Thursday, December 31, 2015

Suffragette

Review by Jane Freebury

As arguments for human rights go, this is in its quiet way a powerful one. All the more for the way it draws us into the life of a laundress (Carey Mulligan) with lots to lose when she joins the activists in London demanding suffrage for women in 1912.

Hard to credit that a hundred short years ago, few countries besides Australia and New Zealand had given women the vote. Until the list of dates for women’s suffrage scroll by country at the end of the film show how slow the emancipation process has been.

Why would someone like Maud Watts (Mulligan) join the women demonstrating in the streets? Risk a beating at the hands of truncheon-wielding police, risk losing her job at the laundry, and being cast out of home? The explanation provided by screenwriter Abi Morgan (Shame, The Iron Lady) is that her path to activism is an accident, getting caught up in a suffragette demonstration and then filling in at the last minute for a friend and laundry colleague making a submission to a parliamentary inquiry about health and safety conditions at work.

Maud tells the inquiry that she hopes there is a chance to live a better life and not have to follow in the footsteps of her mother who worked at the same laundry and died young. Women of her class who spoke up and demonstrated risked far more than their establishment sisters like Meryl Streep’s Emmeline Pankhurst who makes a brief appearance on a balcony to deliver a rousing speech. Once Maud has spoken up, there’s no way back.

Although the film doesn’t say as much, the burgeoning suffragette movement that has attracted the interest of police and security forces – personified in Brendan Gleeson as Inspector Steed – isn’t the only source of civil unrest at this time. There were anarchists, communists and other political activists making their presence felt. Yet in such turbulent times the violence inflicted on the demonstrating women is genuinely disturbing. Another jolt is the developing-world workplace conditions were the lot of Britain’s working classes a short while ago too.

Tight and intimate framing pitches us into things from the start as the hand-held camera weaves around the characters, creating an immediacy and involvement that would have been technologically impossible, a century before you could just whip out your mobile phone to capture vision for the news. Eduard Grau’s camera draws you in with subtle purpose.

Maud is one of those fictional characters intended to bear witness to events, and Mulligan’s interpretation a delicate and determined portrayal. I didn’t think the actress was right for Far From the Madding Crowd but she is perfect here.

Maud is not as brusque as Helena Bonham-Carter’s, a chemist busily involved in ‘deeds, not words’, but still strong. No hint of suffragette leanings, nothing much bolshie about Maud at the laundry where the lecherous boss (Geoff Bell) prowls the women for sport, or at the home with her gentle but sulky husband and co-worker (Ben Whishaw) and beloved young son.

Director Sarah Gavron has pitched her period drama at a slightly less strident level than one might reasonably expect, compared say to stories about other heroes of the civil rights movements. However, she has still managed to create something powerful. And still relevant.

4 Stars


Friday, December 25, 2015

Cara Carissima - The Acting Company



Review by John Lombard

What kind of stories does the barista hear? Geoff Page's new lyrical play explores the collapse of a marriage over a succession of coffee dates, with the barista (Bruno Galdino) and the audience the only people privy to the whole story.

Barry (Peter Robinson) is a tired and overworked high level public servant who falls for hottie executive assistant Cara (Cara Irvine). Cara breaks with her boyfriend while Barry begins to strategically rock his marriage with Sarah (Nikki Lyn-Hunter), each of them freeing the way for a potential hook-up. Sarah nominates her sister Jane (Kate Blackhurst) as diplomatic envoy to Barry, however Barry has enough cunning to prod the sisters into giving him exactly what he wants.

If this play was a coffee, it would be a expertly brewed skinny flat white with an elaborate rose sculpted into the foam. Artistically a success, but not likely to get your heart racing. The entire play is in rhyming meter and Page's deft wordplay is engaging and charming. But this is a genteel tale of infidelity and divorce, with characters accepting the march of their fate with that weariness which masquerades as wisdom. There is delight in witty treatment of a light story, but the feeling of low stakes prevents the play from reaching dramatic heights.  Few divorces are this amicable.

The direction from Tanya Gruber is meticulous and naturalistic, an excellent stylistic match with Page's detail-rich script. The characters feel real and recognisable, especially for a Canberra audience familiar with the drudgery and rewards of Barry's life as one of the SES elect. Robinson in particular is adroit at showing how differently his character behaves around different people, always with an eye to how he can best self-present. Cara Irvine also wisely does not play her character as a temptress, instead emphasising her self-possession without losing any sexiness. Overall this was a showcase of mature acting with an eye for the small touches.

The play was set in theatre in the round style with audience on four sides, so inevitably there were periods where I was making a detailed study of a character's back. The lyricism and wordplay of Page's script also took some getting used to, a warming up period similar to "tuning in" to Shakespeare. With these barriers to engagement I found it hard to become involved, and this is where the play's brevity worked against it: by the time I was really enjoying it the story was winding down.

Ultimately, I found myself wanting more, which is no bad thing for a play. What other stories did the barista hear? There is excellent scope to expand the play by introducing more of the other tales that unfurl in a coffee shop. Part of the slightness of this play may be explained by its place as the middle chapter of a trilogy centring on a character who, in this piece, is sometimes mentioned but never seen. More could also have been made of the potential ironies that come from the barista's near-omniscient knowledge, that because of his job he knows more about the lives of the characters than they do themselves.  Page's poetry and perceptive observation of character are both gorgeous, but Cara Carissima is a cup of coffee that will satisfy but isn't going to keep anyone awake at night. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Christmas Carol





A Christmas Carol adapted by Kirsty Budding from the novella by Charles Dickens.  Budding Theatre directed by Jamie Winbank and Kitty Malam.  At Teatro Vivaldi, ANU, December 21-23, 2015.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
December 21

How can I remain in my habitual curmudgeonly role as a critic, now that I’ve seen the miser Ebenezer Scrooge turn his life towards empathetic Christmas cheer in just 45 minutes?

No.  No, I cannot!  I can only write positive comments, despite what happened to Scrooge: Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset.... [on the last page, p82, of A Christmas Carol in the 1907 Everyman’s Library edition of Christmas Books by Charles Dickens].

We all laughed at Kirsty Budding’s exaggerated representation of the pageant of the ghosts of Christmas Past (Jade Breen), Christmas Present (Anna Miley) and Christmas Yet To Come (Jason Sarossy), narrated well over the top by Zoe Swan.  Scrooge (Oliver Durbidge) could not contain himself in the negative nor the positive, from the vision of Marley’s Ghost (dead as a doornail!) to offering Bob Cratchit (Brendan Kelly) and his family Mrs Cratchit (Bridgette Kucher), Martha Cratchit (Abigail Mitchell), Belinda Cratchit (Olivia Adamow) and “Tiny” Tim Cratchit –  who did not die –  (Callum Doherty), not just Christmas Day off work, but the whole week!

Unfortunately for a reviewer, co-directors Kitty Malam and Jamie Winbank were so clever at moving masses off, on and around the tiny Teatro Vivaldi stage, that I’m left to record that only another 26 young people performed.  They remain nameless here as an encouragement for all those who haven’t yet booked, to see the show for the laughs, the program with all their names in, and for the message – still true to Charles Dickens’ intention – “as was always said [of the reformed Scrooge], that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.  May that be truly said of us, and all of us!”

Brebdan Kelly as Bob Cratchit

Jade Breen as the Ghost of Christmas Past

Oliver Durbidge as Scrooge







THE SOUND OF MUSIC - SYDNEY



Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein 11
Directed by Jeremy Sams
Musical Direction by Luke Hunter

Presented by Andrew Lloyd Webber, David Ian, John Frost and The Really Useful Group

Capitol Theatre Sydney 17th December until 28th February 2016.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens






One of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s  most enduring musicals , “The Sound of Music” returns to Sydney in a superb production which demonstrates why this show continues to delight audiences just as much as it ever did, even some 56 years after it first appeared on Broadway.

For those who know the show only through the Julie Andrews film, this production will contain some surprises, particularly in the placement of the songs. Director, Jeremy Sams has wisely returned to the stage version, but has also included two songs written specifically for the film, “I Have Confidence” and “Something Good”. Both work beautifully in this production.

He has also restored the two songs sung by Baroness and Max, not used for the film, “How Can Love Survive” and “No Way To Stop It”. Their inclusion better clarifies the Captains sudden decision not to go ahead with his planned marriage to the Baroness. Elsewhere he has tightened the action so that the show flows seamlessly from scene to scene.

Amy Lehpamer and the children singing "The Lonely Goatherd" 

Though not as spectacular as expected, this touring version of the production first presented in the London Palladium in 2006, still offers much to enjoy. Sunsets and twinkling stars arrive on cue; the storm is frightening; the opening “Preludium” with its  large contingent of nuns dissolving into Maria on the mountain singing “The Sound of Music” is thrilling,  as is Jaqueline Dark’s sublime rendition of “Climb Every Mountain” which closes the first act.

There are also some surprises in the interpretations of the roles. This Maria, as played by Amy Lehpamer, is very much the unsophisticated country girl, impetuous, gauche and exactly as the nuns describe her in “Maria”. She also sings like a dream and her exuberant interaction with the von Trapp children is thoroughly delightful, especially with the eldest daughter Leisl, charmingly portrayed by Stefanie Jones. Their duet in the second act, “Sixteen Going On Seventeen”, provides one of the most poignant moments in the show.

Cameron Daddo with the von Trapp children 

By contrast, Cameron Daddo offers a rather reserved interpretation of Captain von Trapp. However he sings pleasantly, and certainly has the requisite looks and charm to persuade any nun to give up her vows.

Marina Prior brings unexpected warmth and vulnerability to her portrayal of the Baroness Schraeder so that your heart goes out to her in her awkward attempts to mimic Maria’s easy rapport with the children. David James’ flamboyant portrayal of the festival director, Max Detweiler works well in contrast.
Cameron Daddo, David James and Marina Prior sing "No Way To Stop It" 

Theatre veteran Lorraine Bayly, despite a heavy fall early during the first night performance, went on to charm the audience with her jolly, bustling Frau Schmidt, a neat contrast to the tall Philip Dodd as the von Trap household butler.
Jacqueline Dark as  The Mother Abbess

Opera Australia alumni,  Jacqueline Dark, (The Mother Abbess), Dominica Matthews, (Sister Berthe) and Joanna Allen, (Sister Sophia) together with Eleanor Blythman (Sister Margaretta) and a team of lustrously voiced nuns provide Nonnberg Abbey with a sensational  heavenly  choir who unerringly lift the spirits during the “Preludium”, “The Wedding Processional” and of course “Climb Every Mountain”.

Then there are the von Trapp children. Too good and too clever to be true, but who would have them any other way ?  The first night team impressed mightily with their spirited acting, accurate singing and confident execution of the often quite demanding choreography, especially for the joyous “Do- Re-Mi”. 

If you’re one of those people who love “The Sound of Music”, you won’t need urging to see this new production. If you’re among those who feel they couldn’t bear to sit through it again.. Believe me ..you can ..and you’ll love it. Give the kids- and yourself- a treat. Take them along to experience this real-live version of their favourite movie.  
   

 
Cameron Daddo, Amy Lehpamer and the von Trapp children sing "Edelweiss" 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

RIPPING


Written by Dale Stam
Directed by Hannah Miller
Set and Costume designed by Alexandra Howard
Presented by Lexx Productions
Belconnen Theatre 15 – 19th December, 2016

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

One of the hardest tasks for emerging playwrights is to get their work staged. The Street Theatre with its Hive program has nurtured an audience for challenging original work. Some playwrights, notably Bruce Hoogendoorn produce their own work, and there are other avenues available.

But getting new work staged, and attracting an audience to it, can still be a frustrating, and often, expensive business, and certainly not for the faint-hearted.

Enter Lexx Productions, which was created in 2010 by local actor, Alexandra Howard, to focus on producing original works for both stage and film, while developing the skills of local actors and technicians.  Since then it has produced a number of productions both in Canberra and Sydney. “Ripping” is its latest offering.

John Lombard, Stephanie Mathews, Annie Roberts, James Waldron 

Written by Canberran, Dale Stam, “Ripping” is set in a café on a university campus. Several female students on campus have disappeared, but these four friends, Stanley (Cole Hilder), Ripley (James Waldron) Ed (John Lombard) and potty-mouthed Bronte (Stephanie Matthews), are all members of a University Jack The Ripper Theory Club. They seem rather more interested in acting out unlikely scenarios to explain the unsolved Jack The Ripper murders than worrying about the current on-campus disappearances.

On this particular night, they are joined by a potential new member, Charlotte (Annie Roberts), who’s really a journalist in disguise, and who suspects that one of the members of the Jack The Ripper Theory Club may be associated with the disappearance of the students.

For reasons not altogether clear, Bronte takes a dislike to Charlotte and spends the evening bating her. There is also a sixth character, a waitress (uncredited in the program) who has no dialogue but whose disappearance heralds a significant twist in the plot.

Though potentially interesting, the play never really takes off, partly because of the unimaginative direction, partly because of the inexperience of the actors, but mostly because the author hasn’t really decided on the real focus of the play.
 
Much of the expositionary dialogue takes place with four of the characters sitting around a table. This is always a challenge for a director who must find interesting ways of staging the dialogue so that it will engage the audience. In this case the challenge was made even more difficult by the placement of a raised area at the back of the stage where the various characters act out their Jack the Ripper theories. Whenever this happened the other actors were required to look to this area so that their reactions were lost to the audience.

Except for John Lombard, all the cast delivered their lines in a naturalistic style more suited to television than stage, and as a result, many possibly good lines became unintelligible and opportunities to engage with the characters and their pre-occupations were forfeited.

As well, the theories offered for the Jack the Ripper murders were unconvincing, as was Bronte’s aggressive alienation of Charlotte. Then finally, interrupting an already short play for an interval completely dissipated what little tension had been building, so that even when the inevitable murders do begin to happen in the second act, the cast seem surprisingly unconcerned.

Stephanie Matthews, Cole Hilder, Annie Roberts 

However, whatever its flaws, “Ripping “is Dale Stam’s first play. It has provided Hannah Miller with her first directing assignment and the actors with an opportunity to hone their craft.  Hopefully, everyone concerned will have learned and benefited from their involvement, so that future audiences can look forward to the possibility of spotting an emerging writer or theatre practitioner in future Lexx Production presentations.



  

LLEWELLYN CHOIR CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS



Conductor: Rowan Harvey-Martin
Wesley Music Centre 19 December

Review by Len Power

It seemed a bit strange listening to Christmas music on a hot 36 degree evening in the church at the Wesley Music Centre, but the Llewellyn Choir under the masterful baton of Rowan Harvey-Martin soon took my mind off the hot weather.

Starting with the traditional ‘Deo Gracias’, arranged by Benjamin Britten, followed by the beautifully melodic ‘Angel’s Carol’ by John Rutter, the choir sang with precision and great feeling.  Canberra composer, Anthony Smith’s ‘Prologue from the Coventry Nativity Play’ uses a rather turgid text but the music is superb and was sung very well by the choir.

The first major piece of the program was Respighi’s ‘Laud To The Nativity’.  Soloists Greta Claringbould, Christina Wilson and Michael Martin were in fine voice soaring above the choir in this haunting work.  The choir sang the harmonies with great accuracy and a pleasing depth, making it sound at times like it was a larger choir than it was.

Following the interval, the choir and soloists had great fun singing Argentinian, Ariel Ramirez’ ‘Navidad Nuestra’.  Soloist baritone, Dominic Harvey shone with his fine singing and a touch of humour in his delivery and Rowan Harvey-Martin gave us a nicely judged amusing moment as she made a big deal of playing a South American percussive instrument as well as conducting.  Marta Yebra on castanets, guitarist, Ariel Nurhadi and Jes Chalmers on percussion added fine additional Argentinian colour.

Surprise guest, composer Calvin Bowman, accompanied the choir on piano with his own short but beautiful piece, ‘Noёl’ and the choir then gave us a magnificently sung ‘Coventry Carol’, arranged by Martin Shaw.  This lovely work conjures up images of snowy Christmas cards and pretty European winters and was a perfect choice for a Christmas-themed concert.  The final item was the carol, ‘Silent Night’ by Franz Grüber, arranged by John Rutter.  Often these well-known carols can seem a bit over-familiar, but it was nicely sung by the choir and, when the audience was invited to join in singing, the effect was quite moving.

Anthony Smith’s fine playing on the organ was especially notable as was his sensitive and pleasing accompaniment for the whole concert.

The Llewellyn Choir’s choice of works was excellent, giving the audience some old favourites as well as lesser known items.  This was a perfect concert to finish the year!

Len Power’s reviews can also be heard on Artsound FM’s ‘Artcetera’ program from 9.00am Saturdays.

CARA CARISSIMA



Written by Geoff Page
Directed by Tanya Gruber
The Acting Company in association with Shadow House Pits
The Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre to December 20

Review by Len Power 17 December 2015

‘Cara Carissima’ by Canberra poet, Geoff Page, is a delightfully quirky one hour play in verse.  Set in a Canberra coffee bar, we eavesdrop on an unhappily married senior public servant (Peter Robinson) and his recently-single executive assistant (Cara Irvine).  His wife (Nikki-Lyn Hunter) and her sister (Kate Blackhurst) also meet for coffee there and the barrista (Bruno Galdino) observes their interactions and keeps us informed of developments.

Cara Irvine as the executive assistant gives a standout performance.  With her nicely judged playing of a woman keeping her emotions just under control, she is totally believable.  Peter Robinson gives an appealing, naturalistic performance as the senior public servant, providing much of the humour in the show as he flounders in his dealings with the three women.  Nikki-Lyn Hunter is effectively edgy as the bitter wife and Kate Blackhurst is a strong presence as the wife’s sister.  As the all-knowing barrista, Bruno Galdino is quite impressive.  He’s charming to his customers but there’s a creepy insincerity under the surface.

Tanya Gruber has directed the show with great attention to detail in the characterizations.  On a simple coffee shop set, designed by Charlotte Stewart, it plays very well in the round.  The director has ensured that the actors handle the reading of the verse effectively.  Much of the humour of the play works because of the rhythm of the verse.

Geoff Page has written a compelling slice of life with good characters and a story we can all relate to and enjoy.

This review was first published in Canberra City News digital edition on 18 December 2015.  Len Power's reviews can also be heard on artsound FM's 'Artcetera' program from 9.00am Saturdays.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Cara Carissima by Geoff Page






Cara Carissima by Geoff Page.  Produced by Peter Wilkins (The Acting Company) and Geoff Page; Associate Producer: Joe Woodward (Shadow House Pits).  Director: Tanya Gruber; Set Design: Charlotte Stewart; Lighting Design: Ben Pik.  At The Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre, December 17-20, 2015.  Running time: 60 minutes.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
December 17

Cast
Peter Robinson – Barry, a senior public servant
Cara Irvine – Cara, Barry’s executive assistant / lover
Nikki-Lyn Hunter – Sarah, Barry’s wife / ex-wife
Kate Blackhurst – Jane, Sarah’s sister
Bruno Galdino – Bruno, barista

Lighter than a latte; skinny as in cap;
With a little bit of rum, and some froth on tap.

My apologies to the author, who likes his rhyming couplets.  It’s these that make Cara Carissima into a pleasantly humorous light entertainment on a theme of life in administration.

Or rather, what we see of that life out of the office in a convenient take-away coffee shop.  Here the barista – much too impressive a title, I thought – listens to his customers’ personal interactions and fills us in with the details between the scenes we observe, as Barry’s and Sarah’s marriage falls apart, Jane does what she can to keep things sensible; and Cara takes Sarah’s place, leaving Sarah hoping in revenge that the younger woman will soon find Barry as boring as she had. 

The venue is not kind to the actors, because of its acoustics.  Playing in the round – or in this case in the square with audience in all four sides – was perhaps not such a good idea, even though it meant a closer intimacy for each of us watching than the options of dividing the space in a conventional way.  Although actors made sure they spread their attention around fairly evenly, it was often difficult to pick up the words clearly from an actor when facing the opposite side.  And I have to admit that though Bruno’s accent made his title as barista seem more likely, many of his words were hard to understand.

Since Geoff Page is a very well-known poet, and words – especially how they sound – is so important in his work, I wondered if the play may not work very well on radio, even though seeing the characters live was good fun.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

QUIDAM - CIRQUE DU SOLEIL

Target (Ardee Dionisio) 
Photo: Matt Beard

AIS Arena, Canberra, until 20th December, 2015

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

One of Cirque du Soleil’s earliest shows, “Quidam” premiered in Quebec in April 1996. After nearly 20 years touring the world, it commenced its final Australian tour in the AIS stadium in Canberra on 10th December 2015. Following seasons in Wollongong, Hobart and Newcastle, it will move to New Zealand where it will have its final performance in Christchurch on February 26th, 2016.

One would think that after almost 20 years touring, “Quidam” would be a bit frayed around the edges. However, it’s as shiny as a new pin, and even in arena format, “Quidam” remains an astonishing spectacle.

Written and directed by Franco Dragone, “Quidam” contains all the hallmarks of the ground-breaking Cirque du Soleil style which, with its merging of theatre with circus performance, changed modern circus forever.

A huge cast, stunning acrobatics, brilliant costumes, superb lighting, breath-taking staging and meticulous presentation are all on display as the show follows the adventures of Zoe, a little girl who, ignored by her parents, dreams up a whimsical world peopled by surreal characters including a headless man who carries an umbrella, a strange ringmaster called John, a graceful sprite called Target, and a mysterious Frankenstein-like creature called Boum-Boum.

In this world urchin-like characters continually appear and disappear, while highly skilled acrobats perform astonishing feats either on the huge revolving stage, or high above the heads of the audience, to a thrilling score performed by a superb live band and singers.

Among the brilliantly performed specialty acts, the incredible strength of the statues, Natalia Pestova and Alexander Pestov, the grace and flexibility of Julie Cameron performing high above the stage on silks, the panache of Wei Liang Lin with his diabolos, and the breathtaking stunts of Cory Sylvester and his German Wheel stay etched in the mind.

Personal favourites include the amazing ensemble skipping-rope routine, and the extraordinary Banquine finale in which fifteen extraordinary acrobats flipped, tumbled and tossed each other every which way.

Some might miss the Grand Chapiteau experience, but “Quidam” works remarkably successfully in stadium mode. It’s worth travelling to see this show. You’ll kick yourself if you miss this final opportunity to experience this Cirque Du Soleil classic.  

The Banquine Finale 
Photo: Matt Beard 


            This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 11th December 2016.