Friday, June 23, 2017

BAKERSFIELD MIST



Written by Stephen Sachs
Directed by Lucy Freeman
Tasmania Theatre Company and Straightjacket Productions in association with Karralyka
Q Theatre, Queanbeyan to 24 June

Reviewed by Len Power 22 June 2017

‘No-one would fake a Jackson Pollock.  Why would anyone else paint shit like that?’

Stephen Sachs’ play, ‘Bakersfield Mist’ has some memorably funny lines and equally memorable characters in art expert, Lionel Percy - played by John Wood - and trailer park resident, Maude Gutman – played by Julie Nihill.

Maude is a down on her luck trailer park resident in Bakersfield, California who has found a painting in a pile of junk that just might be an original Jackson Pollock.  When renowned art expert, Lionel, visits to check the authenticity of the painting, their very different worlds and personalities clash strongly.

Both performers present very detailed and realistic characters.  John Wood is impressively pompous as the art expert who is sad and vulnerable under the surface.  Julie Nihill is wonderfully alive and abrasive as the bitter woman beaten up by life and stuck in a trailer park.

Writer, Stephen Sachs, explores the differences between people from contrasting worlds as well as showing how an obsession can impact negatively on a person’s life.  He also points out the difficulties involved in the art world where greed and forgery go hand in hand with idealism and beauty.  It’s a good play but the script does wander into subplots that seem redundant, especially towards the end.

The set designed by Jill Munro is impressive in its detail and direction by Lucy Freeman is tight and moves at a good pace.

This is a play that covers very interesting issues about life and art and the performances of the two cast members make it a very entertaining night in the theatre.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s ‘Artcetera’ program (9am Saturdays) and other selected programs on Artsound.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

ADELAIDE CABARET FESTIVAL - THE GIRL FROM OZ - COURTNEY ACT


Written by Courtney Act, Brad Loekle & Jackie Beat.
Musical Direction and Piano by Daniel Edmonds.
Costumes by Marco Marco
Hair by Wigs By Vanity
Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent. 16th June 2017

Reviewed by Bill Stephens OAM.

Courtney Act is the creation of clever female-impersonator, Shane Jenek, who attracted attention as the world’ first gender diverse contestant on a reality television talent show competing successfully in “Australian Idol” in 2003.
As Courtney Act, Jenek harkens back to the 1960’s when Carlotta was Queen of the Cross at Les Girls and female impersonators strove to be the most beautiful woman in the room. The difference with Courtney Act however is that she has a fine singing voice, whereas the drag queens of the Les Girls era relied on often-brilliant lip-syncing to recordings of the reigning pop divas of the day especially Shirley Bassey.

Courtney Act’s success on “Australian Idol” led to recording contracts. Capitalising on her success in Australia, she moved to America, where she again achieved television success as runner-up in the 6th season of “RuPaul’s Drag Show”. This led to a string of impressive engagements across the US and Europe.

Returning to Australia with her stylish new show, “The Girl From Oz”, Act pays tribute to her Australian background, cleverly re-interpreting a repertoire of Australia songs in a polished, professional performance which would be the envy of any contemporary pop princess.

Featuring excellent costumes, an intelligent script and inventive musical arrangements superbly played by a trio of top-line musicians led from the piano by Daniel Edmonds, Act   makes her entrance on ruby-red sequinned roller skates singing not “Over the Rainbow” but “Xanadu”. After establishing that the Oz in the title of her show refers to Australia, she doffed the roller skates for glamorous ruby-red sequinned high heels.

Clever versions of Men at Work’s “Down Under”, and  Peter Allen’s  “Arthur’s Theme” preceded a moving arrangement of the Bee Gees “Stayin’ Alive”, which revealed a surprisingly different resonance in the familiar lyrics.

Surprise continued to be the defining ingredient of Act’s performance with unexpected repertoire choices including superbly sung interpretations Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn”, Air Supply’s “Without You”, Peter Allen’s “Don’t Cry Out Loud” and Sia’s “Diamonds in the Sky”.

Courtney Act
Photo by Jason Matz

Her connecting dialogue was tightly scripted interesting and funny. Several film clips, used to cover costume changes, revealed her more serious side, particularly the excerpts of her work as the Australian correspondent of the Australian news website Junkee.com, capturing her undertaking risky live interviews as she toured the U.S. including one in which she interviews Trump supporters at a Donald Trump rally.


Even her “naughty section” surprised, as she took the stage in a costume featuring thigh-high red boots to belt out terrific versions of Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical”, Chrissie Amphlett’s “I Touch Myself”, and ACDC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long”, before, looking more Kylie than Kylie, rounding out her show with Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” and “Locomotion”.
Courtney Act is a star on her own terms, with the looks and talent to reach audiences beyond the drag show genre.

 “The Girl From Oz” provides her with an excellent vehicle to reach that audience. If you get the opportunity to catch this show, don’t miss it.
  



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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The 39 Steps - Canberra Rep



Review by John Lombard

Dangling from the edge of a train as it passes over a bridge might be a tense situation for anyone to find themselves in, but sometimes glossed over is how much these threats to life and limb are also an assault on the dignity of a gentleman.

Patrick Barlow's  play "The 39 Steps" is a send-up of the Hitchcock film of the same name, with wrongly accused Richard Hannay (Patrick Galen-Mules) encountering bizarre situations in a picaresque campaign to clear his name, catch the spies, and woo the girl.

Starting life as a John Buchan thriller before being shaped by Hitchcock into a memorable film, this theatrical revision is a flamboyant parody of the genre, down to the dramatic "duh duh duh duh" every time someone utters that fateful, enigmatic MacGuffin - "The 39 steps!"

Jarred West was a strong choice to direct this kind of play, but compared to, for example, his manic treatment of Rep's production of Casanova, The 39 Steps is oddly restrained, if that can be said of a play where Helen McFarlane hops around playing more than a dozen different characters.

This may be because the decision here was for Patrick Galen-Mules to play the lead fairly straight, leaving him an oasis of calm in a universe that is completely indifferent to his needs for order or sanity.

In Hitchcock the humour always has a dark tinge, that even an innocent person can be the topic of an absurd cosmic joke - whether it is death by crop duster in North by Northwest, or the heroine of Psycho dying only a third into the movie. 

So in the film of The 39 Steps, the political rally scene is still humorous (Hannay misreads the name of the candidate and dubs him "Mr. Crocodile" to jeers from the crowd), but it has an underlying tension - if Hannay fails here, he faces not just embarrassment, but certain and plausible death.

Here, the same scene is played entirely for laughs, with Hannay's desperate improvisations becoming more and more inspired, until the audience is on the verge of electing this dashing, passionate speaker to parliament.  Rather than a swimmer frantically trying not to sink, he is often a surfer riding effortlessly on whatever madness the story throws at him.

But playing Hannay fairly straight does work, because as Krusty the Clown says, "the pie gag's only funny when the sap's got dignity."  Being accused of murder is one thing, but between dealing with obnoxious underwear salesman, folding and unfolding an impossibly large map of Scotland, or the sexual possibilities inherent to the humble rustic stile - well, personally, I'd rather face the spies. 

Much like Inspector Clouseau in the early Pink Panther films, the more Hannay fights to preserve  his dignity, the more it slips away.  Galen-Mules gives an impressive and polished performance, his main weakness a tendency to get quiet and weaken the potential energy of a scene.

As always, Steph Roberts is solid in her roles and generous with the other actors, but her primary character not as much fun because it is mainly there to disapprove of Hannay and then fall in love with him.  The stockings scene from the film is retained, with perfect absurdity, but not much sizzle.  Overall, I found the romance plot a bit unconvincing - their best moment was when they were screaming at each other.

Helen McFarlane almost steals the show just by playing more characters than there are in a standard production of a Shakespeare history play, and playing these broad parodies with a great deal of finesse and beautifully adroit physicality.  Nelson Blattman is also comfortable with his clowning, stronger here than he was in Wait Until Dark, his best moment when as vaudeville performer Mr. Memory he delivers an impressive, daunting-to-remember monologue.

The set was I thought a disappointment, however.  The idea that there would be doors that essentially led to other doors was good, but it felt basic and awkwardly flimsy rather than strikingly minimalist.  At points, the director makes a joke of creating a car out of simple objects, and it might have been better if this device was used consistently.  The parts of the play that were set among the audience were quite well done, however, with one heart-stopping leap of faith that perfectly uses the Theatre 3 space.

Despite some sags and lulls - parts could have been tightened during rehearsals, especially some tedious transitions - opening night was delightfully silly, and the show promises to firm up over its run.  West's interpretation is a madcap send-up of Hitchcock, not as outright zany as other productions, but driven by the choices of talented performers to create a vivid, hilarious night I will always remember for... the 39 characters played by Helen McFarlane! (duh duh duh duh)

ADELAIDE CABARET FESTIVAL - DAHLESQUE - ELISE MCCANN



Written by Elise McCann and Richard Carroll
Musical Direction by Michael Tyack
Musical Arrangements by Stephens Amos
Space Theatre – 17th June 2017

Reviewed by Bill Stephens OAM

Elise McCann won Helpmann and Sydney Theatre Awards for her portrayal of Miss Honey in the Australian production of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “Matilda”. “Matilda” is currently playing in the Festival Theatre in Adelaide, but with Lucy Maunder playing Miss Honey.

Apparently still smitten with the Roald Dahl bug, McCann has collaborated with Richard Carroll, Stephen Amos and Michael Tyack to devise this witty, stylish tribute to Dahl, in which she gives a performance which is pure star-quality from beginning to end.

Elise McCann 

Every inch the diva in elegant white slacks and top, with a detachable white overskirt monogrammed in black with Dahlisms which serves as a handy prop, McGann took command of the stage from her first entrance, immediately involving her audience in her brilliantly conceived exploration of the quirky world of Roald Dahl.

Drawing on songs from a variety of sources including  “Matilda”, “Willy Wonka”,  “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “James and the Giant Peach”, as well as some delightful original compositions by Stephen Amos for Dahl’s “Revolting Rhymes”, McCann held her audience entranced with her impeccable diction, both in word and song, and perfectly honed stagecraft.

She introduced them to Dahl’s curious invented words, performed some samples of his writing, and then proceeded with revelations of the events and experiences, some quite moving, which made up his fascinating world. Throughout the telling she sprinkled in songs like Bricusse and Newley’s “Pure Imagination” and “Oompa, Loompa”, Shaiman and Wittman’s “It Must be Believed to be Seen”, and Tim Minchin’s “Naughty”, “The Smell of Rebellion” and “My House”, at perfectly judged moments.   
A classy nine-piece orchestra, conducted from the piano by Michael Tyack, did full justice to Stephen Amos’ superb musical settings, and director, Richard Carroll added his own special magic with imaginative lighting, star cloths and stationery mirror balls.


“Dahlesque” is a magically conceived and presented show with special moments for every member of the family.  It will be touring so make sure you don’t miss it when it comes to your city.


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

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

ADELAIDE CABARET FESTIVAL - BREL THE IMMORTAL TROUBADOUR




Brel. The Immortal Troubadour.

Hosted by Ali McGregor and featuring Dusty Limits, Michaela Burger, Johanna Allen, Meow Meow, Kim David Smith and Eddie Perfect. Musical Director. Charly Zastrau. The Dunstan Playhouse. Adelaide Festival Centre. June 18. 2017.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

I’ve always believed it is best to save the best ‘til last. This is not to diminish the wonderful offerings of the splendid collection of outstanding artists at this year’s Adelaide Cabaret Festival. But the poetry, the music and the life of Jacques Brel’s songs hold a very special place in my heart and, judging by the packed Dunstan Playhouse on Sunday night, in the hearts of many who revere the immortal Belgian troubadour’s commentary on life.” I can’t stand stupid people” he says on the film footage screened during the performance. To celebrate the man and his music, festival co-director, Ali McGregor, has invited a corps of festival artists to celebrate the life and songs of the maser of the modern chanson, whose influence has inspired the music of such greats as Dylan, Cohen, Bowie and McKuen and our own John Waters. His songs now outsell the songs of Piaf, and across the world performers of Brel’s vignettes of the human condition capture the lives of the poor, the old, the pimps and prostitutes, the sailors and the swells, the would be heroes and the dead and the dying.

McGregor sets the mood with a whirling dervish rendition of Carousel, building in tempo to a crescendo of frenzy before introducing her artists, each and every one a glorious interpreter of Brel’s cynical, satirical, humane view of existence. Beneath suspended lamp posts, Dusty Limits sings of Jackie and his wishful aspirations. Waif like, Australia’s Little Sparrow, Michaela Burger sings in French her feisty song of protest and spite, Les Bourgeoisie, giving the finger in contempt to the piggish middle class. There is class in Johanna Allen’s French rendition, quickly contrasted by Meow Meow’s Merde. Her rendition of Ne me quitte pas with three audience members thrust against her hips contrasts with Kim David Smith’s whimsical and unostentatious The Old Folk. Dressed in the rough-hewn clothes of a boozy  sailor in a striped T shirt, the sailors are brought to life in a gutsy, raw and powerful rendition of The Port of Amsterdam by festival co-Artistic Director, Eddie Perfect. McGregor closes the show with Brel’s plea for peace and understanding If We Only Have Love, joined on stage for a final curtain by Dusty Limits, Meow Meow, Eddie Perfect and Kim David Smith.

At my final show of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival the spirit and the humanity of the master of the chanson has risen from the depths of emotion of five superb interpreters of Brel’s songs, brilliantly accompanied and arranged by musical director Charly Zastrau, hunched over the keys, as he and his band reincarnate the passion, the intensity and the cheeky grin of chain smoking flippancy .  

 Brel’s promise in Jackie is “to give you a night like no night has been and never will be  again” Brel Th Immortal Troubadour has been a one night stand that will linger in the memory and the heart for more nights than I care to count.

THE 39 STEPS



Adapted by Patrick Barlow from the novel by John Buchan
Directed by Jarrad West
Canberra REP at Theatre 3 to 1 July

Reviewed by Len Power 16 June 2017

The original West End production of ‘The 39 Steps’ ran for 9 years.  It took a serious story from a well-known 1935 Alfred Hitchcock movie and performed it for laughs with a small cast playing all the roles.  This concept has since inspired or influenced similar successful shows like ‘Brief Encounter’ and ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’.

Jarrad West’s production for Canberra REP moves at a cracking pace and retains the cinematic feel of the show.  There are good imaginative moments and delightfully surreal touches along the way.  Unfortunately the cast members playing multiple roles have been directed to play constantly over the top, making the show seem desperate for laughs and therefore less funny than it should be.

The one actor who doesn’t play multiple roles, Patrick Galen-Mules, gives a very good performance as the central character, Richard Hannay.  He captures the dashing character of an upper class, cultured hero of the period very nicely.  Steph Roberts is appealing as the heroine in the bedroom scene with Richard Hannay and Helen McFarlane is very funny as the Scottish innkeeper’s wife.  Nelson Blattman works hard in multiple roles.  He would have more credibility if his hair was cut to suit the period of the play.

Tim Sekuless has produced an excellent and witty sound design but the music underscoring is too loud and drowns out the dialogue.  Michael Sparks’ set design works well and Fiona Leach has designed very good costumes.

Jarrad West says he strived for ‘pure, unadulterated silliness’.  It’s there and fun but a bit more realistic playing would have added to the fun, too.

This review was first published in the Canberra City News Digital Edition on 17 June 2017.


Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7's ‘Artcetera’ program (9am Saturdays), ‘Dress Circle’ (3.30pm Mondays) and in other selected Artsound programs.