No-Nonsense Reviews 2019

Our reviews are invited. If a show does not appear, the company has chosen not to have it reviewed.

Geelong's Les Mis - A Powerful Musical Force

Les Miserables directed by Alister Smith for Footlight Productions. Playhouse Theatre January 19, 2019

There’s a six-part BBC adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables currently airing on British TV that’s attracted a flood of viewer complaints because it has no music. ‘Why Can’t We Hear The People Sing?’ say the British headlines, and it was even brought up in parliament. The furore highlighted the fact that the world’s most popular musical has entrenched its anthems into people’s minds, more so than the novel’s storyline.
But those whinging viewers would have no problem at all with the new Footlight version of Les Mis that’s currently gracing GPAC’s stage, because this was a show built around its musical excellence. 

It was driven by John Shawcross’s top-quality 16-piece orchestra which interpreted the show’s tricky cadences and repeated themes without missing a beat or hitting a wrong note.
And that high musical standard was mirrored by everyone on-stage, from the emotional leads - Brad Beales’ sensitive Jean Valjean, Vaughn Rae’s stoic Javert, Nicole Kaminski’s tragic Fantine - through to every support and member of the ensemble. The entire cast must have been selected for their vocal abilities because they all wore head-mics, and every one of the many big production scenes was memorable because of the power, or delicacy, of their combined voices. Much credit is due to the show’s vocal director, Anna-Lee Robertson, for moulding such a potent chorus. Kudos, too, to director Alister Smith’s pair of movement/choreographers, Brenton Cosier and Elinor Smith Adams, along with lighting designer Daniel Jow for the neat trick of starting each production number with what was essentially a tableaux. This appeared almost as a reproduction of a Vermeer-style street scene, but one which almost instantly morphed into musical life. It must have taken months of planning and rehearsal to achieve such simple elegance. And it was certainly helped by the show’s sombre iron-black set, with two steep black wheeled staircases manoeuvred by cast members to create smooth scene-changes. But , for this reviewer, the show’s stand-out elements came from the assembled male chorus under the leadership of rebel students Tom Phyland, Charlie McIntyre, Jonathon Gardner, Thomas Membrey, Elija Ivelja, Ash Chapel and others. This assembled group, which included at times Nick Addison, Josh McInnes, Aidan O’Cleirigh, Richard Senftleben, David Van Etten and Jordan Ybarzabal, provided the strong, vibrant male vocal base for the show-stopping signature ‘Hear The People Sing’ battle anthems. This team's sure voices and secure harmonies gave the whole production its power. This neatly contrasted the pathos wrung by Nicole’s Fantine, and especially, Morgan Heynes’ doomed Eponine. Her rendition of On My Own brought loud sobs from a woman sitting behind me, and the soft sounds of tissues extracted from boxes continued through the next few scenes.
But for all its musical, visual and emotional excellence, not all the innovations in this production worked. For this reviewer, the rogue Thenardier innkeeping couple of Greg Shawcross and Hayley Wood, though faultless in their performances, came across as grotesque pantomime caricatures, rather than devious villains.  And some lighting effects, which were, at times excellent in highlighting emotions and disguising scene-changes, occasionally dazzled when strong spotlights were directed straight into the audience. 

But that’s carping criticism of what was essentially a production of uniform, overall excellence. Most especially musically. 

It’s a show with surprising topical relevance, too, given the ongoing yellow vest protests in Paris, not to mention the British House of Commons calling for its songs to be broadcast.
So don’t miss this Les Mis. It’s good enough to drive a Pommie tourism push.

— Colin Mockett


Standing ovation for a truly magnificent event

Geelong Summer Music Camp Showcase Concert at the Costa Hall, Friday January 18, 2019

This was the 39th annual Summer Music Camp Concert, and the 19th held in the Costa Hall. Those figures cover a trio of significant factors.  First, the camp, and its subsequent concert, are now second-generational, being organised by musicians who were past participants, and therefore have first-hand experience of what is at base an intense five-day series of musical masterclasses. Secondly, that system encourages friendship and camaraderie, so a  majority of the musicians and tutors taking part were regulars returning for what has become a familiar annual experience.
And thirdly, the tradition of working towards a final concert in the Costa Hall - Geelong’s premier musical venue - is now so entrenched that it holds no fears to either organisers or participants.
So presenting a slick and spectacular show using some 300 musicians with musical genres  ranging from  Welsh hymn to light classics, via big band and film musicals, and finishing with a spectacular all-on-stage finale would have been considered hard work, but not particularly stressful for them.  Because they have literally been doing it for years.
But for us in the audience, it was astonishing in its scale, width of material and skilled musical standards.
If this concert had been presented by a touring group of professionals, it would have been hailed as outstanding and memorable.
Because it was a display of slick, polished musical assurance from eight distinct groups with every musician under the age of 21.  
Each component part, linked by a loose common ‘Carnival’ theme, built to a big 'Greatest Showman' finale.  
It then drew three encores and a standing ovation.

But the most amazing, gob-smacking thing about this concert was that it was put together in just five days. 

Read that again. Then realise that when those 240 young people aged between nine and 21 came together in Geelong on Monday morning, none of them had seen any of the scores. They didn't  even know what type of music they would be learning to play on the Costa’s prestigious stage IN  FIVE DAYS. 

So above all, I guess,  this super show was testament to the astonishing  ability of the young brain to absorb information, and overcome pressure - given the right input and leadership.

I know that it’s normal for reviewers to list then critique each part of a concert, but I’m not inclined to do that here. Instead, I’ll say that this was among the best GSMC Showcase I’ve attended in its structure, overall competence and smooth operation. And that was probably due to it having a stable control team that has learned from, and built upon all those previous  experiences.
So instead of appraising, I’d like to list, and acknowledge the people who planned, then executed such a wonderful event. They provided the  musical expertise  so eagerly absorbed by their young charges.
At the top is musical director, Fiona  Gardner, and her committee of Shannon Ebeling (president) Leanne McCartney (vice president), Michael and Glenda Wilding, Ben Anderson, Helen Bourke, Kevin Cameron, Trish Kinrade, David Gardner, Rose Humphrey, Lesley Walters and Cathy Blake.
Then there’s their conductors; Robert Moffatt, Amberley Bremner, Sean Rankin, Ryan Bentley, James deRozario and Edward Fairlie. Their super talented arranger/accompanist Kym Dillon and their musical tutors Cathy Blake, Ben Castle, Jamie Parker, Jess Higgins Anderson, Timmothy Oborne, Michelle John, Luke Richardson Jonathan Woods and Martin DeMarte (strings); Brighid Mantelli, Kathryn Saunders, David Gardner, Kate Martin, Ben Anderson, Natalia Edwards, Adrian Meyer, Robert Moffatt (wind); Jacqui Anderson, Sharon Huber, Sean Laughran, Bryan Anderson (percussion) and Tania Grant, Jodie Townsend and Casey Reid (choir).
The concert was linked with energetic charm by Brian Alexander, who was another long-term participant, having children involved in the camps for most of the Costa years.

Together, this small team, their families and friends brought together a Geelong musical event like no other, one that truly deserved the title ‘magnificent’.
— Colin Mockett


Unexpectedly satisfying concert in a new venue

Bach To The Bush a concert from Anthony Albrecht at the Geelong Boat House, Sunday January 13, 2019

This unheralded, largely unpublicised concert from travelling British cellist Anthony Albrecht was an unexpected musical pleasure. 

Anthony has been exploring the backroads of Australasia intermittently for the past four years presenting this concert in scratch venues. These had, we heard, mostly been researched and discovered on the internet by the artist himself.

The Geelong concert was, he thinks, his 70th. Or perhaps his 72nd. Either way, it was an exceptionally polished performance that was very well received by an appreciative audience that had, itself, been notified by social media and on-line sources including this website.
It’s something of an achievement today for a classical musician to stage a solo tour without backing or financing from any government or private source. To do so to the extent that Anthony has achieved is remarkable, and I would venture, unique.
It not only sets out an innovative new path for other young musicians to follow - it may well have also gifted Geelong a new performance venue. Because this concert was apparently organised by Anthony last week while he was in the Hunter Valley, NSW. Knowing he was booked next week in Tasmania, he looked for an unusual venue in Geelong to break his journey. Finding the Boat House on Google Maps, he noted its seafront location, contacted the venue’s owner, who swiftly agreed - and this concert was set up with six days’ notice. 

‘I probably should have changed the title from Bach to the Bush to Bach to the Bay,’ Anthony said in his introduction, looking out at the background seascape. ‘But I really didn’t think of it in time’. 

The Geelong Boat House is the fish & chip restaurant that projects into the sea at Western Beach. It has a licensed function room behind its shopfront, where two French doors open to seaborne decking. It would seat, at a guess, 80 people. Toward the end of Anthony’s performance, venue owner Malcolm pronounced the occasion a surprise success, and said he would welcome similar performances in the future. 

Given this short-notice background, the concert was understandably low-key and simple. There was no programme, so this review is compiled from memory and sketched notes. There was no lighting on the performer, and no amplification, either. They weren’t needed. Such was the selection of material and quality of musicianship that the audience was enthralled by the music and charmed by the artist’s frank and detailed introductions. 

Anthony Albrecht is no hopeful newcomer. He’s an established, accomplished and sought-after cellist of international renown. Newcastle-born and London based, he trained at the Juilliard School in New York.
That experience was evident from the outset, because his first piece was tricky - and Australian. It was Reclaiming The Spirit, written by Sarah Hopkins in 1993 on the handing back of Uluru to its traditional owners. In this, Anthony’s cello accurately replicated the sounds of the didgeridoo.

This was followed by the first of two of Bach’s Cello Suites, starting appropriately with Suite No.1 in G major.
This well-known piece was delivered on Anthony’s 300-year-old cello in the original Baroque style. This meant it had no floor-spike, but was gripped between the knees.
The sound was clear, clean and precise in spinning out Johan Sebastian’s intricate, elaborate musical patterning.
This was due, Anthony explained, to the use of authentic gut-wound strings and an old-style bow that was weighted differently to modern versions. He also explained that the glory of Bach’s music was his extensive use of the mathematical ‘golden ratio’ found throughout nature.  

Following a short interval, and a second Bach Suite, this time in D minor, ‘The key of loss… The most poignant key of all…’, Anthony revealed that his cello had a Geelong connection.

It had been bought from the estate of Francesca Rousseaux, the much-loved Geelong musical identity who died in 2013.
I’m certain that Francesca would have approved. Doubly so when Anthony said he now called the cello ‘Francesca’. 

‘I’m a custodian, just as Francesca was. I hope to hand it on in as good condition as she did..’ 

In all, this Bach To The Bush was fascinating, enlightening and musically enthralling. It was also satisfying, on so many levels. 

Watch out for an unheralded appearance near you - and keep an eye on this site for the next time that Anthony Albrecht returns to the Geelong Boat House venue.

— Colin Mockett