No-Nonsense Reviews 2017

An Unconventional Christmas from the Chorale

Christmas Around The World, sung by The Geelong Chorale conducted by Allister Cox. All Saints Anglican Church, Newtown December 2,  2017. 

The Geelong Chorale’s annual Christmas concert has become a tradition in itself, going back to the time the group was called ‘The GAMA Singers’ presenting carols and wassail songs in the Geelong Art Gallery. That took place for most of the second half of the 20th Century. 

But that was then. This is now, and our Gallery, now re-badged to ‘Geelong Gallery’ has no room for singers as it pursues other agendas. This year it was crowded with Archibald visitors.
So for most of this century, our Chorale has chosen to present its annual Christmas song feasts in different venues, usually chosen for the quality of their acoustics.
So it was that we gathered in Newtown’s All Saints church - itself newly refurbished and furnished - to experience another episode of a Geelong convention.
But that wasn’t what the Chorale had in mind. This time, they presented a Christmas concert laced with surprise and refinement, with songs chosen from a much wider spectrum.
The world, no less. Though, on second thoughts, it’s probably safer to say the Christian world.
The concert started unconventionally, with the Chorale entering with its female members chorusing very good impressions of kookaburras which melded into Matthew Orlovich’s Australian carol ‘If Christ Had Been Born In Another Time’ - all delivered from the back of the church, behind the audience. This resounding piece, echoing around the venue’s high rafters, set the standard for what was a glorious mix of unusual with conventional material.
So we heard a delightfully sweet all-female version of the Dutch carol ‘King Jesus Hath A Garden’ delivered by the Chorale’s women conducted by Ann Pilgrim, and later the men sang a West Indian calypso carol ‘De Virgin Mary Had A Baby Boy’ with tall, slim, Anglo baritone, William Humphries, more than doing justice to the Harry Belafonte lead part.

We heard the full Chorale delight with the traditional French piece ‘Il est ne, le devin enfant’, accompanied by Frank De Rosso on the church’s organ, a moving Czech song ‘Rocking’ - and were invited to join in with what we learned was a Finnish tune to a Bohemian story - Good King Wenceslas. Kristine Mellens, as ever, contributed subtle accompaniment
on the piano.
The songs were divided into brackets with subheadings ‘The Prophesy’ ‘The Birth’ ‘The Shepherds’ etc with now-customary excellent introductions and explanations from the Chorale’s director/conductor Allister Cox.
Before the interval - during which we were served with sparkling wine and Christmas cake, no less - came another tradition, when the Chorale’s familiar guests, the Geelong Handbell Choir, presented six short pieces that reflected the concert’s theme in the most charming way.
So after a brilliant chiming of the Fanfare to ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’, we heard a French, an Australian and a Canadian carol delivered by the bells which finished with a harmonic version of Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas’. All greatly appreciated and applauded.
The concert’s second half started with a New Zealand jewel and strung along with Canadian, Spanish, and Ukranian seasonal pieces, set with the beautiful ‘Coventry Carol’ lament, the musical fun of a Czech ‘Zither Carol’ (with the male chorus singing ‘zum zing zing’) and a beautifully tonal ‘Silent Night’ - before finishing in traditional style with ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ followed by ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’.

In all, this was a delightful, unconventional way to continue a fine tradition - and even the weather contributed a northern-hemisphere cold, wet -and very un-Australian - afternoon. 

- Colin Mockett 

A Grinch At Christmas Is Good For Geelong’s Health

The Grinch directed by Liz Lester for Medimime Geelong, Drama Theatre, November 18, 2017. 

Circumstances dictated that I attended the third performance of this year’s Medimime, at 5.30pm Saturday evening. This allowed an opportunity to view the production bedded down, without opening night nerves and glitches - and also demonstrated the hectic schedule of our Medimimers - this third performance started just 22 hours after opening night.
And at that unfashionable 5.30 theatrical hour, the theatre was packed to capacity with just about every patron part of a family group and a 50% ratio of children to adults.
The show they saw, The Grinch, was termed a modern pantomime. Its storyline was loosely based on Dr. Suess’ book ‘The Grinch Who Stole Christmas’ presented in the traditional pantomime format.
This meant colourful characters staging a corny good vs evil scenario in a procession of big musical production numbers, mostly based on today’s popular songs.
As always, Medimime’s personnel was drawn from our city’s medical and theatrical communities.
So the big green Grinch costume was worn by experienced theatrical Scott Graham, who managed to combine elements of warmth and sympathy to his nasty character - while milking boos and jeers at ever opportunity.  
His Grinch was determined to ruin Christmas for the conical-haired, enhanced-nosed citizens of Whoville, as revenge for their outcasting him. He was using the Harry Potter Book of Spells to create havoc.
Those citizens were represented by Mayor Colin Riley, (a real-life dental administrator), whose task was complicated by having to avoid the advances of cross-dressing pantomime dame Scott Bradley, another experienced theatre person. Their progress in pursuing and reforming the Grinch was was aided by pantomime’s traditional innocent good young couple, played by music teacher Hannah Stolz and singer Seamus Kennedy. Along the way they gained support from Kate Gore’s cool Snow Queen - Kate’s a health insurance professional - and her sidekick, disability support worker Chris Maxwell. These lead characters embarked on a bold, colourful musical odyssey that took them to the North Pole and back. On the way they encountered Daniel Grocott’s Santa with his bunch of rebellious elves, a trio of Supreme-like harmonising echoes and singing, dancing Barbies, bats, imps, and Whovilliers - all played by a talented, happy all-aged chorus.
Their progress was aided by Deanne Elliott’s Spirit of Christmas and thwarted by the Grinch and his mischievous green helper played by student Oliver Russell.
Director Liz Lester kept the action as brisk as possible and her wardrobe, hair and make-up teams made every scene literally fabulous.
And, of course, in the end good triumphed over evil when the Grinch found a friend in tiny cute-as-a-button Polly, played by Ava McInnes.
The show kept traditional panto features including inviting all children on to the stage where, surprising to this reviewer, the most popular character proved to be ‘Dame’ Scott, who was practically mobbed by his/her mass of toddler and pre-teen fans.
Go see The Grinch. Take the kids. It’s great fun - if a little long - and the musical theatre work is good enough to have garnered a couple of award nominations.
But the best thing is that this wonderful, cheerful theatrical fun not only enchants kids, it raises money for Geelong Hospital’s children’s ward. 

- Colin Mockett

Innocent Butler Blamed In Rep Romp

The Butler Did It directed by Jon Mamonski for Geelong Rep, Woodbin Theatre, November 17, 2017.

Geelong Rep’s choice for its traditional final comedy of the year is always interesting. This year it was the American comedy/farce The Butler Did It, written by the late American playwright Tim Kelly who was renowned for the quantity, rather than quality of his output. This play, set in a mansion on fictional Turkey Island in San Francisco Bay, parodied the murder mystery genre of novels popular in the first half of the 20th Century.
So Kelly’s mansion was crammed with as many clichés as clues.
It was cut off from contact with the mainland, there was an ongoing thunderstorm, a creepy portrait with dodgy eyes and mysterious sightings of sinister figures.
The place was run by a moneyed eccentric with two wacky retainers.
She had invited a bunch of weekend guests, all of them thriller-writers playing their favoured detectives, for whom she had created a ‘host-a-murder’ scenario weekend.
This format allowed for the clichés to mount along with the bodies after one of the guests died a spectacular and theatrical death early in the second act.
First-time Rep director Jon Mamonski kept the action to an even, deliberate pace and his well-chosen cast took every opportunity to ham up - as well as send up - every one of their characters.
Several did this with conspicuous ease, notably Dan Eastwood, who played Chandler Marlowe - a play on Raymond Chandler, whose detective was Philip Marlowe - and whose droll delivery of ultra-dry one-liners was a constant highlight. He was complimented by the comic talents of Scott Beaton, whose chronically-inaccurate stage-Chinese detective, Louie Chan, complete with with stage-cliched alternating Ls and Rs, drew plenty of laughs from the happy opening-night audience.
So too did Alex McTavish, playing Charity Haze, a classic Mae-West-style stage vamp-detective, whose default position was draped across a chaise-longue purring seductive come-ons.
Steven Georgiadis played his detective-priest Father White with poised assurance before unmasking himself as a lowbrow actor, while Liam Erck and Lauren Aitken played their sleuth-duo Rick & Laura Carlyle with cool, if chary, confidence.
Meanwhile Barry Eeles presented as the dapperest English detective to ever don a tweed sports jacket.
Nicole Hickman was assured as Miss Maple, the weekend’s hostess, despite having two wacky retainers. These were Haversham, a hapless maid-with-a-past played guilelessly by Emma Jones; while sinister secretary Rita was played by Terry Barrow with stiff authority.
 And - you’ll notice that there was no butler.

This The Butler Did It was a whodunnit without a suspect or a motive - but it did have more red herrings than the Leningrad fish market.
It was, at base, a lightweight romp designed to be played for laughs, and overplayed with outrageous fun by its cast of Rep oddballs.
And it was received with cheerful incredulity by its happy opening-night audience.

Colin Mockett 

Fun and Musical Anarchy When The Juniors’ Dare To Dream

Dare To Dream directed by Adelle Gregory for GSODA Juniors, Drama Theatre, November 9, 2017. 

Well, that was fun, if a little unsettling. My best guess would be that director Adelle challenged her large, talented and enthusiastic group of young players to enact their musical theatre dreams. 

Next best guess would be that she chose items in a revue that would fit either brave daring songs or fantasy dreams. The programme didn’t give a clue, and there was no narration or introduction between each of the show’s 33 bright and shiny musical segments. These ranged from Egyptian pageantry to 1930s glamour and Celtic reverie. On the way we encountered Pirates, Vikings, Edwardian and Victorian costume dramas, Arabian adventures Pinocchio puppetry, a leotard-clad chorus-line and much, much more. Sometimes together. And every song, segment and production number was delivered with the Juniors’ patent blend of high-energy enthusiasm, well-drilled choreography and precocious talent.
Oh, and stage smoke. It wouldn’t be a GSODA Juniors show without Loy-Yang levels of stage smoke.
Such a big, varied show and large cast - every member of the 60-strong company took a role - made it difficult to identify highlights, but Aiden O’Cleirigh surprised twice, first with his (unexpected) warm and deep baritone voice delivering ‘Go The Distance’ , then later showing ice-skate-style elegance when dancing with his partner to ‘Time Of My Life’.
Diminutive Mia Aiden was a bundle of singing/dancing talent delivering ‘Almost There’ in swish 1930s style - with the majority of her song delivered while being carried around by a team of male dancers.
Giulia Monea was a standout, too, delivering ‘Find Your Grail’ with verve and delightful humour while being rolled around the stage in a giant pot. Ruby Buchanan led her precision glamour dancers singing ‘Fame’ - but in truth, every item in this mish/mash collection of musical miscellany was memorable in one way or another. We even had a themed-segment re-enactment of the tortoise and hare fable that was to draw a huge round of applause when tortoise Maggie Evans crossed the line first.
You had to be there.
Because all this musical anarchy was lapped up by another Juniors’ institution - their wildly enthusiastic and supportive audience.
To them, this ‘Dare To Dream’ was so much more than a pageant of young talent. It was, in truth, the happiest of fun nights. 

Colin Mockett

Theatrical Sparks In Torquay When Dad Married Fury

When Dad Married Fury directed by Michael Baker for Torquay Theatre Troupe. Price St Theatre, Torquay, November 6, 2017. 

David Williamson’s sharply drawn studies of modern Australian social mores ideally suit the Torquay Theatre Troupe.
Over the years, the company has built a strong reputation presenting light social comedies with accuracy and flair - and the company’s intimate Price St Theatre lends itself to Williamson’s conversational-level dialogue style. 

Add to this TTT’s easy ability to draw cast members from the larger Geelong theatre scene while uncovering startling new talents - and it’s small wonder that patrons anticipated this final TTT play for the year, with delight.

They were not disappointed. This When Dad Married Fury had its packed preview-night audience laughing, gasping and relishing every nuance, subtle plot-twist and clever quip in Williamson’s neatly-crafted script.
Director Michael Baker had used all the aforementioned attributes - casting a Geelong theatre veteran couple, Paul and Meryl Friend, alongside a handful of tried-and-true Troupers with an exciting newcomer - and then presenting the play in a sensible no-frills style that offered no distractions to Williamson’s witty, relevant dialogue. 

Paul Friend played Alan, a 70-year-old financial tycoon widower returning to Sydney with his new American wife to a frosty reception from his adult children.
His two adult sons and their wives feared for their inheritances in what was essentially a study of human greed.
Paul played his part with brash expansive relish, while his real-life wife Meryl portrayed his acidic lawyer daughter-in-law with the cold skill of a smiling assassin.
She manipulated her wily, well-heeled materialistic husband, played with assurance by Fred Preston, with as much ease as she dismissed her financially-inferior academic in-laws.
These were the indecisive, vacillating Kevin Fitzpatrick and his stubbornly resolute wife, Mandy Calderwood.
Alongside these accomplished performers were two newcomers who added polish and gloss with very different skills.  
The decorous Robyn Farrar played new wife Fury with perfect, fragile self-assurance, somehow bestowing her off-beat red-neck character with sympathetic charm. While former TTT president and accomplished director Gay Bell, surprisingly in her stage debut, played Mandy’s ruined widowed mother with a doughty fortitude that brought empathy, understanding - and sympathetic knowing laughter.
I recommend you see this When Dad Married Fury. It’s not only a showcase of playwright Williamson’s observational skill - but also of TTT’s fine staging ability. Together, they make great theatre.

- Colin Mockett

Bending Broadway - a slick revue with a twist - and a message

Bending Broadway directed by Madeline Cain Ybarzabal for CenterStage Geelong. Warehouse 26, November 3, 2017. 

CenterStage’s glitzy Warehouse 26 headquarters in unfashionable North Geelong had undergone a considerable makeover, giving it a larger, realigned performance area and space to move between tables in the auditorium. This reviewer was the beneficiary of a VIP table, loaded with top-class food and wine as guest of ‘the CenterStage family’. The venue had also upgraded light and sound facilities as well as a new band space beside the stage. All were needed, and used to good effect in this home-grown musical cabaret with a twist. Bending Broadway was essentially a staging of hit songs from some big (and a couple of not-so-big) Broadway musicals - but with every gender reversed. So we saw the show’s big opening number, ‘Willkommen’, from Cabaret, delivered by glam-glitter clad Jenn Stirk rather than the traditional male Emmcee. Jenn closed the show, too, with ‘I Am What I Am’ from La Cage Aux Folles before the show’s big all-on-stage final ‘Broadway Here I Come’ from Smash.
In between, we had seen 20 or so numbers, presented without pause or introduction by a cast of 16 talented performers, and every song was delivered immaculately by an unexpected singer. So Hannah Petrie-Albutt closed the first half with the spirited gospel-flavoured ‘Run Freedom Run’ from Urinetown, and the male singer/dancers twice threatened to stop the show by performing the most seductive ‘Big Spender’ routine from Sweet Charity, and the shamelessly provocative ‘Cell Block Tango’ from Chicago to the delight of every woman in the audience. So take a bow, Tyler Stevens, Lachie Blair, Liam Erck, Damian Caruso, Charlie McIntyre, Ben Arnold, Mick Watson and Jesse Ivelja.
Their female-to-male partner/equivalents were no slouches, either. These were Alicia O’Bree, Ariane Gavin, Katie Loxston, Maddy Ludbrook, Michele Marcu and Caitlyn Lear who, along with Jenn and Hanna kept the gender confusion bubbling along with routines various as the Elder’s introduction ‘Hello’ from The Book Of Mormon to the plaintive ‘Where Is Love’ from Oliver.
Director Madeline Cain Ybarzabal’s smooth direction kept the show moving at a swift and slick pace with some smart moves from co-choreographers Courtney Vos and Damian Caruso. The show had a hard-working four piece rock band led by musical director Eric Von Ahlefieldt on keys, with guitarist Sebastian Ryan, bassist William Conway and a precocious - and very adept - nine-year-old drummer in Kempton Maloney. 

This Bending Broadway, and its venue, were not without faults, with the band’s up-close accompaniment frequently overpowering the singers and some head-mic difficulties otherwise affecting sound levels.
But at base this was slick, well-rehearsed and well executed fast-paced revue that was highly appreciated by it’s audience.
And that neat and distinctive gender twist made the subtlest of points that today, quality material will make a pleasing cabaret regardless of gender, race, size, orientation or any other human ‘distinction’.
And that, in light of our government’s gender-equality postal poll, left a truly effective message. 

Colin Mockett

Last Night Of The Proms brings pride in our city

The Last Night Of The Proms Geelong Symphony Orchestra and guests. Costa Hall October 27, 2017. 

There was an expectant atmosphere before the first (Friday night) ‘final’ concert in the series delivered during this year by Geelong Symphony Orchestra. We are fortunate to have such an accomplished group of players in this city, and they certainly gave good reason for continued regional pride, performing a lively set of popular classics with verve and great skill.

The Last Night of the Proms is typically fun-filled and a little silly, perhaps beyond the comfort zone of most of Geelong’s concert-going audience. Our compere Colin Mockett appeared at first in costume, cape and helmet, and announced that we were to hear ‘a selection of Darth Vader’s greatest hits’, which helped to set the tone of the evening as the first item was from the Star Wars Suite by John Williams. His masterful and dynamic orchestration was excitingly reproduced by our orchestra, conducted with verve by Dr. Kevin Cameron, and the standard of performance was set at a very high level. 

Some of the history and popularity of the Prom series (originally ‘promenade’ concerts, held in parks in London) was outlined, before the introduction of 24-year-old Riley Skevington, recent national winner of the Australian Youth Classical Music prize. He played the 3rd movement of Brahms’ Concerto in D, written in 1878 at about the time of the earliest Proms and regarded as one of the greatest, with all the features of virtuosic and sensitive violin playing. 

The Geelong Chorale, augmented to about 70 voices in the gallery and rehearsed over recent months by Allister Cox, joined the orchestra for Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances no. 17, a perennial favourite at The Proms. This exotic-sounding music, with gorgeous oboe and horn solos and plenty of percussive highlights, was a resounding success, with excellent balance achieved between choir and players.

Manfred Pohlenz brought his huge bass baritone voice and theatrical gestures to one of the most familiar of all classical pieces to Geelong’s population, the Toreador’s Song from Carmen, sung mostly in French but with a cheeky gesture to football fans by the addition of a ‘Cats’ scarf and jumper, at which point Manfred encouraged all to join the singing of our team’s theme song, in English of course. 

After interval, William Walton’s Crown Imperial (A Coronation March) made a fine brassy fanfare with lots of percussion featured. Then the audience was encouraged to sing along with the Chorale to Hubert Parry’s wartime anthem ‘Jerusalem’ (orchestrated in fine style by Sir Edward Elgar) – but while the tune is well known, the words are not and a search of the program was futile. Elgar’s own Pomp and Circumstance March, another regular feature of Proms final nights, finally prompted some (rather subdued) flag-waving, and the singing would have been joined far more enthusiastically had we access to the words. 

A strong rendition of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus followed, of which many can sing various parts (not necessarily consistently or accurately!) from memory, and audience members valiantly tried to do so. The final item was an adventurous choice, an Australian work by a contemporary composer, Gavin Lockley (not yet 40 years old) which combined the singing of Dorothea McKellar’s poem ‘My Country’ over ‘Australia’ repeated by the choir. It also updated the orchestral requirements with the inclusion of guitar, bass and drum kit, and on first hearing was stirring but a little confusing. It is to be hoped that further performances will make such modern works better known. However, applause for the performers was long and very enthusiastic and after some hesitation resulted in an encore of Elgar’s March in its entireity, which should have been expected and could probably have been abbreviated.

Geelong Symphony Orchestra and The Geelong Chorale are to be congratulated for the standard of music-making throughout. On Friday evening the audience participated only timidly, but I have heard that children in particular enjoyed Saturday afternoon’s repeat concert. Despite the intention of the programming and levity of our compere, it seemed Geelong is not quite ready to make light of beloved classics, but certainly appreciates the quality of music-making in our city.

- Marie Goldsworthy 

The Hope Song - Wonderful Concept, Excellent Theatre

The Hope Song, directed by Iris Walshe-Howling & Janine McKenzie for Anglesea Performing Arts, Anglesea Hall October 8, 2017. 

 This was a community project that developed into a compelling piece of theatre, thanks to a group of frank and forthright volunteers and some highly talented thespians.
It all began when playwright Janet Brown was invited to write a performance for the Surf Coast’s 2017 ‘Arts of the Mind’ festival, part of the State’s Mental Health Week.
She chose to interview seven people who had suffered and were recovering from mental illness, by asking each the same series of deep, personal questions.
She then placed their replies, verbatim but in bite-sized chunks, into her script for seven actors to deliver.
One of questions invited opinions on the influence of music and song, and this brought not only extra insight, but a refreshing element to the final presentation.
Because the next stage of The Hope Song project was to place Janet’s script into the hands of experienced theatre directors Iris Walshe Howling and Janine McKenzie to develop into a performance.
Iris and Janine recruited a team of talented actors and augmented them with a choir blended from three existing local singing groups under choirmaster Sheridan Guiny. These were the aptly titled ‘Black With a Dash’ from Airies Inlet, the Lorne Vocal Group and ‘240Sing!’ from Moriac. And together, under the directors sure guidance, these performers delivered that script as a piece of theatre that was at times enlightening, insightful, moving, uplifting and funny, with those unexpected musical surprises.
It was, at all times, deeply human and painfully honest.
I doubt there was a single person in The Hope Song’s opening audience who was not thinking ‘that could have been me, but for good fortune..’ as the seven actors revealed their stories.
This was true ensemble theatre, as each actor, after an initial silent group mime of anguish, was seated in a line across the stage delivering their real stories in what appeared to be random order. This was punctuated by their own songs, which ranged from works by David Bowie to Madonna, Paul Simon to The Doors.
The structure wasn’t random, of course, for author Brown had cleverly placed each segment to build into a solid, accomplished piece of theatre.
We were entranced by Philip Besancon’s very real daily survival techniques - to get up early, meditate, listen to Red Symonds breakfast radio then get the bus into Geelong for therapy - to Nikki Watson’s reliance on family support for her own battles with anxiety, contrasted by Lina Libroaperto’s tale of early childhood abuse. We experienced Stacey Carmichael’s masterful portrayal of a schoolgirl using her songwriting as therapy, heard Stuart Errey recount his surprise at how, as a successful businessman, he succumbed to mental illness, and we were drawn to sympathise with Simon Finch’s perceived problem cluster which began with being of Aboriginal heritage and gay - and we relished the joys and sorrows of Libby Stapleton’s bi-polar ups and downs. 

Every one of these performances was first-rate, earning a block nomination for our theatre awards. Their cumulative effect was both compelling and enlightening, earning a further nomination for the play’s directing - and another for playwright Janet Brown’s construction skill. The play itself is nominated for our theatre awards, and, if I could, I’d include the volunteers for their candid insights, too, only their deal was to remain anonymous.
I should finish by saying that The Hope Song’s ultimate message is exactly that - one of upbeat hope and inspiration.
And that in short, it made excellent, absorbing theatre that’s highly recommended - for everyone.

Colin Mockett

Ovation for Brilliant, High-energy, High-impact Heathers

Heathers - The Musical, directed by Christian Cavallo for GSODA, Playhouse Theatre, October 6, 2017. 

From the opening chord of Phil Kearney’s grungy, down-and-dirty pit band to the last all-on-stage bow to a long and loud standing ovation, this production was masterful.  
Everything about this Heathers, from it’s subtly exaggerated but so-right costuming, its clever fast-change set, its crisply executed high-energy choreography, immaculate vocals, spot-on lighting and bold, intelligent direction to that consummate eighties punk band was of a slick, professional standard.
On-stage, every lead part was perfectly cast, every chorus member faultless in word and action.
And what action!  

This Heathers was not only bursting with talent, it dazzled and sparked with high octane energy.
The show’s storyline is remarkable. It’s a cleverly written, neatly crafted cynical take on 1980s American culture that’s laced with the blackest of dark humour - and it’s especially relevant to today’s society in light of recent events.
It uncovered, mocked and rocked issues from gender-bullying to gay-baiting; from non-conformism to the U S’s gun culture. It explored the generation divide, inappropriate hero worship and the martyrdom of death, all in that wonderful rock-music idiom. And all delivered with lashings of tongue-in-cheek style and pizazz.
And if that wasn’t enough, it was delivered in the lightest, happiest and most effective manner.

Another glorious feature was that this Heathers switched the usual musical comedy gender balance.
In  this show, all the strong characters were female; their male counterparts, mostly flawed airheads.
In the principal role of Veronica, Shani Clarke was simply superb, allowing the correct emotion to every plot twist while maintaining a detached cynicism and singing, dancing - and acting - superbly.
This performance level was complimented by Connor Morel, as her flawed boyfriend, whose stature effortlessly slid from hero to villain with consummate ease. His strong voice and easy, nonchalant style beautifully matched Shani’s performance.

And then there was the trio of sassy, controlling Heathers, in Nicole Kaminski, Jess Senftleben and Chloe Stojanovic, whose perception-shifted from feared bullies to martyred compassionates without missing a single slick beat. In contrast, Tessa Reed’s put-upon Martha was a model of concerned consistency.
As for those male air-heads, they came in two duos, each at times threatening to steal the show.
The younger pair, P J White and Tyler Stevens, were classic comics with an athleticism that was particularly effective in a stop-action slow-mo sequence; while their stage fathers, played by Shane Lee and David Senftleben, almost brought the house down with their out-of-the-closet song and dance.

Backing these all-star lead performers was a high quality ensemble that filled every inch of the stage with vibrant energy and relevance.

Of course, this Heathers is not for everyone. It has explicit language, sensual and provocative actions, and those confronting adult themes.
But it’s all in context, and the whole show is brilliantly staged.
Heathers - The Musical is a superb piece of contemporary musical theatre, and full credit to it’s all-Geelong production team and cast.
I can’t recommend it highly enough.
If you’re looking for the next wave of musical theatre - go see this Heathers. It’s superb theatre.
- Colin Mockett 

Spectacular Ariel Photos Open Windows To Our Past

Pictures Worth 1,000 words presented by Shirley Power & Colin Mockett for Drop Of A Hat Productions. Potato Shed, September 12, 2017. 

 For many years, the name Pratt was associated with Pratt & Osborne’s the motor cycle dealership, on the north east corner of Myer and Moorabool Streets in Geelong. 

But this show highlighted another Pratt from Geelong.
Charles Pratt was a most fortunate former Anzac, who came to Geelong in 1919, following the end of the Great War. He had started the war as a motorcycle dispatch rider, graduated to becoming a pilot, and picked up early photographic skills along the way. Equipped with four war-surplus bi-planes, and many spares, he found his way to Geelong, where he set up Geelong's first airport on the Belmont Common, across from where Kmart is today. He never looked back.

From this spot, he provided joy flights for local spectators, and when he wasn't taking locals for rides in his 'magnificent flying machines', he was performing stunts in the air above Geelong. If this wasn't enough, he used his photographic skills to supply many photographs of early Geelong. Many of these photographs appear in a recently published book by Kevin O'Reilly, entitled Pratt of Belmont Common.

This story formed the basis of the September program at the Potato Shed in Drysdale.

Historian Colin Mockett provided an entertaining and informative talk about the exploits of Pratt, illustrated by many photographs from the book. Colin was accompanied by his wife Shirley Power, who provided a musical background, with songs that expertly fitted the theme.

For two hours Colin and Shirley showed us Pratt's photographs from early Geelong, interspersed with beautifully restored movies from the wonderful era between the two world wars. We saw aerial scenes of the Ford factory, surrounded by scaffolding, but with hardly another building in sight for many miles. We saw views of some of Geelong's iconic churches, including St Mary's and St Paul's. The photo of St Paul's showed Latrobe Terrace when it was a single lane road, (more a boulevard), and was many years before the bridge. We saw other iconic buildings from Geelong's past including aerial views of the Joy Ark along the waterfront before even the current swimming enclosure was built. In Moorabool St. today, most are probably familiar with the building on the corner of Little Malop St. which houses a travel agency. Few would remember when this was the ABC Cafe, but there to remind us, were wonderful photographs of the building, in its heyday, when it was 'the' meeting place in Geelong. Across the street was the almost unrecognisable Bright and Hitchcock building - our first department store - with its magnificent show windows! Then, just over the hill, and along Moorabool Street, to the south was Kardinia Park - when it was just a cricket ground, with one (wooden) grandstand and surrounded by cypress trees.

A wonderful reminder of life in Geelong came with a newsreel of the laying of the foundation stone of St Mary's in Yarra Street. This showed us the dress and the lifestyle of those times, and featured a very well known Archbishop of Melbourne - Daniel Mannix. Another newsreel showed Queenscliff, and its famous couta boat fishing fleets.

These photographs and newsreels are unique, in as much as they are mostly taken from the air, by Charles Pratt, from his World War 1 bi plane. They show people, buildings and events which are so important to the rich history of our city. Many of them are available to view at the Geelong Heritage centre. Enjoy the memories. I know that I did!

Tony Newman 

Frantic, but slow comedy from Three Women And An Urn

Exit Laughing directed by Geoff Gaskill for Geelong Rep. Woodbin Theatre,September 8, 2017. 

This play’s pre-sales were so strong that an extra show had to be added even before opening night.
Clearly the play’s baby-boomer female-friendly plotline of four women’s thirty-year habit of regularly meeting to play bridge being disrupted by one of them dying had resonated with the Woodbin theatre’s audiences.
Or it could be that patrons were so desperately in need of some comedy diversion from today’s relentlessly black news cycle that they were prepared to snap up tickets sight unseen.
I do hope they’re not too disappointed. For although this production did produce laughs, they were spasmodic and sporadic. It was a strange form of slow comedy.
And though the play contained some polished performances, neat touches - and surprises - the play’s lasting impression was of fast and frantic silliness rather than clever comedy.
And the principal culprit had to be Paul Elliot’s lightweight, fluffy, cliche-riven mess of a script.
His comedy plotline swept and swirled through a number of situations without ever really settling. Exit Laughing sought its comedy among mother/daughter relationship situations, it brought up senior-age daffiness, fear of death, dying or even touching a funeral urn, fear of police, drinking to excess, sexual indulgence and much more - before finishing with an absurdly unbelievable feel-good ending.

To this reviewer, it brought back memories of the 20th Century when a trip to the cinema meant the main feature was always preceded by a poorly scripted but competent B-grade film.
This was a theatrical throwback to those old films.
As a small example, imagine a scene when the three women had decided to play cards with their cremated colleague holding a dummy hand, and a policemen knocked at the door. Their reaction was to immediately dive under the card table with three bottoms sticking out from under the cloth.
It was a scene straight out of the Three Stooges, before Hollywood got relevant.
This Exit Laughing had a consistent level of daftness that stood for comedy. And the analogy with B films was even carried to the play being largely in black and white, with its space-enabling clever set appearing as a b&w shadow play - and all the female characters dressed in monochrome.

These were Tina Rettke’s harassed central-character mother and her obnoxiously loud shouting daughter Jessica Leaming; Majella O’Connor’s cynical hairdresser friend who swilled enough alcohol to render a regular person comatose - and Claudia Clark’s absurdly dim and scatterbrained urn-procurer. Only Jayden Course’s pouch-wearing plot-transforming male character appeared in coloured clothes.
And while Geoff Gaskill’s direction kept the action swift, lively and distracting, with every one of his characters word and action perfect, it wasn’t enough to rescue this play from it’s far-fetched, fluffy and basically silly script.
Still, it did bring back memories of all those b-movies, even if we didn’t exactly Exit Laughing.  

- Colin Mockett 

Geelong’s brilliant tribute to Mozart, Beethoven - and Vienna!

A Night in Vienna, Geelong Symphony Orchestra conducted by Fabian Russell, Costa Hall, Friday 25 August, 2017. 

With the programme title ‘A Night in Vienna’, those who stayed away thinking they would hear only Strauss waltzes missed a treat.
The music was by Mozart and Beethoven, who both chose to make their homes in that most cultured of cities, as did other legendary musicians including Haydn and Schubert at different times.

After the strong opening chords, conductor Fabian Russell led the orchestra spiritedly through ‘The Creatures of Prometheus’ which, as President Wendy Galloway noted, is “a successful Overture to an unsuccessful ballet”, given its first performance in 1801 and marking Beethoven’s introduction to the Viennese stage. The 5-minute overture was written for a typical classical orchestra consisting of strings and timpani, with pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, and trumpets, which roles the (mostly) Geelong-based musicians filled admirably.
This was followed by the 3 movements of Mozart’s masterpiece, the extraordinary Clarinet Concerto in A Major, featuring Frank Celata, lecturer at Sydney Conservatorium, on clarinet.
His flawless playing, with particularly warm and colourful notes in the woody lower register, was well-supported by the strings and other woodwinds in subtlety and shading. The lyricism, and also the playfulness of Mozart’s writing were beautifully brought out with fine phrasing, and the delicate interplay between soloist and orchestra was a delight to experience. 

Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7, written between 1811 and 1812, was the most recent work of the three, and the audience in Costa Hall was reminded why it was that the composer regarded it as one of his best works.
The vitality of this work was conveyed well from the outset, along with the beauty of the second movement, the rollicking scherzo, and the frenzied, relentless energy of the finale. It features lively dance-like rhythms, repeated figures, sudden changes of dynamics and tempi. The energy of this performance, and the role of the timpanist in particular, was entrancing.
Geelong is indeed fortunate to be able to have its own symphony orchestra producing music of such quality.
- Marie Goldsworthy 

New works present a challenge - well met by our Chorale

Voices Of Our Time, presented by the Geelong Chorale, conducted by Allister Cox,
All Saints’ Church, Newtown, Sunday August 27, 2017.

A small and warmly-dressed audience was treated to a most unusual concert by The Geelong Chorale on this cold afternoon. The first half was all unaccompanied singing, with refreshingly short pieces, and the entire programme was from composers who are still living (born variously between 1935 and 1970), which was an adventurous choice of the director Allister Cox.

The singers began boldly with Kooraegulla (one of more than 700 songs by Stephen Leek), based on an indigenous word (‘a place to meet/greet’). They sounded very confident despite this being an unusual style for them; there were some tuning problems in the inner sections, but they returned strongly, male voices particularly, to the bright and rhythmic opening section, and dynamic changes were well controlled.

It was a delight to hear a new item by Dr. Malcolm John, setting a strophic poem of John Shaw Neilson with appropriately varied harmonies. The choir demonstrated lovely, quiet singing which reflected the tone of the poem beautifully, and all voices joined beautifully for the final lines (and title) Let Your Song Be Delicate.

Three Bush Songs followed, with lyrics and music by Iain Grandage, a valiant effort for the Chorale as they were probably outside their comfort zone here, producing credible bird calls and the chirruping of cicadas in the ‘morning chorus’. The pieces also used unaccustomed harmonies and changes of time and metre, but the singers sustained the required long phrases well; Sunset (‘the warmth of the day now sinks away to sleepy stars’) was very evocative.

Go, Lovely Rose by young American composer Eric Whitacre. When he joined a choir at his university, he felt it was ‘like seeing colour for the first time’ and, like many, was encouraged by that one special teacher who changed the course of his life; he is now renowned for his compositions and also an online ‘virtual’ choir. The layered lines, unusual intervals and harmonies were at times uncomfortably close for the singers, but they produced a satisfying rendition of this piece, with admirable control of the broad dynamic range required.

My Guardian Angel, a little gem by the only woman represented today, Judith Weir (current ‘Master of the Queen’s Music’), began surprisingly quietly with a restrained ‘Alleluia’ and developed William Blake’s words in canonic style before all voices came together again on the final word. As in each piece, the diction of the choir was very clear.

Healing Light featured short, seemingly meaningless syllables set under and within the anonymous Celtic poem ‘Deep peace of the running wave (or the shining stars) to you’, beautifully set by Karl Jenkins. This featured a finely-wrought build-up of textures from each vocal section and lovely long lines, sustained quiet singing, with a particularly lovely blend notable in the alto section and resonant male voices on the bass line.

Sir James MacMillan, another Scottish composer, was responsible for O Radiant Dawn. Clearly the Chorale is more accustomed to this style, and began with real radiance on the initial chords from the well-controlled voices, continuing with good, strong singing and well-blended sound, particularly from altos and male parts, and again both dynamics and diction were well executed.

After a short interval the main work of the programme concluded this relatively short concert. Lux Aeterna by Morten Lauridsen selects 5 parts of a mass which all refer to light. This is tonal music, but always with an odd note or two and some awkward intervals, which makes it very difficult to sing accurately. It was also a risky undertaking combining unaccompanied sections of singing joined later by the organ, which unfortunately the balance of sound favoured, and those accompanied sections didn’t always meld as they should have. Some younger singers seemed unsure of the Latin words, which didn’t engender confidence. However there were some lovely moments, and the audience was left with the quiet reflection of the ‘perpetual light’.

This was adventurous repertoire for the long-term members of Geelong Chorale. It was a delight to hear them perform so much contemporary repertoire, which while no doubt challenging for the singers - and organist Frank De Rosso - was beautiful to listen to.
Congratulations to all on a well-thought-out programme, well-managed and certainly well worth hearing.

- Marie Goldsworthy

Social secrets reveal busy bridal business

Secret Bridesmaid’s Business directed by Debbie Fraser for Queenscliff’s Lighthouse Theatre Group, Uniting Church Hall, August 12, 2017. 

This play’s plotline began with a modern social dilemma. If you were a bridesmaid on the eve of your best friend’s wedding, and you heard a rumour that her future husband had been conducting an affair… Would you tell her before the ceremony?   
The bridesmaids’ grappling with this scenario dominated most of the play’s first act, with its repercussions taking the second. And don’t worry, this review will not divulge any more of the play’s storyline, because it’s truly best experienced on stage.
Enough to say that writer Elizabeth Coleman’s unashamedly female-oriented modern social drama was in turn happy, funny, dramatic, revealing and thought provoking.
It’s a very well written play, and director Debbie Fraser’s purposeful, deliberate treatment illustrated every twist and tangle with patient clarity.
Debbie, arguably our region’s most experienced director, chose on this occasion to recruit her on-stage team from outside the usual pool, with three key roles filled by TV actors and by two young musicians. All were new to this community-theatre veteran, and they brought a fresh, un-stagey element that appeared to intensify their characters - fitting well with the storyline - though this approach did miss some opportunities to enhance with subtleties.

An exception to this was Caity Ellett in the central, bridal role. Caity’s was a tough gig, with her character shifting through a range of raw emotions - from comedy to pathos - and she handled this superbly.
Bernadette Byrne played her trusted best-friend bridesmaid with calm proficient assurance, while Georgyia Tino was delightfully agitated as her opinions and emotions swung wildly.
This core trio were subjected to support, debate, wrangling and interference from Melinda Hughes’s bossy mother, Lauren Nicholls’s sexy surprise substitute and Andrew Percy’s smooth-talking, silver-tongued bridegroom.
Nicole Hickman’s housemaid added neat support as well as helping effect the play’s scene-changes.
 All-up, this QLTG Secret Bridesmaids’ Business was more than a comedy/drama. It represented a cautionary tale with several clever messages for those who are, have been, or are preparing to be married.
It was also a neat, competent and refreshing piece of community theatre.
- Colin Mockett 

Altar Boyz - flimsy, but wow, does it rock!

Altar Boyz directed by Scott Bradley, Elise Dahl for Theatre of the Damned, Shenton Centre, July 21, 2017. 

Elise and Tony Dahl are Geelong musical theatre tragics. She’s a long-term judge for the music theatre guild of Victoria, he’s the former president that brought Geelong Lyric back from the brink of financial disaster.
Their Theatre Of The Damned, Geelong’s newest stage entity, was born from the pair’s desire to stage new and different material, along with their strong belief in the quality of local talent.
 Altar Boyz is their first production, with the couple credited as co-producers and Elise as co-director with Scott Bradley.
And they’ve started with a bang. The opening night of Altar Boyz was an energy-packed, happy show that literally rocked.
Altar Boyz is essentially a small off-Broadway musical religious satire with a somewhat flimsy storyline, but in the hands of the Dahl’s Damned theatre, it came across as a cheerfully happy, rockin’ musical collage performed by a hot, talented bunch who could sing and dance with the best.
The venue - East Geelong’s Shenton Centre was an ideal setting - it’s a former church - and this production made light of it’s shortcomings with its simple, purposeful but eye-catching set and an excellent sound set-up that gave its two keyboard-driven five piece band a sound as slick and professional as any I’ve heard.
And the on-stage talent, nominally an American Christian boy band on a world tour, took that professional-standard music and lifted it to new heights with its high-energy, all-singing, all-dancing presentation.
The show could have stood alone with just the energy, talent and sheer buzz of the five boys, but the Damned crew augmented them with backing singers, a bunch of immorally-clad sinful female dancers and an appearance from a weedy young God.
But it was the group that gave the show its zing. Led by Kai Mann Robertson’s flawed but saintly Matthew, it included lemon-clad but pink-suppressed Mark, portrayed by Jye Cannon; Andrew Perry’s palest of Bro, Luke; Christian Cavallo’s lost Latino lothario Juan and Jordan Deneka’s surprise Jewish inclusion Abraham.
These blended to become a super-talented group delivering the show’s thirteen rocky, poppy, hip-hoppy numbers with slick cohesive precision and immaculate dance moves. Sometimes they were vocally enhanced by backing singers Tori Lea Stones, Layla Peacock and Claire Miller; sometimes visually by the aforementioned wicked dancers, Tegan Drever, Ashley Boyd, Amy Wells, Kelsie Vick, Lisa Turner, Alex Tapaganao, Hannah Lawrence and Molly Baillon. Seth Baxter filled gaps as the group’s roady and undersized God.
Though much of the show’s American ethnic-mix humour would have sailed past Australian ears, this Altar Boyz was still a funny, super-slick musical delivered by a highly talented, happy bunch. And that unchanging set meant it was non-stop entertainment.
This Altar Boyz was delightfully immoral, gloriously immodest, and surprisingly innocent. It was built on that beaut rock-music score with some scatty, tellingly funny lyrics - and even included some clever, showy audience inclusion.
And it likely heralded the beginning of a new era in Geelong.
- Colin Mockett 

Big, lavish Oliver! a staging feat

Oliver! directed by David Mackay for CenterStage Geelong, Playhouse Theatre, July 15, 2017. 

This CenterStage version of Oliver! was on a grand scale. It was big, with a thirty-strong chorus and another another forty in its children’s ensemble. It was colourful, with themed costumes and every character turned out in rare style. It was tuneful, with a tight and competent orchestra under MD Phil Kearney underpinning a series of big production numbers that, because of that huge cast, had the feel of William Hogarth’s pictures bursting into animation.
It had characters that were deliberately drawn larger than life, with a cute and engaging Oliver, played with charm and theatrical skill by Kempton Maloney, encountering period people from the totally evil (Daim Hill’s lurking, club-carrying villain Bill Sykes) to the pure, kind and forgiving - that was Howard Dandy’s benign Mr Brownlow - and just about every shade in between.

There was comedy that bordered on pantomime - from Michele Marcu’s Widow Corney’s seduction of David Mackay’s Bumble through to farcical comic chases involving dim policemen running with drawn truncheons held aloft - and there was the tragedy of Nancy’s senseless - and surprisingly graphic - murder.
At more than 2 ½ hours, this Oliver! was a long show - understandably, given the need to get those big ensembles on and off stage in many half light scene-changes - and director David Mackay’s deliberate, measured style took few short cuts.
It was lavish, too, with those ornate costumes and an unusual set completely draped in autumnal-coloured cloths that included two towers and a revolving stage.
Yet those extravagant - and costly - touches were at times more distracting than enhancing. It was puzzling, for example, to see children in the Victorian poor-house decked out in matching red uniforms in the opening scene, even more so when their gruel was dished out by immaculate maids from tureens atop mobile braziers.
It is pure coincidence, of course, that this Oliver! was staged concurrently in Geelong with Rep’s Pygmalion. Both are set in London during roughly the same period. But where Pygmalion’s street flower sellers were scruffy urchins, Oliver’s wore pristine crinolines. Where Pygmalion’s Londoners spoke cor-blimey Cockney, Oliver’s used, in the main, clear BBC enunciation.
Where this Oliver! shone was in its big production numbers and the quality of its voices, most notably Anna Flint’s resounding show-stopping version of As Long As He Needs Me and Brad Beale - an inspired, energetic Fagin - bringing his moving version of Reviewing The Situation.
Jake Birley brought a high-spirited Artful Dodger ahead of Fagin’s gang of young rascals, Mitchell Walters and Saskia Norrington contributed a pair of scheming sour Sowerberry undertakers and Annah Kucharski, Liz Wilson and David Van Etten provided solid support ahead of those sizeable ensembles. This reviewer didn’t have the pleasure of seeing the alternative Oliver, Xander Vandenberg in the title role.
Congratulations are due to everyone involved in this Oliver! for its lavish look, its skill-levels and the sheer time, effort and energy it must have taken from so many to stage such a huge undertaking. 

- Colin Mockett 

Pett’s Pure Pygmalion Perfection

Pygmalion, directed by Alard Pett for Geelong Repertory Society, Woodbin Theatre, July 7, 2017. 

Geelong Rep could have handed this 85th-birthday commemorative staging of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion to any number of experienced directors, who might have updated the play by routine theatrical techniques like shifting its costume era or redefining role genders. Instead, Rep decided to give the project to Alard Pett, who, although he’d won plaudits and awards for his acting, set and production designs, had never previously directed a play.
That decision has paid Rep a handsome dividend, and one that I am certain will have repercussions through our theatre industry.
Because this Rep Pett Pygmalion was breathtaking in so many ways; in its simplicity, its elegance, its appearance, its acting qualities…
Above all else, it was memorable for its purity.
For Alard Pett, and his mentor Stacey Carmichael had chosen to stage Shaw’s classic play on the British class/language system exactly as originally written in 1912, before its ending was rewritten in the 1940s and re-worked again when turned into My Fair Lady.
In its original form, and given the director’s emphasis on careful, clear diction - so essential to the plot-line - Shaw’s Edwardian dialogue sparkled with wit and understanding. This 105-year-old play was surprisingly fresh, funny and insightful.
And from that base, The Pett team built a play of simple visual purity that, I’m sure, has taken Geelong’s non-professional theatre to new heights.
This Pygmalion opened with an empty, off-white painted stage. On this blank canvas the opening scene’s bustling activity appeared all the more vibrant. And when scene-changes did come - wow! They were elegant, eloquent, choreographed and set to music. Authentic antiques were moved on and off stage and rooms re-arranged and created by a transition team of snooty servants that made the play’s changes as much fun as the actual scenes. This was literally seamless theatre. And that innovative simplicity was everywhere in this production from its period-accurate costuming with exaggerated millinery to its uniformly excellent acting performances - with some brilliant stand-outs.
These were led by Ben Mitchell’s wonderfully eccentric and alive portrayal of Prof. Higgins, countered by Rose Musselwhite’s delightful, sympathy-garnering defiant Eliza Doolittle. Steven Georgiadis added his perfectly weighted, formal Col Pickering, while Simon Finch brought Shaw’s original craftily lateral-thinking Alfred Dootlittle back with relish.  Tina Rettke’s Mrs Pearce carried the correct balance of helpful, concerned distance while Claudia Clark, as Prof Higgins’s mother, neatly blended wit with her wisdom and tolerance.
Backing this team were Melissa Musselwhite and Isobel Connor-Smithyman, beautifully, elegantly haughty and aloof as the Eynsford-Hills with Jesse Simpson their awed and Eliza-smitten son Freddy. And then there was that wonderful transition team of Lucia Human, David Keele, Elle Gardner, Grant Collins, Simon Thorne, Amber Connor and Ben Crowley filling bit-parts with eloquent perfection.
And then, almost as an bonus, this production carried subtle links to Rep’s previous commemorative Pygmalions in 1958 and 1982, by the inclusion of John Rosenburg’s 1958 furniture, while Ben Mitchell’s father, Dennis, had played the 1982 Higgins and Tina Rettke his Eliza.  
Word has it that this production has already almost sold out its three-week season, and scheduling in extra performances with such a large cast won’t be easy. It certainly deserves more.
I recommend you get a ticket while you can, because this period Pett Pygmalion is truly groundbreaking theatre. 

- Colin Mockett     
*This play won our inaugural 'Best Production' in Geelong's 2017 Theatre Awards*

Underwater spectacular delights its opening audience

The Little Mermaid, directed by Emily Donoghue for GSODA Junior Players, Playhouse Theatre, June 24, 2017. 

The Little Mermaid is a much loved story by Hans Christian Andersen, which was turned into an equally well loved Disney film in 1989. And it is true to say that the live presentation of the story by GSODA Junior Players was also much loved by its large, enthusiastic and eclectic opening night audience.
 I am sure subsequent audiences will respond in similar fashion.
The story concerns a young mermaid, Ariel, who has always felt that she doesn’t belong in the underwater world. After a brief encounter with a young human prince, Eric, she falls in love with him and wants to live on the surface as a human.
Her father, Triton, will not allow this, but his estranged sister, Ursula the sea witch, offers to help Ariel achieve her desire, but at a terrible price.
The young and talented GSODA Junior cast brought this story to life with great enthusiasm and skill, making a wonderful evening’s entertainment for the many patrons, many of whom were, I’m sure, proud parents and grandparents.
The cast was uniformly excellent.
The principals were well cast and they all brought individual touches to their characters, such as Flounder’s fluid movement across the stage and Sebastian’s Rastafarian style.
Rebecca Harland was a gorgeous Ariel, who sang, danced and acted with great confidence and charm. She anchored the show with her delightful performance.
As her beau, Aidan O’Cleirigh was a handsome and debonair presence with a finely timbred voice. You couldn’t blame Ariel for falling for him. Dean O’Brien as his loyal guardian, Grimsby, gave him solid support.
Andrew Coomber, as Triton, lent appropriate gravity to his unhappy father role, while Cooper Stevens, Liv Den Dryver and Noah Sleiman were all entertaining as Ariel’s underwater friends.
As Ursula, the vengeful sea witch, Ruby Buchanan gave us a hateful villain, and her powerful singing voice made each of her scenes standouts. She was, in turn, ably assisted by Giulia Monea and Issy Coomber as her synchronised cohorts, Flotsom and Jetsom.  
 The show’s costumes, of which there must have been hundreds, were absolutely magnificent. The stage was constantly filled with colourful and evocative outfits which, apart from looking beautiful, helped to delineate each of the characters.
This was particularly true of the sea creatures who could be easily identified, such as the wonderful jellyfish which could be seen floating around in some of the ensemble numbers.
Musically, this show was a treat. Apart from the occasional, inevitable ragged move and missed step, the ensemble numbers were beautifully presented, filling the stage with colour and movement. Standouts for me were Under the Sea, led by Sebastian the crab, and Les Poissons, led by the hilarious Chef Louis, played with great panache by Will Palmer. I also enjoyed The Mersisters, who reminded me of several girl singing groups from years gone by. The Act II quartet featuring Ariel, Sebastian, Triton and Eric was spellbinding.
Director, Emily Donoghue, her vocal director, Hannah Petrie-Albutt and choreographers, Damian Caruso and Ariane Gavin, are to be congratulated on their management of such a large cast, the excellent backdrops and sets and the seamless transition from one scene to the next. The rescue of Eric and the ascendancy of Ariel were particularly effective pieces of stagecraft.
All in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable theatrical experience which I advise you to go and see. Wallow in the colour, the movement and the music and see further evidence, if any was needed, that theatre is alive and well and thriving in Geelong.  

- Barry Eeles 

Such a joyful loving tribute to a Geelong musical founding voice

.Celebration of Song: The Eileen Martin Concert hosted by Geelong Youth Choir Kardinia International College Hall June 4, 2017.

This unexpected concert was delivered with overtones of warmth and love - the emotions were almost tangible.
Officially, we were experiencing an inclusive concert organised by Geelong Youth Choir to launch a new song written by it’s regular accompanist Kym Dillon. But this evening held so much more.
The concert had significant inputs from four other Geelong choirs, all of them in some way connected to the memory of the Youth Choir’s founder, Eileen Martin.
In an endearing gesture, most of the concert’s introductions were handled by past and present Choir members, each recalling their memories of Mrs Martin and her influences upon them.
The venue was significant in that Mrs Martin had formed the Geelong Children’s choir there in 1988 after retiring from her role as director of music at Morongo Girls College.
So this was the hall where the Choir continued to meet and sing after the College had morphed into Kardinia International and the singers had aged into Geelong Youth Choir. 

All this had contributed to the concert’s emotional backcloth, and this found its voice in the first song, delivered by combined choirs singing as they entered in darkness, overfilling the stage into into the hall with a joyful rendition of the hypnotic South African chant song Shoshloloza.
Then, following a short shuffle to create another choral combination, the GYC Alumni choir and Youth Choir sang what had become their unofficial anthem, Singing All Together, followed by a piece that was musically challenging and also ramped up the emotional levels several notches Shackleton. This moving song - beautifully, clearly delivered - told of the ironic fate of Earnest Shackleton’s expedition which had survived intact after two years adrift on an ice floe, only to return to ‘civilisation’ to face the death and destruction of world war.  
The mood was lightened with two songs from the 12-strong unconducted a cappella group Wondrous Merry, Paul McCartney’s gentle Blackbird and Billy Joel’s  And So It Goes, both delivered with smooth style.  

Then came Raise the Bar - a mix of GYC parents, alumni and members presenting Shenandoah and Ain’t No Grave with spiritual verve before The Prelude Choir - the youngest GYC group - chimed in with joy and simple harmonies to present Danny Boy/There is a Ship and the 1930s swingsong Sing, Sing, Sing.

Next came The Geelong College Community Choir, a large, accomplished mix of teachers, parents, tutors and choir members delivering The Mystery Of Your Gift and another spiritual I’m Goin’ Up Yonder (after a quick switch to allow accompanist Brad Treloar to bolster the male voices. 

The GYC Cantore Choir followed with the delightful Al Shlosa followed by the GYC Chamber Choir with another spiritual - the clap-happy Joshua Fit de Battle ob Jericho setting the theme for The Geelong Chorale’s contribution of two more spirituals in Swing Low Sweet Chariot and Soon Ah Will Be Done. It was noted that Eileen Martin was a life member of the Chorale. Wondrous Merry returned with Paul Simon’s feelgood Feelin’ Groovy and heavier Sixteen Tons before a short interval gave the audience the chance to sing as choir members taught us Singing All Together.
The second act began with another combination, Raise the Bar and GYC Cantore setting a humorous tone with their Columbian song Maquerole which was delightfully over-acted as well as sung with gusto.

Then followed the evening’s main event, the premiere of Kym Dillon’s commissioned work We Sing!, introduced by Mrs Martin’s daughter, cellist Genevieve, who explained that donations had been given to commission the work at her mother’s funeral - which was then augmented by a grant from CoGG sparking this ‘choir-festival event’.
We Sing! was a vibrant, cheerful, precision work designed reflect to Mrs Martin’s musical influence, all delivered with love and care by the combined choirs, conducted by the composer and accompanied by piano and 14-strong string ensemble.   

Then followed the closing all-on-stage finale, a lovely arrangement of Omnia Sol.

The GYC’s choirs were conducted - and choreographed - by regular conductors Denise Hollingsworth and Janelle Kratzmann, the CCC by Leanne McCartney. The evening’s accompanists included Kym Dillon, Alan Thomas Stef Gumienik, Sean Loughran, Janelle Kratzmann, Kristine Mellens, Brad Treloar and Kae Sullivan. 

All-up, the (literal) hundreds of people involved, and the love, care and joy conveyed made this a most fitting tribute to someone whose musical influence touched so many lives. This was a concert of pure joy.
It should become an annual event.

Colin Mockett 

The life of Hannie - blending a play with a launch

Hello Beautiful, written & presented by Hannie Rayson, Potato Shed May 26, 2017.

This 75-minute presentation filled a previously-untrodden space between theatre and book launch.

It took the form of Hannie, the award-winning playwright and author, alone on stage delivering anecdotes about her upbringing and life experiences, referring to pictures and hand-drawn chapter headings projected on to a screen behind her. 

This led eventually to the revelation that all of this - and more - was included in a book, also titled Hello, Beautiful! which would be available for sale in the foyer after the show, and Hannie would happily sign copies.
The final applause was followed a question/answer session hosted by CoGG arts manager Kaz Paton which centred on a bizarre coincidence - Hannie’s mother’s home renovations had uncovered a buried murder victim who was known to Kaz, and also Potato Shed manager Rob - as well as an odd piece of pedant semantics on why the book’s title contained a comma.
This somewhat limp ending took some of the shine off what had been a polished, well-presented performance that had shed subdued, nicely flattering light on Hannie’s Melbourne upbringing. This was the nurture that was to shape her later writings. And these were to include the sharply drawn Hotel Sorrento and Life After George, as well as the controversial political flight Two Brothers, supposedly  inspired by Tim and Peter Costello.
It turned out that Hannie grew up in 1960s pre-gentrified Brighton, where her father was a drinker, her mother a girdle-clad martyr, one brother was a maths genius and the other a building prodigy. “I was the only normal one among us...”
This in turn led to a series of free-flowing vignettes delivered with warmth and humour, starting with such familiarities as the ‘treat’ of taking saucepans to collect a Chinese take-away, and discovering her mother’s secrets in her bedside drawer, all painting the writer as a well-adjusted ‘normal’ in a world of idiosyncratic people.
And this led to encounters with ‘The Snake’ who was granted the gift of her virginity in a freezing shared-house but subsequently abused that privilege; to the drama college tutor who set her on the path to writing by literally handing her a key - through to her unsuccessful tilt at writing a Broadway musical in Hollywood.
All were delivered with warmth, charm and no small dramatic skill.
Her scathing impression of the current residents of ‘Braiyton’ were testament that Hannie’s VCA acting classes were not wasted.

The presentation’s warm humour was tempered by her recounting the story of the miscarriage she suffered as a young journalist at Arthur Boyd’s studio. 

This light and dark, delivered in Hannie’s sharp, wry style, made for a presentation that combined acutely observed nostalgia with beautifully-crafted warm personal anecdotes.
All-up, it made for a neat hybrid, combining book-launch and theatre - and, truly, I’m not sure that anyone else could have even carried this off.

Colin Mockett 

Unexpected Delights from the Chorale’s US catalogue

An American Portrait, The Geelong Chorale, conducted by Allister Cox, Wesley Uniting Church May 21, 2017.

This unusual concert for the Chorale was reportedly not to every member’s taste. Some singers were believed to hold the view that our region’s premier choir should stick to its traditional material, drawn from classical and/or sacred musical catalogues.
But for this reviewer - and, I’d hazard, a clear audience majority - this concert was just perfect. Sure, there were some challenging moments, but for the most part, this was a concert of delight.
It took the form of five different groups of well-known American songs, each having their backgrounds explained by the knowledgeable Allister Cox before being delivered with clarity and dexterity by the Chorale.
To this history and music buff, this was concert nirvana. It was entertaining, enlightening, informative - and delivered in the most stylish musical way.

Following a short, humorous intro from Director Cox, ‘we planned this concert a year ago before political events in America overtook us..’ including a well-delivered mock Trump call, he went on to explain the context of the first group of spirituals, neatly detailing their roots in the deep south’s slavery era. Then the Chorale delivered Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, Soon Ah Will Be Done, Deep River and Ain’t Got Time To Die with joy and care if not quite the jubilation of a revivalist meeting.
Then followed a Stephen Foster medley following Allister’s potted biography which noted that the author of so many of America’s landmark tunes died with just 40c in his pocket. The Chorale, in unfamiliar but effective formation with tenors front and centre, then delivered I Dream Of Jeanie, My Old Kentucky Home and Beautiful Dreamer with sensitive élan. 

A folksong section followed, with Shenandoah, The Riddle Song, Long Time Ago and Ching-A-Ring Chaw receiving the concert’s explanation before refined delivery treatment, and then a trio of Art Songs in Samuel Barber’s Sure on this Shining Night, Randall Thompson’s ironic 1940 multi-layered Alleluia and Stephen Paulus’ The Road Home.
Then came a build-up to the concert’s finale in a section titled ‘Medleys from the Shows’. This preamble told us, among other things, that George Gershwin sought classical training when he was the most successful songwriter in the world and that Judy Garland’s Over The Rainbow was almost cut from The Wizard of Oz as being too slow. Highlights in this section included an amazing number of hit references rolled into the chorale’s Gershwin medley; Helen Seymour and John Stubbings’ duet in Cole Porter’s Night and Day - and the Chorale’s enthusiastic delivery of the thigh-slapping theme tune for Oklahoma!

The concert’s finale was, almost inevitably, the rousing Battle Hymn of the Republic - but only after Director Cox had explained just who John Brown was, and why his body mouldered in the grave.  
As always, pianist Kristine Mellens gave the Chorale her fine, unobtrusive support - and I believe that the enthusiastic final applause would have won over even the most sceptical chorister.
For this was a concert of unexpected delights. 

Colin Mockett 

Project of power, precision - and multiple performance skills

The Laramie Project directed by Zina Carman for Torquay Theatre Troupe, Price St Theatre, May 15, 2017.

 Just before the doors opened on this play’s preview night, first-time TTT director Zina Carman announced to the sherry-sipping foyer patrons that the company’s lighting computer had crashed and there would be a short delay while her techs rigged up some temporary lighting.
That delay was some five minutes, and the temporary lighting turned out to be a white stage wash effect that remained unchanged throughout the play. In the event, this perfectly suited the minimalist set, which comprised black drapes, a few mismatched chairs, a hatstand and some assorted-sized palettes overflowing the stage space.
This simple arrangement, coupled with two off-stage screens showing explanatory footage, reduced distractions and gave elements of authenticity to the action. It also allowed the audience’s focus to move among the play’s dozen actors as they took 64 different roles in explaining how a horrific murder in a small American mid-western town blew to national prominence in the late 1990s, changing lives and ultimately, their society.
It made for a huge task of theatrical concentration, and if the actors had been unsettled by that opening delay and changed lighting focus, they certainly didn’t show it. Together, they uniformly presented one of the most disciplined, powerful, integrated performances to have graced our stages for many years. Their multiple character changes, achieved by donning hats and coats then altering stance, attitude and accent was exemplary. It allowed the action to unfold with seamless clarity. Their disciplined choreography around that compact space was, simply, faultless.
And the result was a play of compelling power and theatrical purity.
Such was the acting talent involved that this reviewer is nominating eight of the 12 actors for our VO awards - and there could have been more. The real difficulty was choosing who should be in which category, for ‘best actor’ or ‘best support’ in such a high quality assembly.
However, nominated for Best Actor are Michael Baker, for his astonishing range of skills that brought nine very different, all-believable characters to the stage and Fred Preston for his six parts that ranged from a police sergeant struggling to keep an open mind to an elderly gay farmer resigned to his lot.
The play’s best female actor noms went to TTT first -timer Sindi Renee, whose five different characters were individually different, but uniformly sincere - and the play’s producer, Terry Roseburgh, who took to the stage only after illness had caused another actor’s withdrawal, and whose six characters included the play’s pivotal narrator.
Nominated for best support female were Kathryn O’Neill and Cat Crowe, both new to TTT, both highly experienced elsewhere and each fitting into the play’s format with exemplary acting skills. The best support male actor noms went to Lachie Vivian-Taylor and Glen Barton, each of whose performances could have easily seen them on the best actor list.
Behind those eight outstanding performances were four more of high quality, from Carleen Thoernberg, whose quartet of parts ranged from heroic policeman to sympathetic waitress and Michael Lambkin, who filled three authoritarian parts with assurance; while Dianne Buttigieg and Rob Pow took the remaining support parts with studied discipline.
My advice for our region’s playgoers is to find a way to see Torquay’s Laramie Project - it is powerful, compelling - a piece of outstanding theatre.
And to director Zina - please keep that plain lighting plan. It worked perfectly.
Oh.. and TTT, you might want to keep November 26 date clear..

Colin Mockett 

Behind: Behind The Arras is a tangle of intrigues

Behind: Behind The Arras directed by Ben Mitchell, Georgia Chara for Theatre of the Winged Unicorn, Ceres Hall, May 14, 2017.

 Behind Behind: Behind The Arras’ title is a small family saga.
It’s essentially a warm and friendly exposé of the shenanigans that occur when an amateur theatre company stages a play.
The action, (and audience viewpoint) is reversed, taking place backstage, while some dialogue and movement is delivered behind, out of sight, on the stage.
Written, styled and directed by Ben Mitchell, Behind: Behind The Arras tells the story of a fictional company, the Oldetowne Theatre Troupe (OTT) who are preparing to present a play titled Behind The Arras which is, in fact, a real play written by Ben’s father, Dennis Mitchell, and which opened Geelong Rep’s Woodbin Theatre.
The original Behind The Arras, which Dennis had written as a Deakin University project, was a sometimes caustic comedy that exposed the backstage wranglings, romances, tiffs and petty politics of a small amateur theatre company.
But son Ben’s Behind: Behind The Arras, takes a much warmer, more benign view of amateur theatre protocols practices and indiscretions. It’s longer, too. Dad Dennis’ original Arras was a short play presented in a satire double with W S Gilbert’s's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, while Ben’s double Behind stands alone as a full length play.  
And if all that sounds a little complicated - hold on, because there’s much more to come.
Ben’s Behind Behind pays loving homage to his father’s original, with one character, Barry, listing the original play’s cast and crew, while some of the original colourful R & G costumes, designed by his mother, Elaine Mitchell, were displayed and worn. Plus one of Dennis’ original players, Melissa Musselwhite, appears in the new Ben version as an OTT theatre stalwart, while her daughter Rose plays an unrelated company newcomer.
And just to add a completely innocent twist, the OTT play’s director, played by the impressive Miriam Wood, is named Rose.
Those preparatory tangles are just the beginning, with the cast encountering and experiencing plenty of plot turns including an actor feud - between over-assertive Michael Leigh and stiff Kris Smythe, some suspected dressing-room petty thievery by the smoothly believable Greg Chadwick, an apparition appearing to the supportive Melissa Musselwhite, an overhearing misunderstanding from an unpunctual Lancastrian Jocelyn Mackay - and a suspected love-triangle between femme fatale Ellie Gardner, innocent Rose Musselwhite and naive Joni Gardner, played out in stop-motion action, twice.
Stir in Ben Crowley’s nervous fastidiousness and mysterious appearances by co-director Georgia Chara as an overall-clad non-speaking actor and writer Ben himself as a photograph extra and the play’s twists, conundrums and red herrings took on distracting proportions.

But all was brought together with a final neat - and warmly received - reference to the possible apparition being a benign former playwright keeping his affectionate eye on the new proceedings.

Colin Mockett 

Moving, thought-provoking look at Australian women’s influence

Pioneers in Petticoats - the women who tamed Australia, Drop Of A Hat Productions. Potato Shed May 9, 2017

In this latest show, Colin Mockett charts how women were integral in moulding the nation from its convict colonial roots to the modern day. A huge amount of research has informed this production. Thus, the audience is not only entertained and moved by the plight of Australia's women, but enlightened about social history through women's stories. The cast comprises four talented women – Shirley Power, Reyna Hudgell, Emma Jones and Maureen Eaton. Each presents key female characters from the country's evolution from colony to modern independent nation, through song and monologue. Women's quest for equality parallels this process: women not only 'tamed Australia', but grew in their own journey from complete subservience towards the goal of an equal place in society.  
Songs and personal stories illustrate what could have become a dry monologue. Colin Mockett, researcher, writer and director, also narrates the show, with his usual warmth and humour. Photos, illustrations and documents are projected on a large screen throughout. Eliza Batman's story (portrayed by Maureen Eaton) is chosen to show poor women's servility in 19th century society, and the very limited options they had for self-advancement. As Eliza Thompson, Eliza was transported to Van Dieman's Land for passing a counterfeit bank note. After a very chequered time as a convict, she caught the eye of John Batman, who married her after obtaining her pardon. Batman later went on the settle in the Port Phillip District, where he bought the site of Melbourne for trinkets from the local aborigines.
Two of the women whose stories are chosen are relevant to the local community – strong women like Caroline Newcomb who, ith Ann Drysdale, rode the sheep's back as graziers on the Bellarine Peninsula on equal terms with a male-dominated squattocracy. Reyna Hudgell portrays Caroline Newcomb, telling the story of how the two women's holdings at one time stretched from Point Henry to Portarlington, and how they built Coriyule, their mansion build of local stone, which still stands near Drysdale.
Shirley Power, as Elizabeth Austin, gives a women's perspective on settling in the Winchelsea area, including her husband's introduction of rabbits to Victoria, as game for a visit from the Prince of Wales. Elizabeth was an altruist, one of whose many deeds was the founding of Melbourne's Austin Hospital.
Emma Jones had a particularly difficult task – convincingly re-enacting a campaign manifesto by Vida Goldstein, a Portland-born woman who attempted five times to be elected to parliament. Goldstein's tenets are still relevant today. As well as equality and suffrage for women, she advocated equal and fair pay, state ownership of public utilities and pacifism.  She was anti-capitalism. Her tenets were unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials and charity in all things.
The songs which punctuate the narrative add emotion to the tale – from the poignancy of The Convict Maid sung with great feeling by Shirley Power; to the nose-thumbing humour of We're a Bunch of Damned Whores; to heart-wrenching despair in Emma Jones anguished singing of Past Carin'; to empowerment and elation in Helen Reddy's I Am Woman, sung most convincingly by Reyna Hudgell (and chorus). The production ends on this positive note.
Shirley Power's sensitive accompaniments, on guitar and keyboard, deserve a special mention.
This show acknowledges that, despite the huge steps made by women towards equality, there is still a long way yet to go. This is ironically demonstrated by the fact that Pioneers in Petticoats was both written and narrated by Colin Mockett, the only male.
One is left with questions to ponder. How will women influence the Australia of the future? Will there ever be a time when Australia becomes a truly egalitarian society? Is it ever possible to strike a fair balance between society's needs and self-interest?
Pioneers in Petticoats, is entertaining and informative.
It is also very thought-provoking.
- Helen Lyth 

Near-faultless Joseph brings feel-good fun

Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat directed by Davina Smith for Geelong Lyric, Playhouse Theatre, May 5, 2017.

Geelong Lyric hasn’t had the best run in recent years. The company has been on the brink of financial collapse and experienced presidential/committee upheavals. So it’s really good to see it return to what it does best, producing musical theatre.
And Lyric’s present production of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, was, almost as a neutraliser to the company’s troubles, a serving of pure musical theatre delight.
It was a near-faultless version of a favourite pedigree musical staged by a big, highly talented all-local cast. They presented a joyful, colourful, happy musical/visual experience liberally peppered with wry sly humour.
So it’s probably good advice to book quickly for the remaining performances; for shows with as much feel-good factor have the rarity of chicken molars.
That’s not an inappropriate metaphor, for this musical’s many surprise fun elements included a singing camel and a disassembling goat. It also included neatly subtle musical and visual references to Les Mis, Fiddler and other rival musicals.
The production’s quality began with its top-rank backstage talent. That’s director Davina Smith, production designer Lisa Hunter, costume designer Marilyn Clark, choreographer Molly Carter and musical director Bradley Treloar, whose excellent orchestra effortlessly guided the show through unusual musical areas. For this Joseph wandered into the musical realms of hoe-down, calypso, French cellar-song, classic rock and Elvis improv as well as its big Broadway ballads.
On the way, the show looked sumptuous, thanks to Lisa and Marilyn. It moved efficiently, gracefully and smoothly thanks to Molly and Davina. All five are nominated for our 2017 theatre awards.
So, too are lead players Charlie McIntyre and Sally-Anne Cowdell. Charlie’s Joseph looked like a younger, buffed and even more benign Roger Federer who’d mysteriously gained the ability to sing and dance, while Sally-Anne’s Narrator somehow combined teacher, interpreter and sideline commentator with a sweet elegance and exceptional voice.
Behind these, and driving the show’s fun with wit and fine harmonies were Joseph’s 11 brothers. That’s Andrew Ward, Brendan Rossbotham, Grant Whiteside, Richard Senftleben, Jack McPhail, Brayden O’Hanlon, Nick Addison, Trevor Mee, Michael Blay, Elijah Jacob and Saul Kavenagh. The first three are nominated, too. Andrew for his brilliant hoe-down parody, Brendan for his delightful calypso and Grant for his Pythonesque imprisoned butler.
A trio of their wives gained nominations too. Zoe Prem, for her valiantly thwarted soprano solo, Charlotte Crowley for her graceful stand-out dance skills and Billie Fletcher, a newcomer with the assurance of a pro. She fitted so well with the other wives, Simone Warnock, Tania Tomaszewski, Gemma Blake, Lauren Nicolls, Ella Ingles, Claire Tilley and Leanne Treloar-Lowne.  But, in truth, there was quality everywhere in this Joseph. Connor Rawson presented his King as a wonderful Elvis tribute, Dale Bradford and Zoe Hudgell were slave-owners with secrets and Peter Stickland's stoic, bewildered Jacob were all portrayed with vibrant energy and sly, dry wit. And behind these was a quality adult ensemble and cute, talented children’s chorus - every one of whom deserved extra applause for the number of fast costume changes, quite apart from their polished stage skills.
So I urge you to go see this Joseph, and assure you that, like the entire opening audience, you’ll love every minute.

Colin Mockett 

Savages Of Wirramai - compelling, powerful, intense theatre

The Savages of Wirramai directed by Iris Walshe-Howling for Geelong Rep, Woodbin Theatre, April 28, 2017.

The Savages Of Wirramai is a deliberately challenging title.
Wirramai is fictional Australian country area, the Savages a property-owning family who live there in isolation.
Outwardly, there are three of them, a middle-aged daughter looking after her elderly, ailing parents on a property recently turned over to become a wind-farm.
The action takes place over a long weekend when the couple’s other two daughters and favoured grandson return for a reunion based around their parents wedding anniversary on the eve of Anzac Day. This occurs during a sweltering downpour.
Inside this oppressive structure, playwright Sandy Fairthorne created a pressure-cooked family saga of truth and consequences, retribution and repercussions.
In the hands of director Iris Walshe-Howling, this became a powerful social drama that wasn’t always pretty but was always gripping.
The full-house opening night audience sat in pin-drop silence for much of the play, punctuated by gasps, the odd tension-breaking laugh - and deserved applause at the end, and during short scene changes.
Director Iris presented the play simply on a clever, realistic set in one piece - 100 minutes without an interval - which allowed its tension to build without distraction.
And her faultless acting team tightened the family pressure with a string of outstanding performances.
They unravelled layers of family trauma, beginning with post-Vietnam War syndrome and including drug and alcohol abuse, bullying, gender discrimination, unreported child abuse, marriage breakdown and blackmail. The initial and concluding wind-farm syndrome was but a slight backdrop to this assembly of familial disorders.
Central to the disharmony was the obnoxious, dominating, controlling Ron Savage, served with cold rage by Philip Besancon in a portrayal of pure pent-up power, and his rebellious, tragic, substance-abusing daughter Cassie, played by an out-of-control Stacy Carmichael.
Lisa Berry pitched her subdued and submissive wife/mother role perfectly, while elder daughter Kethly Hemsworth’s valiant struggle to keep some element of composure was masterful. As the middle daughter, who suffered a marriage break-down, family rejection and blackmail during a single meal, Amber Connor managed to portray rising incredulity with anger and self-belief while her favoured son, played by Tom Bartle, literally learned a series of home truths on the run.
The Savages Of Wirrama made for powerful, compelling drama.
At times it was unsavoury, at others, confronting. But as a piece of intense theatre it was simply outstanding. 

I’m nominating the play, its director an every on-stage performer for awards.
- Colin Mockett 

Marie Antoinette stripped to the bones made a compelling show

Tort E Mort - Songs Of Cake And Death presented by Anya Anastasia, The Potato Shed, April 8, 2017.

This one-woman show arrived via the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, among others. There must have been many, many performances to hone such a slick, skilled presentation.
And although the show centred on the show’s highly visual writer and presenter, Anya Anastasia, this wasn’t a one-woman show. For Anya shared her stage with an excellent percussionist in Bec Matthews, while Joy Sparkes’ wraith-like dresser/assistant contributed occasional vocal harmonies as well as inscrutable glamour.
There was also an uncredited tech assistant operating a host of sound and lighting cues with immaculate timing - adding to the show’s impressive professional gloss.

The show itself was built around Ms Anastasia’s considerable skills.
She wrote both words and music, creating what was essentially a framework to showcase her abilities in a number of areas.
Physically, Anya is tall, willowy and strikingly attractive. She plays keyboard, ukulele and sings with a clear alto-soprano voice covering some three octaves.
She arrived, immaculately dressed as an 18th Century Marie Antoinette, to deliver pointed, witty and outrageous statements and songs on the subjects of cake, Champagne, myths and history, sprinkled with wryly slanted references to Donald Trump’s inauguration, global warming - and much more - during the course of a mesmeric 75 minutes.
At one point she stripped to her underwear while singing a song titled ‘I Don’t Do Burlesque’ involving some athletically elaborate contortions - because her hands didn’t leave her keyboard.

At another point she stood astride a stage-side table dressed as a skintight red devil extolling the virtues of living in Hell.

You’ll understand by this that although Anya Anastasia may do burlesque, she doesn’t do ordinary.
Her show was packed with surprises, wacky, unconventional and certainly out of left field. At one point she even stripped to her bare bones, courtesy of clever body paint and ultra-violet lighting.
Bec Matthews contributed with a little shadow puppetry inside a bodram to cover an Anya quick change, while Joy became a silent magician’s assistant to accommodate some macabre headless tricks. 

The show continued to unfold in a form of almost controlled delirium, somehow managing to blend dark wit with historical whimsy, wacky off-the-wall satire and clever, neatly presented musicality.

Anya Anastasia is smart, sexy and lyrically and musically gifted.
Her language is salty, her humour black and wacky and her presentation brought us a show that was fascinating and compelling - and unlike any seen on our stages for many a while.
All credit to the Potato Shed for continuing to sharpen our theatre’s leading edge with such presentations. More, please…

- Colin Mockett 

Northern Lights display our accomplished orchestra

Northern Lights concert from the Geelong Symphony Orchestra conducted by Brett Kelly. Costa Hall, March 31, 2017.

This Northern Lights concert marked another strong step in the growth of Geelong’s orchestra.
It’s content - emotional, lyrical music chosen from composers born in Russia, the Czech Republic and Finland - was both challenging and reassuring.
The challenge was to recreate the musical colours, moods and patterns describing northern Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries with a recently formed group of mostly young 21st Century passionate Australian musicians. 

Mussorgsky, Dvorak and Sibelius wrote their scores for performance by full-time professional musicians with time to ponder and practice distraction-free for weeks, sometimes months beforehand. 

In contrast, the Geelong Symphony had but a handful of rehearsals with its guest conductor Brett Kelly, some of them missing players as a result of our hectic comparative lifestyles.

With this in mind, just completing the programme could be considered an achievement for any orchestra.
But to do so with such accomplished ease and skill was impressive - and very reassuring.
Because this Geelong orchestra, launched last year on a wave of warm anticipation, was displaying an ability to handle a difficult, complex programme outside the expected popular norm.
It thrilled with the opening piece - Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain - with its large, lyrical string section holding musical dialogues with its lusty augmented brass players, all neatly contrasted by lyrical harmonies from the woodwind and delicate gentle elaborations from the flutes.
It then played with tactful, refined restraint to allow the evening’s accomplished guest soloist Michael Dahlenburg to display his passion and skills - he has a glorious abundance of both - in performing Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor, while the orchestra provided a neat and lovely supporting musical framework from those strings and predominant horns. 

Following an interval came the compelling, repetitive patterns of Sibelius’ Symphony No 2 in E minor.
This piece had stirring anthems and challenging rhythms, textures and colours - all inside recurring patterns and all executed with aplomb and no mean skill by an orchestra that appeared to have grown in stature throughout the evening.
It was reassuring, too, to hear the appreciation from an audience of healthy numbers considering the concert’s comparative lack of big-name drawing power.
It will be interesting to see the crowd at the Geelong Symphony’s next Costa Hall showing, in August, when our orchestra performs a couple of big names - Mozart and Beethoven - in a concert titled A Night In Vienna.
This promises to be a concert of rare pride for Geelong - and an event not to be missed.
- Colin Mockett. 

Sisters Design a High-Octane Supercharged Chitty Chitty Musical

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang directed by Sam Heskett & Narelle Bonnici for CenterStage Geelong. Playhouse Theatre, March 10, 2017.

Sibling co-directors Samantha Heskett and Narelle Bonnici don’t venture into Geelong’s theatre circles often enough. They lend their musical talents most often to the theatre companies around Melbourne’s west in Altona, Williamstown and Werribee. But when they do grace our stages, it tends to be memorable and appreciated - the sisters have a swag of Geelong awards in their virtual cabinets.
And following this big, vibrant, colourful and energy-packed production of Ian Fleming’s flim-flam fantasy there’s a strong possibility of more to come.
This show’s pre-publicity made much of its special effects and canine content.
There were two real vintage cars on stage, and, apparently, five dogs. 

But in practice - if the opening night experience is any indication - these were the least memorable elements of a production that was bursting with talent, energy - and discipline. And that’s very much down to Sam and Narelle, who had assembled a lead cast with talent in depth, then backed them with an oversized ensemble chorus packed with singing and dancing skills - then coaxed and drilled them all to a vibrant, energetic performance level worthy of professional theatre.
Because the sisters were not just co-directors, they were the show’s co-choreographers, too. And they chose to treat Ian Fleming’s lightweight children’s fantasy as a high-octane supercharged pantomime, with a cast of righteous heroes and comedy villains. It’s a treatment that was just spot on. 

Their lead players, Mark Monroe and Rachel Allen were new to Geelong audiences; he being an international trouper, she an experienced singer making her theatre debut. They took the film parts played by Dick Van Dyke and Sally Anne Howes and made them their own. He with an impressive range of singing/dancing/acting/clowning skills, she with a stage sweetness and beautiful, true singing voice. But behind these leads was a supporting cast of equally high standard. David Mackay’s tantrum-prone Baron and his manipulating child-hating wife Michele Marcu were comedy gems, as were the show’s droll pantomime villains, Patt Ryan and Tim Maloney. Child leads Sophia Grant and Kempton Maloney were gratifyingly wholesome. Lachy Turner added his perfectly quirky grandfather - and all of the above sang their big numbers faultlessly backed by the show’s excellent 13-piece live orchestra. This was conducted by Daniel Heskett, and if the name appears familiar, he’s husband to co-director Sam.
The Heskett/Bonnici family involvement didn’t end there - they had a couple of children in that high-energy ensemble, which, itself, had familial connections throughout. This Chittty Chitty was a true family show. And those support and ensemble actors all deserve a mention for their parts in such a well-presented, disciplined piece of energy-packed, happy musical theatre. So take a bow, support actors, Mitchell Walters, Trent Inturrisi and Chris Anderson. Adult ensemble, Alicia O'Bree, Amy Curtis, Anna Flint, Ariane Gavin, Ben Krahe, Cassidy McFadden, Charlie Scanlon, Cheryl Campbell, Connor Moloney, Daim Hill, Damian Caruso, Gemma Eastwood, Isabella Moloney, Jacinta Van Etten, Jasmin Wilson, Jasmine Harvey, Jo Jarwood, Katie Loxston, Michael Hawthorn, Nicola Gibson, Shenae Zanardo, Tracey McKeague, Will Johnston and Xavier Curtis: Children's ensemble, Charlotte Piec and Alex Conroy (understudies to Sophia and Kempton) along with Ashton Bryan, Ava Shaw, Benjamin Belsey, Claire Brodie, Cooper McKee-Young, Ebony Plowman, Eloise Wingrave, Elyssa Jeffreys, Emma Bradley, Genevieve Mackay, Guy Wingrave, Harry Scanlon, Jake Birley, Jema Hely, Lana Karlusic, Lauchlan Maloney, Matilda Jarvis, Melody Campbell-Gordon, Milla Best, Mitchell Bonnici, Monty Henderson, Olive Pobjoy, Rosie Jarwood, Ruby Dillon, Tejana Symons-Heskett, Tess McBurney, Tilly Lewis, Trinity Marrell-Seach, Winter Jarwood and Zara Howell.
This show wasn’t perfect, it suffered from a couple of opening-night sound glitches, but these were swiftly corrected and overwhelmed by the sheer enthusiasm, skills and energy involved. And the professional production standards, too, for this Chitty Chitty was impressively costumed and gloriously be-wigged.
If I have one criticism.. Surely, with the technical expertise available to CenterStage, they could find a way to pipe the dry-ice stage smoke to appear from underneath the flying car, rather than billowing in from either side to rise over the vehicle and obscuring its singing passengers? 

But that’s enough. Go see this impressive, big, happy, professional-standard musical. You’ll love it for what it is - a true family show.
How could it have been otherwise? It’s a sister act...
— Colin Mockett. 

Fascinating, Uplifting, Heartwarming - Marvellous Deakin!

Marvellous Deakin: The Man Who Dreamed Australia presented by  
Colin Mockett and Shirley Power for Drop of a Hat Productions. Morning Showtime at the Potato Shed, March 7, 2017.

Oh yes, Deakin…..he was a Prime Minister, wasn’t he? Way back. First name was Alfred, I think! Can’t remember much else. Ah, there’s a university called after him.

I don’t know if comments such as this were aired by Potato Shed patrons, but I suspect that for some in the audience, myself included, it may have represented something close to the sum total of their knowledge of Alfred Deakin.
However, for those of us lucky enough to be there, the life and times of this truly remarkable man were brought to life during the course of a delightfully informative and musical morning with historian and raconteur Colin and musician, Shirley.
I know the audience related strongly to both Deakin the man and Deakin the politician by their audible, empathic responses to facts such as his giving back, on his return to Australia, almost half of a thousand pounds given to him to attend a meeting in London!

The story of Alfred Deakin (1856-1919) can be described as fascinating, uplifting, heartwarming and given the measure of his political success, totally awe-inspiring.
Between living as a 2 year old with his elder sister in a girl’s boarding school in Kyneton and dying at age 63 with dementia in Point Lonsdale, Deakin’s life highlighted the qualities of intelligence, integrity, decency, resilience and an ability to commit for the long term to an idea, indeed an ideal, the federation of Australian States. 

Colin amassed a large number of photographs of Alfred as a young child, a Melbourne University student, a fledgling Victorian politician and a mature internationally admired statesman to the final poignant picture in his last years at his home in Point Lonsdale. These photographs and the choice of music helped make Deakin 'real'.

Shirley played music that Alfred and his wife Pattie called ‘their’ song (Soft As The Stars that Are Shining by Puccini) and their favourites such as Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms and I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls.
The musical tone from the keyboard captured what I might have expected to hear in the drawing room of a cultured Victorian home in the last few decades of the nineteenth century. I thought it clever to insert several American popular songs to capture the mood of the time such as Deakin’s return to Australia after successfully negotiating Australian Statehood with British politicians with When Johnny Comes Marching Home.
And to end with Stephen Foster’s classic Beautiful Dreamer captured the poignancy of a life well lived. 

And for those not fortunate to have been at the Potato Shed, here is your crash course in the history of Alfred Deakin: three time Prime Minister of Australia and the man voted by a body of academics in the 1960s as Australia’s best PM. Although not a member of the Labour Party (that's right not Labor until 1912) his social sympathies lay strongly with the working class. His scrupulous honesty were major factors in his popularity. And last but not least he was one of the driving forces towards Australian federalism.

Thank you, Alfred Deakin -

..and Colin and Shirley.
— Bryan Eaton. 

Bittersweet, laughter-filled, insightful, triumphant Quartet

Quartet, directed by Geoff Gaskill for Geelong Repertory Theatre Company. Woodbin Theatre, February 2, 2017

This was the production where everything came together perfectly. The combination of a fine script with a meticulous, pernickety director, a highly talented cast sympathetic to the writer’s motives; a clever, colourful all-purpose set and even the Woodbin’s compact size worked towards this play’s success.
Small wonder this first play of the company’s 2017 season earned that rarest of accolades, a Woodbin encore.
Even this seemed highly suitable, given the play’s subject matter was, vaguely, opera.
Ronald Harwood’s Quartet is set in an English retirement home which attracts elderly opera singers and musicians.
It focuses on four former lead performers who had been invited to recreate one of their former triumphs as part of a forthcoming celebration of Verdi’s anniversary.
The pressure and tensions of this invitation, on top of their individual eccentricities of ageing gives Quartet its whimsical, charming framework.

But then Rep’s team built on that framework to produce a triumph of theatrical delights as bittersweet as marmalade.
This Quartet was funnier than most comedies, drawing loud and long laughter that sometimes overlapped the dialogue.
It was more insightful than many dramas, drawing occasional gasps from its enthralled audience.
And it was beautifully, delightfully joyfully acted - resulting in that sincere ovation when sustained applause drew the four surprised actors back to take several extra bows.
Much of the play’s success was down to director Geoff Gaskill, who built the team, designed the production and drilled his actors to his high standards of thespian perfection. This included his curved multicoloured all-purpose set and non-intrusive backstage crew.
The four actors moved all props themselves, even changing costumes and donning make-up on stage to create a seamless, uninterrupted flow. Even the play’s sound and lighting cues were timed to perfection - most especially the lunch break pips - adding to the production’s whimsical comedy. This was further enhanced by the Woodbin’s compact size, which essentially put the cast and audience in the same rooms together, allowing close -up views of all those eccentricities.

These began with Tony Wright’s beautifully portrayed randy, dirty-talking but cheerfully incapable baritone, who lusted ineffectually after Majella O’Connor’s happily vague, ever-so-slightly lost contralto.
Both were masterly underplayed, which neatly contrasted the intensity of Bryan Eaton’s artistic cerebral tenor who was prone to passionate foul-mouthed meltdowns when triggered by a jam-bearing nurse, and further unsettled by the arrival of his former wife. This was a self-obsessed faded diva portrayed by Claudia Clarke.
This quartet worked brilliantly together in uncovering hidden and long-buried secrets that they made Rep’s Quartet memorable - and unmissable. 

Go see it while there are tickets. You won’t regret a moment.

— Colin Mockett

What a Wicked taste of talent

Wicked, directed by Alister Smith for Footlight Productions. Playhouse Theatre, GPAC, January 27, 2017

This production was promoted as ‘a fantasy that covers the untold stories of the witches from the Wizard Of Oz’. But it was much, much more than that.
Wicked’s opening scene is set at the end of the Wizard of Oz, with the announcement by good witch Galinda of the death by melting of her rival, the wicked witch Elphaba.
“But weren’t you once friends?” asked a reporter, thereby sparking a series of flashbacks to a period long before the Dorothy/Oz film, that covered, explored and re-explained its entire story.
This brilliant concept allowed the Wicked writers, Winnie Holzman and Stephen Schwartz, to include threads that parallel many of our own political and human shortcomings, from the effects of familial influence to hatred based on skin colour - right through to the egotism of political leaders and their manipulation of ‘news’ to control public opinion.
Sharp resonance here to the current regime change in Washington, with its depiction of ‘truth’ as a flexible concept.

But all these deep and meaningful messages were packaged into the many layers of a big, bright, brash musical set to a score of rock-anthem songs and aimed at a family audience.
The really Wicked thing about this show was that it made only passing references to The Wizard Of Oz, yet cleverly disassembled and re-told its story in a much more palatable form with a charm and pizazz of its own.
And none of the above would have come out were it not for Footlight’s ability to create such a slick, stylish, professional-standard musical in Geelong. For this Wicked’s casting was excellent, with not one mismatched character. Its starkly simple set allowed the action to flow over two levels and occasionally soar above them - after all, it was about witches - while in the pit, John Shawcross’s faultless three-keyboard, percussion-heavy orchestra drove the show with rocky verve.
Director/choreographer Alister Smith’s subtle style ensured the Wicked messages came across with smooth clarity, while vocal director Anna Lee-Robertson brought a flawless performance from a really skilled on-stage team.
This was led by witches Morgan Heynes and Sophie Collins, the former green, put-upon and defiant, the latter blonde, shallow and privileged - both displaying brilliant voices and superb acting skills. This pair was exploited, attracted to, or used by Hayley Wood’s manipulative tutor; Josh McGuane’s handsome playboy/hero; Georgia Nicholls’ pathetic schemer; Andrew Doyle’s well-meaning dupe; Vaughn Rae’s doomed animal master and Lochlan Erard’s spellbound primate - while Jamie McGuane Trumped them all with a cameo Wizard who was masterful in his duplicity.
Supporting, linking and enhancing this team was an ensemble of monkeys, Munchkins and Ozians so adept that they’re nominated for a Virtual Oscar in their own right.
That’s Ashley Boyd, Cassie Chappell, Kelsey Dunlop ,Tara Dunstan, Liam Erck, Perri Espinoza, Nicole Kaminski, David Keele, Josh McInnes, Charlie McIntyre, Rebecca Newman, India Ney, Aashlea Oakes, Amanda Paris, Hannah Pohlenz, Casey Reid, Dom Roussety, Liam Ryder, Tyler Stevens, Anthea Tsatsaronis, David Van Etten, Greg Shawcross, Callum Smith, Christie Walter and Melissa Warren.
That’s just one of ten nominations this Wicked show has earned.
Together, the above group, with another score or more of backstage helpers has brought to Geelong a Wicked musical of outstanding quality.
Go see it. You’ll be blown away - at one point almost literally.
— Colin Mockett 

Camp Musical Thrills On A Chilling Date

Geelong Summer Music Camp 2017 end of camp concert, Costa Hall, Jan 13, 2017

There was a big turnout in the Costa Hall despite - or perhaps because of - this being a concert held on Friday the 13th.

And predictably, the organisers had selected music within creepy ghoulish themes to suit the date.
Not that this was really appreciated by the audience of mainly mums, dads, siblings and grandparents. Nor, really, did it resonate with the 240 young musicians on stage, who were each concentrating on performing at their best the music and lessons they had learned during the last week.
That’s one of the many delights about this, Geelong’s first, biggest and must uplifting of concerts.
To those few of us unrelated to the performers, this concert combined an appreciation of that palpable concentration with an awe that so much good music and discipline could be learned in such a relatively short time - not to mention the amount of organisation needed to stage such a large concert.
There were 237 students involved, aged from 9 to 20, along with 30 tutors and six conductors, playing in seven ensembles from a choir to a full symphony orchestra - and finishing with a spectacular all-on-stage finale.

The evening began with the Dave Jeffrey Swing Band under the control of Ari Farrer. He was a wafer-thin young conductor flowing to every musical movement. They were a large, sax-heavy wind unit producing crisp, polished versions of The Opener, Codename Istambul Angel and the cool modern-jazz flavoured Little Beau Cool.
Then, following the first of a series of disciplined changeovers, it was a complete change of scene and pace as the Fiona Gardner Concert Band took over. They’re the younger, newer campers, whose conductor, Sean Rankin, following a dramatic arrival in dark cape and horned helmet, elicited neatly skilful versions of Through Darkened Sleepy Hollow and three classical references drawn from Walt Disney’s Fantasia.
Then the tiny Heather Tetaz Strings players and their conductor Martin DeMarte surprised and delighted with highly capable performances of three creepily titled but familiar numbers, The Addams Family theme, Caulderon and Skyhooks’ rocky Horror Movie.
 Ingrid Martin, in charge of the senior Harry Hood Concert Band set her young charges several challenges with a complex trio the city-noise flavoured Metroplex, Storm & Urge and Galloping Ghosts all of which were presented with adroit skills.
Then came the Eileen Martin Singers - 33 mostly female voices bubbling with energy and fun under Tania Spence’s fluid control. They presented Grim Grinning Ghosts, Seize The Day, Pure Imagination and the obligatory Zulu chant Aya Ngena with flair and élan. I’m not sure what Tania looks like from the front, but from the back she was mesmerising, flowing with every note and using her very fingertips to extract a delightful performance from her young choir.
The evening’s skill levels built with two large senior groups, the Wendy Galloway Strings and Malcolm John Symphony Orchestra, both under the sure control of Kevin Cameron, and both achieving fine standards. Their repertoire, too, was heavily film theme oriented, with the strings playing River Song, the Theme from Schindler’s List and two strands from Henry V while the Symphony played Funeral March of a Marionette - more familiar as the jaunty, lugubrious theme from Alfred Hitchcock’s TV series.
The big all-on-stage mass final number was an exclusive, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, arranged specially for the concert by Kym Dillon. It demonstrated once again the versatility, discipline - and fun - engendered during the camp. That came too from compere - and former camper - Stephen Horman’s cheerful and informative linking patter. All in all, it made for yet another memorable GSMC concert.

Colin Mockett