No-nonsense Reviews 2010

De-lightful, De-Lovely - but not Deliberate

It's De-Lovely, a celebration of the music of Cole Porter, Theatre Of The Winged Unicorn at the Scarecrow Patch, Ceres, November 27, 2010.

Sometimes the unexpected happens; fate takes a hand and things don’t go as planned. Most often this leads to things going wrong and it’s a struggle for everyone involved; but just occasionally the planets appear to line up and the unplanned turns into a little magic.
That was certainly the case for the first night of a Theatre Of Winged Unicorn’s small-cabaret concert series to celebrate the music of Cole Porter.
Initially, things didn’t look good. The show was ten minutes late starting, and when the players took to the stage, not only did they look worried, but there was a late substitute – Shandelle Cooke was there in place of the advertised Davina Smith-Crowley.
A flustered Dennis Mitchell announced that Davina had no voice, and Shandelle had been recruited at 30 minutes notice. This would mean, he explained, that he would sing some of the songs planned for Davina, Shandelle would sing some of his parts plus some songs that were not on the original programme – and he hoped we would forgive any glitches that might occur.
He then said there were prizes for audience members guessing the songs from their obscure intros, before launching into his first vocal backed by the calm, controlled John Shawcross on piano and ultra-cool David Gardner on sax.
Shandelle sat out the first two numbers before joining Dennis to sing harmonies in a one-sided duet version of Don’t Fence Me In.
So it was the fourth song of the evening that actually became Shandelle’s first solo. She was, like Dennis, backed by John and David – but then it became apparent that neither of these skilled musicians had their music open in front of them. Yet the trio produced the classiest version of Night And Day vamped from pure musicianship – and from that moment the evening’s magic sparked and grew.
Dennis was clearly in fine voice and comfortable with the music he favoures, while beside him was the new, cruise-liner-honed Shandelle; slim, buffed-fit and glamorous in a classy strapless evening dress and singing with a late-night jazz-club voice like smoked honey.
We audience, awed by the superb musicianship on display, forgot about the lollies on offer for guessing intros - we just rapturously applauded every number, every solo from David and John – I don’t think they produced a single wrong note throughout the night – and after the final duet It’s De-lovely we called for more in the sort of scene more likely to be found in Melbourne’s Bennetts Lane than in the quiet Barrabool Hills.
This night of magic once more demonstrated the superb quality of musicians in our community. Even when things go unexpectedly awry – they can still conjure a brilliant evening.
It’s De-lovely continues next weekend in the Scarecrow Patch - but as planned with Davina’s vocals alongside Dennis, backed by John and David.
- Colin Mockett

Different - and so Spectacular

Something Different from Geelong Concert Band, Costa Hall, 

Saturday November 20 2010.

The first thing that was different was a brilliant bit of showmanship with a dazzling blaze of light to reveal a brass ensemble high up in the gallery above the stage playing a fabulous fanfare, that unfortunately didn’t get a mention in the program.

Another spectacular visual effect was a fantastic percussion quartet led by Daniel Zampatti played in a blackout with luminous drumsticks titled “Rock Trap”, by William J Schinistine. It was simply out of this world.

Kate Zampatti directed her Youth Band with some style and panache in the first item of the program proper with three familiar numbers, Dvorak’s “Slavonic Dance # 1”, “Deep River” by James Swearingen and a musical quiz comprising ten snatches of signature tunes “What’s on Telly?”

The Workshop Band followed with three testing pieces for beginning instrumentalists. Director Mel Humphrey deserves high praise for the lovely range of tone and dynamics employed by the group, and for her gentle yet persuasive control.

It was particularly pleasing for this reviewer that the music of George Gershwin was given some prominence in this program. The complex harmonies of his ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ lend themselves to the beautiful arrangement by Cappuccio, rendered with such loving care by the Senior Sax Quartet, led by Peter Peacock.

Bringing up the interval was the Youth Big Band led by Simon Hochreiter with a couple of numbers, that to be frank, lacked the finesse that marked the general standard of the program.

Following the interval the Senior Brass Ensemble led by Michael Thacker presented a lively interpretation of “Tarantella” Arranged by Alan Civil. 

(By this time it was becoming apparent that Master of Ceremonies Steve Horman was particularly well informed about the program, and other things, and was anxious to share all his knowledge with the audience.)

Following the afore mentioned “Rock Trap” came the grand finale of the evening, the Senior Band under Musical Director Mark Irwin. Mr. Irwin obviously delights in challenging his players with the most difficult and intricate rhythmic passages, together with the most breathtaking tempi. To say that they rise to the challenge is an understatement. Five numbers were presented: the weirdly complex “The Music Maker” by Alfred Reed, followed in complete contrast by the sonorous arrangement by Mr. Reed of “Greensleeves” , “Sparkle” by Shafer Mahoney whose title says it all, a lively interpretation of Pops March “Wonderful Days” by Naohiro Iwai and finally the dense, many layered, richly embroidered “Cuban Overture” by George Gershwin. 

For an encore par excellence we were treated to the “Overture to William Tell” pell mell.

It was a glorious evening of band music, mysteriously described by President Trish Kinrade as an “in house” performance. I say mysteriously because the Costa Hall doesn’t come cheap, yet she seemed happy to have a smattering of friends and relatives scattered through the stalls. I’m bewildered and dismayed that this jewel in the crown of Geelong’s musical life is kept under wraps.

- Dennis Mitchell

Confusion and Delight 

The Queen Of Hearts directed by Davina Smith Crowley for Medimime Drama (Blakiston) Theatre November 19, 2010. 

This must be the most convoluted, confusing and contrived pantomime ever written. To paraphrase the plotline, The Queen of Hearts (Mark Arnold) must bake some tarts so that her daughter the Princess of Hearts (Julie Murnane) can marry the Prince of Diamonds (Adam Caciola). It seems that’s the marriage custom in their land. But then the dastardly villain Ace of Hearts (Liz Lester ) and his son Knave of Hearts (Jack Loney) are out to stop this by stealing the tarts, despite, or perhaps because of his conscience the Racing Demon Snap (Richard Standish) who somehow involves a whole bunch of fairies, Merlin the Magician and a trip to the moon. Meanwhile there were subplots involving hiccups, glasses of water, chickens and lots of obscure local references and in-jokes.
Hmmm. I think that was most of it. I had taken my daughter, and spent a large portion of the first act explaining just what I thought was happening to a bewildered five –year-old.
But here’s the paradox to all that. She had a wonderful, exhilarating, glorious time despite the confusion – and so, when I think about it, did I.
It wasn’t just the colour and movement, the music and laughter – this was a really well-presented piece of theatre. It was well cast, well dressed, slick and smooth in its production; it had an excellent musical score, very good choreography and some individual performances were, quite simply, stunning.
In their traditional contra-dressed roles, Mark Arnold and Liz Lester were so good in their parts and so skilled in audience rapport and manipulation that I’m nominating both for our VO awards.
Then there were the eyecatching young talents of Adam Caciola and Jack Loney – both students with maturity way beyond their years; and some beautifully portrayed cameos from Jess Willder’s Fairy Queen and David Peter’s King Oswald along with Joanna MacCarthy’s Rummy, Campbell Peter’s Merlin and Deanne Elliot’s Merlout. My daughter Lily was much taken by the Moon Monster (Andrew Peter) and Penny the policewoman (Tara Watts) with her faithful hound, Bonzo, played with canine nous by Katina Demetriou.
On the minus scale, there were some sound balance problems and the whole show is overlong. But having said all this – I heartily recommend that you go see Medimime’a Queen Of Hearts. It’s worth persevering through the ‘Why is he doing that, mummy?’ phase to get into a show that is chortling good fun for all ages. And it’s for such a good cause, too.
Please go see The Queen Of Hearts. You’ll find it’s well worth the perseverance effort.
- Moira Heimstra

Limp Script, Great Night of Laughter

’Allo ’Allo directed by Glenda Madison for Geelong Rep, Woodbin Theatre November 19, 2010. 

The truth is this comedy has a particularly limp (and sometimes limp-wristed) script. It’s full of outdated catchphrases and ridiculous situations because it was originally created as a vehicle for the cast of the long-running British TV show to make some money in a hit holiday stage show. As such, it played to the strengths of each actor, as well as taking on board all the foibles and wacky storylines of the original TV series. That’s not a good recipe for sharp, clever or even particularly funny writing, and Allo Allo doesn’t even pretend to have much of a storyline. It’s an ill-fitting cross between broad French farce and that strange and peculiarly British brand of bawdy humour that was at its best in the Carry-On films. 

Yet such was the popularity of the TV shows that this stage version ran for years in London – and a decade later, it has sold out its entire season at Geelong Rep’s Woodbin Theatre, including a couple of extra shows. 

And do you know what? I reckon the vast majority of Geelong patrons will go home fully satisfied having had a great night of nostalgic laughter.

Credit for this must sit squarely with director Glenda Maddison and her large cast who send up, caricature, lampoon, gesture, mug, burlesque and generally rollick their way through that limp innuendo and double-entendre-ridden script and on the way, turn it into a giggle-fest.

As the central pivotal character, Rene is beautifully played by Scott Beaton, who not only looks like Gordon Kaye, but he balances his cowardice, lust, scorn and dry despair with a skill equal to the original. 

He’s surrounded by a swag of fine performances with the outstanding Mary Steuton as his hapless wife Edith and a quintet of strong stocking-clad glamour in Lauren O’Callaghan’s Michelle of the Resistance, Charlotte Hukvari’s glorious glam-Nazi Helga, dumb waitresses Rebecca Bennett and Felicia Fragapane as Yvette and Mimi - and a surprisingly blonde and strong Steven James Simpson as Herr Flick. Andrew Kelly made his dim mangled-vocabulary policeman Crabtree into an amiable central character and Steven Georgiadis, as Capt Bertorelli showed his total mastery of comic timing despite being landed with the lamest catch-phrases. 

This central acting core was ably supported by Laurie Deale’s Colonel, Travis Eccles’ Gruber, Rod Hunter’s General Schmelling, Brendan O’Halloran’s Leclerc and Morgan Jenkins’ and Camden Tilley’s dopey British airmen. 

Colin Urquhart filled in Nazi vocal gaps and Vonnie Pilgrim some visual French ones. 

A notable feature of this production was the amount of theatre business it contained, for besides delivering all the corn, scorn and titillation, the cast manipulated, among other things, sausages, both filled and phallic; portraits and forgeries, a blow-up Hitler doll, mousetrap suspenders and more...

And another outstanding element was the finely selected and sensitively delivered live music from David Fox. 

Finally – I weel guarantee zis. 

No matter what zey mey ‘ave thought of ze pley, evry on ov ze ordeenzes weel go home speeking in ‘orrible mock Franch eccents like zees.

Colin Mockett

Bright Lights, Dazzling Juniors

The Bright Lights of Broadway directed by Emily Donoghue for GSODA Juniors, Drama Theatre, November 11, 2010. 

Anyone who harbours any doubts about the ability of junior performers to match their more experienced counterparts in the performing arts should see this production. It’s as good as anything you’ll find elsewhere in live theatre. 

The Bright Lights of Broadway is essentially a selection of songs and short lead-in scenes from a number of famous Broadway shows, including much loved names like Wicked, Fiddler On The Roof, Oklahoma and Guys and Dolls. The various numbers made a perfect vehicle to showcase the range of talents and styles that are to be found in the Juniors’ large ensemble. 

Youth is always associated with exuberance and energy and there was plenty of this on display at GPAC for the opening night of this show. What impressed even more was the less common qualities of discipline and hard work.
But it was not hard to understand why these young performers were so committed, their sheer enjoyment at putting on this show was clearly evident throughout the whole 90-minute running time.
The costumes were colourful, eye catching and bright, choreography was flawless and all the singers were in fine voice. The whole show seemed to run smoothly and never lacked solid entertainment value. ‘No One Mourns The Wicked’, from Wicked made a strong start with a big, colourful opening number and the goodwill and enthusiasm from the audience was immediately evident.  

Highlights included ‘What You Want’ from Legally Blonde with an excellent solo from Laura Simko; ‘The Frug’ from Fosse, the show about the life of choreographer Bob Fosse. This was presumably ‘Rich Man’s Frug’ from ‘Sweet Charity’. 

‘Luck Be A Lady’ from Guys and Dolls was a memorable number too, with Ben McNaughton eye-catching as Sky, and ‘Brand New You’ was the big closing number of the night, once again showcasing the entire ensemble. Director Emily Donoghue and her fellow choreographers Stephanie Gainey and Tarah Kelly are to be commended for the pace, style and verve of the whole production. Vocal Directors Caitlin Mathieson and Gail Lee also deserve praise for the evident work in coaching the singing talents of this bright cast of young performers.  

But, truly, the show belonged to the Juniors themselves. And if this show was any indication of the young, upcoming talents in Geelong, then music, dance and theatre clearly has a very bright future in this town. The Bright Lights of Broadway is a hugely enjoyable and vibrant show for theatre lovers of all ages and certainly not one to be missed.

- Adrian Sherlock.

Breezy Play - Then Compelling Drama

Two One-Act Plays, Altered Egos and God Willing presented by Torquay Theatre Troupe, Belbrae Hall November 4, 2010

Altered Egos and God Willing are in complete contrast to each other, one an appealing comedy and the other a powerful drama. Torquay Theatre Company was in Bellbrae to stage them, as their regular venue was being renovated. A big audience turned out to pack the Bellbrae Community Hall and judging by the applause and smiling faces, most would agree it was worth the trip. 

First off, Altered Egos, by John Burls, began the night with a mix of humour and pathos. Fred Preston was on fine comic form, using his strong stage presence to great effect as the ageing Dillman Martini, a man convinced life is just about over, but wanting desperately to find the courage to propose marriage to Harriette Parker, a widow he’s been longing to be with for some time. Maryanne Doolan created a superb Harriette and she and Fred were delightful as the aging romantics.  But there was more to this play: suddenly Chris Young appeared as Dillman’s alter ego (or perhaps his inner self) Scot Ransome, a notably younger figure who urged Dillman to overcome the doubts and insecurities which were foiling his plan to propose. Kristie Vaughan then joined him as Letitia Boom Boom, representing the inner Harriette. Like Scot, Letitia was much younger than the person she represented. We can consider this the young person inside the older body or perhaps the bold person within the shy and insecure character.
These two played sweetly a romance between themselves. Whether or not the alter egos could be together depended on whether or not Dillman and Harriette could find the courage to make their romance happen... 

The result was a funny, bittersweet play which has much food for thought in its clever premise and the fine cast, under the guidance of director Gay Bell, presented it with skill and care.  

After a brief, pleasant interval it was onto the second play, God Willing, by Bruce Olive.
This hard-hitting, heavy, humourless drama was pretty strong medicine coming after the breezy entertainment of the first play, but the audience was immediately captivated by this tale of a girl terrorist and her pregnant woman hostage.
Almost a two-hander, this play did have additional support in the voice of Simon Taylor, as the sinister Controller, but it was Lisa Berry as the frightened and desperate Nadia and Rhiannon Hodgkinson in the pivotal terrorist role Suria who made this such a harrowing yet spellbinding dramatic experience.  

If one was to criticise Bruce Olive’s script, then perhaps it hammered its messages a little too relentlessly, when such powerful themes are more than capable of making their impact with a little. But his exploration of how a young, innocent girl could be brainwashed into becoming the type of fanatic we read about in the news was undeniably effective and Rhiannon and Lisa are to be commended for their compelling and ultimately moving performances. Director Michael Baker kept things tight and tense and the resounding enthusiasm of the audience at the end of the play proved that hard hitting drama with a message is certainly welcome in local theatre.  

In all, this was a great evening’s entertainment and is highly recommended. A trip to Bellbrae will be well worth your time.

Adrian Sherlock.

Much the same, mustn’t grumble

A Month of Sundays directed by Tony Wright for Peninsula Players. Drysdale Hall, October 28, 2010.

It’s one of life’s little ironies that the company that became affectionately known as ‘The PPs’ should choose as its final production a play whose central character complains constantly about the frequency of his pees.
But that was just one small smile in an evening of fond memories, poignant bittersweet theatre – and so many ironies.
Director Tony made much of the fact that this play had been written the year the Players’ had staged their first production - 1985 – and it was of the genre the company had made almost into a trademark – light English situation comedy.
But A Month of Sundays’ subject matter, that of confronting the relentless process of ageing - was possibly a little too close to the truth for many in the audience, which probably had an average age in the mid seventies..
Nevertheless, the play was written with such imagination and portrayed with such skill and craft that we all laughed long and loud at the whimsies and ironies portrayed between the stark truths that confront us all.
Director Tony Wright chose to follow PPs traditional style for its last show. He had a simple, well-lit set, no fancy lighting changes and no theatrical tricks. This meant his well-drilled cast were able to deliver their lines with the minimum of distractions and allow the playwright’s skill to unfold. And Bob Larbey is very skilled at comedy writing.
But then, this play had more. It had the company’s 25 years of experience in delivering British comedy.
It had the sweet timing and understanding of the play’s core performers – most especially between the central character Bryan Eaton with his offsider Russell Campbell and daughter Meryl Friend – and this can’t be drilled into actors over a two-month rehearsal period. It’s the product of taking part in many such productions over the years.
And Bryan’s marathon stint – he was central to every scene and on stage throughout (with the exception of some very short pee-breaks) was, quite simply, a triumph.
We saw his delightfully close relationship with Amanda Rector’s caring – and loving – nurse Wilson, counterpointed by that with the spiky but covertly caring cleaner Lee Foyster.
We experienced two of his strained monthly visits from Meryl and her supportive husband Keith Lowe, neatly portrayed and becoming oh-so-tantalisingly close to an understanding before drifting apart again.
And all this was anticipated and dissected in light-hearted banter between Bryan and Russell, alongside the fears that each harboured from the relentless ageing process – before it closed in on them to create a suitably memorable, bittersweet finale.
The Peninsula Players group has brought some delightful theatre to Drysdale over the years. It now leaves a wonderful heritage for the town’s youthful new groups, Bellarine Jongleurs and Theatre 3222. The PPs have set high standards - and built a reputation for giving its audience exactly what it wants. And this went on – right to the end.
Vale PPs, you’ll be much missed.
- Colin Mockett

Crimes, they are a-changing

Agatha Christie’s The Unexpected Guest, directed by Dennis Mitchell for Theatre Of Winged Unicorn, Ceres Hall October 9 2010.

Agatha Christie wrote her popular whodunit plays in the 1930s and 40s, making her life in crime so much simpler and less complicated than today. For her sleuths, there was no such thing as forensic evidence, DNA, CSI or SOCU, no white-overalled-taped-off crime scene contamination or detailed autopsies - all these were later arrivals. And though they’re now what we now consider normal investigation in everyday TV series, they were unknown to Agatha.
On a parallel level, so too has local theatre developed from what used to be called Amateur Dramatic Societies, where the curtain would rise, a dramatic scene enunciated and enacted; then the audience applauded as the lowering curtain signalled the scene’s end.
Today’s companies, following the influence of TV and film, strive to present flowing action by melding scenes together with lighting changes, actors switching furniture, costume or characters to enable seamless scene transitions.
This production of The Unexpected Guest took us back in time in so many ways.
The entire play took place in a murder crime scene, a well-appointed living room, with the corpse conveniently taken away but the murder weapon available for anyone to examine or play with. Also the furniture, including drinks decanter and glasses, though dusted for fingerprints, were nicely cleaned and returned into position for ease of re-enactments.
And true to the Agatha Christie tradition, every character was talkative, explaining their backgrounds on first meeting and each in turn revealing reasons why they should or shouldn’t be considered the killer.
All, that is, except the investigators, played by winsome Kate Hunter and her very Welsh sidekick Ray Jones. There was no technology for these sleuths. Instead, the well-mannered Kate politely asked questions while Ray noted the answers with his pencil and pad. The household that they so gently interrogated was, too, classic Christie. There was the corpse’s frustrated and long-wronged widow, played with intensity by Heather Dempsey; his mentally-challenged brother, the beneficiary of his small arsenal, portrayed with gusto by Tim Hetherington and his manipulating and worldly mother, played with matronly style by Marylin Nash. That was the family. Then there was Ross Pearce’s foreign manservant with a suspect past and sinister accent, Colleen O’Toole’s winsome Irish servant/companion and the handsome next-door-neighbour-politician with whom the widow had been conducting an affair, portrayed with aplomb by Bruce Woodley. On top of all these came the unexpected guest, Geoff  Gaskill, who, though an intruder, was allowed total access and Christian-name recognition.
The tangled web of Agatha’s plotline was played out with dedication by this team with scenes denoted by the dropping curtain - and the whole experience was of a skip back into a different, distant place and time.
And it was all very pleasant. The only real mystery was why director Dennis announced at the very beginning that the play was set in the present...
- Colin Mockett


Jocelyn heads a superlative show

The Sound Of Music directed by Stacey Carmichael for Geelong Lyric Theatre Company, Playhouse Theatre October 8 2010.

Jocelyn Mackay must be one the best assets Geelong's Lyric Theatre Company has ever had. This talented lady has a long history of singing her heart out for the delight of Geelong's audiences and in this latest production of The Sound of Music, she seizes the opportunities afforded her by the role of Maria and gives a magnificent performance.  

Thanks to the classic film version, Maria is so completely associated with Julie Andrews, it seems unthinkable that anyone else could make the role and the show their own. But Jocelyn immediately grabs her audience and never lets go. And in no time at all, it seems like there has never been another, the character is all hers - and The Sound of Music comes to life as a fast paced, flawlessly choreographed, crowd-pleasing, feelgood experience. 

Jocelyn's stellar performance is more than ably supported by Jamie McGuane who excels as a dignified Captain von Trapp, Davina Smith Crowley whose terrific voice and comic ability are very welcome as Elsa Shraeder and Simon Thorne who is well cast as the lovable rogue Max Detweiler. 

The von Trapp children are led by Alicia Miller as Liesl who joins Jules Hart as Rolf for a wonderful performance of Sixteen Going On Seventeen. Eliza Chomley as Marta, Emilie Hutchinson as Brigitta, Gabriel Stephenson as Kurt, Rhiannon Irving as Louisa, Hudson Middlekoop as Fredreich were all in fine voice and flawless in their performances. Little Molly Jones stole everyone's hearts as the youngest of the von Trapp children, Gretl, helping to make the show a truly heart warming experience. 

Then there were the Sisters: Diane Gardner, Cheryl Campbell, Katrina Santoro, led by Terri Powell as Mother Abbess, all of them flawlessly good. 

Steve Howell as Franz and Sue Rawkins as Frau Schmidt were great support and never missed a beat. Ben Crowley even wandered on stage for a surprising appearance as a rather sinister Nazi character Admiral von Schreiber. Dale Bradford is also worthy of mention for his solid work as Herr Zeller. 

The ensemble were excellent in their support and the orchestra were wonderful. Full praise must go to Lyric's amazingly talented creative team, which included Director Stacey Carmichael, Musical Director Michael Wilding and Choreographer Michelle McDowell for delivering a show which moved along at a brisk pace and never faltered, for slick acting performances, impressive set and costume designs, smooth scene changes, great music, great dancing and wonderful, exuberant, crowd-pleasing singing. There just aren't enough superlatives to describe this production.  

And once again, much credit must go to Jocelyn Mackay, who gives us so many of this show's most famous and much-loved songs, from Do-Re-Mi to the titular The Sound of Music with seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm and is deserving of a nomination for Entertainment Geelong’s Virtual Oscars. 

If one wanted to be critical, it would be a demanding task to find anything remotely bad to say about this show. Perhaps the accents of the cast seem a little inconsistent for the time and place, seemingly a mix of Germanic, English and Australian, but these things are the most minor of quibbles and never really detracted from the joy of the show. 

The Nazi element to the storyline proved interesting and it was surprising to realise just how confronting it is, even now, to see men in Nazi uniforms on a stage. But when the presence of storm troopers was announced, I wonder how many audience members immediately thought of Star Wars? 

Over all, this Sound of Music is a magnificent triumph for the Lyric theatre company and a must-see show for anyone who wants to enjoy a great night of musical theatre in Geelong. The humour, the pathos and the sheer joy was fully realised in this production and the well-deserved applause at the end of the night was almost deafening. Don't miss this one!

Adrian Sherlock.

Two Reviewers in Grumpy mode..

To Hell With The Bike Race It’s The Grumpy Old Men’s Travelling Rock & Roll Laughter Show. Kildare Theatre, October 1, 2010

By the time you read the show’s title, it is nearly interval. Still, it does attract. These guys can think on their feet: we were soon informed that this show was ‘lycra-free’, a nice grumpy reference to the UCI bicycle races in Geelong this week. I am glad I didn’t tell them I came on my bike (lycra-less)!

This show demands much from the theatre goer: the grumpies read from their folders and talk; they are followed in turn by the two guitarists playing a catchy song from the 1950s, 60s or 70s. There are a couple of chairs, a music stand, and a grand piano which looks part of the show but isn’t used (although, mysteriously, on it are a bottle of red and some glasses.) Admittedly the talk is clever, witty and wide-ranging while the guitar fingering is lovely, clever and quick. Oh, but do these grumpies whinge! Sometimes you think they mean it - they are such convincing whingers. They must read the letters in the Geelong papers for material. Everything is complainable: modern dating, tattoos, women’s arms (happy flaps): this is followed by a song, sung by all; one encourages us oldies to be assertive: ‘Come and cause a slow commotion with me’. Colin then raves on about bogans and hoons. Next came a rather clever play featuring God, the Archangel Gabriel and Saint Peter. God wants to know all about his creation of plants (weeds). This drifts into a funny sketch about citizens cutting their grass, binning it and the Council turning it into compost for the citizens to buy the fertiliser back from Bunnings. I won’t reveal God’s punch line, but He certainly shows some economic nous. Bryan, the archangel, has a wicked Indian accent and a very believable head-shake. But why in this skit? I suppose because he can do that! Interval has Colin Mockett showing his economic nous by selling Choc Wedges (Choc Ices he calls them) for $1 to the audience - a smart way to increase revenue and keep the punters occupied in their seats. During interval Geoff Sinnbeck also delights us all with his unannounced take on ‘Feeling Groovy‘ by substituting the words Wearing lycra! Great music, clever words. The audience loves it. 

The second half saw more of the clever same: a grumpy whinge about TV (a medium which is ‘neither rare nor well done’), cooking shows or airport security or modern living conditions (compared hilariously to the atrocious places we used to live in), mums in four-wheel drives and speed humps. The highlight of the show, for me, was the skit ‘Pick up thy Musket’, apparently first performed by Stanley Holloway in 1910. It didn’t belong in this show but it was delightfully funny all the same. 

In summary, this was simple entertainment, without props, by clever men with funny views and even funnier words. The singing by Geoff Sinncock was outstanding, giving a wonderful contrast and relief from the whingers (sorry: grumpies). He has a lovely voice, accompanied by melodious guitar work as well as Sandy’s sound back-up guitar music. 

Pun of the night: What is the aboriginal arts website?:…

Hans Colla

It's so great to feel Grumpy

To Hell With The Bike Race it’s The Grumpy Old Men's Travelling Rock and Roll Laughter show: Kildare Theatre, October 1.
 The Grumpy Old Men shows have quite a following in Geelong. I dare not call it a cult following as such a term might enrage the Grumpies. People like the shows and they're popular, let's put it that way. The wonderful thing about these Grumpy Old Men shows is the way they make the audience feel.  
Any good director or performer knows he or she needs to establish the right kind of atmosphere at the beginning of a show. Colin Mockett establishes the atmosphere for this show as a warm, welcoming, relaxing and informal one, so much so, the audience members could be forgiven for thinking they're still at home in their warm, cozy living room and that Colin and his Grumpy Old Men are simply some colorful friends who've dropped by for a pleasant evening of music and fun.  
Colin is supported by some very talented people, but this is very much his show, and it is Colin's warmth and old world charm which beguiles the audience so effortlessly and sets the stage for a fine evening's entertainment.
The show itself is a mixture of social observation and criticism in the form of monologues, always with an eye to the fun and the ironic, pleasant music and short theatrical sketches.
The music in this case was provided by the pair of Geoff Sinnbeck and Sandy Brady, often with the Grumpy Old Men joining in with them. The music, like the social commentary, plays very much to the older members of the audience with a 60s and 70s flavour. It's delivered with an easy listening style which adds to the relaxing, pleasing atmosphere of the evening.
The two biggest guns in Colin's comedy armoury, however, are his fellow Grumpies, Robert Trott and Bryan Eaton. These two join Colin in delivering some thought-provoking monologues. But best of all, the three of them perform a few well chosen comedy sketches. The highlight of the evening for me was when the trio performed a much loved Monty Python sketch. This was delivered flawlessly and was both involving and funny.
Close behind it was a sketch where Robert Trott played God and a witty discussion about recycling led to a very funny punchline.
All in all, the Grumpy Old Men represent a source of genuinely warm, relaxing and pleasant entertainment which succeeds in its aim to amuse an audience who are mature, thinking adults. The popularity of the shows is well deserved and I certainly recommend the Grumpies to anyone, young or old, who likes a show and a great night out.

- Adrian Sherlock 

But where was the naked Shakespeare?

The Bard Bared presented by Colin Mockett and Shirley Power   Tuesday, 14 Sept. 2010 – 10.30 am – The Potato Shed, Drysdale

First assumption: As I turn into the car park, four busses are lined up. Looks like a big audience. Correction: 35 people in audience. Bad assumption: busses belong to school next door. 

Second assumption: The show, The Bard Bared, must be about Shakespeare, with nudity. 

Correction: It is about Robert Burns, the Scots poet – without nudity; but, admittedly, Burns was a bit of a lad: reputedly he spent every night in a pub, had six women/ wives, 13 children, much bedding, little wedding. He wrote great poetry, set to Scottish tunes. And would you believe, Burns was born on Burns Night; an amazing coincidence.  

In reality, The Bard Bared is an up-to date biography of Scotland’s superstar poet, whose life story is told by Colin Mockett and Shirley Power in a most interesting, captivating way. 

They both tell the story interspersed by the songs or poems sung by Shirley, which she accompanies with her many instruments. 

Shirley has that sparkling, lilting voice totally suited to the charming Scottish brogue. 

Three songs stood out for me: most impressive was her guitar rendition of My Love Is Like A Red Red Rose. The Highland Widow’s Lament had a haunting keyboard accompaniment. 

And Laddie Lie Near Me, unaccompanied, was a pure, soulful pleasure. 

The story is further enhanced by Colin’s well-researched pictures projected onto a screen. 

I won’t enlarge on the alleged sex addiction, the philandering and the heavy drinking and the early death at 37. 

Let us not forget this man who lived 250 years ago and died young is still remembered and revered today for his wonderful poetry, even here in the Antipodes. 

In summary, this presentation – by this intuitive couple of clever word-and-song entertainers – was a most impressive, comprehensively researched history of Burns’s life which deserved a larger audience and a better title. 

It even ought to be seen in school history classes around the state. It has that kind of quality.  

Hans Colla

Plaisir dans le Jardin de Sido

Le Jardin De Ma Mere directed by Judy Ellis for Brown Fairthorne & Geelong Rep, The Wintergarden, September 10  2010

This winsome, charming piece of theatre was as delicate as fine porcelain.
Sensitively adapted by Janet Brown from the writings of the French novelist Collette, it bore none of the sensational elements that marked the writer and performer’s life.
Rather, this was a finely-drawn portrait of Collette’s mother, Sido, from the perspective of her pre-teen daughter. So it’s set in provincial France in the 1880s.
And it was very soon apparent that Collette clearly adored her mother, and studied her every mood and emotion. Such was her skill as a recorder and writer that it’s also clear that not only was the love mutual – but there was much to adore about Sido. She was a woman of rare perceptions; independent and free-thinking, forthright at one with nature and in tune with the seasons. And for a lady of her times, she had a quirky, kookie, happy nature.
That this was brought out in four short scenes between two women says much for the perceptive staging and direction from Judy Ellis and the insightful acting of Wendy Robinson and Cherie Mills.
In a neat twist, Judy had her older actor, Wendy, recalling her childhood from middle-age, therefore relating to twenty-something Cherie as her mother.
The way each episode unfolded was with Wendy recollecting her childhood to the audience while Cherie quietly pottered in the background, before moving in to almost imperceptively take over each scene, illustrating, colouring and fleshing-out the dialogue.
It worked so well, with both women impeccably costumed for the period, and so, so comfortable in their personas that the whole evening took on the nature of a time-capsule, a step back into a very different era – in the company of a pair of delightful - and delightfully accented - companions.
And then - there was more. The evening was very much enhanced by the setting – not only by the quaint charm of the Wintergarden, but surrounded by dozens of artworks that each had an aspect of the theatrical piece as its theme.
Together, it made for a pleasing and altogether satisfying total cultural experience.
The word is that after tonight’s performance, the theatrical piece alone will be toured around some regional restaurants as a sort of discreet, refined cabaret.  

So Watch this site’s comprehensive diary for dates and venues – and if Le Jardin De Ma Mere comes your way – please go see it. You’ll be as charmed as I was.
- Colin Mockett.

Barry pulls it off with an audience of heteros

Barry Morgan, The Organ Boy, 

Potato Shed, September 4, 2010

There’s something weirdly fascinating about Barry, the safari-suited naively camp alter-ego of Stephen Teakle.
Barry’s a throwback to the 1980s, a polyester-clad super-salesman for his own organ emporium from the beautiful Sunnyside Mall in Adelaide. He’s in a state of open-mouthed euphoria playing his demonstration model, the Hammond Aurora Classic, which he handles with practiced expertise, showing off every feature while running through a couple of dozen tunes as diverse as Skippy, the theme from Chariots of Fire and Hooked on Classics. All the while he’s keeping up a constant repartee with his ‘shoppers’ – the audience - extolling the virtues of his organ, imploring them to take it home with them – and always totally oblivious to any sexual double meaning that could be implied. He even took three ‘volunteer’ shoppers on stage to demonstrate his ‘one finger’ method of playing…
I can imagine that his act would have been worked out and polished in gay bars and venues where Barry’s blithely naïve yet reckless statements “would you like me to go down on the organ?” would be wickedly funny. But, since making a guest appearance on ABCTV’s Spicks and Specks, Barry now finds himself appealing to a very different audience; ours was almost totally hetero with a few teenaged children, too.
And they loved him, lapping up every musical flourish, every cheesy smile, every overplayed gesture – and, here’s the amazing part, either totally missing or sublimely ignoring any innuendo along the way.
It’s as if they preferred to accept Barry at face value, as a sort-of Liberace of the sales-force, a gender-neutral, undated and undatable hero of the easy-listening keyboard. This was clear from the warm applause that greeted every single number, regardless of quality or skill (and there were some highly skilful moments) even to the extent that a plaintive female voice called out “We love you Barry” - unprovoked, from the back of the hall – while he was flicking switches to prepare for the next number.
Barry’s reaction was a slightly stunned “Well, I think I’ll just throw away the script and sit here and smile at you…”
The only flat spot came after Barry had reached his final sales-pitch, and failed to interest any of his ‘shoppers’ in purchasing his instrument. This logical point would lead to a neat anti-climax and clever finish with a gay audience, but it can’t really work with a mixed bag of shoppers.
Nevertheless, Barry rescued the moment with another flourish on his highly-polished instrument, and every single customer went home feeling absolutely entertained and entirely satisfied.
As I said, there is something weirdly fascinating about Barry. He had me smiling throughout – and admiring a very skilled performance.
- Colin Mockett

An oddly uneven Twelfth Night 

Twelfth Night directed by Charlotte Hukvari for Geelong Rep,
Woodbin Theatre, August 27 2010

Though it may appear to be a mathematical contradiction, this Twelfth Night was extremely uneven - in both senses of the word.

At one hour 50 minutes the first act was uncomfortably long, while the second scooted past hardly much longer than the 25-minute interval. The first act contained some meaty theatre, flashes of sublime humour and a good deal of original theatrical thinking, but this was interspersed with some scenes that were theatrically clumsy with wooden acting and staging.  

All this was carefully, deliberately carried out on a clean, clear-stage set where the many scene-changes were signalled by a pair of underwear-clad ‘tarts’ languidly changing or rearranging the furniture.
In contrast, the second act flowed much more briskly, tying all the loose ends and even delivering a thought-provoking alternative ending to Shakespeare’s classic - but again, contrasted with some awkwardly unprofessional moments.
The non-speaking tarts, Alice Fincher and Cassi Clingan-Borst were largely there to signify the play’s being re-set into a 1928 St Kilda brothel, which allowed the production an overall elegance, with the female actors wearing some luscious form-fitting period gowns. As Olivia, Anna Lewis’s slender poise looked particularly good in this regard, while Colin Urquhart’s sleazy Orsino had the look of Al Capone while his behaviour brought to mind the recent ex-boss of David Jones.
Dan Eastwood, last seen as a dodgy Sir Lancalot in Geelong’s Spamalot was this time wonderfully over-the-top as the wise, clever and glib clown who seemed able to every other character into giving him money; contrasting Robert Trott’s over-relaxed and oh-so-comfortable inebriate Toby Belch with Rhiannon Hodgkinson delightful as his more than able scheming conspirator/partner Maria.
Jesse Bickerton gave an enthusiastic gung-ho Andrew Aguecheek, while Barry Eeles, as their tormented victim Malvovio, provided much of the laughter with his delicate balance of introspective worldliness coupled with ridiculous naivety. Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night plot-twist illusion involves mistaken identity between brother and sister Sebastian and Viola. Director Charlotte Hukvari chose actors with very different styles - and builds - for these parts, but dressed them similarly - the intense, composed Taliesa Robinson and laid-back and verbose Adrian Sherlock made the deception almost believable.
Brooke Reid played Fabian as the happiest, most cheerful wrangling maid and Chris Moore, Trevor Robinson, Zach Eastwood and Rod Hunter lent able support in a number of roles. 

All told, this Twelfth Night was adventurous and interesting. It was very good to look at, and with the benefit of some judicious editing - perhaps a shifted interval - and some coaching in the minor roles it has the potential to be memorable by the end of its season.

Colin Mockett  

Good Grief - it's joyful Charlie Brown

You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown directed by Narelle Bonnici & Sam Symons for Parcell Productions, Drama (Blakiston) Theatre August 6, 2010.

It’s unusual to experience involuntary collective sighs of empathy or sympathy from today’s media-hardened audiences, yet this show produced several. It’s also unusual for this reviewer to leave a production with his face aching from more than an hour of constant smiling – but this show did it.

Parcell’s You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown is a vivid, vibrant happy, wonderful, joyful experience of a musical and I urge you to go see it.

Take the kids, they’ll love it. Take the grandparents, they’ll adore it, too. You could even take surly teenagers and they’d warm to it.

That’s because this musical takes the beautiful human truths and insights of Charles Schulz’s well-loved ‘Peanuts’ cartoon strip and adds a slickly professional musical and theatrical gloss. Small wonder that it ran for more than four years in New York.

But for this Geelong production, Parcell’s excellent sibling directors Narelle Bonnici and Samantha Symonds have taken that high-quality proven script and lifted its staging to another level.

They brought together a top-flight cast of highly-talented vibrant young actors and drilled them into slickly choreographed energetic routines in the style of A Chorus Line. Then they brought in vocal coach Jess Condon to lift the choral skills producing crisp delivery and delightful unexpected harmonies. When it all came together on opening night the result was a spectacular, sparkling, heartwarming – simply joyful show.

Parcell’s You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown is a delightful production deserving of a long run in a top theatre. But this being Geelong – there’s only next week at GPAC.

So spread the word and fill the old Blakey for the remaining few performances. You won’t be disappointed. You’ll see the exceptional Patt Ryan as introspective central character Charlie Brown, deconstructing his shortcomings and eliciting most of those sympathetic audience sighs; you’ll meet Jared Smith’s inspiring, moving, blanket-carrying Linus offering insights relating to everyone’s childhood experiences. Then there’s Cherie Mills’ dizzy yet wonderfully grounded and oh-so-human Sally and Lyndon Watts’ quietly-dignified Beethoven-prodigy Schroder. There’s Julian Hart as the inspired and insightful beagle Snoopy whose dinner-time celebrations brought more than a hint of Peter Allen. But above all there’s the gloriously eye-catching, wonderfully bossy, superbly superior self-proclaimed manageress Lucy, played with uber-relish by Michaela Powell. These delightful, accurately costumed characters, drilled to perfection into slick, colourful action on a simple, robust yet elegant set were backed by the happiest bunch of skilled musos led by Dan Heskett.

The only negative this reviewer found in the whole shebang was with the programme. Mysteriously, there’s not a mention of the man who inspired the whole thing – Charles Schlutz. But if that’s the only drawback – just think how good the on-stage show is.

You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown is a must-see for Geelong’s theatergoers. It’s happy, joyful simplicity makes perfect therapy for these election-sodden times. Please go see it – and take the family. You’ll walk away aching from smiling, too. And you’ll probably be recalling small portions and smiling inwardly for weeks. I’m already experiencing that now.

-Colin Mockett.

Bergers lead to exquisite emotions

Hold The Pickle written & performed by Rachel Berger,
The Potato Shed July 16, 2010.

There’s a line from the play Steel Magnolias that goes something like… ‘laughter through tears is the very best emotion…’

Well, this evening with Rachel Berger delivered that quite exquisite feeling over and over again. Hold The Pickle is a one-woman monologue that has Rachel telling aspects of her parent’s experiences in Nazi-occupied Poland, their flight to Israel, then as immigrants in 1960s Melbourne.

In practice, this was Rachel on a stark set in a lumpy mud-coloured 1940s dress acting out her characters; sometimes narrating them with searing honesty and clarity and sometimes slipping into familiar stand-up comedy mode. But always the stories she unfolded were real, fascinating, haunting, moving - and ultimately very funny. Throughout her 90-minute presentation we audience sat in engrossed silence – but Rachel’s storytelling skills meant that the next burst of laughter-through-tears was always no more than a minute away.

The show’s base is the gloomy resignation of Jewish humour which Rachel’s parents, Marcus and Rose, clearly had in abundance.  Though they saved the other’s lives many times over during WWII, they were no heroes; rather, they were warm, human people struggling to survive and maintain their love at a time when their society had gone collectively mad. That they survived to become cornerstones of Ackland St in the 60s was testimony to their strength, while their daughter’s ability to relate their stories with such warmth stands testimony to their love - that, and the heritage of humour they passed to her.

Though deeply personal, Hold The Pickle is in reality neither a biography nor a memoir. There are many unexplained portions – it’s not told how the family moved from Israel to Australia, or how they acquired the Deli business and somewhere along the line Rachel acquired a brother – but that lack of formal timeline structure allowed the show much of its charm. Because at base, the Bergers led a harrowing life even after immigrating to Australia.

But by her choice selection of anecdotes and consummate stagecraft, Rachel was able to tell their stories without pathos, blame or accusation – instead, she delivered an evening of heartwarming insights into a family of real, very funny people who led their lives in extraordinary circumstances. And on the way, delivered enough laughter-through-tears to last a whole season of theatre.

Thanks, Rachel, thanks, Potato Shed, but mostly, thanks, Bergers - for a wonderful lesson in humanity.

Colin Mockett

Tensions Bring a Tense Thriller

The Woman In Black directed by Kelly Clifford for Geelong Rep.
Woodbin Theatre June 25, 2010.

If you haven’t seen much pre-publicity for this play, it’s possibly because the lead up to opening night wasn’t smooth. The few details that leaked from the Woobin’s rehearsal suite told of production holdups, preparation hassles and personality clashes.

But in the age-old theatrical tradition that a bad rehearsal leads to a good show – this Woman In Black turned out to be a very good show indeed. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

It’s an old-fashioned thriller set in Sherlock Holmes style and time, but with the benefit of some whiz-bang up-to-date technology and super staging tricks. It has a strong storyline that I’m not going to disclose here – enough to say that it’s a set in Edwardian England with all of that era’s frets, fears and fusses.

The play features just two performers on-stage throughout, affecting scene and character changes by their own use of minimal props and costumes.

And although there are only two speaking players, this reviewer is nominating The Woman In Black for no less than six Entertainment Geelong Virtual Oscar (EGVO) theatre awards.

The whole play is in the frame for the ‘Best Production’ EGVO and Bryan Eaton is nominated for his careful, clever portrayal as Kipps, a lower-echelon lawyer who was troubled and literally haunted by a past assignment in remote far north-eastern Britain.

Ubaldino Mantelli is nominated for his intense and powerful performance as the actor who Kipps hired to help, but who found himself involuntarily involved.

Director Kelly Clifford is nominated for her staging that kept things seamlessly flowing – and the play's tension building - by the use of a whole array of formidable staging techniques. It all looked so simple, but it meant that the two actors not only had to memorise their dialogues, but also an intricate choreography of on-stage set and costume changes plus frequently employing short-cut mimes. That they managed this flawlessly is very much due to Kelly and her excellent production team.

I’m also nominating Sally Smith for her costumes – which were integral to those character changes and never less than perfectly matched for each different role.

And the final nomination goes to Ed Dolista, for his clean, simple and clever set design - then faultless sound effects immaculately timed throught the play.

And this publication forgives Ed for its omission when he compiled the play’s programme credits. Because we understand how easy it is to overlook details at times of pressure.

But if backstage dramas and tensions at Rep can produce such an exciting on-stage production – well, let’s have more of them…

Go see The Woman In Black. It’s good theatre, very well staged.

Colin Mockett.

Ozzy Wizadry from GSODA

The Wizard Of Oz directed by Sadat-Jon Hussain for GSODA Juniors,
Playhouse Theatre 20 June 2010.

I was highly impressed by the sheer discipline shown by this group of young performers. This bunch of kids lifted the hackneyed storyline by their sheer weight of enthusiasm, exuberance – and talent.

The show was a blaze of colour, highlighted by super costumes and driven by Damian Montaldo’s competent orchestra. It was swept along with imaginative choreography from Jules Hart and enhanced by Michelle Domonkos’ excellent lighting. Even the yellow brick road was created simply and effectively by lighting effects..

Of the performers, maybe a score of them were in their high-teens but the vast majority of the 60+ cast were toward the younger end of the age spectrum. And gosh they were good. There was one particular Munchkin – the smallest of the three males - who was simply mesmerizing in his natural stage presence. The Munchkins, themselves, led by Mayor Jazz Laker, for me, were a highlight. They pinched scenes everywhere and I couldn’t watch them without smiling.

In the lead roles, Chanelle Tait overcame a fall – and some shortcomings in her vocal range – to carry the show with composure and assured delivery. Chris Maxwell’s scarecrow, Jacob Petcovic’s Tin Man and Ben McNaughton’s Cowardly Lion worked well together to give Chanelle excellent support.

As Wizards and Witches, Maddison Kohler, Elly Gardiner and Thomas Shears gave life to their roles but, as happens so often with GSODA Junior performances, my memories on leaving were of the sheer number of talented youngsters I had seen

All credit to Sadat-Jon Hussain; not only for his control over such a large bunch of players, but also his ability to tease the very best from them.

The show had some inevitable flat spots, but rather than remembering those, what remains in my mind was the sheer spectacle of a really feel-good show.

- Robert Trott

Moving with Charm

This That and T’other a collection of the writings of Dennis Mitchell,
Scarecrow Patch, 19 June 2010.

This aptly- titled piece of theatre was essentially a grab-bag of thoughts, ideas and memories from Dennis, delivered by the man himself along with some talented friends.

It contained a single song, I Still Call Corio Home – a not-too-subtle parody of Peter Allen’s original – plus what amounted to a radio play, a poignant poem, pungent monologue, a couple of practical book-readings, an indulgent wander through childhood - all delivered with a good deal of charm – but all leading to an unexpected finale which started as a humorous monologue from Dennis based around his visits to the doctor, and ended with the declaration that he’s now living with cancer and, on balance, would have perhaps preferred not to have been told…

It brought the evening of gentle, urbane charm down to earth – but not with a bump. Like all before it, this segment was told with such calm, warmth and smiling skill that the audience found themselves digesting the content while applauding the neat theatre of the delivery.

Those friends, Colleen O’Toole, Jocelyn Mackay, Ray Jones and Marylin Nash were all on stage for the first piece, Gertrude, which was an international story, originally written by another friend, Heather Dempsey, who was to be seen operating the show’s sound and lighting desk. It had been adapted by Dennis to become essentially a 40-minute radio play, read live on stage with Jocelyn in the lead and the others taking several character parts in a variety of accents as the storyline unfolded across two continents. The evening then continued with a series of much shorter pieces; Dennis’ song parody, his gentle poem on ageing and reminiscences of his childhood in Lancashire, punctuated by Colleen’s beautifully delivered modern monologue Half Price; Jocelyn in a flowing black cloak telling a chill story of a Welsh witch who met a dramatic end and Marylin, delivering Lancashire love story – also with a poignant ending.

But none of the contrived, written endings had a fraction of the impact of Dennis’ gently delivered true one.

If you can get to see this performance, do so. It’s on again this afternoon, and has a simplicity and charm that’s compelling. If you can’t get to today’s performance, well, I sincerely hope to see it updated and restaged in a couple of years…

Colin Mockett

A Midwinter's Night's Extreme

Winter Solstice, two warming one-act plays for midwinter at
The Potato Shed, June 18, 2010.

Boxing Day, directed by Justyn Rowe, The Proposal, directed by Adrian Sherlock.

Sooner or later I’m going to see that most dedicated and conscientious of actors, Lee Foyster, in a role that’s suits her style and persona.

But unfortunately I seem destined to review her in a succession of inappropriate and incompatible roles; the latest of which was ‘The Woman’ in Theatre 3222’s Boxing Day, which opened The Potato Shed’s now-traditional duo of one-act-plays presented to celebrate winter solstice.

Lee’s casting as a sexy, mentally-troubled and uber-possessive wife just didn’t gel with her age, build and demeanor. This, along with some glaring production faults essentially negated the resolute stagecraft displayed by Lee and her captive partner Keith Lowe.

We, the audience, struggling to come to terms with Lee’s inappropriate casting on top of an outlandish plot, found ourselves confronted with statements like ‘Everyone knows all the shops are closed on Boxing Day…’ when in fact, we know it’s the busiest trading day of the year. But then you could almost feel a huge question mark rising from the cheap seats when we were asked to swallow that Keith had been imprisoned in a wooden box in a garage for a year without so much as soiling his nappy or growing a fingernail. Yep, he just sat on a milk crate for a year. When the crate was revealed it drew laughs, but I’m sure that’s wasn’t the intention of either playwright Bruce Olive or director Justyn Rowe.

Because, essentially, this production presented what could have been a deep-black study of a troubled woman as simply a piece of bizarre theatre.

But luckily the evening’s second play, The Proposal, by Sandy Fairthorne, salvaged an amount of stage credibility.

This light, frothy three-handed piece displaying skewed modern values was played with skill - and speed - by an intense and driven Charlotte Hukvari, scheming and vulnerable Jesse Bickerton and wry, sardonic Lauren O’Callaghan. Each delivered playwright Sandy’s perceptive script with verve and vigour - sometimes a bit too much - especially in the case of Jesse’s supposed heart-attack, which was ‘theatrical’ to say the least.

This reviewer wondered what writer Sandy, who was in the audience, would have thought of director Adrian’s flat-out, unsubtle approach; because I’m certain that with a calmer, more experienced hand at the helm, The Proposal would have delivered much more. Many of the finely-drawn social nuances embedded in a sharply clever script were skimmed over in the sheer pace of the thing.

But having said all that, the combination of mulled wine and live music in the foyer, Boxing Day and The Proposal did make for a worthwhile evening of live theatre – it certainly provoked a number of highly relevant discussion points.

- Colin Mockett

What A Performance in the Shed

What A Man's Gotta Do featuring Andrew Horabin,
the Potato Shed, May 29, 2010.

If the City is considering for a more relevant name for its soon-to-be-upgraded Potato Shed Theatre, it might consider calling the place ‘Drysdale’s Wheel of Fortune’. Because Geelong theatregoers know that when they take the short drive to Drysdale’s quirky arts venue, they’re taking the entertainment version of a punt. This reviewer has seen some of the finest small productions there – as well as some pretty pathetic efforts. The single constant is that they’re always interesting and in modern parlance ‘pushing the envelope’. It’s a credit to the vision and willingness to commit from the Shed’s staff under manager Rob MacLeod. Long may they continue to shove the stationary.

That commitment was noted by Andrew Horabin half-way through his one-man-show What A Man’s Gotta Do. Andrew said that he’d performed a snippet of the show last year at the annual booking showcase for all Victoria’s Arts Centre managers with the intention of putting together a tour. But only one venue had taken up the offer – the Shed.

Well from this reviewer’s perspective that made a stupendous win for Rob and his team, and a big loss for the rest of the state’s PACs – because What A Man’s Gotta Do was brilliant, and highly appreciated by its audience of 30-50yr-old males and their partners.

And that’s a highly sought-after audience segment.

The show itself is a sharp, satirical, witty one-man musical aimed at adults – no, not the smutty ‘Adults Only’ classification – this was aimed at thinking people with a few miles on the clock and a refined sense of humour. And if that sounds like a promo for the Grumpy Old Men show, it was intentional, because What A Man’s Gotta Do could be considered a Grumpy Young Man’s show.

Andrew Horabin is a highly talented West Australian 30-something recently settled in Melbourne. He developed his show in WA, touring it extensively. It’s a simple concept, taking the form of a slimmed-down musical with a classic coming-of-age plotline set in today’s Australia. Andrew explains the storyline between singing the show’s original and very funny musical numbers. But somewhere along the line – probably around Kalgoorlie - an element of audience involvement arrived, so today’s incarnation of What A Man’s Gotta Do is always unique – the ending of each show is dependent on input from the extensive two-way patter between Andrew and his happy public.

It means that not only is the show slick and professional, but it’s up-to-the-minute, relevant to each community – and very, very funny.

Andrew Horabin looks like a young Paul Kelly. He writes and delivers songs like Rory McLeod and has a stage-style as sharp and eloquent as Wil Anderson. But he stands alone in combining all this into an original show that had Drysdale’s audience yelling for more.

If you get the chance to see What A Man’s Gotta Do - take it. You won’t regret a moment and you’ll wind up happier, better informed into modern bloke's thinking – and awed by a unique talent.

But if past experience is the form, to get that chance you may have to pester the Shed’s management to nail a return performance. The number is 5251 1998.

- Colin Mockett

Dimboola shows the changes

Dimboola directed by David Mackay for Queenscliff Lighthouse Theatre Group. Queenscliff Bowling Club May 28 2010.

By Golly, Jack Hibbard, you unleashed a monster when you wrote Dimboola in 1969. I bet you wouldn’t then have predicted that in forty-odd years that your satire on an Australian small-town wedding would become the most performed Australian play.

Back then, when Dimboola opened at La Mama, the audience was welcomed by the players as wedding-guests and ushered into a reception that was packed with surprises. They saw larger-than-life characters satirising the drinking habits and social mores of that pre-breathaliser era. Reports of the time told of shocked audiences being so integrated into the plot they were unsure if the play was scripted or improvised.

But today, Dimboola is so well known that the element of surprise has gone, along, mostly, with the beer-swilling redneck social behaviours of the 1970s. And with it, Hibbert’s sharply critical/funny dialogue has been completely negated.

Today Dimboola appears as a piece of period theatre, its large cast vividly dressed in 1970s op-shop flares and behaving either as outlandish drunken over-aged louts or loudmouthed wowsers, giving its 21st Century audience a chance to sanctimoniously laugh at a (purely fictitious) former age.

This reviewer would suggest that the main reason for Dimboola’s popularity with theatre companies is that it lets everyone get involved in overplaying awful Okker stereotypes.

So, in this Queenscliff Lighthouse production, drunks Simon Thorne & Bernard Reed, Stewart Firth & Steve Howell, Brad Beales & David Mackay all took their soused behaviour way waaay over the top while wowsers Marion Melrose, Liz Fountain, Virginia Cooke and Cynthia Hughes spent the play loudly and vainly shouting at them to behave. Tayla Johnston and David Ward played their bride and groom parts as naïve simpletons, Julian Cooke was a hapless best man and Tessa Reid a stupidly dumb flower girl; Nicole Hickman made a malevolent bridesmaid and Tom Houldcroft an inept and lost Addy reporter.

An unkind reviewer might consider Tom’s character as the only one remotely accurate or recognisable to today’s society.

Yet on opening night the occupants of the next table to ours were clearly having a whale of a time, laughing at every belch and fart and yelling encouragment to ‘show us yer tits’ when mock-child Tessa opened by singing On The Good Ship Lollipop.

Surprisingly, they were all seniors aged, I would guess, in their 70s. Maybe they remembered the original production.

But then, the 50-ish occupants of the table beside us sat in obviously embarrassed silence. Rarely have I seen an audience so polarised. Some 40-ish members of front row tables were roaring at the antics of prostrate drunks, knicker-wetting pseudo-teens and trouserless priests while others appeared mortified by the antics in front of them.

From this reviewer’s theatre-oriented aspect, there were some good performers and neat touches involved, but all were without exception swamped by the over-portrayed intoxication.

Director David Mackay had added several songs, mostly delivered with Sir Les Patterson accuracy by Brad Beales which lightened the overbearing coarseness a little; David and Tayla’s sharply-funny dance gave welcome relief from wall-to-wall drunkeness and the small musical group under Lizzie Coyne was excellent in its professional backing and support.

The show's sound quality was uneven with some players wearing head-mics, others using microphones hidden in flower vases and others just shouting to overcome the problems in a low-ceilinged room.

The inclusive set meal was first rate in quality, quantity and service.

And here’s a final irony that Jack Hibberd would surely appreciate.

The underworked young 21st century bar staff were the epitome of polite gentility. Oh, how we've changed.

- Colin Mockett.

An Unmissable Project - for some

The Medea Project directed by Iris Walshe-Howling for Anglesea Performing Arts. Anglesea Hall May 20 2010.

It says much about the safe, comfortable groove that Geelong’s theatre has settled in that, for this reviewer, it’s rare to feel the thrill of anticipation before attending a radical new work from a progressive company.

Excepting, that is, the drive to the coast to experience a play from Anglesea Performing Arts and its director Iris Walshe Howling.

Iris and her team are, in many respects, the cutting-edge of our region’s theatre, driving it forward into exciting new directions. They’ve gained this reputation by presenting a succession of deftly crafted innovative pieces over the past seven years that have all been squarely aimed at the thinking person. You don’t go to Anglesea to laugh or sing or find escape at the theatre; Iris and her company want you to drive home with your thoughts well and truly provoked and they’ve developed plenty of skills to do this.

And that’s very much the case with APA’s current play, The Medea Project.

At base it’s Euripides’ Greek tragedy Medea and its subject is the vengeful nature of provoked womankind.

In the hands of Iris and APA, this 2,500-year-old story was unfolded with exquisite theatrical care and a lot of 21st Century whiz-bang gadgetry. The result becomes a piece of avant-garde theatre that’s as up-to-date as tomorrow’s newscast; especially so given the two cases of parental murder currently before our high courts.

In theatrical terms, The Medea Project had the lot; its superbly-drilled on-stage team wore stark and dramatic costumes performing against high-tech projected visual and sound backdrops. Their overlarge performance space allowed for plenty of movement and choreography as well as vivid lighting effects. There was a true Greek Chorus linking and commenting on the action while the original and integral live music was performed on stage by an exceptional musician in Kirstin Honey – who would holster her bamboo flute to seamlessly take her place as in integral actor.

And when I say that the cast is well-drilled; not only is every member word and action perfect, but I swear there were occasions that Iris and Kirstin had their chorus breathing in unison.

In the title role Genevieve Roberts was frighteningly single-minded, while Lina Libroaperto heightened this effect with her awed support. Philip Besancon played his King with a resigned finesse, Steven Georgiadis his Jason with sorrowful bravado - both underscoring the inevitable ‘moth to the flame’ nature of their parts. Lithe, supple, lovely and graphically-enhanced Jess Lesosky made Steven’s fatal attraction understandable; but the biggest parts in The Medea Project were filled by that Greek Chorus led by the aforementioned versatile Kirstin and including pale and aloof Liz Gustus, powerful and intense Nikki Watson and confident, concerned Valda Connelly. These were joined at times by Genevieve, Lina and Jess to become a group that was mesmerizing in its movement, music and stage-presence.

Among the theatrical lessons found in this Medea Project was that it’s not necessary to graphically portray violence on stage to provoke a sense of menace and suspense in an audience. This can be built using pure theatrical skills – as it was to great affect.

Don’t go to see The Medea Project if you’re looking for a good rollicking night out. But if you’re a thinking person in Geelong who appreciates fine theatre and its skills – this is an unmissable production.

- Colin Mockett

Slick As A Gulf Jellyfish

David Strassman with Ted E Bare's Farewell Tour at GPAC’s Playhouse May 17, 2010.

First.. a question. How do you get 800 40-somethings to shell out 50-plus bucks to see a vent-puppet show in Geelong?

Answer: You create a show as slick and up-to-date as a Gulf of Mexico jellyfish; make it as funny as a Billy Connolly trike-tour show and as visual as Myers Christmas windows. You research as deep as Barry Humphries to ensure your local references are sharp and insulting – then you promote yourself through every electronic media. Keep this up for 18 years – and you can get 800 40-somethings to pack GPAC’s playhouse for a 2½ hour show not just once but TWICE NIGHTLY – then come back do it again two days later.

David Strassman has to be the only man in the world who could do this. He also has to be the ultimate entertainer. An ordinary-looking bloke who appears like a thin Jon Pedlar, he presents a one-man show with a cast of dozens. He mixes the age-old arts of ventriloquism and pantomime with the sharpest of 21st Century stand-up and ultra-high-tech electronics. His puppet co-stars range from the twee Ted-E Bare to the foul-mouthed evil Chuck Wood by way of an incontinent grandfather Fred Bare, two alien robots, one a half-sexy siren the other a know-all called Kevin (sound familiar?) a naïve beaver, clued-up baby, the list just went on – and all of them dropping innuendos, one-liners and double-entendres while interacting with the audience.

Such is the Strassman skill that when he presented his own bare right hand, gave it a voice and worked to it as a puppet called ‘Mr Invisible’ - the laughs kept on coming. Now that’s really is holding an audience in the palm of your hand.

He’s also a ventriloquist who can leave four puppets on stage – alone – to work, animated, by themselves – then present a finishing spectacular with a cast of robotic puppets reminiscent of Queen’s We Will Rock You.

Sound fantastic? Try this for a clincher. When that audience of 800 40-somethings left, they were still laughing, vowing to come back next time Strassman is in town – and about a third of them were carrying souvenir Ted-E-Bare dolls they’d bought in the foyer.

Now that’s not only good entertainment, it’s brilliant business, too. Hell, the bloke’s good. I’ll go see him next time, for sure. Wanna see my bear?

- Colin Mockett

High - class Confusions

Confusions directed by Elaine Mitchell & Heather Dempsey for Theatre of Winged Unicorn. Ceres Hall May 14, 2010.

TOTWU, its founder/director Elaine Mitchell and Alan Ayckbourn do not make a natural fit.

Elaine is foremost an artist with a love for 19th Century literature. As such, Geelong audiences have come to expect, almost as a tradition, that when her company takes over her local venue, the historic Ceres Temperance Hall, they’ll experience an artistically staged fully costumed flowing drama in the Dickens/Hawthorn/G&S style.

So this simply staged piece of 1970s Ayckbourn comedy came as something of a surprise. But by golly, it worked. This production was visually excellent, its content insightful, funny – and as a bonus, it made first-rate theatre.

Elaine and her co-director Heather Dempsey’s decision to keep their staging as unobtrusive as possible – using plain white furniture and props against a black background – went totally against TOWU tradition. But it did clear the way for their well-chosen ensemble cast to deliver Ayckbourn’s shrewdly clever perceptions of the human condition with maximum impact.  

Their further choice, to keep the cast-list small, with each player in a number of different parts, gave their ensemble a chance to display some fine on-stage skills. This was further enhanced by a clear no-frills approach that had each actor delivering every line in normal tones, never over-playing for laughs. The result was a delightful, natural and very funny treatment of Ayckbourn’s five neatly written, sharply observed social scenes.

The first portrayed a harassed mother so set in her child-rearing ways that she used it on her adult neighbours; the second featured a sad and lonely would-be adulterer; the third a triangular restaurant social-climb wrangle; then a clever series of park-bench conversations and finally a scene from the Fete from Hell.

Every scene worked; every aspect was funny. And every one highlighted a different feature of that talented cast. So Miriam Wood, wonderfully distracted as the mum, returned as a nervous, introverted spinster in the park, then became a stressed caterer at the Fete. All were finely, perfectly drawn. Ultra-dependable Ross Pearce began as a slobbish bloke, morphed into an executive snob, a wary refuge–seeker in the park then the ringmaster of absolute havoc at the Fete. Ed Dolista’s welcome return to the Geelong stage saw him play a series of losers; the sleazy would-be adulterer became a status-obsessed cuckold, a card-carrying loner then finally a sadly, drunk non-pack leader. Melissa Musselwhite changed from being a concerned nosey neighbour to become a knowing wronged wife and then a disheveled posh dignitary. The lovely Kate Hunter moved from seducer Ed’s aware target to become his vengeful wife then a naïve beaten-up girl in the park. Tony Wright played the waiting game, first discreetly, then with tested patience before he was bancrupted in the park then became a dithering vicar. Assistant director Heather competently filled the final part as Kate’s attractively scented workmate.

Please go see Confusions - for all the above reasons. It’s shrewd, funny, insightful and a very good evening’s theatre. It also shows an unexpected aspect of the Ceres entertainers.

- Colin Mockett

High point at the Basilica

Music for the Spirit by the Ormond College Choir, under John O’Donnell, Friday, May 7 at St Mary's Basilica, Yarra St.

The Music at the Basilica planners have done it again: they have brought to Geelong, as part of the ‘Seasons’ 2010 Series, a quality choir from Melbourne. Only 24 of them, all undergraduates at Melbourne University, singing wide-ranging sacred music like angels. John O’Donnell must be a wonderful music teacher to train these young people to such high standards of perfection. They even sang music composed for two choirs; thus eight parts: that’s three voices per part. That is talent!  

The 15th and 16th centuries were represented by Desprez, Forestier, Tallis, Byrd and Orland Gibbons. After interval, they sang some lovely 19th century music by Brahms, 20th century music by Elliott Carter and Calvin Bowman and they finished the evening on a musical high with an 18th century Bach motet. The small audience was most privileged to hear such sublime music in the wonderful acoustical space of St Mary’s Basilica.

John O’Donnell’s musical CV has a few surprises: as organist and harpsichordist he once performed the complete harpsichord works of Bach; what’s more, he performed Bach’s total keyboard output in 29 recitals. He is also a musicology lecturer at Melbourne University.

In 1985 he became music director of the Tudor Choristers, and in 1990 he founded the Ensemble Gombert which specialises in high-Renaissance music. The question is now: what hasn’t he done?

The next event in the ‘Seasons’ series is Winds of Change at 3 pm on Sunday, 15 August, which features organist Dominic Perisonnotto and saxophonist Michael Lichnovski. Keep in touch with Music at the Basilica and its program and check the website  

- Hans CollapastedGraphic_3.pdf

Spamalot of joyful high-energy laughter

Spamalot directed by Dean Mitchelmore for Geelong Lyric Theatre Society.

Blakiston Theatre, April 30 2010.

OK, so it was definitely in the wrong theatre and the sound level problems were chronic throughout. But the joyous irreverence, exhilaration, fun and just plain happiness in this Spamalot swamped all that; I would defy anyone to sit through it and not leave laughing.

The laughter started with Eric Idle’s script, which took sketches from the Holy Grail film and other Monte Python sources and shaped them into a con-Broadway musical worthy of Mel Brooks’ The Producers.

This was tickled and polished with added music, clever direction and slick choreography then given a final lift by its delivery from a happy, talented, energetic cast.  

Director Dean Mitchelmore solved some of the theatre’s shortcomings with neatly Python-esque ideas involving projections on a scrimscreen exposed by an angel on rollerblades; a platoon of disciplined black-clad stagehands shifting a complex set of flexi-multi-use castle ramparts and some wooden mudfields.

But this stage trickery couldn’t disguise the fact that Spamalot was created and designed as a Broadway musical to be presented in a theatre, not a triangular arena-style venue like the Blakiston. The shape forced Dan Heskett’s orchestra to be placed on a centre-stage rear platform where its tight excellence came second to its variations of volume. In short, the orchestra’s sound throughout was rarely balanced to the forefront vocals and sometimes it completely overwhelmed them.

But luckily those vocals were delivered with verve, skill and high energy by a delightful bunch of actors led by Scott Beaton, whose King Arthur glued the production together with rare panache.

Scott played his King with a deadpan gravity and assurance, maintained throughout some impressive singing and movement pieces. His domination was such that it seemed somehow strangely lacking when we watched the few scenes where he wasn’t involved.

But there was certainly no abatement in laughter levels, because these scenes involved raucous Narelle Bonnici, perfect as a blowsy diva Lady Of The Lake; Phil Kelly, wonderfully pathetic as Arthur’s downtrodden steed/squire Patsy; Jared Smith, staunch as his cautiously intrepid Sir Robin, Dan Eastwood, resolute as his gung-ho Sir Lancelot, Russell Perry steadfast as his narrow-sighted dim-witted Sir Bedevere and Triston Gili bemused as his tacit–gay Sir Galahad bursting to get out of the closet. The lithe, agile David Zierk more than helped in this, when he wasn’t link-narrating.

All of the above was transmitted with humour-fuelled discipline backed by a brilliant, high energy ensemble with the ability to become monks, cheerleaders, peasants, minstrels, Can-Can dancers, a gay chorus line, backing choir, insulting French knights or a barrow-load of corpses all with effortless ease. And sing lustily while they were at it. So take a bow, Alard Pett, Darcy Carroll, Rik Howell, Gemma Considine, Kai Mann-Robertson, Jess O’Donnell, Lauren Pettigrove, Sue Rawkins, Katrina Santoro, Alesia Taranto, Simon Thorne, Mitchell Turek and gorgeous Amy Wert, who displayed singing and dancing talents – and a pair of lissome legs – that were previously hidden.

I recommend you go see Spamalot - a lot. Even with its flaws this is a wonderful, jubilant tonic of a musical – a joyful piece of uplifting theatre that will certainly figure prominently when Geelong’s awards are distributed.

Colin Mockett


Cosi shaped for young forms

Cosi directed by Denis Moore for HIT Productions, 

Potato Shed, Drysdale April 28.

Louis Nowra's modern classic comedy set in a sixties Melbourne mental asylum is one of the study pieces for this year’s VCE English students. As such it made a perfect fit for The Potato Shed, the City’s multi-purpose theatre that sits between two high schools.

That’s how this reviewer came to attend an opening night full-house that comprised 85 per cent 17-year-olds.

I should stress here that they were perfectly well behaved, if a little subdued, 17-year-olds.

From my seat high in the bleachers I could see the odd mobile phone screen lit intermittently throughout the performance, and, let’s face it, teenagers fidget – but apart from that they were as attentive and appreciative as any adult audience.  

But they did make for a different style audience to the norm, with a different sense of humour, which became apparent when the first laughs of the evening came from Jacob Allen fondling his groin. 

Then the penny dropped. This production is travelling Australia for four months on what is essentially a marketer’s dream tour – because Cosi is on the VCE set list, it needs the minimum of promotion . Audiences are guaranteed once schools had been contacted. And because Drysdale was well into the tour, the cast was already expert in meeting the tastes of late-teen audiences – and was playing to them.

So some of playwright Louis Nowra’s themes became a little restrained– like the historical sixties aspects over Vietnam war and moratorium conflicts - they were there, but they didn’t get the appreciation, laughter or reaction as the themes of uninhibited sexual interrogation, lust, or the abandoned mating rituals that had the audience roaring with laughter.

But having said that, this production was extremely professionally staged; it was well acted, produced and directed and played out on a neat and cleverly-designed touring set. This meant that it comprehensively hit all its marks. There would be, I’m sure, plenty of English tutors very happy that this production has rolled into town. Much credit is due to the on-stage skills of Don Bridges, who made the driven, obsessive lead character Roy totally believable, and Michael Wahr, as the naïve student–director subject of Don’s wrath - and the unsubtle desires of Bessie Holland’s compulsive-eating knife-wielding nymphomaniac. Bessie made her Cherry into a sort of dangerous grown-up version of Matt Lucas’ schoolgirl in Little Britain. There was danger, too, from the leering sex-obsessed pyromaniac Jacob Allan, while obsessive-compulsive Caroline Lee, recovering addict Katie-Jean Harding and ultra-introvert Jim Daly made Michael’s determination to stick to the task believable. These actors coped extremely well with the unpredictable mood-swing behaviors of their characters – but that paled when compared to the task of Adrian Auld, who faultlessly skipped between three characters, an earnest social worker, a committed left-wing activist and spaced out musician with a number of fast costume changes and a great deal of skill.

I recommend this Cosi. It’s probably different from any other version you’ll see, because of its subtle late-teen orientation. And it stands as a very good example of a production that’s shaped by the tastes of its younger audience.

- Colin Mockett. 

Rockin' - then rolling in the aisles

The Grumpy Old Men’s Travelling Rock & Roll Laughter Show Morning matinee at the Potato Shed, Drysdale, April 20th. 2010

The title says it all. Grumbling geriatrics, a two person Rock band and enough laughter to make you roll in the aisles - if they hadn’t been packed with the overflow from the stalls.

After two years and three shows along the same lines one might anticipate some difficulty finding new things to get grumpy about, but writer Colin Mockett is a gifted grumbler with a knack for exposing and ridiculing the insanities we are all daily subjected to, under the guise of progress. Thank goodness somebody notices!

Geoff Sinnbeck and Sandy Brady (from the Drop of a Hatband) are a slick duo, able to switch from Folk to Country to Rock and to whatever else the situation might demand, and as accompanists they provided a secure safety net for the singers.

The Grumpies are seen at their best in Marriot Edgar’s 'Sam, Sam, Pick up Thy Musket', and 'The Yorkshiremen' from Monty Python. It’s always interesting to hear actors trying their hands at accents. In both pieces Robert Trott employs a sometimes almost believable Northern dialect, and for a moment we are able to nearly forget that Brian Eaton is an Irishman. The fact that they are in some difficulty makes it all the funnier.

Whilst entertaining a personal preference for James Taylor’s Up on the Roof, Robert Trott’s Down in the Shed backed by the Grumpettes, (what a sweet name!) comes a close second.

Regardless of what any critic may say or think, the final arbiter of the quality this show, or any other, is the audience. This audience had a whale of a time and went away happy.

The Grumpy Old Men’s Travelling Rock & Roll Laughter Show is highly mobile, family oriented, and available to come to you 'at the drop of a hat'.

Dennis Mitchell.

A feckin' lovely feckin' show

The Cripple of Inishmaan directed by Jon Pedler and Judy Thomson for Geelong Repertory Company

Woodbin Theatre April 16 2010

Sure, The Woodbin mustn’t be such a bad place if they have plays in it like this. This Cripple Of Inishmaan is a feckin’ lovely show and wouldn’t you be a feckin’ eedjit to miss it. It’s so rollickin’ riotous and joyfully feckin’ politically incorrect. Well, it is set in feckin’ 1932 Ireland which you wouldn’t know from the programme which is full of feckin’ waffle. But the play itself is feckin’ wonderful. It has humour, drama, feckin’ pathos, it’s easy to follow and understand not like those other feckin’ obscure things and it’s got a feckin’ lovely cast of players. Sure isn’t Ubaldino Mantelli grand as the cripple boy who surprises everyone by going to America and feckin’ coming back; and Mary Steuten as his fat auntie and Christine Davey as the thin one who talks to stones. And Bryan feckin’ Eaton as the Island’s vital feckin’ news service and Morgan Jenkins as Bartley who fell in a feckin’ hole and Madelaine Field as his sister Slippy Helen who’s as evil and spiteful as sin but everyone forgives her cos she looks feckin’ gorgeous. Then there’s Andrew Kelly as the moody feckin’ boatman who’s got the right feckin’ name but the most insecure feckin’ accent (sorry about usin’ insecure Auntie Eileen) and Patsy Sanaghan as Bryan’s dipso Mammy and a fat fella name of Jon Pedler as the doctor. Aren’t they all just grand in their parts. Didn’t that Mary win a feckin’ Oscar last year and it looks like she’s going to be up for one again for this, along with feckin’ Ubaldino, feckin’ Bryan, feckin’ Madelaine and feckin’ Morgan. The only feckin’ thing wrong with this feckin’ play was that it lost some impetus (sorry, Auntie Eileen) in the second half due to an overlong feckin’ interval. Two feckin’ directors and they couldn’t get that right. But I suppose we should give them some feckin’ credit as they’re responsible for the whole feckin’ shebang, though. And the rest of the feckin’ crew. Because the whole show will be up for a feckin’ award, no doubt. Especially if they cut ten minutes off the feckin’ interval.

Anyways, Tell your Mam to come and see The Cripple of Inishmaan. It’s a feckin’ lovely production  Sure when was the last time you went to a show where they applauded the feckin' scene changes? This play has got just about everything in it. Includin’ peas.

Oh, you’d better warn yer Mam, there’s a bit of feckin’ swearing in it.

Colin feckin’ Mockett.

Is this a director we see before us?

The Scottish Play directed by Maryanne Doolan for Torquay Theatre Troupe.

Torquay Seniors Centre, April 15 2010.

If first-time director Maryanne Doolan was daunted by her play’s theme – which concerns an obsessive out-of-control director of Macbeth in a small theatre company – she didn’t show it.

She chose to smile enigmatically from her position hovering over the house-lights, with just an occasional anxious glance at faces in the first-night audience.

But she need not have worried. That audience clearly enjoyed her production, and The Scottish Play can be considered yet another success for TTT, a company that survives against the odds in a community that doesn’t even have a theatre.

Much of The Scottish Play’s appeal comes from writer Graham Holliday’s strong plotline, which begins with Macbeth’s unlucky reputation and puts it into a company bursting with amateur-theatre stereotypes.

To perform this neat and clever script, director Doolan chose a convincing cast with a trio of ideal lead actors. Foremost was Michael Baker as the director whose passion for presenting Macbeth became obsessive; ultimately costing his marriage and career. This big, difficult part was handled with élan by the competent and confident Michael, who played the part surrounded by an almost Frank Spencer-esque aura of subdued chaotic mayhem. This was neatly contrasted by a sturdy, stable performance from his best man and the play’s ‘lead’, Simon Taylor; and that of his wife and ‘leading lady’, Lisa Berry.

Lisa’s part called for her to show a succession of complex emotions in short appearances; guilt, concern, dismay through to pathos and ultimate dignity. She portrayed them all with a rare aptitude. Supporting these three leads was a capable, competent acting team bringing out all those stereotypes. There was Carleen Thoernberg’s domineering prima donna, Chris Young’s indispensable and indefatigable back-stage crewman, Terry Roseburgh’s staunch ever-reliable stalwart, Rhiannon Hodgkinson’s bright promising newcomer and Kevin Fitzpatrick portraying the timid and insecure actor-member seeking confidence from being in the company. Kate Hunter was deft, dependable - and dishy - in different support roles, Michael Lambkin believable as the director’s short-suffering boss, and Fred Preston excellent in several roles including the Porter (who brought lightness to an otherwise powerful production).

The positioning for some scene changes - placed either side and below the raised stage - were awkward and cumbersome making audience sightlines tricky, but for the most part this was overcome by good lighting and technical arrangements. They were minor irritants in what was, at base, a very good performance of a fine play.

Go and see The Scottish Play. It’s a credit to cast, crew, director – and company.

And there's not a kilt or bagpipe in sight.

- Colin Mockett

The Chill of a Horror Meal

Master and Servant, directed by Ben Laden for Courthouse Youth Theatre, Old Geelong Courthouse, March 26.

Way, way back in a former life I remember visiting a fairground House Of Horrors where mock-fear was induced into teenagers using low-lighting, a disorienting black maze unexpected sounds and surprise images. I’d just about forgotten that experience, believing it to be a symbol of the past; long superseded by screen-delivered shock that began with horror films then moved into ever-more gory computer games.

But then came this 21st Century Master and Servant, a newly-minted short theatrical piece that was billed as ‘interactive’, meaning the action occurred around its l audience, included as part of the proceedings. And the whole thing was based around that old House Of Horrors experience, with disorienting pathways, black maze, odd scary atmosphere and things that go bump in the night.

But as well as the mock-chilling, Master and Servant had a sub-plot, a spoof-sleuth session where the audience of pretend wedding-guests were welcomed into a strange clock-dominated room by a pert 1930s-looking maidservant (Alex Desebrock) who invited them to notice clues – mainly hidden handwritten letters of despair – before dispatching them to a creepy journey upstairs through the maze etc ending in an uncomfortable meal hosted by the gloomy, dominating Master (David Ward) – whose performance included every horror-film cliché in the repertoire - and his ethereal bride, played with ghostly allure by the wraithlike Miranda Scherger. The whole event was ring-mastered by adept manipulating servant, Johannes Scherpenhuizen, presumably assisted by Canada White and dramaturg Sara Topsoe Jensen – or perhaps director Ben Laden – anyway, there were shadowy presences behind the black drapes helping to take the unreal action firmly back to mock-Goth times.

This one-hour production was big and resourceful. It used the whole of the Courthouse precinct, from pre-foyer to an after-show mocktail bar in a small courtyard.  

On the evening this reviewer visited, the audience consisted of seasoned theatre people and teenaged students. In the mocktail bat those theatricals considered Master and Servant an unusual piece of dark theatre, well-rehearsed and presented yet strangely unfinished.

By contrast, most of the teenaged audience went off to see if they could book for the night’s second performance and experience the whole thing over again.

But then, they almost certainly had never been to a fairground House Of Horrors.

Master and Servant continues in the Courthouse Theatre twice nightly tonight then April 1, 2 & 3. It's recommended as an unusual theatrical experience.

- Colin Mockett

Spicy, Tasty Bites

Small Bites directed by Steven Georgiadis for Brown Fairthorne/Theatre 3222, Potato Shed, February 13 2010

This production heralded a bold new direction for Geelong theatre. The idea was not exactly new – it was to take dramatic entertainment out of the theatre and deliver it directly to the people. But this was no traveling troupe of street players – its 21st Century concept was to deliver small, sharp relevant pieces – Small Bites – with the minimum of set-up and props directly to the places where today’s people gather – cafes and restaurants.  

This was not exactly a cabaret or theatre/restaurant, more a replacement for background music - providing entertaining diversions between courses. At its opening night, in the foyer of Drysdale’s Potato Shed, the concept worked extremely well and produced a highly enjoyable evening’s entertainment. But it should be noted that this was a semi-theatrical venue in front of a friendly audience tuned to expect a theatrical event. The real test will occur when the show is taken on the road to real cafes and restaurants throughout the region. If it overcomes the intrusions of service bustle and noise along with curious children and the odd alcohol-affected customer then Small Bites may well succeed in gaining a whole new audience. And it deserves to, not only for taking that bold step – but on sheer theatrical merit. The six Bites – all written by Janet Brown or Sandy Fairthorne were each individually different. But they were all sharply drawn, incisive, relevant and well crafted. They were presented with a professional gloss by a talented troupe of actors. First Bite portrayed a mismatched couple on a dinner date. He was Bruce Waddell, calm middle-aged and verbally clumsy. She was Charlotte Hukvari, young, slender, leggy and prone to tantrums.  They revealed most of the pitfalls of dating before ending on a neat punchline. Second Bite saw the beautiful Lauren O’Callaghan giving a whole new slant to the children’s fairy tale of The Princess and The Pea. Lauren told it from the Princess’s perspective - and her version was a lot more believable – and interesting - to cynical adults than the traditional. Then for third Bite a vibrant, intense Nikki Watson delivered a you-me verse against Bruce’s disembodied voice which led to a powerful three-word ending. Following a short interval, mucky, cheerful and costumed Bronwyn Beard delivered us a new eye-opening morsel – a visit from Margaret Cavendish, a real trailblazing feminist in that she was a woman scientist from the 17th Century. Then Charlotte returned with a darkly funny, sharply accurate portrait of a woman trapped in a five-day hold-circle calling Telstra’s helpline. When she finally succeeded in getting through to friendly operator 981 in Delhi - that was when her husband announced the end of her marriage. Charlotte’s sheer acting ability made this Bite believable despite it clearly written for an older woman. The evening’s final Bite was just delicious. It was, in essence, a bitch session between two former friends, Lauren and Nikki, relating how their relationship ended when they spent a holiday together in Bali – all beautifully, cattily, hilariously delivered.  

Together, Small Bites was a delightful showcase of theatrical skills. And it’s coming to a restaurant near you.

I recommend you go – and relish these spicy, tasty, appetizing Bites. They’re moorish.

- Colin Mockett.  

Brilliant team effort

West Side Story directed by Martin Croft for Footlight Productions Ford Playhouse February 6, 2010.

I would estimate the average age of this production’s performers to be around 19. I’ve got shirts older than that. I’ve also been reviewing theatre for very much longer, which serves to qualify what follows...

I’ve seen eight or nine stage versions of West Side Story, as well as the film. And I don’t think I’ve experienced a better one than this. Ever.

Footlights took this publication’s 2009 ‘Best Production’ Virtual Oscar for its Boy From Oz and now West Side Story appears set to repeat the achievement, even at this early stage of the year.

Sure, some of the lead roles appeared to be in the hands of comparatively lightweight, unknown players – but then, that was pretty much how the Geelong Football team was viewed at the beginning of its 2007 season, and look what happened to them! That comparison is not so strange. Like the GFC, Footlights has assembled an excellent, professional management team from producer Peter Wills down. That’s exceptional director Martin Croft with top MD John Shawcross and exciting choreographer Jordan Punsalang. Their professionalism then brought in a clear, deceptively simple set designed by Andrew Bellchambers, vibrant costumes from Amber Vahland, quality lighting from Shane Haugh and assembled teams headed by stage manager Robert McKenzie and audio tech Marty Schmidt. I know it’s unusual to begin a review by listing the background staff, but these deserved credit for creating the base for such a polished, sure - and flawless production.

Because, from the opening moment when a stray basketball bounced on to the empty Ford stage heralding a breathtaking dance routine of cartwheeling, leapfrogging, bopping, salsa-ing young performers through to the poignant last scene of spotlit gun on deserted stage, this was a show that had been carefully thought through and designed to be visually stunning.

But then... Then another team of amazingly talented, disciplined young performers added their energy, verve and skills to create a breathtaking, efficient and highly memorable whole.

Nominally heading the cast were Caleb Vines as an admirable Tony and Michaela Powell’s delightful Maria, who both revealed excellent voices for their big songs as well as fine dance skills and commanding acting presence. But then, they also fitted effortlessly into their respective ethnic teams to flow the action along with unrelenting energy. Indeed The Zoe McDonald-led PR Girls America and Jet Gang’s Gee, Officer Krupke rivaled the more traditional showstoppers Maria, Tonight and I Feel Pretty as the night’s big moments. So here I’ll credit the all-singing, dancing Jets; athletic singing dancers Jack O’Riley, Greg Shawcross, Thomases Russell and Reed, Jordan Doroschuk, Ross McCallum, Xavier McGettigan, Max Corstorphan and wanabee Lizzie Sahistrom with their brilliant supporters Krystie Wiltshire, Jessica Bradford, Erins Mathieson and Mirkovic, Tegan Paisley, Sally Uldrikis, Jemma Lowther and Lauren Flood. Opposed by the equally talented rival Sharks; David Ward, Lyndon Watts, Mitch Turek, Adam Di Martino, Jonathon Lawrence David Greenwood and Sam Guerra with their girls Caitlin Mathieson, Emily Jacker, Alicia Miller, Tessa Connelly, Bree Moyes, Brittany Vredenbregt and Kyla Bartholomeusz.

It’s a mark of the high all-round skills, talent and raw energy of these youngsters – most of whom, the programme says, are still students – that seasoned performers Howard Dandy, Lachy Joyce and Ray Ferguson were steamrollered inside their breathtaking orbit, becoming a remarkably visual, multi-talented company.

And all this was superbly supported by John Shawcross’ excellent orchestra that they deserve listing, too. Stand up and take credit, Jim Davidson, Michael Wilding, Fiona and David Gardner, Alexandra Wright, Michael Thacker, Martin Duck, Daniels Ballinger and Zampatti, John Adams, Adrian King, Joel Carnegie, Melissa Shirley, Ben Castle, Ellen Newman, Jamie Parker, Emma Day, Danai Fadgyas, Caitlin Stapleton, Stefanie Gumienik, Timothy Dunlop, Maximillian Rudd, Jacqueline Robins, Nicholas Powell, Harrison Kennedy and vocalist Georgia Nicholls.

Together you created an awesome West Side Story - and a new benchmark for Geelong's non-professional theatre. Thank you for the memories. They'll certainly last a while.

Colin Mockett

This View’s a Must-See

A View From The Bridge directed by Judy Ellis & Janine McLean for Geelong Rep Woodbin Theatre, February 5, 2010

Geelong Rep has started its 2010 theatre season with a high-quality flourish.

A View From The Bridge is a classic Arthur Miller play presented with sensitivity and skill on a simple, clever set. That’s pretty good for openers. But such was the quality of theatre expertise involved that Miller’s 1955 characters and situations became instantly recognisable to, and clearly understood by, its 2010 audience. His beautifully-crafted script, delivered by a talented cast with the benefit of sensible direction made for an evening of powerful and thought-provoking theatre. Not least because many of the strands in Miller’s multi-layered storyline are relevant and pertinent to today’s society.

At the play’s core was a raft of six outstanding performances led by Steven Georgiadis, as Eddie, a Brooklyn-Italian migrant wharfie with an unbending patriarchal attitude and fatally flawed personality. In a masterly performance, Steven instilled his difficult character with an introspective pride, giving his Eddie both authenticity and credibility. He then added an out of control blind conviction to drive the play’s action relentlessly and recklessly onward to an inevitable climax.

Steven’s pace and perception were mirrored by Rep newcomer Felicia Frangapane as Eddie’s ward Catherine, who grew on-stage from a doting teenager to become his unwitting object of desire and then an instrument to his ultimate devastation – all delivered by Felicia with assured conviction. Then there was Eddie’s downtrodden yet sharply perceptive wife, Bea, played by Cherie Mills with passion and intensity all the more powerful given the Woodbin’s close-up audience. Into this trio’s powderkeg household Miller introduces the touch-paper of a couple of illegal immigrant workers – young male relatives escaping their homeland’s grinding poverty – with an inevitable further escalation of pressure. Jules Hart was so correct as Rodolpho, the lighthearted romantic who won Catherine’s heart and Eddie’s hatred, while Ubaldino Mantelli was outstanding as Marco, turning from solid, deferential and dedicated don’t-make-waves worker to become a venom-spitting avenger. Overseeing all this, narrating in hindsight and keeping the action seamlessly flowing – and thereby building the tension further - was community lawyer Alfieri, played with empathy, compassion and no mean skill by Jon Pedler. This central core of acting excellence was supported and assisted by a team of small-part walk-on players in Morgan Jenkins & Yasha Nisanov, Michael Currie, Luke Harb & Matthys McLean, Rob Trott, Miriam Wood and Wendy Robinson.

And yet, with all that drama, this A View From The Bridge was not without its lighter moments. Strategic flashes of humour served to heighten the play’s tensions even more - and make for an exceptional evening of theatre.

It’s highly recommended. Geelong Rep’s A View From The Bridge rates as a must-see production.

Colin Mockett.

Marathon of Delight

Geelong Summer Music Camp 30th Anniversary Concert, Costa Hall January 21, 2010

Geelong’s Summer Music Camp celebrated its 30th anniversary in style with a concert displaying its twin strengths – the flair and skill of its tutors and the enthusiasm, ability and discipline of its students.

Once again a packed Costa Hall audience was both amazed at, and reassured by the high quality of musicianship achieved by those students after just four full days of dedicated tutoring. The Camp’s 250 participants formed three bands, three orchestras and a choir all of top quality and high versatility. This concert covered a musical spectrum that ranged from Herbie Hancock’s cool jazz to a full symphony orchestra playing Sibelius’ stirring Finlandia. It was, in short, an excellent showcase displaying high skills in many musical areas, as well as suitably paying tributes to those musicians who began the camp thirty years ago - and have built it to its present standard.

However, on the downside, fitting all this into a single evening meant this showcase was extremely long, stretching over three hours without an interval.  

The show started with a tight and together set from the Jeffrey Stage Band – a 21-piece big band driven by eight saxes under the guidance of maestro Dave Gardner. They played Chameleon from the aforementioned H. Hancock, followed by a swampy, Creole-flavoured Hickory & Twine. This New Orleans theme was picked up by the next ensemble, sixty-plus strong Talbot Band, conducted by Geelong’s other star musical Gardner - Christian College’s head of music, Fiona. Her band played two Mississippi-style numbers with skill, verve and imagination, the steamy Quad City Stomp and exciting Great Steamboat Race, complete with accomplices placed around the auditorium reproducing authentic paddle sounds using suspicious-looking water-bottles. These two numbers were separated by a beautiful, delicate Psalm 42 English folk tune led in with a flawless, elegant flute solo from Tess Barber. This band also had, for this reviewer, the image of the night – of tiny percussionist Anson Ni reaching up to play his big drum towering over him with aplomb and total concentration…

Next up was a change of pace and style with the Claremont Strings, a junior group of 37 predominantly female young string players conducted by Kieran Casey who presented five short pieces with assured skill. They covered the string spectrum from Pizzicato Pizazz through Midnight Tango to the highly popular theme from Chronicles of Narnia. Then the senior, Noble Concert Band under conductor Graham Lloyd presented four numbers with an ultra-professional gloss. Again, the band showed its versatility, opening with a military bang with Army of the Nile and finishing with yet more southern swing with Original Dixieland Concerto led by a small trad-jazz band of soloists. On the way it covered a classy snippet of Mendelssohn arranged by the conductor and delivered with an assurance that would normally only follow weeks of rehearsal – not a mere four days. But then it was time for the Morrison Singers, who, under Tom Healey, had totally memorized four intricate songs, with harmonies, in that same short span. The 37 singers began with the now-expected deep South gospel-flavoured All Night All Day and finished with an unusual yet delicious anger-fuelled Brazilian folk-song You Say You Know Everything. All were delivered with clarity, note-perfect and not a song-book in sight. This was followed by the senior Stewart Strings under charismatic conductor Shanthi Charrett, who took the evening into even more surprising territory – delivering first Tudo Bem, then a polished Elgar Serenade and a superbly sensitive pair of movements from Holst’s St Paul’s Suite that was memorable for Emma Day’s violin solo expertly played against the full string section. Then followed the strings’ augmentation into a 70+ member symphony orchestra, again conducted by Ms Charrett to deliver Finlandia Opus 26 no 7 that was so well executed it would have been creditable to most orchestras in Australia. Then on to a wonderfully-fitting – and moving - finale, Ode from Music & Moonlight, written and conducted by the man who co-founded the Geelong Summer Music camp 30 years ago, Malcolm John. 

Humourous MC Kevin Smith’s suggestion that the audience might want to stand, walk and stretch during chair-moving set-up period would have benefited from better timing – he suggested it toward the end of the final set-up!

But, even though it was something of a marathon for its audience, I wouldn’t have shortened this concert by a single number. Every one displayed such varied aspects of skill, confidence – and promise to make for an evening of delight. 

Colin Mockett.