No-nonsense Reviews 2015

Sublime song in candlelit concert 

 Noel! Noel! a Christmas concert by candlelight. The Windfire Ensemble, Music at the Basilica, St Mary’s, Yarra St, December 18, 2015. 

No, the Noel! Noel! carol wasn’t included in this concert. Few carols were. But there was candlelight - small, high candles glowing on high sticks at the end of each pew in Geelong’s Basilica. And the pews were full with a highly appreciative audience that rang the rafters with long and loud applause at the end of this most unusual - and exquisite - musical Christmas fare.
The concert started conventionally enough, with the Windfire String Ensemble - a 15-piece chamber orchestra led by Ben Castle - performing Corelli’s ‘Christmas Concerto’, six short, delicate pieces with adroit mastery.
This relative musical calm was contrasted by the following segment from the Geelong Youth Choir conducted by its vibrant director Denise Hollingworth.  Four short numbers showcasing the choir’s talents began with a beautiful version of ‘Panis Angelicus’ - with the senior singers behind Brianna Ekberg’s warm and full solo soprano voice. More of Brianna later. This was followed by the full choir and a sung version of Pachelbel’s Canon complimented by Janelle Kratzmann’s violin. Janelle then took the conductor’s podium to lead the choir through a spirited version of ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’ before Denise returned to conduct a gloriously happy segment finale - a resounding movement-filled version of the Gospel standard ‘Gotta Whisper, Gotta Shout’.
The Youth Choir’s enthusiastic applause might have daunted any following artists, but this concert had more and better to come - though this benefits from a little back-explaining.
Earlier this year the Basilica’s Windfire music programme offered five scholarships to young local singers, which included workshops and masterclasses with regional musicians Rick Prakhoff, Malcolm John and Wendy Galloway. The trio of tutors were so pleased with the skills, commitment and dedication shown by their scholars, that they created a work specially for them - Dr John setting a Christmas poem by Francis Webb for five soprano voices backed by the Windfire Chamber Choir. In the event, one of the scholars, Grace Leaming, was unable to sing; but the other four sopranos, Aurora Harmathy, Jessica Nelson, Jana Thierry and Brianna Ekberg (yes, she of the Youth Choir’s Panis Angelicus) delivered a delightful version of the new work, titled ‘Five Days Old’, before joining the Chamber Choir and Windfire Ensemble for the event’s big finale - a full version of Josef Haydn’s Mass of St Nicholas.
This fully-sung Mass, with the choir and orchestra conducted by Rick Prakhoff and soloists Lee Abrahmsen, Belinda Paterson, Michael Petrucelli and Kiran Rajasingam did full majestic justice to the impressive masterwork - which led to all that resounding, sustained appreciative applause.
For this was very much a Christmas concert with a refreshing difference - and it was executed brilliantly.

— Colin Mockett

Hayden’s Creation - from woe to go in song

Joseph Haydn’s Creation sung by the augmented Geelong Chorale conducted by Allister Cox, Wesley Church, Yarra St, December 5, 2015. 

It’s not every day you get a chance to review the creation of the earth.
 In Geelong, it happens only once every couple of decades, because 1994 was the last time this work was sung in our city, by the same group, then known as The GAMA Singers.
Ironically that was the last concert in what was then Geelong’s premier vocal auditorium, the west wing of the Town Hall concert hall, before it was taken over as a base for local politicians. At the time they promised to build a replacement venue. As this never happened, Geelong must be the only place on earth where The Creation was so swiftly followed by local council annexation.
But leaving all that aside, there were, surprisingly, several voices remaining from that 1994 event in the 2015 Chorale, and more survivors in the audience. And most were in agreement that this was the superior performance. This was, in short, a luscious piece of choral work that was (literally) magnificently delivered.
Technically, it was beautifully balanced, with a highly competent 30-piece orchestra in front of the Chorale’s 46 voices with four soloists seated to one side - all controlled with musical elegance by one conductor, Allister Cox. And there was not a microphone or mixing desk in view.
None were needed because the soloists had the ability and power to project over both choir and orchestra to tell the stories of Haydn’s masterwork with clarity and beauty.
The structure of the work moves from chaos to order, giving prominence - and characters - to those soloists. So the wonderful soaring soprano of Lee Abrahmsen was singing the archangel Gabriel’s view of the creation, while Manfred Pohlenz’s rich, commanding bass gave voice to archangel Raphael. Later, in act three, these two became Adam and Eve, allowing them to assume the prominent, driving roles for the entire concert, with tenor Daryl Barclay singing the lesser part of archangel Uriel and the Chorale literally singing like angels extolling praise for their maker. Clearly maestro Haydn had little time for altos, as soloist Kathleen Rawson’s sole role was to augment the final amens, which she did as adroitly - and masterfully - as every other musician involved in this most glorious of concerts.
Aesthetically and acoustically, the Church venue was perfect for the occasion, and director Cox’s reverence and reference to his 1859 original score added even more lustre.
I shudder to think of the enormous amount of work and expertise that went into staging this exquisite concert. It would have taken months of rehearsals and significant resources. But believe me, it was worth every moment. And there’s another irony in that it told of (literally) everything being created on a much shorter time-scale, just six days.
Here’s hoping we all get to see the next staging of this glorious work - perhaps in Geelong’s long-promised purpose-built concert hall.

Colin Mockett

So Like Those Christmases of Long Ago...

On Tuesday morning, the final show for 2015, from Drop of the Hat Productions was held at Drysdale's Potato Shed. Once again the audience was treated to a variety of entertaining acts.

With a Christmas theme to all sketches, we were entertained by music and comedy, with a special performance by the Geelong Handbell Choir.

The very talented Drop of a Hat Band opened the show with a favourite ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing' and then Shirley Power accompanied herself on the beautiful Appalachian dulcimer, as she sang 'God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen'. The Grumpy Old Men made a welcome return, and, in their own unique way, made some very pointed comments about Geelong, the council and the mysteries of green bins recycling. The mayor came in for his share, as did that Christmas tree. (How many people come to Geelong just to see the Christmas tree Darryn?) as did the lights at Kardinia Park. Very entertaining, and with some special moments to reflect on, was Colin's self-written 'Grumpy Christmas Poem'. We were reminded of some of the more poignant moments of Christmas, when Colin read the story of 'Christmas in the Trenches' (WW1) backed up by the gentle sound of Geoff Sinnbeck on his acoustic guitar.

It never ceases to amaze me that Geelong has so much hidden talent, and this was so with the Geelong Handbell Choir. Six people played the bells, and I think each person had 4-5 bells. So, it was as if 6 people were playing the one instrument. The British-made bells had a clear, sweet sound, as the Choir played several carols, including traditional numbers such as Silent Night, Deck the Halls and Jingle Bells. They returned later with more, including The Little Drummer Boy. I just loved those bells.

After morning tea, at interval, the Grumpy Old Men gave us a unique and humorous insight into the ethnic territories of the seating along Pakington Street, and later a hilarious version of the 12 Days of Christmas for Grumpies. Geoff and Matisse teamed together on their mandolins with Ding Dong Merrily on High, then Geoff sang John Lennon's 'And So This Is Christmas' accompanied by the Hatband. Almost two hours of entertainment came to and end with the whole company joining together to sing John Denver's 'Peace Carol'.

This was announced as a 'Christmas show that's aimed at adults who remember when Christmas was a time of fun, laughter and good music'. The Grumpie's sketch of Santa and the Elves seemed to emphasise this point, but as I walked away after the show, humming '12 Days of Christmas', memories lingered in my mind of those special Christmases so long ago.

Tony Newman

Sinbad in Geelong for a very good cause

Medimime’s Sinbad the Sailor features all the traditional elements of a panto in a colourful and fun production. The plot centres around forbidden love (between the sailor and a princess) and the hunt for a treasure that will save Sinbad’s family from eviction. Along the way, we visit grand bazaars in Tangiers, meet King Neptune under the sea and head into a jungle that is besieged by a fire-breathing dragon.

There is a real community feel to this production, which is principally a fund-raiser for Barwon Health and an opportunity for those who work in the health sector to tread the boards. Consequently, it features a cast of all ages and theatrical experience. Tyler Stevens’ Sinbad is energetic and charismatic, and Kate Gore, who plays his love interest Princess Yasmin, is confident and lovely on stage. The two leads are ably supported by the engaging Angus Naylor (playing Sinbad’s younger brother, Ali) and the vibrant Paige Van Der Chys (in the role of Rose, lady-in-waiting to the Princess).

Every panto needs a dame, and Sinbad was fortunate to have Tim Fitzpatrick in the role of Dame Drachma, mother of Sinbad and Ali. He created a bold and likeable character, who engaged and entertained the audience for the duration of the show.

To balance the dame, we had the villainous Vizier, played menacingly by Scott Graham. His sidekick, Kumquat, was played deftly by experienced performer, Liz Lester.

Developing a strong relationship with the audience during his interactions was Colin Riley, in the role of the Fairy Seaweed. His efforts to rhyme his lines created a fun running gag throughout the show.

In a cameo role, Dan Eastwood played King Neptune and led the singing of a Tom Jones’ classic that was a highlight of the production. Other notable cameos came from Nicole Hickman (Queen Pearl), Nicholas Tyrrell (High Priest), Alicia Neels (Sultana), Rob McNeill (Sultan) and Belinda Hynes (Landlord).

First time director Hannah Petrie-Allbutt has done a fine job of bringing together a production that gives so many people the opportunity to participate in an entertaining and worthwhile community project. The set designs, costumes, hair and makeup evoke the various settings of the story clearly, and the ensemble are used effectively to bring the various locations to life. The choreography was tight and managed capably by all, as was the singing. Particularly noteworthy was a delightful moment in Sinbad when the children in the cast performed ‘The Tide is High’ in a range of imaginative costumes.

If you are looking for a panto to put you (and the family) into a festive mood at the tail end of the year, head off to GPAC and catch Medimime’s Sinbad the Sailor – it’s a fun way to spend a couple of hours and, as a bonus, it’s for a good cause, too!

Janine McKenzie

Rep’s final is a Daylight delight

Nick Enright’s play Daylight Saving is Geelong Rep’s final show for the year and it is a delight. Directed by Scott Beaton and featuring a strong cast, Daylight Saving is a glimpse into a loosely connected group of people who have epiphanies on the one night of the year we can turn back time – if only for an hour.
At the centre of the story is Felicity, a successful restaurateur, who is juggling temperamental staff, a jet-setting, tennis-manager husband, a neighbour in crisis and a busy-body mother. When a visiting former flame from the States glimpses her on the TV, he tracks Felicity down to see if they can re-capture what might have been.
Lauren Anne Crute plays the spiky, tense and unsettled Felicity with energy and conviction. Her focus and pacey delivery of dialogue ensures the audience follows the farcical plot in an engaged and entertained manner. Josh, the American first love, is played skilfully by Cameron Allen, whose grounded and calm characterisation provides a lovely contrast to Crute’s highly strung Felicity.
The driven husband, Tom, whose primary concern is managing the career and reputation of tennis star, Jason, is played by Steven Georgiadis, who manages to make Tom a likeable character, despite his selfishness. Georgiadis plays the comedy straight, allowing the humour and the humanity of the script to shine through.
Butting in on the love triangle is Bunty, Felicity’s mother, played in a breezy and confident manner by the versatile Christine Davey. Davey works deftly in the farcical style, playing the character as a whirlwind that leaves disruption and confusion in its wake.
Adding to the drama of the evening is Stephanie, the frantic neighbour who lands on Felicity’s doorstep for wine and sympathy after finding out bad news from her married lover. Stephanie is played with gusto by the talented and charming Cassia Webster, who does a terrific job of evoking Sydney in the 1980s, with her big hair and busy costume.  

Chris Young plays the supporting role of Jason, the confused and volatile tennis star, whose presence in the life of Tom and Felicity is creating its own conflict. Young uses his voice and body adeptly to capture the tragi-comedy of a man in need of answers to some of life’s big questions.
Director Scott Beaton has ensured this beautifully written play is delivered in a pacey way, creating a pleasing balance between the comic one liners and the meaningful insights that Enright wove into Daylight Saving. The costumes, set and sound design work well, too, establishing the setting and era in a stylish manner. There is much to enjoy in the final Rep show for 2015 – catch it if you can!
- Janine McKenzie

Super theatre,  Away at Torquay

Away, directed by Stacey Carmichael for Torquay Theatre Troupe, Price St Theatre, November 12, 2015

Michael Gow wrote Away in the 1980s and set it in politically-charged 1960s Australia. Only he didn’t place it anywhere near the scenes of protest, and the Vietnam conflict got only passing references in what appears on the surface to be a 60s-nostalgia small community social drama.
But from today’s 21st Century perspective, this Away comes to present much more. Inside that social drama, it’s a study into the personal effects of tragedy and what was then a total lack of understanding of what is now recognised as overwhelming grief and post traumatic stress disorders.
Gow’s script incorporates these without naming them, while director Stacey Carmichael’s sensitive treatment neatly teases them out inside what shows as a simple domestic drama based on three family’s summer holidays Away.
This Torquay treatment of Away was groundbreaking on several levels.
It was staged amid its audience using the minimum of props, most of which were carried on to a clean, blank, open stage by the actors themselves. Indeed, frequently, other costumed actors became the props, standing static and silent to create instant scenery. And each scene was neatly linked by correct-era music from a live singer/guitarist standing just off-stage.
On stage we saw a raft of excellent characterisations that shifted the play’s dramatic tensions from wild laughter to hear-a-pin-drop emotion in what was an evening of absorbing, thoughtful theatre.
And we witnessed two exceptionally powerful performances - by Lisa Berry and Maryanne Doolan - as the distressed wives whose families chose different ways to handle their mental conflicts. Maryanne’s husband, cold Stuart Errey’s heavy-handed approach drove her into the orbit of the other families and eventually into a healing climactic environment. She encountered Lisa’s embattled, bewildered and sensitive husband, Michael Baker, and an acquaintant new migrant couple with troubles of their own in Glen Barton and Mandy Calderwood. The families had been brought together by circumstance and the awkward friendship of their teenaged children - a budding liaison beautifully portrayed by highly talented newcomers Ryan Tracey and Jessica Senftleben.
Jessica’s role was doubled by Tara Dunstan, who on opening night played one of the excellent support ensemble - along with Sean Sexton, Melissa Warren, Grace Mallinson, Rebecca Morgan and Fred Preston.
The exceptional standard of acting throughout this Away has garnered a swag of Virtual Oscar nominations, along with the play’s director and that exceptional live musical linking.
So please go see this Away - it’s a really thoughtful Australian play from a dedicated, highly talented company.
And that makes for simply excellent theatre.
 - Colin Mockett

All the Best from the Juniors

All For The Best, directed by Jazz Laker for GSODA Juniors , Playhouse Theatre, November 12, 2015

The opening night of the GSODA Junior Players presentation of All for the Best was held at at GPAC  last night. I went along unsure of what I would see, and I came away extremely impressed.

This was a show full of enthusiasm and energy, presented by a group of talented young people all obviously enjoying what they were doing.

The performance is a review of 15 well known musicals from the past 50+ years. There were two or three numbers from each musical, and you couldn't  think of  the Rocky Horror Show,  without the Time Warp (it's just a step to the left!) With Patootie, this was a great way to start the show and warm up the audience.
Other familiar numbers were ‘Big Spender’ and 'Rhythm of Life' from Sweet Charity, and 'Kids' from Bye Bye Birdie.  Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate was represented by  fine performances from Geoffrey and Ella who brushed up on their Shakespeare, and Leah, Caitlin and Giulia gave us the witches from Macbeth. Patrick impressed with his monologue of 'I Hate Hamlet'. The first half was rounded  up by the whole cast, with the title song from Oklahoma, after Maggie had totally confused the mere male, Fletcher, by being the girl who 'Can't Say No'. 

The second half includes items from Godspell, Rent, and Hair ('I Got Life') and  an excellent version of 'Money, Money, Money' from Cabaret. The company is clearly out of balance gender wise, as there were far more girls than boys, so it was wonderful to see all the boys together in 'Nothing Like a Dame' from South Pacific.  I thought Rory almost stole the show, as he sang 'Little People' from Les Miserables.  A medley of songs from Disney led us to a wonderful climax,  with songs from The Boy from Oz.  Hunter passionately sang the iconic 'I Still call Australia Home' with the full company, and the evening was rounded out with 'I Go to Rio'.

This production was supported by numerous vocal directors and choreographers, who are to be congratulated on what is a very tight presentation. The songs were well within the young performers' ranges, and the dance moves were smooth and neat and well rehearsed. The wardrobe team had done a fine job with the number and variety of costumes needed for 15 musicals, over 30 songs and more than 50 performers. Costume changes went smoothly and there were only minor wardrobe malfunctions. The directors seem to have given  clear messages to the performers, as they all appeared to know exactly what they were meant to give to each number. The sound and the lighting  efficiently supported the high standard of the evening.

This is a most enjoyable show. It is very professionally presented by an enthusiastic and talented team of young Geelong performers. They are supported by a strong, committed behind-the-scenes team. I enjoyed it very much. When I got back to my car, I was still humming "When my baby - smiles at me - I go to Rio..."! 

It's on again on Friday night, with a matinee and evening show on Saturday.

Tony Newman

Such Refreshing Fun on Forbidden Broadway!

Forbidden Broadway, directed by Scott Graham for CenterStage Geelong, Warehouse 26, November 6, 2015

This was such a refreshing evening of cheerfully irreverent musical fun.  Forbidden Broadway, is, at base, a fast-paced satirical send-up of a couple of dozen favourite musicals laced with biting put-downs of high-profile Broadway celebrities. So we saw swift segments of shows from Annie to Wicked, by way of non-neutered Cats and a supercharged singalong from The Book of Moron, an extended stinging segment of Les Miserables and at least a couple of dozen more. Personalities sent up ranged from Judy and Liza to Streisand and Channing with an unexpected extra caustic chip for Cameron Mackintosh.
And the big irony was that every member of the versatile ten-strong ensemble cast would have been first in line to audition for every one of the musicals they were satirising. So their barbs were delivered with a deal of loving reverence, too - which gave the evening an even more delicious element.
Director Scott Graham’s task was pretty easy - this production had no sets and very few props, as all of its substance was in its writing and performance. But he did an excellent job of simple, unobstructive staging.
Forbidden Broadway’s writing, from Gerard Alessandrini, was simply delightful. His sharp barbs and witty put-downs set to all those well-known tunes and delivered with machine-gun rapidity meant that there wasn’t a scorn-free second throughout the whole two-hour show.
In turn, this meant the audience was laughing and smiling throughout all those clever and familiar songs and settings.
Much credit to musical director Brad Trelour, on stage throughout and reproducing literally scores of scores on his electronic grand - and even finding time to join in the fun by working a Phantom chandelier and interacting with some spicy come-ons.
The show’s costumier, Maxine Urquhart, deserves much credit, too, for setting up all those ultra-fast quick-change costumes, many of which unobtrusively contributed to the fun.
But the bulk of credit goes to the whip-fast and solid performance team led by the Brendan Rossbotham, whose incredible voice was perfect for his Les Mis plea to ‘Bring It Down’, the clear-voiced Jenn Stirk and clear-eyed Jye Cannon, ultra-versatile Trent Inturrisi, Liza-leaning Leanne Treloar-Lowne, tottering Abba-esque Kate Gore, Topol-teaser Dale Bradford; Poppins-taunting Terri Powell, unlikely Annie Deanne Elliott and all-rounder do-anything Lachlan Blair.
The kaleidoscopic structure of the show meant that it’s cast couldn’t easily be separated to be judged for Virtual Oscars - so the entire ensemble chorus is nominated for our Virtual Oscar ‘best support’ awards in both male and female categories. MD Brad’s up for a VO, Maxine for her costumes and Lachlan as a really talented newcomer. And, of course, the whole show is up for a ‘Best Production’ VO.
That’s because this Geelong version of Forbidden Broadway is such fun. Please go see it - that is, if you’re up for a super ribbing of your favourite musical... And if you can score what is sure to be one of our city’s hottest tickets.
 - Colin Mockett

Hatband seals a great deal series

Hit Parade Classics, written/directed by Colin Mockett for Drop Of A Hat Productions, Morning Showtime at the Potato Shed, October 20, 2015.

What can you get for $15 these days? Not much you say? Well, I have found one of the best $15 deals going around. Great entertainment, and you get morning tea included.

Several years ago, I discovered the ‘Morning Showtimes’ presented by Drop of a Hat Productions, once a month at the Potato Shed in Drysdale. The shows have a wide variety of content, with some very talented performers. This year alone, I have been entertained by ‘The Romance of French Gypsy Violins’, ‘Songs to End all Wars’ (Anzac day) and the excellent ‘Peter, Paul and Marion’. Just last month we saw an excellent presentation, with commentary, of ‘Geelong on Camera’, a nostalgic collection of film and photographs from Geelong's past.

This month, the very talented Drop of a Hatband presented Hit Parade Classics a collection of songs from the 1930's to almost the present day. The band consists of Sandy Brady (bass), Matiss Schubert, (Mandolin and violin), Geoff Sinnbeck ( 6 and 12 string acoustic, and electric guitar, and mandolin) and Shirley Power (auto harp, acoustic guitar and keyboard). They all sang, and compere, Colin Mockett , provided occasional vocals.

The program started with the chirpy  59th Street Bridge Song from Paul Simon, and included songs as diverse as La Vie en Rose from Edith Piaf and Manfred Mann's Do Waddy Diddy Diddy Dum Diddy Do.

Shirley played her autoharp to accompany a lovely rendition of La Vie en Rose, and Geoff played his 12 string beautifully to give us John Denver's iconic Annie's Song. The band combined to played the hauntingly beautiful instrumental of Lara's Theme from Doctor Zhivago.  It is easy to see why these two songs are in such heavy demand as a bridal waltz. The show was tied together by an interesting commentary by Colin Mockett, who gave us lots of little details about songs by Johnny Cash, Paul McCartney, Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) and others.

The show finished full of steam with foot tappers Never Going Back Again (Fleetwood Mac), Goodbye Again (John Denver) and Handle Me With Care (The Travelling Wilburys). 

Altogether, the band played 19 songs, all bringing back memories of another time, another era. I was impressed with how each band member fitted seamlessly into the whole unit, yet each  had the opportunity to present their own instrument individually in a particular song.
I loved the sound of Matiss's mandolin on several songs, and his violin on Love Me Tender - and don't you just love that 12 string!

I'm looking forward to next month's show, on November 24 @ 10.30 am. There may be some more of this excellent Drop of a Hat Band, and I believe that the grumpy Old Men will be back!

Tony Newman

GAMA celebrates 70 years in fine style 

GAMA’s 70th Birthday celebration. Woodbin Theatre, October 18, 2015.

The Geelong Association of Music and Art marked its 70th anniversary with a concert and social celebration at the GAMA Lilian Stott Centre, which incorporates the Woodbin Theatre on Sunday 18th October, 2015. This concert was a showcase of GAMA‘s work.
Colin Mockett (Repertorian and editor of was a compère full of wit.

The Geelong Chorale presented a selection of work from the choir’s repertoire from over the years, expertly conducted by Allister Cox. Three stalwart Repertorians – Colin Mockett, Robert Trott and Bryan Eaton presented a trio original sketches – God on Geelong (angels with ipads), Fiddler on Pako (the seat of kosher multi-culturalism), and Santa and the Elves (made redundant by modern technology and job exports).
Talented soprano and flautist Sian Williams, accompanied by GAMA President Kristine Mellens represented The GAMA Musical Society of Geelong. Sian showed that her beauty of vocal line is matched by acting skills as she presented Ralph Vaughan Williams Silent Noon and Balfe’s I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls. She then picked up the flute and to the delight of the audience played Danny Boy with emotion a warm richness of tone.
Sian is also a member of The Geelong Chorale and featured with them as soloist in Stanford’s haunting The Bluebird.

The formation of GAMA has helped cross-pollinate talents in Geelong. Frank Sykes, president of The Chorale presented a monologue Albert and the Lion with deadpan Yorkshire comic timing. Allister Cox showed his skill with musical theatre in Bunthorne’s Song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera Patience. The Chorale also presented a selection of G&S favourites, including The Very Model Of A Modern Major General featuring young baritone Will Humphries. Karen Boer and Helen Lyth, both of whom have a wide background in musical theatre, presented Rossini’s comic Cat Duet, generously accompanied by Anne Pilgrim (Gerald Moore had it easy compared with the workout these two alley cats gave Anne).

The audience consisted of GAMA supporters, and past and current section members.

Kristine Mellens, GAMA President - after a sterling concert accompanying the Chorale and even a small segment with the Rep reps - congratulated the Association on the achievements of the first 70 years and remarked that five years from now, there would be an even more extravagant celebration for GAMA’s 75th Jubilee.
We await with anticipation..

edited from the Choral Grapevine by Helen Lyth

Heathcliff brings a touch of nasty to Ceres

Wuthering Heights directed by Elaine Mitchell for Theatre of the Winged Unicorn, Ceres Hall, October 9, 2015.

According to the programme notes, the twin drivers of this production, director Elaine Mitchell and writer Amelia McBride Baker, once decided on this project, first chose Simon Finch as Heathcliff and then built the rest of their cast around him.
That decision was completely justified by Simon’s opening night performance of glowering, brooding intensity that dominated every scene - and every other performer, too. He is nominated for a Geelong Virtual Oscar for the sheer power of this performance, as, too, is director Elaine Mitchell. For Elaine’s strikingly clever set design and tight direction allowed Amelia’s miriad-of-short-scene book adaptation to flow smoothly with few halts for scene-changes.
But even with Elaine’s slick direction, this was still a long play, with its final bows taken at 10.45pm after an 8.00pm start including two intervals.
In expected Theatre Of Winged Unicorn style, this Wuthering Heights gave an impressive theatrical experience, with every member of its beautifully-costumed cast word and movement perfect. And their movement was important, with so many quick-change scenes and entrances from behind the audience. This was a production that was choreographed, but without a dance scene.
For indeed any dance scene would have been quite inappropriate in Bronte’s stark tale of unlovely people on the bleak Yorkshire moors.

For although this play’s style was traditional ToWU; it’s content - of the motives and causes behind two family’s cruelty, violence and oppression, would have been a long way from some audience members’ expectations. But it was carried out with such intense skill that only a couple of audience members chose to make an early exit. They may have had other arrangements; or perhaps were unable to decipher a couple of cast members’ thick ‘Yorkshire’ accents that could have been deserving of SBS subtitles.
And given the mainly unpleasant or intimidated characters they portrayed, the cast was, individually and collectively, well up to the task behind Simon’s glowering lead role.
Cassidy Krygger was an irrational, headstrong Cathy; Ben Mitchell her nasty, bullying brother  Hindley. Ellie Gardner was touchingly pitiable as Ben’s unfortunate wife while Matt Biscombe was understandably aggrieved as Cathy’s cuckolded husband. Stacey Carmichael gave a neat cameo as his sister besotted by Heathcliff’s aura, Glen Barton was a surly, incomprehensible servant with sweet violin skills,  Hannah Verspaandonk’s initial happiness was turned to sullen resentment by the treatment she received, Thomas Russell Shears was bright, then pathetic under his father’s intimidation. Colten Dunn was tragic as Heathcliff’s doomed son, and all their stories were neatly stitched together by dialogue from the admirable Kathryn O’Neill’s servant Nelly in conversation with Josh Verspaandonk’s intrigued tenant Mr Lockwood.
It was strong, heady stuff - the fight scenes and violence were particularly well done - and it’s rare that such nastiness has been so well portrayed on stage. Especially in Ceres.
- Colin Mockett

Little Women take on big musical challenge - win!

Little Women, the Broadway musical, directed by Emily Donoghue for GSODA Theatre Collective, Shenton Centre, September 25, 2015.

A one-line summary of this 2005 musical version of Louisa May Alcott’s schoolgirl classic could read ‘Stephen Sondheim meets little House On The Prairie’.

For such is the unusual blend of the folksy, homely tale of four sisters growing up in 1860s civil-war America, with 24 intricate musical numbers, most containing sharply insightful lyrics.

Such a mixed marriage requires compromise, and one of the theatrical compromises in this version of Little Women is that the characters, so finely drawn in scores of pages of classic literature, were reduced to outlining their personalities inside a couple of scenes and a song - while also moving a condensed plotline along at an acceptable pace.

Given this inherent fragility, and restraints from an awkward venue, director Emily Donoghue and her team brought together a highly acceptable premier Geelong musical version of Little Women, one that had its packed opening night audience both absorbed and appreciative.

They were as appreciative of the joy-through-tragedy storylines portrayed by a talented group led by Meagan Read’s feisty, assertive hyperactive lead sister Jo, with her sensible sister Meg, played by the confidently assured Rachel Glynne. They were charmed by Ariane Gavin’s fine portrayal of sensitive sister  Beth, and appalled by Caitlyn Lear’s tantrums as wilfully jealous sister Amy. They were impressed by the elegant maternal calm of Alana Babic’s Marmee and wooed by the gauche, sweet suitor Laurie, depicted with rare skill by Connor Sheedy. They heard the fine voice and stage assurance of Paige Cannon’s awkward Aunt March, and saw some dashing heroics from Ryan Bentley as his John Brooke was romantically captured by Meg. They were charmed by Trent Inturrisi’s old-before-time German professor/reluctant suitor Baher, they smiled at Damian Caruso’s cameo heroics and were probably a little surprised to see the family’s elderly cranky neighbour/benefactor Mr Laurence played by 20-something Brodie Stevens creakily stooped and wearing a dreadful grey wig.
That odd casting blip was probably due to the company’s heritage. GSODA’s Theatre Collective comprises ex-GSODA juniors, now in their 20s, who are trained, skilled and eager to display the skills they learned with our region’s foremost young theatre school. But at that school, elders were almost always portrayed by stooping taller kids wearing grey wigs…

Anyway.. this apart, their version of Little Women was entirely creditable, given the difficulties of condensing such a complex, rambling family saga on to such a small space - one set to such elaborate and vocally challenging music. 

So much credit to director Donoghue and her one-man orchestra, Eric von Ahlefeldt, who drove the whole production from his keyboard position high at the back of the auditorium.
I’m sure that this musical version of Little Women will be seen as another confident step forward for this fledgling but so-promising Geelong company.
- Colin Mockett

This Inspector recalls a bygone era

An Inspector Calls directed by Taliesa Netta Cartwright for Geelong Rep, Woodbin Theatre September 11, 2015.

This production took me back to the time before Geelong theatre’s great leap forward, when what we now term ‘non-professional’ was merely ‘amateur’.
Then, it was conventional for thespian scribes, when reviewing lesser productions, to concentrate on positive elements and downplay or ignore any perceived faults.
So.. With this in mind, the players in Geelong Rep’s current production An Inspector Calls had all learned their lines and every member was word-perfect throughout. In order to replicate the elaborate speech patterns of 1912 England, they enunciated every syllable, while stressing odd words in each sentence. Then they catered for hearing-impaired audience members by delivering much of their dialogue at shouting levels by frequently flaring into unprovoked rages.
Their costumes were colourful and interesting, with most men wearing tail-suits with loose waistcoats and the play’s women wearing elaborate period-style dresses.
These were all easily seen, thanks to an unchanging full-stage bright lighting.
They could even be smelled - with several real cigarettes and a fake cigar smoked on stage.

And.. they had an interesting tree in their house’s hallway.
And, umm… The second act was considerably shorter than the first. 

The play’s underlying themes of British class-war and socialism were only scantily touched, which was a shame, because they’re the real reason J B Priestly’s drawing-room mystery-drama has remained a perennial Rep favourite since it was written in 1944.
This Rep version, directed by Taliesa Netta Cartwright, had Bill Casey and David Posthill as wily, nasty, bullying, industrialists; Tamara Cuthill and Jessica Hargreaves their self-obsessed womenfolk; Josh McInnes as a wayward youth acting drunk and David Wynne as the uninvited ‘Inspector’ stranger who provokes them into shouting by asking mildly probing questions while standing rooted next to that mysterious hallway tree. Maid Brittany Wilten served this unlikable bunch gallons of alcohol between opening the door for them.
And It was all so reminiscent of that bygone time…
- Colin Mockett

Chorale’s Glorious Proms need no orchestra

Last Afternoon Of The Proms, Geelong Chorale conducted by Allister Cox, St Luke’s Highton,  August 16, 2015.

The concert started relatively quietly for a comfortably-full St Luke’s audience. Pianist Kristine Mellens and violinist Janelle Craxman played a lean, slender intro to Handel’s Zadok The Priest. But then came the moment when the choir joined them and - Wham! - 40 strong voices in harmony and unison gave the coronation anthem full justice and instantly brought the stirring atmosphere of Britain’s last night of The Proms concert to a sedate Geelong Sunday afternoon.
That grand opening was followed by some more refined numbers to display the sweet choral expertise of Geelong’s premier choir, which has been enlarged and enhanced by a recent influx of younger members. It now boasts eight bass voices, five tenors, 11 altos and no fewer than 17 sopranos including Sian Williams, who gave her exquisite solo voice to Stanford’s The Blue Bird.
Tenor vocalist and understating MC John Stubbings explained that the Chorale would commemorate this year’s centenary of the Great War in it’s own way, by including two songs that celebrated peace - Sibelius’ Song Of Peace and Douglas’ Deep Peace. Both were delivered with beautiful harmonies. After a token nod to Arthur Sullivan through his The Long Day Closes the first half ended with the jaunty My Spirit Sang All Day.
But then, after an interval, the event lifted several notches by the inclusion of a list of Proms favourites with the audience invited to sing along. This began with Gustav Holst’s I Vow To Thee My Country then built through Rule Britannia to Jerusalem and the stirringly climactic Land Of Hope And Glory - by now sung joyfully by a standing, swaying audience at first surprised by, then urged on by, a small contingent of dressed-up, flag-waving, party-squeaker-blowing fans at the back.
These big anthems were interspersed by a couple of subsidiary Proms favourites in Henery The Eighth, a mistimed I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside and a Marriott Edgar monologue delivered in broad Yorkshire by Chorale president Frank Sykes. The concert ended with a cheerfully harmonious version of Waltzing Matilda - but by then the audience - awash with glorious anthems and and revelling in the atmosphere - was ready for more big singalongs.
Much kudos for this happy event should go to conductor Allister Cox and pianist Kristine Mellens, whose accomplished accompaniments virtually made a Proms orchestra unnecessary. The day did, though, highlight the important choral/audience aspects of the Prom’s last night, as well as showing how accomplished - and fun-loving - Geelong’s premier choristers can be.
Here’s an idea, Chorale - why not build on the glorious momentum of this concert to make it into an Geelong annual event? I’m sure that next time there would be many more dressed-up party-squeaking groupies - myself included.

Colin Mockett

Laughter and sharp insights in this Australia Day 

Australia Day written & directed by Jonathan Biggins for HIT Productions. Potato Shed, August 14, 2015.

It’s rare to experience a modern Australian play in our present theatre scene that’s dominated by musicals and overseas period dramas.
So to find an Australian play that’s bang up-to-date, relevant - and wryly, wittily laugh-out-loud funny - well that’s like looking for hen’s teeth.
With this in mind, I heartily recommend you take the short trip to Drysdale’s Potato Shed where you’ll have two opportunities, today, to experience dentally enhanced poultry. 

Jonathan Biggins’ play Australia Day may have arrived quietly and relatively unheralded having been written and developed in NSW, but it’s totally relevant to us - and a piece of pure theatre joy. 

It’s well cast, well set, well dressed, well lit, faultlessly acted and smoothly directed. But above all, it’s cleverly written about us, Australians, today, our lives, political divides and ongoing life-change bewilderments. And it’s laugh-a-minute funny.
The play is set in a hall in a regional country town, where the council’s Australia Day committee meets six months ahead to plan for the big day. The committee is chaired and led by long-term Mayor Brian - played with authentic political bluster by Geoff Kelso - and his loyal council stalwart supporter Robert - perfectly portrayed by Hollowman David James. They’ve been running the Day to a familiar formula for the past 15 years with the help of committee members Wally, a call-a-spade, down-to-earth fix-it-bloke plumber played with explicit accuracy by Dennis Coard, and Robyn Arthur’s neatly portrayed dedicated and reliable CWA president Marie. But this year there are two new members, both city-bred newcomers. There’s firebrand new young Green-leaning councillor Helen (so-sharp Sharon Davis) who wants to see the event updated and modernised with multicultural food and events and an on-line presence.
Then there’s overly-cheerful Chester, a co-opted schoolteacher committee member of Australian birth and Asian background. He’s played with easy throwaway nonchalance by Ken Moraleda.
We follow this group through several meetings - achieved by ultra-fast on-stage changes of clothes and gear - to discover each character’s back-story and motivations, while experiencing the divides and unities in their - and our - collective thinking;  the ironies, satires and rich humour there found.
The play is extremely well structured, building its comedy momentum - checked occasionally by well-placed telling moments - to reach a neatly unexpected closing punch-line. On the way we audience experienced a wealth of deliciously insightful moments that had us recognising, identifying - and always laughing with the changing social conventions we all experience daily.

So please go see this Australia Day. It’s a joyful, cheerful insight into who we are as Australians. 

And it’s bloody good theatre. 

Colin Mockett

Evita - history served with Latin passion

Evita directed by  Bryce Baumgarten for CenterStage Geelong. GPAC Playhouse, July 17, 2015.

For the first time since 1996 Geelong audiences have the opportunity to see, enjoy and indeed relish 'Evita'. If the enthusiasm of the opening night audience  was anything to go by this is going to be a very popular show and I can thoroughly recommend it. The enduring success of this musical lies not only in the historical credibility of Tim Rice's lyrics and Andrew Lloyd Webber's wonderful score but also in the rags to riches story it presents. The death of the heroine at 33 years of age adds a poignancy which makes the almost unbelievable story of Eva Duarte, just that bit more incredible.  Director Baumgarten has created a fast moving, elegantly presented story using a minimal but very efficient set and costumes which add authenticity. The use of projected images of Eva's funeral and the massive outpouring of grief that accompanied it provided a stamp of historical legitimacy.

The lead role of Eva Peron was played by Sarah Crosser who took the audience on an incredible journey from an impoverished childhood, via a retinue of lovers whom she used to incrementally climb up the social ladder to a meeting with General Juan Peron at a fund raising event in January 1944. They were married the following year.
Sarah conveyed the inherent complexities in the Evita story.
Did her background foster her drive to the top from which she could be magnanimous to downtrodden followers? Or was she driven solely by a need for recognition, to the point where she believed she could be Vice President to Peron's President? To this, there is no answer.

Christian Cavallo played the role of narrator Che with great confidence and authority. While the narrator supplied details of the events unfolding, he frequently echoed the voice of Evita's detractors in the middle and upper classes and the military.

Jon Sebastian was well cast as Juan Peron. His lean build and demeanour conveyed a sense of authority, a military man, even when he discarded his uniform after he became President.
One minor comment relates to the relative ages of Eva and Peron, a fact obscured by the casting: Peron was twice as old as Evita, another interesting aspect of this unusual story. 

Agustin Magaldi, the tango singer to whom a 15 year old Eva latched onto when he visited the area where she was brought up and took her to Buenos Aires, was played by Brendan Rossbotham. His 'On this Night of a Thousand Stars' beautifully captured the archetypal Latin tenor.

Emily Jacker played the part of Peron's mistress prior to being turfed out onto the street by Eva when the latter forced her way to pride of place in the General's affection. The audience loved Emily's contribution to 'Another Suitcase in Another Hall' which crystallised the pathos of someone finding themselves in an all too familiar situation.

I was in awe of the ensemble and with a total cast of 46 and only five lead roles, that's a large ensemble. Their vocal contributions and physicality were inspiring, raucous in support of the Peronistas, gentle and thoughtful in the final 'Lament'. The clever integration of Latin dance moves meant that the audience was never allowed to forget that this was Argentina while the lighting and use of drums in the orchestra was a chilling reminder that Peron was a dictator, who relied on violence to maintain his authority. 

This is a great production and my strong recommendation is to go see it.

- Bryan Eaton

Ben stars in challenging, thought-provoking comedy 

Exit The King directed by Stacey Carmichael for Geelong Rep, Woodbin Theatre, July 3, 2015.

At first I thought I was watching a parable of Tony Abbott’s desperate ‘do anything it takes’ struggle to retain our country’s leadership earlier this year. But things changed and I was with the Australian Aborigines experiencing their world disintegrate in a series of disasters they could neither comprehend nor stop.
Then, in one to the play’s rare quieter moments, I glanced around to realise that the enthralled audience was probably drawing different emotions and parallels from me, while we watched what at first appeared to be an oddball Pythonesque comedy.
For such was the depth of complexities in the writing - and skill in its presentation - that each individual audience member was able to see different aspects of the human condition, according to their own experience. Small wonder we remained in our seats after the final applause, for this was clever theatre with the ‘thought-provoking’ button turned to the maximum.
 Exit The King was written by Frenchman Eugene Ionesco in the 1960s and given a 2007 facelift by Geoffrey Rush and Neil Armfield for their production which went from Australia to Broadway where it took Tony awards.
This, smaller, simpler Geelong Rep version is likely to figure in our city’s awards, too, come the end of the year.
Firstly, director Stacey Carmichael, for her super casting and sure touch which held the level at ‘absurd’ and avoided the realms of ‘ridiculous’.
Then, production designer Alard Pett’s simple black set which spectacularly disintegrated before our eyes - that’s not easy with a performance space so small that the audience enters by way of the stage. But mostly, this production’s success was due to the performance of its actors; in particular, that of Ben Mitchell as the doomed King. Ben was a revelation as he twisted, turned, struggled and fought against unseen adversity in a high-energy, physical blockbuster performance of intensity and skill.
His King was beautifully supported by his current and ex-wives, the former played with self-centred passionate, vacant dismay by Madelaine Field and the latter with cool, aloof knowing detachment by stage newcomer Georgia Chara. Exit The King’s writing gives most of its good comedy lines to the lower echelons, and harassed maid Sue Rawkins, delightfully bewildered guard Lachy Joyce and overblown smug doctor Ian Nash-Gilchrest delivered every one with certainty - and delicious relish.
Exit The King is the full package. It’s elegantly, smoothly staged, well-lit and suitably costumed, even with every cast member finishing in their underwear. It’s a vehicle for some beautifully disciplined acting, most notably from Ben, Georgia, Madelaine and Lachy.
But above all else, this was a piece of powerful, stimulating, thought-provoking theatre. Go see it.  

- Colin Mockett

Peter Pan - colour, style - and celebration! 

Peter Pan the English Musical directed by Debbie Fraser for GSODA Juniors, Playhouse Theatre, June 20, 2015.

This production was chosen to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary.
This clearly wasn’t a difficult decision, it’s a GSODA Juniors favourite with the company having staged previous versions in 1971, 1991, 2000 and 2008.
And the 2015 opening night audience had plenty of now-adult ex-Juniors whooping and cheering scenes that they had themselves enacted.
In many ways, this Peter Pan could have been structured with the Juniors in mind.
It carries all the company’s trademarks; it’s a big, bright musical with a well-known and non-controversial storyline. It has colourful, cheerful all-on stage musical production numbers as well as the opportunity for lead actors to show their accomplishments.
Add in visual-catch opportunities like flying actors, a comedy ticking crocodile, a scene-stealing oversize pooch - and you surely would have a suitably appropriate theatrical vehicle.
This Juniors’ 2015 version encompassed all of the above and a bit more.
It had glorious colourful production numbers featuring Pirates, Injuns, Lost Boys, Mermaids and Fairies that displayed all the company’s attributes. That is, every member of the 63-strong cast can sing, act, and move with all the swaggering style and cheerful confidence director Debbie Fraser called for. Some could tumble, some could dance with professional verve - and some could steal scenes purely by being cute.
In the lead roles, Maddy Ilioski presented a remarkably assured Peter Pan when acting, then flew with the pose of Usain Bolt.
Chloe Stojanovic matched her with a poised and confident Wendy while Flynn Dale and Harry Butcher gave convincing support as brothers Michael and John. Clare Sims played Mrs Darling as caring and concerned while Andrew Coomber provided laughs as her erratic and incompetent husband. Most of the family scenes were stolen by ‘Nana’, the giant St Bernard played by Kal-El who was neatly handled by maid Lucy Blackwood.
As is frequently the case, it was the show’s baddies who caught the eye, with tall, gangly Liam Ryder pinching most scenes as Captain Hook - played with dastardly comedy aplomb. Dean O’Brien gave him solid support as Smee and Patrick Corney shone as Starkey, these two leading a glorious bunch of overplaying pirates - outnumbered and frequently out-aarghed by their scruffy wenches.
The shows’s stage gloss was provided by a tribe of stylish Injuns, led by Chief Aiden O Cleirigh, whose big number ‘Braves To War’ turned out to be a surprise showstopper.
Overall, the celebratory Peter Pan was long at three hours, with some hesitant scene-changes and unnecessary padding. But that was outweighed by the sheer colour, movement and exuberance on show. For this reviewer, the flying scenes were more distraction than ornament, with the wires always visible give-aways.
And, truly, from today’s perspective, this Peter Pan’s storyline seems to have moved beyond fairy tale into the realms of Monte Python.
Like.. a family that employs a dog as nanny to its three children. And when they fly away, at night, through the window - their father chooses to protest by sleeping in the kennel..
It’s all quite ridiculously absurd, of course, but staged with so much energy, enthusiasm, style - and talent.
Happy Birthday, Juniors - here’s to the next 50 years!

  • Colin Mockett

Not Falling - Moving  

Soft Landing directed Lyndel Quick & others for Blink Dance Theatre, Boom Gallery, Newtown June 19, 2015.

This production was innovative in many ways. First, it was essentially five individual 10-minutes performances, each linked by a single theme, ‘Falling’.
They took place in different spaces with the audience, led by a guide, walking between venues. Each segment was original and distinct, with its own cast, director, choreographer.
And the performance spaces, in a dark and cold former riverside woollen mill, now converted to an artists’ studio complex, gave the production an edgy, avant-garde atmosphere.
The arrangement allowed the evening’s audience to be divided into four groups, leaving at 20-minute intervals. Each saw a 60-minute performance served small and fresh, as the performers repeated their pieces in relatively short succession.
In practice, this meant that every segment was a modest but highly polished individual jewel - and the audience was both enthralled and entranced throughout.
This reviewer was in the first 25-strong group, and can’t recall being part of an audience that was so silent and almost reverent during the performances, yet so quick to applaud at each change-over moment.
First we saw a piece of (literal) kitchen-sink theatre, where one woman, Elise Wilkinson, presented what was essentially a dramatic monologue at her kitchen table, as she explained the disintegration of her life after the sharp fall from grace of her financier husband.
This was followed by ‘Rift’, a solo interpretive dance piece from Irene del Pilar Gomez who twisted, contorted and propelled her lithe body in an anguished, frantic and acrobatic dance representing the turmoil of migration. This was all against a loop-video-screen projected backdrop.
Then ‘Groundwater’ performed by the show’s producers, dancers Jessica Lososky and Lyndel Quick, turned out to be almost a complete contrast. It was a delicate duo-dance to the sound of falling rain as exquisite as a Japanese tea ceremony.
Then we were captured on a staircase before experiencing a humourous piece ‘Falling From Grace’ - interpreting aspects of ageing in mime from Karen Gee, Susan Kennedy and Felicity Steel. This was neatly, slickly enacted, but with moments that were just too obscure.
Then to the final piece, ‘Fall - Catch Me’. This had Dominic Rousetty, Xavier McGettigan and Xavier Robertson with a piece of ultra-energetic West-Side-Story-style choreography from Stacey Carmichael based around the rejection of gender stereotypes.
Taken together, Soft Landing created an evening that was at times illuminating, thought-provoking and challenging.
But at all times it was enthralling - and moving, in both senses.
Go see it. You’ll appreciate how an interpretive evening can draw VO nominations for its overall conception as well as for Elise’s powerful stage presence - without even a stage.
- Colin Mockett

Modern Irish Comedy At Its Best

A Skull in Connemara directed by Glen Barton for Torquay Theatre Troupe, Price St Theatre, Torquay, May 2015.

Martin McDonagh is one of the most successful young playwrights of his generation with the distinction of being the first to have four plays running simultaneously in London's West End. McDonagh's plays are black Irish comedies in which cruelty and violence sit underneath the blarney. They are laced with satire and presented without a shade of sentimentality. Black they may be, but they are funny, feckin' funny - and A Skull in Connemara is no exception. It is so dark and the images drawn by the playwright so bleak that some may be embarrassed to laugh at what are outrageously funny scenes. 

Let's start with the macabre storyline. The local graveyard is so small that the residents are turned over (no pun intended) every 7 years. Gravedigger Mick Dowd (played by TTT regular Fred Preston) has the job of making room for the new tenants. His next disinterring, however, will unearth the bones of Mick's wife who died over 7 years ago when her intoxicated husband drove their car into a ditch. In a village where people have too much time on their hands and in spite of being cleared of anything more violent than drink driving, persistent rumours suggest however that she died at the hands of Mick himself.

Fred Preston's understated and skilful characterisation of Mick treads the line between possible murderer and victim of scurrilous gossip; between happily married husband and psychopath. Fred subtly sows the seeds of doubt in the audience’s mind with a roundly nuanced performance that retains their sympathy.

Mick is often visited by a neighbour Maryjohnny Rafferty who carries a 27 year old grudge against some kids who called her fat. Lisa Berry's portrayal of this whiskey-loving, bingo fanatic granny is superb. Another TTT stalwart, Lisa is so comfortable in the role that even when it becomes clear she visits Mick to access his poteen and her enthusiasm for bingo may be driven by her desire to cream off some of the takings destined for 'darkie' children in Africa, the character doesn't loose any credibility.

Completing the quartet of characters are Maryjohnny's grandchildren. Mairtin Hanlon, a gormless young man whom the priest has sent to help Mick, and his elder brother Thomas, similarly bereft of IQ points, who is the local policeman - trapped between his local duties, like attending the grave digging, and his desire to be a detective.

In his first performance at Torquay, P. J. White gives an enthusiastic portrayal of Mairtin as a village lout whose scenes with Mick convey the desperation of the locals waiting for something, anything to happen - like somebody being so drunk they drown in a bucket of piss. An unpleasant image no doubt, but in McDonagh's hands and via P.J. White's talent as an actor, a vehicle for novel humour.

Lachlan Vivian-Taylor is a relative newcomer and valuable addition to TTT. He plays Thomas Hanlon, the local member of the Garda desperate to enter the investigative branch of the force and certain that he has the talent to do so, based on watching American TV cop shows. Lachlan's policeman is real despite the enormous gap between the banality of his current duties and his elevated, aspirations, which the audience realise are unachievable. 

In his directorial debut, Glen Barton reveals himself to be a lover of things Gaelic and it shows. Not only is he the fiddler in the 'foyer' playing original music composed by his wife Kristel Rae, but his tight direction ensures that this macabre, hard to believe Irish tale may indeed be, if not likely, then at least possible. He resisted any attempt to give precedence to the many humorous punch lines in the play and each character played their role with sincerity and a wonderful adherence to the accent of western Ireland. Voice coach Karen Long should be very pleased.

The use of music during some of the dramatic scenes added significantly to the atmosphere as did the smell of soil and earth during the grave digging. The set, with lit hearth and crucifix was designed and constructed by Glen Barton, Michael Baker and Iain Lambert, Jenny Stewart did the lighting and Don Bennett and Jock Hassock the sound. To complete the list of credits I must acknowledge Assistant Director Stuart Errey, Producer Gay Bell and Stage Manager Zina Carman. 

I strongly recommend that you see this play in which imagination eclipses reality and laughter is, if not King (at least in Ireland), then the order of the day.

Bryan Eaton

Lyric’s Blonde delivers fun with a professional gloss 

Legally Blonde directed by Andrew Cook for Geelong Lyric Theatre Playhouse Theatre, May, 2015.

Geelong Lyric has produced what has to be the brightest, slickest, happiest, musical our city has seen in a long, long, time.
The show is, at base, an Americanised version of traditional British fare, the class-difference comedy. Only, instead of Eliza Doolittle overcoming ‘umble beginnings, Legally Blonde has Elle Woods conquering the ‘blonde bias’ at Harvard University.
But inside that framework, the Blonde show’s script has lashing of American pizzazz, several surprise diversions and the whole is interlaced with subtle, sly humour.
On its multiple levels, Legally Blonde sends up everything from the US college and law systems to gender bias, racial and social stereotyping, wealth distribution, but mostly it sends itself up gloriously by delivering all those message with tongues firmly lodged in cheeks.
In the hands of Lyric’s all-Geelong cast and crew, the result was a theatrical tour de force. It looked and sounded great, courtesy of Sally Smith’s costuming, Kai Mann-Robertson’s choreography and Mr & Mrs Kearney’s musical abilities. It was superbly cast and moved smoothly over a clever set, courtesy of director Andrew Cook - who then drilled and polished to create a non-stop, high energy show built around glossy production numbers and happy, unexpectedly subtle comedy.
In the lead role of blonde Elle Woods, Stacey Thomsett was a singing, dancing, acting dynamo delivering every nuance with flair and even overcoming GPAC’s sound gremlins, effortlessly for good measure. Charlie McIntyre was suitably calculating as the boyfriend who dumped her for someone ‘serious’ - thus sparking her class campaign - while Bronte Wright’s glorious voice made her perfect as the usurper ‘superior’ law-student Vivienne.
Jenn Stirk was in her element as Elle’s supportive hairdresser Paulette. She just about stopped the show with her big number Ireland, then later produced the most joyful of Riverdance spoofs with mismatched partner David Keele.
Connor Sheedy won hearts as the ultimate shy romantic friend, neatly countering Shane Lee’s clinically calculating lawyer/professor. Cassie Chappell displayed legs longer than La Burchmore fronting a super troupe of non-stop singing/dancing/advising backing Greek Chorus that included Rachel Glynne, Tiana Zaljevic,  Amanda Paris, Tess Evans, Nikki Lenaghan, Jemma Lowther and Meagan Reid.
Emily Donoghue portrayed a charming unconfirmed feminist, beautifully balanced by Callum Smith’s and Tyler Stevens’ fey plot-twisting duo.
Hannah Petrie-Allbutt delivered her quartet of very different roles with sleek aplomb - matched by David Posthill with a glossy four of his own.
And then Michelle Chambers brought another show-stopper as she sang and whipped up a storm with a skipping group  that included many of the above, for Legally Blonde’s all-singing and dancing ensemble was truly versatile throughout, filling every support role with flair, pizzazz and crackling energy.
So take a bow,  Jayden Vermeulen, Matilda Bateup, Megan Donchi, Mitchell Walters, Noah Vernon, Jye Cannon, Trent Inturrisi, Ingrid Gray - even canine charmers Boss and Honey.
Please go see Legally Blonde - it’s high-octane musical theatre with a brilliant young cast delivering fun with a full-bodied professional sheen - and it’s such a credit to Geelong. 

— Colin Mockett

Ben’s Shakespeare with cerebral attitude  

Two Gentlemen of Verona directed by Ben Mitchell & Stacey Carmichael for Theatre of Winged Unicorn, Ceres Hall May, 2015.

This cheerful, light happy version of Shakespeare’s period rom/com is very much to Ben Mitchell’s credit. Not only does Ben star as Proteus - one of the Two Gentlemen - but he co-directed the play with Stacey Carmichael. Add to that, he wrote the script, preferring to adapt Shakespeare’s original manuscript rather than stage an existing version. And just for good measure, Ben provided the play’s music, by accompanying Matt Biscombe’s delightful and appropriate version of ‘Who Is Sylvia’ when the pair went a-wooing.
But that’s moving too far ahead. Let’s return to the set-up. Ben’s character, though central, was far from sympathetic. He played a two-timing schemer planning to cheat on his fiancee by stealing his best mate’s girlfriend. His fiancee, herself capricious with schemes of her own, was played with knowing aplomb by delightful Hannah Verspaandonk, while Ben’s unsuspecting bestie , and the second Gentleman, was played with worthy assurance by Alard Pett. In turn, his intended, the subject of Ben’s unwanted attention, was principled, precise Maddie Field and this quartet’s coupling and uncoupling adventures were played out with panache on a big, empty central stage whilst subject to interferences and intrusions from a rich cast of support characters. That wide-open space, achieved by set designers Stuart & Ingrid Pett’s clever reworking of the entire venue, allowed the action to cheerfully, seamlessly flow at a happy rate and those support characters ranged from cheeky servants to meddling aristocrats. And the net result of all this was a fresh, energetic production swinging around Ben’s anchor role and packed with memorable moments.
There was Amelia McBride Baker, relishing every moment as her bolshie manipulative servant - and displaying perfect comic timing - while Julie Fryman played her servant as a cheeky, knowing, buxom wench. Miriam Wood played Ben’s mum with resigned but assured determination, while Heather Dempsey provided her with a confident confidante. The quartet above later doubled as a bunch of knit-bearded comic outlaws straight out of Dibley village. Meanwhile Matt Biscombe gave us a delightfully gormless suitor aside from his song, Jocelyn Mackay played her protective mother as a dragon-sharp aristocrat - and Bruce Woodley was a cycling knight in lycra-armour.
And threatening to pinch just about every scene was clown-servant Simon Finch with his utterly charming dog, Archer.
Elaine Mitchell’s quirky cross-era costumes were entirely appropriate and the whole production managed to meld the directors’ high-energy approach with traditional Ceres charm.
This was Shakespeare with a fresh, happy approach delivered with enough theatrical skill to gain no fewer than nine Virtual Oscar nominations. Three have gone to Ben in his different capacities - and that’s a first in our awards history.
I heartily recommend you go see Two Gentlemen of Verona. It’s Shakespeare, but with a fresh, fun approach and a happy, cerebral attitude - and this makes for smiling fine theatre. 

— Colin Mockett

Banjo plays a simplistic tune  

The Man They Call The Banjo directed by Wolf Heidecker, Potato Shed, May 2, 2015.

At the end of this 90-minute single-act performance, the audience was invited to join the cast and crew for a discussion in the foyer. Prior to it’s beginning, director Wolf, (a friend) invited me to do the same, saying he valued my opinion. This was, presumably, as both historical researcher and theatre reviewer.
In the event, I chose to meet neither, for a number of reasons.
It’s my long practice to leave a performance without comment, preferring to think shows through before committing an opinion. Plus, in this instance, I was aware that my words might dampen the after-show euphoria of actors who had successfully delivered their performance, and if I were to give my true thoughts immediately following this show, I would risk being considered negative - and/or monopolising the after-show talk. Because I found too many errors, difficulties and omissions with this show to corral into a single after-show discussion. Instead, I’m happy to meet the company and talk through my problems with it - at a later date.  
Having said that, this show is far from new, having been already  presented at more than 30 locations in woolsheds around Australia. I had previously seen a workshopped version several years ago at the Port Fairy Festival.
It’s promoted as showing the origins of the song ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and a purported background love affair between the song’s collaborators, Banjo Paterson and Christina Macpherson.
In practice, this consisted of a series of costumed acted vignettes linked by a narration from ‘The Swagman’ of the song, and punctuated by songs and tunes from two live musicians.
This should work - except for some significant basic flaws. The first came at the very start, with Swagman Colin Driscoll’s opening patter which took us back to 1894, while taking random photos and selfies with a Kodak box camera (invented 1900 in the US) and talking about the significance of the song to ‘us Aussies’ . The term ‘Aussies’ was first used around Australian troops in the Great War, circa 1917…
From this, the show progressed with small flaws and errors too numerous to list ranging from the dialogue style - delivered in 20th Century pronunciation, rather than stilted Victorian English or accented Scottish - through costume and prop shortcomings to simplistic single-dimension theatrical portrayals. Chris Saxby’s Paterson came over as a shallow, confused poet bullied by his unpleasantly shrill fiancee, Sarah, (Cora Browne) while empathetic Christina Macpherson (Fleur Murphy) was apparently the real writer of Matilda, with a little help from the Swaggie’s spirit. The play’s writer, Felix Meagher, played Christine’s brother, Scottish station-owner Robert Macpherson as an unbending capitalistic tyrant incensed by swaggie Chris’s threatening unionism.
It should be said that all these actors were word and action perfect, and the musical support from Geoff McArthur’s mandolin and Lou Hesterman’s guitar were spot-on, too.
(It was as well that Fleur didn’t join them on her autoharp, as she clearly didn’t even know how to hold it.)
But the biggest flaw of all was the play’s base script.
Its concept was sound - it should represent an informative and interesting subject to all Australians. Banjo Paterson was both wise and witty - his literate duels with Henry Lawson still stand as national jewels - but Lawson didn’t rate a mention in this show, which was effectively without any humour at all.
For this reviewer, in practice the show came across as simplistic and disappointing.
Sorry, Wolf and cast. But I am happy to give my detailed input and help at a convenient future time.

— Colin Mockett

A Few Good reasons to congratulate Geelong Rep 

A Few Good Men directed by Greg Shawcross for Geelong Rep, Woodbine Theatre April 17, 2015.

I reviewed Rep’s first play at The Woodbin, back last century. I’ve seen the majority of productions since then, almost always attending on opening night. But I can’t remember a play having the impact that this one did on its audience.
It’s not unusual for a Woodbin opening-night audience to sit enthralled by the play they’re watching. They are, after all, Geelong Rep patrons, and by definition our region’s premier theatre buffs.
But it is unusual for Rep’s opening audience to break into spontaneous applause during the action - and I can’t remember the last time a Woodbin opening night drew a standing ovation at the finish.
That both these happened with A Few Good Men gives a measure of the quality of this production and the professionalism of its staging.
This was, put simply, a high-quality play of professional standard.
And it says much about the culture at Rep that it was in the hands of first-time director Greg Shawcross, albeit with the mentoring assistance of (past Rep president) Kelly Clifford.
Greg and Kelly faced a daunting task in recruiting a cast of 15 men and one woman, most of whom to portray the ultra-obedient single-mindedness of the US marine corps.
For A Few Good Men is at base a court-room drama, but it’s a military court and the characters involved are all, to varying degrees, affected by that service mindset.
 I’ll not reveal plotlines here - instead, I highly recommend you go see for yourself - but I will say that Greg and Kelly assembled an excellent cast - curiously mainly drawn from musical circles - and cajoled or coaxed them into presenting an ultra-slick piece of seamless dramatic theatre on a clean, simple, entirely appropriate set. Their accents were unflagging, their uniforms immaculate.
They were led by Andrew Lorenzo’s lead defence lawyer, a man feigning carelessness but drawn to the cause of justice - and a brilliant portrayal by Andrew in a complex part. As his partner/foil, Tom Reed presented the perfect mix of concern, disquiet and offhand humour while Rose Sejean carried a believably intense cerebral passion for justice throughout her role as prickly overseer turned courtroom ally.
This trio was the US Navy legal team defending ultra-conditioned Marines Josh McGuane and Xavier McGettigan - two outstanding, unwavering portrayals - against wily army prosecutor David Senftleben and a range of closed-minded military types including David Mackay’s outstanding portrayal of a flawed leader;  newcomer Cameron Allen’s God-fearing zealot officer;  Lachlan Turner’s troubled and ultimately disillusioned subordinate; Simon Thorne’s cynical superior officer; Steve Howell’s calculating and ambitious doctor and Howard Dandy’s perfectly-weighted presiding military judge.   
Dylan Mazurek, Zach Eastwood, Luke Murphy and Callum Padgett filled a number of support roles with faithful, believable, unflagging precision - and then provided a Trojan chorus of jogging, chanting soldiers to seamlessly link each scene.
I recommend you go see Rep’s A Few Good Men, it’s a powerful piece of polished theatre of professional standard.
You’ll probably need to rush to get a seat once word gets out of it’s quality. But believe me - and the opening night audience - it will be worth the effort.

— Colin Mockett

Geelong’s happiest Bond review

Live And Let Spy directed by Ed Dolista for Comic Genius for Melb. International Comedy Festival, Clean Comedy Hub, April 2015.

Just imagine if Mel Brookes were invited to write a James Bond omnibus using the format of ‘Flying High’. That would just about sum up Live And Let Spy, Geelong theatre’s contribution to this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
The show is a high-speed irreverent parody farce that reviews just about every James Bond film, their plotlines and personnel.
It’s high-speed, packed with absurd situations, sight gags, satire and a plethora of pointedly pathetic puns.
It’s also chirpy, clean, cheery fun and very much the product of its creator, Ed Dolista, who wrote, produced, directed and features as arch-villain Dr Maybe. He’s a dentist bent on world domination who has captured a submarine’s missiles for his evil acronymned organisation D.E.C.A.Y.
Of course, the only person capable of stopping this world collapse into a huge cavity is British secret agent James Blonde, played by Ian Nash-Gilchrist with a slow but suave stupidity and a Sean Connery drawl to deliver those perishing puns. He’s helped by Chantelle Fava’s glamorous and gormless Russian agent and somehow they defeat the forces of evil ranged against them inside a helter-skelter hour that include world travel, misfiring gadgets, capture, escape, even a daffy car chase. The incredible cast of spy supporters and vanquished villains include Scott Popovic’s metal-dentured bonehead Jawge, Jenn Stirk’s flirtatious oriental femme-fatalle, Simon Finch’s inept gadgeteer QT, Mark Eckersley’s simpleminded spymaster Mmm and Ian Rooney’s pair of wooden-headed military buffoons. Every part in Live And Let Spy is taken cheerfully over the top and embellished with a neat audio-visual track operated by Kelly Clifford.
This reviewer saw the show’s final dress-rehearsal in Geelong alongside a handful of friends and relatives. When presented in the Melbourne Comedy Festival’s Clean-Comedy Hub, with the addition of stage lighting and an enthusiastic audience - Live And Let Spy looks a sure-fire winner for Ed Dolista - and Geelong Theatre’s Bond investment. 

— Colin Mockett

Lost In Yonkers - bittersweet laughter through tears 

Lost In Yonkers directed by Judy Ellis for Geelong Repertory Theatre Co, Woodbin Theatre, February 6, 2015.

This production has given Geelong Rep the perfect start to its 2015 season. It’s a wonderfully bittersweet comedy drama, beautifully staged, thoughtfully cast and with some excellent performances.
And it was highly appreciated by its opening night audience who, unusual for Rep, warmly applauded each scene - at one point applauding before the scene had ended.
At base was Neil Simon’s well-crafted script which followed a pair of teenaged brothers in 1942 New York after they were left in the care of their fearsome grandmother while their widowed father pursued a high-earning job in the American south. The brothers looked for support among other family members - a shady uncle and two aunts, one child-like, one cowed - gaining telling insights into the workings of their family structure.
In Lost In Yonkers there were no deaths, nobody solved a murder, there were no huge traumas. Instead, this play gave us delightfully sensitive insights into the frailties and strengths of humanity, the wafts and weaves of relationships; the laughter and tears of human life.  
Much credit to director Judy Ellis’ calm assured touch; her action took place seamlessly on a clever, pitch-perfect set designed by Jules Hart with sensitive, accurate lighting - and highlighting - from Lachy Turner. Her well-cast on-stage team were impeccably period-dressed by Nin Coutts-Slater and Dawn Deale.
As the plot-central brothers, Liam Erck and Colten Dunn were each excellent, expanding their individual personalities and transmitting their thoughts and feelings with the believability of stage veterans rather than Rep newcomers. While Dan Eastwood, as their father, lightly underplayed his part with beautiful sensitivity, and Max Davine - another Rep newcomer - brought a differently charged element as the boys’ shady but worldly (and family)-wise uncle Louie. Carolyn Edwards presented their intimidated Aunt Gert with subdued composure - but surpassing this raft of excellent performances were those of Cherie Mills and Janine McLean, as the boys’ child-like 35-year-old Aunt Bella and her controlling mother - their fearsome grandmother. These are two of the most beautifully-written and finely crafted female theatre parts and the Rep duo took to them with relish.

Cherie was just magnificent; running the gamut of her emotions without ever losing credibility while Janine exercised her considerable authority with quiet, cold dominance rather than emotional fireworks. And she, too, ended with a great deal of audience sympathy.

Lost In Yonkers, Neil Simon’s exquisitely crafted family portrait, with its high and low lights, laughter and tears, turned out to be a perfect fit for Geelong Rep’s small, intimate theatre space and team Judy Ellis’ careful presentation.
So go see Lost In Yonkers. You’ll love it, understand it - and probably applaud every scene, too. 

— Colin Mockett

Geelong’s unique Miss Saigon - power and emotion 

Miss Saigon directed by Chris Parker for Footlight Productions, Playhouse Theatre, January 23, 2015.

Footlight Productions’ Geelong premier of Miss Saigon takes Claude Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s work into a different, emotional, direction.The musical, written as a follow-up to the duo’s highly successful stage musical Les Miserables took Puccini’s Madam Butterfly storyline and shifted it to a Vietnam war setting.
In its original 1990s form, Miss Saigon was a blockbuster stage event, with its surprise helicopter crash rivalling Lloyd Webber’s chandelier drop in the then-contemporary Phantom of the Opera.  

Then the musical’s 2014 London revival shifted it to brash, spectacular aimed-at-tourists territory, courtesy of Cameron Mackintosh’s well-publicised £4.5 million facelift that glammed-up the production numbers and shifted the show’s focus away from the absurd confusions of war to concentrate more on the central couple’s moving story.
But in this, Geelong, version, Footlight director Chris Parker has now turned his Miss Saigon completely away from the spectacular, choosing instead to dwell on the show’s personal tragedies - and by doing so, creating a work of unrelenting power and emotion.

So, this Miss Saigon had no crashing helicopter, no ascending Statue of Liberty and very little glitz and glamour. But it did have a raw, gritty overall feel, surrounding that tragically-doomed relationship. And it did have its opening night audience attempting to balance appreciative applause while wiping away tears.
The stage had, at base, a subdued look, with green and brown themed camouflage netting and multi-use modular free-wheeling units. But this changed when director Parker turned the high-emotion switch, to bring in some highly effective, innovative lighting.
Musically, this Miss Saigon’s surging ballads were powerfully delivered by John Shawcross’ faultless 24-strong three-keyboard-driven rock orchestra. If this production had a fault, it would be that at times the orchestra was over-amplified, to the extent that it sometimes swamped the singers - so the audience lost some important lyrics. But that orchestra was the show’s driving force, relentlessly pushing the slick, anthemic singing that unfolded all the action. For Miss Saigon is a true opera, with every word sung.

The on-stage talent was led by Winston Hillyer’s sinister, sardonic Saigon pimp, The Engineer, who, true to his title, controlled much of the play’s power with a dominating, sure, believable performance. Mikaila Briggs played the title role, tragic bar-girl Kim, with a beautiful assurance while David Irvine portrayed her naive American serviceman lover with a sureness that was matched by Adam Stafford as his military sidekick. Samuel Fung delivered a threatening communist with a superb voice; Alana Tranter was believable as David’s supportive and trusting wife while Geordie Worland took several support roles with aplomb and Page Punsalang provided the cutest of heartstring-tugging children.
But for this reviewer, the most memorable thing about Geelong’s Miss Saigon was its highly talented, multi-faceted support chorus that essentially made the production appear much bigger than it actually was. Whether they were Dreamland girls, American troops, sinister-masked black-clad Viet-cong or slick star-wielding razzle-dazzle American dream dancers, the ensemble of Rachel Bronca, Sarah Kryndija, Amy-Jane Evans, Emi Canavan, Deeann Cropley, Sanela Osmanovic, Meredith Wei, Cheryl Campbell, Emily Jacker, Ashley Bronca, Douglas Costello, Ryan Bentley, Jonathon Lawrence, Xavier McGettigan, Josh McGuane, Thomas McGuane, Charlie McIntyre, Greg Shawcross and Jesse Simpson faultlessly sang, danced, harmonised and delivered glamour, sex-appeal or mindless war-mongering with precision; from acrobatic pole dancers to solid-faced sentries - even a touch of lightening humour - that enhanced the show at every turn. That’s why the chorus took two of the show’s nine Virtual Oscar nominations.
So go see Geelong’s Miss Saigon. It’s a slick, professionally-delivered, relentlessly powerful musical that is yet another credit to the company.
But don’t forget the tissues. 

— Colin Mockett

Geelong’s happy campers set so many traditions

Geelong Summer Music Camp’s 2015 end-of-camp concert,
Costa Hall, January 16, 2015

This annual concert has a number of reputations. It’s traditionally Geelong’s first, as the Geelong Summer Music Camp is always held early January during the school holidays. It’s our biggest music concert, involving some 250 musicians on the Costa Hall stage; it’s the most colourful, with every participant wearing that year’s choice of matching tee-shirt - this year a vibrant orange. And it’s our best value concert, with tickets costing just $10, sold mostly to parents and friends, but many to knowledgeable walk-up fans on the day.
And to this reviewer, the GSMC end-of-camp concert is by far the most uplifting and rewarding of all Geelong’s musical events. Because each year it displays our society’s youth in the most positive of lights; as a talented, disciplined, lively, intelligent bunch with every member eager to display what s/he had learned during five days of intense musical study.
They did this formed into six distinct groups, a swing band, junior and senior string orchestras, junior and senior wind concert bands; a mass harmony choir to a full symphony orchestra, all introduced and linked with flair by colourful compere Shannon Ebeling. And then there’s another Geelong tradition, when the entire camp crams on stage alongside their 50 tutors to present a rousing hair-on-the-neck-tingling finale.  This year it was a big Bollywood number, Jai Ho, from Slumdog Millionaire, complete with dancers, and the effect was simply electric.
But then, it had had a considerable build-up. The evening had started with conductor Ben Anderson’s 20-strong swing band, which this year displayed a mastery of modern jazz, courtesy of a cool pair of Miles Davis/Erik Morales tunes. This was nicely contrasted by the following two pre-teen groups, first Edward Fairlie's junior concert band presenting four numbers finishing with the big finale from Stravinsky’s Firebird - all on wind instruments - to be followed and balanced by Chris Robson’s junior strings which finished its four-tune set with an all-string version of Duke Ellington’s It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing. Every one of the tiny junior players was a ball of concentration; every tune they executed with an expertise belying the fact that these groups were not only ridiculously young, but had been strangers to each other just a week previous.
But then followed the older, senior groups (if an ensemble with an upper age limit of 21 could be considered senior!)
First, Kevin Cameron conducted the concert band, which showed a deal of composure, maturity and mastery in presenting three very different works: Quad City Stomp, Vaughn Williams’ English Folk Songs then Saucedo’s Sky Dance. Jodie Townsend’s 42-voice all-age harmony choir followed, presenting a 4-song set starting with an African children’s chant followed by two sacred Christian pieces and ending with a big rousing version of Toto’s pop-song Africa.
Andrew Wailes then conducted two orchestras, first the all-string senior orchestra with a trio of complicated works each designed to challenge and extend the young players, before they were joined by the senior wind players to make a full symphony orchestra presenting brilliant, accomplished, mature and full versions of Offenbach’s Can Can followed by the well-known Lord Of The Dance from Riverdance.
This led on to that big Bollywood finale and the confirmation of another belief.
It’s that this annual concert just gets better every year. 

Colin Mockett