Saturday, August 6, 2022

The Year of Magical Thinking

 

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.  Critical Stages Touring at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre August 5,6 (postponed from July 7-9) 2022.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
August 5

Creative Team

Written by Joan Didion
Directed by Laurence Strangio
Performed by Jillian Murray
Lighting Designer – Andy Turner
Sound Designer – Darius Kedros
Photography – Jodie Hutchinson
Production / Stage Manager – Cecelia Scarthy


I had not read Joan Didion’s memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, nor even known what it was about.  I’m glad I hadn’t, for the same reason that her daughter said she did not want to read her parents’ writings: “I don’t want to judge my parents.”

Coming to Jillian Murray’s performance without preconceptions meant that I was not distracted, as I otherwise surely would have been, by making a judgement about how well – or not – she accurately represented the book.  What I saw was an actor presenting a highly complex intelligent character speaking directly to me about the deaths of her husband and her daughter, wanting to explain what she did, what she thought and what she felt throughout that fateful year.

She was motivated by thinking that everyone may, at some time in their life, have a loved-one die – and would benefit by understanding beforehand how they might behave in ways quite different from what they might assume they would.

Jillian Murray made me feel that she was that very person for real.  She was telling to me all that she was thinking in her continuous internal personal dialogue, just as I talk to myself, constantly analysing what I said and did, or could have said or done, and what would have happened if….  Having been to my own cancer specialist that very morning I was already talking to myself about what my wife and daughter need to know about what he told me.  Like Joan, so much was about practical matters – about keeping my control of the situation.  Jillian’s acting was personal – and brilliantly done.

So for me, as a theatre critic, the simplicity of the staging, costume, lighting and background sound was the key to success.  Looking back now, I can see, though, the fine details in Jillian’s acting, for which Laurence Strangio must surely also be given credit as director.  Underplaying, which makes the characterisation so strong and realistic, takes a great deal of work, of mental focus and concentration to make it seem simple and without ostentation – to make it seem real.

I am not sure how the tour is going, being thoroughly messed up I presume by Covid, but I congratulate Jillian Murray and Critical Stages for presenting such significant theatre.



Jillian Murray
in The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Critical Stages Touring 2022

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Romeo and Juliet


 Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.  Canberra REP.

28 July - 13 August 2022: Season: Wed - Sat, 8pm, Matinees: 6, 7, 13 August, 2pm

Reviewed by Frank McKone

Directors - Kelly Roberts and Chris Zuber

Cast
Romeo - Pippin Carrol; Juliet - Annabelle Hansen; Capulet - Richard Manning
Lady Capulet - Crystal Mahon; Nurse/Lady Montague - Tracy Noble
Tybalt - Francis Shanahan; Gregory/Paris - Marcel Cole
Sampson - Grayson Woodham; Friar Lawrence/ Prince - Ryan Street
Mercutio - Anneka Van Der Velde; Balthasar - Lachlan Herring
Abram - Blue Hyslop; Benvolio - Mischa Rippon
A Montague/Apothocary - Tasman Griffiths

Designers
Set – Christopher Zuber; Sound – Justin Mullins; Original Composition and Performance – Richard Manning; Lighting – Michael Moloney; Wardrobe: Costume Designer – Jennie Norberry; Coordinator – Jeanette Brown.

_____________________________________________________________________________

The directing and design concept of Canberra Rep’s Romeo and Juliet is original and very successful.  The set design is a good place to begin to understand how and why.

The set for REP's 2022 production of Romeo and Juliet
Photo: Helen Drum

 

Starting perhaps from Shakespeare’s placing the play specifically in Verona, this image of colonnades is about city life where action is constrained by the spaces between, around and behind walls.  Conflict is easily generated between houses literally; or between “Two households, both alike in dignity” as the Prologue says.

How ‘dignified’ are they when the Prince must report “Three civil brawls, bred of an airy word, by thee, old Capulet, and Montague, have thrice disturb’d the quiet of our streets”, threatening “If ever you disturb our streets again, your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace.”

The moving of the seeming solid walls and doorways, on secret silent rollers, becomes a character in the play itself.  The unadorned style contrasts symbolically with the often too, too florid language – in anger, say, when old Capulet will make his daughter be married to Paris; in irresponsible fun from Mercutio; in fury because of so-called insult from Tybalt; from Romeo on first sighting Juliet:

“It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear;
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!”

The acting matched the hard-edge scenery in what I would call ‘presentational’ style, so that the audience is kept at some distance from the emotional experiences of the characters.  As the first act was ending I felt a bit concerned that – though it was working very well for the storytelling, often with a sense of comedy – the second half would need to change gear.

And this was done very well.  The opening after a relaxed interval went immediately into the horror of the young people actually knifing each other.  Using a kind of ‘modern’ dress and dispensing with swords was powerful.  I had at first some qualms about Mercutio being played by a woman – whose wit was certainly up to the mark – but when she stabbed and was stabbed, the feeling was awful to watch; and then more than justified Romeo’s defence of her and his killing of Tybalt.  From here on, the seriousness and depth of feelings were established right through to the dreadful end.

The casting was well balanced.  Appropriately no roles were allowed to become ‘star’ parts, though it would be unfair not to mention Tracy Noble’s frantic nurse trying so hard to keep everything together; and the rather surprising Friar Lawrence as played by Ryan Street – sometimes quite wildly almost ‘losing it’, frustrated with these people, rather than being the more usual philosophical adviser.

Overall, then, this is a realistic Shakespeare – a picture of social dysfunction, when love is not allowed to have its proper place.  Despite old Capulet and Montague shaking hands and talking of a golden statue to commemorate Juliet, this production made the final lines feel like the truth we can never avoid:

For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

Pippin Carroll as Romeo and Annabelle Hansen as Juliet. Photo: Helen Drum
Canberra CityNews


Tuesday, August 2, 2022

EAST MEETS WEST


Image China

Conducted by Guy Noble

Llewellyn Hall, 30 July

 

Reviewed by Len Power

 

After being postponed twice due to the Covid pandemic, the “East Meets West” orchestral concert finally arrived at Llewellyn Hall.  Presented to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Australia, it was a gala occasion with many of Canberra’s Chinese community in attendance.

Conducted by Guy Noble, the concert presented two main works by Chinese composers, “Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto” and “The Yellow River Piano Concerto” as well as other shorter eastern and western works, some with solo singers.

The concert commenced with a nicely played “Jasmine Flowers” by Giacomo Puccini.  It was followed by “Hope Betrayed” by composer Wang Liping with soprano, Ya Fen, and mezzo soprano, Victoria Lambourn.  Jammy Huang joined the orchestra to play the Guzheng.  This instrument gave the work a hauntingly timeless quality and contrasting singing styles of the soloists added beautifully to the overall effect.

Victoria Lambourn, mezzo soprano and Ya Fen, soprano

Mezzo soprano, Victoria Lambourn, then sang the Habanera from Bizet’s opera, “Carmen”.  Her singing of this famous aria in a fabulously designed red dress was seductively superb.

Amanda Chen, violin

Next was the 1959 “Butterly Lovers Violin Concerto”, composed by He Zhanhao and Chen Gang.  Written for a Western-style orchestra, it features a solo violin played using some Chinese techniques.  Amanda Chen was the violin soloist and she gave a masterly performance of the solo passages of the work with colourful accompaniment by the orchestra.

The second half of the program commenced with a robust performance by the orchestra of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Suite No. 2.  This was followed by two songs by soprano, Sharon Zhai, with ‘Ernani…Ernani, ivolami” from Verdi’s opera, “Ernani” and the contrasting “Pamir – My Beautiful Hometown” by composer, Zheng Qiufeng.  The singer commanded the stage with her fabulous voice, singing both songs with great assurance and beauty.

Sharon Zhai, soprano

The final work on the program, “The Yellow River Piano Concerto” by Yin Chengzong was played by piano soloist, Tony Lee.  This exciting dramatic work was given an excellent performance by Lee and the orchestra.

Tony Lee, piano and Guy Noble, conductor

The concert concluded with an encore, “I Love You, China”, nicely sung in Chinese by the three singers.  The enthusiastic audience gave the performance well-deserved sustained applause.

An announcement at the start of the concert asking people not to use their phones might have prevented the constant photographing with phones throughout.

Photos supplied by the production

This review was first published in the Canberra CityNews digital edition of 31 July 2022.

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/.

  

ROMEO AND JULIET


 

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Kelly Roberts & Christopher Zuber

Canberra REP production

Canberra REP Theatre, Acton to 13 August

 

Reviewed by Len Power 29 July 2022

 

William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, first published in 1597, is probably the most well-known of his plays.  The romantic tale is constantly staged and has been filmed more than any other Shakespeare play.  Sergey Prokofiev composed the music for a ballet version of the play that has also retained its popularity to this day.

So popular is the play that tourists, carried away by the romanticism of the fictitious story, make a beeline for an alley way in Verona where they wrongly think the famous balcony scene of the play actually occurred.

With this level of identification with the story, audiences for the play expect to be carried away by the romance of “the star-crossed lovers”.  This puts considerable pressure on directors and casts to meet an audience’s expectations.

This new production by directors, Kelly Roberts and Christopher Zuber, pares the play down to two acts and has a cast of 14.  The role of Mercutio, normally a male friend of Romeo, has been gender-swapped for this production.

Although the elaborate setting for this production evoked the old city of Verona with the warm, golden glow of its old walls and archways, it was rather stark and overpowering at times.

The dialogue and playing had a present day sensibility.  The poetry in the text seemed to have been mostly ignored in this production.  The actors spoke much too fast and their diction was not clear enough.  It was often doubtful that they had more than a surface understanding of the lines they were delivering.

Pippin Carroll (Romeo) and Annabelle Hansen (Juliet)

There was little chemistry between the characters of Romeo and Juliet as played by Pippin Carroll and Annabelle Hansen.  It did not help that the setting for the balcony scene made it look as if Romeo was delivering his lines from the bottom of an empty swimming pool.

As the playing lacked any real romance as the story unfolded, it was not possible to feel much emotional involvement in the tragic ending of the two lovers.

 

Photo by Helen Drum

 

This review was first published in the Canberra CityNews digital edition of 30 July 2022.

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/.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

CHANGI SONGBOOK


Songs by Slim De Grey and Ray Tullipan

Directed by Christopher Latham

Narrated by Neil Pigot

The Street Theatre, 28 July

 

Reviewed by Len Power

 

The name Changi is synonymous with the suffering of Australian prisoners of the Japanese during the Second World War.  Those incarcerated proved to be resourceful in many ways, including creating shows to lift the spirits of the men.  While suffering from hunger and other privations, a highlight of a POW’s week were the shows produced and performed by the AIF Changi Concert Party.

Slim De Grey and Ray Tullipan wrote many songs for these shows and, after the war, 24 of the most popular songs were made available in the “Changi Songbook”. Copies of these books were sold to the POWs and were so beloved by them that they are difficult to buy to this day.

As part of the “Flowers For Peace” project, the director, Christopher Latham has arranged for all 24 of the songs to be recorded for the first time.  For one performance only, the singers and musicians involved in the recording presented an informal concert evening of these songs at the Street Theatre.

The narrator, Neil Pigot, spent an enormous amount of time with members of the concert party in the 1990s learning their performance style and recording half of the songs with them.  He was joined in singing them by Andrew Goodwin, tenor and Tobias Cole, baritone.

From left: Bill Risby, piano, Miroslav Bukovsky, trumpet, Bill Mackey, saxophone, James Luke, bass, Neil Pigot, Tobias Cole, Col Hoorweg, drums, Andrew Goodwin

The band accompanying them were Bill Risby, piano, Col Hoorweg, drums, James Luke, bass, Miroslav Bukovsky, trumpet, John Mackey, saxophone and Christopher Latham, violin.

Between the songs, Neil Pigot presented background information about the concert party members and life in Changi.  While there were humorous stories and jokes, there were also many sobering stories of the difficulties faced by POWs in the prison.

The songs, with titles such as “Swingaroo”, “A Tea Cup Romance” and “Just A Bungalow Called Home”, are classic examples of light-hearted, romantic songs of the war era.  There were some nicely catchy tunes and the singers clearly enjoyed performing them.  The audience responded with spirited applause at the end of the show.

Following this recording project, nine of the songs will be featured in the “POW Requiem”, part of the “Flowers Of Peace” project, which will be performed on 29 October.


Photo by Peter Hislop 

This review was first published in the Canberra CityNews digital edition of 29 July 2022.

 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/.

 

'THE ARCHDUKE", SELBY & FRIENDS


Kathryn Selby, piano

Dimity Hall, violin

Julian Smiles, cello

Llewellyn Hall, 21 July

 

Reviewed by Len Power

 

It was unfortunate that violinist, Natalie Chee, due to play in the Selby & Friends concert at Llewellyn Hall, had become yet another victim of Covid this week.  Luckily, violinist, Dimity Hall, was able to replace her and join Kathryn Selby and Julian Smiles for this Canberra concert.

The concert commenced with Australian composer, Miriam Hyde’s Fantasy Trio in b minor, Op. 26.  Composed in London in 1933 when Hyde was aged 20, this is a short but beautiful work full of emotion and reflection.  It was beautifully played by the trio.

The second item was to have been a work by Anton Arensky but, because of the artist change, it was replaced with Beethoven’s Cello Sonata no. 5 in D Major, Op. 102, no. 2.  Kathryn Selby and Julian Smiles performed it.

The performance of this work was outstanding.  Julian Smiles’ cello playing of the quietly emotional second movement was clearly heartfelt and both he and Selby gave the impression that they were sharing something profound.  They also clearly enjoyed playing the jaunty and bright third movement.

After interval, the trio played the concert’s showcase work, the Piano Trio in B flat major, Op. 97, "Archduke", composed in 1810-11.  It was dedicated to Beethoven’s patron and friend, Archduke Rudolph of Austria.

 Both the first movement, with its familiar romantic melody and the contrasting light-hearted second movement were skilfully played.  The third movement, with its ethereal quality was played with great feeling and was the highlight of this work.  The boisterous and fun fourth movement brought the concert to a satisfying close.

Dimity Hall

Dimity Hall is well known to national and international audiences as a member of both the Goldner String Quartet and the Australia Ensemble at the University of New South Wales.

Julian Smiles

Julian Smiles has been a central figure in cello performance and teaching in Australia for over 25 years.  He grew up in Canberra, studying with Nelson Cooke at the Canberra School of Music.

Kathryn Selby is the Artistic Director and founder of the popular nationally touring Selby & Friends concert series.  Studying at the Sydney Conservatorium and in the USA, she has been a driving force in the Australian classical music industry since 1989.

 

This review was first published in the Canberra CityNews digital edition of 22 July 2022.

 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/.

 

HAND TO GOD





HAND To GOD by Robert Askins.

Directed by Jarrad West. Stage Manager/Sound designer. Nikki Fitzgerald. Lighting designer. Nathan Sciberras. {Production Manager Marya Glyn-Danial. Production design. Arran McKenna. Happy Dance Creative. Puppet construction. Emma Rowland. Set piece construction Isaac Reilly. Promotional photography Emma Schroeder. Photography Janelle McMenamin/Michael Moore. Social Media Creative Pippin Carroll. Marketing Director ACT HUB Louiza Blomfield.  ACT HUB. July 27 – August 13. 2022. Bookings. www.thelittleboxoffice.com/acthub

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Michael Cooper as Jason with Tyrone

 Depending on your sense of humour Everyman Theatre’s production of Hand to God will either have you laughing until you cry or crying until you burst into uncontrollable laughter. It’s a blasphemous devilishly outrageous black comedy.  The guffawer will split his, her or their sides at the rude retorts of the rebellious puppet Tyrone. The giggler will find the sexual antics of mother Margery and yobbo Tim hilariously ribald. But the more restrained subtle smiler will simply smirk with secret delight  at the absurd members of the local church ministry puppet club. If however, you are prone to shock and indignation, then this wonderfully clever, and an absurdly Pandora’s box of all your private fascinations is certainly the place to revel in your unabashed catharsis.

Jason (Michael Cooper) and Jessica (Holly Ross)

Under Jarrad West’s sure fire direction, an outstanding cast crash their way through the mayhem and madness created by renegade Tyrone, a puppet with a penchant for splurting out the subconscious devilish thoughts in meek and mild Jason’s head. What ensues is a full on battle of will between Jason (Michael Cooper) and the thoroughly uncontrollable Tyrone.  Jason's mother Margery (Stephanie Roberts) battles her own demons and repressed instincts after the death of her husband.  That is until her wild demons are unleashed in a fit of sexual abandonment by yobbo Tim (Josh Wiseman) much to the blushing embarrassment of sweet Jessical (Holly Ross) and the envious disgust of Pastor Greg (Arran McKenna)

Steph Roberts as Margery. Josh Wiseman as Tim

Id and ego explode in Everyman’s riotously staged production of Robert Askin’s volcano of irreverence. The Devil is in the detail and he is playing havoc with faith, morality and suppressed self-deception. It is time for the truth to be revealed and Tyrone is no gilded lily under the puppeter’s control.  In an eruption of subconscious revelation, hypocrisy and hysteria  let fly in a flood of crudity and instinctive honesty. West is the master puppeteer of the business, playing the strings with wizardly directorial skill. There are so many moments of sheer hilarity as Jason unwittingly unleashes his truth weapon, Tyrone. The inexpressible attraction between the innocent Jessica and the shy Jason is just one of the magical moments in West’s production as Tyrone and Jessica’s Joelle turn the Karma Sutra into a diplay of gymnastic athleticism and Margery unbottles her dispensary of erotic seduction.  Pastor Greg’s attempts at exorcism prove as laughably futile as sticking a pin into a brick wall. By the time the production ends, any guffawer will be drained by the endless paroxysms of laughter. And for those who merely smile, admit it. You wish that you could have let your personal Tyrone loose at times – lots of times!

Michael Cooper (Jason) and Arran McKenna (Pastor Greg)

West’s cast handles the pace, the timing and the business with expert applomb. ACT HUB is forging a reputation for providing the very best in first class theatre and Everyman’s Hand to God is no exception.  In a cast that works so well together and handles the play’s Southern accents with authenticity, it is worth singling out Michael Cooper’s performance as Jason and Tyrone. His brilliantly orchestrated shift from Jason’s meek voice to the rumbling, threatening growl of Tyrone is a master class in dual characterization. It is obviously recognized by a tightly woven cast that acknowledges Cooper’s singled out bow at the curtain call.

Playwright Askins reminds us of the complexity of human nature and the peril of blind acceptance, false idols and painful suppression. The comedy may be black but the moral is gleaming white thanks to Tyrone, whose manner may be brash but at least you know on which hand you stand.

 Everyman Theatre’s Hand to God is a night out that you would be sorry to miss. This is the most outrageously  funny and discerningly honest play that you are likely to see this year. Let your Tyrone loose and hand it to God. You’ll be glad you did!.