Reviews

Celebration of Female Excellence

Love, Loss and What I Bore directed by Nikki Watson for Anglesea Performing Arts, Anglesea Hall June 4, 2022.

This neat production bore all the familiar APA hallmarks.
It was a piece of intelligent theatre, delivered with professional flair in the charming surrounds of the township’s community hall.
Though in fact, it was two different and distinct one-act plays that had been perfectly dovetailed together.
The first, Don’t Say Bubba was written by Melbourne playwright Fleur Murphy with input from the APA players themselves.
The second, Love, Loss & What I Wore, was written in 2008 by New York screenwriter sisters Delia and Norma Ephron. It’s a multi-awarded but little-known favourite that initially played off-Broadway for a 2½ years.
In Anglesea, both plays were staged by the same team of director Nikki Watson and her pool of seven female actors.
Each play offered different insights into elements of feminine thinking, with its humour, its irrationalities, its perceptions and comprehensions – but mostly its deep well of understanding.
The first play, Don’t Say Bubba, saw a heavily pregnant Julie Fryman-Kristy visiting her mother’s house for a pre-birth catch-up with friends and relatives. Their mother-daughter relationship was cautious, not only because of generational differences and past histories, but Julie was experiencing a pre-birth hormonal surge with its resulting insecurities and tetchiness.
 Hence the play’s title, for the mother-to-be’s ground rules had banned any mention of the upcoming birth.
This was shaped into a game by her mother – breezily played with homely charm by Janine McKenzie – so that every time the subject was broached, the speaker had to clip a clothes peg onto her collar and change the subject.
Both were (rightfully) wary of the arrival of outspoken Auntie Lou whose loose but well-meaning plain speaking was rewarded with flurries of pegs, and who was wonderfully portrayed by a joyfully oblivious Lina Libroaperto. Neighbour friends Kirsten Honey and Zoe Lander came to sympathetically, but unsuccessfully, attempt to placate and calm the situation before Julie’s best friend from childhood unexpectedly turned up.
She, played by Sarah Crowe, showed a depth of feminine intuition and understanding that not only smoothed the situation, she laid a pathway to the play’s neat but quite properly unfinished ending.
Following an interval cuppa, the same actors, minus Julie – who was in real-life heavily pregnant – but with the addition of the baby-faced but highly experienced actor Stacey Carmichael, presented Love, Loss & What I Wore .
The actors, all wearing  black, were seated in a line across the stage, flanked by a display board and clothes rack.
They used their normal Australian accents to individually stand and deliver the play’s sharp New York Jewish humour – and it married perfectly with its pre-interval sister-play. 

Love, Loss & What I Wore is essentially a compilation of individual female memories, delivered as respectful and very witty monologues.  Each linked moments of their childhood and early years with recollections of their inappropriate or unsuitable clothing at the time.
These were illustrated  by the poster display and cute cartoon versions of the clothing from the rack.
This neat format was occasionally interrupted and enlivened by delightful and insightful recollections of random collective memories. These ranged from inappropriate motherly advice to embarrassing moments through to shared experiences in dressing rooms.
All were well chosen, beautifully written, spiced with humour and delivered with charm and wit by six smart, sassy and very well rehearsed actors.
And this segment/play was drawn to a clever and entirely appropriate surprise ending. 
All told, Love, Loss and What I Bore presented a wholly satisfying theatrical experience.  Though entirely female-oriented, it gave we males in the audience much to enjoy, laugh along with – and to digest and learn from, too. 

– Colin Mockett

A Les Mis of exceptional standard

Les Miserables, directed by Martin Croft  for Centre/Stage Geelong, Costa Hall, June 3, 2022.

If you’re thinking of giving this production a miss because you’ve seen Les Mis plenty of times before, I can give you a host of reasons to reconsider.
First, Geelong’s Center/Stage chose the newest Cameron Mackintosh/Royal Shakespeare Company version of the world’s most popular musical. This was revised and reworked in 2019 to much acclaim.
It’s not just slicker and smoother than previous productions, the show’s tearjerking and passion levels were tweaked to new highs.
Plus this production, staged in Geelong’s most prestigious venue, looked, sounded and moved like a capital city big-money production – but with seats at non-professional prices.

The experience begins on entry to The Costa Hall where a fully built set is on stage.
How this was achieved in an essential wingless space designed for graduations and symphony orchestras can only be explained by Keith Greenwood and his team of set construction wizards.
Then, as the orchestra struck the first chords of Look Down, the production’s work song overture, it became clear that musical director Phil Kearney and his team had brought together a really accomplished orchestra. 
As prisoners and warders appeared from the mists with their actions and voices smoothly coordinated, we audience knew that director/choreographer Martin Croft and lighting designer Jason Boviard and their teams were at the top of their form.
It then became clear that the show’s costume and wig teams – headed by Sharon Clearwater and Nicole Plowman – had worked their theatrical magic to a high level of excellence.
The show’s programme credits a 150-member backroom team, and every one of these can take credit, along with David Greenwood’s production unit for resourcing all of the above to such high standards.
But then… Take on board the on-stage talents, and wow! This was a simply brilliant all-in production.
There was high-performance quality everywhere from the consistently excellent Nick Addison’s Jean Valjean – who set the show’s high standard in both acting and singing.
Though this was intentionally countered by Shaun Kingma’s steely-voiced Javert – a relentless unflinching opponent with an absolutely correct stolid manner.
Their encounter with Dan Eastwood’s Bishop of Digne, whose rich compassionate voice complimented theirs perfectly,  was the first in a succession of show highlights. 
These ranged from the heartstring-tugging voice of Erin Cornell’s tragic Fantine to the show’s stirring anthems led by Samuel Allsop’s Enjolras and the exaggerated pantomime of Barry Mitchell and Michele Marcu’s Thenardier criminal-comedy innkeepers.
There was Shani Clarke’s plaintive Eponine wringing every ounce of sentiment from her torn plights and the unlikely but believable – and successful – love story played out between Storm Randall’s Marius and Jessica Faulkner’s Cosette
As if all that wasn’t enough, there was a precociously talented bunch of children playing on audience heartstrings. Take a bow, Jessie Grinter, Evie Walsh, Samarah Parker, Zoe Baker, Emerson Hudson-Collins, Campbell Van Elst and Daniel Lim.  
While behind all these, supporting every move and every song with a colourful elegance of harmony and precision was a backing ensemble led by Michael Cunningham, Jack McPhail, Ashley Thompson, Bram Harris, Ben McNaughton, Jett Sansom, Bailey Mitrovski, Finn Jaques, Nelfio Di Marco,  Kevin Chang, Amy Whitfield, Ashleigh Nearn, Ava Davies, Ava Wiese, Bella Harper, Charlotte Charles, Cheryl Campbell, Ella Edwards, Jasmin Wilson, Jennifer Stirk, Jess Senftleben, Laura Williams, Leticia Bayliss,  Louise Walter, Lucy Lorenne, Lucy Martin, Marja Le Hunt,  Murray Plowman, Ned White, Nicole Hickman, Paris Walsh, Paul Noonan, Rimon Abohaidar, Sabrina Horne and Sienna Campbell.
I’m aware that listing the ensemble takes up a reader’s time and writer’s space, but these people were essential to the uniformly high standard of this show.
Together, all of the above talented people combined to bring to Geelong a Les Miserable of such exceptional quality that it would truly be a tragedy to miss it.

– Colin Mockett

TTT’s 33 reasons to celebrate

Thirty Three, directed by Skye Staude  forTorquay Theatre Troupe, Shoestring Theatre, Torquay, June 2, 2022

One of the wonders of theatre is its ability to open a window into other times, cultures or emotions. This is most frequently built around significant events or sentiments – think of the many murders or farcical situations built into classic dramas or comedies. But it’s a rare play that captures a segment of society that is up-to-the-minute and accurate, without mockery, parody or sensationalising.
This play does exactly that. It’s set in today’s time, in the rented Sydney house of a single woman about to celebrate her 33rd birthday with a group of friends.
As such, it is a snapshot of the language, passions and emotions of young adults in Australia in the early 21st Century. It illustrates their strong vocabulary and recreational use of drugs and alcohol, too, which could be a warning to some theatregoers – and a mark of authenticity to others.
There are no murders involved in this play, no wars, robberies, heists or farcical chases. Instead, there are close-up insights into personal and family relationships and the way they intertwine and overlap.
All of the above seen from that unusual thirty-something viewpoint.
There are glimpses of thwarted ambitions, lost and abandoned loves, unresolved rejections and buried resentments.
It’s essentially a rich segment of modern life, really well captured by playwrights Michael Booth and Alistair Powning and authentically portrayed by a talented cast selected and directed by Skye Straude. 

Ms Straude and four of her six actors are new to the Torquay Theatre Troupe and it’s very much a compliment to the company’s committee to take this generational leap of faith.
 Because such is the quality of stagecraft and acting involved that this Thirty Three deserves full houses with audiences across the age spectrum.

The onstage action is centred around birthday girl Saskia who is discovered alone, quietly preparing for her celebration dinner with a few friends.
That fly-on-the-wall audience perception is cleverly maintained through the use of a single unchanged set, quick blackout changes and some neat lighting effects.
Saskia, stylishly portrayed with understated authority by Melissa Langley, holds the production together through some unexpectedly surprising twists and turns.
These came early, with the first arrival who was not an invited guest, but her estranged younger brother Josh. He was played by Kerrin Whiting, and he didn’t just act his distressed and confused part with believability, he bore a sibling likeness to Melissa.
But then the guests arrived.
These were a choice bunch led by randy over-the-top estate agent Maya, joyously and energetically portrayed by Kelly McConville.
Then came arty musician Lily, who, on the way had been text-dumped by her lesbian lover.  This challenging role was neatly depicted by Alexandra Boston with a fine mix of airy sadness with downplayed anguish.
Last to arrive was a pair of blokes who had clearly began their celebrating very early.
This was Lachlan Vivian-Taylor’s Tim, husband to Maya and suffering her rejection in open torment with Ethan Cook’s Lachie – an over-hearty life-of-the-party chancer whose inflated ego and ambitious exaggerations served to trigger, then shape the party from a celebration into a splintered gathering of damaged egos.

I’m not going to describe any of these here, because much of the delight of watching Thirty Three is in the building and shelving of different situations.
It’s enough to say that this rare piece of theatre gives an honest insight of a segment of our society that is rarely scrutinised. 

It’s extremely well staged and well worth a visit – but definitely for adults only.
– Colin Mockett

Charm and Magic at the Love Hall

Shimmering Chaminade And A Touch of Magic, presented by Orchestra Geelong, conductor Janice Wilding, C.A. Love Hall, Geelong High School, May 29 2022

Orchestra Geelong is a true community orchestra, in that all its members are amateurs who play purely for their love of creating music. Such is that love, they pay for the privilege. The orchestra has been an entity in Geelong for around three decades under a number of names and this critic has seen and enjoyed its growth and progress over the years.
The 2022 Orchestra Geelong consists of 42 players of all ages, from students to seniors. It’s feminine gender-oriented, with a ratio of around 3 women to each male, and this concert introduced a new female conductor in Janice Wilding.
She began her term by selecting a challenging programme, with that ‘Touch of Magic’ in the concert’s title referring to her opening piece, Mozart’s Magic Flute Overture, which her orchestra  carried off with proficiency and a surprisingly large, round, sound.
This was achieved courtesy of the orchestra’s make-up, with strings comprising almost half the players, significant woodwind and horn sections and light on percussion and bass. 

The concert’s second piece, Elena Kats-Chernin’s Dance of the Paper Umbrellas showed another element of the orchestra – its mastery of the work’s sharp, hypnotic dance rhythms. These, conductor Janice smilingly explained, could be due to the piece being written by a spurned female and gifted to her lover on the day he wed another.
Then followed the piece that put the ‘Chaminade’ in the concert’s title – another female composer, Cècile Charminade’s  Concertino for Flute and Orchestra with guest flautist Suzanne Moodie. This piece’s flowing melodies  and lush harmonies charmed the hall’s packed audience and sent Suzanne and the orchestra into their interval on a wave of warm applause.
The concert’s second half was given over entirely to the orchestra playing Beethoven’s symphony No 1 in C major. This major work’s five pieces range from the opening Adagio Molto’s big, bold brush strokes to the neat precise patterns of Allegro con brio and  through to the stirring triumphal Allegro motto e vivace.
The works’ sudden shifts were handled with polished assurance by the orchestra which appeared to grow in stature with each succeeding piece.
This was in no small way accomplished by conductor Janice’s warm, appreciative podium style. She conducts with neat precision, accompanied only by warm approving smiles.
This was consolidated and emphasised by Janice’s act as the final chords of Beethoven’s work were still resonating from the glass-walled C.A. Love Hall.
Then, she left her podium to lead the audience applause for her orchestra.
This was thoroughly deserved. It went on long and loud, embraced Janice and each orchestra member – and it marked a delightful concert that had displayed several kinds of magic.

– Colin Mockett   

Amazing life’s work captured in song

Vaughan Williams, A Life In Music presented by The Geelong Chorale, conducted by Allister Cox, All Saints Church, Sunday May 15, 2022.

Ralph Vaughan Williams has to be the most prolific English composer.
He completed more than 800 works in a writing career spanning more than 60 years, as conductor Allister Cox said in his always-interesting links between pieces. What was surprising was the diversity of those works. Ralph Vaughan Williams appeared to be able to turn his composing pen to anything, creating operas, ballets, chamber music, hymns, religious vocal works, and no fewer than nine symphonies.  His music ranged from delicate songs of love to powerful anthems, folk songs to devout religious masses – and that was despite his declared atheism.
It became clear through his intros that conductor Allister had made a close study of Ralph Vaughan Williams during his own musical career so this concert was in many ways a labour of love. It was certainly deeply researched with its 15 pieces carefully selected to cover much of that amazing musical diversity. They were performed by the full-strength Chorale with four highly capable – and glamorously attired – young guest soloists in soprano Amelia Wawrzon, mezzo soprano Syrah Torii, tenor Ben Glover and baritone James Emerson. In turn all were accompanied by Kristine Mellens on piano and Ken George on the church’s  organ.
Attendance at the church was full, with organisers scrambling to find extra chairs for late arrivals before the concert opened in style with Chorale and organ setting a vigorous scene with a rousing rendition of the anthem O Clap Your Hands.  This theme was continued by baritone James with his hearty rendition of the jaunty Vagabond before the Chorale returned to switch the mood completely. They presented three Elizabethan partsongs, the aptly titled Sweet Day, lyrical Willow Song and winsome O Mistress Mine. Then followed another solo, this from the clear mezzo voice of Syrah describing a picturesque Watermill,   before a thundering organ solo from Ken, when he delivered a blasting  Prelude on Rhosymedre.
Enter the immaculately evening-suited  tenor Ben to deliver Whither Must I Wander, a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson which Vaughan Williams had set to music.
Then came what was for this reviewer, the concert’s first highlight. It was three simple folksongs, first a lyrical Scots piece in Alister McAlpine’s Lament, followed by the equally flowing Turtle Dove from baritone James in full Celtic mode with the segment ending with the Chorale performing a delightfully delicate song Just As the Tide Was Flowing.
Then entered glamorous soprano Amelia to perform the cooly emotional Silent Noon, before the choir brought a rousingly patriotic finale to the first half with Antiphon which ended with the line… ‘Let all the world in every corners sing – My God and King!’ This was warmly applauded even by the room’s republican atheists.
Following a short break to reassemble, Chorale and soloists combined to present the composer’s Mass in G minor in its four disparate parts before ending the event with another rousing religious anthem in Lord, Thou Has Been Our Refuge.
Quite apart from highlighting the depth and breadth of Vaughan Williams’s work and the Chorale’s and soloist’s expertise, this concert also demonstrated the All Saints’ venue’s excellent acoustics, which resounded to the composer’s lyricism, the performers’ clarity – and then with long, appreciative well-earned applause. 

– Colin Mockett. 

Our GSO Warms and Shines!

Pastorale, presented by Geelong Symphony Orchestra, conductor Richard Davis, Costa Hall, May 7, 2022

I don’t think that the Geelong Symphony Orchestra realises just how good it is. This concert could have graced any concert hall in the country up to and including the Sydney Opera House. It was musically and technically perfect, beautifully presented and excellent in every aspect – bar one. And that was excusable.
The content, which began with Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending featuring a wonderfully talented guest violinist in Erica Kennedy, sensitively and perceptively supported by the GSO. This was followed by Beethoven’s Symphony No.6, the Pastoral, which saw the orchestra in full masterful flight.
But this choice of programme, with its themes of birdsong, babbling brooks and peaceful countryside was so out of step with current circumstances that it took a while to win over its audience. For they had arrived scarved and waterproofed in Geelong’s unexpected first autumn cold snap of icy wind and rain. What’s more this was an audience with nerves jangled by weeks of a blanket news cycle dominated by European war and a squabbling, seemingly endless domestic election campaign.
You would think those themes of peace and tranquillity would have calmed and warmed its audience and indeed it did. But it took a little time. And the event’s unseasonal aspect was really beyond the organiser’s control. It was due to Covid lockdowns and postponements. And I believe that the high quality of the concert’s first piece contributed, too.  I’ll explain.
This performance of Vaughan Williams’s Lark Ascending was so breathtakingly beautiful that rather than calming and relaxing us, we audience were energised and awake. On the edges of our seats, even. We were all aware that we were experiencing something very special.
The Lark is a work of exquisite elegance with its silences as meaningful as its glorious swoops and crescendos. This, Erica Kennedy understands completely and performed exactly. I can’t recall the last time I sat in the Costa experiencing such pin-drop silence between every perfectly timed graceful musical stanza.
Erica took several well-earned curtain calls before the orchestra reformed for the evening’s major work. Given the pastoral theme, she was expertly shepherded by conductor Richard Davis.
Richard has conducted the GSO on several occasions. Enough to understand and bond with our musicians and he invariably draws excellent performances from them.  This was one of those occasions.
A bonus is that Richard’s conducting style is wonderful to watch. It’s a mesmerising mix of air-stabbing baton, embracing, smoothing gestures and dramatic swoops using both arms to conjure crescendos. All delivered with smiling elegance. And it’s so effective that far from being calmed, we were again energised by both conductor and orchestra before the skills of Beethoven took over and we became relaxed by the music.
The concert’s program pointed out that Beethoven’s Pastoral is unusual in that it comprises five movements, the final three performed as one. Such was the quality of the jaunty introduction and smooth lyricism of the second that the audience broke into spontaneous applause before that busy, all-encompassing final movement with its tranquil expressions, musical squall and post-storm soothing serenity. All of which was handled by the GSO with such faultless expertise that the serene finale was followed by warm,  long and highly appreciative applause. This saw conductor Davis in full shepherding mode. He bowed, beaming, and left the stage, to return and proudly invite each musical section to stand and take their bows. Several times each.
A special appreciation was given to stand-in concertmaster Robert John, whose unspectacular, but efficient and effective skills matched and complemented those of the entire orchestra.
It’s enough to say that this concert, and the GSO, left its audience in a warm and highly appreciative mood – one that was very different to the way they had arrived.
– Colin Mockett

Bright Star-Quality in Vivacious Bluegrass Musical

Bright Star directed by Katie Williams for Theatre Of the Damned. Shenton Theatre, April 29, 2022

This unusual, challenging musical had to be the perfect antidote for Geelong’s election fatigue/Covid aftermath.  Though set far enough away in time and place to remind us of our own different times, its themes of thwarted love, power abuse and gender manipulation reflected issues still raw today.
But what made this Bright Star such an excellent remedy was that those themes were handled with a cheerfully light touch, thanks to a storyline written by comedian Steve Martin, coupled with a hearty, thigh-slapping bluegrass musical score from Edie Brickell.
Their work was delivered with swagger, swing and a great deal of panache by a talented young cast. But before I get down to describing this, there’s another couple deserving recognition here. Theatre Of The Damned founders Tony and Elise Dahl started their company five years ago with the stated intention of bringing fresh musicals and talent to what they saw as Geelong’s jaded theatre scene mostly stuck in a routine of restaging a list of proven favourites.
This Bright Star, their seventh show, had a troubled start including lockdown postponements, unforeseen withdrawals, illness and personal tragedies.
So it was wonderful to see the smile on Tony’s face at the show’s end as he thanked the outgoing audience for their support – a TOTD tradition – while bathing in a warm glow of delight from a mightily satisfied audience after the show’s house-full opening night. It was particularly well deserved.
This was all the more so because that success was brought about by a trio of first-time talents in the production’s key positions.  That was director Katie Williams, musical director Jason Harrison and choreographer Andrew Coomber. Each brought fresh ideas that gave the production its vitality and energy.
MD Jason had brought together what has to be the most unusual 11-piece band ever assembled in an orchestra pit. It had two keyboards, two banjos and a mandolin with cello, viola, fiddle, guitar, drums and a bowed upright double bass. But this versatile combo drove the production through yee-hah ho-down exuberance to sombre laughter-through-tears chords… With thanks to neat balancing from Ben Anderson’s sound work.
Andrew’s crisp dance originality flowed from his peppy production numbers through to the show’s scene-changes, all of which were affected by cast members shifting multi-use wooden boxes and a wheeled do-hickey thingy. 
But most kudos should go to director Katie, who  kept the action rolling at a brisk even pace while drawing uniform high-quality performances from her cast.
In brief, Bright Star is set in America’s southern state of North Carolina in 1946 with frequent  flashbacks to 1923. (The date neatly displayed on milk churns.) The action, inspired by a true story, told one woman’s journey through joy and tragedy to eventual fulfilment.
This central role was carried in masterful fashion by Kimberlee Bone whose accent, singing and movement was flawless. But then, she was matched by her on-stage partner Liam McWhinney, with an equally dominant performance. These two carried the show – one or other was on stage virtually throughout – with a combination of powerful acting and vibrant singing.
Once in full flow, Bright Star’s action essentially followed three couples, their interactions, diversions and overlaps. The second couple were all charm, with Lachlan Whatman’s wholesome appeal delightfully matched by Gemma Eastwood’s mischievous  attractiveness. The third couple were mischievous, too, having (supposedly) grabbed an opportunity to form de facto pair from the support ensemble. So take a cheeky bow Alicia Miller and Ben McNaughton for your clever opportunism.
Keeping the action flowing around these couples were fathers Shane Lee, Rick Peacock and David Postill – Shane full of country charm, Rick torn by righteous dilemmas and David by overriding ambition; while Mary-Ellen Hetherington showed motherly understanding and compassion.
 I should point out here that every actor on stage sang and danced with practiced ease and a good deal of verve. This was a highly polished and very practiced show.
This flowed through the support players, including  Gerry McKeague’s wily lawyer, Paul Tyson’s corruptible doctor,  Rebecca Wik & Hannah Senftleben’s lovely dependable friends, Tom Nouwen’s thwarted suitor and the sterling adaptable ensemble of Amy Curtis, Poppy Charles, David Van Etten and Gabby Peacock. The voices of Rachel Helwig and Layla Peacock bolstered the big musical numbers. The whole cast was perfectly suited and costumed by Maxine Urquhart and her team, while the big cast was shepherded and managed by stage manager Scott Warren props man Derek Ingles and their teams.
That was a long list to include, but every one can take credit for this show’s quite outstanding Bright Star quality.
It was delightful, and worth every ounce of effort that you put in. Thank you. You deserve full houses and similar ovations for the six shows to come.
– Colin Mockett

Sacred Words perfectly presented

The Seven Last Words of Christ, Windfire Choir and Orchestra conducted by Joseph Hie, Basilica of St Mary of the Angels, Yarra St, April 8, 2022.

Despite its simple title, this was a mammoth sacred work made all the more difficult by pandemic postponements, restrictions and last-minute replacements.
The titular seven ‘Words’ are in fact eight distinct oratorios, each based on statements credited to Christ while dying on the cross.
They’re sung in Latin based on priests’ regular narrations that developed over centuries into chants. These were gathered together and set to music by 19th Century French composer, Theodore Dubois, who used an orchestra, chorus and solo soprano, tenor and baritone voices.
His pieces, traditionally performed together, last a little under an hour which doesn’t really work for a 21st century concert.
So Music at the Basilica director Frank De Rosso added three related sacred works to lead into the main performance.
These featured the evening’s soloists but without the orchestra or chorus. 
This meant the concert began with all the dramatic force of Manfred Pohlenz’s operatic baritone thunderously delivering Auguste Descarries’ Pie Jesu, accompanied by Frank on a small electronic organ with amplifiers set on ‘full power’.
This mighty opening was followed – and neatly contrasted – by Soprano soloist Teresa Duddy’s  beautiful rendition of Dubois’ lyrical Ave Verum.  For this delicate piece, Teresa’s warm, rich voice was balanced by Allister Cox’s clarinet clarity and a  much more subdued organ from Frank.
This was followed by Dubois’ Panis Angelicus from tenor David Campbell, whose silvery tones were mirrored by Carter Harris Smith’s cello, highlighted by Jacinta Dennet’s harp and again supported by Frank’s sympathetic playing.
A short break allowed the orchestra and chorus to assemble, with the musicians at ground level and soloists seated in front of the tiered chorus. 
Thus all were in plain sight of conductor Joseph Hie, who controlled the entire concert from that point.  Conductor Hie didn’t use dramatic flourishes. His confident, restrained demeanour  encouraged rather than demanded excellence from his musicians and singers – and the concert’s overall standard reflected this.
Those seven sacred ‘Words’ were delivered with reverence as well as the emotional tones that their messages dictated. 
They began with the introduction O vos ones, doubtless written for a boy soprano but delivered with rare style by Teresa Duddy. This piece was to set the tone for what followed, ranging from delicate near-whispers to thunderous crescendoes.
The first ‘Word’ Pater dimity – father, forgive them for they know not what they do – had tenor David, orchestra and chorus working together softly and most respectfully  while the second, Hodie mecum eras – verily thou shalt be in paradise with me – was a quieter conversational duet between tenor David and baritone Manfred. The third Word Stabat Mater – see, O woman, behold thy son beloved – was a delicate, finely balanced piece using all three soloists and chorus with emotional rises and falls. The fourth Word Deus meus  – God, why have you forsaken me? – had Manfred’s fine baritone in a pensive questioning solo, while the fifth Word Sitio – I am athirst! – saw David, Manfred and male members of the chorus using big, dramatic pleas. The sixth Word, Pater in manus twas – father into this hands I commend my soul – was delivered by tenor David in suitably solemn, restrained tones while the seventh and climactic ‘Word’ Et claimants Jesu – captured all the emotional dramas, passions and emotions that had gone before and led them to a triumphal climax.
Taken together, this made for a wonderful evening of sacred music performed by fine Geelong talent in the most suitable of settings. 
A reverend delight that even atheists could appreciate.
– Colin Mockett

An Unusual Musical Treat

Internationally and throughout Australia, Tom Healey has serious musical credibility.
Quite apart from his 11 years as director of music at Geelong Grammar, he’s the organist and choir director at St Paul’s and has sung, played and conducted for more than 30 years in venues ranging from Notre-Dame de Paris to Princetown in the US.
So if and when Tom were to invite you to sing in his Vox Angelica choir, you would make time and perform at your very best.
And should Tom Healey stage a concert, choosing everything from programme to singers to accompanist to venue – you know it’s going to be memorable.
So it was for this concert, which was at times superb, at times glorious – but never dropped below the level of special.
Tom’s Vox Angelica Chamber Choir is, to this reviewer’s knowledge, the only paid professional choral ensemble in Geelong. That professionalism showed throughout a carefully selected programme that included two American spirituals and songs by 9th Century hermits,  a choral version of Elgar’s Nimrod and works by Monteverdi, Healey Willan, Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds and a Ukranian piece researched, rehearsed and included in just two weeks as a gesture of solidarity with the besieged Ukrainian people.
The venue had been selected, Tom said, because it stands as ‘the best acoustic room in Geelong’, and nobody present would have argued with that view. The accompanist was the elegant and sensitive pianist Sonoka Miyake and the solo vocalist was a revelation. It was Tom Healey himself, displaying a powerful, precise baritone perfectly suited to the selected material.
There were, in all, 13 pieces in a concert that went for a little over an hour.
Its opening was impressive, with the choir quietly entering then bursting without preamble into Monteverdi’s glorious In Illo Tempore which conductor Tom confessed he would much rather have been singing than conducting, such was the work’s beauty.
 This was followed by a modern piece, Drop Drop Slow Tears by Canadian composer Stephanie Martin, which set a 15th Century text to new music that had the Vox sopranos sending soaring crescendos around the gallery’s rafters. The choir’s opening set finished on a reflective note with Faure’s Cantique de Jean Racine, exquisitely sung and deftly supported by Sonoka’s delicate accompaniment.
Then came the first solo, Samual Barber’s The Crucifixion with Tom’s rich, powerful voice adding sombre tones to the layered text.
The choir returned with a jaunty spiritual Great Day contrasted by the gently quiet Sure On This Shining Light and a sublime love song Rise Up My Love My Fair One from the Song of Solomon.
Tom’s second solo stint was two short Celtic Hermit songs. The first, The Heavenly Banquet had the hermit praying for ‘a great lake of beer’, among other things, while the second rueful piece titled Promiscuity was just one page long, half of which was piano accompaniment. But then, as Tom noted, what would a 9th Century monk know about promiscuity?
The polished and simply beautiful vocal version of Elgar’s Nimrod followed, displaying the choir’s near-perfect tonal balance and  the Ukrainian tribute piece, which set John Donne’s No Man Is An Island to a moving tune by Ukrainian ex-pat Paul Stetsenko.
The penultimate work Only in Sleep used the highlighted voices of sopranos Helen Seymour and Jane Standish with Jane’s brother Richard from the male-voice section. These three voices against the choir’s textured background were gorgeous – and neatly contrasted as the concert ended brightly and spritely with another traditional spiritual This Little Light Of Mine.
This was followed by long, sustained applause from a highly appreciative audience that rose, fell, and broke in waves over Tom his choir and Sonoka, all looking slightly embarrassed.
Instead of a final wrap, I’ll say this. If you’re rueful because you have missed this unusual musical treat – it’s being repeated in the larger venue of St Paul’s Church in LaTrobe Terrace 7.30pm Friday April 29.
Find tickets at eventbrite.com.
Believe me, you won’t regret a note of it.
– Colin Mockett

Soaring Dreams and Visions

Memories, Hopes and Dreams presented by Geelong Concert Band, part of the Windfire Festival, Friday March 18, 2022 in St Mary’s Basilica.

This was the fourth concert in the2022 Windfire Festival and it illustrated the Memories, Hopes and Dreams of three Geelong musicians. First, the forward thinking of Frank De Rosso who, 12 years ago, started this idea of a festival of fine music spread around Geelong’s churches. He then kept the windfires alight through pandemic lockdowns. Frank’s vision was further embellished this year when he commissioned a new work by Geelong composer, Kym Dillon, to close this concert in fine style. But more of that later.
Completing and complementing these two Geelong musical visionaries was the Geelong Concert Band’s musical director and conductor, Shannon Ebeling, whose own vision was built on the recognition that churches have excellent acoustics inbuilt into their design. This was originally intended to impress congregations by sending the word of God soaring aloft from preachers and choirs. But in the 21st Century, that architectural device works naturally to conduct ensemble music with beautiful clarity without any electronic  amplification. This was neatly illustrated by the concert’s first piece, Frank Tichell’s Pacific Fanfare. For this work, conductor Ebeling took members of his 55-member band – mainly horn and percussion units – and strategically placed them around the Basilica, in transepts and choir stalls (I’m not across all the terminology) in order to send their sounds swirling and sweeping around its high vaulted hardwood ceiling. The work lent itself admirably to this, starting as it did with a solo oboe and building to a crescendo of fanfares. It made for an impressive opening that was expanded by the second piece by Percy Grainger. This 1918 work, Colonial Song, was both melodic and intricate, not at all in the composer’s usual style of building on folk songs. For this instrumental song,  the instruments  challenged, complimented and combined to make a series of flowing melodies.
This was followed by another change of style. The aggressive staccato machine-like Red Machine, which had been commissioned by London’s Coldstream Guards for its band to play when trooping its colours around Buckingham Palace.
Then Geelong’s premier band turned to a complete contrast  with Eric Whitacre’s Sleep, a number that required a sung introduction and conclusion. The GCB didn’t bring in a vocal ensemble for this – they simply put down their instruments and sang, beautifully and in perfect harmony, before, without missing a beat, lifting their instruments and completing the gently flowing melodies.
This was followed by the bright and cheerful Festival Prelude by Alfred Reed which turned out to be the perfect introduction to the evening’s final piece.
This was the aforementioned Veni Creator Spiritus, Kym Dillon’s specially commissioned work. This was, the programme noted, ‘a narrative symbol of the creative spirit of people finding their place within the larger story of the world through the creation of and engagement of art.’  So suitable for composer, commissioner and band.
The evening’s longest work had echoes and intertwining musical references to all of the themes it had followed.
And it’s own melodies neatly covered and combined all of the memories, hopes and dreams of the concert’s title aspirations, too.
So it was entirely appropriate that composer Kym stood with the band to take the long and warm audience appreciation of her work.
It made a fitting end to a well-chosen concert that showcased the extraordinary skills – and visions – of some very fine Geelong musicians.
– Colin Mockett

Festival Opens On A Double High

Journeys, presented by Orchestra Geelong and Geelong Youth Orchestra conducted by Mark Shiell, opening 12th annual Windfire Festival, Friday March 11, 2022 in St Mary’s Basilica.

Though titled Journeys, this concert might well have carried the name Contrasts, for this first event in the postponed 12th Windfire Festival of Music fell very much into two distinct halves.
And that was surprising, because the music for two independent but connected Geelong community orchestras was chosen from the same palette and both were directed and conducted by the same man, Mark Shiell.
The first half had the 55-member Orchestra Geelong presenting 19th Century pieces by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Jacques Offenbach with soloists showcasing works by Elgar and von Weber.
Orchestra Geelong grew from our city’s Geelong Community Orchestra, which began in the 1980s as an group of amateur musicians with a common love of playing in ensembles.
Now, 40 years on and with the established leadership of Mark Sheill, the orchestra has grown in stature and expertise.
Added to this, it displayed two new, non-musical but significant elements.
First there was the conductor’s enthusiasm, displayed by his cheerfully inclusive introductions and reinforced by his conducting style. This was, broadly speaking, to keep the music’s tempo by bouncing on the balls of his feet while his smooth, graceful arm movements and smiling countenance urged and charmed his musicians to his will at every beat. 
The second added element was the sheer joy that individual members showed at playing together in public following two years of Covid-enforced lockdown. This had included, Mark told us, attempts to rehearse via zoom – and it’s easy to visualise the impossibility of bringing together 55 instruments using the fragile zoom infrastructure. Maybe it did help bring the players together, because this short concert did not lack cohesion.
It started brightly and effectively, with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Alborada, then moved to a more mellow and sombre tone with the 1st movement from Elgar’s Cello Concerto impressively delivered by young soloist Ilana Idris. This was contrasted again with the smooth melody of Offenbach’s Barcarolle, followed by the second soloist, Dean Cronkwright, leading  the 1st movement from von Weber’s Clarinet concerto in F minor. Dean’s programme notes said that he had been unable to play his instrument for 15 years following a throat injury. It was wonderful to see, hear – and feel part of – his remarkable comeback. 
Then a neat return to Rimsky-Korsakov with his thrilling Dance Of The Tumblers brought the first act to a suitable end.
Following a short chair-shuffling interval, the Geelong Youth Orchestra moved into place for its first-ever concert. This was again conducted by Mark Shiell, who directs both orchestras. 
Apart from the ages, there were several differences, between the evening’s two orchestras. The GYO is smaller, with fewer strings and a larger wind section.
This allowed, for this critic, a more evenly balanced sound.
But probably the biggest change was that, where Orchestra Geelong’s volunteers showed their joy at playing together, the GYO is built around talented music students who applied their learned skills in an atmosphere of measured concentration. 
The result was they produced a remarkably crisp clarity of sound that was magnified by the venue’s excellent acoustics.
Their concert selection included two intricate Mozart pieces, each perfectly executed and contrasted by two smooth film scores by John Williams. These were different, too, with jaunty magical Highlights of Harry Potter and the concert’s stirring finish using climactic themes from The Empire Strikes Back
Plus there was the familiar overture to Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliette and, for the sake of continuity,  Rimsky-Korsakov’s Themes from Scheherezade.
All were performed with such talent and skill to earn a standing ovation from the Basilica’s packed opening-night audience.
This ovation, though thoroughly deserved, caught both conductor and orchestra by surprise, with conductor Mark apologising and admitting that they hadn’t prepared an encore.
But in truth, we audience didn’t need one.
For us, it was enough to have experienced such an evening of contrasting musical skills and emotions – and the opportunity to witness what must surely be the beginning of a new musical force in our city.
Colin Mockett

The Pick Of A Big Weekend

Vienna – City of Dreams presented by Geelong Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mario Dobernig. Costa Hall,
Saturday March 5, 2022.

Perhaps because the GSO is still relatively new, it tries a little harder. Maybe it was the joy of performing live music again after lockdowns. It could have been one of those rare times when all the stars align and magic happens.
It was, most probably a combination of all three.
But either way, this concert, which promised ‘much loved music from the golden era of Vienna’ delivered so much more.
Enough to earn five standing ovations, no less, and a buzz of satisfied appreciation that carried the audience out through the foyer onto the waterfront to mingle with dampened rev-heads leaving the Geelong Revival.
This concert crowned an exceptional weekend in Geelong. It slipped unpublicised between the headline-grabbing Foo Fighters at the Stadium and Midnight Oil at Mount Duneed – all against the background of that heavily promoted waterfront vintage-motor rally.
I have no doubt that of the four, it was this concert that left its audience with the biggest smiles, the most satisfaction and the greatest pride in their city. For in the comfortable Costa Hall we audience had enjoyed Geelong’s premier classical musicians performing at their best under a super young guest conductor in Mario Dobernig.
The Melbourne-based but Austrian-born star musician was on home ground with this programme of Viennese classics.
He brought out the best from our musicians with his panache and added some neat touches of humour.
He was passionate; with windmilling arms and the appearance that he might to leap from the rostrum and join his orchestra at any time during his energetic conducting.
Then, for quieter passages, he relaxed into beaming wide generosity, with his arms embracing all 55 of his charges.
When Mario decided the upcoming pieces needed little explanation, he did so with charm and authority – even delivering a short abridged history of the Austro-Hungarian empire, albeit with a twinkle in his eye. Small wonder that the GSO responded by delivering their programme of Strauss’ waltzes, Lehar’s gypsy dances and 19th Century mid-European classics with smooth elegance.
And when joined by the evening’s class-act soloists – soprano Lee Abrahmsen and tenor James Egglestone – the conductor’s energy and charm embraced them, too.
His enthusiasm was such that he mouthed the words of every song whilst coaxing and encouraging his musicians.
For their part, Lee and James caught that energy and carried it further. They not only delivered their solos immaculately (Mario having suggested that the city in James’ Vienna, City Of My Dreams could have been substituted with ‘Geelong’..) and Lee’s Vilja being standout performances.
But these were surpassed by their duets, when they coyly held hands, flirted, teased and danced with each other all whilst still singing. At one point they waltzed away from their confined space, delivering the final note of O soave fanciulia actually off-stage.
Another memorable moment followed the orchestra’s spirited delivery of the passionate Hungarian Dance No. 5 when the entire string section got up and moved their chairs and stands back to allow a free space to the conductor’s left.
Then, to our surprise, instead of the expected grand piano, the diminutive figure of violinist Emily Su took the space and immediately owned it, the Hall, and everybody in it.
A tiny figure in her red velvet dress, 18-year-old Emily stood only slightly taller than concertmaster Philip Healey, who was seated.
But, wow! Didn’t she use that space cleared for her when she delivered Saint Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso Op. 28, with vivacity and passion.
She moved, swayed, postured and poured pure flamboyance into every note in a performance of visual and aural joy.
So it was of no surprise at all that following the concert’s fitting final Strauss piece On The Beautiful Blue Danube we audience stood to record our appreciation.
Conductor Mario then brought back the soloists to play a humorous bird-call encore, after which we stood again.
So he returned again to encore, we stood again, and finally this pattern was broken when our orchestra produced a final spirited rendition of The Radetzsky March which prompted that final ovation and warm buzz of musical pride in our city.
Bravo GSO! Here’s looking forward to Saturday May 7 and your Pastorale, works by Beethoven and Vaughan Williams. Tickets are at GAC and I’d advise to book early on the back of this triumph.
Colin Mockett

A Celebration of the Ordinary


The Kitchen Sink, directed by Michael Baker for Torquay Theatre Troupe, Shoestring Theatre,  February 25, 2022

It’s both appropriate and fitting that Torquay’s TTT chose this play to be it’s first full-length production in its new theatre space.
That is, it’s Shoestring Theatre which the company worked for years to create; opened with flourish with a quickly-assembled clutch of one-act plays and then had to close for two years due to Covid restrictions.
Now here it was under a spanking new lighting rig (the company’s techs clearly having made the most of that enforced break) presenting a play to a second-night full house of expectant locals.  The group has built its following by presenting excellent theatre in the local Senior’s Centre which they regularly temporarily converted into a comfortable, if makeshift theatre. Their palette of plays over two decades covered a wide range, but always with an accent on human stories with a good sprinkling of British humour. 
So this Kitchen Sink suited them perfectly.
Playwright Tom Wells’ story set in a Yorkshire family’s kitchen exposed a slice of  modern life with its frustrations and joys, its disappointments and limitations all presented with several shades of humour.
There were no murders, no mysteries, no desperate chases – this was a celebration of the ordinary.
And that, in these days of Covid/Climate/Putin uncertainty, is a welcome breath of fresh air.
The play’s plot, in broad terms, had the family’s father stoically clinging to his declining and unprofitable milk-round while his wife, a school-dinner cook, presented her family with unusual and exotic meals to counter her daytime job of producing chips in bulk.
Their gay son, obsessed with Dolly Parton, was unsure about pursuing a place in art college while their little toughie of a daughter, her father’s assistant, spent her time repelling the tentative and tender advances of good-natured sweetheart neighbour who had aspirations to become a plumber.
All this was carefully rolled out and neatly portrayed by an ensemble cast under Michael Baker’s  diligent direction.
Fred Preston’s dour, taciturn father was perfectly weighted to contrast his wife, Lisa Berry’s, beautifully portrayed swings of temperament.
Newcomer Will Hamilton gave depth and balance to his edgy anxieties, while Lauren Atkin bristled with authentic awkwardness in resisting the shy and well-meaning advances of Ryan O’Connor.
Thanks to Covid lockdowns, this production has taken two years to stage. With so much rehearsal, it’s understandable that the cast was word and action perfect.  And that prolonged time allowed a good deal of polish, too.
There were a couple of standout scenes – both featuring Lisa Berry’s mother. Her reaction to the younger generation’s smoking a split was worth the price of admission alone; and her venting of frustrations by wildly hammering her malfunctioning kitchen tap was a delight.
I’m not sure that some of the props will survive this production’s run, butI am certain that the Torquay Theatre Troupe will emerge from it with a lot of knowledge and expertise as well as good memories.
 Please go to see The Kitchen Sink in Torquay. It’s neat, polished, and entirely suited to its purpose. And it’s very good theatre, too. 

– Colin Mockett 

The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

The Dream Laboratory, presented by Essential Theatre, Shorts Place, Geelong January 7, 2022.
Once upon a time a Geelong property developer had a dream to create the biggest and best night club and bar complex the city had ever seen. They spent buckets of money converting a former night club and bar in the city centre only to find that the concept wouldn’t financially stand up. So their project sat empty and stalled for several years until Geelong’s Essential Theatre came along with a dream of its own. It was an unusual concept for Essential Theatre. The company had won its reputation by staging quality productions of Shakespeare’s plays in regional open air venues – wineries and gardens – each summer. But it took to its new indoor project with care, theatrical flair and prudent planning – only to be met by a couple of unforeseen snags.
First came Covid with its postponements and restrictions, which meant the dream’s planning and prep stages had to be extended way beyond expectations; then on the official opening night the heavens over Geelong opened with a summer thunderstorm downpour and the venue leaked. Meaning cast and crew found themselves mopping up instead of performing.
And that’s how this critic found himself standing in downmarket Shorts Place, behind the former Eureka Hotel, with 30 fellow patrons at 8.30pm for a postponed opening night. We had all been screened, Covid vac—checked and stamped with an Eye of Horus to prove it.
We were waiting to be allowed entry to the second staging – but official first night – of The Dream Laboratory. This brand-new original production was promoted as ‘an immersive theatrical experience’ which gave a promise of innovation and avant-garde thinking. Beyond that, nobody in our little band quite knew what to expect. Once the doors opened we were lightly questioned on our sleep patterns then ushered into a stark former bar-room, now repurposed as a laboratory, where a female subject lay sleeping on a gurney inside the central bar.
Meanwhile a handful of lab technicians in pink coats surveyed us with innocent questions about our own dreams.
Then the stern project leader announced that we were to witness a new experiment whereby we would all be able to experience the dreams of the sleeping subject, whose name was Hermia.
We were welcome to wander at will among her dreams, she said, which would occur in the rooms and corridors surrounding the lab. We could touch, open and experience everything but not take anything away. And on the the cue that Hermia had reached REM, a wall curtain was raised revealing a tall ultra-high-heeled violet-painted drag artist miming to ‘Lilac Wine’ who in turn opened up doors to dreamland.
This was to be fifty minutes of surreal theatrical magic inside the former nightclub’s spaces that were themselves pretty bizarre. The whole experience left every one of us dazzled, spellbound and eventually feeling that we had indeed been part of a dream. The encounters and adventures were so many and ongoing they were difficult to recall – just like the dreams they portrayed. There were odd tasks to carry out, scores of strange spaces, cupboards and drawers to open and explore – each with surreal contents from sinking ships to ladders to lilac dolls and eyes – always eyes.
There were peculiar people for us to meet, from a strange smiling Puck-like gnome encouraging us to experiment further, to a mysterious mistress asking how she could escape the pink boudoir that imprisoned her.
Rival Shakespearian heroes held sword-fights then disappeared; Peter Quince appeared performing tricks and vanished, too.
For every event, emergence and occurrence carried that remarkable ethereal and unreal dream-like quality.
An emerging rival dressed in skin-tight sequins took on more prominence as the dream progressed until she led us all back to the original laboratory where Hermia awoke and we all were all delivered back to reality.
This highly unusual piece of theatre had no programme or list of performers, so I can’t give you the usual run-down credits.
But I can say that such was the quality of the Essential Theatre’s writing, direction and acting skills that talk among those of us marked with the Eye of Horus walking to our cars past Little Malop Street’s restaurants was that it felt that we had really experienced a dream. And the outdoor diners, wait staff and floodlit venues – though attractive – to us all appeared remarkably ordinary. And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the mark of a truly unreal experience. I can’t recommend The Dream Laboratory highly enough. Please go and experience it – and you’ll see for yourselves how creative theatrical minds can turn a failed nightclub into a dream venue.

– Colin Mockett

https://www.essentialtheatre.com.au/essential_production/the-dream-laboratory-in-development/