Saturday, June 23, 2018

SAINT JOAN by GEORGE BERNARD SHAW


Saint. Joan by George Bernard Shaw

A re-imagined production, directed by Imara Savage with additional text by Imara Savage and Emme Hoy. Set designer David Fleischer. Costume designer Renee Mulder. Lighting designer Nick Schlieper. Composer and sound designer Max Lyandver. Assistant director. Clemence Williams. Voice and text coach Charmian Gradwell. Sydney Theatre Company. Roslyn Packer Theatre. June 11 – 30 2018

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Sarah Snook as Saint Joan

 The sign in the foyer of the Roslyn Packer Theatre gave the running time of the Sydney Theatre Company production of St Joan as one hour and thirty five minutes with no interval.  It was instantly obvious that this was not George Bernard Shaw’s original play. That ran for over three hours with Sybil Thorndike in the title role in 1925. 

Instead, the audience was to be presented  in director Imara Savage’s production with a version that stripped away much of the original text, included monologues written with emerging STC Writer in residence Emme Hoy and that focused on the character of Joan, played by Sarah Snook. The result is a production of such power, such relevance and such emotional impact that it speaks to our age with startling immediacy. Savage’s passionate embrace of the themes of instinctive faith versus  the institutional dictums of the church and its dogma, the dominant male power of the state and the oppression of women screams out for reason from her programme introduction.
What emerges is an expressionist re-imagining of Sha's play. The curtain rises on a bare stage with a lone figure in armour in a spotlight. Enter, all dressed in black, an English priest (Seamus O’Shea), a French Earl (David Whitney), a  Prosecutor (Socratis Otto) and a French Bishop (William Zappa) to debate the fate of the captured  country girl prior to her trial. The priest, clothed in British superciliousness cries for the stake. The Bishop strives for redemption from the curse of heresy. At the centre of this debate is the proposed fate of teenage Joan, the fighter, the dreamer, the agitator, the faith bringer and the agent for change- the daughter of her God! Her innocence, her fervour, her wiles may break the siege of Orleans in her battle to end a Hundred Years War, but it cannot break the power of men, threatened and intimidated by a girl from the farm who hears the voices of Archangel Michael and the martyred Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret. The debate is defined by the surgical precision of conflicting ideals and ambitions. Savage and her brilliant creative team construct a Brechtian arena of argument for an audience to judge. 

Socratis Otto, Brandon McLelland and William Zappa
In order to achieve this, Savage has thrust the character of Joan into the centre of the action, surrounded by her accusers and inquisitors against whom she is compelled to rail in a life and death battle for faith and reason. This reaches a climax in the final scene, when a distraught Joan is barraged with accusation and enticement by her male accusers directly hurling their charges and pleas for renouncement to the audience. The assault is merciless, the tension excruciating and the injustice heart rending.  On an open stage, Joan is cruelly exposed, a victim of the inquisitor, played with the steely assurance of irreversible reason by John Gaden, and with faith betrayed  and hope abandoned.
Gareth Davies. Socratis Otto, Anthony Taufa

Throughout, flashbacks reveal the key events that map out the journey from the thirteen year old’s conversations with Archangel MIchael  to the seventeen year old’s  persuasive convincing of the Archbishop, also played by John Gaden, the weak Dauphin (Gareth Davies) and the General at Orleans (Brandon McClelland). A superb cast embraces the forceful purpose of this production. It explodes with conflict, argument and debate. War is waged. It is the fierce battle of ideas, of faith, of gender, of power, of territory and of minds, muzzled in a mire of obsession.
Brendon McClelland and Sarah Snook

Savage’s production references Shaw’s play, written at the time of Irish conflict with the English over occupation, shortly after the end of the Great War and within a couple of years of Pope Benedikt’s canonization of Joan and more than four hundred years after Joan is declared innocent by Pope Calixtus lll. Today, St Joan appears as relevant as ever.  The Joan of Arc’s of our time appear throughout the world to cry out Bernard Shaw’s reformist ideals. Emma Gonzales is the St Joan of the teenage uprising against school shootings. Malala Yousafzi is the St. Joan in her campaign against the Taliban and their oppressive prohibition of education. And Pussy Riot’s punk outcry against the Russian oligarchy dared to decry a regime bent on its unassailable supremacy.
Sarah Snook as the condemned Saint Joan.

At the very epicentre of this stirring and thought-provoking cry for reason and action is Snook’s charismatic, magnetizing and luminescent performance.  Snook’s St Joan appears as a role model for a new age. Snook is magnificents, capturing the religious fervour and naivety of the young teenager, the deep rooted belief in her mission of the seventeen year old and the fear and vulnerability of a woman, defiled , derided and doomed by powerful, ignorant men.
I leave the theatre moved by the plight of the patriot, outraged by the injustice of blind obstruction, and hopeful that the power of Bernard Shaw’s language, the sharpness of his acerbic wit and the wisdom of his plea to the world will echo in the directness, the drama and the power of this production.

THE WEDDING SINGER


Book by Chad Beguelin & Tim Herlihy
Music by Matthew Sklar
Lyrics by Chad Beguelin
Directed by Amy Dunham and Sarah Hull
Musical Director: Jenna Hinton
Choreographer: Emma Nichols
Queanbeyan Players Inc.
The Q Theatre, Queanbeyan to 1 July

Reviewed by Len Power 22 June 2018
 
A romantic movie, where a chance meeting leads to a happy ending after lots of trouble along the way, is an appealing formula.  I remember being charmed by the original 1998 movie of ‘The Wedding Singer’ as well as ‘Sleepless In Seattle’, ‘When Harry Met Sally’ and so on.

Co-directors Amy Dunham and Sarah Hull have given us a bright, cheerful production of the stage musical version of ‘The Wedding Singer’, which originally played on Broadway in 2006.

Dave Smith shines as the wedding singer, Robbie, with a strong, likeable characterization and fine singing.  Emily Ridge is totally believable with a warm and endearing performance as Julia and sings very well, too.

Josie Dunham and Tim Stiles sang and acted their roles well and were especially enjoyable with their song ‘Right In Front Of Your Eyes’.  Michael Jordan was fine as Julia’s oafish fiancĂ©, Glen, but needed to put more energy and sharpness into his big song, ‘All About The Green’.  Lauren Nihill was terrific as Grandma.

As George, David Santolin displayed a good sense of comic timing and got the laughs in the right places, but the ‘funny effeminate gay friend’ clichĂ© as written is getting a bit old-fashioned these days.  Emma White performed strongly as ex-girlfriend, Linda, but it was hard to believe that Robbie would have been interested in a character like that.

There was some great work by the large ensemble who sing and dance with infectious enthusiasm.  Choreographer, Emma Nichols, has given the cast good moves that they handle very well.  Costume Design by Lara Jurkiewicz was thoughtfully and colourfully in period and worked for the characters of the performers.

The simply designed sets by Steve Galinec and Anita Davenport worked fine and the colourful lighting design by Jacob Brown added a lot of atmosphere.  Sound levels between band and singers were fine.  Musical director, Jenna Hinton, has done an excellent job with the music, which was well-played.

This is an undemanding, uncomplicated show that has been nicely staged and performed.  The charm of the original story is still there and it’s very entertaining.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on his ‘On Stage’ performing arts radio program on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3.30pm on Artsound FM 92.7.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

TOM WAITS FOR NO MAN


Tom Waits For No Man.

Directed by Ali McGregor. Musical direction by Charly Zastrau. Dunstan Playhouse. Adelaide Cabaret Festival. The Adelaide Festival Centre. June 17 2018.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins



Tom Waits may not be everyone’s man. The growl is legendary. The poor and bedraggled, the seedy and the down and out inhabit his world. There may be bats in the belfry and brawlers in the bar but in Waits’ world we are innocent when we dream. Tom Waits For No Man is the Adelaide Cabaret Festival’s tribute to the music and songs of a musician, composer, actor and avant-garde icon to the melancholic, the philosophic and the maverick. Hosted by Mikelangelo and directed by Ali McGregor, Tom Waits For No Man features a number of artists to reinterpret the songs, embodying the soul and spirit of  a legend but endowing his unique gift with an universal truth.

Mikelangelo. Photo by Claudio Rascella
That is why I found it difficult to grasp this tribute’s true intent, and I suspect that was partly due to the limited rehearsal time. Individually Waits was done proud by the outstanding artists, cabaret luminaries in their own right, but, although there was an attempt to capture the atmosphere of Waits’ music in the set with its assorted backdrop of instruments and objects on a wire frame and a video screen to project footage of Waits acting roles, the singers presented as their individual cabaret personas .It took a leap of faith to see past Mikelangelo’s Balkan Elvis to his forceful opening rendition of You’re Innocent When You Dream  or Butt Kapinski’s film noir detective sneaking through the audience to Tom Waits’ What the Hell Is He Building There? His running gag is the dark mystery of the sad clown. 

Butt Kapinski. Photo by Claudio Raschella
Now don’t get me wrong. These are excellent interpreters of their genre, and maybe they are reinterpreting Waits in their own image. His influence assumes cult status and these performers are his devoted acolytes. But I am momentarily unnerved by a presence that is not Waits but themselves. Perhaps that’s the point, or is it merely a convenient condition of limited rehearsal time together?  After all it was only the night before that Mikelangelo met the enigmatic Joey Arias. I would rather believe that Tom Waits and Ali McGregor’s tribute do not seek to change who a person is but rather empower them to become the person they want to be. Audiences are left to make of Waits what they may
Queenie van de Zandt. Photo: Claudio Raschella
No such confusion existed with the band. In the shadows, except for exceptional musical director, Charly Zastrau on piano, the musicians imbued the performance with the sombre mood of whisky soaked bars and the lonely atmosphere of darkly lit streets.
All outward confusion aside, McGregor’s artists find the poet’s voice. Queenie van de Zandt’s Chocolate Jesus rings with religious irony. McGregor’s Ice Cream Man edges dangerously on the double entendre, where innocence falls prey to darker intent. The pain and anger of Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis is given Carla Lippis’s manic force in her volcanic rendition. Joey Arias, compelling in his presence, sings the strained agony of the lonely heart in This One’s From The Heart. 
Joey Arias. Photo: Claudio Raschella

 All reservations fade in the emotive power of the tribute. Waits’ lyrics echo with the voices of the disenchanted and opponents to jingoistic peril as the full company launches into a stirring, defiant rendition of Kathleen Brennan and Waits’ Hoist That Rag. Escape from Life’s stark reality lulls its way into Midnight Lullaby and the recurring theme of innocence in dreams. When life is too hard and it’s ten below and you’re far from home, you’ve got to Hold On sings Mikelangelo, a closing note of survival in a programme that pays tribute to Tom Waits’ unique and influential view of a world. McGregor’s amazing company of artists rejoice in their labour of love. Their interpretation of Waits’ gift to the music world is their own, seen through the prism of Waits’ profound lyrics. The audience, devotees or novices, fortunate enough to see this one night stand, left Tom Waits For No Man richer for the experience.  

CAST A DARK SHADOW - CARLA LIPPIS

Cast A Dark Shadow.  Carla Lippis

The Festival Theatre Stage. Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Adelaide Festival Centre. June 15-16 2018

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Carla Lippis performs Cast A Dark Shadow at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival



 Grab onto your chairs. You're in for a wild ride. Carla Lippis slinks onto stage like a cat about to claw its prey. In a clinging black jump suit and with dark painted eyes beneath her Louise Brooks hairstyle, Lippis is demoniacal in her contorted menace. Her audience is her prey and she casts her net wide to entrap the fascination and lure the unsuspecting into her world of shadows and frenzy.Her voice is the steel trap that holds the mesmerized audience in her lair, a beast lurking in the shadows of punk, bursting into the enticing lyrical or circling with the Siren's original voice or full throated growl.

"Scary is the new sexy" Lippis says as she enters the audience to tease and confront, scare and weave her seductive spell across the space. On stage her band builds to a frenzy, and pianist, Victoria Falconer magically plays the theramyne, sending the notes into a shrill air. and drawing then back to a melodic note that lingers tantalizingly before again being cast into the light. It is the first time that I have seen musicians use the theramyne to entice emotions and send them spinning across the stage.It's power is pervasive. Lippis moves as one possessed and her voice rises from deep below to sound the cry of rebellion and defiance. 

Cabaret is the voice of the outcasts, the underdogs, the marginalized and the outrageous individual rebels against conformity. Lippis is their grand priestess, an icon of defiance and devilry, scaring the conservative, frightening the judgemental and singing out for those who have no voice.
But cabaret is also more than gesture, more than an attitude wrapped in rebellion. It is the language of the song, singing upon the music of the band. In the intimacy of the Festival Theatre stage, I was absorbed by the theatre, the presence, the voice, but the lyrics blurred, lost in the sheer dynamism of Lippis's performance. The key to attitude, to theme and message was swallowed in her sound. Lippis is an unique and dynamic performer. I only wish I had better understood the lyrics to understand the message of her song.  

To see Lippis is to imagine the possession of the Bacchae, ensnared in  Dionysian obsession. Rock,punk and original songs fuse with a gripping theatricality. A spellbound audience is entrapped in Lippis's hypnotic snare. For many, that is enough to lure them willingly into the shadow to see the light. But words are beacons too, the songwriter's other song. A performance of such power and originality, erupting from the shadows still needs to ensure that it does not thrust its lyics into the darkness.      .


Monday, June 18, 2018

THE GIRL WHO JUMPED OFF THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN


The Girl Who Jumped Off The Hollywood Sign.

Written, performed and produced by Joanne Hartstone. Directed by Vince Fusco. Lighting and production design by Tom Kitney.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


Joanne Hartstone in The Girl Who Jumped Off The Hollywood Sign

Evelyn Edwards dreams of becoming an actress in the heady world of Hollywood. It is the Golden Age, the era of the big studios and the big stars. It is Dreamworld, where dreams can come true. But not for poor unnoticeable Evie Edwards. Not for the messenger girl from the back lots. Not for the orphaned young hopeful struggling to survive. Not for the girl in the low cut dress with carefully styled blonde hair whose daddy called her his Jean Harlow. Not for an innocent in the world of ambitious men.
Joanne Hartstone
Knuckles whiten on the side of the Hollywood sign, followed by a frightened face and a body in a black dress. Far above the City of Angels where devils of despair lurk in the dark shadows of the Dream Factory, Evie has climbed, as Peg Entwhistle did in 1924 to………? That we can only surmise as Hartstone in a blackout leaves us on the edge of expectation.

It’s a tale we’ve heard a hundred times before – of broken dreams and shattered lives. But not like this. Not with such emotional truth;not with a roller-coaster ride of feelings, rising to the crest of hopeful possibility and plummeting to the depths of reality, rolling along the rails of innocence into the pit of naivety, only to pick oneself up and resume the steep climb towards the impossible star. 

For a little over an hour in a monologue interspersed with songs of the period, Hartstone recounts Evelyn’s sorry tale that has brought her to the very edge. All disbelief is willingly suspended as we feel for her  loss of a mother, a father and anyone who cared, share her grief, wish for her success and revile the circumstances that intimidate and humiliate. Her fate is ugly; her future bleak. 

Hartstone and director Vince Fusco thread a tightly woven narrative of authenticity through the script, played with conviction by a mercurial actor who compels us to share every moment of her tortured life and excited dreams. In a masterstroke of writing, it is not Evie that is judged but her oppressors, the men who exploit, the men who deceive, the men with the power to make or break, the pariahs of the movie mogul world. Evie’s dreams are built on fantasy and illusion. Her nightmare is the cruel lesson of reality.

And far above the city below and on top of the Hollywood sign she can take control and end it all. Hartstone holds her audience rapt as she brims with hope, wails in grief, struggles to conform to expectation, jitterbugs with delight at the prospect of success and sings with the soul of Holiday and the longing of Garland. She knows the dreadful fates of Theda Bara and Jean Harlow, but clings to a different dream that we know will never come true.

Hartstone gives a haunting, mesmerizing and thoroughly captivating performane as the ill-fated hopeful. The songs are sung without a mike, heightening a sense of innocence and truth. Is it cabaret? It is performed in a small space. It is intimate. Above all it touches the heart and instructs the mind. It is cabaret that snaps with a bitter bite at false illusion. It is truly cabaret and a highlight of my festival visit.