dream a dream that life can be far better than the one I’m living” .
What a wonderful way to end my visit to Barry Humphries’ Adelaide Cabaret Festiva!.  The choice to include Ashley’s I’m Every Woman” in the final week would do Dame Edna proud!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

ADELAIDE CABARET FESTIVAL - Laura Fygi


LAURA FYGI in Concert

The Dunstan Playhouse. Adelaide Festival Centre. Adelaide Cabaret Festival. June 19-20

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Laura Fygi Photo by Otto van der Toorn
 
Laura Fygi exudes exotica. Born of an Egyptian belly dancing mother, raised in Uruguay, living in the Netherlands and travelling the world, Fygi’s repertoire is diverse and, in the lyrics of Cole Porter, “bewitching” and “beguiling”. In her Australian premiere, and first appearance in the country during her twenty-five year illustrious career as a solo artist, Fygi swings and sways with sultry charm as she sings her songs from as wide a selection as “To the beat of the Tom-tom” from the old Nelson Eddy, Jeanette McDonald classic, Rose Marie, to Cole Porter’s classic Night and Day to the sensuous French songs of Michel Legrand.  Her husky sultry voice ideally suits her impersonation of Marilyn Monroe’s seductively charged Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend
Fygi’s repertoire takes her audience on an international journey of song, as she sings the popular rhythms of Brazil and Uruguay, singing in Portuguese and Spanish. Her body sways to the deep and soothing sounds of the saxophone and musical director, Mark Ferguson’s band. It is an absolute highlight of the festival that visiting artists are accompanied by superb local musicians with limited rehearsal time, and yet provide first class accompaniment. Fygi’s band is no exception.

Laura Fygi
Audience participation has been a feature of this festival, and Fygi embraces the spirit of engagement with her audience with relaxed charm and a slight air of mischief. A chorus of “si bon” glideseasily through the auditorium.  It is not so easy for Roger in the front row, who finds himself pulled to the edge of the stage as Fygi plies her seductive charm and teasing advances as she sings No,No, But Do It Again. Roger appears to take it all in bemused good spirit. After all, what male wouldn’t enjoy being sung to so seductively by the enrapturing Laura Fygi?
Fygi’s solo career has served her well. Her audience is gently swayed by her irresistible charm, husky voice and easy-listening song.  They readily join in with her Spanish rendition of Cole Porter’s Perhaps, and, on cue, sing the refrain Quicaz. It is hardly surprising that a standing ovation should be shouting out for “More!” Fygi is only too happy to oblige with her encore closing number, the Nat King Cole version of Lerner and Loewe’s number,  Almost Like Being In Love.
That’s just what it’s like being at a Laura Fygi concert.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Elizabeth Cameron Dalman

The Silk Moth 2014
Photo by Barbie Robinson
Sapling to Silver 2011
Photo by Barbie Robinson


Elizabeth Cameron Dalman June 22, 2015
Photo by Helen Musa
Elizabeth Cameron Dalman OAM – In Conversation with the Canberra Critics’ Circle.  Canberra Museum and Gallery, June 22, 2015.

A Sort-of Report by Frank McKone

At the first of four Winter Conversations planned for this year, chaired by our founder Helen Musa OAM, a baker’s dozen of Canberra’s critics across the arts of dance, literature, visual art and theatre interrogated a doyenne of modern dance in Australia, Liz Dalman.

Of course, I use the term ‘interrogated’ in the purely academic sense.  The conversation was conducted in an atmosphere of warmth and great respect for a dancer, choreographer and artistic director of such long-standing originality and drive.  Now an octogenarian, Liz Dalman still performs while even Martha Graham’s last performance was when she was a mere 76.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/?title=Martha_Graham)

Mention of Martha Graham was significant, as Dalman recalled that Graham had been strongly influenced by her study of Asian, particularly Chinese, dance forms; and now Dalman is directing Taiwanese performers for whom the Graham Technique is taken as essential in their training in Taiwan.

Cultural change away from the European ballet tradition, in which Dalman was first trained, was the key to her setting up the Australian Dance Theatre (ADT) in her home town, Adelaide, in 1965 after her lengthy overseas experience, especially in Holland.

To fill in with a little local colour, I rang Anton Witsel CAL, OAM, who was a solo character dancer in the Nederlands Dance Theatre (NDT) from 1948 and later taught mime and movement at NIDA and lectured in Theatre Practice for the erstwhile Goulburn College of Advanced Education (including teaching Critics’ Circle members Bill Stephens and myself, and Canberra Theatre Education Impresario Tony Martin).

Ton recalled Liz Dalman performing and teaching in the Scapino Ballet and Scapino Dance Academy directed by Hans Snoek.  Witsel explained that at that time it was a small coterie of dancers world-wide who were involved in the changes in modern ballet and modern dance, and Australia, with the encouragement of Dalman’s parents – Sir Keith Cameron Wilson and Lady Wilson – received not only Witsel himself, but Liz and her husband Jan Dalman (famous for photographing Marcel Marceau), and also Jaap Flier (founding member of NDT) who worked with Liz at the ADT and was guest artist for The Dance Company (NSW), which had been founded by Sue Musitz in 1969. Graeme Murphy became director in 1976 and renamed it the Sydney Dance Company in 1979.

Google Jan Dalman, Elizabeth Cameron Dalman and Jaap Flier for much much more, showing how important was the connection between the Netherlands and Adelaide in the early 1960s for the development of modern dance in Australia.  Though Liz Dalman worked with and was taught by many people, she made special reference to Eleo Pomare, described in Wikipedia as “a Colombian-American modern dance choreographer known for his politically charged productions.”  As a mentor, he passed on to Liz three themes for her work:

1. Intention – in any work, there must be an intention to communicate something through the dance.  I took this to suggest that even though, as Liz said when we spoke one-on-one, pure dance for the sake of dancing is a legitimate form, for her it was necessary for her dances to convey meaning about something of importance to society.

2. Breaking from convention – to have intention means that rigid conventions need to be broken.  An example which arose in the Conversation concerns body shape.  Where traditional ballet required women and men of the ‘correct’ size and shape, modern dance – not for the sake of being unconventional – needed to have a wide variety of bodies on stage to represent social themes.  A recent example, in the 2015 Sydney Festival, was Force Majeure’s Nothing to Lose, performed by fat dancers as an exposé of how fat people are treated and, in the process, showing how common assumptions were challenged by fat people creating powerful expressive dance.

3. Dancing the Environment – this is the term I have coined  to describe not just Dalman’s works about environment issues, but her working in places (such as Weereewa, Lake George) or on stage with dancers from different cultures in such a way that the dance incorporates the physical, historical, social and cultural setting, and in doing so illuminates the past and the present and becomes the expression of intention.

In the Conversation it seemed to me that this third element in Dalman’s work had especially developed as she created dance with Indigenous people, beginning with meeting the poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) and particularly after a productive stay in a Western Desert Pitjantjatjara community; as well as through a study on location of the Darling River from Wilcannia, Broken Hill and down to the junction with the Murray.  Bride of the Desert and River were works of cultural and environmental issues which resulted.  Their value may have been questioned at the time, but their significance is clear today.

Being a Conversation, and therefore with no formal speech, a number of points of interest were raised.   About the relationship between music and dance, Dalman explained she had no regular approach.  Music may create a feeling which she may express in the dance; an image and movement may be the starting point and music found or composed to fit; or dance may happen without music – sparking memories from people of Merce Cunningham’s silent dance in his 1976 tour of Australia.  “Dancers must be able to count!” was an amusing aside at this point.

The key for Dalman, she said, was not to respond to music at a superficial level, but to “go into the layers underneath the music.”

This need for total integration of all the elements of a work reappeared in discussion of the use of multimedia.  The issue for Dalman was that projection and live video could too easily have the effect of diminishing the dancer’s work, and, again in one-on-one conversation, she agreed that there is a learning process needed to find the “balance between technology and choreography”.  This year’s Sydney Theatre Company production of Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer was a good example of successfully finding that balance in theatre, for a play where live video might not be expected to be appropriate.

Though many other topics arose, including discussing to what degree there is an onus placed on artists to deal with “issues”, perhaps I should finish on a political note.  At one point, when ADT was setting up a grand tour to completely new places – Papua New Guinea, South-East Asia and India in 1971 – Liz Dalman was on the point of mortgaging her home to provide the necessary funds.  Fortunately the Elizabethan Theatre Trust and Qantas came to the party on that occasion.  Yet still today she is having to self-fund her Mirramu Dance Company’s tour to Adelaide.  I just wondered where our grandstanding Arts Minister / Attorney-General George Brandis fits in.  Will the Australia Council have the funds to come to this party?  Or Brandis’ new National Program for Excellence in the Arts?

It was sad that all Elizabeth Cameron Dalman OAM, at 81, could do in response to my question, after a career which she says began at the age of three, was a gentle shake of the head.

Liz Dalman 1967
Photo by Jan Dalman


Addendum

If you have read the first version of this article, you will notice a reference to Isadora Duncan's brother.  I thought I heard that Elizabeth had been taught by him, but here's an update in which she clarifies my misconception:

The story was that Margaret Morris, an English pioneer of modern dance studied with Raymond Duncan just after Raymond and Isadora came back from their ground breaking trip to Greece. Margaret then incorporated some of these new variations, that Isadora had developed, into her Margaret Morris (MMM) technique. My first dance teacher Nora Stewart travelled regularly in the 1920's to London. There she studied with Margaret Morris and learnt this MMM technique. As well as teaching the Russian style of classical Ballet Nora also taught Margaret Morris dancing. This is where as a young school girl, I first studied it. Looking back now I do appreciate the lineage and connection to Isadora even though it was not a direct one.

By email 28 June 2015




Casanova - Canberra Repertory



Review by John Lombard

For a famous womaniser, Casanova doesn’t have much game.  There are no daring exploits, no midnight meetings, and not even one hasty elopement.  When a woman yields, it's because of bulldog persistence.  An elderly Casanova (Tony Turner), trapped by his own legend, tells the truth of his life to fascinated kitchen maid Edith (Steph Roberts).  Or 90% of the truth.  For one thing, he’s taller and better looking in his memories (with Ben Russell as young Casanova).  Even when making a last confession, he can’t quite let the facts get in the way of a good story.
 
Director Jarrad West takes pains to depict the whole Casanova.  Not just the lech, but the Renaissance man and successful social climber.  Casanova only has to pick up a violin and suddenly he can play it like a virtuoso - or at least, this is how the old Casanova tells it.  We constantly question Casanova’s reliability.  At one point, Casanova pursues a boy castrato (Bojana Kos) and is amazed, after conquering their resistance, that they have in fact been a woman in disguise the entire time.  Anyway, that’s his story and he’s sticking to it.
 
Casanova is a child of the theatre, always playing parts (lawyer, doctor), usually without appropriate qualifications.  The theatricality of Casanova’s self-presentation is represented in the set, which is plastered with posters from old Canberra Repertory shows.  The cast has a great deal of fun with sly in-jokes, whether direct references to the previous Repertory production The Crucible (Casanova shares some cast with that production) or the uncredited cameo appearance of two Repertory veterans who are triumphantly informed that they do not have speaking lines in this play.
 
But while Turner’s old Casanova has moments of slyness (very nearly seducing the maid Edith, old age and probability be damned), Russell’s young Casanova is surprisingly innocent and awkward around women, most confident and sure of himself with a woman who might be a man.   While Casanova talks himself up incessantly, the women are generally the aggressors, whether it’s the servant who gives him a hand job or a pair of ageing sisters who decide to initiate him into full manhood.  Early on he meets Henriette (Amy Dunham), a woman of equally few scruples who teaches him some important lessons about life when she steals both his heart and his wallet.  Henriette becomes the woman he always wanted but couldn’t have and the pair proceed to invent baroque reasons for not being able to be together.  Everything Casanova does is about winning Henriette, and his attempts are always doomed.  He makes his fortune but then - calamity - she has had a child with his rival, the odious Grimani (Chris Zuber).  For this Casanova, marriage and children are an insuperable barrier to romantic adventure.

Casanova does meet his match with Bojana Kos’ Belino, the gender bending castrato who conquers Casanova in the game of love.  Kos’ characterisation is so sensual and charismatic that I began to actively question Casanova’s taste in women.  It made sense for Casanova to be blinded to Henriette’s true worth because of an infatuation with Belino, but instead Casanova’s feelings for Henriette are what shipwreck his attempted marriage.  We are expected to believe that Henriette loves Casanova back, but cannot risk her newly acquired social position for love.  But this is the story as Casanova tells it, and perhaps he could not accept the truth behind Henriette’s repeated rejections of his insistent overtures.
 
Despite some sentimentality, this is an engaging romp with a carnival atmosphere - and just a dash of cocaine-fuelled mania.  The ensemble launch into full-scale clowning, with Samuel Hannah-Morrow and Riley Bell in particular getting big laughs for their comic performances.  Tony Turner gives an extremely strong performance as the prickly elderly Casanova and Steph Roberts is a perfect foil for him, generously giving Turner the spotlight but drawing us into his story with her flustered yet thrilled reactions.  Director West is also particularly interested in exploring Casanova’s potential homosexuality, with many hints that he did not confine his studies strictly to women.  As the old man’s memories start to fray, we become less sure of the truth of events.  In the end we are left with only one certainty: not that Casanova loved women, but that he always loved one woman.