Wednesday, November 11, 2015

FREE RAIN THEATRE presents

The Art of Non-Teaching by Kirsty Budding.

Free-Rain Nightclub presents Buzzing Broadway and The Taste of Tinseltown

Directed by Cate Clelland. Musical Direction by Nicholas Griffin. Choreography Lisa Irvine. Produced by Anne Somes for Free-Rain Theatre Company

The Courtyard Studio. Canberra Theatre Centre. Finished November 9th.  2015

Commentary by Peter Wilkins

Kirsty Budding and he cast of The Art of Non-Teaching


Anne Somes’s latest innovation is a study in entertainment. Her evening of entertainment consisted of three theatrical productions, presented over three weeks in the Courtyard Studio of the Canberra Theatre Centre. The first of these is Kirsty Budding’s witty, yet insightful in-joke, The Art of Non-Teaching. Somes, with the assistance of director Cate Clelland and Musical Director, Nick Griffin presents two musical entertainments in the cabaret tradition, Buzzing Broadway and The Taste of Tinseltown, a compilation of hits from Hollywood movies from the Twenties to 2012. I was unable to make it to Buzzing Broadway, which I understand was excellent, but I did get to The Art of Non Teaching and The Taste of Tinseltown.
The cast of Buzzing Broadway

Somes is a producer with the talent to entertain and with a savvy knack of choosing theatre that will entertain, entice and engage an audience. This is not to say that her company, Free Rain Theatre, is a moribund promoter of Groundlings Theatre, capable of “nothing but dumb show and noise.” Who could forget Cate Clelland’s award winning production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf or the thought provoking productions of August-Osage County, Look Back in Anger and many more traditional classics of the Australian, English and American Theatre? Lately, Somes has taken on the blockbusters with the panache and zeal of a Cameron Macintosh and given audiences Phantom of the Opera, Mary Poppins and soon to come, The Little Mermaid.
What Somes’s latest venture demonstrates is her uncanny ability to recognize and promote new talent. Kirsty Budding is a promising emerging playwright with a natural flair for comic writing and a perceptive insight into her commentary on the teaching profession. She is not as sophisticated in her writing as Richard Tulloch and his Year 9 Are Animals or as political as Ned Manning in Us and Them, both of which deal directly with the teaching profession, but there is talent and promise, and Somes, a former drama teacher, has long been a promoter of emerging talent in all aspects of the theatre. Her generosity in providing on the job experience and training is well-recognized and playwright Budding and actor Brendan Kelly are reflections of her support for emerging artists in The Art Of Non-teaching. Somes and Clelland ensure that emerging artists are supported by experienced performers and there are excellent performances from Emma Wood, Rob de Fries and Liz Bradley as pedagogic stereotypes. The Art of Non-Teaching with its ridiculous and satirical swipe at the teaching profession should be seen as a fledgling drama by a promising playwright, who is certain to develop more fully into an accomplished observer of the ridiculous nature of the human condition. It would be easy to dismiss The Art of Non Teaching as a piece of frivolous nonsense, but judging by the laughter in the audience, it certainly struck a chord with those who readily recognized the anal deputy headmistress, the dithering relic of the profession, the  cynical young male teacher and the idealistic and na├»ve newcomer. Keep an eye out for Buddings’ future writings. with your sense of humour intact.

Kirrah Amosa, Colin Milner, Louiza Blomfield and Lexi
Sekuless in The Taste of Tinseltown.

The Art of Non-Teaching is Somes’s only dramatic offering in her Courtyard trilogy. Buzzing Broadway and The Taste of Tinseltown use the simple cabaret/nightclub format to illustrate the abundantly talented performers of music theatre. Fraser Findlay, Tim Sekuless, Lexi Sekuless, Colin Milner and Louiza Blomfield are no strangers to lovers of musicals. I am less familiar with the work of Kirrah Amosa and Amy Lapthorne, but no less impressed by their talent. Simply staged by Cate Clelland and adroitly accompanied by Musical Director, Nicholas Griffin, the team took us through familiar favourites of the Hollywood musicals.
Colin Milner does Al Jolson in The Taste of Tinseltown
From Leslie Bricusse and John Barry’s Goldfinger to Sondheim’s defiant I’m Still Here the team took the audience on a nostalgic cavalcade of songs from yesteryear. In the intimate Courtyard Studio, it was a relief not to be assailed by the aid of amplification, although at times it was apparent that breathing presented a challenge. Certain arrangements such as Kirrah Amosa’s Somewhere  Over The Rainbow was sung with charming purity, but lacked the hope and passion of the dream. Her renditions of I Will Always Love You and Don’t Forget Me were mesmerising engagements of the heart.  Tap dancing duo, Findlay and Sekuless made the most of Donald O’Connor’s classic Make ‘Em Laugh and Colin Milner and Louiza Blomfield offered a touching You’re Just in Love. Presley’s timeless I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You proved a rousing ensemble arrangement and Lexi Sekuless, Amosa and Lapthorne show that they sure have rhythm with the popular Andrew Sisters’ Boogi Woogie Bugle Boy.
Lexi Sekuless, Amy Lapthorne and Kirrah Amosa
sing Boogi Woogie Bugle Boy in The Taste of Tinseltown
At the popular cabaret length of just over the hour, this cleverly selected and arranged song list is pure entertainment, a sweet evening of hum-a-long melodies performed by a lively and talented ensemble.
Amy Lapthorne in The Taste of Tinseltown

Somes is a populist producer. She selects plays and musicals that she knows will be popular, will attract a wide audience and will usually guarantee that her budget remains well and truly in the black. That is not to say that she doesn’t take risks, as in the case of The Art of Non Teaching or the mainstage extravaganza Phantom of the Opera, but her repertoire certainly errs on the side of the sure gamble. In any event, she has learned over the years that excellence is the true key to success, and Free Rain Theatre continues to set benchmarks for excellence, consistently recognized by the Canberra Critics Circle and the Canberra Area Theatre (CAT) Awards.
Tim Sekuless and Fraser Findlay in
The Taste of Tinseltown

What Somes doesn’t appear to do is take a risk on theatre that she knows could be unpopular. Free Rain is not Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble, Grotowski’s Laboratory or Peter Brook’s International Centre for Theatre Research. Sadly, economic rationalism and cultural conservatism have stifled creative innovation and alternative artistic expression. Still, what’s the point when a community turns its back or the work fails to engage. I mourn the passing of Carol Woodrow’s Fool’s Gallery or David Branson’s Splinters and Culturally Innovative Arts (C.I.A.). Perhaps we shall not see their like again. The baton is, in part, passed on to Chenoeh Miller and her Butoh-inspired Little Dove Theatre and Joe Woodward’s intellectually probing Shadowhouse Pits. In the meantime I applaud Anne Somes and her team at Free Rain Theatre. At least the theatregoer can always be guaranteed an entertaining and at times thought-provoking night out.

Nicholas Griffin and the cast of The Taste of Tinseltown

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