Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Canberra Symphony Orchestra Historic Highlights


by Tony Magee


LAMENTING the difficult times we have upon us, artistically, where there are no live concerts, albeit there have been some streamed ones, which is a great initiative, I am moved to reflect on previous CSO performances that I have reviewed over the last 25 years - in particular, several that stand out as special.


FIRSTLY, in re-reading my colleague Ian McLean’s review for City News of the outstanding concert by Canberra Symphony Orchestra last October, the last time they played in front of a live audience, I find I can add nothing further. We both heard the same things and a review by me would certainly reiterate Ian’s enthusiasm for the performance, and the fact that Canberra Symphony Orchestra excelled in one of their finest performances ever, particularly in delivering a world class interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, conducted by Nicholas Milton.


Vladimir Verbitsky. Photo: Jonathan Wentworth Associates L

THIS same symphony by Tchaikovsky was performed by the Canberra Symphony in March 1996, with the great Russian conductor Vladimir Verbitsky. It too was a superlative performance and Verbitsky achieved the same breathless moments of silence for contemplation as the dwindling moments of the fourth movement faded away - the audience spellbound before he released the tension with arms flopping down, signalling completion. My full review of that concert is here.


President Vladimir Putin decorated Verbitsky with the award of People's Artist of Russia. Verbitsky became an Australian citizen in June 2009.


Isaiah Jackson. Photo: Detroit Public Library

AMERICAN conductor Isaiah Jackson visited twice, Firstly in 1994 conducting the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3 with Larry Sitsky as soloist, plus Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.  


A student of the great Leopold Stokowski, Jackson brought with him something that presented the orchestra with a new style of conducting and one which they were not used to: no baton! 


The apprentice had become the sorcerer and like his mentor, Jackson used sweeping hand gestures, moulding, shaping and extracting orchestral sounds and textures of extreme beauty and lushness, as well as a huge dynamic range. You can read my full review of that concert here.


Jackson returned in November 1996, this time conducting Beethoven’s third piano concerto with Kathryn Selby as soloist. Also on the program was the Symphony No. 8 by Antonin Dvorak. A thrilling performance of both works. My full review of that concert is here.


Jackson has also been a guest conductor with The New York Philharmonic in 1978, San Francisco Symphony in 1984, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in 1983 and 1985 and the Cleveland Orchestra from 1983 to 1992.


Jackson is lumped into the astonishingly titled chapter Blacks, Gays and Women, in Norman Lebrecht’s controversial book about conductors, “The Maestro Myth”.


GERMAN conductor Werner Andreas Albert visited in September 1995, conducting Brahms Concerto for Violin and Cello in A minor, with soloists Charmian Gadd and David Pereira. Also on the program was the Symphony No. 4 by Mendelssohn. 


This work in particular, portrayed the influence of the conductor - brisk tempos and confident playing with great conviction. The wind section made an outstanding contribution to this symphony with very tight ensemble playing, a large amount of very quiet but very fast tonguing and perfectly executed solos and duet passages. My full review here.


In 1995, Albert was named principal conductor of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. He is also the permanent guest conductor of the Radio Symphony Orchestras in Cologne, Frankfurt and Berlin and of the Bamberg Symphony. 


He holds the title of member of the German Federal Cross of Merit, Erste Klasse (the German equivalent of the British Order of Merit), as well as the Bavarian Order of Merit, which is limited to a restricted number of living members.


Nicholas Braithwaite. Photo: Otago Daily Times

NICHOLAS Braithwaite conducted the Hummel Trumpet Concerto, excellently played by soloist Daniel Mendelow, with Sibelius Symphony No. 2 in May 1996. I waxed lyrical about the Sibelius. My review is here.


On Sept 12, 1996, Braithwaite again took the baton for the Rachmaninov Symphony No. 2, plus Carl Vine’s Oboe Concerto with soloist David Nuttall. The orchestra played both works brilliantly and were nominated for a Canberra Critics Circle Award that year, for the Rachmaninov performance. You can read my full review of that concert here.


BRITISH conductor Stephen Barlow, accompanied by his wife comedian and actress Joanna Lumley, arrived in May 1997, conducting CSO in the Barber violin concerto, with Dean Olding as soloist, as well as Debussy’s "La Mer", which explores the ever changing moods of the sea.


Conductor Stephen Barlow and wife Joanna Lumley in 1986. Photo courtesy The Daily Mirror


Barlow's realisation of this great work was evocative, sensual and at times frightening, as he took both orchestra and audience on a wonderland journey through oceans deep and mysterious. Read my complete review of that concert here.


FINALLY, and much earlier - one from June 1987. I did not review this, but I was in it, singing in the tenor section of the choir. 

Heribert Beissel. Photo operamusica.com


Yes, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. Guest conductor was Professor Heribert Beissel from Germany. Prior to this, CSO has been confidently conducted by Ernest Llewellyn and later Leonard Dommett. Suddenly this European Maestro had arrived and everyone was a bit nervous at the first rehearsal. Beissel was delighted with the orchestra, but the choir was a different story.


He became quite angry at one stage, because the choir could not define his downbeat. We were constantly coming in late on entries. 


After a break and a serious talk to us by head of voice, David Parker, we resumed for another run and this time Beissel seemed happy. Certainly this performance in 1987 was exhilarating and received with great enthusiasm by the audience.


Professor Beissel returned two years later in August 1989, conducting Haydn's Symphony in D Major and the Don Quixote Fantastic Variations Op. 35 by Richard Strauss, with soloists Vincent Edwards (viola) and Nelson Cook (cello).


A trip down memory lane from my CSO archives, which I hope you have enjoyed.




Friday, June 19, 2020

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell




Truckle Bed and Crib
Shakespeare's Birthplace, Stratford-on-Avon
Photo: Meg McKone, May 2017

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell.  Tinder Press, UK 2020.

Reviewed by Frank McKone



In 1981 a small group of my students decided they would present a ‘poor theatre’ Hamlet in our Drama Studio.  For several weeks they read, absorbed and discussed Shakespeare’s four-hour long script.  “We are not interested in the Rotten State of Denmark,” they said.  “It’s a play about two families.  There’s Hamlet and his relationships with his mother, his father and his uncle.  Then there’s Ophelia and her relationships with her father and her brother – and with Hamlet.”  Then they instructed me to spend the upcoming two-week vacation cutting out the politics and other extraneous material to produce a focussed family drama under two hours long.

Reading O’Farrell’s Hamnet took me back to the intensity of that exercise – and opened up my thinking about Shakespeare’s work in a completely unexpected way.  I had often wondered about his family life somewhere in the background of his artistic development, from the early comedies through the histories to the symbolism of The Tempest

Hamlet always seemed an outlier: O’Farrell’s remarkable imagination tells us why, in her story of Hamnet and his relationship with his mother Agnes, his father William, his sisters, his uncles and aunts, and even his grandparents – of the families of Agnes of Hewlands Farm and William, son of Stratford town glovemaker John Shakespeare.  Her re-creation of their lives, of necessity fictional, is surely the most wonderful telling of truths by any modern author.

I would wish that this novel should not be seen as merely adding to the pile of publications about William Shakespeare. It stands in its own right as a novel, stimulated to be sure by the mysteries that surround the famous playwright.  But it is the story of a woman whose son dies unfathomably at the age of eleven; a woman of powerful emotions and understanding matching her husband – like her, he must also take his own direction.  Each must establish their own independent lives. 

Set as it is in the insecure world of the late 16th Century, even ironically still subject to the bubonic plague after 300 years, just as we suddenly face an unpredictable Covid-19,  reading what Agnes thinks, feels and does is absolutely as relevant in today’s world as in hers.  The strength of O’Farrell’s writing is in her ability to take us into the minds of her characters using a surprisingly simple technique.

When I read the first chapter I was taken aback, at first feeling I was made to stand back, and yet at a close-up distance, as if I were invading the space and perhaps the privacy of Hamnet: “Near the bottom [of a flight of stairs], he pauses for a moment, looking back the way he has come.  Then, suddenly resolute, he leaps the final three stairs, as is his habit.  He stumbles as he lands, falling to his knees on the flagstone floor.”

But, before long, this objective descriptive writing, always in the present tense, revealed within it a gradual understanding on my part of this person’s understanding of himself.  He has come in, but no-one is home: “The boy opens his mouth.  He calls the names, one by one, of all the people who live here, in this house.  His grandmother.  The maid.  His uncles.  His aunt.  The apprentice.  His grandfather.  The boy tries them all, one after another.  For a moment, it crosses his mind to call his father’s name, to shout for him, but his father is miles and hours and days away, in London, where the boy has never been.”

And so we, reading, begin to see; to catch a passing feeling; start to think we know what is happening.  On Page 367, we realise, yes – now we know!

For a final bow to the author, her other technical device needs special praise.  I call it ‘back stitching time'.  Chapter 2 takes us back 15 years before Chapter 1; Chapter 3 begins where Chapter 1 had ended.  But this is hand sewing, not machine.  Over the sewing of the seam that is the whole story, the stitching goes backwards and forwards.  Sewing tips online tell me the back stitch ‘is one of the strongest and most durable stitches, making it very reliable’.

But creating a strong seam is not the whole story.  Earlier time chapters bit by bit catch up to the present until everything comes together at the end in a way that I can only describe as highly satisfying.  The effect, rather than mere strength in story-line, is as if a three-dimensional sculpture is built up until the shape is completed with the final words.  The work of art is finished.

Maggie O’Farrell deserves every accolade for creating fine art thoroughly in keeping with that of Hamnet’s father, and true to the memory of Hamnet’s mother.











Saturday, June 13, 2020

RESCUING THE GRAND DAMES OF THE ARTS



By Peter Wilkins

Adelaide's Theatre Royal

IN a seemingly endless era of rapid development and demolition, Australia’s theatres are often the first buildings to go under the sledgehammer, and the tradition continues until now.

They were the Grand Dames of the Arts – theatres that opened their stages to give birth and nurture and care for the arts. They inspired generations through their entertainments. Dance, music and drama flourished and audiences flocked to witness productions that would define Australian culture.

On stage at the Theatre Royal

I remember as a young child in my home town, climbing the outside stairs to the Gods of Adelaide’s Theatre Royal, nestled between crowded buildings in Adelaide’s West End. On its stage, Britain’s greatest actors and actresses performed in Laurence Olivier’s touring company. In Hobart, Olivier was able to save the city’s ornate Theatre Royal from demolition, but sadly his pleas fell on the philistine deaf ears of Adelaide’s city fathers, and in 1961 the old theatre, constructed in 1868, was demolished to make way for a department store’s parking station.

Then came the Union Hall in the grounds of Adelaide University, renowned for premiering Patrick White’s plays under the direction of John Tasker, director of South Australia’s first professional theatre company. No sooner had Adelaide’s arts community secured a heritage listing on the hall than the then Minister for the Environment and Conservation removed the listing from the State Heritage Register and the developers moved in. it was demolished in 2010 to make way for a spanking new science precinct.

Queen’s Theatre

Meanwhile, what fate will befall Adelaide’s Queen’s Theatre? Tucked away in the corner of Playhouse Lane, it is the oldest surviving purpose built theatre in Australia? Built in 1840, the Queen’s Theatre is today a hollow shell of empty rooms that are converted into theatre spaces during the Adelaide Festival of Arts and Fringe Festival. Will it eventually escape demolition and be restored to a working theatre behind its nineteenth century façade?

But times change and governments around the nation may look with envy upon this week’s unveiling of Adelaide’s reformed Her Majesty’s Theatre. Perhaps past acts of cultural vandalism have been relegated to history.

In 2018, the bulldozers moved in to flatten the interior of Her Majesty’s Theatre on Grote Street opposite Adelaide’s Central Markets, one of the original theatres of the Tivoli Circuit.  In that very same year, Adelaide had elected a new mayor, Sandy Verschoor, a former arts administrator and only the third woman to hold this position of influence since 1840 and a happier outcome resulted. 

New interior behind the old facade.

Her Majesty’s had been in need of urgent repair. Structural renovations in the 60s and 70s had done little to combat the deteriorating effects of time, so, the decision was made to create a state-of-the-art theatre that would accommodate the needs of artists and theatre workers and audiences in the 21st century. The interior would be entirely gutted and a new theatre would rise from the rubble, but in recognition of the Grand Dame’s heritage and artistic legacy, the façade would be preserved in a $66 million renovation.

The new design features two sweeping staircases in the expanded main foyer. Original Edwardian elements have been re-introduced, including a pressed metal ceiling and elegant architraves and mouldings. Other outstanding features include curved timber balcony fronts in the auditorium, foyer bars on all three levels, a larger backstage rehearsal room and a dramatic glass façade to the new west wing. 

On June 23rd, Adelaide’s Slingsby Theatre will stage the play, The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy, scripted by Finegan Kruckemeyer, to herald the return of theatre to Her Majesty’s Theatre.

Canberra theatre lovers too can mourn the loss of iconic venues.

The stage at Teatro Vivaldi

The ANU Arts Centre was demolished to pave the way for the new Kambri precinct. Not only the flexible Arts Centre was lost, to be replaced by a pokey Black Box Theatre, but also the theatre restaurant, Teatro Vivaldi, with its intimate offerings of cabaret and musical theatre performances, was sacrificed.

There is an amphitheatre gracing the banks of the creek that runs by the university where Canberra’s Lakespeare Company performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but for now there is no theatre to replace the Arts Centre. “They are outdated”, we hear the councils cry. The rationales for and against fly back and forth as arts communities battle to preserve a city’s cultural heritage, while vested interests plot the demolition of yet another cultural icon. 

But with negotiations underway for a new “lyric” theatre to supplement the older Canberra Theatre, the unveiling of Adelaide’s restored 1500 seat theatre may inspire a collaborative vision for a theatre that will satisfy the needs of artists and audiences alike.

 





 

 

 

 

 

 


Thursday, June 11, 2020

JULIA ZEMIRO - ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF THE ADELAIDE CABARET FESTIVAL BITE SIZED AND HOME DELIVERED

In Conversation with Julia Zemiro. Artistic Director of Adelaide Cabaret Festival 2020: BiteSized and Home Delivered. 

Streamed online at www.adelaidecabaretfestival.com.au. June 5-7, 10-13,17-20 2020

By Peter Wilkins

Julia Zemiro
Artistic Director 
Adelaide Cabaret festival:
BiteSized and Home Delivered

Life is full of surprises. From her home in the beautiful Southern Highlands town of Bowral, Julia Zemiro reflects on the unusual circumstances surrounding the fate of her second year as Artistic Director of the highly popular and world renowned Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Originally, she had thought that she would only have the time to contract herself for one festival in 2019. Then it occured to her that it would be great to also direct the 20th anniversary festival in 2020. By the end of 2019 she had lined up a terrific list of top local, national and international cabaret artists for what  would be her final festival.  But that was before the Corona virus changed everything; well almost everything.  Julia and the team at the Adelaide Festival Centre resolved to make the 2020 Adelaide Cabaret Festival happen. And so was born Adelaide Cabaret Festival 2020: Bite Sized and Home Delivered. Australia’s much loved and effervescent host of the enormously successful TV shows Rockwiz and Home Delivery was not going to be defeated by the devastating shut down of the country’s performing festivals and companies, which saw the industry and its artists cruelly brought to their knees. And yet, it is at a time of crisis that the artists find new ways of bringing their creative forces to the public. The way through this incredibly difficult and challenging time was to find a new way to use technology and one’s creative talents to keep their work alive, albeit unsupported by the government and its aid packages. But that’s another story.

In the beginning it really was a day by day matter. “We were thinking maybe we could make it smaller.” says Zemiro. “Maybe we could make it different and then suddenly all the doors were shut. It was all about not leaving an empty space and how could we mark the twentieth in some way. We could see  that so many performers around the world were trying to put out their work online and I couldn’t believe how between that moment and now how sophisticated some of that has become in terms of how you put it out there.”

The cabaret performers who were to come to Adelaide this year were approached and asked whether they would be prepared to present a 90 second bite-sized song or comment or anecdote that could be streamed into people’s homes.  Over the usual three weekends of a festival, six to eight performers would be asked to present their pieces in a segment being screened at 6 p.m. Central Standard Time and 6.30 p.m. in the eastern states. One evening’s performance would last  about ten minutes, the time to drink a glass of champagne, Zemiro tells me. What has resulted and may be viewed by accessing www.adelaidecabaretfestival.com.au is thirteen nights of bite sized gems from a variety of cabaret entertainers. Some are household names in the entertainment industry like Julia Zemiro, David Campbell and Robyn Archer. Some are local sensations like Libby Donovan and Beccy Cole. Some are international luminaries like Caroline Nin, Marcel Lucont and Jeanne Plante. And for the cabaret lover who can’t flock to the Adelaide Festival Centre foyers this year, there are still surprises in store within the comfort of your own room.

The cancellation of the live Adelaide Cabaret Festival was heartbreaking, but as Zemiro says, “There comes a point where you just have to process it and live with it” Sadly, some of the artists will not be included in next year’s festival, assuming that the festival returns to normal. That programme will be for the new  Artistic Director, who will be announced at the end of Zemiro’s Covid festival, to decide. Zemiro had planned to bring the touring Rockwiz Musical to the festival. It sold out in six weeks last year and the 2020 festival programme was to give a nod to New York and the Broadway musicals and what was happening at the time of Andy Warhol and Patty Smith and Deborah Harry. The smash hit musical Six about the wives of Henry Vlll is another casualty of the proposed 2020 programme. “Six was going to be the first musical in the revamped Her Majesty’s Theatre.” These could be something you might possibly be able to bring back in 2021.” Zemiro says optimistically.

“Part of the sadness is thinking of those six performers. Six women and an all female band as well. They’re young. They’re looking forward to those big breaks. You know, I’ve had heaps of big breaks I’ve got memories I can draw on and even when times are tough at the moment I go ‘Oh, God, that first tour of Rockwiz we did. They would be sitting there thinking, ‘This job is hard enough and I’ve got this thing I’m looking forward to.’” Six is one example of the highlights that Cabaret Festival audiences will miss out on this year. Another is the attendance of the composer of Les Miserable (Claude-Michel Schoenberg  ). “They were going to come out and talk about their music and we were going to have a big show featuring the music of Les Mis and  and Miss Saigon and I was going to interview him in French. We had some really beautiful events, but that’s how it goes” Maybe next year I wish, hoping that wishes can come true. After all, as Zemiro points out, producers of the hit New York musical Hamilton have said that it will premiere in Australia in March. “What do they know that we don’t?” says Zemiro. “If you just think of people singing and spraying everywhere”, Zemiro says, “we still won’t have that gay abandon of loving it and being in it. We can but hope that by next June, audiences will be thronging the foyers and lapping up the cabaret delights that the new AD will bring to Adelaide.

The by-line for this year’s festival was going to be What Good Is Sitting Alone In Your Room. For the twentieth anniversary that classic line was about  ‘How are you going to encourage people to come out?’ All of a sudden this had a completely different meaning. The irony is unmistakable. So, we asked our artists “You are literally trapped in your room, and especially our French artists who were not allowed to leave their house, except for essentials. What you have to present online you could not just stream as a   live package. It doesn’t work that way, but we could say ‘As an artist living in this way there is nothing more important than an artist responding to the world about them, physically and personally. So in ninety seconds what can you give us about what you’re feeling right now?”

“ The response has been fantastic.” Zemiro says. “It has not all been sad. Some of it has been hilarious. A lot of it has been ‘I’m going to sing you the best song I know and the best song I have.’ They’ve all been so happy to prepare something for it. ”You’re always trying to find opportunities for the artists”, Zemiro says. She cites Gunhild Carling and Davina and the Vagabonds as examples of artists who were brought out by the Cabaret Festival in 2019 and wowed audiences with their energy and unique talent. That is what the festival can do and provide opportunities for new and emerging artists to build their careers.”

If you haven’t heard of All The Queen’s Men, do look them up on line. They were a success in 2019  and Zemiro has again  included them in her Bite-Sized and Home Delivered festival. I was surprised to hear Noel Coward’s This is to let you know. It is such a sensitive and moving departure from his more flippant and satirical work. All The Queens Men allows these safe spaces for the elderly and the LBGTQI community to come and be together. “To say that there is no homophobia left in the world is to say that there is no racism.” says Zemiro. Noel Coward’s expression of love remains a plea for love and tolerance today. “For me that is something that is in the programme that is about the great pause” Zemiro adds. It compels us to reflect.

I couldn’t let Julia go without some reflection on the political response to the decimation of the live arts. “Do you have any reflections I asked? “I’ve got heaps of them. I’ve got heaps of them” she said. “It is astounding to me that there are so many people – audiences I can forgive – but people in government who still don’t understand how artists are paid and how they work – that the work is intermittent, that the work is up and down. People must look at me and say “Well. she’s got a six year contract with the ABC. She does Home Delivery. I don’t. It is a year to year contract. Sometimes it’s every six months, Sometimes it’s every eighteen months. There is a real disconnect with knowing or wanting to understand how artists work. I worry about the word artists. They go ‘Oh, painters.’ That sounds a bit high-falooting. Australia is sophisticated in so many ways and really dumb in others I find it incredible that a Minister for the Arts and a Prime Minister, who listen to music and I’m sure enjoy reading a book and enjoy watching their favourite TV show don’t quite understand how that job works., and indeed when Covid hit the irony is we were used to that structure, of being trapped at home without any money to do whatever we wanted to do all the time. But to be cut out of jobkeeper when you could have very simply gone ‘Hang on, if you haven’t been in a job longer than twelve months, well let’s include them as well.’ That would have been a very simple thing to do. I still think that during Covid we still have to remind people that this is how it gets done. You don’t know that? You have to keep explaining the process. But people say, ‘Oh but you love what you do. Won’t you put up with anything. No we won’t put up with anything. We do, mind you, so maybe  the whole of society is experiencing a seismic shift. It’s exciting to see what’s happening with Black Lives Matter and Indigenous Lives Matter It’s very exciting that a government can all of a sudden come up with a plan to  help homeless people by putting them in a hotel that noone’s using.  You know things could be very exciting. It’s ridiculous that  you give people $25,000 to add something to your house  when some people have no house after the bushfires. Why not give it to them? So people are having to think how governments don’t work.  And they may be starting to go, ‘Hang on, I pay tax so I should be able to see where that money goes. It’s quite incredible to me that the thing that’s been getting people through this is watching television, listening to music, being able to get online and talk to your favourite performer and all that. They don’t see that as important as sport for instance. It’s so obvious to you and me but it’s still not getting through . The message is not getting through and you would have thought that with TV that would have been an easy sell, but apparently not. I want to know why it is not getting through and I am going to spend a lot of time on advocacy. So that’s what’s in store after Zemiro leaves the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. And you couldn’t ask for a more passionate, articulate, intelligent and energetic advocate for the arts.

Zemiro’s cabaret might be bite-sized, but in the tradition of cabaret it’s bite is sharp and in the many cabaret artists’ online offerings of one evening’s short ten minute snapshot the original songs and comments present an art that will not be silenced or shoved aside in isolation. The very fact that Zemiro and her team have not let the Adelaide Cabaret Festival’s twentieth anniversary go by unnoticed augurs well for the festivals to come when the pandemic has passed.

In the meantime, be sure to tune in to Julia Zemiro’s Adelaide Cabaret Festival 2020: Bite Sized and Home Delivered at www.adelaidecabaretfestival2020. In the time that it takes to pop the cork and settle down with a glass of bubbles, artists from around the world will set your taste buds for cabaret a-tingling.

Adelaide Cabaret Festival 2020: Bite Sized and Home Delivered,

www.adelaidecabaretfestival.com.au

FB@adelaidecabaretfestival IG @adelaidecabaret

 

 

 

 

Sunday, June 7, 2020

ST NICHOLAS

St NIcholas by Conor McPherson. Directed by Shelly Higgs. The Street Theatre.  Live stream performances: Friday June 5 and Saturday June 6 at 8pm. Sunday June 7 at 3pm.

The on line theatre that is swamping us currently is no substitute for a real visceral bit of live theatre in the dark. I’ve found myself impatient with much of it and battling for staying power. It’s neither film nor a satisfactory recording.

But until the pandemic is over with its devastating effect on the theatres of the world it’s what we’ve got.

 The Street has offered three live stream performances of Conor McPherson’s St Nicholas and I caught the one on Saturday June 6. I’d been hoping to properly get to the opening but left my run too late to do the necessary organising for on line viewing. You can’t just rock up and collect your ticket.

But the management offer lots of homely and good suggestions for setting the mood at home. You can chat to others on line during the interval. Remember to switch off your phone; as in the theatre, it is a snare and a distraction.  Actually, given that St Nicholas is a vampire tale, snuggling up with a hot lemon and garlic drink under the blanket might not be a bad idea, although McPherson’s modern vampires seem unimpressed by garlic.

McPherson is the playwright who gave us The Weir, a dark and funny play which I remember seeing in the Theatre Royal in Sydney, complete with the intermittent noise of the underground train traffic. (Live theatre again…)

This one is a monologue, delivered by an ageing theatre critic who is somewhat over his current life reviewing in Dublin and rather over his current wife and family. He’s not too good in the ethics department either, happy to tell a director he’s written a rave review, then blaming editorial changes when the real piece appears in print.

But lying about the review brings him closer to meeting actress Helen, for whom he has developed a lust. She plays Salome but he can’t see beyond the dance. It’s a drawn out yarn as he falls in among vampires when he chucks in his old life in pursuit of her and moves to London. For a theatre critic he seems surprisingly unaware of being careful what you wish for. 

Craig Alexander revels in this fruity but flawed character. The support from musician Den Hanrahan’s shadowy presence is atmospheric. Production design is in the ever-capable hands of Imogen Keen, ensuring the right level of seediness backed by James Tighe’s selective and moody lighting.

What would it be like if Alexander could yarn to the whole of Street Two instead of just confiding ever so confidently in the camera? Well, it would be theatre. But no use wishing at the moment and here’s The Street, like so many others, doing a superbly inventive job with what it can and what it has.  It certainly ought to be causing some reflection on just why live performance is so deeply important.

Alanna Maclean


ADELAIDE CABARET FESTIVAL 2020: Bite Sized and Home Delivered

 

Adelaide Cabaret Festival 2020: Bite-Sized and Home Delivered. Artistic Director Julia Zemiro. Digitally delivered to your home online. An Adelaide Festival Centre event. June 5 – 20 2020.

Visit: adelaidecabaretfestival.com.au

FB@adelaidecabaretfestival IG @adelaidecabaret

 

It’s still not too late to visit the Adelaide Cabaret Festival’s twentieth anniversary. From Friday June 5th to June Saturday June 20th. cabaret aficianados can settle back and enjoy Adelaide Cabaret Festival 2020: Bite-Sized and Home-Delivered online and in the comfort of your own home. As Artistic Director Julia Zemiro says, “While we can’t perform on stage to a live audience this year, we hope cabaret fans from across Australia and around the world will enjoy our online offering and the chance to dress up, pop open some bubbles, sit back and be entertained at home”

Artistic Director Julia Zemiro

All one needs to do to soak up the atmosphere is tune in for the bite-sized cabaret from 6 p.m. on Adelaide Cabaret Festival’s facebook page (www.facebook.com/adelaidecabaretfestival) Clips from a host of popular cabaret artists, who have featured at previous festivals will be accompanied by videos from the Cabaret Festival’s archives along with pithy posts, stories, snippets and songs recorded in isolation and responding to Sally Bowles’s classic line in Life is a Cabaret from kandor and Ebb’s timeless musical, Cabaret“What good is sitting alone in your room?” There’s no fear of that when you know that you will be joined by Cabaret favourites including Robyn Archer, David Campbell, Ali McGregor and the irrepressible Adelaide entertainer Libby Donovan. International artists include Caroline Nin, Marcel Lucont, Carsie Blanton, Anne Pigalle and Jeanne Plante.

Robyn Archer


After 20 years of providing audiences with a banquet of cabaret delights, the anniversary is too important to pass by, and Zemiro and her team have put together a special selection of treats to savour during the pandemic. It is a festival to celebrate past highlights and look forward to the return to the venues when the health crisis has passed.

When the arts face unexpected challenges as a result of a crisis, artists rise to the challenge with ingenuity, resilience and imagination. “There have been some really creative interpretations of our theme, Zemiro says, and it’s been a pleasure working with our 2020 cabaret  during this challenging isolation period artists.

David Campb


But make no mistake. You won’t be alone. Sassy QBE Cabaret Lounge hosts Franky and Franky will be  on your screen or device to guide you through the festival’s first ever home delivered experience. For people in South Australia, there is a special treat to set the mood for a glamourous night in. Viewers can order a Cabaret Couch Kit wih wine and cheese platters featuring Pol Roger champagne, South Australian wines from Greenock estate and local produce from Out In The Paddock. After all, Life Is A Cabaret Old Chum so come to Adelaide Cabaret Festival 2020 home delivered and online. The lineup of artists is impressive and will include over the two weeks of this unique festival Ali McGregor, All the Queen’s men,Anne Pigalle, Ash Flanders, Bec Matthews, Beccy Cole, Bert LaBonte, Caroline Nin,Carsie Blanton, Catherine Alcorn, David Campbell, David Finnigan, Earl Okin, Geraldine Quinn, James Galea, Jeanne Plante,Josh Quong Tart, Julia zemiro, Kate Ceberano, Libby O’Donovan,Marcel Lucont, Max Savage, Nicci Wilks, Plonk Family Band, Rbyn Archer, Sam McMahon, Sarah ward, Thando, The Hamiltons, The Sisters of Invention andTrevor Jones. Viewers may recognize many of these as old favourites including past and present directors of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. If there are artists you don’t know then this is the perfect opportunity to get a bite-sized glimpse of a new cabaret experience.

Catherine Alcorn


The Adelaide Cabaret Festival is proudly supported by the Adelaide Festival Centre and CEO and Artistic Director  Douglas Gautier shares the excitement of this ingenious solution to the challenge posed by the nation’s public health crisis. “We are delighted to be reflecting on the festival’s 20 year history.” Gautier says, “while also celebrating the incomparable performers who make it possible. While we all eagerly await the return of large-scale live events once it is safe to do so, it is wonderful to be connecting digitally witth our audiences through one of our most popular festivals.”


Zemiro echoes the sentiments and applauds the ingenuity and spirit of the artists who will both celebrate the twentieth anniversary and keep the festival alive and looking forward to hopefully going back to a live event in 2021. “There have been some really creative interpretations of our theme and it’s been such a pleasure working with our 2020 cabaret artists during this challenging isolation period. “

“We hope the following weeks bring some sparkle to people’s lives through the power of great music performance, frivolity and fun”

Visit: adelaidecabaretfestival.com.au

FB@adelaidecabaretfestival IG @adelaidecabaret

Saturday, June 6, 2020

ST.NICHOLAS by Conor McPherson


Performed by Craig Alexander and Den Hanrahan

Directed by Shelley Higgs – Designed by Imogen Keen

Lighting designed by James Tighe and operated by William Malan

Camera Operated by Liam Budge – Vision mixed by Kyle Sheedy

Composition and sound design by Den Hanrahan

Live-streamed by The Street Theatre – 5th – 7th June 2020

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

One of the surprising outcomes of Covid-19 has been the rush by performing artists and creatives to embrace possibilities offered by new technology to retain audiences locked out of their theatres as the result of coronavirus restrictions. Some theatres and theatre companies have delved into their archives to offer free screenings of archival videos of previous productions. Television screens are awash with variety shows offering singers, dancers and musicians earnestly exhibiting their skills from their lounge-rooms, with widely varying degrees of success. Most of these performances are for free, but there are some which hopefully request payment.

The Street Theatre in Canberra has gone one step further, by offering three performances of Conor McPherson’s one-person play, St. Nicholas, produced expressly for streaming live to a paying audience. The play is performed live, in real-time, in an empty theatre, to an audience which has chosen which performance it will view in the convenience and comfort of its own home. The ninety minute play is presented with an eight minute comfort break interval mid-way.

While some might question the choice of play for this experiment, essentially a dense 90 minute monologue by an unlikeable, hopelessly jaundiced theatre critic, who mid-way through, becomes  involved with  vampires, the play none-the-less provides an excellent vehicle for director, Shelley Hicks and her actor and creatives, to explore a wide range of ideas both emotional and technical. However, sometimes, too many ideas for the good of the play.

Often very handsome to look at, and for the most part filmed in unforgiving close-up, the production is heavy on atmosphere. Imogen Keen has provided an excellent, textured setting, suggesting some sort of work shed. Unfortunately, particularly in the second act, it competes with the verbal descriptions of the environments described by the actor, leaving the audience to puzzle over the character’s whereabouts. 

Throughout, the actor constantly moves through deep shadows, out of focus scenes filmed through lighted candles and swinging light bulbs, with the constant sound of heavy heart-beats in the second act, all meant to create a foreboding atmosphere. A moody guitar-based electronic soundscape, played live throughout by Den Hanrahan, punctuates almost every statement. This is interesting for a while, but ultimately irritating in its predictability, finally, inexorably slowing the pace of the production, and sapping it of any tension.

Craig Alexander is an accomplished actor, and this role as the critic, provides him with excellent opportunities to display his range. However, his performance is pitched at stage level, and filmed in close-up, as it is here, his technique is always evident, appearing as a performance rather than a character, so that the interest in this performance lies in watching his choices, rather than being absorbed in his characterisation. 

Perhaps it’s more a fault of the writing than the acting, but because the critic is such an unrelentingly loathsome character, it is difficult to maintain interest in him for the duration of the play, providing a challenge for the actor, to seduce the audience into being interested in him despite his flaws. Saddled with an unreliable Irish accent, and enthusiastic technical experimentation, Alexander had an uphill battle.

No doubt other audiences will experience different nuances during the performances to come, for each streamed performance will be subtly different. The Street Theatre is to be applauded for its courage in pushing the boundaries with this fascinating experiment. While not replacing the experience of sitting in a theatre for a performance it certainly suggests there may be a viable alternative available for a new audience not able to get to a theatre.

 

                                                  Photo: Shelley Higgs

This review also appears in Australian Arts Review. www.artsreview.com.au