Thursday, June 27, 2019

PRIMA FACIE


Written by Suzie Miller
Directed by Lee Lewis
Griffin Theatre Company
The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre to 29 June

Reviewed by Len Power 26 June 2019

In ‘Prima Facie’, a successful young lawyer finds herself on the other side of the courtroom after a sexual assault by a colleague.  Her journey from incident to judgement is a powerful indictment against a legal system shaped by male experience, its handling of sexual assault cases and our own complacency for allowing it to happen.

Suzie Miller has written an extraordinary one woman play with a compelling story line.  It focuses on Tess, a lawyer with many courtroom successes under her belt and an invincible attitude that isn’t very likeable.  How her life changes as a result of being raped by a colleague is the centre of this disturbing play.  Required to provide intimate details in the witness box of her relationship with the accused and the alleged rape, she finds the scrutiny and cross-examination confusing and humiliating.

The point is strongly made in the play that if a lawyer, normally at home in the courtroom, falls apart under cross-examination, what hope is there for any other woman?  In addition, it is clear that the woman, although technically a witness in the case, is treated more like a villain than the accused.  Things need to change and this play really has you thinking about it.

Sheridan Harbridge

Suzie Miller writes clearly and unemotionally, allowing the facts of the case and its devastating effects to speak for themselves.

With so much depth of character and emotion to play with, Tess, the lawyer, is a gift of a role for an actor.  Sheridan Harbridge’s marathon performance is compelling.  She wisely doesn’t overplay the emotional content and commands the stage from start to finish.  Dislikeable and smug as the successful lawyer, the change in her after she is raped is quite extraordinary.  It’s almost like another performer takes over the role from that point.

Sheridan Harbridge

Director, Lee Lewis has given the play an excellent production.  Tight direction ensured the play flows smoothly and clearly and her work with the performer has resulted in realism and depth to a very high degree.

There is a powerful and focussed set design by Renée Mulder, a subtle lighting design by Trent Suidgeest and an ominous and effective sound design by Paul Charlier.

This is an important and deeply involving play, superbly directed and acted.
 


Photos by Brett Boardman

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Prima Facie - Canberra Theatre



Review by John Lombard

A good lawyer will tell you not to go to court unless you have to: sometimes, it’s not the place to find justice.

In Prima Facie, the court is reduced to a solitary, throne-like office chair. This is the witness stand, the crucible of the courtroom.

At the start of the play, shark-like defence lawyer Tess circles this chair as she dismantles the testimony of a witness. But before the play is over, Tess will be the one in the chair, facing the ruthless probing of an equally cunning barrister.

This ripped-from-the-headlines play by Susie Miller is a brief against how our court system handles rape cases. In rape cases, the victim is often the one on trial, with their character and motives scrutinised under cross examination.

As Miller says in her playwright’s note, the justice system is based on the idea of ‘innocent until proven guilty’, but she always felt ‘its application in sexual assault cases served to undermine rather than to uphold any real legal fairness.’

Sheridan Harbridge is animated as Tess, oozing hunger and victory. Harbridge makes bold, disarming choices, finding the character’s frantic humour. She responds to her sexual assault with pain and horror, but also an affronted disbelief.

Harbridge also makes Tess’ world of lawyers and police and family tangible by slipping into other characters for flickering moments, demonstrating a cartoonist’s eye for the ridiculous detail.

The steady hand of director Lee Lewis tames this potential chaos, smoothing the actor’s wild impulses to create a robust but believable character.

As a barrister who has successfully defended rape cases, nobody could be better equipped than Tess for the witness stand. The brilliance of Prima Facie is that it shows how even Tess struggles. If it’s hard for Tess, what hope do other rape victims have?

Prima Facie combines a lawyer’s logic and an artist’s passion to create a manifesto for change that is vivid, compelling and human. The play supplies no answers, but challenges us to go out there and find some.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Owens and Tkachenko pay outstanding tribute to female composers

by Tony Magee

Sarahlouise Owens in full flight. Photo - Peter Hislop
Knowledge of female composers has somewhat been secreted away by music scholars and some performers over the years, but the general public’s awareness was generated with the release of the 1985 recording on the Hyperion label, “A Feather on the Breath of God”, which showcased the music of Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th Century female composer of plainchant.

In the male dominated setting of monks as composers from the time of Pope Gregory to recognised individuals like Léonin and Perotin of Hildegard’s time and everything since, the world suddenly wanted to know more and the great Romantic composers Fanny Mendelssohn and Clara Schumann were thrust into the public spotlight.

We know that Maria Anna Mozart, elder sister of Wolfgang, affectionately known as Nannerl within the family, composed for the piano prolifically, through the volumes of surviving correspondence between the two:

"Dearest most loving sister of mine, the pieces you have sent me are of great beauty. I’ve played them over and over. I have sent you back these which I have written just for you. Please send me more of yours the moment you can. Your ever faithful and loving brother, Amadeus. PS: I send you one thousand kisses."

How much of Nannerl’s music survives for us to enjoy? Not one single sheet.

Such was the research and magnitude of work that soprano Sarahlouise Owens and pianist Natalia Tkachenko put into their superb recital Sunday last (June 23) at Wesley, where one beautiful captivating piece after another poured forth from their gifted musical talents.

Pianist Natalia Tkachenko
Tkachenko’s accompaniments are of the highest calibre and almost formed a concert presentation in their own right. I think the piano should have been on the short stick, rather than fully raised, as at times Owens was overwhelmed by Tkachenko’s outstanding and brilliant accompaniments.

Never-the-less this was a concert of great depth which captivated and enthralled the audience from start to finish.

Owens began well, but as the concert progressed her voice was noticeably warming up and reached a high point of warmth, depth and powerful projection that filled the auditorium voluminously.

Her diction was excellent and she shines most brightly when singing French and German, with impeccable accuracy of pronunciation and delivery. In addition, she is a theatrical performer and her body language, facial expressions and gestures served to enhance an already intriguing and engaging repertoire of song.

The period represented was female composers of the Romantic and early 20th century eras, and was extensive. Besides Fanny Mendelssohn and Clara Schumann, it included Maria Malibran, Cecile Chaminade, sisters Lili and Nadia Boulanger, Gladys Rich, Germaine Tailleferre, Pauline Viardot, Josephine Lang, Augusta Holmes, Lady Dean Paul, Louise Reichardt and Canberra’s own Sally Greenaway whose piece “Look to This Day” was complex in its piano accompaniment, having a melody which somehow never seemed to match the piano chordal structure yet was in perfect compliment to it. A very clever piece of writing.

To close, Owens and Tkachenko chose the comedic “There are Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden” by Liza Lehmann, which at the time of writing also accidentally served to perpetuate the infamous Cottingley Fairies photographic hoax of 1917.

9 year old Francis Griffiths with fairies. Photo taken by her 16 year old
cousin Elsie Wright, at Cottingley Village, East Yorkshire in 1917.

This concert was one of the most enjoyable, thoroughly well researched and rehearsed Artsong presentations I’ve had the delight in attending for some time. I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.

First published in City News Digital Edition, June 24 2019


Monday, June 24, 2019

THE LARAMIE PROJECT & THE LARAMIE PROJECT:10 YEARS LATER




By Moises Kaufman and members of Tectonic Theatre
Direction, set and sound designed by Chris Baldock – Lighting Design by Joel Edmondson
Presented by Mockingbird Theatre. Theatre 3, Canberra. June 7th until June 22nd.

Final performances on June 22nd reviewed by Bill Stephens.



In 1998 an event on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming, shocked the world. A 21 year old gay student was kidnapped, severely beaten and left to die, tied to a fence on the outskirts of the town. His name was Matthew Shephard. Such was the impact of this event that a New York theatre company travelled to Laramie to chronicle the life of the town in the year after the murder. The play that resulted from that research, The Laramie Project became a world-wide sensation, and Matthew Shephard’s name became synonymous with anti-hate crime.

A decade after the original event, Tectonic Theatre revisited Laramie this time to investigate how the town had coped with the unwanted infamy.  The result was a second play, The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later.

The original play had had a profound effect on director, Chris Baldock, who has staged it three times previously. When The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later became available, Baldock hit upon the idea of presenting the two plays in repertory, providing audiences with the opportunity to see both plays consecutively on the one day, or at different performances during the season.

He chose a diverse cast of eight actors, who would appear in both plays, creating between them more than 50 different Laramie citizens during the course of both plays. Those actors were Karen Vickery, Andrea Close, Meaghan Stewart, Liz St Clair Long, Michael Cooper, Joel Horwood, Hayden Splitt and Baldock himself.

(L-R) Andrea Close -Hayden Splitt - Liz St Clair Long - Joel Douglas - Michael Cooper -Karen Vickery - Meaghan Stewart - Chris Baldock

Dressed in casual clothes, on a bare stage, the only props, eight wooden chairs, the only set piece, a rough sculpture on the back wall representing the fence to which the unfortunate Shephard had been lashed, these eight actors flipped seamlessly between multiple personalities and accents, delivering direct quotes from the transcripts gathered during Tectonic Theatre’s investigations.

It was a feat of endurance that was fascinating to watch, and says much for the talent and dedication of the actors, as well as the skillful direction of Baldock,  that at no time during the five hours combined playing time was the audience’s attention allowed to flag. Dramatic lighting changes, evocative use of music, the constant re-arrangement of the chairs and the inventive groupings of the actors, focused the attention relentlessly on the text, often shocking in its detail, but also moving, sometimes enraging, as the various characters revealed their often callous, ignorant or thoughtless responses to the tragedy.

The first play set the tone, laid out much of the detail of the crime and explored the responses of the townspeople still trying to come to grips with the realization that such a crime could take place in their community. The second play allows the audience to engage with the perpetrators, to hear their motives and responses, and to learn of their fates. It also reveals the attempts of some to rewrite history, distort the facts, even use the event to achieve changes in legislation.

Both plays have much to say about the human condition, and to have the opportunity to experience them consecutively, particularly as interpreted by this fine ensemble, was a theatrical experience to be cherished.  Mockingbird Theatre is to be commended for its audacity and courage in so successfully mounting these two important plays.  


                    This review appears in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW. 
                                             www.artsreview.com.au 

THE DINNER PARTY



Choreographed by Natalie Weir - Musical Direction by Tania Frazer
Costumes designed by Gail Sorronda – Lighting Designed by Ben Hughes
Presented by Expressions Dance Company
The Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre – June 21st and 22nd.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens


Natalie Weir originally created this work for Expressions Dance Company in 2015 under the title “The Host”. As she explains in her program notes, one of the meanings for a “host” is “an animal or plant on which parasites live”. Now reworked for the current EDC ensemble, under the title “The Dinner Party” that description still perfectly describes the activities depicted in this work.

Josephine Weise - Bernard Knauer - Jake McLarnon -Lizzie Vilmanis -Isabella Hood - Jag Popham

All the action takes place during an elegant dinner party lauded over by the host (Jake McLarnon), and his sophisticated wife and hostess (Lizzie Vilmanis), both glamorously attired in black. The four guests include the host’s friend and rival (Bernard Knauer), a young male wannabe (Jag Popham), the host’s lover (Isabella Hood) and a young insecure party girl (Josephine Weise).

During the course of the evening each competes for attention. Relationships and rivalries are exposed in a series of fascinatingly complex sequences. Weir’s  lyrical acrobatic choreography makes huge demands on her dancer’s, though you would hardly guess that from the apparent ease with which each of the dancer’s execute it. With the personality of each of the characters so clearly delineated, the ebb and flow of the relationships becomes endlessly fascinating. The dancing throughout is exquisite and assured, with each of the dancers obviously relishing the opportunity to lose themselves in their distinctive characterizations.
  
Jake McLarnon - Lizzie Vilmanis

Tall and elegant, Jake McLarnon dominates proceedings as the host, manipulating his guests physically as well as psychologically. Bernard Knauer is a formidable rival and the trio in which both attempt to seduce the party girl is mesmerizing.  Lizzie Vilmanis oozes sophistication and elegance as the hostess, at first irritated by the presence of the host’s lover, Isabella Hood, but in a later in a conciliatory duet apparently accepting of the arrangement. Isabella Hood is captivating as the flirtatious party girl clearly out of her depth, while Jag Popham makes a strong impression as the young novice prepared to sacrifice his integrity to climb the corporate ladder.

“The Dinner Party” remains another masterwork from Natalie Weir and a perfect showcase for the prodigious talents of the current company of Expressions Dance Company dancers. It’s a pity therefore that most of the audience had no idea who they were watching. Apart from six large individual portraits displayed in the foyer, in which the dancers were not identified, there was no program material available. Regretably, there’s a growing practice for companies to dispense with printed programs, relying on audience members to download them off the internet. Does anybody?  


This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 22nd June 2019.


VENUS UNWRAPPED


Art Song Canberra
Sarahlouise Owens, Soprano
Natalia Tkachenko, Piano
Wesley Music Centre 23 June

Reviewed by Len Power


Music history is dominated by male composers – Beethoven, Wagner, Mozart and so on.  It was rare for women to have the opportunity to publish music they had composed right up to the 20th Century.  In her concert, Sarahlouise Owens celebrates some of those women who managed the seemingly impossible.  It was an education and a delight from start to finish.

Soprano, Sarahlouise Owens, has returned to Canberra after an extensive career in Europe.  She is a graduate of the ANU School of Music and Royal Northern College of Music Manchester.  She is much in demand for performances in Canberra.

Accompanist on piano, Natalia Tkachenko, graduated with honours from the Moscow State Institute Of Music.  Since arriving in Canberra in 2003, she has performed as accompanist for the ANU School of Music and many major artists.  She has also been recognized for her outstanding work as a piano teacher.

The pair presented a large and wide-ranging program of songs by female composers from the 18th through to the 21st Century.  There were some familiar names such as the Boulanger sisters - Lili and Nadia, Cécile Chaminade, Pauline Viardot, Clara Schumann and Canberra’s Sally Greenaway.  The wealth of fine music presented of the lesser known composers was astonishing.

Sarahlouise Owens

Sarahlouise Owens was in fine voice right from the beginning with a rousing performance of ‘The Bandits’ by Maria Malibran.  She has a voice of great power and beauty and an ability to provide a depth of character to a song as well.  Amongst the highlights of the first half of the program were a finely controlled performance of ‘The Idea’ by Chaminade, a bright and joyful ‘Morning Serenade’ by Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, a richly soothing ‘American Lullaby’ by Gladys Rich and an intensely dramatic ‘The Knife’ by Nadia Boulanger.

After interval, she gave a fine performance of a group of songs by Clara Schumann.  ‘If You Love Beauty’ was the absolute highlight of the concert, sung to perfection.  It was closely followed by a haunting ‘Lorelei’.  Equally at home with modern works, she gave a heart-felt performance of Sally Greenaway’s mood piece, ‘Look To This Day’.  The concert concluded with an amusing performance of ‘There Are Fairies At The Bottom Of Our Garden’ by Liza Lehmann.

Natalia Tkachenko

The accompaniment by Natalia Tkachenko was excellent throughout.  Both women deserved and received a huge round of applause at the end of this memorable Art Song Canberra concert. 

Photos by Peter Hislop

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE




Pride and Prejudice

Based on the novel by Jane Austen and adapted for the stage by Kirsty Budding. Directed by Kirsty Budding.. Composer, Arranger and Musician. Helen Way. Musician. Ella Ragless.Lead chorepgrapher. Naomi Casimir. Budding Theatre. Belconnen Theatre. June 18-22 2019

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


The Bennet Family in Pride and Prejudice

Kirsty Buddings production of Pride and Prejudice for Budding Theatre is a labour of love. There is love in a faithfully scripted adaptation. There is love in the enthusiastic performances of an energetic amateur cast of young performers with more experienced adult actors. It is there in loving attention to the period and to a tasteful design of four ivy bestrewn columns set against a large sumptuously painted backdrop of an English garden scene. The attention to detail in costuming, music and dance adds to the colour and flavour of Budding’s depiction of Jane Austen’s Regency world. Love is also in the response of a full house of delighted patrons. I assume that many were family and friends and they delighted in the show.
Ella Horton and Callum Wilson as
Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy
In Pride and Prejudice


It is testament to the power of Austen’s writing that her sparkling wit, gentle satire and insightful humanity still captivates the hearts of  readers two centuries after her death. It is little wonder that a production such as Budding’s staged with affection and appreciation of Austen’s depiction of flawed and noble characters should still entertain and arouse identification and empathy for the plight of Mr Bennet (Paul Gardiner), having to suffer the embarrassment of Mrs. Bennet , deliciously played with effusive blustering by Tracy Noble. Elizabeth Bennet  in a performance by Ella Horton which showed considerable promise and Mr. Darcy (Callum Wilson) prove yet again that “the course of true love never did run smooth” and Jane Austen’s humourous, yet affectionate ridicule of the clergy is well captured in John Lombard’s comical portrayal of Mr. Collins.
Adaptation is not without sacrifice to plot and character detail and it is commendable that Budding has highlighted the significant scenes and plot lines, interspersed by stately minuets and quadrilles to the  beautiful accompaniment of musical director Helen Way on piano  and Ella Ragless on piano and flute. Austen’s perspicacious glimpse of her era exposed status and class, romantic love and the nefarious motives of the villainous Mr. Wickham (Daniel Evans). Evans’s clever sleight of hand with his card trick could well have been a warning to heed Wickham’s dastardly deeds.
The Regency Period, during which Jane Austen published Pride and Prejudice concerned itself with class distinction, epitomized by the snobbish and unpleasant Lady Catherine de Bourgh,played with appropriate disdain by Joan White. Budding Theatre’s affectionate adaptation of Pride and Prejudice observes the manner and customs of the time.
Caitlin Dalgliesh as Jane Bennet and Rob Shiells as
Mr. Bingley in Pride and Prejudice


All in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable amateur production of a well-loved classic romantic novel with the attention to detail required, the wit and the wisdom of Austen and a joyful sense of fun by the company of experienced and inexperienced performers. More attention to vocal work would help to improve the effectiveness of certain characterizations, as would more intensive workshops on performance technique

.Kirsty Budding continues to provide valuable performance experience for young performers to improve their performance skills and pursue their love of theatre in all its aspects. It’s an added bonus when you can also entertain an audience so that the audience member near me could loudly reply to her friend’s question about her response to the production - “I loved it!”.