Claudia’s skill drives the Van
The Lady In The Van directed by Geoff Gaskill for Geelong Rep, Woodbin Theatre November 23, 2012
Rep is ending its 2012 season on a high note. Its final play, Alan Bennett’s The Lady In The Van is pure delight.
Director Geoff Gaskill’s careful approach suits Bennett’s methodical writing precisely and his casting of lead actors Claudia Clark, Mike Ellis and Tony Wright is inspired. These three are given excellent support by Ros Romney and Steve Howell - and this quintet, on an eye-pleasing, arty yet clever set, have created a production laced with charm, whimsy and human insights.
The Lady In The Van tells a strange story of an incident in Bennett’s life that turned into a saga. Basically, as a successful young writer he had moved into a new house in a London street that had a curious resident - a lady who eked out a living selling pamphlets and pencils and who appeared to live in her van. She shifted to various positions along the street until finally arriving in Bennett’s front garden - hounded by yellow parking restriction lines. The understanding was that her stay would be for a matter of weeks, but this turned into 15 years. And during this time an unusual relationship of semi-detached arms-length dependency grew between the two, which Bennett chronicled in his diary. That’s the base of the play, and that’s why there were two actors playing Alan Bennett on stage.
Mike Ellis was the detached observer, seated to one side, remembering and writing his thoughts, while Tony Wright was the responsive Bennett, interacting with van-lady Claudia plus the characters presented by Ros and Steve who emerged from an opaque memory box at the rear of the stage.
The use of Mike and Tony in the same role, as writer and character, was a neat ploy. It allowed them to converse directly, giving insights into Bennett’s thinking at crucial times during the saga.
But none of this would have worked without the wonderful characterisation of Miss Shepherd created by Claudia Clark.
Claudia’s Miss Shepherd is a tour de force - worth the price of admission on its own. Her performance drives the production throughout, giving it charm, credibility, life. Claudia is totally, absolutely convincing as the feisty, awkward, cantankerous smelly, ultra-religious, enigmatic old woman who is at the same time offensive and likeable.
The performances of Mike, Tony and, especially, Claudia, make what was, at first, a bizarre true-life relationship between Bennett and his Miss Shepherd quite understandable. Natural, almost.
And on the way they’ve created a piece of theatrical magic for Rep.
The Lady In The Van is wonderful theatre. Go see it. You won’t regret a moment.
- Colin Mockett
An explosion of bleak cheerfulness
Man The Balloon directed by Janine McKenzie for Torquay Theatre Troupe, Torquay Seniors Theatre, November 22, 2012
It was a brave decision for TTT to produce an absurd comedy in today’s climate of social realism. Matt Cameron’s decade-old play depicts a bleak fictional society - nothing like ours, of course - that is so shallow and absorbed by its recurring cycles of trivialities that little notice is taken of anything socially valuable - even to the extent it is not distracted when its citizens begin to explode. First a prominent townswoman disappears in a puff leaving only her shoes, then the church choir detonates on a high note, a passionate butcher gets a climactic discharge - eventually every member of the society is endangered or exploded, with one single dissenting voice.
To enact this satirical scenario, director Janine McKenzie required her large cast to play their parts in joyful, gung-ho, puppy-eager manner, adding another element entirely. So priest Andrew Gaylard bemoaned his community’s lack of depth with jolly smiles, mayor Maryanne Doolan happily ignored the population explosions preferring to cheerfully canvas for re-election, motorcycle-helmeted policeman Sean Sexton threw himself around the stage with gay abandon while downing doughnuts; sunny seductress Carleen Thoernberg breezily seduced lusty newly-bereaved butcher Mark Tonzig and doctor Lisa Berry merrily munched - along with all of her patients - pills by the handful while exuberant artist Jordan Machnyk gleefully danced at every opportunity including funerals. Providing some balance were disgruntled cafe-owner Stuart Errey, upset by falling leaves and unpaid bills from exploding clients; enigmatic leather-clad ‘saviour’ Fred Preston, who unsurprisingly turned out to be just a charismatic money-grabber - and florist Mike Lambkin, who drolly delivered the play’s funniest one-liners until he exploded - and central character Lachlan Errey - a sort of Emperor's New Clothes whistleblower - pointing out, unheeded, the shortcomings of his society amid all the frenzy.
Anyway, the result of all this madcap jocularity on Cameron’s bleakly satirical script was to create a fast-moving, colourful play that was both absurd and ridiculous.
And bravely staged.
- Colin Mockett
Outstanding musical scores 13
13 The Musical directed by Scott Bradley for CenterStage Junior, Courthouse Theatre November 16, 2012
This was a delightful, fun, happy musical show. It was clever, insightful, well-presented by a talented good-looking cast; it had excellent musical numbers to a rock score from a tight, flawless band and it was neatly choreographed to fit the venue’s confined space. This treatment of 13 has deservedly garnered a swag of nominations for our VO awards.
Yet this was despite a desperate list of sound problems. The sound balance was a major issue throughout, with the band’s levels overwhelming the singer’s voices, leaving the audience straining to comprehend what were clever, witty lyrics - at least those we could discern were - then, presumably in attempting to fix the problem, the second act was plagued with random pops, whistles and bangs.
And this was such a pity because the on-stage content was among the best this reviewer has seen all year.
13 The Musical is a modern coming-of-age saga of a Jewish New York boy who, after his parent’s marriage breaks up, moves with his mother to a small country town where he struggles with school and social relationships alongside his puberty problems. In a nutshell, it’s Woody Allen meets Grease in a 21st Century setting.
This production enjoyed excellent lead players in the oft inspired, sometimes overwhelmed but always relevant Karl Senftleben, who delivered his swift Jewish one-liners as assuredly as his potential girlfriend, Casey Reid, doled out sensible maxims - frequently using her exceptional singing voice.
And supporting these two were a bunch of really well-cast singing dancing, posturing, wheedling teens who communicated all the angst apprehensions and tensions of that age - along with its joys and freedoms.
Ryan Quinn gave us a beguiling, be-crutched Archie while Sheridan Adams’ ditzy lead cheerleader and her best friend/rival, the seductive, controlling Cassidy Chappell were outstanding; Cassidy, in particular, would have made the show’s only adult, Rabbi Ash Chappell so very fatherly proud. Meanwhile Trent Inturissi, Hudson Middlecoop, Nick & Will Conway and Eugene Pandik produced a teen-gang hierarchy as happy as Travolta or the Fonz ever did.
Behind these principals was a 20-or-so chorus, mostly pre-teen but all certainly pre-adult, who, though shoe-horned onto that tiny stage - managed to capture all the vitality of youth in a series of mini flashdances. Take a bow, choreographer Zoe Hudgell alongside director Scott Bradley and MD Brad Treloar. Because with this musical you have created an exceptional piece of theatre. But boy, I do hope you fix the sound for the final performances.
- Colin Mockett
This Spirit Of Christmas was a double
The Spirit Of Christmas, GSODA Juniors, GPAC’s Drama Theatre, November 15, 2012
This unusual show was a hybrid. In effect, it was two very different hour-long shows under different directors separated by a 20 minute interval.
The first act, directed by Debbie Fraser, was a deftly staged, lavishly costumed almost traditional rendering of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol - yes, the Scrooge play - with some neatly added musical numbers sensitively accompanied by Stefanie Gumienik on electric piano.
Then, after that interval, came the second act directed by Sadat Jon Hussain. This was more familiar GSODA Juniors territory, in that it comprised a series of big, cheesy, colourful production numbers, most with a Christmas theme, backed by rock-group backing tracks, loosely connected by an improbable storyline - and with the sound and action levels cranked up several notches.
It says a lot about the talent and discipline of this 55-strong company of 11-17-year-olds that every member took parts in both shows - and they were each presented with flair, energy and highly professional gloss.
This was personified by Louis Reed, morphing from his rock-solid, staid characterisation of Scrooge in the first half to become a fluid-moving swivel-hipped song and dance man in the second. And Molly Augerinos, who moved from meek, subservient daughter in the first act to become the cheekiest of scene-stealing elves - displaying perfect comedy timing - in the second. Then there was Jazz Laker and Meg Carroll, forming a delightfully harmonious cameo pair of charity collectors in the Carol, to seamlessly become glamorous support singer/dancers in Come, Lets Share The Night and a raft of second half production numbers.
But in truth, a similar comparison could be made to each and every member of this company’s cast. They all sang, all danced, all acted and all were equally at home in Debbie’s carefully constructed, thoughtful version of the Dickens classic as they were in Sadat-John’s brash, upfront energy-driven American-spectacular-influenced musical showcase.
And what an amazing contrast; to move in the same evening from Dickens tight morality play to stetson-wearing boot-scooting Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree, the militarily mawkish sentimentality of I’ll Be Home For Christmas or a junior, naive version of the seduction ballad Baby It’s Cold Outside (I’m not sure what this had to do with Christmas, perhaps it’s something to do with snowmen…)
Anyway, the 2013 Juniors didn’t just managed this, they did it with style.
However, not everything was wonderful with this production. By its very nature the second half put a lot of pressure on the show’s sound technicians - there were a dozen or so radio mics in use, with inevitable sound-level problems - and some of the song choices were, well, questionable.
And this show easily took this critic’s prize for the most obscure and difficult to use theatre programme for the year.
But overall, the lasting impression from this Spirit Of Christmas was of the talent, discipline - and adaptability - of those 55 players.
I’m awed, not only by the Juniors, but the direction, choral and choreography talents involved.
- Colin Mockett
Hayfever brings an endearing reaction
Hayfever directed by Elaine Mitchell and Heather Dempsey for Theatre of the Winged Unicorn, Ceres Hall, October 12, 2012
It’s an odd title, Hayfever, conjuring up images of watering eyes and sneezing. There were no sniffles at this production’s opening night, but there was a great deal of laughter. Because this bout of Hayfever showed that given the right company, cast - and care - Noel Coward’s topical 1920s comedies of manners can appear as fresh, funny - and relevant - in the 21st Century as when they were written.
Hayfever’s storyline is Coward pure and simple and it has nothing to do with pollen-counts. It’s based around a family of shallow English theatricals - the circles that Coward moved in - who had each invited weekend guests to their country home without bothering to tell the others, or, as this was the affluent 20s, the servants.
Anyway, this resulted in a house-party from hell, full of generational gender-games, sibling point-scoring, giddily-switching partners, misunderstandings and general mayhem, all overlaid with Coward’s brittle, witty dialogue.
The action took place in a single room which saw the small Ceres Hall stage transformed with accurate and elegant art-deco decor. This room was cluttered enough to make some of the family’s extravagant gestures appear almost dangerous.
The play’s dual directors, Elaine Mitchell and Heather Dempsey were necessary because each took a very different stage role in the production.
Elaine played the matriarch, a retired actress who set her family’s tone for outlandish theatrical behaviour. She did this with such panache that when she sang a vamp song to guest David Mackay it elicited an unexpected dual response from the appreciative opening night audience - warm applause mixed with laughter.
Co-director Heather was a maid-character scene-shifter - along with decor/props steward Alard Pett - whose silent mime made the production’s scene changes almost as enjoyable as the main action.
The rest of Elaine’s stage family was as outlandish as expected.
Daughter Jocelyn Mackay was a study in bright, shallow superficiality; son Ben Mitchell was flippant, frivolous and given to extravagant grand gestures; and husband Ross Pearce managed to portray pomposity with an odd mix of self-centred polite randiness.
The guests were a more recognisable bunch, given that every one was understandably peeved and perplexed by the family’s hot/cold behaviour.
Ed Dolista’s eager, bemused young motorist suitor was neatly balanced by David Mackay’s assured if slightly perturbed diplomat; while Miriam Wood’s cool, indifferent sophisticate was equally countered by Madelaine Field’s innocent, willing yet cautious flapper. Karen Boer’s jaded north-country maid gave excellent and appropriate support to them all.
The play’s farcical all-on stage scenes were probably a little less effective than its smaller intimate moments - certainly an awkward small-talk scene between smooth sophisticate David and naive unworldly Madelaine was a theatrical gem. But there were so many highlights in a production that abounded with Coward’s flashy dialogue and ToWU’s neat touches.
I’ll not explain any outcomes, because in truth, the actions in Hayfever are secondary to the portrayals. And they’re pretty predictable, too. But be assured that if you do get to see this Hayfever, any watery eyes you’d get would have come from laughter, and not an allergic reaction to the country supper.
Go see this Hayfever. It’s a timeless delight.
Our Town - all human life is there
Our Town directed by Judy Ellis for Geelong Rep. Woodbin Theatre July 31, 2012.
Our Town, though set in the first 15 years of the 20th Century, was actually written in the 1930s. At that time, Thornton Wilder’s script was controversial as it overturned theatrical conventions of its day. There were no elaborate sets and the action was driven by a stage manager/narrator who broke down the famed ‘fourth wall’ by moving in and out of the play explaining character back-stories directly to the audience and occasionally dismissing actors to cut irrelevant scenes short.
Clearly this innovation worked, for Our Town is today considered a classic, landmark piece that pointed the way to new theatre directions.
This is hardly surprising, for inside the play’s unique staging is a finely crafted work that resonates with the dramas of human life - as much today as when it was written.
For this production, director Judy Ellis kept to Wilder’s base, using few props on a black-painted empty stage with her large cast miming most actions.
She included a couple of neat personalising local references, but then kept her touch light and unobtrusive, allowing the play to flow, pretty much as written. And she could do this with confidence, because she had cast this Our Town extremely well. It has acting talent in depth.
Not only did every player of the 22 on stage look correct and comfortable in their parts, but every one had the skills to breathe life into their characters.
As a result, this Our Town carried its audience along on a totally believable, very human ride that was in turn charming, funny, joyful, poignant - and ultimately moving. It’s a rare slice of real life.
And it all started with Sue Broberg’s narrater/stage manager, exuding homely warmth and confidence in equal parts as she explained the paths of a pair of young lovers - excellently played by Stacey Carmichael and Alard Pett - along with their families and friends. These included skilled portrayals from solid David Postill and homely Melissa Musselwhite as Alard’s parents; while caring Glen Barton and realist Mary Steuten were totally believable as Stacey’s.
Each lover had pert younger siblings in Rose Musselwhite and Zane Garbellini, while thoughtful Steven Howell, academic Laurie Deale, adroit Barry Eeles, lovely Glenda Maddison, dependable Vonnie Pilgrim, convincing Luke Murphy, steady Dylan Ellis, Jack Callaghan and Ethan Goltz all gave staunch, convincing support while Colin Urquhart added an exquisitely underplayed cameo. Add in some delightful harmonies from choir ladies Melissa Warren, Sue Rawkins and Amber Shortell, a clever soundtrack and sensitive original music from Camden Tilley and this production had high quality in every department.
Our Town has so much going for it - it tells an uplifting, charming, insightful and very moving tale - but ultimately, it’s a simple, high-quality rendition of a classic theatre piece.
I highly recommend you go see it.
- Colin Mockett.
Singing up a storm - in the rain
Singin’ in the Rain directed by Shaun Kingma for CenterStage Geelong. Playhouse Theatre July 21, 2012.
This big, brash, bright musical had a lot going for it. It had strong, vibrant song and dance routines, excellent acting, colourful, impressive costumes and effective sets that changed with smooth efficiency.
The movement and choreography was strong throughout, but from a personal perspective, all this good work was marred by some jarring sounds.
Apart from some of the American accents being so over--the-top they grated, on the night I attended there were microphone technical difficulties, especially for handsome hero Don, played by Chaise Rossiello, who suffered as a result. For though he had an excellent voice, it was not strong without amplification. But he certainly made up for it with his dancing, which was mesmerising.
His leading ladies, Nadia Gianotti (Lina) and Amy Larsen (Kathy) were memorable in their own ways; Nadia played her wonderfully painful role exceptionally well - with an unforgettable ear-splitting voice and enough panache to draw a VO nomination from this reviewer.
While Amy Larsen's Kathy began a little lost - as the role dictated - she then switched to eye-catching, dazzling confidence when moved into song and dance mode.
Adam Dibiase, as Cosmo, at times appeared a little uncomfortable in the role, but he had a strong voice and displayed wonderful dancing talent, especially in the Good Morning song.
Paul Watson was eye-catching and the comedy cameo role of Roscoe the elocution teacher, an audience favourite throughout, while Shani Clarke's Zelda, Melinda Thorne's Dora, Julie Corneby’s Olga and Dan Eastwood's R.F Simpson gave solid support, as did Jessica Murray, Ash Chapell, Jaye Thomas Nelson, Michael Hawthorne, Mel Thorne and Shani Clarke, along with Patrick Pretlove with Darcy Ward in their junior preview cameos.
The big Singing in the Rain number was well executed, with water cascading on to the stage, very strong dancing - and the deluge caused Chaise's microphone to suddenly kick in, revealing that he really possessed an excellent voice.
But good though this was, for me the show’s stand-out production number was Good Morning, with Chaise, Amy and Adam displaying excellent syncopated dancing and three strong voices in tight harmony.
Almost as good was the brain-storming number Imagination, displaying fine dancing and excellent singing.
The big, 17-piece orchestra, under director Mark Elshout was tight and terrific throughout, creating atmosphere and giving impetus to the whole show. In many respects, the chorus, with its colour, movement and energy drove the whole production, so take a bow, Brendan Rossbotham, Brendan Gill, Tim Gleeson, Ash Chappell, Dale Bradford, Michael Hawthorn, Scott Bradley, Nikki Lenaghan, Zoe Hudgel, Caitlin Mulroyan, Alicia Gili, Claire Miller, Cassidy Chappell, Jenna Irvin, Julie Corneby, Emma Jones, Cheryl Campbell, Georgia Kavenagh, Nicole Hickman, Elise Vogrin, Jessica Murray, Kim Inturrisi, Simone Clarke, Simone Costa with Scott Graham, Emily Koutsaftis, Indianna Johnson and Conique Pirrotina. There were some outstanding future talents on show.
And as a final comment, I took my 7-year-old daughter who was so delighted she has been singing the numbers since and playing youtube clips of the film while begging me to find the DVD..
VO nominations: Chaise Rossiello, Nadia Gianotti, Amy Larsen; Shaun Kingma (direction & set design) Mark Elshout.
All up, an excellent show and credit to Geelong.
- Moira Hiemstra
Headcase - a play on modern dance
Headcase directed by Xavier McGettigan, written by Tom Reed, funded by CoGG, Courthouse Theatre June 29, 2012
First, a disclosure. I’m no fan of modern dance. The progression from stiff-armed head-bowed kneeling to star jump to gesture followed by a writhe on the floor and a purposeful run from one side of the stage to the other does absolutely nothing to me, even when it’s repeated with variations over and again. I have a reputation for rarely sitting through a whole performance, so it was something of an achievement that I was still there applauding at the finish of Headcase, because this new Geelong work is absolutely riddled with modern dance.
It’s director, Xavier McGettigan, is a choreographer who, in collaboration with writer Tom Reed, has created a production that is quite unlike any other.
Headcase was a musical where nobody sang, instead, the characters broke into modern dance - and the production numbers used a chorus of lithe, acrobatic young dancers moving to heavily amplified songs from Gotye to Peter Gabriel by way of grunge, punk and pop.
Headcase’s actors, all cast from dancers, were prone to emphasise their points with movement - augmented at times by that lissom chorus - and it all fitted together into a seamless and consummate whole. Because Headcase’s storyline followed the progress of six people in a group therapy session, each of them suffering from a mental illness. And modern dance is an excellent media to portray the tortured thoughts of a sufferer.
Added to Tom Reed’s gritty, no-holds-barred script - this play certainly has no Disney moralising or glossy happy ending - and Headcase stands as a significant and worthwhile addition to Geelong’s theatre scene.
On-stage, Suzanna Bowen made a therapist who moved from sympathetic sharing to become troubled herself as she became closer to her charges. Of these, Eloise Gage portrayed a realistic rebellious sufferer of multiple personalities - sometimes accompanied by alter-egos Elyssa Mahr and Jessica Matthews from the chorus - while William Reed was a truly believable arrogant self-obsessed sex-addict. Mitchell Turek gave us a tragic insomniac recovering drug addict; Jonathon Lawrence’s paranoid schizophrenic made us believe he really had voices shouting in his head, Bonnie Spain’s agoraphobia coloured her every move and Claire McLaren’s character was introverted to the point of non-committed silence. All these were visited and tormented by their individual demons, embodied in dance by Kai Mann-Robertson, while Ashleigh Luttet and Xavier Robertson at times left that well-drilled chorus to add further complications as concerned outsiders.
Every member of the on-stage team -including ensemble Nick Ng, Darcy Howard, Emily Crosthwaite, Lucy Abramovitch and Victoria Hadfield moved with well-practiced precision and at the show’s end - which was suitably real-life and non-resolved - every audience member would have a greater sympathy for the sufferers of mental illness as well as an appreciation of the energy, commitment and creative talents involved.
- Colin Mockett
Big, bawdy - and bursting with colour and movement
Dick Whittington directed by Debbie Fraser for GSODA Juniors, Playhouse June 23, 2012
Aside from the fact that it affords multiple roles and big musical production numbers, modern English pantomime is really quite an unsuitable medium for our Junior players. The bald bawdy cross-dressing comedy, laced with double meanings, fart jokes and plays on current British TV programmes is inappropriate on so many levels for Geelong 11 - 17 year-olds.
But having been set the task, the current crop of GSODA Juniors took on the concept and really made an excellent job of it.
It’s uncertain if they would have understood all of the innuendo they were delivering - except for the fart jokes, of course - but the adults in the audience did - and they laughed throughout.
They also clapped and sang along with all the colour and movement as the 60-strong cast delivered a string of current and classic pop songs to pre-recorded sound tracks linked by the traditional flimsy and outlandish storyline.
In a nutshell, this involved the people of London sailing to Morrocandroll to rid the island of evil marauding rats under the guidance of a couple of fairies.
On-stage, the Juniors moved and danced with characteristic verve and enthusiasm while delivering every line with smooth assurance.
In the lead roles, Jazz Laker played Dick with an innocent confidence along with a rich, strong singing voice. As his/her intended, Alice, Sarah Glynne was assured and polished while Victoria Tsatsaronis stole scene after scene as the most agile and gymnastic of dancing cats, Tom.
Michael Dimovski played his pantomime dame, Sarah, with a surefooted, robust sense of fun, leading a comedy troupe that included Will Kingma’s sympathetic Idle Jack, Ryan Bentley’s gangling food-obsessed Alderman and a neatly nautical comedy trio of Liam Headland, Brodie Stevens and Lena De Rosso. All these sang, danced and acted with assurance well beyond their years while the big, enthusiastic chorus presented colourfully-costumed sailors, rats, storm dancers, harem inmates and guards, gossip girls and fairy blossoms with aplomb.
Lauren Burn and Sarah Krndija linked the whole together as singing/narrating fairies and Kelsey Dunlop, as the Sultan’s translator, came up with the pick of the evening’s pops with a rocking version of Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On.
In all, there were 15 musical numbers, a dozen of them choreographed with scores of performers on stage. And every one of the Junior players took their part with happy abandon and a considerable amount of skill.
In the hands of GSODA Juniors, this Dick Whittington was a big, bold, fun production bursting with colour, movement and youthful enthusiasm.
It’s recommended for this alone - and if you’re into bawdy, well, that’s there, too.
Romeo and Juliet - quality and surprise
Romeo and Juliet directed by Cherie Mills for Geelong Rep, Woodbin Theatre June 22, 2012
Director Cherie Mills, in solving some casting and space problems with invention and theatrical innovation, has created a fresh, original - and memorable - version of Shakespeare’s classic love story.
This was one of those rare occasions when the opening-night audience, having sat in absorbed silence through the play, remained seated, mentally digesting the experience well after the final curtain.
They had seen Shakespeare’s language, largely untouched, delivered with well-practiced ease by an enthusiastic, mostly youthful, cast on a sparse, simple multi-use set.
The play’s costumes - a sort of everyday grunge-military meets gothic cossack - worked to place the action in a recognisable yet unreal time and place.
And Cherie’s solution to her shortage of male actors - she had filled some key roles with talented females - had added an unfamiliar, edgy feel to the production.
Add in some ingenious theatrical tricks like slow-motion swordplay and dance; skilfully unobtrusive lighting and an exceptionally well-chosen musical sound-track and you’ll understand how this production kept its audience so enthralled.
As for the on-stage talent, there was quality aplenty.
Jesse Bickerton made a gauche Romeo understandably lovestruck by the sweet and beautiful Madelaine Field’s Juliet. They were backed and championed by Cameron Neil’s blustery Mercutio, Chris Young’s boyishly charming Benvolio and Charlotte Hukvari - first of the gender-switchers - as a remarkably testosteronic Tybalt, leading Taliesa Robinson and Rebecca Beaton in a bold and bombastic Capulet band.
As Romeo’s parents, the stiff, bearded Barry Eeles and cool matronly Davina Crowley neatly contrasted Juliet’s volatile and forceful father Steven Georgiadis and voluptuous mother Amanda Rector. Trevor Robinson’s plausibly ineffectual Paris and Luke Murphy’s stalwart Balthasar gave fine support, too. But the play’s stand-outs, eyecatching in every scene, were Christine Davey, Janine McKenzie and Scott Beaton. Christine wouldn’t be most people’s choice as the scheming Friar Laurence, but she played the role with such sensitivity and strength to make her character a dominating influence in every sense. So, too, was Janine’s Nurse and Scott’s Peter.
This Romeo and Juliet had its drama enhanced by largely unexpected bursts of humour, especially throughout the first act. This was, in the main, provided by Janine’s delightfully Magda Subaski-esque Nurse and Scott’s exquisite comedy timing and sense of mime as Peter.
You’ll understand that this Romeo and Juliet has a lot going for it.
Far from being a routine dose of Shakespeare, it’s a fresh and funny, powerful and dramatic theatrical treat. Go, see - and enjoy.
- Colin Mockett
Parade of prejudice - and promise
Parade directed by Janine McLean for St Joseph’s and Sacred Heart Colleges, Geelong Playhouse, May 31, 2012
This was a bold and unusual choice for a school production.
Parade is a meaty, thought-provoking musical with a prize-winning script based on a real incidents that occurred in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1913/14.
But it’s a very adult show, with several challenges, especially for Catholic school students.
The storyline covers the death of an underage black girl in America’s deep south and subsequent trial - and lynching - of a Jewish factory manager for her murder.
Inside this fabric are woven threads of racial prejudice, political maneuvering, media-sensationalising, anti-semitism, and judicial manipulation entwined with a love story and themes of morality and courage.
Here was the first of the school challenges - to depict the story correctly, Parade requires a raft of talented black American performers, and they’re not exactly numerous in the academic corridors of Aphrasia St.
Then there’s the show’s morality. In telling a true story, Parade highlights the white Christian elitism of the time and shows that the ruling white elite went unpunished for crimes ranging from mass perjury to a mob lynching under a symbolic cross.
So it’s very much to the credit of producer Vicki Mills and director Janine McLean that Parade even made it to the stage. I guess, too, it’s testament to the two school’s enlightened moral attitudes.
Vicki and Janine brought together a fine team with musical director David Gallaher assisted by John Shawcross, choreographer Amanda Remfrey and vocal coach Elena Gabrielle. These did a remarkable job in shaping the skills of 71 talented students to make this very much a Parade of significance; indeed, they created as provocative and thought-provoking theatre as any recent production on Geelong’s premier stage.
The black performers were a problem, of course, and one that wasn’t entirely solved. Director McLean chose to fill the roles with white performers wearing shabbier clothes, allowing the loose-limbed jazz-style songs to convey the black element - but I’m pretty sure there would have been members of the first-night audience who would have been unaware that the play had any racial elements at all.
Parade’s high-quality numerous-song soundtrack - it’s virtually an opera with short dialogue scenes - essentially salved the show’s moral and ethical dilemmas too - allowing the action to flow so swiftly that there was no time to dwell on individual incidents or outcomes. Instead, this Parade ran as a series of well-rehearsed and presented production numbers with some excellent performers in its lead roles. Connor Rawson, as persecuted Jewish manager Leo Frank was outstanding, seamlessly combining sensitive acting with a fine singing voice. Georgia Nicholls blossomed as his wife, displaying a delicacy of touch and delightful vocal skills. These two headed a fine cast with eye-catching performances everywhere. Darcy Carroll made an excellent principled Governor; India Ney a pert and cute innocent victim; Ryan Bentley a big-voiced manipulative reporter; Charles McIntyre a single-minded, driven prosecutor; Sally Wong a tender grieving mother amid a host of workers, detectives, jurors, factory girls, witnesses and bystanders that kept the show’s high standards - and a good deal of promise for future productions. There really wasn’t a weakness in the cast’s movement or vocal abilities.
So taken together, this Parade is very, very watchable. It was well-lit, professionally-presented - thought-provoking and provocative. And stimulating. Forget this is a school production, it’s highly recommended theatre.
Drop of a Fez does it again - Just Like That!
Just Like That - The Tommy Cooper Story, Drop of a Hat Productions, The Potato Shed, Drysdale, May 22, 2012.
It is a not uncommon story; child from a poor background eventually makes good by virtue of a unique talent, reaching the dizzy heights of public acclaim and popularity, only to lose their way in hidden addictions, violence, harmful character traits and troubled relationships. Such a man was Tommy Cooper, the comedian a British Readers Digest poll in 2004 named the funniest Briton of all time, 16 years after his death. Cooper’s story and his continuing popularity are all the more remarkable because not only was he large, clumsy and seemingly devoid of talent apart from a passionate interest in conjuring tricks and a sense of humour but also his squeaky clean public persona had long since been besmirched by revelations about the dark side of his personality.
Infotainment is a word which normally refers to television shows, movies, websites and software that blend information and entertainment, but it is also a format at which Drop of a Hat Productions really excel. Colin Mockett researches and writes the script and he and wife Shirley Power present it. Shirley also sings songs intimately connected with the theme of the script. The Tommy Cooper Story comprised an interesting, well-constructed script peppered with one and two liners (now categorised as Cooperisms), popular songs that engaged the audience, web-sourced images and on this occasion, conjuring tricks. It clearly falls into the ‘entertainment’ category. Colin’s adept impersonation of Tommy replete with vocal mannerisms and hand gestures, not to mention that wonderful conjuring trick with the bottles and glasses was first rate theatre. However the fact that material was thoroughly sourced and covered Tommy’s public and private personas and was presented in a balanced manner makes me also give it top marks for ‘information’.
In many Drop of a Hat productions the subject matter readily suggests particular songs, take for example the Irish bard Thomas More or more recently singer Gracie Fields. The fact that Tommy Cooper was not blessed with a singing voice (although he did have one song reach the top 40 in 1961), did not inhibit the choice of songs. For example Tommy’s Welsh heritage prompted Shirley’s hauntingly beautiful opening song ‘We’ll Keep a Welcome in the Hillsides’ and the final evocative ‘All Through the Night’. That top 40 hit ‘Don’t jump off the Roof Dad’ was well received by the Potato Shed audience and Tommy’s signature tune ‘I’m the Sheik of Araby’ had several airings both as a solo and the introduction to a typical Tommy Cooper show, with Colin now well versed in Cooper mannerisms, playing Tommy.
As someone who knew relatively little about Tommy Cooper, being somewhere else in the world when Tommy reached the zenith of his popularity in the UK, I can strongly recommend this show – it is both highly entertaining and informative.
- Bryan Eaton
Intense, powerful human drama a must-see
Rabbit Hole directed by Gay Bell for Torquay Theatre Troupe, Torquay Theatre, May 17, 2012
This was an evening of excellent, absorbing theatre. Such was the quality of the play’s powerful script - delivered with care on a sensible set by thoughtful, sensitive actors - that Rabbit Hole’s first-night audience was swept along by their emotions. The result was an evening unexpectedly filled with those rare theatrical moments of pure-silence tension released by almost audible audience gasps. Or laughs. Or bursts of applause.
And this with a substitute player on stage, too, with whooping cough victim Kate Hunter replaced by the play’s producer, Maryanne Doolan, playing the part with script in hand.
Much credit is due to director Gay Bell for her choice of play, casting, and set design to allow such sympathetic treatment of human feelings to flow so easily.
Rabbit Hole is in essence a social drama. From an overall perspective, and from today’s action-orientated theatre expectations, not a whole lot happens. A couple put their house on the market and it fails to sell. They discover that the wife’s sister is pregnant, and they retrieve their dog from a stay at her mother’s. Alongside this, the wife establishes a cordial relationship with a young driver whose car had killed her toddler son in a car accident months previously.
And that’s the key to Rabbit Hole’s insight and its tensions. As the play unfolds it emerges that every character was deeply affected by this event, and each is very much in the process of rebuilding; working through their hurt and grief.
Lisa Berry and Michael Baker play the couple with rare theatrical skill - sometimes delicately tiptoeing around the other’s emotions, sometimes blazing head-on, but always completely believable. It’s their intensity that gives this Rabbit Hole its theatrical power. They carried the majority of the dialogue but when necessary, were ably and completely supported by Terry Roseburgh, as Lisa’s mother, with her own grief re-ignited; substitute Maryanne’s sister - juggling her own life while aware of the raw sensitivities of her sibling relationship - and newcomer Lachlan Errey as the young driver who is, himself, subject to guilt and grief issues.
In these very so-capable hands, Rabbit Hole is much more than a human drama. It’s an intense, moving, emotional piece of theatre with flashes of unexpected humour and a wealth of human insights. I urge you to go see it. You’ll benefit from the experience.
Dapper Death Displays Divides
Agatha Christie’s Death On The Nile directed by Ben Mitchell for Theatre of The Winged Unicorn Ceres Hall May 10, 2012.
First-time director Ben Mitchell’s stylish production highlights two cultural divides. The first was embedded in Agatha Christie’s writing and it reflects the dominant social mores of her times. This could be paraphrased as ‘Britons rule by right.. and they never trust foreigners’.
The second cultural divide is in time. It’s the difference in audience perceptions between then and now.
When Agatha Christie wrote Murder On The Nile in the late 1930s and staged it as a play in the early 40s, the whodunit was a popular and highly regarded genre. It was then the done thing for readers, and then audiences, to sit and puzzle out all the author’s different leads; discard those considered ‘red herrings’ and try to solve the mystery before the end.
But today’s audiences, sated by decades of TV detectives for Columbo and Kojak to Barnaby and Frost have very different expectations. They sit back and wait to be entertained; and want the crime solved and ends neatly tied in the last moments.
That explained why this production’s opening night audience chuckled through some key scenes; instead of mulling over clues, they were amused by the outdated high-handed self-righteous Britishness depicted on stage. To some, it may have appeared as a send-up, but in truth, the players were accurately depicting the way the play was written.
Agatha Christie really did write women as arrogant and puffed-up as Ferri Bond’s double eff character; as docile and awed as Miriam Wood’s; as conceited as Kimberlee Bone’s (who was justifiably bumped off after the interval) as mysterious and devious as Georgia Thorne’s and as dutiful as Hannah Verspaandonk’s servant (attentive, but not to be trusted because she was French).
The male players were just as forceful - and odd - from today’s perspective. There was Simon Thorne’s pompous idealist; Jamie McGuane’s imperious money-grabbing churchman; Declan Robinson’s self-important husband; David Mackay’s enigmatic doctor (another mysterious foreigner not to be trusted); Peter Wills’ smarmy Arab steward and Ray Ferguson’s bumptious captain.
All of these played out their scenes, beautifully and accurately costumed on Alard Pett’s (VO nominated) elegant, stylish and correct 1930s steamer saloon stage set.
You’ll notice that this review gives no clue to the murderer. That’s because there just might be some diehard whodunit fans in the sold-out audiences yet to come. The rest will, I’m sure, enjoy the sheer style of this Death On The Nile.
- Colin Mockett
Fresh new Hairspray has bounce and gloss
Hairspray directed by Tony Wasley for Geelong Lyric Theatre Society Playhouse Theatre May 5, 2012
Tony Wasley’s stamp is all over this production. As well as sitting in the director’s chair - for the first time - the programme credits him with helping design and construct the set; painting it; taking the publicity photos and creating the programme itself. Perfectionist Tony’s all-over approach has made this Hairspray a brilliant product. It’s among the most vibrant, colourful, polished and cheerful musicals to have been staged at the Playhouse. Ever. It wasn’t without its faults, of course, there were the usual GPAC sound-level gremlins - happily fixed for the second half - and an odd scene-change delay, but this was overwhelmed by the sheer vibrancy and fun of a show that looked, sounded and felt so good.
Lyric had secured the rights for one of the first non-professional stagings of the show and under Tony, they presented it with such a professional gloss. And this couldn’t have been easy, because one of Hairspray’s central themes, behind its kitchy 1960s musical lustre, explored the racial prejudice of the time. So Tony needed a group of stereotypical black American singer/actor/dancers and they’re not exactly in abundance in Geelong - or Melbourne, come to that. But Tony spread his casting net wide and turned up some wonderful prospects from the unlikely source of North Geelong High School.
He then harvested the cream of GSODA Junior graduates - now some of the region’s finest young talent; brought back polished veteran Simon Falconer and then recruited some of the best of Geelong’s current crop of performers. He also recruited an exceptionally young, talented production team. So choreographer Dom Roussety produced a series of visually stunning production numbers beautifully costumed by Emma Jones and Brianna Walshe, with musical director Amy Young and vocal coach Stacey Louise Camilleri giving them masterly musical frameworks.
Then Tony’s talented on-stage acting team adeptly linked them using a clever set mostly smoothly dropped into place on wires to keep the show’s pace brisk.
Leads actors Charlotte Kavenagh and David Ward were superb in their song/dance and acting abilities; but, really, they were not exceptional; this entire Hairspray cast was just about faultless. They all sang, danced, acted with flair, gusto and a joyful abandon.
Lachy Joyce, as Charlotte’s padded mother, pitched the part perfectly, without an ounce of pantomime gender-bending - and this inside a musical that essentially satirised everything from body-image obsession to TV commercialism to racial prejudice.
Mel Thorne and Bronte Wright gave us archetype Cruellas; Petice Malviste a delightfully dizzy best friend. Mick Watson was a cynically plastic TV teen-star, Simon Falconer brought a cheerfully supportive father figure while Emmanuel Sumo and Asha Sebastian led the team of Geelong-produced Afro-Americans, he with fluid dancing, she with gospel vocals. Add in Tess Muirhead’s outraged mother, Alard Pett’s arch designer, a couple of eyecatching cameos from Marejka Cook, a stunning tap solo from Chaise Rossiello, Dan Eastwood’s dumb-ugly mogul and the cutest of debuts from Marstina Garley all backed by solid, talented support from Andy Ward, Julie Corneby, Cath Blackie, Felicia Frangapane, Tessa Reed, Alain Bakulikira, Kirsten Blake, Daniel Caciolo, Shani Clarke, Lee Hutchinson, Jemma Lowther, Linda Marange, Abbey Martella, Zoe Masynyneure, Kai Mann-Robertson, Patrick McDonald, Charlie McIntyre, Dom Muirhead, Rumbi Nyakabau, Sarah Occhino, Jacob Petkovic, Trudy Thompson, Michelle Rimmer, Tara Vagg and Hannah Van Etten.
This group, in bringing Hairspray to vibrant life has reaped a record 11 Virtual Oscar nominations for a single production. That’s a measure of its class. And it’s further proof - if ever that was needed - that Geelong’s musical theatre is now in exceptionally capable, youthful hands.
Don’t miss it.
- Colin Mockett
Sun potential from two-star Elephant Man
The Elephant Man directed by Libby Tanner for Geelong Production Company. Shenton Centre April 19, 2012
The popular fallacy that Geelong is a footy-mad community devoid of culture is exploded when it’s explained that we have 16 active and successful theatre groups.
Make that17; with this opening of Bernard Pomerance’s 1977 bio-drama The Elephant Man, staging the story of Joseph Merrick, whose physical deformities made him a fairground freak in Victorian London. This was from the brand-new Geelong Production Company, which has arrived on the scene with a glow of reflected glamour from its two-star TV background. Director Libby Tanner and lead actor Stephen Macklin each enjoys credibility built from starring in TV dramas and soaps. But that experience, in practice, didn’t translate particularly well to staging a small production in front of a live audience in Geelong.
In short, this production fell well below expectations to the extent that this reviewer was disposed - for the first time ever - to draw a footy parallel and compare our new company to the introduction of the Gold Coast Suns to the AFL last season.
Like the Suns, GPC had a star player - Stephen Macklin giving an excellent portrayal of Merrick, eliciting sympathy poignancy and pathos in a performance of light delicacy. The play also had good players imported from other companies - Rep’s Ubaldino Mantelli displaying his customary competence as Merrick’s upright and uptight doctor/savior, while James Edwards delivered his hospital director with bluster and panache and Sue Rawkins chipped in with a couple of haughty support characters. Like the Suns, The Elephant Man also unveiled some showy newcomers in the poised Marja Le Hunt and urbane Steve Howell. There were a couple of all-action runners in showmen Kevin Woods and Paul Moore with Laura Bentley a quiet utility nurse/scene shifter completing a team that looked good on paper, but in practice, didn't deliver - mainly because of a lack of vision and experience.
The Shenton Centre - a converted church - should have made a perfect backdrop for a Victorian-era drama with its background of polished brown wood, but this Elephant Man was presented on a rickety three-level wooden set in matching grey flicked-colour paint with features sketched in. The costumes were a mish-mash mix of My Fair Lady meets circus with James in a 1970s lounge suit and Bishop Steve in a comedy vicar’s collar and Paul Moore’s policeman wearing a plastic copper’s helmet. The play’s famous nude scene was as demure as a school production and for some reason, when playing his Belgian showman, Paul decided to portray his character with a licking fetish - tonguing other players and even the spear he was unaccountably carrying.
And for a play set in London, the players employed a number of accents none of which were anywhere close to the capital. Kevin Woods rapid-fire Scouse, delivered at a near-shout level during his dramatic scenes, was particularly impenetrable.
You’ll gather from all this that I wasn’t exactly impressed with this Elephant Man, but this is written more in disappointment than condemnation. And there were enough signs - from the work of Stephen Macklin to the innovative surtitles to some excellent lighting stages and the addition of live music - that this is a company with clear potential.
Add to this the new generation of audiences that the principal’s TV background will surely entice and GPC is in truth a very welcome newcomer to the Geelong scene. And I’m confident that, like the Suns, given some good results and a couple more seasons GPC will become a strength in our expanded theatre league.
A Rich Tapestry Woven By Five Sisters
Dancing at Lughnasa directed by Jacqui Connor for Geelong Rep. Woodbin Theatre April 14, 2012
There’s an irony that Dancing opened on the same weekend as the Atheists convention, for one of the play’s central themes - and, indeed, it’s title - relate to the conflict between Christian, pagan and non-beliefs.
But that’s just one thread in a complex tapestry of a play that’s beautifully written, capably staged and presented by a quality acting team.
Dancing at Lughnasa is set in Balybeg, Northern Ireland in the summer of 1936.
It’s based on a small boy’s recollections of his mother and her siblings - four sisters and a brother - at a time of huge change for the family - though none realised it at the time. The boy - skilfully and adeptly played in both retrospective narration and real time by a laid-back Travis Eccles - recalls the different personalities and idiosyncrasies of each of his aunts along with the events that made that summer so significant.
The catalyst was the return of uncle Jack - a Catholic missionary who had been released from his position in Africa, thought at first to be due to ill-health, but it’s soon apparent that instead of converting the natives to Christianity, the reverse had happened and he had absorbed and adopted their pagan lifestyle.
Jack was deftly portrayed in an excellent performance from Brendan O’Halloran.
Then there were the comings and goings of Jack’s randy Welsh travelling salesman father - joyfully played as a loveable neer-do-well by Steven Georgiadis - who ultimately decided to go and fight for freedom in Spain - but for all the wrong reasons.
But in really clever stagecrafting, most of the Dancing at Lughnasa action is discovered from conversations between those idiosyncratic aunts. There was happy-go-lucky but thoughtful Maggie - splendid portrayed by the accomplished Christine Davey; backward, lovesick and crafty Rose - an accomplished portrayal of a difficult part from newcomer Emma Watson, while her minder, the gullible, hardworking Agnes was deftly sketched by Melissa Musselwhite, and the unsympathetically stern, Christian, school mistress head-of-the-family, Kate, was ably portrayed as a straight-laced matriarch by Meryl Friend.
And in the key role of Michael’s mother Christina - the central sister - Amanda Rector turned in a highly-tuned and accomplished performance that moved through many emotions - defiant resolution as a scandalous unmarried mother in the 30s; motherly protection; a clear-thinker rejecting untrustworthy Steven’s proposal then burning jealousy when he turns his charms to her sister.
Each player was word-and-action perfect - though a few accents transgressed through some pretty odd dialects - and the single, clever set and neat lighting served the production well.
All up, Dancing at Lughnasa is a delight. It’s a neatly crafted piece of modern theatre that’s well staged and very cleverly written. It’s one of those plays that’s enjoyable to watch - but thought-provoking enough to prompt conversations in the foyer and well afterwards. As such, it’s highly recommended.
Full houses for Rep’s Fast, Funny Farce
The 39 Steps, directed by Kelly Clifford for Geelong Repertory Theatre Co. Woodbin Theatre February 3, 2012.
Rep has kicked off its 80th year in the most satisfying way - with a top-class production of a wonderfully happy comedy-thriller.
It’s unusual for Rep to experience a standing ovation at its cosy Woodbin Theatre. They’re even rarer on opening nights. But this show received one from a full-house audience that had laughed heartily and often throughout what was essentially a fast-paced and faultless classic satire/farce. Perhaps the show borrowed a little from Monte Python for its outlandish characters, and maybe from the Goons for its pace and style, but this production nevertheless stood on its own as a classic piece of 21st Century comedy theatre.
It was promoted by numbers. ‘39 Steps, 4 actors, 139 roles, 100 minutes of thrilling comedy’ is on it’s programme cover.
But that should be broken down further, as lead actor Ed Dolista played only one role.
He was on stage throughout as suave adventure-seeking 1930s British man-about-town Richard Hannay, possessor of ‘smouldering brown eyes and an attractive pencil moustache’ - according to the police wanted reports.
Then, Rep newcomer Cassia Webster played 3 roles; she was Annabella, a chance-encountered mysterious foreign spy vamp; Pamela, a kissable blonde English reluctant heroine Hannay met on a train; and Margaret, a coquettish, neglected Scottish wife he discovered in the Highlands.
And that left the other 135 roles to be played by just two actors, Lachy Joyce and Jules Hart, who took to the task with a mass of quick-change outfits, a breakneck-speed routine and a joyous relish for each tiny role. Every character they portrayed was filled out and delivered brim-full with energy - and delight. Sure, there was the occasional wayward accent, but these were totally and respectfully forgiven by an audience happily carried along with the momentum. The duo never missed a beat as they cavorted, pirouetted, skipped and gambolled around the stage as police, spies, travellers, innkeepers, paper-sellers - every bit part in Hitchcock’s original film except for the signature cameo from the director himself. And even he made an appearance in a short puppet sequence. A word of praise should go here to the show’s backstage support crew - Pep Upton, Sally Smith, Heather Dillon, Haley Duffield and Lucy Ingles who must have been ready and waiting for Lachy and Jules with every prop and change, for there was not a missed beat - and to the set designer, who turned out to be lead actor Ed Dolista, for creating movable doors and windows, a drop-down bed and wheeled furniture that kept the whole thing moving at its hectic pace.
This 39 Steps is not a piece of theatre to just watch. It’s a delightful experience to indulge and wallow in. Credit the skills and concentration of every member of the on-stage talent; the clear, straightforward message from director Kelly Clifford and a lot of hard work from the support team. Word is that tickets are at a premium, despite Rep scheduling two extra performances. I’d recommend that you wrangle one in any way you can - and fast. Take Steps now.
Footlight’s Fine Feline Fettle
Cats, directed by Elaine Mitchell for Footlight Productions.
Playhouse Theatre, January 28, 2012.
The most abiding memory from this production was the energy, the colour, movement and sheer theatrical skill of a young, vital and highly talented ensemble as it prowled, padded preened and pounced around a simple, elegant set.
And that was the second enduring memory - that ‘derelict mansion’ set allowed this Cats to be staged in a much more traditional theatre style rather than the original. That one had the whole theatre turned into an oversized rubbish dump with the cast emerging from hidden holes and tracks throughout the auditorium.
The next memory would be the show’s high musical quality - John Shawcross’ three-keyboard-driven orchestra was immaculate throughout, delivering Andrew Lloyd Webber’s recurring score with élan and a high professional gloss.
Then again, the show’s technical aspects were faultless - there were no sound glitches, no mix of levels even though every performer was wearing a cleverly-hidden head-mic, and the lighting effects were quite literally spot-on.
And then there were the cameo pseudo-leads - each introduced as if to be significant, but in truth turning out to be as misleading and insincere as real felines.
There was Max Corstorphan’s showstopping Skimbleshanks training routine; Tom Russell’s lustfully hip-grinding Rum Tum Tugger; David Ward’s dominant Munkustrap; Stacey Carmichael’s endearing Jennyanydots; Brad Beales’ dignified Old Dueteronomy; Lachlan Turner’s pathetic Gus The Theatre Cat; Lyndon Watts and Tayla Johnston’s mischievous Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer; Lyndon Watts’ enigmatic Macavity; Dom Roussety’s lithe Mr Mistoffelees; David Mackay’s arrogant, belligerant Bustopher Jones - offering one of the few flashes of humour in the show - and Jocelyn Mackay’s fading, forlorn Grizabella, twice immaculately delivering the show’s big number Memory.
When boiled down, Cats is effectively a show without a storyline. It’s essentially a series of introductions leading up to a touching contrived finale moment. And it couldn’t be anything else, based, as it was, on T S Eliot’s book of nonsense cat poems. So this Footlight production’s vital, energetic, dance-and-movement-led approach perfectly suited the show’s format. Jordan Punsalang’s dynamic choreography and Tania Spence’s precise vocal direction were evident throughout, as was Elaine Mitchell’s careful and faultless flowing direction.
But that’s where I feel we missed out a little. Elaine is an artist of rare distinction as well as a loving, thoughtful and knowledgeable theatrical.
I was truly looking forward to seeing her costuming, make-up and staging of this show - but found, in the event, that my most abiding memories were of the colour, energy, vibrancy and sheer theatrical skill of a young, vibrant and highly talented cast, along with the clever theatrical set and faultless music…
Geelong Summer Music Camp Showcase Concert
Costa Hall January 19, 2012.
Geelong’s first concert for the year delivered its now-traditional blend of fine music, youthful enthusiasm and sheer talent. This was the 32nd camp concert and the 12th in the Costa. But this year was different in that it had an overlay of humour - courtesy of quirky compere Steve Horman - and an altogether more laid-back attitude that included insights into the Camp’s teaching methods and informal chats with tutors and committee members during the show’s stage-changes.
The result was a glorious, memorable celebration of music and youth.
The evening started in customary style with three ensembles providing foyer entertainment before John Shawcross’ 18-member stage band opening the concert with two tight and technically proficient big-band numbers.
Then Sue Arney’s junior concert band took a little deviation amid its four numbers when Sue demonstrated the age and experience of her players “stand up those who are 16, 15, 14..” down to 9-yr-old Olivia Castle, then “stand up if you’ve been playing for 5 years, 4,” etc down to a big bunch responding to “stand if you’ve been playing for less than a year…” Each of her 50+ players quickly bobbed up in disciplined, almost syncopated timing before demonstrating Sue’s method of achieving correct posture by the use of imaginary helium balloons.
From that moment the concert’s mood was changed, its audience tuned and totally sympathetic to everything that happened on stage. The band’s joyful treatment of well-known numbers - the Can Can and 1812 Overture - were neatly capped with the premiere of a rollicking mint-new piece based around pirates and written by Edward Fairlie following a discussion at the 2009 GSMC concert.
The junior band was followed by Cathy Blake’s highly talented young string ensemble; another 50-strong group that cheerfully, skilfully presented three lush and diverse pieces before Edward Fairlie - composer of the junior band’s star piece - took the stage to conduct the camp’s senior concert band in three polished and highly challenging numbers, Bernstein’s Overture to ‘Candide’, Percy Grainger’s variations on a Lincolnshire folk tune and Hosts’s suite in Eb.
The concert’s choir, conducted by ebullient afro-drumming Paul Jarman brought four diverse - and delightful - vocal numbers ranging from traditional Gypsy to modern pop before ending with a sympathetic tribute to the camp’s NZ students with that nation’s traditional tune Pokarekare.
Then, the concert’s intensity and expertise lifted even more with the two senior orchestras conducted by Naomi Wileman.
Diminutive Naomi clearly had a rapport with her players, eliciting performances that would be considered creditable for a professional adult orchestra. And this from students that she’d had charge of at the camp for just five days. Her string orchestra’s handling of Vivaldi’s Concerto for 2 violins - soloists Jamie Parker and Amelia Ekkel - was simply beautiful. Her symphony orchestra’s treatment of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Procession of the Nobles was polished and near-perfect.
But then, the concert’s finale took the entertainment value to an even higher point. All 280 participants - students and tutors - crowded on to the Costa’s stage to be led by Paul Jarman in a traditional Zulu chant/song Shosholoza - containing complex harmonies, rhythms, humour and movement that eloquently summed up all that had gone before in what had clearly been a productive, happy camp and a truly memorable concert.
- Colin Mockett