No-Nonsense Reviews 2016

Leunig and liners in a Christmas surprise package

A Christmas Celebration from the Geelong Chorale conducted by Allister Cox, Wesley Church Dec 3, 2016.

There surely couldn’t have been a better example of the breadth and depth of entertainment in Geelong. Because on the same day that Denis Walter attracted thousands to the waterfront with his songs about Santa, snowmen and red-nosed reindeer, our most prestigious choir presented a choral concert of poems set to music accompanied by a single harp in a full church.
And inside that surprising format were packed even more surprises.
Like the concert’s harpist, Jacinta Dennett, revealing in her programme notes that among an impressive list of musical qualifications, she is a national titleholder in taekwondo.
Or that the nine poems for the concert’s concluding segment were written by much loved gentle cartoonist, Michael Leunig. 

Or the opening eleven poems - ‘carols’ in name, but essentially 15th and 16th century poems on the nativity theme - were set to music by Benjamin Britten on an ocean liner crossing the Atlantic.

But probably the most surprising element was the sheer complexity of two taxing, arduous works that involved the singers embracing awkward and obscure languages. This ranged from Britton’s medieval English mixed with Latin to Leunig’s including an Aboriginal chant among his sometimes solemnly stark stanzas. There were no Mr Curlys or healing ducks in this particular bracket of Christmas thoughts.
The music, too, was difficult. Having been dictated by the poetry’s rhythms, it took unexpected twists, turns and crossings.
It said much about the quality of our 2016 Chorale that the singers met and overcame the challenges of these intense and absorbing works with hardly a vocal glitch.
The four soloists, sopranos Sian Williams, Carolyn Edwards and Fiona Squires with alto Kathleen Rawson each smoothly added their highlights while harpist Jacinta’s stamina was such that she sailed through the intense programme with the ease and assurance of Britten’s ocean liner. Perhaps we should all study taekwondo.
The two big works were divided and contrasted by a neatly pleasant interlude, a bracket of five much more familiar carols, not so much played as presented with exquisite care by the Geelong Handbell Choir.
But probably the most surprising element of this concert came at the very end when it became evident that musical director Allister Cox had conducted the entire proceedings through the cloud of a feverish temperature - he was battling the symptoms of a seasonal virus.
It somehow made this challenging, eye-opening and very different Christmas concert all the more memorable.

Colin Mockett

A Geelong Tradition Is Musically Refreshed

Sleeping Beauty directed by Deanne Elliott for Medimime, Drama Theatre, Nov 22, 2016.

There was a nicely symbolic line delivered midway during the second act of this happy, colourful musical show.

It was delivered by Mitchell Walters, playing the dimwitted ‘Duck’, who was partnered by Joanna MacCarthy’s equally dopey ‘Dive’.

“Do you mean that we’ve won, then?” The bewildered knucklehead wailed when he heard the princess was dead. “But we’re baddies, and baddies never win in pantomimes…”

He was right, of course, and true to form, the forces of good, represented by Zoe Prem, Rachel Drummond and Leanne Treloar-Lownes’ trio of squeaky-clean virtuous fairies, defeated his boss, and their villainous arch-enemy (played by a deliciously evil Kate Gore).
So all became sweetness and light in the mythical kingdom, order was restored and a Royal wedding was in the offing.
Duck’s bemused honesty had not only nailed pantomime’s unwavering iron-clad formula, it had also revealed a subtle shift in the management of Geelong’s traditional pantomime company.
For Medimime has experienced a generational change.
The company has, for more than 40 years, raised cash for our hospital by performing an annual traditional British seasonal panto with our city’s medical professionals in leading roles.
It’s a system that has shown plenty of benefits over the years, from providing a dated moral message to kids, delivering a stress-relieving diversion for our medicos and raising tens of thousands of charity dollars. 

But this year’s Medimime was in the hands of a bright, new, young, bubbly female director in Deanne Elliott, who had previously been the company’s vocal director.
And Deanne, with her like-minded production team, had brought in some subtle but effective changes in the show’s format.
This panto appeared fresher, slicker and more musical than previous years. While retaining many of the expected pantomime elements - it still had a traditional cross-dressed dame in Scott Bradley’s bawdy Nurse Penny Cillin, for example, and Maddy Magher’s simpering beautiful princess was still woken with a kiss from Seamus Kennedy’s gallant handsome prince.
But this Sleeping Beauty had fewer slapstick diversions than previous times. There was no pretend animal, no magic plants, evil giants or talking cats and a very much scaled-back ‘look behind you’ audience interaction segment.

In their place was a refreshingly candid honesty and emphasis on neatly choreographed well-sung production numbers.
So Scott’s naughty Dame, while shoo-ing away a glade-full of cute children dressed as furry animals from ‘her’ woodland cottage, shared a winking aside with the audience. “You know what they say - more children means bigger audiences..”
And those kids had been dancing, singing, backing and delivering a number of carefully selected pop songs with rare style. For this show had plenty of excellent, well-drilled voices.
Their characters may have been archaic, their costumes brightly medieval and the show’s flimsy storyline literally make-believe, but this show’s musical delivery was first class. 

Veteran Medimimers, Scott Graham and Liz Lester, displayed surprisingly fine vocal ability as the (mortal) King and Queen, matched by Tim Fitzpatrick as ‘Mario’, dashing Prince Seamus’s doubtful squire.
While Liam Erck, as jester ‘Sniffles’ added a great deal of youthful charm and agility to his sure vocal ability.
And there were more good voices seeded throughout the show’s large supporting ensemble and children’s chorus.  

Quite clearly the audience liked the new pared-back vocally-enhanced Medimime, applauding long and loud and demanding an encore of the big all-on-stage final number.

We had all, kids, parents, grandparents - even unrelated critics - enjoyed a cheerfully happy traditional musical comedy - while supporting a very good cause along the way.
For this year all Medimime proceeds go to the Andrew Love cancer centre.
I recommend this Sleeping Beauty as a fine way to show your support of both Geelong institutions. You’ll go home singing. 

Colin Mockett

Wit and nostalgia in a pin-point accurate impression 

An Evening With Groucho performed by Frank Ferrante, Potato Shed, Nov 20, 2016.

At the beginning of this slick, high-speed one-man comedy Frank Ferrante said he had performed this show more than 3000 times in more than 400 cities around the world. He added that his current five-week Australian tour had covered more than 40 cities. I’m not certain that Australia actually has that many, and believe that Frank may have considered Drysdale a city. That’s about as incongruous as holding ‘an Evening With Groucho’ at two o’clock in the afternoon - but both were somehow fitting for a show that celebrated the wonderfully absurd, sharply comic life of Groucho Marx.
Groucho, a superstar comedian who transitioned from film into U S radio, stage and television from the 1930s through to the 1960s became a global star with his own set of world-recognised characteristics. Even today people recognise that painted-on moustache, distinctive loping walk, prop cigar and leering whip-fast wisecracks.
All were there in ‘An Evening with Groucho’, in a caricature that went well beyond an impression. The brilliance of Frank Ferrante was that he appeared to be channelling Groucho from the moment he sat at his on-stage make-up table to tousle his hair, darken his arch eyebrows dona pair of round glasses and finally apply that smear of a moustache - then, hey presto - he WAS Groucho for the next ninety minutes.
Frank/Groucho scampered around the stage, leaping furniture in that trademark Groucho lope, apparently barely in control but dominating the entire arena. He wandered into the audience firing off off wisecracks left and right - noticing and remarking on audience members’ traits - all inside a smoothly well-worked routine that included ‘his’ hit songs from sixty years ago. Songs like Hello I Must be Going, Hooray, Hooray, Hooray, and of course, Lydia the Tattooed Lady appeared as fresh as new - and drew appreciative applause. He even surprised with a couple of smatterings of G & S with Tit-Willow from The Mikado. His accompanist, Adelaide pianist Alex Wignall, provided skilful accompaniments while cheerfully joining in the jokes, and even taking part in a memorable, unusual surprise-filled duet.
Between songs, Frank/Groucho shared reminiscences about his brothers, the films in which they appeared - with some neatly performed extracts - as well as reminiscing about ‘his’ film co-star Margaret Dumont, and confiding his memories of Charlie Chaplin, W C Fields and T S Elliott.
Every so often he wandered off subject (as the real Groucho was frequently reputed to have done) and engaged unsuspecting audience members in some wickedly cheeky banter, scolding some, propositioning others, even ‘matching’ an unlikely duo of seniors. His hilarious, whip-sharp responses demonstrating his total mastery of the original master’s lightning-fast wit.
This was demonstrated at the very final moment when a front-row audience member coughed loudly with perfect timing exactly on ‘Groucho’s’ punch-line. Without missing a beat, ‘Frank/Groucho’ congratulated the man on gaining a better laugh than he would have done, before re-working and re-presenting the joke complete, gaining the biggest laughter of the ‘night’.
All up, this brilliant, lovingly accurate reproduction made for wonderful theatre. Its unique high-speed combination of such a pin-point accurate impression mixing nostalgia with knock-about comedy and razor-sharp wit deserved the warm, triumphal ovation it received.
And it clearly demonstrated the high quality of entertainment that our Potato Shed Performing Arts Centre now attracts to its theatre season.
It’s clearly worthy of being counted a big-city venue. And that’s not just my opinion, it’s Groucho’s too!

— Colin Mockett

Frantic, helter-skelter 1970s comedy from the masters 

Rumours directed by Kelly Clifford for Geelong Rep, Woodbin Theatre, Nov 18, 2016.

First, a disclaimer. I’ve known Ed Dolista and his wife Kelly Clifford for decades and consider them both as good friends. I’m aware of their quirky fixation on the 1970s, and that decade’s music, films and fashions.
So it was with a certain relish that I approached this Geelong Rep production of Neil Simon’s 1988-written, but 1970s-set Rumours, with Kelly in the director’s chair and Ed in a central character and set designer.
That expectation was met fully by this near-perfect staging of 1970s comedy. For that decade’s predominant stage humourist, Neil Simon, has clearly found a spiritual home in Geelong.
His one-off combination of sharp, dry New York one-liner wit with broad classic farce was staged with a care that bordered on passion in this production. Not a joke was missed, not a visual opportunity lost in what was a near-perfect execution of a master comedy work.
And all was backed by Ed’s obsessive eye for 70s detail and Kelly’s neat, unobtrusively skilful direction.
If this production had a drawback, it was surely the difficulty of shoe-horning a New York mansion on to the Woodbin’s compact stage. Quite clearly Simon’s work would have worked better in a larger space; it was designed to have wider distances between its hidden-behind-doors action that would allow plenty of classic farce-dashes.
But by the second act, this show’s compression seemed to work in its favour by bringing the laughs closer together. Suddenly, this wasn’t laugh-a-minute broad comedy, this Geelong audience had geared up to laughter every twenty or thirty seconds.
The show’s plotline had New York’s deputy mayor hosting a tenth wedding anniversary celebration with a gathering of friends and colleagues. But when the first guests arrived, they found his wife missing, so too the servants - and their host had attempted to shoot himself whilst under the influence of sleeping pills.
Once this had been established - within the first five minutes of the play - the guests panicked efforts to limit any perceived media damage revealed ever more secrets and rumours with escalating laughter at every turn. Central to the mayhem was Ed Dolista’s frantic lawyer and his vulnerable wife, played with brittle timidity by Jenn Stirk. Their agitation was mirrored then uplifted by the arrival of Scott Popovic’s tax accountant with his acid-tongued wife, played by Mandy Calderwood. He’s prone to panic, she’s dryly cynical. Both were beautiful studies in comedic timing. Then came Nick Addison and Simone Clarke. He an accident-prone psychiatrist, she a jaded TV cook with a crook back, both neatly portrayed. These were followed by smooth would-be politician Jonathan Evans with his beautiful but obsessive wife Marja Le Hunt.
All of these characters were fleshed out and adorned with comedic gems before the arrival of two police officers, played in authentic style and uniforms by Brendan O’Halloran and Luke Murphy. This duo brought the whole swamp of lies and illusions to a brilliant climax (from an almost joyfully out-of-control Scott Popovic) that stopped the show with a burst of spontaneous applause amid the laughter-filled auditorium.

And then… the play moved on sweetly to yet another comic twist ending.
This Geelong Rep Rumours was a helter-skelter, refreshing, frantically funny farce that was expertly, lovingly staged by an obviously caring team.
I recommend you see it - and definitely recommend that you get in quick for tickets. 

Colin Mockett

Unusual story bursts with musical vitality

This Is Our Story directed by Hannah Petrie-Allbutt for GSODA Juniors, Drama Theatre, GPAC, Nov 10, 2016.

This show was hard to accurately define. It had no spoken words, but it wasn’t an opera. It had no defined storyline, so it wasn’t a musical. Without a dialogue, it couldn’t be termed a revue. Broadly, it was a succession of snippets from musicals and musical films performed by groups of young, vibrant performers and culminating with two big production numbers. These, at the end of each half, involved the entire 60+ member company singing, dancing and overflowing the Drama theatre’s performance space with youthful energy.
Each musical’s excerpts were grouped together, so the two from Shrek were next to each other, as were the three from Little Shop Of Horrors, the two from Hairspray, three from Aladdin, three from School Of Rock, a couple from Sweeney Todd, all delivered without a single introduction. Each number simply burst from a darkened stage with (mostly) recorded high-amped musical backing and some spectacular lighting effects.
And they were, every one of the 29 songs, delivered with an astonishing level of expertise and brash, youthful confidence. The overall effect was one of pure exhilaration. And it was quite clearly a team effort, not just from this disciplined, talented young performers, but also from the tutors that had drilled, prepared and polished them to such a high standard. That was director Hannah Petrie-Allbutt with her team of Rebecca Newman, Ariane Gavin, Jemma Lowther, Damian Caruso, Jenn Stirk, Courtney Vos and Caitlyn Lear.
Their cast of singers and dancers, all aged between 11-17years did them proud.
The show’s programme made nominating outstanding performances difficult - it simply listed a bunch of names below every song - but I’m prepared to try.
Firstly, the show’s two solo singers were excellent. These were Clare Sims, who sang ‘Kindergarten Boyfriend’ from Heathers, and Lucy Varisco-Blackwood, who brought ‘One Perfect Moment’ from Bring It On. Clare had earlier joined with Hannah Manderson and Tahlia Walker to present a clever tag-singer version of ‘I Know It’s Today’ from Shrek, and also joined Lucy in a memorable, earthy, vampy quintet with Rebecca Harland, Isabella Scaffidi and Maddy Ilioski to deliver ‘Candy Store’ from Heathers.
Other memorable moments came from the ‘On Your Feet Mega-Mix’ which combined Latin-American excitement with all that youthful Geelong vitality and energy; the live-on-stage grungy rock band that opened the show’s second act from School Of Rock and (I think) Andrew Coomber’s delightfully tricky Genie number from Aladdin, ‘Friend Like Me’.
In truth, the show was a succession of highlights, from Ella Edwards’ kneading the worst pies in London to William Palmer’s sadistic dentist right through to that big finale ‘I Got You’ from Bring It On.
The show was at all times, bright and slick, sassy and brash - and bursting with energy.
So go see, enjoy - and come away not only revitalised, but with a sense that you’ve probably seen several future stars.
 — Colin Mockett

TTT’s Humble Boy is really the bees knees

 Humble Boy directed by Gay Bell for Torquay Theatre Troupe, Price St Theatre, Torquay, Nov 7, 2016.

 Torquay Theatre Troupe originally intended staging the Michael Gurr play Jerusalem at this time, but found itself with casting difficulties. Rather than present an inferior product, the company revised its original selection, instead choosing a play more suitable to the actors who auditioned.
The result was this production of Humble Boy, and it certainly justified that decision. For this was a small comedy/drama gem, a gloriously satisfying piece of community theatre.
The play itself is beautifully written, in 2001 by English playwright Charlotte Jones. She has crafted a multi-layered, deep and ingenious study of human behaviours based on themes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. And as an illustration of the devious artfulness of Ms Jones’ writing, Hamlet’s classic quotation, ‘to be or not to be’, does not appear in Humble Boy. But the play is set in a modern English garden, where several of the key plotlines involve bees.
As could be expected when the production was selected, to, more or less, fit the actors involved, this Humble Boy was very well cast, with each character believable and every actor comfortable in their role.
Cricket-clad and padded Michael Baker made a masterful job as the complex central character, Felix Humble, a university don returned to his family home for his father James’s funeral. There he discovered that his self-obsessed mother, Flora, sharply defined in acid by Terry Roseburgh, had disposed of all of her husband’s belongings (including his beloved bees) and was planning to remarry. What’s more, his future step-father George, played with glorious gung-ho gusto by Fred Preston, was none other than father to Felix’s former girlfriend, Rosie, and Felix was blamed for ruining her life. Once Rosie appeared, joyously, captivatingly and earthily portrayed by Lisa Berry, the play lifted to new heights. It buzzed and soared from almost facial sex-comedy to sit-com quality family disharmony - from sustained laughter to neatly insightful human truths in heady flights of fantasy.
Humble Boy’s other two characters were much more than mere supports.  Each added highlights of their own, with Carleen Thoernberg’s timid spinster finding the most graceful of paybacks - stopping the show with its applause on preview night - while Barry Eeles’s horticulturalist Jim brought a quiet, gentle spirit to the garden with his unearthly and timely occasional presence.
All together, this Humble Boy made theatrically satisfying fare.
It was a dense, complex, multi-layered comedy/drama. A study in the frailties of relationships and an insightful family drama rolled into one.
It was a well-staged, well-cast, well-directed and evenly paced piece of theatre.
And for those who missed every one of its Shakespearean parallels and references, it still presented as a clever, funny and intensely human play.
So it’s highly recommended that you buzz down to Torquay to catch what really is a honey of a play.
Colin Mockett

Modest Calender Girls soundly test their audience 

 Calendar Girls directed by Debbie Fraser for Queenscliffe Lighthouse Theatre Group, Uniting Church Hall, Nov 4, 2016.

This reviewer has reasonably good hearing for someone oft described as ‘no spring chicken’. But it wasn’t good enough to to understand much of the dialogue of this play, despite sitting only five rows back in a tiered audience.
This could have been because of the acoustics in the room; it might have been because frequently the dialogue was directed across-stage or even facing away from the audience. It wasn’t helped by the many shades of Yorkshire accents involved - and it was certainly a principal topic of interval conversation. Because my cloth ears were clearly not the only ones in the audience. And this was a pity, because, during the sections of audible speech, this was a play containing wit, style and some substance.
Calendar Girls is a feel good tragi-comedy that’s spun from a successful film - adapted by the film’s co-writer - which was itself based on a true story.
This was about a bunch of British Women’s Institute (CWA) members from a small Yorkshire village who raised money for charity by posing naked for a calendar in 1999.
Initially, they had set out only to buy a new settee for their local cancer centre following the death of one of their husbands. But after their nude calendar effort went viral with the media and caught the world-wide public’s imagination, they wound up funding a new wing for the centre.
The film - and play - revolved around a pair of central characters whose friendship was bonded and then severely tested through the roller-coaster ride from grief through to public and financial success.
In the Queenscliff version these were well portrayed by Melinda Hughes as a driven, controlling visionary and Annie King’s sympathetic study as her newly-widowed grieving friend swept along with her idea.
WI members easily persuaded to the cause were Gae Gray’s quietly subversive elderly former schoolmistress and Nicole Hickman’s rebellious single-mother church organist, who incidentally displayed a lovely singing voice. For this production occasionally burst into song, though it was a straight play. But back to the characters. Showing a delightful eagerness to strip for charity was newcomer Joy Launikonis’s joyfully glamorous golf-widow, while Al Spry’s painfully shy and reluctant country-wife character took a bit of alcoholic persuasion to disrobe for the cause. This central core of senior strippers was inspired/opposed/supported/distracted by Stewart Firth’s defiantly courageous cancer victim husband, Margaret Linley’s domineering chairperson, Marion Melrose’s ineffectual guest speaker; Russell Perry’s supportive husband, Dan O’Halloran’s timid photographer, Laura Bentley’s patronising beautician, Heather Kiddle’s shocked aristocrat and Dan Eastwood’s self-interested TV technician.
The stripping/photographing scenes were handled with an excess of coy modesty - this is a production to which you can safely take your granny - and the opening night was greeted with warm appreciative applause from those in the front rows of a comfortably full theatre, which grew more polite and subdued from the audibly-challenged rows further back. Including.. 

Colin Mockett

Nunsense, slow to ignite, burns bright

 Nunsense directed by Rebecca Cowled for CenterStage Geelong, Warehouse 26, October 29, 2016.

This evening proved a challenge for the Nunsense on-stage crew. They had to deliver a dated New York minor-musical to a bunch of (it has to be said) unresponsive and slightly bewildered audience members.
We were unresponsive because Nunsense takes a bit of getting used to. Written in the late 1980s, its humour, though solely directed at the Catholic church, had not a hint of the scandals that have beset that institution over the past two decades. We were slightly bewildered by the venue’s seating arrangements, which was around large square tables that cramped the room and restricted movement, much of which was by the cast themselves as their action frequently spilled off-stage.
We audience had been invited to bring nibbles, too, which meant that some had brought gourmet plattered feasts, others just a packet of chips while some, who hadn’t read their tickets properly, peeked in politely-disguised envy over those giant tables at the feasters.
So it was that much of the first act went past with little but smiles or stifled giggles at the jokes and respectful applause after the show’s songs. These not well-known numbers. They were each clever parodies, not just of the church, but also of musical styles from gospel to country, be-bop to ballad. Their backing came from Eric Von Ahlefeldt’s over-amplified piano which was positioned high at the back of the room beside the spotlight operator.
But then came Terri Powell’s substance-sniffing sketch, and the ice was finally broken (no pun intended). Terri, playing Mother Superior of a New York convent, was the show’s central authority character. Her breakdown into hysterical rolling-on-the-floor laughter after sniffing a bottle found by a streetwise novice had the audience in fits, too; and from that moment the show changed up several gears.
Suddenly the jokes drew laughs, the sketches were understood and the songs appreciated. And at the finish, the warmth of their final applause saw wide triumphal grins on each cast member.
It was no more than they deserved. They had all been hard-working, relentlessly cheerful, skilled and indefatigable through that unresponsive first part, keeping up their bright, happy personas until the audience chose to join them in their silliness.
And the surprise was that these were not all seasoned troupers like Terri; they were mostly fresh theatrical faces with a couple new to the stage. Terri’s deputy Sister Hubert was one of these. Wendy Greeve is tall, with a soft Dutch accent. Despite her lack of stage experience she displayed remarkable theatrical nous and a surprising dancing agility.
And she was neatly, comically balanced by another new face to Geelong in tiny Amy Curtis. Though new to us, the show’s programme revealed that Amy has had considerable stage experience in America. That showed in her bright and confident, vacant persona as Sister Amnesia. Then, Sindy Renea played her tricky part as a streetwise Brooklyn kid who was a frustrated thespian, with a smart brash aplomb - while Jasmin Wilson’s novice wannabee-ballarina Sister Leo was just simply, naively delightful. These last three’s close harmony impression of a nunny Andrews Sisters was the show’s high point. This mismatched group of sisters was occasionally joined, supported and strengthened by Trent Inturrisi’s Brother Petermaryandpaul whenever a male part was justified.
Taken in all, this evening of cheerful, inconsequential Nunsense proved that pure persistence can bring a change of heart to a reluctant audience - and I have the feeling that it may have uncovered a couple of future Geelong stage stars, too. 

Colin Mockett

Geelong wins from an evening of Russian passion

From Russia With Love, concert from the Geelong Symphony Orchestra, conductor Joannes Roose, Costa Hall, October 28, 2016.

This concert consisted entirely of the works of Pyotr Tchaikovsky.
It began with his Polonaise Act III Eugene Onegin; then moved on to the three movements of his Violin Concerto in D Major Op. 35, with soloist Rebecca Chan.
Following a short interval, the orchestra played all four movements of his Symphony No. 5 in E Minor Op. 64.
To say the works were well received would be an understatement.
The interval had been shortened by the long and sustained applause for soloist Rebecca’s three curtain calls, while the last note of the Finale movement brought on an instant burst of applause that lasted a full four minutes with calls of ‘Bravo’ and conductor Joannes Roose three times standing his orchestra to accept their acclaim.
It was a heartwarming response, and really quite amazing, considering that this orchestra held its first concert only in February this year.
That applause, from a healthy 1000-strong Costa Hall audience, cemented the GSO’s position as a fully-emerged identity in the State’s classical music arena. It signalled that no longer need our city’s classical music fans take the highway to Melbourne, or await the MSO’s visits for we now have a high-standard orchestra of our own.
So stand tall GSO founders Wendy Galloway, Jon Mamonski, Prof Jane den Hollander, maestro Roose and leader Ben Castle, for your work has given the people of Geelong a reason for pride in our city’s culture.

Not that the concert was entirely perfect, for purists might point out an occasional flaw and lightness in the brass section - but this was a concert chosen to build a following; the works were well-known and popular; the soloist glamorous. And the orchestra had been reshaped from that initial February group with extra strings to bring the warm, emotional lyrical sounds of Tchaikovsky’s Russia.
The opening Eugene Onegin movement set the scene perfectly with its soaring, dramatic, lyrical themes executed with care and precision.
But then came the stunning soloist Rebecca Chan, glamorous in a flame-red full-length dress against our orchestra’s colour-restrained black dresses and business suits. She sounded (literally) brilliant with a rendition of clarity, verve - and sympathy - in interpreting the moods and emotions of Tchaikovsky’s works.
And she captured every heart in the Hall, too, with her eyes-closed, enraptured, almost-dancing-on-the-spot extension of the music into interpretive movement.
She delivered all three, very different and technically difficult moods of the work in this compelling style, entirely from memory. A full thirty five minutes, drawing the fore-mentioned sustained applause and preparing the audience for its full-symphony second half.

This was delivered with all the care, precision, skill of the opening piece, but with an extra, almost tangible confidence that came as a result of that interval-encroaching applause and a growing positive audience vibe.
The concert’s programme listed GSO’s planned next three Costa Hall concerts in 2017. Each is of popular works and all are designed to build on the successes of this year. They’re listed in full on this site’s ‘Hot News’ page.
I recommend that you book for these now, not only to gain the generous early-booking rates, but to take the opportunity to experience a first-rate orchestra and experience first-hand a newly-minted first-class asset to our region.

Colin Mockett

BillyRose’s obsession goes on stage

Where The Hell Is Frankie Starr, directed by Kirsty Reilly, Frankie Starr Productions, Shenton Centre, October 13, 2016.

It turns out that Geelong in the 21st Century has become a perfect place for performing artists with ambition.
Should they choose not to join an existing theatre company, it’s relatively easy to set up a new one, hire one of the region’s small affordable venues and draw players from our region’s pool of theatrical talent. Then it’s literally a matter of putting on the show.
And that’s exactly what musician and performer BillieRose Cachia has done with her ‘Where The Hell Is Frankie Starr?’.
BillieRose said she had been preparing the work for years, but the time was ripe now.
She brought in the talents of director Kirsty Reilly, added experienced administrator Derek Ingles as a consultant and gathered a group of actors together to bring her dream to reality in the Shenton Centre.
The result was something of a mixed bag. It was a drama about music that’s wasn’t a musical; it had a film insert but it wasn’t multimedia; it had gritty adult moments of language and drug-taking but in essence it turned out to be an old-fashioned tale of moral redemption.

Perhaps it’s best to describe ‘Where The Hell Is Frankie Starr?’ as having much promise - but it’s still very much a work in progress.
 BillieRose Cachia took the central role of Frankie Starr and very much dominated the production. She’s clearly talented, highly energetic and has a big personality. Her Frankie was a concert pianist with a grunge persona and a rock star reputation. Think a female, piano-playing Nigel Kennedy who looked a bit like Amy Winehouse.
Anyway, Frankie experienced a career setback, courtesy of perceived sleight from her manager Adamo DiBiase, who was promptly dropped and disappeared from the play.
Unable to play the piano because of RSI, Frankie then went into meltdown, insulting innocent potential students Ashleyrose Gilham and Daniel Tkaczuk before plumbing the depths of sex and drugs with degenerate Glen Barton. All this was much to the consternation of her dismayed sister, played with hard-love concern by Fatima Serrano- Everitt.
Eventually a poor but persistent fan, played by Jesse Bickerton, entered her life, and his calm patience brought revelation and eventual redemption.
It was all a good base for a gritty modern moral tale, but it had some glaring theatrical discrepancies. Like what era and place was the play set? It was nominally Melbourne, but Frankie referred to her place as an apartment and enquires of Jesse’s apartment, too. I’m pretty sure penniless waiters don’t live at Docklands. Ashleyrose’s character was clearly African-American, and Glen’s hip degenerate was much more Santa Monica than St Kilda.
Add in Frankie’s cigarette-smoking, gin-drinking vinyl-LP-playing 1980s lifestyle and the audience was left wondering just where in time and place was Frankie Starr.
But all that apart.. this production did display potential.
And following such a start, I’m pretty sure the audience left wondering what Frankie Starr, the company, and BillyRose, the performer, will be doing next.  

- Colin Mockett

GSODA the players with Chess the musical

Chess The Musical, directed by Debbie Fraser for GSODA, Playhouse Theatre October 7, 2016.

Chess the musical had a fascinating beginning, one worthy of a play in its own right. It was a product of the split between Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice - the pair who dominated musical theatre during the 1970s and 80s, having written and produced Joseph and his Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita.
Following their very public split, each wrote and produced rival musicals in quick succession with different collaborators. As Lloyd Webber opened Cats, Phantom and Starlight Express, Tim Rice produced Blondel, Chess, and a musical about cricket called, ahem, Cricket.
The pair’s rift has never been resolved, despite both men becoming mega rich, receiving knighthoods and even acceptance from the Disney corporation.
Chess, at that time, demonstrated that writer Rice was out to score points on his former collaborator. He had teamed up with the musical writers of the then phenomenally successful ABBA group to produce that rarest of stage creations: a thoughtful, intellectual, political/love story set to a popular music score. It was a true rock opera.
And it was a smash hit in London’s West End, where it ran for three years and when this reviewer first saw it. It then transferred in a heavily amended form to Broadway. Different compilations of both versions have toured the world since.
The fact that Chess isn’t more frequently chosen by non-professional musical companies today is down to a number of reasons. As a West End/Broadway hit it’s expensive to buy the rights; it’s also expensive to stage, calling for an elaborate set, orchestra and integral ensemble rather than a chorus. The music is tricky, the lyrics are frequently ‘Tim Minchen-y’ full, fast and elaborate. But mostly, it’s a difficult show to stage because Chess, as a rock opera, has no fewer than six leading roles, each calling for actors with good voices - and another four in important support roles, needing strong singers too.
And today there are few non-professional companies that can call upon ten lead-ability singer/actors.
Geelong Lyric staged a version of Chess in 1996 which suffered from a shortage of singers in key roles, but nevertheless cemented the show as a favourite with this reviewer. Because Chess is without doubt outstanding musical theatre in its multi-layered storyline and strong songs .
The show’s premise of a world chess championship being used by cold-war strategists to display their intellectual supremacy was for real - it had happened in Reykjavík - and Rice’s choice to interlace this with a love triangle and bitter ideological rivalry made for magnificent theatre. And Chess’s songs truly are memorable.
This GSODA version could boast some excellent performers.
David Mackay’s portrayal as the wily Russian manipulator Molotov, was of a standard that would have fitted comfortably in the London version I saw - and that was led by Murray Head and Elaine Paige.
Matthew Bradford made an equally good job as Anatoly, the Russian champion defector. He displayed a brilliant singing voice and a so-correct, stoic stage presence. Sally-Anne Cowdell brought poignancy along with another great voice to her role as Svetlana, his wife, used as a pawn in world politics. I could add Jules Hart to this list for his commanding presence as Freddy, the brilliant but unstable American champion. Jules showed his commanding stage presence and versatility, being the show’s choreographer as well as lead player.
Just about every other performer involved - this Chess had a cast of 40, a 15-strong orchestra and scores of background supporters - demonstrated high degrees of dedication, energy and skills.
Because behind the stars they brought in a version of Chess - that was in essence a very good GSODA-standard show.
- Colin Mockett

Sisters’ Suppressed Passions Bring a Ceres Classic  

Chekhov’s Three Sisters directed by Elaine Mitchell for Theatre of the Winged Unicorn, Ceres Hall, October 6, 2016.

Ceres’ Theatre of the Winged Unicorn has over the years built a reputation for carefully adapting and staging the works of classic writers, with a leaning toward Shakespeare and Dickens.
But this time it was Anton Chekhov’s turn to get the treatment, with his tragic tale of the consequences of suppressed emotions in 19th-Century Russia.
Three Sisters stands as a testament to Chekhov’s ability to capture in print the stifling atmosphere of that time and place.
And this production made an excellent job of transferring his series of emotionally-charged, intense family dramas to the stage.
Credit company founder Elaine Mitchell with her assistant Kath O'Neill for achieving this by the careful application of what is essentially the ToWU hallmark. This is a rare theatrical combination of thoughtful, caring adaptation with clever staging, artistic set and costuming - and a sympathetic, well-rehearsed cast.
The result emerges as more than just a play, for ToWU’s works are essentially pieces of staged art; they are delicate, beautiful live versions of the writing skills that made their subjects classics in the first place.
And that was certainly the case with this production.
The Three Sisters in the title were poor, but middle-class 19th Century Russian adults, stranded by circumstances in a oppressively dull rural town. The quietly serious older sister, Olga (Ellie Gardner) suffered stifled ambitions; the moody middle sister, Masha, beautifully portrayed by Jocelyn Mackay, was trapped by the consequences of marrying too young while their vibrant younger sister Irina had an unattainable ambition to move to Moscow and spread her wings. Their weak and irresponsible musician brother, neatly, gloomily played by Michael Leigh, had a gauche girlfriend in Georgia Chara who initially aroused the sister’s criticism, but turned the tables after marriage.
This household attracted the interest of several males. These included a dark and foreboding doctor (Ben Crowley) whose morose persona symbolised - and eventually enveloped - everyone’s lives; and a trio of billeted soldiers who offered a potential path for escape.
These were Matt Biscombe’s cheerfully feckless nobleman, his unstable eccentric friend, neatly portrayed by Kris Smythe, and Ben Mitchell’s dashing officer who was burdened with a suicidal wife.
Add in Masha’s passed-over schoolteacher husband, (Greg Chadwick, in a study of resigned, restrained understanding) and Miriam Wood’s put-upon elderly servant and Chekhov’s tragi-drama ingredients were complete.
We saw these characters brew and simmer over several months, experiencing some fiery heroics before their collective passions were brought to breaking point then an emotional climax at the conclusion of the play’s fourth act.
For this Three Sisters had one large and two short breaks, and it said much for Elaine Mitchell’s neat direction that all those Chekhov dramas and tragedies were played through yet still the audience enjoyed a reasonably early night.
So Chekhov and his Three Sisters now join the ever-lengthening list of satisfying, memorable Ceres stage classics.  

  • Colin Mockett

Smooth Edges with High Degree of Difficulty  

Edges directed by Adelle Gregory for Geelong Theatre Collective, Shenton Centre, September 23, 2016.

This was one of the most remarkable pieces of theatre that I’ve seen in Geelong. It was a song cycle, without one spoken word, and without a narrative or storyline which would qualify it as opera.
All of the 18 apparently unconnected songs were presented by an ensemble cast of 12 performers - 10 female and two male.
They were mostly delivered by pairs or groups of four, occasionally solos with a couple of big all-on-stage production numbers.
And every one of the songs was concerned with the challenges and unexpected aspects of growing into adulthood, which made it perfect for this company, which comprises older and ex-GSODA Juniors looking to build on their stage knowledge and experience.
So with the entire cast of Edges aged between 16 and 25, each song’s message held extra relevance. Their subjects ranged from losing an older sister to bonding with a mate; from searching out an adult identity to dealing with rejection.
Some were witty, some poignant, some bitter, some moving, some funny but all were frank, honest and relevant.
They were also fiendishly difficult to perform, with complex, intricate lyrics combined with unexpected musical riffs and stanzas.
Think of melding Woody Allen’s words with Steven Sondheim’s music on to a rock track and you’re somewhere close to the work of ‘Edges’ composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who wrote their work out of dissatisfaction with the standard of musical on offer in 2005 America.
They’ve been richly awarded since, and so should be the cast of Geelong’s ‘Edges’. The whole ensemble cast has been nominated for our ‘Virtual Oscar’ best-in-Geelong awards. Because they presented this edgy, emotional set of musically demanding songs with smooth, calm professionalism and no mean skill.
And they didn’t have any of the storyline or spoken cues found in a ‘normal’ musical performances. What’s more, when they weren’t actually singing, director Adelle Gregory frequently had the other cast members supporting as live scenery or providing complimentary choreography. As if just learning and performing their own numbers wasn’t enough.
So the performance became in essence an all-on-stage ensemble piece with only brief breaks for each performer. It’s just as well that the entire performance team could sing, dance and act.
And even without set parts or characters, the player’s own personalities and skills shone through. We saw the cool assurance of Clare Sims, Melinda Bunting’s smooth movement, the clear potential of Liam Ryder and Nin Chivers, Caitliyn Lear’s dance flexibility, Trent Inturissi’s versatility, Jazz Laker’s so-confident delivery, Matilda Hassall’s singing fitness, Paige Cannon’s haughty stature, Chloe Stojanovic’s bubbling personality, Lauren Barnard’s vocal abilities and Haidee Weigl’s range of skills; not just performing, but also costume design - and to reiterate, this was all without a word spoken.
The whole smooth operation was given rock-solid backing by musical director Damien Montalto’s keyboard, Darcy Ryan’s bass and Gemma Podbury’s drums.
At times on the opening night, their musical backing overwhelmed the vocals, which was a shame given the wit and potency of lyrics. But I’m confident that the sound levels can be sorted for later performances.

What was clear is the astonishing level of commitment, concentration and and sheer talent it has taken to present ‘Edges’ in Geelong.
I can’t imagine how long it has taken to rehearse and present such a truly remarkable piece of musical theatre. It was certainly worth it.

  • Colin Mockett

Oh, The Webs We Weave When We Deceive… 

Speaking In Tongues directed by Greg Shawcross for Geelong Rep, Woodbin Theatre, September 9, 2016.

Director Greg Shawcross wrote in the programme that he’d been fascinated by this play since seeing it at school for his year 9 theatre studies. That’s hardly surprising, because Andrew Bovell’s Speaking In Tongues is today credited as a modern masterwork - albeit one that is rarely staged for technical reasons.
Firstly, the original script called for just four actors to play nine very different characters with intertwining and sometimes simultaneous dialogue.
Quite apart from the acting demands, this was known to have created uncertainty among audience members struggling to keep abreast of the script’s connecting intricacies.
So director Shawcross simplified by casting nine different actors in the roles, which removed any chance of confusion but also reduced the play’s mystique by a degree or two. It also gave his production an unusual lopsided two-part feel, with all of the first act’s characters disappearing to be replaced by a whole new cast after the interval.
However the sheer strength of Andrew Bovell’s writing, allied to what was effectively two excellent ensemble performances and some neat staging and lighting tricks gave this Speaking In Tongues a winning edge. It became an absorbing intimate, thoughtful piece of theatre built around the mysteries of modern relationships and their deceptions. And for a piece written in the 1990s, it showed no real signs of ageing.
Much of this was due to to those excellent ensemble performances from, in the first act, Catherine Larcey’s assertive, dissatisfied wife who, with her stressed policeman husband, played with customary assurance by Neil Fletcher, found themselves each secretly attracted to another couple. She to the blusteringly loud David Postill, he to Carolyn Edwards’ self-doubting and retiring plain Jane. Their cautious and speculative separate seductions in scene one, with its simultaneous dialogue, was a classic scene carried off with assurance. Each couple’s subsequent sparring with guilt laid a network of plot lines for act two, with its own set of very different but related characters.

Here we had a crisis scenario, with a panicky Melissa Musselwhite stranded at midnight on a dark outback road, unable to get through to her husband on a pay-phone. He, played by the steady, stoic Steve Howell, had returned home in time to hear the last ring. Meanwhile, the soft, slightly creepy Cameron Allen explained how he had seen his lost love (played with brittle self-control by Catherine Crowe) in a restaurant, but she had ignored him.
All of the above, and elements of the first act were linked together by a powerful cameo performance from Tom Reed as an unrelated character whose act of kindness had apparently gone spectacularly wrong.
And all these scenes were presented quite seamlessly on the Woodbin’s intimate space thanks to clusters of lighting changes and sound cues delivered with pinpoint timing.
I’ve deliberately not given away any of the conclusions to Speaking In Tongues web of plotlines, because this is a play that I urge you to see.
It’s a cleverly crafted and skilfully staged work that was at all times absorbing, intimate, thoughtful - and ultimately satisfying.
Company, cast and and director can be proud of its delivery.
They’ve possibly laid the potential to inspire another budding director.

  • Colin Mockett

The Happiest of Odysseys From Tassie  

 Simon's Final Sound directed by Robert Jarman for Blue Cow Theatre, Potato Shed August 30, 2016.

This small slice of theatrical delight arrived in Geelong for a single night as part of its Tasmanian company's whistle-stop tour of Victoria. 

We don't get the chance to see it again, the travelling show is headed to another six venues in our State, in Colac, Bairnsdale, Traralgon, Warragul, Frankston and Mildura.
If you are headed in any of those directions, I highly recommended that you catch it.
Because Simon’s Last Sound made a good night out on many levels.
It’s essentially a modern fable with themes that resonate with today’s lifestyles.
In practice, the play generated laughter and understanding in about equal measure and even came to a highly satisfying ‘feelgood’ conclusion.
Theatrically, Simon’s Last Sound was staged with precision and skill by a highly talented team on a really clever all-purpose touring set that allowed non-stop, seamless action without a single scene-change.
This used a variety of theatrical tricks including the smoothest of quick-changes, impressive cast-props-choreography and even shadow action.
When all this comes together properly - as it did at the Potato Shed - it made for a really refreshing night of theatre that was both meaningful and cheerfully zany. 

Finegan Kruckemeyer's beautifully absurd script followed the adventures of Simon, an uncoordinated, unattached nonentity who found himself, at the age of 44, facing a future of deafness following a comically offhand medical diagnosis.
So in true Odyssey form, he resolved to find a fabled South Sea island of musical sound while he still had hearing left to enjoy it.

Seeking to finance this quest, he encountered three wacky fellow travellers. This was a couple seeking to invigorate their jaded relationship and an obnoxious porn-rich boat-owner looking for personal justification.
The adventures of this mis-matched quartet, each on their individual quests, created audience understanding among moments of ridiculous laughter - and enabled the play’s neatly ironic finale.
Simon’s Last Sound was very well cast with gangly Guy Hopper perfect as the hapless bewildered central character Simon, trying to win the knowing Mel King from her dull husband, played with frantic energy by John Xintavelonis, with Andrew Casey’s gross and gauche rich bogan intervening at every opportunity.
In the first act, these three impressive actors portrayed a number of other characters, from medicos to understanding childhood aunt, which solidly set Simon’s back-story while providing a raft of bonus laughter.

Simon’s Last Sound made for a night of impressive, happy, and altogether refreshing theatre.
And as this small company has come so far to bring such a delightful Odyssey to us - it’s has to be worth pondering a trip of your own to see it. 

  • Colin Mockett

Family Musical That’s Literally Fabulous 

 Big Fish directed by Janine McLean for St Joseph’s College, Playhouse Theatre August 11, 2016

This is the first time the 2013 Broadway musical Big Fish has played in Geelong. And that’s something of a surprise given that our plethora of musical companies has been staging around a dozen shows a year - one a month - for the past four years.
It’s probable that the sheer size and scope of Big Fish would have had senior companies thinking twice about its production costs.
But the show proved a perfect fit for St Joseph’s College and its innovative performing arts team of producer John Shawcross, director Janine McLean and musical director David Gallagher.
This group brought together a production unit led by choreographer Christie Walter and vocal director Tania Spence and including a select platoon of assistants drawn from Geelong’s musical, costume, and performance sectors, parents and friends.
Most importantly, they brought in both cast and expertise from their ‘sister schools’, Sacred Heart and Clonard Colleges.
This group then worked from term one - since January - with 70 performers, 20 musicians and dozens of backstage workers to create one of the biggest, brightest and most thoughtful of musicals to be staged in Geelong this year.
This Big Fish is literally fantastic on all levels. Its storyline is naively simple, built around a father who had told his son dozens of made-up bedside fantasies of how and when he had met witches, mermaids, giants, assassins and more, until the son’s disbelief bordered on contempt.
But when the grown and newly married son learned of his father’s terminal illness, he began a journey of discovery into unknown elements of the family’s past that had surprising results.
This plotline allowed Big Fish to include plenty of big production numbers built around those fabulous witches, mermaids, giants, circus freaks and more - and still make remarkable, logical sense.
Big Fish even has a believable, rational heartwarmingly moral conclusion without any mawkish sentimentality.
And that’s a really refreshing phrase for this long-term reviewer to report.
The Big Fish on-stage talent was of uniform high standard. In the pivotal lead role of Edward Bloom, Eamon Dooley displayed a commanding stage presence and a maturity that would grace any senior company.
His stage son, played by Harry Scanlon as a youngster, then Oscar Senftleben as an adult, was excellent casting, with Harry’s bright enthusiasm waning seamlessly through to Oscar’s disillusionment.
India Ney brought mature intelligence and an excellent singing voice to the role of wife and mother, while Tara Dunstan was perfect as Oscar’s young pregnant new wife.
Supporting this core family were some fine performances, notably from Jessica Senftleben’s secret college sweetheart, Molly Athanatos’s gloriously voiced witch, Patrick Consedine’s expansive circus proprietor, Hamish McManus’s small-town rival, Henry Stephenson’s backer, Nathan Fox’s sympathetic family doctor and Ashley Thompson’s mythical giant.
And behind these was that 58-strong ensemble that brought everything from a showstopping fish-luring stomp, to dancing mermaids, variety harmonisers and flick-flacking somersaulting circus performers.
Underpinning the whole production was a fine 20-piece live orchestra, drawn from students and tutors, that kept the show on song and action flowing.

I highly recommend Big Fish for a number of reasons. It’s big, bright, brash and logically, morally satisfying. It shows just how good school productions have become in Geelong 2016.
But mainly, for Geelong’s lovers of musical theatre it’s a really, truly fabulous experience. 

  • Colin Mockett

Unmissable play of power and eloquence

Foxholes of the Mind directed by Wolf Heidecker for Larikin Etc, Potato Shed, August 9, 2016

This powerful play premiered at Melbourne’s La Mama in November 2010. Following a successful season - one of that venue’s best for the year - it’s author, Bernard Clancy, withdrew the work for a substantial re-write.

This Potato Shed performance was the premier of that revised work.
It had essentially the same cast, with just one change, but with a new additional character that allowed the plotline to take fresh new directions.
Essentially, Foxholes of the Mind explores the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) especially in those Australian soldiers who returned from the 1970s Vietnam War.
They’re in their 70s now, and many are still unknowingly suffering the effects.
This play explored those effects, and causes, with raw honesty studded with darkly caustic humour.
Director Wolf Heidecker moved the action from real life to therapy session to re-lived memories, instantly and seamlessly, by using a continuous scene-flow over a simple, minimally-dressed set. And the play’s two-hour, no-interval format worked to build both understanding and tension to a low-key, believable, moving ending of quiet optimism.
A remarkable feature of Foxholes of the Mind is that after every performance the audience is invited to remain seated for a question and answer session with cast, director and author.
It was as a result of these sessions that author Clancy decided on the present rewrite, and there’s every possibility that current audience reactions may trigger more on-stage responses. Foxholes of the Mind is essentially a work in progress, and therapy for the author, whose own service in Saigon left him with undiagnosed PTSD.

His newly introduced character, Nigel, a young trainee therapist of Vietnamese-Australian descent, expanded the plot into xenophobic territory. But when it turned out that he, too, was an ex-Digger, a veteran of the Afghan war and also suffering PTSD, the storyline exploded into several more unseen, but oh-so-relevant complexities.
Prominent among the play’s audience after-show responses were, ‘Why are we still sending our young men to fight in these conflicts?’ and ‘Why do we not seem to learn from past experience?’
But that’s moving too far ahead. Foxholes of the Mind is based around the break-up of a dysfunctional marriage between childhood sweethearts Frank (Peter Finlay) and Trish (Joanne Davis) who had wed after Frank’s return from national service in Vietnam.
She - and their children - had learned to endure his drinking and erratic, hostile and violent behaviour until she moved out of the family home, triggering his PTSD diagnosis and subsequent group-therapy sessions. There he met Victor Gralak’s knowledgable psychologist Mark and his assistant, the aforementioned Nigel, played by David Lih.
Also on the treatment course were three other ex-Viet Vets, all played by Adrian Mulraney, and a surprise inclusion, Maureen Hartley’s ex-nurse, Sheila. 

Every one of these truly difficult characters was finely drawn and believably portrayed, with Peter Finley and Joanne Davis excellent in their central roles and Adrian Mulroney’s depiction of three different and contrasting characters simply outstanding. 

But for all of its eye-catching acting and staging skills, the most memorable thing about Foxholes of the Mind was the sheer power of its writing.
This was evident by the depth, length and quality of that after-play discussion - and the fact that every audience member remained behind to be part of it. A telling thread from that audience response was that Foxholes of the Mind will undoubtably leave a lasting impression on every one who was there to see it.
I urge you to take the opportunity to go and experience Foxholes of the Mind. It’s a production of power and eloquence - and it’s probably the most potent anti-war play that I have seen.

  • Colin Mockett

An exquisite evening of theatre

Re(ve)lations, directed by Iris Walshe-Howling (1) Janine McKenzie (2) for Anglesea Performing Arts, Anglesea Memorial Hall, July 29, 2016

It has been more than a year since this company staged a production, and that is way too long.
Under the guidance of patron and artistic director, Iris Walsh-Howling, Anglesea Performing Arts has built a reputation for presenting leading-edge drama, carefully and artfully performed.
The current production, Re(ve)lations further enhances that reputation. It’s actually two distinct plays with different directors on the common theme of confrontations within relationships.
Hence that grammatically gymnastic title.
The first play, Some Girls, by American playwright Neil LaBute and seamlessly Australianised by director Iris Walshe-Howling was the longer, darker, funnier and more insightful of the two. The second play, Just Far Enough had the distinction of being written by one of its three actors and directed by another. The third actor was borrowed from the first play, but playing a diametrically opposite character.
Together, the plays created an evening that ticked all theatrical boxes. It was dramatic, revealing, insightful, witty, and ultimately uplifting.
Re(ve)lations was a small piece of theatrical gold.
The first play, Some Girls, had Steven Georgiadis travelling to visit four former girlfriends ostensibly before he settled down to marriage. The play was staged in the round - or square - in the centre of the hall, with a clever, minimalist mobile set and the four women seated slightly off-stage at each corner. With this arrangement the action became four two-handed dramatic playlets, separated only by warm applause. Each segment added to the audience’s perceptions and together they seamlessly built to a highly satisfying conclusion.
In his central, anti-hero role, Steven Georgiadis gave a performance of power, subtlety and concentration. His exposed series of male-ego blunders and flaws drew the dark laughter of recognition from the audience - and different revenge-responses from those former loves.
These began with Julie Fryman’s finely delicate portrayal of his first sweetheart, now a successful mother and family-builder who had covered the scars of her undeserved teen-rejection.
Next came Lina Liroaperto’s strong, forthright married academic whose affair with Steven had been discovered, leading to him fleeing interstate. Having rebuilt her marriage, Lina now used the occasion to extract the most elegant - and sexual - of revenges.
Nikki Watson was next, carefully unpacking her feelings after being spurned for her twin sister - and then discovering Steven’s ulterior motive for the visits.
The final vignette explored much darker territory. Natalie Parker’s tough facade hid a delicate subject - her childhood had been ended abruptly by Steven’s forgotten overly-passionate kiss on her 12th birthday and she used his unexpected visit to forcibly remind him.
It made a strong ending to an absorbing, insightful piece of dark comedy that gained dramatic impact from its ultra-close staging.

In this regard, the second play possibly lost a little by being presented more conventionally on the venue’s stage.
Just Far Enough was a contemporary comedy cut from a much coarser cloth. It was built around three women neighbours who had developed an unusually close relationship over several years.

Lina Liroaperto’ rough, boganesque near-the-knuckle central character - diametrically opposite to her part in the previous play - had systematically taken advantage of her soft neighbour, played with tactful timidity by the play’s writer, Melinda Chapman. But Melinda’s plan to diplomatically escape from the too-close arrangement had been tumbled by the third neighbour, and play’s director, Janine McKenzie. Janine’s forthright role seemingly channelled both Dawn French’s Dibley vicar and Ab Fab’s Patsy Stone in a joyfully imperious performance.
I won’t unfold the plotline, enough to say that Just Far Enough marked a very promising debut from writer Melinda, and contained a light bawdiness that perfectly balanced Some Girls’ sharply observant comedy.

Together, they made for an evening of exquisite theatre.
- Colin Mockett

Morbidly-obsessed family creates a surprise smash

The Addams Family directed by Christian Cavallo for CenterStage Geelong, Playhouse Theatre July 22, 2016

From a creepy concept and luckless beginnings CenterStage has fashioned the most surprising, vibrant, happy, cheerful and uplifting of musicals.
The show benefitted from superb casting, which allowed star performances right through to its small ensemble parts, and an overall enthusiasm that generated brilliant on-stage energy.  
This stage version was based on the TV series The Addams Family -featuring a morbidly-obsessed family of misfits - which itself was based on Charles Addams’ black-humour 1940s cartoons.
Giving that lightweight, creepy-concept origin, and an unlucky start when this show had to change both its director and choreographer early in production, the signs weren’t good. And even on opening night, MD Brad Treloar, conducting in the orchestra pit, was apparently battling illness.

But none of this showed once Lurch pulled down the curtain to blast forth an evening of cheerfully eccentric, subtly sexy, sometimes screamingly funny and always high-standard musical comedy. This was a stage performance memorable for a number of reasons.

That excellent casting saw lead Chris Hughes relishing and hamming up every moment in the role of zany central father-figure, Gomez.
He suavely evaded the control of his black-clad vamp wife Morticia, (Narelle Bonneci) who oozed sex-appeal and manipulated with deadpan allure.
It seems the couple’s daughter, Wednesday, portrayed with gusto and a glorious singing voice by Shani Clarke, had fallen for a ‘normal’ boy, Lucas, played dead straight by fine-singing, smooth dancing eye-catching Jye Cannon. Their romance was assisted by mad Uncle Fester, delightfully, joyfully portrayed by Brendan Rossbotham, who had elicited help from the spirits of dead ancestors; and hindered by little brother Pugsly, played by Narelle’s real-life 13-year-old son Mitch with the assurance of a stage veteran.
Extra creepy laughs came courtesy of butler Lurch, played by a shambling Patt Ryan with exquisite timing; from Sue Rawkins' manic Grandma and even from silent Cousin Itt, under whose hirsute costume was diminutive dancer Perri Espinoza.
Lucas’s parents, summoned to a ‘meet-the-family’ dinner were ultra-straight Simon Thorne and his wife Alice, a brilliant, scene-stealing cameo from Sam Heskett, who’s Narelle’s sister in real life.
The show’s all-singing, all-dancing superbly-drilled ensemble-of-the-dead, which drifted in and out enhancing every scene was studded with players of lead-performer quality.
That was Aashlea Oakes, Alicia Leckie, Ariane Gavin, Daim Hill, Damian Caruso, David Van Etten, Jamie Long, Jemma Lowther, Katie Loxston, Mitchell Walters, Tess Parker, Tessa Reed, Tyler Stevens, and William Reed. Such was their ability, they seemed double that number.
It’s my belief that every cast member, attracted by the wacky Addams allure, was displaying their own love of their zany characters by bringing an amazing amount of vitality to the show.
This energy and expertise was certainly needed to master its complicated vocal score - the show’s songs, perfectly pitched at quirky, peculiar level must have been really difficult both to play and to learn - as were the challenging dance moves created by Ashley Boyd to suit such a peculiar score.
Sure, there were a couple of missed cues and technical hitches - but this was opening night - and at GPAC, where companies can’t afford to rehearse on the performance area. But these glitches will surely disappear for later performances. For we in the opening audience, they just gave us periods to relish what we were experiencing.
And that was a cheerfully charming, beautifully bizarre and brilliantly staged wacky smash hit.
I can’t recommend The Addams Family highly enough. Go see it. You’ll love it.
- Colin Mockett

Moving On is an uplifting theatrical experience

Moving On directed by Peter Jukes, Woodbin Theatre July 1, 2016

Geelong Rep staged this production at short notice after its planned mid-year production, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, was derailed by technical problems.
In its stead, the company chose to present three one-act plays, each with a loosely meaningful theme, under the ambiguous title Moving On - and invited the careful, sensitive director Peter Jukes to take charge.
Peter, in turn, brought together a smart production team and a stellar cast of actors. He then guided and polished their performances, dressed and smoothed their appearance - and the result was a delightful evening for both lovers of theatre and/or students of human nature.
The three very different plays gave much more than that common theme of human interaction. They brought genuine laughter, edge-of-the-seat hear-a-pin-drop tension and a broad depth of understanding, while showcasing the impressive depth of acting talents available to Rep.
The first play, Ferris Wheel by American playwright Mary Miller, found Claudia Clark and Geoff Gaskill portraying middle-aged strangers stuck together at the top of a stalled fairground ride.
This literally suspenseful situation allowed the two to individually roll out their respective tensions and anxieties in a masterful theatrical duet that was at once charming, funny and ultimately poignant.
Their trapped duality was mirrored by the second play, Merge, but with the power turned up. Here was a young American couple, played by Georgia Chara and Simon Finch, alone in a car driving home from the airport in traffic. He had collected her after she had returned from a conference, and playwright Neil LaBute’s dense plotline was revealed purely in their conversation. This began with jousting verbal semantics, but quickly took on darker and more complex tones.
I’ll not reveal the outcome, enough to say that this was the conversation that brought the aforementioned hear-a-pin-drop audience attention - and displayed performances of moving, subtle power from both actors.
After a short interval, the final play, Looking for a Place to Land  was a modern Australian piece on the subject of grief. It brought together Geoff Gaskill and Claudia Clark again, this time in very different characters. He was a cantankerous old man who was still speaking - and listening - to his recently deceased wife.
Claudia, as the wife’s spirit, epitomised the voice of reason, charm and diplomacy. This was needed when the couple’s grown-up children became involved, played by Tina Rettke and Ben Mitchell.
I would guess that in their extensive careers, Tina and Ben would rarely have portrayed such an unlovely couple - but didn’t they gloriously relish their parts! She, a slovenly low-self-esteemed loser, he an uncouth racist bigot with no table manners.
But from this unpromising material these four - with playwright Michael Lill and director Peter - crafted a gratifying drama of quirky warmth and human understanding. But be warned, this play does contain a slow-motion striptease that is not for the faint hearted.
Moving On’s three plays were staged on a clever, simple set that both linked and consolidated their themes, earning another VO nomination for designer Alard Pett.

It might not have the colour and razzamatazz of A Funny Thing At The Forum, but this evening offered something quite different.
It stood as a testament to good writing, staging and outstanding theatrical performance skills. Believe me, Moving On can present a highly uplifting theatrical experience.

Colin Mockett

Dazzling Juniors soar over Disney’s High School

Disney’s High School Musical directed by Shane Lee, Playhouse Theatre June 18, 2016

This kids-favourite show began as a screen production for the Disney channel which prompted GSODA to sell it as ‘Disney’s High School Musical - ON STAGE!’
Undoubtably the show’s screen popularity contributed to the high number of tweens and teens in its opening night audience. They certainly weren’t disappointed - the show’s laughter, appreciation and prolonged final applause was testament to that - and it’s likely that a good many would have been swayed away from small-screen toward big stage productions as a result.
As for the adults in the audience, well, we witnessed a musical as slick, colourful and attractive as any professional adult performance - and a good deal better than most.

Sure, the dialogue was unintelligible at times in its awful pseudo-American drawl and slang. And yes, it was coated throughout with that Disney moral formula-driven antiseptic saccharin gloss.
But rising way, way above all that, this GSODA Junior’s presentation soared to theatrical highs, fuelled by a potent combination of youthful energy, slick, professional guidance - and talent in abundance. The result was theatrical gold - a show packed with vitality and colour, lifted with musical verve and studded with cheerful fun.
The storyline was forgettable - it’s a teen romance that’s an amalgam of Grease with West Side Story and a dash of Legally Blonde.  And it has some bright, happy stock show-tunes credited to no fewer than 13 writers.
But what made this show special was the Geelong component - it’s on-stage talent and off-stage guidance.
Starting with the off-stage element, director Shane Lee and his team not only drew the best from every one of his 60+ young talented performers, they fashioned a high-energy, fast-paced near-faultless show with exceptionally high production values from them.
Kudos, here, to first-time choreographer Lachlan Erard for his unusual, memorable and subtly witty routines.  
On stage, as in many Disney productions, the show’s lead performers were goody-two-shoes with its soft villains getting most of the fun lines right up to their comeuppance.
In this regard, lead duo Aidan O’Cleirigh and Maddie Ilioski were perfectly cast, each underplaying their hero status to perfection by moving and singing with demure, perfectly weighted modesty.
In contrast Matilda Hassell pulled out all the villain stops in portraying their scheming-teen adversary, while Andrew Coomber won hearts, laughs and fans as her reluctant side-kick.
Lucy Varisco-Blackwood was eye-catching throughout as their pro-active drama teacher and Evette Jemal perfect as her introverted but ultimately triumphant musical prodigy. All these are now nominated for our Virtual Oscars - but many more could have joined this honour-roll in a cast that bristled with talent.
The show’s huge chorus of Jocks, Brainiacs and Thespians sang, danced, somersaulted, flick-flacked and dazzled throughout while fun and comedy sparkled from a series of unexpected sources - like two glorious impressions in Noah Sleiman’s seal and Will Palmer’s worm - both worthy of show-stopping status.
 I urge you to go see this musical.
It’s a lovely piece of musical theatre that delightfully overcomes its sugary Disney origins.
And as a bonus, you’ll see what Geelong’s theatrical future looks like. It’s dazzlingly bright. 

Colin Mockett

Brass Brings So Many Memories 

Top Of The Brass Geelong Memorial Brass Band concert for Morning Showtime, Potato Shed June 14, 2016

On a cold frosty Tuesday in June, I was warmed up by another wonderful performance at the Potato Shed.
Drop of a Hat Productions had invited the Geelong Memorial Brass Band to entertain us… and entertain they did!
Cornets and trumpets, tubas and trombones. They were all there in this 21 piece band, ably conducted by Christina Bowden.

Go back 50 years or more, and every parade or pageant had numerous brass bands interspersed with the floats that trundled through the streets of the town or suburb. Brass was king! I remember Friday night shopping, in Canberra, when a group from the Salvation Army brass band played regularly on street corners. They were the buskers of the day. Every town had its band stand in the park, built for the local brass band. The Australian navy had a brass band for ceremonial events, as did the R.A.A.F. The army actually had a brass band in each capital city, as well as several in regional bases. American band leader Glenn Miller played the trombone, and of course Louis Armstrong, the trumpet. As children, we all listened to Bing Crosby tell us the story of Tubby the Tuba.

Sadly, times have changed for brass bands. Their instruments do not seem as fashionable as guitars to younger people, and families are busy. The brass band seems to be going the way of so many community groups, such as service clubs. Numbers are down.

So therefore, it was a huge pleasure to sit back and enjoy the unique brass sound of The Geelong Memorial Brass Band.
I grew up with the sound of brass echoing marching music – Colonel Bogey, Dambusters, Stars and Stripes Forever etc. So it was a great pleasure to sit back and listen to more traditional tunes, and even pop songs played by the brass band.

Of course they played marching tunes – ‘Death or Glory March’, ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’, and the ‘Dambusters March’, but I really enjoyed the traditional songs such Vie En Rose, The Sound of Music, Moon River, and A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square. We all knew the words of Waltzing Matilda, Click Go the Shears and (of course) I Am Australian. Forty years on, we had to have an ABBA song and Dancing Queen was a popular choice. We couldn’t go home without the memory of ‘Satchmo’ in ‘It’s a Wonderful World’ and New York New York made a powerful closing number.

This show almost didn’t happen. I am so glad it did.

Tony Newman

A Dead Funny Modern British Farce

All Things Considered directed by Michael Baker for Torquay Theatre Troupe. Torquay’s Price St Theatre, May 19, 2016

It’s hard to imagine a play about a prospective suicide being laugh-a-minute funny, but TTT’s All Things Considered achieves this with bells on. Written by British playwright Ben Brown in the 1990s, the play is a finely-drawn study on human nature that is presented in the style of a traditional farce. As such, it’s a neat hybrid, almost as relevant as a Williamson, nearly as funny as an Ayckbourn - but altogether an original, up-to-date dark comedy. 

The play’s impressively-presented single set was ideal for TTT’s restricted theatre space, while the playwrights’s witty and meaningful dialogue perfectly suited the talents of a core trio of TTT stalwarts in director Michael Baker, lead player Fred Preston and his principal support Glen Barton.
Around this masterful core revolved some excellent support talent including a couple of highly promising newcomers. Together they kept the play’s action moving briskly and the laughter bubbling along.

Fred’s central character was a university professor of philosophy, the play was set in his on-campus living rooms. It soon became apparent that he was divorced, living alone, approaching fifty and totally disillusioned with life. To this end, he had planned a neat and tidy suicide - he was simply bored with everything - but his plan was thwarted by a constant stream of interruptions from phone calls and/or unwanted visitors, all of which confirmed his blasé view of the meaningless of his existence.
Chief among these distractions came from his self-appointed best friend, played by Glen Barton as a frantic fellow-professor whose chaotic life was unravelling due to his out-of-control libido. Contrasting Glen’s mayhem was Emma Watson’s colourless lovestruck colleague and Andrew Gaylord’s untrustworthy, shallow faux-concerned chaplain - along with a trio of excellent company newcomers. These were Lisa McGregor, playing a slyly sexy, scheming visiting American lecturer with an ulterior motive; Nicole Atasever playing an equally scheming, pushy, challenging journalist and Don Bennett in a small but pivotal role as the resident electrician.
Fred dealt with all these intrusions with a perfectly weighted level of resigned polite frustration right up until the play’s neatly contrived surprise ending.
Go see All Things Considered. It’s a darkly funny, well-staged and surprisingly up-to-date play in a classic British comedy tradition.
In the hands of the Torquay Troupe it stands as a generous serve of refreshingly thoughtful, fun theatre.
- Colin Mockett 

A host of Golden Moments at an elegant soiree in the Shed

The Geelong All-Star Authentic Old-Time Music Hall Drop Of A Hat Productions, Potato Shed, May 17, 2016

The morning was cold, blustery and promised rain.
In contrast, items on stage at the Potato Shed and the variety of period costumes worn by the entertainers led me to believe that I had been ushered into an elegant Edwardian living room to take part in a soirée.

This was the fifth of a series of Old-Time Music Halls by Drop of a Hat Productions. Like the previous shows its underlying premise was that if top quality entertainers sang or played 'golden oldies', the audience would at least hum along, perhaps enjoy the nostalgia and hopefully join in the choruses. To ensure audience participation generated adequate vocal volume and minimal dissonance, the audience was subjected to an auditioning process led by the Master of Ceremonies and writer Mr Colin Mockett supported by Maestro Ron Sudden who wandered among the audience looking for tone deaf participants. Happily after two attempts, and with Maestro Sudden's acquiescence I am glad to report the show proceeded.  

On this occasion, the year chosen was 1906 and the songs were unquestionably golden, golden oldies and readily recognised by the audience. The compere, as is customary with Drop of a Hat Productions was the loquacious Colin Mockett and he was ably assisted by well known Geelong entertainers Maestro Ron Sudden, Miss Emma Jones and Mistress Shirley Power and the less well known but equally talented Miss Bonnie Wet Macintosh, Mrs Lydia Dustbin, Miss Milly Terry and Miss Lucy Lastic.

The songs chosen varied from the plaintive Skye Boat Song by Bonnie Macintosh (Shirley Power), Just A Song At Twilight by Maestro Sudden and a superb duet Won't You Buy My Pretty Flowers by Shirley and Emma to the suggestive Hold Your Hand Out, Naughty Boy by Miss Milly Terry (Emma Jones). Of course an Old-Time Musical Hall would not be complete without items such as Down at the Old Bull and Bush, All The Nice Girls Love a Sailor, Goodbye Dolly Gray and verbal recitations describing the welfare of a lion named Wallace and a boy called Albert Ramsbottom.
But if I had to choose my favourites they would be: Maestro Sudden's piano solo based on Franz Lehar's waltzes and his moving I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen, She Was A Dear Little Dickie Bird in which the love smitten lad was played with great sincerity by Colin and the dickie bird by a fluttering Emma armed with a yellow feather boa; Shirley as Mrs Lydia Dustbin singing My Old Man Said Follow The Van, carrying a birdcage containing nothing less than a cock linnet! And finally a song I had not heard before, In My Merry Oldsmobile, which saw Colin and Shirley drive down an obviously bumpy road in their homemade Olds. Very clever.

In short, a very pleasant morning with old favourites and that includes of course, songs, music and entertainers. Thank you, Drop Of A Hat.

Bryan Eaton

Winged Unicorns fly at a magical night in Ceres

A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Elaine Mitchell for Theatre of the Winged Unicorn, Ceres Hall, May 13, 2016

This production was exactly as expected. Ceres’ Theatre of the Winged Unicorn has spent 24 years building a reputation for performing classic plays with exquisite care and artistic flair. And this play, staged to commemorate 400 years since Shakespeare’s death, stood as the culmination of that experience.
It was simply elegant, from its white enchanted-wood setting to each character’s gorgeous individual costuming to the production’s innovative whole-hall staging - right through to any number of well-drilled, faultless performances from a fresh, young cast.
These are all ToWU hallmarks, so it was small wonder that the production’s season was practically sold out before opening night. Shakespeare’s fairy-tale comedy remains among the most popular of his works; it has been produced and staged in so many ways and forms that it would be difficult to conceive a different production.
But producer/director Elaine Mitchell did achieve this in the most innovative way; by sticking to the original script and era - but then adding buckets of artistic flair to its presentation. This started with the setting and costumes, was lifted by six cute tiny child-fairies and beautifully enhanced by a couple of delightful original songs and even a dance or two. Yes, this Midsummer Night's Dream was part musical.
And that musical element was very much built around Ellie Gardner’s Fairy Queen, who harmonised in two delightful duets, first with her lead Sprite Joni Gardner and then with her Fairy King Ben Mitchell (while Joni accompanied on guitar).
But there was much to this production than cute children fairies and added music. There was the authoritative bearing of Simon Thorne and Miriam Wood’s aristocrats, alongside Heather Dempsey’s controlled cool. There was the amorous manoeuvring of young couples Julie Fryman and Colten Dunn, Cassidy Krygger and Michael Leigh, which was to produce so much comedy once the fairies’ magic became misdirected on that magical night. Then there was more comedy from Greg Chadwick’s gormless, bungling theatre troupe comprising Ben Crowley, Kris Smythe, a reprised Joni Gardner and wonderful Simon Finch flying high as Bottom. There was Kath O’Neill adding authority in a tiny but essential part - and then there was Rose Mussellwhite’s wonderfully energetic, athletic - and so mischievous - performance as the rogue fairy Puck.
Go and see this Midsummer Night’s Dream if you can get a ticket. It’s a fine way to mark the Bard’s commemoration, it’s a delightful evening’s theatre - and it’s just about the perfect advertisement for Ceres’ Theatre of Winged Unicorn.
- Colin Mockett

Stark reminder of our heritage

Point of No Return written & directed by Alaine Beek for Essence Productions, Courthouse Theatre, May 6, 2016

This award-winning play quietly padded into the city under cover of the Geelong After Dark initiative, and continues for an extra performance, tonight, while the majority of After Darkers are still recovering from their nocturnal activities.
It’s a production that sat in sharp contrast to the array of glittering fairy-lit pop-up performances outside the theatre and throughout the city centre. This play was bleak, uncompromising and remorselessly aggressive.
It was also a well-presented, well-acted, well-lit and well-staged piece of tragic theatre.
Set in the Point Puer Boys’ Prison on an island off Port Arthur in the early 19th Century, the action unfolds the stories of a gang of six boy convicts - one a new arrival - and their immediate superior; a violent, complex ex-convict.
The boy’s leader, played by Jeremy Withers, was constantly struggling to hold the gang’s position in a hierarchy of aggression, while cutting deals with the warder.
His gang consisted of Chris de Zeeuw’s stealthy expert thief; Dylan Mazurka’s courageous terminally-ill cripple and his unofficial minder, Travis Turnstall; Ben Cook’s violent small boy with a tragic past and that educated, aghast newcomer Dustin Caldwell, whose Irish accent contrasted the other’s faux cockney.
Their warder was played by Philip Cameron-Smith with a complex mix of snarling, shouting aggression, fear and alcohol-fuelled empathy. His compassionate side was illustrated by a scene reacting to a mimed dog.
 These characters played out their relentlessly appalling, aggressive, horrific storyline for some 75 of the play’s 80-minute running time to a stunned, silent audience; until it reached a point when the grieving gang-leader and his warder embraced.
This catalytic moment was followed by a swift round-up with each character telling their post-prison tales, “I was sent to Port Arthur where I continued thieving’, ‘I learned to read and worked in Jeb’s bookshop…’ which was in sharp contrast to the previous hour of unrelenting misery.
I left with the sense that despite this productions awards, it was still a work in progress. It would surely benefit from some skilful editing to cut back a little on that constant misery and add more detailed explanations of just how those lads overcame that awful childhood experience to become founding Australian citizens.
But that said, this play presented a keen reminder of the terrible start our white Australian heritage received. 

Colin Mockett

Ding Dong! The Deficit Is Dead!

The Wizard of Oz directed by Scott Bradley & David Postill for Geelong Lyric Theatre Society, Playhouse Theatre, April 29, 2016

This production will undoubtably go down in Geelong’s theatre history as the show that saved its company. Put bluntly, Geelong Lyric Theatre Society should have folded a year ago. It was leaderless and financially crippled, it’s committee having resigned after announcing the company had amassed debts reportedly more than $25,000.
But late last year a new, inexperienced committee brought together under first-time president Tony Dahl came up with a bold proposition to save Lyric, by going back to its community-theatre roots. 

The plan was to stage a big, popular musical that would fill Geelong’s Playhouse theatre which would be low-budget both to hire and stage.
It seemed an impossible task in the light of our city’s recent trend towards big-name first-run musicals with expensive imported directors and ever-growing budgets.
But in an example that fortune clearly does favour the bold, this Wizard Of Oz has remarkably fulfilled every promise.
Even before the curtain had opened on its sold-out first night, ticket sales for the other performances had topped 90% with every possibility that this show would turn in an unheard-of-in-Geelong fully-booked whole season.
Small wonder president Tony was greeting patrons at GPAC’s front door with the widest grin and personal handshakes on opening night.
The signs were, he said, that this Wizard would wipe that huge debt and leave enough surplus to enable Lyric to plan ahead with confidence.
And then, even more remarkably, that house-full audience was treated to a big, happy, colourful high-gloss show with a professional sheen that belied its budget beginnings.
So the set was plain, but this was balanced by some super computer-projected special effects. The costumes were simple, but exactly right, with no frills.
What was exceptional was the talent on show, firstly from lead Dorothy, played by diminutive Georgia Nicholls with a faultless performance and glorious singing voice; from Liam Erck’s wonderfully agile Scarecrow; P.J. White’s beautifully cowardly Lion and Jesse Simpson’s heartless but so confident Tin Man.
This quartet of lead players was backed and supported by some 60 all-singing, all-dancing, all-cute townpeople, Emerald citizens, Munchkins, Winkie Guards and more, including a trio of beautifully harmonising apple trees. These were all masterly marshalled by duo-directors Scott Bradley & David Postill’s team which included choreographers Kai Mann-Robertson and Molly Carter and vocal coach Tania Spence.
And all this was driven and underscored by MD Bradley Treloar’s immaculate ultra-tight 20-piece orchestra.
OK, so the show’s storyline is corny and dated; but those memorable, catchy songs were immaculately presented.
So there were some clunky scene-changes, but there were also some moments of pure theatre joy.
The show was in need of some editing, but it did have the hottest witch, coolest wizard, cutest Toto and happiest, most joyful cast I’ve seen in a long time.
If there’s a spare seat, go see this Wizard. Take the kids. They’ll love it, you’ll see a very good musical show - and you’ll also likely witness a piece of Geelong theatre history.

- Colin Mockett

Chorale Channels the Sacred Divide

Across The English Channel French and English romantic choral music performed by the Geelong Chorale, director Allister Cox. St Paul’s Church, April 17, 2016.

Despite this concert’s Romantic subtitle, it didn’t contain a mix of amorous and/or passionate songs. It was much better than that, containing works more solemn, more sacred, more suitable to the surroundings - and certainly more challenging for the singers.
The Chorale met all their challenges, of course - and we audience even received a couple of bonuses in organ solos from Dion Henman plus Allister Cox’s illuminating and interesting introductions.
We even got a little surprise at the finish.

The concert’s first half was all-English works, beginning with Parry’s glorious I Was Glad, followed by Taverner’s funeral-paced contemplative Song for Athene then Finzi’s Jubilant God Is Gone Up - three pieces that each demonstrated the current Chorale’s strengths. It’s soprano/alto dominance sent the rafters ringing to those glorious passages, while the smaller, bass-heavy male section allowed subtle support with clear distinction. It’s a very nice balance.
Following that three-piece introduction, the Chorale left to sit at the rear of the healthily-full church to hear the first of Dion Henman’s organ solos, Herbert Howells’ Prelude on Psalm 37 - a well-favoured hymn given a satisfying distinct plain clarity.
Then the Chorale returned to finish the first half with Vaughan Williams’ Valiant for Truth then Gustav Holst’s well-loved and familiar accompaniment for Psalm 148, one accompanied by the organ, the other unaccompanied - but both beautifully delivered.
Following a short ten-minute interval, the concert’s second half was all-French, again all-sacred, and all written around the turn of the 20th Century. 

It opened with Quatre Motets from Maurice Durufle, each different in tone, mood and colour. Ubi Caritas was followed by Tota Pulhra Es, the lively Tantum Ergo and Tu Es Petrus. Then came the second, French, organ solo - a thundering Gothic piece from Louis Boellmann Toccata from Suite Gothique before the Choral once more returned with the four parts of Louis Vierne’s Solemn Mass - the delicate Kyrie Eleison; suitably glorious Gloria In Excelsis Deo; calm Sanctus & Benedictus before a flourishing finish from Agnus Dei.
And the surprise? At the end Director Cox informed us that St Paul’s imposing pipe organ was in fact under repair, so Dion Henman’s accompaniment, and those thundering solos, had been performed on an electronic keyboard squeezed into the small organists enclosure.
The afternoon finished with traditional Chorale hospitality - high tea for its appreciative audience members.
Such a suitably cultured end to a fine afternoon of beautiful singing.

— Colin Mockett

Raw emotions from Rep’s Shifting Heart

The Shifting Heart directed by Judy Ellis for Geelong Rep. Woodbin Theatre, April 15, 2016.

First impressions of this production were about its imposing set. Somehow Rep had shoe-horned a fully-built weatherboard house onto the Woodbin’s tiny stage.
The play’s lasting afterthoughts mostly concerned the changes in our society and attitudes over the past 60 years - and how far we have advanced in multicultural relations.
In between was a well-directed, well-cast and well-acted play that was, presumably, written originally to shock and raise awareness of Australia’s racial inadequacies in the light of mass post-WWII refugee immigration. But from today’s 21st Century drama-overloaded media-saturated perspective, The Shifting Heart came across as an odd amalgam of quirky nostalgia with a raw-nerved emotional roller-coaster.
And it left its audience in a theatrical vortex. We had been carried along on a journey that had began as intriguing social history of an Italian family’s awkward integration into a poor Melbourne suburb. The neighbours on one side were nasty and disagreeable, the other side had an understanding wife with her own marriage problems. But this situation developed through a series of inter-family inter-racial predicaments to a heart-wrenching life and death finale. On the way we witnessed several other social shortcomings - who would have thought that what we now term ‘family violence’ was so easily accepted as normal just a couple of generations ago?
And none of this developed swiftly. The combination of playwright Richard Beynon’s deliberate characterisations and director Judy Ellis’ careful direction meant that most of the plotline twist and turns were predicted then enacted at a measured, even pace.
The play looked good, with that imposing ¾ sized rundown house-set and accurate, understated costuming from Rep’s Nin Coutts-Slater.
It was finely acted, too, with every player word-perfect and the Italian accents dropping only occasionally. In this regard, the principal leads of Phillipe Besancon and Theresa Lewis were excellent, not just in their delivery, but shared body language movements, too.
Their children, played by Tom Bartle and Ivana Hudlow and kind Anglo neighbour, Sarah Quirk, were all new to Rep and each showed a great deal of promise, not only in their stage discipline, but by keeping in check the play’s potential to descend into melodrama.
Nick Frcek played Sarah’s unlovely repentant drinker husband with edgy accuracy and Steve Howell brought a believable authentic old-time copper in support. But in an unusual twist, the play’s most memorable character was minor character Clarry, the Anglo husband of daughter Maria and employer of son Gino.
Dan Eastwood took this difficult and complex smaller part with accomplished skill, moving from worried father-to-be to grieving despair and then future hopeful - and wringing out most of the play’s emotional moments on the way, even delivering the final moment of ultimate optimism.

If the definition of good theatre is to be thought-provoking, then Rep’s The Shifting Heart makes very good theatre.
Go and be provoked.

— Colin Mockett

Blond from Geelong a slow spoof

You Only Laugh Twice written & directed by Ed Dolista for Comic Genius for Melb. International Comedy Festival, The Butterfly Club, April 2016.

Last year’s Geelong-produced James Bond spoof Live And Let Spy must have tickled some funny bones at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival because the group was invited back. This year the show is billed as You Only Laugh Twice - the sequel to last year’s irreverent farce parody.
And true to every film follow-up, this one dredges up material missed in the original as well as a few second thoughts from writers and cast.
You Only Laugh Twice repeats the same Comic Genius format as last year: its mission was to scrutinise and satirise outlandish elements of the James Bond film franchise which is itself essentially a self-parodying series.
The show continued its former plotline with a few noticeable differences. There has been a couple of cast changes, a lift in background technology, a considerable reduction in speed - and, unfortunately, a clear lack of preparation. That last can be fixed as I saw a pre-show run-through in Geelong prior to the production’s move to Melbourne’s Butterfly Club. This was, of course a different space and circumstances, but that wouldn’t excuse the number of lost lines, missed cues and hesitations in a show that was noticeably under-rehearsed, especially in its crucial opening court-room scene.
Or was it.. Because on several occasions the muffs and mistakes drew bigger laughs than those written into the script, so perhaps this was another fiendish plot from writer and chief villain Ed Dolista whose evil dentist Dr Maybe was again plotting to hold the world to ransom with a motley gang of villains using the acronym DECAY.
These included Scott Popovic’s metal-dentured henchman Jawge and Jenn Stirk’s flirtatious femme-fatalle, Carmen Sutra, who were thwarted by secret agent James Blonde, played by Ian Nash-Gilchrist helped by Cassia Webster’s glamorous Russian agent Ivana Holdyourhandski backed by Janine McKenzie as spymaster Mmm, Liam Erck as gadgeteer QT, and Ian Rooney’s inept American military General Admission.
This crew last year succeeded in bringing chirpy, clean, cheery fun with a series of stylish sight gags and a profusion of pointedly pathetic puns all delivered at ultra-high speed.
But that speed - and energy - was noticeably lacking in the 2016 version.
And it was missed, because even the most dreadful puns are funny when they’re delivered in a crisp non-stop stream. But they lose potency when delivered at deliberate pedestrian speed.
But this show has a quality cast and crew and I’m confident that they can arrest the DECAY by introducing a gloss of energy and professionalism before their Melbourne debut.

— Colin Mockett

You Only Laugh Twice is at Melbourne’s Butterfly Club March 25 - April 3. Book online at http. 

Geelong’s no-frills Orchestra wins people over

Inaugural Concert, Geelong Symphony Orchestra, Costa Hall February 26, 2016.

The foyer anticipation was palpable - there were so many people wishing Geelong’s new orchestra well; wanting them to shine.
Talk was of the beginning of a new era in our city’s cultural identity - a step towards our coming of age as a mature society.
Inside the hall, that atmosphere intensified, fuelled, somewhat contradictorily, by a complete lack of hype or fanfare.
The venue was almost full - more than 1,000 tickets sold - but with the side balconies visibly empty.
The house lights were not dimmed, there was no announcement, no MC, just 64 soberly-dressed orchestra members quietly taking their places amid polite applause which rose in volume when conductor Joannes Roose joined them, smiled briefly at the audience, then raised his baton.
The first note of Nicolai’s Overture to the Merry Wives of Windsor was exquisite - pure, clear, singular and swelling to beautiful clarity. Inside the first stanza, indeed, the first minute, the feelings from the still-house-lit audience were almost audible, too, containing relief, awe, respect - and justification. This was truly an excellent orchestra, worthy of its venue and our city - and its quality upheld all the pre-concert expectations. So the applause was warm and long.
Then came a brief interlude while stagehands wrestled the venue’s Steinway grand piano to centre stage for the evening’s soloist, Kristian Chong.
He entered, young, casual, smiling, sat at the piano, adjusted his surroundings - then produced a brilliant, flawless rendition of Rachmaninoff’s demanding piano concerto 2 in C minor Opus 18, neatly, competently and unobtrusively backed by the orchestra.
This outstanding effort drew more sustained, even warmer applause. In truth, it deserved an ovation, but the audience was new, too, and unpracticed at valuing a performance’s worth.
Following the (unannounced) interval, the audience returned vitalised, having discussed their new City orchestra’s quality.
They were treated to an accomplished version of Dvorak’s New World Symphony delivered in the same un-flashy but highly competent manner. The work was an excellent choice; its contrasts, crescendos and familiar recurring themes formed an ideal showcase to introduce a new orchestra to its new audience.
And it was appreciated, drawing an almost reverential standing ovation, with any doubters in the audience now fully won over.
So, in all, the GSO’s no-frills approach made for a perfect introduction to its new home. But it now faces an uphill struggle for recognition in our culture-shy, sports-oriented community.
It’s worth reflecting that this orchestra’s roots are in the Geelong Philharmonic Orchestra ,which filled the Costa Hall no fewer than 15 times between the 2002 and 2010. That orchestra, which shared around 75% of GSO players, also won admiration and respect from the people of Geelong. Like the GSO, it drew excellent soloists and guest conductors. But it failed to win over, or even attract, our city’s leaders or parliamentarians - and it therefore missed out essential establishment support.
So, although the new GSO has the backing of two community heavyweights in Deakin University and GPAC - our councillors and MPs were notable absentees at this first concert.
So, Mayor, councillors, State and Federal MPs - take notice and mark your diary now. This orchestra is an exceptional ornament to Geelong, deserving both your recognition and support.
Its next concert in the Costa Hall is October 28, with a Russian musical Spectacular.
And that’s surely enough notice to be seen championing such an excellent group of Geelong musicians.

Colin Mockett

Carnage in Paris brings happiness to the Woodbin

God of Carnage directed by Simon Thorne for Geelong Repertory Theatre Co. Woodbin Theatre, February 5, 2016

Geelong Rep has a long-term policy of introducing new directors under the mentorship of its proven specialists. It’s a system that has paid off over the years - probably none more so than with this play.
First-time director Simon Thorne, under the guidance of mentor Stacey Carmichael, has started Rep’s 2016 season with not so much a bang, more a stylish Parisian whoop.
It’s not a perfect production, of course, but this finely-observed, frequently dark comedy of social misunderstandings had its packed opening-night audience chuckling, laughing - and sometimes gasping with surprise at the number of universal mannerism gaffes on display.
God of Carnage is a small, simple play that, though written in Paris in 2006, translates perfectly to our time, place and age. It’s set in a single Parisian apartment - neatly, flawlessly recreated on the Woodbin stage by master designer Alard Pett - and it has just four actors, who are on stage, in real time, throughout. They are two sets of parents who have come together because their sons had had a bloody altercation. As part of the discussion, the couples own shortcomings, tensions and relationship failures become exposed - especially when the God of Carnage gets involved. That God, in the mind of writer Yasmina Reza, takes several guises, the most lethal being alcohol.
So the two couple’s tense-but-polite social divides that were revealed in the first act’s diplomat-acrobatic dialogue turned to open hostility with the introduction of drinks in the second.
And it’s all wound into a suitably believable, neatly-played finale with a surprise bonus visual joke.
Though director Simon kept all the Parisian theme and references, his cast of four thankfully delivered their lines in faultless Australian.
They each play recognisable stereotypes, all finely drawn and portrayed with no mean skill. The ‘home’ couple are played by Taliesa Cartwright and Glen Barton. She’s a pretentious Africa-phile author; he’s a down-to-earth hardware salesman uncomfortably putting on airs for the benefit of his wife. Their visitors are hard-nosed mobile-phone-driven lawyer David Postill and his second wife, a sensitive and sickly financial advisor played by projectile-vomiting Melissa Musselwhite.
There are some smartly-entangled sub-plots wound in, involving prescription medication trials, press-supression, snobbery, relationship comparisions, rodenticide and clafoutis, all spun with aplomb by a well-versed competent cast.
Such was their evenness and cohesion that they have all four been nominated for VOs - in the category of ‘best support’.
The play contains some strong language, delivered, unfortunately, in the Australian way as expletives, when they would have, in the view of this reviewer, had greater impact if delivered as part of unconscious modern speech patterns. There were several stretches of dialogue that would have benefitted from a more delicate, pulled-back delivery - but that’s probably just a critic carping. I’m sure all this will come in time, and look forward to director Simon’s next foray, sans training wheels.
In the meantime, Rep fans can enjoy his introductory, happy slice of Carnage. 

Colin Mockett

Mary Poppins is  Practically Perfect

Mary Poppins directed by Darylin Ramondo for Footlight Productions. Playhouse Theatre, Jan 22, 2016

Any new production of Mary Poppins is inevitably viewed through a different prism following the 2013 film Saving Mr Banks, which detailed the rocky, awkward relationship between Walt Disney and author P L Travers in producing their original 1964 Mary Poppins film.
This new Footlight version of the Disney Broadway musical is based on that film, but it also contained significant aspects from the outcome of Saving Mr Banks, in that the reformation of the central family’s adult attitudes and relationships carried as much, if not more, emphasis than magical nanny Mary’s taming of a couple of wayward children.
Not that this mattered to the packed opening night Geelong audience who were simply swept along by the colour, the spectacle, the music and precision of what was a magical stage production - right through to an almost-inevitable standing ovation 2 ½ hours later. Footlight director Darylin Ramondo and her team can stand proud, having produced as delightful a version of Mary Poppins as any that has gone before. It was just as the lady herself claimed to be - practically perfect.
Firstly, it looked great, with colourful, original just-right costumes designed by Rhiannon Irving and sensible, unobtrusive lighting plots from Scott Allan. It sounded wonderful, too, thanks to the expert skills of MD John Shawcross and vocal director Emily Donoghue.
Its movement flowed to precision choreography from Jordan Punsalang over a practical set designed by Nathan Weyers.
Its casting was inspired, with talented, believable characters in every role behind leads that were positively outstanding.
That was Kate Hanley’s Mary and Ash Bronca’s Bert - now elevated from chimney-sweep to omni-present busker/artist/philosopher/sweep/narrator.
Kate owned her title role completely. She dominated every scene from her first surprise appearance. She managed to simultaneously project airs of mystery, authority and inner stillness with little touches of magic, such was her stage aura.
For his part, Ash played his Bert with a rare mix of innocence, knowledge and Mary-awe. Both sang beautifully, while Ash added an invigorating energy with his acrobatic dance moves.
Supporting this duo, Jamie McGuane played the challenging role of Mr Banks with authority, progressing from work-obsessed chauvinist through financial victim to caring family man under the Poppins influence; while Sophie Collins garnered most audience sympathy (and a VO nomination) for her sterling portrayal as his wife.
The couple’s children, played on the night by Tayla Gartner and Eliot Cudmore (with Molly Jones and Elliot Renton-Gibb waiting in the wings) were excellent, as were the family’s comic servants Hayley Wood and Connor Sheedy. There were a trio of scene-stealing cameos from Anne Gasko’s wonderfully cruel villain-nanny, Cheryl Campbell’s poignant park bird-seed-seller (at tuppence a bag) and Lochlan Erard’s delightfully un-statuesque Nelius.
The show had its share of efficiently-handled Poppins flying scenes and plenty of vibrant production numbers, most especially the supercalifragililisticexpialidocious talking shop song led by Emily Donoghue. And all this was backed with strong but unobtrusive support from Howard Dandy, Reyna Hudgell and Bryce Baumgarten leading a skilled ensemble that underlined and enhanced every scene in an astonishing range of characterisations. So take a bow, David Keele, John McCarthy, Dom Roussety, Liam Ryder, Greg Shawcross, Jesse Simpson, Simone Clarke, Sally‐Anne Cowdell, Tara Dunstan, Mollie Gallaher, Felicity McCowan, Amanda Paris, Hannah Pohlenz, Meagan Reid, Ali Simpson, Christie Walter, David Senftleben, Will Johnston and Benjamin Krahe, along with children’s ensemble, Sophie Baker, Olivia Gerrard, Monty Henderson, Finn Jaques, Elyssa Jeffries, Alana Leslie, Arielle Renton-Gibb and Stephanie Singline.
You all earned the final VO nomination for your versatility and dedication - in a musical show that was, well, practically perfect.  

Colin Mockett

Pure musical joy 

Geelong Summer Music Camp 2016 end of camp concert, Costa Hall, Jan 15, 2016

I’m a big fan of George Harrison, believing the quiet Beatle to have been as good a composer, if not better, than his more lauded colleagues John Lennon & Paul McCartney.
So when I saw that Harrison’s Here Comes The Sun was to be this concert’s all-on-stage grand finale, I was both pleased and cautious; happy for the choice, but wary of the sort of job that a couple of hundred young musicians with just a week’s experience playing together would make of what is, at heart, a contemplative little song inside a cheerfully catchy melody.
I needn’t have worried. Those 247 young musos, aged between 9 and 20, with their two dozen tutors, all under the baton of master-musician Kevin Cameron, turned the song into a cheerful anthem of pure musical joy.
It was beautifully, flawlessly executed and drew sustained applause, an encore and finally a standing ovation from a comfortably-full Costa Hall.
It’s probably fair to note that the standing ovation might not have been just for that skilled choral and orchestra version of Harrison’s pop song. It’s as likely that the ovation had built cumulatively throughout this 2 ¼ hour concert.
It was that sort of an evening, with highlight building on highlight.
The concert had opened with two silky-smooth jazz-flavoured numbers from a 23-member stage band under the direction of ultra-cool Ben Anderson. Then, if anything, this was out-cooled by the following junior concert band with conductor Sean Rankin choosing to finish his group’s happy set with a rousing version of Men In Black - with several members, and the man himself, sporting shades.
But then came the 41-member Junior string ensemble that trumped them both by playing their final number in the dark, with flashing LED lights on their bows and adorning conductor Ben Castle’s baton, hands and jacket. The result was literally electrifying, and so suitable for the evening’s celestial theme. And so clever, too - for the melody had been memorised - the tiny players could’t possibly have seen their music.
The concert’s planetary theme meant there were, of course, plenty of Star Wars numbers, with Ingrid Martin’s senior concert band finishing its quartet of tunes with the best-known film theme, and Kevin Cameron’s full symphony orchestra completing the set with versions of Star Wars from Revenge of the Sith to Duel of The Fates.
The Camp’s choir, under director Tania Spence, invoked their rights as divas to ignore the starry theme and instead deliver three complex and challenging songs - the first a Stephen Sondheim tongue-twister, then the theme for Little Shop Of Horrors and finally an anthemic When You Believe from the Prince of Egypt. All were delivered with flair and skill.
But all this, along with some scintillating symphonic orchestral work and MC Mark Irwin’s knowledgable introductions - was all to lead into that mesmerising stage-full version of Here Comes The Sun and my lasting memory from a smorgasbord of musical delightfuls.
That memory was of two little female campers, probably 10 or 11 and safely anonymous centre stage at the back among all those 275 musicians, whose enthusiasm was such that they just couldn’t resist jumping up and down holding hands while they sang Harrison’s lyrics.
For me, they captured and summed up the essence of an evening of musical joy.  

- Colin Mockett