No-nonsense Reviews 2008

Charles Dickens performs A Christmas Carol, director James Adler, Eagles Nest  Theatre, Potato Shed December 9, 2008.

This remarkable piece of theatre was a triumph for actor Phil Zachariah who played Dickens 'reading' his own Christmas morality tale. The word reading is in quote marks because in practice, he barely glanced at the small book perched centre-stage on a Victorian reading lectern.

Instead, in an astonishingly vigorous performance, Phil Zachariah's Dickens delivered his book's message in a  posing, shouting, whispering, stooping,  crawling, miming, running performance that brought to life, in turn,  Scrooge, Jacob Marley, the ghosts, Bob Cratchett, Tiny Tim and all. This intense acting performance - playing a character acting out a series of other characters - held  the small audience spellbound for two 50-minute acts without benefit of props, costumes or  scene changes. Indeed, the only  theatrical element in this performance, a series of 'dramatic effect' lighting changes actually worked to distract from  Zachariah's compelling performance.  This reviewer, and I'm sure, several other  audience members would have preferred to have seen clearly and openly such an excellent performance, rather than peering through theatrical gloom for much of the time. But that's carping criticism for a remarkable show  deserving a much bigger audience.

Colin Mockett

Girls' Night Out directed by Jacqui Connor for Peninsula Players, Drysdale Hall, Dec 3 2008.

At first glance this appeared to be a night of feminine indulgence, with an all-woman cast under a female director and even the Player's utilitarian programme coming out in hot pink.But there was more to this evening than the Players' considerable and talented female factor indulging itself with a couple of all-woman dramas.
As an aside, and in this regard, in her programme notes director Jacqui Connor credits Peninsula Players with shaping both her on and off-stage careers. Such is the company's significance in our region's cultural landscape.But quite apart from the gender and historical elements, there were enough significant theatrical moments in this Girls' Night Out to result in a highly enjoyable evening's entertainment - for everyone.
And that's exactly what Drysdale audiences have grown to expect.
This Girls' Night Out consisted of two plays, set fifty years apart and on opposite sides of the globe. Both had only female roles, and used mostly the same team of actors. And both plays ended with cleverly-worked plot twists.
The first play, From Five to Five-thirty, by Philip Johnson, is a gender-based period comedy set in1930s England, while the second, Monday to Friday, by Ian Austin, is a relationship-based social drama set in 1980s urban Australia.
The Players chose to stage both plays in the round, ignoring their hall's stage and spreading their audience round three sides of a central performance area. This had a dual effect, giving an intimacy  to the occasion – we audience were very close to the action -  but it also meant that in order to allow her audience to see and hear, director Jacqui had her players moving around the set at every conceivable moment. This gave a frantic, animated effect that became at times quite distracting. But thankfully, not distracting enough to take away from some good performances inside a consistent and well-disciplined acting team. This was on two neatly worked-out,  simple sets and used well-selected, credible costumes.
The first play found Nancy Zanker playing a music-hall cockney housemaid, contrasting Meg Fahy's docile 1930s wife, Monique Smith's gung-ho sportsmistress and  Lee Foyster's agitated and vinegary vicar's wife, all very much over-the-top, and all completely outplayed by Shirley Craig's feisty, wily older woman. Shirley, revelling in this role, carrying all before her and ensured the play drew laughs at every opportunity.
The second play found Nancy, Meg, Monique and Lee, along with the delightful Amber Connor, all in very different mode, as scheming 1980s women unravelling a web of adulterous affairs with a common man-friend. Apparently, though married, he had a different mistress for every night of the week, hence the play's title.
Given the total dissimilarity of characters – and ages -  the actors carried their parts with remarkable diligence, even if it did leave some of the male audience members questioning why any bloke would seek homely, schoolmarmly Lee as a mistress when he already had young and gorgeous Amber, Meg and Monique.
But then, isn't that the function of good theatre, to get its audience reflecting on outcomes?After this Girls Night Out, its audience, both young and old, male and female, were thinking, laughing, happy  – and content.
Thanks, Girls.
- Colin Mockett

A Bedful Of Foreigners directed by Sarah Freeman for Geelong Repertory Company Woodbin Theatre Nov 21 2008 

For Rep President Judy Ellis, Christmas has come early. The Company's final play for the year – which she produced -  was clearly a thumping success, generating buoyant audience reaction amid laughter galore.

In the process it has uncovered a bright new director, introduced a promising newcomer and polished the comic abilities of a handful of Rep regulars.

I'd call that a highly positive outcome on the eve of the company's 2009 Season Launch.

And it's all the more so, when considering that this could have been just another bread-and-butter production of a creaking run-of-the-mill British comedy.

A Bedfull Of Foreigners was written in 1973 by Dave Freeman, who was best known as the principal writer for the Benny Hill Show. He took the classic French farce format and gave it a solid Benny Hill workout with a hapless English anti-hero winning out over authoritarian figures amid lashings of misunderstandings, sight gags, sexual innuendo and lingerie-clad knowing women.

Given this script, Rep's debut director Sarah Freeman decided to deliver it with the minimum of changes – resisting the temptation to update or Australianise it – but to use a highly talented acting team on a simple, clever set.

The set's opaque walls contributed much to the play's laughter, as it allowed the reactions of evesdropping actors to be in full view.

And Sarah's actors used this bonus element very well, clearly enjoying themselves in a production that was as notable for its tight discipline as for its loose comedy.

Outstanding in the pivotal role of Stanley was Alan Wilson, amazingly in his first stage performance. Alan managed just the right mix of bewilderment and opportunism to keep his English-holidaymaker-abroad role convincing among a string of increasingly implausible situations.  Creating these, while keeping the plot skipping along briskly was a delightful support cast beginning with Melissa Musselwhite, who played Stanley's wife Brenda totally straight until her head was turned by the advances of the wackiest of Romeos,  hotel owner Ian Rooney. Ian's role called for him to be a combination of harassed and hassled hotel owner with passionate seducer while wearing the silliest of pageant costumes. It says a lot for Ian's acting ability that he carried it off with aplomb. Causing further complications were Stanley's reluctant room-mate Barry Eeles, who is probably Rep's foremost actor at wringing laughs from an unsympathetic character, and Robert Trott,  clearly loving his over-the-top part as the bolshie, grasping, subversive night-porter whose interventions consistently glued the scenes together.

But what really made this production special was the casting of  Laura Freeman and Lauren O'Callaghan.

In writer Freeman's original script, their parts were simply lightweight eye-candy roles; good-looking women who stripped down to their underwear as often as possible. And though Rep's director Freeman cast both roles with good-looking young women in excellent lingerie, she chose a pair with first-rate acting skills, too. So Laura's Helga was not only gorgeous, she was completely credible and more than contributed to the play's comedy, while Lauren's delightful showgirl uncovered an excellent comedy ability along with bubbly, infectious fun -  in a series of tastefully revealing costumes.

All this, with a neatly crafted introduction from Alice Fincher, combined to produce a comedy of rare depth and provide a highly successful climax to Rep's varied 2008 season.

And quite rightfully putting that satisfied smile on the face of producer-president Judy.

-Colin Mockett

Theft, directed by Gay Bell for Torquay Theatre Troupe, Torquay Senior Citizens Hall, October 30, 2008

I liked this play, it's a clever, well-written modern British social comedy from the prolific Eric Chappell, writer of TVs Rising Damp and Only When I Laugh, as well as a raft of stage successes.

TTT chose to transfer the play's setting to Australia, which cost it some credibility in that we audience were asked to believe that a rich modern entrepreneur couple had chosen to live in a two-story  isolated outback home complete with rat-ridden wine-cellar; while an urban professional burglar, part of ‘the Anglesea Gang', was highly uncomfortable in that bush setting.

This credibility problem was compounded by director Bell's all-stops-out approach to what is essentially a subtle comedy of undermined social connections and values.

Effectively, Theft's plotline hinges on two couples returning home from a night out (in isolated Australia!) to discover a burglar on their premises. He turns out to be a slick-talking,  quick-witted career criminal whose intellectual manoeuvring uncovers personal flaws and strained relationships all round.

It's a neat premise that allowed a whole series of awkward home-truths to be bared, and some prickly social situations explored.

To do this, TTT's  Theft used an excellent cast, with Michael Baker prominent as the glib burglar Spriggs – albeit with a dodgy an unexplained Americanised accent – supported by some creditable experienced actors.

The home-owning rich couple comprised an energetic and frantic Scott Beaton, borrowed from Geelong Rep, and his admirable mature schemer of a wife, Lisa Berry. Their visitors were the gullible yet adept Steven Georgiadis and his long-suffering wife, neatly portrayed by Karen Long.

This experienced and practiced crew managed to deliver most of the play's clever lines, despite having to conduct much of the action at a brisk pace with much over-the-top gesturing, grimacing and gun-waving.

For an idea of this, imagine an episode of TV's Hollowmen played by  Marx Brothers and Jerry Lewis. It was all just too comic, too desperate - and more than  a little unnecessary.

But having said that – I'm left with the fact that I really did like the play and enjoyed the actors – and quite clearly so did the opening-night's full-house audience.

But, oh, it was crying out for just a touch of subtlety…

Colin Mockett

A Musical Journey presented by Geelong Concert Band  Costa Hall October 25

The Musical Journey title was good – for this concert displayed the distances covered and destinations arrived at in several musical passages.

First the GCB's Youth Band showed  how far it has come under its excellent conductor Amy Wert. Their programme contained the difficult and complicated Gathering Of Angels followed by a highly competent version of Ravel's Bolero delivered with flair and pizzazz way beyond the players' age expectations.

Then the GCB's Workshop Band – the company's ‘learner group' - completed its final performance after two years tutorage under the baton of charismatic Katie Zampatti. This group will now move up become the base of next year's Youth Band, and my guess is that Amy will be delighted to receive Kate's well-groomed class. This band's choice of pieces included a smooth Danny Boy contrasted by the happy theme from Wallace & Gromit.

Then the GCB Big Band, under its new leader Ben Anderson, showed its subtle shift toward big-band jazz with a smooth and showy Waltzing Matilda before  backing the evening's compere,  Jamie McGuane in a big first-half finale Bad Habits and I Go To Rio.

As its usual practice, the  concert's second half was given over entirely to the GCB Senior Band which displayed its own journey into musical excellence. This was, of course, under the guidance of its conductor and the GCB's long-standing musical director, Mark Irwin.  

Mark and the band gave us a demonstration of the discipline and musical expertise that won them the ‘A-Grade Open' title at this year's Victorian Band Championships.

As such, theirs was no crowd-pleasing list of well-known pieces.

Mark and the band played a complicated and difficult programme which included the set pieces that won them their title. So the concert finished with the complex ‘Piece of Mind' set followed by Eric Whitacre's October and as a finale, Percy Grainger's Lads of Wamphray March.

For the players this meant no easy stroll. It called for the discipline, skill, concentration and stamina that wins marathons – and State titles.

And for we audience members, it showed just how far our dedicated players have come under the guidance of some masterful musicians.

Colin Mockett.

HMS Mikado & The Best of the Rest written and directed by Dennis Mitchell for Theatre Of Winged Unicorn, Ceres Hall October 23, 2008.

This was an unusual production for TOWU and it had a couple of curious, and probably unforeseen, outcomes.

Firstly, it occurred in reverse. The original work, HMS Mikado made up the second half of the programme, while the remainder, The Best of the Rest, which comprised chorus numbers from every Gilbert & Sullivan operetta except The Mikado and HMS Pinafore was presented first. The same cast presented both items; and it was a big cast by Unicorner standards, with  10 male and 16 female singers under the direction of Geoff Tomkins, who also sang. All were accompanied by Michael Wilding on the Roland piano. 

Now this, you may note, is not at all unusual for the Ceres Unicorners, because the company has, over the past decade, won a fine reputation for presenting first-rate 19th Century works on the Ceres stage; especially big colourful period musicals, and most especially the Savoy Operettas.

But none have been like this. Firstly The Best of the Rest, by virtue of the fact that it crammed every member on the tiny Ceres stage – and they all sang - became essentially a choral concert; but one with a good deal more flair than the norm. There were some admirable voices involved, producing harmonies that would rival the Geelong Chorale on a good day. But there were no music-scores in hand, every verse and note had been memorized. Add to this a considerable amount of stage discipline, with excellent, swift, seamless movement on such a confined space, and you'll see that this was not a standard concert – nor was it usual Ceres fare. The movement came courtesy of choreographer Anne Peterson-Commons, and they were excellent. The items were neatly held together with pertinent commentary from conductor Geoff Tomkins. The movement and dance was necessary, for, despite its high quality, the items did have an unchanging sameness about them and The Best of the Rest was, for this reviewer, probably two numbers too long. But it did showcase some lovely voices; notably from  Kim Ivory in The Dilemmma Chorus,  Davina Smith-Crowley as the Fairy Queen from Iolanthe – and the whole chorus replying to Geoff in When The Foeman Bears His Steel.

Davina was outstanding in the second act, too, when she played a yummy Yum Yum in Dennis Mitchell's original HMS Mikado rewrite. And again, this was an unusual piece for TOWU in that it was borderline controversial. Dennis' plotline had HMS Mikado, a Japanese whaling, sorry, scientific survey, vessel, moored off Point Lonsdale taking on supplies. There, it was boarded by Green Peas activist Tim Hetherington who discovered allies in Davina's Yum Yum as well as ship's cook Ray Jones and captain's squeeze Buttercup, played with a northern English accent by Carol Fogg. These fine players delivered Dennis' clever and witty satirical lyrics to Sullivan's original music. And they were all, lyricist included, upstaged by John Cameron's drollest of droll captain Pooh Bah. The whole thing was brought to a suitably farcical and wholly satisfactory G & S ending.

All in all, the two different halves combined to create yet another delightful evening of Ceres musical theatre, and I'm so glad I made time to experience them, because I doubt I'll see a combination like them again.

Colin Mockett

Geelong Authentic 1908 Old Time Music Hall written/ directed by Colin Mockett for Drop of a Hat Productions, Kildare Theatre  October 17, 2008.

This was a well presented and enjoyable programme featuring the talents of popular, well known entertainers Shirley Power, Colin Mockett, Roy Carson, Emma Jones and Ben Costanzo, plus the audience who sang along with most songs.  Words of all songs, presented on a large screen behind the performers, meant there was no excuse not to get involved in the merriment of the programme.  From the outset the audience was told by the artists that much of the fun and  enjoyment would be provided by “You Yourselves”   That is, join in and sing along.  The songs and recitations clearly captured the years before World War 1.  Audience response seemed to indicate that the mainly senior gathering had clear recall of the songs presented, and the era portrayed.

Shirley Power captured the essential character of the ladies concerned when she presented as Mrs Lydia Dustbin to sing  My Old Man Said 'Follow the Van',  Carrie Moore for  I  don't Want to Play in Your Yard  and as the sensational Mlle Fifi La Bonk for  Under the Bridges of Paris.

Colin Mockett was his usual high standard professional self both as Master of Ceremonies and performer.  His recitations bought constant laughter from the audience, especially his rendition of   The Return of Albert complete with the appropriate hat changes.  The audience appeared to feel considerable sympathy for the lad sent back to the zoo by his father, in the hope resident tigers might bring financial gain to the family.

Soubrette soprano Emmalina Jones was indeed impressive.  Her portrayal of the sensational Senorita Lola Montez unveiling her Spider Dance was well received, as was her singing of two long time favourites, Daddy Wouldn't Buy Me a Bow-Wow and Hold Your Hand Out Naughty Boy.  The feisty rivalry segment between Senorita Lola Montez and Mlle Fifi La Bonk was well received.

Maestro Benito Costanzo twice abandoned his pianoforte to sing Beautiful Dreamer and the classic Steven Foster number I Dream of Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair, accompanied on both occasions by Mistress Power.  Benito also played a Johann Strauss waltz, a much loved classic The Blue Danube.  Ben Costanzo is indeed an experienced and very capable musician, who brings a truly professional input to this talented cast.

Roy Carson and Colin Mockett work very well together as most people who have seen Concert of the Decade  shows would readily attest.  Playing the role of the older promising, but nevertheless not yet fully fledged, comedic Celtic vocalist, Roy gave a moving rendition of When You Were Sweet Sixteen,  surely bringing a tear to more than a few eyes.  But every number Roy sang failed to move chairman Colin from his belief that here is a ‘promising artist' only.  Life can be cruel.  Roy is a versatile performer and was relaxed and confident in every segment in which he appeared.

Altogether this was a a very high quality theatrical production.

Ray Alway

They're Back!  The Grumpy Old Men's Seniors Festival Special – Kildare Theatre, October 10, 2008.

Colin Mockett, Bryan Eaton and Robert Trott are Geelong's most seriously entertaining Grumpy Old Men.  Their 'Special' for Seniors Month poked fun at many of the most irritating features of aging in the post-industrial information age.

Each actor has his own unique style of grumpiness.  Colin was a congenial grump, intent on leading the audience to share his views on modern life in a warm, smiling satire.  Bryan's acting skill shone out in blank verse presentations and a somewhat resigned attitude to the ills of technology and the problems assailing us as we get older.  Robert was the most consistent grump.  His stony frown was unaltered from the start to end of this performance.  He delivered his complaints in an angry tirade.  Woe betide any audience member who was unfortunate to make eye contact – burned by a furious glare. 

The usual modern directive to turn off phones for the live performance was replaced by a request that they be left on.  This was to allow the Grumpies to rail at any unsuspecting phone owner.  (Audience members were either too unpopular to receive phone calls, or turned them off anyway, as there were no interruptions during the Friday performance.)

Unlike the Grumpy Old Men of television, Geelong's grumps are skilled in music.  Satirical words to many old favourites were slickly performed with the aid of Colin's grumpy-old-man-handler, Shirley, doubling as orchestra (keyboard and guitar) and supporting singer.   Colin embraced politics (and politicians) in a Love Song to Julia Gillard and had the audience in stitches with The Kevin Rudd Song (to the theme from the 1950s TV version of Robin Hood).  Brian left us is no doubt as to his Least Favourite Things courtesy of Rogers and Hammerstein.  Robert reminded waxed nostalgic with audience backed renditions of Do Wah Diddy Diddy Dum Diddy Do and the 1955 Davy Crockett Theme.  Brave volunteers from the audience learned The Backpacker Haka (left).  They were rewarded with extremely collectable memorabilia – Cats Premiership 2008 caps.  Shirley also performed in skits – notably a radio play of the 1960s – The Silver Wedding - complete with sound effects.  Another short play became the vehicle to demonstrate the inanity of canned laughter in TV comedies.  The play was performed twice, once with, and once without canned laughter, much to the delight of the audience.

In the short interval, congenial Colin strapped on an ice-cream pack and sold old-fashioned ‘Choc Ices' at a knock-down price of the 1960s (post-decimal currency was accepted).  Water was also and refreshingly available – free - courtesy Barwon Water, rather than expensively bottled from some foreign spring.

This was a performance to send the audience away chatting and chuckling.

Helen Lyth

Oliver! Directed by David Mackay for Geelong Lyric Theatre Company Ford Theatre October 11 2008

This was the musical that ticked all the boxes. It had a well-known dramatic storyline, a clutch of hit songs and a proven record of success. To stage it, Lyric's experienced production team brought together a huge 80-strong young, good looking, talented cast and backed them with an excellent orchestra under the baton of the bright and delightful Kate Zampatti. Seasoned director David Mackay headlined his cast with award-winning Brad Beales as Fagin, vibrant newcomer Julie Corneby as Nancy and cute-as-a-button Sam Haste in the title role of Oliver. His set design from Stuart and Alard Pett was clever, visually appealing and kept the action moving. Complimenting this, the show's wardrobe was uniformly accurate and lighting effects spot-on.

And yet…

The big production numbers were perfectly executed with the company extremely well drilled by choreographer Stacey Carmichael. The orchestra was faultless and the second line of lead actors was well-cast and adept with Hudson Middelkoop as a cheeky Artful Dodger, Rodney Hunter a dominating Bumble; (Lyric stalwart) Mary-Ellen Hetherington a scheming widow Corney  and Matthew Bradford a chillingly villainous Sykes.

And yet there was something…

The whole company sang and moved well, spilling from the Ford theatre stage to at times use the theatre's audience doors and front boxes. The show's technicians achieved an even balanced sound and the third line of character actors were also well cast with Morgan Jenkins and Nikkia Arnott neatly playing the Sowerberrys for laughs, Charles Smith, Sue Rawkins and Michaela Powell giving strong and suitable support.

And yet there was something missing…

And I can't really put my finger on what it was. Maybe the starving urchins were just too cheerful, Oliver was too cute, Nancy too wholesome, Bill Sykes overly one-track evil and the Artful Dodger too playful, but the whole show was just too slick and consequently unreal.

That is, except when Fagin took the stage. Then the show sparked into theatrical life by dint of a truly outstanding performance from Brad Beales.

I've experienced many versions of Oliver! – going back to the original London cast performance -  and Brad's Fagin was up with Ron Moody's as the best I've seen.

Every move, song and nuance of Brad's was a gem; but when Fagin wasn't on stage, this Oliver shifted back down to just being a big, polished well-rehearsed production that definitely and most emphatically ticked all the boxes.

Colin Mockett

Concert of the Decade VII from Drop Of A Hat Productions. Costa Hall Sat Oct 4, 2008

It's worth being over fifty to be allowed to attend Drop of a Hat Productions annual Concert of the Decade.  Despite a requirement that audience members be over fifty, the concert now has two performances and is the main opening event of Senior's Month.  This year's concert was stunning. 

Colin Mockett and Roy Carson hosted the show, seamlessly leading the audience on a journey through different styles of popular music of the twentieth century and earlier. 

The show started at The Old Time Music Hall – the audience supporting the stars to sing the choruses.  Miss Emeline Jones performed ‘Hold Your Hand Out, Naughty Boy' to great acclaim before Mr Roy Carson as ‘apprentice Irish tenor' sang an earnest rendition of ‘When You were Sweet Sixteen' to a hushed hall. 

Geoff Sinbeck's music group never fails to please.  Lead, rhythm and bass guitars worked as one, with Pru Farnsworth's flute obbligato adding extra richness in several of the numbers.  Geoff, John Dean and Shirley Power provided lead vocals and vocal backing.  A highlight was ‘La Bamba' with the flute providing an authentic South American mood, and which, in the evening performance, featured the GAPA dancers.  

The GCB Big Band then took the audience back to black and white television with a precision rendition of Mancini's Peter Gunn Theme.  For this performance the band was joined by the Regal Precision Drill Team whose skill demonstrated their status as Australian champions.  One could almost smell the smoke and sweat of a New York jazz club of the forties as Jocelyn McKay led the band (joined in a reluctant dance duo by Roy) in ‘Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps'.  Lauchie Joyce then fronted the band in a suave performance of ‘Mack the Knife' – somewhat reminiscent of the style of Frank Sinatra. 

After interval, further treats were in store.  The Golden Strings, the senior chamber group from the Bay City Strings, led by Ali Parnell, played Mozart's ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusick', and Bach's haunting ‘Air on a G String' and then showed great skill in a Brandenburg Concerto introduction.  Shirley Power once again graced the stage, in a beautiful rendition of ‘Sous Le Ciel De Paris' - made famous by Edith Piaf.  As Shirley's voice caressed the music, backed by Ben Costanzo on piano accordion and Sandy Brady on bass, and one could easily imagine oneself in Paris strolling along the Seine. 

Then The Geelong Concert Band took the stage.   They showed the clear harmony, clean lines and sense of musical style that has recently earned them the title of 'A' Grade Champion Band of Victoria, playing a selection of numbers including ‘Jupiter' from ‘The Planets' by Gustav Holst and culminating with Strauss's ‘Radetzky March'. 

Jocelyn Mackay provided the concert's operatic interlude.  Puccini's ‘O Mio Babino Caro' was a perfect vehicle for Jocelyn's lovely voice. 

For me, the highlight of the concert was 3 Geelong Clarinets – in the persons of Alistair Cox, Michael Wilding and Amy Wert.  These three virtuosos, supported by the Geelong Concert Band, performed an amazing arrangement of ‘Rhythm of Life', passing tune and harmony from instrument to instrument, drifting into other themes before returning for a big finish.  This was the trio's world premiere.  Let's hope they continue the collaboration. 

Despite events of the last week, there was little poignancy as the whole cast supported vocalist Lauchie Joyce in ‘We are the Champions'.  This concert was indeed a performance of champions.  Roll on Concert of the Decade VIII. 

Helen Lyth

Annual Concert from The Geelong Youth Choir 

The future of choral singing is alive and well in Geelong.  The Geelong Youth Choir's concert was a celebration of the passion and dedication for choral music shown by leaders and singers alike. 

Eileen Martin started the Geelong Youth Choir in 1988 to give Geelong's children the opportunity to learn musical skills through choral singing.  That she succeeded admirably was shown by the wonderful music presented in this twentieth anniversary concert.  Although Eileen has now retired as director, it was fitting that she conduct the Reunion Choir and the final massed choir performance of Singing Altogether. 

The Youth Choir includes a number of training choirs, catering for children from preschool to post-secondary school.  There is also a chamber choir and a women's a cappella choir Bella Mama.  The tiny tots of Vicace showed great joy in singing their two songs – the Theme from The Adams Family and a delightful arrangement of Hey Diddle Diddle.  The singers in Prelude, the second training group have developed their musical skills considerably, with good tone and well-tuned two-part harmony.  They had learned songs in Korean, Yiddish and English.  The chamber choir of elite singers presently comprises only four young people.  Their singing of a complex arrangement of Shortnin' Bread showed a high level of musical skill and a sense of drama and fun.  The final youth group of current students is called Cantore.  This choir is for the senior students and also includes singers from the chamber choir and some from Prelude.  The singers' clean vocal line and assured harmonies were evident in their four songs with a highlight being the poignancy of John Denver's Perhaps Love. 

Bella Mama, an adult women's choir, performed four songs.  A smooth vocal line was most evident in Bill Withers Lean on Me.  The choristers showed great musical skill in their final song, tackling a difficult arrangement of the Queen song Somebody to Love.

Two other adult groups also performed.  The first was a small group of past members of the Youth Choir, called Charisima, who, despite the absence of several members, sang their two songs, Yesterday and Let it Shine! with a beautiful tone, and an excellent sense of ensemble.

To mark the anniversary, a Reunion Choir of past singers was formed.  Though this choir rehearsed for only three weeks prior to the concert, it was as if they had never been apart.  Their total mastery of pitch, harmony, dynamics and a perfect blend of voices in all parts made for listening joy.  Clearly, many of the voices have matured with adulthood – if anything the vocal tone was enriched by this change. 

Two fine accompanists supported the singing – Sonoka Miyaki accompanied the children's groups and reunion choirs and Janine Torriero playing for Bella Mama. 

This was a most satisfying concert.  The Geelong Youth Choir is now firmly established in Geelong as an outstanding way for children to gain an excellent musical training as they enjoy singing together.  The children, leaders and supporting work of parents and the choir's committee of management all deserve commendation.  Without their dedication and hard work, a concert like this would not be possible. 

Helen Lyth

Ruby Moon directed by Doug Mann for Geelong Repertory Theatre Company. Woodbin Theatre September 5 2008.

In almost half a century of theatergoing, I can't recall a production that compelled its audience to reflect over an emotional situation as this one did. 

Matt Cameron's insightful, multi-layered script captured attention from the opening scene and then held it to the last gasp almost two hours later. And even then, following the applause for a couple of outstanding acting performances, the audience remained seated, mulling over what they'd seen, before filing into the foyer to discuss the implications of their shared experience. That was a first for this reviewer, as it essentially took theatre to a new dimension. This Ruby Moon was neither entertainment, nor informative fare. It wasn't feel-good enjoyable, and it certainly wasn't spectacular. But it was compelling, compulsive and extremely thought-provoking. And all this was achieved in the simplest manner, with a cast of two fine actors, a sensitive director and sympathetic support team. The storyline was minimal. We were viewing a young couple in the aftermath of the disappearance of their six-year-old daughter. Through them, we saw a series of neighbors – all played by the same two actors - and all clear suspects.  Then, with a surprise twist ending, we were delivered a whole new set of circumstances to ponder.

Achieving this amount of audience mental involvement called for clear and uncluttered staging and a pair of actors with exceptional versatility. Both were evident in this production. Director Doug Mann kept the action flowing, and tension building,  by the intelligent use of music and lighting - allowing his actors to change costume on-stage in half-light – over a simple utilitarian set. This was, effectively, a one-act play spun out over two hours.

And the on-stage skills from Cherie Mills and Sascha Keet complimented the set and staging. They were never less than excellent. Both actors were clearly aware that they had been given a rare opportunity to showcase their abilities – and both rose to the challenge.

Cherie's part called her to veer from a grieving young mother to become a religion-obsessed crazy old woman, a man-hungry  jazz-singing vamp then an obsessed teenager, all seamlessly and without losing credibility; while Sascha's hurt and bewildered husband spun into a pathetic clown, a damaged ex-soldier and a fixated conjurer inside an accelerating spiral of anguish.

At the finish, and after acknowledging the warm audience applause, Sascha and Cherie hugged on-stage, in the manner of group-therapy participants. This was significant and probably necessary, for they had led their audience on a journey into realms of human emotions that are rarely visited.

I heartily commend and recommend Rep's Ruby Moon. You might not come away uplifted or amused – but by golly, you will have witnessed a fine - and unique - piece of small modern theatre.

Colin Mockett

Murdered To Death directed by Ross Pearce for Peninsula Players. Drysdale Hall July 23 2008

Wander along Drysdale High St at 10.30pm any night this week and you'll find a whole bunch of happily laughing, satisfied theatergoers wending  homewards.

They've been to see Murdered To Death, and they will have had a wonderful time, having laughed since 8pm. It's a joyful sight – and one that's not exactly unexpected, because Peninsula Players have over the years made a specialty of producing lightweight stage comedies.

But the surprising thing this time is that the play they've seen was not exactly sparkling. Written in the 1990s, it was deliberately dated - set in the 1930s - and purposely creaked at the seams. The set and staging was competent but uninspiring and the acting standards were, well,  uneven.

But this production stands as a prime example of how a theatrical occasion can become much, much greater than the sum of its parts.

Because given all the above, an evening at Murdered to Death is a very funny, happy experience.

The play is a modern spoof on all those old Agatha Christie murder mysteries recently revived on our TV screens.

It's set in an English country house peopled with a motley crew of suspects and when the hostess is shot dead (in the library) it sparks investigations from a hapless police inspector and a nosey elderly female sleuth. Sound familiar? But this time everything but everything  is played for laughs. The suspects are all totally without alibi, motive - or merit -  and the detectives are bungling, inept and clueless.

Director Ross Pearce, aware of his script's comedy potential, chose to present a simple no-frills production with his cast well rehearsed but without any stage device or distraction. This ‘deliver your lines clearly and don't fall over the furniture' approach actually improved the play by allowing the comedy to flow and giving the script's joke lines plenty of air. So those actors with comedy experience had the opportunity to deliver them with relish. And on stage were three players with excellent comedy skills.  Outstanding in this regard was Dennis King, who took his butler's role way, way, WAY over the top to the absolute delight of every audience member.  And this was balanced by the delightful deadpan of constable Keith Lowe, an actor of experience, excellence and perfect timing. Keith's  on-stage tormentor, the hapless inspector Pratt, saw Russell Campbell at his rubber-faced, frantic best. Russell played Pratt like Inspector Clouseau on a very bad day –  and he milked every available laugh. Supporting this trio were stock-character suspects Tony and Bodil Wright, she a strident harridan  and he a bumbling colonel, along with Emma Soloman and Marcus Savidis, as cheerful – and  obvious  - a pair of con-artists that you're ever likely to encounter. Shirley Craig played her part-time sleuth ‘Miss Maple' character with a charming, smiling ineptitude while Rhena King and Heather Dempsey managed to sail past much of the mayhem by virtue of being  the play's victims.

Frankly, Murdered to Death's simple one-joke concept of poking fun at the 1930s thriller genre shouldn't really appeal to sophisticated 21st Century tastes. And the plain presentation seemed so stark compared to today's expected elaborate lighting and staging techniques. But those happy customers at the end proved otherwise - and I was one of that happy throng. But to be truthful... I'm still not completely sure why it  worked so well.

Colin Mockett

An Italian Evening Café Concert hosted by The Geelong Chorale, Belmont Masonic Hall, June 28 2008.

Geelong's Chorale traditionally has a good time with its annual Café Concert – that's one of the reasons this evening had sold out well ahead with the minimum publicity.  It's always good to see and hear our premier choral group letting its hair down and performing popular pieces. But this concert had a little extra. Apart from the Italian theme, which allowed them to swing from Volare to Verdi, the Anvil Chorus to That's Amore - and show a great deal of flair decorating the room – this was the cabaret that the Chorale introduced its new musical director, Manfred Pohlenz.

Manfred is a big, ebullient character with a booming baritone voice, an operatic background and a finely tuned sense of fun. From this evening it was clear that he and the Chorale are well suited – and their relationship holds plenty of promise for Geelong's concertgoers.

Manfred took a couple of songs for himself – the opening Champagne Aria from Don Giovanni and a delightful duet, La Ci Darem from the same opera with the Chorale's principal soprano Helen Lyth that set and cemented the evening's fun and fine music theme. There were plenty of highlights – the audience loved Karen and Yvonne's Cat's Duet and bass baritone John Cameron made beaut job of Non Plu Andrai while big popular numbers like Santa Lucia and the Chorus of Hebrew Slaves showed the Chorale in fine voice. These were interspersed with plenty of Italian pop and popular arias. But the biggest  memory this reviewer took from the concert was the fun and energy sparked by Manfred. And two big encores were testament to just how much enjoyment was had by all.

- Colin Mockett.

Cloudstreet directed by Mike Ellis for Geelong Rep, Woodbin Theatre June 20 2008


Cloudstreet was a 1990s best-selling epic novel by Tim Winton that traced the lives of two poor Perth families over a 40-year span following WWII. Its writing quality was such that it won the 1992 Miles Franklin award.

Now, adapted from the novel by Nick Enright and Justin Monjo and staged by Geelong Repertory Company, Cloudstreet has become - an epic stage production that faithfully traces the two families using Winton's plotlines and dialogue. And such is the quality of staging, direction and acting that it should be lauded, awarded – and certainly deserves to be a company best-seller.

This production once more demonstrates that Geelong Rep, when in top form, can produce dramatic works of the highest standard.

Much credit is due to director Mike Ellis, who has worked on this production for more than a year. It was an epic task;  those 40 years (and 440 pages) were condensed down to four hours of theatre – but even that is still twice the length of a normal Woodbin production. So, fittingly, Mike rehearsed his hand-picked cast and crew for twice the usual period - twelve weeks instead of six – and this showed in a whole raft of superbly drilled and tightly-disciplined performances. He also chose a clear, simple set using just two black benches and the minimum of props, requiring his players to frequently use mime and gesture to achieve their aims. This not only smoothed the scene changes (there were more than 100 scenes) but it also lent a uniformity - and naïve charm – to the whole production.

This thoughtful care was carried into every aspect of this Cloudstreet, from its excellent wardrobe to clever lighting and sound effects. But it was most obvious in a number of exceptional on-stage performances. Opening night had no less than seven outstanding lead actors – meaning that Scott Beaton wouldn't have been able to count them on his fingers. Scott was excellent as the digitally dis-enhanced Sam Pickles, an inveterate gambler married to Dolly, a painted alcoholic slut gloriously portrayed by Glenda Maddison. Glenda's real-life husband, Colin Urquhart, made his patriarchal, zealously religious Lester Lamb totally sympathetic and believable, while Rep newcomer Mary Steuten was so plausible as his driven but level-headed wife Oriel. Steven Simpson easily overcame his lack of physical size to dominate as their son ‘Quick', while Chris Young made an excellent portrayal as his brother ‘Fish'. This was the trickiest of roles, to play someone both mentally retarded and psychic. And all these first-class portrayals were enhanced – but never overshadowed – by an exceptional performance from  Lauren O'Callaghan as Rose Pickle, the downtrodden daughter whose against-the-odds success gave the storyline much of its force. Supporting this magnificent seven was a top-flight team of multi-skilled actors each taking several roles led by Barry Eeles – whose roles included the aboriginal narrator; Rebecca Bennett, who was a child, a pushover and an ultra-moral girlfriend in her parts; Lachlan Murphy who moved from uni-grad poet boyfriend to plumber; Charlotte Hukvari, who eased from  tomboy to barmaid to operator/friend, and Deb Welsh who effortlessly moved from child-daughter to vindictive wronged wife to become another operator/friend. Add in Nick Frcek and Travis Eccles, who smoothly took in just about every other male role during the 40-year span, and it's clear that this Cloudstreet has an exceptional cast and impeccable credentials. I can't recommend it highly enough. Go – enjoy - and don't be daunted by that four-hour length. The show starts at 7pm, it's so enthralling that time truly flies – and those generous Rep  people provide free refreshments during the second interval.  You'll be doubly impressed.

– Colin Mockett

Picnic at Hanging Rock directed by Iris Walshe-Howling for Anglesea Performing Arts & Clonard College. Kildare Theatre,  June 6 2008.     

Joan Lindsay's fictional mystery novel, enhanced by Peter Weir's film, holds a secure place in the Australian psyche. The turn-of-the-century tale of disappearing schoolgirls occupies similar ground to Banjo Paterson's Man from Snowy River or  the swagman in the billabong in that they inhabit an area of modern myth, with few people knowing –or for that matter, caring – if they are true, based on truths – or pure fiction.

This adaptation by Matthew Lyndon-Jones did little to clear up any controversy. Indeed, it muddied the water further, by throwing in some extra possibilities for the disappearances. But what it did do, thanks to director Iris Walshe-Howling and an outstanding cast, was provide an excellent evening's theatre.

The cast list was interesting. It was made up of Anglesea Performing Arts players with drama students from Clonard Girls College, along with the girl's drama teacher, Janine McKenzie. As well as playing an admirable period French Mistress, Miss McKenzie was also assistant director to the production. She and Ms Walshe-Howling must feel extremely proud – as indeed should every cast member – having presented such a well-orchestrated, tightly knit, well balanced  and sumptuously  visual piece of  theatre. That visual reference was deliberate. For director Walshe-Howling (isn't that a beaut name?) chose to take this classic literary work that had been a successful film and stage it almost as a  piece of visual art. To this end, she made use of an elaborate set with a giant picture frame to occasionally stop the action and pose her actors for giant life-sized photographs. This was a clever ploy, for the script, which was quite clearly written for screen rather than stage, called for dozens of very short scenes, some of them only a matter of seconds long. To facilitate this, director Walshe-Howling kept almost all her actors on stage throughout, posing them motionless and facing backwards on different levels of the set when not concerned in the immediate scene. As they were carefully and accurately costumed, this added to the luscious visual element of the play. She also included some neat and timely projected graphics and came up with a really smart way to stage a screen script. But none of these innovations would have worked without a highly disciplined and tightly choreographed team effort from her actors. And they provided this magnificently.

The three male leads in Ryan Parker, Rob Phillips and Christo McRay played their parts with correct, tight 19th century restraint while Valda Connelly gave us the coldest of aloof headmistresses, rivalled by Nikki Watson's faultless heartless teacher. The other adult actors, Amy Rowe and Kaylene Bielecki gave excellent support in a team effort that called for careful concentration. And that high standard of adult acting was entirely matched by an excellent, exciting – and highly promising - crop of schoolgirl talent, from Gen Tobin's hysterical screamer to Nerida Munro's excellent bewildered girl who returned from the rock. Maddie Field was simply outstanding as the put-upon drudge Sara. These in turn were supported by Elisha Ali, Reannen Fiscalini, Teneille Linehan-Downes, Rosa Napoli and Bridget O'Halloren in a talented, youthful - and so well disciplined cast. Bravo.

-Colin Mockett.  

The Comic and the Curious presented by the Geelong Community Orchestra, Kildare Theatre May 18 2008.

The fact that the theatre was packed to the rafters was testimony to the regard in which this (mostly amateur with the odd professional here and there) ensemble is held, and the audience was not to be disappointed. Beethoven's Overture Leonore No. 3 constituted a lively and rousing opening, followed directly by the contrasting On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring. This delightful musical picture  by Delius was made all the more interesting by a charming introduction from the orchestra's musical director Allister Cox. The first part was brought to a close by Mozart's Horn Concerto No.2 in Eb K.417:Rondo featuring guest artist Joel Carnegie, French Horn. Geelong born Mr Carnegie is a master of this difficult instrument, and his performance exuded sheer joy. What an uplifting experience!

Dennis Mitchell.

That was the Curious. The second half, which I caught, was the Comic element of this concert's title. Though rather more charming than laugh-out-loud, it  still made a delightfully happy change from just about every other concert I've experienced. It started with a hybrid Nutcracker/Beatles medley by Arthur Wilkinson where Tchaikovsky's well-known ballet intros melded into Beatle tunes, so the Overture became Help! Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy morphed into Can't Buy Me Love etc.. Some of these worked better than others - but they were all enjoyable. Then came another parody in Eine Kleine Nichtmusik by PDQ Bach - which was an absolute delight. Behind  Mozart's themes were a score of well-known pieces, from the Volga Boatman  to The Skater's Waltz to the  William Tell Overture to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. This was a challenging piece that everyone - especially the orchestra - thoroughly enjoyed. Then came the Grand Finale piece, written by Malcolm Arnold for orchestra and four soloists. These were three vacuum cleaners and a floor polisher,  expertly played by Cr Barb Abley, Dennis & Elaine Mitchell and David MacKay - all suitably serious in demeanor. It should be said that the concept of this idea was probably  funnier than it worked in practice. But it did bring  a fitting (sweeping) finish to a thoroughly enjoyable - and highly innovative - concert

Colin Mockett.

The Tempest directed by Elaine Mitchell for Theatre of the Winged Unicorn. Ceres Hall May 16, 2008.

This could almost be counted a signature production for Elaine Mitchell. She has been cooking up to it for the past two decades.  That's how long she's been creating visual and textile artworks of the play's characters in her distinctive colours and flowing style. To see them realized on stage must have been as heartwarming for her as it was for us.

For this production was visually striking. Its set was brilliantly complex - and distinctive - in its drapes and fabrics, yet sparse and functional in its staging. It comprised a huge fairy grotto made from seaweedy fabrics that enveloped the whole stage, which pushed most of the action out on to a multi-level thrust stage taking up the Hall's centre. We mere-mortal audience were arranged around the edges, looking inwards. And if the set was distinctive – well, it paled in comparison to the costumes on view. The clothes for this production were stunning in their drama and complexity -  as were their accessories,  make-up, hats, wigs, shoes – and fingernails. Every one of them designed by, and distinctive to Elaine. That was the visual artist at work.. On-stage, the theatre director Elaine Mitchell had assembled and drilled a team of actors to present her vision of Shakespeare's final work with precise and loving care. These were led by a trio of outstanding performances. First up was Ben Mitchell, the director's son. Ben should have been way too young for his part as the wizard father-figure Prospero, yet he carried the role with ease by the power of his voice projection and compelling stage presence. His was a dominating performance, helped considerably by his all-enveloping costume.  Yet this was matched – and sometimes surpassed - by Steven Georgiadis, who played his  slave/monster Caliban as a crawling, conniving, rebellious - and totally compulsive - alien. Balancing this was Julie Fryman's light- sprite Ariel, the brightest, happiest, nimblest fairy of the bunch, with a delightful singing voice that harmonized beautifully with Heather Dempsey and Amelia McBride in their Goddess scene. But thinking back, there were eye-catching performances – and performers - throughout this production. Ross Pearce played his elderly retainer Gonzalo with both accuracy and flair, Robert Trott and Joshua Verspaandonk made highly creditable conspirators and John Calvert gave gravitas to his regal role as Alonso. Ray Jones and Michael Lambkin clearly revelled in their clown roles as Trinculo and Stephano, while Kath O'Neil and Alard Pett were so suitably staid as the destined lovers. Dennis Mitchell carried his small but crucial Boatswain part with practiced ease while Lauren Muscat, with Timothy  and Josephine McQuillan provided delightful tiny sprites.

But memorable as the performances were, the lasting impression from this production was that we audience were able to see the visions inside Elaine Mitchell's head – and that's a place of fairies, Celtic music, Shakesperian plotting - and magic.

Colin Mockett

Wicked Sisters directed by Michael Baker for Torquay Theatre Troupe  Torquay Seniors' Hall, May 15, 2008

Alma De Groen's modern Australian social drama is popular with small companies. This reviewer has seen three different productions inside two years.

The reasons for that popularity are clear. Wicked Sisters needs only a single room set and four middle-aged female actors. That's because the play's storyline unfolds  as the audience, behind the room's ‘fourth wall', eavesdrops on conversations between four old friends who  have come together following the death of an academic. From these conversations come startling revelations. We learn not only of the dead man's work and private life, but of his relationships with all four women - and their hidden inter-relationships.

As such, although production requirements to stage Wicked Sisters are simple, the need for quality actors, direction and stagecraft are compensatory higher than the norm.

I'm happy to say that this small production staged in Torquay's Senior Cits Centre met all those needs, and some.  And I'm also happy to add that this production of Wicked Sisters  was clearly the best I have seen. The set was simple, uncluttered and looked real. The actors used its props and moved around it with practiced ease; and each looked and sounded correct for their characters.

This was particularly true of Lisa Berry, who relished her characterization of a shallow and self-centred, yet emotionally vulnerable real-estate agent.  Lisa made her Lydia so believable – and recognizable – a character that she had women in the audience nodding and sighing in sympathy throughout. This was the case, too, with Maryanne Doolan's  public relations  executive Judith. Both Lisa and Maryanne  played their characters fairly low-key, lacing their delivery with feminine cynicism, which worked well as contrast to Meryl Friend's grieving widow Meridee. This is the second time I've seen Meryl in the role, which she plays with coiled energy and a great deal of intensity, occasionally breaking into over-emotional shouting. There was more contrast with Carleen Thoernberg's  cool,  awkward, scruffy, scheming intellectual Hester. This was a tricky role, and after a hesitant start, Carleen made an excellent job of it.    The on-stage energy from these four flowed across to the appreciative audience with plenty of recognition, laughter - silence through the movingly emotional scenes  - and gasps at the plot's final twist.

Then the warm and responsive applause was richly deserved. Go see Torquay's Wicked Sisters. You'll be surprised – and you  won't be disappointed.

Colin Mockett

My Old Man Said 'Follow The Van' written/directed by Colin Mockett for  Drop Of A Hat Productions. Potato Shed, Drysdale  May 13 2008

How many song titles can you find in this sentence?

When you were sweet sixteen and told me ‘I don't want to play in your yard', father papered the parlour by the light of the silvery moon while Albert and the lion sat under the bridges of Paris with a lovely bunch of coconuts and after the ball was over when Daddy wouldn't buy me a bow-wow, Jeannie with the light brown hair showed me the way to go home and her old man told me to follow the van down to the Old Bull and Bush where a sweet little dickie bird beside the seaside will sing ‘wait ‘til the sun shines Nellie'. 

The audience at a Morning Showtime at the Potato Shed on Tuesday May 13 which featured a new Drop of a Hat Production entitled ‘Old Time Music Hall' would have had no trouble coming up with sixteen titles. With these and other songs and recitations, well known musicians and entertainers Colin Mockett, Shirley Power, Emma Jones, Roy Carson and Benito Costanzo took the audience back a century in a show produced, written and directed by Colin. You could be forgiven for thinking that the listeners actually remembered 1908, given the enthusiasm with which they joined in the singing (although there was one gentleman in the audience who was born two years previously, in 1906). However audience participation was a reflection of the fact that the songs and recitations chosen not only captured the pre-World War I era but also, if the estimated age of audience members was anything to go by, stayed on in popular memory right through to the nineteen fifties and sixties.

The 1908 theme was enhanced by Colin reading news items from a 1908 Geelong Addy and the projection, in silent picture fashion, of a number of pictures of Geelong from 1908 while Benito played a pianoforte arrangement of The Blue Danube.  The program (as usual $1) successfully captured the Old Time Music Hall theme and the period costumes, particularly those of Emma and Shirley, were much appreciated by the audience.  The show was organized in two halves with an intermission during which the audience had the usual delicious Baker's Delight fare (and all this for $13) and the first part of each half opened with a trio of singalong songs with Emma, Roy and Shirley.  Projecting the words of songs onto the screen was useful, particularly for the few, younger members of the audience such as me, who did not know the lyrics by heart.    

Colin was ebullient throughout, rising on some occasions to dizzy heights of adulatory alliteration in his praise of performers or description of the upcoming songs.  I think greater use of this technique would have enhanced the Music Hall allusion – not an insurmountable task given Colin's elastic imagination and command of the English language. Maestro Benito provided piano and accordion accompaniment, and displayed his versatility by singing several Stephen Foster songs, accompanied by Shirley on the piano. Roy's contribution, among others, was to wrench tears from the audience with his rendition of ‘When You Were Sweet Sixteen' but he also had to bear the brunt of the Master of Ceremonies' comments about his competence as a performer. The show benefited greatly from sub-plots such as this.  Emma Jones, after a stint as a successful Likeme Biteme (the name says it all) in the recent production of The Producers at GPAC, brought all her enthusiasm to the stage in songs such as “Daddy Wouldn't Buy Me a Bow-wow” and terpsichorean activities as the famed dancer Lola Montez.  That word beginning with ‘t' which I found in the program was new to me too. I looked it up, it means ‘dancing'.

As Mlle Fifi La Bonk (‘Under the Bridges of Paris'), Mrs Lydia Dustbin (‘My Old Man Says Follow the Van') or Carrie Moore (‘I  Don't Want to Play in Your Yard') Shirley captured the essence of both the song and the character singing it.   Her efforts were consistently appreciated by the audience including the woman next to me who sighed loudly and said to her neighbour on the other side – “Oh, that was just so, so lovely”. Need I say more?  

-Bryan Eaton

The Producers directed by Davina Smith Crowley for Geelong Lyric Theatre Company. Ford Theatre, May 1, 2008

Christmas has come early for Geelong's theatregoers and the choicest present in the stocking is in the unlikely form of a gay comedy Hitler musical written by an American Jew. The new Geelong Lyric musical that opened at the Ford Theatre was a smash hit and thoroughly deserves to be fully booked throughout its run…

Furthermore, this Geelong production was staged with delightful irreverence by a top production team using a cast of vibrant young troupers. It stands among the best musicals seen at the Ford Theatre.

In this reviewer's opinion, it easily tops the professional touring musicals brought to GPAC – yes, even Keating! - and would compare favourably with any production currently on Melbourne's big stages.

It was really that good.

Full credit to the show's real producer, Ben Crowley with his director wife Davina, for bringing together such a classy, cheerful, competent, talented group then guiding them to create such a splendid show.

First of all, it looked good, with brilliant costumery. Take a bow, Maxine Urquhart and team. It also moved beautifully, thanks to superbly sleek, energy-filled  choreography from Michelle Barber. It had a skilled, well-drilled and talented orchestra under the baton of John Shawcross and the lighting, sound and set movements were, after a couple of excusable glitches, pretty much faultless.

On stage, there was talent – and fun – everywhere, which somehow director Davina had managed to retain while still crafting a tightly disciplined, flowing show.

The lead, Max Bialystock was portrayed with joyful nuance and impressive skill by a top-form Scott Popovic, while Leo Bloom, his dupe/sidekick was Clint Sanders, a revelation from Ballarat. This stage newcomer managed his singing, dancing,  knockabout comedy role with ease – underlined by a true mastery of comic timing. Equal to these – and at no time overshadowed by them - was Alicia Miller as Ulla, the beautiful blonde Swedish airhead. Alicia's presence was such that even though she had much lesser time on stage, the show's leads always seemed to be that delightful trio.

And backing them was an equally talented support squad with Grant Whiteside impressive as unreformed deranged Nazi, Franz – singing and dancing in manic style with pigeons among other things – while Brad Beales and David Mackay turned as hilarious a pantomime pair of mincingly effeminate stage pouffs as ever seen on the Ford.

And then… Behind this lead six was a further team of multi-task actors, singers and dancers so talented that it seems a slight to describe them as just a ‘chorus'. Reading the programme notes, they were a rare mix of GSODA Junior graduates with Lyric stalwarts and even a quartet who had emerged from the orchestra pit to shine in the spotlights. That's Laura Elshout, Kate Zampatti  and Xavier McGettigan – with a cameo from Ben Castle - and didn't they do well in the company of experienced players Reyna & Chris Hudgell, Tess, Alex & Dominic Muirhead, Michelle Bradshaw, Matthew Bradford, Emma Jones, Dan Eastwood, Alard Pett, Natalie Gainey, J Charles Smith, Ashley Boyd, Felicia Fragapane, Madison Popovic, Morgan Jenkins, Elise Dahl, Edwina Powell, Mary-Ellen Hetherington, Lee Hutchinson and Dale Bradford – all former Lyric performers – with Junior graduates Tom Reed, Jon Lawrence, Marejka Knigge, Jared Smith and Tom Russell and super newcomers Andrew Cooke, Karlene Georgiades, Stephanie Jenson, David Keele,  Julie Corneby and Duncan MacRae. I know it's unusual to name an entire cast in such a big production – but they're all deserving of praise, if for nothing else,  for dancing with Zimmer frames!

Colin (Elizabeth) Mockett

The China Incident written & directed by Peter Houghton for La Mama's 6 PAC, Potato Shed April 19, 2008

This was not so much a play, more of an hour-long one-woman scene. But what a woman, what a scene – and what a highly polished performance.

The woman is Anne Browning, and her character is Bea Pontificis, a power-dressed and driven PR/diplomatic consultant to an African dictatorship. She's a dab hand at working her battery of phones, which she does for the length of the play.

The fly-on-the-wall audience was then allowed to piece together her personality, her life that of her family and the conditions of her job through listening to just one side of each conversation. We learn that she's pushy and clever, crafty and devious, calming and charming, scheming and stubborn – and prepared to wrangle every element of her life in order to achieve her short-term aims. She's constantly in touch with her ‘General' – clearly a despotic leader/dictator – as well as the US President, who mixes diplomatic carrots with an abiding interest in her underwear.

We learn that her left-leaning, alternate-living daughter's wedding plans don't meet with her approval – but we discover that the unnamed daughter shares some of her own devious and dogmatic nature.

Meanwhile her son is busted for drugs, her ex-hippy ex-husband wants to re-ignite their relationship, a civil war breaks out – and with one mistaken call she inadvertently commits the biggest of diplomatic gaffes.

The plot is probably a little outdated – I'm pretty sure this play was based on the former president, not this one – and today's Mugabe regime makes Bea's mad General seem quite civilised – and occasionally Ms Browning took her character over the top. But such was the skill, control and surety of her performance that the audience left satisfied having seen an extraordinary piece of acting – if not of theatre.

– Colin Mockett

Haneef: The Interrogation

directed by Gorkem Acaroglu for TopArtPartners

La Mama Carlton Courthouse April 16 2008

Some of the joys - and banes - of a theatre critic's life come from the extremes of productions seen. I was reminded of this when a couple of days after Rep's  Little Murders I saw Haneef: The Interrogation – probably the most relevant, moving – and alarming – play that I have reviewed in years. It would also rate among the simplest, yet most effective staging of a real-life political event I've experienced.

Haneef: The Interrogation is small – a  two-man 80-minute drama based on federal police tapes – but boy, does it pack a punch. Those tapes recorded the questioning of Indian-born Queensland doctor Mohamed Haneef following his arrest at Brisbane airport on July 2, 2007. Dr Haneef's detention took place under the federal government's new wide-ranging anti-terrorism laws that effectively require an accused to prove his/her innocence, rather than the onus being on police to prove guilt - an edict that has underscored every civilized code of law for centuries.

Dr Haneef's detention was essentially because he had, in his last days before leaving England to take the job in Queensland, given his mobile phone SIM-card to a cousin. The cousin had, he said, asked for it in order to take advantage of the telcom company's loyalty bonus-calls scheme. It would have enabled him to make cheaper calls to India, he explained. But that cousin was to later be implicated in last year's terrorist attack on Glasgow airport which sparked a global terrorism alert – and Dr Haneef's arrest on the other side of the world.  

Given the real police tapes of a 12-hour session, playwright Graham Pitts simplified and condensed them – reducing the two inquisitors to a single interrogator –  but then basically allowed them to speak for themselves. He then used a clever technique in getting his two players to, on occasion, break away from the action and address the audience. “What am I to do?” asks Adam McConvell, playing Haneef. “How can you prove that you don't know about something… are not even interested in it?”

At another point, and on the interrogation side, Simon King asks the audience “What do you want us to do? Just let him leave the country? You would expect your police to follow up leads like this… SIM-cards and mobile phones are used by terrorists to detonate explosives…”

Both these actors were excellent in their mastery of roles. They remained totally believable throughout, never straying into histrionics. The play was conducted at conversation-level, and was all the more powerful for this.

And probably the most unsettling moment in the play came when Simon, the interrogator, revealed that under the new legislation he could himself be jailed for revealing aspects of the act. “If it can happen to me, it can happen to you,” he said, pointing to the audience.   This play isn't fiction – it's main theme is that our legislators have now undermined the basic freedom of all Australians at a single stroke. What happened to Mohamed Haneef – being lifted from a public place and detained for 12 days – can now happen to anyone in our country – tomorrow. Director Gorkem Acaroglu heightened the play's intensity by giving her actors a simple, stark stage of an innocently empty room holding a dozen chairs. But dominating this was a screen showing four changing ‘hidden camera' images of the action from a dozen different angles.

And somewhat surprisingly, this treatment meant that Haneef: The Interrogation at no time came across as heavy politically-driven propaganda. It was compelling drama and excellent theatre. The word is that this play is coming to our Potato Shed. When it does, go see it. It will open your eyes and expand your theatrical experience. 

Colin Mockett

I Remember Geelong When... by Colin Mockett & Shirley Power for Drop Of A Hat Productions. Potato Shed,  Drysdale,  April 15, 2008

Do you remember the advertisements for that most famous of Irish stouts? Well, recent research shows that a pint of Guinness a day is indeed good for you. It is more effective than a pint of lager, and just as good as an aspirin a day in reducing the possibility of blood clots and the prevention of heart attacks. After seeing a recent Drop of a Hat Production of I Remember Geelong When…. I am convinced that a dose of nostalgia has the same beneficial effect as a pint of Guinness, unmarred by the soporific effect of that dark brew.  I Remember Geelong when… was created by Colin Mockett and inspired by short stories on this theme in the Geelong Seniors Festival Book of 2007. Using their hallmark combination of music, narrative and PowerPoint display, Colin and Shirley Power take the audience back to a time in Geelong when local government was a male prerogative, Bright and Hitchcock's  was the emporium of choice, the six o'clock pub closing turned locals into travellers who drove to Queenscliff for a beer and songs populating the Geelong hit parade and played on manual juke boxes in cafes on Moorabool Street were determined by sales at Allen's music store and the number of written requests received by 3GL. Who doesn't remember As Time Goes By from the 1942 film Casablanca, Fats Domino's 1940 hit Blueberry Hill or the Elvis hit of 1960, It's Now or Never?  These and other songs highlighted the journey back to the nineteen thirties, aided by some wonderful photographs of Geelong, Ocean Grove, Queenscliff and Barwon Heads and the people who made news over the years, some of whom were in the audience at the premiere performance of I Remember Geelong When… at a packed Potato Shed in Drysdale.    You don't have to hail from Geelong to enjoy this production. I don't and nor does Colin, for that matter. So why does the show work so well?  I think there are a number of reasons. Shirley's beautiful articulation of timeless popular songs is one. Colin's ability to create a historical backdrop with a combination of pictures and blend of weighty and quirky facts, peppered with the fads and foibles of men and local councils, is another.  A few period jokes, from Colin of course, and readings by both Shirley and Colin from the Geelong Seniors Festival Book of 2007 underscored the non-commercial, innocent, simpler and slower times that audience members clearly recalled and seemed to relish. Finally the fact that the show taps so effectively into one's own memories somehow validates who you are and where you have come from, even if it is not Geelong.  But I wonder however,  if a map of Geelong with an ‘X' marking the spot or a recent photograph of the site in question, would have helped the audience to more readily locate the position of buildings seen in subsequent photographs.   I thoroughly recommend the show and when the next opportunity arises, forgo your pint of Guinness and see this show….. it really is good for you.  

Bryan Eaton

Little Murders directed by Geoff Gaskill for Geelong Repertory Company Woodbin Theatre April 11, 2008

Director Geoff Gaskill brought many innovative ideas to this American black comedy. Some worked, some didn't - and it's unfortunately that one of these was major. Little Murders was written in the 1960s by Jules Feiffer, a New York cartoonist. Feiffer used his cartoon technique of exaggeration to highlight the social ills in his society at that time, creating a darkly black comedy. Those social ills encompassed motiveless shootings, harassment of women by heavy breathing phone calls – and it was a time when anyone outside the norm  risked being beaten up by rednecks.  Director Gaskill chose to stage this dark period piece as a ‘play within a play' in a pseudo TV studio set-up, with a stand-up comedian (Paul Friend) telling jokes during scene changes. That was a little confusing – but not as much as the decision to transpose the whole play and set it in modern Australia.  As a result the audience was handed a plotline where an unnamed Australian city (with streets named Gertrude, Russell, Spring etc)  has its people living under siege from random shootings; where families  have come to ignore their regular heavy breathing calls, beatings are random and expected and homosexuals are afraid to come out of the closet. As a result, this Little Murder's humour changed. Rep's audience wasn't laughing in recognition of Feiffer's dark humour – it was giggling at the outlandish silliness on view. And this was a pity, because there were also some excellent acting performances in this production. Philip Besancon gave a study of stage concentration as his role of a totally beaten photographer called for him to stand motionless for long periods, but then interject a telling word or phrase. Claudia Clark and Stuart Pilgrim gave us a manic, frantic – but word and action perfect - uptight married couple while Christine Davey showed her acting intensity with a trio of different cameo roles, one of which was unable to be removed from a New York Jewish accent. Sarah Freeman made the most of her pushy-female role, while Catherine Larcey added to the play's confusion by portraying a teenaged boy  spending his time literally in the closet  during the first half, before coming out as a glamorous girl in a little black dress in the second. Miriam Wood and Nick Frcek were bit players and Paul Friend made a pretty good fist of his task as studio warm-up man -   but he was always going to experience difficulty working so confused an audience. - Colin Mockett

Lysistrata directed by Bruce Murray for Geelong Repertory Company Woodbin Theatre February 1, 2008

Geelong Rep has kicked off its 2008 theatre season with a big, bold, daring and controversial play, Lysistrata. It's big, with a cast of 26 – difficult to manoevre around the compact Woodbin stage, even though it is (quite cleverly) set as a two-tiered version of ancient Athens.  It's bold - the storyline, set in Ancient Greece, concerns a strike of sexual favours by the women of two hostile nations in order to end their war. It's daring, because Rep put this landmark production in the hands of a first-time director who chose to set his play in 412 BC but use a script written in 2003. And it's controversial not only because of its sexual content and dangling limp-stiff phalluses, but it contains nudity that is absolutely, indisputably and totally gratuitous. I have to make my position clear here and say that the two aspects of nudity – a quick flash of a very senior male organ and a long, lingering pose by a comely young female, though quite unnecessary to the plot, each comes at times very welcome in a play that flounders, rather than wallows in its sexuality. 

For director Bruce Murray's choice to mix old and new concepts with broad, bawdy content doesn't produce a hybrid - instead, this is pretty much a mongrel of a production. The staging is frequently clumsy and some concepts are curiously surreal. This is a comedy that starts with five minutes of thunderous gunfire depicting the horrors of war; yet a crucial scene where elderly women drench their male counterparts to begin a revolt amazingly uses tiny dribbles of water from diminutive jugs.

And then, surprisingly, amid all these bizarre impressions – of conflicting underwear, static staging, comic impersonations and toy plastic armour  some social truths emerge – along with several promising performances.

It's a fact that every member of the show's big cast is well-drilled, word-perfect and clearly enthusiastic to their cause. The cast is led by Kate Hunter, who plays Lysistrata with unrelenting stridency. Kate leads a raft of players brought from Torquay Theatre Troupe – enough to almost constitute a calling this a co-production -  including Michael Lambkin, (he of the flashed organ)  Fred Preston, Terry Roseburgh, Carleen Thoernberg and the outstanding Steven Georgiadis. Steven's timing – so important in a comedy – makes his scene with teasing wife Rhiannon Hodgkinson the play's high point. There are neat portrayals from Barry Eeles – who constantly challenges his stern image, and newcomers Carina Machnyk and Zoe Prem along with a couple of Rep's highly promising new wave of performers in Rebecca Bennett, Deb Welsh and Charlotte Hukvari. Charlotte's part capsulates the Repertory experience – in the company's last production she played the lead role in Educating Rita. This time she's a statuesque nude, such is the variety of an actor's life. Lysistrata's Hellenic company is completed by a swag of Rep dependables led by Ros Romney and including Vonnie Pilgrim, Brendan O'Halloran, Keith Smith, Judy Ellis and Russell Campbell with some sterling support from Shirley Craig, Chris Marshall, Kevin McCormack, Kane Oman, Michael Urquhart, Allan Watt and Elizabeth Tai.    Lysistrata is big, it's bold, it's daring and it's full-on relentless – enough to leave its audience, unlike the play's menfolk, yearning for a little gentle subtlety from somewhere.

- Colin Mockett