Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Dylan Thomas Return Journey - The Street Theatre


Review by John Lombard

In 1953, months before his death, Dylan Thomas began his final American tour of public readings of his poetry.  “Dylan Thomas: Return Journey” is a recreation of what it would have been like to sit in on one of those readings, with Bob Kingdom’s incarnation of the poet as close as it is possible to come to spending an actual evening with Dylan Thomas.
 
Because the show is a recreation of Thomas’ final performances (with readings of poetry and smatterings of reminiscence), the audience is left to supply a lot that is left unsaid, in particular the context of Thomas’ destructive marriage and spectacular alcoholism.  But for the informed viewer this trade-off is more than worth the illusion that this really is Dylan Thomas, with Kingdom’s musical intonation of the poems eerily close to recordings of Thomas himself.  His rumpled, hangdog face is genuinely weary - the suit is pressed, but the face needs ironing.
 
Kingdom does a fine line as a raconteur, but Thomas’ poems provide the most powerful moments of the night.  Thomas is an unusually clear and rhythmic poet with a gift for finding the most explosive word.  A Thomas poem is a sequence of controlled detonations.  Predictably, “Do not go gentle into that good night” becomes the poet’s epitaph.
 
The original direction by Anthony Hopkins is straightforward, shaped by the decision to recreate the experience of watching Thomas himself rather than giving us deeper insight into his life.  The set is limited to a podium and a chair, with the most dramatic variation in the staging whether Kingdom is performing behind the podium or in front of it.  Fortunately Kingdom’s excellent readings are enough to keep the attention focused for almost 90 minutes, an impressible accomplishment in a one man show.
 
Return Journey proves that “death shall have no dominion” over Thomas or his poetry.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

DON CARLOS - Opera Australia

By Giuseppe Verdi 


Don Carlos - Opera Australia
Photo: Jamie Williams
Conductor: Andrea Licata
Director: Elijah Moshinsky
Designer: Paul Brown
Lighting Designer: Nigel Levings   
    
Opera Australia
Joan Sutherland Theatre – Sydney Opera House until August 15.

Performance 17th July, reviewed by Bill Stephens

Though it deals with weighty matters, politics and the human condition, “Don Carlos” is far from a heavy night at the opera.  Crammed with lush melodies and absorbing characters, “Don Carlos” is   rarely performed in this country, largely because of the huge resources needed to do it justice, both aural and physical. However this finely detailed reworking by Opera Australia of Elijah Moshinsky’s 1999 production, with its spectacular Velazquez inspired sets and costumes, does the opera proud and offers a rare opportunity to catch up with this masterpiece.

The mood is set early as the curtain rises to reveal the interior of a lavish green marble mausoleum housing the tomb of Charles V.  A giant shadow precedes  the vision of a ghostly Charles V (David Parkin) as he  enters,  dressed as a monk,  to observe the Crown Prince of Spain,  Don Carlos (Diego Torre), seeking consolation for his sorrow at  the news that his father, Phillip 11 (Ferrucio Furlanetto), has claimed his fiancĂ©e, Elisabeth de Valois (Latonia Moore), for his own wife. 

Don Carlos is joined by his friend and advisor, Rodrigo (Jose Carbo in yet another outstanding performance) and together they pledge an oath to liberty in the first of several stirring male duets which occur throughout the opera. These duets reflect Verdi’s interest in expressing powerful emotions through the use of the singing voice, and this one provides the catalyst for the events which follow.
 
Daniel Sumegi (The Grand Inquisitor) Ferruccio Furlanetto (Phillip 11)
Photo: Jamie Williams
 
Opera Australia has gathered together some very fine voices for this production, nowhere demonstrated to more stunning effect than in the mighty duet between Phillip 11 and the Grand Inquisitor, (Ferruccio Furlanetto and Daniel Sumegi) which occurs during the second act when the Grand Inquisitor tries to persuade Phillip to kill both his son, Don Carlos, and Rodrigo. Both are exceptional singers, and both are fine actors with great presence. This scene, in which they are pitted against each, is absolutely electrifying.

Milijana Nikolic (Princess Eboli) Latonia Moore (Elisabeth)
Photo: Jamie Williams 

While the two women’s roles are less prominent , both Latonia Moore,  as Elisabeth,  the pawn between Don Carlos and his father, Phillip 11, and Milijana Nikolic, quite outstanding as the beautiful  Princess Eboli,  who harbours a passion for Don Carlos and who unwittingly causes his downfall,  give memorable performances. It was also fascinating to see these two singers cast opposite each other again in roles not too dissimilar as those they portrayed so successfully in the Handa Opera on the Harbour production of “Aida”.

Latonia Moore (Elisabeth) Ferruccio Furlanetto (Phillip 11)
Photo: Jamie Williams

Paul Brown’s imposing marble settings and lavish Spanish court costumes ensure that the production looks suitably spectacular, reaching its zenith when the doors of the church are flung open during the spectacular and chilling “auto da fe” scene, depicting the burning of the condemned heretics.

This production is rich with memorable moments, both vocal and visual, and once again the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, in top form under Andrea Licata, gives a superb account of Verdi’s sumptuous score.

Milijana Nikolic (Princess Eboli) Diego Torre (Don Carlos)
Photo: Jamie Williams

By the way, if you’ve not yet discovered the Northern Foyer pop-up bar, make sure you seek it out next time you go to the opera house.  It’s very chic and glamorous, offers reasonable priced snacks, stunning harbour views, and a great addition to the opera-going experience. 

                                                                                                            
Northern Foyer Pop-up Bar
Photo: Bill Stephens
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
                                     This review also appears in Australian Arts Review.


THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED)



Written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield
Directed by James Scott
Honest Puck
CADA Theatre, Fyshwick to 2 August 2015

Review by Len Power

Thirty seven plays, three actors, 97 minutes. That’s the promise made with ‘The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged)’.  You even get the sonnets thrown in, too.

This delightfully loony show started off at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1987 and ran in London for 9 years.  It’s not surprising as it’s a great audience pleaser but it has to be done well to succeed.

Luckily, the three actors in the Honest Puck production are in full command of the show, never letting the frenzied action falter for a moment.  James Scott, the director and cast member, displays excellent comic timing while also showing he has the skills and voice to play any of the classic roles he’s sending up.  His funniest moment had him trying to do ‘To Be Or Not To Be’ from ‘Hamlet’ and dealing with giggling audience members at the same time.

Left to right: Yorick, Ryan Pemberton, Brendan Kelly and James Scott

 The show is a brilliant showcase for the two young actors in the cast – Brendan Kelly and Ryan Pemberton.  Brendan Kelly is hysterically funny trying to patch up moments where things apparently are going wrong like mixing up a biography of Shakespeare with that of Hitler or finishing Othello with the final lines of Romeo and Juliet and still managing to make them rhyme.  He demonstrated a strong talent for the mechanics of farce and his mock innocence was very appealing.
Romeo and Juliet (guess who's Juliet....)

Ryan Pemberton plays the straight man much of the time in the show but has his moments of high comedy, too.  Left alone on the stage when the other actors have refused to continue, his nervous attempts to fill in and entertain were delightful.  His interaction with audience members was skilfully done and his sense of timing in physical and verbal comedy was very impressive.
Someone needs a Band-Aid....
Director, James Scott, has produced a highly entertaining show which moves at a wild pace without letting up for a moment.  He keeps it visually interesting with the use of crazy props and improvisations and the physical comedy is very well staged.  The Tudor-looking set by Geoff Patterson and Luke Patterson works very well and the wacky costumes have been well-executed by Imogene Irvine and Kathleen Masters.

There’s a lot of amusing audience interaction in this show but nothing threatening.  Well, OK, you might get vomited on but no-one on opening night seemed to mind.  You don’t need to know anything about Shakespeare’s plays to enjoy this.  In fact, it might be an advantage!

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast in the ‘Artcetera’ program on Artsound FM 92.7 on Saturdays from 9am.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

DYLAN THOMAS: RETURN JOURNEY



From the poetry and prose of Dylan Thomas and performed by Bob Kingdom
Directed by Anthony Hopkins
The Street Theatre to 25 July

Review by Len Power

With the unusually slow fade of the lights and the appearance of Bob Kingdom as Dylan Thomas, you have that strange feeling of stepping back in time.  The play is fashioned like one of Thomas’s popular lecture tours and actor, Bob Kingdom, is the very personification of the man.

Dylan Thomas died before his time in 1953, but his poetry and stories live on.  He was in demand as a speaker for some years before his death.  Listening to the material presented here, you realize what was lost with his early demise.

The show presents selections from his work and Bob Kingdom delivers the words to perfection, his melodic Welsh accent carrying us along willingly as he fleshes out the various colourful characters who dotted Dylan Thomas’s stories.  It’s funny and sad and a beautiful evocation of his life and times in Wales.  The actor’s superb presentation of some of the most well-known poems brings out meanings that were never apparent from the printed page.

The presentation is simple – just a lectern, a chair and a black curtain - but the subtlety and depth of Bob Kingdom’s naturalistic performance is remarkable.  You can only imagine how much work went into making this look so real.  Anthony Hopkins has directed the show with great care, obviously trusting the material and the actor.

If Dylan Thomas to you is just ‘Under Milk Wood’, this show will give you a much broader understanding as to why he is considered one of the great writers of the 20th Century.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast in the ‘Artcetera’ program on Artsound FM 92.7 on Saturdays from 9am.

Monday, July 20, 2015

A CHORAL POTPOURRI



Llewellyn Choir
Conductor: Rowan Harvey-Martin
Accompanist: Sue Reid
Belconnen Arts Centre, Sunday 19 July 2015

Review by Len Power

‘There is no theme to this concert,’ warned conductor, Rowan Harvey-Martin, ‘except what I found in my music cupboard’.  She has a pretty interesting cupboard, judging by the variety of music performed by the Llewellyn Choir at the Belconnen Arts Centre.

The Llewellyn Choir was founded in 1980.  It was originally named the School of Music Community Choir but was renamed in 1990 in honour of the founding Director of the Canberra School of Music, Ernest Llewellyn.  The choir performs several concerts each year.

Intriguingly, we had been promised animal sounds at this concert.  The choir commenced with the 17th Century ‘Contrappunto Bestiale Alla Mente’ by Adriano Banchieri, an amusing work in Latin and Animal.  It was followed by ‘The Three Ravens’, an English folk ballad published in the 17th Century.  From there the selection ranged from Swedish works, some sea shanties, British traditional songs, American show tunes and two versions of ‘Sure On This Shining Night’.

The choir’s performance of Swede, Hugo Alfven’s 1942 ‘Aftonen’, (Evening) set to a poem by Herman Sätherberg – a brooding, atmospheric piece - was particularly impressive.  The sea shanties, ‘The Drunken Sailor’ and ‘The Arethusa’ saw the choir at its most relaxed, clearly enjoying the rousing spirit of both songs.  Amongst the British songs, ‘The Banks o’ Doon’, based on a poem by Robert Burns with a new melody by American, Donna Schultz, was nicely sung with an unexpected, but beautifully played, accompaniment by Rowan Harvey-Martin on violin.  Fats Waller’s ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’’ was presented in a great arrangement that showcased the full range and colour of the choir’s voices.

Apart from some occasional wavering in the harmonies and a few unconfident-sounding entries, this was a very enjoyable concert.  Conductor, Rowan Harvey-Martin, obtained great results from the choir and Sue Reid provided an excellent piano accompaniment.  A magnificent afternoon tea provided by the choir members was a perfect end to a memorable concert.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast in the ‘Artcetera’ program on Artsound FM 92.7 on Saturdays from 9am.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

L - Elizabeth Cameron Dalman and Mirramu Dance Company




Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre - 15th July 2015.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

“L” was conceived as the second half of a two-part program to be presented in the Dunstan Playhouse in Adelaide, this Saturday, to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Australian Dance Theatre, which Dalman founded in June, 1965. Australian Dance Theatre will provide the first half of that program.

Presented for just two performances at the Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, prior to its Adelaide outing, “L” proved to be a charming elegy to Dalman’s 50-year contribution to professional contemporary dance in Australia.

Homage to Botticelli
Miranda Wheen - Vivienne Rogis - Janine Proost 

Graced with excellent lighting and sound design, and superbly danced by the six excellent Mirramu Dance Company dancers, Hans David Ahwang, Amanda Tutalo, Vivienne Rogis, Mark Lavery, Miranda Wheen and Janine Proost, together with Dalman herself, “L” is performed without interruption, as a stream of consciousness series of vignettes.  Among them several  examples of Dalman’s  seminal  works, choreographed either by Dalman herself or with collaborators over the years, including the striking “Old Company”  performed to bird sounds,  the super  romantic “Homage to Botticelli”, the deliciously druggy “Generation Gap” , and a brilliantly performed  “Limousine for Janis”. 

The Firebird,
Miranda Wheen 

Interspersed between these, are choreographic contributions by Mirramu Dance Company alumni, of which Miranda Wheen’s sparkling interpretation of “The Firebird”, danced in Dalman’s original red costume, and Vivien Rogis’s evocative “Sapling” were outstanding. 

Appropriately Dalman herself is the connecting thread of the work.  Whether retrieving a red feather dropped by the firebird or, as an old woman struggling with a bag of stones which she carefully places around the base of a sapling to become the symbol of the circle of life, as each scene transitions seamlessly into the next, Dalman is the reason.

 But her contribution is much more than that.   At one point she performs a demanding solo, “Silver Lining”.  Later she joins Hans David Ahwang in a graceful duet, choreographed by Albert David, “Tree Spirit”.  She even contributes some energetic jive during the joyous “Dance Party”.

Young Woman
Vivienne Rogis - Miranda Wheen - Elizabeth Cameron Dalman 


More than just a life-affirming tribute to an extraordinary career, “L” is a superbly cohesive work in its own right. Not only for the fascinating insights it contains into the life’s work of a remarkable dancer and dance-maker, but also as inspirational proof of the energy and continuing influence of this remarkable human being.  As such it deserves a much wider audience.  

Mirramu Dance Companu
Hans David Ahwang. Amanda Tutalo, Vivienne Rogis, Mark Lavery, Miranda Wheen, Janine Proost, Elizabeth Cameron Dalman

           This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 16th July 2015

Circus Under My Bed






Circus Under My Bed by Flying Fruit Fly Circus. Artistic director Jodie Farrugia. Writer Sebastien Pasche. At Canberra Theatre Centre, July 16-18, 2015.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
July 16

Fruit Flies are a major source of irritation to Australian agriculture, so it’s not surprising that the Flying Fruit Fly Circus began in the Riverland fruit growing region along the River Murray at Albury-Wodonga on the New South Wales / Victoria border.  In 1979, influenced by the success of Circus Oz, the Murray River Performing Group, mainly graduates from Melbourne’s Victorian College of the Arts Drama School, introduced circus skills for children as part of their community street theatre activities.

By 1987 The Flying Fruit Fly Circus grew into a Victorian Government Education Department Circus School, using public school facilities in Wodonga – the only circus school in Australia for primary/secondary school students.  By 1995 Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne established the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA), offering at first a Diploma course, and nowadays a range of courses up to a 3-year Bachelor Degree.

Canberra has a long history of children’s circus.  I may even claim some kudos here, when my Year 8 students took their self-devised circus to a local primary school in 1975.  But the real claim to fame belongs to Warehouse Circus, which began here in 1990.  See http://warehousecircus.org.au/programs/  and http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/circus-program-dubbed-therapy-in-disguise-wins-act-government-grant-20150603-ghfm3t.html .

So maybe Fruit Flies is a good example of a typical Australian ironic view of life, just as Circus Under My Bed humorously challenges the authority of Celeste’s mother.  We only hear her voice demanding that Celeste pack her bag to leave in the morning.  I was not sure what this meant: would this be a fun holiday trip, or could it be about leaving home?  Was Celeste not too keen to get the packing done just because it was a chore, or because she suspected some dire consequence?

Photos: Daniel Bound

Celeste fulfils her mother’s requirements but without her mother knowing her secret.  Her bed turns into a safety mattress for flying gymnastic cavorting, hanging from the ceiling is a twin silk drop for aerial work, furniture turns into balancing stands, rings appear for twirling and others for aerial spinning, and the ringmaster – almost tiny compared to the strong man – even succeeds in finding Celeste’s favourite book.  There are no real animals in circus nowadays, of course, but there were plenty of sheep and even their well-trained sheep dog, all of whom jumped over, under and through all sorts of fences, in Celeste’s dream circus.

Though I am used to seeing all kinds of modern circus with all kinds of socially correct themes, I’m glad that the Flying Fruit Flies – aged from 9 to 19 – could show their training in a show which was just entirely entertaining without need for further implications.  It really was designed as a children’s show for children (and me) to enjoy.  And I guess even Celeste’s mother was happy in the end.

And I’m sure NICA will receive some well-justified applications before long.







I would like to acknowledge the (unwitting) assistance of Michelle Potter, whose review is at http://www.smh.com.au/act-news/canberra-life/circus-under-my-bed-by-flying-fruit-fly-circus-has-some-strong-performances-20150717-gieboh.html