Wish Upon A Song directed by Davina Smith for Geelong Lyric Theatre Company, Costa Hall, May 21, 2021
If there has been a benefit from the Covid lockdowns, then a lift in theatre standards can be counted among them. For the 14-month forced hiatus allowed companies to sharpen their plans, directors to hone their systems and performers to polish their skills.
This Wish Upon A Song really illustrated this.
It was a big, ambitious production involving 46 cast members, a 50-piece orchestra and a 30 member choir. These were supported by an off-stage team of more than 40. Together they put 46 numbers from 16 Disney musicals on to our city’s largest and most prestigious stage, the unforgiving and very theatre-unfriendly Costa Hall.
And it was a triumph. This Geelong-produced Wish Upon A Song turned out to be so systematically slick, musically sound and visually appealing it would have put a smile on old Walt’s face were he around to see it.
Much was due to the lockdown, which pushed the show’s preparation time out to two years - but so much credit has to go to director Davina Smith and her core team of MD Brad Treloar, choreographer Charlotte Crowley, vocal coach Tanya Grant, wardrobe designer Heather Dillon and producers Lisa Hunter & Derek Ingles for how they used that time.
For together with their Geelong-based talent they put on a show that went beyond accomplished. It was a slick, smart dazzling spectacular that made light of the venue’s limitations. For the Costa’s tennis-court sized stage has no curtains, very little side-stage room, limited backstage areas and no facilities for sets or scene changes.
But all this went unnoticed because the uniformly black-clad orchestra was central on stage conducted by the immaculately tail-coated Brad Treloar. The Geelong Youth Choir was behind and above in the venue’s choir loft and the performers worked in the space between orchestra and audience alongside some highly effective lighting pods. All on-stage were black-clad with splashes of bold colour and glitter highlights, eliminating the need for quick-change costuming (the Costa Hall is short on dressing space, too.) All this allowed smoothly efficient seamless transitions between numbers. Add to this Ben Anderson’s faultless sound technology and you’ll gain an idea of the professional-standard setting that those 46 on-stage performers enjoyed.
And didn’t they make the most of it.
The company essentially formed an oversized ensemble chorus from which soloists would emerge to play Disney lead characters with accomplished skill, then smoothly merge back into the chorus for the following numbers. There were no introductions, no break between songs and the production numbers included plenty of intricate choreography and some stunning lighting effects. And every single member of that 46-strong team was word, action and note perfect.
They were all exceptionally well disciplined meaning that there were no weak moments throughout the entire two-hour performance.
It seems unfair to compare the company’s 20-plus principal singers, so I’ll simply nominate those whose magnetic on-stage presence caught the eye. For this reviewer, these were led by Brendan Rossbotham, who is remarkably light on his feet for a big man and who put in a faultless performance throughout. Among half a dozen feature leads he combined with Nick Addison and the superb Tori Lea Stones to open the second act with The Circle Of Life - a performance that would have stopped a lesser show.
For his comedy lead parts, Bryce Bateup-Baumgarten dominated the stage while Tahlia Walker, Kara Backhous, Alannah Farrah and Sally-Anne Cowdell were in turn all excellent Disney leading ladies before Kathryn Baldwin delivered a practically perfect Mary Poppins. Then there was Ashley Thompson, who seemed to pop up everywhere with vocal and acting maturity and a remarkably fluid dance style. I’ll stop here, but could go on.
Enough to say that this Wish Upon A Song was exceptional.
There are only two performances left and I heartily recommend that you catch one of them if you want to see Geelong’s theatre talent, with the benefits of that extra preparation time, at its very best.
- Colin Mockett
Mental As Everything created, performed by Damon Smith & Adam Coad at The Potato Shed May 20, 2021.
It was fitting that on the day the treasurer announced a $3.8billion overhaul of the State’s mental health system, this little touring cabaret show popped up in our always-appropriate Potato Shed Arts Centre.
For, like the State budget, Mental As Everything had mental health at its core.
It was essentially a pair of talented 40-something musicians singing original songs and talking about how their mental disorders affect their everyday lives.
For the show’s principal, Damon Smith, who has obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and type 2 bipolar disorder, it means living with a voice in his head demanding he perform irrational acts. These could range from not walking on pavement cracks to turning a circle before he can get into his car - or leaping in the air on random occasions.
He described the experience as ‘living with a dictator in my head’ threatening dire consequences should he not comply with his orders. He’s even given his personal dictator a name, Ken.
And Ken is not alone in his mischief-making. For Damon’s bipolar disorder means that he has experienced panic attacks.
These, he is convinced, hide in parks when he goes jogging. In his mind, he sees those panic attacks lurking behind bushes disguised in balaclavas or Groucho masks waiting to jump on him as he passes.
And many of those experiences had sparked witty, descriptive ragtime songs which Damon sang while playing piano.
He was accompanied on drums by fellow musician Adam Coad, who in turn described the symptoms of his own anxiety complex.
He’s fine when relating to people one-on-one, but is decidedly uncomfortable with crowds.
This was a considerable problem for a performer, as he explained, saying he wished no offence, but he’d much preferred to have the audience front row moved back a couple of metres into the dark. “I’m much happier alone in the spotlight when I can’t see you…”
He, too, had translated his anxieties and experiences into songs, which he performed accompanying himself on guitar and ukulele. His more lyrical style neatly complimented Damon’s intricate honky-tonk flavoured piano, but in truth it was the songs' introductions and revelations that made this cabaret so fascinating.
The two performers were equally honest and open in their approach, making their Mental As Everything a truly revealing and stimulating experience.
For this 70 minute cabaret show displayed how music and theatre can be enlightening and informative as well as entertaining.
We audience left knowing much more about the day-to-day problems faced by many among us, and why our government is now committed to helping them.
I recommend that you catch Mental As Everything. It’s a fun, musical package laced with important revelations.
- Colin Mockett
The Magnolia Tree written & directed by Michael Gray Griffith for The Wolves Theatre Company. The Potato Shed May 14, 2015
There are scores of theatre and entertainment troupes aimed at children but this is the only one, to my knowledge, specifically aimed at the older community.
Not only does the WTC aim at those to whom their 45th birthday is a pleasant past memory, but it also uses mature Australian actors, writers, themes and topics.
This Magnolia Tree displayed all of this, with an added bonus twist.
The tree was actually unseen. At The Potato Shed, it was somewhere at the back of the auditorium which represented the garden viewed from a family home whose aged widow resident was also invisible.
She was in the lost world of dementia, confined to her off-stage bedroom. But although she was neither seen or heard, this widowed mother’s presence dominated throughout.
For the play’s three characters were her adult children, gathered in her lounge room to discuss and plan for her future.
It’s a scenario pertinent and familiar to the present baby boomer generation who are in - or about to find themselves in - this situation as their own parents age.
Boomers clearly were the majority of audience members at this performance and they were more than just interested. They were engrossed from the very beginning. They absorbed every nuance, weighed its dilemmas, grasped - and gasped - at its predicaments. They lived every element of its dark humour, even pre-empting some of its droll predicaments.
The on-stage sibling’s initial task was to choose a care home for their mother. But as issues of costs, inheritances and past wrongdoings were aired, the play’s awkward situations widened to take on deeper and more telling issues.
That’s where the twist came in. Before the opening scene, the play’s writer/director Michael Gray Griffith welcomed us with a brief introduction; and at a significant moment close the end he re-appeared to invite us audience to vote on one of two possible endings.
Then the action resumed to reflect our close polling.
None of this would have worked were it not for the competency and believability of its trio of well-cast actors.
These were Tottie Goldsmith’s naive and shallow single mother whose initial expectations of a speedy resolution and cash bonanza from the house sale was soon crushed - and very well depicted.
As her sister, and mother’s prime carer, Rohana Hayes skilfully shifted her stance of concerned martyrdom to reveal a secret shame and hidden motives; while Ezra Bis played their worldly, cynical and somewhat remote brother ultra straight and thereby instigating several unexpected plot twists.
Taken together, The Magnolia Tree was thought-provoking, relevant and real theatre for grown-ups. It was intriguing, provocative and so appropriate for its perceived audience.
And to me, that makes adult theatre at its very best.
- Colin Mockett
Voyage directed by Ruby Rees for The Good Girl Song Project. The Potato Shed, May 12, 2021.
This performance has been around in various guises since at least 2017, mainly appearing at folk music festivals.
It’s mostly based on the books of the academic historian Dr Liz Rushen, who is an expert on the Australian colonies’ early migration methods.
Having caught it as a work in progress during its festival phase, this was interesting - and a rare pleasure - to review it as a fully-fledged theatrical work.
For Voyage has always told a strong story, of the shocking treatment of European women - indeed, all women - in the transitional period when the Australian colonies were moving from convict settlements to become free-settler communities.
Voyage heightens the effect of that shock by individualising the story down to two women’s experience in the UK and then on their months-long journey to their new lives on the other side of the world.
To say that they were unprepared would be a massive understatement. They were not only ignorant of their destination and its conditions, they were ill-equipped in every way to cope with the ugly, raw sexual exploitations in those male-dominated environments..
The two women were played by Penny Larkins and Carly Ellis, the former a brash buxom street-wise Cockney, the latter a pale, red-headed God-fearing Irish Colleen. They both sang, and sang well, for most of this Voyage is still presented in song. The songs are new, original, clever and highly suitable. They’re mostly in the Celtic folk idiom with a side dash of music hall, and the live backing group of Helen Begley (guitar), Kylie Morrigan (fiddle) and Penelope Swales (whistles) are on stage with them throughout. They’re not just on stage, they quite often become part of the action as bit players, extras and wry commentators, for guitarist Helen and actor/singer Penny began the whole project. They wrote the play, the music and songs. Presumably it was they who also engaged the experienced director Ruby Rees to give it the theatrical gloss that it now enjoys.
Because this was an exceptionally smooth, polished and professional Voyage. The choreographed movements, clever multiple use of props and silky, seamless transitions of scenes and characters was pure theatre and it greatly enhanced the show’s songs, its themes and ultimately its message.
And that message resonates strongly today in the light of our current number of gender-based media controversies.
You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned much of the storylines. That’s deliberate, for I don’t want to give away any of its impact or surprise elements. Instead, I’ll urge you to go and experience this Voyage for yourself. You’ll be mightily impressed by its music, its message and above all, its women. Because these five women are not just mightily talented - they’re wonderfully effective theatrical re-tellers of our history.
- Colin Mockett
All You Need Is The Beatles presented by Drop Of A Hat Productions for Morning Showtimes at The Potato Shed. The Potato Shed, May 11, 2021.
All You Need Is The Beatles at the Potato Shed in Drysdale was written, researched and narrated by Colin Mockett, with all music sung and played by one-man-band Adam Parsons. This was also, as I found out, the first singalong event put together by Drop of a Hat (with the lyrics for all of the songs projected as well) and as I took my seat, ready for a live adventure through the catalogue of the four greats who inspired Beatlemania, I was not aware that by the end of it I would be singing along as much as I did.
At the same time, I'm trying to remember the information that came about through Colin's excellent narration.
To me, the history was just as exciting as the musical offerings from Adam.
I know Adam. He’s amazing. I was not surprised at all that all of the Beatles songs were being performed using just one instrument. You see, from the moment he walked onstage to sing She Loves You, Adam played all the music on his acoustic guitar using effects through his guitar pedals to achieve the idea that there was more than one musician playing.
At moments, usually during the instrumental solos, this was a mesmerising experience.
The lights dimmed in the atmospheric Potato Shed, Colin's narration began with the Beatles early successes She Loves You and I Want to Hold Your Hand.
What struck me was that they are timeless. They might have been written only yesterday, or ten years ago.
The excitement continued with Adam's rendition of I Saw Her Standing There, the opening song from that pivotal first Beatles album which as Colin reminded us was recorded in the space of only about ten hours.
Please Please Me followed with the audience in tow, and other such early standards as All My Loving which I couldn't help but sing along with, Eight Days a Week, and A Hard Day's Night.
Here was one of the moments of truth for me, because A Hard Day's Night has this amazing chord right at the very start of the song, and Adam produced something that at least sounded like it - one of the big highlights for me.
Can't Buy Me Love followed, with Help! which as Colin explained was actually one of the Beatles making a cry for help in song, but the world couldn't really hear it at the time because they were so consumed by everything that was happening.
If I stood on the stage and tried to reproduce one of Adam's guitar solos, I probably would have been singing "Help!" too, but nobody would be singing with me.
The Bob-Dylan-inspired You've Got to Hide Your Love Away, was one of the moving highlights here, partly because of Colin's narrative in that it was a song that spoke to the Beatles manager Brian Epstein who was gay. It's always been a song that I've liked over the years, but it has this new and powerful meaning to it.
Norwegian Wood followed, the audience singing along with much gusto at the climax of the first set, before we heard one of the most beloved songs of all time, Yesterday. Hearing the story about the making of the song through Colin's narration was great fun, especially when it got to the part about the working lyric of the song being something like ‘Scrambled Eggs’.
I made my way into the foyer for half time, before the audience gathered again in their seats for the next part of the Beatles story, beginning with their transitional album Rubber Soul. Firstly, Adam singing in French on Michelle was one of the highlights of the morning, because I had no idea that he could do that. For the record, I didn't try to sing along with that bit at all. Then came another moment of truth, the song Eleanor Rigby.
This is not just one of my favourite Beatles songs, but also one of my favourite musical arrangements, from the wizard that was Beatles producer Sir George Martin.
Adam not only had to convey the haunting melody meaning behind these words, which by itself is pretty considerable, but the essence of the music as well. The verses in particular had me in shivers. I'm honestly trying to remember if I sang during that song or not.
Next, Colin introduced us to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, with Adam not only playing the album’s opening song but segueing into the next one as well, A Little Help From My Friends.
I don't think we stopped singing for one moment.
Following that part of the album, Colin announced Shirley Power to the stage where they both sang their mournful ‘parents duet’ with Adam for She's Leaving Home. Shirley's voice soared through the theatre, which I then had the privilege to listen to as she was standing somewhere in the aisles beside me singing along with the rest of the songs afterward. While they were singing, I couldn't help but feel by the way that this album would have made an excellent musical. This feels like one of the lost classic musicals that might have been. Shirley and Colin's performance here really brought that out. In that sense, I was sad, but maybe one day it could happen.
The set continued with the White Album's Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, where I found myself absorbed in the storyline of the song as the lyrics were being projected for the audience, and then Hey Jude. As Colin reminded us, this was the song Paul wrote for Julian Lennon as John and Cynthia were getting divorced, and as Adam continued playing those last choruses, the audience kept singing right to the very end.
After that came Blackbird, which was, like the "O Sole Mio" moment in the Elvis show, was a revelation. I had no idea this came from a piece by Bach. Wow! Leading toward the conclusion, versions of Something, another one of the most beloved Beatles songs, and Let It Be would follow. The feeling in Let It Be especially was... again, I'll use the word transportive.
Finally, we all came together for All You Need Is Love, a song that is just as important as it ever was, and perhaps even more so. With that, the show came to its conclusion, but wait... we needed an encore as well! What followed was another highlight, with Shirley joining Adam onstage for George's stirring classic While my Guitar Gently Weeps. The solo was the icing on this Yellow Submarine cake, and we were all sent off humming into the foyer. Yes, I heard the lady who was humming the melody of that song in the doorway, a testament again to this music.
In conclusion, what we had all experienced, from Colin's narration, Adam's one man band, Shirley's haunting vocals, and the audience participation all throughout, was a celebration of music. Again, the word was timeless. It's not just yesterday, but today and tomorrow as well.
Thank you very much,
Side Show, directed by Elise Dahl for Theatre Of The Damned
Shenton Theatre, April 29 2021
In a Covid-shortened four years, Tony and Elise Dahl’s Theatre Of The Damned company has built a local reputation for staging unusual musicals in the compact Shenton performance space.
This Side Show was no exception. It’s an American musical that was a moderate Broadway hit in the mid 1990s, but this didn’t translate to international success. So this performance was, to the best of my knowledge, the first in our region and possibly the first in Victoria.
It’s a big, brash and flashy extravaganza that’s based on the true story of The Hilton Sisters - a pair of English conjoined twin girls who rose to fame on the American burlesque circuit in the early years of the 20th Century.
The musical follows the sisters experience following their initial exploitation as sideshow freaks.
And the show is a bit of a freak itself, having had what must have been the longest rehearsal period in Geelong theatre history, interrupted by 14 months of Covid lockdown with the loss of some players during our State’s stop/start on/off theatre rules. But then it benefitted because they were able to recruit some excellent replacement performers from our region’s large theatre community deprived of performance opportunities.
So this demanding show could boast no fewer than seven lead performers, all with excellent singing and dancing skills, as well as a fine, perfectly pitched 10-member off-stage orchestra led by a new musical director in Selmo Carreira.
This was needed, because this Side Show was surprisingly big, having no fewer than 31 songs, eight of which would qualify as production numbers with most of the 20-strong company on stage.
The show’s on-stage quality began at the top, with Leticia Bayliss and Jen Stirk as those joined-at-the-hip twin sisters who displayed their different personalities as they outgrew their freak-show beginnings to find fame - only to discover that success posed different problems.
Leticia and Jen were on stage for most of the performance, singing 23 of the show’s songs and adding some high quality harmonies.
Leggy, willowy Liam Erck was, as ever, outstanding as the showman who recognised their talent and masterminded their rise to fame. His dominating performance was perfectly complimented by Jacob Carr’s song-and-dance man brought in to teach the sisters their stage skills - only to fall in love with one.
Trent Inturissi brought empathy - and his fine bass voice - to the sympathetic part as the girls’ overlooked minder, while Brad Beales used his extensive theatre experience to create the decidedly unsympathetic role of their exploitative guardian.
Then, adding a flash of whiz-bang big-name glamour was David Van Etten’s singing Harry Houdini.
Behind this high-quality troupe of leads was an all-singing all-dancing ensemble of freaks, reporters, exploiters, medics, and performers led by the show’s choreographer Jaz Wickson. Take a bow Andrew Coomber, Isabelle Shears, Ben McNaughton, Ashlea Oakes, Jake Beasant, Tracey McKeague, Seth Baxter, Jane Kosutic, Emma Jones, Jaime Unmack, Liam South and Zoe Rossbotham, with young Brydie Booth and Tess McKeague as the young twins.
And another bow should go to the wardrobe team of Leonie Joynson, Mandee Oakes, Maxine Urquhart, Lizette Anderson and Amanda Joyson for the show’s quick-smart burlesque glamour costuming.
In all, the Side Show turned out to be a glitzy, glamorous mainstream production with a worthwhile storyline and an array of choice performances. It has a short season with few seats remaining. Grab ‘em while you can, Ladeez and Gennlemen - you’ll not be disappointed!
- Colin Mockett
The Bench Plays from Torquay Theatre Troupe, Shoestring Playhouse Torquay, April 22, 2021
Yes, you read it right, Torquay has a new performance space, The Shoestring Playhouse, and it’s mainly due to this troupe that it exists.
After years of performing on a borrowed stage thanks to the generosity of the town’s Seniors Centre, TTT, with other, allied arts groups, petitioned and wrangled with local and State governments to gain the town's first dedicated arts/ performance venue.
They achieved tenancy to what was previously a central basketball arena on their promise to turn into Torquay's MAC - Multi Arts Centre.
Tellingly, the town’s basketball community moved to a brand spanking new facility in the Shire’s ‘community and civic precinct’ at the northern entrance to Torquay.
One day someone will write a play about Australian governments’ obsessional funding of sport at the expense of the arts - and this venue will be such a good venue to stage it.
But in the meantime, we experienced the TTT company’s sheer delight at having its own permanent performing space.
Smiles were everywhere and the whole sold-out first performance was framed in an atmosphere of goodwill.
The new theatre took up around half of the previous arena along with its large foyer.
Here, the opening night audience was greeted with complimentary drinks before entering what was clearly a temporary stage-set-up using the company’s old Senior’s Centre risers along with heavy black curtains and dividers borrowed from other local companies.
And high above the stage, the building still showed its original purpose with a basketball hoop stored in its withdrawn position.
All this - and the initial production - revealed the company’s haste to stage an opening production to show its pride in the new venue.
For The Bench Plays was just that. A cobbled-together three short plays that needed no scenery or scene changes just a central bench and a stage tree and door.
The first, The Pie And The Tart , directed by Zina Carman, was based by its writer, Hugh Chesterman, on a 600-year-old French fable. It was set in that place and time and displayed how a beggar, neatly played by Ben Batterbury, could pull the wool over the eyes of a pompous bigwig and his wife by his street-wise quick-thinking. This drew admiration from his animated fellow beggar played by newcomer Greg Palmes and bewilderment from the duped couple portrayed by stuffy Robert Roseburgh and his marginally cannier wife Sindi Renea.
The second play, simply called The Bench was written by Mark Langham and directed by Lachlan Vivian- Taylor. Here we saw a composed senior citizen, Anita Rezzara quietly people-watching from her bench seat until she was interrupted by two younger people. First by Ethan Cooke’s dispirited salesman who was half-heartedly chasing his runaway dog and then by Frances Corke’s unlikely umbrella mugger. In the play’s short course, Anita’s calm common-sense suggested solutions to their problematic lives.
The final play, Seeing Red, written by Karen Ankers and directed by Gay Bell, was an absurdist look at a future world where the practice of knitting is banned because of its dangerous needles.
Here, Carleen Thoernberg was the central bench-sitter calmly knitting what looked like a red blanket to the consternation of young impressionable Lauren Atkin and rigid die-hard in Kevin Fitzpatrick. True to its absurdist theatre form, the storyline took much deeper blacker - and redder - hues.
Circumstances dictated that Torquay’s new theatre had this somewhat lightweight, whimsical start. But this trio of plays was really a statement of intent.
Though brought together quickly and staged with the minimum of resources, the plays all showed TTT’s trademarks of assured, sure delivery. Every player on stage was word and action perfect, even the promising newcomers. That’s another company distinction.
But the real thing that we all took from this production was the promise of what’s to come once Torquay’s theatricals build further to create curtains, props - the whole theatre experience.
For the sheer joy on the faces of Torquay Theatre Troupe members as they relished the prospects of their new venue said everything about this occasion.
And for our region’s theatre patrons, it’s very much a case of ‘watch this space’ - because I'm sure there's a new arts powerhouse set to bloom.
- Colin Mockett
Shadows of Angels, directed by Iris Walshe-Howling for Anglesea Performing Arts. Anglesea Memorial Hall, April 8, 2021.
If you were ever in doubt why this company named itself ‘Anglesea Performing Arts’ rather than choosing a title including ‘Theatre Company’ - then this production should make it quite clear.
For APA’s Shadows Of Angels was definitely not a play. It contained no dialogue, no scene changes, nor interaction. Nor was it a musical, though it did have haunting melodic passages.
It could have been broadly called ‘performance art’ - but even that definition wasn’t entirely accurate.
For this Shadows Of Angels was essentially adult historic storytelling at its very best.
It was a piece of our community’s shameful history told in a fascinating, intriguing, compelling and ultimately illuminating way.
The storyline, skilfully told in four interwoven monologues by writer Fleur Murphy, uncovered criminal experiences in 1920s Collingwood.
Back then, women were appallingly exploited and the restrictive laws of the time hindered rather than aided their plight.
In the hands of APA’s master director Iris Walshe-Howling, writer Murphy's four monologues became much, much more.
The evening began with the actors assuming their characters, quite literally, in shadow play, by dressing behind backlit screens.
When authentically costumed, they made their way to places on and above the half-lit stage, where each individually told their stories while pinned in a glaring spotlight. When not in that light, the other three remained as a statued presence.
Janine McKenzie's lighting design and Kirstin Honey's haunting soundtrack both enhanced and highlighted the onstage performers.
First of these was APA newcomer Joanna Lusty, who set the scene by telling her story of a visit to a secret backstreet location - but her narrative, delivered with clarity and precision, revealed the first of many twists.
Then Lina Libroaperto told her older female resident’s perspective, movingly explained from a lofty stage position high above the others.
You’ll realise by now that I’m not going to reveal the storyline, because this production calls for its audience to piece it together from linked and intertwining references in its players' monologues.
So to the disturbing male perspective delivered in clipped, polite and flat tones by Fred Preston, before Stacey Carmichael brought the small, tragic and sordid saga to an emotive conclusion with her touching, poignant performance.
In all, this all took just 75 minutes of absorbing drama.
Its four individual narrations were beautifully structured and masterfully delivered.
They made, as a whole, a piece of exquisite art.
I thoroughly recommend that you see Shadows Of Angels.
You will be mightily impressed, moved - and in awe of the performer's arts.
- Colin Mockett
Before the Beach Boys and the Beatles, before Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan, Tina Turner and the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the Who, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, the Doors, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Janis Joplin, Elton John, Billy Joel, Led Zeppelin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Eagles, Michael Jackson, ABBA, Bruce Springsteen, Queen, the Police, Prince, Madonna, Nirvana and so many other great acts over the past seventy years, there was... the King himself, according to Wikipedia (to which I would whole-heartedly agree) one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century, ELVIS.
Presenting his musical biography yesterday 6 April at Drysdale's Potato Shed was local entertainer and presenter Colin Mockett through his Drop of a Hat Productions, with music performed by All Shook Up! By the end of this morning's show, I was well and truly all shook up indeed, like somehow I'd become a passenger on a time-travelling DeLorean in the 80s classic "Back to the Future" and bore witness myself to Elvis and his band playing live. This happened, folks, every time I closed my eyes, and during the intermission when we all wandered out into the foyer to get our coffee/tea I spoke with another audience member who was sitting somewhere beside me and told them to try doing the same thing as well, because it was... the word that frequently comes to mind here is... transportive!
The band consisted of Allan James on lead vocals and guitar, Trevor Harrison on stand-up drums and backing vocals, his son Tom on guitar and vocals, Hergy Hergstrom alternating between saxophone and harmonica, Tamara Andrews on percussion and backing vocals, and of course Colin providing his extensive and immersive commentary all throughout.
The Elvis journey began with (fittingly) "All Shook Up", the moment I started to realize that the years and the decades were beginning to peel away to a time where my parents would have only just been born. What followed was eighteen classic numbers, all of which I will touch on here, as much as I can within the time constraints of this review.
After "All Shook Up", with Allan and Tamara on lead vocals and the band playing as hauntingly as they ever did that day, came "That's All Right Mama" from Elvis's years at the Sun Recording Studios, which saw Hergy playing harmonica before he switched to the saxophone on "Heartbreak Hotel". Both these sounds complimented the band and the singers brilliantly. "Hound Dog" followed with Hergy's sax, and "Love me Tender" before Colin turned to the audience revealing that this was Tom's first time performing with the group which I would never have guessed if I'd seen this show seven times.
Following was "Don't be Cruel", "A Fool Such as I" and "Viva Las Vegas", all dexterously performed by Allan James and the group, before finally the clever little punchline at the end of the first set: "Before you leave for the 20 minute interval, be careful you don't step on my blue suede shoes." Humorous moments like these, and Allan's line "Take my wife and mortgage too" during "Can't Help Falling in Love" in the second set, were the cherry on the cake for this experience for me. If I'd closed my eyes at that point, it would have been the 1960s with Elvis cracking jokes onstage, something I regret not doing, because it would have been wilder than ever before.
The second set followed with more evergreens such as "Jailhouse Rock" and "Wooden Heart" with Hergy switching once again to harmonica and Allan warning the crowd his German might not be very good. I have no idea if it was or it wasn't. It just sounded good.
Next came "Can't Help Falling in Love" which I mentioned earlier, with Allan and Tamara on vocals, and then "Are you Lonesome Tonight?" that eternal classic from the Elvis 1968 comeback special. Another one the band hit out of the park, in counterpoint with Colin's commentary that frequently left me in awe. Listen and learn, Ryan, because you didn't know half of this stuff about music before.
Before "It's now or never" was played, I never realized all of the times I'd heard that song that it was actually the same music as "O sole mio", which made this probably my favourite little fact from Colin throughout this concert. That was his Elvis moment where it actually made the crowd in me go wild?
What followed I knew was going to be challenging for everyone on board. I would have been terrified if it were me, because "Suspicious Minds" is simply one of the greatest songs to have existed. Having treasured it all of these years, I was afraid this was really going to test the group for me, who had a steep mountain climb ahead of them, (and imagine trying to climb a mountain while you're lugging all that equipment about. Yeah, you're thinking, this is bonkers.) You did great, guys, you did great.
The show wound towards its conclusion with "Crying in the Chapel", with more humour from Allan and his sidekick Tamara, "Burning Love" which is another favourite of mine and I found myself humming it practically all the way home, and finally the towering "American Trilogy". I was genuinely afraid for Allan when he walked off the stage towards the end part of the song, thinking he must have flipped out from the pressure of it all, when finally, along with many gasps of surprise (and relief in my case), he returned to the stage in golden Elvis coat. Yes! And this is the part where all of the fans would have started screaming! I came to see an Elvis performance. The ending left me feeling like I was watching an Alfred Hitchcock thriller, with a stunning twist right towards the end, and this is after I've gone back through time before that. Well, well done!
At the end of the show, I was left thinking two things. One: more young people need to be listening to this music. I'm sure a lot of them are, but more of them need to hear it. Or perhaps we need another remix like the 2001 JXL version of "A Little Less Conversation" to encourage them. Two: the program mentioned that venue manager Rob had come up with the idea of performing an Elvis show. I have an idea myself, to see Allan and the group narrated by Colin performing Roy Orbison. I would go just to hear "You got it".
Thank you very much,
It would have been a very long time since a local production played as the principal feature in Village cinema’s largest space - let alone an eight-minute dance film.
But this memory house was no ordinary film and its journey to this point had been unusual to say the least.
It’s creator and choreographer, Lindel Quick, and her Blink Dance Company were handed the inaugural ‘Creative Engine' grant by our revamped and re-focussed Geelong Arts Centre (formerly GPAC) back in 2019.
At that time the project, which was funded by the Centre plus the City council’s Arts department, was to expand one of Lindel’s existing ideas. This was to use dance as a medium to illustrate the physicality of memory.
The concept would trace one woman’s memories, using Jungian concepts of the creation of self.
As Lindel explained in a short speech before the film was shown, memory house was originally aimed to be a large production staged in one of the Arts Centre’s main theatres.
But then Covid arrived, with its 2020 lockdowns and restrictions first putting the project in jeopardy, then turning it completely around.
Those restrictions made it impossible to rehearse large dance numbers and besides, all our theatres were indefinitely closed.
But reducing the concept to that of a short film meant that rehearsals could go ahead with a small number of performers - and the film’s distribution and public performance options would become much more flexible.
So a new Covid-revised memory house was conceived with just six performers; Sarah Hall's central character with Elise Wilkinson, Thaedra Frangos, Jules Hart, Jess Lesosky and Sophia Reinking her Greek chorus of movement-based memories.
Each were dressed in filmy, flowing fabrics with costumes designed by local Ana Fernanda Covarrubias, and their dance actions were filmed by director Annica Glac and her cinematographer husband, Marcus Struzina.
And somewhere along that reduction process, magic occurred.
Because this memory house turned out to be much less of a dance film and more a journey into pure art.
There were long moments during those short eight minutes when no dance occurred at all.
Instead there were minuscule movements, confidential interactions, and intense emotions depicted with such exquisite sensitivity to reveal the character’s intimate thoughts and feelings.
Josh Mitchell sympathetic, dreamy and unobtrusive musical score and Luis Cervera's neat house-shaped set boxes complimented and completed this beautifully - constructed film portrait.
The cinematic secrets were revealed in a companion film that was shown immediately after memory house.
This documentary, titled Inside A Room was created by another filmmaker, Eric Dittloff. His piece showed Marcus Struzina’s camera moving alongside and around the memory house dancers, with director Annica Glac nearby and all working to capture those close-up intimacies.
Ironically, at ten minutes, the film-about-a-film took two minutes longer than its subject.
But it made an excellent companion for what was a unique event, an unusual collaboration - and an absorbing, memorable piece of collective art.
- Colin Mockett
This was the first concert since the Covid lockdown for Geelong’s premier orchestra, it’s audience and venue, and the ongoing restrictions led to a tentative start.
The foyer felt strange with people attempting to self-distance around odd bottlenecks at registration and entry points.
Once inside the auditorium, orchestra members self-consciously peeled off and stowed facemarks as they took their places, tuned, then patiently waited while their audience arrived slower than usual, due to those foyer controls.
The Costa, newly renovated during 2020 lockdown, showed elements of understated swank with refurbished seats and a subtle repaint from a quiet, toned-down palette. Even the orchestra’s seating was pristine and new.
The restrictions meant that the venue was opened fully, while perhaps ⅔ full, with every audience member dutifully masked.
Following that initial five-minute delay came a formal side-of-stage Covid announcement from GSO board member Jon Mamonski, who listed mask and exit instructions - and all this added to the anticipation as well as the occasion’s faintly unfamiliar feel.
So when conductor Richard Davis took the stage - to warmer than usual applause - he began with a short impromptu speech thanking the audience for being there, explaining just how important it was for musicians to play in a live audience setting.
Then he turned, faced his orchestra, and together they validated his words by presenting a concert of musical beauty and sheer mastery.
The choice of all-Mozart for this comeback concert was absolutely fitting.
The opening overture from The Marriage of Figaro was perfect, with its familiar themes and flawless execution setting a high standard for what was to come.
And those expectations were met - then exceeded.
For next came Mozart’s flute concerto in D major with orchestra and guest soloist Derek Jones delivering the work’s four movements with verve, vitality - and a level of professional skill that denied their long lay-off.
This piece’s delicate and various musical patterns, built around flowing romantic movements with sparkling highlights and twinkling humorous spells were perfectly presented by our orchestra, while its conductor and soloist displayed their different personas.
Flautist Derek is no showman. His conservative-suited appearance and unassuming restrained style contrasted with conductor Richard’s tail-suited flamboyance, which flowed seamlessly from stiff formal pointing to a form of rooted crouch while grasping handfuls of air - gesturing a mute plead to his players.
The result of this visually delightful combination was, well, wonderful. A beautifully delivered rendition of a glorious work, with an additional bonus - that neat visual contradiction.
But then, after a short reshuffle of chairs came the concert’s major work, Mozart’s Symphony No 41, Jupiter suite, which is a musically challenging piece, being the composer’s longest and final symphony. But it is wonderfully gratifying to the listener with soaring crescendos, contrasting motifs, musical patterns and closing fanfares. Geelong’s GSO delivered it with its now-familiar skilled, professional ease to warm, sustained applause with conductor Davis returning again and again to encourage different sections to take their individual acclaim.
In all, this was a concert of elegant splendour and one deserving a full house - as I’m sure the orchestra will gain when the circumstances return.
Bravo, orchestra - and welcome back!
- Colin Mockett
The Geelong Symphony Orchestra will present Vienna - City of Dreams in the Costa Hall Saturday August 7. It’s recommended to book early.