No-Nonsense Reviews 2018

Medime's Aladdin -on for young and old

Aladdin, directed by Scott Graham for Medimime Geelong, Drama Theatre, November 17, 2018

Seated next to me was a highly excited pre-teen of, I would guess, eight years. Her pre-show anticipation was such that she couldn’t keep still, fidgeting and squirming in her seat. Once it started, she was on her feet replicating every dance move, singing along where she could, loudly booing the villain and reacting ‘He’s behind you…’ or similar, bang on cue whenever necessary. Her mother, seated on her other side, shot me an apologetic look, but I whispered that this was no problem - I was enjoying her reactions as much as the show itself.
During the interval, I learned that my energetic companion’s name was Parker, and this was her very first pantomime. And, yes, she thought it was wonderful. When I said there would probably be an opportunity in the second act for her to go down on to the stage and dance with the cast, she gave me a look that was polite, but sceptical. But when that time came, she was off like Usain Bolt, dodging down the aisle to be among the first of probably 50 children on stage and manoeuvring herself to a prime position beside The Genie Of The Ring. Then she danced spectacularly, carefully, showing total concentration, while her mum took photos.
After the show, my new friend Parker was tired, but still enthusiastic. She and Mum went to meet the Genie of the Lamp in the foyer, while I made my way to the exit. Catching my eye through GPAC’s plate glass, she waved and beamed me a smile of pure joy.
And that, for me, nailed the essence of Geelong’s Medimime.
Because every year, for decades, Parker’s experience has been replicated by hundreds, probably thousands of local kids.
Every year Geelong’s medics and their friends get the opportunity to let their hair down on stage and present our most family-friendly show of the year.
And on the way, they all raise a bucketful of money for the Geelong Hospital. This year it was going to the maternity ward.
As for the show itself - this Aladdin was just about perfect. It was big, colourful, musical, with a corny predictable storyline and an overall sense of fun. It was the ultimate of simple, happy theatre. 

Director Scott Graham’s no-frills approach kept the show moving across a minimal easy-shift set, while his choreographers and costumers provided plenty of visual excitement. All 16 songs were delivered with panache - and pinpoint technical sound - while the on-stage talent was exceptional.

Seamus Kennedy’s hero Aladdin was neatly moral and upstanding, Jenna Irvin was wholesome and sang beautifully as Princess Jasmine - but, as is frequently the case, the show was stolen by the villain. Liam Erck was sensational as a stick-thin, Pharaoh-hatted Abanazar, able to excite and manipulate the young audience he held in the palm of his hand.
This show had no fewer than two Genies, with Tara Dunstan’s pretty and feminine  Ring Genie balanced by Daniel Grocott’s big, rapping green Genie of the Lamp.
Trent Inturrisi made a delightful traditional panto dame Widow Twankey with effective sidekicks Tyler Stevens’ Wishee Washee and Bart Abbas as Nobby the Panda. Their laundry scene was among Parker’s highlights.
Deanne Elliott gave us an Imperial Empress of China, and her knockabout policemen were played with Buster-Keaton panache by Medimime regulars Liz Lester and Jo MacCarthy. The trio’s long Medimime experience showed throughout.
No pantomime would be complete without its colourful ensemble to fill the stage for production numbers and support the lead actors in their flights of fancy. So take a bow, Erin Bloye, Sarah Booth, Louise Guilfoyle, Leanne Treloar, Tracey McKeague, Karen Long, Tina Johnstone, Amity Durran, Ruby Dillon, Sophie Cutropia, Kiara Troop, Claire Miller, Paige van der Chys,  Cate Dunstan, Meg Hellard, Trinity Marell-Seach, Maddy Horne, Liam South, Chris Maxwell, Ethan O’Brien, Seb Dowler, Kai Robinson, Jemma Kevich, Grace Williamson, Bonnie Clissold, Grace McConachy, Tilly Lewis, Maggie McKeague, Zara Salajan, Kayla Booth, Lexi Daley, Jacob Irwin, Alisha Jones, Mia Walters, Tess Chatham, Amelia Treloar-Lowne and Lindsay Musella.

You collectively made a young newcomer and an old reviewer very happy.

— Colin Mockett


Stylish, if over-enthusiastic treatment of Private Lives

Private Lives, directed by Stephen Macklin for Geelong Rep, Woodbin Theatre, November 16, 2018

Private Lives has to be the Noel Coward equivalent to Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple or or Alan Aykbourn’s Norman Conquests. It’s the playwright’s first and most popular pick for theatre companies.
As such, this reviewer has seen at least five local productions, some memorable, some forgettable. This latest Rep version falls into the former category, but not always for the right reasons.
This Private Lives was elegant and stylish in its appearance.
It's two sets were neat and workable, its costumes tastefully recreated the1930s period and its players delivered their lines with all the clipped, polished style of the English upper class of that time.
This was particularly true of Kate O’Keeffe, in the lead part of Amanda, a divorcee who discovers her former husband is in the next suite whilst on the first night of her French honeymoon with a new groom.
The play’s programme informs that Kate had moved away from Geelong for 17 years but returned earlier this year. This was clearly a welcome return, for Kate gave a delightfully  believable portrayal of her scatty yet capriciously charming character.
Her ex-husband, Elyot, who also, coincidentally, happened to be on the first night of his own honeymoon, was played by Adamo Di Biase, also returning to Rep following a sizeable break.
He, too, made a fine job of his part, delivering it with the suave detached charm of its time and place. 

Of course, the plot called for these two shallow narcissistic people to run away together, setting the play up for some clever situations and a neatly contrived confrontation final scene.
As their respective deserted partners, Jesse Ivelja played his spurned new groom Victor with bluster and belligerence, while Lauren Atkin’s Sibyl was in turn fragile, hurt and screamingly vindictive toward her new husband’s former partner.
Sue Rawkins added a neatly-played contemptuous French maid, and the whole play was delivered with dedication, and  no mean skill, across its well designed period set.
But the big flaw in this particular Private Lives was to come from an amount of over-enthusiasm on the part of director Steve Macklin, who pushed his main characters to over-indulge their excesses, be that by drinking (breakfast-time brandies downed in rapid-fire succession), smoking (numerous plastic pretend cigarettes ‘stubbed out’ after two puffs) but much more importantly, by their passion and violence toward each other.

That over-passionate approach meant that several of playwright Coward’s crisp and clever witty lines were lost in shouting and screaming scenes, while what, in previous productions had been a slap, saw husband Elyot appear to punch his female partner full in the face.
That brought a gasp from the audience, and a perceived lack of sympathy for the character from tht point  onward.
For 21st century audiences have a very different perception of this form of conduct.
However, such is the enthusiasm for  Private Lives that Geelong Rep had needed to schedule two extra performances, even before its opening night.

Those many extra patrons will doubtless experience a well-acted, stylish and at times elegant theatrical performance, and one that will certainly remain long in the memory.

- Colin Mockett


A concert of additional significance

In Remembrance, presented by The Geelong Chorale, director AllisterCox, St Paul’s Church, November 11, 2018,

The date, November 11, 2018 marked 100 years since the signing of the armistice that brought an end to the Great War.
It was commemorated in Geelong with two extraordinary musical concerts held in different churches, both chosen for their acoustics rather than secular symbolism.
The first, held on the evening on Friday November 9 in St Mary’s Basilica is reviewed below.
This, second concert, was held on the afternoon of the date itself, November 11, in St Paul’s Church.
Although organised separately and by different groups, the concerts shared similarities. There was a core of singers involved in both events, but that was hardly surprising, considering that they sought to recruit the best available voices in our region.
They shared a common format, in linking the music with the recitation of poems written at the time. And both concerts used Wilfred Owen’s Anthem For Doomed Youth and Edward Elgar’s For The Fallen as early introductory works.
But there the similarities ended.
For where the St Mary’s concert had chosen to illustrate the war’s massive orgy of death and destruction in its selection of works, this concert chose to celebrate the peace that followed the armistice’s signing.
As such, the two concerts actually complimented each other, both musically and historically.
This one, organised by The Geelong Chorale with its conductor Allister Cox and guest soloists, consisted of two major works written four years apart - either side of the war - to illustrate the emotions at those times. There were other, smaller works adding contrast and colour.
The afternoon's theme was set by the Chorale’s Tim Gibson, released from his singing duties to read selected poems with gravity and clarity. He opened the concert by reading Siegfried Sassoon’s poem Aftermath. This was followed by the chorale singing Matthew Orlovich’s Lest We Forget before Tim read For The Fallen, containing the now-immortalised lines ‘age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn..’ put into its correct context.
This led to the Chorale singing Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth before delivering Elgar’s For the Fallen in full, with all of its dark, challenging complexities. This mammoth piece was faultlessly delivered by the Chorale and soprano soloist, Fiona Squires, accompanied by Kristine Mellens’ piano and with input from Jess Morris’ clarinet.
Then, following a short interval, the concert’s second half was almost entirely given over to Theodore Dubois’ Messe de la Déliverance, written to thank God for bringing peace at the war’s end.

This work’s seven segments of soaring praise and triumphal hosannas not only contrasted what had gone before, it was delivered in Latin with plenty of sacred musical complexities.
And the Chorale delivered a near-faultless performance, accompanied by Beverley Phillips at the church’s organ, with two excellent soloists in tenor David Campbell and baritone Manfred Pohlenz.
In an unusual touch, David and Manfred, while seated in front of the Chorale between their solos, joined in with its male voices in their big choral movements.
And together, they sent the Chorale’s voices - and that sacred thanks - soaring and resounding through the venue’s excellent acoustics.
And it brought such a suitable, and memorable, end to the  weekend of  remembrance.

- Colin Mockett


Beautiful, poignant reminder of the atrocity of war.

In Flanders Fields, remembering the centenary of Armistice Day 1918 - 2018. St Mary’s Basilica, November 9, 2018

The venue was used for its acoustics, not its ecclesiastical significance. This was made apparent when the speaker and solo tenor used a simple black music stand sited in front of the Basilica’s elaborate golden pulpit. For this was not a religious occasion, though it was deeply spiritual. 

Nor was this a celebration of war, or of the peace that had been arranged 100 years previously.
For each of this concert’s works had been carefully chosen to provoke thoughts about the obscenities and atrocities, the calculated death and destruction on an industrial scale that had signified the Great War of 1914-18.
So the concert began with the venue in total darkness while its impressive organ thundered out Franz Liszt’s Dies Irea (Day of Wrath) followed immediately by the solo timpani Called to War - a cacophony of percussion reminiscent of the incessant gunfire at the Western Front in Belgium. I’m pretty sure that this was the first time that this work - or anything remotely like it - had been performed in Geelong’s Basilica. It left its audience in stunned, silent awe.
But then the lights went up as narrator Ben Mitchell entered from the rear, his voice resounding and re-echoing as he walked through the central aisle reciting the bitter words of Belgian poet Emile Cammaerts on the destruction of his homeland.
This was interspersed with segments from Edward Elgar’s Carillon played on piano by Wendy Rechenberg and on the Basilica organ by Frank de Rosso.
Frank, apart from playing that impressive introductory organ piece, was this concert’s artistic director, and therefore the selector and compiler of all its included works.
These moved chronologically through the conflict’s four-year timescale of carnage, with each piece dated and explained in the concert’s detailed programme.
They ranged from sublime and beautiful choral works, through stirring and emotional instrumentals, to poignant solos and the catchy sugar-coated stiff-upper-lip pop—songs of the day.
And all were interlaced with Ben Mitchell’s readings from poems and prose written by the men who had been there.

And the overall, cumulative effect was starkly, profoundly moving.

For this was no compilation of WWI songs, no glorious militaristic celebration. No Gallipoli remembrance.

This was an exposure to the agonies of warfare as depicted at the time in music, words - and images.
For the Basilica’s two large screens complimented all of the above with well-chosen scenes and pictures, adding even more impact to the occasion.
Following that impressive opening, the majority of the concert was shared between the 30+ strong Windfire Choir, singing seven pieces, and solo tenor Timothy Reynolds. His six songs included the title piece In Flanders, then moved from the chin-up popular Keep The Home Fires Burning to the desolate Anthem for Doomed Youth. All were delivered acoustically, with every note and emotion heightened by the venue’s resounding and outstanding acoustics.
This was true too, of the songs selected for the Windfire Choir, which with its sensitive director Rick Prakhoff, seemed to silently and swiftly assemble from different points of the venue to sing works of delicate poignancy to stirring anthems - and then just as quietly disperse afterwards.
This kept the concert flowing while enhancing its emotional momentum.
The choir’s works ranged from the sadness and desolation of For The Fallen, to a beautiful, feminine version of Abide With Me, dedicated to executed nurse Edith Cavell - right through to the stark, bleak and moving In Remembrance

The different moods of war were depicted by added pieces from pianist Wendy, a calm and resonant flute and piano piece, Idyl from Serenade, featuring flautist Brighid Mantelli. There was a haunting violin solo The Somme Lament from Philip Healey, as well as the aforementioned tympani solo from John Seal.
The Choir used two soloists, soprano Fiona Squires and trumpeter Chris Skepper.
And all of the above was interlaced and linked by Ben Mitchell’s resonant voice with its haunting century-old messages - some plaintive, some disturbing, others disquieting but all of them deeply moving.

This remarkable concert was memorable in many different ways. Even its final piece, They Are At Rest was just perfect for its time and context.
It left the audience moved, awed and deeply impressed.

Bravo to artistic director Frank De Rosso for bringing together such an intense, well considered and absolutely appropriate commemoration.
- Colin Mockett


Some Kind Of Wonderful achievement

Some Kind Of Wonderful directed by Tess Evans for GSODA Junior Players, Drama Theatre, GPAC, November 8, 2018
This show used 52 young performers, four vocal directors, four choreographers and a dozen wig and costume quick-change backstage staff - all to enable a non-stop performance 24 songs lifted from 17 different musicals. 

And amazingly, this all went without a hitch, inside two hours including interval.
This big, slick, snazzy, stylish colourful show was a triumph of organisation on the part of director Tess Evans and her backstage crew - as well as tribute to the skills, vitality, learning ability, hard work  and pure, raw energy of the current GSODA Juniors.

Such was the show’s neat structure that it was even able to cope with a stoppage caused by an impromptu standing ovation after Ruby Buchanan had delivered a (literally) showstopping torchy rendition of And I Am Telling You from the musical Dreamgirls.
Ruby’s emotional rendition was a rare solo in a night packed with big production numbers.
Mostly, the songs were delivered with lead parts swapped between different singers - sometimes up to seven - which made life extremely difficult for theatre critics looking to assign credit.
Add to that the stage was almost constantly filled with dancing, moving, singing - and changing - support groups from that huge ensemble.
Enough to say that the entire 52-member on-stage company contributed to this high-vis, ultra-energetic show that delivered songs from a particularly diverse catalogue of musicals.
For Some Kind Of Wonderful started spectacularly with Circle Of Life from The Lion King, delivered with style by Mia Sugiyanto and Jack Barthel.
It finished with a spectacularly colourful all-on-stage dancing, flick-flacking somersaulting finale from The Greatest Showman.  

And on the way it visited musicals of the calibre of Grease, Cinderella, Mulan, Kinky Boots, 13 The Musical, Bring It On, Hairspray, Dear Evan Hansen, La La Land, Next To Normal, Wicked and Billie Elliot.

And the ebullient, effervescent William Palmer seemed to be at the centre of everything, including delivering a memorable P T Barnum ringmaster singing his Come Alive with acrobatic verve inside the smoothest of dance moves.
Kudos to everyone involved, not the least to the sound and lighting staff, for just keeping tabs on all those head-mics and lighting spots demanded high concentration.
But mostly to the young, lively and so vital  on-stage  talent.  You were indeed Some Kind of Wonderful!

- Colin Mockett


Any Given Monday - a joyful romp through political correctness

Any Given Monday directed by Gay Bell for Torquay Theatre Troupe, Price St Theatre, Torquay, November 5, 2018

Torquay Theatre Troupe holds an enviable reputation for producing good theatre experiences in its comfortable, but makeshift venue.
That reputation, built over 16 years, usually began with the friendliness of its company, which traditionally served its patrons a welcoming sherry, then delivered a well-performed straight (non-musical) play to a much higher theatrical standard than could be expected in a borrowed Seniors’ Centre hall.
The plays were generally small, selected to fit into the venue’s limited space. And over the years, the Troupe’s actors and directors have gained in experience and excellence to the point that they regularly deliver performances of consistently high quality.

Until now.
As an anticipatory experience, patrons arriving to see Any Given Monday were not offered sherry. They were invited to begin with a glass of celebratory bubbles.
And when the play began, we, the audience, understood why.
Because Any Given Monday signalled a lift in performance to the next level.
This was a play that sparkled with theatrical wit and vulgar vigour. It bubbled with energy and insights, posing moral dilemmas while exposing modern lifestyle problems.
And it was very, very funny, while leaving plenty of food for thought.
The play’s programme was honest in that it didn’t warn of swearing. Instead, it’s front page proclaimed that the show contained ‘plenty of course language’. That was delivered, and then some - but always in the correct f*cking context.
The programme had warned several times, too, that the play was ‘politically incorrect’.
It wasn’t. It was a happily, joyfully and extremely funny romp through the garden of political incorrectness picking up blossoms of insight and widely scattering seeds of irony.
This play provoked laughter, understanding and moral conundrums in about equal measure as it danced through the perplexing dilemmas of living in the toxic culture of America today.

And on the way, it delivered a memorable night of theatre.

The plot line (and I won’t go into detail, because I want you to see it and experience this play’s cleverly concealed surprises), hinged around the break-up of a 17-year marriage between Fred Preston’s worthy Philadelphian Jewish academic Lenny, and his aware, astute but bored wife Risa, neatly and lightly portrayed by Lisa Berry.
Holed up at home and wallowing in self-imposed misery, Lenny is visited by his best mate, Mickey, (Michael Baker) who had decided to intervene in a hearty, cynical, red-necked and very positive way.
This action threw up a raft of moral dilemmas and awkward social positions, exacerbated when Lenny’s daughter, (Siobhan Linde), arrived to help, too. She’s a student of philosophy with her own reservations on the moralities of modern living.
And if all this sounds like a complicated night of theatrical concentration - it wasn’t.
Because director Gay Bell’s unobtrusive control allowed writer Bruce Graham’s witty and so-funny convolutions to be delivered in memorable, adult style, by four outstanding actors.
These were led by Michael Baker, whose Mickey was pure delight. His command of his character led to the audience sympathising with, and laughing at almost all of his outlandish and illegal ideas and activities. And his portrayal was beautifully balanced by Fred Preston’s measured performance as Lenny, whose control throughout neatly set up the play’s unexpected - and very funny final twist. This involved Lisa Berry’s Risa, whose straying wife character was in turn believable, sympathetic and perplexed.
As Sarah, Siobhan Linde made her puzzled acceptance and abandonment of philosophical positions within her complicated philosophy totally understandable.
All four are nominated for our Best Actor awards, and the director and whole production is nominated, too.
Go see Any Given Monday and you’ll understand why. It’s a rollicking, laughter-filled theatrical delight that will leave you thinking - and even questioning your beliefs. 

It is, in short, champagne theatre from Torquay.

- Colin Mockett


The Horrors from generational sound

Little Shop Of Horrors, directed by David Greenwood for CenterStage Geelong, Warehouse 26, October 28, 2018

First up, a qualification. This show was a lot better than expected for one of the company’s second-string shows produced in its Warehouse venue. It was slick, well presented, well dressed and well acted by a highly competent cast. Musically, it was good, too, with a tight and together ensemble very much on the money with its 1960s rock & roll score. Yet it's scored low on award nominations. I'll explain why.

The show itself is a delightfully dark musical comedy set in a flower shop in one of New York’s less than savoury suburbs.
There, the staff have discovered a new genus of plant that grows to become an insatiable man-eater. Throw in a couple of gory sub-plots involving a sadomasochistic dentist, a greedy seedy Jewish foster parent, the unappeasable media and a suitor with exceptionally low self-esteem and set the whole thing to a pseudo-Phil Spector wall-of-sound score and you’ll understand how The Little Shop Of Horrors has become an enduring (and endearing) cult pop favourite.

This production had the benefit of an outstandingly self-depreciating, yet talented lead player in Connor Rawson, and a delightful Marilyn Monroe-esque female lead in Alicia O'Bree. It had the sassiest of Supremes-style Greek chorus in Elly Howlett, India Ney and Dylan McBurney and a delightfully deep and demanding plant, voiced by Dom Wolfram. There was a neat cameo Jewish storekeeper from David Mackay and a creepy S&M dentist from Mick Watson.
The multiple-playing chorus of Marnie Parkinson, Leticia Bayliss, Will Johnston, Patrick Bongiorno, Annie Sargent, Michele Marcu, Jo Jarwood, Taylah Matchett and Maddy Ludbrook gave excellent support throughout, and Eric von Ahlefeldt’s band drove the whole thing along with its rocking score.

But that was where the problems came.

Because at the Sunday afternoon performance this critic attended, the show’s sound was so much out of balance that the band’s volume swamped every vocal, and frequently the spoken dialogue, too. And such was the volume that there were frequent microphone feed-back issues.
I’ve since learned that this was due to a nearby business running its generator, necessitating the show’s amplifiers to be cranked up to maximum to cover its noise.
It’s a shame, because the work-rate and effort from the on-stage talent, and the production values of backstage crew deserved better ratings and nominations than this Little Shop gathered.
But a critic has to tell what was seen on the day.
And I guess those are the breaks when you’re dealing with the horrors found in down-town life.

- Colin Mockett


Magnificent Ninth a first for Geelong

The Mighty 9th, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony presented by Geelong Symphony Orchestra & Chorus conducted by Fabian Russell, Costa Hall October 27, 2018. 

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was his last, and it’s widely acknowledged as his greatest work. 

He was completely deaf when he wrote it, working the music out using mathematical patterns.
On its Vienna opening performance, Beethoven sat beside the conductor, giving the tempo for each piece. 

At the end, the lead contralto singer had to turn him around to see the auditorium applauding. Knowing that he couldn’t hear them, many applauded by gestures and waving handkerchiefs. 

In Geelong, they gave it a standing ovation.

194 years later.

It was something of a surprise to learn that this was the first time Beethoven’s Ninth had been performed in Geelong.
That’s probably because the circumstances needed to create it - meaning a fully fledged, accomplished symphony orchestra and chorus with a leader and conductor with the knowledge and expertise to prepare them, along with a venue to accommodate them as well as an audience large enough to justify the expense - hadn’t come together before.
But they did for this performance, and in remarkable style.
For the evening had begun with the Geelong Symphony Orchestra in a more restrained role, behind piano soloist Stefan Cassomenos as he delivered Mozart's Piano Concerto No 15 in Bb Major with the accomplished flair of a showman.
Stefan is a vibrant and highly visual musician, whose concentration was such that he appeared to respect every note, even those he wasn’t playing, by the use of small nods, movements, even occasional Satchmo-like mopping of his brow with a flourished white handkerchief.
But along with this, his skill delivering Mozart’s dazzling musical patterns and colours in the piece’s three distinct movements was superb. Enough to earn three curtain calls alongside elegant Maestro Fabian Russell, whose delicate control of his orchestra had supported and embellished every note.
Then, after a 20 minute interval, the Costa Steinway was wheeled away and the stage was literally set for Geelong’s orchestra to take on Beethoven’s masterwork.
There were 76 musicians under Maestro Russell’s baton, while high above in the venue's choir gallery, was the newly-formed GSO Chorus.
This comprised some 60 experienced singers drawn from at least five local choirs surrounding the evening’s four soloists. They were the delicately balanced and matched Lee Abrahmsen (soprano) Belinda Paterson (alto) Brenton Spiteri (tenor) and Manfred Pohlenz (bass). 

In truth, this chorus was in the privileged position to sit back and enjoy the majesty and glory of the work’s first three movements as Beethoven built his musical moods from quietude to majesty, slow rhythms to glorious brass fanfares using only the orchestra. Each movement was beautiful and complete in its own right, but all lead to the work's ultimate, majestic finale.

That was when chorus, soloists and orchestra came together to deliver the most magnificent Ode To Joy that I’m sure Geelong has ever heard.

It was spine-tingling stuff, and rightly drew that standing ovation. Every musician, singer and performer involved can stand proud having created such a beautiful concert.
And Geelong can stand proud, too, for nurturing an orchestra capable of presenting such musical perfection. 

- Colin Mockett


Same Words, Different Song - and a standing ovation!

The Hope Song, directed by Iris Walshe-Howling & Janine McKenzie for Anglesea Performing Arts, Courthouse Theatre October 12, 2018. 

This has to be among the most unusual reviews I have written. Not from its content, but because I had seen and reviewed the work almost exactly a year before when it opened in Anglesea.
This Geelong performance was not a different version as it used the same actors and directors - but the production itself had evolved following a highly successful sell-out season at Melbourne’s La Mama Theatre. And it has the potential to go further, with one of the show’s principal supporters and backers, Jack Heath, who is CEO of the mental health support group SANE Australia, expressing a wish, in his after-show address, to see it performed in the Sydney Opera House. 

The Hope Song is an extraordinary work, if a little difficult to describe. It began as a community project that saw playwright Janet Brown invited to write a performance for the Surf Coast’s Arts of the Mind festival, for 2017’s Mental Health Week. 

To this end, she interviewed seven people who had suffered and were recovering from mental illness, asking each the same probing, personal questions.  She then placed their replies, verbatim but in smaller, edited pieces into her script for seven actors to deliver. 

All seven actors were on stage together, mostly in semi-darkness, seated on individual white steps, and cued to deliver their lines by individual spotlights. Occasionally, they’d talk about their favourite music, which would spark a live performance of their choice.
In the original Anglesea performance, this was by a community choir. But the Geelong performance saw singer/guitarist Tim Hulsman on stage beside the actors, punctuating their performances with renditions of their choice of songs in a haunting, clear voice and skilfully played slide, dobro and acoustic guitars. 

It all made for compelling theatre, and it was no surprise that the performance drew a standing ovation.
And that’s really unusual for non-musical theatre in Geelong.

The Hope Song’s actors were uniformly excellent last year, to the extent that they were nominated as an ensemble for our ‘Most Innovative Feature’ theatre award. In the event, they came up against the juggernaut that was Geelong Rep’s Pygmalion, leaving the play’s honours to be picked up by directors Iris Walshe Howling and Janine McKenzie.
This time, the actors are nominated individually. They were, as before, word and action perfect, But that Melbourne season, and perhaps the year in between has refined the performances. Surprisingly, this has resulted, in most cases, in the acts giving lighter, quieter, more introspective treatments to their roles.
And this, in turn, brought even more moving elements to the work. So Philip Besancon’s daily survival techniques - to get up early, meditate, listen to breakfast radio then get the bus into Geelong for therapy, and Nikki Watson’s reliance on family support for her battles with anxiety, were somehow more real by their underplaying. Lina Libroaperto’s story of how childhood abuse still undermines her as an adult, and Stacey Carmichael’s finely-portrayed schoolgirl suffering eating disorders were all the more heart-wrenching from that smaller touch. Stuart Errey's surprise, as a financially successful businessman he had succumbed to mental illness was the same, while Simon Finch’s self-awareness problems which grew from being both gay and of Aboriginal heritage were more acute, and neatly balanced by Libby Stapleton’s delightfully humorous descriptions of her bi-polar ups and downs.
The Hope Song’s title really sums up its message - it’s designed to give hope and inspiration to anyone suffering mental illness. 

But on the way it manifests as excellent, absorbing theatre that’s beautiful crafted and performed.
And who knows? It could eventually end up being sung in the Opera House. 

- Colin Mockett


Godspell springs a Grand Final challenge

Godspell directed by Debbie Fraser for GSODA Theatre Collective, Shenton Centre, September 28, 2018.

It was a brave, or perhaps foolhardy decision to stage a musical on grand final weekend when sports fanatics traditionally dominate social and mainstream media and the whole Geelong community takes on a form of reckless sporting partisanship.
So it was no surprise that the GSODA Theatre Collective presented its new version of Godspell on its own, with no theatrical competition at all.
And in our region, that’s very unusual. Just take a scroll down this website’s comprehensive diary, and you’ll notice that most weekends would offer a choice between three or four theatrical events or concerts. At this time of the year, that grows to as many as eight or nine. So it would have been noted by other companies that this colourful and energetic Godspell not only gained significant print media coverage this week, it opened to a full house.
And that full-house audience was appreciative of the skill, the energy and the talent that the Collective’s ten-member theatrical ensemble brought to their parable-based Christian music-fest.
For this Godspell was different to former versions presented in Geelong.
The original 1971 musical had been substantially revived in 2011 for a 9 month Broadway run, and it was this new version that was chosen by the Collective for their GF weekend performances in the compact Shenton Centre.
Experienced director Debbie Fraser kept things simple and brisk, placing her three-man band high on the venue’s central bridge and using minimal on-stage costume changes, and no scene changes at all. There were also no personal head-mics, just a single radio mic that was handed between song soloists when it was their turn. All other dialogue, and ensemble backing was delivered without amplification.
This worked fine for us in the third row, but there could have been some difficulties for audience members higher on the bleachers. This was most especially when Debbie employed the time-honoured GSODA theatrical ploy of launching her players into the audience aisles while singing ensemble numbers. This may work when each member has a mic, but a chorus becomes thin when its un-amplified members are separated throughout the auditorium.
But Debbie’s choice to cut out scene-changes gave the show an immediacy and flow that allowed her ensemble - all of them under 25, but each with a long theatrical CV - to individually shine. Their colourful costumes, ranging from vaudeville clowns to Beatles’ Sgt Pepper era, were each clearly chosen to capture their individual characteristics.
So Liam Ryder, as Jesus looked like a blonde surfer in a Superman tee-shirt and delivered his every line and song with almost a surfeit of wholesome goodness. Thomas Newman had more scope in playing both John The Baptist and Judas, and he displayed fine virtuosity capturing these different roles. The other eight players took on dozens of characters, from beggars to priests to fathers and sons, fallen women, sheep and goats. But every one took a lead in at least one of the shows 17 songs. These ranged from vaudeville to rap, pop to happy-clapping anthems, and every one was delivered with infectious, youthful energy and verve.
MD William Conway’s keyboard-led musical trio provided impressive backing from above - mostly in darkness -, and the show had no fewer than four choreographers contributing to some innovative movements.
And that omni-present ever-versatile ensemble (which was on-stage ad-libbing and clowning even during the interval) clearly delighted in finding opportunities to display their own individualities inside that fast multi-character format.
Chloe Stojanovic was a sassy, insolent scene-stealer, Janice Devarokonda a wide-smiling vampish imp. Ben Arnold played the audience with cheeky charm and Charlotte Crowley showed musical talents to match her statuesque height. Georgia Potter oozed kookie allure and Leticia Bayliss brought delightful vocal gymnastics to her all-round skills. Lauren Barnard added circus versatility and wacky energy, and pert, impudent Katie Williams surprised with her warm and moving vocals.
This revamped Godspell came across at times as a fair-dinkum gospel concert, at others it appeared to be a gentle send-up and in the finale it turned into a Crucifixion homage - but all was delivered with colour, movement and that youthful, musical energy.
I’ve a feeling that this Godspell not only showed us a couple of future stars - it also brought a challenge to the total domination of sport on Geelong’s final weekend of September.
- Colin Mockett


Sisterhood sorts through cast-offs to a neat finish

The Charitable Sisterhood Of the Second Trinity Victory Church, directed by Geoff Gaskill for Geelong Rep, Woodbin Theatre, September 13, 2018.

Despite its long, pretentious title, The Charitable Sisterhood Of the Second Trinity Victory Church turned out to be a lightweight piece of theatrical fluff.
True, it did  offer some solid performances and several laughs - but at base the play was a collection of cliches and stereotypes. And its central core premise lacked the morality to give it any real credibility.
Set in a church hall in 1977 Virginia - making Rep’s fourth consecutive vintage American play - The Charitable Sisterhood Of the Second Trinity Victory Church had its all-woman cast supposedly sorting a large pile of donated clothing and goods for the latest in a series of overseas disaster charity drives.
Organised by a well-meaning but delusional pastor’s wife - played by Claudia Clark with shrill authority - they turned out to be a rare selection of womankind.
There was Terri Scott’s heart-of-gold earth-mother who mixed cynicism with understanding in equal measure, and Lynne Elphinston-Gray’s caring ex-nurse newcomer who wasn’t fully trusted because she was ‘Northern’.
All three of these revealed secrets from their past when the other two volunteers turned out to be not all they seemed.
Tina Rettke’s empty-headed Southern Belle was really a cool private detective tracking Sindi Renea’s character, who had shot her abusive husband dead and had developed a novel escape-route by volunteering at a series of fundraising Southern churches, each of them raising money for foreign disasters.
Did I mention that there was a raging storm outside, and that the phone was cut off and they were all stranded because the bridge was down? But they could tune into a transistor radio to get news updates from Liam South's accurate announcer?   The cliches and stereotypes mounted without ever a hint of irony.
Anyway.. to cut to the play’s heart-warming climax, it turned out that the ‘Charitable Sisterhood’ hadn’t been sending all its money raised to foreign disasters after all.
It had been saving for what was perceived to be a good cause.
And in the end, that cause was to be to hire a top lawyer to defend the unfortunate Sindi’s murder of her husband. So the disaster-hit foreigners missed out and the American legal system got the cash.
To get to that incredible finish, The Charitable Sisterhood Of the Second Trinity Victory Church offered several glowing moments of situation comedy, mostly after the pace and impetus had stepped up in its second act. The short first act was mainly scene setting and character establishment.
Every one of the five actors was word and action perfect with some stand-out performances, most notably by two Rep newcomers and an old-timer.
Sindi Renea combined strength with pathos and innocence in a fine portrayal, while Lynne Elphinston-Gray made a competent and caring ex-nurse to comfort her.
Terri Scott, back after a 20-year hiatus, appeared to be in her element as a world-weary, wise-cracking mother figure.
Rep regulars Claudia Clark and Tina Rettke each carried out their difficult roles with assurance and professional polish, but both have enjoyed better roles in more satisfactory productions on the same stage already this year.
In all, The Charitable Sisterhood Of the Second Trinity Victory Church made for a fun, lightweight evening of theatre, easily digestible and with a neat, but contrived and less-than-satisfactory finish. 

- Colin Mockett

Records tumble at our high quality play fest



Once again, Anglesea Performing Arts mounted their wonderful, successful annual One Act Play Festival, their 27th, and this time the biggest for years. Played to packed houses in the Community Hall at Anglesea, the Festival attracted a record 19 plays, presented by 13 companies, from local towns, Melbourne and towns as far apart as Ararat and Leongatha. They came together for an engrossing weekend of diverse theatrical experiences from surreal farce, through thought-provoking social commentary to heartbreaking dramas that made us search our souls. There was a real excitement to the whole weekend, with the audience looking forward to each play’s ideas and presentation.

The one act play genre is an iron constraint on all involved, from playwrights, directors and actors to set designers and supporters, who need to engage us, rivet us to their plot and resolution, in 45 minutes or less. With minimal sets, props and lighting, they must command our attention with a strong theme, clearly presented. We marvelled at how consistently these plays met the constraints, captured our attention and gave us their messages. Many achieved this in less than 45 minutes. 11 of the 19 plays were original.

The plays were presented in sessions of 4 or 5, the styles - 10 dramas and 9 comedies - mixed in each group. The age-range of the roles was from school children to retirees, and we were delighted to see a great many young actors, who were impressive in their acting skill, diction and presentation. The plays looked at gay love, refugees, death, sex, social pressures, and world end catastrophes as well as lighter subjects. . How do directors find exactly the right music for their plays!!!

Christine Walker, Festival Convenor, did a magnificent job arranging all the aspects of the weekend so that nothing went wrong, and her team of volunteers was huge and so very helpful. Janine McKenzie, President of Anglesea Performing Arts, was a marvellous compere, fun,clear and informative. The sound and lighting support was impeccable.

The Festival was strongly supported: Bendigo Bank, Surfcoast Shire, Victorian Drama League, Anglesea IGA, Anglesea Post Office and Betty Butterworth. It is so good to see the local community of business, Shire and individuals come together in this way. Well done to them!

This year’s adjudicator, playwright Dan Giovannoni, is currently writer-in-residence at the Melbourne Theatre Company. Some of his plays have won Green Room and Helpmann Awards, and he has several in development. He commented at the end of each session of plays, which was a very helpful device; he nailed the essence of each performance and the thematic links, the writing, acting and presentation skills involved, and the audience responses to the type of play. His final remarks at the end of the Festival summarised for us the magic of what we had seen: the quality of the writing, the gripping story lines, the passion of young people on stage, the consistently outstanding ability of the actors and the fine quality of the plays.

Judging can be an adjudicator’s nightmare!  This was high-level theatre, there was no play that showed any weakness in any aspect, that could easily be eliminated. Dan commented on this difficulty but was himself required to make awards, and he did so as follows:

Best productions: 

·  first prize Love, Loss and What I Wore, written by Nora and Delia Ephron, directed by Nikki Watson, Anglesea Performing Arts

·  second prize Slut, written by Patricia Cornelius,  directed by Natasha Boyd, Powderkeg Players 

·  third prize Sudan, original play written by Christine Davey, directed by Graci Lynch, Torquay Theatre Troupe

Best original play:  Sudan, an original play by Christine Davey

Best actor (female): Mary Steuten, Frank in Sudan

Best actor (male): Jonah Winkler, I am a Refugee, compiled and directed by Iris Walshe-Howling

Best supporting actor (female): Casey Bohan, Slutby Patricia Cornelius, directed by Natasha Boyd 

Best supporting actor (male): Glenn Hunt as Cripps in Another Pair of Spectacles, written by Victoria Bridges, directed by Michael Mace

Best Design: Love, Loss and What I Wore, design by Iris Walshe-Howling

Betty Butterworth Encouragement Award: Natasha Boyd (Director of Slut)

Youth Award: AdLib Young Performers for Harry’s Hotter at Twilight, written by Jonathan Dorf, directed by Donna Dowler

Adjudicator’s Award: Here, There and Everywhere Theatre Company, forTherapy

- Anne (and Phil) Pilgrim

SOCIETY Explained

SOCIETY directed by Tamara Searle for Back To Back's Theatre of Speed. Back To Back Theatre,  Courthouse, August 22, 2018. 

Sound, action and opinion polls dominate this intriguing performance right from the opening scene, where a frog is croaking and the noise coming from a small device is wrestled with by a lone figure, while others stand in silent witness. Is this the media noise we are subjected to in our daily living? Over the action of the entire performance a screen shows the responses received to a survey of audience members and others to questions related to social cohesion and our involvement in the society we are in.  The opening scene morphs into blackness, shadowy ghost-like figures emerge, the sound device is again wrestled with, people come to help. Poll results on leadership are shown. A leader addresses us from the lectern through a loudspeaker placed on the ground. Her speech is capriciously interrupted by a cast member using an on-off switch, while the others queue to have their turn to also interrupt her delivery. Is this how society is manipulated by us and by others when our leaders talk to us? A surreal scene of chaos ensues. There’s dancing, “Victoria” is stuck in the mud. The relentless poll results keep coming in this poll-driven society we are now in. Trust is polled. The scene shifts to “Have you been talking about me behind my back?” The society in front of us breaks down into a Trumpian dystopia of name-calling and nastiness, “Bitch! Bitch! Bitch!..........................”.  Rain falls. Wow! What a ride this performance is!  Trust is being pushed around by the actors and the poll results on disagreement are flashed up. The youthful cast bursts forward towards us to confront us, or to be with us? The Roy Orbison song – “Only the Lonely” – is powerfully delivered as a monologue while a strong force field of menace surrounds the speaker. When it comes to that part of the refrain on loneliness, is it delivered as “dum....dum....dum”, or is it meant as “dumb....dumb....dumb”, perhaps being a stereotypical societal reaction that is encountered? More action, then a beautiful exchange between two in love, with a moderator, or is it conscience, interceding? An MC interrogates us and the cast on myriad questions, asking for a show of hands at each point. As this concludes a kookaburra can be heard in the background, perhaps mocking us in our shallow society with its endless surveys and faux participation? Blinding light and chaos burst on us, bodies lie around. Is it a nightmare or hell? Quiet ensues, passive or dead? Dreamlike, a couple lies engrossed in pillowtalk.

A dynamic solo dance scene with a panda-like figure, strongly lit in blue and orange, is in front of us. The final poll results shows 90% of us feel part of a group, even when we are not in the group. Strong drumming brings the wonderful sound of this production to its dramatic conclusion. THE END! What an experience we have had, with so many vibrant scenes of this society – our society, with our weaknesses and joys laid out before us. As we write this a day later, the scenes are still with us, due to the group’s intensity of acting and dynamism in their interpretation of what are often the nebulous threads of a SOCIETY!   What a cast, what a creation by the team, what direction, what sound and what lighting!  Again, Theatre of Speed has taken us to a different place. It is a triumph of a performance.

Credit to director: Tamara Searle: Devisers and performers: Ben Oakes, Jessica Walker, Laura Berrisford, Mark Deans, Phoebe Baker, Robert Croft, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price, Simon Laherty, Liam White, Victoria Marshall and Tamika Simpson.  Artist support and assistant director: Shannon Quinn. Lighting design and production manager: Dan Sheehan. Sound designer: James Paul. Dramaturg: James Jackson . Project coordinator: Nikki Watson. Images: Jeff Busby

- Anne and Phil Pilgrim


Great response for tuneful, colourful, energetic Grease

Grease, the musical directed by Adelle Gregory for Clonard, Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s Colleges. Playhouse Theatre, August 16, 2018.

Grease is a show full of tuneful songs, colourful characters and energetic dance numbers and all these elements were to the fore in the presentation I witnessed this evening. The production was joyful and exuberant and all cast members seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely, which is just as it should be.
Their enthusiasm was matched by the audience which applauded lustily at every opportunity.
The story is probably familiar to most people so I won’t spend too much time on it. It is set at Rydell High School in America in the late 1950s and concerns the efforts of Sandy to be accepted by her peers and to win the affections of Danny Zucco, the schools number one stud. Nothing deep and meaningful here, just a lot of fun involving teenage angst and hi-jinks.
The show got off to a rousing start with the whole cast presenting the well known title tune with great enthusiasm and that enthusiasm was maintained throughout the remainder of the performance. As is often the case with musicals, ensemble numbers tend to stand out and this was the case again. I particularly liked We Go Together performed with gusto by the whole cast, Summer Nights and Greased Lightning led by Kenickie, who was played with aplomb by Charlie Scanlon. Of course, the finale, You’re The One That I Want, which is perhaps the best known number, made a rousing end to the show, again performed by the entire cast.
Costumes, of which there must have been hundreds, brilliantly evoked the period, in particular the colourful dresses worn by the girls in the scene at the school dance. This scene also gave rise to another excellent ensemble number, Born To Hand Jive and provided us with a spectacular dancing display by Britney Unmack in her role as Cha Cha.
Scenery and backdrops were very well done and scene changes, which were carried out by cast members, were, for the most part, quite fluent and didn’t interrupt the continuity of the story. A standout in this regard was the scene at the drive-in, complete with shiny red convertible and a trailer for the 50s schlock movie The Blob showing on the screen.
Performances across the board were consistently good. Ashley Thompson and Rebecca Harland led the cast very capably as Danny and Sandy. Both had strong clear voices and sang with assurance. Sandy’s big ballad, Hopelessly Devoted to You, which I have always found a bit soppy, was tastefully presented, whilst Danny sang with gusto and bravado when required.
Other standout performances were given by Annabel Pearson as Rizzo, Nathan Fox as Doody, Phoebe Grant as Marty, Sasha Horrobin as Patty and Karina Whytcross as the dowdy Jan. But all cast members are to be congratulated for their contribution to the success of this performance.
I congratulate everyone involved in putting this production together and I am sure that audiences who attend subsequent performances will, get as much enjoyment from it as we did tonight.
- Barry Eeles  


Sexy, Sassy Chicago - Big musical skills in close-up

Chicago, directed by Scott Bradley for Theatre Of The Damned, Shenton Theatre August 10, 2018.

This latest version of Chicago, from Geelong’s Theatre of the Damned was sassy, sexy - and slightly scaled-down. It had to be, to fit on to the Shenton Theatre’s awkward stage. 

But if the show lost a little in spectacle by being confined to such a compact space, it gained an extra element of immediacy from the unusual closeness between audience and performers. 

It’s not uncommon to have such touching-distance intimacy at a straight play or drama, but rare to experience it at a vibrant musical with big production numbers.
And make no mistake, this Chicago was full-sized in its staging, its treatment and, most especially, its music. 

This Chicago may have been condensed and distilled but it remained as bold, brassy, tightly-choreographed and slickly-presented as any of the previous versions seen on our city’s big stages. It was just that this time we could see every sequin, every bead of sweat and experience every difficulty. We audience members were up-close and personal with a spectacular Broadway musical. And that gave us a much greater appreciation both of the talents and the efforts involved.
The show was driven by an immaculate 10-piece 1920s syncopated band that had been shoe-horned into a tiny space to the right of the stage. As stage-bands go, this one was star-studded, with trumpeter Dan Heskett and pianist Eric Von Ahlefeldt in its line-up. Both are 2018-nominated musical directors for other productions, and they’re now joined by this show’s MD William Conway in what will be a really interesting competition come November.
Pianist Eric gained an extra nomination for his authentic supplementary role as the show’s swank nightclub MC narrator. To complete an off-stage list of honours, the show’s sound engineer and choreographer picked up nominations, too, along with director Scott Bradley for his sharp, unflagging tempo and neat touches of racy humour. 

On-stage, there was top-quality talent with the show’s two lead murderesses, the astute Kethly Hemsworth and brazen Shani Clarke vying for the courtroom skills of mercenary lawyer Andrew Perry. This would not only get them acquitted, but turn them into media stars. All three sang, danced and sashayed through their big razzle-dazzle numbers with immaculate flair and a great deal of relish.  This was matched - and supported - by the show’s ‘secondary murderesses’ in Tegan Drever, Ashley Boyd, Molly Carter, Alicia Miller, Kristie Wiltshire and Chey-Anne Dee Elsum who strutted sexily through their big number ‘He Had It Coming’ before seamlessly transforming into naive journalists, court staff and other support roles. They won nominations, too, alongside Trent Inturissi for his delightful study as Shani’s naive and pathetically besotted husband.
And such was the depth of talent in this Chicago that all of its other support actors were deserving of nominations, too, missing out by the narrowest of margins. Shayne Lowe sang her Big Mama matron song brilliantly, but was just a little too nice in her portrayal, while Liam Erck’s eyecatching Mary Sunshine was a clear crowd favourite cameo. All these were complimented and supported by a hardworking and talented male dance ensemble in Kendall Fisher, Josh McInnes, David Van Etten and Kai Mann-Robertson.
Go see this Chicago - if you can get a ticket.
It’s big, it’s sassy, sexy and cynically funny and excellent musically.
It’s got super talents involved - and you’ll get the unusual privilege of seeing  all this at really close range.
Colin Mockett

The Stars Aligned in Concert

Fauré Requiem with motets by Fauré, Duruflé, Gounod, Franck & Villette sung by the Geelong Chorale, conducted by Allister Cox. St Paul’s Church, August 5, 2018.

Only rarely does it happen, when the stars align, the ducks are in a row, all the hard-work preparation pays off and fortune smiles on a single performance. 

That all happened with this concert.
I don’t think that I have ever heard the Geelong Chorale in better voice. What’s more, its choice of material and soloists was perfect, the venue’s acoustics allowed pinpoint clarity - and the audience relished every note, every flourish and every syllable of conductor Allister’s introductory remarks. 

This was a concert that grew to become a memorable occasion.
Its music was drawn mostly from the works of 19th Century French composers with Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem the principal work, taking up all of the concert’s second half.
For this, the Chorale had brought in soprano soloist Lisa Breen, whose warm, rounded tones and precise clarity was perfect for the solo piece Pie Jesu; and baritone Tom Healey, who matched Lisa for precision and added elements of power and pathos in his Libera Me.  

I don’t think I’ve ever heard Lisa or Tom sing better, either. Their voices jigsawed seamlessly into the flawless elegant rendition that the Chorale was providing.
Add in Frank De Rosso’s masterly accompaniment on the St Paul’s pipe organ - which must, surely be the best in our region - and the combined interpretation could only be described as glorious.

And that was, if you like, only the main course.
We had been prepared for this by a series of appetisers starting with the well-known favourite in Cesar Franck’s Panis Angelicus delivered by the Chorale with al the warmth and flavour you would expect from bread made in heaven. This was followed by six short motets from De Several, Duruflé Saint-Saëns, Villette and Fauré along with a resounding version of Gounod’s Ave Maria featuring soloist Lisa.

The Chorale, for this concert, was smaller than usual and in an unfamiliar formation. Its eleven sopranos were ranged to conductor Allister’s left, with his 13 altos to the right, separated by the central male component of three tenors and seven basses.
Whether it was this configuration, the reduced size, or perhaps the make-up of voices, but this format sounded simply glorious given those perfect acoustics in St Paul’s church. 

And such was their appreciation that following the performance, many audience members remained, waiting to congratulate the conductor, soloists, accompanist and individual Chorale members as they trickled in, wearing the satisfied smiles of people who knew they had made a first-class performance of an excellent concert, and all on a day when the god(s) were smiling, too. 

Colin Mockett

Footy Play With A Background Of Grief

Think of Me On Thursdays, written and directed by Miranda Donald for Tilly Dog Productions. The Potato Shed, July 28, 2018

Grief is an overwhelming, all-encompassing emotion. It’s raw, disturbing and life-changing. It can start before the demise of a loved one and can continue for long afterwards.   Ballarat playwright Miranda Donald wrote much of this play while sitting at the bedside of her terminally ill father. She was staying at a motel close to his hospital and ‘tapped away at the computer’ as a salving distraction.   Her resulting play, Think of Me On Thursdays opened at The Potato Shed almost a year after her father died, before beginning a season in Ballarat. And even from that chronological and physical distance, her sense of grief resonates as one of the play’s dominant features. 

Marketed as ‘a play with no boundaries’, Think Of Me On Thursdays is set in the canteen of a country football club where a group of volunteer women are preparing and producing a weekly meal.   For that ‘country football club’, read Buninyong, where Miranda was and is a long-time volunteer, and which features in the supporting video clips. The play is based on real-life conversations and events she had internalised, with a little artistic liberty taken for the benefit of stagecraft.

It also had a candid openness and heightened emotional elements, almost certainly due to the playwright’s grief-enhanced state at the time of writing.

The play began tamely enough, as we audience were lulled into a sense of gossipy closeness to the five women courtesy of some cheerfully snappy banter and bitching before the play moved into adult domain as each in turn shared a monologue detailing their fantasies. These mostly centred around what they would like to do with the clubs’ he-man hunk.   And then came a stunning revelation - which I’m not going to detail here - which brought the play to a dramatic and abrupt conclusion.

Think Of Me On Thursdays was unconventional in its format, lasting seventy minutes without an interval, and difficult for reviewers in that its programme gave almost no information, using pictures of celebrities over lists of productions each cast member had appeared in. And as the cast was Ballarat-based and uniformly unknown to this reviewer - my apologies in advance if I got the attribution wrong.

The play revolved around central character Miranda, played by the writer/director with a red-wine-fuelled hard-edged cynicism covering a raunchy, fantasising soft centre.  Simon Buckle played her husband Andrew as a well-meaning but ineffective supporter obsessed by distractions.   As champion cake-maker, Sandra, Janette Baxter grew in her part most especially when fantasising over the club’s hunk Jack, played with the correct amount of hulking footy self-centred blokiness by Ryan Britton.   Meanwhile, kitchen stalwart Sarah , keeper of a deep secret, was portrayed with sensitivity by Linda Ogier, while their senior, accident-prone colleague Mary, played by Jane Taylor, had her own set of hidden confidences. As, too,  did the camera (and Jack) obsessed constant visitor, Sally, played by Lesley Hale.

Think Of Me On Thursdays was at times confronting, it was moving, it was thought-provoking - and at all times absorbing. And it made for good theatre.   It was probably highly therapeutic to Miranda’s grieving process, too.

- Colin Mockett


We Will Rock You - Kept Its Promise!

We Will Rock You, directed by Paul Watson for CenterStage Geelong. Playhouse Theatre, July 20, 2018

I’ve been reporting and reviewing musicals at GPAC since the place opened in the 1980s. That means for 30 years I’ve employed the words ‘GPAC’s traditional opening night sound problems..’ as a matter of course.
It’s a phrase that has grown to become one of our city’s little quirky constants, like our city’s eerie multiplication of traffic lights or the unexplained short tenures of council CEOs.

And, true to form, this show had more than its share of sound glitches.
 Not only from the usual clicks, hums and wildly varying sound levels, but several main headmics cut in and out intermittently through key songs and passages.
And do you know what? It didn’t matter one little bit.
Because this was We Will Rock You, built around the songs of Freddy Mercury and Queen, with dialogue by Black Adder’s Ben Elton and a cast and crew of bright, young and obscenely talented devotees.
These more than compensated for a bit of duff technology.
Because this show was, in short, glorious. It was every bit as good as anyone could have expected, given that pedigree and line-up. And then a little bit more.
 We heard songs of the quality of anthems - Radio Gaga, I Want To Break Free, Another One Bites The Dust, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Fat Bottomed Girls and the rest, all delivered by a bunch of hot performers driven by a perfect, grungy rock band delivering Brian May’s soaring guitar riffs and Roger Taylor’s compelling rhythmic patterns.
The show’s make-up, costumes and choreography were inspired, its multimedia backdrop sensational and its lighting set-up simply brilliant.
And the cast and direction matched or exceeded every one of those superlatives. So when the sound from her headmic went out midway through her big title number, Natasha Bassett simply stepped forward and projected to her audience and the tech glitch was hardly noticed. Because the band was immaculate and, let’s face it, we knew all the words of Killer Queen anyway.
The superbly-wigged Natasha was, with pristine Joshua McGuane, a pair of nasty leaders bent on using technology to keep their people submissive and subdued. And if this sounds cartoon or pantomime-ish, hey, We Will Rock You is set on an iPlanet in the far future, and we’re living in the world of Trump, Putin and Kim Jong-un today!
Ben Elton’s sharply satirical script was littered with little black truths and humour of every hue, which added even more layers of enjoyment to what was, you will have realised by now, an exceptional show.
Morgan Heynes, as Scaramouche, displayed a delicious sense of comic timing alongside spikey, grungy acting skills and a raunchy belt-our voice. (Could this really be the same person who played the oppressed green witch Elphaba in last year’s Wicked?) While Joni Gardner, in the lead part of Galileo, matched her exactly, as a put-upon misfit with a big, belting voice perfect for those Freddy Mercury lyrics. (Again, could this really be the quietly introverted leader of The Geekers vocal group?)
Clearly director Paul Watson is as insightful when casting as he is inspirational at staging.
But to finish the line-up of characters, it should be noted that those big Queen/Mercury anthems were not restricted to the two leads, they were delivered by no fewer than seven big voices, all of them ideally suited for the task. These included the aggressive macho Brady King and perceptively defiant Melissa Harrington, with Matt Skinner effortlessly switching between perceptive humour and full-pitch vocalising. And that magnificent seven was supported by a top-quality multi-adaptable ensemble packed with class and talent. That was Cassie Chappell, Christie Walter, Alicia O’Bree, Katie Loxston, Harry Hudson-Collins, Tali Morrisey, Alysia MacLeod, Anna Flint, Ariane Gavin, Caitlyn Lear, Charlie McIntyre, Charlotte Crowley, Courtney Vos, Damian Carouso, Elija Ivelja, Elyse Batson, Jemma Lowther, Jesse Ivelja, Joey Donald, Kate Gore, Kayla Bamford, Melanie Dobrovoljni, Michael Hawthorn, Murray Plowman, Nick Rogers, Trudi Riley, Will Johnston and William Reed.
In the spirit of this show’s encrypted backdrop theme, I’d like to finish this review with a couple of cryptic messages of my own.
To CenterStage: you’ll need to book at least two tables on November 25.

And to the people of Geelong, go see this show. You. Will. Love. It.
They. Will. Rock. You.
One day I’ll tell you the story of how a Killer Queen defeated GPAC’s gremlins.

- Colin Mockett

Barefoot in the Park - a sparkling midwinter experience

Barefoot in the Park, directed by Kelly Clifford for Geelong Rep. 

Woodbin Theatre, June 29, 2018

Rep’s midyear production of Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park  turned out to be something of a classic.
Circumstances had combined to make this production the company’s third American play in succession, with two of the three written by Neil Simon.
But any reservations that Rep’s regular audience may have held about theatrical overloading or repetition, were quickly dispersed by the show’s laugh-a-minute opening night.

Written, set and first staged in the 1960s, when playwright Neil Simon was in his prime and at his funniest, this 50-year revival brushed up as a delightfully timeless romantic comedy.
Even its setting, in a cold February New York apartment, turned out to be fortuitous, with the Woodbin a warm and happy haven inside Geelong’s midwinter chill.
And in the safe and sure hands of director Kelly Clifford, Simon’s sharply-written, deliciously witty lines came to life as a stage rom-com packed with class and laughs.
Much of the play’s success was down to director Kelly’s casting.
Her key pairing of Georgia Chara with Ian Nash-Gilchrist as twenty-something newly-weds struggling to settle into a new life in an ancient cheap apartment was inspired. Georgia was exceptional playing Cory, a zany optimist driven by nervous energy to spread the joy she was experiencing; while Ian, as Paul, was gauche, gawky, awed and bewildered as he tried to adjust to life with his high-octane bride while working as a staid and reserved lawyer.
Their stage chemistry became evident within minutes of the opening lights as the number and strength of laughs escalated.
And they reached a sparkling, regular laugh-a-minute pattern with the involvement of a second couple, played by a pair of veteran Geelong scene-stealers, in Robyn Birrell and David Mackay. Robyn nicely underplayed Corie’s straight-laced mother Ethel, who was delivered into the hands of Victor, the newlywed’s irascible, impecunious flirting neighbour, played with lip-smacking relish by David. This quartet was more than ably assisted by Greg Shawcross’s wryly sardonic phone serviceman and Steve Howell’s wordless, breathless delivery man.
The play’s action was smooth and seamless across a cleverly designed set that turned Rep’s compact stage into that rickety walk-up apartment including access to its remote roof. And the play’s costumes, furniture and fittings were accurate to the extent they became unobtrusive.

In all, this was a near-faultless production of a top-quality piece of theatre staged by a high-quality cast and crew.
They presented a sharply-depicted, cleverly-crafted, witty story of a romance that was both light and easy as well as fast, furious and very funny.
Word has it that the play’s opening weekend was sold out even before opening night.
It now seems inevitable that the rest of the run will follow suit - so it’s recommended to book early if you want to experience this cheerful, fulfilling and heartwarming theatrical experience.

Colin Mockett 

Stage SHREK - larger than life and much more charming

SHREK the musical directed by Shane Lee for GSODA Juniors, Playhouse Theatre, June 23 2018.

When the animated film Shrek was released in2001 it became an instant hit with cinema patrons around the world and subsequently spawned two sequels, so it was only a matter of time before it was turned into a Broadway musical.
Last night I had the pleasure and privilege of seeing the show for the first time, as presented by GSODA Juniors - and I wasn’t disappointed. It is a colourful, vibrant and rollicking show which was presented with great enthusiasm and skill by the very talented young cast. It was full of humour and larger than life characters.
I won’t waste space by relating the story as it will be familiar to most people. Suffice it to say that it concerns the green ogre Shrek as he attempts to reclaim his swamp from the displaced fairy tale characters who have descended upon it. To do this he must rescue princess Fiona, but things don’t go exactly to plan.
Bringing these characters to life was a huge cast of highly committed and talented performers. Time and space do not permit me to mention every cast member individually but I congratulate everyone on their efforts. However, I must single out some of the more prominent ones.
The production is anchored by Henry Stephenson as Shrek who dominates the show with his very assured and confident performance. He moved effortlessly from grumpy misanthrope to loving husband to be and sang his songs with feeling and when required, considerable gusto.
He was matched later in the show by Issy Coomber as the adult Fiona and they worked very well together, especially in the scene where they were trying to outdo each other with breaking wind and burping.
Scene stealing performances were given by Will Parker as the diminutive Lord Farquaad who made us truly believe he was only a metre tall and by Jack Barthel whose manic energy lent itself well to the wise cracking Donkey. Phoebe Grant was also excellent as Ogre Fiona.
I found the score, which I was unfamiliar with, to be generally tuneful, although some numbers more so than others. However, all musical numbers were beautifully presented with some of them involving quite intricate dance sequences. Ensemble numbers stood out for me, particularly Story of My Life and Freak Flag presented by the fairy tale characters, very capably led by Pinocchio, and What’s Up Duclo, vigorously put over by Lord Farquaar and the Duclocians. I also especially enjoyed I Know It’s Today by the three Fionas and the spellbinding Who I’d Be at the end of Act 1.
But for me, the show stopping number was Forever, which was sung with great intensity and emotion by Mackenzie Nicol in her role as Dragon.
Stagecraft in this show was exceptional. The scene changes were seamless and the sets and backdrops were very functional and visually stunning. Congratulations to everyone who was involved in this aspect of the production.
There must have been hundreds of costumes in this show and they were nothing short of sensational; very colourful and intricate and helping to delineate the characters, in particular the fairy tale characters. Notable was the Dragon, operated by four cast members, with its flapping wings and mouth which moved in time with the words which were being sung on its behalf.
I would like to congratulate director Shane Lee and all his production crew for creating a most enjoyable night at the theatre and for adding further proof that theatre is alive and well in Geelong.

- Barry Eeles.   

Warwick lights a Spanish Fire in Geelong

Spanish Fire, from the Geelong Symphony Orchestra conducted by Warwick Stendgårds. Costa Hall, June 23, 2018

It’s our orchestra’s policy, and its practice, to present challenging as well as popular works, whilst opening its players to the experience of guest conductors.

All three of these occurred with this event, and the outcome was an outstanding concert of pride and rare beauty.

The pride was in the quality of Geelong’s still-fledgling symphony orchestra. It’s sometimes difficult to comprehend that this is only the GSO’s third year, for it now plays with the confidence and maturity of an established musical institution.
As for the beauty, that came from the choice of programme, which was Spanish themed.
This Spanish Fire began with the smouldering passion of Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga’s Symphony in D Major, which is a difficult, challenging piece of rich, complex musical patterns and textures amid smooth calming passages that was presented by our orchestra with accomplished ease.
Then followed the jaunty flickering of Manuel de Falla's equally testing Suite from the Three Cornered Hat, also completed with verve.

Following an interval, the flames intensified when solo guitarist Matt Withers joined in. Matt and the orchestra presented the Basque composer Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez with its well-known second Adagio and equally popular third movement Allegro Gentille. For this reviewer those pieces evoked images not of Spanish plains but of American films, because snippets have been used so many times by Hollywood to evoke the barren western desert atmosphere. So the opportunity to hear the pieces in their full splendour and correct concepts was appreciated.
The long, loud applause drew what was officially an encore piece - though it was listed in the programme, and its composer was in the audience - of James Mountain’s Spanish Romance for Guitar and Orchestra, a lush and sumptuous work of musical romance that was equally well received - before Matt left and the Orchestra took on another popular piece in Enrique Granados’ Intermezzo from Goyescas.
And finally, stoked and enhanced by the addition of extra brass and percussion players, the orchestra finished the evening with a blazing rendition of Emmanuel Chabrier’s best-known work, the catchy and popular España.
That was the structure of the evening.
But what made this concert exceptional was not only the high quality of all round performance, but the input of guest conductor Warwick Stendgårds.
He’s a slim, middle-aged neatly turned out man who appeared to have energy and vitality to spare. He looked a little like former premier John Brumby - but this was a John Brumby primed on red cordial.
Because Warwick Stendgårds conducts with a sort of all-encompassing ‘restrained spectacular’ style, his body swaying with the musical rhythms, his left hand flourishing wide circles while the right wields his baton like a sabre, sometimes stabbing the air, sometimes broadly sweeping but always demanding attention.
All this was augmented with little nods, smiles and gestures toward his orchestra - and sometimes, to the audience, too.
I’m quite sure that this was a warm learning experience for our orchestra’s younger players, for they responded, literally with gusto.

And for the audience, this night of Spanish Fire made for a blazing success on a cold Geelong night.
More, please.
 - Colin Mockett

Hotel Sorrento - efficient service, but few spectacular views

Hotel Sorrento, directed by Denny Lawrence for HIT Productions, The Potato Shed, June 22, 2018

The programme informed us that HIT Productions is ‘Australia’s premier theatre touring company’, having toured mainstream theatre nationwide for the past 25 years.
The company has a record of bringing good shows to the Potato Shed over the past decade, and this production marked 20 years since HIT first staged a tour of Hotel Sorrento

Unfortunately, this one won’t go down as one of the company’s - or the venue’s - better efforts.
For in the hands of director Denny Lawrence, Hannie Rayson’s award-winning social drama came across as competent, but lacking finesse.
Each member of the cast was well-rehearsed, line and movement perfect. Their flat-pack set was efficient in allowing unhindered turnarounds for the play’s multiple scene changes, and the sound and lighting were effective, if uninspiring.
But the overall impression that this reviewer took from the play was of a company going through the motions.
There was no theatrical light and shade, though the script allowed plenty of scope for it; and precious little dramatic energy, given the storyline was far-fetched enough to keep a TV soap going for months.

It followed not one, but two prodigal sisters returning to their family home run by their older sibling. One of them, now London-based, had written a semi-autobiographical novel shortlisted for a major prize, which was a thinly-disguised version of her, and her family’s life in Sorrento, on the Mornington Peninsula, before she had left a decade ago.  

Her arrival coincided with the death of the trio’s father and this sparked the unearthing of a raft of long-kept family secrets.
Kim Denman played the author’s part wracked with angst from the outset, while Dion Mills presented her English husband as a snobbish caricature. Joanne Booth played her US-based successful sister with lightly-interested distain, while Ruth Caro played the home-based sibling as a resigned, uncomplaining put-upon semi-drudge.
Saxon Gray brought elements of sensitivity to his role as her son, while Dennis Coard played the sister’s reformed wayward father as a cheerfully old-fashioned Okker.
Jenny Seedsman was effective as their artist neighbour and Mike Smith made the most of his part as a writer offended by the ex-pat’s dated depiction of Australia and bent on informing her of this.
But for all their efforts, the lasting impression that this Hotel Sorrento left was one of efficient service but uninspiring fare. 

- Colin Mockett

Geelong Presents Such a Diverse Variety of Songs in SPACE

Western District Choral Festival, hosted by The Geelong Chorale, School of Performing Arts and Creative Education at Geelong Grammar, June 17, 2018

The venue, titled ‘SPACE’, for ‘School of Performing Arts and Creative Education’, turned out to be a sparkling new theatre complex built inside the environs of Geelong Grammar’s Corio campus.
And it proved to be perfect for this non-competitive gathering of choral groups from Victoria’s Western district.
But that intro, too, was a little misleading, for 12 of the 14 choirs were from Geelong, and rather than a gathering, this presented as a glorious celebration of group singing.
Those 14 choirs brought the width and depth, the textures, colours and diversity of sung music, from folk songs to high opera, jazz to classic pop, in a smoothly-organised procession over two hours with just a ten-minute leg-stretching break.
And in the process, they created an afternoon of musical joy for its fortunate audience.
The show began with event hosts, The Geelong Chorale, displaying its delicacy of tonal excellence with ‘O Radiant Dawn’, followed by a happy rendition of the traditional Christmas ‘Wassail’. It ended with the venue’s hosts, the Choir of Geelong Grammar School making a glorious job of Freddy Mercury’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, followed by an all-on-stage - 400 voices, according to MC John Stubbings - version of Toto’s ‘Africa’. This had everybody in the room singing do-do-do do-do doop doop dooo.. and blessing the rains down in Africa - while hoping the rains in Geelong would hold off to allow them a dry walk back to the car park.

The time in between was filled with fine music and delightful memories. The Colac Chorale brought gentle treatments of folk spirituals with ‘Black is the Colour’, ‘The Water Is Wide’ and ‘Wade In The Water’; followed by Geelong group Wonderous Merry, who continued the wet theme with ‘Soon It’s Gonna Rain’ but negated the concept by singing ‘Dem Dry Bones’ - complete with an illustrative string-puppet skeleton - as their final number.
The Apollo Bay Community Choir was next, presenting a trio of joyfully warm African-styled rhythmic numbers from their Gitika Partington songbook, including one written by the gloriously named Three-Bucket Jones. 

Then came the all-female Geelong Harmony Chorus presenting vocals as sparkling as their costumes, along with some neat prestidigitation as they conjured roses while singing about ‘Looking At The World Through Rose Coloured Glasses’.
The Geelong Youth Choir began small, with its six-member Chamber Choir before expanding to 30+ voices to present its witty, clever ‘Painless Opera’ - then expanding further by melding with their adult group, Raise The Bar, to bring a little happy clapping Arabic magic with ‘Sih’r Khalaq’.
Alone, Raise The Bar gave a preview of their forthcoming GPAC play appearance with ‘We’re All Here’, then reunited with the Youth Choir to sing a cheerfully spirited ‘Jabberwocky’.
Geelong’s Jeanette John conducts two choirs, one all-female, the other all-male, and they presented back-to-back. Her Geelong Welsh Ladies Choir opened with a Welsh hymn before moving to the classic show tune ‘Wouldn’t It Be Loverly’, while Jeanette’s men, the International Harvester Choir, started with a spiritual, ‘Cross The Wide Missouri’, before presenting ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Miserables and finishing with a pop version of Verdi’s chorus of Hebrew Slaves in ‘Speed Your Journey’. 

Sing Australia’s Geelong group displayed crisp vocal clarity in their trio of songs that started with ‘Catch A Falling Star’ and finished with a plaintive ‘Take Me Home’. Then followed Vox Box, bringing bright Billy Joel and joyful ‘Java Jive’ before a gentle spiritual ‘Deep River’.

The U3A Geelong Choir kept that gentle flow going with a delightfully sparse version of WB Yeats’ ‘Down By The Sally Gardens’, before lifting the tempo with the Rice-Webber showtime ‘Any Dream Will Do’. This segued neatly to the Geelong College’s Community Choir’s medley of songs from the Four Seasons’ Jersey Boys musical - and this led to the immaculately blue-blazered entry of the Grammar School Choir to sing a spirited ‘Jerusalem’, a gentle ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’ - then that wonderful ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ before the all-on-stage finale.
In total, everything came together; the superb venue, the different personalities of choirs and wide variety of their content to create what was simply a wonderful afternoon of joyful song.

- Colin Mockett

History with music makes great entertainment!

Alfred Deakin's Women, Drop Of A Hat Productions, Potato Shed May 15, 2018

'Drop of A Hat Production's musical documentaries are a hit with audiences at the Drysdale Potato Shed. The latest show was 'Alfred Deakin's Women' researched, written and narrated by Colin Mockett. His passion for history, and the people that contributed to it, is what keeps him and his partner Shirley Power treading the boards.

Colin's latest production was a lesson about how Australia was shaped over 100 years ago. As the Deakin's were particularly musical the show was interspersed with their favourite parlour songs and music played and sung by Shirley and Reyna Hudgell like 'Beautiful Dreamer', 'Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes' and 'Hard Times' that fitted well into the script.

"We're back before radio, TV, when recordings were rare and music was created in concerts held in people's living rooms," was how Colin prepared the audience for a glimpse of yesteryear. "History books tell us that Alfred Deakin was Australia's second, fifth and seventh Prime minister and that he was crucial to the push that achieved the Federation of Colonies that created our nation. What that doesn't really explain was just how difficult this was, or how far-reaching and long-lasting his contribution was. But of more importance, Alfred and his family were also very political and instrumental in shaping the Australia we live in today.

Deakin's all-woman family, his mother Sarah and his sister Katie, his wife Pattie and daughters Ivy, Stella and Vera were his inspiration, his mentors and advisers. They were important women in their own right. Pattie established the pattern for Prime Minister's wives to become a de-facto First Lady and supportedgoodcauses.

Ivy bequeathed us the MSO, Stella the CSIRO and Vera the Red Cross that was very significant in our history. Katie advised Alfred on the most efficient way to govern and set in motion significant and ongoing advances and freedoms for women.

By 1891 Melbourne and Victoria were affected badly by the property boom and bust that closed banks and sparked a Depression that lasted ten years. Alfred had invested all his and his father's money and lost the lot.

He travelled around Australia, for expenses only, giving speeches to achieve Federation while working as a journalist and barrister in order to pay back creditors.

Shortly after leaving parliament, Alfred showed signs of memory loss and dementia. His final years were spent in quiet recluse at his beloved holiday Point Lonsdale home 'Ballara' where he died in 1919 aged 63.

- Queenscliff Herald

Torquay revives a thrilling genre

Strangers On A Train directed by Michael Baker for Torquay Theatre Troupe. Price St Theatre Torquay, May 14, 2018

It was adventurous, and quite refreshing for the Torquay Theatre Troupe to move outside our current fashion of staging social dramas, comedies or period revivals. Because Strangers on a Train is an out-and-out suspense thriller, a genre highly popular in the mid 20th Century, but way out of style now.
Originally a book, then a play, Strangers on a Train was made into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock, who changed it considerably from both book and play.
So TTT’s director Michael Baker chose to cover the best of both worlds by reviving the original play, but with a film-style sound track to enhance its tense moments.
And there were plenty of those in a tale which came across as remarkably fresh, considering its 70-something age.
The storyline began with a chance meeting between two men on a train travelling through the American mid-west in the 1950s.
Their conversations reveal that both had people hindering their life progress; one a difficult estranged wife, the other a recalcitrant father. So one stranger proposed that they should clear these hurdles by ‘swapping murders’ - each killing the other’s difficult relative.
They would not be suspected, he reasoned, because, as strangers to the deceased, neither would have a motive.
The other passenger reluctantly clinked glasses on this proposal, believing it to be the alcohol-fuelled ramblings of a troubled man.
That was, until his ex-wife was murdered in unexplained circumstances and he began getting calls and letters telling him that it was now his obligation to return the favour..
I won’t reveal what happened next, because the play truly was a suspense thriller, with lots of twists to its satisfactory ending.

In Torquay, the first, propositioning, stranger was played by Lachlan Errey, who appeared to grow creepier and more menacing as the play progressed. His coerced partner in crime, the ‘reluctant’ murderer, was played by Lachlan Vivian-Taylor as a man descending into a morass of torment. Both these performances were riveting in their own ways - and I’m nominating both for our ‘Best Lead Actor’ award. For this play essentially had two big lead roles, with five supports. And, unusually (and thankfully), all the dialogue was delivered faultlessly without faux-American accents.
And though the two Lachy’s performances were dominating, their support was high quality. Maryanne Doolan was admirable as propositioning Lachy’s overprotective mother and Catherine Crowe likewise, as victim Lachy’s unsuspecting new wife.
Ethan Cook presented as a believable suspicious private investigator, Tom Van Looy gave us a bemused but supportive workmate and Don Bennett an equally plausible supportive friend.

Unusual for TTT, there were a couple of opening night glitches that briefly held up the play, but nothing that wouldn’t be ironed out before the next performance. And in no way did it take away from what was a raft of fine performances that brought back a welcome revival of that past theatrical genre.
I recommend you go see this Torquay Strangers on a Train - but don’t reveal the ending to your friends.
- Colin Mockett

Geelong’s Eurosatire is much better than the original

Song Contest - the almost Eurovision Experience directed by Kai Mann-Robertson for Geelong Lyric Theatre Society. Playhouse Theatre, May 10, 2018

It was a brave decision by Geelong Lyric to stage this musical while the real contest was happening on TV. For surely its target audience - Eurovision aficionados - would prefer to be home watching the preliminary heats rather than pay to see a mock version.
But I’m here to say they would be wrong. For this big, bright flashy production is faster-moving, happier and much more fun than its TV counterpart. It isn’t interrupted by commercials or inane commentary and all the dud bits have been taken out.
In short, this Song Contest - the almost Eurovision Experience on stage is far superior to the TV version.
For this was a loving send-up that had all the glitter, glitz and wacky fashions of the original, but packaged with sharp humour and satire and delivered by a wonderfully happy cast. They sang, posed and danced up eleven separate storms - all with their collective tongues held firmly in their cheeks.
The show was fast, glamorous, funny - the script, by comedian Glynn Nicholas, was laced with subtle wit - and musically it was presented with a highly professional polish.
Credit should go to director Kai Mann-Robertson for assembling such a stellar cast of Geelong people - not just on stage but also behind the scenes - to present a show that would have delighted audiences on any stage in our State.

The structure was simple. Set in Belarus, the contest was between 11 countries, each introduced by a trio of announcers led by Terri Powell’s blowsy dominating former State heroine and her two awed underlings. These were played by the immaculate Jeremy Withers and cringing minion, Jocelyn Mackay. Both of these actors re-appeared in different costumes in the ongoing segments; he as part of the team representing Germany; she leading a glamour group from Russia.
All the other positions were filled by probably the most talented ensemble ever brought together on a Geelong musical stage.
This ensemble was studded with lead performers, award winners, star newcomers and Geelong musical theatre identities. So Davina Smith and her daughter Charlotte Crowley found themselves alongside Sascha Keet, Brendan Rossbotham, Amy Curtis, David Greenwood, Scott Graham, Anna Flint, Chris Anderson, Christina Hunter, Declan Robinson, Dylan McBurney, Gemma Blake, Jenna Irvin, Jessica Ciccarelli, Keegan Stamp, Mae Udarbe, Sally Venn, Sanela Osmanovic and Tracey McKeague. Each of these quick-changed between lead, back-up singing or dancing for the different countries. This in a variety of wigs and costumes as well as switching quirky musical styles and danced to different regimes put together by guest choreographers, so highlighting the differences.
It made for a dazzling whirlwind of satirical fun and glamour - but to present it well was theatrically challenging.
Frankly, the cast was uniformly adept - and delightful in every role, to the extent that it would have been unfair to single out individuals to nominate for our 2018 theatre awards.
So I’ve nominated every on-stage performer - and that’s more than any previous show in our awards history.
The show’s musical and vocal directors are nominated, too, along with the lighting and sound designers. For this show looked and sounded immaculate.
So when all these parts were brought together by director Mann-Robertson, this Eurovision Experience presented as a delightful, fun, happy musical experience that I can’t recommend highly enough.
Switch off the TV and grab a ticket while you can.
You’ll love every moment, even if you’re not a Eurovision fan.

Colin Mockett 

Ceres’ Dolls House had a fiery end

A Doll’s House directed by Elaine Mitchell & Miriam Wood for Theatre of the Winged Unicorn. Ceres Hall May 4, 2018

Rarely has a better credentialed play been presented on Geelong’s non-professional stages. Quite apart from the depth of Ibsen’s writing - A Dolls House has been re-staged, adapted and re-styled multiple times since its 1879 beginnings, and this production had award-winning or experienced hands in every department. This ranged from director to set and costume designers through to a wealth of multi-awarded on-stage acting talent.
Yet, somewhat surprisingly, all this didn’t translate to a particularly memorable piece of theatre.
Yes, the work was faithfully translated on a pristine, sharp white set with it’s players beautifully and accurately costumed for the period.
And, yes, it was well-lit and precisely acted with the lead role of Norma a tour-de-force performance by the beautiful and talented Georgia Chara.
But from there, the play’s staging and structure combined to present what was a largely unbalanced whole.
Because,in truth, this Doll’s House really only theatrically sparked to life in its third act. The first two, longer, acts came across as careful - and somewhat pedestrian - scene-setting.
Some of this was inevitable, bearing in mind the central theme of A Dolls’ House is its 19th Century wife’s struggle against the cloyingly restrictive social mores of her time. She was then wholly owned by her husband, and, in this production, overly patronised by him, too. And this was despite the fact that it emerged that she had transgressed the law in her past support of him.

In Ceres, this scene-setting was laid out in painstaking detail, using theatrical devices as diverse as the children playing with a real doll’s house to the house receiving its visitors through an unseen entrance, while the husband’s presence loomed largely unseen, too, in his off-stage office.
But that was certainly not the case with Georgia Chara. She was almost constantly on stage, appearing at first as an assured wife and mother whose confidence incrementally deteriorated with the realisation that her status was being jeopardised by her past actions.
Georgia played this beautifully, from fragile-bright confidence to wretched distress, sometimes skirting the edges of her stage as a distraught moth compelled to circle her destructive flame.
Flickering in an out of her doomed domain was a complex list of characters headed by her husband, portrayed by Ben Mitchell as a boorish self-important prig, with his doctor friend (and her secret admirer) played by Phillip Besancon with an unusual pseudo-English mumbled accent.
Steven Georgiardis cleverly shifted his lawyer character from crafty blackmailer to one of principled honesty, while Kath O’Neill fleshed out her surprise arrival from Georgia’s past with subtle complexity.
And, again surprisingly for Ceres, this production lacked such niceties as visitors being offered delicate 19th Century refreshments, though much was made of the theatrically donning and doffing of hats and coats without any assistance from Melissa Mussellwhite’s maidservant. Alexis Dolman and Jarvis Burns appeared early as Ben and Georgia’s children.
And it should be said that from that studied two-act preamble, this Ceres Doll’s House did emerge into theatrical fire in its all-too-brief third act when the plot lines converged and Georgia was inescapably led to confront and defy her husband, discovering her own self-worth in the light of his blinkered selfishness. 

The play’s packed first-night audience greeted this climactic ending - and Georgia’s stellar overall performance - with warm enthusiasm, which contrasted to the polite applause that had followed acts I and II.
So, all up, this Dolls House looked splendid and showcased an exemplary performance from it’s lead performer, Georgia.
But it was a Dolls House that would have certainly benefited from an early lift.
- Colin Mockett

Chorale Gets A Handel On Perfection

G F Handel, Coronation Anthems and Dixit Dominus. The Geelong Chorale & guest soloists conducted by Allister Cox. Wesley Church April 29, 2018

This had to be just about the Geelong Chorale’s perfect concert.
Its content, two significant works by George Frederic Handel, written 20 years apart and for very different occasions, was executed just about flawlessly.
Their guest soloists were impressive, their scratch orchestra of a high quality and the overall reception couldn’t have been better.
This concert twice drew long, wholehearted applause from its appreciative audience that continued through several bows from choristers, soloists and orchestra until conductor/director Allister Cox finally gestured to end them with calming waves of his hand.
He had chosen to reverse the listed order by putting the most difficult piece first. This was Dixit Dominus, written in 1707 when Handel was in his early 20s and commissioned to create a musical version of the words of God.
A feature of concerts led by Allister Cox are his illuminating and interesting introductions and this was no exception. He neatly put the work into its time, place and perspective.
But after that, the Chorale and guests delivered a 30-minute oratorio that had all the required delicacy, strength and power to exactly illustrate their conductor’s words - one that would have certainly brought the glory of God to its 18th Century congregation.
The 10 segments ranged from muted intricacy - Virgam virtuosi delivered by alto Colm Talbut accompanied by organ, cello and bass, while Tecum principium had Lee Abrahmsen’s (literally) glorious soprano voice soaring over chorale and orchestra to swirl around the rafters of the acoustically and visually suitable venue. There were moments of rare musical delicacy, with Ms Lee Abrahmsen, duetting with fellow-soprano Emily Swanson; and of robust vigour, with the male chorale and soloists combining to bring De torrente in via to sturdy life. And it all climaxed in glorious splendour drawing that first burst of sustained applause quietened by the first conductor’s gesture.

Following a short interval, Chorale and guests presented Handel’s Coronation Anthems, written in 1727 and performed at every British coronation since, Allister’s introduction informed.
This was fascinating on several levels, not the least because it drew into perspective the Germanic elements of British Royalty, for the work’s commissioner, George I, its original recipient, George II and its creator were all German-born.
The works also illustrated not only Handel’s musical maturation, but also his differences in interpreting the words of God to the glory of a monarch. 

The Coronation Anthems were all bright, triumphant and illustrious, beginning with the magnificent Zadok the Priest, delivered with equal amounts of finesse and vigour by the Chorale and its orchestra augmented by trumpets, oboes and timpani.

The anthems oratorio brought larger prominence to soloist tenor Terence MacManus and baritone William Humphreys, whose discreet trips between his regular central position in the Chorale to take his place with the other soloists became a charming feature.

But above all its component parts, this concert’s memorable element was the quality of its music and it’s professional delivery.

All together, this elegant concert would have significantly enhanced the reputation of our principal choral ensemble.
And that has to be the perfect result to a near-perfect musical afternoon. 

Colin Mockett 

Sexy, Fun, Ridiculous Toxic Avenger

The Toxic Avenger directed by Doug Mann for Theatre of the Damned, Shenton Theatre, April 21, 2018

Every so often a production arrives that is so different, so outlandish that it becomes a cult hit. That was the case in with the stage musical The Toxic Avenger which took the script to a low budget horror B-movie, put it to a smart rock score and mixed in some caustic comedy - and found a hit that ran for 300 performances off-Broadway between 2008 and 2010.

This was the wacky musical that Geelong’s innovative and adventurous Theatre of the Damned imported and trusted to veteran director Doug Mann.
In the hands of Doug and Damned Theatre’s Tony and Elise Dahl, the show took another complexion again. For the Geelong Toxic Avenger is a daggy, happy, cheerfully irreverent alternative to the glossy hit-format musicals more often seen on our stages.
The Toxic Avenger’s storyline is almost irrelevant, but I’ll run it past anyway. A nerdy student discovers that all of New York’s toxic waste is being dumped in New Jersey thanks to a corrupt mayor. He obtains evidence from a beautiful blind librarian, with whom he falls in love, confronts the mayor with the evidence and is thrown into a vat of toxic waste by her henchmen. This changes him into a mixed-up toxic super-hero with a vengeance.
The show moves along at a cheerfully brisk pace to the score of 17 happy rock songs, all the way to a wacky version of the traditional happy ending. 

In Geelong, this daft script was delivered on a clever set, mostly constructed of drums overflowing with evil-looking chemicals, by a bunch of talented performers quite clearly determined to have fun.
Their set even had a revolving stage to keep the action moving, while young musical director Courtney Miller’s band kept the show perfectly on track with a slick, professional sound.
But the real joy of this show came from its cast.
Their happy, cheerful distain for the mock-seriousness of their plight spilled over into the audience, which laughed, sang or clapped along with their sheer ebullience. 

Liam Erck made a perfect nerd/avenger, combining energy and dynamism with droll delivery and an excellent singing voice.
As the unknowing target of his devotion, blind librarian Shani Clarke was wonderfully, naively sexy in movement and delightful in voice.
While as the corrupt mayor, Alicia Miller was a seductive, scheming vamp; but she alternated as the Avenger’s mum, playing her as a classic comedy New-York-Jewish mother.
Behind these leads, PJ White and Will Conway clowned and sang a storm in an assortment of support roles - a pair of bullies, the mayor’s henchmen, the librarian’s girlfriends - every duo delivered with the show’s delightfully underplayed but slickly polished musical gloss.
Backing these leads was a wacky ensemble comprising Leanne Treloar, Liam South, Claire Miller, Elijah Ivelja, and Seth Baxter, a large part of whose job was to distract the audience while Alicia, PJ and Will made their quick-change costume and characters.
In all, this Avenger was the opposite of Toxic. It was a delightful dose of madcap musical mayhem mixed with wacky comedy and gender diversity all delivered with rare verve. Catch it if you can. 

Colin Mockett

Rep’s Artuo Ui - a study in acting power.

The Resistible Rise Of Artuo Ui directed by Greg Shawcross for Geelong Rep, Woodbin Theatre, April 20, 2018

Bertold Brecht wrote his play The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui as an allegory - a play with a hidden meaning. The storyline of the rise of a 1930s gangster’s influence in the vegetable markets of Chicago neatly paralleled the rise of Adolph Hitler in Nazi Germany.
This Geelong Rep production, from director Greg Shawcross, took away any mystery in the analogy by clearly stating in projected surtitles the German parallel before each American gangster scene began. Though clarifying the plotline, this did somewhat rob the playwright of his subtlety.
Director Shawcross introduced several other innovations, too, some working better than others. The public acceptance and popularity of Ui/Hitler was measured by an ever-increasing number of propaganda posters pasted around the set - a silent, inspired but telling move - while the gangster cult’s rise through the prohibition of alcohol was less successfully portrayed by a seemingly ever-present decanter of whisky.
But probably director Shawcross’s most controversial decision was to play the entire production in terms of confrontation by ratcheting up the levels of anger. So most conversations were held at the level of shouting matches.
This reduced further the opportunity to deliver subtleties, but it did add considerably to the play’s power and impact.
This was too much for some in the first-night audience, who chose not to return after the interval. Though understandable, for anger in bulk can be unsettling, they did miss out on a significant play and some heavyweight dramatic performances.

Because director Shawcross’s casting was superb and the performances he drew were just about immaculate. This was a powerfully impressive play.

In the title role, Cameron Allen was worryingly believable as a troubled psychopath unconcerned by the mayhem he was unleashing, while Joshua McGuane simply chilling as his chief hit-man. Tom Bartle was both convincing and alarming playing the gangster equivalent of Goebbels, so too for Zach Eastwood’s smiling assassin version of Herman Goring.
Outside of this quartet of evil, Geoff Gaskill gave two superb acting performances as the fallen Dogsborough/Hindenburg, whose eloquent silences spoke far louder than the mobsters’ rants; and a delightful counterpoint as a fey acting coach. Zoe Prem portrayed her many characters with a formidable skill, from agitated victim to coolly indifferent mobster.  

Indeed, a remarkable feature of this production was the swift and adroit changing of characters as the supporting cast switched personalities.
Stacey Carmichael made her complex pressured victims believable on several levels and parts, while Barry Eeles swung from unconcerned onlooker to oppressed judge to willing henchman with assurance. Russell Perry was a persuasive negotiator and a sinister prosecutor among several excellent portrayals; Sam Lawrence shifted from his father’s pliant yes-man to become several ominous characters with aplomb while Amber Connor, Callum Padgett and Norm Lowe gave uniformly excellent performances in more than a dozen different support characters.
But for this reviewer, the most lasting memory from this production of Arturo Ui was of its power - both written and portrayed - and the acting skills that created it.
 - Colin Mockett 

The Zipper - appropriately named

The Zipper directed by Wolf Heidecker, Potato Shed, March 23, 2018.

First, a word to those audience members who went to The Potato Shed for the first time to see this play.
I’ve been writing about theatre in Geelong for more than 30 years, and this was among the poorest performances I’ve witnessed.
So, please, trust me, it was unusual. Not every play at the venue is of this standard. This appeared to be a workshopped effort, a performance piece in progress.
I’ve written about writer Bernard Clancy and director Wolf Heidecker previously. Their former collaboration, Foxholes of the Mind (reviewed on this site August 2016) was as well-constructed and sensitive as this Zipper was crass, crude and slap-dash amateurish.
There’s a popular adage that states ‘If you can’t say something positive about a subject, it’s better to say nothing at all.’
And after thinking and reflecting about the positive aspects of this performance, I came up with - Zip.  

That’s all.

  - Colin Mockett

Geelong’s 42nd Street driven by its tappers 

42nd Street directed by David Mackay for CenterStage Geelong, Playhouse Theatre, March 16, 2018.

42nd Street was written as a big, showy American musical film, directed by Busby Berkeley in the depression-era 1930s. It was revived as a stage musical in the 1980s and surprisingly, this was its premier performance in Geelong.

And the first sight that Geelong audiences saw was a partially-lifted curtain revealing only the company’s legs as it tap-danced up an energetic storm.
That introduction was to prove prophetic, for this production was very much driven by its ensemble’s ability to recreate those Berkeley-era big, precision syncopated tap-dance production numbers whenever the show needed a lift.
True, it did have firm lead roles in its Hollywood American dream-fable storyline of a chorus girl achieving stardom when, against the odds, she takes over the lead role of a Broadway musical.
Rebecca Wik fitted this part perfectly with a delightfully balanced naive assurance - and a touch of poetry, as her previous appearance for the company was in the chorus.
Sally-Anne Cowdell played her pushy, unpleasant fading diva with enough authenticity to allow the audience to relish her injury and indisposal while the show’s leading male role appeared curiously split. This was between co-lead performer Chaise Rossiello, who danced up a storm in the first act but disappeared somewhat in the second, to be replaced by the show-within-a-show’s director, Chris Anderson, who softened from despotic to compassionate, dominating the second act and on the way revealing a wonderful singing voice.
Simon Thorne, Trent Inturrisi and Casey Tucker made perfect supporting foils for his directorial indulgences, while Cindy Lee lit up the stage in a powerhouse performance singing and dancing as the show’s co-writer.
Murray Plowman was believably good-looking enough to tempt Sally-Anne away from magnate Ray Jones’ millionaire allure.
Lauren Flood was delightful as ‘Anytime Annie’, the Bolshie lead dancer and Rebecca’s biggest supporter, who was backed by joyful hench-tappers Christie Walter, Nikki Lenaghan and Jemma Lowther. 

But for this reviewer, the biggest stars on Geelong’s 42nd Street were the energy-packed singing, tap-dancing ensemble and their choreographer, Fiona Luca-Kingsbury. So take a bow, Alyce Morton, Amy Pullen, Annah Kucharski, Ariane Gavin, Beau Lewis, Benjamin Krahe, Brooke Lecchino, Cameron Field, Carmen Jensen, Cate Dunstan, Elyse Ganly, Harry Hudson-Collins, Heidi Watson, Jacinta Van Etten, Jasmine Harvey, Jess Wynhoven, Katie Loxston, Matilda Bateup, Melanie Dobrovoljni, Michele Marcu, Nicola Gibson, Renee Gartne

Unicorners turn to Celtic dreams

Celtic Dreaming, presented by Theatre of the Winged Unicorn, Barwon Park Mansion March 11, 2018.

This was the second successive Barwon Park concert presented by Theatre of the Winged Unicorn, following last week’s Geekers gig.
This time the line-up was slightly larger, the staging more theatrical and the material more traditional.
Three of last week’s Geekers, Joni & Ellie Gardner and Ben Mitchell, returned to perform some very different material, alongside Nadine Joy, Carol Fogg, Miriam Pohlenz and Kathryn O’Neill. And much like the former concert, this one displayed plenty of adaptability from musicians and singers.
Everyone sang, in solos, duos, trios and groups at times accompanied by Joni on guitar or piano, Ben on guitar, Nadine of piano, guitar and/or whistle and Kathryn on cello.
Their material was mostly drawn from the popular, lyrical palette of Celtic music - containing The Skye Boat Song, Danny Boy, The Ash Grove, My Ain Folk and more.
One unusual high point was when Kathryn sang a solo version of Percy Grainger’s The Sea Wife, accompanying herself on solo cello.
But there were plenty of other renditions that drew warm applause from an appreciative audience. 

That theatrical mood was created by the female players wearing complimentary flowing plum-coloured dresses with jewellery on their foreheads while the two male members wore plain black.
Their differing voices worked well together, with Ellie’s warmth contrasting with Nadine’s harder, semi-jazz tones; Carol’s clarity with Miriam and Kath’s deeper tonal colours and the whole group adding pleasing harmonies.
When not singing, the players sat silently on-stage with their gazes uniformly focussed on the soloists, lending a ‘serious recital’ atmosphere to the occasion. This was sometimes a little too stagey, especially for the lighter numbers, and as there were few introductions, we audience saw plenty of performer, line-up and instrument changes between songs. This, though adding to the ‘dreaming’ theme, was something of a missed opportunity to explain the stories behind the songs, many of which were beautiful but tragic.
But we did get a theatrical augmentation to Nadine’s rendition of The Spanish Lady, with Miriam miming the part in character. 

The whole concert, with its lyrical material was ideally suited to the venue’s fine acoustic space. There were no microphones used at all, but every note, every beautiful lyric was heard with perfect clarity. 

And I’m sure that following the final Will Ye No Come Back Again, there were plenty of people walking away with good memories from this dreamy Celtic occasion.

Colin Mockett 

Gen Ys deliver music from a favourite decade with skill - and love

The Carnival Is Not Over, presented by The Geekers, Barwon Park Mansion March 4, 2018.

Geek (n) An unfashionable or socially inept person. A knowledgeable and 

obsessive enthusiast. 

At first, ‘The Geekers’ seemed an odd choice of name for a musical group, appearing to be an obvious, if clumsy, rhyme on ‘The Seekers’.
But on reflection, and having enjoyed this bright, happy concert, it’s clear that the group’s title is totally appropriate, using the second dictionary definition.
This five piece group that has grown from Ceres’ Theatre of Winged Unicorn thespian community were each quite obvious enthusiasts for the popular music of an era before they were born.
We’re talking about a bunch of Gen Ys with a token X playing the cheerful pop-rock of the 1960s to an appreciative audience of predominately baby boomers.
And although we audience applauded the Seekers material long and loud, this concert was a considerable distance away from a sound-alike tribute show.
We experienced, in essence, a romp through the hit parade of a single decade - the 1960s - with a couple of exceptions.
So after a clever walk-on opening that demonstrated the room’s excellent acoustics, the group delivered a mix of pop genres all within that single decade hit-parade theme.
We heard hit songs from Nina Simone, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Petula Clarke, The Turtles, Beatles, Monkees, Mommas & Pappas, Frank & Nancy Sinatra, Joni Mitchell and Louis Armstrong as well as a couple of soundalike original songs from the band’s leader Joni Gardner. But the show’s big, double encore finale was definately, deliberately and decisively all-Seekers material.
The Geekers is built around the talents of Joni Gardner with his sister Ellie.
She has a true, distinct voice without quite the hard-edged clarity of Judith Durham, but with much compensating warmth.
He’s a singer/instrumentalist with a light but solid, secure voice that was ideal for his band’s chosen song palette.
Having said that - exactly the same could be said for rhythm guitarist Michael Leigh, and percussion/vocalist Ben Mitchell when they took their turns centre-stage. It was down to the group’s senior member, lead/electric guitarist Greg Chadwick, to add the show’s occasional harder-rocking elements.
The Carnival Is Not Over’s slick and well-practiced execution - this was a non-stop concert with minimal introductions but a change of instruments, line-up and/or vocalist after practically every song - was studded with delightful harmonies and delivered without scores, notes or hesitations. 

It was obvious that the group was extremely well practiced and rehearsed. And appreciated. And quite clearly they loved the material the were presenting. But then, what else could we expect from a bunch of  knowledgeable and obsessive enthusiastic Geeks?

The Geekers next concert is at the Fyansford Paper Mills Cafe April 21. See our comprehensive diary for details.

- Colin Mockett

La Mama get an intense regional experience

The Confessions of Jeremy Perfect, directed by Judy Ellis for Onamatappear, La Mama Courthouse, March 3, 2018.

Written by locally-based Sandy Fairthorne, directed by Geelong Rep’s past president Judy Ellis and featuring actors from Geelong and Melbourne, this production had enough regional input to justify this critic taking a trip to La Mama in a working capacity.
The first impression was that our local non-professional theatre clearly fits easily and comfortably into Melbourne’s hub of edgy creative theatre. For Jeremy Perfect’s opening followed a successful season of APA’s Hope Song at the Carlton venue.
And though the two Geelong-region productions had similar plot-line threads in that they concerned the effects and management of mental illness in today’s society, the two plays’ treatments were completely different.
While The Hope Song staged verbatim the words of those who had suffered mental illness, The Confessions Of Jeremy Perfect was a work of pure fiction.
It centred around a married couple with a new baby. He’s an unpublished writer with some addictions and worrying emotional impulses. She’s a psychiatrist with an overwhelming controlling complex.
They live in a rambling house that’s shared with her sister, a progressive free-thinking career nurse who donates part of each year to overseas care work.
This relatively stable arrangement was upset when his brother came to stay for an indefinite period, accompanied by a young girlfriend.
He was a less complicated soul, slightly awed by his elder brother’s charm and charisma, while she appeared to have but a single ambition - to be pregnant when they married.
Inside this basic structure, playwright Sandy Fairthorne added some complications of Machiavellian proportions.
She had the psychiatrist wife regularly dosing her husband with cocktails of behaviour-altering drugs, nominally to treat his impulses. Then his brother was diagnosed as impotent which, of course, lead to the addled husband offering his services as a donor.
There was also a hint of romantic past between his brother and her sister. Then the husband, drunkenly destroying his work after a series of rejection slips, lusted after his brother’s girlfriend - and the sisters revealed an enmity that went well beyond sibling rivalry.
The plot twisted and frayed, tensioned and unravelled inside a matrix of heavy boozing, pot-smoking and game playing for an uninterrupted two hours until it arrived at an unexpected and, in truth, quite unbelievably orderly conclusion.

But on the way, it revealed some neat theatrical staging and intense acting performances.
Judy Ellis’s evenly paced direction allowed unflagging interest levels while her simple, single set kept scene-change hold-ups to a minimum.
And her extremely well-cast players did her proud.
Central was a commanding performance from Simon Finch, whose unwavering intensity in the title role dominated every scene.
As his controlling wife, Eva Justine Torkkola came across as artfully devious, while Sean Paisley Collins was perfect as his awed and occasionally bewildered young brother. Alex McTavish gave her (literal) nursing sister gravitas beyond her support status and Ruby Wall brought elements of sympathy and sensuality to her role as the hormone-driven temptress.

All-up, this gritty slice of contemporary theatre made a worthy input to La Mama’s metropolitan season. Its country roots were imperceptible - but immaculate.  

Colin Mockett

A night of impromptu delights and impressive performance 

Rhapsody, from Geelong Symphony Orchestra, conductor Brett Kelly, Costa Hall, February 24, 2018.

Geelong’s premier Orchestra displayed its impressive development with this accomplished concert of challenging, lyrical and fascinating pieces.
It was under the baton of energetic guest conductor, Brett Kelly, who, with the minimum of audience contact, still managed to convey an air of an unpretentious maestro with a pride in his orchestra.
This came across strongly in the opening piece, Khatchaturian’s Adagio from Spartacus, a work familiar from its TV appearances, especially as the lyrical, background to those magnificent tall ships on The Onedin Line.
But here it was, in all of its smooth, soaring majesty being faultlessly presented by our own 60-piece orchestra.  

And building on that admirable opening, came what was probably as memorable a performance as ever seen on the Costa stage.
It was Rachmaninov’s  Rhapsody on a Theme from Paganini - some 20 minutes of gloriously changing musical textures, patterns and colours, some familiar, some spiky, others lush and lyrical, all delivered by another self-effacing master musician, guest pianist Hoang Pham, with the orchestra taking very much a support role.
Young, slim, immaculate in appearance as well as presentation, Mr Pham played the complicated pieces with elegance and elan - and completely from memory, without a single sheet of music on the Costa Steinway.
This drew what can only be described as a remarkable piece of musical appreciation, in that the performance did not receive a standing ovation -Geelong audiences are notoriously grudging with these. But instead, the audience delivered loud, steady, insistent applause that brought conductor Brett and soloist Hoang back for bow after bow - until Huang broke the cycle by resuming his seat at the piano to quietly announce he would play ‘a little bit of Haydn,’ which turned out to be a brilliant showpiece that brought another storm of applause continuing long after he had left the stage, until he was to return again, take his seat and deliver another, quite different musical delight, before the pattern repeated, drawing yet a third impromptu solo.
After that sparkling celebration, and a short interval to recover, the orchestra returned to present the concert’s main event, Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony (Pathetique) Op. 74 B Minor.
This emotional piece, written just weeks before the composer’s death, contains moods that lift from lyrical contentment to the depths of despair as he raged against his inevitable end.
It’s a moving, challenging piece that was delivered by our orchestra with sensitivity, feeling - and an overarching air of professional competence.
Because by taking on such a challenging programme, then delivering it with immaculate skill and style, the Geelong Symphony was musically announcing that it had arrived as a significant entity on the Victorian musical scene.
It was received with that long and sustained applause - but this time no modestly flamboyant encores.
And it was evident from the audience mood in the after-concert foyer that Geelong can today stand with immense pride behind its impressive, fully-fledged fully professional symphony orchestra.
Bravo! (delivered standing).

Colin Mockett 

Geoff conjures women in a magic performance 

Jake’s Women directed by Peter Jukes for Geelong Repertory Theatre Company. Woodbin Theatre, February 2, 2018

Creating this play would have been therapeutic for its author, Neil Simon. Written in the 1990s, when his rocky marriage to Diane Lander was floundering, the play’s theme of an author’s turmoil as his marriage slowly deteriorated is a thinly-disguised autobiographical piece.
But it’s by the Neil Simon, the man behind The Odd Couple and so many other clever, deftly-observed sparklingly-funny insights into modern behaviour. So this play is a long way from a fraught tale of a broken partnership.
It’s a tightly-written, fast-paced funny/moving tale of a man who has the ability to conjure up selected images of the women in his life and hold conversations with them, sometimes alone, sometimes in multiples, every one revealing the hurt and humour of that transition in all its desperate detail.

For this Rep production, director Peter Jukes created a clever set symbolising the fractured nature of the dialogue while enabling the central character, Jake, to instantly, magically, conjure up his women. 

This gave the play a film-like quality, with the action uninterrupted by scene changes.
And it put huge pressure on Geoff Gaskill, playing Jake, who was on stage throughout the entire play delivering Simon’s super-fast caustic/perceptive Jewish New York dialogue - this time encompassing his own thinking process garnished with wit and occasional anguish.
Geoff did this superbly in a theatrical tour-de-force of rare skill. He gave Jake depth and perception in near-flawless performance of intensity, nuance and power.
This was matched, and occasionally surpassed, by Tina Rettke’s portrayal of Maggie, his second and soon to be ex- wife.
Tina was at times empathetic and sympathetic, independent, vulnerable and strong - in turn, in place and sometimes all at once - in a beautifully sensitive portrayal of human emotions.
This pair was supported by a well-cast and word-perfect company of manipulated and manipulating women. Some were imaginary, some real and all were engaging in their own way. These were led by Claudia Clark’s quirky sister Karen and Melinda Hughes wisecracking awkward analyst Edith, along with (real-life) sisters Hannah and Jess Senftleben who carefully and perceptively played Jake’s supportive daughter Molly at different ages.
In the difficult part of first-wife Julie, who had died in a car accident, Lauren Atkin ably moved from confusion to manipulation to accomplishment, while Bernadette Byrne made an excellent job as Jake’s real-life real-time girlfriend Sheila, bewildered to be caught up in all of his character confusion.

As a piece of theatre, Rep’s Jake’s Women was excellent.
It appeared undated and timeless - mainly because of its universal theme and the fine quality of its writing. But mostly it offered the chance to experience an extraordinarily intense piece of acting from Geoff Gaskill who understandably appeared wrung out and exhausted when taking his long and appreciative final applause.
Go see Jake’s Women, it’s highly recommended.
Rep’s first play for the year is outstanding for its writing, its subject matter - and it’s careful, well-thought-out staging.
And most certainly for Geoff Gaskill’s remarkable performance.  

Colin Mockett 

Footlight’s impeccably staged, doubly fabulous B & B  

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast directed by Alister Smith for Footlight Productions. Playhouse Theatre, January 20, 2018

This production was fabulous in its original as well as modern contexts.
It’s storyline was based on a fable, while Footlight’s theatrical presentation was as professional, slick and spectacular as any found on Melbourne’s stages.
But first, a qualification.
Beauty and the Beast is based on a 16th Century French fairy story, retold with Disney’s Hollywood principles.
From a 21st Century perspective, and especially in light of the present moral climate, it’s about as politically incorrect as it can get. It has themes that begin with a male refusal to accept a woman’s ‘no’ answer, to include bullying and stalking, to false imprisonment and even murder - all eventually nullified by Disney’s saccharin ‘love conquers all, so everything’s happy ever after’ gloss.
Director Alister Smith went some way to qualify all this by using a remarkable opening scene where a small child (Mitchell Jeffreys) discovered a toy which unfolded the fable to the revelation of everyone on stage.
It not only set the scene for the audience to suspend its disbeliefs, but it also foreshadowed what was to come - a show with immaculate and well-thought out-production values. 

This Beauty and the Beast was wonderful both to see and to experience. 

Its costumes and wigs were literally fantastic. Its lighting effects were spectacular, its choreography crisp and precise, its direction smooth and logical, its music faultless. 

The big production numbers drew inspiration from Busby Berkeley to Alice’s Wonderland to Les Mis to Follies’ Can Can and more - all were seamlessly integrated and delivered with panache.
And the cast, too, was impossible to fault. They not only looked correct, they sang, acted and moved impeccably. Even the sound was error-free.
In the lead role of Belle, Nicole Kaminski was on top of every one of her range of situations; whether fending off unwanted suitor Gaston’s advances, or caring for her eccentric father, or facing down the beast’s anger and even finally changing him through love.
The unlovely suitor Gaston, in the hands of Vaughn Rae, came across as an over-the-top musical version of the IT Crowd’s Douglas Reynholm; while Belle’s odd inventor father Maurice was played with quirky charm by Brendan Rossbotham. In the unsympathetic part of The Beast, Joshua McGuane managed his awkward switch from unprovoked anger to confusion to outright fawning without losing too much credibility - and he displayed a great singing voice despite a faceful of fur and make-up.

Behind these leads, the show seemed to have eye-catching performances everywhere, from Adam Porter’s delightful candelabra Lumiere and Jamie McGuane’s talking (and singing) clock Cogsworth; from Greg Shawcross’s agile sidekick Maurice to a trio of undisciplined Silly Girl groupies in Rosie Byth, Cassie Chappell and Casey Reid. From Emma Clair Ford’s eloquent teapot and Hayley Wood’s non-wooden dresser, from Liam Ryder’s sinister white-blonde villain Monsieur D'Arque - and most especially from Hannah Pohlenz’s delightfully coquettish scene-stealer Babbette

The ensemble, too, kept that almost impossible impeccable standard throughout, whenever presenting medieval townspeople, savage forest creatures, cheery can-can dancers, an unruly mob and more. So take a bow, Ashley Boyd, Andrew Coomber, Tara Dunstan, Jana Gousmett, Steve Horman, Joel Lewis, Katie Loxston, Madelyn Ludbrook, Alysia Macleod, Charlie McIntyre, Ally Miller, India Ney, Aidan O'Cleirigh, Amanda Paris, Liam Ryder, David Van Etten, Joshua Vucicevic and Amy Whitfield.
That initial small child scene-setter, Mitchell Jeffreys, returned frequently as a perky perambulated chipped cup. On alternate occasions, this refreshing part was played by Kempton Maloney. 

In all, this Footlight Beauty and the Beast was an exceptional piece of musical theatre.
It’s highly recommended as a fine example of the heights and professionalism that Geelong’s musical theatre can stage.

Colin Mockett 

Geelong’s Big, Heartwarming Showcase Concert still surprises

The Geelong Summer Music Camp’s Showcase Concert. Costa Hall, January 19, 2018

This was the 38th Geelong Summer Music Camp. It had 212 participants aged between nine and 20 who had received an intense week of musical tuition from six conductors and 25 specialist tutors.
Over the years we Geelong concertgoers have become accustomed to the excellence of their end-of-camp Costa Hall ‘Showcase’ performance. It’s an event that has won a reputation, not only as Geelong’s first and biggest annual music concert, but also as the most surprising, most heartwarming and most gratifying.
Surprising because of the sheer amount of musical knowledge and ensemble-playing skills that could be absorbed by the young players in just five days of intensive study.
Heartwarming because those young musicians displayed such respect for their new abilities and high regard for the discipline of presenting them.
And gratifying because we’re seeing hard evidence that the love of music in our educators is being gratefully and graciously accepted by the next generation.

Alongside this, every GSMC concert throws up new delights and surprises.
That was certainly the case with the 2018 event.
It had begun conventionally enough, with the 21-piece Dave Jeffery Stage Band delivering a pair of modern jazz numbers in crisp, slick style under their conductor David Gardner, followed by the Fiona Gardner Concert Band - the camp’s junior wind ensemble conducted by Sue Arney - making a fine job of three well-known but very different pieces, with two film themes Raiders of the Lost Ark and Pirates of the Caribbean bracketing three movements from Dvorak’s New World suite. 

Then followed the Heather Tetaz (junior) string ensemble with their conductor Martin DeMarte and another three very different pieces, Dance of the Tumblers, The Skye Boat Song and Conquistador all delightfully presented.
The evening’s compere, James Hunt, linked each segment with some unusual and sometimes unintended humour, warily approaching each conductor-provided introduction as a potential pronunciation minefield.
He had fun with the first of the big ensembles, the 62-member Harry Hood Concert Band, whose conductor, Sean Rankin, had provided some tongue-twisting explanations for his musical selections. These were the silky Blue And Green Music followed by a happy calypso Caribbean Hideaway, then a part-vocal and chime-ringing Ave Maria and finished with a smooth big-band Ocean Ridge Rhapsody.
The Camp’s choir, Eileen Martin Singers, with their conductor Ryan Bentley contributed four excellent songs, all delivered without music books, starting with a clear and melodic version of Enya’s Orinoco Flow, then the appropriately-titled Peaceful Things with alternating soloists, a Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride accompanied by percussion and ukulele and finishing with the theme song from The Color Purple. 

But then came a revelation, when the next ensemble, the 60+ strong Wendy Galloway Strings - the camp’s senior string orchestra - delivered three pieces with a capability and competence that would surely have made them the envy of many senior orchestras. Stylish conductor Ingrid Martin and her players presented Grieg’s Holberg Suite op 40 no 1 with such skill to bring the auditorium to pin-drop silence then long, sustained applause. This was followed by the equally well received themes from Titanic, and then a wonderfully evocative Argentine tango Libertango, delivered with a practicpastedGraphic.pdfed elegance that belied the orchestra’s scant 5-day preparation.
Those strings were then augmented by wind and percussion players to become the Malcolm John Symphony, still conducted by Ms Martin, delivering several views from Johan Strauss II’s Blue Danube before the camp’s now-familiar big all-on-stage big finale, a spirited and skilled version of La Mer (Somewhere Beyond The Sea) handsomely arranged by local musician Kym Dillon. 

And following that final segment, and an encore, a delighted Wendy Galloway, after whom the string orchestra was named, hurried backstage to congratulate conductor Ingrid. (pictured)
It was, Wendy said, ‘a thrilling performance with a fabulous conductor’.
Agreed. And I’d add that it was part of another wonderful Geelong experience. 

- Colin Mockett