Monday, January 17, 2022

CIRCUS OF ILLUSION

 

Circus of Illusion. 

Created and devised and directed by Michael Boyle. Canberra Theatre. Canberra Theatre Centre. Sunday January 16th at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


There is more to magic than meets the eye or doesn’t as the case may be. The fact that illusionist Michael Boyd is able to bring his Circus of Illusion to the Canberra Theatre in the age of Covid is a feat of magic that has thwarted hosts of live performance over the past two years. Ringmaster Idris Stanbury may have had to work that little bit harder to warm up the masked Canberra audience but the local lad’s non assuming appeal, quirky humour and gentle coaxing soon had the audience primed for an evening of wonder, surprise and enter5tainment.

Michael Boyd  -  Illusionist
 The show bears the mark of its simple origins in an Adelaide Tent four years ago. It does not boast the flourish and fanfare of David Copperfield’s magical extravaganzas or the startling, gasping artistry of Cirque du Soleil. The show is instead a stylish display of the small company’s considerable talents. While the artists perform their magic, their acrobatic and juggling skills and their bewildering illusions the audience sits in child-like wonder.  How do three random people answer three random questions by Boyle that then appear written on paper locked in a box, suspended high above the stage? How does Tara Boom keep a dozen or so hula hoops swirling about her waist or gracefully juggle four umbrellas on her feet? How can Boyle’s assistant Jory be locked in a box one minute and then vanished the next. What magic helps Boyle to escape Houdini-like  the nightmare of being handcuffed and locked in a solid steel casket? Minds race in an attempt to uncover the secrets of Boyle’s ingenious illusion. 

Ringmaster  - Idris Stanbury
 Illusions are interspersed with graceful ballet routines from Pip and Tyrone, Boom’s dexterous handling of the hoops,  tattooed strongman Tro’s acrobatic routines and Stanbury’s banter , comedy and juggling routines to the beat of the I Want To Break Free soundtrack. It is all accompanied by the appropriate posturing and proud presentation.

There is an air of sobriety in the theatre, and I suspect that Covid still prompts a certain caution. The clapping is appreciative, the cheering spontaneous and the audience is definitely enjoying the night out. Stanbury and Boyle keep the energy alive and work hard to work the crowd. In less fraught times, I suspect that this show would have rocked the house. It could have buzzed along. 

For those who could have seen it all before, they haven’t. Every circus show needs a gimmick. In Circus of Illusion comedy and magic combine in a routine introduced by Siri and with Boyle confusing a bandana with a banana with hilarious results  . It is a clever twist to the usual routines.

Boyle and his company turn on a touch of Las Vegas in a colourful finale after the escapalogic highlight of Boyle’s parade of illusions. Dancers Pip and Jory complete with costume sparkle and feathers recall the glitz of showgirl glamour from Ziegfeld to Folies-Bergere. Circus of Illusion brings a serve of welcome entertainment to town, and we could all do with a dose of wonder, a touch of magic and the delight to dream.  Boyle learnt the art of simple magic at his grandpa’s knee when he was only eight. That and Circus of Illusion is enough to excite any child to try his hand at magic. And that’s no illusion.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Circus of Illusion - Canberra Theatre Centre

Review by John Lombard

With audiences spoiled by expensive movie special effects, a circus often needs a grandiose stunt or a powerful theme to set it apart.

Boyd Productions’ Circus of Illusion opts instead for an eclectic mix of circus acts, tied together by a threadbare big top aesthetic and the impressive illusions of Michael Boyd.


The first impression is of a lean show designed around the economics of COVID-19. But even without an elaborate set, the jugglers, strength athletes and aerialists displayed striking poise, power and dexterity. The humble presentation also made it easy to connect with the performers and appreciate their considerable skills, for a show that was open to children but satisfying for adults.


Canberra native Idris Stanton was charming as the self-deprecating ringmaster, deploying fun skits from his Wham Glam Circus Man routine. His impish sincerity built goodwill in the audience, and kept energy high.


Illusionist Michael Boyd was star of the show, coupling a graceful rapport with the audience with adroit delivery of iconic acts such as levitation, disappearance and mentalism. The children in the crowd adored his playful gag with an iPhone and a banana.


Highlight acts included a mesmerising foot juggling routine with Chinese umbrellas by Tara Boom, and a bold aerial hoop routine by Tro, an artist with extraordinary strength and flexibility. The dance interludes were engaging, with speed, force and control.


Circus of Illusion is a mishmash, with casino glitz, dorky humour, straightforward acts and a lean format built for a brisk tour and easy swapping of acts. In this Canberra performance, the talent on show was considerable, and the charm of Stanton and Boyd coaxed enthusiastic participation in the magic of the circus.
John Lombard's reviews are at https://www.acteatime.com/

Saturday, January 15, 2022

TURANDOT - Presented by Opera Australia.

 


Composed by Giacomo Puccini – Libretto by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni

Conducted by Renato Palumbo – Directed and choreographed by Graeme Murphy

Revival Director – Shane Placentino – Designed by Kristian Fredrikson

Joan Sutherland Theatre – Sydney Opera House until 14th March.

Opening night performance on 12th January 2022 reviewed by Bill Stephens

Yonghoon Lee (Calaf) - Lise Lindstrom (Turandot)


It may be more than thirty years old but Graeme Murphy’s mesmerizing staging of Puccini’s last opera, remains a jewel in Opera Australia’s current repertoire. From the very first moments when huge fans open to reveal Murphy’s swirling vision of an ancient China which exists only in his fertile imagination, one is inexorably drawn into a world in which only the ruler’s head can be seen atop his mountain of robes, and where a princess composes riddles to baffle her suitors, who have their heads lopped off by muscular swordsmen when they fail to come up with the right answers.

Murphy’s vision was shared by Kristian Fredrikson who designed imposing settings and lavishly draped costumes which perfectly compliment the choreographed undulating movement of the huge chorus, providing a succession of beautifully composed stage pictures, which frame the action and focus the attention on the principal players, connecting with and subtly enhancing the effect of Puccini’s gloriously melodic music.

First seen in 1990, and now meticulously revived by Shane Placentino, and superbly lit by John Drummond Montgomery, this production makes great use of hand held props such as large fans for the dancers, strips of blood-red silk and hand-held screens to partition areas as the ensemble move around the stage. Even the children’s choir snaking around the stage in tight formation for their folk song, and the clever use of large individual mats held by Ping, Pang and Pong, stylishly interpreted by Luke Gabbedy, Virgilio Marino and Iain Henderson, become striking visual elements.

Luke Gabbedy (Ping) - Virgillio Marino (Pong) - Iain Henderson (Pang).


As the ice princess, Turandot, Lise Lindstrom is an imposing presence, especially when perched high above the ensemble on a tall platform. Her thrilling laser-beam soprano soars effortlessly above the full force of the orchestra and chorus as she poses riddle after riddle to trap Calaf. Later in the opera she sweetens her voice to achieve the near-impossible by making Turandot’s final capitulation to Calaf at the end of the opera, believable, even romantic.

Yonghoon Lee (Calaf) - Lise Lindstrom (Turandot)


Equally impressive is Yonghoon Lee as Calaf, every inch the Tartar prince determined to win the love of Turandot.  Matinee idol handsome, and possessing a gloriously clear, warmly burnished tenor voice, Lee eschews the usual operatic posturing, to present an assured Calaf who revels in Turandot’s frustration as he offers the correct answers to her riddles, and is unwavering in his resolve to claim his prize no matter what obstacles are placed in his way.  His carefully phrased “Nessun dorma” sung standing amid a sea of undulating silk waves was quite simply breathtaking.

Kara Son as Liu


Kara Son breaks hearts with her beautifully sung and acted performance as the tragic slave girl, Liu, who harbors a secret love for Calaf, and is prepared to die rather than betray him. It says much for the effectiveness of Yonghoon Lee’s performance as Calaf that the audience is able to forgive his response to her death.

There is also superb singing and acting among the supporting roles. David Parkin brought both dignity and pathos to the role of Timur, Calaf’s exiled father. As the Emperor Dean Basset, positioned high at the very back of the stage, often sounded under-powered.

David Parkin as Timur and Kara Son as Liu


Maestro, Renato Palumbo kept impressive control on his huge musical resources, ensuring a glorious sound throughout achieving perfect balance between the orchestra and the huge  chorus while remaining carefully attentive to the needs of his soloists.

This production is a masterpiece and a reminder of how stunning opera can be even without the technical wizardry now available. No surprise therefore that the performance was given  an ecstatic reception from the first night audience.

 

 

Yonghoon Lee (Calaf) and members of Opera Australia chorus.




Photos by Prudence Upton


This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW. www.artsreview.com.au

 

LA BOHEME - Presented by Opera Australia

 


Composed by Giacomo Puccini – Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa

Conducted by Lorenzo Passerini - Directed by Gale Edwards

Revival Director, Shaun Rennie - Set Design by Brian Thomson

Costume Design by Julie Lynch – Lighting Design by John Rayment.

Joan Sutherland Theatre - Sydney Opera House until 4th Feb.2022

Performance on 11th January reviewed by Bill Stephens

This production of La Boheme was the first opera commissioned by Artistic Director, Lyndon Terracini, when he took over the reins of Opera Australia.  Since its Melbourne premiere in 2011, Gale Edwards concept, set in 1930”s Berlin during the last months of the Weimar Republic,  with its spectacular settings by Brian Thomson, particularly for the Café Momus scene,  Julie Lynch’s lavish costumes and John Rayment’s evocative lighting, quickly became an audience favourite, placing it among Opera Australia’s most oft-performed productions.

However with a new production of the opera announced for 2023, this current season will be the last opportunity for opera lovers, and opera novices alike, to relish the pleasures of this beautiful staging, which has been intelligently reproduced for this season by revival director, Shaun Rennie.

First seen in the 2020 iteration of this production, Valeria Sepe and Kang Wang as the young lovers Mimi and Rodolfo, confirmed the impression created then of being perfect casting in these roles. Both superb singers and actors, they looked lovely together and created a tender chemistry, particularly in the first and final acts, which was thoroughly convincing and very moving.

Similarly, Haotian Qi, in his impressive role debut as Marcello, stamped himself as a singer to watch, revealing a cheeky flair for comedy, but also capable of producing sparks, particularly in the  Act 111 quartet,  when his passionate argument with Musetta, contrasts with Rodolfo’s sad dismissal of Mimi.

Julie Lea Goodwin as Musetta - Andrew Moran as Alcindoro


Of course the role of Musetta in this production is a scene stealer, particularly her Café Momus entrance in Julie Lynch’s marvellous mirror dress. Favourite Musettas in previous iterations of this production include Taryn Fiebig and Lorina Gore. However, Julie Lea Goodwin can now add her name to that list with her confident, brilliantly accomplished performance, guaranteed to become an indelible memory for everyone lucky enough to experience it.

Andrew Moran provides two delightful cameos as the landlord, Benoit, and Musetta’s  abandoned escort, Alcindoro, and while on indelible performances, what a pleasure it was to have the opportunity to enjoy three of the original cast, revisiting the roles they created in the premiere performances of this production in Shane Lawrencev as flamboyant as ever as Schaunard, Malcolm Ede as the Customs Sergeant , and Benjamin Rasheed as the toy seller, Parpignol.

Shane Lowrencev as Schaunard


Once more the Opera Australia orchestra distinguished itself with its lush reading of the score, under the sensitive guidance by Maestro, Lorenzo Passerini, insuring that these farewell performances of this much admired production will remain a cherished memory.

Benjamin Rasheed as the toy seller, Parpignol


                                                    Photos by Prudence Upton


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

McKELLEN: PLAYING THE PART


 Directed by Joe Stephenson

Streaming on ABC IView to 9 February

 

Reviewed by Len Power 11 January 2022

 

At the start of the documentary, ‘McKellen: Playing The Part’, actor Sir Ian McKellen advises the unseen interviewer that he is unsure how he should present himself.  With self-mocking humour, he suggests that, even appearing as himself, he is still giving a performance.  It’s just a matter of deciding which performance it should be.

This candour at the start of the documentary continues throughout.  He may feel he is giving a performance but his skill at talking directly and fearlessly to us through the camera is thoroughly engaging.  It’s like we’re having our own intimate chat with him.

Born in Lancashire, England in 1939, he spent his childhood in Wigan.  His experience of living through the war as a young child had a lasting impact on him.  Exposed to theatre from an early age, he became active in theatre himself while at Cambridge University.  It was at that time that he decided to become a professional actor.

After four years in regional repertory theatres, he made his first West End appearance and joined Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre Company at the Old Vic in 1965.  His reputation as a formidable classical actor steadily increased and he was constantly in demand.  Work in films came to him later in life and he found international fame for his portrayal of Gandalf in ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ films.

He has been honoured with most major awards including a Tony Award on Broadway, two Academy Award nominations as well as six British Olivier Awards.

He came out publicly as a gay man in 1988 and has been a tireless activist for gay rights since then.  He was a co-founder of Stonewall, an LGBT rights lobby group in the United Kingdom.  He is also known for his tireless charity work.

The documentary includes a considerable amount of archival footage of his acting performances from television as well as interviews in the media about his LGBT support.  His relaxed eloquence and emotional control during a particularly difficult gay rights discussion with a politician on television is one of the highlights of the archival footage shown.

Another aspect of the documentary adds an unexpected dimension.  Certain scenes have been dramatized and woven into the commentary.  It works extremely well.

This is a fine documentary about a remarkable actor and man.  He may be famous but his down to earth manner makes him engaging company.  He radiates honesty laced with a sense of humour throughout.  I didn’t want it to end.

‘McKellen: Playing the Part’ is available for streaming on ABC IView until the 9th of February.

 

Len Power's reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 in the ‘Arts Cafe’ and ‘Arts About’ programs and published in his blog 'Just Power Writing' at https://justpowerwriting.blogspot.com/.

 

Thursday, January 13, 2022

THE LITTLE PRINCE

 

Lionel Zalachas as The Little Prince.

Adapted from Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s novella. - Directed and choreographed by Anne Tournie.

 Adaption and Co-direction by Chris Mouron. -  Original music by Terry Truck.

Sydney Coliseum Theatre, Rooty Hill, until 23rd January 2022.

Matinee performance on 8th January reviewed by Bill Stephens

The Narrator (Chris Mouron)  - Lionel Zalachas (The Little Prince)


Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s novella about a young Prince who visits various planets including earth, in search of answers to questions about human nature with its themes of loneliness, friendship, love and loss has been a magnet for creatives since it was first published in 1943.

 It’s inspired plays, films, ballets, even puppet shows, but this latest lavish interpretation, currently enjoying a return Sydney season in the magnificent new Coliseum Theatre in Rooty Hill, is probably the first to combine circus arts, dance and cutting edge technology in an effort to visualise the abstract concepts inherent in the book.

Lionel Zalachas (The Little Prince) - Dylan Barone (The Fox)


All the characters are there. The Aviator, the Rose, the Vain Man, the Drunkard, the Businessman, the Lamplighter, the Snake, the Fox, all interpreted by skilled acrobats and immersed in surreal imagery . The Lamplighter swings precariously from a lamppost. Computer numerals constantly hurtle around the Businessman, and the Vain Man performs in a world awash with images of handsome males. Each character has its own environment, and thanks to the spectacular immersive digital designs which flood the huge backscreen and stage, each environment is quite wonderful, enhanced as  they are by Terry Trucks superbly atmospheric soundscapes.

Apart from the Narrator, none of the other characters speak. Instead the Narrator, played by the Associate Director and Librettist, Chris Mouron, wanders through the proceedings, sometimes singing, but usually speaking in charming French accented English, quoting abstractions from the original novel. For those unfamiliar with the novel, very few of these quotes offer any assistance towards understanding the purpose of the various characters.

The performers, all of whom appear to be skilled acrobats, are required to convey their feelings and emotions through a mix of dance, aerial acrobatics and movement.

Laurisse Sulty (The Rose) - Lionel Zalachas (The Little Prince)


This creates something of a barrier for the performers however, because while their various apparatus are useful for creating arresting visual effects, they are not particularly useful for expressing emotion, creating an impression that the performer’s physical virtuosity is compromised by the need to perform explanatory choreography. This was particularly noticeable in the performances of Antony Cesar’s Vain Man and Srilata Ray’s Snake, both of whom were obviously dynamic performers bursting for the opportunity to break out of the confinements of their roles.

                                                         Antony Cesar - The Vain Man

Tournie’s quirky choreography worked best in the ensemble numbers, particularly  the delightful “Draw me a Sheep”, “The Ballet of the Lights”, “The Ballet of the Roses”, but most especially in the charming sequence in which  The Fox (Dylan Barone) pleads with The Little Prince (Lionel Zalachas) to tame him.



The Ballet of the Roses.


It’s been noted that the fantasy of The Little Prince works because the logic of the story is based on the imagination of children rather than the stark realism of adults.

This being so then the children at this performance must have been in raptures, having their imaginations overstimulated by the continuous spectacle offered by this production which is scheduled to move on to Broadway following this short season at The Coliseum.   


                                                           Photos:  Prudence Upton.


This Review first published in the digital Edition of CITY NEWS on 10.01. 22.

 

 

 

      

GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY



Written and directed by Conor McPherson -  Music and Lyrics by Bob Dylan. 

Sets and Costumes design by Rae Smith - Lighting design by Mark Henderson

Sound design by Simon Baker –  Movement Director Lucy Hind.

Theatre Royal Sydney until February 27th.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens


The Company of "Girl From The North Country.


This elegiac portrayal of the lives of a group of people thrown together in a run-down guest house in Minnesota during the depression of 1934 was inspired by the agreement by Bob Dylan to allow access to his entire catalogue of songs for the purpose of creating a musical.

 In his program notes for this production, playwright and director, Conor McPherson recounts how, tasked with this opportunity, this guesthouse vision kept recurring as he sifted through more than 40 albums of Dylan’s’ songs in search of inspiration.

Unlike other musicals crafted from existing catalogues of popular composers, McPherson has not shoe-horned Dylan’s songs into a storyline, but instead has used the songs to create mood and question responses to the various predicaments in which the characters find themselves.

Very much an ensemble show with a stellar cast, each of whom portray a particular character, but who also move scenery and props, play musical instruments and form choirs around microphones to sing vocal arrangements which sensitively enhance the singing of the various soloists, as their individual stories unfold.

The show is set up by an introductory precis delivered by Terence Crawford as Dr. Walker, who introduces characters, narrates the show and even explains what eventually happened to various characters when the show ends. Even so, some of the individual storylines are complicated, and demand concentration particularly when the actors drop character, but remain in costume, to participate as backing singers.

During the musical numbers the cast is often backlit to create atmospheric stage pictures, or remain in full view as scenery flies in and out, occasionally revealing beautiful panoramic sea-views behind them, creating the feeling of an on-going epic saga, rather than a musical.

Lisa McCune (Elizabeth Laine) - Peter Carroll (Mr. Perry) - Peter Kowitz ( Nick Laine)


As Elizabeth Laine, the wife of the owner of the guest house, Nick Laine, Lisa McCune offers a finely observed portrayal as a woman suffering an unspecified mental condition, despite looking more like his daughter than his wife. Her rendition of Forever Young is one of many highlights. Peter Kowitz is excellent as Nick Laine, himself on the brink of a breakdown brought on by his failure to manage the guest house profitably, his wife and son’s mental conditions, and the fact that no one has taken responsibility for the pregnancy of his adopted black daughter, Marianne, affectingly portrayed by Zahra Newman.

Lisa McCune (Elizabeth Laine) - Zahra Newman (Marianne Laine) - Peter Carroll (Mr. Perry)


Peter Carroll commands every scene in which he appears as Mr. Perry the elderly bachelor to whom Laine is trying marry off Marianne, while Callum Francis gives a strong performance as the itinerant boxer, fresh out of jail for a wrongful murder conviction, to whom Marianne is attracted.

Helen Dallimore, as the flirtatious Mrs Burke, Greg Stone as her long-suffering husband, Christina O’Neill as the mysterious Mrs Neilsen, and Grant Piro as the con-man, Reverend Marlowe, all shine among a cast of strong character actors.

Despite its leisurely pace, “Girl from the North Country” is a show guaranteed to leave its audience musing over its characters long after the curtain has fallen, and even for those who may not have previously counted themselves as devotees of Bob Dylan’s songs, the hauntingly beautiful orchestrations and musical arrangements by Simon Hale and Conor McPherson for the twenty two Bob Dylan songs which make up the score for this show, are so superbly interpreted and sensitively performed by the cast, as to be a revelation.

If you’re in a mood for a revelation perhaps “Girl from the North Country” should be on your “must see” list.

 

                                                           Photos by Daniel Boud.


         The review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 10.01.22