No-nonsense Reviews 2009

Villainy, mystery - and magical music

A Russian Bride in Queenscliffe - A Boo-Hiss Victorian melodrama written by Mr C. Mockett for Drop Of A Hat Productions, Potato Shed, Drysdale, November 24, 2009

I was not sure what to expect from Drop Of A Hat Productions on this occasion. In the back of my mind I recall reading that Queenscliff became a strategic defence post in response to the war between Russian and British Empires from 1853-1856… a fact that struck me as very odd given the fact that most of the conflict in that war occurred on the Crimean Peninsula. I reasoned that A Russian Bride in Queenscliff would involve the fort and espionage - a sort of antipodean Thirty Nine Steps. Of course I was wrong. I should have known better than to second guess Colin Mockett. His mentality acuity took us back to Queenscliff in 1909 on a tale of unrequited love, mysterious correspondence from St Petersburg, a villainous railway developer and pseudo politician and a femme fatale from foreign fields.
The show was preceded by the usual Mockettian patter and one of the best ipod jokes I've heard in a long time.
The hero Mr Alfred Hitchcock was played by a befuddled and bemused Malcolm John and his demure daughter, the heroine and the focus of audience ahhs, by Shirley Power. Their next door neighbor, a Mr Clifton Springs, was played by Colin who presented the audience with a range of expressions not before seen by Drop Of A Hat aficionados and ranging from puppy dog adoration to stunned mullet stare. The villain, black bearded and black hearted Mr Charles Wallington, was played by the well known scoundrel Robert Trott. He was deservedly the focus of audience boos. Mistress Emma Jones with the help of an obliging fox played the Russian bride, Olga Notalotova with Slavic intensity, earning the description of ‘rouble rouser'. I'm not sure what she didn't have a lot of, but it wasn't looks or enthusiasm.
In case you thought that this was an unlikely story somehow made believable by larger than life, over the top characters, and lacked the music and songs which characterize Drop Of A Hat shows, let me reassure you that each tortuous link in the storyline was accompanied by parlour music of the period. This brought the audience back to earth before another foray into the fertile mind of the show's writer. Mr Alfred Hitchcock playing pianoforte accompanied Miss Hitchcock's moving version of Home Sweet Home, Mr Clifton Spring's interpretation of She's My Lady Love and Mr Wallington's resonant and stirring renditions of Champagne Charlie, Charlie's Parliament Song (aka The Man That Broke The Bank at Monte Carlo) and All Investors Love a Railway. I do not have to tell you the original title of that last song, do I? The lyrics of most of these songs had been modified, appropriately, by Colin to facilitate audience comprehension of the plot.
For me the highlights included Tanenbaum and Silent Night sung by Mary Ellen Hitchcock (aka Shirley Power) and Olga Notalotva (aka Emma Jones). My seat placed me in a position to view their well-lit faces against the black backdrop…..magic! I also loved Shirley singing the song made famous by Kathleen Ferrier, Blow the Wind Southerly.
Yes, but did I like the show? Absolutely! Suspend your disbelief and go to see A Russian Bride in Queenscliffe at St Luke's, Belmont at 2.30pm on Sunday November 29. I hope Drop Of A Hat keep this show on their books to be repeated on other occasions, such as Christmas 2010. I'd certainly see it again.
- Bryan Eaton

Good for young and old

Jack & The Beanstalk directed by Liz Lester for Medimime, November 21 2009.

This big, bustling boisterous production carried all the familiar Medimime trademarks being a tuneful, colourful updated version of British pantomime. Set in mythical medieval England it had every traditional component bar one. There was the big choreographed chorus dressed in mop-caps & aprons or doublets & hose; a pair of star-crossed lovers (one of whom was pretty the other dashing); an impoverished-then-later-re-instated king who matched up with a cross-dressed dame; a pair of bumbling authority figures; a dopey/lovable anti-hero with matching dashing partner; two people in a (lovable) cow suit; a fairy godmother and contrasting evil demon; a frightening ogre and the corniest of storylines that ended up in an astonishingly contrived ending that had everyone living happily ever after. The only missing element was that this principal boy was played by a feller and not a leggy girl in tights.
But this mattered not a jot to the house-full audience which was pretty much equally divided along ageist lines, 50% adults, 50% pre-teen children. The kids were well entertained by the colour & movement, bash and pizzazz of panto antics while the adults were kept amused by the local references, innuendo and obvious contrivances in the script.
The whole thing was strung-out and way too long, but that was alright because the audience of 21st Century tots simply treated it as if they were watching a film or DVD. They talked, pointed, moved, fidgeted or got their parents to take them to the toilet in between the bits they found interesting. And the astonishing thing was that we all, every one of us, off-stage and on, had a whale of a time and raised a lot of money for the Geelong Hospital.
If there ever was a win-win-win situation, Medimime's annual show delivers it in spades.
This Jack & The Beanstalk was the 35th Medimime panto. I've seen a good half of these – including a previous Jack & Beanstalk in 1997 and I'm delighted to say that this was among the best I've seen. The 2009 Medimime was a slick and smooth stage product with a professional gloss. Much is due to the dedication of director Liz Lester with her assistant Ken Hemmens. They chose to use the same King as 1997 in Colin Riley. Then he was a dentist, now he's a manager with Dental Health Services Victoria – and a word-and-action perfect Panto Royal. Back in 1997 Jack was played by a leggy girl while today's hero was a singing/dancing young thespian in Jonathon Lawrence. The 1997 Dame was Medimime stalwart Peter Callan, while 2009 Dame Dan Eastwood kept that high standard while looking remarkably like a ravished Shirley MacLaine and sounding like that other Dame from Moonee Ponds. Sonia McCall–White made an outstanding Jumping Joan, Campbell Peter a suitably dorky Simple Simon. Jessica Scott was correctly twee as Princess Felicia while Belinda Hynes' Fairy Evergreen was full of promise. Laura Jones and Jo MacCarthy were beautifully tuned out as Bubble & Squeak while Dale Bradford and Ash Chappell made fearsome two-headed Giant Blunderbore. But in the eyes of the young audience all these were overshadowed by Trevor Robinson's horned Demon, who drew louder and louder boos with his every entrance – and milked them to great effect.
A tight and neat musical combo conducted by Carmel Schulze and led by Barry Lynch on an old upright backed the live musical numbers with élan and the chorus delighted in their big choreographed numbers.
All together, 2009 marked another success for Geelong's medical theatricals and their good friends.

Colin Mockett

Joyful and triumphant

Seasons Greetings directed by Scott Beaton for Geelong Rep, November 20 2009.

This cheerful and fast-moving production concentrated on the ‘Merry' part of Christmas.
It's not difficult to imagine first-time director Scott Beaton responding to the news that Rep had agreed to back this project with a ‘Whoopee! Now we can have some fun!' Because that gleeful attitude was evident throughout every aspect of this production.
We were greeted by an inflatable musical Santa in the Woodbin foyer, with a real (?) Santa and four glamorous ‘Greetettes' circulating among the pre-show guests spreading sweeties and goodwill. This eye-catching quartet of Santa vamps turned out to be part of the performance, too. Dressed in high-heeled mini-skirted Santa lurex, Gemma Considine, Cassi Clingan-Borst, Rhiannon Hodgkinson and Amy Price distracted each scene-change by delivering sultry yet joyfully innocent versions of corny old Christmas songs in front of the stage. Their efforts drew warm applause – and their happy enthusiasm spread throughout the whole play.
On stage proper, Alan Ayckbourn's 20-year-old comedy of English social mores suffering the strains of Christmas was treated with even more of director Scott's exuberance – with the result that it came out fresh and very funny.
The cleverly designed set was awash with Christmas kitch. On it, Scott had assembled a high-quality team of actors to deliver Ayckbourn's sharp script and enthused them with equal measures of understanding, dedication and fun. The result was a smooth, extremely funny well-presented piece of seasonal comedy theatre.
The on-stage talent was evenly distributed with every character well-formed. The action centred on a Christmas house-party held by the gorgeous and beautifully stressed Lauren O'Callaghan and her less-than-attentive dedicated hobbyist husband Steven Georgiadis. Their customary Christmas guests were a choice assortment of ill-matched couples and friends. There was vacant air-head Lachlan Murphy with wonderfully competent Rebecca Bennett, both showing excellent comedy instincts and timing; There was Barry Eeles' incompetent doctor and would-be children's entertainer – a complex acting task made look easy by Barry - with Melissa Musselwhite as his dizzy alcoholic wife. There was evil-minded grumpy bigoted uncle Bryan Eaton and anxious hung-up unmarried niece Deb Welch. This group, every one aware and tolerant of each other's foibles, was ultimately disturbed then disrupted by the arrival of a newcomer unaware of the group's unwritten rules. This was Deb's guest, a good-looking author played with suitable naivity by Chris Young.
I won't tell here what follows, or what results from the seasonal social turmoil. Enough to say that laugh follows laugh and it's heartily recommended you to go see for yourself how a well-crafted script in the hands of a talented crew directed with lashings of dedication and enthusiasm can result in a simply joyful evening of theatre.
- Colin Mockett

Ointment fails to sooth

A Fly In The Ointment directed by Dennis King for Peninsula Players Drysdale Hall, November 11, 2009.

Drysdale's Peninsula Players has built a cheerful, happy reputation over the years by competently and successfully staging many English comedy plays.
But then came this Fly in the Ointment.
Although billed as a bedroom farce in the English tradition, this play was in practice a clumsy, clunky overlong piece of implausibility. Its ponderous, unlikely storyline was punctuated by recurring jokelines that were unfunny at first, becoming less so with each repeating.
Though written by Englishman Derek Benfield in 1996 (when he was 70) A Fly In The Ointment was really set somewhere between 1920s and 1960s. There were no telephones used, for example; the method employed for calling the police was to open a window and blow a whistle. Eventually the same police officer would arrive through that very window. Yet this was no absurd Monte-Python send-up, it was aspiring to be a comedy play.
The plotline was pure 1960s bedroom farce, but without that decade's guile, glamour or titillation.
The slow and deliberate storyline followed a British politician, Minister for the Environment, no less, who, when caught out having an affair, lies through his teeth to both his feather-headed mistress and wife, convincing them of his innocence with ever more implausible stories.
Mix in some compromising photographs, a pestering (elderly) pizza delivery boy, a dumb (elderly) policewoman intent on either eating, arresting or getting laid and an irresponsible GP out of control with lovesickness and the result became a production that swung between silly and ridiculous. Unfortunately, it missed funny by a considerable distance.
And this was such a pity, because we, in the audience, were ready to laugh. With PPs reputation in mind, we had come prepared for comedy, nay searching for it - but found ourselves mostly bewildered by the play's heavy-handed inanity.
Sensing this, the on-stage crew cranked up their facial expressions to get laughs and lifted the frantic physical comedy level until the whole thing took on an air of clownish desperation.
To their credit, every one of the actors was totally practiced in word and movement. They were led by Russell Campbell's glib, rubber-faced pollie and Emma Soloman as his twee dumb-blonde mistress. Meryl Friend, as the wronged wife, delivered her implausible lines with authority; while Lee Foyster and Keith Lowe, as unlikely police and pizza procurers, added further to the play's incredulity. Brendan O'Halloran's posy-toting doctor stretched it to even greater lengths.
To be kind, perhaps this play suffered from the present climate-change controversy, in that maybe we were looking for a bit more sensitivity and gravitas from a minister for the environment, rather than a standard lying fool of a stage-pollie. But I think not. This was just a dud choice, PP. Best to put it behind you and regard it as just another fly in the ointment.
- Colin Mockett.

Carried away with Skill, Surprises - and Memories

Concert of the Decade VIII from Drop of a Hat Productions, Costa Hall, October 3, 2009.

For the past eight years every Geelong Senior's Festival has commenced with a Concert of the Decade. This year saw audiences at the Costa Hall savour concert number VIII, a program of popular and classical music compèred as always by Colin Mockett and Roy Carson and played by some of Geelong's best and most accomplished performers. Colin was the show's writer, producer and director and was assisted in these tasks by a small army of volunteers. The format was unchanged from previous concerts. The first half was populated by songs from every decade of the twentieth century. This ensured ample opportunity for the popular songs of years ago to elicit in audience members memories that just needed a few bars to reassert themselves. (There seemed to be agreement among the audience that we might have to wait a while before pop music of the 21st century gets into the program, if it gets in at all). The emphasis was on more classical themes in the second half, with music that we all recognized but whose origins and composers we may not be able to identify.
As I drove to the concert I wondered what memories would be triggered for me and what treats were in store, because the hallmark of previous concerts was variety. I was not disappointed. I certainly didn't expect the stirring Geelong RSL Pipes and Drums, exotic Cuban Dancers or a trio of vibrant young xylophonists... and as for the memories – more of that later.
The concert got underway with two iconic Beatles numbers played by the Drop of a Hatband. No, that is not a new band, you do know them. They are recycled Amazingly Graceful Band members or second-hand Geelong Scratch Band members, Shirley Power, Geoff Sinnbeck, Matiss Schubert and Sandy Brady. In addition to Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and With a Little Help From My Friends, the newly monickered Drop of a Hatband turned its talents to evergreens such as Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen, Handle Me With Care, Guantanamera and Those Were the Days. Those who have been to previous concerts will know that a highlight of each show has been Shirley singing a song made famous by performers such as Eartha Kitt or Peggy Lee (my favourite was Edith Piaf's Non Je Ne Regrette Rien); this time it was a moving interpretation of Fields of Gold, written by Sting and made popular by Eva Marie Cassidy.
Who doesn't like Brass Bands, especially good ones? The Geelong West Brass Band showed that it is able to play traditional marches like Blaze Away and apply a softer touch to He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother with a wonderful solo by Wendy Steele. Then the nine pipers and six drummers of the Geelong RSL Pipes and Drums took not only those of Celtic origin, but the whole audience to Scotland with Scotland the Brave and Amazing Grace.
It was appropriate that the second half was opened by Stringendo, a string quartet that has as its leader and first violin, Wendy Galloway. Wendy is the co-ordinator of the Geelong Philharmonic Orchestra, which was formed for the Concert of the Decade series. Stringendo also included cellist Francesca Rousseaux, violist Manfred Pohlenz and second violinist Cecilia Bell and for their first number, the 3rd movement Summer from Vivaldi's Four Seasons, they accompanied a talented young soloist in Dorothy Tang.
Music written by Alexander Borodin took centre stage in the next four numbers. Stringendo played the Nocturne and Scherzo from his String Quartet No 2 and the audience was then treated to the reincarnation of each of these as popular hits in the 1953 musical Kismet. Manfred Pohlenz, viola player, became Manfred Pohlenz, opera singer, to sing And This Is My Beloved to a hushed audience then local, well known soprano Colleen O'Toole sang Baubles, Bangles and Beads and I was surrounded by an accompanying humming chorus.
The prize-winning Geelong Concert Band under its director Mark Irwin showed just how accomplished it is with a varied programme which included music by Leonard Bernstein, Carl Orf and Leroy Anderson. I had often heard the latter's famous The Typewriter, but had never seen it performed. It was perfectly executed by the band and a member of the percussion section, Erin Alexander, who donned glasses for the 'secretarial' role – and she never missed a key! The Latin rhythms of Brazil by Ary Barroso, one of Brazil 's most successful songwriters in the first half of the 20th century carried Cuban dancers and U-Candance couples onto the stage to give full expression to the music of the Geelong Concert Band. Then the tree young xylophonists, Erin Alexander, Stephen Horman and Ryan Parker rounded off the Geelong Concert Band's performance with their spirited Fantasy on a Chanty, an audience hit. Following a rousing finish from Sgt Pepper's Repise, Colin sprang a final surprise. To everybody's delight Frank Costa appeared on stage nonchalantly but firmly holding the trophy won a week previously by the Geelong Cats. Frank reminded the audience of just how special this team was, not that they required much reminding, but the string of positive statistics that Frank recalled helped prove the point. But then, as Colin had noted in the program, Geelong can be justly proud of its talented and hardworking footy players - and also the gifted and dedicated artists who had entertained at this Concert of the Decade VIII.
The concert ended with the now traditional Radetzsky March and an audience full of praise for the performers and concert organisers.
Oh yes – the memory. Listening to the RSL Pipes and Drums I was carried back over 40 years to when, as a young student emigrating to Canada from Ireland, the boat dropped anchor at Greenock, Scotland and on a misty morning families of Scottish migrants boarded the boat from a small craft in whose prow stood pipers playing laments. Such is the power of music...
If you didn't get to Concert of the Decade VIII, remember to look out for number IX next year and relive some of your memories.
- Bryan Eaton

Plenty of enjoyment in Private Lives

Private Lives directed by Elaine Mitchell for Theatre of Winged Unicorn. Ceres Hall Sept 27, 2009.

This delightful piece of theatre had elements to enjoy at every level. Noel Coward's elegant, witty script was played out on an accurate 1930s set shoe-horned on to Ceres Hall's tiny stage. The talented cast, bedecked in sumptuous 30s costumes, delivered Coward's brittle dialogue with terribly, terribly cut-glass accents and lashings of period panache. The simple plotline - which revolves around a rich, shallow divorced couple, well-matched in contrite and tactless superficiality, who meet again when coincidentally honeymooning in adjoining rooms - was unwound to its (fairly obvious) conclusion with a great deal of flair and flamboyance. This was more than enough to satisfy the refined tastes of its 21st Century audience, which laughed throughout – in all the right places.
It should be noted here that when played with such care, skill and talent, even 80-year-old marriage dilemmas can bring laughter aplenty to today's supposedly media-satiated cynical audiences. And this was a particularly skilled cast, under the control of an artistic, intelligent and experienced director.
The on-stage talent was headed by wonderful Jocelyn Mackay, who wrung every nuance from her gilded, lovely but so self-centred shallow Amanda. In Jocelyn's hands, this character became real, and curiously lovable, even. But more than a match for her was Steven Georgiardis, as ex-husband Elyot, the part originally played by Noel Coward himself. Steven managed to convey this with Cowardesque gestures and diction, while still stamping his own worth on the part. The on-stage wrestle between these two was a masterly piece of choreography in such a tiny space. But there was more…As their wronged new spouses (spice?) Kate Hunter and Ross Pearce each gave beautifully weighted performances which both fleshed out their characters while offering light and shade to the leads. Beautiful Kate moved her Sibyl from cloying newlywed to perplexed wronged wife with aplomb while Ross took his Victor through prim bridegroom to blustering aggrieved husband with accomplished ease. These four principals were neatly supported when necessary by verbose cold-ridden French maid Marylin Nash.
Altogether, this became much more than a revived dated Noel Coward play. In the hands of these Unicorners, it was a clever, refreshing and almost joyful piece of human-behaviour theatre. I can't recommend it highly enough. Go. Enjoy.
- Colin Mockett

TTT & APA's capital evening

Three One Act Plays from TTT and APA. Torquay Senior Citizens Hall. September 3 2009

This evening's first and third plays were In The Blinking Of An Eye and Garbage, from the Torquay Theatre Troupe (TTT), both using different actors but the same director in Michael Baker. They bracketed a voice play Self Accusation, presented by neighbouring group Anglesea Performing Arts (APA) directed by Iris Walshe-Howling.
The first play, In The Blinking Of An Eye by Welsh writer Jeremy Hylton Davies was a simple, seated, two-hander with Terry Roseburgh and Janine McLean as a pair of widows reminiscing over their (shared) dead husband. All of the play's comedy came from the slow revelation that said husband was an out-of control drunken maniac, frequently jailed and a menace to everybody within range, especially the police - and his wives. To hear his raving exploits sweetly discussed by two quietly co-operative little old ladies was, essentially, this short, bittersweet play's single joke. Terry and Janine delivered their words faultlessly on a simple, static set using a strange semi-northern English, or Irish, possibly border Scottish accent. Or was it Swedish? Either way, it made a pleasant opener to the evening, giving no clue to what was to come next.
This was, after a short interval, a piece of extraordinary disciplined theatre in Self Accusation, by Austrian writer Peter Handke. This had to be the ultimate in ego writing, explaining a single life (Handke's) from birth to maturity in a series of ‘I am, I do, I don't, I did…' etc statements. These were delivered in chopped, quick-fire tightly-disciplined orchestration by six black-clad female actors standing in-line, choir-style with their scripts on music stands. The overall effect was compelling and surprisingly revealing, as the audience, through voice inflexion and stance, discovered aspects of the six women's own personalities as they delivered Handke's self-examination. From the left, we saw precise and clear-cut Valda Connelly, neatly organized Nikki Watson, wise elder Liz Gustus, vulnerable, aggressive Kirstin Honey, gently humorous Janine McKenzie and sharply adept Genevieve Roberts. Together, and as always under Ms Walshe-Howling's direction, these formed a highly disciplined team that delivered a memorable piece of theatre.
Then another short interval led to the final play Garbage, by Helen Wyngard. This was a bittersweet take on Australian culture, centred on a trio of homeless people. These were Maryanne Doolan, an experienced TTT actor clearly revelling in her downmarket character Mags – and revealing the dirtiest laugh I've heard in years.
Andrew Gaylard gave us Sniffy, a gangling, shambling one-dimensional comedy-hobo while Lisa Berry showed depth, understanding and pathos as the damaged Florrie in a play of poignant meaning.
The three plays illustrated the underpinning philosophy of our two fresh coastal companies. It was significant that TTT chose to deliver two social dramas simply and well, while APA again took us to the cutting edge of theatrical innovation. Together, it made an evening of fascinating theatre.
- Colin Mockett

Travis Tames Wilde Play

Gross Indecency, The Three Trials Of Oscar Wilde directed by Travis Eccles for Geelong Rep, Woodbin Theatre August 28 2009.

Geelong Rep took a couple of risks staging this play. Not only because Moises Kaufman's edgy, intelligent script brought to light rifts in Victorian society that have obvious parallels today; but also because it was in the hands of inexperienced young director Travis Eccles. Add to this his selection of a largely unknown cast, including a newcomer in the crucial lead role, and the nervous foyer smiles shared among Rep's committee on opening night were understandable.
But by 10.40pm these had been replaced with wide grins of triumph, for Travis and his team had staged a production of unusual depth, carried off with elegance and style. It was a mark of this play's impact that following the opening-night final cast bows and long applause, well after the stage had emptied and lights had gone up, the audience remained seated, quietly discussing among themselves the implications and fall-out from what they had witnessed.
The base of this was, of course, Kaufman's script, which used court records, biographies and reports from the time to bring together a documentary-style staging of remarkable eloquence. His central point was not whether Oscar Wilde was homosexual – that was pretty obvious from the outset – but rather why Oscar allowed himself to be tried, ruined and jailed when so many avenues of escape had been offered to him. Each was explained in full - and turned down. That stubborn Wildean trait, along with so many promising stage debuts, was the core of the audience's after-show stalling.
Foremost among the Rep newcomers was Ubaldino Mantelli, who played Wilde with an uncertain, introspected streak, only occasionally flashing into the expected flamboyant extrovert. His quotes may have been familiar, but Ubaldino's nervous, proud and slightly stilted delivery allowed them fresh meaning.
Playing his (double) nemesis, as the Marquess of Queensbury along with barrister Charles Gill, Colin Urquhart displayed both his understanding of the two very different roles and his mastery of acting skills to portray them accurately. This skill was matched by another excellent newcomer, Nick Addison, who played the eloquent barrister Sir Edward Carson with icy precision in the first trial, then a couple of significant characters in the others. In the key role of Lord Alfred Douglas was Morgan Jenkins, dominating the stage from a number of peripheral positions by the sheer force of his characterization, which, although foppish, at no time descended to stereotypical homosexual flouting or pouting. Stephen Simpson played Wilde's lawyer Sir Edward Clarke quite straight – in both senses - in a deliberately underplayed performance that allowed the emphasis to remain firmly on his client. These principals, along with staid and stable judge Ted Williams, were supported by a trio of excellent actors in Scott Beaton, Lachlan Murphy and Andrew Kelly, between them playing 19 different parts without missing a beat or a nuance.
Now in Kaufman's original 1993 play, these nine actors had taken all the roles, including female ones. But for this Rep performance, director Eccles added four more characters, all female, as reporters and linking narrators, all dressed in tail suits when not playing women's parts. And this addition, almost as a mini Greek Chorus, worked spectacularly well. This was as much to do with the skills, versatility and concentration of Marja Le Hunt, Wendy Robinson, Patsy Sanaghan and Sarah Freeman as it did to the clever two-level staging which gave them central positions without obvious prominence.
There was much to admire in this production, from its (mostly) excellent costuming, slick scene-changes, simple set and subtle lighting through to its more obvious well-drilled and thoughtful acting performances. But having said that, not every innovation worked on the night. There was one point where auctioneer Scott was selling off the Wilde possessions while narration and trial continued elsewhere on-stage which descended into an unintelligible cacophony. But for the most part, this production was memorable for its fresh, lively and highly professional polish.
So the cast and crew's after-show smiles were not only of relief – they were of pride in a job very well done.
- Colin Mockett

Evening of Musical Pride

A Show Stopping Concert presented by Geelong Concert Bands and guests. Costa Hall, August 29 2009.

Despite the glamorous special guests and choice of Broadway/film musical material, the overall impression from this concert was, as always in the case of a Geelong Concert Band performance, a feeling of admiration for the abilities on show - mixed with pride. The pride is because with the GCB, our City has the State's premier concert band.
All the component GCB parts were on display, The Youth, Workshop, Big and Senior Bands, some with new members, new conductors – more than 150 musicians, all showing trademark GCB discipline, dedication, concentration and ability.
First up the GCB Youth Band showed that every one of its 70+ members had absorbed the joy its director Kate Zampatti obtains from making music. The Band played three numbers, each commendable in its own way. First the rousing new Robin Hood soundtrack theme, followed by a compilation from The Wizard of Oz which included a delightful Tuba solo of If I Only Had A Brain from diminutive Nicholas Ng, as unlikely a tuba player as you'll ever see. The band finale was a selection from Chicago, delivered with lashings of musical sleaze and a great deal of verve.
Then the GCB's intake of brand-new musicians, the Workshop Band, appeared with its new director Mel Humphrey. Mel and her 50 musicians plus a dozen tutors from the Senior band showed an amazing maturity, a great deal of skill and a good dose of fun in playing the short but difficult Sakura Sakura, the intense percussion-led Penta and happy Sandpaper Symphony, which was (of course) both smooth and polished.
Then followed a set of four big production vocal numbers from the GCB Big Band with its sax-playing leader Ben Anderson. First Paper Moon then L.O.V.E Love both delivered with oomph by co-compere Reyna Hudgel in black-sequined glamour, followed by audience favourite Tim McCallum who sang a commendable Mack The Knife though clearly not in his preferred key - and a silky version of What A Wonderful World.
The second half was all Senior Band under its inspirational conductor Mark Irwin. The 71-member band was fresh from winning the Open A-Grade title at the State championships the previous weekend. It began with one of its winning pieces Cartoon, a complex – and exhilarating - compilation of cinema cartoon clips delivered with faultless ability and concentration despite scarlet-clad boa-wielding Reyna's vamping distraction of conductor Mark. Then it was back to the evening's theme with Tim McCallum fronting the band for On The Street Where You Live, again, a smooth, professional performance despite a tricky key - then a selection from Miss Saigon, and a big, boisterous Rhythm Of Life duet from Reyna and Tim. The evening finished with the theme from Star Wars The Phantom Menace, suitably a big, spectacular instrumental number displaying the band's discipline, skill and spirit. Each of the evening's numbers were linked with precise commentary from Reyna and Chris Hudgel in matching black glamwear. All told, this amounted to an evening of high musical skill - and pride.

Colin Mockett

Lyric's big Shout!

Shout! The Legend of the Wild One directed by Davina Smith Crowley for Lyric Theatre Society. Blakiston Theatre August 8, 2009.

Wow! What a high powered production of Shout! The J O'K Story. Director Davina Smith Crowley and her talented team has brought together a production filled with high energy dance numbers and rockin’ songs. And what a talented group of local actors, too. The show’s infectious music had the audience singing and clapping along by the final number.
Johnny O’Keefe, played by Clint Sanders, showed us the hopes and aspirations of a rising star and ultimately the problems found on his road to success.  Clint not only treated the audience to an evening of entertaining singing and dancing but also showed us impressive glimpses into the darker side of J.O.K.
Ashleigh Watson's portrayal of Marianne, J O’K’s first wife, made a telling counterpoint to the determined O’Keefe. Her rendition of Crazy was one of the highlights of the show.
Lee Gordon, the American entrepreneur who promoted Johnny O’Keefe, was played with cool brashness by Grant Whiteside.  Ray Jones and Leona Daniel were strutting their comedic as well as vocal skills as Ray and Thelma O’Keefe and Gemma Considine was a delight as Johnny O’Keefe’s second wife, Maureen.
Adding many highlights to the show were Dan Eastwood, Adam Di Martino, Samuel Duxon and Lee Chandler - together performing as The Delltones - and Dale Bradford as a memorable Col Joye.
As we have come to expect from Geelong Lyric, there was a big and highly talented supporting cast on show.  This was Amy Price, Audrey Davidson, Bec  McDonald, Brad Bowden, Celeste Polson, Claire Tilly, Darcy Carroll, Kirsty Landcaster, Laura Dillon, Lauren Flood, Yasha Nisanov, Lauren Middlecoup, Sean Gearon, Lauren Pettigrove, Mellisa Musselwhite, Jules Hart, Sharon Szova, Simon Thorne, Shell Szova, Alard Pett, Charlotte Crowley and Will Crowther. Together, they enhanced and projected the show into an exuberant celebration of the times.  On stage, they were clearly having a ball and this led the audience to do the same.
A few technical issues occurred when I saw the show.  The microphones crackled and popped inappropriately and at times were turned up late, missing the beginnings of songs.  Some scene changes were a little long for my liking, and had the effect of slowing the action down when it should have built.  That said, it didn’t take long for the cast to push the the show's momentum back once the lights came up.
Congratulations to all those involved and I recommend that you don’t miss this show if you’re looking for a rock and rolling, entertaining night out.
- Steven Georgiadis

Shakespeare's Free Radicals

The Popular Mechanicals directed by Peter Jukes for Geelong Rep, Woodbin Theatre June 26, 2009

I doubt there has ever been a less accurate title. This play was neither mechanical – it was silkily fluid and adept in its staging – nor popular, because frankly I can't see strings of bottom and fart jokes gaining a mass audience in today's theatrical climate. A better title might have been ‘Shakespeare's Free Radicals', for this production took the bawdy comic players from A Midsummer Night's Dream – Bottom, Quince, Snout et al, and gave them freedom to entertain for an entire evening with a script expanded into today's humour. In the hands of Rep director Peter Jukes and his expert team, this resulted in a rich, irreverent fast-paced bawdy comedy that was smoothly staged, packed with exceptional performances; and spotted with unintended irony.
It was evident by the interval that The Popular Mechanicals had polarized its audience. Patrons either loved its fast and slick coarse humour or loathed it for its baseness and deliberate inelegance. There was no middle ground in foyer discussions. “After all,” explained one audience member, “a five-minute string of fart jokes remains a five-minute string of fart jokes, no matter how expertly it's delivered.”
That expert delivery began slightly off-stage, with a faultless performance of piano playing and sound effects from David Fox, backing some well-delivered and extremely well-choreographed musical numbers.
These were seamlessly performed by an exceptionally well-drilled on-stage team led by Scott Popovic who gave carpenter/director Quince just the right amounts of gullibility and optimism. This was balanced by Andrew Ward, as Flute the designated female actor, who made his uncertainty and discomfort with his casting apparent while remaining certain in his true role. In an upturn from Shakespeare's time, director Jukes cast two women in men's roles, with gorgeous Tina Rettke resplendent in a Winehouse wig bringing punk-glamour to Robin Starveling's part and delightful Debbie Fraser rock-solid in every aspect as Snout, the wall. Steven Georgiadis dazzled as Snug the stand-up and sometime lead singer and Geoff Gaskill was simply brilliant in the dual roles of Bottom and Mowldie. Geoff dominated every scene with a performance that switched instantly between Bottom's ego-driven indecision and Mowldie's leering, chortling, rudely elemental drunk.
The Popular Mechanical's costume, setting and production values were never less than first-rate, its acting outstanding; its furious pace perfect for laugh-a-minute fun. Yet it might not easily find public acceptance, not only because of its vulgar content, but also from a couple of further ironies. The first concerned a climactic highlight in a cleverly staged and choreographed puppet-dance using rubber chickens, which unfortunately was just too close to a recent well-publicised crude footballer-produced video, therefore negating much of its humour. The other stemmed from Peter Juke's casting in light of the Elizabethan custom of male-only actors. For among the plethora of below-the-waist jokes, not one addressed what was patently obvious to the audience; that the only stage female was cast to an unwilling male from a group that contained two excellent female players. This, perhaps the richest source of potential humour, was totally ignored, producing perhaps an even bigger irony than the play's title.

- Colin Mockett

Skill Meets Charm at the Opry

The Grand Ole Opry in Drysdale, The Amazingly Graceful Band for Drop Of A Hat Productions.  Potato Shed, Drysdale, June 23, 2009

Question: if you take twenty three popular songs that had once been played or sung at the Grand Ole Opry theatre in Nashville Tennessee, ten musical instruments, five talented performers and a single microphone what do you get? Answer: a memorable morning's entertainment. For those in the audience who loved the previous Drop Of A Hat production ‘Over the Sea to Skye', any concerns that the trans-Atlantic shift in focus would diminish the show's appeal were quickly dispelled.
The program states that although the music presented at the Grand Ole Opry varied from country to bluegrass, from honky-tonk to western swing, it was ‘always delivered with high musical skill and down-to-earth folksy charm'. These attributes were also evident at the Potato Shed and were undoubtedly responsible for the show's success.
The first number ‘Walk Right In' set the tone and it and the subsequent 22 songs displayed the vocal skills of Shirley Power and Geoff Sinnbeck, the technical proficiency of Shirley, Geoff, Sandy Brady and Matiss Schubert playing an array of stringed instruments and the production and writing talent of Colin Mockett in this, the first public performance by The Amazingly Graceful Band.
I have a sneaky feeling that the solitary microphone helped a lot too. It reduced the need for electric leads that normally clutter a concert stage and which create a feeling of chaos, the antithesis of the down-to earth and old-time charm required for the success of this show. More importantly however, the single microphone revealed the ability of the musicians to play together as an ensemble. For a mandolin, fiddle, guitar or harp to take the lead, the respective musician had to move closer to the microphone but not too close to detract from the accompaniment. The movement of musicians closer to and away from the microphone made for interesting viewing and enjoyable listening.
So successful was the balance between instruments that regardless of which instrument took the lead, I was readily able to hear the three accompanying strings.
The songs were accompanied by two monologues written by Colin. The first was in the style of Garrison Keillor, whose News from Lake Wobegon can be heard on Saturday afternoons on the US radio show A Prairie Home Companion. Colin's Lake Wobegon was not in Minnesota , but near Colac and the touching story he told featured a youthful Matiss Schubert. It was a very clever inclusion which added greatly to the home-spun atmosphere of the show.
I think it possible that members of the audience might have returned home not only lighter in spirit, but exercised in body. I was aware of the constant movement of shoes tapping, heads nodding and fingers moving with every song.
Indeed the first few relatively quiet bars of the Morpeth Rant, expertly played by Matiss, were accompanied by what sounded like a veritable army of marching feet but in reality turned out to be just two hundred tapping toes. That says it all. 

Bryan Eaton

Mary's Triumph In A Top Duo

Two Winter Solstice Plays directed by Carole Mallett Potato Shed June 19 2009

The Potato Shed management wasn't confident about these plays. The standard pre-show announcement about turning off mobile phones ended with the warning “and we trust that you are not offended by anything you may hear tonight…” They need not have worried. What followed was an enthralling evening of cutting-edge theatre. True, there were some strong swear-words, but these were totally in context and the plays would have been considerably poorer for their omission or watering down. Anyway, the all-adult opening-night audience was far too engrossed to be offended. All the after-play discussions in the foyer was all about the high quality of thinking-adult fare we had experienced, rather that any shock from its language.
The first play was a one-woman triumph for actor Mary Steuten. This was The Same Old Story, written by Italian playwright Dario Fo and billed with total accuracy as ‘a feminist play written by a man'. Mary appeared dressed for zany aerobics in a boxing ring and in true prizefighter style spent half an hour sparring on her toes, when she wasn't writhing through imaginary bedroom scenes, bouncing off the ropes, wriggling from clumsy grappling embraces while seamlessly relating the female side of a gender-sparring session. Then her vigour shifted from sexual to maternal as her story unfolded further – a pregnant Mary considered and rejected an abortion as a solution, gave birth and then shifted into frantic and tired new-parent mode, all by using mime coupled with pithy commentary and wry black humour. Then she switched again to quietly telling us the blackest of adult Fairy Tales. It was breathtaking stuff and Mary handled the thing wonderfully, brilliantly – triumphantly.
But then there was more. After an interval mulled wine came the second play, Let Me In which was written by the woman who directed both plays, Carole Mallett. This play also featured Mary Steuten, but in a very different role. This time she played a downtrodden, troubled, rejected wife – a part she portrayed with realism and understanding. But now she was matched by a full on-stage cast in an adult black comedy that was every bit as absorbing as the first play.
Set in the lobby of an apartment building, this one had a series of tenants coincidentally locked out by their partner/spouses. As well as Mary, there was Rob MacLeod as a dodgy and pushy gay/bisexual turned out by his boyfriend, Susana Nicholls as sensual pole dancer whose husband demanded she perform routines at home and Philip Besancon as a ‘roadie' husband devastated when his family rejects his oft-absent lifestyle. All find themselves bedded down for the night in the lobby under the care – if that's the word – of a cat-loving, knowing and apparently unsympathetic concierge played with delicious indifference by Kerrie Reynolds.
I'll not reveal how this play panned out because there are more performances to come – and I heartily recommend that you go and experience for yourself this pair of delightfully thoughtful, adult, well-acted, well-cast well-directed and very well-delivered plays.
Thank you, Carole, Thank you Potato Shed, and thank you CoGG for bringing them to Geelong.

Colin Mockett

Fred masters The Master

Nude With Violin directed by Ross Pearce for Torquay Theatre Troupe, Torquay Seniors Hall May 21 2009.

In his lifetime Noel Coward was titled ‘The Master'. His plays, packed with short, pithy dialogue reflected his own clipped mannerisms as well as his frequently bitter views on society in his time.
As such, his characters today are difficult to capture – it's necessary to play them weighed heavy with sardonic irony and light on meaningful delivery. It's also necessary to be ultra-sharp with timing and off-hand with responses.
The majority of plays post-Coward have called for their actors to utilise diametrically opposite skills, with plenty of stress on meaningful elements.
So it was a pleasure to watch Fred Preston's performance as the knowing, adept and politely derisive manservant Sebastien in this, one of Noel Coward's lesser, later and seldom-performed comedies. Fred's sardonic smile, arched eyebrow and smooth scornfully-subtle delivery was without doubt the play's highlight.
The paper-thin plot had family and friends gathered in the Paris studio of a newly deceased rich and famous artist following his funeral, only to discover that he had been a fraud trading on his reputation – his ‘works' having been painted by a succession of amateur acquaintances. These duly arrive in turn for their cut of any inheritance.
As such Nude With Violin calls for a large cast of mostly small parts around a core of central characters with Fred's Sebastien the key pivot.
His clipped, Coward-friendly delivery allowed Sebastien to dominate every scene, making the other characters appear clumsy by comparison. True, Michael Baker showed ultra-enthusiasm as Clinton the eager American journalist and Michael Lambkin a degree of urbanity as Friedland the art-dealer. Karen Long was sincere and understanding in her part as daughter Jane, Sascha Keet captured the dated dialogue precisely playing son Colin. Terry Roseburgh played the artist's widow with troubled anxiety, while Lisa Berry gave her daughter-in law Pamela's character a brusquely casual manner that was closer to Noel's brittle need. Carleen Thoernberg clearly enjoyed herself as a Russian past-mistress and ditto Maryanne Doolan as a questionable cockney floozy. Siobhan Linde was language-correct as the French maid and Andrew Pearce positioned himself nicely as Maryanne's kept gigolo. Jan Weaver and Samantha Booth supported as a photographer and spoiled child-artist respectively. The set was workable and for the most part the costumes were suitable for their 1950s period.
So all in all, this was a competent and capable play from an able company of players.
What this Nude With Violin lacked was not clothes or music – it was the pace and dialogue-sparkle of Coward's time – and that's a quality extremely difficult to recapture. Just ask Fred.

Colin Mockett

Death? It's a laugh

It's My Party (And I'll Die If I Want To) directed by Tony Wright for Peninsula Players Drysdale Hall May 20. 2009.

I invite you to go and see this play, it's rollicking good fun.
And that's more than a little surprising given the storyline and subjects involved. These start with the acceptance of death then move through a range of social themes including the effects of an overbearing parent on adult behaviour sibling rivalry, unwed pregnancy and the recognition of homosexuality in modern Australian suburban families.
On the face of it, these appear unlikely sources for humour, especially for Peninsula Players, a group that cut its teeth on light English drawing-room farce.
But Elizabeth Coleman's superbly crafted, insightful script coupled with director Tony Wright's straightforward go-for-laughs treatment and this Drysdale version of It's My Party comes across as a classically cheerful laugh-a-minute comedy.
Tony's direction exploited every laugh in Elizabeth 's perceptive script and essentially shifted what was a black comedy into the realms of mainstream stage humour.
On the way he may have lost some subtleties and nuances, but this was hardly noticed by an opening night audience that laughed heartily and literally from go to woe.
The play centred around Russell Campbell's father figure Ron, who, having been told he had an incurable illness with three months to live, chose to wait until the last couple of hours before the three months was up to hold a family air-all goodbye gathering.
Russell carried his part with accomplished blustering aplomb, dominating each scene as well as his stage family and wringing every potential laugh from his dialogue. As his wife Dawn, Jacqui Connor's character swung between being stage-tipsy and timidly resigned to down-to-earth sensible, while clearly articulating and gesturing the humour in every situation. Nick Frcek, as son Michael, grew in confidence after a shaky start to garner his share of laughs while dependable regular Players Monique Smith and Emma Solomon exploited and up-played the tensions between daughters Karen and Debbie and the rest of the family for even more laughter. Keith Lowe added droll deadpan Ted the not-too-perceptive undertaker to give an extra, outside, element and work in even more fun.
Given this treatment, It's My Party (and I'll Die If I Want To) came across as a cheerfully comical, happy evening. It may have submerged some of the intricate subtleties of Ms Coleman's original script – but, hey, every audience member left laughing and cheerfully satisfied. Me too.

Colin Mockett

Very Good Old-fashioned theatre

The Hollow directed by Dennis Mitchell for Theatre of the Winged Unicorn Ceres Hall May 16 2009.

This evening of live theatre was essentially a pleasant step back in time. On stage was an agreeable 1950s Agatha Christie whodunit; but larger than this, the production took us back to the days before small theatre borrowed from TV such things as computer-aided lighting effects, sound-effects, split-stage scene changes and back-projection screen imagery bringing an unfamiliar and sometimes ill-fitting slickness.
Instead, what this low-tech production delivered was an old-style simple play packed with old-fashioned values. It had a single set plonked centre-stage behind a swift-rising red velvet curtain.
The room, though small, was well-constructed, well-lit, accurately furnished and workable. The players' costumes were correct and fitting for the time and the play's casting was first-rate. There were no passengers or bit-part players on view, even though Ms Christie's script called for long gaps between appearances for several characters.
But above all, this Hollow contained a uniformly high standard of stagecraft – of language and acting skills, abilities, discipline and application. This was across the board, from stuffy English aristocrat homeowner Robert Trott, his slightly lost wife, neatly portrayed by Heather Dempsey, and their staid, all-knowing and ever-present butler Bruce Woodley, to as motley a bunch of houseguests as Agatha ever assembled under one stately roof.
Their weekend guests were suave womanizing doctor David Mackay and his insecure doting wife, Miriam Wood, each dealing with his present arty and earthy mistress Davina Smith-Crowley and a poor decent cousin reduced to working in a shop, Kathryn O'Neill. Also on hand was a rich eligible cousin who had been unfairly bequeathed a house and was besotted with Davina the mistress, that's highly respectable Brad Beales, while the doctor's past fiancé, now a Hollywood film vamp, glamorous Emma Jones dropped in unexpectedly. Add in a Kate Hunter's gorblimey cockney housemaid and the stage was set for a classic Christie murder for smooth and able detective Alan Wilson and his trusty capable assistant, constable Will Pearce, to solve.
This, of course, they did with panache while injecting some gentle humour into the deadly goings-on.
It was all beautifully crafted and left the audience with a nostalgic satisfaction not entirely due to the play's writing. This wasn't at all hollow – it was simply fulfilling.

Colin Mockett

The Write Stuff directed by Kelly Clifford for Geelong Repertory Company Woodbin Theatre May 8, 2009.

This double bill of new one-act plays was commissioned and funded by the Gamblers Help initiative – meaning it was paid for by some of the money lost by Victorians on poker machines.
Inevitably both plays were anti-gambling and each featured a different aspect of the vice that today is today sold as ‘entertainment'.
In the first play, The House Always Loses, writers Christine Brown and Andrew Bertuleit used a clever device to highlight the destructive nature of addictive gambling on family life. This had Neil Fletcher, as an addicted father-figure, responding as a poker machine. This ruled out any sort of social progress as machine-like Neil was unable to stop his family fabric disintegrating. He was unaware as wife Meryl Friend first took on extra work to pay for his losses and missed her descent into alcoholism. He didn't see his uncared-for children, Kate Hunter and Alan Wilson, go wild and astray in their own ways.
In concept this sounds an awkward stage device, but in practice it worked extremely effectively, thanks to the quality of stagecraft involved. Neil's part called for him to sit immovable for long stretches, then shift into animated explanations before settling back to blank-faced immobility. His excellent performance lifted that of Meryl, Kate and Alan and gave this play a surprising amount of tension and power. The audience was captured and carried along to the play's unrelenting – and sadly accurate – ending.
The evening's second play, Crook Odds used the same players in different roles, plus the addition of Charlotte Hukvari.
This time the writer, Paul Spinks, took an absurdist approach setting his action in the future. This time Neil – again the addict – was producing a TV show where viewers could gamble on the outcome of hospital admissions. Again, Rep's stage production values and standards of acting were excellent, but this play suffered from its satire aimed at too many targets. Was it showing the absurdities of reality TV? Or how TV celebrities are ego-driven? Was its target fast-food companies sponsoring hospitals? Perhaps it was the uncaring cash-chasing hospital administrators? How about vicious criminal bookmakers? Among these myriad subplots, the anti-gambling objective was lost and this play became just an absurdist vehicle for a talented group of actors.
This time former rebel schoolboy Alan caught the eye as a shallow TV presenter, with his former promiscuous sister Kate now his glamorous co-host rival. Previous-father Neil took his bookie-hounded producer way over the top, while Meryl, earlier the distraught mother, excelled in a series of multiple roles. Newcomer Charlotte provided the only on-stage sanity as a surgeon refusing to co-operate with the communal madness surrounding her.
Both plays were well staged and presented, and received a warm reception from an appreciative audience.
But I can't help thinking that the play's target audience wasn't sitting in Woodbin – it would have been feeding coins into slots in venues elsewhere.
So I'd like to see next year's anti-problem gambling budget used to video-tape the first play, allowing it to be played on flat-screens in every pokie venue's free refreshment and smoking areas.
But it's a very good bet this will never happen.
- Colin Mockett.

Compelling modern drama

All Souls directed by Iris Walshe Howling and Janine McKenzie for Anglesea Performing Arts, Anglesea Hall April 30 2009

This evening built from an unpromising airy-fairy beginning to become a night of compelling drama - a brilliant and highly memorable piece of theatre.
That beginning – an avant-garde trumpet solo followed by droning accordion from on-stage musician/soundscape artist Kirstin Honey led to what appeared to be a pointless ramble from Iris Walshe Howling's derelict and destitute bag-lady in the gloom of a single street light. This took an uncomfortable first ten minutes, while the fidgeting audience wondered what they had let themselves in for. But from there the action began flowing without interruption between a modern suburban loungeroom where troubled husband and wife Steven Georgiadis and Nikki Watson were experiencing a marriage crisis; a tattoo parlour where Genevieve Roberts and Lina Libroaperto were revealing truths about each other and a hospital bed where patient Janine McKenzie was preparing for an operation while coping with her frightened husband Philip Besancon. All these scenarios were played out in conjunction with, and linked by Ms Walshe Howling's character Phillipa's dialogue, which became more and more focused and revealing. In perfect tune with this, Ms Honey's music/vocals/sounds enhanced every scene coupled with Heath Irvine and Cheryl Ward Pratt's excellent lighting and projections. In the course of an unterrupted 110 minutes, subjects ranging from incest to facing up to death, from lesbian romance to family break-up were introduced and addressed, each in thoughtful, adult manner – and that fidgety audience became totally spellbound. The ending was played out in intense, enthralled silence.
This All Souls was a super piece of theatre with faultless casting and uniformly strong performances from everyone involved. It had meticulous research – especially in the tattoo parlour - and excellent direction and execution.
There is some strong language, and an excessive over-use of alcohol. But if you're put off by this, you'll miss out on a memorable piece of theatre from an outstanding new company.
I recommend you go see All Souls as it plays in Anglesea then moves to the Potato Shed. It's a wonderful example of how live theatre can compel as no other medium can.

Colin Mockett

Dracula, directed by Colin Urquhart for Geelong Rep. Woodbin Theatre April 18, 2009.

The biggest difficulty in staging such a well-worked story as Dracula is to make it appear fresh, rather than just another run-of-the-mill production on a line stretching more than a century.
Director Urquhart achieved this simply and boldly by shifting the play's timing from the late 19th Century into the 1930s, which gave this production a strong – and unique – background flavour.
And the odd thing was that he didn't change much – he used sound, visual and costume clues to signify the new date – but then ran the play's original dialogue more-or-less unchanged.
And that time-shift was not the only innovation in this full-blooded piece of theatre. This new Dracula also enjoyed a neatly written new prologue and epilogue, clever sound and image projections covering its scene changes, higher than average production values and two essentials to make a memorable show - tight direction and strong, competent casting.
On top of this, the production had an overriding sense that everyone concerned was having a great deal of fun.
Tony Wasley clearly relished in his title role. He looked the part in a calf-length black leather coat, boots, gloves and slicked-back patent-leather hairstyle – and then he hammed his role up to its darkly sinister hilt. This seriously over-the-top performance was picked up and mirrored by just about everyone else on stage.
As the Count's nemesis, Van Helsing, Bryan Eaton managed to maintain gravitas and credibility in his role while cutting a wild-haired nutty-professor figure.
Lauren O'Callaghan, playing Drac's beautiful target and lure became, in turn, simpering victim, plausible trainee-predator - then breathless rescued heroine, all the while looking stunning in floating 1930s lingerie.
Her schizophrenic role-swinging was taken to further extremes; first by Greg Shawcross as Renfield, the Count's reluctant henchman and part-time lunatic-asylum inmate; then Amanda Rector, who stepped adeptly from walk-on maid to full-blown assistant vampire at the gleam of an incisor.
These performances were ideally supported – and highlighted with comparison – by a trio of characters played dead straight; Rep's ever-reliable Barry Eeles as asylum director and hapless victim's father Dr Seward, David Ward as Lauren's intense and earnest suitor Harker and Trevor Robinson's frustrated pseudo-Cockney asylum attendant who spent most of the play looking for his escaped charge.
Add in Yasha Nisanov's fleeting ogre and a couple of creepy tricks designed to chill and this Dracula turns out to be as fresh as theatrical mouthwash –sparkling and invigorating.
Go see it. I'll guarantee you won't leave feeling down in the mouth. You could even be out for the Count.
- Colin Mockett

The Melbourne Chamber Orchestra concert in McAuley Hall, Aphrasia St, Friday April 24 2009

The Melbourne Chamber Orchestra presented the first of its Geelong Series of Concerts for 2009 to a large and appreciative audience in McAuley Hall at Sacred Heart College.
This is a fine chamber Orchestra and we heard a varied and engaging program that showcased the high quality of every member of this elite ensemble.
The players play standing and perform without a conductor (as does the Australian Chamber Orchestra). The direction comes from William Hennessy and the tightness of the ensemble and the quality of the sound was simply superb.
The evening opened with Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No 6 with the two solo viola parts splendidly played by Katharine Brockman and Stefanie Farrands. This concerto is remarkable for the absence of violins in the ensemble and gives great warmth and depth to the sound. The playing had great energy with the middle movement providing an interlude of calm beauty.
Ian Munro was the piano soloist in the concerto K 414 by Mozart. Ian is one of Australia 's finest musicians and the performance was elegant and beautifully crafted bringing out the perfection of Mozart's writing in this genre.
After interval we were able to appreciate another aspect of Ian's musical gifts with his Divertimento - a welcome addition to the repertoire for string orchestra. This was developed from a setting of five poems and the writing suggested the original writing for voice supported by accompanying lines in the orchestra.
The evening ended with one of the finest romantic works for string orchestra by the Czech composer Josef Suk. This peformance by the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra confirmed the place of this orchestra in the musical life of Australia . We are indeed fortunate to be able to hear it in Geelong as part of its commitment to bringing fine music to audiences in regional Victoria.

Wendy Galloway

Over the Sea to Skye by Colin Mockett & Shirley Power for Drop Of A Hat Productions.  Potato Shed, Drysdale, April 21, 2009

I cannot think of a more relaxing, entertaining and informative way to spend a Tuesday morning! The theme was the music of Scotland presented in the context of the often tragic history of that beautiful country. Songs, love songs, folk songs, laments, even a number one hit by Billy Connolly; they were all there. The show was researched and written by Colin Mockett with music arranged and sung by Shirley Power. The program was expertly balanced with something for every one - a focus on songs that mirror Scottish history in the first half, with the centre of attention in the second half being more recent songs such as the potential choice of a new Scottish National anthem. In all cases Shirley's voice captures the essence of the music, its overwhelming poignancy and the lyricism of Burns' poetry. These were attributes that Colin need not require in his vigorous and accented rendering of Billy Connolly's hit D.I.V.O.R.C.E.
Through music and video projector, the audience met Bonnie Prince Charlie, the towering literary figures of Robert Burns and Walter Scott, the writers of the timeless ‘Skye Boat Song' and ‘Charlie is my darlin' and became aware, I suspect for the first time, of the tragic aftermath of the Jacobite uprising and the battle of Culloden in 1745/6 and the effect that these had on Scottish traditional music. These later historical events quite literally cut off the people from their folk tale roots, thanks to English brutality and the banning of everything Scottish such as language, kilts and plaids. Subsequent views of Scottish history owed much to writers born later in the eighteenth century. Consequently the music we take as traditional has a much more recent and often interesting historical provenance.
In addition recent arrangements of traditional songs have clouded their meaning. This was beautifully revealed when Shirley sang the Ralph Vaughan Williams arrangement of Loch Lomond – you know it, it moves along quite snappily. Would andante be the word? But as Colin pointed out, this is a lament written by a Scottish soldier imprisoned in England and under sentence of death, and when played as a lament should be played it tells a tale that brings tears to the eye. The low road in the lyric is the road that the fairies use to take the dead back to their home north of the border. When Shirley sang Loch Lomond in that manner – you could have heard a pin drop in the few seconds silence between the song ending and the applause.
And finally, you do not need to have any Celtic blood in your veins, not even a wee drop, to enjoy this show. It's for everyone. 

Bryan Eaton

The Sound Of Music directed by Debbie Fraser for Queenscliffe Lighthouse Theatre Group Q/cliff Town Hall, March 27 2009

First, a declaration. I had never seen The Sound Of Music before, either on stage or screen. Well, that's not strictly true. I'd heard all the songs and seen most of the show in snippets, previews and trailers, but had always shied away from the full experience. The show's excess of sentimental saccharine and plastic accidental ultra-religious belief (“But Mother Superior, I only joined your order for the singing…”) was always way too outlandish for me, even before the plotline swung into reforming a macho-disciplined child-rearer by goodness and then the whole concept of deceiving the Nazi menace with song and sentimentality...
But this is the show's 50th anniversary year – it opened on Broadway in 1959 – and I've mellowed enough to tolerate all that twee righteousness in comparative silence.
So I can now report to you that if you happen to like The Sound Of Music, there's a whole lot that you could take from this production.
First up, it had surprisingly high production standards for a small out-of-the-way company.
It had an excellent leading lady in Adelle Gregory, who sang and moved extremely well while exuding wholesomeness by the bucketful. She really carried the performance on her slim shoulders.
But wait, there was more.
There was a large and wonderfully pleasing Nuns Chorus which created some glorious harmonies – and whose appearances were so widely spaced to allow the subversive thought that they were probably playing poker backstage between scenes.
There was Carol Fogg's rich voice and sure ability portraying the ultra-kind Mother Superior.
But most of all, this production had Debbie Fraser's sure hand and experience in the director's chair.
Debbie had cut and compressed and shifted scenes outdoors to keep the action brisk (along with a seductive on-stage costume-change for Maria) and added little front-of-curtain actions to cover lengthy scene-changes. She also brought together a big, uniformly-competent support cast and drilled them to high standards of competency.
So Dan Eastwood was a suitably wooden Von Trapp (“You vill come ven I vistle like zis…”) while Melinda and Simon Thorne were proper in their parts of Elsa, the self-sacrificing fiancee and Max, the collaborating, but ultimately understanding friend and helper. Von Trapp children Tara Vagg, Declan McKinnon, Anna Black, Jonathan Gardner, Felicity Rush, Katie Hopkin and Ella Trait were each decent, rebellious and cute on cue and they sang together perfectly. Director Debbie said her alternative team of Von Trapp Children was of equal, excellent standard.
Jared Howlett, John Gowlett, Marion Melrose, Diane Gardner, Jessica Chisholm and Cynthia Hughes all gave sterling support in front of a large all-singing, well-disciplined chorus that easily covered all the extra acting parts.
On the first night there were some sound and scenery glitches and a problem with the sound quality at the rear of the Hall. But nothing that wouldn't be ironed out in the long run.
To capsulate, if you're one of the legions of Sound Of Music fans, this would really offer a fine evening of musical theatre. It's a surprisingly good production.
But if you don't mind, I'll wait a while until I see it again.
I'm setting my sights on the interactive multimedia version in another fifty years.
- Colin Mockett

The Boy From Oz directed by Martin Croft for Footlight Productions. Ford Theatre, Feb 20, 2009.

In this latest production from Footlight Productions director Martin Croft has brought together an outstanding cast and crew. Combining the styles of cabaret act, full-blown musical and a dramatic storyline is no easy feat but Martin and his team have created a first class showcase which highlights the talents of many excellent performers.
Tony Wasley, as Peter Allen,manages to be both energetic and compelling. A lesser performance would have ground the play to a halt but this was never the case. Tony kept a frenetic pace as he sweated and danced and sang throughout. One of the highlights in the show was Terri Powell's Judy Garland. From her first appearance she embodied the role, giving an outstanding performance without ever slipping into caricature.
Kethly Hemsworth brought another excellent performance as Liza Minnelli; the part allowed her to shine as a dramatic actress and also gave us a fabulous Bob Fosse inspired dance number. Keeping the home fires burning in Australia are Darylin Ramondo who plays Peter's mother and Jesse Simpson playing the young Peter. Darylin was perfect in the role, her warm portrayal of Marion giving life to the scenes in Australia and Jesse, perfectly cast as the young Peter.
Two great character actors were also given a chance to strut their stuff; Ray Ferguson and Howard Dandy. These two are no strangers to the stage and their performances were both engaging. Greg Shawcross, as Peter Allen's partner, gave a compassionate and subtle performance which the part demanded. Another highlight in a show which featured so many, was the trio of Jennifer Stirk, Tayla Johnston and Cath Hughey, playing ‘Peter's Girls'. This trio belted out their songs with power that was truly show stopping.
A show like this needed a large talented supporting cast and again this show did not disappoint. Alicia Aulsebrook, Michelle Bradshaw, Tessa Connelly, Mariah Fox, Jemma Gomularz, Jess Gomularz, Mary-Ellen Hetherington, Emily Jacker, David Keele, Jonathon Lawrence, Zoe Marsh, Caitlin Mathieson, Xavier McGettigan, Jordan Middelkoop, Bree Moyes, Dominic Muirhead, Tess Muirhead, Jack O'Riley, Thomas Reed, Purdey Rickard, Thomas Russell, Olivia Taravillo, Mitchell Turek, Sully Uldrikis and Caleb Vines; all performed the musical numbers with great characterization and concentration and the audience could see that every one of them was enjoying themselves on stage.
On opening night there were a few technical difficulties. The microphones were not always up on cue and the lighting a little slow at times, Tony was left in darkness as he was twirling on the piano at the end of Act I - but these were minor aspects of a big colourful show.
And I must comment on and commend the band; John Shawcross has once again assembled a tight and terrific team of musicians that lift a show like this to great heights. The music was simply outstanding.
Congratulations to all involved. I recommend that The Boy From Oz in Geelong is not to be missed by anyone looking for a dazzling, entertaining night out.
- Steven Georgiadis

Blood Of The Lamb directed by Carole Mallett for Geelong Rep, Woodbin Theatre February 7, 2009.

This was an absorbing and interesting play and I can give three very good reasons to go see it.
First, there are excellent performances on view, with Mary Steuten, Louise Rothman and Catherine Larcey displaying remarkable levels of concentration in a marathon three-hour production. As the only performers in a play that contains many lengthy monologues, each showed levels of concentration well beyond the norm. And they brought different strengths, with Mary dominating in her role of "Henry": - the masculine half of a single-gender relationship - while Louise was demure and sensible as the female half and Catherine confused and angry as their adult child.
Then there was the set. For Blood of the Lamb, Rep's Simon Ellis, Alan Wilson & Richard Critchlow had put together a New Zealand country property backyard that appeared both accurate and workable in the Woodbin's compact space.
And thirdly, this production stood as an excellent example of the benefits of editing. If ever a play cried out for someone with a sensitive blue pencil, this was it. Blood of the Lamb was not just long, it was overlong. By a considerable amount. True, it made interesting and salient points, but it hammered them home repeatedly.
Again and again.
And then some more.
From an audience perspective, this was both perplexing and annoying.
It was almost as if the playwright and director didn't trust their audience to understand each aspect, so they put it again. This became even more galling when the action was occasionally stopped and mini-scenes repeated. All this in a very long play with a single elemental plotline. For this reviewer, it meant that for much of the play I was distracted enough to see it on two levels, one watching the on-stage action while simultaneously mentally editing out unnecessary scenes.
Then it occurred that this might have been the intent So there! That's the third reason to go see Blood of the Lamb.
But be prepared for some odd distractions - like Louise's obvious and unexplained wig, Catherine's irritating playing with toys while others were talking to her and several verbally violent outbursts that were simply ignored by the others on-stage.
All contributed to give this Blood of the Lamb a sense of unreality that worked against its central thrust.
But don't take my word for this. Go see for yourself.
-Colin Mockett.

Geelong Summer Music Camp Concert, Costa Hall January 15 2009.

Two outcomes were quite clear after this excellent concert.

The first is that the next generation of young musicians in our region is more than promising; they're a dedicated, disciplined and highly talented bunch.

The second is that the transition of Geelong's Summer Music Camp management from Babyboomer to Generation Y is complete – and was highly successful.

This was apparent when president and co-musical director Daniel Zampatti's short speech correctly and politely thanked former directors Malcolm John and Wendy Galloway for their parts in the camp's 29-year heritage and then named his own committee and tutors – the majority of whom were in prams when the camps began. And almost all had benefited from the expert tuition at previous camps.

They've clearly built on that knowledge and experience, because this concert was, I believe, the best  Geelong Summer Music Camp Concert I have experienced – and I've attended annually for more than a decade.

This one began, as always, with the Jeffrey Stage Band, a score or so teenaged jazz-brass players who, under local conductor Edward Fairlie breathed new life into the standards I Love Paris and Secret Love giving each a fresh, crisp, edgy feel.

This was contrasted almost immediately by the smoothness of Sue Arney's Talbot Concert band – 60 youthful players with skill and composure way beyond their years, who demonstrated their mastery of the Fire Dance before showcasing different tempos and techniques in presenting pieces as different as Amazing Grace and excerpts from Carmen. Then came conductor Rebecca Wade's Claremont Strings with seven short but complex tunes, moving from Celtic to Gypsy flavoured. Both Sue and Rebecca  quite clearly commanded affection and respect from every young member of their ensembles – but then came Roland Yeung's 60-member Noble Concert band which lifted the respect – and flair -  a couple of notches in presenting two African-inspired pieces with  brilliant skills.

The Morrison Singers, under conductor Denise Hollingworth, brought to the concert a polished professional standard of singing – 36 voices, five songs, great harmonies, no books in front of them – and all learned in just  five days, before Ben Castle built to the concert's climactic finish by conducting three orchestra ensembles.

Ben's conducting style is unique and highly effective. He uses no baton, but his whole stick-thin body seems to move the tempo along. He sometimes posed like Pavlova, sometimes grimaced like Groucho – and always he commanded every fibre of attention from every young musician under his control. The result was mesmerizing.

First, he conducted the Stewart Strings which used three wonderful violin soloists in Dorothy Tang, Emma Day and Sonia Campanaro in performing Vivaldi's unseasonal Winter, before each re-joined the orchestra for some fun Ruritanian Dances.

Then brass, woodwind, percussion were added to the strings, forming the Malcolm John Symphony Orchestra – from which Ben cajoled a brilliant performance of Malcolm Arnold's Suite for Orchestra before the whole camp – 250 students, 44 tutors – came on stage for a moving combined version of All You Need Is Love under his non-baton.

But then, there was more to this concert than fine music, skilled conductors and youthful competence. The whole evening was held together with intelligent and informed comments from compere Mark Irwin and over-riding all was a controlled, disciplined energy that was most apparent only after the last player had left the stage - then the audience heard hoots and squeals of triumph from the Costa's green room.  

Taken altogether, this concert delighted in so many, many different ways.

It was a truly uplifting experience.

- Colin Mockett.