No-nonsense Reviews 2014

Libby has a ball at Abigail’s changed Party

Abigail’s Party, directed by Steve Macklin for Mad as Us & Geelong Production Company, Woodbin, December 11, 2014

Abigail's Party, set in 1970s London, is essentially a British social comedy. It’s main theme exposes the complex layers-within-layers of the English class system.
So its script is littered with faux-pas, references and clues that categorise its characters as upper-middle class, lower middle-class, aspirational-lower class etc, that would bring recognition - and laughter - in Guildford, but completely missed by a Geelong audience unaware of such subtle social nuances. We’re from a far less class-concious social order.
But this central perception problem in no way daunted Mad as Us director Steve Macklin and his talented on-stage team.
They simply downplayed the class themes in Mike Leigh’s script and instead concentrated on the play’s secondary threads of sexual, marital and family relationship tensions.
And they did this with such precision, verve - and fun - that they created a laugh-along comedy, different to the original, but worthy in its own right.
This Abigail's Party was essentially built around the considerable acting talents of Libby Tanner, who played her central character, Bev, as a larger-than-life vacuous flirtatious vamp dominating everyone around her, especially Lawrence, her stressed estate-agent husband. (Not real-estate, this is England, remember.)
For his part, Lawrence was played by Brad Beales as an oily social climber with his own sights on their divorced neighbour guest, Sue.
Sue, played with cool, perplexed detachment by Clare Springett, was trapped in the company because her daughter Abigail was holding a teen-party next door (heard in the background throughout) and had asked her mother to stay away.  
The gathering’s other guests were new aspirational neighbours, Tony and Angela. He, played by Scott Middleton as a monosyllabic ex-footballer target of Libby’s overt and obvious sexual advances; she, in the hands of Lauren O’Callaghan, a bright, pretty, over-chatty young nurse over-awed by her hosts until the play’s climactic twist ending.
And that unexpected finale - slightly out of context because of the play’s altered emphasis - in no way took away from the overall quality of a well-staged, faultlessly dressed and costumed and very well-received production that had its audience laughing throughout. And all this despite the play’s changed momentum.
Nice one, Messrs Macklin & Tanner. 

Colin Mockett

C’est si Bonne Noël

Un Noël Français, Geelong Chorale & Friends, Wesley Church, December 6, 2014

For many years this group, under its previous name of GAMA Singers, would herald Geelong’s official start to Christmas with its annual first-weekend-in-December concert at the Geelong Art Gallery.
That venue, now the Geelong Gallery, no longer hosts choral concerts and the ‘official start’ to our city’s Christmas season has been time-shifted to the middle of November with 21st century spectacles of lighting up our town hall and floating tree.
So the revised and revamped Chorale, freed from its obligation to sing traditional carols in that awkward venue, has taken the opportunity to both indulge and challenge itself for its 2014 end-of-year seasonal finale.

First it chose a much more suitable venue in the accommodating and beautifully acoustic Wesley Church.
Then it went about selecting a programme of unexpected Christmas fare - resulting in this Un Noël Français, which consisted entirely of French seasonal music.
But this was not just a case of the Chorale singing familiar carols in French. This was a concert of traditional French classical music written for Christmas - a very different kettle of poisson - which began with Camille Saint-Saens' Oratorio de Noël and culminated with Charpentier’s Midnight Mass, written in French and sung in Latin.
The resulting concert was, for Geelong, unexpected, demanding, rewarding - and altogether merveilleux.
The Chorale, and its première class director Allister Cox, called in a little help to stage such an ambitious project. For a start, they needed an orchestra, which good friend Wendy Galloway provided as an unnamed yet highly competent 11-piece unit of strings, flutes and organ.
That Mass called for exceptional soloists so they drafted in respected sopranos Sally Wilson and Larissa Cairns with bass Tom Healey and used alto Kathleen Rawson and tenor George Belcher from their own ranks.
And to lighten the programme they brought in good friends and regular seasonal collaborators The Geelong Handbell Choir to bring an element of charm - which they did beautifully, with an all-French programme of their own. This was delivered in two segments, between the Saint-Saens Oratorio and Poulenc’s challenging motets de le temps de noël then between that and the Charpentier Mass.

Vocally, our 36-strong Chorale was literally in fine voice and easily up to the programme’s challenging, soaring works.
Visually, they looked perfect in red and black, and director Cox’s short by erudite explanation/introduction suitably primed his audience on what was to to come.
And when the concert was over, that audience rang the rafters with a long, loud and sustained ovation.
Fitting tribute to such an innovative, unexpected and yet musically appropriate Christmas salute.
C’est bloody formidable, Mate.

Colin Mockett

Naughty night of anonymous contrasts

Naughty Night Out staged by Essential Entertainment, Centenary Hall, Corio, December 5, 2014

This has to be my most difficult review of the year to write, for a number of reasons.
First, it wasn't a true cabaret, concert, comedy, dance or theatre work, but it did contain elements of all of these.
Its staging was probably closer to an Octoberfest bier halle than to theatre - for this Naughty Night Out was held in the barn-like Centenary Hall with formal lines of dining tables holding some 150-odd patrons with a small stage at one end. But instead of busty serving wenches with foaming steins, here was a slow-moving queue of patrons to a plastic-glass-serving wet bar at the rear of the hall.
Not that this in any way held back the enthusiasm of a raucous crowd that presumably knew the performers, because they whooped, hollered and cheered them throughout the performance.
They were a fidgety bunch, too, constantly moving around during the show to buy drinks, go out for a smoke (past a pair of smiling, polite bouncers) or to catch up and talk among friends - all while the show was going on. So you’ll understand that this was not even close to a standard theatre/concert performance.
And if the audience did know those on stage, it would have been a huge advantage; for there was no programme to identify the performers and the show’s two MCs neither recognised, identified nor introduced anyone else on stage.
And this was a shame, for there were some excellent performers involved in this Naughty Night Out, most notably among the dancers.
The show began ten minutes later than advertised, but with a bang - a raunchy ensemble dance piece across a semi-darkened industry-dressed stage using three live singers to a recorded soundtrack. The sound was loud and of indifferent quality, but the movement was great - a slick, polished, sexily-dressed, well-rehearsed edgy routine using a dozen dancers.
This good start let to several more eye-catching dance numbers including an innovative all-male derro-tap-dogs routine and an excellent combination of seated singer with lithe, agile and acrobatic pole-dancer - all minimally interrupted by the MCs whose apparent talent was an ability to work in as many sh*t and f*cks as possible, but unable to name their fellow-performers.
But then the tone was lowered somewhat by some patronising, embarrassing ‘audience participation’ segments where girls were invited to pole-dance and blokes took part in a foul-mouth ‘perfect match’ parody that had their intended ‘partner’ hiding her face in shame before quietly leaving the stage.
There were more uplifting, clever, energy-fuelled song and dance routines - all by anonymous, unannounced performers - but each was contrasted by embarrassingly crass ‘comedy’.
The biggest shame was that this show had so much potential, so much talent; but with no apparent director, it had no shape, form - or direction.
Anyway, to be truthful, I watched this shambling mish-mash of excellent dance and boorish crude comedy for more than an hour, but then quietly left, just when one of the MCs took the stage dressed as a giant penis.
And I could still hear the audience whooping and hollering from the car-park as a made my way home to a much more acceptable quiet - and naughty - night off.

Colin Mockett

Medimime’s Cinderella - a panto with the lot!

Cinderella directed by Debbie Fraser for Medimime. Drama Theatre, GPAC, November 22, 2014

Over the past forty years, Medimime has raised a quarter of a million dollars for what used to be known as The Geelong Hospital.
 Each year the company has staged a traditional English pantomime (with many a local twist) and each year a different department of the Hospital has gained the cash benefit.
This year, the 40th, was special in many ways. First, the show was raising money for the Intensive Care Unit of our newly rebadged University Hospital Geelong - so it was ICU nurses in the foyer selling programmes and assisting. Next, the company’s choice of panto was ultra-traditional, for Cinderella was, and remains, the most performed and perennial favourite pantomime. This time it was directed by the highly experienced Debbie Fraser, so the cast of medicos and friends were drilled to a professional polish.
But probably the most significant aspect of this 40th anniversary show was that director Debbie brought back one of Medimime’s original founders in Don Robertson, not in a sentimental cameo role, but as a key pivot - the wicked stepmother. And Don clearly relished every moment with a larger-than-life (even for panto) portrayal that solicited more and more boos and jeers from the youngest audience segments. In this he was assisted by not one, but two sets of comedy villains in ugly sisters Jessica Dolley and Maddi Kohler - who were, it should be noted, ugly only in their behaviour, but then they were VERY ugly; and a knockabout trio of ‘Bailiff’s Men’ in Liz Lester, Deanne Elliott and Nicole Hickman. Insiders would recognise that this bumbling trio, which spent much of the production on the floor after running into each other at speed, contained Medimime’s president and vice president - such is the tight-knit nature of the company.
Anyway, with its larger-than-life dame stepmother and two lots of clowning baddies, the panto’s traditional heroes faced scene-stealers at every turn with nothing to respond with but goodness.
Nevertheless, Hanna Stolz gave us a beautifully wholesome Cinders, while Kate Gore made her servant/friend Buttons a cheeky Cockney crowd-favourite. Alicia Neels was dashingly attractive (in a worrying cross-dressed way) as her Prince Charming, Jayden Vermeulen played the Prince’s servant, Dandini, with smiling enthusiasm while Rob McNeill’s Baron Hardup was suitably pathetic in the correct, stage, manner.
Jennie Tonzing gave us a refreshingly homely rhyming fairy godmother with an electronic wand and a coterie of tiny fairies.

In this company, Dan Eastwood’s King and Emily Hill’s Queen were lucky to gain their support status, especially when the usual big-production-number cast of townspeople, ballroom dancers, servants and courtiers was augmented by three bears, a fox and huntsmen, even a bunch of cartwheeling mice. Oh, there were 19 songs, too, ranging from The Teddy Bear’s Picnic to Ballroom Blitz, Not Pretty Enough to I Want To Be A Billionaire.
It’s fair to say that for its 40th birthday, Medimime gave us a panto with the lot.
It’s also fair to say that every kid in the audience loved every minute of it.
And the parents and grandparents who brought them could draw plenty of satisfaction from the fact that all this fun was raising money for one very worthwhile cause.  

Colin Mockett

Much Ado About Plenty

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) directed by Geoff Gaskill for Geelong Rep. Woodbin Theatre, November 21, 2014

Such rumbustious fare delivered at so swift a pace must goodly please ye shrewd and discerning repertory patrons. 

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) is verily an irreverent frolic, encompassing each and every one of The Bard’s performance writings in a manner thoroughly irreverent, pell-mell paced yet amusing to those of a bawdy fancy.
Ev’ry line, forsooth, did deliver a jest of some nature. Not all were of the finest order, mind, but all were delivered with strength, clarity and much assurance.

Master Gaskill, he of directoral proclivity, hath reworked yon original work from 1987, which orchestrated Master Shakespeare’s complete entertainments using three speedy masculine actors of high humour to now deploy but two males plus two actors of womanly persuasion. The result is a work, peculiar to this company, of rare distinction.

For verily, yon Mistresses Taliesa Netta Cartwright and Joanne Taylor, the former of many mustachiod aplomb, the latter a bewigged amputated puppeteer of merit did thoroughly match the extravagant skills of ye lavishly talented under-codpieced Master Steven Georgiadis and swift-acting master of some acting reluctance but much considered grimacing, Phillip Besancon.
This quartet, neatly garbed and greatly aided by a veritable host of theatrical props and much exaggerated amplification of gesture did do justice to the Bard’s works, three dozen in the first act, and but one, the fatally conclusive Hamlet in the second.  Such was their expertise that, with assistance from audience members, Mr and Mrs Eaton and a technical operator of lighting dubbed Bob, together presented the Bard’s climactic extinction scene in several varieties, plain, swift and reversed.
Verily, they did together construct a work of such rare speed and discipline to earn great applause and several trophy nominations.

Forsooth, such expertise hath brought a fitting end to the company’s play-acting for the year. It is therefore much recommended to jaded audiences in need of a seasonal lift. So be it. 

Colin Mockett

Excellent, edgy peek into what’s to come

Broadway Here I Come! directed by Liz Lester for GSODA Juniors. PlayhouseTheatre, November 14, 2014

Anyone arriving at this show expecting a run-of-the-mill end-of-year musical highlights compilation would have been more than a little surprised by this slick, edgy professional presentation.
Director Liz Lester and her team of four choreographers, two vocal directors and 10-strong team of wardrobe personnel (yes, 10 of them) had tutored, drilled, coached and dressed their 58 talented young performers to present a slick spectacular with masses of ‘wow’ factor.

From its all-on-stage finger-clicking, clapping, harmonising opening number - Broadway Here I Come from Smash - this group set a standard worthy of professional theatre, belying the fact that every performer was under 17 years old.
That opening number drew wild applause from its capacity audience - but then the group went on to show such a range of individual skills and group versatilities, piling highlight upon highlight.
We were treated to an astonishing range of theatrical expertise, from Lochlan Erard’s furiously agile Angry Dance, to Jye Cannon’s vocal mastery of the challenging Pure Imagination, Aashlea Oakes’ delightful puppetry/vocal from Avenue Q, Angus Naylor’s poignant Mr Cellophane beautifully contrasting the sassy, raunchy Cellblock Tango from Sarah Krndija, Matilda Hassell, Isabella Scaffidi, Lucy Blackwood, Rachel Glynne and Caitlyn Lear.
The Naughty extract from Matilda gave the younger crew a chance to shine - and shine they did with exuberance, energy and talent. I could go on but there were 40-odd numbers, each with remarkable aspects until the whole thing finished with a series of rousing Rock Of Ages anthems.
Every one of those 58 performers sang with élan and moved with remarkable discipline - some production numbers would do credit to North Korea’s military, earning a VO nomination for those four choreographers.
Director Liz got a nomination, too - not only for the overall professional gloss of her staging, but for her inspired choice of source material. This show wasn’t presenting tired old extracts from Lloyd Webber musicals - it had edgy numbers from shows yet to be staged here - read Frozen, Billy Elliot, Matilda, Book of Mormon - all delivered with that verve, panache, skill, energy, élan and so much love. 

Go see this show if you can get a ticket. I guarantee you’ll be wowed. 

Colin Mockett

Michael has the best Cosi in Torquay

Cosi directed by Michael Baker for Torquay Theatre Troupe, Price St Theatre, November 13, 2014

This simple, cheerful, yet insightful theatrical treatment of Louis Nowra’s modern Australian classic had much to admire and very little to criticise.
Director Michael Baker’s uncluttered approach and inspired casting resulted in a potent audience mix of laughter and insight into writer Nowra’s semi-autobiographical story of a young theatre graduate’s challenging first job - staging a theatre production in a 1970s Melbourne mental institution.
Theatrically, the situation had its difficulties - it’s easy to go for cheap laughs portraying mental patients - while generating audience understanding of mental issues in a social comedy framework is far from easy.
But Director Baker and his team played down the former and achieved the latter while still drawing consistent laughs.
So Cosi’s Torquay house-full opening night audience reacted to every emotion throughout - and was abuzz with equal praise, laughter and sympathetic understanding after the final applause.
Much was due to fine onstage performances from that excellent cast.
This was led by Barry Eeles, a Geelong Rep stalwart whose lean and craggy looks and slicked-back hair regularly type-cast him as a stage villain. But here, Barry was a revelation as the wild-haired bi-polar opera-fan-steamroller Roy, antagonising, goading and just occasionally supporting the innocently fearless director Lewis, played with straightforward ease by Lachie Errey.
Their ‘cast’ of Barry’s press-ganged patients were each wonderful; from Glen Barton’s edgy unstable pyromaniac Doug to Fred Preston’s delicate portrayal of the extremely introverted Henry; Stacey Carmichael’s sad/sexy/crafty recovering drug addict Julie; Karen Long’s sweetly struggling obsessive Ruth and Kevin Fitzpatrick’s obsessed and medically-supressed musician Zac.
And then there was Cherry, played by TTT’s musical-theatre recruit Sam Heskett, as an armed, food-obsessed stalker who possesses what must be the most dazzling, menacing forced smile ever seen on a Geelong stage.
This scene-stealing group of inmates drew quality support from Stuart Errey’s social worker and ‘outsiders’ Melinda Chapman and Lachie Vivian-Taylor and together they presented a Cosi of simple design and high quality that has earned a swag of VO nominations.
I’m sure that once word gets out of this TTT Cosi’s excellence - and sheer fun - then tickets will be at a premium.
It would be a good tip to book now.  

Colin Mockett

Faultless Superstar a Perfect Celebration

Jesus Christ Superstar directed by Davina Smith-Crowley for Geelong Lyric Theatre Society, Playhouse, October 4, 2014

This had to be the perfect way for Geelong’s Lyric Theatre Society to celebrate its 40th birthday, by staging a near-faultless version of the Lloyd-Weber/Tim Rice blockbuster musical Jesus Christ Superstar.  
The production’s all-Geelong cast and crew created a spectacular show that radiated quality in every department. That has to be the ultimately satisfying way to mark such a big occasion, especially when many of those responsible were Lyric insiders - the company’s committee members.
Lyric’s 2014 Jesus Christ Superstar had, at its base, director Davina Smith-Crowley’s carefully thought-out, slick, seamless staging and people management. Davina is the company’s secretary.
It was a visually exciting show, with superbly cast, well-drilled, crisply choreographed singers and dancers clad in non-authentic, yet stylishly harmonious clothes. You knew their costumes were wrong, but they looked just right and worked so well against equally well designed complementary stage lighting.
It sounded great, too, with excellent vocalists in every department backed by an impressive orchestra which, though driven by three keyboards, still included horns, wind and reed components with three rock guitarists and tightly-disciplined percussion from Dan Zampatti.
And Dan, with off-sider Ben Anderson, was also credited with the show’s near-faultless audio sound.
The on-stage talent had highlights everywhere. There were breathtaking performances in anchor roles, with (Lyric treasurer) Grant Whiteside’s Judas providing magnificent rock & roll angst to complement Bryce Baumgarten’s pure, resigned-to-his-fate Jesus. Kimberlee Bone brought a wholesome and loyal Mary Magdalene, while the show’s long list of menacing antagonists dominated - and enhanced - every scene in which they appeared.
These were led by Dan Eastwood’s Caiaphas and Brendan Rossbotham’s Annas; a duo with unusual, but perfectly complementary voices; Andrew Lorenzo’s consensus-seeking strong-man Pilate and Scott Beaton’s surprise 1930s jazz-era Herod.
Of the disciples, William Reed was rock-solid as Peter, (of course) to Charlie McIntyre’s innocent supporting Simon.
Behind, alongside and occasionally in front of these leads was a sterling ensemble that sang, danced, moved and filled in every other part - from demanding leper to precision dancing girls - with unflagging high quality. So take a bow: Ryan Quinn, John Stephensen, Geoff Trevaskis, Scott Graham, Thomas Shears, Michael Blay, Mitchell Walters, Dale Bradford, Lachy Turner, Eugene Pandik, Hudson Middlekoop, Diana Osmanovic, (Lyric committee member) Sally Anne Cowdell, Jenn Stirk, Cherie Mills, Chelsea Green, Nicole Mann, Cheryl Campbell, Charlotte Crowley, Zoe Prem, Avril Wojniusz, Georgia Kavenagh, Cassidy Chappell, Chanelle Tait, Jenna Irvin, Georgie Morrissy, Maddison Searle, Jemma Lowther, Perri Espinoza, Laura Dillon, Lucy and Derek Ingles and Tyson Middlecoop. You were, every one, excellent. Everywhere.

You’ll understand that I enjoyed this Jesus Christ Superstar - so much that I’m nominating it for a record 15 Virtual Oscars including, for the first time, for the show’s producer, who was, almost inevitably, Lyric’s president Ben Crowley.

I can’t recommend highly enough for you to go, see, and enjoy this Jesus Christ Superstar. You’ll be  blown away by it’s quality - and surprised that such a talented bunch can also so well manage a Geelong theatre company.

Colin Mockett

Dramas aplenty around A Woman in White 

The Woman in White adapted & directed by Amelia McBride Baker for Theatre of the Winged Unicorn, Ceres Hall October 3, 2014

It was with anticipation that I attended the opening night of the dramatisation of Wilkie Collins' famous 1859 novel The Woman in White. Consistently placed in the top 100 novels ever written, I wondered how a stage version could convey the suspense and the often complex storyline spread over locations in the north and south of England. In any event, I need not have worried. Amelia's dramatisation flowed seamlessly and her characters revealed the strengths and foibles of those created by Collins. The latter made extensive use of narrators to tell their bit of the story and indeed each chapter in the book purported to be a written account by an individual directly involved. The use of narrators also worked well on stage and Amelia solved the multi-site issue by setting the play in one location, Liveridge House in Cumberland.

Without wanting to reveal the plot, let me say that it revolved around the physical resemblance of two young women - the heiress Laura Fairlie and the sick and troubled Anne Catherick from a lower social order - and the man, Walter Hartright, destined to fall in love with Laura and be dragged helplessly into the tragic life of Anne Catherick.

The parts of Laura and Anne were played by Hannah Verspaandonk who quietly and convincingly captured the fragility inherent in both roles. Laura's half sister, Miriam Halcombe, whose strength of character and purpose helped Laura and Walter Hartright through years of emotional trauma, was confidently portrayed by Maddie Field in a manner that contrasted beautifully with the uncertainty displayed by Laura as a result of her divided loyalties.

Before his death, Laura’s father had asked that Laura marry the eligible Sir Percival Glyde, who turned out to be a real bounder with a secret which he was determined at all costs to keep hidden.
Simon Finch, as Sir Percival, gave a wonderfully arrogant performance, his pecuniary interest in Laura's estate providing the rationale to create a most objectionable character with his dark hair, beard and clothing contributing to his menacing demeanor.

The central character, Walter Hartright, was played by Matt Biscombe who convincingly managed the transition from uncertain and insipid drawing-tutor to intrepid amateur sleuth. It is interesting to dwell on the fact that Wilkie's Hartright laid the foundation for the role of detective that we see so frequently today.

The remaining roles were those of Sir Percival's partner in crime, Count Fosco, and his wife Lady Fosco. Ben Mitchell played the role of the urbane Count Fosco with great skill. His dandyish appearance and occasional foppish gestures provided the humour, although it was obvious that Fosco was altogether more dangerous than Sir Percival because he did not let his passions rule his head.
Madame Fosco was played with spine-tingling, icy coldness throughout by Julie Fryman, whose black costume complimented her dark temperament.

The set, by Stuart and Ingrid Pett, was elegant in its simplicity: a white backdrop in front of which were two rotatable window-like structures. One acted as a door onto the stage and when rotated a door off stage and the other the inside or when rotated, the outside of a bay window. These devices created great flexibility on stage and the ease with which they were rotated deserves mention.

In short, The Woman in White is an intriguing story, and it's transposition to the stage provides an evening's entertainment that Wilkie Collins would be pleased to watch. I recommend you take that trip back in time, relish the costumes and enjoy a Victorian novel transposed to the stage.

Bryan Eaton

A Fabled Greek 80s Disco? - That’s Absurd

Xanadu, directed by Chantelle Fava for GSODA Theatre Collective, Shenton Centre, October 3, 2014.

For 49 years Geelong’s GSODA Juniors has tutored and taught stagecraft to our region’s theatre-fan kids between the ages of 10 and 17. They’ve uncovered several stars as well as giving thousands of now-adults a deal of self-confidence and assurance. But there was always an awkward period after those theatre-minded kids reached the mandatory leaving age of 17. Traditionally some drafted into our region’s senior companies, while others left the field, but still kept their network of ex-GSODA Junior friends.
But now we have this new group - the GSODA Theatre Collective, which is essentially a talented bunch of ex-Juniors with like-minded friends, all now in their 20s and looking to stage the type of big, colourful musical that was staple fare when they were Juniors.
And if this Xanadu is an indication., they’re a welcome new Geelong stage identity.
This group was uniformly good-looking, talented, they could all sing, dance - and they had a positive, light feel for comedy and irony.
That was needed for this production, because Xanadu, though on the surface a bold, colourful rock musical, is also a step back in time to the theatre of the absurd.
The show’s plotline, which had the ancient Greek muses taking a wrong turn through time to wind up in 1980s Los Angeles where the lead muse fell for a young artist so together they invented roller-disco - is bizarre well beyond the point of unbelievable.
But this group’s talent, underlined by neat self-depreciating humour and combined with director/choreographer Chantelle Fava’s cheerfully sure touch, made for a deliciously unusual, happy, confection of absurd rock-musical theatre.
The music score - written by ELO & Travelling Wilbury Jeff Lynne - was accurately reproduced by an accomplished off-stage rock combo led by MD Damien Montalto. It relentlessly drove the show to its satisfying big-number audience-on-feet finale - but before that we’d been led by Trent Inturrisi’s ardent naivety in his lead part as Sonny, infatuated by Ariane Gavin’s wide-eyed singing/skating lead muse. Rachel Glynne made a deliciously wicked sister muse with Meagan Reid her sexy, slippery, sidekick. The astonishingly agile Callum Smith and lithe Damian Caruso added a pair of charmingly ducky dancing siblings alongside the splendidly pointe-ed Alana Babic and divine Elizabeth Gore. Tyler Stevens completed this multi-talented on-stage team by providing a money-driven financier then an all-seeing but slightly perplexed Zeus. Every one of these players sang, danced - and sent up their parts with delicious aplomb.
Where this Xanadu was flawed was with its sound levels and unavoidable visual sight-line problems.
The band’s amplification would frequently overwhelm the singers, especially when there was spoken witty asides inside the songs - lost to the craning audience.
So, Chantelle, please, for the remaining shows I recommend you crank back the keyboard and guitar sound by two notches, the drums and bass by three.
Then your audiences will surely better enjoy what is an accomplished staging of a deliciously absurd rock musical.
Colin Mockett

Geelong’s Bright & Brash Guys & Dolls

Guys and Dolls, directed by Brad Beales for CenterStage Jnr, Drama Theatre, October 2, 2014.

There was a great deal to like in this Geelong version of Guys And Dolls. It was big, bright, brash, colourful and cheerful and it sounded just great. Director Brad Beales’s quirky approach to casting and simplified staging resulted in a clean, slick production that allowed the glory of Runyon’s prose and Loesser’s music to sparkle.
That quirky casting could be described in today’s politically correct terms as gender specific, but non-age-ist and non-size-ist. I suspect that each Guy and Doll had been selected for their voice quality regardless of age or build, which resulted in a cast-list that was mostly drawn from children aged nine to late teens, with a couple of token adults. This brought some odd visual match-ups, with, for example, the dozen (mostly adult-sized) comic gamblers trembling in fear and running from a single youth-sized police officer Brannigan (Tom Vlamis) who then justified their fear with a booming voice and significant stage presence.
The show’s simplified staging included the use of a recorded musical backing track, which though it might annoy purists, did allow director Brad and his vocal director, Jessica Murray, and choreographer Ashley Boyd to concentrate on the voice and movements of their talented stage team. That, and a neat, slick set and colourful costumes contributed to the show’s overall gloss, slick scene-changes and great sound.
Of course, no production is perfect, and this Guys & Dolls had its drawbacks, too.
From an audience perspective, it suffered from Geelong theatre’s programme malaise; where the show’s glossy image-filled programme, packed with waffle, literals and cast-member profiles each hoping we enjoy their show - failed to provide even basic information like which actor played which character, or credit the show’s excellent sound or music contributors.
So I recommend that you print this out when you go see Geelong’s Guys & Dolls - it will help in identifying that young and talented cast.
Jye Cannon played the lead guy Sky Masterson with total assurance; while Tayla Muir displayed a gorgeous voice as his target doll Sgt Sarah Brown. Lead doll Miss Adelaide was played with gusto by Tori Stones and her guy, Nathan Detroit, was played by a harried Cameron Field. Connor Sheedy gave us a magnetic Nicely-Nicely Johnson; while Will Conway’s confident Benny Southstreet; Pat Matthews’ able and agile Rusty Charlie, Logan Stabenow’s smiling Harry the Horse, Angus Brown’s adroit Angie the Ox and Jack McPhail’s lively Liver Lips Louie gave excellent gambling-guy-support. Darcy Stabenow provided the surprise Big Jule, while Tori’s classy singing/dancing backing Hot Box Girls were Casey Reid, India Ney, Taylah & Alannah Matchett, Ella Ingles, Katie Loxston and Maddie Richards. The show’s versatile and flexible ensemble included Matt Richardson and Nicholas Hinks, Simone Costa, whistling Connor Moloney, and a marching Mission Band led by Phebe Piroch and comprising Jess & Hannah Senftleben, Hamish New, Finn Jaques, Chloe O'Donoghue and Grace Holt.
Simon Thorn’s Arvide Abernathy and Sue Rawkins' Gen. Cartwright - the show’s two token adults in missionary positions - played their parts with perfect deadpan aplomb.
All up, this happy colourful and tuneful Guys & Dolls, packed with good cheer made an excellent start to Geelong’s biggest weekend of theatre. Go see it if you can.
Colin Mockett

Wordless, absorbing - it’s on the Blink

Written On The Body, choreographed/directed by Lyndel Quick for Blink Dance Theatre, Shenton Centre September 19, 2014.

This, second production from Geelong’s original and groundbreaking Blink Dance Theatre, was at times obscure, at other times illuminating. At times it was beautiful, at times awe-inspiring in the athleticism and grace of its performers - and it was never less than absorbing. And all this was completed in 75 minutes with no interval.
Written on the Body is a work without words presented by six lithe and agile female dancers on an empty stage save for a large pile of hardback books. It had surprising lighting and video effects and a recorded sound-track of carefully assembled classical tracks, electronic music, songs and sounds.
The programme notes said the work was inspired by the life of feminist/erotic writer Anais Nin. In practice, with Blink founder/director Lyndel Quick’s choreography, this came across as a thought-provoking movement piece that in turn analysed, explained and celebrated female behaviour, it’s learning, understanding and practice.
So we saw performers Sara Di Segna, Jessica Lesosky, Toni Main, Yuhui Ng-Rodriguez Lyndal Pope and Mikayla Thomas at first acquisitive, eager to absorb the knowledge of their books - then interacting through their individual lives using food, behaviour patterns - even learning to apply make up in unison.
They began fully dressed, changed clothes at times and performed mostly in their nylon-petticoat underwear.
And they wordlessly brought us to a fitting - and surprising - climactic ending that left the auditorium applauding loudly, then remaining in their seats, still silently thinking through what they had seen.
Written on the Body is not for everybody. It has no flashy, singing, dancing colourful razzmatazz. But if you’re after a thought-provoking work that is gracefully and athletically staged by a highly talented, extremely well-disciplined team - and which incorporates moments of rare beauty - go see this work. You probably won’t see its like again - at least for another year when Geelong hopefully gets to Blink again.

Colin Mockett

Want to see vintage Williamson? Join The Club

The Club, directed by David Mackay for Geelong Rep, Woodbin Theatre, September 5, 2014.

It was a cruel turn of fate that saw the Geelong Cats playing its qualifying final on the night Rep opened The Club.

This was probably the reason for an unusually low turn-out for a Rep opening night - but those that stayed away missed an enjoyable night of theatre with a couple of excellent performances and plenty of laughs.
True, The Club’s 1970s VFL footy-themed storyline appeared outdated, even a little corny in the light of today’s AFL shenanigans and scandals. But this was still a cleanly-written David Williamson work, containing his trademark sharp characterisations, exposed human frailties and grubby corporate wrangling.
 Australian footy may have moved on during the past 40 years, but The Club still stands as a piece of quality scriptwriting, and Rep’s production team presented it with care and respect.
First-time Rep director David Mackay must have felt mixed emotions as he sat at the back of that deficient first-night audience.  

He had cast well, with believable players in every position; he had kept his action moving smoothly on a neat, simple and believable set - and his musical and video embellishments, for the most part, were an asset. Above all, he had staged it at the height of the foot season. Yet still the fans stayed away.

In some regards the production itself mirrored its on-stage story of a team put together with the best of intentions unable to produce its potential on the pitch.
David’s on-stage team was led by embattled chairman Steve Howell, who played his part convincingly, naively, straight; while Jonathon Lawrence played his manipulative administrator with the wily oiliness of a politician. Newcomer Ernie Rijs was totally credible as the club’s upright, honest - and so easily outmaneuvered - coach. Sean Sexton appeared every inch his fiery, loyal club captain and Jesse Bickerton made a highly plausible wayward champion.
But topping these straight performances at just about every turn came the blustering, scene-stealing, laughter-wringing old pro committee member played with gusto and a great deal of skill by Ian Rooney.
His ‘intimate chat’ scene with Jesse was theatrical gold and worth the price of admission alone.
It’s fair to say that most attempts by Australian theatre to tap into the nation’s obsession with sport have failed, with The Club’s original productions - and its resulting film - notable exceptions.
The early signs are that this revival is unlikely to attract footy fans to The Woodbin. But it may well bring in theatre buffs eager to see a piece of vintage Williamson staged with care, skill and a good deal of passion.

Colin Mockett

Pure joy as Elvis meets the Bard

All Shook Up, directed by Janine McLean for St Joseph’s College & friends, Playhouse Theatre, August 14, 2014.

This unusual melding of Shakespeare with Presley made for an evening of theatrical delight.
From the unmistakable first chord of Jailhouse Rock to the all-on-stage big finale Burning Love, the 64-strong cast provided a night of refreshing, rocking, happy out-and-out fun.
Shakespeare provided the show’s storyline, loosely-based on his gender-switch romantic comedy Twelfth Night, but transposed to a 1955 American small town.
In practice, much of the Bard’s twisting plot was wrangled further in order to justify the insertion of 26 hit songs from the Presley catalogue, but that was hardly noticed in such a happy union.

And the Elvis influence didn’t end with his music - the charismatic lead character Chad, played with hip-swinging self-aware distain by the excellent Ryan Bentley, had the ultra-cool look of an early Presley.

So naturally he caused consternation in the small conservative society as well as flurries of female fluttering and fainting, not least from the cross-dressed female mechanic played by tiny, talented and true-voiced Madi Dandy.
And there were more delightful talents and voices on display, notably from (in their Shakespearian pairings) dorky David Van Etten and statuesque Emily Bourke; shy Sebastian Rawson and lively Jessica Nelson; raunchy Chloe Edwards and smitten Jack Callahan; pushy mayor Olivia Nicholls and her pet sheriff, Ryan Tracey.
All sang, danced and delivered the show’s memorable musical numbers with panache and style, backed by a vibrant, colourful - and talented -ensemble.

And though this was a school production - cast from drama and music students from (the all-boy) St Joseph’s College, with some excellent imports from (the all-girl) Sacred Heart and Clonard Colleges - this show’s presentation, production values, style - and its overall gloss -would stand easily alongside Geelong’s senior companies.
Indeed, this All Shook Up has garnered six Virtual Oscar nominations, with this reviewer making no concessions for its all-student cast.
As well as Ryan and Madi’s ‘best-lead’ performances, All Shook Up earned a ‘best production’ nomination, and more for it’s high-quality team of director Janine McLean, joint musical directors Michael Wilding and John Shawcross and vocal director Tania Spence.
Michael and John and their 15-strong all-student band can take much credit for the show’s joyful musical drive, Tania for some delightful and unexpected harmonies - and Janine for bringing together such an enjoyable theatrical confection.
If there are tickets available, I urge you to go, see, and experience the sheer fun of this All Shook Up.
I promise that you’ll bop along and leave the Playhouse smiling. 

Colin MockettT

There’s much more meaning in Rep’s Gaslight

Gaslight, directed by Melissa Musselwhite for Geelong Rep, Woodbin Theatre, July 4, 2014.

Gaslighting is, apparently, a 1970s term for systematic mental abuse whereby a husband presents false information in order to have his wife doubt her own sanity. It takes its name from the 1940s film, Gaslight, which, in turn, was based on this play by Patrick Hamilton.
It’s quite important to know this before seeing Rep’s new version of Gaslight, it helps understand the play’s plotlines, which initially make much of Ben Mitchell’s ‘Jack’ using ‘gaslighting’ tactics on his wife Bella, (Madeleine Field) before unfolding into much darker territory.

Both Ben and Madelaine are excellent in their proper English Victorian-era roles, though I would guess that every male in the audience would question why stern Victorian Ben would want to destabilise any relationship with such a sweetly loving wife as presented by Madelaine.
The plot-thickening arrived courtesy of some sexual/class tension between Bella and her maidservant Nancy (played with scarcely-hidden insolence by Lily Connor), some understated support from Carolyn Edwards’ carefully sympathetic housekeeper Elizabeth - and a mysterious visitor claiming to be a retired police inspector, played by Jack Laurie.
I’ll not reveal what happens from here - it is a thriller, after all, and thrills don’t work if too much is revealed beforehand.
Enough to say that first-time director Melissa Musselwhite - with her mentor Christine Davey and producer Mary Steuten - have created a very good-looking, deliberately-paced production, that wisely steered clear of melodramatic histrionics - but through this, occasionally presenting as, well, bland.
It suffered somewhat from Jack Laurie’s idiosyncratic, beard-stroking, pose-pausing, odd-gesturing portrayal of inspector Rough - such a wacko character surely wouldn’t garner credibility in any era - but it gained much more from the sheer look of the play.
This came courtesy of an excellent, thoughtfully worked-out and faultlessly authentic Victorian-era set and some neat near-era costuming.
The Woodbin’s new curtain, created for this Gaslight, will surely become an asset for many future productions.
All up, this Gaslight made for a very good, traditional night of theatre, with memorable VO-garnering performances from Ben, Madelaine - and the Woodbin set.

Colin Mockett

Unmissable Rent 

Rent, directed by Paul Watson for CenterStage Geelong, Drama Theatre June 27, 2014.

CenterStage’s Rent is a must-see production for a number of reasons. First-up, it was simply an excellent night out watching a vibrant young cast present a strong, well-written and relevant show with high energy and ability.
It was also a great show to hear - powered throughout by a raucous keyboard/guitar driven rock group under the direction of Brad Treloar.
Good to look at, too, with sexy, yet suitably grungy costuming.
For students of theatre, it stood as a perfect example of good set design - this Rent wasn’t on the familiar scaffolding, instead an innovative on-stage open-plan apartment gave the show a more human scale, while its multiple access points still allowed the action to seamlessly flow.
Of course, it was testament to the lasting power of a good storyline - Rent’s cusp-of 21st-Century eviction-threatened New York twentysomethings were, in fact, transposed from Puccini’s 19th-Century La Boheme Parisian students.
And while musing on this subject, Rent demonstrates subtle selling techniques - it is always promoted as a musical, because its target audience would run a marathon rather than attend an opera. But there’s not a spoken word in the show - and that’s the classic opera format.
But mostly, this Rent is a must-see because it was simply excellent theatre.
Its players were perfectly cast, highly skilled and immaculately drilled. Their energy in the first half and emotional power in the second was simply breathtaking.
Every member acted, sang and danced with a flawless assurance that swept their audience along on wave after wave of pure enthusiasm.
Structurally, Rent is essentially an ensemble piece behind a handful of stand-out lead performers. And boy, these were talented. They were led by Gina Mets’ raunchy Mimi and Douglas Costello’s haunted Roger; Matt Skinner’s guileless Mark and Jaye Thomas Nelson’s emphatic Angel, Josh McGuane’s sympathetic Collins and the wonderful, compelling Jess Barlow as Maureen.
These nominal leads were given faultless, total support from an exceptionally talented team comprising Adam Stafford, William Reed, Xavier McGettigan, Denise Devlin, Emily Jacker, Jenn Stirk, Jaron Mulholland, Kate Gore, Shani Clarke, Tessa Reed, Xavier McGettigan, Dom Rousetty, Ashley Mills and the show’s producer, Michael Hawthorn. I’d award them all, given the chance, but stopped the VO nominations at a dozen.

I urge you to go see this production of Rent. It’s about as faultless a rock opera as you’ll encounter. And you’ll appreciate it on so many levels.

Colin Mockett

You Beauty, GSODA  

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, directed by Andrew Cook for GSODA Juniors, Playhouse Theatre, June 21, 2014.

One of the rare pleasures of being a long-term Geelong theatre reviewer is the pleasure of watching, over several years, the blossoming of young talents at GSODA Juniors.

This production was a choice example. It was an excellent show, better than many senior productions I have witnessed - and it’s lead actors glowed, not only with talent, but with the assurance and polish of seasoned performers. Such was its quality that it was, at times, necessary to remind myself that this was a Junior production, with every performer under 20 years of age.
But first, I should modify this review with a disclosure. On a personal level, I can’t stand Disney musicals. I avoid them whenever possible, finding them about as palatable as an overdose of saccharin, as bland, false and insincere as a Christopher Pyne smile.
But this show was a triumph despite its plastic Disney plotline, which I won’t even bother to retell here.
I’ll just say that I heartily recommend you go and see this show for a number of reasons; for the sheer joy that radiated from its young performers; for the energy and on-stage discipline of no less than 65 actors - and I guarantee you’ll be blown away by the maturity of several lead performances.
And you’ll find that after a little while of appreciating all this you won’t even notice the sickly, hollow, Disney narrative.

Andrew Cook’s direction helped. It was about as polished and fast-moving as possible with 65 performers in big production numbers.
Vocal co-directors Adelle Gregory and Hannah Petrie-Allbutt, with choreographer Nikki Lenaghan, can take credit for achieving high quality results while maintaining such sparkling vivacity and pizazz from their young performers.
But of course, this was tempered by a couple of Geelong theatre’s ever-present flaws - GPAC’s perennial head-mic sound problems - now, mercifully, fewer than past occasions, but still apparent - and GSODA Juniors’ almost obsessive use of its smoke machine.
But the joy, vibrancy and sheer talent on show easily overrode those minor niggles.
In particular, Sarah Krndija, as Belle, the beauty, was just that. She appeared to possess every theatrical ability - she moved and danced with assurance, spoke and sang with the bell-like clarity of a young Julie Andrews. As her foil, Noah Vernon was a fine Beast - given that he was acting and singing though heavy make-up in a mostly unsympathetic role; while Jye Cannon made his self-obsessed Gaston an absolute delight, giving Melina Bunting’s Le Fou opportunity to shine while treating his adoring groupies, Annelise Lindeberg, Jasmine Dober and Isabella Scaffidi with total distain.
Liam Ryder was a dignified Cogsworth, while Lochlan Erard’s magnetic stage presence was, as ever, eye-catching as Lumiere.
Tess Evans created a bubbling French mistress Babbette, Rachel Glynne a highly polished cabinet and Angus Naylor an assured Maurice. And then there was Clare Sims, playing the small role of Mrs Potts with sympathy, then displaying a glorious warm voice in her solo pieces.
Back all these talented leads with that huge, vital chorus and you’ll understand why I’m highly recommending this show, and nominating it for no less than seven Virtual Oscars.
Go see, you’ll love it despite the Disney element. 

— Colin Mockett

A Long Night of Scanners and Spies

Two Winter Solstice one-act plays hosted by Theatre 3222

June 20, 2014 at the Potato Shed, Drysdale

On one of the longest nights of 2014, theatre goers walked past the burning brazier outside the Potato Shed and entered the foyer which smelled of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and other things that make wine ‘mulled’.
That atmosphere added to the sense of anticipation among the audience -that they were going to experience an enjoyable evening’s entertainment - and they were not disappointed.  

The first play, a satirical comedy Excess Baggage written by Paul Spinks and directed by Jen Brown, was based on the amusing premise that travellers entering Australia have to be scanned by officers of the Government Department of Discontent. This process ensured that those carrying excess emotional baggage (EEB) could be identified and deported. Under the eye of a Narrator (Jake Lappin) and deftly wielding a small electronic scanning device, Brenda Scarlett, convincingly played by Gemma Papalia, determined if travellers were hiding emotions.
If their bad vibes were in excess of 30% of the total vibes detected, permission to enter was refused. A large and menacing George (Chris Reynolds) bedecked with torches and other paraphernalia appeared and dragged the unfortunate individual away (hopefully not to Manus Island).
A number of travellers were scanned by the EEB monitor; a rather hippie-looking Buddhist monk (Dan Huebel), a businessman (Jarrod Lappin), an arrogant foul-mouthed tennis player (P.J. White) and a smiling Kylie, who obviously must be hiding something (Taliesa Cartwright). All these actors brought something unique to their role.
The scene was thus set for the unwary, at times bemused and often angry Alan Hossack to explore the outcomes of being uncooperative. Alan took to the role with customary enthusiasm and his scenes with psychologist Dr Dyer (played by Mitch Grinter), were some of the funniest in the play. If I have one negative comment, it relates to the difficulty I experienced hearing some of the younger actors, and I was sitting in the second row.  The second play was The Spy who Spied Me and it was written and directed by the winners of last year’s 12x12 Festival at the same venue, Amy Fox and Sarah Cielesh.
Unlike the clear plot line in the first play (Big Nana is scanning you), and the writers’ thoroughly enjoyable winning play in 2013, I experienced some confusion with the criss-crossing of events in this play such as the nuclear bomb threat, the charity auction, improved pay for civil servants and so on.
However the acting was of uniformly high standard with all cast members giving convincing and often very amusing performances.
Lee Foyster was a very creditable hard-nosed spymaster (or is it spymistress?) Mrs Carter. The two junior members of her team, the naïve, serious Gabe and tarty Janet were played by Liam and Erck and Taliesa Cartwright. (Where did Mrs Carter find staff like that?)
Jess Leaming was excellent as Sierra, one of the two front-line nuclear device detectives.
Jesse Leaman portrayed Sierra’s partner Tony with a diffidence that complemented the former’s self-assurance. The interaction between Tony and bad guy Mr Blonde (Jackson Carr) in the gay night club was wonderfully subtle, especially since Tony believed his assignment was taking him to a more traditional venue.
The role of Spyker, the agency’s technical wizard (think M16 and Q) was underplayed by an underdressed Bruce Murray whose sense of confusion was the highlight of the play.
The cast list was rounded off with Jamie Peter and Chris Reynolds as the Security Officer and Policeman and Claire Drever, Liz Murray and Maite Leaman who can be proud of their contribution to the evening’s entertainment.  

— Bryan Eaton

Musical History of Australia’s Singing Soldiers - not to be missed 

The Songs to End All Wars presented by Shirley Power & Colin Mockett, Potato Shed June 17, 2014.

First of all, an admission; I was not born during or even shortly after the First World War (WWI) and neither were members of the audience at the Potato Shed for this presentation, but that did not detract from the powerful, sometimes emotional and sometimes amusing presentation by narrator and writer Colin Mockett and popular singer and accompanist, Shirley Power. Indeed, the fact the audience members were born between the WW I and II and during and after WW II did not detract from their obvious appreciation of a show focused on the history and music of an eventful period in the Australian story which occurred 100 years ago.
Colin had obviously done a lot of reading starting with the outbreak of WW I following the assassination of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo on 28th June, 1914 and he covered the details of the well-known Gallipoli Campaign, the much less appreciated involvement of Australian forces on the Western front (including the Battle of Fromelles, where on the 19th July 1916 Australia suffered 5,533 casualties with 2000 dead in one night) and the armistice signed in a French railway carriage at Compiegne on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.
A recurring theme throughout Colin’s presentation was the fact that Australian soldiers were known as the ‘singing soldiers’ - a reference to the fact that the Australian top brass could see problems in putting soldiers trained to kill on a boat for a 4 month voyage to Europe and encouraged those soldiers with musical ability to apply their skills, not only en route to the front but throughout the War.
You might think that the tragedy of WWI is a topic of limited interest except to those with historical bent, but the well-known, popular songs of the time and the soldiers’ irreverent lyrics set to hymn tunes picked up on Sunday parades, softened the impact because for reasons I don’t understand, the songs and lyrics of WWI have become part of our present-day consciousness.
They are units of cultural inheritance (called memes by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins) destined to be passed down from generation to generation. Consequently when Colin informed us that the audience would sing most of the songs with Shirley and himself, it was like inviting us to sing around a campfire with the Diggers of a century ago. It created a strong sense of connection not only between the audience and Colin and Shirley, but also with a time long past.
As for the songs, you know them, and you enjoy singing them; they included Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag, Keep the Home Fires Burning and If You were the Only Girl in the World and if the intervening years did somehow fuzz your memory, the words were there on the screen. When Shirley sang the hauntingly beautiful Lilli Marlene and Roses are Shining in Picardy the audience were able to sink back into their own reminisces.
I can only imagine that the communal singing at the Potato Shed on June 16th 2014 captured some of the emotions that Australian Singing Soldiers and Diggers felt so far from Australia and those back home experienced as they heard the songs on the radio or sang them in the pub, one hundred years ago.

If Colin and Shirley present this show again, you should not miss it. 

- Bryan Eaton

Kate’s Aisha’s a crass Geisha

Aisha The Geisha written & acted by Kate Hanley Corley. The Potato Shed, June 15, 2014.

Kate Hanley Corley, born and bred in Geelong, is a former journalist and scriptwriter who decided to write and perform this seventy-minute piece, first for the Melbourne Fringe Festival, then the following year’s International Comedy Festival.
Originally, she had a pair of backing singers - the Dairy Chicks - but this 2014 touring version had Kate on stage alone in colourful kimono and full Geisha wig, accompanied by a raunchy life-size cut-out figure of her boyfriend and an oversized puppet sumo wrestler.
She fronts a big screen with occasional images and, strangely, the on-screen controls for computer - driven backing tracks to the show’s handful of original country-style songs. These included some neat Dairy Chick harmonies, giving the thought that their omission was not, perhaps, a positive move.
So this one-woman, one-act stage musical’s premise was that Aisha, a Koo-wee-rup dairy farmer, visited Japan in order to bring back her boyfriend who had become infatuated with a tiny Japanese girl whilst on an end-of-year footy trip.
To do this, Aisha took a crash course to become the world’s first foreign geisha.

It’s a relatively simple plot line, but one that allowed Kate to bring in a number of cultural stereotype jokes, poke fun at related issues like poorly translated Asian-English signs and propose the theory that Australian girls can only sing like Japanese Geishas if they have a carrot anally inserted.
That, along with some fart jokes, crutch-holding Aussie male drinking/smoking impressions and every combination of wasabi and bonsai pun, pretty much sums up the level of of the show’s humour, which drew thin, slightly embarrassed laughter from its healthy Sunday afternoon audience.
And I have to say that this crass humour was not only unnecessary, but really a shame, because Kate, in her kimono and white make-up made a colourful, eye-catching centrepiece delivering her lines with brash, confident assurance.
And, it has to be said, the show’s potential from its unusual storyline and cheeky promotion pictures had attracted plenty of interest with this Sunday show an extra performance for those disappointed by a full house on the previous evening.

So, please, Kate… don’t take this the wrong way. Sure, the crass jokes may have worked at for fringe festival audiences - but surely, you can keep the bones of this show and write a more subtle, adult version for grown ups.
I’d come and see that - and enjoy it.

- Colin Mockett

Time-shifted, women-enhanced - and still classic

Twelve Angry Jurors directed by Geoff Gaskill for Torquay Theatre Troupe, Price St Theatre, May 15, 2014.

It’s something of a surprise that nobody had thought of this before - that was, to literally update the award-winning all-male 1950s jury-room drama Twelve Angry Men into a time when women could serve on juries. That’s exactly what this production did. It time-shifted the play’s action forward into the 1960s, when women were franchised as jurors, while leaving the plot line court-case pretty much unchanged.
This allowed not only an easier casting task for director Geoff Gaskill (for finding a suitable dozen available male actors would be a tough ask in today’s non-professional theatre) but the inclusion of women jurors brought an extra gender element to his drama, particularly when the two main protagonists were the thoughtful, doubt-ridden Juror 8, portrayed with intense integrity by Meryl Friend, and the overbearing, belligerent Juror 3, from stylish Michael Baker.
These two excellent actors were outstanding in what was a first-rate acting ensemble. And this, combined with tight direction and an innovative theatre-in-the-round staging that allowed the cast space to project their emotions, made for an evening of theatre that was tense, absorbing - and thoroughly deserving of its six VO nominations.

As well as Meryl’s sustained belief and Michael’s memorable meltdown, the play’s acting highlights included Glen Barton ranting revelation of latent bigotry - and the ensemble’s embarrassed reactions; Fred Preston’s study in foreman diplomacy and newcomer Anita Rezzara’s annoying, but tension-lightening self-absorbtion.
Such was the quality of acting on show that the jurors were able to build their individual back stories, from Terry Roseburgh’s rich matriarch, Michael Lambkin’s elderly philosophising, young, ambitious Lachie Vivien-Taylor, thoughtful and moral Stuart Errey, brash, loud businessman Lachie Errey, concerned mid-European migrant Carleen Thoernburg through to Andrew Gaylard’s prissy, precise pedant.
Claire Ramsey’s court official gave these exactly the correct support.
Twelve Angry Jurors made for a delightful evening of theatre. It was another high-quality production from TTT, which continues to impress despite being based in a community without a recognised theatrical venue,.
Go see for yourself. You’ll be impressed, too.
Colin Mockett

Williamson addresses today’s AFL

Managing Carmen directed by Denis Moore for HIT Productions, Potato Shed, May 12, 2014.

Written in 2012, Managing Carmen is the first David Williamson play with a footy theme since The Club in 1977.
That play went on to become a well-loved film and then a staple for Australian amateur theatrical companies. It’s on Geelong Rep’s agenda for this year, to be presented once more in September.
Somehow I can’t see the same longevity happening for Managing Carmen, for a variety of reasons, not the least that its central theme of a football manager struggling to keep his star player’s cross-dressing obsession out of the press appears quite lame compared with some of the real revelations about AFL footballers over the past couple of years.
It would follow that there have been so many recent AFL scandals that cross-dressing hardly rates as theatrical impact, either - and quite apart from that, Managing Carmen, though it contains plenty of Williamson’s trademark sharp social observations with crackling witty dialogue suffers from a syrupy moral happy ending that was almost Disney-esque.
But that’s an indulgent critic being picky.
Because at its base, this Managing Carmen was an excellent piece of contemporary Australian theatre presented by a quality cast with a highly professional gloss.
Brandon Bourke was excellent in his central role as the hyper-motivated, conniving, wrangling, manipulator of a stereotypical sports manager while Jamieson Caldwell, as his star footballer asset, made a believable move from wooden sportsman through stubborn, defensive interviewee to become vibrant when his high-end upmarket cross-dressing was released. As his female conspirators, Hannah Norris made a credible motivator turned supporter turned love interest, while Annie Last moved her glamour character from mercenary to materialistic support with smooth ease. In the background, Trent Baker, in his stereotypical role of snooping, predatory reporter, represented our whole AFL-obsessed press gallery.
As is the now-familiar HIT production style, this Managing Carmen was presented with professional gloss over a good-looking clear multi-use set, designed by Shaun Gurton, that allowed the action to flow non-stop. There was, effectively not a single scene change, and as a result, the the play’s credibility, quality - and laughs were allowed to build throughout.

I highly recommend you go see this Managing Carmen - it has one more Potato Shed performance tonight (5251 1998 to book) before touring throughout the State finishing at Melbourne’s Malthouse.
Because apart from its standing as excellent theatre, this Managing Carmen allows a rare opportunity to catch how Williamson sees our AFL society today, before we once again go back to his 1977 Club.

Colin Mockett

Orphans steal a big, bright, happy show

Annie, directed by Bryce Baumgarten for Geelong Lyric Theatre Society, Playhouse Theatre, May 2, 2014.

There’s probably no better indication of the differences time makes to society group-think than was illustrated by this production.
When Annie opened in 1977, its storyline of a billionaire tycoon’s bid to adopt an 11-year-old orphan was seen as a tribute to the aspirational as well as the power of innocent optimism to triumph over negativity.
But in today’s society of Royal Commissions and international court cases, that same plotline of an older man indulging a child tuns into a potential minefield of social dangers.
So it’s was understandable that director Bryce Baumgarten down-played the relationship between billionaire and orphan instead choosing to highlight the musical’s positives - its bright, breezy songs, colourful production numbers and engaging chorus of mischievous orphans.
So the tiny, cute, orphan Molly found herself centre-stage probably more frequently than the leads. And as a result, this Annie had a curiously irregular tempo, with its brash, audacious scenes contrasted by those being subdued or underplayed.
So Andrew Lorenzo, in the lead part of Daddy Warbucks, and Delia McBurnley, the opening night Annie (alternating with Tayla Gartner in the role) found themselves almost playing support to the much more emphasised orphan chorus of Elyssa Jeffreys (that cute Molly), Sophie Baker, Molly Jones, Renee Gartner, Tara Dunstan and Rose Jennett leading a confident, self-assured and so eye-catching junior chorus comprising Darcy & Logan Stabenow, Conique Pirrottina, Isabella Coomber, Brooke Lecchino, Trinity Marell-Seach, Freya McBurnley, Scarlet and Dante Young.
And these bubbly, confident and so able juniors just about stole every scene, despite some flashes of individual brilliance among the senior actors - notably from Tony Wasley’s cocksure Rooster, Ashleigh Watson’s accomplished secretary Grace, Brendan Rossbotham’s able butler, Davina Smith Crowley’s hit & Miss Hannigan and Lachlan Turner in a trio of roles. Howard Dandy made a fine President Roosevelt, Jennifer Stirk an appropriate conspirator and these were well supported by the adult chorus of Meegan Baker, Charlotte Crowley, Perri Espinoza, India Ney, Diana & Sanela Osmanovic, Zoe Prem, Avril Wojniusz, Lisa Zarb, Ash & Dalton Chappell, Angus Crust, Trent Inturrisi, Charlie McIntyre, Scott Graham, Steve Sweeney and Mitchell Walters.

Ashton the dog played Sandy the dog somewhat reluctantly, much to the audience’s delight.

It’s an old show business adage that if you work with children or animals, you’ll inevitably be upstaged. That was pretty much borne out by this Annie - but the result was a still a bright, breezy, cheerful, colourful, happy musical - and one ideal for the family.

Colin Mockett

Feast for so many senses

Feast of La Gypsy Argentina, featuring Moira Finucane, Potato Shed, May 1, 2014.

This wild, rollicking, somewhat confusing, but ultimately satisfying evening was the result of a collusion of oddly disparate ideas and concepts. And the surprising thing was that they came together at all. 

First up, we were greeted in the Potato Shed’s foyer with edible goodies - grilled spiced sausage, corn on the cob and sangria served by a glamorous team of pseudo-Gypsies against a background of tango style music.
Once inside the theatre, which had been re-cast as a small-table intimate cabaret venue, the evening morphed to become a vehicle for performance artist Moira Finucane and her wild imagination, which took her - and us - to the steppes of period Argentina in a series of extravagantly-dressed strutting, posing, gesturing drama-filled blank-verse monologues that dipped and skipped through myth, folklore, fantasy, absurdism and sexuality - in about equal measure - telling of wolves and pirates, bears and brigands all to sensual background music of Carmen, Yma Sumac and Ravel’s Bolero.
Between each of these vignettes, the lights went up and we were served liberal amounts of choice foods and drinks - all sourced from the Bellarine Peninsula - by the fore-mentioned pseudo-Gypsies.
These were breads and spiced cooked meats from Bellarine Food Barn, cinnamon-spiced orange segments served with Tequila, Portarlington mussels and ‘gifts from heaven’ - dark chocolate truffles.  
At one significant point, two of our servers threw off their outer clothes to become the delightfully elegant Sally Pearson and her un-named partner who executed a sensual South American tango-style dance on, across and around Moira’s small stage, before reverting to become serving Gypsies for the next course.
And eventually, at the evening’s climactic finale after some 90 minutes, all the serving Gypsies became a wild and abandoned ‘flash mob’ of sensual dancers before enticing us all back into the foyer for fresh fruit and hand-made ice cream.
It all made for an extravagance of colour, drama, music and culinary decadence that delivered sensory enjoyment on so many levels.

I’d love to see this evening revived - but perhaps with a bit more of an appropriate focus, using tales of the dramas on the Bellarine to accompany all those glorious foods.
We could use this delightful Argentinian evening as a template. 

Colin Mockett

Brilliant performance from Amadeus - and Rep

Amadeus, directed by Jacqui Connor for Geelong Repertory Company, Woodbin, April 26, 2014.

This production made for outstanding theatre on a number of levels; its operation was smooth and near-flawless thanks to a disciplined team moving multi-purpose props around a simple, elegant set where every tiny item looked correct. This attention to detail continued through the production’s accurately flamboyant 18th Century costumery and wigs - right through to every character using the stilted, overblown manners and mannerisms of that era.
But on top of this solid base, built by director Jacqui Connor, were some truly outstanding acting performances.
These were led by Scott Popovic as Mozart’s scheming tormentor Salieri. On stage throughout the 3-hour performance, Scott brought a power and intensity to his role that held his audience enthralled to the very end.
Yet, remarkably, Scott’s exceptional performance was matched - and occasionally outshone - by that of Jules Hart in the title role of Wolfgang  Amadeus Mozart. Jules’ dazzling portrayal of the prodigy’s behaviour, mixing gauche manners, childish tantrums, musical brilliance and social bewilderment in about equal measure, was not only believable - it lent sense and credibility to Scott’s sly, jealous and troubled Salieri.

Underscoring these two exceptional leads were others that in any other company would have taken the acting honours. Charlotte Hukvari played Mozart’s wife Constanze with initial abandon, moved to awkward social and sexual behaviour, then through anger to ultimate uncomprehending compassion.
And again, Christine Davey and Scott Beaton, playing Salieri’s spy/informers as grasping, grandiose, overblown posers would have been scene-stealers in a production with lesser leads; as would Barry Eeles’ self-centred, uncaring Emperor Joseph II and his fawning retinue, of subservient Jack Laurie, thoughtful Simon Finch and gorgeously over-affected Rodney Hunter.

Supporting all this power and glamour was the aforementioned multi-role team that filled every other acting/scene-setting position, from sopranos to servants, courtiers, dressers and musicians, with flawless, disciplined precision. This was Amber Connor - whose every nuance was appropriate - with Luke Murphy, Taliesa Robinson, Belinda Mutton, Ken Hemmens, Margaret Anderson, Zach Eastwood, Graci Lynch and Mary Steuten. 

Every member of the the cast and crew of this remarkable Amadeus can take credit for what was an outstanding production. Small wonder it has garnered no fewer than 11 Virtual Oscar nominations.
Of course I recommend you go see it - but be quick as I can confidently predict another Rep sold-out house-full season.
Colin Mockett

Web of murder - with unexpected laughs

Agatha Christie’s The Spider’s Web, directed by Elaine Mitchell and Amelia McBride Baker, Ceres Hall, April 25, 2014.

2014 is already proving emotional for our region’s theatre companies. First there was Rep’s opening play in memory of Mike Ellis - and here at Ceres memories were stirred in a show-must-go-on atmosphere following the recent death of the company’s co-founder Dennis Mitchell.

I’m certain that Dennis would have approved of the full house and positive audience reaction to his Theatre of the Winged Unicorn’s treatment of the classic Agatha Christie murder mystery, The Spider’s Web.
It’s also pretty certain that he would have appreciated the unusual switch in the show’s impetus and outcomes. For what was written in 1954 as a suspenseful whodunnit, to showcase the talents of British actress Margaret Lockwood, now presented sixty years on as a beautifully staged period farce.
In her central role, Jocelyn Mackay showed perfect 50s style with clipped diction and unflappable Lockwood stage elan, prettily coping with some really unusual circumstances in her household. These included odd houseguests; feuding servants; a universally ravenous stepdaughter and a visit from her husband’s ex-wife’s creepy new husband who was later mysteriously murdered in the lounge - and whose body disappeared from a secret cupboard where she had hidden it.
Naturally, Jocelyn told packs of lies to the politest of police inspectors who arrived unexpectedly and who appeared to relish sorting lies from truths told by everyone in the house.
And just as naturally, the Ceres audience lapped it all up and greeted each plot twist and turn with appreciation and well-sustained laughter. The appreciation was also for ToWU’s attention to detail - for its excellent, clever set, period-perfect costumes and some neat portrayals, while the laughter was generated sometimes by the script’s off-hand non-committal lines and also from some characters apparent willingness to go along with Jocelyn’s loopy murder-cover-up ideas.

Her kooky houseguest conspirators included urbane diplomat Tony Wright, who literally threw himself with gusto into the plot; an aloof foreign Baroness in Miriam Wood and a chirpy, cheerful up-for-anything attaché Ben Mitchell, each wrangling to protect her aforementioned warm but ever-hungry stepdaughter Hannah Verspaandonk and mostly absent cool consul husband Patrick Laffy.
The conspiracies were stirred by house-servant-with-a-past Amelia McBride Baker and pushy, unlikely, gardener-with-attitude Marylin Nash, while Alard Pett delivered an almost off-the-shelf villain/victim and the whole thing was solved by unflappable police inspector Heather Dempsey, with her trusty Welsh sidekick constable Julie Fryman. This duo sniffed out red herrings while uncovering clues and leads to what was an unlikely, but suitable outcome.

This Spiders Web, though overlong in places and and always overcomplicated nevertheless presented an impressive structure - pleasing to the eye and overall cheerful good fun.
Dennis would have approved and enjoyed every minute.
It gains four VO nominations.

Colin Mockett

Chorale masters the moods of Easter

Easter Moon, music for Holy Week presented by The Geelong Chorale, Sacred Heart Chapel, April 6, 2014.

For centuries the Christian church has used the power of the human voice to thrill, calm or uplift people’s emotions.
In today’s frantic world it’s a capability that’s largely restricted to spiritual occasions and rarely experienced together in a single concert.

So this event, which condensed together the sacred musical aspects of Easter, turned out to be special in several ways.

Firstly, the Geelong Chorale and its musical director Allister Cox are as meticulous in their research and preparation as they are in their performance.
So this concert saw the Chorale vocally augmented to suit the scores and aided by a wind quartet as well as regular accompanist Kristine Mellens. And they used the carefully-chosen venue - which has superb acoustics - to its best advantage by situating singers in the mezzanine gallery for selected pieces.
But mostly, this Easter Moon concert featured three distinct and very different spiritual aspects of sacred music, which displayed the versatility of the Chorale’s 35-strong chorus and also its ability to adapt to the various centuries-old musical challenges.
The concert began with with eight musical aspects of Sorrow, starting with the moving Pueri Hebraeorum, through Three Tenebrae Responsories and including Pablo Cassals’ O Vos Omnes - all perfectly enunciated and achingly beautiful, before a crisp Parce heu parce iam from the wind quartet then a haunting Miserere from Gregorio Allegri which used the Chorale, Kristine and the wind players and guest soprano Lisa Breen high in the gallery with Choralers Jane Bashirrudin, Kathleen Rawson and John Stubbings.

Following a short interval, the mood switched to Reflection, with the In Modo religious, Ubo Caritas and the concert’s centrepiece, Christopher Willcock’s modern Australian take on sacred contemplation Easter Moon. These pieces, perhaps the most challenging for the singers, were met with delightful clarity before another short interval and the final musical flourish of Triumph.

This was Hassler’s Laudate Dominum and two choruses from Handel’s Messiah - the Hallelujah and Worthy Is The Lamb - with the Chorale, on more familiar ground, in rousing form and bringing the concert to an emphatic and suitably splendid finale. 

Conductor Allister’s short explanations preceding each piece were valuable to most in the the highly appreciative audience.
Small wonder it was so well attended.
Because this exceptional sacred musical occasion from Geelong’s premier singing group turned out to be so much more than a mere concert.

Colin Mockett 

My Fair Lady is close to perfection

My Fair Lady, directed by Chris Parker for Footlight Productions, Playhouse Theatre, February 8, 2014.

Geelong’s Footlight Productions last year won our State’s highest non-professional musical theatre award for its production of Les Miserables. Wisely, Footlights producer/founder Peter Wills decided to keep the same production team together for My Fair Lady - and they have thanked him by surpassing last year’s effort to produce what amounts to a near-perfect show.
This My Fair Lady has set an exceptionally high benchmark for others to follow in 2014. I’d go so far to say that this Geelong version is the best My Fair Lady I’ve seen - and that includes the Audrey Hepburn/Rex Harrison film.

Footlight’s version displayed class and quality in every on-stage role, especially in the crucial leads. Delightful Lisa Hanley made a brilliant, breathtaking, perfectly accented Liza Doolittle with a clear, pure, certain singing voice, while Jamie McGuane’s Professor Higgins was exactly as G B Shaw originally wrote him - infuriatingly self-assured and completely competent. To this Jamie added perfect diction and resonant vocals. This excellent duo was backed by a large, highly talented and disciplined on-stage support team that was sumptuously dressed and which moved between intimate scenes and big musical production numbers seamlessly uninterrupted across a simple, elegant, eye-catching set.
In the orchestra pit MD John Shawcross led his own tightly talented team of musicians to create a live musical sound-track as elegant and disciplined, in its own way, as the on-stage talent. While backstage, an unseen team of sound and lighting designers, choreography and vocal coaches, hairdressers, lights and stage crew had clearly solved every problem and charted every minute move to ensure the show glided through as a beautifully balanced audio and visual spectacular.
Small wonder this My Fair Lady has attracted a record 15 Virtual Oscar nominations from this reviewer, almost equally shared between on and off-stage roles.
These started with director Chris Parker, who, as responsible for the overall look and feel of the show, must be extremely proud of his team’s achievements.
VO nominations also went to choreography and vocal coaches as well as costume, set and audio designers.
In this regard, I do believe this My Fair Lady to be the first musical to have solved GPAC’s perennial sound-balance problems, so audio designer Marcello Lo Ricco should be not only lauded with a VO but carried through the streets by the entire cast and crew and his audio-charts circulated to every other company as well as framed in GPAC’s foyer.
But that’s a personal view. Back to the review.
On-stage, Howard Dandy gave Lisa and Jamie superb support as staid Colonel Pickering, balanced by concerned housekeeper Mrs Pearce, neatly portrayed by Sophie Collins. Lachlan Turner’s wonderfully fluent, energetic and vocal Doolittle was vigorously supported by his own cocky cockney chorus featuring Thomas McGuane, Jonathon Lawrence, David Keele, Jacob Petkovic, Brendan Rossbotham and Tony Wasley. How luxurious it must have been for director Parker to have the multi-talented Tony Wasley in an ensemble role.
On the upper side of the show’s class divide, Robert Tripolino gave a delightfully infatuated Freddy Eynsford-Hill, while Mary-Ellen Hetherington, Emma Jones, Phyllis Scoone and (socially mobile Brendan Rossbotham and Tony Wasley) were snooty black & white toffs alongside a pulled-out-of-retirement-and-clearly-loving-every-moment Mary Walker as Jamie’s dominating Mother.
An all-singing, all-dancing multi-disciplined ensemble of Emily Donohue, Shani Clarke, Felicity Oakes, Mollie Gallaher, Emily Jacker, Rachel Bronca, John McCarthy, Jon Mamonski, Ray Ferguson, Dom Roussety, Adrianna Maddalon, Rebecca Newman, Jesse Simpson, Christie Walter and Cassandra Whittem added total, tasteful support to every scene as servants, bystanders, crowds - and without a single lapse of concentration.
I recommend you book for this My Fair Lady while seats are still available. They won’t last long because I doubt you’ll see a better show. At least, this year.
Colin Mockett 

Almost ideal - for the love of Mike

Almost, Maine, directed by Kelly Clifford for Geelong Repertory Society, Woodbin Theatre, February 7, 2014.

This was an emotional play for Geelong Rep, as it was staged in memory of much-loved member Mike Ellis, who had proposed the production and intended to direct it before succumbing to illness late last year.
It was almost eerie, as the play could be a stereotypical Mike choice in its quirky, humorous, thoughtful insight into human relationships. And substitute director Kelly Clifford kept almost exactly true to the Ellis style of light-touch, unobtrusive direction.
For the opening night audience, it was almost possible to feel the love involved in bringing such a delightful, unusual play to the stage.
Enough of the almosts, already. But it’s difficult to resist as the play is centred around relationships in a far-north American settlement called Almost, Maine, named because the residents never quite got around to declaring themselves a town.

In an unkind climactic twist, almost all of the action took place outdoors, in snowbound midwinter, so the large Rep cast were rugged-up in snow gear during the height of an Australian summer heatwave.
So it’s almost certain they’ll look back on this run as almost a fitness workout.
Almost, Maine is not so much a play as series of themed vignettes, each involving love, each beautifully crafted with surprising twists - and every one delightfully portrayed.
So gauche teen Jye Cannon was tormented by his own naivety in his budding relationship with beautiful, understanding and determined Lizzie Sahlstrom; while gloriously zany Janine McKenzie was unexpectedly attractive to the cool, wary rational Steve Howell.  Awkward Adam Esposti’s futile attempt to revive a past romance with glam-bride-to-be Jenn Stirk had a surprising twist courtesy of friendly waitress Simone Clarke, while love-troubled Carolyn Edwards became quite unintentionally physical with painless Simon Finch.

The bright and bubbly Catherine Larcey was involved in two delightful liaisons, first with understanding David Senftleben, then eager Simon Finch, while Adam Esposti and Zach Eastwood’s budding relationship probably brought the biggest laughs in a show where laughter always came easily. Long-married couple Steve Howell and Mandy Calderwood presented almost the most absurd of elements while irrational long-distance lover Simone Clarke received some unexpected setbacks courtesy of versatile Luke Murphy.

In all, this Almost Maine made for a charming, gentle, refreshing, funny, insightful theatrical experience - which made it an almost perfect tribute to Mike Ellis.

But for this reviewer, the biggest surprise was that such a quality production had never been staged before in Geelong. It was clearly welcomed, even so much out of season.
Please go see it. You’ll find yourself almost enchanted - on so many levels.
Colin Mockett

The heat was on - and the concert was HOT

Geelong Summer Music Camp Showcase Concert 2014, Costa Hall, January 17, 2014.

This event traditionally kicks off Geelong’s musical year in the most heartwarming and uplifting of ways, by showcasing the skills and dedication of our region’s young musicians. Or at least the 200+ who attend the four-day camp of intense group-work musical workshops. These always culminate in a concert of astonishing diversity, from choir to jazz to Geelong’s biggest symphony orchestra, all performed with a flair and polish seemingly well beyond the age of the players.
This year was fully up to expectations in its standards and presentation - the students, aged from 9 to 20, and their 30-or-so tutors staged another delightful event, starting with a complex modern-jazz flavoured set from the (usually strictempo swing) Jeffrey Swing Band and culminating in a big, rousing all-on-stage finale version of We Are Australian - the concert’s theme - some 2½ hours later that drew a standing ovation.

There were several contrasts to previous years, not unexpectedly, as different tutors bring their own emphasis and choice of material.
But what made this concert different to every GSMC concert that had preceded it was not discernible on stage until the show’s warm and knowledgeable compere, Sue Arney, pointed it out.
This was that the camp had exactly coincided with the hottest spell of weather Geelong had endured in decades - four consecutive days of 40-plus temperatures without respite - and the venue, at Geelong College Prep school’s Newtown complex, had not been air-conditioned.
True, the camp committee had distributed hundreds of icy-poles and gallons of iced water, but it still presented something of an endurance test for all those involved, quite apart from the normal stresses of learning musical skills, then cramming, rehearsing and polishing the works to high performance standard.

And this concert wasn’t just up to standard. In many regards, it was outstanding.
Thus the fore-mentioned David Jeffrey Stage Band’s modern jazz was extremely challenging - set by conductor Shannon Ebeling, while Edward Fairlie handed his young charges in the Fiona Gardner Concert Band an equally exacting set of tunes - and all were accomplished with polish and flair. Conductor Chris Robson’s young Heather Tetaz Strings and Kevin Cameron’s (senior) Harry Hood Concert Band showed that they could master ever more challenging pieces, before Jenny Mathers, conducting her large and diverse choir of Eileen Martin Singers lifted the evening to an altogether higher level - where it stayed, courtesy of the gloriously elegant Billy-Jean Clancey’s two large groups, the Wendy Galloway Strings and Malcolm John Symphony Orchestra. I’ll not list the pieces played, enough to say they ranged from Bach and Brahms to Paganini and Stravinsky and the quality, musicality and discipline was exceptional.
And that led smoothly to the emotional We Are Australian - arranged by Graham Lloyd - with its by-then-inevitable ovation and encore.
Now this is not to recommend the use of pressure-cooker conditions in a learning environment. But it has to be said that the students and tutors involved in Geelong’s 2014 GSMC concert did present an altogether superb event.
And it was surely no coincidence that the highlight was Jenny Mather’s choir, augmented by strings and percussion - with a brilliant version of… Hot, Hot Hot! 

Colin Mockett